Priests and LevitesNehemiah 12 1 These are the priests and the Levites who came up with Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Jeshua: Seraiah, Jeremiah, Ezra, 2 Amariah, Malluch, Hattush, 3 Shecaniah, Rehum, Meremoth, 4 Iddo, Ginnethoi, Abijah, 5 Mijamin, Maadiah, Bilgah, 6 Shemaiah, Joiarib, Jedaiah, 7 Sallu, Amok, Hilkiah, Jedaiah. These were the chiefs of the priests and of their brothers in the days of Jeshua.
8 And the Levites: Jeshua, Binnui, Kadmiel, Sherebiah, Judah, and Mattaniah, who with his brothers was in charge of the songs of thanksgiving. 9 And Bakbukiah and Unni and their brothers stood opposite them in the service. 10 And Jeshua was the father of Joiakim, Joiakim the father of Eliashib, Eliashib the father of Joiada, 11 Joiada the father of Jonathan, and Jonathan the father of Jaddua.
12 And in the days of Joiakim were priests, heads of fathers’ houses: of Seraiah, Meraiah; of Jeremiah, Hananiah; 13 of Ezra, Meshullam; of Amariah, Jehohanan; 14 of Malluchi, Jonathan; of Shebaniah, Joseph; 15 of Harim, Adna; of Meraioth, Helkai; 16 of Iddo, Zechariah; of Ginnethon, Meshullam; 17 of Abijah, Zichri; of Miniamin, of Moadiah, Piltai; 18 of Bilgah, Shammua; of Shemaiah, Jehonathan; 19 of Joiarib, Mattenai; of Jedaiah, Uzzi; 20 of Sallai, Kallai; of Amok, Eber; 21 of Hilkiah, Hashabiah; of Jedaiah, Nethanel.
22 In the days of Eliashib, Joiada, Johanan, and Jaddua, the Levites were recorded as heads of fathers’ houses; so too were the priests in the reign of Darius the Persian. 23 As for the sons of Levi, their heads of fathers’ houses were written in the Book of the Chronicles until the days of Johanan the son of Eliashib. 24 And the chiefs of the Levites: Hashabiah, Sherebiah, and Jeshua the son of Kadmiel, with their brothers who stood opposite them, to praise and to give thanks, according to the commandment of David the man of God, watch by watch. 25 Mattaniah, Bakbukiah, Obadiah, Meshullam, Talmon, and Akkub were gatekeepers standing guard at the storehouses of the gates. 26 These were in the days of Joiakim the son of Jeshua son of Jozadak, and in the days of Nehemiah the governor and of Ezra, the priest and scribe.
Dedication of the Wall27 And at the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem they sought the Levites in all their places, to bring them to Jerusalem to celebrate the dedication with gladness, with thanksgivings and with singing, with cymbals, harps, and lyres. 28 And the sons of the singers gathered together from the district surrounding Jerusalem and from the villages of the Netophathites; 29 also from Beth-gilgal and from the region of Geba and Azmaveth, for the singers had built for themselves villages around Jerusalem. 30 And the priests and the Levites purified themselves, and they purified the people and the gates and the wall.
31 Then I brought the leaders of Judah up onto the wall and appointed two great choirs that gave thanks. One went to the south on the wall to the Dung Gate. 32 And after them went Hoshaiah and half of the leaders of Judah, 33 and Azariah, Ezra, Meshullam, 34 Judah, Benjamin, Shemaiah, and Jeremiah, 35 and certain of the priests’ sons with trumpets: Zechariah the son of Jonathan, son of Shemaiah, son of Mattaniah, son of Micaiah, son of Zaccur, son of Asaph; 36 and his relatives, Shemaiah, Azarel, Milalai, Gilalai, Maai, Nethanel, Judah, and Hanani, with the musical instruments of David the man of God. And Ezra the scribe went before them. 37 At the Fountain Gate they went up straight before them by the stairs of the city of David, at the ascent of the wall, above the house of David, to the Water Gate on the east.
38 The other choir of those who gave thanks went to the north, and I followed them with half of the people, on the wall, above the Tower of the Ovens, to the Broad Wall, 39 and above the Gate of Ephraim, and by the Gate of Yeshanah, and by the Fish Gate and the Tower of Hananel and the Tower of the Hundred, to the Sheep Gate; and they came to a halt at the Gate of the Guard. 40 So both choirs of those who gave thanks stood in the house of God, and I and half of the officials with me; 41 and the priests Eliakim, Maaseiah, Miniamin, Micaiah, Elioenai, Zechariah, and Hananiah, with trumpets; 42 and Maaseiah, Shemaiah, Eleazar, Uzzi, Jehohanan, Malchijah, Elam, and Ezer. And the singers sang with Jezrahiah as their leader. 43 And they offered great sacrifices that day and rejoiced, for God had made them rejoice with great joy; the women and children also rejoiced. And the joy of Jerusalem was heard far away.
Service at the Temple44 On that day men were appointed over the storerooms, the contributions, the firstfruits, and the tithes, to gather into them the portions required by the Law for the priests and for the Levites according to the fields of the towns, for Judah rejoiced over the priests and the Levites who ministered. 45 And they performed the service of their God and the service of purification, as did the singers and the gatekeepers, according to the command of David and his son Solomon. 46 For long ago in the days of David and Asaph there were directors of the singers, and there were songs of praise and thanksgiving to God. 47 And all Israel in the days of Zerubbabel and in the days of Nehemiah gave the daily portions for the singers and the gatekeepers; and they set apart that which was for the Levites; and the Levites set apart that which was for the sons of Aaron.
Nehemiah’s Final ReformsNehemiah 13 1 On that day they read from the Book of Moses in the hearing of the people. And in it was found written that no Ammonite or Moabite should ever enter the assembly of God, 2 for they did not meet the people of Israel with bread and water, but hired Balaam against them to curse them—yet our God turned the curse into a blessing. 3 As soon as the people heard the law, they separated from Israel all those of foreign descent.
4 Now before this, Eliashib the priest, who was appointed over the chambers of the house of our God, and who was related to Tobiah, 5 prepared for Tobiah a large chamber where they had previously put the grain offering, the frankincense, the vessels, and the tithes of grain, wine, and oil, which were given by commandment to the Levites, singers, and gatekeepers, and the contributions for the priests. 6 While this was taking place, I was not in Jerusalem, for in the thirty-second year of Artaxerxes king of Babylon I went to the king. And after some time I asked leave of the king 7 and came to Jerusalem, and I then discovered the evil that Eliashib had done for Tobiah, preparing for him a chamber in the courts of the house of God. 8 And I was very angry, and I threw all the household furniture of Tobiah out of the chamber. 9 Then I gave orders, and they cleansed the chambers, and I brought back there the vessels of the house of God, with the grain offering and the frankincense.
10 I also found out that the portions of the Levites had not been given to them, so that the Levites and the singers, who did the work, had fled each to his field. 11 So I confronted the officials and said, “Why is the house of God forsaken?” And I gathered them together and set them in their stations. 12 Then all Judah brought the tithe of the grain, wine, and oil into the storehouses. 13 And I appointed as treasurers over the storehouses Shelemiah the priest, Zadok the scribe, and Pedaiah of the Levites, and as their assistant Hanan the son of Zaccur, son of Mattaniah, for they were considered reliable, and their duty was to distribute to their brothers. 14 Remember me, O my God, concerning this, and do not wipe out my good deeds that I have done for the house of my God and for his service.
15 In those days I saw in Judah people treading winepresses on the Sabbath, and bringing in heaps of grain and loading them on donkeys, and also wine, grapes, figs, and all kinds of loads, which they brought into Jerusalem on the Sabbath day. And I warned them on the day when they sold food. 16 Tyrians also, who lived in the city, brought in fish and all kinds of goods and sold them on the Sabbath to the people of Judah, in Jerusalem itself! 17 Then I confronted the nobles of Judah and said to them, “What is this evil thing that you are doing, profaning the Sabbath day? 18 Did not your fathers act in this way, and did not our God bring all this disaster on us and on this city? Now you are bringing more wrath on Israel by profaning the Sabbath.”
19 As soon as it began to grow dark at the gates of Jerusalem before the Sabbath, I commanded that the doors should be shut and gave orders that they should not be opened until after the Sabbath. And I stationed some of my servants at the gates, that no load might be brought in on the Sabbath day. 20 Then the merchants and sellers of all kinds of wares lodged outside Jerusalem once or twice. 21 But I warned them and said to them, “Why do you lodge outside the wall? If you do so again, I will lay hands on you.” From that time on they did not come on the Sabbath. 22 Then I commanded the Levites that they should purify themselves and come and guard the gates, to keep the Sabbath day holy. Remember this also in my favor, O my God, and spare me according to the greatness of your steadfast love.
23 In those days also I saw the Jews who had married women of Ashdod, Ammon, and Moab. 24 And half of their children spoke the language of Ashdod, and they could not speak the language of Judah, but only the language of each people. 25 And I confronted them and cursed them and beat some of them and pulled out their hair. And I made them take an oath in the name of God, saying, “You shall not give your daughters to their sons, or take their daughters for your sons or for yourselves. 26 Did not Solomon king of Israel sin on account of such women? Among the many nations there was no king like him, and he was beloved by his God, and God made him king over all Israel. Nevertheless, foreign women made even him to sin. 27 Shall we then listen to you and do all this great evil and act treacherously against our God by marrying foreign women?” 28 And one of the sons of Jehoiada, the son of Eliashib the high priest, was the son-in-law of Sanballat the Horonite. Therefore I chased him from me. 29 Remember them, O my God, because they have desecrated the priesthood and the covenant of the priesthood and the Levites.
30 Thus I cleansed them from everything foreign, and I established the duties of the priests and Levites, each in his work; 31 and I provided for the wood offering at appointed times, and for the firstfruits.
Remember me, O my God, for good.
What I'm Reading
Swimming the Tiber?
By Mark Jones 12/01/2012
The Roman Catholic Church poses several attractions for evangelical Christians. Whether their motivation is Rome’s apparent unifying power, its claims to be semper idem (“always the same”), its so-called historical pedigree, its ornate liturgy, or the belief that only Rome can withstand the onslaught of liberalism and postmodernism, a number of evangelicals have given up their “protest” and made the metaphorical trek across Rome’s Tiber River into the Roman Catholic Church.
Historically, particularly during the Reformation and post-Reformation periods, those who defected back to Rome typically did so out of intense social, political, and ecclesiastical pressure—sometimes even to save themselves from dying for their Protestant beliefs. But today, those who move to Rome are not under that same type of pressure. Thus, we are faced with the haunting reality that people are (apparently) freely moving to Rome.
In understanding why evangelicals turn to Catholicism, we must confess that churches today in the Protestant tradition have much for which to answer. Many evangelical churches today are, practically speaking, dog-and-pony shows. Not only has reverence for a thrice holy God disappeared in our worship, but even the very truths that make us Protestant, truths for which people have died, such as justification by faith alone, have been jettisoned for pithy epithets that would not seem out of place in a Roman Catholic Mass or, indeed, a Jewish synagogue. Our polemics against Rome will be of any lasting value only when Protestant churches return to a vibrant confessional theology, rooted in ongoing exegetical reflection, so that we have something positive to say and practice alongside our very serious objections to Roman Catholic theology.
The attractions of Rome are, however, dubious when closely examined. For example, after the Second Vatican Council (1962–1965), the Catholic Church lost not only the claim to be “always the same” but also its claim to be theologically conservative. Besides the great number of changes that took place at Vatican II (for example, the institution of the vernacular Mass), the documents embraced mutually incompatible theologies. Perhaps the most remarkable change that took place in Rome was its view of salvation outside of the church, which amounts to a form of universalism: “Those also can attain to salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, yet sincerely seek God and moved by grace strive by their deeds to do His will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience” (Lumen Gentium 16; hereafter LG). Protestants, who were condemned at the Council of Trent (1545–1563), were now referred to as “separated fellow Christians” (Unitatis Redintegratio 4). Once (and still?) anathematized Protestants are now Christians? This is a contradiction. But even worse, present-day Roman Catholic theologians candidly admit that those who try to be good possess divine, saving grace, even if they do not explicitly trust in Christ.
