The People Who Sealed the CovenantNehemiah 10 1 “On the seals are the names of Nehemiah the governor, the son of Hacaliah, Zedekiah, 2 Seraiah, Azariah, Jeremiah, 3 Pashhur, Amariah, Malchijah, 4 Hattush, Shebaniah, Malluch, 5 Harim, Meremoth, Obadiah, 6 Daniel, Ginnethon, Baruch, 7 Meshullam, Abijah, Mijamin, 8 Maaziah, Bilgai, Shemaiah; these are the priests. 9 And the Levites: Jeshua the son of Azaniah, Binnui of the sons of Henadad, Kadmiel; 10 and their brothers, Shebaniah, Hodiah, Kelita, Pelaiah, Hanan, 11 Mica, Rehob, Hashabiah, 12 Zaccur, Sherebiah, Shebaniah, 13 Hodiah, Bani, Beninu. 14 The chiefs of the people: Parosh, Pahath-moab, Elam, Zattu, Bani, 15 Bunni, Azgad, Bebai, 16 Adonijah, Bigvai, Adin, 17 Ater, Hezekiah, Azzur, 18 Hodiah, Hashum, Bezai, 19 Hariph, Anathoth, Nebai, 20 Magpiash, Meshullam, Hezir, 21 Meshezabel, Zadok, Jaddua, 22 Pelatiah, Hanan, Anaiah, 23 Hoshea, Hananiah, Hasshub, 24 Hallohesh, Pilha, Shobek, 25 Rehum, Hashabnah, Maaseiah, 26 Ahiah, Hanan, Anan, 27 Malluch, Harim, Baanah.
The Obligations of the Covenant28 “The rest of the people, the priests, the Levites, the gatekeepers, the singers, the temple servants, and all who have separated themselves from the peoples of the lands to the Law of God, their wives, their sons, their daughters, all who have knowledge and understanding, 29 join with their brothers, their nobles, and enter into a curse and an oath to walk in God’s Law that was given by Moses the servant of God, and to observe and do all the commandments of the LORD our Lord and his rules and his statutes. 30 We will not give our daughters to the peoples of the land or take their daughters for our sons. 31 And if the peoples of the land bring in goods or any grain on the Sabbath day to sell, we will not buy from them on the Sabbath or on a holy day. And we will forego the crops of the seventh year and the exaction of every debt. 32 “We also take on ourselves the obligation to give yearly a third part of a shekel for the service of the house of our God: 33 for the showbread, the regular grain offering, the regular burnt offering, the Sabbaths, the new moons, the appointed feasts, the holy things, and the sin offerings to make atonement for Israel, and for all the work of the house of our God. 34 We, the priests, the Levites, and the people, have likewise cast lots for the wood offering, to bring it into the house of our God, according to our fathers’ houses, at times appointed, year by year, to burn on the altar of the LORD our God, as it is written in the Law. 35 We obligate ourselves to bring the firstfruits of our ground and the firstfruits of all fruit of every tree, year by year, to the house of the LORD; 36 also to bring to the house of our God, to the priests who minister in the house of our God, the firstborn of our sons and of our cattle, as it is written in the Law, and the firstborn of our herds and of our flocks; 37 and to bring the first of our dough, and our contributions, the fruit of every tree, the wine and the oil, to the priests, to the chambers of the house of our God; and to bring to the Levites the tithes from our ground, for it is the Levites who collect the tithes in all our towns where we labor. 38 And the priest, the son of Aaron, shall be with the Levites when the Levites receive the tithes. And the Levites shall bring up the tithe of the tithes to the house of our God, to the chambers of the storehouse. 39 For the people of Israel and the sons of Levi shall bring the contribution of grain, wine, and oil to the chambers, where the vessels of the sanctuary are, as well as the priests who minister, and the gatekeepers and the singers. We will not neglect the house of our God.”
The Leaders in JerusalemNehemiah 11 1 Now the leaders of the people lived in Jerusalem. And the rest of the people cast lots to bring one out of ten to live in Jerusalem the holy city, while nine out of ten remained in the other towns. 2 And the people blessed all the men who willingly offered to live in Jerusalem.
3 These are the chiefs of the province who lived in Jerusalem; but in the towns of Judah everyone lived on his property in their towns: Israel, the priests, the Levites, the temple servants, and the descendants of Solomon’s servants. 4 And in Jerusalem lived certain of the sons of Judah and of the sons of Benjamin. Of the sons of Judah: Athaiah the son of Uzziah, son of Zechariah, son of Amariah, son of Shephatiah, son of Mahalalel, of the sons of Perez; 5 and Maaseiah the son of Baruch, son of Col-hozeh, son of Hazaiah, son of Adaiah, son of Joiarib, son of Zechariah, son of the Shilonite. 6 All the sons of Perez who lived in Jerusalem were 468 valiant men. 7 And these are the sons of Benjamin: Sallu the son of Meshullam, son of Joed, son of Pedaiah, son of Kolaiah, son of Maaseiah, son of Ithiel, son of Jeshaiah, 8 and his brothers, men of valor, 928. 9 Joel the son of Zichri was their overseer; and Judah the son of Hassenuah was second over the city.
10 Of the priests: Jedaiah the son of Joiarib, Jachin, 11 Seraiah the son of Hilkiah, son of Meshullam, son of Zadok, son of Meraioth, son of Ahitub, ruler of the house of God, 12 and their brothers who did the work of the house, 822; and Adaiah the son of Jeroham, son of Pelaliah, son of Amzi, son of Zechariah, son of Pashhur, son of Malchijah, 13 and his brothers, heads of fathers’ houses, 242; and Amashsai, the son of Azarel, son of Ahzai, son of Meshillemoth, son of Immer, 14 and their brothers, mighty men of valor, 128; their overseer was Zabdiel the son of Haggedolim.
15 And of the Levites: Shemaiah the son of Hasshub, son of Azrikam, son of Hashabiah, son of Bunni; 16 and Shabbethai and Jozabad, of the chiefs of the Levites, who were over the outside work of the house of God; 17 and Mattaniah the son of Mica, son of Zabdi, son of Asaph, who was the leader of the praise, who gave thanks, and Bakbukiah, the second among his brothers; and Abda the son of Shammua, son of Galal, son of Jeduthun. 18 All the Levites in the holy city were 284.
19 The gatekeepers, Akkub, Talmon and their brothers, who kept watch at the gates, were 172. 20 And the rest of Israel, and of the priests and the Levites, were in all the towns of Judah, every one in his inheritance. 21 But the temple servants lived on Ophel; and Ziha and Gishpa were over the temple servants.
22 The overseer of the Levites in Jerusalem was Uzzi the son of Bani, son of Hashabiah, son of Mattaniah, son of Mica, of the sons of Asaph, the singers, over the work of the house of God. 23 For there was a command from the king concerning them, and a fixed provision for the singers, as every day required. 24 And Pethahiah the son of Meshezabel, of the sons of Zerah the son of Judah, was at the king’s side in all matters concerning the people.
Villages Outside Jerusalem25 And as for the villages, with their fields, some of the people of Judah lived in Kiriath-arba and its villages, and in Dibon and its villages, and in Jekabzeel and its villages, 26 and in Jeshua and in Moladah and Beth-pelet, 27 in Hazar-shual, in Beersheba and its villages, 28 in Ziklag, in Meconah and its villages, 29 in En-rimmon, in Zorah, in Jarmuth, 30 Zanoah, Adullam, and their villages, Lachish and its fields, and Azekah and its villages. So they encamped from Beersheba to the Valley of Hinnom. 31 The people of Benjamin also lived from Geba onward, at Michmash, Aija, Bethel and its villages, 32 Anathoth, Nob, Ananiah, 33 Hazor, Ramah, Gittaim, 34 Hadid, Zeboim, Neballat, 35 Lod, and Ono, the valley of craftsmen. 36 And certain divisions of the Levites in Judah were assigned to Benjamin.
What I'm Reading
A Hopeful Offense
By John Starke 10/01/2012
In my neighborhood, there are almost thirty Jewish synagogues. These congregations include Reformed, Orthodox, and Hasidic Judaism. And, of course, our city is full of secular Jews who have long left any traditional form of their faith. So, on any given Sunday, there is a possibility of having a small handful of folks who identify themselves with any of the above Jewish traditions present in our church service.
Just as having divorced individuals present will affect the way you preach a sermon on marriage, having Jews in your service will affect the way you preach the gospel. In fact, it’s likely to make it more biblical.
First of all, like those offended by Paul or Peter’s preaching, you will likely see people offended when you use their Scriptures to show that Jesus is the Messiah and true King of Israel.
I don’t know how you get around that, but the Apostles seemed to expect it, so we should probably expect it as well. After all, the gospel is offensive. However, the Apostles give us examples that keep us from being more offensive than the gospel and help us make explicit what is the offense of the gospel.
So, here are several points to help us in preaching to Jews the gospel from the Old Testament:
Know the Old Testament Well
There is no substitute for knowing the Old Testament. There are no shortcuts here either. In order to understand how the Apostles in the New Testament preached and how we should preach today, we must know the Old Testament. We need to know not only the stories but also how they organically relate to each other. What is the storyline of the Old Testament? What are the themes that run throughout the storyline (for example, Son of God, covenant, God’s presence, land, and so on)? Once you begin to see these things more clearly, you’ll also see the many unresolved tensions in the Old Testament that are just begging to be resolved in Jesus Christ.
Follow Closely and Learn from the Apostles’ Examples in Acts
Luke’s account of the early Apostolic ministry is hugely important. It’s the only substantial account of Apostolic sermons in which Christ is explicitly preached from the Old Testament. Here are three examples:
Peter, after Pentecost, argued that David must have been talking about someone greater than himself when he said in Psalm 16:10, “You will not … let your holy one see corruption” (see Acts 2:25–40).
Stephen, in front of the Sanhedrin, argued that throughout the history of Israel, the people had followed the pattern of rejecting God when He condescended toward, spoke to, and even dwelt with them. Their rejection of His Son was no different (Acts 7:1–53).
Paul, in Antioch, showed that not only was Jesus an offspring of David, but His resurrection fulfilled all the hopes of David’s kingly line promised by God (Acts 13:16–41).
These men weren’t using fanciful hermeneutical magic tricks to make Jesus appear wherever they wanted, but they showed that Jesus fulfilled the hopes and relieved the tensions of the Old Testament, which is the next point.
Show How Jesus Fulfills the Hopes and Relieves the Tensions of the Old Testament
The gospel of Jesus Christ fulfills every hope and relieves every tension in the Old Testament: the hope of the forgiveness of sins and the tensions of an inadequate priesthood; the hope of rest and the tensions of a people never at peace with their enemies; the promise of God dwelling with His people and the tension of a temple-less people.
For example, remember God’s promise to David that he would always have a son on the throne. God said to David in 2 Samuel 7:14: “I will be a father to him, and he shall be to me a son.”
As D. A. Carson has put it, either David would have one son on the throne, who would have another son on the throne, and on and on and on, forever and ever, amen; or, he would have one special Son, who would remain on the throne forever.
If we look at this line of David, we sadly see that his descendants rebelled against God, following other nations and trusting in their false idols. (This was even true of Solomon, the son to whom David first passed on the kingship.) Soon after, the nations collapsed in on Israel, taking them off into slavery and exile, and no king sat on the throne. The promises of God looked to be all but broken. If you read the end of the Old Testament, you can almost hear the laboring cry: “We need a son.”
Of course, the good news is that in Luke 3:22, we find one of whom God says, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” Actually, God says the same thing about anyone who submits to His reign and enters into His kingdom.
Though offensive, for Jews—and for all of us — that’s the best news in the world.
How to Stay Christian in Seminary
By David Mathis 10/01/2012
“The point is this.” I love it when Paul says that in 2 Corinthians 9:6. He makes sure he has our attention and tells it straight. Behind the reasoned prose and the rhetorical flourishes, here’s what he’s getting at—plain, simple, straightforward. “The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.” Beautifully direct.
