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
"I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other."
These words tell us what came of the worship of two men who went up at the same time to the temple to pray; what came, as we should say, of their going to church. One went home, after he had said his prayers, in a very different state from the other. One had said his prayers to some purpose and carried away God's blessing with him; not so the other. One went home justified. In the eyes of the Everlasting Wisdom he had answered the end for which he came to the house of God--he had done the thing that he ought to do in the right spirit, and he went away forgiven and accepted. God had weighed the other worshipper and his prayer, and had found them wanting.
Now let us try to put away for a moment the feelings which these two names raise in us. Pharisee is become a name of reproach, among us, for a proud hypocrite; and we think with favor and tenderness of the publicans because of our Lord's words of mercy about them. But this is because we are familiar with the gospel story and know what the Pharisees came to in the end. But at the time our Lord spoke the parable it was not so. Pharisee was a name of respectability, if not of honor. Publican was a name which carried with it the notion of everything lawless, low, and bad. To get the full force of our Lord's meaning, we must think of the two men as they would have been thought of by the people to whom He spoke when they heard these words.
To them it was this kind of thing. Two men went up to the temple: one a religious person, a man of seriousness, piety, and strictness, a servant of God, one who lives a holy life; the other a worldling, a careless, ignorant, disreputable wretch whom no one in decent society would have anything to say to, without character and without religion, belonging to a class who are mostly thieves, ruffians, blasphemers, and profligates. These were the ideas which the words Pharisee and publican called up in the minds of those who heard our Lord. And thus different, they went together to the temple.
The professor of religion (there is not a word said or hinted about his being insincere or a hypocrite) goes and says his prayers quietly, and like one accustomed to say them. He goes to his usual place, he collects his thoughts, he stands before God as one who has no reason to be ashamed and afraid to come before his great Master. He has nothing on his mind, nothing to weigh him down and trouble him. He thinks, and he finds nothing to be sorry for, nothing which he can wish better or different. All he can find to do is to give God thanks. He himself is satisfied. He feels nothing wrong, he is well pleased with what he believes to be God's dealings with him, and doubts not that God is well-pleased with him. He cannot help thinking how different he is from other people. The world is full of wickedness. He looks round him and sees on all sides fraud and wrong, profligacy and scandalous ill-behaviour, and all kinds of mean, and bad, and detestable people filling the world with mischief and abomination--people whom it is disagreeable to think of and disgusting to see. Thank God he can compare himself with the world in general, with the people in his own neighborhood, and feel that he is not like them. Thank God no one can think and speak of him in the same breath with all those despisers of God's laws. Thank God there is even a satisfaction in seeing one of them before him, and feeling what a difference there is between himself and them. "God, I thank Thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess." I acknowledge the obligation of the law of the Lord, I am anxious to fulfil all my religious duties. I do my best to set a good example, even in what concerns the outward service of God. Thank God I am not afraid of being strict with myself. I am not only just but liberal in contributing of my means to the calls of God. Thank God no one can say of me that I neglect my duty or do it carelessly. Most likely all that he said and felt was perfectly true. There is not a word said to the contrary in the parable.
And most likely, too, when the other man spoke, the publican who, "standing afar off, would not lift up his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner," he felt what was true also. Probably he felt truly enough how far he was off from God, and had good reason to feel it. For aught we can tell his fellow-worshipper judged rightly enough of him, as far as man's judgment could go. All that we are told is that he was very penitent, very sorry, very much ashamed of himself, almost afraid to come even to ask pardon of God. I dare say he had done some very wrong things. I dare say that it was quite true what the Pharisee suspected, that he had not been much better than the set he belonged to. I dare say that he had but too good reason to be so deeply humbled, and ashamed, and contrite. But at any rate he was so. He utterly condemned and abhorred himself. His eyes were opened to the greatness and holiness of God. His shame was not put on, but was keen and piercing. He felt himself miserable, naked, helpless in the presence of God, without excuse for what he had done. And before him rose the majesty, the long-suffering, the justice, the compassionate love of God, all sinned against by him, and all looking down on him with an awful eye which he could not fly from and could not meet. He must go to God, and yet how should he dare to meet Him? There was no hope but in drawing near to Him in His temple, yet he was fit only to stand afar off. He bore the marks and proofs of having been a sinner upon him.
