Ezra Reads the LawNehemiah 8 1 And all the people gathered as one man into the square before the Water Gate. And they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses that the LORD had commanded Israel. 2 So Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could understand what they heard, on the first day of the seventh month. 3 And he read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand. And the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law. 4 And Ezra the scribe stood on a wooden platform that they had made for the purpose. And beside him stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah, and Maaseiah on his right hand, and Pedaiah, Mishael, Malchijah, Hashum, Hashbaddanah, Zechariah, and Meshullam on his left hand. 5 And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was above all the people, and as he opened it all the people stood. 6 And Ezra blessed the LORD, the great God, and all the people answered, “Amen, Amen,” lifting up their hands. And they bowed their heads and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground. 7 Also Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, the Levites, helped the people to understand the Law, while the people remained in their places. 8 They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.
This Day Is Holy9 And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the LORD your God; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people wept as they heard the words of the Law. 10 Then he said to them, “Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” 11 So the Levites calmed all the people, saying, “Be quiet, for this day is holy; do not be grieved.” 12 And all the people went their way to eat and drink and to send portions and to make great rejoicing, because they had understood the words that were declared to them.
Feast of Booths Celebrated13 On the second day the heads of fathers’ houses of all the people, with the priests and the Levites, came together to Ezra the scribe in order to study the words of the Law. 14 And they found it written in the Law that the LORD had commanded by Moses that the people of Israel should dwell in booths during the feast of the seventh month, 15 and that they should proclaim it and publish it in all their towns and in Jerusalem, “Go out to the hills and bring branches of olive, wild olive, myrtle, palm, and other leafy trees to make booths, as it is written.” 16 So the people went out and brought them and made booths for themselves, each on his roof, and in their courts and in the courts of the house of God, and in the square at the Water Gate and in the square at the Gate of Ephraim. 17 And all the assembly of those who had returned from the captivity made booths and lived in the booths, for from the days of Jeshua the son of Nun to that day the people of Israel had not done so. And there was very great rejoicing. 18 And day by day, from the first day to the last day, he read from the Book of the Law of God. They kept the feast seven days, and on the eighth day there was a solemn assembly, according to the rule.
The People of Israel Confess Their SinNehemiah 9 1 Now on the twenty-fourth day of this month the people of Israel were assembled with fasting and in sackcloth, and with earth on their heads. 2 And the Israelites separated themselves from all foreigners and stood and confessed their sins and the iniquities of their fathers. 3 And they stood up in their place and read from the Book of the Law of the LORD their God for a quarter of the day; for another quarter of it they made confession and worshiped the LORD their God. 4 On the stairs of the Levites stood Jeshua, Bani, Kadmiel, Shebaniah, Bunni, Sherebiah, Bani, and Chenani; and they cried with a loud voice to the LORD their God. 5 Then the Levites, Jeshua, Kadmiel, Bani, Hashabneiah, Sherebiah, Hodiah, Shebaniah, and Pethahiah, said, “Stand up and bless the LORD your God from everlasting to everlasting. Blessed be your glorious name, which is exalted above all blessing and praise.
6 “You are the LORD, you alone. You have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them; and you preserve all of them; and the host of heaven worships you. 7 You are the LORD, the God who chose Abram and brought him out of Ur of the Chaldeans and gave him the name Abraham. 8 You found his heart faithful before you, and made with him the covenant to give to his offspring the land of the Canaanite, the Hittite, the Amorite, the Perizzite, the Jebusite, and the Girgashite. And you have kept your promise, for you are righteous.
9 “And you saw the affliction of our fathers in Egypt and heard their cry at the Red Sea, 10 and performed signs and wonders against Pharaoh and all his servants and all the people of his land, for you knew that they acted arrogantly against our fathers. And you made a name for yourself, as it is to this day. 11 And you divided the sea before them, so that they went through the midst of the sea on dry land, and you cast their pursuers into the depths, as a stone into mighty waters. 12 By a pillar of cloud you led them in the day, and by a pillar of fire in the night to light for them the way in which they should go. 13 You came down on Mount Sinai and spoke with them from heaven and gave them right rules and true laws, good statutes and commandments, 14 and you made known to them your holy Sabbath and commanded them commandments and statutes and a law by Moses your servant. 15 You gave them bread from heaven for their hunger and brought water for them out of the rock for their thirst, and you told them to go in to possess the land that you had sworn to give them.
16 “But they and our fathers acted presumptuously and stiffened their neck and did not obey your commandments. 17 They refused to obey and were not mindful of the wonders that you performed among them, but they stiffened their neck and appointed a leader to return to their slavery in Egypt. But you are a God ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and did not forsake them. 18 Even when they had made for themselves a golden calf and said, ‘This is your God who brought you up out of Egypt,’ and had committed great blasphemies, 19 you in your great mercies did not forsake them in the wilderness. The pillar of cloud to lead them in the way did not depart from them by day, nor the pillar of fire by night to light for them the way by which they should go. 20 You gave your good Spirit to instruct them and did not withhold your manna from their mouth and gave them water for their thirst. 21 Forty years you sustained them in the wilderness, and they lacked nothing. Their clothes did not wear out and their feet did not swell.
22 “And you gave them kingdoms and peoples and allotted to them every corner. So they took possession of the land of Sihon king of Heshbon and the land of Og king of Bashan. 23 You multiplied their children as the stars of heaven, and you brought them into the land that you had told their fathers to enter and possess. 24 So the descendants went in and possessed the land, and you subdued before them the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites, and gave them into their hand, with their kings and the peoples of the land, that they might do with them as they would. 25 And they captured fortified cities and a rich land, and took possession of houses full of all good things, cisterns already hewn, vineyards, olive orchards and fruit trees in abundance. So they ate and were filled and became fat and delighted themselves in your great goodness.
26 “Nevertheless, they were disobedient and rebelled against you and cast your law behind their back and killed your prophets, who had warned them in order to turn them back to you, and they committed great blasphemies. 27 Therefore you gave them into the hand of their enemies, who made them suffer. And in the time of their suffering they cried out to you and you heard them from heaven, and according to your great mercies you gave them saviors who saved them from the hand of their enemies. 28 But after they had rest they did evil again before you, and you abandoned them to the hand of their enemies, so that they had dominion over them. Yet when they turned and cried to you, you heard from heaven, and many times you delivered them according to your mercies. 29 And you warned them in order to turn them back to your law. Yet they acted presumptuously and did not obey your commandments, but sinned against your rules, which if a person does them, he shall live by them, and they turned a stubborn shoulder and stiffened their neck and would not obey. 30 Many years you bore with them and warned them by your Spirit through your prophets. Yet they would not give ear. Therefore you gave them into the hand of the peoples of the lands. 31 Nevertheless, in your great mercies you did not make an end of them or forsake them, for you are a gracious and merciful God.
32 “Now, therefore, our God, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who keeps covenant and steadfast love, let not all the hardship seem little to you that has come upon us, upon our kings, our princes, our priests, our prophets, our fathers, and all your people, since the time of the kings of Assyria until this day. 33 Yet you have been righteous in all that has come upon us, for you have dealt faithfully and we have acted wickedly. 34 Our kings, our princes, our priests, and our fathers have not kept your law or paid attention to your commandments and your warnings that you gave them. 35 Even in their own kingdom, and amid your great goodness that you gave them, and in the large and rich land that you set before them, they did not serve you or turn from their wicked works. 36 Behold, we are slaves this day; in the land that you gave to our fathers to enjoy its fruit and its good gifts, behold, we are slaves. 37 And its rich yield goes to the kings whom you have set over us because of our sins. They rule over our bodies and over our livestock as they please, and we are in great distress.
38 “Because of all this we make a firm covenant in writing; on the sealed document are the names of our princes, our Levites, and our priests.
What I'm Reading
Knowledge Without Zeal
By R.C. Sproul Jr. 9/1/2012
When Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, describes the church as the body of Christ, he speaks more wisely than we fools tend to hear. As is the habit of the modern evangelical church, we take the full, rich, and, indeed, beautiful instructions on how we are to live our lives together for the kingdom and reduce them down to something true but banal, safe, and reasonable. Paul tells us we are the body of Christ, and we hear, “Be nice to each other.”
It is a slight improvement if this message reminds us that the body is filled with different people with different strengths, all of which are needful. That my ears can’t see is not an objection they voice; that my ears hear does not make them better than my eyes. Paul makes this point, of course, because whatever parts of the body we may be, we all carry around oversized prides. Ears may have some level of gratitude for eyes, but they still think they are themselves the key components of the body. Brains may be smart enough to note that without a heart they would die, but they are quick to point out the heart’s dependence on the brain. In short, every part of the body carries the temptation to rush to the front of the line, to hope to be the greatest in the kingdom of God.
What is true of us individually is often true of us in groups. Body parts of a feather tend to flock together. So it should not surprise us that when Reformed people get together, we celebrate the importance of the Christian mind. Without denigrating other parts of the body, we Reformed recognize that our peculiar strength is thinking through theological issues with care and precision. That’s a good thing. The Reformation, and that which preceded it, brought care and precision to questions of eternal consequence, such as, how are we made right with God? If you want a careful exposition of the nature of the incarnation, you would be wise to ask someone from a Reformed background. We are the scribes of the church, hunched over our dusty tomes.
If, however, you are looking for passion, for zeal, if you are looking for heart, you would not likely think to look to the Reformed. A mind full of knowledge we have. A heart filled with love, well, often that’s not so much us.
The danger of the body metaphor is that, to mix a metaphor, it can become a soft pillow. That is, it is helpful to remind us not to despise the strengths and callings of others. But it just might make us content in our own weaknesses. That we Reformed do theology well might make others comfortable in doing theology badly. On the other hand, that our hearts tend to be tepid is not counter-balanced by the passion of others. Neither, of course, does the sad truth that some have zeal without knowledge justify a lack of zeal.
Nor do the two balance each other out. That is, we don’t increase in our knowledge by decreasing in our zeal. Neither do we increase in our zeal by decreasing our knowledge. Rather, the two are supposed to feed and encourage each other. Consider the Apostle Paul. Even Peter recognized that Paul wrote some difficult-to-understand things (2 Peter 3:16). If ever there was a heavy, erudite theologian, Paul was the man. But heavy theology is not all that Paul wrote. Paul was given to ecstatic utterances even in his epistles. He would, from time to time, fall into fevered fervor. What we can’t miss, however, is the connection between the two. Paul didn’t write dry theology in 1 Timothy and mystical prose in 2 Timothy. He didn’t practice knowledge on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday and zeal on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. Rather, his fits of praise flow right after, and better, right out of, his heavy theology, and then are followed by still more heavy theology. He moves seamlessly from orthodoxy to doxology and back again, and, thus, teaches us that we ought to be doing the same. What makes him ecstatic is the glory and the beauty of the truths he is communicating. What makes him careful, thoughtful, is the glory of the God and His gospel about which he is writing.
Our minds are to instruct our hearts, even as our hearts are to inspire our minds. If we are not emotionally shocked, if we are not given to fits of ecstasy, it isn’t ultimately because we are weak in the heart. It’s because we don’t understand, because we are weak in the mind. The truth is sufficient to overpower us, to turn our stiff upper lips to quivering lips. The truth seen rightly makes us unable to see for the tears in our eyes.
The kingdom of God that we seek first is worthy of our study. If, however, we don’t in turn celebrate its coming, we have failed to understand the kingdom. The kingdom of God is worthy of celebrating. If, however, we don’t in turn study it, we have failed to rejoice in it. Enter into the Word. And let the Word enter into you. Of such is the kingdom of God.
