Opposition to the WorkNehemiah 4 1 Now when Sanballat heard that we were building the wall, he was angry and greatly enraged, and he jeered at the Jews. 2 And he said in the presence of his brothers and of the army of Samaria, “What are these feeble Jews doing? Will they restore it for themselves? Will they sacrifice? Will they finish up in a day? Will they revive the stones out of the heaps of rubbish, and burned ones at that?” 3 Tobiah the Ammonite was beside him, and he said, “Yes, what they are building—if a fox goes up on it he will break down their stone wall!” 4 Hear, O our God, for we are despised. Turn back their taunt on their own heads and give them up to be plundered in a land where they are captives. 5 Do not cover their guilt, and let not their sin be blotted out from your sight, for they have provoked you to anger in the presence of the builders.
6 So we built the wall. And all the wall was joined together to half its height, for the people had a mind to work.
7 But when Sanballat and Tobiah and the Arabs and the Ammonites and the Ashdodites heard that the repairing of the walls of Jerusalem was going forward and that the breaches were beginning to be closed, they were very angry. 8 And they all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and to cause confusion in it. 9 And we prayed to our God and set a guard as a protection against them day and night.
10 In Judah it was said, “The strength of those who bear the burdens is failing. There is too much rubble. By ourselves we will not be able to rebuild the wall.” 11 And our enemies said, “They will not know or see till we come among them and kill them and stop the work.” 12 At that time the Jews who lived near them came from all directions and said to us ten times, “You must return to us.” 13 So in the lowest parts of the space behind the wall, in open places, I stationed the people by their clans, with their swords, their spears, and their bows. 14 And I looked and arose and said to the nobles and to the officials and to the rest of the people, “Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes.”
The Work Resumes15 When our enemies heard that it was known to us and that God had frustrated their plan, we all returned to the wall, each to his work. 16 From that day on, half of my servants worked on construction, and half held the spears, shields, bows, and coats of mail. And the leaders stood behind the whole house of Judah, 17 who were building on the wall. Those who carried burdens were loaded in such a way that each labored on the work with one hand and held his weapon with the other. 18 And each of the builders had his sword strapped at his side while he built. The man who sounded the trumpet was beside me. 19 And I said to the nobles and to the officials and to the rest of the people, “The work is great and widely spread, and we are separated on the wall, far from one another. 20 In the place where you hear the sound of the trumpet, rally to us there. Our God will fight for us.”
21 So we labored at the work, and half of them held the spears from the break of dawn until the stars came out. 22 I also said to the people at that time, “Let every man and his servant pass the night within Jerusalem, that they may be a guard for us by night and may labor by day.” 23 So neither I nor my brothers nor my servants nor the men of the guard who followed me, none of us took off our clothes; each kept his weapon at his right hand.
Nehemiah Stops Oppression of the PoorNehemiah 5 1 Now there arose a great outcry of the people and of their wives against their Jewish brothers. 2 For there were those who said, “With our sons and our daughters, we are many. So let us get grain, that we may eat and keep alive.” 3 There were also those who said, “We are mortgaging our fields, our vineyards, and our houses to get grain because of the famine.” 4 And there were those who said, “We have borrowed money for the king’s tax on our fields and our vineyards. 5 Now our flesh is as the flesh of our brothers, our children are as their children. Yet we are forcing our sons and our daughters to be slaves, and some of our daughters have already been enslaved, but it is not in our power to help it, for other men have our fields and our vineyards.”
6 I was very angry when I heard their outcry and these words. 7 I took counsel with myself, and I brought charges against the nobles and the officials. I said to them, “You are exacting interest, each from his brother.” And I held a great assembly against them 8 and said to them, “We, as far as we are able, have bought back our Jewish brothers who have been sold to the nations, but you even sell your brothers that they may be sold to us!” They were silent and could not find a word to say. 9 So I said, “The thing that you are doing is not good. Ought you not to walk in the fear of our God to prevent the taunts of the nations our enemies? 10 Moreover, I and my brothers and my servants are lending them money and grain. Let us abandon this exacting of interest. 11 Return to them this very day their fields, their vineyards, their olive orchards, and their houses, and the percentage of money, grain, wine, and oil that you have been exacting from them.” 12 Then they said, “We will restore these and require nothing from them. We will do as you say.” And I called the priests and made them swear to do as they had promised. 13 I also shook out the fold of my garment and said, “So may God shake out every man from his house and from his labor who does not keep this promise. So may he be shaken out and emptied.” And all the assembly said “Amen” and praised the LORD. And the people did as they had promised.
Nehemiah’s Generosity14 Moreover, from the time that I was appointed to be their governor in the land of Judah, from the twentieth year to the thirty-second year of Artaxerxes the king, twelve years, neither I nor my brothers ate the food allowance of the governor. 15 The former governors who were before me laid heavy burdens on the people and took from them for their daily ration forty shekels of silver. Even their servants lorded it over the people. But I did not do so, because of the fear of God. 16 I also persevered in the work on this wall, and we acquired no land, and all my servants were gathered there for the work. 17 Moreover, there were at my table 150 men, Jews and officials, besides those who came to us from the nations that were around us. 18 Now what was prepared at my expense for each day was one ox and six choice sheep and birds, and every ten days all kinds of wine in abundance. Yet for all this I did not demand the food allowance of the governor, because the service was too heavy on this people. 19 Remember for my good, O my God, all that I have done for this people.
Conspiracy Against NehemiahNehemiah 6 1 Now when Sanballat and Tobiah and Geshem the Arab and the rest of our enemies heard that I had built the wall and that there was no breach left in it (although up to that time I had not set up the doors in the gates), 2 Sanballat and Geshem sent to me, saying, “Come and let us meet together at Hakkephirim in the plain of Ono.” But they intended to do me harm. 3 And I sent messengers to them, saying, “I am doing a great work and I cannot come down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and come down to you?” 4 And they sent to me four times in this way, and I answered them in the same manner. 5 In the same way Sanballat for the fifth time sent his servant to me with an open letter in his hand. 6 In it was written, “It is reported among the nations, and Geshem also says it, that you and the Jews intend to rebel; that is why you are building the wall. And according to these reports you wish to become their king. 7 And you have also set up prophets to proclaim concerning you in Jerusalem, ‘There is a king in Judah.’ And now the king will hear of these reports. So now come and let us take counsel together.” 8 Then I sent to him, saying, “No such things as you say have been done, for you are inventing them out of your own mind.” 9 For they all wanted to frighten us, thinking, “Their hands will drop from the work, and it will not be done.” But now, O God, strengthen my hands.
10 Now when I went into the house of Shemaiah the son of Delaiah, son of Mehetabel, who was confined to his home, he said, “Let us meet together in the house of God, within the temple. Let us close the doors of the temple, for they are coming to kill you. They are coming to kill you by night.” 11 But I said, “Should such a man as I run away? And what man such as I could go into the temple and live? I will not go in.” 12 And I understood and saw that God had not sent him, but he had pronounced the prophecy against me because Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him. 13 For this purpose he was hired, that I should be afraid and act in this way and sin, and so they could give me a bad name in order to taunt me. 14 Remember Tobiah and Sanballat, O my God, according to these things that they did, and also the prophetess Noadiah and the rest of the prophets who wanted to make me afraid.
The Wall Is Finished15 So the wall was finished on the twenty-fifth day of the month Elul, in fifty-two days. 16 And when all our enemies heard of it, all the nations around us were afraid and fell greatly in their own esteem, for they perceived that this work had been accomplished with the help of our God. 17 Moreover, in those days the nobles of Judah sent many letters to Tobiah, and Tobiah’s letters came to them. 18 For many in Judah were bound by oath to him, because he was the son-in-law of Shecaniah the son of Arah: and his son Jehohanan had taken the daughter of Meshullam the son of Berechiah as his wife. 19 Also they spoke of his good deeds in my presence and reported my words to him. And Tobiah sent letters to make me afraid.
What I'm Reading
Indispensable Apologetics: An Interview with Ravi Zacharias
By Ravi Zacharias 8/01/2012
Tabletalk: How did you become a Christian?
Ravi Zacharias: I became a Christian while a teenager in India, the land of my birth. I had struggled with many issues—especially those of failure and disappointing my family. There was a series of events, but the culminating point came when I tried to take my own life. It was on that bed of suicide when a Bible was brought to me. I heard John 14 read to me, especially verse 19. Jesus said: “Because I live, you also will live.” In that crisis situation, I cried out to Jesus and received Him as my Lord and my Savior. That was the beginning.
TT: How has God used your Indian upbringing in your ministry?
RZ: This whole global shift in “looking to the East” for answers has become a very real platform from which to address with understanding and experience what these worldviews teach and why more than ever the answers of Jesus Christ are relevant and true. India’s songs, India’s spiritual struggles, India’s brain drain as its brightest minds headed west have both economic and worldview reasons and implications. These provide ready soil for the gospel, probably as never before in history. Being Indian by birth and upbringing, and my ancestors coming from the highest caste of the Hindu priesthood, provides a story to tell. Audiences in the entertainment world and business or academic strata are all more open than before.
TT: What can RZIM offer to the church today?
RZ: RZIM is now based in ten countries, and our team of apologists and teachers in spiritual disciplines is doing evangelism in some of the world’s most hostile settings. As a result, people in churches are being energized and encouraged to get our material and use it well in their own efforts. We are also partnering with select churches to help train members. Our Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics (OCCA) is now accredited with degree programs at Oxford University. In the long run it will produce a significant number of Christian apologists for the global scene. The strident attacks of the antitheists and other factors have made apologetics an indispensable need for our times.
TT: Do you have any current or upcoming projects that you want to tell us about?
RZ: My most recent book, Why Jesus: Rediscovering His Truth in an Age of Mass Marketed Spirituality, See Book Page for link to book is a book that could meet a timely need. Also, pray for our entire team and families as we minister to political leaders and those who shape our culture. We have major university venues, and once again, I will speak at the UN Prayer breakfast this year. (2012) Amazingly, we receive numerous invitations from Islamic countries. We are seeing incredible responses. Some of the countries we cannot even name. Please pray for these meetings.
TT: How can we overcome the fears we have about preaching the gospel to followers of other religions?
RZ: It is very important to understand these other worldviews. Also, be a patient listener to someone of another faith. But you must know how to defend your own beliefs. If we cannot answer their genuine questions, we will “confirm” in their minds what they are often brainwashed into believing: that Christianity is intellectually flawed. This is what they are told. One doesn’t need to have all the answers, but one should know where they are found.
TT: Why is it so difficult to evangelize Muslims and what can we do about it?
RZ: It is very difficult to reach the Muslim community. In countries where the youth are fed up with having Islam forced down their throats, the powers in control reign over them with threats and terror. With many Muslims, there are two brutal facts. First, you simply cannot criticize their beliefs or their Qur’an without the fear of inflaming or inciting violence. Second, many times one cannot even reason with a Muslim. That is a fact.