Who had done God most honor? Who had done Him service in the most reasonable and acceptable way? Who went away justified--seen and owned to have been in the right in what he did? It is easy for us to answer because we see, so to speak, behind the scenes; and we have our Lord's explanation. But if the people of that day had been watching the two men praying--the calm, orderly, decent manner of the one (answering to his character for strictness and piety) and the shame and distress of the other (his keeping afar off as if he was not accustomed to God's house)--I say, if the people of that day had been watching the two and had had to say which they thought had come to the temple to good purpose, which had been the acceptable worshipper, I don't think they would have said (I am not sure if you and I had been in their place that we should have said) that the publican was most likely the one who had gone away home justified, but [rather] the respectable Pharisee, who values and understands the blessings of God's house, and of whose piety there is no reason to doubt, and who thankfully ascribes to God the glory that he is different from other men.
We might have thought so. But we have the wisdom of God to guide us, and He says, "I tell you," little as you may think it, little as your judgment can pierce through to the real truth, "this man," the self-accusing sinner with his acknowledgment of guilt and his broken prayers, "this man went down to his house justified rather than the other." For the other was one of those who "trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others." And that made all the difference to his coming to God's house to the good of his soul or not; all the difference to any good arising or not from his religious service. The Pharisee came to think how good he was, the publican came to be sorry for how much he lacked of goodness. His own worthiness filled and satisfied the mind of the one, God's goodness and holiness filled the mind of the other.
Now before we go let us ask ourselves, to which of these two have we been really most like? Have we come to church like people perfectly well satisfied with themselves, to compare ourselves with the wicked world or with neighbors whom we think not so good as ourselves? If that has been the feeling of your mind, then you have got no good from coming here today. To have come here for good and to go away justified, you must have come and felt, and in your secret heart have spoken, as the publican. When you prayed God to forgive you, did you really feel that you needed forgiveness? When you confessed yourself a miserable sinner, did you at all in your heart acknowledge that you were so of a truth? What has been really before your mind this day--the thought of God and your own sin and weakness, or the thought of other people's faults and follies, along with the pleasant comparison of yourself with them and the remembrance that you are not as they are? According as either of these two has been the prevailing feeling in our minds we may form some opinion as to what it has profited us to have come here to-day.
Village Sermons (condensed)
Are we like the Pharisee when we pray? You will find Walter Smith's sermon "The Law Kept by Sincerity" most helpful.
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"The fool has said in his heart, 'There is no God.' Corrupt are they, and have done abominable iniquity; there is none who does good. God looks down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there are any who understand, who seek God." (Psalm 53:1,2)
I suppose that when David wrote these words he was alluding to no imaginary case. That is, he was not fancying what men might do but was speaking of what they actually did, when he described a man as saying in his heart "There is no God." There were Atheists in David's days--practical Atheists at least--as there have been in all days, and probably ever will be. And the general bearing of the Psalm from which the text is taken teaches us pretty clearly the judgment which David formed of them. You will observe that from the expression of the first verse of the Psalm, "The fool has said in his heart, there is no God," David at once goes off into a description of the abominably wicked lives of those who said so. The man who says there is no God is declared by David to be a fool, a man wanting [lacking] in judgment, in clearness of head, in powers of reasoning. This is an imputation upon his mind, his intellect. But the matter does not rest there, for David does not proceed to deplore the weakness of the Atheist's faculties but the rottenness of the Atheist s heart. He says they are corrupt, altogether become abominable.
And I think it is clear from the tone of the whole Psalm that David concluded not so much that a man was led by the dimness of his intellect to deny God, and then fell into wickedness and persecution of God's people and the like; but rather that the man first fell away into evil courses, became corrupt and abominable, did not seek God and so of course did not find Him, went away backward, became filthy, and then finally said in his heart "There is no God." The Atheist therefore, on this supposition, was led to his atheism by no strict process of reasoning but by a wicked course of life. He was probably brought up to fear God and believe in Him. But temptation got the better of his early principles, [and] he fell away by little and little; and as he fell further into sin, he trembled at the thought of the God of vengeance of whom in his childhood he had heard.
But what shall he do? Leave off sinning he cannot, that were too great a sacrifice. The pleasures of sin have thrown such a spell around him that he is bewitched and cannot draw back. At length a light opens upon his mind, but it is a light such as [that] in swampy places, [which] sometimes tempts a traveler from the right way; no light of the sun, no guiding star. And what is the light? It is this: that after all, perhaps, the vengeance of God against sin is but a cunning fable, an invention of priests, a mere bugbear to frighten children. And to a man who is determined to sin, this is [a] right comfortable doctrine. It is easy to believe true what we wish to be true. And what could a man who has become corrupt and abominable wish to be truer than that there should be no God? And thus the man is led by his sinful life to say, "There is no God!" It is no conclusion of the reason; but the reason of the man given up to wickedness and lust is degraded from its high position to give a false-hearted and mocking assent to the conclusion of the unreasoning and unruly passions.
