Teaching About DivorceMark 10 1 And he left there and went to the region of Judea and beyond the Jordan, and crowds gathered to him again. And again, as was his custom, he taught them.
2 And Pharisees came up and in order to test him asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” 3 He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” 4 They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away.” 5 And Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. 6 But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ 7 ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, 8 and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. 9 What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”
10 And in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. 11 And he said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, 12 and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”
Let the Children Come to Me13 And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. 14 But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. 15 Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” 16 And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them.
The Rich Young Man17 And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’ ” 20 And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” 21 And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 22 Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.
23 And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” 24 And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” 26 And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?” 27 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” 28 Peter began to say to him, “See, we have left everything and followed you.” 29 Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, 30 who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”
Jesus Foretells His Death a Third Time32 And they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them. And they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. And taking the twelve again, he began to tell them what was to happen to him, 33 saying, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. 34 And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.”
The Request of James and John35 And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” 36 And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” 37 And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” 38 Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” 39 And they said to him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized, 40 but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” 41 And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John. 42 And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 43 But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Jesus Heals Blind Bartimaeus46 And they came to Jericho. And as he was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a great crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the roadside. 47 And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 48 And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 49 And Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart. Get up; he is calling you.” 50 And throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. 51 And Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” And the blind man said to him, “Rabbi, let me recover my sight.” 52 And Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him on the way. ( Could it be that Bartimaeus is named specifically because he followed Jesus? )
The Triumphal EntryMark 11 1 Now when they drew near to Jerusalem, to Bethphage and Bethany, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples 2 and said to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately as you enter it you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever sat. Untie it and bring it. 3 If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord has need of it and will send it back here immediately.’ ” 4 And they went away and found a colt tied at a door outside in the street, and they untied it. 5 And some of those standing there said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” 6 And they told them what Jesus had said, and they let them go. 7 And they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it, and he sat on it. 8 And many spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut from the fields. 9 And those who went before and those who followed were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! 10 Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!”
11 And he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple. And when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.
Jesus Curses the Fig Tree12 On the following day, when they came from Bethany, he was hungry. 13 And seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see if he could find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. 14 And he said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard it.
Jesus Cleanses the Temple15 And they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. 16 And he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. 17 And he was teaching them and saying to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.” 18 And the chief priests and the scribes heard it and were seeking a way to destroy him, for they feared him, because all the crowd was astonished at his teaching. 19 And when evening came they went out of the city.
The Lesson from the Withered Fig Tree20 As they passed by in the morning, they saw the fig tree withered away to its roots. 21 And Peter remembered and said to him, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree that you cursed has withered.” 22 And Jesus answered them, “Have faith in God. 23 Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. 24 Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. 25 And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.”
The Authority of Jesus Challenged27 And they came again to Jerusalem. And as he was walking in the temple, the chief priests and the scribes and the elders came to him, 28 and they said to him, “By what authority are you doing these things, or who gave you this authority to do them?” 29 Jesus said to them, “I will ask you one question; answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things. 30 Was the baptism of John from heaven or from man? Answer me.” 31 And they discussed it with one another, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ 32 But shall we say, ‘From man’?”—they were afraid of the people, for they all held that John really was a prophet. 33 So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And Jesus said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.”
What I'm Reading
When the Church Doesn’t Shine
By Elliot Grudem 9/01/2015
“Grace always has about it the scent of scandal,” Philip Yancey wrote. That’s true individually. It’s also true corporately. Jesus didn’t die for a perfect church; He died to make her perfect. At times, Jesus allows His bride’s imperfections to be revealed publicly in a way that is best described as scandal. How should we respond in the midst of church scandal? I’ll suggest three ways: feel, pray, and hope.
First, you should feel. I can’t tell you what to feel, because I’m not in the middle of your specific experience. Nor should you let anyone—including yourself—tell you how to manage your feelings. Instead, process those feelings—even the ones you keep deep down inside—with God through prayer.
God encourages us to do that in the book of Psalms, which John Calvin called “An Anatomy of all Parts of the Soul.” He explained, “There is not an emotion of which any one can be conscious that is not here represented as in a mirror.” The psalmists take those emotions and show us how to process them with God in prayer. Feel and join the psalmists in talking with God about your feelings.
Second, commit yourself to prayer, not just for yourself, but also for others and for the church.
Pray for those whose sin is exposed. Pray for yourself that you would not be tempted to follow in their sinful ways (Gal. 6:2). Pray for those affected by the exposed sin. Pray for the leaders who deal with the often-widespread implications of that sin. Pray for those who hear of the sin and believe it confirms their rejection of Jesus and His church. Pray for the church.
Pray prayers of thanksgiving. One reason sin becomes scandal is because it takes almost everyone by surprise: God was clearly at work in the church; gospel transformation was taking place in people’s lives and in their neighborhoods. And then this horrific sin was exposed.
In the midst of scandal, there is a temptation to invalidate all the ministry done in and through the church. That cannot be the case; God is not made impotent by our sin. Fight that temptation and fight despair by thanking God for the specific ways you’ve seen His good work in the church.
Pray for the restoration of the sinner. That can be the hardest thing to pray for, especially if you are impacted by their sin. We sinfully desire that they experience the same pain we are experiencing. We entertain private fantasies that include our rejoicing at their demise. Fight that sin by praying for repentance and restoration.
Finally, hope. Hope that God will answer your prayers as you’ve prayed them. Write down your specific prayers. Look for the ways God answers those prayers.
God is masterful at taking evil and turning it for good: “This Jesus … you crucified and killed … God raised him up” (Acts 2:23). In the middle of scandal, it can be tough to hope. Allow yourself to at least entertain hope. Struggle to follow Abraham who “in hope, believed against hope” (Rom. 4:18). Remember Jesus, crucified, dead, and buried, but now risen and reigning over everything.
Fight against things like cynicism and gossip that destroy your hope. The cynic is certain that nothing good will come of the scandal and so refuses to hope. The gossip doesn’t believe change is possible and so speaks against hope by spinning a story that is worse than it really is.
Only speak of what you know is and will be true. Stick to the facts of the situation and the truth of Scripture. You know for sure that God will work this for good (Rom. 8:28). You don’t have any idea what that good will look like. If the Israelites received their hoped-for, postexilic good, they would have received another king like David. Instead, God gave them David’s greater son, Jesus.
Resist the temptation to explain the good that God will work in the midst of scandal before God shows what that good is. Don’t title the chapter before God has shown you the last page. As you talk with others—both Christians and non-Christians—speak with confidence in a Redeemer who is in the business of taking a horrific mess and turning it into something beautiful, even though you don’t know exactly what that good will be.
Scandal might shut down the specific congregation most affected. Those directly affected by the sin may live with wounds that never fully heal. The sinner may never repent. Or, the congregation may come back stronger, and in ways you never expected. The deep wounds from sin may eventually heal.
In all of it, God will show once again that He is more gracious to His people than we could ask or think.
Sin’s widespread destruction is often shocking. In the midst of the sin, God’s restoring grace often surprises us. Mourn the destruction; rejoice in the restoration.
As John Newton—who knew a lot about sin-filled scandal and God’s amazing grace—wrote in “Pensive, Doubting, Fearful Heart”:
All thy wastes I will repair,
Thou shalt be rebuilt anew;
And in thee it shall appear,
What the God of love can do.
Why a Study Bible?
By R.C. Sproul 9/01/2015
The editors of Tabletalk asked me to speak about study Bibles and what drove Ligonier Ministries, in particular, to publish a thoroughly revised and updated version of the The Reformation Study Bible. I’m glad to take up this task, as I continue to believe that a good study Bible is one of the most important tools for helping people grow in the things of God.
Another article this month will deal with the history of study Bibles, so I won’t go into detail on that specific subject. However, I do want to point out that our efforts to produce a study Bible are born of the same passion that drove men in years past to get the Word of God into the minds and hearts and souls of every person. This passion compelled William Tyndale to cross the whole continent of Europe, moving from city to city to escape execution, translating the ancient Hebrew into words that a literate plowboy could read and understand. After the Diet of Worms, Martin Luther fled in a faked-kidnapping episode to the Wartburg castle. There, he donned a disguise and undertook the task of putting the Bible into the German vernacular. This was anathema to the Roman church—Luther was told that if he were to translate the Bible into the common tongue, he would open a floodgate of iniquity. Hundreds of different denominations would arise, each claiming to base their faith on the Bible. Luther agreed that that could very well happen. But, he said, if getting the gospel that is plain enough for every child to understand into the hands of the normal person carries with it the risk that some will misinterpret Scripture and open a floodgate of iniquity, then so be it. Luther understood the importance of every person’s knowing Scripture, and he knew that the church had to get it out to the masses even though misuse of the Bible was possible. As long as the church is faithful to this Word, she cannot be held accountable for its misuse.
At Ligonier, we’re confident in the power of the Word of God to convert sinners and equip Christians for every good work. We want the gospel to go forth to every nation, even if some may take that gospel and twist it to their own ends. But we want the people of God to grow deeper in their faith and to explore the depths of the gospel, which is simple enough for all to understand and yet so deep that in our lifetime we can only begin to scratch the surface of its meaning and application. For that, sound teaching is indispensable, and that’s why our goal has been to provide a study Bible grounded in the Reformed tradition of Christian theology.
Reformed theology, which C.H. Spurgeon said is merely a nickname for Christianity, is our passion here at Ligonier. We want to spread the knowledge of the gospel to as many people as possible to help churches around the world understand the substance of its message. Everything we do through Ligonier Ministries is directed toward that end, including the Reformation Study Bible.
There is distaste in our day, even in the church, for doctrine. People say, “I can live the Christian life without being concerned about doctrine.” Well, if you are not concerned about doctrine, then the best thing you can do with your Bible is throw it away, because that is what the Bible is—it is sixty-six divinely revealed books of doctrine. On the night before His execution, Jesus met in the upper room with His disciples and prayed His High Priestly Prayer. He poured out His soul to the Father in behalf of His followers—His disciples and those who would believe through the ministry of the original disciples. And His prayer was for their sanctification. He said to His heavenly Father, “Sanctify them through thy truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17). Now, if you want to be sanctified, if you want to grow in conformity to the image of Christ, you need to know the truth of God. You need to know doctrine. The whole point of a good study Bible, such as the The Reformation Study Bible, is to help you learn the theology that God reveals in His sacred Word that will shape your life and bring you into conformity with Christ.
The original Geneva Bible, which you will read about in this issue of Tabletalk, was developed to help people learn the theology revealed in God’s Word. It is in the spirit of that Geneva Bible that we produced the original New Geneva Study Bible, and then the The Reformation Study Bible. We wanted a resource that, like the Geneva Bible, faithfully taught the Scriptures and presented the key tenets of Reformed theology rediscovered in the Protestant Reformation. And in that same spirit, we have the completely new, reworked edition of the Reformation Study Bible—which really excites me.
Robert Charles Sproul, 2/13/1939 – 12/14/2017 was an American theologian, author, and ordained pastor in the Presbyterian Church in America. Dr. R.C. Sproul was founder and chairman of Ligonier Ministries, an international Christian education and discipleship organization located near Orlando, Fla. He was also copastor of Saint Andrew’s Chapel in Sanford, Fla., chancellor of Reformation Bible College, and executive editor of Tabletalk magazine. Dr. Sproul has contributed dozens of articles to national evangelical publications, has spoken at conferences, churches, and schools around the world, and has written more than one hundred books. He also served as general editor of the Reformation Study Bible.R.C. Sproul Books | Go to Books Page
The Bible Story
By R.C. Sproul Jr. 9/01/2015
A friend of mine has been known to encourage me to produce my own study Bible. Happily, his vision for my study Bible isn’t quite the mammoth undertaking that putting together a real study Bible is. He suggests that my Bible just have a few notes, repeated over and over again. Things like, “See this promise? Believe it.” Or, “This sinner in this story—he’s just like you. Learn to see yourself in the Bible’s great sinners.” These two themes—that we need to learn to believe more fully, down to our toes, the promises of God, and that we need to come to a more potent, existential awareness of our sins and our weaknesses—are a big deal to me. The themes find their way regularly into my writing and into my teaching.
That, in itself, is not a bad thing. Wisdom calls us to recognize, as much as we are able, our own peculiar callings. If God gives you a cannon, He expects you to fire it. There is, however, also a danger. Just as it has been said that to the man with a hammer everything can look like a nail, so when we come to the Bible with our pet passions we will find ourselves tempted to see things in the text that aren’t there, and to miss things in the text that are there. We will show ourselves workmen who need to be ashamed for mishandling the Word of God.
There are, of course, metanarratives to go along with biblical narratives. A narrative, simply put, is a story. A metanarrative is a story that transcends stories. It is the overarching story. The Boston Tea Party is a narrative. America as a fearless bastion of freedom — that’s a metanarrative. The two, of course intersect, just as they do in the Bible. Abraham and Isaac on Mount Moriah is a story that illumines the metanarrative of substitutionary atonement and of fathers sacrificing sons (see also John 3:16). Nathan’s confrontation of David is a story that illumines the metanarrative of blindness to sin.
