Psalms 74 - 77
Arise, O God, Defend Your Cause
A MASKIL OF ASAPH.
Psalm 74:1 O God, why do you cast us off forever?
Why does your anger smoke against the sheep of your pasture?
2 Remember your congregation, which you have purchased of old,
which you have redeemed to be the tribe of your heritage!
Remember Mount Zion, where you have dwelt.
3 Direct your steps to the perpetual ruins;
the enemy has destroyed everything in the sanctuary!
4 Your foes have roared in the midst of your meeting place;
they set up their own signs for signs.
5 They were like those who swing axes
in a forest of trees.
6 And all its carved wood
they broke down with hatchets and hammers.
7 They set your sanctuary on fire;
they profaned the dwelling place of your name,
bringing it down to the ground.
8 They said to themselves, “We will utterly subdue them”;
they burned all the meeting places of God in the land.
9 We do not see our signs;
there is no longer any prophet,
and there is none among us who knows how long.
10 How long, O God, is the foe to scoff?
Is the enemy to revile your name forever?
11 Why do you hold back your hand, your right hand?
Take it from the fold of your garment and destroy them!
12 Yet God my King is from of old,
working salvation in the midst of the earth.
13 You divided the sea by your might;
you broke the heads of the sea monsters on the waters.
14 You crushed the heads of Leviathan;
you gave him as food for the creatures of the wilderness.
15 You split open springs and brooks;
you dried up ever-flowing streams.
16 Yours is the day, yours also the night;
you have established the heavenly lights and the sun.
17 You have fixed all the boundaries of the earth;
you have made summer and winter.
18 Remember this, O LORD, how the enemy scoffs,
and a foolish people reviles your name.
19 Do not deliver the soul of your dove to the wild beasts;
do not forget the life of your poor forever.
20 Have regard for the covenant,
for the dark places of the land are full of the habitations of violence.
21 Let not the downtrodden turn back in shame;
let the poor and needy praise your name.
22 Arise, O God, defend your cause;
remember how the foolish scoff at you all the day!
23 Do not forget the clamor of your foes,
the uproar of those who rise against you, which goes up continually!
God Will Judge with Equity
TO THE CHOIRMASTER: ACCORDING TO DO NOT DESTROY. A PSALM OF ASAPH. A SONG.
Psalm 75:1 We give thanks to you, O God;
we give thanks, for your name is near.
We recount your wondrous deeds.
2 “At the set time that I appoint
I will judge with equity.
3 When the earth totters, and all its inhabitants,
it is I who keep steady its pillars. Selah
4 I say to the boastful, ‘Do not boast,’
and to the wicked, ‘Do not lift up your horn;
5 do not lift up your horn on high,
or speak with haughty neck.’ ”
6 For not from the east or from the west
and not from the wilderness comes lifting up,
7 but it is God who executes judgment,
putting down one and lifting up another.
8 For in the hand of the LORD there is a cup
with foaming wine, well mixed,
and he pours out from it,
and all the wicked of the earth
shall drain it down to the dregs.
9 But I will declare it forever;
I will sing praises to the God of Jacob.
10 All the horns of the wicked I will cut off,
but the horns of the righteous shall be lifted up.
Who Can Stand Before You?
TO THE CHOIRMASTER: WITH STRINGED INSTRUMENTS. A PSALM OF ASAPH. A SONG.
Psalm 76:1 In Judah God is known;
his name is great in Israel.
2 His abode has been established in Salem,
his dwelling place in Zion.
3 There he broke the flashing arrows,
the shield, the sword, and the weapons of war. Selah
4 Glorious are you, more majestic
than the mountains full of prey.
5 The stouthearted were stripped of their spoil;
they sank into sleep;
all the men of war
were unable to use their hands.
6 At your rebuke, O God of Jacob,
both rider and horse lay stunned.
7 But you, you are to be feared!
Who can stand before you
when once your anger is roused?
8 From the heavens you uttered judgment;
the earth feared and was still,
9 when God arose to establish judgment,
to save all the humble of the earth. Selah
10 Surely the wrath of man shall praise you;
the remnant of wrath you will put on like a belt.
11 Make your vows to the LORD your God and perform them;
let all around him bring gifts
to him who is to be feared,
12 who cuts off the spirit of princes,
who is to be feared by the kings of the earth.
In the Day of Trouble I Seek the Lord
TO THE CHOIRMASTER: ACCORDING TO JEDUTHUN. A PSALM OF ASAPH.
Psalm 77:1 I cry aloud to God,
aloud to God, and he will hear me.
2 In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord;
in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying;
my soul refuses to be comforted.
3 When I remember God, I moan;
when I meditate, my spirit faints. Selah
4 You hold my eyelids open;
I am so troubled that I cannot speak.
5 I consider the days of old,
the years long ago.
6 I said, “Let me remember my song in the night;
let me meditate in my heart.”
Then my spirit made a diligent search:
7 “Will the Lord spurn forever,
and never again be favorable?
8 Has his steadfast love forever ceased?
Are his promises at an end for all time?
9 Has God forgotten to be gracious?
Has he in anger shut up his compassion?” Selah
10 Then I said, “I will appeal to this,
to the years of the right hand of the Most High.”
11 I will remember the deeds of the LORD;
yes, I will remember your wonders of old.
12 I will ponder all your work,
and meditate on your mighty deeds.
13 Your way, O God, is holy.
What god is great like our God?
14 You are the God who works wonders;
you have made known your might among the peoples.
15 You with your arm redeemed your people,
the children of Jacob and Joseph. Selah
16 When the waters saw you, O God,
when the waters saw you, they were afraid;
indeed, the deep trembled.
17 The clouds poured out water;
the skies gave forth thunder;
your arrows flashed on every side.
18 The crash of your thunder was in the whirlwind;
your lightnings lighted up the world;
the earth trembled and shook.
19 Your way was through the sea,
your path through the great waters;
yet your footprints were unseen.
20 You led your people like a flock
by the hand of Moses and Aaron.
What I'm Reading
Meditating on Scripture
By Bruce Waltke 9/1/2009
“Better than a bronze sculpture by Cellini, or a marble one by Bernini, or even a Beethoven symphony,” I was saying to my colleagues, while our waitress with tray in hand waited attentively for my climatic closure, “I enjoy a great sermon,” whereupon the waitress dropped the whole tray of drinks. But even better than a great sermon, I enjoy meditating on the Old Testament.
People ask me commonly: “What is your favorite book of the Old Testament?” I reply, “Whatever book I am studying at the time.” A secretary once asked me: “How do you stay fresh teaching the same course year after year.” I replied, “By having a bad memory.” More seriously, I read new commentaries each year. This month I am refreshing myself in the book of Kings, and for the past two weeks I have been meditating on the Elisha miracle stories. In response to the request by the editors of Tabletalk to write an article on the joy of meditating on the Old Testament, let me share my joy as I reflect on these thrilling stories as collected and arranged in 2 Kings 2:1-8:6.
Just reading the stories of Elisha’s miracles are enough to, as a senior Scot would say, “stir the blood”: lepers are cleansed, an axe head floats, the dead are raised. And to verify the historicity of these miracles, the narrator cleverly draws them to conclusion with this anecdote: The king of Israel was saying to Gehazi (Elisha’s “bumbling sidekick,” writes Peter Leithart): “Tell me about all the great things Elisha has done.” In other words, the narrator infers these stories were already collected, told, and retold by eye-witnesses.
What Augustine once said of the gospel of John, “shallow enough for a child not to drown, yet deep enough for an elephant to swim,” is applicable to all Scripture. Let’s begin in shallow water. When Elijah elects Elisha by throwing on him his own mantle—the one he wore when God appeared to him on Sinai—he is plowing with twelve yoke of oxen. He immediately kisses his parents good-bye, and when Elijah, who is fed up with being a rejected prophet, tells him to go back home, he does, but not as Elijah intended (1 Kings 19:21). Then, on Elijah’s last day on earth, the old prophet tries to shake off the younger (2 Kings 2:1-9). But Elisha perseveres, and it pays off; he not only succeeds Elijah, he exceeds him.
Now let’s swim into a little deeper water. Elisha shows he is Elijah’s spiritual heir in two ways. First, many of his miracles are for prophets (4:1-7, 38-41; 6:1-7).
Second, his miracles replicate those of Elijah (see, for for example, 1 Kings 18 and 2 Kings 7; 1 Kings 17:8-16 and 2 Kings 4; 1 Kings 17:7-24 and 2 Kings 4:17-24).
Now let’s swim farther out. Our reflection is confirmed in the career of another heir of Elijah’s spirit, John the Baptist. Jesus Christ even equates John with Elijah (Matt. 17:1-13). Elijah and Elisha are types of the transition of leadership from John the Baptist to Jesus Christ. Elijah and John the Baptist announce judgment; call Israel to repentance and are followed by the common people; dress alike in their protests against materialism; confront an ambivalent king (Ahab and Herod) and a blood-thirsty queen; are rejected by authorities immediately after their victories; question God’s calling; and designate a greater successor.
But now let’s really swim by comparing Elisha and the Lord Jesus. Both are designated by a prophet, whom the general populace recognized as a true prophet. Both receive the Spirit on the other side of the Jordan (2 Kings 2:7-15; John 1:28); are surrounded by more disciples than their predecessors; are itinerant miracle workers; give life in a land of death; cleanse lepers (2 Kings 5; Mark 1:40-45); heal the sick (2 Kings 4:34-35; Mark 8:22-25); defy gravity (2 Kings 6:6; Matt. 14:22-33); reverse death by raising dead sons and restoring them to their mothers (2 Kings 4: 1-7; Luke 7:11-17); help widows in desperate circumstances; are kinsman redeemers to save from slavery (2 Kings 4:1-7; Luke 4:19); feed the hungry (2 Kings 4:1-7; Mark 8:1-12); minister to the Gentiles (2 Kings 5:1-16); prepare (2 Kings 6:20-23) and sit at table with sinners (Luke 5:29); lead captives (2 Kings 6:18-20; Eph, 4:7-8); have a covetous disciple (Gehazi and Judas); end their lives in a life-giving tomb from which people flee (2 Kings 13:20-21; Mark 16:1-8).
These replications and foreshadows cry out for reflection. As God’s elect children, we too can inherit—can be filled—with the same Spirit as Elijah, Elisha, John the Baptist, and our Lord by prayer and perseverance (Eph. 4:18). After all, as James says, “They were men just like us” (James 5:7). Elisha is a type of Christ’s disciples: elected by I AM; leaves father and mother behind; forsakes everything to be a disciple to his Master; becomes like his Master; perseveres with his Master; does greater works than these (2 Kings 4:31-35; John 14:12); brings life to those who stay close to their Master in a culture of death; and develops disciples for whom they also serve as types.
I have been refreshed this past month, and I enthusiastically anticipate teaching the same course next semester with a burning heart.
Per Amazon | Bruce K. Waltke (PhD, Dallas Theological Seminary; PhD, Harvard Divinity School), acknowledged to be one of the outstanding contemporary Old Testament scholars, is professor of Old Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida, and professor emeritus of biblical studies at Regent College in Vancouver. He has authored and coauthored numerous books, commentaries, and articles, and contributed to dictionaries and encyclopedias.
Bruce Waltke Books:
- 1 The Book Of Proverbs: Chapters 1-15. (New International Commentary on the Old Testament)
- 2 Genesis: A Commentary
- 3 Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament
- 4 The Book of Proverbs, Chapters 15-31 (New International Commentary on the Old Testament)
- 5 An Old Testament Theology: An Exegetical, Canonical, and Thematic Approach
- 6 Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax
- 7 The Psalms as Christian Worship: An Historical Commentary
- 8 The Psalms as Christian Lament
- 9 A Commentary on Micah
- 10 Finding the Will of God: A Pagan Notion?
- 11 The Dance Between God and Humanity: Reading the Bible Today as the People of God
- 12 Knowing the Will of God
- 13 Finding the Will of God: A Pagan Notion? by Bruce K. Waltke (2016-02-04)
What Thoughts Keep You Up at Night?
