GreetingColossians 1 1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,
2 To the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father.
Paul addresses the false teaching at Colosse. Phrygia, the region in south central Asia Minor where Colosse was located, is an area with a peculiar religious history. In ancient times, the region had given birth to the worship of the goddess Cybele, whose cult (renewed during the Roman era) was characterized by ritual cleansing in the blood of a bull, ecstatic states, prophetic rapture, and inspired dancing. In the latter half of the second century A.D., Phrygia became the center of a distorted version of Christianity known as Montanism, a teaching that prized ecstatic and apocalyptic prophecy, freedom from the responsibilities of daily life, and rigorous fasts and penances for ritual purity.
Within a few years of the inception of Christianity among these Phrygians, Epaphras and Paul found that an appetite had emerged for something more than the crucified and risen Christ. It is notoriously difficult to reconstruct the false teaching to which Paul was responding because the letter is less a critique of error than a positive statement of the sufficiency of the person and work of Christ. However, certain features of the false teaching do surface.
It claimed to be a “philosophy” (2:8), a term that often in the Hellenistic age referred not to rational inquiry, but to occult speculations and practices based on a body of tradition.
The teaching appears to have been largely Jewish, as evidenced by the value placed on legal ordinances, food regulations, Sabbath and New Moon observance, and other prescriptions of the Jewish calendar (2:16). Though circumcision is mentioned, it was not necessarily seen as one of the legal requirements (2:11).
The role of angelic spirits was also an important element in this teaching. Three key factors point to this. There is stress on Christ’s superiority to and victory over “dominions” and “powers” (1:16; 2:10, 15).
The phrase “basic principles of the world” (2:8, 20; cf. Gal. 4:3) also points to angelic beings. An old and popular line of interpretation views Paul arguing against the “basic principle” that life with God comes through works-righteousness. However, the letter’s implied competition between Christ and spirit-beings suggests a more transcendent and sinister background. The Greek word translated “basic principles” was used in this time period to refer to gods of stars and planets, and even to the physical elements (earth, wind, fire, and water) that were thought to control the destiny of men and women. The Phrygian god Cybele and her lover Attis were transformed at some time by popular pagan piety into astral and cosmic powers.
Along this line, even some Jewish thinking merged the angels with astral powers who protect the planets. Moreover, intertestamental Jewish literature envisioned Israel caught between two kingdoms, one good and one evil, that both claimed allegiance. The victory of the good and the overthrow of the evil power was understood to be promised if Israel repented, obeyed fully, and kept the Sabbath perfectly. The Colossians appear to have come under the influence of a combination of Jewish and pagan piety presenting itself as a philosophical system and encouraging submission to these occult astral or cosmic powers.
The role of angels in the Colossian error is evident in the phrase “worship of angels” (2:18). Early Christians knew that there were angels who had been agents at creation and in the giving of the law (Acts 7:53; Gal. 3:19; Heb. 2:2). The false teaching in Colosse had confused the limited and legitimate role of angels as “ministering spirits” (Heb. 1:14), with the larger role attributed to angels in some parts of Judaism, not to mention the astral powers of the Gentiles. As a means of overcoming fear of these astral or cosmic powers, and under the guise of revelations which so-called “philosophers” received in ecstatic states, the Colossians were being urged to become ascetics and to worship angels. ESV Reformation Study Bible
Thanksgiving and Prayer3 We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, 4 since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, 5 because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, 6 which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and increasing—as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth, 7 just as you learned it from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf 8 and has made known to us your love in the Spirit.
9 And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; 11 being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy; 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. 13 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
The Preeminence of Christ15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.
21 And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22 he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, 23 if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.
Paul’s Ministry to the Church24 Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, 25 of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, 26 the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. 27 To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 28 Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. 29 For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.
Colossians 2Colossians 2:1 For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, 2 that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, 3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. 4 I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments. 5 For though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the firmness of your faith in Christ.
Alive in Christ6 Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, 7 rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. 8 See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. 9 For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, 10 and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. 11 In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. 13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.
Paul here brings together two different aspects of the saving work of Christ’s cross, namely the forgiveness of our sins and the cosmic overthrow of the principalities and powers. He illustrates the freeness and graciousness of God’s forgiveness (charizomai) from the ancient custom of cancelling debts. ‘The written code, with its regulations, that was against us’ can hardly be a reference to the law in itself, since Paul regarded it as ‘holy, righteous and good’ (Rom. 7:12); it must rather refer to the broken law, which on that account was ‘against us and stood opposed to us’ with its judgment. The word Paul uses for this ‘written code’ is cheirographon, which was ‘a hand-written document, specifically a certificate of indebtedness, a bond’ (AG) or a ‘signed confession of indebtedness, which stood as a perpetual witness against us’. (The Epistles to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians (The New International Commentary on the New Testament)) The apostle then employs three verbs to describe how God has dealt with our debts. He ‘cancelled’ the bond by ‘wiping’ it clean (as exaleiphō literally means) and then ‘took it away, nailing it to the cross’. Jeremias thinks the allusion is to the titulus, the tablet fixed over a crucified person’s head on which his crimes were written, and that on Jesus’ titulus it was our sins, not his, which were inscribed. (The Central Message of the New Testament) In any case, God frees us from our bankruptcy only by paying our debts on Christ’s cross. More than that. He has ‘not only cancelled the debt, but also destroyed the document on which it was recorded’. (Word Biblical Commentary Vol. 44, Colossians-Philemon) The Cross of Christ
Let No One Disqualify You16 Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. 17 These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. 18 Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, 19 and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God. 20 If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— 21 “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” 22 (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? 23 These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.
Put On the New SelfColossians 3 1 If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
5 Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. 6 On account of these the wrath of God is coming. 7 In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. 8 But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. 9 Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. 11 Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.
12 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
Rules for Christian Households18 Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. 19 Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them. 20 Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. 21 Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged. 22 Bondservants, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. 23 Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, 24 knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. 25 For the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done, and there is no partiality.
Colossians 4Colossians 4 1 Masters, treat your bondservants justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven.
Further Instructions2 Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. 3 At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison— 4 that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak.
5 Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. 6 Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.
Final Greetings7 Tychicus will tell you all about my activities. He is a beloved brother and faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord. 8 I have sent him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are and that he may encourage your hearts, 9 and with him Onesimus, our faithful and beloved brother, who is one of you. They will tell you of everything that has taken place here.
10 Aristarchus my fellow prisoner greets you, and Mark the cousin of Barnabas (concerning whom you have received instructions—if he comes to you, welcome him), 11 and Jesus who is called Justus. These are the only men of the circumcision among my fellow workers for the kingdom of God, and they have been a comfort to me. 12 Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus, greets you, always struggling on your behalf in his prayers, that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God. 13 For I bear him witness that he has worked hard for you and for those in Laodicea and in Hierapolis. 14 Luke the beloved physician greets you, as does Demas. 15 Give my greetings to the brothers at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house. 16 And when this letter has been read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans; and see that you also read the letter from Laodicea. 17 And say to Archippus, “See that you fulfill the ministry that you have received in the Lord.”
18 I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you.
The Reformation Study Bible
What I'm Reading
How Many Women Visited the Tomb of Jesus?
By J. Warner Wallace 12/11/2017
In my most recent posts I’ve been investigating issues and passages commonly offered as examples of “contradictions” between Gospel accounts. One such alleged contradiction seems to exist in the description of the women who discovered the empty tomb of Jesus. How many women visited the tomb? One? Two? Three? It seems to depend on which Gospel you read. Are the Gospel authors confused about this issue or fabricating the story altogether? I don’t think so, but before we investigate the narratives, let’s review the description of the women in each account:
Matthew 28:1-10 | Now after the Sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to look at the grave. And behold, a severe earthquake had occurred, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled away the stone and sat upon it. And his appearance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow. The guards shook for fear of him and became like dead men. The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; for I know that you are looking for Jesus who has been crucified. He is not here, for He has risen, just as He said. Come, see the place where He was lying. Go quickly and tell His disciples that He has risen from the dead; and behold, He is going ahead of you into Galilee, there you will see Him; behold, I have told you.” And they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy and ran to report it to His disciples. And behold, Jesus met them and greeted them. And they came up and took hold of His feet and worshiped Him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and take word to My brethren to leave for Galilee, and there they will see Me.”
Mark 16:1-10 | When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, bought spices, so that they might come and anoint Him. Very early on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb when the sun had risen. They were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” Looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled away, although it was extremely large. Entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting at the right, wearing a white robe; and they were amazed. And he said to them, “Do not be amazed; you are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who has been crucified. He has risen; He is not here; behold, here is the place where they laid Him. But go, tell His disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see Him, just as He told you.’” They went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had gripped them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. Now after He had risen early on the first day of the week, He first appeared to Mary Magdalene, from whom He had cast out seven demons. She went and reported to those who had been with Him, while they were mourning and weeping.
Luke 23:27 | And following Him [on the way to the crucifixion] was a large crowd of the people, and of women who were mourning and lamenting Him. But Jesus turning to them said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, stop weeping for Me, but weep for yourselves and for your children.”
Luke 23:48-49 | And all the crowds who came together for this spectacle, when they observed what had happened, began to return, beating their breasts. And all His acquaintances and the women who accompanied Him from Galilee were standing at a distance, seeing these things.
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James "Jim" Warner Wallace (born June 16, 1961) is an American homicide detective and Christian apologist. Wallace is a Senior Fellow at the Colson Center for Christian Worldview and an Adjunct Professor of Apologetics at Biola University in La Mirada, California. He has authored several books, including Cold-Case Christianity, God’s Crime Scene, and Forensic Faith, in which he applies principles of cold case homicide investigation to apologetic concerns such as the existence of God and the reliability of the Gospels.
Far as the Curse is Found
By Albert Mohler 12/08/2017
Many Christians would be surprised, and perhaps even disappointed, to learn that the song often cited as our favorite Christmas carol is not actually a Christmas carol at all. The famed hymn writer Isaac Watts published “Joy to the World” in 1719. Millions of Christians sing this great hymn at Christmas, celebrating the great news of the incarnation and declaring “let earth receive her king.”
“Let every heart, prepare him room, and heaven and angels sing.” At Christmas we celebrate the incarnation of Christ, the coming of Jesus in Bethlehem. But “Joy to the World,” though sung rightly and triumphantly at Christmas, is really about the Second Coming of Christ.
