Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,
says Yahweh of Hosts. Zechariah 4:6
Lift up your heads, O gates, and be lifted up, O ancient doors,
That the King of Glory may come in! Who is this King of Glory?
Yahweh of Hosts: He is the King of Glory. Psalm 24:9-10
"For I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day." (2 Timothy 1:12)
Firmly believing that my times are in God's hand, I here submit myself and all my affairs for the ensuing year to the wise and gracious disposal of the divine providence. Whether God appoint for me health or sickness, peace or trouble, comforts or crosses, life or death, his holy will be done.
All my time, strength, and service, I devote to the honor of the Lord Jesus; my studies and all my ministerial labors, and even my common actions. It is my earnest expectation, hope, and desire, my constant aim and endeavor, that Jesus Christ may be magnified in my body.
In everything wherein I have to do with God, my entire dependence is upon Jesus Christ for strength and righteousness. And whatever I do in word or deed, I desire to do all in his name, to make him my Alpha and Omega. I have all by him, and I would use all for him.
If this should prove a year of affliction, a sorrowful year upon my account, I will fetch all my supports and comforts from the Lord Jesus and stay myself upon him, his everlasting consolations, and the good hope I have in him through grace.
And if it should be my dying year, my times are in the hand of the Lord Jesus. And with a humble reliance upon his mediation, I would venture into another world looking for the blessed hope. Dying as well as living, Jesus Christ will, I trust, be gain and advantage to me.
Oh, that the grace of God may be sufficient for me, to keep in me always a humble sense of my own unworthiness, weakness, folly, and infirmity, together with a humble dependence upon the Lord Jesus Christ for both righteousness and strength.
The Life of Matthew Henry and the Concise Commentary on the Gospels
You will also enjoy "A New Year's Message" by Alexander Maclaren.
* * * * *
"It is not for you to know the times or the seasons,
which the Father has put in His own power."
We are standing now at the beginning of a New Year, and the influence of the season is felt in some degree by us all. Not for the sake of repressing any wise forecasting which has for its object our preparation for probable duties and exigencies; not for the purpose of repressing that trustful anticipation which, building on our past time and on God's eternity, confronts the future with calm confidence; not for the sake of discouraging that pensive and softened mood which if it does nothing more, at least delivers us for a moment from the tyrannous power of the present, do we turn to these words now; but that we may together consider how much they contain of cheer and encouragement, of stimulus to our duty, and of calming for our hearts in the prospect of a New Year. They teach us the limits of our care for the future, as they give us the limits of our knowledge of it. They teach us the best remedies for all anxiety, the great thoughts that tranquilize us in our ignorance -- that all is in God's merciful hand, and that whatever may come we have a divine power which will fit us for it. And they bid us anticipate our work and do it as the best counterpoise for all vain curiosity about what may be coming on the earth.
I. The narrow limits of our knowledge of the future.
We are quite sure that we shall die. We are sure that a mingled web of joy and sorrow, light shot with dark, will be unrolled before us. But of anything more we are really ignorant. We know that certainly the great majority of us will be alive at the close of this New Year, but who will be the exceptions? A great many of us, especially those of us who are in the monotonous stretch of middle life, will go on substantially as we have been going on for years past with our ordinary duties, joys, sorrow, cares. But to some of us, in all probability, this year holds some great change which may darken all our days or brighten them. In all our forward-looking there ever remains an element of uncertainty. The future confronts us like some statue beneath its canvas covering. Rolling mists hide it all, except here and there a peak. . . .
Then this being so, what is the wise course of conduct? Not a confident reckoning on tomorrow. There is nothing elevating in anticipation which paints the blank surface of the future with the same earthly colors as dye the present. There is no more complete waste of time than that. Nor is proud self-confidence any wiser, which jauntily takes for granted that "tomorrow will be as this day." The conceit that things are to go on as they have been fools men into a dream of permanence which has no basis. Nor is the fearful apprehension of evil any wiser. How many people spoil the present gladness with thoughts of future sorrow and cannot enjoy the blessedness of united love for thinking of separation!
In brief, it is wise to be but little concerned with the future except in the way of taking reasonable precautions to prepare for its probabilities [and] to fit ourselves for its duties.
One future we may contemplate. Our fault is not that we look forward but that we do not look far enough forward. Why trouble with the world when we have heaven? Why look along the low level among the mists of earth and forests and swamps when we can see the road climbing to the heights? Why be anxious about what three hundred and sixty-five days may bring when we know what Eternity will bring? Why divert our God-given faculty of hope from its true object? Why torment ourselves with casting the fashion of uncertain evils when we can enter into the great peace of looking for "that blessed Hope"?
II. The safe Hands which keep the future.
We have not to depend upon an impersonal Fate, nor upon a wild whirl of Chance, nor upon "laws of averages," "natural laws," "tendencies" and "spirit of the age," nor even on a theistic Providence; but [we can depend] upon a Father who holds all things "in His own power" and wields all for us. So will not our way be made right? Whatever the future may bring, it will be loving, paternal discipline. He shapes it all and keeps it in His hands. Why should we be anxious? That great name of "Father" binds Him to tender, wise, disciplinary dealing and should move us to calm and happy trust.
III. The sufficient strength to face the future.
"The power of the Holy Ghost coming upon you" is promised here to the disciples for a specific purpose. But it is promised and given to us all through Christ, if we will only take it. And in Him we shall be ready for all the future. The Spirit of God is the true Interpreter of Providence. He calms our nature and enlightens our understanding to grasp the meaning of all our experiences. The Spirit makes joy more blessed by keeping us from undue absorption in it. The Spirit is the Comforter. The Spirit fits us for duty. So be quite sure that nothing will come to you in your earthly future which He does not Himself accompany to interpret it and to make it pure blessing.
IV. The practical duty in view of the future.
(1) The great thing we ought to look to in the future is our work. Not what we shall enjoy or what we shall endure, but what we shall do. This is healthful and calming.
(2) The great remedy for morbid anticipation lies in regarding life as the opportunity for service. Never mind about the future; let it take care of itself. Work! That clears away cobwebs from our brains, as when a man wakes from troubled dreams to hear "the sweep of scythe in morning dew," and the shout of the peasant as he trudges to his task, and the lowing of the cattle, and the clink of the hammer.
(3) The great work we have to do in the future is to be witnesses for Christ. This is the meaning of all life. We can do it in joy and in sorrow, and we shall bear a charmed life till it be done. So the words of the text are a promise of preservation.
Then, dear brethren, how do you stand confronting that Unknown? How can you face it without going mad unless you know God and trust Him as your Father through Christ? If you do, you need have no fear. Tomorrow lies all dim and strange before you, but His gentle and strong hand is working in the darkness and He will shape it right. He will fit you to bear it all. If you regard it as your supreme duty and highest honor to be Christ's witness, you will be kept safe, "delivered out of the mouth of the lion," that by you "the preaching may be fully known." If not, how dreary is that future to you, "all dim and cheerless like a rainy sea" from which wild shapes may come up and devour you! Love and friendship will pass, honor and strength will fail, life will ebb away, and of all that once stretched before you nothing will be left but one little strip of sand fast jellying with the tide beneath your feet, and before you a wild unlighted ocean!
Expositions of Holy Scripture
Loraine Boettner has a good essay on "The Providence of God".
* * * * *
"But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly." (Matthew 6:6)
Eight times in the space of this verse is the pronoun used in the singular number and the second person--a thing unique in all Scripture--as though to emphasize the indispensability, importance and value of private prayer. Private prayer is the test of our sincerity, the index to our spirituality, the principle means of growing in grace. Private prayer is the one thing above all others that Satan seeks to prevent, for he knows full well that if he can succeed at this point, the Christian will fail at every other.
Alas, how remiss we have been, how sadly we have failed to discharge this duty, and what irreparable losers are we by this sinful neglect. Shall this year witness a repetition of the sad failures of the past?
It is the exercising of ourselves in secret prayer that distinguishes us from hypocrites who go through their religious exercises merely to be seen of men. The hypocrite places a far higher value upon the applause of his fellows than he does upon the approbation of his Maker.
It is striking to note that God has often granted the freest communications of himself to those who were before him in secret. It was so with Moses on the mount, when Jehovah gave him the Law--and again when he gave him the pattern for the tabernacle. It was while Daniel was engaged in private prayer that God sent his angel to reveal to him the secrets of his counsel concerning the restoration of Jerusalem and the duration thereof, even unto the Messiah. It is in the secret prayer closet that God usually bestows his sweetest and choicest blessings. Cornelius was highly commended and graciously rewarded upon the account of his private prayer. Peter was granted that wondrous vision concerning the Gentiles while praying alone.
Let us now make a few suggestions on how this duty is to be performed. First, reverently. In all our approaches to God, we should duly consider his exalted majesty and ineffable holiness and humble ourselves before him. Second, sincerely. We cannot be too strongly or too frequently warned against that mere external worship to which we are so constantly prone. Third, submissively. Our petitions should ever be presented with the provision, "If it be Thy will." Fourth, confidently. He bids us "come boldly unto the Throne of Grace, that we may obtain mercy." Fifth, fervently. It is not sufficient that our tongues babble out a mere form; our hearts must be in this work. It is a striving in prayer.
"My voice you shall hear in the morning, O LORD; in the morning I will direct it to you, and I will look up," (Psalm 5:3). Let this be our resolve, and, so long as we are spared, our practice throughout the year we have just entered.
Studies in the Scriptures (condensed)
See also David Merrill's sermon "Secret Prayer".
* * * * *
"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for my sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you." (Matthew 5:3-12)
Now let us see, in the first place, why Christ spoke to his disciples about true happiness. We know that not only the great body of the people, but even the learned themselves, hold this error: that he is the happy man who is free from annoyance, attains all his wishes, and leads a joyful and easy life. At least it is the general opinion that happiness ought to be estimated from the present state. Christ, therefore, in order to accustom his own people to bear the cross, exposes this mistaken opinion that those are happy who lead an easy and prosperous life according to the flesh. For it is impossible that men should mildly bend the neck to bear calamities and reproaches so long as they think that patience is at odds with a happy life. The only consolation which mitigates and even sweetens the bitterness of the cross and of all afflictions, is the conviction that we are happy in the midst of miseries, for our patience is blessed by the Lord and will soon be followed by a happy result.
This doctrine, I do acknowledge, is widely removed from the common opinion, but the disciples of Christ must learn the philosophy of placing their happiness beyond the world and above the affections of the flesh. Though carnal reason will never admit what is here taught by Christ, yet he does not bring forward anything imaginary, but demonstrates that those persons are truly happy whose condition is supposed to be miserable.
Let us remember that the leading object of the discourse is to show that those are not unhappy who are oppressed by the reproaches of the wicked and subject to various calamities. And not only does Christ prove that they are wrong who measure the happiness of man by the present state, since the distresses of the godly will soon be changed for the better, but he also exhorts his own people to patience by holding out the hope of a reward.
See our Book Reviews page for an excellent book on the Sermon on the Mount by Rev. Walter C. Smith.
You will especially like his sermon, "The Law Kept by Sympathy," on that portion of the Beatitudes dealing with judging one another.
* * * * *
"Then one of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him. And he went to the Pharisee's house, and sat down to eat. And behold, a woman in the city who was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at the table in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster flask of fragrant oil, and stood at his feet behind him weeping; and she began to wash his feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head; and she kissed his feet and anointed them with the fragrant oil. Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he spoke to himself, saying, 'This man, if he were a prophet, would know who and what manner of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.'" (Luke 7:36-39)
The precise place and time of this event are undetermined, but it most likely occurred almost immediately following the raising of the young man at Nain. The invitation of Simon the Pharisee to Jesus does not necessarily indicate that he had been impressed by the teaching of Jesus. It would be only in accordance with the manners of the time for the leading Pharisee to invite the distinguished "teacher" to his table.
Let us picture the scene. They are all lying around the table, the body resting on the couch with the feet turned away from the table in the direction of the wall, while the left elbow rests on the table. And now from the open courtyard, up the veranda steps, perhaps through an antechamber and by the open door, passes the figure of a woman into the festive reception room and dining hall. How did she obtain access? Had she mingled with the servants or was access free to all? Or had she, perhaps, known the house and its owner? We must bear in mind the greatness of Jewish prejudice against any conversation with a woman, however lofty her character, and fully realize the absolute incongruity on the part of such a woman in seeking access to the Rabbi, whom so many regarded as the God-sent Prophet.
The shadow of her form must have fallen on all, but none spoke. It did not matter to her who was there or what they thought. It was Jesus to whom she had come. And so she "stood behind at his feet." Reverently bending, a shower of tears "bedewed" his feet. As if surprised, or else afraid to awaken his attention or defile him by her tears, she quickly wipes them away with the long tresses of her hair that had fallen down and touched him as she bent over. She had not come to wash his feet, but to show loving gratefulness and reverence as her poverty and humility would allow. And now that her faith had grown bold in his presence, continuing to kiss his feet, she begins to anoint them out of the flask of perfume which the women of her time carried around their necks.
Jesus had read Simon's unspoken thoughts. Presently he would show them to him. Yet not, as we might, by open reproof that would put him to shame before his guests, but with infinite delicacy and in a manner still that could not be mistaken.
Of two debtors, one of whom owed ten times as much as the other, who would best love the creditor who had freely forgiven them? Though to both the debt might have been equally impossible of discharge, and both might love equally, yet a Rabbi would, according to his Jewish notions, say that he would love most, to whom most had been forgiven. If this was the undoubted outcome of Jewish theology--so much for so much--let it be applied to the present case. If there were much benefit, there would be much love. If little benefit, little love. Conversely, in such a case much love would argue much benefit, little love small benefit. Let him then apply the reasoning by marking this woman and contrasting her conduct with his own.
On Simon's own reasoning, then, he must have received but little and she much benefit. Or, to apply the former illustration now to reality, Forgiven have been her sins, the many--with the knowledge on her part that they were many. And although the Lord does not actually express it, it would also hold true that Simon's little love showed that little is forgiven.
And now Jesus turns to her for the first time. "Thy sins have been forgiven." He does not heed the murmuring thoughts of those around who cannot understand who this is that forgives sins also. "Thy faith has saved thee. Go in peace."
Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah
A good essay on salvation is Eric Alexander's "Regeneration: Beginning with God".
