Isaiah 36 - 41
Sennacherib Invades JudahIsaiah 36:1 In the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah, Sennacherib king of Assyria came up against all the fortified cities of Judah and took them. 2 And the king of Assyria sent the Rabshakeh from Lachish to King Hezekiah at Jerusalem, with a great army. And he stood by the conduit of the upper pool on the highway to the Washer’s Field. 3 And there came out to him Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, who was over the household, and Shebna the secretary, and Joah the son of Asaph, the recorder.
4 And the Rabshakeh said to them, “Say to Hezekiah, ‘Thus says the great king, the king of Assyria: On what do you rest this trust of yours? 5 Do you think that mere words are strategy and power for war? In whom do you now trust, that you have rebelled against me? 6 Behold, you are trusting in Egypt, that broken reed of a staff, which will pierce the hand of any man who leans on it. Such is Pharaoh king of Egypt to all who trust in him. 7 But if you say to me, “We trust in the LORD our God,” is it not he whose high places and altars Hezekiah has removed, saying to Judah and to Jerusalem, “You shall worship before this altar”? 8 Come now, make a wager with my master the king of Assyria: I will give you two thousand horses, if you are able on your part to set riders on them. 9 How then can you repulse a single captain among the least of my master’s servants, when you trust in Egypt for chariots and for horsemen? 10 Moreover, is it without the LORD that I have come up against this land to destroy it? The LORD said to me, “Go up against this land and destroy it.” ’ ”
11 Then Eliakim, Shebna, and Joah said to the Rabshakeh, “Please speak to your servants in Aramaic, for we understand it. Do not speak to us in the language of Judah within the hearing of the people who are on the wall.” 12 But the Rabshakeh said, “Has my master sent me to speak these words to your master and to you, and not to the men sitting on the wall, who are doomed with you to eat their own dung and drink their own urine?”
13 Then the Rabshakeh stood and called out in a loud voice in the language of Judah: “Hear the words of the great king, the king of Assyria! 14 Thus says the king: ‘Do not let Hezekiah deceive you, for he will not be able to deliver you. 15 Do not let Hezekiah make you trust in the LORD by saying, “The LORD will surely deliver us. This city will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria.” 16 Do not listen to Hezekiah. For thus says the king of Assyria: Make your peace with me and come out to me. Then each one of you will eat of his own vine, and each one of his own fig tree, and each one of you will drink the water of his own cistern, 17 until I come and take you away to a land like your own land, a land of grain and wine, a land of bread and vineyards. 18 Beware lest Hezekiah mislead you by saying, “The LORD will deliver us.” Has any of the gods of the nations delivered his land out of the hand of the king of Assyria? 19 Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim? Have they delivered Samaria out of my hand? 20 Who among all the gods of these lands have delivered their lands out of my hand, that the LORD should deliver Jerusalem out of my hand?’ ”
21 But they were silent and answered him not a word, for the king’s command was, “Do not answer him.” 22 Then Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, who was over the household, and Shebna the secretary, and Joah the son of Asaph, the recorder, came to Hezekiah with their clothes torn, and told him the words of the Rabshakeh.
Hezekiah Seeks Isaiah’s Help
Isaiah 37:1 As soon as King Hezekiah heard it, he tore his clothes and covered himself with sackcloth and went into the house of the LORD. 2 And he sent Eliakim, who was over the household, and Shebna the secretary, and the senior priests, covered with sackcloth, to the prophet Isaiah the son of Amoz. 3 They said to him, “Thus says Hezekiah, ‘This day is a day of distress, of rebuke, and of disgrace; children have come to the point of birth, and there is no strength to bring them forth. 4 It may be that the LORD your God will hear the words of the Rabshakeh, whom his master the king of Assyria has sent to mock the living God, and will rebuke the words that the LORD your God has heard; therefore lift up your prayer for the remnant that is left.’ ”
5 When the servants of King Hezekiah came to Isaiah, 6 Isaiah said to them, “Say to your master, ‘Thus says the LORD: Do not be afraid because of the words that you have heard, with which the young men of the king of Assyria have reviled me. 7 Behold, I will put a spirit in him, so that he shall hear a rumor and return to his own land, and I will make him fall by the sword in his own land.’ ”
8 The Rabshakeh returned, and found the king of Assyria fighting against Libnah, for he had heard that the king had left Lachish. 9 Now the king heard concerning Tirhakah king of Cush, “He has set out to fight against you.” And when he heard it, he sent messengers to Hezekiah, saying, 10 “Thus shall you speak to Hezekiah king of Judah: ‘Do not let your God in whom you trust deceive you by promising that Jerusalem will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria. 11 Behold, you have heard what the kings of Assyria have done to all lands, devoting them to destruction. And shall you be delivered? 12 Have the gods of the nations delivered them, the nations that my fathers destroyed, Gozan, Haran, Rezeph, and the people of Eden who were in Telassar? 13 Where is the king of Hamath, the king of Arpad, the king of the city of Sepharvaim, the king of Hena, or the king of Ivvah?’ ”
Hezekiah’s Prayer for Deliverance14 Hezekiah received the letter from the hand of the messengers, and read it; and Hezekiah went up to the house of the LORD, and spread it before the LORD. 15 And Hezekiah prayed to the LORD: 16 “O LORD of hosts, God of Israel, enthroned above the cherubim, you are the God, you alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth; you have made heaven and earth. 17 Incline your ear, O LORD, and hear; open your eyes, O LORD, and see; and hear all the words of Sennacherib, which he has sent to mock the living God. 18 Truly, O LORD, the kings of Assyria have laid waste all the nations and their lands, 19 and have cast their gods into the fire. For they were no gods, but the work of men’s hands, wood and stone. Therefore they were destroyed. 20 So now, O LORD our God, save us from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you alone are the LORD.”
Sennacherib’s Fall21 Then Isaiah the son of Amoz sent to Hezekiah, saying, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: Because you have prayed to me concerning Sennacherib king of Assyria, 22 this is the word that the LORD has spoken concerning him:
“ ‘She despises you, she scorns you—
the virgin daughter of Zion;
she wags her head behind you—
the daughter of Jerusalem.
23 “ ‘Whom have you mocked and reviled?
Against whom have you raised your voice
and lifted your eyes to the heights?
Against the Holy One of Israel!
24 By your servants you have mocked the Lord,
and you have said, With my many chariots
I have gone up the heights of the mountains,
to the far recesses of Lebanon,
to cut down its tallest cedars,
its choicest cypresses,
to come to its remotest height,
its most fruitful forest.
25 I dug wells
and drank waters,
to dry up with the sole of my foot
all the streams of Egypt.
26 “ ‘Have you not heard
that I determined it long ago?
I planned from days of old
what now I bring to pass,
that you should make fortified cities
crash into heaps of ruins,
27 while their inhabitants, shorn of strength,
are dismayed and confounded,
and have become like plants of the field
and like tender grass,
like grass on the housetops,
blighted before it is grown.
28 “ ‘I know your sitting down
and your going out and coming in,
and your raging against me.
29 Because you have raged against me
and your complacency has come to my ears,
I will put my hook in your nose
and my bit in your mouth,
and I will turn you back on the way
by which you came.’
33 “Therefore thus says the LORD concerning the king of Assyria: He shall not come into this city or shoot an arrow there or come before it with a shield or cast up a siege mound against it. 34 By the way that he came, by the same he shall return, and he shall not come into this city, declares the LORD. 35 For I will defend this city to save it, for my own sake and for the sake of my servant David.”
36 And the angel of the LORD went out and struck down 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians. And when people arose early in the morning, behold, these were all dead bodies. 37 Then Sennacherib king of Assyria departed and returned home and lived at Nineveh. 38 And as he was worshiping in the house of Nisroch his god, Adrammelech and Sharezer, his sons, struck him down with the sword. And after they escaped into the land of Ararat, Esarhaddon his son reigned in his place.
Hezekiah’s Sickness and RecoveryIsaiah 38:1 In those days Hezekiah became sick and was at the point of death. And Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz came to him, and said to him, “Thus says the LORD: Set your house in order, for you shall die, you shall not recover.” 2 Then Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the LORD, 3 and said, “Please, O LORD, remember how I have walked before you in faithfulness and with a whole heart, and have done what is good in your sight.” And Hezekiah wept bitterly.
4 Then the word of the LORD came to Isaiah: 5 “Go and say to Hezekiah, Thus says the LORD, the God of David your father: I have heard your prayer; I have seen your tears. Behold, I will add fifteen years to your life. 6 I will deliver you and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria, and will defend this city.
7 “This shall be the sign to you from the LORD, that the LORD will do this thing that he has promised: 8 Behold, I will make the shadow cast by the declining sun on the dial of Ahaz turn back ten steps.” So the sun turned back on the dial the ten steps by which it had declined.
9 A writing of Hezekiah king of Judah, after he had been sick and had recovered from his sickness:
10 I said, In the middle of my days
I must depart;
I am consigned to the gates of Sheol
for the rest of my years.
11 I said, I shall not see the LORD,
the LORD in the land of the living;
I shall look on man no more
among the inhabitants of the world.
12 My dwelling is plucked up and removed from me
like a shepherd’s tent;
like a weaver I have rolled up my life;
he cuts me off from the loom;
from day to night you bring me to an end;
13 I calmed myself until morning;
like a lion he breaks all my bones;
from day to night you bring me to an end.
14 Like a swallow or a crane I chirp;
I moan like a dove.
My eyes are weary with looking upward.
O Lord, I am oppressed; be my pledge of safety!
15 What shall I say? For he has spoken to me,
and he himself has done it.
I walk slowly all my years
because of the bitterness of my soul.
16 O Lord, by these things men live,
and in all these is the life of my spirit.
Oh restore me to health and make me live!
17 Behold, it was for my welfare
that I had great bitterness;
but in love you have delivered my life
from the pit of destruction,
for you have cast all my sins
behind your back.
18 For Sheol does not thank you;
death does not praise you;
those who go down to the pit do not hope
for your faithfulness.
19 The living, the living, he thanks you,
as I do this day;
the father makes known to the children
20 The LORD will save me,
and we will play my music on stringed instruments
all the days of our lives,
at the house of the LORD.
Envoys from BabylonIsaiah 39:1 At that time Merodach-baladan the son of Baladan, king of Babylon, sent envoys with letters and a present to Hezekiah, for he heard that he had been sick and had recovered. 2 And Hezekiah welcomed them gladly. And he showed them his treasure house, the silver, the gold, the spices, the precious oil, his whole armory, all that was found in his storehouses. There was nothing in his house or in all his realm that Hezekiah did not show them. 3 Then Isaiah the prophet came to King Hezekiah, and said to him, “What did these men say? And from where did they come to you?” Hezekiah said, “They have come to me from a far country, from Babylon.” 4 He said, “What have they seen in your house?” Hezekiah answered, “They have seen all that is in my house. There is nothing in my storehouses that I did not show them.”
5 Then Isaiah said to Hezekiah, “Hear the word of the LORD of hosts: 6 Behold, the days are coming, when all that is in your house, and that which your fathers have stored up till this day, shall be carried to Babylon. Nothing shall be left, says the LORD. 7 And some of your own sons, who will come from you, whom you will father, shall be taken away, and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.” 8 Then Hezekiah said to Isaiah, “The word of the LORD that you have spoken is good.” For he thought, “There will be peace and security in my days.”
Comfort for God’s People
Isaiah 40:1 Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.
2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and cry to her
that her warfare is ended,
that her iniquity is pardoned,
that she has received from the LORD’s hand
double for all her sins.
3 A voice cries:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD;
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
4 Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain.
5 And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed,
and all flesh shall see it together,
for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”
The Word of God Stands Forever
6 A voice says, “Cry!”
And I said, “What shall I cry?”
All flesh is grass,
and all its beauty is like the flower of the field.
7 The grass withers, the flower fades
when the breath of the LORD blows on it;
surely the people are grass.
8 The grass withers, the flower fades,
but the word of our God will stand forever.
The Greatness of God
9 Go on up to a high mountain,
O Zion, herald of good news;
lift up your voice with strength,
O Jerusalem, herald of good news;
lift it up, fear not;
say to the cities of Judah,
“Behold your God!”
10 Behold, the Lord GOD comes with might,
and his arm rules for him;
behold, his reward is with him,
and his recompense before him.
11 He will tend his flock like a shepherd;
he will gather the lambs in his arms;
he will carry them in his bosom,
and gently lead those that are with young.
12 Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand
and marked off the heavens with a span,
enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure
and weighed the mountains in scales
and the hills in a balance?
13 Who has measured the Spirit of the LORD,
or what man shows him his counsel?
14 Whom did he consult,
and who made him understand?
Who taught him the path of justice,
and taught him knowledge,
and showed him the way of understanding?
15 Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket,
and are accounted as the dust on the scales;
behold, he takes up the coastlands like fine dust.
16 Lebanon would not suffice for fuel,
nor are its beasts enough for a burnt offering.
17 All the nations are as nothing before him,
they are accounted by him as less than nothing and emptiness.
18 To whom then will you liken God,
or what likeness compare with him?
