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
"On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Now both Jesus and His disciples were invited to the wedding. And when they ran out of wine, the mother of Jesus said to Him, 'They have no wine.' . . . Jesus said to them, 'Fill the waterpots with water.' And they filled them up to the brim. . . . When the master of feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and did not know where it came from (but the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom." (John 2:1-9)
What shall we learn of this miracle of turning the water into wine at the marriage feast in Cana? We must all feel it to be a very wonderful and a very beautiful miracle. Very wonderful as a display of power, creating with a word one thing from another so entirely different--wine, that is made by the art of man, from simple water; giving in a moment to the water the new properties and nature of wine.
Very beautiful, too, [as it was] done so quietly, done so humbly and without display, caring for no thanks or honour from it. Simply taking thought for the pleasure, and enjoyment, and merry-making of the company He was in, without letting them know how He had contributed to it. Very wonderful and very beautiful, I say, but what is it to us? What may we learn from it?
We learn from it, first, that Christ is willing to be with us, not merely in places and times of religious service, but in all the times also of our pleasure and enjoyment--in our marriage feasts and days of rejoicing and happiness, and daily at our table, and meals, and fireside, when we talk freely and open ourselves, and laugh and are merry with our friends.
We are apt to think that nothing could be worthy of such a person as Jesus Christ was; nothing could be worth His thought, nothing worth His speaking or caring about but what was plainly and visibly a matter of salvation. We fancy Him busy only with what we call important and serious things--preaching, teaching, explaining the things of the kingdom of God; healing, rebuking, calling to repentance. We have a kind of feeling that anything lower than this would have been not high and heavenly enough for Him, that it would hardly have become Him, that it would have been a waste of His time. We can hardly fancy Him having anything to do with the round of everyday conversation or enjoyment which fills up our time, or taking any interest in it. In our thoughts we set Him apart from it all, only speaking of religion and God, only doing the things which we call religious--praying and exhorting, and trying to convert the sinners round Him.
And, perhaps, while we think of Jesus Christ as entirely separate from all the common affairs and pleasures of this life, we draw the same line between religion and our daily life for ourselves, and follow the business and enjoy the pleasures which come in our daily life without thinking that religion has anything whatever to do with them. While we cannot fancy Jesus Christ taking part with men in the eating, and drinking, and making merry--as if it was something too low for Him--we go on day after day eating and drinking, talking to one another and making merry, and thinking it the most natural thing in the world to do all this without ever letting the remembrance of Jesus Christ into our minds; as if anywhere but in church and at our prayers the thought of Jesus Christ was too high and exalted to be joined with matters of common life. We think of Jesus Christ as being too much devoted to religion, too much belonging to heaven to have anything in common with the ordinary work and pleasures of men. We take for our portion this ordinary work and pleasure, not caring that Christ should bless them--only afraid lest Christ should hinder and spoil them.
How unlike to all this is the history of the miracle at Cana. How unlike to what we fancy of Jesus Christ and His keeping aloof from the common ways of men, and being busy only with what is directly and professedly religious, according to that notion of religion which makes church and Sunday the only place and time when we are bound to be religious. Jesus Christ came to the marriage at Cana not to preach, not to talk about the great business He was in the world for, but merely to be there--to give pleasure to those who had invited Him, to show His kind feeling and interest in those by whom the feast was prepared. He went no otherwise than as one of us might go to a friend's wedding--simply to give pleasure, to do honour, to be one of the guests.
And so Christ will be with us. He will be with us not only in church and in prayer, not only in times of trouble and visitation when we need Him to help us, but in times of rejoicing and holiday--to make our joy greater and our holiday brighter. Christ is willing to be with us in these familiar things, which make up the course of our day and which to many are so full of happiness--our morning and evening meal, our visit to a friend, our social talk with a neighbour about our common interests, the pleasure we receive from a walk, an interesting book, the sight of a beautiful country, the sound of music. He will be with us to bless our table, to sanctify our hearts and feelings in conversation, to warm our love to our friend, to give fresh delight to the beautiful view or the sweet music, to throw a fresh charm over the pleasant talk, to give a new meaning to the interesting book.
See Him with you, by faith, and your conversation will not be less unrestrained nor your laugh less hearty. But with Him present you will shun all that is unholy, all that is wrong to say or to laugh at, all that is false, and proud, and ill-natured, and uncharitable. Set Him before your face and be thankful for His making your life so easy, and conversation so pleasant to you; for the daily meal that He spreads before you, and for the feast at which, from time to time, He collects you and your friends. And your thankfulness will separate and sanctify your enjoyment from that feasting which forgets God and despises man, and your joy will come to you with the blessing of Him whose mercy is over all His works, and who has appointed a time for all things--a time to laugh as well as a time to weep; a time to dance as well as a time to mourn; a time to rejoice over His gifts in this world, and to use them without abusing them, as well as a time to give them up and to do without them.
Village Sermons (condensed)
Spurgeon has a wonderful exposition of "Psalm 139," which speaks of the omniscience and omnipresence of God.
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“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name.”
Of all names, there is none that gains us more favor with God than Father. To speak the words Lord or God or Judge would not be nearly as gracious and comforting to us. The name Father is part of our nature and is sweet by nature. With this name we likewise confess that we are the children of God, which again stirs His heart mightily, for there is no lovelier sound than that of a child speaking to his father.
The words "who art in heaven" are also helpful, for they point out our miserable and pitiful condition which moves us to pray and God to have compassion on us. It says, as it were, "O Father, You are in heaven, while I, Your poor child, am in misery on earth, far away from You, surrounded by many mortal dangers and spiritual perils."
This lofty word cannot possibly issue from human nature, but must be inspired in man's heart by the Spirit of Christ, for no man is so perfect as to be able to say truthfully that he has no father here on earth--that God is his only Father. Our nature is so base that it always covets something here on earth and will not content itself with God in heaven. The term "Our Father" refers to a confidence that we can place solely in God.
All teachers of the Scriptures conclude that prayer is nothing else than the lifting up of heart or mind to God. But if the lifting up of the heart constitutes the essence of prayer, it follows that everything else which does not invite the lifting of the heart to God is not prayer. Indeed, no one should depend on his heart and presume to pray unless he is well trained in warding off stray thoughts. Otherwise, the devil will thoroughly trick him and soon smother the prayer in his heart. Therefore we should cling to the words and with their help soar upward until our feathers grow and we can fly without the help of words.
No petition is greater to pray than, "Hallowed by Thy name." But note that God's name is holy in itself and is not hallowed by us, for it is God who hallows us and all things. To see how God's name is hallowed in us, we first ask how it is profaned and dishonored in us. In the first place, we misuse God's name for the purpose of sinning, and second, when we steal and rob Him or His name. A holy vessel in church may be desecrated similarly in a twofold manner--first, when it is not used in the service of God but for human purposes, and second, if it is robbed and stolen.
The name of God is first profaned in us when we employ it for sinful ends and the detriment of our soul. Instances of this are witchcraft, exorcism, lying, swearing, cursing, deceiving. In brief, we profane God's name when we do not live as His children.
There are some who recognize and deplore that they do not fully hallow God's name, who earnestly pray that they may do so, and who take seriously their wretchedness. To them God grants what they ask. And because they judge and condemn themselves, He absolves them and remits their shortcomings. Those unthinking, frivolous spirits who make light of their failings, will in the end discover how great their sin was to which they closed their eyes. They will be damned for the very thing which they supposed would most surely save them, for Christ says to the hypocrites that they will receive the greater condemnation because of their long prayers (Matt. 23:14).
This is the sum and substance of this petition: Oh dear Father, may Your name be hallowed in us; that is, I confess and am sorry I have dishonored Your name so often and that in my ignorance I still defile Your name by honoring my own. Therefore, help me by Your grace so that I and my name become nothing, so that only You and Your name and honor may live in me.
The Martin Luther Treasury
See also George Smith's sermon, "Our Lord's Example in Prayer".
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"But as he who called you is holy,
you also be holy in all your conduct."
I Peter 1:15
The first chapter of the First Epistle of Peter ranks with the most precious in the Bible. It opens with a singularly rich and beautiful description of what God has done for us and of the glory of that salvation which he has provided. Peter makes known to his readers that it was not they who chose God, but God who chose them, and that their salvation is not dependent on their own effort but rests on God's almighty power. The inheritance God has prepared is more splendid than prophets could tell and more glorious than angels could imagine.
As we approach our text, we pass from the contemplation of the glorious inheritance of the saints to the most earnest exhortations to make our calling sure. Peter admonishes us, by the greatness of the hope that is set before us, to a mode of life conformable to it. We must gird up the loins of our minds, be sober and set our hope perfectly on this grace that is to be brought to us at the revelation of our Lord. It is ready for us; it is kept in store for us in heaven. When Christ comes, it will come with Him. Would we be meet for its reception? How then shall we be made meet for it? We are told first negatively, and then positively.
Christ is our King, and we owe him our duty. Not with eye service only nor with grudging honor, but as the very children of obedience we must offer him our willing service. And this service which he demands is summed up broadly in the negative rule that we must be separated wholly from our former evil desires which we followed in the days of our ignorance. Children of the flesh, born in the flesh, we have lived according to the lusts of the flesh. But now that the eyes of our hearts have been opened, we must turn away from evil. This is the negative rule of life. But mere negation brings us nowhere. To separate from sin is not enough; we must go on to positive holiness: "As he which called you is holy, become you also yourselves holy in all manner of living." Here is the positive rule of life.
Now let us look at this precept somewhat more closely. Observe first, that God proclaims his own holiness. When we call God holy, the central idea in our minds concerns his absolute and complete separation from sin and uncleanness. It is more than sinlessness, though it, of course, includes the idea of sinlessness. It is more than righteousness, wholeness, guilelessness, and purity, though it, of course, includes these also. Holiness is God's whole, entire, absolute, inconceivable and, therefore, inexpressible completeness and perfection of separation from, opposition to, and ineffable revulsion from all that is in any sense or degree, however small, evil. It is the exhibition of this his glory that he trusts to quicken an unquenchable thirst in us to be like him.
Such is the challenge of the Old Testament. But who can look upon the holy God and not tremble? It is preeminently the holiness of God which constitutes the terror of the Lord, and as often as he appears to men we read the record that they feared a great fear. Does its contemplation not silence our tongues and abase our hearts rather than rouse our endeavors and quicken our efforts? It is but too true that sin and holiness are antagonistic, and that holiness hates sin no less truly than sin hates holiness. Sinful man cannot be incited to holy activity by the sight of holiness; it begets no longing in the heart except a longing to hide.
The very fact of the proposal of God to show us his holiness as an incitement to holiness in us means something, then, of infinite importance to our souls. It means that we are no longer averse to all that is good; no longer God's enemies but his friends. Peter is addressing here not man as man but Christian men as Christian men. Those to whom he speaks have been bought with a price, have been begotten anew unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Christ from the dead. As God's sons, they are already like God. He only exhorts them to become more like him. It is only as God's sons that they could be attracted by the exhibition of his holiness. It is only as God's sons that they could find in it an incitement. It is only as such that they can hope to attain it. And it is just because we are God's sons that the exhortation is necessary to us. If we are to call on him as Father, we must vindicate our right to use that ennobling name by living as his children. Thus the very proposal of God to incite us to holiness by the exhibition of his holiness is itself an encouragement to and a pledge of our attainment of it.
God not only exhibits his holiness here as an incitement, but also reveals by that act his gracious and loving purpose with us. We see God here not calling us up to seek communion with him in our own strength, but rather stooping down that he may raise up to that communion. For let us observe that it is, after all, communion with him to which he has summoned us. There can be no communion between the holy and the sinful. He is here beseeching us to hold communion with him, and he is providing the way by which it may be consummated. The Holy God has by the resurrection of Christ from the dead, begotten us again into a living hope, and here he holds out to this already formed hope the incitement of the sight of his holiness as the goal to which we must strive to attain.
In the text, not only is God's holiness the incitement, but it is also the standard of the holiness for which we are to strive. We are to become holy as God is holy. Of course, the finite cannot attain the infinite, but we are eternally to approach this high and perfect standard. As the unending eons of eternity pass by, we shall grow ever more and more toward that ever-beckoning standard. That is our high destiny, and it is not unfitly described as partaking in the Divine Nature.
By means of humble and earnest prayer we can strive for that holiness, but it will require self-denial. See Walter Chantry's most helpful sermon, "Prayer".
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“He who testifies to these things says, 'Surely I am coming quickly.'
Amen. Even so, come Lord Jesus!”
The exact time of the coming of the Lord is unknown and all the attempts of men to figure out the exact date proved to be erroneous. The only thing that can be said with certainty, on the basis of Scripture, is that he will return at the end of the world. The disciples asked the Lord, "What shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?" They link the two together, and the Lord does not intimate in any way that this is a mistake, but rather assumes the correctness of it in his discourse. He represents the two as synchronizing. Paul and Peter also speak of the two as coinciding. A study of the concomitants of the second coming leads to the same result. The resurrection of the saints will be one of its concomitants, and Jesus assures us that he will raise them up at the last day. According to Thayer, Salmond, Zahn and others, this can only mean the day of the consummation--the end of the world. Another one of its concomitants will be the judgment of the world, particularly also the judgment of the wicked, which Premillenarians place at the end of the world. And, finally, it will also carry with it the restoration of all things. The strong expression "restoration of all things" is too strong to refer to anything less than the perfect restoration of that state of things that existed before the fall of man. It points to the restoration of all things to their former condition, and this will not be found in the millennium of the Premillenarians. Even sin and death will continue to slay their victims during that period.
Several things must occur before the Lord's return. This must be borne in mind in the reading of those passages which speak of the coming of the Lord or the last day as near. They find their explanation partly in the fact that, considered from the side of God, with whom one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day, the coming is always near; partly in the Biblical representation of the New Testament time as constituting the last days or the last time; partly in the fact that the Lord in speaking of his coming does not always have in mind his physical return at the end of time, but may refer to his coming in the Holy Spirit; and partly in the characteristic prophetic foreshortening, in which no clear distinction is made between the proximate coming of the Lord in the destruction of Jerusalem and his final coming to judge the world.
It will be a personal coming. This follows from the statement of the angels to the disciples on the Mount of the Ascension: "This Jesus, who was received up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye behold him going into heaven." The person of Jesus was leaving them, and the person of Jesus will return.
It will be a physical coming. Jesus will return to earth in the body. There are some who identify the predicted coming of the Lord with his spiritual coming on the day of Pentecost, and understand the parousia to mean the Lord's spiritual presence in the Church. According to their representation, the Lord did return in the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost and is now present (hence parousia) in the Church. They lay special emphasis on the fact that the word parousia means presence. Now it is quite evident that the New Testament does speak of a spiritual coming of Christ, but this coming, whether to the Church on the day of Pentecost or to the individual in his spiritual renewal cannot be identified with what the Bible represents as the second coming of Christ. It is true that the word parousia means presence, but Dr. Vos correctly pointed out that in its religious eschatological usage, it also means arrival, and that in the New Testament the idea of arrival is in the foreground. Moreover, it should be borne in mind that there are other terms in the New Testament which serve to designate the second coming, namely apokalupsis, epiphaneia, and phanerosis, every one of which points to a coming that can be seen. And, finally, it should not be forgotten that the Epistles refer to the second coming repeatedly as an event that is still future.
