Psalm 103Psalm 103 A Psalm of David.
1 Bless the LORD, O my soul,
and all that is within me,
bless his holy name!
2 Bless the LORD, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits,
3 who forgives all your iniquity,
who heals all your diseases,
4 who redeems your life from the pit,
who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
5 who satisfies you with good
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
6 The LORD works righteousness
and justice for all who are oppressed.
7 He made known his ways to Moses,
his acts to the people of Israel.
8 The LORD is merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
9 He will not always chide,
nor will he keep his anger forever.
10 He does not deal with us according to our sins,
nor repay us according to our iniquities.
11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
12 as far as the east is from the west,
so far does he remove our transgressions from us.
13 As a father shows compassion to his children,
so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him.
14 For he knows our frame;
he remembers that we are dust.
15 As for man, his days are like grass;
he flourishes like a flower of the field;
16 for the wind passes over it, and it is gone,
and its place knows it no more.
17 But the steadfast love of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him,
and his righteousness to children’s children,
18 to those who keep his covenant
and remember to do his commandments.
19 The LORD has established his throne in the heavens,
and his kingdom rules over all.
20 Bless the LORD, O you his angels,
you mighty ones who do his word,
obeying the voice of his word!
21 Bless the LORD, all his hosts,
his ministers, who do his will!
22 Bless the LORD, all his works,
in all places of his dominion.
Bless the LORD, O my soul!
O LORD My God, You Are Very Great
Psalm 104 1 Bless the LORD, O my soul!
O LORD my God, you are very great!
You are clothed with splendor and majesty,
2 covering yourself with light as with a garment,
stretching out the heavens like a tent.
3 He lays the beams of his chambers on the waters;
he makes the clouds his chariot;
he rides on the wings of the wind;
4 he makes his messengers winds,
his ministers a flaming fire.
5 He set the earth on its foundations,
so that it should never be moved.
6 You covered it with the deep as with a garment;
the waters stood above the mountains.
7 At your rebuke they fled;
at the sound of your thunder they took to flight.
8 The mountains rose, the valleys sank down
to the place that you appointed for them.
9 You set a boundary that they may not pass,
so that they might not again cover the earth.
10 You make springs gush forth in the valleys;
they flow between the hills;
11 they give drink to every beast of the field;
the wild donkeys quench their thirst.
12 Beside them the birds of the heavens dwell;
they sing among the branches.
13 From your lofty abode you water the mountains;
the earth is satisfied with the fruit of your work.
14 You cause the grass to grow for the livestock
and plants for man to cultivate,
that he may bring forth food from the earth
15 and wine to gladden the heart of man,
oil to make his face shine
and bread to strengthen man’s heart.
16 The trees of the LORD are watered abundantly,
the cedars of Lebanon that he planted.
17 In them the birds build their nests;
the stork has her home in the fir trees.
18 The high mountains are for the wild goats;
the rocks are a refuge for the rock badgers.
19 He made the moon to mark the seasons;
the sun knows its time for setting.
20 You make darkness, and it is night,
when all the beasts of the forest creep about.
21 The young lions roar for their prey,
seeking their food from God.
22 When the sun rises, they steal away
and lie down in their dens.
23 Man goes out to his work
and to his labor until the evening.
24 O LORD, how manifold are your works!
In wisdom have you made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures.
25 Here is the sea, great and wide,
which teems with creatures innumerable,
living things both small and great.
26 There go the ships,
and Leviathan, which you formed to play in it.
27 These all look to you,
to give them their food in due season.
28 When you give it to them, they gather it up;
when you open your hand, they are filled with good things.
29 When you hide your face, they are dismayed;
when you take away their breath, they die
2. Because every creature depends purely upon the will of God. They depend not upon themselves, but upon another for their being. As they received their being from the word of his mouth and the arm of his power, so by the same word they can be cancelled into nothing, and return into as little significancy as when they were nothing. He that created them by a word, can by a word destroy them: if God should “take away their breath, they die, and return mto their dust” (Psalm 104:29). As it was in the power of the Creator that things might be, before they actually were, so it is in the power of the Creator that things after they are may cease to be what they are; and they are, in their own nature, as reducible to nothing as they were producible by the power of God from nothing; for there needs no more than an act of God's will to null them, as there needed only an act of God’s will to make them. Creatures are all subject to a higher cause: they are all reputed as nothing. “He doth according to his will in the armies of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth, and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What dost thou?” (Dan. 4:35.) But God is unchangeable, because he is the highest good; none above him, all below him; all dependent on him; himself upon none. The Existence and Attributes of God
and return to their dust.
30 When you send forth your Spirit, they are created,
and you renew the face of the ground.
31 May the glory of the LORD endure forever;
may the LORD rejoice in his works,
32 who looks on the earth and it trembles,
who touches the mountains and they smoke!
33 I will sing to the LORD as long as I live;
I will sing praise to my God while I have being.
34 May my meditation be pleasing to him,
for I rejoice in the LORD.
35 Let sinners be consumed from the earth,
and let the wicked be no more!
Bless the LORD, O my soul!
Praise the LORD!
Tell of All His Wondrous WorksPsalm 105
1 Oh give thanks to the LORD; call upon his name;
make known his deeds among the peoples!
2 Sing to him, sing praises to him;
tell of all his wondrous works!
3 Glory in his holy name;
let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice!
4 Seek the LORD and his strength;
seek his presence continually!
5 Remember the wondrous works that he has done,
his miracles, and the judgments he uttered,
6 O offspring of Abraham, his servant,
children of Jacob, his chosen ones!
7 He is the LORD our God;
his judgments are in all the earth.
8 He remembers his covenant forever,
the word that he commanded, for a thousand generations,
9 the covenant that he made with Abraham,
his sworn promise to Isaac,
10 which he confirmed to Jacob as a statute,
to Israel as an everlasting covenant,
11 saying, “To you I will give the land of Canaan
as your portion for an inheritance.”
12 When they were few in number,
of little account, and sojourners in it,
13 wandering from nation to nation,
from one kingdom to another people,
14 he allowed no one to oppress them;
he rebuked kings on their account,
15 saying, “Touch not my anointed ones,
do my prophets no harm!”
16 When he summoned a famine on the land
and broke all supply of bread,
17 he had sent a man ahead of them,
Joseph, who was sold as a slave.
18 His feet were hurt with fetters;
his neck was put in a collar of iron;
19 until what he had said came to pass,
the word of the LORD tested him.
20 The king sent and released him;
the ruler of the peoples set him free;
21 he made him lord of his house
and ruler of all his possessions,
22 to bind his princes at his pleasure
and to teach his elders wisdom.
23 Then Israel came to Egypt;
Jacob sojourned in the land of Ham.
24 And the LORD made his people very fruitful
and made them stronger than their foes.
25 He turned their hearts to hate his people,
to deal craftily with his servants.
26 He sent Moses, his servant,
and Aaron, whom he had chosen.
27 They performed his signs among them
and miracles in the land of Ham.
28 He sent darkness, and made the land dark;
they did not rebel against his words.
29 He turned their waters into blood
and caused their fish to die.
30 Their land swarmed with frogs,
even in the chambers of their kings.
31 He spoke, and there came swarms of flies,
and gnats throughout their country.
32 He gave them hail for rain,
and fiery lightning bolts through their land.
33 He struck down their vines and fig trees,
and shattered the trees of their country.
34 He spoke, and the locusts came,
young locusts without number,
35 which devoured all the vegetation in their land
and ate up the fruit of their ground.
36 He struck down all the firstborn in their land,
the firstfruits of all their strength.
37 Then he brought out Israel with silver and gold,
and there was none among his tribes who stumbled.
38 Egypt was glad when they departed,
for dread of them had fallen upon it.
39 He spread a cloud for a covering,
and fire to give light by night.
40 They asked, and he brought quail,
and gave them bread from heaven in abundance.
41 He opened the rock, and water gushed out;
it flowed through the desert like a river.
42 For he remembered his holy promise,
and Abraham, his servant.
43 So he brought his people out with joy,
his chosen ones with singing.
44 And he gave them the lands of the nations,
and they took possession of the fruit of the peoples’ toil,
45 that they might keep his statutes
and observe his laws.
Praise the LORD!
What I'm Reading
Last Things First
By R.C. Sproul Jr. 12/1/2009
Last things last, that’s what I used to say. It seemed to me that there were plenty of difficult theological issues for us to wade through without having to worry about the end times. We all agree, after all, that in the end our side wins. Whether Jesus comes to find His world a horrible cesspool that needs to be cleaned up, or to find a glorious reflection of His successful bride, or somewhere in the middle, He does come back and make all things right. I was indifferent about how He would return.
But two things kept nagging at me. The Bible talks about the return of Christ. It talks about the full consummation of history. And one thing I didn’t want to happen when Jesus comes back was this — to have Him be displeased with me because I tossed aside a portion of His Word cavalierly, indeed, if I tossed a part aside at all.
The second problem was this, a fundamental principle of progress. One cannot know which way to go unless one knows where one is supposed to go. If you’re going nowhere, any direction will do. But if you want to get somewhere, you have to know where.
A good friend once explained that years ago he had joined an association of local evangelical pastors that had as its goal educating their congregations about various political candidates. He explained that in the providence of God, this little group of pastors came to be rather influential in local politics. Candidates would actually seek them out to curry their favor. As a result, the elections began to swing strongly in favor of more conservative candidates. Everything was going well. And that, according to the organization’s founder, was a problem. He announced that he was shutting the organization down immediately, as an act of repentance. What was he repenting of? Seeking to delay the return of Jesus. To labor for justice was, in the mind of this pastor, to go in the wrong direction. His understanding of the end times taught him that the quicker things got worse, the sooner Jesus would return.
What are we to be doing? How are we to prepare for the return of Jesus? Is our calling to sit and wait, to drag as many lost souls as we can onto the lifeboat? Are we supposed to merely occupy until He returns, or are we called to be more than conquerors? Or should we be like I was, utterly indifferent?
Paul writes to Titus that believers are to be “waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works” (2:13–14). That’s not nothing. That’s not indifference. We are called here to look for the blessed hope, to be not only at peace but looking joyfully forward in the midst of our own cultural collapse, knowing He will return. Yet we are also to purify ourselves, to be a people zealous for good works.
(Tt 2:11–14) 11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. ESV
As we look with hope, our first task, it would seem, is to tend our own garden. We should be spending more time preparing for the return of the Groom than peeking down the hallway to see if He is coming. We know that when He appears we will be dressed in His righteousness. But this doesn’t mean we don’t labor to purify ourselves. Even as we face frustration in our sanctification, we still have peace because He is the one working in us, not just as individuals, but as a people. He is purifying for Himself a people. And our common purity is shown forth in zeal for good works. In this context we go forth as conquerors. We tend our own garden, then our common plot with the body, the church, and then go out into the jungle — the world — doing good deeds.
