Lamentations 3: 37 Who has spoken and it came to pass,
unless the Lord has commanded it?
38 Is it not from the mouth of the Most High
that good and bad come?
39 Why should a living man complain,
a man, about the punishment of his sins?
40 Let us test and examine our ways,
and return to the LORD!
41 Let us lift up our hearts and hands
to God in heaven:
42 “We have transgressed and rebelled,
and you have not forgiven.
43 “You have wrapped yourself with anger and pursued us,
killing without pity;
44 you have wrapped yourself with a cloud
so that no prayer can pass through.
45 You have made us scum and garbage
among the peoples.
46 “All our enemies
open their mouths against us;
47 panic and pitfall have come upon us,
devastation and destruction;
48 my eyes flow with rivers of tears
because of the destruction of the daughter of my people.
49 “My eyes will flow without ceasing,
50 until the LORD from heaven
looks down and sees;
51 my eyes cause me grief
at the fate of all the daughters of my city.
52 “I have been hunted like a bird
by those who were my enemies without cause;
53 they flung me alive into the pit
and cast stones on me;
54 water closed over my head;
I said, ‘I am lost.’
55 “I called on your name, O LORD,
from the depths of the pit;
56 you heard my plea, ‘Do not close
your ear to my cry for help!’
57 You came near when I called on you;
you said, ‘Do not fear!’
58 “You have taken up my cause, O Lord;
you have redeemed my life.
59 You have seen the wrong done to me, O LORD;
judge my cause.
60 You have seen all their vengeance,
all their plots against me.
61 “You have heard their taunts, O LORD,
all their plots against me.
62 The lips and thoughts of my assailants
are against me all the day long.
63 Behold their sitting and their rising;
I am the object of their taunts.
64 “You will repay them, O LORD,
according to the work of their hands.
65 You will give them dullness of heart;
your curse will be on them.
66 You will pursue them in anger and destroy them
from under your heavens, O LORD.”
The Holy Stones Lie Scattered
Lamentations 4: 1 How the gold has grown dim,
how the pure gold is changed!
The holy stones lie scattered
at the head of every street.
2 The precious sons of Zion,
worth their weight in fine gold,
how they are regarded as earthen pots,
the work of a potter’s hands!
3 Even jackals offer the breast;
they nurse their young;
but the daughter of my people has become cruel,
like the ostriches in the wilderness.
4 The tongue of the nursing infant sticks
to the roof of its mouth for thirst;
the children beg for food,
but no one gives to them.
5 Those who once feasted on delicacies
perish in the streets;
those who were brought up in purple
embrace ash heaps.
6 For the chastisement of the daughter of my people has been greater
than the punishment of Sodom,
which was overthrown in a moment,
and no hands were wrung for her.
7 Her princes were purer than snow,
whiter than milk;
their bodies were more ruddy than coral,
the beauty of their form was like sapphire.
8 Now their face is blacker than soot;
they are not recognized in the streets;
their skin has shriveled on their bones;
it has become as dry as wood.
9 Happier were the victims of the sword
than the victims of hunger,
who wasted away, pierced
by lack of the fruits of the field.
10 The hands of compassionate women
have boiled their own children;
they became their food
during the destruction of the daughter of my people.
11 The LORD gave full vent to his wrath;
he poured out his hot anger,
and he kindled a fire in Zion
that consumed its foundations.
12 The kings of the earth did not believe,
nor any of the inhabitants of the world,
that foe or enemy could enter
the gates of Jerusalem.
13 This was for the sins of her prophets
and the iniquities of her priests,
who shed in the midst of her
the blood of the righteous.
14 They wandered, blind, through the streets;
they were so defiled with blood
that no one was able to touch
15 “Away! Unclean!” people cried at them.
“Away! Away! Do not touch!”
So they became fugitives and wanderers;
people said among the nations,
“They shall stay with us no longer.”
16 The LORD himself has scattered them;
he will regard them no more;
no honor was shown to the priests,
no favor to the elders.
17 Our eyes failed, ever watching
vainly for help;
in our watching we watched
for a nation which could not save.
18 They dogged our steps
so that we could not walk in our streets;
our end drew near; our days were numbered,
for our end had come.
19 Our pursuers were swifter
than the eagles in the heavens;
they chased us on the mountains;
they lay in wait for us in the wilderness.
20 The breath of our nostrils, the LORD’s anointed,
was captured in their pits,
of whom we said, “Under his shadow
we shall live among the nations.”
21 Rejoice and be glad, O daughter of Edom,
you who dwell in the land of Uz;
but to you also the cup shall pass;
you shall become drunk and strip yourself bare.
22 The punishment of your iniquity, O daughter of Zion, is accomplished;
he will keep you in exile no longer;
but your iniquity, O daughter of Edom, he will punish;
he will uncover your sins.
Restore Us to Yourself, O LORD
Lamentations 5: 1 Remember, O LORD, what has befallen us;
look, and see our disgrace!
2 Our inheritance has been turned over to strangers,
our homes to foreigners.
3 We have become orphans, fatherless;
our mothers are like widows.
4 We must pay for the water we drink;
the wood we get must be bought.
5 Our pursuers are at our necks;
we are weary; we are given no rest.
6 We have given the hand to Egypt, and to Assyria,
to get bread enough.
7 Our fathers sinned, and are no more;
and we bear their iniquities.
8 Slaves rule over us;
there is none to deliver us from their hand.
9 We get our bread at the peril of our lives,
because of the sword in the wilderness.
10 Our skin is hot as an oven
with the burning heat of famine.
11 Women are raped in Zion,
young women in the towns of Judah.
12 Princes are hung up by their hands;
no respect is shown to the elders.
13 Young men are compelled to grind at the mill,
and boys stagger under loads of wood.
14 The old men have left the city gate,
the young men their music.
15 The joy of our hearts has ceased;
our dancing has been turned to mourning.
16 The crown has fallen from our head;
woe to us, for we have sinned!
17 For this our heart has become sick,
for these things our eyes have grown dim,
18 for Mount Zion which lies desolate;
jackals prowl over it.
19 But you, O LORD, reign forever;
your throne endures to all generations.
20 Why do you forget us forever,
why do you forsake us for so many days?
21 Restore us to yourself, O LORD, that we may be restored!
Renew our days as of old—
22 unless you have utterly rejected us,
and you remain exceedingly angry with us.
What I'm Reading
By James S. Stewart(1 Co 2:2) For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. NRSV
(1 Co 15:31) I die every day! That is as certain, brothers and sisters, as my boasting of you—a boast that I make in Christ Jesus our Lord. NRSV
This leads to the third consideration which ought to warn us against forcing a system upon Paul. We have referred to the subject-matter of his teaching and the situation to which it was addressed. To these we must add the man's own view of his vocation. If it would have startled the Christians of Corinth and Thessalonica to be confronted with a dogmatic system, containing carefully mapped-out sections on Anthropology, Hamar-tiology, Soteriology, and the rest, the whole being labelled Paulinism, it would have startled the apostle himself even more. Paul was not aware when he wrote that his writings were to become Holy Scripture. He was not aware that future generations would pore over these letters and seek to fit together every thought they contained. Certainly the last thing that he can have imagined, when he set himself to send a message to one or other of his Christian communities, was that centuries later men would be building theologies on words thrown off to an amanuensis, as many of his words were, in moments of intense feeling. The fact of the matter is, Paul had no great love for systems, and very little faith in the speculations which produce them. The wisdom of this world was such a poor thing, and mere intellect so bankrupt, and the best possible formulations of doctrine so pitifully short of the mark, when they tried to measure Christ! Once indeed Paul did conduct the experiment of philosophizing Jesus; but his Athenian experience was the exception which proves the rule, and the failure of the experiment made him more resolute than ever not to exchange the herald's calling for the apologist's. Henceforward he was determined, as he told the Corinthians, "not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified." It was faith in Christ, not faith in any creed or articles about Christ, that was "the master-light of all his seeing." Men do not gamble with their lives, nor stake their souls, on abstract truths and systems; but a great love is different. They will do it, Paul did it, for that. "I die daily," he cried—a sudden flash which, to all who have eyes to see, reveals the essential difference between the Christ of Paul's devotion and the Christ of a formal Paulinism. By the use of two Greek words, Deissmann has brought out this contrast most admirably. "Paul is not so much the great Christologos as the great Christophoros." That goes to the root of the matter. The man knew himself charged to bear Christ, to herald Christ, not to rationalize Christ. Indeed, nothing else was possible, for the fundamental fact about the Christ of Paul's experience was that He was alive. Historical data and reminiscences you can rationalize: a living Lord you can only proclaim. There must, of course, have been considerable difference, both of matter and of manner, between the apostle's preaching and the letters which he wrote; but let us not forget that he was a preacher first and a writer second. And both spheres—preaching and writing—were ruled by one great fact—the fact of a living, present Lord; and by one all-decisive experience—the experience of union and communion with Him. This was the apostle's calling. This was his sole vocation and concern. This it was for which he had been born. He came to bring, not a system, but the living Christ.
