Jesus Delivered to PilateMatthew 27 1 When morning came, all the chief priests and the elders of the people took counsel against Jesus to put him to death. 2 And they bound him and led him away and delivered him over to Pilate the governor.
Judas Hangs Himself3 Then when Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he changed his mind and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, 4 saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” They said, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.” 5 And throwing down the pieces of silver into the temple, he departed, and he went and hanged himself. 6 But the chief priests, taking the pieces of silver, said, “It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, since it is blood money.” 7 So they took counsel and bought with them the potter’s field as a burial place for strangers. 8 Therefore that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day. 9 Then was fulfilled what had been spoken by the prophet Jeremiah, saying, “And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of him on whom a price had been set by some of the sons of Israel, 10 and they gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord directed me.”
Jesus Before Pilate11 Now Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus said, “You have said so.” 12 But when he was accused by the chief priests and elders, he gave no answer. 13 Then Pilate said to him, “Do you not hear how many things they testify against you?” 14 But he gave him no answer, not even to a single charge, so that the governor was greatly amazed.
The Crowd Chooses Barabbas15 Now at the feast the governor was accustomed to release for the crowd any one prisoner whom they wanted. 16 And they had then a notorious prisoner called Barabbas. 17 So when they had gathered, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release for you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?” 18 For he knew that it was out of envy that they had delivered him up. 19 Besides, while he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him, “Have nothing to do with that righteous man, for I have suffered much because of him today in a dream.” 20 Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus. 21 The governor again said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?” And they said, “Barabbas.” 22 Pilate said to them, “Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?” They all said, “Let him be crucified!” 23 And he said, “Why? What evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Let him be crucified!”
Pilate Delivers Jesus to Be Crucified24 So when Pilate saw that he was gaining nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves.” 25 And all the people answered, “His blood be on us and on our children!” 26 Then he released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, delivered him to be crucified.
Jesus Is Mocked27 Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor’s headquarters, and they gathered the whole battalion before him. 28 And they stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, 29 and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on his head and put a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” 30 And they spit on him and took the reed and struck him on the head. 31 And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him and led him away to crucify him.
The Crucifixion32 As they went out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name. They compelled this man to carry his cross. 33 And when they came to a place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull), 34 they offered him wine to drink, mixed with gall, but when he tasted it, he would not drink it. 35 And when they had crucified him, they divided his garments among them by casting lots. 36 Then they sat down and kept watch over him there. 37 And over his head they put the charge against him, which read, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.” 38 Then two robbers were crucified with him, one on the right and one on the left. 39 And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads 40 and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” 41 So also the chief priests, with the scribes and elders, mocked him, saying, 42 “He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. 43 He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him. For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’ ” 44 And the robbers who were crucified with him also reviled him in the same way.
The Death of Jesus45 Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. 46 And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 47 And some of the bystanders, hearing it, said, “This man is calling Elijah.” 48 And one of them at once ran and took a sponge, filled it with sour wine, and put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink. 49 But the others said, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.” 50 And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit.
51 And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. 52 The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, 53 and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many. 54 When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!”
55 There were also many women there, looking on from a distance, who had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to him, 56 among whom were Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Joseph and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.
Jesus Is Buried57 When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who also was a disciple of Jesus. 58 He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. 59 And Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen shroud 60 and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had cut in the rock. And he rolled a great stone to the entrance of the tomb and went away. 61 Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb.
The Guard at the Tomb62 The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate 63 and said, “Sir, we remember how that impostor said, while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise.’ 64 Therefore order the tomb to be made secure until the third day, lest his disciples go and steal him away and tell the people, ‘He has risen from the dead,’ and the last fraud will be worse than the first.” 65 Pilate said to them, “You have a guard of soldiers. Go, make it as secure as you can.” 66 So they went and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard.
The ResurrectionMatthew 28 1 Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. 2 And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. 4 And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. 5 But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. 6 He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you.” 8 So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9 And behold, Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.”
The Report of the Guard11 While they were going, behold, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests all that had taken place. 12 And when they had assembled with the elders and taken counsel, they gave a sufficient sum of money to the soldiers 13 and said, “Tell people, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ 14 And if this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” 15 So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story has been spread among the Jews to this day.
The Great Commission16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
What I'm Reading
News I Can Use
By R.C. Sproul Jr. 5/01/2015
A case could be made that what separates Reformed believers from the rest of the evangelical church is less the competing doctrinal perspectives of Calvinism versus Arminianism and more the competing perspectives on the value of doctrine. That is, we who are Reformed, because we affirm particular doctrines, are quick to affirm that doctrine matters. This ought not surprise us, since it goes back to the start of the Reformation. When the Roman Catholic humanist scholar Erasmus wrote his Diatribe against the wisdom of Luther, he took a rather slippery stance, arguing less against any particular idea and arguing more for the wisdom of not being too particular. Luther responded in the classic The Bondage of the Will, saying, Spiritus Sanctus non est skepticus—“the Holy Spirit is not a skeptic.”
The broader evangelical church, as a general rule, is much more concerned with practical matters than theology in the abstract. In a Reformed church, for example, you may well expect to hear a seven-part sermon series on God’s eternal decrees. In a broader evangelical church, you are more likely to hear a seven-part sermon series on how to have a more joyful marriage.
It is important, of course, to have a sound and biblical understanding of God’s sovereignty over all things, to at least have a beginning understanding of His decrees. One way to get there might be seven sound sermons on His decrees. It is also important, however, to have a joyful marriage. One way to get there might be seven sound sermons on joyful marriages. We can talk about and be preached to about both of these precisely because the Bible speaks to both of these issues. These two approaches need not be at war with each other. Both have their place.
What concerns me, however, is the false dichotomy we create when we talk about doctrine and practical matters in this way. That is, it is a profoundly practical matter to understand God’s decrees. And how we have joyful marriages is deeply connected with sound doctrine. You can’t misunderstand Christ and His church while still understanding husbands and wives well (Eph. 5).
Not only, however, are doctrine and practical matters inextricably bound together, but there is another element we would do well not to forget. The Christian faith touches not just on what we think, not just on what we do, but also on how we feel. We are called to doctrinal orthodoxy, to practical orthopraxy, and to emotional orthopathos. We are called to feel rightly.
The world, of course, has a different perspective. Just as epistemological relativism affirms, “I can have my own truth and will have no one rule over my mind,” and ethical relativism affirms, “I can affirm my own right and wrong and no one shall rule over my conscience,” so emotional relativism affirms, “I can feel whatever my heart desires, and no one will rule over my feelings.” Indeed, in the world, feelings have no need for any justification. Whatever we feel, we feel. It is what it is.
We as Christians, however, are not of this world. We have another calling. The great commandment demands that we love the Lord our God not just with all our minds and with all our strength, but with all our hearts as well. Love encompasses knowing who He is. It encompasses obeying His commands. But it also is genuine emotion. A failure to love Him with all our hearts isn’t something that happens to us but is instead something of which we are guilty. Love is the only right and fitting response to His glory, for He is altogether lovely.
These three, however — our heads, our hands, and our hearts — are not just three pillars standing side by side. Rather, they are three strands of one strong cord. They are intertwined with each other, strengthening each other. The more we know about who God is, the more our heart resounds with joy.
Consider Paul as our great example. How often in his epistles does Paul find himself, as he explains some tough theological nut or unpacks a tangled concept, breaking into doxology? In the same vein, the more we love God, the more we want to know Him. Of course, the more we know Him, the more we know His law, for it is but a reflection of Him. It reveals His character, which is why the psalmist cries out to the Lord, “Oh how I love your law!” (Ps. 119:97).
The more we know Him, the more we know His law, the more we know our dependence on His grace, which should in turn redound to our gratitude and our joy. Indeed, the fullness of the fruit of the Spirit flourishes in the soil of the soul as a deeper sense of our need and His provision, which means knowing more of His law and more of His grace.
As we are called to seek first His kingdom, we would be wise to remember that the king and the kingdom are one. We are seeking Him, the express image of our heavenly Father.
Doctrine matters. Practice matters. Feeling matters. For all that we are is His. There is nothing more practical than doctrine. There is nothing more true than obedience. And there is nothing more moving than Him.
R.C. Sproul Jr. Books | Go to Books Page
A Call for Endurance
By R.C. Sproul 5/01/2015
I’m not a prophet or the son of a prophet. I’ve made a lot of predictions and guesses about the future that haven’t come true. As I told the congregation of Saint Andrew’s Chapel a few weeks ago during a sermon, I’m not infallible, nor have I ever claimed to be infallible.
On occasion, however, my predictions of the future have been accurate. When you’ve been writing a monthly column for as long as I have, you invariably comment on cultural matters and the direction that the culture is heading. Recently, I was reading a column I wrote twenty-five years ago for the January 1990 issue of Tabletalk, and I was amazed at how prescient it turned out to be.
I wish I could say I’m happy about that. In the column I addressed the specter of a new dark age in our culture. I wasn’t referring to a new dark age in terms of the stunted growth of knowledge. What was true then remains true today: we have more knowledge than we know what to do with. Knowledge in every field of study is growing so rapidly that no one can absorb it all. Scholars must choose increasingly narrow specializations to have hope of gaining expertise, and then it is only expertise in a relative sense. This reality has only grown worse with the advent of the Internet and the way it makes truth—and falsehood—more easily accessible than our forefathers ever dreamed.
The dark age to which I was referring was an age of moral darkness, a darkness due to the eclipse of God. Twenty-five years ago our culture would not have God in its thinking, and the same is true today. As a society, we have preferred for the light to be shrouded. We’ve chosen to close our minds to the truth. And yet, the light remains. Just as a solar eclipse obscures but does not destroy the light, our moral darkness hides but does not eliminate the light. We see the truth of the apostle Paul’s teaching that we suppress the truth in unrighteousness — but we cannot destroy the truth (Rom. 1:18–32).
Humanity remains incurably religious, and we retain the innate sense that we must live by a moral code. But on account of our suppression of the truth, this moral code is twisted to reflect the darkness of our own hearts, not the immutable moral law of God.
Futile thinking continues to result from this. Our darkened minds attempt to shroud the truth of our creator, and we as a society fail to honor Him. This has led to the loss of honor itself, to the sacrifice not only of divine dignity but of human dignity as well.
Twenty-five years ago, I predicted that this eclipse would manifest itself in various cultural struggles such as abortion. Though we have seen the rise of crisis pregnancy centers and bans on partial birth abortion, our culture continues to endorse abortion on demand.
I also predicted that the state would zealously protect its supposed autonomy, interpreting the separation of church and state to mean the separation of the state and God. As I write this column, the state and federal courts of the United States have declared that “homosexual marriage” is a right in the majority of U.S. states, and come June the Supreme Court will rule on whether the Constitution guarantees this right to all U.S. citizens. Since the law is being determined by collective preference and not the revelation of God in the natural order, I have little doubt that the highest court in the land will feel no shame in casting aside God’s definition of marriage in favor of the current spirit of the age. In all this, some churches have already capitulated. They are either silent on these matters of life and human sexuality, or they have bowed to cultural pressure to abandon what God says on these matters.
Yet I do not mean to paint a picture of gloom and doom. There are faithful believers and churches who are not capitulating. God’s kingdom continues to grow around the world. The light of divine truth shines brightly even though at times the darkness seems overwhelming. Our Lord is building His church, and He will not be thwarted (Matt. 16:18). At times it may seem as if the darkness is winning, but God’s Word stands firm. People around the world are hungry for His truth, and by the Lord’s grace, His people are taking it to the nations.
Twenty-five years ago, I predicted that a tremendous struggle was coming.
