Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,
says Yahweh of Hosts. Zechariah 4:6
Lift up your heads, O gates, and be lifted up, O ancient doors,
That the King of Glory may come in! Who is this King of Glory?
Yahweh of Hosts: He is the King of Glory. Psalm 24:9-10
"For everyone who does evil hates the light,
neither comes to the light lest his deeds should be reproved."
The mind cannot turn away from divine truth without choosing to do it. The mind is voluntary in fixing its thoughts, and fixes the thoughts on what objects it pleases. It is true, indeed, that thoughts occur to the mind without choice, but the mind does not fix and dwell on objects of thought or turn away from them without choosing to do so. For example, you set before the mind of the drunkard the fatal and inevitable consequences of his habits, to himself and to his family. He sees and knows that what you say is truth; but it is utterly ineffectual to divert him from this way to hell. Why? Because he does not keep his thoughts steadily fixed on the ruin that awaits him. And why does he not? Because he does not choose to do it.
So precisely does everyone who does evil refuse to come to the light. When the truths of God, which respect him as a sinner, are presented, he turns away from them. He may reason about them, understand them intellectually, admit them into his creed; but he does not look at them in their direct and awful bearing upon himself. And why? Why, when truths so momentous, truths so certain, truths as easily made the object of fixed meditation as any other -- why are they not looked at with fixed attention? Why are the thoughts turned away to the trifles of sight and sense? Yea, how can he turn away his thoughts from things like these unless he chooses to do it?
To present to your mind the living God angry with the wicked, denouncing death eternal against you, we show you yourself under condemnation. We offer a Saviour able to save to the uttermost. And now can you turn your thoughts from these things without choosing to do it? Will not your thoughts actually fix and fasten upon these things unless you choose to fix them on something else? Why do you turn away from these truths of God, why refuse to come to the light? Because you know your deeds will be reproved. Because you know that if you look at them steadily you will be under conviction.
There are many such who admit the importance of religion, who flatter themselves, too, that they are willing to attend to the subject; but they complain that they do not and cannot feel it. Here they rest waiting for the Spirit of God to make them feel it. My dear hearers, this is delusion -- fatal delusion. You admit but you do not feel the importance of providing for the salvation of your soul! Why do you not? Is it because there is nothing in God, nothing in Christ, nothing in your character as a lost sinner doomed to endless death which is sufficient to make you feel? No. It is because you hate the light. It is because you come not to the light lest you should feel. You know that if you were to look at yourself even for one hour in the light of God's truth, you would feel. You know that if you were to let the truths of God, which show you your guilt, your helplessness as one exposed -- and justly exposed -- to an immediate and an eternal damnation, you would feel.
Make the experiment. Try it. Go alone with God. And now, will you charge your stupidity and hardness of heart upon the Spirit of God? Let conscience speak, and give it a fair hearing, and that moment you will be an awakened sinner. But so long as you do it not, you never will feel. The Spirit of God is the spirit of truth. He operates on the conscience and the heart through the truth, and in no other way. And, my dear hearers, if you do not come to the light of God's truth, if you do not turn and fix your attention on the horrors of your state as a rebel against God, you never will feel till the fires of hell shall make you feel.
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"Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world--the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life--is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever." (1 John 2:15-17)
There are two words in the Greek which set forth the nature of covetousness. Pleonexia, which signifies an "insatiable desire of getting the world," and philarguria, which signifies an "inordinate love of the world." Augustine's definition of covetousness is "to desire more than enough." I shall show in six particulars when a man may be said to be given to covetousness.
When his thoughts are wholly taken up with the world. He can think of nothing but his shop or farm. He is always plotting and projecting about the things of this life.
When he takes more pains for getting earthly things than heavenly. He will turn every stone, break his sleep, take many a weary step for the world, but will take no pains for Christ or heaven. He is loath to put himself to too much sweat or trouble to obtain Christ or salvation.
When all his discourse is about the world. It is a sign of godliness to be speaking of heaven. It is a sign of a man given to covetousness to speak always of secular things.
When he sets his heart upon worldly things. He would rather part with Christ than with all his earthly possessions.
When he overloads himself with worldly business. He has many irons in the fire, takes so much business upon him that he cannot find time to serve God. When a man overcharges himself with the world that he cannot have time for his soul, he is under the power of covetousness.
When his heart is so set upon the world that he cares not what unlawful means he uses to get it. He will wrong and defraud and raise his estate upon the ruins of another.
Were our hearts raised by the power of the Holy Ghost up to heaven, we should not be much taken with earthly things. "Lord, let the magnet of thy Spirit draw my heart upward. Dig the earth out of my heart and teach me how to possess the world and not love it; how to hold it in my hand and not let it get into my heart."
A Body of Divinity
What are we letting into our hearts? See Maclaren's sermon, "Chambers of Imagery".
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"Seeing you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit."
1 Peter 1:22
Our modern religious phraseology has coined and thrown into universal currency a term not found in the Bible. The phrase I mean is that familiar one, "means of grace." But I am forced to believe that very inadequate ideas are held of "means of grace," and that great loss and evil result from the mistake.
Public worship is a means of grace, and of the service a prominent feature is the sermon. But what is the sermon? Perhaps an able theological discussion whereby the mind has gained a firmer hold on truth. That is valuable. Perhaps it unfolds the consequences of sin and holiness in the endless future. That is valuable, revealing to the mind worthy and powerful motives. Perhaps it states the principles of right, the details of duty. That also is valuable. The hearer knows the will of God. But where is the grace, the growth in goodness, even if the sermons have been listened to with profound attention and marked effect? The improvement is not yet. The hearer is profited just as a young apprentice boy would be vastly benefited if he were to go out from a lecture on ship-building, inspired with a noble enthusiasm for the great art he was to learn, and were to go to the ship-yard under the influence of the lecture to work hard at his art. But his actual improvement in his trade does not begin till he is really trying to do what his master has told him to do. So the sermon becomes profitable and growth in grace begins when the hearer departs to put in practice right and duty -- and only under that condition.
So prayer [also] is a means of grace, rightly used, but only as aiding us to right mental states and to right acts. The intensest prayer for strength to do one's duty without consequent efforts at duty, becomes no means of grace. The study of the Bible is of inestimable value as a teacher of all truth and duty, a guide and assistant in well-doing, but becomes an actual means of grace only as the stimulant and antecedent of right action.
We are thus conducted to the true and comprehensive import of the term "means of grace." Opportunities of acting rightly are means of grace. Thus one reads in the Bible an exhortation to patience: "Let patience have her perfect work." It is a duty enforced by the authority of God. He next hears a sermon on the same scriptural topic setting forth at length the nature, beauty, obligation, and rewards of this noble and Christ-like virtue, and from the sermon is roused to a strong desire for this Christian grace. He prays that it may be found in him. Now, what has been accomplished by all this? Truly a certain amount of theory, knowledge, and desire has been communicated, which are matters of essential importance to the result. But has the man made any progress in that grace? None at all. There must next be presented to that hearer an opportunity for the exercise of that virtue, and there must be the actual exercise of it. If he has the opportunity, then he has enjoyed all the means of grace; and if he has exercised patience, then he has made actual advances in grace.
We gain here some most instructive and spirit-stirring views of human life. Life in its outward aspects is chaotic, often forbidding. Very much of the work we have to do is disagreeable. The annoyances we meet in life are countless. We are tossed to and fro in this great seething ocean of change. Most of the offices and work of this world would seem to be very mean [lowly] and unfit for beings created in the image of God. But my view of human life is, that it is one vast system of means of grace; that the Bible and human life were designed to play into each other's hands, so to speak; that is, each to be the complement to the other as means of grace. There is not a moment in our lives, nor any position or circumstances in which we are or possibly can be placed, but in each there is a right feeling or state of mind to be exercised, or a right act to be done with right motives. Of course, then, there is not a moment of our lives nor any possible circumstances in which we are not enjoying means of grace. Let me illustrate the statement, purposely selecting the most ordinary scenes of life.
Immense numbers spend most of their time in manual labor -- in the kitchen, the shop, or the field; in some of the countless forms of art, trade, or work. There is generally monotony about it. Much of it is disagreeable and repulsive. It is usually done only because one is thus compelled to earn a livelihood. Men's minds do not usually become ennobled by it. It is earthly drudgery, not sanctifying power. But see how every part and moment of labor may be transformed into means of grace. We are told that whatsoever we do, we are to do to the glory of God. Now let the laborer not spend Sunday in a beer-shop nor in idleness, but in communion with God and in drinking the waters of life. And on Monday let him take his tools and go to his work with this truth distinctly in mind: "It is now the will of God that for the next six days I wield that hammer, or toil at that unwelcome drudgery. The arrangements of God's Providence have made this as clearly my duty as revelation was ever made to Isaiah or to Paul."
With that truth firmly apprehended, let the mind further reflect: "I engage in this particular work because I am employed and paid to do it, or because my domestic relations require it. But once having undertaken it, it is no longer man's work but God's which I am doing. God would have me construct that machine; God is bidding me keep those books, or do that repulsive work; God is inspecting me all the time. Here then I strike into it faithfully, honorably, cheerfully for God." Thus for every minute and act of that day's work there is the opportunity of obeying God, and thus a means of grace.
Every time a man pays a debt, he has the opportunity of doing right from right motives. It is God's money that he orders me to transfer to its rightful possessor. I do it to the very best of my power. The money so paid is a means of grace. Every bargain one makes is a means of grace, because it gives the opportunity of applying and obeying the law of God. The seller can vend his goods as under the eye of God. Every buyer who comes into one's place of business can say, "I come here with the rights of God in my person. He gives me a right to fair, honorable dealing from you, and the manner in which you deal with me will be recognized as your treatment of God." So trading [in this manner], would not one grow in grace every day, and very rapidly too?
In everyone's daily life there are many and nameless annoyances -- the vexations, the carelessness, the rudeness, unpleasant manners, the mistakes, the heedlessness, the unamiableness one meets; [they] are countless. They provoke peevishness; they are the usual incentives to anger, the ordinary occasions of fretfulness and irritability. The individual matters are very insignificant, and few, I fear, dream that religion has aught to do in such petty affairs; yet they are the occasions of no little sin. They are the constantly recurring opportunities for the exercise of that noble Christian virtue self-control. At each one of the thousands of petty vexations which one meets in the course of years, we have the opportunity of reflecting, "God will be pleased if I control myself, remain quiet and calm without excitement or irritability; therefore I will do so." So doing, one has countless means of grace.
"But you forget," urges one, "there is one class of events or circumstances which must be excepted. We are surrounded by temptations. They surely are not means of grace?" But why not? For what is a temptation? [It is] a position in which there are opportunity and inducements to do wrong. That is one of the noblest opportunities for obedience. It is a higher act of honor to God to choose right when there are strong inducements to do wrong. The man in temptation can be a coward, or a weather-cock, turned whithersoever sin desires. But he has the opportunity of struggle, of victory, of high moral purpose -- all which make him a better man. Yes, even temptations may be means of grace.
Let us then understand God's plan, enter into God's plan, and life will be life indeed -- a new and glorious life. What we call drudgery, temptation, sorrow, misfortune, difficulties, [these] all are resplendent with this glorious end -- they are to qualify us to be heirs of God and future kings in heaven.
A sermon of Maclaren also will be of help, "Mahanaim: The Two Camps".
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"And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, God, be merciful to me a sinner!" (Luke 18:13)
"Two men went up to the temple to pray" (and never two men of more opposite characters), "the one a Pharisee and the other a Publican." The Pharisees were the strictest sect among the Jews. "I was of the strictest sect, of the Pharisees," says Paul. They not only prayed often, but they made long prayers. And that they might appear extraordinarily devout, they would pray at the corners of the street that people going or coming both ways might see them.
As for the Publicans, it was not so with them. It seems they were sometimes Jews, or at least proselytes of the gate, but for the generality I am apt to think they were Gentiles, for they were gatherers of the Roman taxes, and used to amass much wealth by wronging men with false accusations. They were so universally infamous that our Lord himself tells his disciples, "the excommunicated man should be to them as a heathen man, or a Publican." And the Pharisees thought it a sufficient impeachment of our Lord's character that he was a friend to Publicans and sinners, and went to sit down with them at meat.
But however they disagreed in other things, they agreed in this: that public worship is a duty incumbent upon all, for they both came up to the temple. And what went they hither for? "To pray." I fear one of them forgot his errand. I have often been at a loss as what to call the Pharisee's address; it certainly does not deserve the name of a prayer. He may rather be said to come to the temple to boast than to pray; for I do not find one word of confession of his original guilt, not one single petition for pardon of his past actual sins, or for grace to help and assist him for the time to come. He only brings to God, as it were, a reckoning of his performances, and does that which no flesh can justly do -- I mean, glory in his presence.
"The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself: God, I thank thee that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this Publican." Here is some appearance of devotion, but it is only in appearance. To thank God that we are not as wicked in our practices as other men are, is certainly meet, right, and our bound duty; for whatever degrees of goodness there may be in us more than in others, it is owing to God's restraining, preventing, and assisting grace. Had the Pharisee thought thus, when he said "God, I thank thee that I am not as other men are," it would have been an excellent introduction to his prayer. But he was a free-willer as well as self-righteous (for he that is one must be the other) and thought that by his own power and strength he had kept himself from these vices.
Let us now take a view of the Publican. "And the Publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner." Perhaps he was standing in the outward court of the temple, conscious to himself that he was not worthy to approach the Holy of holies; so conscious and so weighed down with a sense of his own unworthiness that he would not so much as lift up his eyes unto heaven, which he knew was God's throne. I think I see him standing afar off, pensive, oppressed, and even overwhelmed with sorrow. Sometimes he attempts to look up; but then, thinks he, the heavens are unclean in God's sight, and the very angels are charged with folly. How then shall such a wretch as I dare to lift up my guilty head! And to show that his heart was full of holy self-resentment and that he sorrowed after a godly sort, he smote upon his breast. The word in the original implies that he struck hard upon his breast. He will lay the blame upon none but his own wicked heart. Out of the abundance of his heart, I doubt not, with many tears, he at last cries out, "God be merciful to me a sinner." Not, God be merciful to yonder proud Pharisee. Not, God be merciful to me a saint. Not, God be merciful to such or such a one. But, God be merciful to me, even to me a sinner, a sinner by birth, a sinner in thought, word, and deed; a sinner as to my person, a sinner as to all my performances; a sinner in whom is no health, in whom dwells no good thing; a sinner, poor, miserable, blind and naked, from the crown of the head to the sole of the feet, full of wounds, and bruises, and putrefying sores; a self-accused, self-condemned sinner.
This man came up to the temple to pray, and he prayed indeed. And a broken and contrite heart God will not despise. "I tell you," says our Lord -- I who lay in the bosom of the Father from all eternity; I who am God and therefore know all things; I who can neither deceive nor be deceived, whose judgment is according to right. I tell you, whatever you may think of it, or think of me for telling you so, "this man," this Publican, this despised, sinful, but broken-hearted man, "went down to his house justified" (acquitted, and looked upon as righteous in the sight of God) "rather than the other." That the Pharisee was not justified is certain, for "God resists the proud." That the Publican was at this time actually justified we have great reason to infer from the latter part of the text: "For everyone that exalts himself shall be abased, and he that humbles himself shall be exalted."
The parable of the Publican and Pharisee is but as it were a glass wherein we may see the different disposition of all mankind; for all mankind may be divided into two general classes. Either they trust wholly in themselves, or in part, that they are righteous -- and then they are Pharisees; or they have no confidence in the flesh, are self-condemned sinners, and they have come under the character of the Publican just now described.
Hear this, all you who justify yourselves. Tremble, and behold your doom! a dreadful doom, more dreadful than words can express or thoughts conceive! If you refuse to humble yourselves after hearing this parable, I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day that God shall visit you with all his storms and pour all the vials of his wrath upon your rebellious heads. You exalted yourselves here, and God shall abase you hereafter. "Be not deceived, God is not mocked." He sees your hearts, he knows all things. Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God. Pull down every self-righteous thought and every proud imagination that now exalts itself against the perfect, personal, imputed righteousness of the dear Lord Jesus. "For he," and he alone, "who humbles himself shall be exalted."
Are there no poor sinners among you? What, are you all Pharisees? Surely you cannot bear the thought of returning home unjustified, can you? What if a fit of apoplexy should seize you, and your souls be hurried away before the awful Judge of the quick and dead? What will you do without Christ's righteousness? If you go out of the world unjustified, you must remain so forever. Oh, that you would humble yourselves! Then would the Lord exalt you.
