How Precious Is Your Steadfast Love
TO THE CHOIRMASTER. OF DAVID, THE SERVANT OF THE LORD.
Psalm 36 1 Transgression speaks to the wicked
deep in his heart;
there is no fear of God
before his eyes.
2 For he flatters himself in his own eyes
that his iniquity cannot be found out and hated.
3 The words of his mouth are trouble and deceit;
he has ceased to act wisely and do good.
4 He plots trouble while on his bed;
he sets himself in a way that is not good;
he does not reject evil.
5 Your steadfast love, O LORD, extends to the heavens,
your faithfulness to the clouds.
6 Your righteousness is like the mountains of God;
your judgments are like the great deep;
man and beast you save, O LORD.
7 How precious is your steadfast love, O God!
The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
8 They feast on the abundance of your house,
and you give them drink from the river of your delights.
9 For with you is the fountain of life;
in your light do we see light.
10 Oh, continue your steadfast love to those who know you,
and your righteousness to the upright of heart!
11 Let not the foot of arrogance come upon me,
nor the hand of the wicked drive me away.
12 There the evildoers lie fallen;
they are thrust down, unable to rise.
He Will Not Forsake His Saints
Psalm 37 1 Fret not yourself because of evildoers;
be not envious of wrongdoers!
2 For they will soon fade like the grass
and wither like the green herb.
3 Trust in the LORD, and do good;
dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness.
4 Delight yourself in the LORD,
and he will give you the desires of your heart.
5 Commit your way to the LORD;
trust in him, and he will act.
6 He will bring forth your righteousness as the light,
and your justice as the noonday.
7 Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him;
fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way,
over the man who carries out evil devices!
8 Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath!
Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil.
9 For the evildoers shall be cut off,
but those who wait for the LORD shall inherit the land.
10 In just a little while, the wicked will be no more;
though you look carefully at his place, he will not be there.
11 But the meek shall inherit the land
and delight themselves in abundant peace.
12 The wicked plots against the righteous
and gnashes his teeth at him,
13 but the Lord laughs at the wicked,
for he sees that his day is coming.
14 The wicked draw the sword and bend their bows
to bring down the poor and needy,
to slay those whose way is upright;
15 their sword shall enter their own heart,
and their bows shall be broken.
16 Better is the little that the righteous has
than the abundance of many wicked.
17 For the arms of the wicked shall be broken,
but the LORD upholds the righteous.
18 The LORD knows the days of the blameless,
and their heritage will remain forever;
19 they are not put to shame in evil times;
in the days of famine they have abundance.
20 But the wicked will perish;
the enemies of the LORD are like the glory of the pastures;
they vanish—like smoke they vanish away.
21 The wicked borrows but does not pay back,
but the righteous is generous and gives;
22 for those blessed by the LORD shall inherit the land,
but those cursed by him shall be cut off.
23 The steps of a man are established by the LORD,
when he delights in his way;
24 though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong,
for the LORD upholds his hand.
25 I have been young, and now am old,
yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken
or his children begging for bread.
26 He is ever lending generously,
and his children become a blessing.
27 Turn away from evil and do good;
so shall you dwell forever.
28 For the LORD loves justice;
he will not forsake his saints.
They are preserved forever,
but the children of the wicked shall be cut off.
29 The righteous shall inherit the land
and dwell upon it forever.
30 The mouth of the righteous utters wisdom,
and his tongue speaks justice.
31 The law of his God is in his heart;
his steps do not slip.
32 The wicked watches for the righteous
and seeks to put him to death.
33 The LORD will not abandon him to his power
or let him be condemned when he is brought to trial.
34 Wait for the LORD and keep his way,
and he will exalt you to inherit the land;
you will look on when the wicked are cut off.
35 I have seen a wicked, ruthless man,
spreading himself like a green laurel tree.
36 But he passed away, and behold, he was no more;
though I sought him, he could not be found.
37 Mark the blameless and behold the upright,
for there is a future for the man of peace.
38 But transgressors shall be altogether destroyed;
the future of the wicked shall be cut off.
39 The salvation of the righteous is from the LORD;
he is their stronghold in the time of trouble.
40 The LORD helps them and delivers them;
he delivers them from the wicked and saves them,
because they take refuge in him.
Do Not Forsake Me, O LORD
A PSALM OF DAVID, FOR THE MEMORIAL OFFERING.
Psalm 38 1 O LORD, rebuke me not in your anger,
nor discipline me in your wrath!
2 For your arrows have sunk into me,
and your hand has come down on me.
3 There is no soundness in my flesh
because of your indignation;
there is no health in my bones
because of my sin.
4 For my iniquities have gone over my head;
like a heavy burden, they are too heavy for me.
5 My wounds stink and fester
because of my foolishness,
6 I am utterly bowed down and prostrate;
all the day I go about mourning.
7 For my sides are filled with burning,
and there is no soundness in my flesh.
8 I am feeble and crushed;
I groan because of the tumult of my heart.
9 O Lord, all my longing is before you;
my sighing is not hidden from you.
10 My heart throbs; my strength fails me,
and the light of my eyes—it also has gone from me.
11 My friends and companions stand aloof from my plague,
and my nearest kin stand far off.
12 Those who seek my life lay their snares;
those who seek my hurt speak of ruin
and meditate treachery all day long.
13 But I am like a deaf man; I do not hear,
like a mute man who does not open his mouth.
14 I have become like a man who does not hear,
and in whose mouth are no rebukes.
15 But for you, O LORD, do I wait;
it is you, O Lord my God, who will answer.
16 For I said, “Only let them not rejoice over me,
who boast against me when my foot slips!”
17 For I am ready to fall,
and my pain is ever before me.
18 I confess my iniquity;
I am sorry for my sin.
19 But my foes are vigorous, they are mighty,
and many are those who hate me wrongfully.
20 Those who render me evil for good
accuse me because I follow after good.
21 Do not forsake me, O LORD!
O my God, be not far from me!
22 Make haste to help me,
O Lord, my salvation!
What Is the Measure of My Days?
TO THE CHOIRMASTER: TO JEDUTHUN. A PSALM OF DAVID.
Psalm 39 1 I said, “I will guard my ways, that I may not sin with my tongue;
I will guard my mouth with a muzzle,
so long as the wicked are in my presence.”
2 I was mute and silent;
I held my peace to no avail,
and my distress grew worse.
3 My heart became hot within me.
As I mused, the fire burned;
then I spoke with my tongue:
4 “O LORD, make me know my end
and what is the measure of my days;
let me know how fleeting I am!
5 Behold, you have made my days a few handbreadths,
and my lifetime is as nothing before you.
Surely all mankind stands as a mere breath! Selah
6 Surely a man goes about as a shadow!
Surely for nothing they are in turmoil;
man heaps up wealth and does not know who will gather!
7 “And now, O Lord, for what do I wait?
My hope is in you.
8 Deliver me from all my transgressions.
Do not make me the scorn of the fool!
9 I am mute; I do not open my mouth,
for it is you who have done it.
10 Remove your stroke from me;
I am spent by the hostility of your hand.
11 When you discipline a man
with rebukes for sin,
you consume like a moth what is dear to him;
surely all mankind is a mere breath! Selah
12 “Hear my prayer, O LORD,
and give ear to my cry;
hold not your peace at my tears!
For I am a sojourner with you,
a guest, like all my fathers.
13 Look away from me, that I may smile again,
before I depart and am no more!”
What I'm Reading
Dealing with Differences
By Roger Nicole 5/1/2009
We are called upon by the Lord to contend earnestly for the faith (Jude 3). But that does not necessarily involve being contentious; it involves avoiding compromise, standing forth for what we believe, standing forth for the truth of God — without welching at any particular moment. Thus, we are bound to meet, at various points and various levels, people with whom we disagree. We disagree in some areas of Christian doctrine. We disagree as to some details of church administration. We disagree as to the way in which certain tasks of the church should be pursued. And, in fact, if we are careful to observe a few principles that I would like to expound for you, then I would suggest that they might be valuable also in disagreements that are not in the religious field. They also would apply to disagreements in politics or difficulties with people in your job or friction within the family or contentions between husband and wife or between parents and children. Who does not encounter from time to time people who are not in complete agreement? Therefore, it is good to seek to discover certain basic principles whereby we may relate to those who differ from us.
In order to approach this subject, there are three major questions that we must ask; and I would like to emphasize very strongly that, in my judgment, we need to ask them precisely in the right order: (1) What do I owe the person who differs from me? (2) What can I learn from the person who differs from me? (3) How can I cope with the person who differs from me?
First, I suggest that we need to face squarely the matter of our duties. We have obligations to people who differ from us. This does not involve agreeing with them. We have an obligation to the truth that has a priority over agreement with any particular person; if someone is not in the truth, we have no right to agree. We have no right even to minimize the importance of the difference; and therefore, we do not owe consent or indifference. But what we owe that person who differs from us, whoever that may be, is what we owe every human being — we owe them to love them. And we owe them to deal with them as we ourselves would like to be dealt with or treated (Matt. 7:12).
And how, then, do we desire to be treated? Well, the first thing that we notice here is that we want people to know what we are saying or meaning and that we have taken into consideration and understand what those with whom we disagree have said. In short, I would say we owe our opponents to deal with them in such a way that they may sense that we have a real interest in them as persons, that we are not simply trying to win an argument or show how smart we are, but that we are deeply interested in them — and are eager to learn from them as well as to help them.
Second, we need to ask the question: “What can I learn from those who differ from me?” It is not censurable selfishness to seek to gain maximum benefits from any situation that we encounter. It is truly a pity if we fail to take advantage of opportunities to learn and develop what almost any controversy affords us.
The first thing that I should be prepared to learn is that I am wrong and the other person is right. Obviously, this does not apply to certain basic truths of the faith like the deity of Christ or salvation by grace. Yet, apart from issues where God has spoken so that doubt and hesitancy are not permissible, there are numerous areas where we are temperamentally inclined to be very assertive and yet can quite possibly be in error. When we are unwilling to acknowledge our fallibility, we reveal that we are more interested in winning a discussion and safeguarding our reputation than in the discovery and triumph of truth.
Moreover, we may learn from one who differs from us that our presentations, while correct as far as they go, fail to embody the truth in its entirety on the subject in view. Although what we assert is true, there are elements of truth that, in our own clumsy way, we have overlooked. The person who differs from me may render me great service by compelling me to present the truth in its completeness and thus avoid pitfalls created by under-emphasis, over-emphasis, and omissions. Thus my account will be “full-orbed” rather than “half-baked!”
Finally, it is also proper to raise the query: “How can I cope with those who differ from me?” That is to say, how are we to argue with others?
In evangelical circles, biblical arguments carry a maximum of weight if properly handled, for they invoke the authority of God Himself in support of a position. Yet we must ever strive to take account of the fullness of biblical revelation to have the boldness to advance as far as it leads, and the restraint to stop in our speculations where the Bible ceases to provide guidance.
Beyond this, we must also employ general arguments, namely logic, history, and tradition. While the authority involved is not on the same level as the Bible, it has a bearing on the discussions and must be considered by those who wish to make a strong case.
Perhaps the most important consideration for the Christian is to remain aware at all times of the goal to be achieved. Are we attempting to win an argument in order to manifest our own superior knowledge and debating ability? Or are we seeking to win another person whom we perceive as enmeshed in error or inadequacy by exposing him to the truth and light that God has given to us?
Dr. Roger Nicole was professor emeritus of theology at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Fla., and author of Standing Forth. A notable theologian of the twentieth century, he was very influential in the shaping of evangelical theology in America.