By Paul Jewell 6/26/2017
I refer to them as my “3 a.m. moments.” Something stirs me from slumber, and a slew of thoughts compete for space in my mind. The minutes crawl, sleep seems distant, and the light of dawn is heavily cloaked.
Some nights, I’m assaulted by memories of past sins: careless words, lingering glances, simmering bitterness. Other nights, I worry about the future: the demands of the next day, the uncertainties of the next decade.
In these moments, my carefully constructed façade crumbles, my soul is laid bare, and my hidden fears are exposed. My mind is overwhelmed by a cacophony of questions that demand answers.
And it’s in these moments that God is teaching me to sing with the psalmist:
when I meditate, my spirit faints. Selah.
4 You hold my eyelids open;
I am so troubled that I cannot speak. ESV
Psalm 77:1 I cry aloud to God,
aloud to God, and he will hear me. ESV
The darkness disorients us. Try walking through an unfamiliar room with no light to aid you. Your stride will shorten to a shuffle, outstretched arms will try to compensate for useless eyes, and every step will seem fraught with a sense of danger. It is of little advantage to seek help from someone who is equally unfamiliar with the surroundings as you are. The company might be appreciated, but you’re still wandering in the dark.
In psalms of lament like Psalm 77, the psalmist looks to God for aid. When darkness settles over the soul and we cry out for help, it’s paramount that we direct our cries to one who is faithful and trustworthy to provide what we need. Rather than a mere companion to wander with, we need a Guide.
The rightly oriented lament begins with a Godward cry, however confidently or feebly it may pass over the lips. In Psalm 77, the confident cry of verse 1 (“he will hear me”) is followed by admissions of utter helplessness. And yet, this lament is aimed toward an ear that will hear.
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Paul Jewell lives outside of Ann Arbor, MI with his wife and four children.
The Heresies of Love
By Gene Edward Veith 9/1/2009
God is a unity of distinct persons. The one God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. So says the doctrine of the Trinity.
Some people believe in the unity and oneness of God, but deny that He consists in different persons. Heretics such as monarchists, modalists, and Arians take this position, as do followers of non-Christian religions, such as Unitarians and Muslims.
Others believe in the different persons but deny their unity in one God. This is the position of heretics such as the tritheists and followers of other non-Christian religions, such as Mormons and polytheists.
The church is a unity of distinct persons. The Bible describes how Christians are as different from each other as the organs in the body — ears, feet, eyes — yet together they all constitute a unity that is nothing less than the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12).
In a society more socially stratified and ethnically divided than our own, the congregations of Christians described in the New Testament included separatist Jews, sophisticated Greek intellectuals, Roman politicians, wealthy women, and poverty-stricken slaves. Christ’s disciples themselves were a collection of strong and dissimilar personalities: headstrong and impulsive Peter; the skeptical Thomas; the thunderous James and John; the worldly tax-collector Matthew; the political zealot Simon. Yet the apostle Paul — one of the most complex personalities ever recorded — uses language that anticipates that of Chalcedon to describe their unity not only with Christ but with each other: “We, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another” (Rom. 12:5).
The Unitarian heresy applied to church would be the demand for unity that squelches all personal differences. This would include the forced conformity of cults and the coerced obedience insisted upon by megalomaniacal preachers. It also includes the social homogenization favored by many church growth experts, which results in congregations consisting only of people of the same age or demographic profile: young people, white suburbanites, or postmodernists.
The polytheistic heresy applied to church would be the “me and God” mindset that sees the individual, personal relationship to God as all that is necessary, with little need for gathering together with other Christians into a corporate body. It also includes congregations with no unifying teaching or confession, allowing all members to believe whatever they want.
Love is a unity of distinct persons. When the Bible says, “God is love” (1 John 4), it proves the doctrine of the Trinity. C.S. Lewis’ friend Charles Williams applied Trinitarian theology to human love. A relationship between two people in which one person dominates the other, to the point of erasing the other’s individuality, is a heresy of love. This Unitarian approach to love is really a form of self-love, with no true regard for the other person in the relationship. The polytheistic approach to love would be when the two people go their own ways, existing in their own separate spheres, with little to unite them.
Family is a unity of distinct persons. Parents engender separate human beings. But parents and children are unified by blood, history, and love. Conflicts, trauma, and rebellion come from violating the Trinitarian balance that both respects the distinct persons and cultivates the family unity.
Under the Unitarian heresy of family, some families are so self-contained, so authoritarian, and so stifling that they resemble little cults. More common today is the polytheistic heresy of family, in which fathers spend less than fifteen minutes a day with their children, which children spend more time with their peers than with their parents, with no time left for the unity that comes from sitting down together at the same table for a family meal.
The nation is a unity of distinct persons. At least the ordered liberty of a well-governed state follows this Trinitarian pattern. The Unitarian heresy of the state results in totalitarianism, in which the government controls every facet of its citizen’s lives, enforcing a collective unity while stamping out every freedom. The polytheistic heresy in the state manifests itself in anarchy, in which everyone acts without regard to law, the social order, or the common good.
Reformation theology teaches that the triune God established three orders — three estates or communities — for human life on earth: the church, the family, and the state. Through these institutions, God provides for human life on earth. They are the arenas for vocation, as God calls Christians in all of these orders to live out their faith in love and service to their neighbors. Little wonder, then, that the church, the family, and the state reflect both God’s character and His very being.
Sin, though, has disrupted them all. Thus we are all heretics by nature and in each of the orders. But the second person of the Trinity has become man and by His sacrifice has redeemed us and all that is human.
Repairing our heresies that have damaged our love, marriages, parenthood, and citizenship will demand His intervention. Becoming orthodox will mean living out our faith in our vocations and bearing the cross in our own acts of loving self-sacrifice.
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
No Sacrifice Too Great
By Michael Haykin 9/1/2009
In the final letter that we have from the apostle Paul, written in a lonely prison cell in Rome while he was expecting death for the sake of the gospel, he reminded his closest friend Timothy of the utter necessity of passing on the faith to “faithful men” (2 Tim. 2:2). It bears noting that what Paul envisaged in these words was not simply doctrinal instruction in the essentials of Christianity. Of course, Paul expected the training of future leaders to involve the handing on of doctrine. But, as is clear from a later statement by Paul in this letter, such transmission of the faith also involved the development of lifelong convictions and goals and the nurture of character — making the leader a person of love, patience, and steadfastness (3:10). Timothy knew exactly what Paul was talking about, for this was the very way the apostle had mentored Timothy.
Timothy had joined Paul’s apostolic band early on in what is termed Paul’s second missionary journey, that is, around 48 or 49 AD (Acts 16:1–3). As he traveled with Paul he saw firsthand what Paul later called his doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, love, perseverance, persecutions, and afflictions (2 Tim. 3:10–11). Timothy grew to know and embrace Paul’s theology and doctrinal convictions. He learned that at the heart of all genuinely Christian theology is God: the Father, His Son, and the Holy Spirit. He came to be grounded in the fact that the gospel is centered on the death and resurrection of Christ, the only way that men and women can come into a true and eternally beneficent relationship with this God, the creator of all that exists.
But Timothy also came to follow the way Paul lived, how he made decisions and determined the best use of his time. He learned Paul’s purpose for living, namely, the glorification of God and of His Son, Christ Jesus. Timothy absorbed Paul’s love for the church and compassion for those who were held in the darkness of sin. And he saw the way that Paul responded with patience and perseverance to difficulties and the fact that the apostle did not waver in his commitment to Christ despite persecution and affliction. In short, as Paul and Timothy spent this large amount of time together, Timothy’s soul began to mirror that of Paul, and his mind became increasingly attuned to the wavelengths of the apostle’s thinking (Phil. 2:19–22). This is mentoring.
Here is a pattern of pastoral training that must again shape the way that teaching takes place in our seminaries. The necessity of training the mind naturally requires academic excellence. But as seminary professors, our task is not finished when we walk out of the classroom. We need to get to know our students — their joys and heartaches, their hopes, aspirations, and concerns. They need to get to know us — our goals in life, our passions, and even our weaknesses. And this can only be done, if we, like Paul with Timothy, walk with them and they with us. This sort of theological education demands a transparency of soul and a knitting together of hearts, as well as the kindling of flame in the mind. In a very real sense, this sort of theological education and mentoring is patterned on the incarnation.
The great challenge, of course, in this way of incarnational mentoring is that it takes time. For many professors, time seems to be such a scarce commodity. I vividly recall some thirty years ago when I was doing doctoral studies at the University of Toronto, being told by Dr. Richard Longenecker, then my New Testament professor and in some ways a mentor to me, that if I thought I was busy in the doctoral program, just wait until I was teaching. I didn’t believe him, but he was right. Most seminary professors are busy men: teaching in seminary and in the church, as well as seeking to maintain an academic career and be fathers and husbands, sons, and friends. Where will we ever find the time to mentor as Paul did?
Three years before Basil Manly Jr., one of the four founding faculty of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, committed himself to the task of being a seminary professor in 1859, he stated that the “cause of theological education is one dearer to me than almost any other and I esteem no sacrifice too great for its promotion.” The sacrifices that especially he, James Petigru Boyce, and John Broadus were called upon to make for this seminary are well-known. Most seminary professors today are not called to walk such a road of sacrifice as those men were, but I am convinced that something of the spirit that animated Manly’s words must grip us.
Today, more than in the past, we are aware of the very real danger of our ministries crowding out other areas of vital importance — our devotion to wife and children, for example. Thus, while we cannot echo Manly’s sentiments without some qualification, we can nevertheless affirm the key point he was seeking to make. Leadership in the church is so important that we should be prepared to go to great lengths to see future leaders of the church trained. And that training, if it is to be biblical, must involve mentoring à la Paul! This will, of necessity, take time. But, from the point of view of eternity, it will be time well spent.
Dr. Michael Haykin is professor of church history at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.
Michael Haykin Books:
- 1 Rediscovering the Church Fathers: Who They Were and How They Shaped the Church
- 2 Eight Women of Faith
- 3 Owen on the Christian Life: Living for the Glory of God in Christ
- 4 To the Ends of the Earth: Calvin's Missional Vision and Legacy
- 5 Warfield on the Christian Life (Redesign): Living in Light of the Gospel
- 6 The Christian Lover: The Sweetness of Love and Marriage in the Letters of Believers
- 7 The Reformers and Puritans as Spiritual Mentors: Hope Is Kindled (Christian Mentor)
- 8 Rediscovering the Church Fathers: Who They Were and How They Shaped the Church by Michael A. G. Haykin (2011-03-02)
- 9 The Spirit of God: The Exegesis of 1 and 2 Corinthians in the Pneumatomachian Controversy of the Fourth Century (Supplements to Vigiliae Christianae) by Michael A G Haykin (1994-08-01)
- 10 William E. Payne: A Memoir
Is the Reformation Over?
By R.C. Sproul 9/1/2009
There have been several observations rendered on this subject by those I would call “erstwhile evangelicals.” One of them wrote, “Luther was right in the sixteenth century, but the question of justification is not an issue now.” A second self-confessed evangelical made a comment in a press conference I attended that “the sixteenth-century Reformation debate over justification by faith alone was a tempest in a teapot.” Still another noted European theologian has argued in print that the doctrine of justification by faith alone is no longer a significant issue in the church. We are faced with a host of people who are defined as Protestants but who have evidently forgotten altogether what it is they are protesting.
Contrary to some of these contemporary assessments of the importance of the doctrine of justification by faith alone, we recall a different perspective by the sixteenth-century magisterial Reformers. Luther made his famous comment that the doctrine of justification by faith alone is the article upon which the church stands or falls. John Calvin added a different metaphor, saying that justification is the hinge upon which everything turns. In the twentieth century, J.I. Packer used a metaphor indicating that justification by faith alone is the “Atlas upon whose shoulder every other doctrine stands.” Later Packer moved away from that strong metaphor and retreated to a much weaker one, saying that justification by faith alone is “the fine print of the gospel.”