It will be a visible coming. This is intimately connected with the preceding. It may be said that, if the coming of the Lord will be physical, it will also be visible. Scripture does not leave us in doubt as to the visibility of the Lord's return.
It will be a sudden coming. Though the Bible teaches us on the one hand that the coming of the Lord will be preceded by several signs, it teaches on the other hand in an equally emphatic manner that the coming will be sudden, will be rather unexpected, and will take people by surprise. This is not contradictory, for the predicted signs are not of such a kind as to designate the exact time. The prophets pointed to certain signs that would precede the first coming of Christ, and yet his coming took many by surprise. The majority of the people paid no attention to the signs whatsoever. The Bible intimates that the measure of the surprise at the second coming of Christ will be in an inverse ratio to the measure of their watchfulness.
It will be a glorious and triumphant coming. The second coming of Christ, though personal, physical, and visible, will yet be very different from his first coming. He will not return in the body of his humiliation, but in a glorified body and in royal apparel. The clouds of heaven will be his chariot, the angels his bodyguard, the archangels his heralds, and the saints of God his glorious retinue. He will come as King of kings and Lord of lords, triumphant over all the forces of evil, having put all his enemies under his feet.
See also "The Second Advent of Christ" by Wilbur M. Smith.
* * * * *
Who would not fear Thee, O Lord God of Hosts, most high and most terrible? For Thou art Lord alone. Thou has made heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth and all things that are therein, and in Thy hand is the soul of every living thing, Thou sittest king upon the flood; yea, Thou sittest king forever. Thou art a great king over all the earth. Thou art clothed with strength; honor and majesty are before Thee. Amen.
God’s sovereignty is the attribute by which He rules His entire creation, and to be sovereign God must be all-knowing, all-powerful, and absolutely free. The reasons are these. Were there even one datum of knowledge, however small, unknown to God, His rule would break down at that point. To be Lord over all the creation, He must possess all knowledge. And were God lacking one infinitesimal modicum of power, that lack would end His reign and undo His kingdom; that one stray atom of power would belong to someone else and God would be a limited ruler and hence not sovereign.
Furthermore, His sovereignty requires that He be absolutely free, which means simply that He must be free to do whatever He wills, to do anywhere at any time, to carry out His eternal purpose in every single detail without interference. Were He less than free He must be less than sovereign. To grasp the idea of unqualified freedom requires a vigorous effort of the mind. We are not psychologically conditioned to understand freedom except in its imperfect forms. Our concepts of it have been shaped in a world where no absolute freedom exists. Here each natural object is dependent upon many other objects, and that dependence limits its freedom.
Wordsworth at the beginning of his “Prelude” rejoiced that he had escaped the city where he had long been pent up and was “now free, free as a bird to settle where I will.” But to be free as a bird is not to be free at all. The naturalist knows that the supposedly free bird actually lives its entire life in a cage made of fears, hungers, and instincts; it is limited by weather conditions, varying air pressures, the local food supply, predatory beasts, and that strangest of all bonds, the irresistible compulsion to stay within the small plot of land and air assigned it by birdland comity. The freest bird is, along with every other created thing, held in constant check by a net of necessity. Only God is free.
God is said to be absolutely free because no one and no thing can hinder Him or compel Him or stop Him. He is able to do as He pleases always, everywhere, forever. To be thus free means also that He must possess universal authority. That He has unlimited power we know from the Scriptures and may deduce from certain other of His attributes. But what about His authority? Even to discuss the authority of Almighty God seems a bit meaningless, and to question it would be absurd. Can we imagine the Lord God of Hosts having to request permission of anyone or to apply for anything to a higher body? To whom would God go for permission? Who is higher than the Highest? Who is mightier than the Almighty? Whose position antedates that of the Eternal? At whose throne would God kneel? Where is the greater one to whom He must appeal? “Thus says the Lord the King of Israel, and his redeemer the Lord of hosts; I am the first, and I am the last; and beside me there is no God.”
The sovereignty of God is a fact well established in the Scriptures and declared aloud by the logic of truth. But admittedly it raises certain problems which have not to this time been satisfactorily solved. These are mainly two. The first is the presence in the creation of those things which God cannot approve, such as evil, pain, and death. If God is sovereign He could have prevented their coming into existence. Why did He not do so? While a complete explanation of the origin of sin eludes us, there are a few things we do know. In His sovereign wisdom God has permitted evil to exist in carefully restricted areas of His creation, a kind of fugitive outlaw whose activities are temporary and limited in scope. In doing this God has acted according to His infinite wisdom and goodness. More than that no one knows at present; and more than that no one needs to know. The name of God is sufficient guarantee of the perfection of His works.
Another real problem created by the doctrine of the divine sovereignty has to do with the will of man. If God rules His universe by His sovereign decrees, how is it possible for man to exercise free choice? And if he cannot exercise freedom of choice, how can he be held responsible for his conduct? Is he not a mere puppet whose actions are determined by a behind-the-scenes God who pulls the strings as it pleases Him? The attempt to answer these questions has divided the Christian church neatly into two camps which have borne the names of two distinguished theologians, Jacobus Arminius and John Calvin. Most Christians are content to get into one camp or the other and deny either sovereignty to God or free will to man. It appears possible, however, to reconcile these two positions without doing violence to either, although the effort that follows may prove deficient to partisans of one camp or the other.
Here is my view. God sovereignly decreed that man should be free to exercise moral choice, and man from the beginning has fulfilled that decree by making his choice between good and evil. When he chooses to do evil, he does not thereby countervail the sovereign will of God but fulfills it, inasmuch as the eternal decree decided not which choice the man should make but that he should be free to make it. If in His absolute freedom God has willed to give man limited freedom, who is there to stay His hand or say, “What doest thou?” Man’s will is free because God is sovereign. A God less than sovereign could not bestow moral freedom upon His creatures. He would be afraid to do so.
Perhaps a homely illustration might help us to understand. An ocean liner leaves New York bound for Liverpool. Its destination has been determined by proper authorities. Nothing can change it. This is at least a faint picture of sovereignty. On board the liner are several scores of passengers. These are not in chains, neither are their activities determined for them by decree. They are completely free to move about as they will. They eat, sleep, play, lounge about on the deck, read, talk, altogether as they please; but all the while the great liner is carrying them steadily onward toward a predetermined port. Both freedom and sovereignty are present here and they do not contradict each other. So it is, I believe, with man’s freedom and the sovereignty of God. The mighty liner of God’s sovereign design keeps its steady course over the sea of history. God moves undisturbed and unhindered toward the fulfillment of those eternal purposes which He purposed in Christ Jesus before the world began. We do not know all that is included in those purposes, but enough has been disclosed to furnish us with a broad outline of things to come and to give us good hope and firm assurance of future well-being.
We know that God will fulfill every promise made to the prophets. We know that sinners will some day be cleansed out of the earth. We know that a ransomed company will enter into the joy of God and that the righteous will shine forth in the kingdom of their Father. We know that God’s perfections will yet receive universal acclamation, that all created intelligences will own Jesus Christ Lord to the glory of God the Father, that the present imperfect order will be done away, and a new heaven and a new earth be established forever. Toward all this God is moving with infinite wisdom and perfect precision of action. No one can dissuade Him from His purposes; nothing can turn Him aside from His plans. Since He is omniscient, there can be no unforeseen circumstances, no accidents. As He is sovereign, there can be no countermanded orders, no breakdown in authority. And as He is omnipotent, there can be no lack of power to achieve His chosen ends. God is sufficient unto Himself for all these things.
In the meanwhile things are not as smooth as this quick outline might suggest. The mystery of iniquity does already work. Within the broad field of God’s sovereign, permissive will the deadly conflict of good with evil continues with increasing fury. God will yet have His way in the whirlwind and the storm, but the storm and the whirlwind are here, and as responsible beings we must make our choice in the present moral situation.
Certain things have been decreed by the free determination of God, and one of these is the law of choice and consequences. God has decreed that all who willingly commit themselves to His Son Jesus Christ in the obedience of faith shall receive eternal life and become sons of God. He has also decreed that all who love darkness and continue in rebellion against the high authority of heaven shall remain in a state of spiritual alienation and suffer eternal death at last.
Reducing the whole matter to individual terms, we arrive at some vital and highly personal conclusions. In the moral conflict now raging around us, whoever is on God’s side is on the winning side and cannot lose. Whoever is on the other side is on the losing side and cannot win. Here there is no chance, no gamble. There is freedom to choose which side we shall be on but no freedom to negotiate the results of the choice once it is made. By the mercy of God we may repent a wrong choice and alter the consequences by making a new and right choice. Beyond that we cannot go.
The whole matter of moral choice centers around Jesus Christ. Christ stated it plainly: “He that is not with me is against me,” and “No man comes unto the Father but by me.” The gospel message embodies three distinct elements: an announcement, a command, and a call. It announces the good news of redemption accomplished in mercy, it commands all men everywhere to repent, and it calls all men to surrender to the terms of grace by believing on Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour.
We must all choose whether we will obey the gospel or turn away in unbelief and reject its authority. Our choice is our own, but the consequences of the choice have already been determined by the sovereign will of God, and from this there is no appeal.
The Knowledge of the Holy
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“Oh, how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day.”
As a final testimony to the precious value of regular Bible study and the place that men of large executive responsibilities have been able to give to it, the author of this book would like to use the name of a young business man of our own generation, Mr. Erling C. Olsen, the Executive Vice-President of The Fitch Investors' Service, Inc., of New York City.
The Fitch Investors' Service publishes a complete line of financial and statistical services covering every branch of finance. These publications are used by banks, investment dealers, brokerage houses, and private and corporate investors. The Fitch organization also supervises over $500,000,000 of funds; that is, they advise and counsel on the investment of funds of banks, corporations, and other institutions, as well as the fortunes of private investors. The Fitch Investors' Service was organized in 1913, and Mr. Olsen has had complete charge of the concern since 1920. It is very interesting to know that the firm was showing a steady loss each year previous to 1920 when Mr. Olsen was asked to take charge of it, and he did so under the agreement made with his associate, Mr. John K. Fitch, that, if the Lord chose to prosper their work in the future, they would give a certain portion of their annual earnings to definite Christian work, a covenant that has been faithfully kept ever since.
Mr. Olsen is known to thousands of people throughout the East, especially around New York City and Philadelphia, as the one who broadcasts every Thursday evening and every Sunday morning over WMCA. His Sunday morning messages from the Psalms have had a tremendous circulation, as they have been printed in pamphlet form from week to week and year to year. These messages are worthy of taking their place along with the best contemporary studies of the Psalms published by any of our Christian scholars, even professors in theological seminaries and ordained ministers, though Mr. Olsen is distinctly a layman without theological training. The author of this book has asked Mr. Olsen to give us his personal testimony regarding his study of the Word of God, and it is our joy to pass this on to our readers for their own edification and encouragement.
"I came to know the Lord as my Saviour when I was 17 years of age. This decision took place in an Inquiry Room after a Sunday evening service while in company with a friend who also received Christ at the same time. Not a word was said between us as we later boarded the trolley to wend our way home until we approached the street where this friend was to leave. Then I suggested to him: 'I'll meet you at the prayer meeting on Wednesday night.' Of course, his response was in the affirmative--yet it did seem strange to talk about a prayer meeting when up to that time no one suggested the need of prayer meetings.
"When I arrived home I never said a word to any member of my family regarding the decision of the evening. I went to my room. The first thing I did was to read my Bible. The man who led us to Christ did not suggest that we should read our Bibles. In fact, not a word of instruction was given by him to us. I had read my Bible previously while attending Sunday school. I had studied it to memorize verses for Sunday school exercises yet, as far as I know, I had never turned to the Bible voluntarily, prior to that night. I was a little amazed. I did not understand why I instinctively turned to the 'Book,' but as I continued reading I began to understand why a born-again person goes to the Bible for his spiritual food.
"The next morning just as naturally as life I got on my knees and then read a portion of Scripture. The following Saturday night my friend and I met and related our experiences of the past week, as we had testified to the saving grace of Christ. Then we read together the eighth chapter of Romans. One thing stands out in my memory--we both commented on the eighteenth verse: 'For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.' As we had borne our testimony during the week, we were conscious of the lack of response on the part of our friends. We began to understand what it was to receive jibes from them for merely stating that we had come to know Christ as our Saviour and were determined to live for Him. My! What a comfort it was to learn that the Bible declared 'the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us.' Of course, the suffering was not anything, but it magnified itself in our one week's experience. But here was the wonderful promise of the glory to be revealed in us in the future! That verse became a great incentive to further witness for Christ. It was my first lesson from the Holy Spirit, that the Bible contained the needed strength for Christian living.
"From then on I read the Scriptures systematically and with regularity. Occasionally a day has passed when I have not taken my usual time both at morning and at evening for private reading of the Word, but they are very few in number. Later I observed a distinction between private reading and studying. Some of my early study was done with a group. While too much cannot be said for the value of that type of study, I soon found the need of private study of the Word. I think I can safely say that, during the first seven or eight years of my Christian life, I devoted at least four nights a week to the study of the Word, probably as much as four hours a night; and since then, anywhere from three to ten hours a week--and sometimes more. Sometimes it was hard work--but the blessing was rich--so much so that at times I had to close the Book, for it was all that I could take in.
"Then came opportunities for the ministry of His Word. No one can have such opportunities without feeling the urge to study and the need to be in the presence of the Lord for wisdom, for strength and for the needed message.
"I thoroughly believe that no study or training can take the place of systematic study and reading of the Bible, which not only equips one for appreciation of spiritual things, but is of incalculable value in properly weighing other things, such as the philosophies, the motives, and the thinking of men.
"The Bible has much to say about every phase of human life: our homes, our relationships one with the other, our manner of conducting business, and of course that means much in a business man's life. There was a time when I assumed that there was a distinction between secular work and so-called Christian work until the 'Word' impressed me with the fact that whatsoever we do we are to do it as unto the Lord. Thus one could typewrite unto the Lord, one could conduct his business unto the Lord--what an avenue that opened! That meant I had a right to bring our business problems before the Lord.
"I can honestly say that if I have enjoyed any measure of success in business it is due solely to the grace of God. My schooling was limited, but the Word of God sharpened my powers of discernment.
"One of the truly great opportunities for the ministry of God's Word has been the privilege given to me over the radio. I had prayed often that the Lord might open the way for me to give a series of consecutive Bible studies. I shall never forget the day that the radio broadcast was offered to me. At that time one of the popular songs of the world had a line in it, 'Did you ever see a dream walking?' How the natural man evidenced itself in a spiritual mind, for I certainly 'saw a dream walking' as the opportunity was presented and the realization of my hope and prayer had come.
"I believe the Holy Spirit guided when I chose the Book of the Psalms as an appropriate Book for a series of consecutive Bible Studies for Sunday mornings. It has been wonderfully interesting to observe the Lord's leading in the preparation of these messages and in their delivery. It would have been utterly impossible to have conducted this series were it not for the fact that much time had been spent in prior years in the study of the Scriptures. How little we know what the Lord has in store for us!
