The Proclamation of CyrusEzra 1 1 In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom and also put it in writing:
2 “Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. 3 Whoever is among you of all his people, may his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and rebuild the house of the LORD, the God of Israel—he is the God who is in Jerusalem. 4 And let each survivor, in whatever place he sojourns, be assisted by the men of his place with silver and gold, with goods and with beasts, besides freewill offerings for the house of God that is in Jerusalem.”
5 Then rose up the heads of the fathers’ houses of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests and the Levites, everyone whose spirit God had stirred to go up to rebuild the house of the LORD that is in Jerusalem. 6 And all who were about them aided them with vessels of silver, with gold, with goods, with beasts, and with costly wares, besides all that was freely offered. 7 Cyrus the king also brought out the vessels of the house of the LORD that Nebuchadnezzar had carried away from Jerusalem and placed in the house of his gods. 8 Cyrus king of Persia brought these out in the charge of Mithredath the treasurer, who counted them out to Sheshbazzar the prince of Judah. 9 And this was the number of them: 30 basins of gold, 1,000 basins of silver, 29 censers, 10 30 bowls of gold, 410 bowls of silver, and 1,000 other vessels; 11 all the vessels of gold and of silver were 5,400. All these did Sheshbazzar bring up, when the exiles were brought up from Babylonia to Jerusalem.
The Exiles ReturnEzra 2 1 Now these were the people of the province who came up out of the captivity of those exiles whom Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had carried captive to Babylonia. They returned to Jerusalem and Judah, each to his own town. 2 They came with Zerubbabel, Jeshua, Nehemiah, Seraiah, Reelaiah, Mordecai, Bilshan, Mispar, Bigvai, Rehum, and Baanah.
The number of the men of the people of Israel: 3 the sons of Parosh, 2,172. 4 The sons of Shephatiah, 372. 5 The sons of Arah, 775. 6 The sons of Pahath-moab, namely the sons of Jeshua and Joab, 2,812. 7 The sons of Elam, 1,254. 8 The sons of Zattu, 945. 9 The sons of Zaccai, 760. 10 The sons of Bani, 642. 11 The sons of Bebai, 623. 12 The sons of Azgad, 1,222. 13 The sons of Adonikam, 666. 14 The sons of Bigvai, 2,056. 15 The sons of Adin, 454. 16 The sons of Ater, namely of Hezekiah, 98. 17 The sons of Bezai, 323. 18 The sons of Jorah, 112. 19 The sons of Hashum, 223. 20 The sons of Gibbar, 95. 21 The sons of Bethlehem, 123. 22 The men of Netophah, 56. 23 The men of Anathoth, 128. 24 The sons of Azmaveth, 42. 25 The sons of Kiriath-arim, Chephirah, and Beeroth, 743. 26 The sons of Ramah and Geba, 621. 27 The men of Michmas, 122. 28 The men of Bethel and Ai, 223. 29 The sons of Nebo, 52. 30 The sons of Magbish, 156. 31 The sons of the other Elam, 1,254. 32 The sons of Harim, 320. 33 The sons of Lod, Hadid, and Ono, 725. 34 The sons of Jericho, 345. 35 The sons of Senaah, 3,630.
36 The priests: the sons of Jedaiah, of the house of Jeshua, 973. 37 The sons of Immer, 1,052. 38 The sons of Pashhur, 1,247. 39 The sons of Harim, 1,017.
40 The Levites: the sons of Jeshua and Kadmiel, of the sons of Hodaviah, 74. 41 The singers: the sons of Asaph, 128. 42 The sons of the gatekeepers: the sons of Shallum, the sons of Ater, the sons of Talmon, the sons of Akkub, the sons of Hatita, and the sons of Shobai, in all 139.
43 The temple servants: the sons of Ziha, the sons of Hasupha, the sons of Tabbaoth, 44 the sons of Keros, the sons of Siaha, the sons of Padon, 45 the sons of Lebanah, the sons of Hagabah, the sons of Akkub, 46 the sons of Hagab, the sons of Shamlai, the sons of Hanan, 47 the sons of Giddel, the sons of Gahar, the sons of Reaiah, 48 the sons of Rezin, the sons of Nekoda, the sons of Gazzam, 49 the sons of Uzza, the sons of Paseah, the sons of Besai, 50 the sons of Asnah, the sons of Meunim, the sons of Nephisim, 51 the sons of Bakbuk, the sons of Hakupha, the sons of Harhur, 52 the sons of Bazluth, the sons of Mehida, the sons of Harsha, 53 the sons of Barkos, the sons of Sisera, the sons of Temah, 54 the sons of Neziah, and the sons of Hatipha.
55 The sons of Solomon’s servants: the sons of Sotai, the sons of Hassophereth, the sons of Peruda, 56 the sons of Jaalah, the sons of Darkon, the sons of Giddel, 57 the sons of Shephatiah, the sons of Hattil, the sons of Pochereth-hazzebaim, and the sons of Ami.
58 All the temple servants and the sons of Solomon’s servants were 392.
59 The following were those who came up from Tel-melah, Tel-harsha, Cherub, Addan, and Immer, though they could not prove their fathers’ houses or their descent, whether they belonged to Israel: 60 the sons of Delaiah, the sons of Tobiah, and the sons of Nekoda, 652. 61 Also, of the sons of the priests: the sons of Habaiah, the sons of Hakkoz, and the sons of Barzillai (who had taken a wife from the daughters of Barzillai the Gileadite, and was called by their name). 62 These sought their registration among those enrolled in the genealogies, but they were not found there, and so they were excluded from the priesthood as unclean. 63 The governor told them that they were not to partake of the most holy food, until there should be a priest to consult Urim and Thummim.
64 The whole assembly together was 42,360, 65 besides their male and female servants, of whom there were 7,337, and they had 200 male and female singers. 66 Their horses were 736, their mules were 245, 67 their camels were 435, and their donkeys were 6,720.
68 Some of the heads of families, when they came to the house of the LORD that is in Jerusalem, made freewill offerings for the house of God, to erect it on its site. 69 According to their ability they gave to the treasury of the work 61,000 darics of gold, 5,000 minas of silver, and 100 priests’ garments.
70 Now the priests, the Levites, some of the people, the singers, the gatekeepers, and the temple servants lived in their towns, and all the rest of Israel in their towns.
Rebuilding the AltarEzra 3 1 When the seventh month came, and the children of Israel were in the towns, the people gathered as one man to Jerusalem. 2 Then arose Jeshua the son of Jozadak, with his fellow priests, and Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel with his kinsmen, and they built the altar of the God of Israel, to offer burnt offerings on it, as it is written in the Law of Moses the man of God. 3 They set the altar in its place, for fear was on them because of the peoples of the lands, and they offered burnt offerings on it to the LORD, burnt offerings morning and evening. 4 And they kept the Feast of Booths, as it is written, and offered the daily burnt offerings by number according to the rule, as each day required, 5 and after that the regular burnt offerings, the offerings at the new moon and at all the appointed feasts of the LORD, and the offerings of everyone who made a freewill offering to the LORD. 6 From the first day of the seventh month they began to offer burnt offerings to the LORD. But the foundation of the temple of the LORD was not yet laid. 7 So they gave money to the masons and the carpenters, and food, drink, and oil to the Sidonians and the Tyrians to bring cedar trees from Lebanon to the sea, to Joppa, according to the grant that they had from Cyrus king of Persia.
Rebuilding the Temple8 Now in the second year after their coming to the house of God at Jerusalem, in the second month, Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel and Jeshua the son of Jozadak made a beginning, together with the rest of their kinsmen, the priests and the Levites and all who had come to Jerusalem from the captivity. They appointed the Levites, from twenty years old and upward, to supervise the work of the house of the LORD. 9 And Jeshua with his sons and his brothers, and Kadmiel and his sons, the sons of Judah, together supervised the workmen in the house of God, along with the sons of Henadad and the Levites, their sons and brothers.
10 And when the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the LORD, the priests in their vestments came forward with trumpets, and the Levites, the sons of Asaph, with cymbals, to praise the LORD, according to the directions of David king of Israel. 11 And they sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the LORD,
“For he is good,
for his steadfast love endures forever toward Israel.”