Such I think is manifestly the course to the denial of God as it appeared to David when he wrote the Psalm upon which I am speaking. He does not commence by saying "the sensual man," or "the corrupt man," or "the murderous man" has said in his heart there is no God; but the fool has said this. And though, as everyone must have observed, there is a continual connection in Holy Scripture between sin and folly, as there is between holiness and wisdom, still there seems to be something intentionally emphatic about the charge against the Atheist in the text, as though the wickedness of a man in saying " There is no God" were lost in the folly of it; as though when David heard a man sneeringly remark that there was no God, he forgot for a moment the man's sensuality and licentiousness in his astonishment at his weakness. And I conceive that there would be something very cutting in the words of the text for this reason, that they who take upon themselves to say "There is no God," or in other important matters to deny what good people believe, do uniformly take to themselves the credit of being more clear-sighted, wiser, more philosophical than their neighbours. And the last thing they would expect would be this: that a believer would say of them, as David did, "It is only the fool who speaks thus."
Nothing could, I think, hurt the pride of an unbeliever more than this. And nothing also could be better for him, nothing more likely to shake him in his proud conclusions than to find that a man capable of judging--knowing his premises and his conclusions--should not say [that] this man is a deep speculator and has a great deal to advance in support of his views, but on the other hand should at once break through all his reasonings and come to the conclusion that he is mad.
Parish Sermons (condensed)
Spurgeon has a helpful sermon, "Consider Before You Fight".
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"Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened." (Matthew 7:7-8)
The Greek language can say more in one word through the grammatical rules that pertain to it than the English language can in half a dozen words. In the imperative mode, the Greek tenses are very definite in their distinctions. We have the imperative mode in the exhortations in Matthew 7:7-8 as well as the indicative mode, both used in the present tense; the former [present imperative] always speaking of continuous action, the latter [present indicative] usually as the context allows it. We have the word "knock" in verse 7. There are two words for "knock" in Greek, one which refers to an unceremonious pounding, the other to a polite knock. The later is used here.
Thus we have the translation: "Keep on asking, and it shall be given you; keep on seeking, and ye shall find; keep on reverently knocking, and it shall be opened unto you: for everyone that keeps on asking keeps on receiving, and he that keeps on seeking keeps on finding, and to him that keeps on reverently knocking it shall be opened."
The lessons we learn from this fuller translation are as follows: First, we learn that the Scriptures teach that if we do not receive answers to prayers at once, we should persevere in prayer until we do, or until God shows us that the petition is not according to His will. Second, we are taught that in the case of some prayers it takes God time to answer the petition. It takes God time to grow a beautiful rose. Likewise, it takes Him time to bring the granite-like heart of a sinner to bow in submissive faith to the Lord Jesus. Third, this text teaches that while we keep on praying, God keeps on working in our behalf. Many a meager Christian experience is due to a meager prayer life. Fourth, we learn that we have no right to demand of God that He answer our prayer, but we may keep on reverently knocking with the hand of faith. Perhaps this brief study may be the means of solving some of our problems relating to the prayer life.
Golden Nuggets from the Greek New Testament
Read more about humble and dependent prayer in this sermon by Charles Bridges on Psalm 119:10, "With my whole heart I have sought you."
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"Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love,
in honor giving preference to one another."
Kindness is the overflowing of self upon others, the putting others in the place of self, the treating others as we wish to be treated ourselves. It begins in one's unspoken habit of thought. It produces just thoughts about our fellow-men. Think how far unfounded prejudices and hasty judgments influence our unfavorable conclusions concerning large bodies of men, whole nations, political or religious parties, and sets of people. How peremptory our condemnation of a person who belongs to such and such a sect or party! How sweeping our sentence on his character and claims upon us, and how unfair and unkind it is likely to be! What is our instinctive first impression about persons in the same social class with ourselves, of the same occupation, whom self-love prompts us to regard as rivals rather than fellow-workers? Are we quick to impute low motives to them? Do we hear their persons or their work disparaged with pleasure? Do we take it for granted that they are in some way inferior to ourselves, if not in methods and results, at least in aims and aspirations? I do not mean that we express this openly in words; but if it gives color to one's thought, then it affects sympathies and judgment, the expression of opinion, and in the end our conduct.
