You Must Be Born AgainJohn 3:1 Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2 This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” 3 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” 5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
9 Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? 11 Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
(Eze 36:23–32) 23 And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the LORD, declares the Lord GOD, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes. 24 I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. 25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. 28 You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God. 29 And I will deliver you from all your uncleannesses. And I will summon the grain and make it abundant and lay no famine upon you. 30 I will make the fruit of the tree and the increase of the field abundant, that you may never again suffer the disgrace of famine among the nations. 31 Then you will remember your evil ways, and your deeds that were not good, and you will loathe yourselves for your iniquities and your abominations. 32 It is not for your sake that I will act, declares the Lord GOD; let that be known to you. Be ashamed and confounded for your ways, O house of Israel.
For God So Loved the World16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
... is the principle that the implicit must be interpreted by the explicit, rather than the explicit interpreted by the implicit. This particular rule of interpretation is violated constantly. For example, we read in John 3:16 that “whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life,” and many of us conclude that since the Bible teaches that anyone who believes shall be saved, it therefore implies that anyone can, without the prior regenerative work of the Holy Spirit, exercise belief. That is, since the call to believe is given to everyone, it implies that everyone has the natural ability to fulfill the call. Yet the same gospel writer has Jesus explaining to us three chapters later that no one can come to Jesus unless it is given to him of the Father (6:65). That is, our moral ability to come to Christ is explicitly and specifically taught to be lacking apart from the sovereign grace of God. Therefore, all of the implications that suggest otherwise must be subsumed under the explicit teaching, rather than forcing the explicit teaching into conformity to implications that we draw from the text. Knowing Scripture, R.C. Sproul17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. 21 But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”
John the Baptist Exalts Christ22 After this Jesus and his disciples went into the Judean countryside, and he remained there with them and was baptizing. 23 John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because water was plentiful there, and people were coming and being baptized 24 (for John had not yet been put in prison).
25 Now a discussion arose between some of John’s disciples and a Jew over purification. 26 And they came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness—look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him.” 27 John answered, “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven. 28 You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’ 29 The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. 30 He must increase, but I must decrease.”
31 He who comes from above is above all. He who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks in an earthly way. He who comes from heaven is above all. 32 He bears witness to what he has seen and heard, yet no one receives his testimony. 33 Whoever receives his testimony sets his seal to this, that God is true. 34 For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure. 35 The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand. 36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.
Jesus and the Woman of SamariaJohn 4 1 Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John 2 (although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples), 3 he left Judea and departed again for Galilee. 4 And he had to pass through Samaria. 5 So he came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there; so Jesus, wearied as he was from his journey, was sitting beside the well. It was about the sixth hour.
7 A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” 8 (For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.) 9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) 10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” 11 The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.” 13 Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” 15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.”
16 Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” 17 The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.” 19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.”
27 Just then his disciples came back. They marveled that he was talking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you seek?” or, “Why are you talking with her?” 28 So the woman left her water jar and went away into town and said to the people, 29 “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” 30 They went out of the town and were coming to him.
31 Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, saying, “Rabbi, eat.” 32 But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” 33 So the disciples said to one another, “Has anyone brought him something to eat?” 34 Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work. 35 Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest. 36 Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. 37 For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ 38 I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”
39 Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me all that I ever did.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them, and he stayed there two days. 41 And many more believed because of his word. 42 They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.”
43 After the two days he departed for Galilee. 44 (For Jesus himself had testified that a prophet has no honor in his own hometown.) 45 So when he came to Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him, having seen all that he had done in Jerusalem at the feast. For they too had gone to the feast.
Jesus Heals an Official’s Son46 So he came again to Cana in Galilee, where he had made the water wine. And at Capernaum there was an official whose son was ill. 47 When this man heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went to him and asked him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death. 48 So Jesus said to him, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” 49 The official said to him, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” 50 Jesus said to him, “Go; your son will live.” The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way. 51 As he was going down, his servants met him and told him that his son was recovering. 52 So he asked them the hour when he began to get better, and they said to him, “Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.” 53 The father knew that was the hour when Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.” And he himself believed, and all his household. 54 This was now the second sign that Jesus did when he had come from Judea to Galilee.
Four Self-Refuting Statements Heard on College Campuses Across America
By J. Warner Wallace 5/9/2016
If I began this post by asserting, “I can’t write a word of English,” you’d probably recognize the contradiction. My sentence betrays its own claim, doesn’t it? Such is the nature of self-refuting statements. Wikipedia describes such utterances as “statements whose falsehood is a logical consequence of the act or situation of holding them to be true.” You might be surprised how often people are prone to saying something that is self-refuting, but there are number of common statements we hear (or use) every day that fall into this category:
“Don’t bother me, I am asleep right now”
“I’m not going to respond to that”
“I can’t talk to you right now”
There are times when our words collapse under their own weight. As I train university aged Christians around the country and listen carefully to their common college experiences, I’ve started to collect some of the more popular self-refuting statements uttered by college professors. Here are the top four:
“There is no objective truth” / “Objective truth does not exist” | Perhaps the most obviously self-refuting, this claim (or something similar to it) is still uttered in many university settings according to the students I train. Like all self-refuting claims, it can be cross-checked by simply turning the statement on itself. By asking, “Is that statement objectively true?” we can quickly see that the person making the claim believes in at least one objective truth: that there is no objective truth. See the problem?
“If objective truth does exist, no one could ever know with confidence what it is” / “It’s arrogant to assume you know the truth with certainty” | Once again, the professor who makes such a claim appears to be confident and certain of one truth: that no one can be confident or certain of the truth! The statement falls on its own sword the moment it is uttered.
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 the Country’s Largest White Presbyterian Church Became Multiethnic
By Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra 11/2/2017
Craig Strickland planted Hope Church—the largest white Presbyterian congregation in America with about 6,600 weekly attendees—back before church planting was cool.
He had been working at Second Presbyterian Church in Memphis, watching “people from the Baptist church leaving to join the Presbyterian church, where people were leaving to join the Methodist church. We weren’t putting any new fish in the bowl.”
Strickland wanted to make changes, but as the executive pastor, he wasn’t exactly the guy in charge. And “to be fair, I wasn’t getting any job offers from other churches looking for a senior pastor,” he said.
So he decided to start his own. It was 1988, the era of Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church and Bill Hybels’s Willow Creek Community Church, when the formula for church planting was clear:
You Cannot Handle Your Pain Looking for God in Lament
By J.A. Medders 7/2/2017
Do you know how to lament?
Pain, suffering, sorrow, illness, and grief are unavoidable in this world — but God has given us a way to find hope in the rubble of life. Lament is an underground tunnel to hope.
An entire book of the Bible is an exercise in lamenting before the Lord. We have numerous psalms of lament. So, why don’t we lament more in the church today? Why do we put the noise-cancelling headphones over our hearts, keeping ourselves busy to avoid the pain? Let’s not busy ourselves to avoid lamenting; let’s learn to lament well.
Relearning Our Humanity | Of course, we want to avoid suffering, grief, and trauma, but the reality is we can’t. The rippling effects of Adam and Eve gnashing into that fruit still affects us and the world today.
Everyone we know and love will return to the dust. Family members will hear heavy words from their doctor. Great loss will strike dear friends. We will weep. And pretending like we can manage our sufferings on our own won’t help. We weren’t built to handle them. We need the body of Christ — and we need Christ himself, our sympathetic High Priest, the man of sorrows, the one who shouldered our grief.
He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not How to Know God Really Loves You
By Greg Morse 11/2/2017
Class that day began so peacefully.
My university professor began the Christian Love and Marriage class with a “fun little assignment to get the creative juices flowing.”
The task was simple: Draw what you think of when you envision the love of God.
She went around and handed out crayons and blank sheets of paper for our project. We had fifteen minutes.
The first five I just sat there. How could I, who could barely draw straight lines for stickmen, draw the love of God?
The End Of Christendom
By Eamon Duffy 11/2016
Next year marks the fifth centenary of one of the few precisely datable historical events that can be said to have changed the world forever. In 1517, an unknown German professor from an undistinguished new university protested against the sordid trade in religious benefits known as “indulgences,” which were then being peddled around Germany to fund grandiose plans to rebuild St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Martin Luther’s protest initially took the form of a public challenge to an academic debate on a swathe of theological niceties. But this was the first age of print, and Luther was a publicist of genius. His list of topics for debate, in the form of Ninety-Five Theses, was printed as a broadsheet (though the legend that he nailed them to a church door is, sadly, probably untrue). The theses nonetheless became the world’s most improbable bestseller. What might have been a technical academic exercise in a Wittenberg lecture hall rapidly escalated into a fundamental questioning of the theological underpinning of Western Christianity. In its wake, Europe divided, roughly north and south, and the peoples of Europe were pitched into a series of murderous ideological wars in which tens of thousands died, and during which the religious, cultural, and political map of Europe was redrawn. We are all still living with the consequences.
This religious and cultural earthquake has traditionally been known as the Reformation, a loaded term with which Catholics have never been comfortable. To dub these transformations as a Reformation implies that something that had gone radically wrong was put right, that a good form of Christianity replaced a bad one. The fact that the term has traditionally been capitalized and used in the singular also poses a problem. The new religious identities and communities which emerged from these conflicts—Lutheran, Calvinist, Anglican, and the more radical groupings often lumped together under the name “Anabaptist”—did indeed share some beliefs and attitudes in common. They all prioritized the written Word of God in the Bible over traditional Church teaching and discipline, and they all vehemently rejected the papacy and the allegedly materialistic religious system which the papacy headed. But they were divided among themselves—often lethally—on almost everything else. Within a single generation of Luther’s protest, “Protestants” were excommunicating, fighting, and persecuting each other, as well as the common Catholic enemy, and many were calling for a reform of the Reformation.