(2 Co 1:3–5) 3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation, 4 who consoles us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God. 5 For just as the sufferings of Christ are abundant for us, so also our consolation is abundant through Christ. NRSV
(1 Co 15:57) 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. NRSV
Message Of The CrossPaul found no anomaly in defining his gospel as ‘the message of the cross’, his ministry as ‘we preach Christ crucified’, baptism as initiation ‘into his death’ and the Lord’s Supper as a proclamation of the Lord’s death. He boldly declared that, though the cross seemed either foolishness or a ‘stumbling block’ to the self-confident, it was in fact the very essence of God’s wisdom and power. 1 Cor. 1:18–25; Rom. 6:3; 1 Cor. 11:26 So convinced was he of this that he had deliberately resolved, he told the Corinthians, to renounce worldly wisdom and instead to know nothing among them ‘except Jesus Christ and him crucified’ (1 Cor. 2:1–2). When later in the same letter he wished to remind them of his gospel, which he had himself received and had handed on to them, which had become the foundation on which they were standing and the good news by which they were being saved, what was ‘of first importance’ (he said) was ‘that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared...’ (1 Cor. 15:1–5). And when a few years later he developed this outline into the full gospel manifesto which his letter to the Romans is, his emphasis is even more strongly on the cross. For having proved all humankind sinful and guilty before God, he explains that God’s righteous way of putting the unrighteous right with himself operates ‘through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus’, whom ‘God presented as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood’ (Rom. 3:21–25). Consequently, we are ‘justified by his blood’ and ‘reconciled to God through the death of his Son’ (Rom. 5:9–10). Without Christ’s sacrificial death for us salvation would have been impossible. No wonder Paul boasted in nothing except the cross (Gal. 6:14)
( The Cross of Christ )
Paul The Theologian, Not
By James S. Stewart(1 Co 2:2) For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. NRSV
We have seen reason, then, while agreeing with the reaction from the rigidly scholastic view of Paul, to criticize these two forms which that reaction has assumed. The patronizing way of approving of his religion, while forgiving him for his theology, is as little to be commended as the attempt to ignore him altogether. He was a Christ-apprehended, Christ-filled man, with nothing in his religion that was not rooted and grounded in experience; but the very vividness of that experience, and its daily growth and development, made reflection on it inevitable. Always the experience was primary, the reflection secondary. " He is not a ' theologian ' in the technical or modern sense of the word. . . . Yet neither is he a dreamer, indifferent to history and to reason, satisfied with emotion, sentiment or ecstasy." A systematic theologian he certainly was not. No system in the world could satisfy that untrammelled spirit, that mind of surpassing boldness, that heart of flame. This can be seen even in an epistle so elaborate and compendious as that to the Romans. Here Paul, desiring to prepare the way for his visit to a Christian community to which he was still personally unknown, has given a summary of certain main points of his teaching, and it is not without reason that Julicher calls this letter the apostle's " confession of faith." But beyond that we cannot go: and those who would find here "a compendium of systematic theology," "a manual of Christian doctrine," are certainly mistaken. For Romans, like all Paul's letters, is ultimately not abstract but personal, not metaphysical but experimental. Written on the eve of his last journey to Jerusalem, it looks back on all he had learnt of Christ since he had given Him his heart, and gathers up the ripe fruits of those years of experience and meditation and ever deepened consecration. Passages there are, notably in chapters 3 and 4, where the voice of the theologian trained in the ways of Rabbinism seems to speak almost as loudly as the voice of the herald of Christ (though even there, for those who have ears to hear, the heart is speaking): but when you turn the page, the trumpet tones ring out again. The section from chapter 9 to chapter 11, to take another instance, has sometimes been regarded as a rather academic discussion of the question of predestination and free-will: in point of fact, right from the impassioned utterance at the beginning, "I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren," to the ascription of glory at the end, it is a cry straight from the heart. The man who spoke like that was not interested in abstractions. He cared little, if at all, for logical structure. Romans, the most elaborate of the apostle's letters, the one which, superficially at any rate, shows most resemblance to a treatise in theology, refuses as stubbornly as any of the others to bear the role that Bernhard Weiss would assign to it. If it is a "compendium" at all, it is a compendium, not of abstract doctrine, but of vital religion.A Man in Christ: The Vital Elements of St. Paul's Religion (Classic Reprint)
Faithful with Little, Joyful in Much How God Meets Us in the Small Things
By Adam Cavalier 8/10/2017
Immediately after sending the text message I was confronted by a moral dilemma. Honestly, I felt a little silly at the triviality of it. I was running late to a meeting and said I would only be five minutes late. But that wasn’t the truth. Having driven the same route on a weekly basis, I knew exactly how long it would take. It would take me fifteen minutes. So why did I send a message knowing it was wrong?
Catch the Little Foxes | We are called to obey God — even in the small things.
Circumstances test our integrity every day. It often seems easier to lie about a situation than to tell the truth. My coworkers won’t care if it’s not an exact estimation. Surely, they’ll give a little extra measure of grace knowing I’m a little later than anticipated. What’s a few additional minutes?
Stretching the truth in this situation isn’t really that big of a deal.
In fact, the world would have us think that these sorts of things are not only acceptable, but necessary. If we knowingly deceive, saying, “No, officer, I don’t know how fast I was going” — we are told that it is less likely we get a traffic ticket. It seems as though it was just an innocent mistake. If we’re drawn into that popular TV show that looks a little risqué, we’re not really committing an egregious sin. It’s just a small indulgence that keeps you relevant and culturally up-to-date. Or so we tell ourselves.
But Song of Solomon 2:15 tells us that it is “the little foxes that spoil the vineyards.” Little areas of our life feel so minuscule and unimportant. It’s easy to dismiss these things as inconsequential, if not petty, in the grand scope of things. Undoubtedly, following God’s ways is certainly about obedience in bigger things, but it is also about choosing to submit to his will in the little details.
Contagious Joy in a Never-Enough World What Gratitude Says About God
By Adam Cavalier 11/23/2016
As Christians visit with extended family this Thanksgiving, most of us will come into close contact with unbelievers.
The apostle Paul says, “Being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us” (1 Thessalonians 2:8). Our witness should not simply be about transmitting information, but becoming living proof that God has the ability to save and change sinners. Our time together will say either that God is our only hope, or subtly preach another gospel.
Our witness should also serve as a living invitation to all, testifying to God’s sovereign ability to meet the deepest cravings of the human heart: “He satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul he fills with good things” (Psalm 107:9). Our time together either will say God is enough for us, or it will tell another story about our happiness.
This Thanksgiving, how will you interact with lost loved ones in your life? Will you view your conversations as an opportunity to exhibit the all-satisfying power of God? Or will you be lured into the temptations to avoid spiritual things or to grumble about your circumstances?
Hunger for More | We live in a world that leaves us constantly wanting more. This moves people to be frustrated and unsatisfied in their jobs, friendships, and marriages. Never having enough, we feel entitled to grumble and complain. Protesting about the things we don’t have comes all too naturally, and over time poisons the soul.
The Cattle on a Thousand Hills Overcoming Anxiety in Support Raising
By Adam Cavalier 4/5/2016
Frustrated and angry at the task in front of me, I simply wanted to throw in the towel. Working through my list of contacts and not seeing much return, the thought of giving up was appealing like never before. No one had prepared me for how difficult support raising would be.
One of the primary methods missionaries and other vocational ministers use to receive their wages is support raising. These workers enlist the financial support of local churches and individuals. This integrated partnership provides an opportunity for the body of Christ to work in tandem in order to complete his kingdom work around the world. One goes down; the other holds the rope. That image was popularized by Andrew Fuller, who held the rope for William Carey while he served in India.
Often the thought of support raising can scare a potential worker away before ministry even begins. Much like the ten spies who returned after scouting the Promised Land, a paralyzing fear can halt gospel workers from pursuing God’s call on their lives.
How Anxiety Hamstrings Us | Even for those that have crossed the initial threshold, the process can be intimidating and fearful. While there are encouraging times, the moments of uncertainty and apprehension can dominate one’s thoughts. Not only from personal experience, but also from my interactions with others whom are actively support raising, it can be hard to trust that God will provide for our every need, when the checks or commitments are few and far between.
This spirit of anxiety hamstrings those who are actively raising support. It also deprives the church of potential workers for the harvest field, whether locally or globally. At its worst, this debilitating fear causes us to doubt that their Father really will provide for his children. This kind of challenge can be a sobering test as to where we find our ultimate satisfaction and security.
Adam Cavalier is currently completing work on a PhD in Church History from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Married to Magan, they have three small children.
The Happy Choir of Heaven
By Adam Cavalier 12/9/2015
In the popular Christmas hymn, Angels We Have Heard on High, the opening line describes angels singing God’s praises over the open fields. Their cry is retained in the famous Latin phrase, “Gloria, in excelsis Deo!” which translated means, “Glory to God in the highest!” It’s taken from Luke 2:14, where the angels joyfully sing God’s praise.
Too often seen as shrouded in mystical experiences or lost in speculative theology, angels are either ignored or relegated to the thoughts of a few especially spiritual people. The rampant materialism and anti-supernaturalism of the world has caused Christians to question the presence and influence of angels. Reflecting on angels is thought of as impractical and useless.
Sadly, many Christians today are ignorant to the startling and strengthening ministry of angels. This unfortunate neglect has blinded believers of an excellent model for Christian living. Not only did they minister to Jesus and the apostles, they minister to believers today. One of the most important ways this happens is through their example to us. This is most notable in the model they provide for us in their enjoyment of God. We sing this in Angels We Have Heard on High.
They Worship God | The angels cry out, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” (Isaiah 6:3). In another passage, we see them raising their voices to exclaim, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” (Revelation 5:12). On the day of Christ’s first advent, we hear them celebrate Jesus’s kingship before the shepherds. We hear him lauded for bringing peace.
Repeatedly in Scripture, angels joyfully proclaim the infinite worth of God’s name. It is their duty and delight to worship the Lord. Their enjoyment and satisfaction in him does not stand still. It overflows into declarations of praise. In this hymn, they’re seen “sweetly singing” the “gladsome tidings” that the Christ has come.
Read The Psalms In "1" Year
Psalm 94The LORD Will Not Forsake His People
12 Blessed is the man whom you discipline, O LORD,
and whom you teach out of your law,
13 to give him rest from days of trouble,
until a pit is dug for the wicked.
14 For the LORD will not forsake his people;
he will not abandon his heritage;
15 for justice will return to the righteous,
and all the upright in heart will follow it.
16 Who rises up for me against the wicked?
Who stands up for me against evildoers?
17 If the LORD had not been my help,
my soul would soon have lived in the land of silence.
18 When I thought, “My foot slips,”
your steadfast love, O LORD, held me up.
19 When the cares of my heart are many,
your consolations cheer my soul.
20 Can wicked rulers be allied with you,
those who frame injustice by statute?
21 They band together against the life of the righteous
and condemn the innocent to death.
22 But the LORD has become my stronghold,
and my God the rock of my refuge.
23 He will bring back on them their iniquity
and wipe them out for their wickedness;
the LORD our God will wipe them out.
The Pastor’s Example of Evangelism
By Steven Lawson 6/01/2012
In his final letter, Paul charges Timothy, his son in the faith, to “do the work of an evangelist” (2 Tim. 4:5). By these words, the aged Apostle establishes the timeless standard for pastoral ministry, not only for young Timothy but for all pastors in every generation and in every place.
With Apostolic authority, this imperative command comes with binding force. All pastors must do the work of an evangelist. They must earnestly proclaim the gospel message, urging people to trust in Jesus Christ alone for salvation. So, where should this pastoral evangelism begin?
First, every pastor must preach the gospel to himself. Before any pastor can call others to repent, he must believe in Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul exhorts Timothy, saying, “Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you” (1 Tim. 4:16). That is, every preacher must examine his own soul first. The success of one’s evangelism is, first and foremost, dependent upon his right standing in grace.
In The Reformed Pastor, Puritan Richard Baxter addressed the ministers of his day, many of whom were unconverted: “See that the work of saving grace be thoroughly wrought in your own souls. Take heed to yourselves, lest you be void of that saving grace of God which you offer to others.” Simply put, pastors must embrace the very message they preach.
Charles Spurgeon writes:
A graceless pastor is a blind man elected to a professorship of optics, philosophizing upon light and vision, discoursing upon … the nice shades and delicate blendings of the prismatic colours, while he himself is absolutely in the dark! He is a dumb man elevated to the chair of music; a deaf man f luent upon symphonies and harmonies! He is a mole professing to educate eaglets.Sadly, unconverted pastors do exist. Martin Luther was a doctor of theology and professor of Bible before he was born again. John Wesley was an overseas missionary prior to his conversion. Every pastor must be certain of his own salvation before he can powerfully preach the gospel to others.
Second, every pastor must preach the gospel to his family. Evangelism in the home begins with shepherding one’s own wife in her relationship with Christ. I will never forget an elder’s meeting in which one of our pastors shared that his wife had been converted the previous night. She was one of the nicest people in the church, yet, unknown to us, she was unconverted. How often is this the reality? To this end, every pastor must give attention to the spiritual state of his wife.
Similarly, he must give the same attention to his children. This evangelism should begin early and involve disciplines such as Bible readings, catechizing, and family devotions. I came to faith in Christ as a result of my father reading the Bible to me in the evenings. Moreover, home evangelism should include informal conversations, probing questions, and a consistently godly life modeled before the children.