What I'm Reading
The Trinity is Not A Problem, It’s A Solution
By J. Warner Wallace 5/4/2016
Some would say that the Bible presents an irreconcilable dilemma. Both the New and Old Testament declare that there is only one God. Verses like Deuteronomy 6:4-5, Isaiah 43:10, James 2:19, 1 Corinthians 8:4, 6 and 1 Timothy 2:5-6 make it rather clear; the writers of Jewish and Christian scripture proclaimed the existence of a single, solitary God. While this is the consistent message of the Bible, another thorny truth is also proclaimed: the Bible teaches that God the Father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit are all God:
(Dt 6:4–r) 4 “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. 5 You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. NRSV
(Is 43:10) 10 “You are my witnesses,” declares the LORD, “and my servant whom I have chosen, that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he. Before me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after me. NRSV
(Jas 2:19) 19 You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! NRSV
(1 Co 8:4–6) 4 Therefore, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “an idol has no real existence,” and that “there is no God but one.” 5 For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”— 6 yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist. NRSV
(1 Ti 2:5–6) 5 For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time. NRSV
All Three Are the All-Powerful Creator (Omnipotent)
(Is 64:8) 8 But now, O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. NRSV
(Jn 1:3) 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. NRSV
(Job 33:4) 4 The Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life. NRSV
All Three Are All-Present (Omnipresent)
(1 Ki 8:27) 27 “But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you; how much less this house that I have built! NRSV
(Mt 28:20) 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” NRSV
(Ps 139:7–10) 7 Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? 8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! 9 If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, 10 even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me. NRSV
All Three Are All-Loving (Omnibenevolent)
(Jn 3:16) 16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. NRSV
(Eph 5:25) 25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, NRSV
(Ro 15:30–31) 30 I appeal to you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf, 31 that I may be delivered from the unbelievers in Judea, and that my service for Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints, NRSV
All Three Are Called “God”
(Jn 1:1) 1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. NRSV
(Ac 5:3–4) 3 But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? 4 While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to man but to God.” NRSV
J. Warner Wallace is a Cold-Case Detective, a Christian Case Maker, and the author of:
In Awe of Her God Joni’s Fifty Years of Counting Quadriplegia Joy
By Vaneetha Rendall Risner 7/30/2017
This weekend marks fifty years since the diving accident that left Joni Eareckson Tada with quadriplegia. Fifty years of relying on others to meet her physical needs. Fifty years of pressing on in the midst of weakness, fatigue, and pain. Fifty years of trusting God to provide.
On July 30, 1967, when she was seventeen years old, Joni was paralyzed from the neck down after she dove into deceptively shallow water in the Chesapeake Bay. The early weeks and months were excruciating, and she despaired of even smiling again. But by God’s grace, fifty years later, she is full of grace and laughter, praising Jesus and counting it all joy.
In her latest devotional, A Spectacle of Glory: God's Light Shining through Me Every Day, Joni shares, “I happened to hear recently the old Beatles classic ‘Here Comes the Sun’ — a song I listened to when I was first injured. It reminded me of the dark, depressing days in the hospital when I thought I would never smile again, would never see the sunlight of hope. And now, nearly fifty years later, I still find myself thinking, how in the world did I ever make it?
“But here I am, living in joyful hope as though it were sunshine. How did that happen? Here’s how: day after day, month after month, year after year, I simply cast myself on Jesus. I clung to his name, crying out constantly, ‘O Jesus!’”
The Worst Part | This week I had the privilege of speaking with Ama Cruz, who helps serve Joni and her husband Ken in their home. Every morning someone arrives from her wake-up crew, affectionately known as her “Get-Up Girls.” They get her ready regardless of whether Joni has slept well or not, whether she’s in agony or not, whether she wants to get up or not. Because she relies on helpers who are scheduled in advance, Joni doesn’t have the luxury of changing her mind at the last minute. Joni can’t hit the snooze alarm and decide she wants a little more sleep.
Vaneetha Rendall Risner Books
The Scars That Have Shaped Me: How God Meets Us in Suffering
John Calvin, The Beatific Vision, And The Ene Of Mediation
By Steven Wedgeworth
Dr. Hutchinson’s recent post on Augustine reminded me about a point of Calvin’s eschatology that I wanted to explore. Agreeing with Augustine, Calvin argues that there will come a time when Christ’s mediation will come to an end, and the godman will deliver the kingdom over to the Trinity (considered properly; its deity as such). Calvin then adds that we will behold God directly at this time, seeing the majesty of deity without a veil.
This thought can be found in at least two places in Calvin’s work. First is his commentary on 1 Cor. 15:28:
Farther, it must be observed, that he has been appointed Lord and highest King, so as to be as it were the Father’s Vicegerent in the government of the world — not that he is employed and the Father unemployed (for how could that be, inasmuch as he is the wisdom and counsel of the Father, is of one essence with him, and is therefore himself God?) But the reason why the Scripture testifies, that Christ now holds dominion over the heaven and the earth in the room of the Father is — that we may not think that there is any other governor, lord, protector, or judge of the dead and living, but may fix our contemplation on him alone. We acknowledge, it is true, God as the ruler, but it is in the face of the man Christ. But Christ will then restore the kingdom which he has received, that we may cleave wholly to God. Nor will he in this way resign the kingdom, but will transfer it in a manner from his humanity to his glorious divinity, because a way of approach will then be opened up, from which our infirmity now keeps us back. Thus then Christ will be subjected to the Father, because the veil being then removed, we shall openly behold God reigning in his majesty, and Christ’s humanity will then no longer be interposed to keep us back from a closer view of God.
He expands upon these thoughts in his Institutes:
The kingdom of God assuredly had no beginning, and will have no end: but because he was hid under a humble clothing of flesh, and took upon himself the form of a servant, and humbled himself (Phil. 2:8), and, laying aside the insignia of majesty, became obedient to the Father; and after undergoing this subjection was at length crowned with glory and honour (Heb. 2:7), and exalted to supreme authority, that at his name every knee should bow (Phil. 2:10); so at the end he will subject to the Father both the name and the crown of glory, and whatever he received of the Father, that God may be all in all (1 Cor. 15:28). For what end were that power and authority given to him, save that the Father might govern us by his hand? In the same sense, also, he is said to sit at the right hand of the Father. But this is only for a time, until we enjoy the immediate presence of his Godhead. And here we cannot excuse the error of some ancient writers, who, by not attending to the office of Mediator, darken the genuine meaning of almost the whole doctrine which we read in the Gospel of John, and entangle themselves in many snares. Let us, therefore, regard it as the key of true interpretation, that those things which refer to the office of Mediator are not spoken of the divine or human nature simply. Christ, therefore, shall reign until he appear to judge the world, inasmuch as, according to the measure of our feeble capacity, he now connects us with the Father. But when, as partakers of the heavenly glory, we shall see God as he is, then Christ, having accomplished the office of Mediator, shall cease to be the vicegerent of the Father, and will be content with the glory which he possessed before the world was. Nor is the name of Lord specially applicable to the person of Christ in any other respect than in so far as he holds a middle place between God and us. To this effect are the words of Paul, “To us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him,” (1 Cor. 8:6); that is, to the latter a temporary authority has been committed by the Father until his divine majesty shall be beheld face to face. His giving up of the kingdom to the Father, so far from impairing his majesty, will give a brighter manifestation of it. God will then cease to be the head of Christ, and Christ’s own Godhead will then shine forth of itself, whereas it is now in a manner veiled. (Inst. 2.14.3)
Regeneration Is Monergistic
By Steven J. Lawson 5/24/2017
There may be no truth in the Bible more deeply loved and greatly cherished than the subject of the new birth. Here is the grace-centered message of a new beginning for those whose lives have been ruined by sin. Here is the life-changing truth that sinful men can be made new. When the new birth is caused by God, old things pass away—old practices, old cravings, old habits, old addictions, and old associations. Behold, new things come—new desires, new pursuits, and new passions. An entirely new life begins. Nothing could be more positive than this. It is no wonder that the truth of the new birth is so beloved.
Yet despite its great appeal, the new birth may be the most misunderstood doctrine in Scripture. Most people naively imagine that there is something they can do to cause themselves to be born again. They hear a well-meaning person say, “Believe and be born again,” and suppose that they can. So they try to effect their own regeneration. But this they cannot do. In attempting it, they are like someone who imagines he caused himself to be born physically. Did he meet with his parents and ask to be born? Did he initiate his own birth? Of course not. The truth is, the initiative in birth lies outside of the one being born. He is merely part of a process that started long before he came into being. His parents acted, then God acted. And as a result, that individual was brought into the world. He did not cause his own birth to happen.