We are living in the midst of it. Such is the plight of the church militant in every generation. The struggle manifests itself in different forms, but it is essentially the same. We are called in our generation to be faithful to the gospel, for the honor of God is at stake. And when the honor of God is at stake, so is the honor of every human being, for it is God who grants dignity to men and women. Our high calling is to remain faithful to the Lord in this struggle, to fight for the truth of God’s Word and not to compromise. If we remain faithful, we are promised a sure and great reward: “The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death” (Rev. 2:11b).
Robert Charles Sproul, 2/13/1939 – 12/14/2017 was an American theologian, author, and ordained pastor in the Presbyterian Church in America. Dr. R.C. Sproul was founder and chairman of Ligonier Ministries, an international Christian education and discipleship organization located near Orlando, Fla. He was also copastor of Saint Andrew’s Chapel in Sanford, Fla., chancellor of Reformation Bible College, and executive editor of Tabletalk magazine. Dr. Sproul has contributed dozens of articles to national evangelical publications, has spoken at conferences, churches, and schools around the world, and has written more than one hundred books. He also served as general editor of the Reformation Study Bible.R.C. Sproul Books | Go to Books Page
The Same Gospel
By Dave Furman 5/01/2015
Two years ago on Christmas eve, Martin and Maria (not their real names), along with their two young children, came to our worship gathering. For this family, from a “least-reached nation” in the East, it was the first time they had ever stepped foot into a gathering of Christians. Martin and Maria thought they were merely accepting an invitation to show interest in their friends, but what happened that night would change their lives forever.
The order of service wasn’t fancy — there was singing, reading God’s Word, and a sermon. During the presentation of the gospel, both Martin and Maria felt, in their own words, “a sensation they’d never felt before.” In the days that followed, they couldn’t get Jesus out of their minds. They began to study the Bible with someone from our church. Through study of God’s Word it became obvious to them that Jesus is who He says He is. Both Martin and Maria repented of their sin and confessed that Jesus Christ is both Lord and Savior.
The gospel changes lives. Though there are certainly cultural differences between the West and the East, we must resist the temptation to change the gospel. If we do, and people respond, then we have won people not just to a “variation” of the gospel, but to a false gospel, which is no gospel at all. Only the gospel of God concerning His Son is the good news. We want people to hear God’s truth and not a deceitful version of the message. The truth is that our sin against a holy God deserves death and God’s righteous judgment. It is only through faith in Christ’s sacrifice for sinners that we will be saved.
We share the same gospel in the East as in the West because Romans 1:16 tells us that it is God’s power for salvation. Milton Vincent’s little book Gospel Primer says:
It’s interesting that the Bible only attributes the phrase “power of God” in reference to the Gospel. Outside of heaven, the power of God in its highest density is found inside the Gospel. Nothing else in all of Scripture is ever described in this way except for the Person of Jesus Christ. Such a description indicates that the gospel is not only powerful, but that it is the ultimate entity in which God’s power resides and does its greatest work.
There is no better message that we can share. and so there is no need to change it, distort it, rewrite it, add to it, or subtract from it. If you adjust the gospel, you destroy it. Gospel revision always equals gospel reversal. In a culture that is different from ours and even in dangerous contexts, why would we ever want to risk our lives to proclaim news that has no power unto salvation?
We are not the authors of the gospel, but ambassadors. As an ambassador, we don’t have the authority to change the message, regardless of whether we minister in Montana, Mozambique, or Malaysia. We are called to herald God’s message to the world.
Long ago, before there was television and the Internet, when a military had a big victory the king would send a herald into the town centers of the villages, and they would declare the good news and then run into the next town square proclaiming the victory. The herald had no ability to make the news but only to share what the king had declared. That’s what we are called to do: to take the same gospel as it is and proclaim the good news about what our king Jesus has already done.
When we work in areas different from the one from which we came, we might be tempted to hold back parts of the gospel that seem difficult for people to believe. Perhaps we may leave out things like man’s sin, God’s wrath, and eternal damnation for sinners in order to make the gospel “kinder.” We might also be tempted to make the gospel more prosperous in the here-and-now by promising earthly riches that Jesus doesn’t promise. This is prevalent in my part of the world, as this false gospel often elicits a greater response from the masses. Or as is also common, we might change the gospel in the name of contextualization, thinking that a people group could never understand the gospel as it is. And while there is merit to considering various entry points to the gospel with certain cultures (for example, guilt-, shame-, and fear-based cultures), we dare not change the one gospel that leads to salvation. There is one message of good news and any other message is wholly un-Christian.
I’m thankful for the people who are committed to the gospel here in my part of the world. I’m thankful for those who are committed to sharing the same gospel that is revealed in God’s Word. We pray for more of our lost brothers and sisters like Martin and Maria who are currently walking in darkness to come and see a great light (Isa. 9:2). Praise God that there are many who are, even now, hearing the gospel preached, are being confronted with their sinfulness before a holy God, are seeing that Christ is their only hope, and are turning to Him for salvation. May the Holy Spirit rush through this land like a mighty wind.
Using Your Gifts
By Ken Jones 6/01/2015
In his correspondences with the various churches with which he interacted, the Apostle Paul is clear on the fact that God endows individuals within the body of Christ with skills and abilities for the purpose of edifying the whole body. In 1 Corinthians 12:7, he says it is generally the case that the manifestation of spiritual gifts are for “the common good.” And by common good in that context, he means the body of Christ either at large or locally. In Ephesians 4:16, he describes the church as a human body with individual parts that are “joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped.” And we are further told that when each joint is “working properly,” it “makes the body grow, so that it builds itself up in love.” This is part of the beauty of the body of Christ. And one of the benefits of being a part of that body is that the mercies and love of God, which are located in Christ, are conveyed to us and nurtured within us and through the agency and giftedness of those with whom we are in fellowship.
However, the testimony of Scripture is that throughout redemptive history, God’s people have used their gifts not just for those within the covenant community but for others as well. In fact, Abraham is told at the time of his calling that he will “be a blessing” (Gen. 12:2). Ultimately, Abraham is a blessing to “all the families of the earth” because in him we have the line from which Christ comes. But in Genesis 14, Abraham takes his army of 318 trained servants and defeats a coalition of nations that had taken his nephew Lot captive. The pagan kingdoms of Sodom and Gomorrah also benefit from Abraham’s victory.
There are two other Old Testament examples illustrated with even more clarity. In the first place, there is the case of Joseph in the book of Genesis after he had been sold into slavery and brought to Egypt. While Joseph was a servant in Potiphar’s house, we read:
The Lord was with Joseph, and he became a successful man and he was in the house of his Egyptian master. His master saw that the Lord was with him and that the Lord caused all that he did to succeed in his hands. (Gen. 39:2–3)
The fact that Potiphar “saw that the Lord was with Joseph” and caused him to succeed does not mean that Potiphar gained a full and saving knowledge of God. But it does seem to indicate that Potiphar realized that Joseph’s extraordinary skills and success were divinely inspired, so much so that he put all of his household business under Joseph’s oversight. Eventually, things between Joseph and Potiphar soured because of false charges brought against Joseph by Potiphar’s wife that caused Joseph’s master to throw him in prison.
When Joseph is introduced to us in Genesis 37, he is depicted as a dreamer of dreams. But while in prison, he was gifted with the ability to interpret dreams. Eventually, this gift brought him before Pharaoh to interpret a difficult and troubling dream. When Pharaoh had Joseph brought into his presence he said, “I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream, you can interpret it” (Gen. 41:15). Joseph responded by saying, “It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer” (v. 16). In this “favorable answer,” Pharaoh was warned of a coming famine and instructed on how to establish a surplus ahead of the famine, a surplus that would allow people from outlying areas to buy grain during this period. Ultimately, God used the Egyptian surplus to preserve the seed of Abraham and the messianic line (45:7). Pharaoh raised Joseph to the position of second in command in Egypt because, as he acknowledged, “can we find a man like this in whom is the spirit of God?” (41:38). We are not told whether Joseph’s encounter led people to worship the God of Joseph, but we do know that his gifts were used for the benefit of many (50:20).
The second example is Daniel and his three friends while in Babylon. Daniel 1:17 says, “As for these four youths, God gave them learning and skill in all literature and wisdom, and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams.” The king of Babylon acknowledged these young men to be “ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters that were in all his kingdom” (Dan. 1:20). As the Egyptian pharaoh did with Joseph, the king of Babylon placed Daniel and his friends “over the affairs of the province of Babylon” (2:49).
What is on display in these Old Testament examples is what the Apostle Paul admonishes in Philippians 2:15: “That you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world.” Yes, we have a prophetic function in this world sounding forth the word of God. We also have an evangelistic function in this world, captured in the Great Commission. But on top of all of that, we have a neighborly function in this world, captured in the summary of the second table of the law, which is to love our neighbors as ourselves. We are to use our gifts for the good and the well-being of all, in our homes, our jobs, in our communities, and throughout the world, as we have opportunity. This is what it means to be salt and light in a dark and unsavory world.
Theological Fidelity: An Interview with David Garner
By David Garner 6/01/2015
Tabletalk: How did God call you to become a seminary professor, and how does that calling serve the local church?
David Garner: Some have enjoyed a deep sense of call since childhood; others have longed for certain vocations or ministry destinations, and found their steps markedly (and not always easily) redirected. Irrespective of anecdotes, calling consists of more than personal intuitions. The Lord uses the church’s “objective” voice to issue and confirm calling.
For me, this objective voice boomed loudly. While serving in pastoral ministry and parachurch ministry, strong exhortations came repeatedly from leaders in Christ’s church: “Pursue further education so that you can use your gifts more effectively.” God paved the way for PhD studies, which eventually facilitated my current dual call at Westminster Theological Seminary and Proclamation Presbyterian Church.
The church is Christ’s bride for whom He died. There is no more critical entity on earth. Alongside my pastoral ministry, teaching students state-side and abroad has kept me close to the church, because as a “seed bed” (the original meaning of seminary), the seminary prepares servants of Christ’s church. I teach students in the seminary context because of its churchly focus and value.
TT: It’s often the case throughout history that men have founded seminaries on biblical faithfulness, but then over time those seminaries became apostate. What are some of the reasons for this phenomenon, and how can laypeople help keep this from happening?
DG: Please pray for seminaries and their professors. For the theologian, personal renown dresses as a scantily clad mistress with mischievous lures. History evidences how a scholar’s overconfidence and inordinate desire to be known derail his soul from Scriptural authority and theological fidelity. Innovative methods and provocative conclusions secure public recognition, but at exhorbitant cost. When getting noticed trumps faithfulness, disaster inescapably ensues. Many faithful institutions have crumbled beneath the weight of academic egos.
How should the church respond? Boldly and unrelentingly. God’s people must not tolerate godless and contortionistic conclusions proffered by even the most winsome and persuasive academic personalities. If a teacher even subtly opposes the faith, rather than stroking his self-image by blog posts and book sales, the church should call him to repentance (and not buy his books).
TT: What does it mean for a pastor to be a pastor-theologian?
DG: Dwelling in God’s world and proclaiming God’s Word, the pastor’s task remains exhaustively theological—transcendent yet timely, urgent yet enduring, informative yet exhortative, and sober yet joyful.
Teaching the greatest truths in the universe captivates my soul with awe and joy. The pastor’s study offers sanctified turf, where he ponders the deep things of God, worships the God of these deep things, and then formulates worshipful contemplations into words. Stepping into the pulpit or behind the lectern, he heralds the message of the King.