* * * * *
"Then they said to one another, We are truly guilty concerning our brother, for we saw the anguish of his soul when he pleaded with us, and we would not hear; therefore this distress has come upon us. And Reuben answered them, saying, Did I not speak to you, saying, Do not sin against the boy; and you would not listen? Therefore behold, his blood is now required of us. . . . Then Joseph gave a command to fill their sacks with grain, to restore every man's money to his sack, and to give them provisions for the journey. . . . Then it happened as they emptied their sacks, that surprisingly each man's bundle of money was in his sack; and when they and their father saw the bundles of money, they were afraid. And Jacob their father said to them . . . All these things are against me." (Genesis 42:21-36)
The fear of God, wherever it prevails, will promote a sense of humanity. Joseph dared do no wrong, no, nor deal unkindly with those who had injured him, because he feared God -- the almighty, all-knowing, and merciful God. Though Joseph was a great man, he was sensible there was one infinitely greater than he to whom he was accountable, and whom he ought to reverence. This is the best principle for social duties to be discharged by. Reverence for God will make us deal honestly and tenderly. It will guard us against all rigor and severity. It was a strange and absurd speech of a great man, that he was "the friend of God but the enemy of mankind." The best way to incline us to do justly and love mercy is to walk humbly with God, and be in his fear all the day long.
See the force of conscience. It brought to the mind of Joseph's brethren those crimes that were committed twenty years before. Their conscience immediately struck upon this; they remembered their faults that day. Conscience brings old sins to a new reckoning. Though it seems to be asleep, it records faithfully, and will be a fearful accuser another day. Let us guard against sin, for it may be very bitter many months, yea many years, after it is committed and forgotten. Reuben had this satisfaction -- that he did not consent to this wicked act. It will be comfortable amid the calamities we may suffer with others to think we had no hand in the guilt. Herein, then, let us exercise ourselves to maintain a conscience void of offense toward God and man.
See the usefulness of affliction in bringing our sins to remembrance. These men perhaps never thought much of Joseph before, nor were much concerned about what became of him. But now they think of his case with deep sorrow and repentance. God will write bitter things against us to bring our sin to remembrance, and humble us for it. Afflictions, in this view, are great mercies, and it is God's common method of dealing with men. Let us therefore patiently bear God's rebukes, and consider why he contends with us, and resolve that wherein we have done iniquity, we will do so no more.
How ready are we to draw rash conclusions, as Jacob did, who said, "All these things are against me," when all were for him and working together for his good. We are ready to conclude, when we lose our wealth or fame, our health or friends, all this is against us. But God intends it for our good. To judge by passion or affection is the way to judge wrongly. Jacob's grief darkened his mind and overwhelmed his faith. We are in great danger of forming a wrong judgment of the divine dispensations, especially of those which are a source of grief and sorrow. Jacob was happily disappointed.
Let us learn to judge nothing before the time but patiently wait till the mystery of providence is opened, and then we shall see the truth of Paul's observation, that "all things work together for good to them that love God, and are the called according to his purpose."
Short and Plain Exposition of the Old Testament, with Devotional and Practical Reflections, for the Use of Families
You will like Alexander McCaul's sermon, "The Blessed Hope".
* * * * *
"And a vision appeared to Paul in the night. There stood a man of Macedonia, and prayed him, saying, Come over into Macedonia, and help us. And after he had seen the vision, immediately we endeavored to go into Macedonia, assuredly gathering that the Lord had called us for to preach the Gospel unto them." (Acts 16:9,10)
The Apostles and first preachers of Christianity differed greatly from ourselves in that they were endowed with extraordinary gifts and miraculous powers. But it is distinctly to be observed that they were not, on this account, exempt from the necessity of exercising faith. It might have been thought that, possessed as they were of superhuman might and privileged with immediate revelations of the will of God, there would have been in their case but little opportunity or demand for that trust or dependence which is among the chief things required from ourselves. But God so ordered his dealings with them that, notwithstanding their wondrous endowments, they appear to have had the same life to lead as any one of us, who always in weakness and often in darkness must labor at duty and submit to trial.
That the Apostles were able to work miracles did not secure to them the supply even of their daily wants. St Paul, in reckoning up to the Corinthians his multiplied endurances in the cause of the Gospel, enumerates "hunger, and thirst, and fastings." And you will all remember how this Apostle, anxious to prevent his being burdensome to the churches which he had planted, wrought at the business of a tentmaker and thus earned what was necessary for his subsistence. It was a strange but an instructive spectacle, that of a man who could heal the sick and raise the dead obliged to labour like a common artisan in order to the procuring a meal. Would not the energy which sufficed for so many and greater wonders have availed to the obtaining, without all this drudgery, the supply of everyday wants? But God, we may believe, in order to keep his servant dependent on himself, would not allow him to exercise on his own behalf the powers which were so mighty in subjugating the world; but, while He enabled him to shake the vast fabric of heathenism and placed, in a certain sense, all the elements of nature under his control, obliged him to be industrious in order to the warding off starvation, and required from him all that diligent and faithful use of instituted means which is required from the lowest and weakest of his people.
Then, again, it is true that Apostles had the gift of prophecy, and that privileged with immediate revelation they knew far more, than common men, of the will and purposes of the Almighty. But it is very observable that this--their insight into futurity--was no more allowed than their power of working miracles, to destroy or even to diminish the necessity for the exertion of faith in regard of themselves. You might have thought that men gifted with the faculty of anticipating events, and determining long beforehand what God had appointed to take place, would have never been at any loss with regard to their own plans, but would have been saved all that doubt and perplexity in which we ourselves are necessarily involved from not knowing what a day may bring forth. Yet this was far from being the case. The Apostles appear to have had just our trials of faith. They were called upon for the same patient waiting on God, the same watching the leadings of his Providence, the same studying the minute indications of his will. Able to pierce futurity and discern "the man of sin," opposing and exalting himself above all that is called God, St. Paul was nevertheless unable to make arrangements for a journey with any certainty that he should be allowed to accomplish it. Hear how he speaks to the Thessalonians: "Therefore we would have come unto you, even I Paul, once and again, but Satan hindered us." He had often, you see, desired and planned a visit to Thessalonica; but as often, some obstacle had arisen which had been as completely unforeseen by him as though the gift of prophecy had in no degree been possessed. Thus, as with the gift of miracles, so with that of prophecy--God allowed nothing to interfere with simple, prayerful, dependence upon Himself. He brought it to pass that those whom He enabled to marshal before them the august and awful occurrences of distant centuries should, in their private capacity, be as thoroughly obliged to the "walking by faith, not by sight," as any one of ourselves from whom the future veils all its secrets, except those which prophets have been commissioned to announce.
If you look at the verses which immediately precede our text, you will find abundant evidence that St. Paul and his companions were required, like ourselves, to go forward in faith, uninformed as to the precise course which God would have them take, but acting on the assurance that He directs the steps of all such as commit themselves to his guidance. In the sixth verse you read, "Now when they had gone throughout Phrygia and the region of Galatia, and were forbidden of the Holy Ghost to preach the word in Asia . . ." Their intention had evidently been "to preach the word in Asia." But they were not allowed to carry their intention into effect; God interfered to prevent it. St. Paul had, no doubt, prayed to be directed aright. But to keep faith in exercise, he was permitted, in the first instance, to determine wrong. Then in the next verse you read, "After they were come to Mysia, they assayed to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit suffered them not." Still, you see, they are only as men feeling their way. It seemed to them that Asia being closed, Bithynia presented the most desirable field of labour; and accordingly they took measures for entering that province. But again they were proved wrong. It was not to Bithynia that God meant them to turn, and they are still in doubt as to what course to pursue.
At last there is granted unto Paul the vision recorded in our text, from which he is enabled assuredly to gather that the Lord designed him to preach in Macedonia. Yet, what a roundabout method this seems of communicating information. What delay! What loss of time! Why was not the Apostle, in the first instance, explicitly told what the will of God was in place of being left to make useless plans as to Asia and Bithynia? And why, at last, was he only taught through the medium of a vision, which might have admitted of diverse interpretations, and in regard of which there might even have been doubt whether it was indeed to be received as a communication from God? We will not say that such questions can be satisfactorily answered. We will not even say that they can with propriety be put. But at least we may gather a lesson for ourselves from what is thus recorded of St. Paul. We see that even St. Paul was thrown upon his faith; that he had to find out the will of God by successive experiments; that the leadings of God's providence, in regard even of this his favoured and exemplary servant, were obscure and circuitous; and that, so far from the Apostle being allowed to ascertain long beforehand how to shape his course, he had to grope his way step by step, doubtful whether he was to turn to the north or to the south, and obliged to make the attempt in order to the determining whether it were what God approved.
Shall we then wonder, or shall we repine, if God demand from us the exercise of faith; if He show us not at once and by any unquestionable manifestation what his will concerning us may be, but require from us the patient waiting upon Him, and exercise us by the frequent frustration of our plans?
We hear much of the leadings of God's providence. And it is our business, as Christians, to be always on the watch for these leadings, assured that as God taught his people of old by the cloud upon the tabernacle when they were to rest and when to set forward, He will not fail now to vouchsafe guidance to those who in all their ways acknowledge Him and lean not to their own understandings. But we are not to expect that the leadings of providence will be always, or even often, very marked and distinct. This would be to change the character of the dispensation beneath which we live, for if the pillar of fire and of cloud went visibly before us, it would be by sight and no longer by faith that Christians were required to walk. Let us not hastily conclude that God's providence marks out for us this or that course. And let us be specially circumspect when the path which appears thus prescribed happens to be one which agrees with our own wishes. It is the easiest thing in the world to imagine the leadings of providence where we have already got the leadings of inclination. And we may learn from the instance of St. Paul that, even where there is prayerfulness and the meek wish of entire submission, it may be only by dark intimations, and after many frustrations, that God's providence will mark out our course.
Sermons Preached on Public Occasions
Spurgeon has a helpful sermon called "Counting the Cost".
* * * * *
"Now as he sat on the mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, 'Tell us, when shall these things be? And what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?'" (Matthew 24:3)
The three evangelists, St. Matthew, St. Mark, and St. Luke, have related at some length the discourse of our Saviour to his disciples concerning two very important events--the destruction of Jerusalem, and the end of the world. Of these St. Mark appears to be most particular. Our blessed Lord begins his reply with warning them that false Christs would come and deceive many; that they should be persecuted; that great tribulation should arise; brother betraying brother, and father son. He foretells them that they must be brought before rulers and kings, and some of them put to death; that there should be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes; that many false prophets and impostors would arise and deceive many. These, and some other particulars, our Lord foretold concerning the destruction of Jerusalem; and he added, moreover, that all should come to pass before the end of that generation, that is to say, before threescore years.
All this our Saviour seems to have spoken of Jerusalem, and the final destruction of the temple and nation. But concerning the end of the world he is less particular, only saying that in those days the sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light; that the stars of heaven shall fall, and the powers of heaven be shaken; that then shall they see the Son of man coming in the clouds with great power and glory, who shall send his angels and gather his elect from the uttermost part of earth to the uttermost part of heaven. And concerning the time of this great event, very different is the account from that of the destruction of Jerusalem. Of the end of that nation it is expressly said, that generation should not pass away till all be fulfilled; but of the last day our Lord adds, "No man knows, no, not the angels of heaven, but the Father only."
Thus, then, our blessed Teacher utters two prophecies: one with many particulars, the other with few; both awful and impressive. If one of these be true, no question but the other is also, having the same divine authority. And if the destruction of Jerusalem was in every particular foretold, who shall question, who shall dare to dispute the certainty of that great day which relates to the end of the world and its final judgment?
Now the state of the Jewish nation in the time of our Saviour was as secure, as apparently fixed and firmly ordered and established as any country or government in the earth. True, they were under the Roman power, but so were almost all other nations; and this was so far from being an apparent cause of their destruction that it seemed an argument for their continuance, because no rebellions could arise within and among themselves nor any enemies among the neighbouring nations. Their conquerors were ready to protect them, and indeed we find that their nation never enjoyed more security than at that period. Their people were extremely numerous, and Jerusalem abounded with riches. Wicked indeed they were, blind and forgetful of their God. In all outward appearance they stood safe and happy, in peace, opulence, and false but full security, blindly confident and content. But that divine Person who saw into the future pronounced their coming destiny. He said plainly that within a few years, before the end of one generation, these things should come to pass [away]. I repeat them, that we should remember the accuracy with which they were completed.
The ruin of the temple and city is clearly foretold, the extraordinary afflictions of the time. He declares that the gospel must first be preached to all nations; that his disciples should be persecuted; that false Christs should arise and deceivers, and that wherever the Roman eagles or standard, that is, the abomination of desolation of the prophet Daniel, should be placed, there should be the ruin and slaughter of the Jewish race.
Our duty is, therefore, to inquire if all these things thus prophesied did come to pass, and when. All this is happily left on record by a learned historian of their own nation, Josephus by name, a priest, but not a Christian. He was, therefore, not partial, much less would he, or indeed could he have written falsities which every one living could have disproved.
Now this Hebrew historian expressly informs us that about forty years after our Saviour's death, and before that generation was passed away, the temple was burned. In the tenth day of the month of August, the same day and the same month in which it had once been destroyed by the king of Babylon, the city was taken after five months' siege, in which the sufferings of the Jewish people were beyond description, almost beyond imagination.
Before this event, the gospel was preached by St. Paul and other disciples to all nations in the then known world. These disciples had also suffered the predicted punishment, and had taken the warning given by their Master, that is, wherever they found the Roman armies approach, they fled that place which was sure of destruction.
And now let us seriously consider what should be our thoughts when we contemplate these important prophecies, when we find that [prophecy] concerning the fall of the Jews so very complete, so exactly fulfilled. Must we not be sure--be entirely and fully satisfied--of the truth of the other prophecy, and look with faith and assurance for the end of the world when the Son of man shall come with his angels in great power and glory, that day and hour of which no man knows? It seems as if our Redeemer meant that we should have this great proof of his future coming to banish all our doubts, to fill our minds with reverence, hope, and patience. He was pleased to describe a peculiar event to take place in the world, at a particular time, and with particular circumstances, so that when that event came to pass--just in the way and at the time foretold--no one should reasonably have a doubt of the other event foretold with it as certainly to be fulfilled in a future time known to God alone, but by us to be reverently expected.