So, the best hope is to win them through patient friendship and sharing the love of Jesus. That is the winning truth because love is a rare commodity in the Islamic faith. Almost all of the people who have come to faith from a Muslim background will say it was the love of Christ that attracted them, or else, in an incredible way, that God reached them through visions and dreams. It seems to me that when human powers block the message, God is able to scale their walls.
But it is critical when they come this way that they be taught and definitely discipled and helped in their apologetics to answer their families’ or friends’ questions. Ultimately, it is the Word of God that they will need, not just an experience that can be easily misused or abused.
TT: How do we equip young people to remain committed to Christ in a secular and non-Christian world?
RZ: The Bible reminds us to guard our doctrine and our conduct. Our youth know firsthand what the world has to offer. They need to be reached at a younger age because of the world of the Internet that ravages young minds sooner than ever before. Building their faith is not a prime strength in our churches today. We seem to think that we need to entertain them into the church. But what you win them with is often what you win them to.
They can see through a hollow faith in a hurry. Their minds are hungry for coherence and meaning. They long to think things through. They long to know why the gospel is both true and exclusive. None of these issues are often addressed within their own reach. I believe this is the most serious crisis of our church-going youth today. Their faith is more a longing than a fulfillment. We have a special burden for the youth. We will keep at it as we try to reach them. It’s a tough world for the young.
TT: What are three books that every Christian should read?
RZ: I would prefer to name authors. Authors such as C.S. Lewis, John Piper, Tim Keller, yes, and my dear friend R.C. Sproul. But there are many more. One of the greatest books ever written is The The Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan. For devotional studies, Oswald Chambers, and one of my favorites, G. Campbell Morgan, are great choices. We also have a bibliography on our website. Sorry, that’s more than three.
TT: What are the two most important ministry lessons you have learned in the past decade?
RZ: The hardest lessons I’ve learned are, one, how important it is to have the right people around you, and two, to learn to face criticism and opposition (oftentimes from those who should be more understanding) without allowing it to sidetrack you from your closeness to the Lord and His call. When you’re doing very little, nobody will bother you. But when you are making an impact, the Enemy of our souls finds ready emissaries to take aim at you. It goes with the calling. Keep close to the Lord and don’t let the critics dent your calling that a gracious and sovereign God has shaped.
So, as tough as the battle is, it is true for everyone called to be on the front lines. Our calling, to use a war metaphor, is that of “special ops.” It is fraught with dangers but vital for the conquering of the hearts of men and women around the world. To that end, God has immensely blessed the work of RZIM, now in its twenty- seventh year. I am most grateful for all the opportunities and blessings we have enjoyed. We have seen some of the most stubborn people come to Christ. That makes it all worth it. One more thing, knowing there are ministries such as Ligonier and many other fine ones, is reassuring. Even though the challenges are great, God is doing great things around the world.
Ravi Zacharias Books | Go to Books Page
By Dan Iverson 8/01/2012
My son, Danny, came home from his Japanese baseball practice exclaiming, “Dad, coach is making us worship the ground.” The coach had required them to bow toward the ground in worship. I called a Japanese pastor who said that this was indeed false worship. He reminded me that Japan is pantheistic, like Eastern religions generally. Everything is “god.” There is no distinction between the Creator and creation. In that worldview, it is proper to worship your playing field. This later became a problem for Danny at practice when he would not bow.
The first error in Eastern religion is that there is no God with a big G. The gods are small and many, including ancestors, the emperor, statues, and thousands more. Atheists in the West do not believe in “God”; Japanese atheists do not believe in “the gods.”
Islam has the opposite error — only a transcendent Allah with no immanence, no Emmanuel (“God with us”).
In the West, we have assumed “God.” In my American denomination, the first church - membership vow is not about God but about sin. Our Japanese denomination’s first membership question is necessarily about belief in “the true and living creator God.” The second question deals with sin, and the third with salvation through Christ alone.
We were missionaries in Japan for four years before we saw the first Japanese person converted. But in our third year, an international college student stayed with us. We shared the gospel with Phillip. He professed his faith in Christ within three days. I thought about all the Japanese people we had loved and shared the gospel with as they came into our home, yet with no apparent fruit. I finally understood. Phillip was from the Philippines, the only “Christianized” Asian nation. He believed many correct things about God. He believed God is triune, holy, merciful, omnipotent, omniscient, and so on. He liked Jesus. He simply had not understood grace.
Phillip’s heart was prepared for the gospel just like the hearts of many God-fearing Gentiles of the Roman Empire where the Apostle Paul labored. Paul went first to the synagogues in every town. The influence of the Jews and their belief in one God was everywhere. Cornelius and Lydia were God-fearing Gentiles prepared for the gospel by this influence.
Without a correct view of God, the gospel seems foolish and unnecessary to those with an Eastern religious worldview. Without the omniscient, thrice-holy God (Isa. 6:3ff), there is no understanding of sin. There is not even a good word in Japanese for the concept of forensic guilt before God. So, there is no need for “the foolishness of the cross.”
No absolute God means no absolutes. Everything is relative. This false worldview also pushes man toward self-sufficiency. A famous Japanese saying speaks of the Samurai who has not eaten for days but is picking his teeth with a toothpick. He cannot show need, the opposite attitude of gospel thinking.
Without the fear of God, fear of man dominates. Fear of man and the incredible “results” this false worldview can bring might seem good on the surface. It can produce excellence, quality cars, and a polite, diligent society. But the man-centered, “God-less” motivation and drive behind all of these apparently good things also have a tremendous effect in the form of the depression epidemic, suicide rate, and family dysfunction seen in Japan and other Asian countries. Suicide rates are soaring in the fast-growing Asian economies of Japan, China, and other nations. Asian countries with high rates of atheism also tend to have high rates of suicide. If man is not a created being in the image of God, he has no intrinsic value.
One Japanese man who came to Christ in our church became very excited about the gospel. Speaking of his former worldview with no right concept of God, he said that it was like having a wrong operating system in a computer. Even if a good file was opened, it could not be read because the system software was bad. He said, “We Japanese need to delete the faulty system software and reinstall correct system software where the true and living God is central. Then we can understand the world, truth, and the gospel.”
Eastern religion is bankrupt. We hear the sounding of the gong at 6:00 every morning from the local Shinto shrine to wake the gods. They do not wake.
Few Japanese really believe Buddhism and Shintoism. It is more cultural, like nominal American Christianity. One friend is an “elder” in both a Shinto shrine and a Buddhist temple, but he believes neither religion. Having lived in Asia for more than twenty-five years and seen Eastern religion’s error and impotence, I am surprised at its rise in the West.
Conversely, Asians are flocking to the gospel from their Eastern religious backgrounds. The growth of Christ’s church in China, India, Nepal, and other Asian countries is well documented.
We should expect this, as God has promised that multitudes will come to Him from the East, as well as the West (Isa. 43:5ff; Matt. 8:11).
Paul said the gospel was foolishness to the Gentiles (1 Cor. 1:23) who had a low view of God like today’s Eastern religions. From Scripture we know true foolishness: “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God’” (Ps. 53:1).
The Religious Affections
By Owen Strachan 8/01/2012
Many years ago, in a wild and woolly period known as the First Great Awakening, colonial pastor Jonathan Edwards took on the tricky task of sorting out what place the “religious affections,” as he called them, have in the Christian life. Here’s what he said as a foundational tenet:
There are false affections, and there are true. A man’s having much affection, don’t prove that he has any true religion: but if he has no affection, it proves that he has no true religion. (Works of Jonathan Edwards 2:121)
Edwards wrote these words to help people process the revivals of the 1730s–40s, a series of spiritual awakenings when many people claimed their hearts had been profoundly stirred by God. Edwards’ beloved wife, Sarah, had herself fallen into a sort of rapture, feeling herself remarkably close to the Lord. Some “Old Lights” cried down these emotive expressions of faith, charging that they were nothing more than attention-seeking excesses. True spirituality was not expressive and swept up but modest and buttoned-down. This discussion on “spiritual ecstasies” became a referendum on the revival itself.
In The Religious Affections, Edwards lists twelve negative, or inconclusive, signs of conversion — including strong emotions, bodily reactions, and an outbreak of religious conversation — and twelve positive signs that show the Spirit has truly regenerated the heart unto faith in Christ. In his fourth positive sign, Edwards zeroes in on the way that affections “arise from the mind’s being enlightened, rightly and spiritually to understand or apprehend divine things” (2:266). In other words, thinking about salvation and the God who commissioned and initiated it fans the spiritual fire inside us to a flame. A grand vision of God, Edwards intimates, leads to a grand way of living:
He that truly sees the divine, transcendent, supreme glory of those things which are divine, does as it were know their divinity intuitively; he not only argues that they are divine, but he sees that they are divine; he sees that in them wherein divinity chiefly consists; for in this glory … does mainly consist the true notion of divinity: God is God, and distinguished from all other beings, and exalted above ‘em, chiefly by his divine beauty, which is infinitely diverse from all other beauty. They therefore that see the stamp of this glory in divine things, they see divinity in them, they see God in them, and so see ‘em to be divine. (2:298)
When you seek to understand the character and glory of God revealed in the Bible, you realize, as Edwards noted, that you are not merely encountering interesting religious ideas or dramatic stories, but “things which are divine.” You are looking into the mind and will of God Himself. You are seeing His “divine beauty,” beauty that captures you, enraptures you, and transforms you to become beautiful yourself.
Such a vision of a majestic, saving God results in the final sign: “Christian practice or a holy life.” For the pastor-theologian, this is “the chief of all the signs of grace, both as an evidence of the sincerity of professors unto others, and also to their own consciences” (2:406). Three outcomes mark a person as holy. First, “Tis necessary that men should be universally obedient.” Second, they pursue service to God: “Christians in their effectual calling, are not called to idleness, but to labor in God’s vineyard, and spend their day in doing a great and laborious service.” Third, they persevere “in obedience, which is chiefly insisted on in the Scripture, as a special note of the truth of grace” (2:384-89). Here, then, is an elegant summary of what Christian spirituality really is: obedience, constant service, and perseverance in the faith.
The progression sketched in this little piece on a monumental spiritual work is important. When we encounter a great and holy God in all His beauty, we are stirred to live holy lives. So many of us want to live vibrantly before God, to experience the “fullness of joy” spoken of in Psalm 16:11. So, we make some resolutions, grit our teeth, and resolve to pray more and sin less.
What we might miss, however, is the vital connection between a grand vision of God and a holy way of life. If our hearts would be aflame for God, there must be more than leaves and twigs to heat them. We need a majestic picture of the Lord from texts like Job 38–41; Isaiah 45–46; and Ezekiel 1. When we see God in all His majesty and glory, we find the material we need to sustain holy living.
I say “sustain” because we live in a fallen world and, though redeemed, we ourselves are sinful (Rom. 3:10–18). The heart sold out to God will experience many things—passionate closeness with God, terrible disappointments, days marked by a feeling of spiritual neutrality. Through it all is our call to persevere, as the “hall of faith” of Hebrews 11 indicates.