While not everyone possesses equal intellectual or communication gifts, each pastor bears the responsibility of delivering God’s Word to God’s people. Even the Apostle Paul declared, “Even if I am unskilled in speaking, I am not so in knowledge” (2 Cor. 11:6a). Every minister must operate self-consciously, deliberately, carefully, and delightedly as a theologian of the highest order.
An additional point ensues. Theological contemplation is never private domain. The preacher doesn’t function autonomously; in fact, his work is, in a very important sense, shared and uncreative. As a contemporary spokesman, the preacher preaches the historic deposit of faith, following thousands who have gone before him with a view to the untold thousands that will follow. Theological fidelity celebrates orthodox, zealous faith in the past and the future.
TT: What are some practical ways church leaders can encourage laypeople in their congregations to study theology?
DG: Due to the blessing of education and the accessibility of digital and print materials, congregation members can study Scripture in ways unprecedented in earlier generations. This privileged task bears a double edge. Accessibility and opportunity create accountability. With vast resources at our fingertips, should not this generation of believers imbibe the deep things of God and evidence unrivaled love and obedience to the Lord Jesus?
As church leaders, we must read and then recommend certain readings energetically and discerningly. We can vet and stock church libraries and encourage church reading groups. We can commend resources when teaching or preaching and pen our own theological and pastoral reflections for our congregations, aiming to whet their appetites.
Further, we should aid our congregations in cultivating biblically contoured minds and hearts. We should pray with the Apostle Paul “that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him” (Eph. 1:17). As part of this call to spiritual recalibration, we should expound how theology speaks into all spheres of life. Christ’s lordship is comprehensive (Eph. 1:15–23), and God’s people must come to know, love, and delight in this precious, poignant, and piercing reality.
TT: Many individuals feel they shouldn’t study theology because the Bible itself contains all the theology we need. How would you respond to such a sentiment?
DG: In one important sense, such thinking is true. Scripture is the final voice on all things: it speaks authoritatively, clearly, and sufficiently. But the Bible is not a handbook on theology and is not organized thematically. Scripture speaks directly in its specific wording, but it also speaks authoritatively in what it teaches by “good and necessary consequence” (WCF 1.6). Biblical authority operates in what it affirms and denies, and faithful theology serves the church by articulating what exactly Scripture teaches. The faithful Christian should ever ruminate upon, relish, and retell the treasures of God’s Word.
TT: What is the “Insider Movement”?
DG: An “Insider Movement” (IM) is a contemporary missions phenomenon, where nationals of another religion are encouraged to maintain their current identities, cultures, and religions while professing Jesus Christ. Insider Movements include self-professing “Buddhist followers of Christ” and “Messianic Muslims.”
Such movements are common in certain parts of Asia and Africa. Fueled by Western missionaries and church dollars, they’ve led many who are entangled in false religions to believe that they can—and even must—retain their former identities and practices and follow Jesus as well.
TT: What are the problems with the Insider Movement, and what is the solution?
DG: A number of theological and practical problemssurface.In the name of cultural diversity and local autonomy, IM advocates insist that Jesus is not concerned with religion, but only with the heart. This false dichotomy leads to confusion about the meaning of Christ’s lordship, the relevance of faith in Him, the nature of discipleship, the marks of the church, and the unity of the true church of Jesus Christ worldwide. At worst, it perpetuates idolatry, leading many to false faith in a false version of Christ.
Beyond its theological errors, IM has created countless practical problems. In some Muslim contexts, for example, Muslims do not know whether Insiders are Christians or Muslims. Even Muslim leaders perceive the incongruity and cry foul over the claims of a “Muslim Christ follower.” Further, from what I have witnessed, most children of IM-ers marry those of their former(?) religion, making the IM version of Christianity not only theologically schizophrenic and syncretistic, but also short-lived.
The only antidote to IM error is the proclamation of the pure gospel in its full scope and glory (Gal. 1:1–9).
TT: What are a few practical ways the church can help new christians—especially those in other countries—deal with the social and economic difficulties that may attend their newfound faith in Christ?
DG: God’s people have never been strangers to social and financial trouble. The bonds of gospel joy join frequently with the bonds of gospel suffering. While the church in one region can and even should provide financial assistance to the church in another region (2 Cor. 9), the greatest ministry gift remains diligent prayer and mutual exhortations to faith and faithfulness.
Contentment derives not from bounty or even need, but from the soul-lessons of Christ’s abundant provision in all circumstances (Phil. 4:12). Regular intercession, in this important way, transcends attempted, and frequently inadequate, intervention.
The Reformed Doctrine of God
How the State Serves Salvation
By Jonathan Leeman 6/01/2015
Don’t put too much hope in government. But don’t give up on it either. Churches need good governments. In fact, God gave the world governments so that churches can do their work in peace. The government’s work is a prerequisite to the mission of the church and salvation, just as learning to read is a prerequisite to reading the Bible.
A culture and its political institutions might turn against Christianity, but Christians should strive to make an impact as long as they have opportunity. It can get worse. Just ask the Christians in China or Iran.
A Stage for Redemption
Think back to the Bible’s first chapters. After the flood, God gives Noah the same commission he gave to Adam (“be fruitful and multiply”), only this time God provides a charter for government: “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed” (Gen. 9:6).
The immediate purpose of Genesis 9:5–6 is to render judgment and keep the Cains from killing the Abels, just as the immediate purposes of highway guardrails is to keep cars on the road. But the ultimate purpose of government is to provide a platform for God’s plan of redemption, just as the ultimate purposes of those guardrails is to help cars get from city A to city B.
Genesis 9 comes before Genesis 12 and the call of Abraham for a reason. Government provides a stage on which God’s redemptive drama can play out.
Paul, therefore, observes that God determines the borders of nations and the dates of their duration so that people might seek Him (Acts 17:26–27). People need to be able to walk to church without getting mauled by marauders. They cannot get saved if they are dead. The work of government, in short, provides a platform for the work of the saints.
Two Kinds of Governments
Two basic kinds of governments, then, show up in the Bible: those that shelter God’s people, and those that destroy them. Abimelech sheltered; Pharoah destroyed. The Assyrians destroyed; the Babylonians and Persians, ultimately, sheltered. Pilate destroyed; Festus sheltered. And depending on how you read Revelation, the history of government will culminate in a beastly slaughter of saintly blood.
Romans 13 calls governments servants; Psalm 2 calls them imposters. Most governments contain both. But some are better than others.
Yes, Jesus will build His church. No, the worst governments cannot stop the Holy Spirit. Yes, God often moves underground, undisclosed to governments.
But bad governments, from a human standpoint, really do make the church’s work difficult. The slaughter, evacuation, and near-extinction of Christians in portions of Iraq and Syria today testifies to this fact, as did the Muslim occupation of North Africa in the latter centuries of the first millennium.
In A History of Christianity in Asia, Samuel Hugh Moffett observes:
Sharp persecution breaks off only the tips of the branches; it produces martyrs and the tree still grows. Neverending social and political repression … starves the roots; it stifles evangelism and the church declines. Such was the history of the church in Asia under Islam, until … Tamerlane swept the continent with the persecution to end all persecutions, the wholesale massacres that gave him the name of ”the exterminator” and gave Asian Christianity what appeared to be its final, fatal blow.
By the same token, Christians should be concerned about those in European governments who want to classify belief in God as a mental illness, or to criminalize proselytizing Muslims, or to ban homeschooling because it allows children to be indoctrinated. Christians in America, too, should take incursions against religious liberty seriously.
Four lessons follow:
(1) Pray. Paul urges us to pray for kings and all in high positions so that we may lead peaceful and quiet lives. “This is good” and “pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved” (1 Tim. 2:3–4). We pray for our government so that the saints might live peaceful lives and people will get saved.
(2) Engage. We render to Caesar what is Caesar’s by paying taxes, yes, but in a democratic context, we also do this by voting, lobbying, lawyering, or running for office. Even in an empire, Paul, for the sake of the gospel, pulled the political levers he had. He invoked his citizenship and appealed to Caesar. Steward opportunities while you have them.
(3) Evangelize. Moffett observes that what finally killed the advance of Christianity across Asia “was not the persecution of a Tamerlane, though the permanent effects of that ravaging destruction still linger. More crippling than any persecution was the church’s own long line of decisions … to compromise evangelistic and missionary priorities for the sake of survival.”
(4) Trust. Jesus will win. That is our only source of hope for tomorrow and strength for today.
Finally, let me offer thanks to the Christians who work in government, whether politicians or police men. It might feel futile at times, but you’re building a stage for the drama of redemption.
Jonathan Leeman Books:
- 1 Don't Fire Your Church Members: The Case for Congregationalism
- 2 Four Views on the Church's Mission (Counterpoints: Bible and Theology)
- 3 Word-Centered Church: How Scripture Brings Life and Growth to God's People
- 4 Political Church: The Local Assembly as Embassy of Christ's Rule (Studies in Christian Doctrine and Scripture)
- 5 Understanding the Congregation's Authority (Church Basics)
- 6 The Church and the Surprising Offense of God's Love: Reintroducing the Doctrines of Church Membership and Discipline (IX Marks)
- 7 Don't Call It a Comeback: The Old Faith for a New Day (Gospel Coalition Series)
- 8 Reverberation: How God's Word Brings Light, Freedom, and Action to His People (9Marks)
- 9 Unashamed of the Gospel
- 10 The Underestimated Gospel
- 11 The Reformation and Your Church | 9Marks Journal
- 12 Authority | 9Marks Journal: God's good and dangerous gift
Read The Psalms In "1" Year
Psalm 112The Righteous Will Never Be Moved
112 Praise the LORD.
112:1 Praise the LORD!
Blessed is the man who fears the LORD,
who greatly delights in his commandments!
2 His offspring will be mighty in the land;
the generation of the upright will be blessed.
3 Wealth and riches are in his house,
and his righteousness endures forever.
4 Light dawns in the darkness for the upright;
he is gracious, merciful, and righteous.
5 It is well with the man who deals generously and lends;
who conducts his affairs with justice.
6 For the righteous will never be moved;
he will be remembered forever.
7 He is not afraid of bad news;
his heart is firm, trusting in the LORD.
8 His heart is steady; he will not be afraid,
until he looks in triumph on his adversaries.
9 He has distributed freely; he has given to the poor;
his righteousness endures forever;
his horn is exalted in honor.
10 The wicked man sees it and is angry;
he gnashes his teeth and melts away;
the desire of the wicked will perish!
Chapter 3 | Persecutions from the Early Part of the Eighth, to Near the Conclusion of the Tenth CenturyBoniface, archbishop of Mentz, and father of the German church, was an Englishman, and is, in ecclasiastical history, looked upon as one of the brightest ornaments of this nation. Originally his name was Winfred, or Winfrith, and he was born at Kirton, in Devonshire, then part of the West-Saxon kingdom. When he was only about six years of age, he began to discover a propensity to reflection, and seemed solicitous to gain information on religious subjects. Wolfrad, the abbot, finding that he possessed a bright genius, as well as a strong inclination to study, had him removed to Nutscelle, a seminary of learning in the diocese of Winchester, where he would have a much greater opportunity of attaining improvements than at Exeter.
After due study, the abbot seeing him qualified for the priesthood, obliged him to receive that holy order when he was about thirty years old. From which time he began to preach and labor for the salvation of his fellow creatures; he was released to attend a synod of bishops in the kingdom of West-Saxons. He afterwards, in 719, went to Rome, where Gregory II who then sat in Peter's chair, received him with great friendship, and finding him full of all virtues that compose the character of an apostolic missionary, dismissed him without commission at large to preach the Gospel to the pagans wherever he found them. Passing through Lombardy and Bavaria, he came to Thuringia, which country had before received the light of the Gospel, he next visited Utrecht, and then proceeded to Saxony, where he converted some thousands to Christianity.
