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2 Kings 23

Josiah’s Reforms

2 Kings 23 1 Then the king sent, and all the elders of Judah and Jerusalem were gathered to him. 2 And the king went up to the house of the LORD, and with him all the men of Judah and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem and the priests and the prophets, all the people, both small and great. And he read in their hearing all the words of the Book of the Covenant that had been found in the house of the LORD. 3 And the king stood by the pillar and made a covenant before the LORD, to walk after the LORD and to keep his commandments and his testimonies and his statutes with all his heart and all his soul, to perform the words of this covenant that were written in this book. And all the people joined in the covenant.

4 And the king commanded Hilkiah the high priest and the priests of the second order and the keepers of the threshold to bring out of the temple of the LORD all the vessels made for Baal, for Asherah, and for all the host of heaven. He burned them outside Jerusalem in the fields of the Kidron and carried their ashes to Bethel. 5 And he deposed the priests whom the kings of Judah had ordained to make offerings in the high places at the cities of Judah and around Jerusalem; those also who burned incense to Baal, to the sun and the moon and the constellations and all the host of the heavens. 6 And he brought out the Asherah from the house of the LORD, outside Jerusalem, to the brook Kidron, and burned it at the brook Kidron and beat it to dust and cast the dust of it upon the graves of the common people. 7 And he broke down the houses of the male cult prostitutes who were in the house of the LORD, where the women wove hangings for the Asherah. 8 And he brought all the priests out of the cities of Judah, and defiled the high places where the priests had made offerings, from Geba to Beersheba. And he broke down the high places of the gates that were at the entrance of the gate of Joshua the governor of the city, which were on one’s left at the gate of the city. 9 However, the priests of the high places did not come up to the altar of the LORD in Jerusalem, but they ate unleavened bread among their brothers. 10 And he defiled Topheth, which is in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, that no one might burn his son or his daughter as an offering to Molech. 11 And he removed the horses that the kings of Judah had dedicated to the sun, at the entrance to the house of the LORD, by the chamber of Nathan-melech the chamberlain, which was in the precincts. And he burned the chariots of the sun with fire. 12 And the altars on the roof of the upper chamber of Ahaz, which the kings of Judah had made, and the altars that Manasseh had made in the two courts of the house of the LORD, he pulled down and broke in pieces and cast the dust of them into the brook Kidron. 13 And the king defiled the high places that were east of Jerusalem, to the south of the mount of corruption, which Solomon the king of Israel had built for Ashtoreth the abomination of the Sidonians, and for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, and for Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. 14 And he broke in pieces the pillars and cut down the Asherim and filled their places with the bones of men.

15 Moreover, the altar at Bethel, the high place erected by Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin, that altar with the high place he pulled down and burned, reducing it to dust. He also burned the Asherah. 16 And as Josiah turned, he saw the tombs there on the mount. And he sent and took the bones out of the tombs and burned them on the altar and defiled it, according to the word of the LORD that the man of God proclaimed, who had predicted these things. 17 Then he said, “What is that monument that I see?” And the men of the city told him, “It is the tomb of the man of God who came from Judah and predicted these things that you have done against the altar at Bethel.” 18 And he said, “Let him be; let no man move his bones.” So they let his bones alone, with the bones of the prophet who came out of Samaria. 19 And Josiah removed all the shrines also of the high places that were in the cities of Samaria, which kings of Israel had made, provoking the LORD to anger. He did to them according to all that he had done at Bethel. 20 And he sacrificed all the priests of the high places who were there, on the altars, and burned human bones on them. Then he returned to Jerusalem.

Josiah Restores the Passover

21 And the king commanded all the people, “Keep the Passover to the LORD your God, as it is written in this Book of the Covenant.” 22 For no such Passover had been kept since the days of the judges who judged Israel, or during all the days of the kings of Israel or of the kings of Judah. 23 But in the eighteenth year of King Josiah this Passover was kept to the LORD in Jerusalem.

24 Moreover, Josiah put away the mediums and the necromancers and the household gods and the idols and all the abominations that were seen in the land of Judah and in Jerusalem, that he might establish the words of the law that were written in the book that Hilkiah the priest found in the house of the LORD. 25 Before him there was no king like him, who turned to the LORD with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his might, according to all the Law of Moses, nor did any like him arise after him.

26 Still the LORD did not turn from the burning of his great wrath, by which his anger was kindled against Judah, because of all the provocations with which Manasseh had provoked him. 27 And the LORD said, “I will remove Judah also out of my sight, as I have removed Israel, and I will cast off this city that I have chosen, Jerusalem, and the house of which I said, My name shall be there.”

Josiah’s Death in Battle

28 Now the rest of the acts of Josiah and all that he did, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah? 29 In his days Pharaoh Neco king of Egypt went up to the king of Assyria to the river Euphrates. King Josiah went to meet him, and Pharaoh Neco killed him at Megiddo, as soon as he saw him. 30 And his servants carried him dead in a chariot from Megiddo and brought him to Jerusalem and buried him in his own tomb. And the people of the land took Jehoahaz the son of Josiah, and anointed him, and made him king in his father’s place.

Jehoahaz’s Reign and Captivity

31 Jehoahaz was twenty-three years old when he began to reign, and he reigned three months in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Hamutal the daughter of Jeremiah of Libnah. 32 And he did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, according to all that his fathers had done. 33 And Pharaoh Neco put him in bonds at Riblah in the land of Hamath, that he might not reign in Jerusalem, and laid on the land a tribute of a hundred talents of silver and a talent of gold. 34 And Pharaoh Neco made Eliakim the son of Josiah king in the place of Josiah his father, and changed his name to Jehoiakim. But he took Jehoahaz away, and he came to Egypt and died there. 35 And Jehoiakim gave the silver and the gold to Pharaoh, but he taxed the land to give the money according to the command of Pharaoh. He exacted the silver and the gold of the people of the land, from everyone according to his assessment, to give it to Pharaoh Neco.

Jehoiakim Reigns in Judah

36 Jehoiakim was twenty-five years old when he began to reign, and he reigned eleven years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Zebidah the daughter of Pedaiah of Rumah. 37 And he did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, according to all that his fathers had done.

2 Kings 24

2 Kings 24 1 In his days, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came up, and Jehoiakim became his servant for three years. Then he turned and rebelled against him. 2 And the LORD sent against him bands of the Chaldeans and bands of the Syrians and bands of the Moabites and bands of the Ammonites, and sent them against Judah to destroy it, according to the word of the LORD that he spoke by his servants the prophets. 3 Surely this came upon Judah at the command of the LORD, to remove them out of his sight, for the sins of Manasseh, according to all that he had done, 4 and also for the innocent blood that he had shed. For he filled Jerusalem with innocent blood, and the LORD would not pardon. 5 Now the rest of the deeds of Jehoiakim and all that he did, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah? 6 So Jehoiakim slept with his fathers, and Jehoiachin his son reigned in his place. 7 And the king of Egypt did not come again out of his land, for the king of Babylon had taken all that belonged to the king of Egypt from the Brook of Egypt to the river Euphrates.

Jehoiachin Reigns in Judah

8 Jehoiachin was eighteen years old when he became king, and he reigned three months in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Nehushta the daughter of Elnathan of Jerusalem. 9 And he did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, according to all that his father had done.

Jerusalem Captured

10 At that time the servants of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came up to Jerusalem, and the city was besieged. 11 And Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to the city while his servants were besieging it, 12 and Jehoiachin the king of Judah gave himself up to the king of Babylon, himself and his mother and his servants and his officials and his palace officials. The king of Babylon took him prisoner in the eighth year of his reign 13 and carried off all the treasures of the house of the LORD and the treasures of the king’s house, and cut in pieces all the vessels of gold in the temple of the LORD, which Solomon king of Israel had made, as the LORD had foretold. 14 He carried away all Jerusalem and all the officials and all the mighty men of valor, 10,000 captives, and all the craftsmen and the smiths. None remained, except the poorest people of the land. 15 And he carried away Jehoiachin to Babylon. The king’s mother, the king’s wives, his officials, and the chief men of the land he took into captivity from Jerusalem to Babylon. 16 And the king of Babylon brought captive to Babylon all the men of valor, 7,000, and the craftsmen and the metal workers, 1,000, all of them strong and fit for war. 17 And the king of Babylon made Mattaniah, Jehoiachin’s uncle, king in his place, and changed his name to Zedekiah.

Zedekiah Reigns in Judah

18 Zedekiah was twenty-one years old when he became king, and he reigned eleven years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Hamutal the daughter of Jeremiah of Libnah. 19 And he did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, according to all that Jehoiakim had done. 20 For because of the anger of the LORD it came to the point in Jerusalem and Judah that he cast them out from his presence.

And Zedekiah rebelled against the king of Babylon.

2 Kings 25

Fall and Captivity of Judah

2 Kings 25 1 And in the ninth year of his reign, in the tenth month, on the tenth day of the month, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came with all his army against Jerusalem and laid siege to it. And they built siegeworks all around it. 2 So the city was besieged till the eleventh year of King Zedekiah. 3 On the ninth day of the fourth month the famine was so severe in the city that there was no food for the people of the land. 4 Then a breach was made in the city, and all the men of war fled by night by the way of the gate between the two walls, by the king’s garden, and the Chaldeans were around the city. And they went in the direction of the Arabah. 5 But the army of the Chaldeans pursued the king and overtook him in the plains of Jericho, and all his army was scattered from him. 6 Then they captured the king and brought him up to the king of Babylon at Riblah, and they passed sentence on him. 7 They slaughtered the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes, and put out the eyes of Zedekiah and bound him in chains and took him to Babylon.

8 In the fifth month, on the seventh day of the month—that was the nineteenth year of King Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon—Nebuzaradan, the captain of the bodyguard, a servant of the king of Babylon, came to Jerusalem. 9 And he burned the house of the LORD and the king’s house and all the houses of Jerusalem; every great house he burned down. 10 And all the army of the Chaldeans, who were with the captain of the guard, broke down the walls around Jerusalem. 11 And the rest of the people who were left in the city and the deserters who had deserted to the king of Babylon, together with the rest of the multitude, Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard carried into exile. 12 But the captain of the guard left some of the poorest of the land to be vinedressers and plowmen.

13 And the pillars of bronze that were in the house of the LORD, and the stands and the bronze sea that were in the house of the LORD, the Chaldeans broke in pieces and carried the bronze to Babylon. 14 And they took away the pots and the shovels and the snuffers and the dishes for incense and all the vessels of bronze used in the temple service, 15 the fire pans also and the bowls. What was of gold the captain of the guard took away as gold, and what was of silver, as silver. 16 As for the two pillars, the one sea, and the stands that Solomon had made for the house of the LORD, the bronze of all these vessels was beyond weight. 17 The height of the one pillar was eighteen cubits, and on it was a capital of bronze. The height of the capital was three cubits. A latticework and pomegranates, all of bronze, were all around the capital. And the second pillar had the same, with the latticework.