"I can honestly witness to the fact that the Lord Jesus and His Word, and the privileges of witnessing for Christ, are more precious to me now than they were when I first believed. As a young believer in my teens, I was disappointed to hear from older Christians that as one grew older the zeal of first love would wane; that one should not expect to have the same joy in the tenth year of the Christian life as he had during the first year. Such an experience is wholly unnecessary, and, in my judgment, is due entirely to failure to read the Scripture consistently and consecutively, meditating upon it and loving its ministry. The Bible is the Written Word, but it throbs with Life. It reveals the Living Incarnate Word--the Lord Jesus Christ. As the heart responds to the Person of Christ, so the heart and mind respond to the Word of Christ.
"I think my associates would bear with me in asserting that I devote every energy in a decidedly active business life. If there is one thing I trust I have accomplished, it has been to give the lie to the excuse that one is too busy for the study and meditation of the Word of God."
Profitable Bible Study
Here is more on meditation by Charles Bridges in his exposition of Psalm 119:15, "I will meditate on your precepts and contemplate your ways."
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“Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil
walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.”
2 Peter 5:8
Prayer when unaccompanied by a corresponding course of action is a trifling with God, and prayer when contradicted by our practice is an insulting of God to his face. And therefore we are not only to be prayerful but to be sober and vigilant. In order to enable you to set a watch successfully, take the following directions.
First, impress your minds with a sense of your danger. The evil which lurks under every temptation is inexpressible. The design of it is to make you sin; and to sin is to debase your nature, to defile your conscience, to rob yourselves of peace and reputation. I know there is a deceitfulness in sin and that the enemy endeavors to represent it as liberty and pleasure, or if an evil at all, as a trifling one. But take your estimate of all sin from the Scripture, from the Judge himself, who is to punish it; and you will find that it is exceedingly sinful, and that its history is like Ezekiel's roll, "written within and without, with lamentation, and mourning, and woe."
Second, study your constitutional weakness and failings. Endeavor to know what manner of spirit you are of. Some are more inclined naturally to sloth, others to anger and impatience. Some to pride and vanity, others to wantonness and the pleasures of sense. There is a sin that most easily besets us, and this demands our peculiar circumspection and care.
Third, observe how you have already been foiled or ensnared. He who would encounter an enemy successfully should be informed of his mode of fighting. And how is this to be done but by observation and reflection? How was such a place taken? How did I lose such a battle? What rendered the last campaign so little efficient? Let me look back upon my past life and endeavor to derive wisdom from my old follies and strength from my falls. By what secret avenue did sin enter? Have I not been taken by surprise where I deemed myself most secure? And may not this be the case again? Are there not some places and companies from which I never returned without injury? Shall I turn again to folly? Let painful experience awaken me--and keep me awake!
Fourth, guard against the beginnings of sin. You should learn even from an enemy, and take the same course to preserve yourselves as the devil does to destroy you. Now the tempter never begins where he intends to leave off. Would he induce a man to impurity? He does not propose the crime at once but prepares for it by degrees, by the cherishing of loose thoughts, by the indulging of improper familiarities, by the courting of favorable opportunities. If the tempter would produce infidelity, he first reconciles the youth to read poisonous books, perhaps for the sake of the style or some curious subject. He draws him into the company of those who entertain loose notions of religion and ridicule some of its doctrines and institutions. From these he joins him to the skeptic, and he prepares him for the scoffer. Guard therefore against the first deviations from the path of righteousness.
Finally, avoid the occasions of sin. Nothing is more dangerous than idleness or having nothing to do. Our idle days are the devil's busy ones, says Matthew Henry. And says another, when the mind is full temptation cannot enter, but when it is empty and open the enemy can throw in what he pleases. Stagnant waters breed thousands of noxious insects, but this is not the case with living water.
Thus let us make our prayer to God and set a watch. Let us impress our minds with a sense of our danger, let us study our natural dispositions, let us note in what manner we have been injured already, and let us guard against the beginnings and shun all occasions of sin. Then shall we "stand in the evil day." Yea, "we shall be more than conquerors through Him who loved us."
Short Discourses to be Read in Families, vol. I (condensed)
Check our Prayer Page link for more helpful reading.
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"Wail you inhabitants of the coastland! Is this your joyous city, whose antiquity is from ancient days, whose feet carried her far off to dwell? Who has taken this counsel against Tyre, the crowning city, whose merchants are princes, whose traders are the honorable of the earth? Yahweh of hosts has purposed it, to bring to dishonor the pride of all glory, to bring into contempt all the honorable of the earth . . . . Now it shall come to pass in that day that Tyre will be forgotten seventy years, according to the days of one king. At the end of seventy years it will happen to Tyre as in the song of the harlot: Take a harp, go about the city, you forgotten harlot; Make sweet melody, sing many songs, that you may be remembered." (Isaiah 23:6-9, 15-16)
Tyre! Where is it now? It is not; but where it once stood, fishers find a place to spread their nets. Long before its final fall, its doom was thus written: "It shall be a place for the spreading of nets in the midst of the sea, for I have spoken it, saith the Lord God. . . .And I will make thee like the top of a rock; thou shalt be a place to spread nets upon, thou shalt be built no more; for I the Lord have spoken it, saith the Lord God" (Ezek. 26:5, 14). A modern traveler tells us that in passing along the shore where the city once stood, he "came suddenly upon five or six fishermen sitting on some prostrate columns with their nets spread on the sand at a short distance before them."
But what was Tyre when the prophets of God foretold its overthrow? It seems clear that the ancient city which was known in the days of Joshua as great Sidon, gave birth to the neighboring town of Tyre. If so, it is probable that the "daughter of Sidon" referred to in verse 12 of Isaiah chapter 23 is not Sidon itself but the daughter-city Tyre. Both cities stood on the coast of Phoenicia at the eastern end of the Mediterranean. The younger city consisted of two parts: one built on the mainland and known as Old Tyre, and the other built on a rocky island at some distance from the coast. This island was turned into an impregnable fortress, guarded not only by the surrounding waves, but by walls lofty, thick, and surmounted with strong towers. The ruins of the place show that it was a city of palaces, temples, and colonades, a home of wealth and luxury. It sent out its merchant ships to the ends of the earth, and "its own feet carried it far off to sojourn", that is, its citizens went forth to colonize distant lands. Across the great waters of the Mediterranean, they brought from Egypt the grain that grew on the banks of the Nile, and from every district of the then known world, rich produce of various kinds. Nor were they content to visit lands already known. They pushed on into unknown seas; they came to Britain for tin, and it is well nigh certain that Tyrian sailors circumnavigated Africa long ages before we moderns rediscovered the Cape of Good Hope.
Now, praiseworthy as all this industrious enterprise was, and even necessary for the well being of Phoenicia, a small country hemmed in by the sea on the west and by high mountains on the east, the ungodliness connected with it made Tyre in the eyes of the Lord as the indiscriminate commerce of a harlot. For Tyre knew not the maker of heaven and earth, nor glorified Him as God. She polluted herself continually with the cruel worship of Baal and the unclean orgies of Ashtoreth or Astarte. Moreover, when Jerusalem was taken by the armies of Chaldea, Tyre exulted at the prospect of an increase of her own trade through the fall of a rival city, saying, "Aha, she is broken that was the gate of the peoples; she is turned unto me. I shall be replenished now that she is laid waste." Then was the doom of Tyre revealed afresh by Him who is jealous for His land.
The prediction of this great city's downfall and of its subsequent reception of the gospel before its final desolation is recorded in Isaiah chapter 23. We think that the prophet refers primarily to the siege of Tyre by Nebuchadnezzar and not to that undertaken 250 years later by Alexander the Great. The prophecy concludes with these words: "And it shall be, at the end of seventy years, that the LORD will deal with Tyre. She will return to her hire, and commit fornication with all the kingdoms of the world on the face of the earth. Her gain and her pay will be set apart for the LORD; it will not be treasured nor laid up, for her gain will be for those who dwell before the Lord, to eat sufficiently, and for fine clothing."
Two quotations may explain these concluding words.
"We landed at Tyre. . . And finding disciples we tarried there ten days: who said unto Paul through the Spirit that he should not go up to Jerusalem. And when we had accomplished those days, we departed and went our way; and they brought us on our way with wives and children, till we were out of the city; and we knelt down on the shore and prayed. And when we had taken our leave one of another we took ship, and they returned home again" -- to Tyre!
Nearly three centuries after Christ, Eusebius wrote: "This prophecy is fulfilled in our times. For now that the Church of God is established at Tyre, as in other nations, a large portion of her merchandise is consecrated to the Lord and to His Church . . . according to the precept of the Lord, that they who preach the gospel should live of the gospel."
As we look back at Isaiah's prophecies against various nations, we see more distinctly than ever who it is that governs this lower world; and we feel to be in hearty agreement with that ancient writer, Tertullian, who said, "What can more clearly prove the truth of prophecy than the daily auditing of the accounts of this world's history, in which the disposal of kingdoms, the fall of cities, the end of nations, the state of times, corresponds to what was announced some thousands of years ago?"
Half Hours with Isaiah
You will find the history of "Maccabean and Herodian Palestine" quite interesting.
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"Say to them: 'As I live,' says the Lord GOD, 'I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn, turn from your evil ways! For why will you die?' " (Ezekiel 33:11)
The Bible makes but two grand divisions among men, as there will be but two at the day of judgment--the righteous and the wicked; they who serve God and they who serve him not. In the one class are the redeemed, the renewed, the praying, the pure, the friends of Jesus. In the other, they who are unrenewed, unsanctified, and unforgiven; they who do not pray and who do not love the Redeemer, and who have not a well-founded hope of heaven--be they profane and sensual and corrupt, proud and haughty, or be they amiable and externally moral, accomplished and winning in their manners. There are but two classes among you today--the righteous and the wicked. There are but two paths that are trod by mortals--the narrow way and the broad way. There are but two places to be occupied at the judgment--the right and the left hand of the Judge. There are but two worlds which are to receive us all at last--heaven and hell. There is a line which divides the human race, and which will divide it forever. On one side are the lovers of God, and on the other are the wicked. It is that of the latter class I desire to address and to say, "Why will you die?"
It is the unalterable purpose of God that the wicked shall turn or die. He would not expostulate with them in this solemn manner if there were no danger, and if no such purpose were formed. It is not the manner of our Maker to assume earnestness when it is uncalled for, or to use words that are unmeaning, or to make appeals that are designed needlessly to alarm men. He does not trifle with the creatures which he has made. He does not hold up imaginary objects of dread. When God places himself in our path, when he lifts up the voice of solemn warning and remonstrance, when he tells of danger, it is no imaginary scene. It is real. The highest proof of the reality and certainty of danger and guilt is for God to speak of them as if they were so.
Many persons profess to hold that all men will be saved. You feel, or think, or hope that there is no danger of eternal death, and that alarm is needless. Tell me, then, what is the meaning of the solemn address in the text? Would God speak of death when there was none, and of hell which had no existence? Tell me, would he use this language if you were in no danger? Would he use it if he knew that all men were to be saved?
But will not God make allowance for insensibility on this subject? Will he not pity, and spare, and save him who has no feeling, and no desire to be saved? I answer, No. It is not the fault of God that the sinner does not feel. It is not because he has revealed no truth fitted to make men feel. It is not because the truth is not plain enough. I ask you, is not the ground of your complaint not that it is not plain enough, but that it is too plain? Is not that the feeling which you have today? Has not God revealed truth enough to affect the heart and to make it feel? You are insensible, you say, to your condition. How has this been produced? By God? I answer: [No, it has been produced] by resisting his appeals, slighting his warnings, grieving his Spirit, refusing to listen to his messengers. You have sought it and loved it, and would allow nothing to rouse you from it. You have made up your mind on the subject, and now will you blame God? You may close your eyes to the frightful precipice of which a friend warns you, but will you say that you might not have seen the danger? God is not to blame when men are blind to their own interests. He has told you what you are--a lost sinner. He has told you what is before you--death. He has apprized you when it will come--soon. He has lifted the veil from the eternal world and shown to you his throne, and his judgment-bar, and the world of woe.
And now, I ask, who is to blame if the sinner is unmoved and unconcerned? If you are unmoved--with the proof of guilt which God has furnished, and the solemn warning in the Bible before you, and the exhibition of the death of Jesus for your sins--will you blame God? What other truths could you ask or expect to impress the mind? There are no other, no higher truths than these. Heaven has no other, than to offer its eternal bliss to mortals. Hell has no other, than to threaten its eternal woes. The grave has no other, than to assure you that you must all sleep and molder there. God has no higher truth, than to declare his conviction of the guilt and danger of man, to proclaim his love by the gift of his Son to die, to offer himself as the portion of the soul and his heaven as our home, and to invite as a Father and to threaten as a God, to induce us to return to himself. If the sinner is insensible, he has none to blame but himself. If he dies, he dies with the assurance often made to him--made to him till he was weary of it--that it was the unalterable purpose of God that the wicked should turn or die.
What is that death? Why should we dread it? Hear him speak who saw it all, and who knew it all: "The Son of man shall send forth his angels and shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity, and shall cast them into a furnace of fire; there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth." There the sufferer shall lift up the eyes, "being in torment," and ask in vain for a single drop of water to cool the tongue; there "the worm dies not, and the fire shall not be quenched." Everlasting punishment shall be there, outer darkness, the execution of the sentence, "Depart, accursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels."
I have used only the words of the meek, and mild, and benevolent Redeemer--the most tender, and kind, and merciful of all who have dwelt on the earth, and who used such expressions as these: "How can ye escape the damnation of hell?" He never concealed this danger. He never spoke or acted as if it did not exist. He sought to save men as if the danger were real. He was just as serious, and solemn, and tender as if he felt that every man was in danger of it. And he told men when he lived, and he tells you now, just what the sinner has to expect. He felt that men were in danger, or he would never have left the heavens to save them. And was it any common or any imaginary danger that would lead him from heaven to the manger, to the cross, to the tomb?
I know not what eternal death is. I can tell you some things. It is the abode of all the abandoned, and profane, and vile--the collected guilt and wretchedness of this world. It is a place where no sanctuary like this opens its doors and invites [you] to heaven; where no message of mercy comes to the suffering and the sad. No Spirit strives there to reclaim the lost; and on no zephyr is the message of mercy borne, whispering peace. No God meets the desponding there with promises and hopes, and from no eye is the tear of sorrow ever wiped away. It is death--lingering, long, interminable death--the dying sorrow prolonged from age to age onward, onward toward eternity, ever lingering, never ending.
Then why will you die? Why neglect the subject till you perish forever? I ask with earnestness and with affection, why, why will you die? What reason can be given why you should perish while others are saved? Is it because God is unwilling? That would be a reason if it were so, but look at his solemn oath in the text: "I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live." Is it because Christ is unwilling that you should be saved? That would be a reason [if it were so], but hear him say, "Come unto me all ye that are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest." Is it because there is no room in heaven, because it is limited and is full? That would be a reason [if it were so], but hear the Redeemer say, "And yet there is room." Is it because there are mountains of difficulties which you cannot overcome, because your sins are so great that they cannot be pardoned? That would be a reason [if it were so], but hear the ever-blessed God, "Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be white as wool."
Oh, that this question might be written in letters of living light in every assembly where you forget God, in the room where you sleep, and over your path every day as you go down to death! Why will ye die? Why go away from the cross? Why turn your backs on heaven? Why be miserable forever? Why linger on to all eternity in that immortal pain which never ceases, in the horrors of that death which never dies?