During the ministry of this meek prelate, Pepin was declared king of France. It was that prince's ambition to be crowned by the most holy prelate he could find, and Boniface was pitched on to perform that ceremony, which he did at Soissons, in 752. The next year, his great age and many infirmities lay so heavy on him, that, with the consent of the new king, and the bishops of his diocese, he consecrated Lullus, his countryman, and faithful disciple, and placed him in the see of Mentz. When he had thus eased himself of his charge, he recommended the church of Mentz to the care of the new bishop in very strong terms, desired he would finish the church at Fuld, and see him buried in it, for his end was near. Having left these orders, he took boat to the Rhine, and went to Friesland, where he converted and baptized several thousands of barbarous natives, demolished the temples, and raised churches on the ruins of those superstitious structures. A day being appointed for confirming a great number of new converts, he ordered them to assemble in a new open plain, near the river Bourde. Thither he repaired the day before; and, pitching a tent, determined to remain on the spot all night, in order to be ready early in the morning. Some pagans, who were his inveterate enemies, having intelligence of this, poured down upon him and the companions of his mission in the night, and killed him and fifty-two of his companions and attendants on June 5, A.D. 755. Thus fell the great father of the Germanic Church, the honor of England, and the glory of the age in which he lived.
Forty-two persons of Armorian in Upper Phyrgia, were martyred in the year 845, by the Saracens, the circumstances of which transactions are as follows:
In the reign of Theophilus, the Saracens ravaged many parts of the eastern empire, gained several considerable advantages over the Christians, took the city of Armorian, and numbers suffered martyrdom.
Flora and Mary, two ladies of distinction, suffered martyrdom at the same time.
Perfectus was born at Corduba, in Spain, and brought up in the Christian faith. Having a quick genius, he made himself master of all the useful and polite literature of that age; and at the same time was not more celebrated for his abilities than admired for his piety. At length he took priest's orders, and performed the duties of his office with great assiduity and punctuality. Publicly declaring Mahomet an impostor, he was sentenced to be beheaded, and was accordingly executed, A.D. 850; after which his body was honorably interred by the Christians.
Adalbert, bishop of Prague, a Bohemian by birth, after being involved in many troubles, began to direct his thoughts to the conversion of the infidels, to which end he repaired to Dantzic, where he converted and baptized many, which so enraged the pagan priests, that they fell upon him, and despatched him with darts, on April 23, A.D. 997.
Persecutions in the Eleventh CenturyAlphage, archbishop of Canterbury, was descended from a considerable family in Gloucestershire, and received an education suitable to his illustrious birth. His parents were worthy Christians, and Alphage seemed to inherit their virtues.
The see of Winchester being vacant by the death of Ethelwold, Dunstan, archbishop of Canterbury, as primate of all England, consecrated Alphage to the vacant bishopric, to the general satisfaction of all concerned in the diocese.
Dustain had an extraordinary veneration for Alphage, and, when at the point of death, made it his ardent request to God that he might succeed him in the see of Canterbury; which accordingly happened, though not until about eighteen years after Dunstan's death in 1006.
After Alphage had governed the see of Canterbury about four years, with great reputation to himself, and benefit to his people, the Danes made an incursion into England, and laid siege to Canterbury. When the design of attacking this city was known, many of the principal people made a flight from it, and would have persuaded Alphage to follow their example. But he, like a good pastor, would not listen to such a proposal. While he was employed in assisting and encouraging the people, Canterbury was taken by storm; the enemy poured into the town, and destroyed all that came in their way by fire and sword. He had the courage to address the enemy, and offer himself to their swords, as more worthy of their rage than the people: he begged they might be saved, and that they would discharge their whole fury upon him. They accordingly seized him, tied his hands, insulted and abused him in a rude and barbarous manner, and obliged him to remain on the spot until his church was burnt, and the monks massacred. They then decimated all the inhabitants, both ecclesiastics and laymen, leaving only every tenth person alive; so that they put 7236 persons to death, and left only four monks and 800 laymen alive, after which they confined the archbishop in a dungeon, where they kept him close prisoner for several months.
During his confinement they proposed to him to redeem his liberty with the sum of 3000 pounds, and to persuade the king to purchase their departure out of the kingdom, with a further sum of 10,000 pounds. As Alphage's circumstances would not allow him to satisfy the exorbitant demand, they bound him, and put him to severe torments, to oblige him to discover the treasure of the church; upon which they assured him of his life and liberty, but the prelate piously persisted in refusing to give the pagans any account of it. They remanded him to prison again, confined him six days longer, and then, taking him prisoner with them to Greenwich, brought him to trial there. He still remained inflexible with respect to the church treasure; but exhorted them to forsake their idolatry, and embrace Christianity. This so greatly incensed the Danes, that the soldiers dragged him out of the camp and beat him unmercifully. One of the soldiers, who had been converted by him, knowing that his pains would be lingering, as his death was determined on, actuated by a kind of barbarous compassion, cut off his head, and thus put the finishing stroke to his martyrdom, April 19, A.D. 1012. This transaction happened on the very spot where the church at Greenwich, which is dedicated to him, now stands. After his death his body was thrown into the Thames, but being found the next day, it was buried in the cathedral of St. Paul's by the bishops of London and Lincoln; from whence it was, in 1023, removed to Canterbury by Ethelmoth, the archbishop of that province.
Gerard, a Venetian, devoted himself to the service of God from his tender years: entered into a religious house for some time, and then determined to visit the Holy Land. Going into Hungary, he became acquainted with Stephen, the king of that country, who made him bishop of Chonad.
Ouvo and Peter, successors of Stephen, being deposed, Andrew, son of Ladislaus, cousin-german to Stephen, had then a tender of the crown made him upon condition that he would employ his authority in extirpating the Christian religion out of Hungary. The ambitious prince came into the proposal, but Gerard being informed of his impious bargain, thought it his duty to remonstrate against the enormity of Andrew's crime, and persuade him to withdraw his promise. In this view he undertook to go to that prince, attended by three prelates, full of like zeal for religion. The new king was at Alba Regalis, but, as the four bishops were going to cross the Danube, they were stopped by a party of soldiers posted there. They bore an attack of a shower of stones patiently, when the soldiers beat them unmercifully, and at length despatched them with lances. Their martyrdoms happened in the year 1045.
Stanislaus, bishop of Cracow, was descended from an illustrious Polish family. The piety of his parents was equal to their opulence, and the latter they rendered subservient to all the purposes of charity and benevolence. Stanislaus remained for some time undetermined whether he should embrace a monastic life, or engage among the secular clergy. He was at length persuaded to the latter by Lambert Zula, bishop of Cracow, who gave him holy orders, and made him a canon of his cathedral. Lambert died on November 25, 1071, when all concerned in the choice of a successor declared for Stanislaus, and he succeeded to the prelacy.
Bolislaus, the second king of Poland, had, by nature, many good qualities, but giving away to his passions, he ran into many enormities, and at length had the appellation of Cruel bestowed upon him. Stanislaus alone had the courage to tell him of his faults, when, taking a private opportunity, he freely displayed to him the enormities of his crimes. The king, greatly exasperated at his repeated freedoms, at length determined, at any rate, to get the better of a prelate who was so extremely faithful. Hearing one day that the bishop was by himself, in the chapel of St. Michael, at a small distance from the town, he despatched some soldiers to murder him. The soldiers readily undertook the bloody task; but, when they came into the presence of Stanislaus, the venerable aspect of the prelate struck them with such awe that they could not perform what they had promised. On their return, the king, finding that they had not obeyed his orders, stormed at them violently, snatched a dagger from one of them, and ran furiously to the chapel, where, finding Stanislaus at the altar, he plunged the weapon into his heart. The prelate immediately expired on May 8, A.D. 1079.
Foxe's Book of Martyrs
Devotionals, notes, poetry and more
Don’t be so easily upset
(Oct 14) Bob Gass
‘Great peace have they which love thy law: and nothing shall offend them.’
(Ps 119:165) 165 Great peace have those who love your law; nothing can make them stumble. ESV
Are you easily upset? Even over little things? Spend more time praying and reading your Bible. The following article turned up in a newspaper: ‘A lady took my seat in church. She’s very nice…a good friend, in fact. I can sit anyplace; no big deal. My seat’s on the right as you enter the sanctuary. I can rest my arm on the end. It’s a good seat, but I wouldn’t raise a fuss about a seat…never hold a grudge. Actually, it was three months ago she took it and I really don’t know why. I’ve never done anything to her…never taken her seat. I suppose I’ll have to come an hour early to get my seat. She took it because it’s one of the best seats in the house. She’d no business taking it…and I’m not going to church two hours early to get what’s rightfully mine. This is the way social injustices begin: abusive people taking other people’s seats. It’s the way seeds of revolution are sown. A person can only stand so much. Where’s it all going to end? If somebody doesn’t stand up and be counted, nobody’s seat will be safe. People will sit anywhere they please, and next time they’ll take my parking place. World order will be in a shambles!’ We smile, but it’s amazing how quickly we get bent out of shape when our little routine is disrupted. Do you know why the Christian life is described as ‘the high calling’ (Philippians 3:14 KJV)? Because it means taking the high road and serving others, rather than taking the low road and putting ourselves first
1 Tim 4
by Bill Federer
He was the son of a British Navy Admiral who discovered Bermuda. He attended Oxford University and studied law. At the age of 22, he heard a sermon entitled “The Sandy Foundation Shaken” and converted to the Society of Friends, or Quakers. As a result, he suffered imprisonment over three times for his faith, once imprisoned in the Tower of London for eight months. His name was William Penn, born this day, October 14, 1644. King Charles II repaid a debt owed to his father by giving William Penn a land grant in America, named Pennsylvania.American Minute
by P.T. Forsyth, (1848-1921)
The Soul of Prayer
CHAPTER VI / The Vicariousness of Prayer / I
The work of the ministry labours under one heavy disadvantage when we regard it as a profession and compare it with other professions. In these, experience brings facility, a sense of mastery in the subject, self-satisfaction, self-confidence; but in our subject the more we pursue it, the more we enter into it, so much the more are we cast down with the overwhelming sense, not only of our insufficiency, but of our unworthiness. Of course, in the technique of our work we acquire a certain ease. We learn to speak more or less freely and aptly. We learn the knack of handling a text, of conducting church work, or dealing with men, and the life. If it were only texts or men we had to handle! But we have to handle the Gospel. We have to lift up Christ—a Christ who is the death of natural self-confidence—a humiliating, even a crushing Christ; and we are not always alive to our uplifting and resurrection in Him. We have to handle a Gospel that is a new rebuke to us every step we gain in intimacy with it. There is no real intimacy with the Gospel which does not mean a new sense of God’s holiness, and it may be long before we realize that the same holiness that condemns is that which saves. There is no new insight into the Cross which does not bring, whatever else come with it, a deeper sense of the solemn holiness of the love that meets us there. And there is no new sense of the holy God that does not arrest His name upon our unclean lips. If our very repentance is to be repented of, and we should be forgiven much in our very prayers, how shall we be proud, or even pleased, with what we may think a success in our preaching? So that we are not surprised that some preachers, after what the public calls a most brilliant and impressive discourse, retire (as the emperor retired to close his life in the cloister) to humble themselves before God, to ask forgiveness for the poor message, and to call themselves most unprofitable servants—yea, even when they knew themselves that they had “done well.” The more we grasp our Gospel the more it abashes us.
