Ezra 4 - 7
Adversaries Oppose the RebuildingEzra 4:1 Now when the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin heard that the returned exiles were building a temple to the LORD, the God of Israel, 2 they approached Zerubbabel and the heads of fathers’ houses and said to them, “Let us build with you, for we worship your God as you do, and we have been sacrificing to him ever since the days of Esarhaddon king of Assyria who brought us here.” 3 But Zerubbabel, Jeshua, and the rest of the heads of fathers’ houses in Israel said to them, “You have nothing to do with us in building a house to our God; but we alone will build to the LORD, the God of Israel, as King Cyrus the king of Persia has commanded us.”
4 Then the people of the land discouraged the people of Judah and made them afraid to build 5 and bribed counselors against them to frustrate their purpose, all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius king of Persia.
6 And in the reign of Ahasuerus, in the beginning of his reign, they wrote an accusation against the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem.
The Letter to King Artaxerxes7 In the days of Artaxerxes, Bishlam and Mithredath and Tabeel and the rest of their associates wrote to Artaxerxes king of Persia. The letter was written in Aramaic and translated. 8 Rehum the commander and Shimshai the scribe wrote a letter against Jerusalem to Artaxerxes the king as follows: 9 Rehum the commander, Shimshai the scribe, and the rest of their associates, the judges, the governors, the officials, the Persians, the men of Erech, the Babylonians, the men of Susa, that is, the Elamites, 10 and the rest of the nations whom the great and noble Osnappar deported and settled in the cities of Samaria and in the rest of the province Beyond the River. 11 (This is a copy of the letter that they sent.) “To Artaxerxes the king: Your servants, the men of the province Beyond the River, send greeting. And now 12 be it known to the king that the Jews who came up from you to us have gone to Jerusalem. They are rebuilding that rebellious and wicked city. They are finishing the walls and repairing the foundations. 13 Now be it known to the king that if this city is rebuilt and the walls finished, they will not pay tribute, custom, or toll, and the royal revenue will be impaired. 14 Now because we eat the salt of the palace and it is not fitting for us to witness the king’s dishonor, therefore we send and inform the king, 15 in order that search may be made in the book of the records of your fathers. You will find in the book of the records and learn that this city is a rebellious city, hurtful to kings and provinces, and that sedition was stirred up in it from of old. That was why this city was laid waste. 16 We make known to the king that if this city is rebuilt and its walls finished, you will then have no possession in the province Beyond the River.”
The King Orders the Work to Cease17 The king sent an answer: “To Rehum the commander and Shimshai the scribe and the rest of their associates who live in Samaria and in the rest of the province Beyond the River, greeting. And now 18 the letter that you sent to us has been plainly read before me. 19 And I made a decree, and search has been made, and it has been found that this city from of old has risen against kings, and that rebellion and sedition have been made in it. 20 And mighty kings have been over Jerusalem, who ruled over the whole province Beyond the River, to whom tribute, custom, and toll were paid. 21 Therefore make a decree that these men be made to cease, and that this city be not rebuilt, until a decree is made by me. 22 And take care not to be slack in this matter. Why should damage grow to the hurt of the king?”
23 Then, when the copy of King Artaxerxes’ letter was read before Rehum and Shimshai the scribe and their associates, they went in haste to the Jews at Jerusalem and by force and power made them cease. 24 Then the work on the house of God that is in Jerusalem stopped, and it ceased until the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia.
Rebuilding Begins AnewEzra 5:1 Now the prophets, Haggai and Zechariah the son of Iddo, prophesied to the Jews who were in Judah and Jerusalem, in the name of the God of Israel who was over them. 2 Then Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel and Jeshua the son of Jozadak arose and began to rebuild the house of God that is in Jerusalem, and the prophets of God were with them, supporting them.
3 At the same time Tattenai the governor of the province Beyond the River and Shethar-bozenai and their associates came to them and spoke to them thus: “Who gave you a decree to build this house and to finish this structure?” 4 They also asked them this: “What are the names of the men who are building this building?” 5 But the eye of their God was on the elders of the Jews, and they did not stop them until the report should reach Darius and then an answer be returned by letter concerning it.
Tattenai’s Letter to King Darius6 This is a copy of the letter that Tattenai the governor of the province Beyond the River and Shethar-bozenai and his associates, the governors who were in the province Beyond the River, sent to Darius the king. 7 They sent him a report, in which was written as follows: “To Darius the king, all peace. 8 Be it known to the king that we went to the province of Judah, to the house of the great God. It is being built with huge stones, and timber is laid in the walls. This work goes on diligently and prospers in their hands. 9 Then we asked those elders and spoke to them thus: ‘Who gave you a decree to build this house and to finish this structure?’ 10 We also asked them their names, for your information, that we might write down the names of their leaders. 11 And this was their reply to us: ‘We are the servants of the God of heaven and earth, and we are rebuilding the house that was built many years ago, which a great king of Israel built and finished. 12 But because our fathers had angered the God of heaven, he gave them into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, the Chaldean, who destroyed this house and carried away the people to Babylonia. 13 However, in the first year of Cyrus king of Babylon, Cyrus the king made a decree that this house of God should be rebuilt. 14 And the gold and silver vessels of the house of God, which Nebuchadnezzar had taken out of the temple that was in Jerusalem and brought into the temple of Babylon, these Cyrus the king took out of the temple of Babylon, and they were delivered to one whose name was Sheshbazzar, whom he had made governor; 15 and he said to him, “Take these vessels, go and put them in the temple that is in Jerusalem, and let the house of God be rebuilt on its site.” 16 Then this Sheshbazzar came and laid the foundations of the house of God that is in Jerusalem, and from that time until now it has been in building, and it is not yet finished.’ 17 Therefore, if it seems good to the king, let search be made in the royal archives there in Babylon, to see whether a decree was issued by Cyrus the king for the rebuilding of this house of God in Jerusalem. And let the king send us his pleasure in this matter.”
The Decree of DariusEzra 6:1 Then Darius the king made a decree, and search was made in Babylonia, in the house of the archives where the documents were stored. 2 And in Ecbatana, the citadel that is in the province of Media, a scroll was found on which this was written: “A record. 3 In the first year of Cyrus the king, Cyrus the king issued a decree: Concerning the house of God at Jerusalem, let the house be rebuilt, the place where sacrifices were offered, and let its foundations be retained. Its height shall be sixty cubits and its breadth sixty cubits, 4 with three layers of great stones and one layer of timber. Let the cost be paid from the royal treasury. 5 And also let the gold and silver vessels of the house of God, which Nebuchadnezzar took out of the temple that is in Jerusalem and brought to Babylon, be restored and brought back to the temple that is in Jerusalem, each to its place. You shall put them in the house of God.”
6 “Now therefore, Tattenai, governor of the province Beyond the River, Shethar-bozenai, and your associates the governors who are in the province Beyond the River, keep away. 7 Let the work on this house of God alone. Let the governor of the Jews and the elders of the Jews rebuild this house of God on its site. 8 Moreover, I make a decree regarding what you shall do for these elders of the Jews for the rebuilding of this house of God. The cost is to be paid to these men in full and without delay from the royal revenue, the tribute of the province from Beyond the River. 9 And whatever is needed—bulls, rams, or sheep for burnt offerings to the God of heaven, wheat, salt, wine, or oil, as the priests at Jerusalem require—let that be given to them day by day without fail, 10 that they may offer pleasing sacrifices to the God of heaven and pray for the life of the king and his sons. 11 Also I make a decree that if anyone alters this edict, a beam shall be pulled out of his house, and he shall be impaled on it, and his house shall be made a dunghill. 12 May the God who has caused his name to dwell there overthrow any king or people who shall put out a hand to alter this, or to destroy this house of God that is in Jerusalem. I Darius make a decree; let it be done with all diligence.”
The Temple Finished and Dedicated13 Then, according to the word sent by Darius the king, Tattenai, the governor of the province Beyond the River, Shethar-bozenai, and their associates did with all diligence what Darius the king had ordered. 14 And the elders of the Jews built and prospered through the prophesying of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the son of Iddo. They finished their building by decree of the God of Israel and by decree of Cyrus and Darius and Artaxerxes king of Persia; 15 and this house was finished on the third day of the month of Adar, in the sixth year of the reign of Darius the king.
16 And the people of Israel, the priests and the Levites, and the rest of the returned exiles, celebrated the dedication of this house of God with joy. 17 They offered at the dedication of this house of God 100 bulls, 200 rams, 400 lambs, and as a sin offering for all Israel 12 male goats, according to the number of the tribes of Israel. 18 And they set the priests in their divisions and the Levites in their divisions, for the service of God at Jerusalem, as it is written in the Book of Moses.
Passover Celebrated19 On the fourteenth day of the first month, the returned exiles kept the Passover. 20 For the priests and the Levites had purified themselves together; all of them were clean. So they slaughtered the Passover lamb for all the returned exiles, for their fellow priests, and for themselves. 21 It was eaten by the people of Israel who had returned from exile, and also by every one who had joined them and separated himself from the uncleanness of the peoples of the land to worship the LORD, the God of Israel. 22 And they kept the Feast of Unleavened Bread seven days with joy, for the LORD had made them joyful and had turned the heart of the king of Assyria to them, so that he aided them in the work of the house of God, the God of Israel.
Ezra Sent to Teach the PeopleEzra 7:1 Now after this, in the reign of Artaxerxes king of Persia, Ezra the son of Seraiah, son of Azariah, son of Hilkiah, 2 son of Shallum, son of Zadok, son of Ahitub, 3 son of Amariah, son of Azariah, son of Meraioth, 4 son of Zerahiah, son of Uzzi, son of Bukki, 5 son of Abishua, son of Phinehas, son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the chief priest— 6 this Ezra went up from Babylonia. He was a scribe skilled in the Law of Moses that the LORD, the God of Israel, had given, and the king granted him all that he asked, for the hand of the LORD his God was on him.
7 And there went up also to Jerusalem, in the seventh year of Artaxerxes the king, some of the people of Israel, and some of the priests and Levites, the singers and gatekeepers, and the temple servants. 8 And Ezra came to Jerusalem in the fifth month, which was in the seventh year of the king. 9 For on the first day of the first month he began to go up from Babylonia, and on the first day of the fifth month he came to Jerusalem, for the good hand of his God was on him. 10 For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the LORD, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel.
11 This is a copy of the letter that King Artaxerxes gave to Ezra the priest, the scribe, a man learned in matters of the commandments of the LORD and his statutes for Israel: 12 “Artaxerxes, king of kings, to Ezra the priest, the scribe of the Law of the God of heaven. Peace. And now 13 I make a decree that anyone of the people of Israel or their priests or Levites in my kingdom, who freely offers to go to Jerusalem, may go with you. 14 For you are sent by the king and his seven counselors to make inquiries about Judah and Jerusalem according to the Law of your God, which is in your hand, 15 and also to carry the silver and gold that the king and his counselors have freely offered to the God of Israel, whose dwelling is in Jerusalem, 16 with all the silver and gold that you shall find in the whole province of Babylonia, and with the freewill offerings of the people and the priests, vowed willingly for the house of their God that is in Jerusalem. 17 With this money, then, you shall with all diligence buy bulls, rams, and lambs, with their grain offerings and their drink offerings, and you shall offer them on the altar of the house of your God that is in Jerusalem. 18 Whatever seems good to you and your brothers to do with the rest of the silver and gold, you may do, according to the will of your God. 19 The vessels that have been given you for the service of the house of your God, you shall deliver before the God of Jerusalem. 20 And whatever else is required for the house of your God, which it falls to you to provide, you may provide it out of the king’s treasury.
21 “And I, Artaxerxes the king, make a decree to all the treasurers in the province Beyond the River: Whatever Ezra the priest, the scribe of the Law of the God of heaven, requires of you, let it be done with all diligence, 22 up to 100 talents of silver, 100 cors of wheat, 100 baths of wine, 100 baths of oil, and salt without prescribing how much. 23 Whatever is decreed by the God of heaven, let it be done in full for the house of the God of heaven, lest his wrath be against the realm of the king and his sons. 24 We also notify you that it shall not be lawful to impose tribute, custom, or toll on anyone of the priests, the Levites, the singers, the doorkeepers, the temple servants, or other servants of this house of God.
25 “And you, Ezra, according to the wisdom of your God that is in your hand, appoint magistrates and judges who may judge all the people in the province Beyond the River, all such as know the laws of your God. And those who do not know them, you shall teach. 26 Whoever will not obey the law of your God and the law of the king, let judgment be strictly executed on him, whether for death or for banishment or for confiscation of his goods or for imprisonment.”
27 Blessed be the LORD, the God of our fathers, who put such a thing as this into the heart of the king, to beautify the house of the LORD that is in Jerusalem, 28 and who extended to me his steadfast love before the king and his counselors, and before all the king’s mighty officers. I took courage, for the hand of the LORD my God was on me, and I gathered leading men from Israel to go up with me.
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The Reluctant Prophet
By Rev. Steve Kreloff 2/1/2008
Anyone who has ever attended a Sunday school class knows that Jonah was the man who was eaten alive by a fish and then vomited out three days later. But that’s about the extent of most people’s understanding of this Old Testament prophet and the book that bears his name. And that’s too bad, because Jonah is a Bible character worth knowing, and the book he wrote is not only rich in theological content, but is extremely relevant.
