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7/28/2018     Yesterday     Tomorrow
Judges 11:12-40     Acts 15     Jeremiah 24     Mark 10


Judges 11:12-40

Judges 11:12-40 12 Then Jephthah sent messengers to the king of the Ammonites and said, “What do you have against me, that you have come to me to fight against my land?” 13 And the king of the Ammonites answered the messengers of Jephthah, “Because Israel on coming up from Egypt took away my land, from the Arnon to the Jabbok and to the Jordan; now therefore restore it peaceably.” 14 Jephthah again sent messengers to the king of the Ammonites 15 and said to him, “Thus says Jephthah: Israel did not take away the land of Moab or the land of the Ammonites, 16 but when they came up from Egypt, Israel went through the wilderness to the Red Sea and came to Kadesh. 17 Israel then sent messengers to the king of Edom, saying, ‘Please let us pass through your land,’ but the king of Edom would not listen. And they sent also to the king of Moab, but he would not consent. So Israel remained at Kadesh.

18 “Then they journeyed through the wilderness and went around the land of Edom and the land of Moab and arrived on the east side of the land of Moab and camped on the other side of the Arnon. But they did not enter the territory of Moab, for the Arnon was the boundary of Moab. 19 Israel then sent messengers to Sihon king of the Amorites, king of Heshbon, and Israel said to him, ‘Please let us pass through your land to our country,’ 20 but Sihon did not trust Israel to pass through his territory, so Sihon gathered all his people together and encamped at Jahaz and fought with Israel. 21 And the Lord, the God of Israel, gave Sihon and all his people into the hand of Israel, and they defeated them. So Israel took possession of all the land of the Amorites, who inhabited that country. 22 And they took possession of all the territory of the Amorites from the Arnon to the Jabbok and from the wilderness to the Jordan. 23 So then the Lord, the God of Israel, dispossessed the Amorites from before his people Israel; and are you to take possession of them? 24 Will you not possess what Chemosh your god gives you to possess? And all that the Lord our God has dispossessed before us, we will possess. 25 Now are you any better than Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab? Did he ever contend against Israel, or did he ever go to war with them? 26 While Israel lived in Heshbon and its villages, and in Aroer and its villages, and in all the cities that are on the banks of the Arnon, 300 years, why did you not deliver them within that time? 27 I therefore have not sinned against you, and you do me wrong by making war on me. The Lord, the Judge, decide this day between the people of Israel and the people of Ammon.” 28 But the king of the Ammonites did not listen to the words of Jephthah that he sent to him.

Jephthah's Tragic Vow

29 Then the Spirit of the Lord was upon Jephthah, and he passed through Gilead and Manasseh and passed on to Mizpah of Gilead, and from Mizpah of Gilead he passed on to the Ammonites. 30 And Jephthah made a vow to the Lord and said, “If you will give the Ammonites into my hand, 31 then whatever[a] comes out from the doors of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the Ammonites shall be the Lord's, and I will offer it[b] up for a burnt offering.” 32 So Jephthah crossed over to the Ammonites to fight against them, and the Lord gave them into his hand. 33 And he struck them from Aroer to the neighborhood of Minnith, twenty cities, and as far as Abel-keramim, with a great blow. So the Ammonites were subdued before the people of Israel.

34 Then Jephthah came to his home at Mizpah. And behold, his daughter came out to meet him with tambourines and with dances. She was his only child; besides her he had neither son nor daughter. 35 And as soon as he saw her, he tore his clothes and said, “Alas, my daughter! You have brought me very low, and you have become the cause of great trouble to me. For I have opened my mouth to the Lord, and I cannot take back my vow.” 36 And she said to him, “My father, you have opened your mouth to the Lord; do to me according to what has gone out of your mouth, now that the Lord has avenged you on your enemies, on the Ammonites.” 37 So she said to her father, “Let this thing be done for me: leave me alone two months, that I may go up and down on the mountains and weep for my virginity, I and my companions.” 38 So he said, “Go.” Then he sent her away for two months, and she departed, she and her companions, and wept for her virginity on the mountains. 39 And at the end of two months, she returned to her father, who did with her according to his vow that he had made. She had never known a man, and it became a custom in Israel 40 that the daughters of Israel went year by year to lament the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite four days in the year.

11:29–40 Jephthah’s vow and its outcome. The coming of the Spirit on Jephthah (29) sets in motion a sequence of events that we are now familiar with. It leads predictably to the decisive victory in v 33. But that sequence is interrupted in this case by a vow (30–31), and once made it dominates the whole episode. The battle receives only cursory treatment, its chief interest being that it creates the conditions in which Jephthah will have to fulfil his vow.
Vows, as such, were not unusual (e.g. Nu. 30; Ps. 22:25; Ec. 5:4–5). But this was no ordinary vow. It explicitly pledged a burnt offering (31b) but did not specify the victim, only the means by which it would be identified: ‘whatever [or whoever] comes out …’ (31a). The wording was ambiguous, and put all the inhabitants of Jephthah’s house at risk. To our horror, and his, it was his virgin daughter, his only child, who became the victim (34–35), and the real tragedy is that such a vow was totally unnecessary (as previous episodes have shown). In context it can be seen as nothing other than a mistaken attempt to bargain with God. Jephthah the master negotiator overplayed his hand and paid a tragic price. The second half of this episode reads like a grim inversion of Gn. 22, the story of another father and another only child. But Jephthah was no Abraham, and in his case there was no voice from heaven, only a punishing silence. We can only conclude that the Lord was as angry with Jephthah’s vow as he was with Israel’s ‘repentance’. Cf. the action of the king of Moab in 2 Ki. 3:26–27. It is worth considering how often modern prayers contain elements of bargaining with God. Jephthah’s example makes it clear that God is not to be bargained with in this way.
   New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition

Acts 15

The Jerusalem Council

Acts 15 1 But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” 2 And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question. 3 So, being sent on their way by the church, they passed through both Phoenicia and Samaria, describing in detail the conversion of the Gentiles, and brought great joy to all the brothers. 4 When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they declared all that God had done with them. 5 But some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up and said, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses.”

6 The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter. 7 And after there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. 8 And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, 9 and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith. 10 Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? 11 But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.”

12 And all the assembly fell silent, and they listened to Barnabas and Paul as they related what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles. 13 After they finished speaking, James replied, “Brothers, listen to me. 14 Simeon has related how God first visited the Gentiles, to take from them a people for his name. 15 And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written,

16 “‘After this I will return,
and I will rebuild the tent of David that has fallen;
I will rebuild its ruins,
and I will restore it,
17 that the remnant of mankind may seek the Lord,
and all the Gentiles who are called by my name,
says the Lord, who makes these things 18 known from of old.’

19 Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, 20 but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood. 21 For from ancient generations Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogues.”

The Council's Letter to Gentile Believers

22 Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They sent Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, leading men among the brothers, 23 with the following letter: “The brothers, both the apostles and the elders, to the brothers who are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia, greetings. 24 Since we have heard that some persons have gone out from us and troubled you with words, unsettling your minds, although we gave them no instructions, 25 it has seemed good to us, having come to one accord, to choose men and send them to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, 26 men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 27 We have therefore sent Judas and Silas, who themselves will tell you the same things by word of mouth. 28 For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these requirements: 29 that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.”

30 So when they were sent off, they went down to Antioch, and having gathered the congregation together, they delivered the letter. 31 And when they had read it, they rejoiced because of its encouragement. 32 And Judas and Silas, who were themselves prophets, encouraged and strengthened the brothers with many words. 33 And after they had spent some time, they were sent off in peace by the brothers to those who had sent them. 35 But Paul and Barnabas remained in Antioch, teaching and preaching the word of the Lord, with many others also.

Paul and Barnabas Separate

36 And after some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us return and visit the brothers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are.” 37 Now Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark. 38 But Paul thought best not to take with them one who had withdrawn from them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work. 39 And there arose a sharp disagreement, so that they separated from each other. Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus, 40 but Paul chose Silas and departed, having been commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord. 41 And he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.


Jeremiah 24

The Good Figs and the Bad Figs

Jeremiah 24 1 After Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon had taken into exile from Jerusalem Jeconiah the son of Jehoiakim, king of Judah, together with the officials of Judah, the craftsmen, and the metal workers, and had brought them to Babylon, the Lord showed me this vision: behold, two baskets of figs placed before the temple of the Lord. 2 One basket had very good figs, like first-ripe figs, but the other basket had very bad figs, so bad that they could not be eaten. 3 And the Lord said to me, “What do you see, Jeremiah?” I said, “Figs, the good figs very good, and the bad figs very bad, so bad that they cannot be eaten.”

4 Then the word of the Lord came to me: 5 “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Like these good figs, so I will regard as good the exiles from Judah, whom I have sent away from this place to the land of the Chaldeans. 6 I will set my eyes on them for good, and I will bring them back to this land. I will build them up, and not tear them down; I will plant them, and not pluck them up. 7 I will give them a heart to know that I am the Lord, and they shall be my people and I will be their God, for they shall return to me with their whole heart.

8 “But thus says the Lord: Like the bad figs that are so bad they cannot be eaten, so will I treat Zedekiah the king of Judah, his officials, the remnant of Jerusalem who remain in this land, and those who dwell in the land of Egypt. 9 I will make them a horror to all the kingdoms of the earth, to be a reproach, a byword, a taunt, and a curse in all the places where I shall drive them. 10 And I will send sword, famine, and pestilence upon them, until they shall be utterly destroyed from the land that I gave to them and their fathers.”


Mark 10

Teaching About Divorce

Mark 10 1 And he left there and went to the region of Judea and beyond the Jordan, and crowds gathered to him again. And again, as was his custom, he taught them.

2 And Pharisees came up and in order to test him asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” 3 He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” 4 They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away.” 5 And Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. 6 But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ 7 ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, 8 and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. 9 What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”

10 And in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. 11 And he said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, 12 and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”

Let the Children Come to Me

13 And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. 14 But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. 15 Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” 16 And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them.

The Rich Young Man

17 And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’” 20 And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” 21 And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 22 Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.

23 And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” 24 And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” 26 And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?” 27 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” 28 Peter began to say to him, “See, we have left everything and followed you.” 29 Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, 30 who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”

Jesus Foretells His Death a Third Time

32 And they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them. And they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. And taking the twelve again, he began to tell them what was to happen to him, 33 saying, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. 34 And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.”

The Request of James and John

35 And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” 36 And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” 37 And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” 38 Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” 39 And they said to him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized, 40 but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” 41 And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John. 42 And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 43 But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Jesus Heals Blind Bartimaeus

46 And they came to Jericho. And as he was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a great crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the roadside. 47 And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 48 And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 49 And Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart. Get up; he is calling you.” 50 And throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. 51 And Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” And the blind man said to him, “Rabbi, let me recover my sight.” 52 And Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him on the way.