Moreover, as we learn more of the seriousness of the Gospel for the human soul, we feel the more that every time we present it we are adding to the judgment of some as well as to the salvation of others. We are not like speakers who present a matter that men can freely take or leave, where they can agree or differ with us without moral result. No true preacher can be content that his flock should believe in him. That were egoism. They must believe with him. The deeper and surer our Gospel is the more is our work a judgment on those to whom it is not a grace. This was what bore upon the Saviour’s own soul, and darkened His very agony into eclipse. That He, who knew Himself to be the salvation of His own beloved people, should, by His very love, become their doom! And here we watch and suffer with Him, however sleepily. There is put into our charge our dear people’s life or death. For to those to whom we are not life we are death, in proportion as we truly preach, not ourselves, but the real salvation of Christ.
How solemn our place is! It is a sacramental place. We have not simply to state our case, we have to convey our Christ, and to convey Him effectually as the soul’s final fate. We are sacramental elements, broken often, in the Lord’s hands, as He dispenses His grace through us. We do not, of course, believe that orders are an ecclesiastical sacrament, as Rome does. But we are forced to realize the idea underlying that dogma—the sacramental nature of our person, work, and vocation for the Gospel. We are not saviours. There is only one Saviour. But we are His sacraments. We do not believe in an ecclesiastical priesthood; but we are made to feel how we stand between God and the people as none of our flock do. We bring Christ to them, and them to Christ, in sacrificial action in a way far more moral, inward, and taxing than official preisthood can be. As ministers we lead the sacerdotal function of the whole Church in the world—its holy confession and sacrifice for the world in Christ.
We ought, indeed, to feel the dignity of the ministry; we must present some protest against the mere fraternal conception which so easily sinks into an unspiritual familiarity. But still more than the dignity of the ministry do its elect feel its solemnity. How can it be otherwise? We have to dwell much with the everlasting burnings of God’s love. We have to tend that consuming fire. We have to feed our life where all the tragedy of life is gathered to an infinite and victorious crisis in Christ. We are not the fire, but we live where it burns. The matter we handle in our theological thought we can only handle with some due protection for our face. It is one of the dangerous industries. It is continually acting on us, continually searching our inner selves that no part of us may be unforgiven, unfed, or unsanctified. We cannot hold it and examine it at arm’s length. It enters into us. It evokes the perpetual comment of our souls, and puts us continually on self-judgment. Our critic, our judge, is at the door. Self-condemnation arrests denunciation. And the true apostle can never condemn but in the spirit of self-condemnation.
--- Forsyth, P. T. (1848-1921).
Compiled by Richard S. Adams
... from here, there and everywhere
People see God every day,
they just don’t recognize him.
--- Pearl Bailey
Apart from God
every activity is merely
a passing whiff of insignificance.
--- Alfred North Whitehead
There are many qualities that make a great leader. But having strong beliefs, being able to stick with them through popular and unpopular times, is the most important characteristic of a great leader.
--- Rudy Giuliani
Thanks to Meir Yona
4. Now Titus was deeply affected with this state of things, and reproached John and his party, and said to them, "Have not you, vile wretches that you are, by our permission, put up this partition-wall before your sanctuary? Have not you been allowed to put up the pillars thereto belonging, at due distances, and on it to engrave in Greek, and in your own letters, this prohibition, that no foreigner should go beyond that wall. 10 Have not we given you leave to kill such as go beyond it, though he were a Roman? And what do you do now, you pernicious villains? Why do you trample upon dead bodies in this temple? and why do you pollute this holy house with the blood of both foreigners and Jews themselves? I appeal to the gods of my own country, and to every god that ever had any regard to this place; [for I do not suppose it to be now regarded by any of them;] I also appeal to my own army, and to those Jews that are now with me, and even to yourselves, that I do not force you to defile this your sanctuary; and if you will but change the place whereon you will fight, no Roman shall either come near your sanctuary, or offer any affront to it; nay, I will endeavor to preserve you your holy house, whether you will or not."
5. As Josephus explained these things from the mouth of Caesar, both the robbers and the tyrant thought that these exhortations proceeded from Titus's fear, and not from his good-will to them, and grew insolent upon it. But when Titus saw that these men were neither to be moved by commiseration towards themselves, nor had any concern upon them to have the holy house spared, he proceeded unwillingly to go on again with the war against them. He could not indeed bring all his army against them, the place was so narrow; but choosing thirty soldiers of the most valiant out of every hundred, and committing a thousand to each tribune, and making Cerealis their commander-in-chief, he gave orders that they should attack the guards of the temple about the ninth hour of that night. But as he was now in his armor, and preparing to go down with them, his friends would not let him go, by reason of the greatness of the danger, and what the commanders suggested to them; for they said that he would do more by sitting above in the tower of Antonia, as a dispenser of rewards to those soldiers that signalized themselves in the fight, than by coming down and hazarding his own person in the forefront of them; for that they would all fight stoutly while Caesar looked upon them. With this advice Caesar complied, and said that the only reason he had for such compliance with the soldiers was this, that he might be able to judge of their courageous actions, and that no valiant soldier might lie concealed, and miss of his reward, and no cowardly soldier might go unpunished; but that he might himself be an eye-witness, and able to give evidence of all that was done, who was to be the disposer of punishments and rewards to them. So he sent the soldiers about their work at the hour forementioned, while he went out himself to a higher place in the tower of Antonia, whence he might see what was done, and there waited with impatience to see the event.
6. However, the soldiers that were sent did not find the guards of the temple asleep, as they hoped to have done; but were obliged to fight with them immediately hand to hand, as they rushed with violence upon them with a great shout. Now as soon as the rest within the temple heard that shout of those that were upon the watch, they ran out in troops upon them. Then did the Romans receive the onset of those that came first upon them; but those that followed them fell upon their own troops, and many of them treated their own soldiers as if they had been enemies; for the great confused noise that was made on both sides hindered them from distinguishing one another's voices, as did the darkness of the night hinder them from the like distinction by the sight, besides that blindness which arose otherwise also from the passion and the fear they were in at the same time; for which reason it was all one to the soldiers who it was they struck at. However, this ignorance did less harm to the Romans than to the Jews, because they were joined together under their shields, and made their sallies more regularly than the others did, and each of them remembered their watch-word; while the Jews were perpetually dispersed abroad, and made their attacks and retreats at random, and so did frequently seem to one another to be enemies; for every one of them received those of their own men that came back in the dark as Romans, and made an assault upon them; so that more of them were wounded by their own men than by the enemy, till, upon the coming on of the day, the nature of the right was discerned by the eye afterward. Then did they stand in battle-array in distinct bodies, and cast their darts regularly, and regularly defended themselves; nor did either side yield or grow weary. The Romans contended with each other who should fight the most strenuously, both single men and entire regiments, as being under the eye of Titus; and every one concluded that this day would begin his promotion if he fought bravely. What were the great encouragements of the Jews to act vigorously were, their fear for themselves and for the temple, and the presence of their tyrant, who exhorted some, and beat and threatened others, to act courageously. Now, it so happened, that this fight was for the most part a stationary one, wherein the soldiers went on and came back in a short time, and suddenly; for there was no long space of ground for either of their flights or pursuits. But still there was a tumultuous noise among the Romans from the tower of Antonia, who loudly cried out upon all occasions to their own men to press on courageously, when they were too hard for the Jews, and to stay when they were retiring backward; so that here was a kind of theater of war; for what was done in this fight could not be concealed either from Titus, or from those that were about him. At length it appeared that this fight, which began at the ninth hour of the night, was not over till past the fifth hour of the day; and that, in the same place where the battle began, neither party could say they had made the other to retire; but both the armies left the victory almost in uncertainty between them; wherein those that signalized themselves on the Roman side were a great many, but on the Jewish side, and of those that were with Simon, Judas the son of Merto, and Simon the son of Josas; of the Idumeans, James and Simon, the latter of whom was the son of Cathlas, and James was the son of Sosas; of those that were with John, Gyphtheus and Alexas; and of the zealots, Simon the son of Jairus.
2. As Josephus spoke these words, with groans and tears in his eyes, his voice was intercepted by sobs. However, the Romans could not but pity the affliction he was under, and wonder at his conduct. But for John, and those that were with him, they were but the more exasperated against the Romans on this account, and were desirous to get Josephus also into their power: yet did that discourse influence a great many of the better sort; and truly some of them were so afraid of the guards set by the seditious, that they tarried where they were, but still were satisfied that both they and the city were doomed to destruction. Some also there were who, watching a proper opportunity when they might quietly get away, fled to the Romans, of whom were the high priests Joseph and Jesus, and of the sons of high priests three, whose father was Ishmael, who was beheaded in Cyrene, and four sons of Matthias, as also one son of the other Matthias, who ran away after his father's death, 9 and whose father was slain by Simon the son of Gioras, with three of his sons, as I have already related; many also of the other nobility went over to the Romans, together with the high priests. Now Caesar not only received these men very kindly in other respects, but, knowing they would not willingly live after the customs of other nations, he sent them to Gophna, and desired them to remain there for the present, and told them, that when he was gotten clear of this war, he would restore each of them to their possessions again; so they cheerfully retired to that small city which was allotted them, without fear of any danger. But as they did not appear, the seditious gave out again that these deserters were slain by the Romans, which was done in order to deter the rest from running away, by fear of the like treatment. This trick of theirs succeeded now for a while, as did the like trick before; for the rest were hereby deterred from deserting, by fear of the like treatment.
7. In the mean time, the rest of the Roman army had, in seven days' time, overthrown [some] foundations of the tower of Antonia, and had made a ready and broad way to the temple. Then did the legions come near the first court, 12 and began to raise their banks. The one bank was over against the north-west corner of the inner temple 13 another was at that northern edifice which was between the two gates; and of the other two, one was at the western cloister of the outer court of the temple; the other against its northern cloister. However, these works were thus far advanced by the Romans, not without great pains and difficulty, and particularly by being obliged to bring their materials from the distance of a hundred furlongs. They had further difficulties also upon them; sometimes by their over-great security they were in that they should overcome the Jewish snares laid for them, and by that boldness of the Jews which their despair of escaping had inspired them withal; for some of their horsemen, when they went out to gather wood or hay, let their horses feed without having their bridles on during the time of foraging; upon which horses the Jews sallied out in whole bodies, and seized them. And when this was continually done, and Caesar believed what the truth was, that the horses were stolen more by the negligence of his own men than by the valor of the Jews, he determined to use greater severity to oblige the rest to take care of their horses; so he commanded that one of those soldiers who had lost their horses should be capitally punished; whereby he so terrified the rest, that they preserved their horses for the time to come; for they did not any longer let them go from them to feed by themselves, but, as if they had grown to them, they went always along with them when they wanted necessaries. Thus did the Romans still continue to make war against the temple, and to raise their banks against it.
by D.H. Stern
but who can stand up to jealousy?
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
The key to the missionary
All power is given unto Me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations. --- Matthew 28:18–20.
The basis of missionary appeals is the authority of Jesus Christ, not the needs of the heathen. We are apt to look upon Our Lord as One Who assists us in our enterprises for God. Our Lord puts himself as the absolute sovereign supreme Lord over His disciples. He does not say the heathen will be lost if we do not go; He simply says—“Go ye therefore, and teach all nations.” Go on the revelation of My sovereignty; teach and preach out of a living experience of Me.
“Then the eleven disciples went … into a mountain where Jesus had appointed them” (v. 16). If I want to know the universal sovereignty of Christ, I must know Him for myself, and how to get alone with Him; I must take time to worship the Being Whose Name I bear. “Come unto Me”—that is the place to meet Jesus. Are you weary and heavy laden? How many missionaries are! We banish those marvellous words of the universal Sovereign of the world to the threshold of an after-meeting; they are the words of Jesus to His disciples.