The same is true regarding spiritual birth. If you have experienced the new birth, it is not because you initiated it. Rather, it was an event that God brought about in you. More specifically, you were not born again because you exercised faith. In truth, the new birth preceded your faith and produced it. Saving faith is the fruit of regeneration, not the root of it. The biblically correct order of salvation—known in theological language as the ordo salutis—is not “Believe and be born again,” but the very opposite: “Be born again and believe.” The living God must act upon the spiritually dead soul and cause it to be born again. The new birth is by divine choice and sovereign initiative. God’s will affects the human will, not vice versa. Scripture intentionally uses the imagery of birth to underscore this essential truth of the sovereignty of God in regeneration.
John Murray, one of the foremost theologians of the twentieth century, affirmed the divine initiative in the new birth when he wrote:
“For entrance into the kingdom of God we are wholly dependent upon the action of the Holy Spirit, an action … which is compared to that on the part of our parents by which we were born into the world. We are as dependent upon the Holy Spirit as we are upon the action of our parents in connection with our natural birth. We were not begotten by our father because we decided to be. And we were not born of our mother because we decided to be. We were simply begotten and we were born. We did not decide to be born…. If this privilege is ours it is because the Holy Spirit willed it and here all rests upon the Holy Spirit’s decision and action. He begets or bears when and where He pleases.”
Steven J. Lawson | Go to Books Page
Are You a Spectator on Sunday Morning?
By Michael Wittmer 7/29/2017
Medieval worship was a spectator sport. Pious peasants would attend Latin Mass — a language they could not understand — and gape in amazement as the bread and wine turned into the body and blood of Jesus. This miracle happened when the priest said the magic words, Hoc est corpus meum (translated “This is my body”). This phrase is the origin of the magician’s phrase, hocus pocus. The peasants were rarely allowed to eat the bread and they were never entrusted with their Savior’s blood. They merely watched as the priest behind the altar consumed Jesus.
The Reformation’s emphasis on the priesthood of all believers turned these spectators into participants. Ordinary Christians no longer needed a priestly class to intercede between them and God. Martin Luther translated the Bible into German so everyone could hear from God, wrote a German Mass so everyone could sing along, and said every Christian must be given both the bread and the cup.
Worship was wrestled away from the professional, priestly class and opened wide for everyone who put their faith in Christ.
Watching Worshipers | Modern worship is becoming a spectator sport. Pious evangelicals stand mute before the overwhelming volume of the praise band — a loud sound they cannot compete with or contribute to — and gape in amazement as this priestly class of talented musicians soars for impossibly high and sustained notes. The worship is typically ebullient, and also far beyond the reach of the ordinary person. Many don’t even try.
Pastors, look around during worship this weekend. How many of God’s children are singing? How many simply stand there, watching the professional performance on the platform?
- 1 Becoming Worldly Saints: Can You Serve Jesus and Still Enjoy Your Life?
- 2 Heaven Is a Place on Earth: Why Everything You Do Matters to God
- 3 Despite Doubt: Embracing a Confident Faith
- 4 Don't Stop Believing: Why Living Like Jesus Is Not Enough
- 5 The Last Enemy: Preparing to Win the Fight of Your Life
- 6 Christ Alone: An Evangelical Response to Rob Bell's "Love Wins"
The Prayers You Need Most Are Not Your Own
By Bart Byl 7/21/2017
You will not endure as a Christian without powerful, effective prayer.
That might be a frightening thought at first blush. If you’re like me, your prayer life feels inadequate. You feel more like the faltering father of the demon-possessed boy (Mark 9:24) than a faith-filled Elijah (James 5:17–18).
But that does not mean powerful, effective prayer for your needs does not exist. Because of our weakness in this period between Jesus’s first and second comings, the Father has sent us another Helper. Now, when we have no idea what to pray for, he steps in:
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. (Romans 8:26)
The way the Spirit helps us is surprising. If we don’t know what to pray for, you’d expect the Holy Spirit would help by, you know, telling us what to pray for. If not that, perhaps he would help us understand God’s plans in Scripture better, or give us prophetic words about what he’s doing. But instead, “the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” The Holy Spirit constantly intercedes for us.
Does My Sex Life Affect My Prayer Life?
By John Piper 7/17/2017
Here’s the whole verse: “Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer.” That’s where he stops. Here’s the rest of it: “But then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control” (1 Corinthians 7:5).
The Paradox | Now what’s paradoxical about this is that, on the one hand, Paul sees the suspension of sexual relations as a means of intensified devotion to prayer, presumably because the couple wants a breakthrough and some answer to prayer because the devil is doing something they don’t want him to do.
They want to resist the devil — resist unrighteousness that he’s promoting. Abstaining from sexual relations for prayer is a way of making war on Satan.
But then, on the other hand, Paul says the married couple should come back together and continue to have sexual relations so that Satan may not tempt you. This means that regular relations in marriage is a weapon against satanic triumphs. So abstaining from sexual relations for prayer is a weapon against Satan, and carrying on regular sexual relations is a weapon against Satan. That’s the paradox.
Maintaining Balance | I think this is really important to see because it means that, in God’s design of the world and of human life, his pattern for ordinary things like sleeping, exercising, eating, and sexual relations in marriage all have their place in maintaining appropriate spiritual equilibrium that keeps us from being knocked off balance by Satan.
John Piper Books:
John Piper | Go to Books Page
Read The Psalms In "1" Year
Psalm 97The LORD Reigns
8 Zion hears and is glad,
and the daughters of Judah rejoice,
because of your judgments, O LORD.
9 For you, O LORD, are most high over all the earth;
you are exalted far above all gods.
10 O you who love the LORD, hate evil!
He preserves the lives of his saints;
he delivers them from the hand of the wicked.
11 Light is sown for the righteous,
and joy for the upright in heart.
12 Rejoice in the LORD, O you righteous,
and give thanks to his holy name!
Castles in the Sand
By R.C. Sproul Jr. 7/01/2012
There are, when we disagree, almost always two disagreements. Most of the time the smaller disagreement is the bigger one. Consider election. There are some in the church who believe that God chooses who will believe His gospel. There are others who believe God sees beforehand who will believe. This, on the surface, seems to be the root of the loss of peace between these two groups. The second disagreement, however, is over this question: just how important an issue is this?
Though there are surely exceptions, by and large those who don’t believe in election are not known for zealously, aggressively not believing in election. Most don’t meet a new Christian and seek to steer the conversation to election. Those of us who do believe in election, on the other hand, believe it to be an issue of great importance. Did we not so believe, were we able to believe in it silently, in the quiet of our own minds, the way non-election believers don’t believe in election silently and in the quiet of their own minds, we might be able to get along better with others.
When, therefore, we seek to rightly draw lines, the issue is almost never the issue. The challenge is in knowing not just what’s right and what’s wrong, but how important something is. Each of us thinks we’ve mastered this art, and we can’t understand why others don’t just get in line. Intellectually speaking, we are driving down the highway frustrated with those poky drivers who slow us down and irritated by those crazy drivers who whiz by us. We consider those who are more forgiving of the first error to be latitudinarian, slippery, while those who are less forgiving of the second error, we consider to be judgmental and lacking in grace. We end up thinking that the real problem with the church is that everyone isn’t like me.
That we disagree on where to draw lines, however, doesn’t mean there are no correct answers. It simply means that we have a hard time agreeing on the answers. We disagree about when Jesus is coming back, which says nothing at all about the glorious truth that He is coming back. He knows when He is coming back, and that is the most important thing.
Our calling is to get our priorities in line with the one Man who always had them right: Jesus. Let Him who is without sin cast our vision. When we begin to look at things through His eyes, honestly, without recasting Him in our own image, we find not just the right answers but the right priorities. We find that instead of arguing over tithing, we ought actually to be tithing our mint and our cummin while never losing sight of the weightier matters of the Law, such as justice, mercy, and faithfulness (Matt. 23:23).
We learn here also this important truth: that this truth is more important than that truth doesn’t mean that truth is unimportant. Jesus didn’t say, “Why are you tithing your mint instead of pursuing justice? Why are you carefully weighing out your cummin instead of showing mercy?” Instead He said, “These things you ought to have done.” Being right about the more important things no more excuses being wrong about the less important things than not being guilty of murder proves that you are not a tax-cheat. Majoring on the minors, shouting where God has whispered, those are bad things. Neglecting the minors or being silent where God has whispered, those are bad things, too.