Because there are metanarratives, we are wise to see them in the narratives we read. But because there are many, we need to be careful not to put square narratives into round metanarratives. Trouble is, because there is more than one metanarrative, we face the temptation to seek out the metametanarrative, the story that transcends the stories that transcend.
Consider covenant theology and dispensational theology. These big-picture interpretative grids are so broad, so all-encompassing that each side often finds itself struggling to correct the other. Our differences are so foundational, touching on how we understand all of God’s Word that we seemingly have nothing to do but talk past each other. We can’t walk inside each other’s shoes because we’re walking in opposite directions. I have my own convictions on the issue, strong ones. But I’m not afraid to confess that I am virtually uncorrectable from my friends on the other side, simply because this is such a foundational issue.
Which makes me long for an unimpeachable answer, a meta-meta-metanarrative that comes from the lips of Jesus Himself. Is it just possible that all the Bible’s stories about substitution, about covering, about creation, fall, redemption, about covenant are subsumed under one grand story? Perhaps so. What if, in the end, it were all about the kingdom? What if that is why Jesus said, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness”? What if He was clueing us in on the big picture? What if the dominion mandate, the Great Commission, the promise that all things are being brought into submission to the reign of Christ—what if these were all the one great story?
This doesn’t, of course, undo the other stories in the Bible. It’s still true that the Bible is the story of Jesus’ rescuing not the beautiful princess, but the ugly hag. But in doing so, He secures a queen for His kingdom. It doesn’t undo His death and resurrection for us. But in doing so, He wins citizens for His kingdom. It doesn’t undo creation–fall–re-creation. But it affirms that God created a kingdom, Adam failed to rule it, and Jesus now succeeds where the first Adam failed.
When Jesus calls us to seek first His kingdom, He isn’t turning sanctification, evangelism, sound doctrine, atonement, and meeting the needs of widows and orphans into secondary matters. Rather, He is telling us why we pursue these things, the end for which they exist. It is affirming the forest that helps us understand the trees.
There is, however, one more step. The Bible is only penultimately the story of the kingdom. For the glorious truth is that the kingdom exists for the sake of the King. The Bible is Jesus’ story from beginning to end. He is the Alpha and Omega of the Bible, even as He is the Alpha and Omega of history. We understand history, we understand the Bible, therefore, only insofar as we understand Jesus. That is what each is for: to show us the glory of the Only Begotten, to the everlasting praise of the Father. May we never, in all our study, lose sight of Him.
R.C. Sproul Jr. Books | Go to Books Page
By Brian Croft 9/01/2015
Modern technology provides many benefits. Information can be exchanged at an unprecedented rate. The level of productivity can be astounding. Face-to-face conversations can be had with people halfway around the world. But there are also dark sides to this technology. We as Christians are very aware of the many common snares of this modern technology, not least of which is the ease of access to pornography. For Christians who are trying to walk in purity and holiness, the challenge begins with the confrontation of lurid images and tempting captions on seemingly innocuous websites such as Facebook and news outlets.
There is, however, a more subtle snare lurking in this world of immediate access to information that affects Christians in a unique way: the temptation of allowing online sermons to displace one’s commitment to hearing God’s Word preached in person alongside fellow covenant members at the place and time where their local church gathers. Don’t misunderstand: listening to sermons online is generally a good thing. But when it takes the place of gathering with God’s people to hear God’s Word in person from the appointed shepherd of your soul, much of what God intended for our growth as followers of Jesus gets lost.
Here are five important reasons why it is essential that every Christian gather with other Christians in the same local church weekly to hear the preaching of God’s Word from the undershepherds of that congregation.
First, a Christian’s faith is fueled by hearing God’s Word. The Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Rome and plainly said, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17). This has implications for not just the unbeliever, but for the believer also. We will be most inclined to listen and engage with preaching by being present where it is preached alongside others who have also come for the express purpose of hearing and submitting to God’s Word proclaimed. This is clearly one of the reasons the author of Hebrews commands that Christians not neglect regularly gathering together (Heb. 10:25).
Second, hearing God’s Word from your own shepherd is unique to every other encounter with God’s proclaimed Word. It is one thing to hear your favorite preacher expound God’s Word to his church or to a random conference crowd. It is an entirely different experience to sit in person and hear God’s Word expounded and applied directly to you from your pastor, the man who knows your struggles, difficulties, and doubts, and who will give an account for your soul (Heb. 13:17).
Third, never underestimate the power of personal connection. I like talking to my wife on the phone, but a phone conversation can never match the powerful impact of sitting across from her, face-to-face, and talking with her as I look into her eyes. Likewise, there is a powerful connection made between a shepherd and his flock when he preaches God’s Word to those he has been thinking about and praying for as he prepared. The Holy Spirit uniquely uses eye contact, facial expressions, and body language in both the preacher and his hearers to create a powerful connection between them during a sermon. A pastor feeds off the visible reaction of his hearers. A congregation is moved by the pastor’s burden over their souls conveyed in the sermon.
Fourth, spiritual fruit comes from hearing with others. When the church gathers, the Holy Spirit works in unique and powerful ways that are missing in private gatherings (1 Cor. 14). When a congregation collectively sits under the preached Word, a level of accountability is established and nourished among the hearers to urge each other to go and apply that sermon. A greater obligation to “do something” with the Word preached and to rely on one another for help and strength to obey it exists in this kind of community life that is not present when we listen in isolation or hop churches depending upon who is preaching that week.
Last, public sermons lead to corporate discipleship. Some form of one-on-one discipleship in a local church is essential for our personal growth as Christians. But while personal discipleship is a wonderful complement to the proclamation of God’s Word to the communal gathering of saints, it can never replace it, for it is one of the necessary marks of the church (Calvin, Institutes, 4.1.9). When the whole church hears God’s Word proclaimed, that Word then becomes the basis for further conversation and growth in the one-on-one discipleship conversations that follow. The sermon gets everyone on the same page; personal discipleship expands on the details of that page.
There is much about modern technology that can be redeemed for God’s purposes and glory, but what technology cannot do is replace God’s design for us to grow spiritually and to receive care for our souls. God has powerful and unique purposes for every Christian in the local church. So many of those purposes are fueled when a group of God’s redeemed people covenant together to gather in person with one another weekly to hear from God through His preached Word.
Growing in Christ, Serving in Ministry: An Interview with Sinclair Ferguson
By Sinclair Ferguson 9/01/2015
Tabletalk: How did you become a Christian, and what brought you to the United States from your native Scotland?
Sinclair Ferguson: I was brought up in a close family, with loving parents who tried to get me to keep the commandments, but outside of the church. However, they enrolled me in the local church Sunday school — that was still considered the “decent thing” to do for your children. In God’s providence, I had a series of Christian teachers who impressed me, although I did not understand why. One of them encouraged me to join a U.K. Bible reading organization called the Scripture Union. It published monthly Bible reading notes. From age nine to fourteen, I read Scripture daily and diligently, prayed, and tried my best. I thought that made me a Christian. Then when I was fourteen, several things happened. One was a small awakening among people I knew. For the first time, I saw in teenagers a little older than me what I had read about in the New Testament. I experienced a deepening sense of my own sinfulness. And in my regular daily Bible reading, I came to John 5:39–40 — the first text in Scripture I remember reading and thinking God might be saying, “I am speaking to you!” A couple of friends encouraged me to go to a Saturday night gathering in a church in the center of Glasgow called St. George’s Tron (where I later became the minister). The sermon text was John 8:12. That first Saturday night in February 1963, I began to follow the Light of the world.
Twenty years later, we came to the United States to teach at Westminster Theological Seminary. It is a long story, but the human instrument was Ed Clowney, then the president. Over an extended period of time he wooed me into coming to the States, despite my long list of reservations.
TT: What are some of the most common struggles laypeople have brought to you in your ministry, and how does the gospel address those struggles?
SF: Probably the two most frequent have been related to personal sin and personal assurance. With respect to the first of these (sin), I usually point people to Colossians 3:1–17 and to other passages that further explain it. It underlines a number of powerful gospel truths: (1) It clarifies our resources in our new identity in Christ (vv. 1–5). We are united to Him in His death, burial, resurrection, ascension, and heavenly session, and we know that He will not return without us. (2) It helps clear up confusion about our relationship to sin (we are no longer under its reign, although we are not yet free from its presence, hence we fight it from a standpoint of strength — but we do need to fight it). (3) It points us to the two-beat rhythm the gospel develops in us for overcoming sin—putting off the old (vv. 5–11) and putting on the new (vv. 12–17). Here we have what Thomas Chalmers famously called “the expulsive power of a new affection” in vv. 1–4, and then in vv. 5–17 the “gospel replacement” pattern in which through the Spirit we “put off” everything that doesn’t “suit” being in Christ, and at the same time “put on” everything that “fits” being in Christ. Never one without the other.
With respect to assurance, we need to have some sense of whether someone really is a Christian in the first place (1 John is a great resource here, so long as it is used as an encouragement and not, as sometimes, as though it were written to accuse and condemn). Then, I find two approaches have helped:
The first is to clarify that our assurance is not resourced in ourselves, or even in our faith as such, but in Christ. The gospel tells us to “fix our eyes on Jesus” (Heb. 12:2), since all the resources for both salvation and assurance are found in Him.
Problems with assurance are usually not solved by talking about assurance (although those who lack assurance want to talk about that) but by helping people understand the gospel — justification by faith alone, the love of Jesus, the struggles of the Christian life, the providence of God, the wiles of the devil, and sometimes their own personalities.
The second approach is one I adopt when it seems appropriate: open John Bunyan’s The The Pilgrim's Progress (Penguin Classics) and read a relevant section. Bunyan writes about struggles with assurance in personalized story form. What people usually need is simply the light of the gospel shining on their situation. On occasion, Bunyan’s use of the gospel in story form does exactly this, and I find people say, “That’s exactly me!”
TT: We often hear of the calling for pastors to be theologians. What does it mean to be a theologian, and how can pastors fulfill that calling?
SF: Being a theologian means, in essence, having a comprehensive knowledge of the gospel in all its many facets and interconnectedness. I liken it to being a physician who understands anatomy, and a pharmacist who understands body chemistry and knows his pharmaceuticals. Without a good working knowledge of theology, we will never understand how the gospel works, nor what the causes of spiritual sicknesses are, nor what gospel remedies to apply. In addition, we will be very poor at destroying the intellectual strongholds of unbelief, since we ourselves will lack the stronghold of the whole counsel of God.
I have always loved something I read about Calvin: he became a theologian in order to be a better pastor. Growing as a theologian may not make me a better pastor than someone else, but it will make me a better one than I would be without it.
TT: You serve in Ligonier Academy’s Doctor of Ministry program. How does this program serve the church?
SF: In a sense, it seeks to encourage exactly what was in view in the previous question. Unlike some DMin programs that deal with pastoral engineering and are weighted on the “practical” side of ministry, the Ligonier Doctor of Ministry program is richly theological. The faculty are all committed to theology as a shaper of practical ministry. Plus, the class gatherings readily morph into mini spiritual retreats as well as mutual encouragement gatherings for the pastors who come. So they begin being biblically and theologically rooted and end up having hugely practical repercussions.
TT: What counsel would you give to a young man who struggles with whether he is called to pastoral ministry and, therefore, whether he should attend seminary?
SF: It would depend on how well I knew him, of course. But I think my counsel would include reflections such as:
(1) Paul suggests it is a great struggle to have (1 Tim. 3:1).
(2) Don’t short-circuit the struggle.
(3) On the other hand, try to be clear whether your struggle is with (a) your clarity about God’s calling or (b) perhaps about your own willingness to be obedient.
(4) There are three elements in a call to ministry: (a) a divinely given desire; (b) the requisite gifts and graces (for example, as set out in 1 Tim. 3:1–7 as well as a desire to become the kind of undershepherds described in 1 Peter 5:1–4); and (c) the encouragement and recognition of the church, eventually formally in ordination but long before that in the way fellow believers receive and recognize your present service to and among them.
(5) In this last context, I might tell my own story or that of someone else. It is usually the story of the awakening of desire to serve Christ and His people (2 Cor. 4:5 has been a big text for me here). It is a deep sense of “how can I possibly do this?” And then it is the help of fellow believers who give encouragement to go forward because they have received something from Christ through our present service.
(6) Make sure you are willing for a twenty-four/seven lifestyle in which the aim is “love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and sincere faith” (1 Tim. 1:5). And if you plan to marry, or are already married, be aware that the quality, commitment, and courage of your ministry is unlikely to rise above the level of your wife’s commitment to it, to your people, and to you.
(7) It is a calling so wonderful that I wish I could begin it all over again.
A Renewed Mind, a Transformed Life
By Chris Larson 10/01/2015
Most would have expected to see John 3:16 at the top, but there was Romans 12:2 leading an annual list of the most bookmarked, highlighted, and shared Bible verses. Since smartphones have become ubiquitous, it is now possible for software developers to glean bits of information about what large numbers of people are doing on these devices. It was intriguing to see the list compiled by the popular Bible app YouVersion, now installed on almost two hundred million devices.