Such a view of salvation is really the consistent outworking of Rome’s position on justification. So, while the Roman Catholic Church can no longer claim to be “always the same” or theologically conservative, she still holds a view of justification that is antithetical to the classical Protestant view that we are justified by faith alone. Whatever pretended gains one receives from moving to Rome, one thing he most certainly does not receive—in fact, he loses it altogether—is the assurance of faith (Council of Trent 6.9; hereafter CT). It is little wonder that the brilliant Catholic theologian Robert Bellarmine (1542–1621) once remarked that assurance was the greatest Protestant heresy. If, as Rome maintains, the meritorious cause of justification is our inherent righteousness, then assurance is impossible until the verdict is rendered. For Protestants, that verdict is a present reality; the righteousness of Christ imputed to us is the sole meritorious cause of our entrance into eternal life. But for Roman Catholics—and those outside of the church who “do good”—inherent righteousness is a part of their justification before God (CT 6.7).
The Reformation doctrine of justification was not something about which Protestant theologians could afford to be tentative. At stake is not only the question of how a sinner stands accepted before God and, in connection with that, how he is assured of salvation (1 John 5:13), but also the goodness of God toward His people.
In the end, our controversy with Rome is important because Christ is important. Christ alone—not He and Mary (LG 62)—intercedes between us and the Father; Christ alone—not the pope (LG 22)—is the head of the church and, thus, the supreme judge of our consciences; Christ alone—not pagan “dictates of conscience” (LG 16)—must be the object of faith for salvation; and Christ’s righteousness alone—not ours (LG 40)—is the only hope we have for standing before a God who is both just and the Justifier of the wicked. To move to Rome is not only to give up justification and, thus, assurance— even more so, it is to give up Christ.
Rev. Dr. Mark Jones (PhD, Leiden Universiteit) has been the Minister at Faith Vancouver Church (PCA) since 2007. He is also Research Associate in the Faculty of Theology at University of the Free State, Bloemfontein, South Africa. He lectures at various seminaries around the world and is currently writing a book titled, "God Is: A Devotional Guide to the Attributes of God" (Crossway, 2017) and "Faith, Hope, and Love" (Crossway, 2017).
Books by Mark Jones:
A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life
Antinomianism: Reformed Theology's Unwelcome Guest?
God Is: A Devotional Guide to the Attributes of God
Faith. Hope. Love.: The Christ-Centered Way to Grow in Grace
A Habitual Sight of Him: The Christ-Centered Piety of Thomas Goodwin (Profiles in Reformed Spirituality)
A Christian's Pocket Guide to Jesus Christ: An Introduction to Christology by Mark Jones (20-May-2012) Paperback
Drawn into Controversie: Reformed Theological Diversity and Debates Within Seventeenth-century British Puritanism
The Ashgate Research Companion to John Owen's Theology (Ashgate Research Companions)
Why Heaven Kissed Earth: The Christology of the Puritan Reformed Orthodox Theologian, Thomas Goodwin (1600-1680) (Reformed Historical Theology)
The Prodigal Son(s) and Church Discipline
By Scotty Smith 12/01/2012
Providence reigns, even over editorial requests. When asked to offer pastoral insights on church discipline in light of the story of the prodigal son, little did I realize where this assignment would take me both spiritually and emotionally.
Listening to the text of Luke 15 afresh left me very convicted but even more hopeful. I’m convicted because, after pastoring the same church family for twenty-six years, I wish I had a scrapbook filled with church-discipline stories that reflect the gospel-saturated beauty of Luke 15.
I wish I could tell you about all the repentant Christians who, through well-implemented church discipline, returned home to great parties thrown by humble, grace-smitten leaders, and who were then fully assimilated back into the life of our congregation. Although I have tons of great stories— grace stories of conversions and renewals— I don’t have many church-discipline stories about which I’m really excited.
But meditating through the story of the prodigal son has also left me intrigued and hopeful, especially for new church plants and pastors who long for a more gospel-centered approach to church discipline. How can we do church discipline differently? What do we need to put into place that will enable us to extend the corrective heart and hand of our heavenly Father in such a way that the gospel is more clearly driving the whole process? Here are five things that emerge from the parable of the prodigal son I would emphasize.
1. Create a leadership culture marked by gospel astonishment, joyful repentance, and corporate prayer. In each of the three parables in Luke 15, the “finder” (shepherd, woman, father) of the “lost” (sheep, coin, son) bids others to come and rejoice. “Come be happy with me.” Good leaders who never get over their “found-ness” in Christ are best equipped to care for other sinner-saints. Leaders who are being humbled, gentled, and changed by the gospel tend to be less shocked when other Christians sinfully act out and are more ready to engage with them when they do so.
2. Pray for, ordain, train, and equip elders for discipleship as well as in church discipline. Not everybody with leadership gifts is called to be an elder. We know this, so let’s act on it. Moreover, none of us intuitively disciples well, any more than we intuitively discipline well. Elders who are involved in helping believers grow in grace will more readily invest in the demands (and delights) of church discipline. Seeking is hard work. It’s not easy or convenient to go after rebellious younger sons in faraway countries or to confront self-righteous elder sons sitting in session meetings. We’re pretty clumsy with confrontation and even more clueless when it comes to the messy process of restoration.
3. Put the DNA of the gospel into the blood and heartbeat of the whole church family. When the younger son “came to his senses,” he remembered good things about the home he left. His first thought wasn’t about his self-righteous older brother but of his father’s generous heart. The warmer the memory of life at home (especially modeled by the parents, that is, the leaders), the sooner prodigal sons and daughters will risk coming home again.
Preach the gospel. Only the gospel can create an environment in which repenting is more the norm than pretending. Let’s make sure our congregation knows that the gospel is just as much for believers as it is non-believers. Let’s make sure they know that the Father grieves the self-righteousness of elder sons as much as the unrighteousness of younger sons. I would far rather pastor a church filled with younger son returnees than elder son sticks-in-the-mud. Our churches are to be environments where the miracle of grace is played out every week, not museums or mortuaries of dead or dry spirituality.
4. Build a worship culture that is both a showing and telling of the gospel—not just telling. Luke 15 contains rich theology, and we connect with it so deeply because it comes to us in narrative form. We all relate to stories, which is one of the reasons, no doubt, Jesus used so many. A wise and balanced use of testimonies during our services of worship can help members of a church family understand what life as a sinner-saint is all about—how all of us need God’s grace all of the time.
5. Lastly, we need to learn how to celebrate gospel breakthroughs as a church family. Not many churches, in my experience, know how to party together very well, especially when it comes to celebrating stories of recovery, renewal, and restoration. The younger son was ready to do penance when he got home, but the first thing the father wanted his son to do was dance. Church discipline is fatherly correction and restoration, not punishment and probation. No doubt, there were some long “walks and talks” about the prodigal son’s sinful choices, but restoration occurs best in the garden of grace, not under the doghouse of shame. God’s kindness always leads us away from penance to repentance.
The Prodigal Father
By R.C. Sproul Jr. 12/01/2012
When I served as editor in chief of Tabletalk magazine, I committed my share of gaffes. I received more than my share of sweet-natured but school-marmish notes about why this semicolon should have been a colon, or why further was the better word in context than farther. But there were bigger blunders as well. Once, I allowed the magazine to go out with one word of its two-word title misspelled. Happily, we received virtually no feedback on that one because the misspelled word was in Latin.
Only once, however, can I remember receiving high praise for a mistake. I wrote something about the parable of the prodigal son, and by accident I referred to it as the story of the prodigal father. The letter I received was chock full of high praise: “I can’t believe someone finally said it. I always think this is what the story should be called. Thank you for having the courage and the insight to make this point.” He went on for so long that it started to feel pretty good, until I remembered I had made a mistake, not communicated an insight.
As I read, however, I came to see the wisdom of the man’s perspective — not on my editorial skills but on the parable. It is indeed the story of the prodigal father. It is true enough that prodigal can mean “wasteful” or “careless.” It can also, however, refer to someone who is extravagant in giving, overflowing in graciousness, abundant in tenderness and love.
It is good and wise that we should learn to recognize ourselves in the Bible. I always encourage people with this rule of thumb: if you want to know who you are in a Bible story, you are the sinner. Then, in part because of this very parable, I add this: if the story has more than one sinner, you are both of them. We are both of the brothers in the parable of the prodigal son. We squander the gifts given to us by our Father. We dishonor and disobey Him. We pursue our own ends, seeing Him as merely the supplier of our needs so we can get on with acquiring our wants. On the other hand, we are also like the older brother, thinking ourselves rather fine fellows. We don’t sin as outrageously as the heathen we see on television. We aren’t hedonists like the prodigal. We, because we are sinners, somehow manage to be both libertines and Pharisees, self-indulgent and self-righteous.
The story, however, doesn’t end there. It is a good thing to come face to face with the depth and scope of our sin. It is a better thing, however, to come face to face with the grace of God. The parable does tell us how bad we are — but it ends with a robe, a fattened calf, and a great celebration. It ends with a heartfelt embrace of the prodigal, and a gentle, loving call to repentance for the older brother. The story ends, just as our story ends, with the grace of God for us.
A wise theologian more than once has said that the great question plaguing those outside the kingdom is this: What do I do with my guilt? Romans 1:18–32 argues that it is precisely the desperate need to forget that guilt that leads the lost to folly and perversion. We worship the creature because the creature won’t judge us. We exchange the truth that we are under judgment for the lie that we are perfectly safe. We determine that what we need to be safe is more stuff. So, instead of worrying about the judgment that is to come, we worry about what we will eat and what we will drink, just like the prodigal son in the pigsty of the far-off country.
The answer to both problems, however, is found in the Father. We ought never, in dealing with those outside the kingdom, to diminish their sin for the sake of winning them. We must not belittle their rebellion. We must never nuance their moral crimes into mistakes, errors, or lapses in judgment. We must never seek to diminish in their eyes the reality of the wrath of God. We must, however, be quick to point them to the one and only solution to their problem: the overflowing grace of God. God forgives the repentant. The answer to our guilt is not to deny God, to flee from Him, but to run to Him. “This is the one to whom I [the Lord] will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word” (Isa. 66:2b).
We are to seek first the kingdom of God. As we do, however, we would do well to remember that we woke up and began our journey because He breathed life into us. We would do well to remember that while we were yet afar off, He girded up His loins and ran to us, crying, “My son, my son.” We would do well to remember that when we feast with Him at His table, we receive a foretaste of the feast to come. Because we move from grace to grace, we would do well to move from amazed to astonished. If you are in Christ, your Father loves you, forgives you, and is even now pouring out His grace on you. “The Father himself loves you, because you have loved [Jesus]” (John 16:27). Rejoice, and be exceedingly glad.
R.C. Sproul Jr. Books | Go to Books Page
Worthy Eating and Drinking
By Iain Campbell 12/01/2012
One of our Scottish preachers used to say that the believer has three looks at the Lord’s Table. There is, first, a retrospective look. The sacrament of the Lord’s Supper is a commemoration, a celebration of an event in the past. It is an aid to us in remembering the pivotal, redemptive point of history, the point at which the Son of God died for his people. It is not a re-enactment of the sacrifice, but it is a dramatic visual aid to faith as it looks back over history to the point at which the sacrificial lamb died for us.
Second, there is a prospective look in the sacrament. It looks forward as surely as it looks back. It anticipates the return of the Lord. It belongs to the design of the Lord’s Supper that it is a temporary arrangement “till he comes.” The bride of Christ does not remember the death of her bridegroom as a widow but as one who longs for the day when the bridegroom will return to take her home.
But, third, there must be an introspective look in the sacrament. We are called to look inward as we participate, to prepare for the Lord’s Table by examining ourselves. We are not called to be self-obsessed, but we are called to be self-aware, to bring ourselves under the scrutiny of God’s Word even as God’s Word invites us to come to the feast.
In 1 Corinthians 11:27–28, self-examination is required if we are to avoid being “guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord.” The guilt of which Paul speaks is connected with eating the bread or drinking the cup “in an unworthy manner.” Self-examination is motivated by a desire for God’s glory in our participation in the sacrament, that we may eat and drink “worthily.”
