Famine, Sword, and PestilenceJeremiah 141 The word of the LORD that came to Jeremiah concerning the drought:
2 “Judah mourns,
and her gates languish;
her people lament on the ground,
and the cry of Jerusalem goes up.
3 Her nobles send their servants for water;
they come to the cisterns;
they find no water;
they return with their vessels empty;
they are ashamed and confounded
and cover their heads.
4 Because of the ground that is dismayed,
since there is no rain on the land,
the farmers are ashamed;
they cover their heads.
5 Even the doe in the field forsakes her newborn fawn
because there is no grass.
6 The wild donkeys stand on the bare heights;
they pant for air like jackals;
their eyes fail
because there is no vegetation.
7 “Though our iniquities testify against us,
act, O LORD, for your name’s sake;
for our backslidings are many;
we have sinned against you.
8 O you hope of Israel,
its savior in time of trouble,
why should you be like a stranger in the land,
like a traveler who turns aside to tarry for a night?
9 Why should you be like a man confused,
like a mighty warrior who cannot save?
Yet you, O LORD, are in the midst of us,
and we are called by your name;
do not leave us.”
10 Thus says the LORD concerning this people:
“They have loved to wander thus;
they have not restrained their feet;
therefore the LORD does not accept them;
now he will remember their iniquity
and punish their sins.”
Lying Prophets13 Then I said: “Ah, Lord GOD, behold, the prophets say to them, ‘You shall not see the sword, nor shall you have famine, but I will give you assured peace in this place.’ ” 14 And the LORD said to me: “The prophets are prophesying lies in my name. I did not send them, nor did I command them or speak to them. They are prophesying to you a lying vision, worthless divination, and the deceit of their own minds. 15 Therefore thus says the LORD concerning the prophets who prophesy in my name although I did not send them, and who say, ‘Sword and famine shall not come upon this land’: By sword and famine those prophets shall be consumed. 16 And the people to whom they prophesy shall be cast out in the streets of Jerusalem, victims of famine and sword, with none to bury them—them, their wives, their sons, and their daughters. For I will pour out their evil upon them.
17 “You shall say to them this word:
‘Let my eyes run down with tears night and day,
and let them not cease,
for the virgin daughter of my people is shattered with a great wound,
with a very grievous blow.
18 If I go out into the field,
behold, those pierced by the sword!
And if I enter the city,
behold, the diseases of famine!
For both prophet and priest ply their trade through the land
and have no knowledge.’ ”
19 Have you utterly rejected Judah?
Does your soul loathe Zion?
Why have you struck us down
so that there is no healing for us?
We looked for peace, but no good came;
for a time of healing, but behold, terror.
20 We acknowledge our wickedness, O LORD,
and the iniquity of our fathers,
for we have sinned against you.
21 Do not spurn us, for your name’s sake;
do not dishonor your glorious throne;
remember and do not break your covenant with us.
22 Are there any among the false gods of the nations that can bring rain?
Or can the heavens give showers?
Are you not he, O LORD our God?
We set our hope on you,
for you do all these things.
The LORD Will Not RelentJeremiah 15 1 Then the LORD said to me, “Though Moses and Samuel stood before me, yet my heart would not turn toward this people. Send them out of my sight, and let them go! 2 And when they ask you, ‘Where shall we go?’ you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the LORD:
“ ‘Those who are for pestilence, to pestilence,
and those who are for the sword, to the sword;
those who are for famine, to famine,
and those who are for captivity, to captivity.’
5 “Who will have pity on you, O Jerusalem,
or who will grieve for you?
Who will turn aside
to ask about your welfare?
6 You have rejected me, declares the LORD;
you keep going backward,
so I have stretched out my hand against you and destroyed you—
I am weary of relenting.
7 I have winnowed them with a winnowing fork
in the gates of the land;
I have bereaved them; I have destroyed my people;
they did not turn from their ways.
8 I have made their widows more in number
than the sand of the seas;
I have brought against the mothers of young men
a destroyer at noonday;
I have made anguish and terror
fall upon them suddenly.
9 She who bore seven has grown feeble;
she has fainted away;
her sun went down while it was yet day;
she has been shamed and disgraced.
And the rest of them I will give to the sword
before their enemies,
declares the LORD.”
Jeremiah’s Complaint10 Woe is me, my mother, that you bore me, a man of strife and contention to the whole land! I have not lent, nor have I borrowed, yet all of them curse me. 11 The LORD said, “Have I not set you free for their good? Have I not pleaded for you before the enemy in the time of trouble and in the time of distress? 12 Can one break iron, iron from the north, and bronze?
13 “Your wealth and your treasures I will give as spoil, without price, for all your sins, throughout all your territory. 14 I will make you serve your enemies in a land that you do not know, for in my anger a fire is kindled that shall burn forever.”
15 O LORD, you know;
remember me and visit me,
and take vengeance for me on my persecutors.
In your forbearance take me not away;
know that for your sake I bear reproach.
16 Your words were found, and I ate them,
and your words became to me a joy
and the delight of my heart,
for I am called by your name,
O LORD, God of hosts.
17 I did not sit in the company of revelers,
nor did I rejoice;
I sat alone, because your hand was upon me,
for you had filled me with indignation.
18 Why is my pain unceasing,
my wound incurable,
refusing to be healed?
Will you be to me like a deceitful brook,
like waters that fail?
19 Therefore thus says the LORD:
“If you return, I will restore you,
and you shall stand before me.
If you utter what is precious, and not what is worthless,
you shall be as my mouth.
They shall turn to you,
but you shall not turn to them.
20 And I will make you to this people
a fortified wall of bronze;
they will fight against you,
but they shall not prevail over you,
for I am with you
to save you and deliver you,
declares the LORD.
21 I will deliver you out of the hand of the wicked,
and redeem you from the grasp of the ruthless.”
Famine, Sword, and Death16 1 The word of the LORD came to me: 2 “You shall not take a wife, nor shall you have sons or daughters in this place. 3 For thus says the LORD concerning the sons and daughters who are born in this place, and concerning the mothers who bore them and the fathers who fathered them in this land: 4 They shall die of deadly diseases. They shall not be lamented, nor shall they be buried. They shall be as dung on the surface of the ground. They shall perish by the sword and by famine, and their dead bodies shall be food for the birds of the air and for the beasts of the earth.
5 “For thus says the LORD: Do not enter the house of mourning, or go to lament or grieve for them, for I have taken away my peace from this people, my steadfast love and mercy, declares the LORD. 6 Both great and small shall die in this land. They shall not be buried, and no one shall lament for them or cut himself or make himself bald for them. 7 No one shall break bread for the mourner, to comfort him for the dead, nor shall anyone give him the cup of consolation to drink for his father or his mother. 8 You shall not go into the house of feasting to sit with them, to eat and drink. 9 For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Behold, I will silence in this place, before your eyes and in your days, the voice of mirth and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride.
10 “And when you tell this people all these words, and they say to you, ‘Why has the LORD pronounced all this great evil against us? What is our iniquity? What is the sin that we have committed against the LORD our God?’ 11 then you shall say to them: ‘Because your fathers have forsaken me, declares the LORD, and have gone after other gods and have served and worshiped them, and have forsaken me and have not kept my law, 12 and because you have done worse than your fathers, for behold, every one of you follows his stubborn, evil will, refusing to listen to me. 13 Therefore I will hurl you out of this land into a land that neither you nor your fathers have known, and there you shall serve other gods day and night, for I will show you no favor.’
The LORD Will Restore Israel14 “Therefore, behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when it shall no longer be said, ‘As the LORD lives who brought up the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt,’ 15 but ‘As the LORD lives who brought up the people of Israel out of the north country and out of all the countries where he had driven them.’ For I will bring them back to their own land that I gave to their fathers.
16 “Behold, I am sending for many fishers, declares the LORD, and they shall catch them. And afterward I will send for many hunters, and they shall hunt them from every mountain and every hill, and out of the clefts of the rocks. 17 For my eyes are on all their ways. They are not hidden from me, nor is their iniquity concealed from my eyes. 18 But first I will doubly repay their iniquity and their sin, because they have polluted my land with the carcasses of their detestable idols, and have filled my inheritance with their abominations.”
19 O LORD, my strength and my stronghold,
my refuge in the day of trouble,
to you shall the nations come
from the ends of the earth and say:
“Our fathers have inherited nothing but lies,
worthless things in which there is no profit.
20 Can man make for himself gods?
Such are not gods!”
The Sin of JudahJeremiah 17 1 “The sin of Judah is written with a pen of iron; with a point of diamond it is engraved on the tablet of their heart, and on the horns of their altars, 2 while their children remember their altars and their Asherim, beside every green tree and on the high hills, 3 on the mountains in the open country. Your wealth and all your treasures I will give for spoil as the price of your high places for sin throughout all your territory. 4 You shall loosen your hand from your heritage that I gave to you, and I will make you serve your enemies in a land that you do not know, for in my anger a fire is kindled that shall burn forever.”
5 Thus says the LORD:
“Cursed is the man who trusts in man
and makes flesh his strength,
whose heart turns away from the LORD.
6 He is like a shrub in the desert,
and shall not see any good come.
He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness,
in an uninhabited salt land.
7 “Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD,
whose trust is the LORD.
8 He is like a tree planted by water,
that sends out its roots by the stream,
and does not fear when heat comes,
for its leaves remain green,
and is not anxious in the year of drought,
for it does not cease to bear fruit.”
9 The heart is deceitful above all things,
and desperately sick;
who can understand it?
10 “I the LORD search the heart
and test the mind,
to give every man according to his ways,
according to the fruit of his deeds.”
11 Like the partridge that gathers a brood that she did not hatch,
so is he who gets riches but not by justice;
in the midst of his days they will leave him,
and at his end he will be a fool.
12 A glorious throne set on high from the beginning
is the place of our sanctuary.
13 O LORD, the hope of Israel,
all who forsake you shall be put to shame;
those who turn away from you shall be written in the earth,
for they have forsaken the LORD, the fountain of living water.
Jeremiah Prays for Deliverance
14 Heal me, O LORD, and I shall be healed;
save me, and I shall be saved,
for you are my praise.
15 Behold, they say to me,
“Where is the word of the LORD?
Let it come!”
16 I have not run away from being your shepherd,
nor have I desired the day of sickness.
You know what came out of my lips;
it was before your face.
17 Be not a terror to me;
you are my refuge in the day of disaster.
18 Let those be put to shame who persecute me,
but let me not be put to shame;
let them be dismayed,
but let me not be dismayed;
bring upon them the day of disaster;
destroy them with double destruction!
Keep the Sabbath Holy19 Thus said the LORD to me: “Go and stand in the People’s Gate, by which the kings of Judah enter and by which they go out, and in all the gates of Jerusalem, 20 and say: ‘Hear the word of the LORD, you kings of Judah, and all Judah, and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, who enter by these gates. 21 Thus says the LORD: Take care for the sake of your lives, and do not bear a burden on the Sabbath day or bring it in by the gates of Jerusalem. 22 And do not carry a burden out of your houses on the Sabbath or do any work, but keep the Sabbath day holy, as I commanded your fathers. 23 Yet they did not listen or incline their ear, but stiffened their neck, that they might not hear and receive instruction.
24 “ ‘But if you listen to me, declares the LORD, and bring in no burden by the gates of this city on the Sabbath day, but keep the Sabbath day holy and do no work on it, 25 then there shall enter by the gates of this city kings and princes who sit on the throne of David, riding in chariots and on horses, they and their officials, the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And this city shall be inhabited forever. 26 And people shall come from the cities of Judah and the places around Jerusalem, from the land of Benjamin, from the Shephelah, from the hill country, and from the Negeb, bringing burnt offerings and sacrifices, grain offerings and frankincense, and bringing thank offerings to the house of the LORD. 27 But if you do not listen to me, to keep the Sabbath day holy, and not to bear a burden and enter by the gates of Jerusalem on the Sabbath day, then I will kindle a fire in its gates, and it shall devour the palaces of Jerusalem and shall not be quenched.’ ”
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Served by God, Serving Man
By David Mathis 3/1/2009
My dad hasn’t been to seminary. He has no formal theological training. Nobody pays him and Mom for their endless hours serving the church. But they could write an article on sacrificial service to the church. They’ve lived it.
Pop is a dentist in Spartanburg, South Carolina. He and Mom moved to town in the late seventies after dental school and a couple years practicing on marines. They didn’t know anyone when they arrived. They visited churches, soon found one, and have been there for over three decades now.
I remember Pop giving all day Saturday to referee church basketball and getting up before five to get things ready for the men’s breakfast. Mom gave herself to the ladies of the church and helped launch the prayer room. I remember Pop putting the final touches on his Sunday school lesson and driving straight from work to an evening search committee or deacons’ meeting.
The kids didn’t suffer from our parents’ church service. We only benefited. Parents who served the church became more and more sacrificial at home.
I guess my folks are old school — and biblical. They didn’t join First Baptist for the entertaining music or youth ministry or cool preacher. They found a church where they could be blessed by God and be a blessing to others.
So many of us think about it the other way around. We think of church in terms of our serving God and receiving from others. But this is backwards.
Sacrificial service in the church doesn’t start with serving. It starts with being served by God. Then as we are satisfied in Him and who He’s revealed Himself to be in His crucified Son, we gladly overflow in service of others.
The Bible actually warns us against serving God. There is a clear sense in which we must not serve Him. Jesus’ spokesman Paul says that God is not “served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything” (Acts 17:25).
We humans can’t give God anything that He hasn’t already given to us. Jesus’ ancestor David prayed, “All things come from you, and of your own have we given you” (1 Chron. 29:14). Nowhere is this seen clearer than in Jesus Himself, who “came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).