18 And the captain of the guard took Seraiah the chief priest and Zephaniah the second priest and the three keepers of the threshold; 19 and from the city he took an officer who had been in command of the men of war, and five men of the king’s council who were found in the city; and the secretary of the commander of the army, who mustered the people of the land; and sixty men of the people of the land, who were found in the city. 20 And Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard took them and brought them to the king of Babylon at Riblah. 21 And the king of Babylon struck them down and put them to death at Riblah in the land of Hamath. So Judah was taken into exile out of its land.

Gedaliah Made Governor of Judah

22 And over the people who remained in the land of Judah, whom Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon had left, he appointed Gedaliah the son of Ahikam, son of Shaphan, governor. 23 Now when all the captains and their men heard that the king of Babylon had appointed Gedaliah governor, they came with their men to Gedaliah at Mizpah, namely, Ishmael the son of Nethaniah, and Johanan the son of Kareah, and Seraiah the son of Tanhumeth the Netophathite, and Jaazaniah the son of the Maacathite. 24 And Gedaliah swore to them and their men, saying, “Do not be afraid because of the Chaldean officials. Live in the land and serve the king of Babylon, and it shall be well with you.” 25 But in the seventh month, Ishmael the son of Nethaniah, son of Elishama, of the royal family, came with ten men and struck down Gedaliah and put him to death along with the Jews and the Chaldeans who were with him at Mizpah. 26 Then all the people, both small and great, and the captains of the forces arose and went to Egypt, for they were afraid of the Chaldeans.

Jehoiachin Released from Prison

27 And in the thirty-seventh year of the exile of Jehoiachin king of Judah, in the twelfth month, on the twenty-seventh day of the month, Evil-merodach king of Babylon, in the year that he began to reign, graciously freed Jehoiachin king of Judah from prison. 28 And he spoke kindly to him and gave him a seat above the seats of the kings who were with him in Babylon. 29 So Jehoiachin put off his prison garments. And every day of his life he dined regularly at the king’s table, 30 and for his allowance, a regular allowance was given him by the king, according to his daily needs, as long as he lived.

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The One, Great War

By R.C. Sproul Jr. 7/1/2006

     In the last sixty years, the United States government has waged war in Korea, in Viet Nam, in Libya, in Panama, in Grenada, in the former Yugoslavia, in Somalia, in Iraq, in Afghanistan, and in Iraq again. These are the ones I can think of off the top of my head. None of these wars involved, of course, a congressional declaration of war, but in each of these circumstances, military weapons have been fired against citizens of other nations by military serving the United States. We do not have black-out curtains and rationing as they did in the last World War. We do not have an active civil defense, and young ladies wrapping bandages for the war effort as we did back then. To many of us it seems like a time of peace, but it is not.

     Each of these wars, however, are fought in the context of the one, great war. No, it’s not the cold war between capitalism and communism. No, it isn’t militant Islam against American consumerism. The great war transcends these wars and finds its beginning in the garden. The serpent launched his surprise attack when he asked Eve: “Has God indeed said?” And there he secured a victory, as both Adam and Eve, and all who would be born of them, determined to embrace the serpent’s view of reality, rather than to embrace the truth. Praise to our Father He did not take this lying down. His solemn declaration of war followed, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Gen. 3:15). This war, declared by God, begins in the garden and ends only when the great garden city, the New Jerusalem, descends from on high. This great war is the context of each of our lives, and all our lives together. We all live in times of war.

     The apostle Paul was acutely aware of this hard truth. It was he who told us, “For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete” (2 Cor. 10:4–6). The devil wins too many skirmishes here, as we are wont to believe that since our weapons are not carnal, that the war itself isn’t real. We are at war with principalities and powers, something Paul would never forget.

     Recognizing the reality of this overarching war, however, won’t equip us to fight the war. We need also to recognize that the war is fought on at least two fronts, that our one war is fought in two theaters. The first front is found within ourselves. That is, not only do we war against the world and the devil, which is to say the serpent and its seed, but we war against our own flesh. We who fight our outward enemies likewise fight our inward enemies. This is why Paul calls us to put to death that which is earthly in us. This is why Paul cries out, “For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Rom. 7:22–25a).

     The other front is much like the first. In the first, we have a battle within the seed of the woman. In the second, we have a battle within the seed of the serpent. Our old nature battles with our new, whereas among those outside the kingdom, their war is between the remnants of the image of God yet in them and their fallen nature. They, Paul tells us in Romans 1, worship the creature rather than the Creator. That they worship at all is because of their being fashioned in the image of God. That is, because man as man is made in the image of God, man as man is made to worship. But because man in his fallen nature hates God, he determines to worship a false god, a creature.

     In the here and now, these three battles will continue. When we are better salt and light, even those outside the kingdom better reflect their Maker’s image. When we lose our savor, however, we become more and more like walking zombies. We fight the big central battle best by fighting the internal battle well. That is, we will succeed in better having His kingdom come, His will be done on earth as it is in heaven, as we become more like we will be in heaven, as we put to death the old man, and put on Christ.

     In eternity there will be no more war. Not only will the seed of the serpent be utterly vanquished, but they will be given over to their sin. Not only will the seed of the woman be victorious, but all those who are in Him will be made new. With the death of death will come the death of our old man. And we will live on forever in peace, under the eternal reign of the Prince of Peace. Paul longed for it, and so ought we.

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     R.C. Sproul Jr. has served previously as a pastor, professor, and teacher. He is author of numerous books. Some are listed below.

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Sabbath Rest for God

By Ligonier

     In chapter 4, the author of Hebrews develops the idea of God’s rest. God began His rest when He ceased from His creative activity and continues His rest today. By faith alone, a person can enter God’s rest and enjoy it for all eternity.

     Hebrews 4:4 quotes from Genesis 2:2, which tells us that after God created the universe, He rested on the seventh day from the work that He had done. It is notable that unlike all the other days of creation in Genesis 1, the seventh day does not have a morning and an evening. God’s rest on the seventh day is an eternal period; it has no end.

     At this point we will consider what it means to say that God began to rest on the seventh day. Certainly it does not mean that God was tired and needed to relax after six days of hard work. God is not a human being and does not grow weary physically (Isa. 40:28). When God began resting, He did not cease from all activity. God still providentially upholds the universe because otherwise it would cease to exist (Neh. 9:6).

(Ne 9:6) 6  “You are the LORD, you alone. You have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them; and you preserve all of them; and the host of heaven worships you.  ESV

     When Genesis 2:2 tells us that God rested, it is simply telling us that God ceased only His foundational activity of creation. This is clear from the fact that God continues to work after creation to preserve and redeem His people. When God rests it means that He no longer is laying the foundation for the universe. This was done once at the beginning of time and does not need to be done again.

     In His rest, God is glorified by His handiwork. At the start of His Sabbath, He pronounced all that He created as “very good” (Gen. 1:31), reflecting God’s enjoyment of His handiwork. Even though sin is present, He still enjoys His work today because His people are very good on account of the imputed righteousness of Christ. God also sees all of time and knows that His work will produce a very good universe in the end. God also enjoys Himself in His rest because He delights in His glory and works to make it manifest. He does what He pleases and His glory pleases Him most of all (Ps. 115:3; Isa. 49:3).

     In the garden Adam also enjoyed God and God’s work. He walked with the Lord (Gen. 3:8) and delighted in the woman who God made for him (Gen. 2:22–23). In Eden, Adam enjoyed God’s Sabbath, but the fall into sin brought the rest to an end. But God took pity on us and accomplished redemption in order to bring us back into His rest.

     Coram Deo

     Some believe that had Adam not fallen into sin, he would have entered an even greater rest than the one enjoyed in Eden. While we cannot be sure of this, we do know that we will enjoy an even greater rest than Eden’s because sin makes us able to know God as the Redeemer. Praise God for the greater rest that is to come.

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The Battle for Grace Alone

By R.C. Sproul 8/1/2006

     The early part of the fifth century witnessed a serious controversy in the church that is known as the Pelagian controversy. This debate took place principally between the British monk Pelagius and the great theologian of the first millennium, Augustine of Hippo. In the controversy, Pelagius objected strenuously to Augustine’s understanding of the fall, of grace, and of predestination. Pelagius maintained that the fall affected Adam alone and that there was no imputation of guilt or “original sin” to Adam’s progeny. Pelagius insisted that people born after the fall of Adam and Eve retained the capacity to live lives of perfect righteousness unaided by the grace of God. He argued that grace “facilitates” righteousness but is not necessary for it. He categorically rejected Augustine’s understanding that the fall was so severe that it left the descendents of Adam in such a state of moral corruption that they were morally unable to incline themselves to God. The doctrines of Pelagius were condemned by the church in 418 at a synod in Carthage.

     Though Pelagianism was rejected by the church, efforts soon emerged to soften the doctrines of Augustine. In the fifth century the leading exponent of such a softening was John Cassian. Cassian, who was the abbot of a monastery in Gaul, together with his fellow monks, completely agreed with the condemnation of Pelagius by the synod in 418, but they objected equally to the strong view of predestination set forth by Augustine. Cassian believed that Augustine had gone too far in his reaction against the heresy of Pelagius and had departed from the teachings of some of the church fathers, especially Tertullian, Ambrose, and Jerome. Cassian said that Augustine’s teaching on predestination “cripples the force of preaching, reproof, and moral energy…plunges men into despair and introduces a certain fatal necessity.” This reaction against the implied fatalism of predestination led Cassian to articulate a position that has since become known popularly as “semi-Pelagianism.” Semi-Pelagianism, as the name implies, suggests a middle ground between Pelagius and Augustine. Though grace facilitates a life of righteousness, Pelagius thought it was not necessary. Cassian argues that grace not only facilitates righteousness, but it is an essential necessity for one to achieve righteousness. The grace that God makes available to people, however, can and is often rejected by them. The fall of man is real and serious, but not so serious as Augustine supposed, because a certain level of moral ability remains in the fallen creature to the extent that the fallen person has the moral power to cooperate with God’s grace or to reject it. Augustine argued that the very cooperation with grace was the effect of God’s empowering the sinner to that cooperation. Augustine again insisted that all of those who were numbered among the elect were given the gift of the grace of regeneration that brought them faith. Again, for Cassian, though God’s grace is necessary for salvation and helps the human will to do good, in the final analysis it is man, not God, who must will the good. God does not give the power to will to the believer because that power to will is already present despite the fallen condition of the believer. Further Cassian taught that God desires to save all people, and the work of Christ’s atonement is effectual for everyone.

     Cassian understood that predestination was a biblical concept, but he made divine prescience primary over God’s choice. That is to say, he taught that though predestination is an act of God, God’s decision to predestine is based upon His foreknowledge of how human beings will respond to the offer of grace. For Cassian, there is no definite number of persons that are elected or rejected from eternity, since God wishes all men to be saved, and yet not all men are saved. Man retains moral responsibility and with that responsibility the power to choose to cooperate with grace or not. In the final analysis, what Cassian was denying in the teaching of Augustine was the idea of irresistible grace. For Augustine, the grace of regeneration is always effectual and will not be denied by the elect. It is a monergistic work of God that accomplishes what God intends it to accomplish. Divine grace changes the human heart, resurrecting the sinner from spiritual death to spiritual life. In this act of God, the sinner is made willing to believe and to choose Christ. The previous state of moral inability is overcome by the power of regenerating grace. The operative word in Augustine’s view is that regenerating grace is monergistic. It is the work of God alone.