Watts led in the development of hymns in the English tradition, drawing many of his hymn texts directly from the Psalms. “Joy to the World” is based upon Psalm 98, which declares creation’s joy when the Lord comes to rule and to judge. When we sing “Joy to the World, the Lord is Come,” it applies when we talk about Bethlehem and when we rejoice in the gift of the infant Christ. But the song also reminds us that Christmas isn’t over; the promises of Christmas are not yet fulfilled. Earth will fully receive her King when Christ comes again, to reign and to rule.
Think with me about verse three of the hymn, in which we read,
“No more let sins and sorrows grow, nor thorns infest the ground. He comes to make his blessings flow, far as the curse is found, far as the curse is found.”
The reversal of the curse is promised in the coming of the Messiah and the fulfillment of his atoning work. Implicit in this third verse is the promise of the new creation. We live in light of that promise, even as we look back to Bethlehem and as we celebrate Christmas.
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What Is the ‘Sin Not Leading to Death’ in 1 John 5?
By John Piper 12/11/2017
What is the sin that does not lead to death, in 1 John 5:16–17? Can you explain this?”
Well, let me venture an answer in summary form and then drop back and give the foundations for it from the context of 1 John and the wider New Testament teaching. Here’s my answer: the sin that does not lead to death (that is, eternal death or damnation — which is what I think John means) is any sin that we commit that we are, by grace, capable of truly confessing and repenting from. That’s my answer.
Any Sin | The reason I put it like that is because of what 1 John 1:9 says and what Hebrews 12:16 says. So 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins” — he doesn’t specify any particular kind — “he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” So that’s a very sweeping and glorious and wonderful and precious promise. If you can confess your sin authentically, agree with God that it is sin and that it stinks, hate it, turn from it, and fight against it, you will be forgiven.
However, Hebrews 12:16–17, when talking about Esau and what happened to him, says “[See] that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears.”
When it says he sought it, it means he sought repentance. He couldn’t find it. He was no longer capable of repenting. It’s not that he repented and repented and cried over his repentance, and God wouldn’t forgive him. No, no, no. He could not repent. He had sinned to a depth or a degree that God had given him up.
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John Piper Books | Go to Books Page
Battling the Unbelief of Despondency
By John Piper 12/04/1988
I want you to focus on Psalm 73:26 for just a few minutes — “My flesh and my heart may fail” — because that’s the definition of despondency that I want us to work with. Do you see the three parts to that little phrase “my flesh and my heart may fail”?
First, “my flesh” — that means there’s a physical component to despondency. Isn’t there? The body weakens, there’s fatigue, there’s a sense of listlessness and sluggishness.
Second, “and my heart” — that means there’s this emotional spiritual dimension to despondency. Our hearts are discouraged, dejected, gloomy, burned out.
Third, “fail” — this word means come to an end, run out, be exhausted of resources. It’s like your life is a tank and in it is water that you need for refreshment. And somebody pulls the plug at the bottom and it just all runs out. And this word in Hebrew (Kalla) means come to an end, be exhausted, be depleted of resources to handle problems and life.
Is Sin the Source of Despondency? | Now the question is this: Is unbelief the root of that experience of despondency? And with ten minutes to preach here I’m passing over a lot. The answer is yes and no.
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John Piper Books | Go to Books Page
Archaeological Discovery Is Nightmare for Devout Muslims
By Ben Marquis 12/09/2017
There has been a lot of talk about Jerusalem in recent days, following President Donald Trump’s recognition of the city as the true capital of Israel. This decision has reignited the debate over which major religious faith lays a true claim to the ancient city — Jews, Christians or Muslims.
Obviously those of the Judaic faith hold the longest claim to the city, followed by Christians and then Muslims. Nonetheless, many modern-day Muslims lay claim to the entirety of the city and deny any Jewish or Christian ties to the important holy sites in the area, or their own Islamic faith for that matter.
Robert Spencer of Jihad Watch has argued that the Islamic faith did not arise entirely on its own as a separate entity, but instead began as a sort of amalgamation of the various religions prominent in the Middle East in the 7th and 8th centuries — namely Judaism and Christianity — only assembling their own distinct doctrine later.
A recent archaeological find in Israel may lend some credence to that theory, or at least point to the fact that Muslims and Jews weren’t always the bitter enemies they would seem to be today.
The Jerusalem Post reported on the discovery during an archaeological dig of ancient Islamic coins dated back some 1,300 years, shortly after the dawn of the Islamic faith during the Umayyad dynasty. The coins prominently feature a rather Judaic symbol — the menorah.
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Read The Psalms In "1" Year
17 How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
18 If I would count them, they are more than the sand.
I awake, and I am still with you.
19 Oh that you would slay the wicked, O God!
O men of blood, depart from me!
20 They speak against you with malicious intent;
your enemies take your name in vain.
21 Do I not hate those who hate you, O LORD?
And do I not loathe those who rise up against you?
22 I hate them with complete hatred;
I count them my enemies.
23 Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
24 And see if there be any grievous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting!
The Holy Bible: ESV Reformation Study Bible, Condensed Edition (2017) - Black, Genuine Leather. (2016). (ESV). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
U.S. Department Of Justice Finally Starts Investigating Planned Parenthood
By Nicole Russell 12/11/2017
At least two years after the Center for Medical Progress released explosive undercover videos showing Planned Parenthood (PP) profited from aborted baby part harvesting, the Department of Justice has finally announced they will investigate PP.
The videos prompted an investigation by the House Oversight Committee, which found, among other things, that PP did not need federal funding. Following that, the Senate Judiciary investigated PP and issued a report, “Human Fetal Tissue Research: Context and Controversy” published last December. Its summary says, “The activities of those involved, in the fetal tissue transfer industry potentially implicate a number of federal laws.”
Following that, committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) told the FBI it should investigate PP: “The report documents the failure of the Department of Justice, across multiple administrations, to enforce the law that bans the buying and selling of human fetal tissue. It also documents substantial evidence suggesting that the specific entities involved in the recent controversy, and/or individuals employed by those entities, may have violated that law.”
Now, Fox News reports that Justice Department Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd has requested unredacted documents from the Senate Judiciary Committee, “in order to further the Department’s ability to conduct a thorough and comprehensive assessment of that report based on the full range of information available.”
Center for Medical Progress founder David Daleiden said in a statement, “Over two years ago, citizen journalists at The Center for Medical Progress first caught Planned Parenthood’s top abortion doctors in a series of undercover videos callously and flippantly negotiating the sale of tiny baby hearts, lungs, livers, and brains. Since then, two Congressional investigations found even deeper wrongdoing and confirmed that Planned Parenthood Federation of America, several of their biggest affiliates, and multiple business partners broke the law in a profit-driven scheme to commodify dismembered baby body parts. It is time for public officials to finally hold Planned Parenthood and their criminal abortion enterprise accountable under the law.”
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The Institutes of the Christian Religion
Translated by Henry Beveridge
STATE IN WHICH MAN WAS CREATED. THE FACULTIES OF THE SOUL--THE IMAGE OF GOD--FREE WILL--ORIGINAL RIGHTEOUSNESS.
This chapter is thus divided:--I. The necessary rules to be observed in considering the state of man before the fall being laid down, the point first considered is the creation of the body, and the lesson taught by its being formed out of the earth, and made alive, sec. 1. II. The immortality of the human soul is proved by various solid arguments, sec. 2. III. The image of God (the strongest proof of the soul's immortality) is considered, and various absurd fancies are refuted, sec. 3. IV. Several errors which obscure the light of truth being dissipated, follows a philosophical and theological consideration of the faculties of the soul before the fall.
1. A twofold knowledge of God--viz. before the fall and after it. The former here considered. Particular rules or precautions to be observed in this discussion. What we are taught by a body formed ant of the dust, and tenanted by a spirit.
2. The immortality of the soul proved from, 1. The testimony of conscience. 2. The knowledge of God. 3. The noble faculties with which it is endued. 4. Its activity and wondrous fancies in sleep. 5. Innumerable passages of Scripture.
3. The image of God one of the strongest proofs of the immortality of the soul. What meant by this image. The dreams of Osiander concerning the image of God refuted. Whether any difference between "image" and "likeness." Another objection of Osiander refuted. The image of God conspicuous in the whole Adam.
4. The image of God is in the soul. Its nature may be learnt from its renewal by Christ. What comprehended under this renewal. What the image of God in man before the fall. In what things it now appears. When and where it will be seen in perfection.
5. The dreams of the Manichees and of Servetus, as to the origin of the soul, refuted. Also of Osiander, who denies that there is any image of God in man without essential righteousness.
6. The doctrine of philosophers as to the faculties of the soul generally discordant, doubtful, and obscure. The excellence of the soul described. Only one soul in each man. A brief review of the opinion of philosophers as to the faculties of the soul. What to be thought of this opinion.
7. The division of the faculties of the soul into intellect and will, more agreeable to Christian doctrine.
8. The power and office of the intellect and will in man before the fall. Man's free will. This freedom lost by the fall--a fact unknown to philosophers. The delusion of Pelagians and Papists. Objection as to the fall of man when free, refuted.
1. We have now to speak of the creation of man, not only because of all the works of God it is the noblest, and most admirable specimen of his justice, wisdom, and goodness, but, as we observed at the outset, we cannot clearly and properly know God unless the knowledge of ourselves be added. This knowledge is twofold,--relating, first, to the condition in which we were at first created; and, secondly to our condition such as it began to be immediately after Adam's fall. For it would little avail us to know how we were created if we remained ignorant of the corruption and degradation of our nature in consequence of the fall. At present, however, we confine ourselves to a consideration of our nature in its original integrity. And, certainly, before we descend to the miserable condition into which man has fallen, it is of importance to consider what he was at first. For there is need of caution, lest we attend only to the natural ills of man, and thereby seem to ascribe them to the Author of nature; impiety deeming it a sufficient defence if it can pretend that everything vicious in it proceeded in some sense from God, and not hesitating, when accused, to plead against God, and throw the blame of its guilt upon Him. Those who would be thought to speak more reverently of the Deity catch at an excuse for their depravity from nature, not considering that they also, though more obscurely, bring a charge against God, on whom the dishonour would fall if anything vicious were proved to exist in nature. Seeing, therefore, that the flesh is continually on the alert for subterfuges, by which it imagines it can remove the blame of its own wickedness from itself to some other quarter, we must diligently guard against this depraved procedure, and accordingly treat of the calamity of the human race in such a way as may cut off every evasion, and vindicate the justice of God against all who would impugn it. We shall afterwards see, in its own place (Book 2 chap. 1 sec. 3), how far mankind now are from the purity originally conferred on Adam. And, first, it is to be observed, that when he was formed out of the dust of the ground a curb was laid on his pride--nothing being more absurd than that those should glory in their excellence who not only dwell in tabernacles of clay, but are themselves in part dust and ashes. But God having not only deigned to animate a vessel of clay, but to make it the habitation of an immortal spirit, Adam might well glory in the great liberality of his Maker.
