Do Not Pass Judgment on One AnotherRomans 14 1 As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. 2 One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. 3 Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. 4 Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.
5 One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. 7 For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. 8 For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. 9 For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.
10 Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; 11 for it is written,
“As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me,
and every tongue shall confess to God.”
Do Not Cause Another to Stumble13 Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. 14 I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. 15 For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died. 16 So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil. 17 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. 18 Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. 19 So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.
20 Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats. 21 It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble. 22 The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves. 23 But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.
The Example of ChristRomans 15 1 We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. 2 Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. 3 For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.” 4 For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. 5 May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, 6 that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. 7 Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.
Christ the Hope of Jews and Gentiles8 For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, 9 and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written,
“Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles,
and sing to your name.”
“Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people.”11 And again,
“Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles,
and let all the peoples extol him.”
“The root of Jesse will come,
even he who arises to rule the Gentiles;
in him will the Gentiles hope.”
Paul the Minister to the Gentiles14 I myself am satisfied about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another. 15 But on some points I have written to you very boldly by way of reminder, because of the grace given me by God 16 to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the gospel of God, so that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit. 17 In Christ Jesus, then, I have reason to be proud of my work for God. 18 For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to bring the Gentiles to obedience—by word and deed, 19 by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God—so that from Jerusalem and all the way around to Illyricum I have fulfilled the ministry of the gospel of Christ; 20 and thus I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else’s foundation, 21 but as it is written,
“Those who have never been told of him will see,
and those who have never heard will understand.”
Paul’s Plan to Visit Rome22 This is the reason why I have so often been hindered from coming to you. 23 But now, since I no longer have any room for work in these regions, and since I have longed for many years to come to you, 24 I hope to see you in passing as I go to Spain, and to be helped on my journey there by you, once I have enjoyed your company for a while. 25 At present, however, I am going to Jerusalem bringing aid to the saints. 26 For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make some contribution for the poor among the saints at Jerusalem. 27 For they were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have come to share in their spiritual blessings, they ought also to be of service to them in material blessings. 28 When therefore I have completed this and have delivered to them what has been collected, I will leave for Spain by way of you. 29 I know that when I come to you I will come in the fullness of the blessing of Christ.
30 I appeal to you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf, 31 that I may be delivered from the unbelievers in Judea, and that my service for Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints, 32 so that by God’s will I may come to you with joy and be refreshed in your company. 33 May the God of peace be with you all. Amen.
Personal GreetingsRomans 16 1 I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church at Cenchreae, 2 that you may welcome her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints, and help her in whatever she may need from you, for she has been a patron of many and of myself as well.
3 Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, 4 who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks but all the churches of the Gentiles give thanks as well. 5 Greet also the church in their house. Greet my beloved Epaenetus, who was the first convert to Christ in Asia. 6 Greet Mary, who has worked hard for you. 7 Greet Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners. They are well known to the apostles, and they were in Christ before me. 8 Greet Ampliatus, my beloved in the Lord. 9 Greet Urbanus, our fellow worker in Christ, and my beloved Stachys. 10 Greet Apelles, who is approved in Christ. Greet those who belong to the family of Aristobulus. 11 Greet my kinsman Herodion. Greet those in the Lord who belong to the family of Narcissus. 12 Greet those workers in the Lord, Tryphaena and Tryphosa. Greet the beloved Persis, who has worked hard in the Lord. 13 Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord; also his mother, who has been a mother to me as well. 14 Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas, and the brothers who are with them. 15 Greet Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints who are with them. 16 Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ greet you.
Final Instructions and Greetings17 I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. 18 For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive. 19 For your obedience is known to all, so that I rejoice over you, but I want you to be wise as to what is good and innocent as to what is evil. 20 The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.
21 Timothy, my fellow worker, greets you; so do Lucius and Jason and Sosipater, my kinsmen.
22 I Tertius, who wrote this letter, greet you in the Lord.
23 Gaius, who is host to me and to the whole church, greets you. Erastus, the city treasurer, and our brother Quartus, greet you.
Doxology25 Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages 26 but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith— 27 to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen.
What I'm Reading
Why the Ancient Christian Record About Jesus Is the Most Reliable
By J. Warner Wallace 10/24/2014
When we examine ancient history in an attempt to understand the nature of Jesus, we discover there are three separate witness accounts we have to consider. First, of course, are the eyewitness accounts of the New Testament writers. But in addition to these, there are hostile gentile eyewitness accounts of the Greek world and hostile Jewish accounts of antiquity. How are we supposed to know which group we can trust? Let’s examine each group of witnesses using the four part template I employ to evaluate eyewitnesses in my cold-case investigations. We’ll begin by reviewing what the three witness groups say about the nature of Jesus:
The three accounts are amazingly similar as they record the same basic testimony about the life and death of Jesus. But there are a few distinct differences between the three witness accounts from antiquity. I’ve highlighted or colored the differences to make them easier to discuss. First, you’ll notice the hostile gentile witnesses are silent on a few important points (there is no mention of the prophecies predicting Jesus, the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, Judas Iscariot, the beating prior to the crucifixion, or the resurrection or ascension). But this does not necessarily mean there is a contradiction with the Jewish witnesses or the Biblical account. It may simply mean ancient Gentile writers assumed their readers knew these issues, were themselves focused on other issues, or did not carefully guard the entire record (and as a result, some have now been lost).
In addition to this, you’ll note there are some dramatic differences between the Jewish account and the Gentile and Biblical record. The difference here is not in terms of the historical details of the story of Jesus, but is instead in the explanations for these details. The Jewish record affirms Jesus was said to be born of a virgin but denies this claim, arguing Jesus’ parents simply covered up the truth about Jesus’ true father. The Jewish record affirms Jesus had supernatural powers, but attributes these powers to demonic forces. Finally, the Jewish record also affirms there was an empty tomb (and Jesus’ followers claimed he was resurrected and ascended into heaven), but they deny this was true, and claim Jesus’ grave was later found in the garden next to the tomb. So while the narrative of the life of Jesus closely parallels the Biblical account, there are a number of alternative explanations offered.
So, which of the ancient records are we to believe? Why should we accept the Biblical account when there are clearly a number of other witness records available? What makes the Bible more trustworthy than the other witnesses? When a prosecutor brings an eyewitness into a courtroom, he or she needs to be very careful to bring best eyewitnesses available. After all, these folks are eventually going to be cross examined by the defense attorneys. So, prosecutors evaluate their witnesses using the four pat template I describe in Cold-Case Christianity. Let’s take a look at the criteria for reliable eyewitnesses and see if the Biblical record compares with the other ancient witness accounts.
1 – Were the Witnesses Even Present? | There are times when people claim to be eyewitnesses but are actually lying or grossly overstating what they saw. It’s up to the jury to decide if the witnesses are motivated by something causing them to lie (we’ll discuss this later). The more an eyewitness is able to observe, the more reliable his or her testimony. Those who have seen the most can describe the most. Those who have the most intimate knowledge of the event are clearly those who can best explain what really happened. That’s why proximity to an event is such an important issue when evaluating a witness. Let’s take a look at the proximity of the Biblical eyewitnesses to the life of Jesus:
James "Jim" Warner Wallace (born June 16, 1961) is an American homicide detective and Christian apologist. Wallace is a Senior Fellow at the Colson Center for Christian Worldview and an Adjunct Professor of Apologetics at Biola University in La Mirada, California. He has authored several books, including Cold-Case Christianity, God’s Crime Scene, and Forensic Faith, in which he applies principles of cold case homicide investigation to apologetic concerns such as the existence of God and the reliability of the Gospels.
How Christianity Transformed Sexual Morality in the Ancient World
By Matthew J. Tuininga 11/28/16
The West is jettisoning the Christian understanding of human sexuality at an alarming speed. It is doing so, to a significant extent, without any meaningful understanding of how Christianity shaped western sexuality in the first place. Many seem to think that by freeing ourselves from the burden of Christian teaching we will finally be able to enjoy our sexuality without hindrance, as if this is what human beings were doing before prudish Christians came on the scene and ruined everything.
For this reason, Kyle Harper’s From Shame to Sin: The Christian Transformation of Sexual Morality in Late Antiquity is an illuminating read. Harper wants the West to better understand our inheritance. He wants us to appreciate what sexuality looked like in the Roman world, and how revolutionary Christianity’s impact was on western sexuality, for good and for ill. Harper is not a Christian, as far as I can tell. He writes as a historian who wants to get the story right….
Romans did not wrestle with the morality of sex outside of marriage or sexual activity between persons of the same sex. Rather, they wrestled with what was honorable for a free-born man or a free-born woman. It was acceptable for a free-born man to have sex with slaves, prostitutes, and boys (under certain conditions), so long as these things were done in moderation. But a free-born man must act as a man. It was shameful for him to play the passive role in sex.
The restrictions on a free woman, on the other hand, were much tighter. A woman’s modesty (i.e., sexual honor) was a fragile thing. “The sexual life course of free women was dominated by the imperatives of marriage. In a society that was never freed from the relentless grip of a high-mortality regime, the burden of reproduction weighed heavily on the female population” (39-40). Women were expected to marry at a very young age and to produce children for their husbands and for society. To commit adultery was to violate a respectable woman and so to sin against her husband. To do so was without excuse, because any man was free to have sex with slaves and prostitutes at will.
Underlying this double standard was the lucrative and omnipresent Roman sex trade, which itself was inseparable from the Roman system of slavery. The masses of slaves, prostitutes and other dishonorable persons had no claim to honor, and thus no entitlement to sexual morality. Slaves, especially girls and women, were “subjected to untrammeled sexual abuse” (26). They were utterly without social or legal protection. “The ubiquity of slaves meant pervasive sexual availability… Slaves played something like the part that masturbation has played in most cultures” (27). Prostitutes “stalked the streets. Taverns, inns, and baths were notorious dens of venal sex. Brothels ‘were visible everywhere’” (47).
Matthew J. Tuininga: Assistant Professor of Moral Theology at Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I received my Ph.D. in Religion, Ethics and Society at Emory University, writing my dissertation on John Calvin’s two kingdoms theory, and my M.Div. at Westminster Seminary California. I formerly served as a counter-terrorism intelligence analyst in the Federal Bureau of Investigation and as a legislative correspondent for Florida Congressman Dave Weldon. I preach and speak regularly and am available for requests via the Contact page on this blog.
The purpose of this blog is to serve as a way for me to discuss my reflections on public issues of concern to Christians and the Christian church. While I will discuss the tradition of Christian political theological reflection from time to time, much of what I post will simply draw attention to events, problems, and books, suggesting ways to make sense of them. My aim is not to tell my readers what to think. Thoughtful Christians understand that no one has the expertise to provide authoritative interpretations or judgments regarding the complex events in the world around us. My hope, rather, is to offer reflections that serve as a guide, that point readers to the events and issues that matter, and that provide perspective informed by the Reformed and Christian traditions. I welcome feedback. The purpose of this blog is to raise questions and provoke reflection, not to function as an electronic pulpit.
Five Personal Leadership Lessons I’ve Learned The Hard Way
By Thom S. Rainer 11/28/16
I am not a great leader.
In fact, there are times I’ve wondered if I am even a good leader.
I have positional leadership, but that does not mean I am truly a leader.
There are several reasons for this rather negative self-assessment, but the essence of my own evaluation comes from my failure to learn quickly and adjust. It’s one thing to make a mistake as a leader; we all do. But it’s another to make a mistake and not learn from it immediately. That reality describes me way too often.
My transparency is not one of false humility. I am sharing these five lessons with the hopes and prayers it will help others. These are lessons I’ve learned the hard way because I have too often failed to adjust even when I’ve known I need to do so.
Thom S. Rainer is the president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. Prior to LifeWay, he served at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary for twelve years where he was the founding dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions and Evangelism. He is a 1977 graduate of the University of Alabama and earned his Master of Divinity and Ph.D. degrees from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
In addition to speaking in hundreds of venues over the past 20 years, Rainer led Rainer Group, a church and denominational consulting firm, from 1990 to 2005. The firm provided church health insights to over 500 churches and other organizations over that period.
Rainer and his wife, Nellie Jo, have three grown sons: Sam, Art and Jess, who are married to Erin, Sarah and Rachel respectively. The Rainers have ten grandchildren: Canon, Maggie, Nathaniel, Will (with the Lord), Harper, Bren, Joshua, Collins, Joel, and James.
