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Numbers 17-18     Psalm 55     Isaiah 7     James 1


Numbers 17

Aaron’s Staff Buds

Numbers 17:1 The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “Speak to the people of Israel, and get from them staffs, one for each fathers’ house, from all their chiefs according to their fathers’ houses, twelve staffs. Write each man’s name on his staff, 3 and write Aaron’s name on the staff of Levi. For there shall be one staff for the head of each fathers’ house. 4 Then you shall deposit them in the tent of meeting before the testimony, where I meet with you. 5 And the staff of the man whom I choose shall sprout. Thus I will make to cease from me the grumblings of the people of Israel, which they grumble against you.” 6 Moses spoke to the people of Israel. And all their chiefs gave him staffs, one for each chief, according to their fathers’ houses, twelve staffs. And the staff of Aaron was among their staffs. 7 And Moses deposited the staffs before the LORD in the tent of the testimony.

8 On the next day Moses went into the tent of the testimony, and behold, the staff of Aaron for the house of Levi had sprouted and put forth buds and produced blossoms, and it bore ripe almonds. 9 Then Moses brought out all the staffs from before the LORD to all the people of Israel. And they looked, and each man took his staff. 10 And the LORD said to Moses, “Put back the staff of Aaron before the testimony, to be kept as a sign for the rebels, that you may make an end of their grumblings against me, lest they die.” 11 Thus did Moses; as the LORD commanded him, so he did.

12 And the people of Israel said to Moses, “Behold, we perish, we are undone, we are all undone. 13 Everyone who comes near, who comes near to the tabernacle of the LORD, shall die. Are we all to perish?”


Numbers 18

Duties of Priests and Levites

Numbers 18:1 So the LORD said to Aaron, “You and your sons and your father’s house with you shall bear iniquity connected with the sanctuary, and you and your sons with you shall bear iniquity connected with your priesthood. 2 And with you bring your brothers also, the tribe of Levi, the tribe of your father, that they may join you and minister to you while you and your sons with you are before the tent of the testimony. 3 They shall keep guard over you and over the whole tent, but shall not come near to the vessels of the sanctuary or to the altar lest they, and you, die. 4 They shall join you and keep guard over the tent of meeting for all the service of the tent, and no outsider shall come near you. 5 And you shall keep guard over the sanctuary and over the altar, that there may never again be wrath on the people of Israel. 6 And behold, I have taken your brothers the Levites from among the people of Israel. They are a gift to you, given to the LORD, to do the service of the tent of meeting. 7 And you and your sons with you shall guard your priesthood for all that concerns the altar and that is within the veil; and you shall serve. I give your priesthood as a gift, and any outsider who comes near shall be put to death.”

8 Then the LORD spoke to Aaron, “Behold, I have given you charge of the contributions made to me, all the consecrated things of the people of Israel. I have given them to you as a portion and to your sons as a perpetual due. 9 This shall be yours of the most holy things, reserved from the fire: every offering of theirs, every grain offering of theirs and every sin offering of theirs and every guilt offering of theirs, which they render to me, shall be most holy to you and to your sons. 10 In a most holy place shall you eat it. Every male may eat it; it is holy to you. 11 This also is yours: the contribution of their gift, all the wave offerings of the people of Israel. I have given them to you, and to your sons and daughters with you, as a perpetual due. Everyone who is clean in your house may eat it. 12 All the best of the oil and all the best of the wine and of the grain, the firstfruits of what they give to the LORD, I give to you. 13 The first ripe fruits of all that is in their land, which they bring to the LORD, shall be yours. Everyone who is clean in your house may eat it. 14 Every devoted thing in Israel shall be yours. 15 Everything that opens the womb of all flesh, whether man or beast, which they offer to the LORD, shall be yours. Nevertheless, the firstborn of man you shall redeem, and the firstborn of unclean animals you shall redeem. 16 And their redemption price (at a month old you shall redeem them) you shall fix at five shekels in silver, according to the shekel of the sanctuary, which is twenty gerahs. 17 But the firstborn of a cow, or the firstborn of a sheep, or the firstborn of a goat, you shall not redeem; they are holy. You shall sprinkle their blood on the altar and shall burn their fat as a food offering, with a pleasing aroma to the LORD. 18 But their flesh shall be yours, as the breast that is waved and as the right thigh are yours. 19 All the holy contributions that the people of Israel present to the LORD I give to you, and to your sons and daughters with you, as a perpetual due. It is a covenant of salt forever before the LORD for you and for your offspring with you.” 20 And the LORD said to Aaron, “You shall have no inheritance in their land, neither shall you have any portion among them. I am your portion and your inheritance among the people of Israel.

21 “To the Levites I have given every tithe in Israel for an inheritance, in return for their service that they do, their service in the tent of meeting, 22 so that the people of Israel do not come near the tent of meeting, lest they bear sin and die. 23 But the Levites shall do the service of the tent of meeting, and they shall bear their iniquity. It shall be a perpetual statute throughout your generations, and among the people of Israel they shall have no inheritance. 24 For the tithe of the people of Israel, which they present as a contribution to the LORD, I have given to the Levites for an inheritance. Therefore I have said of them that they shall have no inheritance among the people of Israel.”

25 And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 26 “Moreover, you shall speak and say to the Levites, ‘When you take from the people of Israel the tithe that I have given you from them for your inheritance, then you shall present a contribution from it to the LORD, a tithe of the tithe. 27 And your contribution shall be counted to you as though it were the grain of the threshing floor, and as the fullness of the winepress. 28 So you shall also present a contribution to the LORD from all your tithes, which you receive from the people of Israel. And from it you shall give the LORD’s contribution to Aaron the priest. 29 Out of all the gifts to you, you shall present every contribution due to the LORD; from each its best part is to be dedicated.’ 30 Therefore you shall say to them, ‘When you have offered from it the best of it, then the rest shall be counted to the Levites as produce of the threshing floor, and as produce of the winepress. 31 And you may eat it in any place, you and your households, for it is your reward in return for your service in the tent of meeting. 32 And you shall bear no sin by reason of it, when you have contributed the best of it. But you shall not profane the holy things of the people of Israel, lest you die.’ ”


Psalm 55

Cast Your Burden on the LORD

Psalm 55 To The Choirmaster: With Stringed Instruments. A Maskil Of David.

1  Give ear to my prayer, O God,
and hide not yourself from my plea for mercy!
2  Attend to me, and answer me;
I am restless in my complaint and I moan,
3  because of the noise of the enemy,
because of the oppression of the wicked.
For they drop trouble upon me,
and in anger they bear a grudge against me.

4  My heart is in anguish within me;
the terrors of death have fallen upon me.
5  Fear and trembling come upon me,
and horror overwhelms me.
6  And I say, “Oh, that I had wings like a dove!
I would fly away and be at rest;
7  yes, I would wander far away;
I would lodge in the wilderness; Selah
8  I would hurry to find a shelter
from the raging wind and tempest.”

9  Destroy, O Lord, divide their tongues;
for I see violence and strife in the city.
10  Day and night they go around it
on its walls,
and iniquity and trouble are within it;
11  ruin is in its midst;
oppression and fraud
do not depart from its marketplace.

12  For it is not an enemy who taunts me—
then I could bear it;
it is not an adversary who deals insolently with me—
then I could hide from him.
13  But it is you, a man, my equal,
my companion, my familiar friend.
14  We used to take sweet counsel together;
within God’s house we walked in the throng.
15  Let death steal over them;
let them go down to Sheol alive;
for evil is in their dwelling place and in their heart.

16  But I call to God,
and the LORD will save me.
17  Evening and morning and at noon
I utter my complaint and moan,
and he hears my voice.
18  He redeems my soul in safety
from the battle that I wage,
for many are arrayed against me.
19  God will give ear and humble them,
he who is enthroned from of old, Selah
because they do not change
and do not fear God.

20  My companion stretched out his hand against his friends;
he violated his covenant.
21  His speech was smooth as butter,
yet war was in his heart;
his words were softer than oil,
yet they were drawn swords.

22  Cast your burden on the LORD,
and he will sustain you;
he will never permit
the righteous to be moved.

23  But you, O God, will cast them down
into the pit of destruction;
men of blood and treachery
shall not live out half their days.
But I will trust in you.



Isaiah 7

Isaiah Sent to King Ahaz

Isaiah 7:1 In the days of Ahaz the son of Jotham, son of Uzziah, king of Judah, Rezin the king of Syria and Pekah the son of Remaliah the king of Israel came up to Jerusalem to wage war against it, but could not yet mount an attack against it. 2 When the house of David was told, “Syria is in league with Ephraim,” the heart of Ahaz and the heart of his people shook as the trees of the forest shake before the wind.

3 And the LORD said to Isaiah, “Go out to meet Ahaz, you and Shear-jashub your son, at the end of the conduit of the upper pool on the highway to the Washer’s Field. 4 And say to him, ‘Be careful, be quiet, do not fear, and do not let your heart be faint because of these two smoldering stumps of firebrands, at the fierce anger of Rezin and Syria and the son of Remaliah. 5 Because Syria, with Ephraim and the son of Remaliah, has devised evil against you, saying, 6 “Let us go up against Judah and terrify it, and let us conquer it for ourselves, and set up the son of Tabeel as king in the midst of it,” 7 thus says the Lord GOD:

“ ‘It shall not stand,
and it shall not come to pass.
8  For the head of Syria is Damascus,
and the head of Damascus is Rezin.
And within sixty-five years
Ephraim will be shattered from being a people.
9  And the head of Ephraim is Samaria,
and the head of Samaria is the son of Remaliah.
If you are not firm in faith,
you will not be firm at all.’ ”

The Sign of Immanuel

10 Again the LORD spoke to Ahaz: 11 “Ask a sign of the LORD your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.” 12 But Ahaz said, “I will not ask, and I will not put the LORD to the test.” 13 And he said, “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also? 14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. 15 He shall eat curds and honey when he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. 16 For before the boy knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land whose two kings you dread will be deserted. 17 The LORD will bring upon you and upon your people and upon your father’s house such days as have not come since the day that Ephraim departed from Judah—the king of Assyria!”

18 In that day the LORD will whistle for the fly that is at the end of the streams of Egypt, and for the bee that is in the land of Assyria. 19 And they will all come and settle in the steep ravines, and in the clefts of the rocks, and on all the thornbushes, and on all the pastures.

20 In that day the Lord will shave with a razor that is hired beyond the River—with the king of Assyria—the head and the hair of the feet, and it will sweep away the beard also. 21 In that day a man will keep alive a young cow and two sheep, 22 and because of the abundance of milk that they give, he will eat curds, for everyone who is left in the land will eat curds and honey.

23 In that day every place where there used to be a thousand vines, worth a thousand shekels of silver, will become briers and thorns. 24 With bow and arrows a man will come there, for all the land will be briers and thorns. 25 And as for all the hills that used to be hoed with a hoe, you will not come there for fear of briers and thorns, but they will become a place where cattle are let loose and where sheep tread.


James 1

Greeting

James 1:1 James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,
To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion:
Greetings.

Testing of Your Faith

2 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

5 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. 6 But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. 7 For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; 8 he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

9 Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, 10 and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away. 11 For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits.

12 Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. 13 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.   God tests us, but the difference between God’s testings and the devil’s temptations is this: God sets up His tests for His students to pass. The temptations of the devil are set up so that his students will fail. God is never the author of temptation, so we’ll have to place the blame elsewhere.  The Hand of God: Finding His Care in All Circumstances   14 But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. 15 Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.   A second principle is that temptation begins with our individual desire. The picture I have in my mind here is that of a hook with bait on it. The mother fish warns her babies not to be tempted by the worm they see dangling in the water, for if they bite into it they are going to be supper for the fisherman. But little Freddie Fish decides his mother is getting old and losing it, so he decides to take a bite of the worm. The hook grabs him, and he’s history. Now that may be a silly illustration, but it conveys the idea. We get ourselves hooked by sin because we want the worm.  The Hand of God: Finding His Care in All Circumstances  

16 Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. 17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. 18 Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.

Hearing and Doing the Word

19 Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. 21 Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.

22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. 24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. 25 But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.

26 If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. 27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.

The Reformation Study Bible


What I'm Reading

Does Porn Really Hurt Society?

By Sean McDowell 2/21/2017

     Dr. John Foubert has been studying pornography and its effects on people for over a decade. I have written and spoken extensively on pornography, so I was eager when Dr. Foubert graciously asked me to endorse his recent book How Pornography Harms. And it did not disappoint. In fact, I would consider an indispensable resource for students, parents, teachers, and pastors to be informed about how pornography is changing the way people think about sex.

     Check out this quick interview with Dr. Foubert. And then think about getting a copy of his excellent book. You can get a hard copy here or the e-book for a discount. Enjoy!

     SEAN MCDOWELL: The first line in your book struck me: "This book pulls no punches." Your writing style is direct, hard hitting, and real. Why did you write How Pornography Harms that way?

     JOHN FOUBERT: You can’t clean up the topic of pornography. So many of us have been pretending it isn’t a problem with people we know. Many parents think that if their kids look at today’s porn, it is the same kind of thing they saw as kids and is no big deal. All of these people would be wrong. In order to educate the public about the harms of pornography, I decided to let people know about the level of violence and degradation that is really going on in today’s pornography. My intent is not to be gratuitously graphic, but to be shocking enough to wake up people’s consciences.

     MCDOWELL: There are lots of books out there about pornography that are written from a Biblical worldview. How is yours different from the others?

     FOUBERT: There are so many wonderful books out there about pornography that do a great job of helping people who are struggling with porn to get out from under that struggle. How Pornography Harms is different, in that it distills the results from 150 peer reviewed studies, 2 dozen books, 2 dozen anecdotes from people who have been hurt by porn, and a dozen interviews with scholars who do cutting edge research in this area. As I wove together research and people’s personal experience, I wrote a book that is accessible, real, and well documented – all from a Biblical worldview.