Doing Without the Church?
By Gene Edward Veith 5/1/2009
The seven churches of Asia addressed in the book of Revelation had their problems. One of them looked quite lively but it was actually dead. Another was so lukewarm that the Lord was ready to spit it out of His mouth. And yet the Son of Man did not tell the Christians of Sardis or of Laodicea to pull out of their congregations.
Today, though, a growing number of Christians are doing just that. Despite the continued visibility of megachurches, the new trend is for minichurches, microchurches, or no churches at all.
According to pollster George Barna, the era of the institution is over. In his books Revolution: Finding Vibrant Faith Beyond the Walls of the Sanctuary and The Second Coming of the Church, Barna hails what he calls the “revolutionaries” who are abandoning the established church in favor of small group fellowships and individual devotion.
An increasing number of Christians have dropped out of congregations to form their own “house churches.” These typically consist of a few families that meet together in someone’s home. They are essentially Bible studies and fellowship groups whose members belong to no other congregation.
A house is indeed a good place for a church. Persecuted Christians have met in each other’s homes from the days of ancient Rome to contemporary China. House churches may be worth reviving for American Christians, whether in face of a new persecution or just because a congregation wants to do without a big, expensive building.
But even house churches still need to have the marks of the church. The house churches Barna is lauding typically have no structure, no formal doctrines, and no organization. They usually have no ministers or elders. Instead of calling a pastor who has studied God’s Word in depth and who knows how to exercise pastoral care, the practice is usually to just take turns leading the discussions. The house churches have no affiliations with any larger church body, nor do they have specific doctrines or confessions of faith. They do little, if anything, with the sacraments. No one is subject to church discipline, as such. If conflict breaks out, people just don’t come back. They can just worship at somebody else’s house.
House churches, though, are too institutional for some people. Many Christians take homeschooling a step further and establish a “home church.” In this arrangement a family is its own congregation. The father might teach from the Bible with the wife and children listening. They then adjourn to the dining room for Sunday dinner. No outsiders intrude.
Having family devotions is a salutary practice, but they are not supposed to take the place of public corporate worship.
But even home churches are too institutional for some people. Why does a Christian need other people around at all? “Based on our research,” Barna says approvingly, “I have projected that by the year 2010, 10 to 20 percent of Americans will derive all their spiritual input (and output) through the Internet” (Revolution, p. 180).
But even worshiping at such an electronic shrine may be too much human contact for some. Why not just contemplate God by myself? After all, isn’t the inner life more spiritual than all of these externals? Isn’t the personal relationship with God all that matters? In the words of country singer Josh Turner, it’s all about “Me and God.” And for that, I need no one else. As Turner sings, “Ain’t nobody gonna come between me and God.”
But actually I do need someone to come between me and God, the intermediary Jesus Christ; otherwise, I would fare about as well as a mosquito in a nuclear reactor. To know Jesus Christ, I need His external Word and His sacraments. I need someone other than myself to apply these to me. I need someone to teach me and to keep me in line. I need to worship God and receive His gifts. I need the body of Christ, that is, His church.
“Ours is not the business of organized religion, corporate worship, or Bible teaching,” says Barna of his fellow anti-church revolutionaries: “We are in the business of life transformation” (The Second Coming of the Church, p. 96). But, as Michael Horton has shown in his critique of this movement, such an emphasis on “transformation” is mere moralism and mysticism. The gospel, though, involves proclamation. Preaching requires preachers. The grace of God demands the means of grace: Bible teaching, baptism, the Lord’s Supper. Such necessities beget corporate worship and, yes, organized religion (see “No Church, No Problem,” Modern Reformation, July/August 2008).
“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works,” says the apostle, “not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Heb. 10:24–25). It was not good for man to be alone even in Paradise, and it is certainly not good to be alone in a fallen world. God did not design us to be self-contained; rather, He made us dependent on others, both for our daily bread and for our spiritual nourishment.
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
The Lord of the Church
By John MacArthur 5/1/2009
The truth that Christ is Lord of His church may sound somewhat benign to a casual listener in our generation, but the struggle for Christ’s authority in the church has come to us through the ages on a sea of blood. Thankfully, literal bloodshed over the issue is no longer very common. But faithful Christians are still waging a fierce moral and intellectual battle for Christ’s lordship over the church.
One of the major early catalysts in the Protestant Reformation was a book by Jan Hus, a Bohemian Christian who preceded Martin Luther by a full century. The book was De Ecclesia (The Church), and one of Hus’ most profound points was proclaimed in the title of his fourth chapter: “Christ the Only Head of the Church.”
Hus wrote, “Neither is the pope the head nor are the cardinals the whole body of the [true] holy, universal, catholic church. For Christ alone is the head of that church.” Pointing out that most church leaders in his era actually despised the lordship of Christ, Hus said, “To such a low pitch is the clergy come that they hate those who preach often and call Jesus Christ Lord.”
Hus’ candor cost him his life. He was declared a heretic and burnt at the stake in 1415.
More than a hundred years later, already at odds with the papal establishment, Martin Luther read De Ecclesia. After finishing the book, he wrote to a friend, “I have hitherto taught and held all the opinions of Jan Hus unawares; so did John Staupitz. In short, we are all Hussites without knowing it.”
Emboldened by his reading of Hus, the reformer took up the fight for Christ’s honor as true head of His church. Luther wrote, “I am persuaded that if at this time, St. Peter, in person, should preach all the articles of Holy Scripture, and only deny the pope’s authority, power, and primacy, and say, that the pope is not the head of all Christendom, they would cause him to be hanged. Yea, if Christ himself were again on earth, and should preach, without all doubt the pope would crucify him again.”
In many ways, the question, who is Lord of the church? was the over-arching issue of the Protestant Reformation from the start. (That’s what Luther was tacitly acknowledging when he said “we are all Hussites.”)
Of course, Roman Catholic canon law still insists that the pope is her supreme earthly head and the ruling vicar of Christ in that capacity.
But the historic Protestant commitment to Christ’s lordship over the church has also subtly eroded, and that is a trend that deeply concerns me. It’s an issue I have written much about over the years.
For example, some evangelical leaders aggressively teach that it is not even necessary to confess Jesus as Lord in order to be saved. That’s what the so-called “lordship controversy” is about. It would be hard to imagine a more obvious attack against the lordship of Christ over His church, but “no-lordship theology” has thrived for years and seems to be gaining strength.
Evangelicals also gave birth to the “seeker-sensitive” movement wherein church services are tailored to please trend-savvy unbelievers. Novelties ranging from circus acts to slapstick are deliberately injected into corporate “worship” in order to keep worldly minds entertained. That is a practical denial of Christ’s lordship over His church, relegating His Word and ordinances to secondary status while granting hedonistic fashions the right to determine even the order of worship.
Feminists want to redefine the idea of headship, eliminating the idea of authority from the concept altogether. That, too, is a frontal attack on Christ’s lordship over His church.
Bible translators and paraphrasers who tamper with the true sense of God’s Word; emergent church leaders who question the clarity of everything Christ has said; and above all, preachers who seem to talk about everything but Scripture — all of them do what they do in direct defiance of Christ’s rightful authority over His church.
One thing would do more than anything else to answer every challenge to Christ’s authority: the restoration of clear, powerful, expository preaching to its rightful place at the center of all the church’s activities. If we truly believe Christ is Lord of the church, then the church needs to hear His voice. His Word must be proclaimed and its content taught accurately, systematically, and unrelentingly whenever the church comes together.
Jan Hus said the same thing. Declaring that the lordship of Christ over His church means emphatically “that the Christian ought to follow the commandments of Christ,” Hus then cited Acts 10:42 (“[Christ] commanded us to preach to the people”) and called on church leaders of his day to preach the Word of God at every opportunity — even though a papal bull was then in force, strictly limiting how and where the Scriptures could be proclaimed.
The church today is badly in need of reformation again. And Christ’s lordship over His church is still the central truth we must recover, which requires the unleashing of His Word among His people again. We cannot merely float along with the latest evangelical trends and expect things to get better. Like Jan Hus and Martin Luther, we need to fight for the honor and authority of Christ as Lord of His church.
John MacArthur is pastor-teacher of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley , California , author, conference speaker, president of The Master's College and Seminary, and featured teacher with Grace to You.
From 1964 to 1966 Dr. MacArthur served as an associate pastor at Calvary Bible Church in Burbank , California and from 1966 to 1969 as a faculty representative for Talbot Theological Seminary, where he graduated with honors.
In 1969, John came to Grace Community Church . The emphasis of his pulpit ministry is the careful study and verse-by-verse exposition of the Bible, with special attention devoted to the historical and grammatical background behind each passage.Under John's leadership, Grace Community Church's two morning worship services fill the 3,000-seat auditorium to capacity. Several thousand members also participate each week in dozens of fellowship groups and training programs, led by members of the pastoral staff and lay leaders. These groups are dedicated to equipping members for ministry on local, national, and international levels.
In 1985, John became president of The Master's College (formerly Los Angeles Baptist College ), an accredited, four-year, liberal arts Christian college in Santa Clarita , California . In 1986, John founded The Master's Seminary, a graduate school dedicated to training men for full-time pastoral roles and missionary work. In addition to his administrative responsibilities, John regularly teaches Expository Preaching at the seminary and frequently speaks in chapel.
John is also president and featured teacher with Grace to You. Founded in 1969, Grace to You is the nonprofit organization responsible for developing, producing, and distributing John's books, audiocassettes, free sermons (MP3s) and the Grace to You, Portraits of Grace, and Grace to You Weekend radio programs. Grace to You airs thousands of times daily throughout the English speaking world reaching all major population centers in the United States, as well as Australia, Canada, Europe, India, New Zealand, the Philippines, and South Africa. It also airs more than 450 times daily in Spanish reaching 23 countries, including Mexico, Spain, Argentina, Chile, Peru, Venezuela, and Colombia.
Since completing his first best-selling book The Gospel According to Jesus, in 1988, John has written over 100 books and, through Grace to You and retail bookstores, distributed millions of copies worldwide.Many of John's books are available on CD-ROM and many titles have been translated into Chinese, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Marathi, Polish, Romanian, Russian, Spanish, and several other major languages.
John and his wife, Patricia, live in Southern California and have four grown children: Matt, Marcy, Mark, and Melinda.They also enjoy the enthusiastic company of their eleven grandchildren--Johnny, Ty, Jessy, KD, Olivia, Susannah, Gracie, Kylee, Andrew, Brooke and Elizabeth.
"MacArthur calls himself a "leaky dispensationalist"--meaning he rejects any and all "dispensational" soteriological innovations, holding to classic Reformed (i.e., Protestant, not "covenantal") soteriology. MacArthur's "dispensationalism" is eschatological and ecclesiological only. And given the fact that soteriology is central to our whole understanding of Christianity, whereas eschatology and ecclesiology deal primarily with secondary doctrines, it would be my assessment that MacArthur has far less in common with Ryrie than he would have with anyone who believes 1) that God's grace is efficacious for regeneration and sanctification as well as for justification, and 2) that God graciously guarantees the perseverance of all true believers." - Phil Johnson
John MacArthur Books | Go to Books Page
By R.C. Sproul Jr. 5/1/2009
It is a strange habit, though I am often caught in its grip. Why is it, I wonder, that we find ourselves so often longing for those days of the early church? Where did we begin to confuse the descriptive with the prescriptive, using what was the church once upon a time as a guide to what the church should be in our own day? The source of this foolishness is likely more Rousseau and likely less the Bible. Rousseau was the father of the modern Romantic movement who argued that man is basically good and that it is the debilitating effects of culture that always make things worse. The more primitive we can get, the better off we will be. Buying into that template, we find the early church to be our ideal.