Thom S. Rainer Books:
- 1 I Will: Nine Traits of the Outwardly Focused Christian
- 2 I Am a Church Member: Discovering the Attitude that Makes the Difference
- 3 Who Moved My Pulpit?: Leading Change in the Church
- 4 Simple Church: Returning to God's Process for Making Disciples
- 5 The Unexpected Journey: Conversations with People Who Turned from Other Beliefs to Jesus
- 6 The Millennials: Connecting to America's Largest Generation
- 7 Autopsy of a Deceased Church: 12 Ways to Keep Yours Alive
- 8 Simple Life Action Plan - Member Book
- 9 Essential Church?: Reclaiming a Generation of Dropouts by Thom S. Rainer (2008-09-01)
- 10 High Expectations: The Remarkable Secret for Keeping People in Your Church
- 11 Transformational Church Creating a New Scorecard for Congregations by Ed Stetzer, Thom S. Rainer [B & H Books,2010] (Hardcover)
- 12 Eating the Elephant: Leading the Established Church to Growth
- 13 Bible Studies for Life: Connected - Bible Study Book: My Life in the Church
- 14 Vibrant Church: Becoming a Healthy Church in the 21st Century
- 15 Desconectados de la iglesia: 'quiénes son, dónde están y cómo restablecer la conexión' (Spanish Edition)
- 16 The Bridger Generation
Jonathan Edwards, the Exegete
By Kyle Strobel 11/28/16
Here’s a particularly difficult topic in Jonathan Edwards studies: Edwards’s exegetical method. For those who have read Edwards, they have probably been as equally captivated as concerned by some of his exegetical decisions, and are probably not sure how we should consider it today.
This is where Douglas Sweeney’s latest book, Edwards the Exegete: Biblical Interpretation and Anglo-Protestant Culture on the Edge of the Enlightenment, is so helpful.
Exploring Edward's Exegesis
In any topic in Edwards, but particularly this topic, reductionism is always tempting. It’s easy to try and fit him into preconceived categories and then read those assumptions back into his thought—making Edwards my Edwards.
But Edwards (1703–1758) never seems to fully allow for that reductionism, no matter what categories we use. As a result, Sweeney decides not to provide an overarching “model” to describe Edwards’s exegesis, choosing instead to develop four approaches Edwards takes:
Kyle Strobel serves as an assistant professor of Spiritual Theology at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University, and speaks broadly on spiritual formation, theology and the life of the church. Kyle holds a BA in Biblical Studies, master's degrees in Philosophy of Religion and Ethics as well as New Testament Studies, and a PhD in Systematic Theology. He lives in Fullerton, California. Kyle can be found at KyleStrobel.com or on Twitter.
Kyle Strobel Books:
- 1 Formed for the Glory of God: Learning from the Spiritual Practices of Jonathan Edwards
- 2 Beloved Dust: Drawing Close to God by Discovering the Truth About Yourself
- 3 Jonathan Edwards: An Introduction to His Thought
- 4 Sanctified by Grace: A Theology of the Christian Life
- 5 Reading the Christian Spiritual Classics: A Guide for Evangelicals
- 6 Jonathan Edwards's Theology: A Reinterpretation (T&T Clark Studies in Systematic Theology)
- 7 The Ecumenical Edwards: Jonathan Edwards and the Theologians
- 8 Jonathan Edwards's Theology: A Reinterpretation (T&T Clark Studies in Systematic Theology) by Kyle C. Strobel (2014-05-08)
- 9 The Way of the Dragon or the Way of the Lamb: Searching for Jesus’ Path of Power in a Church that Has Abandoned It
Womb or Tomb
By Peter J. Leithart 11/28/16
Like many Renaissance writers, Shakespeare is obsessed with mutability, with the vaporous quality of human life. Nothing remains forever. Kingdoms rise and fall. Monuments erode and decay. People grow old and die.
This is one of the regular themes of Shakespeare’s sonnets, focused in part on the beauty of the young man who is addressed in the sonnet. He will not remain a fair youth forever. If he wants to reach immortality, to be remembered, he has to do something to overcome the mutability of the world, the threat of death.
Sonnet 3 offers one possibility. The three quatrains are arranged in a chiastic order. The first begins with an invitation to the youth to look in the mirror, “thy glass.” The third quatrain returns to this image, a common one in the sonnets: “Thou art thy mother’s glass.” He is the mirror-image of his mother. Looking in the glass, he can see what sort of mirror image he might form for posterity.
Brett Foster ( ISBN-13: 978-0791095973 ) writes that the glass enables the young man to “feel beside himself, so to speak—that is, to make him realize how others feel when they see the Young Man’s beauty.” Once he sees himself from the outside, he may be shocked into recognizing how fragile life and beauty are.
The central quatrain has a different focus. Given the qualities that are evident in the glass, there is no woman who would not be wiling to be the womb for his child, ground for him to plough and plant.
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Books by Peter J. Leithart
The Four: A Survey of the Gospels
Defending Constantine: The Twilight of an Empire and the Dawn of Christendom
The Kingdom and the Power: Rediscovering the Centrality of the Church
The End of Protestantism: Pursuing Unity in a Fragmented Church
A House for My Name: A Survey of the Old Testament
1 & 2 Kings (Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible)
Wise Words: Family Stories That Bring the Proverbs to Life
Gratitude: An Intellectual History
The Epistles of John Through New Eyes: From Behind the Veil
Shining Glory: Theological Reflections on Terrence Malicks Tree of Life
The Promise of His Appearing: An Exposition of Second Peter
The Baptized Body
Brightest Heaven of Invention: A Christian Guide To Six Shakespeare Plays
Four Views on the Church's Mission (Counterpoints: Bible and Theology)
A Son to Me: An Exposition of 1 & 2 Samuel
Between Babel and Beast: America and Empires in Biblical Perspective (Theopolitical Visions)
Blessed Are the Hungry: Meditations on the Lord's Supper
Delivered from the Elements of the World: Atonement, Justification, Mission
Justification and Joy
By Peter J. Leithart 11/23/16
In Ecclesiastes 9, Solomon urges, “Go, eat your bread in happiness and drink your wine with a cheerful heart; for God has already approved your works.” Joy comes from knowing that God accepts and approves what we do, and, implicitly, accepts and approves us. God finds something in our works to delight Him. That approval brings us joy, and the joy is manifested in a cheery feast of bread and wine.
The verb “approve” is the Hebrew ratzah, used to describe Yahweh’s acceptance of offerings (Leviticus 1:4), offerers (Leviticus 7:18), and human works (Deuteronomy 33:11). Yahweh approved David as king over Israel (1 Chronicles 28:4), and several Psalms include pleas for Yahweh to approve and deliver David (40:13; 119:108; 147:11; 149:4).
The word implies delight and pleasure. It doesn’t have the same judicial connotation as terms like “judge” or “justify,” but it does imply an informal act of valuation and judgment. God “approves” whomever or whatever is pleasant and delightful in His sight.
To put it in Christian terms: We are approved by God in Christ, and our works are fruits of His Spirit. Justified in Christ, we stand under God’s approving eye. Because He rejoices over us, we rejoice before Him. Our feast of bread and wine is a festive declaration of our being-approved. The fact that we feast with joy expresses our confidence that we are justified. To share in the joy of the feast is to share in God’s approval.
As N.T. Wright said in one of his earliest essays, the message of the doctrine of justification by grace through faith is: Relax. To which we may add: Rejoice.
Peter J. Leithart is President of the Theopolis Institute, Birmingham, Alabama, and an adjunct Senior Fellow at New St. Andrews College.
Books by Peter J. Leithart
The Four: A Survey of the Gospels
Defending Constantine: The Twilight of an Empire and the Dawn of Christendom
The Kingdom and the Power: Rediscovering the Centrality of the Church
The End of Protestantism: Pursuing Unity in a Fragmented Church
A House for My Name: A Survey of the Old Testament
1 & 2 Kings (Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible)
Wise Words: Family Stories That Bring the Proverbs to Life
Gratitude: An Intellectual History
The Epistles of John Through New Eyes: From Behind the Veil
Shining Glory: Theological Reflections on Terrence Malicks Tree of Life
The Promise of His Appearing: An Exposition of Second Peter
The Baptized Body
Brightest Heaven of Invention: A Christian Guide To Six Shakespeare Plays
Four Views on the Church's Mission (Counterpoints: Bible and Theology)
A Son to Me: An Exposition of 1 & 2 Samuel
Between Babel and Beast: America and Empires in Biblical Perspective (Theopolitical Visions)
Blessed Are the Hungry: Meditations on the Lord's Supper
Delivered from the Elements of the World: Atonement, Justification, Mission
Saving the World, Revealing the Glory: Atonement Then and Now
By N.T. Wright 10/17/16
The deft artistry and fathomless theology of John’s gospel is powerfully displayed in the footwashing scene in chapter 13. In a few strokes of the pen we are offered a tableau intimate and touching on the one hand and scary and dangerous on the other. Having begun his masterpiece with the all-creative Word becoming flesh and revealing God’s glory – we shall return to his Prologue in a little while – John begins the shorter second half of his gospel with an acted parable of the same thing. Jesus removes his outer garments and kneels down to wash the disciples’ feet, summing up all that is to come in the astonishing act of divine humility, of loving redemption, of cleansing for service. This is a good place to begin this evening’s quest for a fresh glimpse of what we in the Western churches have traditionally called ‘the atonement’, my subject for tonight. For John, as indeed throughout the New Testament, Jesus’ vocation to rescue the world from its plight and in so doing to reveal the divine glory in action is focused, symbolized, encoded in an action simultaneously dramatic, fraught with cosmic significance, and gentle, tender with human emotion. If you want to understand the great mysteries of Christian theology, of Trinity, Incarnation, and atonement itself, you could do worse than spend time with this scene.
‘Having loved his own who were in the world’, John begins, ‘Jesus loved them to the end, to the uttermost’. Here we see what it means that ‘God so loved the world that he gave his only son’: a love at once powerful, humble, sovereign and sensitive. As always, Jesus surprises his followers, as he was to do even more devastatingly at the climax of the story the following day. Peter tries to object – a Johannine equivalent, in a sense, of Peter’s protest in Matthew 16 – and Jesus waves away the objection: If I don’t wash you, he says, you have no part in me. This produces a typically Petrine over-reaction: well then, says Peter, not my feet only, but my hands and my head. Calm down, says Jesus: you are already clean, because I have washed you, and all you now need is the regular footwashing – a wonderful image in itself of the prior whole-person washing of the gospel itself, needing only the regular smaller-scale washing of dusty feet, but like everything else in John’s story pointing forwards to the great saving act to come in which the filth and mire of the centuries would be washed away in the torrent of water and blood. And then Jesus resumes his garments and explains at least the surface layer of meaning: as I have done this to you, you should do it for one another. As usual John gives the simple explanation in order to nudge his readers into the deeper ones, but this already points forward to the ministries of the gospel which will be unleashed through the outpoured Spirit in John 20: As the Father sent me, so I send you. Atonement then; atonement now. The theology of the cross is only ultimately complete when it issues in the footwashing and fruitbearing mission of Jesus’ followers. That is part of the point of the long discourses which follow chapter 13 and thereby prepare the way for the dramatic scene before Pilate and on the cross itself.
Into this scene of prophetic action and symbolic power John has woven the dark strand which explains why all this is necessary and how the great redemption is to be accomplished. The accuser, he says, had already put it into Judas’s heart to betray Jesus. The accuser – the satan – is the dark, sub-personal force that has dogged Jesus’ footsteps throughout his mission, rather as Gollum is never far away while Frodo and his companions undertake their fateful journey; and, indeed, I rather think Tolkein was tracking a profound biblical theme in that strand of his master-narrative, including its final denouement. Jesus knows of course that the satan would do this, and had already hinted that one of his own followers would act out the great Accusation, the charge that would take him to his death. It isn’t just that Judas is succumbing to a miscellaneous temptation; rather, the hate and shame of all the world, the raging howl that rises from all the accumulated forces of evil, of anti-creation, of tyranny and spite and sneering and lies, has gathered itself into one and has focused its deadly spotlight on the enfleshed Word, the living embodiment of the loving and wise creator. And love only makes it worse; it is after the footwashing, where Jesus warns that ‘you are already clean, though not all of you’, that the satan finally enters into Judas. ‘Do it quickly,’ says Jesus; and Judas goes out into the night. People sometimes say that St Luke was an artist; but if ever a biblical scene had all the elements of a great canvas, holding many different characters and moods within a single tableau, it is this footwashing scene in John 13.
I begin with this scene partly because, knowing it will be impossible in one lecture to say very much of what I have tried to say in the book (which turned out to be much longer than I had expected or intended), I want at least to stir your imaginations so that your reflection on Jesus’ crucifixion is not a matter of theories, of schemes of thought to be played off against one another, but a matter of vivid historical reality captured in a story like the footwashing, as indeed in so many others, but with this one positioned with deliberate care by John to launch the final moves that will take us to the foot of the cross, and on, beyond, to the fresh morning in the garden and the warm breath of the outpoured Spirit. We will come presently and briefly to the theories, but the theories mean what they mean as interpretations of the story, the real-life narrative of the word made flesh, of the flesh made shameful, of the shame itself killed and buried. The theories are battered little signposts pointing towards that reality, and the gospels are written not to provide lively illustrations of those theories but to name and invoke the reality towards which they point. When Jesus wanted to explain to his followers what his death would mean he didn’t give them a theory, he gave them a meal on the one hand and a dramatic action on the other. The Word became flesh, and it is in flesh – his flesh, and then, worryingly, our flesh – that the truth is revealed. God forgive us that we have answered rationalistic scepticism with rationalistic fideism. The Word – the Logos, the ultimate Reason in Person – became flesh, and it is in the flesh that the world was saved; it is in the flesh that the glory was and is revealed.