That, it would seem from Scripture and Edwards, one of our most trusted theologians, is the ultimate display of God-given religious affection: to journey on to heaven with a great God looming before us, the storms of sin and darkness howling around us, and never stop.
Owen Strachan is the author of Awakening the Evangelical Mind and The Pastor as Public Theologian (with Kevin Vanhoozer). A systematic theology professor at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, he is the director of the Center for Public Theology and hosts the City of God podcast. He is writing a Jonathan Edwards devotional (Tyndale House) and a theological anthropology (B&H Academic). You can follow him on Twitter.
The Son Rising in the East
By R.C. Sproul Jr. 8/01/2012
The early church faced at least two distinct and competing enemies. While Jesus walked the earth and after, the great challenge to the kingdom of God was found both in the Roman Empire and in Judaism. An armed force that was, though given to emperor worship, essentially secular and a false religion put their differences aside to eradicate a faith built around a King who had been given all authority in heaven and on earth.
I was reminded of this odd juxtaposition several years ago when I had the opportunity to travel to Burma to teach and train a group of godly pastors and elders who ended up teaching me. Burma is a country that is also in the grip of two great enemies of the reign of Jesus Christ, two fearsome institutions that will not kiss the Son (Ps. 2). Most people know that Burma is a military dictatorship. A military junta has ruled there for decades. That concept, of course, we’re used to. Though Burma is far less famous, we are familiar with North Korea, with Cuba, with China. What is odd is that Burma not only suffers from a military dictatorship, it suffers from a prevalent, widespread false religion. Burma is ninety percent Buddhist.
Now it is one thing for a brutal secular state to coexist with a dominant religion. It is another thing altogether for a brutal secular state to coexist with a religion that is purported to embrace all the broadmindedness and gentleness of spirit that we associate with Buddhism. We are, of course, accustomed to being fearful of militant Islam. We are aware of the ugly brutality associated with the animist religions in the darker corners of Africa. We are, if we are educated in the least, cognizant of the bloodthirsty gods associated with Hinduism. But Buddhists? Aren’t they a rather passive and gentle lot?
Some, indeed, might be tempted to think that the coexistence of a brutal police state and a “peaceful” religion makes perfect sense. The military suppresses the people, and the people turn to Buddhism as a way to cope with the hardship. They bear the brunt of brutality by longing to be absorbed into the One.
Such a perspective misses the point on at least two counts. First, it is a common but fundamental mistake to put the exercise of authority on the evil side of a spectrum and quietness on the good side of the same spectrum. Passiveness is not next to godliness, however, precisely because brutality does exist. When someone is beating my child, I do not calm my soul by closing my eyes, adopting the lotus position, and chanting my mantra. Love means protecting my children, actively defending them. It means not turning my back on authority but exercising my God-given authority to defend what He has placed under my care. The state is as brutal as it is in Burma in part because the false Eastern religion practiced there allows it to be.
It is not, of course, just Burma. The same passiveness of Buddhism contributes to the great shame of neighboring Thailand. There, prostitution is a way of life, Thailand itself having become a destination spot for sexual adventurers.
The second mistake is to misunderstand the nature of the state and religion. When Henry Van Til described culture as religion externalized, he wasn’t just talking about Christian cultures. A close look at any culture will reveal the underlying religion. The dictatorship of Burma isn’t something in contrast to the Buddhism of that nation, but it is the result of that Buddhism. A people whose goal is to be absorbed will tend toward a state that is happy to comply with their wishes. They will be absorbed into the collective. The Buddhists of Burma are not some poor, misunderstood victim group of the junta. They are the parents of the junta.
As sorrowful a nation as Burma is, however, Jesus is at work there. I met faithful, godly saints there who are seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. My friend Naing leads a group of three hundred pastors all across the country who bring the gospel to the lost. He runs an orphanage out of his home, a mishmash of corrugated metal and dirt floors.
Naing, in proclaiming Christ and Him crucified, is speaking to both of the great evils in His land. He reminds the Buddhists that the goal is not that we would all be absorbed, but that we would be remade. The world is no illusion, but it is instead groaning under our sin, as it, too, is being redeemed by our Lord. He reminds the military rulers that Jesus Christ is Lord, that He reigns, and that all those who refuse to kiss Him will be dashed to pieces like a potter’s vessel (Ps. 2x`).
Naing does this in his land even as we are called to do it in our own. He speaks the Word into the world, and He feeds the sheep with the same Word. He lives a life of service and example, a life of joy grounded in the risen and reigning Lord Jesus. I went there to teach him. Instead, he taught me.
R.C. Sproul Jr. Books | Go to Books Page
Every Conflict Is a Test
By Alexander Strauch 8/01/2012
The New Testament does not hide the fact that nearly every church in the Apostolic age experienced conflict. As the New Testament writers addressed these matters, they provided invaluable instruction on how believers are to think, act, and treat one another when conflict arises. By studying the churches in the New Testament and the instructions given to them regarding conflict, we can learn biblical principles for handling conflict in a constructive, Christ-honoring way.
A Key Principle to RememberOne of the most important principles I have discovered to guide me when engaged in conflict of any kind is found in Paul’s letter to the Galatians. It is this: when conflict arises, our attitudes and behaviors should reflect our new life in Christ given by the Holy Spirit who lives within us. We are to display the fruit of the Spirit and not the works of the flesh. We are to be Spirit-controlled and not flesh-controlled or out of control. Serious discord threatened the life and unity of the newly planted churches of Galatia. So Paul warned the new believers: “If you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another” (Gal. 5:1).
If these new Christian believers did not stop fighting, no one would survive the carnage. After Paul warns of the potential for mutual destruction within the believing community, he charges his readers to “walk by the Spirit” and not to gratify “the desires of the flesh” or display “the works of the flesh.”
Do Not Display the Works of the FleshMuch of the contentious infighting that plagues many churches today results from believers acting according to the flesh and not the Spirit. In Galatians, Paul focuses on eight social sins of the flesh that ruin relationships and divide churches: “Now the works of the flesh are evident … enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy” (5:19–21; see 2 Cor. 12:20 for a similar list).
As you consider these eight “works of the flesh,” know this: the Holy Spirit is absolutely opposed to each of them. Galatians 5:17 states, “For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other.” Paul’s catalog of social vices stands as an objective check to our behavior. So the next time you are involved in conflict, stop and think. You know you are yielding to “the desires of the flesh” if any of the above sinful vices are displayed in your behavior or attitude. The one thing Christian believers are not to do when engaged in conflict is to revert back to our old, pre-conversion, flesh-driven ways of behavior.
Display the Fruit of the SpiritWhen facing conflict, instead of biting and devouring one another and displaying the destructive social sins of the flesh, we are to “walk by the Spirit,” be “led by the Spirit,” “live by the Spirit,” “sow to the Spirit” (5:16, 18, 25; 6:8). Nothing but the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit is sufficient to enable believers to resist the desires of the flesh and to live Christlike lives.
The Spirit seeks to form Christlike character qualities in the life of every individual Christian and every local church body. These qualities promote right attitudes, godly conduct, and healthy relationships — the very qualities the strife-torn congregations in Galatia desperately needed. Paul’s nine descriptions of “the fruit of the Spirit” form a composite picture of Christlike character and conduct: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (5:22–23). We know that we are walking by the Spirit and being led by the Spirit when we see “the fruit of the Spirit” displayed in our daily conduct and inner attitudes.
“The fruit of the Spirit,” then, provides an objective guide to our attitudes and behavior when dealing with conflict. So we should always ask ourselves: “Am I displaying a Christlike character and the life of the Spirit when I deal with disagreement or someone who opposes me?” Hopefully, we all can answer, “Yes.”
When caught in a storm of conflict, one fruit of the Spirit that is especially needed to navigate safely through the storm is “self-control” (5:23). Lack of self-control is a major problem during conflict, but the Holy Spirit provides power over the fleshly excesses generated by sinful passions of anger, jealousy, hatred, and the spirit of revenge.
Christian believers who control their emotions and thinking by the power of the Spirit are best able to handle conflict constructively and bring about a just resolution. They are Christians who don’t bite and devour their brothers and sisters in Christ.
In contrast, when people act according to the flesh, they are out of control emotionally. They do not display the fruit of the Spirit and have the potential to do terrible damage to other people and to the name of Christ.
Conflict presents one of the toughest challenges to walking by the Spirit. If only we would recognize that every conflict is a test as to whether or not we will display Christlike character and the reality of the gospel in our lives. Will we as Christians display the beautiful fruit of the Holy Spirit or the ugliness of the flesh? Alexander Strauch (Per Amazon) was raised in New Jersey and converted to Christ at a Bible camp in New York State. He received his undergraduate degree from Colorado Christian University. He went on to earn his Master's of Divinity degree from Denver Seminary. For the past thirty years, he has served faithfully at Littleton Bible Chapel. Additionally, he has taught philosophy and New Testament literature at Colorado Christian University. A gifted Bible teacher and popular speaker, Mr. Strauch has helped thousands of churches worldwide through his expository writing ministry. He is the author of the now-classic works Biblical Eldership and The New Testament Deacon. Mr. Strauch resides with his wife, Marilyn, and two daughters in Littleton, Colorado, and also has two married daughters in the area.
- 1 Biblical Eldership: An Urgent Call to Restore Biblical Church Leadership
- 3 Leading With Love
- 4 Men and Women, Equal Yet Different: A Brief Study of the Biblical Passages on Gender
- 5 If You Bite & Devour One Another
- 6 The New Testament Deacon: The Church's Minister of Mercy
- 7 The Hospitality Commands: Building Loving Christian Community: Building Bridges to Friends and Neighbors
- 8 Agape Leadership
- 9 Leading with Love Study Guide
- 10 Love or Die: Christ's Wake-up Call to the Church
- 11 Love or Die: Christ's Wake-up Call to the Church
Pilgrims in a Post-Christian Culture
By Voddie Baucham 8/01/2012
In John Bunyan’s classic The Pilgrim's Progress, the Wicket Gate is a symbol for entrance into the Christian life. There, the main character, Christian, encounters the gatekeeper, Good-Will. Their encounter, like the rest of the book, is filled with layers of meaning to which modern pilgrims would do well to pay attention:
So when the pilgrim was fully inside, Good Will asked him, “Who directed you to come this way?”
CHRISTIAN: Evangelist exhorted me to come this way and knock at the Gate, just as I did. He further told me that you, sir, would tell me what I must do next.
GOOD-WILL: An open door is set before you, and no man can shut it.
CHRISTIAN: Now I begin to reap the benefits of my hazards.
GOOD-WILL: But how is it that you have come alone?
CHRISTIAN: Because none of my neighbors saw their danger as I saw mine.
The Battle Has Just BegunAs pilgrims on this journey to the Celestial City, we must recognize the fact that coming to faith in Christ is the end of our enmity with God, but it is in nowise an end of warfare. Obstinate, Pliable, the Slough of Despond, and Mr. Worldly Wiseman had all been obstacles on Christian’s journey to the Wicket Gate. However, in many ways, the worst still lay ahead. Similarly, our battle with the world, the flesh, and the Devil only intensifies once we have crossed from death to life.