That, however, is not at all how the Bible presents the early church. The New Testament begins with the history of the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus told to us in the Gospels. Acts gives us a history of the spread of the good news of Jesus Christ. What follows after, by and large, are sundry writings designed to correct all that was wrong in the churches of the day. Acts shows us Paul establishing churches. Romans through at least Colossians shows us Paul setting those churches straight. He wrote as well to the church at Thessalonica and, I would affirm, even to the Hebrews. Even his epistles to Timothy and Titus focus on weaknesses in the church.
It doesn’t, of course, stop with Paul. Peter deals with failures in the church. James gives some rather stern correctives to the church. John’s epistles deal with problems in the church. The Revelation to Saint John, however, ups the ante. We need to be careful to remember the nature of the calling of the apostles. Our latent distrust of those above us in authority is enough to push us toward this error. Red-letter Bibles make it worse. We tend to see, somehow, the words of Jesus as more authoritative than the words of Paul, Peter, or James. But the authority of the apostles, because it is given by Jesus Himself, is equal to the authority of Jesus Himself. When Paul asks the foolish Galatians who has bewitched them, it is the same as if Jesus Himself were asking the question.
That said, in John’s vision it is in fact Jesus Himself who speaks to the seven churches. His letters therein, not surprisingly, challenge the churches in their sins. Jesus calls them out for their failure to love Him as they ought, for their willingness to tolerate heresy, and for their lukewarm fervor for His kingdom. His chastisements, even though they are directed at churches that have long since passed away (which in itself is a potent lesson for us), sting in our own ears. Or at least they ought. If our response is merely to be concerned for them, we are fools indeed.
If we would understand all the epistles to churches in the whole of the New Testament, we must first understand the wisdom of this bit of Old Testament wisdom literature: “there is nothing new under the sun” (Eccl. 1:9). The churches of the first century were not models of orthodoxy (right doctrine) and orthopraxy (right behavior). Neither, on the other hand, were they beyond the pale. Instead these churches were weak, worldly, and wishy-washy — just like us. Surely the church as a whole has ebbed and flowed over the years. But she has, from the beginning and to our own day, not only been a mixture of wheat and tares but also a body wherein even the wheat often behaves like tares. That is, our problems in the church are not merely that there are unbelievers therein, but the unbelief of the believers therein.
This, friends, ought not to discourage us. We certainly do need to remember God’s judgment as we face up to the bold preaching against our sins that we find in the epistles in the New Testament. But we must likewise remember how these letters begin and end. These are not letters of divorce. They instead implore the churches to repent, to return, and to believe. Paul writes to the saints he loves, not the sinners he is finished with. He begins his letters with love and ends them in the same way. The book of Revelation is much the same. The whole purpose was to encourage the saints to righteousness in a context of hardship. The whole purpose was to remind the saints of their first calling — to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.
Were we wise we would hear these prophetic utterances as addressed to us. Indeed, were we wise we would welcome the same from our own pastors and elders. We would know that as our sins are challenged from the pulpit, they are challenged that we might grow in grace. We would know that our pastors are piercing our hearts and rocking our consciences precisely because they love us. We would receive rebuke as we ought — as kisses from a friend. That is precisely what they are, kisses, ultimately from the friend we have in Jesus. This is love, that our Savior has not only redeemed us but that He is also daily about the business of purifying us, making us a bride without spot or blemish. It’s a painful process, but it has a glorious end.
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
The Genuine Life
By Scotty Smith 6/1/2009
With three decades plus change in the pastoral ministry, the gospel seems to be getting bigger and Jesus is appearing more gracious than ever. Maybe that’s because I’ve never been more aware of my brokenness and more disrupted by longings for the day when the already of the kingdom capitulates to the not yet of shalom. Can it really be that we’re destined to be as lovely and as loving as Jesus? (1 John 3:1–3). That promise has singular sustaining power when the inward groans of spiritual childbirth feel more like a tumor than a treasure (Rom. 8:22–25).
I also find myself taking less for granted and making more time for gratitude. Being one year shy of my sixtieth birthday, I’m especially thankful for the leaders who give me a tantalizing glimpse of gospel sanity and genuine humility — those jars of clay through whom the aroma of grace is the best apologetic for the resurrection of Jesus. May God increase their tribe. I’ve never been more impressed with leaders who aren’t the least bit impressed with themselves. Put the apostle Paul at the top of that list. His words to Timothy, a son and protégé in the faith, charm and challenge my heart (please stop to read 1 Tim. 1:12–17).
From what seminary did this guy graduate? Who progressively updates their professional vitae in this fashion? AD 57, “I’m the least of the apostles” (1 Cor. 15:9). AD 60, “I’m less than the least of all God’s people” (Eph. 3:8). AD 63, “I’m chief of sinners” (1 Tim. 1:15) I’ve always been impressed with Paul’s keen mind, but now I’m even more impressed with his gentle, humble heart.
Marinating in Paul’s doxological confession, I remember with chagrin my first pastorate after graduating from Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia — not to imply that’s the only chapter in my years of ministry for which I carry non-condemning grief. I was ordained by the PCUS in 1977 at First Presbyterian Church, Winston Salem, North Carolina. Called to serve as youth pastor, I joined a pastoral staff of graduates from Yale, Princeton, and Union. I soon took on the self-appointed role of theological prosecuting attorney in the kingdom.
Armed with answers to questions few were asking, I was more preoccupied with being right than being caring. Though a commitment to defending the truth and loving well are not mutually exclusive, it seems that spotting heresies required so much less of me than loving people. But over the course of the past thirty years, God has displayed his perfect patience and relentless providence in enabling me to accept my place alongside of Paul as “foremost sinner.” Indeed, His mercy has proven to be more than a match for my heart.
So how would I love to finish the race, and how do I pray the next generation of leaders will begin it? There’s no better example than Paul.
Gospel astonishment versus theological cockiness
I learned the lyric of the gospel long before I loved its music. As pastor, husband, dad and friend, living from my head has always been easier than engaging from my heart, and not nearly as messy. But leaders who delight in the imputed righteousness of Christ seem to defend it the best. Paul never seemed to have “gotten over” the hyper-abundance of grace, faith, and love given to us in Jesus. While the gospel does free us from childishness, it should make us more and more childlike in awe, joy, and humility.
Chief repenter versus former sinner
When, in writing to Timothy, Paul referred to himself as “foremost sinner,” he wasn’t engaging in hype or hyperbole. His whole body of writing shows us he really meant it. A former blasphemer, persecutor, and violent man was still a current sinner, in need of the mercy and grace of God. Imagine how encouraging and empowering this was to Timothy. His spiritual father lived a life of ongoing repentance before his very eyes. God’s perfect patience for Paul must have made it easier for Timothy not to live as a poser or pretender.
When we first planted Christ Community Church in 1986, Dr. Jack Miller preached our constitution service, challenging me and our leadership family to be the chief repenters in the church. When we’ve forgotten or ignored that charge, our congregation has suffered the most. For what is as insufferable as self-righteous leaders?
Preaching Christ to yourself versus preaching yourself
Paul never used an audience or epistle as a vehicle for self advertisement or personal aggrandizement. He preached Christ, not himself (2 Cor. 4:5), and yet he was constantly preaching Christ to himself. Leaders who make the most of Jesus are those who make the gospel the most beautiful and believable. Leaders who preach themselves master the effective technique of transparency, but they remain clueless about the redemptive trauma of vulnerability.
Oh, that the King of the ages might be made visible through an emerging generation of leaders who will live and lead as genuinely as Paul.
Rev. Scotty Smith Books:
7 things God does not want us to be ignorant of
By Kirk M. (ChristianBlog.com 6-17-2015
The Greek word agnoeo takes the common word noeo (to know) and places an a before it meaning "not". Simply put, this word means “not to know, understand or comprehend” . Although the word agnoeo is used numerous times in the New Testament, there are seven times when it is used in conjunction with the Greek word ou (not) making the meaning in English to be "not ignorant of” . These seven things God does not want us to be ignorant of present wonderful and simple references to some of the most important elements of our Christian walk. “The Deliverer will come from Zion,
All but one of these particular usages of agnoeo come in Romans, 1 Corinthians and 2 Corinthians. For the sake of simplicity, let us look at these seven usages as they come up chronologically in the New Testament. The first usage is found in Romans 1:13:
Romans 1:13 I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that I have often intended to come to you (but thus far have been prevented), in order that I may reap some harvest among you as well as among the rest of the Gentiles. ESV
And I would not have you ignorant, brethren, that oftentimes I purposed to come unto you (and was hindered hitherto), that I might have some fruit in you also, even as in the rest of the Gentiles.
The Apostle Paul did not want the believers in Rome to be ignorant of how many times he wanted to visit them in. It is obvious in verses 8 and 9 that Paul thought highly of the believers in Rome and prayed for them without ceasing. Verses 10-12 express Paul's great desire and expectation to see them and impart unto them some spiritual gift that they would be established. Paul wanted them to not be ignorant that many times he purposed to come to Rome but was hindered. The next reference is found in Romans 11:25:
Romans 11:25 Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. 26 And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written,
he will banish ungodliness from Jacob”;
27 “and this will be my covenant with them
when I take away their sins.” ESV
Paul did not want the Roman believers (which were a blend of Jews and Gentiles) to be ignorant of this mystery. Time and space do not allow me to go into this difficult verse, but the mystery (secret) Paul was referring to here is found in verse 24 where he talks about grafting branches from a wild olive tree into a good olive tree. The mystery is that this process works and it is reference to grafting the Gentiles into the Jewish tree. It is indeed a secret how this can happen. The next reference is found in 1 Corinthians 10:1:
1 Corinthians 10:1 For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea,
1 Corinthians 10:5 Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness.
6 Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. 7 Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.” 8 We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. 9 We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, 10 nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. 11 Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. 12 Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. 13 No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. ESV
For I would not, brethren, have you ignorant, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea;
This reference actually includes verses 2-4 and in these verses Paul reminds the predominantly Gentile believers in Corinth of the positives that took place in the Children of Israel's passage from Egypt to the Promised Land. It is important that we all never forget the glorious things God did for His people at this time. It is also very important that we never forget what Paul brings up in verses 5-13. The next reference is found in 1 Corinthians 12:1:
1 Corinthians 12:1 Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed. ESV
Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I would not have you ignorant.
The words translated “spiritual gifts” are one Greek word pneumatikos which should be translated as “spiritual things or matters” . The entire realm of spiritual matters encompasses not only the matters brought up in the following verses but all matters in the Divine sphere and also in satan's realm (Ephesians 6:12). God does not want us to be ignorant concerning spiritual matters. The next reference is found in 2 Corinthians 1:8:
Ephesians 6:12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. ESV
For we would not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning our affliction which befell us in Asia, that we were weighed down exceedingly, beyond our power, insomuch that we despaired even of life:
In light of the context of the first few chapters of 2 Corinthians (which deal with suffering, affliction and tribulation), it is not surprising that Paul expresses his desire that the Corinthian believers not be ignorant of the affliction he and his companions went through in Asia. Specifically, Paul wanted them to not be ignorant of just how dire the situation was, so much so that they feared for their very lives. The next reference is found in 2 Corinthians 2:11:
2 Corinthians 2:11 so that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs. ESV
that no advantage may be gained over us by Satan: for we are not ignorant of his devices.