It’s all about Jesus. Our understanding of the last things is dependent upon our understanding of the firstborn of the new creation. As we understand that this Jesus who went up in the shekinah glory cloud, and will return again in it, went to heaven not to wait, but to rule, we will labor here as His faithful servants, as His mighty warriors. When we understand that He is the only once and future king, we will serve Him not by straining our eyes toward Avalon, not looking for a sign but by putting our back into our labor. When we understand that He will wipe away every tear, our tears would begin to dry themselves (if we only would believe it). If we would but believe that He has already overcome the world, we would be of good cheer now.
We need not invest all our energy trying to chart the day and the hour. We need not live as if this were our last day, eschewing the godly investments in a sure tomorrow — like marriage and the bearing of covenant children. Such is a sure sign of a faithless steward. Instead, we need to seek the kingdom of God and His righteousness. That is first, and that is last — because it begins in Christ, the firstfruits of the new creation, the true Alpha male, and ends in Christ, to whom and for whom and through whom are all things, the true Omega man.
R.C. Sproul Jr. has served previously as a pastor, professor, and teacher. He is author of numerous books. Some are listed below.
R.C. Sproul Jr. Books | Go to Books Page
Moving Toward the Goal of History
By R.C. Sproul 12/1/2009
“What goes around, comes around.” This American idiom suggests a view of history that has more in common with ancient Greek philosophy than with the Judeo-Christian understanding of history. The grand difference between the ancient view of history and that found in Scripture is the difference between what is called “cyclical” and “linear-progressive.” A cyclical view indicates that there was no beginning to the universe and no goal for it; rather, history creates itself and eventually repeats itself—forever. It was this ancient perspective that generated the skepticism that inspired Friedrich Nietzsche’s view of “Nietzsche's Philosophy of the Eternal Recurrence of the Same.”
Over against this view stands the biblical view of linear-progressive history. This understanding does not say that history moves in a steady incline, moving toward some evolutionary climax; rather, it indicates a movement of history that looks more like a corporate chart displaying troughs and peaks while in the long term moving in an upward direction. The most important part of this linear-progressive view of history is that, as the Bible says, the world had a beginning, and that at the beginning an action began, a movement guided by divine providence to an ultimate telos—a culmination of purpose, aim, or goal. This purpose or telos of history is both personal and cosmic. Every individual moves from birth to death, from a beginning to an end that continues beyond the grave into the ages. In like manner, the world itself looks forward to a future that has been ordained by its Creator.
The term eschatology in our theological vocabulary refers to the study of the eschaton, or the end times. It is a mistake to think of the end times as being something that remains exclusively in the future. The New Testament makes it clear that the end times have already begun. The coming of Christ in His first advent, in which He inaugurated His kingdom, displays that the goal of creation is not totally future but has a present reality initiated by the coming of Jesus and emphasized by His resurrection from the dead and by His ascension to the right hand of God where He reigns now as King of kings and Lord of lords.
It is also important for us to understand that in terms of biblical eschatology, the end of the world does not indicate an annihilation of the world but a renovation and redemption of it. The New Testament makes it evident that the final renovation of creation is cosmic in scope, that the whole universe groans together in travail waiting for the redemption of the sons of men (Rom 8:18–23). Questions of our future, personal and cosmic, are all subject to the inquiries associated with eschatology. The question of life after death—the issues of heaven, hell, and resurrection—are all integral to our study of eschatology. An understanding of the last judgment also falls under the scope of this consideration.
As people who live in the present, who have a past that we are aware of and a future that is not altogether clearly known, we nevertheless have the future promises set forth by God in His Word as an anchor for our souls. The Bible speaks of our confidence in the future in terms of the idea of “hope.” In biblical categories, hope does not indicate an unfulfilled wish that we have a desire to see come to pass. Instead, our hope is that which rests upon a certain conclusion in the future that God has promised for His people. Here hope is described by the metaphor of the anchor—the anchor of the soul (Heb. 6:13–20). An anchor is not something that is tenuous or ephemeral. It has weight, it has solidity, and it is that which gives security to a ship that is moored in open water. In like manner, we live our lives in the midst of the waves that crash against us, but we are not tossed to and fro with no anchor. Our anchor is the promise of God for the future that He has laid up for His people.
It is easy to become so preoccupied with the future that we forget the past and almost ignore the marvelous reality that God has already accomplished for His people in history. History is the domain of Christ’s incarnation, atonement, resurrection, and ascension, and we can’t understand our hope for the future without understanding those things that God has already brought to pass in His plan of redemption. At the same time, we must not be so occupied with the past and with the present that we forget the hope that God has set before us in the future. So, how we live today is in large measure determined by how we understand the past as well as how we understand the future. It is because God is a God of history, a God of purpose, a God of telos that the present has eternal significance. It’s because God is the Lord of history that right now counts forever.
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
Our Blessed Struggle
By Guy Richard 12/1/2009
I find it interesting that, of all the names God could have chosen for His people, He chose “Israel.” And while different opinions exist as to what the name Israel actually means, it seems that the context in which the name is given in Genesis 32 favors the meaning “he struggles with God” over every other option (see verses 22–32 and Hos. 12:3–4). It would seem that God, in His infinite wisdom, chose to call His people & ”strugglers.”
As we consider what it means for us as Christians to live between the times, let us begin by remembering that, as the true Israel of God (Rom. 2:28–29; 4:11–12; Gal. 6:12–16), Christians are heirs to the name that was originally given to Jacob; we are “strugglers.” And isn’t that what it really means to live between the times? Is there any better description than this of what the Christian life looks like in light of the already/not yet? As Christians we are called, like Jacob, to be strugglers — to wrestle with God and with man and to overcome (Hos. 12:2–6).
(Ro 2:28–29) 28 For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. 29 But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God. ESV
(Ro 4:11–12) 11 He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well, 12 and to make him the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised. ESV
(Ga 6:12–16) 12 It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh who would force you to be circumcised, and only in order that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. 13 For even those who are circumcised do not themselves keep the law, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may boast in your flesh. 14 But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 15 For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. 16 And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.
(Ho 12:2–6) 2 The LORD has an indictment against Judah
and will punish Jacob according to his ways;
he will repay him according to his deeds.
3 In the womb he took his brother by the heel,
and in his manhood he strove with God.
4 He strove with the angel and prevailed;
he wept and sought his favor.
He met God at Bethel,
and there God spoke with us—
5 the LORD, the God of hosts,
the LORD is his memorial name:
6 “So you, by the help of your God, return,
hold fast to love and justice,
and wait continually for your God.” ESV
But what does it mean to struggle with God? It means, in the first place, that we struggle with the providence of God. The tension between the already and the not yet indicates that Christians live in a sinful world, a world that is affected by sin and inhabited by sinners. Illness, disease, famine, and natural disasters are all consequences of living in a world that is itself affected by sin and is “not yet” made new. Lawlessness, violence, terrorism, and war are consequences of living in a world inhabited by sinners who have also “not yet” been made new or who may never be.
Christians living between the times must struggle with these kinds of consequences in the providence of God. Our struggle, however, is never to be against Him. No matter how dark His providence may be, we are never to fight against God or to shake our fist at Him. But there are many times in the Christian life when we may not understand what God is doing. There are many times when we may question why “bad things” are happening to us. What is the Christian to do, for instance, when the marriage breaks down? When the child runs away, turns her back on the family, or dies an unexpected death? What is the Christian to do when the doctors say it is cancer? When an accident takes away all “quality of life” in an instant? When, as has been true in my own experience, the nation’s worst natural disaster destroys one’s home, business, church, and community? What is the Christian to do at times like this? Quite simply, he or she is to struggle with God.
Isn’t that what Job did? Through all the dark providences of his life, Job struggled, and, like Jacob, he did not let go. He wrestled, and he prevailed — despite the opposition he received from those closest to him.
The same is true for us. No matter how dark our pathways may get, no matter how black the clouds over our heads may be, we, like Job, are to strive with all our might and hold on until the day breaks — and it will eventually break. We are to say with Jacob: “I will not let you go until you bless me.”
That is what struggling with the providence of God looks like. It is not to be a joyless endurance. It is not a senseless pain that is only to be tolerated until it can be eliminated altogether. It is trusting God in the midst of hardship and resting content in what He has sent our way, knowing that He really does intend all things for our good and for His glory. It is struggling well.
In the second place, struggling with God means that we are to struggle alongside God. The tension between the already and the not yet indicates that Christians are sinners. Although we are not what we used to be, we are clearly not yet what we will be. We have been made new in Christ, but we are not yet perfected. This means that the Christian life will necessarily be one in which the believer struggles with the sin that still remains within him (à la Rom. 7:15–25). The Christian must strive to put sin to death and to pursue holiness and righteousness. But he or she does this by the power of the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:12–14; Phil. 2:12–13). We are to strive, Paul says, because God is striving within us. We are to struggle together with God against our sin and against the evil one. And in this too we are not to let up. We are to hold on until the day breaks and the shadows flee away. We, like Jacob, are to struggle all night long and prevail.
As Christians living between the times, we should expect to struggle. We should expect to struggle with frowning providences, and we should expect to struggle against sin and against the Evil One. The presence of a struggle should not concern us so much as the absence of one. Living between the times means that we will struggle. But we must learn to struggle well. We must not let go until He blesses us!
Dr. Guy M. Richard is executive director and assistant professor of systematic theology and Reformed Theological Seminary in Atlanta, minister of First Presbyterian Church in Gulfport, Mississippi, where he has served since Hurricane Katrina in 2005. He holds the Ph.D. from the University of Edinburgh (New College) in Edinburgh, Scotland, and has an overriding passion for Christ, his wife and family, running and swimming, and Auburn football (War Eagle!).
Guy Richard Books:
By Gene Edward Veith 12/1/2009
The Bible teaches that the universe had a beginning and that it will have an end. Christians believe this, though controversies about eschatology (the end times) have long roiled in Christian circles. It illustrates how profoundly the Bible has influenced Western civilization that secularists too have their eschatologies.
The natural view of time is cyclical. The Bible also recognizes — and organizes — the cyclical nature of time. But in addition to affirming the sense in which time can involve recurring cycles, the Bible also teaches that time is linear. It has a beginning and an end. Not only that, time has a direction. It goes somewhere.
This linear dimension of time seems to have been unique to the Hebrews in the ancient world. Even the Greeks, for all of their sophistication, knew only of a cyclical view of time. They had no concept of a creation from nothing for a specific purpose; rather, they posited a universe that was continually created and destroyed and created again.