Click here for entire article

Books By Sean McDowell
Is God Just a Human Invention? And Seventeen Other Questions Raised by the New Atheists
A New Kind of Apologist: *Adopting Fresh Strategies *Addressing the Latest Issues *Engaging the Culture
The Beauty of Intolerance: Setting a Generation Free to Know Truth and Love
Same-Sex Marriage: A Thoughtful Approach to God's Design for Marriage (Thoughtful Response)
ETHIX: Being Bold in a Whatever World
More Than a Carpenter
Apologetics Study Bible for Students, Trade Paper

The Consequences of Truth

By Gene Edward Veith 5/1/2007

     Readers of Tabletalk over the last 30 years have learned a lot about theology. But they have also learned a lot about history, philosophy, and the arts. The various writers of the “Truth and Consequences” column have been writing about culture, a category that includes everything from great literature to awful TV, from family values to moral collapse. What Tabletalk has been serving up over three decades is not just Bible study but more broadly, truth.

     “Truth” is a word that these days nearly always comes with quotation marks around it. Many people today believe there isn’t such a thing. There was a time when the major apologetic issue was whether it is true that God exists. Today, the apologist must deal with an even more fundamental issue, whether truth exists.

     Thirty years ago, when Tabletalk first got started, truth was somewhat more popular. But, to allude to the title of a book on the subject, the last three decades have seen a significant truth decay. And a person’s or a culture’s view of truth has consequences.

     In the premodern days — say, from the ancient Greeks through the rise of Christianity, the Reformation, the seventeenth century, and in some circles beyond — there were all kinds of truth. Reason leads us to some truth. Scientific experiments lead to other truths. Some truths, such as those having to do with the God of Israel, can only be known through revelation.

     But a moral principle also had the equivalent status of truth. “Thou shalt not steal” and “Thou shalt not commit adultery” were understood to be transcendent, objective, and as valid as any other fact.

     Even aesthetic principles were equivalent to truth. Beauty was an objective quality in a work of art or of nature. Some works of art really were understood to be better than others. Not as just a matter of subjective personal taste, but as a matter of objective reality. “The true,” “the good,” and “the beautiful” constituted the three “absolutes.” Truth, goodness, and beauty were objectively valid categories in the external universe.

     The consequences of believing in all of these different kinds of truths, plus the objective reality of morals and aesthetic standards were, to put it briefly, Western civilization. That is to say, education and law; Bach, Rembrandt, and Shakespeare; the Reformation and America.

     Then in the eighteenth century came the Enlightenment, the Age of Reason. The great range of truths became restricted to only one. Reason alone became the only authority for discerning what is true. Then, in the nineteenth century, only one kind of reason passed muster: scientific reasoning. Only what can be empirically verified through experimentation and other applications of the scientific method could have the status of truth.

     This was “modernism.” In these centuries, older premodern notions, such as Christianity, with their more generous openness to different kinds of truth, still exerted their influence. But in the twentieth century, modernist scientism reigned supreme.

     This narrow-minded view of truth had consequences. If only what can be empirically sensed and measured can be true, the universe shrank to what the senses can perceive. The material world was assumed to be all there is.

     Furthermore, other kinds of knowledge had to be translated into material, empirically detectable terms. No one can see a moral absolute, let alone put it in a test tube. So morality became utilitarianism: something is good if it is materially useful.

     But if modernists restricted the range of what could be considered true to only one category, the postmodernists — whose reign began in the 1960s and became dominant when Tabletalk was first getting started — took the next step.

     Postmodernists believe there are no absolutes at all. Truth is not a discovery, but a construction. Some say that truth is a cultural construction, so that our beliefs about reality are all forced on us as we grow up in a culture. We think what and how we do because of our culture, and those notions, in turn, are expressions of power, allowing one group (males or whites or heterosexuals or humanoids) to oppress another group (women or racial minorities or gays or animals). Others say that truth is an individual construction, that by our will we create our own reality, so that what is true for you may not be true for me.

     Believing that truth is nothing more than a construction has consequences: Morality is “pro-choice”; there is no moral principle applicable to everyone, so whatever a person “chooses” is right for him or her.

     In religion, whatever a person “chooses” to believe is right for that person. Religion has to do not with what is true, but what one wants. All religions are equally valid. And truth has nothing to do with it.

     In education, if there is no truth, what is there to teach and what is there to learn? Thus our current educational crisis.

     Tabletalk reminds us that despite our personal and cultural denials, truth exists after all. And that Christians can be confident that truth is on God’s side.

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     Dr. Gene Edward Veith is provost emeritus and professor of literature emeritus at Patrick Henry College and director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Ind.

Gene Edward Veith Books:

Our Daily Bread on Steroids

By R.C. Sproul Jr. 5/1/2007

     Over the years, Tabletalk has been called all sorts of things. At first, it was more homey than glossy, giving the appearance of having been mimeographed in some back room. It was, early on, and appropriately so, in a word, amateurish. As those who worked on the magazine became more polished in their craft, the magazine in turn slowly became more polished, some might even have called it, professional. On a few occasions Tabletalk took strong stands on issues that divided and still divide the Reformed camp, and so Tabletalk has been called doctrinaire, or dogmatic. Tabletalk has always been substantive, such that one friend, and he meant it as a compliment, called Tabletalk “Our Daily Bread on steroids.” Tabletalk has never, as far as I can recall, been called weak, uncommitted, or slick. As far as I can recall, no one has ever suggested that Tabletalk was guilty of pandering, of ear-tickling, of playing it safe. No one has ever suggested that Tabletalk was a magazine looking for a parade to get out in front of. And I pray that such will never be the case.

     Wisdom, in the Bible, can be terribly confusing for those of us who are fools. The Proverbs enjoin us, for instance, that we ought not to answer a fool according to his folly, lest we also be like him. Then, in the very next line it tells us that we ought to answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes (Prov. 26:4–5). Which is it? This, of course, is the nature of wisdom, as even our uninspired aphorisms seem often double-minded. After all, will we be lost for hesitating, or would it be more prudent to look before we leap? Even Jesus gives us wisdom of this sort, telling us both that we ought to be as wise as serpents, and that we should be as harmless as doves. Wisdom is the ability to know your circumstances, and knowing which nugget ought to be applied in which circumstance.

     In our day, for instance, we are awash in Christians zealous to be as wise as serpents. Unfortunately, we are likewise awash in Christians suffering from serpent bites. The evangelical church, over the last fifty or so years, has increasingly come to lean not upon its own understanding, but upon the understanding of the world. They have taken their cues for spreading the evangel from Madison Avenue. They have been consumed by what Neil Postman calls “technopoly,” a culture driven by the application of technology to every human problem. The church-growth movement is the poster child of this tendency. But it is far from the only manifestation.

     Evangelical language itself has been reshaped by technology. We have taken it upon ourselves to mold and nuance our message wherever we put it out, lest we offend our audience. Sin is no longer rebellion against the living God. It has been reduced down to at best failures, and at worst, mistakes. God Himself has been given a makeover. That the broader evangelical church seeks to hide the holiness of God not only from those outside the camp, but from those within, is the very reason for the existence of Ligonier Ministries. I once had a conversation with a man, who though he was as innocent as a dove, got his wisdom from a rather “wise” and crafty serpent. “Why can’t we,” he asked me, “sell the holiness of God by pointing out to people the truth that as they understand the holiness of God their lives, their marriages, their relationships would be changed for the better?” I explained, “The moment the holiness of God becomes a means to an end, it ceases to be the holiness of God.”

     Jesus is utterly unimpressed with our strategies. He has never sat on His hands, waiting to bless His people and their labors, until we got clever enough. He has, however, refused to bless when we lean on our own understanding. That is why He gave us His strategy. It is stark in its simplicity: Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness.

     Our hope is that Tabletalk will continue to be a help to the people of God for the next thirty years. For that to happen, Tabletalk will have to be financially viable. We hope that our readership will double, triple, that ten times as many people will be reading Tabletalk in thirty years as read it now. We hope we will have all the tools we need to not just meet the status quo, but to improve the magazine. But these are the “all these things” that will be added, only if we seek first His kingdom and His righteousness. We could make Tabletalk safe. We could grow our audience a hundredfold. We could write gentle platitudes that communicate that God is safe, we are safe. We could publish the equivalent of a monthly lullaby. And all we would lose is the blessing of God. All we would do is have our lampstand removed. All we would do is destroy the very reason for our existence.

     We may, over the next thirty years, take the wrong side of an intramural debate in the Reformed world. We may, during that span, be more dogmatic than we ought from time to time. Never let it be said, however, that Tabletalk is safe. For of such is not the kingdom of God.

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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

Right Now Counts Forever

By R.C. Sproul 4/1/2007

     The following article first appeared in the May 1977 issue of Tabletalk magazine.

     This column’s title, “Right Now Counts Forever” is designed to focus attention on the relevancy of our present lives to the eternal destinies we all face.

     We live in a culture that places the stress on “right now.” It’s called the “Pepsi Generation”; we are told to live life with “gusto” because we “only go around once.” Short-range goals, pragmatic methods of problem solving, a quiet hysteria to make it happen “now,” all point to modern man’s despair regarding the future. The unspoken assumption is that it’s “now or never” because there is no ultimate future for mankind.

     Our Christian assertion is that there is more to our lives than “now.” If there is not, then even the “now” is meaningless. But we say now counts. Why? Now counts because we are creatures who have an origin and a destiny that is rooted and grounded in God.

     Did I write “rooted?” Why is that word so important? Recently we’ve experienced a cultural phenomenon of epic proportions. The televised drama, Roots, has already had a shaking effect on our people. Can we explain the national reaction to Kunta Kinte and racial strife? I don’t think so. Neither does Alex Haley. Roots typifies a problem that transcends race. It is the problem of identity for all of modern man. Who am I?

     The question of identity can never be answered merely in terms of the present. To know who I am involved a discovery of my past (my origin) and at least a glimpse of my future (my destiny). If I am a cosmic accident springing from the dust and destined for more dust, then I am nothing. I am a joke — a tale told by an idiot. But if my ultimate roots are grounded in eternity and my destiny is anchored in that same eternity, then I know something of who I am. I know I am a creature of eternal significance. If that’s so then my life counts. What I do today counts forever. Now, the “now” means something.

     Roots stirred us deeply because it provoked the hope that if we go back far enough we might find continuity and stability. Roots had its messiah figure in Chicken George. The program went through an entire episode with Chicken George never visibly present. Yet his “invisible presence” permeated every scene. I have never seen a television production where a character was so obviously present while not appearing on the screen. When George did appear he led his family in a new exodus to a new land of promise. Roots looked backward and forward in such a way as to give the present meaning.

     As T.V. treated us to Roots, so Hollywood has treated us to Rocky. This film has captured the public imagination in a fresh way. Perhaps it represents merely an exercise in nostalgia, a throw back to Frank Merriwell and the original happy ending. Or perhaps it represents a protest to the age of the anti-hero and the story line of chaos that characterizes modern filmdom. Whatever the motive, the movie reflects not in the Cinderella motif but the portrayal of human sensitivity displayed in Rocky’s mercy as a bill collector for the loan shark and his tenderness on the ice rink.

     Applaudable warmth is seen in Rocky’s “Lennie-like” love for animals and wayward teenagers and his sentiment for his manager. The fruit of discipline, endurances, and devotion to dignity are actually cast in roles of virtue. Rocky worked and fought not for a momentary prize but for a stand of valor that lasts.

     Maybe Rocky is a milestone. Maybe we are beginning to see there is more to life than Pepsi-cola. It’s not now or never, but now and forever. Right now counts — for eternity.

     It has been thirty years since I penned my initial essay under the byline “Right Now Counts Forever.” It was in the decade of the ’70s, at a time when our culture was still reeling from the deleterious effects of the war in Vietnam, and even more significantly from the radical moral revolution that marked the decade of the 1960s. History has shown that that moral revolution of the ’60s has introduced far more change into life in the United States than the political revolution of the 1770s. Our culture was described in the ’70s as one that was strongly influenced by secularism. The principal motif of secularism is that life is cut off from eternity. All life must be lived in the here and the now, in this saeculum, for there is no eternal dimension. On the heels of secularism came the philosophy of relativism. Though relativism was embraced on many sides in the 1970s, it has since become so firmly entrenched in our culture that the estimated number of Americans embracing some form of philosophical or moral relativism reaches over 95 percent. In this regard, our culture has moved from what was then called neo-paganism to a culture now of neo-barbarianism. Though Roe v. Wade was already in place when I penned my first essay, the proliferation of abortion on demand, which reaches a million and a half a year, has so marked our culture as a culture of death that all vestigial remnants of our civilized culture die with the death of every unborn baby. Our nation is a nation at war with itself, where values, family, and morality so split asunder families and counties, states, and the nation, that the unified basis of our former civilization has been shattered.

     One thing, however, has not changed in the past thirty years, and that is the fact that because God reigns, everything that happens today has consequences that last well into eternity. It is as true today as it was the first time I picked up the pen for my byline, that what happens right now counts forever. Let the culture be paganized, let the culture be barbarian, but let the church be the church and never negotiate the eternal dimension of life.

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

R.C. Sproul Books:

For Thine is the Kingdom

By Steven Lawson 6/1/2007

     All things are for the glory of God! This driving passion was the very heartbeat of the Lord Jesus Christ, the highest aim He sought, the loftiest goal He pursued. All things in life and ministry, He taught, are to be solely for the glory of God.

     Nowhere is this God-centered focus more clearly evidenced than in what Christ taught regarding prayer. To this end, all intercession before the throne of God must begin and end with resounding praise to Him. The Alpha and Omega of prayer must be for the glory of God.

     Unfortunately, prayer today has often devolved into a self-centered pursuit that is fueled by the fulfilling of one’s indulgences. This “prosperity gospel” has denigrated prayer into nothing more than a “name it and claim it” shopping excursion. In this abuse of privileged access, God’s glory is all too forgotten.