By Erik Raymond 9/01/2012
One of the cultural plagues of the twenty-first century is our historical illiteracy. The comedian Jay Leno capitalizes on this when he asks random questions to people. Leno’s “Jaywalking” skits demonstrate that regular Americans are not up to speed with the basics of U.S. and world history. In one memorable scene, Leno asked someone to name one of the Ten Commandments. The reply: “Freedom of speech.” Enough said.
I wonder how well church members would do if someone asked them questions about church history. Would they know the key players, dates, and issues? Does it even matter?
Church history does matter for Christians today. In particular, it matters with respect to false teaching. In this article, I want to highlight four reminders from church history that serve us today.
1. This Is Truly Bigger Than You
When we look back and see what God has done in the past, we quickly realize that the church is much bigger than us and our experiences. In reading Martin Luther and the other Reformers, I am immediately thrust into an era that not only predates my life, local church, and city, but also my country. It’s hard to imagine a world where people couldn’t hum “The Star-Spangled Banner,” but such a world once existed. Above the white noise of calendars flipping from year to year is God’s passion for His glory. He is now, as He has forever been, relentlessly pursuing His glory.
We are reminded of this when we see faithful saints such as John Huss (1369–1415) stand firm against attacks upon the truth. He did not die to preserve or pursue his own legacy but because he was committed to God’s. When we see a guy like Huss giving his life for the truth, we are reminded that this beautiful institution called the church is bigger than us.
2. Same Song, Different Verse
One of the more ironic occurrences of the last few years is the Emergent Church movement. As the group began to gain traction, it became clear that an orthodox answer was needed. How would Christians answer this new movement that is predicated on being a progressive reaction to all of the problems of the institutional church? The most helpful responses were restatements of what had already been said. Many dipped back into church history, quoting authors such as J. Gresham Machen, who stood in the ring with the theological liberals of his day. Surprisingly, many of the same arguments posited by the contemporary gurus sound a lot like what Machen dealt with in his writing. Isn’t it ironic that a new movement is answered by old books?
This is how the writer of Jude sees it. He cites numerous examples of opposition to the progress of the church and then sees their shadows in history. He cites fallen angels (v. 6), Sodom and Gomorrah (v. 7), Cain, Balaam, and Korah’s rebellion (v. 11). Jude drives us back to see and understand that the present issues are just another verse in the same song of opposition.
3. The Canon Spikes Their Cannons
In the days of cannons on the battlefield, an enemy could render the cannon useless by driving a metal spike down through the touchhole (the place where the fuse was lit). The weapons that were so feared quickly were turned into very large paperweights.
When we read church history, we see various heresies arise and threaten the church. Time after time, however, faithful men have gone back to the Scriptures to answer the fire. Think about how men such as John Calvin and Martin Luther pored over the Word of God, laboring to get it right. Remember that it was the tireless work of the Reformers in the Scriptures that proved so valuable. It was not simply persuasive arguments but the faithful exposition of the Scriptures that won the day. Truly, it was the canon of Scripture that spiked the cannons of the enemy.
4. The Gospel Leaves Footprints
When Paul wrote Galatians, he was defending the doctrine of justification by faith alone in Christ alone. Throughout the letter, the Apostle dangles the pearls of the gospel on the table. He refutes error by showcasing beauty. I love how Paul writes as one who is so utterly fixated and gripped by the gospel. In Galatians 2:20, we read concerning the Lord Jesus: “Who loved me and gave himself up for me.” Right in the midst of a major refutation of the Galatian heresy we find the Apostle gushing like he is the only sinner in the world: “He loved me and gave himself up for me” (emphasis mine). Paul is unable to contain how overwhelmed he is by the truth of the gospel. It has hit home.
Reading church history reminds us of the beautiful simplicity and power of the gospel. God saves sinners. This is what it’s about. This is what we read when we come across faithful saints from previous generations in the church. The gospel left footprints in their day and is doing so in ours. God has had His faithful laborers throughout the ages. Let them continue to serve Him and you, for the glory of Christ.
By Eric Alexander 9/01/2012
While I was still a theological student, Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones came from London to Glasgow to preach at the great St. Andrews Hall. This auditorium held more than two thousand people. It was packed, and the preaching was wonderful. After the meeting finished, I was waiting at the side of the platform for transport home. A long line of people were waiting to speak to Dr. Lloyd-Jones, and because I was fairly close to them, I heard some of the conversations. Interestingly, I noticed that every encounter ended in the same way: “Keep on!” was the doctor’s final exhortation as he shook hands.
As it happened, on the journey home I was in the same car as the doctor, and he engaged me in conversation. After the generalities, I summoned enough courage to ask him a question. “Doctor,” I began, “forgive me, but I could not help hearing your last words to every person you spoke with. They were ‘Keep on.’ It sounded as if that was particularly important to you.” He was immediately animated: “My dear man,” he said, “there is nothing more important. The Christian life is not a sprint; it is a marathon, and that is why Jesus says, ‘He who endures to the end shall be saved.’” To my delight, he enlarged on the subject until I was reluctant to get out of the car.
Now, in the year of my eightieth birthday, I have become more convinced than ever of the importance of Dr. Lloyd-Jones’ words. One of the great temptations of old age for the Christian is to accept the idea that because physical and intellectual growth may have ceased, spiritual growth will go the same way. The testimony of Scripture is unanimously opposed to that thought. Paul states in 2 Corinthians 4:16: “Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day.” Isaiah says in 40:29–31: “He gives strength to the weary, and increases the power of the weak… . Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength… . They will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not faint.” The psalmist, speaking about the righteous in Psalm 92:14, writes, “They will still bear fruit in old age.”
Of course, we want to ask, “What is the secret of endurance, and of the renewal of the inward man?” Well, there is a “golden nugget” of truth in Philippians 2:12–13 that helps us in answering that question. There are four secrets embedded in these words of the Apostle: “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who is at work in you, to will and to work for his good pleasure.”
These secrets are all facts to be believed, not challenges to be faced:
1. If you are a child of God, God is at work in you (v. 13). The indwelling of God in the believer is a fundamental truth of the New Testament, exemplified in Jesus’ words in John 14:23 and Paul’s in Ephesians 3:16–19. Not only does He dwell in us, but He is engaged in a work in us — clearly the work of our full salvation.
2. God is not only at work in us, He is continuously (or, if you prefer, “perpetually”) at work in us. We know this from the tense of the verb in verse 13. Tenses are really important in the New Testament. The tense of the verb “works” is the present continuous tense, which just means that this is something God is doing all the time. He never ceases, either day or night (Ps. 121:4). God knows no “age of retirement,” so He is as active in us when we are eighty as when we were eighteen.
3. God works unto completion. Some people have great intentions and a lot of goodwill and good plans, but they achieve very little. Here, however, Paul says, “God works in you to will and to work.” That means that all His purposes are eventually fulfilled, and that continues until we are glorified in heaven.
4. God’s work in us is “for his good pleasure.” Sometimes God’s plans may differ greatly from ours. There are times when, as Jesus experienced, God’s way involves pain and loss in order to fulfill His will. But the good pleasure of God is always perfect, without flaw, and impossible to improve upon.
Is there then no challenge in these words of Paul? Of course not. Paul urges us to “work out [our] own salvation.” But that does not mean, “work out your own way of salvation,” or “work with a view to your salvation.” This salvation is already ours. God has accomplished it and given it to us. But we have to work out what God has worked in. There are two things involved in this, especially in our latter years. The first is to look to God, and to God alone for the completion of the work of our salvation. Earlier in Philippians, Paul writes, “He who has begun a good work in you will go on to complete it, until the day of Jesus Christ” (1:6). The second is, moment by moment, to set our hearts on the perfect will of God, as Jesus did: “Not my will but yours be done.” That is the desire with which our hearts need to be kept aflame.
Love That Is Patient and Kind
By R.C. Sproul 9/01/2012
1 Corinthians 13 is one of the most famous passages in all of Scripture, for in it the Apostle Paul gives us a marvelous exposition of the character of godly love. He starts by showing the importance of love, writing that if we have all kinds of gifts, abilities, and achievements but lack love, we are nothing (vv. 1–3). Then, in verse 4, he begins to describe what godly love looks like, saying, “Love is patient and kind,” or, in the wording of a more traditional translation, “Love suffers long and is kind” (NKJV). I find myself intrigued by this pairing — patience and kindness. Why did Paul place these traits first in his description of love, and why did he pair them?
Paul tells us that love is patient, that it “suffers long.” I like this more traditional translation because it conveys the idea that loving others can be difficult. Loving people means we do not write them off the first time they offend us. In our relationships, we tend to be far more patient with some people than with others. If a longtime friend does something to irritate or annoy me, I usually say, “Oh, that’s just his way, that’s his personality, we’re all human, none of us is perfect.” I make allowances for him. But if I meet another person and find that he behaves in exactly the same way my friend behaved, I might want nothing more to do with him. We tolerate things in our friends that we will not tolerate in strangers.
Longsuffering love does not keep a scorecard. The first time you offend me, I could say, “Strike one,” and then give you two more strikes before you’re out. But if my love suffers long, you can get to the seventy-seventh strike, and I’ll still be hanging in there with you.
Why does Christian love suffer long? It is because Christians imitate Christ, who imitates God the Father, and longsuffering is a chief characteristic of God. The Bible often makes the point that God is slow to anger, that He is longsuffering with His stiff-necked people. For instance, God describes Himself this way: “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Ex. 34:6). Likewise, Paul speaks of “the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience” (Rom. 2:4).
If you are a Christian, how long did God endure your unbelief before you were redeemed? How long has He endured your abiding sin? If not for the longsuffering of God, we would perish. If God treated us with as much impatience as we treat other people, we would be suffering in hell right now. He has endured our disobedience, our blasphemy, our indifference, our unbelief, and our sin, and He still loves us. That is who God is. That is how He manifests His love. He shows His love by His patience, which is a long-lasting patience.
We are called not only to be patient but to suffer long. We are not to be patient with people’s sins, foibles, and shortcomings only as long as they cause us no pain. Suffering long means loving when we are experiencing hurt and pain. It means that we “keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8). In this way, we reflect the love of God, who suffers long.
Why, then, does Paul couple patience/longsuffering with kindness? It is possible for us to suffer injury or hostility for a long time while being hostile and plotting revenge in return. But that is not what the Bible means by longsuffering. Longsuffering includes kindness, for we are to be kind in response to the cause of our suffering. Kind people are not rude, not severe, not mean. They have generous hearts. They are sensitive and tender to other people.
My father, I believe, was a model of this trait. He was truly kind. He demonstrated to me the kindness of God. I hated it when I came home from school and found I was in trouble for something I had done. My mother would say, “Your father wants to have a session with you.” I had to go into my dad’s office and close the door, and he would say, “Well, son, we have to have a talk.” He would take me apart without ever raising his voice, without ever manifesting anger to me, and somehow, after he took me apart, he was able, very gently, to put me back together again. Afterward, I would leave his office walking on air. I felt happy, but I also knew I needed to do better the next time. He inspired me because his manner was so kind.
A truly kind person is a rarity, I’m afraid. But kindness ought to be linked with longsuffering as a manifestation of love. Simply put, love is neither impatient nor unkind. This is a picture of the love of God, the same love that the Holy Spirit cultivates in God’s people.