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Mercy Ministry

By Elliot Grudem 12/01/2010

     Christ has given His church deacons to lead the church in its ministries of mercy. Deacons serve those in the church by ministering to people in their times of need. Though deacons lead in this area, ministries of mercy are also the responsibility of every Christian.

     Providing mercy to those in need is often a challenging task. It involves giving of yourself. I think that Paul understood this, for he encouraged those who were providing care for others not to grow weary in doing good (Gal. 6:9).

     Yet we can quickly grow weary of doing good for a number of reasons. I’ll mention three:

     First, it can be frustrating. Ministries of mercy are often aimed at those in dire straits. There’s no guarantee that our investment of time or money will result in a life change. There’s no guarantee we will see any change happen. Sometimes we see progress. Other times we see regress. And more often than not, we see progress quickly followed by regress.

     Second, there’s potential for failure. We may give money to the wrong person. We may get scammed or cheated. We may pay to feed someone’s addiction. People won’t make good on their promises or live up to their potential.

     Third, it makes us feel foolish. Ministries of mercy have a way of taking us into places of deep personal insecurity and asking us to give from places we feel the least qualified to give. How can we help the woman who gave birth to a dead baby, the young mother dying of cancer, the older, home-bound couple who can’t seem to scrape together enough money to pay their light bill, or the young man who suffers from a mental disorder that keeps him from getting steady work? Often it just seems easier to ignore the problem. Keep people at a distance. Send off a check. Pretend we don’t see or don’t care.

     Mercy ministry is tough. But it’s good. When we participate in ministries of mercy, we are reminded in a real way of people’s need for a savior. We soon realize we aren’t that savior.

     That’s one of the reasons doing mercy is so beneficial. It reminds us that there are problems in this world we can’t solve with hard work or money. The sin outside of us, the sin in others, and the sin in our lives means that this side of Jesus’ return, there will be poverty. People will suffer. There will be needs.

     It also reminds us that we serve a God who is committed to eliminating that poverty, that suffering, those needs — forever. His son died and rose from the dead, guaranteeing a better day is yet to come (Rev. 21:3–4). When we meet another’s need, we are reminded to hope for that day to come.

     Doing mercy also serves as a wonderful test of our hearts. Passages like 2 Corinthians 8:9, James 2:14–17, and 1 John 3:16–18 indicate this. Our doing mercy — or not doing mercy — demonstrates our grasp and application of the gospel. It helps us see the things in our heart that we worship and hold dear.

(2 Co 8:8–9) 8 I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine. 9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.   ESV

(Jas 2:14–17) 14 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? 17 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.   ESV

(1 Jn 3:16–18) 16 By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. 17 But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? 18 Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.   ESV

     If you are being merciful, praise God. You are showing others the mercy He has shown you. If you aren’t being merciful, seek to grasp the mercy that is yours in Christ. Consider what it means that Jesus left heaven, came to earth, and died on a cross — for you. Ask God to help you grasp the mercy He showed you in Christ. Ask yourself; If this is the mercy I’ve received, how can I not be merciful to others? How can this mercy help me be merciful to others?

     God commands us to be merciful (James 1:27). When we show mercy, we glorify God by imitating Him and giving expression to the mercy He’s given us.

(Jas 1:27) 27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.   ESV

     Here are four practical ways to practice mercy within your church.

     Give to an alms fund. Jesus said that what you do with your money is a good indication of the things you really value. If you want to be merciful and want your church to be known for its mercy, commit your money to help those in need.

     Get involved in ministering mercy to those in need. Don’t simply abdicate your Christian service to the deacons. Find places of need. Ask how the Lord has gifted you to care for those needs. Meet those needs. Get direction from your deacons if needed, but you don’t need the deacons’ permission to care for needs. Scripture already gives you the authority to do so.

     Get involved in a way that fits whom God has made you to be (Rom. 12:3). If you are skilled at carpentry, use that skill instead of trying to cook a meal. If you can train people to work or help them get jobs, do that instead of filling boxes at the food pantry.

(Ro 12:3) 3 For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.   ESV

     Make mercy ministry part of your small group or Sunday school class. Pool your money to have funds on hand to meet needs that arise in your group. Use the financial and people resources in your group to meet needs that you know of through your networks. Don’t abdicate what you can handle; don’t foolishly take on what you can’t meet.

     When Paul shared the story of his calling and training with the apostles, they confirmed he was not called to preach a different gospel. They approved of his calling and of his theology. They did encourage him, though, to do one thing: “Remember the poor.”

     Paul’s response? “The very thing I was eager to do” (Gal. 2:10). By God’s grace, may the same be true for us.


(Ga 2:10) 10 Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.   ESV

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     Rev. Elliot V. Grudem is lead pastor for leadership development and church planting at Vintage Church in Raleigh, N.C., and founder and president of the Leaders Collective, an organization aimed at equipping pastors.

Two Thumbs Down

By R.C. Sproul Jr. 1/1/2011

     Neil Postman, in his delightful albeit ominous book Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business, draws an insightful comparison between two important dystopian novels. Utopian novels, of course, are those designed to show us edenic cultures. Dystopian novels show us hellish futures.

     The two Postman discusses are 1984 by George Orwell and the slightly lesser known Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. Both books alarm us, but in different ways. The citizens of 1984 are haunted and hunted by Big Brother, the embodiment of the statist dictator. Every moment of every day is both regimented and watched by the repressive state. In Brave New World, however, the citizens are, in a certain sense, not at all oppressed. They don’t live in fear of the state. They are enslaved more by the carrot of pleasure and entertainment, while in 1984 they are enslaved by the stick of torture and the secret police. What if, Postman asks, we were all on our guard for 1984, but what snuck up on us was Brave New World?

     Winston, the “hero” of 1984, works as a bureaucrat at the Ministry of Truth. He is both a censor and a revisionist historian. The past is changed to fit the needs of the regime, and truth is sent to burn up in the memory hole. One of his friends has a slightly different job — culling the nation’s dictionary. Here the goal isn’t merely to rid the book of outmoded words but to rid the language of dangerous thoughts. By whittling the language down, the state can whittle away the capacity of its citizens to even think in terms of freedom and liberty. Is it possible that all our communication conveniences in our so-called “Information Age” are, in a manner of speaking, an assault on language and liberty, but from the perspective and approach of Brave New World? Have we, with emails, tweets, and texts 4gotn how 2 thnk? Have we entered a brave new world not with our fingers in our ears but our thumbs on our keypads?

     Postman argues persuasively that levels of discourse can certainly rise or fall, and that such may be the fruit of given technologies. His argument is that with the advent of television, we ceased to be a word-based culture and rapidly became an image-based culture. Images, as a medium, are much better than words at evoking emotions. They are much less effective than words at communicating abstract ideas. I recall realizing just how dumbed-down our culture had become while a student in seminary. One of the key books we were assigned to read for our systematic theology course was The Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin. I read both volumes, finding them rich, helpful, but by no means an easy and comfortable read. I was ashamed, however, to consider Calvin’s goal in writing this work — it was designed to be a primer, a basic introduction to the Christian faith for laypeople. And there I was not only reading it as a text in my seminary but finding it among the more difficult books in the whole of my studies.

     Perhaps stranger even than our growing ignorance is our concomitant growing confidence in our wisdom. Instead of looking to the ancients as our betters, we see them as hopelessly undereducated rubes. Reading the epistles in the Bible, however, ought to disabuse us of our foolish pride. We might be tempted to escape this conclusion by remembering our doctrine of inspiration. Paul, Peter, John, all the authors of all the epistles had some rather potent help along the way. When the omniscient God of heaven and earth is superintending your writing, you can certainly reach depths of wisdom that you would not have reached on your own. Communication, however, is a two-way street. What we learn from reading the epistles is not just the brain power behind the writing of them, but the brain power behind the reading of them. Like Calvin’s Institutes, the New Testament epistles were written by and large for laypeople, pew sitters, regular folk.

     The readers of these letters, while they were certainly blessed to have pastors and teachers to help them understand, likely did not sit down over the course of a year or three to dissect these letters, word by word. They didn’t spend a month of Sundays on 1 Corinthians 1:1a, before daring to move on the next month to 1:1b. Instead, they received these letters as letters. They understood them as letters. They submitted to them as letters.

     As education gadfly John Taylor Gatto has wisely argued, we are being dumbed down by our own state school systems. That is 1984. But we are also dumbing ourselves down by refusing to sit, be still, and to read reasoned discourse that moves sequentially from one thought to the next, communicated in complete sentences. That is our Brave New World. Our calling then is not to live as the citizens under 1984. Nor should we see ourselves as the vapid consumers of Brave New World. Instead we are called to seek first a different kingdom. Instead we are to seek His righteousness. We find both in the Word of Him who is the Word. May we drink deeply of that Word, that we might walk rightly with that Word.

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

R.C. Sproul Jr. Books

The Soul-Shaping Reality of the Gospel: An Interview with David Wells

By David Wells 1/1/2011

     Tabletalk: Besides the Bible, what has been the most influential book you have read this past year?

     David Wells: Most politicians answer a slightly different question from the one they have been asked, and so may I do so, too? The book I would love to see become the year’s most influential is J.I. Packer and Gary Parrett’s Grounded in the Gospel: Building Believers the Old-Fashioned Way. It argues that our churches should be catechizing because this kind of teaching, especially of our young, preserves doctrine. Biblical doctrine is what makes the church the church. We are stumbling in passing on the doctrinal core of the faith, and that goes to the heart of the church’s weakness today.

     TT: Looking at the lay of the evangelical land, what do you see as the largest threat to the church?

     DW: Every study on the internal life of the churches shows that they are becoming increasingly less literate biblically. With that, our ability to judge where our culture is intruding upon our souls is diminished. A church that is merely mimicking the culture, rather than offering a biblical alternative to it, is on its way to oblivion. That, in fact, has happened in many Western countries, where no more than two to five percent go to any kind of church at all on Sunday morning. The situation in Europe today could be where we ourselves are headed in the years to come.

     TT: How can the church maintain an effective witness as we move into a decidedly post-Christian era in the West?

     DW: We need a little perspective here. Our situation in the U.S.A., relative to Christians elsewhere, is not unusually difficult. It is true that we are now moving away from a time when Christianity has had some cultural acceptance. After all, consider how popular it has been to be “born again.” But let us remember that outside the U.S.A., there are Christians who live under tyrannies, such as from Islam, or in extreme poverty, or surrounded by horrible political corruption, or are subject to rampant crime. Our situation is really not that bad! What it requires is that we have some conviction about biblical truth, some savvy about the culture in which we are living, and the spine to preserve our identity as believers. It is a temptation to think that by being nice and accommodating we can make the Christian gospel seem like a great little addition to everyone’s life. But the gospel is not a great little addition. It is a soul-shaking, costly, demanding reality. The church cannot hide this fact! The gospel is not about self-therapy. Despite our pressured, taut, nervejangling age, the Christian message is not there just to make us feel better about ourselves or more able to cope. It is about coming before our great God and Savior, confessing our sins, entrusting ourselves to Him, and surrendering our claim upon ourselves to Him. What is most needed, and what is most lacking in the church, is a little character in differentiating its message from self-help therapies and marketing strategies. Our deficiency is not that we lack the right technique. It is that we often don’t have a real alternative.