Jonah was a Hebrew prophet who lived about 750 b.c. However, unlike other Hebrew prophets, Jonah was called to minister to Gentiles outside the boundaries of Israel. God sent him to preach a message of repentance to the citizens of Nineveh — a people belonging to the Assyrian Empire and noted for their extreme wickedness. But instead of obeying God, he rebelled by getting on a ship headed in the opposite direction from Nineveh. And the reason for Jonah’s blatant disobedience is revealed in the last chapter of the book. He angrily admits that he knew God was gracious and merciful, and therefore was afraid that the Ninevites would repent in response to his preaching and escape divine judgment (4:1–2). In other words, Jonah was so desirous for God to pour out His wrath upon these evil Gentiles that he was actually angry at Him for wanting to bestow mercy upon them!
Even though Jonah and his activities are repeatedly mentioned throughout these four chapters, he’s not the main focus of the book. The principal person in the book is God, because the primary theme and message of the book is about God’s mercy and compassion upon sinners. The book of Jonah is a divine rebuke to Old Testament Israel, who, like this prophet, lacked concern for the spiritual welfare of the Gentiles of the world. While the Jewish people of Jonah’s day enjoyed being the recipients of God’s love and compassion, they resisted the idea that God would be merciful to pagan Gentiles — especially people like the Ninevites who were enemies of Israel. Instead of loving the lost Gentiles of the world, they despised them and longed for God to pour out wrath upon them. Therefore, the chief purpose of the book of Jonah is to communicate the truth that since God has a heart of compassion for the heathen, His people should reflect that same attitude by reaching out with the message of salvation to all who are alienated from God — especially those who are blatantly evil in their behavior.
If Jonah is the author of this book — and we certainly believe that on account of the detailed accounts of some very unusual events in his life — then these four chapters are a very honest confession of a true believer admitting his own prejudices and lack of compassion for the heathen. But more than simply an admission of his sin, Jonah’s aim in writing this book is to pass along to his readers the lessons he has learned about God’s mercy, and there are several of them. In each chapter of the book, God shows Jonah a unique expression of His mercy by demonstrating His kindness upon the undeserving.
In chapter one, the Lord’s compassion is seen by His work of converting the pagan sailors who were aboard the same ship that carried Jonah away from Nineveh. In chapter two, God’s compassion is demonstrated by appointing a fish to swallow and protect His rebellious prophet from drowning in the sea. In chapter three, God shows His compassion upon the wicked Ninevites by bringing them to salvation and therefore averting His wrath and judgment. In chapter four, God demonstrates His kindness upon Jonah by mercifully appointing a plant to shade him from the heat of the sun.
Jonah isn’t the only believer who has ever preferred God’s judgment for sinners over His mercy. It is not uncommon for those who have experienced God’s grace in salvation to begrudge this same bestowal of grace upon others — especially those who have been cruel and vicious. If you think that this couldn’t possibly be true of you, then you need to consider your attitude towards a notorious sinner, such as the global terrorist Osama Bin Laden. Have you ever prayed for the salvation of this Islamic man’s lost soul, or do you long for him to spend eternity in hell? Or perhaps a little closer to home, has someone ever maliciously hurt you or a loved one, but instead of forgiving them (Eph. 4:32), the longing of your heart was for God to “crush” them for their sin? If we won’t extend the mercy of personal forgiveness to those who sin against us, then we certainly don’t want God to extend His mercy of forgiveness to them either.
Like Jonah, the bent of our sinful hearts is to prefer God’s judgment to His grace. However, God’s heart is not like that. As He tells us in Ezekiel 18, He takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked (v. 23). Instead of desiring their death and judgment, He rejoices over sinners who repent (Luke 15). So eager is God to bestow His salvation upon the lost that He is pictured in the parable of the prodigal son as running, embracing, and kissing the repentant sinner (v. 20). May God help all of us to cultivate this same heart of mercy for lost sinners.
Rev. Steve Kreloff is pastor-teacher of Lakeside Community Chapel in Clearwater, Florida.
Remembering the Reformation
By Keith Mathison 3/1/2008
Does the Protestant Reformation still matter? If so, why? These are important questions, especially in our day and age, because for many living today in the twenty-first century, what is important is not the past, but the future. We live at an unusual time in history. In terms of technology, the world has changed faster in the last one hundred years than it did in the previous two thousand years combined. This has affected us in many ways. Our generation no longer looks to the wisdom of the past for guidance; instead, we look for the next new invention. History is “yesterday’s news.” What matters is tomorrow.
Sadly, the same way of thinking has influenced Christians. We look at church history with a jaundiced eye, finding it boring or irrelevant, but we must understand that this is an unwise approach. God has always called his people to remember his gracious works in the past. Israel was called to remember the exodus. Christians are called to remember the death of Christ. The same principle holds true with the lessons of church history. It has been rightly said that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. The church simply cannot afford to forget the lessons of the Reformation.
There are hundreds of books on the Reformation, but if one coming to the subject for the first time were looking for the best place to start, he would be hard pressed to find a better introduction than Stephen J. Nichols’ The Reformation: How a Monk and a Mallet Changed the World. For those who find history difficult, Nichols’ style of writing is a breath of fresh air. He does not fill page after page with dry lists of names and dates. Instead, his gift is the ability to draw readers into the lives of the people about whom he writes, allowing us to see these great historical figures, warts and all.
Nichols’ book features eight short chapters, each containing numerous illustrations. As is the case in many Reformation histories, the chapter topics of Nichols’ book are devoted to the various “branches” of the Reformation. Thus, there are chapters devoted to Luther and the reformation in Germany, Zwingli, the Radical Reformers, Calvin, and the English Reformation. However, unlike some books on the Reformation, Nichols also includes chapters on the Puritans, and on significant women of the Reformation.
In his chapter on Luther, Nichols offers a sketch of the important events that led up to Luther’s break with Rome, but he does not lose sight of Luther the man in all of this. We must remember that the Reformers were not ivory-tower theologians, discussing doctrines in the peace and quiet of a modern academy setting. No, the Reformers did their theology in the trenches, and Luther is no exception. Nichols describes Luther’s personal struggles in a way that helps readers understand more fully not only what Luther did, but why. He also describes Luther’s sense of humor, and his deep love for his wife Katherina. In this way, Nichols helps us to understand that Luther was not a superhuman being. He was a man providentially placed by God in the midst of extraordinary circumstances.
The same style of writing is evident in the remaining chapters of the book. We find the Reformation initiated in Switzerland during a sausage supper in Zurich with a notable young priest named Zwingli present. We discover the origins of the Anabaptists, those Christians whose convictions concerning baptism and the separation of the church and state often resulted in their martyrdom. We encounter the young John Calvin, whose overnight stop in Geneva on his way to Strasbourg ultimately changed his life and the course of church history. We see the Reformation gain a foothold in England as a result of a king’s desire for a male heir. In all of this, we are introduced to a fascinating and diverse cast of characters, from the soul-searching Martin Luther to the soul-selling Johann Tetzel, from the non-compromising John Knox to the pragmatic Thomas Cranmer.
In his chapter on the Puritans, appropriately titled “Men in Black,” Nichols clears away centuries of misrepresentation. He describes the roots of puritanism in the ups and downs of the reformation in England, agreeing with one scholar that puritanism was the “real English Reformation.” In his concluding chapter, Nichols introduces us to some of the unsung women of the Reformation, the wives of the Reformers as well as women who made significant contributions to the Reformation on their own.
The church must not forget the lessons learned during the Reformation. We cannot forget what happens when the Gospel is obscured and distorted. The Reformation does still matter. Read Stephen Nichols’ book and discover why.
Per Amazon, Keith A. Mathison (MA, Reformed Theological Seminary; PhD, Whitefield Theological Seminary) is dean of the Ligonier Academy of Biblical and Theological Studies and an associate editor of Tabletalk magazine at Ligonier Ministries. He is editor of When Shall These Things Be: A Reformed Response to Hyper-Preterism and associate editor of The Reformation Study Bible. He lives in Lake Mary, Florida, with his wife and children.Keith Mathison Books:
- 1 Postmillennialism: An Eschatology of Hope
- 2 The Shape of Sola Scriptura
- 3 Given for You: Reclaiming Calvin's Doctrine of the Lord's Supper
- 4 From Age to Age: The Unfolding of Biblical Eschatology
- 5 Dispensationalism: Rightly Dividing the People of God?
- 6 A Reformed Approach to Science and Scripture
- 7 Not a Chance: God, Science, and the Revolt against Reason
- 8 When Shall These Things Be?: A Reformed Response to Hyper-Preterism
O for a Thousand Tongues To Sing: The Complete Version
By Charles Wesley 1739
Glory to God, and praise and love
be ever, ever given,
by saints below and saints above,
the church in earth and heaven
On this glad day the glorious Sun
of Righteousness arose;
on my benighted soul he shone
and filled it with repose.
Sudden expired the legal strife,
'twas then I ceased to grieve;
my second, real, living life
I then began to live.
Then with my heart I first believed,
believed with faith divine,
power with the Holy Ghost received
to call the Savior mine.
I felt my Lord's atoning blood
close to my soul applied;
me, me he loved, the Son of God,
for me, for me he died!
I found and owned his promise true,
ascertained of my part,
my pardon passed in heaven I knew
when written on my heart.
O for a thousand tongues to sing
my dear Redeemer's praise!
The glories of my God and King,
the triumphs of his grace.
My gracious Master and my God,
assist me to proclaim,
to spread through all the earth abroad
the honors of thy name.
Jesus! the name that charms our fears,
that bids our sorrows cease;
'tis music in the sinner’s ears,
'tis life, and health, and peace!
He breaks the power of canceled sin,
he sets the prisoner free;
his blood can make the foulest clean;
his blood availed for me.
He speaks, and listening to his voice
new life the dead receive;
the mournful, broken hearts rejoice,
the humble poor believe.
Hear him, ye deaf, his praise, ye dumb,
your loosened tongues employ;
ye blind, behold your Savior come,
and leap, ye lame, for joy.
Look unto him, ye nations, own
your God, ye fallen race!
Look, and be saved through faith alone,
be justified by grace!
See all your sins on Jesus laid;
the Lamb of God was slain,
his soul was once an offering made
for every soul of man.
Harlots and publicans and thieves,
in holy triumph join!
Saved is the sinner that believes
From crimes as great as mine.
Murderers and all ye hellish crew,
ye sons of lust and pride,
believe the Savior died for you;
for me the Savior died.
Awake from guilty nature's sleep,
and Christ shall give you light;
cast all your sins into the deep,
and wash the Ethiop white.
With me, your chief, you then shall know,
shall feel your sins forgiven;
anticipate your heaven below
and own that love is heaven.
— Charles Wesley, 1739
The Christian Pilgrim or The True Christian's Life A Journey Towards Heaven
By Jonathan EdwardsHeb 11:13-14 13 These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. 14 For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. ESV
And confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For they that say such things, declare plainly that they seek a country. SECT. I. SECT. II. SECT. III. SECT. IV.
The apostle is here setting forth the excellencies of the grace of faith, by the glorious effects and happy issue of it in the saints of the Old Testament. He had spoken in the preceding part of the chapter particularly, of Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Jacob. Having enumerated those instances, he takes notice that “these all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers, ” In these words the apostle seems to have a more particular respect to Abraham and Sarah, and their kindred, who came with them from Haran, and from Ur of the Chaldees, as appears by the 15th verse., where the apostle says,” and truly if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned.”
Two things may be observed here:
1. What these saints confessed of themselves, viz. that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. — Thus we have a particular account concerning Abraham, “I am a stranger and a sojourner with you.” And it seems to have been the general sense of the patriarchs, by what Jacob says to Pharaoh. “And Jacob said to Pharaoh, The days of the years of my pilgrimage are an hundred and thirty years: few and evil have the days of the years of my life been, and have not attained to the days of the years of the life of my fathers in the days of their pilgrimage.” “I am a stranger and a sojourner with thee, as all my fathers were.”
Genesis 23:4 4 “I am a sojourner and foreigner among you; give me property among you for a burying place, that I may bury my dead out of my sight.” ESV
2. The inference that the apostle draws from hence, viz. that they sought another country as their home. “For they that say such things, declare plainly that they seek a country.” In confessing that they were strangers, they plainly declared that this is not their country; that this is not the place where they are at home. And in confessing themselves to be pilgrims, they declared plainly that this is not their settled abode; but that they have respect to some other country, which they seek, and to which they are travelling.
Heb 11:13-14 13 These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. 14 For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. ESV
Here I would observe,
1. That we ought not to rest in the world and its enjoyments, but should desire heaven. We should “seek first the kingdom of God.” We ought above all things to desire a heavenly happiness; to be with God; and dwell with Jesus Christ. Though surrounded with outward enjoyments, and settled in families with desirable friends and relations; though we have companions whose society is delightful, and children in whom we see many promising qualifications; though we live by good neighbours, and are generally beloved where known; yet we ought not to take our rest in these things as our portion. We should be so far from resting in them, that we should desire to leave them all, in God’s due time. We ought to possess, enjoy, and use them, with no other view but readily to quit them, whenever we are called to it, and to change them willingly and cheerfully for heaven.
Matthew 6:33 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. ESV
A traveller is not wont to rest in what he meets with, however comfortable and pleasing, on the road. If he passes through pleasant places, flowery meadows, or shady groves; he does not take up his content in these things, but only takes a transient view of them as he goes along. He is not enticed by fine appearances to put off the thought of proceeding. No, but his journey’s end is in his mind. If he meets with comfortable accommodations at an inn, he entertains no thoughts of settling there. He considers that these things are not his own, that he is but a stranger, and when he has refreshed himself, or tarried for a night, he is for going forward. And it is pleasant to him to think that so much of the way is gone.