Let us be assured that however delayed his coming, yet our Lord will come. A thousand years are as one day to him who endures forever, and all will stand before his judgment seat. These things being discovered [made known] to us, our safety lies in constant watchfulness and in sincere prayer for the aid of the Holy Spirit, which alone can enable us to live in sobriety, righteousness, and holiness in this present world.
Posthumous Sermons (condensed)
After the judgment, then what? See Fred C. Kuehner's article, "Heaven or Hell?".
* * * * *
"And the people spoke against God and against Moses: 'Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and our soul loathes this worthless bread.' So Yahweh sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and many of the people of Israel died. Therefore the people came to Moses, and said, 'We have sinned, for we have spoken against Yahweh and against you; pray to Yahweh that He take away the serpents from us.' So Moses prayed for the people. Then Yahweh said to Moses, 'Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and it shall be that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, shall live.' So Moses made a bronze serpent and put it on a pole; and so it was, if a serpent had bitten anyone, when he looked at the bronze serpent, he lived." (Numbers 21:5-9)
And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:14, 15)
What is meant by being exhorted to believe on Jesus? What dispositions of mind does the expression imply? And what are the true exercises of faith? Could you desire a clearer practical account of these matters than this before us? As the wounded Israelites beheld the brazen serpent for their cure, so must we, feeling our perishing condition by sin, look with the eye of our souls to the cross of Christ and see him redeeming us from the curse and from all the miseries of sin. And if in the temporal case healing followed, so does it in the spiritual. You shall not perish but have eternal life.
Here then is the most important subject that can be conceived. Does not every other subject dwindle into insignificance in comparison with it? You are taught the way of obtaining eternal happiness, the way of knowing and enjoying the true God. Moreover, this way is laid open to rebels and sinners who are in a perishing condition, who are under a sentence of wrath, and who otherwise have no means to help themselves.
The conviction of our perishing state is a trying point indeed, yet absolutely necessary. What were the motives which inclined the poor wounded Israelite to turn his longing eyes to the brazen serpent? What were the circumstances which rendered it necessary for him to do so? The pain of his wound, the consciousness of imminent peril, the danger of a moment's delay, and, lastly, the sense he had of his own inability to cure himself. All this is easily transferred to the spiritual case before us.
Oh, that we were as ready, with as much feeling and with as much alarm, to seek and to use the true remedy for our distempered souls as we are in temporal cases for our sick bodies! Men have no inclination to consult a physician if they are well, or if they think themselves well. "They that are whole need not a Physician." Assure yourselves then, that if you feel not your perishing state by nature, it is not possible for you to have so much as one believing look at Christ crucified. The story of his death may possibly be an affecting history, but its spiritual use you cannot fathom and its supreme beauty you cannot relish. It will never reach your heart nor be effectual to salvation unless in your own eyes you become a lost, miserable, condemned sinner justly deserving God's wrath and eternal destruction.
Fellow sinners, it is not enough to put this matter in a cold, trifling, unfeeling, inapplicable way. It is a bad sign when we are satisfied with such general expressions as "to be sure we are sinners" and "nobody is perfect." It is a bad sign when it offends our pride to hear the fundamental doctrine of the depravity of human nature enforced, and when we are glad to have such subjects turned to something else we can relish better.
Let everyone, without a single exception, examine his own heart closely by the holy law of God, and let not the examination cease till you are convinced of your helpless, undone state by nature. Then pray fervently that so important a truth will be brought home to your conscience. It is then, and not till then, that you will look aright at Jesus for salvation. You will understand that He was lifted up on the cross so that believing on him you will not perish but have everlasting life. In a word, Jesus will show himself both able and willing to "save to the uttermost all who come to God by Him." Yet it is an indispensable condition of his salvation that you should understand and feel yourselves to be in a state of death if ever you hope to enjoy his precious eternal life.
It is the lack of this conviction that keeps so many back from Christ. Suppose you had seen the brazen serpent, elevated on the pole with its healing virtue, and yet beheld a number of wretched people--mourning in excruciating tortures and hastening to death--turning away their eyes from the only object that could restore their health and absurdly hoping to be cured by some fanciful way of their own. Would you not view them with pity, even indignation, at their folly? Would it not make rivers of tears run down your cheeks to see men so averse to their own happiness? How much more miserable is it to see men perishing in sin, yet hoping still to be saved while unwilling to look to Jesus, the only remedy! It is in this act of looking at the Saviour--depending on Christ--that is the true essence of saving faith.
Show a man that he is utterly corrupt and cannot in his present natural state please God by any of his works, and at the same time show him that those who in true humility apply to Jesus for pardon, peace, and holy dispositions will in no way be cast out but receive more than he can ask or think, and it may please God soon to open his eyes and cause him to have joy in believing.
Practical Sermons (condensed and lightly edited)
* * * * *
"Do not wear yourself out to get rich; have the wisdom to show restraint. Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone, for they will surely sprout wings and fly off to the sky like an eagle." (Proverbs 23:4,5)
How Solomon dissuades the covetous man from toiling and tormenting himself. "Do not aim to be rich, to raise an estate and to make what you have in abundance more than it is." We must endeavor to live comfortably and provide for our children and families, according as our rank and condition are, but we must not seek great things. Be not of those that will be rich, that desire it as their chief good and design it as their highest end. Covetous men think it is their wisdom, imagining that if they be rich to such a degree, they shall be completely happy. But it is a mistake; a man's life consists not in the abundance of the things which he possesses.
Those that aim at great things fill their hands with more business than they can grasp, so that their life is both a perfect drudgery and a perpetual hurry. But be not such a fool. What you have or do, be master of it and not a slave to it. Moderate labor, that we may have to give, is our wisdom and duty. Immoderate labor, that we may have to hoard, is our sin and folly.
Solomon dissuades the covetous man from cheating and deceiving himself by an inordinate love and pursuit of that which is vanity and vexation of spirit. The things of this world are things that are not. They have a real existence in nature and are the real gifts of Providence, but in the kingdom of grace they are things that are not. They are not a happiness and portion for a soul, are not what they promise to be nor what we expect them to be. They are a show, a shadow, a sham upon the soul that trusts in them. They perish in the using.
Riches are very uncertain things. They are not durable and abiding. They make themselves wings and fly away. Those that hold them ever so fast cannot hold them long; either they must be taken from us, or we must be taken from them. They go irresistibly and irrecoverably, as an eagle towards heaven, that flies out of sight and out of call. There is no bringing her back. Thus do riches leave men, and leave them in grief and vexation if they set their hearts upon them.
Matthew Henry's Commentary
Read what our Lord says about riches in "The Widow's Mite", by G. A. Chadwick.
* * * * *
"A man's pride will bring him low,
but the humble in spirit will retain honor."
Question: How may a Christian know that he is humble and consequently godly?
A humble soul is emptied of all swelling thoughts of himself. He has lower thoughts of himself than others can have of him. David, though a king, still looked upon himself as a worm: 'I am a worm, and no man.'
A humble soul thinks better of others than of himself, and values others at a higher rate than himself. This is because he can see his own heart better than he can see another's. He sees his own corruption and thinks that surely it is not so with others; their graces are not so weak as his; their corruptions not so strong. 'Surely,' he thinks, 'they have better hearts than I.' A humble Christian studies his own infirmities and another's excellences, and this makes him put a higher value upon others.
A humble person bemoans not only his sins, but also his duties. When he has prayed and wept, 'Alas,' he says, 'how little I have done! God might damn me for all this.' He says, like good Nehemiah, 'Remember me, O my God, concerning this also, and spare me.'
A humble man is willing to have his name and gifts eclipsed so that God's glory may be increased. He is content to be outshone by others in gifts and esteem, so that the crown of Christ may shine the brighter. This is the humble man's motto: 'Let me decrease; let Christ increase.' A humble Christian is content to be laid aside if God has any other tools to work with which may bring him more glory.
A humble saint likes that condition which God sees best for him. A proud man complains that he has no more; a humble man wonders that he has so much. When the heart lies low, it can stoop to a low condition. A Christian looking at his sins wonders that it is no worse with him. He does not say his mercies are small, but that his sins are great. He knows that the worst piece God carves him is better than he deserves. Therefore, he takes it thankfully upon his knees.
The Godly Man's Picture
Alexander Maclaren's sermon "Secret Faults" is good additional reading.
* * * * *
"And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified." (1 Corinthians 9:25-27)
The words of our text are evidently full of most important instruction. There is throughout the whole passage a reference to the public games and sports which were exhibited in the immediate neighborhood of Corinth, and which were called the Isthmian games. In these, prizes were proposed, amongst others, to those who excelled in running and in boxing. To these especially the apostle refers in the text as illustrative of that spiritual race and conflict in which he was engaged.
"I so run not as uncertainly," or obscurely. He did not run as the racer did when privately exercising himself for the course, when he cared not if his exertions were occasionally suspended or his attention drawn aside. But he ran as the racer when actually conflicting, when the prize was in view, his competitors by his side and ready to leave him behind, when the eyes of all the spectators were turned toward him, and when a few more efforts were to decide whether he should be crowned with glory or depart disgraced from the field.
"So fight I, not as one that beats the air." Not as the boxer who strikes to the right or to the left when he is only exercising for the conflict with an imaginary foe; but as when his formidable antagonist is before him, parrying his blows and endeavoring to strike him to the ground, when the slightest failure in watchfulness may produce defeat, disgrace, or even death. Such is the emblem which St. Paul makes use of to represent the conflict he had daily to maintain in "making his calling and election sure." "They did it to obtain a corruptible crown, but he an incorruptible."
And the contest belongs not, my brethren, to St. Paul alone. It is ours also. To us the prize is exhibited; to us the enemies are opposed; we too are "made a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men;" to us victory is glory--eternal glory. Defeat is "shame and everlasting contempt."
The apostle tells us who the enemy was he had to contend with, from whom he apprehended special danger. It was not indeed the only foe he had to combat, but it was one always ready for the conflict, always at hand to avail himself of every opportunity. This foe is the body. The terms "the flesh," "the body," "the members," are often used by the Apostle to represent the corrupt and carnalized state into which the soul of man as a fallen creature is sunk. With this no parley is to be held, no quarter given to it. It must be destroyed without mercy. Its very existence is inconsistent with the happiness and almost with the safety of the Christian.
But here the apostle does not speak of an enemy that is to be utterly destroyed, but of one who is to be mastered, kept under, and reduced to a state of subjection and servitude. This is then the body with all its members, which was originally given to the soul as its servant, capable of performing the most important services, but which in our present fallen state has risen in rebellion, and even ventures to usurp dominion over the soul desirous of returning to God and being reconciled to him. While the soul continues to be subject to Satan, the body readily yields all its members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin. But no sooner does the work of regeneration and renovation commence than it shows the utmost unwillingness to render them instruments unto holiness. It is perpetually throwing obstacles in the way of the man who desires that God may be glorified in him and by him. Hence it becomes the source of much danger to everyone who is "working out his salvation with fear and trembling."
This is a subject with which all must be in some degree acquainted, who have ever applied themselves to the work of religion with seriousness. Yet it is necessary that it should be illustrated a little more fully.
The apostle, in the passage before us, is asserting the right of the minister of the gospel to a proper maintenance from the people of his charge. But then he observes that owing to peculiar circumstances, he had never insisted on this right while preaching Christ and his salvation among the Corinthians; but he had "laboured with his hands" as a tent-maker to support himself and those that were with him, lest the people should say that he "sought not them but theirs" and was turning the gospel into a source of wealth. This led him to refer to other sacrifices which he made and other hardships which he endured in the discharge of his ministry. Now to all this the body would raise opposition. It would call for indulgence, it would require ease, it would shrink from suffering--and so persuade St. Paul to relax his exertions and to consult his ease, enjoyment, and respectability. Complied with in one instance, it would have advanced fresh demands for indulgence till it had robbed him of all his glory and joy, and left him a self-indulgent useless minister, of no use to the church and of no benefit to the world.
Such alas! has been the case in unnumbered instances, with those who ought to have been zealously engaged in preaching the unsearchable riches of Christ to a perishing world. St. Paul was aware of the danger, and repelled it. And such also, you will readily say, ought to be the conduct of all who are put in trust of the ministry.
Don't miss Charles Mason's sermon "Present Duty".
* * * * *
"As soon as it was day, the elders of the people, both chief priests and scribes, came together and led Him into their council, saying, 'If you are the Christ, tell us.' But He said to them, 'If I tell you, you will by no means believe. And if I also ask you, you will by no means answer Me or let Me go. Hereafter the Son of Man will sit on the right hand of the power of God.' Then they all said, 'Are You then the Son of God?' So He said to them, 'You rightly say that I am.' And they said, "What further testimony do we need? For we have heard it ourselves from His own mouth." (Luke 22:66-71)
Nicea, the very name which speaks of victory, was the second city of Bithynia, only twenty English miles from the imperial residence of Nicomedia, and easily accessible by sea and land from all parts of the empire. Here, in the year 325, the emperor summoned the bishops of the empire by a letter of invitation, putting at their service the public conveyances and liberally defraying from the public treasury the expenses of their residence in Nicea and their return home.
The formal opening of the council was made by the stately entrance of the emperor, Constantine the Great. After a brief salutatory address from the bishop on his right, the emperor himself delivered with a gentle voice in the official Latin tongue, the opening address.
It was my highest wish, my friends, that I might be permitted to enjoy your assembly. I must thank God that in addition to all other blessings, he has shown me this highest one of all: to see you all gathered here in harmony and with one mind. May no malicious enemy rob us of this happiness. Discord in the church I consider more fearful and painful than any other war. As soon as I by the help of God had overcome my enemies, I believed that nothing more was now necessary than to give thanks to God in common joy with those whom I had liberated. But when I heard of your division, I was convinced that this matter should by no means be neglected, and in the desire to assist by my service, I have summoned you without delay. I shall, however, feel my desire fulfilled only when I see the minds of all united in that peaceful harmony which you, as the anointed of God, must preach to others. Delay not therefore, my friends, delay not, servants of God; put away all causes of strife and loose all knots of discord by the laws of peace. Thus shall you accomplish the work most pleasing to God and confer upon me, your fellow servant, an exceeding great joy.