     TT: Do you have any advice for Christians seeking a career in academia?

     DW: Like many other avenues of work, academia has become professionalized. This means that entrance into it is guarded carefully — you must have the right degrees — and advancement within it is carefully regulated. This means, in practice, that academics must negotiate political minefields as they move along and almost certainly they will begin thinking of their work in terms of having a career. Having a career means plotting out strategies to get from one place to another in the ascent up the ladder to visibility, power, and perhaps wealth. All of this is simply deadly to Christian faith. It replaces the demands and horizons of the profession for those of the kingdom of God. That is invariably so, unless we are really intentional about preserving our place in God’s world as His servants, not simply careerists, and as His witnesses to Christ’s gospel. How easy it is to compromise these in order to advance our careers.

     TT: How has consumerism contributed to the state we find the church in today?

     DW: We have brought into the church the rhythms of buying and selling, of making a product appealing so that a potential buyer can be lured into a sale, and to help out that process, we are changing the atmosphere of worship into one of pleasant entertainment. The product we think we are selling is the gospel and, within that, the God of the universe. Put that way, it sounds pretty absurd, doesn’t it? But as the visions of success, of sanctuaries packed with potential buyers, dance before our eyes, nothing seems to be absurd, inappropriate, or out of bounds to us. Apparently, we are willing to do whatever we think it takes, no matter how inappropriate.

     TT: If you were writing No Place for Truth: or Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology? today, is there anything you would change/add/subtract in the book?

     DW: It is now almost three decades since I first started doing the research for No Place for Truth. Later, when it came out in 1993, there were gasps all around. And some said that surely I was exaggerating. What I argued then, though, has become a commonplace perception now. The thesis was that evangelicalism was losing its biblical/theological soul through its many cultural compromises. This process has only accelerated. I am, however, encouraged that there are more now who are alert to what has happened, more who really want authenticity, more who are unimpressed with either a psychologized faith or a marketed gospel, and more who yearn for real, vibrant orthodoxy. What I would change, then, would only be this addition — that as evangelicalism continues to fray and unravel, more now are looking for something much better.

     TT: Although there are many, is there one lesson the Lord has taught you that you would care to share with us?

     DW: I am increasingly reminded of the fragility of life, for I know so many whose death seemed untimely. I’m reminded of John Donne’s lines, “Therefore, send not to know/For whom the bell tolls,/It tolls for thee.” Lord, help me to number my days and apply my heart to becoming wise! And this fragility is even more evident spiritually. How paper-thin is even our best piety! How treacherous life can be! I think of the many, even in ministry, who have blundered and lost their way. Every day is a day for which to thank God for the great gift of life and every day that I continue to walk with Him is a day that I remember my debt to His grace. Yes, there, but for the grace of God, go I!

     TT: What project(s) are you working on currently?

     DW: I am hoping to make five small, firstrate films on the five themes from my book, The Courage to Be Protestant: Reformation Faith in Today's World. These films will have study materials to go with them for small groups and Sunday school classes. The films will pick up the themes in the book: how Christian faith is, and should be, interfacing with our culture with respect to truth, self, God, Christ, and church. The economy has not been helpful to us in terms of getting this funded, but I am hopeful that we will be able to start work this fall.

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     David F. Wells is the distinguished senior research professor at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary. In addition to teaching, Dr. Wells is involved with a number of ministries. He serves on the board of the Rafiki Foundation, Inc., which works to establish orphanages and schools in ten African countries in order to raise and train orphans within a Christian framework. Rafiki’s hope is that the next generation of leaders for these countries will come from their orphanages. Dr. Wells travels to Africa annually to visit these orphanages. For a number of years, he was a member of the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization, its theology working group, and its planning committee for the World Congress that was held in Manila in 1989. For many years, he has worked to provide theological education and basic preaching tools for Third World pastors.

David Wells Books:

Knowing Scripture

By R.C. Sproul 1/1/2011

     It has often been charged that the Bible can’t be trusted because people can make it say anything they want it to say. This charge would be true if the Bible were not the objective Word of God, if it were simply a wax nose, able to be shaped, twisted, and distorted to teach one’s own precepts. The charge would be true if it were not an offense to God the Holy Spirit to read into sacred Scripture what is not there. However, the idea that the Bible can teach anything we want it to is not true if we approach the Scriptures humbly, trying to hear what the Bible says for itself.

     Sometimes systematic theology is rejected because it is seen as an unwarranted imposition of a philosophical system on the Scriptures. It is seen as a preconceived system, a Procrustean bed into which the Scriptures must be forced by hacking off limbs and appendages to make it fit. However, the appropriate approach to systematic theology recognizes that the Bible itself contains a system of truth, and it is the task of the theologian not to impose a system upon the Bible, but to build a theology by understanding the system that the Bible teaches.

     At the time of the Reformation, to stop unbridled, speculative, and fanciful interpretations of Scripture, the Reformers set forth the fundamental axiom that should govern all biblical interpretation. It is called the analogy of faith, which basically means that Holy Scripture is its own interpreter. In other words, we are to interpret Scripture according to Scripture. That is, the supreme arbiter in interpreting the meaning of a particular verse in Scripture is the overall teaching of the Bible.

     Behind the principle of the analogy of faith is the prior confidence that the Bible is the inspired Word of God. If it is the Word of God, it must therefore be consistent and coherent. Cynics, however, say that consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds. If that were true, then we would have to say that the smallest mind of all is the mind of God. But there is nothing inherently small or weak to be found in consistency. If it is the Word of God, one may justly expect the entire Bible to be coherent, intelligible, and unified. Our assumption is that God, because of His omniscience, would never be guilty of contradicting Himself. It is therefore slanderous to the Holy Spirit to choose an interpretation of a particular passage that unnecessarily brings that passage into conflict with that which He has revealed elsewhere. So the governing principle of Reformed hermeneutics or interpretation is the analogy of faith.

     A second principle that governs an objective interpretation of Scripture is called the sensus literalis. Many times people have said to me, incredulously, “You don’t interpret the Bible literally, do you?” I never answer the question by saying, “Yes,” nor do I ever answer the question by saying, “No.” I always answer the question by saying, “Of course, what other way is there to interpret the Bible?” What is meant by sensus literalis is not that every text in the Scriptures is given a “woodenly literal” interpretation, but rather that we must interpret the Bible in the sense in which it is written. Parables are interpreted as parables, symbols as symbols, poetry as poetry, didactic literature as didactic literature, historical narrative as historical narrative, occasional letters as occasional letters. That principle of literal interpretation is the same principle we use to interpret any written source responsibly.

     The principle of literal interpretation gives us another rule, namely that the Bible in one sense is to be read like any other book. Though the Bible is not like any other book in that it carries with it the authority of divine inspiration, nevertheless, the inspiration of the Holy Spirit over a written text does not turn verbs into nouns or nouns into verbs. No special, secret, arcane, esoteric meaning is poured into a text simply because it’s divinely inspired. Nor is there any such mystical ability we call “Holy Ghost Greek.” No, the Bible is to be interpreted according to the ordinary rules of language.

     Closely related to this point is the principle that the implicit must be interpreted by the explicit, rather than the explicit interpreted by the implicit. This particular rule of interpretation is violated constantly. For example, we read in John 3:16 that “whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life,” and many of us conclude that since the Bible teaches that anyone who believes shall be saved, it therefore implies that anyone can, without the prior regenerative work of the Holy Spirit, exercise belief. That is, since the call to believe is given to everyone, it implies that everyone has the natural ability to fulfill the call. Yet the same gospel writer has Jesus explaining to us three chapters later that no one can come to Jesus unless it is given to him of the Father (6:65). That is, our moral ability to come to Christ is explicitly and specifically taught to be lacking apart from the sovereign grace of God. Therefore, all of the implications that suggest otherwise must be subsumed under the explicit teaching, rather than forcing the explicit teaching into conformity to implications that we draw from the text.

     Finally, it is always important to interpret obscure passages by those that are clear. Though we affirm the basic clarity of sacred Scripture, we do not at the same time say that all passages are equally clear. Numerous heresies have developed when people have forced conformity to the obscure passages rather than to the clear passages, distorting the whole message of Scripture. If something is unclear in one part of Scripture, it probably is made clear elsewhere in Scripture. When we have two passages in Scripture that we can interpret in various ways, we want always to interpret the Bible in such a way as to not violate the basic principle of Scripture’s unity and integrity.

     These are simply a few of the basic, practical principles of biblical interpretation that I set forth years ago in my book Knowing Scripture. I mention that book here because so many people have expressed to me how helpful it has been to guide them into a responsible practice of biblical interpretation. Learning the principles of interpretation is exceedingly helpful to guide us in our own study.

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

R.C. Sproul Books:

The Precious Gift of Baby Talk

By John Piper 1/1/2011

     Human language is precious. It sets us off from the animals. It makes our most sophisticated scientific discoveries and our deepest emotions sharable. Above all, God chose to reveal Himself to us through human language in the Bible. In the fullness of time, He spoke to us by His Son (Heb. 1:1–2), and that Son spoke human language. In like manner, He sent His Spirit to lead His apostles into all truth so that they could tell the story of the Son in human language. Without this story in human language, we would not know the Son. Therefore, human language is immeasurably precious.

     But it is also imperfect for capturing the fullness of God. In 1 Corinthians 13, there are four comparisons between this present time and the age to come after Christ returns.

     Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love (vv. 8–13). Note the comparisons with this age (now) and the age to come (then):

Now: We know in part.
Then: When the perfect comes, the partial will pass away (vv. 9–10).

Now: I spoke and thought and reasoned like a child.
Then: When I became a man, I gave up childish ways (v. 11).

Now: We see in a mirror dimly.
Then: We will see face to face (v. 12).

Now: I know in part.
Then: I will know fully, even as I am fully known (v. 12).

     In this context, we can see what Paul means when he writes, “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child.” He is saying that in this age, our human language and thought and reasoning are like baby talk compared to how we will speak, think, and reason in the age to come.

     When Paul was caught up into heaven and given glimpses of heavenly realities, he said that he “heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter” (2 Cor. 12:4). Our language is insufficient to carry the greatness of all that God is.

     But what a blunder it would be to infer from this that we may despise language or treat it with contempt or carelessness. What a blunder, if we began to belittle true statements about God as cheap or unhelpful or false. What folly it would be if we scorned propositions, clauses, phrases, and words, as though they were not inexpressibly precious and essential to life.

