2 Peter 1
Greeting2 Peter 1 1 Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ,
To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ:
2 May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.
Confirm Your Calling and Election3 His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, 4 by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. 5 For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, 6 and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, 7 and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. 8 For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. 10 Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. 11 For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
12 Therefore I intend always to remind you of these qualities, though you know them and are established in the truth that you have. 13 I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to stir you up by way of reminder, 14 since I know that the putting off of my body will be soon, as our Lord Jesus Christ made clear to me. 15 And I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things.
Christ’s Glory and the Prophetic Word16 For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” 18 we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. 19 And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, 20 knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. 21 For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
2 Peter 2
False Prophets and Teachers2 Peter 2 1 But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. 2 And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. 3 And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.
4 For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment; 5 if he did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a herald of righteousness, with seven others, when he brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly; 6 if by turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes he condemned them to extinction, making them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly; 7 and if he rescued righteous Lot, greatly distressed by the sensual conduct of the wicked 8 (for as that righteous man lived among them day after day, he was tormenting his righteous soul over their lawless deeds that he saw and heard); 9 then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment, 10 and especially those who indulge in the lust of defiling passion and despise authority.
Bold and willful, they do not tremble as they blaspheme the glorious ones, 11 whereas angels, though greater in might and power, do not pronounce a blasphemous judgment against them before the Lord. 12 But these, like irrational animals, creatures of instinct, born to be caught and destroyed, blaspheming about matters of which they are ignorant, will also be destroyed in their destruction, 13 suffering wrong as the wage for their wrongdoing. They count it pleasure to revel in the daytime. They are blots and blemishes, reveling in their deceptions, while they feast with you. 14 They have eyes full of adultery, insatiable for sin. They entice unsteady souls. They have hearts trained in greed. Accursed children! 15 Forsaking the right way, they have gone astray. They have followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved gain from wrongdoing, 16 but was rebuked for his own transgression; a speechless donkey spoke with human voice and restrained the prophet’s madness.
17 These are waterless springs and mists driven by a storm. For them the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved. 18 For, speaking loud boasts of folly, they entice by sensual passions of the flesh those who are barely escaping from those who live in error. 19 They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption. For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved. 20 For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. 21 For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them. 22 What the true proverb says has happened to them: “The dog returns to its own vomit, and the sow, after washing herself, returns to wallow in the mire.”
2 Peter 3
The Day of the Lord Will Come2 Peter 3 1 This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, 2 that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles, 3 knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. 4 They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” 5 For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, 6 and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. 7 But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.
8 But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. 9 The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. 10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.
11 Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, 12 waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! 13 But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.
Final Words14 Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace. 15 And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, 16 as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. 17 You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. 18 But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.
What I'm Reading
Dozens of Planned Parenthood Clinics Shut Their Doors in 2017
By Leah Barkoukis 12/21/17
Year after year, Planned Parenthood centers across the country have closed down, with 2017 proving to be no exception.
According to an American Life League report, 32 clinics shut down this year, bringing the total number of clinics in operation in the United States today down from 938 in 1995 to 597.
“The evidence is clear: The American people are fed up with Planned Parenthood," Jim Sedlak, executive director of the American Life League, said in a statement. “The revelations about its business model and its callous disregard for the lives of human beings are taking their toll on the organization’s acceptance.”
He also said there’s “renewed optimism that the end of the organization may happen sooner than our most optimistic estimates just two years ago.”
Executives at the giant abortion provider cite no single reason for the decline in facilities. Some point to the passage of the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which they say has resulted in more patients who are enrolled in Medicaid and fewer who pay out of pocket.
But the abortion giant’s decline in clinics began well before Obamacare. (Washington Times)
Leah Barkoukis | Leah Barkoukis is the online features editor at Townhall.com. Follow her on Twitter @LeahBarkoukis
When in Babylon...
By Adam Parker 12/21/16
Regard for the Lord's Day is on a steep decline, and, sadly, has been for quite some time. Disregard for the Lord's Day is evidenced by the fact that many churches have decided to cancel their worship services this Sunday in order to encourage families to spend time together on Christmas. The Babylon Bee recently ran an article titled "Church Honors Birth of Jesus by Cancelling Worship Service." The satirical (though it would be straining to call it entirely fictional) piece goes on to hilariously put words in the pastor's mouth: "I can think of nothing more worshipful on the Lord's Day than foregoing worship services in order to tear into gift after gift after gift from under our ornate tree... Also, I'll get to play with my new iPad that I just know my wife, Kate, got me. I felt the package. I'm pretty sure it's the Pro edition."
It's a brilliant piece of satire. However, many have become extremely defensive about it. I know that I shouldn't be surprised, but I'm naïve enough that I was shocked at the vitriol in the comments section under the Facebook post. It is clear to me that very large segments of the readership of The Babylon Bee don't have what we might call a "robust" view of the Lord's Day.
Now, I also know that massive swaths of the church (sadly even those in the Reformed camp) would like to see the Larger and Shorter Catechisms consigned to the dust bin of history. And it causes me no loss of sleep to think that someone, somewhere, is having fun on a Sunday. What does concern me is the sorts of arguments that people are offering in favor of cancelling church whenever the Lord's Day and everyone's favorite holiday should come into conflict. Here are some of the more troubling comments from the Facebook post:
"Love the Bee but, since the church is not a building, place or event, it is never closed. There are other ways to BEE the church this coming Sunday, Christmas Day!"
""Thus saith the Lord, 'Thou shalt have a church service every Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night without ceasing, and shouldest never to cancel any service for any reason under the sun'." II Opinions 3:12"
How a Little Philosophy Can Help Our Christology
By Judson Tayloer 12/21/16
The Apostle Paul famously warned Christians to be on guard lest anyone takes them “captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ” (Col. 2:8). Some have misunderstood this to mean a rejection of philosophy per se.
But done well, and within its limitations, philosophy—literally, φιλο-σοφίας, love of wisdom—can take commonsensical things that we use intuitively and formalize them into definitions with distinctions.
Who Are You? | Take the question, “Who are you?”
We would answer this in terms of those properties—attributes, qualities, characteristics—that make me who I am as an individual. We often answer this identity question by pointing to our relationships (firstborn son of my X and Y; husband of Z; father of A, B, and C) or our physical characteristics (think driver’s license: address; certain height and weight; color of skin, hair, eyes).
What Are You? | A less common question, but one quite relevant for theology, is “What are you?” With regard to persons, this is getting at the kind of being that one is. This can be called a “kind essence”—the set of properties (or collection of characteristics) sufficient to establish one’s membership in a certain “kind” of being (e.g., God, angel, human, animal, etc.).
Read The Psalms In "1" Year
Psalm 144My Rock and My Fortress
144 OF DAVID.
9 I will sing a new song to you, O God;
upon a ten-stringed harp I will play to you,
10 who gives victory to kings,
who rescues David his servant from the cruel sword.
11 Rescue me and deliver me
from the hand of foreigners,
whose mouths speak lies
and whose right hand is a right hand of falsehood.
12 May our sons in their youth
be like plants full grown,
our daughters like corner pillars
cut for the structure of a palace;
13 may our granaries be full,
providing all kinds of produce;
may our sheep bring forth thousands
and ten thousands in our fields;
14 may our cattle be heavy with young,
suffering no mishap or failure in bearing;
may there be no cry of distress in our streets!
15 Blessed are the people to whom such blessings fall!
Blessed are the people whose God is the LORD!
How To Begin A Bible-Reading Habit in 2018
By Paul Carter 12/22/2017
If you intend to read through the Bible in 2018 now is the time to get started. Habits are not formed in a day – it takes a little bit of time and preparation. Here are a few hints and suggestions that might be helpful in getting you up and on your way.
Pick a Plan | A number of years ago a friend of mine lost 35 pounds in a relatively short amount of time. I was about 15 pounds overweight myself and so I immediately asked him: “What plan did you use? Did you use the Atkins Diet? The South Beach Diet? The Makers Diet?” His answer stuck with me over the years. He said, “It doesn’t really matter what plan you use. What matters is having a plan and using it.” The same holds true when it comes to reading the Bible.
There are a number of really good Bible reading plans. Each one has various points in its favor but as with weight loss, the magic is not in finding the right plan but in using the plan that you find. I’ve been using the RMM Bible Reading Plan; named after pastor and author Robert Murray M’Cheyne, since 2012. ( I am changing to this plan Jan 1) If you want to read more about the features and benefits of the RMM plan check out this article. The short version is that it is customizable to your reading speed and supported by a host of print and on-line resources. To learn about other Bible reading plans see here.
Set a Time | Generally speaking it is extraordinarily difficult to “find time” to do hard things. You will not fall backwards into Bible reading. You will need to carve out space and time. If you are serious about doing this then you will need to rearrange your personal schedule. You will need to wake up 20 minutes earlier or go to bed 20 minutes later every day. Do not try and “find the time”. You won’t. Make the time or give up the resolution.
Join a Group | Like a lot of men my age I need to exercise 3 times a week if I want to keep my weight under control. However, like a lot of men my age, I would rather not. I always seem to have an excuse for not getting in my exercise. To combat this natural tendency I have found it helpful to integrate relationships into my exercise routine. I play squash on regular rotation with several friends and I find that I am far less likely to bail on an exercise session when there is someone else counting on me to show up. My fear of disappointing people and my desire to be with people results in more calories burned and fewer pant sizes gained.
Paul Carter attended Moody Bible Institute and is a graduate of York University (B.A.) and McMaster Divinity College (MDiv). He has been in pastoral ministry since 1994, serving in both Fellowship and Canadian Baptist churches in Oakville, Mississauga and Orillia, Ontario Canada. He presently serves as the Lead Pastor of First Baptist Church, Orillia, a large multi-staff church with a passion for biblical preaching and local mission. Along with his friend Marc Bertrand he is the co-founder of the Covenant Life Renewal Association (CLRA) seeking Biblical and Spiritual revival within Canadian Baptist Churches. He also serves on the TGC Canada board. Paul has written two books and is a frequent blogger on issues of Christian faith and living. You can find his devotional podcast at www.intotheword.ca. Paul is the happy husband of Shauna Lee and the proud papa of 5 beautiful children, Madison, Max, Mikayla, Peyton and Noa. You can find him at :www.intotheword.ca, www.adfontes.ca, and www.firstbaptistorillia.org.