The same humble approach helps when we take up the topic of “staying Christian” in seminary. There is so much (good) advice to be given. There are many experiences to be relayed, warnings to be sounded, commendations to be issued, and commitments to highlight. There are particular truths to emphasize, and practicals to give it flesh.
But when you boil it all down, what’s the point? Is there something that holds all the advice and recommendations together? When you tell it straight and cut through all the fluff, what’s at the heart of staying Christian in seminary?
The point is this: Be a Christian in seminary. The key to staying Christian in seminary, and in every season and avenue of life, is being one.
Perhaps the greatest danger the seminarian faces in each generation is the temptation to put some aspects of his Christianity “on hold” while he goes through this “season of preparation for ministry.” We are enticed to give ourselves a pass from everyday Christianity while we prepare to be an instrument (ironically) of everyday grace to others.
Whether it’s the Tempter himself, sin in us, or just naiveté, the seminarian can begin to reason along these lines:
I don’t need regular personal prayer and devotional Bible intake; I’m steeped in this stuff all the time.
I don’t really need to get deeply connected with a local church, where I can be ministered to and minister to others; my seminary community will do just fine. Besides, this is a temporary season—no reason to put any roots down here.
I don’t need to play the man at home while I’m in school; my wife can hold things together temporarily and be the buckstopper while I study.
And so, the seminarian starts down the slope. He thinks that somehow his real-life Christianity can kick into gear once his real life starts on the other side of graduation. He subtly puts “on hold” his own daily pursuit of God’s ongoing grace and walking by faith in Jesus and His gospel so he can better ready himself to introduce others to the same normal Christian life he has so strategically neglected.
Maybe it would help to hear that seminary is real life. All of life, cradle to grave, is real life in God’s economy. For the Christian, there are no interludes, no pauses, no “seasons” when the main things go on hold as we prepare for the next. There is no Christian summons to neglect securing your own oxygen mask so that you can get trained to help others with theirs. You will only suffocate in the process.
How tragic it is when the zealous seminarian, inundated with assignments and captured by the drive to succeed academically, begins to disregard the very means of grace God used to cultivate his initial zeal for gospel ministry. The result is heartbreaking: seminary wrongly pursued begins to squelch the very zeal that led him there in the first place.
How tragic it is when the zealous seminarian is inattentive in ministering first to his wife and kids because he’s in a season of “preparing for ministry.” The Apostle Paul wouldn’t be impressed.
How tragic it is when we begin to be impressed with how much we’re learning, how much we know, and what a great gift we’ll be to the church after graduation. The Apostle would remind us: “This ‘knowledge’ puffs up, but love builds up. If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know” (1 Cor. 8:1–2).
Chase the trail of “staying Christian” in seminary long enough, and you’ll realize it’s less about what a special season seminary is and more about what Christianity is in every season of life, in every age of church history, in every place on the planet. Staying Christian in seminary is about staying Christian in general.
The way to stay Christian in the long run is to be a Christian every day. It’s walking daily in light of God’s fascinating and extraordinary grace to us in the gospel. It’s being fully reliant on God’s Spirit, going deep in God’s Word, among God’s people. It’s keeping both eyes peeled for Jesus — not only in the Scriptures, but in every avenue of our existence. Fight pride. Serve your wife. Be eager to meet the needs of others, minister and be ministered to by fellow believers, and share the gospel and yourself with those who don’t know Him.
There is no holding pattern for the Christian. God’s calling to seminary doesn’t trump — it complements — His calling for us, by His grace, to be the kind of husband, father, friend, and follower of Jesus daily that we hope our post-seminary formal ministry will one day produce.
David Mathis Books:
- 1 Habits of Grace Study Guide: Enjoying Jesus through the Spiritual Disciplines
- 2 Acting the Miracle: God's Work and Ours in the Mystery of Sanctification
- 3 Finish the Mission: Bringing the Gospel to the Unreached and Unengaged
- 4 How to Stay Christian in Seminary
- 5 The Romantic Rationalist: God, Life, and Imagination in the Work of C. S. Lewis
- 6 Thinking. Loving. Doing.: A Call to Glorify God with Heart and Mind
- 7 Cross: Unrivaled Christ, Unstoppable Gospel, Unreached Peoples, Unending Joy
- 8 With Calvin in the Theater of God: The Glory of Christ and Everyday Life
- 9 Finish the Mission (First) (9/19/12)
The Gospel and the Gender Wars
By Russell Moore 10/01/2012
Lewis Grizzard, the famous Atlanta newspaper columnist, wrote frequently of his ill-fated marriages, divorces, and remarriages. Eventually, he said he was going to give up on marriage altogether, that there wouldn’t be another Mrs. Grizzard. “I’m just going to find a woman who hates me and buy her a house,” he quipped. Grizzard’s lament elicited laughter, despite the obvious tragedy of his relational life, because it rang true to an American culture increasingly rife with gender wars. The universal tensions between men and women sometimes show up in their most innocuous form in jokes from women about men who fail to clean up after themselves around the house, or from men about women who can’t remember to keep their cell phones turned on. But the gender tensions run into much darker territory.
The divorce culture around us is the most obvious sign of men and women in conflict with one another, as marriages are ripped asunder and the custody of children fought over in law courts in virtually every major city on the planet. Even beyond that, many reverberations of the sexual revolution are built on self-protecting mechanisms for men and women who, at best, don’t trust one another and, at worst, want to exploit one another. Divorce courts and abortion clinics, porn sites and chick flicks— these all reveal men and women who, far from merging into some sort of unisex utopia, find it impossible to give themselves fully to the other.
That’s what the biblical concept of manhood and womanhood is about. The biblical notion of certain creational distinctives of what it means to be a man or a woman isn’t really about “who’s in charge,” and it certainly isn’t about “who’s the best.” King Jesus dismisses such categories— though common in our commercial, corporate, and athletic spheres—in favor of a newer sense of servant-dominion in His kingdom.
The chief analogy used for the male/ female relationship—specifically in terms of the marital one-flesh union—is that of head and body. This is because, the Bible maintains, we are not genderless persons who happen to have been placed in arbitrary male and female bodies. Sexual differentiation isn’t simply a matter of genital architecture. From the very beginning, Scripture teaches, humanity is created “male and female” (Gen. 1:27; Mark 10:6).
Sometimes Christians will argue that male/female distinctions are obliterated by the new covenant. Doesn’t the Apostle Paul tell us that there is neither “male nor female” in Christ (Gal. 3:28)? Certainly, in terms of inheritance, there is no distinction. Men and women alike— not just firstborn sons—share in Jesus’ identity and, thus, in His inheritance of the universe. But Scripture doesn’t teach that this differentiation is in every way gone—in fact, the Bible directly applies some aspects of God’s commands to men and some to women. Masculinity and femininity are not aspects of the fallen order to be overcome; they are instead part of what God declared from the beginning to be “very good” (Gen. 1:31).
In fact, the mystery of the gospel explains to us why it is that Adam wasn’t designed to subdivide like an amoeba, why he needed someone like him and yet different from him, why he was to join himself to her in an organic union. It’s because the head/body union of a man and a woman is itself an illustration— one that points to something older and more beautiful: the union of Christ and His church in the gospel.
A man, then, is to lead his family. But this is not some sort of tyranny. A man’s leadership is modeled after Christ’s leadership of His church. He leads by discerning the best interests of his family and pouring himself out for them. This headship is self-sacrificial. A wife submits to her husband’s leadership not as a cowering supplicant but in the way the church submits to Christ. Jesus says of His church, in its original twelve foundation stones, “No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you” (John 15:15).
When we call husbands to lead their families, and when we call wives to respect such leadership (which, like every form of leadership, has biblical limits), we are not speaking of a business model or a corporate flow chart. We’re speaking instead of an organic unity. The more a husband and wife are sanctified together in the Word, the more they—like your nervous system and body—move and operate smoothly, effortlessly, holistically. They are oneflesh. It’s about cooperation through complementarity.
When Jesus carried out His gospel mission, the satanic powers sought to tempt the church to carry out the mission given to Christ (Matt. 16:22–23; 26:51–52), and sought to tempt Christ to seek His own provision rather than that for His bride (4:2–4). Jesus, though, set His face like flint toward the Place of the Skull, and the church eventually, by God’s grace, yielded to being served by the washing of water (Eph. 5:26).
The church continually works to reclaim a biblical concept of the family. We call men to prepare themselves to be other-directed husbands. We call on women to find their beauty not in cultural stereotypes of a woman’s value but in God’s delight (1 Peter 3:1–6). Such will look increasingly and, oddly, peaceful to a culture conditioned to gender wars. But in the end, it’s not about being better men and women. It’s about a clear proclamation of the mystery of Christ and His church. They’re not in tension with one another, in competition with one another, mistrusting one another. They’re head and body—one flesh.
Russell Moore is president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, the moral and public policy agency of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination. He is a TGC Council member and he blogs at Moore to the Point and you can follow him on Twitter. He is a frequent cultural commentator, an ethicist and theologian by background, and an ordained Southern Baptist minister. He and his wife Maria are the parents of five sons.Russell Moore Books | Go to Books Page
Wisely Handling the Bible’s Wise Sayings
By R.C. Sproul 11/01/2012
Every culture seems to have its own unique, collected wisdom, pithy insights of the wise. Oftentimes, these tidbits of wisdom are preserved in the form of the proverb. We have proverbial sayings in American culture. I am thinking of sayings such as “A stitch in time saves nine” or “A penny saved is a penny earned.”
The Bible, of course, has an entire book of such pithy sayings — the book of Proverbs. However, this compilation of proverbial wisdom is different from all other such collections in that these sayings reflect not just human wisdom but divine wisdom, for these proverbs are inspired by God.
Still, we must be very careful in how we approach and implement these wise sayings. Simply because they are inspired does not mean that the biblical proverbs are like laws, imposing a universal obligation. Yet, some people treat them as if they were divine commandments. If we regard them in that way, we run into all kinds of trouble. Even divinely inspired proverbs do not necessarily apply to all life situations. Rather, they reflect insights that are generally true.
To illustrate this point, let me remind you of two of our own culture’s proverbs. First, we often say, “Look before you leap.” That is a valuable insight. But we have another proverb that seems to contradict it: “He who hesitates is lost.” If we tried to apply both of these proverbs at the same time and in the same way in every situation, we would be thoroughly confused. In many situations, wisdom dictates that we examine carefully where we should place our steps next so that we are not moving blindly. At the same time, we cannot be so paralyzed in our evaluation of the pros and cons of our next move that we hesitate too long before making a decision and lose opportunities when they present themselves to us.
Naturally, it does not really bother us to find seemingly contradictory proverbs in our own cultural wisdom. But when we discover them in the Bible, we find ourselves wrestling with questions about the trustworthiness of Scripture. Let me cite one well-known example. The book of Proverbs says, “Answer not a fool according to his folly” (26:4a). Then, in the very next verse, we read, “Answer a fool according to his folly” (26:5a). How can we follow these opposite instructions? How can both be statements of wisdom?
Again, just as in the example I gave above, the answer depends on the situation. There are certain circumstances when it is not wise to answer a fool according to his folly, but there are other circumstances when it is wise to answer a fool according to his folly. Proverbs 26:4 says, “Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself” (emphasis added). If someone is speaking foolishness, it is generally not wise to try to talk to him. Such a discussion will go nowhere, and the one who tries to carry on the discussion with the fool is in danger of falling into the same foolishness. In other words, there are circumstances when we are better off saying nothing.
At other times, however, it can be helpful to answer a fool according to his folly. Proverbs 26:5 says, “Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes” (emphasis added). Although it was made an art form by the ancient Greek philosophers, the Hebrews understood and in biblical teaching sometimes used one of the most effective ways of arguing with another person. I am referring to the reductio ad absurdum, which reduces the other person’s argument to absurdity. By means of this technique, it is possible to show a person the necessary, logical conclusion that flows out of his argument, and so demonstrate that his premises lead ultimately to an absurd conclusion. So, when a person has a foolish premise and gives a foolish argument, it can at times be very effective to answer the fool according to his folly. You step over onto his territory and say, “Okay, I’ll take your position for argument’s sake, and I’m going to take it to its logical conclusion and show you the foolishness of it.”
