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Deuteronomy 3     Psalm 85     Isaiah 31     Revelation 1


Deuteronomy 3

The Defeat of King Og

Deuteronomy 3:1 “Then we turned and went up the way to Bashan. And Og the king of Bashan came out against us, he and all his people, to battle at Edrei. 2 But the LORD said to me, ‘Do not fear him, for I have given him and all his people and his land into your hand. And you shall do to him as you did to Sihon the king of the Amorites, who lived at Heshbon.’ 3 So the LORD our God gave into our hand Og also, the king of Bashan, and all his people, and we struck him down until he had no survivor left. 4 And we took all his cities at that time—there was not a city that we did not take from them—sixty cities, the whole region of Argob, the kingdom of Og in Bashan. 5 All these were cities fortified with high walls, gates, and bars, besides very many unwalled villages. 6 And we devoted them to destruction, as we did to Sihon the king of Heshbon, devoting to destruction every city, men, women, and children. 7 But all the livestock and the spoil of the cities we took as our plunder. 8 So we took the land at that time out of the hand of the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, from the Valley of the Arnon to Mount Hermon 9 (the Sidonians call Hermon Sirion, while the Amorites call it Senir), 10 all the cities of the tableland and all Gilead and all Bashan, as far as Salecah and Edrei, cities of the kingdom of Og in Bashan. 11 (For only Og the king of Bashan was left of the remnant of the Rephaim. Behold, his bed was a bed of iron. Is it not in Rabbah of the Ammonites? Nine cubits was its length, and four cubits its breadth, according to the common cubit.)

12 “When we took possession of this land at that time, I gave to the Reubenites and the Gadites the territory beginning at Aroer, which is on the edge of the Valley of the Arnon, and half the hill country of Gilead with its cities. 13 The rest of Gilead, and all Bashan, the kingdom of Og, that is, all the region of Argob, I gave to the half-tribe of Manasseh. (All that portion of Bashan is called the land of Rephaim. 14 Jair the Manassite took all the region of Argob, that is, Bashan, as far as the border of the Geshurites and the Maacathites, and called the villages after his own name, Havvoth-jair, as it is to this day.) 15 To Machir I gave Gilead, 16 and to the Reubenites and the Gadites I gave the territory from Gilead as far as the Valley of the Arnon, with the middle of the valley as a border, as far over as the river Jabbok, the border of the Ammonites; 17 the Arabah also, with the Jordan as the border, from Chinnereth as far as the Sea of the Arabah, the Salt Sea, under the slopes of Pisgah on the east. 18 “And I commanded you at that time, saying, ‘The LORD your God has given you this land to possess. All your men of valor shall cross over armed before your brothers, the people of Israel. 19 Only your wives, your little ones, and your livestock (I know that you have much livestock) shall remain in the cities that I have given you, 20 until the LORD gives rest to your brothers, as to you, and they also occupy the land that the LORD your God gives them beyond the Jordan. Then each of you may return to his possession which I have given you.’ 21 And I commanded Joshua at that time, ‘Your eyes have seen all that the LORD your God has done to these two kings. So will the LORD do to all the kingdoms into which you are crossing. 22 You shall not fear them, for it is the LORD your God who fights for you.’

Moses Forbidden to Enter the Land

23 “And I pleaded with the LORD at that time, saying, 24 ‘O Lord GOD, you have only begun to show your servant your greatness and your mighty hand. For what god is there in heaven or on earth who can do such works and mighty acts as yours? 25 Please let me go over and see the good land beyond the Jordan, that good hill country and Lebanon.’ 26 But the LORD was angry with me because of you and would not listen to me. And the LORD said to me, ‘Enough from you; do not speak to me of this matter again. 27 Go up to the top of Pisgah and lift up your eyes westward and northward and southward and eastward, and look at it with your eyes, for you shall not go over this Jordan. 28 But charge Joshua, and encourage and strengthen him, for he shall go over at the head of this people, and he shall put them in possession of the land that you shall see.’ 29 So we remained in the valley opposite Beth-peor.


Psalm 85

Revive Us Again

Psalm 85:1 To The Choirmaster. A Psalm Of The Sons Of Korah.

1  LORD, you were favorable to your land;
you restored the fortunes of Jacob.
2  You forgave the iniquity of your people;
you covered all their sin. Selah
3  You withdrew all your wrath;
you turned from your hot anger.

4  Restore us again, O God of our salvation,
and put away your indignation toward us!
5  Will you be angry with us forever?
Will you prolong your anger to all generations?
6  Will you not revive us again,
that your people may rejoice in you?
7  Show us your steadfast love, O LORD,
and grant us your salvation.

8  Let me hear what God the LORD will speak,
for he will speak peace to his people, to his saints;
but let them not turn back to folly.
9  Surely his salvation is near to those who fear him,
that glory may dwell in our land.

10  Steadfast love and faithfulness meet;
righteousness and peace kiss each other.
11  Faithfulness springs up from the ground,
and righteousness looks down from the sky.
12  Yes, the LORD will give what is good,
and our land will yield its increase.
13  Righteousness will go before him
and make his footsteps a way.


Isaiah 31

Woe to Those Who Go Down to Egypt

Isaiah 31 1  Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help
and rely on horses,
who trust in chariots because they are many
and in horsemen because they are very strong,
but do not look to the Holy One of Israel
or consult the LORD!
2  And yet he is wise and brings disaster;
he does not call back his words,
but will arise against the house of the evildoers
and against the helpers of those who work iniquity.
3  The Egyptians are man, and not God,
and their horses are flesh, and not spirit.
When the LORD stretches out his hand,
the helper will stumble, and he who is helped will fall,
and they will all perish together.

4  For thus the LORD said to me,
“As a lion or a young lion growls over his prey,
and when a band of shepherds is called out against him
he is not terrified by their shouting
or daunted at their noise,
so the LORD of hosts will come down
to fight on Mount Zion and on its hill.
5  Like birds hovering, so the LORD of hosts
will protect Jerusalem;
he will protect and deliver it;
he will spare and rescue it.”

6 Turn to him from whom people have deeply revolted, O children of Israel. 7 For in that day everyone shall cast away his idols of silver and his idols of gold, which your hands have sinfully made for you.

8  “And the Assyrian shall fall by a sword, not of man;
and a sword, not of man, shall devour him;
and he shall flee from the sword,
and his young men shall be put to forced labor.
9  His rock shall pass away in terror,
and his officers desert the standard in panic,”
declares the LORD, whose fire is in Zion,
and whose furnace is in Jerusalem.


Revelation 1

Prologue

Revelation 1 The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, 2 who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw. 3 Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near.

Greeting to the Seven Churches

4 John to the seven churches that are in Asia:

Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, 5 and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth.

To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood 6 and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. 7 Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen. 8 “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”

Vision of the Son of Man

9 I, John, your brother and partner in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. 10 I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet 11 saying, “Write what you see in a book and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea.”

12 Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, 13 and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. 14 The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, 15 his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. 16 In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength.

17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, 18 and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades. 19 Write therefore the things that you have seen, those that are and those that are to take place after this. 20 As for the mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands, the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.

ESV Study Bible


What I'm Reading

Jesus Specifically Said, “I am God”

By J. Warner Wallace 11/7/2016

     As a skeptic, I was willing to accept a “nice guy” version of Jesus. You know, the wise sage from the past who was misunderstood and mythicized into something divine by leaders of a movement who were either mistaken or deceptive. Jesus might have been a nice guy and a great teacher, but did he ever really claim to be God? I had atheist friends who knew more about the Gospels than I did, and they said that Jesus never claimed to be God in any of the New Testament accounts. Once I began to examine the Gospels for myself, I discovered my friends were wrong; Jesus did say specifically that He was God. Now don’t get me wrong, Jesus didn’t use those exact words. But His listeners sure understood what He meant.

     When God first appeared to Moses in the burning bush, Moses was adept enough to ask God for His name. And God gave Moses an interesting reply:

     God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’“ (Exodus 3:14)

     For generations following this interaction between God and Moses, the Israelites revered the name of God (“I AM”) as a precious title that was not to be slandered or given to anyone or anything other than God himself. Then along came Jesus. The Gospel of John tells us that on a day when the Pharisees were questioning the power, authority and teaching of Jesus, they actually accused Him of being demon possessed. Look at how He responded:

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J. Warner Wallace is a Cold-Case Detective, a Christian Case Maker, and the author of:

The Faith of Demons

By R.C. Sproul Jr. 4/1/2008

     While written creeds have their advantages, unwritten creeds have a few as well. With a written creed we are able to nail down precise language. We can affirm this and deny that. Everyone is able to make a conscious decision about whether or not they agree. This, in turn, mirrors at least one of the benefits of an unwritten creed. First, it leaves more wiggle room. Second, if the creed is unwritten, there is no place to sign on the dotted line. If there is no list of signatories, it’s so much easier to simply assume that everyone is on board. It’s not an easy thing to deny a creed that hasn’t really been written.

     Sociologists and historians often wrangle over exactly what it means to be American. In a debate reminiscent of psychologists arguing the old nature versus nurture conundrum, these scholars dicker over whether American culture is defined by kinship or ideology. Are we Americans because our ancestors came mostly from western Europe, or are we Americans because we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal? Is our corporate identity the result of genetic history, or the history of ideas? Is it un-American to dislike baseball, hot dogs, apple pie, and Chevrolet, or is it un-American to hail from Mexico?

     Whichever side one takes, we all have to share this creed, to make this confession — that there is now, and has always been, a series of unwritten commitments we are supposed to share as Americans. Even if we think that to be American is to be anglo, we still have to confess the reality of these unwritten creeds. These may and probably will change over time (another “benefit” of having them unwritten), but they are there nonetheless. Just as with theological creeds, these creeds serve to bring unity out of diversity. In our day, however, we are unified by a creed that of necessity divides us.

     The central pillar of faith for our culture, that form of unity that forms our unity is simply this: there is no such thing as true and false. This is the creed of our culture, the one, unspoken unifying principle to which everyone is expected to submit. Trouble is, this unifying creed cannot unify. It is, by its very nature, divisive. Whereas historical creeds, like the Three Forms of Unity, exist to say, “Here is where you and I agree” our modern, or, rather, postmodern American creed affirms, “You and I cannot agree, and even if we did, it wouldn’t really mean anything.” Our creed affirms that we each have our own truth, that we each create our own little world, that we are each locked into a solipsistic cage.

     Our creed also suffers from this obvious weakness: it is patently and immediately false. We are united around a creed that cannot even stand on its own weight. Our creed, if it is true, is false. And if it is false, it is false. Which tells us it is false. That is, if it is true that there is no such thing as true and false, then we cannot say that it is true that there is no such thing as true and false. This absurdity may have some entertainment value to us, but keep in mind, this quicksand is the very pillar and foundation of our culture. Suddenly, it’s not so funny.

