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Numbers 25     Psalm 68     Isaiah 15     1 Peter 3

Numbers 25

Baal Worship at Peor

Numbers 25 While Israel lived in Shittim, the people began to whore with the daughters of Moab. 2 These invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods. 3 So Israel yoked himself to Baal of Peor. And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel. 4 And the LORD said to Moses, “Take all the chiefs of the people and hang them in the sun before the LORD, that the fierce anger of the LORD may turn away from Israel.” 5 And Moses said to the judges of Israel, “Each of you kill those of his men who have yoked themselves to Baal of Peor.”

6 And behold, one of the people of Israel came and brought a Midianite woman to his family, in the sight of Moses and in the sight of the whole congregation of the people of Israel, while they were weeping in the entrance of the tent of meeting. 7 When Phinehas the son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the priest, saw it, he rose and left the congregation and took a spear in his hand 8 and went after the man of Israel into the chamber and pierced both of them, the man of Israel and the woman through her belly. Thus the plague on the people of Israel was stopped. 9 Nevertheless, those who died by the plague were twenty-four thousand.

The Zeal of Phinehas

10 And the LORD said to Moses, 11 “Phinehas the son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the priest, has turned back my wrath from the people of Israel, in that he was jealous with my jealousy among them, so that I did not consume the people of Israel in my jealousy. 12 Therefore say, ‘Behold, I give to him my covenant of peace, 13 and it shall be to him and to his descendants after him the covenant of a perpetual priesthood, because he was jealous for his God and made atonement for the people of Israel.’ ”

14 The name of the slain man of Israel, who was killed with the Midianite woman, was Zimri the son of Salu, chief of a father’s house belonging to the Simeonites. 15 And the name of the Midianite woman who was killed was Cozbi the daughter of Zur, who was the tribal head of a father’s house in Midian.

16 And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 17 “Harass the Midianites and strike them down, 18 for they have harassed you with their wiles, with which they beguiled you in the matter of Peor, and in the matter of Cozbi, the daughter of the chief of Midian, their sister, who was killed on the day of the plague on account of Peor.”

Psalm 68

God Shall Scatter His Enemies

Psalm 68 To The Choirmaster. A Psalm Of David. A Song.

1  God shall arise, his enemies shall be scattered;
and those who hate him shall flee before him!
2  As smoke is driven away, so you shall drive them away;
as wax melts before fire,
so the wicked shall perish before God!
3  But the righteous shall be glad;
they shall exult before God;
they shall be jubilant with joy!

4  Sing to God, sing praises to his name;
lift up a song to him who rides through the deserts;
his name is the LORD;
exult before him!
5  Father of the fatherless and protector of widows
is God in his holy habitation.
6  God settles the solitary in a home;
he leads out the prisoners to prosperity,
but the rebellious dwell in a parched land.

7  O God, when you went out before your people,
when you marched through the wilderness, Selah
8  the earth quaked, the heavens poured down rain,
before God, the One of Sinai,
before God, the God of Israel.
9  Rain in abundance, O God, you shed abroad;
you restored your inheritance as it languished;
10  your flock found a dwelling in it;
in your goodness, O God, you provided for the needy.

11  The Lord gives the word;
the women who announce the news are a great host:
12  “The kings of the armies—they flee, they flee!”
The women at home divide the spoil—
13  though you men lie among the sheepfolds—
the wings of a dove covered with silver,
its pinions with shimmering gold.
14  When the Almighty scatters kings there,
let snow fall on Zalmon.

15  O mountain of God, mountain of Bashan;
O many-peaked mountain, mountain of Bashan!
16  Why do you look with hatred, O many-peaked mountain,
at the mount that God desired for his abode,
yes, where the LORD will dwell forever?
17  The chariots of God are twice ten thousand,
thousands upon thousands;
the Lord is among them; Sinai is now in the sanctuary.
18  You ascended on high,
leading a host of captives in your train
and receiving gifts among men,
even among the rebellious, that the LORD God may dwell there.

19  Blessed be the Lord,
who daily bears us up;
God is our salvation. Selah
20  Our God is a God of salvation,
and to GOD, the Lord, belong deliverances from death.
21  But God will strike the heads of his enemies,
the hairy crown of him who walks in his guilty ways.
22  The Lord said,
“I will bring them back from Bashan,
I will bring them back from the depths of the sea,
23  that you may strike your feet in their blood,
that the tongues of your dogs may have their portion from the foe.”

24  Your procession is seen, O God,
the procession of my God, my King, into the sanctuary—
25  the singers in front, the musicians last,
between them virgins playing tambourines:
26  “Bless God in the great congregation,
the LORD, O you who are of Israel’s fountain!”
27  There is Benjamin, the least of them, in the lead,
the princes of Judah in their throng,
the princes of Zebulun, the princes of Naphtali.

28  Summon your power, O God,
the power, O God, by which you have worked for us.
29  Because of your temple at Jerusalem
kings shall bear gifts to you.
30  Rebuke the beasts that dwell among the reeds,
the herd of bulls with the calves of the peoples.
Trample underfoot those who lust after tribute;
scatter the peoples who delight in war.
31  Nobles shall come from Egypt;
Cush shall hasten to stretch out her hands to God.

32  O kingdoms of the earth, sing to God;
sing praises to the Lord, Selah
33  to him who rides in the heavens, the ancient heavens;
behold, he sends out his voice, his mighty voice.
34  Ascribe power to God,
whose majesty is over Israel,
and whose power is in the skies.
35  Awesome is God from his sanctuary;
the God of Israel—he is the one who gives power and strength to his people.
Blessed be God!

Isaiah 15

An Oracle Concerning Moab

Isaiah 15:1 An oracle concerning Moab.

Because Ar of Moab is laid waste in a night,
Moab is undone;
because Kir of Moab is laid waste in a night,
Moab is undone.
2  He has gone up to the temple, and to Dibon,
to the high places to weep;
over Nebo and over Medeba
Moab wails.
On every head is baldness;
every beard is shorn;
3  in the streets they wear sackcloth;
on the housetops and in the squares
everyone wails and melts in tears.
4  Heshbon and Elealeh cry out;
their voice is heard as far as Jahaz;
therefore the armed men of Moab cry aloud;
his soul trembles.
5  My heart cries out for Moab;
her fugitives flee to Zoar,
to Eglath-shelishiyah.
For at the ascent of Luhith
they go up weeping;
on the road to Horonaim
they raise a cry of destruction;
6  the waters of Nimrim
are a desolation;
the grass is withered, the vegetation fails,
the greenery is no more.
7  Therefore the abundance they have gained
and what they have laid up
they carry away
over the Brook of the Willows.
8  For a cry has gone
around the land of Moab;
her wailing reaches to Eglaim;
her wailing reaches to Beer-elim.
9  For the waters of Dibon are full of blood;
for I will bring upon Dibon even more,
a lion for those of Moab who escape,
for the remnant of the land.

1 Peter 3

Wives and Husbands

1 Peter 3:1 Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, 2 when they see your respectful and pure conduct. 3 Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— 4 but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. 5 For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, 6 as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.

7 Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.

Suffering for Righteousness’ Sake

8 Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. 9 Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. 10 For

“Whoever desires to love life
and see good days,
let him keep his tongue from evil
and his lips from speaking deceit;
11  let him turn away from evil and do good;
let him seek peace and pursue it.
12  For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous,
and his ears are open to their prayer.
But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”

13 Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? 14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 15 but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, 16 having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. 17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.

18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, 19 in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, 20 because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. 21 Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.

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[Common Places] Pro-Nicene Theology: Entryways and Ineffability (Part 1)

By Michael Allan 8/4/2016

     The doctrine of the Trinity serves as the fundamental lodestar of all Christian belief, the shining center of all Christian truth and the focal point of every instance of our trust and hope. God is. More particularly, God—the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit—is, and in, through, and to this one are all things. What light is shed upon life and being, then, flows forth from this fiery being. It must be admitted, however, that the Trinity has overwhelmed due to the power of its beam. Its very brilliance is the source of its difficulty. Theologians from Anselm to Sonderegger have reminded us that the divine mystery is not owing to a lack of revelation but a preponderance of it. This the hymn-writer attested so beautifully of the immortal God, of whom we sing, “In light inaccessible, hid from our eyes.”

     Recent months have seen an uptick in talk of the triune God. Controversy has rocked certain portions of the evangelical subculture, regarding the propriety and salience of certain claims made by significant figures regarding the doctrine of God’s triunity. We have no desire to engage in polemics directly; in fact, the most significant entry into this debate has been that of noting its more fundamental roots in matters of basic theological methodology. Very different postures of study apparently have birthed distinct approaches to attesting the character and name of God. Such postures betoken commitments regarding the shape of biblical exegesis, the nature of theological language, the fundamental attributes of the divine life, and the way in which God’s own being relates to the economy of God’s acts in our midst (both creation and redemption). One of the great ironies of modern evangelicalism is that some of the greatest detractors of the open theism movement have succumbed to a similar posture over against the classical Christian approach to the doctrine of God, at least in many of its fundamental entailments.

     We are launching a five-months-long series, then, entitled Pro-Nicene Theology. Recent years have witnessed the deepening of our understanding of the fourth-century Trinitarian debates, moving us well beyond rather thin versions (dominant even in the mid twentieth-century textbooks) that portray this as a protracted but rather simple fight between two parties (the Arians and the Athanasians [read: the orthodox]). So-called “new canon” research by figures ranging from Arius: Heresy and Tradition and Nicaea and Its Legacy: An Approach to Fourth-Century Trinitarian Theology to The Power of God: Dynamis in Gregory of Nyssa's Trinitarian Theology and Retrieving Nicaea: The Development and Meaning of Trinitarian Doctrine has helped sketch the terrain of this period and the myriad elements bundled together in these epochal debates.[1] Each month we will consider a fundamental issue, taking up the topics of divine ineffability, divine simplicity, inseparable operations, the eternal generation of the Son, and the distinction of theology and economy in turn. These foci are not only doctrinal topics, much less merely philosophical forays, but are exegetically necessary. Each month, therefore, we will post an entry offering dogmatic exposition of a key topic to be followed later in the month by an exegetical sketch of that topic. While a number of contributors will pen our doctrinal entries, Fred Sanders will provide all of the interpretive pairings (a foretaste of his exegetically-focused book The Triune God (New Studies in Dogmatics) forthcoming this fall in the New Studies in Dogmatics series).

     The common criticism of systematic theology suggests that it is an effort (whether intended or not) to put God in a box. Control. Manipulation. Sanitizing. These are the watchwords against such an agenda or effect. That there is a version of Christian doctrine which does so cannot be gainsaid, and we might note that suspicions are high in this regard regarding Trinitarian dogma as perhaps nowhere else. Persons, essences, notions, processions—if boxes are found anywhere in which we might cover up the fire of divine self-revelation, are they not cluttering our vision here? Yet it is worth beginning our reflections on pro-Nicene theology by noting that something has gone terribly awry and missed the promptings of the fourth- and fifth-century fathers in suggesting such a schema.

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Michael Allen is Associate Professor of Systematic and Historical Theology at Reformed Theological Seminary. He has an MA and PhD from Wheaton College. He serves as general co-editor of the Zondervan New Studies in Dogmatics series.

[Common Places]: Pro-Nicene Theology: Eternal Generation

By Josh Malone 11/3/2016

     The doctrine of eternal generation seeks to specify the origin of Jesus Christ in the eternal life of the one God in a very particular way—a way that simultaneously shows a resonance between theology and economy yet never ceases to maintain a clear distinction between Creator and creature. Together with divine simplicityinseparable operations, and the rest of the pro-Nicene toolkit, eternal generation serves as a hermeneutical guidepost for the church’s reading of the prophetic and apostolic witness concerning the identity and career of the eternal Son who assumes human flesh for us and our salvation.