The direct context of this verse is found in verse 10 which is FORGIVENESS. Nothing opens the door to satan faster and more effectively than lack of forgiveness. Nothing gives satan an advantage over God's people more than when they fail to forgive each other. Logically, satan does everything in his power to keep believers from manifesting forgiveness. We must not be ignorant of this truth lest satan gain an advantage over us. The final reference is found in 1 Thessalonians 4:13:
1 Thessalonians 4:13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. 15 For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words. ESV
But we would not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning them that fall asleep; that ye sorrow not, even as the rest, who have no hope.
What greater way to conclude this study than to bring it back to the hope we have of Christ's return! Specifically, Paul did not want the believers to be ignorant regarding the state of those who had passed away. He did not want the believers to sorrow as the unbelievers did when they lost someone. Verses 14-18 go on to give the incredible details of what our hope entails. The dead in Christ shall rise first and then we which are alive will be gathered together in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air and forever be with Him.
The opposite of being ignorant of something is to know or understand. In each of these seven references, God is laying out specific things He wants us to KNOW, UNDERSTAND and COMPREHEND. The more we concentrate on “not being ignorant” of these things, the more we will tap into the heart of God as manifested in the Church Epistles.
“The Deliverer will come from Zion,
Kirk M. A retired minister living with his wife and animals in rural eastern Missouri
Read The Psalms In "1" Year
Psalm 66How Awesome Are Your Deeds
66 To The Choirmaster. A Song. A Psalm.
13 I will come into your house with burnt offerings;
I will perform my vows to you,
14 that which my lips uttered
and my mouth promised when I was in trouble.
15 I will offer to you burnt offerings of fattened animals,
with the smoke of the sacrifice of rams;
I will make an offering of bulls and goats. Selah
16 Come and hear, all you who fear God,
and I will tell what he has done for my soul.
17 I cried to him with my mouth,
and high praise was on my tongue.
18 If I had cherished iniquity in my heart,
the Lord would not have listened.
19 But truly God has listened;
he has attended to the voice of my prayer.
20 Blessed be God,
because he has not rejected my prayer
or removed his steadfast love from me!
The Institutes of the Christian Religion
Translated by Henry Beveridge
OF VOWS. THE MISERABLE ENTANGLEMENTS CAUSED BY VOWING RASHLY.
This chapter consists of two parts,--I. Of vows in general, sec. 1-8.
II. Of monastic vows, and specially of the vow of celibacy, sec. 8-21.
1. Some general principles with regard to the nature of vows. Superstitious errors not only of the heathen, but of Christians, in regard to vows.
2. Three points to be considered with regard to vows. First, to whom the vow is made--viz. to God. Nothing to be vowed to him but what he himself requires.
3. Second, Who we are that vow. We must measure our strength, and have regard to our calling. Fearful errors of the Popish clergy by not attending to this. Their vow of celibacy.
4. Third point to be attended to--viz. the intention with which the vow is made. Four ends in vowing. Two of them refer to the past, and two to the future. Examples and use of the former class.
5. End of vows which refer to the future.
6. The doctrine of vows in general. Common vow of Christians in Baptism, &c. This vow sacred and salutary. Particular vows how to be tested.
7. Great prevalence of superstition with regard to vows.
8. Vows of monks. Contrast between ancient and modern monasticism.
9. Portraiture of the ancient monks by Augustine.
10. Degeneracy of modern monks. 1. Inconsiderate rigour. 2. Idleness. 3. False boast of perfection.
11. This idea of monastic perfection refuted.
12. Arguments for monastic perfection. First argument answered.
13. Second argument answered.
14. Absurdity of representing the monastic profession as a second baptism.
15. Corrupt manners of monks.
16. Some defects in ancient monasticism.
17. General refutation of monastic vows.
18. Refutation continued.
19. Refutation continued.
20. Do such vows of celibacy bind the conscience? This question answered.
21. Those who abandon the monastic profession for an honest living, unjustly accused of breaking their faith.
1. It is indeed deplorable that the Church, whose freedom was purchased by the inestimable price of Christ's blood, should have been thus oppressed by a cruel tyranny, and almost buried under a huge mass of traditions; but, at the same time, the private infatuation of each individual shows, that not without just cause has so much power been given from above to Satan and his ministers. It was not enough to neglect the command of Christ, and bear anyburdens which false teachers might please to impose, but each individual behoved to have his own peculiar burdens, and thus sink deeper by digging his own cavern. This has been the result when men set about devising vows, by which a stronger and closer obligation might be added to common ties. Having already shown that the worship of God was vitiated by the audacity of those who, under the name of pastors, domineered in the Church, when they ensnared miserable souls by their iniquitous laws, it will not be out of place here to advert to a kindred evil, to make it appear that the world, in accordance with its depraved disposition, has always thrown every possible obstacle in the way of the helps by which it ought to have been brought to God. Moreover, that the very grievous mischief introduced by such vows may be more apparent, let the reader attend to the principles formerly laid down. First, we showed (Book 2 chap. 8 sec. 5) that everything requisite for the ordering of a pious and holy life is comprehended in the law. Secondly, we showed that the Lord, the better to dissuade us from devising new works, included the whole of righteousness in simple obedience to his will. If these positions are true, it is easy to see that all fictitious worship, which we ourselves devise for the purpose of serving God, is not in the least degree acceptable to him, how pleasing soever it may be to us. And, unquestionably, in many passages the Lord not only openly rejects, but grievously abhors such worship. Hence arises a doubt with regard to vows which are made without any express authority from the word of God; in what light are they to be viewed? can they be duly made by Christian men, and to what extent are they binding? What is called a promise among men is a vow when made to God. Now, we promise to men either things which we think will be acceptable to them, or things which we in duty owe them. Much more careful, therefore, ought we to be in vows which are directed to God, with whom we ought to act with the greatest seriousness. Here superstition has in all ages strangely prevailed; men at once, without judgment and without choice, vowing to God whatever came into their minds, or even rose to their lips. Hence the foolish vows, nay, monstrous absurdities, by which the heathen insolently sported with their gods. Would that Christians had not imitated them in this their audacity! Nothing, indeed, could be less becoming; but it is obvious that for some ages nothing has been more usual than this misconduct--the whole body of the people everywhere despising the Law of God,  and burning with an insane zeal of vowing according to any dreaming notion which they had formed. I have no wish to exaggerate invidiously, or particularise the many grievous sins which have here been committed; but it seemed right to advert to it in passing, that it may the better appear, that when we treat of vows we are not by any means discussing a superfluous question.
2. If we would avoid error in deciding what vows are legitimate, and what preposterous, three things must be attended to--viz. who he is to whom the vow is made; who we are that make it; and, lastly, with what intention we make it. In regard in the first, we should consider that we have to do with God, whom our obedience so delights, that he abominates all will-worship, how specious and splendid soever it be in the eyes of men (Col. 2:23). If all will-worship, which we devise without authority, is abomination to God, it follows that no worship can be acceptable to him save that which is approved by his word. Therefore, we must not arrogate such licence to ourselves as to presume to vow anything to God without evidence of the estimation in which he holds it. For the doctrine of Paul, that whatsoever is not of faith is sin (Rom. 14:23), while it extends to all actions of every kind, certainly applies with peculiar force in the case where the thought is immediately turned towards God. Nay, if in the minutest matters (Paul was then speaking of the distinction of meats) we err or fall, where the sure light of faith shines not before us, how much more modesty ought we to use when we attempt a matter of the greatest weight? For in nothing ought we to be more serious than in the duties of religion. In vows, then, our first precaution must be, never to proceed to make any vow without having previously determined in our conscience to attempt nothing rashly. And we shall be safe from the danger of rashness when we have God going before, and, as it were, dictating from his word what is good, and what is useless.
3. In the second point which we have mentioned as requiring consideration is implied, that we measure our strength, that we attend to our vocation so as not to neglect the blessing of liberty which God has conferred upon us. For he who vows what is not within his means, or is at variance with his calling, is rash, while he who contemns the beneficence of God in making him lord of' all things, is ungrateful. When I speak thus, I mean not that anything is so placed in our hand, that, leaning on our own strength, we may promise it to God. For in the Council of Arausica (cap. 11) it was most truly decreed, that nothing is duly vowed to God save what we have received from his hand, since all things which are offered to him are merely his gifts. But seeing that some things are given to us by the goodness of God, and others withheld by his justice, every man should have respect to the measure of grace bestowed on him, as Paul enjoins (Rom. 12:3; 1 Cor. 12:11). All then I mean here is, that your vows should be adapted to the measure which God by his gifts prescribes to you, lest by attempting more than he permits, you arrogate too much to yourself, and fall headlong. For example, when the assassins, of whom mention is made in the Acts, vowed "that they would neither eat nor drink till they had killed Paul" (Acts 23:12), though it had not been an impious conspiracy, it would still have been intolerably presumptuous, as subjecting the life and death of a man to their own power. Thus Jephthah suffered for his folly, when with precipitate fervour he made a rash vow (Judges 11:30). Of this class, the first place of insane audacity belongs to celibacy. Priests, monks, and nuns, forgetful of their infirmity, are confident of their fitness for celibacy.  But by what oracle have they been instructed, that the chastity which they vow to the end of life, they will be able through life to maintain? They hear the voice of God concerning the universal condition of mankind, "It is not good that the man should be alone" (Gen. 2:18). They understand, and I wish they did not feel that the sin remaining in us is armed with the sharpest stings. How can they presume to shake off the common feelings of their nature for a whole lifetime, seeing the gift of continence is often granted for a certain time as occasion requires? In such perverse conduct they must not expect God to be their helper; let them rather remember the words, "Ye shall not tempt the Lord your God" (Deut. 6:16). But it is to tempt the Lord to strive against the nature implanted by him, and to spurn his present gifts as if they did not appertain to us. This they not only do, but marriage, which God did not think it unbecoming his majesty to institute, which he pronounced honourable in all, which Christ our Lord sanctified by his presence, and which he deigned to honour with his first miracle, they presume to stigmatise as pollution, so extravagant are the terms in which they eulogise every kind of celibacy; as if in their own life they did not furnish a clear proof that celibacy is one thing and chastity another. This life, however, they most impudently style angelical, thereby offering no slight insult to the angels of God, to whom they compare whoremongers and adulterers, and something much worse and fouler still.  And, indeed, there is here very little occasion for argument, since they are abundantly refuted by fact. For we plainly see the fearful punishments with which the Lord avenges this arrogance and contempt of his gifts from overweening confidence. More hidden crimes I spare through shame; what is known of them is too much. Beyond all controversy, we ought not to vow anything which will hinder us in fulfilling our vocation; as if the father of a family were to vow to leave his wife and children, and undertake other burdens; or one who is fit for a public office should, when elected to it, vow to live private. But the meaning of what we have said as to not despising our liberty may occasion some difficulty if not explained. Wherefore, understand it briefly thus: Since God has given us dominion over all things, and so subjected them to us that we may use them for our convenience, we cannot hope that our service will be acceptable to God if we bring ourselves into bondage to external things, which ought to be subservient to us. I say this, because some aspire to the praise of humility, for entangling themselves in a variety of observances from which God for good reason wished us to be entirely free. Hence, if we would escape this danger, let us always remember that we are by no means to withdraw from the economy which God has appointed in the Christian Church.