Romans 12:2 is a frequently discussed verse around Ligonier as we think through new ways to serve Christians who are pursuing a renewed mind. When he named Ligonier’s daily radio broadcast in 1994, Dr. Sproul turned to Romans 12:2 to describe the broadcast’s purpose: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.” From this verse, our most far-reaching ministry initiative, Renewing Your Mind, was launched. Dr. Sproul explains:
God gives us the revelation of sacred Scripture in order for us to have our minds changed so we begin to think like Jesus. Sanctification and spiritual growth is all about this. If you just have it in your mind and you don’t have it in your heart, you don’t have it. But you can’t have it in your heart without first having it in your mind. We want to have a mind informed by the Word of God.
In another exhortation from his classic work The Holiness of God, Dr. Sproul wrote:
The key method Paul underscores as the means to the transformed life is by the “renewal of the mind.” This means nothing more and nothing less than education. Serious education. In-depth education. Discipline deducation in the things of God. It calls for a mastery of the Word of God. We need to be people whose lives have changed because our minds have changed.
There can be a temptation for some Christians to take a verse like Romans 12:2 and turn it into a “just do it” Nike-style battle cry of transformational sanctification divorced from the previous eleven chapters penned by the Apostle Paul. Yet the imperative of Romans 12:2 flows from the “mercies of God” outlined in Romans 3:21–12:1. This undeserved favor for redeemed sinners, given through the grace of God in Christ, provokes an outpouring of gratitude and a life of joyful duty.
Romans 12:2 is a vital hinge on the door of biblical truth. On one side, we have the breathtaking vista of doxology found in Romans 11:36: “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.” On the other side of the door, in Romans 12:3–21, we have flesh-and-blood illustrations of godliness. The character of the Christian is marked by kingdom-minded, humble service. The triumphant indicative of the gospel leads to new life marked by a new pursuit for the mind of Christ. Merely imparting information to a human mind is insufficient. From interactions with the most learned scholars of his day in Israel and Greece—and even from reflecting on his own life before conversion—Paul knew that knowledge puffs up. To be sure, the gospel is good news about Jesus. But God’s Word also explains how the sovereign power of the Holy Spirit makes that news effectual in our lives as we repent of sin and believe the truth as it is found in Jesus.
Unsurprisingly, the darkened mind shifts the boundaries of ethical norms and clamors for everyone’s approval, even enlisting public shaming and legal force in its cause. The revolution is in full swing. Self-appointed, self-determined rights in the pursuit of dignity and liberty supposedly trump any outside influence. The tragedy of the darkened mind is evident as those we care for self-destruct in sinful labyrinths of their own making. We grieve when righteousness is cast aside because of the harm it can mean for our families and our neighbors (Ps. 119:136). We know that their feet will slip in due time (Deut. 32:35).
The renewed mind is marked by a reliance on the Bible, the only infallible rule for faith and practice. Through the light of Scripture, we begin to understand God’s holy character and realize our sinfulness. We begin to understand all that was lost in Eden, and discover why we long to return from exile to the Father’s fellowship. That leads us to look with joy to the redemption found only in the Lord Jesus Christ. Peace with God is now possible. Being found in Christ, living by His revealed Word, brings true human dignity and liberty. A renewed mind leads to a transformed life.�
Overcoming Pride in Ministry
By Eric Watkins 10/01/2015
Few things are more dangerous in the life of the church than prideful leaders. Some of the most difficult issues many churches encounter revolve around men who feel entitled to the office of deacon, elder, or pastor. Most of my ministry has been in church planting, and it is a truism that church plants tend to attract men who think very highly of themselves and their prerogative to lead.
Yet, before I appear to be waving my finger vigorously at others, I must admit that the biggest challenge I have faced as a pastor has been the pride of my own heart. Pride can far too often become the shackle that rather subtly wraps itself around our ankles and effectively hinders us from not only running the race of faith well, but from serving well.
This can be true not only for pastors, who often think too much of themselves and envy the ministry of other pastors; it can be true also of deacons and elders, or simply put, men in the church who believe they are entitled to fill one of these offices.
I would like to suggest that each of the offices of deacon, elder, and pastor, in one facet or another, reflects the person and work of Christ in His offices of prophet, priest, and king. These three Old Testament offices were each uniquely fulfilled by Jesus. The Westminster Shorter Catechism emphasizes this quite well in questions 23–28. Jesus is the perfect prophet, perfect priest, and perfect king. The New Testament offices of deacon, elder, and pastor not only continue certain aspects of the three Old Testament offices; they also function within the church to display perpetually the ministry of Christ in visible form. In a very profound sense, Jesus was the perfect deacon, elder, and pastor.
Jesus as Deacon
As the perfect deacon, Jesus did not come to be served, but to serve (Mark 10:45). The Greek verb used twice here for “serve” is that from which we get the English word “deacon.” Jesus took keen interest in the physical needs of those to whom he came to minister, along with their spiritual needs.
It was one of His post-resurrection gifts to the church to establish a diaconal ministry to widows (see Acts 6); much as in the Old Testament, where the priests were to care for widows and orphans within the context of caring for the temple. God’s name was dishonored when widows and orphans were neglected in the covenant community, and in a similar way, God displays the glory of His grace by the way in which He continues to care for those who cannot care for themselves — both spiritually and physically. Jesus is the perfect deacon.
Jesus as Elder
Jesus is also the perfect elder. He referred to Himself as the “Good Shepherd” (John 10) who laid down His life for His sheep. He cared more for us than for Himself (Phil. 2), and He has set the bar quite high for those who would serve as undershepherds in His flock. When elders “take care of the flock in their midst,” they reveal the gentle yet firm care of Jesus, the perfect elder who alone is the “Shepherd and Overseer of [our] souls” (1 Peter 2:25).
Jesus as Pastor
Last, Jesus is the perfect pastor. In many churches, the pastor ends up doing almost everything, including the work of deacons and elders. Yet the pastor-teacher bears a particular calling to minister the Word of God, and bears upon his conscience the words of Paul: “Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” (1 Cor. 9:16). As a pastor with many flaws, I find it humbling to think of the way in which Jesus always taught God’s Word with perfect accuracy, pierced the hearts of His hearers, and kept every sermon focused on the gospel. Jesus is the perfect pastor-teacher.
It is for these reasons that men who aspire to one of the separticular offices ought not to aspire to having a title in the church, but ought rather to aspire to reflect the only One who is worthy of praise, glory, and honor — Jesus. Such a perspective keeps us from checking the bulletin and annual report to see if our names are mentioned in them. If, by God’s grace, we are called by His church to serve in one of these offices, we need to confess readily that we are but weak and “unworthy servants” (Luke 17:10). This expression of weakness and unworthiness comes after the servants have simply done what they were commanded.
Yes, we are weak; and yes, we are unworthy. Titles mean nothing; faithfulness means everything. By God’s grace, let us cease seeking after our own glory, and let us rather seek to display Jesus, the Lord of the church who is the perfect deacon, elder, and pastor.
Read The Psalms In "1" Year
Psalm 116I Love The Lord
116:1 I love the LORD, because he has heard
my voice and my pleas for mercy.
2 Because he inclined his ear to me,
therefore I will call on him as long as I live.
3 The snares of death encompassed me;
the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me;
I suffered distress and anguish.
4 Then I called on the name of the LORD:
“O LORD, I pray, deliver my soul!”
5 Gracious is the LORD, and righteous;
our God is merciful.
6 The LORD preserves the simple;
when I was brought low, he saved me.
7 Return, O my soul, to your rest;
for the LORD has dealt bountifully with you.
8 For you have delivered my soul from death,
my eyes from tears,
my feet from stumbling;
9 I will walk before the LORD
in the land of the living.
Fox's Book Of Martyrs
By John Foxe 1563
Chapter 4 | Papal PersecutionsMartyrdom of John Calas
We pass over many other individual maretyrdoms to insert that of John Calas, which took place as recently as 1761, and is an indubitable proof of the bigotry of popery, and shows that neither experience nor improvement can root out the inveterate prejudices of the Roman Catholics, or render them less cruel or inexorable to Protestants.
John Calas was a merchant of the city of Toulouse, where he had been settled, and lived in good repute, and had married an English woman of French extraction. Calas and his wife were Protestants, and had five sons, whom they educated in the same religion; but Lewis, one of the sons, became a Roman Catholic, having been converted by a maidservant, who had lived in the family about thirty years. The father, however, did not express any resentment or ill-will upon the occasion, but kept the maid in the family and settled an annuity upon the son. In October, 1761, the family consisted of John Calas and his wife, one woman servant, Mark Antony Calas, the eldest son, and Peter Calas, the second son. Mark Antony was bred to the law, but could not be admitted to practice, on account of his being a Protestant; hence he grew melancholy, read all the books he could procure relative to suicide, and seemed determined to destroy himself. To this may be added that he led a dissipated life, was greatly addicted to gaming, and did all which could constitute the character of a libertine; on which account his father frequently reprehended him and sometimes in terms of severity, which considerably added to the gloom that seemed to oppress him.
On the thirteenth of October, 1761, Mr. Gober la Vaisse, a young gentleman about 19 years of age, the son of La Vaisse, a celebrated advocate of Toulouse, about five o'clock in the evening, was met by John Calas, the father, and the eldest son Mark Antony, who was his friend. Calas, the father, invited him to supper, and the family and their guest sat down in a room up one pair of stairs; the whole company, consisting of Calas the father, and his wife, Antony and Peter Calas, the sons, and La Vaisse the guest, no other person being in the house, except the maidservant who has been already mentioned.
It was now about seven o'clock. The supper was not long; but before it was over, Antony left the table, and went into the kitchen, which was on the same floor, as he was accustomed to do. The maid asked him if he was cold? He answered, "Quite the contrary, I burn"; and then left her. In the meantime his friend and family left the room they had supped in, and went into a bed-chamber; the father and La Vaisse sat down together on a sofa; the younger son Peter in an elbow chair; and the mother in another chair; and, without making any inquiry after Antony, continued in conversation together until between nine and ten o'clock, when La Vaisse took his leave, and Peter, who had fallen asleep, was awakened to attend him with a light.
On the ground floor of Calas's house was a shop and a warehouse, the latter of which was divided from the shop by a pair of folding doors. When Peter Calas and La Vaisse came downstairs into the shop, they were extremely shocked to see Antony hanging in his shirt, from a bar which he had laid across the top of the two folding doors, having half opened them for that purpose. On discovery of this horrid spectacle, they shrieked out, which brought down Calas the father, the mother being seized with such terror as kept her trembling in the passage above. When the maid discovered what had happened, she continued below, either because she feared to carry an account of it to her mistress, or because she busied herself in doing some good office to her master, who was embracing the body of his son, and bathing it in his tears. The mother, therefore, being thus left alone, went down and mixed in the scene that has been already described, with such emotions as it must naturally produce. In the meantime Peter had been sent for La Moire, a surgeon in the neighborhood. La Moire was not at home, but his apprentice, Mr. Grosle, came instantly. Upon examination, he found the body quite dead; and by this time a papistical crowd of people were gathered about the house, and, having by some means heard that Antony Calas was suddenly dead, and that the surgeon who had examined the body, declared that he had been strangled, they took it into their heads he had been murdered; and as the family was Protestant, they presently supposed that the young man was about to change his religion, and had been put to death for that reason.
The poor father, overwhelmed with grief for the loss of his child, was advised by his friends to send for the officers of justice to prevent his being torn to pieces by the Catholic multitude, who supposed he had murdered his son. This was accordingly done and David, the chief magistrate, or capitol, took the father, Peter the son, the mother, La Vaisse, and the maid, all into custody, and set a guard over them. He sent for M. de la Tour, a physician, and MM. la Marque and Perronet, surgeons, who examined the body for marks of violence, but found none except the mark of the ligature on the neck; they found also the hair of the deceased done up in the usual manner, perfectly smooth, and without the least disorder: his clothes were also regularly folded up, and laid upon the counter, nor was his shirt either torn or unbuttoned.
Notwithstanding these innocent appearances, the capitol thought proper to agree with the opinion of the mob, and took it into his head that old Calas had sent for La Vaisse, telling him that he had a son to be hanged; that La Vaisse had come to perform the office of executioner; and that he had received assistance from the father and brother.
As no proof of the supposed fact could be procured, the capitol had recourse to a monitory, or general information, in which the crime was taken for granted, and persons were required to give such testimony against it as they were able. This recites that La Vaisse was commissioned by the Protestants to be their executioner in ordinary, when any of their children were to be hanged for changing their religion: it recites also, that, when the Protestants thus hang their children, they compel them to kneel, and one of the interrogatories was, whether any person had seen Antony Calas kneel before his father when he strangled him: it recites likewise, that Antony died a Roman Catholic, and requires evidence of his catholicism.
But before this monitory was published, the mob had got a notion that Antony Calas was the next day to have entered into the fraternity of the White Penitents. The capitol therefore caused his body to be buried in the middle of St. Stephen's Church. A few days after the interment of the deceased, the White Penitents performed a solemn service for him in their chapel; the church was hung with white, and a tomb was raised in the middle of it, on the top of which was placed a human skeleton, holding in one hand a paper, on which was written "Abjuration of heresy," and in the other a palm, the emblem of martyrdom. The next day the Franciscans performed a service of the same kind for him.
