All Is Vanity
Ecclesiastes 1 1 The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem.
2 Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher,
vanity of vanities! All is vanity.
3 What does man gain by all the toil
at which he toils under the sun?
4 A generation goes, and a generation comes,
but the earth remains forever.
5 The sun rises, and the sun goes down,
and hastens to the place where it rises.
6 The wind blows to the south
and goes around to the north;
around and around goes the wind,
and on its circuits the wind returns.
7 All streams run to the sea,
but the sea is not full;
to the place where the streams flow,
there they flow again.
8 All things are full of weariness;
a man cannot utter it;
the eye is not satisfied with seeing,
nor the ear filled with hearing.
9 What has been is what will be,
and what has been done is what will be done,
and there is nothing new under the sun.
10 Is there a thing of which it is said,
“See, this is new”?
It has been already
in the ages before us.
11 There is no remembrance of former things,
nor will there be any remembrance
of later things yet to be
among those who come after.
The Vanity of Wisdom12 I the Preacher have been king over Israel in Jerusalem. 13 And I applied my heart to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven. It is an unhappy business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. 14 I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind.
15 What is crooked cannot be made straight,
and what is lacking cannot be counted.
18 For in much wisdom is much vexation,
and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow.
The Vanity of Self-IndulgenceEcclesiastes 2 1 I said in my heart, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure; enjoy yourself.” But behold, this also was vanity. 2 I said of laughter, “It is mad,” and of pleasure, “What use is it?” 3 I searched with my heart how to cheer my body with wine—my heart still guiding me with wisdom—and how to lay hold on folly, till I might see what was good for the children of man to do under heaven during the few days of their life. 4 I made great works. I built houses and planted vineyards for myself. 5 I made myself gardens and parks, and planted in them all kinds of fruit trees. 6 I made myself pools from which to water the forest of growing trees. 7 I bought male and female slaves, and had slaves who were born in my house. I had also great possessions of herds and flocks, more than any who had been before me in Jerusalem. 8 I also gathered for myself silver and gold and the treasure of kings and provinces. I got singers, both men and women, and many concubines, the delight of the sons of man.
9 So I became great and surpassed all who were before me in Jerusalem. Also my wisdom remained with me. 10 And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil. 11 Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.
The Vanity of Living Wisely12 So I turned to consider wisdom and madness and folly. For what can the man do who comes after the king? Only what has already been done. 13 Then I saw that there is more gain in wisdom than in folly, as there is more gain in light than in darkness. 14 The wise person has his eyes in his head, but the fool walks in darkness. And yet I perceived that the same event happens to all of them. 15 Then I said in my heart, “What happens to the fool will happen to me also. Why then have I been so very wise?” And I said in my heart that this also is vanity. 16 For of the wise as of the fool there is no enduring remembrance, seeing that in the days to come all will have been long forgotten. How the wise dies just like the fool! 17 So I hated life, because what is done under the sun was grievous to me, for all is vanity and a striving after wind.
The Vanity of Toil18 I hated all my toil in which I toil under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to the man who will come after me, 19 and who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? Yet he will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity. 20 So I turned about and gave my heart up to despair over all the toil of my labors under the sun, 21 because sometimes a person who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave everything to be enjoyed by someone who did not toil for it. This also is vanity and a great evil. 22 What has a man from all the toil and striving of heart with which he toils beneath the sun? 23 For all his days are full of sorrow, and his work is a vexation. Even in the night his heart does not rest. This also is vanity.
24 There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, 25 for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment? 26 For to the one who pleases him God has given wisdom and knowledge and joy, but to the sinner he has given the business of gathering and collecting, only to give to one who pleases God. This also is vanity and a striving after wind.
A Time for EverythingEcclesiastes 3 1 For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
2 a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
3 a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
4 a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
5 a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
6 a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
7 a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
8 a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.
The God-Given Task9 What gain has the worker from his toil? 10 I have seen the business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. 11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. 12 I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; 13 also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man.
14 I perceived that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it. God has done it, so that people fear before him. 15 That which is, already has been; that which is to be, already has been; and God seeks what has been driven away.
From Dust to Dust16 Moreover, I saw under the sun that in the place of justice, even there was wickedness, and in the place of righteousness, even there was wickedness. 17 I said in my heart, God will judge the righteous and the wicked, for there is a time for every matter and for every work. 18 I said in my heart with regard to the children of man that God is testing them that they may see that they themselves are but beasts. 19 For what happens to the children of man and what happens to the beasts is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and man has no advantage over the beasts, for all is vanity. 20 All go to one place. All are from the dust, and to dust all return. 21 Who knows whether the spirit of man goes upward and the spirit of the beast goes down into the earth? 22 So I saw that there is nothing better than that a man should rejoice in his work, for that is his lot. Who can bring him to see what will be after him?
Evil Under The SunEcclesiastes 4 1 Again I saw all the oppressions that are done under the sun. And behold, the tears of the oppressed, and they had no one to comfort them! On the side of their oppressors there was power, and there was no one to comfort them. 2 And I thought the dead who are already dead more fortunate than the living who are still alive. 3 But better than both is he who has not yet been and has not seen the evil deeds that are done under the sun.
4 Then I saw that all toil and all skill in work come from a man’s envy of his neighbor. This also is vanity and a striving after wind.
5 The fool folds his hands and eats his own flesh.
6 Better is a handful of quietness than two hands full of toil and a striving after wind.
7 Again, I saw vanity under the sun: 8 one person who has no other, either son or brother, yet there is no end to all his toil, and his eyes are never satisfied with riches, so that he never asks, “For whom am I toiling and depriving myself of pleasure?” This also is vanity and an unhappy business.
9 Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. 10 For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! 11 Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? 12 And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.
13 Better was a poor and wise youth than an old and foolish king who no longer knew how to take advice. 14 For he went from prison to the throne, though in his own kingdom he had been born poor. 15 I saw all the living who move about under the sun, along with that youth who was to stand in the king’s place. 16 There was no end of all the people, all of whom he led. Yet those who come later will not rejoice in him. Surely this also is vanity and a striving after wind.
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The Mysterious Case of Missing Scripture
By G. Gabriel Powell | Internet Ministry Coordinator 11/12/2015
No book is more important than the Bible. God’s perfect, inspired, inerrant Word is loved, treasured, and protected by His people. From the first prophets who put the Word of the Lord into writing until now, God’s people have taken the utmost care to keep, copy, and preserve the Word of God. Ancient Texts Down Through the Ages The Making of the English Bible Missing Verses Passages in Question Conclusion
Long before printing presses could ensure consistent copies, Israel and the church fastidiously copied Scripture, not word by word, but letter by letter. Given its uniquely eternal, transcendent nature, God’s people showed meticulous care in transcribing it, preserving it for generations to come. Their painstaking efforts helped fulfill the words of Jesus’ promise, “Until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass away from the Law until all is accomplished” (Matthew 5:18, ESV).
It’s no surprise, then, why many people are shocked and upset when a verse in their Bible appears to be missing. We are so used to the chapter/verse addressing system that when a verse number is skipped it’s like our GPS broke down and we’re not sure where to turn.
This brief article is intended to explain why some verses “disappear” from the Bible in modern translations. My hope is not merely to calm fears, but to confirm and build your trust in the Bible you hold in your hands.
Two popular ancient authors are Aristotle and Homer. Aristotle is a world-renowned philosopher from the fourth century B.C. whose ideas continue to be taught in classrooms today. The oldest copies of his writing date to 1,400 years after the original versions. Is it possible that over the course of a millennium his writings were altered? It is impossible to know; there aren’t enough ancient texts to validate the accuracy of the available copies.
Homer’s Iliad has fared better, but not much. The oldest available copies date to 500 years after its original composition. The hundreds of ancient copies available reveal that the copies are about 95% accurate. That’s remarkable.
But when we come to the Bible, not only are the oldest copies less than 100 years from their original compositions, but there are thousands of ancient Greek copies which reveal a 99.5% accuracy among them. Thatis nothing less than incredible, and it attests to the faithfulness of ancient believers who were devoted to preserving and passing on God’s Word.
While the KJV is an accurate and beautiful translation, Tyndale and his contemporaries could only work with Hebrew and Greek manuscripts available at the time. In the centuries since then, archaeologists have discovered thousands of much older copies. As a result, we are able to compare these thousands of texts and produce a translation that more accurately reflects the original Scriptures.
By comparing these thousands of texts that span hundreds of years, we can see how small errors in copies were introduced over time. There are clear examples where, for example, a scribe added a phrase in Matthew’s gospel that they likely remembered from Luke, but which is absent from the much older copies of Matthew.
While the KJV and the New King James Version (NKJV) have remained largely unchanged from their seventeenth century counterparts, modern translations reflect improved accuracy by marking out words and phrases that were almost certainly not penned by the authors of Scripture. In some translations, as with the English Standard Version (ESV), such passages are removed from the flow of the text and a footnote is provided to explain why.
But what happens when a verse that was assigned a number in the 1500s turns out to not be part of the original text? As mentioned before, some modern translations have determined to remove the verse and add a footnote. But for the uninformed reader, that creates a problem when they read, for example Matthew 18:10-12 in the ESV. There is no verse 11 in the text—it goes from 10 to 12, with only a footnote at the end of 10 offering an explaining (and we must admit, footnotes are often left unread).
To the reader it looks like something is missing—Scripture has been removed! The reality is the Bible text is more accurate to the original, but the address system is broken.
If anything, let the absence of a verse spur you on to more closely examine the version of God’s Word you read and study, and get to know how it differs from other reliable texts. Whether you prefer the English Standard Version, New American Standard Bible, Holman Christian Standard Version, or another modern translation recommended by evangelical pastors and scholars, you can rest in the confidence that it is a trustworthy translation—that it is “living and active” (Hebrews 4:12), “inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
G. Gabriel Powell | Internet Ministry Coordinator
Why Believe the Bible? by John MacArthur
The King James Only Controversy: Can You Trust Modern Translations? by James White
 Dan Wallace, a Greek scholar, has offered hints that a fragment of the gospel of Mark has been found and may date to the A.D. 80s or 90s. See here
 Despite what some KVJ-Onlyists would have us believe, the 1611 KJV has been modernized in terms of spelling, formatting, and correcting some errors.
Ancient Texts Down Through the AgesThere are more copies of Scripture in ancient Hebrew, Greek, and other long-dead languages than any other text. For the New Testament, the oldest known copies date back to less than one hundred years from the original manuscripts, and possibly as close to 25 years. The significance of this can only be understood in contrast with other ancient literature.