The council of Nicea is the most important event of the fourth century, and its bloodless intellectual victory over a dangerous error is of far greater consequence to the progress of true civilization than all the bloody victories of Constantine and his successors. It forms an epoch in the history of doctrine, summing up the results of all previous discussion on the deity of Christ and the incarnation, and at the same time regulating the further development of the Catholic orthodoxy for centuries. The Nicene creed, in the enlarged form which it received after the second ecumenical council, is the only one of all the symbols of doctrine which, with the exception of the subsequently added filioque, is acknowledged alike by the Greek, Latin, and Evangelical churches, and to this day, after a course of fifteen centuries, is prayed and sung from Sunday to Sunday in all countries of the civilized world.
The wild passions and the weaknesses of men, which encompassed the Nicene council, are extinguished, but the faith in the eternal deity of Christ has remained.
History of the Christian Church, vol. III.
See also Schaff's article on The Apostles' Creed.
* * * * *
"Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection."
In Revelation 20, we read of "the first Resurrection". The whole scene is thus described:
I saw thrones, and they sat upon them; and judgment was given unto them; and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the Word of God, and [those] which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years. (But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished.) This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he that has part in the first resurrection: on such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years.
This is not only a vision, but also an explanation. John is taught what the thrones with certain sitting upon them meant. They are the faithful in Christ in general (i.e., the whole family of faith from Abel onward), and one special class--those suffering for the witness of Jesus. And the glory given to them is explained to be the first resurrection. This is in full accordance with other Scriptures, for instance, I Cor. 15:23 where the order of the resurrection is taught: "Every man in his own order: Christ the first-fruits; afterward (next in order), they that are Christ's at His coming."
Thus, in the teaching of Christ himself and of His apostles, the one object before the souls of believers is His own personal coming in manifested glory. This is our hope; for then, in body and in spirit, we shall share His glory. That coming will bring destruction on Gentile power then in its height of blasphemy and persecution. Then will Israel look on Him whom they pierced and mourn for Him. Then shall the spirit of grace and supplications be poured on them, and then shall they know the fountain for sin and for uncleanness to be opened for them.
If we receive this hope as taught us from the Word of God, we must also see that it is given to strengthen and sustain us during the intervening time; not as telling us that there is no such interval, but as sustaining us through it. So that while we learn of false teachers and evil in the Church, and while we know much of the course of sin and its fruits in the world, we have before us the brightness of the morning to sustain us during the darkness of the night.
The Hope of Christ's Second Coming
See also our study on the Book of Revelation.
Walter Wessel's essay on "The Resurrection of the Dead and Final Judgment will also be of great interest.
* * * * *
"Having no hope. . . . But now in Christ."
Ephesians 2:12, 13
"Having no hope." We are familiar with hopelessnesss in common life. We know the rout that begins in the sick chamber when hope goes out of the room. So long as the patient remains hopeful the doctor has a mighty helpmeet in his ministry, but when the patient loses heart and hope the doctor strives in the face of almost assured defeat. The influence is similar in the ministry of the nurse. I was impressed by a phrase uttered in my hearing by a nurse in a conversation which I had with her concerning the nature of her work. "I like a life-and-death case," she said, "with just a chance for life!" She rejoiced in the struggle if the bias was on the side of victory. But when the last chance is gone, and there is no possibility of recovery, and the nurse has to labor confronted by sheer defeat, the service becomes a burdensome task.
It is not otherwise on the battlefield. Armies that go out without the inspiring presence of hope prepare themselves for defeat. I know there is what we call a "courage of despair," but it lacks the very elements of radiant victory. It has dash but no sight; it has force but no song; it is a wild leap and not the jubilant march of strength.
Now, what prevails when hopelessness invades the sick room and the battlefield is also experienced in the more secret life of the spirit, in the realm of religion. When a man becomes hopeless in religious life he loses the very springs of activity, and he sinks in ever-deepening degradation. The Scriptures employ a very powerful figure to express the state of those in whose life there is no hope. "They that sit in darkness." It is a very graphic picture. Try to realize it. You sit by the fireside on a winter's night with a bright fire making the room genial and cheery. You sit on until the fire burns low and eventually dies out, and the warmth gives place to a searching chill. Then the light goes out and darkness is added to the coldness. You sit on. "They that sit in darkness." And there are people whose soul-life is just like that. There is no fire in the grate and their light is gone out, and they abide in cold and dreary desolation, "Having no hope."
Now, what are some of the causes of this dingy and paralyzing hopelessness? Surely I must in the first place mention the tyranny of sin. When sin enters into a life and is welcomed there and entertained in daily hospitality, certain consequences assuredly happen. One of the first things to happen is this: sin puts out the light of joy. . . . There is disquiet and unrest, and a sense of a great and hungry uncertainty, and these are incompatible with the abiding presence of joy. No, that light is turned out. But sin goes farther and proceeds to quench the heart of endeavor. When sin ceases to be a visitor and becomes a tenant in the home of my soul, it assumes the position of master of the house, and I become its servile attendant. Repeated experiences of the power of sin create within me a sense of impotence, and I feel how impossible it is to regain my lost sovereignty. My endeavors become more and more lukewarm, my spiritual strivings more and more spasmodic and cold. But sin goes still farther and eventually scatters and tramples out the very fire of desire. In the earlier stages a man may feel the uselessness of endeavor while still he may eagerly wish to regain his lost estate, but in the latter stages his very wishes are destroyed and he sinks into the "ill of all ills, the lack of desire." The light of joy has been turned out! The heat of endeavor has been quenched! The fire of desire has died away! And the man is reduced to a state of cheerless and wintry desolation, "Having no hope."
The second cause of hopelessness which I will name is the tempest of sorrow. I saw an account a little while ago of one of our steamships which had passed through tremendous seas, and the waters had got down into her engine room and put out the fires. When I read the record I immediately thought of a kindred experience in the spirit, which I find expressed in the ancient words of the Psalmist, "All thy waves and thy billows have gone over me." The passage through heavy seas of sorrow may be attended with complete security, or it may be accompanied by unspeakable loss. It is when the water of sorrow gets down among the fires of the life--the driving passions, the loves and the joys and the hopes--that dire ruin is wrought. . . .
And the third of the causes which I will name is the monotony of labor. All monotony is tedious and depressing. To be compelled to listen to one persistent note of the organ would be an intolerable affliction and would weigh the life down in heavy depression. To be obliged to listen even to a monotonous speaker tends to drain away the springs of inspiration. It is the unchanging note that makes the life sink in weariness. And this perhaps is pre-eminently so when one's daily toil is one of unrelieved monotony. . . . There is no expectancy in the day, no surprise by the road. The hammer of the daily experience hits the same place at every moment until life settles down into a benumbment which has no vision and ho hope. The spring goes out of the spirit; and frequently it happens, as it did in other days, that "Because they have no changes they fear not God."
Now, so far we have not brought in the Lord Christ; and just because He has been so deliberately left out, the hopelessness of men has been unrelieved. Let us now bring Him into the dark cold life and see what happens. "But now in Christ Jesus"--what? What kind of hope does the Master kindle when He enters into communion with a human life? . . .
Christ kindles hope in the perfectibility of self. He comes to me--a poor, sensitive, devil-governed man--[and] whispers to me that I too can attain to freedom and put on the strength of the ideal man. I stand amazed before the suggestion. Quietly He reassures me and tells me that I too can be perfected. Who, me? What, with the fires out, a poor bit of driftage upon life's sea, can I be renewed and filled with power and made master of circumstances and voyage happily and safely to the desired haven? Can I be perfected? I have seen my fellows take a mere refuse place in the city, one of its eyesores, and turn it into a place of beauty. Yes, I have seen the place of refuse transformed into a garden. And even now I hear my fellows speaking confidently of the reforesting of the Black Country, and turning the place of slag and cinder heaps, of blackness and death, into a place of sweet growth and pleasantness and beauty. But my Master tells me that the same miracle can be wrought in the realm of the spirit, that the black country in the soul can be reforested, that the place of indiscriminate refuse can be turned into the place where the Lord would delight to dwell. "The wilderness shall become a garden, and the desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose." I too can be perfected! . . .
The Master kindles hope in the instrumentality of all things. If He purposes my perfection, then all my circumstances will be made to conspire to the accomplishment of His will. Nothing that comes to me will make me despair. I am hopeful that He will convert everything into a helpmeet and friend. "All things work together for good to them that love God." Even sorrow? Yes, sorrow. Sorrow is one of the "all things," and is subjected to the Master's will, and is one of His instruments for the attainment of His ends. Sorrow can accomplish what comfort would always fail to do. There is a legend that tells of a German baron who, at his castle on the Rhine, stretched wires from tower to tower that the winds might convert it into an Æolian harp. And the soft breezes played about the castle, but no music was born. But one night there arose a great tempest and hill and castle were smitten by the fury of mighty winds. The baron went to the threshold to look out upon the terror of the storm and the Æolian harp was filling the air with strains that rang out even above the clamor of the tempest. It needed the tempest to bring out the music! And have we not known men whose lives have not given out any entrancing music in the day of a calm prosperity, but who, when the tempest drove against them, have astonished their fellows by the power and strength of their music? "Stormy wind fulfilling His word." . . .
And surely this applies to my work, however monotonous it may be. With the assurance that my Lord will use it for my spiritual profit, into my labor I shall put a song, and the way of drudgery will become the very highway of my Lord. Everything will give me a lift if I am in close communion with my Lord.
The Master kindles hope in my personal immortality. "Because I live, ye shall live also." "He hath begotten us again unto a living hope." "He that believeth on Me shall never die." What a hope He kindles! Such a hope gives to life an amazing expectancy. When Samuel Rutherford was near his end, he was so gloriously excited at the prospect that those about him had to counsel him to moderate his ecstasy! The fine flavor of that glorious expectancy should pervade all our days. That we are to live forever with the Lord is a prospect that should fill our life with quiet and fruitful amazement. To have that life in front of us will enable us to set all things in true perspective and to observe their true proportions. Set money in the line and light of immortality, and we at once observe the limits of its ministry and range. Set rectitude [moral virtue] in the same radiant line and we see how it clothes itself with abounding glory. Everything must be placed in that long and glorious line or nothing will be truly seen.
The Silver Lining
Read Charles Bridges' most helpful sermon, "Assurance".
* * * * *
"So Moses the servant of Yahweh died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of Yahweh. And He buried him in a valley in the land of Moab, opposite Beth Peor; but no one knows his grave to this day." (Deuteronomy 34:5-6)
All was now ready and Israel about to cross the Jordan and take possession of the Promised Land! It was only natural that Moses should have longed to share in what was before them. Looking back the long vista of these 120 years--first of life and trial in Egypt, then of loneliness and patient faith while feeding the flocks of Jethro, and lastly, of labor and weariness in the wilderness--it would indeed have been strange had he not wished now to have part in the conquest and rest of the goodly land. He had believed in it; he had preached it; he had prayed for it; he had labored, borne, fought for it. And now within reach and view of it, must he lay himself down to die?
Then I pleaded with the LORD at that time, saying: "O Lord GOD, You have begun to show your servant your greatness and your mighty hand, for what god is there in heaven or on earth who can do anything like your works and your mighty deeds? I pray, let me cross over and see the good land beyond the Jordan, those pleasant mountains, and Lebanon.
The deep feelings of Moses had scarcely bodied themselves in the language of prayer. Rather had it been the pouring forth of his inmost desires before his Father in heaven. "Nevertheless, not my will, but Thine be done." And it was the good will of God that Moses should lay himself down to rest without entering the land. Although it came in punishment of Israel's and of Moses' sin at the waters or Meribah, yet it was also better that it should be so--better for Moses himself. For on the top of Pisgah, God prepared something better for him than even entrance into the land of earthly promise.
And now, calmly, as a father sets his house in order, did Moses prepare for his departure. During his life all his thoughts had been for Israel, and he was faithful even unto the death. His last care also was for the people whom he had loved, and for the work to which he had been devoted: that Jehovah would provide a shepherd to lead them out and bring them in.
His last words were a blessing upon Israel. Then, amid the respectful silence of a mourning people, he set out alone upon his last pilgrim journey. All the way up to the highest top of Pisgah, the eyes of the people must have followed him. They could watch him as he stood there in the sunset, taking his full view of the land, there to see for himself how true and faithful Jehovah had been. Still could they descry [discern] his figure, as, in the shadows of even, it moved towards a valley apart. After that, no mortal eye ever beheld him until, with Elijah, he stood on the mount of transfiguration. Then indeed was the longing wish of Moses, uttered many, many centuries before, fulfilled far beyond his thinking or hoping at that time. He did stand on "the goodly mountain" within the Land of Promise, worshiping and giving testimony to Him in "Whom all the promises are yea and amen." It was a worthy crowning of such a life.
Bible History Old Testament
Be sure to read Ken's article, "The Christian Answer to Death and the Eternal Destiny of the Redeemed".
* * * * *
"Honor Yahweh with your possessions, and with the firstfruits of all your increase; so your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will overflow with new wine." (Prov. 1:9)
The law of the first-fruits teaches us this important principle--that God should have the first place in his people's generous giving instead of the last. The arrangement of the petitions in the Lord's prayer teach us the same lesson: those which relate to God, his name, and his kingdom precede those which relate to ourselves. The injunction of the Saviour, justly interpreted, is in spirit and letter the same--"Seek ye first the Kingdom of God." Do we then honor the Lord with our substance when, after bestowing lavishly on self all that self can wish--not withholding our heart from any joy--we give a little driblet of our surplus for Him, for his poor, for his cause and kingdom? Does he honor the Lord who, without a grudge, expends ten, twenty, fifty, or a hundred dollars on some article of ornamental elegance or mere convenience (or at any rate of very questionable necessity) while the smallest pittance can with difficulty be wrung from him for the great interests of the Redeemer's kingdom? Sums after sums, large and small, for worldly accommodations and enjoyments, and a pound a year for the salvation of the world!
Various are the motives held out to encourage the duty of liberality. In the verses before us, you may be tempted to regard the motive as a somewhat selfish and questionable one: "So your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will overflow with new wine." But second thoughts may give you another view of it. It is a trial of faith. And it is a trial than which few are found more difficult. It is hard to persuade a man that giving away will make him rich. We look with more confidence to bank interest, or the still better interest of a vested loan, than to a return of profit from what is given wholly away. It is difficult to convince a man that scattering will increase his store.