So should we desire heaven more than the comforts and enjoyments of this life. The apostle mentions it as an encouraging, comfortable consideration to Christians, that they draw nearer their happiness. “Now is our salvation nearer than when we believed. ”—Our hearts ought to be loose to these things, as that of a man on a journey; that we may as cheerfully part with them, whenever God calls. “But this I say, brethren, the time is short, it remaineth, that both they that have wives be as though they had none; and they that weep, as though they wept not; and they that rejoice, as though they rejoiced not; and they that buy, as though they possessed not; and they that use this world, as not abusing it; for the fashion of this world passeth away.” —These things are only lent to us for a little while, to serve a present turn; but we should set our hearts on heaven, as our inheritance for ever.
Romans 13:11 11 Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. ESV
2. We ought to seek heaven, by travelling in the way that leads thither. This is a way of holiness. We should choose and desire to travel thither in this way and in no other; and part with all those carnal appetites which, as weights, will tend to hinder us.“Let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race set before us.” However pleasant the gratification of any appetite may be, we must lay it aside, if it be a hinderance, or a stumbling-block in the way to heaven.
Hebrews 12:1 1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, ESV
We should travel on in the way of obedience to all God’s commands, even the difficult as well as the easy; denying all our sinful inclinations and interests. The way to heaven is ascending; we must be content to travel up hill, though it be hard and tiresome, and contrary to the natural bias of our flesh. We should follow Christ; the path he travelled, was the right way to heaven. We should take up our cross and follow him, in meekness and lowliness of heart, obedience and charity, diligence to do good, and patience under afflictions. The way to heaven is a heavenly life; an imitation of those who are in heaven, in their holy enjoyments, loving, adoring, serving, and praising God and the Lamb. Even if we could go to heaven with the gratification of our lusts, we should prefer a way of holiness and conformity to the spiritual self-denying rules of the gospel.
Matthew 6:24-26 24 “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money. 25 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? ESV
3. We should travel on in this way in a laborious manner.—Long journeys are attended with toil and fatigue; especially if through a wilderness. Persons in such a case expect no other than to suffer hardships and weariness.—So we should travel in this way of holiness, improving our time and strength, to surmount the difficulties and obstacles that are in the way. The land we have to travel through, is a wilderness; there are many mountains, rocks, and rough places that we must go over, and therefore there is a necessity that we should lay out our strength.
4. Our whole lives ought to be spent in travelling this road.—We ought to begin early. This should be the first concern, when persons become capable of acting. When they first set out in the world, they should set out on this journey.—And we ought to travel on with assiduity. It ought “to be the work of every day., We should often think of our journey’s end; and make it our daily work to travel on in the way that leads to it.—He who is on a journey, is often thinking of the destined place; and it is his daily care and business to get along; and to improve his time to get towards his journey’s end. Thus should heaven be continually in our thoughts; and the immediate entrance or passage to it, viz. death, should be present with us.—We ought to persevere in this way as long as we live.
“Let us run with patience the race that is set before us.” Though the road be difficult and toilsome, we must hold out with patience, and be content to endure hardships. Though the journey be long, yet we must not stop short; but hold on till we arrive at the place we seek. Nor should we be discouraged with the length and difficulties of the way, as the children of Israel were, and be for turning back again. All our thought and design should be to press forward till we arrive.
Hebrews 12:1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, ESV
5. We ought to be continually growing in holiness; and in that respect coming nearer and nearer to heaven—We should be endeavouring to come nearer to heaven, in being more heavenly; becoming more and more like the inhabitants of heaven, in respect of holiness and conformity to God; the knowledge of God and Christ; in clear views of the glory of God, the beauty of Christ, and the excellency of divine things, as we come nearer to the beatific vision.—We should labour to be continually growing in divine love—that this may be an increasing flame in our hearts, till they ascend wholly in this flame—in obedience and a heavenly conversation; that we may do the will of God on earth as the angels do in heaven; in comfort and spiritual joy; in sensible communion with God and Jesus Christ. Our path should be as “the shining light, that shines more and more to the perfect day.” We ought to be hungering and thirsting after righteousness; after an increase in righteousness. “As new-born babes, desire the sincere milk of the word that ye may grow thereby.” The perfection of heaven should be our mark. “This one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things that are before, I press toward the mark, for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.”
Proverbs 4:18 18 But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day. ESV
Matthew 5:6 6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. ESV
1 Peter 2:2 Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation ESV
Philippians 3:13 13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, ESV
6. All other concerns of life ought to be entirely subordinate to this.—When a man is on a journey, all the steps he takes are subordinated to the aim of getting to his journey’s end. And if he carries money or provisions with him, it is to supply him in his journey. So we ought wholly to subordinate all our other business, and all our temporal enjoyments, to this affair of travelling to heaven. When any thing we have becomes a clog and hinderance to us, we should quit it immediately. The use of our worldly enjoyments and possessions, should be with such a view, and in such a manner, as to further us in our way heavenward. Thus we should eat, and drink, and clothe ourselves, and improve the conversation and enjoyment of friends. And whatever business we are setting about, whatever design we are engaging in, we should inquire with ourselves, whether this business or undertaking will forward us in our way to heaven? And if not, we should quit our design.
1. This world is not our abiding place. Our continuance here is but very short. Man’s days on the earth are as a shadow. It was never designed by God that this world should be our home. Neither did God give us these temporal accommodations for that end. If God has given us ample estates, and children or other pleasant friends, it is with no such design, that we should be furnished here, as for a settled abode; but with a design that we should use them for the present, and then leave them in a very little time. When we are called to any secular business, or charged with the care of a family, if we improve our lives to any other purpose, than as a journey toward heaven, all our labour will be lost. If we spend our lives in the pursuit of a temporal happiness; as riches or sensual pleasures; credit and esteem from men; delight in our children, and the prospect of seeing them well brought up, and well settled, —All these things will be of little significancy to us. Death will blow up all our hopes, and will put an end to these enjoyments. “The places that have known us, will know us no more:” and ” the eye that has seen us, shall see us no more.” We must be taken away for ever from all these things; and it is uncertain when: it may be soon after we are put into the possession of them. And then, where will be all our worldly employments and enjoyments, when we are laid in the silent grave? Job 14:12 “So man lieth down and riseth not again, till the heavens be no more.”
Psalm 144:4 4 Man is like a breath; his days are like a passing shadow. ESV
Colossians 2:17 17 These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. ESV
2. The future world was designed to be our settled and everlasting abode. There it was intended that we should be fixed; and there alone is a lasting habitation, and a lasting inheritance. The present state is short and transitory; but our state in the other world, is everlasting. And as we are there at first, so we must be without change. Our state in the future world, therefore, being eternal, is of so much greater importance than our state here, that all our concerns in this world should be wholly subordinated to it.
3. Heaven is that place alone where our highest end, and highest good, is to be obtained. God hath made us for himself.” Of him, and through him, and to him are all things.” Therefore, then do we attain to our highest end, when we are brought to God: but that is by being brought to heaven; for that is God’s throne, the place of his special presence. There is but a very imperfect union with God to be had in this world, a very imperfect knowledge of him in the midst of much darkness; a very imperfect conformity to God, mingled with abundance of estrangement. Here we can serve and glorify God but in a very imperfect manner; our service being mingled with sin, which dishonours God.—But when we get to heaven, (if ever that be,) we shall be brought to a perfect union with God, and have more clear views of him. There we shall be fully conformed to God, without any remaining sin; for “we shall see him as he is.” There we shall serve God perfectly; and glorify him in an exalted manner, even to the utmost of the powers and capacity of our nature. Then we shall perfectly give up ourselves to God; our hearts will be pure and holy offerings, presented in a flame of divine love.
1 John 3:2 2 Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. ESV
God is the highest good of the reasonable creature; and the enjoyment of him is the only happiness with which our souls can be satisfied.—To go to heaven, fully to enjoy God, is infinitely better than the most pleasant accommodations here. Fathers and mothers, husbands, wives, or children, or the company of earthly friends, are but shadows; but the enjoyment of God is the substance. These are but scattered beams; but God is the sun. These are but streams; but God is the fountain. These are but drops; but God is the ocean.—Therefore it becomes us to spend this life only as a journey towards heaven, as it becomes us to make the seeking of our highest end and proper good, the whole work of our lives; to which we should subordinate all other concerns of life. Why should we labour for, or set our hearts on, any thing else, but that which is our proper end, and true happiness?
4. Our present state, and all that belongs to it, is designed by him that made all things, to be wholly in order to another world.—This world was made for a place of preparation for another. Man’s mortal life was given him, that he might be prepared for his fixed state. And all that God has here given us, is given to this purpose. The sun shines, and the rain falls upon us; and the earth yields her increase to us for this end. Civil, ecclesiastical, and family affairs, and all our personal concerns, are designed and ordered in subordination to a future world, by the maker and disposer of all things. To this therefore they ought to be subordinated by us.
1. This doctrine may teach us moderation in our mourning for the loss of such dear friends, who, while they lived, improved their lives to right purposes—If they lived a holy life, then their lives were a journey towards heaven. And why should we be immoderate in mourning, when they are got to their journey’s end? Death, though it appears to us with a frightful aspect, is to them a great blessing. Their end is happy, and better than their beginning. “The day of their death is better to them than the day of their birth.” While they lived, they desired heaven, and chose it above this world, or any of its enjoyments. For this they earnestly longed, and why should we grieve that they have obtained it? — Now they have got to their Father’s house. They find more comfort a thousand times, now they are got home, than they did in their journey. In this world they underwent much labour and toil; it was a wilderness they passed through. There were many difficulties in the way; mountains and rough places. It was laborious and fatiguing to travel the road; and they had many wearisome days and nights; but now they have got to their everlasting rest. “And I heard a voice from heaven, saying unto me. Write, blessed are the dead which die in the Lord, from henceforth: yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours; and their works do follow them.’’ They look back upon the difficulties, and sorrows, and dangers of life, rejoicing that they have surmounted them all.
Ecclesiastes 7:1 A good name is better than precious ointment, and the day of death than the day of birth. ESV
Revelation 14:13 And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Blessed indeed,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!” ESV
We are ready to look upon death as their calamity, and to mourn, that those who were so dear to us, should be in the dark grave; that they are there transformed to corruption and worms; taken away from their dear children and enjoyments, as though they were in awful circumstances. But this is owing to our infirmity; they are in a happy condition, inconceivably blessed. They do not mourn, but rejoice with exceeding joy: their mouths are filled with joyful songs, and they drink at rivers of pleasure. They find no mixture of grief, that they have changed their earthly enjoyments, and the company of mortals, for heaven. Their life here, though in the best circumstances, was attended with much that was adverse and afflictive: but now there is an end to all adversity. “They shall hunger no more, nor thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat. For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne, shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters: and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.”
Revelation 21:4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” ESV
It is true, we shall see them no more in this world, yet we ought to consider that we are travelling towards the same place; and why should we break our hearts that they have got there before us! We are following after them, and hope, as soon as we get to our journey’s end, to be with them again, in better circumstances. A degree of mourning for near relations when departed is not inconsistent with Christianity, but very agreeable to it; for as long as we are flesh and blood, we have animal propensities and affections. But we have just reason that our mourning should be mingled with joy.” But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them that are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others that have no hope:” (i. e.) that they should not sorrow as the heathen, who had no knowledge of a future happiness. This appears by the following verse;” for if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus, will God bring with him.”
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. 15 For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words. ESV
2. If our lives ought to be only a journey towards heaven; how ill do they improve their lives, that spend them in travelling towards hell! — Some men spend their whole lives, from their infancy to their dying day, in going down the broad way to destruction. They not only draw nearer to hell as to time, but they every day grow more ripe for destruction; they are more assimilated to the inhabitants of the infernal world. While others press forward in the strait and narrow way to life, and laboriously travel up the hill toward Zion, against the inclinations and tendency of the flesh; these run with a swift career down to eternal death. This is the employment of every day, with all wicked men; and the whole day is spent in it. As soon as ever they awake in the morning, they set out anew in the way to hell, and spend every waking moment in it. They begin in early days. “The wicked are estranged from the womb, they go astray as soon as they are born, speaking lies.” They hold on it with perseverance. Many of them who live to be old, are never weary in it; though they live to be a hundred years old, they will not cease travelling in the way to hell, till they arrive there. And all the concerns of life are subordinated to this employment. A wicked man is a servant of sin; his powers and faculties are employed in the service of sin, and in fitness for hell. And all his possessions are so used by him as to be subservient to the same purpose. Men spend their time in treasuring up wrath against the day of wrath. Thus do all unclean persons, who live in lascivious practices in secret; all malicious persons; all profane persons, that neglect the duties of religion. Thus do all unjust persons; and those who are fraudulent and oppressive in their dealings. Thus do all backbiters and revilers; all covetous persons, that set their hearts chiefly on the riches of this world. Thus do tavern-haunters, and frequenters of evil company; and many other kinds that might be mentioned. Thus the bulk of mankind are hasting on in the broad way to destruction; which is, as it were, filled up with the multitude that are going in it with one accord. And they are every day going into hell out of this broad way by thousands. Multitudes are continually flowing down into the great lake of fire and brimstone, as some mighty river constantly disembogues its water into the ocean.
Psalm 58:3 The wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray from birth, speaking lies. ESV
3. Hence when persons are converted, they do but begin their work, and set out in the way they have to go. — They never till then do any thing at that work in which their whole lives ought to be spent. Persons before conversion never take a step that way. Then does a man first set out on his journey, when he is brought home to Christ; and so far is he from having done his work, that his care and labour in his Christian work and business is then but begun, in which he must spend the remaining part of his life.