The Making of the English BibleJohn Wycliff was the first person to translate the Bible into English; he did so in the fourteenth century from the Latin Vulgate. Less than two hundred years later, William Tyndale developed a more accurate English translation using Hebrew and Greek texts. Tyndale’s work—which consisted of the entire New Testament and a portion of the Old—became the foundation of the King James Version (KJV). In fact, the New Testament of the KJV is 83% Tyndale’s translation from the early 1500s.
Missing VersesThe Bible was not written with chapter and verse numbers. In fact, the first English Bible to be printed with both chapter and verse numbers was the Geneva Bible in 1560. The 1611 edition of the King James Bible slightly altered the chapter and verse divisions, and all modern English translations followed suit. Dividing the text this way makes it easy for Christians around the world to teach, preach, write, and speak about the Bible in a way that allows others to follow along easily.
Passages in QuestionSo what verses are missing? The following list reflects the verses that no longer appear in the flowing text of the English Standard Version:
ConclusionSo what do you do when you see a missing verse? First, look for a footnote. There will usually be an explanation on why that particular verse was not included. But even if there isn’t, now you know why Bible verses go missing. In the history of Bible publishing, there have been Bibles with very serious errors—some more famous than others. In every case, publishers have done a great job in stopping the presses when they find errors. So when you find a missing verse, know that it’s not a misprint or something more malicious.
Justification by Death?
By R.C. Sproul 10/1/2010
In the sixteenth century, Christendom underwent one of the most extensive and serious schisms in its history. The chief article that caused the controversy to end in division was the doctrine of justification by faith alone. The Protestant Reformation was not a tempest in a teapot. The issue that divided the Roman Catholics from the Protestant Reformers was not a secondary or tertiary doctrine. The dispute focused on the essence of the gospel. Some have argued that sola fide (faith alone) is central to the Christian faith but not essential. I contend, however, that it is essential to the gospel in that, without sola fide, we do not have the gospel. And without the gospel, we have no salvation.
One would think after so many centuries of dissemination of the doctrine of justification by faith alone, particularly in Protestant countries, that the doctrine would be firmly entrenched in the minds of Christian people. But such is not the case. Those who hold to justification by faith alone are clearly in a minority. More popular views are the doctrines of justification by works and justification by a combination of faith and works. These really reflect not so much Christian views of the matter as a Muslim one. In the Muslim view, a person’s eternal destiny is determined by the scales of justice. If one’s good works outweigh the bad deeds, then the person goes to heaven. If the bad deeds outweigh the good deeds, the person goes to hell. This view is held by many professing Christians, who still entertain the idea that they can gain entrance into heaven and into the kingdom of God by living a good life. As long as they refrain from egregious sins such as murder, grand theft, or adultery, they think they have kept their moral slates clean enough to get them past the gates of judgment.
As fallacious as that view is, there is a view even more insidious in its subtlety and thus more pervasive — the cultural view of justification that is widely held in the West. That doctrine is the doctrine of justification by death. It is an implicit universalism that assumes everyone goes to heaven when he or she dies. Perhaps the most rank evildoers, such as Adolf Hitler or Joseph Stalin, may not make it, but the average person certainly has nothing to worry about.
I was informed of how pervasive this doctrine is when I asked my son, when he was a child, the second diagnostic question made popular by Evangelism Explosion. I asked him: “If you were to die tonight and God were to say to you, why should I let you into My heaven, what would you say?” His eyes lit up and he looked at me with a shocked expression as if the question I had just proffered was the most stupid he had ever heard. With a simple shrug, he said, “Well, I would say He should let me in because I’m dead.” In other words, “Doesn’t everyone who dies enter into God’s redeeming presence?” Here was a son of a father who was by profession a theologian — a Reformed theologian — who not only had failed to grasp the doctrine of justification by faith alone but wasn’t even sidelined by a doctrine of justification by works. He was content to rest on his assumption of justification by death.
Of course, my young son’s confession of faith, or the lack thereof, is by no means an isolated instance in our culture. Nothing transforms sinners into valorous saints more miraculously or more frequently than death. Go to the funeral of the most wicked sinner you know and you will hear a eulogy that guarantees that person’s entrance into the kingdom of God.
What drives this pervasive belief in justification by death? I think there are several factors. One is a misinformed idea of the character of God. We are told ad nauseum that God loves everyone unconditionally. The necessary inference that people draw from that is simple: If God loves me unconditionally, then there are no conditions that I must meet in order to enter into heavenly bliss. In a sense, God, if He is loving, is obligated to give me eternal life.
The second driving factor is a widespread denial of hell. The whole concept of hell is so ghastly and difficult even to comprehend that we have a visceral response of denial to it. We cannot imagine any of our loved ones ever being assigned to such a dreadful place. We also find in our culture a rejection of the whole idea of a final judgment. Never mind that our Lord taught again and again that each one of us will stand before God and will be held accountable for his or her sins — to the extent that even every idle word we speak will be brought into judgment. No one escapes the judgment of God. We all must stand before that final tribunal and be judged not on a curve, not according to how we stack up against other people in this world, but how we stand according to God’s standard of righteousness, a standard that none of us will ever reach.
The Bible speaks of two ways in which people die. There are those who die in faith and, because of that faith, are linked to the atoning work of Christ and receive the benefits of His atoning work, including entrance into His kingdom. The other way that the Bible speaks of dying is dying in sin. Those who die in sin are those who die in a state of impenitence. Such people have never bowed the knee to the living God and cried out from their helplessness for His grace. Instead of clinging to the cross and coming with nothing in our hands, it is our nature as fallen creatures to try to bring something in our hands that will pay the price that needs to be paid for our redemption. This is the height or, perhaps, the nadir of folly. The only thing we can be sure of is that death will give us judgment. The question is, do we have that faith by which we are linked to the righteousness of Christ and all the benefits of His ministry on our behalf, or will we stand alone at that judgment bar of Christ?
Robert Charles Sproul, 2/13/1939 – 12/14/2017 was an American theologian, author, and ordained pastor in the Presbyterian Church in America. Dr. R.C. Sproul was founder and chairman of Ligonier Ministries, an international Christian education and discipleship organization located near Orlando, Fla. He was also copastor of Saint Andrew’s Chapel in Sanford, Fla., chancellor of Reformation Bible College, and executive editor of Tabletalk magazine. Dr. Sproul has contributed dozens of articles to national evangelical publications, has spoken at conferences, churches, and schools around the world, and has written more than one hundred books. He also served as general editor of the Reformation Study Bible.R.C. Sproul Books | Go to Books Page
We Believe the Bible and You Do Not
By Keith Mathison 10/1/2010
Not too long ago, in an effort to get a better grasp of the Lutheran doctrine of the Lord’s Supper, I was reading the chapters on the sacraments in Francis Pieper’s Christian Dogmatics Volume 3, and I ran across this statement: “The difference between the Lutheran Church and the Reformed in the doctrine of Baptism is fully and adequately defined by saying that the former believes God’s Word regarding Baptism, the latter not” (vol. 3, p. 269).
Let that one sink in for just a moment. Here we have one of the most respected Lutheran systematic theologians of the last century saying that the difference between his church and the Reformed over baptism can be summed up as follows: “Lutherans believe the Bible, and the Reformed don’t.” It’s just that simple, right?
When I first read this, I was a bit taken aback. How could a theologian as brilliant as Pieper so casually ignore the role of interpretation on this point? Why could he not see that this is not a matter of disbelieving the Bible, but of disagreeing with the Lutheran interpretation of the Bible?
I recalled, however, that this kind of statement in regard to the sacraments goes back to the sixteenth-century debates between the Lutherans and the Reformed. In his debates with the Lutheran Joachim Westphal, John Calvin was almost driven to distraction by Westphal’s repeated claim that Jesus’ words “This is my body” allowed of no interpretation. One either believed them or one disbelieved them. In the historical context of the Lutheran-Reformed debates, then, Pieper’s statement is not terribly unusual.
If you are Reformed or Baptist, what is your immediate reaction to Pieper’s statement? Do you accept his claim that the only difference between you and the Lutherans on the subject of baptism is that Lutherans believe the Bible and you don’t? Or do you think that his statement is a poor excuse for an argument? Do you think it is a fair statement, or do you think it is somewhat self-serving?
Lest I be accused of picking on my Lutheran brothers, ask yourself this question now: “How many times have I seen my theological heroes use essentially the same kind of argument in different theological disputes?”
I don’t know about you, but as I reflect on it, I can recall numerous times when I’ve seen this “argument” in action in my own theological circles. When I was a dispensationalist, the common thought was that the difference between premillennialists and everyone else was fully and adequately defined by saying that premillennialists believed God’s Word regarding the millennium while amillennialists and postmillennialists did not. We believed what God said in Revelation 20. Amillennialists and postmillennialists did not believe what God said. Case closed.
When I was a Baptist, I regularly heard it said that Baptists believed God’s Word concerning believer’s baptism while others did not. As a Presbyterian, I’ve heard it said that Presbyterians believe God’s Word concerning the promises to the children of believers while the Baptists do not.
I’ve heard this line of argument used in disputes involving the Sabbath, the days of Genesis, theonomy, the gifts of the Spirit, church government, you name it. In every dispute over the meaning of some biblical text or theological point, it seems that someone eventually throws out some version of the line: “The simple fact of the matter is that we believe what God clearly says here and you don’t.” When both sides in a given debate do it, the result is particularly edifying.
Re-read the Lutheran quote in the first paragraph. Do you (assuming you are not Lutheran) find it persuasive when it is said of you that the only reason you do not accept the Lutheran understanding of baptism is because you do not believe God’s Word? Probably not. But we find that same kind of statement very assuring (and persuasive) when it is said in support of a doctrine or interpretation that we happen to agree with.
The problem with Pieper’s statement is that he does not allow for any conceptual distinction between the infallible and inerrant Word of God and his own fallible and potentially errant interpretation of that Word. Thus, to disagree with his interpretation is to disagree with God. But this is obviously false. Presbyterians and Baptists do not reject the Lutheran doctrine of baptism because they disbelieve God’s Word. They reject it because they think Lutherans have misinterpreted God’s Word.
The fact of the matter is that people who believe equally in the authority and inerrancy of Scripture sometimes disagree in their interpretation of some parts of that Scripture. We know God’s Word is not wrong, but we might be. God is infallible; we are not. We are not free from sin and ignorance yet. We still see through a glass darkly. In hermeneutical and theological disputes, we need to make an exegetical case, and we need to examine the case of those who disagree with us. It proves nothing to make the bare assertion: “We believe the Bible and you don’t.”