Our priorities on what the truly important issues are tend to be determined by what is important to us rather than what is important to Jesus. That is why Jesus warned us. In the Sermon on the Mount, He rightly exposed our selfish ways, noting that we fret and worry about what we will eat and what we will drink. He pointed out that such worries ought to describe only those outside the kingdom. We have a different set of priorities. We are to be about the business of pursuing His kingdom. That means, of course, that we need to be about the King’s business. We have no business of our own. We have been purchased by the King. His agenda is to be ours, His goals ours. How often, I wonder, do we draw lines not because we are called to but because we are setting up the boundaries of our own little fiefdoms? Having drawn our lines in the sand, we next build our sand castles, forgetting that the wind and the waves obey only Him.
Our folly in not pursuing the kingdom, then, drives us to pursue the one solution, His righteousness. We stand firm when we ought to bend, we roll over when we ought to stand. Not Jesus. He alone stands, righteous before His Father. And He bends down to lift us up, that we might stand in His arms. Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you: gratitude, peace, courage, grace, and the wisdom to know and to love as He knows and loves. Who could ask for anything more?
R.C. Sproul Jr. Books
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Devotionals, notes, poetry and more
by Bill Federer
In the dead of winter, 1842, clad in buckskin breeches, fur leggings and moccasins, he trekked 4000 miles, in a race against time, from his mission in the Oregon wilderness to Washington, DC to plead with President Tyler not to give the land to Britain. He then led the first wagon trains across the Oregon Trail. This was Dr. Marcus Whitman, born this day, September 4, 1802. President Harding described: “Never… has there been a finer example of civilization following Christianity… Missionaries led under… the cross and… settlers… close behind under the star-spangled symbol.”American Minute
Compiled by Richard S. Adams
... from here, there and everywhere
The quest for the eternal,
all-beautiful, all-true and all-pure,
and the quest to be close to the poor
and the most broken people appear to be so contradictory.
And yet, in the broken heart of Christ,
these two quests are united.
--- Jean Vanier
The Christian life is not a playground; it is a battleground, and we must be on our guard at all times.
--- Warren Wiersbe”
The Bumps Are What You Climb On: Encouragement for Difficult Days
The essence of Christian obedience is not do’s and don’ts but personal allegiance to Jesus.
--- Timothy Keller
Thanks to Meir Yona
4. Thus spake Jesus; yet did not the multitude of the Idumeans give any attention to what he said, but were in a rage, because they did not meet with a ready entrance into the city. The generals also had indignation at the offer of laying down their arms, and looked upon it as equal to a captivity, to throw them away at any man's injunction whomsoever. But Simon, the son of Cathlas, one of their commanders, with much ado quieted the tumult of his own men, and stood so that the high priests might hear him, and said as follows: "I can no longer wonder that the patrons of liberty are under custody in the temple, since there are those that shut the gates of our common city 8 to their own nation, and at the same time are prepared to admit the Romans into it; nay, perhaps are disposed to crown the gates with garlands at their coming, while they speak to the Idumeans from their own towers, and enjoin them to throw down their arms which they have taken up for the preservation of its liberty. And while they will not intrust the guard of our metropolis to their kindred, profess to make them judges of the differences that are among them; nay, while they accuse some men of having slain others without a legal trial, they do themselves condemn a whole nation after an ignominious manner, and have now walled up that city from their own nation, which used to be open to even all foreigners that came to worship there. We have indeed come in great haste to you, and to a war against our own countrymen; and the reason why we have made such haste is this, that we may preserve that freedom which you are so unhappy as to betray. You have probably been guilty of the like crimes against those whom you keep in custody, and have, I suppose, collected together the like plausible pretenses against them also that you make use of against us; after which you have gotten the mastery of those within the temple, and keep them in custody, while they are only taking care of the public affairs. You have also shut the gates of the city in general against nations that are the most nearly related to you; and while you give such injurious commands to others, you complain that you have been tyrannized over by them, and fix the name of unjust governors upon such as are tyrannized over by yourselves. Who can bear this your abuse of words, while they have a regard to the contrariety of your actions, unless you mean this, that those Idumeans do now exclude you out of your metropolis, whom you exclude from the sacred offices of your own country? One may indeed justly complain of those that are besieged in the temple, that when they had courage enough to punish those tyrants whom you call eminent men, and free from any accusations, because of their being your companions in wickedness, they did not begin with you, and thereby cut off beforehand the most dangerous parts of this treason. But if these men have been more merciful than the public necessity required, we that are Idumeans will preserve this house of God, and will fight for our common country, and will oppose by war as well those that attack them from abroad, as those that betray them from within. Here will we abide before the walls in our armor, until either the Romans grow weary in waiting for you, or you become friends to liberty, and repent of what you have done against it."
5. And now did the Idumeans make an acclamation to what Simon had said; but Jesus went away sorrowful, as seeing that the Idumeans were against all moderate counsels, and that the city was besieged on both sides. Nor indeed were the minds of the Idumeans at rest; for they were in a rage at the injury that had been offered them by their exclusion out of the city; and when they thought the zealots had been strong, but saw nothing of theirs to support them, they were in doubt about the matter, and many of them repented that they had come thither. But the shame that would attend them in case they returned without doing any thing at all, so far overcame that their repentance, that they lay all night before the wall, though in a very bad encampment; for there broke out a prodigious storm in the night, with the utmost violence, and very strong winds, with the largest showers of rain, with continued lightnings, terrible thunderings, and amazing concussions and bellowings of the earth, that was in an earthquake. These things were a manifest indication that some destruction was coming upon men, when the system of the world was put into this disorder; and any one would guess that these wonders foreshowed some grand calamities that were coming.
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
he keeps his mouth shut at the city gate.
Complete Jewish Bible : An English Version of the Tanakh (Old Testament) and B'Rit Hadashah (New Testament)
A Daily Devotional by Oswald Chambers
My Utmost for His Highest
Thine they were, and Thou gavest them Me. --- John 17:6.
The missionary is one in whom the Holy Ghost has wrought this realization—“Ye are not your own.” To say ‘I am not my own,’ is to have reached a great point in spiritual nobility. The true nature of the life in the actual whirl is the deliberate giving up of myself to another in sovereign preference, and that other is Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit expounds the nature of Jesus to me in order to make me one with my Lord, not that I might go off as a showroom exhibit. Our Lord never sent any of the disciples out on the ground of what He had done for them. It was not until after the Resurrection, when the disciples had perceived by the power of the Holy Spirit Whom He was, that Jesus said ‘Go.’
“If any man come to Me and hate not …, he cannot be My disciple,” not — he cannot be good and upright, but—he cannot be one over whom Jesus writes the word ‘Mine.’ Any one of the relationships Our Lord mentions may be a competitive relationship. I may prefer to belong to my mother, or to my wife, or to myself; then says Jesus, you cannot be My disciple. This does not mean I will not be saved, but it does mean that I cannot be ‘His.’
Our Lord makes a disciple His own possession, He becomes responsible for him. “Ye shall be witnesses unto Me.” The spirit that comes in is not that of doing anything for Jesus, but of being a perfect delight to Him. The secret of the missionary is—I am His, and He is carrying out His enterprises through me.
Be entirely His.
the Poetry of RS Thomas
Selected poems, 1946-1968
The Cry (Poetry for Supper)
Don't think it was all hate
That grew there; love grew there, too,
Climbing by small tendrils where
The warmth fell from the eyes' blue
Flame. Don't think even the dirt
And the brute ugliness reigned
Unchallenged. Among the fields
Sometimes the spirit, enchained
So long by the gross flesh, raised
Suddenly there its wild note of praise.
One says [only] partial praise of a person in his presence.
BIBLE TEXT / Numbers 12:5–8 / The Lord came down in a pillar of cloud, stopped at the entrance of the Tent, and called out, “Aaron and Miriam!” The two of them came forward; and He said, “Hear these My words: When a prophet of the Lord arises among you, I make Myself known to him in a vision, I speak with him in a dream. Not so with My servant Moses; he is trusted throughout My household. With him I speak mouth to mouth, plainly and not in riddles, and he beholds the likeness of the Lord.”
MIDRASH TEXT / Sifrei Be-ha’alotekha 102 / [He] called out “Aaron and Miriam!” The two of them came forward. Why didn’t Moses go out with them? So that Israel would not say that Moses, too, was included with them in [God’s] anger.