Greater love can no man show than to lay down his life for a friend. But Christ laid down his life for his enemies, even for you, if you are enabled to humble yourselves as the Publican did. "Come, let us reason together. Though your sins be as scarlet," yet if you humble yourselves, "they shall be as white as snow." One act of true faith in Christ justifies you forever and ever. He has not promised you what he cannot perform. He is able to exalt you.
Sermons on Important Subjects (condensed)
Here's a good sermon by Theodor Zahn, "The Good Physician".
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"But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God--and righteousness and sanctification and redemption--that, as it is written, He who glories, let him glory in Yahweh." (1 Corinthians 1:30,31)
The goal of sanctification is to be understood in two senses. There is firstly, the chief end to be promoted by it, and secondly, the attainment to which it is directed and in which it finds its terminus.
1. The chief end is the glory of God (cf. Eph. 1:6, 12, 14; Phil. 1:11). As we entertain the hope of our own glorification, this chief end should be uppermost in our objective and hope. If we think that the glory of God interferes in any way with the glory that belongs to our own glorification, it is because we have a distorted view of that which will be constitutive of our own glorification, namely, the glory that will redound to God in the consummation of the sanctifying process, and the vindication that will be accorded in the manifestation of his glory. Sometimes we have difficulty with the thought of the judgment that will be executed with reference to believers at the judgment seat of Christ, when God will bring every work into judgment with every secret thing, whether it be good or evil. We wonder how the exposure of sins will comport with the bliss of resurrection to life.
This difficulty only arises when we have restricted our thought to our own bliss and have overlooked the demands of the glory of God. When we give the priority to the claims of God's glory, then we appreciate the fact that the prerequisite to our bliss is the vindication of the glory of God. And the glory of God requires that there be perfect adjudication of all things, that the whole panorama of history will be finally adjudicated with perfect equity and truth. God "will judge the world with righteousness, and the people with his truth" (Ps. 96:13). How could the people of God contemplate with delight an eternity that would leave anything at loose ends? The adjudication that God will render with reference to their sins is not one that will fill them with dismay, but one that will only enhance in their esteem the marvels of redeeming grace, as it will also serve to exhibit the perfect justice of God in the provisions of his saving mercy. When sin is exposed in its true proportions and gravity, it is then that the glory of redemptive grace will be fully exhibited and the joy of the saints will reach its zenith. The bliss of heaven is not constituted by forgetting sin, but by glorying in the redemption that washed from sin and made us white in the blood of the Lamb.
When we think of the glory of God as the chief end in the goal of sanctification, we must appreciate the extent to which God will be glorified in the glorification of his people. There is no limitation to the glory that will redound to God from the completion of the sanctifying process. God will be glorified in all his works. The damnation of the reprobate will redound to the glory of God, and no speck of stain will attach to God's action. It will redound to the glory of his justice and power. But in the glorification of the people of God, the whole sum of the divine perfections will be manifested as in no other handiwork of his. We must say this, because it is only in relation to the redemption of the elect that the incarnation of the Son has meaning. The glorification of the elect is really one with the final glorification of him who himself is the embodiment of the glory of God. So when his glory will be revealed, the people of God will also be manifested with him in glory. But the revelation of Christ's glory is surely the supreme exhibition of the glory of God. . . .
2. The second sense in which the goal of sanctification is to be understood is the attainment in which it finds its terminus. This is the glorification of the believer and of the whole body of the elect. It is noteworthy how seldom the term "glorify" (δοξάξω) is used with reference to the people of God (cf. Rom. 8:17, 30). This term is almost uniformly used of glorifying God or Christ. What is of particular significance in the glorification of the people of God is the relation it sustains to the glorification of Christ himself. In Romans 8:17 believers and Christ are said to be glorified together, and in Romans 8:29, 30 it is apparent that the glorification spoken of in verse 20 is the realization of the predestinating purpose spoken of in verse 29, namely, conformity to the image of God's Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.
These two texts, therefore (Rom. 8:17; 8:29, 30), both indicate the inseparable conjunction and community that exists between Christ and believers in respect of what is the final phase of Christ's exaltation and glorification, and the glorification of the elect. The title "firstborn" or "firstbegotten" (πρωτότοκος) refers to priority and pre-eminence and points to the supereminence that belongs to Christ. But it is supereminence among brethren, and therefore the supereminence involved has no meaning except in that relation. Hence, though there can be no underestimation of the pre-eminence belonging to the Son as the firstbegotten, yet the interdependence is just as necessary. The glory bestowed upon the redeemed is derived from the relation they sustain to the "firstborn." But the specific character involved in being the "firstborn" is derived from the relation he sustains to the redeemed in that capacity. Hence they must be glorified together.
The glorification of the elect is, by implication, said to consist in conformity to the image of the Son. The marvel of the destination is hereby brought to our attention in a way that is unique. For the title "Son" has reference to Christ as the only-begotten (Rom. 8:3, 32), and the eternal sonship is in view. The conformity cannot, of course, have in view conformity to him in that capacity or relation. The conformity includes conformity to the likeness of the body of Christ's glory (Phil. 3:21), and must, therefore, be conceived of as conformity to the image of the Son incarnate. But the glorified Christ does not cease to be the eternal Son. Hence conformity to his image as incarnate and glorified is conformity to the image of him who is the eternal and only-begotten Son. This is the highest end conceivable for created beings, the highest end conceivable not only by men but also by God himself. God himself could not contemplate or determine a higher destiny for his creatures.
We must not overlook, however, the succeeding clause -- "that he might be the firstborn among many brethren." This specifies the final aim of the conformity spoken of. We might well ask: What can be more ultimate than conformity of the sons of God to the image of the only-begotten and firstborn? If such a question has any appeal by way of objection, it is because our orientation is anthropocentric, rather than Christocentric and theocentric. There is a final end that is more ultimate than the glorification of the people of God. It is the pre-eminence of Christ, and that pre-eminence vindicated and exemplified in the final phase of his glorification. "Firstborn" reflects on the priority and supremacy of Christ (cf. Col. 1:15, 18; Heb. 1:6; Rev. 1:5). The glory of God is always supreme and ultimate. And the supreme glory of God is manifested in the glorifying of the Son. . . .
But the glory for the people of God is only enhanced by the emphasis place upon the pre-eminence of Christ. For it is among many brethren that Christ is the firstborn. That they should be classified as brethren brings to the thought of glorification with Christ the deepest mystery of community. The fraternal relationship is subsumed under the ultimate aim of the predestinating decree. This means that the pre-eminence of the Son as the firstborn carried with it the correlative eminence of the children of God. The unique dignity of the Son enhances the dignity bestowed upon the many sons who are to be brought to glory. "Both he that sanctifies and they who are sanctified are all of one: for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren" (Heb. 2:11).
We thus see how, in the final realization of the goal of sanctification, there is exemplified and vindicated to the fullest extent, an extent that staggers our thought by reason of its stupendous reality, the truth inscribed upon the whole process of redemption, from its inception in the electing grace of the Father (cf. Eph. 1:4; Rom. 8:29) to its consummation in the adoption (cf. Rom. 8:23; Eph. 1:5), that Christ in all his offices as Redeemer is never to be conceived of apart from the church, and the church is not to be conceived of apart from Christ. There is correlativity in election, there is correlativity in redemption once for all accomplished, there is correlativity in the mediatorial ministry which Christ continues to exercise at the right hand of the Father, and there is correlativity in the consummation, when Christ will come the second time without sin for those that look for him unto salvation. This is the goal of sanctification. This is the hope it enshrines, and thereby its demands upon us are invested with sanctions of surpassing glory.
Collected Writings of John Murray, vol. 2
Are we awaiting the Second Advent? Read Alexander McCaul's sermon, "The Blessed Hope".
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"That which may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has showed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead." (Romans 1:20)
That there exists in the human minds -- and indeed by natural instinct -- some sense of Deity, we hold to be beyond dispute, since God himself, to prevent any man from pretending ignorance, has endued all men with some idea of his Godhead. This memory he constantly renews and occasionally enlarges, that all to a man may be condemned by their own conscience when they neither worship him nor consecrate their lives to his service. Certainly, if there is any quarter where it may be supposed that God is unknown, the most likely is among the dullest tribes farthest removed from civilization. But, as a heathen tells us, there is no nation so barbarous, no race so brutish, as not to be imbued with the conviction that there is a God. Nay, even idolatry is ample evidence of this fact. We know how reluctant man is to lower himself, in order to set other creatures above him. Therefore, when he chooses to worship wood and stone, it is evident how very strong this impression of a Deity must be. In opposition to his natural haughtiness, he spontaneously humbles himself before the meanest object as an act of reverence to God.
Since the perfection of blessedness consists in the knowledge of God, he has been pleased . . . not only to deposit in our minds that seed of religion of which we have already spoken, but so to manifest his perfections in the whole structure of the universe. Daily he places himself in our view so that we cannot open our eyes without being compelled to behold him. His essence, indeed, is incomprehensible, utterly transcending all human thought; but on each of his works his glory is engraved in characters so bright, so distinct, and so illustrious, that none, however dull and illiterate, can plead ignorance as their excuse. Hence, with perfect truth, the Psalmist exclaims, "He covers himself with light as with a garment," (Psalm 104:2). Because the glory of his power and wisdom is more resplendent in the firmament, it is frequently designated as his palace. Wherever you turn your eyes, there is no portion of the world, however minute, that does not exhibit at least some sparks of beauty. It is impossible to contemplate the vast and beautiful fabric as it extends around without being overwhelmed by the immense weight of glory. Hence, the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews elegantly describes the visible worlds as images of the invisible (Heb. 11:3), the elegant structure of the world serving us as a kind of mirror in which we may behold God, though otherwise invisible. For the same reason the Psalmist attributes language to celestial objects, a language which all nations understand (Psalm 19:1), the manifestation of the Godhead being too clear to escape the notice of any people, however obtuse.
Calvin's Institutes, vol. 1, from chapters 4 and 5.
See also the article by Addison Leitch, "The Knowledge of God: General and Special Revelation".
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"My head with oil thou didst not anoint:
but this woman hath anointed my feet with ointment."
There are two Greek words both meaning "to anoint," and as used in the New Testament, referring to different kinds of anointing and for different purposes. These are translated by the one English word "anoint." In order to arrive at a full-orbed accurate interpretation of the passages in which the word "anoint" occurs, it is necessary to know what Greek word lies back of the English translation.
One word is aleipho. The non-literary manuscripts of the early centuries give us some instances of its use as seen in the following examples:  "which you will carefully grease," spoken of a yoke-band;  a man whose wife had gone away writes to her that since they had bathed together a month before, he had never bathed or anointed himself;  an inscription in honor of a gymnasiarch, namely, the head of a gymnasium, does him honor as the "much-honored anointer." In the first case the word is used of the action of applying grease to the yoke-band, the purpose of which was to keep it from chafing the ox. In the other two instances it referred to the practice, common in the orient, of giving the body an olive-oil massage. Olive-oil was used in the east for medicinal and remedial purposes in the case of illness. It provided an excellent rub-down for the tired athlete after exercise. It prevented skin dryness in the hot dry climate of the orient.
We see this use of the word aleipho in Mark 6:13 and James 5:14, where the word is used of the application of oil for medicinal purposes. Thus we find in the latter text the two God-appointed resources in the case of illness, prayer and medical help.
It is also used of the application of ointment. A passage in Xenophon speaks of the greater suitableness of oil for the men and of ointment for women, saying that the latter are better pleased that the men should savour of the manly oil than the effeminate ointment. The ointment had oil for its base, but differed from the common oil in that it was highly scented. We can better understand the words of our Lord to the discourteous Pharisee (Luke 7:46), "My head with oil you did not anoint: but this woman has anointed my feet with ointment." It was as if He said, "You withheld from Me cheap and ordinary courtesies; while she bestowed upon Me costly and rare homages" (Trench). The Pharisee withheld from our Lord the courtesy of common oil for His head, that same anointing oil which the hypocrites denied themselves (Matt. 6:17). The woman anointed His tired, parched feet with the expensive, highly fragrant ointment which she as a woman naturally possessed, rather than with the anointing oil used commonly by men. The same precious ointment was used by Mary of Bethany (John 11:2, 12:3), and by the women at the tomb (Mark 16:1). How the fragrance of that ointment which permeated the room spoke of the heavenly fragrance of the one Man among all men who combined in His wonderful Person, and in most delicate balance, the gentleness of womanhood and the strength and virility of manhood, without either one detracting from the other.
In the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, aleipho is the usual word for anointing with oil for either of the above purposes (although the other word for "anoint" is used in Amos 6:6). It is used in Ruth 3:3; II Samuel 12:20, 14:2; Daniel 10:3; Micah 6:15. Aleipho is the only word used for anointing with oil in the New Testament, there being no exceptions to this.
The other word used in the New Testament is chrio. It is never used here in connection with oil, but uniformly of the anointing with the Holy Spirit (although in the secular documents it had the same meaning as aleipho). Chrio is used in "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me" (Luke 4:18), a quotation from Isaiah 61:1, where the same Greek word appears in the Septuagint translation. It is used in Acts 4:27, 10:38, of the anointing of our Lord with the Holy Spirit. In II Corinthians 1:21 the word is used in connection with the anointing of the believer with the Spirit. Hebrews 1:9 presents a seeming deviation of the rule that chrio is never used in the New Testament in connection with the anointing with oil. We have "God has anointed thee (the Lord Jesus) with the oil of gladness," and chrio is used. How true the inspired writer was to the genius of the two words as they are used in the New Testament, for the word "oil" here does not refer to literal oil, but is symbolic of the Holy Spirit. In 1 John 2:20, 27, "unction" and "anointing" are from the noun form that comes from chrio, and refer to the anointing of the believer with the Holy Spirit.
Chrio is the usual word in the Septuagint of the anointing of the priests and kings at their induction into office. The anointing is with oil, but this oil is symbolic of the anointing of the Spirit, not for medicinal purposes. Aleipho is used in Exodus 40:15, which speaks of the anointing of the priest, and its usage here is an exception to the usual practice. The priest was anointed once only, at the time of his induction into the priest's office, the anointing being symbolic of a reality, the anointing with the Holy Spirit who by His presence with him equipped the priest for his service. Believers in this Christian era are priests in the New Testament sense. They are anointed with the Holy Spirit once and once only, at the moment they are saved. This anointing is the coming of the Spirit to take up His permanent residence in their hearts, thus providing the potential equipment for their service as priests. The baptism by the Spirit is for the introduction of the believer into the Body of Christ, the anointing with the Spirit is His coming to dwell in the Christian, and the fullness of the Spirit is for power for service.
Treasures from the Greek New Testament
Note: The Greek word chrio is a verb meaning to anoint and is related to the noun christos, meaning anointed one, written in English as Christ. In Hebrew, mashach is a verb and means to smear or to anoint and is the root of the noun mashiach, anointed one, written in English as Messiah. So Christ is the Greek translation of the Hebrew Messiah. Since the New Testament was written in Greek, not Hebrew, "Christ" is the word used to designate Jesus as the Messiah. He was King Messiah predicted in the Old Testament and whom devout Jews in New Testament times had been anticipating. For example, in Luke 2:25-26 it states that Simeon "would not die before he had seen the Lord's Christ" or the Lord's Messiah. This coming deliverer of Israel was called "Messiah" because in Israel both priests and kings were anointed by oil. So Jesus is called the Messiah, the anointed one of God, because he is both Priest and King. So Peter's famous confession was, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God" (Matthew 16:16). --Ken Morgan
What is the Septuagint? Read Everett Harrison's essay, "The Importance of the Septuagint for Biblical Studies".
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"Then they said to one another, 'We are truly guilty concerning our brother, for we saw the anguish of his soul when he pleaded with us, and we would not hear; therefore this distress has come upon us.'" (Genesis 42:21)
This is a remarkable passage showing that the sons of Jacob, when reduced to the greatest straits, [now shut up in prison by Joseph], recall to memory a fratricide committed thirteen years previously. Before affliction pressed upon them, they were in a state of torpor. Moses relates that even lately they had spoken without agitation of Joseph's death, as if conscious to themselves of no evil. But now they are compelled to enter into their own consciences. We see, then, how in adversity God searches and tries men, and how, while dissipating all their flattering illusions, he not only pierces their minds with secret fear but extorts a confession which they would gladly avoid.