Beware serving the God who became man not to be served!
But there’s another sense in which Christians do serve. We serve others. And we do so “by the strength that God supplies” (1 Peter 4:11). God is the giver. Our posture toward Him is one of receiving, even in our service.
As we turn from facing God to face our fellow Christians, there should be a reorientation of the posture of our souls from receiving to giving. What amazing communities our churches are when we gather both with the expectation of receiving from God and with the expectation of giving to others.
It’s easy to miss the gospel way either by attempting to give to God or by presuming to receive from others. Take, for instance, many from my dad’s generation. Born to World War II veterans who knew duty and the valor of service, they get the idea of serving others but transpose this to their relationship with God: “Grit your teeth. Do your duty. Serve God and man. Sacrifice for God whether you like it or not.”
This isn’t gospel. Dutiful sacrifice doesn’t honor God as much as it honors our stone-like will. And thus it undercuts the very source of strength that enables us to serve others.
On the other hand, I’ve seen some from my generation expect to receive from God, but accompanying this good expectation is a tragic, culture-capitulating, self-centered posture of feeling entitled to receive from others.
Neither of these errors is “in step with the truth of the gospel” (Gal. 2:14). Believing the gospel reorients our posture toward God. Jesus did not come to be served by us, but to serve us by giving His life. He is the giver. We are the recipients of His grace.
(Ga 2:14) 14 But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?” ESV
And believing the gospel also reorients our posture toward others. We no longer expect to receive from them. Our default stance becomes one of giving. As Jesus has infinitely blessed us, so we want to bless others — finite as that blessing will be. And in serving them, we point them to Jesus who blesses infinitely.
The church that seeks to give to God and receive from others will suffocate faith and smother love. But if Jesus’ gospel takes root, we will gladly come to God to feast and drink. Then with our hands full and our thirst being quenched, we will most gladly do good to others, especially the church — those who are of the household of faith (2 Cor. 12:15; Gal. 6:10).
(2 Co 12:15) 15 I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls. If I love you more, am I to be loved less? ESV
(Ga 6:10) 10 So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith. ESV
O, how we need pastors and laymen like Pop and Mom! With every healthy vocational minister should be a crew of church-serving lay people who will receive from God and then give themselves to meet the needs of their church. I saw it in my parents and a pack of other selfless leaders as I grew up in Spartanburg, and I see it at Bethlehem Baptist Church, where I am now.
May God raise up a generation of men and women who are so satisfied in Jesus that we are resolved to sacrificially pour ourselves out for the joy of His church.
David Mathis (@davidcmathis) is executive editor for desiringGod.org, pastor at Cities Church in Minneapolis/Saint Paul, and adjunct professor for Bethlehem College & Seminary. He is the husband of Megan, father of four, and his regular articles are available online at desiringGod.org/mathis.
David Mathis Books:
- 1 Habits of Grace Study Guide: Enjoying Jesus through the Spiritual Disciplines
- 2 Acting the Miracle: God's Work and Ours in the Mystery of Sanctification
- 3 Finish the Mission: Bringing the Gospel to the Unreached and Unengaged
- 4 How to Stay Christian in Seminary
- 5 The Romantic Rationalist: God, Life, and Imagination in the Work of C. S. Lewis
- 6 Thinking. Loving. Doing.: A Call to Glorify God with Heart and Mind
- 7 Cross: Unrivaled Christ, Unstoppable Gospel, Unreached Peoples, Unending Joy
- 8 With Calvin in the Theater of God: The Glory of Christ and Everyday Life
- 9 Finish the Mission (First) (9/19/12)
A ‘Great’ Leader
By Gene Edward Veith 4/1/2009
These days it’s easy to become cynical about politicians, government officials, and other national leaders. Governing a country takes hard-nosed, practical realism. Morality and religion are well and good, many of us say, but someone who follows such ideals in the political arena will be eaten alive. Yet, consider the example of a ninth-century king named Alfred the Great.
In his day England (“Angle-land”) consisted of isolated Germanic tribes whose kings were closer to tribal chiefs than heads of state. The various Angles and Saxons had converted to Christianity thanks to seventh-century missionaries, but holdover practices from paganism such as blood feuds — the vigilante self-policing in which families take revenge against each other — kept the society fragmented and weak.
Though Alfred was the youngest son of the king of the West Saxons (Wessex), his three older brothers each died after brief reigns, so in AD 871, he found himself on the throne. He was twenty-two years old. Almost immediately, the Vikings invaded England.
The pagan “Danes” had made raids on the island for centuries, sailing in on their dragon ships, sacking towns, burning monasteries, and brutally murdering villagers. But then they would leave. This time the Vikings were attacking with huge armies. They had brought their families with them and were planning to stay. Already they had seized much of northern England. Now they were moving south.
King Alfred unified the various tribes against the common threat. He led the Angle and Saxon army and did what no earlier ruler had been able to do — he defeated the Vikings.
In the peace treaty, he allowed the Vikings who had settled in the north to remain. But he insisted that the Viking leaders accept Christianity. They were baptized and agreed to welcome in their territories missionaries and churches. Within a few generations, the newly-Christian “Danes” had assimilated into the rest of Angle-land.
Alfred also codified the law. He brought together many of the traditional laws of the Saxons, writing down the oral traditions. But he also Christianized those laws. He began his written code with the Ten Commandments, followed by the Golden Rule of Jesus. He replaced the blood feuds with a system of fines that would be enforced not by individual avengers but by the king and his officers. He instituted a judicial system, including trial by jury. Essentially, King Alfred established the rule of law.
He also brought education to the land. He established schools with the goal of bringing literacy to every free citizen. Because the English people had few books in their own language, he sponsored translations, including portions of the Bible. Because of the shortage of scholars, the king himself translated books, including theological works by St. Augustine, a treatise on pastoral care for local churches by St. Gregory, the history of Christianity in England by the Venerable Bede, and the Psalms of David.
King Alfred followed his vocation as ruler along the lines of Romans 13. The doctrine of vocation has to do with how God works through human beings. Romans 13 clearly states that God exercises His authority through lawful human authorities. They are “ministers of God” (13:6).
According to Romans 13, the purpose of the ruler’s vocation is to protect their innocent subjects against evildoers. King Alfred did this. Some of his successors did not. A few reigns later, King Ethelred the Unready failed to stop a new Viking invasion, largely because of his fecklessness and incompetence. A Dane, King Canute, made himself king of England.
The last of King Alfred’s line was the son of Ethelred, a devout young man named Edward the Confessor who gained the throne after Canute’s death. King Edward was probably England’s most outwardly pious monarch and was eventually named a saint by the Roman Catholic Church. However, he bought into the theology that considered monastic asceticism to be more spiritual than earthly vocations, such as parenthood.
Though he was married, he apparently took a vow of celibacy. He and his wife, out of their non-biblical rejection of God’s gift of married sexuality, had no children. That was the height of irresponsibility for a king in a hereditary monarchy, which requires a lawful successor to avoid throwing the land into anarchy. Compounding this irresponsibility was that he made the French duke of Normandy, who sheltered him when he fled Canute, the heir to the throne. This was William the Conqueror, who would invade England and utterly subjugate the Saxons.
King William illustrates another kind of ruler. Instead of serving his people as Alfred did, William wanted his people to serve him. Instead of punishing evildoers and protecting the innocent, tyrants do the reverse, punishing the innocent and protecting evildoers. This is not what God has called rulers to do. Tyrants do not have God’s authority. They are sinning against God’s authority.
King Alfred was arguably one of England’s founding fathers. English civilization, despite occasional setbacks, would build on its heritage, which the United States shares. Of all the English kings, only Alfred bears the title of “great.” What made him great was the way he lived out his faith in his God-given vocation.
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
Smart is Not a Fruit
By R.C. Sproul Jr. 2/01/2012
Leave it to Reformed people to miss the point. When Paul describes the body of Christ as a body, part of which includes hands, ears, and so forth, we are quick to mark our territory — we are the brain of the church. We are the ones who are so rightly careful about our theology. The great minds of the church have been Reformed, and one could certainly argue that the greatest mind, theological or otherwise, ever to grace our North American shores was one Jonathan Edwards.
There is no question the man had a towering intellect. We would be wise to sit at his feet and learn from him. Edwards on the will is unanswerable genius. Edwards on the Trinity will make your head spin. Edwards was a titanic mind whose brilliance was overshadowed only by his earnest and passionate heart. Should we embrace the theological wisdom of Edwards? Of course, by all means. It would be better still, however, if we would just taste of his soul’s devotion.
We do not, of course, increase the fervor of our emotions by dimming the capacity of our brains. Neither, however, will we ever bear the fruit of the Spirit if the seed of the Word is planted only in the rocky soil of our brains rather than the fertile soil of the heart. We surely must know Him to love Him. We surely must study Him to know Him. But no one has studied Him more thoroughly than the Devil, and it hasn’t done him a bit of good.
Just a few weeks ago, as I write, Reformation Bible College opened its doors for the first time. The first class I taught has a rather pretentious name: ST101 Theological Prolegomena. This highbrow title translates roughly into “Introduction to Systematic Theology.” It is the study we do before we begin our study.
Historically, such a class would begin, logically enough, with the doctrine of revelation, exploring how God reveals Himself in His Word and nature. It would consider issues of the canon and various theories of inspiration. We will, eventually, get to those important issues. In another semester, we will turn our attention to what we call “theology proper,” the actual study of God’s nature and attributes. Despite the subject matter of that future class, we began this first class with a classic work, The Holiness of God.
My fear, as I looked out at that first class, was that we would fall into the trap that has captured so many Reformed people. I feared that even with the glorious truths of Scripture, we might end up tickling ears. I would be guilty of ear tickling if, in my teaching, I encouraged the students to conclude, “What a smart person I am,” rather than, “What a glorious gospel has rescued such a wretched sinner as me.” I wanted, through studying this book together, for us all to look to the mirror of His character and glory so that we would never lose sight of just how vile we are. I wanted us to understand something of the scope of His transcendence lest we should ever be tempted to conclude that our studies had reached into the heavens like the Tower of Babel. I feared for my students precisely because I remembered what I was like as a student. What a clever Devil we battle with, who can turn our study of sound theology into an occasion for pride.
We will not begin to get better until we embrace this obvious truth: smart is not one of the fruits of the Spirit. Of course we are to love God with all our minds. But we are to love God with all our minds, not merely understand Him. When our knowledge cannot traverse the distance from our heads down to our hearts, we are suffering from spiritual emptiness. We will not begin to get better until we come to embrace this obvious truth: we come into the kingdom not as scholars or students, but as children.
We will not, in short, get better unless and until we learn to stop pursuing academic respectability and start seeking the kingdom of God and His righteousness. We are to put behind us all our earthly worries. We are to stop seeking those things that the Gentiles seek.
The fruit of love, in the end, is the fruit of the Spirit. Love begets love. Love bears joy. Love bestows peace. Patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control: all these break forth like the great bunches of grapes the twelve Israelite spies found in the Promised Land. None of these, however, come forth from the barren soil of our intellectual curiosity, far less the scorched earth of intellectual pride.
Edwards was a great man of God. He was so, however, because he aspired to be a man of God rather than a great man. That his descendants were senators and governors, professors and college presidents, meant not a thing to him. That they would humbly follow the carpenter’s Son from Galilee — that was what he hoped, prayed, and worked for. That is the fruit of charity.
R.C. Sproul Jr. Books | Go to Books Page
A Child’s (Mis)understanding
By Keith Mathison 2/01/2012
Like many, I have watched my fair share of films over the years, and the vast majority have been quite forgettable. There are a small number that I enjoyed enough to purchase in order to watch them again. But there are very, very few that were so powerful in one way or another that they have stayed with me years after seeing them. (I am still not sure I will ever forgive Walt Disney for the trauma inflicted by Old Yeller.)
When I think about the films I’ve seen as an adult that have really stayed with me, three come to mind. One is The Straight Story, a film based on the true story of seventy-three-year-old Alvin Straight, who drove his riding lawnmower 240 miles from Iowa to Wisconsin to visit his brother, who had recently suffered a stroke. The look on his brother’s face when he realizes what Alvin has done is deeply moving.
Two foreign-language films also fall into this category. The first, Sophie Scholl, is a German film based on the true story of a teenage girl who was arrested by the Gestapo for distributing anti-Nazi leaflets during WWII. Again, the final scene is powerful, but the questions this movie makes you ask about yourself and what you would have done in that situation are what stay with you long after the credits roll.
The second foreign-language film that I have never been able to forget is Ponette, a French film about a fouryear-old girl attempting to deal with the death of her mother. Ponette is not an easy film to watch. There are few things more heart-wrenching than the grief of a young child, and the performance of the young actress portraying Ponette is truly nothing short of amazing. The most fascinating aspect of the film for me, however, had to do with the questions it raised about the way young children interpret (and misinterpret) the words of adults.
In the film, Ponette’s father is an atheist, and he tells her very bluntly that her mother is gone. While dealing with his own grief, he leaves his child with her aunt and uncle, who are devout Roman Catholics. In an attempt to console Ponette, her aunt tells her the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection. In her four-year-old mind, Ponette takes this to mean that if she waits a few days, her mother will come back to her. Her aunt and uncle do not realize how Ponette has misunderstood them and, therefore, never really clarify things for her. Neither do they realize how devastated she is when her expectation fails to be realized. The advice Ponette’s four-year-old friends give her throughout the remainder of the film puts her through an emotional wringer, but misunderstanding them is far less serious than misunderstanding the relevance of Christ’s resurrection to her situation.