Another interpretation: The text comes to teach you manners, for whenever a person wants to speak to his friend, he shouldn’t say “Come here”; rather, let him draw him in concerning what he wants to speak to him about.
Another interpretation: So that he [Moses] would not hear negative things about Aaron.
Another interpretation: One doesn’t speak a person’s praise in his presence. Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah says, “We learn that one says [only] partial praise of a person in his presence. Thus we learned with Noah: ‘for you alone have I found righteous before Me in this generation’ (Genesis 7:1). But when not in his presence. He [God] says, ‘This is the line of Noah.—Noah was a righteous man; he was blameless in his age’ ” (Genesis 6:9).
Rabbi Elazar son of Rabbi Yosé ha-G’lili says, “We learn that one says [only] partial praise of He-Who-Spoke-and the-World-Came Into-Being, as it says, ‘Say to God, “How awesome are Your deeds” ’ (Psalm 66:3). If one says [only] partial praise of He-Who-Spoke-and the-World-Came Into-Being, how much more so [does one say only partial praise] of flesh and blood.”
CONTEXT Miriam and Aaron, the older sister and brother of Moses, spoke out against their younger sibling on two accounts. They were upset both that his wife was a Cushite, and that God had not acknowledged speaking through them as well as through Moses. In response to this criticism of Moses, God summoned Moses, Aaron, and Miriam to the Tent of Meeting. But then God, as our verses show, addressed only Aaron and Miriam: [He] called out “Aaron and Miriam!” God told them angrily that Moses was a unique prophet, and God’s special relationship with him was justified. Apparently as a punishment, Miriam was then stricken with snow-white scales over her body.
Our Midrash questions why—at first—all three were summoned, but subsequently only Miriam and Aaron were addressed. Four different explanations are offered. The first answer—So that Israel would not say that Moses, too, was included with them in [God’s] anger—and the third answer—So that he [Moses] would not hear negative things about Aaron—are attempts to understand God’s actions. The other two interpretations are the Rabbis’ attempts to learn practical or ethical lessons from the somewhat unusual way that God called on and then spoke to Aaron and Miriam. From the second response—The text comes to teach you manners—we see that God didn’t just summon the two siblings and then criticize them. Initially, all three were brought forward; only afterwards were Moses’ brother and sister called to task for their attacks.
One doesn’t speak a person’s praise in his presence. The fourth interpretation brings a final bit of wisdom, derived from the different ways God spoke to Moses and Noah. The Rabbis note that God spoke one way in their presence and differently about them when they weren’t there. Thus, it is only when God is alone with Miriam and Aaron that Moses is described in such exemplary tones. The same is true of Noah: To his face, God tells Noah “for you alone have I found righteous.” But when the Torah describes him in the third person, the additional adjective “blameless” is added to Noah’s praise: “Noah was a righteous man; he was blameless in his age.”
Rabbi Elazar derives the same reason for the way God is addressed in the Bible. In Psalm 66, the only adjective used about God is “awesome,” when it is clear that the Psalmist could have gone on and on. The lesson learned comes from a logical inference, called in Hebrew קֹל וָחֹמֶר/kol va-ḥomer, “simple and severe.” If we are this restrained with praise of God (where there is no issue of “swelling God’s head”), how much more so must we be restrained with praise of human beings, flesh and blood, whose heads can most certainly be swelled!
In my Father’s house are many rooms. --- John 14:2.
Let all be thus exhorted to seek admittance to a room in heaven. (Selected RS Thomas of Jonathan Edwards ) When the disciples perceived that Christ was going away, they expressed a desire to go with him. Peter asked him where he went, that he might follow. Christ told him that he could not follow him now, but that he would follow him afterwards. But Peter said, “Lord, why can’t I follow you now?”
(John 13:37). If those enjoy a high privilege who have seats in kings’ courts or in apartments in kings’ palaces—especially those who have dwellings there equal in quality to the king’s children—then how great a privilege will it be to have a room assigned to us as God’s children in his heavenly palace! How great is their glory and honor that are admitted to the household of God!
And seeing there are many rooms there, rooms enough for us all, our folly will be the greater if we neglect to seek a place in heaven, having our minds foolishly taken up about the worthless, fading things of this world.
Consider how little a while you have any place of abode in this world. [Here] you have a dwelling amongst the living, a house or room of your own, or at least one that is at present for your use. But in a very little while, the place that now knows you in this world will know you no more. The residence you have here will be empty of you; you will be carried dead out of it or will die at a distance from it and never enter it anymore—or any other dwelling in this world. Your room or dwelling place in this world, however convenient or comfortable it may be, is only a tent that will soon be taken down. Your stay is as it were but for a night. Your body itself is only a house of clay that will quickly decay and tumble down, and you will have no other dwelling here in this world but the grave.
Therefore, take warning, and don’t be such fools as to neglect seeking a place and room in heaven. Let it be your main care to secure an everlasting dwelling for hereafter.
Consider that when you die, if you have no room in the house of God in heaven, you must have your place in the dwelling of devils. There is no middle place between them, and when you go from here, you must go to one or the other of these. Consider how miserable those must be who shall dwell with devils to all eternity. Devils are foul spirits, God’s great enemies. Their dwelling is a place of darkness, utmost filthiness, abomination, darkness, disgrace, and torment. O, how would you rather ten thousand times have no place of abode at all, have no being, than to have [such] a place!
--- Jonathan Edwards
The Niger Expedition September 4
In 1840 three strands of purpose—missionary advance, humanitarian resolve, and slavery abolition—merged into the Niger Expedition, brainchild of Foxwell Buxton of the Church Missionary Society and of the Society for the Extinction of the Slave Trade. The British government funded the enterprise, and all England followed the course of the three new state-of-the-art steamships named Albert, Wilberforce, and Soudan. The iron vessels had a novel system of ventilation using chemical filters to “neutralize” the swamp gases thought to produce malaria.
The fleet sailed in early 1841, loaded with sailors, scientists, agriculturists, philanthropists, liberated slaves (as interpreters) and missionaries, J. F. Schon and Samuel Adjai Crowther. They arrived in African waters in mid-August; but on September 4, 1841 the chief medical officer, Dr. McWilliams, logged that “fever of a most malignant character” had broken out and the whole expedition was paralyzed. The sick were loaded onto the Soudan to return to healthier harbors, and the Wilberforce followed her.
The Albert forged up the Niger River alone, but soon the captain and crew were sick. Men threw themselves overboard in their deliriums. The dead were buried on the riverbanks by the missionaries. With no one left to navigate the ship, Dr. McWilliams did his best to control the reeling ship, using a textbook found in the captain’s cabin. But he had to repeatedly leave the bridge to attend the sick and dying. Of the 145 Europeans on board, 130 contracted malaria and many died.
But the mission wasn’t a complete failure. The missionaries returned with valuable recommendations that led to establishing a missionary center in Fourah Bay for training liberated slaves to evangelize West Africa. Within four years its foundation stone was laid on the very spot where 40 years before a factory had stood that engaged in the slave trade. And the rafters of the new roof were made almost entirely from the masts of old slave ships.
Tell the whole world to sing a new song to the LORD!
Tell those who sail the ocean and those who live far away
To join in the praise.
Tell the tribes of the desert and everyone in the mountains
To celebrate and sing.
Let them announce his praises everywhere.
--- Isaiah 42:10-12
Daily Readings / CHARLES H. SPURGEON
Morning - September 4
“I will; be thou clean.” --- Mark 1:41.
Primeval darkness heard the Almighty fiat, “light be,” and straightway light was, and the word of the Lord Jesus is equal in majesty to that ancient word of power. Redemption like Creation has its word of might. Jesus speaks and it is done. Leprosy yielded to no human remedies, but it fled at once at the Lord’s “I will.” The disease exhibited no hopeful signs or tokens of recovery, nature contributed nothing to its own healing, but the unaided word effected the entire work on the spot and for ever. The sinner is in a plight more miserable than the leper; let him imitate his example and go to Jesus, “beseeching him and kneeling down to him.” Let him exercise what little faith he has, even though it should go no further than “Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean”; and there need be no doubt as to the result of the application. Jesus heals all who come, and casts out none. In reading the narrative in which our Morning’s text occurs, it is worthy of devout notice that Jesus touched the leper. This unclean person had broken through the regulations of the ceremonial law and pressed into the house, but Jesus so far from chiding him broke through the law himself in order to meet him. He made an interchange with the leper, for while he cleansed him, he contracted by that touch a Levitical defilement. Even so Jesus Christ was made sin for us, although in himself he knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. O that poor sinners would go to Jesus, believing in the power of his blessed substitutionary work, and they would soon learn the power of his gracious touch. That hand which multiplied the loaves, which saved sinking Peter, which upholds afflicted saints, which crowns believers, that same hand will touch every seeking sinner, and in a moment make him clean. The love of Jesus is the source of salvation. He loves, he looks, he touches us, WE LIVE.