Per Amazon, Keith A. Mathison (MA, Reformed Theological Seminary; PhD, Whitefield Theological Seminary) is dean of the Ligonier Academy of Biblical and Theological Studies and an associate editor of Tabletalk magazine at Ligonier Ministries. He is editor of When Shall These Things Be: A Reformed Response to Hyper-Preterism and associate editor of The Reformation Study Bible. He lives in Lake Mary, Florida, with his wife and children.Keith Mathison Books:
- 1 Postmillennialism: An Eschatology of Hope
- 2 The Shape of Sola Scriptura
- 3 Given for You: Reclaiming Calvin's Doctrine of the Lord's Supper
- 4 From Age to Age: The Unfolding of Biblical Eschatology
- 5 Dispensationalism: Rightly Dividing the People of God?
- 6 A Reformed Approach to Science and Scripture
- 7 Not a Chance: God, Science, and the Revolt against Reason
- 8 When Shall These Things Be?: A Reformed Response to Hyper-Preterism
Grace Transforms Everything
By Sean Michael Lucas 10/1/2010
In our town, a church just went through a rebranding effort as part of their relocation to a new building in a different section of town. Their logo and signage are beautiful and well conceived. One sees their stickers on cars everywhere. And their tagline is memorable: “Faith changes everything.”
As I’ve thought about that tagline, on one hand, it is completely appropriate. Faith in Jesus Christ does change everything about the way we see the world, the way we engage our families, the way we live out our callings.
And yet, I suspect, based on this congregation’s theological heritage, faith is viewed as a decision that the individual makes to follow Jesus. Thus, they emphasize evangelistic outreach, gearing their ministry toward bringing people into contact with Jesus so that they might make a life-changing decision for Him.
While I appreciate this church’s evangelistic zeal, I wonder whether this is the best emphasis. What would happen if instead of saying that “faith changes everything” we claim that “grace transforms everything”?
Over against the moralism that is characteristic of so many evangelical churches, I’d suggest that the truly distinctive message we have as the church is this message of God’s grace that “makes beauty out of ugly things” — indeed, grace transforms everything.
The old slave-trader turned hymnwriter and preacher, John Newton, noted toward the end of his life: “My memory is nearly gone, but I remember two things: that I am a great sinner and that Christ is a great Savior.” No wonder Newton wrote the great hymn “Amazing Grace.” For this is the heart of the gospel of grace: we are great sinners and Christ is a great Savior.
The Bible speaks of our sin and sinfulness in wide-ranging ways: we are deceitful (Jer. 17:9); dead (Eph. 2:1); dirty (Isa. 1:18; 64:6); wayward (Isa. 53:6); lawless (1 John 3:4); disobedient (1 Tim. 1:9); ungodly (Rom. 4:5; 5:6); ignorant, hardened, and alienated from God’s life (Eph. 4:17–18). We fall short of God’s glory (Rom. 3:23); we suppress God’s truth (1:18); and we act out in sinful ways (1:21–32; Eph. 4:19). We deserve God’s wrath for our sin and disobedience, and we are already condemned (John 3:17–18; Eph. 2:3).
But God, because He is rich in grace, chose to save some undeserving sinners — He united us together with Christ, made us alive with Him, raised us with Him from our dead condition, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places (Eph. 2:4–7). He has granted us faith to trust in Jesus (Eph. 2:8–9), declared us righteous (2 Cor. 5:21), clothed us with Christ (Rom. 13:14), and gifted us with the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:13–14). He empowers us to live in ways that please Him (Eph. 4:25–5:2; Gal. 5:13–26). We now can say no to our sin and live godly lives because God has shown us grace (Titus 2:11–14).
And this grace, this undeserved favor, is not just for the beginning of our Christian lives, but also for every moment of every day of our discipleship. We come again and again to this fountain of grace, trusting in our union with Christ (Col. 3:1–4), to putting to death our sin and living in the light of what is true about us (Rom. 6:11–13; 8:14–15; Col. 3:5–16).
A life lived rooted in God’s grace shown to us in Jesus is transformed. Our walk with Christ is transformed — no longer are we driven by mere duty, but by delight in this Son of God who loved us and gave Himself for us (Gal. 2:20). We engage in personal, family, and corporate worship in order to enjoy communion with God through Christ by the Spirit — we’re greedy for delight in God.
Relationships with others are transformed — since we’re not driven to perform to please God or others, we do not fear losing the Father’s smile, but are freed to risk ourselves for others (Zeph. 3:17). Even more, we can be honest about ourselves, which means defensiveness is gone, replaced by authenticity, confession, repentance, and forgiveness.
Our callings in this world are transformed — this world is more than an evangelistic opportunity or a turbulent sea in which we’ve been given a lifeboat to save some. Rather, this is God’s good world (Ps. 24:1) in which He has called us to serve as signs and agents of God’s coming new creation (Isa. 65:17–25; 2 Cor. 5:17). Work, parenting, community involvement, engagement with art, music, film — all take on new meaning because we take Christ with us into those arenas to show what the new world looks like.
Even the ugly parts of life have grace-laden possibilities because Christ is Lord over the whole world and is making all things new (Rev. 21:5–6). As agents of God’s grace, we live out of the overflow of undeserved favor, extreme gratitude, and passionate communion with Jesus — which moves us into life’s ugliness to see God’s beauty emerge.
Here is a manifesto for the church’s ministry, a huge vision of God’s purpose in this world: In Jesus, God shows grace to undeserving, ugly sinners as part of God’s own mission of transforming this world so that it will reflect His glory. And so, what changes when the church has a grace-centered ministry? Everything!
Per Amazon | Sean Michael Lucas is senior minister at Independent Presbyterian Church, Memphis, TN. In addition, he is Chancellor's Professor of Church History at Reformed Theological Seminary.
Previously, he was Chief Academic Officer and associate professor of church history at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, MO; he has also served churches in Kentucky, Missouri, and Mississippi. He holds the PhD degree from Westminster Theological Seminary.
- 1 On Being Presbyterian: Our Beliefs, Practices, And Stories
- 2 For a Continuing Church: The Roots of the Presbyterian Church in America
- 3 The Legacy of Jonathan Edwards: American Religion and the Evangelical Tradition
- 4 What Is Grace? (Basics of the Faith)
- 5 What Is Church Government? (Basics of the Faith) (Basics of the Reformed Faith)
- 6 God's Grand Design: The Theological Vision of Jonathan Edwards
- 7 Daniel: Trusting the true hero
- 8 All for Jesus: Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of Covenant Theological Seminary
- 9 Robert Lewis Dabney: A Southern Presbyterian Life (American Reformed Biographies)
- 10 J. Gresham Machen (Bitesize Biographies)
By Larry McCall 10/1/2010
Come winter, the ice forms almost imperceptibly on the lake near our home. After the first few cold nights, a bit of skim ice may be noticed by the observant passerby. Gradually, ever so gradually, the ice thickens as the cold takes its grip on our northern Indiana community. By the dead of winter, fisherman labor at drilling through two feet of hard ice to get through to the warmer waters below.
Sin is like that. A heart that once seemed warm cools so gradually that only the especially perceptive friend or pastor notices skim ice forming on the soul of the church member. The person who once evidenced a warm, experiential trust in Christ gradually, ever so gradually, cools toward the matters of eternity. The appetite to read God’s Word lessens, prayer becomes sporadic, worship becomes boring, and all kind of excuses are found not to be with Christian friends. The ice thickens. The heart gets colder and colder. The voice of Christ no longer has its former effect. Instead, the call of the world draws. The beauty of Christ no longer entices. The world begins to look more appealing. One sin leads to the next. The second becomes easier than the first. Then, another and another. Eventually, the church realizes that one of her own has been overtaken by “an evil, unbelieving heart,” leading a church member “to fall away from the living God” (Heb. 3:12).
How does this happen? How does a person who has evidenced apparent faith in Christ and faithfulness to Him apostatize — “fall away from the living God”? More important, what can be done to guard against apostasy in the church? What should be done?
Several key lessons from Hebrews 3:12–14 must be lived out in our churches if we are going to battle apostasy: “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.”
First, we need to wake up to the reality that unbelief can overtake the heart of any professing Christian — including our own. We must not be lulled to sleep by false assurance in some “decision” made or prayer prayed in times past. As we see in Hebrews 3, two key marks of a Christian are faith and faithfulness. We must “take care” that both faith and faithfulness are being cultivated and evidenced in our own lives and in the lives of our fellow church members. The sin of unbelief can overcome the heart so gradually that we don’t notice until a professing Christian is living a life of blatant unfaithfulness to Christ. In love, we must resist spiritual naiveté. We must “take care.”
Second, we must realize that the fight against apostasy is every Christian’s concern, not just that of the church’s pastors. The author of Hebrews says, “Take care, brothers.” The battle against apostasy and the quest for ongoing faith in Christ and faithfulness to Christ is a “community project.” Every Christian should be mustered and trained for this battle for souls.
Third, our churches must develop a “culture” that values the daily care of one another’s souls and provides practical ways for that to happen. Hebrews 3:13 instructs us to “exhort one another every day.” While we continue to hold out the primacy of preaching in the life of the church, the battle against apostasy must be fought beyond our Sunday morning events. The members of our churches must be given opportunities to move away from isolation and toward loving, deep involvement in one another’s lives. Church leaders must teach church members the crucial importance of faith-building relationships. No one can intimately know everyone in the church family. But we must all be involved very personally with some of the church body. And these interpersonal relationships in small groups must move beyond trivial, superficial conversations if we are going to carry out the directive to “exhort one another every day.” Church leaders need to model and teach a mutual “soul care” that, over time, begins to get traction in the normal life of the church. Church members can help fight against the cold winds of unbelief that threaten to ice up the souls of their friends by reminding them of the dangers of sin and the joy, hope, and satisfaction we have in Christ alone. Over time, the conversations can and should become gospel-saturated, Christ-exalting, Spirit-empowered, and faith-building. The battle against apostasy in our churches is fought as one Christian exhorts another Christian to treasure Christ above all that Satan, sin, and the world have to offer.
Last, Hebrews 3:12–14 teaches us that this ministry is urgent: “As long as it is called ‘today.’” The day of Christ’s return and subsequent judgment is coming. We must not carelessly assume that “someday” our church will take up the battle against apostasy. While we say “someday,” God says “today.” For the glory of Christ and the care of souls, let us all take up the battle against apostasy
Dr. Larry E. McCall is pastor of Christ’s Covenant Church in Winona Lake, Indiana. He is also chairman of the board of To Every Tribe Ministries, and author of Loving Your Wife as Christ Loves the Church.
By Don Carson 7/24/2018
What is striking about Acts 11:1-18 is the amount of space devoted to retelling the narrative already laid out in some detail in Acts 10, often in the very same words. Isn’t this a rather extravagant use of the space on a scroll?