     The doctrine itself can be stated plainly: The Son is from the Father, and God has always been this way and did not become this way. We should take note that such a definition might threaten to elide the very divine ineffability it attempts to express. The patristic witness is replete with warnings here, so Gregory of Nazianzus, “The begetting of God must be honored by silence.”[2] Yet to draw back in this way is not to bring our theological reflection on God’s inner life to an end, rather it is to establish from the beginning spiritual disciplinary measures which guide how we are scripturally given to think and speak of the living God who dwells in unapproachable light (1 Tim 6:16), comes as Light to enlighten (John 1:9), and of whom we thus confess that he is Light from Light. The doctrine of eternal generation therefore seeks, in faith and mystery, to confess that You, oh God, are a fountain of life, and that in Your light we see light (Ps 36:9).

     How does eternal generation speak of this Light and Life? The doctrine’s dogmatic function in theology proper can be summarized under three themes: essential unity, personal distinction, and relational order (taxis).

     Essential Unity | First, in what way does eternal generation speak of essential unity? Initially, it appears as though the confession of the Son as the only-begotten of the Father must strike against the doctrine of essential unity (divine simplicity). How can the one God be both Father and Son? The pro-Nicene answer can be seen by looking at the language of the two councils of Nicaea (325) and Constantinople (381). Both confess that the Son does not proceed from the Father as a creature from the Creator: he is begotten, not made. The Son is not part of the created order; begetting is not the first act of creation. However, neither council attempts to fully explain what it means to be begotten, respecting the ineffability of this act. Rather, they assert there is a way to be “from” that is outside all beginnings (recalling John 1:1). This generation is conceived as an act internal to God,[3] such that the Father generates the Son of his substance, ek tas ousias tou Patros (325), and as such the Son is consubstantial, homoousion (325 and 381), with the Father. Two things should be noted concerning this strange language. On the one hand, the homoousion is not employed to indicate some detachable metaphysic; the language offers no objective referent on its own, instead it functions as a conceptual summary of Scripture’s affirmation of the Son’s unity with the Father grounded in his ineffable generation.[4] On the other hand, this articulation of the Son’s generation is a denial that Begetter and Begotten are related as externally opposed realities. Instead, generation is the mode of sharing of the one undivided essence between Father and Son. As such, generation is conceived as a communication of the whole undivided essence, as Athanasius interprets with the language of “whole participation.”[5] The Nicene Creed (381) adds the corresponding clause that the Son is, “begotten of the Father before all ages,” specifying the timeless and eternal nature of the Son’s generation. Dogmatically, begetting is a mode of divine unity, an affirmation of eternal essential unity rather than a denial of it.[6]

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Josh Malone (PhD, University of Aberdeen) is assistant professor of theology at Moody Bible Institute (Spokane).

[Common Places] Pro-Nicene Theology: Divine Simplicity

By Steven J. Duby 9/1/2016

     A mainstay of catholic Christian teaching, the doctrine of divine simplicity has recently become a much debated topic in contemporary dogmatics and philosophical theology. Despite its historical importance and constructive fecundity, it is still often misunderstood today and merits careful attention as the relevant literature continues to grow. For many, simplicity remains, in the words of Alvin Plantinga, a “dark saying indeed,”[1] so in this post I aim to offer a brief dogmatic description of divine simplicity and to suggest some of the ways in which it explicates and enriches a Christian understanding of the triune God and his work in the world.

     Simplicity indicates that God is (negatively) not composed of parts and (positively) really identical with his essence, existence, and attributes. Linking up with the doctrine of the Trinity, it stresses that the divine persons are not “parts” composing a greater divine whole but are, instead, three personal modes of subsisting of the simple divine essence. Various authors throughout the Christian tradition delineate different kinds of parts found in the created order, including integral or quantitative parts, essential parts (matter and form), metaphysical parts (act and potency, nature and suppositum, substance and accidents, and essence and existence) and logical parts (genus and species). Such parts cannot be found in God especially in light of his aseity: as the one who enjoys fullness of life in himself and is the Creator and provider of all that is other than himself (John 1:1-45:26Acts 17:24-25), he is not dependent on anything distinct from himself to be what he is, and he need not and cannot be composed by anyone or anything more ultimate than he is. He is “pure act,” with no unrealized or idle potency awaiting fulfillment. He is his own deity, having no nature distinct from himself that might constitute his being. He is each of his own attributes, for to be God just is to be infinitely wise, infinitely good, and so on. In us, wisdom, justice, goodness, and the like are qualities adjoined to our human nature; in God, his wisdom, justice, and goodness simply are his nature. He is his own existence, with no need to participate (like creatures do) in a being above himself. Put differently, God is subsisting being itself (ipsum esse subsistens). Crucially, though, this does not render God impersonal but in fact accomplishes quite the opposite: it confirms that there is no impersonal esse “out there” that governs the life of God and creatures alike, and it underscores that the only ultimate esse just is the personal triune God revealed to us in Holy Scripture.

     Because it is commonly suspected today that divine simplicity does not cohere with the doctrine of the Trinity, it must be emphasized that it was never meant to eliminate all kinds of distinction in God. Above all, it negates any “real” distinction in God, or any distinction between one “thing” (Latin, res) and another in God. However, it embraces modal and relative distinctions in God, which are critical to a responsible articulation of the Trinity. In the context of a doctrine of God shaped by God’s simplicity, the Father, Son, and Spirit are distinct in relation to one another and as one mode of subsisting from another. This is not to be confused with modalism, for the persons are not serial ad extra iterations of one immanent mode of subsisting but are in fact three immanently, eternally distinct personal modes of subsisting in God’s one essence. Rather than compromising trinitarian teaching, divine simplicity and the prioritization of the modal and relative distinctions enable us to see that the persons are not three individual deities within a species of deity and are instead both distinct and co-equal, each being a subsisting mode of all that is included in the singular Godhead.

     It is worth noting that this description of simplicity is indebted particularly to Thomas Aquinas and a number of early Reformed expositions of the doctrine.[2] We should therefore bear in mind that there are multiple expressions of divine simplicity in the Christian tradition. The Cappadocians, John of Damascus, Gregory Palamas, and Duns Scotus, for example, all would handle certain features of the doctrine in different ways. In addition, in a series on pro-Nicene theology, we should remember that, while patristic theology yielded excellent material for later scholastic discussion, the fathers did not operate with all the concepts and distinctions developed in the medieval and early modern periods. Yet, divine simplicity was deployed to great effect by the fathers in combating problematic construals of God’s relationship to the world and of God’s triune relations within himself. Athanasius, for example, displays the aseity of the true God over against pagan deities by affirming that he is not one part of a whole dependent on others, nor even the sum of all the parts of the universe. He is not composed of dissimilar elements but is the one who created these and set them in their cosmic order.[3] In describing God in himself, Athanasius argues that the Father and Son are not parts in God. The Son shares the one Godhead of the Father and is distinct from him as the Son but not as God. Significantly, it is the Arians who violate God’s unity and simplicity in claiming that the Son is a deity by possession of a Godhead other than that of the Father.[4]

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Steven J. Duby (PhD, University of St. Andrews) is a member of the faculty at Grand Canyon University. He is the author of Divine Simplicity: A Dogmatic Account (T&T Clark Studies in Systematic Theology).

[Common Places]: Pro-Nicene Theology: Theology and Economy in Scripture

By Fred Sanders 12/15/2016

     In Lewis Ayres’s latest post in this series, he showed the use that Greek patristic theologians made of the terms theologia and oikonomia. The fathers reached for this pair of terms to make the crucial distinction between God’s own eternal nature, on the one hand, and God’s actions toward creation, on the other hand. The distinction is a biblical one, but we cannot discern it in Scripture simply by looking for the words themselves; we must look at broader phenomena of the biblical witness.

     The ability to make such a distinction is crucial for Christian doctrine, and not just for the purpose of keeping God and the world hermetically sealed off from each other to achieve conceptual tidiness. On the contrary, the more we want to affirm that God is intimately involved with creation and covenantally committed to human salvation, the more we will find this distinction necessary. No doubt this is why the pair of terms came into its own in the fourth century. In sending his Son, God took such direct divine action in the world that it became absolutely necessary to reach clarity about whether the Son was God or a creature, and so the pro-Nicenes learned to speak of Christ kata theologia and kata oikonomia. Unless we can distinguish God’s eternal being from his free action, we will always be in danger of the Arianizing error of taking the Son’s condescension to be definitive of his nature.

     To trace the exegetical warrant for this distinction, it is not enough to take up the New Testament and look through it for occurrences of the Greek words theologia and oikonomia. For one thing, the first term in the pair simply does not occur in the New Testament, and even if we were willing to compound it from its parts (ta logia tou theou, Rom 3:2Heb 5:12, etc.), it would not refer to deity as such (as it does in the patristic usage) but to the word of, or about, deity. And if we then cast about for another word or phrase in the New Testament that did refer to deity (perhaps theotetos, or pleroma tes theotetos from Col 2:9), we would be getting further off the scent of our quarry. What we want is not the particular words, or functional substitutes for the words taken in and of themselves, but the distinction marked by their pairing. If we go looking for the exegetical warrant for the patristic distinction between theologia and oikonomia, what we are asking is whether the Bible itself makes the judgment that God is one thing and his works are another, even in Christ. We want to know if Scripture teaches us to think of a relationship between the reality of God’s own being and the entire scope of God’s gracious actions toward creation.

     If Scripture does so, what we are glimpsing in the pairing of theologia and oikonomia is an astonishing doctrinal vista. Our attention is drawn to the fact that the transcendent God, in all his mystery and ineffability, stands behind the central actions of salvation history, and that these actions of salvation history, if grasped as a single differentiated whole with an inner integrity binding its integrated parts, is a free and gracious manifestation of God. The relationship limned by the theologia-oikonomia distinction is too comprehensive to be just one of the many things made known in the Bible. It points to the central theme of all of Scripture: that God is with us to be our salvation in the work of Christ and the Spirit, and that we know the true God by knowing the Son and the Spirit sent by the Father.

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Fred Sanders is Professor of Theology at Biola University's Torrey Honors Institute. He has an MDiv from Asbury Theological Seminary and PhD from Graduate Theological Union. He is the co-editor of Christology, Ancient and Modern: Explorations in Constructive Dogmatics (Los Angeles Theology Conference Series).

Other Books by Fred Sanders:

Advancing Trinitarian Theology: Explorations in Constructive Dogmatics (Los Angeles Theology Conference Series)
The Triune God (New Studies in Dogmatics)
The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything
Jesus in Trinitarian Perspective: An Intermediate Christology
The Voice of God in the Text of Scripture: Explorations in Constructive Dogmatics (Los Angeles Theology Conference Series)
Advancing Trinitarian Theology: Explorations in Constructive Dogmatics (Los Angeles Theology Conference Series)
Wesley on the Christian Life: The Heart Renewed in Love
Theology and California: Theological Refractions on California's Culture
Embracing the Trinity: Life with God in the Gospel

[Common Places] Pro-Nicene Theology: Theologia and Oikonomia

By Lewis Ayres 12/1/2016

     The individual terms theologia and oikonomia have long histories of their own in classical Greek, but the first time we find these two terms paired in Christian writing is in the work of the famous theologian and exegete Origen of Alexandria (died c. 254). He speaks in the 18th of his Homilies on Jeremiah of God speaking “theologically about himself, and [not about] his plan (oikonomia) for human matters” (18.6.3). Whereas theologia concerns the nature of God, God’s oikonomia refers to God’s concern for and ordering of his creation, specifically the incarnation of the Son. When we speak of oikonomia, we also speak of the manner in which God reveals himself and speaks in a manner that reaches and draws us to him.