The “worthiness” of which Paul speaks is adverbial, not adjectival. That is, it does not describe the people who participate but the manner in which they do so. We are all, every one of us, unworthy of the love that invites us to the Lord’s Table. We do not examine ourselves to see whether we are worthy or whether we have done anything to make us more worthy since last we participated in the sacrament. But we do examine ourselves to make sure that our eating and drinking are worthy, that we have a title and a right to be at the table, and that our taking the bread and wine is appropriate and fitting.
To that end, we need to ask, for whom has the sacrament been prepared? The answer to that question is that it has been prepared for the friends of Jesus: “You are my friends,” He says to His disciples, “if you do what I command you” (John 15:14).
Here is a standard by which we may examine our fittingness to share in the sacrament, to eat the bread and drink the wine. Are we the friends of Jesus? Do we have things in common with Him, the way friends do? Is His glory our great interest? Is His saving work at Calvary our only hope? Are His death and resurrection the foundation of our entire lives?
Friends share secrets with each other. It would be strange indeed if friends never talked and never communicated. True friendship likes to give expression to deepest longings and most intimate thoughts. The friends of Jesus are no different. He has spoken to them in His Word, revealing to them the desires of His heart. They respond to Him in prayer and in praise, sharing all their interests with him. With David they say, “O Lord, all my longing is before you; my sighing is not hidden from you (Ps. 38:9).
Friends also look out for each other. The friends of Jesus love to guard His name and reputation. They love to do what is right and to obey His commands. Their obedience and service are not the basis of their worthy participation in the sacrament, for they know that they come woefully short even in their attempts to serve Him. But their worthy eating and drinking relate to the desire they have in their souls to love Jesus more than they do and obey Him as He deserves.
So, I may come to the Lord’s Table overwhelmed by a sense of my unworthiness, broken by a sense of my sin, mourning because of my disobedience. But none of these is sufficient to keep me away if, in my heart, I know that the death of the Passover Lamb is my only hope and that Jesus is still my best friend.
I know of no better expression of this than the response of the Heidelberg Catechism to the question “For whom is the Lord’s Supper instituted?” the first part of which reads as follows:
For those who are truly sorrowful for their sins, and yet trust that these are forgiven them for the sake of Christ, and that their remaining infirmities are covered by his passion and death, and who also earnestly desire to have their faith more and more strengthened, and their lives more holy.
If, as we examine our hearts, we too can find these longings in our souls, then the Master of the feast says to us, “Eat, O friends, drink, yea drink abundantly, O beloved!” (Song 5:1, KJV).
Bringing Marriage Back to Earth
By Brian Tallman 12/01/2012
Determining the church’s intersection of and proper degree of engagement with the culture is something that the church has been wrestling with for centuries now. Judging by the number of books on this topic that continue to roll off the presses, it is something she will continue to wrestle with for a long time to come. Perhaps this isn’t all bad news. It is the nature of our pilgrimage not to know everything. As pilgrims, we confess we are going somewhere and at the same time that we have not gotten there yet.
Few areas provide opportunity for reflection upon the church’s engagement with the culture more than the institution of marriage. The reason for this is that marriage is not something on which the church has a monopoly. Christians and non-Christians, like those living in the days of Noah, eat and drink, marry and are given in marriage (Matt. 24:28). Like the temptation that Paul refers to, marriage is something that is common to all humanity (1 Cor. 10:13). It is part of our culture and not something distinctly Christian. It began before the fall and is thus numbered with the creation ordinances of Sabbath and labor. James F. White gets at this in his description of Christian wedding services:
There are few, if any, occasions more joyful than a wedding. Yet the church’s approach to weddings has been a slow and cautious one, always willing to leave most of the festivities outside the church door. Even now the wedding service is a curious amalgam of Christian and pagan elements. The words are an unlikely match of liturgical language and legal jargon. The minister serves as both pastor and civil servant, subject to the canons or laws of both ecclesiastical and civil societies. Weddings are a strange combination of Christ and culture.
John Calvin makes a similar point in his polemic against marriage as a sacrament when he compares it to the ordinary vocations of life: “Marriage is a good and holy ordinance of God; and farming, building, cobbling, and barbering are lawful ordinances of God, and yet not sacraments.”
All of this is helpful for explaining why pagans can have good, healthy, strong, culture-making, and society-contributing marriages. To deny this, one also has to deny that those outside the church are capable of good, healthy, strong, culture-making, and society-contributing vocations.
Common critiques of contemporary marriage in the West often include the recognition that marriage has become too sentimentalized. In light of Calvin’s comments, I wonder if the church isn’t guilty of making marriage too spiritual. That’s not to say that there aren’t Christian ethics that relate to marriage. Of course there are. Moreover, that isn’t to say that there aren’t opportunities to model and display the gospel in marriage. There are. But even when Paul speaks of the great mystery of marriage because it refers to Christ and His church, his proof text is Genesis 2:24: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh,” a text universally considered to be referring to the institution of marriage in general and not Christian marriage specifically. Marriage—Christian marriage and non-Christian marriage—point to the gospel.
Is it possible that our over-spiritualization of marriage can be seen in the number of Christian books that come out on this subject? On my desk, I have two new ones I am told are must-reads, not to mention the shelf full of others I already have. I am constantly wondering if I should require a different book for the couples in my premartial counseling— something newer, more relevant and up to date. The author of one new book on the subject says that he read all or part of 187 books on the subject in preparation to write his tome, and that most were written for and by Christians. I haven’t looked into it, but if I had to guess, I would bet that most of those were written in the last century.
Is it possible that our over-spiritualization of marriage is evidenced by the number of retreats and conferences offered and attended on this subject by Christians? Is it possible that our over-spiritualization of marriage can be seen by the number of series on the topic that fill our pulpits?
Here’s the point. I wonder if we have made marriage more difficult than it really is. I wonder if this is why couples who come to me for premarital counseling are scared to death that they are not going to be ready and that failure is inevitable.
Maybe it’s time for us to bring the institution of marriage back to earth. Maybe it’s time for us to realize that in this institution we serve God and our neighbor. Maybe it’s time we recognize that we are members of Christ and culture. And just maybe, in bringing marriage back to earth, we might come to realize that marriage really isn’t all that hard. We might just find that God will bless our marriages and use them to build and shape the culture and as a stage upon which to magnify His grace.
The Silence of the Lambs
By R.C. Sproul Jr. 1/01/2013
The world, Paul tells us, knows what’s coming. Romans 1 not only highlights the universal guilt of all men, but, ironically, defines that guilt as the denial of what we know. We know that there is a God and that we fail to meet His standard. We know, in short, that we are in trouble. But, we seek to suppress that truth in unrighteousness. The lexical background of the Greek word translated as suppress suggests something like a heavy metal spring that we try to hold down as long as we can. I believe, however, that we get closer to the spirit of our sin if we see ourselves, as God is speaking to us, running about with our fingers in our ears shouting, “La, la, la, la, la; I can’t hear you!”
Consider how unbelievers in the West tend to live their lives. They may not have their fingers in their ears, but they likely have their ear-buds in their ears. They surround themselves constantly with noise. At work, they have talk radio on. In the car, they play music. When they get home, they turn on the television and become distracted with their eyes as well as their ears. They hyper-schedule their days, moving from one thing that demands their attention to another, their smart-phones buzzing and beeping their daily orders.
We who have been redeemed by His grace, however, live much differently, don’t we? We don’t need the constant noise of pop culture to drown out our own thoughts. We are busy speaking to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. We are meditating day and night on the glory, the richness, and the beauty of the Word of God. We, who have already received the pearl of great price, who have been promised eternal blessing and the drying of every tear, want nothing more than an opportunity for silence so that we can enter into the fullness of the gospel of our Lord. We want quiet that we might contemplate the peace. We seek out our prayer closets that we might give thanks.
Wait. Is that what we do? Is that how we live? Or are we instead mirror images of our neighbors? We might, if we are pious, order our pop culture from the PG side of the menu. We might carve out twenty minutes of quiet for prayer and contemplation. But we are still consumed with consuming pop culture, with surrounding ourselves with noise, and for much the same reason We don’t, in the West, take the time to think because we don’t want to face not just the hard lesson of life under the sun — life is short and then we die — but also the much harder lesson of life lived under the Son — life is short, then we die, and hell lasts forever.
Now, to be sure, we know that we will not suffer for all eternity. That is our neighbor’s fear, not our own. The fears that plague us are much more tame. We worry about our retirement accounts. We worry about our job security. We worry about the economy and the Middle East. We worry about our reputations, what people say and think about us. We worry so much that we worry about what we’ll worry about when we get to heaven.
The heathen know from creation itself that their Creator will bring judgment down on them. We, on the other hand, have been given a book. This book tells us about His grace. It tells us about all that is ours in Christ, that everything that He brings into our lives is for our good and His glory. It tells us on every page that He loves us with an everlasting love and that nothing can thwart His will. This means we should be at peace. We should set aside our worries. We should remove our fingers from our ears that we might hear the music of the rolling spheres magnifying His name. We should no longer cry out, “La, la, la, la; I can’t hear you!” but, “Speak, Lord, for your servant hears.”
What we need, as we seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, is to be still and know that He is God. We don’t need to turn up the volume of His revelation but turn off the noise. We don’t need Him to make bigger promises. We need eyes to see what He has already promised. We don’t need better, cleaner noise than the heathen. We need silence.
When we stop; when we take a deep breath; when we rest; when we put to death our vain desires, vain imaginings, and vain distractions; when, in fact, we not only quit the rat race but finish the race He has set before us; and when we draw our last breaths we will hear with perfect clarity what He has been saying to us from the moment we were reborn: “This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.” And then we’ll hear heavenly choirs of angels promising, “And He shall reign forever and ever.” Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you.
R.C. Sproul Jr. Books | Go to Books Page
Theology and Doxology
By Gerrit Scott Dawson 1/01/2013
Angelic beings approach the throne of the triune God. They arrive in His immediate presence because they need no mediator. No sin prevents them from entering, and God gave these creatures the capacity to draw near without being incinerated by His glory. Is it safe to say these angels know better than we do? But what do these knowledgeable ones do in God’s presence? According to Revelation 4:10, they fall down, cast their crowns, and sing. In short, they worship God with their whole beings.
I read a lot of theology books. That’s my job—and my passion. But every time I pick one up, I raise a silent challenge: “Make me sing.” I go to a lot of worship services. That also is my job—and my passion. My challenge is, “Take me deeper.” The knowledge of God and the praise of God, theology and doxology, belong together. They are dance partners in the fulfillment of our chief end: to glorify and enjoy God forever.
Theology that doesn’t make us sing has failed in its mission, no matter how correct it may be. Worship that doesn’t take us deeper into Christ has also failed, no matter how glorious the music or how applicable the sermon. Praising God properly means deepening our knowledge of this God we adore. Our hearts should be set aflame when we really explore how the Father sent His Son into the world to save us, and then joined us to that Savior by sending His Holy Spirit into our hearts. Great theology stirs the heart. Excellent worship grows our knowledge.
Let’s take, for an example, two stanzas from Joseph Hart’s hymn “Come Ye Sinners.” The lyrics have been reset several times in both traditional and contemporary styles, a testimony to their enduring power. The words take us deep into the work of Christ in a way that inspires us to give our hearts in worship:
View him prostrate in the Garden, On the ground your Maker lies, On the bloody tree behold him; Sinner, will not this suffice?
In just four short lines, we enter the narrative of our Savior’s work. A great theological paradox is evoked through vivid imagery. We behold not just a man, but God in the flesh. The transcendent Creator of all has His face to the ground of creation. The impassible God unites Himself to a human nature that can suffer agony. Who can fathom this? But then Hart lets his theology become a call to worship: “Sinner, will not this suffice?” Does knowing what God has done not move you to worship?
The next stanza continues our journey into theological mystery, as Hart answers for us the enduring theological question, “What is Jesus doing now?”
Lo! Th’ incarnate God ascended, Pleads the merit of his blood, Venture on him, venture wholly, Let no other trust intrude.