According to Wikipedia: Nicholas Thomas Wright (born 1 December 1948) is a leading British New Testament scholar, Pauline theologian, and retired Anglican bishop. In academia, he is published as N. T. Wright, but is otherwise known as Tom Wright. Between 2003 and his retirement in 2010, he was the Bishop of Durham. He then became Research Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at St Mary’s College in the University of St Andrews in Scotland.
He writes prolifically about theology, Christian life, and the relationship of these two things. He advocates a biblical re-evaluation of and fresh approach to theological matters such as justification, women's ordination, and popular Christian views about life after death. He has also criticised the idea of a literal Rapture. Alternate source: Fulcrum website. The author of over seventy books, Wright is highly regarded in academic and theological circles primarily for his "Christian Origins and the Question of God" series.The third volume, The Resurrection of the Son of God, is considered by many pastors and theologians to be a seminal Christian work on the resurrection of the historical Jesus, while the most recently released fourth volume, Paul and the Faithfulness of God, is hailed as Wright's magnum opus.[N.T. Wright Books | Go to Books Page
The Institutes of the Christian Religion
Translated by Henry Beveridge
IN SCRIPTURE, THE TRUE GOD OPPOSED, EXCLUSIVELY, TO ALL THE GODS OF THE
1. Explanation of the knowledge of God resumed. God as manifested in Scripture, the same as delineated in his works.
2. The attributes of God as described by Moses, David, and Jeremiah. Explanation of the attributes. Summary. Uses of this knowledge.
3. Scripture, in directing us to the true God, excludes the gods of the heathen, who, however, in some sense, held the unity of God.
1. We formerly observed that the knowledge of God, which, in other respects, is not obscurely exhibited in the frame of the world, and in all the creatures, is more clearly and familiarly explained by the word. It may now be proper to show, that in Scripture the Lord represents himself in the same character in which we have already seen that he is delineated in his works. A full discussion of this subject would occupy a large space. But it will here be sufficient to furnish a kind of index, by attending to which the pious reader may be enabled to understand what knowledge of God he ought chiefly to search for in Scripture, and be directed as to the mode of conducting the search. I am not now adverting to the peculiar covenant by which God distinguished the race of Abraham from the rest of the nations. For when by gratuitous adoption he admitted those who were enemies to the rank of sons, he even then acted in the character of a Redeemer. At present, however, we are employed in considering that knowledge which stops short at the creation of the world, without ascending to Christ the Mediator. But though it will soon be necessary to quote certain passages from the New Testament (proofs being there given both of the power of God the Creator, and of his providence in the preservation of what he originally created), I wish the reader to remember what my present purpose is, that he may not wander from the proper subject. Briefly, then, it will be sufficient for him at present to understand how God, the Creator of heaven and earth, governs the world which was made by him. In every part of Scripture we meet with descriptions of his paternal kindness and readiness to do good, and we also meet with examples of severity which show that he is the just punisher of the wicked, especially when they continue obstinate notwithstanding of all his forbearance.
2. There are certain passages which contain more vivid descriptions of the divine character, setting it before us as if his genuine countenance were visibly portrayed. Moses, indeed, seems to have intended briefly to comprehend whatever may be known of God by man, when he said, "The Lord, The Lord God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children's children, unto the third and to the fourth generation," (Ex. 34:6, 7). Here we may observe, first, that his eternity and selfexistence are declared by his magnificent name twice repeated; and, secondly, that in the enumeration of his perfections, he is described not as he is in himself, but in relation to us, in order that our acknowledgement of him may be more a vivid actual impression than empty visionary speculation. Moreover, the perfections thus enumerated are just those which we saw shining in the heavens, and on the earth--compassion, goodness, mercy, justice, Judgment, and truth. For power and energy are comprehended under the name Jehovah. Similar epithets are employed by the prophets when they would fully declare his sacred name. Not to collect a great number of passages, it may suffice at present to refer to one Psalm (145) in which a summary of the divine perfections is so carefully given that not one seems to have been omitted. Still, however, every perfection there set down may be contemplated in creation; and, hence, such as we feel him to be when experience is our guide, such he declares himself to be by his word. In Jeremiah, where God proclaims the character in which he would have us to acknowledge him, though the description is not so full, it is substantially the same. "Let him that glorieth," says he, "glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the Lord which exercise loving-kindness, Judgment, and righteousness, in the earth," (Jer. 9:24). Assuredly, the attributes which it is most necessary for us to know are these three: Loving-kindness, on which alone our entire safety depends: Judgment, which is daily exercised on the wicked, and awaits them in a severer form, even for eternal destruction: Righteousness, by which the faithful are preserved, and most benignly cherished. The prophet declares, that when you understand these, you are amply furnished with the means of glorying in God. Nor is there here any omission of his truth, or power, or holiness, or goodness. For how could this knowledge of his loving-kindness, Judgment, and righteousness, exist, if it were not founded on his inviolable truth? How, again, could it be believed that he governs the earth with Judgment and righteousness, without presupposing his mighty power? Whence, too, his loving-kindness, but from his goodness? In fine, if all his ways are loving-kindness, Judgment, and righteousness, his holiness also is thereby conspicuous. Moreover, the knowledge of God, which is set before us in the Scriptures, is designed for the same purpose as that which shines in creation--viz. that we may thereby learn to worship him with perfect integrity of heart and unfeigned obedience, and also to depend entirely on his goodness.
3. Here it may be proper to give a summary of the general doctrine. First, then, let the reader observe that the Scripture, in order to direct us to the true God, distinctly excludes and rejects all the gods of the heathen, because religion was universally adulterated in almost every age. It is true, indeed, that the name of one God was everywhere known and celebrated. For those who worshipped a multitude of gods, whenever they spoke the genuine language of nature, simply used the name god, as if they had thought one god sufficient. And this is shrewdly noticed by Justin Martyr, who, to the same effect, wrote a treatise, entitled, On the Monarchy of God, in which he shows, by a great variety of evidence, that the unity of God is engraven on the hearts of all. Tertullian also proves the same thing from the common forms of speech.  But as all, without exception, have in the vanity of their minds rushed or been dragged into lying fictions, these impressions, as to the unity of God, whatever they may have naturally been, have had no further effect than to render men inexcusable. The wisest plainly discover the vague wanderings of their minds when they express a wish for any kind of Deity, and thus offer up their prayers to unknown gods. And then, in imagining a manifold nature in God, though their ideas concerning Jupiter, Mercury, Venus, Minerva, and others, were not so absurd as those of the rude vulgar, they were by no means free from the delusions of the devil. We have elsewhere observed, that however subtle the evasions devised by philosophers, they cannot do away with the charge of rebellion, in that all of them have corrupted the truth of God. For this reason, Habakkuk (2:20), after condemning all idols, orders men to seek God in his temple, that the faithful may acknowledge none but Him, who has manifested himself in his word.
 In his book, De Idolatria. See also in Augustine, a letter by one Maximus, a grammarian of Medaura, jesting at his gods, and scoffing at the true religion. See, at the same time, Augustine's grave and admirable reply. Ep. 42. 43.
Christian Classics Ethereal Library / Public Domain Institutes of the Christian Religion
Read The Psalms In "1" Year
Psalm 132The LORD Has Chosen Zion
132 A Song Of Ascents.
132:1 Remember, O LORD, in David’s favor,
all the hardships he endured,
2 how he swore to the LORD
and vowed to the Mighty One of Jacob,
3 “I will not enter my house
or get into my bed,
4 I will not give sleep to my eyes
or slumber to my eyelids,
5 until I find a place for the LORD,
a dwelling place for the Mighty One of Jacob.”
6 Behold, we heard of it in Ephrathah;
we found it in the fields of Jaar.
7 “Let us go to his dwelling place;
let us worship at his footstool!”
Fox's Book Of Martyrs
By John Foxe 1563
Executions at IslingtonAbout the seventeenth of September, suffered at Islington the following four professors of Christ: Ralph Allerton, James Austoo, Margery Austoo, and Richard Roth.
James Austoo and his wife, of St. Allhallows, Barking, London, were sentenced for not believing in the presence. Richard Roth rejected the seven Sacraments, and was accused of comforting the heretics by the following letter written in his own blood, and intended to have been sent to his friends at Colchester:
"O dear Brethren and Sisters,
"How much reason have you to rejoice in God, that He hath given you such faith to overcome this bloodthirsty tyrant thus far! And no doubt He that hath begun that good work in you, will fulfill it unto the end. O dear hearts in Christ, what a crown of glory shall ye receive with Christ in the kingdom of God! O that it had been the good will of God that I had been ready to have gone with you; for I lie in my lord's Little-ease by day, and in the night I lie in the Coalhouse, apart from Ralph Allerton, or any other; and we look every day when we shall be condemned; for he said that I should be burned within ten days before Easter; but I lie still at the pool's brink, and every man goeth in before me; but we abide patiently the Lord's leisure, with many bonds, in fetters and stocks, by which we have received great joy of God. And now fare you well, dear brethren and sisters, in this world, but I trust to see you in the heavens face to face.
"O brother Munt, with your wife and my sister Rose, how blessed are you in the Lord, that God hath found you worthy to suffer for His sake! with all the rest of my dear brethren and sisters known and unknown. O be joyful even unto death. Fear it not, saith Christ, for I have overcome death. O dear heart, seeing that Jesus Christ will be our help, O tarry you the Lord's leisure. Be strong, let your hearts be of good comfort, and wait you still for the Lord. He is at hand. Yea, the angel of the Lord pitcheth his tent round about them that fear him, and delivereth them which way he seeth best. For our lives are in the Lord's hands; and they can do nothing unto us before God suffer them. Therefore give all thanks to God.
"O dear hearts, you shall be clothed in long white garments upon the mount of Sion, with the multitude of saints, and with Jesus Christ our Savior, who will never forsake us. O blessed virgins, ye have played the wise virgins' part, in that ye have taken oil in your lamps that ye may go in with the Bridegroom, when he cometh, into the everlasting joy with Him. But as for the foolish, they shall be shut out, because they made not themselves ready to suffer with Christ, neither go about to take up His cross. O dear hearts, how precious shall your death be in the sight of the Lord! for dear is the death of His saints. O fare you well, and pray. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen, Amen. Pray, pray, pray!
"Written by me, with my own blood,
This letter, so justly denominating Bonner the "bloodthirsty tyrant," was not likely to excite his compassion. Roth accused him of bringing them to secret examination by night, because he was afraid of the people by day. Resisting every temptation to recant, he was condemned, and on September 17, 1557, these four martyrs perished at Islington, for the testimony of the Lamb, who was slain that they might be of the redeemed of God.
John Noyes, a shoemaker, of Laxfield, Suffolk, was taken to Eye, and at midnight, September 21, 1557, he was brought from Eye to Laxfield to be burned. On the following morning he was led to the stake, prepared for the horrid sacrifice. Mr. Noyes, on coming to the fatal spot, knelt down, prayed, and rehearsed the Fiftieth Psalm. When the chain enveloped him, he said, "Fear not them that kill the body, but fear him that can kill both body and soul, and cast it into everlasting fire!" As one Cadman placed a fagot against him, he blessed the hour in which he was born to die for the truth; and while trusting only upon the all-sufficient merits of the Redeemer, fire was set to the pile, and the blazing fagots in a short time stifled his last words, "Lord, have mercy on me! Christ, have mercy upon me!" The ashes of the body were buried in a pit, and with them one of his feet, whole to the ankle, with the stocking on.
Mrs. Cicely OrmesThis young martyr, aged twenty-two, was the wife of Mr. Edmund Ormes, worsted weaver of St. Lawrence, Norwich. At the death of Miller and Elizabeth Cooper, before mentioned, she had said that she would pledge them of the same cup they drank of. For these words she was brought to the chanellor, who would have discharged her upon promising to go to church, and to keep her belief to herself. As she would not consent to this, the chancellor urged that he had shown more lenity to her than any other person, and was unwilling to condemn her, because she was an ignorant foolish woman; to this she replied, (perhaps with more shrewdness than he expected,) that however great his desire might be to spare her sinful flesh, it could not equal her inclination to surrender it up in so great a quarrel. The chancellor then pronounced the fiery sentence, and September 23, 1557, she was brought to the stake, at eight o'clock in the morning.
After declaring her faith to the people, she laid her hand on the stake, and said, "Welcome, thou cross of Christ." Her hand was sooted in doing this, (for it was the same stake at which Miller and Cooper were burnt,) and she at first wiped it; but directly after again welcomed and embraced it as the "sweet cross of Christ." After the tormentors had kindled the fire, she said, "My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit doth rejoice in God my Savior." Then crossing her hands upon her breast, and looking upwards with the utmost serenity, she stood the fiery furnace. Her hands continued gradually to rise until the sinews were dried, and then they fell. She uttered no sigh of pain, but yielded her life, an emblem of that celestial paradise in which is the presence of God, blessed forever.