The capitol continued the persecution with unrelenting severity, and, without the least proof coming in, thought fit to condemn the unhappy father, mother, brother, friend, and servant, to the torture, and put them all into irons on the eighteenth of November.
From these dreadful proceedings the sufferers appealed to the parliament, which immediately took cognizance of the affair, and annulled the sentence of the capitol as irregular, but they continued the prosecution, and, upon the hangman deposing it was impossible Antony should hang himself as was pretended, the majority of the parliament were of the opinion, that the prisoners were guilty, and therefore ordered them to be tried by the criminal court of Toulouse. One voted him innocent, but after long debates the majority was for the torture and wheel, and probably condemned the father by way of experiment, whether he was guilty or not, hoping he would, in the agony, confess the crime, and accuse the other prisoners, whose fate, therefore, they suspended.
Poor Calas, however, an old man of sixty-eight, was condemned to this dreadful punishment alone. He suffered the torture with great constancy, and was led to execution in a frame of mind which excited the admiration of all that saw him, and particularly of the two Dominicans (Father Bourges and Father Coldagues) who attended him in his last moments, and declared that they thought him not only innocent of the crime laid to his charge, but also an exemplary instance of true Christian patience, fortitude, and charity. When he saw the executioner prepared to give him the last stroke, he made a fresh declaration to Father Bourges, but while the words were still in his mouth, the capitol, the author of this catastrophe, who came upon the scaffold merely to gratify his desire of being a witness of his punishment and death, ran up to him, and bawled out, "Wretch, there are fagots which are to reduce your body to ashes! speak the truth." M. Calas made no reply, but turned his head a little aside; and that moment the executioner did his office.
The popular outcry against this family was so violent in Languedoc, that every body expected to see the children of Calas broke upon the wheel, and the mother burnt alive.
Young Donat Calas was advised to fly into Switzerland: he went, and found a gentleman who, at first, could only pity and relieve him, without daring to judge of the rigor exercised against the father, mother, and brothers. Soon after, one of the brothers, who was only banished, likewise threw himself into the arms of the same person, who, for more than a month, took every possible precaution to be assured of the innocence of the family. Once convinced, he thought himself, obliged, in conscience, to employ his friends, his purse, his pen, and his credit, to repair the fatal mistake of the seven judges of Toulouse, and to have the proceedings revised by the king's council. This revision lasted three years, and it is well known what honor Messrs. de Grosne and Bacquancourt acquired by investigating this memorable cause. Fifty masters of the Court of Requests unanimously declared the whole family of Calas innocent, and recommended them to the benevolent justice of his majesty. The Duke de Choiseul, who never let slip an opportunity of signalizing the greatness of his character, not only assisted this unfortunate family with money, but obtained for them a gratuity of 36,000 livres from the king.
On the ninth of March, 1765, the arret was signed which justified the family of Calas, and changed their fate. The ninth of March, 1762, was the very day on which the innocent and virtuous father of that family had been executed. All Paris ran in crowds to see them come out of prison, and clapped their hands for joy, while the tears streamed from their eyes.
This dreadful example of bigotry employed the pen of Voltaire in deprecation of the horrors of superstition; and though an infidel himself, his essay on toleration does honor to his pen, and has been a blessed means of abating the rigor of persecution in most European states. Gospel purity will equally shun superstition and cruelty, as the mildness of Christ's tenets teaches only to comfort in this world, and to procure salvation in the next. To persecute for being of a different opinion is as absurd as to persecute for having a different countenance: if we honor God, keep sacred the pure doctrines of Christ, put a full confidence in the promises contained in the Holy Scriptures, and obey the political laws of the state in which we reside, we have an undoubted right to protection instead of persecution, and to serve heaven as our consciences, regulated by the Gospel rules, may direct.
Foxe's Book of Martyrs
Profound Explanation Of Mark 10:18
By Stephen Charnock (first published posthumously in 1682)Mark 10:18.—And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? There is none good but one, that is, God.
THE words are part of a reply of our Saviour to the young man’s petition to him: a certain person came in haste, “running” as being eager for satisfaction, to entreat his directions, what he should do to inherit everlasting life; the person is described only in general (ver. 17), “There came one,” a certain man: but Luke describes him by his dignity (Luke 18:18), “A certain ruler;” one of authority among the Jews. He desires of him an answer to a legal question, “What he should do?” or, as Matthew hath it, “What good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life” (Matt. 19:16)? He imagined everlasting felicity was to be purchased by the works of the law; he had not the least sentiments of faith: Christ’s answer implies, there was no hopes of the happiness of another world by the works of the law, unless they were perfect, and answerable to every divine precept. He doth not seem to have any ill, or hypocritical intent in his address to Christ; not to tempt him, but to be instructed by him. He seems to come with an ardent desire, to be satisfied in his demand; he performed a solemn act of respect to him, he kneeled to him, γονυπετήσας, prostrated himself upon the ground; besides, Christ is said (ver. 21) to love him, which had been inconsistent with the knowledge Christ had of the hearts and thoughts of men, and the abhorrence he had of hypocrites, had he been only a counterfeit in this question. But the first reply Christ makes to him, respects the title of “Good Master,” which this ruler gave him in his salutation.
1st, Some think, that Christ hereby would draw him to an acknowledgment of him as God; you acknowledge me “good;” how come you to salute me with so great a title, since you do not afford it to your greatest doctors? Lightfoot, in loc. observes, that the title of Rabbi bone is not in all the Talmud. You must own me to be God, since you own me to be “good:” goodness being a title only due, and properly belonging, to the Supreme Being. If you take me for a common man, with what conscience can you salute me in a manner proper to God? since no man is “good,” no, not one, but the heart of man is evil continually. The Arians used this place, to back their denying the Deity of Christ: because, say they, he did not acknowledge himself “good,” therefore he did not acknowledge himself God. But he doth not here deny his Deity, but reproves him for calling him good, when he had not yet confessed him to be more than a man. You behold my flesh, but you consider not the fulness of my Deity; if you account me “good,” account me God, and imagine me not to be a simple and a mere man. He disowns not his own Deity, but allures the young man to a confession of it. Why callest thou me good, since thou dost not discover any apprehensions of my being more than a man? Though thou comest with a greater esteem to me than is commonly entertained of the doctors of the chair, why dost thou own me to be “good,” unless thou own me to be God? If Christ had denied himself in this speech to be “good,” he had rather entertained this person with a frown and a sharp reproof for giving him a title due to God alone, than have received him with that courtesy and complaisance as he did. Had he said, there is none “good” but the Father, he had excluded himself; but in saying, there is none “good” but God, he comprehends himself.
2d. Others say, that Christ had no intention to draw him to an acknowledgment of his Deity, but only asserts his divine authority or mission from God. For which interpretation Maldonat calls Calvin an Arianizer. He doth not here assert the essence of his Deity, but the authority of his doctrine; as if he should have said, You do without ground give me the title of “good,” unless you believe I have a Divine commission for what I declare and act. Many do think me an impostor, an enemy of God, and a friend to devils; you must firmly believe that I am not so, as your rulers report me, but that I am sent of God, and authorized by him; you cannot else give me the title of good, but of wicked. And the reason they give for this interpretation, is, because it is a question, whether any of the apostles understood him, at this time, to be God, which seems to have no great strength in it; since not only the devil had publicly owned him to be the “Holy One of God” (Luke 4:34), but John the Baptist had borne record, thal he was the “Son of God” (John 1:32, 34); and before this time Peter had confessed him openly, in the hearing of the rest of the disciples, that he was “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:16). But I think Paroeus’ interpretation is best, which takes in both those; either you are serious or deceitful in this address; if you are serious, why do you call me “good,” and make bold to fix so great a title upon one you have no higher thoughts of than a mere man? Christ takes occasion from hence, to assert God to be only and sovereignly “good:” “There is none good but God.” God only hath the honor of absolute goodness, and none but God merits the name of “good.” A heathen could say much after the same manner; All other things are far from the nature of good; call none else good but God, for this would be a profane error: other things are only good in opinion, but have not the true substance of goodness: he is “good” in a more excellent way than any creature can be denominated “good.”
1. God is only originally good, good of himself. All created goodness is a rivulet from this fountain, but Divine goodness hath no spring; God depends upon no other for his goodness; he hath it in, and of, himself: man hath no goodness from himself, God hath no goodness from without himself: his goodness is no more derived from another than his being: if we were good by any external thing, that thing must be in being before him, or after him; if before him, he was not then himself from eternity; if after him, he was not good in himself from eternity. The end of his creating things, then, was not to confer a goodness upon his creatures, but to partake of a goodness from his creatures. God is good by and in himself, since all things are only good by him; and all that goodness which is in creatures, is but the breathing of his own goodness upon them: they have all their loveliness from the same hand they have their being from.
Though by creation God was declared good, yet he was not made good by any, or by all the creatures. He partakes of none, but all things partake of him. He is so good, that he gives all, and receives nothing; only good, because nothing is good but by him nothing hath a goodness but from him.
2. God only is infinitely good. A boundless goodness that knows no limits, a goodness as infinite as his essence, not only good, but best; not only good, but goodness itself, the supreme inconceivable goodness. All things else are but little particles of God, small sparks from this immense flame, sips of goodness to this fountain. Nothing that is good by his influence can equal him who is good by himself: derived goodness can never equal primitive goodness. Divine goodness communicates itself to a vast number of creatures in various degrees; to angels, glorified spirits, men on earth, to every creature; and when it hath communicated all that the present world is capable of, there is still less displayed, than left to enrich another world. All possible creatures are not capable of exhausting the wealth, the treasures, that Divine bounty is filled with.
3. God is only perfectly good, because only infinitely good. He is good without indigence, because he hath the whole nature of goodness, not only some beams that may admit of increase of degree. As in him is the whole nature of entity, so in him is the whole nature of excellency. As nothing hath an absolute perfect being but God, so nothing hath an absolutely perfect goodness but God; as the sun hath a perfection of heat in it, but what is warmed by the sun is but imperfectly hot, and equals not the sun in that perfection of heat wherewith it is naturally endued. The goodness of God is the measure and rule of goodness in everything else.
4. God only is immutably good. Other things may be perpetually good by supernatural power, but not immutably good in their own nature. Other things are not so good, but they may be bad; God is so good, that he cannot be bad. It was the speech of a philosopher, that it was a hard thing to find a good man, yea, impossible; but though it were possible to find a good man, he would be good but for some moment, or a short time: for though he should be good at this instant, it was above the nature of man to continue in a habit of goodness, without going awry and warping. But “the goodness of God endureth forever” (Psalm 52:1). God always glitters in goodness, as the sun, which the heathens called the visible image of the Divinity, doth with light. There is not such a perpetual light in the sun as there is a fulness of goodness in God; “no variableness” in him, as he is the “Father of Lights” (James 1:17).
Before I come to the doctrine, that is, the chief scope of the words, some remarks may be made upon the young man’s question and carriage: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”
1. The opinion of gaining eternal life by the outward observation of the law, will appear very unsatisfactory to an inquisitive conscience. This ruler armed, and certainly did confidently believe, that he had fulfilled the law (ver. 20): “All this have I observed from my youth;” yet he had not any full satisfaction in his own conscience; his heart misgave, and started upon some sentiments in him, that something else was required, and what he had done might be too weak, too short to shoot heaven’s lock for him. And to that purpose he comes to Christ, to receive instructions for the piecing up whatsoever was defective. Whosoever will consider the nature of God, and the relation of a creature, cannot with reason think, that eternal life was of itself due from God as a recompense to Adam, had he persisted in a state of innocence. Who can think so great a reward due, for having performed that which a creature in that relation was obliged to do? Can any man think another obliged to convey an inheritance of a thousand pounds per annum upon his payment of a few farthings, unless any compact appears to support such a conceit? And if it were not to be expected in the integrity of nature, but only from the goodness of God, how can it be expected since the revolt of man, and the universal deluge of natural curruption? God owes nothing to the holiest creature; what he gives is a present from his bounty, not the reward of the creature’s merit. And the apostle defies all creatures, from the greatest to the least, from the tallest angel to the lowest shrub, to bring out any one creature that hath first given to God (Rom. 11:35); “Who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed to him again?” The duty of the creature, and God’s gift of eternal life, is not a bargain and sale. God gives to the creature, he doth not properly repay; for he that repays hath received something of an equal value and worth before. When God crowns angels and men, he bestows upon them purely what is his own, not what is theirs by merit and and natural obligation: though indeed, what God gives by virtue of a promise made before, is, upon the performance of the condition, due by gracious obligation. God was not indebted to man in innocence, but every man’s conscience may now mind him that he is not upon the same level as in the state of integrity; and that he cannot expect anything from God, as the salary of his merit, but the free gift of Divine liberality. Man is obliged to the practice of what is good, both from the excellency of the Divine precepts, and the duty he owes to God; and cannot, without some declaration from God, hope for any other reward, than the satisfaction of having well acquitted himself.
2. It is the disease of human nature, since its corruption, to hope for eternal life by the tenor of the covenant of works. Though this ruler’s conscience was not thoroughly satisfied with what he had done, but imagined he might, for all that, fall short of eternal life, yet he still hugs the imagination of obtaining it by doing (ver. 17); “What shall I do, that I may inherit eternal life?” This is natural to corrupted man.