Luke 11:1 Now the apostles and the brothers who were throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. 2 So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcision party criticized him, saying, 3 “You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them.” 4 But Peter began and explained it to them in order: 5 “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision, something like a great sheet descending, being let down from heaven by its four corners, and it came down to me. 6 Looking at it closely, I observed animals and beasts of prey and reptiles and birds of the air. 7 And I heard a voice saying to me, ‘Rise, Peter; kill and eat.’ 8 But I said, ‘By no means, Lord; for nothing common or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ 9 But the voice answered a second time from heaven, ‘What God has made clean, do not call common.’ 10 This happened three times, and all was drawn up again into heaven. 11 And behold, at that very moment three men arrived at the house in which we were, sent to me from Caesarea. 12 And the Spirit told me to go with them, making no distinction. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. 13 And he told us how he had seen the angel stand in his house and say, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon who is called Peter; 14 he will declare to you a message by which you will be saved, you and all your household.’ 15 As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning. 16 And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17 If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” 18 When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.” ESV
But Luke sees this as a turning point. Peter is called on the carpet by the churches in Judea for going into the house of an uncircumcised person and eating with him (Acts 11:3). Peter retells his experience. The vision of the sheet with the unclean animals, its repetition three times, the instruction from the Spirit to go with the Gentile messengers, the fact that six of the (Jewish) brothers accompanied him and therefore could corroborate his story, the descent of the Spirit in the manner that tied this even to Pentecost, the linking of this with the words of the Lord Jesus — all lead to Peter’s careful conclusion: “So if God gave them the same gift as he gave us, who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could oppose God?” (Acts 11:17).
Now some observations:
(1) Although Peter’s argument proves convincing (Acts 11:18), this does not mean that all of the theological implications have been worked out. This might be well and good for the Gentiles, and a matter for rejoicing. But many questions have not yet been thought through: Will the Gentiles have to be circumcised? Will they come under the kosher food laws after believing in Jesus? If not, are Jews permitted to abandon such laws, or was Peter a one-time exception? Should there be two quite different churches, one Jewish and one Gentile? What should the Gentiles obey? What is the relationship between this new covenant and the old one? Many of these questions are precipitated in the following chapters.
(2) The primary significance of this baptism in the Spirit is a little different than in Acts 2. Here, the dramatic expressions serve to authenticate this group of new converts to the mother church in Jerusalem — an irrelevant function at Pentecost.
(3) Next we hear of widespread, if unplanned, promulgation of the Gospel among Jews and Gentiles alike (Acts 11:19ff.), generating a further crisis. Now the Jerusalem leaders must deal not with an individual or a household that is Gentile, but with an entire church that is predominantly Gentile. They show great wisdom. The envoy they send, Barnabas, displays no evidence of having great theological acuity. But he can see that this is the work of the Spirit, and promptly encourages the new converts to pursue God faithfully — and soon sends off for the best Bible teacher he knows for a mixed race church like this one (Acts 11:25-26). That is how Saul of Tarsus comes to be associated with this great church.
Don Carson is research professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, and co-founder (with Tim Keller) of The Gospel Coalition. He has authored numerous books, and recently edited The Enduring Authority of the Christian Scriptures (Eerdmans, 2016).Don Carson Books | Go to Books Page
Read The Psalms In "1" Year
Psalm 78Tell the Coming Generation
78 A Maskil Of Asaph.
25 Man ate of the bread of the angels;
he sent them food in abundance.
26 He caused the east wind to blow in the heavens,
and by his power he led out the south wind;
27 he rained meat on them like dust,
winged birds like the sand of the seas;
28 he let them fall in the midst of their camp,
all around their dwellings.
29 And they ate and were well filled,
for he gave them what they craved.
30 But before they had satisfied their craving,
while the food was still in their mouths,
31 the anger of God rose against them,
and he killed the strongest of them
and laid low the young men of Israel.
The Institutes of the Christian Religion
Translated by Henry Beveridge
OF CIVIL GOVERNMENT.
This chapter consists of two principal heads,--I. General discourse on the necessity, dignity, and use of Civil Government, in opposition to the frantic proceedings of the Anabaptists, sec. 1-3. II. A special exposition of the three leading parts of which Civil Government consists, sec. 4-32.
The first part treats of the function of Magistrates, whose authority and calling is proved, sec. 4-7. Next, the three Forms of civil government are added, sec. 8. Thirdly, Consideration of the office of the civil magistrate in respect of piety and righteousness. Here, of rewards and punishments--viz. punishing the guilty, protecting the innocent, repressing the seditious, managing the affairs of peace and war, sec. 9-13. The second part treats of Laws, their utility, necessity, form, authority, constitution, and scope, sec. 14-16. The last part relates to the People, and explains the use of laws, courts, and magistrates, to the common society of Christians, sec. 17-21. Deference which private individuals owe to magistrates, and how far obedience ought to be carried, sec. 22-32.
1. Last part of the whole work, relating to the institution of Civil Government. The consideration of it necessary. 1. To refute the Anabaptists. 2. To refute the flatterers of princes. 3. To excite our gratitude to God. Civil government not opposed to Christian liberty. Civil government to be distinguished from the spiritual kingdom of Christ.
2. Objections of the Anabaptists. 1. That civil government is unworthy of a Christian man. 2. That it is diametrically repugnant to the Christian profession. Answer.
3. The answer confirmed. Discourse reduced to three heads, 1. Of Laws. 2. Of Magistrates. 3. Of the People.
4. The office of Magistrates approved by God. 1. They are called Gods. 2. They are ordained by the wisdom of God. Examples of pious Magistrates.
5. Civil government appointed by God for Jews, not Christians. This objection answered.
6. Divine appointment of Magistrates. Effect which this ought to have on Magistrates themselves.
7. This consideration should repress the fury of the Anabaptists.
8. Three forms of civil government, Monarchy, Aristocracy, Democracy. Impossible absolutely to say which is best.
9. Of the duty of Magistrates. Their first care the preservation of the Christian religion and true piety. This proved.
10. Objections of Anabaptists to this view. These answered.
11. Lawfulness of War.
12 Objection, that the lawfulness of war is not taught in Scripture. Answer.
13. Right of exacting tribute and raising revenues.
14. Of Laws, their necessity and utility. Distinction between the Moral, Ceremonial, and Judicial Law of Moses.
15. Sum and scope of the Moral Law. Of the Ceremonial and Judicial Law. Conclusion.
16. All Laws should be just. Civil Law of Moses; how far in force, and how far abrogated.
17. Of the People, and of the use of laws as respects individuals.
18. How far litigation lawful.
19. Refutation of the Anabaptists, who condemn all judicial proceedings.
20. Objection, that Christ forbids us to resist evil. Answer.
21. Objection, that Paul condemns law-suits absolutely. Answer.
22. Of the respect and obedience due to Magistrates.
23. Same subject continued.
24. How far submission due to tyrants.
25. Same continued.
26. Proof from Scripture.
27. Proof continued.
28. Objections answered.
29. Considerations to curb impatience under tyranny.
30. Considerations considered.
31. General submission due by private individuals.
32. Obedience due only in so far as compatible with the word of God.
1. Having shown above that there is a twofold government in man, and having fully considered the one which, placed in the soul or inward man, relates to eternal life, we are here called to say something of the other, which pertains only to civil institutions and the external regulation of manners. For although this subject seems from its nature to be unconnected with the spiritual doctrine of faith, which I have undertaken to treat, it will appear as we proceed, that I have properly connected them, nay, that I am under the necessity of doing so, especially while, on the one hand, frantic and barbarous men are furiously endeavouring to overturn the order established by God, and, on the other, the flatterers of princes, extolling their power without measure, hesitate not to oppose it to the government of God. Unless we meet both extremes, the purity of the faith will perish. We may add, that it in no small degree concerns us to know how kindly God has here consulted for the human race, that pious zeal may the more strongly urge us to testify our gratitude. And first, before entering on the subject itself, it is necessary to attend to the distinction which we formerly laid down (Book 3 Chap. 19 sec. 16, et supra, Chap. 10), lest, as often happens to many, we imprudently confound these two things, the nature of which is altogether different. For some, on hearing that liberty is promised in the gospel, a liberty which acknowledges no king and no magistrate among men, but looks to Christ alone, think that they can receive no benefit from their liberty so long as they see any power placed over them. Accordingly, they think that nothing will be safe until the whole world is changed into a new form, when there will be neither courts, nor laws, nor magistrates, nor anything of the kind to interfere, as they suppose, with their liberty. But he who knows to distinguish between the body and the soul, between the present fleeting life and that which is future and eternal, will have no difficulty in understanding that the spiritual kingdom of Christ and civil government are things very widely separated. Seeing, therefore, it is a Jewish vanity to seek and include the kingdom of Christ under the elements of this world, let us, considering, as Scripture clearly teaches, that the blessings which we derive from Christ are spiritual, remember to confine the liberty which is promised and offered to us in him within its proper limits. For why is it that the very same apostle who bids us "stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not again entangled with the yoke of bondage" (Gal. 5:1), in another passage forbids slaves to be solicitous about their state (1 Cor. 7:21), unless it be that spiritual liberty is perfectly compatible with civil servitude? In this sense the following passages are to be understood: "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female" (Gal. 3:28). Again, "There is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all and in all" (Col. 3:11). It is thus intimated, that it matters not what your condition is among men, nor under what laws you live, since in them the kingdom of Christ does not at all consist.
2. Still the distinction does not go so far as to justify us in supposing that the whole scheme of civil government is matter of pollution, with which Christian men have nothing to do. Fanatics, indeed, delighting in unbridled license, insist and vociferate that, after we are dead by Christ to the elements of this world, and being translated into the kingdom of God sit among the celestials, it is unworthy of us, and far beneath our dignity, to be occupied with those profane and impure cares which relate to matters alien from a Christian man. To what end, they say, are laws without courts and tribunals? But what has a Christian man to do with courts? Nay, if it is unlawful to kill, what have we to do with laws and courts? But as we lately taught that that kind of government is distinct from the spiritual and internal kingdom of Christ, so we ought to know that they are not adverse to each other. The former, in some measure, begins the heavenly kingdom in us, even now upon earth, and in this mortal and evanescent life commences immortal and incorruptible blessedness, while to the latter it is assigned, so long as we live among men, to foster and maintain the external worship of God, to defend sound doctrine and the condition of the Church, to adapt our conduct to human society, to form our manners to civil justice, to conciliate us to each other, to cherish common peace and tranquillity. All these I confess to be superfluous, if the kingdom of God, as it now exists within us, extinguishes the present life. But if it is the will of God that while we aspire to true piety we are pilgrims upon the earth, and if such pilgrimage stands in need of such aids, those who take them away from man rob him of his humanity. As to their allegation that there ought to be such perfection in the Church of God that her guidance should suffice for law, they stupidly imagine her to be such as she never can be found in the community of men. For while the insolence of the wicked is so great, and their iniquity so stubborn, that it can scarcely be curbed by any severity of laws, what do we expect would be done by those whom force can scarcely repress from doing ill, were they to see perfect impunity for their wickedness?
