Jesus Foretells Destruction of the TempleMatthew 24 1 Jesus left the temple and was going away, when his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple. 2 But he answered them, “You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”
Signs of the End of the Age3 As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” 4 And Jesus answered them, “See that no one leads you astray. 5 For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray. 6 And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. 7 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. 8 All these are but the beginning of the birth pains.
9 “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. 10 And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. 11 And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. 12 And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. 13 But the one who endures to the end will be saved. 14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.
The Abomination of Desolation15 “So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), 16 then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 17 Let the one who is on the housetop not go down to take what is in his house, 18 and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak. 19 And alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! 20 Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a Sabbath. 21 For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. 22 And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short. 23 Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. 24 For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. 25 See, I have told you beforehand. 26 So, if they say to you, ‘Look, he is in the wilderness,’ do not go out. If they say, ‘Look, he is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. 27 For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 28 Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.
The Coming of the Son of Man29 “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 30 Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 31 And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.
The Lesson of the Fig Tree32 “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. 33 So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 34 Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. 35 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
No One Knows That Day and Hour36 “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. 37 For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, 39 and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 40 Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. 41 Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left. 42 Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. 43 But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.
45 “Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time? 46 Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. 47 Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions. 48 But if that wicked servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed,’ 49 and begins to beat his fellow servants and eats and drinks with drunkards, 50 the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know 51 and will cut him in pieces and put him with the hypocrites. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
The Parable of the Ten VirginsMatthew 25 1 “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3 For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, 4 but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. 5 As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. 6 But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ 7 Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. 8 And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ 9 But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’ 10 And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. 11 Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ 12 But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ 13 Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.
The Parable of the Talents14 “For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. 15 To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16 He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. 17 So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. 18 But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19 Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. 20 And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here, I have made five talents more.’ 21 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ 22 And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here, I have made two talents more.’ 23 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ 24 He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here, you have what is yours.’ 26 But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? 27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. 28 So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. 29 For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 30 And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
The Final Judgment31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’
41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
What I'm Reading
Christ In Me
By James S. Stewart(Php 3:13–16) Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Let those of us then who are mature be of the same mind; and if you think differently about anything, this too God will reveal to you. 16 Only let us hold fast to what we have attained. NRSV
(Php 1:21) For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain. NRSV
It is when we have learnt to cease to look for this superficial consistency in Paul, this standardized, rigid system of thought and doctrine, that we begin to discover in him what is far more important—the deep, inner consistency of the man's religion, and the fundamental unity of all he wrote and taught. "Paul and Plato," says T. R. Glover, "had this in common: neither sought to develop a Paulinism or a Platonism; they both pursued Truth; and to keep abreast of Truth leaves a man little time to be consistent with himself, and little wish for it." Paul can contradict himself, can land himself at times in hopeless antinomy, can leap without warning from one point of view to another totally different, can say in the same breath "Work out your own salvation" and "It is God which worketh in you"; but through it all and beneath it all there is a living unity and a supreme consistency—the unity, not of logic, but of downright spiritual conviction, the consistency of a life utterly and at every point filled and flooded with the redeeming love of God. "Christ in me"—this overmastering experience which was "unquestionably the core of his religion," "der eine Brennpunkt," as Johannes Weiss expresses it, gives to everything he wrote, even in the midst of his most startling antitheses and wildest tangents of thought, a unity far deeper than that of any logical or dogmatic system. "By the good faith of God," he declared emphatically to the Corinthians, "my word to you was not 'yes and no'"; and in an even deeper sense than the words in their original context held, he had a right to say it. In the last resort, his life and work and preaching and writing and witness were all utterly consistent, for they were all Christ. "To me to live is Christ," he said: "life means Christ to me," as Dr. Moffatt translates it. "I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ." It was the very voice of the apostle that was speaking through Luther, when he declared "We preach always Him, the true God and man. . . . This may seem a limited and monotonous subject, likely to be soon exhausted, but we are never at the end of it." "He is Alpha and Omega," said the early Church; Christ, as we should say, is simply everything in life from A to Z: that was literally Paul's experience. He spoke of "the simplicity that is toward Christ," * meaning that in this difficult, complex, and often incoherent world the life of a true Christian would always be conspicuous for a deep, inner coherence and unity, an integration of experience, a simplicity of which the secret was a single-hearted devotion and loyalty to one Master, an undivided heart laid at Jesus' feet. And if ever a man had a right to speak thus, Paul had: for that undivided heart was his.
Hence we might take his own confession to the Philippians and set it as the motto of his life, "This one thing I do." The quest for a doctrinal system, the search for a unified Paulinism, ceases when you have heard that. "If he had been this (a system-maker)," declares Bishop Gore, "he would have saved the controversial and critical world a great deal of trouble, but he would not have been St. Paul." No, and he would not have been the flaming, royal spirit to whom all generations of Christians look back with gratitude to God. He would not have been the mighty instrument he proved himself in God's hand for the converting of the world. He would not have been the man who shines as a beacon for ever because he had one master-passion, Christ. Herein lies the true unity, deeper than all logical precision, more enduring than all imposing systems. With utter clearness, the great day of Damascus had revealed to him Christ as the sole meaning of his own life and of all life, and the very centre of the universe of God; and all the days since then had verified and confirmed the revelation. Possessed, from that first glorious hour of discovery, with an overmastering gratitude to the Lord to whom he owed it, with an utter conviction that what had then happened to himself could happen to everyone, and with a consuming passion to see it happening all over the earth and to share his Christ with all mankind, he threw everything he had, everything he was, into his response to the Gospel challenge. "This one thing I do "—that is the final, the only real, consistency. Systems, dogmatisms, Paulinisms have no more unity than the shifting sands; but Paul's Gospel, spoken and written, stands on solid rock. And that Rock is Christ.
(Php 2:12–13) Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure. NRSV
(2 Co 1:18–22) As surely as God is faithful, our word to you has not been “Yes and No.” 19 For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed among you, Silvanus and Timothy and I, was not “Yes and No”; but in him it is always “Yes.” 20 For in him every one of God’s promises is a “Yes.” For this reason it is through him that we say the “Amen,” to the glory of God. 21 But it is God who establishes us with you in Christ and has anointed us, 22 by putting his seal on us and giving us his Spirit in our hearts as a first installment. NRSV
(1 Co 2:2) For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. NRSV
(2 Co 11:3–6) But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by its cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. 4 For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you submit to it readily enough. 5 I think that I am not in the least inferior to these super-apostles. 6 I may be untrained in speech, but not in knowledge; certainly in every way and in all things we have made this evident to you. NRSV
Deny Ourselves... it is impossible for God to do what Christ commanded us to do. He told us to ‘deny ourselves’, but ‘God cannot deny himself’. ( Mark 8:34; 2 Tim. 2:13, RSV. ) Why is that? Why is it that God will not do, indeed cannot do, what he tells us to do? It is because God is God and not man, let alone fallen man. We have to deny or disown everything within us which is false to our true humanity. But there is nothing in God which is incompatible with his true deity, and therefore nothing to deny. It is in order to be our true selves that we have to deny ourselves; it is because God is never other than his true self that he cannot and will not deny himself. He can empty himself of his rightful glory and humble himself to serve. Indeed, it is precisely this that he has done in Christ (Phil. 2:7–8). But he cannot repudiate any part of himself, because he is perfect. He cannot contradict himself. This is his integrity. As for us, we are constantly aware of our human inconsistencies; they usually arouse a comment. ‘It’s so uncharacteristic of him’, we say, or ‘you are not yourself today’, or ‘I’ve come to expect something better from you’. But can you imagine saying such things to or about God? He is always himself and never inconsistent. If he were ever to behave ‘uncharacteristically’, in a way that is out of character with himself, he would cease to be God, and the world would be thrown into moral confusion. No, God is God; he never deviates one iota, even one tiny hair’s breadth, from being entirely himself.
( The Cross of Christ )
Keeping the Faith in a Faithless Age
By Albert Mohler
“The greatest question of our time,” historian Will Durant offered, “is not communism versus individualism, not Europe versus America, not even East versus the West; it is whether men can live without God.” That question, it now appears, will be answered in our own day.
For centuries, the Christian church has been the center of Western civilization. Western culture, government, law, and society were based on explicitly Christian principles. Concern for the individual, a commitment to human rights, and respect for the good, the beautiful, and the true—all of these grew out of Christian convictions and the influence of revealed religion.
All of these, we now hasten to add, are under serious attack. The very notion of right and wrong is now discarded by large sectors of American society. Where it is not discarded, it is often debased. Taking a page out of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, modern secularists simply declare wrong, right, and right, wrong.
A New Landscape | Quaker theologian D. Elton Trueblood once described America as a “cut flower civilization.” Our culture, he argued, is cut off from its Christian roots like a flower cut at the stem. Though the flower will hold its beauty for a time, it is destined to wither and die.
When Trueblood spoke those words more than two decades ago, the flower still had some color and signs of life. But the blossom has long since lost its vitality, and it is time for the fallen petals to be acknowledged.
Dr. R. Albert Mohler Jr. serves as president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary – the flagship school of the Southern Baptist Convention and one of the largest seminaries in the world.Albert Mohler Books | Go to Books Page
By Ravi Zacharias
Is the Christian faith intellectual nonsense? Are Christians deluded?
“If God exists and takes an interest in the affairs of human beings, his will is not inscrutable,” writes Sam Harris about the 2004 tsunami in Letter to a Christian Nation. “The only thing inscrutable here is that so many otherwise rational men and women can deny the unmitigated horror of these events and think this is the height of moral wisdom” (p. 48). In his article “God’s Dupes,” Harris argues, “Everything of value that people get from religion can be had more honestly, without presuming anything on insufficient evidence. The rest is self-deception, set to music” (The Los Angeles Times, March 15, 2007). Ironically, Harris’ first book is entitled The End of Faith, but it should really be called “The End of Reason,” as it demonstrates again that the mind that is alienated from God in the name of reason can become totally irrational.