In the West, the secularism that began with the Enlightenment tried to set aside Christian dogmas. But, ironically, the new thinking retained the dogma that time is linear. This manifested itself in God-free eschatologies that were unintentionally shaped by a biblical view of time.
The new worldviews rejected the coming paradisiacal kingdom of God, but they substituted a coming paradisiacal kingdom of man. The past was a time of darkness; in the modern world the light has dawned. In this age of progress, things are getting better and better until eventually we will build a utopian paradise.
Not that we will arrive there without a tribulation. The French Revolution taught that the Reign of Terror was necessary to destroy the old order, whereupon the people’s paradise would emerge. Darwinism, which put a scientific veneer to the myth of progress, taught that we have evolved and will continue to evolve to a higher state, but not without a struggle in which the unfit will die out and only the fittest will survive. Marxism was outright dispensational, dividing history into different socio-economic eras that will end, after a bloody revolution, in a “workers’ paradise.”
Other utopians thought that the earthly paradise could be achieved peacefully. One group of early Marxists founded the movement known as Social Democracy — which today is very influential politically in Europe and, more recently, in the United States — an ideology that believes Marx’s “workers’ paradise” can be achieved through the ballot box and gradual social change.
Just as Christians see not only the sweep of history but their own lives as linear, their conversion culminating after death in eternal life, some secularists follow suit, only without God. Nietzsche believed in the “doctrine of eternal recurrence,” that since time is infinite every random combination — including those that constituted his own mind and body — would happen again, so that some time after he dies, he will exist again. (Mathematicians have shown that things don’t work that way.) More recently, the “posthumanists” say that eventually the body will become obsolete and we will all be able to download our minds into the Internet, whereupon we will all be one and we will have no problems. (I hope some tech people will be left behind for when the system crashes.)
Nineteenth-Century materialists ascribed God-like properties, such as eternity, to the universe. But more recent scientists have discovered evidence that the universe did, in fact, have a beginning, labeled the “Big Bang.” Some theorists think that it will all end when gravity causes the expanding universe to contract again until it all crashes together in a “Big Crunch.” But that will create another super black hole that will explode in another Big Bang, creating a brand new universe — and, in effect, returning us to the cyclical notion of time. Most scientists today, though, seem to hold to linear time and the view that the universe will keep expanding forever, though at some point it will become too cold to sustain any kind of life. This view of the end times is called the “Big Freeze.”
Long before the Big Crunch or the Big Freeze, though, according to most cosmologists, human life on earth will have ceased. The sun will first expand into a red giant, incinerating the earth, and then the sun will just go out. Human beings will be extinct. Unless, of course, as some are saying, we evolve to such a level that we can leave earth behind and inhabit the rest of the universe. Or, to take the posthumanists a step further into a new religious realm, if we evolve into pure spirits.
But the world’s time not only has a beginning and an end, it has a middle: a turning point, a climax. That would be the incarnation of God into His creation and into time, a historical moment during which Christ died to atone for sin and rose again.
This is reflected in the practice — begun in the West but now used around the world — of numbering each year from the time of Christ. All of history is either “BC” (before Christ) or “AD” (anno Domini, the year of the Lord). Secularists have changed these notations to “BCE” (before the common era) and “CE” (common era). But it’s the same difference, Christ still being the reference point. The secularists cannot get away from the Bible, no matter how hard they try.
Dr. Gene Edward Veith is provost emeritus and professor of literature emeritus at Patrick Henry College and director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Ind.
Gene Edward Veith Books | Go to Books Page
By Keith Mathison 12/1/2009
In the early centuries of the church’s existence, Christian apologists would sometimes appeal to the distinctively holy lives of Christians as evidence for the truth of Christianity. Would such an appeal be of any use today? According to numerous surveys, the behavior of professing Christians is not discernibly different from the behavior of those who profess other religions or no religion at all. The phrase one often hears on the lips of pagans who observe contemporary Christian behavior is: “The church is full of hypocrites.” This should not be. We worship a holy God who calls His people to be holy and who has provided the means by which they may be holy.
The problem of lax and hypocritical Christianity is not a new one, and one of the best treatments of the entire subject is a classic written by J.C. Ryle (1816–1900), who served as the Anglican Bishop of Liverpool for twenty years. Ryle was a deeply committed and non-compromising evangelical Christian. In fact, Charles Spurgeon referred to him as an “evangelical champion.” His book Holiness has been reprinted numerous times since its original publication in 1879. It is deservedly considered a Christian classic on the subject of sanctification. It ranks up there with the work of John Owen on the mortification of sin.
I first read Bishop Ryle’s Holiness some twenty years ago. The book was deeply convicting and made a lasting impact on my thinking. Ryle’s work is convicting because he does not appeal to silly gimmicks and other manmade answers to the problem of sin. He appeals over and over to Scripture, to the Word of the living God, and he drives the Word of God home through careful and direct application. If you are complacent in your sin and do not want to be disturbed in your enjoyment of it, do not read Ryle. This is a book about the necessity of sanctification, the necessity of holiness. It deals with weighty subjects, the weightiest in fact: God, sin, Jesus Christ, the gospel, the Holy Spirit, justification, sanctification, heaven, and hell. It is a book for those who want to move beyond milk and get to the meat of the Word.
Frankly, some older Christian books are difficult to read because of the style of writing that was common in previous ages. To contemporary readers, many of these works seem dry and wordy, tedious and dull. I have run across many such books myself. Ryle does not fall into that category. Ryle’s writing is more comparable to that of someone like Charles Spurgeon. He writes with such an intensity and passion that the reader cannot easily become bored.
The book itself contains twenty chapters dealing with various issues related to holiness and one chapter containing quotations on the subject by older Christian writers. In the main section of the book, Ryle devotes entire chapters to subjects such as sin, sanctification, the nature of Christianity as a fight, counting the cost, growth in grace, assurance, the church, and love of Christ. The introductory chapter on sin is perhaps the most important chapter in the entire book because wrong views of salvation and of holiness are inevitably based on wrong views of sin. As Ryle explains, “If a man does not realize the dangerous nature of his soul’s disease, you cannot wonder if he is content with false or imperfect remedies.”
One of the most prevalent errors made when discussing holiness is to slide into the view that we are somehow justified before God by our holiness. Ryle is careful to observe throughout this book the distinction between sanctification and justification. Justification is by faith alone in Christ alone. But those who have been justified bear the fruit of the Spirit and grow in holiness. In other words, they are sanctified by God. They are now to love Christ and the things He loves. This is very easy to forget in our day and age when walking an aisle is equated with conversion and walking in the light is considered optional.
Whether you have been a Christian for ten months or ten years, I encourage you to read Ryle’s Holiness. His words will exhort you, convict you, encourage you, and challenge you. His chapters will drive you to dig into the Scriptures, and there you will see that holiness is not optional for the Christian. We are to strive for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord (Heb. 12:14). We are to walk by the Spirit and not gratify the desires of the flesh (Gal. 5:16). We are to love the Lord because He first loved us (1 John 4:19) and love our neighbor as ourselves (Matt. 22:39). By the way, we will start reading this book on http://lean-into-god.com/ as soon as we finish The Bondage Of The Will by Martin Luther. Holiness will be where Bondage Of The Will is right now.
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
By Don Carson 7/3/2018
Three elements are striking in Joshua 5.
(1) Circumcision is now carried out on all the males that were born during the years of wilderness wandering. At one level, this is rather surprising: How come they weren’t done as the boys were born? In many instances the multitude stayed in one place for long periods of time, doubtless developing community life. What prevented them from obeying this unambiguous covenantal stipulation?
There have been many guesses, but the short answer is that we do not know. More important, in this context, is the fact that the rite is carried out now universally. It thereby stands as a decisive turning point, a symbol-laden community-wide affirmation of the covenant as the people stand on the verge of entering the Promised Land. Egypt is now behind; the promised rest awaits. “Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you” (Josh. 5:9).
(2) The manna stops (Josh. 5:10-12). From now on the people will draw their nourishment from “the produce of Canaan.” This, too, was a dramatic signal that the days of wandering were over, and the fulfillment of the promise for a new land was beginning to unfold before their eyes. The change must have been both frightening and exciting, especially to an entire generation that had never known life without the security of manna.
(3) In the opening chapters of this book, Joshua experiences a number of things that mark him out, both in his own mind and in the mind of the people, as the legitimate successor to Moses. This chapter ends with one such marker. Doubtless the most dramatic one before this chapter has been the crossing of the Jordan River — a kind of miraculous reenactment of the crossing of the Red Sea (Josh. 3-4). Quite apart from providing an efficient way to move the multitudes across the river, the personal dimension is made explicit: “That day the LORD exalted Joshua in the sight of all Israel; and they revered him all the days of his life, just as they had revered Moses” (Josh. 4:14 — though the last clause must be judged just a little tongue in cheek).
But now, there is another step: Joshua encounters a “man” who appears to be some sort of angelic apparition. He is a warrior, a “commander of the army of the LORD” (Josh. 5:14). On the one hand, this serves to strengthen Joshua’s faith that the Lord himself is going before him in the military contests that lie ahead. But more: the scene is in some respects reminiscent of Moses at the burning bush (Ex. 3:5): “The place where you are standing is holy ground.” However unique these circumstances, we too must have leaders accustomed to standing in the presence of holiness.
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 71Forsake Me Not When My Strength Is Spent
71 In you, O LORD, do I take refuge;
1 In you, O LORD, do I take refuge;
let me never be put to shame!
2 In your righteousness deliver me and rescue me;
incline your ear to me, and save me!
3 Be to me a rock of refuge,
to which I may continually come;
you have given the command to save me,
for you are my rock and my fortress.
4 Rescue me, O my God, from the hand of the wicked,
from the grasp of the unjust and cruel man.
5 For you, O Lord, are my hope,
my trust, O LORD, from my youth.
6 Upon you I have leaned from before my birth;
you are he who took me from my mother’s womb.
My praise is continually of you.
The Institutes of the Christian Religion
Translated by Henry Beveridge
PÆDOBAPTISM. ITS ACCORDANCE WITH THE INSTITUTION OF CHRIST, AND THE NATURE OF THE SIGN.
Divisions of this chapter,--I. Confirmation of the orthodox doctrine of Pædobaptism, sec. 1-9. II. Refutation of the arguments which the Anabaptists urge against Pædobaptism, sec. 10-30. III. Special objections of Servetus refuted, sec. 31, 32.