     Students and devotees of Origen took up this distinction. Half a century after Origen’s death, Eusebius of Caesarea begins his famous Ecclesiastical History by telling us he needs to speak of the “oikonomia and theologia of Christ.” Eusebius goes on to discuss who the Word of God is, his titles and origin, his relationship to the Father. This is all “theology.” Eusebius then discusses the appearances of the Word in the history of Israel (the “theophanies”), the Incarnation, the manner in which God educated and chastised humanity to prepare them for the coming of Christ. All this is God’s “economy.”

     Eusebius offers us this pairing only once, and we next meet it in the famous “Cappadocian” theologians Basil of Caesarea, Gregory Nazianzen, and Gregory of Nyssa. Toward the end of his own Against Eunomius, written c. 365, Basil comments on Acts 2:36 “…God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” He uses the distinction (against his opponent Eunomius) to argue that the reference to the Son being “made” is only with reference to oikonomia; the Scripture speaks only of the Son’s becoming human, not of his nature in itself. In this case the language is used to express a principle common to pro-Nicene theologians: the careful reader of Scripture has to distinguish passages that speak of the Word of God directly from those that speak of the Incarnation and the Incarnate Word.

     Gregory Nazianzen’s wonderful Oration 38 “On the Theophany,” probably delivered at Christmas or Epiphany 380/381, celebrates “God’s coming to the human race so that we might make our way to him” (3). Gregory offers a hymn to the nature of God as containing the whole of being “like and endless, boundless ocean of reality; he extends beyond all our notions of time and nature, and is sketchily grasped by the mind alone…” Gregory reflects on the difficulty of comprehending God—“the only thing completely comprehensible about it is its boundlessness” (7)—the same for Gregory as its simplicity. Then, suddenly, Gregory changes tack: “so much for our present philosophical reflections on God. For this is not the time for such things, since our present task is to speak not in terms of theologia but of oikonomia” (8). In this passage theologia is again reflection on God as such, of God’s nature. But oikonomia? In what follows Gregory sets out first the need for the Good to pour itself out in the creation of that which could receive its gifts. He speaks of the angelic hosts and other intelligent spirits, then of the material world, then of the human being within the material world, as one who could join both realms. After the fall God disciplined humanity, and his ordering culminates in the sending of the Son into flesh from the Virgin: “O new mixture! O unexpected blending!” (13). Oikonomia here indicates God’s dispositions, his activity in ordering all that is external to God.

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Lewis Ayres (DPhil, Oxford University) is Professor of Catholic and Historical Theology at the University of Durham. He is the author of Augustine and the Trinity, The Cambridge History of Early Christian Literature along with many essays and edited works.

[Common Places] The Five Solas: Scripture Alone

By Matthew Barrett 2/2/2017

     Since the sixteenth century, Protestantism (and its view of the Bible) have undergone an evolution in their identity. Movements such as the Enlightenment, Liberalism, and, more recently, postmodernism have elevated other voices to the level of Scripture or even above Scripture, and the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture have been abandoned, something Rome never would have done in the sixteenth century. Today, many reject that the Bible is God-breathed and truthful in all it asserts.

     As Carl Henry pointed out in his magnum opus, God, Revelation, and Authority, the church throughout history has faced repeated attacks on the Bible from skeptics, but only in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries have the truthfulness and trustworthiness of God’s Word been questioned, criticized, and abandoned by those within the body of Christ. To the Reformers, this would have been unthinkable, yet this is the day we live in. Not only do Bible critics pervade the culture but now they have mounted the pulpit and sit comfortably in the pews.

     If Carl Henry is right, then there is legitimate cause for alarm. Repeated attacks on Scripture’s own character reveal the enmity and hostility toward the God of the Bible within our own souls. One of the most significant needs in the twenty-first century is a call back to the Bible and toward a posture that encourages reverence, acceptance, and adherence to its authority and message.

     But what is sola Scriptura exactly? Sola Scriptura means that only Scripture, because it is God’s inspired Word, is our inerrant, sufficient, and final authority for the church.

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Matthew Barrett (PhD, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is Tutor of Systematic Theology and Church History at Oak Hill Theological College in London, as well as the founder and executive editor of Credo Magazine. He is the editor of Reformation Theology: A Systematic Summary, Faith Alone---The Doctrine of Justification: What the Reformers Taught...and Why It Still Matters (The Five Solas Series), God's Word Alone---The Authority of Scripture: What the Reformers Taught...and Why It Still Matters (The Five Solas Series), God's Glory Alone---The Majestic Heart of Christian Faith and Life: What the Reformers Taught...and Why It Still Matters (The Five Solas Series), Four Views on the Historical Adam (Counterpoints: Bible and Theology), Owen on the Christian Life: Living for the Glory of God in Christ, Whomever He Wills, Salvation by Grace: The Case for Effectual Calling and Regeneration, The Grace of Godliness: An Introduction to Doctrine and Piety in the Canons of Dort, Reclaiming Monergism: The Case for Sovereign Grace in Effectual Calling and Regeneration and What Is Regeneration? (Basics of the Faith). You can read more about Barrett at matthewmbarrett.com.

[Common Places] Reading Notes: Christ Alone

By Piotr Malysz 1/19/2017

     All good Christian theology is Christocentric in some manner. When the Reformation insisted on Christ alone (solus Christus), with this slogan it thus sought to make a stronger—exclusive—claim. But the Reformation in no way advocated a Christomonism, the reduction of all theology only to a consideration of Christ. The exclusive particle, Christ alone, was meant to make a more focused claim. Its thrust was the sufficiency, or better still, the overabundance that the believer as believer finds in the person and work of Christ. The particle has its home in the order of salvation (ordo salutis)—chiefly the doctrine of justification—and it is from this location that it brings the whole body of theology into a Christocentric focus.

     The particle is not, of course, foolproof. Martin Luther—even as he drew attention to Christ, and declared that “the cross alone [!] constitutes our theology” (Operationes in Psalmos, WA 5:176)—thought it wise to elucidate further the salvific role of Christ as gift, given to the believer, over against Christ’s role as example, in which he is of no more help to us than some other saint (A Brief Instruction on What to Look for and Expect in the Gospels; in Luther’s Works 35). Oswald Bayer warns against the modern tendency to moralize the solus Christus and, in reality, to compromise it (Martin Luther’s Theology, 64). A notorious example of this tendency is John Locke’s The Reasonableness of Christianity. Locke pits Jesus’ simple message as a teacher of virtue, which Locke believes he finds in the Gospels, against the ethically unproductive speculation of the New Testament epistles and, even worse, the dogmatic corruption of Jesus’ teachings in the creeds and the church’s theology. This is not the meaning of “Christ alone” that the Reformation intended.

     What specific soteriological emphases did the Reformation intend, with its affirmation of solus Christus and Christ as gift? First, in his Lectures on Galatians (1531/1535; in Luther’s Works 26:122-138), Luther insists Christ, and he alone, gives faith its “form.” What is in the background here is the medieval view that faith, as a disposition, stood in need of being made concrete by the believer’s works of love. Luther denies that what constitutes faith is intellectual assent to the truth of God, still in need of taking shape through the believer’s actions. Rather, faith is formed and made concrete—it is everything it can and needs to be—only in so far as it grasps the work of Christ, and does so as if the believer had done this work him- or herself. This alone is what it means to believe. Christ, says Luther, is present in faith itself, and his work gives faith its essence, shape, and reality. In other words, faith lies not in giving credence to the improbable and confirming this posture through one’s own acts of charity. Rather, the irreducible reality of faith—safeguarded by Christ alone—is to take God at his word and trust God enough to stake one’s entire identity on the work of Christ. To believe is to declare God-in-Christ alone to be the generous giver of all that is good, righteousness and holiness included. Faith justifies alone precisely in this sense. As a believer one already is infinitely more than one could ever make of oneself.

     In his polemic against Erasmus, On the Bondage of the Will (1525; in Luther’s Works 33), as well in his Lectures on Genesis (1535-45; here LW 5), Luther explores a different facet of “Christ alone.” In this work Luther is concerned with the nature and work of God and with divine revelation. A central question he pursues is how one finds the God who saves. The Bondage of the Will is without a doubt a complex work which poses a number of interpretive challenges. What we need to say about it is that Luther challenges here medieval accounts of God’s transcendence which placed divine and human agencies in a strictly non-competitive relation and, as a result, either practically or conceptually privileged human initiative in relation to God. Luther worries that, in consequence, the soteriological focus is taken off Christ and the burden of assuring one’s salvation is placed on the believer. In order to bring Christ back into focus, Luther articulates what is speculatively the strongest possible doctrine of divine agency. God, by virtue of being God, cannot but work life and death and all in all. Luther wants believers, first, to pay attention to God, and God alone. With this specter of God hidden in his own majesty, whose actions are inscrutable, Luther wants to lead reason to acknowledge that God cannot ultimately be confined to a sphere of action, however fitting, carved out for him by human speculation. God is free in relation to human cogitations about the divine. Reason must despair of itself when it reaches out toward God. But when it does so, when it finds itself at God’s mercy, it is now ready to recognize, through the proclamation of the gospel, that in his freedom God is none other than the Triune God he is. As this very God, God relates to history, time, and human agency on his own terms. Thus, paradoxically, Luther’s goal in The Bondage of the Will is not to affirm some sort of inscrutable God over and above the God revealed in Christ, a God at cross-purposes with his own revelation (this is the God that reason must run up against). Luther’s goal is to affirm that in Christ alone God is who he is. Not just because he happens to show himself to us there, but because he can be none other than the Father of his Son in their mutual Spirit. “Christ alone,” as articulated in The Bondage of the Will, emphasizes God’s freedom to reveal himself in his own being as the merciful God who brings comfort to a restless and disturbed conscience. Outside of Christ there is no revelation, no peace, and hence no salvation, for outside of Christ there simply is no God (see also Luther’s Works 5:42-50).

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Piotr Malysz (PhD, Harvard Divinity School) teaches church history and systematic theology at Samford University’s Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Alabama. He is the author of Trinity, Freedom and Love: An Engagement with the Theology of Eberhard Jüngel (T&T Clark Studies in Systematic Theology) and co-editor of Luther Refracted: The Reformer's Ecumenical Legacy.

[Common Places] Pro-Nicene Theology: Eternal Generation Exegetically Considered

By Fred Sanders 11/17/2016

     When in the course of theological events Christians have wanted to make their confession of the identity of Jesus Christ clear and definite, they have usually taken recourse to the doctrine of his eternal generation.

     The relation between Jesus of Nazareth and the heavenly Father who sent him outstrips the time of the Lord’s earthly life. In fact, that Father-Son relation outstrips time itself, belonging rather to eternity, indeed, to the very nature of God. Before he became the son of Mary (“for us and our salvation,” per the Nicene Creed), Jesus was the Son of God, with an eternal sonship.

     Having risen to this great height of confessing eternal sonship, Christian doctrine is delivered from the theological catastrophe of thinking of Jesus as merely a phenomenon of creaturely history. He is not only something God does (as we might describe the works of deliverance wrought through Moses or through angels), but something or someone who God is. Why, we might ask, should we need to go further than this staggering confession of eternal sonship, and take the step of confessing eternal generation? Why has the classic doctrinal tradition considered it wise and necessary to add to the relation of sonship this relation of generation?

     There are two reasons. First, eternal generation thickens the metaphor of sonship. And second, eternal generation limits the metaphor of sonship. When we confess the eternal generation of the Son, we guard against making too little of his sonship (that is, we thicken the metaphor) or too much of his sonship (that is, we limit the metaphor).