So, the book of Proverbs is concerned to give us practical guidelines for daily experience. It is a neglected treasure of the Old Testament, with untold riches lying in wait in its pages to guide our lives. It holds real, concrete advice that comes from the mind of God Himself. If we want wisdom, this is the fountain from which to drink. He who is foolish will neglect this fountain. He who is hungry for God’s wisdom will drink deeply from it. We need to listen to the wisdom of God so that we can cut through the many distractions and confusions of modern life. But, as with the entirety of the Word of God, we need to be zealous to learn how to handle the book of Proverbs properly.
Robert Charles Sproul, 2/13/1939 – 12/14/2017 was an American theologian, author, and ordained pastor in the Presbyterian Church in America. Dr. R.C. Sproul was founder and chairman of Ligonier Ministries, an international Christian education and discipleship organization located near Orlando, Fla. He was also copastor of Saint Andrew’s Chapel in Sanford, Fla., chancellor of Reformation Bible College, and executive editor of Tabletalk magazine. Dr. Sproul has contributed dozens of articles to national evangelical publications, has spoken at conferences, churches, and schools around the world, and has written more than one hundred books. He also served as general editor of the Reformation Study Bible.R.C. Sproul Books | Go to Books Page
Worship as a Body
By Bob Kauflin 11/01/2012
The psalmist declares, “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord!’” (Ps. 122:1;). Worldly distractions, bad theology, or indwelling sin can cause us to lose sight of why we should be glad about meeting together on the Lord’s Day. We might even start to think private devotions are an adequate substitute for, if not superior to, gathering with the church.
Of course, both private and corporate worship are vital to our relationship with God. But there are reasons the writer of Hebrews admonishes us not to follow “the habit of some” by neglecting to meet together (Heb. 10:25). Here are eight of them:
Obedience to God’s Word
While Hebrews 10:25 directly states that we must not neglect meeting together, Paul’s repeated use of the phrase “when you come together” in 1 Corinthians 11 and 14 indicates that the Corinthians were assembling regularly. He often refers to the church in so-and-so’s house, and we can assume he did not mean the “church” as a physical structure but rather the people who regularly met in that house.
The Spirit Working Through Others
We should be able to encourage ourselves in the Lord through Bible study, prayer, and worship in song. But God ordains strengthening to come through others as well. “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you’” (1 Cor. 12:21). No one has every gift. God cannot build me up through gifts like preaching, encouragement, compassion, leadership, and faith unless I’m actually there to experience those gifts.
Serving in Action and Attitude
When I sing to God, pray, or read Scripture alone, I bless myself. When I do those things with others, I can be a means of God’s varied grace to them (1 Peter 4:10). My countenance and enthusiastic engagement, as well as the deployment of my spiritual gifts, are all ways I can point people to the worthiness of the God we worship. Colossians 3:16 tells us that singing is one of the ways we teach and admonish each other. That requires doing more than singing along to my iPod.
Manifestations of God’s Presence
In the middle of adjusting the Corinthians’ love affair with certain spiritual gifts, Paul notes how these gifts can alert an unbeliever to God’s presence. David Peterson writes, “1 Cor. 14:24–25 suggests that God is present in a distinctive way in the Christian meeting through his word and the operation of his Spirit” (Engaging with God: A Biblical Theology of Worship, 196). Without making experiential encounters with God our primary goal, we should expect God to make us more aware of His presence with us when we meet together.
God’s Voice Through Preaching
Technology now enables us to hear sermons we missed or messages from churches we don’t even attend. But when the church gathers expectantly in one place at one time to hear God’s Word proclaimed, it is a unique event. God Himself addresses us as His people. The Spirit works in our hearts to convict, comfort, illumine, and exhort. We hear God’s voice through a human mouthpiece and are changed.
Demonstrating Unity in the Gospel
Being one in Christ is more than meeting regularly in the same room, but it is not less. Singing songs, reciting creeds, and reading Scripture together are ways of declaring to myself and others that I am part of a holy temple, not just a random brick or a loose stone (Eph. 2:19–22). “Christian proclamation might make the gospel audible, but Christians living together in local congregations make the gospel visible (see John 13:34–35)” (The Church: The Gospel Made Visible (9Marks), p. xi).
Dying to Self
Let’s face it—it’s easier to worship God alone than with others. Church meetings introduce many aggravations, such as insufficient parking, people taking my seat, obnoxious voices, songs I don’t prefer, and people with problems. But this makes such meetings ideal opportunities for cultivating the humble attitude of Christ (Phil. 2:1–5) and dying to ourselves.
Foretastes of Heaven
Want to know what heaven is going to be like? Go to church. The singing may not be as stellar, the numbers might be drastically reduced, and the people might all come from the same ethnicity. But Hebrews 12 says we have already come to “the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant” (vv. 22–24). Jesus has brought us near to the Father through His finished atoning work on Calvary. We can draw near with boldness to the throne of grace with His people (Heb. 10:19–22). That’s heaven.
So, the next time you’re tempted to think cutting out on a Sunday meeting will not hurt, remember what you will be missing. And thank God you have both the privilege and freedom to enjoy corporate worship with the body of Christ each week.
Bob Kauflin Books:
- 1 Worship Matters: Leading Others to Encounter the Greatness of God
- 2 True Worshipers: Seeking What Matters to God
- 3 Nuestra adoración importa: Guiando a otros a encontrarse con Dios (Spanish Edition)
- 4 The Power of Words and the Wonder of God
- 5 Worldliness (Redesign): Resisting the Seduction of a Fallen World
God’s Provision for the Weary Pilgrim
By Chris Larson 11/01/2012
The distractions of the world and the temptations of the Devil would be enough to derail almost any pilgrim on their journey to heaven. But add to these the manifold frailties of our sinful flesh, and this triumvirate of Christian foes would seem to rule out any hope of reaching the Celestial City. Devotion and zeal can fade with every bend in the road until we are lost and alone. Despair and anxiety set in.
Such have been the struggles of all pilgrims. Because of the One who sets us on our pilgrimage, we leave the delusional comforts of our sin-loving-selves. It was by faith that we obeyed when we were called to go out to a new home, desiring a better country, willing to be strangers and exiles (Heb. 11:8, 13–16). We are sidetracked saints though. Our path to heaven is not straight, as we still cling too tightly to the things that are passing away. Unholy passions tear us in ways that wound us and others. Yet God, in His sustaining grace, provides for the weary pilgrim.
The journey up the difficult hills in our life is made bearable by the respite provided in that beautiful house, the church. This is no ordinary building built with brick and mortar. The church is the pillar and ground of the truth (1 Tim. 3:15), a stable and safe shelter for the burdened and broken sinner. It is a building made of living stones on top of the foundation laid by the prophets and apostles, with Jesus Himself as the cornerstone (1 Cor. 3:9–11; 1 Pet. 2:5; Eph. 2:20). And unlike the earthly temple, which was destroyed, the church is being built into an everlasting holy temple in the Lord (Eph. 2:21).
But it is a tired attack by the enemies of our Lord to point out the failures of the church and her leaders. Of course the church falls short, composed as it is of sinners like you and me. Herein the wonders of our sovereign Father are displayed. Today, 9/4/2018, things look pretty bleak for Christians as we move closer and closer to being a stench to the world as we try to live in the world. So I love this next comment. Our God is the God of great reversals. Amen. He is the God of great reversals, and He uses sinful people like us to accomplish His saving purposes. The church proclaims and makes manifest the reign of her Lord; the church prays for His kingdom to come and creation quivers in anticipation.
To the church are given the very words of life proclaimed by faithful shepherds (1 Pet. 4:11; Rom. 10:14). Beauty from this new life blossoms in a diversity of gifts in the church (1 Cor. 12:4–7; Rom. 12:4–8), all with the aim of causing us to grow in Christlikeness (Eph. 1:23; Phil. 2:5).
The diversity of gifts within the church are on display in organizations like Ligonier Ministries. Christian education-oriented schools, publishers, and broadcasters can all be effective outreach efforts that naturally flow from the teaching of the Word of God by approved ministers and teachers within the church. The message of God’s holiness, our sinfulness, and the provision of a Savior is never dated.
Our voice joins with the historical band of brothers who have been called out of darkness into light. It is the light of God’s Word that we shine on unbelief wherever it is found, be it in the culture or in the church itself. We want to see hearts and wills conquered so that Christians are equipped to effect change in every sphere because God puts the Christian pilgrim into a unique family, vocation, and nation, and He expects him to grow in holiness, even as He is holy (1 Pet. 1:13–16).
When they work rightly, ministries such as ours propagate biblical Christianity to the church throughout the world. When they miss their mark, they distract God’s people into unfruitful endeavors. And when they utterly fail, they show themselves never to have been a true part of the church. Like the false teachers, they were not of us in the first place (1 John 2:19).
In Bunyan’s allegory, the Christian pilgrim meets with many who spur him toward righteousness in his journey. Each one has a variety of gifts that encourage and equip the pilgrim to progress, and each one is named for his characteristic virtue: Good-Will, Help, Charity, Discretion, Piety, Prudence, Faithful, Hopeful.
This is exactly what we’ve seen in church history, isn’t it? The Lord has raised up many within his church throughout the millennia to encourage the body of saints to become more like their head, Jesus Christ, “from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Eph. 4:15–16). They go by different names: Stephen, Paul, Peter, Polycarp, Athanasius, Augustine, Anselm, Hus, Wycliffe, Luther, Calvin, Knox, Edwards, Hodge, Spurgeon, Machen, your pastor and mine. In each generation, leaders in the church brought the Bible to God’s people.
Pray for your pastor and pray for organizations such as Ligonier that we would be found faithful in our generation to serve the weary pilgrim on his journey home.
The Soul of the Solas
By R.C. Sproul Jr. 11/01/2012
It puzzles me deeply that so few are puzzled deeply by the paradox. We are so used to the befuddling language that we miss its befuddling nature. It ought to stop us in our tracks and arrest our attention, like those signs I see for Fifth Third Bank. Fifth Bank I could understand. Third Bank I could understand. I could understand them merging to become Fourth Bank. But Fifth Third Bank? What does that even mean?
In like manner, how is it that when our spiritual ancestors, our theological heroes, set out to tell us one thing, they ended up telling us five things? Suppose I had lived in a cave for the last five hundred years and then met someone who wanted to get me up to speed on the Reformation and what I should believe. What if they said: “There are five things. The first one is sola…”? Would I not have to say: “Stop right there. If there are five, how can even one of them be called sola?”
It does, of course, in the end make perfect sense. The alones are not alone because they are talking, in a manner of speaking, on different wavelengths. An infinite line is really infinite, but it doesn’t cover everything. An infinite plane is, in a manner of speaking, even more infinite than an infinite line, but it doesn’t cover everything. What sola Scriptura is seeking to keep out isn’t grace, faith, Christ, or God’s glory. It’s trying to keep out unbiblical tradition. Grace alone doesn’t exclude the Bible, faith, Christ, or the glory of God.
In a very real sense, though they spin on different axes, these five are one. The Bible alone is God’s infallible revelation of His glory, which reveals His grace in Christ, which becomes ours through the gift of faith. God’s grace is uniquely revealed in His Word, which reveals the work of Christ, which becomes ours by faith, all redounding to His glory. The solas are precise and potent affirmations of this truth—it’s all about God. They remind us not just how we might have peace with God but that peace with God is not the full and final end of all things. They remind us that the story of the Bible isn’t simply how we who are in dire straits can make it to safety and how nice God is to play such an important role in making that happen. Instead, they remind us that He is the end, and we are the means. The story is about Him and His glory more than us and our comfort.
Jesus makes much the same point in the Sermon on the Mount. He recognizes our weaknesses. We are self-centered, concerned with ourselves and what we perceive our needs to be. So, we worry about what we will eat and what we will wear. We fret about our provision and our status. What Jesus doesn’t tell us, however, is: “Now, look, you have no need to worry about these things because you have someone on your side. Other people might need to worry, but you don’t because my Father in heaven is for you. You can pursue these things with confidence, knowing that you have the supreme advantage of having the supreme being on your side.”