1. Pædobaptism. The consideration of the question necessary and useful. Pædobaptism of divine origin.
2. This demonstrated from a consideration of the promises. These explain the nature and validity of Pædobaptism.
3. Promises annexed to the symbol of water cannot be better seen than in the institution of circumcision.
4. The promise and thing figured in circumcision and baptism one and the same. The only difference in the external ceremony.
5. Hence the baptism of the children of Christian parents as competent as the circumcision of Jewish children. An objection founded on a stated day for circumcision refuted.
6. An argument for Pædobaptism founded on the covenant which God made with Abraham. An objection disposed of. The grace of God not diminished by the advent of Christ.
7. Argument founded on Christ's invitation to children. Objection answered.
8. Objection, that no infants were baptised by the apostles. Answer. Objection, that pædobaptism is a novelty. Answer.
9. Twofold use and benefit of pædobaptism. In respect, 1. Of parents. 2. Of children baptised.
10 Second part of the chapter, stating the arguments of Anabaptists. Alleged dissimilitude between baptism and circumcision. First answer.
11. Second answer. The covenant in baptism and circumcision not different.
12. Third answer.
13. Infants, both Jewish and Christian, comprehended in the covenant.
14. Objection considered.
15. The Jews being comprehended in the covenant, no substantial difference between baptism and circumcision.
16. Another argument of the Anabaptists considered.
17. Argument that children are not fit to understand baptism, and therefore should not be baptised.
18. Answer continued.
19. Answer continued.
20. Answer continued.
21. Answer continued.
22. Argument, that baptism being appointed for the remission of sins, infants, not having sinned, ought not to be baptised. Answer.
23. Argument against pædobaptism, founded on the practice of the apostles. Answer.
24. Answer continued.
25. Argument founded on a saying of our Lord to Nicodemus. Answer.
26. Error of those who adjudge all who die unbaptised to eternal destruction.
27. Argument against pædobaptism, founded on the precept and example of our Saviour, in requiring instruction to precede baptism. Answer.
28. Answer continued.
29. Answer continued.
30. Argument, that there is no stronger reason for giving baptism to children than for giving them the Lord's Supper. Answer.
31. Last part of the chapter, refuting the arguments of Servetus.
32. Why Satan so violently assails pædobaptism.
1. But since, in this age, certain frenzied spirits have raised, and even now continue to raise, great disturbance in the Church on account of pædobaptism, I cannot avoid here, by way of appendix, adding something to restrain their fury. Should any one think me more prolix than the subject is worth, let him reflect that, in a matter of the greatest moment, so much is due to the peace and purity of the Church, that we should not fastidiously object to whatever may be conducive to both. I may add, that I will study so to arrange this discussion, that it will tend, in no small degree, still farther to illustrate the subject of baptism.  The argument by which pædobaptism is assailed is, no doubt, specious--viz. that it is not founded on the institution of God, but was introduced merely by human presumption and depraved curiosity, and afterwards, by a foolish facility, rashly received in practice; whereas a sacrament has not a thread to hang upon, if it rest not on the sure foundation of the word of God. But what if, when the matter is properly attended to, it should be found that a calumny is falsely and unjustly brought against the holy ordinance of the Lord? First, then, let us inquire into its origin. Should it appear to have been devised merely by human rashness, let us abandon it, and regulate the true observance of baptism entirely by the will of the Lord; but should it be proved to be by no means destitute of his sure authority, let us beware of discarding the sacred institutions of God, and thereby insulting their Author.
2. In the first place, then, it is a well-known doctrine, and one as to which all the pious are agreed,--that the right consideration of signs does not lie merely in the outward ceremonies, but depends chiefly on the promise and the spiritual mysteries, to typify which the ceremonies themselves are appointed. He, therefore, who would thoroughly understand the effect of baptism--its object and true character--must not stop short at the element and corporeal object. but look forward to the divine promises which are therein offered to us, and rise to the internal secrets which are therein represented. He who understands these has reached the solid truth, and, so to speak, the whole substance of baptism, and will thence perceive the nature and use of outward sprinkling. On the other hand, he who passes them by in contempt, and keeps his thoughts entirely fixed on the visible ceremony, will neither understand the force, nor the proper nature of baptism, nor comprehend what is meant, or what end is gained by the use of water. This is confirmed by passages of Scripture too numerous and too clear to make it necessary here to discuss them more at length. It remains, therefore, to inquire into the nature and efficacy of baptism, as evinced by the promises therein given. Scripture shows, first, that it points to that cleansing from sin which we obtain by the blood of Christ; and, secondly, to the mortification of the flesh which consists in participation in his death, by which believers are regenerated to newness of life, and thereby to the fellowship of Christ. To these general heads may be referred all that the Scriptures teach concerning baptism, with this addition, that it is also a symbol to testify our religion to men.
3. Now, since prior to the institution of baptism, the people of God had circumcision in its stead, let us see how far these two signs differ, and how far they resemble each other. In this way it will appear what analogy there is between them. When the Lord enjoins Abraham to observe circumcision (Gen. 17:10), he premises that he would be a God unto him and to his seed, adding, that in himself was a perfect sufficiency of all things, and that Abraham might reckon on his hand as a fountain of every blessing. These words include the promise of eternal life, as our Saviour interprets when he employs it to prove the immortality and resurrection of believers: "God," says he, "is not the God of the dead, but of the living" (Mt. 22:32). Hence, too, Paul, when showing to the Ephesians how great the destruction was from which the Lord had delivered them, seeing that they had not been admitted to the covenant of circumcision, infers that at that time they were aliens from the covenant of promise, without God, and without hope (Eph. 2:12), all these being comprehended in the covenant. Now, the first access to God, the first entrance to immortal life, is the remission of sins. Hence it follows, that this corresponds to the promise of our cleansing in baptism. The Lord afterwards covenants with Abraham, that he is to walk before him in sincerity and innocence of heart: this applies to mortification or regeneration. And lest any should doubt whether circumcision were the sign of mortification, Moses explains more clearly elsewhere when he exhorts the people of Israel to circumcise the foreskin of their heart, because the Lord had chosen them for his own people, out of all the nations of the earth. As the Lord, in choosing the posterity of Abraham for his people, commands them to be circumcised, so Moses declares that they are to be circumcised in heart, thus explaining what is typified by that carnal circumcision. Then, lest any one should attempt this in his own strength, he shows that it is the work of divine grace. All this is so often inculcated by the prophets, that there is no occasion here to collect the passages which everywhere occur. We have, therefore, a spiritual promise given to the fathers in circumcision, similar to that which is given to us in baptism, since it figured to them both the forgiveness of sins and the mortification of the flesh. Besides, as we have shown that Christ, in whom both of these reside, is the foundation of baptism, so must he also be the foundation of circumcision. For he is promised to Abraham, and in him all nations are blessed. To seal this grace, the sign of circumcision is added.
4. There is now no difficulty in seeing wherein the two signs agree, and wherein they differ. The promise, in which we have shown that the power of the signs consists, is one in both--viz. the promise of the paternal favour of God, of forgiveness of sins, and eternal life. And the thing figured is one and the same--viz. regeneration. The foundation on which the completion of these things depends is one in both. Wherefore, there is no difference in the internal meaning, from which the whole power and peculiar nature of the sacrament is to be estimated. The only difference which remains is in the external ceremony, which is the least part of it, the chief part consisting in the promise and the thing signified. Hence we may conclude, that everything applicable to circumcision applies also to baptism, excepting always the difference in the visible ceremony. To this analogy and comparison we are led by that rule of the apostle, in which he enjoins us to bring every interpretation of Scripture to the analogy of faith  (Rom. 12:3, 6). And certainly in this matter the truth may almost be felt. For just as circumcision, which was a kind of badge to the Jews, assuring them that they were adopted as the people and family of God, was their first entrance into the Church, while they, in their turn, professed their allegiance to God, so now we are initiated by baptism, so as to be enrolled among his people, and at the same time swear unto his name. Hence it is incontrovertible, that baptism has been substituted for circumcision, and performs the same office.
5. Now, if we are to investigate whether or not baptism is justly given to infants, will we not say that the man trifles, or rather is delirious, who would stop short at the element of water, and the external observance, and not allow his mind to rise to the spiritual mystery? If reason is listened to, it will undoubtedly appear that baptism is properly administered to infants as a thing due to them. The Lord did not anciently bestow circumcision upon them without making them partakers of all the things signified by circumcision. He would have deluded his people with mere imposture, had he quieted them with fallacious symbols: the very idea is shocking. He distinctly declares, that the circumcision of the infant will be instead of a seal of the promise of the covenant. But if the covenant remains firm and fixed, it is no less applicable to the children of Christians in the present day, than to the children of the Jews under the Old Testament. Now, if they are partakers of the thing signified, how can they be denied the sign? If they obtain the reality, how can they be refused the figure? The external sign is so united in the sacrament with the word, that it cannot be separated from it: but if they can be separated, to which of the two shall we attach the greater value? Surely, when we see that the sign is subservient to the word, we shall say that it is subordinate, and assign it the inferior place. Since, then, the word of baptism is destined for infants, why should we deny them the sign, which is an appendage of the word? This one reason, could no other be furnished, would be amply sufficient to refute all gainsayers. The objection, that there was a fixed day for circumcision, is a mere quibble. We admit that we are not now, like the Jews, tied down to certain days; but when the Lord declares, that though he prescribes no day, yet he is pleased that infants shall be formally admitted to his covenant, what more do we ask?
6. Scripture gives us a still clearer knowledge of the truth. For it is most evident that the covenant, which the Lord once made with Abraham, is not less applicable to Christians now than it was anciently to the Jewish people, and therefore that word has no less reference to Christians than to Jews. Unless, indeed, we imagine that Christ, by his advent, diminished, or curtailed the grace of the Father--an idea not free from execrable blasphemy. Wherefore, both the children of the Jews, because, when made heirs of that covenant, they were separated from the heathen, were called a holy seed, and for the same reason the children of Christians, or those who have only one believing parent, are called holy, and, by the testimony of the apostle, differ from the impure seed of idolaters. Then, since the Lord, immediately after the covenant was made with Abraham, ordered it to be sealed in infants by an outward sacrament, how can it be said that Christians are not to attest it in the present day, and seal it in their children? Let it not be objected, that the only symbol by which the Lord ordered his covenant to be confirmed was that of circumcision, which was long ago abrogated. It is easy to answer, that, in accordance with the form of the old dispensation, he appointed circumcision to confirm his covenant, but that it being abrogated, the same reason for confirmation still continues, a reason which we have in common with the Jews. Hence it is always necessary carefully to consider what is common to both, and wherein they differed from us. The covenant is common, and the reason for confirming it is common. The mode of confirming it is so far different, that they had circumcision, instead of which we now have baptism. Otherwise, if the testimony by which the Jews were assured of the salvation of their seed is taken from us, the consequence will be, that, by the advent of Christ, the grace of God, which was formerly given to the Jews, is more obscure and less perfectly attested to us. If this cannot be said without extreme insult to Christ, by whom the infinite goodness of the Father has been more brightly and benignly than ever shed upon the earth, and declared to men, it must be confessed that it cannot be more confined, and less clearly manifested, than under the obscure shadows of the law.