Third, every pastor must preach the gospel to his flock. There must be a sober realization that not every church member is regenerate. Every pastor’s evangelistic work must center in his pulpit ministry as he regularly presents the gospel with clear, decisive appeals. He must implore his congregation to respond to the gospel and be saved. There should be a distinct urgency in his voice as he exhorts, even pleads, for his flock to be converted.
Certainly, this evangelistic thrust is not to be confused with abuses and manipulative methods. I am not contending that people raise a hand, walk an aisle, parrot a prayer, and be declared saved—all within five minutes. But I am insisting that our gospel preaching must be compelling. It must come with bold proclamations of the cross, warm appeals to come to Christ, and passionate persuasions that urge people to respond by faith alone. Pastors must give gospel messages that call for repentance and issue severe warnings of eternal consequences for unbelief.
Fourth, every pastor should evangelize the community. The strategies will differ from one man to the next, depending upon his gifts and opportunities. As a fisher of men, he must go where the fish are. He must leave dry land, sail out into deep waters, and cast his net. Pastors must venture out into the community, share the gospel, and urge people to believe upon Christ. Community outreach involves building bridges to unbelievers. This may include hosting a Bible study in an office, a restaurant, or a home. It can involve a local radio program, a newspaper editorial, or an Internet blog. It means showing acts of mercy with a gospel presentation. Whatever the strategy, making such inroads requires going where unconverted people are and unashamedly sharing Christ.
It has been rightly said that the greatest joy is knowing Christ and the second greatest is making Him known. May every pastor enter joyfully into this privileged task of doing the work of an evangelist. Per Amazon | Dr. Steven J. Lawson is founder and president of OnePassion Ministries, a ministry designed to bring about a new reformation in the church. He is a teaching fellow for Ligonier Ministries, director of the Doctor of Ministry program at The Master's Seminary, and a visiting professor in the Doctor of Ministry program at the Ligonier Academy of Biblical and Theological Studies.
Steven Lawson | Go to Books Page
Devotionals, notes, poetry and more
by Bill Federer
“Beloved Cherokees,” wrote President Washington on this day, August 29, 1796, “The wise men of the United States meet… once a year, to consider what will be for the good their people…. I have thought that a meeting of your wise men… would be alike useful to you…. I now send my best wishes to the Cherokees and pray the Great Spirit to preserve them.” On another occasion, the Delaware Chiefs brought him three of their sons to be trained in American schools. Washington replied: “You do well… to learn our arts and ways of life, and above all, the religion of Jesus Christ… I pray God He may make your Nation wise and strong.”American Minute
Compiled by Richard S. Adams
There are two kinds of people:
those who say to God,
“Thy will be done,”
and those to whom God says,
“All right, then, have it your way.”
--- C.S. Lewis
Over the years, I have come to realize that the greatest trap in our life is not success, popularity, or power, but self-rejection. Success, popularity, and power can indeed present a great temptation, but their seductive quality often comes from the way they are part of the much larger temptation to self-rejection. When we have come to believe in the voices that call us worthless and unlovable, then success, popularity, and power are easily perceived as attractive solutions. The real trap, however, is self-rejection. As soon as someone accuses me or criticizes me, as soon as I am rejected, left alone, or abandoned, I find myself thinking, "Well, that proves once again that I am a nobody." ... [My dark side says,] I am no good... I deserve to be pushed aside, forgotten, rejected, and abandoned. Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the "Beloved." Being the Beloved constitutes the core truth of our existence.
--- Henri J.M. Nouwen
Tis heaven alone that is given away,
'T is only God may be had for the asking;...
--- James Russell Lowell The vision of Sir Launfal
You are to think of yourself as only existing in this world to do God's will. To think that you are your own is as absurd as to think you are self-created. It is an obvious first principle that you belong completely to God.
--- William Law
... from here, there and everywhere
We apologists love to offer evidence for the existence of God, the reliability of the Bible, and the resurrection of Jesus. These are powerful truths that have convinced many to personally trust Christ. Yet amidst our desire to defend the truth of Christianity, let us not forget the power of forgiveness, which, in my view, is perhaps our greatest apologetic today.
Our world seems to be falling apart at the seams. Each week the news is filled with increasing awareness that our world is profoundly broken and that humanity’s problems—whether racial, economic, political, moral, or religious—run deeper than we can imagine.
In light of the current state of the world, and given how many outsiders increasingly have a negative view of Bible-believing Christians, here is a question we must contemplate: How can we demonstrate the unique power of Christ in a world in which everyone has a microphone?
We certainly need to keep proclaiming the truth of the Christian message. In fact, as I show in A New Kind of Apologist, we need apologetics in the church today as urgently today as ever before. Jesus, Paul, the apostles, and the early church fathers were all apologists. And yet there is something we must not forget: our willingness to offer forgiveness to people who have wronged us, and especially our enemies, demonstrates the unique power of the cross more robustly than arguments alone. Genuinely offering forgiveness often breaks down barriers and invites people to consider reasons for our faith.
Why is this so? For one, there is always a way to avoid truth (2 Peter 3:15-16). It is our human nature to suppress it (Romans 1:18-20). We naturally get defensive when people challenge our cherished beliefs. But unexpected, grace-filled acts of forgiveness are harder to dismiss. They subvert our defensiveness. In fact, they often catch us off guard and invite us to consider the deeper reasons motivating people to act with such kindness. And it is uniquely the Christian worldview that can provide both the moral basis and motivation for forgiveness (e.g., Matthew 18:21-35; Ephesians 4:32).
This was clearly on display a decade ago in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania. A man stormed into an Amish schoolhouse, shooting ten girls and killing five. Although clearly grieved, shocked, and heart-broken, the Amish community responded in a manner that the world had trouble comprehending—they offered forgiveness to the man, and reached out lovingly to his family. Some members of the Amish community went to the cemetery for the killer's burial and others donated money to the widow and her kids.
Why did they respond in this manner? First, the Amish believe that God is sovereign, even when things appear to be spiraling out of control. Second, they have experienced God’s love and grace, and believe He has called them to extend His grace to other people. They hold no grudges and willingly offer the same forgiveness to other people that God has extended to them.
The world was watching when the Amish forgave the man who committed this horrific act. Many people were inspired, and others simply in wonder, just as some people were at the death of Jesus. After seeing the calm and gracious manner in which Jesus faced execution, the Roman centurion professed, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:39).
Few things invite people to consider the power of Christianity more than the genuine offer of forgiveness in the face of wretched evil. This is what Jesus did, and if we care about the proclaiming and defending the gospel, we must be willing to do no less.
Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, a best-selling author of over 18 books, an internationally recognized speaker, and a part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org.
( The Cross of Christ )
We must now pass by the details of the betrayal and arrest of Jesus, his trials before Annas and Caiaphas, Herod and Pilate, Peter’s denials, the cruel mockery by priests and soldiers, the spitting and the scourging, and the hysteria of the mob who demanded his death. We move on to the end of the story. Condemned to death by crucifixion, ‘he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth’ (Isa. 53:7). Carrying his own cross, until Simon of Cyrene was compelled to carry it for him, he will have walked along the Via Dolorosa, out of the city, to Golgotha, ‘the place of the skull’. ‘Here they crucified him’, the evangelists write, declining to dwell on the stripping, the clumsy hammering home of the nails, or the wrenching of his limbs as the cross was hoisted and dropped into its place. Even the excruciating pain could not silence his repeated entreaties: ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.’ The soldiers gambled for his clothes. Some women stood afar off. The crowd remained a while to watch. Jesus commended his mother to John’s care and John to hers. He spoke words of kingly assurance to the penitent criminal crucified at his side. Meanwhile, the rulers sneered at him, shouting: ‘He saved others, but he can’t save himself!’ Their words, spoken as an insult, were the literal truth. He could not save himself and others simultaneously. He chose to sacrifice himself in order to save the world.
Gradually the crowd thinned out, their curiosity glutted. At last silence fell and darkness came – darkness perhaps because no eye should see, and silence because no tongue could tell, the anguish of soul which the sinless Saviour now endured. ‘At the birth of the Son of God’, Douglas Webster has written, ‘there was brightness at midnight; at the death of the Son of God there was darkness at noon.’ (Douglas Webster, In Debt to Christ) What happened in the darkness is expressed by biblical writers in a variety of ways:
Isa. 53:5–6; John 1:29; Mark 10:45; Heb. 9:28; 1 Pet. 2:24; 3:18; 2 Cor. 5:21; Gal. 3:13
... it seems that the darkness of the sky was an outward symbol of the spiritual darkness which enveloped him. For what is darkness in biblical symbolism but separation from God who is light and in whom ‘there is no darkness at all’ (1 John 1:5)? ‘Outer darkness’ was one of the expressions Jesus used for hell, since it is an absolute exclusion from the light of God’s presence. Into that outer darkness the Son of God plunged for us. Our sins blotted out the sunshine of his Father’s face. We may even dare to say that our sins sent Christ to hell – not to the ‘hell’ (hadēs, the abode of the dead) to which the Creed says he ‘descended’ after death, but to the ‘hell’ (gehenna, the place of punishment) to which our sins condemned him before his body died.
The darkness seems to have lasted for three hours. For it was at the third hour (9 a.m.) that he was crucified, at the sixth hour (12 noon) that the darkness came over the whole land, and at the ninth hour (3 p.m.) that, emerging out of the darkness, Jesus cried out in a loud voice in Aramaic: ‘Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?’ meaning, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ Mark 15:25, 33–34 The Greek speakers present misunderstood his words and thought he was calling for Elijah. What he said is still misunderstood by many today. Four main explanations of his terrible cry of ‘dereliction’ (desertion, abandonment) have been offered. All commentators agree that he was quoting Psalm 22:1. But they are not agreed as to why he did so. What was the significance of this quotation on his lips?
First, some suggest that it was a cry of anger, unbelief or despair. Perhaps he had clung to the hope that even at the last moment the Father would send angels to rescue him, or at least that in the midst of his utter obedience to the Father’s will he would continue to experience the comfort of the Father’s presence. But no, it was now clear to him that he had been abandoned, and he cried out with a heart-rending ‘why?’ of dismay or defiance. His faith failed him. But of course, these interpreters add, he was mistaken. He imagined he was forsaken, when he was not. Those who thus explain the cry of dereliction can scarcely realize what they are doing. They are denying the moral perfection of the character of Jesus. They are saying that he was guilty of unbelief on the cross, as of cowardice in the garden. They are accusing him of failure, and failure at the moment of his greatest and supremest self-sacrifice. Christian faith protests against this explanation.