True kindness thinks the best it can of everyone, and of every class and set of people. True kindness wishes well to every human being, and hates to hear of anyone's falls and failures, and grieves over others' misfortunes, and is unwilling to thrive at the cost of a brother's overthrow. Kindness is humility's twin. It cannot live and grow in anyone who cherishes a habit of looking down on others because of some fancied superiority of culture or social position, or fortune.
When we try to think of ourselves as God thinks of us, then we know how low we stand, and how wholly dependent we are for acceptance on His mercy and forbearance. And His love begets love. We come to cherish feelings of unfeigned kindness to all we meet and know of, not because they all equally deserve it, but because we love God. And words and actions are the index of our thoughts. It is easier to have a general sentiment of kindness toward mankind at large than to show this kindness in speech and conduct to the individuals who are nearest to us, with whom we are in daily intercourse, with some of whom perhaps in daily friction.
The tongue is a great revealer. The law of kindness on the tongue is surely the issue of prevailing kindness in the heart. The habit of speaking kindly of and to others reacts by producing kindly thoughts of them. Suppose every morning we considered how to give pleasure to someone with whom we live, who perhaps is not very congenial to us. Suppose we resolved always to employ those little courteous formulas which only thoughtless or selfish persons find superfluous, such as the morning salutation, the "Good night" at the end of the day, the "Thank you," for the least little kindness, the expressions, "Have the goodness," "Be so kind," "If you please," which should always preface a service asked; the gracious salutation of at least a smile when we meet; never to say without cause an unpleasant word to or of anyone; never to forget what has been personified as "the angel of little attentions.
Do you not see that by cultivating this kindly habit of courteous words and manners you are cultivating also a great Christian virtue, and that the Lord will know your motive and reward it? How many would be cheered and helped on to better things if this were our daily rule of speech and action! How many would be won from rude and sullen and forbidding ways, from self-concentration, and hardness! For true kindness brings out all that is best in a person who might otherwise show only his unlovely side and rugged tempers. And when it comes to such acts of self-denying love as oblige us to go out of our way, to give up ease and comfort for those who have no special claim upon us, then such acts become natural, unstrained, and full of tender-heartedness, making room in our hearts for others' sorrows, nay, having compassion for their sinfulness which is their deepest misery.
It needs a quick eye to see and apply our kindness aright, so that it shall not make a person feel burdened by obligation and half resent the burden. And that comes of true tender-heartedness, which cannot look upon distress or pain without desiring to alleviate it, to pour in the oil and wine of an active, practical sympathy. It is the privilege of our Christian calling to serve, console, comfort, and encourage those with whom we have to do, to contribute our mite toward lessening the great mass of human sorrow, of drying up the mighty overflowing stream of human tears.
School Sermons (condensed)
Maclaren's sermon, "A Triplet of Good Counsel," will also be of benefit.
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"Look, I go forward, but he is not there, and backward, but I cannot perceive him. When he works on the left hand, I cannot behold him; when he turns to the right hand, I cannot see him. But he knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I shall come forth as gold." (Job 23:8-10)
Job here complains that he cannot understand the meaning of God's providences concerning him and is quite at a loss about them. Eliphaz had bid him acquaint himself with God. "So I would with all my heart," says Job, "if I knew how to get acquainted with him." He had himself a great desire to appear before God and get a hearing of his case, but the Judge was not to be found. Look which way he would, he could see no sign of God's appearing for him to clear up his innocence. Job, no doubt, believed that God is present everywhere, but he seems to complain of three things. (1) That he could not fix his thoughts nor form any clear judgment of things in his own mind. His mind was so hurried and discomposed with his troubles that he was like a man at his wits' end, who runs this way and that but brings nothing to a head. It is the common complaint of those who are sick or melancholy, that when they would think of that which is good, they can make nothing of it. (2) That he could not find out the cause of his troubles nor the sin which provoked God to contend with him. He could not perceive wherein he had sinned more than others, for which he should thus be punished more than others, nor could he discern what other end God should aim at in afflicting him thus. (3) That he could not foresee what would would be the end, whether God would deliver him at all. He was quite at a loss to know what God designed to do with him.
Job satisfies himself with this: That God himself was a witness to his integrity and, therefore, did not doubt but the issue would be good. After Job had almost lost himself in the labyrinth of the divine counsels, how contentedly does he sit down, at length, with this thought: "Though I know not the way that he takes (for his way is in the sea and his path in the great waters, his thoughts and ways are infinitely above ours and it would be presumption in us to pretend to judge of them), yet he knows the way that I take. His friends judged of that which they did not know and therefore charged him with that of which he was never guilty. But God, who knew every step he had taken, would not do so. It is a great comfort to those who mean honestly that God understands their meaning, though men do not, cannot, or will not. God approves of it. He knows that, however I may sometimes have taken a false step, yet I have still taken a good way, have chosen the way of truth, and he is well pleased with it.