7. Hence our Lord Jesus Christ, to give an example from which the world might learn that he had come to enlarge rather than to limit the grace of the Father, kindly takes the little children in his arms, and rebukes his disciples for attempting to prevent them from, coming (Mt. 19:13), because they were keeping those to whom the kingdom of heaven belonged away from him, through whom alone there is access to heaven. But it will be asked, What resemblance is there between baptism and our Saviour embracing little children? He is not said to have baptised, but to have received, embraced, and blessed them; and, therefore, if we would imitate his example, we must give infants the benefit of our prayers, not baptise them. But let us attend to the act of our Saviour a little more carefully than these men do. For we must not lightly overlook the fact, that our Saviour, in ordering little children to be brought to him, adds the reason, " of such is the kingdom of heaven." And he afterwards testifies his good-will by act, when he embraces them, and with prayer and benediction commends them to his Father. If it is right that children should be brought to Christ, why should they not be admitted to baptism, the symbol of our communion and fellowship with Christ? If the kingdom of heaven is theirs, why should they be denied the sign by which access, as it were, is opened to the Church, that being admitted into it they may be enrolled among the heirs of the heavenly kingdom? How unjust were we to drive away those whom Christ invites to himself, to spoil those whom he adorns with his gifts, to exclude those whom he spontaneously admits. But if we insist on discussing the difference between our Saviour's act and baptism, in how much higher esteem shall we hold baptism (by which we testify that infants are included in the divine covenant), than the taking up, embracing, laying hands on children, and praying over them, acts by which Christ, when present, declares both that they are his, and are sanctified by him. By the other cavils by which the objectors endeavour to evade this passage, they only betray their ignorance: they quibble that, because our Saviour says "Suffer little children to come," they must have been several years old, and fit to come. But they are called by the Evangelists bpe'phe kai` paidia', terms which denote infants still at their mothers' breasts. The term "come" is used simply for "approach." See the quibbles to which men are obliged to have recourse when they have hardened themselves against the truth! There is nothing more solid in their allegation, that the kingdom of heaven is not assigned to children, but to those like children, since the expression is, "of such," not "of themselves." If this is admitted, what will be the reason which our Saviour employs to show that they are not strangers to him from nonage? When he orders that little children shall be allowed to come to him, nothing is plainer than that mere infancy is meant. Lest this should seem absurd, he adds, "Of such is the kingdom of heaven." But if infants must necessarily be comprehended, the expression, "of such," clearly shows that infants themselves, and those like them, are intended.
Christian Classics Ethereal Library / Public Domain
Institutes of the Christian Religion
The Big Picture
By Robert Reymond 12/1/2009
Since my article is appearing in this issue of Tabletalk magazine, I have a great opportunity to tell you young folk of the next generation about a pet peeve of mine with my generation when it comes to the reason for celebrating Christmas. Many people, as you know, celebrate not much more than “roasting chestnuts by an open fire, Jack Frost nipping at their noses.” But Christians surely know enough to know that Christmas means more than that. It surely has something to do with Jesus, doesn’t it? But what?
This month a lot of sermons will be preached about Jesus’ incarnation. And taking its cue from the angel’s announcement to the shepherds on the plains of Ephrathah, my generation simply celebrates the “good news” that some two thousand years ago, in the words of the announcing angel, “unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10–11). My generation tends to concentrate its attention in their worship services throughout the Advent season on the fact that Christ was virginally born a babe in Bethlehem. And that is about as far as they go in their thinking as they reflect upon the momentous fact that God became man through the miraculous conception of Jesus in the womb of the Virgin Mary.
But why did Jesus do that? If I were to ask my generation why Jesus came, I would very likely get answers such as these: “He came to be my Savior,” “He came to die for me,” and “He came to pay the penalty for my sins” (you get the picture) — all answers correct in themselves, but all answers that fail to place Christ’s coming within the broader context that the Bible places it. And when one fails to place His coming in the Bible’s broader context, he fails to appreciate its full significance.
Don’t misunderstand: There is nothing wrong with Christians celebrating the birth of our Lord at Christmas time. Indeed, it is appropriate for the church universal as well as local individual congregations during the Christmas season to think about the incarnation of God the Son and the means whereby that great event was effected, namely, His conception in His mother’s virgin womb. But I submit that something larger and grander than Christ’s birth should seize our minds and set the bells of our hearts pealing with joy at Christmastime. I’ll explain.
My generation of evangelical pastors has not done a good job at teaching Christian people that the isolated events of the Christian proclamation such as Christ’s incarnation, His death, His resurrection, and so on did not occur in isolation from the “metanarrative” of Holy Scripture (by this I simply mean the “big-picture story” that provides the redemptive-historical significance of all the “lesser stories” of Scripture). When one fails to place the gospel events within the context of the Scripture’s metanarrative, he will miss nuances that he should not miss, and he will fail to appreciate the unity of scriptural teaching. Let me say this another way: Since the facts of Jesus and His life, death, and resurrection are what they are only within the framework of the biblical doctrines of creation, fall, redemption, and the consummation of history, we must place the message of the cross within the framework of Scripture as a whole if we would properly understand the significance of that message. And if we don’t do this, we will not understand the gospel in its fullness.
So let me ask my question again: Why did Jesus come two thousand years go? When the angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she was going to be the virgin mother of the long-awaited Messiah, in her Magnificat in Luke 1:54–55, she declared among other things: “[God] has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”
And when Zechariah, John the Baptist’s father, prophesied about his infant son’s future ministry as the one who would go before the Lord to prepare His way, he said this: “[God] has shown] the mercy promised to our fathers [by remembering] his holy covenant, the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days” (Luke 1:72–75).
What have we just witnessed? We’ve seen both Mary and Zechariah place the Christ event within the context of the Abrahamic covenant and extol the covenant faithfulness of God to His people in sending His Son. In their awareness of the broader significance of the incarnation and the words of praise that that awareness evoked from them we see biblical theology being beautifully honored and redemptive-history magnificently depicted. It is little wonder that God selected such a maiden as Mary to be the mother of the Christ and Zechariah to be the father of the Baptist. They were both “covenant theologians”!
So I would urge you young folk of the next generation to celebrate not only the isolated events of the Christmas miracle but also to do more than my generation has done in celebrating at Christmastime God’s covenant fidelity to us His people, for this is the “big-picture” reason for the season!
Dr. Robert L. Reymond was a pastor at Holy Trinity Presbyterian Church in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., and a professor at Knox Theological Seminary.
Devotionals, notes, poetry and more
4/1/2013 Proclaiming Life to Captives
I am writing this on the twenty-fifth anniversary of President Ronald Reagan’s release of the “Personhood Proclamation.” On January 14, 1988, Reagan released the following declaration: “America has given a great gift to the world, a gift that drew upon the accumulated wisdom derived from centuries of experiments in self-government, a gift that has irrevocably changed humanity’s future. Our gift is twofold: the declaration, as a cardinal principle of all just law, of the God-given, unalienable rights possessed by every human being; and the example of our determination to secure those rights and to defend them against every challenge through the generations… .
“One of those unalienable rights, as the Declaration of Independence affirms so eloquently, is the right to life. In the 15 years since the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade, however, America’s unborn have been denied their right to life. Among the tragic and unspeakable results in the past decade and a half have been the loss of life of 22 million infants before birth; the pressure and anguish of countless women and girls who are driven to abortion; and a cheapening of our respect for the human person and the sanctity of human life… .
“That right to life belongs equally to babies in the womb, babies born handicapped, and the elderly or infirm. That we have killed the unborn for 15 years does not nullify this right, nor could any number of killings ever do so… . Our nation cannot continue down the path of abortion, so radically at odds with our history, our heritage, and our concepts of justice. This sacred legacy, and the well-being and the future of our country, demand that protection of the innocents must be guaranteed and that the personhood of the unborn be declared and defended throughout our land… .”
President Reagan’s words are sobering, particularly as we consider how much more they are needed today than in 1988. In America and throughout the world, the church of Jesus Christ must rise up to defend the rights of all individuals—children in the womb and abused children outside the womb, kidnapped girls forced into sex trafficking, men captured and sold into slavery, and the aged, infirm, or unwanted murdered through euthanasia and genocide. Our triune God is the Almighty Creator and Sustainer of life, He has bestowed dignity on every person, and He alone has defined personhood. The barbaric murder, abuse, and slavery of our fellow human beings ought to bring us to tears, to our knees in prayer, and to action in behalf of the least of these as we preach the gospel to the nations and fight for the life and freedom of all individuals so that they might live and hear the gospel of eternal life.
click here for article source
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
Washington, D.C. was in a panic as 70,000 Confederate troops were marching toward it just sixty miles away. The furious fighting lasted three days. As General Lee found his ammunition running low, he ordered General Pickett to make a direct attack. After an hour of murderous fire and bloody hand-to-hand combat, the Confederates were pushed back and the Battle of Gettysburg ended this day, July 3, 1863, with over 50,000 casualties. President Lincoln confided: “When everyone seemed panic-stricken … I went to my room … and got down on my knees before Almighty God and prayed.”
Compiled by Richard S. Adams
God: The most popular
scapegoat for our sins.
--- Mark Twain
The complete works of Mark Twain
I distrust those people who know so well
what God wants them to do,
because I notice it always coincides
with their own desires.
--- Susan B. Anthony
Word of God / Words of Men: The Use and Abuse of Scripture
When I stand before the throne, dressed in beauty not my own;
When I see Thee as Thou art, love Thee with unceasing heart;
Then, Lord, shall I fully know—not till then—how much I owe.
Amazing Grace: 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions
Great spirits have always found violent opposition from mediocrities. The latter cannot understand it when a man does not thoughtlessly submit to hereditary prejudices but honestly and courageously uses his intelligence.
--- Albert Einstein
The World As I See It
Those who teach by their doctrine must teach by their life, or else they pull down with one hand what they build up with the other.
--- Matthew Henry
... from here, there and everywhere
PART III / Verses 3–6
CHAPTER 16 / “With All Your Heart
and All Your Soul and All Your Might”
“With All Your Soul”
R. Akiva taught that the words “with all your soul” imply accepting martyrdom for the sake of the love of God: one must love God “even though He takes your soul.”