Oxford zoologist Richard Dawkins suggests that the idea of God is a virus, and we need to find software to eradicate it. Somehow, if we can expunge the virus that led us to think this way, we will be purified and rid of this bedeviling notion of God, good, and evil (“Viruses of the Mind,” 1992). Along with Christopher Hitchens and a few others, these atheists are calling for the banishment of all religious belief. “Away with this nonsense!” is their battle cry. In return, they promise a world of new hope and unlimited horizons once we have shed this delusion of God.
I have news for them — news to the contrary. The reality is that the emptiness that results from the loss of the transcendent is stark and devastating, philosophically and existentially. Indeed, the denial of an objective moral law, based on the compulsion to deny the existence of God, results ultimately in the denial of evil itself. Furthermore, one would like to ask Dawkins, are we morally bound to remove that virus? Somehow he himself is, of course, free from the virus and can therefore input our moral data.
In an attempt to escape what they call the contradiction between a good God and a world of evil, atheists try to dance around the reality of a moral law (and hence, a moral lawgiver) by introducing terms like “evolutionary ethics.” The one who raises the question against God in effect plays God while denying He exists. Now, one may wonder: Why do you actually need a moral lawgiver if you have a moral law? The answer is because the questioner and the issue he or she questions always involve the essential value of a person. You can never talk of morality in abstraction. Persons are implicit to the question and the object of the question. In a nutshell, positing a moral law without a moral lawgiver would be equivalent to raising the question of evil without a questioner. So you cannot have a moral law unless the moral law itself is intrinsically woven into personhood. This means that an intrinsically worthy person must exist if the moral law itself is to be valued. And that person can only be God.
Ravi Zacharias is Founder and President of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM). Zacharias has spoken all over the world for 45 years in scores of universities, notably Harvard, Dartmouth, Johns Hopkins, and Cambridge. He has addressed writers of the peace accord in South Africa and military officers at the Lenin Military Academy and the Center for Geopolitical Strategy in Moscow. At the invitation of the President of Nigeria, he addressed delegates at the First Annual Prayer Breakfast for African Leaders held in Mozambique.
Zacharias has direct contact with key leaders, senators, congressmen, and governors who consult him on an ongoing basis. He has addressed the Florida Legislature and the Governor’s Prayer Breakfast in Texas and Louisiana, and has twice spoken at the Annual Prayer Breakfast at the United Nations in New York, which marks the beginning of the UN General Assembly each year. As the 2008 Honorary Chairman of the National Day of Prayer, he gave addresses at the White House, the Pentagon, and The Cannon House. He has had the privilege of addressing the National Prayer Breakfasts in the seats of government in Ottawa, Canada, and London, England, and speaking at the CIA in Washington, DC.
Born in India in 1946, Zacharias immigrated to Canada with his family twenty years later. While pursuing a career in business management, his interest in theology grew; subsequently, he pursued this study during his undergraduate education. He received his Master of Divinity from Trinity International University in Deerfield, Illinois. Well-versed in the disciplines of comparative religions, cults, and philosophy, he held the chair of Evangelism and Contemporary Thought at Alliance Theological Seminary for three and a half years. Zacharias has been a visiting scholar at Ridley Hall, Cambridge (then affiliated with Cambridge University, now more recently allied with Cambridge and affiliated with Durham University) where he studied moralist philosophers and literature of the Romantic era. He has been conferred ten honorary doctorates, including a Doctor of Laws and a Doctor of Sacred Theology.
Zacharias has authored or edited over 25 books including the Gold Medallion winner Can Man Live Without God (Word, 1994), Walking from East to West (Zondervan, 2006), The Grand Weaver (Zondervan, 2007), Has Christianity Failed You? (Zondervan, 2010), Why Jesus, (FaithWords, 2012), and Beyond Opinion (Thomas Nelson, 2007), which includes contributions from RZIM’s global team. His latest books are Jesus Among Secular Gods (2017) and Why Suffering? (2014), both coauthored with Vince Vitale and released by FaithWords. Several of his books have been translated into Russian, Chinese, Korean, Thai, Spanish, and other languages.
Zacharias has appeared on CNN, Fox, and other international broadcasts. His weekly radio program, “Let My People Think,” airs on 2337 outlets worldwide, his weekday program, “Just Thinking,” on 721, and his one-minute, “Just a Thought,” on 488. Various broadcasts are also translated into Romanian and Turkish, and “Let My People Think” airs as the Spanish-language program “Pensemos” on over 250 outlets in sixteen countries. Additionally, his television program, “Let My People Think,” is broadcast internationally in several countries including Indonesia. RZIM is headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia, with additional offices in Canada, India, Singapore, the United Kingdom, the Middle East, Hong Kong, Romania, Turkey, Austria, Spain, Latin America, and South Africa. Zacharias and his wife, Margie, have three grown children. They reside in Atlanta.
A Catechism on the Heart
By Sinclair Ferguson 1/1/1989
Sometimes people ask authors, “Which of your books is your favorite?” The first time the question is asked, the response is likely to be “I am not sure; I have never really thought about it.” But forced to think about it, my own standard response has become, “I am not sure what my favorite book is; but my favorite title is A Heart for God.” I am rarely asked, “Why?” but (in case you ask) the title simply expresses what I want to be: a Christian with a heart for God.
Perhaps that is in part a reflection of the fact that we sit on the shoulders of the giants of the past. Think of John Calvin’s seal and motto: a heart held out in the palm of a hand and the words “I offer my heart to you, Lord, readily and sincerely.” Or consider Charles Wesley’s hymn:
O for a heart to praise my God! A heart from sin set free.
Some hymnbooks don’t include Wesley’s hymn, presumably in part because it is read as an expression of his doctrine of perfect love and entire sanctification. (He thought it possible to have his longing for sinless perfection fulfilled in this world.) But the sentiment itself is surely biblical.
But behind the giants of church history stands the testimony of Scripture. The first and greatest commandment is to love the Lord our God with all our heart (Deut. 6:5). That is why, in replacing Saul as king, God “sought out a man after his own heart” (1 Sam. 13:14), for “the Lord looks on the heart” (16:7). It is a truism to say that, in terms of our response to the gospel, the heart of the matter is a matter of the heart. But truism or not, it is true.
What Do Manuscripts Tell Us About the Origins of the NT Canon? A Response to John Meade
By Michael J. Kruger 10/10/2017
Over at Evangelical Textual Criticism, John Meade has posted an article reviewing chapter seven of my book, Canon Revisited: Establishing the Origins and Authority of the New Testament Books. In particular, he challenges a number of the arguments I use to show how NT manuscripts may illumine our understanding of the development of the NT canon.
Meade focuses his comments on two issues, namely the number of manuscripts and the use of the codex. Before offering a response to those issues below, let me begin by making a simple observation about the purpose of this chapter. If one understands the flow of the argument in the book, and sets chapter seven in the larger context of the prior chapters, it will become clear that the exploration of these manuscripts is not intended to provide a definitive answer to which books are in the canon. Nowhere do I argue that we know which books are in the canon simply be looking at the features of early Christian manuscripts.
Indeed, the prior six chapters are making a very different argument about how we know which books are in and which books are out (an argument I will not rehearse here). The discussion of manuscripts, then, is provided simply as something that further illumines the history of the canon. It provides a general (but not absolute) confirmation of what we see from other kinds of evidence (patristic and otherwise).
Quantity of Manuscripts | There are few things more frustrating for an author than to make an argument, follow it up with an important qualification, and then have someone critique you as if that qualification were never made.
When it comes to the quantity of NT manuscripts, this seems to be what Meade has done. I was very clear in chapter seven that there is not a one-to-one correspondence between the number of manuscripts of a book and that book’s place in the NT canon. Nowhere do I argue that we know which books are in the canon simply by looking at which books left behind the most manuscripts. Indeed, I expressly state, “the relative popularity of books (on the basis of extant manuscripts) is not the whole story” (239). And one example is that we have only one copy of Mark from this time period.
Canon Revisited: Establishing the Origins and Authority of the New Testament Books
The Question of Canon: Challenging the Status Quo in the New Testament Debate
A Biblical-Theological Introduction to the New Testament: The Gospel Realized
The Heresy of Orthodoxy: How Contemporary Culture's Fascination with Diversity Has Reshaped Our Understanding of Early Christianity
The Early Text of the New Testament
Why Did A “Good” God Create Hell?
By Al Serrato 10/10/2017
Many people today accuse God of unfairness. Since God can foresee the future, they ask, why didn’t He simply never create all those he knows to be destined to spend eternity in Hell? One skeptic I know put the question like this:
God supposedly knows everything that will happen before you are ever born, so if all your choices are set beforehand, how can they possibly matter? Furthermore, if God knows you will “choose” Hell before he creates you, why does he simply not create you? Personally, I would much prefer nonexistence to eternal torment. Is God deliberately creating people knowing they will end up in Hell? Then I would call him evil. Is he compelled to create people regardless of what he sees in their future? Then he doesn’t have free will, which would certainly be an interesting interpretation, but one I doubt many people share. Is there some other explanation? If so, I can’t think of it.
This challenge has a bit of intuitive appeal. It seems to put God in a box, as it were, trapped between being “evil” for choosing to create rebellious creatures or lacking free will, by being unable to do otherwise. Let’s take a closer look at the two horns of this apparent dilemma.