What He tells us instead is surprising. He tells us to set aside our petty concerns and, depending on how you look at it, to set our minds on one or two things. He said, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.” Do we now have seven solas? Ought we to add the kingdom and His righteousness to the alones? By no means. These are all still together the one thing. There is an organic unity not only between the kingdom and the righteousness but between these two solas and the five solas of the Reformation. We are not failing to pursue the kingdom of God when we are seeking after His righteousness. We are not failing to pursue His righteousness when we are seeking after His kingdom. We are pursuing one thing— one way—to honor and serve our Maker and Redeemer by affirming our dependence on Him and His preeminence in all things.
The God we serve is one. As such, He calls us to follow one path. His commands are never and can never be pitted against each other. His wisdom is never and can never be pitted against itself. His grace is never and can never be pitted against His character. When we find ourselves torn, confused, pulled in different directions, it isn’t because we are faithfully following Him but because we are not. It isn’t because we are faithfully heeding His voice but because we are not.
The two — His kingdom and His righteousness — are one as the five — the solas of the Reformation — are one as the Three—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—are One. And these three groupings are one as well. In the end, they are all about the beginning. From the beginning they have always been about the end. For our lives are and always will be bound up together in the Alpha and the Omega.
R.C. Sproul Jr. Books | Go to Books Page
Read The Psalms In "1" Year
Psalm 102Do Not Hide Your Face from Me
102 A Prayer Of One Afflicted, When He Is Faint And Pours Out His Complaint Before The Lord.
1 Hear my prayer, O LORD;
let my cry come to you!
2 Do not hide your face from me
in the day of my distress!
Incline your ear to me;
answer me speedily in the day when I call!
3 For my days pass away like smoke,
and my bones burn like a furnace.
4 My heart is struck down like grass and has withered;
I forget to eat my bread.
5 Because of my loud groaning
my bones cling to my flesh.
6 I am like a desert owl of the wilderness,
like an owl of the waste places;
7 I lie awake;
I am like a lonely sparrow on the housetop.
8 All the day my enemies taunt me;
those who deride me use my name for a curse.
9 For I eat ashes like bread
and mingle tears with my drink,
10 because of your indignation and anger;
for you have taken me up and thrown me down.
11 My days are like an evening shadow;
I wither away like grass.
Soli Deo Gloria
By John Piper 11/01/2012
We use the phrase glory of God so often that it tends to lose its biblical force. But this glory, like the sun, is no less blazing— and no less beneficialc—cbecause people ignore it. Yet, God hates to be ignored. “Mark this, then, you who forget God, lest I tear you apart, and there be none to deliver!” (Ps. 50:22). So let’s focus again on the glory of God. What is God’s glory, and how important is it?
What Is the Glory of God?
The glory of God is the holiness of God put on display. That is, it is the infinite worth of God made manifest. Notice how Isaiah shifts from “holy” to “glory”: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” (Isa. 6:3). When the holiness of God fills the earth for people to see, it is called glory.
The basic meaning of holy is “separated from the common.” Thus, the holiness of God is His infinite “separation” from all that is common. It is what makes Him the infinite “one of a kind” — like the rarest and most perfect diamond in the world — only there are no other diamond - gods. God’s uniqueness as the only God — His “Godness” — makes Him infinitely valuable, or holy.
In speaking of God’s glory, the Bible assumes that this infinite value has entered creation. It has, as it were, shined. God’s glory is the radiance of His holiness, the out-streaming of His infinite value. And when it streams out, it is seen as beautiful and great. It has both infinite quality and magnitude. So, we may define God’s glory as the beauty and greatness of His manifold perfections.
I say “manifold perfections” because specific aspects of God’s being are said to have glory. For example, we read of “the glory of his grace” (Eph. 1:6) and “the glory of his might” (2 Thess. 1:9). God Himself is glorious because He is the perfect unity of all His manifold and glorious perfections.
But this definition must be qualified. The Bible also speaks of God’s glory before it is revealed in creation. For example, Jesus prays, “Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed” (John 17:5). So I would suggest a definition something like this: God’s glory is the outward radiance of the intrinsic beauty and greatness of His manifold perfections.
I am aware that words are poor pointers here. I have replaced one inadequate word — glory — with two inadequate words — beauty and greatness. But God has revealed Himself to us in words like “the glory of God.” Therefore, they are not meaningless.
We must constantly remind ourselves that we are speaking of a glory that is ultimately beyond any comparison in creation. “The glory of God” is how we designate the infinite beauty and the infinite greatness of the Person who was before anything else. This beauty and greatness exist without origin, without comparison, without analogy, without being judged by any external criterion. God’s glory is the all-defining, absolutely original standard of greatness and beauty. All created greatness and beauty comes from it and points to it, but such things do not comprehensively or adequately reproduce it.
“The glory of God” is a way to say that there is an objective, absolute reality to which all human wonder, awe, veneration, praise, honor, acclaim, and worship is pointing. We were made to find our deepest pleasure in admiring the infinitely admirable — the glory of God. This glory is not the psychological projection of unsatisfied human longing onto reality. On the contrary, inconsolable human longing is evidence that we were made for God’s glory.
How Central Is the Glory of God?
The glory of God is the goal of all things (1 Cor. 10:31; Isa. 43:6–7). The great mission of the church is to declare God’s glory among the nations. “Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples!” (Ps. 96:1–3; Ezek. 39:21; Isa. 66:18–19).
What Is Our Hope?
Our ultimate hope is to see God’s glory. “We rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (Rom. 5:2). God will “present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy” (Jude 24). He will “make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory” (Rom. 9:23). Jesus, in all His person and work, is the incarnation and ultimate revelation of the glory of God (John 17:24; Heb. 1:3).
Moreover, we will not only see God’s glory, but we will also, in some sense, share in His glory. “So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed” (1 Peter 5:1). “Those whom he justified he also glorified” (Rom. 8:30). Hope that is really known and treasured has a decisive effect on our present values, choices, and actions.
Treasuring the Glory of God
Get to know the glory of God. Study the glory of God, the glory of Christ. Study your soul. Know the glories that you are seduced by and why you treasure glories that are not God’s glory.
Study your own soul to know how to make the glories of the world collapse like Dagon in pitiful pieces on the floor of the world’s temples (1 Sam. 5:4). Hunger to see and share in more of the glory of Christ, the image of God.
John Piper Books | Go to Books Page
Devotionals, notes, poetry and more
by Bill Federer
The date, September 11, 1777. The Continental Congress was being forced to evacuate Philadelphia, as the British had just won the Battle of Brandywine, forcing Washington’s 10,000 troops to retreat. In this desperate situation, Congress was made aware that there was a shortage of Bibles due to the interruption of trade with the King’s printers. Congress voted to import Bibles from Scotland or Holland into different parts of the Union, stating: “The use of the Bible is so universal and its importance so great… it was resolved accordingly to direct said Committee of Commerce to import 20,000 copies of the Bible.”American Minute
Compiled by Richard S. Adams
... from here, there and everywhere
If I discover within myself a desire
which no experience in this world can satisfy,
the most probable explanation
is that I was made for another world.
--- C.S. Lewis
One prays for life,
life means free choice
and freedom is mystery.
If one knew the truth
how could there be freedom.
--- Isaac Bashevis Singer
Conversion is not the smooth, easy-going process some men seem to think... It is wounding work, this breaking of the hearts, but without wounding there is no saving... Where there is grafting there will always be a cutting, the graft must be let in with a wound; to stick it onto the outside or to tie it on with a string would be of no use. Heart must be set to heart and back to back or there will be no sap from root to branch. And this, I say, must be done by a wound, by a cut.
--- John Bunyan
Believe God's love and power more than you believe your own feelings and experiences. Your rock is Christ, and it is not the rock that ebbs and flows but the sea.
--- Samuel Rutherford
Have you forgotten?
“This is a war between good and evil”. We heard those words within hours of the attack on America. The country stood united, and there was no doubt that the wickedness of what had been done had pierced the conscience of the vast majority of people. Journalists and politicians were driven to tears. Something that defied reason had taken place. Sadness, like a cloud, enveloped our emotions.
And then we began to hear and see reactions from around the world. While most grieved at the horror, the camera showed others dancing in the streets. (How quickly this was removed from television, but I remember seeing it.) To them, the destruction was a feast for the eyes, and they distributed sweets to celebrate this disorienting blow to Americas tranquility. It was but a few days before the words broke from one reporters lips, “One man's terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter”
How do we make sense of all this? Politics took over center stage, and suddenly it seemed as though this was payback time for us. The politicization of morality is not a new thing; it has always been a safe haven for any kind of act or behavior. If I am able to find political justification for anything I think or do, my thoughts or actions can be deemed morally right.
We are all tempted to justify our proclivities with political arguments. On the one hand, those of us who are privileged to live in democracies have convinced ourselves that morality is purely a private matter, and we allow no one to invade that territory. Sit in on the lectures of some intellectual arguing from the liberal side of any issue and it becomes clear that relativism is the guide writ large on our cultural belief. We hear it said that there is no such thing as an absolute and that each one must decide his or her moral lifestyle. Anyone who holds to absolutes is mocked and derided.
On the other hand, demagogues such as Osama bin Laden believe that morality is a totally public matter, interwoven with religion, and that their followers are doing the world a favor by ridding it of any culture that privatizes religion and morality. I can just picture bin Ladens diatribes as he speaks to his suicide squads. Every word must drip with conviction that their mission is necessary to “save the world.” Anything and everything is justified by his ultimate goal of killing those who stand in the way of the greater good of a totalitarian religion.
Yet, if we pierce the armor of both extremes, we find very quickly what lies beneath. The relativist who argues for the absence of absolutes smuggles absolutes into his arguments all the time, while shouting loudly that all morality is private belief. Alan Dershowitz, professor at Harvard Law School, spares no vitriol in his pronouncements that there are no absolutes and that thats the way it is. “I do not know what is right,” he contends. It all sounds very honest and real, until he points his finger at his audience and says, “And you know what? Neither do you.” So it is not just that he does not know what is right. It is also that he knows the impossibility of knowing what is right so well that he is absolutely certain that nobody else can know what is right either. There is his absolute. One need only observe his tirades and his views on numerous issues, including his vociferous defense of O. J. Simpson during his murder trial, to see how relativism works itself into society’s ethics.
Then you go to the other extreme. On the night before Mohammed Atta and his band of murderers brought the world to a screaming halt with their suicide mission to “rid the world of American values/’ these specimens of “moral rectitude” were parked in nude dance clubs, in search of the services of a prostitute. What hypocrisy littered their moral pronouncements! Lies, deceit, sensuality, illegal acts, fake passports, mass murder— all in defense of absolutes.
In the face of such duplicity, how do we recognize right and wrong? In the rubble of human failure and destruction, how do we connect with a helping hand to rescue us from falsehood?
Light in the Shadow of Jihad: The Struggle for Truth
Thanks to Meir Yona
How Vespasian Upon Hearing Of Some Commotions In Gall, 12 Made Haste To Finish The Jewish War. A Description Of Jericho, And Of The Great Plain; With An Account Besides Of The Lake Asphaltites.
1. In the mean time, an account came that there were commotions in Gall, and that Vindex, together with the men of power in that country, had revolted from Nero; which affair is more accurately described elsewhere. This report, thus related to Vespasian, excited him to go on briskly with the war; for he foresaw already the civil wars which were coming upon them, nay, that the very government was in danger; and he thought, if he could first reduce the eastern parts of the empire to peace, he should make the fears for Italy the lighter; while therefore the winter was his hinderance [from going into the field], he put garrisons into the villages and smaller cities for their security; he put decurions also into the villages, and centurions into the cities: he besides this rebuilt many of the cities that had been laid waste; but at the beginning of the spring he took the greatest part of his army, and led it from Cesarea to Antipatris, where he spent two days in settling the affairs of that city, and then, on the third day, he marched on, laying waste and burning all the neighboring villages. And when he had laid waste all the places about the toparchy of Thamnas, he passed on to Lydda and Jamnia; and when both these cities had come over to him, he placed a great many of those that had come over to him [from other places] as inhabitants therein, and then came to Emmaus, where he seized upon the passage which led thence to their metropolis, and fortified his camp, and leaving the fifth legion therein, he came to the toparchy of Bethletephon. He then destroyed that place, and the neighboring places, by fire, and fortified, at proper places, the strong holds all about Idumea; and when he had seized upon two villages, which were in the very midst of Idumea, Betaris and Caphartobas, he slew above ten thousand of the people, and carried into captivity above a thousand, and drove away the rest of the multitude, and placed no small part of his own forces in them, who overran and laid waste the whole mountainous country; while he, with the rest of his forces, returned to Emmaus, whence he came down through the country of Samaria, and hard by the city, by others called Neapolis, [or Sichem,] but by the people of that country Mabortha, to Corea, where he pitched his camp, on the second day of the month Desius [Sivan]; and on the day following he came to Jericho; on which day Trajan, one of his commanders, joined him with the forces he brought out of Perea, all the places beyond Jordan being subdued already.