Even the timescale traditionally assumed has now been challenged. In the older and mainly Protestant historiography, the overthrow of Catholicism almost everywhere in Northeastern Europe, and its replacement by “reformed” versions of Christianity, was seen as a swift process. Since medieval Catholicism was believed to have been corrupt, decadent, priest-ridden, and therefore unpopular with the laity, it was taken for granted that it could have offered little resistance to the reformers’ message. And so histories of the Reformation were conventionally histories of events in the early and middle sixteenth century. Only recently has the notion of a “long reformation” gained currency. Studies of the problems that Protestant officialdom encountered in uprooting deeply entrenched popular beliefs, practices, and loyalties, and in inculcating new beliefs and disciplines, have brought home the realization that after the first energies of “reformation” had passed, consolidating new religious identities at the grassroots level was almost everywhere a difficult and painful process, stretching over decades and even centuries. This realization requires a drastic rethinking, still very much in process, of much that was taken for granted in the older accounts. Some of that rethinking has been done under the rubric of the history of “confessionalization,” a term used to denote the deployment of religion to create or reinforce social and political identities. But this approach has brought its own problems, tending as it does to reduce religion to an instrument of social control and political manipulation.
Against the background of these shifts in historical understanding, an avalanche of biographies of Luther and histories of the religious revolution he launched has begun ahead of next year’s quincentenary. Few of them will rival the sheer scale and ambition of Carlos Eire’s new survey. Eire is one of America’s most distinguished historians of early modern religion, and his absorption of the newer historiography is proclaimed in the fact that his book is entitled Reformations, in the plural. His book “accepts the concept of multiple Reformations wholeheartedly,” and seeks to deepen the concept by paying equal attention “to all the different movements and churches that emerged in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, stressing their interrelatedness.” The ambition to present a synoptic account of the multiple sixteenth-century movements for religious “reform,” Catholic and Protestant, has led some historians to search for a single interpretative framework for the reform impulse, to suggest that fundamental similarities underlay sixteenth-century religious reform wherever it occurred. So, the French Catholic historian Jean Delumeau proposed that we should understand both the emergence of Protestantism and the transformation of Catholicism after Trent as twin aspects of a process of “Christianization.” On this account, both Catholic and Protestant reformers labored to replace the inherited half-pagan folk religion of late medieval Europe with something more authentically Christian, focused on the person of Christ rather than often legendary saints, prioritizing orthodox catechesis and preaching over quasi-magical ritual, and imposing religious and moral discipline on a reluctant populace.
Rejecting the negative judgments implicit in Delumeau’s notion of “Christianization,” the English historian John Bossy, himself by upbringing and education a Catholic, offered a rather less benign overarching analysis of the Catholic and Protestant reformations of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The central contention of Bossy’s short but scintillating Christianity in the West was that medieval Christianity had been fundamentally concerned with the creation and maintenance of peace in a violent world. “Christianity” in medieval Europe denoted neither an ideology nor an institution, but a community of believers whose religious ideal—constantly aspired to if seldom attained—was peace and mutual love. The sacraments and sacramentals of the medieval Church were not half-pagan magic, but instruments of the “social miracle,” rituals designed to defuse hostility and create extended networks of fraternity, spiritual “kith and kin,” by reconciling enemies and consolidating the community in charity.
- 1 Reformation Divided: Catholics, Protestants and the Conversion of England
- 2 The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England, 1400-1580
- 3 The Voices of Morebath: Reformation and Rebellion in an English Village
- 4 Ten Popes Who Shook the World
- 5 Saints and Sinners: A History of the Popes; Fourth Edition
- 6 Fires of Faith: Catholic England under Mary Tudor
- 7 Marking the Hours: English People and Their Prayers, 1240-1570
- 8 Faith of Our Fathers (Continuum Icons)
- 9 The Heart in Pilgrimage: A Prayerbook for Catholic Christians
- 10 Walking to Emmaus
- 11 Faith of Our Fathers: Reflections on Catholic Tradition
- 12 Saints, Sacrilege and Sedition
- 13 The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England, 1400-1580
- 14 The Voices of Morebath: Reformation and Rebellion in an English Village
- 15 Reformation Divided: Catholics, Protestants and the Conversion of England
- 16 The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England, 1400-1580
- 17 Marking the Hours: English People and Their Prayers, 1240-1570
- 18 Saints and Sinners: A History of the Popes; Fourth Edition
- 19 Fires of Faith: Catholic England under Mary Tudor
- 20 Ten Popes Who Shook the World
The Story of Martin Luther’s Conversion
By Stephen Nichols 10/28/2017
The actual date of Martin Luther’s conversion is disputed. Some place it before the posting of the Ninety-Five Theses; some put it before the Heidelberg Disputation. It is highly likely, however, that Luther’s conversion came in 1519. In reading the whole of the Ninety-Five Theses, it is clear that Luther still held on to a number of formative Roman Catholic doctrines. At that point, he was not in favor of jettisoning the whole of it; he sought instead to correct and purify it from the corruptions that he saw as creeping in during the 1200s through the early 1500s. The corruption culminated in the indulgence sale of Tetzel and Albert and the relic exhibit at Wittenberg. There is also Luther’s own testimony that his “breakthrough” came while he was lecturing through the Psalms a second time. Those lectures were given in the early months of 1519. Many years later, in 1545, Luther reflected on his conversion, and offered up an extraordinary account of this event, one that hinges on understanding the difference between the active and the passive. So, Luther tells us:
Meanwhile, I had already during that year returned to interpret the Psalter anew. I had confidence in the fact that I was more skilful, after I had lectured in the university on St. Paul’s epistles to the Romans, to the Galatians, and the one to the Hebrews. I had indeed been captivated with an extraordinary ardor for understanding Paul in the Epistle to the Romans. But up till then it was not the cold blood about the heart, but a single word in Chapter 1, “In it the righteousness of God is revealed” that had stood in my way. For I hated that word “righteousness of God,” which, according to the use and custom of all the teachers, I had been taught to understand philosophically regarding the formal or active righteousness, as they call it, with which God is righteous and punishes the unrighteous sinner.
Though I lived as a monk without reproach, I felt that I was a sinner before God with an extremely disturbed conscience. I could not believe that he was placated by my satisfaction. I did not love, yes, I hated the righteous God who punishes sinners, and secretly, if not blasphemously, certainly murmuring greatly, I was angry with God, and said, As if, indeed, it is not enough, that miserable sinners, eternally lost through original sin, are crushed by every kind of calamity by the law of the decalogue, without having God add pain to pain by the gospel and also by the gospel threatening us with his righteousness and wrath!” Thus I raged with a fierce and troubled conscience.
Nevertheless, I beat importunately upon Paul at that place, most ardently desiring to know what St. Paul wanted. At last, by the mercy of God, meditating day and night, I gave heed to the context of the words, namely, “In it the righteousness of God is revealed, as it is written, ‘He who through faith is righteous shall live.’” There I began to understand that the righteousness of God is that by which the righteous lives by a gift of God, namely by faith. And this is the meaning: the righteousness of God is revealed by the gospel, namely, the passive righteousness with which merciful God justifies us by faith, as it is written, “He who through faith is righteous shall live.” Here I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates. There a totally other face of the entire Scripture showed itself to me.
Thereupon I ran through the Scripture from memory. I also found in other terms an analogy, as, the work of God, that is what God does in us, the power of God, with which he makes us wise, the strength of God, the salvation of God, the glory of God. And I extolled my sweetest word with a love as great as the hatred with which I had before hated the word “righteousness of God.” Thus that place in Paul was for me truly the gate to paradise.
Dr. Stephen J. Nichols Books | Go to Books Page
The Necessity of the Reformation
By W. Robert Godfrey
The church is always in need of reform. Even in the New Testament, we see Jesus rebuking Peter, and we see Paul correcting the Corinthians. Since Christians are always sinners, the church will always need reform. The question for us, however, is when does the need become an absolute necessity?
The great Reformers of the sixteenth century concluded that reform was urgent and necessary in their day. In pursuing reform for the church, they rejected two extremes. On the one hand, they rejected those who insisted that the church was essentially sound and needed no fundamental changes. On the other hand, they rejected those who believed that they could create a perfect church in every detail. The church needed fundamental reform, but it would also always need to be reforming itself. The Reformers reached these conclusions from their study of the Bible.
In 1543, the Reformer of Strasbourg, Martin Bucer, asked John Calvin to write a defense of the Reformation for presentation to Emperor Charles V at the imperial diet set to meet at Speyer in 1544. Bucer knew that the Roman Catholic emperor was surrounded by counselors who were maligning reform efforts in the church, and he believed that Calvin was the most capable minister to defend the Protestant cause.
Calvin rose to the challenge and wrote one of his best works, “The Necessity of Reforming the Church.” This substantial treatise did not convince the emperor, but it has come to be regarded by many as the best presentation of the Reformed cause ever written.
Calvin begins by observing that everyone agreed that the church had “diseases both numerous and grievous.” Calvin argues that matters were so serious that Christians could not abide a “longer delay” for reform or wait for “slow remedies.” He rejects the contention that the Reformers were guilty of “rash and impious innovation.” Rather, he insists that “God raised up Luther and others” to preserve “the truth of our religion.” Calvin saw that the foundations of Christianity were threatened and that only biblical truth would renew the church.