Those persons do ill, who when they are converted, and have obtained a hope of their being in a good condition, do not strive as earnestly as they did before, while they were under awakenings. They ought, henceforward, as long as they live, to be as earnest and laborious, as watchful and careful, as ever; yea, they should increase more and more. It is no just excuse, that now they have obtained conversion. Should not we be as diligent that we may serve and glorify God, as that we ourselves may be happy? And if we have obtained grace, yet we ought to strive as much that we may obtain the other degrees that are before, as we did to obtain that small degree that is behind. The apostle tells us, that he forgot what was behind, and reached forth towards what was before.
Philippians 3:12-14 12 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. ESV
Yea, those who are converted, have now a further reason to strive for grace; for they have seen something of its excellency. A man who has once tasted the blessings of Canaan, has more reason to press towards it, than he had before. And they who are converted, should strive to ”make their calling and election sure.” All those who are converted are not sure of it; and those who are sure, do not know that they shall be always so; and still seeking and serving God with the utmost diligence, is the way to have assurance, and to have it maintained.
Philippians 2:12 12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, ESV
Labour to obtain such a disposition of mind that you may choose heaven for your inheritance and home; and may earnestly long for it, and be willing to change this world, and all its enjoyments, for heaven. Labour to have your heart taken up so much about heaven, and heavenly enjoyments, as that you may rejoice when God calls you to leave your best earthly friends and comforts for heaven, there to enjoy God and Christ.
Be persuaded to travel in the way that leads to heaven; viz. in holiness, self-denial, mortification, obedience to all the commands of God, following Christ’s example; in a way of a heavenly life, or imitation of the saints and angels in heaven. Let it be your daily work, from morning till night, and hold out in it to the end; let nothing stop or discourage you, or turn you aside from this road. And let all other concerns be subordinated to this. Consider the reasons that have been mentioned why you should thus spend your life; that this world is not your abiding place, that the future world is to be your everlasting abode; and that the enjoyments and concerns of this world are given entirely in order to another. And consider further for motive,
1. How worthy is heaven that your life should be wholly spent as a journey towards it. — To what better purpose can you spend your life, whether you respect your duty or your interest? What better end can you propose to your journey, than to obtain heaven? You are placed in this world, with a choice given you, that you may travel which way you please; and one way leads to heaven. Now, can you direct your course better than this way? All men have some aim or other in living. Some mainly seek worldly things; they spend their days in such pursuits. But is not heaven, where is fulness of joy for ever, much more worthy to be sought by you? How can you better employ your strength, use your means, and spend your days, than in travelling the road that leads to the everlasting enjoyment of God; to his glorious presence; to the new Jerusalem; to the heavenly mount Zion; where all your desires will be filled, and no danger of ever losing your happiness? — No man is at home in this world, whether he choose heaven or not; here he is but a transient person. Where can you choose your home better than in heaven?
2. This is the way to have death comfortable to us. — To spend our lives so as to be only a journeying towards heaven, is the way to be free from bondage, and to have the prospect and forethought of death comfortable. Does the traveller think of his journey’s end with fear and terror? Is it terrible to him to think that he has almost got to his journey’s end? Were the children of Israel sorry, after forty years’ travel in the wilderness, when they had almost got to Canaan? This is the way to be able to part with the world without grief. Does it grieve the traveller when he has got home, to quit his staff and load of provisions that he had to sustain him by the way?
3. No more of your life will be pleasant to think of when you come to die, than has been spent after this manner. — If you have spent none of your life this way, your whole life will be terrible to you to think of, unless you die under some great delusion. You will see then, that all of your life that has been spent otherwise, is lost. You will then see the vanity of all other aims that you may have proposed to yourself. The thought of what you here possessed and enjoyed, will not be pleasant to you, unless you can think also that you have subordinated them to this purpose.
4. Consider that those who are willing thus to spend their lives as a journey towards heaven may have heaven. — Heaven, however high and glorious, is attainable for such poor worthless creatures as we are. We may attain that glorious region which is the habitation of angels; yea, the dwelling-place of the Son of God; and where is the glorious presence of the great Jehovah. And we may have it freely; without money and without price: if we are but willing to travel the road that leads to it, and bend our course that way as long as we live, we may and shall have heaven for our eternal resting place.
5. Let it be considered, that if our lives be not a journey towards heaven, they will be a journey to hell. All mankind, after they have been here a short while, go to either of the two great receptacles of all that depart out of this world: the one is heaven; whither a small number, in comparison, travel; and the other is hell, whither the bulk of mankind throng. And one or the other of these must be the issue of our course in this world.
I shall conclude by giving a few directions:
1. Labour to get a sense of the vanity of this world; on account of the little satisfaction that is to be enjoyed here; its short continuance, and unserviceableness when we most stand in need of help, viz. on a death-bed. — All men, that live any considerable time in the world, might see enough to convince them of its vanity, if they would but consider. — Be persuaded therefore to exercise consideration, when you see and hear, from time to time, of the death of others. Labour to turn your thoughts this way. Sec the vanity of the world in such a glass.
2. Labour to be much acquainted with heaven. — If you are not acquainted with it, you will not be likely to spend your life as a journey thither. You will not be sensible of its worth, nor will you long for it. Unless you are much conversant in your mind with a better good, it will be exceeding difficult to you to have your hearts loose from these things, and to use them only in subordination to something else, and be ready to part with them for the sake of that better good. — Labour therefore to obtain a realizing sense of a heavenly world, to get a firm belief of its reality, and to be very much conversant with it in your thoughts.
3. Seek heaven only by Jesus Christ. — Christ tells us that he is the way, and the truth, and the life. He tells us that he is the door of the sheep. “I am the door, by me if any man enter in he shall be saved; and go in and out and find pasture.” If we therefore would improve our lives as a journey towards heaven, we must seek it by him, and not by our own righteousness; as expecting to obtain it only for his sake, looking to him, having our dependence on him, who has procured it for us by his merit. And expect strength to walk in holiness, the way that leads to heaven, only from him.
John 14:6 6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. ESV
John 10:9 9 I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. ESV
4. Let Christians help one another in going this journey. — There are many ways whereby Christians might greatly forward one another in their way to heaven, as by religious conference, Therefore let them be exhorted to go this journey as it were in company, conversing together, and assisting one another. Company is very desirable in a journey, but in none so much as this. — Let them go united, and not fall out by the way, which would be to hinder one another; but use all means they can to help each other up the hill. — This would insure a more successful travelling, and a more joyful meeting at their Father’s house in glory.
SECT. I.That this life ought to be so spent by us, as to be only a journey or pilgrimage towards heaven.
SECT. II.Why the Christian’s life is a journey, or pilgrimage?
SECT. III.Instruction afforded by the consideration, that life is a journey, or pilgrimage, towards heaven.
SECT. IV.An exhortation, so to spend the present life, that it may only be a journey towards heaven.
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By Jay Adams 3/1/2008
I suppose it’s a fault. I’m sure that my wife who remembers every name, place, and date for the last fifty years thinks so. But, for some reason, I find it difficult to recall details of the past. If I say to myself at the time, “remember this,” I probably will. Otherwise, only the big lumps remain in my mental sieve. I’m saying this because I want you to understand the phenomenon isn’t the result of old age — I’ve always been that way. But so, too, I have always looked toward the future. And that’s exactly what I want to do here.
As a seventy-nine-year-old geezer, I want to do a bit of forecasting about what you’re likely to face in the future, and how to handle it. I’m thinking primarily about you, the new generation, who are now taking the helm of the church into stormy seas. I don’t fancy myself as a prophet, but there are some things that seem inevitable — apart from a gigantic divine upset of the course that the world is now following.
To begin with, if you haven’t already, you’d be wise to learn some Spanish. Of even more importance, you should become thoroughly acquainted with the tenets of Islam. The first, because you’ll probably need it; the second, because if God doesn’t intervene, you’ll be up against warfare with Muslims. No Christian should live under a rock to avoid either of these issues. But I don’t want to discuss them directly.
My concern is with the softening of the church. For you to make a future impact for Christ, and to be able to withstand hard times ahead, this trend must be reversed. There is a deplorable softening of doctrine, of attitudes, of courage, and of language. And it is all justified under the rubric of “love.” But there is a vast difference between a loving and a concessive spirit. Let’s examine each of these.
There is a softening of doctrine. Not only is this obvious from the failure to accept and teach robust Reformation truths, but also in a hesitancy of those who believe it to espouse it openly. Christians soft-pedal the glorious doctrines of grace. Instead of rejoicing in the truth of limited atonement — which means that Jesus Christ is a personal Savior — they talk only about the other four aspects of TULIP. It’s as though they will readily eat the two halves of the bun, cautiously consume the tomato on one side and the lettuce on the other, but trash the hamburger in between. Yet this doctrine is the meat of the Tulipburger. To face the future, there must be a forthright return to explicit, well-reasoned, exposition of the seemingly “hard” doctrines of the faith.
There is a softening of attitudes. This accounts in large measure for soft teaching. Rather than glorying in the grandeur of God’s eternal plan of gracious redemption before Arminian friends, they hem and haw about it, trying above all else to “get along.” Assuming that their consciences are not yet seared, they harbor a sense of guilt, knowing that they should defend truth against weak, unscriptural teaching that exalts man by lowering God. Yet, for the sake of “peace” they never speak out.
There is a softening of courage. Obviously, this lies behind the fearful attitude that leads Reformed believers to suppress their faith. Throughout the book of Acts, one word occurs again and again — the apostles spoke “boldly.” There are two New Testament words for boldness. The one permeating Acts is parresia, which means “to speak forthrightly without fear of consequences.” That the courage to do so is lacking may also account for much of the ineffectiveness of the witness of the church in our time.
There is a softening of language. Current cowardly attitudes spawn weak, insipid language like, “I feel,” when one ought to boldly say, “I believe” or “declare.” They account for soft talk about “sharing” the Gospel — as if one is reluctant to give it in its entirety (if I “share” my pie, you get only a slice).
If this softening of the church continues, there will be more merging of groups that care less about truth and more about kumbaya. But a church that puts fellowship above truth is a weak church that will be unable to meet the challenges that lie ahead.
It is too late for our generation to correct these matters. Some of us have attempted to, but failed. We must confess that we are leaving you a church that, unless God graciously intervenes, cannot meet the enormous challenges that your generation must face. Perhaps God will use you to help make the necessary changes, before it’s too late. Look around you. Ask yourself, “Could the church in its present condition endure terrorist persecution? Could it withstand a tide of Roman Catholicism that might in time — your time — take over the country? In its confused, weakened state, it is ready prey for these, or other adverse happenings. Don’t take my word for it — go ahead, open your spiritual eyes. What do you see?
Will you contribute to a further softening, or will you stand firm and courageous for the truth? I’m not suggesting crudeness or rudeness, but I am advocating drastic changes to firm up the four areas mentioned above. Participate in the solution rather than perpetuate the problem!
Dr. Jay Adams is a retired professor, author, and speaker who resides in Enoree, South Carolina. Learn more about his ministry at the Institute for Nouthetic Studies.
By Don Carson 5/22/2018
One of the important functions of corporate worship is recital, that is, a “re-telling” of the wonderful things that God has done. Hence Psalm 78:2-4: “I will utter hidden things, things from of old — what we have heard and known, what our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children; we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the LORD, his power, and the wonders he has done.” Similarly, if more briefly, Psalm 75:1: “We give thanks to you, O God, we give thanks, for your Name is near; men tell of your wonderful deeds.” In fact, the New English Bible is a little closer to the Hebrew: “Thy name is brought very near to us in the story of thy wonderful deeds.” God’s “name” is part of his gracious self-disclosure. It is a revelation of who he is (Ex. 3:14; 34:5-7, 14). God’s “name” then, is brought very near us in the story of his wonderful deeds: that is, who God is disclosed in the accounts of what he has done.
Thus the recital of what God has done is a means of grace to bring God near to his people. Believers who spend no time reviewing and pondering in their minds what God has done, whether they are alone and reading their Bibles or joining with other believers in corporate adoration, should not be surprised if they rarely sense that God is near.
The emphasis this Psalm makes regarding God is that he is the sovereign disposer, the “disposer supreme” (as one commentator puts it). It is wonderfully stabilizing to us to rest in such a God. He declares, “I choose the appointed time; it is I who judge uprightly” (75:2). It is hard to imagine a category more suggestive of God’s firm control than “the appointed time.” Yet mere control without justice would be fatalism. This God, however, not only sets the appointed times, but judges uprightly (75:2). Further, in this broken world there are cataclysmic events that seem to threaten the entire social order. Elsewhere David ponders, “When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?” (11:3). But here we are reassured, for God himself declares, “When the earth and all its people quake, it is I who hold its pillars firm” (75:3). So the arrogant who may think themselves to be the pillars of society are duly warned: “Boast no more”(75:4). To the wicked, God says, “Do not lift your horns against heaven [like a ram tossing its head about in bold confidence]; do not speak with outstretched neck” (75:5).
Retell God’s wonderful deeds and bring near his name.
Don Carson is research professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, and co-founder (with Tim Keller) of The Gospel Coalition. He has authored numerous books, and recently edited The Enduring Authority of the Christian Scriptures (Eerdmans, 2016).Don Carson Books | Go to Books Page
Read The Psalms In "1" Year
Psalm 52God Himself Is Judge
52 A Psalm Of Asaph.
5 But God will break you down forever;
he will snatch and tear you from your tent;
he will uproot you from the land of the living. Selah
6 The righteous shall see and fear,
and shall laugh at him, saying,
7 “See the man who would not make
God his refuge,
but trusted in the abundance of his riches
and sought refuge in his own destruction!”