Discerning the News
By Sarah Bailey 9/01/2012
It’s no secret that many Christians harbor deep skepticism of the “liberal media elite.” Some have been burned by the media, noting unfair or unfriendly coverage from the past. “I never just accept what newspapers say about people. I’ve seen them get facts, quotes, and reasons wrong far too many times,” California pastor Rick Warren wrote on Twitter earlier this year. Or, as popular blogger Jon Acuff has suggested, Christians tend to treat the secular media as though it were Satan’s newspaper.
The skepticism runs deeply in response to perceptions Americans feel about how the media treats religion. Just 19 percent of Americans say the news media is friendly to religion, a poll from the Pew Center found in a March 2012 survey. Skepticism of the media seems to run deeper for evangelicals, at least when reporters cover religion. About half of evangelicals believe the press is “unfriendly” to religion, compared to 35 percent of Americans overall. The result can be a tendency for media consumers to read only those we agree with or ideas we want to affirm.
But carrying an unhealthy cynicism toward the media can rattle our sense that there is indeed knowable truth. Instead, the savvy Christian should seek to gather several pieces of information and ideas before filtering them through what he or she knows to be true. We can look to media accounts to begin to understand general revelation, God’s providential work manifested in the world around us.
An early form of reporting can be found in the New Testament, where Luke launches his Gospel with the defense that he relied on eyewitnesses. He says he “carefully investigated everything from the beginning” so that the recipient of his letter, Theophilus, could have “certainty concerning the things you have been taught.” The Bible offers us four different Gospels and two accounts of the kings of Judah to help us understand different sides of the story. Similarly, journalists aim to report eyewitness accounts and carefully investigate the truth.
At its best, journalism provides accurate, comprehensive, and timely information. Shortly before his death, Carl F. H. Henry, the founding editor of Christianity Today magazine, challenged a group of journalists to uphold its own standards. “Insofar as the press professes to serve truth, decency, and society, it has an obligation to pursue these objectives aggressively,” Henry said in 1999. In challenging deception and untruth, he urged, the media should not dwarf its public responsibility. Perhaps Christians could imitate an attitude that encourages the media to uphold its own standards.
Engaging news consumers should understand that journalists operate under certain assumptions that might impact news judgment, prioritization, and story selection. Journalists set out to report observable facts, ones that we can quantify, identify, and interpret. Few reporters would attribute someone’s “good fortune” as “a blessing from God” or “an answer to prayer.” Readers might then infer their own interpretation from the facts offered.
Journalists also focus on unexpected changes or events that suggest something significant or noteworthy has happened. When journalists are faced with choosing between a story about a Roman Catholic priest accused of molesting children or a priest serving at a homeless shelter, we can guess which story will make the 6 o’clock news. The tendency is not necessarily a bias toward or against religion as much as it is a question of what journalists see as newsworthy.
When the Roman Catholic Church faced much media attention over abuse allegations, Ross Douthat, a Catholic columnist for the New York Times, told Catholic leaders to welcome scrutiny “as a spur to virtue and as a sign that their faith still matters, that their church still looms large over the affairs of men, and that the world still cares enough about Christianity to demand that Catholics live up to their own exacting standards.” Call out bad reporting or unjustified allegations, Douthat wrote, but don’t focus on the media as the culprit. Perhaps we could consider a similar attitude.
Those who avoid engaging in the media might say that the news makes them anxious or depressed, knowing humanity’s depravity has crippled possible perfection. But the Christian who understands both the fallen nature of humankind and our ultimate hope in things unseen will be better able to combat discouragement. We should not gloat in being uninformed, since we are called to be shrewd, not to be zealous without knowledge (Matt. 10:16; Prov. 19:2). Instead, we can look for multiple accounts to verify and advance the truth of a claim (Deut. 19:15; 1 Tim. 5:19).
The discerning reader can check to see whether a particular media report quotes several sources and attempts to capture all sides. The thorough reader will read a wide variety of sources from different persuasions to uncover nuances in the news. The wise reader will remember that we serve a powerful God who provides us hope as we watch a fallen world’s history unfold.
Sarah Pulliam Bailey is online editor for Christianity Today and a contributor to GetReligion.org.
The Kingdom is Now
By R.C. Sproul Jr. 10/01/2012
I am deeply grateful to my Old Testament professor. Though I was young and foolish while in seminary, I have, by God’s grace, been growing less young and less foolish over time. I used to argue with him about as often as I now look back with thanks in my heart. He not only taught me how to understand the Old Testament, but at the same time how to understand the Bible. He taught me that the Bible is one book.
There are two key elements I learned from him that touch directly on the issue of the relationship of Israel and the church. First, he taught that if we want to understand what a text means to us, we first have to understand what the text must have meant to its original audience. The second element could be understood as a corollary to the first — never assume the Bible practices mortar - shell prophecy. This is the notion that God sends a prophet to a particular people, equipped with a particular message. When that message is given, however, it has no meaning to the original audience, but like a mortar shell crossing high above a battlefield to eventually land on the enemy, the prophecy only takes on meaning hundreds or even thousands of years after it is given.
When Jesus said we should seek first the kingdom of God, for instance, to whom was He speaking? When He zeroed in on the fears and weaknesses of those in His audience, those who worried about what they would wear or what they would eat, was He actually talking to an unnamed group in the future? Is the whole of the Sermon on the Mount a sermon for faithful Jews in attendance, for Christians living in the interim between Jesus’ two advents, for both, or for neither? If it was for both, was it for both together or both separately?
To ask the question in terms of what the original audience must have heard is to answer the question. No one would have thought: “Well, this is all well and good for later. Jesus is talking about the church age, so when it starts, we will start to obey this command.” No one would have thought, “This is for now, but when the church age begins, we will cease from seeking the kingdom and His righteousness.” Certainly no one would have thought: “I will seek first His kingdom as a Jew until the church age begins. I will cease to pursue it during the church age. Then, I will pursue it again.” The kingdom they were called to pursue, the kingdom we are called to pursue, is not now, and never has been, a divided kingdom. It is that kingdom, that one kingdom, where Christ reigns. It is that kingdom, that one kingdom, we enter through His righteousness alone. It is that kingdom, that one kingdom, where all the needs of all God’s people are met by the one King.
When we seek to divide the kingdom, we will inevitably end up seeking to divide the King. He is the King, after all, who so perfectly identifies with His people. Remember that when our King confronted that murderer of God’s people named Saul, He demanded to know not why Saul was persecuting the citizens of the kingdom, but why Saul was persecuting Him. And when Saul was brought into that one kingdom as Paul, it was he who was changed, not the kingdom.
There is not now, nor was there ever, a kingdom on earth and a kingdom in heaven, because there is only one King. We do not wait for His kingdom. We do not wait for His inauguration. All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Him (Matt. 28:18–20). Now He sits at the right hand of the Father (Rom. 8:34). Now He is bringing all things under subjection. Now He is conquering all His and our enemies (1 Cor. 15:20–28). This is not merely a future hope, but a present reality.
The good news is that our Lord reigns. This means that even when those over whom He rules try to divide themselves, try to draw sundry boundaries in the kingdom, they will always and everywhere fail. We cannot tear asunder what God has brought together. This also means, however, that even those with multiple kingdoms, multiple peoples, multiple epochs are His, just as I am. We are one, because we confess one Lord, because we proclaim one faith, because we enjoy one baptism, because we serve one kingdom, because we love one King (Eph. 4:4–6).
His kingdom is not extending its boundaries. Wherever there is a there, there He reigns. It is, however, becoming more visible, more manifest. The elect are being brought in. Knees in every nation are bowing. Tongues in every language are confessing. The Rock that was uncut by human hands, that destroyed the kingdoms of this world, is even now covering the earth as the waters cover the sea. This is the kingdom that we serve, the kingdom that has come, the kingdom that is forever. This is the one kingdom we all seek.
Thinking Like Jesus
By R.C. Sproul 10/1/2012
Several years ago, I was asked to give a convocation address at a major theological seminary in America. In that address, I spoke about the critical role of logic in biblical interpretation, and I pleaded for seminaries to include courses on logic in their required curricula. In almost any seminary’s course of study, students are required to learn something of the original biblical languages, Hebrew and Greek. They are taught to look at the historical background of the text, and they learn basic principles of interpretation. These are all important and valuable skills for being good stewards of the Word of God. However, the main reason why errors in biblical interpretation occur is not because the reader lacks a knowledge of Hebrew or of the situation in which the biblical book was written. The number one cause for misunderstanding the Scriptures is making illegitimate inferences from the text. It is my firm belief that these faulty inferences would be less likely if biblical interpreters were more skilled in basic principles of logic.
Let me give an example of the kind of faulty inferences I have in mind. I doubt I have ever had a discussion on the question of God’s sovereign election without someone quoting John 3:16 and saying, “But doesn’t the Bible say that ‘God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life’”? I immediately agree that the Bible says that. If we were to translate that truth into logical propositions, we would say that all who believe will have eternal life, and no one who has eternal life will perish, because perishing and eternal life are polar opposites in terms of the consequences of belief. However, this text says absolutely nothing about human ability to believe in Jesus Christ. It tells us nothing about who will believe. Jesus said, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (John 6:44). Here we have a universal negative that describes ability. No person has the ability to come to Jesus unless a particular condition is met by God. Yet this is forgotten in light of John 3:16, which says nothing about a prerequisite for faith. So, John 3:16, one of the most famous texts in all of the Bible, is routinely, regularly, and systematically butchered with faulty inferences and implications.
Why do such illegitimate inferences happen? Classical Christian theology, particularly Reformed theology, talks about the noetic effects of sin. The English word noetic derives from the Greek word nous, which is often translated as “mind.” So, the noetic effects of sin are those consequences of the fall of man on the human intellect. The entire human person, including all of our faculties, was ravaged by the corruption of human nature. Our bodies die because of sin. The human will is in a state of moral bondage, in captivity to the evil desires and impulses of the heart. Our minds, likewise, are fallen, and our very ability to think has been severely weakened by the fall. I would guess that Adam’s IQ before the fall was off the charts. I doubt that he was given to making illegitimate inferences in his time of tending the garden. Rather, his mind was sharp and acute. But he lost that when he fell, and we lost it with him.
However, the fact that we are fallen does not mean that we no longer have the ability to think. We are all prone to error, but we also can learn to reason in an orderly, logical, and cogent fashion. It is my desire to see Christians think with the utmost cogency and clarity. So, as a matter of discipline, it is much to our benefit to study and master the elementary principles of reasoning so that we can, by the help of God the Holy Spirit, overcome to a certain degree the ravages of sin upon our thinking.
I do not think for a moment that any of us, as long as sin is in us, will ever become perfect in our reasoning. Sin prejudices us against the law of God for as long as we live, and we have to fight to overcome these basic distortions of the truth of God. But if we love God, not only with all of our hearts, our souls, and our strength, but also with our minds (Mark 12:30), we will be rigorous in our attempts to train our minds.
Yes, Adam had a keen mind before the fall. But I believe the world has never experienced such sound thinking as was manifested in the mind of Christ. I think that part of the perfect humanity of our Lord was that He never made an illegitimate inference. He never jumped to a conclusion that was unwarranted by the premises. His thinking was crystal clear and coherent. We are called to imitate our Lord in all things, including His thinking. Therefore, make it a matter of chief and earnest business in your life to love Him with all of your mind.
Read The Psalms In "1" Year
Psalm 101I Will Walk with Integrity
101 A Psalm Of David.
5 Whoever slanders his neighbor secretly
I will destroy.
Whoever has a haughty look and an arrogant heart
I will not endure.
6 I will look with favor on the faithful in the land,
that they may dwell with me;
he who walks in the way that is blameless
shall minister to me.