W. Robert Godfrey Books | Go to Books Page
Uncovering Treasures in Paul’s Shortest Letter
By Justin Taylor 11/9/2017
I have a confession to make, one that may sound a little strange: Of all the apostle Paul’s epistles, I think his shortest—the letter to Philemon—may be my favorite.
I’m glad it’s not the only Pauline letter that we have. But it would be a great loss to the church if this little book were not preserved in the canon.
Over the past couple of years, I’ve read through the letter countless times, and I can attest from experience that there are many treasures—unique pieces of insight and wisdom—just waiting to be uncovered.
The Background | The apostle Paul—under house arrest in Rome—dictated a letter to his friend Philemon.
Philemon, a wealthy Christian who hosted a house church in Colossae, had likely converted to Christ years earlier through Paul’s ministry in Ephesus.
Read The Psalms In "1" Year
Psalm 119119 LAMEDH
119:89 Forever, O LORD, your word
is firmly fixed in the heavens.
90 Your faithfulness endures to all generations;
you have established the earth, and it stands fast.
91 By your appointment they stand this day,
for all things are your servants.
92 If your law had not been my delight,
I would have perished in my affliction.
93 I will never forget your precepts,
for by them you have given me life.
94 I am yours; save me,
for I have sought your precepts.
95 The wicked lie in wait to destroy me,
but I consider your testimonies.
96 I have seen a limit to all perfection,
but your commandment is exceedingly broad.
Fox's Book Of Martyrs
By John Foxe 1563
A Narrative of the Piedmontese WarThe massacres and murders already mentioned to have been committed in the valleys of Piedmont, nearly depopulated most of the towns and villages. One place only had not been assaulted, and that was owing to the difficulty of approaching it; this was the little commonalty of Roras, which was situated upon a rock.
As the work of blood grew slack in other places, the earl of Christople, one of the duke of Savoy's officers, determined, if possible, to make himself master of it; and, with that view, detached three hundred men to surprise it secretly.
The inhabitants of Roras, however, had intelligence of the approach of these troops, when captain Joshua Gianavel, a brave Protestant officer, put himself at the head of a small body of the citizens, and waited in ambush to attack the enemy in a small defile.
When the troops appeared, and had entered the defile, which was the only place by which the town could be approached, the Protestants kept up a smart and well-directed fire against them, and still kept themselves concealed behind bushes from the sight of the enemy. A great number of the soldiers were killed, and the remainder receiving a continued fire, and not seeing any to whom they might return it, thought proper to retreat.
The members of this little community then sent a memorial to the marquis of Pianessa, one of the duke's general officers, setting forth, 'That they were sorry, upon any occasion, to be under the necessity of taking up arms; but that the secret approach of a body of troops, without any reason assigned, or any previous notice sent of the purpose of their coming, had greatly alarmed them; that as it was their custom never to suffer any of the military to enter their little community, they had repelled force by force, and should do so again; but in all other respects, they professed themselves dutiful, obedient, and loyal subjects to their sovereign, the duke of Savoy.'
The marquis of Pianessa, that he might have the better opportunity of deluding and surprising the Protestants of Roras, sent them word in answer, 'That he was perfectly satisfied with their behavior, for they had done right, and even rendered a service to their country, as the men who had attempted to pass the defile were not his troops, or sent by him, but a band of desperate robbers, who had, for some time, infested those parts, and been a terror to the neighboring country.' To give a greater color to his treachery, he then published an ambiguous proclamation seemingly favorable to the inhabitants.
Yet, the very day after this plausible proclamation, and specious conduct, the marquis sent five hundred men to possess themselves of Roras, while the people as he thought, were lulled into perfect security by his specious behavior.
Captain Gianavel, however, was not to be deceived so easily: he, therefore, laid an ambuscade for this body of troops, as he had for the former, and compelled them to retire with very considerable loss.
Though foiled in these two attempts, the marquis of Pianessa determined on a third, which should be still more formidable; but first he imprudently published another proclamation, disowning any knowledge of the second attempt.
Soon after, seven hundred chosen men were sent upon the expedition, who, in spite of the fire from the Protestants, forced the defile, entered Roras, and began to murder every person they met with, without distinction of age or sex. The Protestant captain Gianavel, at the head of a small body, though he had lost the defile, determined to dispute their passage through a fortified pass that led to the richest and best part of the town. Here he was successful, by keeping up a continual fire, and by means of his men being all complete marksmen. The Roman Catholic commander was greatly staggered at this opposition, as he imagined that he had surmounted all difficulties. He, however, did his endeavors to force the pass, but being able to bring up only twelve men in front at a time, and the Protestants being secured by a breastwork, he found he should be baffled by the handful of men who opposed him.
Enraged at the loss of so many of his troops, and fearful of disgrace if he persisted in attempting what appeared so impracticable, he thought it the wisest thing to retreat. Unwilling, however, to withdraw his men by the defile at which he had entered, on account of the difficulty and danger of the enterprise, he determined to retreat towards Vilario, by another pass called Piampra, which though hard of access, was easy of descent. But in this he met with disappointment, for Captain Gianavel having posted his little band here, greatly annoyed the troops as they passed, and even pursued their rear until they entered the open country.
The marquis of Pianessa, finding that all his attempts were frustrated, and that every artifice he used was only an alarm signal to the inhabitants of Roras, determined to act openly, and therefore proclaimed that ample rewards should be given to any one who would bear arms against the obstinate heretics of Roras, as he called them; and that any officer who would exterminate them should be rewarded in a princely manner.
This engaged Captain Mario, a bigoted Roman Catholic, and a desperate ruffian, to undertake the enterprise. He, therefore, obtained leave to raise a regiment in the following six towns: Lucerne, Borges, Famolas, Bobbio, Begnal, and Cavos.
Having completed his regiment, which consisted of one thousand men, he laid his plan not to go by the defiles or the passes, but to attempt gaining the summit of a rock, whence he imagined he could pour his troops into the town without much difficulty or opposition.
The Protestants suffered the Roman Catholic troops to gain almost the summit of the rock, without giving them any opposition, or ever appearing in their sight: but when they had almost reached the top they made a most furious attack upon them; one party keeping up a well-directed and constant fire, and another party rolling down huge stones.
This stopped the career of the papist troops: many were killed by the musketry, and more by the stones, which beat them down the precipices. Several fell sacrifices to their hurry, for by attempting a precipitate retreat they fell down, and were dashed to pieces; and Captain Mario himself narrowly escaped with his life, for he fell from a craggy place into a river which washed the foot of the rock. He was taken up senseless, but afterwards recovered, though he was ill of the bruises for a long time; and, at length he fell into a decline at Lucerne, where he died.
Another body of troops was ordered from the camp at Vilario, to make an attempt upon Roras; but these were likewise defeated, by means of the Protestants' ambush fighting, and compelled to retreat again to the camp at Vilario.
After each of these signal victories, Captain Gianavel made a suitable discourse to his men, causing them to kneel down, and return thanks to the Almighty for his providential protection; and usually concluded with the Eleventh Psalm, where the subject is placing confidence in God.
The marquis of Pianessa was greatly enraged at being so much baffled by the few inhabitants of Roras: he, therefore, determined to attempt their expulsion in such a manner as could hardly fail of success.
With this view he ordered all the Roman Catholic militia of Piedmont to be raised and disciplined. When these orders were completed, he joined to the militia eight thousand regular troops, and dividing the whole into three distinct bodies, he designed that three formidable attacks should be made at the same time, unless the people of Roras, to whom he sent an account of his great preparations, would comply with the following conditions:
• 1. To ask pardon for taking up arms.
• 2. To pay the expenses of all the expeditions sent against them.
• 3. To acknowledge the infallibility of the pope.
• 4. To go to Mass.
• 5. To pray to the saints.
• 6. To wear beards.
• 7. To deliver up their ministers.
• 8. To deliver up their schoolmasters.
• 9. To go to confession.
• 10. To pay loans for the delivery of souls from purgatory.
• 11. To give up Captain Gianavel at discretion.
• 12. To give up the elders of their church at discretion.
The inhabitants of Roras, on being acquainted with these conditions, were filled with an honest indignation, and, in answer, sent word to the marquis that sooner than comply with them they would suffer three things, which, of all others, were the most obnoxious to mankind, viz.
• 1. Their estates to be seized.
• 2. Their houses to be burned.
• 3. Themselves to be murdered.
Exasperated at this message, the marquis sent them this laconic epistle:
Foxe's Book of Martyrs
By Don Carson 3/14/2018
Exodus 25 and John 4 are canonically tied together.
The former begins the instructions for the construction of the tabernacle and its accoutrements (Ex. 25 — 30). The tabernacle is the forerunner of the temple, built in Solomon’ s day. Repeatedly in these chapters God says, “See that you make them according to the pattern shown you on the mountain,” (25:40) or “Set up the tabernacle according to the plan shown you on the mountain” (26:30) or the like. The epistle to the Hebrews picks up on this point. The tabernacle and temple were not arbitrary designs; they reflected a heavenly reality. “This is why Moses was warned when he was about to build the tabernacle: ‘See to it that you make everything according to the pattern shown you on the mountain’”(Heb. 8:5).
John 4 finds Jesus in discussion with a Samaritan woman. Samaritans believed that the proper place to worship God was not Jerusalem, home of the temple, but on Mounts Gerizim and Ebal, since these were the last places stipulated for such worship when the people entered the land (Deut. 11:29; Josh. 8:33). They did not accept as Scripture the texts concerning the monarchy. The woman wants to know what Jesus thinks: Is the appropriate place for worship these mountains, near where they are standing, or Jerusalem (John 4:20)?