The question we have to face in light of these discussions is, what has changed since the sixteenth century? Well, there is good news and there is bad news. The good news is that people have become much more civil and tolerant in theological disputes. We don’t see people being burned at the stake or tortured on the rack over doctrinal differences. We’ve also seen in the past years that the Roman communion has remained solidly steadfast on other key issues of Christian orthodoxy, such as the deity of Christ, His substitutionary atonement, and the inspiration of the Bible, while many Protestant liberals have abandoned these particular doctrines wholesale. We also see that Rome has remained steadfast on critical moral issues such as abortion and ethical relativism. In the nineteenth century at Vatican Council I, Rome referred to Protestants as “heretics and schismatics.” In the twentieth century at Vatican II, Protestants were referred to as “separated brethren.” We see a marked contrast in the tone of the different councils. The bad news, however, is that many doctrines that divided orthodox Protestants from Roman Catholics centuries ago have been declared dogma since the sixteenth century. Virtually all of the significant Mariology decrees have been declared in the last 150 years. The doctrine of papal infallibility, though it de facto functioned long before its formal definition, was nevertheless formally defined and declared de fide (necessary to believe for salvation) in 1870 at Vatican Council I. We also see that in recent years the Roman communion has published a new Catholic catechism, which unequivocally reaffirms the doctrines of the Council of Trent, including Trent’s definition of the doctrine of justification (and thus affirms that council’s anathemas against the Reformation doctrine of justification by faith alone). Along with the reaffirmations of Trent have come a clear reaffirmation of the Roman doctrine of purgatory, indulgences, and the treasury of merits.
At a discussion among leading theologians over the issue of the continued relevance of the doctrine of justification by faith alone, Michael Horton asked the question: “What is it in the last decades that has made the first-century gospel unimportant?” The dispute over justification was not over a technical point of theology that could be consigned to the fringes of the depository of biblical truth. Nor could it be seen simply as a tempest in a teapot. This tempest extended far beyond the tiny volume of a single teacup. The question, “what must I do to be saved?” is still a critical question for any person who is exposed to the wrath of God.
Even more critical than the question is the answer, because the answer touches the very heart of gospel truth. In the final analysis, the Roman Catholic Church affirmed at Trent and continues to affirm now that the basis by which God will declare a person just or unjust is found in one’s “inherent righteousness.” If righteousness does not inhere in the person, that person at worst goes to hell and at best (if any impurities remain in his life) goes to purgatory for a time that may extend to millions of years. In bold contrast to that, the biblical and Protestant view of justification is that the sole grounds of our justification is the righteousness of Christ, which righteousness is imputed to the believer, so that the moment a person has authentic faith in Christ, all that is necessary for salvation becomes theirs by virtue of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness. The fundamental issue is this: is the basis by which I am justified a righteousness that is my own? Or is it a righteousness that is, as Luther said, “an alien righteousness,” a righteousness that is extra nos, apart from us—the righteousness of another, namely, the righteousness of Christ? From the sixteenth century to the present, Rome has always taught that justification is based upon faith, on Christ, and on grace. The difference, however, is that Rome continues to deny that justification is based on Christ alone, received by faith alone, and given by grace alone. The difference between these two positions is the difference between salvation and its opposite. There is no greater issue facing a person who is alienated from a righteous God.
At the moment the Roman Catholic Church condemned the biblical doctrine of justification by faith alone, she denied the gospel and ceased to be a legitimate church, regardless of all the rest of her affirmations of Christian orthodoxy. To embrace her as an authentic church while she continues to repudiate the biblical doctrine of salvation is a fatal attribution. We’re living in a time where theological conflict is considered politically incorrect, but to declare peace when there is no peace is to betray the heart and soul of the gospel.
Robert Charles Sproul, 2/13/1939 – 12/14/2017 was an American theologian, author, and ordained pastor in the Presbyterian Church in America. Dr. R.C. Sproul was founder and chairman of Ligonier Ministries, an international Christian education and discipleship organization located near Orlando, Fla. He was also copastor of Saint Andrew’s Chapel in Sanford, Fla., chancellor of Reformation Bible College, and executive editor of Tabletalk magazine. Dr. Sproul has contributed dozens of articles to national evangelical publications, has spoken at conferences, churches, and schools around the world, and has written more than one hundred books. He also served as general editor of the Reformation Study Bible.R.C. Sproul Books | Go to Books Page
I Don’t Take The Bible Literally, And Neither Does Anyone Else
By Glenn T. Stanton 5/1/2017
Literally no one takes the Bible literally. But otherwise intelligent pollsters and journalists continue to ask the question as a gauge for who takes the Bible seriously—or too seriously. This reminds me of The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible.
A recent report from Pew tells us that only 39 percent of Christians take the Bible literally. This is very bad news for believers’ fidelity to Scripture, but not for the reason you might think. It’s also a poor reflection on the good folks at Pew.
Why? It’s quite simple: Literally no one takes the Bible literally. NO ONE. But otherwise intelligent pollsters and journalists continue to ask the question as a gauge for who really takes the Bible seriously—or too seriously. And Christians continue to play along.
Here, here and here are just a few examples of this. It all shows an embarrassing ignorance of how billions of Christians and Jews approach this important and world-changing book hermeneutically. This is unacceptable.
All one need do is open a Bible to any random page. I’ve just slipped my thumb into my closed Bible as I write this and aimlessly opened to Ecclesiastes 10:2, where we read: “The heart of the wise inclines to the right, but the heart of the fool to the left.”
If I say I take Scripture literally, then I must believe my heart—this four-chambered, muscular organ beating in my chest—physically inclines to the left part of my chest cavity because I’m a fool. If I were ever to become wise, it will physically shift toward the right side. My cardiologist would be amazed.
However, if I take these words as true, authoritative, and reliable, rather than literally, they mean my internal self—who I really am—is inclined in a direction exactly opposite of one who is wise. Scripture’s lesson for me? Being wise or a fool has dramatic and polar opposite consequences and affects us internally and externally, right down to our deepest depths.
Let’s do it again for confirmation. I randomly flip over a few books and find myself in Psalm 62. I read here, in verse two, that God is my rock, my salvation, and my fortress. This is good news indeed.
Taken literally, it raises the question as to what kind of rock God is: igneous, sedimentary, or metamorphic? God says he’s my fortress. Is he stone, wooden, or steel? How tall are his walls? What’s his configuration? Am I being disrespectful with such questions? It seems like it, and that’s the point. If anyone actually took the Bible literally, these would be perfectly reasonable questions for any serious student.
What People Really Mean by the QuestionOf course, when we answer “Do you take the Bible literally?” we are simply taking it as short-hand for “Do you take the Bible as truth?” But the faithful student should have long ago dispelled such misinformed assumptions, correcting the questioner with, “You don’t really understand much about Christianity or the Bible, do you?” The serious student of Dante or Shakespeare wouldn’t tolerate such ignorance of their beloved texts. We shouldn’t either.
In the same way, we do not take all of Christ’s words literally, even as the faithful Christian takes every one as divine and practically true. Consider John 10:7 and 9: “Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep… I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved.”
“Very truly I tell you.” Do we believe that Jesus is speaking truthfully to us here? If we take Jesus seriously we must.
“I am the gate for the sheep…” Is Jesus literally a sheep’s gate? Are his hinges on the top or the side? Does he open to the left or right? Is he made of wood or iron? Does he squeak? If we do indeed take Jesus’ words literally, these are very appropriate questions about the Nazarene, are they not?
Even the unbeliever or smallest child knows Jesus is speaking metaphorically, as he often does. But he is speaking truthfully. He is the means by which we enter salvation. Faithful Jews, Christians, and intelligent students of the Bible know it communicates the story of God in multiple ways. It does so:
- Literally: Abraham actually existed. He had a real child with Hagar, his wife’s handmaiden. Jesus is God’s son, died on a Roman cross, physically rose from the grave, bodily ascended to the Father and will return, literally.
- Poetically: As in much of Psalms and Song of Solomon, even in Christ’s teaching.
- Metaphorically: Many of Jesus’ parables and illustrations.
- Rhetorically: Acts 1:18-19. Did every last bit of Judas’ intestines spill out as he killed himself? Did every last person in Jerusalem hear about this? Or is Luke speaking in truthful generality?
- Descriptively: Joseph’s jealous brothers threw him and his brightly colored coat into a deep hole and left him for dead. At Cana, Jesus said to the servants, “Fill these jars with water so they filled them to the brim.”
One’s fidelity to the text and integrity of Scripture—including the generally well-educated non-believer—requires we correct this error when it arises, putting it out of it misery once and for all.
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Glenn is the Director for Family Formation Studies at Focus on the Family and a research fellow at the Institute of Marriage and Family in Ottawa. He debates and lectures extensively on gender, sexuality, marriage and parenting at universities and churches around the country. He served the George W. Bush administration for many years as a consultant on increasing fatherhood involvement in the Head Start program.
He and his wife Jacqueline have five endlessly growing kids and they all live relatively happily in the shadow of Pikes Peak in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He blogs at glenntstanton.com.
Glenn T. Stanton Books:
Read The Psalms In "1" Year
Psalm 69Save Me, O God
69 To The Choirmaster: According To Lilies. Of David.
1 Save me, O God!
For the waters have come up to my neck.
2 I sink in deep mire,
where there is no foothold;
I have come into deep waters,
and the flood sweeps over me.
3 I am weary with my crying out;
my throat is parched.
My eyes grow dim
with waiting for my God.
4 More in number than the hairs of my head
are those who hate me without cause;
mighty are those who would destroy me,
those who attack me with lies.
What I did not steal
must I now restore?
5 O God, you know my folly;
the wrongs I have done are not hidden from you.
6 Let not those who hope in you be put to shame through me,
O Lord GOD of hosts;
let not those who seek you be brought to dishonor through me,
O God of Israel.
By John Walvoord
In the history of the church, the eschatological or prophetic portions of Scripture have suffered more from inadequate interpretation than any other major theological subject. The reason for this is that the church turned aside from a normal and grammatical literal interpretation of prophecy to one that is nonliteral and subject to the caprice of the interpreter. This false approach to interpreting prophecy is contradicted beyond question by the fact that so many hundreds of prophecies have already been literally fulfilled.
In the first two centuries of the Christian era the church was predominantly premillennial, interpreting Scripture to teach that Christ would fulfill the prophecy of His second coming to bring a thousand-year reign on earth before the eternal state will begin. This was considered normal in orthodox theology. The early interpretation of prophecy was not always cogent and sometimes fanciful, but for the most part, prophecy was treated the same way as other Scripture.
In the last ten years of the second century and in the third century, the heretical school of theology at Alexandria, Egypt, advanced the erroneous principle that the Bible should be interpreted in a nonliteral or allegorical sense. In applying this principle to the Scriptures, they subverted all the major doctrines of the faith, including prophecy. The early church rose up and emphatically denied the Alexandrian system and to a large extent restored the interpretation of Scripture to its literal, grammatical, historical sense. The problem was that in prophecy there were predictions that had not yet been fulfilled. This made it more difficult to prove that literal fulfillment was true of prophecy. The result was somewhat catastrophic for the idea of a literal interpretation of prophecy, and the church floundered in the area of interpretation of the future.
Augustine (AD 354–430) rescued the church from uncertainty as far as nonprophetic Scripture is concerned, but continued to treat prophecy in a nonliteral way with the purpose of eliminating a millennial kingdom on earth. Strangely, Augustine held to a literal second coming, a literal heaven and a literal hell, but not to a literal millennium. This arbitrary distinction has never been explained. Previously I had books by Augustine on this web site, but this is why I removed them.
Because amillennialism, which denies a literal millennial kingdom on earth following the second coming, is essentially negative and hinders intelligent literal interpretation of prophecy, there was little progress in this area. The church continued to believe in heaven and hell and purgatory, but neglected or explained away long passages having to deal with Israel in prophecy and the kingdom on earth as frequently revealed in the Old Testament. Even in the Protestant Reformation, prophecy was not rescued from this hindrance in its interpretation.