A second interpretation, which is a modification of the first, is to understand the shout of dereliction as a cry of loneliness. Jesus, it is now maintained, knew God’s promises never to fail or forsake his people. E.g. Josh. 1:5, 9 and Isa. 41:10 He knew the steadfastness of God’s covenant love. So his ‘why?’ was not a complaint that God had actually forsaken him, but rather that he had allowed him to feel forsaken. ‘I have sometimes thought’, wrote T. R. Glover, ‘there never was an utterance that reveals more amazingly the distance between feeling and fact.’ (T. R. Glover, The Jesus of History) Instead of addressing God as ‘Father’, he could now call him only ‘my God’, which is indeed an affirmation of faith in his covenant faithfulness, but falls short of declaring his fatherly loving-kindness. In this case Jesus was neither mistaken, nor unbelieving, but experiencing what the saints have called ‘the dark night of the soul’, and indeed doing so deliberately out of solidarity with us. In this condition, as Thomas J. Crawford puts it, the people of God ‘derive no conscious satisfaction from the joys of his favour and the comforts of his fellowship’. They are granted ‘no approving smile, no commending voice, no inward manifestation of the divine favour’. (Thomas J. Crawford, The Doctrine Of Holy Scripture Respecting The Atonement (1871)) This explanation is possible. It does not cast a slur on the character of Jesus like the first. Yet there seems to be an insuperable difficulty in the way of adopting it, namely that the words of Psalm 22:1 express an experience of being, and not just feeling, God-forsaken.
A third quite popular interpretation is to say that Jesus was uttering a cry of victory, the exact opposite of the first explanation, the cry of despair. The argument now is that, although Jesus quoted only the first verse of Psalm 22, he did so to represent the whole Psalm which begins and continues with an account of appalling sufferings, but ends with great confidence, and even triumph: ‘I will declare your name to my brothers; in the congregation I will praise you. You who fear the Lord, praise him!...For he has not despised or disdained the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help’ (vv. 22). This is ingenious but (it seems to me) far-fetched. Why should Jesus have quoted from the Psalm’s beginning if in reality he was alluding to its end? It would seem rather perverse. Would anybody have understood his purpose?
The fourth explanation is simple and straightforward. It is to take the words at their face value and to understand them as a cry of real dereliction. I agree with Dale who wrote: ‘I decline to accept any explanation of these words which implies that they do not represent the actual truth of our Lord’s position.’ (R. W. Dale, The Atonement) Jesus had no need to repent of uttering a false cry. Up to this moment, though forsaken by men, he could add, ‘Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me’ (John 16:32).
In the darkness, however, he was absolutely alone, being now also God-forsaken. As Calvin put it, ‘If Christ had died only a bodily death, it would have been ineffectual...Unless his soul shared in the punishment, he would have been the Redeemer of bodies alone.’ In consequence, ‘he paid a greater and more excellent price in suffering in his soul the terrible torments of a condemned and forsaken man’. (Calvin’s Institutes, II. Institutes of the Christian Religion (Set of 2 volumes)) So then an actual and dreadful separation took place between the Father and the Son; it was voluntarily accepted by both the Father and the Son; it was due to our sins and their just reward; and Jesus expressed this horror of great darkness, this God-forsakenness, by quoting the only verse of Scripture which accurately described it, and which he had perfectly fulfilled, namely, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ The theological objections and problems we shall come to later, although we already insist that the God-forsakenness of Jesus on the cross must be balanced with such an equally biblical assertion as ‘God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ’. C. E. B. Cranfield is right to emphasize both the truth that Jesus experienced ‘not merely a felt, but a real, abandonment by his Father’ and ‘the paradox that, while this God-forsakenness was utterly real, the unity of the Blessed Trinity was even then unbroken’. (C. E. B. Cranfield, The Gospel according to St Mark: An Introduction and Commentary (Cambridge Greek Testament Commentaries)) At this point, however, it is enough to suggest that Jesus had been meditating on Psalm 22, which describes the cruel persecution of an innocent and godly man, as he was meditating on other Psalms which he quoted from the cross; (E.g. ‘I am thirsty’ (John 19:28) is an allusion to Ps. 69:21 (cf. Ps. 22:15), and ‘Into your hands I commit my spirit’ (Luke 23:46), a quotation of Ps. 31:5.) that he quoted verse 1 for the same reason that he quoted every other Scripture, namely that he believed he was fulfilling it; and that his cry was in the form of a question (‘Why...?’), not because he did not know its answer, but only because the Old Testament text itself (which he was quoting) was in that form.
Almost immediately after the cry of dereliction, Jesus uttered three more words or sentences in quick succession. First, ‘I am thirsty’, his great spiritual sufferings having taken their toll of him physically. Secondly, he called out, again (according to Matthew and Mark) in a loud voice, ‘It is finished.’ And thirdly the tranquil, voluntary, confident self-commendation, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit,’ as he breathed his last breath. (John 19:28, 30; Luke 23:46) The middle cry, the loud shout of victory, is in the Gospel text the single word tetelestai. Being in the perfect tense, it means ‘it has been and will for ever remain finished’. We note the achievement Jesus claimed just before he died. It is not men who have finished their brutal deed; it is he who has accomplished what he came into the world to do. He has borne the sins of the world. Deliberately, freely and in perfect love he has endured the judgment in our place. He has procured salvation for us, established a new covenant between God and humankind, and made available the chief covenant blessing, the forgiveness of sins. At once the curtain of the Temple, which for centuries had symbolized the alienation of sinners from God, was torn in two from top to bottom, in order to demonstrate that the sin-barrier had been thrown down by God, and the way into his presence opened.
Thirty-six hours later God raised Jesus from the dead. He who had been condemned for us in his death, was publicly vindicated in his resurrection. It was God’s decisive demonstration that he had not died in vain.
All this presents a coherent and logical picture. It gives an explanation of the death of Jesus which takes into proper scientific account all the available data, without avoiding any. It explains the central importance which Jesus attached to his death, why he instituted his supper to commemorate it, and how by his death the new covenant has been ratified, with its promise of forgiveness. It explains his agony of anticipation in the garden, his anguish of dereliction on the cross, and his claim to have decisively accomplished our salvation. All these phenomena become intelligible if we accept the explanation given by Jesus and his apostles that ‘he himself bore our sins in his body on the tree’.
In conclusion, the cross enforces three truths – about ourselves, about God and about Jesus Christ.
First, our sin must be extremely horrible. Nothing reveals the gravity of sin like the cross. For ultimately what sent Christ there was neither the greed of Judas, nor the envy of the priests, nor the vacillating cowardice of Pilate, but our own greed, envy, cowardice and other sins, and Christ’s resolve in love and mercy to bear their judgment and so put them away. It is impossible for us to face Christ’s cross with integrity and not to feel ashamed of ourselves. Apathy, selfishness and complacency blossom everywhere in the world except at the cross. There these noxious weeds shrivel and die. They are seen for the tatty, poisonous things they are. For if there was no way by which the righteous God could righteously forgive our unrighteousness, except that he should bear it himself in Christ, it must be serious indeed. It is only when we see this that, stripped of our self-righteousness and self-satisfaction, we are ready to put our trust in Jesus Christ as the Saviour we urgently need.
Secondly, God’s love must be wonderful beyond comprehension. God could quite justly have abandoned us to our fate. He could have left us alone to reap the fruit of our wrongdoing and to perish in our sins. It is what we deserved. But he did not. Because he loved us, he came after us in Christ. He pursued us even to the desolate anguish of the cross, where he bore our sin, guilt, judgment and death. It takes a hard and stony heart to remain unmoved by love like that. It is more than love. Its proper name is ‘grace’, which is love to the undeserving.
Thirdly, Christ’s salvation must be a free gift. He ‘purchased’ it for us at the high price of his own life-blood. So what is there left for us to pay? Nothing! Since he claimed that all was now ‘finished’, there is nothing for us to contribute. Not of course that we now have a licence to sin and can always count on God’s forgiveness. On the contrary, the same cross of Christ, which is the ground of a free salvation, is also the most powerful incentive to a holy life. But this new life follows. First, we have to humble ourselves at the foot of the cross, confess that we have sinned and deserve nothing at his hand but judgment, thank him that he loved us and died for us, and receive from him a full and free forgiveness. Against this self-humbling our ingrained pride rebels. We resent the idea that we cannot earn – or even contribute to – our own salvation. So we stumble, as Paul put it, over the stumbling-block of the cross.
Thanks to Meir Yona
8. And these were the hard circumstances that the people of Gamala were in. But now Vespasian went about other work by the by, during this siege, and that was to subdue those that had seized upon Mount Tabor, a place that lies in the middle between the great plain and Scythopolis, whose top is elevated as high as thirty furlongs 2 and is hardly to be ascended on its north side; its top is a plain of twenty-six furlongs, and all encompassed with a wall. Now Josephus erected this so long a wall in forty days' time, and furnished it with other materials, and with water from below, for the inhabitants only made use of rain water. As therefore there was a great multitude of people gotten together upon this mountain, Vespasian sent Placidus with six hundred horsemen thither. Now, as it was impossible for him to ascend the mountain, he invited many of them to peace, by the offer of his right hand for their security, and of his intercession for them. Accordingly they came down, but with a treacherous design, as well as he had the like treacherous design upon them on the other side; for Placidus spoke mildly to them, as aiming to take them, when he got them into the plain; they also came down, as complying with his proposals, but it was in order to fall upon him when he was not aware of it: however, Placidus's stratagem was too hard for theirs; for when the Jews began to fight, he pretended to run away, and when they were in pursuit of the Romans, he enticed them a great way along the plain, and then made his horsemen turn back; whereupon he beat them, and slew a great number of them, and cut off the retreat of the rest of the multitude, and hindered their return. So they left Tabor, and fled to Jerusalem, while the people of the country came to terms with him, for their water failed them, and so they delivered up the mountain and themselves to Placidus.
9. But of the people of Gamala, those that were of the bolder sort fled away and hid themselves, while the more infirm perished by famine; but the men of war sustained the siege till the two and twentieth day of the month Hyperbereteus, [Tisri,] when three soldiers of the fifteenth legion, about the Morning watch, got under a high tower that was near them, and undermined it, without making any noise; nor when they either came to it, which was in the night time, nor when they were under it, did those that guarded it perceive them. These soldiers then upon their coming avoided making a noise, and when they had rolled away five of its strongest stones, they went away hastily; whereupon the tower fell down on a sudden, with a very great noise, and its guard fell headlong with it; so that those that kept guard at other places were under such disturbance, that they ran away; the Romans also slew many of those that ventured to oppose them, among whom was Joseph, who was slain by a dart, as he was running away over that part of the wall that was broken down: but as those that were in the city were greatly affrighted at the noise, they ran hither and thither, and a great consternation fell upon them, as though all the enemy had fallen in at once upon them. Then it was that Chares, who was ill, and under the physician's hands, gave up the ghost, the fear he was in greatly contributing to make his distemper fatal to him. But the Romans so well remembered their former ill success, that they did not enter the city till the three and twentieth day of the forementioned month.