Practical Sermons (condensed)
You will want to read Pastor Elifson's "The Plan of Salvation."
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“And when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram;
and lo, a horror of great darkness fell upon him.”
If we consider the sketch given us in Scripture of the life of this patriarch, we shall find that few have had equal manifestations of the divine favor. But the light did not at all times shine on him. He had his dark hours while dwelling in this strange land. Here we find a horror of great darkness to have fallen upon him. Just before God had smiled upon him: "Fear not, Abram. I am your shield, your exceeding great reward." Then all was light and love. The candle of the Lord shone on his head. But how sudden the reverse! The same day, when the sun was going down, the brightness disappears and a horror of great darkness falls upon him.
This life is filled with changes. Good and evil, hope and fear, light and darkness are set against each other. The saints, while they dwell in the dust, sometimes walk in darkness and have their hours of gloom and horror. Even those who have the firstfruits of the Spirit groan within themselves, waiting for the redemption of the body. Those of whom the world is not worthy are often in heaviness through manifold temptations.
We may wonder at these things; but when we consider them as ordered of God, the consideration should calm our minds and bring us to say, "It is well." God does not order sorrows to his creatures here because he delights in their sufferings; He grieves not willingly. He does it for their profit, that they may be partakers of his holiness. And which of the saints has not received benefit from it? Who among them has not sometimes been ready to adopt the language of the psalmist, "It is good for me that I have been afflicted."
Born of the earth, we are earthly. Our affections naturally descend. We are prone to set our affections on temporal things, and set up our rest where there is no abiding. Therefore do we need afflictions to keep us mindful of our situation. Such remains of depravity are left in the renewed that prosperity often corrupts them. But for the sorrows and sufferings ordered out to them, they would forget God and lose themselves among the deceitful cares and infatuating allurements of the world.
Intervals of comfort are also needful for them. Were these denied, the spirit would fail before God. And intervals of light and joy are given to refresh, and cheer, and animate them to the duties required in this land of darkness and doubt. But they are not intended to satisfy. They serve as encouragements to the Christian during his earthly pilgrimage, like the fruits of Canaan (carried by the spies into the wilderness) did for Israel while journeying to the land of promise. They serve to give a glance of the good things prepared for them, to increase their longings after them, and animate them to press forward and make their way to the possession.
Often the saints find themselves unable to penetrate the design of heaven in the trials which lie in their way--especially in the hiding of God's face, so that they cannot see him. This made no small part of Job's trial. Could he have known the reasons of his trials, it would have been a great consolation. But it was denied him. So it is also with others. The darkness is part of their trials, and a common one. God will have his people live by faith and walk by faith. To live by faith implies lack of sight, and ignorance of the designs of providence. A great part of the good man's trial here consists in trusting God without knowing why such things are required, or such trials ordered for him; in referring everything to God and trusting in him without being let into his designs or knowing the reasons for his orders. "Blessed is he who has not seen, and yet has believed." Blessed is he who without penetrating the designs of heaven trusts in God and conforms to his requirements, not doubting but all will turn out right, that God will lead in right ways though they may be ways which he knows not.
Sermons on Various Important Subjects (condensed and lightly edited)
J. C. Ryle's sermon, "Occupy Till I Come," will be of interest.
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"And He entered again into the synagogue; and there was a man there who had a withered hand. And they were watching Him to see whether He would heal him on the sabbath day in order that they might accuse Him. And He said unto the man with the withered hand, 'Rise and come forward!' And He said unto them, 'Is it lawful on the sabbath day to do good or to do harm, to save a life or to kill?' But they kept silent. And when He had looked round about on them with anger, being grieved at the hardening of their heart, He said unto the man, 'Stretch out your hand.' And he stretched it out, and his hand was restored. And the Pharisees went out, and immediately with the Herodians took counsel against Him, how they might destroy Him." (Mark 3:1-6)
In the controversies recorded before this one, we have recognized the ideal Teacher: clear to discern and quick to exhibit the decisive point at issue, careless of small pedantries, armed with principles and precedents which go to the heart of the dispute. But the perfect man must be competent in more than theory, and we have now a marvelous example of tact, decision, and self-control in action. When Sabbath observance is again discussed, Jesus' enemies have resolved to push matters to extremity. They watch, no longer to cavil, but that they may accuse him.
It is in the synagogue, and their expectations are sharpened by the presence of a pitiable object, a man whose hand is not only paralyzed in the sinews, but withered up and hopeless. St. Luke tells us that it was the right hand, which deepened his misery. And St. Matthew records that they asked Christ, "Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath day?" thus urging him by a challenge to the deed which they condemned. What a miserable state of mind! They believe that Jesus can work the cure, since this is the very basis of their plot; and yet their hostility is not shaken, for belief in a miracle is not conversion. To acknowledge a prodigy is one thing, and to surrender the will is quite another. Or how should we see around us so many who are Christians in theory but reprobates in life? They long to see the man healed, yet there is no compassion in this desire; hatred urges them to wish, what mercy impels Christ to grant. But while he relieves the sufferer, he will also expose their malice.
Therefore he makes his intention public and whets their expectation by calling the man forth into the midst. And then he meets their question with another: "Is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath day or evil, to save life or to kill?" And when they preserved their calculated silence, we know how he pressed the question home--reminding them that not one of them would fail to draw his own sheep out of a pit upon the Sabbath day. Selfishness made the difference, for a man was better than a sheep but did not, like the sheep, belong to them.
They do not answer. Instead of warning him away from guilt, they eagerly await the incriminating act. We can almost see the spiteful subtle smile playing about their bloodless lips; and Jesus marks them well. He looked round about them in anger, but not in bitter personal resentment. He was grieved at the hardness of their hearts, and pitied them also, even while enduring such contradiction of sinners against himself. This is the first mention by St. Mark of that impressive gaze, afterward so frequent in every Gospel, which searched the scribe who answered well, and melted the heart of Peter.
And now, by one brief utterance, their prey breaks through their snare. Any touch would have been a work, a formal infraction of the law. Therefore there is no touch; neither is the helpless man bidden to take up any burden or instigated to the slightest ritual irregularity. Jesus only bids him do what was forbidden to none, but what had been impossible for him to perform. The man succeeds; he stretches forth his hand, is healed, and the work is done. Yet nothing has been done. As a work of healing, not even a word has been said. For he who would so often defy their malice has chosen to show how easily he can evade it. Not one of them is more free from any blame, however technical, than he.
The Pharisees are so utterly baffled, so helpless in his hands, so "filled with madness" that they invoke against this new foe the help of their natural enemies, the Herodians. These appear on the stage because the immense spread of the Messianic movement endangers the Idumaean dynasty. When first the wise men sought an infant King of the Jews, the Herod of that day was troubled. That instinct which struck at his cradle is now reawakened, and will not slumber again until the fatal day when the new Herod shall set Jesus at nought and mock him. In the meantime, these strange allies perplex themselves with the hard question, How is it possible to destroy so acute a foe?
While observing their malice--and the exquisite skill which baffles it--we must not lose sight of other lessons. It is to be observed that no offense to hypocrites nor danger to himself prevented Jesus from removing human suffering. Also, he expects from the man a certain cooperation involving faith. He must stand forth in the midst where everyone can see his unhappiness; he is to assume a position which will become ridiculous unless a miracle is worked. Then he must make an effort. In the act of stretching forth his hand, the strength to stretch it forth is given; but he would not have tried the experiment unless he trusted before he discovered the power. Such is the faith demanded of our sin-stricken and helpless souls. It is a faith which confesses its wretchedness, believes in the good will of God and the promises of Christ, and receives the experience of blessing through having acted on the belief that already the blessing is a fact in the Divine volition.
Nor may we overlook the mysterious impalpable spiritual power which effects its purposes without a touch, or even an explicit word of healing import. What is it but the power of him who spake and it was done, who commanded and it stood fast?
The Gospel According to St. Mark
What about these kind of miracles happening today? See "What Happened to Miracles? A Look at Charismatic Gifts" by Donald C. Elifson.
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“Strong in faith, giving glory to God.”
The leading thought here is the connection of God's glory with our faith. And it is a great thought. God is glorified by our believing, trusting, taking his word. He is glorified by our faith, by our simply believing his promise; for that is no more than giving him credit for sincerity in the overtures of his mercy which he addresses to us, and his invitations to us to be fellow-workers with him. Having that faith, as the gift of God, we glorify him. And being strong in that faith, we glorify him all the more.
The faith in question, if it is to give glory to God, must have a promise of God to rest on. The faith of Abraham, like all genuine and trustworthy faith, has respect to a promise on which it may lean. Human faith, not resting on a divine promise, is either folly or fanaticism.
What is the sort of faith which is to be exercised upon the promise? It must be such as will be glorifying to God. To be glorifying to God at all, my faith, whether weak or strong, must be faith in his veracity, in his truth and faithfulness, in his mere and simple word, in himself. It is to believe what he says simply because he says it, because it is he who says it.
But what about being strong in faith? It is not simply believing but being strong, or being strengthened, in faith that gives glory to God. It is simply being fully persuaded "that what he had promised he was able also to perform." For really, after all, it is faith in God's power that most glorifies him. It is distrust of his power which lies at the root of most of the unbelief that is so dishonouring to him. Especially is this the case sometimes with earnest souls, souls that would be ashamed of calling in question the willingness of God to meet their case but yet somehow harbor the fear of their case being so bad that even God cannot meet it. "If thou canst do anything," we are apt to say with the afflicted father. Let us ponder the gracious answer: "if thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth." And let us enter into the spirit of the gracious reply, "Lord, I believe, help thou mine unbelief."
In conclusion, let me beseech you to lay to heart the ground on which the duty of believing, and believing strongly, is here put. It is that it gives glory to God. It is not that it gives peace to the conscience, and joy to the heart, and salvation to the soul; but that it gives glory to God. To be weak in faith is not merely to miss or mar a privilege, but to commit a sin; not merely to injure yourselves but to dishonour the God whom are are bound to glorify. It is an insult and offence to him. To be dwelling on objections, hindrances, [and] difficulties as mountains standing in the way of his free word of promise; to be distrusting his ability to sweep them all away and make his word of promise good---can anything be imagined more fitted to affront the Almighty God, the Amen, the faithful, true, and loving Jehovah? Is it not literally and truly making him a liar?
O friends, beware of so great a sin! Think not that doubt, hesitancy, uncertainty, whether as regards your own acceptance of his mercy, or as regards your giving yourselves to his service and becoming fellow-workers with him for the good of others, can ever be looked upon by him in any other light than as doing him the greatest possible dishonour--refusing to believe his testimony. In plain terms, giving him the lie! You may fancy that there is humility in it, that your bashfulness and timidity have a certain air of becoming self-abasement. You feel your own unworthiness and unsteadfastness so deeply that you dare not venture to be too confident or to presume!
Presume!--The presumption is all the other way! The intolerable presumption is to refuse to take God at his word and believe that he means what he says when he bears this testimony that he gives you eternal life, and that this life is in his Son; and when he adds the assurance that his grace is sufficient for you. It is presumption most dishonouring to the Lord in the face of that assurance to be considering any thorn in the flesh, however sharp, or doubting that strength of his which is made perfect in weakness.
Brethren, be clothed with humility. And that you may be clothed with humility, be not faithless but believing. Be strong in faith, giving glory to God.
You will enjoy Maclaren's sermon, "The Poison and the Antidote".
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"But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to offer so willingly as this? For all things come from You, and of Your own we have given You." (1 Chronicles 29:14)
These are the words of David, king of Israel, "the man after God's own heart." He had purposed to build the temple of Jehovah at Jerusalem, that the ark of his covenant might no longer abide in a tent. There can be no doubt that he directly refers [in this text] to that worldly affluence, wealth or property, which he and others possessed, and which had enabled them to make such costly offerings to the Lord. In this limited view, therefore, I shall at present treat the subject.
First, then, if all that we possess be given us of God, and we do but serve him with his own when we make the best and most liberal use of our property, then assuredly we have no reason to be proud or to appear great in our own eyes, either on account of what we possess or of any good purposes which we may promote by it. This is the important and practical truth which is taught us in the text and context, by the language and the conduct of their royal and inspired author. He possessed much, and he did and devoted much to the service of God, and yet he takes no praise to himself. Nay, he was truly humbled, as every good man will be, in thinking that so unworthy a creature as he should be so favored and distinguished by a kind providence as to be able to do the desirable service which had been performed. Gratitude--the most lively and the most humble gratitude to God--is the sentiment that we ought to feel and cherish when the divine bounty renders our worldly circumstances comfortable, or enables us to do good to others. But the moment that pride begins to swell and inflate our foolish hearts, we act the very part of a beggar who applauds himself because he has received alms.
If worldly wealth comes of God, then he has an undoubted right both to withhold it and to take it away, according to his sovereign pleasure. Children of poverty, God has done you no wrong in not giving you the riches of this world. Shall he not do what he will with his own? Perhaps he has seen your present condition to be best for you. Perhaps he keeps you poor at present that he may bestow upon you "the true riches" in an eternal state. Let no murmuring or repining emotions be indulged against his sovereign will. And if any to whom I speak were once in other and better circumstances than they now are permitted to enjoy, let them remember that what they possessed was only lent of God, and that he had a right to call and take it whenever he pleased. Think of the language of holy Job when deprived not only of all his wealth, which had been great indeed, but of all his friends, and his bodily health, and ease: "Naked came I out of my mother's womb, and naked shall I return thither. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord."
If all that we possess comes of God, and we serve him with his own in all the good that we do, then surely it follows that the kindness, grace, and condescension of our heavenly Father is most conspicuous in rewarding us for every good work as if it had been wholly our own. In the great day of final account, Jesus Christ, our Saviour and our Judge, represents himself as conferring the heavenly inheritance, purchased by his own infinite merits and conveyed to his people by his own infinite grace, on those who have fed the hungry, clothed the naked, visited the sick, and relieved the prisoner. Most generous master! Most condescending Redeemer! You give us all the means and all the disposition to do good that we ever possess, and then you commend and reward it as if it had belonged wholly to ourselves. Let this be an example to those who receive the charity of others. It indeed comes from God, and to him your principal gratitude is due; but if he rewards the instruments that dispense this bounty, you certainly ought to love and to pray for a blessing on them.
We learn from this subject that a truly godly person, so far as he acts agreeably to this character, does and will consider himself in no other light than as a steward of that portion of worldly wealth which divine providence has entrusted to him; that agreeably to this idea he is to dispose of his property, and agreeably to this idea he is to account for it at last. It is this, my brethren, which distinguishes the real practical Christian from the man of the world in regard to worldly things. The man of the world considers them as his own--his property, his portion. But the real Christian, who views them in the light of faith, sees that they are not his own--not his property, not his portion. The whole belongs to God, and he is only a steward put in trust to manage it to the best account. He serves indeed an indulgent master, who permits him to take enough for his own comfort and to make a suitable provision for his posterity or dependents. But he is not at liberty to consume more than this. He is to waste nothing; he is to use no more than his comfort requires; and he is to give no more to his children than, in his best judgment, he believes will make them most useful. All the rest, be it more or less, he is to employ in serving God. This is the rule by which a Christian should walk, by which some have actually and honestly walked. And yet (tell it not in Gath!) there are many worldly men who will give more--and more cheerfully!--to any charitable or pious design than some who make a high profession of Christian piety.