Those that are in affliction may comfort themselves with these three things: (1) That they are but tried. It is not intended for their hurt, but for their honor and benefit; it is the trial of their faith. (2) That when they are sufficiently tried, they shall come forth out of the furnace and not left to be consumed as dross or reprobate silver. (3) That they shall come forth as gold, pure in itself and precious to the refiner. They shall come forth as gold approved and improved, found to be good and made to be better.
Now that which encouraged Job to hope that his present troubles would thus end well was the testimony of his conscience for him, that he had lived a good life in the fear of God. God's way was the way in which he walked: "My foot has held his steps," vs. 11. His holding God's steps and keeping his way intimate that the tempter had used all his arts by fraud and force to draw him aside, but with care and resolution, Job had by the grace of God persevered. God's word was the rule by which he walked. Whatever difficulties we may meet with in the way of God's commandments, though they lead us through a wilderness, yet we must never think of going back, but must press on towards the mark. The word of God is to our souls what our necessary food is to our bodies. It sustains the spiritual life and strengthens us for the actions of life. It is that which we cannot subsist without and which nothing else can make up the lack of. We ought, therefore, so to esteem it, to take pains for it, hunger after it, feed upon it with delight, and nourish our souls with it. This will be our rejoicing in the day of evil, as it was Job's.
Matthew Henry's Commentary
See also this article by Andrew Rule, "Providence and Preservation".
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"So Yahweh God said to the serpent: Because you have done this, you are cursed more than all cattle . . . And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel." (Genesis 3:14,15)
The revelation of God beings with a glorious statement, sublime beyond human comprehension, concerning the creation of the universe by the omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient and eternal God (Gen. 1:1). That the earth was in a perfect condition when created is evident from the following passage of Isaiah: "The God that formed the earth and made it, that established it and created it not a waste, that formed it to be inhabited." But according to Genesis 1:2 it became a desolation and a waste. Evidently some great calamity overtook it. The account of its being reconstructed by the Lord during a period of six days is graphically described in the first chapter of Genesis.
After it had been prepared as a fit habitation, the Lord created man to have dominion over it. This history is recorded in the second chapter of this marvelous book of beginnings.
After man's creation and his being placed in control of the earth, according to the Biblical account, the great enemy of both God and man, Satan, by craftiness and lying deceived him and thus wrenched him from this great heritage. With this turn of affairs came the blackness of darkness over this primeval couple, the crown and glory of the Almighty's creative activity. They with a vivid consciousness of their sin and the awful consequences were driven from the presence of God to pursue their course without the previous daily communion and fellowship with their Creator.
The Lord in His mercy and goodness, however, did not leave them without hope of deliverance from this fallen and degraded state. In the pronouncement of the judgment upon Satan and the human race there also appears the cheering promise that the conflict, just begun, will eventually result in the triumph of mankind over Satan because "he (the seed of the woman) shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel" (Gen. 3:15).
After due allowance has been made for figurative language and the so-called oriental embellishment in the narration of the fall, there remain, as Professor Delitzsch points out, in the history of paradise the following bed-rock facts: (1) "that there was a demoniacal evil one, before evil had taken possession of man; (2) that this demoniacal evil one was the power of temptation before which man fell; (3) that God after mankind had fallen punished them, but at the same time opened a way of salvation, by which they could again secure communion with God; (4) that He placed before them in prospect the victory over that power of temptation through which they had lost the communion with God in Paradise." Any theology that does not recognize these indisputable facts cannot, in a satisfactory manner, account for the simple daily experiences of the race. These facts constitute the dark background to all human history.
Since man was driven from the garden of Eden, he has realized that there exists between him and his Maker an impassable gulf. To this grim, ghastly fact the legends of all the nations of antiquity supply unimpeachable evidence. Our own souls yield indisputable corroborative testimony. The universal cry of humanity is for the bridging of the gap, the removal of the barrier between us and our Creator, and the reconciliation of the race to God. The divine response to this heart-yearning is found in the original promise that the seed of the woman will eventually crush the serpent's head--the promise of victory over the enemy of the race.