It might be contended that this martyr voluntarily sought her own death, as the chancellor scarcely exacted any other penance of her than to keep her belief to herself; yet it should seem in this instance as if God had chosen her to be a shining light, for a twelve-month before she was taken, she had recanted; but she was wretched until the chancellor was informed, by letter, that she repented of her recantation from the bottom of her heart. As if to compensate for her former apostasy, and to convince the Catholics that she meant to more to compromise for her personal security, she boldly refused his friendly offer of permitting her to temporize. Her courage in such a cause deserves commendation-the cause of Him who has said, "Whoever is ashamed of me on earth, of such will I be ashamed in heaven."
Rev. John RoughThis pious martyr was a Scotchman. At the age of seventeen, he entered himself as one of the order of Black Friars, at Stirling, in Scotland. He had been kept out of an inheritance by his friends, and he took this step in revenge for their conduct to him. After being there sixteen years, Lord Hamilton, earl of Arran, taking a liking to him, the archbishop of St. Andrew's induced the provincial of the house to dispense with his habit and order; and he thus became the earl's chaplain. He remained in this spiritual employment a year, and in that time God wrought in him a saving knowledge of the truth; for which reason the earl sent him to preach in the freedom of Ayr, where he remained four years; but finding danger there from the religious complexion of the times, and learning that there was much Gospel freedom in England, he travelled up to the duke of Somerset, then Lord Protector of England, who gave him a yearly salary of twenty pounds, and authorized him, to preach at Carlisle, Berwick, and Newcastle, where he married. He was afterward removed to a benefice at Hull, in which he remained until the death of Edward VI.
In consequence of the tide of persecution then setting in, he fled with his wife to Friesland, and at Nordon they followed the occupation of knitting hose, caps, etc., for subsistence. Impeded in his business by the want of yarn, he came over to England to procure a quantity, and on November 10, arrived in London, where he soon heard of a secret society of the faithful, to whom he joined himself, and was in a short time elected their minister, in which occupation he strengthened them in every good resolution.
On December 12, through the information of one Taylor, a member of the society, Mr. Rough, with Cuthbert Symson and others, was taken up in the Saracen's Head, Islington, where, under the pretext of coming to see a play, their religious exercises were holden. The queen's vice-chamberlain conducted Rough and Symson before the Council, in whose presence they were charged with meeting to celebrate the Communion. The Council wrote to Bonner and he lost no time in this affair of blood. In three days he had him up, and on the next (the twentieth) resolved to condemn him. The charges laid against him were, that he, being a priest, was married, and that he had rejected the service in the Latin tongue. Rough wanted not arguments to reply to these flimsy tenets. In short, he was degraded and condemned.
Mr. Rough, it should be noticed, when in the north, in Edward VI's reign, had saved Dr. Watson's life, who afterward sat with Bishop Bonner on the bench. This ungrateful prelate, in return for the kind act he had received, boldly accused Mr. Rough of being the most pernicious heretic in the country. The godly minister reproved him for his malicious spirit; he affirmed that, during the thirty years he had lived, he had never bowed the knee to Baal; and that twice at Rome he had seen the pope born about on men's shoulders with the false-named Sacrament carried before him, presenting a true picture of the very Antichrist; yet was more reverence shown to him than to the wafer, which they accounted to be their God. "Ah?" said Bonner, rising, and making towards him, as if he would have torn his garment, "Hast thou been at Rome, and seen our holy father the pope, and dost thou blaspheme him after this sort?" This said, he fell upon him, tore off a piece of his beard, and that the day might begin to his own satisfaction, he ordered the object of his rage to be burnt by half-past five the following morning.
Foxe's Book of Martyrs
Devotionals, notes, poetry and more
Spiritual growth (3)
11/28/2017 Bob Gass
‘‘The word of God…effectively works in you.’
(1 Th 2:13) 13 And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers. ESV
Spiritually speaking, you may not be as far along as you’d like to be, but thank God you’re still on the road. At one time you were a stranger to God’s grace, but now you belong to ‘the household of God’ (Ephesians 2:19 NKJV). Paul writes, ‘You received the word…which…effectively works in you who believe.’ As long as you keep reading and believing God’s Word, it will keep working in you. Plus, you mature a lot faster when you learn to relax and start living by what God’s Word says about you, not how you feel. How you see yourself affects your spiritual progress profoundly. Until your self-concept lines up with what God says about you in Scripture, you’ll keep seeing yourself as unqualified and unworthy – and that will hinder your spiritual growth. When God told Jeremiah He’d called him as a prophet to the nations, Jeremiah informed God he was too young, wasn’t a good speaker, and didn’t have enough experience, etc. How did God respond? ‘Before I formed you…I knew [and] approved of you’ (Jeremiah 1:5 AMPC). So stop worrying about being rejected when you don’t perform perfectly. The world operates like that, but not God. Plus, if you were as perfect as you’d like to be, you wouldn’t need His grace. Like Jacob’s limp, sometimes God leaves things in us to remind us how much we need Him each day. So enjoy where you are right now and stop comparing yourself with other people. Don’t worry if they are farther along than you. They went through exactly the same places to get to where they are today.
1 John 2
UCB The Word For Today
by Bill Federer
The Revolutionary War started in Massachusetts. Following the hated Stamp Act, the British committed the infamous Boston Massacre, firing into a crowd killing many. The colonists responded with the Boston Tea Party. The British then blocked the Boston Harbor to starve them into submission. The President of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress, James Warren, who died this November 28, 1808, stated: “As it has pleased Almighty GOD… to suffer the Calamities of… War to take Place among us…The most effectual Way to escape those desolating Judgements… will be - That we repent and turn every one from his Iniquities.”
by C.S. Lewis
Reflections on the Intimate Dialogue
Between Man and God
I suggest that the distinction between plan and by-product must vanish entirely on the level of omniscience, omnipotence, and perfect goodness. I believe this because even on the human level it diminishes the higher you go. The better a human plan is made, the fewer unconsidered by-products it will have and the more birds it will kill with one stone, the more diverse needs and interests it will meet; the nearer it will come-it can never come very near-to being a plan for each individual. Bad laws make hard cases. But let us go beyond the managerial altogether. Surely a man of genius composing a poem or symphony must be less unlike God than a ruler? But the man of genius has no mere by-products in his work. Every note or word will be more than a means, more than a consequence. Nothing will be present solely for the sake of other things. If each note or word were conscious it would say, "The maker had me myself in view and chose for me, with the whole force of his genius, exactly the context I required." And it would be right-provided it remembered that every other note or word could say no less.
How should the true Creator work by "general laws"? To generalize is to be an idiot," said Blake. Perhaps he went too far. But to generalize is to be a finite mind. Generalities are the lenses with which our intellects have to make do. How should God sully the infinite lucidity of this vision with such makeshifts? One might as well think He had to consult books of reference, or that, if He ever considered me individually, He would begin by saying, "Gabriel, bring me Mr. Lewis's file."
The God of the New Testament who takes into account the death of every sparrow is not more, but far less, anthropomorphic than Pope's.
I will not believe in the Managerial God and his general laws. If there is Providence at all, everything is providential and every providence is a special providence. It is an old and pious saying that Christ died not only for Man but for each man, just as much as if each had been the only man there was. Can I not believe the same of this creative act which, as spread out in time, we call destiny or history? It is for the sake of each human soul. Each is an end. Perhaps for each beast. Perhaps even each particle of matter-the night sky suggests that the inanimate also has for God some value we cannot imagine. His ways are not (not there, anyway) like ours.
If you ask why I believe all this, I can only reply that we are taught, both by precept and example, to pray, and that prayer would be meaningless in the sort of universe Pope pictured. One of the purposes for which God instituted prayer may have been to bear witness that the course of events is not governed like a state but created like a work of art to which every being makes its contribution and (in prayer) a conscious contribution, and in which every being is both an end and a means. And since I have momentarily considered prayer itself as a means let me hasten to add that it is also an end. The world was made partly that there might be prayer; partly that our prayers for George might be answered. But let's have finished with "partly." The great work of art was made for the sake of all it does and is, down to the curve of every wave and the flight of every insect.
Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer
Compiled by Richard S. Adams
It is only by fidelity in little things that the grace of true love to God can be sustained, and distinguished from a passing fervor of spirit... No one can well believe that our piety is sincere, when our behavior is lax and irregular in its little details. What probability is there that we should not hesitate to make the greatest sacrifices, when we shrink from the smallest?
--- François Fénelon
Tears shed for self are tears of weakness,
but tears shed for others are a sign of strength.
--- Billy Graham
Badness is only spoiled goodness.
--- C.S Lewis
Liberty means responsibility. That is why most men dread it.
--- George Bernard Shaw
... from here, there and everywhere
by D.H. Stern
the people throw off all restraint;
but he who keeps Torah is happy.
Complete Jewish Bible : An English Version of the Tanakh (Old Testament) and B'Rit Hadashah (New Testament)
A Daily Devotional by Oswald Chambers
The bounty of the destitute
Being justified freely by His grace … --- Romans 3:24.
The Gospel of the grace of God awakens an intense longing in human souls and an equally intense resentment, because the revelation which it brings is not palatable. There is a certain pride in man that will give and give, but to come and accept is another thing. I will give my life to martyrdom, I will give myself in consecration, I will do anything, but do not humiliate me to the level of the most hell-deserving sinner and tell me that all I have to do is to accept the gift of salvation through Jesus Christ.
We have to realize that we cannot earn or win anything from God; we must either receive it as a gift or do without it. The greatest blessing spiritually is the knowledge that we are destitute; until we get there Our Lord is powerless. He can do nothing for us if we think we are sufficient of ourselves; we have to enter into His Kingdom through the door of destitution. As long as we are rich, possessed of anything in the way of pride or independence, God cannot do anything for us. It is only when we get hungry spiritually that we receive the Holy Spirit. The gift of the nature of God is made effectual in us by the Holy Spirit; He imparts to us the quickening life of Jesus, which puts ‘the beyond’ within, and immediately the beyond has come within, it rises up to ‘the above,’ and we are lifted into the domain where Jesus lives. (John 3:5.)
My Utmost for His Highest
the Poetry of R.S. Thomas
A little aside from the main road,
becalmed in a last-century greyness,
there is the chapel, ugly, without the appeal
to the tourist to stop his car
and visit it. The traffic goes by,
and the river goes by, and quick shadows
of clouds, too, and the chapel settles
a little deeper into the grass.
But here once on an Evening like this,
in the darkness that was about
his hearers, a preacher caught fire
and burned steadily before them
with a strange light, so that they saw
the splendour of the barren mountains
about them and sang their amens
fiercely, narrow but saved
in a way that men are not now.
The Poems of R.S. Thomas
Meshech and Tubal
You might want to take note of the following. "The Cast of Characters: When the prophets spoke of history’s end there are certain characters or powers which have leading roles: Political powers. The Old Testament suggests that several power blocks will exist as the end time approaches. These include: * The West. This power block is seen in Daniel 2:41–42; 7:7; and 8:9–26. It seems to be a coalition of 10 states, some weak and some strong, who come under the influence of a political leader who will counterfeit the Messiah. These states occupy territory roughly that of the Roman Empire of Jesus’ day. * The North. This represents a second great confederacy. It is described in Isaiah 30:31–33; Ezekiel 38:1–39:25; Daniel 11:40; Joel 2:1–17; and other passages. Nations called in the Old Testament Gog, Magog, Rosh, Meshech and Tubal have been identified as territory currently including Russia, Iran, certain Arab states, East Germany, and some Asian peoples. * The East. This power is mentioned in Revelation 16:12, and indicates a coalition of Asian powers. * The South. This is the final area, mentioned in Daniel 11:40. This is Egyptian or North African territory, and is the first power block to be confronted by the West and destroyed by it. Teachers of prophecy make much of the fact, that for the first time in some 19 centuries of the Christian era, the political shape of our world fits the distribution of powers described in the Old Testament.
The Teacher's Commentary
Maimonides: Torah and Philosophic Quest
Maimonides is discussing the necessity to transcend the level of those political leaders who hunger for power and dominion and whose dignity and self-worth are defined exclusively by their political status. The aspiring prophet must transcend this egocentric dependency on society, so that his assumption of political leadership will not be grounded in the longing for power. The disdain for the community, then, is the condition of the prophet during his ascent, i.e., when he is struggling to transcend the political leader’s dependency on the community.
If one understands this condition as a permanent attitude on the part of the prophet, how is one to make sense of Maimonides’ statement in the next paragraph, “… prophetic revelation did not come to Moses, peace be on him, after the disastrous incident of the spies and until the whole generation of the desert perished, in the way that revelation used to come before, because—seeing the enormity of their crime—he suffered greatly because of this matter”? Why should Moses suffer for the mistakes of the community if, to the prophet, other human beings are like domestic animals or beasts of prey? The source of Moses’ suffering is his love for the community. Disdain for the community characterized the prophet during his ascent; in exact contrast, love for the community becomes his characteristic quality during his descent.