2. Moreover, there can be no question that man consists of a body and a soul; meaning by soul, an immortal though created essence, which is his nobler part. Sometimes he is called a spirit. But though the two terms, while they are used together differ in their meaning, still, when spirit is used by itself it is equivalent to soul, as when Solomon speaking of death says, that the spirit returns to God who gave it (Eccles. 12:7). And Christ, in commending his spirit to the Father, and Stephen his to Christ, simply mean, that when the soul is freed from the prison-house of the body, God becomes its perpetual keeper. Those who imagine that the soul is called a spirit because it is a breath or energy divinely infused into bodies, but devoid of essence, err too grossly, as is shown both by the nature of the thing, and the whole tenor of Scripture. It is true, indeed, that men cleaving too much to the earth are dull of apprehension, nay, being alienated from the Father of Lights, are so immersed in darkness as to imagine that they will not survive the grave; still the light is not so completely quenched in darkness that all sense of immortality is lost. Conscience, which, distinguishing, between good and evil, responds to the Judgment of God, is an undoubted sign of an immortal spirit. How could motion devoid of essence penetrate to the Judgment-seat of God, and under a sense of guilt strike itself with terror? The body cannot be affected by any fear of spiritual punishment. This is competent only to the soul, which must therefore be endued with essence. Then the mere knowledge of a God sufficiently proves that souls which rise higher than the world must be immortal, it being impossible that any evanescent vigour could reach the very fountain of life. In fine, while the many noble faculties with which the human mind is endued proclaim that something divine is engraven on it, they are so many evidences of an immortal essence. For such sense as the lower animals possess goes not beyond the body, or at least not beyond the objects actually presented to it. But the swiftness with which the human mind glances from heaven to earth, scans the secrets of nature, and, after it has embraced all ages, with intellect and memory digests each in its proper order, and reads the future in the past, clearly demonstrates that there lurks in man a something separated from the body. We have intellect by which we are able to conceive of the invisible God and angels--a thing of which body is altogether incapable. We have ideas of rectitude, justice, and honesty--ideas which the bodily senses cannot reach. The seat of these ideas must therefore be a spirit. Nay, sleep itself, which stupefying the man, seems even to deprive him of life, is no obscure evidence of immortality; not only suggesting thoughts of things which never existed, but foreboding future events. I briefly touch on topics which even profane writers describe with a more splendid eloquence. For pious readers, a simple reference is sufficient. Were not the soul some kind of essence separated from the body, Scripture would not teach  that we dwell in houses of clay, and at death remove from a tabernacle of flesh; that we put off that which is corruptible, in order that, at the last day, we may finally receive according to the deeds done in the body. These, and similar passages which everywhere occur, not only clearly distinguish the soul from the body, but by giving it the name of man, intimate that it is his principal part. Again, when Paul exhorts believers to cleanse themselves from all filthiness of the flesh and the spirit, he shows that there are two parts in which the taint of sin resides. Peter, also, in calling Christ the Shepherd and Bishop of souls, would have spoken absurdly if there were no souls towards which he might discharge such an office. Nor would there be any ground for what he says concerning the eternal salvation of souls, or for his injunction to purify our souls, or for his assertion that fleshly lusts war against the soul; neither could the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews say, that pastors watch as those who must give an account for our souls, if souls were devoid of essence. To the same effect Paul calls God to witness upon his soul, which could not be brought to trial before God if incapable of suffering punishment. This is still more clearly expressed by our Saviour, when he bids us fear him who, after he has killed the body, is able also to cast into hell fire. Again when the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews distinguishes the fathers of our flesh from God, who alone is the Father of our spirits, he could not have asserted the essence of the soul in clearer terms. Moreover, did not the soul, when freed from the fetters of the body, continue to exist, our Saviour would not have represented the soul of Lazarus as enjoying blessedness in Abraham's bosom, while, on the contrary, that of Dives was suffering dreadful torments. Paul assures us of the same thing when he says, that so long as we are present in the body, we are absent from the Lord. Not to dwell on a matter as to which there is little obscurity, I will only add, that Luke mentions among the errors of the Sadducees that they believed neither angel nor spirit.
3. A strong proof of this point may be gathered from its being said, that man was created in the image of God. For though the divine glory is displayed in man's outward appearance, it cannot be doubted that the proper seat of the image is in the soul. I deny not, indeed, that external shape, in so far as it distinguishes and separates us from the lower animals, brings us nearer to God; nor will I vehemently oppose any who may choose to include under the image of God that
"While the mute creation downward bend
Their sight, and to their earthly mother tend,
Man looks aloft, and with erected eyes,
Beholds his own hereditary skies." 
Only let it be understood, that the image of God which is beheld or made conspicuous by these external marks, is spiritual. For Osiander (whose writings exhibit a perverse ingenuity in futile devices), extending the image of God indiscriminately as well to the body as to the soul, confounds heaven with earth. He says, that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, placed their image in man, because, even though Adam had stood entire, Christ would still have become man. Thus, according to him, the body which was destined for Christ was a model and type of that corporeal figure which was then formed. But where does he find that Christ is an image of the Spirit? I admit, indeed, that in the person of the Mediator, the glory of the whole Godhead is displayed: but how can the eternal Word, who in order precedes the Spirit, be called his image? In short, the distinction between the Son and the Spirit is destroyed when the former is represented as the image of the latter. Moreover, I should like to know in what respect Christ in the flesh in which he was clothed resembles the Holy Spirit, and by what marks, or lineaments, the likeness is expressed. And since the expression, "Let us make man in our own image," is used in the person of the Son also, it follows that he is the image of himself--a thing utterly absurd. Add that, according to the figment of Osiander,  Adam was formed after the model or type of the man Christ. Hence Christ, in as much as he was to be clothed with flesh, was the idea according to which Adam was formed, whereas the Scriptures teach very differently--viz. that he was formed in the image of God. There is more plausibility in the imagination of those who interpret that Adam was created in the image of God, because it was conformable to Christ, who is the only image of God; but not even for this is there any solid foundation. The "image" and "likeness" has given rise to no small discussion; interpreters searching without cause for a difference between the two terms, since "likeness" is merely added by way of exposition. First, we know that repetitions are common in Hebrew, which often gives two words for one thing; And, secondly, there is no ambiguity in the thing itself, man being called the image of God because of his likeness to God. Hence there is an obvious absurdity in those who indulge in philosophical speculation as to these names, placing the Zelem, that is the image, in the substance of the soul, and the Demuth, that is the likeness, in its qualities, and so forth. God having determined to create man in his own image, to remove the obscurity which was in this terms adds, by way of explanation, in his likeness, as if he had said, that he would make man, in whom he would, as it were, image himself by means of the marks of resemblance impressed upon him. Accordingly, Moses, shortly after repeating the account, puts down the image of God twice, and makes no mention of the likeness. Osiander frivolously objects that it is not a part of the man, or the soul with its faculties, which is called the image of God, but the whole Adam, who received his name from the dust out of which he was taken. I call the objection frivolous, as all sound readers will judge. For though the whole man is called mortal, the soul is not therefore liable to death, nor when he is called a rational animal is reason or intelligence thereby attributed to the body. Hence, although the soul is not the man, there is no absurdity in holding that he is called the image of God in respect of the soul; though I retain the principle which I lately laid down, that the image of God extends to everything in which the nature of man surpasses that of all other species of animals. Accordingly, by this term is denoted the integrity with which Adam was endued when his intellect was clear, his affections subordinated to reason, all his senses duly regulated, and when he truly ascribed all his excellence to the admirable gifts of his Maker. And though the primary seat of the divine image was in the mind and the heart, or in the soul and its powers, there was no part even of the body in which some rays of glory did not shine. It is certain that in every part of the world some lineaments of divine glory are beheld and hence we may infer, that when his image is placed in man, there is a kind of tacit antithesis, as it were, setting man apart from the crowd, and exalting him above all the other creatures. But it cannot be denied that the angels also were created in the likeness of God, since, as Christ declares (Mt. 22:30), our highest perfection will consist in being like them. But it is not without good cause that Moses commends the favour of God towards us by giving us this peculiar title, the more especially that he was only comparing man with the visible creation.
Christian Classics Ethereal Library / Public Domain
Institutes of the Christian Religion
Everyone Is a Churchman
By R.C. Sproul Jr. 9/01/2016
It is no surprise that a culture with a low view of theology would in turn have a low ecclesiology (doctrine of the church). The theos, after all, is rather tightly bound together with the ekklésia. Dismiss one and you will have a hard time not dismissing the other. If you have little interest in studying the person and work of the Groom, you will likely have little interest in studying, much less serving His bride. You need not study the Groom long to learn that He commands us to love His beloved.
Nathan Hatch proposed an interesting perspective on how, at least in America, we have come to such a low view of the church in his landmark work The Democratization of American Christianity. He observed a correlation between the spread of America into the Western frontier and the spread and growth of the church. In each instance, it seemed what was called for was a pioneering spirit and a willingness to embrace the practical, to leave aside niceties that had little to do with survival. As our forefathers moved west seeking more elbow room, the church likewise sought more elbow room. Unwilling to be bound by the traditions of Puritan New England, they, in and through the Great Awakening, took on new methods, new convictions, new liberties.
The literary heroes of the age — Natty Bumppo, Daniel Boone, even Huck Finn — embraced an ethic built on individual effort, courage, and drive, thereby shaping how we understand ourselves not just in the face of the Western wilderness, but in the spiritual wilderness. Lone wolves ceased to be something to fear and became something to aspire to. We began to forget that we are a we.
The Romantic spirit came across the pond and fit in quite well. Romanticism isn’t a worldview built on candlelit dinners or walks on the beach, but on the premise that institutions are the root of all evil, that man in his natural state is pure and clean. The telos (goal) of Romanticism is authenticity, spontaneity. I become what I am meant to be when I am most free of any restraints, when my emotions are my guiding star. I am what I feel. And I am an island.