Evening - September 4
"Just balances, just weights, a just ephah, and a just hin, shall ye have.”
--- Leviticus 19:36.
Weights, and scales, and measures were to be all according to the standard of justice. Surely no Christian man will need to be reminded of this in his business, for if righteousness were banished from all the world beside, it should find a shelter in believing hearts. There are, however, other balances which weigh moral and spiritual things, and these often need examining. We will call in the officer to-night.
The balances in which we weigh our own and other men’s characters, are they quite accurate? Do we not turn our own ounces of goodness into pounds, and other persons’ bushels of excellence into pecks? See to weights and measures here, Christian. The scales in which we measure our trials and troubles, are they according to standard? Paul, who had more to suffer than we have, called his afflictions light, and yet we often consider ours to be heavy—surely something must be amiss with the weights! We must see to this matter, lest we get reported to the court above for unjust dealing. Those weights with which we measure our doctrinal belief, are they quite fair? The doctrines of grace should have the same weight with us as the precepts of the word, no more and no less; but it is to be feared that with many one scale or the other is unfairly weighted. It is a grand matter to give just measure in truth. Christian, be careful here. Those measures in which we estimate our obligations and responsibilities look rather small. When a rich man gives no more to the cause of God than the poor contribute, is that a just ephah and a just hin? When ministers are half starved, is that honest dealing? When the poor are despised, while ungodly rich men are held in admiration, is that a just balance? Reader, we might lengthen the list, but we prefer to leave it as your Evening’s work to find out and destroy all unrighteous balances, weights, and measures.
O BREATH OF LIFE
Bessie P. Head, 1850–1936
I have heard of Your fame; I stand in awe of Your deeds, O Lord. Renew them in our day, in our time make them known. Habakkuk 3:2
Set us afire, Lord, stir us, we pray— while the world perishes, we go our way
Purposeless, passionless, day after day; set us afire, Lord, stir us, we pray!
When the Holy Spirit was poured out at Pentecost for the birth of the church, it was in response to the fervent prayers of God’s people. This is still the principle for an effective ministry of any church —determined, persistent prayer for the Holy Spirit’s enabling power to accomplish our mission for God.
Vitality is essential to any Christian ministry; complacency is deadly. There must be the fervency of divine life infused into us by God the Holy Spirit. Just as a healthy vine manifests itself in producing foliage and fruit, so it is with a healthy Christian—he will bear evidence of an infectious enthusiasm for the furtherance of the Gospel and a life that produces the fruits of the Spirit.
This song of pleading for Holy Spirit power was written by Mrs. Bessie Head, a member of the Church of England. She was the author of numerous hymn texts, several of which appeared in the 1937 Keswick Hymn Book, including this hymn.
It would be helpful if each believer, as well as each local church, would use this musical prayer often as a theme song. We need God’s continual reviving, renewing, refreshing, comforting, and equipping power if we are to effectively “spread the light” and meet the needs of this hour.
O Breath of Life, come sweeping through us. Revive Thy Church with life and pow’r; O Breath of life, come, cleanse, renew us, and fit Thy Church to meet this hour.
O Wind of God, come bend us, break us, till humbly we confess our need; then in Thy tenderness remake us, revive, restore, for this we plead.
O Breath of Love, come breathe within us, renewing thought and will and heart; Come, Love of Christ, afresh to win us, revive Thy Church in ev’ry part.
O Heart of Christ, once broken for us, ’tis there we find our strength and rest; our broken contrite hearts now solace, and let Thy waiting Church be blest.
Revive us, Lord! Is zeal abating while harvest fields are vast and white? Revive us, Lord, the world is waiting. Equip Thy Church to spread the light.
For Today: Psalm 85:6; Jeremiah 20:9; Luke 11:13; Acts 3:19; Romans 5:5
Why is it that we as individual believers and as a local church easily become complacent about the things of God? What steps can be taken to change this? Carry this musical prayer with you as you reflect on this serious matter ---
DISCOURSE IV - ON SPIRITUAL WORSHIP
2. Spiritual worship is done by the influence and with the assistance of the Spirit of God. A heart may be spiritual, when a particular act of worship may not be spiritual. The Spirit may dwell in the heart, when ha may suspend his influence on the act. Our worship is then spiritual, when the fire that kindles our affections comes from heaven, as that fire upon the altar wherewith the sacrifices were consumed. God tastes a sweetness in no service, but as it is dressed up by the hand of the Mediator, and hath the air of his own Spirit in it; they are but natural acts, without a supernatural assistance; without an actual influence, we cannot act from spiritual motives, nor for spiritual ends, nor in a spiritual manner. We cannot mortify a lust without the Spirit, nor quicken a service without the Spirit. Whatsoever corruption is killed, is slain by his power; whatsoever duty is spiritualiaed, is refined by his breath. He quickens our dead bodies in our resurrection; he renews our dead souls in our regeneration; he quickens our carnal services in our adorations; the choicest acts of worship are but infirmities without his auxiliary help. We are logs, unable to move ourselves, till he raise our faculties to a pitch agreeable to God; puts his hand to the duty, and lifts that up and us with it. Never any great act was preformed by the apostles to God, or for God; but they are said to filled with the Holy Ghost. Christ could not have been conceived immaculate as that “holy thing,” without the Spirit’s overshadowing the Virgin; nor any spiritual act conceived in our heart, without the Spirit’s moving upon us, to bring forth a living religion from us. The acts of worship are said to be in the Spirit, “suplacation in the Spirit;” not only with the strength and affection of our own spirits, but with the mighty operation of the Holy Ghost, if Jude may be the interpreter; the Holy Ghost exciting us, impelling us, and firing our souls by his divine flame; raising up the affections, and making the soul cry with a holy importunity, Abba, Father. To render our worship spiritual, we should, before every engagement in it, implore the actual presence of the Spirit, without which we are not able to send forth one spiritual breath or groan; but be wind-bound like a ship without a gale, and our worship be no better than carnal. How doth the spouse solicit the Spirit with an “Awake, O north wind, and come, thou south wind,”
3. Spiritual worship is done with sincerity. When the heart stands right to God, and the soul performs what it pretends to perform; when we serve God with our spirits, as the apostle (Rom. 1:9), “God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son:” this is not meant of the Holy Ghost; for the apostle would never have called the Spirit of God his own spirit; but with my spirit, that is, a sincere frame of heart. A carnal worship, whether under the law or gospel, is, when we are busied about external rites, without an inward compliance of soul. God demands the heart; “My son, give me thy heart;” not give me thy tongue, or thy lips, or thy hands; these may be given without the heart, but the heart can never be bestowed without these as its attendants. A heap of services can be no more welcome to God, without our spirits, than all Jacob’s sons could be to Joseph, without the Benjamin he desired to see. God is not taken with the cabinet, but the jewel; he first respected Abel’s faith and sincerity, and then his sacrifice; he disrespected Cain’s infidelity and hypocrisy, and then his offering. For this cause he rejected the offerings of the Jews, the prayers of the Pharisees, and the alms of Ananias and Sapphira, because their hearts and their duties were at a distance from one another. In all spiritual sacrifices, our spirits are God’s portion. Under the law, the reins were to be consumed by the fire on the altar, because the secret intentions of the heart were signified by them (Psalm 7:9), “The Lord trieth the heart and the reins.” It was an ill omen among the heathen, if a victim wanted a heart. The widow’s mites, with her heart in them, were more esteemed than the richer offerings without it. Not the quantity of service, but the will in it, is of account with this infinite Spirit. All that was to be brought for the framing of the tabernacle was to be offered “willingly with the heart.” The more of will, the more of spirituality and acceptableness to God (Psalm 119:108), “Accept the free-will offering of my lips.” Sincerity is the salt which seasons every sacrifice. The heart is most like to the object of worship; the heart in the body is the spring of all vital actions; and a spiritual soul is the spring of all spiritual actions. How can we imagine God can delight in the mere service of the body, any more than we can delight in converse with a carcass? Without the heart it is no worship; it is a stage play; an acting a part without being that person really which is acted by us: a hypocrite, in the notion of the word, is a stage-player. We may as well say a man may believe with his body, as worship God only with his body. Faith is a great ingredient in worship; and it is “with the heart man believes unto righteousness.” We may be truly said to worship God, though we want perfection; but we cannot be said to worship him, if we want sincerity; a statue upon a tomb, with eyes and hands lifted up, offers as good and true a service; it wants only a voice, the gestures and postures are the same; nay, the service is better; it is not a mockery; it represents all that it can be framed to; but to worship without our spirits, is a presenting God with a picture, an echo, voice, and nothing else; a compliment; a mere lie; a “compassing him about with lies.” Without the heart the tongue is a liar; and the greatest zeal a dissembling with him. To present the spirit, is to present with that which can never naturally die; to present him only the body, is to present him that which is every day crumbling to dust, and will at last lie rotting in the grave; to offer him a few rags, easily torn; a skin for a sacrifice, a thing unworthy the majesty of God; a fixed eye and elevated hands, with a sleepy heart and earthly soul, are pitiful things for an ever-blessed and glorious Spirit: nay, it is so far from being spiritual, that it is biasphemy; to pretend to be a Jew outwardly, without being so inwardly, is, in the judgment of Christ, to blaspheme. And is not the same title to be given with as much reason to those that pretend a worship and perform none? Such a one is not a spiritual worshipper, but a blaspheming devil in Samuel’s mantle.