This kind of examination is very necessary for us. Astonishing is the hypocrisy of men in covering their evils; and if impunity be allowed, their negligence will be increased twofold. Wherefore no remedy remains except that they who give themselves up to slumber when the Lord deals gently with them, should be awakened by afflictions and punishments. Joseph, therefore, produced some good effect when he extorted from his brethren the acknowledgment of their sin in which they had securely pleased themselves. And the Lord had compassion on them in taking away the covering with which they had been too long deceived. In the same manner, while he daily chastises us by the hand of man, he draws us, as guilty, to his tribunal. Nevertheless, it would profit but little to be tried by adversity unless he inwardly touched the heart. For we see how few reflect on their sins, although admonished by most severe punishments. Certainly no one comes to this state of mind but with reluctance. There is no doubt that God, in order to lead the sons of Jacob to repentance, impelled them by the secret instinct of his Spirit as well as by outward chastisement to become sensible of that sin which had been too long concealed.
They acknowledge that it is by the just judgment of God that they obtained nothing by their suppliant entreaties, for they themselves had acted so cruelly toward their brother. Dreadful is that denunciation, "Whoever shuts his ears to the cry of the poor will also cry himself and not be heard" (Prov. 21:13). Therefore, while we have time, let us learn to exercise humanity, to sympathize with the miserable, and to stretch out our hand for the sake of giving assistance. But if at any time it happens that we are treated roughly by men, and our prayers are rejected, then let the question occur to us whether we ourselves have in anything acted unkindly toward others. For although it were better to be wise beforehand, it is, nevertheless, to our advantage to reflect whether those with whom we deal have not experienced similar hardships from us.
Read this short exposition of "Proverbs 14:25", "A true witness delivers souls, but a deceitful witness speaks lies," by Charles Bridges.
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"Lord, if thou had been here, my brother had not died."
"It is better," says the wise man, "to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting: for that is the end of all men, and the living will lay it to his heart."
It is remarkable that two persons so different in their turn of mind, so apt to view things in different lights and to be affected by them with different feelings, should both utter the very same words on first meeting the Lord Jesus: "Lord, if thou had been here, my brother had not died."
They had sat and watched together beside their brother's bed of sickness. They joined together in sending unto Jesus, saying, "Lord, behold, he whom thou lovest is sick." In their distress they both thought of the same remedy, and applied to the same physician. It was a joint petition that they despatched, and they did not doubt that it would prevail. Together they waited anxiously for his coming. They reckoned the very earliest moment when he could arrive, and as they looked on their brother's languid eye, and saw him sinking every hour and wasting away -- ah! they thought, soon their benefactor might appear, and all might yet be well. But moments and hours rolled on, and no Saviour came. Wearisome days and nights were appointed to them. Often did they look out and listen. Often did they fancy that they heard the expected sound, and the well-known accents of kindness seemed to fall upon their ears. But still he came not. The last ray of expectation is extinguished; the dreaded hour is come. It is over. Their brother has fallen asleep. Lazarus is dead.
And now four days are past and gone since he has been laid in the silent tomb. The first violence of grief is giving place to the more calm, but far more bitter, pain of a desolate and dreary sadness; the prolonged sense of bereavement which recollection brings along with it; and which everything around serves to aggravate and embitter. The house of mourning, after the usual temporary excitement, is still. And amid the real kindness of sympathizing friends, and the formal attentions of officious strangers, the sisters are soothing or suppressing as best they may those bitter feelings which their own hearts alone can know. Suddenly they are told that Jesus is at hand. He is come at last. But is it not too late?
"Lord, if thou had been here, my brother had not died." It is the voice of nature that speaks in these words -- the voice of our common nature, mingling its vain regrets with the resignation of sincere and simple faith. Is it not thus that the heart speaks under every trying dispensation? Who has ever met with any affliction, who has ever lost any beloved brother or dear friend without cherishing some such reflection as this: If such or such a measure had been adopted; if such or such an accident had not happened; if it had not been for this unaccountable oversight or that unforeseen and unavoidable mischance, so grievous a calamity would not have befallen me.
Alas, the reflection, however natural, is only a sinful and sad delusion proceeding upon a very limited view of the power and the providence of God your Saviour. How did these sisters know that if Jesus had been there their brother would not have died? How could they tell whether he might not have ends to serve which would have required that, even though he had been there, he must have permitted their brother to die? And were they not aware that, though he was not there, yet, if he had so chosen and so ordered it, their brother would not have died? Had they not heard of his being able at the distance of many a long mile to effect an immediate and complete cure of the most deadly disease? Did they not believe that he had but to speak and it would be done; he had but to say the word, and, however far off he was, his friend and their brother would be healed? Ah! they had forgotten who it was to whom they made this most touching and pathetic appeal; that he was one who, though not actually present, could have restored their brother if it had been consistent with his wise and holy will. And that he was also one who, even if he had been present, might yet have seen fit, for the best ends, to permit their brother to die.
And are not these the very truths concerning him which, in your distress, even you who believe in him are tempted to forget, when you dwell so much on secondary circumstances and causes instead of at once and immediately recognizing his will as supreme? You are overtaken by misfortune. You are overwhelmed in the depths of sorrow. You ascribe your suffering to what seems to be its direct occasion -- whether it be your own neglect of some precaution which you might have taken had you thought of it in time, or the fault of others with whose skill or diligence your dearest hopes were inseparably connected, or something perhaps in the course of events over which neither you nor they could have any control. And this is your train of thought: If we had but suspected what was about to be the issue, or if the help which we now see would have been available had been within our reach; if we had been warned in time, or had taken the warning, or had been able to employ the right means of escape, we might not now have been left disconsolate.
But however natural the reflection, is it not in reality the very folly of unbelief, the dream of a soul forgetting that the Lord reigns? What, is it come to this -- that you conceive of him as limited by events which he himself ordains, as the slave of his own laws? You think that if a certain obstacle had not come in to prevent relief, the calamity which you bewail might not have happened. But, notwithstanding that obstacle, might he not, if he had seen fit, have found means to avert the calamity? And are you sure that even if that obstacle had been removed, he might not have seen fit still to let the calamity come?
Look, ye afflicted ones, beyond second causes, to Him who is the First Cause of all things. Believe and be sure that the circumstances which you regret as the occasion of your misfortune are but the appointed means of bringing about what he determines.
Bethany, or Comfort in Sorrow and Hope in Death (condensed)
A pertinent sermon here is that of Maclaren, "A Petulant Wish".
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"Now they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was going before them; and they were amazed. And as they followed they were afraid. Then He took the twelve aside again and began to tell them the things that would happen to Him." (Mark 10:32)
It was not in happy ignorance of the future that the Lamb of God was walking toward Jerusalem. Nor was it with the mere general knowledge of the fact that He should die there. No, we perceive He foresaw every tittle of every indignity and every pain which bitter Jew or scoffing Gentile was about to heap upon Him. What was said of Him in His last hour in the garden was true of Him throughout His life, that "He knew all things that should come upon him." Think then of our Redeemer -- perfect God, and so foretasting the bitterness of every drop in His cup of sorrows; perfect Man also, and endued with the finest feelings and tenderest sensibilities of our human nature. Think of this God-man going up toward the bloody city, and say whether it were not natural to expect He would have gone up towards it with heavy heart and slow reluctant step.
But did He then so go up? Did His foot shrink back with fear from His approaching struggles? And did His tardy pace betray His inward uneasiness to His lighthearted and more nimble twelve? Quite the contrary. "They were in the way going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus went before them." Doubtless His great spirit was full of the glorious errand on which He was going, and His inward zeal quickened His outward movements. There was all through His life an amazing resoluteness of determination in our blessed Lord to finish, whatever it cost Him (and oh, who can conceive what it did cost Him), the work of our redemption which His Father had given Him to do; intending to build a tower of salvation for us perishing sinners into which we might "run and be safe." [And] He did what He recommends all builders to do: He did "sit down first and count the cost, whether He should have sufficient to finish it," and finding He should at the cost of His own life.
He determined with a holy determination to be steadfastly willing. Hear how He speaks of Himself and His purposes in that fiftieth chapter of the prophet Isaiah, six hundred years before He came in the flesh: "The Lord God has opened my ear; and I was not rebellious, nor did I turn away. I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to those who plucked out the beard; I hid not my face from shame and spitting. For the Lord God will help me; therefore shall I not be confounded; therefore have I set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be ashamed."
The vehemence of the language sufficiently shows the vehemence of conflicting nature and resolution in the speaker. St. Luke says, "When the time was come that he should be received up, he steadfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem." There would have been no need for Him "steadfastly to set his face" had not some great conflict, some agony revolting to flesh and blood, been necessary to be gone through. But the Saviour's spirit was as dauntless as it was meek, as firm as it was gentle, as high as it was holy. Nothing and nobody could divert Him for a moment from His settled determination to drink to the very dregs the bitter cup of our redemption.
Oh, who can enough admire the Saviour's zeal for His Father's glory? He felt how He was dishonoured and His name blasphemed through our sins, and He was eager to give, on His bloody cross, an awful proof to the world, to angels, and to men that "God is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity," or forgive it without satisfaction. Jesus, therefore, was anxious to "magnify the law and make it honourable," that God's whole universe might know that "sin," which '"is the transgression of that law," could not be overlooked, nor tolerated with impunity, nor be expiated by a less costly sacrifice than His own blood.
Also, who can worthily admire His love to fallen man? God's justice would have been satisfied, and His honour have remained unsullied by the everlasting destruction of our sinful race, like the race of the fallen angels. But "Jesus loved us, and gave himself for us, that, through his obedience even unto death," "God might be just, and yet the justifier of him that believed in Jesus." And He gave not Himself by any constraint, save the constraint of holy pity, of Godlike compassion, which could not endure to see us perish everlastingly. Except that constraint of love, there was none laid upon our benevolent Redeemer.
But the deportment of our blessed Lord in the text is recommended not only as the object of our just admiration, but also as the pattern for our zealous imitation. "He left us an example that we should follow his steps." Let us mark [note] then His willingness to stoop and to work, and His readiness to suffer and to die that He might bring glory to His heavenly Father.
Again, was the Saviour zealous for the salvation of immortal souls? Was He panting to shed His heart's blood, if so be He might rescue them from eternal damnation? And can any of us look upon one another's spiritual interests with cold selfishness, with frozen indifference, and not be ashamed to call ourselves Christians? If, then, our Lord and our God was so anxious and painstaking to save us, we also ought to be anxious and painstaking to be instrumental in saving one another. What can we do so very laborious, what can we undergo so very painful, in furthering the spiritual good of others but our Redeemer did infinitely more, underwent infinitely worse, to do good to us?
O holy Jesus, Thy Father's glory was ever uppermost in Thy filial thoughts! Send down Thy Holy Spirit into our hearts, and give us the mind that was in Thee. Teach us also, as sons and daughters of the Lord Almighty, to be ready for any act of pecuniary self-denial, for any expenditure of mental exertion, for any lavishment of personal strength, to "let our light so shine before men that they may see our good works, and glorify our Father which is in heaven."
Parochial Sermons (condensed)
John Walvoord has a good article on "Propitiation".
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"Now on the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying to Him, 'Where do You want us to prepare for You to eat the Passover?' And He said, 'Go into the city to a certain man, and say to him, The teacher says, My time is at hand; I will keep the Passover at your house with My disciples.' So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them; and they prepared the Passover." (Matthew 26:17-19)
It is difficult to decide how much of the ceremonial in regards to the Paschal Supper was obligatory at the time of Christ. Too often ceremonialism develops in proportion to the absence of spiritual life. But we may be fairly certain that, as prescribed, all men would appear at the Paschal Supper in festive array. We also know that they reclined on pillows, or divans, around a low table, each one resting on his left hand so as to leave the right free. But ancient Jewish usage casts a strange light on the painful scene with which the Last Supper opened. Sadly humiliating as it reads, and almost incredible as it seems, the Supper began with "a contention among them, which of them should be accounted to be greatest." We can have no doubt that its occasion was the order in which they should occupy their places at the table. We know that this was a subject of contention among the Pharisees, and that they claimed to be seated according to their rank. A similar feeling now appeared in the circle of disciples. We instinctively associate such a strife with Judas. We believe there is ample evidence to show that he not only claimed the chief seat at the table next to the Lord, but actually obtained it.
The table around which they reclined was an oval or elongated table of which one end was used for setting down the dishes. This end of the table was not covered with the tablecloth. The pillows, or divans, were placed around the perimeter of the table in the shape of an elongated horseshoe, and each guest reclined on his left side on a pillow with his feet stretching out behind him. This would make it necessary for the table to extend beyond the line of guests in order to place or remove anything from the table.
Jewish documents are explicit that in a company of more than two, say three, the chief personage or head, in this instance Christ, reclined on the middle divan. We know from the gospel record that John occupied the place on Jesus' right at the end of the divans. From this position he could lean back on the Savior. The chief place next to Jesus would be that to his left, or above him, and we believe this place was claimed and actually occupied by Judas. This explains how, when Christ whispered to John by what sign to recognize the traitor, none of the other disciples heard it. It also explains how Christ would first hand the sop to Judas as the chief guest, which formed part of the Paschal ritual, and not excite special notice. Lastly, it accounts for the circumstance that no one at the table knew what had passed when Judas, desirous of ascertaining whether his treachery was known, dared to ask whether it was he and received the affirmative answer. As regards Peter, we can quite understand how, when the Lord with such loving words rebuked their self-seeking and taught them of the greatness of Christian humility, he should, in his impetuosity of shame, have rushed to take the lowest place at the other end of the table. Finally, we can now understand how Peter could have beckoned to John, who sat across the table from him, and ask John who the traitor was.
The Paschal Supper began, as always, with the head of the company taking the first cup and speaking the thanksgiving over it. This thanksgiving consisted of two benedictions; one over the wine, the other for the return of this Feast day with all that it implied and for being preserved once more to witness it. From the gospels, the words seem to imply that Jesus made use of the ordinary thanksgiving so as to speak both these benedictions. The cup of wine, mixed with water according to Rabbinic testimony, was passed round. The next part of the ceremonial was for the head of the company to rise and wash hands. It is this part of the ritual that Christ adapted and transformed by washing the disciples' feet. There were two handwashings during the ceremony, but the second required all to wash, not the head only, and that would have meant that all were standing and thus not in the position to have their feet washed. Also, the footwashing was intended both as a lesson and as an example of humility and service, and evidently was connected with the dispute about which of them should be accounted the greatest. It was natural that the Lord should have begun with Peter who occupied the end of the table. This explains his expostulation. If Christ had turned to the others first, then Peter would have had to remonstrate before his own feet were washed, or else his later expostulation when the Lord came to him would be either an act of self-righteousness or of needless voluntary humility.
After the washing, the dishes were immediately brought to the table. Jesus would dip some of the bitter herbs into the salt water or vinegar, speak a blessing, partake of them, and then hand them to each of the disciples. Next, he would break one of the unleavened cakes of which half was set aside for after supper. This is called the Aphiqomon, or after dish, and we believe it was the bread of the holy eucharist. The dish in which the broken cake lies (not the Aphiqomon) is elevated, and these words are spoken. "This is the bread of misery which our fathers ate in the land of Egypt. All that are hungry, come and eat; all that are needy, come, keep the Pascha." As we think of the Lord's comment on the Passover and Israel's deliverance, the words spoken have deeper meaning attached to them.
After this the cup is elevated and the service proceeds somewhat lengthily, the cup being raised a second and then a third time. A prayer is spoken and the cup drunk. This ends the first part of the service.
The Paschal meal begins by all washing their hands, a part of the ritual that we scarcely think Christ observed. It was during this part of the meal that Jesus became troubled in spirit, and he solemnly testified to them of his near betrayal. It is no wonder that they all became exceedingly sorrowful and each asked, "Lord, is it I?" According to St. John, the disciples were looking at each other, wondering of whom he spoke. In this agonizing suspense, Peter beckoned from across the table to John, whose head was resting on the Lord's bosom, and asked him of whom Jesus spoke. And to the whispered question of John, the Lord gave the sign that it was he to whom he would give the sop when he had dipped it. Even this perhaps was not clear to John since each one in turn received the sop, Judas naturally receiving it first since he was reclining to Jesus' left in the first and chief position. But before Jesus did so, probably while he was dipping the sop in the dish, Judas, who could not but hear that his purpose might be known, whispered into the Master's ear, "Is it I, Rabbi?" It must have been whispered, for no one at the table either heard the question nor Christ's answer.
The meal was scarcely begun, and Judas rushed out into the night. None of the others knew why there was this strange haste, unless it was from obedience to something that Jesus had bidden him to do; perhaps to purchase something needful for the feast, or to give something to the poor. It is sufficient here to state that anything needful for the Feast was allowed on the 15th Nisan. And this must have been especially necessary when, as in this instance, the first festive day, or the 15th Nisan, was to be followed by a Sabbath on which no work was permitted. In the Paschal night when the great Temple gates were opened at midnight to begin early preparations for the offering of the Chagigah, or festive sacrifice that was not voluntary but mandatory, such preparations would be quite natural. And equally so that the poor who gathered around the Temple might then seek to obtain help from the charitable.