Though remnants of the church still advanced the premillennial view, it was not until the nineteenth and twentieth centuries that a movement to restore the literal truth of prophecy began to take hold. The twentieth century was especially significant in the progress of prophetic interpretation in that many details of prophecy were debated and clarified in a way that was not possible before. Though amillennialism continues to be the majority view of the church, among those who hold a high view of Scripture the premillennial interpretation has been given detailed exposition, serving to provide an intelligent view of the present and the future from the standpoint of biblical prophecy.
The importance of prophecy should be evident, even superficially, in examining the Christian faith, for about one-fourth of the Bible was written as prophecy. It is evident that God intended to draw aside the veil of the future and to give some indication of what His plans and purposes were for the human race and for the universe as a whole. The neglect and misinterpretation of Scriptures supporting the premillennial interpretation is now to some extent being corrected.
In the nature of Christian faith a solid hope for the future is essential. Christianity without a future would not be basic Christianity. In contrast to the eschatology of heathen religions, which often paint the future in a forbidding way, Christianity’s hope is bright and clear and offers a Christian the basic idea that the life to come is better than this present life. As Paul stated in 2 Corinthians 5:8, “We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” In the Christian faith the future is painted as one of bliss and happiness in the presence of the Lord without the ills that are common to this life.
The revelation of prophecy in Scripture serves as important evidence that the Scriptures are accurate in their interpretation of the future. Because approximately half of the prophecies of the Bible have already been fulfilled in a literal way, it gives a proper intellectual basis for assuming that prophecy yet to be fulfilled will likewise have a literal fulfillment. At the same time it justifies the conclusion that the Bible is inspired of the Holy Spirit and that prophecy, which goes far beyond any scheme of man, is instead a revelation by God of that which is certain to come to pass. The fact that prophecy has been literally fulfilled serves as a guide to interpret the prophecies that are yet ahead.
Scriptural prophecy, properly interpreted, also provides a guideline for establishing the value of human conduct and the things that pertain to this life. For a Christian, the ultimate question is whether God considers what he is doing of value or not, in contrast to the world’s system of values, which is largely materialistic.
Prophecy is also a support for the scriptural revelation of the righteousness of God and a support for the assertion that the Christian faith has an integral relationship to morality. Obviously, the present life does not demonstrate fully the righteousness of God as many wicked situations are not actively judged. Scripture that is prophetic in dealing with this indicates that every act will be brought into divine judgment according to the infinite standard of the holy God, and accordingly, prophecy provides a basis for morality based on the character of God Himself.
Prophecy also provides a guide to the meaning of history. Though philosophers will continue to debate a philosophy of history, the Bible indicates that history is the unfolding of God’s plan and purpose for revealing Himself and manifesting His love and grace and righteousness in a way that would be impossible without human history. In the Christian faith, history reaches its climax in God’s plan for the future in which the earth in its present situation will be destroyed, and a new earth will be created. A proper interpretation of prophecy serves to support and enhance all others areas of theology, and without a proper interpretation of prophecy all other areas to some extent become incomplete revelation.
In attempting to communicate the meaning of Scripture relative to the prophetic past and future, prophecy serves to bring light and understanding to many aspects of our present life as well as our future hope. In an effort to understand and interpret prophecy correctly as a justifiable theological exercise, it is necessary to establish a proper base for interpretation.
The Institutes of the Christian Religion
Translated by Henry Beveridge
23. The Scholastic dogma (to glance at it in passing), by which the
difference between the sacraments of the old and the new dispensation
is made so great, that the former did nothing but shadow forth the
grace of God, while the latter actually confer that it, must be
altogether exploded. Since the apostle speaks in no higher terms of the
one than of the other, when he says that the fathers ate of the same
spiritual food, and explains that that food was Christ (1 Cor. 10:3),
who will presume to regard as an empty sign that which gave a
manifestation to the Jews of true communion with Christ? And the state
of the case which the apostle is there treating militates strongly for
our view. For to guard against confiding in a frigid knowledge of
Christ, an empty title of Christianity and external observances, and
thereby daring to contemn the judgment of God, he exhibits signal
examples of divine severity in the Jews, to make us aware that if we
indulge in the same vices, the same punishments which they suffered are
impending over us. Now, to make the comparison appropriate, it was
necessary to show that there is no inequality between us and them in
those blessings in which he forbade us to glory. Therefore, he first
makes them equal to us in the sacraments, and leaves us not one iota of
privilege which could give us hopes of impunity. Nor can we justly
attribute more to our baptism than he elsewhere attributes to
circumcision, when he terms it a seal of the righteousness of faith
(Rom. 4:11). Whatever, therefore, is now exhibited to us in the
sacraments, the Jews formerly received in theirs--viz. Christ, with his
spiritual riches. The same efficacy which ours possess they experienced
in theirs--viz. that they were seals of the divine favour toward them
in regard to the hope of eternal salvation. Had the objectors been
sound expounders of the Epistle to the Hebrews, they would not have
been so deluded, but reading therein that sins were not expiated by
legal ceremonies, nay, that the ancient shadows were of no importance
to justification, they overlooked the contrast which is there drawn,
and fastening on the single point, that the law in itself was of no
avail to the worshipper, thought that they were mere figures, devoid of
truth. The purpose of the apostle is to show that there is nothing in
the ceremonial law until we arrive at Christ, on whom alone the whole
24. But they will found on what Paul says of the circumcision of the letter,  and object that it is in no esteem with God; that it confers nothing, is empty; that passages such as these seem to set it far beneath our baptism. But by no means. For the very same thing might justly be said of baptism. Indeed, it is said; first by Paul himself, when he shows that God regards not the external ablution by which we are initiated into religion, unless the mind is purified inwardly, and maintains its purity to the end; and, secondly, by Peter, when he declares that the reality of baptism consists not in external ablution, but in the testimony of a good conscience. But it seems that in another passage he speaks with the greatest contempt of circumcision made with hands, when he contrasts it with the circumcision made by Christ. I answer, that not even in that passage is there anything derogatory to its dignity. Paul is there disputing against those who insisted upon it as necessary, after it had been abrogated. He therefore admonishes believers to lay aside ancient shadows, and cleave to truth. These teachers, he says, insist that your bodies shall be circumcised. But you have been spiritually circumcised both in soul and body. You have, therefore, a manifestation of the reality, and this is far better than the shadow. Still any one might have answered, that the figure was not to be despised because they had the reality, since among the fathers also was exemplified that putting off of the old man of which he was speaking, and yet to them external circumcision was not superfluous. This objection he anticipates, when he immediately adds, that the Colossians were buried together with Christ by baptism, thereby intimating that baptism is now to Christians what circumcision was to those of ancient times; and that the latter, therefore, could not be imposed on Christians without injury to the former.
25. But there is more difficulty in explaining the passage which follows, and which I lately quote  --viz. that all the Jewish ceremonies were shadows of things to come, but the body is of Christ (Col. 2:17). The most difficult point of all, however, is that which is discussed in several chapters of the Epistle to the Hebrews--namely, that the blood of beasts did not reach to the conscience; that the law was a shadow of good things to come, but not the very image of the things (Heb. 10:1); that worshippers under the Mosaic ceremonies obtained no degree of perfection, and so forth. I repeat what I have already hinted, that Paul does not represent the ceremonies as shadowy because they had nothing solid in them, but because their completion was in a manner suspended until the manifestation of Christ.  Again, I hold that the words are to be understood not of their efficiency, but rather of the mode of significancy. For until Christ was manifested in the flesh, all signs shadowed him as absent, however he might inwardly exert the presence of his power, and consequently of his person on believers. But the most important observation is, that in all these passages Paul does not speak simply but by way of reply. He was contending with false apostles, who maintained that piety consisted in mere ceremonies, without any respect to Christ; for their refutation it was sufficient merely to consider what effect ceremonies have in themselves. This, too, was the scope of the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews. Let us remember, therefore, that he is here treating of ceremonies not taken in their true and native signification, but when wrested to a false and vicious interpretation, not of the legitimate use, but of the superstitious abuse of them. What wonder, then, if ceremonies, when separated from Christ, are devoid of all virtue? All signs become null when the thing signified is taken away. Thus Christ, when addressing those who thought that manna was nothing more than food for the body, accommodates his language to their gross opinion, and says, that he furnished a better food, one which fed souls for immortality. But if you require a clearer solution, the substance comes to this: First, the whole apparatus of ceremonies under the Mosaic law, unless directed to Christ, is evanescent and null. Secondly, these ceremonies had such respect to Christ, that they had their fulfilment only when Christ was manifested in the flesh. Lastly, at his advent they behoved to disappear, just as the shadow vanishes in the clear light of the sun. But I now touch more briefly on the point, because I defer the future consideration of it till I come to the place where I intend to compare baptism with circumcision.
26. Those wretched sophists are perhaps deceived by the extravagant eulogiums on our signs which occur in ancient writers: for instance, the following passage of Augustine: "The sacraments of the old law only promised a Saviour, whereas ours give salvation" (August. Proem. in Ps. 73). Not perceiving that these and similar figures of speech are hyperbolical, they too have promulgated their hyperbolical dogmas, but in a sense altogether alien from that of ancient writers. For Augustine means nothing more than in another place where he says, "The sacraments of the Mosaic law foretold Christ, ours announce him" (Quæst. sup. Numer. c. 33). And again, "Those were promises of things to be fulfilled, these indications of the fulfilment" (Contra Faustum, Lib. 19 c. 14); as if he had said, Those figured him when he was still expected, ours, now that he has arrived, exhibit him as present. Moreover, with regard to the mode of signifying, he says, as he also elsewhere indicates, "The Law and the Prophets had sacraments foretelling a thing future, the sacraments of our time attest that what they foretold as to come has come" (Cont. Liter. Petil. Lib. 2 c. 37). His sentiments concerning the reality and efficacy, he explains in several passages, as when he says, "The sacraments of the Jews were different in the signs, alike in the things signified; different in the visible appearance, alike in spiritual power" (Hom. in Joann. 26). Again, "In different signs there was the same faith: it was thus in different signs as in different words, because the words change the sound according to times, and yet words are nothing else than signs. The fathers drank of the same spiritual drink, but not of the same corporeal drink. See then, how, while faith remains, signs vary. There the rock was Christ; to us that is Christ which is placed on the altar. They as a great sacrament drank of the water flowing from the rock: believers know what we drink. If you look at the visible appearance there was a difference; if at the intelligible signification, they drank of the same spiritual drink." Again, "In this mystery their food and drink are the same as ours; the same in meaning, not in form, for the same Christ was figured to them in the rock; to us he has been manifested in the flesh" (in Ps. 77). Though we grant that in this respect also there is some difference. Both testify that the paternal kindness of God, and the graces of the Spirit, are offered us in Christ, but ours more clearly and splendidly. In both there is an exhibition of Christ, but in ours it is more full and complete, in accordance with that distinction between the Old and New Testaments of which we have discoursed above. And this is the meaning of Augustine (whom we quote more frequently, as being the best and most faithful witness of all antiquity), where he says that after Christ was revealed, sacraments were instituted, fewer in number, but of more august significancy and more excellent power (De Doct. Christ. Lib. 3; et Ep. ad Janur.). It is here proper to remind the reader, that all the trifling talk of the sophists concerning the opus operatum,   is not only false. but repugnant to the very nature of sacraments, which God appointed in order that believers, who are void and in want of all good. might bring nothing of their own, but simply beg. Hence it follows, that in receiving them they do nothing which deserves praise, and that in this action (which in respect of them is merely passive  ) no work can be ascribed to them.
 122 D122 That is, the sacrament cannot make the promise of God objectively more certain, but it can make our faith in God's promise subjectively more certain. God's Word is always absolute, strong, unchangeable, and "settled in heaven"; but our faith, throughout this life is always relative, weak, changeable, and frequently in need of confirmation and assurance. Thus we properly distinguish between the objective certainty of God's Word, and the subjective certainty of our faith.