Practical Sermons (condensed)
Here is another good sermon on stewardship by Alexander Maclaren, "God's Stewards".
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"Is not this great Babylon that I have built for my royal capital,
by the might of my power, and for the honor of my majesty?"
So spake King Nebuchadnezzar as he walked on the roof of his lofty palace and surveyed the golden city which lay outstretched beneath him. More than a century had passed away since Isaiah had foretold its swiftly approaching downfall and utter desolation, and meanwhile its wealth and power had been rapidly increasing. Probably the king had never seen or heard the prophet's prediction, but if he had, the words must have seemed to him like idle tales. How could he have credited them while beneath and around him he saw the world's proud capital, the imperial city which his own energy had so enlarged and beautified that he looked upon the whole as the work of his hands?
And what a work! From the dizzy height of his palace roof, the king could contemplate the walls, gates, streets, buildings, luxurious parks, and the crowded markets of that city which was the pride of the Chaldeans, the wonder and terror of the worlds. At a distance of seven miles, more or less, to north, south, east, and west, his eye could trace the long double line of walls which none could scale or overthrow. Two hundred and fifty strong towers rose at intervals from these battlements, and a hundred gates of massive brass pierced the walls below to give entry or exit to busy merchant caravans or victorious infantry and cavalry. Similar walls skirted the Euphrates, which rolled its waves through the midst of the city, and similar gates opened on the quays which ran along both sides of the river. Within the vast area thus enclosed stood palaces and temples whose bricks were stamped with the great king's name, and whose sculptured slabs told of his achievements. One inscription, found at Babylon, has been thus translated: "I, Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, the mighty Lord, the elect of Merodach, the Supreme Ruler, the adorer of Nebo, the Vicar-King, who judges without injustice, the Minister of the Gods, the eldest son of Nabopolassar. He has created me, the God who begat me; He has entrusted to me the dominion over the legions of men. I have changed inaccessible heights into roads for chariots. I have amassed to my city of Babylon silver, and gold, and precious stones, and timber of all kinds, the minerals of the hills, and the jewels of the seas, an infinite treasure; and I have brought thither the greatest trees from the summits of Lebanon. I have covered with pure gold the beams of high cypresses for the carpenter's work of the sanctuary of the temples, and I have constructed the tower of Borsippa with gold, silver, and other metals, and stones, and glazed bricks, and lentisk, and cedar."
Let us again stand by the king on his tower of observation. His eye can trace the lines of broad streets which cross the city and intersect one another at right angles, can observe the motley throng of men from various nations hurrying along to the crowded markets, and can rest with satisfaction on legions of disciplined soldiers gathered from all parts of his vast empire to defend his capital or to extend his dominions. Who can compare with him for royal majesty and absolute power? What hand can resist his will? What arm can reach him to smite or to control? "Is not this great Babylon that I have built?"
But lo! God, according to his word by Isaiah, raises up the Medes against the devoted city, the Medes who regard not silver nor delight in gold. Their bows dash the young men to pieces, and their eye spares not the children. And Babylon, the glory of kingdoms, the beauty of the Chaldees' excellency, becomes as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah. It lies without inhabitant from generation to generation. There the Arab pitches not his tent, the shepherds make not their fold. The wild beasts of the desert lie there, night-owls screech on the shattered walls, and jackals prowl in the ruined palaces.
So complete was the destruction of this accursed city, that for ages its very site was uncertain. Only in the nineteenth century were its ruins unearthed and its exact position determined. Bricks have been found inscribed with the name of Nebuchadnezzar, sad memorials of his vain dream of universal sovereignty.
We conclude with a quotation from The Treasury of Bible Knowledge, written by the Rev. John Ayre and published in 1866.
"On the banks of the Euphrates, about forty miles southwest of Baghdad, lies the town of Hillah. This town is in almost all directions surrounded by immense ruins, appearing the work of nature rather than of men, shapeless heaps of rubbish, lofty banks of ancient canals, fragments of glass, marble, pottery, and bricks, mingled with a a nitrous soil which impedes all vegetation and renders the neighborhood a naked and hideous waste, re-echoing only the dismal sounds of the owl and the jackal, of the hyena and the lawless robber. These piles mark the area once occupied by the mistress of the world."
Half Hours with Isaiah
Find out more about Babylon and other ancient empires in "The Great Empires of Israelite Times".
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"Whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them;
for this is the law and the prophets."
First, it should be noted that human goods are of three kinds. The first are external, such as silver, gold, clothing, land, houses, servants, children, oxen, etc. These are called external goods because they lie outside of human nature. Secondly, there are the physical and personal goods, such as health, strength, beauty, aptitude of the senses, and reputation and honor. Thirdly, there are spiritual or internal goods, such as knowledge, virtue, love, faith. These are called internal and spiritual because they lie solely in the mind and spirit. And the external goods are symbols of these internal and spiritual goods.
With these goods, then, each person can conduct himself toward his neighbor in two ways. First, with them he can do harm and evil to him, or, second, he can advance and benefit him. An example of the first is when one steals external goods or destroys the health of the body (with blows and poison) or takes from him his internal goods, such as knowledge (by seducing him into error), or virtue (by inciting him to evil). An example of the second way is when one gives him food and clothing or heals his infirmities or protects his body or teaches him something better and incites him to do good.
It is not sufficient for salvation that a man merely refrain from doing harm to his neighbor with these goods. It is required rather that he be useful to him and benefit him. The rich reveler of the parable (Luke 16:19-31) was not damned because he robbed or did evil with respect to his goods, for he feasted and clothed himself sumptuously everyday. He was damned rather because he did not do good to his neighbor, Lazarus. In the parable of the slothful servant who received the one talent and hid it in the ground (Matt. 25:14-30), condemnation came not because he took something away from others, but because he did not give to others. So it will be with us. To us has been given as a talent what we are able to do. All that we are capable of we have not of ourselves, but from God. And in all this we are required to do to our neighbor what we are able to do.
The judgment of the Lord will not speak of whether one has harmed or done evil with his goods, but rather that he has not done good. Therefore, Christ says, "I was hungry and you gave Me no food, I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink." He does not say, I had food and you stole it from Me. Similarly, He says, "I was a stranger and you did not welcome Me, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick...and you did not visit Me." If those who merely do not do good to their neighbor commit sin and are damned, where will they be who actually do evil and harm to others? Therefore, let each one place this example of the Lord before his eyes like a mirror and note it well, for it is good and He would have it to be the whole law and the prophets.
The Martin Luther Treasury
Be sure to read Walter Smith's sermon on this subject, "The Law Kept by Sympathy."
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"By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. . . . By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son." (Hebrews 11: 8, 17)
It was God’s purpose that Abraham should be a surpassingly excellent example of the power of faith. He was to be “the father of the faithful,” the mirror, pattern, and paragon of faith. He was ordained to be the supreme believer of the patriarchal age, the serene and venerable leader of the noble army of believers in Jehovah, the faithful and true God. In order to produce so eminent a character, it was necessary that Abraham’s faith should be exercised in a special and unequaled manner. The power of his faith could not be known except by putting it to the severest tests. To this end, God gave him a promise that in his seed should all the nations of the earth be blessed; and yet for many a year he remained without an heir. The promise, when originally given, startled Abraham, but he did not doubt it. We read that he laughed, laughed with holy joy, at the thought of so great and unexpected a blessing.
The fulfillment of the promise was long delayed. Abraham waited with patience, sojourning as a stranger in a strange land, having respect unto the covenant which the Lord had made with him and with his unborn seed. Not a shadow of doubt crossed the mind of the holy patriarch. He staggered not at the promise through unbelief, and though he came to be a hundred years old, and his wife Sarah was almost equally as advanced in years, he did not listen to the voice of carnal reason but maintained his confidence in God. Doubtless he had well weighed the natural impossibilities which laid in the way, but he overlooked the whole, and being fully persuaded that if God had promised him a son, the son would certainly be born. Had it not been that Sarah and Abraham were both at such an advanced age, there would have been no credit to them in believing the promise of God. But the more difficult and more impossible the fulfillment of the promise seemed to be, the more wonderful was Abraham’s faith in that he still believed that what God had promised he was able to perform.
Abraham was a noble instance of the power which the truthfulness of God exerts over the human mind, when under all discouragements he still “believed God.” His heart said of the living God, “He cannot lie; he will perform his promise.” While glorifying God, Abraham reaped a present consolation to himself, and in the end he had the joy of receiving the promise. His early laugh of joy was remembered and commemorated in his son Isaac, that child of promise, whose name was “laughter.” The patriarch himself became one of the most honored of men, for it is written, “He that honors me I will honor.”
Brethren, this is the point to which I want to bring you, that if God intends to make you or me exhibitors of the grace of faith, we must expect to be passed through very much the same trial as Abraham. With regard to the object upon which our faith is exercised, it is most probable that we shall be made to feel our own weakness and even our personal death. We shall be brought very low, even into an utter self-despair. We shall be made to see that the mercy we are seeking of God is a thing impossible with man. It is very probable that difficulties will rise before us till they are enough to overwhelm us, and we are led to an utter despair of the matter as considered in ourselves. At such a crisis, if God the Holy Ghost be working with mighty power in us, we shall still believe that the divine promise will be fulfilled. We shall not entertain a doubt concerning it. We shall remember that it remains with God and not with ourselves to find ways and means. We shall cast the burden of fulfilling the promise upon him with whom it naturally rests, and go on in steady, holy, confident joy, looking for the end of our faith and patiently pleading until we reach it. The Lord will honor and comfort us in so doing, and in the end he will grant us the desire of our hearts, for none that trust in him shall ever be confounded.
Let us this morning firmly lay hold upon this general principle, that God will empty us of self completely before he will accomplish any great thing by us, thus removing from us every pretext for claiming the glory for ourselves. But at such seasons of humiliation, it is our privilege to exercise unabated faith, for the fulfillment of the promise is not imperiled but rather may be looked upon as drawing nigh.
From the sermon Unstaggering Faith
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"Until the time of reformation."
Time may be divided into three parts: the Golden Age before the fall, the Iron Age after the fall, and the Messiah’s Age of Jubilee.
In the Golden Age, the heavens and the earth were created; the Garden of Eden was planted; man was made in the image of God and placed in the garden to dress and keep it; matrimony was instituted; and God, resting from His labor, sanctified the seventh day as a day of holy rest to man.
The Iron Age was introduced by the temptation of a foreigner, who obtruded himself into Paradise and persuaded its happy denizens to cast off the golden yoke of obedience and love to God. Man, desiring independence, became a rebel against heaven and a miserable captive of sin, and Satan became obnoxious to the Divine displeasure and exposed to eternal death. The law was violated, the image of God was lost, and the enemy came in like a flood. All communication between the island of Time and the continent of Immortality was cut off, and the unhappy exiles saw no hope of crossing the ocean that intervened.
The Messiah’s Age may be divided into three parts: the time of Preparation, the time of Actual War, and the time of Victory and Triumph.
The Preparation began with the dawning of the day in Eden, when the Messiah came in the ship of the Promise and landed on the island of Time. He notified its inhabitants of His gracious intention to visit them again, assume their nature, and live and die among them; to break their covenant allegiance to the prince of the iron yoke and deliver to them the charter--signed and sealed with His own blood--for the redemption and renovation of their island and the restoration of its suspended intercourse with the land of Eternal Life. The motto inscribed upon the banners of this age was, “He shall bruise thy heel, and Thou shalt bruise his head.” Here Jehovah thundered forth His hatred of sin from the thick darkness and wrote His curse in fire upon the face of heaven. Rivers of sacrificial blood proclaimed the miserable state of man, and his need of an atonement more costly than mere humanity could offer. Here, also, the spirit of Messiah fell upon the prophets, leading them to search diligently for the way of deliverance and enabling them to “testify beforehand of the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow.”
Then came the season of Actual War. “Messiah the Prince” was born in Bethlehem, wrapped in swaddling bands, and laid in a manger--the Great Deliverer, “made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem those that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.” With His almighty hand He laid hold on the works of the devil, unlocked the iron furnace, and broke the brazen bands asunder. He opened His mouth, and the deaf heard, the blind saw, the dumb spoke, the lame walked, and the lepers were cleansed. In the house of Jairus, in the street of Nain, and in the burial-ground of Bethany, His word was mightier than death. The damsel on her bed, the young man on his bier, and Lazarus in his tomb, rising to second life, were but the earnests of His future triumph. The diseases of sin He healed, the iron chains of guilt He shattered, and all the horrible caves of human corruption and misery were opened by the Heavenly Warrior. He took our yoke and bore it away upon His own shoulder, and cast it, broken, into the bottomless pit. He felt in His hands and feet the nails, and in His side the spear. The iron entered into His soul, but the corrosive power of His blood destroyed it and shall ultimately eat away all the iron in the kingdom of death.
Now begins the scene of Victory and Triumph. On the morning of the third day, the Conqueror is seen “coming from Edom, with dyed garments from Bozrah.” He has “trodden the winepress alone.” By the might of His single arm He has routed the hosts of hell and spoiled the dominions of death. The iron castle of the foe is demolished, and the Hero returns from the war “glorious in His apparel, traveling in the greatness of His strength.” He enters the gates of the everlasting city, amid the rejoicing of angels and the shouts of His redeemed. And still He rides forth in the chariot of His grace, “conquering, and to conquer.” A two-edged sword issues from His mouth, and in His train follow the victorious armies of heaven. Before Him fall the altars of idols and the temples of devils. The slaves of sin are becoming the servants and sons of the living God. The proud skeptic beholds, wonders, believes, and adores. The blasphemer begins to pray. The persecutor is melted into penitence and love, and the wolf comes and lays him down gently by the side of the lamb. And Messiah shall never quit the field until He has completed the conquest and swallowed up death in victory. In His “vesture dipped in blood,” He shall pursue the armies of Gog and Magog on the field of Armageddon and break the iron teeth of the beast of power. He shall cast down Babylon as a mill-stone into the sea and bind the old serpent in the lake of fire. He shall raise up to life immortal the tenants of the grave. Then shall the New Jerusalem, the metropolis of Messiah’s golden empire, descend from heaven. She will be adorned with all the jewelery of creation, guarded at every gate by angelic sentinels, and enlightened by the glory of God and of the Lamb. The faithful shall dwell within its walls; sin, sorrow, and death shall be shut out for ever! Then shall Time be swallowed up in Eternity. The righteous shall inherit life everlasting, and the ungodly shall find their portion in the second death.
Time is the age of the visible world; eternity is the age of the invisible God. All things in time are subject to change; all things in eternity are immutable. If you pass from time to eternity without faith in Christ, without love to God, an enemy to prayer, an enemy to holiness, so you must ever remain. Now is the season of that blessed change for which myriads shall sing everlasting anthems of praise. “Today, if you will hear His voice, harden not your hearts.” Today the office is open. If you have any business with the Governor, make no delay. Now He is ready to forgive your sins, renew your soul, and make you meet to become the partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light. Christ is riding in His chariot of salvation through the land of destruction and death, clothed in the majesty of mercy and offering eternal life to all who will believe. O captives of evil! Now is the accepted time, now is the day of salvation, now is the year of jubilee, now is the age of deliverance, now is “the time of reformation.”