8 But I am like a green olive tree
in the house of God.
I trust in the steadfast love of God
forever and ever.
9 I will thank you forever,
because you have done it.
I will wait for your name, for it is good,
in the presence of the godly.
By Gleason Archer Jr.
Ezra and Nehemiah
The name Ezra seems to be an Aramaic form of the Hebrew ˓ezer, “help.” The name Nehemiah, Hebrew Neḥem-Yah, means “The Comfort of Yahweh.” These two books are treated as one by the Hebrew scribes; there is no gap in the MT between the end of Ezra 10 and the commencement of Neh. 1, and the verse statistics are given for both at the end of Nehemiah. The theme of this composite book is a record of the reconstruction of the Hebrew theocracy upon the physical and spiritual foundations of the past. As God protected His remnant from the hatred of external foes, so also He delivered them from the insidious corruption of the false brethren within the commonwealth.
Outline of Ezra and NehemiahI. First return of the exiles, Ezra 1:1–2:70
II. Restoration of the worship of Jehovah, 3:1–6:22
III. Second return under Ezra, 7:1–10:44
IV. Restoration of the city walls, Neh 1:1–7:73
V. Reforms of Ezra and Nehemiah, 8:1–13:31
As was mentioned in the chapter on the canon, Ezra and Nehemiah were regarded as a single book by the earliest authorities, such as Josephus, who gave the number of the Old Testament books as twenty-two. Christian authorities like Melito of Sardis (quoted by Eusebius) and Jerome followed this same tradition. The LXX also grouped the two books as one, calling the canonical Ezra-Nehemiah Esdras B or 2 Esdras, in contradistinction to the apocryphal 1 Esdras. The Vulgate, however, divided them into 1 Ezra and 2 Ezra. The soundness of this division appears from the duplicate list of returning Jews as recorded in Ezra 2 and Neh. 7, for it is difficult to imagine why the same list should have been given twice in the same original work.
Authorship and Date of Ezra and Nehemiah
On the assumption that Artaxerxes mentioned in Ezra 7:1 was Artaxerxes I Longimanus, Ezra’s arrival at Jerusalem must have occurred in 457 B.C. (the seventh year of the king, Ezra 7:8 ). Thus Ezra’s career at Jerusalem commenced twelve years before that of Nehemiah, who did not come until the twentieth year, or 445 B.C. Ezra himself undoubtedly wrote most of the book named after him. (Note the use of I in Ezra 7–10. ) But he evidently incorporated into the final edition the personal memoirs of Nehemiah (i.e., the book of Nehemiah ) including even his form of the list of returnees. Using Nehemiah’s library facilities, Ezra probably composed Chronicles during this same period.
As already suggested, Albright formerly placed Ezra in the reign of Artaxerxes II Mnemon, 404–359; but this theory would render passages like Neh. 8:2 quite spurious, since they mention Ezra as Nehemiah’s contemporary. It would also conflict with the evidence of the Elephantine Papyri, which mention the high priest Johanan and Sanballat, the governor of Samaria. This Johanan was a grandson of the Eliashib mentioned in Neh. 3:1 and 20, and Nehemiah was a contemporary of Eliashib. It therefore follows that when the biblical record speaks of Nehemiah going to Jerusalem in the twentieth year of Artaxerxes ( Neh. 1:1 ) and again in his thirty-second year ( Neh. 13:6 ), the reference must be to Artaxerxes I (yielding the date 445 and 433 respectively) rather than the reign of Artaxerxes II (which would result in the dates 384 and 372 respectively — far too late for the high priesthood of Johanan).
It is interesting to note that in his most recent pronouncement on the subject, Albright receded somewhat from his earlier position. He said: “We are very unsatisfactorily informed about the date of Ezra. The most recent evidence favors a date for Ezra’s mission in or about the thirty-seventh year of Artaxerxes; that is, about 428 B.C.E. It is not clear whether Nehemiah was in Jerusalem at the time; he is not specifically mentioned in the Ezra memoirs proper; the evidence is conflicting. There can, however, be little doubt that his influence was directly responsible for the royal rescript giving Ezra extensive powers in connection with his plan to reform the religious organization at Jerusalem.”
More recently John Bright has defended this “thirty-seventh year” theory on the following grounds.
1. If Ezra had really arrived in the seventh year of Artaxerxes, it would have meant that thirteen years had elapsed before he, whose express purpose in coming to Jerusalem had been to teach the Torah ( Ezra 7:10 ), got around to reading the Torah to the people (as recorded in Neh. 8:1–8 ). Yet Neh. 8 only records a solemn reading of the law in a public meeting on the occasion of the Feast of Tabernacles. It by no means implies that Ezra had not been diligently teaching the law to smaller groups of disciples and Levites during the preceding twelve years.
2. If Ezra’s reforms, as listed in Ezra 9 and 10, really preceded those of Nehemiah, then we are forced to “the conclusion that Ezra in one way or another failed.” Presumably, therefore, these reforms of Ezra (regarding intermarriage with the heathen) must have been contemporaneous with those of Nehemiah (who took corrective measures regarding usury in chap. 5, and in chap. 13 regarding the temple quarters improperly granted to Tobiah the Ammonite, the neglect of the payment of tithes, the desecration of the sabbath, and intermarriage with foreign women). But it should be noted that it is only the evil of mixed marriages which was dealt with by both Ezra (ca. 457 B.C.) and Nehemiah (ca. 434). It is naive to suppose that in an interval of twenty-three years, this abuse could not have normally arisen again, so as to require renewed attention on Nehemiah’s part. It is altogether unwarranted, therefore, to describe this as a “failure.”
3. When Ezra first came to Jerusalem, it is alleged, he found the city “inhabited and relatively secure,” whereas Nehemiah found it “largely in ruins.” Nowhere does Nehemiah state that Jerusalem was not inhabited or that it was largely in ruins. What it does explain is that the walls of the city had not been successfully restored and that the gates had been burned with fire ( Neh. 1:3–4 ). The same was true of both Berlin and London after the Second World War; yet who would deduce from this that those cities were not inhabited?
The unhappy tidings concerning the walls and gates came to Nehemiah as a sore disappointment ( Neb. 1:3–4 ) and could have had no reference to the Chaldean destruction way back in 587 B.C. 141 years earlier. It seems clear therefore, an effort must have been made, undoubtedly under the leadership of Ezra, to rebuild the walls and the gates and it had been thwarted by the hostile action of Judah’s enemies who lived nearby and later who threatened Nehemiah himself when he came back to do the job.
Nehemiah had to bring pressure upon the outlying cities to contribute more population for the proper maintenance and defense of the newly fortified capital (chap. 11 ), but this was a measure dictated by military considerations. The record in the book of Ezra nowhere implies that the old city limits of Jerusalem were completely repopulated in his day. It seems altogether likely that the hostile neighbors — the Samaritans, Amonites, Edomites, etc. — had been responsible for the destruction of the efforts of rebuilding which had begun under Ezra’s leadership. Ezra apparently had received permission to rebuild the walls and gates, (cf. Ezra 9:9 ). Ezra, of course, had no adequate army troops to ward off aggression — such as Nehemiah was later able to field against the enemy.
4. The fact that Neh. 12:26 lists the name of Nehemiah before that of Ezra is supposed to prove that he preceded Ezra in point of time. But quite obviously the reason his name was mentioned first is that he was the head of the state, as governor appointed by Artaxerxes, and therefore outranked Ezra, who was only the spiritual leader of the community.
5. It should be observed that the supposition that “seventh year” in Ezra 7:7 was an error for “thirty-seventh year” is greatly embarrassed by the fact that Nehemiah’s reforms of chapter 13 were apparently carried out in the “thirty-second year” of Artaxerxes ( Neh 13:6 ). It seems far more improbable that the measures against intermarriage with idolaters would have to be repeated by Ezra within the short space of five years after Nehemiah had dealt with this problem in 445–444, than that Nehemiah should have faced the issue anew twenty-three years after Ezra’s reform.
The only reasonable conclusion which remains, therefore, is that Ezra returned in 458 or 457 B.C., and that Nehemiah’s first governorship came in 445, and his second in 433. This alone does justice to all the testimony of the biblical texts themselves.
The Continual Burnt Offering Zechariah 12:10
By H.A. Ironside - 1941
May 22Zechariah 12:10 “And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn. ESV
In these words Zechariah depicts the repentance of the people of Judah when at our Lord’s return they recognize Him as their own Messiah whom their fathers rejected. Then He will come again in power and glory for their deliverance and to fulfill all the glad promises of glory and blessing. The wounds in His hands and feet and side will abide for eternity and will tell out the story of a love that was stronger than death. It is ours to see Him now by faith bearing these marks of His passion as He appears for us in the presence of God.
Soon Thou wilt come—oh, blest anticipation!—
And we shall gaze unhindered on Thy face;
Our longing hope shall have its glad fruition,
And in those wounds we shall love’s story trace.
Oh, cloudless morn of heavenly light and gladness.
When God Himself shall wipe all tears away!
There shall be no more death and no more sadness,
No trace of sin through God’s eternal day.
--- J. W. H. Nichols
The Continual Burnt Offering: Daily Meditations on the Word of God
Devotionals, notes, poetry and more
9/1/2009 True Catholicism
We have all heard it said, and some of you have even said it: “Let’s just agree to disagree.” If memory serves me, I have never used that expression, primarily because I don’t think it makes much sense and because I think people who use the expression don’t make much sense when they use it in their attempt to end disagreements. Nevertheless, I think I know what people mean by the expression.
As Christians, we agree that we disagree on certain biblical, doctrinal, and ecclesiastical matters. And while we all agree that the Bible is our only infallible rule for faith and life, we disagree (more or less) on how to interpret the Bible and on how to interpret our interpretations.
As I consider the denominations represented by those writing for this issue of Tabletalk, my mind is immediately flooded with denominational initialisms: ARP, LCMS, PCA, SBC, URC. Yet it is not the initials in these denominations that fundamentally define us, even though they do indeed distinguish us. Although we all agree that we disagree on various matters, we certainly don’t agree that those disagreements are irrelevant. We are not united because of a loose affiliation to our respective confessions. On the contrary, we are united by our mutual respect for each other’s faithful adherence to his confessional standards. We are united precisely because we each heartily affirm our various confessions, all of which affirm the essentials of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.
Fundamentally, at the foundation of our confessional standards, there exists the same doctrinal thread, namely, the gospel of God. In its most simple form, the gospel is the good news of Jesus Christ, and in its most comprehensive form it is the Word of God. The gospel unites all people without distinction of race, ancestry, or socioeconomic status through one Lord, one faith, and one baptism in one body, the church. However, the gospel also divides. It erects walls, it builds barriers, it cuts narrow paths-, and it sets forth a gauntlet for sin — all of which we overcome through our one substitute and mediator, Christ Jesus, who has broken down the middle wall of separation — the enmity between God and His people, between our sin and His salvation, all by God’s grace and all for His glory.
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Dr. Burk Parsons (@BurkParsons) is editor of Tabletalk magazine, senior pastor of Saint Andrew’s Chapel in Sanford, Fla., a visiting lecturer at Reformed Theological Seminary, and a Ligonier Ministries teaching fellow. He is editor of John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, and Doxology.
Ligonier coram Deo (definition)
by Bill Federer
A Signer of the Constitution who was licensed to preach? That was Hugh Williamson, delegate from North Carolina, who died this day, May 22, 1819. At age 24 he studied theology in Connecticut and was admitted in the Presbytery of Philadelphia. He preached two years, visiting and praying for the sick, but it became apparent that a chronic chest weakness would not permit him to continue public speaking. He attended medical school, and eventually became Surgeon General, distinguishing himself in the Revolutionary War. Dr. Hugh Williamson helped his friend Dr. Benjamin Franklin conduct many electrical experiments.
Compiled by Richard S. Adams
Are you wrinkled with burden?
Come to God for a faith lift.
--- Author Unknown
Chicken Soup for the Soul: Miracles Happen: 101 Inspirational Stories about Hope, Answered Prayers, and Divine Intervention
When we love anyone with our whole hearts,
life begins when we are with that person;
it is only in their company
that we are really and truly alive.
--- William Barclay
The Gospel of John: Volume 2 (Chapters 8 to 21) (Daily Study Bible (Westminster Hardcover))
The promise of a dreamer’s future will always remain greater than their present ability. God will always give them dreams that are further along than their current level of maturity.
--- Wayne Cordeiro
Leading on Empty: Refilling Your Tank and Renewing Your Passion
He that lives up to a little light shall have more light; he that lives up to a little knowledge shall have more knowledge; he that lives up to a little faith shall have more faith; and he that lives up to a little love shall have more love.
--- Thomas Brooks
The complete works of Thomas Brooks Volume 3
... from here, there and everywhere
Thomas A Kempis
Book Four - An Invitation To Holy Communion
The Fourteenth Chapter / The Ardent Longing Of Devout Men For The Body Of Christ
HOW great is the abundance of Your kindness, O Lord, which You have hidden from those who fear You!
When I think how some devout persons come to Your Sacrament with the greatest devotion and love, I am frequently ashamed and confused that I approach Your altar and the table of Holy Communion so coldly and indifferently; that I remain so dry and devoid of heartfelt affection; that I am not completely inflamed in Your presence, O my God, nor so strongly drawn and attracted as many devout persons who, in their great desire for Communion and intense heart love, could not restrain their tears but longed from the depths of their souls and bodies to embrace You, the Fountain of Life. These were able to appease and allay their hunger in no other way than by receiving Your Body with all joy and spiritual eagerness. The faith of these men was true and ardent—convincing proof of Your sacred presence. They whose hearts burn so ardently within them when Jesus lives with them truly know their Lord in the breaking of bread.