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Fred Sanders is Professor of Theology at Biola University's Torrey Honors Institute. He has an MDiv from Asbury Theological Seminary and PhD from Graduate Theological Union. He is the co-editor of Christology, Ancient and Modern: Explorations in Constructive Dogmatics (Los Angeles Theology Conference Series).

Other Books by Fred Sanders:

Advancing Trinitarian Theology: Explorations in Constructive Dogmatics (Los Angeles Theology Conference Series)
The Triune God (New Studies in Dogmatics)
The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything
Jesus in Trinitarian Perspective: An Intermediate Christology
The Voice of God in the Text of Scripture: Explorations in Constructive Dogmatics (Los Angeles Theology Conference Series)
Advancing Trinitarian Theology: Explorations in Constructive Dogmatics (Los Angeles Theology Conference Series)
Wesley on the Christian Life: The Heart Renewed in Love
Theology and California: Theological Refractions on California's Culture
Embracing the Trinity: Life with God in the Gospel

[Common Places]: Ecce Homo: A Christ-Shaped Vision of Ourselves

By Marc Cortez 6/2/2016

     With this post we begin a new series attending to Marc Cortez’s  Christological Anthropology in Historical Perspective: Ancient and Contemporary Approaches to Theological Anthropology. While other posts will follow in short order this month and next, we begin with a word of orientation from the author.

     Looking down on this scarred and bleeding body, head adorned with thorns and body draped in purple, Pilate exclaimed, “Behold, the man” (ecce homo). But what did he see? Was it only a miserable example of a human life crushed by a fallen and jealous world? Or was there something more, something only vaguely glimpsed and inadequately understood?

     At one level, Pilate’s statement was almost certainly intended to point out Jesus’ miserable condition, either to express pity for this poor figure of a man or to mock the Jews for fearing this miserable wretch, maybe even as a rhetorical ploy to elicit pity and secure Jesus’ release. Yet many have wondered if something more is going on. Could it be that John intends us to view Pilate as an unintentional witness to a deeper theological truth, similar to Caiaphas’ famous declaration about Jesus’ impending death (Jn 11:49-50)? Could the ecce homo be directing our attention to the theological significance of Christ’s humanity? If so, what are we supposed to see?

     Answering that question within the context of the Gospel of John would take a bit too long for a single blog post, but it directs our attention to the kind of question that I wanted to pursue in Christological Anthropology in Historical Perspective: Ancient and Contemporary Approaches to Theological Anthropology. What are we supposed to see when we look at the humanity of Jesus? Or, said differently, what is the significance of Christology for doing theological anthropology?

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Marc Cortez (PhD, University of St. Andrews) is Associate Professor of Theology at Wheaton College Graduate School. He is author of Embodied Souls, Ensouled Bodies: An Exercise in Christological Anthropology and Its Significance for the Mind/Body Debate (T&T Clark Studies in Systematic Theology); and Christological Anthropology in Historical Perspective: Ancient and Contemporary Approaches to Theological Anthropology. He has published articles in academic journals such as International Journal of Systematic Theology, Scottish Journal of Theology, and Westminster Theological Journal. Marc blogs at Everyday Theology (marccortez.com), writes a monthly article for Christianity.com, and had articles featured on The Gospel Coalition and Christian Post.

Numbers 25; Psalm 68; Isaiah 15; 1 Peter 3

By Don Carson 5/16/2018

     There is more than one way to defeat the people of God.

     Balak wanted Balaam to curse the Israelites (Num. 22-24). Under threat of divine sanction, Balaam stood fast and proclaimed only what God gave him to say. But here in Numbers 25 we discover a quite different tactic. Some of the Moabite women invited some of the Israelite men over for visits. Some of these visits were to the festivals and sacrifices of their gods. Liaisons sprang up. Soon there was both sexual immorality and blatant worship of these pagan gods (25:1-2), in particular the Baal (lit. Lord) of Peor (25:3). “And the LORD’s anger burned against them” (25:3).      The result is inevitable. Now the Israelites face not the wrath of Moab but the wrath of Almighty God. A plague drives through the camp and kills 24,000 people (25:9). Phinehas takes the most drastic action (25:7-8). If we evaluate it under the conditions of contemporary pluralism, or even against the nature of the sanctions that the church is authorized to impose (e.g., 1 Cor. 5), Phinehas’s execution of this man and woman will evoke horror and charges of primitive barbarism. But if we recall that under the agreed covenant of this theocratic nation, the stipulated sanction for both blatant adultery and for idolatry was capital punishment, and if we perceive that by obeying the terms of this covenant (to which the people had pledged themselves) Phinehas saved countless thousands of lives by turning aside the plague, his action appears more principled than barbaric. Certainly this judgment, as severe as it is, is nothing compared with the judgment to come.

     But I shall focus on two further observations.

     First, Moab had found a way to destroy Israel by enticing the people to perform actions that would draw the judgment of God. Israel was strong only because God is strong. If God abandoned the nation, the people would be capable of little. According to Balaam’s oracles, the Israelites were to be “a people who live apart and do not consider themselves one of the nations” (23:9). The evil in this occurrence of covenant-breaking is that they now wish to be indifferentiable from the pagan nations.

     What temptations entice the church in the West to conduct that will inevitably draw the angry judgment of God upon us?

     Second, later passages disclose that these developments were not casual “boy-meets-girl” larks, but official policy arising from Balaam’s advice (31:16; cf. 2 Peter 2:16; Rev. 2:14). We are treated to the wretched spectacle of a compromised prophet who preserves fidelity on formal occasions and on the side offers vile advice, especially if there is hope of personal gain.

(Nu 31:16) 16 Behold, these, on Balaam’s advice, caused the people of Israel to act treacherously against the LORD in the incident of Peor, and so the plague came among the congregation of the LORD.   ESV

(2 Pe 2:16) 16 but was rebuked for his own transgression; a speechless donkey spoke with human voice and restrained the prophet’s madness.   ESV

(Re 2:14) 14 But I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, so that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice sexual immorality.   ESV

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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 50

God Himself Is Judge
50 A Psalm Of Asaph.

7 “Hear, O my people, and I will speak;
O Israel, I will testify against you.
I am God, your God.
8 Not for your sacrifices do I rebuke you;
your burnt offerings are continually before me.
9 I will not accept a bull from your house
or goats from your folds.
10 For every beast of the forest is mine,
the cattle on a thousand hills.
11 I know all the birds of the hills,
and all that moves in the field is mine.

12 “If I were hungry, I would not tell you,
for the world and its fullness are mine.
13 Do I eat the flesh of bulls
or drink the blood of goats?
14 Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving,
and perform your vows to the Most High,
15 and call upon me in the day of trouble;
I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.”

ESV Study Bible

The Institutes of the Christian Religion

Translated by Henry Beveridge

     CHAPTER 3.


The three heads of this chapter are,--I. A few preliminary remarks on Church order, on the end, utility, necessity, and dignity of the Christian ministry, sec. 1-3. II. A separate consideration of the persons performing Ecclesiastical functions, sec. 4-10. III. Of the Ordination or calling of the ministers of the Church, sec. 10-16.


1. Summary of the chapter. Reasons why God, in governing the Church, uses the ministry of men. 1. To declare his condescension. 2. To train us to humility and obedience. 3. To bind us to each other in mutual charity. These reasons confirmed by Scripture.

2. This ministry of men most useful to the whole Church. Its advantages enumerated.

3. The honourable terms in which the ministry is spoken of. Its necessity established by numerous examples.

4. Second part of the chapter, treating of Ecclesiastical office-bearers in particular. Some of them, as Apostles, Prophets, and Evangelists, temporary. Others, as Pastors and Teachers, perpetual and indispensable.

5. Considering the office of Evangelist and Apostle as one, we have Pastors corresponding with Apostles, and Teachers with Prophets. Why the name of Apostles specially conferred on the twelve.

6. As to the Apostles so also to Pastors the preaching of the Word and the administration of the sacraments has been committed. How the Word should be preached.

7. Regularly every Pastor should have a separate church assigned to him. This, however, admits of modification, when duly and regularly made by public authority.

8. Bishops, Presbyters, Pastors, and Ministers, are used by the Apostles as one and the same. Some functions, as being temporary, are omitted. Two--namely, those of Elders and Deacons--as pertaining to the ministry of the Word, are retained.

9. Distinction between Deacons. Some employed in distributing alms, others in taking care of the poor.

10. Third part of the chapter, treating of the Ordination or calling of the ministers of the Church.

11. A twofold calling--viz. an external and an internal. Mode in which both are to be viewed.

12. 1. Who are to be appointed ministers? 2. Mode of appointment.

13. 3. By whom the appointment is to be made. Why the Apostles were elected by Christ alone. Of the calling and election of St Paul.

14. Ordinary Pastors are designated by other Pastors. Why certain of the Apostles also were designated by men.

15. The election of Pastors does not belong to one individual. Other Pastors should preside, and the people consent and approve.

16. Form in which the ministers of the Church are to be ordained. No express precept but one. Laying on of hands.

1. We are now to speak of the order in which the Lord has been pleased that his Church should be governed. For though it is right that he alone should rule and reign in the Church, that he should preside and be conspicuous in it, and that its government should be exercised and administered solely by his word; yet as he does not dwell among us in visible presence, so as to declare his will to us by his own lips, he in this (as we have said) uses the ministry of men, by making them, as it were, his substitutes, [542] not by transferring his right and honour to them, but only doing his own work by their lips, just as an artificer uses a tool for any purpose. What I have previously expounded (chap. 1 sec. 5) I am again forced to repeat. God might have acted, in this respect, by himself, without any aid or instrument, or might even have done it by angels; but there are several reasons why he rather chooses to employ men. [543] First, in this way he declares his condescension towards us, employing men to perform the function of his ambassadors in the world, to be the interpreters of his secret will; in short, to represent his own person. Thus he shows by experience that it is not to no purpose he calls us his temples, since by man's mouth he gives responses to men as from a sanctuary. Secondly, it forms a most excellent and useful training to humility, when he accustoms us to obey his word though preached by men like ourselves, or, it may be, our inferiors in worth. Did he himself speak from heaven, it were no wonder if his sacred oracles were received by all ears and minds reverently and without delay. For who would not dread his present power? who would not fall prostrate at the first view of his great majesty? who would not be overpowered by that immeasurable splendour? But when a feeble man, sprung from the dust, speaks in the name of God, we give the best proof of our piety and obedience, by listening with docility to his servant, though not in any respect our superior. Accordingly, he hides the treasure of his heavenly wisdom in frail earthen vessels (2 Cor. 4:7), that he may have a more certain proof of the estimation in which it is held by us. Moreover, nothing was fitter to cherish mutual charity than to bind men together by this tie, appointing one of them as a pastor to teach the others who are enjoined to be disciples, and receive the common doctrine from a single mouth. For did every man suffice for himself, and stand in no need of another's aid (such is the pride of the human intellect), each would despise all others, and be in his turn despised. The Lord, therefore, has astricted his Church to what he foresaw would be the strongest bond of unity when he deposited the doctrine of eternal life and salvation with men, that by their hands he might communicate it to others. To this Paul had respect when he wrote to the Ephesians, "There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ. Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men. (Now that he ascended, what is it but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth? He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things.) And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: that we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; but speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: from whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love" (Eph 4:4-16).