While, therefore, the motive in itself looks worldly and selfish, he who comes to feel it so as to act liberally upon it exercises a faith in God that is rare and of the highest order. He walks by faith, not by sight. He who gives to the poor because God has said, "He who has pity on the poor lends to Yahweh" (Prov. 19:17), gives in faith. The promise is that the blessing of God shall be upon the substance and upon the industry of such liberality--upon those whose godliness overcomes their selfishness, and who show their faith and love by their liberality especially to God's own cause.
My brethren, there is too little of proving God in this matter. We can only discover God's faithfulness by putting it to the test; and without a doubt, if there were more of trial on our part there would be proportionally more of the manifestation of faithfulness on his.
And there is even a higher motive than earthly prosperity. Compliance with this injunction is not only a means of increasing our temporal good but of augmenting our blessedness for eternity. For while all the happiness of the world to come shall be bestowed and enjoyed on the ground of grace, yet there shall be degrees of blessedness and glory corresponding to the measure in which the principles of faith and love have been practically manifested; a correspondence between the one and the other, as the apostle expresses it, like that between the seed sown and the crop reaped--the reaping corresponding in amount to the sowing. The right use of worldly substance is one of the ways in which the Lord exhorts his disciples to "provide yourselves money bags which do not grow old, a treasure in the heavens that does not fail" (Luke 12:33). But He whom we serve knows the motives by which we are influenced, so that if one is giving either in the spirit of self-righteousness, or of ostentation, or of any other unwarranted principle, [then] "Let not that man think that he shall obtain anything of the Lord" (James 1:7).
Lectures on the Book of Proverbs
Maclaren has a wonderful sermon on this subject called "An Old Subscription List".
* * * * *
"And which of you, having a servant plowing or tending sheep, will say to him when he has come in from the field, 'Come at once and sit down to eat'? But will he not rather say to him, 'Prepare something for my supper, and gird yourself and serve me till I have eaten and drunk, and afterward you will eat and drink'? Does he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I think not. So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, 'We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do.'" (Luke 17:7-10)
The object of this parable is to show that God claims all that belongs to us as his property, and possesses an entire control over our persons and services. Therefore, all the zeal that may be manifested by us in discharging our duty does not lay him under obligation to us by any sort of merit, for as we are his property, so he on his part can owe us nothing. He adduces the comparison of a servant who, after having spent the day in severe toil, returns home in the evening and continues his labors till his master is pleased to relieve him. Christ speaks not of such servants as we have in the present day who work for hire, but of the slaves that lived in ancient times. Their condition in society was such that they gained nothing for themselves, but all that belonged to them--their toil, application, industry, even their very blood--was the property of their masters. Christ now shows that a bond of servitude not less rigorous binds and obliges us to serve God, from which he infers that we have no means of laying him under obligations to us.
It is an argument drawn from the less to the greater. If a mortal man is permitted to hold such power over another man as to enjoin upon him uninterrupted services by night and by day, and yet contract no sort of mutual obligation, as if he were that man's debtor, how much more shall God have a right to demand the services of our whole life to the utmost extent that our ability allows, and yet be in no degree indebted to us? We see, then, that all are held guilty of wicked arrogance who imagine that they deserve anything from God, or that he is bound to them in any way. And yet no crime is more generally practiced than this kind of arrogance, for there is no man that would not willingly call God to account. Hence, the notion of merits has prevailed in almost every age.
But we must attend more closely to the statement made by Christ, namely, that we render nothing to God beyond what he has a right to claim, but are so strongly bound to his service that we owe him everything that lies in our power. It consists of two clauses. First, our life, even to the very end of our course, belongs entirely to God, so that, if a person were to spend a part of it in obedience to God, he would have no right to bargain that he should rest for the remainder of the time. Then follows the second clause on which we have already touched, that God is not bound to pay us wages for any of our services. Let each of us remember that he has been created by God for the purpose of laboring, and of being vigorously employed in his work; it is not only for a limited time, but till death itself.
With respect to merit, we must remove the difficulty by which many are perplexed, for Scripture so frequently promises a reward to our works that they think it allows them some merit. The reply is easy: A reward is promised, not as a debt, but from the mere good pleasure of God. By the engagements of the Law, I readily acknowledge, God is bound to men if they were to discharge fully all that is required from them. But still, as this is a voluntary obligation on God's part, it remains a fixed principle that man can demand nothing from God, as if he had merited anything. And thus the arrogance of the flesh falls to the ground, for, granting that any man fulfilled the Law, he cannot plead that he has any claims on God, having done no more than he was bound to do. When he says we are unprofitable servants, his meaning is that God receives from us nothing beyond what is justly due, but only collects the lawful revenues of his dominion.
There are two principles, therefore, that must be maintained. First, that God naturally owes us nothing, and that all the services which we render to him are not worth a single straw. Second, that according to the engagements of the Law, a reward is attached to works, not on account of their value, but because God is graciously pleased to become our debtor. It would evince intolerable ingratitude if on such a ground any person should indulge in proud boasting. The kindness and liberality that God exercises toward us only lay us under deeper obligations to him.
Whenever we meet with the word reward, let us look upon this as the crowning act of the goodness of God to us, that though we are completely in his debt, he condescends to enter into a bargain with us.
* * * * *
"Oh, how I love Thy law!
It is my meditation all the day."
A godly man shows his love to the written Word by diligently reading it. The noble Bereans 'searched the Scriptures daily' (Acts 17:11). The Word shows what is truth and what is error. It is the field where the pearl of price is hidden. How we should dig for this pearl!
He shows his love by frequently meditating on it. He has not only a few transient thoughts, but he leaves his mind steeping in the Scriptures. He delights in the Word. 'Thy words were found, and I did eat them; and thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of my heart' (Jer. 15:16). Never did a man take such delight in a dish that he loved as the prophet did in the Word.
The godly man prefers the Word above things most precious: food, riches, and worldly honor. King Edward the Sixth, on the day of his coronation when presented with three swords signifying that he was monarch of three kingdoms, said, 'There is still one sword missing.' On being asked what that was, he answered, 'The Holy Bible, which is the "sword of the Spirit" and is to be preferred before these ensigns of royalty.'
Do we love the written Word? What sums of money the martyrs gave for a few leaves of the Bible! But alas, how can they who are seldom conversant with the Scriptures say they love them?
The Godly Man's Picture
See John Calvin's sermon on 2 Tim. 3:16, "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God".
* * * * *
"Now to him that works is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt."
DEFINITION - The term 'grace' has various shades of meaning in the Scripture. When it speaks of the grace of God, what is in view most frequently is the favour of God. It is not always unmerited favour. Of Jesus it is said that 'he increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man' (Luke 2:52). But, generally, sinful men are in view as the objects of God's favour and then it is always unmerited favour. This is brought out very clearly when we read, 'Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt' (Rom. 4:4); 'And if by grace, then it is no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace' (Rom. 11:6). Grace is here placed in sharp contrast with what is earned and therefore with all merit. Grace is undeserved favour, and if any constraint is placed upon God arising from worthiness on our part, whether it be of thought or word or action, then it is no longer grace.
We cannot think of sinners as merely undeserving; they are also ill-deserving. The grace of God to sinners is, therefore, not simply unmerited favour; it is also favour shown to the ill-deserving, indeed to the hell-deserving. When Paul says, 'justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus' (Rom. 3:24), the grace in view must be understood on the background of the judgment of God referred to in verse 19--'that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.' It is guilty men, and therefore hell-deserving men, that the justifying grace of God contemplates.
It is from this primary meaning of the word 'grace' that various other meanings are derived. The grace of God can refer to the gracious influences which are brought to bear upon men (cf. Luke 2:40; Acts 4:33; 2 Cor. 12:9). It can refer to the state of grace into which men are introduced (cf. Rom. 5:2). It can refer to the gifts bestowed and to the virtues generated (cf. Rom. 12:3, 6; 2 Cor. 8:7). But so closely related are these shades of meaning, and so dependent are they upon the primary import, that it is often difficult to be certain what particular thought is being expressed. We are always pointed back to the disposition of favour, of loving kindness in God as the source, and as that which gives character to all grace in exercise.
SALVATION BY GRACE - The grace of God comes to its richest expression in redemption and salvation. How plainly this is set forth in Paul's well-known word, 'By grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God' (Eph. 2:8)! When he says 'and that not of yourselves,' he is reminding us of the true nature of grace, that its whole urge and explanation reside in God. It may be easy to give formal assent to this text. Every evangelical Christian will do so. But how ready we are to shy away from its implications! In reality we deny the truth here asserted when we introduce at any point in the whole span and process of salvation a decisive autonomy on the part of man. If salvation at any point is contingent upon some contribution which man himself makes, then at that point it is of ourselves, and to that extent it is not of grace. Paul's definition 'and that not of yourselves' is thereby effaced and the true nature of grace is denied.
THE CROSS OF CHRIST - The marvel of God's grace is pre-eminently displayed in the cross of Christ. It was by the will of the Father he was given and sent. It was by his own will that Christ came. He was sent to save and he came to save. The only alternative was that the whole human race should perish (cf. John 3:16; Matt. 1:21). Jesus alone is the captain of salvation. No one but he wrought redemption, no one but he made expiation, propitiation, and reconciliation for sin. How blasphemous would be the thought that we men had any part in this grand accomplishment! 'Now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself' (Heb. 9:26). It is as we view the solitary uniqueness of Christ's cross, the magnitude of the grace it exhibits, and its complete effectiveness unto salvation, that we learn the riches of God's 'grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus' (Eph. 2:7). And it is here the insult we offer to God's grace appears when we try to condition its character or operation by some ingredient of our making. It is this perspective of God's great love when we were dead in sins that evokes Paul's word, 'by grace are ye saved.'
ELECTION OF GRACE - The span of salvation has its origin in election before the foundation of the world. And election is of grace (Rom. 11:5). Too often Christians have sought to intrude human decision as the explanation of the distinction which election requires. God elects, it is said, those whom he foresees will believe, and thus man's choice determines God's choice. If this is the true account of election, then we should have to say that what we ourselves decide determines election. In that event Ephesians 2:8 cannot apply to election, for here Paul says 'and that not of yourselves,' and the grace of election would have to be of an entirely different character. But how impossible! If election is of grace (Rom. 11:5), it must be of the same grace defined in Ephesians 2:8, and therefore in no respect of ourselves, but wholly the gift of God. Besides, it is salvation by grace through faith that is the gift of God and so faith itself is of grace and not something that resides in human autonomy. The faith which God foresees is the fruit and not the root of electing grace.
Grace demands humility, the humility that constrains us to be willing debtors all along the line of salvation from its fount in election to its consummation in glory. Salvation is of the Lord, and it is only of him if it is all of him. This is the doctrine of grace and it is its glory.
JUSTIFICATION BY GRACE - It was the discovery of the grace of God that signalized the Protestant Reformation. The movement was focused in the uncovering of the great truth which Rome had buried beneath a pile of superstition, the doctrine of justification by faith alone and of grace alone. It was this same truth that Paul identified with the gospel, and it was the denial of it that elicited the severest denunciation we find in the New Testament. 'But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed' (Gal. 1:8,9). When later on he says, 'Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace' (Gal. 5:4), the thought is not that of falling away from a state of grace but rather that, if, to any extent, we look to our own works for justification, then we have abandoned grace altogether. Grace does not comport with any human contribution. If grace is in operation, if it has any place, it must have the whole place, it must be exclusively operative. If we are justified to any degree by works of law, we are debtors to do the whole law (cf. Gal. 5:3) and justification must be wholly of law.
Here again we have the same principle exemplified and confirmed: grace knows no human contribution. If of grace, then it is wholly and exclusively of grace. Since salvation is of grace, it is all of grace. Human autonomy is excluded at every point as decisively as at the point of justification.
SANCTIFICATION - Sanctification begins by union with Christ. There is a once-for-fall breach with sin in its power, love, and defilement. By union with Christ believers partake of the virtue of Jesus' death and the power of his resurrection. In that Christ died to sin he died to sin once for all (Rom. 6:10). So believers died to sin and they live in newness of life (Rom. 6:2, 5). The unmixed grace of this release is apparent from the fact that it was by God's effectual call they were ushered into union and fellowship with Christ and therefore into the participation of his death and resurrection (1 Cor. 1:9).
Sanctification is also progressive until it is completed in glorification. It might appear that in this process there is the convergence of grace and works. We are to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12). This activity on the part of believers must not be denied. Our whole personality in its diverse aspects and activities is enlisted in the doing of God's good pleasure. But this doing means no suspension of grace. The apostle goes on to say, 'for it is God who works in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure' (Phil 2:13). Our willing and doing are altogether of God's working and therefore of grace. And this operative grace of God is not only the cause but also the urge and incentive to our activity for his good pleasure.
SOVEREIGN GRACE - The sovereignty of grace is implicit in its nature. If grace excludes the constraint of human merit, if its whole constraint and explanation reside in God, it must be of his free good pleasure. It is well to note the emphasis which the Scripture places upon this fact of sovereign will. When it speaks of the riches of God's grace (Eph. 1:7) and of what will redound 'to the praise of the glory of his grace' (Eph. 1:6), it is then that we find the reiterated reference to 'the good pleasure of his will' (Eph. 1:5), to 'the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure' (Eph. 1:9), and to 'the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will' (Eph. 1:11). To dissociate grace in its source, progress, or fruition from pure sovereignty of will is to annul not only its character but also that by which its exercise is conditioned. And Paul's teaching here is the reproduction of our Lord's--'even so, Father: for so it seemed good in thy sight' (Matt. 11:26).
The mansions of glory will eternally resound with the praise of God's grace. It is not the minimum of salvation that the saints will enjoy but salvation the highest conceivable. No higher destiny could be appointed for them than to be glorified with Christ and conformed to the image of God's own Son (Rom. 8:17, 29). Nothing but sovereign grace at the zenith of its counsel and exercise could explain such glory. For it must be placed against the desert that is ours, the blackness of darkness forever. The contrast God's grace alone can explain.
Collected Writings of John Murray, vol. I
For another article by Murray on grace, read "Irresistible Grace".
See also the essay by M. Eugene Osterhaven on "Common Grace".