Old patterns of thinking, cultural trends, and the constant bombardment of images and ideas can obscure the path to the Celestial City. Entering the Wicket Gate is not the end of the matter. The world may no longer be our “home,” but it is still where we live. And as pilgrims, we must recognize our need to renew our minds constantly (Rom. 12:2), crucify the flesh (Gal 5:24), and resist the Devil (James 4:7).
Like Christian, we must war with Apollion and fight to stay on the “straight and narrow path.” Then, of course, there is the temptation of Vanity Fair. And the worst thing that can happen there is not to forfeit one’s life, but to lose one’s witness. The greatest danger to the pilgrim is growing to love something, anything, more than one loves the Celestial City. Therefore, the ordinary means of grace become more important as time goes by. The preaching of the Word, the feast and fellowship of the Lord’s Table: these are the priceless jewels that remind us of the fading glory of the things we know, and cause us to echo the Apostle’s cry: “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ” (Phil. 3:8).
There Are Others in Need of That Which You Have FoundIt is impossible for a pilgrim to stand before the Wicket Gate without thinking about his friends, neighbors, and family members who have not made it. This is what Paul experienced in Romans 10:1 when he wrote, “Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved.” Every man, woman, and child on his or her way to the Celestial City has felt this same yearning. Yet we must journey on.
For Christian, there is the constant tension between the call of the Celestial City and his love for friends and family who have not “seen their danger as he saw his.” And he, like all pilgrims, must recognize that leaving the path is not only unthinkable from the standpoint of his calling, but also catastrophic for those whom he desperately yearns to join him. The only way to commend the path to others is to stay on it.
This post-Christian culture would have us believe that the only way to bear witness to Christ effectively is to “contextualize” in a way that essentially leaves the path. We must walk like, talk like, dress like, live like, and love like the world in order to win the world. However, the opposite is actually true. It is, in fact, the straight and narrow path to the Celestial City that conforms us to the image of Christ. The path is where we learn the very truth to which we bear witness. And our desire is to have others join us on the path, not distract us from it.
As Christian pilgrims, we must realize that the journey we are on is long and fraught with difficulty. The gatekeeper did not come to bring peace but a sword (Matt. 10:34). Moreover, He promises that we will be hated by the world (John 15:18; 17:14). Nevertheless, we are no better than the world that hates us. The only difference is the grace we have received. As such, we have no room to boast (Rom. 3:27), but we have much more cause to rejoice and a message to share with a world full of neighbors who simply have yet to see their danger as we saw ours. Dr. Voddie Baucham Jr. is the incoming dean of the seminary at African Christian University in Lusaka, Zambia. He previously served as pastor of preaching at Grace Family Baptist Church in Spring, Tex.
Voddie Baucham Jr.Books
- 1 What He Must Be: ...If He Wants to Marry My Daughter
- 2 Family Shepherds: Calling and Equipping Men to Lead Their Homes
- 3 Family Shepherds: Calling and Equipping Men to Lead Their Homes
- 4 Family Driven Faith: Doing What It Takes to Raise Sons and Daughters Who Walk with God
- 5 The Ever-Loving Truth: Can Faith Thrive in a Post-Christian Culture?
- 6 Joseph and the Gospel of Many Colors: Reading an Old Story in a New Way
When Towers Fall
By R.C. Sproul 8/01/2012
When a catastrophe happens in our world, it is virtually certain that a question will come up: “Where was God?” People always seem to question how a good God could allow a terrible thing to happen.
The same question came up in Jesus’ time, as we see from an incident recorded in Luke’s Gospel:
There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” (13:1–5)
Some people asked Jesus a question about an atrocity that had occurred at the hands of Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea. It seems that some people who were in the midst of worship were massacred by Pilate’s soldiers. The people who came to Jesus were troubled about this and asked Him how God could have allowed it to happen to His chosen people.
Jesus answered their question with a question: “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way?” This response shows us that those who brought the original question to Jesus were assuming that all the suffering that people endure in this world is proportionately related to their degree of sinfulness, an idea that remains pervasive today.
Of course, suffering and death came into this world in the first place because of sin. So, Jesus’ questioners were correct in assuming that there is a connection between moral evil and physical suffering. But Jesus took that opportunity to remind them that we cannot leap to the conclusion that all people suffer in direct proportion to their degree of sin.
The Bible makes this point very clearly. It shows that the wicked sometimes prosper and the righteous sometimes suffer deeply. The book of Job especially belies the idea of a proportionate relationship between sin and suffering by showing that even though Job was the most upright man in the world, he was visited with untold misery, and then had to endure the questioning of his “friends,” who assumed he must have fallen into terrible sin.
Thus, when Jesus asked His disciples: “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way?” the answer was obvious. No, they were not worse sinners than anyone else. Jesus wanted to get the idea of a proportionate connection between sin and suffering out of the disciples’ minds lest they think that they were better people in God’s sight because they had not suffered and died. So, He warned them: “unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
To drive His point home, Jesus mentioned a similar incident: “Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem?” Again, the answer was clearly no. These victims were no worse and no better than any other Jews. So, once more He warned them: “unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
Those who were killed by the Roman troops and those who died when the tower fell may have been upstanding citizens. But in the vertical dimension, in their relationship to God, none of them was innocent, and the same is true for us. Jesus was saying, “Instead of asking Me why a good God allowed this catastrophe, you should be asking why your own blood wasn’t spilled.” Jesus was reminding His hearers that there is ultimately no such thing as an innocent person (except Him). Thus, we should not be amazed by the justice of God but by the grace of God. We should be asking why towers do not fall on us each and every day.
When anything painful, sorrowful, or grievous befalls us, it is never an act of injustice on God’s part, because God does not owe us freedom from tragedies. He does not owe us protection from falling towers. We are debtors to God and cannot repay. Our only hope to avoid perishing at the hands of God is repentance.
Jesus was not being insensitive or harsh with His disciples. He simply had to jolt them out of a false way of thinking. We would do well to receive His jolt with gladness, for it helps us see things from the eternal perspective. We can deal with catastrophes in this world only by understanding that behind them stands the eternal purpose of God and by realizing that He has delivered us from the ultimate catastrophe—the collapse of the tower of His final judgment on our heads.
Robert Charles Sproul, 2/13/1939 – 12/14/2017 was an American theologian, author, and ordained pastor in the Presbyterian Church in America. Dr. R.C. Sproul was founder and chairman of Ligonier Ministries, an international Christian education and discipleship organization located near Orlando, Fla. He was also copastor of Saint Andrew’s Chapel in Sanford, Fla., chancellor of Reformation Bible College, and executive editor of Tabletalk magazine. Dr. Sproul has contributed dozens of articles to national evangelical publications, has spoken at conferences, churches, and schools around the world, and has written more than one hundred books. He also served as general editor of the Reformation Study Bible.R.C. Sproul Books | Go to Books Page
The Christian’s GPS
By Anthony Selvaggio 9/01/2012
One of the great inventions of the modern world is the global positioning system (GPS). The devices that use this satellite system make travel easier and enhance marital bliss by eliminating disputes between husbands and wives regarding the need to ask for directions. By providing an objective and authoritative standard, the GPS has removed subjectivism and personal opinion from the process of navigation.
In some ways, God’s Word is like a GPS device. Like that device, the Bible provides us with an objective standard to guide us in the direction we should go. Of course, our culture has rejected this role for God’s Word. When it comes to truth and authority, our culture believes that truth is, at best, unknowable and that authority resides with the individual. Both of these cultural presuppositions ultimately lead to one reality—in our culture, truth is subject to the tyranny of the individual.
The rejection of objective standards of truth in favor of subjective opinion is known as “relativism.” When relativism pervades a culture, it spawns toxic effects. Relativism eats away at the fabric of national character and cohesion. Instead of being bound together by objective truths and shared beliefs, a culture riddled with relativism is torn asunder by a mentality that exalts individual and group rights above all else. This is an accurate description of the culture in which we live, and the toxic fallout of relativism is manifested every day in the news and in our neighborhoods.
While most Christians recognize the prevalence of relativism in our culture and lament its devastating impact, we are sometimes less effective in recognizing its impact upon the church. The church is not immune to the toxic effects of relativism.
A clear example of the impact of relativism on the church is the rise of the emergent church movement within evangelicalism. One of the distinguishing marks of the emergent church is the idea that Christianity lacks certainty and the truth is unknowable. For example, David Wells notes that emergents employ the same mantras as the relativists of our culture: “We do not know”; “We cannot know for sure”; “No one can know certainly”; “We should not make judgments”; and “Christianity is about the search, not about the discovery.”
While the perspective of the emergent church as expressed in these statements may sound humble at first, what it really represents is a surrender of God’s truth to the spirit of the age. After all, Jesus did not say that He “might be” the Way, the Truth and the Life—He said, unequivocally, that He is all of those things. Wells sounds the following warning regarding the risks of tolerating this type of relativism in the church:
Those in the evangelical church today who are being lured by the siren call of postmodern relativism, who are increasingly uncertain that truth can be known, or that it matters all that much anyway, would do well to ponder the fact that this uncertainty goes to the very heart of what Christianity is all about.
The foundation of our faith is that God’s truth is objective, knowable, and certain. While interjecting uncertainty into our message may make the church more “hip” in the eyes of the world, it will not make it more faithful or effective.
The problem of relativism, however, is not limited to the emergent church movement or to broader evangelicalism. Relativism is also impacting the Reformed church. One area where the impact of relativism can be witnessed in the Reformed church is in the erosion of the authority of the church regarding the interpretation of Scripture. R. Scott Clark notes this trend in his book Recovering the Reformed Confession, stating that the Reformed are increasingly adopting a “fundamentally individualistic approach to Scripture and tradition” that places individual private judgments of church members above the corporate and confessional voice of the church. In a mistaken application of the priesthood of all believers, the individual is being exalted as the ultimate arbiter of biblical truth.
Another area where the rise of relativism can be witnessed is in the area of church discipline. While lip service is paid to the authority of the church’s office-bearers and courts, it is often the case that when discipline is attempted, the authority of the church is trumped by the will of the individual. For example, if a member believes that discipline is inappropriate, he or she will simply reject the discipline by leaving the church.
In the days of the judges, Israel embraced relativism: “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit” (Judg. 17:6). Like our culture, Israel tossed out the GPS device of God’s Word in exchange for the authority of the individual. The result was that Israel regressed during this period.
Whenever the church embraces relativism, the effects are equally toxic. When we as church members begin to embrace relativism, when we begin to do as we see fit, we undermine the effectiveness and mission of the church. Therefore, it is vital that we ask ourselves, from whom are we taking directions?
Read The Psalms In "1" Year
Psalm 100His Steadfast Love Endures Forever
100 A Psalm for Giving Thanks
1 Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth!
2 Serve the LORD with gladness!
Come into his presence with singing!