2. Hereupon a great multitude prevented their approach, and came out of Jericho, and fled to those mountainous parts that lay over against Jerusalem, while that part which was left behind was in a great measure destroyed; they also found the city desolate. It is situated in a plain; but a naked and barren mountain, of a very great length, hangs over it, which extends itself to the land about Scythopolis northward, but as far as the country of Sodom, and the utmost limits of the lake Asphaltites, southward. This mountain is all of it very uneven and uninhabited, by reason of its barrenness: there is an opposite mountain that is situated over against it, on the other side of Jordan; this last begins at Julias, and the northern quarters, and extends itself southward as far as Somorrhon, 13 which is the bounds of Petra, in Arabia. In this ridge of mountains there is one called the Iron Mountain, that runs in length as far as Moab. Now the region that lies in the middle between these ridges of mountains is called the Great Plain; it reaches from the village Ginnabris, as far as the lake Asphaltites; its length is two hundred and thirty furlongs, and its breadth a hundred and twenty, and it is divided in the midst by Jordan. It hath two lakes in it, that of Asphaltites, and that of Tiberias, whose natures are opposite to each other; for the former is salt and unfruitful, but that of Tiberias is sweet and fruitful. This plain is much burnt up in summer time, and, by reason of the extraordinary heat, contains a very unwholesome air; it is all destitute of water excepting the river Jordan, which water of Jordan is the occasion why those plantations of palm trees that are near its banks are more flourishing, and much more fruitful, as are those that are remote from it not so flourishing, or fruitful.
3. Notwithstanding which, there is a fountain by Jericho, that runs plentifully, and is very fit for watering the ground; it arises near the old city, which Joshua, the son of Naue, the general of the Hebrews, took the first of all the cities of the land of Canaan, by right of war. The report is, that this fountain, at the beginning, caused not only the blasting of the earth and the trees, but of the children born of women, and that it was entirely of a sickly and corruptive nature to all things whatsoever; but that it was made gentle, and very wholesome and fruitful, by the prophet Elisha. This prophet was familiar with Elijah, and was his successor, who, when he once was the guest of the people at Jericho, and the men of the place had treated him very kindly, he both made them amends as well as the country, by a lasting favor; for he went out of the city to this fountain, and threw into the current an earthen vessel full of salt; after which he stretched out his righteous hand unto heaven, and, pouring out a mild drink-offering, he made this supplication, That the current might be mollified, and that the veins of fresh water might be opened; that God also would bring into the place a more temperate and fertile air for the current, and would bestow upon the people of that country plenty of the fruits of the earth, and a succession of children; and that this prolific water might never fail them, while they continued to be righteous. To these prayers Elisha 14 joined proper operations of his hands, after a skillful manner, and changed the fountain; and that water, which had been the occasion of barrenness and famine before, from that time did supply a numerous posterity, and afforded great abundance to the country. Accordingly, the power of it is so great in watering the ground, that if it do but once touch a country, it affords a sweeter nourishment than other waters do, when they lie so long upon them, till they are satiated with them. For which reason, the advantage gained from other waters, when they flow in great plenty, is but small, while that of this water is great when it flows even in little quantities. Accordingly, it waters a larger space of ground than any other waters do, and passes along a plain of seventy furlongs long, and twenty broad; wherein it affords nourishment to those most excellent gardens that are thick set with trees. There are in it many sorts of palm trees that are watered by it, different from each other in taste and name; the better sort of them, when they are pressed, yield an excellent kind of honey, not much inferior in sweetness to other honey. This country withal produces honey from bees; it also bears that balsam which is the most precious of all the fruits in that place, cypress trees also, and those that bear myrobalanum; so that he who should pronounce this place to be divine would not be mistaken, wherein is such plenty of trees produced as are very rare, and of the must excellent sort. And indeed, if we speak of those other fruits, it will not be easy to light on any climate in the habitable earth that can well be compared to it, what is here sown comes up in such clusters; the cause of which seems to me to be the warmth of the air, and the fertility of the waters; the warmth calling forth the sprouts, and making them spread, and the moisture making every one of them take root firmly, and supplying that virtue which it stands in need of in summer time. Now this country is then so sadly burnt up, that nobody cares to come at it; and if the water be drawn up before sun-rising, and after that exposed to the air, it becomes exceeding cold, and becomes of a nature quite contrary to the ambient air; as in winter again it becomes warm; and if you go into it, it appears very gentle. The ambient air is here also of so good a temperature, that the people of the country are clothed in linen-only, even when snow covers the rest of Judea. This place is one hundred and fifty furlongs from Jerusalem, and sixty from Jordan. The country, as far as Jerusalem, is desert and stony; but that as far as Jordan and the lake Asphaltites lies lower indeed, though it be equally desert and barren. But so much shall suffice to have said about Jericho, and of the great happiness of its situation.
4. The nature of the lake Asphaltites is also worth describing. It is, as I have said already, bitter and unfruitful. It is so light [or thick] that it bears up the heaviest things that are thrown into it; nor is it easy for any one to make things sink therein to the bottom, if he had a mind so to do. Accordingly, when Vespasian went to see it, he commanded that some who could not swim should have their hands tied behind them, and be thrown into the deep, when it so happened that they all swam as if a wind had forced them upwards. Moreover, the change of the color of this lake is wonderful, for it changes its appearance thrice every day; and as the rays of the sun fall differently upon it, the light is variously reflected. However, it casts up black clods of bitumen in many parts of it; these swim at the top of the water, and resemble both in shape and bigness headless bulls; and when the laborers that belong to the lake come to it, and catch hold of it as it hangs together, they draw it into their ships; but when the ship is full, it is not easy to cut off the rest, for it is so tenacious as to make the ship hang upon its clods till they set it loose with the menstrual blood of women, and with urine, to which alone it yields. This bitumen is not only useful for the caulking of ships, but for the cure of men's bodies; accordingly, it is mixed in a great many medicines. The length of this lake is five hundred and eighty furlongs, where it is extended as far as Zoar in Arabia; and its breadth is a hundred and fifty. The country of Sodom borders upon it. It was of old a most happy land, both for the fruits it bore and the riches of its cities, although it be now all burnt up. It is related how, for the impiety of its inhabitants, it was burnt by lightning; in consequence of which there are still the remainders of that Divine fire, and the traces [or shadows] of the five cities are still to be seen, as well as the ashes growing in their fruits; which fruits have a color as if they were fit to be eaten, but if you pluck them with your hands, they dissolve into smoke and ashes. And thus what is related of this land of Sodom hath these marks of credibility which our very sight affords us.
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 be envious of the wicked.
20 For the evil person has no future—
the lamp of the wicked will go out.
Complete Jewish Bible : An English Version of the Tanakh (Old Testament) and B'Rit Hadashah (New Testament)
A Daily Devotional by Oswald Chambers
My Utmost for His Highest
Ministering as Opportunity Surrounds us. If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet, ye also ought to wash one another’s feet. --- John 13:14.
Ministering as opportunity surrounds us does not mean selecting our surroundings, it means being very selectly God’s in any haphazard surroundings which He engineers for us. The characteristics we manifest in our immediate surroundings are indications of what we will be like in other surroundings.
The things that Jesus did were of the most menial and commonplace order, and this is an indication that it takes all God’s power in me to do the most commonplace things in His way. Can I use a towel as He did? Towels and dishes and sandals, all the ordinary sordid things of our lives, reveal more quickly than anything what we are made of. It takes God Almighty Incarnate in us to do the meanest duty as it ought to be done.
“I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.” Watch the kind of people God brings around you, and you will be humiliated to find that this is His way of revealing to you the kind of person you have been to Him. Now, He says, exhibit to that one exactly what I have shown to you.
‘Oh,’ you say, ‘I will do all that when I get out into the foreign field.’ To talk in this way is like trying to produce the munitions of war in the trenches—you will be killed while you are doing it.
We have to go the ‘second mile’ with God. Some of us get played out in the first ten yards, because God compels us to go where we cannot see the way, and we say—‘I will wait till I get nearer the big crisis.’ If we do not do the running steadily in the little ways, we shall do nothing in the crisis.
the Poetry of RS Thomas
Selected poems, 1946-1968
The Maker (Tares)
So he said then: I will make the poem,
I will make it now. He took pencil,
The mind's cartridge, and blank paper,
And drilled his thoughts to the slow beat
Of the blood's drum; and there it formed
On the white surface and went marching
Onward through time, while the spent cities
And dry hearts smoked in its wake.
We might remember the ’60s comedian Flip Wilson whose character was often causing mischief, claiming, “The devil made me do it!” It’s not my fault when I do wrong. Some outside force, Satan, the devil, made me do it.
In ancient Jewish sources, Satan sometimes appears as an actual personality, the chief being who opposes God. The word Satan means “adversary,” that which obstructs, and it has come to symbolize the sum total of the evil forces in the world. Few still believe in Satan as an actual personality—the evil opponent of God—or a force—the symbolic power of evil in the world.
Thus, while the phrase “The devil made me do it” may have been funny in its time, few of us would say that we do wrong because some demon or force compelled us to sin. Quite the contrary: “Satan dances with him until he finishes the sin” seems to imply that the sinner is first dancing, enjoying the good feeling of sin. Only then does the devil join in the celebration.
In psychological terms, we would say, “My id, the internal seat of pleasure, found wrongdoing rewarding. My superego, that part of the personality which restrains my actions, was not strong enough to overcome the powerfully pleasurable feeling that ensued once I started misbehaving.” Therefore, Satan is less a force outside of us than a sense inside of us—the self-deceptive feeling that allows us to keep sinning and enjoying it.
Once we start down the path of doing wrong, it can be very hard to change. Our actions, as immoral and illegal as they may be, can also be quite rewarding and pleasing. This is a twofold reminder: to avoid wrongdoing in the first place so that Satan/the id has less to dance with, and to steer ourselves back to the right path as soon as we discover ourselves veering. In so doing, we will deny the Satan inside the chance to dance with us and to convince us that our misdeeds are a cause for celebration.
In cartoons, a character struggling with a moral dilemma is often depicted as having two little figures on his shoulders, whispering into his ears—an angel on the one side, a devil on the other. “Satan” might be the name that the Rabbis gave to that devilish figure, or that inner voice, which eggs us on to do the wrong thing.
But Satan isn’t always perched on our shoulder or speaking to us from inside the heart. Satan can also appear before us, in the guise of another person, someone we may even recognize, someone who may even be a friend.
A couple of friends are at the mall, checking out the music store. Steve whispers to Howie, “They don’t have one of those electronic sensors at the door. And there’s no security guard. Slip this CD into your coat pocket and walk right out of the store. It’ll be a piece of cake. Nobody will ever know!” Howie is excited by the challenge of getting away with it, but he’s also afraid of what his parents will do if he gets caught. Mostly, he doesn’t want Steve to think he’s afraid. “Come on, let’s do it!” Watch Satan do his little dance.
At a party on a Saturday night, Lauren’s got a bottle of beer in her left hand and something hidden in her closed right one. “Melissa! Look what I got for us! It cost me thirty dollars a pill, one for you, and one for me. Here take it. Swallow it down with this beer. You won’t believe how this will make you feel!” Melissa is worried. “Is it safe?” “Of course it’s safe. I’ve done it a couple of times, and it was unbelievable. About half the people at the party are doing it. Stop worrying. It’ll be fine!” Watch Satan do her little dance.