To the Christian, “evil” is the label we give to words, thoughts or actions that deviate from God’s perfect will. If we were created robots, there would be no evil in the world; we would operate exactly in accordance with God’s desires. But in creating man, God did something quite different. He gave us “free will,” the capacity to rebel against him in our thoughts, words and actions. And rebel we did. God “foresaw” this development, but only in a manner of speaking – a manner focused upon the way we think. This is because God is not bound by time. For him, there is no future to “foresee.” There is only an eternal present. All times – whether past, present or future – are accessible to him in this eternal present. Thus, at the moment of creation, God was aware that man would rebel, that he was rebelling, and that he had rebelled. He was aware of the acts and the consequences, the motivations and the ultimate end, of everyone. Consistent with his nature for perfect fairness, he created a means by which man – though in rebellion and deserving punishment – could nonetheless find reunification with him. But in implementing this scheme, he did not force this choice upon us. He gives us the means to salvation, but remains content in allowing us to choose which path we will follow.
Those who use their free will to turn toward him – more precisely, to accept his free gift of salvation – will find a welcoming father, ready to do the work needed to restore us. Those who use their free will to turn away from God – to reject his gift – will find that this choice too is honored. Expecting God not to create those in this latter category would have two significant effects: it would show that God’s provision of free will is really a fiction, since only those who choose to do his will are actually created, and two, it would mean that Hell is a place of evil. But Hell is a place – or perhaps more precisely a condition – which was created by God to serve a purpose. Since God does not create evil – i.e. he does not act against his own nature – then Hell cannot be a place of evil. Like a human prison, it may be inhabited by those bent on doing evil, but the place itself – and the confinement it effectuates – is actually a good, just as separating hardened criminals from society is a net positive for both the evil-doer and the society that is victimized.
Read The Psalms In "1" Year
Psalm 109Sit at My Right Hand
110 A Psalm Of David.
110:1 The LORD says to my Lord:
“Sit at my right hand,
until I make your enemies your footstool.”
2 The LORD sends forth from Zion
your mighty scepter.
Rule in the midst of your enemies!
3 Your people will offer themselves freely
on the day of your power,
in holy garments;
from the womb of the morning,
the dew of your youth will be yours.
4 The LORD has sworn
and will not change his mind,
“You are a priest forever
after the order of Melchizedek.”
5 The Lord is at your right hand;
he will shatter kings on the day of his wrath.
6 He will execute judgment among the nations,
filling them with corpses;
he will shatter chiefs
over the wide earth.
7 He will drink from the brook by the way;
therefore he will lift up his head.
Chapter 3 | Persecutions of the Christians in PersiaThe Gospel having spread itself into Persia, the pagan priests, who worshipped the sun, were greatly alarmed, and dreaded the loss of that influence they had hitherto maintained over the people's minds and properties. Hence they thought it expedient to complain to the emperor that the Christians were enemies to the state, and held a treasonable correspondence with the Romans, the great enemies of Persia.
The emperor Sapores, being naturally averse to Christianity, easily believed what was said against the Christians, and gave orders to persecute them in all parts of his empire. On account of this mandate, many eminent persons in the church and state fell martyrs to the ignorance and ferocity of the pagans.
Constantine the Great being informed of the persecutions in Persia, wrote a long letter to the Persian monarch, in which he recounts the vengeance that had fallen on persecutors, and the great success that had attended those who had refrained from persecuting the Christians.
Speaking of his victories over rival emperors of his own time, he said, "I subdued these solely by faith in Christ; for which God was my helper, who gave me victory in battle, and made me triumph over my enemies. He hath likewise so enlarged to me the bounds of the Roman Empire, that it extends from the Western Ocean almost to the uttermost parts of the East: for this domain I neither offered sacrifices to the ancient deities, nor made use of charm or divination; but only offered up prayers to the Almighty God, and followed the cross of Christ. Rejoiced should I be if the throne of Persia found glory also, by embracing the Christians: that so you with me, and they with you, may enjoy all happiness.
In consequence of this appeal, the persecution ended for the time, but it was renewed in later years when another king succeeded to the throne of Persia.
Persecutions Under the Arian HereticsThe author of the Arian heresy was Arius, a native of Lybia, and a priest of Alexandria, who, in A.D. 318, began to publish his errors. He was condemned by a council of Lybian and Egyptian bishops, and that sentence was confirmed by the Council of Nice, A.D. 325. After the death of Constantine the Great, the Arians found means to ingratiate themselves into the favor of the emperor Constantinus, his son and successor in the east; and hence a persecution was raised against the orthodox bishops and clergy. The celebrated Athanasius, and other bishops, were banished, and their sees filled with Arians.
In Egypt and Lybia, thirty bishops were martyred, and many other Christians cruelly tormented; and, A.D. 386, George, the Arian bishop of Alexandria, under the authority of the emperor, began a persecution in that city and its environs, and carried it on with the most infernal severity. He was assisted in his diabolical malice by Catophonius, governor of Egypt; Sebastian, general of the Egyptian forces;
Faustinus, the treasurer; and Heraclius, a Roman officer.
The persecutions now raged in such a manner that the clergy were driven from Alexandria, their churches were shut, and the severities practiced by the Arian heretics were as great as those that had been practiced by the pagan idolaters. If a man, accused of being a Christian, made his escape, then his whole family were massacred, and his effects confiscated.
Persecution Under Julian the ApostateThis emperor was the son of Julius Constantius, and the nephew of Constantine the Great. He studied the rudiments of grammar under the inspection of Mardonius, a eunuch, and a heathen of Constantinople. His father sent him some time after to Nicomedia, to be instructed in the Christian religion, by the bishop of Eusebius, his kinsman, but his principles were corrupted by the pernicious doctrines of Ecebolius the rhetorician, and Maximus the magician.
Constantius, dying the year 361, Julian succeeded him, and had no sooner attained the imperial dignity than he renounced Christianity and embraced paganism, which had for some years fallen into great disrepute. Though he restored the idolatrous worship, he made no public edicts against Christianity. He recalled all banished pagans, allowed the free exercise of religion to every sect, but deprived all Christians of offices at court, in the magistracy, or in the army. He was chaste, temperate, vigilant, laborious, and pious; yet he prohibited any Christian from keeping a school or public seminary of learning, and deprived all the Christian clergy of the privileges granted them by Constantine the Great.
Biship Basil made himself first famous by his opposition to Arianism, which brought upon him the vengeance of the Arian bishop of Constantinople; he equally opposed paganism. The emperor's agents in vain tampered with Basil by means of promises, threats, and racks, he was firm in the faith, and remained in prison to undergo some other sufferings, when the emperor came accidentally to Ancyra. Julian determined to examine Basil himself, when that holy man being brought before him, the emperor did every thing in his power to dissuade him from persevering in the faith. Basil not only continued as firm as ever, but, with a prophetic spirit foretold the death of the emperor, and that he should be tormented in the other life. Enraged at what he heard, Julian commanded that the body of Basil should be torn every day in seven different parts, until his skin and flesh were entirely mangled. This inhuman sentence was executed with rigor, and the martyr expired under its severities, on June 28, A.D. 362.
Donatus, bishop of Arezzo, and Hilarinus, a hermit, suffered about the same time; also Gordian, a Roman magistrate. Artemius, commander in chief of the Roman forces in Egypt, being a Christian, was deprived of his commission, then of his estate, and lastly of his head.
The persecution raged dreadfully about the latter end of the year 363; but, as many of the particulars have not been handed down to us, it is necessary to remark in general, that in Palestine many were burnt alive, others were dragged by their feet through the streets naked until they expired; some were scalded to death, many stoned, and great numbers had their brains beaten out with clubs. In Alexandria, innumerable were the martyrs who suffered by the sword, burning, crucifixion and stoning. In Arethusa, several were ripped open, and corn being put into their bellies, swine were brought to feed therein, which, in devouring the grain, likewise devoured the entrails of the martyrs, and in Thrace, Emilianus was burnt at a stake; and Domitius murdered in a cave, whither he had fled for refuge.
The emperor, Julian the apostate, died of a wound which he received in his Persian expedition, A.D. 363, and even while expiring, uttered the most horrid blasphemies. He was succeeded by Jovian, who restored peace to the Church.
After the decease of Jovian, Valentinian succeeded to the empire, and associated to himself Valens, who had the command in the east, and was an Arian and of an unrelenting and persecuting disposition.
Foxe's Book of Martyrs
Devotionals, notes, poetry and more
Change your thinking
(Oct 12) Bob Gass
‘Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.’
(Php 4:8) 8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. ESV
In order to change your life, you must first change your thinking. And that’s not easy when you’ve spent your life thinking a certain way. Minister and columnist Dr Frank Crane said, ‘Our best friends and our worst enemies are our thoughts.’ King Solomon put it this way: ‘As [a man] thinks within himself, so he is’ (Proverbs 23:7 NASB). To change your thinking, you must do it - one thought at a time. That calls for discipline and determination. But it’s worth it. If you wanted to compete in a marathon you wouldn’t go on an all-sugar diet, would you? The fuel you put into something determines its performance. Yet we disregard this basic piece of wisdom: what you feed everything else is nothing compared to what you feed your mind! Here’s a truth that will transform you: think excellent thoughts! What enters your mind repeatedly, occupies it, shapes it, controls it, and in the end expresses itself in what you do and who you become. Your mind will absorb and reflect whatever it’s exposed to. The events you attend, the relationships you build, the materials you read or don’t read, the music you listen to, the media images you’re exposed to, the conversations you engage in, and the thoughts you entertain all shape your mind, and eventually your character and your destiny. So, what should you do? Start each day by praying: ‘Lord, I want the kind of mind Your Word describes. One that’s filled with excellent, admirable, honourable, praiseworthy thoughts’ (see Philippians 4:8). Can you imagine what your life would be like if you constantly prayed that way and programmed your thinking accordingly?