     A greater irony than the absurdity of the creed, however, is the fanaticism of its adherents. It did not become our national creed by a slow and steady winning of adherents. Instead, we have a culture that shrilly demands that all men everywhere bow before this principle, that we all bend our knee and confess with our tongue that there is no such thing as truth. If we don’t, we must be, figuratively, at least for now, crucified.

     Our first creed, long before we embrace the Three Forms of Unity, or the Westminster Standards, or even the Apostles’ or Nicene Creeds, is the first creed of the church: “Jesus is Lord.” This Jesus is not a truth. He is not true for me. He is instead the truth. This confession of ours, even as it ran headlong into the creed of Rome, “Caesar is Lord,” runs headlong into the great American Creed. Because we confess that Jesus is Lord, we cannot confess that there is no such thing as truth. This, in turn, is why we evangelicals are finding ourselves more and more compared to the Taliban. This is why Islamic fundamentalism looks to the watching world to be the same thing as evangelical fundamentalism. For now they are content to disparage our character, to paint us in the public eye not merely as unsophisticated rubes, but as dangerous foaming-mouthed fanatics.

     And so we should be. Our calling in this context isn’t to negotiate. We ought not labor to show the watching world how reasonable we can be, when reasonable is defined as embracing their creed. Our calling instead is to stand upon the rock, to stand firm and confess our creed with all the greater vigor. Let them despise us for not joining in their “unity.” Let us instead be united to the one who told us to be not surprised when we are hated for His name’s sake. Let us instead seek His kingdom and His righteousness. Let us confess His name before all men, that He might confess our name before His Father.

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

R.C. Sproul Jr. Books

What Is Your Only Comfort?

By Kim Riddlebarger 4/1/2008

     Of all the Reformation-era catechisms, perhaps none is as well-loved as the Heidelberg Catechism. In the opening question and answer, the personal and distinctive tone of the catechism becomes evident. “What is your only comfort in life and in death?” This is not a theoretical question — “What would be necessary if God were to comfort sinners?” Rather, this is a very practical question — “How do I have comfort as long as I live and then when I die?”

     The key word in the opening question is comfort (German, trost). The word refers to our assurance and confidence in the finished work of Christ. This comfort extends to all of life and even to the hour of death. As one of the authors of the catechism (Zacharius Ursinus) puts it in his commentary on the catechism, this comfort entails “the assurance of the free remission of sin, and of reconciliation with God by and on account of Christ, and a certain expectation of eternal life; impressed upon the heart by the Holy Spirit through the gospel, so that we have no doubt but that we are saved forever, according to the declaration of the apostle Paul: Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” Note that the catechism speaks of our “only” comfort. There is no other such comfort and assurance to be found apart from Christ.

(Ro 8:38–39) 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.   ESV

     In answering the opening question, the catechism asserts that “I, with body and soul, both in life and in death,” will have this comfort. A paraphrase of Romans 14:7–8 here, we are reminded that God’s care extends to us throughout the course of our lives. Christ has removed the curse; there is assurance of salvation in this life and the resurrection of our bodies at the end of the age (see Q & A 57–58). This knowledge comforts us now and prepares us for whatever lies ahead.

(Ro 14:7–8) 7 For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. 8 For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.   ESV

     Our comfort derives from the fact that “I am not my own.” These words are taken from 1 Corinthians 6:19–20: “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” We are Christ’s, and He will do with us as He wills. This comfort is based on the fact that God is sovereign and has the power to do as He has promised.

     This wonderful fact is further spelled out in the next part of the answer. “But [I] belong to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.” The catechism directs us away from our faith (the subjective) to Christ’s obedience — my “faithful” Savior (the objective). Christ fulfilled all righteousness and died for our sin upon the cross for me. The specifics of Christ’s obedience are spelled out in more detail in the next part of the answer: “who with His precious blood.” These words come from 1 Peter 1:18–19: “… knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.” The death of Christ is the only means by which the guilt of human sin can be removed (expiation) and the wrath of God turned aside (propitiation). The catechism reminds us that the ground of our salvation is the work of Christ for us, not our faith or our own good works.

     Next, the first answer of the catechism tells us that the death of Jesus lies at the heart of this promised salvation because He “has fully satisfied for all my sins.” Christ’s death alone satisfies the justice of the holy God (Rom. 3:21–26). No human work or religious ceremony can do this. Not only that, but His death has “redeemed me from all the power of the devil.” This is an echo from 1 John 3:8: “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.” Satan has been cast out of heaven so that he can no longer accuse us before the heavenly court. Christ’s victory over him is evident at the cross (Col. 2:13–15).

(Ro 3:21–26) 21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.   ESV

8 Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.   ESV

(Col 2:13–15) 13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.   ESV

     The catechism then states the precious truth that our assurance of salvation and our perseverance in faith are also the work of Christ. “[Christ] so preserves me that without the will of my Father in heaven not a hair can fall from my head.” This is taken from Matthew 10:29–30: “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered.” To possess the comfort promised in the Gospel, I need to know that God’s sovereign care extends to all aspects of my life. Nothing happens to me apart from the will of God. In fact, “all things must work together for my salvation” (see Rom. 8:28). God has ordained all things. He redeems us from sin. And in the end, God will turn it to my good.

(Mt 10:29–30) 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30 But even the hairs of your head are all numbered.   ESV

(Ro 8:28) 28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.   ESV

     Finally, we learn that this comfort becomes mine through the work of the Holy Spirit. “Wherefore, by His Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life.” The Holy Spirit bears witness to the truth of God’s Word and confirms the promise God made to me that He will save all those who trust in Christ. This same indwelling Spirit “makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live unto Him.” It is God who will see His good work through to the end. That one who justifies me will also sanctify me. He who began a good work in me will see it through to the end.

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Dr. Kim Riddlebarger is senior pastor of Christ Reformed Church in Anaheim, Calif. He is cohost of The White Horse Inn.

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Dante on Virtue and Vice

By Cornelis P. Venema 5/1/2008

     Dante ranks right up there with Shakespeare and Homer as the greatest writers of our civilization. Though the Italian poet, who lived from 1265 to 1321, embodies the High Middle Ages, he is sometimes called a proto-reformer for his bold condemnation of the popes of his day and his searing indictments of the corruption in the church of Rome.

     Dante’s Divine Comedy is an allegory, that is, a story consisting of symbols. His hair-raising depiction of hell in “The Inferno” symbolizes what sin is, with the punishment of the different vices giving insight into why those vices are so wrong. You do not have to believe in purgatory to appreciate what Dante is doing in “The Purgatorio,” namely, symbolizing what it means to turn away from the different vices. And “The Paradiso” is a wondrous symbolic exploration of the love of God, with His light reflected to each other by the redeemed, whom Dante portrays as “mirrors” of God’s love.

     With a great writer, symbols do not only stand for some idea; rather, they are ways of exploring that idea, presenting it in concrete, imaginative terms that can illuminate what it means. Consider, for example, how Dante writes about the seven deadly sins and the corresponding virtues.

     Dante imagines purgatory — not as his church depicted it, as a realm of fiery torment and cashed indulgences — but as a terraced mountain with each level designed to purge one of the seven deadly sins. When the soul is cured of each vice, it “feels free” to advance to the next level. According to Dante, each of the seven deadly sins is a problem with love. Christians overcome their propensity for each of these sins by learning to love correctly.

     The first terraces are for the vices that consist of loving oneself at the expense of loving others. The lowest level is for the unalloyed self-love that is Pride. (The sinners here must carry huge rocks on their backs, forcing them to bend low and to gaze on the earth until they learn humility.) The next terrace is for Envy, another kind of self-love. Instead of loving one’s neighbor, the envious person actually suffers because of his neighbor’s happiness. (The sinners here have their eyes sewn up until they learn to help each other.) The next terrace is for Wrath, the self-love that releases one’s own angry emotions at the expense of the neighbor. (Sinners here live in obscuring smoke, but they are given visions of people who demonstrate gentleness and forbearance so that the angry can learn from their examples.)

     The fourth terrace is for Sloth, which Dante defines as the lack of love. For Dante, Sloth is not just laziness, but something like the besetting sin of our own day: boredom. Those who love only themselves at least love something, but the slothful do not even love themselves, sinking into a self-destructive inactivity. Nor do they love anything outside themselves, being bored with the world. (Dante forces the slothful into activity, making them run sprints around the mountain while reciting stories of both shameful sloth and decisive zeal.)

     The final four terraces are designed to cure “excessive love,” that is, an extreme love for external goods. Thus, the next terrace is for Greed. People who are greedy do love things other than themselves — money, luxuries, possessions — which is an advance over the first three vices, but they love these material things more than they do their neighbors, to the point that in their greed they sometimes cheat or vaunt over their neighbors. (Dante makes the greedy souls lay face down on the rocky ground, contemplating all the while the virtue of generosity.) The next terrace is for Gluttony, for people who love food more than they do their neighbors (especially in those times of scarcity) or themselves (since eating too much harms the body). (Here the gluttons simply do without until their bodies are emaciated and they learn temperance.) The top terrace is for Lust, which at least is a kind of love directed to another person, but it is also a violation of true love and of God’s design. (The lustful stand in fire, but they are singing as they contemplate chastity.)

     When the Christian learns to love the Lord his God and his neighbor as himself, he steps onto the top of the mountain, which is Eden, that earthly paradise from which, in Dante’s geography, we literally fell. To get to heaven, though, requires not even the perfection of human love; rather, it requires God’s grace. The love of God has to descend to raise the human soul into His presence.

     Dante’s list of the seven virtues is different than the one used here in this issue of Tabletalk. He combines the four cardinal virtues of the classical pagan world — wisdom, temperance, fortitude, and justice — with the three theological virtues of the New Testament: faith, hope, and love.

     The “virtuous pagans” of the first circle of hell were wise, could control their passions, had courage, and were fair to others. These are worthy virtues, and even non-Christians can have them. But, as with the rest of Greco-Roman culture, they had no faith, knowing nothing of Christ and the Gospel. Nor did they have hope; their pagan religion believed that all the dead go down to the dreary darkness of hades. Nor did they have love, as evidenced in their cruelty and infanticide. Imagine, almost 700 years ago, just past the so-called Dark Ages Dante was writing against killing babies! And we think we are so smart.

     Those who enter into Paradise must have faith in Christ, who, in turn, is the basis of their hope and the source of their love.

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     Dr. Cornelis P. Venema is president and professor of doctrinal studies at Mid-America Reformed Seminary and associate pastor of Redeemer URC in Dyer, Ind.

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The High Call of Service

By George Grant 5/1/2008

     The heroine of My Fair Lady, Eliza Doolittle, captured the sentiment of most of us when she complained, “Words, words, words — I am so sick of words. I get words all day through, first from him, now from you. Is that all you blighters can do?” She was tired of empty rhetoric — as high sounding as it was. Instead, she wanted to see something real.