(taken from Paxton Hood’s 1900 edition of Christmas Evans’s Life and translated from the Welsh)
Read Spurgeon's sermon,"Come, For All Things Are Now Ready".
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"Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave--just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many." (Matthew 20:26-28)
The occasion of this lesson of our Lord's is particularly related in the verses immediately before these words. The Mother of James and John, being very desirous of showing the great affection she had for them and her zeal to promote their interest, came with them to our blessed Lord, and with the proper marks of respect let him know that she had a certain thing to ask of Him. It appeared by what followed that she was not content with the ordinary marks of his kindness, dispensed to her sons in common with his other apostles, but hoped for some very extraordinary and signal token of his love to her two children--something that she esteemed the greatest gift and honor they were capable of receiving from him. And this was, that, he being the Messiah and his glorious kingdom being now to be opened with the greatest earthly glory, her two sons might have the two principal places in this kingdom, and might sit the one on his right hand and the other on his left as his two greatest favorites and chief officers.
Our Lord, with the greatest goodness, turned himself to the two apostles, in whose name and with whose consent this petition was made, and said, "Ye know not what ye ask"; that is, you are not yet sensible what a scene of difficulties they must go through who desire to be great in my kingdom, and what it is that is requisite to the making you the highest among my favorites. "Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?" You must not expect to arrive at any dignity in my kingdom without following my steps. And are you able to do as I your master must do, and to undergo what I must undergo before I arrive at my own glory? The disciples not knowing well what he meant (and being possessed of the opinion that, let these difficulties and distresses be what they would, his kingdom would display itself after their short continuance in all worldly pomp and victory), and still inflamed with the same desire of power and preeminence, answered him with a great deal of confidence that they were able to follow him and to drink of the same cup that he should drink of, whatever it should be.
Our Lord, well knowing that in the midst of all their ignorance they had a sincere zeal for him and his service, and that they would be great instruments of good in his church, said unto them, "Ye shall, indeed, drink of my cup"; that is, ye shall indeed be persecuted and afflicted according to the example of your master, and go through a scene of such like difficulties as I myself must. But supposing you thus to follow my steps in this uneasy way to glory, yet, "To sit on my right hand and on my left is not mine to give; but it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared of my Father"; that is, the chief places of dignity in my heavenly kingdom are not now to be disposed of according to my arbitrary will and pleasure, or to be given away any otherwise than as my Father has seen fit in his perfect and unerring wisdom to decree and order them.
When the other ten apostles heard what had passed between Jesus and the two brethren and their mother, what they had solicited and how great their ambition was, they were angry at the request and very uneasy at their aspiring designs. But Jesus called them all to him and took occasion to instruct them a little farther in the nature of his kingdom, and to teach them that though in the nations of this world those were reputed the greatest who had the greatest outward dignities and the highest authority, yet in his kingdom they should be accounted the greatest who had left pride and ambition [behind], and who were most ready to stoop to do all good offices and to minister as servants to their brethren. And this instruction he concludes with his own example: "Even as the Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many."
The history now before us gives occasion to observe the great tendency and strong bias there is in human nature to the love of superiority in power and place over our fellow creatures. The twelve apostles were now, as it were, divided into two parties, and both equally tainted with the same sort of aspiring thoughts. Two of them hoped to have prevented the attempts of the others and to have secured to themselves the places of prime dignity in their Master's kingdom. The other ten disdained to be thought inferior or subject to them, and conceived a great anger against them for their design. It may, indeed, raise some wonder that such a temper should at all take place in the breasts of those who saw nothing in their own Master more remarkable than the greatest instances of the contrary spirit--of meekness and humility.
But the principal thing that we ought to remark [note] is the instruction our Lord gives to his disciples upon the sight of their indecent pride and ambition: That the way to be great and glorious in his kingdom, both here and hereafter, is to be humble and disposed to condescend to all good offices; and to make ourselves the least among our brethren rather than to contend for superiority and preeminence. This was our Lord's instruction, but it was a lesson too hard for the apostles themselves at the time when it was first given them; and it is daily seen to be too hard for the generality of Christians, though it be so indispensably insisted upon in the gospel.
When we look upon this great example and see our Lord bending himself to all acts of charity towards those who were so much below him, how can we think it right to stand upon little niceties and punctilios? Or [how] becoming [is it] to us to find out any trifling excuses to exempt ourselves from doing the like good offices to our fellow creatures in the same lowly way? Let not his example, therefore, be ever out of our minds when any occasion of humility presents itself to us. Let us consider how readily that Lord whom we serve would have laid hold on such opportunities, and we shall be ashamed to avoid them ourselves. Let us look upon those glories which he is said to have acquired by his humility, and they will animate us to bear even the reproach of humility here below, if reproach can ever follow so lovely a virtue.
Twenty Sermons (condensed)
A good companion sermon here is "The Good Physician" by Theodor Zahn.
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"Hold fast the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me,
in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus."
2 Timothy 1:13
I am aware it is sometimes said that the times are altered since the apostles’ days, and that the state of the world is different from what it then was. But is not human nature in all its essential elements the same? Is it not the same in its moral aspect, impotency, and necessities? Does it not as much need, and as much depend upon, the Gospel scheme as it did then? Is not the Gospel as exquisitely and fully adapted to the world's miserable condition as it was then? Can sin be pardoned in any other way than through the atonement of Christ, or the sinner be justified by any other means than faith in the Lord our Righteousness, or the depraved heart be renewed and sanctified by any other agency than that of the Holy Spirit? Are not all the motives of evangelical doctrine as adapted, as powerful, and as efficacious now as they were then? No alteration of subject then can be called for now to meet the advancing state of society, since the Gospel is intended and adapted to be God’s instrument for the salvation of man, in all ages of the world, in all countries, and in all states of society.
The moral epidemic of our nature is always and everywhere the same (in whatever various degrees of virulence it may exist), and the remedial system of salvation by grace through faith is God’s own and unalterable specific for the disease in every age of time, in every country of the world, and in every state of society. Men may call in other physicians than Christ and try other methods of cure, as they already have done, but they will all fail and leave the miserable patient hopeless and helpless. We reject alike as delusive and fatal the ancient practice of conforming the evangelical scheme to systems of philosophy, and the modern notion of the progressive development of Christian doctrine by the Church. To the men who would revive the former, we say, “Beware lest any man spoil you, through a vain and deceitful philosophy, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.” To the latter we say, “Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, and today, and forever. Be not carried about with divers and strange doctrines; for it is a good thing that the heart be established with grace.” It appears to me that something like the same attempts are being made in this day to corrupt the Gospel by superstitious additions on the one hand, and by philosophic accommodations on the other, as were made in the early days of Christianity.
It should never be forgotten that the time when the apostles discharged their ministry was only just after the Augustan era of the ancient world. Poetry had recently bestowed some of its golden favors on the empire of letters in the works of Virgil and Horace. The light of philosophy, though waning, still shed its lustre on Greece. The arts, and their most splendid creations in architecture, sculpture and painting, still lived, though they had ceased to advance. It was at such a time and amidst such scenes that the Gospel began its course. Apostolic voices were listened to by sages and their pupils, who had basked in the sunshine of Athenian wisdom, and were reverberated in startling echo from temples and statues that had been shaken by the thunders of Cicero and Demosthenes. Yet these apostles conceded nothing to the demands of philosophy but held forth the cross as the only object they felt they had a right to exhibit. They never once entertained the degrading notion that they must accommodate themselves to the philosophy or the taste of the age in which they lived and the places where they ministered.
It is true, the philosophy of that day was a false one, but it was not known or acknowledged to be such at the time. It was admired as true, though like many systems that have succeeded it, it gave place to another; and it was doomed, like some that now prevail, to wane before new and rising lights. Whether the apostle addressed himself to the philosophers on Mars Hill or to the barbarians on the island of Melita, whether he reasoned with the Jews in their synagogues or with the Greeks in the school of Tyrannus, he had but one theme--and that was Christ, and him crucified.
What right, or what reason, have we for deviating from this high and imperative example? So be it that we are in a literary, philosophic, and scientific age, so what? Is it an age that has outlived the need of the Gospel for its salvation? The supposition that something other than pure Christianity as the theme of our pulpit ministrations is requisite for such a period as this, or that this must be presented in a philosophic guise, appears to me a most perilous sentiment. It is a disparagement to the Gospel itself, a daring assumption of wisdom superior to the Divine, and containing the very germ of infidelity.
The Gospel is a testimony which must be exhibited in its own peculiar and simple form, a testimony to certain unique and momentous facts which must be presented as they really are without any attempt or wish to change their nature or alter their character. Let the taste be cultivated as it may by literature, or the mind enlightened by science, or the reason be disciplined by philosophy, yet the heart is still deceitful and wicked. The conscience is still burdened with guilt, and the whole soul is in a state of alienation from God. The moral constitution is mortally diseased, and nothing but the Gospel can convey God’s saving health, which is as much required for the spiritual restoration of the polished son of science as for the Hottentot of South Africa. All else is but pretence and empiricism, and the man who would be in earnest and successful in the salvation of souls must have a clear conviction and a deep impression of these facts. Philosophy must never be allowed to dilute the elixir of life, nor to evaporate it into the clouds of metaphysics.
From “An Earnest Ministry, the Want of the Times"
Don't miss "The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross" by Leon Morris.
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"For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior,
who is Christ the Lord."
Question: On which day (or night) of the year are Israeli Jews most likely to set foot in a church? Answer: Christmas Day (or Eve). Surprised? It's true. Many Jewish people are genuinely attracted to Christmas. Stringing lights or setting up "Hanukkah bushes" may not indicate deep, spiritual yearnings, but beyond all that, on some level many Jewish people are drawn to the powerful message of hope that Christmas delivers. God's entrance into human history through the birth of a tiny baby is one of the most captivating and irresistible dramas of all time. One well-known carol declares that in His birth: "the hopes and fears of all the years" are met. The world can be very dark; yet the song declares that "in thy dark street shineth the everlasting light." Yes, Jewish people have been told over and over again that Jesus is not Israel's Messiah. Yet carols of hope--with their message of promise--beckon many to consider the improbable, the implausible, the forbidden. Could it really be true?
Despite the secularization and anti-supernatural sentiment that is so prevalent today, the Messianic hope is deeply rooted in Jewish consciousness. Though relatively few Jewish people can document that hope, many know that the Christmas story claims to fulfill it. Maybe that is why performances of Handel's Messiah have consistently drawn significant Jewish attendance every year. This oratorio is a wonderful means to convey the powerful message of the Messiah. It is one of countless wonderful opportunities God has given the Church to make his message of hope known during this season.
Some Christians worry about efforts to prevent public displays of creches, or even secular symbols such as Christmas trees. The not-so-subtle pressure to say "Season's Greetings" instead of "Merry Christmas" in public can oppress and depress us if we let it--so let's not let it. No attempt to suppress, ignore or undermine this story of God's saving power will ever succeed in dampening or diminishing this great hope for the world in Jesus. In this cynical and suspicious world, many delight in dashing hope, extinguishing embers of expectation, drowning out any note of God's good word of grace. But godly hope is rooted in a deep reality that enables the believer to lean hard against the winds of doubt and push back inexorably against the darkness of worldly despair. No matter how difficult the circumstances we face, we can renew our hope, and perhaps for you, this is the time to do so. The message of Messiah's birth is the promise that God has come to rescue and save us forever, save us out of our desperate and difficult circumstances and provide a way to live abundantly here and now. Let's remember that hope and let's declare the power of that hope.
Jews for Jesus newsletter, v. 4:5768/Dec.'07
This hope was prominent in the Old Testament too. Read William Binnie's chapter, "The Christology of the Psalms".
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"Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise. When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a public example, was minded to put her away privily. But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus, for he shall save his people from their sins. Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us. Then Joseph being raised from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife, and knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son; and he called his name Jesus." (Matthew 1:18-25)
These verses begin by telling us two great truths. They tell us how the Lord Jesus Christ took our nature upon him and became man. They tell us also that his birth was miraculous; his mother Mary was a virgin. These are very mysterious subjects. They are depths which we have no line to fathom. They are truths which we have not mind enough to comprehend. Let us not attempt to explain things which are above our feeble reason. Let us be content to believe with reverence, and not speculate about matters which we cannot understand. Enough for us to know that with him who made the world, nothing is impossible. Let us rest in the words of the Apostles' Creed: "Jesus Christ was conceived by the Holy Ghost, and born of the Virgin Mary."
Let us observe the conduct of Joseph described in these verses. It is a beautiful example of godly wisdom and tender consideration for others. He saw the "appearance of evil" in her who was his espoused wife. But he did nothing rashly. He waited patiently to have the line of duty made clear. In all probability he laid the matter before God in prayer. "He that believes shall not make haste." The patience of Joseph was graciously rewarded. He received a direct message from God upon the subject of his anxiety and was at once relieved from all his fears. How good it is to wait upon God! Who ever cast his cares upon God in hearty prayer and found him fail? "In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths" (Prov. 3:6).
Let us observe the two names given to our Lord in these verses. One is Jesus, the other Emmanuel. One describes his office, the other his nature. Both are deeply interesting.
The name Jesus means "Savior." It is the same name as Joshua in the Old Testament. It is given to our Lord because, "He saves his people from their sins." This is his special office. He saves them from the guilt of sin by washing them in his own atoning blood. He saves them from the dominion of sin by putting in their hearts the sanctifying Spirit. He saves them from the presence of sin when he takes them out of this world to rest with him. He will save them from all the consequences of sin when he shall give them a glorious body at the last day. Blessed and holy are Christ's people! From sorrow, cross, and conflict they are not saved. But they are saved from sin forevermore. They are cleansed from guilt by Christ's blood. They are made meet for heaven by Christ's Spirit. This is salvation. He who cleaves to sin is not yet saved.
Jesus is a very encouraging name to heavy-laden sinners. He who is King of kings and Lord of lords might lawfully have taken some more high-sounding title. But he does not do so. The rulers of this world have often called themselves Great, Conqueror, Bold, Magnificent, and the like. The Son of God is content to call himself Savior. The souls which desire salvation may draw nigh to the Father with boldness and have access with confidence through Christ. It is his office and his delight to show mercy. "God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved."
The other name in these verses is scarcely less interesting than that just referred to. It is the name which is given to our Lord from his nature, as "God manifest in the flesh." He is called Emmanuel, "God with us."
Let us take care that we have clear views of our Lord Jesus Christ's nature and person. It is a point of the deepest importance. We should settle it firmly in our minds that our Savior is perfect man as well as perfect God, and perfect God as well as perfect man. If we once lose sight of this great foundation truth, we may run into fearful heresies. The name Emmanuel takes in the whole mystery. Jesus is "God with us." He had a nature like our own in all things, sin only excepted. But though Jesus was "with us" in human flesh and blood, he was at the same time very God.
We shall often find, as we read the Gospels, that our Savior could be weary, hungry, and thirsty; could weep, groan, and feel pain like one of ourselves. In all this we see "the man" Christ Jesus. We see the nature he took on him when he was born of the Virgin Mary.
But we shall also find in the same Gospels that our Savior knew men's hearts and thoughts, had power over devils, could work the mightiest of miracles with a word, was ministered to by angels, allowed a disciple to call him "my God," and that he said, "Before Abraham was I am," and "I and my Father are one." In all this we see "the eternal God." We see him "who is over all, God blessed forever."