The Bible, on the other hand, while profoundly concerned with the individual — the individual soul, the soul made right with God — never leaves us alone. Indeed, it warns us regularly of the danger of being a lone ranger. We have been brought into the assembly. We are a part of the body. We are, together, the bride of Jesus Christ. It is not good that man should be alone. We are a corpus, a body, a part of something much bigger than ourselves.
Our fathers in the faith understood this, and we have sought to forget. They understood that when they confessed together the Apostles’ Creed, they were doing something more than giving a personal confession of faith. They understood even that their local body was doing more than describing the bounds of its own confession.They understood that they were confessing the faith once for all given to the church, that they were standing in a stream that began well before them and that would continue long after them. When they sang the Psalms, they understood that they were doing more than merely singing what was safe, because it came from the Holy Spirit. Rather, they grasped that they were retelling their own family stories, indeed, that the whole of the Bible isn’t others’ history from which we might draw moral lessons, but rather it is our history from which we should draw our identity.
In like manner, our fathers understood that the Christian life is so much bigger than merely waiting for personal rescue. Their goal was not simply to protect and guard their own souls, but to hold fast to the faith, to tell their children and their children’s children of the great works of God in space and time.
In our day, we may know our Father in heaven, but we have forgotten our mother, the church.
Our Lord Jesus tells each of us that we must seek first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness. That kingdom is bigger than just me, bigger than just you. It is us, along with our fathers, our children, and as many as are afar off. It includes those whose musical tastes annoy us, whose weak theology frustrates us, whose sins shame us. We are called not just to identify with all those with whom we are in union, but to seek their good, to pursue their blessing. We are called to love them just as the One who has bound us together loves them. That doesn’t mean we’ll never disagree—it means we will disagree. Because that’s what fallen people who love each other do. That is one way that we are able to serve each other.
We have, each of us and all of us, been given the righteousness of Christ. Not one of us has earned it. Not one of us can keep it on his own. But we all together have been purchased by the blood of Jesus Christ. As such, our heavenly Father doesn’t just love me, but He loves you and every one of us even as He loves His only begotten Son. We have together the same Father. We have Him because we have together the same elder brother. And both of them call on us to love our common mother, blemishes and all, because she gave birth to us and because she nurtures us, cherishes us.
Our Father is perfect. Our mother is most assuredly not. But just as the Spirit is perfecting us, so is He perfecting our mother. Our calling is to love her, to honor her, to submit to her, that it might go well with us in the land He has given us.
R.C. Sproul Jr. Books | Go to Books Page
The Goodness of God
By Rev. Eric J. Alexander 9/01/2016
Many years ago, my wife and I were on our summer holiday. At church on Sunday morning, we met a friend whom we had known as a student. He was a bachelor, and we took him to lunch. As we talked, he confided in us that he had recently been diagnosed with a serious cancer. Before we parted, he told us that he had already made some tentative plans for the future. “If God is good,” he began, “I may be able to retire early, and live not far from here.” Unfortunately, he had to hurry away. All I had time to say to him as he left was, “Do remember that Romans 8:28 will always be true.” Afterward, the phrase which kept repeating in my mind was, “If God is good.” Four words, of which the first is the most significant.
I hope our friend did read Romans 8:28 before that day was done. We lost contact, but I do want to tell you what he might have discovered from that verse. It reads, “We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”
Let me first of all point out two things Paul is not saying. First, he is not saying that life is guaranteed to be trouble free for the Christian. Indeed, in verse 17 of this very chapter, he tells us that “sharing in Christ’s sufferings” is a condition of “sharing in his glory.” Second, Paul does not claim to know or understand all of God’s mysterious providences. “We know” in verse 28 sits comfortably in the same chapter with the disclaimer in verse 26: “We do not know what to pray for as we ought.” But we do know God, and we know that whatever He decrees or permits will be for our ultimate good and for His glory.
Now we can follow Paul as he elaborates the way God is at work in our lives.
First, God is personally at work for us. You must have heard the secular version of this conviction, which has absolutely nothing to do with God, the Bible, or Christianity. It is usually expressed like this: “Don’t worry; everything will work out alright, you’ll see.” That is human optimism, founded on nothing but wishful thinking. Paul’s conviction, on the other hand, is founded on the character of God as a loving Father who cares for us and on His personal government over every detail of our lives (see v. 32).
Second, God is ceaselessly at work for us. We know this from the tense of the verb Paul uses. It is the present tense, which implies an unceasing action. That means God is working out His purposes for us whether we are spiritually dry or spiritually refreshed. He never gives up. As A.W. Tozer put it, “Our heavenly Father . . . does not keep office hours, nor set aside a time when he will see no one. God never changes His moods, or cools off in His affections, or loses enthusiasm.”
Third, God is universally at work for us and in us. Notice that Paul says “in all things.” That means that nothing is excluded from the personal government of God over what happens to us. It includes the bitterest as well as the sweetest of experiences. It includes the sinful acts of others, as Joseph states in Genesis 50:20: “You intended it for evil to me, but God meant it for good.” John Calvin said, tellingly, “Whatever poison Satan produces, God turns it into medicine for His elect.” Spurgeon said, “Omnipotence has servants everywhere.”
Now the final question is, what type of person is able to say that God is working in all things for my good?
Well, Paul is anything but vague about that. Indeed, he is quite specific. His first description is “those who love God.” But, of course, that love, in Scripture, is the love of commitment. I have often spoken with young people who told me they had declared their love for someone, only to receive the answer, “Oh now, I don’t want to get too serious!” There are many who say that to God. Could you be one of them?
The second description in Romans 8:28 is “those who are called by God.” Now, whenever someone hears the gospel message, they hear the external call of God summoning them to personal faith in Jesus Christ. But that call, when it is truly heard inwardly by those to whom God has given spiritual ears to hear it, actually draws the sinner to Christ: “I heard the voice of Jesus say ‘Come unto me and rest’: I came to Jesus, as I was.” The question is, have you heard the call of God in the gospel, and have you found it drawing you to Christ?
So, “all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called by God.” They then discover that they are caught up into the perfect, sovereign purposes of God, which involve His “good and acceptable and perfect will” (Rom. 12:2).
I well recollect Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones preaching in Glasgow from Psalm 73. He told us that he had discovered that the first line of Psalm 73 could be better translated “God is good and nothing but good to Israel (his people).” I have been a Christian now for almost seventy years, and I must tell you that that is my personal testimony.
Joseph Hart in the eighteenth century expressed it perfectly in his hymn:
How good is the God we adore, Our faithful, unchangeable friend, His love is as great as His power, And knows neither measure nor end.
Fox's Book Of Martyrs (Chapter 20)
By John Foxe 1563
An Account of the Life of John WesleyJohn Wesley was born on the seventeenth of June, 1703, in Epworth rectory, England, the fifteenth of nineteen children of Charles and Suzanna Wesley. The father of Wesley was a preacher, and Wesley's mother was a remarkable woman in wisdom and intelligence. She was a woman of deep piety and brought her little ones into close contact with the Bible stories, telling them from the tiles about the nursery fireplace. She also used to dress the children in their best on the days when they were to have the privilege of learning their alphabet as an introduction to the reading of the Holy Scriptures.
Young Wesley was a gay and manly youth, fond of games and particularly of dancing. At Oxford he was a leader, and during the latter part of his course there, was one of the founders of the "Holy Club," an organization of serious-minded students. His religious nature deepened through study and experience, but it was not until several years after he left the university and came under the influence of Luther's writings that he felt that he had entered into the full riches of the Gospel.
He and his brother Charles were sent by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel to Georgia, where both of them developed their powers as preachers.
Upon their passage they fell into the company of several Moravian brethren, members of the association recently renewed by the labors of Count Zinzendorf. It was noted by John Wesley in his diary that, in a great tempest, when the English people on board lost all self-possession, these Germans impressed him by their composure and entire resignation to God. He also marked their humility under shameful treatment.
It was on his return to England that he entered into those deeper experiences and developed those marvelous powers as a popular preacher which made him a national leader. He was associated at this time also with George Whitefield, the tradition of whose marvelous eloquence has never died.
What he accomplished borders upon the incredible. Upon entering his eighty-fifth year he thanked God that he was still almost as vigorous as ever. He ascribed it, under God, to the fact that he had always slept soundly, had risen for sixty years at four o'clock in the morning, and for fifty years had preached every morning at five. Seldom in all his life did he feel any pain, care, or anxiety. He preached twice each day, and often thrice or four times. It has been estimated that he traveled every year forty-five hundred English miles, mostly upon horseback.
The successes won by Methodist preaching had to be gained through a long series of years, and amid the most bitter persecutions. In nearly every part of England it was met at the first by the mob with stonings and peltings, with attempts at wounding and slaying. Only at times was there any interference on the part of the civil power. The two Wesleys faced all these dangers with amazing courage, and with a calmness equally astonishing. What was more irritating was the heaping up of slander and abuse by the writers of the day. These books are now all forgotten.
Wesley had been in his youth a high churchman and was always deeply devoted to the Established Communion. When he found it necessary to ordain preachers, the separation of his followers from the established body became inevitable. The name "Methodist" soon attached to them, because of the particular organizing power of their leader and the ingenious methods that he applied.
The Wesley fellowship, which after his death grew into the great Methodist Church, was characterized by an almost military perfection of organizaton.
The entire management of his ever-growing denomination rested upon Wesley himself. The annual conference, established in 1744, acquired a governing power only after the death of Wesley. Charles Wesley rendered the society a service incalculably great by his hymns. They introduced a new era in the hymnology of the English Church. John Wesley apportioned his days to his work in leading the Church, to studying (for he was an incessant reader), to traveling, and to preaching.
Wesley was untiring in his efforts to disseminate useful knowledge throughout his denomination. He planned for the mental culture of his traveling preachers and local exhorters, and for schools of instruction for the future teachers of the Church. He himself prepared books for popular use upon universal history, church history, and natural history. In this Wesley was an apostle of the modern union of mental culture with Christian living. He published also the best matured of his sermons and various theological works. These, both by their depth and their penetration of thought, and by their purity and precision of style, excite our admiration.
John Wesley was of but ordinary stature, and yet of noble presence. His features were very handsome even in old age. He had an open brow, an eagle nose, a clear eye, and a fresh complexion. His manners were fine, and in choice company with Christian people he enjoyed relaxation. Persistent, laborious love for men's souls, steadfastness, and tranquillity of spirit were his most prominent traits of character. Even in doctrinal controversies he exhibited the greatest calmness. He was kind and very liberal. His industry has been named already. In the last fifty-two years of his life, it is estimated that he preached more than forty thousand sermons.