7 No one who practices deceit
shall dwell in my house;
no one who utters lies
shall continue before my eyes.
8 Morning by morning I will destroy
all the wicked in the land,
cutting off all the evildoers
from the city of the LORD.
Feeding Your Soul
By Jon Bloom 9/1/2012
When your soul is in turmoil, it’s hard to see clearly. Fear, anger, sorrow, and despair can distort your perception of reality. It’s hard to keep things in perspective. They can actually magnify your troubles.
Often, when you’re feeling overwhelmed, what you need is somebody to take you by the shoulders, look you square in the eye, and speak some sense to you. Sometimes that somebody is you.
I get this from the Bible. Listen to the psalmist talk to himself: “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God” (Ps. 43:5).
This was a man in trouble. He felt threatened and overwhelmed. And in the first part of the psalm, he was doing exactly the right thing by pouring out his soul in prayer to God. But then he stopped praying and spoke directly to his soul.
God is very intentional about what He includes in the Bible. So, when God includes this kind of soultalk in the inspired hymnal for the ages, we’re supposed to notice. God clearly intends us to speak to our souls. So, we need to understand why this is important.
When the psalmists talk to themselves, what are they doing? In every instance, whether in desperation or celebration, they are reminding themselves that their hope is in God. Why? Because in a world of tribulation (John 16:33), hope drains away, and they know how crucial it is to feed one’s soul.
Hope is to our soul what energy is to our bodies. Hope is the spiritual energy generated in the soul when we believe that our future is good, even if our present is bad. Our souls must have hope to keep going, just as our bodies must have energy to keep going.
Hope is something we feel only about the future, whether it’s ten minutes or ten thousand years from now. We’re never hopeful about the past. We can be grateful for the past. The past can inspire or even guarantee a hopeful future for us. But all the wonderful things that have happened to us in the past will not fuel our hope if our future looks bleak. We must have hope for the future to keep going.
When we’re hopeful, we can endure a lot of present adversity. Think of David when he wrote: “False witnesses have risen against me, and they breathe out violence. [Yet] I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living” (Ps. 27:12–13). But the more hopeless we feel, the more we want to hide or escape. Think of David when he wrote: “Fear and trembling come upon me, and horror overwhelms me… . Oh, that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest” (Ps. 55:5–6).
When our bodies need energy, we give them food. But when our souls need hope, what do we feed them? We feed them promises— God’s promises of “a future and a hope” (Jer. 29:11). Hopeful promises are true soul food.
That is precisely why the Bible is a book of “precious and very great promises” (2 Peter 1:4) made by a loving God who shows that He keeps His covenants. Man was not designed to “live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4). So, God designed the Bible to be a storehouse of nourishing soul food for His saints.
And if promises are soul food and hope is soul energy, then faith is how the soul eats and digests. Faith is the confidence we have that God’s promises are trustworthy— “the assurance of things hoped for” (Heb. 11:1). That is why “the righteous … live by faith” (Rom. 1:17). We must eat to live. Faith eats and digests God’s promises, and this produces hope.
So, in Psalm 43, when the writer exhorts his soul to “hope in God,” he’s taking himself by the shoulders, so to speak, and saying: “Listen, soul. What are you afraid of? Have you forgotten the glorious future that God has promised you? Do you believe that your threatening circumstances are stronger than God? Get your eyes off of your troubles and remember the true Source of your hope. Eat, soul. Eat God’s promises.”
This is what you and I must do as well. When trouble comes and our souls are in turmoil, God does not want us to be passive. We must pray, yes. But sometimes we need to stop praying—stop listening to our souls recite their fears—and preach to our souls. Fear is an indicator that our souls are hungry for hope. And the only foods that will really nourish the soul are God’s promises.
In Jesus, “all the promises of God find their Yes” (2 Cor. 1:20). The past graces of His death and resurrection guarantee a neverending stream of future grace for us extending into eternity.
So, eat to the glory of God. And “may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope” (Rom. 15:13).
Jon Bloom serves as author, board chair, and co-founder of Desiring God. He and his wife live in the Twin Cities with their five children.Jon Bloom Books | Go to Books Page
Devotionals, notes, poetry and more
by Bill Federer
The son of one of the Boston Tea Party “Indians,” he graduated from Harvard and eventually became Massachusetts Speaker of the House. At age 32, President James Madison appointed him the youngest Justice on the Supreme Court. He served 34 years, and helped establish the illegality of the slave trade in the Amistad case. His name was Joseph Story, and he died this day, September 10, 1845. A founder of the Harvard Law School, Joseph Story stated: “Where can the purest principles of morality be learned so clearly or so perfectly as from the New Testament?”American Minute
Compiled by Richard S. Adams
... from here, there and everywhere
Grace is not opposed to effort,
it is opposed to earning.
Earning is an attitude.
Effort is an action.
Grace, you know,
does not just have to do with forgiveness of sins alone.
--- Dallas Willard
The Great Omission: Reclaiming Jesus&8217;s Essential Teachings on Discipleship
Jesus Christ doesn’t just give us truths; he is the truth. Jesus Christ is the prophet to end all prophets. He gives us hard-copy words from God, truths on which we can build our lives, truths we have to submit to, truths we have to obey, and truths we have to build our lives on, but he himself is the truth.
--- Timothy Keller
Men of the most brilliant intelligence can be born, live and die in error and falsehood. In them, intelligence is neither a good, nor even an asset. The difference between more or less intelligent men is like the difference between criminals condemned to life imprisonment in smaller or larger cells. The intelligent man who is proud of his intelligence is like a condemned man who is proud of his large cell.
--- Simone Weil
Two Moral Essays: Draft for a Statement of Human Obligations, and, Human Personality
You have no questions to ask of any body, no new way that you need inquire after; no oracle that you need to consult; for whilst you shut yourself up in patience, meekness, humility, and resignation to God, you are in the very arms of Christ, your heart is His dwelling-place, and He lives and works in you.
--- William Law
Thanks to Meir Yona
4. And now Vespasian sent Placidus against those that had fled from Gadara, with five hundred horsemen, and three thousand footmen, while he returned himself to Cesarea, with the rest of the army. But as soon as these fugitives saw the horsemen that pursued them just upon their backs, and before they came to a close fight, they ran together to a certain village, which was called Bethennabris, where finding a great multitude of young men, and arming them, partly by their own consent, partly by force, they rashly and suddenly assaulted Placidus and the troops that were with him. These horsemen at the first onset gave way a little, as contriving to entice them further off the wall; and when they had drawn them into a place fit for their purpose, they made their horse encompass them round, and threw their darts at them. So the horsemen cut off the flight of the fugitives, while the foot terribly destroyed those that fought against them; for those Jews did no more than show their courage, and then were destroyed; for as they fell upon the Romans when they were joined close together, and, as it were, walled about with their entire armor, they were not able to find any place where the darts could enter, nor were they any way able to break their ranks, while they were themselves run through by the Roman darts, and, like the wildest of wild beasts, rushed upon the point of others' swords; so some of them were destroyed, as cut with their enemies' swords upon their faces, and others were dispersed by the horsemen.
5. Now Placidus's concern was to exclude them in their flight from getting into the village; and causing his horse to march continually on that side of them, he then turned short upon them, and at the same time his men made use of their darts, and easily took their aim at those that were the nearest to them, as they made those that were further off turn back by the terror they were in, till at last the most courageous of them brake through those horsemen and fled to the wall of the village. And now those that guarded the wall were in great doubt what to do; for they could not bear the thoughts of excluding those that came from Gadara, because of their own people that were among them; and yet, if they should admit them, they expected to perish with them, which came to pass accordingly; for as they were crowding together at the wall, the Roman horsemen were just ready to fall in with them. However, the guards prevented them, and shut the gates, when Placidus made an assault upon them, and fighting courageously till it was dark, he got possession of the wall, and of the people that were in the city, when the useless multitude were destroyed; but those that were more potent ran away, and the soldiers plundered the houses, and set the village on fire. As for those that ran out of the village, they stirred up such as were in the country, and exaggerating their own calamities, and telling them that the whole army of the Romans were upon them, they put them into great fear on every side; so they got in great numbers together, and fled to Jericho, for they knew no other place that could afford them any hope of escaping, it being a city that had a strong wall, and a great multitude of inhabitants. But Placidus, relying much upon his horsemen, and his former good success, followed them, and slew all that he overtook, as far as Jordan; and when he had driven the whole multitude to the river-side, where they were stopped by the current, [for it had been augmented lately by rains, and was not fordable,] he put his soldiers in array over against them; so the necessity the others were in provoked them to hazard a battle, because there was no place whither they could flee. They then extended themselves a very great way along the banks of the river, and sustained the darts that were thrown at them, as well as the attacks of the horsemen, who beat many of them, and pushed them into the current. At which fight, hand to hand, fifteen thousand of them were slain, while the number of those that were unwillingly forced to leap into Jordan was prodigious. There were besides two thousand and two hundred taken prisoners. A mighty prey was taken also, consisting of asses, and sheep, and camels, and oxen.
6. Now this destruction that fell upon the Jews, as it was not inferior to any of the rest in itself, so did it still appear greater than it really was; and this, because not only the whole country through which they fled was filled with slaughter, and Jordan could not be passed over, by reason of the dead bodies that were in it, but because the lake Asphaltites was also full of dead bodies, that were carried down into it by the river. And now Placidus, after this good success that he had, fell violently upon the neighboring smaller cities and villages; when he took Abila, and Julias, and Bezemoth, and all those that lay as far as the lake Asphaltites, and put such of the deserters into each of them as he thought proper. He then put his soldiers on board the ships, and slew such as had fled to the lake, insomuch that all Perea had either surrendered themselves, or were taken by the Romans, as far as Machaerus.
The Project Gutenberg EBook of The Wars of the Jews or History of the Destruction of Jerusalem, by Flavius Josephus Translator: William Whiston
by D.H. Stern
don’t let your heart be glad when he stumbles.
18 For ADONAI might see it, and it would displease him;
he might withdraw his anger from your foe.
Complete Jewish Bible : An English Version of the Tanakh (Old Testament) and B'Rit Hadashah (New Testament)
1 Corinthians 15:29
As I read this in Corinth there were people being baptized for departed loved ones. We all love and dearly miss someone who has died. Though they may have been very kind to us they said they did not know Jesus and they did not live the life style we think they should have. We are very judgmental of other people’s lifestyles even though the Bible tells us not to judge, least we be judged. We desperately hope that our departed loved ones are with the Lord and who among us has the right to say who will be and who will not be?
Pagan Corinth was steeped in all kinds of religion. It is important to remember out of what these early Christians were emerging from. As people living in that time came to the Lord Jesus they thought about their loved ones who had died not knowing Jesus and they apparently wanted to stand in for them in baptism. That tells you how important baptism was to the earliest Christians.
The Greek indicates that Paul is not saying that being baptized for the dead is something we should do, but rather that if you don’t believe in the resurrection (Jesus returning from the grave is the point) why would you want to stand in for departed loved ones and be baptized for someone who has died?
I think Paul is asking a question about what some have been doing, but I don’t believe he is promoting their actions.
A Daily Devotional by Oswald Chambers
My Utmost for His Highest
Worshipping as Occasion serves. When thou wast under the fig tree, I saw thee. --- John 1:48.
We imagine we would be all right if a big crisis arose; but the big crisis will only reveal the stuff we are made of, it will not put anything into us. ‘If God gives the call, of course I will rise to the occasion.’ You will not unless you have risen to the occasion in the workshop, unless you have been the real thing before God there. If you are not doing the thing that lies nearest, because God has engineered it, when the crisis comes instead of being revealed as fit, you will be revealed as unfit. Crises always reveal character.