- 1 The Backstage Handbook: An Illustrated Almanac of Technical Information
- 2 Don't Tell Mom I Work on the Rigs: She Thinks I'm a Piano Player in a Whorehouse
- 3 Maximum Muscle Bible
- 4 Behind Palace Doors: My True Adventures as the Queen Mother's Equerry
- 5 Base Building
- 6 Mile 1
- 7 The Road to Botany Bay: An Exploration of Landscape and History
- 8 Dark Writing: Geography, Performance, Design (Writing Past Colonialism)
- 9 Ride Like Hell and You'll Get There: Detours into Mayhem
- 10 Lift-Run-Bang 365
- 11 Parrot (Animal)
- 12 Strength Life Legacy
- 13 This Is Not a Drill: Just Another Glorious Day in the Oilfield
- 14 Is That Thing Diesel?: One Man, One Bike and the First Lap Around Australia on Used Cooking Oil
The Institutes of the Christian Religion
Translated by Henry Beveridge
Accordingly, the dream of the Manichees as to two principles vanishes.
1. It was not without reason that the ancient proverb so strongly recommended to man the knowledge of himself. For if it is deemed disgraceful to be ignorant of things pertaining to the business of life, much more disgraceful is self-ignorance, in consequence of which we miserably deceive ourselves in matters of the highest moment, and so walk blindfold. But the more useful the precept is, the more careful we must be not to use it preposterously, as we see certain philosophers have done. For they, when exhorting man to know himself, state the motive to be, that he may not be ignorant of his own excellence and dignity. They wish him to see nothing in himself but what will fill him with vain confidence, and inflate him with pride. But self-knowledge consists in this, first, When reflecting on what God gave us at our creation, and still continues graciously to give, we perceive how great the excellence of our nature would have been had its integrity remained, and, at the same time, remember that we have nothing of our own, but depend entirely on God, from whom we hold at pleasure whatever he has seen it meet to bestow; secondly, When viewing our miserable condition since Adam's fall, all confidence and boasting are overthrown, we blush for shame, and feel truly humble. For as God at first formed us in his own image, that he might elevate our minds to the pursuit of virtue, and the contemplation of eternal life, so to prevent us from heartlessly burying those noble qualities which distinguish us from the lower animals, it is of importance to know that we were endued with reason and intelligence, in order that we might cultivate a holy and honourable life, and regard a blessed immortality as our destined aim. At the same time, it is impossible to think of our primeval dignity without being immediately reminded of the sad spectacle of our ignominy and corruption, ever since we fell from our original in the person of our first parent. In this way, we feel dissatisfied with ourselves, and become truly humble, while we are inflamed with new desires to seek after God, in whom each may regain those good qualities of which all are found to be utterly destitute.
2. In examining ourselves, the search which divine truth enjoins, and the knowledge which it demands, are such as may indispose us to every thing like confidence in our own powers, leave us devoid of all means of boasting, and so incline us to submission. This is the course which we must follow, if we would attain to the true goal, both in speculation and practice. I am not unaware how much more plausible the view is, which invites us rather to ponder on our good qualities, than to contemplate what must overwhelm us with shame--our miserable destitution and ignominy. There is nothing more acceptable to the human mind than flattery, and, accordingly, when told that its endowments are of a high order, it is apt to be excessively credulous. Hence it is not strange that the greater part of mankind have erred so egregiously in this matter. Owing to the innate self-love by which all are blinded, we most willingly persuade ourselves that we do not possess a single quality which is deserving of hatred; and hence, independent of any countenance from without, general credit is given to the very foolish idea, that man is perfectly sufficient of himself for all the purposes of a good and happy life. If any are disposed to think more modestly, and concede somewhat to God, that they may not seem to arrogate every thing as their own, still, in making the division, they apportion matters so, that the chief ground of confidence and boasting always remains with themselves. Then, if a discourse is pronounced which flatters the pride spontaneously springing up in man's inmost heart, nothing seems more delightful. Accordingly, in every age, he who is most forward in extolling the excellence of human nature, is received with the loudest applause. But be this heralding of human excellence what it may, by teaching man to rest in himself, it does nothing more than fascinate by its sweetness, and, at the same time, so delude as to drown in perdition all who assent to it. For what avails it to proceed in vain confidence, to deliberate, resolve, plan, and attempt what we deem pertinent to the purpose, and, at the very outset, prove deficient and destitute both of sound intelligence and true virtue, though we still confidently persist till we rush headlong on destruction? But this is the best that can happen to those who put confidence in their own powers. Whosoever, therefore, gives heed to those teachers, who merely employ us in contemplating our good qualities, so far from making progress in self-knowledge, will be plunged into the most pernicious ignorance.
3. While revealed truth concurs with the general consent of mankind in teaching that the second part of wisdom consists in self-knowledge, they differ greatly as to the method by which this knowledge is to be acquired. In the judgment of the flesh man deems his self-knowledge complete, when, with overweening confidence in his own intelligence and integrity, he takes courage, and spurs himself on to virtuous deeds, and when, declaring war upon vice, he uses his utmost endeavour to attain to the honourable and the fair. But he who tries himself by the standard of divine justice, finds nothing to inspire him with confidence; and hence, the more thorough his self-examination, the greater his despondency. Abandoning all dependence on himself, he feels that he is utterly incapable of duly regulating his conduct. It is not the will of God, however, that we should forget the primeval dignity which he bestowed on our first parents--a dignity which may well stimulate us to the pursuit of goodness and justice. It is impossible for us to think of our first original, or the end for which we were created, without being urged to meditate on immortality, and to seek the kingdom of God. But such meditation, so far from raising our spirits, rather casts them down, and makes us humble. For what is our original? One from which we have fallen. What the end of our creation? One from which we have altogether strayed, so that, weary of our miserable lot, we groan, and groaning sigh for a dignity now lost. When we say that man should see nothing in himself which can raise his spirits, our meaning is, that he possesses nothing on which he can proudly plume himself. Hence, in considering the knowledge which man ought to have of himself, it seems proper to divide it thus, first, to consider the end for which he was created, and the qualities--by no means contemptible qualities--with which he was endued, thus urging him to meditate on divine worship and the future life; and, secondly, to consider his faculties, or rather want of faculties--a want which, when perceived, will annihilate all his confidence, and cover him with confusion. The tendency of the former view is to teach him what his duty is, of the latter, to make him aware how far he is able to perform it. We shall treat of both in their proper order.
4. As the act which God punished so severely must have been not a trivial fault, but a heinous crime, it will be necessary to attend to the peculiar nature of the sin which produced Adam's fall, and provoked God to inflict such fearful vengeance on the whole human race. The common idea of sensual intemperance is childish. The sum and substance of all virtues could not consist in abstinence from a single fruit amid a general abundance of every delicacy that could be desired, the earth, with happy fertility, yielding not only abundance, but also endless variety. We must, therefore, look deeper than sensual intemperance. The prohibition to touch the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was a trial of obedience, that Adam, by observing it, might prove his willing submission to the command of God. For the very term shows the end of the precept to have been to keep him contented with his lot, and not allow him arrogantly to aspire beyond it. The promise, which gave him hope of eternal life as long as he should eat of the tree of life, and, on the other hand, the fearful denunciation of death the moment he should taste of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, were meant to prove and exercise his faith. Hence it is not difficult to infer in what way Adam provoked the wrath of God. Augustine, indeed, is not far from the mark, when he says (in Psal. 19), that pride was the beginning of all evil, because, had not man's ambition carried him higher than he was permitted, he might have continued in his first estate. A further definition, however, must be derived from the kind of temptation which Moses describes. When, by the subtlety of the devil, the woman faithlessly abandoned the command of God, her fall obviously had its origin in disobedience. This Paul confirms, when he says, that, by the disobedience of one man, all were destroyed. At the same time, it is to be observed, that the first man revolted against the authority of God, not only in allowing himself to be ensnared by the wiles of the devil, but also by despising the truth, and turning aside to lies. Assuredly, when the word of God is despised, all reverence for Him is gone. His majesty cannot be duly honoured among us, nor his worship maintained in its integrity, unless we hang as it were upon his lips. Hence infidelity was at the root of the revolt. From infidelity, again, sprang ambition and pride, together with ingratitude; because Adam, by longing for more than was allotted him, manifested contempt for the great liberality with which God had enriched him. It was surely monstrous impiety that a son of earth should deem it little to have been made in the likeness, unless he were also made the equal of God. If the apostasy by which man withdraws from the authority of his Maker, nay, petulantly shakes off his allegiance to him, is a foul and execrable crime, it is in vain to extenuate the sin of Adam. Nor was it simple apostasy. It was accompanied with foul insult to God, the guilty pair assenting to Satan's calumnies when he charged God with malice, envy, and falsehood. In fine, infidelity opened the door to ambition, and ambition was the parent of rebellion, man casting off the fear of God, and giving free vent to his lust. Hence, Bernard truly says, that, in the present day, a door of salvation is opened to us when we receive the gospel with our ears, just as by the same entrance, when thrown open to Satan, death was admitted. Never would Adam have dared to show any repugnance to the command of God if he had not been incredulous as to his word. The strongest curb to keep all his affections under due restraint, would have been the belief that nothing was better than to cultivate righteousness by obeying the commands of God, and that the highest possible felicity was to be loved by him.  Man, therefore, when carried away by the blasphemies of Satan, did his very utmost to annihilate the whole glory of God.
Christian Classics Ethereal Library / Public Domain”
Institutes of the Christian Religion
Ministry for the Long Haul
By Michael Osborne 3/01/2017
The cry of the prophet Elijah in 1 Kings 19:4 is familiar to many people in ministry: I’ve had enough, Lord. Why was Elijah so distraught? Hadn’t he just witnessed astonishing displays of God’s power at Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18:20–46)? Sure. But if you’re a church leader, you’ve felt Elijah’s ennui. You know how often a big Sunday becomes a blue Monday.
Conventional wisdom says at least 1,500 pastors hang it up every month. I doubt the situation is that dire. Still, many ministers of the gospel are blue not just on occasional Mondays but constantly. They feel underpaid and overstretched, discouraged if not depressed. They say they no longer hear the music of God’s love. They’ve had their fill of crises, conflicts, and complaints. Their bodies may be in the pulpit, but their hearts no longer beat with gospel enthusiasm.
There have been times in my thirty years as a pastor when, like Elijah, I’ve wanted to walk away from ministry and try my hand at something else. But by the grace of God, I’m still in. I love preaching the Word, administering the sacraments, and shepherding God’s people. And while many things have contributed to my survival, three key decisions have kept me going.
First, I have decided to expect difficulty. To be a pastor is to be called by Jesus into conflict. I was naive about this in the beginning. But I’ve come to agree with the evangelist Alan Redpath: “If you’re a Christian pastor, you’re always in a crisis—either in the middle of one, coming out of one, or going into one.” Pastors are in daily conflict with the world, the flesh, and the devil, not to mention very broken people. And we ourselves are broken—fragile jars of clay, as Paul says (2 Cor. 4:7).
Jonathan Edwards expected difficulty. In his farewell sermon in Northampton, Mass., he said, “It often comes to pass in this evil world, that great differences and controversies arise between ministers and the people under their pastoral care.”