4. I come now to my third position--viz that if you would approve your vow to God, the mind in which you undertake it is of great moment. For seeing that God looks not to the outward appearance but to the heart, the consequence is, that according to the purpose which the mind has in view, the same thing may at one time please and be acceptable to him, and at another be most displeasing. If you vow abstinence from wine, as if there were any holiness in so doing, you are superstitious; but if you have some end in view which is not perverse, no one can disapprove. Now, as far as I can see, there are four ends to which our vows may be properly directed; two of these, for the sake of order, I refer to the past, and two to the future. To the past belong vows by which we either testify our gratitude toward God for favours received, or in order to deprecate his wrath, inflict punishment on ourselves for faults committed. The former, let us if you please call acts of thanksgiving; the latter, acts of repentance. Of the former class, we have an example in the tithes which Jacob vowed (Gen. 28:20), if the Lord would conduct him safely home from exile; and also in the ancient peace-offerings which pious kings and commanders, when about to engage in a just war, vowed that they would give if they were victorious, or, at least, if the Lord would deliver them when pressed by some greater difficulty. Thus are to be understood all the passages in the Psalms which speak of vows (Ps. 22:26; 56:13; 116:14, 18). Similar vows may also be used by us in the present day, whenever the Lord has rescued us from some disaster or dangerous disease, or other peril. For it is not abhorrent from the office of a pious man thus to consecrate a votive offering to God as a formal symbol of acknowledgment that he may not seem ungrateful for his kindness. The nature of the second class it will be sufficient to illustrate merely by one familiar example. Should any one, from gluttonous indulgence, have fallen into some iniquity, there is nothing to prevent him, with the view of chastising his intemperance, from renouncing all luxuries for a certain time, and in doing so, from employing a vow for the purpose of binding himself more firmly. And yet I do not lay down this as an invariable law to all who have similarly offended; I merely show what may be lawfully done by those who think that such a vow will be useful to them. Thus while I hold it lawful so to vow, I at the same time leave it free.
5. The vows which have reference to the future tend partly, as we have said, to render us more cautious, and partly to act as a kind of stimulus to the discharge of duty. A man sees that he is so prone to a certain vice, that in a thing which is otherwise not bad he cannot restrain himself from forthwith falling into evil: he will not act absurdly in cutting off the use of that thing for some time by a vow. If, for instance, one should perceive that this or that bodily ornament brings him into peril, and yet allured by cupidity he eagerly longs for it, what can he do better than by throwing a curb upon himself, that is, imposing the necessity of abstinence, free himself from all doubt? In like manner, should one be oblivious or sluggish in the necessary duties of piety, why should he not, by forming a vow, both awaken his memory and shake off his sloth? In both, I confess, there is a kind of tutelage, but inasmuch as they are helps to infirmity, they are used not without advantage by the ignorant and imperfect. Hence we hold that vows which have respect to one of these ends, especially in external things, are lawful, provided they are supported by the approbation of God, are suitable to our calling, and are limited to the measure of grace bestowed upon us.
6. It is not now difficult to infer what view on the whole ought to be taken of vows. There is one vow common to all believers, which taken in baptism we confirm, and as it were sanction, by our Catechism,  and partaking of the Lord's Supper. For the sacraments are a kind of mutual contracts by which the Lord conveys his mercy to us, and by it eternal life, while we in our turn promise him obedience. The formula, or at least substance, of the vow is, That renouncing Satan we bind ourselves to the service of God, to obey his holy commands, and no longer follow the depraved desires of our flesh. It cannot be doubted that this vow, which is sanctioned by Scripture, nay, is exacted from all the children of God, is holy and salutary. There is nothing against this in the fact, that no man in this life yields that perfect obedience to the law which God requires of us. This stipulation being included in the covenant of grace, comprehending forgiveness of sins and the spirit of holiness, the promise which we there make is combined both with entreaty for pardon and petition for assistance. It is necessary, in judging of particular vows, to keep the three former rules in remembrance: from them any one will easily estimate the character of each single vow. Do not suppose, however, that I so commend the vows which I maintain to be holy that I would have them made every day. For though I dare not give any precept as to time or number, yet if any one will take my advice, he will not undertake any but what are sober and temporary. If you are ever and anon launching out into numerous vows, the whole solemnity will be lost by the frequency, and you will readily fall into superstition. If you bind yourself by a perpetual vow, you will have great trouble and annoyance in getting free, or, worn out by length of time, you will at length make bold to break it.
Christian Classics Ethereal Library / Public Domain
Institutes of the Christian Religion
Devotionals, notes, poetry and more
3/1/2012 Theological Narcissism
According to Greek mythology, Narcissus was a hunter from Thespia renowned for his beauty. His enemy, Nemesis, lured the arrogant Narcissus to a pool of water where he gazed at his own reflection and became utterly infatuated with the image in the pool, not realizing it was his own reflection. Enraptured with himself, Narcissus could not escape the beauty of his own reflection and eventually died. We are all like Narcissus. We are infatuated with ourselves — obsessed with our own image. However, we’re not satisfied merely to bask in our own importance, we want everyone around us to be as enamored with us as we are with ourselves, and, what’s more, we want God Himself to be so taken with us that He makes all His thoughts revolve around us as if we were the center and ultimate end of all His plans.
Our self-centeredness is the heart of our pride and the foundation of our rebellion against God. We not only want to know as God knows, we want to inform God in what He knows. Just as our archnemesis deceived our first parents, so we, too, often fall prey to his schemes when we ignore God’s law, negotiate our selfish desires with God, compromise His truth, rationalize our sin, and then attempt to hide from Him by closing our eyes and pretending He doesn’t see us.
In our natural arrogance, we are easily lured by our self-seeking hearts to look inward — at our wisdom, our accomplishments, our possessions — instead of fixing our eyes on God alone. Our narcissistic self-preoccupation constantly draws our eyes from the Creator to the creature, from God to self. As a result, we begin to develop our own personalized theology, making for ourself a god in our own image, fashioning him to be everything we thought we ever wanted in a god — a god who loves whom we love and hates whom we hate, a god who is sovereign over all the good things in our lives but helpless and ignorant of all the bad things that happen to us, a god who serves us at our every beck and call as if he were our own personal cosmic bellhop in the sky who comes grovelling at the slightest ring of a bell. Such individualistic theology is, by nature, non-covenantal, non-familial, and non-ecclesiastical. It’s a theology centered around what makes sense to me, what seems fair to me, what makes me happy, and what makes me feel good about myself. Simply put, self-centered theology sees man as big and God as small.
But God, in His sovereign love for us, fixed His eyes on us as His Bride, condescended to our weakness and self-centered arrogance, dwelt among us, lived for us, served us, and gave Himself for us — and He did it all for our eternal good and His eternal glory.
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Dr. Burk Parsons (@BurkParsons) is editor of Tabletalk magazine, senior pastor of Saint Andrew’s Chapel in Sanford, Fla., a visiting lecturer at Reformed Theological Seminary, and a Ligonier Ministries teaching fellow. He is editor of John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, and Doxology.
Ligonier coram Deo (definition)
by Bill Federer
Today, June 20, in the year 1632, King Charles of England granted a charter for the Colony of Maryland, named for Queen Henrietta Maria. Lord Baltimore sent two ships, the Ark and the Dove, to settle the colony. Buying land from the Indians, they founded the city of St. Mary’s, as a refuge for persecuted Catholics, but soon extended religious toleration to all faiths. The Charter reads: “Whereas our… right trusty subject… Baron of Baltimore… being animated with a… pious Zeal for extending the Christian Religion, and also the Territories of our Empire, hath humbly besought Leave.”
Compiled by Richard S. Adams
I had a thousand questions to ask God;
but when I met him
they all fled and didn't seem to matter.
--- Christopher Morley
Because God shows not signs from heaven' such as man seeks; because His long-suffering waiteth long; because, all unnoticed, the finger moves on the dial-plate of time till the hour strikes; because there is Divine grandeur and majesty in the slow, unheard, certain nigh-march of events under His direction. God is content to wait, because He reigneth; man must be content to wait, because he believeth.
--- Alfred Edersheim
The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah
Prayer is so simple.
It is like quietly opening a door
and slipping into the very presence of God.
Soul and the City: Finding God in the Noise and Frenzy of Life
All suffering comes from a person's inability to sit still and be alone.
--- Anthony de Mello
One Minute Wisdom
Religion must not just be something in one’s life, but everything. Jesus demands that we love God with all our heart, all our soul, and all our strength.
--- Herman Bavinck
... from here, there and everywhere
CHAPTER 11 / Maharal on “You Shall Love”
Paradoxically, it is the very abyss that separates God and humanity that makes love possible:
But according to what we have said, there is no difficulty. For although He is in heaven and you are on earth, and the distance between God and man is so great as to defy articulation, the explanation [of the love between them] is … that God is the very existence of man, and it is impossible [for man to exist] without Him, and therefore is it relevant to speak of loving Him. For everything loves that which is his completion, and God is the completion of man.
Elsewhere, he delineates two types of fear: one that is independent of love, and the other—the more common—that is but the disguised face of love and therefore only another facet of our love of God:
For the Maharal, the term ahavah, “love,” is qualitatively different when applied to God than when applied to humans. Love between humans, no matter how intense, does not require that they dissolve their egos and negate their very existence. But our love for God demands that we recognize the “necessary” or absolute existence of God as opposed to our merely “contingent” existence. The fact that we owe our very existence to God makes our love for God that much more powerful and significant.
The Maharal makes this point quite cogently by referring to the well-known talmudic tale of the martyrdom of R. Akiva. The Talmud (Berakhot 61b) relates that when the Romans condemned R. Akiva to death, skinning him alive with metal combs, it was at the time of day that one was required to recite the Shema. As R. Akiva was doing so, his students asked, “Must one indeed go so far (in suffering martyrdom for the sake of God)?” “Indeed so,” the master replied, “for all my life I waited for this opportunity (to fulfill the mitzvah of martyrdom); shall I then refrain from so doing now that the opportunity is at hand?” He then recited the Shema, elongating the word eḥad (the Lord is one) and then expired.
Now I ask you, how did he fulfill the commandment to love God with all his heart and all his soul by lengthening his recitation of eḥad until he expired? The answer is this: Man’s love for God that issues from man himself is of no account, for man comes from God and to Him he returns. All returns to God, and nothing [truly] exists other than God, for He is One and naught else [exists].… When [R. Akiva] said, “the Lord is One,” implying that nothing else [truly] exists, and thus all that is [ultimately] returns to Him … his soul returned completely to God in that He is one; and from this vantage does love exist. That is why it says, “[Hear O Israel] the Lord is our God, the Lord is one, and you shall love the Lord your God,” etc. (8)
(8) Netivot Olam, Netiv Ahavat Hashem, chapter 1.
Here the Maharal reiterates the incommensurability of love for man and love for God and then concludes his homily on R. Akiva:
Complete love [for God] is that love in which man returns his spirit and his soul to Him completely to the point that man no longer possesses existence, for he is then in total communion with Him.… And as R. Akiva said … For this is complete love: when he offers up his soul to God (i.e., in martyrdom), for then he is in utter communion (devekut, attachment) with Him. This is the essence of love. Thus, we have explained that love appertains more to the love for God (than for a fellow human), in that man offers his life for God and is completely attached to Him. This is true love.
Therefore, when we express ahavat Hashem in the Shema, we obligate ourselves to abjure all superficiality and spiritual pettiness and come prepared to offer our lives to Him who is our Source; this is, after all, what the Sages meant when they said, “ ‘with all your soul’ (Deut. 6:5)—even if He takes your soul,” a theme to which we will return in greater length in chapter 16.