 123 D123 Sometimes this distinction is expressed in terms of the form of administration of the sacraments (the words of institution, the consecration of the element(s), and their application or distribution), on the one hand, and their spiritual significance and value, on the other. The grace of the sacraments does not lie in their fact or form, but in the Word received by faith.
 Heb. 9:1-14; 1 John 1:7; Rev. 1:5; Heb. 4:14; 5:5; 9:11.
 Rom. 2:25-29; 1 Cor. 7:19; Gal. 6:15; 1 Cor. 10:5; 1 Pet. 3:21; Col. 2:11.
 French, "Mais on fera encore un autre argument."--But there is still another argument which they will employ.
 124 D124 Perhaps an expansion of Calvin's thrust will help to illumine this "difficult point." In Hebrews 9 and 10 it may, at first glance, appear that the writer intends to draw a contrast between those sacrifices offered under the law which were never able to take away so much as a single sin, and the one sacrifice offered by Christ which is able to take away all sins. Such a contrast, however, poses certain questions. For example, what would have been the value of the atonement which the high priest was to make each year, when, in the holy of holies, he offered blood for his own sins and for the sins of the people? Again, why did Moses sprinkle blood upon the book, the people, the tabernacle, and all the vessels of the tabernacle, in order (as Hebrews 9:19-23states) to purge and purify them, if the blood of calves and lambs and goats cannot take away a single sin? And how could David have written, "Blessed is the man whose sins are forgiven" (a blessedness applicable, according to Paul in Romans 4:6-8, not only to David, but also to New Testament believers), if by the shedding of blood during the Old Testament economy, there was no remission (forgiveness) of sins? The objection may be raised, but then what does the writer of Hebrews mean when he says (in 10:4) that "it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins"? And how are we to understand the assertion (in 10:11) that "every priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins"? Two things appear clear: (1) That the writer of Hebrews does not mean that the Old Testament sacrifices commanded by God were valueless or worthless (2) that our interpretation must be compared to, be in proportion to, and be related to, the analogy of faith (the teaching of Scripture as a whole). Perhaps a viable solution to this problem can be found in two important distinctions; that between temporary and permanent value, and that between extrinsic efficacy. As we attempt to compare and contrast the sacrifices of the Old Testament with the sacrifice by Christ of Himself, we discover that the emphasis in Hebrews 9 and 10, with respect to the Old Testament sacrifices, is upon their temporary value (because they were repeated again and again), and their extrinsic efficacy (because they were not intended to point to themselves, but to the atoning sacrifice of Christ which gave efficacy to them); and we discover that the emphasis in those chapters, with respect to the sacrifice of Christ, is upon its permanent value (because it was completed once and for all by the eternal Word made flesh), and its intrinsic efficacy (because it was and is a perfect and complete satisfaction). The temporary value and extrinsic efficacy of the sacrifices of the Old Testament is borne out by the terms used to express them in these two chapters of Hebrews. They are called signs, or significations (9:8), figures, or types (9:9, 24), patterns (9:23) and shadows (10:1). They could make the believing worshipper perfect "in the sense of final completeness", since He offered one sacrifice and then sat down, never needing to offer again. But this should not be understood to mean that the sacrifices of the Old Testament had no value and no efficacy with respect to forgiveness of sins. If they were signs, they pointed to that which they signified; if they were figures or types, they anticipated their antitype; if they were patterns, they were patterns of the true reality; and if they were shadows, they silhouetted the substance. These, then, would appear to be the contrasts drawn in Hebrews 9 and 10. Impermanency and non-self-sufficiency characterize the sacrifices of the Old Testament; permanency and self-sufficiency characterize the Sacrifice of the New. The Old Testament sacrifices of lambs were efficacious, but not of themselves, and not without repetition; the New Testament sacrifice of the Lamb of God was efficacious of itself, gave value and efficacy to the Old Testament sacrifices, and is perfect and complete for ever.
 The French adds, "Qu'ils appellent en leur gergon."--So called in their jargon.
 125 D125 This expression, opus operatum, in connection with the sacraments, has been defined in the following ways: (a) that the sacraments themselves are causes of the operations of God's grace (b) that the sacraments effect the grace they signify by the inherent power of the sacramental action itself (c) that in the sacraments we find materials and actions which are of themselves efficacious to give grace (d) that the sacraments not only signify inward grace, but have the power of producing it in the soul. In addition to these meanings (which are very similar in content and thrust), Calvin appears to understand the expression, opus operatum, as implying yet another dimension. He seems to define it as "an action which works," or "an active work," thereby implying, on the part of the recipient, some active participation which merits the grace of the sacrament. Both the abovementioned definitions of the expression and the implication suggested by it, Calvin strongly repudiates. The sacraments do not have inherent power to produce grace in the soul, nor are they made efficacious by any admixture of human merit which is brought to them by sinful men.
 The French adds, "J'appel le acte passif, pourceque Dieu fait le tout, et seulement nous recevons."--I call the act passive, because God does the whole, and we only receive.
Christian Classics Ethereal Library / Public Domain
Institutes of the Christian Religion
The Continual Burnt Offering (Mark 2:27-28)
By H.A. Ironside - 1941
June 26Mark 5:2–3 (NASB95) 2 When He got out of the boat, immediately a man from the tombs with an unclean spirit met Him, 3 and he had his dwelling among the tombs. And no one was able to bind him anymore, even with a chain;
How often we have heard some poor derelict of a man, overcome by sin and lost to all sense of decency, described as a "good-for-nothing," But it is for such as him, as for all others, that Christ Jesus came into the world. To Him all men, while lost and ruined in themselves, are good for something, because of what His grace can do for them. George Whitefield used to say that "Jesus will take in the Devil's castaways." Lady Huntingdon objected to this expression until one of WhitefieId's converts told her of his own redemption from the lowest strata of degraded society. Then she realized the glorious truth embodied in the homely language of the great field-preacher.
Surely, if any man were utterly good far nothing, it was the poor, demon-possessed wretch who had his dwelling among the foul caves of the dead! But he is only a picture of many men as God sees them under Satan's power— "hateful and hating one another." Christ put a new value on men. No matter how wicked and godless, nor how perverted their instincts, they were potential saints for whom He gave Himself. He was able then, as He is able now, to give complete deliverance and to change them by His grace.
"Sinners Jesuit' will receive,
Sound the word of grace to all
Who the heavenly pathway leave.
All who linger, all who fall.
Sing it o'er and o'er again.
Christ receiveth sinful men."
Devotionals, notes, poetry and more
10/1/2012 | The True Israel of God
“Father Abraham had many sons, many sons had father Abraham. I am one of them and so are you…,” so the old children’s song goes. Although it’s a silly song that requires the raising of arms, legs, and the nodding of heads, the song’s theology is unquestionably biblical. In Romans 4:1–16, the Apostle Paul explains that Abraham is “the father of us all.”
As new covenant believers, we have been justified by grace alone through faith alone because of the finished work of Christ alone. As an old covenant believer, Abraham, the father of Israel, was justified by grace alone through faith alone because of the future work of Christ alone. Abraham stood on the promised salvation of God in the Messiah who was to come just as we stand on the promised salvation of God in the Messiah who has come. True believers in the Old Testament were saved in the same way that true believers are saved in the New Testament— by faith, and by faith alone. Abraham believed the Lord, and He counted it to him as righteousness (Gen. 15:6). The Lord declared Abraham righteous because he believed, just as the Lord declares us righteous because we believe. Thus, adoption into God’s family and eternal covenant community is achieved not through having the right family name, ethnicity, land of birth, or residence. Neither are men and women the children of Abraham and, therefore, the children of Israel because of Sabbath-keeping or unconditional support of all of Israel’s practices and policies. True Israel is faithful Israel, and only faithful Israel inherits God’s promises. And faithful Israelites are those circumcised in their hearts, those who have trusted in the Messiah. This is the way God has always fulfilled His purposes in saving His people (Rom. 2:28–29).
True Israel is faithful Israel because they have faith in the only faithful Israelite who has ever lived—Jesus the Messiah. Only Jesus completely fulfilled all of the Father’s righteous laws for Israel. As the only faithful Israelite, Jesus is an Israelite according to the flesh, and He enjoyed all the benefits that come from being born into the nation that possessed the oracles of God. As the faithful Israelite Jesus is the true Israel because He is the true Son of God (Matt. 2:13–14).
By faith in Jesus, the true Israelite, all people can be reckoned as true Israelites. All who are united by faith alone to Jesus the Christ are the true Israel of God (Gal. 6:16). As such, those of ethnic Israel who trust Jesus as their Messiah are closer to me than they are to their Jewish families who don’t believe in Jesus. Likewise, I am closer to Jewish believers in Christ than I am to my unbelieving Gentile family. For our Father has graciously made us His children having freed us from bondage in order to live coram Deo, following Jesus, the true Israel of God.
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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
Helen Keller was born this day, June 27, 1880. At the age of two she suffered an illness that left her both blind and deaf. Her parents took her to Dr. Alexander Graham Bell who recommended the Perkins Institute for the Blind in Boston. There, at the age of seven, Anne Sullivan began tutoring her through the sense of touch, eventually teaching her to read Braille. She attended Radcliffe College, wrote several books and was recognized for her efforts to help the blind. Helen Keller wrote: “I thank God for my handicaps, for, through them, I have found myself, my work, and my God.”
Compiled by Richard S. Adams
What is it that we all believe in
that we cannot see or hear
or feel or taste or smell -
this invisible thing that heals all sorrows,
reveals all lies and
renews all hope?
What is it that has always been
and always will be,
from whose bosom we all came
and to which we will all return?
Most call it Time.
A few realize that it is God.
--- Robert Brault
Character is developed when we let the Scripture inform us. We are what we permit to enter the deepest part of our soul. A steady diet of television, cheap publications, and shallow literature will make us dreadfully inadequate people. A daily exposure to the Scripture and to literature that focuses on Scripture is a necessary part of the Diet.
--- Gordon MacDonald
Going Deep: Becoming A Person of Influence
Doubt sees the obstacles—Faith sees the way.
Doubt sees the darkest night—Faith sees the day.
Doubt dreads to take a step—Faith soars on high.
Doubt questions, “Who believes?”—Faith answers, “I.”
Amazing Grace: 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions
We cast away priceless time in dreams, born of imagination, fed upon illusion and put to death by reality.
--- Judy Garland
Mourning in the Mountains
... from here, there and everywhere
CHAPTER 15 / Does God Need Our Love?
Now that we have concluded our discussion of the commandment, “You shall love the Lord your God,” we turn to a question that often lurks in the darker recesses of our consciousness, too shy to expose itself to the glare of analysis. Yet if we are honest, we must address that question: if indeed God commands us to love Him, does that not in some way betray a need in Him to be loved? And does that not imply some lack, some vulnerability or imperfection, in God? And does that not, in turn, run counter to the teaching of the Jewish tradition that God is perfect, absolute, totally autonomous, and in need of nothing or no one?
To respond to this question we must first explore, however briefly, how the Jewish tradition treated the tendency of Scripture to refer to God in human terms.
From ancient days until well into the medieval period, many Jews tended to take the words of the Torah literally. This literalism or “fundamentalism” led many pious Jews to violate some of the most fundamental precepts and concepts in Judaism, such as the incorporeality of God. In the early tannaitic period, reacting against this widespread tendency, the great proselyte, Onkelos, in his classical translation of the Torah into Aramaic, eliminated each and every anthropomorphism and anthropopathism (attributing to God human form or human emotions) by reinterpreting them. In the medieval period, Maimonides fulminated against such base literalism and dedicated a good part of the first third of his immortal Guide for the Perplexed to reinterpreting such terms. Maimonides argued that such terms were used in the Torah because dibbrah Torah bi’leshon benei adam, the Torah speaks in the language of men, i.e., the Torah teaches great religious and philosophical ideas but expresses them metaphorically, in human language, so that we can understand them. However, such figurative language must not be taken literally. Both Onkelos and Maimonides endeavored to purify the faith of Jews from crass and unsophisticated literalisms that tended, in some way or other, to lead them to attribute corporeality, imperfection, or limitation to God. They clearly understood that any assumption that God possesses bodily form, or experiences human needs or wants, is pagan and must be ruthlessly banished. Therefore, in talking about the divine commandment to love God, we must understand that the question we ask is not simple, certainly not simplistic, and that there are indeed grounds in the Jewish tradition to reject the existence of divine “needs”—and yet we must also acknowledge our very human need to speak of God’s “needs” in some fashion.