A few years ago, I was at my denomination’s annual meeting. At one point, I looked around the ballroom and wondered, “How are all these guys really doing?” On a whim, I turned that thought into a tweet, hashtagged the conference, and sent it out. The tweet read, “1000 pastors are at annual meeting this week. Any guesses how many are depressed, hurting, lonely?” I quickly had a number of new Twitter followers. Several friends at the conference who had seen my tweet came up and thanked me for it. They were glad someone knew and understood.
Second, I have decided that I am me and not someone else. That may sound elementary, but it’s critical for ministry leaders to feel comfortable in their own skin and (dare I say it?) to like themselves. As a mentor told me years ago, we minister out of who we are, not out of who we wish we were.
Shortly before his death in 1732, Thomas Boston wrote a little book titled ISBN-13: 978-1171167082. In it, Boston argues that everything — even our weaknesses, struggles, and failures — happens at God’s command and by God’s design.
Armed with faith in God’s sovereignty, we can relax and enjoy ministry. We can focus on our strengths and freely admit our faults. We can accept our limitations and say with the psalmist, “The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places” (Ps. 16:6). And we don’t have to compare ourselves — to anyone. That’s good news in a culture that celebrates the big, grand, and slick and denigrates the small, ordinary, and faithful.
Third, I have decided that I need people. I can’t do ministry alone. I need helpers, and I need friends.
No matter how loudly we may protest, most of us in ministry have a messiah complex. We believe we are God’s gift to the church. After all, we have the seminary degree, the right theology, the gifts, and the experience. With Jesus’ help and people’s cooperation, we’ll grow the church.
The truth is, pastors are some of the loneliest folks around. According to research, about 70 percent of pastors say they have no close friends. A 2009 Lilly Endowment study of three Christian denominations found that most pastors lack strong friendships with other pastors. Like everyone else, people in ministry fear intimacy. We find excuses not to pursue community. And unless we’re careful, ministry tasks only contribute to our isolation.
I am your classic introvert. Nevertheless, I am purposeful about being in the company of men and women who know me, love me, hold me accountable, help me laugh, and keep me sane. My wife and I belong to a small group. I meet every Wednesday with five men who know my sins and failings. I have lunch once a month with a pastor whom I’ve known since our seminary days. I have friends — not just the Facebook kind — with whom I regularly socialize and speak freely. And when it comes to ministry, I don’t try to do everything. My job is to equip and develop others, not keep ministry to myself. Wasn’t self-imposed isolation one of Elijah’s problems? “I am the only one left,” he said (1 Kings 19:10, 14). God broke the news to Elijah that seven thousand faithful Israelites had not bowed the knee to Baal (v. 18).
These three decisions have helped me see that ministry survival, while challenging, is not impossible. God has given us His Son, His Spirit, His Word, His promises, and His people to sustain our faith and fuel our joy. Take advantage of these and you’ll be in ministry for the long haul.
The Problem of Delaying Marriage
By Albert Mohler 3/01/2017
Adulthood is not just a function of age — it is an achievement. Throughout human history, young people have aspired to achieve adulthood and have worked hard to get there. The three nearly universal marks of adulthood in human societies include marriage, financial independence, and readiness for parenthood. Now, the very concept of adulthood is in jeopardy.
Study after study reveals that young Americans are achieving adulthood, if at all, far later than previous generations now living. The average age of marriage for young Americans fifty years ago was in the very early twenties. Now, it is trending closer to age thirty.
Why is this important to us all? A stable and functional culture requires the establishment of stable marriages and the nurturing of families. Without a healthy marriage and family life as foundation, no lasting and healthy community can long survive.
Clearly, our own society reveals the delay of marriage and its consequences, but we are hardly alone. Many European nations display similar patterns of delayed adulthood, with ominous economic, political, and social implications.
For Christians, however, the issue is never merely sociological or economic. The primary issue is moral. When most of us think about morality, we think first of ethical rules and commandments, but the Christian worldview reminds us that the first moral concern is always what the Creator expects of us as His human creatures, the only creatures made in His own image.
The Bible affirms the concept of marriage as a central expectation for humanity. As early as the second chapter in the Bible we read: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Gen. 2:24).
Now, that reality is becoming more and more rare. In the larger society, cohabitation without marriage is increasingly the norm, but even secular observers note that cohabitation no longer even leads to marriage in most cases. Andrew Cherlin of John Hopkins University recently told Time magazine that most cohabiting relationships among young people in the United States are short term. This is not cohabiting before marriage; it is cohabiting instead of marriage.
The Time story also pointed to another worrying pattern: millennials are having children outside of marriage at astounding rates.
Furthermore, several years ago, W. Bradford Wilcox, relying on research conducted by Robert Wuthnow, argued that the delay of marriage is a primary driver of secularization. This goes hand in hand with the fact that the extension of adolescence comes with vast and often unnoticed effects. Adulthood is meant for adult responsibilities, and for the vast majority of young people, that will mean marriage and parenthood. The extension of adolescence into the twenties (and even the thirties) is highly correlated with the rise of secularism and with lower rates of church attendance.
Christians understand that we were created as male and female to demonstrate the glory of God, and that we were given the gift of marriage as the singular context for which God designed the sexual gift and granted us the privilege and command of having and raising children. For all these reasons and more, Christians must understand that, unless given the calling of celibacy, Christians should honor marriage and seek to marry and to move into parenting and the full responsibilities of adulthood earlier rather than later in life.
Delaying adulthood is not consistent with a biblical vision of life, and for most young Christians, marriage should be a central part of planning for young adulthood and faithfulness to Christ. As husband and wife achieving adulthood together, young Christians serve as a witness of God’s plan and God’s gift before a confused world.
Christians understand that sex before and outside of marriage is simply not an option. Cohabiting is inconsistent with obedience to Christ. Children are God’s gifts to be received and welcomed within the marriage covenant.
Tellingly, secular authorities in the culture are now expressing worry about the delay of marriage among young Americans. When Time magazine is concerned about young Americans not getting married, Christians must be doubly concerned.
Young Americans, and that includes young Christians, face some very real challenges in moving toward full adulthood, and there is no question that economic factors play a part. But even secular observers understand that a shift in marriage points to an underlying shift in morality. The blunt fact is that previous generations of young adults, facing even greater economic challenges, still found their way to adulthood and marriage.
The Christian church must encourage young Christians toward the goal of marriage and must be clear about the necessity of holiness and obedience to Christ at every stage and in every season of life. When the world around us is scratching its head, asking what has happened to marriage, Christians must display the glory of God in marriage and all that God gives to us in the marital covenant.
And we must encourage young Christians not to delay marriage, nor to marry in haste, but to make marriage a priority in the critical years of young adulthood. In that cause, we have no time to wait.
Albert Mohler Books | Go to Books Page
Protestant Creeds and Confessions
By Ryan Reeves 4/01/2017
The Reformation was a struggle over the essentials of the faith. First with Luther, and then with other Protestant traditions, the Reformers set biblical faith over against that of Roman Catholic teachings and the papal magisterium. Pointing to the Bible as the exclusive source of doctrine, Protestants nevertheless had to articulate their understanding of biblical teaching. In this sense, the Reformation confessions were a natural flowering of the Protestant commitment to the Bible.
Protestants did not invent the need for confessions. Over the centuries, the church has always confessed the faith in the midst of confusion or crisis. The role of a creed or confession was never to replace Scripture, but rather to sum up the church’s witness to the truth in Scripture over against error.
The most famous examples of this impulse are the historic creeds — such as the Nicene and Chalcedonian creeds — written between the third and fifth centuries. These creeds sprang from the same need as later Protestant confessions — namely, the need to clarify what the church holds essential on doctrinal matters.
What is different about Protestant confessions, though, is the desire on the part of the Reformers for root-and-branch reform. The issues of the Reformation were not simply controversies over one doctrine — or one set of doctrines — but rested on the need to reform the church entirely. Some doctrines, such as the Trinity, were retained as biblical, while others, such as justification by faith alone, needed careful articulation. For the sake of the churches in their traditions, Protestant leaders strove to write down in everyday language the thinking behind the acceptance of doctrines such as justification by faith alone or the rejection of the papal magisterium.
So in this sense, Protestant confessions are the same as early creeds, except their depth of focus is more detailed. Like a creed, they do not replace Scripture, nor are they even set on par with Scripture. Instead, they are the articulation of what Protestants find in Scripture.
LUTHERAN CONFESSIONSThe first example of this trend in Protestantism is found during Luther’s early Reformation. Having struggled for justification by faith alone from 1517 to 1519, and having been declared an outlaw and heretic at the Diet of Worms (1521), Luther worked immediately to write down the basics of his message in a set of confessional documents. Two were for the church and one was for the public defense of Luther’s message.
In the first two cases, Luther wrote the Large and Small Catechisms in 1529, the first for training adult disciples and clergy and the second for children or new converts. He also wrote an Exhortation to Confession that same year to justify the need for confession. Though the church rests on Scripture alone, Luther argued, the need for corporate confession is essential.
These early catechisms also signal one of the defining characteristics of confessions: they are tools for discipleship, essential to the life of the church.
The third confession was the famous Augsburg Confession (1530), drawn up by Luther and Philip Melanchthon, not in a spirit of corporate confession for the church, but in order for it to be laid before Emperor Charles V and the princes of Europe. It was an apologetic of the Lutheran message, combative at times in its tone, or at least in its implications. It clarifies what Lutherans actually believed over against the charges leveled against them by German Catholics.
The Lutheran catechisms and confessions, then, form a microcosm of the ways confessions were used in the Reformation era: one for church life, the other for public disputation against spurious claims about Protestant orthodoxy; one for every believer in the church, the other for its leaders to clarify what they hold to be orthodox teaching.
REFORMED CONFESSIONS PROLIFERATEThe Reformed tradition was equally committed to the cause of confessionalization. Depending on how wide a net we cast, there were roughly forty to fifty Reformed (or Reformed-influenced) confessions written between 1520 and 1650 — by far the most of any Protestant tradition. In 1523, almost immediately as the Reformed tradition began, Huldrych Zwingli drew up the Sixty-Seven Articles in order to provide an articulation of the points at stake in Zurich. This was followed by the Ten Theses of Berne (1528), the First Confession of Basel (1534), and several others as cities began to adopt the Reformed perspective. Others would follow in other countries, with the French Confession of Faith (1559) and the Scots Confession (1560).
The reason for so many Reformed confessions comes as a result of their context. The Reformed faith was always led by a band of brothers (despite the modern impression that John Calvin alone created Reformed orthodoxy). But the Reformed tradition was born in several cities and countries almost at once. From 1520 onward, city after city embraced the Reformation, often piecemeal, and quite a few even before reform came to Geneva. Therefore, there was no singular voice like Luther’s to shape the foundational documents of Reformed confessions.