     But as Jesus Christ taught His disciples, the primary focus of prayer is for one to be riveted upon the supreme glory of God. As our Lord gave instruction regarding how to pray, He was unequivocal in teaching us to ascribe all glory to God. Everything must yield to the glory of God! In Matthew 6:13, Jesus stated our prayers should conclude: “For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen” (nkjv).

     The above is quoted in the New King James Version, a translation based upon the Textus Receptus. In this passage, we encounter a textual problem, one that has been debated throughout the centuries. As such, many translations handle this portion of Scripture in varying ways. For example, the New American Standard Bible places these words in brackets. The English Standard Version and New International Version omit this part of the verse altogether. For our purposes, however, we will consider these concluding words to the Lord’s Prayer as a part of the biblical text.

     This climactic doxology begins with a passionate declaration of God’s sovereignty. When a believer prays, Jesus said, he should conclude by affirming, “For Yours is the kingdom.” This robust pronouncement asserts that God both possesses and presides over His vast kingdom. He is the sovereign king, who exercises supreme authority and unrestricted dominion over an immense empire. Certainly, this reign includes both the realm of providence and the sphere of salvation. He commands all the affairs of mankind, even the intricate inner workings of the entire universe. From His throne above, God “works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Eph. 1:11).

     Further, Jesus taught His disciples that when they pray, they should declare that “the power” belongs to God. The definite article defines the infinite scope of His sovereignty. He possesses not a mere portion of some power, but the power. That is to say, He has all power in heaven and earth. All that God’s supreme will chooses to do, He has the omnipotence to execute it fully. Nothing can hinder the free exercise of His sovereign pleasure.

     What is more, every prayer should climax with a vibrant declaration of God’s glory. Jesus said that our prayers should crescendo with this announcement that all glory belongs to God. Because the kingdom and the power belong to God, all glory rightfully belongs to Him.

     The Bible speaks of God’s glory in two ways. His intrinsic glory is the revelation of all that God is. It is the sum total of all His divine perfections and holy attributes. There is nothing that man can do to add to the intrinsic glory of God. He is who He is. Additionally, there is God’s ascribed glory, which is the glory that is given to Him. This is the praise and honor due His name. Such glory is to be ascribed to Him alone.

     Here, at the end of the Lord’s Prayer, we find Christ referencing ascribed glory. In direct response to His vast sovereignty and unlimited power, all glory must be rendered to Him. In essence, such a high theology produces a high doxology. It is only fitting that this God, who is so awesome, be adorned in prayer.

     Fervent praise, Jesus said, should come to God “forever.” Because His kingdom and power is without end, so must our praise be without ceasing. Every moment of life must be filled with praise, both now and throughout all eternity.

     Finally, Jesus taught His disciples to conclude their prayers with the sure attestation, “Amen.” This familiar word comes from a Hebrew root meaning to be firm and secure. “Amen” eventually came to mean: “It is immovably true.” Likewise, this should be our concluding response to God in prayer. Amen to all that we know to be true about God. Amen to His eternal kingdom. Amen to His sovereign will. Amen to His daily bread. Amen to His pardoning grace. Amen to His delivering power.

     All prayer should build and rise to this lofty summit. We should conclude by fervently affirming that the kingdom, the power, and the glory belong exclusively to Him forever. Our only response must resoundingly be — amen!

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     Steven J. Lawson is president of OnePassion Ministries, a ministry designed to bring about biblical reformation in the church today, as well as the Professor of Preaching in the masters and doctoral programs at The Master's Seminary, Sun Valley, California.

Steven J. Lawson Books:

Read The Psalms In "1" Year

Psalm 47

God Is Kings Over All The Earth
47 To The Choirmaster. A Psalm Of The Sons Of Korah.

5 God has gone up with a shout,
the LORD with the sound of a trumpet.
6 Sing praises to God, sing praises!
Sing praises to our King, sing praises!
7 For God is the King of all the earth;
sing praises with a psalm!
8 God reigns over the nations;
God sits on his holy throne.
9 The princes of the peoples gather
as the people of the God of Abraham.
For the shields of the earth belong to God;
he is highly exalted!

ESV Study Bible

Numbers 17-18; Psalm 55; Isaiah 7; James 1

By Don Carson 5/9/2018

     At one level, the brief account in Numbers 17 wraps up the report of the rebellions in the previous chapter. God wishes to rid himself of the constant grumbling of the Israelites as they challenge Aaron’s priestly authority (17:5). So the staff of the ancestral leader of each tribe is carefully labeled and then secreted by Moses, as directed, in the tabernacle, the “Tent of Testimony.” God declares, in advance, that the staff belonging to the man he chooses will sprout.

     Moses does as he is told. The next morning he fetches the twelve staffs. Aaron’s staff, and only his staff, has budded — indeed, it has budded, blossomed, and produced almonds. This staff, by God’s instruction, is preserved for posterity. As for the Israelites, it dawns on them that their rebellion was not just against a couple of men, Aaron and Moses, but against the living God. Now they cry, “We will die! We are lost, we are all lost! Anyone who even comes near the tabernacle of the LORD will die. Are we all going to die?” (17:12-13).

     What shall we make of this account?

     (1) The response of the Israelites is partly good, but is still horribly deficient. It is good in that this event, at least for the time being, prompts them to see that their rebellion was not against Moses and Aaron alone, but against the living God. Fear of God can be a good thing. Yet this sounds more like the cringing fear of people who do not know God very well. They are afraid of being destroyed, but they are not in consequence more devoted to God. In Numbers 20 and 21, the people are whining and grumbling again; this miraculous display of the staff that budded settled nothing for very long. That, too, is horribly realistic: the church has a long history of powerful revivals that have been dissipated or prostituted within a short space of time.

     (2) One must ask why God attaches so much importance to the fact that only the designated high priest may perform the priestly duties. We must not infer that this is the way we should defer to all Christian leaders. Within the canonical framework, much more than this is at stake in the account of Aaron’s rod that budded. The point is that only God’s prescribed high priest is acceptable to God for discharging the priestly office. As the opening lines of Numbers 18 make clear, only Aaron and his sons are to “bear the responsibility for offenses against the sanctuary and . . . priesthood.” The New Testament insists, “No one takes the honor upon himself; he must be called by God, just as Aaron was” (Heb. 5:4). So also Christ (Heb. 5:5)! Only God’s appointed priest will do.

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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:

The Institutes of the Christian Religion

Translated by Henry Beveridge

     6. Besides these, other two dreams have been invented by men who indulge a wicked curiosity. Some, under the idea that the whole man perishes, have thought that the soul will rise again with the body; while others, admitting that spirits are immortal, hold that they will be clothed with new bodies, and thus deny the resurrection of the flesh. Having already adverted to the former point when speaking of the creation of man, it will be sufficient again to remind the reader how groveling an error it is to convert a spirit, formed after the image of God, into an evanescent breath, which animates the body only during this fading life, and to reduce the temple of the Holy Spirit to nothing; in short, to rob of the badge of immortality that part of ourselves in which the divinity is most Refulgent and the marks of immortality conspicuous, so as to make the condition of the body better and more excellent than that of the soul. Very different is the course taken by Scripture, which compares the body to a tabernacle, from which it describes us as migrating when we die, because it estimates us by that part which distinguishes us from the lower animals. Thus Peter, in reference to his approaching death, says, "Knowing that shortly I must put off this my tabernacle," (2 Pet. 1:14). Paul, again, speaking of believers, after saying, "If our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God," adds, "Whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord," (2 Cor. 5:1, 6). Did not the soul survive the body, how could it be present with the Lord on being separated from the body? But an Apostle removes all doubt when he says that we go "to the spirits of just men made perfect," (Heb. 12:23); by these words meaning, that we are associated with the holy patriarchs, who, even when dead, cultivate the same piety, so that we cannot be the members of Christ unless we unite with them. And did not the soul, when unclothed from the body, retain its essence, and be capable of beatific glory, our Savior would not have said to the thief, "Today shalt thou be with me in paradise," (Luke 23:43). Trusting to these clear proofs, let us doubt not, after the example of our Savior, to commend our spirits to God when we come to die, or after the example of Stephen, to commit ourselves to the protection of Christ, who, with good reason, is called "The Shepherd and Bishop" of our souls (Acts 7:59; 1 Pet. 2:25). Moreover, to pry curiously into their intermediate state is neither lawful nor expedient (see Calv. Psychopannychia). Many greatly torment themselves with discussing what place they occupy, and whether or not they already enjoy celestial glory. It is foolish and rash to inquire into hidden things, farther than God permits us to know. Scripture, after telling that Christ is present with them, and receives them into paradise (John 12:32), and that they are comforted, while the souls of the reprobate suffer the torments which they have merited goes no farther. What teacher or doctor will reveal to us what God has concealed? As to the place of abode, the question is not less futile and inept, since we know that the dimension of the soul is not the same as that of the body. [514] When the abode of blessed spirits is designated as the bosom of Abraham, it is plain that, on quitting this pilgrimage, they are received by the common father of the faithful, who imparts to them the fruit of his faith. Still, since Scripture uniformly enjoins us to look with expectation to the advent of Christ, and delays the crown of glory till that period, let us be contented with the limits divinely prescribed to us--viz. that the souls of the righteous, after their warfare is ended, obtain blessed rest where in joy they wait for the fruition of promised glory, and that thus the final result is suspended till Christ the Redeemer appear. There can be no doubt that the reprobate have the same doom as that which Jude assigns to the devils, they are "reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day," (Jude ver. 6).

7. Equally monstrous is the error of those who imagine that the soul, instead of resuming the body with which it is now clothed, will obtain a new and different body. Nothing can be more futile than the reason given by the Manichees--viz. that it were incongruous for impure flesh to rise again: as if there were no impurity in the soul; and yet this does not exclude it from the hope of heavenly life. It is just as if they were to say, that what is infected by the taint of sin cannot be divinely purified; for I now say nothing to the delirious dream that flesh is naturally impure as having been created by the devil. I only maintain, that nothing in us at present, which is unworthy of heaven, is any obstacle to the resurrection. But, first, Paul enjoins believers to purify themselves from "all filthiness of the flesh and spirit," (2 Cor. 7:1 the judgment which is to follow, that every one shall "receive the things done in his body, according to that he has done, whether it be good or bad," (2 Cor. 5:10). With this accords what he says to the Corinthians, "That the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body," (2 Cor. 4:10). For which reason he elsewhere says, "I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ," (1 Thess. 5:23). He says "body" as well as "spirit and soul," and no wonder; for it were most absurd that bodies which God has dedicated to himself as temples should fall into corruption without hope of resurrection. What? are they not also the members of Christ? Does he not pray that God would sanctify every part of them, and enjoin them to celebrate his name with their tongues, lift up pure hands, and offer sacrifices? That part of man, therefore, which the heavenly Judge so highly honors, what madness is it for any mortal man to reduce to dust without hope of revival? In like manner, when Paul exhorts, "glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's," he certainly does not allow that that which he claims for God as sacred is to be adjudged to eternal corruption. Nor, indeed, on any subject does Scripture furnish clearer explanation than on the resurrection of our flesh. "This corruptible (says Paul) must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality," (1 Cor. 15:53). If God formed new bodies, where would be this change of quality? If it were said that we must be renewed, the ambiguity of the expression might, perhaps, afford room for cavil; but here pointing with the finger to the bodies with which we are clothed, and promising that they shall be incorruptible, he very plainly affirms that no new bodies are to be fabricated. "Nay," as Tertullian says, "he could not have spoken more expressly, if he had held his skin in his hands," (Tertull. de Resurrect. Carnis). Nor can any cavil enable them to evade the force of another passage, in which saying that Christ will be the Judge of the world, he quotes from Isaiah, "As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me," (Rom. 14:11; Isa. 45:23); since he openly declares that those whom he was addressing will have to give an account of their lives. This could not be true if new bodies were to be sisted to the tribunal. Moreover, there is no ambiguity in the words of Daniel, "Many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt," (Dan. 12:2); since he does not bring new matter from the four elements to compose men, but calls forth the dead from their graves. And the reason which dictates this is plain. For if death, which originated in the fall of man, is adventitious, the renewal produced by Christ must be in the same body which began to be mortal. And, certainly, since the Athenians mocked Paul for asserting the resurrection (Acts 17:32), we may infer what his preaching was: their derision is of no small force to confirm our faith. The saying of our Savior also is worthy of observation, "Fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell," (Mt. 10:28). Here there would be no ground for fear; were not the body which we now have liable to punishment. Nor is another saying of our Savior less obscure, "The hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation," (John 5:28, 29). Shall we say that the soul rests in the grave, that it may there hear the voice of Christ, and not rather that the body shall at his command resume the vigor which it had lost? Moreover, if we are to receive new bodies, where will be the conformity of the Head and the members? Christ rose again. Was it by forming for himself a new body? Nay, he had foretold, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up," (John 2:19). The mortal body which he had formerly carried he again received; for it would not have availed us much if a new body had been substituted, and that which had been offered in expiatory sacrifice been destroyed. We must, therefore, attend to that connection which the Apostle celebrates, that we rise because Christ rose (1 Cor. 15:12); nothing being less probable than that the flesh in which we bear about the dying of Christ, shall have no share in the resurrection of Christ. This was even manifested by a striking example, when, at the resurrection of Christ, many bodies of the saints came forth from their graves. For it cannot be denied that this was a prelude, or rather earnest, of the final resurrection for which we hope, such as already existed in Enoch and Elijah, whom Tertullian calls candidates for resurrection, because, exempted from corruption, both in body and soul, they were received into the custody of God.