     Talk is cheap. Promises are a dime a dozen. Most of us have had about all of the spin-controlled sound-bites we can stand. We’ve heard just about all the hollow rhetoric we can tolerate. This article was written in 2008, ten years ago. Today is so much worse! We all know that actions speak louder than words. That is a universal truth — no less valid in business or politics or media as in faith or family or church. Good intentions are simply not sufficient. There has to be follow-through. There has to be substance.

     John the apostle admonishes us accordingly, “Let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:18). In the biblical scheme of things, love is something we do, not just something we feel. Mercy is something we extend, not just something we intend. Hope is something we must act on, not just something we harbor. Our orthodoxy (right doctrine) must be matched by orthopraxy (right action). Our life together must be marked by both Word and deed.

     This does not by any means minimize the primacy of the Word of God in the Christian life. It is simply a recognition that God’s truth will always bear incarnational, tangible, and demonstrable fruit.

     The The Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms As Adopted By the Presbyterian Church in America with Proofs Texts highlights this notion, asserting that the church has been entrusted with “the ministry, oracles, and ordinances of God, for the gathering and perfecting of the saints, in this life, to the end of the world” (25.3). In other words, to carry out this stewardship faithfully, the mission of the church must be organized around Word and deed — or what Francis Schaeffer called “contents and realities.”

     To that end, from the earliest days of the apostolic church, congregations were purposefully structured for Word and deed ministry. Each local body was to be led by elders who were charged with the weighty task of preserving sound doctrine. They were to teach it, exhort it, nurture it, and highlight it in every aspect of congregational life — in both its evangelism and its discipleship, from its worship to its societal presence. They were to bring the Gospel to bear in Word and deed. That fixedness in the Word was to provoke holiness, godliness, and faithfulness.

     In addition to the elders though, those early fellowships were also served by deacons — or more literally, servants. They were to translate the truth of the Word into very practical deeds. They were to make evident the beauty of human relationships transformed, reconciled, and restored by the Gospel. They were to provoke abundant evidence of true koinonia (community). At the same time, they were to ensure that covenantal relationships would show forth selfless service crafted in tenderness, empathy, excellence, intelligence, and glory.

     According to Acts 6, the deacons were charged with the responsibility of coordinating, administering, and conducting the charitable generosity and stewardship of the church. It seems that because of the spectacular growth of the Jerusalem congregation, the distribution of food to the needy had gradually become uneven and inefficient. A number of the Grecian widows had been overlooked. The Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word” (vv. 2–4). Thus, these seven men, or deacons as they would later be called, were to practically translate Word into deed. They had as their primary duty the oversight of the mercy ministry of the church. This was the essence of the diaconal function.

     Throughout church history, this sort of practical-deeds ministry has been more or less faithfully carried out by men of passion, conviction, and concern — men like William Olney and Joseph Passmore. Olney and Passmore were deacons for many years at London’s Metropolitan Tabernacle during the pastorate of Charles Haddon Spurgeon. Their busy stewardship of service involved the administration of almshouses, orphanages, relief missions, training schools, retirement homes, tract societies, and colportages.

     Sadly, in our congregations today this balanced Word and deed vision is, at best, a secondary notion in the functioning of the church offices. Indeed, instead of meting out the succor of compassion in ministries of service, our deacons are often called upon to spend most of their time sitting on committees and launching building drives. Instead of spending and being spent on behalf of the needy, instead of modeling Word and deed, our deacons are waxing the floors of the fellowship hall or dusting the dampers, pew by pew, “and goodness knows what other trifles,” as Olney put it. Consequently, we leave our churches and our communities with the impression that the Gospel really is little more than “Words, words, words.”

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     Dr. George Grant is pastor of Parish Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Franklin, Tenn., president of King’s Meadow Study Center, and founder of New College Franklin.

George Grant Books:

Deuteronomy 3; Psalm 85; Isaiah 31; Revelation 1

By Don Carson 5/30/2018

     It is a wonderful pairing: “Love and faithfulness meet together.” Then another pairing: “righteousness and peace kiss each other” (Ps. 85:10). Older readers may remember the first of these two lines in the King James Version: “Mercy and truth” meet together.

     In English, “mercy and truth”are pretty distinguishable from the NIV’s “love and faithfulness.” But the underlying Hebrew, a very common pairing (as in Ps. 86:15 or Ex. 34:6 — see the meditation for March 23), could be rendered either way. The first word commonly refers to God’s covenantal love, his covenantal mercy — his sheer covenantal goodness or grace, poured out on his undeserving people. The second word varies in its English translation, depending on what is being referred to. When the Queen of Sheba tells Solomon that all that she had heard of him was “true,” literally “the truth” (1 Kings 10) — that is, that the propositional reports corresponded to reality — she uses the word here rendered “faithfulness.” A “true” report is a “faithful” report; when truth is embodied in character, it is faithfulness.

     As deployed in this Psalm, the categories are used evocatively. When you read the first pairing, “Love and faithfulness meet together,” it is natural to read them as descriptions of God: God is the God of covenantal grace or love and of utterly reliable fidelity. The second pairing might be taken the same way: God is both unqualifiedly righteous and the well of all well-being. In him, righteousness and peace kiss each other. But in the next verse, the second word from the first pairing and the first word from the second pairing are picked up and put together to introduce a new thought: “Faithfulness springs forth from the earth, and righteousness looks down from heaven” (Ps. 85:11). In the context of the whole Psalm, the people’s faithfulness is apparently being linked with the Lord’s righteousness: the former springs from the earth, while the latter looks down from heaven. It is not absolutely necessary to take things that way, but the psalmist implicitly recognizes the links earlier in his poem: “You forgave the iniquity of your people. . . . Restore us again, O God our Savior. . . . Show us your unfailing love, O LORD. . . he promises peace to his people, his saints — but let them not return to folly” (Ps. 85:2-8, italics added).

     However we align these pairings, it is vital to remember that love and faithfulness both belong to God, that righteousness and peace meet and kiss in him. Because of this, God can be both just and the One who justifies the ungodly by graciously giving his Son (Rom. 3:25-26). Should it be surprising to discover that among his image-bearers, love and faithfulness and righteousness and peace go hand in hand, standing together or falling together?

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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 56

God Himself Is Judge
56 A Psalm Of Asaph.

8 You have kept count of my tossings;
put my tears in your bottle.
Are they not in your book?
9 Then my enemies will turn back
in the day when I call.
This I know, that God is for me.
10 In God, whose word I praise,
in the LORD, whose word I praise,
11 in God I trust; I shall not be afraid.
What can man do to me?

12 I must perform my vows to you, O God;
I will render thank offerings to you.
13 For you have delivered my soul from death,
yes, my feet from falling,
that I may walk before God
in the light of life.

ESV Study Bible

The Institutes of the Christian Religion

Translated by Henry Beveridge

     CHAPTER 7.

OF THE BEGINNING AND RISE OF THE ROMISH PAPACY, TILL IT ATTAINED A HEIGHT BY WHICH THE LIBERTY OF THE CHURCH WAS DESTROYED, AND ALL TRUE RULE OVERTHROWN.

There are five heads in this chapter. I. The Patriarchate given and confirmed to the Bishop of Rome, first by the Council of Nice, and afterwards by that of Chalcedon though by no means approved of by other bishops, was the commencement of the Papacy, sec. 1-4. II. The Church at Rome, by taking pious exiles under its protection, and also thereby protecting wicked men who fled to her, helped forward the mystery of iniquity, although at that time neither the ordination of bishops, nor admonitions and censures, nor the right of convening Councils, nor the right of receiving appeals, belonged to the Roman Bishop, whose profane meddling with these things was condemned by Gregory, sec. 5-13. III. After the Council of Turin, disputes arose as to the authority of Metropolitans. Disgraceful strife between the Patriarchs of Rome and Constantinople. The vile assassin Phocas put an end to these brawls at the instigation of Boniface, sec. 14-18. IV. To the dishonest arts of Boniface succeeded fouler frauds devised in more modern times, and expressly condemned by Gregory and Bernard. sec. 19-21. V. The Papacy at length appeared complete in all its parts, the seat of Antichrist. Its impiety, execrable tyranny, and wickedness, portrayed, sec. 23-30.

Sections.

1. First part of the chapter, in which the commencement of the Papacy is assigned to the Council of Nice. In subsequent Councils other bishops presided. No attempt then made to claim the first place.

2. Though the Roman Bishop presided in the Council of Chalcedon, this was owing to special circumstances. The same right not given to his successors in other Councils.

3. The ancient Fathers did not give the title of Primate to the Roman Bishop.

4. Gregory was vehement in opposition to the title when claimed by the Bishop of Constantinople, and did not claim it for himself.

5. Second part of the chapter, explaining the ambitious attempts of the Roman See to obtain the primacy. Their reception of pious exiles. Hearing the appeals and complaints of heretics. Their ambition in this respect offensive to the African Church.

6. The power of the Roman Bishops in ordaining bishops, appointing councils, deciding controversies, &c., confined to their own Patriarchate.

7. If they censured other bishops, they themselves were censured in their turn.

8. They had no right of calling provincial councils except within their own boundaries. The calling of a universal council belonged solely to the Emperor.

9. Appeal to the Roman See not acknowledged by other bishops. Stoutly resisted by the Bishops of France and Africa. The impudence and falsehood of the Roman Pontiff detected.

10. Proof from history that the Roman had no jurisdiction over other churches.

11. The decretal epistles of no avail in support of this usurped jurisdiction.

12. The authority of the Roman Bishop extended in the time of Gregory. Still it only consisted in aiding other bishops with their own consent, or at the command of the Emperor.

13. Even the extent of jurisdiction, thus voluntarily conferred, objected to by Gregory as interfering with better duties.

14. Third part of the chapter, showing the increase of the power of the Papacy in defining the limits of Metropolitans. This gave rise to the decree of the Council of Turin. This decree haughtily annulled by Innocent.

15. Hence the great struggle for precedency between the Sees of Rome and Constantinople. The pride and ambition of the Roman Bishops unfolded.

16. Many attempts of the Bishop of Constantinople to deprive the Bishop of Rome of the primacy.

17. Phocas murders the Emperor, and gives Rome the primacy.

18. The Papal tyranny shortly after established. Bitter complaints by Bernard.

19. Fourth part of the chapter. Altered appearance of the Roman See since the days of Gregory.

20. The present demands of the Romanists not formerly conceded. Fictions of Gregory IX. and Martin.

21. Without mentioning the opposition of Cyprian, of councils, and historical facts, the claims now made were condemned by Gregory himself.

22. The abuses of which Gregory and Bernard complained now increased and sanctioned.

23. The fifth and last part of the chapter, containing the chief answer to the claims of the Papacy--viz. that the Pope is not a bishop in the house of God. This answer confirmed by an enumeration of the essential parts of the episcopal office.

24. A second confirmation by appeal to the institution of Christ. A third confirmation e contrario--viz. That in doctrine and morals the Roman Pontiff is altogether different from a true bishop. Conclusion, that Rome is not the Apostolic See, but the Papacy.