* * * * *
"And Jesus said to them, I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst." (John 6:35)
In nothing does Providence shine forth more gloriously in this world than in ordering the occasions, instruments, and means of conversion of the people of God. However skilfully its hand had molded your bodies, however tenderly it had preserved them, and however bountifully it had provided for them, if it had not also ordered some means or other for your conversion, all the former favors and benefits it had done for you had meant little. This, oh this, is the most excellent benefit you ever received from its hand. You are more indebted to Providence for this than for all your other mercies. And in explaining this performance of Providence, I cannot but think your hearts must be deeply affected. This is a subject which every gracious heart loves to steep its thoughts in. It is certainly the sweetest history that ever they repeated. They love to think and talk of it. The places where and instruments by whom this work was wrought are exceedingly endeared to them. For many years afterward, their hearts have melted when they have but passed occasionally by those places, or but seen the faces of those persons that were used as instruments in the hand of Providence for their good.
But lest any poor soul should be discouraged by the display of this Providence, because he cannot remember the time, place, instruments and manner when and by which his conversion was wrought, I will therefore premise this necessary distinction to prevent injury to some, while I design benefit to others.
Conversion, as to the subjects of it, may be considered two ways: either as it is more clearly wrought in persons of riper years--who in their youthful days were more profane and vile--or upon persons in their tender years, into whose hearts grace was more imperceptibly and indiscernibly instilled by God's blessing upon pious education.
In the former sort, the distinct acts of the Spirit--illuminating, convincing, humbling, drawing them to Christ and sealing them--are more evident. In the latter, these are more obscure and confused. They can remember that God gave them an esteem and liking of godly persons, care of duty and consciousness of sin, but as to the time, place, instruments and manner of the work, they can give but a slender account of them. However, if the work is savingly wrought in them, there is no reason they should be troubled simply because the circumstances of it are not so evident to them as they are to others. Let the substance and reality of the work appear, and there is no reason to afflict yourselves because of the lack of evidence of such circumstances.
The Mystery of Providence
James Richards gives nine practical ways which show that we have "The Spirit of Christ".
* * * * *
"Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things. See how great a forest a little fire kindles! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and creature of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by mankind. But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison." (James 3:5-8)
The most degrading and offensive vice of the tongue is profanity. It is absolutely without apology, and it is inseparable from infamy. The highest rank cannot palliate [gloss over] it, the lowest cannot excuse it. It prevails, alas, among all ranks, and to a degree among both sexes. I am not now speaking of that contempt and defiance which the tongue of the infidel sometimes pours forth against the Fountain of his being and the prescriptions of his word, but of that most horrible habit of swearing--or taking the name of God in vain--which affords neither pleasure nor profit while it violates whatever is sacred and tramples underfoot a positive command: "You shall not take the name of the LORD [Yahweh] your God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain."
That the higher classes in society should indulge in this degrading vice is most astonishing. The great line of distinction between them and the lower classes is propriety of language. This marks, more strongly than any other circumstance, superiority of education, culture of mind, and select associations. This distinction they voluntarily abandon, and descend to the vulgar dialect and dreadful oaths of the uninstructed and the low for no possible gratification. And even the softer sex, who would shrink from the broad and profane oath, are nevertheless habitually guilty (especially among the higher ranks and but too universally) of using the name of their Maker with levity upon every frivolous occasion.
"Shall I not visit for these things, says the LORD?" Are we to suppose that he has given a commandment without sanctions, or that he will pass over the breach of it? He has said, "Because of swearing the land mourns," and will he not effect his declaration -- "Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away"? How frequently has he cut off the profane in the midst of their sin! And what other dreadful instances of wrath do we wait for before our boys and our females, our rulers and our population will learn to lay aside this shocking, this disgusting, this impious practice and listen to the warning voice, "Swear not at all"?
Slander is a vice of the tongue of the most pernicious quality. Next to inventing falsehood of another, is the crime of admitting it without scruple and giving it circulation. Some persons seem to live for no other purpose than either to tell or to hear some new thing; but from a moral obliquity [mental perversity], they can see nothing amiable in another, hear nothing favorable, and tell nothing honorable. They visit, converse (I had almost said worship) for no other end, and the very sanctuary becomes sometimes, and with some professors, the mart where reputations are bartered and the altar on which character is sacrificed by looks, by whispers, by insinuations. An adjournment from the pew to the tea table removes all restraint from the tongue and gives all scope to the rancorous principle. Such employment of the tongue is odious in all men, most inexcusable in professors, but detestable beyond all reach of censure in ministers.
Levity appears a venial offense, but it may have a disastrous issue. Trifles in themselves become of serious consequence in their results. Lightness of speech has sometimes terminated fatally. An unguarded expression has led to murder. A sarcasm has implanted in the offended bosom implacable hatred. And general levity of speech both indicates a trifling spirit and induces pernicious effects upon the moral feeling. It is worthy to remark in what a dark association the apostle places habitual jesting: "But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints; neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks." He who accustoms himself to habitual levity of speech encourages a licentiousness of spirit which will render him familiar with evil, and may by degrees initiate him into the darkest mysteries of practical impurity.
Selections from Theological Lectures (condensed)
A helpful sermon is "Christians the Representatives of Christ" by William H. Odenheimer.
* * * * *
"And He said to them, 'Come aside by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.' For there were many coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat." (Mark 6:31)
This is not the speech of an old man but of quite a young man, barely thirty-three years of age, and who is burdened with the superlative ministry of the redemption of the race. All the arrangements of His public life are made on the assumption of its brevity. And yet He made time for rest! Sometimes we allow the sacredness of our labor to tempt us to regard rest as indolence, and relaxation as waste. True rest is the minister of progress. The hour of seclusion enriches the public service.
What were the special circumstances which impelled our Lord to call His disciples apart? They were twofold. They had just experienced the shock of a great sorrow. John the Baptist had been done to death. The deed had come upon them as an awful collision with their rosiest expectancies. The great Deliverer was near; the Kingdom was at hand; the Divine sovereignty was about to be established; on the morrow He would be on the throne! And yet, here was the pioneer of the kingdom, in the very dawning of the victory, destroyed by the powers of the world. The disciples were stunned and bewildered. The world of their visions and imaginations tottered like a house of dreams. And it was in this season of mental confusion that our Lord called them apart to rest.
But, in the second place, there was the constant distraction of the ubiquitous crowd. "There were many coming and going." There is a strangely exciting interest about a multitude. It whips up the life to a most unhealthy speed and tension. And the peril is that we do not realize the intensity when we are in it. When we are on board ship we do not realize how noisy the engines have been until for a moment they cease. We are not conscious of the roar and haste of the traffic of Ludgate Hill until we turn aside into St. Paul's. And it is even so with the influence of a crowd. It acts upon us like an opiate. It externalizes our life, it draws all our interests to the outsides of things, and we are almost unconscious of the distraction. And this was the mesmeric influence in which the disciples were constantly moving. The outsides of things were becoming too obtrusive and the insides of things were becoming dim. And these same two presences are with us today, the calamity and the crowd, the ministers of bewilderment and distraction. And to us, as to the disciples, the call comes from the Redeemer Himself, "Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place and rest a while."
Now what will these deliberately contrived seasons of spiritual rest do for the stunned and distracted soul? In the first place, they will help us to realize the reality of the invisible, the immediacy of "things not seen." I know that if we were spiritual experts, this fine perception would be experienced everywhere. But the possibility in public is conditioned by experiences in private. If we are to have a real sense of God in the crowd, it must be by discipline in secret. We require special centers if we would spread the healthy influence over the life. One special day of rest is demanded if the entire week is to become a Sabbath. One special place is to be sanctified if the Lord is to be apprehended everywhere. In my own experience, I know that the shocks of the day and the distractions of the crowd tend to remove the Invisible into the dim background until the Invisible plays no mighty and awe-inspiring part in our lives. It is apart, in the awed quietness and individual loneliness, that the Invisible rears Himself like a great mountain. When the pressure of external circumstances is relaxed and we are alone, the veil of the temple parts asunder and we are in the holy of holies, and we know ourselves to be in the presence of God. If we practice that Presence in the special moment, it will abide with us through the hour.
In the second place, by going apart for rest we shall gain a bird's-eye view of the field of life and duty. In the midst of life's moving affairs we see life fragmentarily and not entire. We note a text, but not a context. We see items, but we are blind to their relationships. We see facts, but we do not mark their far-reaching issue and destiny. We are often ill-informed as to the true size of a thing which looms large in the immediate moment. Things seen within narrow walls assume an appalling bulk. A lion in your backyard is one thing; with a continent to move in, it is quite another. There are many feverish and threatening crises which would dwindle into harmless proportions if only we saw them in calm detachment. There are some things which we can never see with true interpretation until we get away from them. There is nothing more hideous and confusing than an oil painting when viewed at the distance of an inch. To see it we must get away from it. Detachment is essential to the comprehension of the whole, and therefore to the discernment of a part.
It is not otherwise with life. We are often too much in the thick of things to see them. We cannot see the wood for the trees, the whole for the part, the life for the living. "Come ye apart!" Leave this and that and the other; and from the place of sacred and restful detachment look over the entire field of life and duty, of purpose and destiny, and the fragment shall take its appointed place in the vast design and shall no longer masquerade as an appalling and overwhelming totality.
Sometimes this season of discerning detachment is forced upon us by the ministry of sickness. The Lord says to a long-time healthy man, "Come apart, I have something to say to you. I have things to show you which you have forgotten, or which you have never seen." And then the man is detached by sickness from the immediate labors to which he has been applying himself with fierce and blinding quest. And what frequently happens, as the outcome of the seclusion, is a transformed conception of life and destiny: "I see things quite differently now!" He had been engrossed in fireworks and had forgotten the stars. He had been busy building and enlarging his barns and had overlooked his mighty soul. He had been feverish about the transient, and negligent of the eternal. "Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now-------!" In the season of seclusion he obtained a corrected vision.
And sometimes a holiday provides the requisite apartness, when life passes in review and we apprehend its true significance and proportion. I think this is peculiarly true of a minister and his ministry. We are so apt to become riveted to the mere organization, and overlook the very products for which it was devised. We become engrossed with agricultural implements, and we forget the harvest. . . . And what is pertinent for the ministry would be surely fruitful to all men. We may use our holiday times as seasons for looking at things from the standpoint of healthy detachment and noting the real quality and bearings of our work, its drift and ultimate destiny.
But what holidays and sicknesses sometimes accomplish we can achieve by more immediate devices of our own choosing. By deliberately retiring from the pressure of our besieging work we can ordain a seclusion-chamber, where we can look at things in the calming, cooling, sanctifying presence of the Lord. In that sacred detachment many obscure things will become clear: "When I thought to know this it was too painful for me; until I went into the sanctuary; then understood I . . ." And in this sacred detachment many previous emphases will be changed. Many a valley shall be exalted and many a mountain and hill shall be made low. The thing that seemed tremendous shall sink into a plain, and some things which we had almost ignored shall rear themselves as the very hills of God. . . .
Now there is nothing that so refreshes the entire man as deep, quiet waiting upon God. Every other refreshment may be welcome, but it is only partial and will leave some weary power still impaired. Get the soul restored and every part of the being will feel the mighty influence of its rejuvenation. . . . "They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint."
The Silver Lining
Read William Paley's sermon on Luke 5:16, "And he withdrew himself into the wilderness and prayed."
* * * * *
"A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a certain priest came down that road. And when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. Likewise a Levite, when he arrived at the place, came and looked, and passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was. And when he saw him, he had compassion. So he went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him." (Luke 10:30-34)
This parable is connected with a question addressed to Jesus by a lawyer, probably an expert in Jewish Canon Law. The question was one of theoretic, not of practical interest, nor was it a matter of deep personal concern, as it was to the rich young ruler who, not long afterwards, addressed a similar inquiry to the Lord.
"Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" At the foundation of this question lay the notion that eternal life was the reward of merit, of works. The only question was what these works were to be. The idea of guilt had not entered his mind, as he had no conception of sin within. Jesus responds using the common Rabbinic expression, "What readest thou?" which pointed him to the Scriptures of the Old Testament. "Thou shalt love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself." Jesus answers him, "You have answered rightly. Do this and you will live."
Why did Christ seem to give his assent to the lawyer's answer, as if it really pointed to the right solution of the great question? We reply, no other answer could have been given him. On the ground of works, if that had been tenable, this was the way to heaven. To understand any other answer would have required a sense of sin, and this could not be imparted by reasoning but must be experienced.
The lawyer replies, "But who is my neighbor?" He wished to vindicate his original question, showing that it was not quite so easily settled as the answer of Jesus seemed to imply. And here it was that Christ could, in a parable, show how far orthodox Judaism was from even a true understanding, much more from such perfect observance, of this Law as would gain heaven. Thus might he bring even this man to feel his shortcomings and sins and awaken in him a sense of his great need.
The parable is familiar to us all. The priest and Levite both passed by the stricken man. The Samaritan, on the other hand, not only tended to his injuries, but brought him to an inn, paying for his care. The lawyer is then himself made to enunciate its lesson. Jesus asks, "Which of these three seems to you to have become neighbor to him that fell among the robbers?" Though unwilling to take the hated name of Samaritan on his lips, especially as the meaning of the parable and its anti-Rabbinic bearing were so evident, the lawyer was obliged to reply, "He that showed mercy on him."
The parable implies a complete change of Jewish ideas. It is truly a Gospel parable, for the whole old relationship of mere duty is changed into one of love. Thus, matters are placed on an entirely different basis from that of Judaism. The question now is not, "Who is my neighbor?" but "Whose neighbor am I?" The gospel answers the question of duty by pointing us to love.
Would you know who is your neighbor? Become a neighbor to all by the utmost service you can do them in their need. The parable points to Christ who, in our greatest need, became neighbor to us, even at the cost of all he had.
The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah
You will enjoy Alexander Maclaren's sermon "No Difference".
* * * * *
"Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needs not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth." (2 Timothy 2:15)
Every one reading this book knows that the sixth President of the United States was John Quincy Adams (1767-1848), but how many have ever had the thrilling experience of reading the remarkable letters which he wrote to his son while he, the father, was Minister of the United States to Russia? Perhaps before we look at the letters themselves, those which have revealed the author's own personal habits of Bible study, we might refresh our minds for a moment in regard to Adams' personal history.
With little early schooling he accompanied his father to France in 1778. After a short training in French and Latin in an academy at Passy, he returned to America, but went to France again in 1779 and attended the Latin School at Amsterdam. He matriculated into Leyden University in January, 1781, but soon went to St. Petersburg as secretary to Francis Dana, United States Minister to Russia. In 1783 he returned to The Hague and resumed his classics under Dumas, the Editor of Vattel. On the father's appointment to the London mission the son determined to return to America, entered Harvard College as a junior, graduated in 1787, studied law at Newburyport under Theophilus Parsons, afterwards chief justice of Massachusetts, and was admitted to practice July 15, 1790. Thus, by the age of twenty-three, Adams had an education that could hardly be surpassed, and a rich experience in the capitals of Europe such as no young American of his day could boast of.