Hart evokes this crucial passage from Hebrews: “He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them” (7:25). Jesus continues in His priesthood, applying on our behalf the finished work of His sacrifice, not only for justification but for our growth in sanctification as well. What a wonder — Jesus lives to pray for us. How could I rely on anyone else? “Yes,” my heart cries as I sing this theological truth: “I will venture on Jesus. I will give my life wholly and only to him.”
John Calvin was one of the most doxological theologians. In writing about the Lord’s Supper, Calvin rejoiced to affirm that through union with Christ, “whatever is his may be called ours.” In what is now a very famous passage, Calvin articulated this wonderful exchange:
This is the wonderful exchange which, out of his measureless benevolence, he has made with us; that, becoming Son of man with us, he has made us sons of God with him; that, by his descent to earth, he has prepared an ascent to heaven for us; that, by taking on our mortality, he has conferred his immortality upon us; that, accepting our weakness, he has strengthened us by his power; that, receiving our poverty unto himself, he has transferred his wealth to us; that, taking the weight of our iniquity upon himself (which oppressed us), he has clothed us with his righteousness. (Institutes, 4.17.2) With this in our theological hymnbooks, how could Calvinists ever be the frozen chosen? This is the greatest deal in the universe: God trades us His life for our death, His peace for our anxiety, His heavenly home for our orphaned exile, His forgiveness for our sin. Then, amazingly, He considers it a great bargain. Such news makes me want to get up from this keyboard and run around the block shouting.
Theology is meant to set us singing. Our worship is meant to take us deeper into the glorious truth of our Redeemer’s work. These two are meant to be dance partners into eternity.
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.
12 But you, O LORD, are enthroned forever;
you are remembered throughout all generations.
13 You will arise and have pity on Zion;
it is the time to favor her;
the appointed time has come.
14 For your servants hold her stones dear
and have pity on her dust.
15 Nations will fear the name of the LORD,
and all the kings of the earth will fear your glory.
16 For the LORD builds up Zion;
he appears in his glory;
17 he regards the prayer of the destitute
and does not despise their prayer.
18 Let this be recorded for a generation to come,
so that a people yet to be created may praise the LORD:
19 that he looked down from his holy height;
from heaven the LORD looked at the earth,
20 to hear the groans of the prisoners,
to set free those who were doomed to die,
21 that they may declare in Zion the name of the LORD,
and in Jerusalem his praise,
22 when peoples gather together,
and kingdoms, to worship the LORD.
The Value of Confessions
By Douglas Kelly 1/01/2013
To this day, Christian Churches, especially in the Reformation tradition, use a powerful tool for “maintaining the form of sound words” and for spreading the gospel to the world—their confessional documents. The Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century represented a major rupture in the medieval church, one in which more than one-third of Europe had to go back to the “drawing board” to formulate their testimony to the rest of the world.
That drawing board was Holy Scripture, which consecrated pastor-scholars searched out on the basis of a fresh knowledge of the original languages, and also on the basis of a commitment to traditional Augustinianism and the church fathers. Hence, they saw themselves as true (or Reformed) catholics, not primarily a new denominational grouping, although they did wind up in new denominational connections owing to the fierce resistance of the Roman Catholic hierarchy to any serious reform.
It was necessary to define themselves in light of Roman Catholic charges that they had left the true church and were following heretical teachings. They carried out this task as churches with careful and prayerful exegetical work through the entirety of Scripture in order to state coherently the major lines of its teaching on both doctrine and duty. Several synods in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries fulfilled this task with solid grounding on the Word of God written and in line with the traditional creeds of the first five centuries of Christian history.
The results of their work were developed over time (from the first Reformed confessions in the 1520s and 1530s to the Westminster Confession of Faith in the 1640s). These standards solidly appealed to the clear teaching of Holy Scripture. The Bible was their touchstone. Indeed, the framers of the Scots Confession of 1560 stated that if anyone could show them that they were out of accord with Scripture, they would be willing to change. While always respecting the historical church, they clearly stated that Scripture must have the final word, for, in the words of the Westminster Confession, “The purest churches under heaven are subject both to mixture and error” (25.5).
Out of this crucible of controversy came several confessions that, with general brevity and clarity, express the main thrust of the teachings of Holy Scripture on salvation and holy living. Because of their biblical teaching, they have the value of guiding us as much today as they did our forefathers centuries ago. It is a mercy for the church today not to have to reinvent the wheel. Through the creeds and confessions, we abide in the health and safety of “the communion of the saints.”
This doctrinal continuity runs contrary to the relativism of our Western secularized culture, according to which “ancient truth is uncouth.” This relativism suggests that instead of ancient truth, one must feverishly follow the latest fads of the ever-changing intelligentsia. Furthermore, the aggressive relativism of our culture has not stopped at the doors of the church. To refer appreciatively to the confessional standards causes the raising of eyebrows, and, in some cases, open protest in not a few evangelical (and Reformed) congregations and denominations.
Many evangelicals, in order to avoid the clear teachings of these confessions (which are based on the supernatural claims of the Bible) and not offend the reigning relativism of our culture (which, at the end of the day, is anti-supernatural), employ a sort of “nominalistic” interpretation of the standards. A “nominalistic” interpretation means avoiding the plain teaching of these biblically based confessions by formally subscribing to them while employing clever and painful endeavors to make them say something else; something that will be less offensive to the secular culture.
One instance is how theistic evolutionists engage in a sort of “Jesuit casuistry” to force the first three chapters of Genesis to say precisely what they preclude — that there was sin before the fall of Adam and that life gradually developed by chance.
A great value of the Westminster Confession’s teaching on creation, for example, is that in following it, we are not prey to changing paradigms of philosophical science (which is not the same thing as empirical or operational science, which, in my view, is fully compatible with the teachings of Genesis). Here the standards can help us greatly (if we abide in them realistically, rather than nominalistically evading their meaning): they plainly tell the church what the Bible has always said on creation rather than leading us on a wild goose chase of post-Enlightenment philosophies. They help the church to see that approaches such as theistic evolution come not from the Bible but from somewhere else, and need to be identified as such. Their valuable testimony helps us to continue to stand on a solid biblical foundation, which, though offensive to the secular world, is the place where we find intellectual coherence of truth in the context of Word and Spirit, which is life-giving and transformational for all of thought and culture.
Devotionals, notes, poetry and more
by Bill Federer
He had been chief justice of the Michigan Supreme Court, dean of the University of Michigan Law School and President of the American Bar Association. His name was Thomas Cooley, and he died this day, September 12, 1898. His legal commentaries have had a major impact on law in America. In his General Principles of Constitutional Law, Thomas Cooley wrote: “It was never intended by the Constitution that the government should be prohibited from recognizing religion or that religious worship should never be provided for…The Christian religion was always recognized in the administration of the common law of the land.”American Minute
Compiled by Richard S. Adams
... from here, there and everywhere
Those who believe that they believe in God,
but without passion in their hearts,
without anguish in mind,
without an element of despair …
even in their consolation,
believe in the God idea,
not God himself.
--- Miguel de Unamuno
I do not fear at all what men can do to me for speaking the truth. I only fear what God would do if I were to lie.
--- St. John Bosco
Art is the symbol of the two noblest human efforts: to construct and to refrain from destruction.
--- Simone Weil
First and Last Notebooks: Supernatural Knowledge (Simone Weil: Selected Works)
At the end of life, we shall be judged by love.
--- St. John of the Cross
Thanks to Meir Yona
That Vespasian, After He Had Taken Gadara Made Preparation For The Siege Of Jerusalem; But That, Upon His Hearing Of The Death Of Nero, He Changed His Intentions. As Also Concerning Simon Of Geras.
1. And now Vespasian had fortified all the places round about Jerusalem, and erected citadels at Jericho and Adida, and placed garrisons in them both, partly out of his own Romans, and partly out of the body of his auxiliaries. He also sent Lucius Annius to Gerasa, and delivered to him a body of horsemen, and a considerable number of footmen. So when he had taken the city, which he did at the first onset, he slew a thousand of those young men who had not prevented him by flying away; but he took their families captive, and permitted his soldiers to plunder them of their effects; after which he set fire to their houses, and went away to the adjoining villages, while the men of power fled away, and the weaker part were destroyed, and what was remaining was all burnt down. And now the war having gone through all the mountainous country, and all the plain country also, those that were at Jerusalem were deprived of the liberty of going out of the city; for as to such as had a mind to desert, they were watched by the zealots; and as to such as were not yet on the side of the Romans, their army kept them in, by encompassing the city round about on all sides.
2. Now as Vespasian was returned to Cesarea, and was getting ready with all his army to march directly to Jerusalem, he was informed that Nero was dead, after he had reigned thirteen years and eight days. But as to any narration after what manner he abused his power in the government, and committed the management of affairs to those vile wretches, Nymphidius and Tigellinus, his unworthy freed-men; and how he had a plot laid against him by them, and was deserted by all his guards, and ran away with four of his most trusty freed-men, and slew himself in the suburbs of Rome; and how those that occasioned his death were in no long time brought themselves to punishment; how also the war in Gall ended; and how Galba was made emperor 16and returned out of Spain to Rome; and how he was accused by the soldiers as a pusillanimous person, and slain by treachery in the middle of the market-place at Rome, and Otho was made emperor; with his expedition against the commanders of Vitellius, and his destruction thereupon; and besides what troubles there were under Vitellius, and the fight that was about the capitol; as also how Antonius Primus and Mucianus slew Vitellius, and his German legions, and thereby put an end to that civil war; I have omitted to give an exact account of them, because they are well known by all, and they are described by a great number of Greek and Roman authors; yet for the sake of the connexion of matters, and that my history may not be incoherent, I have just touched upon every thing briefly. Wherefore Vespasian put off at first his expedition against Jerusalem, and stood waiting whither the empire would be transferred after the death of Nero. Moreover, when he heard that Galba was made emperor, he attempted nothing till he also should send him some directions about the war: however, he sent his son Titus to him, to salute him, and to receive his commands about the Jews. Upon the very same errand did king Agrippa sail along with Titus to Galba; but as they were sailing in their long ships by the coasts of Achaia, for it was winter time, they heard that Galba was slain, before they could get to him, after he had reigned seven months and as many days. After whom Otho took the government, and undertook the management of public affairs. So Agrippa resolved to go on to Rome without any terror; on account of the change in the government; but Titus, by a Divine impulse, sailed back from Greece to Syria, and came in great haste to Cesarea, to his father. And now they were both in suspense about the public affairs, the Roman empire being then in a fluctuating condition, and did not go on with their expedition against the Jews, but thought that to make any attack upon foreigners was now unseasonable, on account of the solicitude they were in for their own country.
3. And now there arose another war at Jerusalem. There was a son of Giora, one Simon, by birth of Gerasa, a young man, not so cunning indeed as John [of Gisehala], who had already seized upon the city, but superior in strength of body and courage; on which account, when he had been driven away from that Acrabattene toparchy, which he once had, by Ananus the high priest, he came to those robbers who had seized upon Masada. At the first they suspected him, and only permitted him to come with the women he brought with him into the lower part of the fortress, while they dwelt in the upper part of it themselves. However, his manner so well agreed with theirs, and he seemed so trusty a man, that he went out with them, and ravaged and destroyed the country with them about Masada; yet when he persuaded them to undertake greater things, he could not prevail with them so to do; for as they were accustomed to dwell in that citadel, they were afraid of going far from that which was their hiding-place; but he affecting to tyrannize, and being fond of greatness, when he had heard of the death of Ananus, he left them, and went into the mountainous part of the country. So he proclaimed liberty to those in slavery, and a reward to those already free, and got together a set of wicked men from all quarters.
4. And as he had now a strong body of men about him, he overran the villages that lay in the mountainous country, and when there were still more and more that came to him, he ventured to go down into the lower parts of the country, and since he was now become formidable to the cities, many of the men of power were corrupted by him; so that his army was no longer composed of slaves and robbers, but a great many of the populace were obedient to him as to their king. He then overran the Acrabattene toparchy, and the places that reached as far as the Great Idumea; for he built a wall at a certain village called Nain, and made use of that as a fortress for his own party's security; and at the valley called Paran, he enlarged many of the caves, and many others he found ready for his purpose; these he made use of as repositories for his treasures, and receptacles for his prey, and therein he laid up the fruits that he had got by rapine; and many of his partizans had their dwelling in them; and he made no secret of it that he was exercising his men beforehand, and making preparations for the assault of Jerusalem.