Such affection and devotion, such mighty love and zeal are often far beyond me. Be merciful to me, O sweet, good, kind Jesus, and grant me, Your poor suppliant, sometimes at least to feel in Holy Communion a little of the tenderness of Your love, that my faith may grow stronger, that my hope in Your goodness may increase, and that charity, once perfectly kindled within me by tasting heavenly manna, may never fail.
Your mercy can give me the grace I long for and can visit me most graciously with fervor of soul according to Your good pleasure. For although I am not now inflamed with as great desire as those who are singularly devoted to You, yet by Your grace I long for this same great flame, praying and seeking a place among all such ardent lovers that I may be numbered among their holy company.
The Imitation Of Christ
Thanks to Meir Yona
What Actions Were Done By Alexander Janneus, Who Reigned Twenty-Seven Years.
1. And now the king's wife loosed the king's brethren, and made Alexander king, who appeared both elder in age, and more moderate in his temper than the rest; who, when he came to the government, slew one of his brethren, as affecting to govern himself; but had the other of them in great esteem, as loving a quiet life, without meddling with public affairs.
2. Now it happened that there was a battle between him and Ptolemy, who was called Lathyrus, who had taken the city Asochis. He indeed slew a great many of his enemies, but the victory rather inclined to Ptolemy. But when this Ptolemy was pursued by his mother Cleopatra, and retired into Egypt, Alexander besieged Gadara, and took it; as also he did Amathus, which was the strongest of all the fortresses that were about Jordan, and therein were the most precious of all the possessions of Theodorus, the son of Zeno. Whereupon Theodopus marched against him, and took what belonged to himself as well as the king's baggage, and slew ten thousand of the Jews. However, Alexander recovered this blow, and turned his force towards the maritime parts, and took Raphia and Gaza, with Anthedon also, which was afterwards called Agrippias by king Herod.
3. But when he had made slaves of the citizens of all these cities, the nation of the Jews made an insurrection against him at a festival; for at those feasts seditions are generally begun; and it looked as if he should not be able to escape the plot they had laid for him, had not his foreign auxiliaries, the Pisidians and Cilicians, assisted him; for as to the Syrians, he never admitted them among his mercenary troops, on account of their innate enmity against the Jewish nation. And when he had slain more than six thousand of the rebels, he made an incursion into Arabia; and when he had taken that country, together with the Gileadires and Moabites, he enjoined them to pay him tribute, and returned to Areathus; and as Theodorus was surprised at his great success, he took the fortress, and demolished it.
4. However, when he fought with Obodas, king of the Arabians, who had laid an ambush for him near Golan, and a plot against him, he lost his entire army, which was crowded together in a deep valley, and broken to pieces by the multitude of camels. And when he had made his escape to Jerusalem, he provoked the multitude, which hated him before, to make an insurrection against him, and this on account of the greatness of the calamity that he was under. However, he was then too hard for them; and, in the several battles that were fought on both sides, he slew not fewer than fifty thousand of the Jews in the interval of six years. Yet had he no reason to rejoice in these victories, since he did but consume his own kingdom; till at length he left off fighting, and endeavored to come to a composition with them, by talking with his subjects. But this mutability and irregularity of his conduct made them hate him still more. And when he asked them why they so hated him, and what he should do in order to appease them, they said, by killing himself; for that it would be then all they could do to be reconciled to him, who had done such tragical things to them, even when he was dead. At the same time they invited Demetrius, who was called Eucerus, to assist them; and as he readily complied with their requests, in hopes of great advantages, and came with his army, the Jews joined with those their auxiliaries about Shechem.
5. Yet did Alexander meet both these forces with one thousand horsemen, and eight thousand mercenaries that were on foot. He had also with him that part of the Jews which favored him, to the number of ten thousand; while the adverse party had three thousand horsemen, and fourteen thousand footmen. Now, before they joined battle, the kings made proclamation, and endeavored to draw off each other's soldiers, and make them revolt; while Demetrius hoped to induce Alexander's mercenaries to leave him, and Alexander hoped to induce the Jews that were with Demetrius to leave him. But since neither the Jews would leave off their rage, nor the Greeks prove unfaithful, they came to an engagement, and to a close fight with their weapons. In which battle Demetrius was the conqueror, although Alexander's mercenaries showed the greatest exploits, both in soul and body. Yet did the upshot of this battle prove different from what was expected, as to both of them; for neither did those that invited Demetrius to come to them continue firm to him, though he was conqueror; and six thousand Jews, out of pity to the change of Alexander's condition, when he was fled to the mountains, came over to him. Yet could not Demetrius bear this turn of affairs; but supposing that Alexander was already become a match for him again, and that all the nation would [at length] run to him, he left the country, and went his way.
The War of the Jews: The History of the Destruction of Jerusalem (complete edition, 7 books)
by D.H. Stern
15 He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous—
both alike are an abomination to ADONAI.
16 Why would a fool wish to pay for wisdom
when he has no desire to learn?
Complete Jewish Bible : An English Version of the Tanakh (Old Testament) and B'Rit Hadashah (New Testament)
A Daily Devotional by Oswald Chambers
Now this explains it
That they all may be one; as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be one in Us. --- John 17:21.
If you are going through a solitary way, read John 17, it will explain exactly why you are where you are—Jesus has prayed that you may be one with the Father as He is. Are you helping God to answer that prayer, or have you some other end for your life? Since you became a disciple you cannot be as independent as you used to be.
The purpose of God is not to answer our prayers, but by our prayers we come to discern the mind of God, and this is revealed in John 17. There is one prayer God must answer, and that is the prayer of Jesus—“that they may be one, even as We are one.” Are we as close to Jesus Christ as that?
God is not concerned about our plans; He does not say—‘Do you want to go through this bereavement; this upset?’ He allows these things for His own purpose. The things we are going through are either making us sweeter, better, nobler men and women; or they are making us more captious and fault-finding, more insistent upon our own way. The things that happen either make us fiends, or they make us saints; it depends entirely upon the relationship we are in to God. If we say—“Thy will be done,” we get the consolation of John 17, the consolation of knowing that our Father is working according to His own wisdom. When we understand what God is after we will not get mean and cynical. Jesus has prayed nothing less for us than absolute oneness with Himself as He was one with the Father. Some of us are far off it, and yet God will not leave us alone until we are one with Him, because Jesus has prayed that we may be.
My Utmost for His Highest
the Poetry of RS Thomas
The idiot goes round and around
With his brother in a bumping car
At the fair. The famous idiot
Smile hangs over the car’s edge,
Illuminating nothing. This is mankind
Being taken for a ride by a rich
Relation. The responses are fixed:
Bump, smile; bump, smile. And the current
Is generated by the smooth flow
Of the shillings. This is an orchestra
Of steel with the constant percussion
Of laughter. But where he should be laughing
Too, his features are split open, and look!
Out of the cracks come warm, human tears.
Selected Poems, 1946-68
Avodah Zarah 17a
On the highway, there is an overpass: Spraypainted across the concrete is the message "John loves Mary." We are either annoyed or amused by the graffiti. Then, we suddenly consider "how" this was done, and we realize that John was probably hanging upside down, thirty feet over busy traffic as he scrawled this letter to Mary. Of course, we know "why" he wrote the message; it was love.
There is a well-known story of a man who left a strange stipulation in his will: "My son will not inherit a penny from me until he has gone crazy." No one could figure out what the deceased could possibly have had in his mind when he wrote such an unusual condition. Finally, the mystery was solved when someone came into the son's home and saw him, on the floor, on his hands and knees, pretending to be a horse, neighing and galloping around the room, with his little boy riding on his back. It was suddenly clear: The old man wanted his own son to become a parent before he inherited the estate. The old man understood that parenthood—and love of all kinds—causes us to be a little crazy at times.
Hatred can do the same thing to us. A man discovers that his wife has been having an affair, and their marriage breaks up. Yet instead of burying the past and making a new life for himself, he becomes obsessed with trying to punish her for her betrayal. Years later, he continues to spend a great deal of time, money, and energy in vindictively trying to get even. His friends tell him: "You're only making a fool of yourself," but he cannot hear them. Hatred has taken over his life.
Swastikas and messages of hate are painted all over a synagogue. The quiet community is shocked. Then the police arrest two teenagers, former Boy Scouts, bright, clean-cut, all-American types. The neighborhood is stunned. How could these boys have done such a terrible thing, not only to a House of God, but also to their neighbors? Given the shame and the criminal record they will now carry with them, how could they have done this to their own families, and to themselves? Hatred, too, can make us do things that are out of character and that do not make much sense.
Love and hatred are powerful emotions that can radically change the way we see the world. They can also drastically alter the way that we behave. It is important for us to understand these different factors and how they affect us. Whenever possible, we must strive to control them so that they don't control us. And like Rabbi Shimon bar Yoḥai, we also pray that in our personal lives, as well as in the larger world around us, the power of love be strong enough to overcome the power of hate.
There are those who achieve their world in a single hour.
Text / It was taught: They said of Rabbi Elazar ben Dordia that there was not a single prostitute in the world that he had not gone to. Once, he heard that there was a prostitute in the towns by the sea who took a purse of dinars as her payment. He took a purse of dinars and crossed seven rivers to get to her. While having sex, she passed wind. She said: "Just as this wind will not return to its place, so too Elazar ben Dordia will not be accepted if he returns in repentance."
He went and sat between two great mountains and hills. He said: "Mountains and hills! Plead for mercy on my behalf!" They said to him: "Before we can plead on your behalf, we have to plead for ourselves, for it says: 'For the mountains may move and the hills be shaken' [Isaiah 54:10]."
He said: "Heaven and Earth! Plead for mercy on my behalf!" They said: "Before we can plead on your behalf, we have to plead for ourselves, for it says: 'Though the heavens should melt away like smoke, and the earth wear out like a garment' [Isaiah 51:6]."
He said: "Sun and Moon! Plead for mercy on my behalf!" They said: "Before we can plead on your behalf, we have to plead for ourselves, for it says: 'Then the moon shall be ashamed, and the sun shall be abashed' [Isaiah 24:23]."
He said: "Stars and planets! Plead for mercy on my behalf!" They said to him: "Before we can plead on your behalf, we have to plead for ourselves, for it says 'All the host of heaven shall molder' [Isaiah 34:4]."
He said: "The matter depends on me alone." He put his head between his knees and wept until his soul departed. A voice from heaven proclaimed: "Rabbi Elazar ben Dordia is invited to life in the World-to-Come." Here is a case where he died committing a sin. There, it was because he was so addicted to immorality that it was similar to heresy. Rabbi cried and said: "There are those who achieve after many years, and there are those who achieve their world in a single hour." Rabbi said: "Not only are those who return accepted, they are also called by the title 'Rabbi.' "
Context / You will recall from above in the text from Sanhedrin 44a that Rabbi Abba bar Zavda said: "Even though he sinned, he is still 'Israel.' " Our text seems to contradict what was taught there. It is quite common to find contradictory opinions in the pages of the Talmud. These divergences reflect differences of time, place, and philosophy. Jews have taken this diversity not as a sign of weakness but of strength.
The story of Elazar ben Dordia comes as part of a discussion of the meaning of a verse in Proverbs: "All who go to her cannot return and find again the paths of life" (Proverbs 2:19). The Rabbis interpret "her" as referring to minut or heresy, by which they generally meant those Jews who were attracted to a variety of different religious groups. These particular Rabbis took a very hard line towards those Jews: Anyone who joined these sects was unable to return to the Jewish fold; what is more, those who tried to return to normative Judaism after having flirted with heresy would die as a result of their sin. The vehemence of the Rabbis towards apostasy hints at how great a threat they felt it was to first- and second-century Judaism, and why they were willing to go beyond the usual principle that even a sinning Jew is still Jewish.
The Gemara then goes on to ask whether there are other sins that carry the same severe penalty as heresy does. The answer seems to be that heresy is unique; for it alone would the sinner suffer death and be unable to return. But then the case of Elazar ben Dordia is brought up. He was guilty of sexual immorality, not apostasy. He attempted to repent, but he died, without being given additional years of life. This objection to the Gemara's point (made by reference to a story that seems to contradict it) is answered by the Rabbis: the case of Elazar ben Dordia is unique. He was so addicted to his sin that it was equated with heresy. (One could say that he committed it "religiously.") Yet even in his case, we are told, his repentance was effective: A bat kol, or voice from heaven, assures us that he was invited into the World-to-Come. Sincere, heartfelt contrition does make a difference.
At the beginning of the story, we are led to believe that Elazar ben Dordia is a Rabbi. At the end of the tale, we learn that the title "Rabbi" is conferred upon him only after his death. He has become a Rabbi, a teacher, because he showed us that it is never too late to repent. The prostitute's interpretation of the verse in Proverbs, "all who go to her"—to a woman like me—"cannot return" is proved to be wrong.
The other Rabbi in our story is Rabbi Yehudah ha-Nasi ("the prince"), the great sage and leader of the Jewish people in the third century C.E. We wonder why he weeps at the end: Is it because he is so moved by Elazar ben Dordia's act of contrition, his acceptance to heaven, and his being given the title "Rabbi"? Or is it out of jealousy and frustration, that such a scoundrel could achieve in one hour what it would take another individual (Rabbi Yehudah ha-Nasi?) an entire lifetime to achieve? Being human, perhaps he felt a little of both.