As Christians, we are called to teach our children. But how often do we simply take for granted that they have comprehended the meaning of our words? And do we consider the damage that can be done if they misinterpret us without our realizing it? Very young children are in the process of learning the basic rules of grammar through imitation and use. Their vocabulary is also growing—sometimes by inventing their own words. (My daughter came up with the word “foosies” for “flowers” when she was very young.) But young children often make mistakes in their use of the language as they learn it, and they do not always automatically grasp the proper denotations or connotations of every word and phrase they hear.
Confusing the meaning of the words restaurant and restroom as a child, while potentially embarrasing, is one thing. However, confusing the meaning of the words of Scripture or the basics of Christian theology is quite another. Anyone who teaches young children has to stop and think about the words he uses when communicating to them. We should not assume that the thoughts in our minds are effectively communicated without distortion to the minds of the children. It is vitally important to ask children what they have understood us to say.
What do they hear you, your pastors, or their Sunday school teachers saying about God when they hear talk about “the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit”? What do they hear us saying when we say we believe in Jesus Christ, God’s “only begotten Son”? What do they hear if we use the words “Holy Ghost”? Do they understand what is being said when we use words like heaven, faith, soul, or salvation? We can only find out by asking them.
If they do require further explanation, the next question is this: Are we equipped to do the explaining? Can we clarify the doctrine of the Trinity, for example, to a young child? It is a self-evident truth that we cannot teach what we do not know, and we cannot explain what we do not ourselves understand. The study of Scripture and theology is simply not a luxury for those entrusted with children. It is a necessity.
Per Amazon, Keith A. Mathison (MA, Reformed Theological Seminary; PhD, Whitefield Theological Seminary) is dean of the Ligonier Academy of Biblical and Theological Studies and an associate editor of Tabletalk magazine at Ligonier Ministries. He is editor of When Shall These Things Be: A Reformed Response to Hyper-Preterism and associate editor of The Reformation Study Bible. He lives in Lake Mary, Florida, with his wife and children.Keith Mathison Books:
- 1 Postmillennialism: An Eschatology of Hope
- 2 The Shape of Sola Scriptura
- 3 Given for You: Reclaiming Calvin's Doctrine of the Lord's Supper
- 4 From Age to Age: The Unfolding of Biblical Eschatology
- 5 Dispensationalism: Rightly Dividing the People of God?
- 6 A Reformed Approach to Science and Scripture
- 7 Not a Chance: God, Science, and the Revolt against Reason
- 8 When Shall These Things Be?: A Reformed Response to Hyper-Preterism
Soft Hearts, Solid Spines
By Joe Holland 2/01/2012
The Internet allows unprecedented opportunity for communication between Christians from different theological traditions. The results have not been pretty. Comment threads are the Devil’s playground and blogs his amusement park. And even if we exclude online media, theological bickering between Christians is and has been pervasive. Regrettably, Christians who hold to the Reformed confessions are often viewed by other Christians outside our tradition as some of the least winsome members of what we call the communion of the saints.
The command to love has been lost by us, if not lost on us. But how can the theologically astute love their equally theologically astute brothers and sisters across contentious theological and denominational lines? The solution is in the life, death, and love-commanding witness of Jesus.
Consider Jesus’ silence for a moment. As a weekly synagogue attender and itinerant preacher, Jesus was bombarded with heterodoxy, moralistic deism, theological mush, progressive nationalism, and spiritual immaturity. And I’m only speaking of what came from devout Jews. Jesus was able and entitled to rebuke the slightest theological imprecision among the faithful at any moment. But when we consider how much theological correction He could have done, His silence speaks more than His teaching. Jesus did not draw attention to every theological imprecision that He heard. He loved sinners and was patient with their theological inaccuracy and spiritual immaturity.
Next, consider Jesus’s admonition concerning those whom the disciples labeled as outsiders. In Luke 9:49–50, we find a man casting out demons in Jesus’ name even though he was not one of the twelve. John bristled at the notion of commending this rogue exorcist who lacked the kind of theological instruction that the twelve were receiving. But Jesus’ command was just the opposite. He said, “Do not stop him, for the one who is not against you is for you.” Jesus commended the ministry of a man who lacked knowledge of the finer points of Jesus’ ministry.
Jesus also loved and encouraged the less theologically astute. Consider Jesus’ new command: “Love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples” (John 13:34). The shadow of the cross falls on John 13. But how would the world know that these men and women were followers of Jesus? Would they be known by their rigorous theological debate? No. According to Jesus, they would be known by their rigorous love for one another.
Love for all Christians is the common ground between orthodox Christology and orthodox missiology. When was the last time a class on evangelism emphasized love among Christians? If the world will know our Christology by our love for one another, our missiology must include a strong exhortation to treat all Christians with aggressive affection.
Lastly, consider how Jesus crowned His command to love with His cross of love. If the disciples were expected to love the thousands of converts they were to see in the coming years based on their agreement on the finer points of theology, then Jesus’ command to love is naïve at best and laughable at worst. But if Jesus provided at the cross a unifying principle and redemptive power that could humble the proud, lift the humble, and soften the contentious, His command finds glorious fulfillment at Golgotha. The centrality of the cross of Jesus, shared by all Christians, is the foundation of Christian love and the antidote to angry Calvinism.
This truth was driven home to me this past summer. I was hiking through the Blue Ridge Mountains, praying for my congregation. I was praying about a contentious conversation I recently had had with a couple in my growing church plant. I was clearly right and they were clearly wrong, or so my self-centered narrative went. But as I prayed, I remembered that Jesus died for this couple. He spilled His blood for them, and all I could spill was self-righteous vitriol — in prayer, no less.
I still think I was right in the theology of my argument. But I was grossly wrong in how I loved them. I undermined my theological precision by wielding it with loveless blunt force trauma.
This is not to say that Jesus intends us to abandon meticulous theological study or debate. There is a malignant false dichotomy today that pits charity against orthodoxy. To show charity is to risk being labeled a liberal progressive. To express theological concern is to risk being labeled contentious. To help guide us, we must remember that although brothers and enemies both fight, how they fight makes all the difference. The honor of Jesus demands both a soft heart and a titanium spine.
Diligent theological study must lead us to humility-soaked love for all the blood-bought followers of Jesus. If it does not, we have missed one of the most basic principles that Jesus taught His disciples. Visible and unifying love toward one another is not an option for the worldwide church. It is a command.
Reflections on the 50th Anniversary of My Diving Accident
By Joni Eareckson Tada 7/30/2017
Recently I was at my desk writing to Tommy, a 17-year-old boy who just broke his neck body surfing off the Jersey shore. He’s now a quadriplegic. He will live the rest of his life in a wheelchair without use of his hands or legs. When it comes to life-altering injuries, quadriplegia is catastrophic. Befriending Trial Suffering Is a Mirror Inexpressible Gospel Joy Ten Life-Changing Words Fifty Years of God’s Faithfulness
Halfway through my letter describing several hurdles Tommy should expect in rehab, I stopped. I felt utterly overwhelmed, thinking of all that lies ahead for him. I’ve been there. And even though half a century has passed, I can still taste the anguish. Hot, silent tears began streaming, and I choked out a prayer, Oh God, how will Tommy do it? How will he ever make it? Have mercy; help him find you!
Tommy is facing the impossible. I’m sure he feels a little like this sketch. It’s a copy of a drawing I did in rehab, holding charcoal pencils between my teeth. Although I tore up the original years ago when I was depressed, this sketch says it all: “Oh God, this is now my life?! You actually expect me to do this?!”
Somehow, I did it. Or, the Holy Spirit did it in me. As of today, I’ve done it for 50 years.
Like Tommy, I was once the 17-year-old who retched at the thought of living life without a working body. I hated my paralysis so much I would drive my power wheelchair into walls, repeatedly banging them until they cracked. Early on, I found dark companions who helped me numb my depression with scotch-and-cola. I just wanted to disappear. I wanted to die.
What a difference time makes—as well as prayer, heaven-minded friends, and deep study of God’s Word. All combined, I began to see there are more important things in life than walking and having use of your hands. It sounds incredible, but I really would rather be in this wheelchair knowing Jesus as I do than be on my feet without him. But whenever I try to explain it, I hardly know where to begin.
I really would rather be in this wheelchair knowing Jesus as I do than be on my feet without him.
Yet I know this: I’m in the zone whenever I infuse Christ-encouragement into the hearts of people like Tommy. It feels so right to agonize alongside them. Better yet, to participate in their suffering in the spirit of 2 Corinthians 1:6: “If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation.” Can I do something for Tommy’s comfort and salvation? You bet.
One night, a few Young Life friends who liked to sing picked me up for a late-night drive into Baltimore City. We ended up downtown at the railway station—a massive structure with travertine floors, marble columns, and vaulted ceilings. We found a corner and started harmonizing, our voices echoing throughout the station. An officious-looking guard approached and ordered us out of the building. “See that ‘no loitering’ sign? It’s 11 p.m. and you kids don’t belong here,” he barked. Then he pointed at me: “And you put that wheelchair back where you found it. Right now!”
“But sir,” I insisted, “it’s mine.” He told me not to give him any lip and to put it back right away. When our little group started laughing, he realized his error. That night, when my friends got me home, one kneeled beside my chair: “Joni, that’s the first time I’ve ever heard you call it ‘my wheelchair.’ Thank you for doing that. You’re helping me own my problems, too.”
I had welcomed my trial as a friend. And it felt so good.
I now laugh as I picture myself with these books on my music stand, flipping pages this way and that with my mouth stick. But decades of study, paralysis, pain, and cancer have taught me to say, “It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees” (Ps. 119:71). I won’t rehearse all of suffering’s benefits here. Many of you know them by heart. Like the way God uses it to shape Christ’s character in us (Rom. 8:28–29). Or how it produces patience (Rom. 5:4). Or how it refines our faith like gold (1 Pet. 1:7). Or gives us a livelier hope of heaven (James 1:12). And on and on.
However, if I were to nail down suffering’s main purpose, I’d say it’s the textbook that teaches me who I really am, because I’m not the paragon of virtue I’d like to think I am. Suffering keeps knocking me off my pedestal of pride. Sometimes, when my scoliosis becomes extremely painful, I’ll murmur and drop hints to God that he’s piling on too much. Later, when the pain dissipates, I’ll make excuses: Lord, that’s not like me. I’m not like that at all.
But it is like me. It’s exactly like me.
If I were to nail down suffering’s main purpose, I’d say it’s the textbook that teaches me who I really am.
Philippians 2:14 is for people like me: “Do everything without grumbling.” Everything? The Bible says it’s possible, even for aging quadriplegics who fight terminal diseases and chronic pain. But less sin means more Jesus, and Jesus is worth it.
The process is difficult, but affliction isn’t a killjoy; I don’t think you could find a happier follower of Jesus than me. The more my paralysis helps me get disentangled from sin, the more joy bubbles up from within. I can’t tell you how many nights I have lain in bed, unable to move, stiff with pain, and have whispered near tears, “Oh, Jesus, I’m so happy. So very happy in you!” God shares his joy on his terms only, and those terms call for us to suffer, in some measure, like his Son. I’ll gladly take it.
Half a century of paralysis has also shown me how high the cosmic stakes really are. Whenever I fidget in my confinement, I can almost hear Satan taunt God—as he did with Job—“Look at her, see? She doesn’t really trust you. Test her with more pain and you’ll see her true colors!” When the Devil insists God’s people only serve him when life is easy, I have the high honor of proving him wrong. To be on the battlefield where the mightiest forces in the universe converge in warfare? By God’s grace, I’m all in.
Ten words have set the course for my life: God permits what he hates to accomplish what he loves.
For the saving of many lives? Yes, so I dare not hide my testimony under a bushel. Too many people with disabilities are floundering in hopelessness—people like Tommy. It’s why I wrote the Joni book, and did the Joni movie. I started Joni and Friends when special-needs families started asking, “How can I help my son with cerebral palsy out of depression? Why doesn’t God heal everyone? How can I get my church involved?” and more. I wanted to show these people what the gospel looks like, just like my Christ-with-me-in-suffering friends did.
Now, every day when I wheel into the Joni and Friends International Disability Center, I try to squeeze every ounce of ministry effort from my quadriplegic body. This summer, Joni and Friends will hold 27 Family Retreats in the United States and 23 in less resourced nations, reaching thousands of special-needs families for Christ. Christian physical therapists will serve on our Wheels for the World teams in more than 40 countries, delivering Bibles, giving the salvation message, and hand-fitting wheelchairs to needy people with disabilities. Hundreds of our Cause4Life interns will work in orphanages overseas, showing that spina bifida isn’t a voodoo curse and people aren’t better off dead than disabled. Because Jesus is ecstasy beyond compare, and it’s worth anything to be his friend.
I flashed a smile and said, “It’s why I thank God every day for my wheelchair.” After she left, I stared for a moment at the dining hall scene. I suddenly had a 35,000-foot view of the moment: She’s right . . . how did I get here?
It has everything to do with God and his grace—not just grace over the long haul, but grace in tiny moments, like breathing in and out, like stepping stones leading you from one experience to the next. The beauty of such grace is that it eclipses the suffering until one July morning, you look back and see five decades of God working in a mighty way.
Grace softens the edges of past pains, helping to highlight the eternal. What you are left with is peace that’s profound, joy that’s unshakable, faith that’s ironclad.
It’s the hard, but beautiful, stuff of which God makes 50 years of your life. Like . . . when did that happen? I cannot say, but I sure love Jesus for it.