Wesley brought sinners to repentance throughout three kingdoms and over two hemispheres. He was the bishop of such a diocese as neither the Eastern nor the Western Church ever witnessed before. What is there in the circle of Christian effort--foreign missions, home missions, Christian tracts and literature, field preaching, circuit preaching, Bible readings, or aught else--which was not attempted by John Wesley, which was not grasped by his mighty mind through the aid of his Divine Leader?
To him it was granted to arouse the English Church, when it had lost sight of Christ the Redeemer to a renewed Christian life. By preaching the justifying and renewing of the soul through belief upon Christ, he lifted many thousands of the humbler classes of the English people from their exceeding ignorance and evil habits, and made them earnest, faithful Christians. His untiring effort made itself felt not in England alone, but in America and in continental Europe. Not only the germs of almost all the existing zeal in England on behalf of Christian truth and life are due to Methodism, but the activity stirred up in other portions of Protestant Europe we must trace indirectly, at least, to Wesley.
He died in 1791 after a long life of tireless labor and unselfish service. His fervent spirit and hearty brotherhood still survives in the body that cherishes his name.
Foxe's Book of Martyrs
Devotionals, notes, poetry and more
Do what God has told you (2)
12/11/2017 Bob Gass
‘By faith Noah…built an ark.’
(Heb 11:7) 7 By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith. ESV
Noah built the ark because God commanded it. It’s what he was called to do in life. Sawing planks and hammering nails for him was an act of obedience. And when everything was said and done, it was the longest act of obedience recorded in Scripture. From start to finish, Noah’s one act of obedience took 43,800 days! And with each daily act of obedience, he glorified God. No matter what tool you use in your trade – a hammer, a keyboard, a mop, a football, a spreadsheet, a microphone, an espresso machine – using it is an act of obedience. It’s the mechanism whereby you worship God. It’s the way you do what you’re supposed to do. The Bible says, ‘Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him’ (Colossians 3:17 NIV 2011 Edition). Stop putting yourself down and thinking what you do is not important. Remember the old proverb, ‘For want of a nail’? It goes like this: ‘For want of a nail the shoe was lost. For want of a shoe the horse was lost. For want of a horse the rider was lost. For want of a rider the message was lost. For want of a message the battle was lost. For want of a battle the kingdom was lost. And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.’ In God’s eyes, small acts of obedience are big things. When you joyfully do little things like they are big things, then God will do big things like they are little things. That’s how His kingdom advances. So the word for you today is: do what God has told you.
by Bill Federer
Pennsylvania. The Continental Congress met there, the Declaration of Independence was signed there and the Constitution was written there. For awhile the United States Capitol was there. On this day, December 12, 1787, Pennsylvania became the second State to join the Union. The oath of office contained in Pennsylvania’s Constitution read: “And each member [of the legislature], before he takes his seat, shall make… the following declaration… ‘I do believe in one God, the Creator and Governour of the Universe, the Rewarder of the good and Punisher of the wicked, and I do acknowledge the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament to be given by Divine Inspiration.’ ”
by C.S. Lewis
Reflections on the Intimate Dialogue
Between Man and God
Chapter 16 December 12
If I started with a compositio loci I should never reach the meditation. The picture would go on elaborating itself indefinitely and becoming every moment of less spiritual relevance.
There is indeed one mental image which does not lure me away into trivial elaborations. I mean the Crucifixion itself; not seen in terms of all the pictures and crucifixes, but as we must suppose it to have been in its raw, historical reality. But even this is of less spiritual value than one might expect. Compunction, compassion, gratitude-all the fruitful emotions-are strangled. Sheer physical horror leaves no room for them. Nightmare. Even so, the image ought to be periodically faced. But no one could live with it. It did not become a frequent motive of Christian art until the generations which had seen real crucifixions were all dead. As for many hymns and sermons on the subject-endlessly harping on blood, as if that were all that mattered-they must be the work either of people so far above me that they can't reach me, or else of people with no imagination at all. (Some might be cut off from me by both these gulfs.)
Yet mental images play an important part in my prayers. I doubt if any act of will or thought or emotion occurs in me without them. But they seem to help me most when they are most fugitive and fragmentary-rising and bursting like bubbles in champagne or wheeling like rooks in a windy sky: contradicting one another (in logic) as the crowded metaphors of a swift poet may do. Fix on any one, and it goes dead. You must do as Blake would do with a joy; kiss it as it flies. And then, in their total effect, they do mediate to me something very important. It is always something qualitative-more like an adjective than a noun. That, for me, gives it the impact of reality. For I think we respect nouns (and what we think they stand for) too much. All my deepest, and certainly all my earliest, experiences seem to be of sheer quality. The terrible and the lovely are older and solider than terrible and lovely things. If a musical phrase could be translated into words at all it would become an adjective. A great lyric is very like a long, utterly adequate, adjective. Plato was not so silly as the Moderns think when he elevated abstract nouns-that is, adjectives disguised as nouns-into the supreme realities-the Forms.
I know very well that in logic God is a "substance." Yet my thirst for quality is authorized even here: "We give thanks to thee for thy great glory." He is this glory. What He is (the quality) is no abstraction from Him. A personal God, to be sure; but so much more than personal. To speak more soberly, our whole distinction between "things" and "qualities," "substances" and "attitudes," has no application to Him. Perhaps it has much less than we suppose even to the created universe. Perhaps it is only part of the stage set.
The wave of images, thrown off like a spray from the prayer, all momentary, all correcting, refining, "interinanimating" one another, and giving a kind of spiritual body to the unimaginable, occurs more, I find, in acts of worship than in petitionary prayers. Of which, perhaps, we have written enough. But I don't regret it. They are the right starting point. They raise all the problems. If anyone attempted to practice, or to discuss, the higher forms without going through this turnstile, I should distrust him. "The higher does not stand without the lower." An omission or disdain of petitionary prayer can sometimes, I think, spring not from superior sanctity but from a lack of faith and a consequent preference for levels where the question "Am I only doing things to myself?" does not jut out in such apparent crudity.
Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer
Compiled by Richard S. Adams
The glory of God’s justice
will be conspicuous
in those who have slighted his mercy.
--- Ralph Erskine
For God to explain a trial would be to destroy its purpose,
calling forth simple faith and implicit obedience.
--- St. Francois de Sales
Especially among Christians in positions of wealth and power, the idea of reading the Gospels and keeping Jesus' commandments as stated therein has been replaced by a curious process of logic. According to this process, people first declare themselves to be followers of Christ, and then they assume that whatever they say or do merits the adjective "Christian".
--- Wendell Berry
The moment we begin to fear the opinions of others and hesitate to tell the truth that is in us, and from motives of policy are silent when we should speak, the divine floods of light and life no longer flow into our souls.
--- Elizabeth Cady Stanton
... from here, there and everywhere
by D.H. Stern
they cry, “Give! Give!”
Complete Jewish Bible : An English Version of the Tanakh (Old Testament) and B'Rit Hadashah (New Testament)
Chapter 7 is the final chapter in the Aramaic section of Daniel’s book. Instead of interpreting dreams for others, Daniel now had an angel interpret his dream of four beasts. The four beasts parallel the four parts of the statue in chapter 2. In chapter 7 Daniel provided additional information about the fourth world empire.
The setting (7:1). Daniel’s dream came in the first year of Belshazzar, probably 553 b.c. Belshazzar is the final king in the first of the four gentile powers described in Daniel 2.
The vision (7:2–14). In Daniel’s dream he saw four beasts coming up out of the sea, with the fourth beast having ten horns plus a smaller eleventh horn. This little horn uprooted three of the first ones and began to boast until he was destroyed. Then “one like a son of man” approached the “Ancient of Days” (God the Father) and received an everlasting kingdom.
The interpretation (7:15–27). When Daniel asked what this dream meant, God’s messenger told him the four beasts represented four coming kingdoms. Keenly interested in the fourth beast, Daniel inquired especially about the ten horns and the little horn that came up later. God told him that the beast is a fourth kingdom that will appear, and that the ten horns represent ten kings in this kingdom. The other horn was another king who will “speak against the Most High” and will trouble God’s people. He will appear to succeed for “a time, times, and half a time” (that is, three and a half years; see also 9:27; Rev. 13:5). However, God vowed that He will ultimately take away the power of this horn and establish His kingdom in its place.
The results (7:28). At the end of the divine interpretation Daniel was deeply disturbed. The picture of evil, though temporary, still caused Daniel’s face to turn pale.
Nelson's Old Testament Survey: Discover the Background, Theology, and Meaning of Every Book in the Old Testament
A Daily Devotional by Oswald Chambers
That they may be one, even as we are one.
--- John 17:22.
Personality is that peculiar, incalculable thing that is meant when we speak of ourselves as distinct from everyone else. Our personality is always too big for us to grasp. An island in the sea may be but the top of a great mountain. Personality is like an island; we know nothing about the great depths underneath, consequently we cannot estimate ourselves. We begin by thinking that we can, but we come to realize that there is only one Being Who understands us, and that is our Creator.
Personality is the characteristic of the spiritual man as individuality is the characteristic of the natural man. Our Lord can never be defined in terms of individuality and independence, but only in terms of personality, “I and my Father are one.” Personality merges, and you only reach your real identity when you are merged with another person. When love, or the Spirit of God, strikes a man, he is transformed, he no longer insists upon his separate individuality. Our Lord never spoke in terms of individuality, of a man’s ‘elbows’ or his isolated position, but in terms of personality—“that they may be one, even as we are one.” If you give up your right to yourself to God, the real true nature of your personality answers to God straight away. Jesus Christ emancipates the personality, and the individuality is transfigured; the transfiguring element is love, personal devotion to Jesus. Love is the out-pouring of one personality in fellowship with another personality.
My Utmost for His Highest
Shouldn't We Know These?
1 Nissan March-April 30d
2 Iyar April-May 29d
3 Sivan May-June 30d
4 Tammuz June-July 29d
5 Av July-Aug 30d
6 Elul Aug-Sept 29d
7 Tishri Sept-Oct 30d
8 Cheshvan Oct-Nov 29-30d
9 Kislev Nov-Dec 30-29d
10 Tevet Dec-Jan 29d
11 Shevat Jan-Feb 30d
12 Adar Feb-March 29d
the Poetry of R.S. Thomas
'Poems from prison! About what?