A bunch of kids sit around in a car after midnight thinking of things to do. “Hey, why don’t we drive over to the high school and toss some rocks at the third-floor windows? One point for distance, two points for accuracy. Whaddya say?” “I don’t know … Don’t the cops drive in and out of there to check for vandals?” “We’ll leave the car around the corner and we’ll cut through the bushes by the basketball court.” “What if they have a security camera on the building?” “We can pull our T-shirts over our faces. They’ll never be able to identify us! Come on! It’ll be a blast!” Watch the Satans do their little dance.
And what about when Satan asks us to dance?
Do not be arrogant, but be afraid. --- Romans 11:20.
Did the disciples forsake Christ, though they had such strong resolutions never to do it? (Works of John Flavel (6 Vol. Set)) Then we see that self-confidence is a sin too likely to the best of people. They little thought their hearts would have proved so cowardly when they were tried. “Even if all fall away,” said Peter, “I will not” (Mark 14:29). Good man; he resolved honestly, but he did not know what a feather he would be in the wind of temptation, if God once left him to his own fears.
Little reason have the best of saints to depend on their inherent grace, let their stock be as large as it will. Every merit without the prop of divine preservation is but a weight that tends to a fall. What becomes of the stream if the fountain supply it not? The best people will show themselves but human if God leave them. He who has set them up must also keep them. It is safer to be a humble worm than a proud angel. Adam had more favorable opportunity to maintain his station than any of you. For though he were left to the liberty of his own will and though he was created upright and had no inherent corruption to endanger him, yet he fell.
And shall we be self-confident, after such instances of human frailty! “Do not be arrogant, but be afraid,” when you have considered well the examples of Noah, Lot, David, and Hezekiah, men famous and renowned in their generations who all fell by temptations, and when you would think they had never been better provided to cope with them. Lot fell soon after the Lord had thrust him out of Sodom and his eyes had seen hell, as it were, rained on them out of heaven; Noah, immediately after God’s wonderful preservation of him in the ark when he saw a world of men and women perishing in the floods for their sins; David, after the Lord had settled the kingdom on him, which for sin he took from Saul, and given him rest in his house. Hezekiah was just up from a great sickness in which the Lord wrought a wonderful salvation for him. Did such people and at such times, when one would think no temptations should have prevailed, fall, and fall so dishonorably? Then, “if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall” (1 Cor. 10:12). O do not be arrogant, but be afraid.
--- John Flavel
Spunk September 11
Isaac Watts faced criticism when he began writing hymns, for it was believed only Psalms should be sung in worship. But the little songwriter had inherited spunk from his grandfather and father.
Grandfather Thomas Watts, commander of a British warship, was attacked once by a tiger in India. Running into the river, he turned to see the tiger swimming after him. He faced the creature, gripped its head, and forced it under water until it drowned.
Isaac senior fought a different kind of tiger—persecution. He rejected the state Church of England and joined British Nonconformists. That was considered treasonous, and he was thrown into Southampton Jail, a huge, gloomy place where Dissenters languished in iron shackles. He emerged from prison in time to marry Sarah Tauton on September 11, 1673, but the new couple was under constant watch. The stress caused Sarah to prematurely give birth to a weak, stunted baby, Isaac junior. Within weeks, the senior Watts was jailed again. He found comfort in his pocket Bible, but his wife worried endlessly. Every day she crept to the prison, sat on a stone outside, nursed her baby, and wept.
Watts was released at last, and a few years passed. One Morning young Isaac “tittered” during family prayers. His father sternly demanded an explanation. “Because,” said the spunky boy, pointing to a bell rope, “I saw a mouse running up that; and the thought came into my mind, There was a mouse for want of stairs / Ran up a rope to say his prayers.” Isaac Senior, unimpressed, reached for the rod. The boy fell to his knees, begging and crying, “Oh father, father, pity take / And I will no more verses make.” But he did make more verses.
When sometime later he grumbled about the music in his church, his father told him to write his own songs if he thought he could do better than King David. So he wrote Joy to the World, O God Our Help in Ages Past, I Sing the Mighty Power of God, When I Survey the Wondrous Cross, and 600 others.
He became the father of English hymns.
With thankful hearts,
sing Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God.
Whatever you say or do
should be done in the name of the Lord Jesus.
--- Colossians 3:16b,17a.
Daily Readings / CHARLES H. SPURGEON
Morning - September 11
"Be ye separate." --- 2 Corinthians 6:17.
The Christian, while in the world, is not to be of the world. He should be distinguished from it in the great object of his life. To him, “to live,” should be “Christ.” Whether he eats, or drinks, or whatever he does, he should do all to God’s glory. You may lay up treasure; but lay it up in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, where thieves break not through nor steal. You may strive to be rich; but be it your ambition to be “rich in faith,” and good works. You may have pleasure; but when you are merry, sing Psalms and make melody in your hearts to the Lord. In your spirit, as well as in your aim, you should differ from the world. Waiting humbly before God, always conscious of his presence, delighting in communion with him, and seeking to know his will, you will prove that you are of heavenly race. And you should be separate from the world in your actions. If a thing be right, though you lose by it, it must be done; if it be wrong, though you would gain by it, you must scorn the sin for your Master’s sake. You must have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them. Walk worthy of your high calling and dignity. Remember, O Christian, that thou art a son of the King of kings. Therefore, keep thyself unspotted from the world. Soil not the fingers which are soon to sweep celestial strings; let not these eyes become the windows of lust which are soon to see the King in his beauty—let not those feet be defiled in miry places, which are soon to walk the golden streets—let not those hearts be filled with pride and bitterness which are ere long to be filled with heaven, and to overflow with ecstatic joy.
Then rise my soul! and soar away,
Above the thoughtless crowd;
Above the pleasures of the gay,
And splendours of the proud;
Up where eternal beauties bloom,
And pleasures all divine;
Where wealth, that never can consume,
And endless glories shine.
Evening - September 11
“Lead me, O Lord, in thy righteousness because of mine enemies.”
--- Psalms 5:8.
Very bitter is the enmity of the world against the people of Christ. Men will forgive a thousand faults in others, but they will magnify the most trivial offence in the followers of Jesus. Instead of vainly regretting this, let us turn it to account, and since so many are watching for our halting, let this be a special motive for walking very carefully before God. If we live carelessly, the lynx-eyed world will soon see it, and with its hundred tongues, it will spread the story, exaggerated and emblazoned by the zeal of slander. They will shout triumphantly. “Aha! So would we have it! See how these Christians act! They are hypocrites to a man.” Thus will much damage be done to the cause of Christ, and much insult offered to his name. The cross of Christ is in itself an offence to the world; let us take heed that we add no offence of our own. It is “to the Jews a stumblingblock”: let us mind that we put no stumblingblocks where there are enough already. “To the Greeks it is foolishness”: let us not add our folly to give point to the scorn with which the worldly-wise deride the Gospel. How jealous should we be of ourselves! How rigid with our consciences! In the presence of adversaries who will misrepresent our best deeds, and impugn our motives where they cannot censure our actions, how circumspect should we be! Pilgrims travel as suspected persons through Vanity Fair. Not only are we under surveillance, but there are more spies than we know of. The espionage is everywhere, at home and abroad. If we fall into the enemies’ hands we may sooner expect generosity from a wolf, or mercy from a fiend, than anything like patience with our infirmities from men who spice their infidelity towards God with scandals against his people. O Lord, lead us ever, lest our enemies trip us up!
O FOR A THOUSAND TONGUES
Charles Wesley, 1707–1788
Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. Praise the Lord. --- Psalm 150:6
Soon after their graduation from Oxford University, John and Charles Wesley decided to sail to America, the new world, to try to minister to the rough colonists under General Oglethorpe in Georgia and to evangelize the Indians. The Wesleys soon became disillusioned with the situation there, however, and after a short time returned to England.
As they crossed the Atlantic, John and Charles were much impressed by a group of devout Moravians, who seemed to have such spiritual depth and vitality as well as genuine missionary zeal. After returning to London, the Wesleys met with a group of Moravians in the Aldersgate Hall. Here in May, 1738, both brothers had a spiritual “heart-warming experience,” realizing that even though they had been so zealous in religious activity, neither had ever personally known God’s forgiveness or real joy. From that time on their ministry displayed a new dimension of spiritual power.
“O for a Thousand Tongues” was written by Charles in 1749 on the 11th anniversary of his Aldersgate conversion experience. It was inspired by a chance remark of an influential Moravian leader named Peter Bohler, who expressed his spiritual joy in this way: “Oh, Brother Wesley, the Lord has done so much for my life. Had I a thousand tongues, I would praise Christ Jesus with every one of them!”
These words of personal testimony by Charles Wesley have provided a moving vehicle of worship for God’s people for more than two centuries:
O for a thousand tongues to sing my great Redeemer’s praise, the glories of my God and King, the triumphs of His grace.
My gracious Master and my God, assist me to proclaim, to spread thru all the earth abroad the honors of Thy name.
Jesus! the name that charms our fears, that bids our sorrows cease, ’tis music in the sinner’s ears; ’tis life and health and peace.
He breaks the pow’r of canceled sin; He sets the pris’ner free. His blood can make the foulest clean … His blood availed for me.
Hear Him, ye deaf, His praise, ye dumb, your loosened tongues employ; ye blind, behold your Savior come and leap ye lame, for joy.
Glory to God and praise and love be ever, ever giv’n by saints below and saints above … the Church in earth and heav’n.
For Today: Psalm 96:1–4; 103:1–4; 145:2, 3; Romans 14:17
Let this hymn be the desire of your heart as you sing this message ---
DISCOURSE IV - ON SPIRITUAL WORSHIP
II. . Consideration by way of motive. To have our spirits off from God in worship is a bad sign: it was not so in innocence. The heart of Adam could cleave to God: the law of God was engraven upon him, he could apply himself to the fulfilling of it without any twinkling. There was no folly and vanity in his mind, no independency in his thoughts, no duty was his burden; for there was in him a proneness to, and a delight in, all the duties of worship. It is the fall hath distempered us; and the more unwieldiness there is in our sphits, the more carnal our affections are in worship, the more evidence there is of the strength of that revolted state.
1. It argues much corruption in the heart. As by the eructations of the stomach, we may judge of the windiness and foulness of it; so, by the inordinate motions of our minds and hearts, we may judge of the weakness of its complexion. A strength of sin is evidenced by the eruptions and ebullitions of it in worship, when they are more sudden, numerous, and vigorous than the motions of grace. When the heart is apt, like tinder, to catch fire from Satan, it is a sign of much combustible matter suitable to his temptation. Were not corruption strong, the soul could ’not turn so easily from God when it is in his presence, and hath an advantageous opportunity to create a fear and awe of God in it. Such base fruit could not sprout up so suddenly, were there not much sap and juice in the root of sin. What communion with a living root can be evidenced without exercises of an inward life? That spirit, which is a well of living waters in a gracious heart, will be especially springing up when it is before God.
2. It shows much affection to earthly things, and little to heavenly. There must needs be an inordinate affection to earthly things, when, upon every slight solicitation, we can part with God, and turn the back upon a service glorious for him and advantageous for ourselves, to wed our hearts to some idle fancy that signifies nothing. How can we be said to entertain God in our affections, when we give him not the precedency in our understandings, but let every trifle jostle the sense of God out of our minds? Were our hearts fully determined to spiritual things, such vanities could not seat themselves in our understandings, and divide our spirits from God. Were our hearts balanced with a love to God, the world could never steal our hearts so much from his worship, but his worship would draw our hearts to it. It shows abase neutrality in the greatest concernments; a halting between God and Baal; a contrariety between affection and conscience, when natural conscience presses a man to duties of worship, and his other affections pull him back, draw him to carnal objects, and make him slight that whereby he may honor God. God argues the profaneness of the Jews’ hearts from the wickedness they brought into his house, and acted there (Jer. 23:11): “Yea, in my house,” that is, my worship, “I found their wickedness,” saith the Lord. Carnality in worship is a kind of an idolatrous frame; when the heart is renewed, idols are cast to the moles and the bats (Isa. 2:20).