The prophet’s involvement with the community results from the overflow of his individual perfection. The prophet typifies the political leader who does not view political activity as a means to gratify egocentric needs. Similarly, the community which the prophet establishes is not based solely on the self-interest needs which social order satisfies. The law which the prophet brings to men is concerned not only with political well-being but:
Accordingly if you find a Law the whole end of which and the whole purpose of the chief thereof, who determined the actions required by it, are directed exclusively toward the ordering of the city and of its circumstances and the abolition in it of injustice and oppression; and if in that Law attention is not at all directed toward speculative matters, no heed is given to the perfecting of the rational faculty, and no regard is accorded to opinions being correct or faulty—the whole purpose of that Law being, on the contrary, the arrangement in whatever way this may be brought about, of the circumstances of people in their relations with one another and provision for their obtaining, in accordance with the opinion of that chief, a certain something deemed to be happiness—you must know that that Law is a nomos and that the man who laid it down belongs, as we have mentioned, to the third class, I mean to say to those who are perfect only in their imaginative faculty.
If, on the other hand, you find a Law all of whose ordinances are due to attention being paid, as we stated before, to the soundness of the circumstances pertaining to the body and also to the soundness of belief—a Law that takes pains to inculcate correct opinions with regard to God, may He be exalted in the first place, and with regard to the angels, and that desires to make man wise, to give him understanding, and to awaken his attention, so that he should know the whole of that which exists in its true form—you must know that this guidance comes from Him, may He be exalted, and that this Law is Divine.
The community, to the prophet, is not only a political framework whose sole function is to satisfy man’s social and physical needs, but a structure which aims at creating those economic and political conditions within which men can aspire to realizing their highest human end—knowledge of God.
The impetus to establish such a community flows from the basic nature of prophetic perfection. The Jewish prophet believes that God is related to history. Moses’ attachment to the community is inseparable from his intellectual love for a God who is the creator of the universe and the lord of history. Although the perfection of the philosopher finds its fullest expression in writing books, prophetic perfection finds its consummation in perfecting the community:
It has already become clear to you that, were it not for this additional perfection, sciences would not be set forth in books and Prophets would not call upon the people to obtain knowledge of the truth. For a man endowed with knowledge does not set anything down for himself in order to teach himself what he already knows. But the nature of that intellect is such that it always overflows and is transmitted from one who receives that overflow to another one who receives it after him until it reaches an individual beyond whom this overflow cannot go and whom it merely renders perfect, as we have set out in a parable in one of the chapters of this treatise. The nature of this matter makes it necessary for someone to whom this additional measure of overflow has come, to address a call to people, regardless of whether that call is listened to or not, and even if he as a result thereof is harmed in his body. We even find that Prophets addressed the call to people until they were killed—this Divine overflow moving them and by no means letting them rest and be quiet, even if they met with great misfortunes.
This analysis of the prophet’s commitment to the community is connected with one of the most difficult problems of the Guide—the relationship of morality to man’s ultimate perfection. The last chapter of the Guide appears to present a paradoxical understanding of the place morality occupies in the perfection of man. In his last chapter, Maimonides examines the various perfections which men consider valuable. The first, “the perfection of possessions,” and the second, “the perfection of the bodily constitution and shape,” are rejected because they do not relate to the perfection of man as man. The third, the perfection of moral virtues, is also rejected as the highest perfection of man, because:
… this species of perfection is likewise a preparation for something else and not an end in itself. For all moral habits are concerned with what occurs between a human individual and someone else.
The highest perfection of man is identified, by Maimonides, with theoretical virtue:
The fourth species is the true human perfection; it consists in the acquisition of the rational virtues—I refer to the conception of intelligibles, which teach true opinions concerning the Divine things. This is in true reality the ultimate end; this is what gives the individual true perfection, a perfection belonging to him alone; and it gives him permanent perdurance; through it man is man.
Maimonides: Torah and Philosophic Quest
“See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah … has triumphed.…” Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain.
--- Revelation 5:5–6.
When the saints get to heaven, they will not merely see Christ and have to do with him as subjects and servants of a glorious and gracious Lord and Sovereign, but Christ will entertain them as friends and family. The Excellency of Christ This we may learn from the manner of Christ’s conversing with his disciples here on earth: though he was their Sovereign Lord and did not refuse but required their supreme respect and adoration, yet he did not treat them as earthly sovereigns are accustomed to do their subjects. He did not keep them at an awful distance but all along conversed with them with the most friendly familiarity, as a father amongst a company of children, yes, as with family. So he did with the Twelve, and so he did with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. He told his disciples that he did not call them servants but friends, and we read of one of them that leaned on his bosom—and doubtless he will not treat his disciples with less freedom and endearment in heaven. He will not keep them at a greater distance for his being in a state of exaltation, but he will rather take them into a state of exaltation with him.
This will be the increase Christ will make of his own glory, to make his beloved friends partakers with him, to glorify them in his glory, as he says to his Father: “I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me” (John 17:22–23). We are to consider that though Christ is greatly exalted, yet he is exalted not as a private person for himself only, but as his people’s head; he is exalted in their name and on their account as the firstfruits and as representing the whole harvest. He is not exalted that he may be at a greater distance from them but that they may be exalted with him. Instead of the distance being greater, the union will be nearer and more perfect.
When believers get to heaven, Christ will conform them to himself; as he is set down in his Father’s throne, so they shall sit down with him on his throne and shall in their measure be made like him.
--- Jonathan Edwards
Take Heart: Daily Devotions with the Church's Great Preachers
A One-Year Ministry
Hugh MacKail was a bright young man who preached the outlawed Reformation truth in Scotland—but not for long. He was licensed to preach at 20 and preached his last message at 21, saying, “The people of God have been persecuted sometimes by an Ahab on the throne, sometimes by a Haman in the state, and sometimes by a Judas in the church.”
That very day, Scottish authorities—“Ahab, Haman, and Judas”—came after him, forcing him to flee for safety. His capture was inevitable, and his trial occurred on November 28, 1666. When he refused to recant, he was affixed in a chair, with a tight, iron boot enclosed around his leg and knee. An iron wedge was inserted, and a jailer stood by with a sledge hammer awaiting his orders. A surgeon sat near, his thumb on the young man’s pulse. The judge nodded. The jailer gripped the mallet, took aim, and slammed it down on the wedge. Bone and muscle were crushed. A second blow. A third. Blood ran down Hugh’s leg and dripped from his toes. More blasts of pain. The 11 blows crushed Hugh’s leg to pulp. Radiating waves of agony surged through every inch of his body. Rough hands then jerked him from his chair and threw him into the dungeon.
Some days later, asked how his leg felt, Hugh smiled dismally and said he had stopped worrying about his leg and started worrying about his neck. He had reason. He was shortly taken to the gallows and forced to climb a ladder to the platform. A large crowd gathered, and MacKail, raising his voice, said, “I care no more to go up this ladder than if I were going home to my father’s house.” He awkwardly dragged his useless leg up the rungs, turning and saying, “Every step is a degree nearer heaven.” At the top, he took out his pocket Bible, read from its last chapter, and spoke of Christ. The rope tightened around his thin neck, his boyish smile faded from earth, and his feet danced in the air until his soul ascended to God.
I am coming soon! And when I come, I will reward everyone for what they have done. I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end. God will bless all who have washed their robes. They will each have the right to eat fruit from the tree that gives life, and they can enter the gates of the city.
--- Revelation 22:12-14.
God Is In The Manger (Day 2)
Waiting Is An Art
Celelebrating Advent means being able to wait. Waiting is an art that our impatient age has forgotten. It wants to break open the ripe fruit when it has hardly finished planting the shoot. But all too often the greedy eyes are only deceived; the fruit that seemed so precious is still green on the inside, and disrespectful hands ungratefully toss aside what has so disappointed them. Whoever does not know the austere blessedness of waiting-that is, of hopefully doing without-will never experience the full blessing of fulfillment.
Those who do not know how it feels to struggle anxiously with the deepest questions of life, of their life, and to patiently look forward with anticipation until the truth is revealed, cannot even dream of the splendor of the moment in which clarity is illuminated for them. And for those who do not want to win the friendship and love of another person-who do not expectantly open up their soul to the soul of the other person, until friendship and love come, until they make their entrance-for such people the deepest blessing of the one life of two intertwined souls will remain forever hidden.
For the greatest, most profound, tenderest things in the world, we must wait. It happens not here in a storm but according to the divine laws of' sprouting, growing, and becoming.
Be brave for my sake, dearest Maria, even if this letter is your only token of my love this Christmas-tide. We shall both experience a few dark hours-why should we disguise that from each other? We shall ponder the incomprehensibility of our lot and be assailed by the question of why, over and above the darkness already enshrouding humanity, we should be subjected to the bitter anguish of a separation whose purpose we fail to understand. . . . And then, just when everything is bearing down on us to such an extent that we can scarcely withstand it, the Christmas message comes to tell us that all our ideas are wrong, and that what we take to be evil and dark is really good and light because it comes from God. Our eyes are at fault, that is all. God is in the manger, wealth in poverty, light in darkness, succor in abandonment. No evil can befall us; whatever men may do to us, they cannot but serve the God who is secretly revealed as love and rules the world and our lives. See Isaiah 11:1-4.
Letter to fiancee Maria von Wedemeyer
from prison, December 13, 1943
Daily Readings / CHARLES H. SPURGEON
Morning - November 28
“For I rejoiced greatly, when the brethren came and testified of the truth that is in thee, even as thou walkest in the truth.” --- 3 John 3.
The truth was in Gaius, and Gaius walked in the truth. If the first had not been the case, the second could never have occurred; and if the second could not be said of him the first would have been a mere pretence. Truth must enter into the soul, penetrate and saturate it, or else it is of no value. Doctrines held as a matter of creed are like bread in the hand, which ministers no nourishment to the frame; but doctrine accepted by the heart, is as food digested, which, by assimilation, sustains and builds up the body. In us truth must be a living force, an active energy, an indwelling reality, a part of the woof and warp of our being. If it be in us, we cannot henceforth part with it. A man may lose his garments or his limbs, but his inward parts are vital, and cannot be torn away without absolute loss of life. A Christian can die, but he cannot deny the truth. Now it is a rule of nature that the inward affects the outward, as light shines from the centre of the lantern through the glass: when, therefore, the truth is kindled within, its brightness soon beams forth in the outward life and conversation. It is said that the food of certain worms colours the cocoons of silk which they spin: and just so the nutriment upon which a man’s inward nature lives gives a tinge to every word and deed proceeding from him. To walk in the truth, imports a life of integrity, holiness, faithfulness, and simplicity—the natural product of those principles of truth which the Gospel teaches, and which the Spirit of God enables us to receive. We may judge of the secrets of the soul by their manifestation in the man’s conversation. Be it ours to-day, O gracious Spirit, to be ruled and governed by thy divine authority, so that nothing false or sinful may reign in our hearts, lest it extend its malignant influence to our daily walk among men.
Evening - November 28
“Seeking the wealth of his people.” --- Esther 10:3.
Mordecai was a true patriot, and therefore, being exalted to the highest position under Ahasuerus, he used his eminence to promote the prosperity of Israel. In this he was a type of Jesus, who, upon his throne of glory, seeks not his own, but spends his power for his people. It were well if every Christian would be a Mordecai to the church, striving according to his ability for its prosperity. Some are placed in stations of affluence and influence, let them honour their Lord in the high places of the earth, and testify for Jesus before great men. Others have what is far better, namely, close fellowship with the King of kings, let them be sure to plead daily for the weak of the Lord’s people, the doubting, the tempted, and the comfortless. It will redound to their honour if they make much intercession for those who are in darkness and dare not draw nigh unto the mercy seat. Instructed believers may serve their Master greatly if they lay out their talents for the general good, and impart their wealth of heavenly learning to others, by teaching them the things of God. The very least in our Israel may at least seek the welfare of his people; and his desire, if he can give no more, shall be acceptable. It is at once the most Christlike and the most happy course for a believer to cease from living to himself. He who blesses others cannot fail to be blessed himself. On the other hand, to seek our own personal greatness is a wicked and unhappy plan of life, its way will be grievous and its end will be fatal.
Here is the place to ask thee, my friend, whether thou art to the best of thy power seeking the wealth of the church in thy neighbourhood? I trust thou art not doing it mischief by bitterness and scandal, nor weakening it by thy neglect. Friend, unite with the Lord’s poor, bear their cross, do them all the good thou canst, and thou shalt not miss thy reward.
LET US WITH A GLADSOME MIND
John Milton, 1608–1674
Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good. His love [mercy] endures forever. (Psalm 136:1
A thankful heart is not only the greatest virtue, but the parent of all other virtues.
A gladsome, joyous mind is the product of a grateful, praising heart. Gratefulness is the opposite of selfishness. The selfish person is boastful of his accomplishments. The grateful Christian, however, realizes that all achievements and blessings come only from God’s bountiful hand. This realization results in a life of praise.
Far too often our prayer life consists only of a series of personal requests. God wants our requests, but He also desires to hear our praise for His eternal kindness and love in response to our daily needs.