     Pelagius rejects the doctrine of monergistic grace and replaces it with a view of synergism, which involves a work of cooperation between God and man.

     The views of Cassian were condemned at the Council of Orange in 529, which further established the views of Augustine as expressions of Christian and biblical orthodoxy. However, with the conclusion of the Council of Orange in the sixth century (529), the doctrines of semi-Pelagianism did not disappear. They were fully operative through the Middle Ages and were set in concrete at the Council of Trent in the sixteenth century. They continue to be a majority view in the Roman Catholic Church, even to the twenty-first century.

     The majority view of predestination, even in the evangelical world, is that predestination is not based on God’s eternal decree to bring people to faith but on His foreknowledge of which people will exercise their will to come to faith. At the heart of the controversy in the fifth and sixth centuries, the sixteenth century, and today, remains the question of the degree of corruption visited upon fallen human beings in original sin. The controversy continues. The difference between the Pelagian controversy and the issues with semi-Pelagianism is that Pelagianism was seen by the church then and now as a sub-Christian and indeed anti-Christian approach to fallen humanity. The semi-Pelagian controversy, though a serious one, is not deemed to be a dispute between believers and unbelievers, but an intramural debate between believers.

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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

Back to Barbarism

By Gene Edward Veith 8/1/2006

     We Western Christians have been sending missionaries to spread the Gospel to cultures throughout the world. We sometimes forget that, unless we have a Jewish background, our cultures too were originally evangelized by missionaries. This is certainly true for those of us whose ancestors were English, Celtic, German, French, or Scandinavian, as well as other European tribes deemed “barbarian” by the Romans. Those ancient tribal societies were very much like those of Africa or the American Indians.

     Tribal societies — whether European, African, or American — tend to be ruled by local “chiefs” (which the Europeans called “kings”), with a council of warriors. They tend to have religions involving the worship of nature, complex family ties, and an array of primitive customs.

     If you have Irish blood, your ancestors long ago lived in huts made of animal skin, put on war paint, and collected human heads. If you have German blood, your ancestors may have made their living pillaging their neighbors and likely practiced human sacrifice.

     But then the missionaries came. They bore the good tidings of Christ. Usually the first wave of missionaries to the tribes would be martyred. But the missionaries kept coming. Eventually Christianity took hold, changing not only individual believers but the whole culture.

     Actually, many of these tribes came to the Christians. Rome fell to the barbarians in 476 ad. This began the “Dark Ages,” so-called because of the breakup of classical civilization, the collapse of large-scale social order, and the dominance of the barbarian tribes. The Dark Ages came to an end, though, when those barbarian tribes accepted Christianity. Then a new civilization, known as the Medieval Period, emerged.

     Scholars now know the Dark Ages were not as dark as they formerly were thought to be, with much learning and cultural vitality taking place among the various European tribes. But the light in the Dark Ages usually dawned under the influence of Christianity, which curbed the tribes’ culture of violence, brought in a rule of law, and introduced education.

     The end of the Dark Ages and the beginning of the Middle Ages is usually considered to be the reign of Charlemagne (742–814), who reconstituted a Holy Roman Empire and who converted the last of the major Germanic holdouts: the Saxons. This he did by defeating them in battle and forcing them to be baptized — a church growth technique that, like others, may have its theological downside, but which seems to have taken with the Saxons. That tribe of stubborn resisters to the Gospel would later give us Martin Luther and the Reformation.

     Thanks to the Venerable Bede and his Ecclesiastical History of the English People, we have a detailed account of how the Gospel was brought to England. It seems back in Rome (which continued to exist even after the last emperor was deposed), a young Christian named Gregory watched a slave market. He noticed some slaves with blonde hair and blue eyes, features he, as an Italian, had not seen before. He asked someone who they were. They are Angles, he was told. Gregory replied that their name is fitting, since they look like Angels. The pun works in Latin as well as in English; that is, Anglish. The slaves had been stolen from Angle-land; that is, England.

     This Gregory later become pope, Gregory the Great, which put him in a position to do something that had been on his heart ever since that day in the slave market: to send missionaries to bring the Gospel of Christ to Angle-land.

     So in 596 AD, he sent a group of missionaries under a man named Augustine. Not to be confused with the great theologian from north Africa, Augustine of Hippo, he became known from his mission station as Augustine of Canterbury. He was not martyred. Rather, his message was gladly received.

     Bede tells about how Augustine preached to the King of Northumbria, who then consulted with his council about whether they should accept this new religion. The chief pagan priest confessed that his gods had not done him any good. And one of the king’s men said that life seemed to him to be like a sparrow that flies through the meadhall, in one door and out the other. The bird comes out of the darkness, into a place of light — where the fire burns and the people feast — but that brief moment of pleasure is fleeting, as the bird flies back out into the darkness.

     “So this life of man appears for a short space,” he concluded, “but of what went before or what is to follow we are ignorant. If, therefore, this new doctrine contains something more certain, it deserves to be followed.”

     The swallow flying through the meadhall, from darkness into darkness, captures well the worldview of our own time fifteen centuries later. C. S. Lewis said that if we define the Dark Ages as the period in which classical learning has been forgotten, then we are in a new dark ages. Judging from our art, our education, our manners, and our morality, it seems indeed that we are back to barbarism.

     But, as in the first Dark Ages, it will be up to Christians to keep learning and civilization alive and to bring light to those in darkness.

Click here to go to source

     Dr. Gene Edward Veith is provost emeritus and professor of literature emeritus at Patrick Henry College and director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Ind.

     Gene Edward Veith Books |  Go to Books Page

Columba: Missionary to Scotland

By Sinclair Ferguson 8/1/2006

     In reading the “lives of the saints” it is difficult to the point of impossibility to discover the unvarnished truth. That is certainly true in the case of Columba, or Columcille, the Irish missionary to the Scots and Picts in the second half of the sixth century. Columba’s biography, written by Adamnan one hundred years after his death, contains all the stock-in-trade elements of medieval hagiography: visions and revelations, prophecies, visitations of angels, healings, resurrection of the dead, and battles against dark forces (including, in Columba’s case, banishing by the sign of the cross a sixth-century ancestor of the Loch Ness monster).

     Once we have done the detective work to separate the wheat from the chaff, however, certain facts seem to remain.

     Columba was born of a noble family around 521 in Donegal, Ireland, and died on the island of Iona, off the west coast of Scotland, in 597. Early destined for the priesthood, he later took monastic vows and kept them with a feisty zeal (he is attributed with founding twenty-five monasteries and forty churches by the age of twenty-five!). His quick and stubborn temper appears to have been the catalyst for clan warfare and multiple deaths. According to tradition, his spiritual adviser, Molaisi of Devenish, commanded him to seek the conversion of an equal number of souls as those whose deaths he had caused.

     In any event, around the age of forty-two Columba seems to have undergone a radical change and committed himself to the missionary enterprise. Along with twelve companions he set sail across the Irish Sea and landed on Iona, which thereafter became his base of operations for the conversion of two of the major tribes on the Scottish mainland, the Picts and the Scots, as well as the northern English.

     What Columba really believed and taught remains opaque to us (Celtic Christianity in Scotland maintained important differences from Roman Christianity until the influence of Queen Margaret in the eleventh century). But his story illustrates several important principles that recur in the annals of the expansion of the Christian church.

     The first principle is that mere strategies for evangelism are never the real cause of its lasting impact. Personal commitment is. E.M. Bounds’ oft-quoted words have been true throughout the centuries: “Men are looking for better methods; God is looking for better men. Men are God’s methods.” However impossible it now is to decipher Columba’s personal faith in the accretions of hagiography, the depth, determination, and persistence of his commitment to his cause is beyond doubt. The kingdom of Christ prospers on passion properly directed to its extension. That passion may not be unsullied; the prosperity may not be immediate; but they belong together in the divine recipe for kingdom advance. After all, did not His disciples particularly notice the Lord’s zeal (John 2:17)?

     Second, where we live and serve is not the ultimate determining factor in our spiritual influence. It would to some seem heretical to say it, but the fact is that Iona is on the road to nowhere. There is a lesson here, reflected in the lives of contemporary Christians too. World vision does not require residence in a great city in order to thrive. Is there a developing deviation in some evangelical circles today that only big-city, big churches, and their pastors are where the kingdom action is? But Augustine’s Hippo was not Rome, Athens, or Constantinople. Can you put Northamptonshire on a map? (Why would you do that? It was there that William Carey’s passion for world mission was born). So we could go on. Everywhere is equidistant from the power and presence of God. We must never forget this if we find ourselves in a sphere judged small by the world, or, sadly, by the sometimes over-worldly church.

     The third principle is that God’s way, customarily, is to advance His cause through spiritual brotherhoods (not meaning exclusively male societies). Herein lay part of the power of the monastic movement, and certainly of Columba’s mission: he and his companions, bound together by their common vision, were prepared to risk all for the cause and for one another. This pattern goes back through Scripture to the schools of the prophets, to the Lord and the apostles, to the apostolic missions, to Augustine and his friends, to the great Reformers, and, perhaps most notably in our own history, to the Puritans and to the Great Awakening. Iron sharpens iron.

     Columba’s story thus serves to encourage us to pray that God would raise up laborers for His harvest, and bind them together to live, serve, and — if need be — give all for Christ and His cause. This, so often, has been the instrument God uses to advance His kingdom into future generations.

     Come to think of it, in some sense it is probably true that I, my family, and many of our closest friends, are Christians today because of Columba.

     But who will be a Christian tomorrow because of us?

Click here to go to source

     Dr. Sinclair B. Ferguson is a Ligonier teaching fellow and distinguished visiting professor of systematic theology at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia.      Sinclair Ferguson Books |  Go to Books Page

Numbers 6

By Don Carson 4/29/2018

     The Nazrite Vow (Num. 6) could be taken by any man or woman (i.e., not just a Levite) and was entirely voluntary. It was normally undertaken for an extended period of time, and culminated in certain prescribed offerings and sacrifices (6:13-21).

     The vow itself was designed to separate someone out for the Lord (6:2, 5-8), a kind of voluntary self-sacrifice. Perhaps it was marked by special service or meditation, but that was not the formal, observable side of the Nazirite vow. The Nazirite was to mark out his or her vow by three abstinences. (1) For the duration of the vow, his or her hair was not to be cut. This was so much a mark of the individual’s separation to God that when the vow came to an end, the hair that had grown throughout the duration of the vow was to be cut off and burned in the fellowship offering (6:18). (2) The Nazirite was to keep out of contact with corpses. That could mean real hardship if, for instance, a relative died during the period of the vow. If someone suddenly died in the presence of a Nazirite, the inevitable defilement, which could be construed as defiling the hair that he had dedicated (6:9), had to be removed by prescribed ritual and sacrifice, including shaving off the defiled hair (6:9-12). (3) In addition, the Nazirite was to abstain from all alcohol until the termination of the vow (6:3, 20). This too was something of a privation, for wine was a common drink, not least at the great festivals. (It was common to “cut” wine with water, from between three parts water to one part wine, to ten parts water to one part wine, which made it about the strength of beer.)