'Life and God.' 'God
in prison? Friend, you trifle
with me. His face, perhaps,
at the bars, fading
He came in
with the warder, striving
with him. Where else
did the severity of the man
spring from, but awareness
of a charity he must
'The blows, then,
were God chastening
the beloved! Who
was the more blessed, the
dispenser or receiver
'It is the same
outside. Bars, walls
but make the perspective
clear. Deus absconditus!
We ransack the heavens,
the distance between
stars; the last place we look
is in prison, his hideout
in flesh and bone.'
are witness. If his world
contracted, it was to give birth
to the larger vision. Not meadows
empty of him, animal
as glass, communicate
God. On the bare walls
of a cell the oppressor watches
the diminishing of his
human shadow, as
he withdraws from the light.'
The Poems of R.S. Thomas
Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.
--- Hebrews 11:1.
You see something [so] that you may believe something and from what you see may believe what you see not. Sermons on Selected Lessons of the New Testament Do not be ungrateful to him who has made you see so that you may be able to believe what as yet you cannot see. God has given you eyes in the body, reason in the heart; arouse the reason of the heart, wake up the inhabitant of your eyes, let it take to its windows, examine the creature of God. God has made you a rational animal, set you over the cattle, formed you in his own image. Ought you to use your eyes as the cattle do, only to see what to add to your belly, not to your soul? Stir up the eye of reason, use your eyes as a human being should, consider the heaven and earth, the fruitfulness of the earth, the flight of the birds, the swimming of the fish, the goodness of the seeds; consider the works, and seek for the author. Look at what you see, and seek him whom you see not. Believe in him you do not see because of these things that you see. If you think that it is with my own words that I have exhorted you, hear the Apostle: “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities… have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made” (Rom. 1:20).
These things you saw and disregarded. God’s daily miracles were disesteemed not for their easiness but their constant repetition. For what is more difficult to understand than death and birth, that one who existed should depart into darkness and that one who was not, should come forth to light? What else is as marvelous? But with God easily done. Marvel at these things! Are his unusual works greater than those that you are accustomed to see? People wondered that our Lord Jesus filled so many thousands with five loaves, yet they do not wonder that through a few grains the whole earth is filled with crops. When the water was made wine, people were amazed; isn’t this what takes place with the rain along the root of the vine? He did the one, he does the other; both are wonderful, for both are the works of God. You see unusual things and wonder; of what origin are you yourself who wonders? You wonder at other things when you, the wonderer, are yourself a great wonder. From where then are these things that you see but from him whom you see not? But because you disesteemed these things, he came himself to do unusual things, that in these usual ones too you might acknowledge your Creator.
--- Augustine of Hippo
Take Heart: Daily Devotions with the Church's Great Preachers
Rivers of Blood
History is littered with the names of infamous rogues who drank rolling rivers of blood with devilish delight. Among them was the Spanish General Fernando Alvarez de Toledo, the Duke of Alva, whose cruelty can only be described as demonic.
He was born into a noble Spanish family in 1508, at the onset of the Reformation. His grandfather, Frederick of Toledo, dominated his youth and trained him to be a warrior, a soldier, tough as iron. He fought his first battle at age 16 and climbed the military beanstalk with cunning and prowess. As a general, he was brilliant; but like his commander-in-chief, Philip II of Spain, Fernando was also deceitful, fanatical, cruel, and merciless.
The Reformation, especially Calvinism, had found fertile ground in Holland, for the Bible had been translated there into Flemish several years earlier. But the Netherlands were under the control of Spain and its hated King Philip. Philip established the Inquisition in Holland, provoked a rebellion, and in 1567 sent the Duke of Alva with 10,000 troops into the Netherlands to quell the Reformation, to extinguish the evangelical “heresy,” and to regain control of the citizens.
Over the next six years, 6,000 lowlanders were sentenced to death in the duke’s “Council of Blood.” Some estimates put the total number of martyrs at 100,000, including women and children. One historian claims that more Christians lost their lives during this bloodletting than during all the Roman persecutions of the first 300 years of church history. Alva imposed oppressive taxes, destroyed the economy of Holland, violated civil liberties, tortured citizens, and provoked a war of independence that lasted 80 years.
One reaps, however, what one sows. In 1580 Alva was sent against Portugal. He was victorious, but on the way back, a fever developed. A dark foreboding drew itself around him like a curtain. His life drained out of him like sand through the glass, and the man who had gulped the blood of Christians lay in helpless suffering, able to sip only milk drawn from a woman’s breast.
Those who plant seeds of evil harvest trouble, and then they are swept away by the angry breath of God. They may roar and growl like powerful lions. But when God breaks their teeth, they starve.
--- Job 4:8b-11a.
On This Day 365 Amazing And Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs And Heroes
God Is In The Manger (Day 2)
Taking On Guilt
Because what is at stake for Jesus is not the proclamation and realization of 'new' ethical ideals, and thus also not his own goodness (Matt. 19:17), but solely his love for real human beings, he can enter into the communication of their guilt; he can be loaded down with their guilt.... It is his love alone that lets him become guilty. Out of his selfless love, out of his sinless nature, Jesus enters into the guilt of human beings; he takes it upon himself. A sinless nature and guilt bearing are bound together in him indissoluble. As the sinless one Jesus takes guilt upon himself, and under the burden of this guilt, he shows that he is the sinless one.
Lord Jesus, come yourself, and dwell with us, be human as we are, and overcome what overwhelms us. Come into the midst of my evil, come close to my unfaithfulness. Share my sin, which I hate and which I cannot leave. Be my brother, Thou Holy God. Be my brother in the kingdom of evil and suffering and death.
Sermon for Advent Sunday
Sunday. December 2, 1928
Go to Matthew 19:16-19 Click Here
God Is in the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas
Daily Readings / CHARLES H. SPURGEON
Morning - December 12
“His ways are everlasting." Habakkuk 3:6.
What he hath done at one time, he will do yet again. Man’s ways are variable, but God’s ways are everlasting. There are many reasons for this most comforting truth: among them are the following—the Lord’s ways are the result of wise deliberation; he ordereth all things according to the counsel of his own will. Human action is frequently the hasty result of passion, or fear, and is followed by regret and alteration; but nothing can take the Almighty by surprise, or happen otherwise than he has foreseen. His ways are the outgrowth of an immutable character, and in them the fixed and settled attributes of God are clearly to be seen. Unless the Eternal One himself can undergo change, his ways, which are himself in action, must remain for ever the same. Is he eternally just, gracious, faithful, wise, tender?—then his ways must ever be distinguished for the same excellences. Beings act according to their nature: when those natures change, their conduct varies also; but since God cannot know the shadow of a turning, his ways will abide everlastingly the same. Moreover there is no reason from without which could reverse the divine ways, since they are the embodiment of irresistible might. The earth is said, by the prophet, to be cleft with rivers, mountains tremble, the deep lifts up its hands, and sun and moon stand still, when Jehovah marches forth for the salvation of his people. Who can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou? But it is not might alone which gives stability; God’s ways are the manifestation of the eternal principles of right, and therefore can never pass away. Wrong breeds decay and involves ruin, but the true and the good have about them a vitality which ages cannot diminish.
This Morning let us go to our heavenly Father with confidence, remembering that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever, and in him the Lord is ever gracious to his people.
Evening - December 12
“They have dealt treacherously against the Lord.” --- Hosea 5:7.
Believer, here is a sorrowful truth! Thou art the beloved of the Lord, redeemed by blood, called by grace, preserved in Christ Jesus, accepted in the Beloved, on thy way to heaven, and yet, “thou hast dealt treacherously” with God, thy best friend; treacherously with Jesus, whose thou art; treacherously with the Holy Spirit, by whom thou hast been quickened unto life eternal! How treacherous you have been in the matter of vows and promises. Do you remember the love of your espousals, that happy time—the springtime of your spiritual life? Oh, how closely did you cling to your Master then! saying, “He shall never charge me with indifference; my feet shall never grow slow in the way of his service; I will not suffer my heart to wander after other loves; in him is every store of sweetness ineffable. I give all up for my Lord Jesus’ sake.” Has it been so? Alas! if conscience speak, it will say, “He who promised so well has performed most ill. Prayer has oftentimes been slurred—it has been short, but not sweet; brief, but not fervent. Communion with Christ has been forgotten. Instead of a heavenly mind, there have been carnal cares, worldly vanities and thoughts of evil. Instead of service, there has been disobedience; instead of fervency, lukewarmness; instead of patience, petulance; instead of faith, confidence in an arm of flesh; and as a soldier of the cross there has been cowardice, disobedience, and desertion, to a very shameful degree.” “Thou hast dealt treacherously.” Treachery to Jesus! what words shall be used in denouncing it? Words little avail: let our penitent thoughts execrate the sin which is so surely in us. Treacherous to thy wounds, O Jesus! Forgive us, and let us not sin again! How shameful to be treacherous to him who never forgets us, but who this day stands with our names engraven on his breastplate before the eternal throne.
Morning and Evening
AWAY IN A MANGER
Source unknown (stanzas 1, 2), John Thomas McFarland, 1851–1913 (stanza 3)
And she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped Him in cloths and placed Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. (Luke 2:7)
The shepherds had an angel
The wise men had a star
But what have I, a little child,
To guide me home from far,
Where glad stars sing together
And singing angels are?
Christ watches me, His little lamb,
Cares for me day and night,
That I may be His own in heaven;
So angels clad in white
Shall sing their “Glory, glory,”
For my sake in the height.
--- Christina Rossetti
No Christmas song is more loved than this tender children’s carol. With its simply worded expression of love for the Lord Jesus and trust in His faithful care, the hymn appeals to young and old alike. It is usually one of the first Christmas songs learned in early childhood; yet its pleasing melody and gentle message preserve it in our affections all through life.
For some time “Away in the Manger” was titled “Luther’s Cradle Hymn.” It was thought to have been written by Martin Luther for his own children and then passed on by German mothers. Modern research discounts this claim, however. Stanzas one and two first appeared in the Little Children’s Book, published in Philadelphia in 1885. The third verse was written by a Methodist minister, Dr. John T. McFarland, in the early 1900’s when an additional stanza for this carol was desired for use at a church children’s day program.
How important it is that we take time to help our children see beyond the glitter of the Christmas season and teach them the true meaning of Christ’s birth. The most thrilling story ever known to man began in Bethlehem at Christmas.