25. Proof from Daniel and Paul that the Pope is Antichrist.

26. Rome could not now claim the primacy, even though she had formerly been the first See, especially considering the base trafficking in which she has engaged.

27. Personal character of Popes. Irreligious opinions held by some of them.

28. John XXII. heretical in regard to the immortality of the soul. His name, therefore, ought to be expunged from the catalogue of Popes, or rather, there is no foundation for the claim of perpetuity of faith in the Roman See.

29. Some Roman Pontiffs atheists, or sworn enemies of religion. Their immoral lives. Practice of the Cardinals and Romish clergy.

30. Cardinals were formerly merely presbyters of the Roman Church, and far inferior to bishops. As they now are, they have no true and legitimate office in the Church. Conclusion.

1. In regard to the antiquity of the primacy of the Roman See, there is nothing in favour of its establishment more ancient than the decree of the Council of Nice, by which the first place among the Patriarchs is assigned to the Bishop of Rome, and he is enjoined to take care of the suburban churches. While the council, in dividing between him and the other Patriarchs, assigns the proper limits of each, it certainly does not appoint him head of all, but only one ofthe chief. Vitus and Vincentius attended on the part of Julius, who then governed the Roman Church, and to them the fourth place was given. I ask, if Julius was acknowledged the head of the Church, would his legates have been consigned to the fourth place? Would Athanasius have presided in the council where a representative of the hierarchal order should have been most conspicuous? In the Council of Ephesus, it appears that Celestinus (who was then Roman Pontiff) used a cunning device to secure the dignity of his See. For when he sent his deputies, he made Cyril of Alexandria, who otherwise would have presided, his substitute. Why that commission, but just that his name might stand connected with the first See? His legates sit in an inferior place, are asked their opinion along with others, and subscribe in their order, while, at the same time, his name is coupled with that of the Patriarch of Alexandria. What shall I say of the second Council of Ephesus, where, while the deputies of Leo were present, the Alexandrian Patriarch Dioscorus presided as in his own right? They will object that this was not an orthodox council, since by it the venerable Flavianus was condemned, Eutyches acquitted, and his heresy approved. Yet when the council was met, and the bishops distributed the places among themselves, the deputies of the Roman Church sat among the others just as in a sacred and lawful Council. Still they contend not for the first place, but yield it to another: this they never would have done if they had thought it their own by right. For the Roman bishops were never ashamed to stir up the greatest strife in contending for honours, and for this cause alone, to trouble and harass the Church with many pernicious contests; but because Leo saw that it would be too extravagant to ask the first place for his legates, he omitted to do it.

2. Next came the Council of Chalcedon, in which, by concession of the Emperor, the legates of the Roman Church occupied the first place. But Leo himself confesses that this was an extraordinary privilege; for when he asks it of the Emperor Marcian and Pulcheria Augusta, he does not maintain that it is due to him, but only pretends that the Eastern bishops who presided in the Council of Ephesus had thrown all into confusion, and made a bad use of their power. Therefore, seeing there was need of a grave moderator, and it was not probable that those who had once been so fickle and tumultuous would be fit for this purpose, he requests that, because of the fault and unfitness of others, the office of governing should be transferred to him. That which is asked as a special privilege, and out of the usual order, certainly is not due by a common law. When it is only pretended that there is need of a new president, because the former ones had behaved themselves improperly, it is plain that the thing asked was not previously done, and ought not to be made perpetual, being done only in respect of a present danger. The Roman Pontiff, therefore, holds the first place in the Council of Chalcedon, not because it is due to his See, but because the council is in want of a grave and fit moderator, while those who ought to have presided exclude themselves by their intemperance and passion. This statement the successor of Leo approved by his procedure. For when he sent his legates to the fifth Council, that of Constantinople, which was held long after, he did not quarrel for the first seat, but readily allowed Mennas, the patriarch of Constantinople, to preside. In like manner, in the Council of Carthage, at which Augustine was present, we perceive that not the legates of the Roman See, but Aurelius, the archbishop of the place, presided, although there was then a question as to the authority of the Roman Pontiff. Nay, even in Italy itself, a universal council was held (that of Aquileia), at which the Roman Bishop was not present. Ambrose, who was then in high favour with the Emperor, presided, and no mention is made of the Roman Pontiff. Therefore, owing to the dignity of Ambrose, the See of Milan was then more illustrious than that of Rome.

3. In regard to the mere title of primate and other titles of pride, of which that pontiff now makes a wondrous boast, it is not difficult to understand how and in what way they crept in. Cyprian often makes mention of Cornelius (Cyprian. Lib. 2 Ep. 2; Lib. 4 Ep. 6), nor does he distinguish him by any other name than that of brother, or fellow bishop, or colleague. When he writes to Stephen, the successor of Cornelius, he not only makes him the equal of himself and others, but addresses him in harsh terms, charging him at one time with presumption, at another with ignorance. After Cyprian, we have the judgment of the whole African Church on the subject. For the Council of Carthage enjoined that none should be called chief of the priests, or first bishop, but only bishop of the first See. But any one who will examine the more ancient records will find that the Roman Pontiff was then contented with the common appellation of brother. Certainly, as long as the true and pure form of the Church continued, all these names of pride on which the Roman See afterwards began to plume itself, were altogether unheard of; none knew what was meant by the supreme Pontiff, and the only head of the Church on earth. Had the Roman Bishop presumed to assume any such title, there were right-hearted men who would immediately have repressed his folly. Jerome, seeing he was a Roman presbyter, was not slow to proclaim the dignity of his church, in as far as fact and the circumstances of the times permitted, and yet we see how he brings it under due subordination. "If authority is asked, the world is greater than a city. Why produce to me the custom of one city? Why vindicate a small number with whom superciliousness has originated against the laws of the Church? Wherever the bishop be, whether at Rome, or Eugubium, or Constantinople, or Rhegium, the merit is the same, and the priesthood the same. The power of riches, or the humbleness of poverty, do not make a bishop superior or inferior" (Hieron. Ep. ad Evagr.).

4. The controversy concerning the title of universal bishop arose at length in the time of Gregory, and was occasioned by the ambition of John of Constantinople. For he wished to make himself universal, a thing which no other had ever attempted. In that controversy, Gregory does not allege that he is deprived of a right which belonged to him, but he strongly insists that the appellation is profane, nay, blasphemous, nay the forerunner of Antichrist. "The whole Church falls from its state, if he who is called universal falls" (Greg. Lib. 4 Ep. 76). Again, "It is very difficult to bear patiently that one who is our brother and fellow bishop should alone be called bishop, while all others are despised. But in this pride of his, what else is intimated but that the days of Antichrist are already near? For he is imitating him, who, despising the company of angels, attempted to ascend the pinnacle of greatness" (Lib. 4 Ep. 76). He elsewhere says to Eulogius of Alexandria and Anastasius of Antioch: "None of my predecessors ever desired to use this profane term: for if one patriarch is called universal, it is derogatory to the name of patriarch in others. But far be it from any Christian mind to wish to arrogate to itself that which would in any degree, however slight, impair the honour of his brethren" (Lib. 4 Ep. 80). "To consent to that impious term is nothing else than to lose the faith" (Lib. 4 Ep. 83). "What we owe to the preservation of the unity of the faith is one thing, what we owe to the suppression of pride is another. I speak with confidence, for every one that calls himself, or desires to be called, universal priest, is by his pride a forerunner of Antichrist, because he acts proudly in preferring himself to others" (Lib. 7 Ep. 154). Thus, again, in a letter to Anastasius of Antioch, "I said, that he could not have peace with us unless he corrected the presumption of a superstitious and haughty term which the first apostate invented; and (to say nothing of the injury to your honour) if one bishop is called universal, the whole Church goes to ruin when that universal bishop falls" (Lib. 4 Ep. 188). But when he writes, that this honour was offered to Leo in the Council of Chalcedon (Lib. 4 Ep. 76, 80; Lib. 7 Ep. 76), he says what has no semblance of truth; nothing of the kind is found among the acts of that council. And Leo himself, who, in many letters, impugns the decree which was then made in honour of the See of Constantinople, undoubtedly would not have omitted this argument, which was the most plausible of all, if it was true that he himself repudiated what was given to him. One who, in other respects, was rather too desirous of honour, would not have omitted what would have been to his praise. Gregory, therefore, is incorrect in saying, that that title was conferred on the Roman See by the Council of Chalcedon; not to mention how ridiculous it is for him to say, that it proceeded from that sacred council, and yet to term it wicked, profane, nefarious, proud, and blasphemous, nay, devised by the devil, and promulgated by the herald of Antichrist. And yet he adds, that his predecessor refused it, lest by that which was given to one individually, all priests should be deprived of their due honour. In another place, he says, "None ever wished to be called by such a name; none arrogated this rash name to himself, lest, by seizing on the honour of supremacy in the office of the Pontificate, he might seem to deny it to all his brethren" (Gregor. Lib. 4 Ep. 82).

5. I come now to jurisdiction, which the Roman Pontiff asserts as an incontrovertible proposition that he possesses over all churches. I am aware of the great disputes which anciently existed on this subject: for there never was a time when the Roman See did not aim at authority over other churches. And here it will not be out of place to investigate the means by which she gradually attained to some influence. I am not now referring to that unlimited power which she seized at a comparatively recent period. The consideration of that we shall defer to its own place. But it is worth while here briefly to show in what way, and by what means, she formerly raised herself, so as to arrogate some authority over other churches. When the churches of the East were troubled and rent by the factions of the Arians, under the Emperors Constantius and Constans, sons of Constantine the Great; and Athanasius, the principal defender of the orthodox faith, had been driven from his see, the calamity obliged him to come to Rome, in order that by the authority of this see he might both repress the rage of his enemies, and confirm the orthodox under their distress. He was honourably received by Julius, who was then bishop, and engaged those of the West to undertake the defence of his cause. Therefore, when the orthodox stood greatly in need of external aid, and perceived that their chief protection lay in the Roman See, they willingly bestowed upon it all the authority they could. But the utmost extent of this was, that its communion was held in high estimation, and it was deemed ignominious to be excommunicated by it. Dishonest bad men afterwards added much to its authority, for when they wished to escape lawful tribunals, they betook themselves to Rome as an asylum. Accordingly, if any presbyter was condemned by his bishop, or if any bishop was condemned by the synod of his province, he appealed to Rome. These appeals the Roman bishops received more eagerly than they ought, because it seemed a species of extraordinary power to interpose in matters with which their connection was so very remote. Thus, when Eutyches was condemned by Flavianus, Bishop of Constantinople, he complained to Leo that the sentence was unjust. He, nothing loth, no less presumptuously than abruptly, undertook the patronage of a bad cause, and inveighed bitterly against Flavianus, as having condemned an innocent man without due investigation: and thus the effect of Leo's ambition was, that for some time the impiety of Eutyches was confirmed. It is certain that in Africa the same thing repeatedly occurred, for whenever any miscreant had been condemned by his ordinary judge, he fled to Rome, and brought many calumnious charges against his own people. The Roman See was always ready to interpose. This dishonesty obliged the African bishops to decree that no one should carry an appeal beyond sea under pain of excommunication.