10. At which time Titus, who was now returned, out of the indignation he had at the destruction the Romans had undergone while he was absent, took two hundred chosen horsemen and some footmen with him, and entered without noise into the city. Now as the watch perceived that he was coming, they made a noise, and betook themselves to their arms; and as that his entrance was presently known to those that were in the city, some of them caught hold of their children and their wives, and drew them after them, and fled away to the citadel, with lamentations and cries, while others of them went to meet Titus, and were killed perpetually; but so many of them as were hindered from running up to the citadel, not knowing what in the world to do, fell among the Roman guards, while the groans of those that were killed were prodigiously great every where, and blood ran down over all the lower parts of the city, from the upper. But then Vespasian himself came to his assistance against those that had fled to the citadel, and brought his whole army with him; now this upper part of the city was every way rocky, and difficult of ascent, and elevated to a vast altitude, and very full of people on all sides, and encompassed with precipices, whereby the Jews cut off those that came up to them, and did much mischief to others by their darts, and the large stones which they rolled down upon them, while they were themselves so high that the enemy's darts could hardly reach them. However, there arose such a Divine storm against them as was instrumental to their destruction; this carried the Roman darts upon them, and made those which they threw return back, and drove them obliquely away from them; nor could the Jews indeed stand upon their precipices, by reason of the violence of the wind, having nothing that was stable to stand upon, nor could they see those that were ascending up to them; so the Romans got up and surrounded them, and some they slew before they could defend themselves, and others as they were delivering up themselves; and the remembrance of those that were slain at their former entrance into the city increased their rage against them now; a great number also of those that were surrounded on every side, and despaired of escaping, threw their children and their wives, and themselves also, down the precipices, into the valley beneath, which, near the citadel, had been dug hollow to a vast depth; but so it happened, that the anger of the Romans appeared not to be so extravagant as was the madness of those that were now taken, while the Romans slew but four thousand, whereas the number of those that had thrown themselves down was found to be five thousand: nor did any one escape except two women, who were the daughters of Philip, and Philip himself was the son of a certain eminent man called Jacimus, who had been general of king Agrippa's army; and these did therefore escape, because they lay concealed from the rage of the Romans when the city was taken; for otherwise they spared not so much as the infants, of which many were flung down by them from the citadel. And thus was Gamala taken on the three and twentieth day of the month Hyperbereteus, [Tisri,] whereas the city had first revolted on the four and twentieth day of the month Gorpieus [Elul].
The Project Gutenberg EBook of The Wars of the Jews or History of the Destruction of Jerusalem, by Flavius Josephus Translator: William WhistonThe War of the Jews: The History of the Destruction of Jerusalem (complete edition, 7 books)
R.C. Sproul 6/01/2012
In the seventeenth chapter of his gospel, the Apostle John recounts the most extensive prayer that is recorded in the New Testament. It is a prayer of intercession by Jesus for His disciples and for all who would believe through their testimony. Consequently, this prayer is called Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer. Christ implored the Father in this prayer that His people might be one. He went so far as to ask the Father that “they may be one even as we are one” (v. 22b). He desired that the unity of the people of God — the unity of the church — would reflect and mirror the unity that exists between the Father and the Son.
Early in church history, as the church fathers were hammering out the cardinal doctrines of the faith, they wrestled with the nature of the church. In the fourth century, in the Nicene Creed, the church was defined with four adjectival qualifiers: one, holy, catholic, and Apostolic. These early saints believed, as Scripture teaches, that the church is one, a unity.
We know that the prayers of Christ, our High Priest, are efficacious and powerful. We know that the early church experienced remarkable unity (Acts 2:42–47; 4:32). Yet the church today, in its visible manifestation, is probably more fragmented and fractured than at any time in church history. There are thousands of denominations in the United States and even more around the world. How, then, are we to understand Christ’s prayer for the unity of the church? How are we to understand the ancient church’s declaration that the church is one?
There have been different approaches to this. In the twentieth century, we witnessed the rise of relativistic pluralism, a philosophy that allows for a wide diversity of theological viewpoints and doctrines within a single body. In the face of numerous doctrinal disputes, some churches have tried to maintain unity by accommodating many differing views. Such pluralism has frequently succeeded in maintaining unity — at least organizational and structural unity.
However, there’s always a price tag for pluralism, and historically, the price tag has been the confessional purity of the church. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, when the Protestant movement began, various ecclesiastical groups created confessions, creedal statements that set forth the doctrines these groups embraced. In the main, these documents reiterated that body of doctrine that had been passed down through the centuries, having been defined in the so-called ecumenical councils of the first several centuries. These confessions also spelled out the particular beliefs of these various groups. For centuries, Protestantism was defined confessionally. But in our day, the older confessions have been largely relativized as churches try to broaden their confessional stances in order to achieve a visible unity.
There has always been a certain level of pluralism within historic Christianity. The church has always made a distinction between heresy and error. It is a distinction not of kind but of degree. The church is always plagued with errors, or at least members who are in error in their thinking and beliefs. But when an error becomes so serious that it threatens the very life of the church, when it begins to approach a doctrinal mistake that affects the essentials of the Christian faith, the church has had to stand up and say: “This is not what we believe. This false belief is heresy and cannot be tolerated within this church.” Simply put, the church has recognized that it can live with differences that are not of the essence of the church, matters that are not essentials of the faith. But other matters are far more serious, striking at the very basics of the faith. So, we make a distinction between those errors that impact the being of the church — major heresies — and lesser errors that impact the well-being of the church.
Today, however, the church, in order to achieve unity, increasingly negotiates central truths, such as the deity of Christ and the substitutionary atonement. This must not be allowed to happen, for the Bible calls us to “the unity of the faith” (Eph. 4:13), a unity based on the truth of God’s Word. Believers who are trying to be faithful to the Scriptures know that the New Testament writers stress the need for us to guard the truth of the faith once delivered (Jude 3; 1 Tim. 6:20a) as well as the need for us to beware those who would undermine the truth of the Apostolic faith by means of false doctrine (Matt. 7:15).
The Christian faith is lived on the razor’s edge. The Apostle Paul says, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (Rom. 12:18). We need to bend over backward to keep peace and maintain unity. Yet, at the same time, we are called to be faithful to the truth of the gospel and to maintain the purity of the church. That purity must never be sacrificed to safeguard unity, for such unity is no unity at all.
- 1 The Consequences of Ideas: Understanding the Concepts that Shaped Our World
- 2 The Holiness of God
- 3 Chosen by God
- 4 Essential Truths of the Christian Faith
- 5 What Is Reformed Theology?: Understanding the Basics
- 6 Knowing Scripture
- 7 The Donkey Who Carried a King
- 8 Defending Your Faith: An Introduction to Apologetics
- 9 Be Still, My Soul: Embracing God's Purpose and Provision in Suffering
- 10 Romans
- 11 Everyone's A Theologian
- 12 John (St. Andrew's Expositional Commentary)
- 13 Classic Teachings on the Nature of God: The Holiness of God; Chosen by God; Pleasing God—Three Books in One
- 14 The Priest with Dirty Clothes
- 15 Are We Together? A Protestant Analyzes Roman Catholicism
- 16 The Work of Christ: What the Events of Jesus' Life Mean for You
- 17 The Barber Who Wanted to Pray
- 18 God's Love: How the Infinite God Cares for His Children (Classic Theology)
- 19 The Prince's Poison Cup
- 20 Mark: St. Andrews Expositional Commentary
- 21 The Mystery of the Holy Spirit
- 22 Does Prayer Change Things? (Crucial Questions (Reformation Trust))
- 23 The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version Hardcover w/Maps
- 24 Now, That's a Good Question!
- 25 The Intimate Marriage: A Practical Guide to Building a Great Marriage (R. C. Sproul Library)
- 26 O Love That Will Not Let Me Go: Facing Death with Courageous Confidence in God
- 27 The Prayer of the Lord
- 28 After Darkness, Light: Distinctives of Reformed Theology: Essays in Honor of R. C. Sproul
- 29 The Last Days according to Jesus: When Did Jesus Say He Would Return?
- 30 The Lightlings
- 31 Who Is the Holy Spirit? (Crucial Questions (Reformation Trust))
- 32 Classical Apologetics
- 33 Surprised by Suffering: The Role of Pain and Death in The Christian Life
- 34 Faith Alone: The Evangelical Doctrine of Justification
- 35 What is the Trinity? (Crucial Questions (Reformation Trust))
- 36 The King Without a Shadow
- 37 Reason to Believe: A Response to Common Objections to Christianity
- 38 Unseen Realities: Heaven, Hell, Angels and Demons
- 39 Ultimate Issues (R. C. Sproul Library)
- 40 Can I Be Sure I'm Saved? (Crucial Questions (Reformation Trust))
- 41 How Should I Think about Money? (Crucial Questions)
- 42 What is Repentance? (Crucial Questions (Reformation Trust))
- 43 Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus: Experiencing the Peace and Promise of Christmas
- 44 Does God Control Everything? (Crucial Questions (Reformation Trust))
- 45 Feed My Sheep: A Passionate Plea for Preaching
- 46 Can I Know God's Will? (Crucial Questions (Reformation Trust))
- 47 Getting the Gospel Right: The Tie That Binds Evangelicals Together
- 48 Who Is Jesus? (Crucial Questions (Reformation Trust))
- 49 Can I Trust the Bible? (Crucial Questions (Reformation Trust))
- 50 Holy Bible: New Geneva Study Bible, New King James Version
- 51 Sola Scriptura: The Protestant Position on the Bible
- 52 What is Baptism? (Crucial Questions (Reformation Trust))
- 53 A Walk With God: Luke
- 54 Cómo defender su fe (Una Introduccion a La Apologetica) (Spanish Edition)
- 55 Saved from What?
- 56 What Is Faith? (Crucial Questions (Reformation Trust))
- 57 Lifeviews
- 58 What Does It Mean to Be Born Again? (Crucial Questions (Reformation Trust))
- 59 Grace Unknown: The Heart of Reformed Theology
- 60 The Invisible Hand: Do All Things Really Work for Good? (R. C. Sproul Library)
- 61 Can I Have Joy in My Life? (Crucial Questions (Reformation Trust))
- 62 By R. C. Sproul - Knowing Scripture (First) (1/26/09)
by D.H. Stern
let your eyes observe my ways.
Complete Jewish Bible : An English Version of the Tanakh (Old Testament) and B'Rit Hadashah (New Testament)
A Daily Devotional by Oswald Chambers
My Utmost for His Highest
Said I not unto thee, that if thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest see the glory of God? --- John 11:40.
Every time you venture out in the life of faith, you will find something in your commonsense circumstances that flatly contradicts your faith. Common sense is not faith, and faith is not common sense; they stand in the relation of the natural and the spiritual. Can you trust Jesus Christ where your common sense cannot trust Him? Can you venture heroically on Jesus Christ’s statements when the facts of your commonsense life shout ‘It’s a lie’? On the mount it is easy to say—‘Oh yes, I believe God can do it’; but you have to come down into the demon-possessed valley and meet with facts that laugh ironically at the whole of your mount-of-transfiguration belief. Every time my programme of belief is clear to my own mind, I come across something that contradicts it. Let me say I believe God will supply all my need, and then let me run dry, with no outlook, and see whether I will go through the trial of faith, or whether I will sink back to something lower.
Faith must be tested, because it can be turned into a personal possession only through conflict. What is your faith up against just now? The test will either prove that your faith is right, or it will kill it. “Blessed is he whosoever shall not be offended in Me.” The final thing is confidence in Jesus. Believe steadfastly on Him and all you come up against will develop your faith. There is continual testing in the life of faith, and the last great test is death. May God keep us in fighting trim! Faith is unutterable trust in God which never dreams that He will not stand by us.
the Poetry of RS Thomas
The fox drags its wounded belly
Over the snow, the crimson seeds
Of blood burst with a mild explosion,
Soft as excrement, bold as roses.