3 Know that the LORD, he is God!
It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
and his courts with praise!
Give thanks to him; bless his name!
5 For the LORD is good;
his steadfast love endures forever,
and his faithfulness to all generations.
Devotionals, notes, poetry and more
by Bill Federer
Near this day, September 8, 70 AD, the city of Jerusalem fell. Historian Josephus recorded that Roman General Titus finally smashed through the defenses of Jerusalem, destroying the city and the Temple. Over a million perished in the siege. Through the centuries, people of faith have desired to pilgrimage there, including Abraham Lincoln. Mrs. Lincoln recalled his last words as they sat in Ford’s Theater: “He said he wanted to visit the Holy Land and see those places hallowed by the footprints of the Saviour. He was saying there was no city he so much desired to see as Jerusalem.”American Minute
Compiled by Richard S. Adams
Every one, though born of God in an instant,
yet undoubtedly grows by slow degrees.
--- from a letter in the Works of John Wesley
As long as we continue to live as if we are what we do, what we have, and what other people think about us, we will remain filled with judgments, opinions, evaluations, and condemnations. We will remain addicted to putting people and things in their "right" place.
--- Henri J.M. Nouwen
Look at Jesus Christ. Every time he was in trouble he used the Word of God. When he was tempted he used the Word. When he was suffering on the cross he used the Word.
--- Timothy Keller
From this greatness and immensity of God also your soul must reverently stay all its busy, bold inquiries, and know that God is to us, and to every creature, incomprehensible. If you could fathom or measure him, and know his greatness by a comprehensive knowledge, he were not God. A creature can comprehend nothing but a creature. You may know God, but not comprehend him; as your foot treads on the earth, but does not cover all the earth. The sea is not the sea, if you can hold it in a spoon.
--- Richard Baxter
Adapted from Richard Baxter & William Orme, The Practical Works of the Rev. Richard Baxter: Volume XIII (London: James Duncan. 1830), 29.
... from here, there and everywhere
Thanks to Meir Yona
How The Zealots When They Were Freed From The Idumeans, Slew A Great Many More Of The Citizens; And How Vespasian Dissuaded The Romans When They Were Very Earnest To March Against The Jews From Proceeding In The War At That Time.
1. The Idumeans complied with these persuasions; and, in the first place, they set those that were in the prisons at liberty, being about two thousand of the populace, who thereupon fled away immediately to Simon, one whom we shall speak of presently. After which these Idumeans retired from Jerusalem, and went home; which departure of theirs was a great surprise to both parties; for the people, not knowing of their repentance, pulled up their courage for a while, as eased of so many of their enemies, while the zealots grew more insolent not as deserted by their confederates, but as freed from such men as might hinder their designs, and plot some stop to their wickedness. Accordingly, they made no longer any delay, nor took any deliberation in their enormous practices, but made use of the shortest methods for all their executions and what they had once resolved upon, they put in practice sooner than any one could imagine. But their thirst was chiefly after the blood of valiant men, and men of good families; the one sort of which they destroyed out of envy, the other out of fear; for they thought their whole security lay in leaving no potent men alive; on which account they slew Gorion, a person eminent in dignity, and on account of his family also; he was also for democracy, and of as great boldness and freedom of spirit as were any of the Jews whosoever; the principal thing that ruined him, added to his other advantages, was his free speaking. Nor did Niger of Peres escape their hands; he had been a man of great valor in their war with the Romans, but was now drawn through the middle of the city, and, as he went, he frequently cried out, and showed the scars of his wounds; and when he was drawn out of the gates, and despaired of his preservation, he besought them to grant him a burial; but as they had threatened him beforehand not to grant him any spot of earth for a grave, which he chiefly desired of them, so did they slay him [without permitting him to be buried]. Now when they were slaying him, he made this imprecation upon them, that they might undergo both famine and pestilence in this war, and besides all that, they might come to the mutual slaughter of one another; all which imprecations God confirmed against these impious men, and was what came most justly upon them, when not long afterward they tasted of their own madness in their mutual seditions one against another. So when this Niger was killed, their fears of being overturned were diminished; and indeed there was no part of the people but they found out some pretense to destroy them; for some were therefore slain, because they had had differences with some of them; and as to those that had not opposed them in times of peace, they watched seasonable opportunities to gain some accusation against them; and if any one did not come near them at all, he was under their suspicion as a proud man; if any one came with boldness, he was esteemed a contemner of them; and if any one came as aiming to oblige them, he was supposed to have some treacherous plot against them; while the only punishment of crimes, whether they were of the greatest or smallest sort, was death. Nor could any one escape, unless he were very inconsiderable, either on account of the meanness of his birth, or on account of his fortune.
2. And now all the rest of the commanders of the Romans deemed this sedition among their enemies to be of great advantage to them, and were very earnest to march to the city, and they urged Vespasian, as their lord and general in all cases, to make haste, and said to him, that "the providence of God is on our side, by setting our enemies at variance against one another; that still the change in such cases may be sudden, and the Jews may quickly be at one again, either because they may be tired out with their civil miseries, or repent them of such doings." But Vespasian replied, that they were greatly mistaken in what they thought fit to be done, as those that, upon the theater, love to make a show of their hands, and of their weapons, but do it at their own hazard, without considering, what was for their advantage, and for their security; for that if they now go and attack the city immediately, "they shall but occasion their enemies to unite together, and shall convert their force, now it is in its height, against themselves. But if they stay a while, they shall have fewer enemies, because they will be consumed in this sedition: that God acts as a general of the Romans better than he can do, and is giving the Jews up to them without any pains of their own, and granting their army a victory without any danger; that therefore it is their best way, while their enemies are destroying each other with their own hands, and falling into the greatest of misfortunes, which is that of sedition, to sit still as spectators of the dangers they run into, rather than to fight hand to hand with men that love murdering, and are mad one against another. But if any one imagines that the glory of victory, when it is gotten without fighting, will be more insipid, let him know this much, that a glorious success, quietly obtained, is more profitable than the dangers of a battle; for we ought to esteem these that do what is agreeable to temperance and prudence no less glorious than those that have gained great reputation by their actions in war: that he shall lead on his army with greater force when their enemies are diminished, and his own army refreshed after the continual labors they had undergone. However, that this is not a proper time to propose to ourselves the glory of victory; for that the Jews are not now employed in making of armor or building of walls, nor indeed in getting together auxiliaries, while the advantage will be on their side who give them such opportunity of delay; but that the Jews are vexed to pieces every day by their civil wars and dissensions, and are under greater miseries than, if they were once taken, could be inflicted on them by us. Whether therefore any one hath regard to what is for our safety, he ought to suffer these Jews to destroy one another; or whether he hath regard to the greater glory of the action, we ought by no means to meddle with those men, now they are afflicted with a distemper at home; for should we now conquer them, it would be said the conquest was not owing to our bravery, but to their sedition."
3. And now the commanders joined in their approbation of what Vespasian had said, and it was soon discovered how wise an opinion he had given. And indeed many there were of the Jews that deserted every day, and fled away from the zealots, although their flight was very difficult, since they had guarded every passage out of the city, and slew every one that was caught at them, as taking it for granted they were going over to the Romans; yet did he who gave them money get clear off, while he only that gave them none was voted a traitor. So the upshot was this, that the rich purchased their flight by money, while none but the poor were slain. Along all the roads also vast numbers of dead bodies lay in heaps, and even many of those that were so zealous in deserting at length chose rather to perish within the city; for the hopes of burial made death in their own city appear of the two less terrible to them. But these zealots came at last to that degree of barbarity, as not to bestow a burial either on those slain in the city, or on those that lay along the roads; but as if they had made an agreement to cancel both the laws of their country and the laws of nature, and, at the same time that they defiled men with their wicked actions, they would pollute the Divinity itself also, they left the dead bodies to putrefy under the sun; and the same punishment was allotted to such as buried any as to those that deserted, which was no other than death; while he that granted the favor of a grave to another would presently stand in need of a grave himself. To say all in a word, no other gentle passion was so entirely lost among them as mercy; for what were the greatest objects of pity did most of all irritate these wretches, and they transferred their rage from the living to those that had been slain, and from the dead to the living. Nay, the terror was so very great, that he who survived called them that were first dead happy, as being at rest already; as did those that were under torture in the prisons, declare, that, upon this comparison, those that lay unburied were the happiest. These men, therefore, trampled upon all the laws of men, and laughed at the laws of God; and for the oracles of the prophets, they ridiculed them as the tricks of jugglers; yet did these prophets foretell many things concerning [the rewards of] virtue, and [punishments of] vice, which when these zealots violated, they occasioned the fulfilling of those very prophecies belonging to their own country; for there was a certain ancient oracle of those men, that the city should then be taken and the sanctuary burnt, by right of war, when a sedition should invade the Jews, and their own hand should pollute the temple of God. Now while these zealots did not [quite] disbelieve these predictions, they made themselves the instruments of their accomplishment.
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
honeycomb drippings are sweet to your taste.
14 Know that wisdom is similar[ly sweet] to your soul;
if you find it, then you will have a future,
what you hope for will not be cut off.
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
Do it yourself
Determinedly Demolish some Things.
Casting down imaginations and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God. --- 2 Cor. 10:5.
Deliverance from sin is not deliverance from human nature. There are things in human nature, such as prejudices, which the saint has to destroy by neglect; and other things which have to be destroyed by violence, i.e., by the Divine strength imparted by God’s Spirit. There are some things over which we are not to fight, but to stand still in and see the salvation of God; but every theory or conception which erects itself as a rampart against the knowledge of God is to be determinedly demolished by drawing on God’s power, not by fleshly endeavour or compromise (v. 4).
It is only when God has altered our disposition and we have entered into the experience of sanctification that the fight begins. The warfare is not against sin; we can never fight against sin: Jesus Christ deals with sin in Redemption. The conflict is along the line of turning our natural life into a spiritual life, and this is never done easily, nor does God intend it to be done easily. It is done only by a series of moral choices. God does not make us holy in the sense of character; He makes us holy in the sense of innocence, and we have to turn that innocence into holy character by a series of moral choices. These choices are continually in antagonism to the entrenchments of our natural life, the things which erect themselves as ramparts against the knowledge of God. We can either go back and make ourselves of no account in the Kingdom of God, or we can determinedly demolish these things and let Jesus bring another son to glory.
the Poetry of RS Thomas
Selected poems, 1946-1968
Judgment Day (Tares)
Yes, that's how I was,
I know that face,
That bony figure
Of flesh or limb;
In health happy,
Careless of the claim
Of the world's sick
Or the world's poor;
In pain craven--
Lord, breathe once more
On that sad mirror,
Let me be lost
In mist for ever
Rather than own
Such bleak reflections.
Let me go back
On my two knees
Slowly to undo
The knot of life
That was tied there.
Numbers 19:2, 3, 5, 6, 9
Let his mother come and wipe up the filth.