In 1809, when only thirty-two years of age, he was appointed by President Madison as United States Minister to Russia, and later, as Minister to the Court of St. James, in London. He was invited by President Monroe to become Secretary of State in his cabinet, in 1817, and in 1825 was elected the sixth President of the United States. Two years after the close of his term he was elected to the twenty-second Congress, and had the distinction of being returned for eight successive congresses, over a period of seventeen years. The verdict of such a man should carry as much weight as that of any man in public life in our country today. (A most interesting book would be one devoted to the religious convictions of all our Presidents.)
During his residence in St. Petersburg the future President of the United States wrote to his son, who was studying in a school in Massachusetts, a series of letters that have become famous. Those that have been published are devoted almost entirely to exhortations to read the Word of God. To give added effect to his earnest pleas, the father revealed some of his own habits of reading the Scriptures. "So great is my veneration for the Bible," he wrote, "and so strong my belief, that when duly read and meditated on, it is of all books in the world, that which contributes most to make men good, wise, and happy--that the earlier my children begin to read it, the more steadily they pursue the practice of reading it throughout their lives, the more lively and confident will be my hopes that they will prove useful citizens to their country, respectable members of society, and a real blessing to their parents.
"I advise you, my son, in whatever you read, and most of all in reading the Bible, to remember that it is for the purpose of making you wiser and more virtuous. I have myself, for many years, made it a practice to read through the Bible once every year. I have always endeavored to read it with the same spirit and temper of mind which I now recommend to you: that is, with the intention and desire that it may contribute to my advancement in wisdom and virtue. My custom is, to read four or five chapters every morning, immediately after rising from my bed. It employs about an hour of my time, and seems to me the most suitable manner of beginning the day. But, as other cares, duties, and occupations engage the remainder of it, I have perhaps never a sufficient portion of my time in meditation, upon what I have read. Every time I read the Book through, I understand some passages which I never understood before, and which I should have done, at a former reading, had it been effected with a sufficient degree of attention." It has been stated, upon good authority, that Mr. Adams continued these faithful daily habits of reading the Bible throughout his life, even during his crowded days while living in Washington.
He brings to a close this particular series of letters to his son with this final exhortation and prayer: "To read the Bible is of itself a laudable occupation and can scarcely fail of being a useful employment of time, but the habit of reflecting upon what you have read is equally essential as that of reading itself, to give it all the efficacy of which it is capable. I therefore recommend to you to set apart a small portion of every day to read one or more chapters of the Bible. . . . As an expedient for fixing your attention, make it also a practice for some time to put down in writing your reflections upon what you read from day to day; you may perhaps at first find this irksome, and your reflections scanty and unimportant, but they will soon become both easy and copious.
"And may the merciful Creator, Who gave the Scriptures for our instruction, bless your study of them, and make them to you 'fruitful of good works.'"
Emerson, who heard him in his later years, remarked: "No man could read the Bible with such powerful effect." It is of significance that Mr. Adams was a Vice President of the American Bible Society from 1818 to the time of his death, a period of thirty years.
Profitable Bible Study
Be sure to read Alexander Maclaren's sermon entitled "The Ideal Statesman".
* * * * *
"For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for himself his own special people zealous for good works." (Titus 2:11-14)
Zeal is a mixed affection, a compound of love and anger. It carries forth our love to God and anger against sin in the most intense manner. But there is something that looks like zeal which is not. I shall therefore show some differences between a true and a false zeal.
A false zeal is a blind zeal. 'They have a zeal of God but not according to knowledge' (Rom. 10:2). This is not the fire of the spirit, but wildfire.
A false zeal is a self-seeking zeal. Jehu cries, 'Come, see my zeal for the Lord!' (2 Kgs. 10:16). But it was not zeal, but ambition; he was fishing for a crown. Demetrius pleads for the goddess Diana, but it was not for her temple. It was her silver shrines that he was zealous for. It is probable that many in King Henry VIII's time were eager to pull down the abbeys, not out of any zeal against popery, but that they might build their own houses upon their ruins.
True zeal will encounter the greatest difficulties. When the world holds out danger to discourage us, zeal casts out fear. It is quickened by opposition, and will march in the face of death. Let news be brought to Paul that he was waylaid: 'in every city bonds and afflictions' awaited him. This set a keener edge upon his zeal: 'I am ready not to be bound only, but also to die for the name of the Lord Jesus' (Acts 21:13).
Christian, as you would be found in the catalog of the godly, strive for zeal. It is better to be of no religion than not to be zealous in religion. Beware of sloth, which is an enemy to zeal. What do you reserve your zeal for? Is it for your gold that perishes, or your passions that will make you perish? Can you bestow your zeal better than upon God? Was not Jesus Christ zealous for you? He sweat drops of blood, he conflicted with his Father's wrath. How zealous he was for your redemption, and have you no zeal for him?
Zeal makes all our religious performances prevail with God. When the iron is red hot, it enters best, and when our services are red hot with zeal, they pierce heaven soonest.
The Godly Man's Picture
You will find Theodor Zahn's sermon, "The Promise of Success", quite helpful.
* * * * *
"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law." (Galatians 5:22, 23)
True spirituality will manifest itself in many ways in the life of the believer -- ways which in themselves will bespeak the blessedness of walking in the Spirit. Among these is the combination of graces which Paul, by the Spirit, calls "The fruit of the Spirit."
First, it should be observed that "the Spirit" here refers, not to "the spirit of man which is in him," but to the Spirit of God who indwells the believer and causes him to bring forth good fruit. This is evident, both from the context here in Gal. 5 and from what we are told of "the spirit of man" in I Cor. 2:11. These spiritual graces, then, do not spring from any natural goodness in us, but from the indwelling Spirit of God.
Next it should be noted that in contrast to "the works of the flesh" we have here "the fruit of the Spirit." These graces are not the product of human energy but the natural result of life and growth.
The reader will recognize at a glance the difference between these spiritual virtues and those which the world fosters and boasts of. Here we have the delicate and beautiful finish, so to speak, of God's workmanship. This is not to concede that it is superficial or merely outward, for, as we have pointed out, it is the outflow of the Spirit's work within.
Let us briefly consider these graces, possessed by believers in the measure that they yield to the Spirit's control.
Love. Here we must begin, for love is the great motivating force behind the truly spiritual life. "The love of Christ constrains us" (II Cor. 5:14). Faith "works by love" (Gal. 5:6). It is "by love" that we are to "serve one another" (Gal. 5:13). Indeed, though we give our all for others, if this is not done out of genuine love it will profit us nothing (I Cor. 13:3). This is as it should be, for Christian service is truly blessed only in the measure that it is sincerely done and springs from heart-felt love.
Joy. The truly spiritual life is by no means a dull or unhappy one. Indeed, true spirituality is the key to true blessedness. And joy, be it noted, runs far deeper than mere happiness or that natural cheerfulness which many of the unsaved possess. The original word (chara) is a close relative to the word grace (Gr., charis). True joy is anchored deep in God Himself. It springs from (1) a knowledge of what God has done for us and is to us (I Thes. 1:6) and (2) a consciousness that, being in His will, we are the recipients of His very best (II Cor. 8:1,2). This can be the fruit of the Spirit alone (Rom. 14:17).
Peace. Another blessed fruit of the Spirit! It begins with "peace with God," appropriated by faith in Christ (Rom. 5:1), is followed by "the peace of God," which garrisons the heart and mind however dark the hour (Phil. 4:7), and naturally results in an attitude of peace, or peacefulness, toward others (Rom. 12:18; II Cor. 13:11; I Thes. 5:13). Pity those believers who fail to "walk in the Spirit," lose "the blessedness" and "bite and devour one another" (Gal. 4:15; 5:15,16) instead of bearing this blessed fruit.
Longsuffering. The idea here is that of patience, particularly with the failures of others. This virtue naturally follows love, joy and peace, and is, again, distinctly a fruit of the Spirit. How often we find it linked with graces not stressed in worldly society: "Forbearance," "kindness," "meekness," etc.
Gentleness. The root of this work is variously rendered "easy," "better," "kind," "good," "gracious." It has the idea of gentle kindness toward another. This, despite the callousness of the world about him, will be a characteristic of every truly spiritual believer. Nor will this indicate weakness; indeed, it will indicate superior strength. Only the strong can afford to be gentle. God is almighty, yet He dealt with us in gentle kindness and thus led us to repentance (Rom. 2:4).
Goodness. Following again in natural sequence, the idea here is not that of personal righteousness, but rather of a disposition to do good. The same root is found in Gal. 6:10, where we are exhorted: "As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith." How this all makes for objective living!
Faith. The word faith here, however, is not used objectively, but subjectively. It does not refer to what one does, but rather to a quality he possesses. It does not denote trust, but fidelity or worthiness to be trusted, as in Rom. 3:3; Gal. 2:15, 16, 20; 3:22, etc. "All men have not faith," wrote Paul, referring not merely to unbelievers but to "unreasonable and wicked men," who could not be trusted (II Thes. 3:2). By contrast every believer should be worthy of the confidence and trust of others at all times. Fidelity again follows the other moral virtues in natural sequence and is also a fruit of the Spirit.
Meekness. The meaning of this word is clear from its usage in the immediate context (6:1) where we read, with respect to the brother overtaken in a fault: "Ye who are spiritual, restore such a one in the spirit of meekness; considering yourself, lest you also be tempted." It refers to that mildness of attitude and manner which, in our case, springs from the realization that we too are liable to fall before temptation. It is a mildness which springs from a proper humility and recognition of our own weakness. How can I be harsh and severe toward a fallen brother when I, myself, am so liable to stumble and fall? Yet, meekness if not a natural trait where the sins of others are concerned. It is a fruit which only the Spirit can produce and, as such, follows naturally after faith, or personal fidelity. The writer's mother used to teach him in childhood to be very exacting with one's self but very understanding with others. This is not the way of the world.
Temperance. Temperance, or self-control, is the crowning grace of all, assuming that the others are already possessed. Few believers realize how important a place self-control should have in our lives. They think of it only in connection with eating, drinking and pleasure, and fail to realize the place it should have in our entire conduct and conversation as believers. Indeed, self-control should be exercised even in our worship. How many sincere but untaught believers there are who, loving the Lord with all their hearts, yet forgetting the majesty of the Godhead and the wonder of His work in our behalf, address Him as "dear Jesus" and praise Him with shallow love songs, as if He were some earthly lover. . . .
The truly spiritual person will not go to excesses of any kind, but will, by the Spirit, exercise self-control in his eating and drinking, in his conversation and conduct -- even in his prayer and praise. May God help us, in these evil and frivolous days, also to bear this fruit of the Spirit!
Referring to those who do bear the Spirit's fruit, the apostle says: "Against such there is no law" (Gal. 5:23). Of course not! Those who are led of the Spirit need not be placed under law, nor can they be condemned by it (vers. 16,18).
* * * * *
"And when Esau heard the words of his father, he cried with a great and exceeding bitter cry, and said to his father, 'Bless me, even me also, O my father.' " (Genesis 27:34)
I need scarcely dwell on the character of Esau, as it is painted in the sacred narrative. Making allowance for the rude habits of the patriarchal age, he is not essentially different in character from a very large number among ourselves. He has just the same virtues and just the same faults. He is the father's favorite son; he is born to great hopes; he has brilliant prospects before him; his career is in his own hands; his lot may well be envied by others. But all is thrown away upon him. He is reckless of his opportunities; he is insensible to his blessings; he loses everything by one desperate act of folly; he finds out too late the value of what he has lost; he would give anything to recover it, when recovering it is hopeless. And yet his character is far from utterly vicious. Of such a man we might say, that he is no one's enemy but his own.
Nor do I think that the guilt of Esau will seem so much deeper in comparison with that which we may incur, when we consider the nature of the privilege which he despised, of the blessing which he threw away. True it is that the promise which pertained to Esau--the promise given to Abraham and renewed to Isaac--was something more than the possession of lands and flocks and houses; that his birthright implied more than mere rank or wealth or earthly power. He knew that by virtue of his birthright he was destined to be the father of the chosen seed; that in him all the families of the earth should be blessed; that from his race as concerning the flesh Christ was to come, the Redeemer of the whole world. This he knew, or might have known. This inheritance he bartered for a morsel of meat. For this he is condemned and branded as a profane person.
It was no common offense then of which Esau was guilty. It was perhaps as great an offense as in his position he could have committed. Yet it is not greater than that which we shall commit, if like him we despise our birthright. For have we not an inheritance more precious still--we who are heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ--a name more glorious than his, for it is a name better than of sons and of daughters? If he might have been the father of Messiah's race, how much greater is our privilege, to whom is accorded a far more intimate, because a spiritual, relationship? "Whosoever shall do the will of My Father Which is in heaven, the same is My brother and sister and mother." Are we tempted to barter away this brilliant inheritance for some worldly consideration, for some momentary advantage, for wealth or popularity or fame or ease or pleasure? Is not the price we give as ruinous, the exchange we get as worthless, as it was with Esau?
There are two circumstances however in the story of Esau which it may be well to dwell on more at length, for from these we may derive the most valuable lesson. Yet at first sight they only perplex us. They seem not only to palliate the guilt, but almost to obliterate the offense. They lead us to look upon him as the victim rather than the culprit, as sinned against rather than sinning. The first of these is the circumstance that he is surprised into selling his birthright. It is a momentary, unpremeditated act; he falls into a snare laid for him. We feel disposed therefore not to judge him too harshly. We cannot regard his offense as very heinous. In the second place, though the loss of the birthright was certainly his own act (whatever excuse we may make for it), yet he was deprived of the blessing by no fault of his. By no reasonable foresight could he have prevented it. He made some efforts at least to obtain that blessing; he did not throw it away. He was robbed of it. Surely this cannot be laid to his charge. Of this at least he is innocent.