     The symbolism is reasonably transparent. (1) That which is holy belongs exclusively to the Lord and his use (like the laver or the ephod). The symbol was the hair, dedicated to the Lord and therefore not cut until it was offered in sacrifice. (2) That which is holy belongs to the living God, not to the realm of death and decay, which arise from the horror of sin. So the Nazirites were to abstain from coming into contact with dead persons. (3) That which is holy finds its center and delight in God. It does not need the artificial “high” of alcohol; still less does it want to be controlled by anyone or anything other than God himself.

     How, then, shall members of the new covenant, in their call to be holy, dedicate themselves wholly to God, avoid all that belongs to the realm of death, and be slaves to no one and nothing save Jesus?

Click here to go to source

Don Carson is research professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, and co-founder (with Tim Keller) of The Gospel Coalition. He has authored numerous books, and recently edited The Enduring Authority of the Christian Scriptures (Eerdmans, 2016).

     Don Carson Books |  Go to Books Page

Read The Psalms In "1" Year

Psalm 44

44 To The Choirmaster. A Maskil Of The Sons Of Korah.

4 You are my King, O God;
ordain salvation for Jacob!
5 Through you we push down our foes;
through your name we tread down those who rise up against us.
6 For not in my bow do I trust,
nor can my sword save me.
7 But you have saved us from our foes
and have put to shame those who hate us.
8 In God we have boasted continually,
and we will give thanks to your name forever. Selah

ESV Study Bible

The Institutes of the Christian Religion

Translated by Henry Beveridge

     CHAPTER 21.

OF THE ETERNAL ELECTION, BY WHICH GOD HAS PREDESTINATED SOME TO SALVATION, AND OTHERS TO DESTRUCTION.

The divisions of this chapter are,--I. The necessity and utility of the doctrine of eternal Election explained. Excessive curiosity restrained, sec. l, 2. II. Explanation to those who through false modesty shun the doctrine of Predestination, sec. 3, 4. III. The orthodox doctrine expounded.

Sections.

l. The doctrine of Election and Predestination. It is useful, necessary, and most sweet. Ignorance of it impairs the glory of God, plucks up humility by the roots, begets and fosters pride. The doctrine establishes the certainty of salvation, peace of conscience, and the true origin of the Church. Answer to two classes of men: 1. The curious.

2. A sentiment of Augustine confirmed by an admonition of our Savior and a passage of Solomon.

3. An answer to a second class--viz. those who are unwilling that the doctrine should be adverted to. An objection founded on a passage of Solomon, solved by the words of Moses.

4. A second objection--viz. That this doctrine is a stumbling-block to the profane. Answer 1. The same may be said of many other heads of doctrine. 2. The truth of God will always defend itself. Third objection--viz. That this doctrine is dangerous even to believers. Answer 1. The same objection made to Augustine. 2. We must not despise anything that God has revealed. Arrogance and blasphemy of such objections.

5. Certain cavils against the doctrine. 1. Prescience regarded as the cause of predestination. Prescience and predestination explained. Not prescience, but the good pleasure of God the cause of predestination. This apparent from the gratuitous election of the posterity of Abraham and the rejection of all others.

6. Even of the posterity of Abraham some elected and others rejected by special grace.

7. The Apostle shows that the same thing has been done in regard to individuals under the Christian dispensation.

1. The covenant of life is not preached equally to all, and among those to whom it is preached, does not always meet with the same reception. This diversity displays the unsearchable depth of the divine judgment, and is without doubt subordinate to God's purpose of eternal election. But if it is plainly owing to the mere pleasure of God that salvation is spontaneously offered to some, while others have no access to it, great and difficult questions immediately arise, questions which are inexplicable, when just views are not entertained concerning election and predestination. To many this seems a perplexing subject, because they deem it most incongruous that of the great body of mankind some should be predestinated to salvation, and others to destruction. How ceaselessly they entangle themselves will appear as we proceed. We may add, that in the very obscurity which deters them, we may see not only the utility of this doctrine, but also its most pleasant fruits. We shall never feel persuaded as we ought that our salvation flows from the free mercy of God as its fountain, until we are made acquainted with his eternal election, the grace of God being illustrated by the contrast--viz. that he does not adopt all promiscuously to the hope of salvation, but gives to some what he denies to others. It is plain how greatly ignorance of this principle detracts from the glory of God, and impairs true humility. But though thus necessary to be known, Paul declares that it cannot be known unless God, throwing works entirely out of view, elect those whom he has predestined. His words are, "Even so then at this present time also, there is a remnant according to the election of grace. And if by grace, then it is no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then it is no more grace: otherwise work is no more work," (Rom. 11:6). If to make it appear that our salvation flows entirely from the good mercy of God, we must be carried back to the origin of election, then those who would extinguish it, wickedly do as much as in them lies to obscure what they ought most loudly to extol, and pluck up humility by the very roots. Paul clearly declares that it is only when the salvation of a remnant is ascribed to gratuitous election, we arrive at the knowledge that God saves whom he wills of his mere good pleasure, and does not pay a debt, a debt which never can be due. Those who preclude access, and would not have any one to obtain a taste of this doctrine, are equally unjust to God and men, there being no other means of humbling us as we ought, or making us feel how much we are bound to him. Nor, indeed, have we elsewhere any sure ground of confidence. This we say on the authority of Christ, who, to deliver us from all fear, and render us invincible amid our many dangers, snares and mortal conflicts, promises safety to all that the Father has taken under his protection (John 10:26). From this we infer, that all who know not that they are the peculiar people of God, must be wretched from perpetual trepidation, and that those therefore, who, by overlooking the three advantages which we have noted, would destroy the very foundation of our safety, consult ill for themselves and for all the faithful. What? Do we not here find the very origin of the Church, which, as Bernard rightly teaches (Serm. in Cantic). could not be found or recognized among the creatures, because it lies hid (in both cases wondrously) within the lap of blessed predestination, and the mass of wretched condemnation?

But before I enter on the subject, I have some remarks to address to two classes of men. The subject of predestination, which in itself is attended with considerable difficulty is rendered very perplexed and hence perilous by human curiosity, which cannot be restrained from wandering into forbidden paths and climbing to the clouds determined if it can that none of the secret things of God shall remain unexplored. When we see many, some of them in other respects not bad men, every where rushing into this audacity and wickedness, it is necessary to remind them of the course of duty in this matter. First, then, when they inquire into predestination, let then remember that they are penetrating into the recesses of the divine wisdom, where he who rushes forward securely and confidently, instead of satisfying his curiosity will enter in inextricable labyrinth. [494] For it is not right that man should with impunity pry into things which the Lord has been pleased to conceal within himself, and scan that sublime eternal wisdom which it is his pleasure that we should not apprehend but adore, that therein also his perfections may appear. Those secrets of his will, which he has seen it meet to manifest, are revealed in his word--revealed in so far as he knew to be conducive to our interest and welfare.

     Christian Classics Ethereal Library / Public Domain

     Institutes of the Christian Religion



  • Word to Fathers 1
  • Word to Fathers 2
  • Discipline of the Father


     Devotionals, notes, poetry and more

coram Deo
     5/1/2005    The Service of Leading

     Good music is hard to find these days. In fact, I would argue, most of what we hear today isn’t music at all, it’s just synthesized noise with a beat. Good music, however, takes time to produce. It takes talented musicians who are able not only to play their instruments well but are able to play in harmony with other instrumentalists. Several years ago I had the opportunity to hear the complete oratorio of George Frederick Handel’s Messiah. The chorus and orchestra were impeccable, and after the final “amen,” the thousands who packed the large hall rose to their feet with thundering applause. Then, as is customary, the conductor turned, faced the audience, and took a bow. As he faced the audience, I noticed his facial expression. His demeanor expressed a great deal about his role as the conductor. His countenance suggested the sense of accomplishment he felt. Yet, as he turned his body, offering the applause to the hundreds of members of the orchestra and chorus, his expression seemed to show his sincere humility in leading the great ensemble.

     In an orchestra, there are differing instruments, and there are various levels of talent. The conductor is not responsible for providing the level of talent that each instrumentalist possesses, nor does he assign each person with the particular qualities required to play his instrument properly. Nevertheless, it is the conductor’s responsibility to train the entire orchestra so that, in the end, when it is time to perform, the orchestra will be in perfect harmony.

     In His eternal wisdom, God has given each of us gifts according to His good purpose. To pastors, He has given the responsibility of equipping the saints. And while every pastor should consider his calling a noble one (1 Tim. 3:1), he must always remember that God has gifted every member of the church to fulfill a particular role. As the appointed shepherd of Christ’s flock, the pastor is called to bow before the throne of Christ in humility, knowing that in his service of leading, accomplishment only comes by living coram Deo, before the face of God, serving Christ and equipping the body of Christ for service so that by speaking the truth in love, the body will “grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Eph. 4:15–16).

     click here for article source

     Dr. Burk Parsons (@BurkParsons) is editor of Tabletalk magazine, senior pastor of Saint Andrew’s Chapel in Sanford, Fla., a visiting lecturer at Reformed Theological Seminary, and a Ligonier Ministries teaching fellow. He is editor of John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, and Doxology.

Ligonier     coram Deo (definition)

American Minute
     by Bill Federer

     "Damn the torpedoes! Full steam ahead!" were the words of Admiral David Farragut, who captured Mobile, Alabama, and on this day, April 29, 1862, captured New Orleans. Under tremendous fire, he breached the heavy chain cable that was stretched across the Mississippi, and courageously led his ships up the channel filled with mines, called "torpedoes." The loss of New Orleans was a major disaster for the South, as it was the Confederacy's largest city. During his last illness, David Farragut, the Navy's first four star Admiral, asked for a clergyman to pray to the Lord for him, saying: "He must be my pilot now!"

American Minute

Lean Into God
     Compiled by Richard S. Adams


I don't know if God exists,
but it would be better for His reputation
if He didn't.
--- Jules Renard
God Is Relevant: Finding Strength and Peace in Today's World


A man can no more diminish God's glory
by refusing to worship Him
than a lunatic can put out the sun
by scribbling the word,
'darkness' on the walls of his cell.
--- C.S. Lewis
The Problem of Pain

He has brought himself to this state; he has exposed his heart as a common road to every evil influence of the world, till it has become hard as a pavement.
--- Richard Trench
On the Study of Words

And it came to pass that in the hands of the ignorant, the words of the Bible were used to beat plowshares into swords.
--- Alan Wilson Watts
The Worthing Saga

... from here, there and everywhere

The Imitation Of Christ
     Thomas A Kempis

     Book Three - Internal Consolation

     The Fiftieth Chapter / How A Desolate Person Ought To Commit Himself Into The Hands Of God

     The Disciple

     LORD God, Holy Father, may You be blessed now and in eternity. For as You will, so is it done; and what You do is good. Let Your servant rejoice in You—not in himself or in any other, for You alone are true joy. You are my hope and my crown. You, O Lord, are my joy and my honor.