Finally, the Maharal adds another, rather practical dimension to the commandment of ahavat Hashem, one that is less overwhelming in its demand upon us: our attitudes toward our fellows—or, better, toward some of them. The Torah commands us to choose the way of life and blessing, “that you may love the Lord your God, and that … you may cleave unto Him” (Deut. 30:20). The Talmud comments: Is it possible for a mere human being to “cleave” to God, who is described elsewhere in the Torah as a “consuming fire”? The Sages reply: what Scripture means is that whoever marries his daughter to a Torah scholar or takes care of a scholar’s business or in any way provides for a scholar’s needs from his own resources, the Torah considers it as if he had cleaved to the Shekhinah itself, the very Divine Presence. Thus, according to the Talmud, we can take an indirect route in order to “cleave” to God, that is, we can cleave to those who spend their lives studying His Torah.
In commenting upon this biblical verse, the Maharal shifts the focus to the first part of the verse, the command to “love” God. How may those of us less endowed with religious fervor or metaphysical yearning or spiritual prowess express our love for God? The Maharal answers: by loving His scholars, those who devote their time and intellects to knowing, analyzing, and teaching His precepts. The Maharal’s interpretation thus enables “ordinary” people to participate in spirituality, in fulfillment of the halakhic requirement to love God.
The Shema: Spirituality and Law in Judaism
Thanks to Meir Yona
5. Now when Herod was come to Jerusalem, he gathered the people together, and presented to them his three sons, and gave them an apologetic account of his absence, and thanked God greatly, and thanked Caesar greatly also, for settling his house when it was under disturbances, and had procured concord among his sons, which was of greater consequence than the kingdom itself,—"and which I will render still more firm; for Caesar hath put into my power to dispose of the government, and to appoint my successor. Accordingly, in way of requital for his kindness, and in order to provide for mine own advantage, I do declare that these three sons of mine shall be kings. And, in the first place, I pray for the approbation of God to what I am about; and, in the next place, I desire your approbation also. The age of one of them, and the nobility of the other two, shall procure them the succession. Nay, indeed, my kingdom is so large that it may be sufficient for more kings. Now do you keep those in their places whom Caesar hath joined, and their father hath appointed; and do not you pay undue or unequal respects to them, but to every one according to the prerogative of their births; for he that pays such respects unduly, will thereby not make him that is honored beyond what his age requires so joyful, as he will make him that is dishonored sorrowful. As for the kindred and friends that are to converse with them, I will appoint them to each of them, and will so constitute them, that they may be securities for their concord; as well knowing that the ill tempers of those with whom they converse will produce quarrels and contentions among them; but that if these with whom they converse be of good tempers, they will preserve their natural affections for one another. But still I desire that not these only, but all the captains of my army, have for the present their hopes placed on me alone; for I do not give away my kingdom to these my sons, but give them royal honors only; whereby it will come to pass that they will enjoy the sweet parts of government as rulers themselves, but that the burden of administration will rest upon myself whether I will or not. And let every one consider what age I am of, how I have conducted my life, and what piety I have exercised; for my age is not so great that men may soon expect the end of my life; nor have I indulged such a luxurious way of living as cuts men off when they are young; and we have been so religious towards God, that we [have reason to hope we] may arrive at a very great age. But for such as cultivate a friendship with my sons, so as to aim at my destruction, they shall be punished by me on their account. I am not one who envy my own children, and therefore forbid men to pay them great respect; but I know that such [extravagant] respects are the way to make them insolent. And if every one that comes near them does but revolve this in his mind, that if he prove a good man, he shall receive a reward from me, but that if he prove seditious, his ill-intended complaisance shall get him nothing from him to whom it is shown, I suppose they will all be of my side, that is, of my sons' side; for it will be for their advantage that I reign, and that I be at concord with them. But do you, O my good children, reflect upon the holiness of nature itself, by whose means natural affection is preserved, even among wild beasts; in the next place, reflect upon Caesar, who hath made this reconciliation among us; and in the third place, reflect upon me, who entreat you to do what I have power to command you,—continue brethren. I give you royal garments, and royal honors; and I pray to God to preserve what I have determined, in case you be at concord one with another." When the king had thus spoken, and had saluted every one of his sons after an obliging manner, he dismissed the multitude; some of which gave their assent to what he had said, and wished it might take effect accordingly; but for those who wished for a change of affairs, they pretended they did not so much as hear what he said.
The Project Gutenberg EBook of The Wars of the Jews or History of the Destruction of Jerusalem, by Flavius Josephus Translator: William Whiston
The War of the Jews: The History of the Destruction of Jerusalem (complete edition, 7 books)
by D.H. Stern
one who has it is satisfied and rests untouched by evil.
24 The lazy person buries his hand in the dish
but doesn’t even bother to bring it to his mouth.
Complete Jewish Bible : An English Version of the Tanakh (Old Testament) and B'Rit Hadashah (New Testament)
A Daily Devotional by Oswald Chambers
Have you come to “when” yet?
And the Lord turned the captivity of Job when he prayed for his friends. --- Job 42:10.
The plaintive, self-centred, morbid kind of prayer, a dead-set that I want to be right, is never found in the New Testament. The fact that I am trying to be right with God is a sign that I am rebelling against the Atonement. ‘Lord, I will purify my heart if You will answer my prayer; I will walk rightly if You will help me.’ I cannot make myself right with God, I cannot make my life perfect; I can only be right with God if I accept the Atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ as an absolute gift. Am I humble enough to accept it? I have to resign every kind of claim and cease from every effort, and leave myself entirely alone in His hands, and then begin to pour out in the priestly work of intercession. There is much prayer that arises from real disbelief in the Atonement. Jesus is not beginning to save us, He has saved us, the thing is done, and it is an insult to ask Him to do it.
If you are not getting the hundredfold more, not getting insight into God’s word, then start praying for your friends, enter into the ministry of the interior. “The Lord turned the captivity of Job when he prayed for his friends.” The real business of your life as a saved soul is intercessory prayer. Wherever God puts you in circumstances, pray immediately, pray that His Atonement may be realized in other lives as it has been in yours. Pray for your friends now; pray for those with whom you come in contact now.
My Utmost for His Highest
the Poetry of RS Thomas
It was March.
Blew. Sudden flowers
Opened in the sea's
Garden; a white bird
Stooped to them. From the town
At the sea's edge
Frightening the bird,
Smirching the flowers.
Was a thousand years old,
But the sea
Had refused to live with it.
a market filled with the blind, they call the one-eyed person “Bright eyes.”
Genesis 6:9–13 / This is the line of Noah.—Noah was a righteous man; he was blameless in his age; Noah walked with God.—Noah begot three sons: Shem, Ham, and Japheth.
The earth became corrupt before God; the earth was filled with lawlessness. When God saw how corrupt the earth was, for all flesh had corrupted its ways on earth, God said to Noah, “I have decided to put an end to all flesh, for the earth is filled with lawlessness because of them; I am about to destroy them with the earth.”
MIDRASH TEXT / Genesis Rabbah 30, 9 / In this age. Rabbi Yehudah and Rabbi Neḥemiah: Rabbi Yehudal said, “In his age he was a righteous man, but if he had lived in the age of Moses or in the age of Samuel, he would not have been [considered] righteous. In a market filled with the blind, they call the one-eyed person ‘Bright eyes.’ A parable: A person had a wine cellar. He opened one barrel and found it had turned to vinegar; a second—also [vinegar]; a third—and found it sour. He said to them, ‘Is there anything better here?’ They said to him, ‘No.’ So too, [Noah] in his age was a righteous man. But if he were in the age of Moses, or of Samuel, he would not have been [considered] righteous.”
Rabbi Neḥemiah said, “If in his own age he was righteous, how much more so would he have been [righteous] in the age of Moses or of Samuel. A parable: A vial of balsam with a tightly sealed cap is placed among graves; yet, its fragrance still disseminates. If it were away from the graves, how much more so [would its fragrance disseminate]. A parable: A virgin is surrounded in a market by whores; yet she does not get a bad reputation. If she were in a market of good women, how much more so [would her reputation be positive]. So too: In his own age he [Noah] was a righteous man; if he had been in the age of Moses or of Samuel, how much more so [would he have been considered righteous].”
CONTEXT / When the Rabbis read the Torah, they expected an economy of language: there should be no superfluous phrases, words, or even letters. This is because they believed the Torah to be of divine origin. While humans might repeat themselves or be excessive in their statements, God would not. When the Rabbis found extra words that did not seem to be absolutely necessary, it was a sign to them that God was using the superfluity to send a message.
In our biblical passage, the Rabbis saw בְּדֹרֹתָיו/b’dorotav, “in his age,” as an extra word. We are told that Noah was a righteous man. It was for this reason that he was chosen to be saved from the flood. But why was it necessary for the Torah to qualify his righteousness by the phrase “in his age.” What message is intended?
Rabbi Yehudah and Rabbi Neḥemiah disagree on the nature of the message. Rabbi Yehudah sees the phrase “in his age” as a limiting one. It tells us that Noah was not a great man. Only when compared to everyone else in his time could we call him righteous. “In the country of the blind, the one-eyed man is king” is a modern version of the ancient proverb quoted in our Midrash. The term “bright eyes” or “rich of light”—סַגִּי נְהו̇ר/sagi nehor in Aramaic—signifies, through typical Rabbinic euphemism, a blind person.
Rabbi Neḥemiah takes the opposite point of view. It is much more difficult to be and to do good when surrounded by evil. It is easy to be righteous when a Moses or a Samuel shows the way. Therefore, Noah deserves even more credit for maintaining his goodness in the midst of an evil world.
Searching for Meaning in Midrash: Lessons for Everyday Living
W. W. Wiersbe
"3. After that Day: Blessing Poured Out
Everything will change when the King comes back and begins His reign! Joel promises a holy city, a restored land, a cleansed people, and a glorious King.
A holy city (Joel 3:17). When Solomon dedicated the temple, the glory of the Lord came down and filled the building (1 Kings 8:10–11; 2 Chron. 5:11–14). Mount Zion, on which Jerusalem was built and the temple stood, was a very special place to the Jews because it was the place God chose for His own dwelling (Pss. 48; 87; 132:13). When the Babylonians destroyed the temple, the Jews prayed for the time when their temple would be restored and God’s glory would return. “For God will save Zion, and will build the cities of Judah: that they may dwell there, and have it in possession” (69:35).
Today, the Jewish people have no temple on Mount Zion; instead, a mosque stands there. But God promises that He will restore Zion and dwell there in all His glory. “For the Lord shall comfort Zion: He will comfort all her waste places; and He will make her wilderness like Eden, and her desert like the Garden of the Lord; joy and gladness shall be found therein, thanksgiving, and the voice of melody” (Isa. 51:3). The prophets anticipate that great day when “sorrow and mourning shall flee away” (v. 11) and God will once again dwell with His people (see Isa. 12; 33:20–24; 35; 52; Jer. 31; Micah 4; Zech. 1).
Jerusalem is called “the Holy City” at least eight times in Scripture (Neh. 11:1, 18; Isa. 48:2 and 52:1; Dan. 9:24;
Matt. 4:5 and 27:53; Rev. 11:2), and we will call it “the Holy City” today. Like every other city in this world, Jerusalem is inhabited by sinners who do sinful things. But the day will come when Jerusalem shall be cleansed (Zech. 13:1) and truly become a holy city dedicated to the Lord. (Isa. 4:1–6).