1 Tim 2
UCB The Word For Today
by Bill Federer
October 12, 1492, two hours after midnight, Columbus sighted land. He named the first island San Salvador, meaning "Holy Saviour." After meeting the natives, Columbus wrote: "So that they might be well-disposed towards us, for I knew that they were a people to be… converted to our Holy Faith rather by love than by force, I gave to some red caps and to others glass beads… They… became so entirely our friends that it was a wonder to see…. I believe that they would easily be made Christians, for it seemed to me that they had no religion of their own."American Minute
by P.T. Forsyth, (1848-1921)
The Soul of Prayer
And its great object is to get home as we are to God as He is, and to win response even when we get no compliance. The prayer of faith does not mean a prayer absolutely sure that it will receive what it asks. That is not faith. Faith is that attitude of soul and self to God which is the root and reservoir of prayer apart from all answer. It is what turns need into request. It is what moves your need to need God. It is what makes you sure your prayer is heard and stored, whether granted or not. “He putteth all my tears in His bottle.” God has old prayers of yours long maturing by Him. What wine you will drink with Him in His kingdom! Faith is sure that God refuses with a smile; that He says No in the spirit of Yes, and He gives or refuses always in Christ, our Great Amen. And better prayers are stirred by the presence of the Deliverer than even by the need of deliverance.
It is not sufficiently remembered that before prayer can expect an answer it must be itself an answer. That is what is meant by prayer in the name of Christ. It is prayer which answers God’s gift in Christ, with Whom are already given us all things. And that is why we must pray without ceasing, because in Christ God speaks without ceasing. Natural or instinctive prayer is one thing; supernatural prayer is another; it is the prayer not of instinct but of faith. It is our word answering God’s. It is more the prayer of fullness even than of need, of strength than of weakness—though it be “a strength girt round with weakness.” Prayer which arises from mere need is flung out to a power which is only remembered, or surmised, or unknown. It is flung into darkness and uncertainty. But in Christian prayer we ask for what we need because we are full of faith in God’s power and word, because need becomes petition at the touch of His word. (I always feel that in the order of our public worship prayer should immediately follow the lesson, without the intrusion on an anthem. And for the reason I name—that Christian prayer is our word answering God’s). We pray, therefore, in Christ’s name, or for His sake, because we pray as answering the gift in Christ. Our prayer is the note the tremulous soul utters when its chords are smitten by Him. We then answer above all things God’s prayer to us in His cross that we would be reconciled. God so beseeches us in Christ. So that, if we put it strongly, we may say that our prayer to God in Christ is our answer to God’s prayer to us there. “The best thing in prayer is faith,” says Luther.
And the spirit of prayer in Christ’s name is the true child-spirit. A certain type of religion is fond of dwelling on faith as the spirit of divine childhood; and its affinities are all with the tender and touching element in childhood. But one does not always get from the prophets of such piety the impression of a life breathed in prayer. And the notion is not the New Testament sense of being children of God. That is a manlier, a maturer thing. It is being sons of God by faith, and by faith’s energy of prayer. It is not the sense of being as helpless as a child that clings, not the sense of weakness, ignorance, gentleness, and all that side of things. But it is the spirit of a prayer which is a great act of faith, and therefore a power. Faith is not simply surrender, but adoring surrender, not a mere sense of dependence, but an act of intelligent committal, and the confession of a holiness which is able to save, keep, and bless for ever.
How is it that the experience of life is so often barren of spiritual culture for religious people? They become stoic and stalwart, but not humble; they have been sight, but no insight. Yet it is not the stalwarts but the saints that judge the world, i.e. that ake the true divine measure of the world and get to its subtle, silent, and final powers. Whole sections of our Protestantism have lost the virtue of humility or the understanding of it. It means for them no more than modesty or diffidence. It is the humility of weakness, not of power. To many useful, and even strong, people no experience seems to bring this subtle, spiritual intelligence, this finer discipline of the moral man. No rebukes, no rebuffs, no humiliations, no sorrows, seem to bring it to them. They have no spiritual history. Their spiritual biography not even an angel could write. There is no romance in their soul’s story. At sixty they are, spiritually, much where they were at twenty-six. To calamity, to discipline of any kind, they are simply resilient. Their religion is simply elasticity. It is but lusty life. They rise up after the smart is over, or the darkness fades away, as self-confident as if they were but seasoned politicians beaten at one election, but sure of doing better at the next. They are to the end just irrepressible, or persevering, or dogged. And they are as juvenile in moral insight, as boyish in spiritual perception, as ever.
--- Forsyth, P. T. (1848-1921).
Compiled by Richard S. Adams
"Having, First, gained all you can, and,
Secondly saved all you can,
Then give all you can."
--- from a sermon in the Works of John Wesley
God's promises are like the stars;
the darker the night
the brighter they shine.
--- David Nicholas
Religion in so far as it is a source of consolation is a hindrance to true faith; and in this sense atheism is a purification. I have to be an atheist with that part of myself which is not made for God. Among those in whom the supernatural part of themselves has not been awakened, the atheists are right and the believers wrong.
--- Simone Weil "Faiths of Meditation; Contemplation of the divine" as translated in The Simone Weil Reader (1957) edited by George A. Panichas, p. 417
... from here, there and everywhere
Thanks to Meir Yona
7. Now two days afterward twelve of those men that were on the forefront, and kept watch upon the banks, got together, and called to them the standard-bearer of the fifth legion, and two others of a troop of horsemen, and one trumpeter; these went without noise, about the ninth hour of the night, through the ruins, to the tower of Antonia; and when they had cut the throats of the first guards of the place, as they were asleep, they got possession of the wall, and ordered the trumpeter to sound his trumpet. Upon which the rest of the guard got up on the sudden, and ran away, before any body could see how many they were that were gotten up; for, partly from the fear they were in, and partly from the sound of the trumpet which they heard, they imagined a great number of the enemy were gotten up. But as soon as Caesar heard the signal, he ordered the army to put on their armor immediately, and came thither with his commanders, and first of all ascended, as did the chosen men that were with him. And as the Jews were flying away to the temple, they fell into that mine which John had dug under the Roman banks. Then did the seditious of both the bodies of the Jewish army, as well that belonging to John as that belonging to Simon, drive them away; and indeed were no way wanting as to the highest degree of force and alacrity; for they esteemed themselves entirely ruined if once the Romans got into the temple, as did the Romans look upon the same thing as the beginning of their entire conquest. So a terrible battle was fought at the entrance of the temple, while the Romans were forcing their way, in order to get possession of that temple, and the Jews were driving them back to the tower of Antonia; in which battle the darts were on both sides useless, as well as the spears, and both sides drew their swords, and fought it out hand to hand. Now during this struggle the positions of the men were undistinguished on both sides, and they fought at random, the men being intermixed one with another, and confounded, by reason of the narrowness of the place; while the noise that was made fell on the ear after an indistinct manner, because it was so very loud. Great slaughter was now made on both sides, and the combatants trod upon the bodies and the armor of those that were dead, and dashed them to pieces. Accordingly, to which side soever the battle inclined, those that had the advantage exhorted one another to go on, as did those that were beaten make great lamentation. But still there was no room for flight, nor for pursuit, but disorderly revolutions and retreats, while the armies were intermixed one with another; but those that were in the first ranks were under the necessity of killing or being killed, without any way for escaping; for those on both sides that came behind forced those before them to go on, without leaving any space between the armies. At length the Jews' violent zeal was too hard for the Romans' skill, and the battle already inclined entirely that way; for the fight had lasted from the ninth hour of the night till the seventh hour of the day, While the Jews came on in crowds, and had the danger the temple was in for their motive; the Romans having no more here than a part of their army; for those legions, on which the soldiers on that side depended, were not come up to them. So it was at present thought sufficient by the Romans to take possession of the tower of Antonia.
8. But there was one Julian, a centurion, that came from Bithynia, a man he was of great reputation, whom I had formerly seen in that war, and one of the highest fame, both for his skill in war, his strength of body, and the courage of his soul. This man, seeing the Romans giving ground, and in a sad condition, [for he stood by Titus at the tower of Antonia,] leaped out, and of himself alone put the Jews to flight, when they were already conquerors, and made them retire as far as the corner of the inner court of the temple; from him the multitude fled away in crowds, as supposing that neither his strength nor his violent attacks could be those of a mere man. Accordingly, he rushed through the midst of the Jews, as they were dispersed all abroad, and killed those that he caught. Nor, indeed, was there any sight that appeared more wonderful in the eyes of Caesar, or more terrible to others, than this. However, he was himself pursued by fate, which it was not possible that he, who was but a mortal man, should escape; for as he had shoes all full of thick and sharp nails 4 as had every one of the other soldiers, so when he ran on the pavement of the temple, he slipped, and fell down upon his back with a very great noise, which was made by his armor. This made those that were running away to turn back; whereupon those Romans that were in the tower of Antonia set up a great shout, as they were in fear for the man. But the Jews got about him in crowds, and struck at him with their spears and with their swords on all sides. Now he received a great many of the strokes of these iron weapons upon his shield, and often attempted to get up again, but was thrown down by those that struck at him; yet did he, as he lay along, stab many of them with his sword. Nor was he soon killed, as being covered with his helmet and his breastplate in all those parts of his body where he might be mortally wounded; he also pulled his neck close to his body, till all his other limbs were shattered, and nobody durst come to defend him, and then he yielded to his fate. Now Caesar was deeply affected on account of this man of so great fortitude, and especially as he was killed in the sight of so many people; he was desirous himself to come to his assistance, but the place would not give him leave, while such as could have done it were too much terrified to attempt it. Thus when Julian had struggled with death a great while, and had let but few of those that had given him his mortal wound go off unhurt, he had at last his throat cut, though not without some difficulty, and left behind him a very great fame, not only among the Romans, and with Caesar himself, but among his enemies also; then did the Jews catch up his dead body, and put the Romans to flight again, and shut them up in the tower of Antonia. Now those that most signalized themselves, and fought most zealously in this battle of the Jewish side, were one Alexas and Gyphtheus, of John's party, and of Simon's party were Malachias, and Judas the son of Merto, and James the son of Sosas, the commander of the Idumeans; and of the zealots, two brethren, Simon and Judas, the sons of Jairus.