3. But we shall have a fitter opportunity of speaking of the use of civil government. All we wish to be understood at present is, that it is perfect barbarism to think of exterminating it, its use among men being not less than that of bread and water, light and air, while its dignity is much more excellent. Its object is not merely, like those things, to enable men to breathe, eat, drink, and be warmed (though it certainly includes all these, while it enables them to live together); this, I say, is not its only object, but it is, that no idolatry, no blasphemy against the name of God, no calumnies against his truth, nor other offences to religion, break out and be disseminated among the people; that the public quiet be not disturbed, that every man's property be kept secure, that men may carry on innocent commerce with each other, that honesty and modesty be cultivated; in short, that a public form of religion may exist among Christians, and humanity among men. Let no one be surprised that I now attribute the task of constituting religion aright to human polity, though I seem above to have placed it beyond the will of man, since I no more than formerly allow men at pleasure to enact laws concerning religion and the worship of God, when I approve of civil order which is directed to this end--viz. to prevent the true religion, which is contained in the law of God, from being with impunity openly violated and polluted by public blasphemy. But the reader, by the help of a perspicuous arrangement, will better understand what view is to be taken of the whole order of civil government, if we treat of each of its parts separately. Now these are three: The Magistrate, who is president and guardian of the laws; the Laws, according to which he governs; and the People, who are governed by the laws, and obey the magistrate. Let us consider, then, first, What is the function of the magistrate? Is it a lawful calling approved by God? What is the nature of his duty? What the extent of his power? Secondly, What are the laws by which Christian polity is to be regulated? And, lastly, What is the use of laws as regards the people? And, What obedience is due to the magistrate?
4. With regard to the function of magistrates, the Lord has not only declared that he approves and is pleased with it, but, moreover, has strongly recommended it to us by the very honourable titles which he has conferred upon it. To mention a, few.  When those who bear the office of magistrate are called gods, let no one suppose that there is little weight in that appellation. It is thereby intimated that they have a commission from God, that they are invested with divine authority, and, in fact, represent the person of God, as whose substitutes they in a manner act. This is not a quibble of mine, but is the interpretation of Christ. "If Scripture," says he, "called them Gods, to whom the word of God came." What is this but that the business was committed to them by God, to serve him in their office, and (as Moses and Jehoshaphat said to the judges whom they were appointing over each of the cities of Judah) to exercise judgment, not for man, but for God? To the same effect Wisdom affirms, by the mouth of Solomon, "By me kings reign, and princes decree justice. By me princes rule, and nobles, even all the judges of the earth" (Prov. 8:15, 16). For it is just as if it had been said, that it is not owing to human perverseness that supreme power on earth is lodged in kings and other governors, but by Divine Providence, and the holy decree of Him to whom it has seemed good so to govern the affairs of men, since he is present, and also presides in enacting laws and exercising judicial equity. This Paul also plainly teaches when he enumerates offices of rule among the gifts of God, which, distributed variously, according to the measure of grace, ought to be employed by the servants of Christ for the edification of the Church (Rom. 12:8). In that place, however, he is properly speaking of the senate of grave men who were appointed in the primitive Church to take charge of public discipline. This office, in the Epistle to the Corinthians, he calls kuberne'seis, governments (1 Cor. 12:28). Still, as we see that civil power has the same end in view, there can be no doubt that he is recommending every kind of just government. He speaks much more clearly when he comes to a proper discussion of the subject. For he says that "there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God;" that rulers are the ministers of God, "not a terror to good works, but to the evil" (Rom. 13:1, 3). To this we may add the examples of saints, some of whom held the offices of kings, as David, Josiah, and Hezekiah; others of governors, as Joseph and Daniel; others of civil magistrates among a free people, as Moses, Joshua, and the Judges. Their functions were expressly approved by the Lord. Wherefore no man can doubt that civil authority is, in the sight of God, not only sacred and lawful, but the most sacred, and by far the most honourable, of all stations in mortal life.
5. Those who are desirous to introduce anarchy  object that, though anciently kings and judges presided over a rude people, yet that, in the present day, that servile mode of governing does not at all accord with the perfection which Christ brought with his gospel. Herein they betray not only their ignorance, but their devilish pride, arrogating to themselves a perfection of which not even a hundredth part is seen in them. But be they what they may, the refutation is easy. For when David says, "Be wise now therefore, O ye kings: be instructed, ye judges of the earth;" "Kiss the Son, lest he be angry" (Psalm 2:10, 12), he does not order them to lay aside their authority and return to private life, but to make the power with which they are invested subject to Christ, that he may rule over all. In like manner, when Isaiah predicts of the Church, "Kings shall be thy nursing-fathers, and their queens thy nursing-mothers" (Isaiah 49:23), he does not bid them abdicate their authority; he rather gives them the honourable appellation of patrons of the pious worshippers of God; for the prophecy refers to the advent of Christ. I intentionally omit very many passages which occur throughout Scripture, and especially in the Psalms, in which the due authority of all rulers is asserted. The most celebrated passage of all is that in which Paul, admonishing Timothy, that prayers are to be offered up in the public assembly for kings, subjoins the reason, "that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty" (1 Tim. 2:2). In these words, he recommends the condition of the Church to their protection and guardianship.
Christian Classics Ethereal Library / Public Domain
Institutes of the Christian Religion
Devotionals, notes, poetry and more
1/1/2015 What is the Gospel?
The great nineteenth-century Princeton theologian Charles Hodge said, “The gospel is so simple that small children can understand it, and it is so profound that studies by the wisest theologians will never exhaust its riches.” The gospel is absolutely fundamental to everything we believe. It is at the very core of who we are as Christians. However, many professing Christians struggle to answer the question: What is the gospel? When I teach, I am astounded by how many of my students are unable to provide a biblically accurate explanation of what the gospel is, and, what’s more, what the gospel is not. If we don’t know what the gospel is, we are of all people the most to be pitied—for we not only can’t proclaim the gospel in evangelism so that sinners might be saved, but we in fact may not be saved ourselves.
In our day, there are countless counterfeit gospels, both inside and outside the church. Much of what is on Christian television and on the shelves of Christian bookstores completely obscures the gospel, thereby making it another gospel, which is no gospel whatsoever. English pastor J.C. Ryle wrote, “Since Satan cannot destroy the gospel, he has too often neutralized its usefulness by addition, subtraction, or substitution.” It is vital we understand that just because a preacher talks about Jesus, the cross, and heaven, does not mean he is preaching the gospel. And just because there is a church on every corner does not mean the gospel is preached on every corner.
Fundamentally, the gospel is news. It’s good news—the good news about what our triune God has accomplished for His people: the Father’s sending His Son, the incarnate Jesus Christ, to live perfectly, fulfill the law, and die sacrificially, satisfying God’s wrath against us that we might not face hell, thereby atoning for our sins; and raising Him from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit. It is the victorious announcement that God saves sinners. And even though the call of Jesus to “take up your cross and follow me,” “repent and believe,” “deny yourself,” and “keep my commandments” are necessary commands that directly follow the proclamation of the gospel, they are not in themselves the good news of what Jesus has accomplished. The gospel is not a summons to work harder to reach God; it’s the grand message of how God worked all things together for good to reach us. The gospel is good news, not good advice or good instructions, just as J. Gresham Machen wrote: “What I need first of all is not exhortation, but a gospel, not directions for saving myself but knowledge of how God has saved me. Have you any good news? That is the question that I ask of you.”
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Dr. Burk Parsons (@BurkParsons) is editor of Tabletalk magazine, senior pastor of Saint Andrew’s Chapel in Sanford, Fla., a visiting lecturer at Reformed Theological Seminary, and a Ligonier Ministries teaching fellow. He is editor of John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, and Doxology.
Ligonier coram Deo (definition)
by Bill Federer
Tennessee became the first State to be readmitted back into the Union after the Civil War on this day, July 24, 1866. In a proclamation of Amnesty and Pardon, President Andrew Johnson declared: “Every person who shall seek to avail himself of this proclamation shall take … the following oath … namely: ‘I, ____ ____, do solemnly swear, in presence of Almighty God, that I will henceforth faithfully support, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States … and … abide by … all laws and proclamations which have been made during the late rebellion with reference to the emancipation of slaves. So help me God.’ ”
Compilation by RickAdams7
Have you noticed how much praying for revival has been going on of late & how little revival has resulted? The problem is that we have been trying to substitute praying for obeying, & it simply will not work. To pray for revival while ignoring the plain precept laid down in Scripture is to waste a lot of words & get nothing for our trouble. Prayer will become effective when we stop using it as a substitute for obedience.
--- A.W. Tozer
There is a striking point that runs through Jewish history as a whole. Western civilization was born in the Middle East, and the Jews were at its crossroads. In the heyday of Rome, the Jews were close to the Empire’s center. When power shifted eastward, the Jewish center was in Babylon; when it skipped to Spain, there again were the Jews. When in the Middle Ages the center of civilization moved into Central Europe, the Jews were waiting for it in Germany and Poland. The rise of the United States to the leading world power found Judaism focused there. And now, today, when the pendulum seems to be swinging back toward the Old World and the East rises to renewed importance, there again are the Jews in Israel…
--- Professor Huston Smith
The Religious of Man
Jesus Christ, the condescension of divinity and the exaltation of humanity.
--- Phillips Brooks
Our generation is lost to the truth of God, to the reality of divine revelation, to the content of God's will, to the power of His redemption, and to the authority of His Word. For this loss it is paying dearly in a swift relapse into paganism.