Jesus insists that the time is dawning when neither place will suffice (4:21). This does not mean that Jesus views the Samaritan alternative as enjoying credentials equal to those of Jerusalem. Far from it: he sides with the Jews in this debate, since they are the ones that follow the full sweep of Old Testament Scripture, including the move from the tabernacle to the temple in Jerusalem (4:22). “Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks” (4:23).
This means: (1) With the coming of Christ Jesus and the dawning of the new covenant, appropriate worship will no longer be tied to a specific geographic location. Implicitly, this announces the obsolescence of the temple. Worship will be as geographically extensive as the Spirit, as God himself who is spirit (4:24). (2) Worship will not only be “in spirit” but “in truth.” In the context of this gospel, this does not mean that worship must be sincere (“true” in that sense); rather, it must be in line with what is ultimately true, the very manifestation of truth, Jesus Christ himself. He is the “true light” (1:9), the true temple (2:19 — 22), the true bread from heaven (6:25ff.), and more. True worshipers worship in spirit and in truth.
Don Carson is research professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, and co-founder (with Tim Keller) of The Gospel Coalition. He has authored numerous books, and recently edited The Enduring Authority of the Christian Scriptures (Eerdmans, 2016).Don Carson Books | Go to Books Page
Devotionals, notes, poetry and more
A prayer for self-control
(Nov 5) Bob Gass
‘It is God’s will that you should…avoid sexual immorality.’
(1 Th 4:3) 3 For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; ESV
When God created Adam and Eve, He told them to ‘multiply and replenish the earth’ (see Genesis 1:28). That helps explain why sex is one of our strongest drives. But it can also propel you into making decisions that mess up your life and destroy your relationships. The Bible says: ‘It is God’s will that you should…avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honourable, not in passionate lust like the pagans’ (1 Thessalonians 4:3-5 NIVUK 2011 Edition). Why did God say this? Because when there’s physical intimacy without true commitment, somebody’s going to get hurt. You need to heed what God says on this issue. And you need to do it now, before you get into situations where you’re tempted to compromise your character, because by then it’s too late. We all struggle with our sexuality, particularly in a culture where ‘sex sells’. Sex is such an integral part of us, and guilt about it has a way of making us feel separated from God like nothing else can. In order to determine your values and establish some ground rules, you need to pray: ‘Lord, I’m not going to allow my impulses to dictate to me, or sin to separate me from You. I choose to keep Your standards, to rely on Your Spirit to give me strength day by day. And if I do sin, to seek Your forgiveness, get back up, and move closer to You.’ That’s a prayer God will answer!
by Bill Federer
She was the wife of the second President and the mother of the sixth President. Her letters provide some of the most valuable insights of the Revolutionary period. Her name was Abigail Adams. And on this day, November 5, 1775, in a letter to Mercy Warren, Abigail wrote: “Is it possible that he whom no moral obligations bind, can have any real Good Will towards Men? Can he be a patriot who, by an openly vicious conduct, is… corrupting the Morals of Youth, and by his bad example injuring the very Country he professes to patronize…” “Scriptures tell us ‘righteousness exalteth a Nation.’ ”American Minute
by C.S. Lewis
Reflections on the Intimate Dialogue
Between Man and God
Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer
Oh for mercy's sake. Not you tool Why, just because I raised an objection to your parallel between prayer and a man making love to his own wife, must you trot out all the old rigmarole about the "holiness" of sex and start lecturing me as if I were a Manichaean? I know that in most circles nowadays one need only mention sex to set everyone in the room emitting this gas. But, I did hope, not you. Didn't I make it plain that I objected to your image solely on the ground of its nonchalance, or presumption?
I'm not saying anything against (or for) "sex." Sex in it self cannot be moral or immoral any more than gravitation or nutrition. The sexual behavior of human beings can. And like their economic, or political, or agricultural, or parental, or filial behavior, it is sometimes good and some times bad. And the sexual act, when lawful-which means chiefly when consistent with good faith and charity-can, like all other merely natural acts ("whether we eat or drink etc.," as the apostle says), be done to the glory of God, and will then be holy. And like other natural acts it is sometimes so done, and sometimes not. This may be what the poor Bishop of Woolwich was trying to say. Anyway, what more is there to be said? And can we now get this red herring out of the way? I'd be glad if we could; for the moderns have achieved the feat, which I should have thought impossible, of making the whole subject a bore. Poor Aphrodite! They have sand-papered most of the Homeric laughter off her face.
Apparently I have been myself guilty of introducing another red herring by mentioning devotions to saints. I didn't in the least want to go off into a discussion on that subject. There is clearly a theological defense for it; if you can ask for the prayers of the living, why should you not ask for the prayers of the dead? There is clearly also a great danger. In some popular practice we see it leading off into an infinitely silly picture of Heaven as an earthly court where applicants will be wise to pull the right wires, discover the best "channels," and attach themselves to the most influential pressure groups. But I have nothing to do with all this. I am not thinking of adopting the practice myself; and who am I to judge the practices of others? I only hope there'll be no scheme for canonizations in the Church of England. Can you imagine a better hot-bed for yet more divisions between us?
The consoling thing is that while Christendom is divided about the rationality, and even the lawfulness, of praying to the saints, we are all agreed about praying with them. "With angels and archangels and all the company of heaven." Will you believe it? It is only quite recently I made that quotation a part of my private prayers-I festoon it round “hallowed be Thy name." This, by the way, illustrates what I was saying last week about the uses of ready-made forms. They remind one. And I have found this quotation a great enrichment. One always accepted this with theoretically. But it is quite different when one brings it into consciousness at an appropriate moment and wills the association of one's own little twitter with the voice of the great saints and (we hope) of our own dear dead. They may drown some of its uglier qualities and set off any tiny value it has.
You may say that the distinction between the communion of the saints as I find it in that act and full-fledged prayer to saints is not, after all, very great. All the better if so. I sometimes have a bright dream of reunion engulfing us unawares, like a great wave from behind our backs, perhaps at the very moment when our official representatives are still pronouncing it impossible. Discussions usually separate us; actions sometimes unite us.
Thanks to Meir Yona
3. There was a rock, not small in circumference, and very high. It was encompassed with valleys of such vast depth downward, that the eye could not reach their bottoms; they were abrupt, and such as no animal could walk upon, excepting at two places of the rock, where it subsides, in order to afford a passage for ascent, though not without difficulty. Now, of the ways that lead to it, one is that from the lake Asphaltites, towards the sun-rising, and another on the west, where the ascent is easier: the one of these ways is called the Serpent, as resembling that animal in its narrowness and its perpetual windings; for it is broken off at the prominent precipices of the rock, and returns frequently into itself, and lengthening again by little and little, hath much ado to proceed forward; and he that would walk along it must first go on one leg, and then on the other; there is also nothing but destruction, in case your feet slip; for on each side there is a vastly deep chasm and precipice, sufficient to quell the courage of every body by the terror it infuses into the mind. When, therefore, a man hath gone along this way for thirty furlongs, the rest is the top of the hill—not ending at a small point, but is no other than a plain upon the highest part of the mountain. Upon this top of the hill, Jonathan the high priest first of all built a fortress, and called it Masada: after which the rebuilding of this place employed the care of king Herod to a great degree; he also built a wall round about the entire top of the hill, seven furlongs long; it was composed of white stone; its height was twelve, and its breadth eight cubits; there were also erected upon that wall thirty-eight towers, each of them fifty cubits high; out of which you might pass into lesser edifices, which were built on the inside, round the entire wall; for the king reserved the top of the hill, which was of a fat soil, and better mould than any valley for agriculture, that such as committed themselves to this fortress for their preservation might not even there be quite destitute of food, in case they should ever be in want of it from abroad. Moreover, he built a palace therein at the western ascent; it was within and beneath the walls of the citadel, but inclined to its north side. Now the wall of this palace was very high and strong, and had at its four corners towers sixty cubits high. The furniture also of the edifices, and of the cloisters, and of the baths, was of great variety, and very costly; and these buildings were supported by pillars of single stones on every side; the walls and also the floors of the edifices were paved with stones of several colors. He also had cut many and great pits, as reservoirs for water, out of the rocks, at every one of the places that were inhabited, both above and round about the palace, and before the wall; and by this contrivance he endeavored to have water for several uses, as if there had been fountains there. Here was also a road digged from the palace, and leading to the very top of the mountain, which yet could not be seen by such as were without [the walls]; nor indeed could enemies easily make use of the plain roads; for the road on the east side, as we have already taken notice, could not be walked upon, by reason of its nature; and for the western road, he built a large tower at its narrowest place, at no less a distance from the top of the hill than a thousand cubits; which tower could not possibly be passed by, nor could it be easily taken; nor indeed could those that walked along it without any fear [such was its contrivance] easily get to the end of it; and after such a manner was this citadel fortified, both by nature and by the hands of men, in order to frustrate the attacks of enemies.