     What does Your servant possess that he has not received from You, and that without any merit of his own? Yours are all the things which You have given, all the things which You have made.

     I am poor and in labors since my youth, and my soul is sorrowful sometimes even to the point of tears. At times, also, my spirit is troubled because of impending sufferings. I long for the joy of peace. Earnestly I beg for the peace of Your children who are fed by You in the light of consolation. If You give peace, if You infuse holy joy, the soul of Your servant shall be filled with holy song and be devout in praising You. But if You withdraw Yourself, as You so very often do, he will not be able to follow the way of Your commandments, but will rather be obliged to strike his breast and bend the knee, because his today is different from yesterday and the day before when Your light shone upon his head and he was protected in the shadow of Your wings from the temptations rushing upon him.

     Just Father, ever to be praised, the hour is come for Your servant to be tried. Beloved Father, it is right that in this hour Your servant should suffer something for You. O Father, forever to be honored, the hour which You knew from all eternity is at hand, when for a short time Your servant should be outwardly oppressed, but inwardly should ever live with You.

     Let him be a little slighted, let him be humbled, let him fail in the sight of men, let him be afflicted with sufferings and pains, so that he may rise again with You in the dawn of the new light and be glorified in heaven.

     Holy Father, You have so appointed and wished it. What has happened is what You commanded. For this is a favor to Your friend, to suffer and be troubled in the world for Your love, no matter how often and by whom You permit it to happen to him.

     Nothing happens in the world without Your design and providence, and without cause. It is well for me, O Lord, that You have humbled me, that I may learn the justice of Your judgments and cast away all presumption and haughtiness of heart. It is profitable for me that shame has covered my face that I may look to You rather than to men for consolation. Hereby I have learned also to fear Your inscrutable judgment falling alike upon the just and unjust yet not without equity and justice.

     Thanks to You that You have not spared me evils but have bruised me with bitter blows, inflicting sorrows, sending distress without and within. Under heaven there is none to console me except You, my Lord God, the heavenly Physician of souls, Who wound and heal, Who cast down to hell and raise up again. Your discipline is upon me and Your very rod shall instruct me.

     Behold, beloved Father, I am in Your hands. I bow myself under Your correcting chastisement. Strike my back and my neck, that I may bend my crookedness to Your will. Make of me a pious and humble follower, as in Your goodness You are wont to do, that I may walk according to Your every nod. Myself and all that is mine I commit to You to be corrected, for it is better to be punished here than hereafter.

     You know all things without exception, and nothing in man’s conscience is hidden from You. Coming events You know before they happen, and there is no need for anyone to teach or admonish You of what is being done on earth. You know what will promote my progress, and how much tribulation will serve to cleanse away the rust of vice. Deal with me according to Your good pleasure and do not despise my sinful life, which is known to none so well or so clearly as to You alone.

     Grant me, O Lord, the grace to know what should be known, to praise what is most pleasing to You, to esteem that which appears most precious to You, and to abhor what is unclean in Your sight.

     Do not allow me to judge according to the light of my bodily eyes, nor to give sentence according to the hearing of ignorant men’s ears. But let me distinguish with true judgment between things visible and spiritual, and always seek above all things Your good pleasure. The senses of men often err in their judgments, and the lovers of this world also err in loving only visible things. How is a man the better for being thought greater by men? The deceiver deceives the deceitful, the vain man deceives the vain, the blind deceives the blind, the weak deceives the weak as often as he extols them, and in truth his foolish praise shames them the more. For, as the humble St. Francis says, whatever anyone is in Your sight, that he is and nothing more.

The Imitation Of Christ

Andrew Murray's Absolute Surrender
     Practical religion. The Christian life

     I have often been asked by young Christians: "Why is it that I fail so? I did so solemnly vow with my whole heart, and did desire to serve God; why have I failed?"      To such I always give the one answer: "My dear friend, you are trying to do in your own strength what Christ alone can do in you."

     And when they tell me: "I am sure I knew Christ alone could do it, I was not trusting in myself," my answer always is:

     "You were trusting in yourself or you could not have failed. If you had trusted Christ, He could not fail."

     Oh, this perfecting in the flesh what was begun in the Spirit runs far deeper through us than we know. Let us ask God to reveal to us that it is only when we are brought to utter shame and emptiness that we shall be prepared to receive the blessing that comes from on high.

     And so I come with these two questions. Are you living, beloved brother-minister--I ask it of every minister of the Gospel--are you living under the power of the Holy Spirit? Are you living as an anointed, Spirit-filled man in your ministry and your life before God? O brethren, our place is an awful one. We have to show people what God will do for us, not in our words and teaching, but in our life. God help us to do it!

     I ask it of every member of Christ's Church and of every believer: Are you living a life under the power of the Holy Spirit day by day, or are you attempting to live without that? Remember you cannot. Are you consecrated, given up to the Spirit to work in you and to live in you? Oh, come and confess every failure of temper, every failure of tongue however small, every failure owing to the absence of the Holy Spirit and the presence of the power of self. Are you consecrated, are you given up to the Holy Spirit?

     If your answer is No, then I come with a second question--Are you willing to be consecrated? Are you willing to give up yourself to the power of the Holy Spirit?

     You well know that the human side of consecration will not help you. I may consecrate myself a hundred times with all the intensity of my being, and that will not help me. What will help me is this--that God from Heaven accepts and seals the consecration.

     And now are you willing to give yourselves up to the Holy Spirit? You can do it now. A great deal may still be dark and dim, and beyond what we understand, and you may feel nothing; but come. God alone can affect the change. God alone, who gave us the Holy Spirit, can restore the Holy Spirit in power into our life. God alone can "strengthen us with might by his Spirit in the inner man." And to every waiting heart that will make the sacrifice, and give up everything, and give time to cry and pray to God, the answer will come. The blessing is not far off. Our God delights to help us. He will enable us to perfect, not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, what was begun in the Spirit.

Absolute Surrender (The Colportage Library)

Proverbs 15:28-30
     by D.H. Stern

28     The mind of the righteous thinks before speaking,
but the mouth of the wicked spews out evil stuff.

29     ADONAI is far from the wicked,
but he listens to the prayer of the righteous.

30     A cheerful glance brings joy to the heart,
and good news invigorates the bones.

Complete Jewish Bible : An English Version of the Tanakh (Old Testament) and B'Rit Hadashah (New Testament)


My Utmost For The Highest
     A Daily Devotional by Oswald Chambers

                The graciousness of uncertainty

     It doth not yet appear what we shall be. ---
1 John 3:2.

     Naturally, we are inclined to be so mathematical and calculating that we look upon uncertainty as a bad thing. We imagine that we have to reach some end, but that is not the nature of spiritual life. The nature of spiritual life is that we are certain in our uncertainty, consequently we do not make our nests anywhere. Common sense says—‘Well, supposing I were in that condition …’ We cannot suppose ourselves in any condition we have never been in.

     Certainty is the mark of the commonsense life: gracious uncertainty is the mark of the spiritual life. To be certain of God means that we are uncertain in all our ways, we do not know what a day may bring forth. This is generally said with a sigh of sadness; it should be rather an expression of breathless expectation. We are uncertain of the next step, but we are certain of God. Immediately we abandon to God, and do the duty that lies nearest, He packs our life with surprises all the time. When we become advocates of a creed, something dies; we do not believe God, we only believe our belief about Him. Jesus said “Except ye … become as little children.” Spiritual life is the life of a child. We are not uncertain of God, but uncertain of what He is going to do next. If we are only certain in our beliefs, we get dignified and severe and have the ban of finality about our views; but when we are rightly related to God, life is full of spontaneous, joyful uncertainty and expectancy.

     “Believe also in Me,” said Jesus, not—‘Believe certain things about Me.’ Leave the whole thing to Him, it is gloriously uncertain how He will come in, but He will come. Remain loyal to Him.

My Utmost for His Highest

Reservoirs
     the Poetry of RS Thomas

Reservoirs

There are places in Wales I don't go:
  Reservoirs that are the subconcious
  Of a people, troubled far down
  With gravestones, chapels, villages even;
  The serenity of their expression
  Revolts me, it is a pose
  For strangers, a watercolour's appeal
  To the mass, instead of the poem's
  Harsher conditions. There are the hills,
  Too; gardens gone under the scum
  Of the forests; and the smashed faces
  Of the farms with the stone trickle
  Of their tears down the hills' side.
  Where can I go, then, from the smell
  Of decay, from the putrefying of a dead
  Nation? I have walked the shore
  For an hour and seen the English
  Scavenging among the remains
  Of our culture, covering the sand
  Like the tide and, with the roughness
  Of the tide, elbowing our language
  Into the grave that we have dug for it.

Selected poems, 1946-1968

When Judges Ruled – Overview - Judges 1:1–3:6
     Teacher's Commentary

     The book takes its name from the leaders who emerged to deliver and govern Israelite tribes during an era of moral decay.

     The period probably extended from about 1390 B.C. to around 1050 B.C. when Saul was anointed king. In understanding this book it is important to note that a judge's influence was primarily regional, over a single tribe or several. The oppressors during this period lived on several different borders of Palestine, and their attack was directed on the tribes closest to them.

     Judges can be outlined simply:

I.   The Times Explained 1:1–3:6
II.  Stories of Judges 3:7–16:31
III. Portraits of Decay 17:1–21:25

     Judge. The Hebrew word sapat is translated "judge" in this book. The word implies every function of government, not just the judicial. Thus the judges of this era were governors in the fullest sense. They were military leaders, with executive and legislative power as well as judicial power. Most important, the judges of Israel were divinely appointed to deliver God's people when the people turned from idols and returned to the Lord.

     The stories of the heroic men and women of faith who served as judges in Israel during this period have delighted children, and contain many lessons on the spiritual life for adults.

The Eerdmans Dictionary of Early Judaism
Assyrian summary inscriptions
     The New American Commentary

     ... although it is generally recognized that Judges 1 is dependent upon the narrative account of the conquest of Canaan found in Joshua 13–19, our text summarizes, recasts, and continues the story of the process of Israel's taking possession of the land of Canaan." In so doing the form adopted resembles that of Assyrian summary inscriptions of military campaigns. In such documents events are not arranged chronologically but according to geography. The descriptions are also much shorter, and relatively long periods of time are telescoped into brief spans of reading time. Summary inscriptions tend to describe a static world in general terms rather than dynamic scenes of action developing a narrative plot.