Two parallel texts dramatize the fascinating and tragic context of this teaching; the differences between the two are instructive. The first passage is found in the Babylonian Talmud:
The Rabbis taught: Once the evil kingdom [i.e., the Romans] decreed that the Jews may not engage in the study of Torah. Pappus b. Yehuda came and found R. Akiva publicly assembling large groups [of Jews] and engaging in [the study of] Torah. He said to him, “Akiva, are you not afraid of the authorities?” … When [the Romans] took R. Akiva to execute him, it was the time for the reading of the Shema. They were tearing his flesh with iron combs, and he was accepting upon himself the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven [i.e., reciting the Shema]. His disciples said to him: “O Rabbi, so much?” [i.e., must one go so far in suffering for the sake of Torah?]. Said he to them: “All my life I was troubled by the verse, “With all your soul,” which [I interpret as] ‘even if He takes your soul,’ wondering: when will I have the opportunity to fulfill it? Now that I have that opportunity, shall I not fulfill it?” He [recited the Shema and] prolonged [his articulation of the word eḥad [One] until he expired [while saying the word] eḥad. Whereupon a heavenly voice proclaimed, “Happy are you, R. Akiva, for your soul has departed with [the declaration of] eḥad. (Berakhot 61b))
The second and parallel account comes from the Jerusalem Talmud:
R. Akiva was brought to trial before the Tyrant Rufus [tyrannus Rufus]. The time for the recitation of the Shema arrived, and [R. Akiva] read the Shema and smiled. Tyrant Rufus said to him: “Old man, either you are a magician [and therefore do not feel the torture] or you ignore suffering” [perhaps implying that he was a masochist]. Said [R. Akiva] to him: “May your breath leave you! I am neither a magician nor one who is indifferent to pain. It is, rather, that all my life I have recited [the Shema] and was troubled by one verse, wondering when I would have the opportunity [to fulfill] the three [elements in it]—‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your possessions.’10 I have loved Him with all my heart and I have loved Him with all my possessions, but I was not [yet] tested as to my soul. Now that I have reached [this stage where I am to surrender] ‘all your soul,’ and the time for the Reading of the Shema has arrived, I shall not be distracted from loving Him! That is why I recite—and smile.” He barely finished speaking [these words] when his soul soared upwards. (J. Berakhot 9:5)
In both the Babylonian and the more elaborate Jerusalem versions of this event, R. Akiva interprets “with all your soul” as implying martyrdom, giving up of one’s soul or life for the love for God. But a number of differences between them—two literary, and one more substantive—deserve mention.
In the account in the Babylonian Talmud, R. Akiva relates his derashah (interpretation) to his disciples. In contrast, in the Palestinian version, he directs his comments to the enemy himself, indicating a readiness openly to challenge and taunt his tormentor. Similarly, the Babylonian Talmud makes no mention of R. Akiva smiling or laughing, whereas in the Jerusalem Talmud the smile is significant. The smile seems to be of a double nature—part pleasure at performing a mitzvah (that of kiddush Hashem, martyrdom, “even if He takes your soul”), part smirk and contempt for the tyrant.
A further and more important difference: The Babylonian version highlights the time for reading the Shema as the essential element of the tale. It focuses on the biblical proof-text as the source for requiring such an act of martyrdom. Note the wording of the text: “When [the Romans] took R. Akiva to execute him, it was the time for the Reading of the Shema.” The Rabbis here reinforce the idea that R. Akiva’s invocation of the phrase “with all your soul” and his death upon reciting eḥad teach us not only that his martyrdom coincided with the Reading of the Shema, but that martyrdom itself is an aspect of reading the Shema, as R. Akiva taught all his life and, ultimately, with his death.
In the Jerusalem Talmud’s version, the Reading of the Shema, though important, is not quite central to the dramatic tension of the story. When the time for reading the Shema arrives fortuitously as R. Akiva is being interrogated and tortured by Rufus, R. Akiva uses this very moment to flaunt a sardonic smile and heroically defy the tyrant. But R. Akiva’s death was primarily a fulfillment not of the mitzvah of reading the Shema, but that of accepting martyrdom (“even if He takes your soul”). This mitzvah applies to all times and places and is independent of any recitation. As R. Akiva defiantly asserts: “Now that I have reached [this stage where I am to surrender] ‘all your soul,’ and the time for the Reading of the Shema has arrived, I shall not be distracted from loving Him! That is why I recite—and smile,” as if to emphasize his satisfaction that he can, at one and the same time, simultaneously fulfill two important but separate mitzvot: martyrdom and reading the Shema, especially the verse “with all your soul.”
Perhaps the discrepancies between these two versions of R. Akiva’s death highlight an implicit difference of halakhic approach between the two Talmuds (although this is offered only as a suggestion on the basis of a rather subtle literary analysis of the two versions). In concentrating primarily on R. Akiva’s martyrdom as a fulfillment of his derashah on the “with all your soul” verse of the Shema, the Babylonian Talmud implies that the mitzvah of kiddush Hashem is achieved at the moment one is ready to die for God’s sake, even if one does not actually suffer martyrdom; it is the psychological readiness to surrender one’s life that constitutes the mitzvah. R. Akiva, who has always been prepared to die for the love of God, can now prove his bona fides: “Now that I have that opportunity, shall I not fulfill it?” His martyrdom fulfills the mitzvah he has always performed when reading this verse of the Shema, namely, his readiness to suffer death every time he recited the verse. His death retroactively validates his sincere intention to suffer death for his faith. But it was halakhically not necessary that he actually die in order to fulfill the requirements of the mitzvah; it was enough that he sincerely declare his willingness to love God “even if He takes your soul.”
The Shema: Spirituality and Law in Judaism
Thanks to Meir Yona
5. After this, the distemper seized upon his whole body, and greatly disordered all its parts with various symptoms; for there was a gentle fever upon him, and an intolerable itching over all the surface of his body, and continual pains in his colon, and dropsical turnouts about his feet, and an inflammation of the abdomen, and a putrefaction of his privy member, that produced worms. Besides which he had a difficulty of breathing upon him, and could not breathe but when he sat upright, and had a convulsion of all his members, insomuch that the diviners said those diseases were a punishment upon him for what he had done to the Rabbins. Yet did he struggle with his numerous disorders, and still had a desire to live, and hoped for recovery, and considered of several methods of cure. Accordingly, he went over Jordan, and made use of those hot baths at Callirrhoe, which ran into the lake Asphaltites, but are themselves sweet enough to be drunk. And here the physicians thought proper to bathe his whole body in warm oil, by letting it down into a large vessel full of oil; whereupon his eyes failed him, and he came and went as if he was dying; and as a tumult was then made by his servants, at their voice he revived again. Yet did he after this despair of recovery, and gave orders that each soldier should have fifty drachmae a-piece, and that his commanders and friends should have great sums of money given them.
6. He then returned back and came to Jericho, in such a melancholy state of body as almost threatened him with present death, when he proceeded to attempt a horrid wickedness; for he got together the most illustrious men of the whole Jewish nation, out of every village, into a place called the Hippodrome, and there shut them in. He then called for his sister Salome, and her husband Alexas, and made this speech to them: "I know well enough that the Jews will keep a festival upon my death however, it is in my power to be mourned for on other accounts, and to have a splendid funeral, if you will but be subservient to my commands. Do you but take care to send soldiers to encompass these men that are now in custody, and slay them immediately upon my death, and then all Judea, and every family of them, will weep at it, whether they will or no."
7. These were the commands he gave them; when there came letters from his ambassadors at Rome, whereby information was given that Acme was put to death at Caesar's command, and that Antipater was condemned to die; however, they wrote withal, that if Herod had a mind rather to banish him, Caesar permitted him so to do. So he for a little while revived, and had a desire to live; but presently after he was overborne by his pains, and was disordered by want of food, and by a convulsive cough, and endeavored to prevent a natural, death; so he took an apple, and asked for a knife for he used to pare apples and eat them; he then looked round about to see that there was nobody to hinder him, and lift up his right hand as if he would stab himself; but Achiabus, his first cousin, came running to him, and held his hand, and hindered him from so doing; on which occasion a very great lamentation was made in the palace, as if the king were expiring. As soon as ever Antipater heard that, he took courage, and with joy in his looks, besought his keepers, for a sum of money, to loose him and let him go; but the principal keeper of the prison did not only obstruct him in that his intention, but ran and told the king what his design was; hereupon the king cried out louder than his distemper would well bear, and immediately sent some of his guards and slew Antipater; he also gave order to have him buried at Hyrcanium, and altered his testament again, and therein made Archelaus, his eldest son, and the brother of Antipas, his successor, and made Antipas tetrarch.
8. So Herod, having survived the slaughter of his son five days, died, having reigned thirty-four years since he had caused Antigonus to be slain, and obtained his kingdom; but thirty-seven years since he had been made king by the Romans. Now as for his fortune, it was prosperous in all other respects, if ever any other man could be so, since, from a private man, he obtained the kingdom, and kept it so long, and left it to his own sons; but still in his domestic affairs he was a most unfortunate man. Now, before the soldiers knew of his death, Salome and her husband came out and dismissed those that were in bonds, whom the king had commanded to be slain, and told them that he had altered his mind, and would have every one of them sent to their own homes. When these men were gone, Salome, told the soldiers [the king was dead], and got them and the rest of the multitude together to an assembly, in the amphitheater at Jericho, where Ptolemy, who was intrusted by the king with his signet ring, came before them, and spake of the happiness the king had attained, and comforted the multitude, and read the epistle which had been left for the soldiers, wherein he earnestly exhorted them to bear good-will to his successor; and after he had read the epistle, he opened and read his testament, wherein Philip was to inherit Trachonitis, and the neighboring countries, and Antipas was to be tetrarch, as we said before, and Archelaus was made king. He had also been commanded to carry Herod's ring to Caesar, and the settlements he had made, sealed up, because Caesar was to be lord of all the settlements he had made, and was to confirm his testament; and he ordered that the dispositions he had made were to be kept as they were in his former testament.
9. So there was an acclamation made to Archelaus, to congratulate him upon his advancement; and the soldiers, with the multitude, went round about in troops, and promised him their good-will, and besides, prayed God to bless his government. After this, they betook themselves to prepare for the king's funeral; and Archelaus omitted nothing of magnificence therein, but brought out all the royal ornaments to augment the pomp of the deceased. There was a bier all of gold, embroidered with precious stones, and a purple bed of various contexture, with the dead body upon it, covered with purple; and a diadem was put upon his head, and a crown of gold above it, and a sceptre in his right hand; and near to the bier were Herod's sons, and a multitude of his kindred; next to which came his guards, and the regiment of Thracians, the Germans also and Gauls, all accounted as if they were going to war; but the rest of the army went foremost, armed, and following their captains and officers in a regular manner; after whom five hundred of his domestic servants and freed-men followed, with sweet spices in their hands: and the body was carried two hundred furlongs, to Herodium, where he had given order to be buried. And this shall suffice for the conclusion of the life of Herod.
by D.H. Stern
but later the mouth is full of gravel.