Swimming in the Sea of Talmud: Lessons for Everyday Living
When we look at the different Hebrew words translated "praise" and their use in the Psalms, we gain further insight into how you and I can worship and praise the Lord. Here are the primary Hebrew words, and their meanings, as discussed in Zondervan Expository Dictionary of Bible Words.
Each of the Hebrew words, while with its own emphasis, shares common elements. These are:
(1) Praise is addressed to God or His "name." God
Himself, His attributes, or His acts are the
content of our thoughts, words, and songs.
(2) Praise is linked with the believing community's
joy in the person of God. Most praise in the
Old Testament is corporate, though an
individual certainly could praise God in private
God in private. Most praise comes from those
who are filled with a sense of joy in who God is
and in how deeply He is committed to His
(3) Praise exalts the Lord. It is in praise that the
believer implicitly acknowledges creaturely
dependence on God and explicitly
acknowledges God's greatness and goodness.
Among the Hebrew words that share in this common core of meaning are these.
Hallel. In various forms this word means "to acclaim," "to boast of," "to glory in." The word expresses a deep satisfaction to be found in exalting the acts and the qualities of the Person being praised.
This verb is used primarily in the plural. This suggests that the joy of recognizing God's greatness is to be shared by God's people. Those who love God come together to rejoice in the Lord, and to exalt Him together.
We sense this particularly in Psalm 65, which expresses how good it is to exalt God and to sense His greatness.
Praise awaits You, O God, in Zion;
to You our vows will be fulfilled.
O You who hear prayer,
to You all men will come.…
You answer us
with awesome deeds of righteousness,
O God our Saviour,
the hope of all the ends of the earth
and of the farthest seas,
who formed the mountains by Your power,
having armed Yourself with strength,
who stilled the roaring of the seas,
the roaring of their waves,
and the turmoil of the nations.
Those living far away
fear Your wonders;
where Morning dawns and Evening fades
You call forth songs of joy.
--- Psalm 65:1–2, 5–8
Yadah is translated "to praise," "to give thanks," and "to confess." This word and related terms emphasize our acknowledging of God's works and of His character, often in contexts which emphasize human failure and need.
Psalm 107 illustrates this emphasis in its opening verses.
Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good;
His love endures forever.
Let the redeemed of the Lord say this
—those He redeemed from the hand of the foe,
those He gathered from the lands,
from east and west, from north and south.
Some wandered in desert wastelands,
finding no way to a city where they could settle.
They were hungry and thirsty,
and their lives ebbed away.
Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble,
and He delivered them from their distress.
He led them by a straight way to a city
where they could settle.
Let them give thanks to the Lord
for His unfailing love
and His wonderful deeds for men,
for He satisfies the thirsty,
and fills the hungry with good things.
Typically, yadah is praise as an acknowledgment of God's goodness. The sense of exultation implicit in it is seen in Psalm 118.
Shouts of joy and victory
resound in the tents of the righteous:
"The Lord's right hand has done mighty things!
The Lord's right hand is lifted high;
the Lord's right hand has done mighty things!"
I will not die but live,
and will proclaim what the Lord has done.
The Lord has chastened me severely,
but He has not given me over to death.
Open for me the gates of righteousness;
I will enter and give thanks to the Lord.
This is the gate of the Lord
through which the righteous may enter.
I will give You thanks,
for You answered me;
You have become my salvation.
Zamar means "to sing praise," "to make music." This word suggests the use of musical instruments in praising God, and is found only in Bible poetry. Once again, songs of praise focus on who God is and on what He has done. So David called on Israel in Psalm 9:11 to:
Sing praises to the Lord,
enthroned in Zion;
proclaim among the nations,
what He has done.
Sabah, in certain forms, means "to praise or commend." This too is directed to the Lord. The word suggests adoration, the deepest kind of loving praise. Both who God is in His essential nature and God's wonderful works for us.
Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise;
His greatness no one can fathom.
One generation will commend
Your works to another;
they will tell of Your mighty acts.
They will speak of the glorious splendor
of Your majesty,
and I will meditate on Your wonderful works.
They will tell of the power
of Your awesome works,
and I will proclaim Your great deeds.
They will celebrate Your abundant goodness
and joyfully sing of Your righteousness.
--- Psalm 145:3–7
And so in these words, illustrated in praise songs, we sense the nature of praise as praise is revealed in the Old Testament and particularly in the Psalms. Praise is God's people, gathered to adore and to give glory to God, for all that He is and for all that He has done. Praise is God's people, gathered to remember His works, and to focus attention on Him. Praise is the overflowing joy of a people whose vision is filled with the beauty and the glory of their God.
The Teacher's Commentary
Judaism in the Land of Israel
But common ground did exist. Substantial evidence attests to the near ubiquity of synagogues. The term itself, synagōgē, may not always have been applied. Other designations like proseuchē (prayer house) or hieron (holy place) also appear. And the reference may be to a gathering or an assemblage rather than to a building. No model or pattern held throughout. A diversity of functions, physical characteristics, and institutional structures preclude any notion of uniformity. But impressive and widespread testimony demonstrates that the synagogue (in whatever form) could serve as a means to promote communal activity among Jews and advance a sense of collective identity. The evidence comes from literary texts, inscriptions, papyri, and archaeological finds that disclose outlines of the structures themselves. The bulk of it dates to the period after destruction of the Temple. But ample attestation in the Second Temple era shows the broad geographical range of the synagogue.
A sanctuary at Elephantine in Upper Egypt served a Jewish military colony as early as the sixth century B.C.E. That may have been exceptional, but it signals the natural inclination of Jews, wherever they were, to find a medium for expressing common interests. By the mid-third century, inscriptions reveal synagogues (termed proseuchai) in Middle Egypt, dedicated by Jews in honor of the Ptolemies, the ruling family of the land. Royal favor extended to the Jewish proseuchai, even to the extent of granting the formal status of places of asylum, commonly accorded to pagan temples, a notable mark of official approval. A plethora of synagogues stood in Alexandria, noted by literary sources and epigraphic texts. The latter provide the standard formulas whereby the dedicators establish their proseuchē on behalf of Ptolemy and his household. Egyptian Jews were fully comfortable in hailing the Gentile rulers while simultaneously dedicating their synagogues to the “Most High God.” No tension or inconsistency troubled the two concepts. Jewish synagogues were a familiar part of the Egyptian landscape.
Jews also settled in Cyrenaica in significant numbers. Synagogues clearly sprang up. One inscription honors donors whose gifts helped to repair the synagogue in a Cyrenaic town. That a graphic declaration of gratitude to benefactors should be put on public display, in addition to the structure itself, which they hoped to refurbish, demonstrates that Jews took open pride in the maintenance of their own institutions and in announcing that maintenance to any interested party in the larger community.
Jews were to be found all over Asia Minor. The travels of Paul and his colleagues brought them regularly to Jewish synagogues of that region. And Roman pronouncements, collected through the documentary researches of Josephus, guaranteed the rights of Jews to construct and assemble in synagogues.
The institution surfaces quite strikingly in Greek cities on the north and east coasts of the Black Sea. A remarkable group of documents from the first century C.E. records the emancipation of slaves by Jews in the synagogues of those cities and provides for the continued association of the freedmen with the Jewish community, which took responsibility for their guardianship—a clear sign of collective solidarity.
Numerous other examples can illustrate the geographic spread of the synagogue. Paul’s journeys, for example, took him to synagogues in various cities of Macedon and Greece. An actual structure, almost certainly a synagogue, emerged from excavations at the island of Delos in the Aegean. That a Jewish community settled in that holy site, the legendary birthplace of Apollo, dramatically attests to the comfort of Jews and their own institutions even in a key center of pagan religion. Jews indeed went as far from the homeland as Italy to establish thriving communities. The presence of Jews in Rome is well attested not only by literary texts but by funerary epitaphs from the Jewish catacombs that convey the names of at least eleven synagogues in the city. And archaeologists have unearthed the remains of a synagogue in Ostia, the principal harbor of Rome, situated near the bank of the Tiber. Here, as often elsewhere, the finds disclose characteristic Jewish features like an apsidal structure for Torah scrolls and images like the menorah, lulav, shofar, and ethrog, thus making the identification clear. Jewish synagogues of the Second Temple period stretched from the Black Sea to North Africa, and from Syria to Italy.
The synagogue supplied a vehicle for a wide range of activities that promoted the shared interests of Jews. These included study and instruction; discussion of the Scriptures, traditions, law, and moral teachings; prayers, rituals, and worship; communal dining, celebration of festivals, and commemoration of key events in Jewish history; adjudication of disputes, passage of decrees, meetings of members; maintenance of sacred monies, votive offerings, dedicatory inscriptions, and archives of the community. To be sure, not all synagogues performed all these functions. Local circumstances doubtless dictated numerous divergences. But the spectrum of services was broad. And they did not occur in hidden enclaves. Synagogues stood in public view; congregations had their own officialdom, leaders, and representatives; Gentiles frequently remarked about Sabbath services; inscriptions announced decisions of the membership; and the letters and decrees of Roman spokesmen gave public sanction to Jewish practices, most of which took place in the synagogue. The impressive testimony demonstrates the existence of thriving and vigorous Jewish communities, self-assured in the exhibition of their traditions and their special character.
The Eerdmans Dictionary of Early Judaism
“Look, I am about to die,” Esau said. “What good is the birthright to me?” --- Genesis 25:32.
The author of the epistle to the Hebrews calls Esau “a profane person” (KJV). (Modern RS Thomas by World Scholars, Volume 1 ) “Profane” does not mean blasphemous but simply secular, a person judging things by coarse, earthly standards, without spiritual aspiration or insight, feeling every sting of flesh keenly but with no sting of soul toward God.
It is not merely lack of self-control that Esau displays. It is also lack of appreciation of spiritual values. In a vague way he knew that the birthright meant a religious blessing, and in the grip of his temptation that looked to him as purely a sentiment, not to be seriously considered as on a par with a material advantage.
How easy it is to drift into the class of the profane, the secular persons as Esau, to have our spiritual sensitivities blunted, to lose our appreciation of things unseen, to be so taken up with the means of living that we forget life itself and the things that alone give it security and dignity! How easy, when soul wars with sense, to depreciate everything that is beyond sense and let the moral tone be relaxed! There is much cause for the apostle to warn us, “See that no one… is godless like Esau.”
We too can despise our birthright by living far below our privileges and far below our spiritual opportunities. We have our birthright as children of God, born to an inheritance as joint heirs with Christ. We belong by essential nature not to the animal kingdom but to the kingdom of heaven, and when we forget it and live only with reference to the things of sense and time, we are disinheriting ourselves as Esau did. The secular temptation strikes a weak spot in all of us, suggesting that the spiritual life, God’s love and holiness, the kingdom of heaven and his righteousness, the life of faith and prayer and communion are dim and shadowy things, as in the land that is very far off.
What profit the red stew if I lose my birthright? What profit the momentary gratification of even imperious passion if we are resigning the true life and losing the clear vision and the pure heart? What profit to make only provision for the flesh if of the flesh we reap only destruction? What profit the easy self-indulgence if we are bartering peace and love and holiness and joy? What profit if, in the insistence of appetite, men and women go like an ox to the slaughter, knowing not that it will cost them their lives? “So Esau despised his birthright” (Gen. 25:34).
Take Heart: Daily Devotions with the Church's Great Preachers
The Forgotten Basin May 22
The last half of our Lord’s ministry was marred by envy and infighting among his followers. The disciples plotted against each other even on the eve of Christ’s crucifixion, prompting him to wrap himself in a towel and wash their feet in a servant’s basin.
The lesson was lost on many bishops during the ensuing centuries. As churches spread across the Roman world, the bishops of Antioch, Alexandria, and Rome assumed particular leadership. Antioch and Rome were, after all, prominent in the New Testament records, and the Alexandrian church traced its origin through the evangelist Mark to Peter. The Council of Nicaea in 325 placed these three bishops on more or less equal footing.
The bishop of Jerusalem, arguing his city deserved recognition, became the fourth world center of Christianity. Soon there was a fifth. Emperor Constantine decided to move the Roman capital to his new city on the Bosporus, and the bishop of Constantinople instantly assumed prominence. The ecumenical council held in Constantinople in 381 said that the patriarch of Constantinople deserved honor “next to the bishop of Rome.”
A low-grade rivalry arose between the two. It worsened when the Council of Chalcedon in 451 issued this decree extending the authority of the bishop of Constantinople: With reason did the fathers confer prerogatives on the throne of ancient Rome on account of her character as the imperial city; and moved by the same consideration, the bishops recognize the same prerogatives also in the most holy throne of New Rome.
Papal delegates from Rome protested on the spot, and on May 22, 452 Pope Leo launched three angry letters like warheads, addressed to the emperor, the empress, and the patriarch of Constantinople. Leo declared that the elevation of Constantinople was: (1) a work of pride; (2) an attack on the other centers of Christianity; (3) a violation of the rights given Rome by earlier councils; and (4) destructive to church unity. His letters only aggravated the situation. Eastern and Western Christianity drifted further apart until a complete schism occurred in 1054.
They had all, it seems, forgotten the basin and the towel.
And if your Lord and teacher has washed your feet, you should do the same for each other. I have set the example.
--- John 13:14-15a.
On This Day 365 Amazing And Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs And Heroes
Daily Readings / CHARLES H. SPURGEON
Morning - May 22
“He led them forth by the right way.” --- Psalm 107:7.