     This description fits the present text precisely. It does indeed begin with a chronological note, highlighting the fact that after the death of Joshua, Judah was the first tribe to attack the Canaanites. However, it is impossible to construct a chronology of the conquest from this chapter. Except for the anecdotal notes (which represent insertions from other sources interested less in tribal achievements than personal fates/fortunes), the accounts of individual campaigns are brief, static, and without characterization or plot. Rhetorical flourishes are absent completely. One may conclude, therefore, that the present document is not intended as a corrective to the normative narrative found in Joshua but as a summary of Israel's fortunes after the death of Joshua, without which the theological narratives that follow lack historical context. The author is hereby sending an early signal to his readers that the Canaanization of Israel did not occur in a vacuum.

Judges, Ruth: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture (The New American Commentary)

Jewish History from Alexander to Hadrian
     The Road to Revolution (44–66 C.E.)

     Despite its size and importance to both the Roman economy and political system, when Judea again became a Roman province following the death of Agrippa I, it was not upgraded to proconsular status. Instead, as before, an equestrian procurator governed from Caesarea under the supervision of the governor of Syria. For the next twenty years, these procurators would govern a province that became increasingly unstable and hostile to Roman rule. Ultimately, their mismanagement of the province would be one of the major causes of the outbreak of the Great Jewish Revolt in 66 C.E. Josephus attributes the outbreak of revolution in 66 C.E. to the following other factors: Roman oppression, socioeconomic tensions, religious incitement, and quarrels with local Gentiles. Some scholars have added another factor ignored by Josephus: the failure of the Judean elite to control the province and its restive population (Goodman 1987). As with any complex event, it is more likely that the culmination of these factors, as opposed to one or another, caused the revolt.

The Eerdmans Dictionary of Early Judaism

Swimming In The Sea of Talmud
     Nedarim 40a

     D’RASH

     In a famous Willy Nelson song, the singer apologizes for all the wrongs he did to a lover with the excuse: "You were always on my mind." Even if I did not write or call, at least I thought of you, that is, I did not do something to hurt you, but simply had no opportunity to do something to help you or our relationship. To the singer, this is a less malicious sin, one of omission rather than commission.

     Theodore Tronchin, a physician writing in an eighteenth century journal of medicine, held that "In medicine, sins of commission are mortal, sins of omission, venial." In other words, what the doctor does can hurt someone, but what he misses or forgets to do is benign. Though this line of reasoning is understandable and undoubtedly true in many situations, few us of would accept such medical practices. We have heard about and seen too many people who were hurt by medical sins of omission.

     Are Willy Nelson and Theodore Tronchin right, that less fault can be assigned for action not taken than for action taken? Can we say that a person had intention or design through inaction? Rabbi Akiva and Rav Dimi would take a skeptical view of this approach. Perhaps we should as well. One who has the opportunity to help a fellow human being but does not help is, in a way, choosing not to be involved.

     Being "actively uninvolved" is something we do all the time. When the former friend, who has become an annoyance, calls, we tell a family member to say that we're not there. This deception takes a great deal of effort on our part, even though we never talk on the phone. Those of us who have passed beggars and panhandlers on the street know that it is a very active and a very conscious choice not to give them a handout. There may be good reason for not giving them, but it is an act of neglect. Every act of omission is also one of volition.

     There are, admittedly, times when we will not notice one who needs help. We cannot be faulted for these. It is the other opportunities that Rabbi Akiva is referring to. Poet Marianne Moore spoke to these in the revision of her Complete Poems. She deleted several lines from a poem, adding a personal note that "Omissions are no accident." In so many cases, they are not.

     The building up of children is really tearing down, while the tearing down of elders is really building.

     Text / Rav said: "One who visits the sick is saved from the punishment of Gehinnom, as it says: 'Happy is he who is thoughtful of the wretched; in bad times may the Lord keep him from harm [Psalms 41:2].' 'Wretched [dal]' can refer only to the sick, as it says: 'He will cut me off from sickness [dalah] [Isaiah 38:12, author's translation].' And also from this verse: 'Why are you so dejected [dal], O prince, Morning after Morning [2 Samuel 13:4]?' 'Harm' can refer only to Gehinnom, as it says: 'The Lord made everything for a purpose, even the wicked for an evil day' [Proverbs 16:4]." If he visits [the sick], what is his reward? What is his reward?! It was said: "He is saved from the punishment of Gehinnom!" But what is his reward in this world? "May the Lord guard him and preserve him and may he be thought happy in the land. Do not subject him to the will of his enemies [Psalms 41:3]." "May the Lord guard him"—from the evil inclination. "… and preserve him"—from suffering. "… and may he be thought happy in the land"—everyone will be honored through him. "Do not subject him to the will of his enemies"—that he may chance upon friends like Naaman's who healed his leprosy, and not chance upon friends like Rehoboam's who divided his kingdom.

     It is taught: Rabbi Shimon ben Elazar says: "If children say to you 'Build!' and elders [say] 'Tear down!' listen to the elders and do not listen to the children, for the building up of children is really tearing down, while the tearing down of elders is really building. An example of this is Rehoboam, son of Solomon."

     Context / Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Aram, was important to his lord and high in his favor, for through him the Lord had granted victory to Aram. But the man, though a great warrior, was a leper.… Elisha sent a messenger to say to him, "Go and bathe seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh shall be restored and you shall be clean." … So he went down and immersed himself in the Jordan seven times, as the man of God had bidden; and his flesh became like a little boy's, and he was clean. (2 Kings 5:1, 10, 14)

     … Jeroboam and all the assembly of Israel came and spoke to Rehoboam as follows: "Your father made our yoke heavy. Now lighten the harsh labor and the heavy yoke which your father laid on us, and we will serve you." … King Rehoboam took counsel with the elders who had served his father Solomon during his lifetime. He said, "What answer do you advise [me] to give to this people?" They answered him, "If you will be a servant to those people today and serve them, and if you respond to them with kind words, they will be your servants always." But he ignored the advice that the elders gave him, and took counsel with the young men who had grown up with him and were serving him.… And the young men who had grown up with him answered … "Say to them, 'My little finger is thicker than my father's loins. My father imposed a heavy yoke on you, and I will add to your yoke; my father flogged you with whips, but I will flog you with scorpions.' " (1 Kings 12:3–4, 6–8, 10–11)

     Rav begins our section by talking about the mitzvah of bikkur ḥolim, visiting the sick. It is considered a very important act of kindness; the reward for this mitzvah is that after death, a person would be spared the punishments of "Gehinnom." The name Gehinnom originally derived from "the valley of the sons of Hinnom," south of Jerusalem, where children were offered in fire to the god Moloch. Because of this, it later came to mean the place where the dead were sent to receive punishments for their sins. (The concept of "burning in Hell," common in literature including rabbinic texts, is not referred to in the Bible.) Rav brings several verses to prove his assertion; because the same key word dal (sick, wretched, poor) appears in them all, the context of one is applied to the others.

     The question is asked about the reward in this life for performing the mitzvah of visiting the sick. The final answer is that such a person will be given friends like those of Naaman and will be spared friends like those of Rehoboam. Rehoboam succeeded his father Solomon as king. Solomon had heavily taxed the people, and they were deeply concerned about Rehoboam's policies. Because the king followed the bad advice of his young friends to be harsh with the people, the ten northern tribes broke away and founded their own kingdom, known as Israel and ruled by Jeroboam. Rehoboam was left ruling only the two southern tribes, known as Judah.

Swimming in the Sea of Talmud: Lessons for Everyday Living

Messiah Concepts at the time of Jesus
     Martin Hengel

     … an originally unmessianic Jesus, never existed—not even in the later rabbinic period when the rabbinate had rigidified, and certainly not before AD 70, when Judaism was significantly more pluralistic. There were always different, in part variable, Messiah pictures with numerous descriptions and attributes, frequently supplementing one another; often these do not rest on titles so much as express functions. We ought, therefore, no longer to speak of a 'Messiah dogmatic' or 'Messiah idea', but of Messiah conceptions, or even better, of messianic Haggada.

     Our knowledge here has been greatly increased by the Qumran texts, of which some important texts have been just published, a wider availability of the Pseudepigrapha, and the messianic Haggada of the rabbinic sources, including the targums. … even in the rabbinic era Judaism had no unified, predominantly political, Messiah picture, but rather that the views here were, in part, extremely diverse.

     Already the editors of The Beginnings of Christianity had made reference to this situation: The more concrete traits with which homiletical midrash or popular imagination clothed this vague expectation were varied and inconstant, drawn miscellaneously from prophecy and poetry, from the visions, from the circumstances of the times. (F.J. Foakes Jackson and Kirsopp Lake, Acts (IVP New Testament Commentary Series) (1920), p. 356.)

     Drawing on our broader basis of sources, O. Cullmann could point out with even greater emphasis:

     Just at the time of Jesus there were in Judaism many varied conceptions of the coming Mediator of the end time, some of which differed radically from one another. We must not forget that at this time Judaism had by no means a single fixed concept of the Messiah. We are accustomed to think of the Jewish Messiah as if he were an unambiguous, clearly defined figure. In general it is true that the Jews expected a saviour with certain nationalistic and Jewish characteristics. But this common form could not hold the most widely varying content. (rev. ed., trans, by S. G. Guthrie and C. A. M. Hall Christology of the New Testament , p. 111.)

     Over against this F. Hahn, in his creditable book, Christologische Hoheitstitel, sketches too unified a Messiah picture which he only accomplishes by thoroughly separating the—relatively narrow—Son of Man tradition of Dan. 7:13 from the Messiah tradition. This, however, is impossible since already in the (Ethiopic) Similitudes of Enoch the 'Son of Man' figure (who moreover bears other names such as 'The Chosen' and 'The Righteous One') is twice described as God's 'Anointed' (48:10; 52:4). In 4 Ezra 13:1, 12, as well, the ipse homo rising from the sea and flying with the clouds is identical with the Messiah. In particular, some rabbinic texts since the early Tannaim understand Dan. 7:13 to refer to the Messiah. Also, in the third and fifth of the Sybilline Oracles the saviour coming from Heaven is none other than the Messiah. We must presuppose this identification already for the time of Jesus.

     Against Hahn's assumption 'that the messianic expectation of Old Testament prophecy survived', it must be emphasized that the messianic Old Testament texts as interpreted in ancient Judaism were already extraordinarily variable, such that 'variability' shows itself not only at given, but also at numerous other, 'points', a variability that continued into the rabbinic period. Ferdinand Hahn The Titles of Jesus in Christology: Their History in Early Christianity (Library of Theological Translations) , pp. 156–8. Nor can I agree that 'the messianology of the old style remained for a very long time uninfluenced by apocalyptic expectation' (158), although it is unclear to me what is meant here by 'old style'. In fact, Palestinian Judaism was very deeply influenced by 'apocalyptic-messianic expectations' (as is seen by the great influence of the book of Daniel in Qumran and among the Pharisees—including Josephus) which became its undoing. All post-exilic prophecy is strongly characterized by 'apocalyptic'.) In addition, the contrast between an earthly, political, 'Messiah' and a 'heavenly, transcendent', Son of Man is questionable, for the 'Son of Man' coming from Heaven in Dan. 7 is also victorious against the godless 'world powers', and functions in an even greater capacity than the Messiah in Psalms of Solomon 17 as judge. He is hidden with God—but so are human figures such as Enoch, Elijah and Moses (the Rabbis name others)—indeed, 1 Enoch 71 identifies him with Enoch. On the other hand, the Messiah cannot attain his God-given rule without God's help: slaying the army of nations gathered against Jerusalem 'with the rod of his mouth and the breath of his lips' (Isa. 11:4; cf. 4 Ezra 13:10), is no less a miracle than flying along with the clouds. To the extent that it remained uninfluenced by philosophy (such as that of Philo), Jewish eschatology knows no genuine 'transcendence', one might also say, no clear distinction between 'immanence' and 'transcendence'. The earthly and heavenly world formed one continuum, were bound together and continually influenced one another.