Befriending TrialI do what wise Christian friends once did with me. Back in the early ’70s when I was starting to take seriously Christ’s lordship in my life, my friends didn’t merely tell me biblical truth: “Here, believe this. Rejoice in your trial. It’ll do you a world of good.” Instead, they hooked up their spiritual veins to mine, pumping compassion into my wounded soul. Com means “with” and passion means “Christ’s suffering.” They literally were Christ-with-me-in-suffering. I wasn’t their spiritual project; I was their friend.
Suffering Is a MirrorThroughout my 20s, I became immersed in Bible study with these same friends—mostly character studies about God, especially his sovereignty. When it came to my accident, I had to know whether the buck stopped with him, and if it did, why didn’t he prevent my accident? Around my big farmhouse table in Maryland, we’d tackle books like Loraine Boettner’s The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination and others by Martyn Lloyd-Jones, J. Gresham Machen, and J. I. Packer.
Inexpressible Gospel JoyThe core of God’s plan is to rescue me from sin and self, and to keep rescuing me. The apostle Paul calls it “the gospel . . . by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you” (1 Cor. 15:1–2). I’m in constant need of saving. My displaced hip and scoliosis are sheep dogs that constantly snap at my heels, driving me down the road to Calvary, where I die to the sins Jesus died for. Sure, I have a long way to go before I am whom God destined me to be in glory, but thankfully my paralysis keeps pushing me to “strive to reach for that heavenly prize” (Phil. 3:14).
Ten Life-Changing WordsBack in the ’70s, my Bible study friend Steve Estes shared ten little words that set the course for my life: “God permits what he hates to accomplish what he loves.” Steve explained it this way: “Joni, God allows all sorts of things he doesn’t approve of. God hated the torture, injustice, and treason that led to the crucifixion. Yet he permitted it so that the world’s worst murder could become the world’s only salvation. In the same way, God hates spinal cord injury, yet he permitted it for the sake of Christ in you—as well as in others. Like Joseph when he told his brothers, ‘God intended [my suffering] for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives’” (Gen. 50:20).
Fifty Years of God’s FaithfulnessLast week my husband, Ken, and I were at our Joni and Friends Family Retreat in Alabama. We were lunching in the big, noisy dining hall when a college-aged volunteer approached me, holding a kid with Down syndrome on her hip. She gestured at the crowd and asked, “Miss Joni, do you ever think how none of this would be happening were it not for your diving accident?”
Joni Eareckson Tada Books:
- 1 Joni: An Unforgettable Story
- 2 A Spectacle of Glory: God's Light Shining through Me Every Day
- 3 A Place of Healing: Wrestling with the Mysteries of Suffering, Pain, and God's Sovereignty
- 4 When God Weeps
- 5 Pearls of Great Price: 366 Daily Devotional Readings
- 6 Diamonds in the Dust: 366 Sparkling Devotions
- 7 Joni and Ken: An Untold Love Story
- 8 LIFETIME OF WISDOM by EARECKSON TADA JONI (2009-03-09)
- 9 Heaven: Your Real Home
- 10 Beyond Suffering Bible NLT: Where Struggles Seem Endless, God's Hope Is Infinite
- 11 Joni Eareckson Tada: Her Story
- 12 A Step Further
- 13 Finding God in Hidden Places
- 14 A Thankful Heart In A World Of Hurt By Joni Eareckson Tada
- 15 More Precious Than Silver: 366 Daily Devotional Readings
- 16 Hope...the Best of Things
- 17 The God I Love: A Lifetime of Walking with Jesus
- 18 O Come All Ye Faithful: Hymns of Adoration and Joy to Celebrate His Birth (Great Hymns of Our Faith)
- 19 Beside Bethesda: 31 Days Toward Deeper Healing
- 20 Diagnosed with Breast Cancer: Life after Shock
- 21 No Longer Alone pamphlet by Joni Eareckson Tada
- 22 A Place of Healing: Wrestling with the Mysteries of Suffering, Pain, and God's Sovereignty [Hardcover]  (Author) Joni Eareckson Tada
What is the Hebrew Roots movement?
By S. Michael Houdmann
The premise of the Hebrew Roots movement is the belief that the Church has veered far from the true teachings and Hebrew concepts of the Bible. The movement maintains that Christianity has been indoctrinated with the culture and beliefs of Greek and Roman philosophy and that ultimately biblical Christianity, taught in churches today, has been corrupted with a pagan imitation of the New Testament gospels.
Those of the Hebrew Roots belief hold to the teaching that Christ's death on the cross did not end the Mosaic Covenant, but instead renewed it, expanded its message, and wrote it on the hearts of His true followers. They teach that the understanding of the New Testament can only come from a Hebrew perspective and that the teachings of the Apostle Paul are not understood clearly or taught correctly by Christian pastors today. Many affirm the existence of an original Hebrew-language New Testament and, in some cases, denigrate the existing New Testament text written in Greek. This becomes a subtle attack on the reliability of the text of our Bible. If the Greek text is unreliable and has been corrupted, as is charged by some, the Church no longer has a standard of truth.
Although there are many different and diverse Hebrew Roots assemblies with variations in their teachings, they all adhere to a common emphasis on recovering the "original" Jewishness of Christianity. Their assumption is that the Church has lost its Jewish roots and is unaware that Jesus and His disciples were Jews living in obedience to the Torah. For the most part, those involved advocate the need for every believer to walk a Torah-observant life. This means that the ordinances of the Mosaic Covenant must be a central focus in the lifestyle of believers today as it was with the Old Testament Jews of Israel. Keeping the Torah includes keeping the Sabbath on the seventh day of the week (Saturday), celebrating the Jewish feasts and festivals, keeping the dietary laws, avoiding the "paganism" of Christianity (Christmas, Easter, etc.), and learning to understand the Scriptures from a Hebrew mindset. They teach that Gentile Christians have been grafted into Israel, and this is one reason every born-again believer in Jesus the Messiah is to participate in these observances. It is expressed that doing this is not required out of legalistic bondage, but out of a heart of love and obedience. However, they teach that to live a life that pleases God, this Torah-observant walk must be part of that life.
The Hebrew Roots assemblies are often made up of a majority of Gentiles, including Gentile rabbis. Usually they prefer to be identified as "Messianic Christians." Many have come to the conclusion that God has "called" them to be Jewish and have accepted the theological position that the Torah (Old Testament law) is equally binding on Gentiles and Jews alike. They often wear articles of traditional Jewish clothing, practice Davidic dancing, and incorporate Hebrew names and phrases into their writing and conversations. Most reject the use of the name "Jesus" in favor of Yeshua or YHWH, claiming that these are the "true" names that God desires for Himself. In most cases, they elevate the Torah as the foundational teaching for the Church, which brings about the demotion of the New Testament, causing it to become secondary in importance and only to be understood in light of the Old Testament. The idea that the New Testament is faulty and relevant only in light of the Old Testament has also brought the doctrine of the Trinity under attack by many advocates of the Hebrew Roots beliefs.
As opposed to what the Hebrew Roots movement claims, the New Testament teachings of the Apostle Paul are perfectly clear and self-explanatory. Colossians 2:16,17 says, "Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day – things which are a shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ." Romans 14:5 states, "One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind." Scripture clearly indicates that these issues are a matter of personal choice. These verses and many others give clear evidence that the Mosaic Covenant laws and ordinances have ended. Continuing to teach that the Old Covenant is still in effect in spite of what the New Testament teaches, or twisting the New Testament to agree with the Hebrew Roots beliefs, is false teaching.
There are aspects of the Hebrew Roots teachings that certainly can be beneficial. Seeking to explore the Jewish culture and perspective, within which most of the Bible was written, opens and enriches our understanding of the Scriptures, adding insight and depth to many of the passages, parables and idioms. There is nothing wrong with Gentiles and Jews joining together in celebrating the feasts and enjoying a Messianic style of worship. Taking part in these events and learning the way in which the Jews understood the teachings of our Lord can be a tool, giving us greater effectiveness in reaching the unbelieving Jew with the gospel. It is good for Gentiles, in the body of the Messiah, to identify in our fellowship with Israel. However, to identify with Israel is different from identifying "as" Israel.
Gentile believers are not grafted into the Judaism of the Mosaic Covenant; they are grafted into the seed and faith of Abraham, which preceded the Law and Jewish customs. They are fellow citizens with the saints (Ephesians 2:19), but they are not Jews. Paul explains this clearly when he tells those who were circumcised (the Jews) "not to seek to be uncircumcised" and those who were uncircumcised (the Gentiles) "not to become circumcised" (1 Corinthians 7:18). There is no need for either group to feel they must become what they are not. Instead, God has made Jews and Gentiles into "one new man" in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:15). This "new man" is referring to the Church, the body of Christ, which is made up of neither Jew nor Gentile (Galatians 3:27-29). It's important for Jews and Gentiles to remain authentic in their own identity. In this way a clear picture of the unity of the body of Christ can be seen as Jews and Gentiles are united by one Lord, one faith, one baptism. If Gentiles are grafted into Israel, becoming Jews, the purpose and picture of both Jew and Gentile, coming together as one new man, is lost. God never intended Gentiles to become one in Israel, but one in Christ.
Ephesians 2:19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, ESV
1 Corinthians 7:18 Was anyone at the time of his call already circumcised? Let him not seek to remove the marks of circumcision. Was anyone at the time of his call uncircumcised? Let him not seek circumcision. 19 For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God. 20 Each one should remain in the condition in which he was called. 21 Were you a bondservant when called? Do not be concerned about it. (But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity.) 22 For he who was called in the Lord as a bondservant is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise he who was free when called is a bondservant of Christ. 23 You were bought with a price; do not become bondservants of men. 24 So, brothers, in whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God. ESV
Ephesians 2:15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. Galatians 3:27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. ESV
The influence of this movement is working its way into our churches and seminaries. It's dangerous in its implication that keeping the Old Covenant law is walking a "higher path" and is the only way to please God and receive His blessings. Nowhere in the Bible do we find Gentile believers being instructed to follow Levitical laws or Jewish customs; in fact, the opposite is taught. Romans 7:6 says, "But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code." Christ, in keeping perfectly every ordinance of the Mosaic Law, completely fulfilled it. Just as making the final payment on a home fulfills that contract and ends one’s obligation to it, so also Christ has made the final payment and has fulfilled the law, bringing it to an end for us all.
Romans 7:6 But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code. ESV
It is God Himself who has created a world of people with different cultures, languages and traditions. God is glorified when we accept one another in love and come together in unity as "one" in Christ Jesus. It's important to understand that there is no superiority in being born Jewish or Gentile. We who are followers of Christ, comprised of many different cultures and lifestyles, are all of value and greatly loved because we've entered into the family of God.
Read The Psalms In "1" Year
Psalm 89I Will Sing of the Steadfast Love of the LORD
89 A Maskil Of Ethan The Ezrahite.
12 The north and the south, you have created them;
Tabor and Hermon joyously praise your name.
13 You have a mighty arm;
strong is your hand, high your right hand.
14 Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne;
steadfast love and faithfulness go before you.
15 Blessed are the people who know the festal shout,
who walk, O LORD, in the light of your face,
16 who exult in your name all the day
and in your righteousness are exalted.
17 For you are the glory of their strength;
by your favor our horn is exalted.
18 For our shield belongs to the LORD,
our king to the Holy One of Israel.
Devotionals, notes, poetry and more
11/1/2016 Mature in Christ
One of the greatest joys of pastoral ministry is preaching the Word of God to the people of God every Lord’s Day, morning and evening. However, it is also one of the greatest challenges of pastoral ministry. The challenge is not only in the enjoyable and arduous task of sermon preparation, nor is it merely in the spiritual, emotional, and physiological strain of preaching. The challenge also comes in expositing and carefully applying the Word of God to the entire congregation—to mature believers and to new believers, to believers who are weak in the faith and to believers who are strong in the faith; to people of various races, nationalities, and socioeconomic backgrounds; and to adults and to children. I am certain that I will find it a challenge to preach to the entirety of our congregation as long as the Lord sustains me in pastoral ministry. Thankfully, I have had the wonderful opportunity to be mentored by one of the most articulate communicators of our day, Dr. R.C. Sproul. His example of preaching to the entirety of the congregation is one that many faithful pastors have sought to follow.
Striving to communicate to everyone in the congregation is no easy task, and from beginning to end, we who preach are resting in the Holy Spirit to take the Word of God and instill it within and apply it to the hearts of His people. And it is our unwavering belief that the Holy Spirit can regenerate the hearts not only of adults, but of children as well. Thus, we strive to communicate to both young and old. In our congregation, that means that the older must always strive to be patient with the younger, and the younger must always strive to honor the older. For this is one of the ways that our children grow in maturity. We certainly want kids to be kids, but we don’t want them to remain kids. We want them to grow up to be young men and women who are mature in Christ and mature in all spheres of life.
Paul said to young Timothy, “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” (1 Tim. 4:12). Even the youngest believers can attain and model emotional and spiritual maturity, for maturity is not a matter of age. Some of the youngest among us are the most mature and some of the oldest are the least mature. Young and old alike, God calls all His people to grow into “mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:13), and this not so people will exalt us but so they will exalt our risen and returning Savior, as we strive to live as mature believers, looking to Christ, the author and finisher of our faith.
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)
by Bill Federer
Charles Finney was born this day, August 16, 1875. An attorney, he saw so many references to Scriptures in Blackstone’s Law Commentaries that he purchased a Bible and found faith in Christ. He became a convincing speaker influencing George Williams to found the YMCA - Young Men’s Christian Association. Finney’s Lectures on Revival inspired William Booth to found the Salvation Army. Finney was President of Oberlin College, which graduated the first Black woman in America. Concerning the Kingdom of God, Charles Finney wrote: “Every member must work or quit. No honorary members.”