As a result, church after church, community after community spent a sizable portion of their energy codifying a confession for their local churches. This is why most Reformed confessions identify with the city of their origin: this was the confession for this city, this church, not for all Reformed churches to embrace as one.
Still, as historians and theologians point out, there is a harmonization of these Reformed confessions that unites their diverse voices into a singular Reformed voice. Their differences are not so great that we cannot see their unity on issues of salvation, worship, and practice. Today, many churches recognize a basic harmony of what is called the Three Forms of Unity — the Belgic Confession, the Canons of Dort, and the Heidelberg Catechism — a unity not of authorship but of witness to Reformed principles.
This is not to say that all Reformed confessions are identical. As the Reformed faith spread from the Swiss cantons to Germany, France, the Netherlands, and then to England and Scotland, there were noticeable differences of emphasis or application. These confessional identities formed the initial steps that would give rise to the diversity of Reformed denominations and communities as we know it today.
THE REMONSTRANTS AND DORTIn the Netherlands, for example, the rise of Arminianism within Reformed churches provided the context of the Synod of Dort (1618–19), a unique application of Reformed principles to the challenges of Jacob Arminius. Having studied in Geneva under Calvin’s successor, Theodore Beza, Arminius returned to the Netherlands to serve as a pastor. (One great irony is that Beza wrote a letter of recommendation for Arminius as he returned home.) Arminius, though, increasingly had doubts about Reformed scholasticism and its teachings on predestination and grace. In time, his teachings became the rallying cry of several other leaders against the Calvinist establishment.
After the death of Arminius in 1609, the Arminian position — also known as the Remonstrant faith — soon codified five points that were submitted to leaders of the Dutch war to separate from Spanish-controlled Catholic regions of the Netherlands. The Synod of Dort met in response to this and rejected each of the five points. Thus were born the so-called five points of Calvinism, though the synod’s intention was not to reduce the faith to five points, but merely to give answers to the five points of Arminianism.
Moving ahead to the later seventeenth century, we see this same individual expression of Reformed principles in the London Baptist Confession of Faith (1689). As the creation of Puritan Baptists — or Primitive Baptists — this confession was written by those committed to Reformed doctrine who nevertheless differed with Presbyterians, Anglicans, and Dutch Calvinists in terms of their polity and rejection of paedobaptism. This confession was the culmination of generations of Baptists that emerged in England and would come to define Reformed Baptist views for centuries.
THE WESTMINSTER STANDARDSThe high mark of confessions, though, was the Westminster Standards, which comprises the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Larger and Shorter Catechisms, the Directory of Public Worship, and the Form of Church Government. The confession served as a new expression of Reformed orthodoxy, while the two catechisms mimic Luther’s commitment to providing a manual for both clergy or adults (Larger Catechism) and children (Shorter Catechism). In terms of length and depth, no Reformation or post-Reformation confessional standard rivals that of the Westminster Assembly. Its history, though, comes out of the struggle over Puritanism within the English church.
Since the time of Henry VIII (r. 1509–47), the English church had embraced only an essential confession — first the Forty-Two Articles (1552), later pared down to the Thirty-Nine Articles (1563). Though these articles were fully Protestant in theology, they did not clarify the church’s commitment to principles of worship and did not specify a position on controversial doctrines such as ecclesiological leadership structures or the presence of Christ in communion. Much of the failure in the English church to write a more comprehensive confession was not due to hesitation but to inability created by the violent swings between Protestant and Catholic allegiances under Henry’s two children, Edward VI and Mary I. For much of the sixteenth century, the Anglican Church did not have the luxury to write a lengthy, unified confession.
By the time of Elizabeth I, not a few in England believed the earlier necessity of a limited confession to be a virtue. Shorter confessions might curtail the number of doctrinal squabbles that were emerging, for example, between Reformed and Lutheran leaders in Europe. Bishops such as Matthew Parker — though committed to the Reformed faith — began to express concern at the growing voice for the English church to alter its position on worship, vestments, doctrine, and other liturgical practices.
The result of this tension provoked the emergence of Puritanism, first under Elizabeth and then increasingly under James I. The label applied to the impulse to seek further reform rather than to a clearly defined movement. Yet all Puritans shared in the frustration at the hesitation of bishops and political leaders to reform the English church further.
By the time of Charles I, the situation was rather grim. Under Elizabeth and James, the plight of Puritans was often that they were ignored, though they were hardly persecuted. Charles, though, embodied a more aggressive stance against Puritans. In the end, strife between Parliament and king issued in the English Civil War (1642–51).
The Puritans won the struggle, led by the heroic efforts of Oliver Cromwell — whose statue today still sits squarely in front of Parliament. During the war, Parliament ordered Puritan leaders (and a few Scottish consultants) to convene an assembly to expand the Thirty-Nine Articles into a full confession that matched other confessions in Europe. The Westminster Assembly made an honest effort to base their work on the Thirty-Nine Articles, but it soon found this model too constricting, and so started from scratch.
This context of the struggles against Charles and the need for further reform explain the length and depth of the Westminster Standards. Rather than being seen as an attempt to summarize all doctrine, the Standards should be seen instead as an explosion of pent-up energies within Puritanism to define English Reformed doctrine and practice. Blood had been shed and voices silenced, and now that those voices were loosed from their confines, they felt it their duty to expound not only on their doctrinal position but on worship, discipleship, and a bevy of other issues in the life of the church.
CONFESSIONS TODAYToday, confessions are used in a variety of ways in the lives of Protestant churches. Not all of the trends in evangelical churches are hospitable to confessions. Forces such as the rise of Pietism and the Second Great Awakening have had a withering effect on the role of confessions—corporately and privately—in favor of a more immediate articulation of the faith. At times, confessions are seen as roadblocks to authentic faith.
While these trends are alarming, the confessions of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries have not passed away. They are used weekly in many churches, both in the context of worship and in catechizing new believers and children. They also are used to verify the fidelity of pastors and elders in a variety of denominations. In this sense, the confessions of faith not only form the boundary fence that helps ensure orthodoxy but are also used as living documents that contour the daily walk of Christian disciples Ryan Reeves is Associate Professor of Historical Theology at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also serves as Dean of the Jacksonville campus. He and his wife Charlotte have three children. You can follow him on Twitter.
Against the Sophists
By R.C. Sproul 4/01/2017
If anyone is a shoo-in for the hall of fame of educators historically, it is Socrates. Socrates stands as a giant in the history of educational philosophy, and the importance of Socrates and of his ideas is not only for ancient history but also for today. Socrates was a man with a passion and a profound concern for salvation. Socrates was trying to save Greek civilization. The reason he was concerned about saving Greek civilization is because in his day a dreadful crisis had emerged that was a clear and present danger to the ongoing stability of Greece. It was an educational crisis that arose as a result of Sophism.
To understand that crisis, we have to back up a little bit. We have to go back to the sixth century BC to the beginning years of the science of Western philosophy in the pre-Socratic era. The earliest Greek philosophers were not simply abstract dreamers or speculative thinkers, but they were at the same time the leading scientists of the period. They were concerned about questions of biology, chemistry, astronomy, and questions of physics. Unlike us, they didn’t make an absolute distinction between the study of physics and the study of metaphysics, which is the study of things above and beyond the realm of the physical. The pre-Socratic philosophers were looking for ultimate reality, the reality behind the physical world.
However, an impasse came when the best thinkers, people such as Parmenides and Heraclitus, failed to agree on what is ultimate truth. As a result of that impasse in philosophical and scientific inquiry, a new school of thought emerged in Athens. This school of thought embraced skepticism, believing that if the greatest minds of the culture couldn’t agree on what ultimate truth is, then it must mean that ultimate truth is beyond the scope of human learning. The conclusion that this new school came to was not only that we cannot know ultimate truth, but that even to search for ultimate truth is a fool’s errand. The only knowledge we can possess is the knowledge of what we can see, taste, smell, touch, and hear. All we can attain is knowledge of this realm, knowledge of the immediate context in which we live. We don’t know if there are absolute truths. What really matters is the day-to-day experience of living, and so we have to direct our attention away from this quest for ultimate truth and toward an understanding of practical living. So, Greek education shifted away from a pursuit of truth for truth’s sake to a pursuit of technique, methodology, and ways in which the person’s practical concerns could be considered. The name of this school of thought was Sophism, and its adherents were known as Sophists.
In the context of a modern debate, you may have heard one side say to the other, “You’re just engaging in sophistry.” By this, the accusing side means that their opponents are using superficial, uninformed, and simplistic reasoning, a reasoning that doesn’t ascend to the higher principles. The word sophistry comes from what we know about the Sophists, who emphasized instruction in rhetoric, which has to do with public speaking. Now, it is perfectly legitimate for people to master the craft of vocabulary and the use of words properly in public speech. But remember, the Sophists believed that truth itself is unknowable, so they created a disjunction between proof and persuasion. Proof involves the presentation of solid evidence by cogent reasoning whereby the premises are demonstrated by their logical conclusions. Persuasion, on the other hand, has to do with emotional response. A person can be persuaded without ever really thinking things through. In other words, instead of responding to carefully conceived and constructed arguments, people can respond to slick forms of persuasion. For the Sophists, it didn’t matter whether their speech was true. What mattered is whether it worked. Would the speech persuade? If it persuaded people, it did not matter whether it was true. The argument did not have to be sound as long as it was convincing. Sadly, this philosophy lives on in so much of modern advertising and political discourse.Socrates came into this environment and said that if Sophism triumphs in our culture, it will be the end of civilization because this kind of skepticism and superficial persuasion rips
Socrates came into this environment and said that if Sophism triumphs in our culture, it will be the end of civilization because this kind of skepticism and superficial persuasion rips life out of the context of truth. If nothing can be discerned as true, then what will be destroyed are the norms by which people determine what is good and what is evil. And if we cannot know the good, Socrates said, ethics will disintegrate and civilization will return to barbarianism.
When our educational system is ruled by skepticism, we are on the fast track to civilizational suicide. We’re seeing it all around us as so many people in our culture are committed to a philosophy of relativism, which foundationally is no different from the assumptions brought to the realm of education by the ancient Sophists. This relativism is reinforced in much of our educational system, which has been shaped by the philosophy of pragmatism. Pragmatism says that we cannot know anything of ultimate truth, and so our task is to learn what works. That’s Sophism all over again.
The crisis we face today is the revival of the skepticism that fueled Sophism. This skepticism drives education, ethics, business, and even the political decisions that emanate out of Washington. And we need a Socrates who is willing to go into the streets to engage people in serious discussion to probe their thinking, to show them that this approach makes knowledge itself impossible and can only end in ignorance.