Over the snow that feels no pity,
Whose white hands can give no healing,
The fox drags its wounded belly.
BIBLE TEXT / Leviticus 20:25–26 / So you shall set apart the clean beast from the unclean, the unclean bird from the clean. You shall not draw abomination upon yourselves through beast or bird or anything with which the ground is alive, which I have set apart for you to treat as unclean. You shall be holy to Me, for I the Lord am holy, and I have set you apart from other peoples to be Mine.
MIDRASH TEXT / Sifra Kedoshim 9:11–12 / You shall be holy to Me, for I the Lord am holy. Just as I am holy, so you too shall be holy. Just as I abstain, so too you shall abstain.
I have set you apart from other peoples to be Mine. If you are set apart from other peoples—then you are Mine. And if not, you belong to Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, and his associates.
Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah says, “From where [do we know] that a person should not say, ‘It is impossible for me to eat pork; it is impossible for me to have sexual relations with a forbidden person,’ but rather, ‘It is possible for me, but what can I do since my Father in heaven has decreed this upon me?’ The Torah says, ‘I have set you apart from other peoples to be Mine’—this means abstaining from sin and accepting upon himself the Kingdom of heaven.”
CONTEXT / Our Midrash looks to define the concept of “holiness” and to understand what it means to be “a holy people.” Since no independent definition of the term is given in the Bible, the Rabbis have to develop their understanding of holiness based upon the context in which the concept is used. From the biblical passage that is quoted, we can see an important clue. To be holy is, in some way, to be like God, since God is holy: “You shall be holy to Me, for I the Lord am holy.” We then have to ask: What aspect of God is it possible for human beings to emulate? The Rabbis center on the idea that God is different, special, unique. By nature, God is distinct from every other thing in the universe. However, the Jewish people are not, by their very nature, different from every other people. If the Jews are going to emulate God’s uniqueness, then it can be only by their making conscious choices to be different. Consequently, the word “holy” is translated by the Rabbis using the Hebrew word פָּרוּשׁ/parush, “abstaining.” Just as I abstain, so too you shall abstain. One becomes holy by abstaining from certain behaviors in which the rest of the world engages.
This brings us to why Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah chose as his two examples pork and forbidden sexual relations. Chapter 20 of the Book of Leviticus speaks about “holiness.” Much of this chapter then concerns itself with biblical notions of sexual immorality: adultery, incest, homosexuality, and bestiality (20:10–21). This is the basis of the statement in the Midrash about forbidden sexual relations. The Torah then goes on, in verse 25, to refer to the dietary restrictions, mentioning in particular animals and fowl. Because the Torah discusses both together, Rabbi Elazar uses both examples.
The Midrash continues by advising how one should relate to these restrictions. One should not say, “It is impossible for me to eat pork.” That is, “Pork is disgusting; I hate pork.” “It is impossible for me to have sexual relations with a forbidden person,” in other words, “That woman is repulsive, and therefore I could never have sex with her.” Rather, one should take the approach: “There is nothing inherently bad about pork. We Jews don’t eat it because God told us not to.” And “That woman is desirable, but because she is married, I may not have relations with her.” In the words of the Midrash, “What can I do since my Father in heaven has decreed this upon me?” By abstaining from such forbidden things, the Jews would be set apart as different, unique, special—that is, holy.
In the middle section of this Midrash, Nebuchadnezzar is cast as the negative alternative to God. Nebuchadnezzar was King of Babylon (605–562 B.C.E.), conqueror of Judah, and the destroyer of the First Temple in Jerusalem. He is often used by the Rabbis as a veiled substitute for the Roman emperor of their own time.
He spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm.--- Psalm 33:9.
The power of God appears in raising up a church to himself in spite of all his enemies. (Thomas Boston, “Of God and His Perfections,” downloaded from The Boston Homepage at www.geocities.com/~thomasboston, accessed Aug. 21, 2001.) For there were many and great difficulties in the way, such as gross and detestable idolatry. The princes of the world thought themselves obliged to prevent the introduction of a new religion, for fear that their empires should be in danger or the greatness and majesty of them impaired. If we consider the means by which the Gospel was propagated, the divine power will evidently appear. The persons employed in this great work were a few illiterate fishers, with a publican and a tentmaker, without authority to force people to obedience and without eloquence to enforce the belief of the doctrines they taught. Yet this doctrine prevailed, and the Gospel had wonderful success through all the parts of the then-known world. How could this possibly be, without a mighty operation of the power of God on human hearts?
The power of God appears in preserving, defending, and supporting his church under the trouble and persecution that were raised against it: “The gates of Hades will not overcome it” (Matt. 16:18). The most flourishing monarchies have decayed and wasted, and the strongest kingdoms have been broken in pieces, yet the church has been preserved to this very day. God has displayed his power in the preservation of his church and people, notwithstanding all the rage, power, and malice of their enemies.
The power of God appears in the conversion of the elect. O what a mighty power quells the lusts and stubbornness of the heart, demolishes the strongholds of sin in the soul, routs all the armies of corrupt nature, and makes the obstinate and rebellious will strike sail to Christ! The power of God that is exerted here is greater than there was in the creation of the world. For when God made the world, he met with no opposition; but when he comes to convert a sinner, he meets with all the opposition that the Devil and a corrupt heart can make against him. God wrought only one miracle in the creation, but there are many miracles wrought in conversion. The blind is made to see, the dead raised, and the deaf hears the voice of the Son of God. O the infinite power of Jehovah! In this work the mighty arm of the Lord in revealed.
--- Thomas Boston
Mass Escape August 29
John Dick, son of an Edinburgh lawyer, was a graduate of Edinburgh University where he studied theology in hope of becoming a minister of the Gospel. He didn’t make it, for he was among the Presbyterians deemed outlaws during the reign of Charles II. He lived a fugitive’s life until betrayed by a poor woman who later lost her mind over the incident.
John was brought before the Committee of Public Affairs on August 29, 1683, found guilty of treason, and sentenced to die by hanging. The Canongate tollbooth contained two large upper cells, and John, tossed into one of them, found there two dozen other religious prisoners. The men joined hearts in prayer, asking God’s help as they planned a mass escape. News seeped out, and Presbyterians all over Edinburgh prayed for a successful breakout. On the appointed night, the men begin sawing painstakingly through the iron bars of their glassless window.
The first bar was cut about nine o’clock, but to the horror of all, before any of them could catch it, it fell down into the narrow street near the sentry. They held their breath and watched and prayed, but no alarm sounded. They continued their furtive work; then one by one, the men dropped from the window and disappeared into the night. The next Morning, confusion erupted through official Edinburgh. Police, city fathers, guards and sentries were questioned; but none of the prisoners was ever recaptured—except John Dick. He enjoyed but six months of freedom, using the time to write his 58-page The One Year Christian History (One Year Books) which, despite its unwieldy title, circulated widely. Then, his book finished, he was captured; and on the scaffold he sang Psalm 2, read Ezekiel 9, and preached his last sermon, saying: “Remember when Abraham was about to sacrifice his son? Isaac said, ‘Here is the wood, and the fire, but where is the sacrifice?’ ” John Dick turned and gazed upon the gallows. “Now blessed be the Lord,” he said, “here is the sacrifice.”
They arrested the apostles and put them in the city jail. But that night an angel from the Lord opened the doors of the jail and led the apostles out.
--- Acts 5:18.
Daily Readings / CHARLES H. SPURGEON
Morning - August 29
“Have mercy upon me, O God.”
--- Psalm 51:1.
When Dr. Carey was suffering from a dangerous illness, the enquiry was made, “If this sickness should prove fatal, what passage would you select as the text for your funeral sermon?” He replied, “Oh, I feel that such a poor sinful creature is unworthy to have anything said about him; but if a funeral sermon must be preached, let it be from the words, ‘Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness; according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions.’ ” In the same spirit of humility he directed in his will that the following inscription and nothing more should be cut on his gravestone:—
WILLIAM CAREY, BORN AUGUST 17th, 1761: DIED - -
“A wretched, poor, and helpless worm
On thy kind arms I fall.”
Only on the footing of free grace can the most experienced and most honoured of the saints approach their God. The best of men are conscious above all others that they are men at the best. Empty boats float high, but heavily laden vessels are low in the water; mere professors can boast, but true children of God cry for mercy upon their unprofitableness. We have need that the Lord should have mercy upon our good works, our prayers, our preachings, our alms-givings, and our holiest things. The blood was not only sprinkled upon the doorposts of Israel’s dwelling houses, but upon the sanctuary, the mercy-seat, and the altar, because as sin intrudes into our holiest things, the blood of Jesus is needed to purify them from defilement. If mercy be needed to be exercised towards our duties, what shall be said of our sins? How sweet the remembrance that inexhaustible mercy is waiting to be gracious to us, to restore our backslidings, and make our broken bones rejoice!
Evening - August 29
“All the days of his separation shall he eat nothing that is made of the vine tree, from the kernels even to the husk.” --- Numbers 6:4.
Nazarites had taken, among other vows, one which debarred them from the use of wine. In order that they might not violate the obligation, they were forbidden to drink the vinegar of wine or strong liquors, and to make the rule still more clear, they were not to touch the unfermented juice of grapes, nor even to eat the fruit either fresh or dried. In order, altogether, to secure the integrity of the vow, they were not even allowed anything that had to do with the vine; they were, in fact, to avoid the appearance of evil. Surely this is a lesson to the Lord’s separated ones, teaching them to come away from sin in every form, to avoid not merely its grosser shapes, but even its spirit and similitude. Strict walking is much despised in these days, but rest assured, dear reader, it is both the safest and the happiest. He who yields a point or two to the world is in fearful peril; he who eats the grapes of Sodom will soon drink the wine of Gomorrah. A little crevice in the sea-bank in Holland lets in the sea, and the gap speedily swells till a province is drowned. Worldly conformity, in any degree, is a snare to the soul, and makes it more and more liable to presumptuous sins. Moreover, as the Nazarite who drank grape juice could not be quite sure whether it might not have endured a degree of fermentation, and consequently could not be clear in heart that his vow was intact, so the yielding, temporizing Christian cannot wear a conscience void of offence, but must feel that the inward monitor is in doubt of him. Things doubtful we need not doubt about; they are wrong to us. Things tempting we must not dally with, but flee from them with speed. Better be sneered at as a Puritan than be despised as a hypocrite. Careful walking may involve much self-denial, but it has pleasures of its own which are more than a sufficient recompense.
PRECIOUS LORD, TAKE MY HAND
Thomas A. Dorsey, 1899–1993
For I am the Lord, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, “Do not fear; I will help you.” Isaiah 41:13)
Out of a broken heart after his wife and newly born son had both died, Thomas Dorsey cried to his Lord to lead him “through the storm, through the night” In doing so, he created lines that have since ministered to others in an unusual way. This tender song, written by a black Gospel musician in 1932, has since been a favorite with Christians everywhere.
Thomas A. Dorsey grew up in Georgia as a “preacher’s kid.” As he began to be successful as a composer of jazz and blues songs, however, he drifted away from God. After it seemed to him that he was miraculously spared in brushes with death, Dorsey came back to the Lord. As his life dramatically changed he began to write Gospel songs and to sing in church services. It was during a revival meeting in St. Louis, Missouri, that he received a telegram telling the tragic news of his wife and infant son. Stunned and grief-stricken, Dorsey cried, “God, you aren’t worth a dime to me right now!”