Cain thought to be accepted for the sake of his sacrifice; and, when he found his mistake, he was so weary of seeking happiness by doing, that he would court misery by murdering. All men set too high a value upon their own services. Sinful creatures would fain make God a debtor to them, and be purchasers of felicity: they would not have it conveyed to them by God’s sovereign bounty, but by an obligation of justice upon the value of their works. The heathens thought God would treat men according to the merit of their services; and it is no wonder they should have this sentiment, when the Jews, educated by God in a wiser school, were wedded to that notion. The Pharisees were highly fond of it: it was the only argument they used in prayer for Divine blessing. You have one of them boasting of his frequency in fasting, and his exactness in paying his tithes (Luke 19:12); as if God had been beholden to him, and could not, without manifest wrong, deny him his demand. And Paul confesseth it to be his own sentiment before his conversion; he accounted this “righteousness of the law gain to him” (Phil. 3:7); he thought, by this, to make his market with God. The whole nation of the Jews affected it, encompassing sea and land to make out a righteousness of their own, as the Pharisees did to make proselytes.
The Papists follow their steps, and dispute for justification by the merit of works, and find out another key of works of supererogation, to unlock heaven’s gate, than whatever the Scripture informed us of. It is from hence, also, that men are so ready to make faith, as a work, the cause of our justification. Man foolishly thinks he hath enough to set up himself after he hath proved bankrupt, and lost all his estate. This imagination is born with us, and the best Christians may find some sparks of it in themselves, when there are springings up of joy in their hearts, upon the more close performance of one duty than of another; as if they had wiped off their scores, and given God a satisfaction for their former neglects. “We have forsaken all, and followed thee,” was the boast of his disciples: “What shall we have, therefore?” was a branch of this root (Matt. 19:27). Eternal life is a gift, not by any obligation of right, but an abundance of goodness; it is owing, not to the dignity of our works, but the magnificent bounty of the Divine nature, and must be sued for by the title of God’s promise, not by the title of the creature’s services. We may observe,
3. How insufficient are some assents to Divine truth, and some expressions of affection to Christ, without the practice of christian precepts. This man addressed Christ with a profound respect, acknowledging him more than an ordinary person, with a more reverential carriage than we read any of his disciples paid to him in the days of his flesh; he fell down at his feet, kissed his knees, as the custom was, when they would testify the great respect they had to any eminent person, especially to their rabbins. All this some think to be included in the word γονυπετήσας, He seems to acknowledge him the Messiah by giving him the title of “Good,” a title they did not give to their doctors of the chair; he breathes out his opinion, that he was able to instruct him beyond the ability of the law; he came with a more than ordinary affection to him, and expectation of advantage from him, evident by his departing sad, when his expectations were frustrated by his own perversity; it was a sign he had a high esteem of him from whom he could not part without marks of his grief. What was the cause of his refusing the instructions he pretended such an affection to receive? He had possessions in the world. How soon do a few drops of worldly advantages quench the first sparks of an ill-grounded love to Christ! How vain is a complimental and cringing devotion, without a supreme preference of God, and valuation of Christ above every outward allurement. We may observe this,
4. We should never admit anything to be ascribed to us, which is proper to God. “Why callest thou me good? There is none good but one, that is, God.” If you do not acknowledge me God, ascribe not to me the title of Good. It takes off all those titles which fawning flatterers give to men, “mighty,” “invincible” to princes, “holiness” to the pope. We call one another good, without considering how evil; and wise, without considering how foolish; mighty, without considering how weak, and knowing, without considering how ignorant. No man, but hath more of wickedness than goodness; of ignorance than knowledge; of weakness than strength. God is a jealous God of his own honor; he will not have the creature share with him in his royal titles. It is a part of idolatary to give men the titles which are due to God; a kind of a worship of the creature together with the Creator. Worms will not stand out, but assault Herod in his purple, when he usurps the prerogative of God, and prove stiff and invincible vindicators of their Creator’s honor, when summoned to arms by the Creator’s word (Acts 12:22, 23).
Doctrine. The observation which I intend to prosecute, is this: — Pure and perfect goodness is only the royal prerogative of God; goodness is a choice perfection of the Divine nature. This is the true and genuine character of God; he is good, he is goodness, good in himself, good in his essence, good in the highest degree, possessing whatsoever is comely, excellent, desirable; the highest good, because first good: whatsoever is perfect goodness, is God; whatsoever is truly goodness in any creature, is a resemblance of God. All the names of God are comprehended in this one of good. All gifts, all variety of goodness, are contained in him as one common good.
He is the efficient cause of all good, by an overflowing goodness of his nature, he refers all things to himself, as the end, for the representation of his own goodness; “Truly God is good” (Psalm 73:1). Certainly, it is an undoubted truth; it is written in his works of nature, and his acts of grace (Exod. 34:6). “He is abundant in goodness.” And every thing is a memorial, not of some few sparks, but of his greater goodness (Psalm 145:7). This is often celebrated in the Psalms, and men invited more than once, to sing forth the praises of it (Psalm 107:8, 15, 21, 31). It may better be admired than sufficiently spoken of, or thought of, as it merits. It is discovered in all his works, as the goodness of a tree in all its fruits; it is easy to be seen, and more pleasant to be contemplated.
The Existence and Attributes of God
Devotionals, notes, poetry and more
Has your love grown cold?
(Oct 19) Bob Gass
‘You don’t love me…as you did at first!’
(Re 2:4) 4 But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. ESV
Love is like a fire; when it’s not fuelled, it goes out. That’s what happened to the Christians in the church at Ephesus. In earlier years Paul wrote these words to them: ‘Grace be with all those who love our Lord Jesus Christ with incorruptible love’ (Ephesians 6:24 NASB). Their love for the Lord was so strong and so evident to all, that Paul commended them for it. But by the time Christ speaks to the same church in the book of Revelation, their love for Him had waned: ‘I know all the things you do. I have seen your hard work and your patient endurance. I know you don’t tolerate evil people. You have examined the claims of those who say they are apostles but are not. You have discovered they are liars. You have patiently suffered for me without quitting. But I have this complaint against you. You don’t love me or each other as you did at first! Look how far you have fallen! Turn back to me’ (vv. 2-5 NLT). Evangelical leader John Stott wrote: ‘They’d fallen from the early heights of devotion to Christ which they’d climbed. They’d descended to the plains of mediocrity. In a word…the hearts of the Ephesian Christians had chilled. Their first flush of ecstasy had passed. Their early devotion to Christ had cooled. They’d been in love with Him, but…had fallen out of love.’ You can go to church, read your Bible, and pray every day, yet not love God as you should. Loving God is a commitment and a heart attitude that results in obedience. It’s a focus: a daily decision to honour Him in all you say and do. So, has your love grown cold?
2 Tim 2
(Eph 6:24) 24 Grace be with all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with love incorruptible. ESV
To the Church in Ephesus
(Re 2:1–7) 2 “To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: ‘The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands.
2 “ ‘I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. 3 I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. 4 But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. 5 Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. 6 Yet this you have: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. 7 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.’ ESV
by Bill Federer
The British power in America was broken this day, October 19, 1781, as 8000 British troops under Lord Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown, Virginia. The following day, General George Washington called for a service to render thanksgiving to God: “In order to diffuse the general Joy through every Breast the General orders that… Divine Service be performed tomorrow in the several Brigades or Divisions. The Commander-in-Chief earnestly recommends that the troops not on duty should universally attend, with… gratitude of heart which the recognition of such… astonishing Interposition of Providence demands of us.”American Minute
by P.T. Forsyth, (1848-1921)
The Soul of Prayer
CHAPTER VII / The Insistency of Prayer
In all I have said I have implied that prayer should be strenuously importunate. Observe, not petitionary merely, nor concentrated, nor active alone, but importunate. For prayer is not only meditation or communion. Nor ought it to be merely submissive in tone, as the “quietist” ideal is. We need not begin with “Thy will be done” if we but end with it. Remember the stress that Christ laid on importunity. Strenuous prayer will help us to recover the masculine type of religion—and then our opponents will at least respect us.
I would speak a little more fully on this matter of importunity. It is very closely bound up with the reality both of prayer and of religion. Prayer is not really a power till it is importunate. And it cannot be importunate unless it is felt to have a real effect on the Will of God. I may slip in here my conviction that far less of the disbelief in prayer is due to a scientific view of nature’s uniformity than to the slipshod kind of prayer that men hear from us in public worship; it is often but journalese sent heavenwards, or phrase-making to carry on. And I would further say that by importunity something else is meant than passionate dictation and stormy pertinacity—imposing our egoist will on God, and treating Him as a mysterious but manageable power that we may coerce and exploit.
The deepening of the spiritual life is a subject that frequently occupies the attention of religious conferences and of the soul bent on self-improvement. But it is not certain that the great saints would always recognize the ideal of some who are addicted to the use of the phrase. The “deepening of the spiritual life” they would find associated with three unhappy things.
1. They would recoil from a use of Scripture prevalent to those circles, which is atomistic individualist, subjective, and fantastic.
2. And what they would feel most foreign to their own objective and penetrating minds might be the air of introspection and self-measurement too often associated with the spiritual thus “deepened”—a spiritual egoism.
3. And they would miss the note of judgment and Redemption.
We should distinguish at the outset the deepening of spiritual life from the quickening of spiritual sensibility. Christ on the cross was surely deepened in spiritual experience, but was not the essence of that dereliction, and the concomitant of that deepening, the dulling of spiritual sensibility?
--- Forsyth, P. T. (1848-1921).
Compiled by Richard S. Adams
... from here, there and everywhere
You cannot bring about prosperity
by discouraging thrift.
You cannot strengthen the weak
by weakening the strong.
You cannot help little men
by tearing down big men.
You cannot lift the wage earner
by pulling down the wage payer.
You cannot help the poor
by destroying the rich.
You cannot establish sound security
on borrowed money.
You cannot further the brotherhood of man
by inciting class hatred.
You cannot keep out of trouble
by spending more than you earn.
You cannot build character and courage
by destroying men's initiative and independence.
You cannot help men permanently
by doing for them what they can and should
do for themselves.
--- Rev. William John Henry Boetcker, Presbyterian minister
God has a course mapped out for your life, and all the inadequacies in the world will not change His mind. He will be with you every step of the way. And though it may take time, He has a celebration planned for when you cross over the Red Seas of your life.
--- Charles Stanley
Free speech is meant to protect unpopular speech. Popular speech, by definition, needs no protection.
-- Neal Boortz
Thanks to Meir Yona
The Great Distress The Jews Were In Upon The Conflagration Of The Holy House. Concerning A False Prophet, And The Signs That Preceded This Destruction.
1. While the holy house was on fire, every thing was plundered that came to hand, and ten thousand of those that were caught were slain; nor was there a commiseration of any age, or any reverence of gravity, but children, and old men, and profane persons, and priests were all slain in the same manner; so that this war went round all sorts of men, and brought them to destruction, and as well those that made supplication for their lives, as those that defended themselves by fighting. The flame was also carried a long way, and made an echo, together with the groans of those that were slain; and because this hill was high, and the works at the temple were very great, one would have thought the whole city had been on fire. Nor can one imagine any thing either greater or more terrible than this noise; for there was at once a shout of the Roman legions, who were marching all together, and a sad clamor of the seditious, who were now surrounded with fire and sword. The people also that were left above were beaten back upon the enemy, and under a great consternation, and made sad moans at the calamity they were under; the multitude also that was in the city joined in this outcry with those that were upon the hill. And besides, many of those that were worn away by the famine, and their mouths almost closed, when they saw the fire of the holy house, they exerted their utmost strength, and brake out into groans and outcries again: Perea 17 did also return the echo, as well as the mountains round about [the city,] and augmented the force of the entire noise. Yet was the misery itself more terrible than this disorder; for one would have thought that the hill itself, on which the temple stood, was seething hot, as full of fire on every part of it, that the blood was larger in quantity than the fire, and those that were slain more in number than those that slew them; for the ground did no where appear visible, for the dead bodies that lay on it; but the soldiers went over heaps of those bodies, as they ran upon such as fled from them. And now it was that the multitude of the robbers were thrust out [of the inner court of the temple by the Romans,] and had much ado to get into the outward court, and from thence into the city, while the remainder of the populace fled into the cloister of that outer court. As for the priests, some of them plucked up from the holy house the spikes 18 that were upon it, with their bases, which were made of lead, and shot them at the Romans instead of darts. But then as they gained nothing by so doing, and as the fire burst out upon them, they retired to the wall that was eight cubits broad, and there they tarried; yet did two of these of eminence among them, who might have saved themselves by going over to the Romans, or have borne up with courage, and taken their fortune with the others, throw themselves into the fire, and were burnt together with the holy house; their names were Meirus the son of Belgas, and Joseph the son of Daleus.