6. Be this as it may, let us consider what right or authority the Roman See then possessed. Ecclesiastical power may be reduced to four heads--viz. ordination of bishops, calling of councils, hearing of appeals (or jurisdiction), inflicting monitory chastisements or censures. All ancient councils enjoin that bishops shall be ordained by their own Metropolitans; they nowhere enjoin an application to the Roman Bishop, except in his own patriarchate. Gradually, however, it became customary for all Italian bishops to go to Rome for consecration, with the exception of the Metropolitans, who did not allow themselves to be thus brought into subjection; but when any Metropolitan was to be ordained, the Roman Bishop sent one of his presbyters merely to be present, but not to preside. An example of this kind is extant in Gregory (Lib. 2 Ep. 68, 70), in the consecration of Constantius of Milan, after the death of Laurence. I do not, however, think that this was a very ancient custom. At first, as a mark of respect and good-will, they sent deputies to one another to witness the ordination, and attest their communion. What was thus voluntary afterwards began to be regarded as necessary. However this be, it is certain that anciently the Roman Bishop had no power of ordaining except within the bounds of his own patriarchate, that is, as a canon of the Council of Nice expresses it, in suburban churches. To ordination was added the sending of a synodical epistle, but this implied no authority. The patriarchs were accustomed, immediately after consecration, to attest their faith by a formal writing, in which they declared that they assented to sacred and orthodox councils. Thus, by rendering an account of their faith, they mutually approved of each other. If the Roman Bishop had received this confession from others, and not given it, he would therein have been acknowledged superior; but when it behoved to give as well as to receive, and to be subject to the common law, this was a sign of equality, not of lordship. Of this we have an example in a letter of Gregory to Anastasius and Cyriac of Constantinople, and in another letter to all the patriarchs together (Gregor. Lib. 1 Ep. 24, 25; Lib. 6 Ep. 169).

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


  • Brett Meador
  • Brett Meador
  • Brett Meador

#1 Resurrection Sunday 2016 | Athey Creek

 

#2 Palm Sunday 2016 | Athey Creek

 

#3 Mothers' Day 2013 | Athey Creek

 


     Devotionals, notes, poetry and more

coram Deo
     5/1/2010    Set Apart to Die and to Live

     “When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer was about thirty years old when he penned these words in his classic work The Cost of Discipleship. Eight years later he was executed for his crimes against the Third Reich. The prison doctor who witnessed Bonhoeffer’s execution wrote, “In the almost fifty years that I worked as a doctor, I have hardly ever seen a man die so entirely submissive to the will of God.” The doctor’s words could not have been more appropriate to describe not only the manner in which Bonhoeffer submitted himself to God in death but also the manner in which he submitted himself to God in life. In his life and at his death, Bonhoeffer grasped one crucial truth: To be set apart to God is to be set apart to die, to die to sin, to self, and to life itself — to take up our crosses daily and to live unto Christ and embrace the true freedom that only comes when Christ calls a man to die and live abundantly in Him.

S     anctification is a most simple biblical doctrine, yet it is perhaps the most difficult doctrine to understand. In one sense, sanctification is as simple as understanding the biblical language of being set apart, consecrated, or holy. And in another sense, it is as comprehensive as the application of sacred Scripture to all of life and worship. The Westminster Assembly provided us with one of the more helpful and succinct explanations of sanctification (WSC 35), still questions remain as to the precise nature of God’s work and our work in the Spirit-wrought work of sanctification. By grace alone through faith alone because of Christ alone we are positionally sanctified, yet in some mysterious way, God has chosen to sovereignly work in us, through us, and with us to sanctify us progressively by His free grace through repentance, faith, and obedience that we might die more and more unto sin and live unto righteousness.

     However, even though a certain degree of mystery may exist with respect to how we are sanctified in holiness, without which no one will see the Lord, we do know this: Our sanctification is established on Him who knew no sin but became sin for us and died for us that we might die in Him and live for Him in order that we might reign with Him without the power or presence of sin within us. It is only then that our countenances will reveal our genuine and uninterrupted contentment in the One who has bid us to come and die and live in Him.

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     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

     Southern women scattered spring flowers on the graves of both the Northern and Southern soldiers who died during the Civil War. This was the origin of Memorial Day, which in 1868 was set on May 30th. From the Spanish-American War, to World Wars I and II, Korea and Vietnam, this is a day for honoring all who gave their lives to preserve America's freedom. Beginning in 1921, every President has placed a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which is inscribed with the phrase: "Here rests in honored glory an American soldier known only to God."

American Minute

Lean Into God
     Compiled by Richard S. Adams

While we exert ourselves to grow beyond our humanity,
to leave the human behind us,
God becomes human;
and we must recognize that God wills
that we be human, real human beings.

While we distinguish between pious and godless,
good and evil,
noble and base,
God loves real people without distinction.
--- Dietrich Bonhoeffer
A Year with Dietrich Bonhoeffer:
Daily Meditations from His Letters, Writings, and RS Thomas



There is a God-shaped vacuum in every heart.
--- Blaise Pascal
Pascal's Pensees


Do not pray for easy lives. Pray to be stronger men!
--- Phillips Brooks
Phillips Brooks Year Book: Selections from the Writings of the Rt. Rev. Phillips Brooks


How idle it is to call certain things God-sends! As if there was anything else in the world. --- Augustus Wllliam Hare and Julius Charles Hare
Finding God's Will: Seek Him, Know Him, Take the Next Step

... from here, there and everywhere


The Shema: Spirituality and Law in Judaism
     PART / The First Verse / CHAPTER 1


     The Shema in Jewish Life

     Throughout history, the Shema—the biblical verse, “Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one” (
Deut. 6:4), and the rest of that paragraph (Deut. 6:5–9)—was recited as the dying words of Jewish martyrs, in keeping with the example of R. Akiva who (according to the Talmud, Berakhot 61b) uttered the Shema as he was executed by the Romans in the aftermath of the revolt against Rome in the second century C.E. To this day, devout Jews aspire to recite it with their dying breaths. Indeed, it was R. Akiva who interpreted the words of the Shema commanding us to love God “with all thy soul” as “even if He takes thy soul.” Later authorities urge that while reciting these words, we should think about our own readiness to submit to martyrdom for the sake of God.

     Not only in ancient days but even in our own times Jews, even Jewish children, have appreciated the spiritual significance of the Shema. The following conversation took place in the Warsaw Children’s Hospital among Jewish children orphaned from their parents by the Nazis:

     “Well, when my sister died and Mamma carried her out, she didn’t have any strength left to go and beg, so she just lay there and cried a bit. But I didn’t have any strength to go out either, so Mamma died too, and I wanted to live so terribly much and I prayed like Papa did before, before they killed him that is. He said: Shema Yisrael and I started to say that too and they came to get the corpses and saw that I was alive and they brought me here and I’m going to live.”

     “Maybe we should say Shema Yisrael too?”

     The adult who overheard this discussion added, “I didn’t hear any more because I dropped a file and the children fell silent.” (I Remember Nothing More )

     But such dramatic testimony should not be taken as a sign that the Shema has always been morbidly connected with death. On the contrary, to profess the unity of God and the love for God is life affirming; in so doing, we recapitulate the essence of our spiritual existence under God: to live lives in relative indifference to death.

     So central has the Shema been to Jewish identity that it became the signal for the tragically failed revolt of Jewish inmates in Auschwitz. In this regrettably little-known incident, a medallion engraved with the first verse of the Shema was passed surreptitiously from emaciated hand to hand to trigger the ill-fated uprising. For the leaders of the rebellion knew that no Jew would fail to recognize the Shema—the symbol of Jewish courage, hope, and commitment.

     Holocaust historian Yaffa Eliach provides another case in point:

     After the liberation, an American Jew by the name of Lieberman went to Europe, from monastery to monastery, from nunnery to nunnery, trying to find Jewish hidden children. He would walk into each institution and recite the Shema Yisrael. Those who responded he would then attempt to rescue from the monasteries and nunneries. (Yaffa Eliach Collection, Center for Holocaust Studies, Museum of Jewish Heritage, New York.)

     Even when all other traces of Jewish identity have been erased, the Shema survives as an after-image on a Jew’s memory.

     So closely is the Shema tied to Jewish identity that even assimilated Jews, whose relationship to their Jewish heritage is almost completely attenuated, recognize in it their residual link to their people and ancestral faith. When evoked, this vague childhood memory seems to work a special kind of magic on the unconscious.

     Many contemporary Jews who do not identify themselves as observant or even as religious nevertheless consider the Shema, when they think about such matters at all, as part of their own heritage. Thus, the Israeli press reported that in the 1996 Israeli elections for Prime Minister, the surprise victory of Benjamin Netanyahu over Shimon Peres was in no small measure the result of the secularist excesses of the liberal Meretz party, junior partners of Prime Minister Peres’s Labor party. In particular, one incident offended significant numbers of non-observant and presumably secularist voters: On a flight to Warsaw in 1994, Minister Shulamit Aloni of Meretz objected to then Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s intention to include, in a speech he was then crafting, a quotation from the Shema as the affirmation uttered by Jews as they entered the gas chambers. When Aloni’s off-the-record comment was reported in the press, it “stuck in the public mind”; many otherwise nonobservant Israelis were outraged. Even for these secular Jews, striking at the Shema was considered viscerally as an attack upon Judaism itself.

     The fundamental requirement by the Halakha is for the Shema to be recited twice daily, once in the Morning and once after dark. Tradition adds two more times for daily reading of the Shema: once before retiring, at bedside, and once in the preliminary devotions before the Morning prayer (Shaḥarit). (The origin of this recitation is, according to Teshuvot ha-Geonim, the banning by the Persian King Yazdegerd (438–457) of the public reading of the Shema. The fifth-century Amora, R. Naḥman bar Huna, therefore decreed that it be recited before the beginning of the regular service.)


  The Shema: Spirituality and Law in Judaism

History of the Destruction of Jerusalem
     Thanks to Meir Yona

     CHAPTER 10.

     Caesar Makes Antipater Procurator Of Judea; As Does Antipater Appoint Phasaelus To Be Governor Of Jerusalem, And Herod Governor Of Galilee; Who, In Some Time, Was Called To Answer For Himself [Before The Sanhedrim], Where He Is Acquitted. Sextus Caesar Is Treacherously Killed By Bassus And Is Succeeded By Marcus.