--- Carl F.H. Henry
... from here, there and everywhere
Thanks to Meir Yona
This country is extended as far as the Ethiopians, and Arabia the Happy, and borders upon India; it hath seven millions five hundred thousand men, besides the inhabitants of Alexandria, as may be learned from the revenue of the poll tax; yet it is not ashamed to submit to the Roman government, although it hath Alexandria as a grand temptation to a revolt, by reason it is so full of people and of riches, and is besides exceeding large, its length being thirty furlongs, and its breadth no less than ten; and it pays more tribute to the Romans in one month than you do in a year; nay, besides what it pays in money, it sends corn to Rome that supports it for four months [in the year]: it is also walled round on all sides, either by almost impassable deserts, or seas that have no havens, or by rivers, or by lakes; yet have none of these things been found too strong for the Roman good fortune; however, two legions that lie in that city are a bridle both for the remoter parts of Egypt, and for the parts inhabited by the more noble Macedonians. Where then are those people whom you are to have for your auxiliaries? Must they come from the parts of the world that are uninhabited? for all that are in the habitable earth are [under the] Romans. Unless any of you extend his hopes as far as beyond the Euphrates, and suppose that those of your own nation that dwell in Adiabene will come to your assistance; but certainly these will not embarrass themselves with an unjustifiable war, nor, if they should follow such ill advice, will the Parthians permit them so to do; for it is their concern to maintain the truce that is between them and the Romans, and they will be supposed to break the covenants between them, if any under their government march against the Romans. What remains, therefore, is this, that you have recourse to Divine assistance; but this is already on the side of the Romans; for it is impossible that so vast an empire should be settled without God's providence. Reflect upon it, how impossible it is for your zealous observations of your religious customs to be here preserved, which are hard to be observed even when you fight with those whom you are able to conquer; and how can you then most of all hope for God's assistance, when, by being forced to transgress his law, you will make him turn his face from you? and if you do observe the custom of the sabbath days, and will not be revealed on to do any thing thereon, you will easily be taken, as were your forefathers by Pompey, who was the busiest in his siege on those days on which the besieged rested. But if in time of war you transgress the law of your country, I cannot tell on whose account you will afterward go to war; for your concern is but one, that you do nothing against any of your forefathers; and how will you call upon God to assist you, when you are voluntarily transgressing against his religion? Now all men that go to war do it either as depending on Divine or on human assistance; but since your going to war will cut off both those assistances, those that are for going to war choose evident destruction. What hinders you from slaying your children and wives with your own hands, and burning this most excellent native city of yours? for by this mad prank you will, however, escape the reproach of being beaten. But it were best, O my friends, it were best, while the vessel is still in the haven, to foresee the impending storm, and not to set sail out of the port into the middle of the hurricanes; for we justly pity those who fall into great misfortunes without fore-seeing them; but for him who rushes into manifest ruin, he gains reproaches [instead of commiseration]. But certainly no one can imagine that you can enter into a war as by agreement, or that when the Romans have got you under their power, they will use you with moderation, or will not rather, for an example to other nations, burn your holy city, and utterly destroy your whole nation; for those of you who shall survive the war will not be able to find a place whither to flee, since all men have the Romans for their lords already, or are afraid they shall have hereafter. Nay, indeed, the danger concerns not those Jews that dwell here only, but those of them which dwell in other cities also; for there is no people upon the habitable earth which have not some portion of you among them, whom your enemies will slay, in case you go to war, and on that account also; and so every city which hath Jews in it will be filled with slaughter for the sake of a few men, and they who slay them will be pardoned; but if that slaughter be not made by them, consider how wicked a thing it is to take arms against those that are so kind to you. Have pity, therefore, if not on your children and wives, yet upon this your metropolis, and its sacred walls; spare the temple, and preserve the holy house, with its holy furniture, for yourselves; for if the Romans get you under their power, they will no longer abstain from them, when their former abstinence shall have been so ungratefully requited. I call to witness your sanctuary, and the holy angels of God, and this country common to us all, that I have not kept back any thing that is for your preservation; and if you will follow that advice which you ought to do, you will have that peace which will be common to you and to me; but if you indulge four passions, you will run those hazards which I shall be free from."
5. When Agrippa had spoken thus, both he and his sister wept, and by their tears repressed a great deal of the violence of the people; but still they cried out, that they would not fight against the Romans, but against Florus, on account of what they had suffered by his means. To which Agrippa replied, that what they had already done was like such as make war against the Romans; "for you have not paid the tribute which is due to Caesar 25 and you have cut off the cloisters [of the temple] from joining to the tower Antonia. You will therefore prevent any occasion of revolt if you will but join these together again, and if you will but pay your tribute; for the citadel does not now belong to Florus, nor are you to pay the tribute money to Florus."
by D.H. Stern
how much more when he brings it with vile motives.
Complete Jewish Bible : An English Version of the Tanakh (Old Testament) and B'Rit Hadashah (New Testament)
by Frank W. Boreham
I was enjoying the very modest but very satisfying pleasures of a ride in a tramcar when the following adventure befell me. It was a bright, sunny winter's day; the scenery on either hand was extremely delightful; and I was cogitating upon the circumstance that so much felicity could be obtained in return for so small an expenditure. But my admiration of mountain and river and bush was suddenly and rudely interrupted. A lady fellow passenger reported that, since entering the car, three sovereigns had been extracted from her purse. That she had them when she stepped into the car she knew for certain, for she remembered seeing them when she opened the purse to pay her fare. She had taken out the two pennies, inserted the ticket in their place, and returned the purse to her handbag, which had been lying on the seat beside her. The inspector had now boarded the car; she had opened her purse to take out the ticket, and, lo, the gold had gone! It was a most embarrassing situation. I was ruefully speculating as to how I should again face my congregation after being shadowed by such a dark suspicion. When, as abruptly as it had arisen, the mystery happily cleared. With the most profuse apologies, the lady explained that it was her birthday; her daughter had that morning presented her with a new purse; the compartments of this receptacle were more elaborate and ingenious than she had noticed; and she had found the sovereigns reposing in a division of the purse which had eluded her previous observation. There was no more to be said. We wished the poor beflustered soul many happy returns of the day; she left the car at the next corner; and I once more abandoned myself to the charms of the landscape.
Now, this sort of thing is very common. We are continually fancying that we have been robbed of the precious things we still possess. The old lady who searches everywhere for the spectacles that adorn her temples; the clerk who ransacks the office for the pen behind his ear; and the boy who charges his brother with the theft of the pen-knife that lurks in the mysterious depths of his own fearful and wonderful pocket—these are each of them typical of much.
I happened the other evening to saunter into a room in which a certain debating society was holding its weekly meeting. The paper out of which the discussion arose had been read before my arrival. But I gathered from the remarks of the speakers that it had dealt with a scientific subject, and that questions of antiquity, geology, and evolution were involved. After the fashion of debating societies, the entire universe was promptly subjected to a complete overhaul. If the truth must be told, I am afraid that I must confess to having forgotten the eloquent contentions of the different speakers; but out of the hurly-burly of that wordy conflict one utterance comes back to me. It appealed to me at the time as being very curious, very pathetic, and very striking. It made upon my mind an indelible impression. A tall young fellow rose, and, in the shortest speech of the debate, imparted to the discussion the only touch of real feeling by which it was illumined. I do not know what it was that had struck so deep a chord in his soul and set it all vibrating. It is wonderful how some stray sound or sight or scent will sometimes summon to the mind a rush of sacred memories. After a preliminary platitude or two, this speaker suddenly referred to the connexion between science and faith. His eyes flashed with manifest feeling; his whole being took on the tone of a man in deadly earnest; his voice quivered with emotion. In one vivid sentence he graphically described his aged grandfather as the old man donned his spectacles and devoutly read—his faith unclouded by any shadow of doubt—his morning chapter from the well-worn, large-type Bible. And then, with a ring of such genuine passion that it sounded to me like the cry of a creature in pain, he exclaimed, 'And, gentlemen, I would give both my hands, and give them cheerfully, if I could believe as my old grandfather believed!' He immediately sat down. One or two members coughed. I could see from the faces of the others that they all felt that the debate was getting out of bounds. The world was wide, and the solar system fairly extensive; but this speaker had wandered beyond the remotest frontiers of the universe. And yet to me the utterance to which they had just listened was the speech of the evening, the one speech to be remembered:
'Gentlemen, I would give both my hands, and give them cheerfully, if I could believe as my grandfather believed!'
Now this was very pathetic, this pair of eager eyes suddenly turned inward; this discovery of an empty soul; this comparison with his grandfather's golden hoard; and this pitiful confession of abject poverty. I felt sorry for him, just as I felt sorry for the lady in the tramcar. The lady in the tramcar looked into a purse that she thought to be empty, and suffered all the agony of a great loss. The young fellow in the debating society looked into the recesses of his own spirit, and cried out that there was nothing there. And it was all a mistake—in both cases. The sovereigns were in the purse after all. And faith was in the apparently empty soul after all. But neither of the victims knew that they possessed what they lamented. They were both exactly like the old lady with the spectacles on her temples, like the clerk with his pen behind his ear, like the boy with the penknife in his pocket. In the case of the lady in the car the similitude is clear enough. I aspire to show that the analogy applies just as surely to the young fellow and his faith. And to that end let me raise a cloud of questions as a dog might start a covey of birds.
Why does this young man sigh for his grandfather's faith? Was his grandfather's a true faith or a false faith? If his grandfather's faith was a false faith, why does he himself so passionately covet it? Does not the very fact that he so earnestly desires his grandfather's faith as his own faith prove that he is certain that his grandfather's faith was true? And if, in the very soul of him, he feels that his grandfather's faith was true, does it not follow that he has already set his seal to the faith of his grandfather? Is he not proving most conclusively by his flashing eyes, his fervent manner, and his quivering voice that he believes most firmly in his grandfather's faith? And, if that is so, is it not a case of the lady in the tramcar over again? Is he not crying out that his soul is empty, whilst, in a secret and unexplored recess of that same soul, there reposes the very faith for which he cries?
When I was a very small boy I believed in the Man in the Moon; I believed in Santa Claus; I believed in old Mother Hubbard; I believed in the Fairy Godmother; I believed in ghosts and brownies and witches and trolls. It was a wonderful creed, that creed of my infancy. It has gone now, and it has gone unwept and unsung. I never catch myself saying that I would give my two hands, and give them cheerfully, if I could believe in those things all over again. That puerile faith was a false faith; and because I now know it to have been fictitious I smile at it to-day, and never dream of wishing that I still believed in the Man in the Moon. And, when, on the contrary, I catch a man saying with wet eyes that he would give both his hands, and give them cheerfully, if he could believe as his grandfather did, I see before me indubitable evidence of the fact that, all unconsciously, grandsire and grandson have both subscribed with fervour to the selfsame stately faith.
But, to save us from the sin of prosiness, let us indulge in a little romance. Harry and Edith are lovers; but last evening, in the course of a stroll by the side of the sea, a dark cloud swept over the golden tranquillity of their enchantment. They parted at length—not as they usually do. When poor ruffled little Edith reached her dainty room, she flung herself in a tempest of tears upon the snowy counterpane, and sobbed again and again and again, 'I would give anything if I could love him as I loved him yesterday!' And all the while Harry, with white and tearless face, and his soul in a tumult of agitation, is lying back in his chair before the fire, his hands in his pockets, saying to himself over and over again, 'I would give anything if I could love her as I loved her yesterday!' Now here are a pair of fascinating specimens for psychological analysis! Why is Edith so anxious to love Harry as she loved him yesterday? Why is Harry so eager to love Edith as he loved her yesterday? You do not passionately desire to love a person whom you do not love. The secret is out! Edith sobs to herself, 'I would give anything to love Harry as I loved him yesterday!' because, being the silly little goose that she is, she does not recognize that she does love Harry as she loved him yesterday. And Harry, logical in everything but in love, does not see, as he sits there muttering, that his very anxiety to love Edith just as he loved her yesterday is the best proof that he could possibly have that his love for Edith has undergone no change. Each is peering into a purse that appears to be empty; each is crying for the gold that seems to have gone; and each is ignorant of the fact that their wealth is still with them, but is for a moment eluding their agitated scrutiny.