4. Spiritual worship is performed with an unitedness of heart. The heart is not only now and then with God, but “united to fear or worship his name.” A spiritual duty must have the engagement of the spirit, and the thoughts tied up to the spiritual object. The union of all the parts of the heart together with the body is the life of the body; and the moral union of our hearts is the life of any duty. A heart quickly flitting from God makes not God his treasure; he slights the worship, and therein affronts the object of worship. All our thoughts ought to be ravished with God; bound up in him as in a bundle of life; but when we start from him to gaze after every feather, and run after every bubble, we disown a full and affecting excellency, and a satisfying sweetness in him. When our thoughts run from God, it is a testimony we have no spiritual affection to God; affection would stake down the thoughts to the object affected; it is but a mouth love, as the prophet praiseth it; but their hearts go “after their covetousness;” covetous objects pipe, and the heart danceth after them; and thoughts of God are shifted oft to receive a multitude of other imaginations; the heart and the service staid awhile together, and then took leave of one another. The Psalmist still found his heart with God when he awaked; still with God in spiritual affections and fixed meditations. A carnal heart is seldom with God, either in or out of worship; if God should knock at the heart in any duty, it would be found not at home, but straying abroad. Our worship is spiritual when the door of the heart is shut against all intruders, as our Saviour commands in closet-duties. It was not his meaning to command the shutting the closet-door, and leave the heart-door open for every thought that would be apt to haunt us. Worldly affections are to be laid aside if we would have our worship spiritual; this was meant by the Jewish custom of wiping or washing off the dust of their feet before their entrance into the temple, and of not bringing move in their girdles. To be spiritual in worship, is to have our sons gathered and bound up wholly in themselves, and offered to God. Our loins must be girt, as the fashion was in the eastern countries, where they wore long garments, that they might not waver with the wind, and be blown between their legs, to obstruct them in their travel: our faculties must not hang loose about us. He is a carnal worshipper that gives God but a piece of his heart, as well as he that denies him the whole of it; that hath some thoughts pitched upon God in worship, and as many willingly upon the world. David sought God, not with a moiety of his heart, but with his “whole heart;” with his entire frame; he brought not half his heart, and left the other in the possession of another master. It was a good lesson Pythagoras gave his scholars, “Not to make the observance of God a work by the bye.” If those guests be invited, or entertained kindly, or if they come unexpected, the spirituality of that worship is lost; the soul kicks down what it wrought before: but if they be brow-beaten by us, and our grief rather than our pleasure, they divert our spiritual intention from the work in hand, but hinder not God’s acceptance of it as spiritual, because they are not the acts of our will, but offences to our wills.
5. Spiritual worship is performed with a spiritual activity, and sensibleness of God; with an active understanding to meditate on his excellency, and an active will to embrace him when he drops upon the soul. If we understand the amiableness of God, our affections will be ravished; if we understand the immensity of his goodness, our spirits will be enlarged. We are to act with the highest intention suitable to the greatness of that God with whom we have to do (Psalm 150:2): “Praise him according to his excellent greatness;” not that we can worship him equally, but in some proportion the frame of the heart is to be suite to the excellency of the object; our spiritual strength is to be put out to the utmost, as creatures that act naturally do. The sun shines, and the fire burns to the utmost of their natural power. This is so necessary, that David, a spiritual worshipper, prays for it before he sets upon acts of adoration (Psalm 80:18): “Quicken us, that we may call upon thy name;” as he was loth to have a drowsy faculty, he was loth to have a drowsy instrument, and would willingly have them as lively as himself (Psalm 57:8): “Awake up, my glory; awake, psaltery and harp; I myself will awake early.” How would this divine soul screw himself up to God, and be turned into nothing but a holy flame! Our souls must be boiling hot when we serve the Lord. The heart doth no less burn when it spiritually comes to God, than when God doth spiritually approach to it; a Nabal’s heart, one as cold as a stone, cannot offer up a spiritual service. Whatsoever is enjoined us as our duty, ought to be performed with the greatest intenseness of our spirit. As it is our duty to pray, so it is our duty to pray with the most fervent importunity. It is our duty to love God, but with the purest and most sublime affections; every command of God requires the whole strength of the creature to be employed in it. That love to God wherein all our duty to God is summed up, is to be with all our strength, with all our might, &c. Though in the covenant of grace he hath mitigated the severity of the law, and requires not from us such an elevation of our affections as was possible in the state of innocence, yet God requires of us the utmost moral industry to raise our affections to a pitch, at least equal to what they are in other things. What strength of affection we naturally have, ought to be as much and more excited in acts of worship, than upon other occasions and our ordinary works. As there was an inactivity of soul in worship, and a quickness to sin, when sin had the dominion; so when the soul is spiritualized, the temper is changed; there is an in activity to sin, and an ardor in duty; the more the soul is “dead to sin,” the more it is “alive to God,” and the more lively too in all that concerns God and his honor; for grace being a new strength added to our natural, determines the affections to new objects, and excites them to a greater vigor. And as the hatred of sin is more sharp, the love to everything that destroys the dominion of it is more strong; and acts of worship may be reckoned as the chiefest batteries against the power of this inbred enemy. When the Spirit is in the soul, like the rivers of waters flowing out of the belly, the soul hath the activity of a river, and makes haste to be swallowed up in God, as the streams of the river in the sea. Christ makes his people “kings and priests to God;” first kings, then priests; gives first a royal, temper of heart, that they may offer spiritual sacrifices as priests, kings and priests to God, acting with a magnificent spirit in all their motions to him. We cannot be spiritual priests, till we be spiritual kings. The Spirit apgeared in the likeness of fire, and where he resides, communicates, like fire, purity and activity. Dulness is against the light of nature. I do not remember that the heathen ever offered a snail to any of their false deities, nor an ass, but to Priapus, their unclean idol; but the Persians sacrificed to the sun a horse, a swift and generous creature. God provided against those in the law, commanding an ass’ firstling, the offspring of a sluggish creature, to be redeemed, or his neck broke, but by no means to be offered to him. God is a Spirit infinitely active, and therefore frozen and benumbed frames are unsuitable to him; he “rides upon a cherub” and flies; he comes upon the “wings of the wind;” he rides upon a “swift cloud;” and therefore demands of us not a dull reason, but an active spirit. God is a living God, and therefore must have a lively service. Christ is life, and slothful adorations are not fit to be offered up in the name of life. The worship of God is called wrestling in Scripture; and Paul was a striver in the service of his Master, “in an agony.” Angels worshipped God spiritually with their wings on; and when God commands them to worship Christ, the next Scripture quoted is, that he makes them “flames of fire.” If it be thus, how may we charge ourselves? What Paul said of the sensual widow, that she is “dead while she lives,” we may say often of ourselves, we are dead while we worship. Our hearts are in duty as the Jews were in deliverances, as those “in a dream;” by which unexpectedness God showed the greatness of his care and mercy; and we attend him as men in a dream, whereby we discover our negligence and folly. This activity doth: not consist in outward acts; the body may be hot, and the heart may be faint, but in an inward stirring, meltings, flights. In the highest raptures the body is most insensible. Strong spiritual affections are abstracted from outward sense.