19 An idol! A craftsman casts it,
and a goldsmith overlays it with gold
and casts for it silver chains.
20 He who is too impoverished for an offering
chooses wood that will not rot;
he seeks out a skillful craftsman
to set up an idol that will not move.
21 Do you not know? Do you not hear?
Has it not been told you from the beginning?
Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?
22 It is he who sits above the circle of the earth,
and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers;
who stretches out the heavens like a curtain,
and spreads them like a tent to dwell in;
23 who brings princes to nothing,
and makes the rulers of the earth as emptiness.
24 Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown,
scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth,
when he blows on them, and they wither,
and the tempest carries them off like stubble.
25 To whom then will you compare me,
that I should be like him? says the Holy One.
26 Lift up your eyes on high and see:
who created these?
He who brings out their host by number,
calling them all by name;
by the greatness of his might
and because he is strong in power,
not one is missing.
27 Why do you say, O Jacob,
and speak, O Israel,
“My way is hidden from the LORD,
and my right is disregarded by my God”?
28 Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable.
29 He gives power to the faint,
and to him who has no might he increases strength.
30 Even youths shall faint and be weary,
and young men shall fall exhausted;
31 but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint.
Fear Not, for I Am with You
Isaiah 41:1 Listen to me in silence, O coastlands;
let the peoples renew their strength;
let them approach, then let them speak;
let us together draw near for judgment.
2 Who stirred up one from the east
whom victory meets at every step?
He gives up nations before him,
so that he tramples kings underfoot;
he makes them like dust with his sword,
like driven stubble with his bow.
3 He pursues them and passes on safely,
by paths his feet have not trod.
4 Who has performed and done this,
calling the generations from the beginning?
I, the LORD, the first,
and with the last; I am he.
5 The coastlands have seen and are afraid;
the ends of the earth tremble;
they have drawn near and come.
6 Everyone helps his neighbor
and says to his brother, “Be strong!”
7 The craftsman strengthens the goldsmith,
and he who smooths with the hammer him who strikes the anvil,
saying of the soldering, “It is good”;
and they strengthen it with nails so that it cannot be moved.
8 But you, Israel, my servant,
Jacob, whom I have chosen,
the offspring of Abraham, my friend;
9 you whom I took from the ends of the earth,
and called from its farthest corners,
saying to you, “You are my servant,
I have chosen you and not cast you off”;
10 fear not, for I am with you;
be not dismayed, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
11 Behold, all who are incensed against you
shall be put to shame and confounded;
those who strive against you
shall be as nothing and shall perish.
12 You shall seek those who contend with you,
but you shall not find them;
those who war against you
shall be as nothing at all.
13 For I, the LORD your God,
hold your right hand;
it is I who say to you, “Fear not,
I am the one who helps you.”
14 Fear not, you worm Jacob,
you men of Israel!
I am the one who helps you, declares the LORD;
your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel.
15 Behold, I make of you a threshing sledge,
new, sharp, and having teeth;
you shall thresh the mountains and crush them,
and you shall make the hills like chaff;
16 you shall winnow them, and the wind shall carry them away,
and the tempest shall scatter them.
And you shall rejoice in the LORD;
in the Holy One of Israel you shall glory.
17 When the poor and needy seek water,
and there is none,
and their tongue is parched with thirst,
I the LORD will answer them;
I the God of Israel will not forsake them.
18 I will open rivers on the bare heights,
and fountains in the midst of the valleys.
I will make the wilderness a pool of water,
and the dry land springs of water.
19 I will put in the wilderness the cedar,
the acacia, the myrtle, and the olive.
I will set in the desert the cypress,
the plane and the pine together,
20 that they may see and know,
may consider and understand together,
that the hand of the LORD has done this,
the Holy One of Israel has created it.
The Futility of Idols
21 Set forth your case, says the LORD;
bring your proofs, says the King of Jacob.
22 Let them bring them, and tell us
what is to happen.
Tell us the former things, what they are,
that we may consider them,
that we may know their outcome;
or declare to us the things to come.
23 Tell us what is to come hereafter,
that we may know that you are gods;
do good, or do harm,
that we may be dismayed and terrified.
24 Behold, you are nothing,
and your work is less than nothing;
an abomination is he who chooses you.
25 I stirred up one from the north, and he has come,
from the rising of the sun, and he shall call upon my name;
he shall trample on rulers as on mortar,
as the potter treads clay.
26 Who declared it from the beginning, that we might know,
and beforehand, that we might say, “He is right”?
There was none who declared it, none who proclaimed,
none who heard your words.
27 I was the first to say to Zion, “Behold, here they are!”
and I give to Jerusalem a herald of good news.
28 But when I look, there is no one;
among these there is no counselor
who, when I ask, gives an answer.
29 Behold, they are all a delusion;
their works are nothing;
their metal images are empty wind.
What I'm Reading
By R.C. Sproul
Saul of Tarsus was a zealot for the Pharisees, totally repulsed by the advent of a new sect called Christianity. He was determined to wipe Christians from the face of the earth. Commissioned by the authorities, he went from house to house rounding up early Christian believers and casting them into prison. He stood on the sidelines during the stoning of Stephen and applauded the act. He was gleeful when he gained a new assignment to go to Damascus to continue his pogrom of Christians. It was on the Damascus Road that he met the Holy One. He recounted the scene during his trial before King Agrippa: Robert Charles Sproul, 2/13/1939 – 12/14/2017 was an American theologian, author, and ordained pastor in the Presbyterian Church in America. Dr. R.C. Sproul was founder and chairman of Ligonier Ministries, an international Christian education and discipleship organization located near Orlando, Fla. He was also copastor of Saint Andrew’s Chapel in Sanford, Fla., chancellor of Reformation Bible College, and executive editor of Tabletalk magazine. Dr. Sproul has contributed dozens of articles to national evangelical publications, has spoken at conferences, churches, and schools around the world, and has written more than one hundred books. He also served as general editor of the Reformation Study Bible.
See Acts 26:13-19 in the Daily Bible reading above.
Saul was zealous in his pursuit of righteousness. He was a Pharisee of Pharisees, a man committed to legal perfection. The irony of his zeal is seen in that the more zealous he was for his goals the more opposed he actually became to the work of God. Not that God is opposed to the pursuit of righteousness. God is for the pursuit of righteousness, but He stands against the proud and the arrogant. He stands against those who are swelled up with self-righteousness. While Saul was convinced he was fighting for God, he was actually fighting against God. In this ironic battle he was doomed to an ultimate confrontation with the very Christ he opposed.
One of the names by which God is revealed in the Old Testament is the name El Shaddai. The name means “the thunderer” or “the overpowerer.” It was by the name El Shaddai that God appeared to Job. What Job experienced was the awesome power of a sovereign God who overpowers all men and is Himself overpowered by no man. Saul met the Overpowerer on the road to Damascus.
Saul described his experience on the desert road as starting with the appearance of a dazzling light. The desert road at noonday was a place where the brilliance of the sun was particularly strong, piercing the day through a very thin atmosphere. Under normal conditions the sunshine there is intense. For any other light to be noticed against the backdrop of the desert sun it must have been extraordinary. Saul spoke of a light more brilliant, more dazzling than the sun. He described it as a “light from heaven.”
The expression “light from heaven” does not mean a light from the sky. The sun shines from the sky. Saul was in the presence of the heavenly glory of God. God’s glory is the outward manifestation of His holiness. The effulgence of His glory is so scintillating, so brilliant that it eclipses the noonday sun. In the book of Revelation we read of the appearance of the New Jerusalem, the City that comes down from heaven:
(Re 21:22–23) 22 And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. 23 And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. ESV
The New Jerusalem has no sun simply because it has no need for the sun. The glory of God and of His Christ is so bright that the sun itself is overpowered by it. Saul was blinded by its rays. Consider what happens to men if they gaze directly into the sun. In times of solar eclipse people are attracted by the strange sight of a shadow passing over the sun. There is a strong temptation to fix our gaze directly at it. Yet, even in eclipse we find it is painful and dangerous to look directly at the sun. We are warned by the news media at such times not to make attempts to look directly at it lest we do serious damage to our eyes. If we cannot gaze directly at the sun during an eclipse, how much more severe would the brilliance be that literally outshines the sun? The glory of God reaches a magnitude of brightness far beyond that of the sun shining at full strength.
No angel appeared to wrestle with Saul. Yet some supernal force threw him to the ground. In an instant Saul was blinded. There was no warning, no whisper of wind to alert him. Sovereignly and powerfully he was knocked flat to the desert floor.
With the light from heaven came also a voice. The voice is elsewhere described as the sound of many waters, a voice that roars like a booming waterfall that is cascading over rocks. Saul identified the voice as speaking in the Aramaic tongue, the native language of Jesus. The voice addressed Saul personally, in the form of the repetition of his name: “Saul, Saul.” This double form of address indicated a greeting of personal intimacy. It was the way God addressed Moses at the burning bush and Abraham at his altar on Mount Moriah. It was the form by which Jesus cried over Jerusalem and addressed His Father in His darkest hour on the cross.
“Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” Notice that the voice did not inquire why Saul was persecuting Christ’s church. It was rather “Why do you persecute me?” To attack the church of Christ is to attack Him. Then the question: “Why do you kick against the goads?” The ox goads were sharp spikes implanted in a wooden frame that were fastened to oxcarts behind the oxen. If an ox became stubborn and refused to move forward it sometimes registered its stubbornness by kicking its feet backwards into the goad. Imagine how dumb an ox would be if after once kicking the goad it became so furious that it kicked it again and again. The more it kicks the goads the more pain it inflicts upon itself. It is like a man banging his head against the wall and finding solace in how good it feels when he stops.
The voice was saying to Saul, “You dumb ox! How stupid it is to keep kicking the goads. You cannot win. Your battle is futile. It is time to surrender.” Saul’s response was a simple question, but the question was loaded: “Who are you, Lord?” Saul did not know the identity of the One who had just overpowered him, but of one thing he was certain—whoever it was, He was Lord.
In this experience Saul became Paul just as Jacob had become Israel. The battle was over. Saul struggled with God and lost. Here, like Isaiah, he received his call, his commission to apostleship. His life was changed and the course of world history was changed with it. In defeat Paul found peace.
After telling this story to King Agrippa, Paul added these words: “So then, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven.” As zealous as Saul had been in his fight against Christ, he became even more zealous in his fight for Christ. He had a vision of the holiness of God that was so intense he never forgot it. He contemplated it and expounded its meaning throughout his epistles. He became a man who understood what it meant to be justified. For him the holy war was over and he entered into a holy peace. He became the apostle whose writings awakened Luther in the monastery and gave to the Christian church the recipe for an abiding peace with God.
The struggle we have with a holy God is rooted in the conflict between God’s righteousness and our unrighteousness. He is just and we are unjust. This tension creates fear, hostility, and anger within us toward God. The unjust person does not desire the company of a just judge. We become fugitives fleeing from the presence of One whose glory can blind us and whose justice can condemn us. We are at war with Him unless or until we are justified. Only the justified person can be comfortable in the presence of a holy God.
The apostle Paul sets forth immediate benefits—fruits of justification. In his Epistle to the Romans he explains what happens to us when we are justified, when we are covered by the righteousness of Christ that is by faith:
(Ro 5:1–2)5 Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.
The first fruit of our justification is peace with God. To the ancient Jew peace was a precious, but elusive commodity. The present-day turmoil in the Middle East seems like a replay of ancient history. From the days of the conquest of Canaan to the period of Roman occupation in New Testament times there were but a few years when Israel was not at war. The location of Palestine as a pivotal land bridge between Africa and Asia made it a corridor not only for trade but for warfare. Tiny Israel often found herself caught between competing world powers and was used like a military Ping-Pong ball.
The Jew longed for peace. He yearned for the day when swords would be beaten into plowshares. He waited for the era when the Prince of Peace would come to end the incessant hostilities. So important to the Jew was his quest for peace that the very word peace became a daily greeting. Where we say “hello” or “good-bye,” the Jew said simply, “Shalom.” To this day the greeting shalom remains an integral part of Jewish vocabulary.
The word peace had its primary reference to the cessation of military conflict. But a deeper meaning was attached to it as well. The Jew was also deeply concerned for inner peace, for the tranquil rest of the soul that meant an end to a troubled spirit. We have a similar concept in view when we speak of “peace of mind.”
Robert Charles Sproul, 2/13/1939 – 12/14/2017 was an American theologian, author, and ordained pastor in the Presbyterian Church in America. Dr. R.C. Sproul was founder and chairman of Ligonier Ministries, an international Christian education and discipleship organization located near Orlando, Fla. He was also copastor of Saint Andrew’s Chapel in Sanford, Fla., chancellor of Reformation Bible College, and executive editor of Tabletalk magazine. Dr. Sproul has contributed dozens of articles to national evangelical publications, has spoken at conferences, churches, and schools around the world, and has written more than one hundred books. He also served as general editor of the Reformation Study Bible.R.C. Sproul Books | Go to Books Page
A Culture of Sacrifice
By David Temples 7/1/2011
It was October 25, 2007, and the moon shone brightly over the rugged terrain of eastern Afghanistan. Elements of 1st Platoon, B Company (173rd Airborne Brigade), walked cautiously back to their outpost after completing their assigned mission. But unknown to them, an unseen enemy waited in ambush. In the three minutes of confusion and chaos that comprised this surprise attack, then Specialist Sal Giunta responded under the intense enemy fire with such courage that he was nominated for, and eventually received, America’s highest award for valor, the Medal of Honor. When asked why he braved incessant machine-gun and small-arms fire during the ambush to charge the enemy alone in search of one of his fellow soldiers, his straightforward reply was, “He would have done the same for me.”