The institution of the Lord's Supper took place after the departure of Judas. The meal continued to its end, and then the third cup was filled. We can have little doubt that the Institution of the Cup was in connection with this third cup of blessing. A question arises: to what part of the Paschal Service does the breaking of bread correspond? While the Paschal Lamb was still being offered, before the destruction of the Temple, it was the Law that after eating its flesh nothing else should be eaten. But after the Paschal Lamb could no longer be offered, it became the custom after the meal had ended to break and partake of the after dish, that is, the half of unleavened cake which had been set aside before the supper. Christ anticipated this, and because his death was truly the last Paschal Sacrifice, and consciously so to all the disciples, he connected the breaking of the unleavened cake at the close of the meal with the Institution of the Bread in the Holy Eucharist.
As far as we can judge, the Institution of the Holy Supper was followed by the discourse in John xiv. The concluding psalms of the Hallel were sung after which the Master left the upper chamber. While still in the house, Jesus gives the discourse recorded in John xv. The last of the parting discourses was that recorded in John 16. And last of all, before leaving the house, is recorded for us in John 17 Christ's High-Priestly prayer.
The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah
For more reading on this subject see W. M. Christie, "Did Christ Eat the Passover with His Disciples?"
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"Now there was also a dispute among them, as to which of them should be considered the greatest. And He said to them, 'The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those who exercise authority over them are called "benefactors." But not so among you; on the contrary, he who is greatest among you, let him be as the younger, and he who governs as he who serves. For who is greater, he who sits at the table, or he who serves? Is it not he who sits at the table? Yet I am among you as the One who serves.' " (Luke 22:24-27)
The dispute among the disciples respecting preeminence must have grieved and wounded Jesus, more especially because of the time when this jealous strife arose. Scarcely had they finished the first solemn supper, the newly-instituted memorial of the body and blood of the Lord. Scarcely had the Master ceased warning them of the traitor, and the treachery that was among them. Scarcely had their own searching inquiry ended ("Is it I?") when there arose "a strife among them, which of them should be accounted the greatest." How strange and sad, how almost incredible the scene! Rising from the table of love to contend for the mastery, the one over the other; to wound the ear and heart of the Master with their angry words and selfish arguments; to turn the holy quiet of that upper chamber into a stir of strife and ambition and jealous wrangling in the very presence of the Lord. How unbecoming, how unkind, how inconceivably selfish and hateful!
To calm this tumult, to allay this strife, to stop the mouths of the disputants, the Lord interposes. And he does so in a way so pointed, yet so mild and loving, as must have overwhelmed the contenders and covered their faces with shame.
The burden of his rebuke is just this: "Look at me. Am I striving for preeminence? Am I coveting honour, or power, or greatness? Am I even exercising superiority over you? Am I not foregoing even my rightful claim of service and acting as your servant? Instead of demanding service at your hands, I am among you as he that serves." He admits that this is not man's principle of acting or estimate of service. He shows that this is not the scale on which earthly distinctions are graduated. Among the nations of the earth each one strives to be uppermost, and covets the titles which rank confers. But with his disciples this order was to be wholly reversed. Man's idea of greatness was that of preeminence over his fellow man, in virtue of which all should be his servants. God's idea of greatness was that of lowly love, in virtue of which a man should be willing to be the servant of all.
It is not with His birth in Bethlehem that Christ's service begins. His visit to our first father in Paradise was its true commencement. After that we find him, age after age, visiting the children of men, and always in the character of one ministering to their wants. His intercourse with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob was that of one offering, not asking, service. In his dealings with Israel we find the same unwearied, ever watchful ministry; for the pillar-cloud that led them, that sheltered them, that guarded them by night and day was the dwelling of the Son of God, the visible exhibition of his presence and service. It was he who ministered to them in the desert. He fought their battles. He selected their encampments. He shaded them from the scorching sun. He drew water for them out of the rock and brought food out of the storehouses of heaven. In Canaan, too, he ministered to them, generation after generation; and the long record of Israel is the history of his manifold service.
At his birth, his life of service visibly began. It was to serve that he descended to Bethlehem. And his life at Nazareth for thirty years was a life of service. In the three years and a half of his public ministry, he shewed how skilful he was in serving, how willing to undertake it in all its parts. At the well of Jacob we find him serving a needy sinner. In the house of Simon the Pharisee we find him doing the same. In the house of Lazarus we find him ministering to saints. Wherever he goes, we find him still exercising the same lowly vocation -- ministering alike to soul and body, to Pharisee and publican, to child or to man, to Jew or to Samaritan or to Gentile. The upper chamber, Gethsemane, Pilate's hall, the cross, the grave -- these were all places of service. After his resurrection, on the way to Emmaus, on the shore of the lake, we find him still the same. At his ascension He only entered on a new department of service; and as the Advocate with the Father, the Intercessor, the Forerunner, we see him still serving. As the priests under the law were in all things relating to the tabernacle the people's servants, ever standing ready to do the required work to any Israelite, so is our Intercessor. He stands ready to take up any case that may be put into his hands. He wearies not; he is not provoked; he turns not away; as willing and prompt to serve, even the most unworthy, as in the days of his flesh. For the glory that surrounds him above has not altered his love or his meekness of spirit, nor made him ashamed of the lowly office which he exercised here as the servant of the needy and the evil.
Nor, when he comes again in strength and majesty as King of kings and Lord of lords, does he lose sight of his character as the ministering one. Hence in that passage in which he refers to this day of glory (Luke 12:37), he makes reference to this same gracious office as not even then laid aside: "Blessed are those servants," says He, "whom the Lord, when he comes, shall find watching. Verily I say unto you, that he shall gird himself, and make them to sit down to meat, and will come forth and serve them." As if, even in that day of triumph and happy festival, there would be something omitted, something incomplete, something incongruous, something not like himself if he did not then find scope for his old office of condescending love, and appear even at his own marriage supper as the servant of his ransomed ones.
Family Sermons (condensed)
Robert Culver's chapter, "The Identity of the Servant of the Lord", is a study on Isaiah 40-53 and most excellent reading.
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"Now as they came out, they found a man of Cryene, Simon by name.
Him they compelled to bear His cross."
Let us now gaze for awhile upon Christ carrying his cross. He comes forth from Pilate's hall with the cumbrous wood upon his shoulder, but through weariness he travels slowly. His enemies, urgent for his death and half afraid from his emaciated appearance that he may die before he reaches the place of execution, allow another to carry his burden. The tender mercies of the wicked are cruel. They cannot spare him the agonies of dying on the cross; they will therefore remit the labor of carrying it. They place the cross upon Simon, a Cyrenian, coming out of the country. Whether a disciple then or not, we have every reason to believe that he became so afterwards -- he was the father, we read, of Alexander and Rufus, two persons who appear to have been well known in the early Church. Let us hope that salvation came to his house when he was compelled to bear the Saviour's cross.
We see in Simon's carrying the cross a picture of what the Church is to do throughout all generations. Mark then, Christian, Jesus does not suffer so as to exclude your suffering. He bears a cross, not that you may escape it, but that you may endure it. Christ does exempt you from sin, but not from sorrow. He does take the curse of the cross, but he does not take the cross of the curse away from you. Remember that, and expect to suffer.
Beloved, let us comfort ourselves with this thought: that in our case as in Simon's, it is not our cross but Christ's cross which we carry. When you are molested for your piety, when your religion brings the trial of cruel mockings upon you, then remember it is not your cross, it is Christ's cross.
Do not forget that you bear this cross in partnership. It is the opinion of some commentators that Simon only carried one end of the cross, and not the whole of it. That is very possible. Christ may have carried the heavier end, against the transverse beam, and Simon may have borne the lighter end. Certainly it is so with you. You do but carry the light end of the cross; Christ bore the heavier end.
Although Simon carried Christ's cross, he did not volunteer to do it; but they compelled him. I fear me, beloved, I fear me that the most of us if we ever do carry it, carry it by compulsion. At least when it first comes onto our shoulders we do not like it, and would fain run from it. But the world compels us to bear Christ's cross. Cheerfully accept this burden, ye servants of the Lord. I do not think we should seek after needless persecution. That man is a fool and deserves no pity who purposely excites the disgust of other people. No, no, we must not make a cross of our own. Let there be nothing but your religion to object to, and then if that offends them let them be offended. It is a cross which you must carry joyfully.
Though Simon had to bear the cross for a very little while, it gave him lasting honor. Well, beloved, the cross we have to carry is only for a little while at most. A few times the sun will go up and down the hill, a few more moons will wax and wane, and then we shall receive the glory. "I reckon that these light afflictions, which are but for a moment, are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us." We should love the cross and count it very dear, because it works out for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.
Christians, will you refuse to be cross-bearers for Christ?
Our Lord's Passion and Death
Please read Robert Culver's chapter, "The Submission of the Servant of the Lord", a study on Isaiah 53:7-9.
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"And when they had come to the place called Calvary,
there they crucified Him."
In discussing the site, we have often said, "There is no Mount Calvary in the Bible." We might almost add, "Neither is there a Calvary," for the original reading is that given in the margin, "the place of a skull," and Calvary is just the Latin translation of the Greek word "kranion," which would naturally be "cranium" in Latin. But the translation "Calvary" is sufficiently accurate, and as it has made a place for itself in our hymns and in our affections, we need not cavil over it. These notes, however, lead us to what we meant to say -- that the name in the original speech of the people was Golgotha; that it had come into existence as a place name when Aramaic, and not Hebrew, was being spoken, and consequently in the not distant pre-advent days.
Now the name has been accounted for in various ways. We are told of an early Christian tradition (embodied in pictures), which said that at the foot of the cross, on the day of the Crucifixion, there lay the skull of the first Adam, and that drops of the Saviour's blood fell upon it on that great day as a token of the undoing of Adam's first great sin as the first federal head of the race -- a thought of some beauty, but a most unlikely coincidence.
A second explanation is that it was a "place of skulls," and confirmation of this thought is sought from the fact that outside the Damascus Gate there was "The House of Stoning," or place of public execution, and skulls of the executed criminals might at times have lain about there. But this idea violates every Jewish view of sanitation, decency, and propriety, and must be rejected. Besides, Golgotha means not "skulls," but "a skull."
Thirdly, we are told that Golgotha was named from the skull-shaped hill, above the caves that are popularly known as "Jeremiah's Grotto," and supposed wailing place of the weeping prophet. And there is much to be said for this, if we accept as genuine "The Garden Tomb" of the adjoining enclosure. But we have never ventured to go further in assertion concerning it than to say, "It must have been like that." It is well worthy of a visit, and it appealed to even Roman Catholic soldier boys more than did the so-called Church of the Holy Sepulchre, now discredited even more through the discovery of Agrippa's Wall. The thought, too, of Jeremiah singing his Lamentations under the very site of the Redemption of six hundred years later merits our regard and meditation.
But recently, when meditating on the word "Golgotha," we came across another association that seemed to us suggestive, and which probably leads to the genuine origin of the name. We find in the Talmud (Bab. Bath. 8a; Nedar. 62b), and elsewhere in rabbinical literature, the expression, "the silver of your golgotha," which means "your capitation tax." Now we know very well that the Jews were "under tribute" to alien kings. Their subjection was, and is to this day, regarded as the penalty of sin. Thinking Jews have often said to us, "We are in captivity or bondage for our sins."
Now the badge of this subjection, the capitation tax, was collected throughout the land (Jos. Bell. Jud. II. xvii. 1) under the supervision of rulers and men of power, and especially at places where evasion might be expected and shirkers caught (Nedar. 27b-28a), as avoidance of tax payment was considered lawful. And there could be no more convenient place in the land for a kind of "capitation station" than just outside the northern gate of the Holy City. It had been the place of entrance of even conquering armies. It was there that the princes in the army of Nebuchadnezzar (Jer. 39:3) set their seats for judgment. It was outside the Damascus Gate, too, that after the return from Captivity (Neh. 13:15 seq.) the Tyrians had established a Fish Market, and the Sabbath was being profaned, and this led to Jerusalem's being judged there. All visitors from the north found entrance by this gateway. The Wise Men from the East must have passed this way when seeking guidance to the new-born King. It was a suitable place for world judgment. And not less so for the solving of the "capitation penalty," be it in relationship to the Roman Empire or to the King of kings, for individual men. Here, then, we believe we have one more of these beautiful coincidences so often met with in the Holy Land. Where men were met and had to pay the capitation tax in virtue of earthly slavery, Christ met and on Golgotha paid the price of our redemption, and sealed us with His own blood unto the day of redemption. Jesus paid it all -- on Golgotha -- all to Him I owe. Full redemption, Gospel liberty.
Here is Robert Culver's chapter, "The Atonement of the Servant of the Lord", a study on Isaiah 53:4-6.
See W. M. Christie for more on "Golgotha".
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"Pilate marveled that He was already dead."
Precious Jesus! Had the unjust judge but known your soul's travail and agonies, instead of wondering at the speediness of your death, all his astonishment would have been that nature (so oppressed and so suffering) could have held out so long. For what would have crushed in a moment all creation, as well angels as men, in sustaining the wrath of God due to sin, Jesus endured on the cross for so many hours! In point of suffering, he wrought out a whole eternity due to sin, on the cross; and in point of efficacy, he "forever perfected them that are sanctified." Jesus, therefore, accomplished more in that memorable day than all the creatures of God could have done forever. Wonderful were the works which God despatched in creation; but the wonders of redemption far exceed them.
The six hours which Jesus hung upon the cross wrought out a more stupendous display of almighty power and grace than the six days God was pleased to appoint to himself in making the world. But, indeed, Pilate need not, on another account, have marveled at the quickness of Christ's death, had this unjust judge but reflected on the previous sufferings of the Redeemer. They who have spent sweet hours in tracing Jesus' footsteps through the painful preludes to his death, and especially in the concluding scenes, have been able to mark many a sorrowful part which (besides the soul-agonies of Jesus in accomplishing redemption-work) bore hard upon his body also. My soul, if you were to trace back the solemn subject, you would find enough to excite your astonishment that Jesus lived so long on the cross, rather than that he died not before.
His agony evidently began four days before the Passover. The evangelist Luke tells us that he spent the whole night in prayer and the whole day in preaching to the people in the temple. "My soul is exceeding sorrowful," said the dying Lamb, "even unto death." And the beloved apostle [John's] relation [testimony] is to the same amount, four days before his crucifixion: "Now is my soul troubled," said the holy Sufferer, "and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour? But for this cause came I unto this hour!" And if to these agonies of soul, before the tremendous season of Gethsemane and Golgotha arrived, must be added the exercises of the Redeemer in body, all must have contributed to wear out and exhaust his strength and hasten on the pains of death. When we call to mind how the Lamb of God was driven to and fro, hurried from one place to another, from Annas to Caiaphas and from the judgment hall to Calvary, we cannot be surprised at his fainting under the burden of the cross. Many a mile of weariness did he walk before nine o'clock in the morning of the day of his crucifixion. And many a bodily fainting must he have felt from the thorny crown, the soldier's scourging, and their buffetings and smitings with the palms of their hands.
Unfeeling Pilate! Your marveling will be now, and to all eternity, of another kind. As for you, my soul, take your stand at the foot of the cross, and marvel while you are looking up and beholding Jesus dying, that He who might have commanded twelve legions of angels to his rescue, should in love to his church and people thus give "his soul an offering for sin," and die, "the just for the unjust, to bring us unto God!"
The Poor Man's Evening Portion
Read William Nevin's excellent sermon on Micah 7:18, "Who is a God like unto thee, that pardons iniquity?"
You may also be interested in "Was the Crucifixion on Friday?" by W. M. Christie.
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"But he said to them, Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He is risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid Him." (Mark 16:6)
Some nineteen hundred years ago in an obscure corner of the Roman Empire, there lived one who, to a casual observer, might have seemed to be an unremarkable man up to the age of about thirty years. He lived an obscure life in the midst of a humble family. Then He began a remarkable course of ethical and religious teaching, accompanied by a ministry of healing. At first He was very popular. Great crowds followed Him gladly, and the intellectual men of His people were interested in what He had to say. But His teaching presented revolutionary features, and He did not satisfy the political expectations of the populace. And so, before long, after some three years, He fell a victim to the jealousy of the leaders of His people and the cowardice of the Roman governor. He died the death of the criminals of those days, on the cross. At His death, the disciples whom He had gathered about Him were utterly discouraged. In Him had centered all their loftiest hopes. And now that He was taken from them by a shameful death, their hopes were shattered. They fled from Him in cowardly fear in the hour of His need, and an observer would have said that never was a movement more hopelessly dead. These followers of Jesus had evidently been far inferior to Him in spiritual discernment and in courage. They had not been able, even when He was with them, to understand the lofty teachings of their leader. How, then, could they understand Him when He was gone? The movement depended, one might have said, too much on one extraordinary man, and when He was taken away, then surely the movement was dead.