2. By these words he shows that the ministry of men, which God employs in governing the Church, is a principal bond by which believers are kept together in one body. He also intimates, that the Church cannot be kept safe, unless supported by those guards to which the Lord has been pleased to commit its safety. Christ "ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things" (Eph. 4:10). The mode of filling is this: By the ministers to whom he has committed this office, and given grace to discharge it, he dispenses and distributes his gifts to the Church, and thus exhibits himself as in a manner actually present by exerting the energy of his Spirit in this his institution, so as to prevent it from being vain or fruitless. In this way, the renewal of the saints is accomplished, and the body of Christ is edified; in this way we grow up in all things unto Him who is the Head, and unite with one another; in this way we are all brought into the unity of Christ, provided prophecy flourishes among us, provided we receive his apostles, and despise not the doctrine which is administered to us. Whoever, therefore, studies to abolish this order and kind of government of which we speak, or disparages it as of minor importance, plots the devastation, or rather the ruin and destruction, of the Church. For neither are the light and heat of the sun, nor meat and drink, so necessary to sustain and cherish the present life, as is the apostolical and pastoral office to preserve a Church in the earth.

3. Accordingly, I have observed above, that God has repeatedly commended its dignity by the titles which he has bestowed upon it, in order that we might hold it in the highest estimation, as among the most excellent of our blessings. He declares, that in raising up teachers, he confers a special benefit on men, when he bids his prophet exclaim, "How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace" (Isa. 52:7); when he calls the apostles the light of the world and the salt of the earth (Mt. 5:13, 14). Nor could the office be more highly eulogised than when he said, "He that heareth you heareth me; and he that despiseth you despiseth me" (Luke 10:16). But the most striking passage of all is that in the Second Epistle to the Corinthians, where Paul treats as it were professedly of this question. He contends, that there is nothing in the Church more noble and glorious than the ministry of the Gospel, seeing it is the administration of the Spirit of righteousness and eternal life. These and similar passages should have the effect of preventing that method of governing and maintaining the Church by ministers, a method which the Lord has ratified for ever, from seeming worthless in our eyes, and at length becoming obsolete by contempt. How very necessary it is, he has declared not only by words but also by examples. When he was pleased to shed the light of his truth in greater effulgence on Cornelius, he sent an angel from heaven to despatch Peter to him (Acts 10:3). When he was pleased to call Paul to the knowledge of himself, and ingraft him into the Church, he does not address him with his own voice, but sends him to a man from whom he may both obtain the doctrine of salvation and the sanctification of baptism (Acts 9:6-20). If it was not by mere accident that the angel, who is the interpreter of God, abstains from declaring the will of God, and orders a man to be called to declare it; that Christ, the only Master of believers, commits Paul to the teaching of a man, that Paul whom he had determined to carry into the third heaven, and honour with a wondrous revelation of things that could not be spoken (2 Cor. 12:2), who will presume to despise or disregard as superfluous that ministry, whose utility God has been pleased to attest by such evidence?

4. Those who preside over the government of the Church, according to the institution of Christ, are named by Paul, first, Apostles; secondly, Prophets; thirdly, Evangelists; fourthly, Pastors; and, lastly, Teachers (Eph. 4:11). Of these, only the two last have an ordinary office in the Church. The Lord raised up the other three at the beginning of his kingdom, and still occasionally raises them up when the necessity of the times requires. The nature of the apostolic function is clear from the command, "Go ye into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature" (Mark 16:15). No fixed limits are given them, but the whole world is assigned to be reduced under the obedience of Christ, that by spreading the Gospel as widely as they could, they might everywhere erect his kingdom. Accordingly, Paul, when he would approve his apostleship, does not say that he had acquired some one city for Christ, but had propagated the Gospel far and wide--had not built on another man's foundation, but planted churches where the name of his Lord was unheard. The apostles, therefore, were sent forth to bring back the world from its revolt to the true obedience of God, and everywhere establish his kingdom by the preaching of the Gospel; or, if you choose, they were like the first architects of the Church, to lay its foundations throughout the world. By Prophets, he means not all interpreters of the divine will, but those who excelled by special revelation; none such now exist, or they are less manifest. By Evangelists, I mean those who, while inferior in rank to the apostles, were next them in office, and even acted as their substitutes. Such were Luke, Timothy, Titus, and the like; perhaps, also, the seventy disciples whom our Saviour appointed in the second place to the apostles (Luke 10:1). According to this interpretation, which appears to me consonant both to the words and the meaning of Paul, those three functions were not instituted in the Church to be perpetual, but only to endure so long as churches were to be formed where none previously existed, or at least where churches were to be transferred from Moses to Christ; although I deny not, that afterward God occasionally raised up Apostles, or at least Evangelists, in their stead, as has been done in our time. For such were needed to bring back the Church from the revolt of Antichrist. The office I nevertheless call extraordinary, because it has no place in churches duly constituted. Next come Pastors and Teachers, with whom the Church never can dispense, and between whom, I think, there is this difference, that teachers preside not over discipline, or the administration of the sacraments, or admonitions, or exhortations, but the interpretation of Scripture only, in order that pure and sound doctrine may be maintained among believers. But all these are embraced in the pastoral office.

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

  • Sinclair Ferguson
  • Sinclair Ferguson
  • Sinclair Ferguson

#1  Union with Christ Ligonier


#2  The Spirit of Holiness Ligonier


#3  Anchored To Christ Ligonier


     Devotionals, notes, poetry and more

coram Deo
     3/1/2009    Unquestionable Authority

     I am terribly vexed. I have just finished reading an article from the notoriously left-wing magazine Newsweek. In the cover story, “The Religious Case for Gay Marriage,” author Lisa Miller argues the case for gay “marriage” using the Bible as her authority. Miller opens with this line: “Let’s try for a minute to take the religious conservatives at their word and define marriage as the Bible does.” She later asserts, “The Bible gives us no good reason to oppose gay marriage.”

     It takes no brains but a lot of guts to try to make a case for gay “marriage” (of course, the phrase itself is a contradiction in terms). But it’s just downright crazy to try to make a case for the legitimacy of gay “marriage” using the Bible.

     I was recently at an event with Mike Huckabee as the keynote speaker, and I was delighted when the former governor quoted from the book of Judges: “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judg. 17:6). This recurring assessment from Judges is certainly applicable to our own day. While the Lord has shown that He will raise up and sustain a faithful remnant of His people in every generation, in His providence He has also shown the chaotic and noetic effects of the fall in every generation. And if you haven’t yet realized it, I’ll let you in on something — we are among the faithful remnant in this generation.

     With the Bible as our only infallible authority for every aspect of faith and life, we must stand on the truth and for the truth with uncompromising commitment to the truth and unwavering compassion for those who hate the truth, deny the truth, and use the only infallible authority for truth to defend their lies. By God’s grace, we have been called out of darkness in order to stand in His marvelous light so that we might boldly go into the darkness of this world as a light to the world, proclaiming the way, the truth, and the life before the face of God, coram Deo, and before the faces of our enemies. But in doing so, we must not in practice deny our allegiance to the authority of the Word of God by saying we believe it while continuing to live according to what is right in our own eyes.

     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

     Seward's Folly is what Alaska was called when it was first purchase from the Russians, as it was thought to be of no value. Only when it was discovered to be rich in natural resources was appreciation shown to Secretary of State William Seward, who was born this day, May 16, 1801. Serving under Abraham Lincoln, he was wounded by an accomplice of John Wilkes Booth the same night Lincoln was shot. As the vice-president of the American Bible Society, Seward stated: "I know not how long a republican government can flourish among a… people who have not the Bible; the experiment has never been tried."

American Minute

Lean Into God
     Compiled by Richard S. Adams

God enters by a private door into each individual.
--- Ralph Waldo Emerson
The Essential Writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson (Modern Library Classics)

Your talent is God's gift to you.
What you do with it is your gift back to God.
--- Leo Buscaglia
Loving Each Other: The Challenge of Human Relationships

God is the perfect poet.
--- Robert Browning
The Works: Robert Browning

The body politic, as well as the human body, begins to die as soon as it is born, and carries in itself the causes of its destruction.
--- Jean Jacques Rousseau
Discourse on the Origin of Inequality (Oxford World's Classics)

... from here, there and everywhere

The Imitation Of Christ
     Thomas A Kempis

               Book Four - An Invitation To Holy Communion

     The Eighth Chapter / The Offering Of Christ On The Cross; Our Offering


     AS I offered Myself willingly to God the Father for your sins with hands outstretched and body naked on the cross, so that nothing remained in Me that had not become a complete sacrifice to appease the divine wrath, so ought you to be willing to offer yourself to Me day by day in the Mass as a pure and holy oblation, together with all your faculties and affections, with as much inward devotion as you can.

     What more do I ask than that you give yourself entirely to Me? I care not for anything else you may give Me, for I seek not your gift but you. Just as it would not be enough for you to have everything if you did not have Me, so whatever you give cannot please Me if you do not give yourself.

     Offer yourself to Me, therefore, and give yourself entirely for God—your offering will be accepted. Behold, I offered Myself wholly to the Father for you, I even gave My whole Body and Blood for food that I might be all yours, and you Mine forever.

     But if you rely upon self, and do not offer your free will to Mine, your offering will be incomplete and the union between us imperfect. Hence, if you desire to attain grace and freedom of heart, let the free offering of yourself into the hands of God precede your every action. This is why so few are inwardly free and enlightened—they know not how to renounce themselves entirely.

     My word stands: “Everyone of you that doth not renounce all that he possesseth, cannot be My disciple.”

     If, therefore, you wish to be My disciple, offer yourself to Me with all your heart.

The Imitation Of Christ

History of the Destruction of Jerusalem
     Thanks to Meir Yona


     1. 1 Whereas the war which the Jews made with the Romans hath been the greatest of all those, not only that have been in our times, but, in a manner, of those that ever were heard of; both of those wherein cities have fought against cities, or nations against nations; while some men who were not concerned in the affairs themselves have gotten together vain and contradictory stories by hearsay, and have written them down after a sophistical manner; and while those that were there present have given false accounts of things, and this either out of a humor of flattery to the Romans, or of hatred towards the Jews; and while their writings contain sometimes accusations, and sometimes encomiums, but nowhere the accurate truth of the facts; I have proposed to myself, for the sake of such as live under the government of the Romans, to translate those books into the Greek tongue, which I formerly composed in the language of our country, and sent to the Upper Barbarians; 2 Joseph, the son of Matthias, by birth a Hebrew, a priest also, and one who at first fought against the Romans myself, and was forced to be present at what was done afterwards, [am the author of this work].

     2. Now at the time when this great concussion of affairs happened, the affairs of the Romans were themselves in great disorder. Those Jews also who were for innovations, then arose when the times were disturbed; they were also in a flourishing condition for strength and riches, insomuch that the affairs of the East were then exceeding tumultuous, while some hoped for gain, and others were afraid of loss in such troubles; for the Jews hoped that all of their nation which were beyond Euphrates would have raised an insurrection together with them. The Gauls also, in the neighborhood of the Romans, were in motion, and the Geltin were not quiet; but all was in disorder after the death of Nero. And the opportunity now offered induced many to aim at the royal power; and the soldiery affected change, out of the hopes of getting money. I thought it therefore an absurd thing to see the truth falsified in affairs of such great consequence, and to take no notice of it; but to suffer those Greeks and Romans that were not in the wars to be ignorant of these things, and to read either flatteries or fictions, while the Parthians, and the Babylonians, and the remotest Arabians, and those of our nation beyond Euphrates, with the Adiabeni, by my means, knew accurately both whence the war began, what miseries it brought upon us, and after what manner it ended.

     3. It is true, these writers have the confidence to call their accounts histories; wherein yet they seem to me to fail of their own purpose, as well as to relate nothing that is sound. For they have a mind to demonstrate the greatness of the Romans, while they still diminish and lessen the actions of the Jews, as not discerning how it cannot be that those must appear to be great who have only conquered those that were little. Nor are they ashamed to overlook the length of the war, the multitude of the Roman forces who so greatly suffered in it, or the might of the commanders, whose great labors about Jerusalem will be deemed inglorious, if what they achieved be reckoned but a small matter.