     The main reason this would be folly is that God chose to send His Son into our nursery and speak baby talk with us. Jesus Christ became a child with us. There was a time when Jesus Himself would have said, “When I was a child, I spoke like a child and thought like a child and reasoned like a child.” That is what the incarnation means. He accommodated Himself to our baby talk. He stammered with us in the nursery of human life in this age.

     Jesus spoke baby talk. The Sermon on the Mount is our baby talk. His High Priestly Prayer in John 17 is baby talk. “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34) is baby talk—infinitely precious, true, glorious baby talk.

     More than that, God inspired an entire Bible of baby talk. True baby talk. Baby talk with absolute authority and power. Baby talk that is sweeter than honey and more to be desired than gold. John Calvin said that “God, in so speaking, lisps with us as nurses are wont to do with little children” ( Institutes of the Christian Religion ). How precious is the baby talk of God. It is not like grass that withers or flowers that fade; it abides forever (Isa. 40:8).

     There will be another language and thought and reasoning in the age to come. And we will see things that could not have been expressed in our present baby talk. But when God sent His Son into our human nursery, talking baby talk and dying for the toddlers, He shut the mouths of those who ridicule the possibilities of truth and beauty in the mouth of babes.

     And when God inspired a book with baby talk as the infallible interpretation of Himself, what shall we say of the children who make light of the gift of human language as the medium of knowing God? Woe to those who despise, belittle, exploit, or manipulate this gift to the children of man. It is not a toy in the nursery. It is the breath of life. “The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life” (John 6:63).

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      (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota.

     John Piper Books:

Judges 11; Acts 15; Jeremiah 24; Mark 10

By Don Carson 7/28/2018

     Here I shall squeeze two separate meditations into this space, one on each of the primary passages.

     In Acts 15, it is critically important to understand what the dispute was about that called into existence what has since been labeled “the Jerusalem Council.” Some (Jewish) men traveled from Judea to Antioch and began teaching the believers there that even though they believed in Jesus they could not be saved unless they were circumcised in compliance with the law of Moses (Acts 15:1). Later history has attached the name Judaizers to these people.

     From the perspective of the Judaizers, Jesus was the Jewish Messiah, and one could not really follow this Jewish Messiah without becoming a Jew. Doubtless some Jews felt threatened by this influx of uncircumcised Gentiles into the church: the Jewish self-identity was in terrible danger of being diluted and even lost. If these Gentiles all became Jews, however, as signaled by circumcision, that danger would dissolve.

     Yet the issue is deeper than the question of Jewish self-identity. It finally develops into the question of how your whole Bible is put together. The Judaizers elevated the law of Moses above Jesus. Jesus could be accepted as the Messiah, only if the result was a group of people even more devoutly committed to obeying the Mosaic Covenant — food laws, circumcision, temple culture and all. By contrast, the leaders point in another direction.

     The law was never well obeyed by the Jews (Acts 15:10); why impose it on the Gentiles? More importantly, the revelation reflected in the old covenant points to Jesus. He is its goal, not its servant. Peter reminds the assembled crowd that in the Cornelius episode God poured out his Spirit on the Gentiles without their being circumcised (15:7-8). At issue, finally, is the freedom of God’s grace (Acts 15:11).

     The reports of Paul and Barnabas prove helpful. James, the half-brother of the Lord Jesus — by this time apparently the chief elder of the Jerusalem church — offers both a telling exposition of an Old Testament text and his own pastoral judgment (Acts 15:13-21). The combination wins the day — though the argument flares up repeatedly during the next few decades. Understand these issues aright, and your Bible comes together.

     Judges 11:30-31, 34-40 is a stellar example of a promise that should not have been made, and a promise that should not have been kept. Despite strong biblical insistence that one should keep one’s vows, a vow to do something evil should not be kept but repented of, lest one commit two sins instead of one. Moreover, here is further evidence of the descending spiral of theological and moral stupidity in Israel at the time of judges.

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

Don Carson Books:

Read The Psalms In "1" Year

Psalm 78

Tell the Coming Generation
78 A Maskil Of Asaph.

62 He gave his people over to the sword
and vented his wrath on his heritage.
63 Fire devoured their young men,
and their young women had no marriage song.
64 Their priests fell by the sword,
and their widows made no lamentation.
65 Then the Lord awoke as from sleep,
like a strong man shouting because of wine.
66 And he put his adversaries to rout;
he put them to everlasting shame.

67 He rejected the tent of Joseph;
he did not choose the tribe of Ephraim,
68 but he chose the tribe of Judah,
Mount Zion, which he loves.
69 He built his sanctuary like the high heavens,
like the earth, which he has founded forever.
70 He chose David his servant
and took him from the sheepfolds;
71 from following the nursing ewes he brought him
to shepherd Jacob his people,
Israel his inheritance.
72 With upright heart he shepherded them
and guided them with his skillful hand.

ESV Study Bible

The Institutes of the Christian Religion

Translated by Henry Beveridge

     23. From this, a second consequence is, that we must with ready minds prove our obedience to them, whether in complying with edicts, or in paying tribute, or in undertaking public offices and burdens, which relate to the common defence, or in executing any other orders. "Let every soul," says Paul, "be subject unto the higher powers." "Whosoever, therefore, resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God" (Rom. 13:1, 2). Writing to Titus, he says, "Put them in mind to be subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates, to be ready to every good work" (Tit. 3:1). Peter also says, "Submit yourselves to every human creature" (or rather, as I understand it, "ordinance of man"), "for the Lord's sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evil-doers, and for the praise of them that do well" (1 Pet. 2:13). Moreover, to testify that they do not feign subjection, but are sincerely and cordially subject, Paul adds, that they are to commend the safety and prosperity of those under whom they live to God. "I exhort, therefore," says he, "that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; for kings, and for all that are in authority: that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty" (1 Tim. 2:1, 2). Let no man here deceive himself, since we cannot resist the magistrate without resisting God. For, although an unarmed magistrate may seem to be despised with impunity, yet God is armed, and will signally avenge this contempt. Under this obedience, I comprehend the restraint which private men ought to impose on themselves in public, not interfering with public business, or rashly encroaching on the province of the magistrate, or attempting anything at all of a public nature. If it is proper that anything in a public ordinance should be corrected, let them not act tumultuously, or put their hands to a work where they ought to feel that their hands are tied, but let them leave it to the cognisance of the magistrate, whose hand alone here is free. My meaning is, let them not dare to do it without being ordered. For when the command of the magistrate is given, they too are invested with public authority. For as, according to the common saying, the eyes and ears of the prince are his counsellors, so one may not improperly say that those who, by his command, have the charge of managing affairs, are his hands.

24. But as we have hitherto described the magistrate who truly is what he is called--viz. the father of his country, and (as the Poet speaks) the pastor of the people, the guardian of peace, the president of justice, the vindicator of innocence, he is justly to be deemed a madman who disapproves of such authority. And since in almost all ages we see that some princes, careless about all their duties on which they ought to have been intent, live, without solicitude, in luxurious sloth; others, bent on their own interest, venally prostitute all rights, privileges, judgments, and enactments; others pillage poor people of their money, and afterwards squander it in insane largesses; others act as mere robbers, pillaging houses, violating matrons, and slaying the innocent; many cannot be persuaded to recognise such persons for princes, whose command, as far as lawful, they are bound to obey. For while in this unworthy conduct, and among atrocities so alien, not only from the duty of the magistrate, but also of the man, they behold no appearance of the image of God, which ought to be conspicuous in the magistrate, while they see not a vestige of that minister of God, who was appointed to be a praise to the good and a terror to the bad, they cannot recognise the ruler whose dignity and authority Scripture recommends to us. And, undoubtedly, the natural feeling of the human mind has always been not less to assail tyrants with hatred and execration, than to look up to just kings with love and veneration.

25. But if we have respect to the word of God, it will lead us farther, and make us subject not only to the authority of those princes who honestly and faithfully perform their duty toward us, but all princes, by whatever means they have so become, although there is nothing they less perform than the duty of princes. For though the Lord declares that a ruler to maintain our safety is the highest gift of his beneficence, and prescribes to rulers themselves their proper sphere, he at the same time declares, that of whatever description they may be, they derive their power from none but him. Those, indeed, who rule for the public good, are true examples and specimens of his beneficence, while those who domineer unjustly and tyrannically are raised up by him to punish the people for their iniquity. Still all alike possess that sacred majesty with which he has invested lawful power. I will not proceed further without subjoining some distinct passages to this effect. [690] We need not labour to prove that an impious king is a mark of the Lord's anger, since I presume no one will deny it, and that this is not less true of a king than of a robber who plunders your goods, an adulterer who defiles your bed, and an assassin who aims at your life, since all such calamities are classed by Scripture among the curses of God. But let us insist at greater length in proving what does not so easily fall in with the views of men, that even an individual of the worst character, one most unworthy of all honour, if invested with public authority, receives that illustrious divine power which the Lord has by his word devolved on the ministers of his justice and judgment, and that, accordingly, in so far as public obedience is concerned, he is to be held in the same honour and reverence as the best of kings.

26. And, first, I would have the reader carefully to attend to that Divine Providence which, not without cause, is so often set before us in Scripture, and that special act of distributing kingdoms, and setting up as kings whomsoever he pleases. In Daniel it is said, "He changeth the times and the seasons: he removeth kings, and setteth up kings" (Dan. 2:21, 37). Again, "That the living may know that the Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will" (Dan. 4:17, 25). Similar sentiments occur throughout Scripture, but they abound particularly in the prophetical books. What kind of king Nebuchadnezzar, he who stormed Jerusalem, was, is well known. He was an active invader and devastator of other countries. Yet the Lord declares in Ezekiel that he had given him the land of Egypt as his hire for the devastation which he had committed. Daniel also said to him, "Thou, O king, art a king of kings: for the God of heaven hath given thee a kingdom, power, and strength, and glory. And wheresoever the children of men dwell, the beasts of the field and the fowls of the heaven hath he given into thine hand, and hath made thee ruler over them all" (Dan. 2:37, 38). Again, he says to his son Belshazzar, "The most high God gave Nebuchadnezzar thy father a kingdom, and majesty, and glory, and honour: and for the majesty that he gave him, all people, nations, and languages, trembled and feared before him" (Dan. 5:18, 19). When we hear that the king was appointed by God, let us, at the same time, call to mind those heavenly edicts as to honouring and fearing the king, and we shall have no doubt that we are to view the most iniquitous tyrant as occupying the place with which the Lord has honoured him. When Samuel declared to the people of Israel what they would suffer from their kings, he said, "This will be the manner of the king that shall reign over you: He will take your sons, and appoint them for himself, for his chariots, and to be his horsemen; and some shall run before his chariots. And he will appoint him captains over thousands, and captains over fifties; and will set them to ear his ground, and to reap his harvest, and to make his instruments of war, and instruments of his chariots. And he will take your daughters to be confectioneries, and to be cooks, and to be bakers. And he will take your fields, and your vineyards, and your oliveyards, even the best of them, and give them to his servants. And he will take the tenth of your seed, and of your vineyards, and give to his officers, and to his servants. And he will take your men-servants, and your maid-servants, and your goodliest young men, and your asses, and put them to his work. He will take the tenth of your sheep: and ye shall be his servants" (1 Sam. 8:11-l7). Certainly these things could not be done legally by kings, whom the law trained most admirably to all kinds of restraint; but it was called justice in regard to the people, because they were bound to obey, and could not lawfully resist: as if Samuel had said, To such a degree will kings indulge in tyranny, which it will not be for you to restrain. The only thing remaining for you will be to receive their commands, and be obedient to their words.