While a confirmed rationalist like Maimonides would find heretical and sacrilegious any talk of such mutual dependence, whether emotional or other, in the divine-human encounter, this would not be the case for those less committed to a rigorous rationalism. This is especially so if we bear in mind that no anthropomorphisms or anthropopathisms are ever meant to be taken at face value. Yet even so, such figures of speech do suggest a real dimension that lies somewhere between the crassly literal and the abstractly metaphoric or symbolic, a dimension that cannot therefore be reduced into a mere figure of speech.
To understand this, consider sympathy before speaking of love. Love indeed implies a need, a dependency. Sympathy—to feel with or for someone—implies an ability or willingness to understand another’s predicament. It is, in this sense, more intellectual and less emotional, such that we are not forced to infer a need in the one who experiences sympathy. Indeed, the prerequisite for love is sympathy; only from such a vantage can one speak of love. And ample precedent exists for the idea that God has sympathy for us, (1) and we for God, troublesome as such notions may at first appear.
(1) The fullest treatment of the subject is by Abraham Joshua Heschel in his God in Search of Man : A Philosophy of Judaism and, in lesser measure, in some of his earlier works.
The earliest texts already indicate divine sympathy for suffering humanity. The “emotional” aspect of the relationship between God and man is evident in the very beginning of the Torah where, as a result of the divine grant of freedom of the will to the first humans and their failure to use it properly, God experiences something akin to anxiety: “And the Lord repented that He had made man upon the earth, and it grieved Him at His heart” (Gen. 6:6). Now this verse, in all its literalness can be regarded as but an anthropopathism that must be treated as all others. The obvious intent of Scripture is to paint a graphic picture of the tragic consequence of the gap between the “ought” and the “is,” between the high, absolute demands of the Creator and the moral frailty of human beings. Divine “grief” in His “heart” is a dramatic way of indicating God’s rejection of human conduct.
The Sages of the Mishnah are quite straightforward in acknowledging such divine sympathy for man. On the verse, “In all their affliction He was afflicted” (Isa. 63:9), R. Meir is quoted as saying, “When a man suffers, what does the Shekhinah say? ‘My head hurts, My arm hurts.’ If God suffers at the blood of the wicked that is shed, how much more so at the blood of the righteous?!” (Mishnah Sanhedrin 6:5).
In a truly remarkable text, the Talmud (Ḥullin 60b and Shevuot 9a) offers a comment on the words “unto the Lord” in the verse concerning the sin offering on the occasion of Rosh Ḥodesh, the New Moon: “And one he-goat for a sin offering unto the Lord” (Num. 28:15). The Talmud refers to the well-known aggada that at the beginning of creation the moon and the sun were equally large, but when the moon complained that two sovereigns could not wear one crown and, presumably, argued for its own supremacy over the sun, God ordered the moon to diminish in size and luminescence. That is why, explains the Talmud, the Torah refers to a sin offering “unto the Lord”: “Said the Holy One, let this he-goat be an atonement because I diminished the moon.” At first glance, the plain sense of the text is that God felt that He required atonement because of His draconian decision to diminish the moon; alternatively, even though the moon deserved the punishment, God was sufficiently sympathetic to the moon’s plight to feel that He needed atonement.
Rashi relieves the heavily anthropopathic quality of this rabbinic story by commenting that the sin-offering was meant “to appease the moon.” Anthropomorphizing the moon is far less troublesome theologically than speaking of God in human terms. Tosafot cites the opinion of the author of Arukh, that though it was Israel that needed atonement (for its normal range of misdeeds), it was up to God to set the time for such atonement, and He set it on the New Moon as a way of compensating the moon for its harsh punishment; a similar explanation is given by R. Isaac Alfasi, the Rif. Indeed, so disturbing is this passage that on the margin of the Shevuot text we read an unattributed printed comment, “This is one of the secrets of the Kabbalah, and Heaven forbid that it be taken at face value.” Nevertheless, if we grant that the incident to which this interpretation of the Numbers verse applies is itself metaphoric—surely a three-way conversation between God, sun, and moon is not meant to be taken literally!—then the notion of God’s atonement is similarly not meant literally. Therefore, there is no need to explain away apologetically the otherwise shocking attribution of “sin” to God. Instead, we can understand the intent of the Talmud, namely, to explain that the canons of justice sometimes compel us to do things that are unpalatable, which therefore produce in us a sense of regret at the inevitable negative consequence of administering retaliatory punishment. From this aggadic parable we learn that even God, as it were, wrestles with profound ambivalence in administering justice. His response to this ambivalence—asking that a sin-offering be brought for Him—expresses divine sympathy for our own ambivalence in facing the unjust execution of justice. Such divine sympathy implies a fellow feeling, even emotional vulnerability, as it were, on the part of God. We are drawn, therefore, to reciprocate with our own sympathy for our Maker. And it is this morally and spiritually uplifting result that makes acceptable the otherwise problematic notion of divine distress.
The Midrash provides an interesting illustration of this kind of thinking among the Sages. On the verse, “I that speak in tzedakah, mighty to save” (Isa. 63:1), an opinion is cited that the tzedakah—justice, righteousness, but usually and colloquially charity or any act of special kindness—here referred to is performed by Israel for God! Thus the Midrash states: “Which tzedakah does the verse intend?—The tzedakah you performed for Me when you accepted the Torah, for had you not done so, where would My kingdom be?” A truly startling thought: by accepting the Torah, Israel performed a charitable act toward the Creator! Here, human sympathy for the Creator is projected onto the revelation at Sinai, the covenant itself—the very heart of the Jewish religious historical experience.
The Shema: Spirituality and Law in Judaism
Thanks to Meir Yona
Antipater Becomes Intolerable. He Is Sent To Rome, And Carries Herod's Testament With Him; Pheroras Leaves His Brother, That He May Keep His Wife. He Dies At Home.
1. Now when Antipater had cut off the hopes of the orphans, and had contracted such affinities as would be most for his own advantage, he proceeded briskly, as having a certain expectation of the kingdom; and as he had now assurance added to his wickedness, he became intolerable; for not being able to avoid the hatred of all people, he built his security upon the terror he struck into them. Pheroras also assisted him in his designs, looking upon him as already fixed in the kingdom. There was also a company of women in the court, which excited new disturbances; for Pheroras's wife, together with her mother and sister, as also Antipater's mother, grew very impudent in the palace. She also was so insolent as to affront the king's two daughters, 44 on which account the king hated her to a great degree; yet although these women were hated by him, they domineered over others: there was only Salome who opposed their good agreement, and informed the king of their meetings, as not being for the advantage of his affairs. And when those women knew what calumnies she had raised against them, and how much Herod was displeased, they left off their public meetings, and friendly entertainments of one another; nay, on the contrary, they pretended to quarrel one with another when the king was within hearing. The like dissimulation did Antipater make use of; and when matters were public, he opposed Pheroras; but still they had private cabals and merry meetings in the night time; nor did the observation of others do any more than confirm their mutual agreement. However, Salome knew every thing they did, and told every thing to Herod.
2. But he was inflamed with anger at them, and chiefly at Pheroras's wife; for Salome had principally accused her. So he got an assembly of his friends and kindred together, and there accused this woman of many things, and particularly of the affronts she had offered his daughters; and that she had supplied the Pharisees with money, by way of rewards for what they had done against him, and had procured his brother to become his enemy, by giving him love potions. At length he turned his speech to Pheroras, and told him that he would give him his choice of these two things: Whether he would keep in with his brother, or with his wife? And when Pheroras said that he would die rather than forsake his wife, Herod, not knowing what to do further in that matter, turned his speech to Antipater, and charged him to have no intercourse either with Pheroras's wife, or with Pheroras himself, or with any one belonging to her. Now though Antipater did not transgress that his injunction publicly, yet did he in secret come to their night meetings; and because he was afraid that Salome observed what he did, he procured, by the means of his Italian friends, that he might go and live at Rome; for when they wrote that it was proper for Antipater to be sent to Caesar for some time, Herod made no delay, but sent him, and that with a splendid attendance, and a great deal of money, and gave him his testament to carry with him,—wherein Antipater had the kingdom bequeathed to him, and wherein Herod was named for Antipater's successor; that Herod, I mean, who was the son of Mariamne, the high priest's daughter.
3. Sylleus also, the Arabian, sailed to Rome, without any regard to Caesar's injunctions, and this in order to oppose Antipater with all his might, as to that law-suit which Nicolaus had with him before. This Sylleus had also a great contest with Aretas his own king; for he had slain many others of Aretas's friends, and particularly Sohemus, the most potent man in the city Petra. Moreover, he had prevailed with Phabatus, who was Herod's steward, by giving him a great sum of money, to assist him against Herod; but when Herod gave him more, he induced him to leave Sylleus, and by this means he demanded of him all that Caesar had required of him to pay. But when Sylleus paid nothing of what he was to pay, and did also accuse Phabatus to Caesar, and said that he was not a steward for Caesar's advantage, but for Herod's, Phabatus was angry at him on that account, but was still in very great esteem with Herod, and discovered Sylleus's grand secrets, and told the king that Sylleus had corrupted Corinthus, one of the guards of his body, by bribing him, and of whom he must therefore have a care. Accordingly, the king complied; for this Corinthus, though he was brought up in Herod's kingdom, yet was he by birth an Arabian; so the king ordered him to be taken up immediately, and not only him, but two other Arabians, who were caught with him; the one of them was Sylleus's friend, the other the head of a tribe. These last, being put to the torture, confessed that they had prevailed with Corinthus, for a large sum of money, to kill Herod; and when they had been further examined before Saturninus, the president of Syria, they were sent to Rome.
4. However, Herod did not leave off importuning Pheroras, but proceeded to force him to put away his wife; 45 yet could he not devise any way by which he could bring the woman herself to punishment, although he had many causes of hatred to her; till at length he was in such great uneasiness at her, that he cast both her and his brother out of his kingdom. Pheroras took this injury very patiently, and went away into his own tetrarchy, [Perea beyond Jordan,] and sware that there should be but one end put to his flight, and that should be Herod's death; and that he would never return while he was alive. Nor indeed would he return when his brother was sick, although he earnestly sent for him to come to him, because he had a mind to leave some injunctions with him before he died; but Herod unexpectedly recovered. A little afterward Pheroras himself fell sick, when Herod showed great moderation; for he came to him, and pitied his case, and took care of him; but his affection for him did him no good, for Pheroras died a little afterward. Now though Herod had so great an affection for him to the last day of his life, yet was a report spread abroad that he had killed him by poison. However, he took care to have his dead body carried to Jerusalem, and appointed a very great mourning to the whole nation for him, and bestowed a most pompous funeral upon him. And this was the end that one of Alexander's and Aristobulus's murderers came to.
by D.H. Stern
but a person with discernment draws them out.
6 Most people announce that they show kindness,
but who can find someone faithful [enough to do it]?
Complete Jewish Bible : An English Version of the Tanakh (Old Testament) and B'Rit Hadashah (New Testament)
A Daily Devotional by Oswald Chambers
The overshadowing personal deliverance
I am with thee to deliver thee, saith the Lord.
--- Jeremiah 1:8.
God promised Jeremiah that He would deliver him personally—“Thy life will I give unto thee for a prey.” That is all God promises His children. Wherever God sends us, He will guard our lives. Our personal property and possessions are a matter of indifference, we have to sit loosely to all these things; if we do not, there will be panic and heartbreak and distress. That is the inwardness of the overshadowing of personal deliverance.