This type of trust and commitment is often mentioned by those who exhibit extraordinary heroism in combat. They risk much with the knowledge that those around them are equally committed. In ways many cannot understand, the success or failure of the U.S. military’s mission rests upon this type of fraternity. It holds teams and platoons together in the face of the sheer terror, or sheer boredom, of war.
This is also the type of fraternity that must exist within our churches if they are going to maintain their witness in the face of the great persecution, or great prosperity, that marks their warfare (Eph. 6:10–20). How do we develop this? As I read news reports about (now) Staff Sergeant Giunta and reflect on my own military service, I can identify three types of activities, all common among military units, that are foundational in building this type of deep-seated trust. While more could be mentioned, think of how these could be tools used to forge greater bonds within your church.
1. Preparation. Responding in the right way to an ambush is not natural — it requires purposeful preparation. Preparing together before the crisis builds trust among the members of a unit. They believe they can undertake challenges together because they see the effort and commitment of those around them. The same is true for churches. The apostle Paul reminds us that we too need training (1 Tim. 4:7). Our natural responses fall short as we do battle against the “sin which clings one who “prowls around like a roaring lion” (1 Peter 5:8). We were not designed to face these enemies alone. Preparing together builds the bond of trust among the members of our churches. This not only helps us develop important skills, it also makes us aware of the level of commitment of our fellow soldiers.
2. Time Together. Why did Staff Sergeant Giunta believe his fellow soldier “would have done the same” for him? Good training? Yes. But he also emphasized the fact that he did not charge the enemy to save a nameless soldier (though, hopefully, he would have). On this occasion, he risked his life for his friend. He did this because they shared a sense of camaraderie that went beyond their formal training.
Spending time together beyond the bounds of formal gatherings also builds camaraderie within our churches. When I was a new platoon leader, I received a surprisingly simple piece of advice for achieving this goal: “Build fires.” Whenever we were in the field and our training was over, we would build a fire for our platoon. I would often sit in the back and just listen as the men gathered around and told stories about their lives. In this relaxed setting, we got to know each other in ways we could not as we trained. So train well, but also find ways to “build fires” and get to know one another in ways you cannot in formal training. This, too, can build trust and strengthen the fraternal nature of the body of Christ.
3. A Culture of Sacrifice. There is a reason that those within the armed forces who exhibit extraordinary heroism do not consider themselves heroes: they live and train within a culture of sacrifice. They are trained to sacrifice the sense of individualism that defines our broader culture. Whether through helping carry the heavy loads of weapons and ammunition of others or sharing one’s last drink of water, putting the needs and safety of others before one’s own is expected and reinforced in countless ways. The ultimate acts of selflessness at which we marvel represent the application of this cultural value in specific circumstances.
In the same way, our willingness to sacrifice in the service of God and one another is directly related to the cultural values reinforced within our churches. The individualism and entitlement mentality of our culture must be offset by the faithful proclamation of the biblical call to self-denial and cross-bearing. Without this, our camaraderie can too easily turn our churches into well-informed and friendly country clubs. We must not only hear this call to sacrifice, we must recognize that we have a role in bearing the burdens of others as we follow our Savior, who “came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28).
By John Piper 7/1/2011
The love of Christ for us in His dying was as conscious as His suffering was intentional. “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us” (1 John 3:16). If He was intentional in laying down His life, it was for us. It was love. “When Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end” (John 13:1). Every step on the Calvary road meant, “I love you.”
Therefore, to feel the love of Christ in the laying down of His life, it helps to see how utterly intentional it was. Consider these five ways of seeing Christ’s intentionality in dying for us.
First, look at what Jesus said just after that violent moment when Peter tried to cleave the skull of the servant but only cut off his ear.
Then Jesus said to him: “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?” (Matt. 26:52–54).
It is one thing to say that the details of Jesus’ death were predicted in the Old Testament; it is much more to say that Jesus Himself was making His choices precisely to see to it that the Scriptures would be fulfilled.
That is what Jesus said He was doing in Matthew 26:54: “I could escape this misery, but how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?” I am not choosing to take the way out that I could take because I know the Scriptures. I know what must take place. It is my choice to fulfill all that is predicted of me in the Word of God.
A second way this intentionality is seen is in the repeated expressions to go to Jerusalem — into the very jaws of the lion: “Taking the twelve again, he began to tell them what was to happen to him, saying, ‘See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise’” (Mark 10:32–34).
Jesus had one all-controlling goal: to die according to the Scriptures. He knew when the time was near and set His face like flint: “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51).
A third way that we see the intentionality of Jesus to suffer for us is in the words He spoke in the mouth of Isaiah the prophet: “I gave my back to those who strike, and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard; I hid not my face from disgrace and spitting” (Isa. 50:6).
I have to work hard in my imagination to keep before me what iron will this required. Humans recoil from suffering. We recoil a hundred times more from suffering that is caused by unjust, ugly, sniveling, low-down, arrogant people. At every moment of pain and indignity, Jesus chose not to do what would have been immediately just. He gave His back to the smiter. He gave His cheek to slapping. He gave His beard to plucking. He offered His face to spitting. And He was doing it for the very ones causing the pain.
A fourth way we see the intentionality of Jesus’ suffering is in the way Peter explains how this was possible. He said, “When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:23).
The way Jesus handled the injustice of it all was not by saying, “Injustice doesn’t matter,” but by entrusting His cause to “him who judges justly.” God would see that justice was done. That was not Jesus’ calling at Calvary nor is it our highest calling now: “‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Rom. 12:19).
The fifth and perhaps the clearest statement that Jesus makes about His own intentionality to die is in John 10:17–18: “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”
Jesus’ point in these words is that He is acting completely voluntarily. He is under no constraint from any mere human. Circumstances have not overtaken Him. He is not being swept along in the injustice of the moment. He is in control.
Therefore, when John says, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us” (1 John 3:16), we should feel the intensity of His love for us to the degree that we see His intentionality to suffer and die. I pray that you will feel it profoundly. And may that profound experience of being loved by Christ have this effect on you: “The love of Christ controls us … he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised” (2 Cor. 5:14–15).
John Piper Books | Go to Books Page
Who Is My Brother?
By R.C. Sproul Jr. 7/1/2011
Conservative Christians seeking a way to encapsulate our most fundamental political commitments came up with “family values.” We vote “family values.” We support “family values” candidates. Even the left has noticed, countering our language with this bit of bumper-sticker wisdom: “Hate is not a family value.”
We are indeed seeing an assault on the family from the left and are rightly troubled. They want to be able to redefine the family at will and by law, forgetting that the family is a gift from God and He retains the right to define it as He wills.
Yet we know what a family is supposed to look like and don’t like it when others twist and distort that image. That said, though I am a conservative Christian, though I do indeed believe in “family values,” my family doesn’t look like most. We are an eye-catching bunch — and not because of how handsome I am. When we are out together, the first thing people notice is the size and scope of my family. God has blessed my dear wife and me with eight children who are, as I write, ages seventeen down to one. The tag on my wife’s van doesn’t say, “CLOWNCR,” though it could. It instead says, “BLE ST 8 X.”
Our Shannon, who is thirteen, likewise draws stares. Her gait is unsteady. She cannot talk. She sucks her thumb. She has the mental capacity of a one-year-old. It may be, however, that people are staring because her blue eyes are so beautiful or because her countenance is so peaceful.
Finally, our family doesn’t look like most because of our two youngest, boys who are ages five and one. Reilly and Donovan are perfectly able. They are just the right size. But they do stick out. These last two, at their births, came to us through the blessing of adoption. Their genetic ancestors hail from Africa. Our family, then, includes two genders, multiple ages, multiple eye colors, multiple abilities, multiple skin colors. However, we are, together, Sprouls. We have, by the grace of God, been made into a family, a forever family.
The kingdom we seek is the same. Our familial identity is found not in our skin color, our socio-economic strata, or our genetics. The kingdom we seek is populated not just by citizens or by soldiers, but by family. We are servants of the King, soldiers of the King, but most of all we are children of the King. We become children of the King not based on where we are born but through adoption.
It has been said that Sunday mornings are the most segregated hours of the week. Some in the evangelical church are so troubled by this that they have sought out people of color like trophies. Others, sadder still, prefer the segregation. Were we paying attention, we would be guilty of neither. There was, after all, once a great Man. He gave a famous speech, a sermon if you will, that came to be known all over the world. He suggested to the gathered masses that we ought not to worry about such things. He encouraged us to have such a single-minded passion for one thing that issues of skin color would be moot. He told those who assembled that they should seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.
Fraternity is a wonderful thing. It is the theological left, however, that teaches the heresy that proclaims the universal fatherhood of God and the universal brotherhood of man. If everyone is my brother, then no one is my brother. If ties of kinship extend to all humanity, then there may as well be no ties at all. Wisdom requires that we learn how to recognize our brothers. I must confess that here I am not colorblind. My brothers are not those with black skin. Neither are they those with white skin. My brothers are those whose skin is red, covered by the blood of Christ. My loyalty is grounded in the kinship that I have in Christ, not the “kinship” that is coded into my genes.
In God’s good providence, I have been blessed to meet my brothers around the globe. Naing is my brother in Myanmar. Geoffrey is my brother in Kenya. Hiro is my brother in Japan. Oleg is my brother in Russia. Mykola is my brother in Ukraine. Jaime is my brother in Colombia. I have Kiwi brothers, Canuck brothers, Israeli and Palestinian brothers, and Scottish and Irish brothers. In Christ’s kingdom is every tribe and tongue. When we enter, we lay aside every other loyalty, every other tie that binds.
We fail when we are fools enough to believe that there is something of value in our own ethnicity. Paul, a Hebrew of Hebrews, saw his pedigree as something to be cast aside, tossed overboard. Can we do any less? We are by nature children of our father, the Devil. But while we—me, my wife, my children, all the saints of history, and all the saints around the globe—were yet sinners, Christ died for us. He has together seated us, red and yellow, black and white, in the heavenly places. There we rule the nations. There we will judge angels. And there we are, and will forever be, a family.
R.C. Sproul Jr. Books | Go to Books Page
The Gospel and the Oncology Waiting Room
By Mike Pohlman 7/1/2011
I recently sat with my wife in the waiting room at the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. We were there to meet with Dr. Lupe Salazar to receive the results of Julia’s latest PET/CT scans. The goal: to determine if the cancer was progressing. This drill is an example of our “new normal” since the diagnosis of stage 4 breast cancer on Mother’s Day weekend in 2009.
Julia and I talk a lot. In fact, there is no one I would rather visit with on a daily basis. But in oncology waiting rooms, we often find ourselves quiet. Cancer clinics have a way of making you measure your words. And as you consider and feel the weight of why you’re there, common conversations often yield to silence.
Of course, the iPhone is never far away, and in the silence of one’s thoughts the urge to tweet can become irresistible. Here’s what I wrote that day: “Seminary course suggestion: spend three afternoons a week for a semester in a cancer clinic with your mouth shut watching and listening.”
I was moved to write those words because of what I was witnessing in the waiting room all around me. Emotions such as concern, despair, anger, and bitterness were obvious as I studied the faces, watched the body language, and listened to some of the spoken words. But there were also clear examples of hope and joy as individuals and families came and went. Amid all this, I was gripped by the fact that one of the front-desk assistants spoke to us freely about the “bad day” she was having and how unfortunate it was given that it was not yet noon. Clearly the fact that the couple dozen people in the waiting room were fighting cancer was lost on her — at least for the moment. The cancer patients in that waiting room could just as well have been waiting for haircuts. Alas, for this employee, it was just another day at work filled with mundane tasks of checking in and scheduling people.
The pastorate is all about God and people. As pastors, we have the wonderful (and terrible) privilege of shepherding people to God in Christ every day. Cancer clinics are an indispensable resource for pastors as we strive for faithfulness in our calling, because they keep us grounded in the greatest realities in the universe. The idea of having seminary students spend consistent time in oncology waiting rooms (not to mention surgery center waiting rooms) seems more than appropriate given the things these students will be facing in their churches once called to their positions. This practice has the added benefit of helping train the future pastor to make sure his doctrine is always meeting life. Pity the church that has a pastor with mere book knowledge.
But these laboratories are not just for pastors. Cancer-clinic waiting rooms can be a tremendous resource for all people, regardless of vocation.