Compiled by Richard S. Adams
Barth was the first theologian to begin the criticism of religion...but he set in its place the positivist doctrine of revelation which says in effect, 'Take it or leave it': Virgin Birth, Trinity or anything else, everything which is an equally significant and necessary part of the whole, which latter has to be swallowed as a whole or not at all. That is not in accordance with the Bible. There are degrees of perception and degrees of significance, i.e. a secret discipline must be re-established whereby the mysteries of the Christian faith are preserved from profanation.
--- Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Letters and Papers from Prison
I find that to be a fool as to worldly wisdom, and to commit my cause to God, not fearing to offend men, who take offence at the simplicity of truth, is the only way to remain unmoved at the sentiments of others.
John Woolman's Journal
I may not understand, Lord, but one day I shall see
Thy loving hand was taking pains to fashion me like Thee.
When we fail to mourn properly our incomplete lives then this incompleteness becomes a knowing restlessness, a bitter center, that robs our lives of all delight. Because we do not mourn… We demand that someone or something – – a marriage partner, a sexual partner, an ideal family, having children, an achievement, a vocational goal, or a job – – take all of our loneliness away. That, of course, is an unreal expectation, which invariably leads to bitterness and disappointment. In this life, there is no finished Symphony. We are built for the infinite, grand canyons without a bottom. Because of that we will, this side of eternity, always be lonely, restless, incomplete… Living in the torment of the insufficiency of everything attainable.
--- Ronald Rolhheser
The Holy Longing: The Search for a Christian Spirituality
... from here, there and everywhere
Thanks to Meir Yona
18. Upon this, Vespasian, when he saw the Romans distressed by these sallies, [though they were ashamed to be made to run away by the Jews; and when at any time they made the Jews run away, their heavy armor would not let them pursue them far; while the Jews, when they had performed any action, and before they could be hurt themselves, still retired into the city,] ordered his armed men to avoid their onset, and not fight it out with men under desperation, while nothing is more courageous than despair; but that their violence would be quenched when they saw they failed of their purposes, as fire is quenched when it wants fuel; and that it was proper for the Romans to gain their victories as cheap as they could, since they are not forced to fight, but only to enlarge their own dominions. So he repelled the Jews in great measure by the Arabian archers, and the Syrian slingers, and by those that threw stones at them, nor was there any intermission of the great number of their offensive engines. Now the Jews suffered greatly by these engines, without being able to escape from them; and when these engines threw their stones or javelins a great way, and the Jews were within their reach, they pressed hard upon the Romans, and fought desperately, without sparing either soul or body, one part succoring another by turns, when it was tired down.
19. When, therefore, Vespasian looked upon himself as in a manner besieged by these sallies of the Jews, and when his banks were now not far from the walls, he determined to make use of his battering ram. This battering ram is a vast beam of wood like the mast of a ship, its forepart is armed with a thick piece of iron at the head of it, which is so carved as to be like the head of a ram, whence its name is taken. This ram is slung in the air by ropes passing over its middle, and is hung like the balance in a pair of scales from another beam, and braced by strong beams that pass on both sides of it, in the nature of a cross. When this ram is pulled backward by a great number of men with united force, and then thrust forward by the same men, with a mighty noise, it batters the walls with that iron part which is prominent. Nor is there any tower so strong, or walls so broad, that can resist any more than its first batteries, but all are forced to yield to it at last. This was the experiment which the Roman general betook himself to, when he was eagerly bent upon taking the city; but found lying in the field so long to be to his disadvantage, because the Jews would never let him be quiet. So these Romans brought the several engines for galling an enemy nearer to the walls, that they might reach such as were upon the wall, and endeavored to frustrate their attempts; these threw stones and javelins at them; in the like manner did the archers and slingers come both together closer to the wall. This brought matters to such a pass that none of the Jews durst mount the walls, and then it was that the other Romans brought the battering ram that was cased with hurdles all over, and in the tipper part was secured by skins that covered it, and this both for the security of themselves and of the engine. Now, at the very first stroke of this engine, the wall was shaken, and a terrible clamor was raised by the people within the city, as if they were already taken.
20. And now, when Josephus saw this ram still battering the same place, and that the wall would quickly be thrown down by it, he resolved to elude for a while the force of the engine. With this design he gave orders to fill sacks with chaff, and to hang them down before that place where they saw the ram always battering, that the stroke might be turned aside, or that the place might feel less of the strokes by the yielding nature of the chaff. This contrivance very much delayed the attempts of the Romans, because, let them remove their engine to what part they pleased, those that were above it removed their sacks, and placed them over against the strokes it made, insomuch that the wall was no way hurt, and this by diversion of the strokes, till the Romans made an opposite contrivance of long poles, and by tying hooks at their ends, cut off the sacks. Now when the battering ram thus recovered its force, and the wall having been but newly built, was giving way, Josephus and those about him had afterward immediate recourse to fire, to defend themselves withal; whereupon they took what materials soever they had that were but dry, and made a sally three ways, and set fire to the machines, and the hurdles, and the banks of the Romans themselves; nor did the Romans well know how to come to their assistance, being at once under a consternation at the Jews' boldness, and being prevented by the flames from coming to their assistance; for the materials being dry with the bitumen and pitch that were among them, as was brimstone also, the fire caught hold of every thing immediately, and what cost the Romans a great deal of pains was in one hour consumed.
21. And here a certain Jew appeared worthy of our relation and commendation; he was the son of Sameas, and was called Eleazar, and was born at Saab, in Galilee. This man took up a stone of a vast bigness, and threw it down from the wall upon the ram, and this with so great a force, that it broke off the head of the engine. He also leaped down, and took up the head of the ram from the midst of them, and without any concern carried it to the top of the wall, and this while he stood as a fit mark to be pelted by all his enemies. Accordingly, he received the strokes upon his naked body, and was wounded with five darts; nor did he mind any of them while he went up to the top of the wall, where he stood in the sight of them all, as an instance of the greatest boldness; after which he drew himself on a heap with his wounds upon him, and fell down together with the head of the ram. Next to him, two brothers showed their courage; their names were Netir and Philip, both of them of the village Ruma, and both of them Galileans also; these men leaped upon the soldiers of the tenth legion, and fell upon the Romans with such a noise and force as to disorder their ranks, and to put to flight all upon whomsoever they made their assaults.
The Stepping Stone Of Intuition
Light in the Shadow of Jihad: The Struggle for Truth
Rarely have I met a true relativist. Hidden somewhere in the words of everyone who argues for complete relativism is a belief that there are, indeed, some acts that are wrong. The bottom line is this: When someone says that all truth is relative, he or she is making either a relative statement or an absolute one. If it is a relative statement, then that statement, by definition, is not always true. On the other hand, if the belief that all truth is relative is absolute, the very statement itself must be denied, because it denies absolutes. The pure relativist cuts off the branch on which he is sitting while telling you the branch cannot be severed. The landing is mind shattering.
In his book Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster Jon Krakauer relates the experience of the climbers of Mount Everest in that 1996 expedition that ended up costing the lives of many. One of the chilling stories he recounts is of one group that had just been rescued by another, so that they were able to continue their journey upward. A few hundred feet later, the group that had been rescued now had the opportunity to save the lives of the climbers who had helped them. But rather than risk their own lives, they pressed onward, leaving them to perish. Later, when they had descended the mountain and were asked why they had ignored the plight of these others, their crisp answer was, “Above eight thousand meters there is no morality.”
Once when I was speaking at Oxford University, a small group of students came up to me afterward and insisted that good and bad were not absolute categories. I asked one of them whether it would be wrong for me to take a butcher knife and cut to pieces a one-year-old child for sheer delight. There was a pause, and then he said, to an audible gasp from those listening, “I would not like what you did, but I could not honestly say that it would be wrong.”
The relativist is never comfortable on the receiving end of his own assumptions. At best, he denies himself the right to any moral pronouncement; yet he cringes at the implications. And that is the point. Even when absolutes are denied, there is an intuitive certainty that some things are just plainly wrong. Alan Dershowitz, who denies our ability to define good, says with equal vehemence that he does recognize evil when he sees it. Fascinating!
And so we go back to our nemesis in Afghanistan, bin Laden, who applauded the killing of thousands in the World Trade Center. Is it not ironic that when the American forces retaliated with their bombing mission, he and his supporters in the Taliban appealed to the conscience of the world by saying that innocent civilians (some of whom may have been relatives or friends) were being killed? These very people, who have killed tens of thousands of their own, were suddenly worrying about civilians? When the killing affects the ones they love, then it becomes morally wrong.
One of the saddest stories to emerge from the media coverage of the Talibans control over Afghanistan was a report from an Afghan village, where an old man sat, his face in his hands, just staring into the sand. That picture said it all. His village had been ravaged and raped by Taliban fighters. His son had been skinned like an animal, and his skeletal remains lay buried in a shallow grave. The sight was nauseating.
Is it any wonder that the old man sat alone in the desert with an expression of unbearable and word suffocating grief ? What was there left to say or to do? Why would anyone want to live, if that is what living meant? To whom do you express your numbing heartache? What kind of mind-set did these murderers have to distribute such a hell? Evil was clearly recognizable in its merciless slaughter, even across cultural boundaries. Whether at eight-thousand meters, or high atop a building, or in the desert, evil looks hideous because the receiving end is always Ground Zero.
That is our first clue. It does not matter whether evil comes from the hand of a proclaimed absolutist or a relativist. Evil, plainly stated, is the destruction of what life was essentially meant to be. That is the simplest way to begin. And so, on that fateful day, (9/11) airplanes built for safe travel were commandeered by diabolical men and smashed into buildings. Buildings erected for the safety of those within were turned into infernos. Entry permits were given to these men with the expectation that they would live by the laws of the land, not destroy its people. Intended purpose was violated in each case, and destruction was the result.
Are you happy with America's direction? Do you think trying to remove guns has anything at all to do with evil? We are picking up speed as we move faster and faster to destruction.
by D.H. Stern
think carefully about who is before you.
2 If you have a big appetite,
put a knife to your throat!
3 Don’t be greedy for his delicacies,
for they are deceptive food.
A Daily Devotional by Oswald Chambers
Does He know me
He calleth … by name. --- John 10:3.
When I have sadly misunderstood Him? (John 20:17.) It is possible to know all about doctrine and yet not know Jesus. The soul is in danger when knowledge of doctrine out steps intimate touch with Jesus. Why was Mary weeping? Doctrine was no more to Mary than the grass under her feet. Any Pharisee could have made a fool of Mary doctrinally, but one thing they could not ridicule out of her was the fact that Jesus had cast seven demons out of her; yet His blessings were nothing in comparison to Himself. Mary “saw Jesus standing and knew not that it was Jesus …”; immediately she heard the voice, she knew she had a past history with the One who spoke. “Master!”
When I have stubbornly doubted? (John 20:27.) Have I been doubting something about Jesus—an experience to which others testify but which I have not had? The other disciples told Thomas that they had seen Jesus, but Thomas doubted—“Except I shall see …, I will not believe.” Thomas needed the personal touch of Jesus. When His touches come, or how they come, we do not know; but when they do come they are indescribably precious. “My Lord and my God!”
When I have selfishly denied Him? (John 21:15–17.) Peter had denied Jesus Christ with oaths and curses, and yet after the Resurrection Jesus appeared to Peter alone. He restored him in private, then He restored him before the others. “Lord, Thou knowest that I love Thee.”
Have I a personal history with Jesus Christ? The one sign of discipleship is intimate connection with Him, a knowledge of Jesus Christ which nothing can shake.
the Poetry of RS Thomas
There was a background of guns and bombs.
Bullies maintained their power
For a season. Cash had its say
Still in the disposal of seats, titles.
One voice, quieter than the rest,
Was heard, bemoaning the loss
Of beauty. Men put it on a tape
For the future, a lesson in style.
“They call me Srulik. I’m a Sabra, a native-born Israeli. I want to argue with this proverb.
“First, ‘No good thing ever comes from arguing.’ The Rabbis themselves would disagree with that. Open any page of the Talmud and you will see one argument after another. Many faiths tell their followers: ‘Here’s what we believe—memorize it; here’s what we do—do it!’ Judaism is different. The very essence of our religion is to question, to challenge, to debate. In the Gemara, one person makes his case and the other person tries to tear it down. This sharp give-and-take is the only way to discover what positions can stand up to attack, the only way to arrive at the truth. We learn in Pirkei Avot (5:19): ‘Any argument that is for the sake of Heaven will have lasting value.… What is an example of such an argument? Those between Hillel and Shammai.’ Throughout the Talmud there are hundreds of debates between these two great sages and between their disciples. It’s true that the Mishnah goes on to add that ‘any argument that is not for the sake of Heaven will not have lasting value’ and offers Korah, who led a rebellion against Moses, as an example. But it is clear that arguing itself is not forbidden; only selfish, trivial, or malicious arguing is. Much good can come from arguing, so long as it is done with the right motivation and in the right spirit.
“Second, ‘No peace ever comes from arguing.’ Modern history would challenge this. For two thousand years, the Jewish people were taught to keep quiet and not fight back. Look at the words after the Amidah, recited by Jews three times a day: ‘Let my soul be silent before those who curse me, let my soul be as dust before all.…’ Don’t make waves. Don’t talk back. Turn the other cheek. This philosophy developed during the Roman period, after Jewish uprisings were twice crushed. It was perpetuated even after the Romans were gone. And it led to twenty centuries of Jews being victimized, culminating in the Holocaust. Why did so many of our people march off to the gas chambers like ‘sheep to the slaughter?’ Perhaps because we have always been taught that arguing and fighting are bad. One of the goals of Zionism was to create a new type of Jew, one who would fight back and defend himself. The very name of our people, Yisra’el, means ‘to wrestle with God.’