The private relationship of worshipping God is the great essential of fitness. The time comes when there is no more ‘fig-tree’ life possible, when it is out into the open, out into the glare and into the work, and you will find yourself of no value there if you have not been worshipping as occasion serves you in your home. Worship aright in your private relationships, then when God sets you free you will be ready, because in the unseen life which no one saw but God you have become perfectly fit, and when the strain comes you can be relied upon by God.
‘I can’t be expected to live the sanctified life in the circumstances I am in; I have no time for praying just now, no time for Bible reading, my opportunity hasn’t come yet; when it does, of course I shall be all right.’ No, you will not. If you have not been worshipping as occasion serves, when you get into work you will not only be useless yourself, but a tremendous hindrance to those who are associated with you.
The workshop of missionary munitions is the hidden, personal, worshipping life of the saint.
the Poetry of RS Thomas
Selected poems, 1946-1968
Job Davies, eighty-five
Winters old, and still alive
After the slow poison
And treachery of the seasons.
Miserable? Kick my arse!
It needs more than the rain's hearse,
Wind-drawn, to pull me off
The great perch of my laugh.
What's living but courage?
Paunch full of hot porridge,
Nerves strengthened with tea,
Peat-black, dawn found me
Mowing where the grass grew,
Bearded with golden dew.
Rhythm of the long scythe
Kept this tall frame lithe.
What to do? Stay green
Never mind the machine,
Whose fuel is human souls.
Live large, man, and dream small.
When a person is going to sin, Satan dances with him until he finishes the sin..
BIBLE TEXT / Numbers 22:15–20 / Then Balak sent other dignitaries, more numerous and distinguished than the first. They came to Balaam and said to him, “Thus says Balak son of Zippor: Please do net refuse to come to me. I will reward you richly and I will do anything you ask of me. Only come and damn this people for me.” Balaam replied to Balak’s officials, “Though Balak were to give me his house full of silver and gold, I could not do anything, big or little, contrary to the command of the Lord my God. So you, too, stay here overnight, and let me find out what else the Lord may say to me.” That night God came to Balaam and said to him, “If these men have came to invite you, you may go with them. But whatever I command you, that you shall do.”
MIDRASH TEXT / Numbers Rabbah 20, 11 /
That night God came to Balaam. This is what the text says,
“In a dream, a night vision,
When deep sleep falls on men.…
Then He opens men’s understanding …
To turn man away from an action,
To suppress pride in man.”
The Holy One, praised is He, hid from him [Balaam] that his going would destroy his life and take him to the Pit? “To bring him back from the Pit, that he may bask in the light of life” (Job 33:30). He [Balaam] destroyed his life by going, for when a person is going to sin, Satan dances with him until he finishes the sin. when he is destroyed, he [Satan] returns and informs him, and thus he says,
“Thoughtlessly he follows her,
Like an ox going to the slaughter,
Like a fool to the stocks for punishment—
Until the arrow pierces his liver.
He is like a bird rushing into a trap,
Not knowing his life is at stake.”
--- Proverbs 7:22–23.
The Holy One, praised is He, hid from the wicked Balaam until he went and destroyed his life. When he had lost his glory and realized it, he began to pray for his life, “May I die the death of the upright” (Numbers 23:10).
Three times, Balak, king of Moab, asks Balaam the prophet to curse the Israelites. And three times, Balaam instead blesses them. In the third and final blessing, Balaam utters the famous words מַה טֹּבוּ/Mah tovu, “How fair are your tents, O Jacob, your dwellings, O Israel.” These words are used today as an opening prayer upon entering a sanctuary to worship.
In the section above from the Book of Numbers, Balaam, who has previously tried to refuse the request of Balak, finally gives in. Balaam notes, however, that he can do only what God tells him. Even though Balaam subsequently blesses the Israelites—not once but three times—and does so in the most beautiful and poetic manner possible, the Rabbis still saw Balaam as “the wicked.” And because Balaam was wicked, the Holy One, praised is He, God, hid from him [Balaam] that his going to curse the Israelites would destroy his life. Not only is Balaam’s life destroyed, but his sins also will take him to the Pit, that is, the closest concept to our idea of hell.
The Rabbis introduce the notion that God offers a warning to us as we choose good or evil. God, we are told, comes to people while they sleep to prevent them from sinning, showing them, in a dream, the right way to act. The proof is in several verses from the Book of Job, though the Rabbis quote only the parts that are needed by them. The entire section reads:
“In a dream, a night vision,
When deep sleep falls on men,
While they slumber on their beds,
Then He opens men’s understanding,
And by disciplining them leaves His signature
To turn man away from an action.
To suppress pride in man.”
When a person heeds God’s instruction, God is able—as the chapter in Job concludes—“to bring him [the repentant person] back from the Pit, that he may bask in the light of life.”
He, Balaam, destroyed his life by choosing to go with the emissaries of Balak to curse the Israelites. The Rabbis bring proof for Balaam’s folly: When a person is going to sin (and the Rabbis use “going” in the sense of both “traveling” and “being on the verge of”), Satan, the metaphor for the evil urge in humans and thus the symbol of all the evil forces in the world, dances with him until he finishes the sin. Dancing is a form of both celebration and accompaniment—celebration, because the sin is actually enjoyable; accompaniment, so that the sinner not be lonely and turn back from the impending transgression. “Dancing” is often a euphemism for sex. When he, the person, is destroyed, that is, when he has done the sinful deed and has destroyed his life, he, Satan, returns and informs him that his life is wrecked.
The seventh chapter of Proverbs describes a temptress who causes men to sin. The image of a female tempting a male is intentional: “A woman comes toward him dressed like a harlot, with set purpose” (Proverbs 7:10). When a man gives in to his evil urge,
“Thoughtlessly he follows her …
Not knowing his life is at stake.”
Just as Satan does not inform the sinner that his life is ruined until after the deed, so the Holy One, praised is He, hid from the wicked Balaam the fact that he was causing his undoing until he went and destroyed his life. When he had lost his glory by losing his goodness and godliness and realized it and saw that his future would be “the Pit,” that is, hell, he began to pray for his life. The Rabbis quote a verse from Balaam’s later speech: “May I die the death of the upright” (Numbers 23:10). Balaam thus acknowledged that he had ruined his own life.
Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.
--- Zechariah 13:7.
What [caused the disciples to scatter]? (Works of John Flavel (6 Vol. Set)) They were not accustomed to do so. They never did so afterwards. They would not have done so now had there been influences from heaven on them. But how then would Christ’s sorrows have been extreme, without succor, if they had stuck to him in his troubles? No, Christ must not have the least comfort, and therefore the Lord for a time withholds his encouraging influences from them, and then they were as weak as other people.
As God permitted it, so the effectiveness of that temptation was much greater than ordinary, it was an hour when darkness reigned. Never had the disciples met with such a storm before. The Devil would have sifted and separated them so that their faith utterly failed, had Christ not secured it by his prayer for them. So it was an extraordinary trial that was on them.
That which contributed to their relapse, as a special cause of it, was the remaining corruptions that were in their hearts. Their knowledge was but little and their faith not much.
Do not censure them in your thoughts nor despise them for their weakness. Neither say in your heart, Had I been there, I would never have done as they did. They thought as little of doing what they did, and their souls detested it as much. But here you may see where a soul that fears God may be carried, if its corruptions are irritated by strong temptation, and God withholds usual influences.
[But] the outcome of their apostasy ended far better than it began—the Morning was overcast, but the Evening was clear.
Peter repents of his denial of Christ and never denied him more. All the rest likewise returned to Christ and never abandoned him anymore. And they who dared not acknowledge Christ afterwards confessed him openly before councils and rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer for his sake. Those who started at every sound became as bold as lions and did not fear any danger but sealed their confession of Christ with their blood. For though they abandoned him, it was not voluntarily, but by surprisal. Though they abandoned him, they still loved him; though they fled from him, there still remained a gracious principle in them; the root of the matter was still in them, which recovered them again.
--- John Flavel
49 City Road September 10
Jabez Bunting was buried near John Wesley, but other early Methodists actually ended up in Wesley’s grave. They considered it high honor to have their death dust mingled with that of the great evangelist. The crowded tomb is located behind Wesley’s Chapel on London’s City Road. In the late 1770s Wesley built his new chapel there, then built a manse next door. He moved in on September 10, 1779, writing in his journal, “This night I lodged in the new house in London. How many more nights have I to spend here?”
The answer—11 years. He died in ripe old age, his longevity attributable to several secrets contained in his new home. Today’s visitors are shown an exact replica of his chamber horse. Wesley valued exercise and considered horseback riding the best, so he designed a towering chair with tall coils and springs that allowed him to bounce up and down, hair flying and falling, until his heart was racing and his clothing drenched with sweat.
Wesley’s house also contains a primitive tabletop device for generating electricity. He believed that regular shocks of electricity were good for one’s health, and he became such a forceful advocate of electrical medicine that his sick friends lined up at his door each day for “treatment.”
The real power room of Methodism was Wesley’s tiny prayer closet with its small table, tall window, and open Bible. It adjoined his bedroom, and here Wesley stayed spiritually fit.
It was here at 49 City Road in London, a narrow brick building of five floors, that Wesley realized he was dying. He went to his room and asked for a half hour alone. The message flew through London, “Mr. Wesley is very ill! Pray!” Friends gathered, and on February 27, 1791, he recited a hymn to them: I’ll praise my maker while I’ve breath / And when my voice is lost in death, / Praise shall employ my nobler powers. / My days of praise shall ne’er be past. He spoke his last words, “The best of all is, God is with us. Farewell.” And then John Wesley, who often said that his followers “died well,” did so himself.
As the saying goes, “Exercise is good for your body, but religion helps you in every way. It promises life now and forever.” These words are worthwhile and should not be forgotten.
--- 1 Timothy 4:8-9.
Daily Readings / CHARLES H. SPURGEON
Morning - September 10
"And he goeth up into a mountain, and calleth unto him whom he would: and they came unto him." --- Mark 3:13.
Here was sovereignty. Impatient spirits may fret and fume, because they are not called to the highest places in the ministry; but reader be it thine to rejoice that Jesus calleth whom he wills. If he shall leave me to be a doorkeeper in his house, I will cheerfully bless him for his grace in permitting me to do anything in his service. The call of Christ’s servants comes from above. Jesus stands on the mountain, evermore above the world in holiness, earnestness, love and power. Those whom he calls must go up the mountain to him, they must seek to rise to his level by living in constant communion with him. They may not be able to mount to classic honours, or attain scholastic eminence, but they must like Moses go up into the mount of God and have familiar intercourse with the unseen God, or they will never be fitted to proclaim the Gospel of peace. Jesus went apart to hold high fellowship with the Father, and we must enter into the same divine companionship if we would bless our fellowmen. No wonder that the apostles were clothed with power when they came down fresh from the mountain where Jesus was. This Morning we must endeavour to ascend the mount of communion, that there we may be ordained to the lifework for which we are set apart. Let us not see the face of man to-day till we have seen Jesus. Time spent with him is laid out at blessed interest. We too shall cast out devils and work wonders if we go down into the world girded with that divine energy which Christ alone can give. It is of no use going to the Lord’s battle till we are armed with heavenly weapons. We must see Jesus, this is essential. At the mercy-seat we will linger till he shall manifest himself unto us as he doth not unto the world, and until we can truthfully say, “We were with him in the Holy Mount.”