The philosophy that the new purse revealed to me is capable of an infinity of applications. The fact is that faith is always the unknown dimension. A man may know how many children he has, and how much money he has; but no man knows how much faith he has. Everybody who has read Carlyle's History of Frederick the Great remembers the petty squabbles of Voltaire, Maupertius, and the other thinkers who moved about the person of that famous prince. They seemed to have been for ever twitting each other with getting ill, and, notwithstanding their philosophy, sending for a priest to minister beside their supposed deathbeds. I have heard sceptics and infidels charged with hypocrisy on the ground that, in the face of sudden terror, they had been known to call upon that God whose very existence they denied. I am bound to say that I do not think the evidence sufficient to substantiate the charge. There was no hypocrisy, but the sudden discovery of unsuspected faith. In the tumult of emotion induced by sudden fear, a secret compartment of the soul was opened, and the faith that was regarded as lost was found to be tranquilly reposing there.
Perhaps it was just as well that the lady in the tramcar had this embarrassing experience. It was good for her to have felt the anguish of imaginary loss, for it led her to discover that her purse was a more complicated thing than she had supposed. It will do my friend of the debating society a world of good to make the same discovery. The soul is not so simple as it seems. You cannot press a spring at a given moment, and take in all its contents at one glance. And it was certainly good for my lady fellow traveller to find that the gold was still there. She needed it, or its loss would not have thrown her into such a fever. That is the thing that strikes me about my friend the debater. He evidently needed the faith for which he cried so passionately. Faith, like gold, is for use and not for ornament. Yes, he needed the faith that he could not find; needed it, perhaps, more sorely than he knew. And now that I have proved to him that, in some secret recess, the treasure still lurks, I am hopeful that, like the lady in the car, he will smile at his former anguish, and live like a lord on the wealth that he has found.
Mushrooms on the Moor (Dodo Press)
A Daily Devotional by Oswald Chambers
Disposition and deeds
Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven. --- Matthew 5:20.
The characteristic of a disciple is not that he does good things, but that he is good in motive because he has been made good by the supernatural grace of God. The only thing that exceeds right doing is right being. Jesus Christ came to put into any man who would let Him a new heredity which would exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees. Jesus says—‘If you are My disciple you must be right not only in your living, but in your motives, in your dreams, in the recesses of your mind.’ You must be so pure in your motives that God Almighty can see nothing to censure. Who can stand in the Eternal Light of God and have nothing for God to censure? Only the Son of God, and Jesus Christ claims that by His Redemption He can put into any man His own disposition, and make him as unsullied and as simple as a child. The purity which God demands is impossible unless I can be re-made within, and this is what Jesus has undertaken to do by His Redemption.
No man can make himself pure by obeying laws. Jesus Christ does not give us rules and regulations; His teachings are truths that can only be interpreted by the disposition He puts in. The great marvel of Jesus Christ’s salvation is that He alters heredity. He does not alter human nature; He alters its mainspring.
My Utmost for His Highest
the Poetry of RS Thomas
It is this great absence
that is like a presence, that compels
me to address it without hope
of a reply. It is a room I enter
from which someone has just
gone, the vestibule for the arrival
of one who has not yet come.
I modernise the anachronism
of my language, but he is no more here
than before. Genes and molecules
have no more power to call
him up than the incense of the Hebrews
at their altars. My equations fail
as my words do. What resources have I
other than the emptiness without him of my whole
being, a vacuum he may not abhor?.
Selected poems, 1946-1968
Exodus 6:2, 6–12
The only benefit from the acacia is when it is cut down.
BIBLE TEXT / Exodus 6:2, 6–12 / God spoke to Moses and said to him, “I am the Lord … Say, therefore, to the Israelite people: I am the Lord. I will free you from the labors of the Egyptians and deliver you from their bondage. I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and through extraordinary chastisements. And I will take you to be My people, and I will be your God. And you shall know that I, the Lord, am your God who freed you from the labors of the Egyptians. I will bring you into the land which I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and I will give it to you for a possession, I the Lord.” But when Moses told this to the Israelites, they would not listen to Moses, their spirits crushed by cruel bondage.
The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Go and tell Pharaoh king of Egypt to let the Israelites depart from his land.” But Moses appealed to the Lord, saying, “The Israelites would not listen to me; how then should Pharaoh heed me, a man of impeded speech!”
MIDRASH TEXT / Exodus Rabbah 6, 5 / [“I will bring you into the land which I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and I will give it to you for a possession, I the Lord.”] But when Moses told this to the Israelites, they would not listen to Moses.… It was hard for them to abandon idolatry, and so Ezekiel explained it, “Cast away, every one of you, the detestable things that you are drawn to, and do not defile yourselves with the fetishes of Egypt” (Ezekiel 20:7). See what is written: “They did not cast away the detestable things they were drawn to, nor did they give up the fetishes of Egypt” (Ezekiel 20:8). Go and tell Pharaoh king of Egypt. The proverb says, “The only benefit from the acacia is when it is cut down.” But Moses appealed to the Lord.…
CONTEXT / The authors of this Midrash were apparently puzzled that the Israelites did not listen to the news that Moses brought, that God would rescue them from Egyptian slavery. After all, it was good news! As the Mekhilta asks, “Is there a person who doesn’t rejoice over good news?” Why, then, when Moses told this to the Israelites, they would not listen to Moses, even if their spirits were crushed by cruel bondage?
The Rabbis answer their question by assuming that Moses wasn’t talking to the Israelites about slavery but rather about idolatry. Of course, they would have rejoiced at the news of their impending freedom. But Moses—according to this Midrash—was talking about the other kind of freedom, freedom from idolatrous practices. The Midrash puns on the word קָשָׁה/kashah, “hard.” The Hebrew phrase for “by cruel bondage” is וּמֵעֲבֹדָח קָשָׁה/u’mei-avodah kashah, literally “from hard labor.” And it was hard [קָשֶׁה/kasheh, in the masculine form] for them to abandon idolatry, which they had practiced for many years in Egypt and which could be a seductive style of worship. Note that the word עֲבוֹדָה/avodah, “work,” can mean “worship” in Rabbinic Hebrew.
In reading the biblical text this way, focusing on the spiritual slavery as opposed to physical slavery, the Rabbis remind us of the two approaches presented in the Passover seder. In the first section, the Haggadah tells us עֲבָדִים הָיִינוּ/Avadim hayyinu, “We were slaves” to Pharaoh in Egypt. This is the reference to freedom from physical bondage. But then, the Haggadah gives a second approach: “At first, our ancestors were idolaters, but now God has brought us near to His worship.” This switches the issue to one of freedom from spiritual bondage: The Rabbis saw the Exodus as a time of freedom both from physical slavery, by leaving Egypt, and from spiritual slavery, by leaving Egyptian practices and finding the true God at Sinai.
The Rabbis now move on to explaining the next phrase: God said to Moses, “Go and tell Pharaoh king of Egypt to let the Israelites depart from his land.” Moses responds by saying, “The Israelites wouldn’t even listen to me. How do you expect Pharaoh to heed my demand?” God’s answer, as understood by the Rabbis, was, “I am not sending you to Pharaoh to try to convince him. He cannot be convinced. Rather, I am sending you to cut him down, to set into motion the process that will lead to the plagues, which will ultimately result in freedom for the Israelites.” Thus, “The only benefit from the acacia is when it is cut down.” The acacia tree is used in this axiom because it bears no fruit but has a hard, strong wood. While it is standing it gives no benefit; only in cutting it down is the acacia worthwhile. Pharaoh will have to be cut down to size, through the plagues, and he will be useless except as a tool or instrument in the Exodus story.
Searching for Meaning in Midrash: Lessons for Everyday Living
Christ… the wisdom of God. --- 1 Corinthians 1:24.
The divine and the human—these, in themselves and in their union, make up [the] Son of God and Son of Man, the “wisdom of God.” Family sermons Both retain their distinct properties, unchanged by the union. [But] human wisdom can comprehend neither human nature nor God’s, nor adjust the connection between them without confounding both.
God takes another way. All that is glorious in the Godhead and all that is excellent in humanity is gathered into one person and fully exhibited in him. The heavenly becomes earthly, yet both are preserved. The Creator becomes the creature, yet, though conjoined in one person, remain distinct. The Eternal becomes a being of time, yet continues eternal. The Infinite becomes finite, yet abides infinite. The Immortal becomes mortal, yet continues immortal.
The two parts of the universe are linked by a new tie—by incarnation. Earth now knows what Godhead is, by its coming down and dwelling here; heaven knows what humanity is, by the human nature at God’s right hand in the person of the Christ.
It is union only at a single point—one body and one soul in which the Godhead is united. So the incarnation of Christ is the mooring of the whole nature to the fountainhead of life and being.
It was not with one particular stage of our being that this union was formed but with all, from the moment of conception to the grave. He enters the womb and begins life where we begin it, thus joining himself to us at the commencement of human existence, weaving the first, invisible thread of mortal life into his own Godhead. He is made of a woman, and that links him to woman and woman to him, in everlasting bonds. He is a man, and that links him to man and man to him, in eternal union. He was an infant, and that links infancy to him and him to infancy. He was a child, a boy, a youth, and that links childhood, boyhood, youth to him and him to them. He united himself to us at these different points, consecrating these steps of human development.
What a marvel of wisdom is here. What treasures of knowledge are thus spread out before heaven and earth! Truly he is the wisdom of God!
--- Horatius Bonar
Take Heart: Daily Devotions with the Church's Great Preachers
Making Waves, Winning Souls July 24
Charles Bowles’s father was African; his mother was the daughter of a Revolutionary War hero. He was converted as a youth and called to the Freewill Baptist ministry. On July 24, 1816 he preached his first sermon, and his ministry soon resulted in both converts and controversy. He was a black preacher in the far north, making waves and winning souls. In Huntington, Vermont, a mob secretly plotted to attack him at his next worship service. They intended to tie him to a wooden horse and plunge him in the lake to sink or swim as he would. Bowles, however, heard of the plot.