8. I am ashamed to waste so many words on so clear a matter; but my readers will kindly submit to the annoyance, in order that perverse and presumptuous minds may not be able to avail themselves of any flaw to deceive the simple. The volatile spirits with whom I now dispute adduce the fiction of their own brain, that in the resurrection there will be a creation of new bodies. Their only reason for thinking so is, that it seems to them incredible that a dead body, long wasted by corruption, should return to its former state. Therefore, mere unbelief is the parent of their opinion. The Spirit of God, on the contrary, uniformly exhorts us in Scripture to hope for the resurrection of our flesh. For this reason Baptism is, according to Paul, a seal of our future resurrection; and in like manner the holy Supper invites us confidently to expect it, when with our mouths we receive the symbols of spiritual grace. And certainly the whole exhortation of Paul, "Yield ye your members as instruments of righteousness unto God," (Rom. 6:13), would be frigid, did he not add, as he does in another passage, "He that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies," (Rom. 8:11). For what would it avail to apply feet, hands, eyes, and tongues, to the service of God, did not these afterwards participate in the benefit and reward? This Paul expressly confirms when he says, "The body is not for fornication, but for the Lord; and the Lord for the body. And God has both raised up the Lord, and will also raise up us by his own power," (1 Cor. 6:13, 14). The words which follow are still clearer, "Know ye not that your bodies are the members of Christ?" "Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost?" (1 Cor. 6:15, 19). Meanwhile, we see how he connects the resurrection with chastity and holiness, as he shortly after includes our bodies in the purchase of redemption. It would be inconsistent with reason, that the body, in which Paul bore the marks of his Savior, and in which he magnificently extolled him (Gal. 6:17), should lose the reward of the crown. Hence he glories thus, "Our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body," (Phil. 3:20, 21). As it is true, "That we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God," (Acts 14:22); so it were unreasonable that this entrance should be denied to the bodies which God exercises under the banner of the cross and adorns with the palm of victory.

Accordingly, the saints never entertained any doubt that they would one day be the companions of Christ, who transfers to his own person all the afflictions by which we are tried, that he may show their quickening power. [515] Nay, under the law, God trained the holy patriarch in this belief, by means of an external ceremony. For to what end was the rite of burial, as we have already seen, unless to teach that new life was prepared for the bodies thus deposited? Hence, also, the spices and other symbols of immortality, by which under the law the obscurity of the doctrine was illustrated in the same way as by sacrifices. That custom was not the offspring of superstition, since we see that the Spirit is not less careful in narrating burials than in stating the principal mysteries of the faith. Christ commends these last offices as of no trivial importance (Mt. 16:10), and that, certainly, for no other reason than just that they raise our eyes from the view of the tombs which corrupts and destroys all things, to the prospect of renovation. Besides, that careful observance of the ceremony for which the patriarchs are praised, sufficiently proves that they found in it a special and valuable help to their faith. Nor would Abraham have been so anxious about the burial of his wife (Gen. 23:4, 19), had not the religious views and something superior to any worldly advantage, been present to his mind; in other words, by adorning her dead body with the insignia of the resurrection, he confirmed his own faith, and that of his family. A clearer proof of this appears in the example of Jacob, who, to testify to his posterity that even death did not destroy the hope of the promised land, orders his bones to be carried thither. Had he been to be clothed with a new body would it not have been ridiculous in him to give commands concerning a dust which was to be reduced to nothing? Wherefore, if Scripture has any authority with us, we cannot desire a clearer or stronger proof of any doctrine. Even tyros understand this to be the meaning of the words, resurrection, and raising up. A thing which is created for the first time cannot be said to rise again; nor could our Savior have said, "This is the Father's will which has sent me, that of all which he has given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day," (John 6:39). The same is implied in the word sleeping, which is applicable only to the body. Hence, too, the name of cemetery, applied to burying-grounds.

It remains to make a passing remark on the mode of resurrection. I speak thus because Paul, by styling it a mystery, exhorts us to soberness, in order that he may curb a licentious indulgence in free and subtle speculation. First, we must hold, as has already been observed, that the body in which we shall rise will be the same as at present in respect of substance, but that the quality will be different; just as the body of Christ which was raised up was the same as that which had been offered in sacrifice, and yet excelled in other qualities, as if it had been altogether different. This Paul declares by familiar examples (1 Cor. 15:39). For as the flesh of man and of beasts is the same in substance, but not in quality: as all the stars are made of the same matter, but have different degrees of brightness: so he shows, that though we shall retain the substance of the body, there will be a change, by which its condition will become much more excellent. The corruptible body, therefore, in order that we may be raised, will not perish or vanish away, but, divested of corruption, will be clothed with incorruption. Since God has all the elements at his disposal, no difficulty can prevent him from commanding the earth, the fire, and the water, to give up what they seem to have destroyed. This, also, though not without figure, Isaiah testifies, "Behold, the Lore comes out of his place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity: the earth also shall disclose her blood, and shall no more cover her slain," (Isa. 26:21). But a distinction must be made between those who died long ago, and those who on that day shall be found alive. For as Paul declares, "We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed," (1 Cor. 15:51); that is, it will not be necessary that a period should elapse between death and the beginning of the second life, for in a moment of time, in the twinkling of an eye, the trumpet shall sound, raising up the dead incorruptible, and, by a sudden change, fitting those who are alive for the same glory. So, in another passage, he comforts believers who were to undergo death, telling them that those who are then alive shall not take precedence of the dead, because those who have fallen asleep in Christ shall rise first (1 Thess. 4:15). Should any one urge the Apostle's declaration, "It is appointed unto all men once to die," (Heb. 9:27), the solution is easy, that when the natural state is changed there is an appearance of death, which is fitly so denominated, and, therefore, there is no inconsistency in the two things--viz. that all when divested of their mortal body shall be renewed by death; and yet that where the change is sudden, there will be no necessary separation between the soul and the body.

9. But a more difficult question here arises, How can the resurrection, which is a special benefit of Christ, be common to the ungodly, who are lying under the curse of God? We know that in Adam all died. Christ has come to be the resurrection and the life (John 11:25). is it to revive the whole human race indiscriminately? But what more incongruous than that the ungodly in their obstinate blindness should obtain what the pious worshipers of God receive by faith only? It is certain, therefore, that there will be one resurrection to judgment, and another to life, and that Christ will come to separate the kids from the goats (Mt. 25:32). I observe, that this ought not to seem very strange, seeing something resembling it occurs every day. We know that in Adam we were deprived of the inheritance of the whole world, and that the same reason which excludes us from eating of the tree of life excludes us also from common food. How comes it, then, that God not only makes his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, but that, in regard to the uses of the present life, his inestimable liberality is constantly flowing forth in rich abundance? Hence we certainly perceive, that things which are proper to Christ and his members, abound to the wicked also; not that their possession is legitimate, but that they may thus be rendered more inexcusable. Thus the wicked often experience the beneficence of God, not in ordinary measures, but such as sometimes throw all the blessings of the godly into the shade, though they eventually lead to greater damnation. Should it be objected, that the resurrection is not properly compared to fading and earthly blessings, I again answer, that when the devils were first alienated from God, the fountain of life, they deserved to be utterly destroyed; yet, by the admirable counsel of God, an intermediate state was prepared, where without life they might live in death. It ought not to seem in any respect more absurd that there is to be an adventitious resurrection of the ungodly which will drag them against their will before the tribunal of Christ, whom they now refuse to receive as their master and teacher. To be consumed by death would be a light punishment were they not, in order to the punishment of their rebellion, to be sisted before the Judge whom they have provoked to a vengeance without measure and without end. But although we are to hold, as already observed and as is contained in the celebrated confession of Paul to Felix, "That there shall be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and unjust," (Acts 24:15); yet Scripture more frequently sets forth the resurrection as intended, along with celestial glory, for the children of God only: because, properly speaking, Christ comes not for the destruction, but for the salvation of the world: and, therefore, in the Creed the life of blessedness only is mentioned.

10. But since the prophecy that death shall be swallowed up in victory (Hosea 13:14), will then only be completed, let us always remember that the end of the resurrection is eternal happiness, of whose excellence scarcely the minutest part can be described by all that human tongues can say. For though we are truly told that the kingdom of God will be full of light, and gladness, and felicity, and glory, yet the things meant by these words remain most remote from sense, and as it were involved in enigma, until the day arrive on which he will manifest his glory to us face to face (1 Cor. 15:54). "Now" says John, "are we the sons of God; and it does not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is," (1 John 3:2). Hence, as the prophets were unable to give a verbal description of that spiritual blessedness, they usually delineated it by corporeal objects. On the other hand, because the fervor of desire must be kindled in us by some taste of its sweetness, let us specially dwell upon this thought, If God contains in himself as an inexhaustible fountain all fulness of blessing, those who aspire to the supreme good and perfect happiness must not long for any thing beyond him. This we are taught in several passages, "Fear not, Abraham; I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward," (Gen. 15:1). With this accords David's sentiment, "The Lord is the portion of mine inheritance, and of my cup: thou maintainest my lot. The lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places," (Ps. 16:5, 6). Again, "I shall be satisfied when I awake with thy likeness," (Ps. 17:15). Peter declares that the purpose for which believers are called is, that they may be "partakers of the divine nature," (2 Pet. 1:4). How so? Because "he shall come to be glorified in his saints and to be admired in all them that believe," (2 Thess. 1:10). If our Lord will share his glory, power, and righteousness, with the elect, nay, will give himself to be enjoyed by them; and what is better still, will, in a manner, become one with them, let us remember that every kind of happiness is herein included. But when we have made great progress in thus meditating, let us understand that if the conceptions of our minds be contrasted with the sublimity of the mystery, we are still halting at the very entrance. [516] The more necessary is it for us to cultivate sobriety in this matter, lest unmindful of our feeble capacity we presume to take too lofty a flight, and be overwhelmed by the brightness of the celestial glory. We feel how much we are stimulated by an excessive desire of knowing more than is given us to know, and hence frivolous and noxious questions are ever and anon springing forth: by frivolous, I mean questions from which no advantage can be extracted. But there is a second class which is worse than frivolous; because those who indulge in them involve themselves in hurtful speculations. Hence I call them noxious. The doctrine of Scripture on the subject ought not to be made the ground of any controversy, and it is that as God, in the varied distribution of gifts to his saints in this world, gives them unequal degrees of light, so when he shall crown his gifts, their degrees of glory in heaven will also be unequal. When Paul says, "Ye are our glory and our joy," (1 Thess. 2:20), his words do not apply indiscriminately to all; nor do those of our Savior to his apostles, "Ye also shall sit on twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel," (Mt. 19:28). But Paul, who knew that as God enriches the saints with spiritual gifts in this world, he will in like manner adorn them with glory in heaven, hesitates not to say, that a special crown is laid up for him in proportion to his labors. Our Savior, also, to commend the dignity of the office which he had conferred on the apostles, reminds them that the fruit of it is laid up in heaven. This, too, Daniel says, "They that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever," (Dan. 12:3). Any one who attentively considers the Scriptures will see not only that they promise eternal life to believers, but a special reward to each. Hence the expression of Paul, "The Lord grant unto him that he may find mercy of the Lord in that day," (2 Tim. 1:18; 4:14). This is confirmed by our Savior's promise, that they "shall receive an hundredfold and shall inherit everlasting life," (Mt. 19:29). In short, as Christ, by the manifold variety of his gifts, begins the glory of his body in this world, and gradually increases it, so he will complete it in heaven.

11. While all the godly with one consent will admit this, because it is sufficiently attested by the word of God, they will, on the other hand, avoid perplexing questions which they feel to be a hindrance in their way, and thus keep within the prescribed limits. In regard to myself, I not only individually refrain from a superfluous investigation of useless matters, but also think myself bound to take care that I do not encourage the levity of others by answering them. Men puffed up with vain science are often inquiring how great the difference will be between prophets and apostles, and again, between apostles and martyrs; by how many degrees virgins will surpass those who are married; in short, they leave not a corner of heaven untouched by their speculations. Next it occurs to them to inquire to what end the world is to be repaired, since the children of God will not be in want of any part of this great and incomparable abundance, but will be like the angels, whose abstinence from food is a symbol of eternal blessedness. I answer, that independent of use, there will be so much pleasantness in the very sight, so much delight in the very knowledge, that this happiness will far surpass all the means of enjoyment which are now afforded. Let us suppose ourselves placed in the richest quarter of the globe, where no kind of pleasure is wanting, who is there that is not ever and anon hindered and excluded by disease from enjoying the gifts of God? who does not oftentimes interrupt the course of enjoyment by intemperance? Hence it follows, that fruition, pure and free from all defect, though it be of no use to a corruptible life, is the summit of happiness. Others go further, and ask whether dross and other impurities in metals will have no existence at the restitution, and are inconsistent with it. Though I should go so far as concede this to them, yet I expect with Paul a reparation of those defects which first began with sin, and on account of which the whole creation groaneth and travaileth with pain (Rom. 8:22). Others go a step further, and ask, What better condition can await the human race, since the blessing of offspring shall then have an end? The solution of this difficulty also is easy. When Scripture so highly extols the blessing of offspring, it refers to the progress by which God is constantly urging nature forward to its goal; in perfection itself we know that the case is different. But as such alluring speculations instantly captivate the unwary, who are afterwards led farther into the labyrinth, until at length, every one becoming pleased with his own views there is no limit to disputation, the best and shortest course for us will be to rest contented with seeing through a glass darkly until we shall see face to face. Few out of the vast multitude of mankind feel concerned how they are to get to heaven; all would fain know before the time what is done in heaven. Almost all, while slow and sluggish in entering upon the contest, are already depicting to themselves imaginary triumphs.