The War of the Jews: The History of the Destruction of Jerusalem (complete edition, 7 books)
by D.H. Stern
a stranger and not your own lips.
Complete Jewish Bible : An English Version of the Tanakh (Old Testament) and B'Rit Hadashah (New Testament)
A Daily Devotional by Oswald Chambers
My Utmost for His Highest: Quality Paperback Edition
Getting into God's stride
Enoch walked with God. --- Genesis 5:24.
The test of a man's religious life and character is not what he does in the exceptional moments of life, but what he does in the ordinary times, when there is nothing tremendous or exciting on. The worth of a man is revealed in his attitude to ordinary things when he is not before the footlights.
(Cf. John 1:36.) It is a painful business to get through into the stride of God, it means getting your 'second wind' spiritually. In learning to walk with God there is always the difficulty of getting into His stride; but when we have got into it, the only characteristic that manifests itself is the life of God. The individual man is lost sight of in his personal union with God, and the stride and the power of God alone are manifested.
It is difficult to get into stride with God, because when we start walking with Him we find He has outstripped us before we have taken three steps. He has different ways of doing things, and we have to be trained and disciplined into His ways. It was said of Jesus-"He shall not fail nor be discouraged," because He never worked from His own individual standpoint but always from the standpoint of His Father, and we have to learn to do the same. Spiritual truth is learned by atmosphere, not by intellectual reasoning. God's Spirit alters the atmosphere of our way of looking at things, and things begin to be possible which never were possible before. Getting into the stride of God means nothing less than union with Himself. It takes a long time to get there, but keep at it. Don't give in because the pain is bad just now, get on with it, and before long you will find you have a new vision and a new purpose.
the Poetry of R.S. Thomas
The Poems of R.S. Thomas
A pen appeared, and the god said:
'Write what it is to be
man.' And my hand hovered
long over the bare page.
until there, like footprints
of the lost traveller, letters
took shape on the page's
blankness, and I spelled out
the word 'lonely'. And my hand moved
to erase it; but the voices
of all those waiting at life's
window cried out loud: 'It is true.'
Maimonides: Torah and Philosophic Quest
Against this approach Maimonides appeals to the Torah, arguing that the Torah itself indicates the existence and legitimacy of universal criteria of truth:
For this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the nations which shall hear all these statutes and say, "Surely, that great nation is a wise and discerning people" (Deut. 4:6).
If there are specific Jewish criteria of truth, how could this promise be realized? If what counts for truth in this community is to be based exclusively upon rabbinic authority, how can the Torah expect those who are not bound by that authority to marvel and appreciate the wisdom of the community? There must exist, then, independent criteria of truth which neither Jew nor non Jew can ignore. (Makes me think of Roman 1:20.)
A careful reader of Maimonides' proof-text would immediately discover that the wisdom which the world appreciates includes the laws of Judaism:
See, I have imparted to you laws and rules, as the Lord my God has commanded me, for you to abide by in the land which you are about to invade and occupy. Observe them faithfully, for that will be proof of your wisdom and discernment to other peoples, who on hearing of all these laws will say, "Surely that great nation is a wise and discerning people." For what great nation is there that has a god so close at hand as is the Lord our God whenever we call upon Him? Or what great nation has laws and as perfect as all this Teaching that I set before you this day? (Deut. 4:5–8).
The student must await The Guide of the Perplexed for a full explication of how Judaism as a whole—its Aggadah and Halakhah—can be seen as worthy and capable of universal appreciation. In his commentary to Ḥelek Maimonides deals only with Aggadah. He informs his reader that the literalistic approach which leads to insulation "robs our religion of its beauties, darkens its brilliance and makes the Law of God convey meanings quite contrary to those it was intended to convey."
A second group of readers accepts a literalistic reading of Aggadah which leads, however, not to submission, but to derision and rejection:
The second class of reasoners is also numerous. They see and hear the words of the Sages and accept them in their literal significations, thinking that the Sages meant nothing but what the literal interpretation indicates. They consequently apply themselves to showing the weakness of the Rabbinical statements and their objectionable character, and to slandering that which is free from reproach. They make sport of the words of the Sages from time to time and imagine themselves more intellectually gifted and possessed of more penetrating minds, whereas they, peace to them, are deceived, shortsighted, ignorant of all existing things, and consequently unable to comprehend anything.… They are more stupid than the first class, of which we have spoken, and more steeped in folly! They are an accursed class, because they put themselves in opposition to men of great worth, whose learning is manifest to scholars. If only they trained themselves in knowledge so as to know how necessary it is to use the appropriate speech in theology, and in like subjects.
Since this group views the rabbis as fools and simpletons, one may infer rejection of rabbinic legislative authority as well. Maimonides' statement that "they are an accursed class" seems to suggest this. The fundamentalist understanding of Aggadah by a person unable to disassociate his thinking from the way he acts results either in total obedience to tradition, the way of insulation of the first class, or in abandonment of the tradition, the way of rejection of the second class.
Maimonides offers a third approach:
The third class of thinkers is, as God lives, so very small in numbers that one would only call it a class in the sense that the sun is termed a species although it is a single object. They are the men who accept as established facts the greatness of the Sages and the excellence of their thoughts, as found in the generality of their remarks, where each word points a very true theme.… The members of this class are convinced also of the impossibility of the impossible and the necessary existence of what must exist. For they know that they, peace to them, would not talk absurdities to one another. And they are convinced beyond doubt that their words have both an outer and an inner meaning, and that in all that they say of things impossible, their discourses were in the form of riddle and parable.
Maimonides' reader is an observant Jew who fully accepts the Halakhah as a self-contained system with a specific logic of legal interpretation and development. Yet, Maimonides' point here is that this need not prevent one from recognizing that aggadic discourse can be understood in a manner different from the way in which one understands halakhic discourse. The halakhic Jew can approach the Aggadah with knowledge gained from sources independent of the tradition; when Aggadah violates reason's understanding of the necessary or the impossible, he recognizes that Aggadah must be understood symbolically. The reader who is a member of this group (the reader whom Maimonides wants to cultivate) manifests his reverence for the tradition by his painstaking attempts to uncover hidden meanings in the Aggadah. By recognizing that one must discover the point of a statement before one can judge it to be true or false, one can combine a serious allegiance to the tradition with a commitment to universal criteria of knowledge. To reject a rabbinic or biblical statement whose literal reading contradicts accepted truths is to misunderstand the meaning of that which one purports to evaluate.
Maimonides supports his approach to Aggadah by showing that a symbolic understanding of Torah texts is a traditional mode of understanding:
And how can we disapprove of their literary productions being in the manner of proverb and simile of a lowly and popular kind, seeing that the wisest of men did the same "by holy inspiration" i.e., Solomon, in the books of Proverbs, Song of Songs, and parts of Ecclesiastes? How can we disapprove of the method of placing interpretations on the words of Sages, and drawing them out of their literalness to adjust them to reason and make them accord with truth and the books of Scripture, seeing that the Sages themselves place their interpretations on the words of the text and, by bringing them out of their literal meaning, present them as parable?
One does not, therefore, distort the tradition when one applies an approach toward understanding Aggadah that differs from the method used to understand Halakhah.
The acceptance of the symbolic approach to aggadic language immediately raises a question: Why did the tradition choose to speak in parables when it could have been explicit and literal? Maimonides offers the following explanation in his introduction to the Commentary to the Mishnah:
And they did this to marvelous issues, i.e., wrote in parables whose literal meaning may be contrary to reason; first, to awaken the understanding of students, and also to blind the eyes of fools whose hearts will never be enlightened, and even if the truth were presented before them they would turn away from it according to the deficiency of their natures, as it is [written] said regarding those like them, "One does not reveal to them the secret" (T.B. Kedushin 71a), for their intellect is not perfect to the extent required to receive the truth as it is.… And, thus, it is improper for the man of knowledge [perfect man] to publicize what he knows of the secret teachings other than to one who is greater than he or like him. Because if he would present it before a fool, if [the latter] would not deprecate it to his face, surely the matter will not find favor in his eyes. Therefore, the wise man said: "Speak not in the ears of a fool; for he will despise the wisdom of thy words" (Prov. 23:9). And also, it is not correct to teach the public but by the way of riddle and parable in order to include women, young men, and children, so that when their intellects reach perfection they will know the meanings [matter] of those parables. To this issue Solomon alluded in his saying, "To understand a proverb, and a figure; the words of the wise, and their dark sayings" (Prov. 1:6), and because of this our Sages, peace to them, spoke about Divine matters in riddle form.