BIBLE TEXT / Numbers 19:2, 3, 5, 6, 9 / This is the ritual law that the Lord has commanded: Instruct the Israelite people to bring you a red cow without blemish.… It shall be taken outside the camp and slaughtered.… The cow shall be burned … and the priest shall take cedar wood, hyssop, and crimson stuff, and throw them into the fire consuming the cow.… A man who is clean shall gather up the ashes of the cow and deposit them outside the camp in a clean place, to be kept for water of lustration for the Israelite community. It is for cleansing.
MIDRASH TEXT / Numbers Rabbah 19, 8 / An idol worshiper asked Rabban Yoḥanan hen Zakkai, This ritual that you are performing seems like witchcraft. You bring a cow, burn it, pound it [to ashes], and take the ashes; and you sprinkle upon one who has become impure by contact with the dead two or three drops and say to him, ‘You are purified!’ ”
He [Rabban Yoḥanan ben Zakkai] said to him, “Has the spirit of madness ever entered you?” He [the idol worshiper] said to him, “No.” “Have you ever seen a person into whom the spirit of madness has entered?” He [the idol worshiper] said to him, “Yes.” He [Rabban Yoḥanan ben Zakkai] said to him, “And what do you do for him?” He [the idol worshiper] said to him, “We bring roots and burn them to smoke under him, and we sprinkle water on it and the spirit flees.” He [Rabban Yoḥanan ben Zakkai] said to him, “Let your ears hear what comes out of your mouth! This spirit is the spirit of impurity, as it is written, ‘And I will also make the “prophets” and the unclean spirit vanish from the land’ (Zechariah 13:2). Water of purification is sprinkled upon him and it flees.”
After he [the idol worshiper] had left, his students said to him [Rabban Yoḥanan ben Zakkai], “Our master: You put him off with a reed, but what would you say to us?” He said to them, “I swear—the dead do not make one impure, and the water does not purify. Rather, the Holy One, praised is He, said, ‘It is a ritual law that I have enacted; it is a decree that I have decreed. You may not transgress My decrees, as it is written, “This is the ritual law.” ’ ”
And why are all the sacrifices males but this one is a female [cow]? Rabbi Aivu said, “A parable: The son of a handmaiden ‘dirtied’ the king’s palace. The king said, ‘Let his mother come and wipe up the ‘filth.’ ” So too, the Holy One, praised is He, said, ‘Let the cow come and atone for the incident of the calf.’ ”
An idol worshiper asked Rabban Yoḥanan ben Zakkai. In the Midrash and Talmud we find many discussions between the Rabbis and the non-Jews with whom they came in contact on the subjects of religion and philosophy. It may be that one people was simply curious about the other’s rituals, and what we have here is a record of a friendly interchange of neighbors. But it may also be true that these discussions were not always so friendly. The Rabbis were often put into the situation of defending Judaism from the attacks of those who tried to ridicule the Torah and win over the Jews to another set of beliefs. This was especially true during the time of Rabban Yoḥanan ben Zakkai, in first-century Israel. Sometimes, on the other hand, the Rabbis put their own doubts and critical questions into the mouths of others, like this “idol worshiper.”
The question being debated concerns the פָּרָה אֲדֻמָּה/parah adumah, the purification ritual involving the “Red Heifer”: You bring a cow, burn it, pound it [to ashes], and take the ashes; and you sprinkle upon one who has become impure by contact with the dead two or three drops and say to him, “You are purified!” The idol worshiper attacks this ritual as nonsense. Rabban Yoḥanan ben Zakkai responds by saying it is not so different from the exorcism rites in which the idol worshiper himself believes. The Rabbi’s choice of a prooftext is very interesting. The context of the thirteenth chapter in the book of Zechariah deals with a purification ritual, perhaps the same one that the Torah portion (Numbers 19) is discussing. In what was possibly a rebuff to this idolater, Rabban Yoḥanan ben Zakkai quotes only the second half of the verse, the part dealing with unclean spirits. The first half of the verse—known to the Rabbi and his students, but surely unknown to the idol worshiper—reads as follows: “In that day, too—declares the Lord of Hosts—I will erase the very names of the idols from the land; they shall not be uttered any more.” From this “silent curse,” we get a sense of the bitter rivalry that existed between Jews and non-Jews in Rabbinic times.
When the idol worshiper leaves, the students say to their teacher, “Our master, You put him off with a reed, but what would you say to us?” The reed is soft and flimsy, without real substance. And they can’t believe that he believes in the flimsy explanation he gave the idol worshiper. What is the real meaning of this strange ritual? The answer given, It is a ritual law, is that the Red Heifer falls into the category of laws known as חֻקִּים/ḥukim, rituals that have no clear logical basis (at least so far as mere mortals can perceive). It is a command of God; while we can’t explain or understand it, we are obligated to obey it.
The final question of our Midrash is And why are all the sacrifices males but this one is a female [cow]? In other cases, the animal brought for a sacrifice must be male. Rabbi Aivu sees a connection to the incident of the Golden Calf (Exodus 32), the idol built and worshiped by the Israelites at the foot of Mount Sinai in the absence of Moses. Since the sin of the people, there, in Exodus 32, involved a female calf, the purification ritual for the people, here, in Numbers 19, also involved an adult female cow.
That fact became the basis for the parable about the handmaiden’s son who dirtied the king’s palace. To Rabbi Aivu, the son symbolizes the people Israel, which “dirtied” itself through the sin of the Golden Calf. This act of idolatry is represented as dirtying the king’s palace; in Rabbinic parables, the king is God. The mother, symbolized by the Red Heifer, was brought in to wipe up the filth. Let the cow come and atone for the incident of the calf.
My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working. --- John 5:17.
It is characteristic of the Christian Gospel that its Savior should be a worker. (George H. Morrison, “Some Features of Christ’s Working,” source document downloaded from Web site of Tom Garner, www.txdirect.net/~tgarner/ghmor2.htm, accessed Aug. 21, 2001.) In the old world, work was a thing for slaves and serfs, not for freeborn people. Thus work and greatness rarely went together, and nothing was more alien to paganism than a toiling God. Jesus has changed all that. It was a revolution when Jesus taught “God loves.” But it was hardly less revolutionary when he taught “God works.”
And he not only taught it, he lived it too. People saw in Christ a life of endless toil. Jesus stooped to the very humblest tasks, and he has left us an example, that we should follow in his steps.
What is striking about the work of Jesus is the magnitude of his aim compared with the ordinariness of his methods.
It is a great thing to command an army or to be a minister of state guiding a people toward their national destiny. But the aims of general or of diplomat seem almost insignificant when compared with the purposes of Jesus. He claims a universal sovereignty and runs it out to every sphere. He is to be the test in moral questions. He is to shape our law and mold our literature. He is the conqueror of death. The purposes of Jesus [are] far more stupendous than humanity had ever dreamed of.
And it is the apparent ordinariness of his methods that strikes us. Had he a pen of fire? He never wrote a line, except in the sand. Was unlimited wealth at his command? “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head” (Matt. 8:20). Were his first followers people of influence? Simon and Andrew were fishers. Or would he use the sword like Mohammed? “Put your sword back in its place,… for all who draw the sword will die by the sword” (26:52). It seems impossible that in such ways Christ would achieve his purpose.
It is a simple lesson for every man and woman who seeks to serve in the true Christian spirit. Surrounded by the ordinary, we should be facing heavenward. Poorly equipped in all things else, we should be mightily equipped in noble hope. If I am Christ’s, I cannot measure possibilities by methods. If I am Christ’s, I cherish the loftiest hope, and I am content to work for it in lowliest ways.
--- George H. Morrison
Terrible Day At Anagni September 8
Proverbs 16:18—Too much pride will destroy you—finds a perfect illustration in Benedetto Gaetani. Gaetani, a clergyman, carried himself with aplomb, serving the Vatican well in various capacities across Europe. When he became Pope Boniface VIII in 1294, he determined to raise the papacy to its highest point. His crown contained 48 rubies, 72 sapphires, 45 emeralds, and 66 large pearls. The Roman pontiff, he said, “is most high over princes, and monarchs receive their light from him as the moon receives its light from the sun.” He sometimes appeared before pilgrims crying, “I am Caesar. I am emperor.”
France’s young King Philip IV would have none of it, and he continually outmaneuvered Boniface in diplomatic skirmishes. Things came to a head when Philip arrested the pope’s legate. Boniface roared back with a document known as Ausculta fili—Give ear, my son—charging Philip with arrogance toward the clergy and with plundering church property. Philip assembled the French Parliament and asserted independence from the church.
The pope then issued another edict, the most extreme assertion of papal power in church history, called Unam sanctam. The pope is the vicar of Christ, it said, and every human must obey him. The pope further announced that on September 8, 1303, he would appear at the church of Anagni, Italy, near his summer residence, and with great solemnity pronounce a ban on Philip.
September 8th never came. On September 7 Philip’s commandos attacked the papal residence and burst in on the 86-year-old pope. He was roughly treated. His palace was looted and the cathedral was burned, its relics destroyed. Its most priceless possession, a vase reportedly containing milk from Mary’s breasts, was shattered.
Boniface remained prisoner for three days till forces loyal to him retook the palace. But the old man never recovered. He lost his mind and began beating his head against the wall. He refused to eat. A month later he died. The event is known to history as the “Terrible Day at Anagni,” and it marked the beginning of the decline of the papacy in medieval Europe.
Too much pride will destroy you.
You are better off to be humble and poor
Than to get rich from what you take by force.
Daily Readings / CHARLES H. SPURGEON
Morning - September 8
"From me is thy fruit found." --- Hosea 14:8.
Our fruit is found from our God as to union. The fruit of the branch is directly traceable to the root. Sever the connection, the branch dies, and no fruit is produced. By virtue of our union with Christ we bring forth fruit. Every bunch of grapes have been first in the root, it has passed through the stem, and flowed through the sap vessels, and fashioned itself externally into fruit, but it was first in the stem; so also every good work was first in Christ, and then is brought forth in us. O Christian, prize this precious union to Christ; for it must be the source of all the fruitfulness which thou canst hope to know. If thou wert not joined to Jesus Christ, thou wouldst be a barren bough indeed.
Our fruit comes from God as to spiritual providence. When the dew-drops fall from heaven, when the cloud looks down from on high, and is about to distil its liquid treasure, when the bright sun swells the berries of the cluster, each heavenly boon may whisper to the tree and say, “From me is thy fruit found.” The fruit owes much to the root—that is essential to fruitfulness—but it owes very much also to external influences. How much we owe to God’s grace-providence! in which he provides us constantly with quickening, teaching, consolation, strength, or whatever else we want. To this we owe our all of usefulness or virtue.
Our fruit comes from God as to wise husbandry. The gardener’s sharp-edged knife promotes the fruitfulness of the tree, by thinning the clusters, and by cutting off superfluous shoots. So is it, Christian, with that pruning which the Lord gives to thee. “My Father is the husbandman. Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away; and every branch that beareth fruit he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.” Since our God is the author of our spiritual graces, let us give to him all the glory of our salvation.
Evening - September 8
“The exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe according to the working of his mighty power, which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead.”