But then the astonishing thing happened. The plain fact, which no one doubts, is that those same weak, discouraged men who had just fled in the hour of their Master's need, and who were altogether hopeless on account of His death, suddenly began in Jerusalem, a very few days or weeks after their Master's death, what is certainly the most remarkable spiritual movement that the world has ever seen. At first, the movement thus begun remained within the limits of the Jewish people. But soon it broke the bands of Judaism and began to be planted in all the great cities of the Roman world. Within three hundred years, the Empire itself had been conquered by the Christian faith. But this movement was begun in those few decisive days after the death of Jesus. What was it which caused the striking change in those weak, discouraged disciples, which made them the spiritual conquerors of the world?
The New Testament answer to this question is perfectly plain. According to the New Testament, the disciples believed in the resurrection of Jesus because Jesus really, after His death, came out of the tomb, appeared to them, and held extended intercourse with them, so that their belief in the resurrection was simply based on fact.
If you take the shortest Gospel -- the Gospel according to Mark -- you will find, first, that Mark gives an account of the burial, which is of great importance. Modern historians cannot deny that Jesus was buried, because it is attested by the universally accepted source of information, I Corinthians 15. Mark is here confirmed by the Jerusalem tradition as preserved by Paul. But the account of the burial in Mark is followed by the account of the empty tomb, and the two things are indissolubly connected. If one is historical, it is difficult to reject the other. Modern naturalistic historians are in a divided condition about this matter of the empty tomb. Some admit that the tomb was empty. Others deny that it ever was. Some say that the tomb was never investigated at all until it was too late, and that then the account of the empty tomb grew up as a legend in the Church. But other historians are clear-sighted enough to see that you cannot get rid of the empty tomb in any such fashion.
But if the tomb was empty, why was it empty? The New Testament says that it was empty because the body of Jesus had been raised out of it. But if this be not the case, then why was the tomb empty? Some say that the enemies of Jesus took the body away. If so, they have done the greatest possible service to the resurrection faith which they so much hated. Others have said that the disciples stole the body away to make the people believe that Jesus was risen. But no one holds that view now. Others have said that Joseph of Arimathea changed the place of burial. That is difficult to understand, because if such were the case, why should Joseph of Arimathea have kept silent when the resurrection faith arose? Other explanations, no doubt, have been proposed. But it cannot be said that these hypotheses have altogether satisfied even those historians who have proposed them. The empty tomb has never been successfully explained away.
So the witness of the whole New Testament has not been put out of the way. It alone explains the origin of the Church, and the change of the disciples from weak men into the spiritual conquerors of the world.
And if He be living, we come to Him today. And thus finally we add to the direct historical evidence our own Christian experience. If He be a living Saviour, we come to Him for salvation today, and we add to the evidence from the New Testament documents an immediacy of conviction which delivers us from fear. The Christian man should indeed never say, as men often say, "Because of my experience of Christ in my soul I am independent of the basic facts of Christianity; I am independent of the question whether Jesus rose from the grave or not." But Christian experience, though it cannot make us Christians whether Jesus rose or not, still can add to the direct historical evidence a confirming witness that, as a matter of fact, Christ did really rise from the dead on the third day, according to the Scriptures. The "witness of the Spirit" is not, as it is often quite falsely represented today, independent of the Bible. On the contrary, it is a witness by the Holy Spirit, who is the author of the Bible, to the fact that the Bible is true.
From Historic Christianity (condensed)
Don't neglect to read Robert Culver's chapter, "The Exaltation of the Servant of the Lord", a study on Isaiah 53:10-12.
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"Therefore, when you do a charitable deed,"
do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues."
The Court of the Women obtained its name, not from its appropriation to the exclusive use of women, but because they were not allowed to proceed farther, except for sacrificial purposes. Indeed, this was probably the common place for worship, the females occupying, according to Jewish tradition, only a raised gallery along three sides of the court. This court covered a space upwards of 200 square feet. All around ran a simple colonnade, and within it against the wall were placed the thirteen chests, or "trumpets," for charitable contributions. These chests were narrow at the mouth and wide at the bottom, shaped like trumpets, and thus their name.
The specific objects of these trumpets were carefully marked on them. Nine were for the receipt of what was legally due by worshipers; the other four for strictly voluntary gifts. Trumpets 1 and 2 were appropriated to the half-shekel Temple tribute of the current and past years. Into Trumpet 3, those women who had to bring turtledoves for a burnt offering and a sin offering dropped their equivalent in money. This money was daily taken out and a corresponding number of turtledoves offered. This not only saved the labor of so many separate sacrifices, but spared the modesty of those who might not wish to have the occasion or the circumstances of their offering publicly known. Into this trumpet Mary the mother of Jesus must have dropped the value of her offering, when the aged Simeon took the infant Savior "in his arms and blessed God." Trumpet 4 similarly received the value of the offerings of young pigeons. Into Trumpet 5 contributions for the wood used in the Temple were deposited, into Trumpet 6 those for the incense, and into Trumpet 7 those for the golden vessels. If a man had put aside a certain sum for a sin offering, and any money was left over after its purchase, it was cast into Trumpet 8. Similarly, Trumpets 9, 10, 11, 12 and 13 were destined for what was left over from trespass offerings, offerings of birds, the offering of the Nazarite, of the cleansed leper, and voluntary offerings.
In all probability, this space where the thirteen Trumpets were placed was the "treasury" where Jesus taught on that memorable Feast of Tabernacles. We can also understand, from the peculiar and known destination of each of these thirteen "trumpets," how the Lord could distinguish the contributions of the rich who cast in "of their abundance" from that of the poor widow who of her penury had given "all the living" that she had. But there was also a special treasury chamber into which, at certain times, they carried the contents of the thirteen chests. There was also "a chamber of the silent," where devout persons secretly deposited money which was afterward secretly employed for educating children of the pious poor.
It is probably an ironical allusion to the form and name of these treasure-chests that the Lord, making use of the word "trumpet," describes the conduct of those who, in their almsgiving, sought glory from men as "sounding a trumpet" before them (Matt. 6:2); that is, carrying before them, as it were, in full display, one of these trumpet-shaped alms boxes (literally called in the Talmud "trumpets"), and sounding it.
The Temple, Its Ministry and Services
You might also enjoy Spurgeon's exposition of "Psalm 41", which begins, "Blessed is he who considers the poor."
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"Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."
This poverty in spirit is put first among the Christian graces. The philosophers did not reckon humility among their moral virtues, but Christ puts it first. Self-denial is the first lesson to be learned in his school, and poverty of spirit entitled to the first beatitude. The foundation of all other graces is laid in humility. Those who would build high must begin low, and it is an excellent preparation for the entrance of gospel grace into the soul. It prepares the soil to receive the seed.
The poor in spirit are happy. Yet there is a poor-spiritedness that is so far from making men blessed that it is a sin and a snare; it is cowardice and base fear, a willing subjection to the lusts of men. But the poverty of spirit of which Jesus speaks is a gracious disposition of soul by which we are emptied of self in order to be filled with Jesus Christ.
To be poor in spirit is to be contentedly poor, willing to be empty of worldly wealth if God orders that to be our lot. Many are poor in the world but high in spirit -- poor and proud -- murmuring and complaining and blaming their lot. But we must accommodate ourselves to our poverty, acknowledging the wisdom of God in appointing us to it. We must patiently bear the inconveniences of it, being thankful for what we have and making the best of that which is. To be poor in spirit is to bear losses and disappointments that may befall us in the most prosperous state. It is not, in pride or pretense, to make ourselves poor by throwing away what God has given us. But if we be rich in the world, we must be poor in spirit, that is, we must condescend to the poor and sympathize with them. We must expect and prepare for poverty, and not inordinately fear or shun it, but must bid it welcome, especially when it comes upon us for keeping a good conscience. Job was poor in spirit when he blessed God in taking away as well as in giving.
To be poor in spirit is to be humble and lowly in our own eyes. It is to be as little children in our opinion of ourselves -- weak, foolish, and insignificant. It is to look with a holy contempt upon ourselves, to value others and undervalue ourselves in comparison to them. It is to acknowledge that God is great and we are mean [lowly]; that he is holy and we are sinful; that he is all and we are nothing, less than nothing, worse than nothing. It is to come off from all confidence in our own righteousness and strength that we may depend only upon the merit of Christ for our justification.
"For theirs is the kingdom of heaven." The kingdom of glory is prepared for them. Those who humble themselves, and comply with God when he humbles them, shall be thus exalted.
Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew
Please read "The Spirit of Christ" by James Richards.
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"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God."
The doctrine of a Mediator, through whom a just and holy God deals mercifully with believers, is the grand peculiarity of revelation. It must therefore be of the greatest importance for us to form a proper estimate of the personal dignity of this Mediator. The doctrine, which I shall here attempt to establish from Scripture, may be thus stated: That Jesus Christ is truly and really God, one with and equal to the Father, being from eternity possessed of all divine perfections and justly entitled to all divine honors; yet personally distinct from the Father and so [thus] called his own Son, and his only begotten Son; but that, in order to the performance of his mediatory office, he assumed our nature into personal union with the Deity, became One with us, truly man, like us in all things sin alone excepted; and that he is thus God and Man in one mysterious incomprehensible Person, so that all the fulness of the Godhead dwells in him bodily.
Several texts of the Old Testament concerning Jehovah are applied in the New to Christ. The Prophet [Joel] declares, "that whosoever shall call on the name of Jehovah shall be delivered" (Joel 2:32); and the Apostle [Paul] expressly refers this to Christ (Rom. 10:13), for he adds, "How shall they call on him of whom they have not heard? or how shall they hear without a preacher?" It is manifest that Joel predicted the judgments which awaited the Jews for rejecting the Messiah. Certainly they did very earnestly call upon Jehovah, the God of their fathers, to deliver them from the power of the Romans. Yet they were not delivered because they would not join with those who called on the name of Jesus; and they only who called on him were saved. As therefore the Scripture cannot be broken, Christ must be Jehovah. Paul considered him as such, and the event demonstrated him to be so.
The Psalmist says, "Taste and see that Jehovah is good." To this the Apostle manifestly refers when he uses these words: "If so be, ye have tasted that the Lord is gracious -- to whom coming as to a living Stone, etc." And in what follows the attentive reader will perceive that he applies to Christ in the most unreserved manner what the Prophet had spoken of "Jehovah, God of hosts himself."
Isaiah had a most extraordinary vision of Jehovah in his temple; and the Evangelist [John] declares that "he then saw the glory of Christ, and spake of him.
Paul applies to Christ's coming to judgment what the same Prophet [Isaiah] had written of Jehovah swearing by himself, that "every knee should bow to him, and every tongue confess to God." Indeed, the whole passage referred to, especially the last verse -- "In Jehovah shall all the seed of Israel be justified, and shall glory -- proves that Emmanuel was especially meant, in whom alone believers are justified and glorified.
Instances of this kind might be easily multiplied, did not brevity forbid. But I would rest the argument principally on those which follow. Jehovah, speaking to Moses, declared his self-existent, immutable, and eternal Deity by saying, I AM THAT I AM; and ordered him to inform Israel "that I AM had sent him to them." This Christ expressly applied to himself when he said to the Jews, "Before Abraham was, I AM." Had he said "before Abraham was, I was," it would sufficiently have proved his pre-existence to all who believe him to be Truth, or to speak truth. But we cannot affix any meaning to the words as they now stand unless we allow Him to be the eternal God. This his enemies of old clearly perceived, and therefore they went about to stone him for blasphemy. Nor can they who deem him only a man fairly dissent from the verdict, however it may be convenient to them to palliate the language in question. Should we render the words "I AM HE," they are then equivalent to those of Jehovah, "Before the day was I AM HE" (Isa. 43:13). And the use of the present tense with reference to Abraham, who lived so many ages before, perfectly discriminates this passage from all others in which the same expression is used either by our Lord or any other person (Ex. 3:14, John 8:58). Indeed, the language of the passage in Exodus and that of Luke concerning it (Acts 7:30-37), lead us to consider the eternal Son, the great Angel of the covenant, as speaker on this occasion. And whoever attentively compares the appearances of Jehovah to Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Gideon, and many others with the words of the Evangelist [John], "No man has seen God at any time, the only begotten Son . . . has declared him," will be apt to conclude that all these were discoveries of that very person in the form of God, who afterwards appeared in the form of a servant.
Again, Isaiah introduces Jehovah, saying, "I am the first and I am the last, and besides me there is no God." This [truth] Christ, appearing in vision to John, expressly and repeatedly claimed to himself: "Fear not, I am the first and the last. I am he that lives and was dead, and am alive forevermore." How can any reasonable man suppose that Jesus, had he been no more than a mere creature, would have used such language of himself, and appropriated the very words by which Jehovah declared his own eternal power and Godhead?
Finally, Jehovah claims it as his prerogative "to search the hearts and try the reins." And Christ most emphatically says, "and all the churches shall know that I am He, which searches the reins and hearts." Did any holy Being [angel] ever use such language? Or would the holy Jesus [have used it] if he had not been One with and Equal to the Eternal Father?
Essays on the Most Important Subjects in Religion (condensed)
You may want to take a look at Calvin Linton's essay, "Jesus Christ the Divine Redeemer".
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"For thus says Yahweh of hosts: 'Once more (it is a little while) I will shake heaven and earth, the sea and dry land; and I will shake all nations, and they shall come to the Desire of All Nations, and I will fill this temple with glory,' says Yahweh of hosts. . . . 'The glory of this latter temple shall be greater than the former . . . And in this place I will give peace,' says Yahweh of hosts." (Haggai 2:6-9)
The occasion on which these words were uttered by the Prophet was as follows. After the return of the Jews from their captivity in Babylon, they began to rebuild the house, or temple, of Jehovah, the God of Israel. Before they had proceeded far, their undertaking was interrupted by a prohibition from the Persian monarch, to whose authority they were still subject. It was not long, however, that this obstacle needed to have hindered their proceeding in their design. But in the meantime their inclination to proceed had subsided, and it was not till several severe judgments had been inflicted on them for their negligence, and the prophet on whose words I discourse had been sent to awaken them to a sense of their duty, that they could be induced again to engage in the work which they had relinquished.
At length, however, it was resumed with spirit; and yet it was soon after retarded anew by another discouraging circumstance. Some of the persons concerned in rebuilding the temple were old enough to recollect that which had been destroyed; and all of them, no doubt, had been informed of its magnificent appearance and costly furniture. And it was obvious, at once, that the edifice they were engaged in erecting would be far inferior, in point of splendor, to the one in place of which it was to stand. This thought damped the ardor of all those who were concerned in building it, for nothing is more discouraging than to know that after every effort we must rest far short of what others have performed, and of what we ourselves are desirous to achieve.
To remove this new difficulty, the same prophet who had been employed to stir them up to the enterprise was sent with a new message to encourage them in its prosecution. He, accordingly, informed them by the command of Jehovah that although the temple they were erecting would, in external grandeur, be inferior to that which had been built by Solomon, yet, in another and far more important particular it should be superior. A great and glorious personage, who should be emphatically "the Desire of all nations," should enter and make his appearance in it; and by his presence there, put an honor upon it unspeakably greater than any which had been conferred on Solomon's: "I will fill this house with glory, saith the Lord of hosts . . . The glory of this latter house shall be greater than of the former, saith the Lord of hosts . . . And in this place will I give peace, saith the Lord of hosts."
In showing that our Lord Jesus Christ is the personage intended or described in the text as the Desire of all nations, the chief consideration is, that the truth of the whole passage with which these words are connected is incapable of vindication unless we admit that the Messiah was the subject of the prediction. And this being admitted, it must appear incontrovertible that our Lord was the only person during the period to which the prophecy refers who can be imagined to have possessed that character. If the advent of the Messiah, so long expected by the Jews and foretold by their prophets, was not contemplated in the text as the circumstance or event which was to render the second temple more glorious than the first, it is impossible to say what was intended, or to clear the prediction from the charge of falsehood. For in every respect, except the presence of the Messiah, the glory of the latter house was not greater but incomparably less than that of the former. The nation and the individuals who respected and offered their devotions in it were less important in the eyes of the world, and much more inconsiderable in number, than in the days of Solomon. The temple itself, although very much enriched and adorned in the time of Herod, yet never was at any period either as large or as magnificent as that which preceded it. And as to that which might be called the spiritual furniture, the first temple possessed the honor and advantage -- probably of the Urim and Thummim, certainly of the ark of the covenant, the fire from heaven, and the glorious Shechinah, or visible manifestation of the presence of Jehovah -- all of which were wanting [lacking] in the second.