A few weeks later, however, as Dorsey fingered the keyboard of a piano, he created the lines of “Precious Lord” to fit a tune that was familiar to him. The following Sunday the choir of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in South Chicago, Illinois, sang the new song with Dorsey playing the accompaniment. “It tore up the church!”
God continued to lead Thomas Dorsey by the hand until he had written more than 250 Gospel songs. He once stated:
“My business is to try to bring people to Christ instead of leaving them where they are. I write for all of God’s people. All people are my people. What I share with people is love. I try to lift their spirits and let them know that God still loves them. He’s still saving, and He can still give that power.”
* * * *
Precious Lord, take my hand, lead me on, help me stand—I am tired, I am weak, I am worn; thro’ the storm, thro’ the night, lead me on to the light—Take my hand, precious Lord, lead me home.
When my way grows drear, Precious Lord, linger near—when my life is almost gone. Hear my cry, hear my call, hold my hand lest I fall—Take my hand, precious Lord, lead me home.
For Today: 27:11; 48:14; John 1:7; 10:3
Enjoy the fellowship of God so strongly that you feel He is holding your hand and leading you in whatever circumstances you may find yourself. Share this testimony of Thomas Dorsey as you go ---
Origins and Authority of NT
"Canon Revisited: Establishing the Origins and Authority of the New Testament Books
At this point, the critic of the New Testament might respond by saying that this whole affair sounds suspiciously circular. After all, it is no surprise that Christians “conclude” that the New Testament is harmonious—they already believe in the truth of the New Testament from the outset! Therefore, it is not proper (it is argued) to allow those who believe the New Testament to be the final judges of its theological harmony. (112) However, this argument cuts both ways. If the Christian assumes the truth of the New Testament while arguing for its unity, then it is clear that the non-Christian assumes the falsity of the New Testament while arguing for its disunity. He assumes that (at least) 1 Corinthians 2:14 is mistaken and that New Testament theology can be understood rightly by those without the Spirit. (113) Thus, one could ask why we should allow those who have already rejected the New Testament to be the final judges of its theological harmony? Again, keeping with the music analogy, that would be like allowing a person who is tone-deaf (and thus rejects this whole concept of being “on key”) to judge a singing contest. If the tone-deaf person were kept from judging, he might object and claim that this whole “on key” thing is a sham run by musical insiders who claim to have a special ability to hear such things. But despite all the protests, the truth of the matter would remain: there is such a thing as being on key whether the tone-deaf person hears it or not.
DISCOURSE III - ON GOD’S BEING A SPIRIT
We can conceive no other of God, if he were not a pure, entire, unmixed Spirit. If he had distinct parts, he would depend upon them; those parts would be before him; his essence would be the effect of those distinct parts, and so be would not be absolutely and entirely the first being; but he is so (Isa. 44:6): “I am the first, and I am the last.” He is the first; nothing is before him. Whereas, if he had bodily parts, and those finite, it would follow, God is made up of those parts which are not God; and that which is not God, is in order of nature before that which is God. So that we see if God were not a Spirit he could not be independent.
6. If God were not a Spirit, he were not immutable and unchangeable. His immutability depends upon his simplicity. He is unchangeable in his essence, because he is a pure and unmixed spiritual Being. Whatsoever is compounded of parts may be divided into those parts, and resolved into those distinct parts which make up and constitute the nature. Whatsoever is compounded is changeable in its own nature, though it should never be changed. Adam, who was constituted of body and soul, had he stood in innocence, had not died; there had been no separation made between his soul and body whereof he was constituted, and his body had not resolved into those principles of dust from whence it was extracted. Y et in his own nature he was dissoluble into those distinct parts whereof he was compounded; and so the glorified saints in heaven, after the resurrection, and the happy meeting of their souls and bodies in a new marriage knot, shall never be dissolved; yet in their own nature they are mutable and dissoluble, and cannot be otherwise, because they are made up of such distinct parts that may be separated in their own nature, unless sustained by the grace of God: they are immutable by will, the will of God, not by nature. God is immutable by nature as well as will: as he hath a necessary existence, so be hath a necessary unchangeableness (Mal. 3:6), “I, the Lord, change not.” He is as unchangeable in his essence as in his veracity and faithfulness: they are perfections belonging to his nature. But if he were not a pure Spirit, he could not be immutable by nature.
7. If God were not a pure Spirit, he could not be omnipresent. He is in heaven above, and the earth below; he fills heaven and earth. The divine essence is at once in heaven and earth; but it is impossible a body can be in two places at one and the same time. Since God is everywhere, he must be spiritual. Had he a body, he could not penetrate all things; he would be circumscribed in place. He could not be everywhere but in parts, not in the whole; one member in one place, and another in another; for to be confined to a particular place, is the property of a body: but, since he is diffused through the whole world, higher than heaven, deeper than hell, longer than the earth, broader than the sea, he hath not any corporeal matter. If he had a body wherewith to fill heaven and earth, there could be no body besides his own: it is the nature of bodies to bound one another, and hinder the extending of one another. Two bodies cannot be in the same place in the same point of earth: one excludes the other; and it will follow hence that we are nothing, no substances, mere illusions; there could be no place for anybody else. If his body were as big as the world, as it must be if with that he filled heaven and earth, there would not be room for him to move a hand or a foot, or extend a finger; for there would be no place remaining for the motion.
8. If God were not a Spirit, he could not be the most perfect being. The more perfect anything is in the rank of creatures, the more spiritual and simple it is, as gold is the more pure and perfect that hath least mixture of other metals. If God were not a Spirit, there would be creatures of a more excellent nature than God, as angels and souls, which the Scripture call spirits, in opposition to bodies. There is more of perfection in the first notion of a spirit than in the notion of a body. God cannot be less perfect than his creatures, and contribute an excellency of being to them which he wants himself. If angels and souls possess such an excellency, and God want that excellency, he would be less than his creatures, and the excellency of the effect would exceed the excellency of the cause. But every creature, even the highest creature, is infinitely short of the perfection of God; for whatsoever excellency they have is finite and limited; it is but a spark from the sun—a drop from the ocean; but God is unboundedly perfect, in the highest manner, without any limitation; and therefore above spirits, angels, the highest creatures that were made by him: an infinite sublimity, a pure act, to which nothing can be added, from which nothing can be taken. “In him there is light and no darkness,” spirituality without any matter, perfection without any shadow or taint of imperfection. Light pierceth into all things, preserves its own purity, and admits of no mixture of anything else with it.
Question. It may be said, If God be a Spirit, and it is impossible he can be otherwise than a Spirit, how comes God so often to have such members as we have in our bodies ascribed to him, not only a soul, but particular bodily parts, as heart, arms, hands, ayes, ears, face, and back parts? And how is it that he is never called a Spirit in plain words, but in this text by our Saviour? Answer. It is true, many parts of the body, and natural affections of the human nature, are reported of God in Scripture. Head, eyes and eye-lids, apple of the eye, mouth, &c.; our affections also, grief, joy, anger, &c. But it is to be considered, 1. That this is in condescension to our weakness. God being desirous to make himself known to man, whom he created for his glory, humbles, as it were, his own nature to such representations as may suit and assist the capacity of the creature; since by the condition of our nature nothing erects a notion of itself in our understanding, but as it is conducted in by our sense. God hath served himself of those things which are most exposed to our sense, most obvious to our understandings, to give us some acquaintance with his own nature, and those things which otherwise we were not capable of having any notion of. As our souls are linked with our bodies, so our knowledge is linked with our sense; that we can scarce imagine anything, at first, but under a corporeal form and figure, till we come, by great attention to the object, to make, by the help of reason, a separation of the spiritual substance from the corporeal fancy, and consider it in its own nature. We are not able to conceive a spirit, without some kind of resemblance to something below it, nor understand the actions of a spirit, without considering the operations of a human body in its several members. As the glories of another life are signified to us by the pleasures of this; so the nature of God, by a gracious condescension to our capacities, is signified to us by a likeness to our own. The more familiar the things are to us which God uses to this purpose, the more proper they are to teach us what he intends by them.
2. All such representations are to signify the acts of God, as they bear some likeness to those which we perform by those members he ascribes to himself. So that those members ascribed to him rather note his visible operations to us, than his invisible nature; and signify that God doth some works like to those which men do by the assistance of those organs of their bodies. So the wisdom of God is called his eye, because he knows that with his mind which we see with our eyes. The efficiency of God is called his hand and arm; because as we act with our hands, so doth God with his power. The divine efficacies are signified:—by his eyes and ears, we understand his omniscience; by his face, the manifestation of his favor; by his mouth, the revelation of his will; by his nostrils, the acceptation of our prayers; by his bowels, the tenderness of his compassion; by his heart, the sincerity of his affections; by his hand, the strength of his power; by his feet, the ubiquity of his presence. And in this, he intends instruction and comfort: by his eyes, he signifies his watchfulness over us; by his ears, his readiness to hear the cries of the oppressed; by his arm, his power—an arm to destroy his enemies, and an arm to relieve his people. All those are attributed to God to signify divine actions, which he doth without bodily organs as we do with them.
3. Consider also, that only those members which are the instruments of the noblest actions, and under that consideration, are used by him to represent a notion of him to our minds. Whatsoever is perfect and excellent is ascribed to him, but nothing that savors of imperfection. The heart is ascribed to him, it being the principle of vital actions, to signify the life that he hath in himself; watchful and discerning ayes, not sleepy and lazy ones; a mouth to reveal his will, not to take in food. To eat and sleep are never ascribed to him, nor those parts that belong to the preparing or transmitting nourishment to the several parts of the body, as stomach, liver, reins, nor bowels under that consideration, but as they are significant of compassion; but only those parts are ascribed to him whereby we acquire knowledge, as eyes and ears, the organs of learning and wisdom; or to communicate it to others, as the mouth, lips, tongue, as they are instruments of speaking, not of tasting; or those parts which signify strength and power, or whereby we perform the actions of charity for the relief of others; taste and touch, senses that extend no farther than to corporeal things, and are the grossest of all the senses, are never ascribed to him.
4. It were worth consideration, “whether this describing God by the members of a human body were so much figuratively to be understood, as with respect to the incarnation of our Saviour, who was to assume the human nature, and all the members of a human body?” Asaph, speaking in the person of God (Psalm 78:1), “I will open my mouth in parables;” in regard of God it is to be understood figuratively, but in regard of Christ literally, to whom it is applied (Matt. 13:34, 35); and that apparition (Isa. 6.) which was the appearance of Jehovah, is applied to Christ (John 12:40, 41). After the report of the creation, and the forming of man, we read of God’s speaking to him, but not of God’s appearing. to him in any visible shape. A voice might be formed in the air to give man notice of his duty; some way of information he must have what positive laws he was to observe, besides that law which was engraves in his nature, which we call the law of nature; and without a voice the knowledge of the divine will could not be so conveniently communicated to man. Though God was heard in a voice, he was not seen in a shape; but after the fall we several times read of his appearing in such a form; though we read of his speaking before man’s committing of sin, yet not of his walking, which is more corporeal, till afterwards.