The Sermon on the Mount indicates that when we are on Jesus Christ’s errands, there is no time to stand up for ourselves. Jesus says, in effect, ‘Do not be bothered with whether you are being justly dealt with or not.’ To look for justice is a sign of deflection from devotion to Him. Never look for justice in this world, but never cease to give it. If we look for justice, we will begin to grouse and to indulge in the discontent of self-pity—‘Why should I be treated like this?’ If we are devoted to Jesus Christ we have nothing to do with what we meet, whether it is just or unjust. Jesus says—‘Go steadily on with what I have told you to do and I will guard your life. If you try to guard it yourself, you remove yourself from My deliverance.’ The most devout among us become atheistic in this connection; we do not believe God, we enthrone common sense and tack the name of God on to it. We do lean to our own understanding, instead of trusting God with all our hearts.
My Utmost for His Highest
the Poetry of RS Thomas
Gaughin- Breton Village in the Snow
This is the village
to which the lost traveler
came, searching for his first spring,
and found, lying asleep
in the young snow, how cold
was its blossom.
are of iron, but nothing
is forged on them. The tower
is a finger pointing
up, but at whom?
are said here, they are
for a hand to roll
back this white quilt
and uncover the bed
where the earth is asleep,
too, but near awaking.
When we observe people, what do we see—good or evil?
After having observed the experiment called humanity for ten generations, God concluded:
“… the devisings of man’s mind are evil from his youth” (Genesis 8:21). People are, by nature, wicked. To punish them for being true to their inclinations seemed both unfair and futile, so God swore not to destroy humankind again by means of a catastrophic flood.
After having observed eight human beings hiding from the Nazis in an Amsterdam attic for two years, Anne Frank concluded:
It’s really a wonder that I haven’t dropped all my ideals, because they seem so absurd and impossible to carry out. Yet I keep them, because in spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart. (diary entry, July 15, 1944)
Who was right—God or Anne? God understood the human heart only too well. It wasn’t necessary for God to “ever again destroy every living being …”; humankind in the twentieth century proved quite capable of doing the job, murdering tens of millions in the most horrible of ways.
But Anne wasn’t just a naïve fifteen-year-old when she wrote her startlingly optimistic words. She knew very well what human beings were capable of in the world outside her hiding place. But she also knew that human beings were risking torture and death every day trying to keep her and seven others alive in a hidden room, behind an upstairs bookcase.
So who was right … God or Anne Frank? In typical Rabbinic fashion, the Midrash responds: They’re both right. There is within every human being the possibility of evil, and there is within every human being the possibility of righteousness. The heart, if left uncontrolled, will create much wickedness. But the heart can be controlled, and if it is, much goodness will result.
What is most fascinating is that the difference between righteousness and evil, between a person who is a צַדִּיק/tzaddik, and a person who is a רָשָׁע/rasha, is minute. The Rabbis point this out by focusing on a minor grammatical point. The single Hebrew letter בּ/bet, attached as a prefix to the Hebrew word for “heart,” signals a human being who has been grabbed and taken over by another entity, another power.
Conversely, the Hebrew prepositions אֶל/el and עַל/al, made up of just two Hebrew letters each, are separate words, not prefixes; they remain independent of the “heart.” They remind us that when people stand on their own and remain apart from negative influences, they can control their own destinies. A difference of one single letter, set one step apart, changes everything. The Rabbis took note of these small choices of grammatical usage. And they taught us that the same rules apply to the realm of morality. It’s the small choices we make in life that determine whether the heart controls us or whether we control the heart … whether we become like those who hunted down the innocent, or become like those who hid them.
Searching for Meaning in Midrash: Lessons for Everyday Living
W. W. Wiersbe
"If this book had ended at the last verse of chapter 3, history would have portrayed Jonah as the greatest of the prophets. After all, preaching one message that motivated thousands of people to repent and turn to God was no mean accomplishment. But the Lord doesn’t look on the outward things; He looks at the heart (1 Sam. 16:7) and weighs the motives (1 Cor. 4:5). That’s why Chapter 4 was included in the book, for it reveals “the thoughts and intents” of Johah’s heart and exposes his sins.
If in chapter 1 Jonah is like the Prodigal Son, insisting on doing his own thing and going his own way (Luke 15:11–32); then in chapter 4, he’s like the Prodigal’s Elder Brother—critical, selfish, sullen, angry, and unhappy with what was going on. It isn’t enough for God’s servants simply to do their Master’s will; they must do “the will of God from the heart” (Eph. 6:6). The heart of every problem is the problem in the heart, and that’s where Jonah’s problems were to be found. “But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry” (Jonah 4:1).
The remarkable thing is that God tenderly dealt with His sulking servant and sought to bring him back to the place of joy and fellowship.
God listened to Jonah (Jonah 4:1–4). For the second time in this account, Jonah prays, but his second prayer was much different in content and intent. He prayed his best prayer in the worst place, the fish’s belly, and he prayed his worst prayer in the best place, at Nineveh where God was working. His first prayer came from a broken heart, but his second prayer came from an angry heart. In his first prayer, he asked God to save him, but in his second prayer, he asked God to take his life! Once again, Jonah would rather die than not have his own way.
This petulant prayer lets us in on the secret of why Jonah tried to run away in the first place. Being a good theologian, Jonah knew the attributes of God, that He was “a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity” (v. 2, NIV). Knowing this, Jonah was sure that if he announced judgment to the Ninevites and they repented, God would forgive them and not send His judgment, and then Jonah would be branded as a false prophet! Remember, Jonah’s message merely announced the impending judgment; it didn’t offer conditions for salvation.
Jonah was concerned about his reputation, not only before the Ninevites, but also before the Jews back home. His Jewish friends would want to see all of the Assyrians destroyed, not just the people of Nineveh. When Jonah’s friends found out that he had been the means of saving Nineveh from God’s wrath, they could have considered him a traitor to official Jewish foreign policy. Jonah was a narrow-minded patriot who saw Assyria only as a dangerous enemy to destroy, not as a company of repentant sinners to be brought to the Lord.
When reputation is more important than character, and pleasing ourselves and our friends is more important than pleasing God, then we’re in danger of becoming like Jonah and living to defend our prejudices instead of fulfilling our spiritual responsibilities. (The early church faced this problem when Peter took the Gospel to the Gentiles (Acts 10–11; 15). According to Jewish theology, Gentiles had to become Jews (proselytes) before they could become Christians, but Cornelius and his family and friends were saved simply by believing on Jesus Christ. When Peter said “whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins,” the people present believed the promise, trusted Christ, and the Holy Spirit came upon them. Peter never got to finish his sermon (10:43–48). The legalistic Jews in the Jerusalem church argued late that Gentiles could not be saved apart from obeying the Law of Moses, and Paul had to debate with them to protect the truth of the Gospel (Acts 15; Gal. 1). Jonah would have sided with the legalists.) Jonah certainly had good theology, but it stayed in his head and never got to his heart, and he was so distraught that he wanted to die! (Both Moses (Num. 1) and Elijah (1 Kings 19) became so discouraged that they made the same request. We lose our perspective when we focus on ourselves and fail to look by faith to the Lord (Heb. 12:1–2).) God’s tender response was to ask Jonah to examine his heart and see why he really was angry.
God comforted Jonah (Jonah 4:5–8). For the second time in this book, Jonah abandoned his place of ministry, left the city, and sat down in a place east of the city where he could see what would happen. Like the Elder Brother in the parable, he wouldn’t go in and enjoy the feast (Luke 15:28). He could have taught the Ninevites so much about the true God of Israel, but he preferred to have his own way. What a tragedy it is when God’s servants are a means of blessing to others but miss the blessing themselves!
God knew that Jonah was very uncomfortable sitting in that booth, so He graciously caused a vine (gourd) to grow whose large leaves would protect Jonah from the hot sun. This made Jonah happy, but the next Morning, when God prepared a worm to kill the vine, Jonah was unhappy. The combination of the hot sun and the smothering desert wind made him want to die even more. As He had done in the depths of the sea, God was reminding Jonah of what it was like to be lost: helpless, hopeless, miserable. Jonah was experiencing a taste of hell as he sat and watched the city.
A simple test of character is to ask, “What makes me happy? What makes me angry? What makes me want to give up? Jonah was “a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways” (James 1:8, NKJV). One minute he’s preaching God’s Word, but the next minute he’s disobeying it and fleeing his post of duty. While inside the great fish, he prayed to be delivered, but now he asks the Lord to kill him. He called the city to repentance, but he wouldn’t repent himself! He was more concerned about creature comforts than he was about winning the lost. The Ninevites, the vine, the worm, and the wind have all obeyed God, but Jonah still refuses to obey, and he has the most to gain.
God instructed Jonah (Jonah 4:9–11). God is still speaking to Jonah and Jonah is still listening and answering, even though he’s not giving the right answers. Unrighteous anger feeds the ego and produces the poison of selfishness in the heart. Jonah still had a problem with the will of God. In chapter 1, his mind understood God’s will, but he refused to obey it and took his body in the opposite direction. In chapter 2, he cried out for help, God rescued him, and he gave his body back to the Lord. In chapter 3, he yielded his will to the Lord and went to Nineveh to preach, but his heart was not yet surrendered to the Lord. Jonah did the will of God, but not from his heart.
Jonah had one more lesson to learn, perhaps the most important one of all. In chapter 1, he learned the lesson of God’s providence and patience, that you can’t run away from God. In chapter 2, he learned the lesson of God’s pardon, that God forgives those who call upon Him. In chapter 3, he learned the lesson of God’s power as he saw a whole city humble itself before the Lord. Now he had to learn the lesson of God’s pity, that God has compassion for lost sinners like the Ninevites; and his servants must also have compassion. (The phrase in 4:11 “and also much cattle” reminds us of God’s concern for animal life. God preserves both man and beast (Ps. 36:6), and the animals look to God for their provision (104:10–30). God has made a covenant with creation (Gen. 9:1–17); and even in the Law of Moses, He shows concern for His creation (Deut. 22:6–7; Lev. 22:26–28). An understanding of God is the basis for a true ecology.) It seems incredible, but Jonah brought a whole city to faith in the Lord and yet he didn’t love the people he was preaching to!
The people who could not “discern between their right hand and their left hand” (4:11) were immature little children (Deut. 1:39), and if there were 120,000 of them in Nineveh and its suburbs, the population was not small. God certainly has a special concern for the children (Mark 10:13–16); but whether children or adults, the Assyrians all needed to know the Lord. Jonah had pity on the vine that perished, but he didn’t have compassion for the people who would perish and live eternally apart from God.
Jeremiah and Jesus looked on the city of Jerusalem and wept over it (Jer. 9:1, 10; 23:9; Luke 19:41), and Paul beheld the city of Athens and "was greatly distressed” (Acts 17:16, NIV), but Jonah looked on the city of Nineveh and seethed with anger. He needed to learn the lesson of God’s pity and have a heart of compassion for lost souls.)
Be Amazed (Minor Prophets): Restoring an Attitude of Wonder and Worship (The BE Series Commentary)
He is not the God of the dead, but of the living.
--- Mark 12:27.
In the Bible, the nature of the life to come is not so clear as the fact of the life to come. ( Clarence E. Macartney, “Heaven,” in The Faith Once Delivered ) Yet we are not left without hint as to what the nature of that life will be.
The Bible tells us that our personalities persist, go on. The Sadducees, who did not believe in angel or spirit or resurrection, once came to Jesus with that question about the seven-times-married woman who had survived all her husbands. The Sadducees wanted to know whose wife she would be in the Resurrection. Jesus told them that they misconceived the nature of the Resurrection and the future life. He reminded them of what God said to Moses at the burning bush: “Have you not read,… ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ God is not the God of the dead but of the living.” Personality, the you, the me, goes on.
The Bible tells us that the future life will be a life of great power and endowment—the “powers of the coming age.” Paul said our bodies in the life to come will be like the resurrection body of Christ. If so, what an organ of expression we will have and what a platform of existence on which to stand!