27. But the most remarkable and memorable passage is in Jeremiah. Though it is rather long, I am not indisposed to quote it, because it most clearly settles this whole question. "I have made the earth, the man and the beast that are upon the ground, by my great power, and by my outstretched arm, and have given it unto whom it seemed meet unto me. And now have I given all these lands into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, my servant: and the beasts of the field have I given him also to serve him. And all nations shall serve him, and his son, and his son's son, until the very time of his land come: and then many nations and great kings shall serve themselves of him. And it shall come to pass, that the nation and kingdom which will not serve the same Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, and that will not put their neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon, that nation will I punish, saith the Lord, with the sword, and with famine, and with pestilence, until I have consumed them by his hand" (Jer. 27:5-8). Therefore "bring your necks under the yoke of the king of Babylon, and serve him and his people, and live" (v. 12). We see how great obedience the Lord was pleased to demand for this dire and ferocious tyrant, for no other reason than just that he held the kingdom. In other words, the divine decree had placed him on the throne of the kingdom, and admitted him to regal majesty, which could not be lawfully violated. If we constantly keep before our eyes and minds the fact, that even the most iniquitous kings are appointed by the same decree which establishes all regal authority, we will never entertain the seditious thought, that a king is to be treated according to his deserts, and that we are not bound to act the part of good subjects to him who does not in his turn act the part of a king to us.

28. It is vain to object, that that command was specially given to the Israelites. For we must attend to the ground on which the Lord places it--"I have given the kingdom to Nebuchadnezzar; therefore serve him and live." Let us doubt not that on whomsoever the kingdom has been conferred, him we are bound to serve. Whenever God raises any one to royal honour, he declares it to be his pleasure that he should reign. To this effect we have general declarations in Scripture. Solomon says--"For the transgression of a land, many are the princes thereof" (Prov. 28:2). Job says--"He looseth the bond of kings, and girdeth their loins with a girdle" (Job. 12:18). This being confessed, nothing remains for us but to serve and live. There is in Jeremiah another command in which the Lord thus orders his people--"Seek the peace of the city whither I have caused you to be carried away captives, and pray unto the Lord for it: for in the peace thereof shall ye have peace" (Jer. 29:7). Here the Israelites, plundered of all their property, torn from their homes, driven into exile, thrown into miserable bondage, are ordered to pray for the prosperity of the victor, not as we are elsewhere ordered to pray for our persecutors, but that his kingdom may be preserved in safety and tranquillity, that they too may live prosperously under him. Thus David, when already king elect by the ordination of God, and anointed with his holy oil, though causelessly and unjustly assailed by Saul, holds the life of one who was seeking his life to be sacred, because the Lord had invested him with royal honour. "The Lord forbid that I should do this thing unto my master, the Lord's anointed, to stretch forth mine hand against him, seeing he is the anointed of the Lord." "Mine eyes spare thee; and I said, I will not put forth mine hand against my lord; for he is the Lord's anointed" (1 Sam. 24:6, 11). Again,--"Who can stretch forth his hand against the Lord's anointed, and be guiltless"? "As the Lord liveth the Lord shall smite him, or his day shall come to die, or he shall descend into battle, and perish. The Lord forbid that I should stretch forth mine hand against the Lord's anointed" (l Sam. 24:9-11).

29. This feeling of reverence, and even of piety, we owe to the utmost to all our rulers, be their characters what they may. This I repeat the oftener, that we may learn not to consider the individuals themselves, but hold it to be enough that by the will of the Lord they sustain a character on which he has impressed and engraven inviolable majesty. But rulers, you will say, owe mutual duties to those under them. This I have already confessed. But if from this you conclude that obedience is to be returned to none but just governors, you reason absurdly. Husbands are bound by mutual duties to their wives, and parents to their children. Should husbands and parents neglect their duty; should the latter be harsh and severe to the children whom they are enjoined not to provoke to anger, and by their severity harass them beyond measure; should the former treat with the greatest contumely the wives whom they are enjoined to love and to spare as the weaker vessels; would children be less bound in duty to their parents, and wives to their husbands? They are made subject to the froward and undutiful. Nay, since the duty of all is not to look behind them, that is, not to inquire into the duties of one another, but to submit each to his own duty, this ought especially to be exemplified in the case of those who are placed under the power of others. Wherefore, if we are cruelly tormented by a savage, if we are rapaciously pillaged by an avaricious or luxurious, if we are neglected by a sluggish, if, in short, we are persecuted for righteousness' sake by an impious and sacrilegious prince, let us first call up the remembrance of our faults, which doubtless the Lord is chastising by such scourges. In this way humility will curb our impatience. And let us reflect that it belongs not to us to cure these evils, that all that remains for us is to implore the help of the Lord, in whose hands are the hearts of kings, and inclinations of kingdoms.65 [691] "God standeth in the congregation of the mighty; he judgeth among the gods." Before his face shall fall and be crushed all kings and judges of the earth, who have not kissed his anointed, who have enacted unjust laws to oppress the poor in judgment, and do violence to the cause of the humble, to make widows a prey, and plunder the fatherless.

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


  • ISCL 765 Political Frame
  • Business as Mission?
  • Consciousness?

#1 Tom Steffen  Biola University

 

#2 Steve Rundle   Biola University

 

#3 J.P. Moreland   Biola University

 


     Devotionals, notes, poetry and more

coram Deo
     5/1/2015    The Heresy of Indifference

     Doctrine matters—it matters in life and in death. Our doctrine determines our destiny. It not only affects our view about God but our view about everything. We are doctrinal beings by nature. Everyone holds to some sort of doctrine; the question is whether or not our doctrine is biblical. Consequently, we dare not be indifferent about doctrine. Indeed, there is a reason we’ve never heard of a Christian martyr who was indifferent about doctrine. Indifference about doctrine is the mother of every heresy in all of history, and in our day indifference about doctrine is spreading like wildfire in the pulpits and pews of our churches. Ironically, the assertion that doctrine doesn’t matter is in fact a doctrine in itself.

     When people tell me they are into Jesus but not into doctrine, I tell them that if they are not into doctrine, they are, in fact, not into Jesus. We cannot know Jesus without knowing doctrine, and we cannot love God without knowing God, and the way we know God is by studying His Word. Doctrine comes from God, it teaches us about God, and by faith it leads us back to God in worship, service, and love. Indifference to doctrine is indifference to God, and indifference to God is indifference to our own eternity. Pastors who think it is relevant and cool to be indifferent about doctrine—who play down the necessity and importance of doctrine and who fail to preach and explain doctrine in their sermons—are in fact failing to give their people that which will save their souls. For us to downplay doctrine or to be intentionally fuzzy in preaching doctrine isn’t cool or humble or relevant, it’s outright arrogant. There is nothing more relevant than doctrine, there is nothing more humbling than doctrine, and there is nothing that more quickly gets our eyes off ourselves and fixes them on our loving and gracious God than doctrine that proceeds from God.

     Doctrine, however, is not an end in itself. Doctrine exists to help us know, love, worship, and glorify the God who is. There are few things the devil wants more than to have churches full of people who think they are as straight as a rifle barrel in their doctrine—but just as empty as one—in their application of that doctrine. Doctrine rightly understood is doctrine rightly applied. If we separate our doctrine from our life, our doctrine will lead to our death. Doctrine is a gift from God, and it flows from the inspired pages of the Word of God that we might love God with our whole being and our neighbor as ourselves. This is why we must be dogmatic in our doctrine—not dogmatically harsh, but dogmatically humble as we seek to know, proclaim, and defend the doctrine that teaches us about our loving and holy Lord who gave Himself for us. We must be dogmatic in our doctrine and dogmatic in living it out for the glory of God. As Matthew Henry wrote, “Those who teach by their doctrine must teach by their life, or else they pull down with one hand what they build up with the other.”

     click here for article source

     Dr. Burk Parsons (@BurkParsons) is editor of Tabletalk magazine, senior pastor of Saint Andrew’s Chapel in Sanford, Fla., a visiting lecturer at Reformed Theological Seminary, and a Ligonier Ministries teaching fellow. He is editor of John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, and Doxology.

Ligonier     coram Deo (definition)

American Minute
     by Bill Federer

     German composer Johann Sebastian Bach died this day, July 28, 1750. He was considered the “master of masters,” combining the tradition of Baroque music with harmonic innovations. The majority of his works are religious, including Passion According to St. Matthew Passion and (Jesus, My Joy!). In expressing his conviction on the purpose of music, Bach asserted: “The aim and final end of all music should be none other than the glory of God and the refreshment of the soul. If heed is not paid to this, it is not true music but a diabolical bawling and twanging.”

American Minute

Lean Into God
     Compiled by Richard S. Adams


What price have you paid for your integrity?
If you haven’t paid a price
I question your integrity.
--- Dennis Bontrager

The diabolical nature of sin is that it hates God, it is not at enmity against God; it is enmity. When you get the nature of sin revealed by the Holy Spirit, you know that this phrase is not too strong—red-handed anarchy against God.
--- Oswald Chambers
God's workmanship

He is not to us a God afar off, with whom we have no immediate concern; but a God who is not far from any one of us, in whom we live, move, and have our being, who numbers the hairs of your head, and without whose notice a sparrow does not fall to the ground.
--- Charles Hodge

... from here, there and everywhere

History of the Destruction of Jerusalem
     Thanks to Meir Yona

     CHAPTER 18.

     The Calamities And Slaughters That Came Upon The Jews.

     1. Now the people of Cesarea had slain the Jews that were among them on the very same day and hour [when the soldiers were slain], which one would think must have come to pass by the direction of Providence; insomuch that in one hour's time above twenty thousand Jews were killed, and all Cesarea was emptied of its Jewish inhabitants; for Florus caught such as ran away, and sent them in bonds to the galleys. Upon which stroke that the Jews received at Cesarea, the whole nation was greatly enraged; so they divided themselves into several parties, and laid waste the villages of the Syrians, and their neighboring cities, Philadelphia, and Sebonitis, and Gerasa, and Pella, and Scythopolis, and after them Gadara, and Hippos; and falling upon Gaulonitis, some cities they destroyed there, and some they set on fire, and then went to Kedasa, belonging to the Tyrians, and to Ptolemais, and to Gaba, and to Cesarea; nor was either Sebaste [Samaria] or Askelon able to oppose the violence with which they were attacked; and when they had burnt these to the ground; they entirely demolished Anthedon and Gaza; many also of the villages that were about every one of those cities were plundered, and an immense slaughter was made of the men who were caught in them.