Robert Charles Sproul, 2/13/1939 – 12/14/2017 was an American theologian, author, and ordained pastor in the Presbyterian Church in America. Dr. R.C. Sproul was founder and chairman of Ligonier Ministries, an international Christian education and discipleship organization located near Orlando, Fla. He was also copastor of Saint Andrew’s Chapel in Sanford, Fla., chancellor of Reformation Bible College, and executive editor of Tabletalk magazine. Dr. Sproul has contributed dozens of articles to national evangelical publications, has spoken at conferences, churches, and schools around the world, and has written more than one hundred books. He also served as general editor of the Reformation Study Bible.R.C. Sproul Books | Go to Books Page
Devotionals, notes, poetry and more
12/23/2017 Bob Gass
‘We…ought to bear with the failings of the weak.’
(Ro 15:1) We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. 2 Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. ESV
If you think you’ve nothing of real value to offer others, consider the words of an unknown poet: ‘One song can spark a moment; one flower can wake a dream. One tree can start a forest; one bird can herald spring. One smile begins a friendship; one handclasp lifts a soul. One star can guide a ship at sea; one word can frame the goal. One vote can change a nation; one sunbeam lights a room. One candle wipes out darkness; one laugh can conquer gloom. One step can start a journey; one word can start a prayer. One hope can raise our spirits; one touch can show you care. One voice can speak with wisdom; one heart can know what’s true. One life can make a difference; you see…it’s up to you.’ Author Jon Walker says: ‘Encouragement is part of God’s nature. The New Testament word for encouragement is the same word Jesus used for the Holy Spirit who comes alongside us as an advocate…constant comforter…resident reminder…holy helper…indwelling guide…supplier of courage. Another way God encourages us is when other believers come alongside us as agents of encouragement. Encouragers offer affirmation and confirmation to those who see God’s hand working in their lives (see 1 Thessalonians 2:3-4); exhortation and reassurance to those who walk through trials and tribulations (see 1 Thessalonians 5:14); and reconciliation and restoration to those who stray (see Galatians 6:1). While there are many ways to bring out the best in others, in reality it only takes one: a willingness to “bear with the failings of the weak and not…please ourselves”. That’s how we strengthen them in the faith. It’s called “people-building”.’
(1 Th 2:3–4) 3 For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive, 4 but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts. ESV
(1 Th 5:14) 14 And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. ESV
(Ga 6:1) Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. ESV
UCB The Word For Today
by Bill Federer
An essay entitled The American Crisis was published this day, December 23, 1776. Signed “Common Sense,” it was written by Thomas Paine and it greatly spread the flame of independence. General George Washington ordered it read to his troops. It stated: “These are the times that try men’s souls… Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation… that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph… What we obtain too cheaply, we esteem too lightly; ’tis dearness only that gives everything its value… Where, say some, is the king of America? I’ll tell you, friend, He reigns above.”
by C.S. Lewis
Reflections on the Intimate Dialogue
Between Man and God
Chapter 20 December 23
Mind you, the Reformers had good reasons for throwing doubt on "the Romish doctrine concerning Purgatory" as that Romish doctrine had then become. I don't mean merely the commercial scandal. If you turn from Dante's Purgatorio to the sixteenth century you will be appalled by the degradation. In Thomas More's Supplication of Souls Purgatory is simply temporary Hell. In it the souls are tormented by devils, whose presence is "more horrible and grievous to us than is the pain itself." Worse still, Fisher, in his Sermon on Psalm VI, says the tortures are so intense that the spirit who suffers them cannot, for pain, "remember God as he ought to do." In fact, the very etymology of the word purgatory has dropped out of sight. Its pains do not bring us nearer to God, but make us forget Him. It is a place not of purification but purely of retributive punishment.
The right view returns magnificently in Newman's Dream. There, if I remember it rightly, the saved soul, at the very foot of the throne, begs to be taken away and cleansed. It cannot bear for a moment longer "With its darkness to affront that light." Religion has reclaimed Purgatory.
Our souls demand Purgatory, don't they? Would it not break the heart if God said to us, "It is true, my son, that your breath smells and your rags drip with mud and slime, but we are charitable here and no one will upbraid you with these things, nor draw away from you. Enter into the joy"? Should we not reply, "With submission, sir, and if there is no objection, I'd rather be cleaned first." "It may hurt, you know"-"Even so, sir."
I assume that the process of purification will normally involve suffering. Partly from tradition; partly because most real good that has been done me in this life has involved it. But I don't think suffering is the purpose of the purgation. I can well believe that people neither much worse nor much better than I will suffer less than I or more. "No nonsense about merit." The treatment given will be the one required, whether it hurts little or much.
My favorite image on this matter comes from the dentist's chair. I hope that when the tooth of life is drawn and I am "coming round," a voice will say, "Rinse your mouth out with this." This will be Purgatory. The rinsing may take longer than I can now imagine. The taste of this may be more fiery and astringent than my present sensibility could endure. But More and Fisher shall not persuade me that it will be disgusting and unhallowed.
Your own peculiar difficulty-that the dead are not in time-is another matter.
How do you know they are not? I certainly believe that to be God is to enjoy an infinite present, where nothing has yet passed away and nothing is still to come. Does it follow that we can say the same of saints and angels? Or at any rate exactly the same? The dead might experience a time which was not quite so linear as ours-it might, so to speak, have thickness as well as length. Already in this life we get some thickness whenever we learn to attend to more than one thing at once. One can suppose this increased to any extent, so that though, for them as for us, the present is always be coming the past, yet each present contains unimaginably more than ours.
Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer
Compiled by Richard S. Adams
God can never be a definition.
He is more
than even the entirety
of the dictionary.
--- Terri Guillemets
Live in the world as if only God and your soul were in it;
then your heart will never be made captive by any earthly thing.
--- Saint John of the Cross (1542-1591)
To love another person is to help them love God.
--- Soren Kierkegaard
Set us afire, Lord, stir us, we pray—
while the world perishes, we go our way
Purposeless, passionless, day after day;
set us afire, Lord, stir us, we pray!
... from here, there and everywhere
by D.H. Stern
Her value is far beyond that of pearls.
ב 11 Her husband trusts her from his heart,
and she will prove a great asset to him.
ג 12 She works to bring him good, not harm,
all the days of her life.
Complete Jewish Bible : An English Version of the Tanakh (Old Testament) and B'Rit Hadashah (New Testament)
A Daily Devotional by Oswald Chambers
How can I personally partake in the atonement?
God forbid that I should glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. --- Galatians 6:14.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ always forces an issue of will. Do I accept God’s verdict on sin in the Cross of Christ? Have I the slightest interest in the death of Jesus? Do I want to be identified with His death, to be killed right out to all interest in sin, in worldliness, in self—to be so identified with Jesus that I am spoilt for everything else but Him? The great privilege of discipleship is that I can sign on under His Cross, and that means death to sin. Get alone with Jesus and either tell Him that you do not want sin to die out in you; or else tell Him that at all costs you want to be identified with His death. Immediately you transact in confident faith in what Our Lord did on the Cross, a supernatural identification with His death takes place, and you will know with a knowledge that passeth knowledge that your ‘old man’ is crucified with Christ. The proof that your ‘old man’ has been crucified with Christ is in the amazing ease with which the life of God in you enables you to obey the voice of Jesus Christ.
Every now and again, Our Lord lets us see what we would be like if it were not for Himself; it is a justification of what He said—“Without Me ye can do nothing.” That is why the bedrock of Christianity is personal, passionate devotion to the Lord Jesus. We mistake the ecstasy of our first introduction into the Kingdom for the purpose of God in getting us there; His purpose in getting us there is that we may realize all that identification with Jesus Christ means.
My Utmost for His Highest
the Poetry of R.S. Thomas
It was because there was nothing to do
that I did it; because silence was golden
I broke it. There was a vacuum
I found myself in, full of echoes
of dead languages. Where to turn
when there are no corners? In curved
space I kept on arriving
at my departures. I left no stones
unraised, but always wings
were tardy to start. In ante-rooms
of the spirit I suffered the anaesthetic
of time and came to with my hurt
unmended. Where are you? I
shouted, growing old in
the interval between here and now.
The Poems of R.S. Thomas
God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. --- Acts 17:27.
This, then, is the story of the present God. Phillips Brooks, “The Nearness of God,” downloaded from the Web site The Unofficial Episcopal Preaching Resource Page, at www.edola.org/clergy/episcopalpreaching.html, accessed Aug. 21, 2001. What is the meaning of the Incarnation? We picture Christ coming from far, down through the ranks of angels, down from the battlements of heaven; far, far beyond the sun we picture him leaving his eternal seat and “coming down” to save the world. Then we picture Christ’s departure. Back by the way he came, beyond the sun again, once more through the shining hosts, until he takes his everlasting seat at the right hand of God. There is truth in such pictures. But haven’t we caught more of the spirit of the Incarnation if we think of it not as the bringing to us of a God who had been far away, but as the showing to us of a God who had been hidden? It is as if the cloud parted and the tired and thirsty traveler saw a brook of clear, sweet water running along close by the road traveled. Then the cloud closed again, but the traveler who had once seen the brook never could be faint with thirst again but must always know where to find it and drink of it. Christ was not a God coming out of absence. He was the ever-present God revealing how near he always was.
And so of the new life of Christ in people. It is not something strange and foreign, brought from far away. It is the deepest human sensibility, revealed and made actual. When you stand at last complete in Christ, it is not some rare adornments that he has lent from his divinity to clothe your humanity with. Those graces are the signs of your humanity. They are the flower of your human life, drawn out into luxuriance by the sunlight of the divine love. You take them as your own and wear them as the angels wear their wings.
This is what belief means, then. Not the far-off search for a distant God, but the turning, the looking, the trusting to a God who has been always present, who is present now. This is what belief means. “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31).
--- Phillips Brooks
Take Heart: Daily Devotions with the Church's Great Preachers
A Father’s Advice
Heinrich Bullinger was a good pastor and a better father. He was born in 1504 to a priest who embraced Reformation views. Though it cost him his church, it gained him his son. Young Heinrich loved Luther’s writings, Melanchthon’s books, and the study of the Bible. At the age of 27, he took the place of slain Swiss Reformer Ulrich Zwingli as pastor of the Grossmunster of Zurich, on December 23, 1531.
Bullinger continued Zwingli’s practice of preaching through books of the Bible, verse by verse. His home was open from Morning till night, and he freely distributed food, clothing, and money to the needy. His wisdom and influence spread across Europe.
No one was more affected than his own son, Henry. When the young man packed his bags and set out for college in Strasburg, Heinrich gave him ten rules for living:
1. Fear God at all times, and remember that the fear of
God is the beginning of wisdom.
2. Humble yourself before God, and pray to him alone
through Christ, our only Mediator and Advocate.