Evening - September 10
--- Habakkuk 1:8.
While preparing the present volume, this particular expression recurred to me so frequently, that in order to be rid of its constant importunity I determined to give a page to it. The Evening wolf, infuriated by a day of hunger, was fiercer and more ravenous than he would have been in the Morning. May not the furious creature represent our doubts and fears after a day of distraction of mind, losses in business, and perhaps ungenerous tauntings from our fellow men? How our thoughts howl in our ears, “Where is now thy God?” How voracious and greedy they are, swallowing up all suggestions of comfort, and remaining as hungry as before. Great Shepherd, slay these Evening wolves, and bid thy sheep lie down in green pastures, undisturbed by insatiable unbelief. How like are the fiends of hell to Evening wolves, for when the flock of Christ are in a cloudy and dark day, and their sun seems going down, they hasten to tear and to devour. They will scarcely attack the Christian in the daylight of faith, but in the gloom of soul conflict they fall upon him. O thou who hast laid down thy life for the sheep, preserve them from the fangs of the wolf.
False teachers who craftily and industriously hunt for the precious life, devouring men by their false-hoods, are as dangerous and detestable as Evening wolves. Darkness is their element, deceit is their character, destruction is their end. We are most in danger from them when they wear the sheep’s skin. Blessed is he who is kept from them, for thousands are made the prey of grievous wolves that enter within the fold of the church.
What a wonder of grace it is when fierce persecutors are converted, for then the wolf dwells with the lamb, and men of cruel ungovernable dispositions become gentle and teachable. O Lord, convert many such: for such we will pray to-night.
Words and Music by Jack Hayford, 1934–
O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is Your name in all the earth! --- Psalm 8:1
There are many attributes of the Lord that should prompt our response of adoration and worship: His holiness, His power, His love … A very popular contemporary song by the Rev. Jack Hayford, senior pastor of the Church of the Way in Van Nuys, California, also teaches that the very regal majesty of Christ deserves our praise. This text further reminds us that Christ’s dominion over principalities, His power, and His absolute majesty in heaven are for the benefit of those who trust and follow Him here and now.
Pastor Hayford relates the following account for the writing of “Majesty:”
In 1977, my wife Anna and I spent our vacation in Great Britain, traveling throughout the land from the south country and Wales to the northern parts of Scotland. It was the same year as Queen Elizabeth’s 25th Anniversary of her coronation, and symbols of royalty were abundantly present beyond the usual.
While viewing many of the ancient castles throughout the land, Pastor Hayford began to reflect on the truth that the provisions of Christ for the believer not only include our forgiveness for sin but provide a restoration to a royal relationship with God as sons and daughters born into the heavenly family through His Majesty.
As Anna and I drove along together, at once the opening lyrics and melody of “Majesty” simply came to my heart, I seemed to feel something new of what it meant to be His—to be raised to a partnership with Him in His throne. Upon returning to our home in California, I was finally able to complete the song.
Pastor Jack Hayford provides this interpretation for his song:
“Majesty” describes the kingly, lordly, gloriously regal nature of our Savior—but not simply as an objective statement in worship of which He is fully worthy. “Majesty” is also a statement of the fact that our worship, when begotten in spirit and in truth, can align us with His throne in such a way that His Kingdom authority flows to us—to overflow us, to free us and channel through us. We are rescued from death, restored to the inheritance of sons and daughters, qualified for victory in battle against the adversary, and destined for the Throne forever in His presence.
* * * *
Majesty, worship His majesty—
Unto Jesus be all glory, power and praise—
Majesty, kingdom authority
flow from His throne unto His own,
His anthem raise.
So exalt, lift up on high the name of Jesus—
Magnify, come glorify Christ Jesus, the King.
Majesty, worship His majesty—
Jesus who died, now glorified,
King of all kings.
For Today: Psalm 29:4; 93:1; Hebrews 1:3; 2:9; Revelation 4:11
Allow your mind to think about the glory and majesty of Christ as the reigning King of Heaven. Worship Him with these words ---
DISCOURSE IV - ON SPIRITUAL WORSHIP
(1.) For our carriage in the particular worship. There is nothing so dangerous as spiritual pride; it deprived devils and men of the presence of God, and will hinder us of the influence of God. If we had had raised and uninterrupted motions in worship, we should be apt to be lifted up; and the evil stands ready to tempt us to self-confidence. You know how it was with Paul (2 Cor. 12:1–7); his buffetings were occasions to render him more spiritual than his raptures, because more humble. God suffers those wanderings, starts, and distractions, to prevent our spiritual pride; which is as a worm at the root of spiritual worship, and mind us of the dusty frame of our spirits, how easily they are blown away; as he sends sickness to put us in mind of the shortness of our breath, and the easiness to lose it. God would make us ashamed of ourselves in his presence; that we may own, that what is good in any duty, is merely from his grace and Spirit, and not from ourselves; that with Paul we may cry out, “By grace we are what we are,” and by grace we do what we do; we may be hereby made sensible, that God can always find something in our exactest worship, as a ground of denying us the successful fruit of it. If we cannot stand upon our duties for salvation, what can we bottom upon in ourselves? If therefore they are occasions to make us out of love with any righteousness of our own, to make us break our hearts for them, because we cannot keep them out; if we mourn for them as our sins, and count them our great afflictions, we have attained that brokenness which is a choice ingredient in a spiritual sacrifice. Though we have been disturbed by them, yet we are not robbed of the success; we may behold an answer of our worship in our humiliation, in spite of all of them.
(2.) For the baseness of our nature. These unsteady motions help us to discern that heap of vermin that breeds in our nature. Would any man think he had such an averseness to his Creator and Benefactor; such an unsuitableness to him; such an estrangedness from him, were it not for his inspection into his distracted frame? God suffers this to hang over us as a rod of correction, to discover and fetch out the folly of our hearts. Could we imagine our natures so highly contrary to that God who is so infinitely amiable, so desirable an object; or that there should be so much folly and madness in the heart, as to draw back from God in those services which God hath appointed as pipes through which to communicate his grace, to convey himself, his love and goodness to the creature? If, therefore, we have a deep sense of, and strong reflections upon our base nature, and bewail that mass of averseness which lies there, and that fulness of irreverence towards the God of our mercies, the object of our worship, it is a blessed improvement of our wanderings and diversions. Certainly, if any Israelite had brought a lame and rotten lamb to be sacrificed to God, and afterward had bewailed it, and laid open his heart to God in a sensible and humble confession of it, that repentance had been a better sacrifice, and more acceptable in the sight of God, than if be had brought a sound and a living offering.
Secondly, When they are occasions to make us prize duties of worship. When we argue, as rationally we may, that they are of singular use, since our corrupt hearts and a malicious devil doth chiefly endeavor to hinder us from them, and that we find we have not those gadding thoughts when we are upon worldly business, or upon any sinful design which may dishonor God and wound our souls. This is a sign sin and Satan dislike worship, for he is too subtle a spirit to oppose that which would further his kingdom. As it is an argument the Scripture is the word of God, because the wickedness of the world doth so much oppose it, so it is a ground to believe the profitableness and excellency of worship, because Satan and our own unruly hearts do so much interrupt us in it: if, therefore, we make this use of our cross-steps in worship, to have a greater value for such duties, more affections to them, and desires to be frequent in them, our hearts are growing spiritual under the weights that would depress them to carnality.
Thirdly, When we take a rise from hence, to have heavenly admirations of the graciousness of God, that he should pity and pardon so many slight addresses to him, and give any gracious returns to us.
Though men have foolish rangings every day, and in every duty, yet free grace is so tender as not to punish them (Gen. 8:21): “And the Lord smelt a sweet savor; and the Lord said in his heart, I will not curse the ground for man’s sake, for the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth.” It is observable, that this was just after a sacrifice which Noah offered to God (ver. 20): but probably not without infirmities common to human nature, which may be grounded upon the reason God gives, that though he had destroyed the earth before, because of the “evil of man’s imaginations” (Gen. 6:5), he still found evil imaginations; he doth not say in the heart of Cham, or others of Noah’s family, but in man’s heart, including Noah also, who had both the judgments of God upon the former world, and the mercy of God in his own preservation, before his eyes; yet God saw evil imaginations rooted in the nature of man, and though it were so, yet he would be merciful. If, therefore, we can, after finding our hearts so vagrant in worship, have real frames of thankfulness that God hath spared us, and be heightened in our admirations at God’s giving us any fruit of such a distracted worship, we take advantage from them to be raised into an evangelical frame, which consists in the humble acknowledgments of the grace of God.
When David takes a review of those tumultuous passions which had rued his mind, and possessed him with unbelieving notions of God in the persons of his prophets (Psalm 116:11), how high doth his soul mount in astonishment and thankfulness to God for his mercy! (ver. 12.) Notwithstanding his distrust, God did graciously perform his promise, and answer his desire: then it is, “What shall I render to the Lord?” His heart was more affected for it, because it had been so passionate in former distrusts. It is indeed a ground of wondering at the patience of the Spirit of God, that he should guide our hearts when they are so apt to start out, as it is the patience of a master to guide the hand of his scholar, while he mixes his writing with many blots. It is not one or two infirmities the Spirit helps us in, and helps over, but many (Rom. 8:26). It is a sign of a spiritual heart, when he can take a rise to bless God for the renewing and blowing up his affections, in the midst of so many incursions from Satan to the contrary, and the readiness of the heart too much to comply with them.
Fourthly, When we take occasion from thence to prize the mediation of Christ. The more distractions jog us, the more need we should see of going out to a Saviour by faith. One part of our Saviour’s office is to stand between us and the infirmities of our worship. As he is an advocate, he presents our services, and pleads for them and us (1 John 2:1), for the sins of our duties, as well as for our other sins. Jesus Christ is an High-priest, appointed by God to take away the “iniquities of our holy things,” which was typified by Aaron’s plate upon his mitre (Exod. 28:36, 38). Were there no imperfections, were there no creeping up of those frogs into our minds, we should think our worship might merit acceptance with God upon its own account; but if we behold our own weakness, that not a tear, a groan, a sigh, is so pure, but must have Christ to make it entertainable; that there is no worship without those blemishes; and upon this, throw all our services into the arms of Christ for acceptance, and solicit him to put his merits in the front, to make our ciphers appear valuable; it is a spiritual act, the design of God in the gospel being to advance the honor and mediation of his Son. That is a spiritual and evangelical act which answers the evangelical design. The design of Satan, and our own corruption is defeated, when those interruptions make us run swifter, and take faster hold on the High-priest who is to present our worship to God, and our own souls receive comfort thereby. Christ had temptations offered to him by the devil in his wilderness retirement, that, from an experimental knowledge, he might be able more “compassionately to succor us” (Heb. 2:18); we have such assaults in our retired worship especially, that we may be able more highly to value him and his mediation.
3. Let us not, therefore, be discouraged by those interruptions and starts of our hearts.
(1.) If we find in ourselves a strong resistance of them. The flesh will be lusting; that cannot be hindered; yet if we do not fulfil the lusts of it, rise up at its command, and go about its work, we may be said to walk in the Spirit (Gal. 5:16, 17): we “walk in the Spirit,” if we “fulfil not the lusts of the flesh,” though there be a lusting of the flesh against the Spirit; so we worship in the Spirit, though there be carnal thoughts arising if we do not fulfil them; though the stirring of them discovers some contrariety in us to God, yet the resistance manifests that there is a principle of contrariety in us to them; that as there is something of flesh that lusts against the spirit, so there is something of spirit in worship which lusts against the flesh: we must take heed of omitting worship, because of such inroads, and lying down in the mire of a total neglect. If our spirits are made more lively and vigorous against them; if those cold vapors which have risen from our hearts make us, like a spring in the midst of the cold earth, more warm, there is, in this case, more reason for us to bless God, than to be discouraged. God looks upon it as the disease, not the wilfulness of our nature; as the weakness of the flesh, not the willingness of the spirit. If we would shut the door upon them, it seems they are unwelcome company; men do not use to lock their doors upon those they love; if they break in and disturb us with their impertinences, we need not be discomforted, unless we give them a share in our affections, and turn our back upon God to entertain them; if their presence makes us sad, their flight would make us joyful.