“I myself fought in two wars; my father in three. If we had not fought, we wouldn’t have survived. They say that we Israelis are a prickly bunch, always shouting, always quarreling. There’s some truth to that. This personality trait is a result of living in constant conflict. We had to become tough in order to survive. You can’t turn that toughness off and on at will. It becomes a part of you. Yes, it’s not always pleasant. But it is the price we pay for living as a free people in our own land. That contentiousness has kept us alive; and, who knows, that propensity for standing up for ourselves may even, one day, lead us to peace.”
ANOTHER D’RASH / “The devisings of man’s mind are evil from his youth” (Genesis 8:21). Rabbinic Judaism and Christian thought have distinct understandings of this verse. These different interpretations lead to very different views of the world and religion.
The Christian reading of this verse posits that humans are inherently evil. Just look at the story of the Garden of Eden: No sooner does God create Adam and Eve than these people are breaking the rules, eating from the tree that God had told them not to eat from. This “original sin” caused man to fall from his position of closeness to God. Our observance and obedience now come too late; our sin is so basic, so innate. Nothing can save us from this sin—it is inbred and therefore part of the human condition—except for salvation through Jesus.
The Rabbis have a different reading of the verse “The devisings of man’s mind are evil from his youth.” Traditional Judaism says that man is not evil from birth, but he is inclined to do evil. The way to keep people from doing evil is to have people follow God’s laws, the Torah. God has given us a system of warnings and preventive measures that help us avoid doing wrong. That’s why the Rabbis understood the word Elohim to refer to God’s agents in justice, the judges. It’s to remind us that the legal system has the divine imprimatur, with the purpose of bringing justice to the world. It is not the belief in a messiah, but living a just life, that saves humans from Geihinnom.
As someone who has observed two babies playing together and as one who thinks of Jacob grabbing Esau's heel, and most especially, as someone who calls Jesus Christ Lord, I disagree with the Jewish perspective. Then why do I include two books on the Midrash on my web site? Because the first Christians were Jews and the Bible makes it clear how God feels about Jews. We can deepen our understanding of Scripture by listening to our Jewish brothers.
Judaism believes that humans are capable of change. Even though we may be tempted to do wrong, even if it sometimes appears that someone is “evil from his youth,” humans are not doomed by nature to sin. Quite the contrary: We have the ability to achieve more, for we were created in God’s image. When we follow God’s laws, we live up to our potential.
[Moses] regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward.
--- Hebrews 11:26.
If we too always see God with our minds, if we always think in remembrance of him, all things will appear endurable to us, all things will appear tolerable. (The Early Church Fathers--Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers: First Series: 14 Volumes (The Early Church Fathers, First Series , So14)) For if people, remembering one whom they love, are roused in spirit and elevated in thought and bear all things easily, we who remember him who loves us in deed, when will we feel anything painful, or dread anything fearful or dangerous? When will we be of cowardly spirit? Never.
Things appear difficult to us because we do not remember God as we ought, because we do not carry him about always in our thoughts. For great is the effect of God’s remembrance and great also of his being remembered by us. The result of the one is that we choose good things, of the other that we accomplish them and bring them to their purpose.
Therefore let us also, as being in Babylon, [remember him]. For although we are not sitting among warlike foes, yet we are among enemies. For some indeed were sitting as captives, but others did not even feel their captivity, as Daniel, as the three children, who became in that very country more glorious even than the king who had carried them captive. Do you see how great virtue is? When they were in actual captivity he waited on them as masters. He therefore was the captive rather than they. Do you see that the really splendid things are those that relate to God, whereas human things are a shadow? The king knew not, it seems, that he was leading away masters for himself and that he cast into the furnace those whom he was about to worship.
Let us fear God, beloved; even should we be in captivity, we are more glorious than all rulers. Let the fear of God be present with us and nothing will be grievous, even though you speak of poverty or disease, of captivity or slavery, or of any other grievous thing. Even these very things will themselves work together for us the other way. These men were captives, and the king worshiped them.
--- John Chrysostom
Take Heart: Daily Devotions with the Church's Great Preachers
High Water August 16
Count Nikolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf was among the most eligible bachelors in eighteenth-century Europe—wealthy, intelligent, charming, handsome. And utterly devoted to Jesus Christ. After finishing studies at the University of Paris, he spent a year touring Europe and, in the process, became ill in Castell. There he fell in love with eighteen-year-old Theodora von Castell. He proposed to her, and she replied, saying, “If God should incline me to it more than at present, I will not resist.”
Zinzendorf wasn’t sure what to make of those words, but he gave the impression the two were virtually engaged. He resumed his travels, only to be waylaid again, this time by high water. He took the occasion to visit his close friend, Count Henry von Reuss; and as the two talked, Reuss admitted that he, too, was looking for a girl to marry. Zinzendorf said (in effect), “Well, what about Theodora? To be honest, she didn’t seem all that enthusiastic about marrying me. Why don’t you have a go at it?” Henry hesitated, saying, “But she’s your fiancée!” Zinzendorf nevertheless took his friend to Castell where Henry and Theodora promptly fell in love and married.
Zinzendorf, though magnanimous, was miserable. He spent hours studying the Old and New Testaments on the subject of marriage, celibacy, and God’s will. And his eyes were opened.
They were opened to Henry’s sister—Countess Erdmuth Dorothea von Reuss, whom he had met while detained by the high waters. Erdmuth loved Christ, and in her Zinzendorf found a soul mate. They were engaged on August 16, 1722. On that day the young count wrote a hymn of praise to God and a letter of intent to Erdmuth’s mother, saying: I foresee many difficulties in this case; as I am but a poor acquisition for any person, and the dear Countess Erdmuth must not only enter upon a life of self-denial with me, but also co-operate with me in my principal design, namely, to assist me in gaining souls for Christ.
And that’s exactly what they did—from their marriage on September 7, 1722, until the Countess’s death in 1756.
What if I could have sixty queens, eighty wives, and thousands of others!
You would be my only choice, my flawless dove, the favorite child of your mother.
The young women, the queens, and all the others tell how excited you are as they sing your praises.
--- Song of Songs 6:8,9.
On This Day 365 Amazing And Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs And Heroes
Daily Readings / CHARLES H. SPURGEON
Morning - August 16
“Give unto the Lord the glory due unto his name.” --- Psalm 29:2.
God’s glory is the result of his nature and acts. He is glorious in his character, for there is such a store of everything that is holy, and good, and lovely in God, that he must be glorious. The actions which flow from his character are also glorious; but while he intends that they should manifest to his creatures his goodness, and mercy, and justice, he is equally concerned that the glory associated with them should be given only to himself. Nor is there aught in ourselves in which we may glory; for who maketh us to differ from another? And what have we that we did not receive from the God of all grace? Then how careful ought we to be to walk humbly before the Lord! The moment we glorify ourselves, since there is room for one glory only in the universe, we set ourselves up as rivals to the Most High. Shall the insect of an hour glorify itself against the sun which warmed it into life? Shall the potsherd exalt itself above the man who fashioned it upon the wheel? Shall the dust of the desert strive with the whirlwind? Or the drops of the ocean struggle with the tempest? Give unto the Lord, all ye righteous, give unto the Lord glory and strength; give unto him the honour that is due unto his name. Yet it is, perhaps, one of the hardest struggles of the Christian life to learn this sentence—“Not unto us, not unto us, but unto thy name be glory.” It is a lesson which God is ever teaching us, and teaching us sometimes by most painful discipline. Let a Christian begin to boast, “I can do all things,” without adding “through Christ which strengtheneth me,” and before long he will have to groan, “I can do nothing,” and bemoan himself in the dust. When we do anything for the Lord, and he is pleased to accept of our doings, let us lay our crown at his feet, and exclaim, “Not I, but the grace of God which was with me!”
Evening - August 16
“Ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit.” --- Romans 8:23.
Present possession is declared. At this present moment we have the first fruits of the Spirit. We have repentance, that gem of the first water; faith, that priceless pearl; hope, the heavenly emerald; and love, the glorious ruby. We are already made “new creatures in Christ Jesus,” by the effectual working of God the Holy Ghost. This is called the firstfruit because it comes first. As the wave-sheaf was the first of the harvest, so the spiritual life, and all the graces which adorn that life, are the first operations of the Spirit of God in our souls. The firstfruits were the pledge of the harvest. As soon as the Israelite had plucked the first handful of ripe ears, he looked forward with glad anticipation to the time when the wain should creak beneath the sheaves. So, brethren, when God gives us things which are pure, lovely, and of good report, as the work of the Holy Spirit, these are to us the prognostics of the coming glory. The firstfruits were always holy to the Lord, and our new nature, with all its powers, is a consecrated thing. The new life is not ours that we should ascribe its excellence to our own merit; it is Christ’s image and creation, and is ordained for his glory. But the firstfruits were not the harvest, and the works of the Spirit in us at this moment are not the consummation—the perfection is yet to come. We must not boast that we have attained, and so reckon the wave-sheaf to be all the produce of the year: we must hunger and thirst after righteousness, and pant for the day of full redemption. Dear reader, this Evening open your mouth wide, and God will fill it. Let the boon in present possession excite in you a sacred avarice for more grace. Groan within yourself for higher degrees of consecration, and your Lord will grant them to you, for he is able to do exceeding abundantly above what we ask or even think.
Morning and Evening
NEARER, MY GOD, TO THEE
Sarah R. Adams, 1805–1848
Draw nigh to God, and He will draw nigh to you. (James 4:8 KJV)
This well-loved hymn was written by a talented and charming English woman who lived only 43 years. In spite of her delicate health, Sarah Flower Adams had an active and productive life. After a successful career on the London stage as Shakespeare’s Lady MacBeth, she began to write and became widely known for her literary accomplishments. The cross mentioned in the first stanza of her hymn text may have been the physical handicaps that limited her many ambitions.
Sarah’s sister Eliza was gifted musically and often composed melodies for her sister’s poems. Together they contributed 13 texts and 62 new tunes for a hymnal that was being compiled by their pastor. One day the Rev. William J. Fox asked for a new hymn to accompany his sermon on the story of Jacob and Esau. Sarah spent much time studying Genesis 28:10–22 and within a short time completed all of the stanzas of “Nearer, My God, to Thee.” Since that day in 1840, this hymn has had an unusual history of ministering spiritual comfort to hurting people everywhere.
These lines picturing Jacob sleeping on a stone, dreaming of angels, and naming the place Bethel, meaning “the house of God,” seem to reflect the common yearning—especially in times of deep need—to experience God’s nearness and presence in a very real way.
Nearer, my God, to Thee, nearer to Thee!
E’en tho it be a cross that raiseth me;
still all my song shall be, nearer, my God, to Thee,
nearer, my God, to Thee, nearer to Thee!
Tho like the wanderer, the sun gone down,
darkness be over me, my rest a stone,
yet in my dreams I’d be nearer, my God, to Thee,
nearer, my God, to Thee, nearer to Thee!
Then with my waking thoughts, bright with Thy praise,
out of my stony griefs. Bethel I raise;
so by my woes to be nearer, my God, to Thee,
nearer my God, to Thee, nearer to Thee!
Or if on joyful wing, cleaving the sky,
sun, moon, and stars forgot, upward I fly,
till all my song shall be, nearer, my God, to Thee,
nearer, my God, to Thee, nearer to Thee!
For Today: Genesis 28:10–22; Psalm 16:7, 8; 73:28; 145:18; Jeremiah 29:13; Acts 17:27
When I seek God, He has promised to draw very close to me. What a joyful experience to know His intimate presence throughout every hour of this day. It causes me to sing ---
Amazing Grace: 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions
DISCOURSE II - ON PRACTICAL ATHEISM
1st. As it is most spiritual and holy. A fleshly mind is most contrary to a spiritual law, and particularly as it is a searching and discovering law, that would dethrone all other rules in the soul. As men love to be without a holy God in the world, so they love to be without a holy law, the transcript and image of God’s holiness in their hearts; and without holy men, the lights kindled by the Father of lights. As the holiness of God, so the holiness of the law most offends a carnal heart (Isa. 30:11): “Cause the Holy One of Israel to cease from before us, prophesy to us right things.” They could not endure God as a holy one. Herein God places their rebellion, rejecting him as their rule (ver. 9), “Rebellious children, that will not hear the law of the Lord.” The more pure and precious any discovery of God is, the more it is disrelished by the world: as spiritual sins are sweetest to a carnal heart, so spiritual truths are most distasteful. The more of the brightness of the sun any beam conveys, the more offensive it is to a distempered eye.
2d. As it doth most relate to, or lead to God. The devil directs his fiercest batteries against those doctrines in the word, and those graces in the heart, which most exalt God, debase man, and bring men to the lowest subjection to their Creator; such is the doctrine and grace of justifying faith. That men hate not knowledge as knowledge, but as it directs them to choose the fear of the Lord, was the determination of the Holy Ghost long ago (Prov. 1:29): “For that they hated knowledge, and did not choose the fear of the Lord.”