The prophecy, therefore, that this house should be more glorious than the former, has not been and never can be verified unless the presence of the Messiah was the circumstance to which it referred as that which should give truth to the declaration. The presence in the second house of the incarnate Son of God would completely and most signally verify the prediction; because, as he was the great object to which every symbol, and indeed the whole Jewish dispensation pointed, his coming into this temple would make it as much superior to the former as the substance is superior to the shadow -- the thing which is signified to that which is only a faint emblem of it. There was, moreover, no other person or thing, so far as we know, that could with any show of propriety be denominated the Desire of all nations; so that it seems impossible not to believe that it was the Messiah to whom the prophet here referred. And if the Messiah was really the object pointed at, our Lord Jesus Christ must unquestionably be he. For although there were others who laid claim to this character during the existence of the second temple, yet they have long since been considered as impostors, both by Jews and Gentiles; and from the nature of the case can never hereafter be considered in any other light.
Christ Jesus, therefore, is the only individual who can ever be supposed, with any degree of probability, to have possessed the character of the Messiah, the anointed of the eternal Father, and Immanuel, God with us, during the period of which I speak. He, consequently, must be the illustrious personage whose presence in this temple was to do it an honor, with which nothing that belonged to Solomon's could pretend to vie. In this temple he, accordingly, did make his appearance. In this temple he was presented to the Lord while an infant, according to an established ordinance, and was on that occasion solemnly recognized as the Messiah by holy Simeon and Anna, acting under the influence of divine inspiration. He honored the temple by his presence again at the age of twelve years, when he visited it with his parents. And he purified it from the abuses that were practiced in it when, after his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, he scourged from it those who pursued an unlawful merchandise there. Nay, we are told that he daily preached in the temple, and that after his crucifixion and resurrection, the apostles began to publish the gospel there. This it was that eminently constituted the glory of the second temple. It was from this, as from its central point, that the rays of the glorious gospel began to dawn on the benighted world. Here first broke forth that fountain of living water, whose salutary streams shall never cease to flow, of which whosoever drinks shall never thirst, in which whosoever washes shall be cleansed and healed from every spiritual pollution and malady, and from the efficacy of which all who drink of it imbibe the principles of eternal life. This was an honor infinitely transcending all the pomp and splendor of the world.
Thus was the prophecy most illustriously and strikingly fulfilled in Jesus our Saviour; and thus evident is it that he is the glorious person spoken of as "the Desire of all nations."
Practical Sermons (condensed)
Also see Ken's article, "Does Eschatology Matter in Jewish Evangelism?"
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“Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world.
If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”
1 John 2:15
We hear a great deal said in Holy Scripture about the world, the evil of the world, the love of the world; and we ought to take care that we understand rightly what is meant by these words. I do not know anything of greater consequence towards making our religion a solid and real thing than knowing what we mean, and having the right meaning, when we use common, familiar, religious words.
Such a word is that which is so common in all religious books and discourses -- "the world." The world is spoken of as an enemy, a temptation, a danger. The love of this world is what we are continually warned against. Worldliness is one of the worst signs against a man, one of the sins which, in words at least, we all acknowledge to be inconsistent with true religion. Everybody can talk against worldliness. Everyone allows and takes for granted that it is wrong to love the world. Ought we not then to know as clearly as we can what is meant by "the world"?
"Know ye not," says St. James, "that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? Whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God." "Love not the world," St. John says, "neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him." "The whole world," he says in another place, "lies in wickedness;" and the great victory of faith -- that in which it is like to the victory of Jesus Christ Himself -- is that it "overcomes the world."
"The world" in all these passages (and these are but some out of many like them) stands for something confessedly evil, confessedly contrary to Christ's Gospel, confessedly inconsistent with His service and fatal to men's souls. What is meant by "the world" here? What is this terrible world which rises up in the pages of Scripture as the mighty and dangerous foe of Christ and of His kingdom?
I suppose if we were asked what was meant by the expression -- if we were asked to explain, in other words, what it stands for -- our first answer would be something of this kind: that the world means all this present state of things which we see, with all the fine and pleasant and profitable things which men are so fond of, and with all the people who are fond of them and follow them.
Well then, but what a life are we all leading! If the world means simply this present state of things, and if worldliness means simply the love of what belongs to this present state of things, what are we -- one and all of us -- doing? We have families and family ties, fathers and mothers, husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, and children. Our hearts are full of them, we love them, and our hearts are bound up with their lives and happiness. And do not family ties and interests belong to this present state of things?
We have our business and work (one after this manner, another after that), work which takes up our time and thoughts and gives us enough to do to get through it, whether it be with our hands or with our brains, whether it be our farm, or our day's labour, or our merchandise, or our learning, or our teaching. Our days are given to it. We think it right to be earnest and thorough in it; and if we are doing it as we ought, we are finding great and real pleasure in doing it to the very best of our power. And do not all the businesses and works of man, works of his hand or of his mind, every pursuit and calling in which he is employed, do not they all belong to this present state of things?
We have many pleasures and enjoyments. We say, when we speak of them religiously, that God has graciously been abundant in His gifts to us. We enjoy the beauty and the bounty of His creation, the beauty and the glory of the sun and the light, of the trees and fields, of the sea and the mountains, of the flowers of the spring and the richness of the summer, of the ripeness and the golden harvests of the autumn. We rejoice in the great and wonderful inventions of man's skill and power. We find delight in reading the beautiful and marvelous things and thoughts which men with greater gifts than their brethren have preserved and handed down to us in their books. These things, I say, belong only to this present state of things. Are they, therefore, necessarily of this world? Is the love of them love of the world and worldliness?
If what the Bible means by "worldly" means everything which belongs to this present state, which of us does not love the world? Which of us is not a worldling and servant of mammon? But that cannot be the right meaning. What it means we will try to see presently. But in the meantime let us consider what comes of using such a word as this without thinking of what it really means. Either people put wrong meanings to it, or they come to think that it has no meaning at all. Either they torment themselves with scruples and difficulties about what may be worldly, or they get into harsh and uncharitable ways of denouncing as the world or worldly some particular things against which they have a prejudice, or which are done by people they do not like, or which are not to their taste.
The world which the Bible warns us against is not simply this present state of things, but this present state of things set against and preferred to the world to come and eternity. If there were no heaven and no hereafter, we could have nothing to think of but this present state. But there is a hereafter; there is a heaven to be gained or lost. And this being so, this present state (whatever be its goodness or desirableness) must of course be of very trifling moment when it is compared or weighed against that which is to come. So if we choose this present life rather than life eternal, we choose what Holy Scripture calls this world. If we are so full of the things which belong to this present state (however in themselves lawful and innocent and right) that we forget that other world, then our hearts are full of what Holy Scripture calls the cares of this world. If we who are Christians and have the promise of an everlasting inheritance live like heathen who know nothing of any promise of everlasting life, [then] we are living a worldly life -- a life conformed to this world. If we love anything of this present state so much as to drive out of our hearts the love of our Father and God, and the wish to be with Him and to be like Him forever, [then] we have that love of the world which the Bible declares is enmity with God. He Himself bids us love our neighbours, love our friends, love father and mother, wife and children. But if even these we love more than Him, we choose our portion with this world and are not worthy of Him and His kingdom.
This, I say, is what the Bible means by "the world," by the" love of this world," by "worldliness." Not simply this present state in which we must have our dealings, our interests, our deepest human love and affection, but this present state whenever, and under whatever circumstances, it is the one only thought and love of our hearts; whenever it throws the other -- the eternal state -- into the shade, shuts it out and makes us forget it and live as if it were not to be.
Village Sermons (condensed)
See Charles Bridges on Proverbs 11:1, "Dishonest scales are an abomination to Yahweh, but a just weight is His delight."
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"And seeing the multitudes, He went up on a mountain, and when He was seated His disciples came to Him. Then He opened His mouth and taught them . . ." (Matthew 5:1,2)
The written Torah, in and of itself, cannot sustain the ongoing life of a people, especially scattered around the world, not to mention without a functioning Temple. Rabbinic Judaism, which would argue that God never intended for the written Word to stand on its own, has erected one system that makes the Torah viable through the centuries, one which, in reality, makes many changes to the written Torah through additions, subtractions, and new interpretations. . . .
Yeshua, through his teaching and example, and through his life, death, resurrection, and sending of the Spirit -- thereby inaugurating the new covenant and the Messianic age -- has provided another, better way. With this in mind, let's return to his sermon . . .
Beginning in 5:21-48, he gives his own, authoritative interpretation of Torah laws, taking the moral commands to a deeper level, thereby providing a template for the interpretation of other, similar Torah laws (for a good example of this, see Matt. 19:16-26). This too is part of his "fulfilling" the Torah. So, while the Torah prohibits murder, Jesus addresses murderous attitudes of the heart -- specifically angry thoughts and words -- urging his disciples to seek reconciliation (5:21-26). As for adultery, Jesus teaches that even to look at another woman lustfully is to commit adultery with the heart, something that could have treacherous consequences (5:27-30). Regarding divorce, he prohibits it except in the case of porneia, rendered "sexual immorality" in the ESV (5:31-32). Regarding oaths, he calls on his disciples not to swear but rather to let their "Yes" be "Yes" and their "No" be "No" (5:33-37). As for the lex talionis (i.e., "eye for eye and tooth for tooth"), he states that this is not to be the governing attitude of our lives. Rather, when we are wronged and shamed, we should "turn the other cheek" and not seek retaliation -- teachings which are best understood against the Jewish legal background of the day (5:38-42). And rather than loving our neighbors but hating our enemies, Jesus commands his followers to love their enemies, treating even the ungodly and undeserving with kindness, just as our heavenly Father does, since being like him is our goal (5:43-48). As simple as some of this sounds, it is profoundly challenging without the help of the Spirit, not allowing us to rely on outward obedience while our hearts are unclean. If you've never read these words of the Messiah, now would be a good time to stop and take them in.
In 6:1-18, Yeshua takes up the issue of "acts of righteousness," such as giving to the needy (6:2-4), prayer (6:5-15), and fasting (6:16-18), in each case urging us not to perform these acts of righteousness for people to see but rather in secret, seen only by our heavenly Father, who will reward us openly. Not only does he renounce hypocrisy and religious showmanship, but in a few short words (6:9-13) he provides a marvelous guideline for prayer, sufficient in itself, but also serving as a pattern for prayer that can serve as a launching pad for further devotions. And in keeping with his pattern, he commands us to forgive others if we want our Father to forgive us (6:14-15). This is the way of the Messiah, calling on us to crucify human, fleshly attitudes and reactions, following in his footsteps (remember Luke 23:32-34!). Then in 6:19-27 he gives instruction on what our attitude should be towards material things, warning against storing up treasures on earth but not in heaven (6:19-21), warning against greed (6:22-23) and the love of money (6:24), and encouraging us to trust in the goodness of our heavenly Father rather than giving place to worry (6:25-34), laying out an important principle of life: If we seek first God's kingdom and righteousness, everything we need will be given to us (6:33).
Now, for a traditional Jew who is used to having every detail of life spelled out, these teachings might appear profound but vague. However, once it is understood that God never intended to map out every detail of our lives with specific laws but rather to order our lives according to certain spiritual principles within the framework of general laws, then Messiah's teaching begins to make more sense. We'll return to this concept shortly.
In Matthew 7:1-5 Yeshua sets forth the principle of nonjudgmentalism, calling for self-examination rather than self-righteousness. Then in 7:6 he warns his disciples, whom he has instructed to love even their enemies, not to "become undiscerning simpletons" (Carson). Finally, in 7:7-11, he gives strong assurances of our Father's willingness to hear and answer our prayers -- as a good father would be expected to do! -- before concluding this portion of the sermon with his final statement: "So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets" (Matt. 7:12). Those with spiritual eyes will recognize that this has been a major theme throughout the sermon, and here Jesus tells us that obedience to this principle means obedience to the Scriptures as a whole, similar to Paul's words in Romans 13:10: "Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law." . . . Traditional Jews will immediately remember the famous comment of Hillel, an older contemporary of Jesus, responding to a Gentile who wanted him to teach him the whole Torah while standing on one foot: "What is hateful to you, do not do to anyone else. This is the whole law; all the rest is commentary. Go and learn it" (b. Shab 31a).
Thus, in a few short chapters -- less than a feather in weight compared to the massive volumes of Rabbinic law, but of incredible weight and value in terms of truth and spiritual penetration -- Yeshua sets forth principles of Torah interpretation and clearheaded but heavenly-minded Messianic teaching "as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law" (Matt. 7:29b). With good reason he could say, "Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock"--a house that would withstand the storms (see Matt. 7:24-27).
Note: This excellent summary of the Sermon on the Mount was taken from a book written primarily for Jewish readers (see the bibliographic reference below). Therefore, the Hebrew name, "Yeshua," is used instead of "Jesus." ("Jesus" is the result of the transliteration of the Hebrew name into Greek, then into Latin, and finally into English.) Also, as is customary in Jewish circles, the Pentateuch, or five books of Moses, is called the Torah, the Hebrew word for instruction or law.
Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, Volume Four (2007). Note: Carol has a review of this book on our Book Reviews page.
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"Lest there be any fornicator or profane person like Esau, who for one morsel of food sold his birthright. For you know that afterward, when he wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought it diligently with tears." (Hebrews 12:16,17)
We are not led by this history to treat of the efficacy of a death-bed repentance; it is the probability of death-bed repentance. There is no doubt that true penitence will obtain mercy at the last hour; [but] there is great doubt how far sorrow at the last hour is true penitence. We have every assurance that God will give pardon even to the latest repentance; but we have no assurance that He will give repentance to those who for a lifetime have refused to repent.
We are thus led nearer to the true lesson of the history before us, and a very solemn one it is -- that the tendency of sensuality indulged is to bring a late remorse, but to prevent a timely penitence; to cause suffering, perhaps, but not contrition; the sorrow of the world that works death, not godly sorrow which works repentance to salvation. There is not a word to show that, keenly though he felt his disappointment, Esau had any sense of his sin. It was his lost blessing which afflicted him, not his faithless self-indulgence. There was no Godward prayer for pardon in all that "great and exceeding bitter cry." The fruits show this. His sorrow inflamed him to hatred, and hatred gave him the heart of a murderer. His sin and its punishment alike led him further from God. "He found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears."
It will of course be necessary, as we pursue our subject, to bear in mind the distinction thus exemplified between "the sorrow of the world which works death, and godly sorrow which works repentance to salvation." The one sorrow [is] for sin's consequences, the other sorrow for sin's guilt; the one for having injured ourselves, the other for having offended God; the one for the disgrace, the worldly loss, the enfeebled body or the unquiet mind, the other for the loss of God's favor and the sense of alienation from Him; the one dreading His punishment, the other longing for the restoration of His love; the one satisfied with impunity, the other thirsting for holiness; the one barren in all but feeble resolutions, the other working a thorough change of the inner and outer life; the one the natural product of the unregenerate heart, the other the gift of God by the operation of the Holy Spirit; the one the remorse of Esau and of Judas, the other the repentance of David and of Peter.
Now the proposition before us is that the former of these, an ineffectual remorse, is the natural tendency of sensuality indulged, which at the same time tends to prevent the latter, a timely repentance unto salvation. And here first (for practical lessons require and justify plain words) let us clearly understand what we mean by sensuality. We mean, of course, the yielding to the grosser sins of the flesh, whether dared openly or indulged in secret -- adultery, fornication, and lasciviousness; intemperance and gluttonous excess, whether encouraged and, as the world thinks, excused by the genial license of society, or admitted, half-ashamed, in guilty solitude. We mean also the same sins transacted mentally in the chambers of the imagination, even though lack of opportunity, or shame, or timidity, or even some better motive, have restrained from the outward act. But we must include, besides, both those more reputable forms of self-indulgence which, stopping short of the excess which tarnishes character or injures health, are yet a daily slavery to appetite -- a habitual submission of the spirit to the flesh, and that negative self-indulgence which, resigned to what is thought innocent ease, never makes a sacrifice for another's sake or God's and will not be roused to an effort even for what is great and good. In all these cases, though in different degrees and with different shades of guilt, sensuality is the opposite to self-denial, and consequently to the following of Jesus and the service of God.