     4. However, I will not go to the other extreme, out of opposition to those men who extol the Romans nor will I determine to raise the actions of my countrymen too high; but I will prosecute the actions of both parties with accuracy. Yet shall I suit my language to the passions I am under, as to the affairs I describe, and must be allowed to indulge some lamentations upon the miseries undergone by my own country. For that it was a seditious temper of our own that destroyed it, and that they were the tyrants among the Jews who brought the Roman power upon us, who unwillingly attacked us, and occasioned the burning of our holy temple, Titus Caesar, who destroyed it, is himself a witness, who, daring the entire war, pitied the people who were kept under by the seditious, and did often voluntarily delay the taking of the city, and allowed time to the siege, in order to let the authors have opportunity for repentance. But if any one makes an unjust accusation against us, when we speak so passionately about the tyrants, or the robbers, or sorely bewail the misfortunes of our country, let him indulge my affections herein, though it be contrary to the rules for writing history; because it had so come to pass, that our city Jerusalem had arrived at a higher degree of felicity than any other city under the Roman government, and yet at last fell into the sorest of calamities again. Accordingly, it appears to me that the misfortunes of all men, from the beginning of the world, if they be compared to these of the Jews 3 are not so considerable as they were; while the authors of them were not foreigners neither. This makes it impossible for me to contain my lamentations. But if anyone be inflexible in his censures of me, let him attribute the facts themselves to the historical part, and the lamentations to the writer himself only.

     5. However, I may justly blame the learned men among the Greeks, who, when such great actions have been done in their own times, which, upon the comparison, quite eclipse the old wars, do yet sit as judges of those affairs, and pass bitter censures upon the labors of the best writers of antiquity; which moderns, although they may be superior to the old writers in eloquence, yet are they inferior to them in the execution of what they intended to do. While these also write new histories about the Assyrians and Medes, as if the ancient writers had not described their affairs as they ought to have done; although these be as far inferior to them in abilities as they are different in their notions from them. For of old every one took upon them to write what happened in his own time; where their immediate concern in the actions made their promises of value; and where it must be reproachful to write lies, when they must be known by the readers to be such. But then, an undertaking to preserve the memory of what hath not been before recorded, and to represent the affairs of one's own time to those that come afterwards, is really worthy of praise and commendation. Now he is to be esteemed to have taken good pains in earnest, not who does no more than change the disposition and order of other men's works, but he who not only relates what had not been related before, but composes an entire body of history of his own: accordingly, I have been at great charges, and have taken very great pains [about this history], though I be a foreigner; and do dedicate this work, as a memorial of great actions, both to the Greeks and to the Barbarians. But for some of our own principal men, their mouths are wide open, and their tongues loosed presently, for gain and law-suits, but quite muzzled up when they are to write history, where they must speak truth and gather facts together with a great deal of pains; and so they leave the writing such histories to weaker people, and to such as are not acquainted with the actions of princes. Yet shall the real truth of historical facts be preferred by us, how much so ever it be neglected among the Greek historians.

     6. To write concerning the Antiquities of the Jews, who they were [originally], and how they revolted from the Egyptians, and what country they traveled over, and what countries they seized upon afterward, and how they were removed out of them, I think this not to be a fit opportunity, and, on other accounts, also superfluous; and this because many Jews before me have composed the histories of our ancestors very exactly; as have some of the Greeks done it also, and have translated our histories into their own tongue, and have not much mistaken the truth in their histories. But then, where the writers of these affairs and our prophets leave off, thence shall I take my rise, and begin my history. Now as to what concerns that war which happened in my own time, I will go over it very largely, and with all the diligence I am able; but for what preceded mine own age, that I shall run over briefly.

     7. [For example, I shall relate] how Antiochus, who was named Epiphanes, took Jerusalem by force, and held it three years and three months, and was then ejected out of the country by the sons of Asamoneus: after that, how their posterity quarreled about the government, and brought upon their settlement the Romans and Pompey; how Herod also, the son of Antipater, dissolved their government, and brought Sosins upon them; as also how our people made a sedition upon Herod's death, while Augustus was the Roman emperor, and Quintilius Varus was in that country; and how the war broke out in the twelfth year of Nero, with what happened to Cestius; and what places the Jews assaulted in a hostile manner in the first sallies of the war.

          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 17:3-4
     by D.H. Stern

3     The crucible [tests] silver, and the furnace [tests] gold,
but the one who tests hearts is ADONAI.

4     An evildoer heeds wicked lips;
a liar listens to destructive talk.

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

My Utmost For The Highest
     A Daily Devotional by Oswald Chambers

                Partakers of the divine nature. --- 2 Peter 1:4.

     We are made partakers of the Divine nature through the promises; then we have to ‘manipulate’ the Divine nature in our human nature by habits, and the first habit to form is the habit of realizing the provision God has made. ‘Oh, I can’t afford it,’ we say—one of the worst lies is tucked up in that phrase. It is ungovernably bad taste to talk about money in the natural domain, and so it is spiritually, and yet we talk as if our Heavenly Father had cut us off with a shilling! We think it a sign of real modesty to say at the end of a day—‘Oh, well, I have just got through, but it has been a severe tussle.’ And all the Almighty God is ours in the Lord Jesus! And He will tax the last grain of sand and the remotest star to bless us if we will obey Him. What does it matter if external circumstances are hard? Why should they not be! If we give way to self-pity and indulge in the luxury of misery, we banish God’s riches from our own lives and hinder others from entering into His provision. No sin is worse than the sin of self-pity, because it obliterates God and puts self-interest upon the throne. It opens our mouths to spit out murmurings and our lives become craving spiritual sponges, there is nothing lovely or generous about them.

     When God is beginning to be satisfied with us, He will impoverish everything in the nature of fictitious wealth, until we learn that all our fresh springs are in Him. If the majesty and grace and power of God are not being manifested in us (not to our consciousness), God holds us responsible. “God is able to make all grace abound,” then learn to lavish the grace of God on others. Be stamped with God’s nature, and His blessing will come through you all the time.

My Utmost for His Highest

And You?
     the Poetry of RS Thomas

          And You?

Davies thought life was long;
there was a sameness in the song.
Pugh thought it all too brief,
the fruit ripe before the leaf

turned. How is it with you
who have neither the greed of Pugh
nor Davies’ lack of zest
for the red meat on the breast?

Collected Later Poems: 1988-2000

Swimming In The Sea of Talmud
     Bava Batra 89b


     The story of Rabbi Yehoshua and the perushim shows us a critical moment in the development of Judaism and also teaches us an important lesson about religion in general. Jews in the first century were searching for a way to respond to the trauma of the destruction of the Temple. One group of people began taking upon themselves a number of restrictions that were seen by many to be rather severe. No doubt those who could not follow this path felt very guilty, wondering about their own weaknesses or their apparent lack of devotion to their God.

     Rabbi Yehoshua was troubled by the particular response of these perushim and the effect it was having on the Jews. Here was a unique and ironic situation: A religious leader going to his followers and telling them, in essence, "You're being too religious!" It's usually the opposite message that we expect to hear from a rabbi, priest, minister, or imam; but in rebuking the perushim, Rabbi Yehoshua teaches them, and us, a great deal about the meaning and purpose of religion. We can almost imagine him using words like these:

     "Your heart is in the right place, but you haven't brought your head into the equation in dealing with this problem. That is a fatal flaw that can turn religion from a positive force into a negative one. God gave us hearts and minds, and expects that we use our emotions and our intelligence in the choices and decisions that we make.

     "First of all, your ideas are not thought through: Why have you taken on these particular restrictions and not others? What logic underlies your choices? There is a lack of consistency that makes your decisions seem arbitrary. Other people will have a hard time being convinced that yours is the right way.

     "Second, you haven't taken into consideration anyone else! You may be able to follow this path, but most people will not. Religion will become a burden and a hardship instead of a boon and a comfort. And just at the time we need unity to bring us together, you will be creating a wedge that will drive us further apart and split us into factions. You have forgotten that as much as a religion is about relating to God, it is also about relating to other people!"

     In every generation, religious zealots arise in response to the crisis of that time and place. Most people are unable to follow their example of fervent piety. Many people are afraid to challenge them because of their intense devotion to what they believe in. Though in the minority, these zealots are able to establish for everyone else what is forbidden and what is permitted. More often than not, their brand of religion emphasizes the former over the latter. Rabbi Yehoshua brings us a very different idea of what religion is all about. He also serves as a model of a courageous religious leader, willing to stand up to extremists on behalf of the tradition and the community.

     Woe to me if I speak, woe to me if I don't speak.

     Text / Our Rabbis taught: "The levelling rod may not be made thick on one side and thin on the other side. One may not level with one quick movement, for leveling with one quick movement is bad for the seller and good for the buyer. Nor may one level very slowly, for this is bad for the buyer and good for the seller." Concerning all of these, Rabban Yoḥanan ben Zakkai said: "Woe to me if I speak, woe to me if I don't speak. If I speak, perhaps deceivers will learn; if I don't speak, perhaps the deceivers will say: 'The scholars are not experts in what we do!' " The question was raised: "Did he speak or not?" Rav Shumel bar Rav Yitzḥak said: "He did speak, and he based himself on this verse: 'For the paths of the Lord are smooth; the righteous can walk on them, while sinners stumble on them' [Hosea 14:10]."

     Context / Rabban Yoḥanan ben Zakkai's concern with fraudulent business practices was not merely an academic subject. For many years he was a part of the business world: "It has been taught: The years of Rabban Yoḥanan ben Zakkai's life were one hundred and twenty. Forty years he engaged in business, forty years he studied, and forty years he taught." (Rosh Hashanah 31b)

     The levelling rod was an instrument used for measuring out quantities of grain. Our section is concerned both with how the rod was made and how it was used. Apparently, there was a great deal of fraud going on in the buying and selling of grain, and the Rabbis were interested in setting up ethical business standards for people to follow. A thin-sided rod would be more precise in its measurements, and thus advantageous to the seller who wanted to give as little of the product as he had to. The thick-edged rod, on the other hand, would work to the buyer's advantage. Some people had rods with two different sides, which they would use depending on whether they were buying or selling. The Rabbis insisted that the rod be of two equal sides, thin or thick, depending on local custom. Similarly, using the rod with a quick single stroke would result in more grain being measured which would favor the customer. On the other hand, merchants liked to measure with several small, slow strokes that would leave no extra grain for the buyer.

     Rabban Yoḥanan ben Zakkai was deeply torn over whether to discuss such matters in public. He feared that he was in a no-win situation: If he spoke about such matters, he might be giving some people ideas of how to defraud others. On the other hand, if he did not address these practices, he thought that people would assume that the Rabbis were naive and unaware of what went on in the marketplace. This might lead people to lose their respect for—and fear of—the Rabbis and their mission to impose higher ethical standards. In the end, Rabban Yoḥanan opted to discuss the fraudulent practices. He based this decision on his interpretation of a verse from the prophet Hosea: Righteous people will learn right and wrong from the discussion; the sinners might learn or be encouraged to deceive others, but ultimately they will stumble and be punished.

Swimming in the Sea of Talmud: Lessons for Everyday Living

1 Samuel 16-31 / The Making of a Man
     Teacher's Commentary

     Israel's years of frustration came to an end with the death of Saul. God "sought out a man after His own heart and appointed him leader of his people" (1 Samuel 13:14).

     David's appearance marks the dawn of Israel's ancient glory. During the life of David and his son Solomon, the covenant promise that obedience will bring showers of blessing was fulfilled.