--- Ephesians 1:19, 20.
In the resurrection of Christ, as in our salvation, there was put forth nothing short of a divine power. What shall we say of those who think that conversion is wrought by the free will of man, and is due to his own betterness of disposition? When we shall see the dead rise from the grave by their own power, then may we expect to see ungodly sinners of their own free will turning to Christ. It is not the word preached, nor the word read in itself; all quickening power proceeds from the Holy Ghost. This power was irresistible. All the soldiers and the high priests could not keep the body of Christ in the tomb; Death himself could not hold Jesus in his bonds: even thus irresistible is the power put forth in the believer when he is raised to newness of life. No sin, no corruption, no devils in hell nor sinners upon earth, can stay the hand of God’s grace when it intends to convert a man. If God omnipotently says, “Thou shalt,” man shall not say, “I will not.” Observe that the power which raised Christ from the dead was glorious. It reflected honour upon God and wrought dismay in the hosts of evil. So there is great glory to God in the conversion of every sinner. It was everlasting power. “Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him.” So we, being raised from the dead, go not back to our dead works nor to our old corruptions, but we live unto God. “Because he lives we live also.” “For we are dead, and our life is hid with Christ in God.” “Like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” Lastly, in the text mark the union of the new life to Jesus. The same power which raised the Head works life in the members. What a blessing to be quickened together with Christ!
HOLY, HOLY, HOLY
Reginald Heber, 1783–1826
Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker; for He is our God and we are the people of His pasture, the flock under His care. Psalm 95:6, 7
“O Lord, grant that I may desire Thee, and desiring Thee, seek Thee, and seeking Thee, find Thee, and finding Thee, be satisfied with Thee forever.”
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty who was, and is, and is to come” (Revelation 4:8). These are the words of worship that believers will proclaim in heaven one day. This majestic text based on these words was written approximately 150 years ago by an Anglican minister, Reginald Heber, and it is still one of the hymns most frequently used in our corporate worship.
Worship is the cornerstone of a believer’s spiritual life. The bedrock of the local church is its worship service, and all aspects of the church’s ministry are founded here. It is only as a Christian truly worships that he begins to grow spiritually. Learning to worship and praise God, then, should be a believer’s lifetime pursuit. Our worship reflects the depth of our relationship with God. We must learn to worship God not only for what He is doing in our personal lives, but above all for who He is—His being, character, and deeds.
Reginald Heber was a highly respected minister, writer, and church leader, serving for a time as the Bishop of Calcutta. His early death at the age of 43 was widely mourned throughout the Christian world. One year after his death, a collection of 57 of his hymns was published by his widow and many friends as a tribute to his memory and faithful ministry. It is from this collection of 1827 that these words were taken:
Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty! Early in the Morning our song shall rise to Thee; Holy, Holy, Holy! Merciful and Mighty! God in Three Persons, blessed Trinity!
Holy, Holy, Holy! All the saints adore Thee, casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea; cherubim and seraphim falling down before Thee, which wert and art and evermore shalt be.
Holy, Holy, Holy! Tho the darkness hide Thee, tho the eye of sinful man Thy glory may not see. Only Thou art holy—there is none beside Thee perfect in pow’r, in love and purity.
Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty! All Thy works shall praise Thy name in earth and sky and sea; Holy, Holy, Holy! Merciful and Mighty! God in Three Persons, blessed Trinity!
For Today: Psalm 145:8–21; Isaiah 6:3; Revelation 4:5–11; 5:13
What does the term worship mean to you? How could your life of worship be improved? Use this hymn to help ---
DISCOURSE IV - ON SPIRITUAL WORSHIP
Reason V. To have a spiritual worship is God’s end in the restoration of the creature, both in redemption by his Son and sanctification by his spirit. A fitness for spiritual offerings was the end of the “coming of Christ” (Mal. 3:3); he should purge them as gold and silver by fire, a spirit burning up their dross, melting them into a holy compliance with and submission to God. To what purpose? That they may offer to the lord an offering in righteousness; a pure offering from a purified spirit; he came to “bring us to God” (1 Pet. 3:18) in such a garb, as that we might be fit to converse with him. Can we be thus, without a fixedness of our spirits on him? The offering of spiritual sacrifices is the end of making any a “spiritual habitation” and a “holy priesthood” (1 Pet. 2:5). We can no more be worshippers of God without a worshipper’s nature, than a man can be a man without human nature. As man was at first created for the honor and worship of God, so the design of restoring that image which was defaced by sin tends to the same end. We are not brought to God by Christ, nor are our services presented to hire, if they be without our spirits; would any man that undertakes to bring another to a prince, introduce him in a slovenly and sordid habit, such a garb that he knows hateful to him? or bring the clothes or skin of a man stuffed with straw, instead of the person? to come with our skins before God, without our spirits, is contrary to the design of God in redemption and regeneration. If a carnal worship would have pleased God, a carnal heart would have served his turn, without the expense of his Spirit in sanctification. He bestows upon man a spiritual nature, that he may return to him a spiritual service; he enlightens the understanding, that he may have a rational service; and new moulds the will, that he may have a voluntary service. As it is the milk of the word wherewith he feeds us, so it is the service of the word wherewith we must glorify him. So much as there is of confusedness in our understanding, so much of starting and levity in our wills, so much of slipperiness and skipping in our affections; so much is abated of the due qualities of the worship of God, and so much we fall short of the end of redemption and sanctification.
Reason VI. A spiritual worship is to be offered to God, because no worship but that can be acceptable. We can never be secured of acceptance without it; he being a Spirit, nothing but the worship in apirit can be suitable to him: what is unsuitable, cannot be acceptable; there must be something in us, to make our services capable of being presented by Christ for an actual acceptation. No service is “acceptable to God by Jesus Christ,” but as it is a spiritual sacrifice, and offered by a spiritual heart (1 Pet. 2:5). The sacrifice is first spiritual, before it be acceptable to God by Christ; when it is “an offering in righteousness,” it is then, and only then, pleasant to the Lord (Mal. 3:3, 4). No prince would accept a gift that is unsuitable to his majesty, and below the condition of the person that presents it. Would he be pleased with a bottle of water for drink, from one that hath his cellar full of wine? How unacceptable must that be that is unsuitable to the Divine Majesty! And what can be more unsuitable than a withdrawing the operations of our souls from him, in the oblation of our bodies? We as little glorify God as God, when we give him only a corporeal worship, as the heathen did, when they represented him in a corporeal shape (Rom. 1:21); one as well as the other denies his spiritual nature: this is worse, for had it been lawful to represent God to the eye, it could not have been done but by a bodily figure suited to the sense; but since it is necessary to worship him, it cannot be by a corporeal attendance, without the operation of the Spirit. A spiritual frame is more pleasing to God than the highest exterior adornments, than the greatest gifts, and the highest prophetic illuminations. “The glory of the second temple” exceeded the glory of the first (Hag. 2:8, 9). As God accounts the spiritual glory of ordinances most beneficial for us, so our spiritual attendance upon ordinances is most pleasing to him; he that offers the greatest services without it, offers but flesh (Hos. 8:13): “They sacrifice flesh for the sacrifices of my offerings, but the Lord accepts them not.” Spiritual frames are the soul of religious services; all other carriages without them are contemptible to this spirit: we can never lay claim to that promise of God, none shall “seek my face in vain.” We affect a vain seeking of him, when we want a due temper of spirit for him; and vain spirits shall have vain returns: it is more contrary to the nature of God’s holiness to have communion with such, than it is contrary to the nature of light to have communion with darkness. To make use of this:
Use 1. First it serves for information.
1. If spiritual worship be required by God, how sad is it for them that they are so far from giving God a spiritual worship, that they render him no worship at all! I speak not of the neglect of public, but of private; when men present not a devotion to God from one year’s end to the other. The speech of our Saviour, that we must worship God in spirit and truth, implies that a worship is due to him from every one; that is the common impression upon the consciences of all men in the world, if they have not by some constant course in gross sins, hardened their souls, and stifled those natural sentiments. There was never a nation in the world without some kind of religion; and no religion was ever without some modes to testify a devotion; the heathens had their sacrifices and purifications; and the Jews, by God’s order, had their rites, whereby they were to express their allegiance to God. Consider,
(1.) Worship is a duty incumbent upon all men. It is a homage mankind owes to God, under the relation wherein he stands obliged to him; it is a prime and immutable justice to own our allegiance to him; it is as unchangeable a truth that God is to be worshipped, as that God is; he is to be worshipped as God, as creator, and therefore by all, since he is the Creator of all, the Lord of all, and all are his creatures, and all are his subjects. Worship is founded upon creation (Psalm 100:2, 3): it is due to God for himself and his own essential excellency, and therefore due from all; it is due upon the account of man’s nature; the human rational nature is the same in all. Whatsoever is due to God upon the account of man’s nature, and the natural obligations he hath laid upon man, is due from all men; because they all enjoy the benefits which are proper to their nature. Man in no state was exempted, nor can be exempted from it; in Paradise he had his Sabhath and sacraments; man therefore dissolves the obligation of a reasonable nature, by neglecting the worship of God. Religion is in the first place to be minded. As soon as Noah came out of the ark, he contrived not a habitation for himself, but an altar for the Lord, to acknowledge him the author of his preservation from the deluge (Gen. 8:20): and wheresoever Abraham came, his first business was to erect an altar, and pay his arrears of gratitude to God, before he ran upon the score for new mercies (Gen. 12:7; 13:4, 18): he left a testimony of worship wherever he came.
(2.) Wholly therefore to neglect it, is a high degree of atheism. He that calls not upon God, “saith in his heart, There is no God;” and seems to have the sentiments of natural conscience, as to God, stifled in him (Psalm 14:1, 4): it must arise from a conceit that there is no God, or that we are equal to him, adoration not being due from persons of an equal state; or that God is unable, or unwilling to take notice of the adoring acts of his creatures: what is any of these but an undeifying the supreme Majesty? When we lay aside all thoughts of paying any homage to him, we are in a fair way opinionatively to deny him, as much as we practically disown him. Where there is no knowledge of God, that is, no “acknowledgment of God,” a gap is opened to all licentiousness (Hos. 4:1, 2); and that by degrees brawns the conscience, and razeth out the sense of God. Those forsake God that “forget his holy mountain” (Isa. 65:11); they do not practically own him as the Creator of their souls or bodies. It is the sin of Cain, who turning his back upon worship, is said to “go out from the presence of the Lord” (Gen. 4:16). Not to worship him with our spirits, is against his law of creation: not to worship him at all, is against his act of creation; not to worship him in truth, is hypocrisy; not to worship him at all, is atheism; whereby we render ourselves worse than the worms in the earth, or a toad in a ditch.