(2.) If we find ourselves excited to a stricter watch over our hearts against them; as travellers will be careful when they come to places where they have been robbed before, that they be not so easily surprised again. We should not only lament when we have had such foolish imaginations in worship breaking in upon us, but also bless God that we have had no more, since we have hearts so fruitful of weeds. We should give God the glory when we find our hearts preserved from these intruders, and not boast of ourselves, but return him our praise for the watch and guard he kept over us, to preserve us from such thieves. Let us not be discomforted; for as the greatness of our sins, upon our turning to God, is no hindrance to our justification, because it doth not depend upon our conversion as the meritorious cause, but upon the infinite value of our Saviour’s satisfaction, which reaches the greatest sins as well as the least; so the multitude of our bewailed distractions in worship are not a hindrance to our acceptation, because of the uncontrollable power of Christ’s intercession.
Use IV. is for exhortation. Since spiritual worship is due to God, and the Father seeks such to worship him, how much should we endeavor to satisfy the desire and order of God, and act conformable to the law of our creation and the love of redemption! Our end must be the same in worship which was God’s end in creation and redemption; to glorify his name, set forth his perfections, and be rendered fit, as creatures and redeemed ones, to partake of that grace which is the fruit of worship. An evangelical dispensation requires a spiritual homage; to neglect, therefore, either the matter or manner of gospel duties, is to put a slight upon gospel privileges. The manner of duty is ever of more value than the matter; the scarlet dye is more precious than the cloth tinctured with it. God respects more the disposition of the sacrificer than the multitude of the sacrifices. The solemn feasts appointed by God were but dung as managed by the Jews (Mal. 2:3). The heart is often welcome without the body, but the body never grateful without the heart. The inward acts of the spirit require nothing from without to constitute them good in themselves; but the outward acts of devotion require inward acts to render them savory to God. As the goodness of outward acts consists not in the acts themselves, so the acceptableness of them results not from the acts themselves, but from the inward frame animating and quickening those acts, as blood and spirits running through the veins of a duty to make it a living service in the sight of God. Imperfections in worship hinder not God’s acceptation of it, if the heart, spirited by grace, be there to make it a sweet savor. The stench of burning flesh and fat in the legal sacrifices might render them noisome to the outward senses; but God smelt a sweet savor in them, as they respected Christ.
When the heart and spirit are offered up to God, it may be a savory duty, though attended with unsavory imperfections; but a thousand sacrifices without a stamp of faith, a thousand spiritual duties with an habitual carnality, are no better than stench with God. The heart must be purged, as well as the temple was by our Saviour, of the thieves that would rob God of his due worship.
Antiquity had some temples wherein it was a crime to bring’ any gold; therefore those that came to worship laid their gold aside before they went into the temple. We should lay aside our worldly and trading thoughts before we address to worship (Isa. 26:9) “With my spirit within me will I seek thee early.” Let not our minds be gadding abroad, and exiled from God and themselves. It will be thus when the “desire of our soul is to his name, and the remembrance of him” (ver. 8). When he hath given so great and admirable a gift as that of his Son, in whom are all things necessary to salvation, righteousness, peace, and pardon of sin, we should manage the remembrance of his name in worship with the closest unitedness of heart, and the most spiritual affections. The motion of the spirit is the first act in religion; to this we are obliged in every act. The devil requires the spirit of his votaries; should God have a less dedication than the devil?
Motives to back this exhortation.
I. Not to give God our spirit is a great sin. It is a mockery of God, not worship, contempt, not adoration, whatever our outward fervency or protestations may be. Every alienation of our hearts from him is a real scorn put upon him. The acts of the soul are real, and more the acts of the man than the acts of the body; because they are the acts of the choicest part of man, and of that which is the first spring of all bodily motions; it is the λόγος νδιαθετο,ς the internal speech whereby we must speak with God. To give him, therefore, only an external form of worship without the life of it, is a taking his name in vain. We mock him, when we mind not what we are speaking to him, or what he is speaking to us; when the motions of our hearts are contrary to the motions of our tongues; when we do anything before him slovenly, impudently, or rashly. As in a lutinist it is absurd to sing one tune and play another; so it is a foul thing to tell God one thing with our lips, and think another with our hearts. It is a sin like that the apostle chargeth the heathens with (Rom. 1:28) “They like not to retain God in their knowledge” Their stomachs are sick while they are upon any duty, and never leave working till they have thrown up all the spiritual part of worship, and rid themselves of the thoughts of God, which are as unwelcome and troublesome guests to them. When men behave themselves in the sight of God, as if God were not God, they do not only defame him, but deny him, and violate the unchangeable perfections of the Divine nature.
1. It is against the majesty of God, when we have not awful thoughts of that great Majesty to whom we address; when our souls cleave not to him when we petition him in prayer, or when he gives out his orders to us in his Word. It is a contempt of the majesty of a prince, if, whilst he is speaking to us, we listen not to him with reverence and attention, but turn our backs on him, to play with one of his hounds, or talk with a beggar; or while we speak to him, to rake in a dunghill. Solomon adviseth us to “keep our foot when we go to the house of God” (Eccles. 5:1). Our affections should be steady, and not slip away again; why? (ver. 2 because “God is in heaven,” &c. He is a God of majesty; earthly, dirty frames are unsuitable to the God of heaven; low spirits are unsuitable to the Most High. We would not bring our mean servants or dirty dogs into a prince’s presence chamber; yet we bring not only our worldly, but our profane affections into God’s presence. We give in this case those services to God which our Governor would think unworthy of him (Mal. 1:8). The more excellent and glorious God is, the greater contempt of him it is to suffer such foolish affections to be competitors with him for our hearts. It is a scorn put upon him to converse with a creature, while we are dealing with him; but a greater to converse in our thoughts and fancies with some sordid lust, which is most hateful to him; and the more aggravation it attracts, in that we are to apprehend him the most glorious object sitting upon his throne in time of worship, and ourselves standing as vile creatures before him, supplicating for our lives, and the conveyance of grace and mercy to our souls; as if a grand mutineer, instead of humbly begging the pardon of his offended prince, should present his petition not only scribbled and blotted, but besmeared with some loathsome excrement. It is unbecoming both the majesty of God, and the worship itself, to present him with a picture instead of a substance, and bring a world of nasty affections in our hearts, and ridiculous toys in our heads before him, and worship with indisposed and heedless souls. He is a great King (Mal. 1:14): therefore address to him with fear and reverence.
2. It is against the life of God. Is a dead worship proportioned to a living God? The separation of heavenly affections from our souls before God, makes them as much a carcass in his sight, as the divorce of the soul makes the body a carcass. When the affections are separated, worship is no longer worship, but a dead offering, a lifeless bulk; for the essence and spirit of worship is departed. Though the soul be present with the body in a way of information, yet it is not present in a way of affection, and this is the worst; for it is not the separation of the soul from informing that doth separate a man from God, but the removal of our affections from him. If a man pretend an application to God, and sleep and snore all the time, without question such a one did not worship. In a careless worship the heart is morally dead while the eyes are open: the heart of the spouse (Cant. 5:2) waked while her eyes slept; and our hearts, on the contrary, sleep while our eyes wake. Our blessed Saviour hath died to purge our consciences from dead works and frames, that we may serve the living God (Heb. 9:14); to serve God as a God of life. David’s soul cried and fainted for God under this consideration (Psalm 42:2); but to present our bodies without our spirits, is such a usage of God, that implies he is a dead image, not worthy of any but a dead and heartless service, like one of those idols the Psalmist speaks of (Psalm 115:5), that have “eyes, and see not; ears, and hear not;” no life in it. Though it be not an objective idolatry, because the worship is directed to the true God; yet I may call it a subjective idolatry in regard of the frame, fit only to be presented to some senseless stock. We intimate God to be no better than an idol, and to have no more knowledge of us and insight into us, than an idol can have. If we did believe him to be the living God, we durst not come before him with services so unsuitable to him, and reproaches of him.
3. It is against the infiniteness of God. We should worship God with those boundless affections which bear upon them a shadow or image of his infiniteness; such are the desires of the soul which know no limits, but start out beyond whatsoever enjoyment the heart of man possesses. No creeping creature was to be offered to God in sacrifice, but such as had legs to run, or wings to fly. For us to come before God with a light creeping frame, is to worship him with the lowest finite affections, as though anything, though never so mean or torn, might satisfy an infinite Being; as though a poor shallow creature could give enough to God without giving him the heart, when, indeed, we cannot give him a worship proportionable to his infiniteness, did our hearts swell as large as heaven in our desires for him in every act of our duties.
4. It is against the spirituality of God. God being a Spirit, calls for a worship in spirit; to withhold this from him implies him to be some gross corporeal matter. As a Spirit, he looks for the heart; a wrestling heart in prayer, a trembling heart in the Word (Isa. 56:2).
56 1 Thus says the Lord:
“Keep justice, and do righteousness,
for soon my salvation will come,
and my righteousness be revealed.
2 Blessed is the man who does this,
and the son of man who holds it fast,
who keeps the Sabbath, not profaning it,
and keeps his hand from doing any evil.”
To bring nothing but the body when we come to a spiritual God to beg spiritual benefits, to wait for spiritual communications, which can only be dispensed to us in a spiritual manner, is unsuitable to the spiritual nature of God. A mere carnal service implicitly denies his spirituality, which requires of us higher engagements than mere corporeal ones. Worship should be rational, not an imaginative service, wherein is required the activity of our noblest faculties; and our fancy ought to have no share in it, but in subserviency to the more spiritual part of our soul.
5. It is against the supremacy of God. As God is one and the only Sovereign; so our hearts should be one, cleaving wholly to him, and undivided from him. In pretending to deal with him, we acknowledge his deity and sovereignty; but in withholding our choicest faculties and affections from him, and the starting of our minds to vain objects, we intimate their equality with God, and their right as well as his to our hearts and affections. It is as if a princess should commit adultery with some base scullion while she is before her husband, which would be a plain denial of his sole right to her. It intimates that other things are superior to God; they are true sovereigns that engross our hearts. If a man were addressing himself to a prince, and should in an instant turn his back upon him, upon a beck or nod from some inconsiderable person; is it not an evidence that that person that invited him away hath a greater sovereignty over him than that prince to whom he was applying himself? And do we not discard God’s absolute dominion over us, when, at the least beck of a corrupt inclination, we can dispose of our hearts to it, and alienate them from God? as they, in Ezek. 33:32,
(Eze 33:30–33) 30 “As for you, son of man, your people who talk together about you by the walls and at the doors of the houses, say to one another, each to his brother, ‘Come, and hear what the word is that comes from the LORD.’ 31 And they come to you as people come, and they sit before you as my people, and they hear what you say but they will not do it; for with lustful talk in their mouths they act; their heart is set on their gain. 32 And behold, you are to them like one who sings lustful songs with a beautiful voice and plays well on an instrument, for they hear what you say, but they will not do it. 33 When this comes—and come it will!—then they will know that a prophet has been among them.”
left the service of God for the service of their covetousness, which evidenced that they owned the authority of sin more than the authority of God. This is not to serve God as our Lord and absolute Master, but to make God serve our turn, and submit his sovereignty to the supremacy of some unworthy affection. The creature is preferred before the Creator, when the heart runs most upon it in time of religious worship, and our own carnal interest swallows up the affections that are due to God. It is “an idol set up in the heart” (Ezek. 14:4) in his solemn presence, and attracts that devotion to itself which we only owe to our Sovereign Lord; and the more base and contemptible that is to which the spirit is devoted, the more contempt there is of God’s dominion. Judas’s kiss, with a “Hail Master!” was no act of worship, or an owning his Master’s authority, but a designing the satisfaction of his covetousness in the betraying of him.