If we have eyes to see and ears to hear, the cancer-clinic waiting room reminds us that our lives are a vapor; that our days are all numbered; that He gives us life and breath and all things, and, therefore, we are utterly dependent creatures; that sin is real and has a million tragic consequences; that pride is ridiculously ugly and meekness wonderfully beautiful; that we are called to rejoice with those who are rejoicing and weep with those who are weeping; that people are either saved or lost; that God’s grace is real, His Son all-sufficient, and through the cross, cancer will one day be no more.
We must demand that pastors live in these awesome realities so that local churches are filled with members who live in these awesome realities — because they will in one form or another, sooner or later.
Cancer clinics (if I may adapt one of C.S. Lewis’ more recognized phrases) are God’s megaphone to a chronically amused people. Through cancer clinics, God brings the significance of the present and the weight of glory to bear on us in ways unlike anything else. Few things, by God’s grace, capture the mind and the heart like an oncology waiting room. And we need to be captured by God — pulled away from the numbing effects of the world.
Our default instinct is to avoid pain, grief, and sorrow by covering these emotions with fun, levity, and leisure of all kinds. And I’m not immune to this sinful weakness that leaves me anesthetized to God. In other words, I need the cancer clinic waiting room because I need God.
When the waiting was over and our nurse called us back to Dr. Salazar’s office, we learned that Julia’s cancer was indeed progressing. But given her relatively young age of forty and the chemotherapy drugs still at our disposal, we restaged and within a week began a new treatment regimen that is successfully pushing back on the tumors. We press on.
And as we do, we are by God’s grace watching and listening, praying for eyes to see and ears to hear the gospel through cancer.
(Mt 12:18–21) 18 “Behold, my servant whom I have chosen,
my beloved with whom my soul is well pleased.
I will put my Spirit upon him,
and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles.
19 He will not quarrel or cry aloud,
nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets;
20 a bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not quench,
until he brings justice to victory;
21 and in his name the Gentiles will hope.”
By Tim Challies 11/8/2017
Is there any sin we commit more but admit less than the sin of idolatry? As people who have knowingly and willingly deserted the one true God, we turn our hearts this way and that to find the satisfaction we are meant to find in him alone. We try first one thing and then the other yet never find our thirst assuaged. It is not until we rest in him that we find true rest. It is not until we are satisfied in him that we find true satisfaction. Idolatry is the curse of all mankind.
Idolatry is the subject of a new book by Steve Hoppe. Sipping Saltwater: How to find lasting satisfaction in a world of thirst All throughout the book, he uses saltwater as a metaphor for our idolatry. A shipwrecked sailor can float in an ocean filled with trillions of gallons of water but never quench his thirst because he is afloat in saltwater. In the same way, none of the pleasures in this world can ultimately satisfy us without God. Hoppe says, “In our nagging state of thirst for paradise lost, what do we drink? Saltwater. We consume things that look and feel and sound like they can quench our thirst. They promise unmatched pleasure. They promote limitless comfort, joy, strength, peace, and excitement. They vow to remove our fears, tears, worries, guilt, and shame. They pledge to fill the voids in our hearts and soothe our aching souls. They promise paradise. But they can’t deliver. We drink them, but our thirst remains unquenched. In fact, we are left thirstier. And we experience devastating hangovers — negative spiritual, emotional, physical, and relational consequences — as a result.”
What is this saltwater? “This saltwater doesn’t come from the ocean. It comes in a variety of forms from the world around us and our hearts within. It comes in the form of money, sex, control, or comfort. It comes in the form of busyness, people, food, or works. It can come in the form of anything. … Even though we are thirsty for paradise lost, we drink saltwater instead — in a million different forms.”
The trick, of course, is that none of these things are evil in and of themselves. Just like saltwater is good for the purpose for which it was created, so, too, is each of these. Each of them is a good gift of God. Each of them is meant to be enjoyed. The problems begin when they are elevated too far. They become idols when they become ultimate matters. Hoppe describes what he calls the “saltwater cycle” which consists of three steps that repeat themselves endlessly. First, we listen to a lie; second, we take a drink; third, we suffer. We listen to the lies of the world, the flesh, and the devil and believe that we can be satisfied with what they offer. Then we take a drink, we believe the lie, we look for satisfaction, we make gifts into gods. Then, inevitably, we suffer the consequences. We feel guilt and shame and sorrow and promise never to do it again. The cycle repeats.
Tim Challies: I am a Christian, a husband to Aileen and a father to three children aged 10 to 16. I worship and serve as an elder at Grace Fellowship Church in Toronto, Ontario. I am a book reviewer, co-founder of Cruciform Press.
I began my web site in 2002 and have been writing there daily since 2003. It is my place to think out loud and in public while also sharing some of the interesting things I’ve discovered in my online travels.
Tim Challies is founding blogger of Challies.com and a pastor at Grace Fellowship Church in Toronto. You can follow him on Twitter @Challies. He began his web site in 2002 and has been writing there daily since 2003. It is his place to think out loud and in public while also sharing some of the interesting things he discovers in his online travels.
Tim Challies Books | Go to Books Page
Read The Psalms In "1" Year
Psalm 83O God, Do Not Keep Silence
83 A Song. A Psalm Of Asaph.
1 O God, do not keep silence;
do not hold your peace or be still, O God!
2 For behold, your enemies make an uproar;
those who hate you have raised their heads.
3 They lay crafty plans against your people;
they consult together against your treasured ones.
4 They say, “Come, let us wipe them out as a nation;
let the name of Israel be remembered no more!”
5 For they conspire with one accord;
against you they make a covenant—
6 the tents of Edom and the Ishmaelites,
Moab and the Hagrites,
7 Gebal and Ammon and Amalek,
Philistia with the inhabitants of Tyre;
8 Asshur also has joined them;
they are the strong arm of the children of Lot. Selah
Your Newsfeed Is Not New
By Nick Murray 9/1/2015
Judges is one of those books in the Old Testament where we’re regularly called to pause and stare in bewilderment at Israel. As we read we cannot help but ask, “How did they get here? How did things get so bad so quickly?” But like most of the stories about Israel, they’re not just about Israel—they’re about us. And as I’ve been reading Judges lately, I haven’t been able to help but notice the parallels to our present day. Different Time, Same Place What We Most Need My Body, Your Choices
In fact, reading Judges is not unlike reading my daily newsfeed—a condemning parallel, to say the least. I’m not talking about guys killing lions (though I guess that’s also a parallel), but about the blatant disregard for human life strewn across the pages of Judges and our smartphone screens.
But then I glance from Judges to my newsfeed, and I see videos of tiny human beings who have been dismembered, packaged up, sold for research. I look to my newsfeed and see the celebration of a “freedom” lauding sex without cost—sex that disregards the true beauty and purpose of such a gift. I look to my newsfeed and see the championing of women’s rights—that women may kill the little women growing inside them in order to maintain their freedom.
And then I look back at Judges 19, and see the woman being destroyed. I see the sexual predators getting their way. And I see the bloody body parts being passed around. And with an eye on Judges 19 and an eye on Twitter, the question is no longer “How did we get here?” but “How haven’t we left?”
In our days, selfishness is king, and everyone legislates according to what’s right in their own eyes. Who will deliver us from this cultural body of death? It will not—indeed, it cannot—be an elected official. It must be the one who elects unto salvation himself.
We need a king who can heal our hearts and transform the broken desires of those who want keep their unborn as just that: unborn. We need King Jesus to pour out his Spirit on our land in order to eradicate longing for abortion. We need the God who not only forbids the sacrifice of children to Molech but who considers it a thought that’d never enter into his mind (Jer. 19:5). In a word, we need Jesus.
(Je 19:5) 5 and have built the high places of Baal to burn their sons in the fire as burnt offerings to Baal, which I did not command or decree, nor did it come into my mind— ESV
And then I look to John 19 where Jesus Christ, hanging on the cross, makes the definitive statement: “My body, for your choices.”
Different Time, Same PlaceJudges 19 is easily one of the most graphic chapters in the Bible. It starts with an unfaithful concubine, moves to a strange interchange between a guy and his father-in-law, and then rapidly escalates to gang rape, men handing over women to save their own skin, and the physical dismemberment of a woman who’s then mailed out around Israel in 12 pieces. It’s an awful, awful story. And the point is to show how the people of Israel, with no king and no order (Judges 19:1), were doing whatever they wanted.
What We Most Need“In those days there was no king in Israel,” the book concludes. “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25).
My Body, Your ChoicesI look to my newsfeed and see, “My body, my choice.” I look to Judges 19 and watch a coward say, “My concubine, my choice.”
The Continual Burnt Offering (John 4:13-14)
By H.A. Ironside - 1941
August 5John 4:13 Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” ESV
What Jesus said of the water of Jacob’s well is true of everything that earth can offer. There is nothing in this scene that can effectively quench the thirst of a human soul. Man is made for eternity, and the things of time can never satisfy. Augustine spoke truly when he cried, “O God, Thou hast made us for Thyself, and our souls can never find rest until they rest in Thee.” But he who drinks the living water of the gospel finds that which quenches his thirst forever. Christ fully satisfies the heart that learns to confide in Him. The word received in the power of the Holy Spirit produces the new birth, thus giving everlasting life. This is the present possession of all who put their trust in the Lord Jesus.
I heard the voice of Jesus say,
“Behold, I freely give
The living water; thirsty one,
Stoop down, and drink and live.”
I came to Jesus, and I drank
Of that life - giving stream,
My thirst was quenched, my soul revived,
And now I live in Him.
--- Horatius Bonar
The Continual Burnt Offering: Daily Meditations on the Word of God
By John Walvoord
Prophecy against Gog
Ezekiel 38:1–39:24. Included in the section dealing with Israel’s blessing is the description of the deliverance of Israel from the northern invaders led by Gog in Ezekiel 38–39.
The prophecy against Gog is one of the most dramatic predictions in Ezekiel. Many details of the prophecy are not entirely clear, but the main thrust of the prediction is not difficult to understand. The passage predicts an invasion of Israel by a great army that will attack Israel from the north.
In order to understand this prophecy, some background in the prophetic foreview of the end of the age is necessary.
This passage is a part of the predictions of the great world conflict that will characterize the years just before the second coming. Though Bible expositors have differed as to when this fits into the prophetic picture, it is plausible that preceding this event, the predictions of the revived Roman Empire, a ten-nation confederacy, will be fulfilled. (This will be considered in the prophecies of Daniel 2 and 7. )
A political leader will arise who will head up the ten nations and make the Mediterranean Sea a Roman lake as it was in New Testament times. He is referred to in 9:26 as “the ruler who will come.” This ruler will be associated with the people who destroyed the city of Jerusalem in AD 70, that is, the Roman people, and accordingly, he will fulfill the role of a Roman leader in the end time by heading up this ten-nation confederacy. This ruler will be featured in the first of three major phases of prophetic fulfillment, climaxing in the second coming of Christ. His rise and the formation of the ten-nation confederacy will set the stage for what will follow.
The second phase of this struggle, with a duration of three and a half years, was described by Ezekiel in these two chapters. Though variously interpreted, it may be the forerunner and major event that leads up to the world government predicted for the last three and a half years leading up to the second coming. As the battle described here is a disaster for the invading countries, it may change the political power structure to such an extent that it will be possible for the Roman leader of the ten nations to become a world dictator.
The third phase of the period leading up to the second coming will be this world-empire stage, including all nations of the world ( Dan. 7:23; Rev. 13:7–8 ). The third phase, ending in the second coming, will be a time of the great tribulation. The great tribulation also records another mammoth world war ( Dan. 11:40–45; Rev. 16:12–16 ), which will occur just before the second coming. This should be distinguished from the war described in Ezekiel 38–39, which is not a world conflict but a war between a select group of nations.
In the years since World War II, Russia has risen to be one of the great military powers of the modern world. To a far greater extent than ever before, Russia is a prominent nation, especially in its influence on the Middle East. The possibility of Russia attacking Israel is a modern concern of the United States and other nations. With both Russia and China constituting a major political bloc, a future war between Russia and Israel becomes a possibility.
The word Russia never occurs in Scripture, but the description of this war connects these two important chapters of Ezekiel with the future outcome of Russia as a world power.
If Ezekiel 38–39 is studied carefully, it reveals a future invasion of the land of Israel by the armies of Russia and five other nations. Though sometimes confused with the battle of Armageddon, which will be a world conflict before the second coming, this war will be distinct in its objectives, its character, and its outcome.
According to Scripture, the invaders will be totally destroyed. Undoubtedly this will have an effect on the world power struggle in which Russia now is a major factor. As this prophecy was written over 2,500 years ago, the question remains whether this has ever been fulfilled in the past.
A search of history finds no such battle or outcome. Accordingly, as illustrated in countless other passages, prophecy that has not been fulfilled is subject to future fulfillment just as literally as the prophecies were fulfilled in the past. Though it may leave some questions unanswered, the study of these two chapters supplies an important segment of prophecy as it relates to the end-time period leading up to the second coming of Christ.
The point of view adopted here places this war in the first half of the last seven years, probably toward its close. Other views have been advanced that should be compared to this interpretation.