(3.) To perform a worship to a false God, or to the true God in a false manner, seems to be less a sin than to live in perpetual neglect of it. Though it be directed to a false object instead of God, yet it is under the notion of a God, and so is an acknowledgment of such a Being as God in the world; whereas the total neglect of any worship, is a practical denying of the existence of any supreme Majesty. Whosoever constantly omits a public and private worship, transgresses against an universally received dictate; for all nations have agreed in the common notion of worshipping God, though they have disagreed in the several modes and rites whereby they would testify that adoration. By a worship of God, though superstitious, a veneration and reverence of such a being is maintained in the world; whereas by a total neglect of worship, he is virtually disowned and discarded, if not from his existence, yet from his providence and government of the world; all the mercies we breathe in are denied to flow from him. A foolish worship owns religion, though it bespatters it; as if a stranger coming into a country mistakes the subject for the prince, and pays that reverence to the subject which is due to the prince; though he mistakes the object, yet he owns an authority; or if he pays any respect to the true prince of that country after the mode of his own, though appearing ridiculous in the place where he is, he owns the authority of the prince; whereas the omission of all respect would be a contempt of majesty: and, therefore, the judgments of God have been more signal upon the sacrilegious contemners of worship among the heathens, than upon those that were diligent and devout in their false worship; and they generally owned the blessings received to the preservation of a sense and worship of a Deity among them. Though such a worship be not acceptable to God, and every man is bound to offer to God a devotion agreeable to his own mind; yet it is commendable, not as worship, but as it speaks an acknowledgment of such a being as God, in his power and creation, and his beneficence in his trovidence. Well, then, omissions of worship are to be avoided. Let no man execute that upon himself which God will pronounce at last as the greatest misery, and bid God depart from him, who will at last be loth to hear God bid him depart from him. Though man hath natural sentiments that God is to be worshipped, yet having an hostility in his nature, he is apt to neglect, or give it him in a slight manner; he therefore sets a particular mark and notice of attention upon the fourth command, “Remember thou keep holy the Sabhath day.” Corrupt nature is apt to neglect the worship of God, and flag in it. This command, therefore, which concerns his worship, he fortifies with several reasons. Nor let any neglect worship, because they cannot find their hearts spiritual in it. The further we are from God, the more carnal shall we be. aka 2018 No man can expect heat by a distance from the sunbeams, or other means of warmth. Though God commanded a circumcised heart in the Jewish services, yet he did not warrant a neglect of the outward testimonies of reigion he had then appointed. He expected, according to his command, that they should offer the sacrifices, and practice the legal purification he had commanded; he would have them diligently observed, though he had declared that he imposed them only for a time; and our Saviour ordered the practice of those positive rites as long as the law remained unrepealed, as in the case of the leper (Mark 14:4). It is an injustice to refuse the offering ourselves to God according to the manner he hath in his wisdom prescribed and required. If spiritual worship be required by God, then,
2. It informs us, that diligence in outward worship is not to be rested in. Men may attend all their days on worship, with a juiceless heart and unquickened frame, and think to compensate the neglect of the manner with abundance of the matter of service. Outward expressions are but the badges and liveries of service, not the service itself. As the strength of sin lies in the inward frame of the heart, so the strength of worship in the inward complexion and temper of the soul. What do a thousand services avail, without cutting the throat of our carnal affections? What are loud prayers, but as sounding brass and tinkling cymbals, without divine charity? A pharisaical diligence in outward forms, without inward spirit, had no better a title vouchsafed by our Saviour than that of hypocritical.
God desires not sacrifices, nor delights in burnt-offerings: shadows are not to be offered instead of substance. God required the heart of man for itself, but commanded outward ceremonies as subservient to inward worship, and goads and spurs unto it. They were never appointed as the substance of religion, but auxiliaries to it. What value had the offering of the human nature of Christ been of, if he had not had a divine nature to qualify him to be the Priest? and what is the oblation of our bodies, without a priestly act of the spirit in the presentation of it? Could the Israelites have called themselves worshippers of God according to his order, if they had brought a thousand lambs that had died in a ditch, or been killed at home? They were to be brought living to the altar; the blood shed at the foot of it. A thousand sacrifices killed without had not been so valuable as one brought alive to the place of offering: one sound sacrifice is better than a thousand rotten ones. As God took no pleasure in the blood of beasts without its relation to the Antitype; so he takes no pleasure in the outward rites of worship, without faith in the Redeemer. To offer a body with a sapless spirit, is a sacrilege of the same nature with that of the Israelites when they offered dead beasts. A man without spiritual worship is dead while he worships, though by his diligence in the externals of it, he may, like the angel of the church of Sardis, “have a name to live” (Rev. 3:1). What security can we expect from a multitude of dead services? What weak shields are they against the holy eye and revenging wrath of God! What man, but one out of his wits, would solicit a dead man to be his advocate or champion? Diligence in outward worship is not to be rested in.
Martin Luther | (1483-1546)
The Bondage of the Will or Christian Classics Ethereal Library
Sect. CXLIII. — BUT many elude and evade Paul, by saying, that he here calls the ceremonial works, works of the law; which works, after the death of Christ, were dead.
I answer: This is that notable error and ignorance of Jerome which, although Augustine strenuously resisted it, yet, by the withdrawing of God and the prevailing of Satan, has found its way throughout the world, and has continued down to this day. By means of which, it has come to pass, that it has been impossible to understand Paul, and the knowledge of Christ has, consequently, been obscured. Therefore, if there had been no other error in the church, this one might have been sufficiently pestilent and powerful to destroy the Gospel: for which, Jerome, if peculiar grace did not interpose, has deserved hell rather than heaven: so far am I from daring to canonize him, or call him a saint! But however, it is not truth that Paul is here speaking of the ceremonial works only: for if that be the case, how will his argument stand good, whereby he concludes, that all are unrighteous and need grace? But perhaps you will say — Be it so, that we are not justified by the ceremonial works, yet one might be justified by the moral works of the decalogue. By this syllogism of yours then, you have proved, that to such, grace is not necessary. If this be the case, how very useful must that grace be, which delivers us from the ceremonial works only, the easiest of all works, which may be extorted from us through mere fear or self-love!
And this, moreover, is erroneous — that ceremonial works are dead and unlawful, since the death of Christ. Paul never said any such thing. He says, that they do not justify, and that they profit the man nothing in the sight of God, so as to make him free from unrighteousness. Holding this truth, any one may do them, and yet do nothing that is unlawful. Thus, to eat and to drink are works, which do not justify or recommend us to God; and yet, he who eats and drinks does not, therefore, do that which is unlawful.
These men err also in this. — The ceremonial works, were as much commanded and exacted in the old law, and in the decalogue, as the moral works: and therefore, the latter had neither more nor less force than the former. For Paul is here speaking, principally, to the Jews, as he saith, Rom. i.: wherefore, let no one doubt, that by the works of the law here, all the works of the whole law are to be understood. For if the law be abrogated and dead, they cannot be called the works of the law; for an abrogated or dead law, is no longer a law; and that Paul knew full well. Therefore, he does not speak of the law abrogated, when he speaks of the works of the law, but of the law in force and authority: otherwise, how easy would it have been for him to say, The law is now abrogated? And then, he would have spoken openly and clearly.
But let us bring forward Paul himself, who is the best interpreter of himself. He saith, Gal. iii. 10, “As many as are of the works of the law, are under the curse; for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things, which are written in the book of the law, to do them.” You see that Paul here, where he is urging the same point as he is in his epistle to the Romans, and in the same words, speaks, wherever he makes mention of the works of the law, of all the laws that are written in the Book of the Law.
And what is still more worthy of remark, Paul himself cites Moses, who curses those that continue not in the law; whereas, he himself curses those who are of the works of the law; thus adducing a testimony of a different scope from that of his own sentiment; the former being in the negative, the latter in the affirmative. But this he does, because the real state of the case is such in the sight of God, that those who are the most devoted to the works of the law, are the farthest from fulfilling the law, as being without the Spirit, who only is the fulfiller of the law, which such may attempt to fulfil by their own powers, but they will effect nothing after all. Wherefore, both declarations are truth — that of Moses, that they are accursed who continue not in the works of the law; and that of Paul, that they are accursed who are of the works of the law. For both characters of persons require the Spirit, without which, the works of the law, how many and excellent soever they may be, justify not, as Paul saith; wherefore neither character of persons continue in all things that are written, as Moses saith.
Sect. CXLIV. — IN a word: Paul by this division of his, fully confirms that which I maintain. For he divides law-working men into two classes, those who work after the spirit, and those who work after the flesh, leaving no medium whatever. He speaks thus: “By the deeds of the law shall no flesh be justified.” (Rom. iii. 20). What is this but saying, that those whose works, profit them not, work the works of the law without the Spirit, as being themselves flesh; that is, unrighteous and ignorant of God. So, Gal. iii. 2, making the same division, he saith, “received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?” Again Rom. iii. 21, “but now, the righteousness of God is manifest without the law.” And again Rom. iii. 28, “We conclude, therefore, that a man is justified by faith without the works of the law.”
From all which it is manifest and clear, that in Paul, the Spirit is set in opposition to the works of the law, as well as to all other things which are not spiritual, including all the powers of, and every thing pertaining to the flesh. So that, the meaning of Paul, is evidently the same as that of Christ, John iii. 6, that every thing which is not of the Spirit is flesh, be it never so specious, holy and great, nay, be they works of the divine law the most excellent, and wrought by all the powers imaginable; for the Spirit of Christ is wanting; without which, all things are nothing short of being damnable.
Let it then be a settled point, that Paul, by the works of the law, means not the ceremonial works, but the works of the whole law; then, this will be a settled point also, that in the works of the law, every thing is condemned that is without the Spirit. And without the Spirit, is that power of “Free-will,” (for that is the point in dispute), — that most exalted faculty in man! For, to be “of the works of the law,” is the most exalted state in which man can be. The apostle, therefore, does not say, who are of sins, and of ungodliness against the law, but who are “of the works of the law;” that is, who are the best of men, and the most devoted to the law: and who are, in addition to the power of “Free-will,” even assisted, that is, instructed and roused into action, by the law itself.
If therefore “Free-will” assisted by the law and exercising all its powers in the law, profit nothing and justify not, but be left in sin and in the flesh, what must we suppose it able to do, when left to itself without the law!
“By the law (saith Paul) is the knowledge of sin.” (Rom. iii. 20). Here he shews how much, and how far the law profits: — that “Free-will” is of itself so blind, that it does not even know what is sin, but has need of the law for its teacher. And what can that man do towards taking away sin, who does not even know what is sin? All that he can do, is, to mistake that which is sin for that which is no sin, and that which is no sin for that which is sin. And this, experience sufficiently proves. How does the world, by the medium of those whom it accounts the most excellent and the most devoted to righteousness and piety, hate and persecute the righteousness of God preached in the Gospel, and brand it with the name of heresy, error, and every opprobrious appellation, while it boasts of and sets forth its own works and devices, which are really sin and error, as righteousness and wisdom? By this Scripture, therefore, Paul stops the mouth of “Free-will” where he teaches, that by the law its sin is discovered unto it, of which sin it was before ignorant; so far is he from conceding to it any power whatever to attempt that which is good.