“Though God would not have man believe him to be corporeal, yet he judged it expedient to give some prenotices of that divine incarnation which he had promised.”
5. Therefore, we must not conceive of the visible Deity according to the letter of such expressions, but the true intent of them. Though the Scripture speaks of his eyes and arm, yet it denies them to be “arms of flesh.” We must not conceive of God according to the letter, but the design of the metaphor. When we hear things described by metaphorical expressions, for the clearing them up to our fancy, we conceive not of them under that garb, but remove the veil by an act of our reason. When Christ is called a sun, a vine, bread, is any so stupid as to conceive him to be a vine with material branches, and clusters, or be of the same nature with a loaf? But the things designed by such metaphors are obvious to the conception of a mean understanding. If we would conceive God to have a body like a man, because he describes himself so, we may conceit him to be like a bird, because he is mentioned with wings; or like a lion, or leopard, because he likens himself to them in the acts of his strength and fury. He is called a rock, a horn, fire, to note his strength and wrath; if any be so stupid as to think God to be really such, they would make him not only a man but worse than a monster. Onkelos, the Chaldee paraphrast upon parts of the Scripture, was so tender of expressing the notion of any corporeity in God, that when he meets with any expressions of that nature, he translates them according to the true intent of them; as when God is said that when he meets with any expressions of that nature, he translates them according to the true intent of them; as when God is said to descend (Gen. 11:5), which implies a local motion, a motion from one place to another, he translates it, “And God revealed himself.” We should conceive of God according to the design of the expressions; when we read of his eyes, we should conceive his omniscience; of his hand, his power; of his sitting, his immutability; of his throne, his majesty; and conceive of him as surmounting, not only the grossness of bodies, but the spiritual excellency of the most dignified creatures; something so perfect, great, spiritual, as nothing can be conceived higher and purer. “Christ,” with one, “is truly Deus figuratus; and for his sake, was it more easily permitted to the Jews to think of God in the shape of a man.”
Use. If God be a pure spiritual being, then 1. Man is not the image of God, according to his external bodily form and figure. The image of God in man consisted not in what is seen, but in what is not seen; not in the conformation of the members, but rather in the spiritual faculties of the soul; or, most of all, in the holy endowments of those faculties (Eph. 4:24): “That ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.” The image which is restored by redeeming grace, was the image of God by original nature. The image of God cannot be in that part which is common to us with beasts, but rather in that wherein we excel all living creatures, in reason, understanding, and an immortal spirit. God expressly saith, that none “saw a similitude” of him (Deut. 4:15, 16); whioh had not been true, if man, in regard of his body, had been the image and similitude of God, for then a figure of God had been seen every day, as often as we saw a man or beheld ourselves. Nor would the apostle’s argument stand good (Acts 17:29), “That the Godhead is not like to stone graven by art,” if we were not the offspring of God, and bore the stamp of his nature in our spirits rather than our bodies. It was a fancy of Eugubinus, that when God set upon the actual creation of man, he took a bodily form for an exemplar of that which he would express in his work, and therefore that the words of Moses are to be understood of the body of man; because there was in man such a shape which God had then assumed. To let alone God’s forming himself a body for that work as a groundless fancy, man can in no wise be said to be the image of God, in regard of the substance of his body; but beasts may as well be said to be made in the image of God, whose bodies have the same members as the body of man for the most part, and excel men in the acuteness of the senses and swiftness of their motion, agility of body, greatness of strength, and in some kind of ingenuities also, wherein man hath been a scholar to the brutes, and beholden to their skill. The soul comes nearest the nature of God, as being a spiritual substance; yet considered singly, in regard of its spiritual substance, cannot well be said to be the image of God; a beast, because of its corporeity, may as well be called the image of a man, for there is a greater similitude between man and a brute, in the rank of bodies, than there can be between God and the highest angels in the rank of spirits. If it doth not consist in the substance of the soul, much less can it in any similitude of the body. This image consisted partly in the state of man, as he had dominion over the creatures; partly in the nature of man, as he was an intelligent being, and thereby was capable of having a grant of that dominion; but principally in the conformity of the soul with God, in the frame of his spirit, and the holiness of his actions; not at all in the figure and form of his body, physically, though morally there might be, as there was a rectitude in the body as an instrument to conform to the holy motions of the soul, as the holiness of the soul sparkled in the actions and members of the body. If man were like God because he hath a body, whatsoever hath a body hath some resemblance to God, and may be said to be in part his image; but the truth is, the essence of all creatures cannot be an image of the immense essence of God.
Martin Luther | (1483-1546)
Sect. CXXXIII. — HERE, I bring to a conclusion, THE DEFENCE OF MY SCRIPTURES WHICH THE DIATRIBE ATTEMPTED TO REFUTE; lest my book should be swelled to too great a bulk: and if there be anything yet remaining that is worthy of notice, it shall be taken into THE FOLLOWING PART; WHEREIN, I MAKE MY ASSERTIONS. For as to what Erasmus says in his conclusion — ‘that, if my sentiments stand good, the numberless precepts, the numberless threatenings, the numberless promises, are all in vain, and no place is left for merit or demerit, for rewards or punishments; that moreover, it is difficult to defend the mercy, nay, even the justice of God, if God damn sinners of necessity; and that many other difficulties follow, which have so troubled some of the greatest men, as even to utterly overthrow them,’ —
To all these things I have fully replied already. Nor will I receive or bear with that moderate medium, which Erasmus would (with a good intention, I believe,) recommend to me; — ‘that we should grant some certain little to “Free-will;” in order that, the contradictions of the Scripture, and the difficulties before mentioned, might be the more easily remedied.’ — For by this moderate medium, the matter is not bettered, nor is any advantage gained whatever. Because, unless you ascribe the whole and all things to “Free-will,” as the Pelagians do, the ‘contradictions’ in the Scriptures are not altered, merit and reward are taken entirely away, the mercy and justice of God are abolished, and all the difficulties which we try to avoid by allowing this ‘certain little ineffective power’ to “Free-will,” remain just as they were before; as I have already fully shewn. Therefore, we must come to the plain extreme, deny “Free-will” altogether, and ascribe all unto God! Thus, there will be in the Scriptures no contradictions; and if there be any difficulties, they will be borne with, where they cannot be remedied.
The Bondage of the Will or Christian Classics Ethereal Library
Excerpt From Simply Christian
If the Spirit is the one who brings God’s future into the present, the Spirit is also the one who joins heaven and earth together. We are back again with Option Three. We had better remind ourselves how this works.
Option One, you’ll recall, is to see heaven and earth as basically coterminous. It is a way of saying that there is a divine power, force, or presence in and with all that exists, ourselves included. This is pantheism. It is a way of recognizing that nothing in the world we know is free from the smell of divinity—but it goes on to conclude that that’s all there is, that divinity is simply the sum total of this divine flavor we find in the earth, the rivers, the animals, the stars, and ourselves. Panentheism allows that there is more to God than this but still has all of creation permeated with God’s presence.
Within that scheme, speaking of God’s Spirit at work within us appears easy. Of course, thinks the pantheist: if something we call “God” is within everything, talking of God’s Spirit is just another way of saying the same thing. This seems fine and, in our modern world, “democratic.” We don’t like to think that God would be more particularly in and with some people or places than others; it offends our post-Enlightenment Western sensibilities.
I well remember the first pantheist I ever encountered, a girl I met while hitchhiking half the length of British Columbia in the summer of 1968. “Of course Jesus is divine,” she said. (I can’t remember how the conversation started, but she must have discovered that I was a Christian.) “But so am I. So are you. So is my pet rabbit.”
Now I have nothing against pet rabbits (except that their owners, in my household, used to leave other people—namely, me—to clear out their hutches).
But—and this, no doubt, is why the conversation stuck in my mind—to say that God’s Spirit is in and with a pet rabbit in the same sense that God’s Spirit was in and with Jesus struck me (and still strikes me) as absurd. That’s the trouble with pantheism. It leaves you where you are. You already have all that there is. Not only is there no solution to evil; there is no future beyond where we now are. If Option One is true, Jesus was indeed a deluded fanatic.
Option Two might seem at first sight a better prospect for understanding the idea of God’s fresh, fiery rushing wind. It suggests that God’s sphere and ours are utterly different places. How wonderful, how exciting, how dramatic, to think of a power coming all the way from God’s distant world to ours—to us—to me! This is where the language about “natural” and “supernatural” has played a key role for many people in our world. They suppose that everything in our sphere is “natural,” to be explained by the ordinary laws of nature, physics, history, and so on, and that everything in God’s sphere is “supernatural,” entirely “other,” completely unlike our ordinary experience. (I know that the words “natural” and “supernatural” have a longer and more interesting history than this last sentence might imply, but I’m talking about the way in which the words are commonly used today.) That is why people who have assumed a worldview something like Option Two have looked for evidence of the Holy Spirit’s presence and work, not in a quiet growth of moral wisdom, a steady, undramatic lifetime of selfless service, but in spectacular “supernatural” events such as healings, speaking in tongues, wonderful conversions, and so on.
Please note: I am not saying that healings and speaking in tongues don’t happen, or don’t matter. They do, and they do. I’m not saying that God doesn’t sometimes convert people with wonderful, dramatic suddenness. He does. What I am saying is that Option Two sets up the wrong framework for understanding what is going on. In particular, it excludes that sense of God’s presence and power which already exists within the “natural” world.
Neither of the first two options will do as a framework for understanding what the New Testament says about the Spirit. For that, we need Option Three. Somehow, God’s dimension and our dimension—heaven and earth—overlap and interlock. All the questions we want to ask—how does this happen, who does it happen to, when, where, why, under what conditions, what does it look like when it does?—remain partly mysterious, and will do so until creation is finally renewed and the two dimensions are joined into one as they were designed to be (and as Christians pray daily that they will be). But the point of talking about the Spirit within Option Three ought by now to be clear. If it wasn’t, St. Paul would rub our noses in it: those in whom the Spirit comes to live are God’s new Temple. They are, individually and corporately, places where heaven and earth meet.
Most of the next section of this book will be devoted to exploring and explaining what this means in practice. But one or two things must be said right away.
First, the obvious retort. “It doesn’t look like that to me!” Most of us, thinking even of those Christians to whom we look up as examples, find it difficult to imagine that those people are walking Temples, places where heaven and earth meet. Most of us have even more difficulty thinking of ourselves in that way. We certainly find it hard, looking at all the tragic nonsense that has marred the history of Christianity, to see the church as a whole in this light.
But the counter-retort is equally obvious to anyone who knows the writings of St. Paul. He could see the failings of the church, and of individual Christians, just as clearly as we can. And it’s in one of the letters where those failings are most embarrassingly obvious—Paul’s first letter to the Christians in Corinth—where he makes the claim. You corporately, he says to the whole church, are God’s Temple, and God’s Spirit dwells within you (1 Corinthians 3:16). That’s why the unity of the church matters so much. Your bodies, he says to them one by one, are Temples of the Holy Spirit within you (6:19). That’s why bodily holiness, including sexual holiness, matters so much. Unity and holiness have been two great problems for the church in the last generation. Could it be that we need to recapture Paul’s bracing teaching about the Holy Spirit?