A few have advanced the theory that this war must occur before the rapture. The situation described here does not come to pass until after the rapture. The scene is one of peace that has its best explanation with the seven-year covenant enacted by the ruler of the ten-nation confederacy. This can only occur after the restraint of the presence of the Holy Spirit has been removed at the rapture (cf. 2 Thess. 2:6–8 ). Further, it would contradict the doctrine of the imminency of the rapture.
Another view combines the war with Russia with the battle of Armageddon ( Rev. 16:13–16 ). The war centering in Armageddon is one that involves all the nations of the world. The Russian war is predominantly Russia with its allies. The Armageddon struggle covers all the Holy Land, but the war with Russia is settled on the northern mountain of Israel. Armageddon is the climax of the great tribulation, a time of persecution for Israel. Ezekiel 38 describes Israel at peace and in prosperity. For these reasons, Ezekiel 38–39 does not fit Armageddon.
Some have suggested that the war will take place at the beginning of the millennium. This will be a time of peace that will follow the second coming. But all the unsaved are executed in the judgments at the second coming, and believers in Christ would not support a war against Israel and Jerusalem.
Still another suggestion is that it will occur at the end of the millennium. The fact that Gog and Magog are mentioned both in Ezekiel 38:2 and in Revelation 20:8 indicates to some a connection. However, Gog is a human leader and Magog are a people in Ezekiel 38, but their meaning is not defined in Revelation 20. In other respects the scene is different. In Ezekiel, life goes on after the war, requiring months to bury the dead. The war in Revelation 20 is followed immediately by the destruction of the earth and the creation of the new heaven and new earth. The war in Revelation 20 concerns Jerusalem. The war in Ezekiel does not touch Jerusalem. The scenes are different.
Ezekiel 38:1–6. In the opening portion of this great prophecy, six nations are mentioned, the most important of which had a leader called Gog (v. 2 ), identified as a ruler of Magog. He was further described as “the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal” (v. 2 ). The leader described as Gog apparently will lead a force from the land of Magog (v. 2 ). Magog was mentioned in Genesis 10:2 as one of the sons of Japheth, a fact repeated in 1 Chronicles 1:5. In addition to the two references in Ezekiel 38–39 ( 38:2; 39:6 ), Magog is also mentioned in Revelation 20:8, where it seems to refer to a totally different situation. The most plausible explanation is that Gog is the ruler and Magog are the people. In the description of Gog as the “the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal,” the American Standard Version translates this expression, “the prince of Rosh,” which some connect with the root consonants of the modern term Russia. They were an ancient people located to the north of Israel ( Ezek. 27:13; 32:26 ).
Tubal ( 38:2 ) is also mentioned as a son of Japheth ( Gen. 10:2; 1 Chron. 1:5 ). Though originally located south of the Holy Land area, the people of Tubal eventually went north and have been identified as the ancient Scythian tribe, which at one time occupied Asia Minor. The leading thought on these identifications is that it verifies that the invaders come from the north of Israel.
The prediction pictured God as putting hooks into the jaws of Gog and leading him and his army from the north against Israel ( Ezek. 38:4 ). Persia (v. 5 ) has been easily identified as related to modern Iran, which could easily supply an army, attacking Israel from the north, even though located to the east.
The identity of Cush (v. 5 ) is uncertain, but it has often been referred to as the area east of Egypt and west of the Red Sea. This would require them to go around, possibly by sea, to join the army from the north attacking Israel.
The identity of Put (v. 5 ) also is uncertain, but some have placed it immediately south of Cush in Africa.
Gomer (v. 6 ) was usually associated with the ancient Cimmerians, some who were located in Asia Minor and others in Eastern Europe.
Beth Togarmah (v. 6 ) has been identified with Armenia, located to the north of Israel. Though all the nations were not located to the north of Israel, it is not too difficult to understand their participation in the major invasion from the north dominated by Russia.
Some also point to the fact that Meshech has some similarity to the modern name of Moscow in its consonant structure, and Tubal is similar to one of the prominent provinces of Russia: Tobolsk.
When all the facts are put together, it indicates that linguistically, geographically, and theologically, the identity of the invading nations is sufficiently clear to identify them as a great force coming from the north.
Probably the most convincing explanation is the fact that the invaders, especially Gomer and Magog (vv. 2–3 ), invade the land from the “far north” (vv. 6, 15; 39:2 ). The only nation that the description “far north” would fit would be Russia, which, of course, is to the north of Israel, with Moscow being directly north of Jerusalem. Though some attempt to question the identification, because Russia extends more than six thousand miles east and west, any reference to a nation to the far north of Israel would have to be Russia because of the geographic facts involved.
As early as 38:4, the prophecy reveals that the army will come mounted on horses with the horsemen fully armed (v. 4 ). The horsemen are armed with shields and swords and helmets (vv. 4–5 ) with additional weapons, including bows and arrows and war clubs and spears ( 39:9 ).
Much speculation has arisen from the fact that these are ancient weapons contemporary with Ezekiel but not describing modern warfare. Some regard these ancient weapons as simply typical or figurative of modern warfare. Others attempt to explain these weapons on the basis that they are quickly and readily made and possibly may be used in the period where other weapons have been subject to disarmament. The final answer to explain the weapons is unknown.
Ezekiel 38:7–9. The army is described as a great horde that will invade a land that has been restored from previous desolation (vv. 7–8 ). The people are described as those who have been “gathered from many nations to the mountains of Israel, which had long been desolate” (v. 8 ). They were further described as coming from the nations and living in safety (v. 8 ). The attack therefore was unexpected and was imposed on a people who were not prepared militarily to defend themselves. The invaders were described as so great in number that they look like a “cloud covering the land” (v. 9 ).
In the Meantime
By Robert Jeffress 2023
For Christians, the fact that we are currently living in the church age seems to put us in limbo, as far as the timeline of biblical prophecy is concerned. What can we do now, aside from waiting for the rapture to occur? ( I pray every day, sometimes multiple times, that our Lord Jesus would return for His church, right now, today, soon. How I long to depart and be with my Lord Jesus! ) As we discover in Scripture, there is actually much to do in the meantime. For starters, we can stay prepared, continue our work, and take comfort.
The wording Paul used in 1 Corinthians 15:52 to remind us of the imminence of the rapture is significant: “In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.” ( I like what I heard a teacher say, we will close our eyes and when we open them we will be staring into the face of Jesus. ) Whenever Roman soldiers were about to break camp and march to a new location, they would sound three trumpet blasts. The first blast meant, “Strike your tents and prepare to depart.” The second blast meant, “Fall in line.” The final blast meant, “March away.”
In terms of prophecy, God has already sounded the first trumpet. He has reminded us that we need to strike our tents and be living as “aliens and strangers” in this world, which is about to be destroyed (1 Pet. 2:11). He has also sounded the second blast, telling us to “be of sober spirit” and “be on the alert” for His appearance (5:8 ). All we are waiting for is that last trumpet blast, at which time we will march away into the presence of our Commander.
Therefore, we should be “looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus” (Titus 2:13 ). In other words, we should live with the expectation that the rapture could occur at any moment.
Satan Released and the Final Rebellion
At the end of the millennium, Satan will be released “for a short time” (Rev. 20:3). The question is, Why would God let him go, especially when things will be going so well?
Here’s what we need to understand: only believers will enter the millennium and experience the earthly reign of Christ. Those of us who were saved before the tribulation, along with the people who became believers during the tribulation and then died, will enter the millennium in our new, resurrected bodies. But people who became believers during the tribulation and survived until Christ’s second coming will enter the millennium in their natural bodies. That means they will be able to marry and have children. During the thousand-year reign of Christ on earth, children will be born, grow up, and have families of their own, for generation after generation.
Keep in mind, too, that it’s necessary that every person choose whether to follow Jesus. So at the end of the thousand years, God will release Satan for a short time and allow him to work his evil influence. Amazingly, some people who were born and grew up during the millennium will choose to follow Satan instead of Jesus. That is the final rebellion.
Continue Our Work
Until that time, we need to be salt and light in our world (Matt. 5:13–16). In our pursuit of that goal, we must remember 2 Peter 3:9: “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.”
God’s patience and desire to see everyone come to repentance are all that stand between us and our eternal future. We are to spread the gospel to as many people as possible before the world is swept away by God’s judgment.
The stakes could not be higher. Jesus made that point clear: “These [the unrighteous] will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (Matt. 25:46). This is not a matter merely of life and death but of eternal joy and eternal suffering.
The day is coming when that choice will no longer be available to people. But it’s not here yet. The eternal fate of the unrighteous can still be avoided. Jesus stands ready to rescue anyone who calls on Him. That’s the good news that must not get lost in our discussion of the end times.
In Acts 16, the Philippian jailer put the question to Paul and Silas in the simplest and most straightforward terms: “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” (v. 30).
What must I do to meet Jesus in the air when the rapture occurs?
What must I do to be counted among the armies of Christ in the final battle between good and evil?
What must I do to experience the earthly reign of Jesus Christ for a thousand years?
What must I do to avoid the great white throne judgment?
What must I do to be saved from the torment of the lake of fire?
What must I do to enjoy forever the world as God originally created it to be? To find ultimate fulfillment in the work for which God created me? To be given a new, perfect body that will never be injured, experience disease, or grow old? To experience complete well-being? To dwell in the presence of God forever?
Paul and Silas’s reply to the jailer was equally simple and straightforward: “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31). That’s the message that should occupy our time as we await the final trumpet blast.
The stark realities of biblical prophecy, especially the images of judgment and suffering in Revelation, can distract us from a very important truth: God is in control.
In Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge asked the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, “Are these the shadows of the things that will be, or are they the shadows of things that may be, only?”4 In other words, is the future set in stone — or can it be avoided?
The shadows of biblical prophecy fall squarely in the former category. God’s will cannot be stopped, altered, or avoided. He has set the events in motion. As we saw earlier, the only reason they haven’t happened yet is that God wants to give as many people as possible an opportunity to come to salvation. But this grace period will come to an end at the exact moment God has preordained and in the manner He has determined. ( When the last person is saved and only God knows who it is. Is it you, your spouse, your family member? )
The world only seems to be spinning into chaos. The reality is that nothing is beyond God’s control. Evil only seems to be winning the day. The reality is that the season for evil is drawing to a close. When God’s plan unfolds, evildoers will never again prosper at the expense of others. Good people will never again suffer. God will take care of everything, according to His perfect timing and His perfect plan.
Jesus gave us the ideal capstone for this ninth core belief of Christianity in His words to His disciples: “These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
4 Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol (New York: Hodder and Stoughton, 1911), 103.
Devotionals, notes, poetry and more
1/1/2016 With Gentleness and Respect
When people first hear the word apologetics, they typically think of our modern use of the word apology. They often conclude that the task of apologetics is apologizing for the Christian faith as if to say we are sorry for our faith. However, the word apologetics derives from the Greek word apologia, which means “to give an answer” or “to make a defense.” Apologetics is not an apology, it’s an answer—a defense of what we believe. In his first epistle, Peter writes, “In your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15). In his commentary on 1 Peter, Dr. R.C. Sproul writes:
God calls us to be ready to make a defense for the hope that is in us, but notice that He calls us to do it with gentleness and respect. Apologetics isn’t just for some Christians, it is for all Christians. We all must know what we believe, why we believe it, how to live it, how to defend it, and how to proclaim it—and we must do so with gentleness and respect.
Our preparation is to make us ready to give a defense and a reason for the hope that is in us… . If your neighbor says, “I notice that you are a Christian. What is it that you believe?” are you ready to explain not only what you believe but why you believe it? Some Christians tell those who inquire that we simply take a leap of faith with no bother about the credibility or the rational character of the truth claims of the Bible, but that response goes against the teaching of this text. The only leap of faith we are to take is out of the darkness and into the light. When we become Christians, we do not leave our mind in the parking lot. We are called to think according to the Word of God, to seek the mind of Christ and an understanding of the things set forth in sacred Scripture.
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Dr. Burk Parsons (@BurkParsons) is editor of Tabletalk magazine, senior pastor of Saint Andrew’s Chapel in Sanford, Fla., a visiting lecturer at Reformed Theological Seminary, and a Ligonier Ministries teaching fellow. He is editor of John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, and Doxology.
Ligonier coram Deo (definition)
by Bill Federer
The very first book printed in America was the Bay Psalm Book, written by John Eliot, who was born around this date, August 5, 1604. Called the “Apostle to the Indians,” Eliot translated the Old and New Testaments into the Algonquian language. He organized thousands of “Praying Indians” into self-ruling villages, with their own leaders and ministers. They built houses, streets, bridges, and were very prosperous until King Phillip’s War, where thousands tragically died. In his plan of government, Eliot wrote: “The Word of God is the perfect System of Laws to guide all moral actions of man.”
Compiled by Richard S. Adams
Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves.
Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness
without requiring repentance,
baptism without church discipline,
Communion without confession....
Cheap grace is grace without discipleship,
grace without the cross,
grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.
--- Dietrich Bonhoeffer
The Cost of Discipleship
Oh, to be saved from myself, dear Lord, Oh, to be lost in Thee;
Oh, that it may be no more I, but Christ that lives in me.