The expression, "the seed of the woman," is very striking, in that it never occurs elsewhere. According to the Biblical narrative, posterity is never reckoned after the female but always after the male. A glance at the many genealogies in the Scriptures confirms this fact. But here the conqueror of man's great enemy is to be "the seed of the woman." The fact that he is thus designated is a clear indication that there is something about his personality that makes him "the seed of the woman" in a peculiar sense that can be said of no other one.
Upon the serpent and his master, to whom he yielded himself a ready tool, the curse fell. That there is a spirit so very sinister and evil who conceals his identity, decoys the unsuspecting into his traps, and uses them in his deceptive designs is abundantly proved by the Scriptures. (See Job 1, 2; Zech. 3:1-5).
The outcome of the struggle and the character of the defeat which "the seed of the woman" will inflict upon His adversary is represented as a crushing blow upon the head, whereas that which the adversary does to Him is as a slight wound upon the heel. [The word] to bruise is the verb used . . . Its evident force is seen by the fact that the Targum [an ancient Jewish paraphrase] uses it for [the verbs] to crush; to grind to powder; and to pulverize. This prophecy, the first in the revelation of God, graphically sets before us the outcome of the age-long conflict: the enemy of man lying prostrate upon the ground, having received a crushing blow upon his head, and the victor standing above him with only a flesh wound upon his heel. Professor Delitzsch correctly declares: "only when we translate it: 'He (the seed of the woman) shall crush thee on the head' . . ., does the sentence include the definite promise of victory over the serpent, which, because it suffers that deadly tread, seeks to defend itself, and sinking under the treader is mortally wounded (Gen. 49:17)." The goal toward which all history is moving is here announced in this graphic, cryptic oracle.
Messiah: His Nature and Person
Note: Cooper had the Hebrew word everywhere we show italics giving its meaning.
Read "Jesus Christ the Divine Redeemer" by Calvin Linton.
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"For it was so, when Solomon was old, that his wives turned his heart after other gods; and his heart was not loyal to Yahweh his God, as was the heart of his father David." (1 Kings 11:4)
A greater contrast could scarcely be imagined than that between the state of Solomon's court, and of the country generally, and the directions and restrictions laid down in Deuteronomy 17:16 for the regulation of the Jewish monarchy. The first and most prominent circumstance, which here presents itself to the mind, is the direct contravention of the Divine command as regarded the number of "princesses" and concubines which formed the harem of Solomon. The sacred narrative expressly states that the polygamy of Solomon--and especially his alliances with nations excluded from intermarriage with Israel--was the occasion, if not the cause, of his later sins and punishment.
But the elements which caused the fall of Solomon lay deeper than polygamy. First among these elements was the growing luxury of the court. The whole atmosphere around was different from what it had been in the primitive times which preceded the reign of Solomon, and still more from the ideal of monarchy as sketched in the Book of Deuteronomy. Everything had become un-Jewish, foreign, purely Asiatic. Closely connected with this was the evident desire to emulate and even outdo neighboring nations. Such wisdom, such splendor, such riches, and finally, such luxury and such a court were not to be found elsewhere as in the kingdom of which Jerusalem was the capital. This was an ominous beginning to that long course of Jewish pride and self-exultation which led to such fearful consequences. It is to this desire of surpassing other Eastern courts that the size of Solomon's harem must be attributed. Had it been coarse sensuality which influenced him, the earlier and not the later years of his reign would have witnessed the introduction of so many strange wives. Moreover, it deserves special notice that the 700 wives of Solomon are designated as "princesses." Without pressing this word in its most literal meaning, we may at least infer that Solomon courted influential connections with the reigning and other leading families of the clans around, and that the chief object of his great harem was, in a worldly sense, to strengthen his position and give evidence of his wealth and power as an Eastern monarch, and also to form promising alliances, no matter what spiritual elements were thus introduced into the country.
Closely connected with all this was the rapidly growing intercourse between Israel and foreign nations. For one reason or another, strangers, whom Israel hitherto had only considered as heathens, crowded to Jerusalem. By their presence, king and people would not only become familiar with foreign ideas, but this so-called toleration would result in extending to these strangers the right of public worship, or rather, of public idolatry. And so strong was this feeling that although Asa, Jehoshaphat, Joash, and Hezekiah put an end to all idolatry, yet the high places which Solomon had built on the southern acclivity of the Mount of Olives remained in use until the time of Josiah, avowedly for the worship of those foreigners who came to or were resident in Jerusalem.