4. As for the furniture that was within this fortress, it was still more wonderful on account of its splendor and long continuance; for here was laid up corn in large quantities, and such as would subsist men for a long time; here was also wine and oil in abundance, with all kinds of pulse and dates heaped up together; all which Eleazar found there, when he and his Sicarii got possession of the fortress by treachery. These fruits were also fresh and full ripe, and no way inferior to such fruits newly laid in, although they were little short of a hundred years 14 from the laying in these provisions [by Herod], till the place was taken by the Romans; nay, indeed, when the Romans got possession of those fruits that were left, they found them not corrupted all that while; nor should we be mistaken, if we supposed that the air was here the cause of their enduring so long; this fortress being so high, and so free from the mixture of all terrain and muddy particles of matter. There was also found here a large quantity of all sorts of weapons of war, which had been treasured up by that king, and were sufficient for ten thousand men; there was cast iron, and brass, and tin, which show that he had taken much pains to have all things here ready for the greatest occasions; for the report goes how Herod thus prepared this fortress on his own account, as a refuge against two kinds of danger; the one for fear of the multitude of the Jews, lest they should depose him, and restore their former kings to the government; the other danger was greater and more terrible, which arose from Cleopatra queen of Egypt, who did not conceal her intentions, but spoke often to Antony, and desired him to cut off Herod, and entreated him to bestow the kingdom of Judea upon her. And certainly it is a great wonder that Antony did never comply with her commands in this point, as he was so miserably enslaved to his passion for her; nor should any one have been surprised if she had been gratified in such her request. So the fear of these dangers made Herod rebuild Masada, and thereby leave it for the finishing stroke of the Romans in this Jewish war.
Compiled by Richard S. Adams
Still seems it strange, that thou shouldst live forever?
Is it less strange, that thou shouldst live at all?
This is a miracle; and that no more.
--- Edward Young
The conscious mind determines the actions,
the unconscious mind determines the reactions;
and the reactions are just as important as the actions.
--- E. Stanley Jones
We judge ourselves by what we feel capable of doing, while others judge us by what we have already done.
--- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
... from here, there and everywhere
by D.H. Stern
but a friend of those lacking restraint
shames his father.
8 He who increases his wealth
by charging exorbitant interest
amasses it for someone
who will bestow it on the poor.
Complete Jewish Bible : An English Version of the Tanakh (Old Testament) and B'Rit Hadashah (New Testament)
A Daily Devotional by Oswald Chambers
My Utmost for His Highest
Partakers of His sufferings
Rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings. --- 1 Peter 4:13.
If you are going to be used by God, He will take you through a multitude of experiences that are not meant for you at all; they are meant to make you useful in His hands, and to enable you to understand what transpires in other souls so that you will never be surprised at what you come across. ‘Oh, I can’t deal with that person.’ Why not? God gave you ample opportunity to soak before Him on that line, and you ‘barged off’ because it seemed stupid to spend time in that way.
The sufferings of Christ are not those of ordinary men. He suffered “according to the will of God,” not from the point of view we suffer from as individuals. It is only when we are related to Jesus Christ that we can understand what God is after in His dealings with us. It is part of Christian culture to know what God’s aim is. In the history of the Christian Church the tendency has been to evade being identified with the sufferings of Jesus Christ; men have sought to procure the carrying out of God’s order by a short cut of their own. God’s way is always the way of suffering, the way of the ‘long, long trail.’
Are we partakers of Christ’s sufferings? Are we prepared for God to stamp our personal ambitions right out? Are we prepared for God to destroy by transfiguration our individual determinations? It will not mean that we know exactly why God is taking us that way; that would make us spiritual prigs. We never realize at the time what God is putting us through; we go through it more or less misunderstandingly; then we come to a luminous place and say—‘Why, God has girded me, though I did not know it!’
the Poetry of R.S. Thomas
Casgob, it said, 2
miles. But I never went
there; left it like an ornament
on the mind's shelf, covered
with the dust of
its summers; a place on a diet
of the echoes of stopped
bells and children's
voices; white the architecture
of its clouds, stationary
its sunlight. It was best
so. I need a museum
for storing the dream's
brittler particles in. Time
is a main road, eternity
the turning that we don't take.
Maimonides: Torah and Philosophic Quest
Regarding Scholem’s initial criticism, the connection between the introductory chapters of the Mishneh Torah and the subsequent chapters on Halakhah has already been discussed. The philosophic chapters prevent the Halakhah from becoming a system insulated from universal criteria of truth. They show that Jewish particularity must not block one from understanding the spiritual way to God independent of community, and that disinterested love, which is the goal of Halakhah, is made possible by a philosophic understanding of nature. These points clearly show the integral place which the philosophic chapters occupy in the Mishneh Torah. It has also been shown how the halakhic distinctions between din and lifnim mi-shurat ha-din are important for Maimonides’ philosophic understanding of the relationship of the individual to community, within the tradition.
What remains as a challenge to our approach, and possibly suggests that the Halakhah had no significance for Maimonides as a philosopher, is his historical understanding of revelation. Maimonides’ approach to revelation appears to support the view that his two major works reflect two opposing points of view and are addressed to two distinct and incompatible audiences. How else can one compare his codification of the eternal law of Judaism in the Mishneh Torah with his time-bound, situational, understanding of the law in the Guide? Regarding the categories we have employed so far, does this not suggest that, as a philosopher, Maimonides is spiritually removed from the Halakhah of the community?
Rather we argue that the way Maimonides understands the law in the Guide has the opposite effect—it provides grounds for a philosophically trained Jew to take Halakhah seriously. What lays at the bottom of his situational understanding of the mitzvot is the attempt to achieve a unified understanding of nature and Torah revelation and it is this unification which would elict the philosophic Jew’s serious interest in Halakhah.
In order to appreciate both the problem and the audience to which Maimonides addresses himself in his historical approach to the commandments, it is important to examine his attempt to develop a religious personality whose relationship to God would be grounded in reason. Different religious types emerge as a result of how one understands the manifestation of the will of God within Torah and nature. Only if the religious sensibility Maimonides attempts to cultivate is understood, will his approach to revelation of the law in the Guide make sense.
As shown earlier, Maimonides, by referring to the following biblical text, established that Judaism recognized universal criteria of truth:
Observe them faithfully, for that will be proof of your wisdom and discernment to other peoples, who on hearing all these laws will say, “Surely, that is a great nation of wise and discerning people” (Deut. 4:6).
On closer examination, one discovers that this text deals primarily with the laws of Judaism. Thus, if one were to accept Maimonides’ understanding of the text, he would expect that not only Jewish cognitive claims but also the mitzvot should be understood and appreciated by all men: the Torah way of life must be intelligible within universal categories of evaluation.
By refusing to allow for the possibility that the tradition would make claims which contradict reason’s understanding of nature, Maimonides was negating an approach which understood revelation as revealing a new order of truth. If this latter view of revelation were accepted, it would suggest, that outside of the historical revelation of God to the community, there is no independent reality which is revelatory of God. The consequence of negating this point of view is that man’s approach to religious bodies of knowledge need not be one of unconditional allegiance to authority. Although one might accept this approach regarding questions of truth, one might switch to the posture of unconditional obedience in the observance of the commandments. If we accept Maimonides’ proof-text, we should oppose any split between the way of cognition and the way of action in terms of the role given to critical reason.
The anthropology which emerges within a system which values independent reflection differs from that cultivated by a system which exclusively emphasizes obedience to the legal authority of God. The previous chapter showed how the anthropology cultivated by reason was supported by the existence, within Halakhah, of a method for developing law based on specific rules of legal inference. The ability to discriminate between laws grounded on authority and laws evolved by human reasoning prevented the halakhic Jew from adopting obedience to authority as his sole posture toward the legal tradition. Yet, aside from the issue of legal authority and methods for developing law, there still remains the question of the content of laws. Maimonides believed that reason was capable of developing norms of action based on a conception of human nature. If reason is to be a factor in the Jew’s mode of action, the content of Jewish laws must conform to reason’s understanding of the nature of man.
God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth. --- John 4:24
Why should we worship God? John A. Broadus, “Worship,” in Sermons of John A. Broadus, downloaded from the Web site of Blessed Hope Ministries of Shiloh Baptist Church, Gainesville, Ga., at members.aol.com/blesshope, accessed Aug. 21, 2001. Not only because it is due to him but, [second,] because it is good for us.
If you look on the glory of the autumn woods; if you gaze on the splendor of the night sky; if you stand in awe before the great mountains, snow-clad and towering; if you gaze on the rush of the river or stand by the seashore and hear the rolling waters, there swells in the breast something that wants God for its crown and for its completeness. There are yearnings in these strange natures of ours that only God can satisfy. Our thinking is a mutilated fragment without God, and our hearts can never rest unless they rest in him.
Sometimes only worship can soothe our sorrows and our anxieties. There come times with all of us when everything else fails us; there come times when we go to speak with sorrowing friends and feel that all our themes are weak and empty. You went to visit a friend who had lost a child or husband or wife, and as you sat by your friend and wanted to say something comforting, you felt that everything else was useless but to point the sorrowing heart to God—and you felt ashamed of yourself that you did not dare to do that. How often have devout hearts found comfort in sorrow, found support in anxiety, by the worship of God, by the thought of submission to God and trust in God, a belief that God knows what he is doing, that God sees the end from the beginning, that in all things God works for the good of those who love him!
Further, the worship of God nourishes the root of morality—individual and social. Morality cannot live on mere ideas of expediency and utility. The root of morality is the sentiment of moral obligation. What does it mean when your child first begins to say “I ought to do this” and “I shouldn’t do that”? What does it mean? “I ought.” It is the glory of being human. It makes us in the image of the one who made us. And what is to nourish and keep alive and make strong that sentiment of moral obligation in our souls? It is the recognition that there is a God who gave us this high, moral, spiritual being, who made us for himself, to whom we belong. Our worship of him nourishes in us the highest and best. How can I tell the reasons why we should worship God? They are as high as heaven, as vast as the universe; all existence and all conception—everything is a reason why we should worship God.