--- C. H. Forrest
‘Christ died,’ is only a fact in history, like ‘Napoleon died.’ The Gospel message is that ‘Christ died for our sins’ (1 Cor. 15:1–4, italics mine).
--- Warren Wiersbe
Be Comforted (Isaiah): Feeling Secure in the Arms of God (The BE Series Commentary)
... from here, there and everywhere
Thanks to Meir Yona
The Jews Make All Ready For The War; And Simon, The Son Of Gioras, Falls To Plundering.
1. And thus were the disturbances of Galilee quieted, when, upon their ceasing to prosecute their civil dissensions, they betook themselves to make preparations for the war with the Romans. Now in Jerusalem the high priest Artanus, and as many of the men of power as were not in the interest of the Romans, both repaired the walls, and made a great many warlike instruments, insomuch that in all parts of the city darts and all sorts of armor were upon the anvil. Although the multitude of the young men were engaged in exercises, without any regularity, and all places were full of tumultuous doings; yet the moderate sort were exceedingly sad; and a great many there were who, out of the prospect they had of the calamities that were coming upon them, made great lamentations. There were also such omens observed as were understood to be forerunners of evils by such as loved peace, but were by those that kindled the war interpreted so as to suit their own inclinations; and the very state of the city, even before the Romans came against it, was that of a place doomed to destruction. However, Ananus's concern was this, to lay aside, for a while, the preparations for the war, and to persuade the seditious to consult their own interest, and to restrain the madness of those that had the name of zealots; but their violence was too hard for him; and what end he came to we shall relate hereafter.
2. But as for the Acrabbene toparchy, Simon, the son of Gioras, got a great number of those that were fond of innovations together, and betook himself to ravage the country; nor did he only harass the rich men's houses, but tormented their bodies, and appeared openly and beforehand to affect tyranny in his government. And when an army was sent against him by Artanus, and the other rulers, he and his band retired to the robbers that were at Masada, and staid there, and plundered the country of Idumea with them, till both Ananus and his other adversaries were slain; and until the rulers of that country were so afflicted with the multitude of those that were slain, and with the continual ravage of what they had, that they raised an army, and put garrisons into the villages, to secure them from those insults. And in this state were the affairs of Judea at that time.
The War of the Jews: The History of the Destruction of Jerusalem (complete edition, 7 books)
by D.H. Stern
but he overturns the plans of a traitor.
Complete Jewish Bible : An English Version of the Tanakh (Old Testament) and B'Rit Hadashah (New Testament)
by Frank W. Boreham
I am about to say a good word for Fear. Fear is a fine thing, a very fine thing; and the world would be a poor place without it. Fear was one of our firmest but gentlest nurses. Terror was one of our sternest but kindest teachers. A very wise man once said that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. He might have left out the august and holy Name, and still have stated a tremendous fact; for fear is always the beginning of wisdom.
'No fears, no grace!' said James, in the second part of the Pilgrim's Progress, and Mr. Greatheart seemed of pretty much the same opinion. They were discussing poor Mr. Fearing.
'Mr. Fearing,' said Greatheart, 'was one that played upon the bass. Some say that the bass is the ground of music. The first string that the musician touches is the bass, when he intends to put all in tune. God also plays upon this string first, when He sets the soul in tune for Himself. Only here was the imperfection of Mr. Fearing: he could play upon no other music but this, till towards his latter end.'
Here, then, we have the principle stated as well as it is possible to state it. You must tune from the bass, for the bass is the basis of music. But you must rise from the bass, as a building must rise from its foundations, or the music will be a moan and a monotone. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; but the wisdom that gets no farther is like music that rumbles and reverberates in one everlasting bass.
But the finest exposition of the inestimable value of fear is not by John Bunyan. It is by Jack London. White Fang is the greatest story of the inner life of an animal that has ever been contributed to our literature. And Jack London, who seems to have got into the very soul of a wolf, shows us how the wonderful character of White Fang was moulded and fashioned by fear. First there was the mere physical fear of Pain; the dread of hurting his tender little nose as the tiny grey cub explored the dark recesses of the lair; the horror of his mother's paw that smote him down whenever he approached the mouth of the cave; and, later on, the fear of the steep bank, learned by a terrible fall; the fear of the yielding water, learned by attempting to walk upon it; and the fear of the ptarmigan's beak and the weasel's teeth, learned by robbing their respective nests.
And following on the physical fear of Pain came the reverential fear of Power. 'His mother represented Power,' Jack London says, 'and as he grew older he felt this power in the sharper admonition of her paw, while the reproving nudge of her nose gave place to the slash of her fangs. For this he respected his mother.' And afterwards, when he came upon the Red Indians, and saw men for the first time, a still greater fear possessed him. Here were creatures who made the very sticks and stones obey them! They seemed to him as gods, and he felt that he must worship and serve them. And, later still, when he saw white men living, not in wigwams, but in great palaces of stone, he trembled as he had never trembled before. These were superior gods; and, as everybody knows, White Fang passed from fearing them to knowing them, and from knowing them to loving them. And at last he became their fond, devoted slave. It is true that fear was to White Fang only the beginning of wisdom; but that is precisely what Solomon says. Afterwards the brave old wolf learned fearlessness; but the early lessons taught by fear were still of priceless value, for to courage they added caution; and courage wedded to caution is irresistible.
We are living in times that are wonderfully meek and mild; and Fear, the stern old schoolmaster, is looked upon with suspicion. It is curious how we reverse the fashions of our ancestors. We flaunt in shameless abandon what they veiled in blushing modesty; but we make up for it by hiding what they had no hesitation in displaying. Our teeth, for example. It is considered the depth of impropriety to show your teeth nowadays, except in the sense in which actresses show them on post cards. But our forefathers were not afraid of showing their teeth, and they made themselves feared and honoured and loved in consequence. Yes, feared and honoured and loved; for I gravely doubt if any man ever yet taught others to honour and love him who had not first taught them on occasion to fear him.
The best illustration of what I mean occurs in the story of the Irish movement. In the politics of the last century there has been nothing so dramatic, nothing so pathetic, and nothing so tragic as the story of the rise and fall of Parnell. Lord Morley's tense and vivid chapters on that phase of modern statesmanship are far more thrilling and far more affecting than a similar number of pages of any novel in the English language. With the tragic fall of the Irish leader we need not now concern ourselves. But how are we to account for the meteoric rise of Parnell, and for the phenomenal power that he wielded? For years he was the most effective figure in British politics. There is only one explanation; and it is the explanation upon which practically all the historians of that period agree. Charles Stewart Parnell made it the first article of his creed that he must make himself feared. His predecessor in the leadership of the Irish party was Isaac Butt. Mr. Butt believed in conciliation. He was opposed to 'a policy of exasperation.' He thought that, if the Irishmen in the House exercised patience, and considered the convenience of the two great political parties, they would appeal to the good sense of the British people and ensure the success of their cause. And in return—to quote from Mr. Winston Churchill's life of his father—the two great parties treated Mr. Butt and the Irish members with 'that form of respect which, being devoid of the element of fear, is closely akin to contempt.' Then arose Parnell. He held that the Irishmen must make themselves the terror of the nation. They must embarrass and confuse the English leaders, and throw the whole political machinery of both parties hopelessly out of gear. And in a few months Mr. Parnell made the Irish question the supreme question in the mind of the nation, and became for years the most hated and the most beloved personality on the parliamentary horizon. Nobody who knows the history of that troublous time can doubt that, but for the moral shipwreck of Parnell, a shipwreck that nearly broke Mr. Gladstone's heart, the whole Irish question would have been settled, for better or for worse, twenty years ago. With the merits or demerits of his cause I am not now dealing; but everybody who has read Lord Morley's The Life of William Ewart Gladstone, Vol. 1 (of 3) 1809-1859 or Mr. Barry O'Brien's The Life of Charles Stewart Parnell, 1846-1891 must have been impressed by this striking and dramatic picture of a lonely and extraordinary man espousing an apparently hopeless cause, deliberately selecting fear as the weapon of his warfare, and actually leading his little band of astonished followers within sight of victory.
It is ridiculous to say that fear possesses no moral value. Whenever I hear that contention stated, my mind invariably swings back to a great story told by Sir Henry Hawkins in his The Reminiscences of Sir Henry Hawkins (Baron Brampton). He is telling of his experiences under Mr. Justice Maule, and is praising the judicial perspicacity of that judge. In a certain murder case a boy of eight was called to give evidence, and counsel objected to so youthful a witness being heard. Mr. Justice Maule thought for a minute, and then beckoned the boy to the bench.
'"I should like to know," His Honour observed, "what you have been taught to believe. What will become of you, my little boy, when you die, if you are so wicked as to tell a lie?"'
'"Hell-fire!" answered the boy with great promptitude.
'"But do you mean to say," the judge went on, "that you would go to hell-fire for telling any lie?"
'"Hell-fire, sir!" the boy replied again.
'To several similar questions the boy made the same terrible response.
'"He does not seem to be competent," said the counsel.
'"I beg your pardon," returned the judge. "This boy thinks that for every wilful fault he will go to hell-fire; and he is very likely while he believes that doctrine to be most strict in his observance of truth. If you and I believed that such would be the penalty for every act of misconduct we committed, we should be better men than we are. Let the boy be sworn!"'
Sir Henry Hawkins tells the story with evident approval, so that we have here the valuable testimony of two distinguished judges to the moral value of fear from a purely judicial point of view. Of course, the value is not stable or permanent. The goodness that arises from fear is like the tameness of a terrified tiger, or the willingness of a wolf to leave the deer unharmed when both are flying from before a prairie-fire. When the fear passes, the blood-lust will return. But that is not the point. Nobody said that fear was wisdom. What the wise man said was that fear is the beginning of wisdom. And as the beginning of wisdom it has a certain initial and preparatory value. The sooner that the beginning is developed and brought to a climax, the better of course it will be. But meanwhile a beginning is something. It is a step in the right direction. It is the learning of the alphabet. It is the earnest and promise of much that is to come.
Now if the Church refuses to employ this potent weapon, she is very stupid. A beginning is only a beginning, but it is a beginning. If we ignore the element of terror, we are deliberately renouncing a force which, in the wilds and in the world, is of really first-class value and importance. I am not now saying that the ministry would be untrue to its high calling if it failed to warn men with gravity and with tears. That is a matter of such sacredness and solemnity that I hesitate to touch it here; although it is obvious that, under any conceivable method of interpretation, there is a terrible note of urgency in the New Testament that no pulpit can decline, without grave responsibility, to echo. But I am content to point out here that, from a purely tactical point of view, the Church would be very foolish to scout this valuable weapon. The element of fear is one of the great primal passions, and to all those deep basic human elements the gospel makes its peculiar appeal. And the fears of men must be excited. The music cannot be all bass; but the bass note must not be absent, or the music will be ruined.
There are still those who, far from being cowards, may, like Noah, be 'moved with fear' to the saving of their houses. Cardinal Manning tells in his Journal how, as a boy at Tetteridge, he read again and again of the lake that burneth with fire. 'These words,' he says, 'became fixed in my mind, and kept me as boy and youth and man in the midst of all evil. I owe to them more than will ever be known to the last day.' And Archbishop Benson used to tell of a working man who was seen looking at a placard announcing a series of addresses on 'The Four Last Things.' After he had read the advertisement he turned to a companion and asked, 'Where would you and I have been without hell?' And the Archbishop used to inquire whether, if we abandoned the legitimate appeal to human fear, we should not need some other motive in our preaching to fill the vacant place.
I know, of course, that all this may be misconstrued. But the wise will understand. The naturalist will not blame me, for fear is the life of the forest. The humanitarian can say no word of censure, for fear is intensely human. But the preacher who strikes this deep bass note must strike it very soulfully. No man should be able to speak on such things except with a sob in his throat and tears in his eyes. We must warn men to flee from the wrath to come; but that wrath is the wrath of a Lamb. Andrew Bonar one day told Murray McCheyne that he had just preached a sermon on hell. 'And were you able to preach it with tenderness?' McCheyne wistfully inquired. Fear is part of that wondrous instrument on all the chords of which the minister is called at times to play; but this chord must be struck with trembling fingers.
No mistake can be more fatal than to set off this aspect of things against more attractive themes. All truth is related. Some years ago in Scotland an express train stopped abruptly on a curve in the time of a great flood. Just in front of the train was a roaring chasm from which the viaduct had been swept away. Just behind the train was the mangled frame of the girl who had warned the driver. It is impossible to understand that sacrifice lying just behind the guard's van unless you have seen the yawning chasm just in front of the engine!
'No fears, no grace!' said James.
'And this I took very great notice of,' said Mr. Greatheart, 'that the Valley of the Shadow of Death was as quiet while Mr. Fearing went through it as ever I knew it before or since; and when he came to the river without a bridge, I took notice of what was very remarkable; the water of that river was lower at this time than ever I saw it in all my life. So he went over at last, not much above wet shod.'
Fear had done its work, and done it well. The bass notes had proved the foundation of a music that blended at last with the very harmonies of heaven. Fear, even with White Fang, led on to love; and perfect love casteth out fear.