     These significant chapters of 1 Samuel relate the story of David's early years, and help us grasp the nature of the often painful process that God takes us through to prepare us for leadership. Many events of these years can be correlated with many of David's Psalms, so that we can trace not only the outward circumstances but the inner emotional journey taken by this youth destined to be Israel's greatest king.

     Psalms. Hebrew poetry does not rely on rhyme or rhythm, but on the repetition and rearrangement of thoughts. This means that Hebrew poetry, unlike our own, is uniquely suitable for translation into any language! Another feature of the Psalms is their expressiveness: this poetry is a window on the soul. David and others freely share their emotions, and reveal their inmost thoughts. Whenever we study events in the life of David, it is important to look to the Psalms to understand what is happening inside as well as out.

     Greatness is something many people desire but few understand. Usually we recognize the great only after they have achieved. We call them "great" after their military victories have been won, their administrative skills have brought success, or their talents have gained awards. What we see is the finished product, not the process. So we tend to romanticize greatness.

     The same thing happens in the Christian realm. The new believer, who dreams of the day he will do great things for God, or the individual who yearns for the day he will live a victorious life, have both romanticized spiritual greatness. They have missed the point that quality and character are forged in experience. Greatness comes only through a process that always contains an element of pain.

     Too often we Christians yearn for the product—but try to avoid the process! In our rebelliousness we may miss the pathway that God intends us to take; the pathway that leads to maturity and to spiritual significance.

     One of the advantages of a careful study of these passages of the Old Testament is that they counteract our romanticism. We may tend to hit only the highlights: to envision David merely as the shepherd boy who killed Goliath and went on to greatness. But the Scriptures draw us into a careful account of David and his greatness—and exposes the suffering that marked his early life.

     We have two rich sources to help us understand David's growth toward greatness. The first is the historical account of his life, found in 1 and 2 Samuel, in 1 Kings and in 1 Chronicles. The second source is the Psalms that were written by David himself. These Psalms portray David's rich emotional life, and reveal his attitudes and feelings at various stages of his life. We need to probe and explore both the historical and poetic sources, for David is the key to understanding the greatest period of Israel's national greatness. Even more, we need to probe and explore because David stands as a spiritual model for you and for me.

     Like us, David was a man who often failed, who was subject to temptation and to sin. Like us, David knew despair and fear, doubt and loneliness. Like us, David had a personal relationship with the Lord—and found in that relationship the secret of living above and beyond his potential. As we explore David's life in this and following units, we'll study those qualities which can lift you and me to whatever greatness God calls us to in our own roles in life—in our work, in our homes, our churches, our circles of friends. In this study, we will come to better understand the process through which God is now at work to make us great.

     The Early Years: 1 Samuel 16–17; Psalms 19; 23; 29).

     When we first meet David, we see him in the spotlight. David had come with food to Israel's encampment, where a citizen army was drawn up to fight the Philistines. But the whole army was immobilized by fear of a giant, Goliath, who was some nine feet tall and magnificently proportioned. Goliath had challenged Israel to send out a man for single combat. All Israel feared the giant's power.

     Young David, probably still in his teens, was amazed. Certainly no pagan defying the army of the living God had a chance of victory! The Lord would deliver the man who accepted the challenge.

     Saul heard about David's remarks. David was sent to the tent of this man who, as leader and the largest man in the nation, had been chosen to fight Israel's battles for them (1 Samuel 8:20). When David was brought before the king, he boldly affirmed that he would fight the giant and kill him. As a shepherd, David had battled lions and bears to preserve his sheep. Surely the Lord would deliver David from the hand of the Philistine giant, for David was going in the Lord's name, to battle now for His sheep!

     We know the story well. David came without armor to meet the massive warrior. With a shepherd's sling, David hurled a stone which killed Goliath. Taking the giant's own massive sword, David then cut off his head. The demoralized Philistines fled, pursued by the triumphant Israelites.

     The scene of David's triumph is not the beginning of his story. That beginning is rooted in the silent years David spent as a shepherd. It is rooted in the fear David must have felt of the wild beasts around him, and in the courage that was tested over and over again as David went out to meet his challenges. It is rooted in David's growing awareness and trust of God.

     Insight into that beginning is also found in God's earlier word to Samuel. When Samuel was sent to anoint David as Israel's future king, Samuel had looked admiringly on David's tallest brother. God reminded His prophet: "The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart" (1 Samuel 16:7).

     David, though handsome, was not an impressive figure. But during the lonely years of shepherding, David had developed a heart for God. He learned to see God as his Shepherd (Psalm 23), sensing in his own care of his sheep aspects of God's care for His people. Living in the open, David also sensed God's greatness through His creation. Later David wrote:

     The heavens declare the glory of God;
     the skies proclaim the work of His hands.
     --- Psalm 19:1.

     This same theme is often echoed in David's Psalms. For instance, in Psalm 29 David calls on men to ascribe glory to God for all that He reveals of Himself in nature.

     The voice of the Lord is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the Lord thunders over the mighty waters. The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is majestic. --- Psalm 29:3–4

     The silent formative years, the weeks spent alone in the hills and valleys of Palestine tending sheep, deepened the youth's sense of God's greatness and power. David's heart responded to creation's revelation. His eyes saw the glory of the Lord.

     Measured against this vision of the Lord, whose majestic voice spoke in the thunder, David saw Goliath in true perspective. The giant was merely a creature. The Lord is God.

The Teacher's Commentary

Poetic and Liturgical Works
     Judaism in the Land of Israel

     The Psalms incorporated into the Hebrew Psalter served various functions in Temple worship and presumably in other settings as well, but these 150 poems hardly comprise the totality of poetic writing in the period. Again, the Qumran texts have offered abundant examples of such compositions. The Hodayot or Thanksgiving Hymns are sectarian poetic compositions which celebrate the greatness of God and his goodness to those whom he has chosen and other teachings of the group (such as divine predestination of events). Another set of poems has been labeled Noncanonical Psalms (4Q380–381). Among the scrolls are also texts that contain prayers for certain occasions (daily [4Q503] and festival [4Q507–509] prayers) and blessings for each day (4Q504–506; see also the Berakhot or Blessings texts, 4Q286–290). Considerable interest attaches to the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice (4Q400–407; 11Q17), which describes the heavenly worship on the first thirteen Sabbaths of a year and assumes a unity between the angelic worship offered in the celestial sanctuary and the worship offered by humans on earth. Poetry of a different nature is found in the Psalms of Solomon, a first-century-B.C.E. work that, among other topics, speaks bitterly about the Hasmonean rulers and about Pompey, the Roman general who took Jerusalem in 63 B.C.E. Psalms of Solomon 17 and 18 also offer some important statements about a Davidic messiah.

     Other texts were written, but the above survey should suffice to give an idea of the range of Judean literature written in the period of early Judaism.

The Eerdmans Dictionary of Early Judaism

Take Heart
     May 16

     In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. --- Ephesians 1:7–8.

     I walked alone by the incoming sea. ( Classic Sermons on the Grace of God (Kregel Classic Sermons Series) ) I read the words of my text to the accompaniment of the roar and advance of the incoming tide. The onrush of the ocean seemed to get into the words. The grace of the Eternal was rolling toward the human race in a wealthy and glorious flood.

     I am grateful for this comment of the ocean tide. I am grateful for its suggestion of energy in the ministry of grace. Grace is too commonly regarded as a pleasing sentiment, a soft disposition, a welcome feeling of favor entertained toward us by our God. [That] interpretation is ineffective. Grace is not the shimmering face of an illumined lake; it is the sunlit majesty of an advancing sea. It is a transcendent and ineffable force, the outgoing energies of the redeeming God washing against the polluted shores of human need.

     Grace includes thought and purpose and good will and love. We do it wrong and therefore maim ourselves if we esteem it only as a perfumed sentiment, a favorable inclination, and not as a glorious energy moving toward the race with the fullness and majesty of the ocean tide. Wherever I turn in the Sacred Book I find the mystic energy at work. In every instance it works and energizes as an unspeakable force.

     Let me cull a little handful of examples. “Let each one do just as he has purposed in his heart.… And God is able to make all grace abound to you” (2 Cor. 9:7–8 NASB). Do you catch the connection? Let each one do, for God will make grace abound. Grace is the dynamic of endeavor! “God our Father by his grace gave us good hope.” We have good hope! The lamp is kept burning. The light does not die out. All the rooms are lit up. Grace is the nourisher of optimism. “It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace” (Heb. 13:9). Grace is the secret energy of a fortified will.

     Grace does not flow from a half-reluctant and partially reconciled God, like the scanty and uncertain movements of a brook in time of drought. It comes in oceanic fullness. It comes in “his kindness, tolerance and patience” (Rom. 2:4), “in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us.”
--- John Henry Jowett

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

On This Day
     Swallowed Up  May 16

     Henry Martyn was born in Cornwall, England in 1781. His father was a well-to-do businessman, and Henry grew up amid comforts. He proved intelligent, excelled in school, and went on to Cambridge, graduating with honors in mathematics. The writings of missionary David Brainard helped bring Martyn to Christian surrender, and he soon contemplated foreign missions. “Let me forget the world,” he said, “and be swallowed up in a desire to glorify God.”

     But he couldn’t forget Lydia Grenfell. Henry was deeply in love with Lydia, though she had no desire for Asian missionary service. A vicious war tore the young man apart. Should he go to India with God, or remain in England with Lydia? He awakened throughout the night, his mind full of Lydia. He called her his “beloved idol.” But, determined to do God’s will, he said a final goodbye and set sail.

     At daybreak on May 16, 1805, Martyn went ashore at Calcutta and was met by William Carey who soon nudged him into translation work. Martyn lost himself in ministry, preaching, establishing schools, and translating the Bible into three Asian languages. All the while he brooded over Lydia. On July 30, 1806, after much deliberation, he wrote, proposing marriage. Letters traveled slowly, and a year passed before he received a reply. Lydia’s rejection hit the young man like a thunderbolt, and his health, always frail, began to falter. He wrote asking her to reconsider. She would not, though she agreed to correspond friend-to-friend.

     In 1810 his Hindustani New Testament ready for the printer, Martyn traveled to Persia hoping to recover his health. By 1812 he had grown so weak that an overland trip to England seemed the only solution. It would also, he knew, bring him to Lydia. He set out but didn’t make it, dying en route at age 31. When his journal was opened, the name Lydia, like the droning of sad music, was found on almost every page. But Henry Martyn had fulfilled his objective in coming to India. He had been swallowed up in a desire to glorify God, and the New Testament was read in three new languages.

   Please listen, God, and answer my prayer!
   I feel hopeless,
   And I cry out to you from a faraway land.
   Lead me to the rock high above me.
   Let me live with you forever
   And find protection under your wings, my God.
   --- Psalm 61:1,2,4.

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

Morning and Evening
     Daily Readings / CHARLES H. SPURGEON

          Morning - May 16

     “Who giveth us richly all things to enjoy.”
--- 1 Timothy 6:17.