--- John A. Broadus
The Council of Constance
Two heads aren’t always better than one—and three heads can get downright ridiculous. For example …
During medieval days, the pope reigned as the most powerful figure on earth, a superleader combining religious and political authority in one gilded role. But between 1,300 and 1,500 political leaders in England and France began defying the papal father.
The harshest conflict arose when troops of France’s King Philip burst into the bedroom of 86-year-old Pope Boniface, more or less frightening him to death. A Frenchman, Pope Clement V, replaced him and moved the papal residence to France. Thus began a 72-year period of six successive French popes, all of whom chose to live in the small town of Avignon, France, rather than in Rome. This “exile” has been called the Babylonian Captivity of the papacy. Tensions between France and Italy eventually led to the election of two popes, one chosen by the Italian faction and the other by the French. This “Great Papal Schism” lasted for 39 years, each pope having his own College of Cardinals, each claiming to be the true vicar of Christ.
In 1409 a majority of cardinals from both camps agreed to end the schism by deposing both popes and electing a new one from scratch. The result? When neither of the old popes resigned, the number increased to three. The ridiculous spectacle of three popes led to the Council of Constance convening on November 5, 1414—the largest church council in history and the most important since the Council of Nicaea in 325. Constance, a village of 6,000, swelled with 5,000 delegates along with an army of servants, secretaries, peddlers, physicians, quacks, minstrels, and 1,500 prostitutes. The council met for three years and at length persuaded one of the popes to resign and deposed the other two. In 1417 it chose a new leader, Pope Martin V, thus effectively ending the Great Schism and the Babylonian Captivity.
But the damage to the Vatican’s prestige had been wrought, helping pave the way for the Reformation exactly 100 years later.
It is truly wonderful when relatives live together in peace.
--- Psalm 133:1.
Daily Readings / CHARLES H. SPURGEON
Morning - November 5
“No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper.” --- Isaiah 54:17.
This day is notable in English history for two great deliverances wrought by God for us. On this day the plot of the Papists to destroy our Houses of Parliament was discovered, 1605.
And secondly—to-day is the anniversary of the landing of King William III, at Torbay, by which the hope of Popish ascendancy was quashed, and religious liberty was secured, 1688.
“While for our princes they prepare
In caverns deep a burning snare,
He shot from heaven a piercing ray,
And the dark treachery brought to day.”
And secondly—to-day is the anniversary of the landing of King William III, at Torbay, by which the hope of Popish ascendancy was quashed, and religious liberty was secured, 1688.
This day ought to be celebrated, not by the saturnalia of striplings, but by the songs of saints. Our Puritan forefathers most devoutly made it a special time of thanksgiving. There is extant a record of the annual sermons preached by Matthew Henry on this day. Our Protestant feeling, and our love of liberty, should make us regard its anniversary with holy gratitude. Let our hearts and lips exclaim, “We have heard with our ears, and our fathers have told us the wondrous things which thou didst in their day, and in the old time before them.” Thou hast made this nation the home of the Gospel; and when the foe has risen against her, thou hast shielded her. Help us to offer repeated songs for repeated deliverances. Grant us more and more a hatred of Antichrist, and hasten on the day of her entire extinction. Till then and ever, we believe the promise, “No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper.” Should it not be laid upon the heart of every lover of the Gospel of Jesus on this day to plead for the overturning of false doctrines and the extension of divine truth? Would it not be well to search our own hearts, and turn out any of the Popish lumber of self-righteousness which may lie concealed therein?
Evening - November 5
“Be thankful unto him, and bless his name.” --- Psalm 100:4.
Our Lord would have all his people rich in high and happy thoughts concerning his blessed person. Jesus is not content that his brethren should think meanly of him; it is his pleasure that his espoused ones should be delighted with his beauty. We are not to regard him as a bare necessary, like to bread and water, but as a luxurious delicacy, as a rare and ravishing delight. To this end he has revealed himself as the “pearl of great price” in its peerless beauty, as the “bundle of myrrh” in its refreshing fragrance, as the “rose of Sharon” in its lasting perfume, as the “lily” in its spotless purity.
As a help to high thoughts of Christ, remember the estimation that Christ is had in beyond the skies, where things are measured by the right standard. Think how God esteems the Only Begotten, his unspeakable gift to us. Consider what the angels think of him, as they count it their highest honour to veil their faces at his feet. Consider what the blood-washed think of him, as day without night they sing his well deserved praises. High thoughts of Christ will enable us to act consistently with our relations towards him. The more loftily we see Christ enthroned, and the more lowly we are when bowing before the foot of the throne, the more truly shall we be prepared to act our part towards him. Our Lord Jesus desires us to think well of him, that we may submit cheerfully to his authority. High thoughts of him increase our love. Love and esteem go together. Therefore, believer, think much of your Master’s excellencies. Study him in his primeval glory, before he took upon himself your nature! Think of the mighty love which drew him from his throne to die upon the cross! Admire him as he conquers all the powers of hell! See him risen, crowned, glorified! Bow before him as the Wonderful, the Counsellor, the mighty God, for only thus will your love to him be what it should.
PRAISE, MY SOUL, THE KING OF HEAVEN
Henry F. Lyte, 1793–1847
Praise the Lord, all His works everywhere in His dominion. Praise the Lord, O my soul. (Psalm 103:22)
The Christian life that is joyless is a discredit to God and a disgrace to itself.
--- Maltbie D. Babcock
A life of praise and an inner joy and contentment are interwoven—they are complements of each other. Such a life is the result of being absorbed with God. For such an individual the pursuit of God’s glory, the Lordship of Christ, and the worship and praise of our Creator-redeemer become a natural way of living. To this person the blessings of God never become commonplace.
Forgives all our iniquities; heals our diseases, redeems our life from destruction; crowns us with loving kindness and mercy; satisfies us with good things; renews our youth, works righteousness and judgment for the oppressed; gives guidance to His people; is merciful; is gracious and slow to anger while plenteous in mercy: knows all about us; will never forsake. (Psalm 103:3–10)
Although Henry Lyte, the author of this hymn text, experienced many difficulties in life, including a frail body, this hymn helps us realize that we as believers can rise above our problems and lift voices of praise in spite of any circumstances. The text is a summary of the psalmist’s admonition in Psalm 103 to praise and to remember all of the good things about God. It first appeared in Lyte’s collection of new paraphrases of the Psalms, published in 1834. Interestingly, the hymn has the distinction of being the requested processional for the wedding of Queen Elizabeth II at Westminster Abbey on November 20, 1947, exactly 100 years after author Henry Lyte’s death.
Praise, my soul, the King of heaven; to His feet thy tribute bring; ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven, evermore His praises sing: Alleluia! Praise the Everlasting king!
Father-like, He tends and spares us, well our feeble frame He knows; in His hands He gently bears us, rescues us from all our foes: Alleluia! Widely yet His mercy flows!
Angels in the height, adore Him; ye behold Him face to face; Sun and moon, bow down before Him, dwellers all in time and space: Alleluia! Praise with us the God of grace!
For Today: 1 Chronicles 29:10–13; Psalm 47:6, 7; 103; 1 Timothy 1:17
Remember—A cheerful word of praise and encouragement will mean more to those with whom we live than acres of flowers we may give when they are gone. Carry this song of triumph with you ---
The Second act of power in the person redeeming, is the union of the two natures, the Divine and human. The designing indeed of this
was an act of wisdom; but the accomplishing it was an act of power.
1. There is in this redeeming person a union of two natures. He is God and man in one person (Heb. 1:8, 9). “”Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: God, even thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness,” &c. The Son is called God, having a throne for ever and ever, and the unction speaks him man: the Godhead cannot be anointed, nor hath any fellows. Humanity and Divinity are ascribed to him (Rom. 1:3, 4). “He was of the seed of David according to the flesh, and declared to be the Son of God, by his resurrection from the dead.” The Divinity and humanity are both prophetically joined (Zech. 12:10), “I will pour out my Spirit;” the pouring forth the Spirit is an act only of Divine grace and power. “And they shall look upon me whom they have pierced;” the same person pours forth the Spirit as God, and is pierced as man. “The Word was made flesh” (John 1:14). Word from eternity was made flesh in time; Word and flesh in one person; a great God, and a little infant.
2. The terms of this union were infinitely distant. What greater distance can there be than between the Deity and humanity, between the Creator and a creature? Can you imagine the distance between eternity and time, Infinite Power and miserable infirmity, an immortal spirit and dying flesh, the highest Being and nothing? yet these are espoused. A God of unmixed blessedness is linked personally with a man of perpetual sorrows: life incapable to die, joined to a body in that economy incapable to live without dying first; infinite purity, and a reputed sinner; eternal blessedness with a cursed nature, Almightiness and weakness, omuiscience and ignorance, immutability and changeableness, incomprehensibleness and comprehensibility; that which cannot be comprehended, and that which can be comprehended; that which is entirely independent, and that which is totally dependent; the Creator forming all things, and the creature made, met together to a personal union; “The word made flesh”.(John 1:14), the eternal Son, the “Seed of Abraham” (Heb. 2:16). What more miraculous, than for God to become man, and man to become God? That a person possessed of all the perfections of the Godhead, should inherit all the imperfections of the manhood in one person, sin only excepted: a holiness incapable of sinning to be made sin; God blessed forever, taking the properties of human nature, and human nature admitted to a union with the properties of the Creator: the fulness of the Deity, and the emptiness of man united together (Col. 2:9); not by a shining of the Deity upon the humanity, as the light of the sun upon the earth, but by an inhabitation or indwelling of the Deity in the humanity. Was there not need of an Infinite Power to bring together terms so far asunder, to elevate the humanity to be capable of, and disposed for, a conjunction with the Deity? If a God of earth should be advanced to, and united with the body of the sun, such an advance would evidence itself to be a work of Almighty power: the God hath nothing in its own nature to render it so glorious, no power to climb up to so high a dignity: how little would such a union be, to that we are speaking of! Nothing less than an Incomprehensible Power could effect what an Incomprehensible Wisdom did project in this affair.