     2. However, the Syrians were even with the Jews in the multitude of the men whom they slew; for they killed those whom they caught in their cities, and that not only out of the hatred they bare them, as formerly, but to prevent the danger under which they were from them; so that the disorders in all Syria were terrible, and every city was divided into two armies, encamped one against another, and the preservation of the one party was in the destruction of the other; so the day time was spent in shedding of blood, and the night in fear, which was of the two the more terrible; for when the Syrians thought they had ruined the Jews, they had the Judaizers in suspicion also; and as each side did not care to slay those whom they only suspected on the other, so did they greatly fear them when they were mingled with the other, as if they were certainly foreigners. Moreover, greediness of gain was a provocation to kill the opposite party, even to such as had of old appeared very mild and gentle towards them; for they without fear plundered the effects of the slain, and carried off the spoils of those whom they slew to their own houses, as if they had been gained in a set battle; and he was esteemed a man of honor who got the greatest share, as having prevailed over the greatest number of his enemies. It was then common to see cities filled with dead bodies, still lying unburied, and those of old men, mixed with infants, all dead, and scattered about together; women also lay amongst them, without any covering for their nakedness: you might then see the whole province full of inexpressible calamities, while the dread of still more barbarous practices which were threatened was every where greater than what had been already perpetrated.

     3. And thus far the conflict had been between Jews and foreigners; but when they made excursions to Scythopolis, they found Jew that acted as enemies; for as they stood in battle-array with those of Scythopolis, and preferred their own safety before their relation to us, they fought against their own countrymen; nay, their alacrity was so very great, that those of Scythopolis suspected them. These were afraid, therefore, lest they should make an assault upon the city in the night time, and, to their great misfortune, should thereby make an apology for themselves to their own people for their revolt from them. So they commanded them, that in case they would confirm their agreement and demonstrate their fidelity to them, who were of a different nation, they should go out of the city, with their families to a neighboring grove; and when they had done as they were commanded, without suspecting any thing, the people of Scythopolis lay still for the interval of two days, to tempt them to be secure; but on the third night they watched their opportunity, and cut all their throats, some as they lay unguarded, and some as they lay asleep. The number that was slain was above thirteen thousand, and then they plundered them of all that they had.

     4. It will deserve our relation what befell Simon; he was the son of one Saul, a man of reputation among the Jews. This man was distinguished from the rest by the strength of his body, and the boldness of his conduct, although he abused them both to the mischieving of his countrymen; for he came every day and slew a great many of the Jews of Scythopolis, and he frequently put them to flight, and became himself alone the cause of his army's conquering. But a just punishment overtook him for the murders he had committed upon those of the same nation with him; for when the people of Scythopolis threw their darts at them in the grove, he drew his sword, but did not attack any of the enemy; for he saw that he could do nothing against such a multitude; but he cried out after a very moving manner, and said, "O you people of Scythopolis, I deservedly suffer for what I have done with relation to you, when I gave you such security of my fidelity to you, by slaying so many of those that were related to me. Wherefore we very justly experience the perfidiousness of foreigners, while we acted after a most wicked manner against our own nation. I will therefore die, polluted wretch as I am, by mine own hands; for it is not fit I should die by the hand of our enemies; and let the same action be to me both a punishment for my great crimes, and a testimony of my courage to my commendation, that so no one of our enemies may have it to brag of, that he it was that slew me, and no one may insult upon me as I fall." Now when he had said this, he looked round about him upon his family with eyes of commiseration and of rage [that family consisted of a wife and children, and his aged parents]; so, in the first place, he caught his father by his grey hairs, and ran his sword through him, and after him he did the same to his mother, who willingly received it; and after them he did the like to his wife and children, every one almost offering themselves to his sword, as desirous to prevent being slain by their enemies; so when he had gone over all his family, he stood upon their bodies to be seen by all, and stretching out his right hand, that his action might be observed by all, he sheathed his entire sword into his own bowels. This young man was to be pitied, on account of the strength of his body and the courage of his soul; but since he had assured foreigners of his fidelity [against his own countrymen], he suffered deservedly.

          The Project Gutenberg EBook of The Wars of the Jews or History of the Destruction of Jerusalem, by Flavius Josephus Translator: William Whiston

The War of the Jews: The History of the Destruction of Jerusalem (complete edition, 7 books)

Proverbs 22:1-2
     by D.H. Stern

1     Rather than wealth, choose a good reputation,
esteem over silver and gold.

2     Rich and poor have this in common—
ADONAI made them both.


Complete Jewish Bible : An English Version of the Tanakh (Old Testament) and B'Rit Hadashah (New Testament)

Mushrooms On The Moor
     by Frank W. Boreham

     VII | WITH THE WOLVES IN THE WILD

     I like to think that Jesus spent forty nights of His wondrous life out in the Wild with the wolves. 'He was with the wild beasts,' Mark tells us, and the statement is not recorded for nothing. Night is the great leveller. Desert and prairie are indistinguishable in the night. Night folds everything in sable robes, and the loveliest landscape is one with the dreariest prospect. North and South, East and West, are all alike in the night. Here is the Wild of the West. 'A vast silence reigned,' Jack London tells us. 'The land itself was a desolation, lifeless, without movement, so lone and cold that the spirit of it was not even that of sadness. There was a hint in it of laughter—the masterful and incommunicable wisdom of eternity laughing at the futility of life and the effort of life. It was the Wild—the savage, frozen-hearted Northern Wild!' Here, I say, is the Wild. And here is the life of the Wild: 'Bill opened his mouth to speak, but changed his mind. Instead, he pointed towards the wall of darkness that pressed about them from every side. There was no suggestion of form in the utter blackness; only could be seen a pair of eyes gleaming like live coals. Henry indicated with his hand a second pair and a third. A circle of the gleaming eyes had drawn about their camp. Now and again a pair of eyes moved, or disappeared to appear again a moment later.'

     What did it mean—those restless flashing eyes, like fireflies breaking across the surface of the darkness? It simply meant that they were in the Wild at night, and they were with the wild beasts. And what does it mean, this vivid fragment from my Bible? It means that He was in the Wild at night, night after night for forty nights, and He was with the wild beasts. He heard the roar of the lion as it awoke the echoes of the slumbering forest. He saw the hyena pass stealthily near Him in the track of a timid deer, and watched the cheetah prowl through the brushwood in pursuit of a young gazelle. He heard the squeal of the hare as the crouching fox sprang out; and the flutter of the partridge as the jackal seized its prey. He heard the slither of the viper as it glided through the grass beside His head; and was startled by the shrieking of the nightbirds, and the flapping of their wings, as they whirled and swooped about Him. And He too saw the gleaming eyes of the hungry wolves as they drew their fierce cordon around Him. For He was out in the Wild for forty nights, and He was with the wild beasts.

     And yet He was unhurt! Now why was He unharmed those forty nights with the scrub around Him alive with claws and talons and fangs? He was with the wild beasts, Mark tells us, and yet no lion sprang upon Him; no lone wolf slashed at Him with her frightful fangs; no serpent bit Him.

     'Henry,' said one of Jack London's heroes to the other, as they watched the wolfish eyes flashing hither and thither in the darkness, 'it's an awful misfortune to be out of ammunition!'

     But He was unarmed and unprotected! No blade was in His hand; no ring of fire blazed round about Him to affright the prowling brutes. And yet He was unharmed! Not a tooth nor a claw left scratch or gash upon Him! Why was it? It will never do to fall back upon the miraculous, for the very point of the story of the Temptation is His sublime refusal to sustain Himself by superhuman aid. By the employment of miracle He could easily have commanded the stones to become bread, and He might thus have grandly answered the taunt of the Tempter and have appeased the gnawings of His body's hunger at one and the same time. But it would have spoiled everything. He went into the Wild to be tempted 'like as we are tempted'; and since miracle is not at our disposal He would not let it be at His. It is impossible, therefore, to suppose that He scorned the aid of miracle to protect Him from hunger, but called in the aid of miracle to protect Him from the beasts.

     Now in order to solve this problem I turned to my Bible, beginning at the very beginning. And there, in the very first chapter, I found the explanation. 'Have dominion,' God said, 'over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.' There was nothing really miraculous in Christ's authority over the fish. I never see a man dangling with a line without a sigh for our lost dominion. There was nothing really miraculous in Christ's immunity from harm. The wolves did not tear Him; He told them not to do so. He was a man, just such a man as God meant all men to be. And therefore He 'had dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that creepeth upon the earth.' He was unscathed in the midst of the wolves, not because He was superhuman, but because He was truly human. We are something less than human, the wrecks and shadows of men. Having forfeited the authority of our humanity, the fish no longer obey us, and we have perforce to dangle for them with hooks and strings. The wolves and the tigers no longer stand off at our command, and we have to fall back upon camp-fires and pistols. It is very humiliating! The crown is fallen from our heads, and all things finned and furred and feathered mock us in our shame. But Thine, O Man of men, is the power and the dominion, and all the creatures of the Wild obey Thee! 'He was with the wild beasts.'

     What did those wild, dumb, eloquent eyes say to Jesus as they looked wonderingly at Him out there in the Wild? As they bounded out of the thicket, crouched, stared at Him, and slunk away, what did they say to Him, those great lean wolves? And what did He say to them? Animals are such eloquent things, especially at such times. 'The foxes have holes,' Jesus said, long afterwards, remembering as He said it how He watched the creatures of the Wild seek out their lairs. 'And the birds of the air have nests,' He said, remembering the twittering and fluttering in the boughs above His head as the feathered things settled down for the night. 'But the Son of Man hath not where to lay His head,' He concluded, as He thought of those long, long nights in the homeless Wild. Did He mean that the wolves were better off than He was? We are all tempted to think so when the conflict is pressing too hardly upon us. There seems to be less choice, and therefore less responsibility, among the beasts of the field; less play of right and wrong. 'I think,' said Walt Whitman—

I think I could turn and live with animals, they are so
      placid and self-contained;
  I stand and look at them sometimes an hour at a stretch.
  They do not sweat and whine about their condition,
  They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins,
  They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God,
  Not one is dissatisfied, not one is demented with the mania
      of owning things,
  Not one kneels to another, nor to his kind that lived
      thousands of years ago,
  Not one is respectable or industrious over the whole earth.

     Was some flitting, hovering thought like this part of the Temptation in the Wild? Is that what Mark means when he says so significantly that 'He was with the wild beasts'? Surely; for He was tempted in all points like as we are, and we have all been tempted in this. 'Good old Carlo!' we have said, as we patted the dog's head, looking down out of our eyes of anguish into his calm, impassive gaze. 'Good old Carlo, you don't know anything of such struggles, old boy!' And we have fancied for a moment that Carlo had the best of it. It was a black and blasphemous thought, and He struck it away, as we should strike at a hawk that fluttered in front of our faces and threatened to pick at our eyes. But for one moment it hovered before Him, and He caught its ugly glance. It is a very ugly glance. Our capacity for great inward strife and for great inward suffering is the one proof we have that we were made in the image of God.