6. It is against the wisdom of God. God, as a God of order, has put earthly, things in subordination to heavenly; and we, by this unworthy carriage, invert this order, and put heavenly things in subordination to earthly; in placing mean and low things in our hearts, and bringing them so placed into God’s presence, which his wisdom at the creation put under our feet. A service without spiritual affections is a “sacrifice of fools” (Eccles. 5:1), which have lost their brains and understandings: a foolish spirit is very unsuitable to an infinitely wise God. Well may God say of such a one, as Achish of David, who seemed mad, “Why have you brought this fellow to play the madman in my presence? Shall this fellow come into my house?” (1 Sam. 21:15.)
7. It is against the omnisciency of God. To carry it fair without, and impertinently within, is as though God had not an all-seeing eye that could pierce into the heart, and understand every motion of the inward faculties; as though God were easily cheated with an outward fawning service, like an apothecary’s box with a gilded title, that may be full of cobwebs within. What is such a carriage, but a design to deceive God, when, with Herod, we pretend to worship Christ, and intend to murder all the motions of Christ in our souls A heedless spirit, an estrangement of our souls, a giving the reins to them to run out from the presence of God to see every reed shaken with the wind, is to deny him to be the Searcher of hearts, and the Discerner of secret thoughts; as though he could not look through us to the darkness and remoteness of our minds, but were an ignorant God, who might be put off with the worst as well as the best in our flock. If we did really believe there were a God of infinite knowledge, who saw our frames and whether we came dressed with wedding garments suitable to the duties we are about to perform, should we be so garish, and put him off with such trivial stuff, without any reverence of his Majesty?
8. It is against the holiness of God. To alienate our spirits is to offend him while we pretend to worship him; though we may be mighty officious in the external part, yet our base and carnal affections make all our worship but as a heap of dung; and who would not look upon it as an affront to lay dung before a prince’s throne? (Prov. 21:27), “The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination;” how much more when he brings it with a wicked mind? A putrefied carcass under the law had not been so great an affront to the holiness of God, as a frothy unmelted heart, and a wanton fancy, in a time of worship. God is so holy, that if we could offer the worship of angels, and the quintessence of our souls in his service, it would be beneath his infinite purity; how unworthy, then, are they of him, when they are presented not only without the sense of our uncleanness, but sullied with the fumes and exhalations of our corrupt affections, which are as so many plague-spots upon our duties, contrary to the unspotted purity of the Divine nature? Is not this an unworthy conceit of God, and injurious to his infinite holiness?
9. It is against the love and kindness of God. It is a condescension in God to admit a piece of earth to offer up a duty to him, when he hath myriads of angels to attend him in his court, and celebrate his praise. To admit man to be an attendant on him, and a partner with angels, is a high favor. It is not a single mercy, but a heap of mercies, to be admitted into the presence of God (Psalm 5:7): “I will come into thy house in the multitude of thy mercies.” When the blessed God is so kind as to give us access to his majesty, do we not undervalue his kindness when we deal uncivilly with him, and deny him the choicest part of ourselves? It is a contempt of his sovereignty, as our spirits are due to him by nature; a contempt of his goodness, as our spirits are due to him by gratitude. How abusive a carriage is it to make use of his mercy to encourage our impudence, that should excite our fear and reverence! How unworthy would it be for an indigent debtor to bring to his indulgent creditor an empty purse instead of payment! When God holds out his golden sceptre to encourage our approaches to him, stands ready to give us the pardon of sin and full felicity, the best things he hath, is it a fit requital of his kindness to give him a formal outside only, a shadow of religion; to have the heart overswayed with other thoughts and affections, as if all his proffers were so contemptible as to deserve only a slight at our hands? It is a contempt of the love and kindness of God.
10. It is against the sufficiency and fulness of God. When we give God our bodies, and the creature our spirits, it intimates a conceit that there is more content to be had in the creature than in God blessed forever; that the waters in the cistern are sweeter than those in the fountain. Is not this a practical giving God the lie, and denying those promises wherein he hath declared the satisfaction he can give to the spirit, as he is the God of the spirits of all flesh? If we did imagine the excellency and loveliness of God were worthy to be the ultimate object of our affections, the heart would attend more closely upon him, and be terminated in him; did we believe God to be all-sufficient, full of grace and goodness, a tender Father, not willing to forsake his own, willing, as well as able, to supply their wants, the heart would not so lamely attend upon him, and would not upon every impertinency be diverted from him. There is much of a wrong notion of God, and a predominancy of the world above him in the heart, when we can more savorly relish the thoughts of low inferior things than heavenly, and let our spirits upon every trifling occasion be fugitive from him; it is a testimony that we make not God our chiefest good. If apprehensions of his excellency did possess our souls, they would be fastened on him, glued to him; we should not listen to that rabble of foolish thoughts that steal our hearts so often from him. Were our breathings after God as strong as the pantings of the hart after the water-brooks, we should be like that creature, not diverted in our course by every puddle. Were God the predominant satisfactory object in our eye, he would carry our whole soul along with him. When our spirits readily retreat from God in worship upon every giddy motion, it is a kind of repentance that ever we did come near him, and implies that there is a fuller satisfaction, and more attractive excellency in that which doth so easily divert us, than in that God to whose worship we did pretend to address ourselves. It is as if, when we are petitioning a prince, we should immediately turn about, and make request to one of his guard, as though so mean a person were more able to give us the boon we want than the sovereign is.
Martin Luther | (1483-1546)
The Bondage of the Will or Christian Classics Ethereal Library
Sect. CXLV. — AND here is solved that question of the Diatribe so often repeated throughout its book — “if we can do nothing, to what purpose are so many laws, so many precepts, so many threatenings, and so many promises?” —
Paul here gives an answer: “By the law is the knowledge of sin.” His answer is far different from that which would enter the thoughts of man, or of “Free-will.” He does not say, by the law is proved “Free-will,” because it co-operates with it unto righteousness. For righteousness is not by the law, but, “by the law is the knowledge of sin:” seeing that, the effect, the work, and the office of the law, is to be a light to the ignorant and the blind; such a light, as discovers to them disease, sin, evil, death, hell, and the wrath of God; though it does not deliver from these, but shews them only. And when a man is thus brought to a knowledge of the disease of sin, he is cast down, is afflicted, nay despairs: the law does not help him, much less can he help himself. Another light is necessary, which might discover to him the remedy. This is the voice of the Gospel, revealing Christ as the Deliverer from all these evils. Neither “Free-will” nor reason can discover Him. And how should, it discover Him, when it is itself dark and devoid even of the light of the law, which might discover to it its disease, which disease, in its own light it seeth not, but believes it to be sound health.
So also in Galatians iii., treating on the same point, he saith, “Wherefore then serveth the law?” To which he answers, not as the Diatribe does, in a way that proves the existence of “Free-will,” but he saith, “it was added because of transgressions, until the Seed should come, to whom the promise was made.” (Gal. iii. 19). He saith, “because of transgressions;” not, however, to restrain them, as Jerome dreams; (for Paul shews, that to take away and to restrain sins, by the gift of righteousness, was that which was promised to the Seed to come;) but to cause transgressions to abound, as he saith Rom. v. 20, “The law entered that sin might abound.” Not that sins were not committed and did not abound without the law, but they were not known to be transgressions and sins of such magnitude; for the most and greatest of them, were considered to be righteousnesses. And while sins are thus unknown, there is no place for remedy, or for hope; because, they will not submit to the hand of the healer, considering themselves to be whole, and not to want a physician. Therefore, the law is necessary, which might give the knowledge of sin; in order that, he who is proud and whole in his own eyes, being humbled down into the knowledge of the iniquity and greatness of his sin, might groan and breathe after the grace that is laid up in Christ.
Only observe, therefore, the simplicity of the words — “By the law is the knowledge of sin;” and yet, these alone are of force sufficient to confound and overthrow “Free-will” altogether. For if it be true, that of itself, it knows not what is sin, and what is evil, as the apostle saith here, and Rom. vii. 7-8, “I should not have known that concupiscence was sin, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet,” how can it ever know what is righteousness and good? And if it know not what righteousness is, how can it endeavour to attain unto it? We know not the sin in which we were born, in which we live, in which we move and exist, and which lives, moves, and reigns in us; how then should we know that righteousness which is without us, and which reigns in heaven? These works bring that miserable thing “Free-will” to nothing — nothing at all!
Sect. CXLVI. — THE state of the case, therefore, being thus, Paul speaks openly with full confidence and authority, saying, “But now the righteousness of God is manifest without the law, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe in Him: (for there is no difference, for all have sinned and are without the glory of God:) being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation for sin, through faith in His blood, &c.” (Rom. iii. 22-26).
Here Paul speaks forth very thunder-bolts against “Free-will.” First, he saith, “The righteousness of God without the law is manifested.” Here he marks the distinction between the righteousness of God, and the righteousness of the law: because, the righteousness of faith comes by grace, without the law. His saying, “without the law,” can mean nothing else, but that Christian righteousness exists, without the works of the law: inasmuch as the works of the law avail nothing, and can do nothing, toward the attainment unto it. As he afterwards saith, “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.” (Rom. iii. 28). The same also he had said before, “By the deeds of the law shall no flesh be justified in His sight.” (Rom. iii. 20).
From all which it is most clearly manifest, that the endeavour and desire of “Free-will” are a nothing at all. For if the righteousness of God exist without the law, and without the works of the law, how shall it not much rather exist without “Free-will”! especially, since the most devoted effort of “Free-will” is, to exercise itself in moral righteousness, or the works of that law, from which its blindness and impotency derive their ‘assistance!’ This word “without,” therefore abolishes all moral works, abolishes all moral righteousness, abolishes all preparations unto grace. In a word, scrape together every thing you can as that which pertains to the ability of “Free-will,” and Paul will still stand invincible saying, — the righteousness of God is “without” it!
But, to grant that “Free-will” can, by its endeavour, move itself in some direction, we will say, unto good works, or unto the righteousness of the civil or moral law; yet, it is not moved toward the righteousness of God, nor does God in any respect allow its devoted efforts to be worthy unto the attainment of this righteousness: for He saith, that His righteousness availeth without the works of the law. If therefore, it cannot move itself unto the attainment of the righteousness of God, what will it be profited, if it move itself by its own works and endeavours, unto the attainment of (if it were possible) the righteousness of angels! Here, I presume, the words are not ‘obscure or ambiguous,’ nor is any place left for ‘tropes’of any kind. Here Paul distinguishes most manifestly the two righteousnesses; assigning the one to the law, the other to grace; and declares that the latter is given without the former, and without its works; and that the former justifies not, nor avails anything, without the latter. I should like to see, therefore, how “Free-will” can stand, or be defended, against these Scriptures!