Away in a manger, no crib for a bed, the little Lord Jesus laid down His sweet head; the stars in the sky looked down where He lay, the little Lord Jesus, asleep an the hay.
The cattle are lowing; the Baby awakes, but little Lord Jesus, no crying He makes; I love Thee, Lord Jesus! look down from the sky, and stay by my cradle till Morning is nigh.
Be near me, Lord Jesus, I ask Thee to stay close by me forever, and love me, I pray; bless all the dear children in Thy tender care, and fit us for heaven, to live with Thee there.
For Today: Matthew 8:20; Mark 10:13–16; Luke 2:12, 16
Use this season to enjoy times of family worship. Include the reading of the Christmas story—Luke 2:1–20 (perhaps from different versions), share personal insights from the story, dramatize the various events, sing and play the carols, pray together, and discuss how the family could share their joy with others.
Amazing Grace: 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions
Thirdly. The dominion of God is manifested as a governor, as well as a lawgiver and proprietor.
1. In disposing of states and kingdoms. (Psalm 75:7): “God is Judge; be puts down one, and sets up another.” “Judge” is to be taken not in the same sense that we commonly use the word, for a judicial minister in a way of trial, but for a governor; as you know the extraordinary governors raised up among the Jews were called judges, whence one entire book in the Old Testament is so denominated, the Book of Judges. God hath a prerogative to “change times and seasons” (Dan. 2:21), i. e. the revolutions of government, whereby times are altered. How many empires, that have spread their wings over a great part of the world, have had their carcasses torn in pieces; and unheard-of nations plucked off the wings of the Roman eagle, after it had preyed upon many nations of the world; and the Macedonian empire was as the dew that is dried up a short time after it falls. He erected the Chaldean monarchy, used Nebuchadnezzar to overthrow and punish the ungrateful Jews, and, by a sovereign act, gave a great parcel of land into his hands; and what he thought was his right by conquest, was God’s donative to him. You may read the charter to Nebuchadnezzar, whom he terms his servant (Jer. 27:6): “And now I have given all those lands” (the lands are mentioned ver. 3), “into the hands of Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, my servant:” which decree he pronounceth after his asserting his right of sovereignty over the whole earth (ver. 5). After that, he puts a period to the Chaldean empire, and by the same sovereign authority decrees Babylon to be a spoil to the nations of the north country, and delivers her up as a spoil to the Persian (Jer. 1:9, 10): and this for the manifestation of his sovereign dominion, that he was the Lord, that made peace, and created evil (Isa. 45:6, 7). God afterwards overthrows that by the Grecian Alexander, prophesied of under the figure of a goat, with “one horn between his eyes” (Dan. 8.): the swift current of his victories, as swift as his motion, showed it to be from an extraordinary hand of heaven, and not either from the policy or strength of the Macedonian. His strength, in the prophet, is described to be less, being but one horn running against the Persian, described under the figure of a ram with two horns: and himself acknowledged a Divine motion exciting him to that great attempt, when he saw Joddus, the high-priest, coming out in his priestly robes, to meet him at his approach to Jerusalem, whom he was about to worship, acknowledging that the vision which put him upon the Persian war appeared to him in such a garb. What was the reason Israel was rent from Judah, and both split into two distinct kingdoms? Because Rehoboam would not hearken to sober and sound counsels, but follow the advice of upstarts. What was the reason he did not hearken to sound advice, since he had so advantageous an education under his father Solomon, the wisest prince of the world? “The cause was from the Lord” (1 Kings 12:15), that he might perform what he had before spoke. In this he acted according to his royal word; but, in the first resolve, he acted as a sovereign lord, that had the disposal of all nations in the world. And though Ahab had a numerous posterity, seventy sons to inherit the throne after him, yet God by his sovereign authority gives them up into the hands of Jehu, who strips them of their lives and hopes together: not a man of them succeeded in the throne, but the crown is transferred to Jehu by God’s disposal. In wars, whereby flourishing kingdoms are overthrown, God hath the chief hand; in reference to which it is observed that, in the two prophets, Isaiah and Jeremiah, God is called “the Lord of Hosts” one hundred and thirty times. It is not the sword of the captain, but the sword of the Lord bears the first rank; “the sword of the Lord and of Gideon” (Judges 7:18). The sword of a conquerer is the sword of the Lord, and receives its charge and commission from the great Sovereign (Jer. 47:6, 7). We are apt to confine our thoughts to second causes, lay the fault upon the miscarriages of persons, the ambition of the one, and the covetousness of another, and regard them not as the effects of God’s sovereign authority, linking second causes together to serve his own purpose. The skill of one man may lay open the folly of a counsellor; an earthly force may break in pieces the power of a mighty prince: but Job, in his consideration of those things, refers the matter higher: “He looseth the bond of kings, and girdeth their loins with a girdle” (Job 12:18). “He looseth the bonds of kings,” i. e. takes off the yokes they lay upon their subjects, “and girds their loins with a girdle” (a cord, as the vulgar); he lays upon them those fetters they framed for others; such a girdle, or band, as is the mark of captivity, as the words, ver. 19, confirm it: “He leads princes away spoiled, and overthrows the mighty.” God lifts up some to a great height, and casts down others to a disgraceful ruin. All those changes in the face of the world, the revolutions of empires, the desolating and ravaging wars, which are often immediately the birth of the vice, ambition, and fury of princes, are the royal acts of God as Governor of the world. All government belongs to him; he is the Fountain of all the great and the petty dominions in the world; and, therefore, may place in them what substitutes and vicegerents he pleaseth, as a prince may remove his officers at pleasure, and take their commissions from them. The highest are settled by God durante bene placito, and not quamdiu bene se gesserint. Those princes that have been the glory of their country have swayed the sceptre but a short time, when the more wolvish ones have remained longer in commission, as God hath seen fit for the ends of his own sovereign government. Now, by the revolutions in the world, and changes in governors and government, God keeps up the acknowledgment of his sovereignty, when he doth arrest grand and public offenders that wear a crown by his providence, and employ it, by their pride, against him that placed it there. When he arraigns such by a signal hand from heaven, he makes them the public examples of the rights of his sovereignty, declaring thereby, that the cedars of Lebanon are as much at his foot, as the shrubs of the valley; that he hath as sovereign an authority over the throne in the palace, as over the stool in the cottage.
2. The dominion of God is manifested in raising up and ordering the spirits of men according to his pleasure. He doth, as the Father of spirits, communicate an influence to the spirits of men, as well as an existence; he puts what inclinations he pleaseth into the will, stores it with what habits he please, whether natural or supernatural, whereby it may be rendered more ready to act according to the Divine purpose. The will of man is a finite principle, and therefore subject to Him who hath an infinite sovereignty over all things; and God, having a sovereignty over the will, in the manner of its acting, eauseth it to will what he wills, as to the outward act, and the outward manner of performing it. There are many examples of this part of his sovereignty. God, by his sovereign conduct, ordered Moses a protectoress as soon as his parents had formed an “ark of bulrushes,” wherein to set him floating on the river (Exod. 2:3–6): they expose him to the waves, and the waves expose him to the view of Pharoah’s daughter, whom God, by his secret ordering her motion, had posted in that place; and though she was the daughter of a prince that inveterately hated the whole nation, and had, by various arts, endeavored to extirpate them, yet God inspires the royal lady with sentiments of compassion to the forlorn infant, though she knew him to be one of the Hebrews’ children (ver. 6), i. e. one of that race whom her father had devoted to the hands of the executioner; yet God, that doth by his sovereignty rule over the spirits of all men, moves her to take that infant into her protection, and nourish him at her own charge, give him a liberal education, adopt him as her son, who, in time, was to be the ruin of her race, and the saviour of his nation. Thus he appointed Cyrus to be his shepherd, and gave him a pastoral spirit for the restoration of the city and temple of Jerusalem (Isa. 44:28): and Isaiah (chap. 45:5) tells them, in the prophecy, that he had girded him, though Cyrus had not known him, i. e. God had given him a military spirit and strength for so great an attempt, though he did not know that he was acted by God for those divine purposes. And when the time came for the house of the Lord to be rebuilt, the spirits of the people were raised up, not by themselves, but by God (Ezra 1:5), “Whose spirit God had raised to go up;” and not only the spirit of Zerubbabel, the magistrate, and of Joshua, the priest, but the spirit of all the people, from the highest to the meanest that attended him, were acted by God to strengthen their hands, and promote the work (Hag. 1:14). The spirits of men, even in those works which are naturally desirable to them, as the restoration of the city and rebuilding of the Temple was to those Jews, are acted by God, as the Sovereign over them, much more when the wheels of men’s spirits are lifted up above their ordinary temper and motion. It was this empire of God good Nehemiah regarded, as that whence he was to hope for success; he did not assure himself so much of, it, from the favor he had with the king, nor the reasonableness of his intended petition, but the absolute power God had over the heart of that great monarch; and, therefore, he supplicates the heavenly, before he petitioned the earthly, throne (Neh. 2:4): “So I prayed to the God of heaven.” The heathens had some glance of this; it is an expression that Cicero hath somewhere, “That the Roman commonwealth was rather governed by the assistance of the Supreme Divinity over the hearts of men, than by their own counsels and management.” How often hath the feeble courage of men been heightened to such a pitch as to stare death in the face, which before were damped with the least thought or glance of it! This is a fruit of God’s sovereign dominion.