All this may help us to form a more correct conception of the causes which led to the terrible decline in the spiritual history of Solomon, without either extenuating his guilt or, as is more commonly the case, exaggerating his sin. As Holy Scripture puts it, when Solomon was old and less able to resist influences around, he so far yielded to his foreign wives as to build altars for their worship. But the sacred text does not state that Solomon personally served them, nor is there any reason for supposing that he either relinquished the service of Jehovah or personally took part in heathen rites. But to have built altars to "the abominations of the Gentiles," and to have tolerated, if not encouraged, the idolatrous rites openly enacted there by his wives, implied great public guilt. His sin was the more inexcusable in that he had, in this respect, the irreproachable example of David. Besides, even closer allegiance to the Lord might have been expected from Solomon than from David, since Solomon had been privileged to build the Temple and had on two occasions received personal communication from the Lord, whereas God had never appeared to David but only employed prophets as intermediaries to make known his good pleasure.
Bible History Old Testament
Pastor Elifson has a good article you might like, "The Apostle Paul's Most Complete Definition of Sin."
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"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you were not willing!" (Luke 13:34)
The Lord Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, came down from heaven. He was born of the virgin Mary, of the seed of David, and of the seed of Abraham, and He was a minister of the circumcision to confirm the promises made to the fathers. When the LORD Jesus--the Messiah-- looked upon Jerusalem, the whole of the past history of the beloved city and the beloved nation passed before His mind. How wonderful was God's kindness, and how great were the privileges that the seed of Abraham enjoyed!
Separated from the rest of the world, set apart like a garden, God had chosen them to be His own possession, witnesses for His greatness and for His glory. He had given them His word and His law; He had sent them His servants the prophets, who declared to them His will. God called Israel His son ("Out of Egypt have I called My son"). Not merely does God declare that He looked upon Israel with maternal affection, but God says that He had chosen Israel to be His bride. He was to be their husband, and He claimed their love and their exclusive allegiance. This was the glorious position given by God to Israel, that Israel was to be the firstborn son of Yehovah and was to be engaged to Yehovah.
How marvelous were the manifestations of His power and grace to this people! He brought them out of Egypt by showing great and manifold miracles. He led them through the wilderness for forty years, showing to them continually that the LORD God of heaven and earth was their God and their guide. Notwithstanding their ingratitude and sin, He removed nations before them in order to plant them into their inheritance. The manifestations of His power and mercy were exceptionally great and wonderful. Contemplate also what a treasure God gave to His people in His Holy Word--the books of Moses and the writings of the prophets--in which God revealed to Israel His will, His character, His purposes!
And besides the Word, which God revealed to Israel, how beautiful was that law which He gave to them! That law reveals His character and what God requires of man. In this aspect it was a law of condemnation and terror. But the law was not merely a taskmaster to convince them of their sinfulness and guilt, and thus to lead them to a savior. It was also a shadow of the good things that were to come. In the beautiful festivals and ordinances the abundant grace of God--saving, renewing, cleansing, and strengthening His people--was presented in striking and engaging symbols.
God had not merely elected and chosen Israel and shown mighty acts to them as His own favored nation. Not only had He given to them His Word and Law, but also think particularly of the wonderful men God sent to them! Think of Abraham, the Father of the faithful. Think of Joseph, whom He brought into Egypt to be the savior of his brethren. Think of Moses, the man who was meek and lowly in heart, who led the Children of Israel for forty years through the wilderness and was the mediator between them and God. Think of Joshua, who brought the people into the promised land. Think of Samuel, last of the judges, first of the prophets, who for so many years walked before the LORD in singleness of heart and unfailing love to Israel. Think of that wonderful David, the shepherd king, the man after God's own heart; whose heart was not lifted up above his brethren, but who, after having passed through suffering, shame and humiliation was full of tenderness and walked before God in His fear, and was a companion of all them that loved the LORD, ruling in Israel by the influence of his character, the power of his love, and the attraction of his piety. Think of Solomon in his glory and wisdom. And think of all the prophets whom God sent to His people, teaching them, comforting them, and pointing out to them that the LORD God himself would come down from heaven and have mercy upon His people, making them the light to shine forth to all the ends of the earth, and would bless in them all the nations whose dwelling places and borders God had before ordained.
Think of how God dealt with Israel even when He was obligated to punish and to rebuke them on account of their unfaithfulness and of their transgression. See how tenderly God watched over them during the captivity in Babylon. How, even there, He sent to them Ezekiel to testify of that God who was not limited by space. Who, even away from Jerusalem and the place where His glory dwelt, was able to meet with His people and to be sanctified in the midst of Israel, and who would yet restore His temple in the latter day. After the Babylonian captivity, when the hearts of the people were failing them on account of the many difficulties with which they had to contend, observe how He sent to them Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi to sustain their courage, to comfort the faint-hearted, and to point out to them the great and glorious day of the LORD, which would come upon them with numerous, magnificent blessings.