3. It shows much hypocrisy to have our spirits off from God. The mouth speaks, and the carriage pretends what the heart doth not think; there is a dissent of the heart from the pretence of the body. Instability is a sure sign of hypocrisy. Double thoughts argue a double heart. The wicked are compared to chaff (Psalm 1:4), for the uncertain and various motions of their minds, by the least wind of fancy. The least motion of a carnal object diverts the spirit from God, as the scent of carrion doth the raven from the fight it was set upon. The people of God are called God’s spouse, and God calls himself their husband; whereby is noted the most intimate union of the soul with God; and that there ought to be the highest love and affection to him, and faithfulness in his worship; but when the heart doth start from him in worship, it is a sign of the unsteadfastness of it with God, and a disrelish of any communion with him; it is, as God complains of the Israelites, a going a whoring after our own imaginations. As grace respects God as the object of worship, so it looks most upon God in approaching to him. Where there is a likeness and love, there is a desire of converse and intimacy; if there be no spiritual entwining about God in our worship, it is a sign there is no likeness to him, no true sense of him, no renewed image of God in us; every living image will move strongly to join itself with its original copy, and be glad, with Jacob, to sit steadily in those chariots that shall convey him to his beloved Joseph.
III. Consider the danger of a carnal worship.
1. We lose the comfort of worship. The soul is a great gainer when it offers a spiritual worship, and as great a loser when it is unfaithful with God. Treachery and perfidiousness hinder commerce among men; so doth hypocrisy in its own nature communion with God. God never promised anything to the carcass, but to the spirit of worship. God hath no obligation upon him, by any word of his, to reward us with himself, when we perform it not to himself; when we give an outside worship, we have only the outside of an ordinance; we can expect no kernel, when we give God only the shell: he that only licks the outside of the glass, can never be refreshed with the rich cordial enclosed within. A cold and lazy formality will make God to withdraw the light of his countenance, and not shine with any delightful communications upon our souls; but if we come before him with a liveliness of affections, and steadiness of heart, he will draw the veil, and cause his glory to display itself before us. An humble praying Christian, and a warm, affectionate Christian in worship, will soon find a God who is delighted with such frames, and cannot long withhold himself from the soul. When our hearts are inflamed with love to him in worship, it is a preparation to some act of love on his part, whereby he intends further to gratify us. When John was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, that is, in spiritual employment, and meditation, and other duties, he had that great revelation of what should happen to the church in all ages (Rev. 1:10); his being in the Spirit, intimates his ordinary course on that day, and not any extraordinary act in him, though it was followed with an extraordinary discovery of God to him; when he was thus engaged, “he heard a voice behind him.” God doth not require of us spirituality in worship to advantage himself, but that we might be prepared to be advantaged by him. If we have a clear and well-disposed eye, it is not a benefit to the sun, but fits us to receive benefits from his beams. Worship is an act that perfects our own souls; they are then most widened by spiritual frames, to receive the influence of divine blessings, as an eye most opened receives the fruit of the sun’s light better than the eye that is shut. The communications of God are more or less, according as our spiritual frames are more or less in our worship; God will not give his blessings to unsuitable hearts. What a nasty vessel is a carnal heart for a spiritual communication! The chief end of every duty enjoined by God, is to have communion with him; and therefore it is called a drawing near to God; it is impossible, therefore, that the outward part of any duty can answer the end of God in his institution. It is not a bodily appearance or gesture whereby men can have communion with God, but by the impressions of the heart upon God; without this, all the rich streams of grace will run beside us, and the growth of the soul be hindered and impaired. A “diligent hand makes rich,” saith the wise man; a diligent heart in spiritual worship, brings in rich incomes to the humble and spiritual soul.
2. It renders the worship not only unacceptable, but abominable to God. It makes our gold to become dross, it soils our duties, and bespots our souls. A carnal and unsteady frame shows an indifferency of spirit at best; and lukewarmness is as ungrateful to God, as heavy and nauseous meat is to the stomach; he “spews them out of his mouth” (Rev. 3:16). As our gracious God Both overlook infirmities where intentions are good, and endeavors serious and strong; so he loathes the services where the frames are stark naught (Psalm 66:118): “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear my prayer.” Lukewarm and indifferent services stink in the nostrils of God. The heart seems to loathe God when it starts from him upon every occasion, when it is unwilling to employ itself about, and stick close to him: and can God be pleased with such a frame? The more of the heart and spirit is in any service, the more real goodness there is in it, and the more savory it is to God; the less of the heart and spirit, the less of goodness, and the more nauseous to God, who loves righteousness and “truth in the inward parts” (Psalm 51:6). And therefore infinite goodness and holiness cannot but hate worship presented to him with deceitful, carnal, and flitting affections; they must be more nauseous to God, than a putrefied carcass can be to man; they are the profanings of that which should be the habitation of the Spirit; they make the spirit, the seat of duty, a filthy dunghill; and are as loathsome to God, as money-changers in the temple were to our Saviour. We see the evil of carnal frames, and the necessity and benefit of spiritual frames: for further help in this last, let us practise these following directions:
1. Keep up spiritual frames out of worship. To avoid low affections, we must keep our hearts as much as we can in a settled elevation. If we admit unworthy dispositions at one time, we shall not easily be rid of them in another; as he that would not be bitten with gnats in the night, must keep his windows shut in the day: when they are once entered, it is not easy to expel them; in which respect, one adviseth to be such out of worship as we would be in worship. If we mix spiritual affections with our worldly employments, worldly affections will not mingle themselves so easily with our heavenly engagements. If our hearts be spiritual in our outward calling, they will scarce be carnal in our religious service. If “we walk in the Spirit, we shall not fulfil the lusts of the flesh” (Gal. 5:16). A spiritual walk in the day will hinder carnal lustings in worship. The fire was to be kept alive upon the altar, when sacrifices were not offered, from morning till night, from night till morning, as well as in the very time of sacrifice. A spiritual life and vigor out of worship would render it at its season sweet and easy, and preserve a spontaneity and preparedness to it, and make it both natural and pleasant to us. Anything that doth unhinge and discompose our spirits, is inconsistent with religious services, which are to be performed with the greatest sedateness and gravity. All irregular passions disturb the serenity of the spirit, and open the door for Satan: saith the apostle (Eph. 4:26, 27), “Let not the sun go down upon your wrath; neither give place to the devil.” Where wrath breaks the lock, the devil will quickly be over the threshold; and though they be allayed, yet they leave the heart sometime after, like the sea rolling and swelling after the storm is ceased. Mixture with ill company leaves a tincture upon us in worship. Ephraim’s allying himself with the Gentiles, bred an indifferency in religion (Hos. 7:8): “Ephraim hath mixed himself with the people; Ephraim is a cake not turned:” it will make our hearts, and consequently our services, half dough, as well as half baked; these and the like, make the Holy Spirit withdraw himself, and then the soul is like a windbound vessel, and can make no way. When the sun departs from us, it carries its beams away with it; then “doth darkness spread itself over the earth, and the beasts of the forests creep out” (Psalm 104:20). When the Spirit withdraws awhile frorn a good man, it carries away (though not habitual, yet) much of the exciting and assisting grace; and then carnal dispositions perk up themselves from the bosom of natural corruption. To be spiritual in worship, we must bar the door at other times against that which is contrary to it; as he that would not be infected with a contagious disease, carries some preservative about with him, and inures himself to good scents. To this end, be much in secret ejaculations to God; these are the purest flights of the soul, that have more of fervor and less of carnality; they preserve a liveliness in the spirit, and make it more fit to perform solemn stated worship with greater freedom and activity; a constant use of this would make our whole lives, lives of worship. As frequent sinful acts strengthen habits of sin, so frequent religious acts strengthen habits of grace.
2. Excite and exercise particularly a love to God, and dependence on him. Love is a commanding affection, a uniting grace; it draws all the faculties of the soul to one centre. The soul that loves God, when it hath to do with him, is bound to the beloved object; it can mind nothing else during such impressions. When the affection is set to the worship of God, everything the soul hath will be bestowed upon it; as David’s disposition was to the temple (1 Chron. 29:3). Carnal frames, like the fowls, will be lighting upon the sacrifice, but not when it is inflamed; though the scent of the flesh invite them, yet the heat of the fire drives them to their distance. A flaming love will singe the flies that endeavor to interrupt and disturb us. The happiness of heaven consists in a full attraction of the soul to God, by his glorious influence upon it; there will be such a diffusion of his goodness throughout the souls of the blessed, as will unite the affections perfectly to him; these affections which are scattered here, will be there gathered into one flame, moving to him, and centering in him: therefore, the more of a heavenly frame possesses our affections here, the more settled and uniform will our hearts be in all their motions to God, and operations about him. Excite a dependence on him: (Prov. 16:3) “Commit thy works to the Lord, and thy thoughts shall be established.” Let us go out in God’s strength, and not in our own; vain is the help of man in anything, and vain is the help of the heart. It is through God only we can do valiantly in spiritual concerns as well as temporal; the want of this makes but slight impressions upon the spirit.
3. Nourish right conceptions of the majesty of God in your minds. Let us consider that we are drawing to God, the most amiable object, the best of beings, wcrthy of infinite honor, and highly meriting the highest affections we can give; a God that made the world by a word, that upholds the great frame of heaven and earth; a Majesty above the conceptions of angels; who uses not his power to strike us to our deserved punishment, but his love and bounty to allure us; a God that gave all the creatures to serve us, and can, in a trice, make them as much our enemies as he hath now made them our servants. Let us view him in his greatness, and in his goodness, that our hearts may have a true value of the worship of so great a majesty, and count it the most worthy employment with all diligence to attend upon him. When we have a fear of God, it will make our worship serious; when we have a joy in God, it will make our worship durable. Our affections will be raised when we represent God in the most reverential, endearing, and obliging circumstances. We honor the majesty of God, when we consider him with due reverence according to the greatness and perfection of his works, and in this reverence of his majesty doth worship chiefly consist. Low thoughts of God will make low frames in us before him. If we thought God an infinite glorious Spirit, how would our hearts be lower than our knees in his presence! How humbly, how believingly pleading is the Psalmist, when he considers God to be without comparison in the heavens; to whom none of the sons of the mighty can be likened; when there was none like to him in strength and faithfulness round about (Psalm 89:8–8). We should have also deep impressions of the omniscience of God, and remember we have to deal with a God that searcheth the heart and trieth the reins, to whom the most secret temper is as visible as the loudest words are audible; that though man judges by outward expressions, God judges by inward affections. As the law of God regulates the inward frames of the heart, so the eye of God pitches upon the inward intentions of the soul. If God were visibly present with us, should we not approach to him with strong affections, summon our spirits to attend upon him, behave ourselves modestly before him? Let us consider he is as really present with us, as if he were visible to us; let us, therefore, preserve a strong sense of the presence of God. No man, but one out of his wits, when he were in the presence of a prince, and making a speech to him, would break off at every period, and run after the catching of butterflies. Remember in all worship you are before the Lord, to whom all things are open and naked.
4. Let us take heed of inordinate desires after the world. As the world steals away a man’s heart from the word, so it doth from all other worship; “It chokes the word” (Matt. 13:27); it stifles all the spiritual breathings after God in every duty; the edge of the soul is bunted by it, and made too dull for such sublime exercises. The apostle’s rule in prayer, when he joins “sobriety with watching unto prayer” (1 Pet. 4:7), is of concern in all worship, sobriety in the pursuit and use of all worldly things. A man drunk with worldly fumes cannot watch, cannot be heavenly, affectionate, spiritual in service. There is a magnetic force in the earth to hinder our flights to heaven. Birds, when they take their first flights from the earth, have more flutterings of their wings, than when they are mounted further in the air, and got more without the sphere of the earth’s attractiveness: the motion of their wings is more steady, that you can perceive them stir; they move like a ship with a full gale. The word is a clog upon the soul, and a bar to spiritual frames; it is as hard to elevate the heart to God in the midst of a hurry of worldly affairs, as it is difficult to meditate when we are near a great noise of waters falling from a precipice, or in the midst of a volley of muskets. Thick clayey affections bemire the heart, and make it unfit for such high flights it is to take in worship; therefore, get your hearts clear from worldly thoughts and desires, if you would be more spiritual in worship.