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
21 My son, don’t get involved with revolutionaries,
but fear ADONAI and the king.
22 For disaster from them will suddenly appear,
and who knows what ruin they both can cause?
A Daily Devotional by Oswald Chambers
My Utmost for His Highest
By spiritual confusion
Ye know not what ye ask. --- Matthew 20:22.
There are times in spiritual life when there is confusion, and it is no way out to say that there ought not to be confusion. It is not a question of right and wrong, but a question of God taking you by a way which in the meantime you do not understand, and it is only by going through the confusion that you will get at what God wants.
The Shrouding of His Friendship. Luke 11:5–8. Jesus gave the illustration of the man who looked as if he did not care for his friend, and He said that that is how the Heavenly Father will appear to you at times. You will think He is an unkind friend, but remember He is not; the time will come when everything will be explained. There is a cloud on the friendship of the heart, and often even love itself has to wait in pain and tears for the blessing of fuller communion. When God looks completely shrouded, will you hang on in confidence in Him?
The Shadow on His Fatherhood. Luke 11:11–13. Jesus says there are times when your Father will appear as if He were an unnatural father, as if He were callous and indifferent, but remember He is not; I have told you—“Everyone that asketh receiveth.” If there is a shadow on the face of the Father just now, hang onto it that He will ultimately give His clear revealing and justify Himself in all that He permitted.
The Strangeness of His Faithfulness. Luke 18:1–8. “When the Son of Man cometh, shall He find faith on the earth?” Will He find the faith which banks on Him in spite of the confusion? Stand off in faith believing that what Jesus said is true, though in the meantime you do not understand what God is doing. He has bigger issues at stake than the particular things you ask.
the Poetry of RS Thomas
Selected poems, 1946-1968
The Survivor (Tares)
Yesterday I found one left:
Eighty-five, too old for mischief.
What strange grace lends him a brief
Time for repenting of his theft
Of health and comeliness from her
Who lay caught in his strong arms
Night by night and heard the farm's
Noises, the beasts' moan and stir?
The land's thug: seventeen stone,
Settling down in a warm corner
By a wood fire's lazy purr;
A slumped bundle of fat and bone,
Bragging endlessly of his feats
Of strength and skill with the long scythe,
Or gallantry among the blithe
Serving women, all on heat
For him, of course. My mind went back
Sombrely to that rough parish,
Lovely as the eye could wish
In its green clothes, but beaten black
And blue by the deeds of dour men
Too like him, warped inside
And given to watching, sullen-eyed,
Love still-born, as it was then.
Wake him up. It is too late
Now for the blood's foolish dreaming.
The veins clog and the body's spring
Is long past; pride and hate
Are the strong's fodder and the young.
Old and weak, he must chew now
The cud of prayer and be taught how
From hard hearts huge tears are wrong.
and Isaiah 6
In 1986 Betty Weems told Lily and I that the action of the six wings demonstrates how we are to live life. She said two wings covered the faces of the angels and two wings covered their feet. These four wings represent worship. The remaining two wings enabled them to fly. These represent service.
She said that worship should represent two thirds of our life. Worship comes from humility and gratefulness. Do you long to walk in the Holy Spirit, the cloud that led the ancient Israelites through the desert? If so, you must have an attitude of worship. Worship is a natural response when we lean into the Lord with gratefulness and humility, when we recognize life is not about me, my, mine.
If we live according to Col 3:12-13 the results of such a hunger, thirst and desire for God will be the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
Gal 5:22-25 describes those gifts. Are you reflecting the gifts of the Holy Spirit, are you guided by the same cloud that led the ancient Israelites through the desert or have you betrayed the living God and prostrated yourself before the golden calf, before the works of human hands in which there is only more and more vanity?
How would you respond if you stood in the place of Isaiah and gazed on the Lord? Romans says we all do, and because of that, we are all without excuse.
Will we really pursue truth wherever it leads? Consider the following.
"Most modern biologists, having reviewed with satisfaction the downfall of the spontaneous generation hypothesis, yet unwilling to accept the alternative belief (God) in special creation, are left with nothing. I think a scientist has no choice but to approach the origin of life through a hypothesis of spontaneous generation." --- George Wald, The Origin of Life.
No, I did not make a typing mistake. You read it correctly, but it gets worse.
"One has only to contemplate the magnitude of this task to concede spontaneous generation of a living organism is impossible. Yet here we are, as a result. I believe in spontaneous generation."
Yes, this is about Darwinism and evolution. Charles Darwin said, "If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down."
"To Darwin, the cell was a 'black box' - its inner workings were utterly mysterious to him. Now, the black box has been opened up and we know how it works.
Applying Darwin's test to the ultra-complex world of molecular machinery and cellular systems that have been discovered over the past 40 years, we can say that Darwin's theory has 'absolutely broken down.' --- Darwin's Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution
Despite this, our education system which seeks for the truth of history avoids the truth of science. We have been told that the fossil record proves evolution. Have you checked it out? It does not. Even Darwin said it did not. The intermediate changes necessary for the complexities we have today are not in the transitional record, so why is this broken theory still attached to an artificial life support system?
Colin Patterson, an evolutionist and paleontologist at the London Museum of Naturally History says, "I will lay it on the line - there is not one such (transitional) fossil for which one could make a watertight argument." --- Of Pandas and People, The Central Question of Biological Origins
Would you like more? David Raup, Director, Field Museum of Natural History (one of the largest fossil collections in the world) says, "We are now about 120 years after Darwin and the knowledge of the fossil record has been greatly expanded. We now have a quarter of a million fossil species but the situation hasn't changed much. The record of evolution is still surprisingly jerky and, ironically, we have even fewer examples of evolutionary transition than we had in Darwin's time." --- cited in David Noebel, Understanding the Times: The Collision of Today's Competing Worldviews
In 1972 paleontologists Niles Eldredge and Stephen Jay Gould came up with what they called Punctuated Equilibrium. Since the slow, gradual Darwinian change cannot be found, this leap frog like transition has been proposed. It has even less evidence, and yet the Bible remains. I see no point in going on. The evidence is available for anyone who wants to seek for themselves, or be content to just believe what you are told.
By the way, just for fun why not get Icons of Evolution: Science or Myth? Why Much of What We Teach About Evolution Is Wrong from your local library or Netflix.
I wish the following would happen in my life time, but it seems that those in control have neither eyes to see nor ears to hear.
S. Lovtrup writes in Darwinism: the Refutation of a Myth, "I believe that one day the Darwinian myth will be ranked the greatest deceit in the history of science. When this happens many people will pose the question: How did this ever happen?"
By all means don't forget the other myth, Carl Segans, "The cosmos is all there is, all there ever was, and all there ever will be."
Why are these myths defended so relentlessly?
"Evolution destroys utterly and finally the very reason Jesus' eartly life was supposedly made necessary. Destroy Adam and Eve and original sin, and in the rubble you will find the sorry remains of the son of God ... and if Jesus was not the redeemer who dies for our sins, and this is what evolution means, then Christianity is nothing." --- G. Richard Bozarth, American Atheist.
Don't judge the contents by the container, the essence by the title, or a message by the messenger. Good coffee is good coffee whether it is served in a paper cup or a porcelain cup.
Please review the information provided here without being sidetracked or put off by the name of the organization that provides it. As I have said often, none of us are in a position to judge another. As for Darwinism, make sure you watch the documentary, ASIN: B001BYLFFS with Ben Stein.
BIBLE TEXT / Numbers 25:1–3 / While Israel was staying at Shittim, the people profaned themselves by whoring with the Moabite women, who invited the people to the sacrifices for their god. The people partook of them and worshiped that god. Thus Israel attached itself to Baal-peor, and the Lord was incensed with Israel.
MIDRASH TEXT / Numbers Rabbah 20, 23 / The people profaned themselves. Every place where it says “the people,” it is a negative reference, and every place where it says “Israel,” it is a positive reference:
“The people took to complaining bitterly
before the Lord” (Numbers 11:1).
“… and the people spoke against God and against
Moses” (Numbers 21:5).
“… and the people wept that night” (Numbers 14:1).
“And the Lord said to Moses, ‘How long will this people spurn
Me …?’ ” (Numbers 14:11).
“Moses saw that the people were out of control”
“… the people gathered against Aaron and said to him,
‘Come, make us a god …’ ” (Exodus 32:1).
And so it is with them all.
The people profaned themselves. Throw a stick into the air—it falls where it came from. The one who began by whoring in the first place in the end finished with it. Their mothers began with a lewd act: “And the older one said to the younger, ‘… Come, let us make our father drink wine, and let us lie with him.…’ The next day the older one said to the younger, ‘See, I lay with Father last night; let us make him drink wine tonight also, and you go and lie with him’ ” (Genesis 19:31–32, 34). She [the older sister] taught her sister, and therefore the text spared the younger sister by not being explicit, saying only “and [the younger one] lay with him” (Genesis 19:35), but with the older one it is written “and [she] lay with her father” (19:33). The descendants of the one who began by whoring first followed her example: “whoring with the Moabite women.”
The Torah usually refers to the Israelites in one of two ways—either as יִשְׂרָאֵל/yisrael, “Israel,” or as הָעָם/ha-’am, “the people.” The Rabbis believed that these terms were chosen in each particular context for a reason; each noun conveyed a different meaning. When the Israelites did something good, they were referred to by their special, personal name, יִשְׂרָאֵל/yisrael. When they did something wrong—“The people profaned themselves”—the more impersonal noun, הָעָם/ha-’am, is utilized. The Rabbis bring six examples that support their case. Interestingly, the word Israel is used in the very same story just two verses later to convey a negative act! While the Rabbis have come upon a very worthwhile generalization about the use of certain terms (which helps our reading of many stories), there are exceptions to this “rule.”
The second half of our Midrash switches from semantics to historic background. We are reminded that the Moabite women who seduced the Israelites are descended from the oldest daughter of Lot. After he escaped from Sodom and Gomorrah (and his wife was turned into a pillar of salt), Lot and his two surviving daughters came to a cave. Believing that they were the last human beings on earth, the daughters devised a plan to become impregnated by their father. “The older one bore a son and named him Moab; he is the father of the Moabites of today” (Genesis 19:37). Though the story of Lot took place centuries before Moses, the Rabbis nevertheless saw a direct connection in the immoral sexual behavior in both tales: Like mother, like daughter. While both of Lot’s daughters committed incest, the older daughter, who is the mother of the Moabites—the villains in our story—is singled out for particular scorn. The Rabbis again pay careful attention to the use of words by the Torah. “She lay with her father” is considered a more shameful indictment than “she lay with him.” Indeed, the context of the story in Genesis does indicate that the older daughter is the instigator. The Rabbinic proverb, Throw a stick into the air—it falls to where it came from, seems to indicate the view that a person—or a nation—can’t escape its genetic and moral heredity.
“Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, against the man who is close to me!” declares the LORD Almighty. “Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.”
--- Zechariah 13:7.
Did Christ stand his ground and go through with his work of suffering, when all who had followed him abandoned him? (Works of John Flavel (6 Vol. Set)) Then a resolved adherence to God and duty, though left alone without company or encouragement, is Christlike and truly excellent.
Paul complains, “At my first defense, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me.… But the Lord stood at my side” (2 Tim. 4:16–17). And as the Lord stood by him, so he stood by his God, alone, without any aids or support from people. How great an argument of integrity is this! To be faithful to God when abandoned by people, to be a Lot in Sodom, a Noah in a corrupted generation—how excellent it is! It is sweet to travel over this earth to heaven in the company of the saints who are going there with us, but if we meet no company, we must not be discouraged to go on. It is likely that before you have gone many steps farther, you may have cause to say, Never less alone than when alone.