12. Moreover, as language cannot describe the severity of the divine vengeance on the reprobate, their pains and torments are figured to us by corporeal things, such as darkness, wailing and gnashing of teeth, inextinguishable fire, the ever-gnawing worm (Mt. 8:12; 22:13; Mark 9:43; Isa. 66:24). It is certain that by such modes of expression the Holy Spirit designed to impress all our senses with dread, as when it is said, "Tophet is ordained of old; yea, for the king it is prepared: he has made it deep and large; the pile thereof is fire and much wood; the breath of the Lord, like a stream of brimstone, does kindle it," (Isa. 30:33). As we thus require to be assisted to conceive the miserable doom of the reprobate, so the consideration on which we ought chiefly to dwell is the fearful consequence of being estranged from all fellowship with God, and not only so, but of feeling that his majesty is adverse to us, while we cannot possibly escape from it. For, first, his indignation is like a raging fire, by whose touch all things are devoured and annihilated. Next, all the creatures are the instruments of his judgment, so that those to whom the Lord will thus publicly manifest his anger will feel that heaven, and earth, and sea, all beings, animate and inanimate, are, as it were, inflamed with dire indignation against them, and armed for their destruction. Wherefore, the Apostle made no trivial declaration, when he said that unbelievers shall be "punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power," (2 Thess. 1:9). And whenever the prophets strike terror by means of corporeal figures, although in respect of our dull understanding there is no extravagance in their language, yet they give preludes of the future judgment in the sun and the moon, and the whole fabric of the world. Hence unhappy consciences find no rest, but are vexed and driven about by a dire whirlwind, feeling as if torn by an angry God, pierced through with deadly darts, terrified by his thunderbolts and crushed by the weight of his hand; so that it were easier to plunge into abysses and whirlpools than endure these terrors for a moment. How fearful, then, must it be to be thus beset throughout eternity! On this subject there is a memorable passage in the ninetieth Psalm: Although God by a mere look scatters all mortals, and brings them to nought, yet as his worshippers are more timid in this world, he urges them the more, that he may stimulate then, while burdened with the cross to press onward until he himself shall be all in all.

END OF BOOK THREE.

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[509] 2 Tim. 1:10; John 5:24; Eph. 2:6, 19; Rom. 7:16-18; Heb. 11:1; 2 Cor. 5:6; Col. 3:3; Titus 2:12.

[510] rench, "nous recevions un povre salaire de nostre lascheté et paresse;"--we receive a poor salary for our carelessness and sloth.

[511] Calvin translates. "Quis scit an hominis anima ascendit sursum?"--Who knows whether the soul of man goes upward?

[512] 101 D101 Chiliasm (from a Greek word meaning "a thousand") arose very early in the history of theology. Some of the early Church Fathers distinguished between a first and a second resurrection, and held that there would be an intervening millennial kingdom in which Christ would reign with His saints upon the earth. This view may be found in Papias, Irenaeus, Barnabas, Hermas, Justin Martyr, and Tertullian (all from the second century). But by the time of Luther and Calvin, the leading theologians (both Roman Catholic and Protestant) had rejected the doctrine of an earthly millennium. Calvin calls it a "fiction," and says that it is "too puerile to need or to deserve refutation."

[513] 102 D102 Calvin's chief objection to "Chiliasm" appears to be alleged limitation, to a period of one thousand years, of the reign of Christ with His saints. A secondary objection arises out of his interpretation of Revelation 20:2-7 (in which the term "thousand years" appears six times) as referring to the Church militant in this world. These objections against "Chiliasm" would today apply only to that view of the last things called Premillennialism. However, if a person held (1) that Christ's kingdom is spiritually present, as He rules in the hearts of His elect; (2) that Christ's kingdom shall have a future, earthly manifestation, when He shall reign with His saints upon the earth; and (3) that Christ's kingdom will not cease at the close of the thousand years, but will merge into eternity; then it would appear that Calvin's chief objection to this view would be removed. Of course, his secondary objection would remain as a difference of hermeneutical (interpretive) approach and method.

[514] French, "La question quant au lieu est bien frivole et sotte: veu que nous savons que l'ame n'a pas ses mesures de long et de large, comme le corps;"--the question as to place is very frivolous and foolish, seeing we know that the sould has no measures of length and breadth like the body.

[515] Latin, "ut vivificas esse doceat"--French, "pour monstrer quells nous meinent à vie;"--to show that they conduct us to life.

[516] French, "Et encore quand nous aurons bien profité en cette meditation, se nous faut il entendre que nous sommes encore tout au bas et à la premiere entree, et que jamais nous n'approcherons durant cette vie à la hautesse de ce mystere."--And still, when we shall have profited much by thus meditating, we must understand that we are still far beneath it, and at the very threshold, and that never during this life shall we approach the height of this mystery.

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



  • Rooted In God's Word
  • Effective Evangelists
  • Expository Preachers


     Devotionals, notes, poetry and more

coram Deo
     3/1/2006    Passionate Complacency

     Sir Edmund Burke is quoted as having said: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing”— a true statement indeed. For as the history of civilization has shown, when we stand by and do nothing, that which is evil always seems to gain the victory.

     However, as the people of God, we understand that evil is not some sort of impersonal entity that exists outside the heart of man. In fact, evil is at the very core of natural man’s being after the fall. We also understand that in our natural condition, none seeks to do good and to bring about true justice.

     Nevertheless, we know that evil will not ultimately triumph. Christ has won the battle, and He has overcome the condemning evil in our hearts, replacing our stony hearts with humble hearts. Herein is the Good News of Christ: Upon the rock of Christ, the Lord Almighty is building His church, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it. This, our forefathers understood well and demonstrated their commitment to Christ as they stood as ardent defenders of the faith amidst a battle that rages to this day.

     Although the enemies of Christ have not ceased in their attempt to destroy the church, God has preserved a remnant of faithful people whom He has raised up to fight the good fight and proclaim His truth. And while the history of God’s people in the United States of America is a magnificent history in many respects, our history is not without great turmoil and persecution. Most Christians in America, however, are unaware of the battles that have been fought for truth and righteousness. They do not know of the great men whom God has raised up as guardians of the faith to proclaim His Word to the wolves in their midst. As a result, so many Christians within evangelical and Reformed churches are unable to appreciate the significance of the battles that are raging all around us. For this reason we have devoted an entire issue of Tabletalk to remind our readers of our glorious heritage as the people of God in America. For as I look out over the landscape of evangelicalism in America, I do not observe a people who are passionate defenders of the faith who live and breathe the Word of God coram Deo. Rather, I see a people who have grown complacent to the faith once delivered to the saints. The prophet Zephaniah proclaimed: “And it shall come to pass at that time that I will search Jerusalem with lamps, and punish the men who are settled in complacency” (Zeph. 1:12 NKJV).

     click here for article source

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

Ligonier     coram Deo (definition)

American Minute
     by Bill Federer

     Mothers were officially honored this day, May 9, 1914, with the first National Mother's Day Proclamation, signed by President Woodrow Wilson. It designated the second Sunday in May as a "public expression of… love and reverence for the mothers of our country." This was due to the life-long efforts of Anna Jarvis, the daughter of a Methodist minister in West Virginia. She organized Mothers' Day Work Clubs to care for wounded Civil War soldiers, both Union and Confederate, raised money for medicine, inspected bottled milk, improved sanitation and hired women to care for families where mothers suffered from tuberculosis.

American Minute

Lean Into God
     Compiled by Rick Adams

When I saw others straining toward God,
I did not understand it,
for though I may have had him less than they did,
there was no one blocking the way
between him and me,
and I could reach his heart easily.
It is up to him,
after all,
to have us,
our part consists of almost solely
in letting him grasp us.
--- Rainer Maria Rilke
Rilke and Benvenuta: An Intimate Correspondence (English and German Edition)

The less we read the Word of God, the less we desire to read it, and the less we pray, the less we desire to pray. --- George Mueller
Works of George Müller

God's gifts put man's best dreams to shame.
--- Elizabeth Barrett Browning
The Complete Poetical Works of Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Strange and unendurable irony — that Friends who speak so much about the Inward Light should so timidly hide their own light under a bushel! The time has come to preach the faith we have resolved to practice. If we have good news for our brothers, and I believe we do, let us shout it from the housetops!
~ John Yungblut, 1913-1995
Quakerism of the Future: Mystical, Prophetic & Evangelical (Pendle Hill Pamphlets Book 194)
... from here, there and everywhere


The Imitation Of Christ
     Thomas A Kempis

     Book Four - An Invitation To Holy Communion

     The First Chapter / The Greatest Reverence With Which We Should Receive Christ

     COME to Me, all you that labor and are burdened, and I will refresh you. (Mt 11:28) The bread which I will give is My Flesh, for the life of the world. (Jn 6:52) Take you and eat: this is My Body, which shall be delivered for you. Do this for the commemoration of Me. (1 Co 11:24) He that eateth My flesh, and drinketh My blood, abideth in Me, and I in him. (Jn 6:57) The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” (Jn 6:64)

     The Disciple

     THESE are all Your words, O Christ, eternal Truth, though they were not all spoken at one time nor written together in one place. And because they are Yours and true, I must accept them all with faith and gratitude. They are Yours and You have spoken them; they are mine also because You have spoken them for my salvation. Gladly I accept them from Your lips that they may be the more deeply impressed in my heart.

     Words of such tenderness, so full of sweetness and love, encourage me; but my sins frighten me and an unclean conscience thunders at me when approaching such great mysteries as these. The sweetness of Your words invites me, but the multitude of my vices oppresses me.

     You command me to approach You confidently if I wish to have part with You, and to receive the food of immortality if I desire to obtain life and glory everlasting.

     
“Come to me,” You say, “all you that labor and are burdened, and I will refresh you.” (Mt 11:28)

     Oh, how sweet and kind to the ear of the sinner is the word by which You, my Lord God, invite the poor and needy to receive Your most holy Body! Who am I, Lord, that I should presume to approach You? Behold, the heaven of heavens cannot contain You, and yet You say:
“Come, all of you, to Me.”

     What means this most gracious honor and this friendly invitation? How shall I dare to come, I who am conscious of no good on which to presume? How shall I lead You into my house, I who have so often offended in Your most kindly sight? Angels and archangels revere You, the holy and the just fear You, and You say:
“Come to Me: all of you!” If You, Lord, had not said it, who would have believed it to be true? And if You had not commanded, who would dare approach?

     Behold, Noah, a just man, worked a hundred years building the ark that he and a few others might be saved; how, then, can I prepare myself in one hour to receive with reverence the Maker of the world?

     Moses, Your great servant and special friend, made an ark of incorruptible wood which he covered with purest gold wherein to place the tables of Your law; shall I, a creature of corruption, dare so easily to receive You, the Maker of law and the Giver of life?

     Solomon, the wisest of the kings of Israel, spent seven years building a magnificent temple in praise of Your name, and celebrated its dedication with a feast of eight days. He offered a thousand victims in Your honor and solemnly bore the Ark of the Covenant with trumpeting and jubilation to the place prepared for it; and I, unhappy and poorest of men, how shall I lead You into my house, I who scarcely can spend a half-hour devoutly—would that I could spend even that as I ought!

     O my God, how hard these men tried to please You! Alas, how little is all that I do! How short the time I spend in preparing for Communion! I am seldom wholly recollected, and very seldom, indeed, entirely free from distraction. Yet surely in the presence of Your life-giving Godhead no unbecoming thought should arise and no creature possess my heart, for I am about to receive as my guest, not an angel, but the very Lord of angels.

     Very great, too, is the difference between the Ark of the Covenant with its treasures and Your most pure Body with its ineffable virtues, between these sacrifices of the law which were but figures of things to come and the true offering of Your Body which was the fulfillment of all ancient sacrifices.

     Why, then, do I not long more ardently for Your adorable presence? Why do I not prepare myself with greater care to receive Your sacred gifts, since those holy patriarchs and prophets of old, as well as kings and princes with all their people, have shown such affectionate devotion for the worship of God?

     The most devout King David danced before the ark of God with all his strength as he recalled the benefits once bestowed upon his fathers. He made musical instruments of many kinds. He composed Psalms and ordered them sung with joy. He himself often played upon the harp when moved by the grace of the Holy Ghost. He taught the people of Israel to praise God with all their hearts and to raise their voices every day to bless and glorify Him. If such great devotion flourished in those days and such ceremony in praise of God before the Ark of the Covenant, what great devotion ought not I and all Christian people now show in the presence of this Sacrament; what reverence in receiving the most excellent Body of Christ!

     Many people travel far to honor the relics of the saints, marveling at their wonderful deeds and at the building of magnificent shrines. They gaze upon and kiss the sacred relics encased in silk and gold; and behold, You are here present before me on the altar, my God, Saint of saints, Creator of men, and Lord of angels!

     Often in looking at such things, men are moved by curiosity, by the novelty of the unseen, and they bear away little fruit for the amendment of their lives, especially when they go from place to place lightly and without true contrition. But here in the Sacrament of the altar You are wholly present, my God, the man Christ Jesus, whence is obtained the full realization of eternal salvation, as often as You are worthily and devoutly received. To this, indeed, we are not drawn by levity, or curiosity, or sensuality, but by firm faith, devout hope, and sincere love.

     O God, hidden Creator of the world, how wonderfully You deal with us! How sweetly and graciously You dispose of things with Your elect to whom You offer Yourself to be received in this Sacrament! This, indeed, surpasses all understanding. This in a special manner attracts the hearts of the devout and inflames their love. Your truly faithful servants, who give their whole life to amendment, often receive in Holy Communion the great grace of devotion and love of virtue.

     Oh, the wonderful and hidden grace of this Sacrament which only the faithful of Christ understand, which unbelievers and slaves of sin cannot experience! In it spiritual grace is conferred, lost virtue restored, and the beauty, marred by sin, repaired. At times, indeed, its grace is so great that, from the fullness of the devotion, not only the mind but also the frail body feels filled with greater strength.

     Nevertheless, our neglect and coldness is much to be deplored and pitied, when we are not moved to receive with greater fervor Christ in Whom is the hope and merit of all who will be saved. He is our sanctification and redemption. He is our consolation in this life and the eternal joy of the blessed in heaven. This being true, it is lamentable that many pay so little heed to the salutary Mystery which fills the heavens with joy and maintains the whole universe in being.