Would you have a strong foundation for your faith and hope? Then keep in constant view your Savior's divinity. He in whose blood you are taught to trust is the Almighty God. All power is his in heaven and earth. None can pluck you out of his hand. If you are a true believer in Jesus, let not your heart be troubled or afraid.
Would you have sweet comfort in suffering and trial? Then keep in constant view your Savior's humanity. He is the man Christ Jesus, who as a little infant lay on the bosom of the Virgin Mary. He knows the heart of a man. He can be touched with the feeling of your infirmities. He has himself experienced Satan's temptations. He has endured hunger. He has shed tears. He has felt pain. Trust him at all times with all your sorrows. He will not despise you. Pour out all your heart before him in prayer and keep nothing back. He can sympathize with his people.
Ryle's Expository Thoughts on the Gospels
Read Maclaren's sermon, "Christ's Gift of Himself".
* * * * *
"And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth."
One mile from Bethlehem is a little plain in which, under a grove of olives, stands the bare and neglected chapel known by the name of "the Angel to the Shepherds." It is built over the traditional site in the fields where, in the beautiful language of St. Luke, "there were shepherds keeping watch over their flock by night, when, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them." To their happy ears were uttered the good tidings of great joy, that unto them was born that day in the city of David a Savior, who was Christ the Lord.
The associations of our Lord's nativity were all of the humblest character, and the very scenery of his birthplace was connected with memories of poverty and toil. On that night, indeed, it seemed as though the heavens must burst to disclose their radiant minstrels. And the stars, the feeding sheep, the light and sound in the darkness and stillness, and the rapture of faithful hearts would combine to furnish us with a picture painted in the colors of heaven. But in the brief and thrilling verses of the Evangelist, we are not told that those angel songs were heard by any except the wakeful shepherds of an obscure village; those shepherds who amid the chill dews of a winter night were guarding their flocks from the wolf and robber.
"And suddenly," adds the sole Evangelist who has narrated the circumstances of that memorable night in which Jesus was born, amid the indifference of a world unconscious of its Deliverer, "there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men of good will."
The shepherds made their way to the inn of Bethlehem and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. The fancy of poet and painter has reveled in the imaginary glories of the scene. They have sung of the "bright harnessed angels" who hovered there, and of the stars lingering beyond their time to shed their sweet influences upon the smiling infant. They have painted the radiation of light from his manger cradle, illuminating all the place till the bystanders are forced to shade their eyes from that heavenly splendor. But all this is wide of the reality. Such glories as the simple shepherds saw were seen only by the eye of faith. The light that shined in the darkness was no physical, but a spiritual beam; the Dayspring from on high, who had now visited mankind, dawned only in a few faithful and humble hearts.
How long the Virgin Mother and her holy Child stayed in the cave, or cattle-enclosure, we cannot tell, but probably it was not for long. It is probable that the crowd in the khan would not be permanent, and common humanity would have dictated an early removal of the mother and her child to some more appropriate resting place. The Magi, as we see from St. Matthew, visited Mary in "the house." But on all these minor incidents the Gospels do not dwell. The fullest of them is St. Luke, and the singular sweetness of his narrative, its almost idyllic grace, its sweet calm tone of noble reticence, seem clearly to indicate that he derived it, though but in fragmentary notices, from the lips of Mary herself. It is, indeed, difficult to imagine from whom else it could have come, for mothers are the natural historians of infant years. It is interesting to find, in the actual style, the coloring of a woman's memory and a woman's view. To one who was giving the reins to his imagination, the minutest incidents would have claimed a description. To Mary they would have seemed trivial and irrelevant. Others might wonder, but in her all wonder was lost in the one overwhelming revelation. Of such things she could not lightly speak; "she kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart."
Life of Christ
Take time to read Alexander McCaul's sermon, "The Prophetic Song of Zacharias".
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"And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call his name Jesus,
for he will save his people from their sins."
Here we may with adoring reverence contemplate the ways of God. The miraculous conception of our Lord's humanity was necessary to the economy of redemption. The Deliverer of men was to come "in the likeness of sinful flesh." He was to assume our nature in a state of humiliation and lowliness. He was to be a sharer of our weakness, temptations, and sorrows. But he was to be free from every stain and not to participate in the guilt and corruption of our race. All this was provided for by the wisdom and power of God. The Messiah was emphatically "the Seed of the woman." He alone, of all who have been born into this world, was conceived of woman only, through the immediate power of the Holy Ghost.
The first impulse of Joseph, when he perceived the situation of her to whom he had been contracted, was to put her away in the most private manner which the law allowed, since his gentle spirit caused him to shrink from the thought of making her a public example. But while he was reflecting on these things, an angel of God appeared to him in a dream to assure him of the innocence of Mary and unfold to him the purpose of the Most High.
In the series of prophetic announcements relative to the Messiah, it had been expressly declared that he should be born in Bethlehem of Judea. The providence of God, which can never lack means to fulfill the purposes of his infinite wisdom, arranged to accomplish this. Joseph and Mary resided at Nazareth, but an order was issued from Rome that a general census should be made of the inhabitants of the empire with its dependent states. In obedience to this decree, they proceeded to Bethlehem, the city of David, that their names might be enrolled there, since they were both descended from that illustrious monarch of Israel though now found in lowly circumstances. Bethlehem was, at that time, filled with visitors, and the humble pair were obliged to put up with the mean accommodation of a stable belonging to an inn. It was here that the Messiah was born. He whom angels adored and at whose bidding universal nature rose into existence, condescended to ally himself to our race in these circumstances of weakness and humiliation.
But the advent of the Redeemer, though thus destitute of worldly splendor, was distinguished by incidents which tended to fix upon him the attention of every thoughtful and spiritual mind. Even when he thus appeared in the utter weakness of infancy and in outward lowliness and depression, he was honored by the arrangements of the Eternal Father. On the very night of his nativity, some pious shepherds who were watching over their flocks in the open field, received from a heavenly messenger the tidings of the Savior's birth. To confirm their faith, they were told that they should find the babe in the city of David "wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger." Cheering and delightful was the announcement which was made by the angel to these members of the house of Israel, and his words have often refreshed the minds of men in succeeding ages who have felt the burden of their sins and sighed for deliverance and peace. "Fear not, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord." And then, to honor still more the infant Savior, a multitude of the heavenly host appeared and chanted the sweet and joyful words, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men."
Long had the angelic hosts contemplated the Divine administration of our world and marked with deep and earnest interest the preparations for the manifestation of the great Restorer. When, at length, he appeared--when THE SON condescended to clothe himself with our humanity and to come into our world in circumstances of outward humiliation and poverty--they beheld in this event the first great act of that wondrous scheme of redemption, which was to show forth throughout eternity the perfections of the Most High.
The Life of the Redeemer
See also this article by J. Gresham Machen, "The Virgin Birth of Christ".
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"And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds."
It would seem the most natural thing in the world for shepherds keeping watch over their flocks by night to keep watch on the skies also. But many a midnight watcher does not think of the skies; he thinks only of the flocks--of the business immediately in hand. But the man who thinks only of the business in hand does not always get the largest messages for the world. The shepherd who brings us "good tidings which shall be to all people" must be more than a shepherd. He must be a shepherd with an eye open to the skies. If there had been nothing but sheep in the inner thought, quite likely there would have been nothing but sheep in the outer revelation--nothing of real significance we mean.
Shepherds who were shepherds and nothing more might have seen light and heard voices, but they would not have caught the meaning. What a man sees depends upon what the man is; there is no more commonplace and yet mightily significant truth taught in the schools than this. Not every shepherd could see an angel if one stood beside him. He might think that he had seen a ghost or a demon. Not every shepherd could have heard such a message. No, the shepherds were there not merely as representatives of a class, but because of what they were themselves. They were shepherds, but something more--shepherds who could see up as well as down, who could see angels as well as sheep.
Another feature in this story is the extraordinary power with which these shepherds seized the essential in the revelation. The usual course for the ordinary human mind in the presence of an unusual revelation is to seize upon and be impressed by the unusual, especially if that unusual is at all spectacular. Here is a revelation which is represented as being spectacular. There are a vision of angels, and a great light, and a heavenly chorus. It would be very easy for the mind, even though it were open to visions, to lay stress on the non-essentials. What was the light like? Was it like daylight, or stronger or weaker? And who would not like to know how an angel appears? Does he look like a man? Does he walk or does he fly? What is the manner of his speech? And then the multitude--how great a multitude was it? These questions seem ridiculous, and possibly irreverent, but they seem so partly because they are not in the story. Yet they are precisely the kind of questions that the ordinary mind would be likely to ask, and they concern the features for which the ordinary mind would be likely to look.
In days that had departed from the simplicity of the first revelation, men supposed to be wise asked just such questions as these. Yet when our minds enter into the spirit of the story the questions seem far-fetched and out of place. The revelations which really come from God center around a message. They come to minds that can see and hear the message to the exclusion of everything else. We get nothing from the story of these shepherds except the great truth concerning the tidings, which means that the shepherds could be trusted to tell the message. To put the thought in colloquial language, it requires more than an ordinary mind to get the point of a surpassing revelation, and having seized the point to keep it.
Possibly the most wonderful fact about the story told by the shepherds is to be found in what it does not say. It does not tell us about angels or about the marvelous light, but it does give us the heart of the message. A really divine message is almost always brief. If the message begins to lengthen out under the telling, we may be pretty sure that the main point is being dimmed by irrelevant details. This is a mark of the genuineness of any extraordinary revelation from God--it bears an extraordinary meaning. The question is not as to how the recipient of the message felt or as to how spectacular was the manifestation. The question, rather, is as to what the message means, now that we have it.
Again we are told that the shepherds went with haste to Bethlehem. What did they do with the sheep? We are not told that there were any volunteers to stay with them, or that they drew lots as to who should stand guard, or that they went to Bethlehem in turns, or that they waited till day. The narrative would have us understand that they left the sheep and went. Raising this point seems very childish, no doubt, but there is sense in the questions after all. The point is just this: that the ordinary duties have to be put to one side when the extraordinary revelation flashes in the sky. We must say that the revelation put before the shepherds [was] for the moment a higher duty, which may have led to the abandonment of the lower. As a matter of fact, the sheep seem to have suffered no harm by the absence of the shepherds. When the vision points toward Bethlehem, it is not a matter of absolute necessity that anybody look after the sheep.
Then [consider] the sign itself. How in keeping with the divine method is the direction to seek for a King in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger? Wonder-loving human nature, if left to itself, would seek the marvelous in the unusual and would try to seek the unusual with the marvelous. "Show us the Father,'' said Philip, "and it suffices us.'' He desired a glimpse of God on a throne. He would have liked truth in some more spectacular form than in a human life. The shepherds might have sought a king elsewhere if they had not been given this definite direction; for simple-hearted and truth-loving as they were, they would hardly have thought of swaddling clothes and [a] manger as marks of royalty.
And lest we seem to have trifled with the serious responsibilities of daily life by suggesting, perhaps at too great length, that there are occasions when the ordinary duty has to be ignored, we hasten to remark that, according to the story of these wonderful shepherds, they returned to their flocks when they had finished their task of paying honor to the Christ at Bethlehem. We have said all along that they were more than shepherds. Now we say that they must have been better even as shepherds from having seen and listened to the angelic voices. These wise shepherds did not feel any call to abandon their ordinary tasks after the visit to Bethlehem. They do not seem to have given themselves any new dignities because of the great experience through which they had passed. They did nothing to exaggerate their own part. They were so modest that we have to read between the lines to see how thoroughly our knowledge of the message of the midnight skies is due to their alertness and their open-heartedness. They did not seek even to preserve their names in connection with the story. They went back to their flocks to be shepherds, no doubt, to the end, and we may well believe better shepherds than those who were shepherds and nothing more.
Christmas Sermons (condensed)
For some additional reading, see Donald Miller's exposition of Luke 1:5-2:40, "The Coming of Messiah: Fulfillment of Promise."
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"Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son,
and shall call His name Immanuel."
Let us today go down to Bethlehem, and in company with wondering shepherds and adoring Magi let us see Him who was born King of the Jews, for we by faith can claim an interest in Him and can sing, "For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given."
Jesus is God incarnate, our Lord and our Savior, and yet our brother and friend; let us adore and admire Him. Let us notice at the very first glance His miraculous conception. It was a thing unheard of before, and unparalleled since, that a virgin should conceive and bear a son. The first promise concerned the seed of the woman, not the offspring of the man. Since venturesome woman led the way in the sin that resulted in paradise lost, she, and she alone, ushers in the Regainer of Paradise. Our Savior, although truly man, was as to His human nature the Holy One of God. Let us reverently bow before the holy Child whose innocence restores to manhood its ancient glory; and let us pray that He may be formed in us, the hope of glory.
Do not fail to note His humble parentage. His mother has been described simply as "the virgin," not a princess or prophetess, nor a woman of influence. True, the blood of kings ran in her veins; and her mind was not weak or untaught, for she could sweetly sing a song of praise. Yet how humble her position, how poor the man to whom she was engaged, and how miserable the accommodation provided for the newborn King!
Immanuel--God with us in our nature, in our sorrow, in our daily work, in our punishment, in our death, and now with us, or rather we with Him, in resurrection, ascension, triumph, and Second Advent splendor.
Evening and Morning
To read more of Christ's genealogy, see "Excerpts on the Genealogies of Matthew and Luke" by John Calvin.
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"And when they were come into the house,
they saw the young child with Mary his mother,
and fell down and worshiped him."
We have here the wise men's humble attendance upon this new-born King of the Jews, and the honors they paid him. From Jerusalem, they went to Bethlehem, resolving to seek till they should find; but it is very strange that they went alone; that not one person of the court, church, or city should accompany them, if not in conscience, yet in civility to them, or touched with a curiosity to see this young prince.
They found Christ by the same star that they had seen in their own country. From the first appearance of the star, they were given to understand where they might inquire for this King, and then the star disappeared. They were then left to take the usual methods for such an inquiry. We take note that extraordinary helps are not to be expected where ordinary means are to be had. If we go on as far as we can in the way of our duty, God will direct and enable us to do that which of ourselves we cannot do.
Having found the King they sought, the wise men presented themselves first, and then their gifts to him. "They fell down and worshiped him." We do not read that they gave such honor to Herod, though he was in the height of his royal grandeur. But to this babe they gave this honor, not only as to a king--for then they would have done the same to Herod--but as to a God. All that have found Christ fall down before him, adore him, and submit themselves to him. It will be the wisdom of the wisest of men. The gifts they presented were gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Providence sent this for a seasonable relief to Joseph and Mary in their present poor condition.
"And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way." Herod appointed them to bring him word of the discoveries they made, and it is probable that, not suspecting their being made Herod's tools in a wicked design, they would have done so if they had not been countermanded. Those that mean honestly and well themselves are easily made to believe that others do so too and cannot think the world is so bad as it really is.
It is strange that we never hear any more of these wise men, and that they or theirs did not afterward attend Christ in the temple whom they had worshiped in the cradle. However, the direction they had from God in their return would be a further confirmation of their faith in this Child as the Lord from heaven.