Did the disciples thus forsake Christ and yet were all recovered at last? Then believers, though backsliding, are secured from final apostasy and ruin. Saints may fall, but they shall rise again. The highest resolution may ebb, but saving grace is “a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14). God’s unchangeable election, the frame and constitution of the New Covenant, the intercession of Jesus Christ, give the believer abundant security against the danger of a total and final defection. None of those souls who are within the blessed clasp and bond of [that security] can possibly be lost. It is settled on unchangeable things—and we know all things are as their foundations are.
And as the fear of God in our hearts pleads in us against sin, so our potent intercessor in the heavens pleads for us with the Father, and for that reason we cannot finally miscarry. What shall separate us from the love of God? Understand it either of God’s love to us—as Calvin, Beza, and Martyr do—or of our love to God, as Ambrose and Augustine do. It is true in both senses—and a most comforting truth.
--- John Flavel
No, I Am Not Dead! September 12
Thomas Webb was a portly, homely, ragged fireball who helped establish Methodism in America. Born in England, Webb had initially chosen a soldier’s career and had fought with the British army in 1759. He was wounded and returned to England, only to be retired on captain’s pay. About 1764 he was converted to Christ in Bristol under the preaching of John Wesley, and he soon began applying his military mind in the Methodist campaign for souls. He became an ardent preacher in England and Ireland; then in 1766 he came to America as a soldier for Christ.
In New York City Captain Webb fired up a discouraged preacher named Philip Embury, assisting him in preaching the Gospel. New York’s population was only about 15,000. But Webb saw the potential and joined several others in constructing a small chapel, 42 by 60 feet, with a seating capacity of 700. It was built of stone, covered with blue plaster. The benches had no backs. Candles provided light. It was a plain building, but worshipers claimed it had “the beauty of Holiness.” The John Street Church, the first Methodist Chapel in New York City, has been called “The Mother Church of Methodism in America.”
Afterward, Captain Webb traveled far and wide—to Long Island, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Delaware, Jamaica, and Europe. And during his periodic stops in England, he continually urged Wesley to send more preachers to the colonies.
Those who met Webb never forgot him, chiefly because of his dangling sword and the large, green oversized patch that covered his left eye, the result of his war wounds of September 12, 1759, during the Battle of Louisburg. It was described this way:
A ball hit him on the bone which guards the right eye, and taking an oblique direction, burst the eyeball, and passing through his palate into his mouth, he swallowed it. A comrade said, “He is dead enough.” Webb replied, “No, I am not dead.” In three months, he was able to rejoin his comrades. He was never ashamed of his scars.
All that matters is that you are a new person. If you follow this rule, you will belong to God’s true people. God will treat you with undeserved kindness and will bless you with peace. --- Galatians 6:15b-16.
Daily Readings / CHARLES H. SPURGEON
Morning - September 12
"God is jealous." --- Nahum 1:2.
Your Lord is very jealous of your love, O believer. Did he choose you? He cannot bear that you should choose another. Did he buy you with his own blood? He cannot endure that you should think that you are your own, or that you belong to this world. He loved you with such a love that he would not stop in heaven without you; he would sooner die than you should perish, and he cannot endure that anything should stand between your heart’s love and himself. He is very jealous of your trust. He will not permit you to trust in an arm of flesh. He cannot bear that you should hew out broken cisterns, when the overflowing fountain is always free to you. When we lean upon him, he is glad, but when we transfer our dependence to another, when we rely upon our own wisdom, or the wisdom of a friend—worst of all, when we trust in any works of our own, he is displeased, and will chasten us that he may bring us to himself. He is also very jealous of our company. There should be no one with whom we converse so much as with Jesus. To abide in him only, this is true love; but to commune with the world, to find sufficient solace in our carnal comforts, to prefer even the society of our fellow Christians to secret intercourse with him, this is grievous to our jealous Lord. He would fain have us abide in him, and enjoy constant fellowship with himself; and many of the trials which he sends us are for the purpose of weaning our hearts from the creature, and fixing them more closely upon himself. Let this jealousy which would keep us near to Christ be also a comfort to us, for if he loves us so much as to care thus about our love we may be sure that he will suffer nothing to harm us, and will protect us from all our enemies. Oh that we may have grace this day to keep our hearts in sacred chastity for our Beloved alone, with sacred jealousy shutting our eyes to all the fascinations of the world!
Evening - September 12
“I will sing of mercy and judgment.”
--- Psalm 101:1.
Faith triumphs in trial. When reason is thrust into the inner prison, with her feet made fast in the stocks, faith makes the dungeon walls ring with her merry notes as she cries, “I will sing of mercy and of judgment. Unto thee, O Lord, will I sing.” Faith pulls the black mask from the face of trouble, and discovers the angel beneath. Faith looks up at the cloud, and sees that
“’Tis big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on her head.”
There is a subject for song even in the judgments of God towards us. For, first, the trial is not so heavy as it might have been; next, the trouble is not so severe as we deserved to have borne; and our affliction is not so crushing as the burden which others have to carry. Faith sees that in her worst sorrow there is nothing penal; there is not a drop of God’s wrath in it; it is all sent in love. Faith discerns love gleaming like a jewel on the breast of an angry God. Faith says of her grief, “This is a badge of honour, for the child must feel the rod”; and then she sings of the sweet result of her sorrows, because they work her spiritual good. Nay, more, says Faith, “These light afflictions, which are but for a moment, work out for me a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” So Faith rides forth on the black horse, conquering and to conquer, trampling down carnal reason and fleshly sense, and chanting notes of victory amid the thickest of the fray.
“All I meet I find assists me
In my path to heavenly joy:
Where, though trials now attend me,
Trials never more annoy.
“Blest there with a weight of glory,
Still the path I’ll ne’er forget,
But, exulting, cry, it led me
To my blessed Saviour’s seat.”
O WORSHIP THE KING
Robert Grant, 1779–1838
Sing praises to God, sing praises; sing praises to our King, sing praises. For God is the King of all the earth; sing to Him a psalm of praise. --- Psalm 47:6, 7
The word worship is a contraction of an old expression in the English language, woerth-scipe, denoting the giving of reverent praise to an object of superlative worth. True worship, then, is an act by a redeemed man, the creature, toward God, his Creator, whereby his will, intellect, and emotions gratefully respond to the revelation of God’s person expressed in the redemptive work of Jesus Christ, as the Holy Spirit illuminates the written word to his heart.
The author of this text, Robert Grant, described himself and all of us as “frail children of dust, and feeble as frail,” even though he was a member of a distinguished British political family, a member of the Parliament of Scotland, and governor of Bombay, India, for a time. Throughout his entire life, Grant was a devoutly evangelical Christian who strongly supported the missionary outreach of his church and endeared himself to the people of India by establishing a medical college in Bombay.
Although this is the only hymn by Sir Robert Grant in common usage today, it is considered to be a model for worship. Its descriptive names used in exalting the Almighty are significant: Shield, Defender, Ancient of Days, Maker, Defender, Redeemer and Friend. Also the vivid imagery—“pavilioned in splendor,” “girded with praise,” “whose robe is the light,” “whose canopy space,” “chariots of wrath,” “wings of the storm”—aids us in the worthy praise and adoration of our heavenly King.
O worship the King, all-glorious above, and gratefully sing His pow’r and His love; our Shield and Defender, the Ancient of Days, pavilioned in splendor and girded with praise.
O tell of His might, O sing of His grace, whose robe is the light, whose canopy space; His chariots of wrath the deep thunderclouds form, and dark is His path on the wings of the storm.
Thy bountiful care what tongue can recite? It breathes in the air; it shines in the light. It streams from the hills, it descends to the plain, and sweetly distills in the dew and the rain.
Frail children of dust, and feeble as frail, in thee do we trust, nor find thee to fail; Thy mercies how tender, how firm to the end! Our Maker, Defender, Redeemer and Friend.
For Today: Psalm 104; 22:28–31; 145:1–13; 1 Timothy 6:15, 16
Identify activities in a church service that are often substituted for the worship of God. Reflect again on the message of this hymn ---
DISCOURSE V - ON THE ETERNITY OF GOD
Psalm 90:2.—Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God.
The title of this Psalm is a prayer; the author, Moses. Some think not only this, but the ten following Psalms, were composed by him. The title wherewith he is dignified is, “The man of God,” as also in Deut. 33:1. One inspired by him to be his interpreter, and deliver his oracles; one particularly directed by him; one who as a servant did diligently employ himself in his master’s business, and acted for the glory of God; he was the minister of the Old Testament, and the prophet of the New.
There are two parts of this Psalm. 1. A complaint of the frailty of man’s life in general (v. 3–6); and then a particular complaint of the condition of the church (v. 8–10). 2. A prayer (v. 12). But before he speaks of the shortness of human life, he fortifies them by the consideration of the refuge they had, and should find in God (v. 1). “Lord, thou hast been our dwelling-place in all generations. We have had no settled abode in the earth, since the time of Abraham’s being called out from Ur of the Chaldees. We have had Canaan in a promise, we have it not yet in possession; we have been exposed to the cruelties of an oppressing enemy, and the incommodities of a desert wilderness; we have wanted the fruits of the earth, but not the dews of heaven. Thou hast been our dwelling-place in all generations. Abraham was under thy conduct; Isaac and Jacob under thy care; their posterrty was multiplied by thee, and that under their oppressions. Thou hast been our shield against dangers, our security in the times of trouble; when we were pursued to the Red Sea, it was not a creature delivered us; and when we feared the pinching of our bowels in the desert, it was no creature rained manna upon us. Thou hast been our dwelling-place; thou hast kept open house for us, sheltered us against storms, and preserved us from mischief, as a house doth an inhabitant from wind and weather; and that not in one or two, but in all generations. Some think an allusion is here made to the ark, to which they were to have recourse in all emergencies. Our refuge and defence hath not been from created things; not from the ark, but from the God of the ark.” Observe,
1. God is a perpetual refuge and security to his people. His providence is not confined to one generation; it is not one age only that tastes of his bounty and compassion. His eye never yet slept, nor hath he suffered the little ship of his church to be swallowed up, though it hath been tossed apon the waves; he hath always been a haven to preserve us, a house to secure us; he hath always had compassions to piity us, and power to protect us; he hath had a face to shine, when the world hath had an angry countenance to frown. He brought Enoch home by an extraordinary translation from a brutish world; and when he was resolved to reckon with men for their brutish lives, he lodged Noah, the phoenix of the world, in an ark, and kept him alive as a spark in the midst of many waters, whereby to rekindle a church in the world; in all generations he is a dwelling-place to secure his people here, or entertain them above. His providence is not wearied, nor his care fainting; he never wanted will to relieve us, “for he hath been our refuge,” nor ever can want power to support us, “for he is a God from everlasting to everlasting.” The church never wanted a pilot to steer her, and a rock to shelter her, and dash in pieces the waves which threaten her.
2. How worthy is it to remember former benefits, when we come to beg for new. Never were the records of God’s mercies so exactly revised, as when his people have stood in need of new editions of his power. How necessary are our wants to stir us up to pay the rent of thankfulness in arrear! He renders himself doubly unworthy of the mercies he wants, that doth not gratefully acknowledge the mercies he hath received. God scarce promised any deliverance to the Israelites, and they, in their distress, scarce prayed for any deliverance; but that from Egypt was mentioned on both sides, by God to encourage them, and by them to acknowledge their confidence in him. The greater our dangers, the more we should call to mind God’s former kindness. We are not only thankfully to acknowledge the mercies bestowed upon our persons, or in our age, but those of former times. “Thou hast been our dwelling-place in all generations.” Moses was not living in the former generations, yet he appropriates the former mercies to the present age. Mercies, as well as generations, proceed out of the loins of those that have gone before. All mankind are but one Adam; the whole church but one body. In the second verse he backs his former consideration. 1. By the greatness of his power in forming the world. 2. By the boundlessness of his duration: “From everlasting to everlasting.” As thou hast been our dwelling-place, and expended upon us the strength of thy power and riches of thy love, so we have no reason to doubt the continuance on thy part, if we be not wanting on our parts; for the vast mountains and fruitful earth are the works of thy hands, and there is less power requisite for our relief, than there was for their creation; and though so much strength hath been upon various occasions manifested, yet thy arm is not weakened, for “from everlasting to everlasting thou art God.” Thou hast always been God, and no time can be assigned as the beginning of thy being. The mountains are not of so long a standing as thyself; they are the effects of thy power, and therefore cannot be equal to thy duration; since they are the effects, they suppose the precedency of their cause. If we would look back, we can reach no further than the beginning of the creation, and account the years from the first foundation of the world; but after that we must lose ourselves in the abyss of eternity; we have no cue to guide our thoughts; we can see no bounds in thy eternity. But as for man, he traverseth the world a few days, and by thy order pronounced concerning all men, returns to the dust, and moulders into the grave. By mountains, some understand angels, as being creatures of a more elevated nature; by earth, they understand human nature, the earth being the habitation of men. There is no need to divert in this place from the letter to such a sense. The description seems to be poetical, and amounts to this: he neither began with the beginning of time, nor will expire with the end of it; he did not begin when he made himself known to our fathers, but his being did precede the creation of the world, before any created being was formed, and any time settled. “Before the mountains were brought forth,” or before they were begotten or born; the word being used in those senses in Scripture; before they stood up higher than the rest of the earthly mass God had created. It seems that mountains were not casually cast up by the force of the deluge softening the ground, and driving several parcels of it together, to grow up into a massy body, as the sea doth the sand in several places; but they were at first formed by God. The eternity of God is here described,
.1. In his priority: “Before the world.”