     1. About this time it was that Antigonus, the son of Aristobulus, came to Caesar, and became, in a surprising manner, the occasion of Antipater's further advancement; for whereas he ought to have lamented that his father appeared to have been poisoned on account of his quarrels with Pompey, and to have complained of Scipio's barbarity towards his brother, and not to mix any invidious passion when he was suing for mercy; besides those things, he came before Caesar, and accused Hyrcanus and Antipater, how they had driven him and his brethren entirely out of their native country, and had acted in a great many instances unjustly and extravagantly with relation to their nation; and that as to the assistance they had sent him into Egypt, it was not done out of good-will to him, but out of the fear they were in from former quarrels, and in order to gain pardon for their friendship to [his enemy] Pompey.

     2. Hereupon Antipater threw away his garments, and showed the multitude of the wounds he had, and said, that as to his good-will to Caesar, he had no occasion to say a word, because his body cried aloud, though he said nothing himself; that he wondered at Antigonus's boldness, while he was himself no other than the son of an enemy to the Romans, and of a fugitive, and had it by inheritance from his father to be fond of innovations and seditions, that he should undertake to accuse other men before the Roman governor, and endeavor to gain some advantages to himself, when he ought to be contented that he was suffered to live; for that the reason of his desire of governing public affairs was not so much because he was in want of it, but because, if he could once obtain the same, he might stir up a sedition among the Jews, and use what he should gain from the Romans to the disservice of those that gave it him.

     3. When Caesar heard this, he declared Hyrcanus to be the most worthy of the high priesthood, and gave leave to Antipater to choose what authority he pleased; but he left the determination of such dignity to him that bestowed the dignity upon him; so he was constituted procurator of all Judea, and obtained leave, moreover, to rebuild12 those walls of his country that had been thrown down. These honorary grants Caesar sent orders to have engraved in the Capitol, that they might stand there as indications of his own justice, and of the virtue of Antipater.

     4. But as soon as Antipater had conducted Caesar out of Syria he returned to Judea, and the first thing he did was to rebuild that wall of his own country [Jerusalem] which Pompey had overthrown, and then to go over the country, and to quiet the tumults that were therein; where he partly threatened, and partly advised, every one, and told them that in case they would submit to Hyrcanus, they would live happily and peaceably, and enjoy what they possessed, and that with universal peace and quietness; but that in case they hearkened to such as had some frigid hopes by raising new troubles to get themselves some gain, they should then find him to be their lord instead of their procurator; and find Hyrcanus to be a tyrant instead of a king; and both the Romans and Caesar to be their enemies, instead of rulers; for that they would not suffer him to be removed from the government, whom they had made their governor. And, at the same time that he said this, he settled the affairs of the country by himself, because he saw that Hyrcanus was inactive, and not fit to manage the affairs of the kingdom. So he constituted his eldest son, Phasaelus, governor of Jerusalem, and of the parts about it; he also sent his next son, Herod, who was very young, 13 with equal authority into Galilee.

     5. Now Herod was an active man, and soon found proper materials for his active spirit to work upon. As therefore he found that Hezekias, the head of the robbers, ran over the neighboring parts of Syria with a great band of men, he caught him and slew him, and many more of the robbers with him; which exploit was chiefly grateful to the Syrians, insomuch that hymns were sung in Herod's commendation, both in the villages and in the cities, as having procured their quietness, and having preserved what they possessed to them; on which occasion he became acquainted with Sextus Caesar, a kinsman of the great Caesar, and president of Syria. A just emulation of his glorious actions excited Phasaelus also to imitate him. Accordingly, he procured the good-will of the inhabitants of Jerusalem, by his own management of the city affairs, and did not abuse his power in any disagreeable manner; whence it came to pass that the nation paid Antipater the respects that were due only to a king, and the honors they all yielded him were equal to the honors due to an absolute lord; yet did he not abate any part of that good-will or fidelity which he owed to Hyrcanus.

          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 18:5
     by D.H. Stern

5     It is not good to be partial to the guilty
and thus deprive the innocent of justice.


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

                “Yes—But …!”

     Lord, I will follow Thee; but … --- Luke 9:61.

    Supposing God tells you to do something which is an enormous test to your common sense, what are you going to do? Hang back? If you get into the habit of doing a thing in the physical domain, you will do it every time until you break the habit determinedly; and the same is true spiritually. Again and again you will get up to what Jesus Christ wants, and every time you will turn back when it comes to the point, until you abandon resolutely. ‘Yes, but—supposing I do obey God in this matter, what about …?’ ‘Yes, I will obey God if He will let me use my common sense, but don’t ask me to take a step in the dark.’ Jesus Christ demands of the man who trusts Him the same reckless sporting spirit that the natural man exhibits. If a man is going to do anything worth while, there are times when he has to risk everything on his leap, and in the spiritual domain Jesus Christ demands that you risk everything you hold by common sense and leap into what He says, and immediately you do, you find that what He says fits on as solidly as common sense. At the bar of common sense Jesus Christ’s statements may seem mad; but bring them to the bar of faith, and you begin to find with awestruck spirit that they are the words of God. Trust entirely in God, and when He brings you to the venture, see that you take it. We act like pagans in a crisis, only one out of a crowd is daring enough to bank his faith in the character of God.


My Utmost for His Highest

Praise
     the Poetry of RS Thomas


               Praise

I praise you because
you are artist and scientist
in one. When I am somewhat
fearful of your power,
your ability to work miracles
with a set-square, I hear
you murmuring to yourself
in a notation Beethoven
dreamed of but never achieved.
You run off scales of
rain water and sea water, play
the chords of the Morning
and Evening light, sculpture
with shadow, join together leaf
by leaf, when spring
comes, the stanzas of
an immense poem. You speak
all languages and none,
answering our most complex
prayers with the simplicity
of a flower, confronting
us, when we would domesticate you
to our uses, with the rioting
viruses under our lens.


Selected Poems, 1946-68

Swimming In The Sea of Talmud
     Keritot 5b–6a

     D’RASH

     Children often respond to a taunt with the rejoinder: "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me." The Rabbis disagree. Names can hurt us, much more deeply than sticks and stones can. Words have incredible power. They can heal, or they can destroy. "Death and life are in the power of the tongue" (
Proverbs 18:21).

     The saying from the west, "The third tongue kills three," reminds us of a very important ethical principle: Our actions have far-reaching effects. Simple words can destroy a reputation or a life.

     A group of high school students sit around complaining about their teacher who has given them low grades on a final. They make fun of his manner of talking and even of the way he walks. Someone suggests that maybe he is a homosexual. Another student speculates that he became a teacher because he likes young boys. A third wonders out loud if perhaps the teacher has molested some students in the past. Idle talk born out of resentment and anger. The next day, the "theory" is flippantly repeated throughout the halls of the school. Within a week, the "scandal" has caused the teacher to be fired and then arrested. Even if the teacher is cleared of all charges, the rumors may follow him around for the rest of his life.

     We can understand how gossip can destroy the victim of the lies; we can even see that the purveyors of the gossip are hurt, legally or otherwise, by the things that they say. But rabbinic belief that the third party, the listener, is also destroyed is rather surprising. The Talmud seems to be suggesting that, in this matter, there is no such thing as an innocent bystander. Listening quietly as another person is "trashed" demeans us. It means that we stood by and did nothing to defend them. By not chastising and silencing the gossiper, we become enablers. We give our tacit approval, and thus encourage the gossiper to continue. It is the people who sit back and do nothing who are ultimately responsible for allowing evil to be committed. The Rabbis teach us that saying "But I did nothing!" is no excuse. It is an admission of guilt of another kind.

     Omens are significant.

     Text / Our Rabbis taught: "Kings are anointed only near a spring, so that their rule shall endure, as it says: 'Then King David said … bring him down to Gihon … [and] anoint him there …' [
1 Kings 1:32–34]." Rav Ammi said: "A person who wants to know if he will survive the year or not should bring a torch during the ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and hang it in a house where the wind does not blow; if the torch burns itself out, he knows that he will survive the year. A person who is about to engage in business and wants to know if he will succeed or not should get a rooster; if it grows fat and attractive, he knows that it will succeed. A person who wants to go on a trip and wants to know if he will return to his home should go up to a dark room; if he sees the shadow of his shadow, he knows that he will come back home. But he should not do these things lest he be frightened and his luck turn bad." Abaye said: "Since we have said that omens are significant, a person should make it a custom on Rosh Hashanah to eat gourds, fenugreeks, leeks, beets and dates."

     Text / Then King David said, "Summon to me the priest Zadok, the prophet Nathan, and Benaiah son of Jehoiada." When they came before the king, the king said to them, "Take my loyal soldiers, and have my son Solomon ride on my mule and bring him down to Gihon. Let the priest Zadok and the prophet Nathan anoint him there king over Israel, whereupon you shall sound the horn and shout, 'Long live King Solomon!' Then march up after him, and let him come in and sit on my throne. For he shall succeed me as king; him I designate to be ruler of Israel and Judah."
(
1 Kings 1:32–35)

     Context / Men speak lies to one another; their speech is smooth; they talk with duplicity. May the Lord cut off all flattering lips, every tongue that speaks arrogance.
(
Psalms 12:3–4)

     The anointing of the king was to take place by the Giḥon spring for symbolic reasons: "May the King rule as long as the spring flows!" Rav Ammi brings three other cases where "signs" were said to be significant in predicting the future: Fire was seen as a symbol of life, and the days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur were when God decided who would live and who would die; the rooster was a symbol of sexuality and aggressiveness and thus the ability to sustain oneself; a shadow represented a person's essence, and seeing it (or not) was a sign if that person would survive.

     Abaye adds that since symbolic signs are considered meaningful, it is the custom to eat certain foods on Rosh Hashanah. Today, we are familiar with the custom of dipping an apple into honey as a way of asking for a sweet year. Here, five other foods are mentioned because their names bring to mind sweetness and abundance or the destruction of our enemies. Gourds are kara which calls to mind the word kera, "torn": We pray that all evil decrees against us be torn up. Fenugreeks are ruvia, reminding us of the blessing p'ru u'rvu, "Be fruitful and multiply." Leeks are karti, which sounds like karet, "cut off": May all those who hate us be cut off! Beets are silka, similar to the Aramaic word for "end" and the basis for a pun on yistalku: May God bring an end to our enemies! A date is tamar and evokes the word y'tamu: May there be a "finish" to those who hate us!


Swimming in the Sea of Talmud: Lessons for Everyday Living

What Does the Bible Teach
  About Human Beings?
  by Russell D. Moore
     The Apologetics Study Bible

     According to the Bible, one of the most powerful apologetic arguments for the Christian faith is humanity itself. The Scriptures tell us that the wonder of the human body points to the creativity and genius of the Creator God in a way that should evoke both fear and awe (Ps 139:14). The human exercise of dominion over the created order reflects God's kingship over the universe (Gn 1:26), a kingship that is fully realized in the mediation of Christ Jesus (Eph 1:10). Man is created male and female in the image of God for a one-flesh union resulting in offspring, a union that foreshadows the reality of the Christ/church relationship (Eph 5:22–33).