3. Believe firmly that God has done all for our salvation
through his Son.
4. Pray above all things for a strong faith active in love.
5. Pray that God may protect your good name and keep
you from sin, sickness, and bad company.
6. Pray for the fatherland, for your dear parents … for the
spread of the Word of God.
7. Be reticent, be always more willing to hear than to
speak, and do not meddle with things you do not
8. Study diligently. … Read daily three chapters of the
9. Keep your body clean and unspotted, be neat in your
dress, and avoid above all things intemperance in
eating and drinking.
10. Let your conversation be decent, cheerful, moderate.
The advice was taken; and Henry Bullinger became, like his father and grandfather, a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Parents, don’t be hard on your children. Raise them properly. Teach them and instruct them about the Lord.
--- Ephesians 6:4.
On This Day 365 Amazing And Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs And Heroes
God Is In The Manger (Day 6)
The Unfathomably Wise Counselor
Wonderful Counselor" (Isa. 9:6) is the name of this child. In him the wonder of all wonders has taken place; the birth of the Savior - child has gone forth from God's eternal counsel. In the form of a human child, God gave us his Son; God became human, the Word became flesh (John 1:14). That is the wonder of the love of God for us, and it is the unfathomably wise Counselor who wins us this love and saves us. But because this child of God is his own Wonderful Counselor, he himself is also the source of all wonder and all counsel. To those who recognize in Jesus the wonder of the Son of God, every one of his words and deeds becomes a wonder; they find in him the last, most profound, most helpful counsel for all needs and questions. Yes, before the child can open his lips, he is full of wonder and full of counsel. Go to the child in the manger. Believe him to be the Son of God, and you will find in him wonder upon wonder, counsel upon counsel.
"In winter it seems that the season of Spring will never come, and in both Advent and Lent it's the waiting that's hard, the in - between of divine promise and its fulfillment. ... Most of us find ourselves dangling in this hiatus, which in the interval may seem a waste of time.... But "the longer we wait, the larger we become, and the more joyful our expectancy." With such motivation, we can wait as we sense that God is indeed with us, and at work within us, as he was with Mary as the Child within her grew."
Poet Luci Shaw, God With Us: Rediscovering the Meaning of Christmas
(Ga 4:3–7) Galatians 4:4-7 4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. 6 And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” 7 So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God. ESV
God Is in the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas
of St. Augustine
Let the just rejoice,
for their justifier is born.
Let the sick and infirm rejoice,
For their saviour is born.
Let the captives rejoice,
For their Redeemer is born.
Let slaves rejoice,
for their Master is born.
Let free men rejoice,
For their Liberator is born.
Let All Christians rejoice,
For Jesus Christ is born.
Advent Prayers for Christ-Seekers
Word Biblical Commentary
Revelation 13:1 And I saw a beast rising out of the sea, having ten horns and seven heads; and on its horns were ten diadems, and on its heads were blasphemous names. 2 And the beast that I saw was like a leopard, its feet were like a bear’s, and its mouth was like a lion’s mouth. And the dragon gave it his power and his throne and great authority. 3 One of its heads seemed to have received a death-blow, but its mortal wound had been healed. In amazement the whole earth followed the beast. 4 They worshiped the dragon, for he had given his authority to the beast, and they worshiped the beast, saying, “Who is like the beast, and who can fight against it?”
Dan 7:1–8 was interpreted in various ways in early Christian texts. Barn. 4:4–5 quotes Dan 7:24 and then 7:7–8, both of which deal with the ten horns and the small horn of the fourth beast, in an enigmatical passage referring to a series of Roman emperors. Similarly, in 4 Ezra 11:1–12:39, Ezra dreams of an eagle who emerged from the sea (et ecce ascendebat de mari aquila) with twelve wings and three heads (11:1). This eagle is the fourth beast, representing the fourth kingdom that was part of the vision of Daniel (4 Ezra 11:36–46; 12:11). Though nothing in the description of the fourth beast in Dan 7:7–8, 19–27 suggests identifying it with an eagle, the eagle was probably chosen because it clearly represents Rome (Myers, Esdras, 295–96). There are no demonstrable literary or exegetical traditions that link Rev 13:1–18 with 4 Ezra 11:1–12:39, though it is significant that both authors reinterpret the vision in Dan 7:1–9, both are concerned with a single beast, and both use the beast to symbolize Rome. 2 Apoc. Bar. 39:5–7 and some early Christian authors express the view that the fourth beast of Dan 7 represents Rome (Hippolytus de Ant. 25.1–3; 28.1; see Irenaeus Adv. Haer. 5.25.3). The os leoni, “mouth of a lion,” image may allude to Roman imperial power, since the lion was a symbol used for the Roman emperor (Ant. 18.228). The Paul of 2 Tim 4:17 was rescued ἐκ στόματος λέοντος, “from the mouth of the lion” (a phrase used in Ps 22:21 [cf. Heb 11:33] for rescue from great danger), referring to Roman imperial authority, which early Christian tradition equated with Nero (Eusebius Hist. eccl. 2.22.4).
Revelation 6-16 (Word Biblical Commentary 52b)
Word Biblical Commentary
The term ἀντίχριστος is a Christian term for an opponent of Christ and/or a counterfeit Christ, and as such it is too specific to describe other Jewish and Christian figures who play slightly different roles (Jenks, Origins, 23–24), for it is but one of many designations used for one or several human representatives of the devil or Satan who actively oppose the Messiah. For that reason the term “eschatological antagonist” is preferable, for it is sufficiently broad to include all such figures found in early Jewish and early Christian literature. Even in Christian texts there are a number of different designations for eschatological adversaries, including ψευδόχριστος, “false Christ” (a term very close in meaning to ἀντίχριστος), found in the plural in Mark 13:22 (= Matt 24:24) and occurring (along with designations for several other types of eschatological antagonists) in several other early Christian authors: Hegesippus in Eusebius Hist. eccl. 4.22.6 (who claims that false Christs and false prophets and false apostles emerge from the seven heresies); Justin Dial. 35.3 (false Christs and false apostles); 82.2 (false prophets and false Christs); Irenaeus Hist. eccl. 5.25.1–5; 5.28.1–4. Most of these passages in fact allude to Mark 13:22 and Matt 24:24. Other designations for human figures who represent Satan and therefore function as opponents of God, in addition to false Christs, include: (1) false apostles (Rev 2:2; Justin Dial. 35.3; Hegesippus in Eusebius Hist. eccl. 4.22.6; Apost. Const. 6.9.6); (2) false prophets (Mark 13:22 = Matt 24:24; Matt 7:15; 1 John 4:1–3; Rev 16:13; 19:20; 20:10; Hegesippus in Eusebius Hist. eccl. 4.22.6; Didascalia 11.5.6); (3) false teachers (2 Pet 2:1, compared with false prophets of the past), (4) the man of lawlessness (2 Thess 2:3, 8, 9; Justin Dial. 32.4; 110.2), (5) the son of perdition (2 Thess 2:3; this figure is an alternate designation for the man of lawlessness in 2 Thess 2:3, 8, 9), and (6) the son of lawlessness (Apoc. El. 1:10; 3:1, 5, 13, 18; 4:2, 15, 20, 28, 31; dependent on 2 Thessalonians). Occasionally, Satan and the Antichrist are identified, as in Sib. Or. 3.63–74 and Asc. Isa. 4:1–7, where Nero (= Antichrist) is regarded as Beliar (= Satan) incarnate.
Revelation 6-16 (Word Biblical Commentary 52b)
Word Biblical Commentary
In Judaism the sea monster came to represent oppressive foreign nations, and occasionally the chaos monsters Rahab or Leviathan could represent Egypt. Since this beast has the throne and power of the dragon (v 2b), it functions as Satan’s earthly representative and also as a parody of Christ. The worship that is given to this beast (v 4) is that which occurred in the imperial cult. The “blasphemous names” referred to in v 1 may refer to the honorific titles (such as “lord” and “god”) applied to living emperors in provincial imperial cults. One of the beast’s seven heads, though fatally wounded, was miraculously healed (v 3), a parody of the death and resurrection of Christ.
Since the seven heads stand for seven kings, this obscure reference is usually thought to refer to the legend of Nero redivivus. Though Nero committed suicide on 9 June A.D. 68, few saw his corpse or witnessed his burial. He was as popular in the eastern provinces as he was despised in italy. In the years following A.D. 68 at least three false Neros appeared, one in A.D. 69, a second in A.D. 80, and a third in A.D. 88. The statement that this beast warred against the saints and conquered them (v 7) may well refer to those who, like Antipas (2:13; cf. 6:9–11; 20:4), had been executed for refusing to sacrifice in connection with the imperial cult.
The second beast from the earth (the male Behemoth of Jewish legend) had two horns like a ram, and it spoke like a dragon—a wolf in sheep’s clothing (v 11). Later referred to as the “false prophet” (16:13; 19:20; 20:10), the second beast performs deceptive miracles persuading people to fashion a cult statue of the beast, a statue that has the power of speech (vv 13–15). Christian eschatology anticipated the coming of such adversaries as “false Christs” and “false prophets” who would perform miracles. Religious fraud was not unknown in the ancient world, though there is no evidence that it occurred in connection with the imperial cult.
The second beast represents a local authority concerned with the worship of the first beast, probably the priesthood of the imperial cult, the most important cult in the province of Asia. It is likely that the foundation of the provincial cult of Domitian at Ephesus late in the first century (involving the participation of the entire province of Asia) provided a climate in which enormous pressure was placed on Christians to be loyal citizens and participate in the imperial cult. While sacrifices and prayers were not ordinarily directed toward the emperor himself, but to the gods on his behalf, this fine distinction was probably imperceptible to Christians. Emperors were not officially regarded as gods until they were posthumously pronounced divus, “divine,” by the Roman senate (with the exceptions of Gaius and Domitian). In the provinces, however, and in Asia in particular, Roman emperors were often accorded cults during their reign.
The second beast compels everyone to be branded on the right hand and forehead with the name of the beast; unbelievers thus form an identifiable group in contrast to faithful Christians marked with God’s seal (7:2–8). The coded name of the first beast is 666, a number that is the total of the numerical value of the letters spelling “Nero Caesar” in Aramaic (found in a document in Palestine at Wadi Muraba˓at), though this is just one of many possible solutions to the riddle.
Revelation 6-16 (Word Biblical Commentary 52b)
Word Biblical Commentary
16:1a καὶ ἤκουσα μεγάλης φωνῆς ἐκ τοῦ ναοῦ λεγούσης τοῖς ἑπτὰ ἀγγέλοις, “Then I heard a loud voice from the temple telling the seven angels.” This may be an allusion to Isa 66:6, where the phrase “a voice from the temple” occurs, though the notion is extremely general. Only here and in v 17 is the unidentified voice said to come “from the temple,” and the presumption is that it is the voice of God.