3. Especially since the union is so strait. It is not such a union as is between a man and his house he dwells in, whence he goes out and to which he returns, without any alteration of himself or his house; nor such a union as is between a man and his garment, which both communicate and receive warmth from one another; nor such as is between an artificer and his instrument wherewith he works; nor such a union as one friend hath with another: all these are distant things, not one in nature, but have distinct substances. Two friends, though united by love, are distinct persons; a man and his clothes, an artificer and his instruments, have distinct subsistencies; but the humanity of Christ hath no subsistence, but in the person of Christ. The straitness of this union is expressed, and may be somewhat conceived, by the union of fire with iron; “fire pierceth through all the parts of iron, it unites itself with every particle, bestows a light, heat, purity, upon all of it; you cannot distinguish the iron from the fire, or the fire from the iron, yet they are distinct natures; so the Deity is united to the whole humanity, seasons it, and bestows an excellency upon it, yet the natures still remain distinct. And as during that union of fire with iron, the iron is incapable of rust or blackness, so is the humanity incapable of sin: and as the operation of fire is attributed to the red-hot iron (as the iron may be said to heat, burn, and the fire may be said to cut and pierce), yet the imperfections of the iron do not affect the fire; so in this mystery, those things which belong to the Divinity are ascribed to the humanity, and those things which belong to the humanity, are ascribed to the Divinity, in regard of the person in whom those natures are united: yet the imperfections of the humanity do not hurt the Divinity.” The Divinity of Christ is as really united with the humanity, as the soul with the body; the person was one, though the natures were two; so united, that the sufferings of the human nature were the sufferings of that person, and the dignity of the Divine was imputed to the human, by reason of that unity of both in one person; hence the blood of the human nature is said to be the “blood of God” (Acts 20:28). All things ascribed to the Son of God, may be ascribed to this man; and the things ascribed to this man, may be ascribed to the Son of God, as this man is the Son of God, eternal, Almighty; and it may be said, “God suffered, was crucified,” &c., for the person of Christ is but one, most simple; the person suffered, that was God and Man united, making one person.
4. And though the union be so strait, yet without confusion of the natures, or change of them into one another. The two natures of Christ are not mixed, as liquors that incorporate with one another when they are poured into a vessel; the Divine nature is not turned into the human, nor the human into the Divine; one nature doth not swallow up another, and make a third nature distinct from each of them. The Deity is not turned into the humanity, as air (which is next to a spirit) may be thickened and turned into water , and water may be rarified into air by the power of heat boiling it. The Deity cannot be changed, because the nature of it is to be unchangeable; it would not be Deity, if it were mortal and capable of suffering. The humanity is not changed into the Deity, for then Christ could not have been a sufferer; if the humanity had been swallowed up into the Deity, it had lost its own distinct nature, and put on the nature of the Deity, and, consequently, been incapable of suffering; finite can never, by any mixture, be changed into infinite, nor infinite into finite. This union, in this regard, may be resembled to the union of light and air, which are strictly joined; for the light passes through all parts of the air, but they are not confounded , but remain in their distinct essences as before the union, without the least confusion with one another. The Divine nature remains as it was before the union, entire in itself; only the Divine person assumes another nature to himself. The human nature remains, as it would have done, had it existed separately from the Λόγος, except that then it would have had a proper subsistence by itself, which now it borrows from its union with the Λόγος, or, word; but that doth not belong to the constitution of its nature. Now let us consider, what a wonder of power is all this: the knitting a noble soul to a body of clay, was not so great an exploit of Almightiness, as the espousing infinite and finite together. Man is further distant from God, than man from nothing. What a wonder is it, that two natures infinitely distant, should be more intimately united than anything in the world; and yet without any confusion! that the same person should have both a glory and a grief; an infinite joy in the Deity, and an inexpressible sorrow in the humanity! That a God upon a throne should be an infant in a cradle; the thundering Creator be a weeping babe and a suffering man, are such expressions of mighty power, as well as condescending love, that they astonish men upon earth, and angels in heaven.
Thirdly, Power was evident in the progress of his life; in the miracles he wrought. How often did he expel malicious and powerful devils from their habitations; hurl them from their thrones, and make them fall from heaven like lightning! How many wonders were wrought by his bare word, or a single touch!
Sight restored to the blind, and hearing to the deaf; palsy members restored to the exercise of their functions; a dismiss given to many deplorable maladies; impure leprosies chased from the persons they had infected, and bodies beginning to putrefy raised from the grave. But the mightiest argument of power was his patience; that He who was, in his Divine nature, elevated above the world, should so long continue upon a dunghill, endure the contradiction of sinners against himself, be patiently subject to the reproaches and indignities of men, without displaying that justice which was essential to the Deity; and, in especial manner, daily merited by their provoking crimes. The patience of man under great affronts, is a greater argument of power, than the brawniness of his arm; a strength employed in the revenge of every injury, signifies a greater infirmity in the soul, than there can be ability in the body. Fourthly, Divine power was apparent in his resurrection. The unlocking the belly of the whale for the deliverance of Jonas; the rescue of Daniel from the den of lions; and the restraining the fire from burning the three children, were signal declarations of his power, and types of the resurrection of our Saviour. But what are those to that which was represented by them? That was a power over natural causes, a curbing of beasts, and restraining of elements; but in the resurrection of Christ, God exercised a power over himself, and quenched the flames of his own wrath, hotter than millions of Nebuchadnezzar’s furnaces; unlocked the prison doors, wherein the curses of the law had lodged our Saviour, stronger than the belly and ribs of a leviathan. In the rescue of Daniel and Jonas, God overpowered beasts; and in this tore up the strength of the old serpent, and plucked the sceptre from the hand of the enemy of mankind. The work of resurrection, indeed, considered in itself, requires the efficacy of an Almighty power; neither man nor angel can create new dispositions in a dead body, to render it capable of lodging a spiritual soul; nor can they restore a dislodged soul, by their own power, to such a body. The restoring a dead body to life requires an infinite power, as well as the creation of the world; but there was in the resurrection of Christ, something more difficult than this; while he lay in the grave he was under the curse of the law, under the execution of that dreadful sentence, “Thou shalt die the death.” His resurrection was not only the re-tying the marriage knot between his soul and body, or the rolling the stone from the grave; but a taking off an infinite weight, the sin of mankind, which lay upon hiin. So vast a weight could not be removed without the strength of an Almighty arm. It is, therefore, not to an ordinary operation, but an operation with power (Rom. 1:4), and such a power wherein the glory of the Father did appear (Rom. 6:4); “Raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father,” that is, the glorious power of God. As the Eternal generation is stupendous, so is his resurrection, which is called, a new begetting of him (Acts 13:33). It is a wonder of power, that the Divine and human nature should be joined; and no less wonder that his person should surmount and rise up from the curse of God, under which he lay. The apostle, therefore, adds one expression to another, and heaps up a variety, signifying thereby that one was not enough to represent it (Eph. 1:19); “Exceeding greatness of power, and working of mighty power, which he wrought in Christ when he raised him from the dead.” It was an hyperbole of power, the excellency of the mightiness of his strength: the loftiness of the expressions seems to come short of the apprehension he had of it in his soul.
II. . This power appears in the publication and propagation of the doctrine of redemption. The Divine power will appear, if you consider, 1. The nature of the doctrine. 2. The instruments employed in it. 3. The means they used to propagate it. 4. The success they had.
1. The nature of the doctrine. (1.) It was contary to the common received reason of the world. The philosphers, the masters of knowledge among the Gentiles, had maxims of a different stamp from it. Though they agreed in the being of a God, yet their notions of his nature were confused and embroiled with many errors; the unity of God was not commonly assented unto; they had multiplied deities according to the fancies they had received from some of a more elevated wit and refined brain than others. Though they had some notion of mediators, yet they placed in those seats their public benefactors, men that had been useful to the world, or their particular countries, in imparting to them some profitable invention. To discard those, was to charge themselves with ingratitude to them, from whom they had received signal benefits, and to whose mediation, conduct, or protection, they ascribed all the success they had been blessed with in their several provinces, and to charge themselves with folly for rendering an honor and worship to them so long. Could the doctrine of a crucified Mediator, whom they had never seen, that had conquered no country for them, never enlarged their territories, brought to light no new profitable invention for the increase of their earthly welfare, as the rest had done, be thought sufficient to balance so many of their reputed heroes? How ignorant were they in the foundations of the true religion! The belief of a Providence was staggering; nor had they a true prospect of the nature of virtue and vice; yet they had a fond opinion of the strength of their own reason, and the maxims that had been handed down to them by their predecessors, which Paul (1 Tim. 6:20) entitles, a “science falsely so called,” either meant of the philosophers or the Gnostics. They presumed that they were able to measure all things by their own reason; whence, when the apostle came to preach the doctrine of the Gospel at Athens, the great school of reason in that age, they gave him no better a title than that of a babbler (Acts 17:18), and openly mocked him (ver. 32); a seed gatherer, one that hath no more brain or sense than a fellow that gathers up seeds that are spilled in a market, or one that hath a vain and empty sound, without sense or reason, like a foolish mountebank; so slightly did those rationalists of the world think of the wisdom of heaven. That the Son of God should veil himself in a mortal body, and suffer a disgraceful death in it, were things above the ken of reason. Besides, the world had a general disesteem of the religion of the Jews, and were prejudiced against anything that came from them; whence the Romans, that used to incorporate the gods of other conquered nations in their capital, never moved to have the God of Israel worshipped among them. Again, they might argue against it with much fleshly reason: here is a crucified God, preached by a company of mean and ignorant persons, what reason can we have to entertain this doctrine, since the Jews, who, as they tell us, had the prophecies of him, did not acknowledge him? Surely, had there been such predictions, they would not have crucified, but crowned their King, and expected from him the conquest of the earth under their power. What reason have we to entertain him, whom his own nation, among whom he lived, with whom he conversed so unanimously, by the vote of the rulers as well as the rout, rejected? It was impossible to conquer minds possessed with so many errors, and applauding themselves in their own reason, and to render them capable of receiving revealed truths without the influence of a Divine power.