     The Bible tells us that the human conscience testifies to the content and the rightness of the law of the Creator. Although human beings sought to define good and evil apart from the authoritative Word of God (Jms 4:17), God nonetheless planted within all children of Adam a witness to His standards of good and evil. The fact that fallen humans acknowledge any standards of morality indicates that there is a transcendent code of law, somewhere above merely constructing societal rules and boundaries (Rm 2:12–16). Moreover, as the Apostle Paul pointed out, this conscience points beyond itself to a day of reckoning. When humans make moral choices—or make immoral choices using moral arguments—they are actually acknowledging that they know of a day in which God will judge all the secrets of the heart (Rm 2:16).

     Regardless of how often fallen humans seek to classify themselves as merely biological, they know on the basis of their common rationality, morality, and search for meaning that this is not the case. No matter how many times Darwinians, for example, speak of humans as one more kind of animal, and no matter how many times some psychologists explain our behavior on the basis of evolutionary mechanisms, human beings know it just isn't so. We know there is something distinctive about us—which is why the Bible calls on us to appeal to the minds and consciences of unbelievers, even though the minds are blinded (2 Co 4:4) and the consciences are often calloused (1 Tm 4:2).

     Therefore, the biblical witness about human beings stands in stark contrast with other belief systems. Unlike some Eastern religions, the Bible does not present the life of a human being as a cycle of incarnations, nor does it affirm, as Mormonism does, the preexistence of disembodied human spirits. Unlike many nature religions and various forms of pagan worship, the Bible does not present humanity as part of the larger "life force" of nature. Unlike Islam, the Bible affirms the freedom and responsibility of human beings as moral creatures before a God whose image they reflect. Unlike many psychological theories, the Bible does not reduce human motivations or actions to the interactions of unconscious desires, habitual patterns, or the firing of neurons. Unlike Marxism and libertarian capitalism, the Bible presents the longings of the human heart as far more than material. Unlike Gnosticism or feminism, God's good creative purposes are seen in the goodness and permanence of sexual differentiation, in the equal worth of the sexes as image bearers (Gn 1:27), and in the protective, sacrificial headship of men as fathers of families and leaders of tribes (1 Co 11:3). In contrast to rival belief systems, the Bible presents human beings as distinct from a nature they are called to govern (Ps 8:5–8), free to act according to their natures (Jos 24:15), responsible for actions before the tribunal of Christ (Rv 20:12–13), and created for conformity to the image of Jesus as joint heirs of a glorious new creation (Rm 8:17, 29). The doctrine of the image of God grants value to every human life, regardless of its vulnerability or stage of development (Gn 9:6), and it stands in eternal hostility to any form of racial bigotry or nation-state idolatry (Ac 17:25–27).

     The Bible's truthfulness about human depravity contrasts strongly with belief systems that are more optimistic about human nature, such as Mormonism, Scientology, or secularism. Human sin is an apologetic issue since a Christian framework explains how educated, rational, loving persons can bring forth cruelty, violence, and hatred. The biblical teaching on sin also answers what may be the most persistent charge against the truthfulness of Christianity: Christian hypocrisy.

     Likewise, the prevalence of world religions and ideologies, which is often used as an objection to Christianity, actually serves as an apologetic argument for Christian claims. The Bible tells us that the universal instinct to worship and to interpret reality is grounded in the revelation of God and that the universal suppression of this truth leads to diverse idolatries (Rm 1:18–32). We should not be surprised, then, that literally every human civilization in history has had some practice of worship, but also that cults, world religions, and even secular ideologies often ape some aspects of Christian truth. Nor should we be surprised, as the ancient book of Ecclesiastes illustrates, when the human quest for sensual gratification, material abundance, or the wielding of power apart from the Creator's purposes leads to despair.


The Apologetics Study Bible: Understand Why You Believe

Recognition of the Literature as Scripture
     Eerdmans Dictionary of Early Judaism

     Many if not all of these works originated as, and were generally viewed as, humanly produced literature; indeed, Sir. 44:1–15 could be seen as an ancient witness to this view. There is a spectrum of theological views concerning the divine origin of the Scriptures, but here the focus must be on how the human community came to recognize these books as divinely authored. They served a variety of purposes: the early narrative strands of the Pentateuch and the Deuteronomistic History served as a national epic and national history; Leviticus, Psalms, and Esther were used for the liturgy; Jubilees, the Deuteronomistic History, Proverbs, Job, Qohelet, and Ben Sira contributed to religious, moral, and practical education; the
Song of Songs
, Tobit, and Ruth were models for human love and loyalty; and Daniel provided a model for courage in perilous times. The literature grew as community literature, and countless tradents and copyists contributed to its dynamic development from its earliest origins as sayings, reports, songs, and other materials into books sufficiently well known and treasured to assure that they would be transmitted as important for successive generations. Just as the community formed the literature, so too the literature formed the community as it moved through history.

     Of the many works produced, some came to be regarded as sacred Scripture; that is, they were regarded as in some sense having God as author. There is little evidence for reconstructing this important transition, but certain contributing factors can be proposed.

     First, God was increasingly understood to be speaking through the texts to the people. For the Greeks the Iliad and the Odyssey held essential religious importance, but they were principally seen as national epics. Similarly, the early hexateuchal narratives originally would likely have been perceived more as a national epic than as “Scripture.” Just as the gods spoke in the Homeric poems, so too did God speak in Israel’s texts. But once the priestly portions were incorporated, especially the legal materials listed as divinely spoken on Sinai, and insofar as the divine source was reinforced by the preaching of the Torah as articulating God’s will, it is quite easy to understand how God came to be viewed as the author. Already by the early second century B.C.E., Jubilees clearly attests this: “The LORD revealed to him …” (Jub. 1:4), and “The angel of the presence spoke to Moses according to the word of the LORD, saying: ‘Write the complete history of the creation …’ ” (Jub. 2:1).

     The divine authorship envisioned on Sinai was extended to material that had presumably been simply the priests’ ritual handbook for Temple sacrifices. It is quite plausible that editorial framing in the Second Temple period transformed the priests’ handbook of directions for performing the various offerings. The directions in

Leviticus 1–7
may at an earlier point have begun with “When any of you bring an offering of livestock to the Lord, you shall …” (1:2b), proceeded with the detailed sacrificial directions, and then ended with “This is the ritual of the burnt offering, the grain offering, the sin offering, the guilt offering, the ordination offering, and the sacrifice of well-being” (7:37). The editorial framing of those priestly directions would then have introduced the section with “The LORD called Moses and spoke to him from the tent of meeting, saying, ‘Speak to the people of Israel and say to them’ ” (1:1–2a), and concluded it with “which the LORD commanded Moses on Mount Sinai, when he commanded the people of Israel to bring their offerings to the LORD, in the wilderness of Sinai” (7:38; cf. also 4:1–2a; 5:20; 27:1–2a, 34). According to this view, the priestly ritual handbook was transformed into a divinely authored book.

     Just as Moses relayed God’s word in the Torah, certain prophets were seen to deliver God’s message to the king and people. But eventually the entire prophetic book, including stories about the prophets and the full editorial framework, was considered divine revelation. With the passage of time a book containing God’s word became a divinely revealed book.

     Similarly, the
Psalms, which originated as humanly composed hymns to God, were elevated to the status of divinely authored Scripture. The largest Psalms scroll from Qumran states explicitly the divine source of David’s Psalter: “All these he spoke through prophecy that was given to him from the Most High” (11QPsa 27:11). The divinely inspired prophetic nature of the Psalms is echoed in the Acts of the Apostles: “Since he was a prophet.… Foreseeing this, David spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah …” (Acts 2:30–31).

     Second, additions that enhanced the theological, pious, or festival nature of a text seem to have been influential in considering a book as Scripture. For example, the theological material in
Proverbs 1–9 may well have been the factor that achieved scriptural status for that book. The older section starting in chapter 10 had probably been much more regarded as a collection of commonsense folk wisdom and pithy sayings. But the additions—such as “the Lord created [Wisdom] at the beginning” (8:22) and she was beside him “When he established the heavens …, when he made firm the skies above” (8:27–30)—helped transform the collection so that one could seek and “find the knowledge of God” (2:5). The not-excessively pious Qohelet may have gained scriptural status once the more traditional appendix, urging the reader to “fear God and keep his commandments” (Eccl. 12:9–14) was added. The same status may have been gained for the book of Esther with the institution of the feast of Purim (Esth. 9:18–32).

     Third, hermeneutical innovation also contributed to sacralization. The
Song of Songs, which like the Psalms originated as human literature, was sublimated through a hermeneutical lens into a meditation on God’s love for Israel.

     The book of
Daniel also provides an interesting example. There was a growing cycle of Danielic materials, which perhaps drew on the righteous figure of Dan(i)el, laconically mentioned in Ezek. 14:14, 20, and which attached his name to traditions such as the anonymous Jewish healer in the Prayer of Nabonidus (4Q242). The cycle (1) achieved the form of a small literary collection of wisdom tales during the Persian period (Daniel 2–6); (2) developed into a larger collection due to the persecution of Antiochus IV (Daniel 1–12) and yet a larger collection with the Additions (1–14); and (3) continued to emerge in the form of other Pseudo-Daniel traditions (4Q243–245). Out of that developing cycle, the collections of chapters 1–12 and of 1–14 were accepted by different communities as Scripture, though not the earlier or later materials.

     Other factors that may also have contributed to the recognition of Israel’s literature as divinely authored Scripture were the increasing antiquity of a work, the educational or liturgical settings in which this literature was proclaimed to be speaking in the name of God or articulating the will of God, and the “resignification” or adaptability of the texts to the current community’s ongoing life, whereby they could readily identify their situation with one in which God had favored Israel in the past.

     Religious leaders and pious people sincerely trying to understand and articulate the divine will produced the religious classics of Israel. As generation after generation pondered their religious traditions in light of their current historical, political, and social reality, in one sense, the word about God became the word of God. The communities continued to hear it repeated as such, and eventually they recognized and described it explicitly as such.


The Eerdmans Dictionary of Early Judaism

Take Heart
     May 30

     When you pray, say: “Father.” --- Luke 11:2.

     The prayer Jesus taught his disciples begins with a new name for God. ( The model prayer: A series of expositions on "The Lord's Prayer" ) “When you pray, say: ‘Father.’ ”

     In the Old Testament God is very seldom spoken of as Father, and when the name is used, it is always with reference to the nation of Israel and not to individuals. From Genesis to Malachi you will not find a single instance of an individual speaking of God as Father. Moses did not dare to use this name [or] David [or] Isaiah. It was left to Jesus Christ to tell us God’s best and truest name. It was left to him to say, “When you pray, say: ‘Father.’ ”

     The secret hidden from the prophet and psalmist and seer is here declared to the world in this name Father. One of the chief ends for which Christ came to earth was to tell us this new name and so to bring sunshine into our souls and hope into our lives. In Bethlehem, in Nazareth, in Galilee, in the Garden of Gethsemane, on the cross of Calvary, Jesus was spelling out for us this new name, revealing to us that God is more than wisdom, more than power, more than justice—that God, above and beyond everything else, is love. So the very opening phrase of this “pearl of prayers” brings us the best news ever whispered into human ears. It tells us that love is at the heart of all things. It tells us that God is our Father and we are his children.