Now the soul knows this. The most reckless knows that intemperance and impurity outrage God's law. The most tranquil and respectable lover of self feels, at least at times, that he is living below the better instincts of his own being and at variance with the requirements of the Gospel. And hence, the first fatal effect of sensuality indulged is the overlaying and stifling conscience. Sometimes this is done with a strong hand, and the headlong sinner thrusts the monitor by as he rushes to indulgence. Sometimes it is effected more slowly, perhaps, but not less surely by the special pleading of a will determined to disobey. The sad consequence slowly, perhaps, but surely follows. The disregarded voice within is heard more rarely and feebly. The sense of evil is dulled and blunted. What shocked at first shocks no longer. It is endured, loved, craved after. The seared conscience grows callous to the touch of impurity, and its sensitive shrinkings and keen stings are felt no more to prompt the beginnings or to aid the struggles of repentance to salvation.
Together with this process is going on another no less perilous -- the gradual strengthening of the passions and appetites. This is a fact of common experience. This wretched bondage is the tendency of each single act of unlawful self-indulgence, which drives another rivet into habit's chain and feeds the imperceptible but certain growth of a gigantic power of evil. And it is a tendency, be it observed, arising not merely from the laws of mind, which we are apt to think are easily modified by the will, but from the laws of matter also, which we cannot alter however much we can employ them. Those appetites which have the body for their instrument affect the body by their indulgence. They foster morbid cravings for gratification, terrible sometimes in their painfulness and power. And these no effort of will, no resolutions even of the sincerest, sharpest penitence, can eradicate or allay. They may be loathed, struggled with, by God's grace denied and mortified; but there they are the sad consequences of the guilty past to tempt, to torment, and to add a hundredfold to the difficulty, and therefore to the improbability, of a real repentance.
It is a kindred consequence of sensuality indulged, that it fills the mind with reminiscences and thoughts of evil. Hence it is that sights and sounds and thoughts -- circumstances in themselves the most trivial and irrelevant -- have become associated in the sinner's mind with images of impurity and recollections of unlawful pleasure. A fearful engine for ill, brethren, in the hands of our spiritual foe, are these suggestions of the guilty past. To the impenitent they are ever-recurring monitors of ill and ministers of temptation, blighting the growth of better thoughts and withering the very life of prayer; polluting the soul with their presence while they debilitate its perception of sin, and unfit and enfeeble it for repentance.
Together with these results of sensuality indulged, and partly in consequence of them, is the gradual deadening of the soul to the perception of spiritual things. The first sins bring often their immediate and severe punishment -- God is felt to be displeased, and His face to be turned away; and the polluted soul is steeped in an agony of shame, and even entreats in an agony of prayer. It is well if it is so, that prayer may be the turning-point of present, or the seed of future, repentance. But often the stricken soul sullenly turns away from God. At any rate, the sin repeated takes off the edge of the shame and enfeebles the earnestness of the prayer.
But the great and solemn truth which underlies all this, and of which the effects of sensuality at which we have glanced are the outward manifestations, is this: that the Holy Spirit will not abide with the sensual and self-indulgent. "If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His." "If ye live after the flesh, ye shall die; but if ye, through the Spirit, do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live." If the sin is indulged either in act or imagination, and the sensual habit forms and gathers strength, the Spirit, resisted and grieved, will not always strive. Its voice is heard less often, its light burns dimmer. Such therefore, brethren, is the tendency of sensuality indulged -- to beget a late remorse but to prevent a timely penitence. There are degrees, doubtless, in its consequences as there are degrees in its guilt; but in all cases they are sufficiently sad.
O how much happier, even in this life, is the path of timely self-denial, the taking up the cross to follow Christ! He too has a yoke, no doubt, and a burden; but "His yoke is easy and His burden is light." But if any hear me to whom such words seem to come too late, who have the stain on their soul and feel the chain of habit round them, what shall I say to you? That there is no "place of repentance" for you? God forbid! There is "a fountain opened for sin and for uncleanness," and you, even you, may wash and be clean.
Lenten Sermons (John, Lord Bishop of Lincoln), 1858
See also Theodor Zahn's sermon, "The Word of Truth".
* * * * *
"Blessed are the meek,
for they shall inherit the earth.”
The meek are happy. They are those who quietly submit themselves to God, to his word, and to his rod. They follow his directions and comply with his designs, and are gentle toward all men (Tit. 3:2). The meek can bear provocation without being inflamed by it; they are either silent or return a soft answer. They can show their displeasure when there is occasion for it without being transported into any indecencies. They can be cool when others are hot, and in their patience keep possession of their own souls when they can scarcely keep possession of anything else. They are the meek who are rarely and hardly provoked but quickly and easily pacified; who would rather forgive twenty injuries than revenge one, having the rule of their own spirits.
These meek ones are here represented as happy, even in this world. They are like the blessed God himself who is Lord of his anger and in whom fury is not. They are blessed for they have the most comfortable, undisturbed enjoyment of themselves, their friends, their God. They are fit for any relation, any condition, and company; fit to live and fit to die.
They shall inherit the earth. It is quoted from Psalm 37:11, and it is almost the only express temporal promise in all the New Testament. Not that they shall always have much of the earth, much less that they shall be put off with that only; but this branch of godliness has, in a special manner, the promise of the life that now is. Meekness, however ridiculed and run down, has a real tendency to promote our health, wealth, comfort, and safety, even in this world. The meek and quiet are observed to live the most easy lives, compared with the froward and turbulent. Some read it, They shall inherit the land of Canaan, a type of heaven. So that all the blessedness of heaven above and all the blessings of earth beneath are the portion of the meek.
Matthew Henry's Commentary
"Pride goes before destruction." Charles Bridges has a short exposition of Proverbs 16:18-19.
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"The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it? I, Yahweh, search the heart, I test the mind, even to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his doings." (Jeremiah 17:9,10)
True and faithful is the testimony of God. Men may amuse themselves and their fellow creatures with empty, high sounding descriptions of the dignity of human nature and the all-sufficient powers of man, but every humble, truly enlightened mind will see and acknowledge the justness of the declaration in the text, that "the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked."
This is a truth which, like many others in the word of God, can only be learned from experience. As long as we assent to it merely because it is contained in the Scriptures, we are strangers to its nature and cannot understand what it means.
I purpose at present to speak only of the deceitfulness of the heart, a subject sufficiently extensive not merely for one, but for many discourses, and which, after all that can be said on it, must remain in a great measure unexhausted; for who can know it? The deceit that lodges in the heart is so complicated and of such variety that it is impossible to trace it in all its windings.
1. [This deceitfulness can be seen] from men's general ignorance of their own character. There is not anything in the history of mankind more surprising, or at first view more unaccountable, than the self-partiality which prevails in the world. One would be apt to imagine that it should not be so difficult to arrive at the knowledge of our real character. But we see, in fact, that of all knowledge, this is the rarest and most uncommon. Nor is it difficult to account for this fact, since "the heart is deceitful above all things." Self-love casts a veil over the understanding; the judgment is warped by various circumstances; and hence it is, that many seem to be almost entire strangers to their own character. They think and reason and judge quite differently in anything relating to themselves, from what they do in those cases in which they have no personal interest.
Accordingly, we often hear people exposing follies in others for which they themselves are remarkable, and talking with great severity against particular vices of which, if all the world is not mistaken, they themselves are notoriously guilty. It is astonishing to what a pitch this self-ignorance and self-partiality may be carried! How frequently do we see men not only altogether blind to their own character, but insensible to everything that can be said to convince them of their mistake. In vain do you tender to them instruction or reproof, for they turn away everything from themselves and never once imagine that they are the persons for whose benefit these counsels and admonitions are chiefly intended.
2. The deceitfulness of the heart appears from men's general disposition on all occasions to justify their own conduct. This disposition our first parents discovered immediately upon their eating the fruit of the forbidden tree. When the Lord appeared to Adam and charged him with his guilt, he attempted to justify himself by saying, "The woman You gave to be with me, she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate." And in like manner the woman replied, "It was the serpent! He deceived me, and I ate." Something also of this disposition is common to all their sinful posterity.
We are all extremely partial to ourselves and apt to view our own conduct in a different light from that in which we are accustomed to regard the conduct of our fellow creatures. When we observe improper conduct in others, the impropriety strikes us at once. Sin appears to us in its true and genuine colors, and we are ready to judge and condemn, perhaps with too much severity. But in our own case, the action is seen through a deceitful medium. The judgment is perverted by self-love; and a thousand expedients are employed, if not to vindicate, at least to apologize for our conduct. Thus, on all occasions, men endeavor to justify their own conduct. They even learn to call their favorite vices by softer names. With them, intemperance is only the desire of good fellowship; lewdness is gallantry or the love of pleasure; pride, a just sense of our own dignity; and covetousness, or the love of money, a prudent regard to our worldly interest. Strange infatuation to think that by changing the names of vices it is possible to change their nature, and that what is base and detestable in others should be pardonable only in ourselves!
3. The deceitfulness of the heart appears from the difficulty with which men are brought to acknowledging their faults, even when conscious that they have done wrong. How few can bear to be told their faults! This is the sure and ready way to make most men your enemies, even though you administer the reproof in the gentlest and most prudent manner. Instead of reflecting on their own conduct, which might convince them of the justice of what is laid to their charge, many, in these cases, set themselves immediately to discover the faults in their faithful reprovers, or in those who, they suspect, may have informed them; and turning away their attention entirely from themselves, are only concerned to find equal, if not greater, blemishes in others.
Since the ways in which men deceive themselves are so various, can we be too jealous over our own hearts? "He who trusts to his own heart," says the wise man, "is a fool!" And the reason is obvious: "because the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked." Let us therefore, brethren, accustom ourselves to self-examination. Instead of indulging a censorious disposition and looking abroad to discover the faults of our neighbors, let us descend into our own breasts and observe the plagues of our own hearts. Let us attend not merely to our outward actions, but to the principles and motives from which these actions proceed. Let us consider our conduct, not in the light in which self-love and self-partiality would present it to our minds, but in the light in which any impartial spectator would view it, in the light in which God's word teaches us to consider it, and in the light in which it will be judged of at last, "when God shall bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and make manifest the counsels of all hearts."
We are all more or less liable to self-deceit; and those who think they have the least of it are in general most of all under its dominion. Let us therefore distrust our own judgment, and, sensible of our own ignorance and liability to mistake, let us pray to God for his divine teaching, saying with Elihu in the book of Job, "That which I see not, teach me"; and with the Psalmist, "Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my thoughts, and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting."
Sermons on Important Subjects (condensed)
Here is J. Oliver Buswell's essay on "The Origin and Nature of Sin".
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"Judgment also will I lay to the line, and righteousness to the plummet: and the hail shall sweep away the refuge of lies, and the waters shall overflow the hiding-place." (Isaiah 28:17)
Now it is certain that from the time of Adam down to the present day, thousands and thousands have taken refuge from the threatenings of God's wrath beneath the lies of the Evil One; and tonight I want to expose to those of you who are hiding from God some of these refuges, for fear death should come upon you unawares and your souls should perish in hell.
Now, let me ask you in the first place, Are your sins forgiven? There are many of you who know your sins are not forgiven. Are you prepared to die? There are many of you who have to say, "I could not lie down tonight and die in peace." Now let me ask, What are you listening to me for? You say, "To learn the way to be saved." I answer, "Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved." "Ah!" you say, "I believe in Election." Well, what has that to say to the matter? I said, believe in Jesus. You answer, "It is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy."
Will you tell me what you mean in your heart by quoting that text? "Well," you say, "if I am elect I shall be saved, do what I may; but if I am not elect I must be damned, do what I will. And, therefore, there is no use in my trying to do anything." Let me tell you earnestly that this is a "refuge of lies," and that if you hide in it much longer God shall sweep it away with the hail of judgment.
Now do not mistake me. I do not wage war with the doctrine of Election, but rather with your manner of holding it. I believe the doctrine of Election runs like a golden thread through the silver tissue of the Word of God, and it is impossible to tear it out without rending asunder the very texture of everlasting truth. It is no dark doctrine to me, with a curse bound to its back; but it shines before me as the first sweet ray of light that came down from God into the black abyss of our ruin.
Election is not iron fate, but unutterable love. I confess, I admit [accept] it-- and I cannot but do so -- it is as plainly to me in the Bible as the doctrine of redemption. First, I cannot but see that God is everything in the salvation of all those who reach heaven, and secondly, I cannot but see that He intended this from all eternity -- and this is, of course, Election. I learn from the eighth of Romans that Election is the first link in the great chain of salvation reaching from heaven to earth, and that if you break that link all the rest fall to the ground. No Election? -- then no calling, no justification, no sanctification, and no glory.
But oh, my friends, do not distort this doctrine to your own damnation! Now look into the matter and you will find that Election is not exclusive, but inclusive; in plain English, that it shuts none out while it shuts many in. Now note: Scripture represents Election as making the salvation of many certain, but does not represent it as putting an impossibility, as a bar, in the way of anyone's salvation. Election has made many saints, but no reprobates. Election only saves; only sin destroys. But even if it was as you say, you have no right to act as you do. For to sit still in indecision is to commit suicide. Sleep on to the end of life, and you must wake in hell.
But why should I reason with you thus? Tell me, do you act in this manner about carnal things?
A friend invites you to dinner; the table is spread before you. You are asked to sit down. "Stop!" you say [to your friend], "Does not God know everything?" "Yes," says your friend. "Well," you say, "God knows whether I shall eat this food or not. So it's all fixed, and I can't alter it. And if I am not to eat that dinner, I cannot eat it even though I were to try to eat it. Whereas if I am to eat it I must eat it even though I were to rise and leave the room and try to go without it. And, therefore, I will sit still and do nothing." Would you reason thus? And oh, if you would not, [then] why say, when God lays the "Bread of Life" before you and freely offers you the Lord Jesus Christ to feed your perishing soul -- why say, "If I am to eat of the Bread of Life I must, do what I may; if I am not to partake of it I cannot, do what I will. And, therefore, I will sit still and do nothing."
Were you lying on a bed of sickness in the darkness of the shadow of death, and medicine was offered to you having the certain power to cure you, would you say, "If I am to live I shall live, and if I am to die your medicine will make no difference. So take it away and leave me"? Ah, no! And why then say, when the good physician, Jesus, offers the only medicine that can cure your soul's disease and save you from death eternal, "If I am elect I shall be saved, do what I may; and if I am not elect I shall be damned, do what I will." If Christ does not really offer to save you, I have nothing further to say. But you admit He does! If your present refuge about Election is not the gate of hell, I have nothing further to say. But you admit that to die in your present state is to be damned! Oh, why then linger there! Oh, forsake it and escape for life to Jesus, for most surely "the hail shall sweep away this refuge of lies, and the waters overflow this hiding-place."
See John Murray's short essay, "The Fall of Man".
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"Blessed are the merciful,
for they shall obtain mercy.”
The merciful are happy. This, like the rest, is a paradox; for the merciful are not taken to be the wisest, nor are likely to be the richest. Yet Christ pronounces them blessed. Those are the merciful who are piously and charitably inclined to pity, help, and succor persons in misery. A man may be truly merciful who has not wherewithal to be bountiful or liberal, and then God accepts the willing mind. We must not only bear our own afflictions patiently, but we must, by Christian sympathy, partake of the afflictions of our brethren. Pity must be shown and bowels of mercy put on, and being put on, we must put forth ourselves in contributing all we can for the assistance of those who are in misery. We must have compassion on the souls of others and help them; pity the ignorant and instruct them, the careless and warn them, those who are in a state of sin and snatch them as brands out of the burning. We must have compassion on those who are melancholy and in sorrow and comfort them; on those whom we have advantage against and not be rigorous and severe with them; on those who are in want and supply them. Nay, a good man is merciful to his beast.
Now, as to the merciful, they are blessed. It is said in the Old Testament, "Blessed is he that considers the poor," Ps. 41:1. Herein they resemble God, whose goodness is his glory. In being merciful as he is merciful, we are, in our measure, perfect as he is perfect. It is an evidence of love to God. It will be a satisfaction to ourselves to be in any way instrumental for the benefit of others. One of the purest and most refined delights in this world is that of doing good.
They shall obtain mercy; mercy with men when they need it. We know not how soon we may stand in need of kindness, and therefore we should be kind. But especially shall we obtain mercy with God, for with the merciful he will show himself merciful. The most merciful and charitable cannot pretend to merit, but must fly to mercy. The merciful shall find with God sparing mercy, supplying mercy, sustaining mercy, and mercy in that day. Nay, they shall inherit the kingdom prepared for them; whereas they shall have judgment without mercy who have shown no mercy.