6. Spiritual worship is performed with acting spiritual habits. When all the living springs of grace are opened, as the fountains of the deep were in the deluge, the soul and all that is within it, all the spiritual impresses of God upon it, erect themselves to “bless his holy name.” This is necessary to make a worship spiritual. As natural agents are determined to act suitable to their proper nature, so rational agents are to act conformable to a rational being. When there is a conformity between the act and the nature whence it flows, it is a good act in its kind; if it be rational, it is a good rational act, because suitable to its principle; as a man endowed, with reason must act suitable to that endowment, and exercise his reason in his acting; so a Christian endued with grace, must act suitable to that nature, and exercise his grace in his acting. Acts done by a natural inclination are no more human acts than the natural acts of a beast may be said to be human; though they are the acts of a man, as he is the efficient cause of them, yet they are not human acts, because they arise not from that principle of reason which denominates him a man. So acts of worship performed by a bare exercise of reason, are not christian and spiritual acts, because they come not from the principle which constitutes him a Christian; reason is not the principle, for then all rational creatures would be Christians. They ought, therefore, to be acts of a higher principle, exercises of that grace whereby Christians are what they are; not but that rational acts in worship are due to God, for worship is due from us as men, and we are settled in that rank of being by our reason. Grace doth not exclude reason, but ennobles it, and calls it up to another form; but we must not rest in a bare rational worship, but exert that principle whereby we are Christians. To worship God with our reason, is to worship him as men; to worship God with our grace is to worship him as Christians, and so spiritually; but to worship him only with our bodies, is no better than brutes. Our desires of the word are to issue from the regenerate principle (1 Pet. 2:2): “As new-born babes desire the sincere milk of the word;” it seems to be not a comparison, but a restriction. All worship must have the same spring, and be the exercise of that principle, otherwise we can have no communion with God. Friends that have the same habitual dispositions, have a fundamental fitness for an agreeable converse with one another; but if the temper wherein their likeness consists be languishing, and the string out of tune, there is not an actual fitness; and the present indisposition breaks the converse, and renders the company troublesome. Though we may have the habitual graces which compose in us a resemblance to God, yet for want of acting those suitable dispositions, we render ourselves unfit for his converse, and make the worship, which is fundamentally spiritual, to become actually carnal. As the will cannot naturally; act to any object but by the exercise of its affections, so the heart cannot spiritually act towards God but by the exercise of graces. This is God’s music (Eph. 5:19): “Singing and making melody to God in your hearts.” Singing and all other acts of worship are outward, but the spiritual melody is “by grace in the heart” (Col. 3:16): this renders it a spiritual worship; for it is an effect of the fulness of the spirit in the soul, as (ver. 19), “But be filled with the Spirit.” The overflowing of the Spirit in the heart, setting the soul of a believer thus on work to make a spiritual melody to God, shows that something higher than bare reason is put in tune in the heart. Then is the fruit of the garden pleasant to Christ, when the Holy Spirit, “the north and south wind, blow upon the spices,” and strike out the fragrancy of them. Since God is the Author of graces, and bestows them to have a glory from them, they are best employed about him and his service. It is fit he should have the cream of his own gifts. Without the exercise of grace we perform but a work of nature, and offer him a few dry bones without marrow. The whole set of graces must be one way or other exercised. If any treble be wanting in a lute, there will be great defect, in the music. If any one spirital string be dull, the spiritual harmony of worship will be spoiled. And therefore;
1. Faith must be acted in worship; a confidence in God. A natural worship cannot be performed without a natural confidence in the goodness of God; whosoever comes to him, must regard him as a rewarder, and a faithful Creator. A spiritual worship cannot be performed without an evangelical confidence in him as a gracious Redeemer. To think him a tyrant, meditating revenge, damps the soul; to regard him as a gracious king, full of tender bowels, spirits the affections to him. The mercy of God is the proper object of trust (Psalm 33:18): “The eye of the Lord is upon them that fear him, upon them that hope in his mercy.” The worship of God in the Old Testament is most described by fear; in the New Testament by faith. Fear, or the worship of God, and hope in his mercy are lined together; when they go hand in hand, the accepting eye of God is upon us; when we do not trust, we do not worship. Those of Judah had the temple-worship among them, especially in Josiah’s tune (Zeph. 3:2), the time of that prophecy; yet it was accounted no worship, because no trust in the worshippers. Interest in God cannot be improved without an exercise of faith. The gospel-worship is prophesied of, to be a confidence in God, as in a husband more than in a lord (Hos. 2:16): “Thou shalt call me Ishi, and shalt call me no more Baali.” “Thou shalt call me;” that is, thou shalt worship me, worship being often comprehended under invocation. More confidence is to be exercised in a husband or father, than in a lord or master. If a man have not faith, he is without Christ; and though a man be in Christ by the habit of faith, he performs a duty out of Christ without an act of faith: without the habit of faith, our persons are out of Christ; and without the exercise of faith, the duties are out of Christ. As the want of faith in a person is the death of the soul, so the want of faith in a service is the death of the offering. Though a man were at the cost of an ox, yet to kill it without bringing it to the “door of the tabernacle,” was not a sacrifice, but a murder (Lev. 17:3, 4). The tabernacle was a type of Christ, and a look to him is necessary in every spiritual sacrifice. As there must be faith to make any act an act of obedience, so there must be faith to make any act of worship spiritual. That service is not spiritual that is not vital; and it cannot be vital without the exercise of a vital principle; all spiritual life is “hid in Christ,” and drawn from him by faith (Gal. 2:20). Faith, as it hath relation to Christ, makes every act of worship a living act, and, consequently, a spiritual act. Habitual unbelief cuts us off from the body of Christ (Rom. 11:20): “Because of unbelief they were broken off;” and a want of actuated belief breaks us off from a present communion with Christ in spirit. As unbelief in us hinders Christ from doing any mighty work, so unbelief in us hinders us from doing any mighty spiritual duty; so that the exercise of faith, and a confidence in God, is necessary to every duty.
Martin Luther | (1483-1546)
Sect. CXXXVIII. — SEE, moreover, whether Paul himself does not particularize the most exalted among the Greeks, where he saith, that the wisest among them “became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened;” that “they became wise in their own conceits:” that is, by their subtle disputations. (Rom. i. 21).
Does he not here, I pray you, touch that, which was the most exalted and most excellent in the Greeks, when he touches their “imaginations?” For these comprehend their most sublime and exalted thoughts and opinions; which they considered as solid wisdom. But he calls that their wisdom, as well in other places “foolishness,” as here “vain imagination;” which, by its endeavouring, only became worse; till at last they worshipped an idol in their own darkened hearts, and proceeded to the other enormities, which he afterwards enumerates.
If therefore, the most exalted and devoted endeavours and works in the most exalted of the nations be evil and ungodly, what shall we think of the rest, who are, as it were, the commonalty, and the vilest of the nations? Nor does Paul here make any difference between those who are the most exalted, for he condemns all the devotedness of their wisdom, without any respect of persons. And if he condemn their very works and devoted endeavours, he condemns those who exert them, even though they strive with all the powers of “Free-will.” Their most exalted endeavour, I say, is declared to be evil — how much more then the persons themselves who exert it!
So also, just afterwards, he rejects the Jews, without any difference, who are Jews “in the letter” and not “in the spirit.” “Thou (saith he) honourest God in the letter, and in the circumcision.” Again, “He is not a Jew which is one outwardly, but he is a Jew which is one inwardly.” Rom. i. 27-29.
What can be more manifest than the division here made? The Jew outwardly, is a transgressor of the law! And how many Jews must we suppose there were, without the faith, who were men the most wise, the most religious, and the most honourable, who aspired unto righteousness and truth with all the devotion of endeavour? Of these the apostle continually bears testimony: — that they had “a zeal of God,” that they “followed after righteousness,” that they strove day and night to attain unto salvation, that they lived “blameless:” and yet they are transgressors of the law, because they are not Jews “in the spirit,” nay they determinately resist the righteousness of faith. What conclusion then remains to be drawn, but that, “Free-will” is then the worst when it is the best; and that, the more it endeavours, the worse it becomes, and the worse it is! The words are plain — the division is certain — nothing can be said against it.
The Bondage of the Will or Christian Classics Ethereal Library