     Was He thinking, I wonder, when He went out to the wolves in the Wild of those who, before so very long, would be torn to pieces by hungry beasts for His dear sake?

     'To-day,' said Amplonius, a teacher of the persecuted Roman Christians, 'to-day, by the cruel order of Trajan, Ignatius was thrown to the wild beasts in the arena. He it was, my children, whom Jesus took, when as yet he was but a little child, and set him in the midst of the disciples and said, "Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye cannot enter the kingdom of heaven." And now, from the same Lord who that day laid His sacred hands upon his head, he has received the martyr crown. But Ignatius did not fear the beasts, my children. I have seen a letter which he wrote but yesterday to the aged Polycarp, the angel of the Church of Smyrna. In it he says that the hungry creatures have no terrors for him. "Would to God," he said, "that I were come to the beasts prepared for me. I wish that, with their gaping mouths, they were now ready to rush upon me. Let the angry beasts tear asunder my members so that I may win Christ Jesus." Thus Ignatius wrote but yesterday to the beloved Polycarp; and to-day, with a face like the face of an angel, he gave himself to the wolves. We know not which of us shall suffer next, my children. The people are still crying wildly, "The Christians to the lions!" It may be that I, your teacher, shall be the next to witness for the faith. But let us remember that for forty days and forty nights Jesus was Himself with the wild beasts, and not one of them durst harm Him. And He is still with the wild beasts wherever we His people, are among them; and their cruel fangs can only tear us so far as it is for our triumph and His glory.' So spake Amplonius, and the Church was comforted.

     And at this hour there is, in the catacomb at St. Callixtus, at Rome, a rude old picture of Jesus among the untamed creatures of the Wild. The thought that lions and leopards crouched at His feet in the days of His flesh, and were subject unto Him, was very precious to the hunted and suffering people.

     Sometimes, too, I fancy that He saw, in these savage brutes that harmed Him not, a symbol and a prophecy of His own great conquest. For they, with their hateful fangs and blooded talons, were part of His vast constituency. 'The whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together,' Paul declares. Richard Jefferies pointed to a quaint little English cottage beside a glorious bank of violets. But he could never bring himself to pluck the fragrant blossoms, for, in the cottage, the dreaded small-pox had once raged. 'It seemed,' says Jefferies, 'to quite spoil the violet bank. There is something in disease so destructive; as it were, to flowers.' And as the violets shared the scourge, so the creatures shared the curse. And as they stared dumbly into the eyes of the Son of God they seemed to half understand that their redemption was drawing nigh. 'In Nature herself,' as Longfellow says, 'there is a waiting and hoping, a looking and yearning, after an unknown something. Yes, when above there, on the mountain, the lonely eagle looks forth into the grey dawn to see if the day comes not; when by the mountain torrent the brooding raven listens to hear if the chamois is returning from his nightly pasture in the valley; and when the rising sun calls out the spicy odours of the Alpine flowers, then there awake in Nature an expectation and a longing for a future revelation of God's majesty.' Did He see this brooding sense of expectancy in the fierce eyes about Him? And did He rejoice that the hope of the Wild would in Him be gloriously fulfilled? Who knows?

In his The Cloister and the Hearth, Charles Reade tells of the temptation and triumph of Clement the hermit. 'And one keen frosty night, as he sang the praises of God to his tuneful psaltery, and his hollow cave rang with his holy melody, he heard a clear whine, not unmelodious. It became louder. He peeped through the chinks of his rude door, and there sat a great red wolf moaning melodiously with his nose high in the air! Clement was delighted. "My sins are going," he cried, "and the creatures of God are owning me!" And in a burst of enthusiasm he sang:

Praise Him, all ye creatures of His!
  Let everything that hath breath praise the Lord!

     And all the time he sang the wolf bayed at intervals.' Did Jesus, I wonder, see the going of the world's sin and the departure of its primal curse in the faces of the wild things that howled and roared around Him? As the fierce things prowled around Him and left Him unharmed, did He see a symbol of His final subjugation of all earth's savage and restless elements? Who shall say?

     'He was with the wild beasts,' says Mark, 'and the angels ministered unto Him.' Life always hovers between the beasts and the angels; and however wolfish may be the eyes that affright us in the day of our temptation, we may be sure that our solitary struggle is watched by invisible spectators, and that, after the baying of the beasts, we shall hear the angels sing.

Mushrooms on the Moor (Dodo Press)
My Utmost For The Highest
     A Daily Devotional by Oswald Chambers


                After obedience—what?

     And straightway He constrained His disciples to get into the ship, and to go to the other side.… --- Mark 6:45–52.

     We are apt to imagine that if Jesus Christ constrains us, and we obey Him, He will lead us to great success. We must never put our dreams of success as God’s purpose for us; His purpose may be exactly the opposite. We have an idea that God is leading us to a particular end, a desired goal; He is not. The question of getting to a particular end is a mere incident. What we call the process, God calls the end.

     What is my dream of God’s purpose? His purpose is that I depend on Him and on His power now. If I can stay in the middle of the turmoil calm and unperplexed, that is the end of the purpose of God. God is not working towards a particular finish; His end is the process—that I see Him walking on the waves, no shore in sight, no success, no goal, just the absolute certainty that it is all right because I see Him walking on the sea. It is the process, not the end, which is glorifying to God.

     God’s training is for now, not presently. His purpose is for this minute, not for something in the future. We have nothing to do with the afterwards of obedience; we get wrong when we think of the afterwards. What men call training and preparation, God calls the end.

     God’s end is to enable me to see that He can walk on the chaos of my life just now. If we have a further end in view, we do not pay sufficient attention to the immediate present; but if we realize that obedience is the end, then each moment as it comes is precious.


My Utmost for His Highest

Coleridge
     the Poetry of RS Thomas


                Coleridge

And at the tide’s retreat,
When the vexed ocean camping far
On the horizon filled the air
With dull thunder, ominous and low,
He felt his theories break and go
In the small clouds about the sky,
Whose nihilistic blue repelled
The vain probing of his eye.


H'm

Searching For Meaning In Midrash
     Exodus 12:16–18


     If a mitzvah comes your way, do it right away.

     BIBLE TEXT / Exodus 12:16–18 / You shall celebrate a sacred occasion on the first day, and a sacred occasion on the seventh day; no work at all shall be done on them; only what every person is to eat, that alone may be prepared for you. You shall observe the [Feast of] Unleavened Bread [matzot] for on this very day I brought your ranks out of the land of Egypt; you shall observe this day throughout the ages as an institution for all time. In the first month, from the fourteenth day of the month at Evening, you shall eat unleavened bread until the twenty-first day of the month at Evening.

     MIDRASH TEXT / Mekhilta de-Rabbi Yishmael, Bo 9 / You shall observe the [Feast of] Unleavened Bread. Guard it [the dough] so that it doesn’t become unfit. From this, they [the Rabbis] said: If it [the dough] rises, then throw cold water on it. If it is already “risen,” it must be burned. One who eats it is exempt [from punishment]. [If it is already] “cracked,” it must be burned. One who eats it is liable of karet [the divine punishment of being “cut off”]. What is “risen”? [When the cracks on the dough’s surface look like] the antennae of a grasshopper. [What is] “cracked”? When the cracks run into one another, according to Rabbi Yehudah. But the Sages say, “One who eats either of these [“risen” or “cracked”] is liable.” What is, then, “risen”? When its surface becomes as pale as a man whose hair stands on end.

     You shall observe the [Feast of] Unleavened Bread [matzot]. Rabbi Yoshiah says, “Do not read it this way [matzot], but ‘You shall observe the mitzvot.’ Just as one does not let the matzah [sit and] sour, so too do not let the mitzvah [sit and] sour, but if a mitzvah comes your way, do it right away.”

     CONTEXT / The first paragraph is a Midrash halakhah, an explanation of the legal definitions, in this case of חָמֵץ/ḥametz, dough that has begun to sour and rise. We note how severe the penalty was for eating such food during the week of Pesaḥ, when all ḥametz was forbidden.

     The second paragraph is a Midrash aggadah, a nonlegal homily or sermon, searching for the deeper meaning of this law. The biblical text commands the Israelites “You shall observe the [Feast of] Unleavened Bread [matzot],” Pesaḥ. The P’shat, or “contextual meaning,” of this chapter of Bible is: Do not forget to observe the holiday of matzot. Remember it throughout your generations.

     Rabbi Yoshiah says: “Do not read it this way [matzot], but ‘You shall observe the mitzvot.’ ” The Hebrew lends itself to a pun: The word for “observe” is ש־מ־ר/sh-m-r, the same root having the meaning of “watch over” or “guard.” And the words matzot and mitzvot have the same Hebrew letters. Thus, the unpunctuated word מצות can be read as either matzot or mitzvot. From the context, and according to the vowels, it is מַצּוֹת/matzot, or “unleavened bread,” that the Torah is talking about, and not מַצְוֹת/mitzvot, “commandments.” This did not deter the Rabbis from making their pun and, more importantly, their homily: Just as the matzot are rendered unfit by leaving them for too long until they “sour” (that is, ferment and rise, becoming ḥametz), so too a mitzvah may be left for too long and turn sour: Just as one does not let the matzah [sit and] sour, so too do not let the mitzvah [sit and] sour, but if a mitzvah comes your way, do it right away.

     This phrase, when translated as “you shall watch over the matzot,” is the origin for matzah shmurah or shmurah matzah, matzah that has been guarded (from leaven) from the time the grain has been gathered. This is stricter than the usual supervision from the time the water is added to the flour.

     We have translated חָמֵץ/ḥametz as “sour.” In Hebrew, this word has several uses and meanings: 1) as a verb: to sour, leaven, or ferment (as in “sour dough”); 2) as a noun: vinegar or any liquid that has been pickled or fermented; 3) as an adjective, meaning “seasoned” or fermented. In modern Hebrew, pickled vegetables are called חֲמוּצים/ḥamutzim.


Searching for Meaning in Midrash: Lessons for Everyday Living

Take Heart
     July 28

     Delight yourself in the LORD.
--- Psalm 37:4.

     This delight springs from the Spirit of God. Works of Stephen Charnock (5 Volume Set) Not a spark of fire on your own hearth is able to kindle this spiritual delight; it is the Holy Spirit who breathes such a heavenly heat into our affections. The Spirit is the fire that kindles the soul, the spring that moves the watch, the wind that drives the ship. The swiftest ship with spread sails will be only sluggish in its motion unless the wind fills its sails; without this Spirit we are in a weak and sickly condition, our breath short, a heavy and troublesome asthma upon us. “When I called, you answered me; you made me bold and stouthearted” (
Ps. 138:3). Just as prayer is the work of the Spirit in the heart, so delight in prayer owes itself to the same author.