Thus it is proper for a person who happens to come across one of their statements, which he thinks is opposed to reason, not to attribute the deficiency to those statements, but to attribute the deficiency to his own intellect. And when he sees one of their parables whose literal meaning is far from his understanding, it is proper for him to be much grieved that he did not understand the issue so that all true statements became extremely distant [to his understanding]. For the intellects of men are as different as differences of temperament, and as the temperament of one man is better and closer to the mean than the temperament of another man, so too will the intellect of one man be more perfect and complete than the intellect of another man. There is no doubt that the intellect of one who knows a sublime matter is not as the intellect of one who does not know that matter, for the one is like an intellect in actu and the other an intellect in potentia. Therefore, there are matters [issues] which to a specific person are perfectly clear and correct, while to another person they are in the domain of the impossible, according to the extent of their level of wisdom.
The tradition spoke exactly and explicitly when it legislated norms. However it spoke symbolically when it was guiding the individual toward higher spiritual achievements. The ambiguity and obscurity of the parables is a challenge to the wise and a veil to the unlearned. When the tradition elaborated norms for the community it addressed itself not to the elite few but to the total community. Moses as well as every other member of the community is expected to obey the same law.
The democratization of the spiritual which is the hallmark of the Halakhah is not, however, the complete picture of Judaism. For those individuals capable of deeper spirituality it provides an Aggadah:
For these matters are not among those that can be taught, and are not interpreted in public, rather they [rabbis] allude to them in books by hidden allusions. And if God removes the screens from the heart of one who is pleasing before Him, after he has prepared himself through study, [such a person] will understand of them according to his intellect.… And when God reveals to such a man whatever He reveals, he should hide [such knowledge] as we said, and if he alludes to something [of them] behold [he should do so] only to one whose intellect is perfected and whose righteousness is known as we have explained and clarified in many stories of the Talmud.
And Mary said: “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” --- Luke 1:46–47.
Let us think of his greatness; it will be really praising him if we thus think of him. Spurgeon's Sermons on Old Testament Women, Vol. 1: (C. H. Spurgeon Sermon Series) You need not speak, but just ponder, weigh, consider, contemplate, meditate on the character of the Most High. Begin with his mercy if you cannot begin with his holiness, but take his attributes one by one and think about them. As you think of any one of them, it will delight you and carry you away. You will be lost in wonder, love, and praise as you consider it; you will be astonished and amazed as you plunge into its wondrous depths, and everything else will vanish from your vision. That is one way of making God great—by often thinking about him.
The next way to make God great is by often drinking him into yourself. The lilies stand and worship God simply by being beautiful—by drinking in the sunlight and the dewdrops. Stand before the Lord and drink him in; do you understand what I mean by this expression? You go down to the seaside when you are sickly; there is a delightful breeze coming up from the sea; you feel as if it came in at every pore of your body and you seem to be drinking in health at every breath you breathe. Do just like that in a spiritual sense with God; go down to the great sea of Godhead; magnify it by thinking how great it is, and then take it into your very soul. God cannot be greater than he is, but he can be greater in you than he is at present. He cannot increase; there cannot be more of God than there is, but there may be more of God in you. More of his great love, more of his perfect holiness, more of his divine power may be manifested in you, and more of his likeness and light may be revealed through you. Therefore, make him great in that respect.
And when you have done that, by his help, then try to make him great by what you give forth, even as the rose: when it has satisfied itself with the sweet shower, no sooner does the clear shining come after the rain than it deluges the garden all around with its delicious perfume. Do the same; first drink in all you can of the deity, and then exhale him; breathe out again in your praise, in your holy living, in your prayers, in your earnest zeal, and in your devout spirit the God whom you have breathed in. You cannot make more of God than he is, but you can make God more consciously present to the minds of others and make them think more highly of God by what you say and what you do.
--- C. H. Spurgeon
A Pinch of Poison
Luke, who bolted New Testament events into world history, refers to Roman emperor Claudius in Acts 11 and 18.
Tiberius Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, born shortly before Christ, became Roman emperor in 41 at age 50. As a young man he had suffered infantile paralysis, and his long, spindly legs barely supported his stout frame. His head wobbled when he walked, he stuttered, and he laughed in outbursts. When angered, he foamed at the mouth and trickled at the nose.
But when he became emperor, he surprised everyone by showing promise. He lowered taxes, extended the empire into Britain and Mauritania, and refused to be worshiped as a god. Many were granted Roman citizenship under his rule. Civil service was expanded, the legal system was reformed, and public works grew.
It didn't last. The latter years of Claudius were marred by intrigue, much of it centered around his wife, Agrippina. The emperor's first wife had died on their wedding day. Others had been divorced or slain. Then he met and married the wily Agrippina.
The empress, 32, had but one aim—to secure the throne for her own son. To do that, she had to dispatch both Claudius and his son Britannicus. As she assumed more and more power, she plotted the deaths of her enemies and unleashed a reign of terror. It took Claudius five years to realize what was happening, and by then it was too late. On October 12, 54 she fed him mushrooms well seasoned with a potent pinch of poison. He suffered 12 agonizing hours, unable to speak a word, before dying. Britannicus eventually tasted poison as well.
Agrippina's son became emperor. He thanked her by plotting her murder. First he tried poisoning her, but she knew all the tricks. He next tried drowning her, but she swam to safety from the prearranged shipwreck. Finally, paid assassins plunged swords into her womb. Viewing her uncovered corpse, the young emperor remarked, "I did not know I had so beautiful a mother."
His name? Nero.
During this time some prophets from Jerusalem came to Antioch. One of them was Agabus. Then with the help of the Spirit, he told that there would be a terrible famine everywhere in the world. And it happened when Claudius was Emperor.
--- Acts 11:27,28.
Daily Readings / CHARLES H. SPURGEON
Morning - October 12
“I will meditate in thy precepts.” --- Psalm 119:15.
There are times when solitude is better than society, and silence is wiser than speech. We should be better Christians if we were more alone, waiting upon God, and gathering through meditation on his Word spiritual strength for labour in his service. We ought to muse upon the things of God, because we thus get the real nutriment out of them. Truth is something like the cluster of the vine: if we would have wine from it, we must bruise it; we must press and squeeze it many times. The bruiser’s feet must come down joyfully upon the bunches, or else the juice will not flow; and they must well tread the grapes, or else much of the precious liquid will be wasted. So we must, by meditation, tread the clusters of truth, if we would get the wine of consolation therefrom. Our bodies are not supported by merely taking food into the mouth, but the process which really supplies the muscle, and the nerve, and the sinew, and the bone, is the process of digestion. It is by digestion that the outward food becomes assimilated with the inner life. Our souls are not nourished merely by listening awhile to this, and then to that, and then to the other part of divine truth. Hearing, reading, marking, and learning, all require inwardly digesting to complete their usefulness, and the inward digesting of the truth lies for the most part in meditating upon it. Why is it that some Christians, although they hear many sermons, make but slow advances in the divine life? Because they neglect their closets, and do not thoughtfully meditate on God’s Word. They love the wheat, but they do not grind it; they would have the corn, but they will not go forth into the fields to gather it; the fruit hangs upon the tree, but they will not pluck it; the water flows at their feet, but they will not stoop to drink it. From such folly deliver us, O Lord, and be this our resolve this Morning, “I will meditate in thy precepts.”
Evening - October 12
“The Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost.” --- John 14:26.
This age is peculiarly the dispensation of the Holy Spirit, in which Jesus cheers us, not by his personal presence, as he shall do by-and-by, but by the indwelling and constant abiding of the Holy Ghost, who is evermore the Comforter of the church. It is his office to console the hearts of God’s people. He convinces of sin; he illuminates and instructs; but still the main part of his work lies in making glad the hearts of the renewed, in confirming the weak, and lifting up all those that be bowed down. He does this by revealing Jesus to them. The Holy Spirit consoles, but Christ is the consolation. If we may use the figure, the Holy Spirit is the Physician, but Jesus is the medicine. He heals the wound, but it is by applying the holy ointment of Christ’s name and grace. He takes not of his own things, but of the things of Christ. So if we give to the Holy Spirit the Greek name of Paraclete, as we sometimes do, then our heart confers on our blessed Lord Jesus the title of Paraclesis. If the one be the Comforter, the other is the Comfort. Now, with such rich provision for his need, why should the Christian be sad and desponding? The Holy Spirit has graciously engaged to be thy Comforter: dost thou imagine, O thou weak and trembling believer, that he will be negligent of his sacred trust? Canst thou suppose that he has undertaken what he cannot or will not perform? If it be his especial work to strengthen thee, and to comfort thee, dost thou suppose he has forgotten his business, or that he will fail in the loving office which he sustains towards thee? Nay, think not so hardly of the tender and blessed Spirit whose name is “the Comforter.” He delights to give the oil of joy for mourning, and the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness. Trust thou in him, and he will surely comfort thee till the house of mourning is closed for ever, and the marriage feast has begun.
LEAD ON, O KING ETERNAL
Ernest W. Shurtleff, 1862–1917
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for His appearing. (2 Timothy 4:7, 8)
One of the thrilling experiences in life is to watch a loved one or friend walk across a stage in cap and gown and receive that long awaited diploma. Today’s hymn was written for just such an event.
Ernest Shurtleff, author of this text, was about to graduate from Andover Seminary in 1887. His classmates at the seminary, recognizing the poetic ability of their colleague, shortly before graduation one day approached Shurtleff with this request:
“Ernest, why don’t you write our class poem. After all, you have already published two volumes of poetry—What’s the use of having a distinguished author in the class if he cannot rise to the occasion and do his class the honor of writing a good poem just for them?”
“Let’s make it a hymn that we can all sing,” replied Shurtleff, “We’ve been spending days of preparation here at seminary. Now the day of march has come and we must go out to follow the leadership of the King of kings, to conquer the world under His banner.”
Although the metaphors and expressions in this hymn were intended to challenge the graduating class of 1887 at Andover Seminary, the truths of this text can be applied to our lives today. This is not the time for any of us to slacken our efforts in the service of our Lord. The crown awaits the conquest— “Lead on, O God of Might!”