Matthew Henry's Commentary
We would all be more merciful if we tended to our own sins and shortcomings first. Read John Caird's sermon, "Self-Ignorance."
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"Being confident of this very thing, that he who has begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ." (Philippians 1:6)
Work is the subject of this text. The world is full of busy work; the din of toil and the hum of industry is ever in our ears. But there is another work. Simultaneous with this work of the world, mingling with it but rising above it in grandeur and importance, is another work, a divine work -- a work for the salvation of souls. It is a work that has a strange secret of power. It is unseen and mysterious. It interpenetrates the world's work and often overreaches it. It draws men more effectually than the attractions of the world's enjoyments. It often separates them from worldly gains by the motive of more enduring riches. This work is going on busily amid the world's active industries. Its agencies are organized. A divine message is meeting men in every avenue of life. The farmer stops his plow in the furrow as he listens to the strange words, "Break ye up the fallow ground, and sow to yourselves in righteousness." The workman amid the din and clank of machinery hears a still small voice, more penetrating than the din of toil, "Turn ye, turn ye, why will ye die?" The swift trains freighted with a nation's merchandise bear with them the agencies of the Gospel. The ships that carry the world's commerce carry also the missionary and the Bible to extend this work to the ends of the earth.
This work is not only, like the world's work, external, but also invisible, secret, and mysterious. It is a work in the souls of men -- quickening, renewing, transforming. It generates a new life, forms a new character, and lifts man into alliance with God. Oh, there is nothing more sublime than to think that amid all the noise and turmoil of the outward world this busy and mysterious work is silently going on in the souls of men, assimilating them to the divine image, and preparing upon this earth the great family of God and the kingdom of heaven.
1. It is a good work. ''He who has begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ." It is good in its experience. Nothing is so delightful as salvation, nothing else brings such present enjoyment, or so meets the wants and desires of our troubled and agitated spirits. In every other work we wander in disquietude through the circuit of humanity; but this brings us at once to the Creator, and, having found the center of rest and satisfaction, we wander no more. One distinguished for knowledge and wisdom records his experience of salvation thus: "So long as I strove after earthly good and earthly wisdom there was in this striving nothing but restlessness and disquiet; but now in the hope of salvation all my cares and desires have become so tranquilized that there is continual peace" [Tholuck].
2. This good work is, secondly, described in the text as an inward or internal work. "He who has begun a good work in you." It is not a work without, but a work within. It is a great and sublime fact that the Holy Ghost, the third Person of the blessed Trinity, dwells in the Christian. True religion is the new life with which he quickens the soul; hence religion is essentially a work within. In this age of externalism, when so much thought and energy is expended upon that which is outward and material, it seems impossible to get people to understand the inwardness of true religion. Dr. James W. Alexander said: "Inward, inward we must go for the true elaboration of gracious virtues. We may give ourselves too exclusively to visible activities, and have to take up the lamentation, 'They have made me keeper of vineyards, but my own vineyard I have not kept.' It is a great moment in a man's life when he awakes to the conviction that of all the works he has to perform the greatest is within his own breast."
3. This good work is, thirdly, a divine work. "Being confident of this very thing, that he" (that is, God) "who has begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ." It is a work which God begins, performs (or carries forward), and finishes in the day of Jesus Christ. It seems rather singular, in view of so distinct an inspired announcement, that this should be precisely the point of divergence between the two great theological systems which have divided the Church for so many ages. The question is: Who begins the work of salvation? The Arminian answers, Man himself; the first movement of the soul to God begins in the self-determining power of the human will. The Calvinist, upon the other hand, maintains that the work begins with God, and owes all its efficacy -- in its origin, continuance and consummation -- to divine grace. It is easy to see on which side of the question the Apostle stands, when in the text he attributes the whole work from first to last to the power of God. Indeed, if the Bible be received as the word of God, and its simple teachings be left unadulterated by the interpretations of a worldly philosophy, there can be no doubt upon this point.
4. Again, let us notice as a fourth point that salvation is described in our text as a progressive work. "He who has begun a good work in you will perform it." The idea is that of a continuous, progressive performance. All the works of God are progressive. The creation of the world was not instantaneous and perfect, but gradual and progressive, as the hand of the Creator wrought amid chaos bringing beauty and order out of confusion, molding the world, spreading out the heavens, fashioning the stars, ordaining the sun and moon, garnishing the earth till all stood forth in the perfection of beauty, and he pronounced it good. Such also is the law of gradual and continuous progress in the work of grace.
If a piece of fine, polished, flexible steel could tell the history of the processes which have made it what it is, it would have to tell of much work done upon it, and of a great change wrought in it. It was once a dark, impure mass, scarcely to be distinguished from the stones with which it was mixed and incorporated. It would have to tell of the force that dug it out of darkness, of the blows that broke it into pieces, of the crucible in which it was closely imprisoned, of the heaps of charcoal that overlaid and of the intense fires melting the metal, changing the charcoal into a subtle gas and forcing the new element to mix with the whole substance of the iron. It would have to tell how again and again it had to feel the heavy blows of the hammer, the heat of the furious fire, the plunge into hissing steaming water, and how it was not till after much protracted labor that the dull, heavy, brittle iron became steel, rivaling in brightness the polished silver and in toughness the strongest cable.
In like manner the Christian is wrought by God himself for his present work and future destiny. All the trials and temptations, all the sorrows and suffering, all the various changes and chances of the Christian's life are just the blows of the hammer or the flames of the furnace that in God's providence and grace are preparing him for his future bliss.
5. This blessed, internal, divine, progressive work is here described as a work that will assuredly be completed. Of this the Apostle gives us a double expression of his confidence. "Being confident of this very thing," it is a point about which there can be no room for doubt that "he who has begun a good work in you will perform it till the day of Jesus Christ." This strong confidence of the Apostle is based upon the character of God. If salvation were the work of man, if either the beginning, continuance, or termination of the work depended upon ourselves, there could be no ground of certainty or confidence in the matter. But the simple fact that God has begun a good work in us leaves no room to doubt but he will carry it on to its uttermost perfection. To suppose that God would leave unfinished a work which he has already begun is to impute weakness and imperfection to the all-perfect and ever-blessed God.
6. Finally, our text informs us of the time when this work will he completed. "Will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ." That is, the day of his second coming, the day of his glorious appearing when he shall come without sin unto salvation, to be admired in all his saints, but to the terror of all his enemies. Upon this day, the coronation-day of the King of Glory, when the trumpet shall sound and all that are in their graves shall hear the call of the Son of Man and come forth, a voice, we are told, shall issue from the throne, saying, ''It is done. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end" (Rev. 21:6). It is done. He who began the good work in you, the Alpha of its incipiency, is now the Omega of its completion. He has performed it until the day of Jesus Christ. The simple truth thus taught us is: salvation will be finished then -- and this is the confidence of the Christian; and not till then -- and this is the death of presumptuous perfectionism.
In conclusion, the whole subject resolves itself into one single inquiry: Is this good work begun in you? Without it you have missed the end [purpose] of your creation, you are the cast-off lumber of creation, forever to be burned. But with it you are God's workmanship, and inheritors of an heirdom of glory. The efficiency is God's, the instrumentality is yours. It is yours to work, to ''work out your own salvation, with fear and trembling." It is God's to "work in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure."
Princeton Sermons (condensed)
The bronze serpent in the wilderness was a type of Christ. Read about it here in "The Brazen Serpent" by Carl Armerding.
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"And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked, while others said, 'We will hear you again on this matter.' So Paul departed from among them. However, some men joined him and believed, among them Dionysius the Areopagite, a woman named Damaris, and others with them." (Acts 17:32-34)
Paul is preaching at Athens. He has the philosophers and fools of the world listening to him. But he is equal to the occasion. Taking his stand in the midst of Mars' Hill, the most famous tribunal in the world, with the judges around him in a sort of semi-official capacity, and choosing for his text an inscription he had found on one of the public altars -- "To the unknown God" -- he preaches Jesus and the resurrection.
I suppose his sermon would be a powerful one. There was everything to arouse his noble soul and fire his eloquence. What a privilege to hear such a sermon! He would feel that he was on trial, and [so too] the doctrine he preached. He had the learning of the world before him. He had the wisdom of Greece listening to him. But grander still, he had Christ's claims to vindicate, and there were hundreds of precious souls to be saved. All this would inspire him. So he preaches. How boldly he speaks out -- no whimpering. How grandly he reasons. How earnestly he appeals to the noblest sentiments of his hearers. But he fails to carry them along with him. His logic is powerless to convince their stupid prejudices, and even his eloquence is insufficient to arouse their dead souls to the claims and aims of the higher life. When he speaks of the resurrection more especially, his audience grows to be tumultuous and disorderly, some mocking, others intimating that they will hear him on that theme some other time, and so the meeting comes to a close. But the sacred historian tells us that his efforts on the occasion were not altogether without results: "However, some men joined him and believed, among them Dionysius the Areopagite, a woman named Damaris, and others with them."
Now I want you to notice today specially the three representative classes of hearers in Paul's audience -- the mocker, the procrastinator, and the believer. We may find them in most audiences.
First, THE MOCKER. "And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked."
Now it does not require much of either wit or wisdom to make a mocker. It needs no brains, none of the learning of the schools, and the less sense the better, to make a first-class mocker. Anybody can get up a laugh at the expense of an earnest man who has some grand world-idea on the brain that the world has not yet come to believe in. Ridiculing is an easier way than reasoning to answer a powerful argument. And with the many it goes very much farther. If you have an opponent who has the best of an argument and who is entrenched in an impregnable position, do not argue with him but laugh at him -- point some silly jokes at his expense and you will get the better of him.
That is the sort of game the world has always played at in dealing with the men who have inaugurated the grand social reforms, made the great discoveries, and blessed the world with good. The old foolish world before the flood spent the one-hundred and twenty years of respite God gave them in mocking Noah and his ark. How the philosophers and fools of that age ridiculed his ideas, mocked his earnestness, and made game [sport] of his ark building. But Noah was right and they were wrong. And he lived long enough to see the day when they would have given everything they had in the world to have been in the ark with the preacher of righteousness. There never has been a movement of any consequence but there have been mockers to get up a laugh over it, and turn it into ridicule, and run it down as an innovation and fraught with every evil. A man might well question the utility of that project that the mockers did not assail. But, my hearers, did you ever hear of mockers inaugurating any world-reform, setting on foot any scheme for the benefit of the race, and helping along any movement that has for its object the general good? No. They are good at hindering, but no good at helping.
Next, THE PROCRASTINATOR. "We will hear you again on this matter."
There is much said all through Scripture about being prompt, decided. "Today if you will hear His voice, harden not your hearts." "Behold, now is the accepted time; behold now is the day of salvation." "Choose you this day whom you will serve." That is the way the Bible talks. In a matter of so much importance as the salvation of the soul, it will brook no delay. And the reason is obvious. Time is short. Life is uncertain. There is not a moment we can call our own. The only time we are sure of is the present, and everyone's present duty is to seek salvation. Everything else can be postponed and no great loss accrue to a man. But if he postpone his salvation, he does so at a tremendous risk. He runs the risk of losing his soul. He runs the risk of spending an eternity in woe.
How inconsistent men are! These same men who dilly-dally with Jesus so long without ever coming to the point [of decision] do not act so in business. Tell them just once how to make a little money, and before the day is done they will be trying it. Oh, is it much of a surprise that Jesus gets tired out waiting on them? I have oftentimes marveled at His patience. My soul within me has been wearied out listening to men's wretched excuses and put-offs, and my patience has been exhausted many a time waiting on them to decide. And there is such a thing as the patience of Jesus being worn out. I am afraid His patience will be worn out with some of us before long. Oh, my hearer, cannot you come to Jesus today? Cannot you decide right now?
Thirdly, THE BELIEVER. "However, some men joined him and believed, among them Dionysius the Areopagite, a woman named Damaris, and others with them."
They did not all mock. They did not all procrastinate. The great body of that assembly did, but still there were a few men, and one of them a distinguished man, one of the judges of the famous court, Dionysius by name, who believed. And there was one woman, a brave true-hearted woman she must have been. Her name was Damaris. Now, how much we would like to know something more about those men and that one woman who were able to withstand the sneers and scoffs of their fellow-citizens, and cleave to the Apostle, and believe in the world-repudiated doctrines of Jesus! But this that we have here is all we know about them. And it speaks volumes. That they clave to Paul in the face of so much opposition and believed; that they dared stem the current of popular opinion and fury and set themselves against the wisdom of Athenian philosophers; that they had the strength to own Jesus in spite of all the influence that would be brought to bear upon them -- that shows us what a mighty power there is in the simple gospel, and what the grace of God can do in the most unfavorable circumstances.
But I must close these simple remarks, and in closing I would like to feel that there are some here today who, like Dionysius and Damaris, have been led to believe in Jesus. Oh my hearers, you can trust Him. He will not fail you. The world will fail you. The money you are gathering and hoarding, perhaps idolizing, will fail you. Your friends will fail you. I care not what it is, the time is coming when you will find that there is nothing on earth that you can rely on. But Jesus will be true forever. He will never leave you, never forsake you. Oh, then take Him, and take Him now. Hesitate no longer. He says, "Come!" He says it to you, and come as you can and as you are.
Gospel Sermons (condensed)
You will want to read Spurgeon's sermon, "Come, For All Things Are Now Ready".
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"The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard." (Psalm 19:1-3)
David celebrates the glory of God as manifested in his works. He makes mention only of the heavens, but under this part of creation -- which is the noblest and the excellency of which is more conspicuous -- he doubtless includes the whole fabric of the world. There is certainly nothing so obscure or contemptible, even in the smallest corners of the earth, in which some marks of the power and wisdom of God may not be seen. But as a more distinct image of him is engraven on the heavens, David has particularly selected them for contemplation, that their splendor might lead us to contemplate all parts of the world. When a man, from beholding and contemplating the heavens, has been brought to acknowledge God, he will learn also to reflect upon and to admire his wisdom and power as displayed on the face of the earth, not only in general, but even in the minutest plants.
In the first verse, the Psalmist repeats one thing twice, according to his usual manner. He introduces the heavens as witnesses and preachers of the glory of God. He attributes to the silent creation a quality which, strictly speaking, does not belong to it, in order the more severely to upbraid men for their ingratitude if they should pass over so clear a testimony with unheeding ears. This manner of speaking more powerfully moves and affects us than if he had said, The heavens show or manifest the glory of God. It is indeed a great thing that in the splendor of the heavens there is presented to our view a lively image of God. But since the living voice has a greater effect in exciting our attention, or at least teaches us more surely and with greater profit than simple beholding, we ought to mark the force of the figure which David uses when he says that the heavens by their preaching declare the glory of God.
The repetition which he makes in the second clause is merely an explanation of the first. David shows how it is that the heavens proclaim to us the glory of God, namely, by openly bearing testimony that they have not been put together by chance, but were wonderfully created by the supreme Architect. When we behold the heavens, we cannot but be elevated by the contemplation of them to Him, who is their great Creator. The beautiful arrangement and wonderful variety which distinguish the courses and station of the heavenly bodies, together with the beauty and splendor which are manifest in them, cannot but furnish us with an evident proof of his providence. Scripture, indeed, makes known to us the time and manner of the creation, but the heavens themselves proclaim loudly and distinctly that they have been fashioned by his hands. This of itself abundantly suffices to bear testimony to men of his glory. As soon as we acknowledge God to be the supreme Architect, who has erected the beauteous fabric of the universe, our minds must necessarily be ravished with wonder at his infinite goodness, wisdom, and power.
Philosophers, who have more penetration into these matters than others, understand how the stars are arranged in such beautiful order, that notwithstanding their immense number there is no confusion. But to the ignorant and unlettered, the continual succession of days is a more undoubted proof of the providence of God. From the alternations of days and nights, David teaches that the course and revolutions of the sun, moon, and stars are regulated by the marvelous wisdom of God. If, indeed, we were as attentive as we ought to be, even one day would suffice to bear testimony to us of the glory of God, and even one night would be sufficient to perform to us the same office. But when we see the sun and the moon performing their daily revolutions -- that the variation of their length is arranged according to a law so uniform as invariably to recur at the same points of time in every successive year -- we have in this a much brighter testimony to the glory of God.
David, therefore, with the highest reason, declares that although God should not speak a single word to men, yet the orderly and useful succession of days and nights eloquently proclaims the glory of God. There is now left to men no pretext for ignorance. Since the days and nights perform toward us so well and so carefully the office of teachers, we may acquire (if we are duly attentive) a sufficient amount of knowledge under their tuition.
Please refer to the essay by Addison Leitch, "The Knowledge of God: General and Special Revelation".
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