3. The dominion of God is manifest in restraining the furious passions of men, and putting a block in their way. Sometimes God doth it by a remarkable hand, as the Babel builders were diverted from their proud design by a sudden confusion of their language, and rendering it unintelligible to one another; sometimes by ordinary, though unexpected, means; as when Saul, like a hawk, was ready to prey upon David, whom he had hunted as a partridge upon the mountains, he had another object presented for his arms and fury by the Philistines’ sudden invasion of a part of his territory (1 Sam. 23:26–28). But it is chiefly seen by an inward curbing mutinous affections, when there is no visible cause. What reason but this can be rendered, why the nations bordering on Canaan, who bore no good will to the Jews, but rather wished the whole race of them rooted out from the face of the earth, should not invade their country, pillage their houses, and plunder their cattle, while they were left naked of any human defence, the males being annually employed at one time at Jerusalem in worship; what reason can be rendered, but an invisible curb God put into their spirits? What was the reason not a man, of all the buyers and sellers in the Temple, should rise against our Saviour, when, with a high hand, he began to whip them out, but a Divine bridle upon them? though it appears, by the questioning his authority, that there were Jews enough to have chased out him and his company (John 2:15, 18). What was the reason that, at the publishing the gospel by the apostles at the first descent of the Spirit, those that had used the Master so barbarously a few days before, were not all in a foam against the servants, that, by preaching that doctrine, upbraided them with the late murder? Had they better sentiments of the Lord, whom they had put to death? Were their natures grown tamer, and their malignity expelled? No; but that Sovereign who had loosed the reins of their malicious corruption, to execute the Master for the purchase of redemption, curbed it from breaking out against the servants, to further the propagation of the doctrine of redemption. He that restrains the roaring lion of hell, restrains also his whelps on earth; he and they must have a commission before they can put forth a finger to hurt, how malicious soever their nature and will be. His empire reaches over the malignity of devils, as well as the nature of beasts. The lions out of the den, as well as those in the den, are bridled by him in favor of his Daniels. His dominion is above that of principalities and powers; their decrees are at his mercy, whether they shall stand or fall; he hath a vote above their stiffest resolves: his single word, I will, or, I forbid, outweighs the most resolute purposes of all the mighty Nimrods of the earth in their rendezvouses and cabals, in their associations and counsels (Isa. 8:9, 10): “Associate yourselves, O ye people, and ye shall be broken in pieces; take counsel together, and it shall come to nought.” “When the enemy shall come in like a flood,” with a violent and irresistible force, intending nothing but ravage and desolation, “the Spirit of the Lord shall lift up a standard against them” (Isa. 59:19), shall give a sudden check, and damp their spirits, and put them to a stand. When Laban furiously pursued Jacob, with an intent to do him an ill turn, God gave him a command to do otherwise (Gen. 31:24). Would Laban have respected that command any more than he did the light of nature when he worshipped idols, had not God exercised his authority in inclining his will to observe it, or laying restraints upon his natural inclinations, or denying his concourse to the acting those ill intentions he had entertained? The stilling the principles of commotion in men, and the noise of the sea, are arguments of the Divine dominion; neither the one nor the other is in the power of the most sovereign prince without Divine assistance: as no prince can command a calm to a raging sea, so no prince can order stillness to a tumultuous people; they are both put together as equally parts of the Divine prerogative (Psalm 65:7), which “stills the noise of the sea, and tumult of the people:” and David owns God’s sovereignty more than his own, “in subduing the people under him” (Psalm 18:47). In this his empire is illustrious (Psalm 29:10): “The Lord sitteth upon the floods, yea, the Lord sitteth King for ever;” a King impossible to be deposed, not only on the natural floods of the sea, that would naturally overflow the world, but the metaphorical floods or tumults of the people, the sea in every wicked man’s heart, more apt to rage morally than the sea to foam naturally. If you will take the interpretation of an angel, waters and floods, in the prophetic style, signify the inconstant and mutable people (Rev. 17:1, 5): “The waters where the whore sits are people, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues:” so the angel expounds to John the vision which he saw (ver. 1). The heathens acknowledged this part of God’s sovereignty in the inward restraints of men: those apparitions of the gods and goddesses in Homer, to several of the great men when they were in a fury, were nothing else, in the judgment of the wisest philosophers, than an exercise of God’s sovereignty in quelling their passions, checking their uncomely intentions, and controlling them in that which their rage prompted them to. And, indeed, did not God set bounds to the storms in men’s hearts, we should soon see the funeral, not only of religion, but civility; the one would be blown out, and the other torn up by the roots.
4. The dominion of God is manifest in defeating the purposes and devices of men. God often makes a mock of human projects, and doth as well accomplish that which they never dreamt of, as disappoint that which they confidently designed. He is present at all cabals, laughs at men’s formal and studied counsels, bears a hand over every egg they hatch, thwarts their best compacted designs, supplants their contrivances, breaks the engines they have been many years rearing, diverts the intentions of men, as a mighty wind blows an arrow from the mark which the archer intended. (Job 5:12): “He disappointeth the devices of the crafty, so that their hands cannot perform their enterprise; he taketh the wise in their own craftiness, and the counsel of the froward is carried headlong.” Enemies often draw an exact scheme of their intended proceedings, marshal their companies, appoint their rendezvous, think to make but one morsel of those they hate; God, by his sovereign dominion, turns the scale, changeth the gloominess of the oppressed into a sunshine, and the enemies’ sunshine into darkness. When the nations were gathered together against Sion, and said, “Let her be defiled, and let our eye look upon Sion” (Micah 4:11), what doth God do in this case? (ver. 12), “He shall gather them,” i. e. those conspiring nations, as “sheaves into the floor.” Then he sounds a trumpet to Sion: “Arise, and thresh, O daughter of Sion, for I will make thy horn iron, and thy hoofs brass, and thou shalt beat in pieces many people; and I will consecrate their gain unto the Lord, and their substance unto the Lord of the whole earth.” I will make them and their counsels, them and their strength, the monuments and signal marks of my empire over the whole earth. When you see the cunningest designs baffled by some small thing intervening; when you see men of profound wisdom infatuated, mistake their way, and “grope in the noon-day as in the night” (Job 5:14), bewildered in a plain way; when you see the hopes of mighty attempters dashed into despair, their triumphs turned into funerals, and their joyful expectations into sorrowful disappointments; when you see the weak, devoted to destruction, victorious, and the most presumptuous defeated in their purposes, then read the Divine dominion in the desolation of such devices. How often doth God take away the heart and spirit of grand designs, and burst a mighty wheel, by snatching but one man out of the world! How often doth he “cut off the spirits of princes” (Psalm 76:12), either from the world by death, or from the execution of their projects by some unforeseen interruption, or from favoring those contrivances, which before they cherished by a change of their minds! How often hath confidence in God, and religious prayer, edged the weakest and smallest number of weapons to make a carnage of the carnally confident! How often hath presumption been disappointed, and the contemned enemy rejoice in the spoils of the proud expectant of victory! Phidias made the image of Nemesis, or Revenge, at Marathon, of that marble which the haughty Persians, despising the weakness of the Athenian forces, brought with them, to erect a trophy for an expected, but an ungained, victory. Haman’s neck, by a sudden turn, was in the halter, when the Jews’ necks were designed to the block; Julian designed the overthrow of all the Christians, just before his breast was pierced by an unexpected arrow; the Powder-traitors were all ready to give fire to the mine, when the sovereign hand of Heaven snatched away the match. Thus the great Lord of the world cuts off men on the pinnacle of their designs, when they seem to threaten heaven and earth; puts out the candle of the wicked, which they thought to use to light them to the execution of their purposes; turns their own counsels into a curse to themselves, and a blessing to their adversaries, and makes his greatest enemies contribute to the effecting his purposes. How may we take notice of God’s absolute disposal of things in private affairs, when we see one man, with a small measure of prudence and little industry, have great success, and others, with a greater measure of wisdom, and a greater toil and labor, find their enterprises melt between their fingers! It was Solomon’s observation, “That the race was not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither bread to the wise, nor riches to men of understanding, nor yet favor to men of skill” (Eccles. 9:11). Many things might interpose to stop the swift in his race, and damp the courage of the most valiant: things do not happen according to men’s abilities, but according to the overruling authority of God: God never yet granted man the dominion of his own way, no more than to be lord of his own time: “The way of man is not in himself, it is not in him that walketh to direct his steps” (Jer. 10:23). He hath given man a power of acting, but not the sovereignty to command success. He makes even those things which men intended for their security to turn to their ruin; Pilate delivered up Christ to be accounted a friend to Caesar, and Cxsar soon after proves an enemy to him, removes him from his government, and sends him into banishment. The Jews imagined by the crucifying Christ to keep the Roman ensigns at a distance from them, and this hasted their march, by God’s sovereign disposal, which ended in a total desolation. “He makes the judges fools” (Job 22:17), by taking away his light from their understanding, and suffering them to go on in the vanity of their own spirits, that his sovereignty in the management of things may be more apparent; for then he is known to be Lord, when he “snares the wicked in the work of his own hands” (Psalm 9:16). You have seen much of this doctrine in your experience, and, if my judgment fail me not, you will yet see much more.
5. The dominion of God is manifest in sending his judgments upon whom he please. “He kills and makes alive; he wounds and heals” whom he pleaseth: his thunders are his own, and he may cast them upon what subjects he thinks good: he hath a right, in a way of justice, to punish all men; he hath his choice, in a way of sovereignty, to pick out whom he please, to make the examples of it. Might not some nations be as wicked as those of Sodom and Gomorrah, yet have not been scorched with the like dreadful flames? Zoar was untouched, while the other cities, her neighbors, were burnt to ashes. Were there never any places and persons successors in Sodom’s guilt? Yet those only by his sovereign authority are separated by him to be the examples of his “eternal vengeance” (Jude 7). Why are not sinners as Sodom, like as those ancient ones, scalded to death by the like fiery drops? It is because it is his pleasure; and the same reason is to be rendered, why he would in a way of justice cut off the Jews for their sins, and leave the Gentiles untouched in the midst of their idolatries. When the church was consumed because of her iniquities, they acknowledged God’s sovereignty in this. “We are the clay, and thou art our Potter, and we all the work of thy hands” (Isa. 64:7, 8); thou hast a liberty to break or preserve us. Judgments move according to God’s order. When the sword hath a charge against Ashkelon and the sea-shore, thither it must march, and touch not any other place or person as it goes, though there may be demerit enough for it to punish. When the prophet had spake to the sword, “O thou sword of the Lord, how long will it be ere thou be quiet? put up thyself into thy scabbard, rest and be still;” the prophet answers for the sword, “How can it be quiet, seeing the Lord hath given it a charge against Ashkelon? there hath he appointed it” (Jer. 47:6, 7). If he hath appointed a judgment against London or Westminster, or any other place, there it shall drop, there it shall pierce, and in no other place without a like charge. God, as a sovereign, gives instructions to every judgment, when, and against whom, it shall march, and what cities, what persons, it shall arrest; and he is punctually obeyed by them, as a sovereign Lord. All creatures stand ready for his call, and are prepared to be executioners of his vengeance, when he speaks the word; they are his hosts by creation, and in array for his service at the sound of his trumpet, or beat of his drum, they troop together with arms in their hands, to put his orders exactly in execution.
The Existence and Attributes of God
Alistair Begg | Truthforlife
Fasting, Weeping, Lamenting