“Go ye therefore.…” “Go” simply means live. Acts 1:8 is the description of how to go. Jesus did not say—Go into Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria, but, “Ye shall be witnesses unto Me” in all these places. He undertakes to establish the goings.
“If ye abide in Me, and My words abide in you.…”—that is the way to keep going in our personal lives. Where we are placed is a matter of indifference; God engineers the goings. “None of these things move me …” That is how to keep going till you’re gone!
the Poetry of R.S. Thomas
The Poems of R.S. Thomas
It was all arranged:
the virgin with child, the birth
in Bethlehem, the arid journey uphill
to Jerusalem. The prophets foretold
it, the scriptures conditioned him
to accept it. Judas went to his work
with his sour kiss; what else
could he do?
A wise old age,
the honours awarded for lasting,
are not for a saviour. He had
to be killed; salvation acquired
by an increased guilt. The tree,
with its root in the mind's dark,
was divinely planted, the original fork
in existence. There is no meaning in life,
unless men can be found to reject
love. God needs his martyrdom.
The mild eyes stare from the Cross
in perverse triumph. What does he care
that the people's offerings are so small?
Maimonides: Torah and Philosophic Quest
Maimonides does not raise the problem of individual excellence in this manner. Given the truth that God does not create anything in vain, and that the purpose of man is knowledge of God, Maimonides asks why it is that we find so few individuals capable of reaching this goal.43 Although this question differs from the one we raise, the manner in which Maimonides deals with his problem will resolve our issue as well.
Maimonides shows that the talmudic tradition knew of the rarity of excellence and was led to evaluate the importance of community in terms of such rare individuals:
Ben Zoma once saw a crowd on one of the steps of the Temple Mount. He said, Blessed is He that discerneth secrets and blessed is He who has created all these to serve me (T.B. Berakhot 58a).
Maimonides understands this statement to refer to Ben Zoma’s singular human perfection. Another statement from the tradition says:
Hezekiah further stated in the name of Rabbi Jeremiah who said it in the name of Rabbi Simeon ben Yoḥai, I have seen the sons of heaven and they are but few. If there be a thousand, I and my son are among them; if a hundred, I and my son are among them; and if only two, they are I and my son (T.B. Sukkah 45b).
Although the rabbis did not explain the basis for their statement, Maimonides attributes this affirmation to their acceptance and understanding of nature. As men acquainted with natural science, they accepted the principle of necessity which the study of nature imposes upon man. Just as one does not ask why there are exactly “nine spheres and four elements,” so too one does not ask why the rarity of human excellence is a fact of existence. Just as teachers of Aggadah and philosophers agree as to the criteria of truth which emerge from the science of nature, so too do they share a common conception of the rarity of human excellence. Reason’s understanding of nature provides epistemological criteria of truth as well as an approach to life entailing a specific ethos and conception of man.
Maimonides is now able to interpret the aggadic statement, “God only has in His world the four cubits of the Halakhah.” The superficial meaning is that Judaism is exclusively concerned with the knowledge of law and that such knowledge is sufficient for man’s perfection. This external meaning has value for those unable to travel the road of the ḥasid. It trains the people of the community to live by Halakhah. This interpretation, however, is incomplete. Halakhah, to the ḥasid, encompasses more than law. Halakhah, as practiced by the ḥasid, is what the rabbis meant when they said, “God only has in His world the four cubits of the Halakhah.” To the Maimonidean ḥasid Judaism is not only compatible with philosophy but, in a more positive sense, demands that one have knowledge of philosophy.
Examination of Maimonides’ introduction to his Commentary to the Mishnah shows that his view regarding the centrality of philosophy for Halakhah was not hidden from the community. Indeed, throughout his entire works Maimonides attempted to create a bridge leading from the Halakhah of the am ha-areẓ to the Halakhah of the ḥasid. This perspective recognizes the continuity of The Commentary to the Mishnah, his earliest work, and his final work, The Guide of the Perplexed. If the student of the legal works follows Maimonides’ suggestions of the ultimate value of aggadic knowledge, he will meet his teacher in the Guide, where the way of the ḥasid is explained.
Viewed from this perspective, it can be seen that Maimonides’ legal works attempt to affect a change in the way the whole community understands the halakhic path to God. Although Maimonides was aware that only few would reach the full understanding of the Halakhah of the ḥasid, this did not prevent him from attempting to begin this process for the entire community. One can not deny that Maimonides’ halakhic works, as distinct from the Guide, are addressed to the general community; but one can deny that Maimonides, in his legal works, is only “the mouthpiece of the tradition.”
Further refutation of the view which isolates Maimonides’ legal works from his philosophic concerns are a series of features of the Mishneh Torah:
a) Maimonides begins his Mishneh Torah with a treatment of various philosophical themes. Is this not a strange way to begin a strictly legal codification? Does it not suggest that Halakhah demands more than the obedient readiness to follow norms?
b) The proof for the existence of God is based on the premise of the eternity of the world. Is this not unsettling to the traditional Jew’s understanding of creation?
c) The first commandment of the Decalogue which identifies God as the redeemer from Egypt, “I the Lord am your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, the house of bondage,” is interpreted by Maimonides as a commandment requiring of man that he gain knowledge of God as the necessary Being and source of existence. The first mitzvah does not consist in believing in God’s power to interfere in the historical process, but in gaining a knowledge of nature which can lead one to demonstrative knowledge of God. Were Maimonides simply reflecting the traditional beliefs of a community which relates to God exclusively through His power in history, he would not begin his codification of Jewish law with this approach to the first commandment of the Decalogue.
d) Strauss emphasizes the decisive difference between Athens and Jerusalem in terms of the place man occupies in the hierarchy of Being:
The most striking characteristic of the biblical account of creation is its demoting or degrading of heaven and the heavenly lights. Sun, moon, and stars precede the living things because they are lifeless; they are not gods. What the heavenly lights lose, man gains; man is the peak of creation.
Yet Maimonides, in his “Jerusalem” work, writes of the insignificance of man in comparison to the heavenly bodies:
When a man reflects on these things, studies all these created beings, from the angels and spheres down to human beings and so on, and realizes the Divine Wisdom manifested in them all, his love for God will increase, his soul will be filled with fear and trembling, as he becomes conscious of his own lowly condition, poverty, and insignificance, and compares himself with any of the great and holy bodies; still more when he compares himself with any one of the pure forms that are incorporeal and have never had associations with the corporeal substance. He will then realize that he is a vessel full of shame, dishonor, and reproach, empty and deficient.
e) Maimonides identifies “the image of God” with the human faculty of reason:
The vital principle of all flesh is the form which God has given it. The superior intelligence in the human soul is the specific form of the mentally normal human being. To this form, the Torah refers in the text “I will make man in My image, after My likeness” (Gen. 1:26). This means that man should have a form that knows and apprehends idealistic beings that are devoid of matter, such as the angels which are forms without substance, so that [intellectually] man is like the angels.
In Hilkhot Yesodei ha-Torah and in Hilkhot Teshuvah immortality of the soul is linked to the intellectual faculty of man. This is not a conception of man which a tradition concerned exclusively with normative obedience would emphasize.
f) The description of love and fear of God in chapters two and four in Hilkhot Yesodei ha-Torah is not related to the study of the law. The two ultimate categories of the tradition’s understanding of the service of God are presented in a manner which any individual, Jew or non-Jew, can embrace. The God who inspires this love and fear has no specific connection with the community of Israel since the God described in these chapters is He whose wisdom is manifest in nature.
g) Maimonides identifies the most sublime teachings of Judaism, Ma’aseh Bereshit and Ma’aseh Merkavah, with physics and metaphysics. The elite of the tradition, those who enter pardes, occupy themselves with areas of knowledge not specific to Judaism. A book which is supposed to be “the mouthpiece of a traditional community” would never claim that “alien” knowledge is a condition for achieving the tradition’s highest goal. A traditional book would not state that Rabbi Akiva’s greatness lay in his capacity to master the disciplines of physics and metaphysics. Nor would such a book dare to suggest that physics and metaphysics are more significant than knowledge of “the permitted and the forbidden”:
The topics connected with these five precepts, treated in the above four chapters, are what our wise men call pardes [paradise], as in the passage, “Four went into pardes” (T.B. Ḥagigah 14). And although those four were great men of Israel and great Sages, they did not all possess the capacity to know and grasp these subjects clearly. Therefore, I say that it is not proper to dally in pardes till one has first filled oneself with bread and meat; by which I mean knowledge of what is permitted and what forbidden, and similar distinctions in other classes of precepts. Although these last subjects were called by the Sages “a small thing”—when they say, “A great thing, Ma’aseh Merkavah; a small thing, the discussions of Abaye and Rava”—still they should have the precedence.
A woman in the crowd called out, “Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you.” He replied, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.”
--- Luke 11:27–28
The wonder is not that this woman spoke as she did but that people who hear the teaching of Jesus do not more often speak in his praise. Spurgeon's Sermons on New Testament Women, Book 2 Of our blessed Lord his enemies said, “No one ever spoke the way this man does” (John 7:46). His very tone was melody, and his language was truth set to music. The doctrines that he taught were more than golden, they were light to the head and joy to the heart. He revealed the inmost heart of God and taught as never prophet or sage had before.
This earnest woman did not mean, in the first place, to praise Christ’s mother. In the East, if they want to insult a man, they speak vilely of his mother; if they wish to honor him, they laud his mother to the skies.
It was a brave speech for her to make, for the Savior had been confronted by persons of authority. They had spoken ill words of him. They had even dared to say that he cast out devils through Beelzebub, the prince of devils. When he had answered them wisely, this woman proclaimed his victory. If there is a time when not only enthusiasm suggests, but when affection compels us to speak for Christ, it is when others are opposing his name and cause. We cannot be silent when he is discredited. O Woman—your courage deserves our praise and our imitation! Oh, that we had a fire in our hearts burning as it did in yours, then would it consume the bonds that hold our tongues. Let us believe that when the current of thought around us runs in a wrong direction, such is the power of enthusiasm that one earnest, impassioned voice may turn it, and our Lord may yet win glory where now he is despised.
To hear the Word of God and obey it is a blessing preferable to having been the mother of our Lord. We are sure of this because Jesus himself adjusts the scales of blessedness. We believe, on his authority, that though Mary was greatly blessed, yet even more emphatically are those blessed who hear the Word of God and obey it. This preference so truly given by the Master puts the highest blessedness within the reach of all of us.
Notice that this preferable blessing is found in a very simple manner. “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.” The process is stripped of all ambiguity or mystery. There is nothing about it that is hard or difficult: Hear the word and obey it; that is all.
--- C. H. Spurgeon
George Whitefield had just finished preaching in Norwich, Connecticut, when a young man stepped up to shake his hand. Isaac Backus, heir of a family fortune, had been deeply moved, and he soon gave his life to Christ, was baptized, and became a pastor, church planter, and Baptist evangelist. As a home missionary, Backus made over 900 trips in colonial America, covering over 68,000 miles on horseback.
He is best known, however, as a champion of religious liberty. From the beginning of his ministry, Backus fought doggedly for separation of church and state in the American colonies. When he entered his ministry, a tax in Massachusetts supported the “state church”—the Congregational Church in New England. Backus refused to pay it, was imprisoned, and when released, mounted a tireless campaign to abolish the state-supported church system.