18 After consultation, plans succeed;
so take wise advice when waging war.
Complete Jewish Bible : An English Version of the Tanakh (Old Testament) and B'Rit Hadashah (New Testament)
A Daily Devotional by Oswald Chambers
The concentration of personal sin
Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips. ---
When I get into the presence of God, I do not realize that I am a sinner in an indefinite sense; I realize the concentration of sin in a particular feature of my life. A man will say easily—‘Oh yes, I know I am a sinner,’ but when he gets into the presence of God he cannot get off with that statement. The conviction is concentrated on—‘I am this, or that, or the other.’ This is always the sign that a man or woman is in the presence of God. There is never any vague sense of sin, but the concentration of sin in some personal particular. God begins by convicting us of one thing fixed on in the mind that is prompted by His Spirit; if we will yield to His conviction on that point, He will lead us down to the great disposition of sin underneath. That is the way God always deals with us when we are consciously in His presence.
This experience of the concentration of sin is true in the greatest and the least of saints as well as in the greatest and the least of sinners. When a man is on the first rung of the ladder of experience, he may say—‘I do not know where I have gone wrong, but the Spirit of God will point out some particular definite thing.’ The effect of the vision of the holiness of the Lord on Isaiah was to bring home to him that he was a man of unclean lips. “And he laid it upon my mouth, and said, Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged.” The cleansing fire had to be applied where the sin had been concentrated.
My Utmost for His Highest
the Poetry of RS Thomas
And the machines say, laughing
up what would have been sleeves
in the old days: ‘We are at
your service.’ ‘Take us’, we cry,
‘to the places that are far off
from yourselves.’ And so they do
at a price that is the alloy in
the thought that we cannot do without them.
Thomas, R. S.
When should we do what others tell us to do? And when should we ignore their opinions and listen, instead, to our own inner voice? The answer of our Midrash, based on a humorous proverb, is: When two or more people tell you something, you’d better believe them. They’re probably on to something that you yourself may have missed.
But isn’t it possible that the others, even if they be in the majority, may be wrong and that your lone voice may be right? Edgar A. Guest makes that point in his inspirational poem “It Couldn’t Be Done.”
There are thousands to tell you that it cannot be done,
There are thousands to prophesy failure;
There are thousands to point out to you one by one
The dangers that wait to assail you.
But just buckle in with a bit of a grin,
Just take off your coat and go to it;
Just start in to sing as you tackle the thing
That “cannot be done,” and you’ll do it.
Let’s look at another text, this time from the Talmud. In Massekhet Yoma, the question is asked about a sick person fasting on Yom Kippur. The Mishnah teaches that if a doctor says someone needs to eat, we follow the doctor’s opinion. And in the absence of a physician, we rely on the sick person to make that decision. The Gemara then asks a probing question: What if the doctor says “He does not need food,” but the patient insists “I do!” Whose opinion do we follow? Rabbi Yannai rules, “We listen to the patient.” Lest you think that the individual’s opinion always prevails, the Gemara adds, “If the doctor says ‘He needs food’ and the patient says ‘I do not,’ we listen to the doctor.” Finally, Mar, son of Rav Ashi, confronts the question of multiple opinions going against the individual, “When he says ‘I need food’ even if there be a hundred who say ‘He does not need food,’ we accept his statement” (Yoma 83a). The Talmud and the poet both hold that what the individual says is central, in contrast to the Midrash, which advises us to listen to the opinion of others.
How do we reconcile these very different approaches? We may conclude, in typical Rabbinic fashion, that each one deals with a different situation. The halakhah of fasting on Yom Kippur (the Talmud, Yoma) is interested less in who is right than in how to save a life. When death is a possibility, even a remote one, we do all that is necessary to preserve life. Who said what is immaterial.
For our poet, on the other hand, the worst that can happen by “trying the thing that couldn’t be done” is failure, not death. There is no shame in trying and failing, especially in a worthy cause. Going against the opinions of others in such a situation might even be noble. At best, we’ll achieve success; at worst, we’ll learn a lesson that only experience can teach us.
Which brings us back to our proverb. The Midrash is concerned not with saving a life, or doing the impossible—but with getting along with others. It’s about Hagar’s relationship with Sarai and Abram. In the end, it is important for us to know how we are perceived by the people we come in contact with. Without a mirror, it’s very hard for us to see ourselves as others do. It can be most beneficial to listen to and seriously consider what other people say.
Rabbi Ḥiyya said, “Come and see the difference between the early ones and the later ones.” The words of Rabbi Ḥiyya are a reminder of the tension that often exists between old and new, earlier and later. On the one hand, there is a desire to return to the past and its glory, where anything and everything old is good. On the other hand, there is an attempt to move into the future with its potential; that which is newest is best. This tension is seen in Rabbinic sources in two equally valid, yet opposing, principles in Jewish law. In one case, we say that the oldest understanding of the law is most correct. To support this stance, we call an ancient law הֲלָכָה לְמשֶׁה מִסִּינַי/halakhah leMoshe miSinai, “a law received by Moses at Sinai.” That which is closest to the giving of the law at Sinai is the most accurate. And even if we know that the law itself did not originate at Sinai, the ancient nature of the law, that it is old beyond memory, gives it instant legitimacy.
At the same time, Jewish law has another, often contradictory, concept called הֲלָכָה כְּבַתְרַאי/halakhah ke-vatarai, the law follows the latest authority. In this case, we assume that the newest authority will have the most perspective, including all the opinions of previous generations. This last authority can make the most accurate decision using the cumulative knowledge of all previous decision-makers. Which is correct? Is it the old or the new? The ancient or the modern? Often, it depends on the situation.
Such divergent views of old and new exist in American life as well. We say “Let’s get back to basics”—that is, let’s return to the ways of the past. Yet we also know the excitement we feel when we say “We need new technology!”—putting our stock in the most recent advances. Which is correct? Is it the old or the new? The ancient or the modern? Again, it often depends on the situation. We have to listen to both and to evaluate each situation on its own merits.
Searching for Meaning in Midrash: Lessons for Everyday Living
in His Time
W. W. Wiersbe
"Habakkuk was a contemporary of Nahum, Zephaniah, and Jeremiah, during the reigns of Josiah (640–609 B.C.) and Jehoiakim (609–598). Assyria was off the scene; Babylon (“the Chaldeans”) was in power. Nebuchadnezzar had defeated Egypt in 605 and was about to attack Judah. Jeremiah had announced that Babylon would invade Judah, destroy Jerusalem and the temple, and send the nation into exile. This happened in 606–586.
Habakkuk’s little book indicates that he knew the Scriptures well, was a competent theologian, and had great faith in God. Because of the psalm in chapter 3, some scholars think he may have been a priest who led worship in the temple. If so, then like Jeremiah and Ezekiel, he was a priest called to be a prophet—a more difficult ministry.
His name means “to embrace” or “to wrestle,” and in his book, he does both. He wrestles with God concerning the problem of how a holy God could use a wicked nation like Babylon to chasten the people of Judah, and then by faith, he embraces God and clings to His promises. Habakkuk also wrestles with the spiritual decline of the nation and why God wasn’t doing something about it. Habakkuk wanted to see the people revived (3:2), but God wasn’t answering his prayers.
The prophet’s statement “The just shall live by his faith” (2:4) is quoted three times in the New Testament (Rom. 1:17; Gal. 3:11; Heb. 10:38). The emphasis in Romans is on the just, in Galatians on how they should live, and in Hebrews on faith. It takes three books to explain and apply this one verse!
A Suggested Outline of the Book of Habakkuk
Key theme: The just shall live by faith
Key verse: Habakkuk 2:4
I. The prophet wondering and worrying—(Chap. 1)
1. God is indifferent—1:2–4
God’s reply: I am working—1:5–11
2. God is inconsistent—1:12–17
II. The prophet watching and waiting—(Chap. 2)
1. Write God’s vision—2:1–3
2. Trust God’s world—2:4–5
“The just shall live by faith.”—2:41
3. Declare God’s judgment—2:6–20
(1) Woe to the selfish—2:6–8
(2) Woe to the covetous—2:9–11
(3) Woe to the exploiters—2:12–14
“God’s glory will fill the earth.” 2:14
(4) Woe to the drunkards—2:15–17
(5) Woe to the idolaters—2:18–20
“God is still on His throne.” 2:20
III. The prophet worshiping and witnessing—(Chap. 3)
1. He prays to God—3:1–2
2. He ponders God’s ways—3:3–15
3. He praises God—3:16–19
Be Amazed (Minor Prophets): Restoring an Attitude of Wonder and Worship (The BE Series Commentary)
I am the LORD, who heals you. --- Exodus 15:26.
The task of turning Marah sweet was very difficult. (Classic RS Thomas on the Apostle Paul (Kregel Classic RS Thomas Series) ) No human power could have achieved it; even so, changing human nature is impossible to us. We must be born again, born of God. There was no turning Marah sweet by any means in the reach of Moses or the myriad that came with him out of Egypt. This wonder must come from Jehovah’s hand. So the change of human nature is a thing beyond all human might. Who can make his or her own heart clean? God must work this marvel. We must be born again from above, or else we will remain bitter to the end.
Yet the work was very easy to God. How simple a thing it was to cast a tree into the bitter water and find it sweet at once. Even so, it is an easy thing to God to make you a new heart and a right spirit and thus to incline you to everything that is right and good. If I had to make myself holy I must despair, and if I had to make myself perfect and keep myself so it would never be done, but the Lord Jehovah can do it—and has already begun to do it. Simple faith in Jesus Christ, the putting of the Cross into the stream, does it all and so effectively that there is no return of bitterness—the heart remains sweet and pure before the living God.
The task was completely accomplished. As the people freely drank of Marah, so God will complete in me the change of my nature. Paul says he is “confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ.” The Lord has not begun to sweeten us with the intent of leaving us in a half-healed condition, but he will continue the process till we are without defilement, made pure and right in his sight.
This work glorifies God. If the change of Marah’s water made the people praise God, much more will the change of nature make us adore him forever. We are going to be exalted to the highest place in the universe next to God. Humanity—poor, sinful humanity—is to be so changed as to be able to stand side by side with Christ. The tendency to pride would be very strong, except that we will always recollect what we used to be and what power has made us what we are. This will make it safe for God to glorify his people.