Lead on, O King Eternal, the day of march has come! Henceforth in fields of conquest Thy tents shall be our home. Thru days of preparation Thy grace has made us strong, and now, O King Eternal, we lift our battle song.
Lead on, O King Eternal, till sin’s fierce war shall cease; and holiness shall whisper the sweet Amen of peace; for not with swords loud clashing nor roll of stirring drums, with deeds of love and mercy the heav’nly kingdom comes.
Lead on, O King Eternal, we follow, not with fears; for gladness breaks like Morning where’er Thy face appears. Thy cross is lifted o’er us; we journey in its light: The crown awaits the conquest—lead on, O God of might.
For Today: Psalm 25:4, 9, 10; Isaiah 48:17; 1 Corinthians 16:13; Philippians 1:27–30
Ask God to lead you to greater spiritual conquests than you have yet known and to enable you to win the victory “with deeds of love and mercy.” Carry these musical truths with you ---
In particular, this attribute is injured, by invading the peculiar rights of it, by presuming on it, and by a practical denial of it. First, By
invading the peculiar rights of it. 1. By invocation of creatures. Praying to saints, by the Romanists, is a disparagement to this divine
excellency; he that knows all things, is only fit to have the petitions of men presented to him; prayer supposeth an omniscient Being,
as the object of it; no other being but God ought to have that honor acknowledged to it; no understanding but his is infinite; no other
presence but his is everywhere; to implore any deceased creature for a supply of our wants, is to own in them a property of the Deity,
and make them deities that were but men, and increase their glory by a diminution of God’s honor, in ascribing that perfection to
creatures which belongs only to God. Alas! they are so far from understanding the desires of our souls, that they know not the words
of our lips: it is against reason to address our supplications to them that neither understand us nor discern us (Isa. 63:16), “Abraham is
ignorant of us, and Israel acknowledges us not” The Jews never called upon Abraham, though the covenant was made with him for
the whole seed; not one departed saint for the whole four thousand years, between the creation of the world, and the coming of Christ,
was ever prayed to by the Israelites, or ever imagined to have a share in God’s omniscience: so that to pray to St. Peter, St. Paul, much
less to St. Roch, St Swithin, St. Martin, St. Francis, &c. is such a superstition, that hath no footing in the Scripture. To desire the
prayers of the living, with whom we have a communion, who can understand and grant our desires, is founded upon a mutual
charity; but to implore persons that are absent, at a great distance from us, with whom we have not, nor know how to have, any
commerce, supposeth them, in their departure, to have put off humanity, and commenced gods, and endued with some part of the
Divinity to understand our petitions; we are, indeed, to cherish their memories, consider their examples, imitate their graces, and
observe their doctrines; we are to follow them as saints, but not elevate them as gods, in ascribing to them such a knowledge, which is
the only necessary right of their and our common Creator. As the invocation of saints mingles them with Christ, in the exercise of his
office, so it sets them equal with God in the throne of his omniscience, as if they had as much credit with God as Christ, by way of
mediation, and as much knowledge of men’s affairs as God himself. Omniscience is peculiar to God, and incommunicable to any
creature; it is the foundation of all religion, and therefore one of the choicest acts of it; viz. prayer and invocation. To direct our vows
and petitions to any one else, is to invade the peculiarity of this perfection in God, and to rank some creatures in a partnership with him in it.
2. This attribute is injured by curiosity of knowledge; especially of future things, which God hath not discovered in natural causes, or supernatural revelation. It is a common error of men’s spirits to aspire to know what God would have hidden, and to pry into Divine secrets; and many men are more willing to remain without the knowledge of those things which may, with a little industry, be attained, than be divested of the curiosity of inquiring into those things which are above their reach; it is hence that some have laid aside the study of the common remedies of nature to find out the philosopher’s stone, which scarce any ever yet attempted but sunk in the enterprise. From this inclination to know the most abstruse and difficult things, it is that the horrors of magic and vanities of astrology have sprung, whereby men have thought to find, in a commerce with devils and the jurisdiction of the stars, the events of their lives, and the disposal of states and kingdoms. Hence, also, arose those multitudes of ways of divination, invented among the heathen, and practised too commonly in these ages of the world. This is an invasion of God’s prerogative, to whom secret things belong (Deut. 29:29); “Secret things belong unto the Lord our God, but revealed things belong to us and our children.” It is an intolerable boldness to attempt to fathom those, the knowledge whereof God hath reserved to himself, and to search that which God will have to surpass our understandings, whereby we more truly envy God a knowledge superior to our own, than we, in Adam, imagined that he envied us. Ambition is the greatest cause of this; ambition to be accounted some great thing among men, by reason of a knowledge estranged from the common mass of mankind, but more especially that soaring pride to be equal with God, which lurks in our nature ever since the fall of our first parents: this is not yet laid aside by men, though it was the first thing that embroiled the world with the wrath of God. Some think a curiosity of knowledge was the cause of the fall of devils; I am sure it was the fall of Adam, and is yet the crime of his posterity; had he been contented to know what God had furnished him with, neither he nor his posterity had smarted under the venom of the serpent’s breath. All curious and bold inquiries into things not revealed are an attempt upon the throne of God, and are both sinful and pernicious, like to glaring upon the sun, where, instead of a greater acuteness, we meet with blindness, and too dearly buy our ignorance in attempting a superfluous knowledge. As God’s knowledge is destined to the government of the world, so should ours be to the advantage of the world, and not degenerate into vain speculations.
3. This attribute is injured by swearing by creatures. To swear by the name of God, in a righteous cause, when we are lawfully called to it by a superior power, or for the necessary decision of some controversy, for the ends of charity and justice, is an act of religion, and a part of worship, founded upon, and directed to, the honor of this attribute; by it we acknowledge the glory of his infallible knowledge of all things; but to swear by false gods, or by any creature, is blasphemous; it sets the creature in the place of God, and invests it in that which is the peculiar honor of the Divinity; for when any swear truly, they intend the invocation of an infallible Witness, and the bringing an undoubted testimony for what they do assert: while, any, therefore, swear by a creature, or a false god, they profess that that creature, or that which they esteem to be a god is an infallible witness, which to be is only the right of God; they attribute to the creature that which is the property of God alone, to know the heart, and to be a witness whether they speak true or no: and this was accounted, by all nations, the true design of an oath. As to swear falsely is a plain denial of the all-knowledge of God, so to swear by any creature is to set the creature upon the throne of God, in ascribing that perfection to the creature which sovereignly belongs to the Creator; for it is not in the power of any to witness to the truth of the heart, but of him that is the searcher of hearts.
4. We sin against this attribute by censuring the hearts of others. An open crime, indeed, falls under our cognizance, and therefore under our judgment; for whatsoever falls under the authority of man to be punished, falls under the judgment of man to be censured, as an act contrary to the law of God; yet, when a censure is built upon the evil of the act which is obvious to the view, if we take a step farther to judge the heart and state, we leave the revealed rule of the law, and ambitiously erect a tribunal equal with God’s, and usurp a judicial power, pertaining only to the Supreme Governor of the world, and consequently pretend to be possessed of the perfection of omniscience, which is necessary to render him capable of the exercise of that sovereign authority: for it is in respect of his dominion that God hath the supreme right to judge; and in respect of his knowledge that he hath an incommunicable capacity to judge. In an action that is doubtful, the good or evil whereof depends only upon God’s determination, and wherein much of the judgment depends upon the discerning the intention of the agent, we cannot judge any man without a manifest invasion of God’s peculiar right such actions are to be tried by God’s knowledge, not by our surmises; God only is the master in such cases, to whom a person stands or falls (Rom. 14:4). ’Till the true principle and ends of an action be known by the confession of the party acting it, a true judgment of it is not in our power. Principles and ends lie deep and hid from us; and it is intolerable pride to pretend to have a joint key with God to open that cabinet which he hath reserved to himself: Besides the violation of the rule of charity in misconstruing actions which may be great and generous in their root and principle, we invade God’s right, as if our ungrounded imaginations and conjectures were in joint commission with this sovereign perfection; and thereby we become usurping judges of evil thoughts (James 2:4). It is, therefore, a boldness worthy to be punished by the judge, to assume to ourselves the capacity and authority of him who is the only Judge: for as the execution of the Divine law, for the inward violation of it, belongs only to God, so is the right of judging a prerogative belonging only to his omniscience; his right is, therefore, invaded, if we pretend to a knowledge of it. This humor of men the apostle checks, when he saifh (1 Cor. 4:5), “He that judgeth me is the Lord; therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who will manifest the counsels of all hearts.” It is not the time yet for God to erect the tribunal for the trial of men’s hearts, and the principles of their actions; he hath reserved the glorious discovery of this attribute for another season: we must not, therefore, presume to judge of the counsels of men’s hearts till God hath revealed them by opening the treasures of his own knowledge; much less are we to judge any man’s final condition. Manasseh may sacrifice to devils, and unconverted Paul tear the church in pieces; but God had mercy on them, and called them. The actions may be censured, not the state, for we know not whom God may call. In censuring men, we may doubly imitate the devil, in a false accusation of the brethren, as well as in an ambitious usurpation of the rights of God. Secondly, This perfection is injured by presuming upon it, or making an ill use of it. As in the neglect of prayer for the supply of men’s wants, because God knows them already, so that that which is an encouragement to prayer, they make the reason of restraining it before God. Prayer is not to administer knowledge to God, but to acknowledge this admirable perfection of the Divine nature. If God did not know, there were indeed no use of prayer; it would be as vain a thing to send up our prayers to heaven, as to implore the senseless statue, or picture of a prince, for a protection. We pray because God knows: for though he knows our wants with a knowledge of vision, yet he will not know them with a knowledge of supply, till he be sought unto (Matt. 6:32, 33; 7:11.) All the excellencies of God are ground of adoration; and this excellency is the ground of that part of worship we call prayer. If God be to be worshipped, he is to be called upon: invocations of his name in our necessities is a chief act of worship; whence the temple, the place of solemn worship, was not called the house of sacrifice, but the house of prayer. Prayer was not appointed for God’s information, as if he were ignorant, but for the expression of our desires; not to furnish him with a knowledge of what we want, but to manifest to him, by some rational sign convenient to our nature, our sense of that want, which he knows by himself. So that prayer is not designed to acquaint God with our wants, but to express the desire of a remedy of our wants. God knows our wants, but hath not made promises barely to our wants, but to our asking, that his omniscience in hearing, as well as his sufficiency in supplying, many have a sensible honor in our acknowledgments and receipts. It is therefore an ill use of this excellency of God to neglect prayer to him as needless, because he knows already.