This hymn text of praise was written by John Milton in 1621 when he was only 15 years of age. It was based on verses 1, 2, 7, and 23 of Psalm 136, a psalm that refrains each of its 26 verses with the reminder that God’s love/mercy/kindness endure forever. This hymn is one of 19 poetic versions of various Psalms written by Milton. Today, however, John Milton is best remembered as the brilliant, blind English poet who wrote the classic masterpieces, Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained. He is also credited with having much influence on the later hymn writings of Isaac Watts (“the father of English hymnody”) and Charles Wesley (author of 6,500 hymn texts).
Let us with a gladsome mind praise the Lord, for He is kind:
For His mercies shall endure, ever faithful, ever sure.
Let us blaze His name abroad; for of gods He is the God:
For His mercies shall endure, ever faithful, ever sure.
He with all-commanding might filled the new-made world with light:
For His mercies shall endure, ever faithful, ever sure.
All things living He doth feed; His full hand supplies their need:
For His mercies shall endure, ever faithful, ever sure.
Let us then with gladsome mind praise the Lord, for He is kind:
For His mercies shall endure, ever faithful, ever sure.
For Today: Psalm 63:1-5; 103:2; 136; 145:9; James 1:17
It is always inspiring to read about the work of God in the life of a Bible character or some great leader in history. But it is even more profitable for us to recount the mercies of God in our own past life and to offer Him praise for His eternal love. Why not do so with this little hymn?
4th. This goodness further appears in the high advancement of our nature, after it had so highly offended. By creation, we had an affinity with animals in our bodies, with angels in our spirits, with God in his image; but not with God in our nature, till the incarnation of the Redeemer. Adam, by creation, was the son of God (Luke 3:38), but his nature was not one with the person of God: he was his son, as created by him, but had no affinity to him by virtue of union with him: but now man doth not only see his nature in multitudes of men on earth, but, by an astonishing goodness, beholds his nature united to the Deity in heaven: that as he was the son of God by creation, he is now the brother of God by redemption; for with such a title doth that Person, who was the Son of God as well as the Son of man, honor his disciples (John 20:17): and because he is of the same nature with them, he “is not ashamed to call them brethren” (Heb. 2:11). Our nature, which was infinitely distant from, and below the Deity, now makes one person with the Son of God. What man sinfully aspired to, God hath graciously granted, and more: man aspired to a likeness in knowledge, and God hath granted him an affinity in union. It had been astonishing goodness to angelize our natures; but in redemption Divine goodness hath acted higher, in a sort to deify our natures. In creation, our nature was exalted above other creatures on earth; in our redemption, our nature is exalted above all the host of heaven: we were higher than the beasts, as creatures, but “lower than the angels” (Psalm 8:5); but, by the incarnation of the Son of God, our nature is elevated many steps above them. After it had sunk itself by corruption below the bestial nature, and as low as the diabolical, the “fulness of the Godhead dwells in our nature bodily” (Col. 2:9), but never in the angels, angelically. The Son of God descended to dignify our nature, by assuming it; and ascended with our nature to have it crowned above those standing monuments of Divine power and goodness (Eph. 1:20, 21). That Person that descended in our nature into the grave, and in the same nature was raised up again, is, in that same nature, set at the right hand of God in heaven, “far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named.” Our refined clay, by an indissoluble union with this Divine Person, is honored to sit forever upon a throne above all the tribes of seraphims and cherubims; and the Person that wears it, is the head of the good angels, and the conqueror of the bad; the one are put under his feet, and the other commanded to adore him, “that purged our sins in our nature” (Heb. 1:3, 6): that Divine Person in our nature receives adoration from the angels; but the nature of man is not ordered to pay any homage and adorations to the angels. How could Divine goodness, to man, more magnify itself? As we could not have a lower descent than we had by sin, how could we have a higher ascent than by a substantial participation of a divine life, in our nature, in the unity of a Divine Person? Our earthly nature is joined to a heavenly Person; our undone nature united to “one equal with God” (Phil. 2:6). It may truly be said, that man is God, which is infinitely more glorious for us, than if it could be said, man is an angel. If it were goodness to advance our innocent nature above other creatures, the advancement of our degenerate nature above angels deserves a higher title than mere goodness. It is a more gracious act, than if all men had been transformed into the pure spiritual nature of the loftiest cherubims.
5th. This goodness is manifest in the covenant of grace made with us, whereby we are freed from the rigor of that of works. God might have insisted upon the terms of the old covenant, and required of man the improvement of his original stock; but God hath condescended to lower terms, and offered man more gracious methods, and mitigated the rigor of the first, by the sweetness of the second.
1. It is goodness, that he should condescend to make another covenant with man. To stipulate with innocent and righteous Adam for his obedience, was a stoop of his sovereignty; though he gave the precept as a sovereign Lord, yet in his covenanting, he seems to descend to some kind of equality with that dust and ashes with whom the treated. Absolute sovereigns do not usually covenant with their people, but exact obedience and duty, without binding themselves to bestow a reward; and if they intend any, they reserve the purpose in their own breasts, without treating their subjects with a solemn declaration of it. There was no obligation on God to enter into the first covenant, much less, after the violation of the first, to the settlement of a new. If God seemed in some sort to equal himself to man in the first, he seemed to descend below himself in treating with a rebel upon more condescending terms in the second. If his covenant with innocent Adam was a stoop of his sovereignty, this with rebellious Adam seems to be a stripping himself of his majesty in favor of his goodness; as if his happiness depended upon us, and not ours upon him. It is a humiliation of himself to behold the things in heaven, the glorious angels, as well as things on earth, mortal men (Psalm 113:6); much more to bind himself in gracious bonds to the glorious angels; and much more if to rebel man. In the first covenant there was much of sovereignty as well as goodness; in the second there is less of sovereignty, and more of grace: in the first there was a righteous man for a holy God; in the second a polluted creature for a pure and provoked God: in the first he holds his sceptre in his hand, to rule his subjects; in the second he seems to lay by his sceptre, to court and espouse a beggar (Hosea 2:18–20): in the first he is a Lord; in the second a husband; and binds himself upon gracious conditions to become a debtor. How should this goodness fill us with an humble astonishment, as it did Abraham, when he “fell on his face,” when he heard God speaking of making a covenant with him! (Gen. 17:2, 3). And if God speaking to Israel out of the fire, and making them to hear his voice out of heaven, that he might instruct them, was a consideration whereby Moses would heighten their admiration of Divine goodness, and engage their affectionate obedience to him (Deut. 4:32, 36, 40), how much more admirable is it for God to speak so kindly to us through the pacifying blood of the covenant, that silenced the terrors of the old, and settled the tenderness of the new!
2. His goodness is seen in the nature and tenor of the new covenant. There are in this richer streams of love and pity. The language of one was, Die, if thou sin; that of the other, Live, if thou believest: the old covenant was founded upon the obedience of man; the new one is not founded upon the inconstancy of man’s will, but the firmness of Divine love, and the valuable merit of Christ. The head of the first covenant was human and mutable; the Head of the second is divine and immutable. The curse due to us by the breach of the first, is taken off by the indulgence of the second: we are by it snatched from the jaws of the law, to be wrapped up in the bosom of grace (Rom. 8:1). “For you are not under the law, but under grace” (Rom. 6:14); from the curse and condemnation of the law, to the sweetness and forgiveness of grace. Christ bore the one, being “made a curse for us” (Gal. 3:13), that we might enjoy the sweetness of the other; by this we are brought from Mount Sinai, the mount of terror, to Mount Sion, the mount of sacrifice, the type of the great Sacrifice (Heb. 12:18, 22). That covenant brought in death upon one offence, this covenant offers life after many offences (Rom. 5:16, 17): that involves us in a curse, and this enricheth us with a blessing; the breaches of that expelled us out of Paradise, and the embracing of this admits us into heaven. This covenant demands, and admits of that repentance whereof there was no mention in the first; that demanded obedience, not repentance upon a failure; and though the exercise of it had been never so deep in the fallen creature, nothing of the law’s severity had been remitted by any virtue of it. Again, the first covenant demanded exact righteousness, but conveyed no cleansing virtue, upon the contracting any filth. The first demands a continuance in the righteousness conferred in creation; the second imprints a gracious heart in regeneration. “I will pour clean water upon you; I will put a new spirit within you,” was the voice of the second covenant, not of the first. Again, as to pardon Adam’s covenant was to punish him, not to pardon him, if he fell; that threatened death upon transgression, this remits it; that was an act of Divine sovereignty, declaring the will of God; this is an act of Divine grace, passing an act of oblivion on the crimes of the creature: that, as it demanded no repentance upon a failure, so it promised no mercy upon guilt; that convene our sin, and condemned us for it; this clears our guilt, and comforts us under it. The first covenant related us to God as a Judge; every transgression against it forfeited his indulgence as a Father: the second delivers us from God as a condemning Judge, to bring us under his wing, as an affectionate Father; in the one there was a dreadful frown to scare us; in the other, a healing wing to cover and relieve us. Again, in regard of righteousness: that demanded our performance of a righteousness in and by ourselves, and our own strength; this demands our acceptance of a righteousness higher than ever the standing angels had; the righteousness of the first covenant was the righteousness of a man, the righteousness of the second is the righteousness of a God (2 Cor. 5:21). Again, in regard of that obedience it demands: it exacts not of us, as a necessary condition, the perfection of obedience, but the sincerity of obedience; an uprightness in our intention, not an unspottedness in our action; an integrity in our aims, and an industry in our compliance with divine precepts: “Walk before me, and be thou perfect” (Gen. 17:1); i.e. sincere. What is hearty in our actions, is accepted; and what is defective, is overlooked, and not charged upon us, because of the obedience and righteousness of our Surety. The first covenant rejected all our services after sin; the services of a person under the sentence of death, are but dead services: this accepts our imperfect services, after faith in it; that administered no strength to obey, but supposed it; this supposeth our inability to obey, and confers some strength for it: “I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes” (Ezek. 36:27). Again, in regard of the promises: the old covenant had good, but the new hath “better promises” (Heb. 8:6), of justification after guilt and sanctification after filth, and glorification at last of the whole man. In the first, there was provision against guilt, but none for the removal of it: provision against filth, but none for the cleansing of it; promise of happiness implied, but not so great a one as that “life and immortality” in heaven, “brought to light by the gospel” (2 Tim. 1:10). Why said to be “brought to light by the gospel?” because it was not only buried, upon the fall of man under the curses of the law, but it was not so obvious to the conceptions of man in his innocent state. Life indeed was implied to be promised upon his standing, but not so glorious an immortality disclosed, to be reserved for him, if he stood: as it is a covenant of better promises, so a covenant of sweeter comforts; comforts more choice, and comforts more durable; an “everlasting consolation, and a good hope” are the fruits of “grace,” i.e. the covenant of grace (2 Thess. 2:16). In the whole there is such a love disclosed, as cannot be expressed; the apostle leaves it to every man’s mind to conceive it, if he could, “What manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God” (1 John 3:1). It instates us in such a manner of the love of God as he bears to his Son, the image of his person John 17:23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. ESV
3. This goodness appears in the choice gift of himself which he hath made over in this covenant (Gen. 17:7). You know how it runs in Scripture: “I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Jer. 32:38): a propriety in the Deity is made over by it. As he gave the blood of his Son to seal the covenant, so he gave himself as the blessing of the covenant; “He is not ashamed to be called their God” (Heb. 11:16). Though he be environed with millions of angels, and presides over them in an inexpressible glory, he is not ashamed of his condescensions to man, and to pass over himself as the propriety of his people, as well as to take them to be his. It is a diminution of the sense of the place, to understand it of God, as Creator; what reason was there for God to be ashamed of the expressions of his power, wisdom, goodness, in the works of his hands? But we might have reason to think there might be some ground in God to be ashamed of making himself over in a deed of gift to a mean worm and filthy rebel; this might seem a disparagement to his majesty; but God is not ashamed of a title so mean, as the God of his despised people; a title below those others, of the “Lord of hosts, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders, riding on the wings of the wind, walking in the circuits of heaven.” He is no more ashamed of this title of being our God, than he is of those other that sound more glorious; he would rather have his greatness veil to his goodness, than his goodness be confined by his majesty; he is not only our God, but our God as he is the God of Christ: he is not ashamed to be our propriety, and Christ is not ashamed to own his people in a partnership with him in this propriety (John 20:17): “I ascend to my God, and your God.” This of God’s being our God, is the quintessence of the covenant, the soul of all the promises: in this he hath promised whatsoever is infinite in him, whatsoever is the glory and ornament of his nature, for our use; not a part of him, or one single perfection, but the whole vigor and strength of all. As he is not a God without infinite wisdom, and infinite power, and infinite goodness, and infinite blessedness, &c., so he passes over, in this covenant, all that which presents him as the most adorable Being to his creatures; he will be to them as great, as wise, as powerful, as good as he is in himself; and the assuring us, in this covenant, to be our God, imports also that he will do as much for us, as we would do for ourselves, were we furnished with the same goodness, power, and wisdom: in being our God, he testifies it is all one, as if we had the same perfections in our own power to employ for our use; for he being possessed with them, it is as much as if we ourselves were possessed with them, for our own advantage, according to the rules of wisdom, and the several conditions we pass through for his glory. But this must be taken with a relation to that wisdom, which he observes in his proceedings with us as creatures, and according to the several conditions we pass through for his glory. Thus God’s being ours is more than if all heaven and earth were ours besides; it is more than if we were fully our own, and at our own dispose; it makes “all things that God hath ours” (1 Cor. 3:22); and therefore, not only all things he hath created, but all things that he can create; not only all things that he hath contrived, but all things that he can contrive: for in being ours, his power is ours, his possible power as well as his active power; his power, whereby he can effect more than he hath done, and his wisdom, whereby he can contrive more than he hath done; so that if there were need of employing his power to create many worlds for our good, he would not stick at it; for if he did, he would not be our God, in the extent of his nature, as the promise intimates. What a rich goodness, and a fulness of bounty, is there in this short expression, as full as the expression of a God can make it, to be intelligible, to such creatures as we are!