2. And now the Romans, judging that it was in vain to spare what was round about the holy house, burnt all those places, as also the remains of the cloisters and the gates, two excepted; the one on the east side, and the other on the south; both which, however, they burnt afterward. They also burnt down the treasury chambers, in which was an immense quantity of money, and an immense number of garments, and other precious goods there reposited; and, to speak all in a few words, there it was that the entire riches of the Jews were heaped up together, while the rich people had there built themselves chambers [to contain such furniture]. The soldiers also came to the rest of the cloisters that were in the outer [court of the] temple, whither the women and children, and a great mixed multitude of the people, fled, in number about six thousand. But before Caesar had determined any thing about these people, or given the commanders any orders relating to them, the soldiers were in such a rage, that they set that cloister on fire; by which means it came to pass that some of these were destroyed by throwing themselves down headlong, and some were burnt in the cloisters themselves. Nor did any one of them escape with his life. A false prophet 19was the occasion of these people's destruction, who had made a public proclamation in the city that very day, that God commanded them to get upon the temple, and that there they should receive miraculous signs of their deliverance. Now there was then a great number of false prophets suborned by the tyrants to impose on the people, who denounced this to them, that they should wait for deliverance from God; and this was in order to keep them from deserting, and that they might be buoyed up above fear and care by such hopes. Now a man that is in adversity does easily comply with such promises; for when such a seducer makes him believe that he shall be delivered from those miseries which oppress him, then it is that the patient is full of hopes of such his deliverance.
by D.H. Stern
[also] friendship sweet with advice from the heart.
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
The unheeded secret
My kingdom is not of this world. --- John 18:36.
The great enemy to the Lord Jesus Christ in the present day is the conception of practical work that has not come from the New Testament, but from the systems of the world in which endless energy and activities are insisted upon, but no private life with God. The emphasis is put on the wrong thing. Jesus said, “The kingdom of God cometh not with observation; … for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you,” a hidden, obscure thing. An active Christian worker too often lives in the shop window. It is the innermost of the innermost that reveals the power of the life.
We have to get rid of the plague of the spirit of the religious age in which we live. In Our Lord’s life there was none of the press and rush of tremendous activity that we regard so highly, and the disciple is to be as his Master. The central thing about the kingdom of Jesus Christ is a personal relationship to Himself, not public usefulness to men. It is not its practical activities that are the strength of this Bible Training College, its whole strength lies in the fact that here you are put into soak before God. You have no idea of where God is going to engineer your circumstances, no knowledge of what strain is going to be put on you either at home or abroad, and if you waste your time in over-active energies instead of getting into soak on the great fundamental truths of God’s Redemption, you will snap when the strain comes; but if this time of soaking before God is being spent in getting rooted and grounded in God on the un-practical line, you will remain true to Him whatever happens.
the Poetry of R.S. Thomas
Do you want to know his name?
It is forgotten. Would you learn
what he was like? He was like
anyone else, a man with ears
and eyes. Be it sufficient
that in a church porch on an Evening
in winter, the moon rising, the frost
sharp, he was driven
to his knees and for no reason
he knew. The cold came at him;
his breath was carved angularly
as the tombstones; an owl screamed.
He had no power to pray.
His back turned on the interior
he looked out on a universe
that was without knowledge
of him and kept his place
there for an hour on that lean
threshold, neither outside nor in.
Maimonides: Torah and Philosophic Quest
One should note the parallel between the rarity of one who observes the commandments for their own sake and the rarity of one who has achieved intellectual excellence. Despite the rabbis’ emphasis on worship which is not based on self-interest, they were fully aware and responsive to the needs of those unable to attain this level. The talmudic tradition elaborated upon the developmental process underlying the progression from worship based on yirah (fear) and shelo lishmah (observing commandments or studying Torah not for their own sake) to ahavah (love) and lishmah (observing or studying Torah for its own sake). This gave Maimonides a structure with which to understand the relationship between individual and communal levels of worship.
The rabbis, though committed to the need to transcend lower forms of religious experience, were careful not to develop a system catering solely to the elite. Antigonus was censored by the rabbis for revealing publicly what few individuals were capable of accepting. One must be circumspect when discussing the highest level of worship—love—with individuals who have not gone beyond that which is based on self-interest. The danger is not that the unique man recognizes as false that which the community accepts as true, but, rather, such a person is exposed to that which he cannot psychologically appropriate.
Maimonides describes the reactions to Antigonus’ statement in his commentary to Avot:
This Sage had two disciples, one named Zadok and the other named Boethius. When they heard him deliver the statement, they departed from him. The one said to his colleague, “Behold, the master expressly stated that man has neither reward nor punishment, and there is no expectation at all.” [They said this] because they did not understand his intention. The one lent support to his colleague and they departed from the community and forsook the Torah.
One who evaluates the benefits of religious life in terms of self-interest will wrongly interpret statements stressing a disinterested worship of God as covert attempts to deny that God responds to man’s condition. “There is no hope!” is the response of a man in need when he is told to love God for His own sake. One who, for whatever reason, is tied exclusively to the pursuit of his physical needs, requires a god who relates directly to his condition of deprivation. The rabbis responded to this situation by legitimizing even those actions not based on pure motives:
A man should always occupy himself with Torah and good deeds, though it is not for their own sake, for out of [doing good] with an ulterior motive there comes [doing good] for its own sake (T.B. Pesaḥim 50b).
Purity of motive was not the only criterion used by talmudic tradition to evaluate the religious significance of human behavior. Maimonides recognized that the Talmud’s acceptance of imperfectly motivated actions was rooted in the belief that concrete action could lead to inwardness. Actions may lead to purity of motive even when initiated by impure motives.
Besides this understanding of the psychological consequences of behavior, the rabbis were also motivated by their realistic understanding of communal needs. What is important in a social reality is how people act toward one another. One must appreciate that beneficial consequences can derive from imperfectly motivated actions. The man who gives charity while stipulating in his mind that he does so in order that he is rewarded and that his son recover from illness, is nevertheless declared a righteous man by the tradition. This person may be a philistine from the perspective of his motive, but at least the poor receive help. Those in need cannot wait until the individual heals his egocentricity. If one takes into account the needs of the poor and the deprived, one will be prepared to motivate action with a theology which promises abundant material rewards in return for compliance with religious norms.
One does not require the teachings of Plato or al-Farabi to recognize the problem involved in attempting to embrace both individual excellence and responsibility to the community. The esoteric-exoteric distinction between theological models is not so much a function of truth as opposed to falsity, as it is a function of a perceptive understanding of levels of worship. The rabbis’ concern for excellence, ahavah and lishmah, was not compromised by their establishing minimal conditions in which all could participate, yirah and shelo lishmah.
Philosophy, for Maimonides, serves as an instrument for raising the individual from worship at the level of yirah to the level of ahavah. Theoretical knowledge of God enables the individual to move from an observance based on self-interest to a purer observance of commandments. Philosophy offers the individual a God who is sought because of His perfection, and not only because He responds to man’s physical helplessness. That Maimonides thought philosophy had this effect is clear from the way he treats its importance in his legal works. One may disagree with Maimonides’ psychology and his conviction of the psychological consequences of philosophic development, yet one cannot ignore what he believed to be the human consequences of thought. To allege that philosophy is of little importance to Maimonides’ halakhic reader, as Husik does, is to miss Maimonides’ understanding of the direct bearing of philosophy upon one’s relationship to God and the commandments. Philosophy directs the halakhic Jew from a relationship to God based on reciprocity to a relationship based on pure love.
The structure of the argument in Ḥelek reveals this understanding of philosophy. Immediately following a discussion of fear and love of God, Maimonides interrupts himself to describe the three approaches to Aggadah already discussed in chapter one. He concludes his description with the following statement:
If, O reader, you belong to one of the first-named classes, do not pay any attention to any of my remarks on this subject, because not a word of it will suit you. On the contrary, it will harm you and you will dislike it. For how can food of lightweight and temperate character suit a person accustomed to partaking of bad and gross fare? It would really injure him, and he would loathe it.… If, however, you are of those who constitute the third class, and when you come across any of the Sages’ remarks which reason rejects, you pause and learn that it is a dark saying and an allegory. And if you then pass the night wrapped up in thought and dwelling in anxious reflection over its interpretation, mentally striving to find the truth and the correct point of view, … you will then consider this discourse of mine, and it will profit you, if God wills it.
Why does Maimonides believe that he who reads Aggadah literally will find nothing satisfactory in his treatment of olam ha-ba? One may say that since Maimonides will offer a symbolic interpretation of many aggadot dealing with the messianic age, such a person would be repulsed by a non-literal conception of messianism. This plausible explanation does not go far enough. Before one can appropriate the true meaning of olam ha-ba and then an approach to Torah grounded in disinterested love, one must be committed to universal criteria of truth independent of traditional authority. One must first understand nature from the perspective of independent reason, in order then to understand and to appreciate Maimonides’ presentation of the relationship between the biblical God of history and the God of being.
The relationship of man to God described in the Bible is reciprocal. The lord of history issues norms to man and promises—in return for man’s obedience—to satisfy all man’s material needs. In a time when God’s response to man is neither apparent nor visible, the expectation of an immediate historical response from God is replaced by messianism. Messianism and the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead essentially reflect the same model of man’s relationship to God as that found in the Bible; both doctrines merely postpone the time when God will reward those who comply with His will.
Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. --- Psalm 139:23–24.
What are some of the ways in which God answers requests of this kind? Charles G. Finney: Sermons From The Penny Pulpit
By his Spirit and by the application of his truth, light often shines into the mind to give people a view of themselves that without this searching they never would have had. But while it is true that God often searches in this way and has done so in all ages, yet it is by no means the only way in which he searches the human mind. No, it is certain that he much more frequently searches us in other ways. Notice, God’s object in searching is not to inform himself about us but to reveal us to ourselves, for he knows well the state of our minds, our spiritual latitude and longitude, what we are in our present state, and what sort of characters we would develop under any and all circumstances. Consequently, God, in bringing us out to our own view, must apply tests to us that let us see ourselves as he himself sees us. In order to do this, he answers such petitions by means of his providence outside us and by his Spirit inside us. God brings us into various conditions and circumstances for the demonstration of character and then comes by his Spirit and presents it to our minds when it is demonstrated.
For example, he often allows things to occur that really will show to us—and to those around us—what sort of tempers we have. When we pray to be searched, often God allows us to be maligned and criticized. [This] shows whether we possess the virtue of meekness or whether we will say that we have a right to be angry. Now, perhaps, some of you have had such a test as this applied to you this very day. Did it demonstrate the meekness and gentleness of Christ, or did it make you angry?
God often arranges matters so that we are treated with neglect—perhaps, sinfully so—by those around us. God does not prevent this but allows it to be done. Did it make you angry and show an unholy temper, or otherwise? Perhaps God allows you to be treated with unmistakable injustice, and, when thus tried, do you show the Spirit of Christ? Do you find working in you the temper that was shown by Christ on such occasions? Remember that it is written, “If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ” (Rom. 8:9). We would be exceedingly ignorant of ourselves if none of these tests were applied.
--- Charles G. Finney
Case of Knives
“Fits of depression come over most of us,” Charles Spurgeon once told his students. “The strong are not always vigorous, the joyous are not always happy.” Spurgeon himself was living proof, for he often suffered agonizing periods of depression. One of the worst occurred when he was only 22 years old. His congregation had outgrown its building, so Spurgeon arranged to rent Royal Surrey Garden’s Music Hall, London’s most commodious and beautiful building, for Sunday night services. Surrey Hall usually accommodated secular concerts, carnivals, and circuses. Using it as a place of worship was unheard of in its day, and the news spread through London like lightning.
On Sunday Morning, October 19, 1856, Spurgeon preached at New Park Street Chapel, saying: “I may be called to stand where the thunderclouds brew, where the lightnings play, and tempestuous winds are howling on the mountain top. Well, then, amidst dangers he will inspire me with courage; amidst toils he will make me strong; we shall be gathered together tonight where an unprecedented mass of people will assemble, perhaps from idle curiosity, to hear God’s Word; see what God can do, just when a cloud is falling on the head of him whom God has raised up to preach to you. … ”
That Evening 12,000 people streamed into Surrey Hall and an additional 10,000 overflowed into the surrounding gardens. The services started, but as Spurgeon rose to pray, someone shouted “Fire! Fire! The galleries are giving way!” There was no fire, but the crowd bolted in panic, and in the resulting stampede seven people were trampled to death. Twenty-eight more were hospitalized.
The young preacher, reeling in shock, was literally carried from the pulpit to a friend’s house where he remained in seclusion for weeks. He wept by day and suffered terrifying dreams at night. He later said, “My thoughts were all a case of knives, cutting my heart to pieces.” At last, while meditating on Philippians 2:10, the Lord’s Word began to restore his soul.
It was this disaster, horrible as it was, that vaulted Charles Spurgeon to overnight fame as a preacher all the world wanted to hear.
So at the name of Jesus everyone will bow down, those in heaven, on earth, and under the earth. And to the glory of God the Father everyone will openly agree, “Jesus Christ is Lord!”
--- Philippians 2:10,11.
by Google and Israel’s National Museum
The Dead Sea Scrolls have made their way online some 2,000 years after they were written through a partnership between Google and Israel’s national museum.
The important documents are available in searchable, high-resolution images, accompanied by informative videos, background information, and historical data. So far five of the scrolls have been digitized, including the biblical Book of Isaiah, the Temple Scroll, and three others.