2. In the extension of his duration: “From everlasting to everlasting thou art God.” He was before the world, yet he neither began nor ends; he is not a temporary, but an eternal God; it takes in both parts of eternity, what was before the creation of the world, and what is after; though the eternity of God be one permanent state, without succession, yet the spirit of God, suiting himself to the weakness of our conception, divides it into two parts; one past before the foundation of the world, another to come after the destruction of the world; as he did exist before all ages, and as he will exist after all ages. Many truths lie couched in the verse. 1. The world hath a beginning of being: it was not from eternity, it was once nothing; had it been of a very long duration, some records would have remained of some memorable actions done of a longer date than any extant. 2. The world owes its being to the creating power of God: “Thou hast formed it” out of nothing into being; Thou, that is, God; it could not spring into being of itself; it was nothing; it must have a former. 3. God was in being before the world: the cause must be before the effect; that word which gives being, must be before that which receives being. 4. This Being was from eternity: “From everlasting.” 5. This Being shall endure to eternity: “To everlasting.” 6. There is but one God, one eternal: “From everlasting to everlasting, thou art God.” None else but one hath the property of eternity; the gods of the heathen cannot lay claim to it.
Doct. God is of an eternal duration. The eternity of God is the foundation of the stability of the covenant, the great comfort of a Christian. The design of God in Scripture is, to set forth his dealing with men in the way of a covenant. The priority of God before all things begins the Bible: “In the beginning God created” (Gen. 1:1). His covenant can have no foundation, but in his duration before and after the world: and Moses here mentions his eternity, not only with respect to the essence of God, but to his federal providence; as he is the dwelling-place of his people in all generations. The duration of God forever is more spoken of in Scripture than his eternity, à parte ante, though that is the foundation of all the comfort we can take from his immortality: if he had a beginning, he might have an end, and so all our happiness, hope and being would expire with him; but the Scripture sometimes takes notice of his being without beginning, as well as without end: “Thou art from everlasting” (Psalm 93:2); “Blessed be God from everlasting to everlasting” (Psalm 41:13); “I was set up from everlasting” (Prov. 8:23): if his wisdom were from everlasting, himself was from everlasting: whether we understand it of Christ the Son of God, or of the essential wisdom of God, it is all one to the present purpose. The wisdom of God supposeth the essence of God, as habits in creatures suppose the being of some power or faculty as their subject. The wisdom of God supposeth mind and understanding, essence and substance. The notion of eternity is difficult; as Austin said of time, if no man will ask me the question, what time is, I know well enough what it is; but if any ask me what it is, I know not how to explain it; so may I say of eternity; it is easy in the word pronounced, but hardly understood, and more hardly expressed; it is better expressed by negative than positive words. Though we cannot comprehend eternity, yet we may comprehend that there is an eternity; as, though we cannot comprehend the essence of God what he is, yet we may comprehend that he is; we may understand the notion of his existence, though we cannot understand the infiniteness of his nature; yet we may better understand eternity than infiniteness; we can better conceive a time with the addition of numberless days and years, than imagine a Being without bounds; whence the apostle joins his eternity with his power; “His eternal power and Godhead” (Rom. 1:20); because, next to the power of God, apprehended in the creature, we come necessarily by reasoning, to acknowledge the eternity of God. He that hath an incomprehensible power must needs have an eternity of nature; his power is most sensible in the creatures to the eye of man, and his eternity easily from thence deducible by the reason of man. Eternity is a perpetual duration, which hath neither beginning nor end; time hath both.
Those things we say are in time that have beginning, grow up by degrees, have succession of parts; eternity is contrary to time, and is therefore a permanent and immutable state; a perfect possession of life without any variation; it comprehends in itself all years, all ages, all periods of ages; it never begins; it endures after every, duration of time, and never ceaseth; it doth as much outrun time, as it went before the beginning of it: time supposeth something before it; but there can be nothing before eternity; it were not then eternity. Time hath a continual succession; the former time passeth away and another succeeds: the last year is not this year, nor this year the next. We must conceive of eternity contrary to the notion of time; as the nature of time consists in the succession of parts, so the nature of eternity in an infinite immutable duration. Eternity and time differ as the sea and rivers; the sea never changes place, and is always one water; but the rivers glide along, and are swallowed up in the sea; so is time by eternity. A thing is said to be eternal, or everlasting rather, in Scripture,
1. When it is of a long duration, though it will have an end; when it hath no measures of time determined to it; so circumcision is said to be in the flesh for an “everlasting covenant” (Gen. 17:13); not purely everlasting, but so long as that administration of the covenant should endure. And so when a servant would not leave his master, but would have his ear bored, it is said, he should be a servant “forever” (Deut. 15:17); i. e. till the jubilee, which was every fiftieth year: so the meat-offering they were to offer is said to be “perpetual” (Lev. 6:20); Canaan is said to be given to Abraham for an “everlasting” possession (Gen. 17:8); when as the Jews are expelled from Canaan, which is given a prey to the barbarous nations. Indeed circumcision was not everlasting; yet the substance of the covenant whereof this was a sign, viz. that God would be the God of believers, endures forever; and that circumcision of the heart, which was signified by circumcision of the flesh, shall remain forever in the kingdom of glory: it was not so much the lasting of the sign, as of the thing signified by it, and the covenant sealed by it: the sign had its abolition; so that the apostle is so peremptory in it, that he asserts, that if any went about to establish it, he excluded himself from a participation of Christ (Gal. 5:2). The sacrifices were to be perpetual, in regard to the thing signified by them; viz. the death of Christ, which was to endure in the efficacy of it and the passover was to be “forever” (Exod. 12:24), in regard of the redemption signified by it, which was to be of everlasting remembrance. Canaan was to be an everlasting possession, in regard of the glory of heaven typified, to be forever conferred upon the spiritual seed of Abraham.
2. When a thing hath no end, though it hath a beginning. So angels and souls are everlasting; though their being shall never cease, yet there was a time when their being began; they were nothing before they were something, though they shall never be nothing again, but shall live in endless happiness or misery. But that properly is eternal that hath neither beginning nor end; and thus eternity is a property of God.
In this doctrine I shall show, I. How God is eternal, or in what respects eternity is his property. II. That he is eternal, and must needs be so. III. That eternity is only proper to God, and not common to him with any creature. IV. The use.
I. How God is eternal, or in what respects he is so. Eternity is a negative attribute, and is a denying of God any measures of time, as immensity is a denying of him any bounds of place. As immensity is the diffusion of his essence, so eternity is the duration of his essence; and when we say God is eternal, we exclude from him all possibility of beginning and ending, all flux and change. As the essence of God cannot be bounded by any place, so it is not to be limited by any time: as it is his immensity to be everywhere, so it is his eternity to be always. As created things are said to be somewhere in regard of place, and to be present, past, or future, in regard of time; so the Creator in regard of place is everywhere, in regard of time is semper. His duration is as endless as his essence is boundless: he always was and always will be, and will no more have an end than he had a beginning; and this is an excellency belonging to the Supreme Being. As his essence comprehends all beings, and exceeds them, and his immensity surmounts all places; so his eternity comprehends all times, all durations, and infinitely excels them.
1. God is without beginning. “In the beginning” God created the world (Gen. 1:1). God was then before the beginning of it; and what point can be set wherein God began, if he were before the beginning of created things? God was without beginning, though all other things had time and beginning from him. As unity is before all numbers, so is God before all his creatures. Abraham called upon the name of the everlasting God (Gen. 21:33) the eternal God. — It is opposed to the heathen gods, which were but of yesterday, new coined, and so new; but the eternal God was before the world was made. In that sense it is to be understood; “The mystery which was kept secret since the world began, but now is made manifest, and by the scriptures of the prophets, according to the command of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith” (Rom. 16:26). The gospel is not preached by the command of a new and temporary god, but of that God that was before all ages: though the manifestation of it be in time, yet the purpose and resolve of it was from eternity. If there were decrees before the foundation of the world, there was a Decreer before the foundation of the world. Before the foundation of the world he loved Christ as a Mediator; a fore-ordination of him was before the foundation of the world (John 17:24); a choice of men, and therefore a Chooser before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4); a grace given in Christ before the world began (2 Tim. 1:9), and therefore a Donor of that grace. From those places, saith Crellius, it appears that God was before the foundation of the world, but they do not assert an absolute eternity; but to be before all creatures is equivalent to his being from eternity. Time began with the foundation of the world; but God being before time, could have no beginning in time. Before the beginning of the creation, and the beginning of time, there could be nothing but eternity; nothing but what was uncreated, that is, nothing but what was without beginning. To be in time is to have a beginning; to be before all time is never to have a beginning, but always to be; for as between the Creator and creatures there is no medium, so between time and eternity there is no medium. It is as easily deduced that he that was before all creatures is eternal, as he that made all creatures is God. If he had a beginning, he must have it from another, or from himself; if from another, that from whom he received his being would be better than he, so more a God than he. He cannot be God that is not supreme; he cannot be supreme that owes his being to the power of another. He would not be said only to have immortality as he is (1 Tim. 6:16), if he had it dependent upon another; nor could he have a beginning from himself; if he had given beginning to himself, then he was once nothing; there was a time when he was not; if he was not, how could he be the Cause of himself? It is impossible for any to give a beginning and being to itself: if it acts it must exist, and so exist before it existed. A thing would exist as a cause before it existed as an effect.
He that is not, cannot be the cause that he is; if, therefore, God doth exist, and hath not his being from another, he must exist from eternity. Therefore, when we say God is of and from himself, we mean not that God gave being to himself; but it is negatively to be understood that he hath no cause of existence without himself. Whatsoever number of millions of millions of years we can imagine before the creation of the world, yet God was infinitely before those; he is therefore called the “Ancient of Days” (Dan. 7:9), as being before all days and time, and eminently containing in himself all times and ages. Though, indeed, God cannot properly be called ancient, that will testify that he is decaying, and shortly will not be; no more than he can be called young, which would signify that he was not long before. All created things are new and fresh; but no creature can find out any beginning of God: it is impossible there should be any beginning of him.