4. This goodness is further manifest in the confirmation of the covenant. His goodness did not only condescend to make it for our happiness, after we had made ourselves miserable, but further condescended to ratify it in the solemnest manner for our assurance, to overrule all the despondencies unbelief could raise up in our souls. The reason why he confirmed it by an oath, was to show the immutability of his glorious counsel, not to tie himself to keep it, for his word and promise is in itself as immutable as his oath; they were “two immutable things, his word and his oath,” one as unchangeable as the other; but for the strength of our consolation, that it might have no reason to shake and totter (Heb. 6:17, 18): he would condescend as low as was possible for a God to do for the satisfaction of the dejected creature. When the first covenant was broken, and it was impossible for man to fulfil the terms of it, and mount to happiness thereby, he makes another; and, as if we had reason to distrust him in the first, he solemnly ratifies it in a higher manner than he had done the other, and swears by himself that he will be true to it, not so much out of an election of himself, as the object of the oath (Heb. 6:13): “Because he could not swear by a greater, he swears by himself;” whereby the apostle clearly intimates, that Divine goodness was raised to such a height for us, that if there had been anything else more sacred than himself, or that could have punished him if he had broken it, that he would have sworn by, to silence any diffidence in us, and confirm us in the reality of his intentions. Now if it were a mighty mark of goodness for God to stoop to a covenanting with us, it was more for a sovereign to bind himself so solemnly to be our debtor in a promise, as well as he was our sovereign in the precept, and stoop so low in it to satisfy the distrust of that creature, that deserved for ever to he soaking in his own ruins, for not believing his bare word. What absolute prince would ever stoop so low as to article with rebellious subjects, whom he could in a moment set his foot upon and crush; much less countenance a causeless distrust of his goodness by the addition of his oath, and thereby bind his own hands, which were unconfined before, and free to do what he pleased with them?
5. This goodness of God is remarkable also in the condition of this covenant which is faith. This was the easiest condition, in its own nature, that could be imagined; no difficulty in it but what proceeds from the pride of man’s nature, and the obstinacy of his will. It was not impossible in itself; it was not the old condition of perfect obedience. It had been mighty goodness to set us up again upon our old stock, and restore us to the tenor and condition of the covenant of works, or to have required the burdensome ceremonies of the law. Nor is it an exact knowledge he requires of us; all men’s understandings being of a different size, they had not been capable of this. It was the most reasonable condition, in regard of the excellency of the things proposed, and the effects following upon it; nay, it was necessary. It had been a want of goodness to himself and his own honor; he had cast that off, had he not insisted on this condition of faith, it being the lowest he could condescend to with a salvo for his glory. And it was a goodness to us; it is nothing else he requires, but a willingness to accept what he hath contrived and acted for us: and no man can be happy against his will; without this belief, at least, man could never voluntarily have arrived to his happiness. The goodness of God is evidenced in that.
[1st.] It is an easy condition, not impossible.
1. It was not the condition of the old covenant. The condition of that was an entire obedience to every precept with a man’s whole strength, and without any flaw or crack. But the condition of the evangelical covenant is a sincere, though weak, faith; He hath suited this covenant to the misery of man’s fallen condition; he considers our weakness, and that we are but dust, and therefore exacts not of us an entire, but a sincere, obedience. Had God sent Christ to expiate the crime of Adam, restore him to his paradise estate, and repair in man the ruined image of holiness, and after this to have renewed the covenant of works for the future, and settled the same condition in exacting a complete obedience for the time to come; Divine goodness had been above any accusation, and had deserved our highest admiration in the pardon of former transgressions, and giving out to us our first stock. But Divine goodness took larger strides: he had tried our first condition, and found his mutable creature quickly to violate it: had he demanded the same now, it is likely it had met with the same issue as before, in man’s disobedience and fall; we should have been as men, as Adam (Hos. 6:7), “transgressing the covenant;” and then we must have lain groaning under our disease, and wallowing in our blood, unless Christ had come to die for the expiation of our new crimes; for every transgression had been a violation of that covenant, and a forfeiture of our right to the benefits of it. If we had broke it but in one tittle, we had rendered ourselves incapable to fulfil it for the future; that one transgression had stood as a bar against the pleas of after-obedience. But God hath wholly laid that condition aside as to us, and settled that of faith, more easy to be performed, and to be renewed by us. It is infinite grace in him, that he will accept of faith in us, instead of that perfect obedience he required of us in the covenant of works.
2. It is easy, not like the burdensome ceremonies appointed under the law. He exacts not now the legal obedience, expensive sacrifices, troublesome purifications, and abstinences, that “yoke of bondage” (Gal. 5:1) which they were “not able to bear” (Acts 15:10). He treats us not as servants, or children, in their nonage, under the elements of the world, nor requires those innumerable bodily exercises that he exacted of them: he demands not “a thousand of lambs,” and “rivers of oil;” but he requires a sincere confession and repentance, in order to our absolution; an “unfeigned faith,” in order to our blessedness, and elevation to a glorious life. He requires only that we should believe what he saith, and have so good an opinion of his goodness and veracity, as to persuade ourselves of the reality of his intentions, confide in his word, and rely upon his promise, cordially embrace his crucified Son, whom he hath set forth as the means of our happiness, and have a sincere respect to all the discoveries of his will. What can be more easy than this? Though some in the days of the apostles, and others since have endeavored to introduce a multitude of legal burdens, as if they envied God the expressions of his goodness, or thought him guilty of too much remissness, in taking off the yoke, and treating man too favorably.
3. Nor is it a clear knowledge of every revelation, that is the condition of this covenant. God in his kindness to man hath made revelations of himself, but his goodness is manifested in obliging us to believe him, not fully to understand him. He hath made them, by sufficient testimonies, as clear to our faith, as they are incomprehensible to our reason: he hath revealed a Trinity of Persons, in their distinct offices, in the business of redemption, without which revelation of a Trinity we could not have a right notion and scheme of redeeming grace. But since the clearness of men’s understanding is sullied by the fall, and hath lost its wings to fly up to a knowledge of such sublime things as that of the Trinity, and other mysteries of the Christian religion, God hath manifested his goodness in not obliging us to understand them but to believe them; and hath given us reason enough to believe it to be his revelation, (both from the nature of the revelation itself, and the way and manner of propagating it, which is wholly divine, exceeding all the methods of human art,) though he hath not extended our understandings to a capacity to know them, and render a reason of every mystery. He did not require of every Israelite, or of any of them that were stung by the fiery serpents, that they should understand, or be able to discourse of the nature and qualities of that brass of which the serpent upon the pole was made, or what art that serpent was formed, or in what manner the sight of it did operate in them for their cure; it was enough that they did believe the institution and precept of God, and that their own cure was assured by it: it was enough if they cast their eyes upon it according to the direction. The understandings of men are of several sizes and elevations, one higher than another: if the condition of this covenant had been a greatness of knowledge, the most acute men had only enjoyed the benefits of it. But it is “faith,” which is as easy to be performed by the ignorant and simple, as by the strongest and most towering mind: it is that which is within the compass of every man’s understanding. God did not require that every one within the verge of the covenant should be able to discourse of it to the reasons of men; he required not that every man should be a philosopher, or an orator, but a believer. What could be more easy than to lift up the eye to the brazen serpent, to be cured of a fiery sting? What could be more facile than a glance, which is done without any pain, and in a moment? It is a condition may be performed by the weakest as well as the strongest: could those that were bitten in the most vital part cast up their eyes, though at the last gasp, they would arise to health by the expulsion of the venom.
[2d.] As it is easy, so it is reasonable. Repent and believe, is that which is required by Christ and the apostles for the enjoyment of the kingdom of heaven. It is very reasonable that things so great and glorious, so beneficial to men, and revealed to them by so sound an authority, and an unerring truth, should be believed. The excellency of the thing disclosed could admit of no lower a condition than to be believed and embraced. There is a sort of faith, that is a natural condition in everything: all religion in the world, though never so false, depends upon a sort of it; for unless there be a belief of future things, there would never be a hope of good, or a fear of evil, the two great hinges upon which religion moves. In all kinds of learning, many things must be believed before a progress can be made. Belief of one another is necessary in all acts of human life; without which human society would be unlinked and dissolved. What is that faith that God requires of us in this covenant, but a willingness of soul to take God for our God, Christ for our Mediator, and the procurer of our happiness (Rev. 22:17)? What prince could require less upon any promise he makes his subjects, than to be believed as true, and depended on as good; that they should accept his pardon, and other gracious offers, and be sincere in their allegiance to him, avoiding all things that may offend him, and pursuing all things that may please him? Thus God, by so small and reasonable a condition as faith, lets in the fruits of Christ’s death into our soul, and wraps us up in the fruition of all the privileges purchased by it. So much he hath condescended in his goodness, that upon so slight a condition we may plead his promise, and humbly challenge, by virtue of the covenant, those good things he hath promised in his word. It is so reasonable a condition, that if God did not require it in the covenant of grace, the creature were obliged to perform it: for the publishing any truth from God, naturally calls for credit to be given it by the creature, and an entertainment of it in practice. Could you offer a more reasonable condition yourselves, had it been left to your choice? Should a prince proclaim a pardon to a profligate wretch, would not all the word cry shame of him, if he did not believe it upon the highest assurances? and if ingenuity did not make him sorry for his crimes, and careful in the duty of a subject, surely the world would cry shame of such a person.
[3d.] It is a necessary condition.
1. Necessary for the honor of God. A prince is disparaged if his authority in his law, and if his graciousness in his promises, be not accepted and believed. What physician would undertake a cure, if his precepts may not be credited? It is the first thing in the order of nature, that the revelation of God should be believed, that the reality of his intentions in inviting man to the acceptance of those methods he hath prescribed for their attaining their chief happiness, should be acknowledged. It is a debasing notion of God, that he should give a happiness, purchased by Divine blood, to a person that hath no value for it, nor any abhorrency of those sins that occasioned so great a suffering, nor any will to avoid them: should he not vilify himself, to bestow a heaven upon that man that will not believe the offers of it, nor walk in those ways that lead to it? that walks so, as if he would declare there was no truth in his word, nor holiness in his nature? Would not God by such an act verify a truth in the language of their practice, viz. that he were both false and impure, careless of his word, and negligent of his holiness? As God was so desirous to ensure the consolation of believers, that if there had been a greater Being than himself to attest, and for him to be responsible to, for the confirmation of his promise, he would willingly have submitted to him, and have made him the umpire, “He swore by himself, because he could not swear by a greater” (Heb. 6:19); by the same reason, had it stood with the majesty and wisdom of God to stoop to lower conditions in this covenant, for the reducing of man to his duty and happiness, he would have done it; but his goodness could not take lower steps, with the preservation of the rights of his majesty, and the honor of his wisdom. Would you have had him wholly submitted to the obstinate will of a rebellious creature, and be ruled only by his terms? Would you have had him received men to happiness, after they had heightened their crimes by a contempt of his grace, as well as of his creating goodness, and have made them blessed under the guilt of their crimes without an acknowledgment? Should he glorify one that will not believe what he hath revealed, nor repent of what himself hath committed; and so save a man after a repeated unthankfulness to the most immense grace that ever was, or can be, discovered and offered, without a detestation of his ingratitude, and a voluntary acceptance of his offers? It is necessary, for the honor of God, that man should accept of his terms, and not give laws to him to whom he is obnoxious as a guilty person, as well as subject as a creature. Again, it was very equitable and necessary for the honor of God, that since man fell by an unbelief of his precept and threatening, he should not rise again without a belief of his promise, and casting himself upon his truth in that: since he had vilified the honor of his truth in the threatening; since man in his fall would lean to his own understanding against God, it is fit that, in his recovery, the highest powers of his soul, his understanding and will, should be subjected to him in an entire resignation. Now, whereas knowledge seems to have a power over its object, faith is a full submission to that which is the object of it. Since man intended a glorying in himself, the evangelical covenant directs its whole battery against it, that men may “glory in nothing but Divine goodness” (1 Cor. 1:29–31). Had man performed exact obedience by his own strength, he had had something in himself as the matter of his glory. And though, after the fall, grace had made itself illustrious in setting him up upon a new stock, yet had the same condition of exact obedience been settled in the same manner, man would have had something to glory in, which is struck off wholly by faith; whereby man in every act must go out of himself for a supply, to that Mediator which Divine goodness and grace hath appointed.