Mushrooms on the Moor
A Daily Devotional by Oswald Chambers
The baffling call of God
And all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of man shall be accomplished.… And they understood none of these things. --- Luke 18:31, 34.
God called Jesus Christ to what seemed unmitigated disaster. Jesus Christ called His disciples to see Him put to death; He led every one of them to the place where their hearts were broken. Jesus Christ’s life was an absolute failure from every standpoint but God’s. But what seemed failure from man’s standpoint was a tremendous triumph from God’s, because God’s purpose is never man’s purpose.
There comes the baffling call of God in our lives also. The call of God can never be stated explicitly; it is implicit. The call of God is like the call of the sea, no one hears it but the one who has the nature of the sea in him. It cannot be stated definitely what the call of God is to, because His call is to be in comradeship with Himself for His own purpose, and the test is to believe that God knows what He is after. The things that happen do not happen by chance, they happen entirely in the decree of God. God is working out His purposes.
If we are in communion with God and recognize that He is taking us into His purposes, we shall no longer try to find out what His purposes are. As we go on in the Christian life it gets simpler, because we are less inclined to say—‘Now why did God allow this and that?’ Behind the whole thing lies the compelling of God. “There’s a divinity that shapes our ends.” A Christian is one who trusts the wits and the wisdom of God, and not his own wits. If we have a purpose of our own, it destroys the simplicity and the leisureliness which ought to characterize the children of God.
My Utmost for His Highest
the Poetry of RS Thomas
I choose white, but with
Red on it, like the snow
In winter with its few
Holly berries and the one
Robin, that is a fire
To warm by and like Christ
Comes to us in his weakness,
But with a sharp song.
Exodus 14:10, 13–16
There is a time to be brief and a time to prolong.
BIBLE TEXT / Exodus 14:10, 13–16 / As Pharaoh drew near, the Israelites caught sight of the Egyptians advancing upon them. Greatly frightened, the Israelites cried out to the Lord.… But Moses said to the people, “Have no fear! Stand by, and witness the deliverance which the Lord will work for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today you will never see again. The Lord will battle for you; you hold your peace!”
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Why do you cry out to Me? Tell the Israelites to go forward. And you lift up your rod and hold out your arm over the sea and split it, so that the Israelites may march into the sea on dry ground.”
MIDRASH TEXT / Mekhilta de-Rabbi Yishmael, Be-shallaḥ 3 / Rabbi Yehoshua says, “The Holy One, praised is He, said to Moses, ‘Moses! All Israel has to do is go forward.’ ” Rabbi Eliezer says, “The Holy One, praised is He, said to Moses, ‘Moses! My children are in trouble—the sea is closing, the enemy is pursuing—and you are standing, going on and on in prayer! Why do you cry out to Me?’ For He was saying, ‘There is a time to be brief and a time to prolong.’ ‘O God, pray heal her!’ [Numbers 12:13]—this is an example of being brief. ‘I threw myself down before the Lord.’ [Deuteronomy 9:18]—this is an example of prolonging.”
Throughout his long career as leader of the Israelites, Moses had many occasions to offer prayers to God. Our Midrash notes how vastly different some of these prayers were. In the Book of Numbers, chapter 12, Miriam and Aaron spoke out against their brother Moses because he had married a Cushite woman. Miriam was punished by God for this slander by being stricken with snow-white scales all over her body. Aaron asked his brother to intercede on Miriam’s behalf. “So Moses cried out to the Lord, saying “O God, pray heal her!”—five short words (in Hebrew: El na, refah na lah). Moses’ prayer was heard by God and answered; Miriam was healed.
After Moses had received the two tablets of stone containing the Ten Commandments, he came down and found the Israelites worshiping a golden calf. In chapter 9 of the Book of Deuteronomy, Moses reminded the people how he had smashed the tablets and destroyed the idol. He also recounted to them that he spent the next forty days and nights both fasting and praying on their behalf—”I threw myself down before the Lord,” interceding for Aaron, who had built the calf. “When I lay prostrate before the Lord those forty days and forty nights because the Lord was determined to destroy you, I prayed to the Lord …” (9:25–26). Again Moses’ prayer to God was answered; the Israelites were saved from destruction.
The Midrash imagines Moses’ prayer at the Sea of Reeds to be of the long-winded kind.… The sea is closing, the enemy is pursuing—and you are standing, going on and on in prayer! God, in effect, tells him, “Make it brief; now is the time for action, not words.” It is interesting to note that the biblical text does not mention the words of prayer that Moses recited. All we have is his two-sentence response trying to calm the frightened Israelites. The ancient Syriac translation of the Book of Exodus adds the line, “Moses cried out to the Lord.” Josephus, in The Jewish Antiquities, actually quotes from the prayer of Moses to God. Thus, a text of Moses’ long prayer may have existed in antiquity. Alternatively, the Rabbis merely assumed its existence based on God’s response “Why do you cry out to Me?”
Searching for Meaning in Midrash: Lessons for Everyday Living
My lover is mine and I am his. --- Song of Songs 2:16.
In this Song of Songs we see the love of Christ and his church. The Essential Works of John Flavel There is a conjugal union between Christ and believers.
It is a natural union. This all people have, Christ having taken human nature on him. But if there is no more than this natural union, it will give little comfort. Thousands are damned though Christ is united to their human nature.
It is a sacred union. By this we are mystically united to Christ. The union with Christ is not personal. If Christ’s essence were transfused into the person of a believer, then it would follow that all that a believer does should be meritorious.
But the union between Christ and a saint is
contractual. “My lover is mine.” God the Father gives the bride, God the Son receives the bride, God the Holy Spirit ties the knot in marriage—he knits our wills to Christ and Christ’s love to us.
effective. Christ unites himself to his spouse by his graces and influences. Christ makes himself one with the spouse by conveying his image and stamping the impress of his own holiness on her.
spiritual. It is hard to describe how the soul is united to the body and how Christ is united to the soul. But though this union is spiritual, it is real. Things in nature often work imperceptibly; so the union between Christ and the soul, though it is imperceptible to the eye of reason, is still real.
Before this union with Christ, however, there must be a separation. The heart must be separated from all other lovers. So there must be a leaving of our former sins, a breaking off the old league with hell before we can be united to Christ. There must be a divorce before a union.
The purpose of our conjugal union with Christ is twofold:
Cohabitation. This is one purpose of marriage, to live together “that Christ may dwell in your hearts” (Eph. 3:17). It is not enough to pay Christ a few visits in his ordinances; we must dwell on the thoughts of Christ. Married persons should not live apart.
Fruit bearing. The spouse bears the fruit of the Spirit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Gal. 5:22–23). Barrenness is a shame in Christ’s spouse.
--- Thomas Watson
Take Heart: Daily Devotions with the Church's Great Preachers
Only One Missionary August 5
Mary Slessor’s childhood was marred by a drinking father. Every Saturday his paycheck turned into alcohol, leaving the family destitute for another week. By age 11 Mary was putting in 12-hour shifts in the mills, six in the Morning till six at night. She hid her earnings from her father, incurring his wrath but keeping the family fed. In her spare time, Mary taught herself to read and found she could prop books on her loom and read while working. There Mary learned of Calabar (Nigeria), an “unhealthy, mysterious, terrible land ruled by witchcraft and secret societies.” She was convinced she should go there as a missionary.
For several years Mary worked in mission halls near her home in the slums of Dundee, Scotland. She learned to face down gangs, to pray down blessings, and to break down hardened hearts. Her work finally led to her being appointed missionary to Calabar, and on August 5, 1876, she sailed for West Africa aboard the S.S. Ethiopia. She was dismayed to find the ship loaded with hundreds of barrels of whiskey. Remembering how alcohol had ruined her own family, she frowned. “Scores of barrels of whisky,” she muttered, “and only one missionary.”
But what a missionary! In the years that followed, she single-handedly tamed and transformed three pagan areas by preaching the Gospel, teaching the children, defending the abused, and rescuing the mistreated. She was feisty. She didn’t mind living in mud huts and sleeping amid sweating bodies. She was a combination circuit preacher, village teacher, nurse, nanny, and negotiator. She diverted tribal wars and rescued women and children by the hundreds. Often babies filled her home by the dozens. (Mary learned to tie a string to each little hammock, lie in bed at night, and pull the strings as each baby needed soothing.)
She so won the respect of Europe and Africa that she became the first woman vice consul of Britain, using her position to further her missions. For 40 years she pioneered the Gospel in areas that had proved the graveyard of other missionaries.
How can they hear, unless someone tells them? And how can anyone tell them without being sent by the Lord? The Scriptures say it is a beautiful sight to see even the feet of someone coming to preach the good news.
--- Romans 10:14b,15.
On This Day 365 Amazing And Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs And Heroes
Daily Readings / CHARLES H. SPURGEON
Morning - August 5
“We know that all things work together for good to them that love God.” --- Romans 8:28.
Upon some points a believer is absolutely sure. He knows, for instance, that God sits in the stern-sheets of the vessel when it rocks most. He believes that an invisible hand is always on the world’s tiller, and that wherever providence may drift, Jehovah steers it. That re-assuring knowledge prepares him for everything. He looks over the raging waters and sees the spirit of Jesus treading the billows, and he hears a voice saying, “It is I, be not afraid.” He knows too that God is always wise, and, knowing this, he is confident that there can be no accidents, no mistakes; that nothing can occur which ought not to arise. He can say, “If I should lose all I have, it is better that I should lose than have, if God so wills: the worst calamity is the wisest and the kindest thing that could befall to me if God ordains it.” “We know that all things work together for good to them that love God.” The Christian does not merely hold this as a theory, but he knows it as a matter of fact. Everything has worked for good as yet; the poisonous drugs mixed in fit proportions have worked the cure; the sharp cuts of the lancet have cleansed out the proud flesh and facilitated the healing. Every event as yet has worked out the most divinely blessed results; and so, believing that God rules all, that he governs wisely, that he brings good out of evil, the believer’s heart is assured, and he is enabled calmly to meet each trial as it comes. The believer can in the spirit of true resignation pray, “Send me what thou wilt, my God, so long as it comes from thee; never came there an ill portion from thy table to any of thy children.”
“Say not my soul, ‘From whence can God relieve my care?’
Remember that Omnipotence has servants everywhere.
His method is sublime, his heart profoundly kind,
God never is before his time, and never is behind.”
Evening - August 5
“Shall your brethren go to war, and shall ye sit here?” --- Numbers 32:6.
Kindred has its obligations. The Reubenites and Gadites would have been unbrotherly if they had claimed the land which had been conquered, and had left the rest of the people to fight for their portions alone. We have received much by means of the efforts and sufferings of the saints in years gone by, and if we do not make some return to the church of Christ by giving her our best energies, we are unworthy to be enrolled in her ranks. Others are combating the errors of the age manfully, or excavating perishing ones from amid the ruins of the fall, and if we fold our hands in idleness we had need be warned, lest the curse of Meroz fall upon us. The Master of the vineyard saith, “Why stand ye here all the day idle?” What is the idler’s excuse? Personal service of Jesus becomes all the more the duty of all because it is cheerfully and abundantly rendered by some. The toils of devoted missionaries and fervent ministers shame us if we sit still in indolence. Shrinking from trial is the temptation of those who are at ease in Zion: they would fain escape the cross and yet wear the crown; to them the question for this Evening’s meditation is very applicable. If the most precious are tried in the fire, are we to escape the crucible? If the diamond must be vexed upon the wheel, are we to be made perfect without suffering? Who hath commanded the wind to cease from blowing because our bark is on the deep? Why and wherefore should we be treated better than our Lord? The firstborn felt the rod, and why not the younger brethren? It is a cowardly pride which would choose a downy pillow and a silken couch for a soldier of the cross. Wiser far is he who, being first resigned to the divine will, groweth by the energy of grace to be pleased with it, and so learns to gather lilies at the cross foot, and, like Samson, to find honey in the lion.
Morning and Evening
OPEN MY EYES, THAT I MAY SEE
Words and Music by Clara H. Scott, 1841–1897
Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in Your law. (Psalm 119:18)
The Scriptures teach that our faith in Christ employs all of our God-given senses:
SIGHT— “Look unto me, and be saved, all the ends of the earth” (Isaiah 45:22).
HEARING— “Hear, and your soul shall live” (Isaiah 55:3).
SMELL— “Thy name is like ointment poured forth” (Song of Solomon 1:3).
TOUCH— “If I may but touch His garment, I shall be well” (Matthew 9:21).
TASTE— “O taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8).
In order to receive God’s truth properly, then, we must have our entire being alive and alert to His every prompting. In general, most Christians do not deliberately and dramatically disobey God. Instead we simply do not heed Him by being sensitive to His leading in the small details of our lives. How important that we learn the lesson taught by this hymn text that we should have seeing eyes, hearing ears, a verbal communication of the truth, and a loving heart for sharing God’s love. All of this is possible as we are illuminated by the Holy Spirit during times of quiet waiting.