     [This delight springs] from grace. The Spirit kindles and gives us the oil of grace to make the lamp burn clear. There is not only need of fire to kindle the lamp but of oil to preserve the flame. Natural people may have their affections kindled in a way of common working, but they will soon faint and die, as the flame of cotton will dim and vanish if there is no oil to nourish it.

     [Delight in the Lord springs] from a good conscience. Guilt will come trembling and with a sad face into the presence of God’s majesty. A guilty child cannot with cheerfulness come into a displeased parent’s presence. A soul smoked with hell cannot with delight approach heaven. Guilty souls, in regard of the injury they have done to God, will be afraid to come, and in regard of the soot of sin with which they are defiled and the blackness they have contracted, they will be ashamed to come. They know that by their sins they would provoke his anger—not allure his love. A soul under conscience of sin cannot look up to God. Nor will God with favor look down on it. Jonah was asleep after his sin and was outdone in readiness to pray even by idolaters. The mariners jogged him but could not get him, that we read of, to call on that God whom he had offended. Where there is corruption, the sparks of sin will kindle that tinder and weaken a spiritual delight.
--- Stephen Charnock


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

On This Day
     Never on Sunday  July 28

     Jonathan Edwards fell in love with Sarah Pierrepont when she was 13. He was moody and stiff; she was as vivacious as a songbird. He could think of nothing else, and one day studying Greek, he scribbled in the cover of his textbook that Sarah goes from place to place, singing sweetly, full of joy. She loves to be alone, walking in the fields and groves, and seems to have someone invisible always conversing with her.

     They married on July 28, 1727, the bride (then 17) in a green dress. Jonathan was hired by a Massachusetts church. But parishioners often criticized the young couple. Jonathan was too strict for some, Sarah too extravagant for others.

     Even worse, they evidently were intimate on the Lord’s Day. Colonial New Englanders believed that babies were born on the same day of the week as conceived. When six of the Edwards’s 11 children arrived on Sundays, it sent tongues wagging. Such intimacy wasn’t appropriate Sunday behavior.

     But through all the hardships, the couple nurtured their love. They cherished afternoon horseback rides along forest trails. They had nightly devotions, and Jonathan read Sarah his compositions daily. He devoted an hour each day to the children and took them on trips one at a time.

     George Whitefield wrote: A sweeter couple I have not seen. Their children were not dressed in silks and satins, but plain, examples of Christian simplicity. Mrs. Edwards is adorned with a meek, quiet spirit; she talked solidly of the things of God, and seemed to be such a helpmeet for her husband, that she caused me to renew those prayers, I have put up to God, (for) a wife.

     Jonathan’s last words were, Give my love to my dear wife, and tell her that the uncommon union which has long subsisted between us has been of such a nature as I trust is spiritual and therefore will continue forever.

     Years later a reporter tracked down 1,400 descendants of Jonathan and Sarah, finding among them 80 college presidents, professors, and deans, 100 lawyers, 66 physicians, 80 political leaders, three senators, three governors, countless preachers and missionaries—and one traitor, Aaron Burr.

     A woman’s family is held together by her wisdom. …
     If you respect the LORD, you and your children have
     A strong fortress and a life-giving fountain
     That keeps you safe from deadly traps.
     --- Proverbs 14:1,26,27.


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

Morning and Evening
     Daily Readings / CHARLES H. SPURGEON

          Morning - July 28

     “So foolish was I, and ignorant; I was as a beast before thee.” --- Psalm 73:22.

     Remember this is the confession of the man after God’s own heart; and in telling us his inner life, he writes, “So foolish was I, and ignorant.” The word “foolish,” here, means more than it signifies in ordinary language. David, in a former verse of the Psalm, writes, “I was envious at the foolish when I saw the prosperity of the wicked,” which shows that the folly he intended had sin in it. He puts himself down as being thus “foolish,” and adds a word which is to give intensity to it; “so foolish was I.” How foolish he could not tell. It was a sinful folly, a folly which was not to be excused by frailty, but to be condemned because of its perverseness and wilful ignorance, for he had been envious of the present prosperity of the ungodly, forgetful of the dreadful end awaiting all such. And are we better than David that we should call ourselves wise! Do we profess that we have attained perfection, or to have been so chastened that the rod has taken all our wilfulness out of us? Ah, this were pride indeed! If David was foolish, how foolish should we be in our own esteem if we could but see ourselves! Look back, believer: think of your doubting God when he has been so faithful to you—think of your foolish outcry of “Not so, my Father,” when he crossed his hands in affliction to give you the larger blessing; think of the many times when you have read his providences in the dark, misinterpreted his dispensations, and groaned out, “All these things are against me,” when they are all working together for your good! Think how often you have chosen sin because of its pleasure, when indeed, that pleasure was a root of bitterness to you! Surely if we know our own heart we must plead guilty to the indictment of a sinful folly; and conscious of this “foolishness,” we must make David’s consequent resolve our own—“Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel.”


          Evening - July 28

     “Who went about doing good.” --- Acts 10:38.

     Few words, but yet an exquisite miniature of the Lord Jesus Christ. There are not many touches, but they are the strokes of a master’s pencil. Of the Saviour and only of the Saviour is it true in the fullest, broadest, and most unqualified sense. “He went about doing good.” From this description it is evident that he did good personally. The evangelists constantly tell us that he touched the leper with his own finger, that he anointed the eyes of the blind, and that in cases where he was asked to speak the word only at a distance, he did not usually comply, but went himself to the sick bed, and there personally wrought the cure. A lesson to us, if we would do good, to do it ourselves. Give alms with your own hand; a kind look, or word, will enhance the value of the gift. Speak to a friend about his soul; your loving appeal will have more influence than a whole library of tracts. Our Lord’s mode of doing good sets forth his incessant activity! He did not only the good which came close to hand, but he “went about” on his errands of mercy. Throughout the whole land of Judea there was scarcely a village or a hamlet which was not gladdened by the sight of him. How this reproves the creeping, loitering manner, in which many professors serve the Lord. Let us gird up the loins of our mind, and be not weary in well doing. Does not the text imply that Jesus Christ went out of his way to do good? “He went about doing good.” He was never deterred by danger or difficulty. He sought out the objects of his gracious intentions. So must we. If old plans will not answer, we must try new ones, for fresh experiments sometimes achieve more than regular methods. Christ’s perseverance, and the unity of his purpose, are also hinted at, and the practical application of the subject may be summed up in the words, “He hath left us an example that we should follow in his steps.”

Morning and Evening

Amazing Grace
     July 28

          AFTER

     Words and Music by N. B. Vandall, 1896–1970

     … weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the Morning. (Psalm 30:5)

     How much more content we are if we know that after some trying or painful experience, there will be pleasure and a reward. Such thoughts help to spur on the athlete in competition, a mother during the birth of a child, or a weary workman on his way home to a warm fire and loved ones. It was in the midst of a tragic personal experience that the author and composer of the hymn was moved to express this consoling thought.

     N. B. Vandall, a singer and a well-known Gospel evangelist, was rushed to the hospital to discover that his son Paul had just been struck by a car and was critically injured. The doctor held out very little hope for recovery. Mr. Vandall recalled:

     For one hour and fifteen minutes, I held on in prayer while they cleaned and sewed up the head wounds and set the broken bones. Wearily I made my way back to my humble home. I tried to comfort my wife, when, in my own heart, I had no assurance. I fell on my knees and tried to pray, saying only, “O God!”
     Hardly had those words been uttered when God came. It seemed to me that Jesus knelt by my side and I could feel His arms around me as He said, “Never mind, my child. Your home will be visited with tribulation and sorrow, but in the afterwards to come, these things shall not be. Your home is in heaven, where all tears shall be wiped away!”
     Brushing aside my tears, I made my way to the piano and wrote the song “After.” Paul did recover from the accident. He is still very nervous and his eyesight is impaired, but I thank God for His goodness in giving him back to us. God in His wisdom, through heartache, gave a song that has since been a comfort to a vast number of His people.


* * * *      After the toil and the heat of the day, after my troubles are past, after the sorrows are taken away, I shall see Jesus at last.
     After the heartaches and sighing shall cease, after the cold winter’s blast, after the conflict comes glorious peace—I shall see Jesus at last.
     After the shadows of Evening shall fall, after my anchor is cast, after I list to my Savior’s last call, I shall see Jesus at last.
     Refrain: He will be waiting for me—Jesus, so kind and true; on His beautiful throne, He will welcome me home—after the day is through.


     For Today: John 14:2, 3; 1 Corinthians 2:9; 2 Corinthians 5:1, 6, 8; 2 Peter 1:3, 4

     Perhaps some sorrowful or stormy time has served to make God’s presence more real in your life. Thank Him for this, and for His promise of seeing Jesus “after the day is through.” Carry this promise with you as you go ---

Amazing Grace: 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions

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


     Sect. C. — BUT however, that Moses does not intend their servitude only, and that Paul is perfectly right, in understanding it concerning eternal salvation, is manifest from the text itself. And although this is somewhat wide of our present purpose, yet I will not suffer Paul to be contaminated with the calumnies of the sacrilegious. The oracle in Moses is thus — “Two manner of people shall be separated from thy bowels, and the one people shall be stronger than the other people; and the elder shall serve the younger.” (Gen. xxv. 23).

     Here, manifestly, are two people distinctly mentioned. The one, though the younger, is received into the grace of God; to the intent that, he might overcome the other; not by his own strength, indeed, but by a favouring God: for how could the younger overcome the elder unless God were with him!

     Since, therefore, the younger was to be the people of God, it is not only the external rule or servitude which is there spoken of, but all that pertains to the spirit of God; that is, the blessing, the word, the Spirit, the promise of Christ, and the everlasting kingdom. And this the Scripture more fully confirms afterwards, where it describes Jacob as being blessed, and receiving the promises and the kingdom.

     All this Paul briefly intimates, where he saith, “The elder shall serve the younger:” and he sends us to Moses, who treats upon the particulars more fully. So that you may say, in reply to the sacrilegious sentiment of Jerome and the Diatribe, that these passages which Paul adduces have more force in their own place than they have in his Epistle. And this is true also, not of Paul only, but of all the Apostles; who adduce Scriptures as testimonies and assertions of their own sentiments. But it would be ridiculous to adduce that as a testimony, which testifies nothing, and does not make at all to the purpose. And even if there were some among the philosophers so ridiculous as to prove that which was unknown, by that which was less known still, or by that which was totally irrelevant to the subject, with what face can we attribute such kind of proceeding to the greatest champions and authors of the Christian doctrines, especially, since they teach those things which are the essential articles of faith, and on which the salvation of souls depends? But such a face becomes those who, in the Holy Scriptures, feel no serious interest whatever.


The Bondage of the Will   or   Christian Classics Ethereal Library


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