Managing Director of Google’s R&D Center in Israel, Professor Yossi Matias said they plan to add additional Dead Sea Scroll documents to the site in the future. The AP says nearly all the scrolls will be online by 2016. (PC Magazine)
Daily Readings / CHARLES H. SPURGEON
Morning - October 19
“Babes in Christ.” --- 1 Corinthians 3:1.
Are you mourning, believer, because you are so weak in the divine life: because your faith is so little, your love so feeble? Cheer up, for you have cause for gratitude. Remember that in some things you are equal to the greatest and most full-grown Christian. You are as much bought with blood as he is. You are as much an adopted child of God as any other believer. An infant is as truly a child of its parents as is the full-grown man. You are as completely justified, for your justification is not a thing of degrees: your little faith has made you clean every whit. You have as much right to the precious things of the covenant as the most advanced believers, for your right to covenant mercies lies not in your growth, but in the covenant itself; and your faith in Jesus is not the measure, but the token of your inheritance in him. You are as rich as the richest, if not in enjoyment, yet in real possession. The smallest star that gleams is set in heaven; the faintest ray of light has affinity with the great orb of day. In the family register of glory the small and the great are written with the same pen. You are as dear to your Father’s heart as the greatest in the family. Jesus is very tender over you. You are like the smoking flax; a rougher spirit would say, “put out that smoking flax, it fills the room with an offensive odour!” but the smoking flax he will not quench. You are like a bruised reed; and any less tender hand than that of the Chief Musician would tread upon you or throw you away, but he will never break the bruised reed. Instead of being downcast by reason of what you are, you should triumph in Christ. Am I but little in Israel? Yet in Christ I am made to sit in heavenly places. Am I poor in faith? Still in Jesus I am heir of all things. Though “less than nothing I can boast, and vanity confess.” yet, if the root of the matter be in me I will rejoice in the Lord, and glory in the God of my salvation.
Evening - October 19
“God, my maker, who giveth songs in the night.” --- Job 35:10.
Any man can sing in the day. When the cup is full, man draws inspiration from it. When wealth rolls in abundance around him, any man can praise the God who gives a plenteous harvest or sends home a loaded argosy. It is easy enough for an Aeolian harp to whisper music when the winds blow—the difficulty is for music to swell forth when no wind is stirring. It is easy to sing when we can read the notes by daylight; but he is skilful who sings when there is not a ray of light to read by—who sings from his heart. No man can make a song in the night of himself; he may attempt it, but he will find that a song in the night must be divinely inspired. Let all things go well, I can weave songs, fashioning them wherever I go out of the flowers that grow upon my path; but put me in a desert, where no green thing grows, and wherewith shall I frame a hymn of praise to God? How shall a mortal man make a crown for the Lord where no jewels are? Let but this voice be clear, and this body full of health, and I can sing God’s praise: silence my tongue, lay me upon the bed of languishing, and how shall I then chant God’s high praises, unless he himself give me the song? No, it is not in man’s power to sing when all is adverse, unless an altar-coal shall touch his lip. It was a divine song, which Habakkuk sang, when in the night he said, “Although the fig-tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls: yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation.” Then, since our Maker gives songs in the night, let us wait upon him for the music. O thou chief musician, let us not remain songless because affliction is upon us, but tune thou our lips to the melody of thanksgiving.
AM I A SOLDIER OF THE CROSS?
Isaac Watts, 1674–1748
Endure hardship with us like a good solder of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs—he wants to please his commanding officer. (2 Timothy 2:3, 4)
The Church founded by Christ has been built on the blood of martyrs. It has been estimated that at least 50 million persons have had a martyr’s death since the crucifixion of our Lord. Even today, in our 20th century civilized culture, large numbers of believers live under conditions of harassment and persecution.
According to historical tradition, many of Christ’s disciples and followers were persecuted by enemies of their Master with the following fates:
Matthew—suffered martyrdom by being slain in the city of Ethiopia.
Mark—died at Alexandria, after being dragged through the streets of that city.
Luke—hanged on an olive tree in the classic land of Greece.
John—put in boiling oil. Afterward branded at Patmos.
Peter—crucified at Rome with his head downward.
James the Lesser—thrown from a pinnacle of the temple, then beaten to death.
Andrew—bound to a cross, where he preached to his persecutors until he died.
Jude—shot to death with arrows.
Matthias—first stoned and then beheaded.
Barnabas of the Gentiles—stoned to death at Salonica.
Paul—after various tortures and persecutions, beheaded at Rome by Emperor Nero.
In Isaac Watts’ time, much persecution was inflicted upon the English Dissenters—those who had split from the official, state Anglican church. Stalwarts such as Isaac Watts became resolute and fearless in their proclamation and defense of the Gospel. “Am I a Soldier of the Cross?” was written in 1724, following a sermon by Watts titled “Holy Fortitude or Remedies Against Fears.” These words are still a challenge for us today:
Am I a soldier of the cross? A foll’wer of the Lamb? And shall I fear to own His cause or blush to speak His name?
Must I be carried to the skies on flow’ry beds of ease, while others fought to win the prize and sailed thru bloody seas?
Are there no foes for me to face? Must I not stem the flood? Is this vile world a friend to grace, to help me on to God?
Sure I must fight if I would reign—Increase my courage, Lord! I’ll bear the toil, endure the pain, supported by Thy Word.
For Today: 1 Corinthians 16:13; Ephesians 6:10–20; 1 Timothy 6:12; Jude 3
Even now, pray for those who are suffering for Christ and the work of the Gospel in difficult areas around the world. Reflect on these musical questions ---
(5.) The wisdom of God is seen in fitting the revelations of his will to aftertimes, and for the preventing of the foreseen corruptions of
men. The whole revelation of the mind of God is stored with wisdom in the words, connexion, sense; it looks backwards to past, and
forwards to ages to come: a hidden wisdom lies in the bowels of it, like gold in a mine. The Old Testament was so composed, as to
fortify the New, when God should bring it to light. The foundations of the gospel were laid in the law: the predictions of the Prophets,
and figures of the law, were so wisely framed, and laid down in such clear expressions, as to be proofs of the authority of the New
Testament, and convictions of Jesus’ being the Messiah (Luke 24:14). Things concerning Christ were written in Moses, the Prophets,
and Psalms; and do, to this day, stare the Jews so in the face, that they are fain to invent absurd and nonsensical interpretations to
excuse their unbelief, and continue themselves in their obstinate blindness. And in pursuance of the efficacy of those predictions, it was
a part of the wisdom of God to bring forth the translation of the Old Testament, (by the means of Ptolomy, king of Egypt, some
hundreds of years before the coming of Christ) into the Greek language, the tongue then most known in the world; and why? to
prepare the Gentiles, by the reading of it, for that gracious call he intended them, and for the entertainment of the gospel, which some
few years after was to be published among them; that, by reading the predictions so long before made, they might more readily
receive the accomplishment of them in their due time. The Scripture is written in such a manner, as to obviate errors foreseen by God
to enter into the church. It may be wondered, why the universal particle should be inserted by Christ, in the giving the cup in the
supper, which was not in the distributing the bread (Matt. 24:27): “Drink ye all of it;” not at the distributing the bread, “Eat you all of
it;” and Mark, in his relation, tells us, “They all drank of it” (Mark 11:23). The church of Rome hath been the occasion of discovering
to us the wisdom of our Saviour, in inserting that particle all, since the? were so bold to exclude the communicants from the cup by a
trick of concomitancy. Christ foresaw the error, and therefore put in a little word to obviate a great invasion: and the Spirit of God
hath particularly left upon record that particle, as we may reasonably suppose to such a purpose. And so, in the description of the
“blessed Virgin” (Luke 1:27), there is nothing of her holiness mentioned, which is with much diligence recorded of Elizabeth (ver. 6):
“Righteous, walking in all the commandments of God, blameless;” probably to prevent the superstition which God foresaw would
arise in the world. And we do not find more undervaluing speeches uttered by Christ to any of his disciples, in the exercise of his office,
than to her, except to Peter. As when she acquainted him with the want of wine at the marriage in Cana, she receives a slighting
answer: “Woman, what have I to do with thee?” (John 2:4) And when one was admiring the blessedness of her that bare him, he
turns the discourse another way, to pronounce a blessedness rather belonging to them that “hear the word of God, and keep it” (Luke
11:27, 28); in a mighty wisdom to antidote his people against any conceit of the prevalency of the Virgin over him in heaven, in the
exercise of his mediatory office.
2. As his wisdom appears in his government by his laws, so it appears in the various inclinations and conditions of men. As there is a distinction of several creatures, and several qualities in them, for the common good of the world, so among men there are several inclinations and several abilities, as donatives from God, for the common advantage of human society; as several channels cut out from the same river run several ways, and refresh several soils, one man is qualified for one employment, another marked out by God for a different work, yet all of them fruitful to bring in a revenue of glory to God, and a harvest of profit to the rest of mankind. How unuseful would the body be, if it had but “one member” (1 Cor. 12:19)! How unprovided would a house be, if it had not vessels of dishonor as well as of honor! The corporation of mankind would be as much a chaos, as the matter of the heavens and the earth was, before it was distinguished by several forms breathed into it at the creation. Some are inspired with a particular genius for one art, some for another; every man hath a distinct talent. If all were husbandmen, where would be the instruments to plough and reap? If all were artificers, where would they have corn to nourish themselves? All men are like vessels, and parts in the body, designed for distinct offices and functions for the good of the whole, and mutually return an advantage to one another. As the variety of gifts in the church is a fruit of the wisdom of God, for the preservation and increase of the church, so the variety of inclinations and employments in the world is a fruit of the wisdom of God, for the preservation and subsistence of the world by mutual commerce. What the apostle largely discourseth of the former, in 1 Cor. 12 may be applied to the other. The various conditions of men is also a fruit of Divine wisdom. Some are rich, and some poor; the rich have as much need of the poor, as the poor have of the rich; if the poor depend upon the rich for their livelihood, the rich depend upon the poor for their conveniences. Many arts would not be learned by men, if poverty did not oblige them to it; and many would faint in the learning of them, if they were not thereunto encouraged by the rich. The poor labor for the rich, as the earth sends vapors into the vaster and fuller air; and the rich return advantages again to the poor, as the clouds do the vapors in rain upon the earth. As meat would not afford a flourishing juice without bread, and bread without other food would immoderately fill the stomach, and not be well digested, so the rich would be unprofitable in the commonwealth without the poor, and the poor would be burdensome to a commonwealth without the rich. The poor could not be easily governed without the rich, nor the rich sufficiently and conveniently provided for without the poor. If all were rich, there would be no objects for the exercise of a noble part of charity: if all were poor, there were no matter for the exercise of it. Thus the Divine wisdom planted various inclinations, and diversified the conditions of men for the public advantages of the world.
2dly. God’s wisdom appears, in the government of men, as fallen and sinful; or, in the government of sin. After the law of God was broke, and sin invaded and conquered the world, divine wisdom had another scene to act in, and other methods of government were necessary. The wisdom of God is then seen in ordering those jarring discords, drawing good out of evil, and honour to himself out of that which in its own nature tended to the supplanting of his glory. God being a sovereign good, would not suffer so great an evil to enter, but to serve himself of it for some greater end, for all his thoughts are full of goodness and wisdom. Now, though the permission of sin be an act of his sovereignty, and the punishment of sin be an act of his justice, yet the ordination of sin to good, is an act of his wisdom, whereby he doth dispose the evil, overrules the malice, and orders the events of it to his own purposes.
Sin in itself is a disorder, and therefore God doth not permit sin for itself; for in its own nature it hath nothing of amiableness, but he wills it for some righteous end, which belongs to the manifestation of his glory, which is his aim in all the acts of his will; he wills it not as sin, but as his wisdom can order it to some greater good than was before in the world, and make it contribute to the beauty of the order he intends. As a dark shadow is not delightful and pleasant in itself, nor is drawn by a painter for any amiableness there is in the shadow itself, but as it serves to set forth that beauty which is the main design of his art, so the glorious effects which arise from the entrance of sin into the world, are not from the creatures evil, but the depths of divine wisdom. Particularly,
1. God’s wisdom is seen in the bounding of sin; as it is said of the wrath of man, it shall praise him, and the remainder of wrath God doth restrain (Psalm 76:10). He sets limits to the boiling corruption of the heart, as he doth to the boisterous waves of the sea; “Hitherto shalt thou go, and no further.” As God is the rector of the world, he doth so restrain sin, so temper and direct it, as that human society is preserved, which else would be overflown with a deluge of wickedness, and ruin would be brought upon all communities. The world would be a shambles, a brothel-house, if God, by his wisdom and goodness, did not set bars to that wickedness which is in the hearts of men: the whole earth would be as bad as hell. Since the heart of man is a hell of corruption, by that the souls of all men would be excited to the acting the worst villanies; since “every thought of the heart of man is only evil, and that continually” Gen. 6:5). If the wisdom of God did not stop these floodgates of evil in the hearts of men, it would overflow the world, and frustrate all the gracious designs he carries on among the sons of men. Were it not for this wisdom, every house would be filled with violence, as well as every nature is with sin. What harm would not strong and furious beasts do, did not the skill of man tame and bridle them? How often hath Divine wisdom restrained the viciousness of human nature, and let it run, not to that point they designed, but to the end he purposed! Laban’s fury, and Esau’s enmity against Jacob, were pent in within bounds for Jacob’s safety, and their hearts overruled from an intended destruction of the good man, to a perfect amity (Gen. 31:29, and Gen. 31:32.)