     Oh, the blindness and the hardness of the heart of man that does not show more regard for so wonderful a gift, but rather falls into carelessness from its daily use! If this most holy Sacrament were celebrated in only one place and consecrated by only one priest in the whole world, with what great desire, do you think, would men be attracted to that place, to that priest of God, in order to witness the celebration of the divine Mysteries! But now there are many priests and Mass is offered in many places, that God’s grace and love for men may appear the more clearly as the Sacred Communion is spread more widely through the world.

     Thanks be to You, Jesus, everlasting Good Shepherd, Who have seen fit to feed us poor exiled people with Your precious Body and Blood, and to invite us with words from Your own lips to partake of these sacred Mysteries: “Come to Me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will refresh you.”

The Imitation Of Christ

Andrew Murray's Absolute Surrender
     Practical religion. The Christian life

     Absolute Dependence

     In the first place, it is a life of absolute dependence. The branch has nothing; it just depends upon the vine for everything. Absolute dependence is one of the most solemn and precious of thoughts. A great German theologian wrote two large volumes some years ago to show that the whole of Calvin's theology is summed up in that one principle of absolute dependence upon God; and he was right. Another great writer has said that absolute, unalterable dependence upon God alone is the essence of the religion of angels, and should be that of men also. God is everything to the angels, and He is willing to be everything to the Christian. If I can learn every moment of the day to depend upon God, everything will come right. You will get the higher life if you depend absolutely upon God.

     Now, here we find it with the vine and the branches. Every vine you ever see, or every bunch of grapes that comes upon your table, let it remind you that the branch is absolutely dependent on the vine. The vine has to do the work, and the branch enjoys the fruit of it.

     What has the vine to do? It has to do a great work. It has to send its roots out into the soil and hunt under the ground--the roots often extend a long way out--for nourishment, and to drink in the moisture. Put certain elements of manure in certain directions, and the vine sends its roots there, and then in its roots or stems it turns the moisture and manure into that special sap which is to make the fruit that is borne. The vine does the work, and the branch has just to receive from the vine the sap, which is changed into grapes. I have been told that at Hampton Court, London, there is a vine that sometimes bore a couple of thousand bunches of grapes, and people were astonished at its large growth and rich fruitage. Afterward it was discovered what was the cause of it. Not so very far away runs the River Thames, and the vine had stretched its roots away hundreds of yards under the ground, until it had come to the riverside, and there in all the rich slime of the riverbed it had found rich nourishment, and obtained moisture, and the roots had drawn the sap all that distance up and up into the vine, and as a result there was the abundant, rich harvest. The vine had the work to do, and the branches had just to depend upon the vine, and receive what it gave.

     Is that literally true of my Lord Jesus? Must I understand that when I have to work, when I have to preach a sermon, or address a Bible class, or to go out and visit the poor, neglected ones, that all the responsibility of the work is on Christ?

     That is exactly what Christ wants you to understand. Christ wants that in all your work, the very foundation should be the simple, blessed consciousness: Christ must care for all.


Absolute Surrender (The Colportage Library)

Proverbs 16:20-21
     by D.H. Stern

20     He who has skill in a matter will succeed;
he who trusts in ADONAI will be happy.

21     A wise-hearted person is said to have discernment,
and sweetness of speech adds to learning.


          

My Utmost For The Highest
     A Daily Devotional by Oswald Chambers

                Grasp without reach

     Where there is no vision, the people cast off restraint. --- Proverbs 29:18 (R.V.).

     There is a difference between an ideal and a vision. An ideal has no moral inspiration; a vision has. The people who give themselves over to ideals rarely do anything. A man’s conception of Deity may be used to justify his deliberate neglect of his duty. Jonah argued that because God was a God of justice and of mercy, therefore everything would be all right. I may have a right conception of God, and that may be the very reason why I do not do my duty. But wherever there is vision, there is also a life of rectitude because the vision imparts moral incentive.

     Ideals may lull to ruin. Take stock of yourself spiritually and see whether you have ideals only or if you have vision.

   ‘Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp,
   Or what’s a heaven for?’

     “Where there is no vision …” When once we lose sight of God, we begin to be reckless, we cast off certain restraints, we cast off praying, we cast off the vision of God in little things, and begin to act on our own initiative. If we are eating what we have out of our own hand, doing things on our own initiative without expecting God to come in, we are on the downward path, we have lost the vision. Is our attitude to-day an attitude that springs from our vision of God? Are we expecting God to do greater things than He has ever done? Is there a freshness and vigour in our spiritual outlook?


My Utmost for His Highest: Quality Paperback Edition

Peasant Greeting
     the Poetry of RS Thomas


          Peasant Greeting

No speech; the raised hand affirms
All that is left unsaid,
By the mute tongue and the unmoistened lips:
The land's patience and a tree's
Knotted endurance and
The heart's doubt whether to curse or bless,
All packed into a single gesture.
The knees crumble to the downward pull
Of the harsh earth, the eyes,
Fuddled with coldness, have no skill to smile.
Life's bitter jest is hollow, mirthless he slips
To his long grave under the wave of the wind,
That breaks continually on the brittle ear.

Selected poems, 1946-1968

Swimming In The Sea of Talmud
     Bava Kamma 60a

     D’RASH

     A woman, walking down the street, trips and falls on a crack in the sidewalk and breaks her leg. Who is the responsible party? Should her insurance company, which has charged her hefty premiums for its coverage, pay for her medical care? Or should the owner of the house and his insurance company be assessed damages, since it was on his sidewalk that this woman fell?

     In contemporary America, such a case might end up in court, where the arguments will likely focus on who was wrong, not on obligation but on fault: Was the crack in the concrete new, or had the town issued a citation for a broken sidewalk in the past? Was the house owner aware of the problem with his sidewalk? Could the woman just as easily have walked around the crack? Was the woman wearing her glasses when she fell? Had she drunk any alcoholic beverages before her walk? It is conceivable that this case will fill the court docket for weeks or months, as the sides attempt to assign blame for the accident and, in turn, responsibility for the medical bills.

     The Rabbis of the Mishnah would likely be able to determine responsibility and fault in such a case. Yet, their entire approach to damages is quite different from that of our society. The Mishnah speaks about the social contract with society and the implicit responsibility each of us has to those around us. By telling us that "a man is always forewarned," the Mishnah reminds us of this obligation. We do not need specific and advanced notice not to harm another.

     In our day and age, this social contract is often obscured, and we may take this communal responsibility less than seriously. The Rabbis would likely say that if our sidewalk is cracked, it is our obligation to fix it, even if no one ever trips on it, regardless of citations, lawsuits, and petitions.

     This is a Jewish response to the "Ignorance is bliss" theory that many people work under. People claim "I didn't know" as the excuse for a host of faults and transgressions.

     "Young man, you have to pay for the candy. You just can't stick your hand in and grab it!" "There was no sign that I couldn't!"

     "What were you thinking when you didn't pay your income taxes for twelve years?" "Your honor, I didn't know I had to pay taxes."

     "Why were you riding your bicycle on the crowded sidewalk? Didn't you realize that you could hurt someone?" "No one said I couldn't."

     It is unsettling when people act irresponsibly, causing injury or damage. Thus, we have the right to demand and expect responsible behavior from others, to assume that those around us do their utmost to protect our safety. Most important, though, that burden falls on our shoulders. We are the ones who must ultimately assure the welfare of society. It is our actions, within the implicit responsibility of one member of society to the others, that assures the well-being of those around us.

     Once permission has been given to the Destroyer, it does not differentiate between righteous and wicked.

     Text / Rabbi Shmuel bar Naḥmani said in the name of Rabbi Yoḥanan: "Punishment comes upon the world only when there are wicked people in the world, but it begins with the righteous, as it says: 'When a fire is started and spreads to thorns' [Exodus 22:5]. When does a fire start? When there are thorns around. It only begins with the righteous, as it says: 'so that stacked … grain is consumed' [ibid]. It does not say: 'so that stacked grain will be consumed' but rather 'is consumed'—meaning that it already had been consumed."

     Rav Yosef taught: "What is the meaning of the verse: 'None of you shall go outside the door of his house until Morning' [Exodus 12:22]? Once permission has been given to the Destroyer, it does not differentiate between righteous and wicked. Moreover, it begins with the righteous, as it says: 'I will wipe out from you both the righteous and the wicked' [Ezekiel 21:8]."

     Context / Moses then summoned all the elders of Israel and said to them, "Go pick out the lambs for your families, and slaughter the passover offering. Take a bunch of hyssop, dip it in the blood that is in the basin, and apply some of the blood that is in the basin to the lintel and to the two doorposts. None of you shall go outside the door of his house until Morning. For when the Lord goes through to smite the Egyptians, He will see the blood on the lintel and the two doorposts, and the Lord will pass over the door and not let the Destroyer enter and smite your home." (Exodus 12:21–23)

     Just prior to our section, the Mishnah and the Gemara discuss the legal issue of who is responsible for damage caused by a fire set by an individual. The basis of the law is the verse from Exodus 22 about a fire that spreads to thorns. The Rabbis then interpret that verse homiletically: The thorns represent the wicked, and the stacks of grain are the righteous people. The good are the first victims of the fire, which the Rabbis view as the Destroyer, the destructive angel or force sent by God to exact punishment on the world.

     Rav Yosef brings the story of Pesaḥ to support the assertion that the righteous are usually the first to suffer when destruction is unleashed; an innocent Israelite who left home the night of the tenth plague in Egypt would have fallen victim to the Destroyer, even though it was only the Egyptians who were guilty. The Rabbis quote the verse in Ezekiel as a further proof, noting that it mentions the righteous before the wicked in a context of destruction; consequently, the innocent suffer before the guilty.


Swimming in the Sea of Talmud: Lessons for Everyday Living

Israel's Futile Faith: Mark 11:27–12:44
     Teacher's Commentary

     Mark had established in his first two stories about Jesus' acts in Judea a theme he then developed. How can it be that Israel's faith, rooted in God's Old Testament revelation, had become futile and empty? What was it that had distorted in practice the beauty of the faith God Himself revealed?

     Empty of authority (Mark 11:27–33). The "chief priests, the teachers of the Law, and the elders" composed the ruling council of Israel. This group had the power to judge both religious and civil matters in the Jewish community. They even claimed, and exercised, the right to expel people from the synagogue (cf. John 9:22; 12:42).

     Since these leaders of the community had never commissioned or recognized Jesus, they liked to think that He spoke without any real religious authority. This, despite the fact that the people were amazed just because Jesus did speak as a Man with authority, unlike their official leaders (cf. Mark 1:22).

     Now, after Jesus had driven the money changers from the temple, a delegation of leaders challenged Jesus. By what authority was He acting? And who gave Him authority to do what He did?

     Jesus asked them one question that exposed how empty of "authority" these so-called spiritual leaders really were. Jesus asked them whether John's baptism was from heaven or from men.

     Now, a person who has spiritual authority must derive it ultimately from God. So one who exercises authority must refer to God and God's will in making his decisions. But when these religious leaders discussed Jesus' question, they immediately referred not to God but to the people. "If we say, 'From men.…' " The text notes, "They feared the people, for everyone held that John really was a prophet."

     Ultimately, they who claimed to be the final court of spiritual appeal, answered Jesus, "We don't know."

     No religion which appeals to mere human opinion in making its determinations can have real authority or power. The faith of Israel in Jesus' day was futile because it had exchanged the authority of God and His Word for mere human opinion!

     No religion which looks to public opinion to determine its stand can ever be vital and real.

     Misuse of authority (Mark 12:1–12). Jesus then told a parable about a person who prepared the land and planted a vineyard. He rented it out to some tenant farmers, and left on a trip. But when he sent servants to collect his share, the servants were beaten and some were even killed. Finally the man sent his only son, saying, "They will respect my son."

     Instead the tenants chose to kill the heir, so "the inheritance will be ours."

     The leaders realized that Jesus had spoken the parable against them, and were even more determined to arrest Him. They had not used their authority as God's agents to serve Him at all! They had misused their authority, seeking only their own benefit. Their fathers had been willing to kill God's servants, the prophets, and now this generation was eager to kill His only Son!

     Hypocrisy (Mark 12:13–17). The fact that the religion of Israel was now marked by hypocrisy is demonstrated in the next incident.

     The Pharisees and Herodians came to try to trap Jesus. The Herodians were a political party that believed in accommodation with the Romans. To them Jesus seemed a dangerous revolutionary. Both these groups, usually opposed to each other, feared Jesus and hated Him passionately.

     When they came to Jesus their hypocrisy was made plain in multiple ways. They addressed Jesus as a "man of integrity" who teaches "the way of God in accordance with the truth." They did not believe what they were saying; they said it only to "set Jesus up" for their trap.

     They asked Jesus whether or not the Jews should pay taxes to Caesar. The trap was simple. If Jesus told them to pay taxes, He would lose favor with the people who hated Rome. If Jesus told them not to pay taxes, He could be accused to the Romans, and would be executed!

     Yet this trap was itself a hypocritical one. It was shown to be even more hypocritical when Jesus had to ask them for a coin! Here these men were trying to trap Jesus and accuse Him of collaboration with the enemy, and they were the ones who were profiting financially from the Roman occupation, for they were the ones who possessed Roman money!

     Jesus avoided their trap by pointing to the portrait and inscription on the coin. These were Caesar's? Then let Caesar have what belonged to him, and give God what belongs to God.

     What is it that belongs to the Caesars of this world? Only material things: things that have no lasting value and cannot really reflect the issues of life. And what belongs to God? Our heart, our soul, our love, our obedience, our whole being.

     Let Caesar have his things, but give God your heart.

     The religion of Jesus' day was empty and meaningless because it was all hypocrisy and show. The men who led His people were not moved by a passion for God.

     Without understanding of Scripture (Mark 12:18–27). Now the Sadducees—the "liberals" of Jesus' day, who denied the resurrection and life after death, along with angels and miracles—tried to trap Jesus. They raised a hypothetical case. Here's a widow who has been married, in turn, to each of seven brothers. "At the resurrection," they asked (subtly ridiculing this doctrine in which they did not believe), "whose wife will she be?"