Changeful experience often leads the anxious believer to enquire “Why is it thus with me?” I looked for light, but lo, darkness came; for peace, but behold trouble. I said in my heart, my mountain standeth firm, I shall never be moved. Lord, thou dost hide thy face, and I am troubled. It was but yesterday that I could read my title clear; to-day my evidences are bedimmed, and my hopes are clouded. Yesterday I could climb to Pisgah’s top, and view the landscape o’er, and rejoice with confidence in my future inheritance; to-day, my spirit has no hopes, but many fears; no joys, but much distress. Is this part of God’s plan with me? Can this be the way in which God would bring me to heaven? Yes, it is even so. The eclipse of your faith, the darkness of your mind, the fainting of your hope, all these things are but parts of God’s method of making you ripe for the great inheritance upon which you shall soon enter. These trials are for the testing and strengthening of your faith—they are waves that wash you further upon the rock—they are winds which waft your ship the more swiftly towards the desired haven. According to David’s words, so it might be said of you, “so he bringeth them to their desired haven.” By honour and dishonour, by evil report and by good report, by plenty and by poverty, by joy and by distress, by persecution and by peace, by all these things is the life of your souls maintained, and by each of these are you helped on your way. Oh, think not, believer, that your sorrows are out of God’s plan; they are necessary parts of it. “We must, through much tribulation, enter the kingdom.” Learn, then, even to “count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations.”
“O let my trembling soul be still,
And wait thy wise, thy holy will!
I cannot, Lord, thy purpose see,
Yet all is well since ruled by thee.”
Evening - May 22
“Behold, thou art fair, my Beloved.” --- Song of Solomon 1:16.
From every point our Well-beloved is most fair. Our various experiences are meant by our heavenly Father to furnish fresh standpoints from which we may view the loveliness of Jesus; how amiable are our trials when they carry us aloft where we may gain clearer views of Jesus than ordinary life could afford us! We have seen him from the top of Amana, from the top of Shenir and Hermon, and he has shone upon us as the sun in his strength; but we have seen him also “from the lions’ dens, from the mountains of the leopards,” and he has lost none of his loveliness. From the languishing of a sick bed, from the borders of the grave, have we turned our eyes to our soul’s spouse, and he has never been otherwise than “all fair.” Many of his saints have looked upon him from the gloom of dungeons, and from the red flames of the stake, yet have they never uttered an ill word of him, but have died extolling his surpassing charms. Oh, noble and pleasant employment to be for ever gazing at our sweet Lord Jesus! Is it not unspeakably delightful to view the Saviour in all his offices, and to perceive him matchless in each?—to shift the kaleidoscope, as it were, and to find fresh combinations of peerless graces? In the manger and in eternity, on the cross and on his throne, in the garden and in his kingdom, among thieves or in the midst of cherubim, he is everywhere “altogether lovely.” Examine carefully every little act of his life, and every trait of his character, and he is as lovely in the minute as in the majestic. Judge him as you will, you cannot censure; weigh him as you please, and he will not be found wanting. Eternity shall not discover the shadow of a spot in our Beloved, but rather, as ages revolve, his hidden glories shall shine forth with yet more inconceivable splendour, and his unutterable loveliness shall more and more ravish all celestial minds.
Morning and Evening
Manie P. Ferguson, 19th century
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only that which is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. (Ephesians 4:29, 30)
The Holy Spirit performs many important ministries in the life of a Christian. One of these is to give us a calm and tranquil spirit, despite the stormy circumstances of life that may come our way.
One of the great tragedies of the Christian life, however, occurs when, through apathy or neglect or overt attitudes and actions, we allow the Holy Spirit’s ministry to become grieved and even quenched, leaving us powerless and restless. Perhaps it might be due to: self-centeredness and lack of concern for the needs of others; negative and critical attitudes toward others; practicing known sin; or lack of times of worship and communion with God. Whatever the cause, this time of spiritual draught must be dealt with even as the psalmist prayed in Psalm 51: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me …”
The text for “Blessed Quietness” was written about 1900 by Manie Payne Ferguson after she had come into the Wesleyan experience of “holiness” or “entire sanctification” or—as some call it— “the filling of the Holy Spirit.” Regardless of our theological terminology for the Holy Spirit’s energizing ministry, the truth of these words is an essential in every believers’ life --
Joys are flowing like a river since the comforter has come; He abides with us forever, makes the trusting heart His home.
Bringing life and health and gladness all around, this heav’nly guest banished unbelief and sadness, chang’d our weariness to rest.
Like the rain that falls from heaven, like the sunlight from the sky, so the Holy Ghost is given, coming on us from on high.
See, a fruitful field is growing, blessed fruit of righteousness; and the streams of life are flowing in the lonely wilderness.
What a wonderful salvation, where we always see His face! What a perfect habitation, what a quiet resting place!
Chorus: Blessed quietness, holy quietness—what assurance in my soul! On the stormy sea He speaks peace to me—how the billows cease to roll!
For Today: Luke 11:13; John 14:18; Acts 5:32; Romans 8:16; Galatians 5:22.
Be especially aware of attitudes, words, or actions that could grieve and quench the Holy Spirit’s ministry in your life. Enjoy a life of “blessed quietness” as you walk with God. Carry this musical reminder with you ---
Amazing Grace: 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions
Martin Luther | (1483-1546)
Sect. XXXII. — AND now, while I am making these observations, I will reply to that remark of yours, where you say — ‘that it is not to be believed, that God would overlook an error in His Church for so many ages, and not reveal to any one of His saints that, which we contend for as being the grand essential of the Christian doctrine’ —
In the first place, we do not say that this error was overlooked of God in His Church, or in any one of His Saints. For the Church is ruled by the Spirit of God, and the Saints are led by the Spirit of God. (Rom. viii. 14.) And Christ is with His Church even unto the end of the world. (Matt. xxviii. 20.) And the Church is the pillar and ground of the truth. (1 Tim. iii. 15.) These things, I say, we know; for the Creed which we all hold runs thus, “I believe in the holy Catholic Church;’ so that, it is impossible that she can err even in the least article. And even if we should grant, that some of the Elect are held in error through the whole of their life; yet they must, of necessity, return into the way of truth before their death; for Christ says, (John x. 28,) “No one shall pluck them out of My hand.” But this is the labour, this the point — whether it can be proved to a certainty, that those, whom you call the church, were the Church; or, rather, whether, having been in error throughout their whole life, they were at last brought back before death. For this will not easily be proved, if God suffered all those most learned men whom you adduce, to remain in error through so long a series of ages — Therefore, God suffered His Church to be in error.
But, look at the people of Israel: where, during so many kings and so long a time, not one king is mentioned who never was in error. And under Elijah the Prophet, all the people and every thing that was public among them, had so gone away into idolatry, that he thought that he himself was the only one left: whereas, while the kings, the princes, the prophets, and whatever could be called the people or the Church of God was going to destruction, God was reserving to Himself “seven thousand.” (Rom. xi. 4.) But who could see these or know them to be the people of God? And who, even now, dares to deny that God, under all these great men, (for you make mention of none but men in some high office, or of some great name,) was reserving to Himself a Church among the commonalty, and suffering all those to perish after the example of the kingdom of Israel? For it is peculiar to God, to restrain the elect of Israel, and to slay their fat ones: but, to preserve the refuse and remnant of Israel, (Ps. lxxviii. 31.; Isaiah i. 9., x. 20-22., xi. 11-16.)
What happened under Christ Himself, when all the Apostles were offended at Him, when He was denied and condemned by all the people, and there were only a Joseph, a Nicodemus, and a thief upon the cross preserved? Were they then said to be the people of God? There was, indeed, a people of God remaining, but it was not called the people of God; and that which was so called, was not the people of God. And who knows who are the people of God, when throughout the whole world, from its origin, the state of the church was always such, that those were called the people and saints of God who were not so while others among them, who were as a refuse, and were not called the people and saints of God, were the People and Saints of God? as is manifest in the histories of Cain and Abel, of Ishmael and Isaac, of Esau and Jacob.
Look again at the age of the Arians, when scarcely five catholic bishops were preserved throughout the whole world, and they, driven from their places, while the Arians reigned, every where bearing the public name and office of the church. Nevertheless, under these heretics, Christ preserved His Church: but so, that it was the least thought or considered to be the Church.
Again, shew me, under the kingdom of the Pope, one bishop discharging his office. Shew me one council in which their transactions were, concerning the things pertaining to godliness, and not rather, concerning gowns, dignities, revenues, and other baubles, which they could not say, without being mad, pertained to the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless they are called the church, when all, at least who live as they do, must be reprobates and any thing but the church. And yet, even under them Christ preserved His Church, though it was not called the Church. How many Saints must you imagine those of the inquisition have, for some ages, burnt and killed, as John Huss and others, in whose time, no doubt, there lived many holy men of the same spirit!
Why do you not rather wonder at this, Erasmus, that there ever were, from the beginning of the world, more distinguished talents, greater erudition, more ardent pursuit among the world in general than among Christians or the people of God? As Christ Himself declares, “The children of this world are wiser than the children of light.” (Luke xvi. 8.) What Christian can be compared (to say nothing of the Greeks) with Cicero alone for talents, for erudition, or for indefatigability? What shall we say, then, was the preventive cause that no one of them was able to attain unto grace, who certainly exerted “Free-will” with its utmost powers? Who dares say, that there was no one among them who contended for truth with all his efforts? And yet we must affirm that no one of them all attained unto it. Will you here too say, it is not to be believed, that God would utterly leave so many great men, throughout such a series of ages, and permit them to labour in vain? Certainly, if “Free-will” were any thing, or could do any thing, it must have appeared and wrought something in those men, at least in some one instance. But it availed nothing, nay it always wrought in the contrary direction. Hence by this argument only, it may be sufficiently proved, that “Free-will” is nothing at all, since no proof of it can be produced even from the beginning of the world to the end!
The Bondage of the Will or Christian Classics Ethereal Library
W. Phillip Keller | (1920-1997)
10 “You Anoint My Head with Oil . . .”
Now as summer in the high country moves gradually into autumn, subtle changes occur both in the countryside and in the sheep. The nights become cooler; there are the first touches of frost; the insects begin to disappear and are less a pest; the foliage on the hills turns to crimson, gold, and bronze; mist and rain begin to fall; and the earth prepares for winter.
In the flock there are also subtle changes. This is the season of the rut, of mating, of great battles between the rams for possession of the ewes. The necks of the monarchs swell and grow strong. They strut proudly across the pastures and fight furiously for the favors of the ewes. The crash of heads and thud of colliding bodies can be heard through the hours of day and night.
The shepherd knows all about this. He knows that some of the sheep can and will actually kill, injure, and maim each other in these deadly combats. So he decides on a very simple remedy. At this season of the year he will catch his rams and smear their heads with grease. I used to apply generous quantities of axle grease to the head and nose of each ram. Then when they collided in their great crashing battles, the lubricant would make them glance off each other in such a ludicrous way that they stood there feeling rather stupid and frustrated. In this way much of the heat and tension was dissipated and little damage done.
Among God’s people there is a considerable amount of knocking each other. Somehow if we don’t see eye to eye with the other person, we persist in trying to assert ourselves and become “top sheep.” A good many become badly bruised and hurt this way.
In fact, I found as a pastor that much of the grief, the wounds, the hurts, the ill will, the unforgiven things in people’s lives could usually be traced back to old rivalries or jealousies or battles that had broken out between believers. Scores of skeptical souls will never enter a church simply because way back in their experience someone had battered them badly.
To forestall and prevent this sort of thing from happening among His people, our Shepherd loves to apply the precious ointment of the presence of His gracious Spirit to our lives. It will be recalled that just before His crucifixion, our Lord, in dealing with His twelve disciples, who even then were caught up in jealous bickering and rivalry for prestige, told of the coming of the Comforter—the Spirit of Truth. Because of His being sent to them, He said, they would know peace. He went on to say that His people would be known everywhere for their love for one another.
But too often this simply is not true among God’s own people. They hammer and knock each other, stiff-necked with pride and self-assertion. They are intolerant, dogmatic, and uncharitable with other Christians.
Yet when the gracious Holy Spirit invades a man or woman, when He enters that life and is in control of the personality, the attributes of peace, joy, long-suffering, and generosity become apparent. It is then that suddenly one becomes aware of how ridiculous are all the petty jealousies, rivalries, and animosities that formerly motivated their absurd assertions. This is to come to a place of great contentment in the Shepherd’s care. And it is then that the cup of contentment becomes real in the life. As the children of God, the sheep in the Divine Shepherd’s care, we should be known as the most contented people on earth. A quiet, restful contentment should be the hallmark of those who call Christ their Master.
If He is the One who has all knowledge and wisdom and understanding of my affairs and management, if He is able to cope with every situation, good or bad, that I encounter, then surely I should be satisfied with His care. In a wonderful way my cup, or my lot in life, is a happy one that overflows with benefits of all sorts.
The trouble is that most of us just don’t see it this way. Especially when troubles or disappointments come along, we are apt to feel forgotten by our Shepherd. We act as though He had fallen down on the job.
Actually He is never asleep. He is never lax or careless. He is never indifferent to our well-being. Our Shepherd always has our best interests in mind.
Because of this, we are actually under obligation to be a thankful, grateful, appreciative people. The New Testament instructs us clearly to grasp the idea that the cup of our life is full and overflowing with good, with the life of Christ Himself, and with the presence of His gracious Spirit. And because of this, we should be joyous, grateful, and serene.
This is the overcoming Christian life. It is the life in which a Christian can be content with whatever comes his way (Hebrews 13:5) — even trouble. Most of us are glad when things go well. How many of us can give thanks and praise when things go wrong?
Hebrews 13:5 Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” ESV
A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23