2. God’s wisdom is seen in the bringing glory to himself out of sin.
(1.) Out of sin itself. God erects the trophies of honor upon that which is a natural means to hinder and deface it. His glorious attributes are drawn out to our view, upon the occasion of sin, which otherwise had lain hid in his own Being. Sin is altogether black and abojuinable; but by the admirable wisdom of God, he hath drawn out of the dreadful darkness of sin the saving beams of his mercy, and displayed his grace in the incarnation and passion of his Son for the atonement of sin. Thus he permitted Adam’s fall, and wisely ordered it, for a fuller discovery of his own nature, and a higher elevation of man’s good, that “as sin reigned to death, so might grace reign through righteousness to eternal life, by Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:21). The unbounded goodness of God could not have appeared without it. His goodness in rewarding innocent obedience would have been manifested; but not his mercy, in pardoning rebellious crimes. An innocent creature is the object of the rewards of grace, as the standing angels are under the beams of grace; but not under the beams of mercy, because they were never sinful, and, consequently, never miserable. Without sin the creature had not been miserable: had man remained innocent, he had not been the subject of punishment; and without the creature’s misery, God’s mercy in sending his Son to save his enemies, could not have appeared. The abundance of sin is a passive occasion for God to manifest the abundance of his grace. The power of God in the changing the heart of a rebellious creature, had not appeared, had not sin infected our nature. We had not clearly known the vindictive justice of God, had no crime been committed; for that is the proper object of Divine wrath. The goodness of God could never have permitted justice to exercise itself upon an innocent creature, that was not guilty either personally or by imputation (Psalm 11:7), “The righteous Lord loveth righteousness, his countenance doth uphold the upright.” Wisdom is illustrious hereby. God suffered man to fall into a mortal disease, to shew the virtue of his own restoratives to cure sin, which in itself is incurable by the art of any creature. And otherwise this perfection, whereby God draws good out of evil, had been utterly useless, and would have been destitute of an object wherein to discover itself. Again, wisdom, in ordering a rebellious head-strong world to its own ends, is greater than the ordering an innocent world, exactly observant of his precepts, and complying with the end of the creation. Now, without the entrance of sin, this wisdom had wanted a stage to act upon. Thus God raised the honor of this wisdom, while man ruined the integrity of his nature; and made use of the creature’s breach of his divine law, to establish the honor of it in a more signal and stable manner, by the active and passive obedience of the Son of his bosom. Nothing serves God so much, as an occasion of glorifying himself, as the entrance of sin into the world; by this occasion God communicates to us the knowledge of those perfections of his nature, which had else been folded up from us in an eternal night; his justice had lain in the dark, as having nothing to punish; his mercy had been obscure, as having none to pardon; a great part of his wisdom had been silent, as having no such object to order.
(2.) His wisdom appears, in making use of sinful instruments. He uses the malice and enmity of the devil to bring about his own purposes, and makes the sworn enemy of his honor contribute to the illustrating of it against his will. This great craftsmaster he took in his own net, and defeated the devil by the devil’s malice; by turning the contrivances he had hatched and accomplished against man, against himself. He used him as a tempter, to grapple with our Saviour in the wilderness, whereby to make him fit to succor us; and as the god of this world, to conspire the wicked Jews to crucify him, whereby to render him actually the Redeemer of the world, and so make him an ignorant instrument of that divine glory he designed to ruin. It is more skill to make a curious piece of workmanship with ill-conditioned tools, than with instruments naturally fitted for the work: it is no such great wonder for a limner to draw an exact piece with a fit pencil and suitable colors, as to begin and perfect a beautiful work with a straw and water, things improper for such a design. This wisdom of God is more admirable and astonishing than if a man were able to rear a vast palace by fire, whose nature is to consume combustible matter not to erect a building. To make things serviceable contrary to their own nature, is a wisdom peculiar to the Creator of Nature. God’s making use of devils, for the glory of his name, and the good of his people, is a more amazing piece of wisdom than his goodness in employing the blessed angels in his work. To promise, that the world, (which includes the god of the world, and death, and things present, let them be as evil as they will, should be ours, that is, for our good, and for his glory, is an act of goodness; but to make them serviceable to the honor of Christ, and the good of his people, is a wisdom that may well raise our highest admirations: they are for believers, as they are for the glory of Christ, and as Christ is for the glory of God (1 Cor. 3:22). To chain up Satan wholly, and frustrate his wiles, would be an argument of Divine goodness; but to suffer him to run his risk, and then improve all his contrivances for his own glorious and gracious ends and purposes, manifests, besides his power and goodness, his wisdom also. He uses the sins of evil instruments for the glory of his justice (Isa. 10:5–7). Thus he served himself of the ambition and covetousness of the Assyrians, Chaldeans, and Romans, for the correction of his people, and punishment of his rebels, just as the Roman magistrates used the fury of lions and other wild beasts, in their theatres, for the punishment of criminals: the lions acted their natural temper in tearing those that were exposed to them for a prey; but the intent of the magistrates was to punish their crimes. The magistate inspired not the lions with their rage, that they had from their natures; but served themselves of that natural rage to execute justice.
(3.) God’s wisdom is seen in bringing good to the creature out of sin. He hath ordered sin to such an end as man never dreamt of, the devil never imagined, and sin in its own nature could never attain. Sin in its own nature tends to no good, but that of punishment, whereby the creature is brought into order. It hath no relation to the creatures good in itself, but to the creature’s mischief: but God, by an act of infinite wisdom, brings good out of it to the creature, as well as glory to his name, contrary to the nature of the crime, the intention of the criminal, and the design of the tempter. God willed sin, that is, he willed to permit it, that he might communicate himself to the creature in the most excellent manner. He willed the permission of sin, as an occasion to bring forth the mystery of the incarnation and passion of our Saviour; as he permitted the sin of Joseph’s brethren, that he might use their evil to a good end. He never, because of his holiness, wills sin as an end; but in regard of his wisdom he wills to permit it as a means and occasion; and thus, to draw good out of those things which are in their own nature most contrary to good, is the highest pitch of wisdom.
[1.] The redemption of man in so excellent a way, was drawn from the occasion of sin. The greatest blessing that ever the world was blessed with, was ushered in by contraieties, by the lust and irregular affection of man; the first promise of the Redeemer by the fall of Adam (Gen. 3:15), and the bruising the heel of that promised Seed, by the blackest tragedy acted by wicked rebels, the treachery of Judas, and the rage of the Jews; the highest good hath been brought forth by the greatest wickedness. As God out of the chaos of rude and indigested matter framed the first creation; so from the sins of men, and malice of Satan, he hath erected the everlasting scheme of honor in a new creation of all things by Jesus Christ. The devil inspired man, to content his own fury in the death of Christ; and God ordered it to accomplish his own design of redemption in the passion of the Redeemer; the devil had his diabolical ends, and God overpowers his actions to serve his own divine ends. The person that betrayed him was admitted to be a spectator of the most private actions of our Saviour, that his innocence might be justified; to shew, that he was not afraid to have his enemies judges of his most retired privacies. While they all thought to do their own wills, Divine wisdom orders them to do God’s will (Acts 2:23): “Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, you have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain.” And wherein the crucifiers of Christ sinned, in shedding the richest blood, apon their repentance they found the expiation of their crimes, and the discovery of a superabundant mercy. Nothing but the blood was aimed at by them: the best blood was shed by them; but infinite Wisdom makes the cross the scene of his own righteousness, and the womb of man’s recovery. By the occasion of man’s lapsed state, there was a way open to raise man to a more excellent condition than that whereinto he was put by creation: and the depriving man of the happiness of an earthly paradise, in a way of justice, was an occasion of advancing him to a heavenly felicity, in a way of grace. The violation of the old covenant occasionally introduced a better the loss of the first integrity ushered in a more stable righteousness, an everlasting righteousness (Dan. 9:24). And the falling of the first head was succeeded by one whose standing could not but be eternal. The fall of the devil was ordered by infinite Wisdom, for the good of that body from which he fell. It is supposed by some, that the devil was the chief angel in heaven, the head of all the rest; and that he falling, the angels were left as a body without a head; and after he had politically beheaded the angels, he endeavored to destroy man, and rout him out of paradise; but God takes the opportunity to set up his Son, as the head of angels and men. And thus whilst the devil endeavored to spoil the corporation of angels, and make them a body contrary to God, God makes angels and men one body under one head, for his service. The angels in losing a defectible head, attained a more excellent and glorious Head in another nature, which they had not before; though of a lower nature in his humanity, yet of a more glorious nature in his divinity: from whence many suppose they derive their confirming grace, and the stability of their standing. “All things in heaven and earth are gathered together in Christ” (Eph 1:10), ἀνακεφαλαιώσασθαι, all united in him, and reduced under one head: that though our Saviour be not properly their Redeemer, for redemption supposeth captivity, yet in some sense he is their Head and Mediator: so that now the inhabitants of heaven and earth are but one family (Eph. 3:15.) And the innumerable company of angels are parts of that heavenly and triumphant Jerusalem, and that general assembly, whereof Jesus Christ is Mediator (Heb. 12:22, 29.)
[2.] The good of a nation often, by the skill of Divine wisdom, is promoted by the sins of some men. The patriarchs’ selling Joseph to the Midianites (Gen. 37:28), was without question a sin, and a breach of natural affection; yet, by God’s wise ordination, it proved the safety of the whole church of God in the world, as well as the Egyptian nation (Gen. 45:5, 8; 50:20.) The Jews’ unbelief was a step whereby the Gentiles arose to the knowledge of the gospel; as the setting of the sun in one place is the rising of it in another (Matt. 22:9.) He uses the corruptions of men instrumentally to propogate his gospel: he built up the true church by the preaching of some out of envy (Phil. 1:15), as he blessed Israel out of the mouth of a false prophet (Num. 23.) How often have the heresies of men been the occasion of clearing up the truth of God, and fixing the more lively impressions of it on the hearts of believers! Neither Judah nor Tamar, in their lust, dreamt of a stock for the Redeemer; yet God gave a son from that unlawful bed, whereof “Christ came according to the flesh” (Gen. 38:29, compared with Matt. 1:3). Jonah’s sin was probably the first and remote occasion of the Ninevites giving credit to his prophecy; his sin was the cause of his punishment, and his being flung into the sea might facilitate the reception of his message, and excite the Ninevites’ repentance, whereby a cloud of severe judgment was blown away from them. It is thought by some, that when Jonah passed through the streets of Nineveh, with his proclamation of destruction, he might be known by some of the mariners of that ship, from whence he was cast overboard into the sea, and might, after their voyage, be occasionally in that city, the metropolis of the nation, and the place of some of their births; and might acquaint the people, that this was the same person they had cast into the sea, by his own consent, for his acknowledged running from the presence of the Lord: for that he had told them (Jonah 1:10); and the mariner’s prayer (ver. 14) evidenced it; whereupon they might conclude his message worthy of belief, since they knew from such evidences, that he had sunk into the bowels of the waters, and now saw him safe in their streets, by a deliverence unknown to them; and that therefore that power that delivered him, could easily verify his word in the threatened judgment. Had Jonah gone at first, without committing that sin, and receiving that punishment, his message had not been judged a divine prediction, but a fruit of some enthusiastic madness; his sin upon this account was the first occasion of averting a judgment from so great a city.
[3.] The good of the sinner himself is sometimes promoted by Divine wisdom ordering the sin. As God had not permitted sin to enter upon the world, unless to bring glory to himself by it; so he would not let sin remain in the little world of a believers heart, if he did not intend to order it for his good. What is done by man, to his damage and disparagement, is directed by Divine wisdom to his advantage; not that it is the intent of the sin, or the sinner; but it is the event of the sin, by the ordination of Divine wisdom and grace. As without the wisdom of God permitting sin to enter into the world, some attributes of God had not been experimentally known, so some graces could not have been exercised; for where had there been an object for that noble zeal, in vindicating the glory of God, had it not been invaded by an enemy? The intenseness of love to him could not have been so strong, had we not an enemy to hate for his sake. Where had there been any place for that noble part of charity in holy admonitions and compassion to the souls of our neighbors, and endeavors to reduce them out of a destructive, to a happy path? Humility would not have had so many grounds for its growth and exercise, and holy sorrow had no fuel. And as without the appearance of sin there had been no exercise of the patience of God, so without afflictions, the fruits of sin, there had been no ground for the exercise of the patience of a christian, one of the noblest parts of valor. Now sin being evil, and such as cannot but be evil, hath no respect in itself to any good, and cannot work a gracious end, or anything profitable to the creature; nay it is a hindrance to any good, and, therefore, what good comes from it, is accidental; occasioned, indeed, by sin, but efficiently caused by the over-ruling wisdom of God, taking occasion thereby to display itself and the Divine goodness.
The Existence and Attributes of God