     In Testament of Judah 24 we find, in the Jewish original form, a non-warlike Messiah from Judah with a strongly ethical orientation. Alongside this, Testament of Levi 18 speaks of the messianic high priest as saviour. The circumstances of place and time of the Messiah's appearance, of his complete or relative concealment before his public ministry, the different forms of his legitimation through God himself, through a prophet like Elijah, or coram publico, and his coming in humility or glory, remain astonishingly variable in the later rabbinic messianic Haggada. Even the preexistent Messiah, hidden by God, or the suffering and dying Messiah, are not absent.

     The frequently repeated thesis that there is no reference whatever to a pre-Christian suffering Messiah appears questionable in light of the messianic features of the LXX translation (the Koine Greek version of the Hebrew Bible, translated in stages between the 3rd and 2nd century BCE in Alexandria. It was begun by the 3rd century BCE and completed before 132 BCE. It is the oldest of several ancient translations of the Hebrew Bible into Greek from the time of Alexander the Great (356-323 BCE).) of Isa. 52:13–53:12, and a disputed Aramaic text from Cave 4 (influenced by Isa. 53) concerning an eschatological, suffering and atoning, 'revelator'. In fact, we have only rather few pre-Christian messianic texts, which nonetheless already show an astonishing variety. Qumran has significantly increased these. We now know of the two Anointed figures—the pre-eminent priestly, and the Davidic—who were expected. We also know something of 'messianic exegesis' from the Testimonies, Florilegia, and certain pesharim. To this may be added the eschatological role of Michael (familiar from Dan. 12:1f.), for example, in the War Scroll, and the enigmatic Melchizedek fragment, which portrays God's plenipotentiary as heavenly saviour. With such a widely arrayed background, which continues in the rabbinic texts despite the consolidations following AD 70 and 135, it may be presumed that the messianic spectrum was even much broader. A case in point are Josephus's references to radical eschatological groups, and the messianic ambitions of individuals, although he passes over in silence all messianic statements because of their political sensitivity. There can be no question here of a systematic configuration of the Messiah Haggada, to say nothing of a Messiah dogmatic'.

Studies in Early Christology

Jewish History from Alexander to Hadrian
     Herod Agrippa I

     In the midst of Petronius’ delaying tactics, Herod Agrippa, the grandson of Herod the Great and ultimately his successor as King of Judea, also took up the Judean cause. He had been educated in Rome alongside the imperial family, in particular the future emperor Claudius (Ant. 18.143, 165). With the rise of Gaius to the throne, Agrippa finally achieved prominence. He had become close friends with Gaius, and his friendship was rewarded with the tetrarchy of his recently deceased uncle Herod Philip (J.W. 2.181; Ant. 18.237). After the banishment of Antipas in 39 C.E. Caligula enlarged Agrippa’s kingdom by annexing Galilee and Perea (Ant. 18.252).

     Agrippa arrived in Italy in the midst of the statue crisis. Through either a letter (Legatio 261–334) or a banquet (Ant. 18.289–301), Agrippa successfully persuaded Gaius to forgo his plans for the statue, at least temporarily. However, both Philo and Josephus describe Gaius reneging on his promise not to place the statue in the Temple, and only the emperor’s assassination saved the Jews from open conflict with Rome (Legatio 337–38; J.W. 2.202–3; Ant. 18.302–9). This incident only increased tensions between Rome and Judea.

     Shortly before the assassination of Gaius, Agrippa returned to Rome, and after the emperor’s murder, Agrippa was a crucial advisor to his successor, Claudius, and helped to secure his accession as emperor (J.W. 2.204–13; Ant. 18.236–67). As a reward for his services, Claudius appointed Agrippa king over the territory once ruled by his grandfather. Claudius also appointed Agrippa’s brother Herod as ruler of Chalcis in Lebanon (J.W. 2.215–17; Ant. 18.274–77).

     Herod Agrippa returned to Judea and governed it for the next three years (41–44 C.E.). He sought to further enhance the prestige of Judea. To this end, he initiated a building program around the Levant that, while not equaling his grandfather’s, still enabled him to enhance his status and that of his kingdom. Among other projects, he built a theater in Berytus and a new city wall in Jerusalem across the northern edge of the city that enclosed the suburb of Bezetha. This wall, however, was not completed during Agrippa’s reign because the governor of Syria, Vibius Marsus, was suspicious of Agrippa’s intentions and persuaded Claudius to prohibit its completion. Jewish rebels hastily completed this wall after the outbreak of revolt in 66 C.E.

     As part of this campaign to aggrandize his position within the Eastern Mediterranean, Herod Agrippa called together a meeting of the region’s rulers at Tiberias, including the kings of Commagene, Emesa, Armenia Minor, and Pontus, as well as his brother, the ruler of Chalcis. Although Marsus feared that Agrippa was planning a revolution at this meeting, this is extremely unlikely. More likely, Agrippa was seeking to establish himself as the preeminent client king of the Eastern Mediterranean. His efforts, therefore, were directed more toward his neighbors than toward Claudius.

     During Passover in 44 C.E., Agrippa traveled to Caesarea to attend the games being held there in honor of Claudius. According to Josephus, in the midst of the festival, Agrippa fell ill with violent pains and died five days later (Ant. 19.343–52; Acts 12). At the time of his death, Agrippa’s heir and namesake, Herod Agrippa II, was approximately seventeen. Because of the age and inexperience of the younger Agrippa, Claudius returned Judea to the rule of a Roman procurator (J.W. 2.220; Ant. 18.362–63).

The Eerdmans Dictionary of Early Judaism

Take Heart
     April 29

     For Thy name’s sake, O LORD, pardon mine iniquity, for it is great. --- Psalm 25:11. KJV

     Christ will not refuse to save the greatest sinners who in a right manner come to God for mercy, for this is his work. ( Classic Sermons on the Grace of God (Kregel Classic Sermons Series) ) It is his business to be a Savior of sinners. It is the work on which he came into the world, therefore he will not object to it. He did not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance. Sin is the very evil that he came into the world to remedy. Therefore he will not object to anyone that he or she is very sinful. The more sinful the person, the more the need of Christ.

     The whole ingenious plan of the way of salvation is to glorify the free grace of God. God had it on his heart from all eternity to glorify this virtue; that is the reason that the technique of saving sinners by Christ was conceived. The greatness of divine grace appears very much in this, that God by Christ saves the greatest offenders. The greater the guilt of any sinner is, the more glorious and wonderful is the grace shown in that sinner’s pardon. It is the honor of Christ to save the greatest sinners when they come to him, as it is the honor of a physician to cure the most desperate diseases or wounds.

     The invitations of the Gospel are always in universal terms: If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink; come to me, all you who are weary and burdened; whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life. So Christ promises, “Whoever comes to me I will never drive away” (John 6:37). This is the direction of Christ to his apostles after his resurrection: “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved” (Mark 16:15–16).

     This teaching encourages sinners whose consciences are burdened with a sense of guilt immediately to go to God through Christ for mercy. If you go in the manner we have described, the arms of mercy are open to embrace you. You need not be at all the more fearful of going because of your sins, let them be ever so evil. Therefore, if your souls are burdened and you are distressed for fear of hell, you need not bear that burden and distress any longer. If you are only willing, you may freely come and unload yourselves and cast all your burdens on Christ and rest in him.
--- Jonathan Edwards

Take Heart: Daily Devotions with the Church's Great Preachers

On This Day
     Death by Exhaustion  April 29

     Giacomo Benincasa, dyer of fabrics in Siena, Italy, named his twenty-third child Catherine. Their house sat on a hillside, the basement containing dye rooms. Atop the hill sat the church of St. Dominic over which, when Catherine was seven, she saw a vision of Jesus. From that day she yearned to serve Christ.

     At age 12 she so resisted her father’s pressure to marry that he said, May God preserve us, dearest daughter, from trying to set ourselves against the will of God. We have long seen that it was no childish whim of thine, and now we know clearly that it is the Spirit of God. He gave her a room near his dye quarters, and there Catherine made herself a chapel.

     Catherine’s personality burned like a knife, and she soon inserted herself without invitation into community and church affairs, becoming the most outspoken Italian woman of the Middle Ages. She railed against the death sentence of a young man convicted of criticizing the government, and she accompanied him to his execution, snapping up his decapitated head and arousing public protest. She cared for prisoners. When the Black Death swept Italy, Catherine was everywhere giving aid.

     Catherine fumed and stormed about corruption in the Church. She denounced materialism and immorality in the monasteries. “Those who should be the temples of God,” she wrote, “are the stables of swine.” She fired letters like missiles, keeping three secretaries busy at a time. She told Pope Gregory it would be better for him to resign than to founder, and “Do not be a boy, but a man!” She negotiated peace treaties. She was instrumental in moving the papacy from France back to Rome.

     It’s no wonder that, on April 29, 1380 she died at age 32 of exhaustion from these and other labors. Her last words: “Dear children, let not my death sadden you; rather rejoice that I am leaving a place of many suffering to be united forever with my most sweet and loving Bridegroom.”

     Next to St. Francis, Catherine of Siena is the most celebrated of the Italian saints.

     Don’t get tired of helping others. You will be rewarded when the time is right, if you don’t give up. We should help people whenever we can, especially if they are followers of the Lord.
--- Galatians 6:9,10.

On This Day 365 Amazing And Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs And Heroes

Morning and Evening
     Daily Readings / CHARLES H. SPURGEON

          Morning - April 29

     “Thou art my hope in the day of evil.”
--- Jeremiah 17:17.