2. God is without end. He always was, always is, and always will be what he is. He remains always the same in being; so far from any change, that no shadow of it can touch him (James 1:17). He will continue in being as long as he hath already enjoyed it; and if we could add never so many millions of years together, we are still as far from an end as from a beginning; for “the Lord shall endure forever” (Psalm 9:7). As it is impossible he should not be, being from all eternity, so it is impossible that he should not be to all eternity. The Scripture is most plentiful in testimonies of this eternity of God, à parte post, or after the creation of the world: he is said to “live forever” (Rev. 4:9, 10). The earth shall perish, but God shall “endure forever,” and his “years shall have no end” (Psalm 102:27). Plants and animals grow up from small beginnings, arrive to their full growth, and decline again, and have always remarkable alterations in their nature; but there is no declination in God by all the revolutions of time. Hence some think the incorruptibility of the Deity was signified by the shittim, or cedar wood, whereof the ark was made, it being of an incorruptible nature (Ex. 25:10). That which had no beginning of duration can never have an end, or any interruptions in it. Since God never depended apon any, what should make him cease to be what eternally he hath been, or put a stop to the continuance of his perfections? He cannot will his own destruction; that is against universal nature in all things to cease from being, if they can preserve themselves. He cannot desert his own being, because he cannot but love himself as the best and chiefest good. The reason that anything decays is either its own native weakness, or a superior power of something contrary to it. There is no weakness in the nature of God that can introduce any corruption, because he is infinitely simple without any mixture; nor can he be overpowered by anything else; a weaker cannot hurt him, and a stronger than he there cannot be; nor can he be outwitted or circumvented, because of his infinite wisdom. As he received his being from none, so he cannot be deprived of it by any: as he doth necessarily exist, so he doth necessarily always exist. This, indeed, is the property of God; nothing so proper to him as always to be. Whatsoever perfections any being hath, if it be not eternal, it is not divine. God only is immortal; he only is so by a necessity of nature. Angels, souls, and bodies too, after the resurrection, shall be immortal, not by nature, but grant; they are subject to return to nothing, if that word that raised them from nothing should speak them into nothing again. It is as easy with God to strip them of it, as to invest them with it; nay, it is impossible but that they should perish, if God should withdraw his power from preserving them, which he exerted in creating them; but God is immovably fixed in his own being; that as none gave him his life, so none can deprive him of his life, or the least particle of it. Not a jot of the happiness and life which God infinitely possesses can be lost; it will be as durable to everlasting, as it hath been possessed from everlasting.
3. There is no succession in God. God is without succession or change. It is apart of eternity; “from everlasting to everlasting he is God,” i. e. the same. God doth not only always remain in being, but he always remains the same in that being: “thou art the same” (Psalm 102:27). The being of creatures is successive; the being of God is permanent, and remains entire with all its perfections unchanged in an infinite duration. Indeed, the first notion of eternity is to be without beginning and end, which notes to us the duration of a being in regard of its existence; but to have no succession, nothing first or last, notes rather the perfection of a being in regard of its essence. The creatures are in a perpetual flux; something is acquired or something lost every day. A man is the same in regard of existence when he is a man, as he was when he was a child; but there is a new succession of quantities and qualities in him. Every day he acquires something till he comes to his maturity; every day he loseth something till he comes to his period. A man is not the same at night that he was in the morning; something is expired, and something is added; every day there is a change in his age, a change in his substance, a change in his accidents. But God hath his whole being in one and the same point, or moment of eternity. He receives nothing as an addition to what he was before; he loseth nothing of what he was before; he is always the same excellency and perfection in the same infiniteness as ever. His years do not fail (Heb. 1:12), his years do not come and go as others do; there is not this day, to-morrow, or yesterday, with him. As nothing is past or future with him in regard of knowledge, but all things are present, so nothing is past or future in regard of his essence. He is not in his essence this day what he was not before, or will be the next day and year what he is not now. All his perfections are most perfect in him every moment; before all ages, after all ages. As he hath his whole essence undivided in every place, as well as in an immense space, so he hath all his being in one moment of time, as well as in infinite intervals of time. Some illustrate the difference between eternity and time by the similitude of a tree, or a rock standing upon the side of a river, or shore of the sea; the tree stands always the same and unmoved, while the waters of the river glide along at the foot. The flux is in the river, but the tree acquires nothing but a diverse respect and relation of presence to the various parts of the river as they flow. The waters of the river press on, and push forward one another, and what the river had this minute, it hath not the same the next. So are all sublunary things in a continual flux. And though the angels have no substantial change, yet they have an accidental; for the actions of the angels this day are not the same individual actions which they performed yesterday: but in God there is no change; he always remains the same. Of a creature, it may be said he was, or he is, or he shall be; of God it cannot be said but only he is. He is what he always was, and he is what he always will be; whereas a creature is what he was not, and will be what he is not now. As it may be said of the flame of a candle, it is a flame: but it is not the same individual flame as was before, nor is it the same that will be presently after; there is a continual dissolution of it into air, and a continual supply for the generation of more. While it continues it may be said there is a flame; yet not entirely one, but in a succession of parts. So of a man it may be said, he is in a succession of parts; but he is not the same that he was, and will not be the same that he is. But God is the same, without any succession of parts and of time; of him it may be said, “He is.” He is no more now than he was, and he shall be no more hereafter than he is. God possesses a firm and absolute being, always constant to himself. He sees all things sliding under him in a continual variation; he beholds the revolutions in the world without any change of his most glorious and immovable nature. All other things pass from one state to another; from their original, to their eclipse and destruction; but God possesses his being in one indivisible point, having neither beginning, end, nor middle.
Martin Luther | (1483-1546)
The Bondage of the Will or Christian Classics Ethereal Library
Sect. CXLIX. — It has happened to these assertors of “Free-will” according to the old proverb, ‘Striving dire Scylla’s rock to shun, they ’gainst Charybdis headlong run.’ For devotedly striving to dissent from the Pelagians, they begin to deny the ‘merit of worthiness;’ whereas, by the very way in which they deny it, they establish it more firmly than ever. They deny it by their word and pen, but establish it in reality, and in heart-sentiment: and thus, they are worse than the Pelagians themselves: and that, on two accounts. First, the Pelagians plainly, candidly, and ingenuously, assert the ‘merit of worthiness;’ thus calling a boat a boat, and a fig a fig; and teaching what they really think. Whereas, our “Free-will” friends, while they think and teach the same thing, yet mock us with lying words and false appearances, as though they dissented from the Pelagians; when the fact is quite the contrary. So that, with respect to their hypocrisy, they seem to be the Pelagians’ strongest opposers, but with respect to the reality of the matter, and their heart-tenet, they are twice-dipped Pelagians. And next, under this hypocrisy, they estimate and purchase the grace of God at a much lower rate than the Pelagians themselves. For these assert, that it is not a certain little something in us by which we attain unto grace, but whole, full, perfect, great, and many, devoted efforts and works. Whereas, our friends declare, that it is a certain little something, almost a nothing, by which we deserve grace.
If therefore there must be error, they err with more honesty and less pride, who say, that the grace of God is purchased at a great price, and who account it dear and precious, than those who teach, that it may be purchased at that which is very little, and inconsiderable, and who account it cheap and contemptible. But however, Paul pounds both in pieces in one mortar, by one word, where he saith, that all are “justified freely;” and again that they are justified “without the law” and “without the works of the law.” And he who asserts that the justification must be free in all who are justified, leaves none excepted who work, deserve, or prepare themselves; he leaves no work which can be called ‘merit of congruity’ or ‘merit of worthiness;’ and by the one hurling of this thunder-bolt, he dashes in pieces both the Pelagians with their ‘whole merit,’ and the Sophists with their ‘very little merit.’ For a free justification allows of no workmen: because, a free gift, and a work-preparation, are manifestly in opposition to each other.
Moreover, the being justified through grace, will not allow of respect unto the worthiness of any person: as the apostle saith also afterwards, chap. xi., “If by grace then it is no more of works: otherwise, grace is no more grace.” (Rom. xi. 6). He saith the same also, “Now to him that worketh, is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt.” (Rom. iv. 4). Wherefore, my Paul stands an invincible destroyer of “Free-will,” and lays prostrate two armies by one word. For if we be justified “without works,” all works are condemned, whether they be very little, or very great. He excepts none, but thunders alike against all.
Sect. CL. — HERE you may see the yawning inconsiderateness of all our friends, and what it profits a man to rely upon the ancient fathers, who have been approved through the series of so many ages. Were they not also all alike blind to, nay rather, did they not disregard, the most clear and most manifest words of Paul? Pray what is there that can be spoken clearly and plainly in defence of grace, against “Free-will,” if the argument of Paul be not clear and plain? He proceeds with a glow of argument, and exalts grace against works; and that, in words the most clear and most plain; saying, that we are “justified freely,” and that grace is no more grace, if it be sought by works. Thus most manifestly excluding all works in the matter of justification, to the intent that, he might establish grace only and free justification. And yet we, in all this light, still seek after darkness; and when we cannot ascribe unto ourselves great things, and all things, we endeavour to ascribe unto ourselves a something ‘in degree,’ ‘a very little;’ merely that, we might maintain our tenet, that justification through the grace of God is not “free” and “without works.” — As though he who declares, that greater things, and all things profit us nothing unto justification, does not much more deny that things ‘in degree,’ and things ‘very little,’ profit us nothing also: particularly when he has settled the point, that we are justified by grace alone without any works whatever, and therefore, without the law itself, in which are comprehended all works, great and little, works of ‘congruity’ and works of ‘worthiness.’
Go now then and boast of the authorities of the ancients, and depend on what they say; all of whom you see, to a man, disregarded Paul, that most plain and most clear teacher; and, as it were, purposely shunned this morning star, yea, this sun rather, because, being wrapped up in their own carnal reason, they thought it absurd that no place should be left to merit.
Sect. CLI. — LET us now bring forward that example of Abraham which Paul afterwards adduces. “If (saith he) Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory, but not before God. For what saith the Scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.” (Rom. iv. 2-3.).
Mark here again, I pray you, the distinction of Paul, where he is shewing the two-fold righteousness of Abraham. — The one, is of works; that is, moral and civil; but he denies that he was justified by this before God, even though he were justified by it before men. Moreover, by that righteousness, “he hath whereof to glory” before men, but is all the while himself without the glory of God. Nor can any one here say, that they are the works of the law, or of ceremonies, which are here condemned; seeing that, Abraham existed so many years before the law. Paul plainly speaks of the works of Abraham, and those his best works. For it would be ridiculous to dispute, whether or not any one were justified by evil works.
If therefore, Abraham be righteous by no works whatever, and if both he himself and all his works be left under sin, unless he be clothed with another righteousness, even with the righteousness of faith, it is quite manifest, that no man can do any thing by works towards his becoming righteous: and moreover, that no works, no devoted efforts, no endeavours of “Free-will,” avail any thing in the sight of God, but are all judged to be ungodly, unrighteous, and evil. For if the man himself be not righteous, neither will his works or endeavours be righteous: and if they be not righteous, they are damnable, and merit wrath.
The other righteousness is that of faith; which consists, not in any works, but in the favour and imputation of God through grace. And mark how Paul dwells upon the word “imputed;” how he urges it, repeats it, and inculcates it. — “Now (saith he) to him that worketh, is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth in Him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness,” (Rom. iv. 4-5), according to the purpose of the grace of God. Then he adduces David, saying the same thing concerning the imputation through grace. “Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin,” &c. (Rom. iv. 6-8).
In this chapter, he repeats the word “impute” above ten times. In a word, he distinctively sets forth “him that worketh,” and “him that worketh not,” leaving no medium between them. He declares, that righteousness is not imputed “to him that worketh,” but asserts that righteousness is imputed “to him that worketh not,” if he believe! Here is no way by which “Free-will,” with its devoted efforts and endeavours, can escape or get off: it must be numbered with “him that worketh,” or with “him that worketh not.” If it be numbered with “him that worketh,” you hear that righteousness is not imputed unto it; if it be numbered with “him that worketh not, but believeth” in God, righteousness is imputed unto it. And then, it will not be the power of “Free-will,” but the new creature by faith. But if righteousness be not imputed unto it, being “him that worketh,” then, it becomes manifest, that all its works are nothing but sins, evils, and impieties before God.
Nor can any Sophist here snarl, and say, that, although man be evil, yet his work may not be evil. For Paul speaks not of the man simply, but of “him that worketh,” to the very intent that, he might declare in the plainest words, that the works and devoted efforts themselves of man are condemned, whatever they may be, by what name soever they may be called, or under what form soever they may be done. He here also speaks of good works; because, the points of his argument are, justification, and merits. And when he speaks of “him that worketh,” he speaks of all workers and of all their works; but more especially of their good and meritorious works. Otherwise, his distinction between “him that worketh,” and “him that worketh not,” will amount to nothing.