     Jesus' answer affirmed the authority of Scripture. Their error arose from the fact that "you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God." Jesus explained that there is no marriage in heaven: the saints there, like the angels, will not wed. But as for resurrection, Jesus pinned His teaching on the tense of a verb. God said to Moses, "I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob." God did not say, "I was" their God! Obviously then Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob must be living when God spoke those words, even though they had died physically centuries before.

     What a tremendous confidence we can have in Scripture! Even the tenses of words are rooted in reality, and one can trust each phrase to express divine truth.

     The Sadducees, like the liberals of every age, were quick to discount the authority of the Word of God. And just because of this fault, they and their religion were "badly mistaken."

     Without focus (Mark 12:28–37). There was another fault in the ritual religion practiced by the Jews in Jesus' day. They cluttered up their faith with hundreds of rules derived from traditional interpretations of biblical Laws. But somehow all these laws seemed just as important as all the others. Don't spit on sand on the Sabbath (because you might inadvertently "plow a furrow") was treated with the same importance as "love your neighbor."

     When one of the teachers of the Law saw that Jesus was answering well, he raised what to Him was an honest question. "Of all the commandments, which is the most important?"

     Jesus answered, " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these."

     With this answer Jesus provided the focus for faith which Israel had lost. All of the laws which were so important to the Jews, all the ceremonies and rituals, must be placed in perspective by the realization that man's central duty is to love God and to love neighbors.

     The man affirmed what Jesus had said. "To love [God] with all your heart … and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices" (Mark 12:33).

     Jesus said to him, "You are not far from the kingdom of God."

     Only when the focus of our faith is squarely on loving God and our neighbor do we even approach the kingdom of our God. Israel's faith was futile because in the preoccupation of the religious with ritual and ceremony and tradition, the true heart of God's revelation of Himself in Law had been totally missed.

     The total inability of the religious leaders to understand the Scriptures or its focus is now illustrated by Jesus. The teachers of the Law say that Christ is the Son (descendant) of David. This is clearly true. But how do they explain David speaking of his descendant as "my Lord?"

     The crowd was delighted, not because they knew the answer, but because Jesus had shown up the hypocrisy and spiritual fraud of those proud men who claimed to be so much better than common men.

     Greed (Mark 10:38–44). The final condemnation drew attention to the true motives of the religious leaders of Israel. These men who loved to be treated with respect because of their superior piety actually "devour widows' houses and for a show make lengthy prayers." They were outwardly religious, but within were moved only by greed.

     Jesus and His disciples sat down to watch worshipers contribute money to the temple treasury. Some who were wealthy "threw in" large amounts. The sound of the heavy coins told everyone how much they were giving, and they threw in their offerings with force to make sure all could hear. They were outwardly religious.

     But then a widow timidly "put in" two tiny coins, almost worthless. Jesus pointed her out, and said, "This poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on."

     What a difference. The size of the gift the rich could give might impress men. But what they gave was really nothing to them: it cost them not one moment of discomfort. It was no sacrifice at all. But the gift of the widow impressed God. She gave all.

     A religion practiced by greedy men who get their wealth by oppressing the poor is a meaningless faith, no matter how much they may "give" to God. What God wants is our love, for out of love we will be willing to give Him not a "tip," but our all.


The Teacher's Commentary

Groups
     Judaism in the Land of Israel

     As in any society, there were various groups among the Jewish people in the land of Israel. The sources for the earlier centuries of the period are sparse, but they indicate differing perspectives on some issues. So, for example, Ezra stands as a representative of a separatist point of view, one absolutely opposed to intermarriage with people of other races and nationalities; the book that bears his name includes information about many who had felt free to engage in exogamy and who were forced to dismiss their families. A number of scholars have argued that a fundamental tension in Judean society in the early Second Temple period was between those who found fulfillment of promises in the restored community and Temple and those of a more visionary bent who looked for more spectacular realizations of God’s plans for his people. Those expectations found expression in some late prophetic literature and perhaps in some texts with traits that would later characterize the apocalypses.

     During the early Hellenistic period there is evidence for some Jewish people who had greater ties with the Ptolemaic government (the Tobiad family, for one), while others seem to have favored the Seleucid administration (note the friendly reception of Antiochus III at Jerusalem). But the most famous division in Jewish society, one that became unmistakable in the early second century B.C.E., is the one between those Jews who were more open to aspects of Greek culture and those who opposed the adoption of Greek ways. The contrast should not be pictured as absolute, since Hellenistic influence, such as the spread of the Greek language, was multifaceted and in part religiously neutral. But 2 Maccabees describes a situation in which a group of Jews, led by the usurping high priest Jason and with the approval of the Seleucid monarch Antiochus IV (175–164 B.C.E.), introduced into Jerusalem the central institutions of Greek education and citizenship—a gymnasium and an ephebate. 1 Maccabees 1:11 presents the perspective embraced by such people in these words: “In those days certain renegades (paranomoi) came out from Israel and misled many, saying, ‘Let us go and make a covenant with the Gentiles around us, for since we separated from them many disasters have come upon us.” The author adds that not only was the gymnasium built in Jerusalem but these people “removed the marks of circumcision, and abandoned the holy covenant. They joined with the Gentiles and sold themselves to do evil” (v. 15). Later, when the worship of a different god was set up in the Jerusalem Temple, not all Jews were opposed to the innovation although some, under Hasmonean leadership, violently fought it.

     In the context of the early Hasmonean period, specifically in his account of the reign of Jonathan as high priest and leader, Josephus (Ant. 13.171–73) reports that there were three sects or schools of thought (haireseis) among the Jews and lists them as the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the Essenes. Josephus mentions members of these groups in various places in his narratives and devotes a couple of sections to describing them, especially in J.W. 2.119–66 (see also Ant. 18.11–22). The information from Josephus regarding these groups can be supplemented from the Dead Sea Scrolls and from the New Testament. Rabbinic literature, too, refers to Pharisees and Sadducees.

     About the Pharisees Josephus reports that they were known for their skill and accuracy in interpreting the Law of Moses (J.W. 2.162), and to this he adds that “the Pharisees had passed on to the people certain regulations handed down by former generations and not recorded in the Laws of Moses” (Ant. 13.297 [trans. R. Marcus]). This appears to be the oral Torah known from other sources, a tradition of commentary and interpretation that allowed the Pharisees to apply the ancient law to changed circumstances. Josephus, who mentions this Pharisaic trait while describing disagreements between Pharisees and Sadducees at the time of John Hyrcanus (134–104 B.C.E.), says that these regulations of the Pharisees were not accepted by the Sadducees, who insisted “that only those regulations should be considered valid which were written down (in Scripture), and that those which had been handed down by former generations need not be observed” (13.297). The meaning of this distinction in views between the two groups has received much scholarly discussion, but it is clear enough that at issue between the two was the proper way for interpreting and applying the Mosaic Law, which both of course accepted as authoritative for practice. A number of the controversies between Jesus and the Pharisees reported in the Gospels present a similar picture of the Pharisees. When the “Pharisees and scribes” asked Jesus why his disciples “break the tradition of the elders” since they did not follow the practice of washing their hands before they ate, he answered: “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?” (Matt. 15:3; see also v. 6; he cites their view about identifying goods as an offering and thus not using them to support parents as a violation of the fourth commandment).

     Josephus identifies the Pharisees as an influential group within Jewish society. He claims that there were some 6,000 of them (Ant. 17.42) but says they were able to bring the masses to their side and even compel rulers to act in accord with their teachings (Ant. 13.288, 298; 18.15). Whether that was always true may be debated, but Josephus does tell about two periods when the Pharisees were especially influential with Hasmonean rulers and thus in the state. The background to his story about John Hyrcanus’ break with the Pharisaic party is that they were in his favor before this. In fact, Josephus calls John Hyrcanus a disciple of theirs; how long this relationship had existed and whether it obtained in the time of his predecessors is not said. When Hyrcanus, convinced they had maligned him by telling him he should give up the high priesthood, changed to the side of the Sadducees, the Pharisees lost power and Jews were forbidden to practice their regulations. The dominance of the Sadducees with the Hasmonean rulers continued through the violent reign of Alexander Jannaeus, who apparently killed many Pharisees, but with his successor, his wife Salome Alexandra (76–67 B.C.E.), the situation was reversed and the Pharisees regained a position of dominance. After this time the evidence becomes sketchy, and it is not apparent whether Pharisees continued to enjoy political as well as religious prominence.

     Regarding their beliefs, Josephus mentions their moderate position on the issue of what he calls fate: they believed that both divine and individual human aspects were involved in human actions so that people had a measure of responsibility for what they did. According to him, they also anticipated a resurrection for the righteous and eternal punishment for the wicked. There is support for some of this description in Acts 23, where the Pharisees are identified as the members of the Sanhedrin who accept the belief that a resurrection would occur. It adds that they also believed there were angels and spirits.

     The next group in Josephus’ list, the Sadducees, he describes generally in contrast to the Pharisees. Their view of fate, for example, was not the moderate or balanced approach of the Pharisees: the Sadducees are supposed to have denied there was any thing such as fate that influenced human behavior, explaining rather that people are responsible for what they do. As noted above, the Sadducees rejected the validity of the tradition adopted by the Pharisees and insisted that the scriptural law alone was valid. It is difficult to imagine that the Sadducees had no tradition of how to interpret or apply scriptural law; whatever their way of interpreting may have been, it must have been different from the Pharisaic one. Acts 23:8 summarizes some of their theological disagreements with Pharisees in this way: “The Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, or angel, or spirit; but the Pharisees acknowledge all three.” In his appearance before the Sanhedrin, Paul, who identifies himself as a Pharisee, exploits the difference by appealing to the resurrection.

     Josephus adds that, while the Pharisees were influential among the masses of the people, the Sadducees, whose number he does not estimate (although says there were few of them), appealed to the wealthy. In the episode in which John Hyrcanus broke with the Pharisees, he is said to have gone over to the Sadducean side. As a result, the Sadducees were not dominant in the period before this time in his reign, but they retained their position of influence throughout the rest of Hyrcanus’ reign and apparently through that of Aristobulus I (104–103 B.C.E.) and of Alexander Jannaeus (103–76), before the Pharisees returned to their previous status. Josephus presents, for later times, a strange situation: the few Sadducees were people of the highest rank, but when they assumed an office, they were compelled to follow the dictates of the Pharisees because the people otherwise would refuse to tolerate them (Ant. 18.17). The point is related to the question whether the high priests—people who enjoyed the very highest rank—were Sadducees. The name Sadducee many be related to the Zadok, the leading priest in the time of David and Solomon, and an ancestor of the Second Temple high priests. John Hyrcanus, a high priest, became a devotee of the Sadducees, and his sons Aristobulus I and John Hyrcanus may have been as well. But here the evidence grows very thin. In fact, the only other high priest who is identified as a Sadducee is Ananus ben Ananus who briefly held the office in 62 C.E. Josephus says that Ananus, followed the Sadducean school and that Sadducees were noted for being harsher than others in judgment (Ant. 20.199). A high priest is mentioned in connection with Sadducees in Acts 5:17, but he is not identified as a Sadducee.

     The Essenes, Josephus’ third group, are the one he describes at the greatest length (J.W. 2.119–61), perhaps because his source material was more complete or because their unusual character made them more interesting. He estimated there were some 4,000 of them throughout the land (Ant. 18.21) and describes them as living a very disciplined form of life and gathered into communities of self-help and support. In their communities the members gave up their private property to the group so that the needs of all could be met. They avoided marriage, although there was a type of Essenes who did take wives and have children. They worked hard and were frugal in their ways; they were also known as the strictest in their keeping of the Sabbath. One of the topics regarding the Essenes that Josephus describes at some length is the process, several years in length, of admission into the group. He also notes their meetings and the rules that prevailed at them. Their view of fate, he reports, was that it determined everything—exactly the opposite of the view he attributes to the Sadducees; they also studied the writings of the ancients and were accurate predictors of events.

     Scholarly interest in the Essenes increased with the discovery and study of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Most experts have identified the group responsible for the scrolls at Qumran as a small band of Essenes, so the scrolls can now fill in the information from Josephus and elsewhere regarding the Essenes. It may be that Josephus’ comment about the Essenes’ view regarding fate is exemplified in 1QS 3:13–4:26, where the divine governance of the universe and human actions through two opposing spirits is the subject. The scrolls community also practiced a community of goods, and their entry procedures very much resemble the ones noted by Josephus.

     The scrolls probably allow us to see some of the controversies that separated the Essenes and the Pharisees. Several writers refer to their opponents as “the ones who look for smooth things,” probably a punning allusion to the Pharisees. These writers accuse them of taking a more relaxed approach to the Law of Moses and thus of violating the covenant. Some scrolls, especially the copies of 4QMMT, express some legal positions that are attributed to the Sadducees in rabbinic sources. This does not mean that the authors of the Scrolls were Sadducees, since they disagree with the Sadducees on basic theological points (e.g., fate); it probably means that both the Essenes and the Sadducees adopted conservative, stricter understandings of the Law.

     The community of the Dead Sea Scrolls illustrates the fact that the social makeup of early Judaism was more complex than our other sources suggested. Before they were discovered between 1947 and 1956, there was only a hint or two in the literature that such a group existed; there was no indication that it had a large library indicative of extensive study and much more. The scrolls reveal a community that had in protest separated itself physically from other Jews and that apparently did not participate in worship at the Temple in Jerusalem. In the wilderness of Judea they pursued the way of life they thought was revealed in the Scriptures and looked to the day when, in a final war between the sons of light and the sons of darkness, the former would win a great victory and a new age would dawn.

     These were not the only groups in the land of Israel in the later Second Temple period. Josephus also speaks of the Zealots as people who refused to accept human rule, although in other respects they agreed with the Pharisees (Ant. 18.23). Josephus considered them and their violent ways instrumental in causing the revolt against Rome in 66 C.E. (Ant. 18.6–10).