     The path of the Christian is not always bright with sunshine; he has his seasons of darkness and of storm. True, it is written in God’s Word, “Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace;” and it is a great truth, that religion is calculated to give a man happiness below as well as bliss above; but experience tells us that if the course of the just be “As the shining light that shineth more and more unto the perfect day,” yet sometimes that light is eclipsed. At certain periods clouds cover the believer’s sun, and he walks in darkness and sees no light. There are many who have rejoiced in the presence of God for a season; they have basked in the sunshine in the earlier stages of their Christian career; they have walked along the “green pastures” by the side of the “still waters,” but suddenly they find the glorious sky is clouded; instead of the Land of Goshen they have to tread the sandy desert; in the place of sweet waters, they find troubled streams, bitter to their taste, and they say, “Surely, if I were a child of God, this would not happen.” Oh! say not so, thou who art walking in darkness. The best of God’s saints must drink the wormwood; the dearest of his children must bear the cross. No Christian has enjoyed perpetual prosperity; no believer can always keep his harp from the willows. Perhaps the Lord allotted you at first a smooth and unclouded path, because you were weak and timid. He tempered the wind to the shorn lamb, but now that you are stronger in the spiritual life, you must enter upon the riper and rougher experience of God’s full-grown children. We need winds and tempests to exercise our faith, to tear off the rotten bough of self-dependence, and to root us more firmly in Christ. The day of evil reveals to us the value of our glorious hope.

          Evening - April 29

     “The Lord taketh pleasure in his people."
Psalm 149:4.

     How comprehensive is the love of Jesus! There is no part of his people’s interests which he does not consider, and there is nothing which concerns their welfare which is not important to him. Not merely does he think of you, believer, as an immortal being, but as a mortal being too. Do not deny it or doubt it: “The very hairs of your head are all numbered.” “The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord: and he delighteth in his way.” It were a sad thing for us if this mantle of love did not cover all our concerns, for what mischief might be wrought to us in that part of our business which did not come under our gracious Lord’s inspection! Believer, rest assured that the heart of Jesus cares about your meaner affairs. The breadth of his tender love is such that you may resort to him in all matters; for in all your afflictions he is afflicted, and like as a father pitieth his children, so doth he pity you. The meanest interests of all his saints are all borne upon the broad bosom of the Son of God. Oh, what a heart is his, that doth not merely comprehend the persons of his people, but comprehends also the diverse and innumerable concerns of all those persons! Dost thou think, O Christian, that thou canst measure the love of Christ? Think of what his love has brought thee—justification, adoption, sanctification, eternal life! The riches of his goodness are unsearchable; thou shalt never be able to tell them out or even conceive them. Oh, the breadth of the love of Christ! Shall such a love as this have half our hearts? Shall it have a cold love in return? Shall Jesus’ marvellous lovingkindness and tender care meet with but faint response and tardy acknowledgment? O my soul, tune thy harp to a glad song of thanksgiving! Go to thy rest rejoicing, for thou art no desolate wanderer, but a beloved child, watched over, cared for, supplied, and defended by thy Lord.

Morning and Evening

Amazing Grace
     April 29

          WORTHY IS THE LAMB

     Words and Music by Don Wyrtzen, 1942–

     You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for You created all things, and by Your will they were created and have their being. (Revelation 4:11)

     Come, let us join our cheerful songs with angels round the throne;
     Ten thousand thousand are their tongues, but all their joys are one.
     “Worthy the Lamb that died,” they cry, “to be exalted thus.”
     “Worthy is the Lamb,” our lips reply “for He was slain for us.”
     The whole creation joins as one to bless the sacred Name
     Of Him that sits upon the throne, and to adore the Lamb.
--- Isaac Watts


     Heaven will be a place of great singing as we join voices with the angels and saints of the ages in praising the One who made it all possible.

     This popular contemporary hymn is based directly on a text of Scripture that could well be the believers’ theme throughout eternity:

     Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and blessing. (Revelation 5:12)

     Don Wyrtzen, author and composer of this hymn and one of the outstanding Gospel song writers of our day, recalls:

     In 1970, I was in Mexico City assisting evangelist Luis Palau conduct a series of crusades. Because the messages were in Spanish, I spent the time during the RS Thomas writing new songs. One day I became particularly impressed with the great truth of Revelation 5:12, and I thought how effective this verse could be, if only the proper music was used to enhance it. I thought about the music used in the secular song “The Impossible Dream” and decided that a similar musical style would work well with these words. God has used this song to bless and inspire His people during these past years perhaps more than any other work I have been privileged to write, for which I will be eternally grateful to Him.

     * * * *

     Worthy is the Lamb that was slain, worthy is the Lamb that was slain, worthy is the Lamb that was slain, to receive: Power and riches and wisdom and strength, honor and glory and blessing! Worthy is the Lamb, worthy is the Lamb, worthy is the Lamb that was slain, worthy is the Lamb!

     For Today: John 1:29; 1 Peter 1:18, 19; Revelation 5:6–13; 13:8; 17:14.

     What is your response to the resurrected and now reigning Christ? Are you living daily in the awareness of His life-giving power? Are you joyfully anticipating the day when you will join the heavenly chorus extolling the One who alone is worthy of all praise? Why not begin even now?

Amazing Grace: 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions

De Servo Arbitrio “On the Enslaved Will” or The Bondage of the Will
     Martin Luther | (1483-1546)


     Sect. IX. — THIS, therefore, is also essentially necessary and wholesome for Christians to know: That God foreknows nothing by contingency, but that He foresees, purposes, and does all things according to His immutable, eternal, and infallible will. By this thunderbolt, “Free-will” is thrown prostrate, and utterly dashed to pieces. Those, therefore, who would assert “Free-will,” must either deny this thunderbolt, or pretend not to see it, or push it from them. But, however, before I establish this point by any arguments of my own, and by the authority of Scripture, I will first set it forth in your words.

     Are you not then the person, friend Erasmus, who just now asserted, that God is by nature just, and by nature most merciful? If this be true, does it not follow that He is immutably just and merciful? That, as His nature is not changed to all eternity, so neither His justice nor His mercy? And what is said concerning His justice and His mercy, must be said also concerning His knowledge, His wisdom, His goodness, His will, and His other Attributes. If therefore these things are asserted religiously, piously, and wholesomely concerning God, as you say yourself, what has come to you, that, contrary to your own self, you now assert, that it is irreligious, curious, and vain, to say, that God foreknows of necessity? You openly declare that the immutable will of God is to be known, but you forbid the knowledge of His immutable prescience. Do you believe that He foreknows against His will, or that He wills in ignorance? If then, He foreknows, willing, His will is eternal and immovable, because His nature is so: and, if He wills, foreknowing, His knowledge is eternal and immovable, because His nature is so.

     From which it follows unalterably, that all things which we do, although they may appear to us to be done mutably and contingently, and even may be done thus contingently by us, are yet, in reality, done necessarily and immutably, with respect to the will of God. For the will of God is effective and cannot be hindered; because the very power of God is natural to Him, and His wisdom is such that He cannot be deceived. And as His will cannot be hindered, the work itself cannot be hindered from being done in the place, at the time, in the measure, and by whom He foresees and wills. If the will of God were such, that, when the work was done, the work remained but the will ceased, (as is the case with the will of men, which, when the house is built which they wished to build, ceases to will, as though it ended by death) then, indeed, it might be said, that things are done by contingency and mutability. But here, the case is the contrary; the work ceases, and the will remains. So far is it from possibility, that the doing of the work or its remaining, can be said to be from contingency or mutability. But, (that we may not be deceived in terms) being done by contingency, does not, in the Latin language, signify that the work itself which is done is contingent, but that it is done according to a contingent and mutable will — such a will as is not to be found in God! Moreover, a work cannot be called contingent, unless it be done by us unawares, by contingency, and, as it were, by chance; that is, by our will or hand catching at it, as presented by chance, we thinking nothing of it, nor willing any thing about it before.

The Bondage of the Will  or  Christian Classics Ethereal Library

A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23
     W. Phillip Keller | (1920-1997)


          5 He Restores My Soul

     In studying this psalm it must always be remembered that it is a sheep in the Good Shepherd’s care who is speaking. It is essentially a Christian’s claim of belonging in the family of God. As such, he boasts of the benefits of such a relationship.

     This being the case, one might well ask, “Why then this statement . . . ‘He restores my soul’?” Surely it would be assumed that anyone in the Good Shepherd’s care could never become so distressed in soul as to need restoration.

     But the fact remains that this does happen.

     Even David, the author of the psalm, who was much loved of God, knew what it was to be cast down and dejected. He had tasted defeat in his life and felt the frustration of having fallen under temptation. David was acquainted with the bitterness of feeling hopeless and without strength in himself.

     In Psalm 42:11 he cries out, “Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God. . . .”

     Now there is an exact parallel to this in caring for sheep. Only those intimately acquainted with sheep and their habits understand the significance of a “cast” sheep or a “cast down” sheep.

     This is an old English shepherd’s term for a sheep that has turned over on its back and cannot get up again by itself.

     A cast sheep is a very pathetic sight. Lying on its back, its feet in the air, it flays away frantically struggling to stand up, without success. Sometimes it will bleat a little for help, but generally it lies there lashing about in frightened frustration.

     If the owner does not arrive on the scene within a reasonably short time, the sheep will die. This is but another reason why it is so essential for a careful sheepman to look over his flock every day, counting them to see that all are able to be up and on their feet. If one or two are missing, often the first thought to flash into his mind is, One of my sheep is cast somewhere. I must go in search and set it on its feet again.

     One particular ewe that I owned in a flock of cheviots was notorious for being a cast sheep. Every spring when she became heavy in lamb, it was not uncommon for her to become cast every second or third day. Only my diligence made it possible for her to survive from one season to the next. One year I had to be away from the ranch for a few days when she was having her problems. So I called my young son aside and told him he would be responsible for her well-being while I was absent. If he managed to keep her on her feet until I came home, he would be well paid for his efforts. Every evening after school he went out to the fields faithfully and set up the old ewe so she could survive. It was quite a task, but she rewarded us with a fine pair of twin lambs that spring.

     It is not only the shepherd who keeps a sharp eye for cast sheep but also the predators. Buzzards, vultures, dogs, coyotes, and cougars all know that a cast sheep is easy prey and death is not far off.

     This knowledge that any cast sheep is helpless, close to death, and vulnerable to attack makes the whole problem of cast sheep serious for the manager.

     Nothing seems to so arouse his constant care and diligent attention to the flock as the fact that even the largest, fattest, strongest, and sometimes healthiest sheep can become cast and be a casualty. Actually it is often the fat sheep that are the most easily cast.

     The way it happens is this: A heavy, fat, or long-fleeced sheep will lie down comfortably in some little hollow or depression in the ground. It may roll on its side slightly to stretch out or relax. Suddenly the center of gravity in the body shifts so that it turns on its back far enough that the feet no longer touch the ground. It may feel a sense of panic and start to paw frantically. Frequently this only makes things worse. It rolls over even further. Now it is quite impossible for it to regain its feet.

     As it lies there struggling, gases begin to build up in the rumen. As these expand, they tend to retard and cut off blood circulation to extremities of the body, especially the legs. If the weather is very hot and sunny, a cast sheep can die in a few hours. If it is cool and cloudy and rainy, it may survive in this position for several days.

     If the cast sheep is a ewe with lambs, of course, it is a multiple loss to the owner. If the lambs are unborn, they perish with her. If they are young and suckling, they become orphans. All of this adds to the seriousness of the situation.

     So it will be seen why a sheepman’s attention is always alert for this problem.

A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23

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2 Kings 23 - 25
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