2. It is necessary for the happiness of man. That can be no contenting condition wherein the will of man doth not concur. He that is forced to the most delicious diet, or to wear the bravest apparel, or to be stored with abundance of treasure, cannot be happy in those things without an esteem of them, and delight in them: if they be nauseous to him, the indisposition of his mind is a dead fly in those boxes of precious ointment. Now, faith being a sincere willingness to accept of Christ, and to come to God by him, and repentance being a detestation of that which made man’s separation from God, it is impossible he could be voluntarily happy without it: man cannot attain and enjoy a true happiness without an operation of his understanding about the object proposed, and the means appointed to enjoy it. There must be a knowledge of what is offered, and of the way of it, and such a knowledge as may determine the will to affect that end, and embrace those means; which the will can never do, till the understanding be fully persuaded of the truth of the offerer, and the goodness of the proposal itself, and the conveniency of the means for the attaining of it. It is necessary, in the nature of the thing, that what is revealed should be believed to be a Divine revelation. God must be judged true in the promising justification and sanctification, the means of happiness; and if any man desires to be partaker of those promises, he must desire to be sanctified; and how can he desire that which is the matter of those, promises, if he wallow in his own lusts, and desire to do so, a thing repugnant to the promise itself? Would you have God force man to be happy against his will? Is it not very reasonable he should demand the consent of his reasonable creature to that blessedness he offers him? The new covenant is a “marriage covenant” (Hos. 2:16, 19, 20), which implies a consent on our parts, as well as a consent on God’s part that is no marriage that hath not the consent of both parties. Now faith is our actual consent, and repentance and sincere obedience are the testimonies of the truth and reality of this consent.
6th. Divine goodness is eminent in his methods of treating with men to embrace this covenant. They are methods of gentleness and sweetness: it is a wooing goodness, and a bewailing goodness; his expressions are with strong motions of affection: he carrieth not on the gospel by force of arms: he doth not solely menace men into it, as worldly conquerors have done; he doth not, as Mahomet, plunder men’s estates, and wound their bodies, to imprint a religion on their souls: he doth not erect gibbets, and kindle faggots, to scare men to an entering into covenant with him. What multitudes might he have raised by his power, as well as others! What legions of angels might he have rendezvoused from heaven, to have beaten men into a profession of the gospel! Nor doth he only interpose his sovereign authority in the precept of faith, but useth rational expostulations, to move men voluntarily to comply with his proposals (Isa. 1:18), “Come now, and let us reason together,” saith the Lord. He seems to call heaven and earth to be judge, whether he had been wanting in any reasonable ways of goodness, to overcome the perversity of the creature; (Isa. 1:2), “Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth, I have nourished and brought up children.” What various encouragements doth he use agreeable to the nature of men, endeavoring to persuade them with all tenderness, not to despise their own mercies, and be enemies to their own happiness! He would allure us by his beauty, and win us by his mercy. He uses the arms of his own excellency and our necessity to prevail upon us, and this after the highest provocations. When Adam had trampled upon his creating goodness, it was not crushed; and when man had cast it from him, it took the higher rebound: when the rebel’s provocation was fresh in his mind, he sought him out with a promise in his hand, though Adam fled from him out of enmity as well as fear (Gen. 3.). And when the Jews had outraged his Son, whom he loved from eternity, and made the Lord of heaven and earth bow down his head like a slave on the cross, yet in that place, where the most horrible wickedness had been committed, must the gospel be preached: the law must go forth out of that Sion, and the apostles must not stir from thence till they had received the promise of the Spirit, and published the word of grace in that ungrateful city, whose inhabitants yet swelled with indignation against the Lord of Life, and the doctrine he had preached among them (Luke 24:47; Acts 1:4, 5). He would overlook their indignities out of tenderness to their souls, and expose the apostles to the peril of their lives, rather than expose his enemies to the fury of the devil.
1. How affectionately doth he invite men! What multitudes of alluring promises and pressing exhortations are there everywhere sprinkled in the Scripture, and in such a passionate manner, as if God were solely concerned in our good, without a glance on his own glory! How tenderly doth he woo flinty hearts, and express more pity to them than they do to themselves! With what affection do his bowels rise up to his lips in his speech in the prophet, Isa. 51:4: “Hearken to me, O my people, and give ear unto me, O my nation!” “My people,” “my nation!” — melting expressions of a tender God soliciting a rebellious people to make their retreat to him. He never emptied his hand of his bounty, nor divested his lips of those charitable expressions. He sent Noah to move the wicked of the old world to an embracing of his goodness, and frequent prophets to the provoking Jews; and as the world continued, and grew up to a taller stature in sin, he stoops more in the manner of his expressions. Never was the world at a higher pitch of idolatry than at the first publishing the gospel; yet, when we should have expected him to be a punishing, he is a beseeching God. The apostle fears not to use the expression for the glory of Divine goodness, “We are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us” (2 Cor. 5:20). The beseeching voice of God is in the voice of the ministry, as the voice of the prince is in that of the herald: it is as if Divine goodness did kneel down to a sinner with ringed hands and blubbered cheeks, entreating him not to force him to re-assume a tribunal of justice in the nature of a Judge, since he would treat with man upon a throne of grace in the nature of a Father; yea, he seems to put himself into the posture of the criminal, that the offending creature might not feel the punishment due to a rebel. It is not the condescension, but the interest, of a traitor to creep upon his knees in sackcloth to his sovereign, to beg his life; but it is a miraculous goodness in the sovereign to creep in the lowest posture to the rebel, to importune him, not only for an amity to him, but a love for his own life and happiness: this He doth, not only in his general proclamations, but in his particular wooings, those inward courtings of his Spirits, soliciting them with more diligence (if they would observe it) to their happiness, than the devil tempts them to the ways of their misery: as he was first in Christ, reconciling the world, when the world looked not after him, so he is first in his Spirit, wooing the world to accept of that reconciliation, when the world will not listen to him. How often doth he flash up the light of nature and the light of the word in men’s hearts, to move them not to lie down in sparks of their own kindling, but to aspire to a better happiness, and prepare them to be subject to a higher mercy, if they would improve his present entreaties to such an end! And what are his threatenings designed for, but to move the wheel of our fears, that the wheel of our desire and love might be set on motion for the embracing his promise? They are not so much the thunders of his justice, as the loud rhetoric of his good will, to prevent men’s misery under the vials of wrath: it is his kindness to scare men by threatenings, that justice might not strike them with the sword: it is not the destruction, but the preserving reformation, that he aims at: he hath no pleasure in the death of the wicked; this he confirms by his oath. His threatenings are gracious expostulations with them: “Why will ye die, O house of Israel” (Ezek. 33:11)? They are like the noise a favorable officer makes in the street, to warn the criminal he comes to seize upon, to make his escape: he never used his justice to crush men, till he had used his kindness to allure them. All the dreadful descriptions of a future wrath, as well as the lively descriptions of the happiness of another world, are designed to persuade men; the honey of his goodness is in the bowels of those roaring lions: such pains doth Goodness take with men, to make them candidates for heaven.
2. How readily doth he receive men when they do return! We have David’s experience for it (Psalm 32:5); “I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord; and thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin. Selah.” A sincere look from the creature draws out his arms, and opens his bosom; he is ready with his physic to heal us, upon a resolution to acquaint him with our disease, and by his medicines prevents the putting our resolution into a petition. The Psalmist adds a “Selah” to it, as a special note of thankfulness for Divine goodness. He doth not only stand ready to receive our petitions while we are speaking, but answers us before we call (Isa. 65:24); listening to the motions of our heart, as well as to the supplications of our lips. He is the true Father, that hath a quicker pace in meeting, than the prodigal hath in returning; who would not have his embraces and caresses interrupted by his confession (Luke 15:20–22); the confession follows, doth not precede, the Father’s compassion. How doth he rejoice in having an opportunity to express his grace, when he hath prevailed with a reel to throw down his arms, and lie at his feet; and this because “he delights in mercy” (Micah 7:18)! He delights in the expressions of it from himself, and the acceptance of it by his creature.
3. How meltingly doth he bewail man’s wilful refusal of his goodness! It is a mighty goodness to offer grace to a rebel; a mighty goodness to give it him after he hath a while stood off from the terms; an astonishing goodness to regret and lament his wilful perdition. He seems to utter those words in a sigh, “O that my people had hearkened unto me, and Israel had walked in my way” (Psalm 81:13)! It is true, God hath not human passions, but his affections cannot be expressed otherwise in a way intelligible to us; the excellency of his nature is above the passions of men; but such expressions of himself manifest to us the sincerity of his goodness: and that, were he capable of our passions, he would express himself in such a manner as we do: and we find incarnate Goodness bewailing with tears and sighs the ruin of Jerusalem (Luke 19:42). By the same reason that when a sinner returns there is joy in heaven, upon his obstinacy there is sorrow in earth. The one is, as if a prince should clothe all his court in triumphant scarlet, upon a rebel’s repentance; and the other, as if a prince put himself and his court in mourning for a rebel’s obstinate refusal of a pardon, when he lies at his mercy. Are not now these affectionate invitations, and deep bewailings of their perversity, high testimonies of Divine goodness? Do not the unwearied repetitions of gracious encouragements deserve a higher name than that of mere goodness? What can be a stronger evidence of the sincerity of it, than the sound of his saving voice in our enjoyments, the motion of his Spirit in our hearts, and his grief for the neglect of all? These are not testimonies of any want of goodness in his nature to answer us, or unwillingness to express it to his creature. Hath he any mind to deceive us, that thus intreats us? The majesty of his nature is too great for such shifts; or, if it were not, the despicableness of our condition would render him above the using any. Who would charge that physician with want of kindness, that freely offers his sovereign medicine, importunes men, by the love they have to their health, to take it, and is dissolved into tears and sorrow when he finds it rejected by their peevish and conceited humor?
7th. Divine goodness is eminent in the sacraments he hath affixed to this covenant, especially the Lord’s supper. As he gave himself in his Son, so he gives his Son in the sacrament; he doth not only give him as a sacrifice upon the cross for the expiation of our crimes, but as a feast upon the table for the nourishment of our souls: in the one he was given to be offered; in this he gives him to be partaken of, with all the fruits of his death; under the image of the sacramental signs, every believer doth eat the flesh, and drink the blood of the great Mediator of the covenant. The words of Christ, “This is my body, and this is my blood,” are true to the end of the world (Matt. 26:26, 28). This is the most delicious viand of heaven, the most exquisite dainty food God can feed us with: the delight of the Deity, the admiration of angels; a feast with God is great, but a feast on God is greater. Under those signs that body is presented; that which was conceived by the Spirit, inhabited by the Godhead, bruised by the Father to be our food, as well as our propitiation, is presented to us on the table. That blood which satisfied justice, washed away our guilt on the cross, and pleads for our persons at the throne of grace; that blood which silenced the curse, pacified heaven, and purged earth, is given to us for our refreshment. This is the bread sent from heaven, the true manna; the cup is “the cup of blessing,” and, therefore, a cup of goodness (1 Cor. 10:15). It is true, bread doth not cease to be bread, nor the wine cease to be wine; neither of them lose their substance, but both acquire a sanctification, by the relation they have to that which they represent, and give a nourishment to that faith that receives them. In those God offers us a remedy for the sting of sin, and troubles of conscience; he gives us not the blood of a mere man, or the blood of an incarnate angel, but of God blessed forever; a blood that can secure us against the wrath of heaven, and the tumults of our consciences; a blood that can wash away our sins, and beautify our souls; a blood that hath more strength than our filth, and more prevalency than our accuser; a blood that secures us against the terrors of death, and purifies us for the blessedness of heaven. The goodness of God complies with our senses, and condescends to our weakness; he instructs us by the eye, as well as by the ear; he lets us see, and taste, and feel him, as well as hear him; he veils his glory under earthly elements, and informs our understanding in the mysteries of salvation by signs familiar to our senses; and because we cannot with our bodily eyes behold him in his glory, he presents him to the eyes of our minds in elements, to affect our understandings in the representations of his death. The body of Christ crucified is more visible to our spiritual sense, than the invisible Deity could be visible in his flesh upon earth; and the power of his body and blood is as well experimented in our souls, as the power of his Divinity was seen by the Jews in his miraculous actions in his body in the world. It is the goodness of God, to mind us frequently of the great things Christ hath purchased; that as himself would not let them be out of his mind, to communicate them to us, so he would give us means to preserve them in our minds, to adore him for them, and request them of him; whereby he doth evidence his own solicitousness, that we should not be deprived by our own forgetfulness of that grace Christ hath purchase for us; it was to remember the Redeemer, “and show his death till he came” (1 Cor. 11:25, 26).
The Existence and Attributes of God