     Is God Father to everybody? Yes, to everybody. He is Father to the humblest, the poorest, the most degraded. All belong to God’s family, and on all some trace of the family likeness is to be seen. And though people sin, the Father still loves. That is what Jesus would teach us in the parable of the prodigal son. God is Father not only to the obedient son, but he is Father also to the son who has strayed. The Father’s heart yearns for that wayward child, and when that son returns with penitent heart, it is the word “Father” that leaps to the prodigal’s lips, and it is with the word “son” that the father welcomes him home again.

     Yes, God is the Father of all. But all are not his children. People become his children only through Jesus Christ. Christ came into the world to show us the Father, to seek lost children and bring them back home again. Those who receive him into their hearts receive the Spirit of adoption. They speak the name Father with a new accent. It becomes to them invested with a richer and fuller meaning.
---J. D. Jones


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

On This Day
     The Cautious Reformer  May 30

     Desiderius Erasmus, born in 1466 in Rotterdam, Holland, was the illegitimate son of a priest. He was orphaned in childhood, swindled out of his inheritance, and forced into a monastery that he hated—except for its library. Reaching adulthood, Erasmus approached theology with freshness, sought out scholars, then eclipsed them. He became the most cultivated man of his age.

     In appearance, his skin was fair, hair blond, eyes blue, voice pleasant. His manners were polished. In temper, he could be irritable. He repeatedly visited England (though complaining of its “bad beer and inhospitable weather”) where John Colet urged him to master the original language of the New Testament. He did, and in 1516 Erasmus published his Greek New Testament. “Would that these were translated into every language,” he said. In studying Erasmus’s New Testament, ministers found themselves returning to the truth of the Bible. Erasmus’s translation became Luther’s fodder, and the primary source for his German translation of the Bible (and later, of Tyndale’s English Version).

     But Erasmus, having spent his first years advocating reform, spent his latter ones resisting it. He initially supported Luther, but retreated when he saw the church splitting. On May 30, 1519, he wrote Luther, suggesting that it might be wiser of you to denounce those who misuse the Pope’s authority than to censure the Pope himself. … Old institutions cannot be uprooted in an instant. Quiet argument may do more than wholesale condemnation. Keep cool. Do not get angry.

     Erasmus neither supported nor flatly condemned the Protestants. As a result, he lost friends on both sides. “Men of learning,” he wrote, “who were once warmly attached to me, and old friends, are the most dangerous of foes.”

     Erasmus had expected the new wine to ferment in old skins. It wouldn’t and couldn’t, to his dismay. But never mind, he did his part. In giving the church back its Greek New Testament, he had in effect squeezed the grapes.

     No one pours new wine into old wineskins. The wine would swell and burst the old skins. Then the wine would be lost, and the skins would be ruined. New wine must be put into new wineskins. Both the skins and the wine will then be safe.
--- Matthew 9:17.


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

Morning and Evening
     Daily Readings / CHARLES H. SPURGEON

          Morning - May 30

     “Take us the foxes, the little foxes that spoil the vines.” --- Song of Solomon 2:15.

     A little thorn may cause much suffering. A little cloud may hide the sun. Little foxes spoil the vines; and little sins do mischief to the tender heart. These little sins burrow in the soul, and make it so full of that which is hateful to Christ, that he will hold no comfortable fellowship and communion with us. A great sin cannot destroy a Christian, but a little sin can make him miserable. Jesus will not walk with his people unless they drive out every known sin. He says, “If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love, even as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.” Some Christians very seldom enjoy their Saviour’s presence. How is this? Surely it must be an affliction for a tender child to be separated from his father. Art thou a child of God, and yet satisfied to go on without seeing thy Father’s face? What! thou the spouse of Christ, and yet content without his company! Surely, thou hast fallen into a sad state, for the chaste spouse of Christ mourns like a dove without her mate, when he has left her. Ask, then, the question, what has driven Christ from thee? He hides his face behind the wall of thy sins. That wall may be built up of little pebbles, as easily as of great stones. The sea is made of drops; the rocks are made of grains: and the sea which divides thee from Christ may be filled with the drops of thy little sins; and the rock which has well nigh wrecked thy barque, may have been made by the daily working of the coral insects of thy little sins. If thou wouldst live with Christ, and walk with Christ, and see Christ, and have fellowship with Christ, take heed of “the little foxes that spoil the vines, for our vines have tender grapes.” Jesus invites you to go with him and take them. He will surely, like Samson, take the foxes at once and easily. Go with him to the hunting.


          Evening - May 30

     “That henceforth we should not serve sin.” --- Romans 6:6.

     Christian, what hast thou to do with sin? Hath it not cost thee enough already? Burnt child, wilt thou play with the fire? What! when thou hast already been between the jaws of the lion, wilt thou step a second time into his den? Hast thou not had enough of the old serpent? Did he not poison all thy veins once, and wilt thou play upon the hole of the asp, and put thy hand upon the cockatrice’s den a second time? Oh, be not so mad! so foolish! Did sin ever yield thee real pleasure? Didst thou find solid satisfaction in it? If so, go back to thine old drudgery, and wear the chain again, if it delight thee. But inasmuch as sin did never give thee what it promised to bestow, but deluded thee with lies, be not a second time snared by the old fowler— be free, and let the remembrance of thy ancient bondage forbid thee to enter the net again! It is contrary to the designs of eternal love, which all have an eye to thy purity and holiness; therefore run not counter to the purposes of thy Lord. Another thought should restrain thee from sin. Christians can never sin cheaply; they pay a heavy price for iniquity. Transgression destroys peace of mind, obscures fellowship with Jesus, hinders prayer, brings darkness over the soul; therefore be not the serf and bondman of sin. There is yet a higher argument: each time you “serve sin” you have “Crucified the Lord afresh, and put him to an open shame.” Can you bear that thought? Oh! if you have fallen into any special sin during this day, it may be my Master has sent this admonition this Evening, to bring you back before you have backslidden very far. Turn thee to Jesus anew; he has not forgotten his love to thee; his grace is still the same. With weeping and repentance, come thou to his footstool, and thou shalt be once more received into his heart; thou shalt be set upon a rock again, and thy goings shall be established.

Morning and Evening

Amazing Grace
     May 30

          BATTLE HYMN OF THE REPUBLIC

     Julia Ward Howe, 1819–1910

     Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God. (Psalm 20:7)

     To have implicit trust in God’s faithful care and protection is never easy in times of danger or strife. Yet even in the midst of the terrible Civil War between the Northern and Southern states, a remarkable woman named Julia Ward Howe proclaimed her confidence in God’s triumphant power in this inspiring text.

     Deeply anguished at the growing conflict between the two sections of the country, Mrs. Howe watched troops marching off to war singing “John Brown’s Body,” a song about a man who had been hanged in his efforts to free the slaves. Julia felt that the catchy camp meeting tune should have better words. In a desire to phrase her own feelings about the dreadful events of the time, she “scrawled the verses almost without looking at the paper.” The national hymn first appeared in the Atlantic Monthly Magazine in 1862, as a battle song for the republic. Before long the entire nation became inspired by her text and united in singing the new words with the old tune.

     Mrs. Howe’s hymn has been acclaimed through the years as one of our finest patriotic songs. At one time it was sung as a solo at a large rally attended by President Abraham Lincoln. After the audience had responded with loud applause, the President, with tears in his eyes, cried out, “Sing it again!” It was sung again. And after more than a hundred years, Americans still join often in proclaiming, “Glory! Hallelujah! His truth is marching on!”

     Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord; He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored; He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword; His truth is marching on.

     I have seen Him in the watch-fires of a hundred circling camps; they have builded Him an altar in the Evening dews and damps; I can read His righteous sentence by the dim and flaring lamps; His day is marching on.

     He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat; He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgment seat; O be swift, my soul, to answer Him; be jubilant, my feet! Our God is marching on.

     In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea, with a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me; as He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free! While God is marching on.

     Refrain: Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! His truth is marching on.


     For Today: 2 Chronicles 7:14; Psalm 33:12; 144:15; 1 Peter 2:16.

     How can we best express our gratitude for those who have died defending their country? Try to honor them by continuing to support the truths for which they fought. Sing as you go ---

Amazing Grace: 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions

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


     Sect. XL. — HERE, therefore, I hold you fast in a last-pinch syllogism (as they say). For either the one or the other of your assertions must be false. Either that, where you say, ‘those men were admirable for their understanding in the Sacred Writings, for their life, and for their martyrdom;’ or that, where you say, that ‘the Scriptures are not quite clear.’ But since you are drawn more this latter way, that is, to believe that the Scriptures are not quite clear, (for this is what you harp upon throughout the whole of your book), it remains evident, that it was either from your own natural inclination towards them, or for the sake of flattering them, but by no means from seriousness, that you called those men, ‘men of the greatest understanding in the Scripture, and martyrs of Christ;’ merely in order that you might blind the eyes of the inexperienced commonalty, and make work for Luther by loading his cause with empty words, odium, and contempt. But, however, I aver that neither of your assertions are true, and that both are false. For, first of all, I aver, that the Scriptures are quite clear: and next, that those men, as far as they asserted “Free-will,” were most ignorant of the Sacred Writings: and moreover, that they neither asserted it by their life, nor by their death, but by their pen only; and that, while their heart was travelling another road.

     Wherefore this small part of the Disputation I conclude thus. — By the Scripture, as being obscure, nothing ever has hitherto, nor ever can be defined concerning “Free-will;” according to your own testimony. Moreover, nothing has ever been manifested in confirmation of “Free-will,” in the lives of all the men from the beginning of the world; as we have proved above. To teach, then, a something which is neither described by one word within the Scriptures, nor evidenced by one fact without the Scriptures, is that, which does not belong to the doctrines of Christians, but to the very fables of Lucian. Except, however, that Lucian, as he amuses only with ludicrous stories from wit and policy) deceives and injures no one. But these friends of ours, in a matter of importance which concerns eternal salvation, madly trifle to the perdition of souls innumerable.

     Thus I might here have concluded the whole of this discussion, even with the testimony of my adversaries making for me, and against themselves. For no proof can be more decisive, than the very confession and testimony of the guilty person against himself. But however, as Paul commands us to stop the mouths of vain talkers, let us now enter upon the Discussion itself, and handle the subject in the order in which the Diatribe proceeds: that we may, FIRST, confute the arguments adduced in support of “Free-will”: SECONDLY, defend our arguments that are confuted: and, LASTLY, contend for the Grace of God against “Free-will.”


The Bondage of the Will   or   Christian Classics Ethereal Library


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