Thirdly. This perfection of God is wronged by a practical denial of it. It is the language of every sin, and so God takes it when he comes to reckon with men for their impieties. Upon this he charges the greatness of the iniquity of Israel, the overflowing of blood in the land, and the perverseness of the city: “They say, the Lord hath forsaken the earth, and the Lord sees not” (Ezek. 9:9): they deny his ayes to see, and his resolution to punish.
1. It will appear, in forbearing sin from a sense of man’s knowledge, not of God’s. Open impieties are refrained because of the eye of man, but secret sins are not checked because of the eye of God. Wickedness is committed in darkness, that is restrained in light, as if darkness were as great a clog to God’s eyes as it is to ours; as though his eyes were muffled with the curtains of the night (Job 22:14.) This, it is likely, was at the root of Jonah’s flight; he might have some secret thought that his Master’s eye could not follow him, as though the close hatches of a ship could secure him from the knowledge of God, as well as the sides of a ship could from the dashing of the waves. What lies most upon the conscience when it is graciously wounded, is least regarded or contemned when it is basely inclined. David’s heart smote him not only for his sin in the gross, but as particularly cirumstantiated by the commission of it in the sight of God (Psalm 1:4): “Against thee, thee only have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight.” None knew the reason of Uriah’s death but myself, and because others knew it not, I neglected any regard to this Divine eye. When Jacob’s sons used their brother Joseph so barbarously, they took care to hide it from their father, but cast away all thoughts of God, from whom it could not be concealed. Doth not the presence of a child bridle a man from the act of a longed-for sin, when the eye of God is of no force to restrain him, as if God’s knowledge were of less value than the sight of a little boy or girl, as if a child only, could see, and God were blind? He that will forbear an unworthy action for fear of an informer, will not forbear it for God; as if God’s omniscience were not as full an intelligencer to him, as man can be an informer to a magistrate. As we acknowledge the power of men seeing us when we are ashamed to commit a filthy action in their view, so we discover the power of God seeing us, when we regard not what we do before the light of his eyes. Secret sins are more against God than open: open sins are against the law; secret sins are against the law, and this prime perfection of his nature. The majesty of God is not only violated, but the omniscience of God disowned, who is the only witness; we must, in all of them, either imagine him to be without eyes to behold us, or without an arm of justice to punish us. And often it is, I believe, in such cases, that if any thoughts of God’s knowledge strike upon men, they quickly damp them, lest they should begin to know what they fear, and fear that they might not eat their pleasant sinful morsels.
2. It appears in partial confessions of sin before God. As by a free, full, and ingenious confession, we offer a due glory to this attribute, so by a feigned and curtailed confession, we deny him the honor of it: for, though by any confession we in part own him to be a Sovereign and Judge, yet by a half and pared acknowledgment, we own him to be no more than a humane and ignorant one. Achan’s full confession gave God the glory of his omniscience, manifested in the discovery of his secret crime. “And Joshua said unto Achan, My son, give, I pray thee, glory to the Lord God of Israel, and take confession unto him” (Joshua 7:19.) And so (Psalm 50:23) “Whoso offereth praise glorifieth me,” or confession, as the word signifieth, in which sense I would rather take it, referring to this attribute, which God seems to tax sinners with the denial of (ver. 21), telling them that he would open the records of their sins before them, and indict them particularly for every one. If, therefore, you would glorify this attribute, which shall one day break open your consciences, offer to me a sincere confession. When David speaks of the happiness of a pardoned man, he adds, “in whose spirit there is no guile,” not meaning a sincerity in general, but an ingenuity in confessing. To excuse, or extenuate sin, is to deny God the knowledge of the depths of our deceitful hearts: when we will mince it rather than aggravate it; lay it upon the inducements of others, when it was the free act of our own wills, study shifts to deceive our Judge; this is to speak lies of him, as the expression is (Hos. 7:13), as though he were a God easy to be cheated, and knew no more than we were willing to declare. What did Saul’s transferring his sin from himself to the people (1 Sam. 14:15), but charge God with a defect in this attribute? When man could not be like God, in his knowledge, he would fancy a God like to him in his ignorance, and imagine a possibility of hiding himself from his knowledge. And all men tread, more or less, in their father’s steps, and are fruitful to devise distinctions to disguise errors in doctrine, and excuses to palliate errors in practice: this crime Job removes from himself, when he speaks of several acts of his sincerity (Job 31:33): “If I covered my transgressions as Adam, by hiding my iniquity in my bosom:” I hid not any of my sins in my own conscience, but acknowledged God a witness to them, and gave him the glory of his knowledge by a free confession. I did not conceal it from God as Adam did, or as men ordinarily do; as if God could understand no more of their secret crimes than they will let him, and had no more sense of their faults than they would furnish him with. As the first rise of confession is the owning of this attribute (for the justice of God would not scare men, nor the holiness of God awe them, without a sense of his knowledge of their iniquities), so to drop out some fragments of confession, discover some sins, and conceal others, is a plain denial of the extensiveness of the Divine knowledge.
3. It is discovered by putting God off with an outside worship. Men are often flatterers of God, and think to bend him by formal glavering devotions, without the concurrence of their hearts; as though he could not pierce into the darkness of the mind, but did as little know us as one man knows another. There are such things as feigned lips (Psalm 17:1), a contradiction between the heart and the tongue, a clamor in the voice, and scoffing in the soul; a crying out to God, thou art my Father, the guide of my youth, and yet speaking and doing evil to the utmost of our power (Jer. 3:4, 5). As if God could be imposed upon by fawning pretences; and like old Isaac, take Jacob for Esau, and be cozened by the smell of his garments: as if he could not discern the negro heart under an angel’s garb. Thus Ephraim, the ten tribes, apostatized from the true religion, would go with their flocks and their herds to seek the Lord (Hos. 5:6), would sacrifice multitudes of sheep and heifers, which was the main outside of the Jewish religion; only with their flocks and their herds, not with their hearts, with those inward qualifications of deep humiliation and repentance for sin; as though outside appearances limited God’s observation, whereas God had told them before (ver. 3), that he “knew Ephraim, and Israel was not hid from him.” Thus to do is to put a cheat upon God, and think to blind his all-seeing eye, and therefore it is called deceit (Psalm 78:36).
They did flatter him with their mouths. The word התּפ signifies to deceive, as well as to flatter; not that they or any else, can deceive God, but it implies an endeavor to deceive him, by a few dissembling words and gestures, or an imagination that God was satisfied with bare professions, and would not concern himself in a further inquisition. This is an unworthy conceit of God, to fancy that we can satisfy for inward sins, and avert approaching judgments, by external offerings, by a loud voice with a false heart, as if God (like children) would be pleased with the glittering of an empty shell, or the rattling of stones, the chinkling of money, a mere voice and crying, without inward frames and intentions of service.
4. In cherishing multitudes of evil thoughts. No man but would blush for shame, if the base, impure, slovenly thoughts, either in or out of duties of worship, were visible to the understanding of man; how diligent would he be to curb his luxuriant and unworthy fancies, as well as bite in his words! but when we give the reins to the motions of our hearts, and suffer them to run at random without a curb, it is an evidence we are not concerned for their falling under the notice of the eye of God; and it argues a very weak belief of this perfection, or scarce any belief at all. Who can think any man’s heart, possessed with a sense of this infinite excellency, that suffers his mind, in his meditations on God, to wander into every sty, and be picking up stones upon a dunghill? What doth it intimate, but that those thoughts are as invisible, or unaudible to God, as they are to men without the garments of words? When a man thinks of obscene things, his own natural notions, if revived, would tell him that God discerns what he thinks, that the depths of his heart are open to him: and the voice of those notions are — deface those vain imaginations out of your minds. But what is done? Men cast away rational light, muster up conceits that God sees them not, knows them not, and so sink into the puddle of their sordid imaginations, as though they remained in darkness to God. I might further instance. In omissions of prayer, which arise sometimes from a flat atheism: who will call upon a God, that believes no such Being? or from partial atheism, either a denial of God’s sufficiency to help, or of his omniscience to know, as if God were like the statue of Jupiter in Crete, framed without ears. In the hypocritical pretences of men, to exempt them from the service God calls them to. When men pretend one thing and intend another: this lurks in the veins sometimes of the best men; sometimes it ariseth from the fear of man; when men are more afraid of the power of man, than of dissembling with the Almighty, it will pretend a virtue to cover a secret wile, and choose the tongue of the crafty as the expression in Job (ch. 15:5). The case is plain in Moses, who, when ordered to undertake an eminent service, pretends a want of eloquence, and an ungrateful “slowness of speech” (Exod. 4:10).
The Existence and Attributes of God