(2.) It was contrary to the customs of the world. The strength of custom in most men, surmounts the strength of reason, and men commonly are so wedded to it, that they will be sooner divorced from anything than the modes and patterns received from their ancestors. The endeavoring to change customs of an ancient standing, hath begotten tumults and furious mutinies among nations, though the change would have been much for their advantage. This doctrine struck at the root of the religion of the world, and the ceremonies, wherein they had been educated from their infancy, delivered to them from their ancestors, confirmed by the customary observance of many ages, rooted in their minds and established by their laws (Acts 17:13); “This fellow persuadeth us to worship God contrary to the law;” against customs, to which they ascribed the happiness of their states, and the prosperity of their people, and would put, in the place of this religion they would abolish, a new one instituted by a man, whom the Jews had condemned, and put to death upon a cross, as an impostor, blasphemer, and seditious person. It was a doctrine that would change the customs of the Jews, who were intrusted with the oracles of God. It would bury forever their ceremonial rites, delivered to them by Moses, from that God, who had, with a mighty hand, brought them out of Egypt, consecrated their law with thunders and lightnings from Mount Sinai, at the time of its publication, backed it with severe sanctions, confirmed it by many miracles, both in the wilderness and their Canaan, and had continued it for so many hundred years. They could not but remember how they had been ravaged by other nations, and judgments sent upon them when they neglected and slighted it; and with what great success they were followed when they valued and observed it; and how they had abhorred the Author of this new religion, who had spoken slightly of their traditions, till they put him to death with infamy. Was it an easy matter to divorce them from that worship, upon which were entailed, as they imagined, their peace, plenty, and glory, things of the dearest regard with mankind? The Jews were no less devoted to their ceremonial traditions than the heathen were to their vain superstitions. This doctrine of the gospel was of that nature, that the state of religion, all over the earth , must be overturned by it; the wisdom of the Greeks must vail to it, the idolatry of the people must stoop to it, and the profane customs of men must moulder under the weight of it. Was it an easy matter for the pride of nature to deny a customary wisdom, to entertain a new doctrine against the authority of their ancestors, to inscribe folly upon that which hath made them admired by the rest of the world? Nothing can be of greater esteem with men, than the credit of their lawgivers and founders, the religion of their fathers, and prosperity of themselves: hence the minds of men were sharpened against it. The Greeks, the wisest nation, slighted it as foolish; the Jews, the religious nation, stumbled at it, as contrary to the received interpretations of ancient prophecies and carnal conceits of an earthly glory. The dimmest eye may behold the difficulty to change custom, a second nature it is as hard as to change a wolf into a lamb, to level a mountain, stop the course of the sun, or change the inhabitants of Africa into the color of Europe. Custom dips men in as durable a dye as nature. The difficulties of carrying it on against the Divine religion of the Jew, and rooted custom of the Gentiles, were unconquerable by any but an Almighty power. And in this the power of God hath appeared wonderfully.
(3.) It was contrary to the sensuality of the world, and the lusts of the flesh. How much the Gentiles were overgrown with base and unworthy lusts at the time of the publication of the gospel, needs no other memento than the apostle’s discourse (Rom. 1.). As there was no error but prevailed upon their minds, so there was no brutish affection but was wedded to their hearts. The doctrine proposed to them was not easy; it flattered not the sense, but checked the stream of nature. It thundered down those three great engines whereby the devil had subdued the world to himself: “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life:” not only the most sordid affections of the flesh, but the more refined gratifications of the mind: it stripped nature both of devil and man; of what was commonly esteemed great and virtuous. That which was the root of their fame, and the satisfaction of their ambition, was struck at by this axe of the gospel. The first article of it ordered them to deny themselves, not to presume upon their own worth; to lay their understandings and wills at the foot of the cross, and resign them up to one newly crucified at Jerusalem: honors and wealth were to be despised, flesh to be tamed, the cross to be borne, enemies to be loved, revenge not to be satisfied, blood to be spilled, and torments to be endured for the honor of One they never saw, nor ever before heard of; who was preached with the circumstances of a shameful death, enough to affright them from the entertainment: and the report of a resurrection and glorious ascension were things never heard of by them before, and unknown in the world, that would not easily enter into the belief of men: the cross, disgrace, self-denial, were only discoursed of in order to the attainment of an invisible world, and an unseen reward, which none of their predecessors ever returned to acquaint them with; a patient death, contrary to the pride of nature, was published as the way to happiness and a blessed immortality: the dearest lusts were to be pierced to death for the honor of this new Lord. Other religions brought wealth and honor; this struck them off from such expectations, and presented them with no promise of anything in this life, but a prospect of misery; except those inward consolations to which before they had been utter strangers, and had never experimented. It made them to depend not upon themselves, but upon the sole grace of God. It decried all natural, all moral idolatry, things as dear to men as the apple of their eyes. It despoiled them of whatsoever the mind, will, and affections of men, naturally lay claim to, and glory in. It pulled self up by the roots, unmanned carnal man, and debased the principle of honor and self-satisfaction, which the world counted at that time noble and brave. In a word, it took them off from themselves, to act like creatures of God’s framing; to know no more than he would admit them, and do no more than he did command them. How difficult must it needs be to reduce men, that placed all their happiness in the pleasures of this life, from their pompous idolatry an brutish affections, to this mortifying religion! What might the world say? Here is a doctrine will render us a company of puling animals: farewell generosity, bravery, sense of honor, courage in enlarging the bounds of our country, for an ardent charity to the bitterest of our enemies. Here is a religion will rust our swords, canker our arms, dispirit what we have hitherto called virtue, and annihilate what hath been esteemed worthy and comely among mankind. Must we change conquest for suffering, the increase of our reputation for self-denial, the natural sentiment of selfpreservation for affecting a dreadful death? How impossible was it that a crucified Lord, and a crucifying doctrine should be received in the world without the mighty operation of a divine power upon the hearts of men! And in this also the almighty power of God did notably shine forth.
2. Divine power appeared in the instruments employed for the publishing and propagating the gospel; who were (1.) Mean and worthless in themselves: not noble and dignified with an earthly grandeur, but of a low condition, meanly bred: so far from any splendid estates, that they possessed nothing but their nets; without any credit and reputation in the world; without comeliness and strength; as unfit to subdue the world by preaching, as an army of hares were to conquer it by war: not learned doctors, bred up at the feet of the famous Rabbins at Jerusalem, whom Paul calls “the princes of the world” (1 Cor. 2:8); nor nursed up in the school of Athens, under the philosophers and orators of the time: not the wise men of Greece , but the fishermen of Galilee; naturally skilled in no language but their own, and no more exact in that than those of the same condition in any other nation: ignorant of everything but the language of their lakes, and their fishing trade; except Paul, called some time after the rest to that employment: and after the descent of the Spirit, they were ignorant and unlearned in everything but the doctrine they were commanded to publish; for the council, before whom they were summoned, proved them to be so, which increased their wonder at them (Acts 4:13). Had it been published by a voice from heaven, that twelve poor men, taken out of boats and creeks, without any help of learning, should conquer the world to the cross, it might have been thought an illusion against all the reason of men; yet we know it was undertaken and accomplished by them. They published this doctrine in Jerusalem, and quickly spread it over the greatest part of the world. Folly outwitted wisdom, and weakness overpowered strength. The conquest of the east by Alexander was not so admirable as the enterprise of these poor men. He attempted his conquest with the hands of a warlike nation, though, indeed, but a small number of thirty thousand against multitudes, many hundred thousands of the enemies; yet an effeminate enemy; a people inured to slaughter and victory attacked great numbers, but enfeebled by luxury and voluptuousness. Besides, he was bred up to such enterprises, had a learned education under the best philosopher, and a military education under the best commander, and a natural courage to animate him. These instruments had no such advantage from nature; the heavenly treasure was placed in those earthen vessels, as Gideon’s lamps in empty pitchers (Judges 7:16), that the excellency, or hyperbole, of the power, might be of God (2 Cor. 4:7), and the strength of his arm be displayed in the infirmity of the instruments. They were destitute of earthly wisdom, and therefore despised by the Jews, and derided by the Gentiles; the publishers were accounted madmen, and the embracers fools. Had they been men of known natural endowments, the power of God had been veiled under the gifts of the creature.
The Existence and Attributes of God