The time arrived for the meeting; and while the enemy was preparing the weapons of their warfare, he is fitting himself. Behold him in yonder grove, bowed low before the throne of the Redeemer. What a noble sight to behold that despised servant of God, bowed alone in the grove, seeking only a preparation of heart! What a contrast with that band preparing by whiskey and oaths.
The service began, and the mob, seated before him, awaited its signal. Bowles read Matthew 23:33 You are nothing but snakes … ! How can you escape going to hell? He preached with such fervor that no one dared move. He finished by saying, “I am informed there are persons here who have agreed to put me on a wooden horse, carry me to the pond, and throw me in; and now, dear creatures, I make no resistance.” But he had one request—that on the way to the lake the assembly sing hymns. “Glory be to God! Yes, we will have music. Glory to God!”
This was said with his powerful voice with such confidence in God that it went like an electric shock through the congregation, and produced an effect upon the mob that could scarcely have been equaled had a bolt from heaven fallen; so completely were they overcome, that they fell prostrate upon the floor.
Shortly afterward, the troublemakers did meet Bowles at the lake—where he plunged them into its chilly waters, baptizing them as followers of his Lord Jesus.
You must stay calm and be willing to suffer. You must work hard to tell the good news and to do your job well.
--- 2 Timothy 4:5.
On This Day 365 Amazing And Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs And Heroes
Daily Readings / CHARLES H. SPURGEON
Morning - July 24
“Stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord.” --- Exodus 14:13.
These words contain God’s command to the believer when he is reduced to great straits and brought into extraordinary difficulties. He cannot retreat; he cannot go forward; he is shut up on the right hand and on the left; what is he now to do? The Master’s word to him is, “Stand still.” It will be well for him if at such times he listens only to his Master’s word, for other and evil advisers come with their suggestions. Despair whispers, “Lie down and die; give it all up.” But God would have us put on a cheerful courage, and even in our worst times, rejoice in his love and faithfulness. Cowardice says, “Retreat; go back to the worldling’s way of action; you cannot play the Christian’s part, it is too difficult. Relinquish your principles.” But, however much Satan may urge this course upon you, you cannot follow it if you are a child of God. His divine fiat has bid thee go from strength to strength, and so thou shalt, and neither death nor hell shall turn thee from thy course. What, if for a while thou art called to stand still, yet this is but to renew thy strength for some greater advance in due time. Precipitancy cries, “do something. Stir yourself; to stand still and wait, is sheer idleness.” We must be doing something at once—we must do it so we think—instead of looking to the Lord, who will not only do something but will do everything. Presumption boasts, “If the sea be before you, march into it and expect a miracle.” But Faith listens neither to Presumption, nor to Despair, nor to Cowardice, nor to Precipitancy, but it hears God say, “Stand still,” and immovable as a rock it stands. “Stand still;”—keep the posture of an upright man, ready for action, expecting further orders, cheerfully and patiently awaiting the directing voice; and it will not be long ere God shall say to you, as distinctly as Moses said it to the people of Israel, “Go forward.”
Evening - July 24
“His camp is very great.” --- Joel 2:11.
Consider, my soul, the mightiness of the Lord who is thy glory and defence. He is a man of war, Jehovah is his name. All the forces of heaven are at his beck, legions wait at his door; cherubim and seraphim, watchers and holy ones, principalities and powers, are all attentive to his will. If our eyes were not blinded by the ophthalmia of the flesh, we should see horses of fire and chariots of fire round about the Lord’s beloved. The powers of nature are all subject to the absolute control of the Creator: stormy wind and tempest, lightning and rain, and snow, and hail, and the soft dews and cheering sunshine, come and go at his decree. The bands of Orion he looseth, and bindeth the sweet influences of the Pleiades. Earth, sea, and air, and the places under the earth, are the barracks for Jehovah’s great armies; space is his camping ground, light is his banner, and flame is his sword. When he goeth forth to war, famine ravages the land, pestilence smites the nations, hurricane sweeps the sea, tornado shakes the mountains, and earthquake makes the solid world to tremble. As for animate creatures, they all own his dominion, and from the great fish which swallowed the prophet, down to “all manner of flies,” which plagued the field of Zoan, all are his servants, and like the palmer-worm, the caterpillar, and the cankerworm, are squadrons of his great army, for his camp is very great. My soul, see to it that thou be at peace with this mighty King, yea, more, be sure to enlist under his banner, for to war against him is madness, and to serve him is glory. Jesus, Immanuel, God with us, is ready to receive recruits for the army of the Lord: if I am not already enlisted let me go to him ere I sleep, and beg to be accepted through his merits; and if I be already, as I hope I am, a soldier of the cross, let me be of good courage; for the enemy is powerless compared with my Lord, whose camp is very great.
Morning and Evening
MY SAVIOR FIRST OF ALL
Fanny J. Crosby, 1820–1915
You have made known to me the path of life; You will fill me with joy in Your presence, with eternal pleasures at Your right hand. (Psalm 16:11)
The strong, triumphant spirit of American hymnwriter Fanny Crosby was an inspiration to everyone who knew her. Even though she was blind from six weeks of age because of improper medical treatment, she never revealed bitterness or depression. At one time a well-intentioned minister remarked to her:
“I think it is a great pity that the Master, when He showered so many gifts upon you, did not give you sight.”
“Do you know,” replied Fanny, “if at birth I had been able to make one petition to my Creator, it would have been that I should be born blind.”
“Why?” asked the surprised clergyman.
“Because when I get to heaven, the first sight that shall ever gladden my eyes will be that of my Savior!”
For Fanny, the anticipation of heaven was the joy of seeing her Lord “face to face.” Although she wrote 8,000 or more Gospel song texts on many different subjects, the themes of heaven and the Lord’s return seem to have been her favorites. In no other hymn does she picture more vividly her hope of seeing the beauty of Christ’s welcome, standing by His side, and witnessing firsthand His scars of redemption. What moving scenes Fanny Crosby has created for us to ponder in these vividly worded lines!
When my lifework is ended and I cross the swelling tide, when the bright and glorious Morning I shall see, I shall know my Redeemer when I reach the other side, and His smile will be the first to welcome me.
O the soul-thrilling rapture when I view His blessed face and the luster of His kindly beaming eye; how my full heart will praise Him for the mercy, love and grace that prepare for me a mansion in the sky.
O the dear ones in glory, how they beckon me to come, and our parting at the river I recall; to the sweet vales of Eden they will sing my welcome home—but I long to meet my Savior first of all.
Thru the gates to the city, in a robe of spotless white, He will lead me where no tears will ever fall; in the glad song of ages I shall mingle with delight—but I long to meet my Savior first of all.
Chorus: I shall know Him, I shall know Him, and redeemed by His side I shall stand; I shall know Him, I shall know Him by the print of the nails in His hand.
For Today: Philippians 3:20, 21; 2 Peter 1:4, 11; Revelation 21:10–21; 22:1–5
Contemplate once more some of the joys of Heaven promised in the Bible. Share your enthusiasm with a Christian who needs this encouragement.
Amazing Grace: 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions
Martin Luther | (1483-1546)
Sect. XCVI. — AND now, how excellently does the Diatribe preserve liberty in harmony with necessity, where it says — “Nor does all necessity exclude “Free-will.” For instance: God the Father begets a son, of necessity; but yet, He begets him willingly and freely, seeing that, He is not forced.” —
Am I here, I pray you, disputing about compulsion and force? Have I not said in all my books again and again, that my dispute, on this subject, is about the necessity of immutability? I know that the Father begets willingly, and that Judas willingly betrayed Christ. But I say, this willing, in the person of Judas, was decreed to take place from immutability and certainty, if God foreknew it. Or, if men do not yet understand what I mean, — I make two necessities: the one a necessity of force, in reference to the act; the other a necessity of immutability in reference to the time. Let him, therefore, who wishes to hear what I have to say, understand, that I here speak of the latter, not of the former: that is, I do not dispute whether Judas became a traitor willingly or unwillingly, but whether or not it was decreed to come to pass, that Judas should will to betray Christ at a certain time infallibly predetermined of God!
But only listen to what the Diatribe says upon this point — “With reference to the immutable prescience of God, Judas was of necessity to become a traitor; nevertheless, Judas had it in his power to change his own will.” —
Dost thou understand, friend Diatribe, what thou sayest? (To say nothing of that which has been already proved, that the will cannot will any thing but evil.) How could Judas change his own will, if the immutable prescience of God stand granted! Could he change the prescience of God and render it fallible!
Here the Diatribe gives it up, and, leaving its standard, and throwing down its arms, runs from its post, and hands over the discussion to the subtleties of the schools concerning the necessity of the consequence and of the thing consequent: pretending — ‘that it does not wish to engage in the discussion of points so nice.’ —
A step of policy truly, friend Diatribe! — When you have brought the subject-point into the midst of the field, and just when the champion-disputant was required, then you shew your back, and leave to others the business of answering and defining. But you should have taken this step at the first, and abstained from writing altogether. ‘He who ne’er proved the training-field of arms, let him ne’er in the battle’s brunt appear.’ For it never was expected of Erasmus that he should remove that difficulty which lies in God’s foreknowing all things, and our, nevertheless, doing all things by contingency: this difficulty existed in the world long before ever the Diatribe saw the light: but yet, it was expected that he should make some kind of answer, and give some kind of definition. Whereas he, by using a rhetorical transition, drags away us, knowing nothing of rhetoric, along with himself, as though we were here contending for a thing of nought, and were engaged in quibbling about insignificant niceties; and thus, nobly betakes himself out of the midst of the field, bearing the crowns both of the scholar and the conqueror.
But not so, brother! There is no rhetoric of sufficient force to cheat an honest conscience. The voice of conscience is proof against all powers and figures of eloquence. I cannot here suffer a rhetorician to pass on under the cloak of dissimulation. This is not a time for such maneuvering. This is that part of the discussion, where matters come to the turning point. Here is the hinge upon which the whole turns. Here, therefore, “Free-will” must be completely vanquished, or completely triumph. But here you, seeing your danger, nay, the certainty of the victory over “Free-will,” pretend that you see nothing but argumentative niceties. Is this to act the part of a faithful theologian? Can you feel a serious interest in your cause, who thus leave your auditors in suspense, and your arguments in a state that confuses and exasperates them, while you, nevertheless, wish to appear to have given honest satisfaction and open explanation? This craft and cunning might, perhaps, be borne with in profane subjects, but in a theological subject, where simple and open truth is the object required, for the salvation of souls, it is utterly hateful and intolerable!
The Bondage of the Will or Christian Classics Ethereal Library
Dr. Elaine Phillips
Lecture 1 Esther
Lecture 2 Esther
Lecture 3 Esther
Lecture 4 Esther
Dr. Fred Putnam