An unidentified voice from the temple in Jerusalem reportedly said “We are departing from here,” anticipating its destruction by the Romans (Jos. J. W. 6.299–300; Tacitus Hist. 5.13.1; John Malalas Chron. 10.26; see Kuhn, Offenbarungsstimmen, 176–84; cf. Ant. 13.282–83). ... Though the phrase φωνὴ μεγάλη, “loud voice,” occurs twenty times in Revelation (1:10; 5:2, 12; 6:10; 7:2, 10; 8:13; 10:3; 11:12, 15 [the plural form φωναὶ μεγάλαι occurs only here]; 12:10; 14:7, 9, 15, 18; 16:1, 17; 19:1, 17; 21:3), this is the only use in which the adjective precedes the noun. φωνὴ μεγάλη occurs forty-eight times in the LXX, usually in the dative form φωνῇ μεγάλῃ, three times in the accusative (LXX Gen 27:34; 1 Esdr 3:11; Sir 50:16), and once in the nominative (LXX Esth 1:1).
In four additional instances the adjective is placed before the noun as here, in the phrase μεγάλῃ τῇ φωνῇ (1 Esdr 5:64; 9:10; Prov 2:3; 26:25; see Rev 16:1). Though φωνὴ μεγάλη also occurs seven times in the Greek texts and fragments of the pseudepigrapha (Adam and Eve 5:2; 29:11; T. Abr. [Rec. A] 5:9; Paral. Jer. 2:2; 2 Apoc. Bar. 11:3; Sib. Or. 3.669; 5.63), the adjective always follows the noun, reflecting the Semitic pattern. The avoidance of the explicit mention of the name of God as the one speaking is a device frequently found in Revelation (6:6; 9:13; 16:17; 18:4; 19:5).
In 567 AD, at the Council of Tours, the church tried to reconcile a dispute between Western Europe and Eastern Europe. The West celebrated the feast of Christ’s birth on Christmas day, December 25th as it’s major holiday, and the East celebrated this day, January 6th as Epiphany, remembering the visit of the Wise Men and Jesus’ baptism. Since no agreement could be reached on a specific date, the decision was made to have all 12 days between December 25th and January 6th designated “holy days” or as it was later pronounced “holidays.” These became known as the “Twelve Days of Christmas.”American Minute
Daily Readings / CHARLES H. SPURGEON
Morning - December 23
“Friend, go up higher." Luke 14:10.
When first the life of grace begins in the soul, we do indeed draw near to God, but it is with great fear and trembling. The soul conscious of guilt, and humbled thereby, is overawed with the solemnity of its position; it is cast to the earth by a sense of the grandeur of Jehovah, in whose presence it stands. With unfeigned bashfulness it takes the lowest room.
But, in after life, as the Christian grows in grace, although he will never forget the solemnity of his position, and will never lose that holy awe which must encompass a gracious man when he is in the presence of the God who can create or can destroy; yet his fear has all its terror taken out of it; it becomes a holy reverence, and no more an overshadowing dread. He is called up higher, to greater access to God in Christ Jesus. Then the man of God, walking amid the splendours of Deity, and veiling his face like the glorious cherubim, with those twin wings, the blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ, will, reverent and bowed in spirit, approach the throne; and seeing there a God of love, of goodness, and of mercy, he will realize rather the covenant character of God than his absolute Deity. He will see in God rather his goodness than his greatness, and more of his love than of his majesty. Then will the soul, bowing still as humbly as aforetime, enjoy a more sacred liberty of intercession; for while prostrate before the glory of the Infinite God, it will be sustained by the refreshing consciousness of being in the presence of boundless mercy and infinite love, and by the realization of acceptance “in the Beloved.” Thus the believer is bidden to come up higher, and is enabled to exercise the privilege of rejoicing in God, and drawing near to him in holy confidence, saying, “Abba, Father.”
“So may we go from strength to strength,
And daily grow in grace,
Till in thine image raised at length,
We see thee face to face.”
Evening - December 23
“The night also is thine.” --- Psalm 74:16.
Yes, Lord, thou dost not abdicate thy throne when the sun goeth down, nor dost thou leave the world all through these long wintry nights to be the prey of evil; thine eyes watch us as the stars, and thine arms surround us as the zodiac belts the sky. The dews of kindly sleep and all the influences of the moon are in thy hand, and the alarms and solemnities of night are equally with thee. This is very sweet to me when watching through the midnight hours, or tossing to and fro in anguish. There are precious fruits put forth by the moon as well as by the sun: may my Lord make me to be a favoured partaker in them.
The night of affliction is as much under the arrangement and control of the Lord of Love as the bright summer days when all is bliss. Jesus is in the tempest. His love wraps the night about itself as a mantle, but to the eye of faith the sable robe is scarce a disguise. From the first watch of the night even unto the break of day the eternal Watcher observes his saints, and overrules the shades and dews of midnight for his people’s highest good. We believe in no rival deities of good and evil contending for the mastery, but we hear the voice of Jehovah saying, “I create light and I create darkness; I, the Lord, do all these things.”
Gloomy seasons of religious indifference and social sin are not exempted from the divine purpose. When the altars of truth are defiled, and the ways of God forsaken, the Lord’s servants weep with bitter sorrow, but they may not despair, for the darkest eras are governed by the Lord, and shall come to their end at his bidding. What may seem defeat to us may be victory to him.
“Though enwrapt in gloomy night,
We perceive no ray of light;
Since the Lord himself is here,
’Tis not meet that we should fear.”
Morning and Evening
I HEARD THE BELLS ON CHRISTMAS DAY
Henry W. Longfellow, 1807–1882
And He will be their peace. (Micah 5:5)
The cruel miseries caused by the Civil War greatly distressed the beloved American poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. With heaviness of spirit he put his thoughts into words to create this fine carol. Since he was the most influential American poet of his day, Longfellow brought fresh courage and renewed faith to many of his countrymen who read this poem. Although he was a member of the Unitarian church, he maintained a strong belief in God’s goodness and personal concern for His people.
“I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” was written in 1864 for the Sunday school of the Unitarian Church of the Disciples in Boston, Massachusetts. It originally had seven stanzas and was titled “Christmas Bells.” References to the Civil War are prevalent in the omitted verses. The plain, direct wording of the present five stanzas gives this clear message: God is still in command and in His own time will cause the right to triumph and will bring peace and good will once more. The beautiful chiming bells of Christmas reassure us of this important truth.
The personal peace of Longfellow’s life was shaken again 18 years after he wrote this poem. His second wife, to whom he was very devoted, was tragically burned in a fire. Her death was a devastating shock to him. In his remaining years he continued to write, however, and some of his greatest works came during this period of his life. After his death, his bust was placed in the Poets’ Corner of London’s Westminster Abbey as one of the immortal American writers.
I heard the bells on Christmas day their old familiar carols play, and wild and sweet the words repeat of peace on earth, good will to men.
I thought how, as the day had come, the belfries of all Christendom had rolled along th’ unbroken song of peace on earth, good will to men.
And in despair I bowed my head: “There is no peace on earth,” I said; “For hate is strong, and mocks the song of peace on earth, good will to men.”
Yet pealed the bells more loud and deep: “God is not dead, nor doth He sleep; the wrong shall fail, the right prevail, with peace on earth, good will to men.”
Then ringing, singing on its way, the world revolved from night to day—a voice, a chime, a chant sublime of peace on earth, good will to men!
For Today: Luke 2:13, 14; John 14:27; 16:33; Romans 12:10; Ephesians 2:14
“Peace on earth among men of good will!” This is the blessed promise of Christmas. It is the antidote for any fear or hysteria that may enter our lives. Let the glorious sounds of Christmas remind you of this truth ---
Amazing Grace: 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions
DISCOURSE XIV ON GOD’S PATIENCENAHUM 1:3.—The Lord is slow to anger and great in power, and will not at all acquit the wicked: the Lord hath his way in the whirlwind and in the storm, and the clouds are the dust of his feet.
THE subject of this prophecy is God’s sentence against Nineveh, the head and metropolis of the Assyrian empire: a city famous for its strength, and thickness of its walls, and the multitude of its towers for defence against an enemy. The forces of this empire did God use as a scourge against the Israelites, and by their hands ruined Samaria, the chief city of the ten tribes, and transplanted them as captives into another country (2 Kings 17:5, 6), about six years after Hezekiah came to the crown of Judah (2 Kings 18 compared with chap. 17:6), in whose time, or, as some think, later, Nahum uttered this prophecy. The name, Nahum, signifies Comforter; though the matter of his prophecy be dreadful to Nineveh, it was comfortable to the people of God: for a promise is made, (ver. 7), “The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; and he knoweth them that trust in him.” And an encouragement to Judah, to keep their solemn feasts, (ver. 15: and also in chap. 2:3), with a declaration of the misery of Nineveh, and the destruction of it. Observe,
1. In all the fears of God’s people, God will have a Comforter for them. Judah might well be dejected with the calamity of their brethren, not knowing but it might be their own turn shortly after. They knew not where the ambition of the Assyrian would stop; but God by his prophets calms their fears of their furious neighbor, by predicting to them the ruin of their feared adversary.
2. The destruction of the church’s enemies is the comfort of the church. By that God is glorified in his justice, and the church secured in its worship.
3. The victories of persecutors secure them not from being the triumphs of others. The Assyrians that conquered and captived Israel, were themselves to be conquered and captived by the Medes. The whole oppressing empire is threatened with destruction in the ruin of their chief city; accordingly it was accomplished, and the empire extinguished by a greater power. God burns the rod when it hath done the work he appointed it for; and the wisp of straw wherewith the vessels are scoured, is flung into the fire, or upon the dunghill.
Nahum begins his prophecy majestically, with a description of the wrath and fury of God. (ver. 2), “God is jealous, and the Lord revengeth; the Lord revengeth, and is furious: the Lord will take vengeance on his adversaries, and reserveth wrath for his enemies.” And therefore the whole of it is called (ver. 1), “The burden of Nineveh,” as those prophecies are, which are composed of threatenings of judgments, which he as a mighty weight upon the heads and backs of sinners.
God is jealous—jealous of his glory and worship, and jealous for his people, and their security. He cannot long bear the oppressions of his people, and the boasts of his enemies. He is jealous for himself, and is jealous for you of Judah, who retain his worship. He is not forgetful of those that remember him, nor of the danger of those that are desirous to maintain his honor in the world. In this first expression, the prophet uses the covenant name, God; the covenant runs, “I am your God,” or “the Lord your God;” mostly God without Lord, never Lord without God: and, therefore, his jealousy here is meant of the care of his people, and the relation that his actions against his enemies have to his servants. He is a lover of his own, and a revenger on his enemies.