Matthew Henry Commentaries
Read "Predictions Respecting Our Lord in the Psalms" by William Binnie.
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From heaven's glory Christ came down to sinful men on earth.
We've reached another Christmas day to celebrate His birth.
Eternal God in human form, the Virgin's holy Child;
The One of whom the prophets wrote, the seed of woman--undefiled.
Gabriel came to Mary's home, God's message to proclaim,
To tell her of the Savior's birth, to give to her His name.
"Call Him Jesus", God's command; on David's throne He'll reign.
He'll save His people from their sin and Israel's rights regain.
In Bethlehem's manger He came forth, Israel's glorious King.
The shepherds kept their flock by night and heard the angels sing,
"Peace on earth! Good will to men! Christ is born today!"
The wise men came to see the King; God's star had led the way.
And there was born the Son of God who lived in Israel's land,
Who came to earth to do God's will--all that God had planned.
Christ came to set the captive free, give Satan's slave release.
He spake the Word of God to men, brought comfort, health, and peace.
By word and work Christ proved His claim, His right to David's throne.
But Israel said, "He shall not reign"; rejected they the Stone.
In the garden Christ was found, and by Judas there betrayed.
Before the rulers He was led, in purple robe arrayed.
Crowned with thorns they hailed Him king, in derision and disgrace.
They hated Him without a cause, they spat upon His face.
Pilate found no fault in Him, desired to set Him free.
His rulers cried, "We'll take the blame! Nail Him to the tree!"
So the Lord of glory died; but He suffered not in vain.
Not only was His death foretold, but He must rise again.
No other way could God be just and sinful men forgive.
The penalty by Christ was paid. By faith the just shall live!
Eternal life is God's free gift through Jesus Christ our Lord.
And when we're saved, God gives us work with promise of reward.
And as we worship, serve and wait until we hear the call,
We know our labor's not in vain, for God remembers all.
He gives us grace for every day to serve by word and deed.
He keeps us by his power Divine, supplies our every need.
The riches of our blessed Lord are enjoyed by everyone
Who will obey the Word of God and abide in Christ His Son.
By His Spirit we are sealed until redemption day;
Then the Lord Himself shall come and take His saints away.
In heaven we shall then appear in bodies glorified;
All living saints who still remain and all the saints who've died.
We'll sing anew redemption song when we reach that happy place.
Ever with our Lord we'll be, as sinners saved by grace.
Tears and crying will all be o'er; no death and never night.
Eternal day for God's redeemed, forever pure delight.
At this Christmas season, then, as we give to those we love,
Let our hearts be fixed on Him who lives for us above.
If this message reaches one who's not yet saved from sin,
Why not take God's Christmas Gift and let the Savior in?
Read Ken's short article, "Am I Going to Heaven?"
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"The Word was made flesh."
There was nothing great about Bethlehem. It was "little among the thousands of Judah" (Mic. 5. 2); perhaps but a shepherd village or small market town. Yet there the great purpose of God became a fact: "The Word was made flesh."
It is in facts that God's purposes come to us, that we may take hold of them as real things. It is into facts that God translates his truth, that it may be visible, audible, tangible. It is in facts (as in so many seeds) that God embodies his good news, that a little child may grasp them in his hand. So was it with the miracle of our text. God took his eternal purpose and dropped it over Bethlehem in the form of a fact, a little fragment of human history. Over earth, the first promise had been hovering for four thousand years, till at last it rested over Bethlehem, as if it said, "This is my rest; here will I dwell."
At Bethlehem our world's history begins. Everything before and after the birth of the young child takes its color from that event. As the tree rising from a small root or seed spreads its branches (and with them its leaves, its blossoms, its fruit, its shade) north, south, east, and west, so has this obscure birth influenced all history, sacred and secular, before and behind. That history is an infinite coil of events, interwoven in endless intricacies, apparently with a thousand broken ends; but the coil is one, and its center is Bethlehem. The young Child there is the interpreter of all its mysteries. As He is "the beginning of the creation of God," the "first-begotten of the dead," so is he the beginning and ending, the center and circumference of human history. "Christ is all and in all." And as such, from the manger to the throne, he is the incarnation of Jehovah's purposes, the interpretation of the divine actings, and the revelation of the heavenly mysteries.
The "Word" is the eternal name for the young Child of Bethlehem. He is so called because he is the revealer of the Father, the exponent of Godhead. He is so now; he was so in the days of his flesh; he has been so from eternity. The names Christ, Immanuel, Jesus, are his earthly ones--his names in time, connected with his incarnate condition. But the names "Word" and "Son" are expressive of his eternal standing, his eternal relationship to the Father. What he was in time and on earth, that same he has been in heaven and from eternity. The glory which he had "before the world was" (John 17:5) and of which he "emptied himself" (Phil. 2:7, see Greek), was the glory of the eternal Word, the everlasting Son. As the eternal revealer of Godhead, the "brightness of Jehovah's glory, and the express image of his person," his name ever was THE WORD; as the declarer of the mind of God to man, his name is no less THE WORD, with this addition, "the Word made flesh."
The message that comes to us from Bethlehem is a very decided one. It is not a finished one; it was only finished at the cross. But so far as it goes, it is quite explicit, quite unambiguous. It means love, peace, pardon, eternal life. The lesson taught us at Bethlehem is the lesson of grace--the grace of God, the grace of the Father and of the Son. We may learn much, indeed, as to the way of life, from Bethlehem. It must not, indeed, stand alone. You must associate it with Jerusalem, you must bring the cradle and the cross together. But still it teaches us the first part of the great lesson of peace. It says, though not so fully as Golgotha, [that] God is love. And the Prince of peace is there. The God of salvation is there. The manifested life is there.
Do not despise Bethlehem. Do not pass it by. Come, see the place where the young child lay. Look at the manger--there is the Lamb for the burnt offering, the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world. These little tender hands shall yet be torn; these feet that have not yet trod this rough earth shall be nailed to the tree; that side shall yet be pierced by a Roman spear; that back shall be scourged; that cheek shall be buffeted and spit upon; that brow shall be crowned with thorns--and all for you! Is not this love? Is it not the great love of God? And in this love is there not life? And in this life is there not salvation, and a kingdom, and a throne?
At Bethlehem, the fountain of love was opened, and its waters have gushed out in their fulness. The well of David has overflowed the earth, and the nations now may drink. The good news has gone forth from the city of David, and all the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.
Would you learn the way to God? Go to Bethlehem, see yon infant. It is God, the Word made flesh. He is "the Way." No man comes to the Father but by him. Go and deal with him. So shall Bethlehem be to you the gate of heaven.
Would you learn the vanity of earth? Go to yon manger where the Lord of glory lies. That is reality; all else is hollow. What a vain world is this of ours! Yon manger contains the only thing on earth of which it cannot be said, "Vanity of vanities; all is vanity."
Would you have a safeguard against worldliness, and sin, and error, and the snares of the last days? Choose and keep the young Child's companionship. Wherever you go, be like Joseph and Mary when they fled into Egypt. Take the young Child with you. Is it into the world's business? Take the young Child with you. Is it into its philosophy and literature? Take the young Child with you. Is it into its relaxations and amusements? Take the young Child with you. If you take Him, all is right. If you forget to do so, or find you cannot, all is wrong.
Would you learn to be humble? Go to Bethlehem. There the highest is the lowest; the eternal Word a babe; the King of kings has not where to lay his head; the Creator of the universe sleeps in a woman's arms. How low he has become, how poor! Where shall we learn humility if not here? All earthly pride is here rebuked and put to shame. Be not proud, says yon Bethlehem manger. Be clothed with humility, say the swaddling-bands of yon helpless Child.
Would you learn to be self-denied? Go to Bethlehem. See the Word made flesh. He "pleased not himself." Where shall we find such self-denial as at the cradle and the cross? Where shall we read a lesson of self-sacrifice such as we have in him who made himself of no reputation, who chose not Jerusalem but Bethlehem for his birthplace, not a palace nor a temple but a stable for his first earthly home? Shall we not be followers of his lowly love? Shall we not deny self? Shall we not stoop for others as he has stooped for us?
Family Sermons (condensed)
Please take a look at "The Most Important Question Ever Asked" by Donald Elifson.
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"Now so it was that after three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers. So when they saw him, they were amazed; and his mother said to him, 'Son, why have you done this to us? Look, your father and I have sought you anxiously.' And he said to them, 'Why did you seek me? Did you not know that I must be about my Father's business?' But they did not understand the statement which he spoke to them." (Luke 2:46-50)
We have here the only story recorded concerning our blessed Savior from his infancy to the day of his showing to Israel at twenty-nine years old. We find Christ going up with his parents to Jerusalem at the feast of the passover. It is not said that this was the first time that Jesus went up to Jerusalem to worship at the feast. Probably he had done it for some years before, having spirit and wisdom above his years.
His parents stayed the seven days of the feast, though it was not absolutely necessary that they should stay longer than the two first days, after which many went home. Jesus tarried behind in Jerusalem, not because he was loathe to go home or shy of his parents' company, but because he had business to do there, and he would let his parents know that he had a Father in heaven, whom he was to be observant of more than of them, and respect to him must not be construed as disrespect to them.
His parents went the first day's journey without any suspicion that he was left behind, for they supposed him to have been in the company. On these occasions, the crowd was very great, especially on the first day's journey, and the roads full of people. When they found him not at their quarters at night, they turned back again the next morning to Jerusalem. The third day they found him in the temple, in some of the apartments belonging to the temple, where the doctors of the law held their conferences, or rather, their schools for disputation. They found him sitting in the midst of them, not standing as a catechumen to be examined or instructed, but seated among them as a fellow or member of their society. He asked them questions; whether as a teacher (he had the authority so to ask) or as a learner (he had the humility so to ask), I know not. He returned answers to them, which were very surprising and satisfactory. And his wisdom and understanding appeared as much in the questions he asked as in the answers he gave, so that all who heard him were astonished. Now Christ showed forth some rays of his glory, which were presently drawn in again. He gave them a taste (says Calvin) of his divine wisdom and knowledge.
I think this public appearance of Christ in the temple, as a teacher, was like Moses' early attempt to deliver Israel, which Stephen puts this construction upon--that he supposed his brethren would have understood, by that, how God by his hand would deliver them. They might have taken the hint and been delivered then, but they understood not; and so they here might have had Christ to enter upon his work now, but they were only astonished and understood not the indication. Therefore, like Moses, Jesus retires into obscurity again, and they hear no more of him for many years.
When the company broke up, his mother took him aside and examined him about it with a deal of tenderness and affection. Joseph knew he had only the name of a father and therefore said nothing. "Son, why have you done this to us?" Jesus gently reproved their inordinate solicitude about him. "Why did you seek me? Did you not know that I must be about my Father's business?" Have you not already perceived concerning me that I have devoted myself to the service of religion and therefore must employ myself in the affairs of it? You might have depended upon it, that I would have followed you home when I had done the business I had to do here. I could not be lost in Jerusalem.
This word of Christ we now think we understand very well, for he has explained it in what he has done and said. It was his errand into the world, and his meat and drink in the world was to do his Father's will and finish his work. Yet at that time, his parents did not understood this saying. They did not understand what business he had to do then in the temple for his Father. They believed him to be the Messiah, who should have the throne of his father David, but they thought this should rather bring him to the royal palace than to the temple. They did not understood his prophetical office.
They returned to Nazareth. This glimpse of his glory was to be short. It was now over, and he did not urge his parents either to come and settle at Jerusalem or to settle him there (though this was the place of improvement and preferment, and where he might have the best opportunities of showing his wisdom), but very willingly he retired into his obscurity at Nazareth. Doubtless he came up to Jerusalem to worship at the feasts three times a year, but whether he ever went again into the temple to dispute with the doctors, we are not told.
Matthew Henry's Commentary
Read "The Mission of the Son of Man" by Charles Spurgeon.
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"You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."
When the "fullness of time" arrived, the Eternal Son clothed himself with our nature and appeared among us, a sharer of our weakness, our temptations, and our sorrows. We have marked the mysterious union of lowliness and majesty which distinguished his entire career. We have viewed him as the babe of Bethlehem, the obscure inhabitant of Nazareth, the illustrious Prophet whose teaching shed a flood of light on religious truth, and the Divine Restorer from whose touch pain and sickness fled. In the development of his character we have beheld an attractive gentleness and condescension, blended with an ineffable dignity, and a purity which shrunk back from all moral contamination. We have followed him through the three years of his ministry until he came up for the last time to Jerusalem, to suffer and die. We have listened to his public discourses and to his admonitory and affectionate addresses to the disciples whom he chose to be the companions of his labors and the witnesses of his sufferings. We have seen him oppressed with mental anguish amidst the solitude of Gethsemane, and we have traced the rude indignities which were heaped upon him until at length he was extended upon the cross and died as the Sacrifice for human guilt. We have contemplated his resurrection from the dead together with the numerous and convincing proofs of that great event. We have rejoiced to behold him, after his deep humiliation, released from the burden which before pressed upon him. We have listened to his last charge to his apostles and have seen him taken from them while in the very act of blessing them, to be enthroned at the right hand of the Eternal Father, to sway a sceptre of righteousness and grace until his enemies shall be made his footstool.
In the history of the Redeemer which we have thus traced, the greatest prominence must ever be given to His sacrificial Death. The incarnation of the Son of God and all the events of his life on earth were preparatory to the offering up of himself as an atonement for the sins of men. It was "for the suffering of death" that he who had dwelt with the Father in the glories of eternity "took upon him the form of a servant" and appeared on earth. He himself looked forward, with profound interest, to that period of anguish through which he had to pass to accomplish the work of our redemption. And it was when he bowed his head on the cross and exclaimed, "It is finished," that he was "made perfect" as "the Captain of our salvation."
The Life of the Redeemer
Robert Culver's short book on Isaiah 53 is most illuminating. It is only six chapters, so why not take time to read it now? "The Sufferings and the Glory of the Lord's Righteous Servant".
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"Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen,
and called its name Ebenezer, saying, Thus far Yahweh has helped us."
1 Samuel 7:12
The Lord, our salvation and light,
The guide of our strength and our days,
Has brought us together tonight,
A new Ebenezer to raise.
The year we have now passed through,
His goodness with blessings has crowned,
Each morning his mercies were new,
Then let our thanksgivings abound.
Encompassed with dangers and snares,
Temptations, and fears, and complaints,
His ear he inclined to our prayers,
His hand opened wide to our wants.
We never besought him in vain,
When burdened with sorrow or sin,
He helped us again and again,
Or where before now had we been?
His Gospel, throughout the long year,
From Sabbath to Sabbath he gave,
How oft has he met with us here,
And shown himself mighty to save?
His candlestick has been removed,
From churches once privileged thus,
But though we unworthy have proved,
It still is continued to us.
For so many mercies received,
Alas! what returns have we made?
His Spirit we often have grieved,
And evil for good have repaid.
How well it becomes us to cry,
"Oh! who is a God like to thee?
Who passes iniquities by,
And plunges them deep in the sea!"
To Jesus, who sits on the throne,
Our best hallelujahs we bring,
To thee it is owing alone,
That we are permitted to sing.
Assist us, we pray, to lament,
The sins of the year that is past,
And grant that the next may be spent,
Far more to thy praise than the last.
Here is more about "John Newton" from F. R. Webber.
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