Clara Scott, author and composer of this hymn, taught music in the Ladies’ Seminary at Lyons, Iowa. Mrs. Scott was a prolific composer of vocal and instrumental music, including a book of anthems, The Royal Anthem Book, published in 1882. These words have since been widely used to help believers have a greater awareness of God’s will for their lives and a readiness to obey (James 1:22).
• Open my eyes, that I may see glimpses of truth Thou hast for me; place in my hands the wonderful key that shall unclasp and set me free. Silently now I wait for Thee, ready, my God, Thy will to see; open my eyes—illumine me, Spirit divine!
Open my ears, that I may hear voices of truth Thou sendest clear; and while the wave-notes fall on my ear, ev’rything false will disappear. Silently now I wait for Thee, ready, my God, Thy will to see; open my ears—illumine me, Spirit divine!
Open my mouth, and let me bear gladly the warm truth ev’rywhere. Open my heart and let me prepare love with Thy children thus to share. Silently now I wait for Thee, ready, my God, Thy will to see; open my heart—illumine me, Spirit divine!
For Today: Psalm 40:8; Proverbs 16:9; Matthew 13:6; Luke 8:18; John 7:17
Ask God to activate your senses for receiving His truth and to make you more sensitive to the needs of those who need to hear “the warm truth” and to experience His love. Breathe this musical prayer as you prepare to go forth ---
Amazing Grace: 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions
DISCOURSE I - ON THE EXISTENCE OF GOD
II. Which will appear further in this proposition, No creature can make itself; the world could not make itself. If every man had a beginning, every man then was once nothing; he could not then make himself, because nothing cannot be the cause of something; This is what our modern culture now believes, that nothing can create something. ‘The Lord he is God; he hath made us, and not we ourselves.’ (Ps. 100:3.) Whatsoever begun in time was not; and when it was nothing, it had nothing, and could do nothing; and therefore could never give to itself, nor to any other, to be, or to be able to do: for then it gave what it had not, and did what it could not. Since reason must acknowledge a first of every kind, a first man, c., it must acknowledge him created and made, not by himself: why have not other men since risen up by themselves, not by chance? why hath not chance produced the like in that long time the world hath stood? If we never knew anything give being to itself, how can we imagine anything ever could? If the chiefest part of this lower world cannot, nor any part of it hath been known to give being to itself, then the whole cannot be supposed to give any being to itself: man did not form himself; his body is not from himself; it would then have the power of moving itself, but that it is not able to live or act without the presence of the soul. Whilst the soul is present, the body moves; when that is absent, the body lies as a senseless log, not having the least action or motion. His soul could not form itself. Can that which cannot form the least mote, the least grain of dust, form itself a nobler substance than any upon the earth? This will be evident to every man’s reason, if we consider, 1. Nothing can act before it be. The first man was not, and therefore could not make himself to be. For anything to produce itself is to act; if it acted before it was, it was then something and nothing at the same time; it then had a being before it had a being; it acted when it brought itself into being. How could it act without a being, without it was? So that if it were the cause of itself, it must be before itself as well as after itself; it was before it was; it was as a cause before it was as an effect. Action always supposeth a principle from whence it flows; as nothing hath no existence, so it hath no operation: there must be, therefore, something of real existence to give a being to those things that are, and every cause must be an effect of some other before it be a cause. To be and not to be at the same time, is a manifest contradiction, which would be, if anything made itself. That which makes is always before that which is made. Who will say the house is before the carpenter, or the picture before the limner? The world as a creator must be before itself as a creature.
2. That which doth not understand itself and order itself could not make itself. If the first man fully understood his own nature, the excellency of his own soul, the manner of its operations, why was not that understanding conveyed to his posterity? Are not many of them found, who understand their own nature, almost as little as a beast understands itself; or a rose understands its own sweetness; or a tulip its own colors? The Scripture, indeed, gives us an account how this came about, viz. by the deplorable rebellion of man, whereby death was brought upon them (a spiritual death, which includes ignorance, as well as an inability to spiritual action.) Thus he fell from his honor, and became like the beasts that perish, and not retaining God in his knowledge, retained not himself in his own knowledge.
But what reply can an atheist make to it, who acknowledges no higher cause than nature? If the soul made itself, how comes it to be so muddy, so wanting in its knowledge of itself, and of other things? If the soul made its own understanding, whence did the defect arise? If some first principle was settled by the first man in himself, where was the stop that he did not implant all in his own mind, and, consequently in the minds of all his descendants? Our souls know little of themselves, little of the world, are every day upon new inquiries, have little satisfaction in themselves, meet with many an invincible rub in their way, and when they seem to come to some resolution in some cases, stagger again, and, like a stone rolled up to the top of the hill, quickly find themselves again at the foot. How come they to be so purblind in truth? so short of that which they judge true goodness? How comes it to pass they cannot order their own rebellious affections, and suffer the reins they have to hold over their affections to be taken out of their hands by the unruly fancy and flesh? This no man that denies the being of a God, and the revelation in Scripture, can give an account of. Blessed be God that we have the Scripture, which gives us an account of those things, that all the wit of men could never inform us of; and that when they are discovered and known by revelation, they appear not contrary to reason!
3. If the first man made himself, how came he to limit himself? If he gave himself being, why did he not give himself all the perfections and ornaments of being? Nothing that made itself could sit down contented with a little, but would have had as much power to give itself that which is less, as to give itself being, when it was nothing. The excellences it wanted had not been more difficult to gain than the other which it possessed, as belonging to its nature. If the first man had been independent upon another, and had his perfection from himself, he might have acquired that perfection he wanted as well as have bestowed upon himself that perfection he had; and then there would have been no bounds set to him. He would have been omniscient and immutable. He might have given himself what he would; if he had had the setting his own bounds, he would have set none at all; for what should restrain him? No man now wants ambition to be what he is not; and if the first man had not been determined by another, but had given himself being, he would not have remained in that determinate being, no more than a toad would remain a toad, if it had power to make itself a man, and that power it would have had, if it had given itself a being. Whatsoever gives itself being, would give itself all degrees of being, and so would have no imperfection, because every imperfection is a want of some degree of being. He that could give himself matter and life, might give himself everything. The giving of life is an act of omnipotence; and what is omnipotent in one thing may be in all. Besides, if the first man had made himself, he would have conveyed himself to all his posterity in the same manner; every man would have had all the perfections of the first man, as every creature hath the perfections of the same kind, from whence it naturally issues; all are desirous to communicate what they can to their posterity. Communicative goodness belongs to every nature. Every plant propagates its kind in the same perfection it hath itself; and the nearer anything comes to a rational nature, the greater affection it hath to that which descends from it; therefore this affection belongs to a rational nature much more. The first man, therefore, if he had had power to give himself being, and, consequently, all perfection, he would have had as much power to convey it down to his posterity; no impediment could have stopped his way; then all souls proceeding from that first man would have been equally intellectual. What should hinder them from inheriting the same perfections? Whence should they have divers qualifications and differences in their understandings? No man then would have been subject to those weaknesses, doubtings, and unsatisfied desires of knowledge and perfection. But being all souls are not alike, it is certain they depend upon some other cause for the communication of that excellency they have. If the perfections of man be so contracted and kept within certain bounds, it is certain that they were not in his own power, and so were not from himself. Whatsoever hath a determinate being must be limited by some superior cause. There is, therefore, some superior power, that hath thus determined the creature by set bounds and distinct measures, and hath assigned to every one its proper nature, that it should not be greater or less than it is; who hath said of every one as of the waves of the sea, “Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further” and this is God. Man could not have reserved any perfection from his posterity; for since he doth propagate not by choice, but nature, he could no more have kept back any perfection from them, than he could, as he pleased, have given any perfection belonging to his nature to them.
4. That which hath power to give itself being, cannot want power to preserve that being. Preservation is not more difficult than creation. If the first man made himself, why did he not preserve himself? He is not now among the living in the world. How came he to be so feeble as to sink into the grave? Why did he not inspire himself with new heat and moisture, and fill his languishing limbs and declining body with new strength? Why did he not chase away diseases and death at the first approach? What creature can find the dust of the first man? All his posterity traverse the stage and retire again; in a short space their age departs, and is removed from them ‘as a shepherd’s tent,’ and is ‘cut off with pining sickness.’ ‘The life of man is as a wind, and like a cloud that is consumed and vanishes away. The eye that sees him shall see him no more; he returns not to his house, neither doth his place know him any more.’ The Scripture gives us the reason of this, and lays it upon the score of sin against his Creator, which no man without revelation can give any satisfactory account of. Had the first man made himself, he had been sufficient for himself, able to support himself without the assistance of any creature. He would not have needed animals and plants, and other helps to nourish and refresh him, nor medicines to cure him. He could not be beholden to other things for his support, which he is certain he never made for himself. His own nature would have continued that vigor, which once he had conferred upon himself. He would not have needed the heat and light of the sun; he would have wanted nothing sufficient for himself in himself; he needed not have sought without himself for his own preservation and comfort. What depends upon another is not of itself; and what depends upon things inferior to itself is less of itself. Since nothing can subsist of itself, since we see those things upon which man depends for his nourishment and subsistence, growing and decaying, starting into the world and retiring from it, as well as man himself; some preserving cause must be concluded, upon which all depends.
5. If the first man did produce himself, why did be not produce himself before? It hath been already proved, that he had a beginning, and could not be from eternity. Why then did he not make himself before? Not because he would not. For having no being, he could have no will; he could neither be willing nor not willing. If he could not then, how could he afterwards? If it were in his own power, he could have done it, he would have done it; if it were not in his own power, then it was in the power of some other cause, and that is God. How came he by that power to produce himself? If the power of producing himself were communicated by another, then man could not be the cause of himself. That is the cause of it which communicated that power to it. But if the power of being was in and from himself and in no other, nor communicated to him, man would always have been in act, and always have existed; no hindrance can be conceived. For that which had the power of being in itself was invincible by anything that should stand in the way of its own being.
We may conclude from hence, the excellency of the Scripture; that it is a word not to be refused credit. It gives us the most rational account of things in the 1st and 2d of Genesis, which nothing in the world else is able to do.
The Existence and Attributes of God, Volume 7 of 50 Greatest Christian Classics, 2 Volumes in 1
Martin Luther | (1483-1546)
Sect. CVIII. — THE Diatribe, however, being itself bitterly offended at this similitude of the “potter” and the “clay,” is not a little indignant, that it should be so pestered with it. And at last it comes to this. Having collected together different passages of Scripture, some of which seem to attribute all to man, and others all to grace, it angrily contends — ‘that the Scriptures on both sides should be understood according to a sound interpretation, and not received simply as they stand: and that, otherwise, if we still so press upon it that similitude, it is prepared to press upon us, in retaliation, those subjunctive and conditional passages; and especially, that of Paul, “If a man purify himself from these.” This passage (it says) makes Paul to contradict himself, and to attribute all to man, unless a sound interpretation be brought in to make it clear. And if an interpretation be admitted here, in order to clear up the cause of grace, why should not an interpretation be admitted in the similitude of the potter also, to clear up the cause of “Free-will?” —
I answer: It matters not with me, whether you receive the passages in a simple sense, a twofold sense, or a hundred-fold sense. What I say is this: that by this sound interpretation of yours, nothing that you desire is either effected or proved. For that which is required to be proved, according to your design is, that “Free-will” cannot will good. Whereas, by this passage, “If a man purify himself from these,” as it is a conditional sentence, neither any thing nor nothing is proved, for it is only an exhortation of Paul. Or, if you add the conclusion of the Diatribe, and say, ‘the exhortation is in vain, if a man cannot purify himself;’ then it proves, that “Free-will” can do all things without grace. And thus the Diatribe explodes itself.
We are waiting, therefore, for some passage of the Scripture, to shew us that this interpretation is right; we give no credit to those who hatch it out of their own brain. For, we deny, that any passage can be found which attributes all to man. We deny that Paul contradicts himself, where he says, “If a man shall purify himself from these.” And we aver, that both the contradiction and the interpretation which exhorts it, are fictions; that they are both thought of, but neither of them proved. This, indeed, we confess, that, if we were permitted to augment the Scriptures by the conclusions and additions of the Diatribe, and to say, ‘if we are not able to perform the things which are commanded, the precepts are given in vain;’ then, in truth, Paul would militate against himself, as would the whole Scripture also: for then, the Scripture would be different from what it was before, and would prove that “Free-will” can do all things. What wonder, however, if he should then contradict himself again, where he saith, in another place, that “God worketh all in all!” (1 Cor. xii. 6).
But, however, the Scripture in question, thus augmented, makes not only against us, but against the Diatribe itself, which defined “Free-will” to be that, ‘which cannot will any thing good.’ Let, therefore, the Diatribe clear itself first, and say, how these two assertions agree with Paul: — ‘Free-will cannot will any thing good,’ and also, ‘If a man purify himself from these: therefore, man can purify himself, or it is said in vain.’ — You see, therefore, that the Diatribe, being entangled and overcome by that similitude of the potter, only aims at evading it; not at all considering in the meantime, how its interpretation militates against its subject point, and how it is refuting and laughing at itself.
The Bondage of the Will or Christian Classics Ethereal Library