5. Let us be deeply sensible of our present wants, and the supplies we may meet with in worship. Cold affections to the things we would have will grow cooler; weakness of desire for the communications in worship, will freeze our hearts at the time of worship, and make way for vain and foolish diversions. A beggar that is ready to perish, and knows he is next door to ruin, will not slightly and dully beg an alms, and will not be diverted from his importunity by every slight call, or the moving of an atom in the air. Is it pardon we would have? let us apprehend the blackness of sin, with the aggravations of it as it respects God; let us be deeply sensible of the want of pardon and worth of mercy, and get your affections into such a frame as a condemned man would do; let us consider, that as we are now at the throne of God’s grace, we shall shortly be at the bar of God’s justice; and if the soul should be forlorn there, how fixedly and earnestly would it plead for mercy! Let us endeavor to stir up the same affections now, which we have seen some dying men have, and which we suppose despairing souls would have done at God’s tribunal.
We must be sensible that the life or death of our souls depends upon worship. Would we not be ashamed to be ridiculous in our carriage while we are eating; and shall we not be ashamed to be cold or garish before God, when the salvation of our souls, as well as the honor of God, is concerned? If we did see the heaps of sins, the eternity of punishment due to them; if we did see an angry and offended Judge; if we did see the riches of mercy, the glorious outgoings of God in the sanctuary, the blessed doles he gives out to men when they spiritually attend upon him, both the one and the other would make us perform our duties humbly, sincerely, earnestly, and affectionately, and wait upon him with our whole souls, to have misery averted, and mercy bestowed. Let our sense of this be encouraged by the consideration of our Saviour presenting his merits; with what affection doth he present his merits, his blood shed upon the cross, now in heaven? And shall our hearts be cold and frozen, flitting and unsteady, when his affections are so much concerned? Christ doth not present any man’s case and duties without a sense of his wants; and shall we have none of our own? Let me add this; let us affect our hearts with a sense of what supplies we have met with in former worship; the delightful remembrance of what converse we have had with God in former worship would spiritualize our hearts for the present worship. Had Peter had a view of Christ’s glory in the mount fresh in his thoughts, he would not so easily have turned his back upon his Master, nor would the Israelites have been at leisure for their idolatry, had they preserved the sense of the majesty of God discovered in his late thunders from Mount Sinai.
6. If anything intrudes that may choke the worship, cast it speedily out. We cannot hinder Satan and our own corruption from presenting coolers to us, but we may hinder the success of them; we cannot hinder the gnats from buzzing about us when we are in our business, but we may prevent them from settling upon us. A man that is running on a considerable errand, will shun all unnecessary discourse, that may make him forget or loiter in his business. What though there may be something offered that is good in itself, yet if it hath a tendency to despoil God of his honor, and ourselves of the spiritual intentness in worship, send it away. Those that weed a field of corn, examine not the nature and particular virtues of the weeds, but consider only how they choke the corn, to which the native juice of the soil is designed.
Consider what you are about; and if anything interpose that may divert you, or cool your affections in your present worship, cast it out.
7. As to private worship, let us lay hold of the most melting opportunities and frames. When we find our hearts in a more than ordinary spiritual frame, let us look upon it as a call from God to attend him; such impressions and notions are God’s voice, inviting us into communion with him in some particular act of worship, and promising us some success in it. When the Psalmist had a secret motion to “seek God’s face” (Psalm 27:8), and complied with it, the issue is the encouragement of his heart, which breaks out into an exhortation to others to be of good courage, and wait on the Lord (v. 13, 14): “Wait on the Lord, be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thy heart; wait, I say, on the Lord.” One blow will do more on the iron when it is hot, than a hundred when it is cold; melted metals may be stamped with any impression; but, once hardened, will with difficulty be brought into the figure we intend.
8. Let us examine ourselves at the end of every act of worship, and chide ourselves for any carnality we perceive in them. Let us take a review of them, and examine the reason, why art thou so low and carnal, O my soul? as David did of his disquietedness (Psalm 42:6): “Why art thou cast down, O my soul, and why art thou disquieted within me?” If any unworthy frames have surprised us in worship, let us seek them out after worship; call them to the bar; make an exact scrutiny into the causes of them, that we may prevent their incursions another time; let our pulses beat quick by way of anger and indignation against them; this would be a repairing what hath been amiss; otherwise they may grow, and clog an afterworship more than they did a former. Daily examination is an antidote against the temptations of the following day, and constant examination of ourselves after duty is a preservative against vain encroachments in following duties; and upon the finding them out, let us apply the blood of Christ by faith for our cure, and draw strength from the death of Christ for the conquest of them, and let us also be humbled for them. God lifts up the humble; when we are humbled for our carnal frames in one duty, we shall find ourselves by the grace of God more elevated in the next.
Martin Luther | (1483-1546)
The Bondage of the Will or Christian Classics Ethereal Library
Sect. CXLVII. — ANOTHER thunder-bolt is this — The apostle saith, that the righteousness of God is manifested and avails, “unto all and upon all them that believe” in Christ: and that, “there is no difference.” (Rom. iii. 21-22). —
Here again, he divides in the clearest words, the whole race of men into two distinct divisions. To the believing he gives the righteousness of God, but takes it from the unbelieving. Now, no one, I suppose, will be madman enough to doubt, whether or not the power or endeavour of “Free-will” be a something that is not faith in Christ Jesus. Paul then denies that any thing which is not this faith, is righteous before God. And if it be not righteous before God, it must be sin. For there is with God no medium between righteousness and sin, which can be as it were a neuter — neither righteousness nor sin. Otherwise the whole argument of Paul would amount to nothing: for it proceeds wholly upon this distinct division — that whatever is done and carried on by men, must be in the sight of God, either righteousness or sin: righteousness, if done in faith; sin, if faith be wanting. With men, indeed, things pass thus. — All cases in which men, in their intercourse with each other, neither owe any thing as a due, nor do any thing as a free benefit, are called medium and neuter. But here the ungodly man sins against God, whether he eat, or whether he drink, or whatever he do; because, he abuses the creature of God by his ungodliness and perpetual ingratitude, and does not, at any one moment, give glory to God from his heart.
Sect. CXLVIII. — THIS also, is no powerless thunder-bolt where the apostle says, “All have sinned and are without the glory of God: for there is no difference.” (Rom. iii. 23).
What, I pray you, could be spoken more clearly? Produce one of your “Free-will” workmen, and say to me — does this man, sin in this his endeavour? If he does not sin, why does not Paul except him? Why does he include him also without difference? Surely he that saith “all,” excepts no one in any place, at any time, in any work or endeavour. If therefore you except any man, for any kind of devoted desire or work, — you make Paul a liar; because he includes that “Free-will” — workman or striver, among all the rest, and in all that he saith concerning them; whereas, Paul should have had some respect for this person, and not have numbered him among the general herd of sinners!
There is also that part, where he saith, that they are “without the glory of God.”
You may understand “the glory of God” here two ways, actively and passively. For Paul writes thus from his frequent use of Hebraisms. “The glory of God,” understood actively, is that glory by which God glories in us; understood passively, it is that glory by which we glory in God. But it seems to me proper, to understand it now, passively. So, “the faith of Christ,” is, according to the Latin, the faith which Christ has; but, according to the Hebrew, “the faith of Christ,” is the faith which we have in Christ. So, also, “the righteousness of God,” signifies, according to the Latin, the righteousness which God has; but according to the Hebrews, it signifies the righteousness which we have from God and before God. Thus also “the glory of God,” we understand according to the Latin, not according to the Hebrew; and receive it as signifying, the glory which we have from God and before God; which may be called, our glory in God. And that man glories in God who knows, to a certainty, that God has a favour unto him, and deigns to look upon him with kind regard; and that, whatever he does pleases God, and what does not please him, is borne with by Him and pardoned.
If therefore, the endeavour or desire of “Free-will” be not sin, but good before God, it can certainly glory; and in that glorying, say with confidence, — This pleases God, God favours this, God looks upon and accepts this, or at least, bears with it and pardons it. For this is the glorying of the faithful in God: and they that have not this, are rather confounded before God. But Paul here denies that these men have this; saying, that they are all entirely without this glory.
This also experience itself proves. — Put the question to all the exercisers of “Free-will” to a man, and see if you can shew me one, who can honestly, and from his heart, say of any one of his devoted efforts and endeavours, — This pleases God! If you can bring forward a single one, I am ready to acknowledge myself overthrown, and to cede to you the palm. But I know there is not one to be found. And if this glory be wanting, so that the conscience dares not say, to a certainty, and with confidence, — this pleases God, it is certain that it does not please God. For as a man believes, so it is unto him: because, he does not, to a certainty, believe that he pleases God; which, nevertheless, it is necessary to believe; for to doubt of the favour of God, is the very sin itself of unbelief; because, He will have it believed with the most assuring faith that He is favourable. Therefore, I have convinced them upon the testimony of their own conscience, that “Free-will,” being “without the glory of God,” is, with all its powers, its devoted strivings and endeavours, perpetually under the guilt of the sin of unbelief.
And what will the advocates of “Free-will” say to that which follows, “being justified freely by His grace?” (Rom. iii. 24). What is the meaning of the word “freely?” What is the meaning of “by His grace?” How will merit, and endeavour, accord with freely-given righteousness? But, perhaps, they will here say — that they attribute to “Free-will” a very little indeed, and that which is by no means the ‘merit of worthiness’ (meritum condignum!) These, however, are mere empty words: for all that is sought for in the defence of “Free-will,” is to make place for merit. This is manifest: for the Diatribe has, throughout, argued and expostulated thus,
- “If there be no freedom of will, how can there be place for merit? And if there be no place for merit, how can there be place for reward? To whom will the reward be assigned, if justification be without merit?
Paul here gives you an answer. — That there is no such thing as merit at all; but that all who are justified are justified “freely;” that this is ascribed to no one but to the grace of God. — And when this righteousness is given, the kingdom and life eternal are given with it! Where is your endeavouring now? Where is your devoted effort? Where are your works? Where are your merits of “Free-will?” Where is the profit of them all put together? You cannot here make, as a pretence, ‘obscurity and ambiguity:’ the facts and the works are most clear and most plain. But be it so, that they attribute to “Free-will” a very little indeed, yet they teach us that by that very little we can attain unto righteousness and grace. Nor do they solve that question, Why does God justify one and leave another? in any other way, than by asserting the freedom of the will, and saying, Because, the one endeavours and the other does not: and God regards the one for his endeavouring, and despises the other for his not endeavouring; lest, if he did otherwise, He should appear to be unjust.
And notwithstanding all their pretence, both by their tongue and pen, that they do not profess to attain unto grace by ‘the merit of worthiness’ (meritum condignum) nor call it the merit of worthiness, yet they only mock us with a term, and hold fast their tenet all the while. For what is the amount of their pretence that they do not call it ‘the merit of worthiness,’ if nevertheless they assign unto it all that belongs to the merit of worthiness? — saying, that he in the sight of God attains unto grace who endeavours, and he who does not endeavour, does not attain unto it? Is this not plainly making it to be the merit of worthiness? Is it not making God a respecter of works, of merits, and of persons to say that one man is devoid of grace from his own fault, because he did not endeavour after it, but that another, because he did endeavour after it, has attained unto grace, unto which he would not have attained, if he had not endeavoured after it? If this be not ‘the merit of worthiness,’ then I should like to be informed what it is that is called ‘the merit of worthiness.’
In this way you may play a game of mockery upon all words; and say, it is not indeed the merit of worthiness, but is in effect the same as the ‘merit of worthiness.’ — The thorn is not a bad tree, but is in effect the same as a bad tree! — The fig is not a good tree, but is in effect the same as a good tree! — The Diatribe is not, indeed, impious, but says and does nothing but what is impious!