A restored land (Joel 3:18–19). Over the centuries, the land of Israel had been ravaged by war, famines, droughts, and the invasions of marauding insects such as Joel wrote about in the first chapter of his book, but there is coming a day when the land will be like the Garden of Eden for beauty and fruitfulness. “He will make her deserts like Eden, her wastelands like the garden of the Lord” (Isa. 51:3, NIV).
In the first chapter of Joel’s prophecy, the people were wailing because they had no food, but that will not happen when God restores His people and their land. It will not only be a “land of milk and honey,” but it will have plenty of wine and water as well. The land of Israel has always depended on the early and latter rains for water, but God will give them fountains and a river to water the land.
Jerusalem is the only city of antiquity that wasn’t built near a great river. Rome had the Tiber; Nineveh was built near the Tigris and Babylon on the Euphrates; and the great Egyptian cities were built near the Nile. But in the kingdom, Jerusalem will have a river that proceeds from the temple of God. “On that day living water will flow out from Jerusalem, half to the eastern sea [the Dead Sea] and half to the western sea [the Mediterranean], in summer and in winter” (Zech. 14:8, NIV). You find this river and its special blessings described in Ezekiel 47.
In contrast to the land of Israel, the lands of their enemies, Egypt and Edom, will be desolate as a punishment for the way they treated the Jewish people. This means that Egypt and Edom will have to depend on Israel for the basic things of life, such as food and water.
A cleansed people (Joel 3:20–21a). What good would it be to have a restored land if it were populated with a sinful people? God’s people must be cleansed before they can enter into the promised kingdom. God promises to cleanse His people of their sins, forgive them, and restore them to Himself. “In that day there shall be a fountain opened to the house of David and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem for sin and for uncleanness” (Zech. 13:1).
The Prophet Ezekiel describes this cleansing: “For I will take you from among the nations, gather you out of all countries, and bring you into your own land. Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them” (Ezek. 36:24–27, NKJV).
Under Old Testament Law, the Jews could cleanse that which was defiled by using water, fire, or blood. The priests were washed with water and sprinkled with blood when they were installed in office (Lev. 8–9), and the healed lepers were likewise washed with water and sprinkled with blood (Lev. 14). The priests had to wash their hands and feet and keep ceremonially clean as they served in the tabernacle (Ex. 30:17–21). If anything became defiled, it had to be purified with “the water of sprinkling” (Num. 19). Zechariah used this Old Testament truth to teach about the permanent internal cleansing that would come when the people saw their Messiah and trusted Him (Zech. 12:10). They would experience a new birth and become a new people for the Lord.
A glorious King (Joel 3:21b). What a wonderful way to close a book: “The Lord dwells in Zion!” (NIV) The Prophet Ezekiel watched as the glory of God departed from the temple that was about to be destroyed (Ezek. 8:4; 9:3; 10:4, 18; 11:23), and then he saw that glory return to the new temple in the restored nation (43:1–5). He saw a new Jerusalem that had been given a new name: “Jehovah Shammah—the Lord is there” (48:30–35).
The prophecy of Joel begins with tragedy, the invasion of the locusts, but it closes with triumph, the reign of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Jesus said to His disciples, “Assuredly I say to you, that in the regeneration [the future kingdom], when the Son of Man sits on the throne of His glory, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging [ruling over] the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matt. 19:28, NKJV).
May we never lose the wonder of His glorious kingdom!
“The kingdom of this word has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, and He will reign for ever and ever” (Rev. 11:15, NIV).
“Thy kingdom come!” (Matt. 6:10)
“Even so, come, Lord Jesus!” (Rev. 22:20)
Be Amazed (Minor Prophets): Restoring an Attitude of Wonder and Worship (The BE Series Commentary)
(Ps. 14:1), or he agrees with those who cry, “Tush, God hath forgotten: he hideth away his face; he will never see it”
(Ps. 10:11). The Pulpit Commentary (Psalms Vol I)
My seminary experience made me cautious when I encounter 'either-or' answers. 'Either-or' implies we know all the facts. We don't. Jesus was the master at illustrating this. Time after time he walked away unscathed from his detractors and their 'either-or' traps. In our western culture we like tidy explanations, bullet lists and closure.
Closure? Much is written about closure, but if you have lost anyone dear to you ... through death or otherwise ... Closure is psychological mush. It does not exist. We learn to live with pain and sorrow with varying degrees of success, but a song, an image, a certain day and that wound is reopened. Let me say again, the idea of closure is a myth. In the east wisdom is communicated with parables, pictures, and images. Indeed, art transcends our various processes of understanding because it goes to the heart. Name it, put a real face on another race or religion and walls tend to crumble. We are all different and yet we are all so much the same. We can recover completely from a broken leg, a cut, a serious disease, but a broken heart remains broken; always tender, sensitive to anything that might return it to that same pain and sorrow. Isn't it interesting that those are the areas where God can use us most?
As another illustration of the unreasonableness of some of the accusations of inconsistency in the records of Scripture, we may take the case of the apparent discrepancies between the records of Matthew and Mark of what Jairus said about his daughter. Matthew reports that he said, “My daughter is even now dead” (chap. 9:18); Mark that he said, “She is at the point of death” (chap. 5:23). Apart from an endeavor to find something wrong in the Scriptures, the charge of discrepancy could scarcely have been made here. The difference in the accounts serves to show how true to life they are. It is a natural conclusion that Jairus, under stress of his emotions at a time like that, would break out into more than one statement, and people would forgive him if he were not accurate and precise in every statement he made about his daughter.
It is reasonable to suppose that Matthew and Mark were recording what he said at different moments under the excitement of the occasion.
The Collected Writings of W.E. Vine: Boxed Five Volume Set
Eerdmans Dictionary of Early Judaism
The most important development for the study of early Judaism in the past century was undoubtedly the discovery and eventual publication of the Dead Sea Scrolls. The scrolls were found in proximity to a ruined settlement at Khirbet Qumran, south of Jericho, by the Dead Sea. Cave 4, where the main trove of texts was found, is literally a stone’s throw from the site. Most scholars have assumed that the texts constituted the library of a sectarian settlement at Qumran (VanderKam 1994: 12–27). The Roman writer Pliny says that there was an Essene settlement in this region (Natural History 5.73), and there are extensive parallels between the rule books found at Qumran, especially the Serek Ha-Yaḥad, or Community Rule, and the accounts of the Essenes by Philo and Josephus (Beall 1988). Both the association with the site and the identification with the Essenes have been contested, often vociferously, in recent years (Galor, Humbert, and Zangenberg 2006). Norman Golb has insisted that such an extensive corpus of scrolls could have come only from the Jerusalem Temple, and that the multiplicity of hands belies composition in a single community (Golb 1995). With regard to the identification with the Essenes, the main point in dispute has been the issue of celibacy, which is noted by all ancient writers on the Essenes but is never explicitly required in the scrolls. Also, the accounts of the Essenes do not hint at messianic expectation or at the kind of apocalyptic expectations found in the War Scroll and other texts at Qumran.
The discussion has been obscured by a tendency among scholars to think of Qumran as a single, monastery-like institution. In fact, the rule books make clear that there was a network of communities, which could have as few as ten people, at various locations. The accounts of the Essenes (other than Pliny) also emphasize that they had many settlements. Josephus notes that there were two orders of Essenes, one of which accepted marriage. One of the rule books found at Qumran, the so-called Damascus Document, also appears to distinguish between “those who live in camps and marry and have children” and others who presumably do not. It is unlikely that all the scrolls were copied at Qumran. An alternative scenario is that Essenes from other settlements fled to Qumran in face of the advancing Romans in 68 C.E. and brought their scrolls with them. This would account for the high number of sectarian texts and also for the presence of different editions of the rule books in the caves.
In any case, it is clear that the corpus of texts found at Qumran includes many that were not sectarian in origin, although they may been used in a sectarian context. These include the biblical books, but also compositions like the books of Enoch and Jubilees, which apparently were composed before the formation of the sect in the middle or late second century B.C.E. and circulated more widely. But also many texts that were not known before the discovery of the scrolls may have been in broader use in the Judaism of the time. Yet the scrolls cannot be taken as a random sampling of Second Temple literature. On the one hand, the proportion of clearly sectarian texts, including sectarian rule books, is too great. On the other hand, several important writings from this period are conspicuously absent from Qumran. These include 1 Maccabees, the propagandistic history of the Hasmonean family, and the Psalms of Solomon, which has often been suspected of Pharisaic ideology. Nothing in the Dead Sea Scrolls can be identified as Pharisaic, and only one text (4Q448, the Prayer for King Jonathan) can be read as supportive of the Hasmoneans. The corpus is not narrowly sectarian, in the sense of containing only sectarian literature, but it is nonetheless selective and excludes some literature for ideological reasons.
The first scrolls were discovered on the eve of the Arab-Israeli war that led to the division of Palestine. When partition occurred, Qumran was on the Jordanian side of the border. The seven scrolls originally found in Cave 1 (Community Rule, War Scroll, Hodayot, Habakkuk Pesher, Genesis Apocryphon, and two copies of the book of Isaiah) were acquired by Eliezer Sukenik and his son Yigael Yadin, but Jewish scholars would have no access to the rest of the corpus until after the Six-Day War in 1967. The international team appointed to edit the fragments included no Jewish scholars. The first phase of scholarship on the scrolls, then, was dominated by Christian scholars, and Christian interests took priority. There were many comparisons of the community behind the scrolls to early Christianity, and such matters as eschatology and messianism received great attention (see, e.g., Cross 1995). In 1967, however, both Qumran and the Rockefeller Museum where the scrolls were stored came under Israeli control. This did not at first lead to any change in the editorial team, but it had a profound impact on scholarship in another way. Yadin, who was a general in the Israeli army, appropriated a long text, known as the Temple Scroll, from the antiquities dealer Kando, and he published it a decade later (Yadin 1977, 1983). This scroll contains a rewriting of biblical laws, and its interests are primarily halakic. Its publication aroused new interest in the aspects of the scrolls that were continuous with rabbinic rather than with Christian interests. Even more revolutionary was the disclosure in 1984 of a halakic work known as 4QMMT (Qimron and Strugnell 1994). This document is apparently addressed to a leader of Israel, and it outlines the reasons for the separation of a sectarian group from the majority of the people. The reasons had to do with issues of calendar and purity, and the scroll shows that halakic issues (issues of religious law) were vital to the raison d’être of the sect. The positions taken on these issues typically disagreed with those associated with the Pharisees in rabbinic literature and agreed with those of the Sadducees on some points. The scroll showed beyond any doubt that the kinds of issues debated in the Mishnah and Talmud were of great concern already in the late Second Temple period (Schiffman in Oppenheimer 1999: 205–19), and that in this respect any account of Judaism based only on the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha would be incomplete.
The Eerdmans Dictionary of Early Judaism
And [Peter] went outside and wept bitterly.… Then [Judas] went away and hanged himself.
--- Matthew 26:75; 27:5.
The concentration on self is a denial of faith. (Sermons Preached in St Paul's Cathedral) The concentration on the past is an exclusion of hope. Judas could not face the future. The past had been an utter failure. Yet the future was all before him; the future was uncompromised. The two great preachers of the Gospel were destined to be Peter the denier of Christ and Paul the persecutor of Christ. Why should not Judas the betrayer of Christ have made up the triad? Why not—except that having lost faith he had lost hope also.