          0802825494

Take Heart
     May 9

     Let him who walks in the dark,… trust in the name of the LORD. --- Isaiah 50:10.

     Some who are in my judgment among the very choicest of God’s people nevertheless travel most of the way to heaven by night. ( Twelve sermons for the troubled and tried (Charles H. Spurgeon Library) ) They do not rejoice in the light of God’s countenance, though they trust in the shadow of his wings.

     Darkness is an evil that the soul does not love, and by it all our faculties are tried. It is possible at times to even question the existence of God, though we still cling to him with desperate resolve.

     At such times the Holy Spirit seems to suspend his comforting operations, and we read the Bible, and we are not cheered by the promises; we attend public services, and the bells of the sanctuary seem to have lost their music. The Holy Spirit is leaving us for awhile that we may know what poor things we are apart from him, and how useless are ordinances without his divine presence in them. Satan makes earnest use of his hour, and it is no fault of his that we do not die in the dark and utterly perish from the way.

     Perhaps the worst feature of this darkness is that it is so bewildering. You have to walk, and yet your way is hidden. What simpletons we are to fancy that if we do not see a way of deliverance God does not see one either! If you have ever steamed up the Rhine, you have looked before you, and it has looked as if you could go no further; the river seemed to be a lake; great mountains and vast rocks blocked up all further advance. Suddenly there has been a turn in the stream, and at once a broad highway has been before you, inviting you to enter the heart of the country. Perhaps you are in one of those parts of the river of life where no progress appears possible.

     What is there to trust to when you are in such a condition as that? Well, says the text, “Trust in the name of the LORD.”

     What is there to trust in the name of Jehovah? It is “I Am,” and signifies his self-existence. This is a fine foundation for trust. Your friend is dead, but Jehovah is still living. Those who could have succored you have forsaken you, but he says, “I am with you.”

     The name of the Lord contains within it immutability. Here is a rock under your feet. If you trust in an unchanging God whose love and faithfulness and power cannot be diminished, then you have a glorious object for your faith to rest on!
--- C. H. Spurgeon


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

On This Day
     A Formidable Caravan  May 9

     Count Nikolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf has been called the “rich young ruler who said YES.” Born into one of Europe’s leading families, he gave his life to Christ, established a Christian community at his Herrnhut estate, and oversaw the sending of the first missionaries in Protestant history. Then late in life, Zinzendorf married his beloved Anna.

     Three years later his strength ebbed. He pushed himself to finish some writing projects, but he noticed that Anna, too, was growing weaker. On Sunday, May 4, 1760 they attended church together, but with difficulty. Anna returned to her bed. The next day Nikolaus was unable to eat much lunch, and he complained of thirst. He visited Anna’s sickbed, then fell into bed himself. Speech became difficult, and it grew apparent he and Anna were both dying in rooms next to each other.

     On May 8 David Nitshmann visited them. Nikolaus roused himself, reminisced, and said, “Did you suppose in the beginning, that the Savior would do as much as we now really see in the various Moravian settlements, amongst other denominations, and amongst the heathen? I only entreated of him a few firstfruits, but there are now thousands. Nitshmann, what a formidable caravan from our church already stands around the Lamb.”

     At midnight he was seized by a coughing spasm, and at 9 o’clock the next Morning, May 9, 1760, he told his son-in-law, John Watteville: “My dear John, I am about to go to the Savior. I am ready. I am resigned to his will, and he is satisfied with me. … I am ready to go to him. Nothing more stands in my way.” His eyes lingered another hour, then they closed. Watteville began praying, “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace. The Lord bless thee, and keep thee. … The Lord lift up his countenance upon thee and give thee peace.” At the word “peace” Zinzendorf stopped breathing.

     When Anna was told, she said, “I have the happiest prospect of you all. I will soon be going to him.” She watched his burial from her window, then thirteen days later joined him.

     Now the time has come for me to die. My life is like a drink offering being poured out on the altar. I have fought well. I have finished the race, and I have been faithful. So a crown will be given to me for pleasing the Lord.
--- 2 Timothy 4:6-8a.


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

Morning and Evening
     Daily Readings / CHARLES H. SPURGEON

          Morning - May 9

     “Who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings.”
Ephesians 1:3.

     All the goodness of the past, the present, and the future, Christ bestows upon his people. In the mysterious ages of the past the Lord Jesus was his Father’s first elect, and in his election he gave us an interest, for we were chosen in him from before the foundation of the world. He had from all eternity the prerogatives of Sonship, as his Father’s only-begotten and well-beloved Son, and he has, in the riches of his grace, by adoption and regeneration, elevated us to sonship also, so that to us he has given “power to become the sons of God.” The eternal covenant, based upon suretiship and confirmed by oath, is ours, for our strong consolation and security. In the everlasting settlements of predestinating wisdom and omnipotent decree, the eye of the Lord Jesus was ever fixed on us; and we may rest assured that in the whole roll of destiny there is not a line which militates against the interests of his redeemed. The great betrothal of the Prince of Glory is ours, for it is to us that he is affianced, as the sacred nuptials shall ere long declare to an assembled universe. The marvellous incarnation of the God of heaven, with all the amazing condescension and humiliation which attended it, is ours. The bloody sweat, the scourge, the cross, are ours for ever. Whatever blissful consequences flow from perfect obedience, finished atonement, resurrection, ascension, or intercession, all are ours by his own gift. Upon his breastplate he is now bearing our names; and in his authoritative pleadings at the throne he remembers our persons and pleads our cause. His dominion over principalities and powers, and his absolute majesty in heaven, he employs for the benefit of them who trust in him. His high estate is as much at our service as was his condition of abasement. He who gave himself for us in the depths of woe and death, doth not withdraw the grant now that he is enthroned in the highest heavens.


          Evening - May 9

     “Come, my beloved, let us go forth into the field … let us see if the vine flourish.”
Song of Solomon 7:11,12.

     The church was about to engage in earnest labour, and desired her Lord’s company in it. She does not say, “I will go,” but “let us go.” It is blessed working when Jesus is at our side! It is the business of God’s people to be trimmers of God’s vines. Like our first parents, we are put into the garden of the Lord for usefulness; let us therefore go forth into the field. Observe that the church, when she is in her right mind, in all her many labours desires to enjoy communion with Christ. Some imagine that they cannot serve Christ actively, and yet have fellowship with him: they are mistaken. Doubtless it is very easy to fritter away our inward life in outward exercises, and come to complain with the spouse, “They made me keeper of the vineyards; but mine own vineyard have I not kept:” but there is no reason why this should be the case except our own folly and neglect. Certain is it that a professor may do nothing, and yet grow quite as lifeless in spiritual things as those who are most busy. Mary was not praised for sitting still; but for her sitting at Jesus’ feet. Even so, Christians are not to be praised for neglecting duties under the pretence of having secret fellowship with Jesus: it is not sitting, but sitting at Jesus’ feet which is commendable. Do not think that activity is in itself an evil: it is a great blessing, and a means of grace to us. Paul called it a grace given to him to be allowed to preach; and every form of Christian service may become a personal blessing to those engaged in it. Those who have most fellowship with Christ are not recluses or hermits, who have much time to spare, but indefatigable labourers who are toiling for Jesus, and who, in their toil, have him side by side with them, so that they are workers together with God. Let us remember then, in anything we have to do for Jesus, that we can do it, and should do it in close communion with him.

Morning and Evening

Amazing Grace
     May 9

          DAY IS DYING IN THE WEST

     Mary A. Lathbury, 1841–1913

     Ye shall have a song, as in the night when a holy solemnity is kept; and gladness of heart, as when one goeth with a pipe to come into the mountain of the Lord, to the mighty One of Israel. (Isaiah 30:29 KJV)

     Those Evening clouds, that setting ray, and beauteous tints, sure to display their great Creator’s praise;

     Then let the short-lived thing called man, whose life’s comprised within a span, to Him his homage raise. --- Sir Walter Scott


     It is so easy to lose oneself in the majestic spectacles of the setting sun as it slowly fades over the horizon—yet forget to praise God, the source of all beauty. Mary Lathbury reminds us to “wait and worship” the “Lord most high” as we stand in awe at the passing of each day.

     With a desire to encourage religious and cultural activities, Miss Lathbury worked with others to establish the Chautauqua Movement on the shores of beautiful Lake Chautauqua near Jamestown, New York. She became affectionately known as the “Poet Laureate and Saint of Chautauqua.” In 1877, Mary was asked to write a hymn that would be suitable for the Evening vesper services of Chautauqua. As she stood on the shore of the lake watching the magnificent setting sun one Evening, Mary received the inspiration for the first two stanzas of her hymn. The final two stanzas were added 2 years later. After the music director of Chautauqua, Professor William Fisk Sherwin, composed a suitable melody for the text, “Day Is Dying in the West” was used that same summer. It has been used as the vesper hymn for all Evening services of Chautauqua at its lovely New York site ever since.

     Day is dying in the west, heav’n is touching earth with rest; wait and worship while the night sets her Evening lamps alight thru all the sky.
     Lord of life, beneath the dome of the universe, Thy home, gather us who seek Thy face to the fold of Thy embrace, for Thou art nigh.
     While the deep’ning shadows fall, heart of Love, enfolding all, thru the glory and the grace of the stars that veil Thy face, our hearts ascend.
     When forever from our sight pass the stars, the day, the night, Lord of angels, on our eyes let eternal Morning rise, and shadows end.
     Chorus: Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Hosts! Heav’n and earth are full of Thee! Heav’n and earth are praising Thee, O Lord most high!


     For Today: Psalm 4:7, 8; 19:1, 2; 69:34; Isaiah 6:3.

     As you observe the setting sun or any of the wonders of God’s creation, offer worship and praise to Him for the beauties He has provided for us.

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. XIX. — BUT you say these things, because you either do not read or do not observe, that such is most constantly the case with the word of God, that because of it, the world is thrown into tumult. And that Christ openly declares: “I came not (says He) to send peace but a sword.” (Matt. x. 34.) And in Luke, “I came to send fire upon the earth.” (Luke xii. 49.) And Paul, (2 Cor. vi. 5,) “In tumults,” &c. And the Prophet, in the Second Psalm, abundantly testifies the same: declaring, that the nations are in tumult, the people roaring, the kings rising up, and the princes conspiring against the Lord and against His Christ. As though He had said, multitude, height, wealth, power, wisdom, righteousness, and whatever is great in the world, sets itself against the word of God.

     Look into the Acts of the Apostles, and see what happened in the world on account of the word of Paul only (to say nothing of the other apostles): how he alone throws both the Gentiles and Jews into commotion: or, as the enemies themselves express it, “turns the world upside down.” (Acts xvii. 6.) Under Elijah, the kingdom of Israel was thrown into commotion: as king Ahab complains. (1 Kings xviii. 17.) What tumult was there under the other prophets, while they are all either killed at once or stoned to death; while Israel is taken captive into Assyria, and Judah also to Babylon! Was all this peace? The world and its god (2 Cor. iv. 4,) cannot and will not bear the Word of the true God: and the true God cannot and will not keep silence. While, therefore, these two Gods are at war with each other, what can there be else in the whole world, but tumult?

     Therefore, to wish to silence these tumults, is nothing else, than to wish to hinder the Word of God, and to take it out of the way. For the Word of God, wherever it comes, comes to change and to renew the world. And even heathen writers testify, that changes of things cannot take place, without commotion and tumult, nor even without blood. It therefore belongs to Christians, to expect and endure these things, with a stayed mind: as Christ says, “When ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars, be not dismayed, for these things must first come to pass, but the end is not yet.” (Matt. xxiv. 6.) And as to myself, if I did not see these tumults, I should say the Word of God was not in the world. But now, when I do see them, I rejoice from my heart, and fear them not: being surely persuaded, that the kingdom of the Pope, with all his followers, will fall to the ground: for it is especially against this, that the word of God, which now runs, is directed.

     I see indeed, my friend Erasmus, that you complain in many books of these tumults, and of the loss of peace and concord; and you attempt many means whereby to afford a remedy, and (as I am inclined to believe) with a good intention. But this gouty foot laughs at your doctoring hands. For here, in truth, as you say, you sail against the tide; nay, you put out fire with straw. Cease from complaining, cease from doctoring; this tumult proceeds, and is carried on, from above, and will not cease until it shall make all the adversaries of the word as the dirt of the streets. Though I am sorry that I find it necessary to teach you, so great a theologian, these things, like a disciple, when you ought to be a teacher of others.

     Your excellent sentiment, then, that some diseases may be borne with less evil than they can be cured applies here: which sentiment you do not appositely use. Rather call these tumults, commotions, perturbations, seditions, discords, wars, and all other things of the same kind with which the world is shaken and tossed to and fro on account of the Word of God, — the diseases. These things, I say, as they are temporal, are borne with less evil than inveterate and evil habits; by which all souls must be destroyed if they be not changed by the word of God: which being taken away, eternal good, God, Christ, and the Spirit, must be taken away with it.

     But how much better is it to lose the whole world, than to lose God the Creator of the world, who can create innumerable worlds again, and is better than infinite worlds? For what are temporal things when compared with eternal? This leprosy of temporal things, therefore, is rather to be borne, than that every soul should be destroyed and eternally damned, and the world kept in peace, and preserved from these tumults, by their blood and perdition: whereas, one soul cannot be redeemed with the price of the whole world!

     You certainly have command of elegant and excellent similitudes, and sentiments: but, when you are engaged in sacred discussions, you apply them childishly, nay, pervertedly: for you crawl upon the ground, and enter in thought into nothing above what is human. Whereas, those things which God works, are neither puerile, civil, nor human, but divine; and they exceed human capacity. Thus, you do not see, that these tumults and divisions increase throughout the world, according to the counsel, and by the operation of God; and therefore, you fear lest heaven should tumble about our ears. But I, by the grace of God, see these things clearly; because, I see other tumults greater than these that will arise in the age to come in comparison of which, these appear but as the whispering of a breath of air, or the murmuring of a gentle brook.


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