The Lord revengeth, and is furious.—He now describes God by a name of sovereignty and power, when he describes him in his wrath and fury, and is furious. Heb. בעל חמה, Lord of hot anger. God will vindicate his own glory, and have his right on his enemies in a way of punishment, if they will not give it him in a way of obedience. It is three times repeated, to show the certainty of the judgment; and the name of “Lord” added to every one, to intimate the power wherewith the judgment should be executed. It is not a fatherly correction of children in a way of mercy, but an offended Sovereign a destruction of his enemies in a way of vengeance. There is an anger of God with his own people, which hath more of mercy than wrath; in this his rod is guided by his bowels. There is a fury of God against his enemies, where there is sole wrath without any tincture of mercy; when his sword is all edge, without any balsam drops upon it. Such a fury as David deprecates (Psalm 6:1): “O Lord, rebuke me not in thy anger, nor chasten me in thy sore displeasure,” with a fury untempered with grace, and insupportable wrath.
He reserves wrath for his enemies.—He lays it up in his treasury, to be brought out and expended in a due season. “Wrath” is supplied by our translators, and is not in the Hebrew. He reserves, what?—that which is too sharp to be expressed, too great to be conceived: a vengeance it is. And וגוטר הוא, He reserves it. He that hath an infinite wrath, he reserves it; that hath a strength and power to execute it.
(ver. 3.) The Lord is slow to anger, Heb. ארך אפים, of broad nostrils. The anger of God is expressed by this word, which signifies “nostrils:” as, Job 9:13, “If God will not withdraw his anger,” Heb. “his nostrils.” And the anger whereby the wicked are consumed, is called the “breath of nostrils” (Job 4:9); and when he is angry, smoke and fire are said to go out of his nostrils (2 Sam. 2:9); and in Psalm 74:1, “Why doth thy anger smoke?” Heb. “Why do thy nostrils smoke?” So the rage of a horse, when he is provoked in battle, is called the glory of his nostrils (Job 39:20). He breathes quick fumes, and neighs with fury. And slowness to anger is here expressed by the phrase of “long or wide nostrils:” because in a vehement anger, the blood boiling about the heart, exhales men’s spirit, which fume up, and break out in dilated nostrils. But where the passages are straighter the spirits have not so quick a vent, and therefore raise more motions within; or, because the wider the nostrils are, the more cool air is drawn in to temper the heat of the heart, where the angry spirits are gathered; and so the passion is allayed, and sooner calmed. God speaks of himself in Scripture often after the rate of men; Jeremiah prays (ch. 15:15) that God would not take him away in his long-suffering, Heb. “in the length of his nostrils,” i. e. Be not slow and backward in thy anger against my persecutors, as to give them time and opportunity to destroy me. The nostrils, as well as other members of a human body, are ascribed to God. He is slow to anger; he hath anger in his nature, but is not always in the execution of it.
And great in power.—This may refer to his patience as the cause of it, or as a bar to the abuse of it.
1. “He is slow to anger, and great in power,” i. e. his power moderates his anger; he is not so impotent as to be at the command of his passions, as men are; he can restrain his anger under just provocations to exercise it. His power over himself is the cause of his slowness to wrath, as Num. 14:17: “Let the power of my Lord be great,” saith Moses, when he pleads for the Israelites’ pardon. Men that are great in the world are quick in passions, and are not so ready to forgive an injury, or bear with an offender, as one of a meaner rank. It is a want of a power over a man’s self that makes him do unbecoming things upon a provocation. A prince that can bridle his passion, is a king over himself, as well as over his subjects. God is slow to anger, because great in power: he hath no less power over himself than over his creatures: he can sustain great injuries without an immediate and quick revenge: he hath a power of patience, as well as a power of justice.
2. Or thus: “He is slow to anger and great in power.” He is slow to anger, but not for want of power to revenge himself; his power is as great to punish, as his patience to spare. It seems thus, that slowness to anger is brought in as an objection against the revenge proclaimed. What do you tell us of vengeance, vengeance, nothing but such repetitions of vengeance?—as though we were ignorant that God is slow to anger. It is true, saith the prophet, I acknowledge it as much as you, that God is slow to anger; but withal, great in power. His anger certainly succeeds his abused patience; he will not always bridle in his wrath, but one time or other let it march out in fury against his adversaries. The Assyrians, who had captived the ten tribes, and been victorious a little against the Jews, might think that the God of Israel had been conquered by their gods, as well as the people professing him had been subdued by their arms; that God had lost all his power; and the Jews might argue, from God’s patience to his enemies, against the credit of the prophet’s denouncing revenge. The prophet answers, to the terror of the one, and the comfort of the other, that this indulgence to his enemies, and not accounting with them for their crimes, proceeded from the greatness of his patience, and not from any debility in his power. As it refers to the Assyrian, it may be rendered thus: You Ninevites, upon your repentance after Jonah’s thundering of judgments, are witnesses of the slowness of God to anger, and had your punishments deferred; but, falling to your old sins, you shall find a real punishment, and that he hath as much power to execute his ancient threatenings, as he had then compassion to recall them; his patience to you then was not for want of power to ruin you, but was the effect of his goodness towards you. As it refers to the Jews, it may be thus paraphrased: Do not despise this threatening against your enemies because of the greatness of their might, the seeming stability of their empire, and the terror they possess all the nations with round about them: it may be long before it comes, but assure yourselves the threatening I denounce shall certainly be executed; though he hath patience to endure them a hundred and thirty-five years (for so long as it was before Nineveh was destroyed after this threatening, as Ribera, in loc. computes from the years of the reign of the kings of Judah), yet he hath also power to verify his word, and accomplish his will: assure yourselves, he will not at all acquit the wicked.
He will not acquit the wicked.—He will not always account the criminal an innocent, as he seems to do by a present sparing of them, and dealing with them as if they were destitute of any provoking carriage towards him, and he void of any resentment of it. He will “not acquit the wicked;” how is this? Who then can be saved? Is there no place for remission? He will “not acquit the wicked.” i. e. he will not acquit obstinate sinners. As he hath patience for the wicked, so he hath mercy for the penitent. The wicked are the subjects of his long-suffering, but not of his acquitting grace; he doth not presently punish their sins, because he is slow to anger; but without their repentance he will not blot out their sins, because he is righteous in judgment: if God should acquit them without repentance for their crimes, he must himself repent of his own law and righteous sanction of it. “He will not acquit,” i. e. he will not go back from the thing he hath spoken, and forbear, at long run, the punishment he hath threatened. The Lord hath his way in the whirlwind.—The way of God signifies sometimes the law of God, sometimes the providential operations of God: “Is not my way equal?” (Ezek. 18:25). It seems there to take in both.
And in the storm, and the clouds are the dust of his feet.—The prophet describes here the fight of God with the Assyrians, as if he rushed upon them with a mighty noise of an army, raising the dust with the feet of their horses, and motion of their chariots. Symbolically, it signifies the multitude of the Chaldean and Median forces, invading, besieging, and storming the city. It signifies,
1. The rule of providence. The way of God is in every motion of the creature; he rules all things, whirlwinds, storms, and clouds; his way is in all their walks, in the whirlings and blusterings of the one, in the raising and dissolving the other. He blows up the winds, and compacts the clouds, to make them serviceable to his designs.
2. The management of wars by god. His way is in the storm as he was the Captain of the Assyrians against Samaria, so he will be the Captain of the Medes against Nineveh: as Israel was not so much wasted by the Assyrians as by the Lord, who levied and armed their forces; so Nineveh shall be subverted, rather by God, than by the arms of the Medes. Their force is described not to be so much from human power as Divine. God is President in all the commotions of the world, his way is in every whirlwind.
3. The easiness of executing the judgment. He is of so great power that he can excite tempests in the air, and overthrow them with the clouds, which are the dust of his feet: he can blind his enemies, and avenge himself on them: he is Lord of clouds, and can fill their womb with hail, lightnings, and thunders, to burst out upon those he kindles his anger against: he is of so great force, that he needs not use the strength of his arm, but the dust of his feet, to effect his destroying purpose.
4. The suddenness of the judgment. Whirlwinds come suddenly, without any harbingers to give notice of their approach: clouds are swift in their motion; “Who are those that fly as a cloud?” (Isa. 60:8), i. e. with a mighty nimbleness. What God doth, he shall do on the sudden, come upon them before they are aware, be too quick for them in his motion to overrun and overreach them. The winds are described with wings, in regard of the quickness of their motion.
5. The terror of judgments. “The Lord hath his way in the whirlwind,” i. e. in great displeasure. The anger of the Lord is often compared to a storm; he shall bring clouds of judgments upon them, many and thick, as terrible as when a day is turned into night, by the mustering of the darkest clouds that interpose between the sun and the earth. “Clouds and darkness are round about him, and a fire goes before him,” when he “burns up his enemies” (Psalm 97:2, 3). The judgments shall have terror without mercy, as clouds obscure the light, and are dark masks before the face and glory of the sun, and cut off its refreshing beams from the earth. Clouds note multitude and obscurity; God could crush them without a whirlwind, beat them to powder with one touch, but he will bring his judgments in the most surprising and amazing manner to flesh and blood, so that all their glory shall be changed into nothing but terror, by the noise of the bellowing winds, and the clouds, like ink, blacking the heavens.
6. The confusion of the offenders upon God’s proceeding. A whirlwind is not only a boisterous wind, that hurls and rolls everything out of its place, but, by its circular motion, by its winding to all points of the compass, it confounds things, and jumbles them together. It keeps not one point, but, by a circumgyration, toucheth upon all. Clouds, like dust, shall be blown in their face, and gum up their eyes: they shall be in a posture of confusion, not know what counsels to take, what motions to resolve upon. Let them look to every point of heaven and earth, they shall meet with a whirlwind to confound them, and cloudy dust to blind them.
7. The irresistibleness of the judgment. Winds have more than a giant-like force, a torrent of compacted air, that, with an invincible wifulness, bears all before it, displaceth the firmest trees, and levels the tallest towers, and pulls up bodies from their natural place. Clouds also are over our heads, and above our reach; when God places them upon his people for defence they are an invincible security (Isa. 4:5); and when he moves them, as his chariot, against a people, they end in an irresistible destruction. Thus the ruin of the wicked is described (Prov. 10:25): “As the whirlwind passes, so is the wicked no more:” it blows them down, sweeps them away, they irrecoverably fall before the force of it. What heart can endure, and what hands can be strong, in the days wherein God doth deal with them! (Ezek. 22:14). Thus is the judgment against Nineveh described: God hath his way in the whirlwind, to thunder down their strongest walls, which were so thick that chariots could march abreast upon them; and batter down their mighty towers, which that city had in multitudes upon their walls.
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2 Peter 1
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2 Peter 2
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