Whatsoever respects God, clears up guilt, witnesses man’s revolt to him, rouseth up conscience, and moves to a return to God, a man naturally runs from, as Adam did from God, and seeks a shelter in some weak bushes of error, rather than appear before it. Not that men are unwilling to inquire into and contemplate some divine truths which lie furthest from the heart, and concern not themselves immediately with the rectifying the soul: they may view them with such a pleasure as some might take in beholding the miracles of our Saviour, who could not endure his searching doctrine. The light of speculation may be pleasant, but the light of conviction is grievous; that which galls their consciences, and would affect them with a sense of their duty to God. Is it not easy to perceive, that when a man begins to be serious in the concerns of the honor of God and the duty of his soul, he feels a reluctancy within him, even against the pleas of conscience; which evidenceth that some unworthy principle has got footing in the hearts of men, which fights against the declarations of God without, and the impressions of the law of God within, at the same time when a man’s own conscience takes part with it, which is the substance of the apostle’s discourse, Rom. 7:15, 16, &c. Close discourses of the honor of God, and our duty to him, are irksome when men are apon a merry pin: they are like a damp in a mine, that takes away their breath; they shuffle them out as soon as they can, and are as unwilling to retain the speech of them in their mouths, as the knowledge of them in their hearts. Gracious speeches, instead of bettering many men, distemper them, as sometimes sweet perfumes affect a weak head with aches.
3d. As it is most contrary to self. Men are unwilling to acquaint themselves with any truth that leads to God, because it leads from self. Every part of the will of God is more or less displeasing, as it sounds harsh against some carnal interest men would set above God, or as a mate with him. Man cannot desire any intimacy with that law which he regards as a bird of prey, to pick out his right eye or gnaw off his right hand, his lust dearer than himself. The reason we have such hard thoughts of God’s will is, because we have such high thoughts of ourselves. It is a hard matter to believe or will that which hath no affinity with some principle in the understanding, and no interest in our will and passions: our unwillingness to be acquainted with the will of God ariseth from the disproportion between that and our corrupt hearts; “We are alienated from the life of God in our minds” (Eph. 4:18, 19). As we live not like God, so we neither think or will as God; there is an antipathy in the heart of man against that doctrine which teaches us to deny ourselves and be under the rule of another; but whatsoever favors the ambition, lusts, and profits of men, is easy entertainable. Many are fond of those sciences which may enrich their understandings, and grate not upon their sensual delights. Many have an admirable dexterity in finding out philosophical reasons, mathematical demonstrations, or raising observations upon the records of history; and spend much time and many serious and affectionate thoughts in the study of them. In those they have not immediately to do with God, their beloved pleasures are not impaired; it is a satisfaction to self without the exercise of any hostility against it. But had those sciences been against self, as much as the law and will of God, they had long since been rooted out of the world. Why did the young man turn his back upon the law of Christ? because of his worldly self. Why did the Pharisees mock at the doctrine of our Saviour, and not at their own traditions? because of covetous self. Why did the Jews slight the person of our Saviour and put him to death, after the reading so many credentials of his being sent from heaven? because of ambitious self, that the Romans might not come and take away their kingdom. If the law of God were fitted to the humors of self, it would be readily and cordially observed by all men: self is the measure of a world of seeming religious actions; while God seems to be the object, and his law the motive, self is the rule and end (Zech. 7:5): “Did you fast unto me,”
2. As men discover their disowning the will of God as a rule by unwillingness to be acquainted with it, so they discover it, by the contempt of it after they cannot avoid the notions and some impressions of it. The rule of God is burthensome to a sinner; he flies from it as from a frightful bugbear, and unpleasant yoke: sin against the knowledge of the law is therefore called a going back from the commandment of God’s lips (Job 23:12): “A casting God’s word behind them,” as a contemptible thing, fitter to be trodden in the dirt than lodged in the heart; nay it is a casting it off as an abominable thing, for so the word ונח signifies, Hos. 8:3. “Israel hath cast off the thing that is good;” an utter refusal of God (Jer. 44:16): “As for the word which thou hast spoken to us in the name of the Lord, we will not hearken.” In the slight of his precepts his essential perfections are slighted. In disowning his will as a rule, we disown all those attributes which flow from his will, as goodness, righteousness, and truth. As an act of the divine understanding is supposed to precede the act of the divine will, so we slight the infinite reason of God. Every law, though it proceeds from the will of the lawgiver, and doth formally consist in an act of the will, yet it doth pre-suppose an act of the understanding. If the commandment be holy, just, and good, as it is (Rom. 7:12); if it be the image of God’s holiness, a transcript of his righteousness, and the efflux of his goodness; then in every reach of it, dirt is cast upon those attributes which shine in it; and a slight of all the regards he hath to his own honor, and all the provisions he makes for his creature. This atheism, or contempt of God, is more taken notice of by God than the matter of the sin itself; as a respect to God in a weak and imperfect obedience is more than the matter of the obedience itself, because it is an acknowledgment of God; so a contempt of God in an act of disobedience, is more than the matter of the disobedience. The creature stands in such an act not only in a posture of distance from God, but defiance of him; it was not the bare act of murder and adultery which Nathan charged upon David, but the atheistical principle which spirited those evil acts. The despising the commandment of the Lord was the venom of them. It is possible to break a law without contempt; but when men pretend to believe there is a God, and that this is the law of God, it shows a contempt of his majesty: men naturally account God’s laws too strict, his yoke too heavy, and his limits too strait; and he that liveth in a contempt of this law, curseth God in his life. How can they believe there is a God, who despise him as a ruler? How can they believe him to be a guide, that disdain to follow him? To think we firmly believe a God without living conformable to his law, is an idle and vain imagination. The true and sensible notion of a God cannot subsist with disorder and an affected unrighteousness. This contempt is seen,
1. In any presumptuous breach of any part of his law. Such sins are frequently called in Scripture, rebellions, which are a denial of the allegiance we owe to him. By a wilful refusal of his right in one part, we root up the foundation of that rule he doth justly challenge over us; his right is as extensive to command us in one thing, as in another; and if it be disowned in one thing, it is virtually disowned in all, and the whole statute book of God is contemned (James 2:10, 11): “Whosoever shall keep the whole law and yet offend in one point, is guilty of all.” A willing breaking one part, though there be a willing observance of all the other points of it, is a breach of the whole; because the authority of God, which gives sanction to the whole, is slighted: the obedience to the rest is dissembled: for the love, which is the root of all obedience, is wanting; for “love is the fulfilling the whole law.” The rest are obeyed because they cross not carnal desire so much as the other, and so it is an observance of himself, not of God. Besides, the authority of God, which is not prevalent to restrain us from the breach of one point, would be of as little force with us to restrain us from the breach of all the rest, did the allurements of the flesh give us as strong a diversion from the one as from the other; and though the command that is transgressed be the least in the whole law, yet the authority which enjoins it is the same with that which enacts the greatest: and it is not so much the matter of the command, as the authority commanding which lays the obligation.
2. In the natural averseness to the declarations of God’s will and mind, which way soever they tend. Since man affected to be as God, he desires to be boundless; he would not have fetters, though they be golden ones, and conduce to his happiness. Thought the law of God be a strength to them, yet they will not (Isa. 30:15): “In returning shall be your strength, and you would not.” They would not have a bridle to restrain them from running into the pit, nor be hedged in by the law, though for their security; as if they thought it too slavish and low-spirited a thing to be guided by the will of another. Hence man is compared to a wild ass, that loves to “snuff up the wind in the wilderness at her pleasure,” rather than come under the “guidance of God;” from whatsoever quarter of the heavens you pursue her she will run to the other. The Israelites “could not endure what was commanded,” though in regard of the moral part, agreeable to what they found written in their own nature, and to the observance whereof they had the highest obligations of any people under heaven, since God had, by many prodigies, delivered them from a cruel slavery, the memory of which prefaced the Decalogue (Exod. 20:2), “I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.” They could not think of the rule of their duty, but they must reflect upon the grand incentive of it in their redemption from Egyptian thraldom; yet this people were cross to God, which way soever he moved. When they were in the brick kilns, they cried for deliverance; when they had heavenly manna, they longed for their onions and garlic. In Num. 14:3, they repent of their deliverance from Egypt, and talk of returning again to seek the remedy of their evils in the hands of their cruellest enemies, and would rather put themselves into the irons, whence God had delivered them, than believe one word of the promise of God for giving them a fruitful land; but when Moses tells them God’s order, that they should turn back by the way of the Red Sea, and that God had confrmed it by an oath, that they should not see the land of Canaan, they then run cross to this command of God, and, instead of marching towards the Red Sea, which they had wished for before, they will go up to Canaan, as in spite of God and his threatening: “We will go to the place which the Lord hath promised” (ver. 40), which Moses calls a transgressing the commandment of the Lord (ver. 41). They would presume to go up, notwithstanding Moses’ prohibition, and are smitten by the Amalekites. When God gives them a precept, with a promise to go up to Canaan, they long for Egypt; when God commands them to return to the Red Sea, which was nearer to the place they longed for, they will shift sides, and go up to Canaan; and when they found they were to traverse the solitudes of the desert, they took pet against God, and, instead of thanking him for the late victory against the Canaanites, they reproach him for his conduct from Egypt, and the manna wherewith he nourished them in the wilderness. They would not go to Canaan, the way God had chosen, nor preserve themselves by the means God had ordained. They would not be at God’s disposal, but complain of the badness of the way, and the lightness of manna, empty of any necessary juice to sustain their nature. They murmuringly solicit the will and power of God to change all that order which he had resolved in his counsel, and take another, conformable to their vain foolish desires; and they signified thereby that they would invade his conduct, and that he should act according to their fancy, which the psalmist calls a “tempting of God, and limiting the Holy One of Israel” (Psalm 78:41). To what point soever the declarations of God stand, the will of man turns the quite contrary way. Is not the carriage of this nation the best then in the world? a discovery of the depth of our natural corruption, how cross man is to God? And that charge God brings against them, may be brought against all men by nature, that they despise his judgments, and have a rooted abhorrency of his statutes in their soul (Lev. 26:43). No sooner had they recovered from one rebellion, but they revolted to another; so difficult a thing it is for man’s nature to be rendered capable of conforming to the will of God. The carriage of this people is but a copy of the nature of mankind, and is “written for our admonition” (1 Cor. 10:11). From this temper men are said to make “void the law of God;” to make it of no obligation, an antiquated and motheaten record. And the Pharisees, by setting up their traditions against the will of God, are said to make his law of “none effect;” to strip it of all its authority, as the word signifies, (Matt. 15:6,) ἠκυρώσατε.
3. We have the greatest slight of that will of God which is most for his honor and his greatest pleasure. It is the nature of man, ever since Adam, to do so (Hos. 6:6, 7). God desired mercy and not a sacrifice; the knowledge of himself more than burnt offering; but they, like men as Adam, have transgressed the covenant, invade God’s rights, and not let him be Lord of one tree. We are more curious observers of the fringes of the law than of the greater concerns of it. The Jews were diligent in sacrifices and offerings, which God did not urge upon them as principals, but as types of other things; but negligent of the faith which was to be established by him. Holiness, mercy, pity, which concerned the honor of God, as governor of the world, and were imitations of the holiness and goodness of God, they were strangers to. This is God’s complaint (Isa. 1:11, 12, 16, 17). We shall find our hearts most averse to the observation of those laws which are eternal, and essential to righteousness; such that he could not but command, as he is a righteous Governor; in the observation of which we come nearest to him, and express his image more clearly; as those laws for an inward and spiritual worship, a supreme affection to him. God, in regard of his righteousness and holiness of his nature, and the excellency of his being, could not command the contrary to these. But this part of his will our hearts most swell against, our corruption doth most snarl at; whereas those laws which are only positive, and have no intrinsic righteousness in them, but depend purely upon the will of the Lawgiver, and may be changed at his pleasure (which the other, that have an intrinsic righteousness in them, cannot), we better comply with, than that part of his will that doth express more the righteousness of his nature; such as the ceremonial part of worship, and the ceremonial law among the Jews. We are more willing to observe order in some outward attendances and glavering devotions, than discard secret affections to evil, crucify inward lusts and delightful thoughts. A “hanging down the head like a bullrush” is not difficult; but the “breaking the heart,” like a potter’s vessel, to shreds and dust (a sacrifice God delights in, whereby the excellency of God and the vileness of the creature is owned), goes against the grain; to cut off an outward branch is not so hard as to hack at the root. What God most loathes, as most contrary to his will, we most love: no sin did God so severely hate, and no sin were the Jews more inclined unto, than that of idolatry. The heathen had not changed their God, as the Jews had changed their glory (Jer. 2:11); and all men are naturally tainted with this sin, which is so contrary to the holy and excellent nature of God. By how much the more defect there is of purity in our respects to God, by so much the more respect there is to some idol within or without us, to humor, custom, and interest, &c. Never did any law of God meet with so much opposition as Christianity, which was the design of God from the first promise to the exhibiting the Redeemer, and from thence to the end of the world. All people drew swords at first against it. The Romans prepared yokes for their neighbors, but provided temples for the idols those people worshipped; but Christianity, the choicest design and most delightful part of the will of God, never met with a kind entertainment at first in any place; Rome, that entertained all others, persecuted this with fire and sword, though sealed by greater testimonies from heaven than their own records could report in favor of their idols.
4. In running the greatest hazards, and exposing ourselves to more trouble to cross the will of God, than is necessary to the observance of it. It is a vain charge men bring against the divine precepts, that they are rigorous, severe, difficult; when, besides the contradiction to our Saviour, who tells us his “yoke is easy,” and his “burthen light,” they thwart their own calm reason and judgment. Is there not more difficulty to be vicious, covetous, violent, cruel, than to be virtuous, charitable, kind? Doth the will of God enjoin that that is not conformable to right reason, and secretly delightful in the exercise and issue? And on the contrary, what doth Satan and the world engage us in, that is not full of molestation and hazard? Is it a sweet and comely thing to combat continually against our own consciences, and resist our own light, and commence a perpetual quarrel against ourselves, as we ordinarily do when we sin?