Hope is the reflection of God’s mercy; hope is the echo of God’s love. Hope is energy, hope is strength, hope is life. Without hope, sorrow for sin will lead only to ruin. We have no time to brood over the errors of the past, while the hours are hurrying relentlessly by. Have you been tempted? Have you yielded? Have you sinned? Then go out from the scene of your temptation, as Peter went out, and weep bitter tears of repentance before God. But having done this, return, return at once and strengthen your brothers and sisters. In active charity for others, in devoted service to God is the truest safeguard against the suicidal promptings of remorse. Be the foremost to bear witness of him to an unbelieving world—the foremost in zeal, the foremost in danger, the foremost to do and to suffer. The past is beyond recall. Put it behind you. The future is full of magnificent opportunities. Be energetic, be courageous, be hopeful. In the agony of your contrition, from the depths of your despair, listen to the divine voice that summons you: “Let the dead bury their own dead”—dead opportunities, dead regrets, dead failures, yes, even dead sins—and “follow me”
(Matt. 8:22; cf. Luke 9:60).
--- J. B. Lightfoot
Take Heart: Daily Devotions with the Church's Great Preachers
Have Pity on Me June 20
Not even the most powerful on earth can face the last enemy alone. Power, riches, fame, and fortune vanish like a dream, leaving the naked soul groping for comfort. Too many wait too long before preparing to face God.
Marie Antoinette symbolized the extravagance and decadence of French society immediately before the Revolution. She and her dithering husband, King Louis XVI, lived in the grand mansions of Versailles, taxed their subjects into poverty, and spent the money lavishly. But Marie smelled impending danger long before Louis, and she sensed their days were numbered. For months she begged Louis to flee France. He vacillated and hesitated. Then on October 5, 1789, hundreds of women descended on Versailles brandishing kitchen knives and brooms. The terrified royals were forced to Paris and placed under guard.
Louis belatedly schemed to escape the country. Plot after plot was hatched and discarded. Finally at darkest midnight, June 20, 1791, the royal family slipped through the shadows, entered a carriage, and bolted out of town disguised as the Korff family. They traveled in unbearable suspense night and day toward the Austrian border. Just shy of safety, they were stopped and arrested by peasants armed with pitchforks.
Marie Antoinette aged overnight into an old woman—gaunt, white-haired, stooped, and tottering. Back in Paris, she was locked in an airless dark room. She hemorrhaged uncontrollably, wept for her husband who perished, and worried endlessly for her young son who had been torn from her arms.
Antoinette now turned to God. She observed Mass in her cell, and in her prayer book she wrote, “My God have pity on me! My eyes have no more tears to shed for you, my poor children. Adieu, adieu!” When the executioner came on October 16, 1793, she was on her knees praying. At the Place de la Revolution she was tied down and a wooden collar was snapped around her neck. The drums rolled, the blade fell, and a soldier held the head by its ghostly white hair before the multitude. She was not yet 40.
Now, Israel, I myself will deal with you.
Get ready to face your God!
I created the mountains and the wind.
I let humans know what I am thinking.
I bring darkness at dawn and step over hills.
I am the LORD God All-Powerful!
--- Amos 4:12,13.
On This Day 365 Amazing And Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs And Heroes
Daily Readings / CHARLES H. SPURGEON
Morning - June 20
“For, lo, I will command, and I will sift the house of Israel among all nations, like as corn is sifted in a sieve, yet shall not the least grain fall upon the earth.” --- Amos 9:9.
Every sifting comes by divine command and permission. Satan must ask leave before he can lay a finger upon Job. Nay, more, in some sense our siftings are directly the work of heaven, for the text says, “I will sift the house of Israel.” Satan, like a drudge, may hold the sieve, hoping to destroy the corn; but the overruling hand of the Master is accomplishing the purity of the grain by the very process which the enemy intended to be destructive. Precious, but much sifted corn of the Lord’s floor, be comforted by the blessed fact that the Lord directeth both flail and sieve to his own glory, and to thine eternal profit.
The Lord Jesus will surely use the fan which is in his hand, and will divide the precious from the vile. All are not Israel that are of Israel; the heap on the barn floor is not clean provender, and hence the winnowing process must be performed. In the sieve true weight alone has power. Husks and chaff being devoid of substance must fly before the wind, and only solid corn will remain.
Observe the complete safety of the Lord’s wheat; even the least grain has a promise of preservation. God himself sifts, and therefore it is stern and terrible work; he sifts them in all places, “among all nations”; he sifts them in the most effectual manner, “like as corn is sifted in a sieve”; and yet for all this, not the smallest, lightest, or most shrivelled grain, is permitted to fall to the ground. Every individual believer is precious in the sight of the Lord, a shepherd would not lose one sheep, nor a jeweller one diamond, nor a mother one child, nor a man one limb of his body, nor will the Lord lose one of his redeemed people. However little we may be, if we are the Lord’s, we may rejoice that we are preserved in Christ Jesus.
Evening - June 20
"Straightway they forsook their nets, and followed him." --- Mark 1:18.
When they heard the call of Jesus, Simon and Andrew obeyed at once without demur. If we would always, punctually and with resolute zeal, put in practice what we hear upon the spot, or at the first fit occasion, our attendance at the means of grace, and our reading of good books, could not fail to enrich us spiritually. He will not lose his loaf who has taken care at once to eat it, neither can he be deprived of the benefit of the doctrine who has already acted upon it. Most readers and hearers become moved so far as to purpose to amend; but, alas! the proposal is a blossom which has not been knit, and therefore no fruit comes of it; they wait, they waver, and then they forget, till, like the ponds in nights of frost, when the sun shines by day, they are only thawed in time to be frozen again. That fatal to-morrow is blood-red with the murder of fair resolutions; it is the slaughter-house of the innocents. We are very concerned that our little book of “Evening Readings” should not be fruitless, and therefore we pray that readers may not be readers only, but doers, of the word. The practice of truth is the most profitable reading of it. Should the reader be impressed with any duty while perusing these pages, let him hasten to fulfil it before the holy glow has departed from his soul, and let him leave his nets, and all that he has, sooner than be found rebellious to the Master’s call. Do not give place to the devil by delay! Haste while opportunity and quickening are in happy conjunction. Do not be caught in your own nets, but break the meshes of worldliness, and away where glory calls you. Happy is the writer who shall meet with readers resolved to carry out his teachings: his harvest shall be a hundredfold, and his Master shall have great honour. Would to God that such might be our reward upon these brief meditations and hurried hints. Grant it, O Lord, unto thy servant!
Morning and Evening
THE SOLID ROCK
Edward Mote, 1797–1874
For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 3:11)
Life with Christ is an endless hope; without Him a hopeless end.
The Bible likens our life to a house. Some homes are built to last while others crumble easily in strong wind or rain. The difference is not in the severity of the storm but in the quality of the foundation upon which the structure is built. The author of this hymn text wisely chose “the solid rock” on which to build his own life, and he rested on Christ’s “unchanging grace” until his homegoing at age 77.
Edward Mote knew nothing about God or the Bible as he grew up in London, England, the child of poor innkeepers. At the age of 16 he was genuinely converted to Christ. Mote later settled in a suburb of London where he became known as a successful cabinet maker and a devoted church layman.
After a time, a Baptist chapel was built in Horsham, Sussex, England, largely because of Edward’s efforts. The grateful church members offered him the deed to the property. He refused it, saying, “I only want the pulpit, and when I cease to preach Christ, then turn me out of that.” Here Mote ministered faithfully until forced to resign because of poor health one year before his death. He commented, “The truths I have been preaching, I am now living upon and they’ll do very well to die upon.”
During his busy life as a minister, Edward Mote wrote more than 150 hymn texts. In 1836 he published a collection titled Hymns of Praise and included “The Solid Rock” in it.
My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness; I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus’ name.
When darkness veils His lovely face, I rest on His unchanging grace; in ev’ry high and stormy gale my anchor holds within the veil.
His oath, His covenant, His blood support me in the whelming flood; when all around my soul gives way, He then is all my hope and stay.
When He shall come with trumpet sound, O may I then in Him be found, dressed in His righteousness alone, faultless to stand before the throne.
Refrain: On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand—all other ground is sinking sand; all other ground is sinking sand.
For Today: Matthew 7:24-27; John 14:6; Acts 4:12; Romans 5:1–5; Hebrews 6:17–20.
Reflect on some of the shaky foundations upon which many of your friends seem to be building their lives. Determine to share Christ with them as you have opportunity. Carry this musical testimony with you as you go ---
Amazing Grace: 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions
Martin Luther | (1483-1546)
Sect. LXI. — BUT our friend Diatribe, proceeding to still greater lengths of inconsiderateness, not only infers from that passage of Malachi iii. 7., “turn ye unto me,” an indicative sense, but also, goes on with zeal to prove therefrom,
the endeavour of “Free-will,” and the grace prepared for the person endeavouring.
Here, at last, it makes mention of the endeavour and by a new kind of grammar, ‘to turn,’ signifies, with it, the same thing as ‘to endeavour:’ so that the sense is, “turn ye unto me,” that is, endeavour ye to turn; “and I will turn unto you,” that is, I will endeavour to turn unto you: so that, at last, it attributes an endeavour even unto God, and perhaps, would have grace to be prepared for Him upon His endeavouring: for if turning signify endeavouring in one place, why not in every place?
Again, it says, that from Jeremiah xv. 19., “If thou shalt separate the precious from the vile,” not the endeavour only, but the liberty of choosing is proved; which, before, it declared was ‘lost,’ and changed into a ‘necessity of serving sin.’ You see, therefore, that in handling the Scriptures the Diatribe has a “Free-will” with a witness: so that, with it, words of the same kind are compelled to prove endeavour in one place, and liberty in another, just as the turn suits.
But, to away with vanities, the word TURN is used in the Scriptures in a twofold sense, the one legal, the other evangelical. In the legal sense, it is the voice of the exactor and commander, which requires, not an endeavour, but a change in the whole life. In this sense Jeremiah frequently uses it, saying, “Turn ye now every one of you from his evil way:” and, “Turn ye unto the Lord:” in which, he involves the requirement of all the commandments; as is sufficiently evident. In the evangelical sense, it is the voice of the divine consolation and promise, by which nothing is demanded of us, but in which the grace of God is offered unto us. Of this kind is that of Psalm cxxvi. 1, “When the Lord shall turn again the captivity of Zion;” and that of Psalm cxvi. 7, “Turn again into thy rest, O my soul.” Hence, Malachi, in a very brief compendium, has set forth the preaching both of the law and of grace. It is the whole sum of the law, where he saith, “Turn ye unto me;” and it is grace, where he saith, “I will turn unto you.” Wherefore, as much as “Free-will” is proved from this word, “Love the Lord,” or from any other word of particular law, just so much is it proved from this word of summary law,
“TURN YE.” It becomes a wise reader of the Scriptures, therefore, to observe what are words of the law and what are words of grace, that he might not be involved in confusion like the unclean Sophists, and like this sleepily-yawning Diatribe.
The Bondage of the Will or Christian Classics Ethereal Library
Dr. Craig S. Keener
Lect 12 Romans 11:33-12:13
Lect 13 Romans 12:14-14:1
Lect 14 Romans 14:1-15:12
Lect 15 Romans 15:13-29
Lect 16 Romans 15:29-16:7
Lect 17 Romans 16:7-20
Lect 18 Romans 16:21-27
Brett Meador | Athey Creek
Fret Not Psalm 37:1-7
s2-226 | 10-14-2018
Psalm 37 - 38
m2-229 | 10-17-2018
s2-227 | 10-21-2018
Sins of the Tongue Psalm 39:1-2
s2-229 | 11-04-2018
Psalm 39 - 41
m2-230 | 11-07-2018