In considering the first of these points, let us ask ourselves what is meant by being surprised into such and such a sinful act, what leads to it, what state of mind it supposes, how it comes about. In a certain sense indeed Esau is surprised into selling his birthright. He returns from the field hungry and faint. He asks for food. His brother will not give it him except at the price of his birthright. He yields. "Behold," he says, "I am at the point to die, and what profit shall this birthright do to me?" But is this yielding an isolated act? Does it not show a defective character? Does it not betoken a certain spiritual depravity--a low, worldly view of his position? He "despised his birthright," we are told, and therefore he is branded as "a profane person."
For indeed surprise would be utterly powerless unless the character were previously undermined. And so it is no excuse for a sinful act; it is scarcely in any degree a palliation. It is rather a revelation of secret depravity in a man, hidden successfully from his neighbors, ignored by--but not unknown--to himself. After the flagrant deed is committed, others may be at a loss to account for it. It is unexplained to them by anything in his previous career. But to himself it is clear enough. To him it is not an isolated act, but one link in a long chain of evil. He has been aware all along that he was sinking into sin. He has thrust away the troublesome thought, but he has been aware of it. He has taken no measure, it may be, of the growth of his guilt. It has ripened into grievous sin unnoticed. In no other sense can it have been a surprise to him. For all the while the seed was there, and had taken root, and the noxious plant was growing. And he knew it, and he hid it from others, and he would not confess it perhaps even to himself.
And so it was with Esau. It was not that one act of selling his birthright which constituted his guilt. That was but the revelation of his true character, the summing up, as it were, of his depravity.
But fearful as is the lesson which this incident suggests, it is not half so fearful as that which we derive from his subsequent fate. He bartered away his birthright, but how was it with the blessing? It was by no act of his own that he lost this. There is nothing in the narrative which leads us to such a supposition. There was no unholy traffic here, no profane contempt here. He did not drive the blessing away; it went in spite of him. The key to this difficulty is found in the allusion in the Epistle to the Hebrews. The loss of the blessing is there represented as the inevitable consequence of the sale of his birthright: "Ye know that afterwards, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected." His fate up to a certain point was in his own hands; after that it was placed beyond his reach.
So it was with Esau, and so it is always with the downward course of guilt. We may wade for a time amidst the shallows of sin, feeling our footing and heedless of danger. A single step more places us at the mercy of the waves, and we are swept away into the ocean of ruin. When we read of God's hardening the sinner's heart, we are perhaps startled at the phrase, yet there is no doubt that it represents a fearful moral truth. The sinner after a time ceases to be his own master. He has coiled a chain about him which binds him hand and foot. He is dragged helplessly down. The thought that our hearts also may be hardened, that we too may shut ourselves out from the presence of God, should be sufficient to check us in our downward career.
And even supposing this deadness should not pervade our whole spiritual being, may not the yielding to our special temptation, the indulgence in our favorite sin, stiffen and paralyze some limb or other of our moral frame? Do we not every now and then see an instance of this? We are brought in contact with someone who, thoroughly conscientious in most things, keenly sensitive on many points of duty, is yet hardened in some one point of his moral constitution--seems dead to some moral virtue. Yet such cases are exceptional. It is the tendency of this paralysis to spread. It seizes on one limb first, but presently it extends to all. The moral frame, like the bodily, is compacted and knit together in a marvelous way. There is a wonderful sympathy between limb and limb. "Whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honored, all the members rejoice with it."
In what I have said, I have been speaking the language of warning and not the language of despair. Despair is no word of the Christian's vocabulary. So long as there is any heavenward aspiration, any loathing of sin, any yearning after better things (however slight, however feeble), there is still hope. Cherish these higher feelings. Quench not the Spirit, though it flicker faintly and lowly. From these few sparks a bright flame may be kindled, which shall cheer your heart, and throw a light upon your path, and guide you home to your heavenly rest.
Cambridge Sermons (condensed)
You will want to read this enlightening sermon by Howard Crosby, "The Philosophy of Temptation."
* * * * *
"Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?" (Matthew 6:25,26)
In the above passage, Christ reproves that excessive anxiety about food and clothing with which men torment themselves, and at the same time applies a remedy for curing this disease. When he forbids them to be anxious, this is not to be taken literally, as if he intended to take away from his people all care. We know that men are born on the condition of having some care, and, indeed, this is not the least portion of the miseries which the Lord has laid upon us as a punishment in order to humble us. But immoderate care is condemned for two reasons. First, in so doing, men tease and vex themselves to no purpose by carrying their anxiety farther than is proper. Second, they claim more for themselves than they have a right to do, and place such a reliance on their own industry that they neglect to call upon God. We ought to remember this promise: Though unbelievers shall "rise up early and sit up late and eat the bread of sorrows," yet believers will obtain, through the kindness of God, "rest and sleep" (Psalm 127:2). Though the children of God are not free from toil and anxiety, yet, properly speaking, we do not say that they are anxious about life, because, through their reliance on the providence of God, they enjoy calm repose.
Hence it is easy to learn how far we ought to be anxious about food. Each of us ought to labor as far as his calling requires and the Lord commands. And each of us ought to be led by his own needs to call upon God. Such anxiety holds an intermediate place between indolent carelessness and the unnecessary torments by which unbelievers kill themselves. But if we give proper attention to the words of Christ, we shall find that he does not forbid every kind of care, but only what arises from distrust. Be not anxious about what you shall eat or what you shall drink. That belongs to those who tremble for fear of poverty or hunger, as if they were to be in need of food every moment.
Is not the life of more value than food? He argues from the greater to the less. He had forbidden them to be excessively anxious about the way in which life might be supported, and he now assigns the reason. The Lord, who has given life itself, will not suffer us to lack what is necessary for its support. And certainly we do no small dishonor to God when we fail to trust that he will give us necessary food or clothing, as if he had thrown us on the earth at random. He who is fully convinced that the Author of our life has an intimate knowledge of our condition, will entertain no doubt that he will make abundant provision for our needs. Whenever we are seized by any fear or anxiety about food, let us remember that God will take care of the life which he gave us.
Take time to read "Providence - Mysterious" by Bishop Jonathan Weaver.
* * * * *
"Then He came the third time and said to them, 'Are you still sleeping and resting? It is enough! The hour has come; behold, the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners.' " (Mark 14:41)
I am afraid that there are men--and Christian men--who can allow themselves the pitiable luxury of weeping over fiction but who have no tears to shed with Jesus in Gethsemane. They regard it as a waste of time to dwell upon the circumstantial statements of the gospel, which cannot be reduced to abstract, systematic form. Or, at best, they are contented with a cold, dry knowledge of the facts related. They do not regard it as a matter of feeling; they would be ashamed to do so. I speak the experience of some who hear me. But ought this so to be? We must go back to the simple faith and feelings of our childhood. We must, at least in this respect, become little children. Those same imaginations, which have so often been the ministers of sin, must be used for better purposes. By their aid we must stand on Olivet and Gethsemane, mix with the rabble which surrounds the master, hear the deep imprecation of the Roman soldier and the louder curses of the Jewish mob, follow to the house of the High Priest and the Pretorium, look at the false Procurator as he dooms the innocent and vainly tries to wash the blood away with water. But I need not go further. Fix your thoughts, I pray you, on these scenes as real scenes, and try to see and hear as if the sights and sounds were present to your senses. Having so done, let us gather from this night scene in Gethsemane the lessons which it teaches for our own instruction.
The first is, that the Son of Man may even now be betrayed into the hands of sinners. Men are apt to imagine that had they lived in the time of Christ, they would not thus and thus have treated him. This is, for the most part, mere illusion. They who hate Christ now would have hated him then. They who despise him unseen would have spurned him to his face. They who maltreat his members would have persecuted him. This is a test proposed by Christ himself. That which is done to the humblest of his followers, as such, is done to him. The interests of Christ's church are the interests of Christ. The enemies of Christ's church are the enemies of Christ. Even in our own day Christ may be betrayed. He may be betrayed by his own disciples. He may be betrayed with a kiss. For such treason the ungodly world is waiting. There are always sinners to receive him at the traitor's hands and pay the traitor's wages.
He can no longer be betrayed by the delivery of his person into hostile hands. But the disposition to surrender him to enemies may still exist--a disposition to procure the favor of the world at his expense. In short, the same state of feeling may now operate in various directions and in various forms which, if the Saviour were now present upon earth, would cause him to be first forsaken, then betrayed.
In this sense, for example, it may well be said that the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners when the truth respecting him is given up to errorists, or cavillers [quibblers], or infidels; when his divinity is called in question; when his eternal Sonship is degraded or denied; when the sinless perfection of his human nature is tainted by the breath of dubious speculation; when his atonement is disfigured and perverted; when the value of his cross and bloody passion is depreciated; when his place in the system of free grace is taken from him and bestowed on something else; when the purchase of his agonies is made to be the purchase of our own good works; when faith in him as a means of salvation is exchanged for mere submission to the government of God; when his present existence, as a man, is forgotten; when his personal presence, as a God, is overlooked; when his exaltation and his future coming are lost sight of by his people. By conceding so much to the unbeliever, we betray the Saviour to him to be buffeted and spit upon.
To mention only one other example: Christ is betrayed into the hands of sinners when his gospel is perverted, his example dishonored, and himself represented as the minister of sin. The honor of the Saviour is in some sense committed to the care of his disciples. And this sacred trust is shamefully betrayed when they give the world occasion, in despising them, to treat their master with contempt. O Christian! Have you ever thought that every inconsistent and unworthy act of yours is one step towards betraying Him whom you profess to love? And if, while you thus habitually act, you hold fast your profession, it is only adding the betrayer's kiss to the betrayer's perfidy. My first remark, then, is that even now the Son of Man may be betrayed into the hands of sinners.
Another thought which I suggest is, that when the cause of Christ is about to be betrayed into the hands of sinners, his disciples are to watch--to watch unto prayer--lest they enter into temptation. This is incumbent upon all disciples, but especially on some. And among those there is many a bold, self-trusting Peter, and many a Boanerges. Those who are office-bearers in the Church are the honored but responsible companions of their Master in the day of trial. He asks not for the exertion of their strength in his behalf. He asks not for their sympathy. He asks not for their prayers. But he does demand their vigilance. When he looks upon the purchase of his blood spoiled and ravaged by the enemy, his little flock pursued and torn by wolves, his vineyard spoiled and trodden by wild beasts, the great Intercessor pours out his own cries and tears before the Father. And although he says no more "My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death," he does say (and to you, my brethren) "Tarry ye here and watch with me."
Another thought, and that a melancholy one, is that when Christ's disciples are thus left to watch while he is interceding with the Father, they too often fall asleep. Some, in the touching language of the gospel, may be "sleeping for sorrow." But oh, how many others sleep for sloth and sheer indifference. And if any sleep for sorrow, they do wrong. For when our Saviour found his chosen friends asleep upon their post, he aroused them and reproached them with that mild expostulation, "Could ye not watch with me one hour?" He said, indeed, as if to extenuate their guilt, that the spirit was willing though the flesh was weak. But even admitting what is commonly supposed--that flesh and spirit here mean soul and body--it does not follow that their slumber was excusable. Christ would not repeatedly have roused them from an innocent and necessary slumber. Much less was it excusable if, as some excellent interpreters have thought, spirit here means the better principle, the new heart, and flesh the remnant of indwelling sin. If this be so, it was hardness of heart and spiritual sloth that made them sleep for sorrow.
Oh, my brethren! If your hearts are full of sorrow because men make void God's law, it is no time for you to sleep! The Church, Christ's weeping bride, and the dying souls of men are at your pillow, shrieking in your ears, like the shipmaster in the ears of Jonah, "What meanest thou, O sleeper? Arise, call upon thy God, if so be that God will think upon us, that we perish not." But alas! This warning voice is often heard in vain. Amidst a world lying in wickedness, amidst the untold miseries produced by sin, amidst the dying agonies of unsaved souls as they go down to their perdition, amidst the fierce attacks of open enemies upon the Son of Man and the devices of false followers to betray him to those enemies, his friends--his chosen friends--sleep on.
You will want to read J. C. Ryle's exposition of the "Parable of the Ten Virgins".
* * * * *
"Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil;
for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me."
Now we shall consider how God's Providence will be of singular use to us in our dying hour: It will sweeten our death to us and greatly assist our faith in this last encounter. We find that when Jacob died, he reflected upon the dealings of God with him in the various providences of his life. In like manner, we find Joshua recording the providences of God when at the brink of the grave. They were the subject of his dying discourse. And I cannot but think it is a sweet close to the life of any Christian. It must needs sweeten the deathbed to recount there the several remarkable passages of God's care and love to us from our beginning to that day, to reflect upon the mercies that went along with us all the way when we are come to the end of it. Oh, Christian, treasure up these instances for such a time as that is, that you may go out of the world blessing God for all the goodness and truth he has performed for you all your life long.
The time of death is when souls are usually most violently assaulted by Satan with horrid temptations and black suggestions. We may say of that figurative, as it is said of the natural serpent, 'he never exerts his utmost rage till the last encounter,' and then his great design is to persuade the saints that God does not love them, has no care nor regard for them or their cries. Though they pray for ease and cry for sparing mercy, they see none comes. He handles them with as much roughness and severity as other men; yea, many of the vilest and most dissolute wretches endure less torments and are more gently handled than they. 'There are no bands in their death,' whereas you must go through a long lane of sickness to the grave.
But what credit can these plausible tales of Satan obtain with a Christian who has been treasuring up all his life-long the memorials of God's tender regard, both to his needs and prayers, and who has carefully marked the evident returns of his prayers and gracious condescensions of God to him from his beginning to that moment? In this case, his faith is mightily assisted by thousands of experiences which back and encourage it, and will not let the soul give up so easily a truth that he has so often felt and tasted. I am sure, says he, God has had a tender fatherly care of me ever since I became His. He never failed me yet in any former difficulty, and I cannot believe He will do so now. I know His love is like Himself, unchangeable. 'Having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end.'
At death the saints are engaged in the last and one of the most eminent works of faith--even the committing of themselves into the hands of God--when they are launching forth into that vast eternity and entering into that new state which will make so great a change in a moment. Oh, what a sweet thing then it will be to close our lives with an honorable account of the ways of God, and to go out of the world blessing Him for all the mercies and truth that He has performed to us!
The Mystery of Providence
You will also enjoy A. A. Hodge's lecture, "The Scripture Doctrine of Divine Providence".
* * * * *
© Copyright 2017 Rediscovering the Bible. All Rights Reserved. | Contact Us | Email Webmaster