In 1774, when the First Continental Congress met in Philadelphia, Backus was there, lobbying the representatives. On October 14, 1774 he and his fellow ministers arranged a meeting with the Massachusetts representatives to the Congress and presented a petition requesting full religious liberty. The politicians were irritated. John Adams insisted that taxes collected to support the Congregational Church did not impinge on the freedom of other religious groups, and he ended the four-hour meeting saying, “Gentlemen, if you mean to try to effect a change in Massachusetts laws respecting religion, you may as well attempt to change the course of the sun in the heavens!”
Backus determined to take his petition to John Hancock, then before the entire Continental Congress, but John Adams was always working to frustrate his efforts. Yet his ideas took root, and 27 years after Backus’s death, the last state church in Massachusetts was finally disestablished. More than any other man, Isaac Backus is credited with formulating and publicizing the evangelical position of church and state that ultimately prevailed in America.
We don’t obey people. We obey God. You killed Jesus by nailing him to a cross. But the God our ancestors worshiped raised him to life and made him our Leader and Savior.
--- Acts 5:29b-31a.
Daily Readings / CHARLES H. SPURGEON
Morning - October 14
“I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord.” --- Philippians 3:8.
Spiritual knowledge of Christ will be a personal knowledge. I cannot know Jesus through another person’s acquaintance with him. No, I must know him myself; I must know him on my own account. It will be an intelligent knowledge—I must know him, not as the visionary dreams of him, but as the Word reveals him. I must know his natures, divine and human. I must know his offices—his attributes—his works—his shame—his glory. I must meditate upon him until I “comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge.” It will be an affectionate knowledge of him; indeed, if I know him at all, I must love him. An ounce of heart knowledge is worth a ton of head learning. Our knowledge of him will be a satisfying knowledge. When I know my Saviour, my mind will be full to the brim—I shall feel that I have that which my spirit panted after. “This is that bread whereof if a man eat he shall never hunger.” At the same time it will be an exciting knowledge; the more I know of my Beloved, the more I shall want to know. The higher I climb the loftier will be the summits which invite my eager footsteps. I shall want the more as I get the more. Like the miser’s treasure, my gold will make me covet more. To conclude; this knowledge of Christ Jesus will be a most happy one; in fact, so elevating, that sometimes it will completely bear me up above all trials, and doubts, and sorrows; and it will, while I enjoy it, make me something more than “Man that is born of woman, who is of few days, and full of trouble”; for it will fling about me the immortality of the ever living Saviour, and gird me with the golden girdle of his eternal joy. Come, my soul, sit at Jesus’s feet and learn of him all this day.
Evening - October 14
“And be not conformed to this world.” --- Romans 12:2.
If a Christian can by possibility be saved while he conforms to this world, at any rate it must be so as by fire. Such a bare salvation is almost as much to be dreaded as desired. Reader, would you wish to leave this world in the darkness of a desponding death bed, and enter heaven as a shipwrecked mariner climbs the rocks of his native country? then be worldly; be mixed up with Mammonites, and refuse to go without the camp bearing Christ’s reproach. But would you have a heaven below as well as a heaven above? Would you comprehend with all saints what are the heights and depths, and know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge? Would you receive an abundant entrance into the joy of your Lord? Then come ye out from among them, and be ye separate, and touch not the unclean thing. Would you attain the full assurance of faith? you cannot gain it while you commune with sinners. Would you flame with vehement love? Your love will be damped by the drenchings of godless society. You cannot become a great Christian—you may be a babe in grace, but you never can be a perfect man in Christ Jesus while you yield yourself to the worldly maxims and modes of business of men of the world. It is ill for an heir of heaven to be a great friend with the heirs of hell. It has a bad look when a courtier is too intimate with his king’s enemies. Even small inconsistencies are dangerous. Little thorns make great blisters, little moths destroy fine garments, and little frivolities and little rogueries will rob religion of a thousand joys. O professor, too little separated from sinners, you know not what you lose by your conformity to the world. It cuts the tendons of your strength, and makes you creep where you ought to run. Then, for your own comfort’s sake, and for the sake of your growth in grace, if you be a Christian, be a Christian, and be a marked and distinct one.
A CHARGE TO KEEP I HAVE
Charles Wesley, 1707–1788
As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. (Ephesians 4:1)
All of us as Christians have been given a general charge— a God to glorify. We have also been given a particular charge or calling that is unique. Our response to these charges is what gives life purpose and meaning. Fulfillment and contentment in life are not measured alone by our accomplishments. We must have the satisfaction that we are in the place and doing the task that God has destined for us—whether it be great or small.
Charles Wesley is said to have been inspired to write the text for this hymn while reading Matthew Henry’s commentary on the book of Leviticus. In his thoughts on Leviticus 8:35, Henry wrote, “We shall everyone of us have a charge to keep, an eternal God to glorify, an immortal soul to provide for, one generation to serve.” This hymn text first appeared in Wesley’s Short Hymns on Select Passages of Holy Scriptures, published in 1762. It was printed under the title “Keep the Charge of the Lord, That Ye Die Not.”
This hymn text reflects the strength and zeal of the early Methodists. John Wesley once remarked upon hearing of his followers’ persecution: “Our people die well.” On another occasion a physician said to Charles Wesley, “Most people die for fear of dying; but I never met with such people as yours. They are none of them afraid of death, but calm and patient and resigned to the last.”
Being a Christian who worthily represents the Lord has never been and will never be a life of ease. It requires our very best, the total commitment of our lives.
A charge to keep I have—a God to glorify, who gave His Son my soul to save and fit it for the sky.
To serve the present age, my calling to fulfill—O may it all my pow’rs engage to do my Master’s will!
Arm me with jealous care, as in Thy sight to live; and O Thy servant, Lord, prepare a strict account to give!
Help me to watch and pray, and on Thyself rely; and let me ne’er my trust betray, but press to realms on high.
For Today: Leviticus 8:35; Joshua 24:15; Galatians 1:15–24; 1 Peter 4:10, 11
Ask God to redefine your sense of divine calling in life and to help make you more contented right where He has placed you. Carry this musical challenge with you ---
Use III. shall be to sinners, to humble them, and put them upon serious consideration. This attribute speaks terrible things to a
profligate sinner. Basil thinks that the ripping open the sins of the damned to their faces by this perfection of God, is more terrible than
their other torments in hell. God knows the persons of wicked men, not one is exempted from his eye; he sees all the actions of men,
as well as he knows their persons (Job 11:11): “He knows vain men, he sees wickedness also” (Job 34:21): “His eye is upon all their
goings.” He hears the most private whispers (Psalm 139:4), the scope, manner, circumstance of speaking, he knows it altogether: he
understands all our thoughts, the first bubblings of that bitter spring (Psalm 139:2); the quickest glances of the fancy, the closest
musings of the mind, and the abortive wouldings or wishes of the will, the language of the heart, as well as the language of the
tongue; not a foolish thought, or an idle word, not a wanton glance, or a dishonest action, not a negligent service, or a distracting
fancy, but is more visible to him, than the filth of a dunghill can be to any man by the help of a sun beam. How much better would it
be for desperate sinners to have their crimes known to all the angels in heaven, and men upon earth, and devils in hell, than that they
should be known to their Sovereign, whose laws they have violated, and to their Judge, whose righteousness obligcth him to revenge
1. Consider what a poor refuge is secrecy to a sinner. Not the mists of a foggy day, nor the obscurity of the darkest night, not the closest curtains, nor the deepest dungeon, can hide any sin from the eye of God. Adam is known in his thickets, and Jonah in his cabin. Achan’s wedge of gold is discerned by him, though buried in the earth, and hooded with a tent. Shall Sarah be unseen by him, when she mockingly laughs behind the door? Shall Gehazi tell a lie, and comfort himself with an imagination of his master’s ignorance, as long as God knows it? Whatsoever works men do, are not hid from God, whether done in the darkness or daylight, in the midnight darkness, or the noon-day sun: he is all eye to see, and he hath a great wrath to punish. The wheels of Ezekiel are full of eyes: a piercing eye to behold the sinner, and a swift wheel of wrath to overtake him. God is light, and of all things light is most difficultly kept out. The secretest sins are set in the light of his countenance (Psalm 90:8), as legible to him, as if written with a sunbeam; more visible to him than the greatest print to the sharpest eye. The fornications of the Samaritan woman, perhaps known only to her own conscience, were manifest to Christ (John 4:16.) There is nothing so secretly done, but there is an infallible witness to prepare a charge. Though God be invisible to us, we must not imagine we are so to him; it is a vanity, therefore, to think that we can conceal ourselves from God, by concealing the notions of God from our sense and practice. If men be as close from the eyes of all men, as from those of the sun, yea, if they could separate themselves from their own shadow, they could not draw themselves from God’s understanding: how, then, can darkness shelter us, or crafty artifices defend us? With what shame will sinners be filled, when God, who hath traced their steps, and writ their sins in a book, shall make a repetition of their ways, and unveil the web of their wickedness!
2. What a dreadful consideration is this to the juggling hypocrite, that masks himself with an appearance of piety? An infinite understanding judges not according to veils and shadows, but according to truth; “He judges not according to appearance” (1 Sam. 16:7). The outward comeliness of a work imposeth not on him, his knowledge, and therefore his estimations are quite of another nature than those of men. By this perfection God looks through the veil, and beholds the litter of abominations in the secrets of the soul; the true quality and principle of every work, and judges of them as they are, and not as they appear. Disguised pretexts cannot deceive him; the disguises are known afar off, before they are weaved; he pierceth into the depths of the most abstruse wills; all secret ends are dissected before him; every action is naked in its outside, and open in its inside; all are as clear to him as if their bodies were of crystal; so that if there be any secret reserves, he will certainly reprove us (Job 13:10). We are often deceived; we may take wolves for sheep, and hypocrites for believers; for the eyes of men are no better than flesh, and dive no further than appearance; but an infinite understanding, that fathoms the secret depths of the heart, is too knowing to let a dream pass for a truth, or mistake a shadow for a body. Though we call God Father all our days, speak the language of angels, or be endowed with the gifts of miracles, he can discern whether we have his mark upon us; he can espy the treason of Judas in a kiss; Herod’s intent of murdering under a specious pretence of worship; a Pharisee’s fraud under a broad phylactery; a ravenous wolf under the softness of a sheep’s skin; and the devil in Samuel’s mantle, or when he would shroud himself among the sons of God (Job 1:6, 7). All the rooms of the heart, and every atom of dust in the least chink of it, is clear to his eye; he can strip sin from the fairest excuses, pierce into the heart with more ease than the sun can through the thinnest cloud or vapor; and look through all Ephraim’s ingenuous inventions to excuse his idolatry (Hos. 5:3). Hypocrisy, then, is a senseless thing, since it cannot escape unmasking, by an infinite understanding. As all our force cannot stop his arm , when he is resolved to punish, so all our sophistry cannot blind his understanding, when he comes to judge. Woe to the hypocrite, for God sees him; all his juggling is open and naked to infinite understanding.