--- C. H. Spurgeon
Take Heart: Daily Devotions with the Church's Great Preachers
The Trial of Faith | July 3
It’s possible to love our families more than we love God, a sin that turns our children into idols. The Lord once tested two men along these lines—the patriarch Abraham with his son and the philanthropist George Mueller with his daughter. Mueller’s ministry was primarily to orphans, but it was his own child who most tested his faith. His journal says:
My beloved daughter and only child, and a believer since 1846, was taken ill on June 20, 1853. This illness, at first a low fever, turned to typhus. On July 3rd there seemed no hope of her recovery. Now was the trial of faith. But faith triumphed. My beloved wife and I were enabled to give her up into the hands of the Lord. He sustained us both exceedingly. Though my only and beloved child was brought near the grave, yet was my soul in perfect peace, satisfied with the will of my Heavenly Father, being assured that He would only do that for her and her parents, which in the end would be best. She continued very ill till about July 20th, when restoration began.
Parents know what an only child, a beloved child, is. Well, the Father in Heaven said, as it were, “Art thou willing to give up this child to me?” My heart responded, “As it seems good to Thee, my Heavenly Father. Thy will be done.” But as our hearts were made willing to give back our child to Him, so He was ready to leave her to us, and she lived.
Of all the trials of faith that as yet I have had to pass through, this was the greatest; and by God’s abundant mercy, I own it to His praise, I was enabled to delight myself in the will of God; for I felt perfectly sure, that, if the Lord took this beloved daughter, it would be best for her parents, best for herself, and more for the glory of God than if she lived. This better part I was satisfied with; and thus my heart had peace, perfect peace.
“Don’t hurt the boy or harm him in any way!” the angel said. “Now I know that you truly obey God, because you were willing to offer him your only son.” Abraham looked up and saw a ram caught by its horns in the bushes. So he took the ram and sacrificed it in place of his son.” Abraham named that place “The LORD Will Provide.”
--- Genesis 22:12-14a.
On This Day 365 Amazing And Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs And Heroes
Daily Readings / CHARLES H. SPURGEON
Morning - July 3
“The ill favoured and leanfleshed kine did eat up the seven wellfavoured and fat kine.” --- Genesis 41:4.
Pharaoh’s dream has too often been my waking experience. My days of sloth have ruinously destroyed all that I had achieved in times of zealous industry; my seasons of coldness have frozen all the genial glow of my periods of fervency and enthusiasm; and my fits of worldliness have thrown me back from my advances in the divine life. I had need to beware of lean prayers, lean praises, lean duties, and lean experiences, for these will eat up the fat of my comfort and peace. If I neglect prayer for never so short a time, I lose all the spirituality to which I had attained; if I draw no fresh supplies from heaven, the old corn in my granary is soon consumed by the famine which rages in my soul. When the caterpillars of indifference, the cankerworms of worldliness, and the palmerworms of self-indulgence, lay my heart completely desolate, and make my soul to languish, all my former fruitfulness and growth in grace avails me nothing whatever. How anxious should I be to have no lean-fleshed days, no ill-favoured hours! If every day I journeyed towards the goal of my desires I should soon reach it, but backsliding leaves me still far off from the prize of my high calling, and robs me of the advances which I had so laboriously made. The only way in which all my days can be as the “fat kine,” is to feed them in the right meadow, to spend them with the Lord, in His service, in His company, in His fear, and in His way. Why should not every year be richer than the past, in love, and usefulness, and joy?—I am nearer the celestial hills, I have had more experience of my Lord, and should be more like Him. O Lord, keep far from me the curse of leanness of soul; let me not have to cry, “My leanness, my leanness, woe unto me!” but may I be well-fed and nourished in thy house, that I may praise thy name.
Evening - July 3
"If we suffer, we shall also reign with him." --- 2 Timothy 2:12.
We must not imagine that we are suffering for Christ, and with Christ, if we are not in Christ. Beloved friend, are you trusting to Jesus only? If not, whatever you may have to mourn over on earth, you are not “suffering with Christ,” and have no hope of reigning with him in heaven. Neither are we to conclude that all a Christian’s sufferings are sufferings with Christ, for it is essential that he be called by God to suffer. If we are rash and imprudent, and run into positions for which neither providence nor grace has fitted us, we ought to question whether we are not rather sinning than communing with Jesus. If we let passion take the place of judgment, and self-will reign instead of Scriptural authority, we shall fight the Lord’s battles with the devil’s weapons, and if we cut our own fingers we must not be surprised. Again, in troubles which come upon us as the result of sin, we must not dream that we are suffering with Christ. When Miriam spoke evil of Moses, and the leprosy polluted her, she was not suffering for God. Moreover, suffering which God accepts must have God’s glory as its end. If I suffer that I may earn a name, or win applause, I shall get no other reward than that of the Pharisee. It is requisite also that love to Jesus, and love to his elect, be ever the mainspring of all our patience. We must manifest the Spirit of Christ in meekness, gentleness, and forgiveness. Let us search and see if we truly suffer with Jesus. And if we do thus suffer, what is our “light affliction” compared with reigning with him? Oh it is so blessed to be in the furnace with Christ, and such an honour to stand in the pillory with him, that if there were no future reward, we might count ourselves happy in present honour; but when the recompense is so eternal, so infinitely more than we had any right to expect, shall we not take up the cross with alacrity, and go on our way rejoicing?
Morning and Evening
IT IS WELL WITH MY SOUL
Horatio G. Spafford, 1828–1888
God is our refuge and strength, an ever present help in trouble. (Psalm 46:1)
Inner peace through an implicit trust in the love of God is the real evidence of a mature Christian faith. Only with this kind of confidence in his heavenly Father could Horatio Spafford experience such heart-rending tragedies as he did and yet be able to say, “It is well with my soul.”
Spafford had known peaceful and happy days as a successful attorney in Chicago. He was the father of four daughters, an active member of the Presbyterian Church, and a loyal friend and supporter of D. L. Moody and other evangelical leaders of his day. Then, a series of calamities began, starting with the great Chicago fire of 1871 which wiped out the family’s extensive real estate investments. When Mr. Moody and his music associate, Ira Sankey, left for Great Britain for an evangelistic campaign, Spafford decided to lift the spirits of his family by taking them on a vacation to Europe. He also planned to assist in the Moody-Sankey meetings there.
In November, 1873, Spafford was detained by urgent business, but he sent his wife and four daughters as scheduled on the S.S. Ville du Harve, planning to join them soon. Halfway across the Atlantic, the ship was struck by an English vessel and sank in 12 minutes. All four of the Spafford daughters—Tanetta, Maggie, Annie and Bessie—were among the 226 who drowned. Mrs. Spafford was among the few who were miraculously saved.
Horatio Spafford stood hour after hour on the deck of the ship carrying him to rejoin his sorrowing wife in Cardiff, Wales. When the ship passed the approximate place where his precious daughters had drowned, Spafford received sustaining comfort from God that enabled him to write, “When sorrows like sea billows roll … It is well with my soul.” What a picture of our hope!
When peace, like a river, attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll—Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, It is well with my soul.
Tho Satan should buffet, tho trials should come, let this blest assurance control, that Christ hath regarded my helpless estate and shed His own blood for my soul.
And, Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight, the clouds be rolled back as a scroll: The trump shall resound and the Lord shall descend, “Even so”—it is well with my soul.
Chorus: It is well with my soul, it is well, it is well with my soul.
For Today: Psalm 31:14; 142:3; Galatians 2:20; 1 Peter 4:19.
Ask yourself if you can truthfully say, “It is well with my soul,” no matter what the circumstances may be that surround you.
Amazing Grace: 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions
Martin Luther | (1483-1546)
Sect. LXXIV. — AGAIN the Diatribe receives that word of John i. 12, “To them gave He power to become the sons of God,” thus — “How can there be power given unto them, to become the sons of God, if there be no liberty in our will?” —
This word also, is a hammer that beats down “Free-will,” as is nearly the whole of the evangelist John, and yet, even this is brought forward in support of “Free-will.” Let us, I pray you, just took into this word. John is not speaking concerning any work of man, either great or small but concerning the very renewal and transformation of the old man who is a son of the devil, into the new man who is a son of God. This man is merely passive (as the term is used), nor does he do any thing, but is wholly made: and John is speaking of being made: he saith we are made the sons of God by a power given unto us from above, not by the power of “Free-will” inherent in ourselves.
Whereas, our friend Diatribe here concludes, that “Free-will” is of so much power, that it makes us the sons of God; if not, it is prepared to aver, that the word of John is ridiculous and stands coldly useless. But who ever so exalted “Freewill” as to assign unto it the power of making us the sons of God, especially such a “Free-will as cannot even will good, which “Free-will” it is that the Diatribe has taken upon itself to establish? But let this conclusion be gone after the rest which have been so often repeated; by which, nothing else is proved, if any thing be proved at all, than that which the Diatribe denies — that “Free-will” can do all things.
The meaning of John is this. — That by the coming of Christ into the world by His Gospel, by which grace was offered, but not works required, a full opportunity was given to all men of becoming the sons of God, if they would believe. But as to this willing and this believing on His name, as “Free-will” never knew it nor thought of it before, so much less could it then do it of its own power. For how could reason then think that faith in Jesus as the Son of God and man was necessary, when even at this day it could neither receive nor believe it, though the whole Creation should cry out together — there is a certain person who is both God and man! Nay it is rather offended at such a saying, as Paul affirms. (1 Cor. i. 17-31.) so far is it from possibility that it should either will it, or believe it.
John, therefore, is preaching, not the power of “Free-will,” but the riches of the kingdom of God offered to the world by the Gospel; and signifying at the same time, how few there are who receive it; that is, from the enmity of the “Free-will” against it; the power of which is nothing else than this: — Satan reigning over it and causing it to reject grace, and the Spirit which fulfils the law. So excellently do its ‘endeavour’ and ‘desire’ avail unto the fulfilling of the law.
But we shall hereafter shew more fully what a thunderbolt this passage of John is against “Freewill.” Yet I am not a little astonished that passages which make so signally and so forcibly against “Free-will” are brought forward by the Diatribe in support of “Free-will;” whose stupidity is such, that it makes no distinction whatever between the promises, and the words of the law: for it most ridiculously sets up “Free-will” by the words of the law, and far more absurdly still confirms it by the words of the promise. But how this absurdity is, may be immediately solved, if it be but considered with what an unconcerned and contemptuous mind the Diatribe is here disputing: With whom, it matters not, whether grace stand or fall, whether “Free-will” lie prostrate or sit in state, if it can but, by words of vanity, serve the turn of tyrants, to the odium of the cause!
The Bondage of the Will or Christian Classics Ethereal Library
Brett Meador | Athey Creek
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