     Our Lord Jesus is ever giving, and does not for a solitary instant withdraw his hand. As long as there is a vessel of grace not yet full to the brim, the oil shall not be stayed. He is a sun ever-shining; he is manna always falling round the camp; he is a rock in the desert, ever sending out streams of life from his smitten side; the rain of his grace is always dropping; the river of his bounty is ever-flowing, and the well-spring of his love is constantly overflowing. As the King can never die, so his grace can never fail. Daily we pluck his fruit, and daily his branches bend down to our hand with a fresh store of mercy. There are seven feast-days in his weeks, and as many as are the days, so many are the banquets in his years. Who has ever returned from his door unblessed? Who has ever risen from his table unsatisfied, or from his bosom un-emparadised? His mercies are new every Morning and fresh every Evening. Who can know the number of his benefits, or recount the list of his bounties? Every sand which drops from the glass of time is but the tardy follower of a myriad of mercies. The wings of our hours are covered with the silver of his kindness, and with the yellow gold of his affection. The river of time bears from the mountains of eternity the golden sands of his favour. The countless stars are but as the standard bearers of a more innumerable host of blessings. Who can count the dust of the benefits which he bestows on Jacob, or tell the number of the fourth part of his mercies towards Israel? How shall my soul extol him who daily loadeth us with benefits, and who crowneth us with loving-kindness? O that my praise could be as ceaseless as his bounty! O miserable tongue, how canst thou be silent? Wake up, I pray thee, lest I call thee no more my glory, but my shame. “Awake, psaltery and harp: I myself will awake right early.”

          Evening - May 16

     “And he said, Thus saith the Lord, Make this valley full of ditches. For thus saith the Lord, Ye shall not see wind, neither shall ye see rain; yet that valley shall be filled with water, that ye may drink, both ye and your cattle, and your beasts.” --- 2 Kings 3:16,17.

     The armies of the three kings were famishing for want of water: God was about to send it, and in these words the prophet announced the coming blessing. Here was a case of human helplessness: not a drop of water could all the valiant men procure from the skies or find in the wells of earth. Thus often the people of the Lord are at their wits’ end; they see the vanity of the creature, and learn experimentally where their help is to be found. Still the people were to make a believing preparation for the divine blessing; they were to dig the trenches in which the precious liquid would be held. The church must by her varied agencies, efforts, and prayers, make herself ready to be blessed; she must make the pools, and the Lord will fill them. This must be done in faith, in the full assurance that the blessing is about to descend. By-and-by there was a singular bestowal of the needed boon. Not as in Elijah’s case did the shower pour from the clouds, but in a silent and mysterious manner the pools were filled. The Lord has his own sovereign modes of action: he is not tied to manner and time as we are, but doeth as he pleases among the sons of men. It is ours thankfully to receive from him, and not to dictate to him. We must also notice the remarkable abundance of the supply —there was enough for the need of all. And so it is in the Gospel blessing; all the wants of the congregation and of the entire church shall be met by the divine power in answer to prayer; and above all this, victory shall be speedily given to the armies of the Lord.

     What am I doing for Jesus? What trenches am I digging? O Lord, make me ready to receive the blessing which thou art so willing to bestow.

Morning and Evening

Amazing Grace
     May 16


     Charles Wesley, 1707–1788

     After He had provided purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. (Hebrews 1:3)

     This text by Charles Wesley is another of the more than 6,500 hymns written by the “Sweet Bard of Methodism.” Wesley wrote on hundreds of scriptural passages as well as on every conceivable phase of Christian experience and doctrine. This text was developed by Wesley to encourage his followers to have a more spontaneous joy in their lives as they became aware that Christ reigns victorious in heaven. It was based on the apostle Paul’s instruction to the Christians at Philippi:

     Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! (Philippians 4:4)

     It is important to remember that this instruction was written while Paul was a prisoner of Emperor Nero in Rome. The teaching of the entire Philippian letter is that it is possible to be a victor in life—regardless of the circumstances—when our faith is in an ascended, reigning Lord. There are twelve references to rejoicing in this one short book.

     “Rejoice—the Lord is King!” first appeared in John Wesley’s Moral and Sacred Poems in 1744, and two years later in Charles Wesley’s collection, Hymns for our Lord’s Resurrection.

     Rejoice—the Lord is King! Your Lord and King adore! Rejoice, give thanks, and sing and triumph evermore! Lift up your heart, lift up your voice! Rejoice, again I say, rejoice!
     Jesus the Savior reigns, the God of truth and love; when He had purged our stains He took His seat above: Lift up your heart, lift up your voice! Rejoice, again I say, rejoice!
     His kingdom cannot fail—He rules o’er earth and heav’n; the keys of death and hell are to our Jesus giv’n: Lift up your heart, lift up your voice! Rejoice, again I say, rejoice!
     He all His foes shall quell, shall all our sins destroy; and every bosom swell with pure seraphic joy: Lift up your heart, lift up your voice! Rejoice, again I say, rejoice!
     Rejoice in glorious hope! Our Lord the Judge shall come and take His servants up to their eternal home: Lift up your heart, lift up your voice! Rejoice, again I say, rejoice!

     For Today: Philippians 4:4–9; Colossians 3:1; Hebrews 2:9.

     “Rejoice in the Lord always” is easy to quote but difficult to practice. Yet we must remember that this attitude of joy is not an option for the Christian but a scriptural command—the result of an intimate relationship with our reigning Lord. Carry this musical reminder as a help ---

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. XXVI. — AND now, what if I prove from your own words, on which you assert the freedom of the will, that there is no such thing as “Free- will” at all! What if I should make it manifest that you unknowingly deny that, which, with so much policy, you labour to affirm. And if I do not this, actually, I vow that I will consider all that I advance in this book against you, revoked; and all that your Diatribe advances against me, and aims at establishing, confirmed. You make the power of “Free-will” to be — ‘that certain small degree of power, which, without the grace of God, is utterly ineffective.’ Do you not acknowledge this? — Now then, I ask and demand of you, if the grace of God be wanting, or, if it be taken away from that certain small degree of power, what can it do of itself? ‘It is ineffective (you say) and can do nothing of good.’ Therefore, it cannot do what God or His grace wills. And why? because we have now separated the grace of God from it; and what the grace of God does not, is not good. And hence it follows, that “Free-will,” without the grace of God is, absolutely, not FREE; but, immutably, the servant and bond-slave of evil; because, it cannot turn itself unto good. This being determined, I will allow you to make the power of “Free-will,” not only a certain small degree of power, but to make it evangelical if you will, or, if you can, to make it divine: provided that, you add to it this doleful appendage — that, without the grace of God, it is ineffective. Because, then you will at once take from it all power: for, what is ineffective power, but plainly, no power at all? Therefore, to say, that the will is FREE, and that it has indeed power, but that it is ineffective, is what the sophists call ‘a direct contrariety.’ As if one should say, “Free-will” is that which is not free. Or as if one should term fire cold, and earth hot. For if fire had the power of heat, yea of the heat of hell, yet, if it did not burn or scorch, but were cold and produced cold, I should not call it fire, much less should I term it hot; unless, indeed, you were to mean an imaginary fire, or a fire represented in a picture. — But if we call the power of “Free-will” that, by which a man is fitted to be caught by the Spirit, or to be touched by the grace of God, as one created unto eternal life or eternal death, may be said to be; this power, that is, fitness, or, (as the Sophists term it) ‘disposition-quality,’ and ‘passive aptitude,’ this I also confess. And who does not know, that this is not in trees or beasts? For, (as they say) Heaven was not made for geese. Therefore, it stands confirmed, even by your own testimony, that we do all things from necessity, not from “Free-will:” seeing that, the power of “Free-will” is nothing, and neither does, nor can do good, without grace. Unless you wish efficacy to bear a new signification, and to be understood as meaning perfection: that is, that “Free-will” can, indeed, will and begin, but cannot perfect: which I do not believe: and upon this I shall speak more at large hereafter. It now then follows, that Free-will is plainly a divine term, and can be applicable to none but the divine Majesty only: for He alone “doth, (as the Psalm sings) what He will in Heaven and earth.” (Ps. cxxxv. 6.) Whereas, if it be ascribed unto men, it is not more properly ascribed, than the divinity of God Himself would be ascribed unto them: which would be the greatest of all sacrilege. Wherefore, it becomes Theologians to refrain from the use of this term altogether, whenever they wish to speak of human ability, and to leave it to be applied to God only. And moreover, to take this same term out of the mouths and speech of men; and thus to assert, as it were, for their God, that which belongs to His own sacred and holy Name. But if they must, whether or no, give some power to men, let them teach, that it is to be called by some other term than “Free-will”; especially since we know and clearly see, that the people are miserably deceived and seduced by that term, taking and understanding it to signify something far different from that which Theologians mean and understand by it, in their discussions. For the term, “Free-will,” is by far too grand, copious, and full: by which, the people imagine is signified (as the force and nature of the term requires) that power, which can freely turn itself as it will, and such a power as is under the influence of, and subject to no one. Whereas, if they knew that it was quite otherwise, and that by that term scarcely the least spark or degree of power was signified, and that, utterly ineffective of itself, being the servant and bond-slave of the devil, it would not be at all surprising if they should stone us as mockers and deceivers, who said one thing and meant something quite different; nay, who left it uncertain and unintelligible what we meant. For “he who speaks sophistically (the wise man saith) is hated,” and especially if he does so in things pertaining to godliness, where eternal salvation is at stake. Since, therefore, we have lost the signification of so grand a term and the thing signified by it, or rather, never had them at all, (which the Pelagians may heartily wish had been the case, being themselves illuded by this term,) why do we so tenaciously hold an empty word, to the peril and mockery of the believing people? There is no more wisdom in so doing, than there is in kings and potentates retaining, or claiming and boasting of, empty titles of kingdoms and countries, when they are at the same time mere beggars, and any thing but the possessors of those kingdoms and countries. But however, this is bearable, since they deceive and mock no one thereby, but only feed themselves on vanity without any profit. But here, is a peril of salvation, and the most destructive mockery. Who would not laugh at, or rather hold up to hatred, that most untimely innovator of terms, who, contrary to all established use, should attempt to introduce such a mode of speaking, as by the term ‘beggar,’ to have understood, ‘wealthy;’ not because such an one has any wealth himself, but because some king may, perchance, give him his wealth? And what if such an one should really do this, not by any figure of speech, as by periphrasis or irony, but in plain serious meaning? In the same way, speaking of one ‘sick unto death,’ he may wish to be understood as meaning, one in ‘perfect health:’ giving this as his reason, because the one may give the other his health. So also, he may, by ‘illiterate idiot,’ mean ‘most learned;’ because some other may perchance give him his learning. Of precisely the same nature is this: — man has a “Free-will:” for this reason, if perchance God should give him His. By this abuse of the manner of speaking, any one may boast that he has any thing: that He is the Lord of heaven and earth — if perchance God should give this unto him. But this is not the way in which Theologians should proceed, this is the way of stage-players and public informers. Our words ought to be proper words, pure and sober; and, as Paul saith, “sound speech that cannot be condemned.” (Titus ii. 7-8.) But, if we do not like to leave out this term altogether, (which would be most safe, and also most religious) we may, nevertheless, with a good conscience teach, that it be used so far as to allow man a “Free-will,” not in respect of those which are above him, but in respect only of those things which are below him: that is, he may be allowed to know, that he has, as to his goods and possessions the right of using, acting, and omitting, according to his “Free-will;” although, at the same time, that same “Free-will” is overruled by the Free- will of God alone, just as He pleases: but that, God-ward, or in things which pertain unto salvation or damnation, he has no “Free-will,” but is a captive, slave, and servant, either to the will of God, or to the will of Satan.

The Bondage of the Will   or   Christian Classics Ethereal Library

Christ Crucified
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The Whole Christ
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Strange Fire
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The Holy Spirit
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The Nature of Saving Faith
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The Last Things
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The Priority of Worship
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The Glory of the Promise
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Christ's Message to the Church
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God So Loved the World
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Lessons From the Upper Room
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Don't Answer a Fool, Answer a Fool
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By Grace Alone
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Loving Your Enemies
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Why Do They Hate It So?
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The Curse Motif of the Atonement
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Sound Doctrine:
Essential to Faithful Pastoral Ministry | Ligon Duncan