They in the Prophet (Micah 6:6–8) would be at the expense of “thousands of rams, and ten thousand rivers of oil,” if they could compass them; yea, would strip themselves of their natural affection to their first-born to expiate the “sin of their soul,” rather than to “do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God;” things more conducible to the honor of God, the welfare of the world, the security of their souls, and of a more easy practice than the offerings they wished for. Do not men then disown God when they will walk in ways hedged with thorns, wherein they meet with the arrows of conscience, at every turn, in their sides; and slide down to an everlasting punishment, sink under an intolerable slavery, to contradict the will of God? when they will prefer a sensual satisfaction, with a combustion in their consciences, violation of their reasons, gnawing cares and weary travels before the honor of God, the dignity of their natures, the happiness of peace and health, which might be preserved at a cheaper rate, than they are at to destroy them?
5. In the unwillingness and awkwardness of the heart, when it is to pay God a service. Men “do evil with both hands earnestly,” but do good with one hand faintly; no life in the heart, nor any diligence in the hand. What slight and loose thoughts of God doth this unwillingness imply? It is a wrong to his providence, as though we were not under his government, and had no need of his assistance; a wrong to his excellency, as though there were no amiableness in him to make his service desirable; an injury to his goodness and power, as if he were not able or willing to reward the creatures’ obedience, or careless not to take notice of it; it is a sign we receive little satisfaction in him, and that there is a great unsuitableness between him and us.
(1.) There is a kind of constraint in the first engagement. We are rather pressed to it than enter ourselves volunteers. What we call service to God is done naturally much against our wills; it is not a delightful food, but a bitter potion; we are rather haled, than run to it. There is a contradiction of sin within us against our service, as there was a contradiction of sinners without our Saviour against his doing the will of God. Our hearts are unwieldy to any spiritual service of God; we are fain to use a violence with them sometimes: Hezekiah, it is said, “walked before the Lord, with a perfect heart” (2 Kings 20:9); he walked, he made himself to walk: man naturally cares not for a walk with God; if he hath any communion with him, it is with such a dulness and heaviness of spirit as if he wished himself out of his company.
Man’s nature, being contrary to holiness, hath an aversion to any act of homage to God, because holiness must at least be pretended. In every duty wherein we have a communion with God, holiness is requisite: now as men are against the truth of holiness, because it is unsuitable to them, so they are not friends to those duties which require it, and for some space divert them from the thoughts of their beloved lusts. The word of the Lord is a yoke, prayer a drudgery, obedience a strange element. We are like fish, that “drink up iniquity like water,” and come not to the bank without the force of an angle; no more willing to do service for God, than a fish is of itself to do service for man. It is a constrained act to satisfy conscience, and such are servile, not son-like performances, and spring from bondage more than affection; if conscience, like a task-master, did not scourge them to duty, they would never perform it. Let us appeal to ourselves, whether we are not more unwilling to secret, closet, hearty duty to God, than to join with others in some external service; as if those inward services were a going to the rack, and rather our penance than privilege. How much service hath God in the world from the same principle that vagrants perform their task in Bridewell! How glad are many of evasions to back them in the neglect of the commands of God, of corrupt reasonings from the flesh to waylay an act of obedience, and a multitude of excuses to blunt the edge of the precept! The very service of God shall be a pretence to deprive him of the obedience due to him. Saul will not be ruled by God’s will in the destroying the cattle of the Amalekites, but by his own; and will impose upon the will and wisdom of God, judging God mistaken in his command, and that the cattle God thought fittest to be meat to the fowls, were fitter to be sacrifices on the altar. If we do perform any part of his will, is it not for our own ends, to have some deliverance from trouble? (Isa. 26:16): “In trouble have they visited thee; they poured out a prayer when thy chastening was upon them.” In affliction, he shall find them kneeling in homage and devotion; in prosperity, he shall feel them kicking with contempt; they can pour out a prayer in distress, and scarce drop one when they are delivered.
(2.) There is a slightness in our service of God. We are loth to come into his presence; and when we do come, we are loth to continue with him. We pay not an homage to him heartily, as to our Lord and Governor; we regard him not as our Master, whose work we ought to do, and whose honor we ought to aim at.
1. In regard of the matter of service. When the torn, the lame, and the sick is offered to Gods; so thin and lean a sacrifice, that you may have thrown it to the ground with a puff; so some understand the meaning of “you have snuffed at it.” Men have naturally such slight thoughts of the majesty and law of God, that they think any service is good enough for him, and conformable to his law. The dullest and deadest time we think fittest to pay God a service in; when sleep is ready to close our eyes, and we are unfit to serve ourselves, we think it a fit time to open our hearts to God. How few morning sacrifices hath God from many persons and families! Men leap out of their beds to their carnal pleasures or worldly employments, without any thought of their Creator and Preserver, or any reflection upon his will as the rule of our daily obedience. And as many reserve the dregs of their lives, their old age, to offer up their souls to God, so they reserve the dregs of the day, their sleeping time, for the offering up their service to him. How many grudge to spend their best time in the serving the will of God, and reserve for him the sickly and rheumatic part of their lives; the remainder of that which the devil and their own lusts have fed upon! Would not any prince or governor judge a present half eaten up by wild beasts, or that which died in a ditch, a contempt of his royalty? A corrupt thing is too base and vile for so great a King as God is, whose name is dreadful. When by age men are weary of their own bodies, they would present them to God; yet grudgingly, as if a tired body were too good for him, snuffing at the command for service. God calls for our best, and we give him the worst.
2. In respect of frame. We think any frame will serve God’s turn, which speaks our slight of God as a Ruler. Man naturally performs duty with an unholy heart, whereby it becomes an abomination to God (Prov. 28:9): “He that turns away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayers shall be an abomination to God.” The services which he commands, he hates for their evil frames or corrupt ends (Amos 5:21): “I hate, I despise your feast-days, I will not smell in your solemn assemblies.” God requires gracious services, and we give him corrupt ones. We do not rouse up our hearts, as David called upon his lute and harp to awake (Psalm 57:8). Our hearts are not given to him; we put him off with bodily exercise. The heart is but ice to what it doth not affect,
[1.] There is not that natural vigor in the observance of God, which we have in worldly business. When we see a liveliness in men in other things, change the scene into a motion towards God, how suddenly doth their vigor shrink and their hearts freeze into sluggishness! Many times we serve God as languishingly as if we were afraid he should accept us, and pray as coldly as if we were unwilling he should hear us, and take away that lust by which we are governed, and which conscience forces us to pray against; as if we were afraid God should set up his own throne and government in our hearts. How fleeting are we in divine meditation, how sleepy in spiritual exercises! but in other exercises active. The soul Both not awaken itself, and excite those animal and vital spirits, which it will in bodily recreations and sports; much less the powers of the soul: whereby it is evident we prefer the latter before any service to God. Since there is a fulness of animal spirits, why might they not be excited in holy duties as well as in other operations, but that there is a reluctancy in the soul to exercise its supremacy in this case, and perform anything becoming a creature in subjection to God as a Ruler?
[2.] It is evident also in the distractions we have in his service. How loth are we to serve God fixedly one hour, nay a part of an hour, notwithstanding all the thoughts of his majesty, and the eternity of glory set before our eye! What man is there, since the fall of Adam, that served God one hour without many wanderings and unsuitable thoughts unfit for that service? How ready are our hearts to start out and unite themselves with any worldly objects that please us!
[3.] Weariness in it evidenceth it. To be weary of our dulness signifies a desire, to be weary of service signifies a discontent, to be ruled by God. How tired are we in the performance of spiritual duties, when in the vain triflings of time we have a perpetual motion! How will many willingly revel whole nights, when their hearts will flag at the threshold of a religious service! like Dagon, lose both our heads to think, and hands to act, when the ark of God is present. Some in the Prophet wished the new moon and the Sabhath over, that they might sell their corn, and be busied again in their worldly affairs. A slight and weariness of the Sabhath, was a slight of the Lord of the Sabhath, and of that freedom from the yoke and rule of sin, which was signified by it. The design of the sacrifices in the new moon was to signify a rest from the tyranny of sin, and a consecration to the spiritual service of God. Servants that are quickly weary of their work, are weary of the authority of their master that enjoins it. If our hearts had a value for God, it would be with us as with the needle to the loadstone; there would be upon his beck a speedy motion to him, and a fixed union with him. When the judgments and affections of the saints shall be fully refined in glory, they shall be willing to behold the face of God, and be under his government to eternity, without any weariness: as the holy angels have owned God as their sovereign near these six thousand years, without being weary of running on his errands. But, alas, while the flesh clogs us, there will be some relics of unwillingness to hear his injunctions, and weariness in performing them; though men may excuse those things by extrinsic causes, yet God’s unerring judgment calls it a weariness of himself (Isaiah 43:22): “Thou hast not called upon me, O Jacob, but thou hast been weary of me, O Israel.” Of this he taxeth his own people, when he tells them he would have the beasts of the field, the dragons and the owls—the Gentiles, that the Jews counted no better than such—to honor him and acknowledge him their rule in a way of duty (ver. 20, 21.)
6. This contempt is seen in a deserting the rule of God, when our expectations are not answered upon our service. When services are performed from carnal principles, they are soon cast off when carnal ends meet not with desired satisfaction. But when we own ourselves God’s servants and God our Master, “our eyes will wait upon him till he have mercy on us.” It is one part of the duty we owe to God as our Master in heaven to continue in prayer (Col. 4:1, 2); and by the same reason in all other service, and to watch in the same with thanksgiving: to watch for occasions of praise, to watch with cheerfulness for further manifestations of his will, strength to perform it, success in the performance, that we may from all draw matter of praise. As we are in a posture of obedience to his precepts, so we should be in a posture of waiting for the blessing of it. But naturally we reject the duty we owe to God, if he do not speed the blessing we expect from him. How many do secretly mutter the same as they in Job 21:15: “What is the Almighty that we should serve him, and what profit shall we have if we pray to him?” They serve not God out of conscience to his commands, but for some carnal profit; and if God make them to wait for it, they will not stay his leisure, but cease soliciting him any longer. Two things are expressed;—that God was not worthy of any homage from them,—“What is the Almighty that we should serve him?” and that the service of him would not bring them in a good revenue or an advantage of that kind they expected.
Martin Luther | (1483-1546)
Sect. CXIX. — IT is difficult to refrain from concluding, that you are, in this passage, crafty and double-dealing. For he who treats of the Scriptures with that prevarication and hypocrisy which you practice in treating of them, may have face enough to pretend, that he is not as yet fully acquainted with the Scriptures, and is willing to be taught; when, at the same time, he wills nothing less, and merely prates thus, in order to cast a reproach upon the all-clear light of the Scriptures, and to cover with the best cloak his determinate perseverance in his own opinions. Thus the Jews, even to this day, pretend, that what Christ, the Apostles, and the whole church have taught, is not to be proved by the Scriptures. The papists too pretend, that they do not yet fully understand the Scriptures; although the very stones speak aloud the truth. But perhaps you are waiting for a passage to be produced from the Scriptures, which shall contain these letters and syllables, ‘The principal part of man is flesh:’ or, ‘That which is most excellent in man is flesh:’ otherwise, you will declare yourself an invincible victor. Just as though the Jews should require, that a portion be produced from the prophets, which shall consist of these letters, ‘Jesus the son of the carpenter, who was born of the Virgin Mary in Bethlehem, is the Messiah the Son of God!’
Here, where you are closely put to it by a plain sentence, you challenge us to produce letters and syllables. In another place, where you are overcome both by the sentence and by the letters too, you have recourse to ‘tropes,’ to ‘difficulties,’ and to ‘sound interpretations.’ And there is no place, in which you do not invent something whereby to contradict the Scriptures. At one time, you fly to the interpretations of the Fathers: at another, to absurdities of Reason: and when neither of these will serve your turn, you dwell on that which is irrelevant or contingent: yet with an especial care, that you are not caught by the passage immediately in point. But what shall I call you? Proteus is not half a Proteus compared with you! Yet after all you cannot get off. What victories did the Arians boast of, because these syllables and letters, HOMOOUSIOS, were not to be found in the Scriptures? Considering it nothing to the purpose, that the same thing could be most effectually proved in other words. But whether or not this be a sign of a good, (not to say pious,) mind, and a mind desiring to be taught, let impiety or iniquity itself be judge.
Take your victory, then; while we, as the vanquished confess, that these characters and syllables, ‘That, which is most excellent in man is nothing but flesh,’ is not to be found in the Scriptures. But just behold what a victory you have gained, when we most abundantly prove, that though it is not found in the Scriptures, that one detached portion, or ‘that which is most excellent,’ or the ‘principal part,’ of man is flesh, but that the whole of man is flesh! And not only so, but that the whole people is flesh! And further still, that the whole human race is flesh! For Christ saith, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh.” Do you here set about your difficulty-solving, your trope-inventing, and searching for the interpretations of the Fathers; or, turning quite another way, enter upon a dissertation on the Trojan war, in order to avoid seeing and hearing this passage now adduced.
We do not believe only, but we see and experience, that the whole human race is “born of the flesh;” and therefore, we are compelled to believe upon the word of Christ, that which we do not see; that the whole human race “is flesh.” Do we now then give the Sophists any room to doubt and dispute, whether or not the principal (egemonica) part of man be comprehended in the whole man, in the whole people, in the whole race of men? We know, however, that in the whole human race, both the body and soul are comprehended, together with all their powers and works, with all their vices and virtues, with all their wisdom and folly, with all their righteousness and unrighteousness! All things are “flesh;” because, all things savour of the flesh, that is, of their own; and are, as Paul saith, Without the glory of God, and the Spirit of God! (Rom. iii. 23; viii. 5-9).
The Bondage of the Will or Christian Classics Ethereal Library