Since we are to have so wonderful an organ of life and expression, it follows that we will have some great and high use for such a body and such a spirit. Here in this life all the noblest human work is done in connection with ignorance, suffering, sorrow, vice, and sin. But one day all those things are to pass away. What, then, will be the work of redeemed souls? What has Moses been doing since God buried him on Nebo’s lonely mountain? What has Elijah been doing since the day he went up to heaven in a whirlwind? That we must leave to the infinite resources of God.
Further, the Bible tells us that the life to come will be a life of holiness. This we learn from one of those great “no mores” with which the Bible describes the heavenly life: no more sea of separation, no more night, no more fear, no more tears, and no more curse—that is, no more sin. We will do naturally and gladly what God wills. Then, with every evil cast out, clothed and in our right minds, we will stand before the Creator as God designed us at the beginning when he said, “Let us make man in our image.”
--- Clarence E. Macartney
Take Heart: Daily Devotions with the Church's Great Preachers
Abiding, Not Striving June 27
Hudson Taylor envisioned a missionary task greater than any since the days of Paul—the evangelization of China. Toward that end he established the China Inland Mission on June 27, 1865. It was the dream of his life, for even before age five he had told friends he wished to be a missionary to the Orient.
He wasn’t actually converted to Christ, however, until years later. His mother long prayed for his conversion, but with no apparent results. One day while a hundred miles from home she felt unusually burdened for him. She withdrew to her room, locked the door, and began to pray earnestly. She didn’t stop till convinced he had been saved.
Meanwhile Hudson, 17, was at home with nothing to do. He wandered into his father’s library, shuffled through some papers, and came to a leaflet that began with an interesting story. He read the story, then kept reading. It was a Gospel tract, and as Hudson later put it, “Light was flashed into my soul by the Holy Spirit. There was nothing in the world to be done but to fall down on one’s knees and [pray for salvation].”
After a stint in medical school Taylor sailed for China. He was immediately engulfed in financial crises, language difficulties, homesickness, and personality conflicts with other missionaries. Trying to dye his hair black (to blend in with the Chinese), he was injured when the top blew off the ammonia bottle. More troubles followed, and over the next years, Taylor grew bitterly depressed.
Then he received a letter from his friend John McCarthy, who told him to try “ … abiding, not striving nor struggling.” Christ himself is “the only power for service; the only ground for unchanging joy.”
Hudson said, “As I read, I saw it all. I looked to Jesus; and when I saw, oh, how the joy flowed. As to work, mine was never so plentiful or so difficult; but the weight and strain are gone.” New voltage surged through his life and ministry as though he were connected to a heavenly power plant. By the time Hudson Taylor died, CIM had 800 missionaries in China.
I am the vine, and you are the branches. If you stay joined to me, and I stay joined to you, then you will produce lots of fruit. But you cannot do anything without me.
--- John 15:5
On This Day 365 Amazing And Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs And Heroes
Daily Readings / CHARLES H. SPURGEON
Morning - June 27
“Only ye shall not go very far away.” --- Exodus 8:28.
This is a crafty word from the lip of the arch-tyrant Pharaoh. If the poor bondaged Israelites must needs go out of Egypt, then he bargains with them that it shall not be very far away; not too far for them to escape the terror of his arms, and the observation of his spies. After the same fashion, the world loves not the non-conformity of nonconformity, or the dissidence of dissent; it would have us be more charitable and not carry matters with too severe a hand. Death to the world, and burial with Christ, are experiences which carnal minds treat with ridicule, and hence the ordinance which sets them forth is almost universally neglected, and even condemned. Worldly wisdom recommends the path of compromise, and talks of “moderation.” According to this carnal policy, purity is admitted to be very desirable, but we are warned against being too precise; truth is of course to be followed, but error is not to be severely denounced. “Yes,” says the world, “be spiritually minded by all means, but do not deny yourself a little gay society, an occasional ball, and a Christmas visit to a theatre. What’s the good of crying down a thing when it is so fashionable, and everybody does it?” Multitudes of professors yield to this cunning advice, to their own eternal ruin. If we would follow the Lord wholly, we must go right away into the wilderness of separation, and leave the Egypt of the carnal world behind us. We must leave its maxims, its pleasures, and its religion too, and go far away to the place where the Lord calls his sanctified ones. When the town is on fire, our house cannot be too far from the flames. When the plague is abroad, a man cannot be too far from its haunts. The further from a viper the better, and the further from worldly conformity the better. To all true believers let the trumpet-call be sounded, “Come ye out from among them, be ye separate.”
Evening - June 27
"Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called." --- 1 Corinthians 7:20.
Some persons have the foolish notion that the only way in which they can live for God is by becoming ministers, missionaries, or Bible women. Alas! how many would be shut out from any opportunity of magnifying the Most High if this were the case. Beloved, it is not office, it is earnestness; it is not position, it is grace which will enable us to glorify God. God is most surely glorified in that cobbler’s stall, where the godly worker, as he plies the awl, sings of the Saviour’s love, aye, glorified far more than in many a prebendal stall where official religiousness performs its scanty duties. The name of Jesus is glorified by the poor unlearned carter as he drives his horse, and blesses his God, or speaks to his fellow labourer by the roadside, as much as by the popular divine who, throughout the country, like Boanerges, is thundering out the Gospel. God is glorified by our serving him in our proper vocations. Take care, dear reader, that you do not forsake the path of duty by leaving your occupation, and take care you do not dishonour your profession while in it. Think little of yourselves, but do not think too little of your callings. Every lawful trade may be sanctified by the Gospel to noblest ends. Turn to the Bible, and you will find the most menial forms of labour connected either with most daring deeds of faith, or with persons whose lives have been illustrious for holiness. Therefore be not discontented with your calling. Whatever God has made your position, or your work, abide in that, unless you are quite sure that he calls you to something else. Let your first care be to glorify God to the utmost of your power where you are. Fill your present sphere to his praise, and if he needs you in another he will show it you. This Evening lay aside vexatious ambition, and embrace peaceful content.
Morning and Evening
MY SINS ARE BLOTTED OUT, I KNOW!
Words and Music by Merrill Dunlop, 1905–
I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions, for My own sake, and remembers your sins no more. (Isaiah 43:25)
Forgiveness—when God buries our sins and does not mark the grave.
--- Louis Paul Lehman
Many Christians have suffered great emotional, mental, and even physical disorders throughout life because they could never accept the fact that God has totally forgiven them. How important it is to realize that when God offers us His forgiveness, it is never a partial but always a total forgiveness—the slate is forever clean. In God’s family there are only forgiven children. Then, if we are forgiven by God, we are to accept with gratitude His cleansing provision and, by His help, blot out from our memories all hurting reminders of the past. We should also become a more forgiving person with others, free of the resentments and prejudices that will shackle our spiritual lives. Someone has made this humorous but wise observation: “Christians should keep a cemetery in which to bury the faults and failures of their fellow believers.”
The author and composer of this popular Gospel hymn, Merrill Dunlop, gives this account of its origin:
It was written in a very few minutes, although only after much deliberation, while I was crossing the Atlantic in 1927 on a liner, The Leviathan, and meditating upon the verses in Micah 7:18, 19 and upon the great dimensions of the sea—the breadth and depth and what the Bible says about our sins—buried in those depths—removed—blotted out! Then, making it personal, I said: “My sins are blotted out, I know!” The melody came almost simultaneously with the words. I jotted the chorus down aboard the ship, as I walked the deck. Later, in Ireland, I added the words and music to the stanzas. It took hold immediately and quickly spread across America and across the seas.
* * * *
What a wondrous message in God’s Word! My sins are blotted out, I know! If I trust in His redeeming blood, my sins are blotted out, I know!
Once my heart was black, but now what joy; my sins are blotted out, I know! I have peace that nothing can destroy; my sins are blotted out, I know!
I shall stand some day before my King; my sins are blotted out, I know! With the ransomed host I then shall sing: “My sins are blotted out, I know!”
Chorus: My sins are blotted out, I know! My sins are blotted out, I know! They are buried in the depths of the deepest sea: My sins are blotted out, I know!
For Today: Psalm 103:1, 3, 11, 12; Isaiah 1:18; 43:25; Micah 7:18, 19.
Live in the assurance of God’s complete forgiveness. Then determine to forgive and forget the wrongs that others may have done to you. Let your heart be glad as you rejoice in this musical truth ---
Amazing Grace: 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions
Martin Luther | (1483-1546)
Sect. LXVIII. — ANOTHER passage is that of Matt. xix. 17, “If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.” — “With what face, (says the Diatribe,) can “if thou wilt” be said to him who has not a Free-will?’ —
To which I reply: — Is, therefore, the will, according to this word of Christ, free? But you wish to prove, that “Free-will” cannot will any thing good; and that, without grace, it of necessity serves sin. With what face, then, do you now make will wholly free?
The same reply will be made to that also — “If thou wilt be perfect,” “If any one will come after me,” “He that will save his life,” “If ye love me,” “If Ye shall continue.” In a word, as I said before, (to ease the Diatribe’s labour in adducing such a load of words) let all the conditional ifs and all the imperative verbs be collected together. — “All these precepts (says the Diatribe) stand coldly useless, if nothing be attributed to the human will. How ill does that conjunctive if accord with mere necessity?” —
I answer: If they stand coldly useless, it is your fault that they stand coldly useless, who, at one time, assert that nothing is to be attributed to “Free-will,” while you make “Free-will” unable to will good, and who, on the contrary, here make the same “Free-will” able to will all good; nay, you thus make them to stand as nothing at all: unless, with you, the same words stand coldly useless and warmly useful at the same time, while they at once assert all things and deny all things.
I wonder how any author can delight in repeating the same things so continually, and to be as continually forgetting his subject design: unless perhaps, distrusting his cause, he wishes to overcome his adversary by the bulk of his book, or to weary him out with the tedium and toil of reading it. By what conclusion, I ask, does it follow, that will and power must immediately take place as often as it is said, ‘If thou wilt,’ ‘If any one will,’ ‘If thou shalt?’ Do we not most frequently imply in such expressions impotency rather, and impossibility? For instance. — If thou wilt equal Virgil in singing, my friend Mevius, thou must sing in another strain. — If thou wilt surpass Cicero, friend Scotus, instead of thy subtle jargon, thou must have the most exalted eloquence. If thou wilt stand in competition with David, thou must of necessity produce Psalms like his. Here are plainly signified things impossible to our own powers, although, by divine power, all these things may be done. So it is in the Scriptures, that by such expressions, it might be shewn what we cannot do ourselves, but what can be done in us by the power of God.
Moreover, if such expressions should be used in those things which are utterly impossible to be done, as being those which God would never do, then, indeed, they might rightly be called either coldly useless, or ridiculous, because they would be spoken in vain. Whereas now, they are so used, that by them, not only the impotency of “Free-will” is shewn, by which no one of those things can be done, but it is also signified, that a time will come when all those things shall be done, but by a power not our own, that is, by the divine power; provided that, we fully admit, that in such expressions, there is a certain signification of things possible and to be done: as if any one should interpret them thus: — “If thou wilt keep the commandments, (that is, if thou shalt at any time have the will to keep the commandments, though thou wilt have it, not of thyself, but of God, who giveth it to whom He will,) they also shall preserve thee.”
But, to take a wider scope. — These expressions, especially those which are conditional, seem to be so placed also, on account of the Predestination of God, and to involve that as being unknown to us. As if they should speak thus: — “If thou desire,” “If thou wilt:” that is, if thou be such with God, that he shall deign to give thee this will to keep the commandments, thou shalt be saved. According to which manner of speaking, it is given us to understand both truths. — That we can do nothing ourselves; and that, if we do any thing, God works that in us. This is what I would say to those, who will not be content to have it said, that by these words our impotency only is shewn, and who will contend, that there is also proved a certain power and ability to do those things which are commanded. And in this way, it will also appear to be truth, that we are not able to do any of the things which are commanded, and yet, ‘that we are able to do them all: that is, speaking of the former, with reference to our own powers, and of the latter, with reference to the grace of God.
The Bondage of the Will or Christian Classics Ethereal Library