3. Is it not also a senseless thing to be careless of sins committed long ago? The old sins forgotten by men, stick fast in an infinite understanding: time cannot rase out that which hath been known from eternity. Why should they be forgotten many years after they were acted, since they were foreknown in an eternity before they were committed, or the criminal capable to practise them? Amalek must pay their arrears of their ancient unkindness to Israel in the time of Saul, though the generation that committed them were rotten in their graves (1 Sam. 15:2). Old sins are written in a book, which lies always before God; and not only our own sins, but the sins of our fathers, to be requited upon their posterity. What a vanity is it then to be regardless of the sins of an age that went before us! because they are in some measure out of our knowledge, are they therefore blotted out of God’s remembrance? Sins are bound up with him, as men do bonds, till they resolve to sue for the debt; the iniquity of Ephraim is bound up (Hos. 13:12). As his foreknowledge extends to all acts that shall be done, so his remembrance extends to all acts that have been done, We may as well say, God foreknows nothing that shall be done to the end of the world, as that he forgets anything that hath been done from the beginning of the world. The former ages of the world are no further distant from him than the latter. God hath a calendar (as it were) or an account book of men’s sins ever since the beginning of the world, what they did in their childhood, what in their youth, what in their manhood, and what in their old age: he hath them in store among his treasures (Deut. 32:34): he hath neither lost his understanding to know them, nor his resolution to revenge them as it follows, “to me vengeance belongs” (ver. 35). He intends to enrich his justice with a glorious manifestation, by rendering a due recompense. And it is to be observed, that God doth not only necessarily remember them, but sometimes binds himself by an oath to do it (Amos 8:7); “The Lord hath sworn by the excellency of Jacob, Surely I will never forget any of their works.” Or, in the Hebrew, “If I ever forget any of their works;” that is, let me not be accounted a God forever, if I do forget; let me lose my godhead, if I lose my remembrance. It is not less a misery to the wicked, than it is a comfort to the godly, that their record is in heaven.
4. Let it be observed, that this infinite understanding doth exactly know the sins of men; he knows so as to consider. He doth not only know them, but intently beholds them (Psalm 11:4): “His eyelids try the children of men,” a metaphor taken from men that contract the eyelids, when they would wistly and accurately behold a thing; it is not a transient and careless look (Psalm 10:14): “Thou hast seen it;” thou hast intently beheld it, as the word properly signifies: he beholds and knows the actions of every particular man, as if there were none but he in the world; and doth not only know, but ponder (Prov. 5:21), and consider their works (Psalm 33:15); he is not a bare spectator, but a diligent observer (1 Sam. 2:3); “By him actions are weighed:” to see what degree of good or evil there is in them, what there is to blemish them, what to advantage them, what the quality and quantity of every action is. Consideration takes in every circumstance of the considered object: notice is taken of the place where, the minute when, the mercy against which it is committed; the number of them is exact in God’s book: “They have tempted me now these ten times” (Numb. 14:22), against the demonstrations of my glory in Egypt and the wilderness. The whole guilt in every circumstance is spread before him: his knowledge of men’s sins is not confused; such an imperfection an infinite understanding cannot be subject to: it is exact, for iniquity is marked before him (Jer. 2:22).
5. God knows men’s miscarriage so as to judge. This use his omniscience is put to, to maintain his sovereign authority in the exercise of his justice. His notice of the sins of men is in order to a just retribution (Psalm 10:14): “Thou hast seen mischief to requite it with thy hand.” The eye of his knowledge directs the hand of his justice; and no sinful action that falls under his cognizance, but will fall under his revenge; they can as little escape his censure as they can his knowledge: he is a witness in his omniscience, that he may be a judge in his righteousness; he knows the hearts of the wicked, so as to hate their works, and testify his abhorrency of that which is of high value with men (Luke 16:15). Sin is not preserved in his understanding, or written down in his book to be moth-eaten as an old manuscript, but to be opened one day, and copied out in the consciences of men: he writes them to publish them, and sets them in the light of his countenance, to bring them to the light of their consciences. What a terrible consideration is it, to think that the sins of a day are upon record in an infallible understanding, much more the sins of a week; what a number, then, do the sins of a month, a year, ten or forty years, arise to! How many actions against charity, against sincerity! what an infinite number is there of them, all bound up in the court rolls of God’s omniscience, in order to a trial, to be brought out before the eyes of men! Who can seriously consider all those bonds, reserved in the cabinet of God’s knowledge, to be sued out against the sinner in due time, without an inexpressible horror?
Use IV. is of exhortation. Let us have a sense of God’s knowledge upon our hearts. All wickedness hath a spring from a want of due consideration and sense of it. David concludes it so (Psalm 86:14), “the proud rose against him, and violent men sought after his son, because they did not set God before them,” They think God doth not know, and therefore care not what, nor how they act. When the fear of this attribute is removed, a door is opened to all impiety. What is there so villanous, but the minds of men will attempt to act? What reverence of a Deity can be left, when the sense of his infinite understanding is extinguished? What faith could there be in judgments in witnesses? How would the foundations of human society be overturned; the pillars upon which commerce stands, be utterly broken and dissolved! What society can be preserved, if this be not truly believed, and faithfully stuck to! But how easily would oaths be swallowed and quickly violated, if the sense of this perfection were rooted out of the minds of men!
What fear could they have of calling to witness a Being they imagine blind and ignorant? Men secretly imagine, that God knows not, or soon forgets, and then make bold to sin against him (Ezek. 8:12). How much does it therefore concern us to cherish and keep alive the sense of this? “If God writes us upon the palms of his hands,” as the expression is, to remember us, let us engrave him upon the tables of our hearts to remember him. It would be a good motto to write upon our minds, God knows all, he is of infinite understanding.
1. This would give check to much iniquity. Can a man’s conscience easily and delightfully swallow that which he is sensible falls under the cognizance of God, when it is hateful to the eyes of his holiness, and renders the actor odious to him? “Doth he not see my ways, and count all my steps,” saith Job (31:4)? To what end doth he fix this consideration? To keep him from wanton glances; temptations have no encouragement to come near him, that is constantly armed with the thoughts that his sin is booked in God’s omniscience. If any impudent devil hath the face to tempt us, we should not have the impudence to join issue with him under the sense of an infinite understanding. How fruitless would his wiles be against this consideration! How easily would his snares be cracked by one sensible thought of this! This doth Solomon prescribe to allay the heat of carnal imaginations (Prov. 5:20, 21). It were a useful question to ask, at the appearance of every temptation, at the entrance upon every action, as the church did in temptations to idolatry (Psalm 44:21): “Shall not God search this out, for he knows the secrets of the heart?” His understanding comprehends us more than our consciences can our acts, or our understanding our thoughts. Who durst speak treason against a prince, if he were sure he heard him, or that it would come to his knowledge? A sense of God’s knowledge of wickedness in the first motion, and inward contrivance, would bar the accomplishment and execution. The consideration of God’s infinite understanding would cry stand to the first glances of the heart to sin.
2. It would make us watchful over our hearts and thoughts. Should we harbor any unworthy thoughts in our cabinet, if our heads and hearts were possessed with this useful truth, that God knows everything which comes into our minds (Ezek. 11:5)? We should as much blush at the rising of impure thoughts before the understanding of God, as at the discovery of unworthy actions to the knowledge of men, if we lived under a sense, that not a thought of all those millions, which flutter about our minds, can be concealed from him. How watchful and careful should we be of our hearts and thoughts!
3. It would be a good preparation to every duty. This consideration should be the preface to every service; the Divine understanding knows how I now act. This would engage us to serious intention, and quell wandering and distracting fancies. Who would come before God, with a careless and ignorant soul, under a sense of his infinite understanding, and prerogative of searching the heart? “O thou that sittest in heaven!” was a consideration the psalmist had at the beginning of his prayer (Psalm 123:1?): whereby he testifies not only an apprehension of the majesty and power of God, but of his omniscience; as one sitting above, beholds all that is below; would we offer to God such raw and undigested petitions? would there be so much flatness in our services? should our hearts so often give us the slip? would any hang down their heads like a bulrush, by an affected or counterfeit humility, while the heart is filled with pride, if we did actuate faith in this attribute? No; our prayers would be more sound, our devotions more vigorous, our hearts more close, our sprits like the chariots of Aminadab, more swift in their motions: everything would be done by us with all our might, which would be very feeble and faint, if we conceived God to be of a finite understanding like ourselves. Let us therefore, before every duty, not draw, but open the curtains between God and our souls, and think that we are going before him that sees us, before him that knows us (Gen. 1:12). And the stronger impressions of the Divine knowledge are upon our minds, the better would our preparation be for, and the more active our frames in every service: and certainly we may judge of the suitableness of our preparations, by the strength of such impressions upon us.
4. This would tend to make us sincere in our whole course. This prescription David gave to Solomon, to maintain a soundness and health of spirit in his walk before God (1 Chron. 28:9): “And thou, Solomon, my son, know the God of thy fathers, and serve him with a perfect heart, for the Lord understands all the imaginations of the thoughts.” Josephus gives this reason for Abel’s holiness, that he believed God was ignorant of nothing. As the doctrine of omniscience is the foundation of all religion, so the impression of it would promote the practice of all religion. When all our ways are imagined by us to be before the Lord, we shall then keep his precepts (Psalm 119:168). And we can never be perfect or sincere till we “walk before God” (Gen. 17:1); as under the eye of God’s knowledge. What we speak, what we think, what we act, is in his sight; he knows every place where we are, everything that we do, as well as Christ knew Nathaniel under the fig-tree. As he is too powerful to be vanquished, so he is too understanding to be deceived; the sense of this would make us walk with as much care, as if the understanding of all men did comprehend us and our actions.
5. The consideration of this attribute would make us humble. How dejected would a person be if he were sure all the angels in heaven and men upon on earth, did perfectly know his crimes, with all their aggravations! But what is created knowledge to an infinite and just censuring understanding! When we consider that he knows our actions, whereof there are multitudes, and our thoughts, whereof there are millions; that he views all the blessings bestowed upon us; all the injuries we have returned to him; that he exactly knows his own bounty, and our ingratitude; all the idolatry, blasphemy, and secret enmity in every man’s heart against him; all tyrannical oppressions, hidden lusts, omissions of necessary duties, violations of plain precepts, every foolish imagination, with all the circumstances of them, and that perfectly in their full anatomy, every mite of unworthiness and wickedness in every circumstance; and add to this his knowledge, the wonders of his patience, which are miraculous upon the score of his omniscience, that he is not as quick in his revenge as he is in his understanding, but is so far from inflicting punishment, that he continues his former benefits, arms not his justice against us, but solicits our repentance, and waits to be gracious with all this knowledge of our crimes; should not the consideration of this melt our hearts into humiliation before him, and make us earnest in begging pardon and forgiveness of him? Again, do we not all find a worm in our best fruit, a flaw in our soundest duties? Shall any of us vaunt, as if God beheld only the gold, and not any dross; as if he knew one thing only, and not another? If we knew something by ourselves to cheer us, do we not also know something, yea, many things, to condemn us, and therefore to humble us? Let the sense of God’s infinite knowledge, therefore, be an incentive and argument for more humiliation in us. If we know enough to render ourselves vile in our own eyes, how much more doth God know to render us vile in his!
6. The consideration of this excellent perfection should make us to acquiesce in God, and rely upon him in every strait. In public, in private; he knows all cases, and he knows all remedies; he knows the seasons of bringing them, and he knows the seasons of removing them, for his own glory. What is contingent in respect of us, and of our foreknowledge, and in respect of second causes, is not so in regard of God’s, who hath the knowledge of the futurition of all things; he knows all causes in themselves, and, therefore, knows what every cause will produce, what will be the event of every counsel and of every action. How should we commit ourselves to this God of infinite understanding, who knows all things, and foreknows everything; that cannot be forced through ignorance to take new counsel, or be surprised with anything that can happen to us! This use the Psalmist makes of it (Psalm 10:14): “Thou hast seen it, the poor committeth himself unto thee.” Though “some trust in chariots and horses” (Psalm 20:7), some in counsels and counsellors, some in their arms and courage, and some in mere vanity and nothing; yet, let us remember the name and nature of the Lord our God, his divine perfections, of which this of his infinite understanding and omniscience is none of the least, but so necessary, that without it he could not be God, and the whole world would be a mere chaos and confusion.
The Existence and Attributes of God