And after a long period of silence, observe how God still remembered His promise and how He gave to them John the Baptist, in whom Moses and the prophets, as it were, rose from the grave; in whom all the terrors of the law and all the sweet promises of the prophets were summed up and were announced again with greater power and anointing. "There was a man sent from God, whose name was John." John the Baptist was a wonderful gift of God to His people Israel. He preached to the people that they had sinned, and that they had violated the holy will of God, thereby summing up the message of the law. With loving tenderness he exclaimed, "Behold the Lamb of God, that takes away the sin of the world!" and thereby summing up the testimony of all the prophets.
To crown all these benefits God sent His own Son, Jesus, the Messiah, who was the heir. Jesus came in order to gather Israel to Himself. One way in which He gathered them was by His teaching. And how wonderful was that teaching! Well designed it was to gather Israel to Him! In every word that Jesus speaks you hear Moses and the prophets. It is the same voice that has been proclaimed to Israel from the beginning. It is the same teaching, the same promise, the same manifestation of the divine character. And for those who were searching the Scriptures and diligently reading them, who heard them continually explained--Oh, how the words of Jesus should have attracted them and riveted them. Moreover, His words ought to have filled them with the conviction that here spoke One who was taught by the same Spirit, who was manifesting to them the same truths, and who was greater than any prophet who had preceded Him.
Consider again the mighty miracles that Jesus performed: miracles in which He showed that He was the Lord of nature--converting water into wine, commanding the tempest so that there was a great calm, walking upon the waves of the sea; miracles in which He demonstrated that He was the great power of God to heal all disease, in order to restore to man all that was lost by the Fall--rebuking the fever, healing those who were bowed down with many afflictions, opening the eyes of the blind and giving hearing to the deaf. [Consider the] miracles which showed that He, the Lord Jesus, the Messiah, had not merely the power to be the lord of nature, or that He was that perfect Man of whom the eighth Psalm prophesies, nor that He had power over all diseases, and that He was that perfect Physician of whom Isaiah says, "He Himself took our infirmities." No, these in themselves were not what He sought to reveal.
What these miracles manifested was, that in the invisible realms of evil spirits who had fallen away from God and who were now exerting their power over the sinful race of Adam, Jesus was acknowledged as God! His word was immediately obeyed, so much so that the devils themselves trembled at the word of Jesus of Nazareth. These miracles showed that He was greater and stronger than that mighty one who bound poor sinners in the iron fetters and chains of his cruelty. They were to prove that Jesus had power over death--when He raised up that little maiden by His simple and loving words, "Talitha, kumi" [Young girl -- arise!]; when He raised up that young man, the son of the widow; and when He raised up Lazarus, who had already been for several days in the grave. The design of all these miracles was to gather Israel to Himself.
But not merely did Jesus gather Israel to Himself by His teaching and by His miracles. There was yet another power by which Jesus gathered Israel to Himself--that was by His CHARACTER and by His LIFE.
The CHARACTER and LIFE of Jesus! The two are identical: His life is His character--His character is His life. It is He Himself you see in His words and works. Jesus is different from all other men. What Jesus is, He speaks and He acts. What Jesus speaks and acts, He Himself is. And when we think of the life and character of Jesus, how perfectly free it is from every spot and blemish, from every imperfection and one-sidedness! How perfectly free it is from anything that might mar its beauty or its symmetry! Oh, what an extraordinary influence that must have exerted upon all who saw Him! It is one thing to seek to analyze it; it is quite another to experience the power of it. The simple people, whose powers of analysis are conceivably weak and inadequate, are most impressed with the power of character and influence of life they experience in Jesus. Gentleness, meekness unselfishness, patience, love, prayerfulness--which never for a single moment failed. It was manifest in everything that Jesus said and did, and there was a holy atmosphere around Him wherever He went.
However, if I speak only of freedom from any fault or imperfection, this would be only a negative view of His character. In Him there was not merely the absence of sin or dishonesty, but in Him was every perfection. Whatever is beautiful and dignified, holy and noble, was manifested in Jesus. All virtue and all excellencies were shown in Him. By Him was represented the whole idea of humanity. All that God ever required of man, all that God ever expected in man, was realized and fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth.
Therefore it was by His words, His miracles, and by His character and life that Jesus sought to gather Israel to Himself. Yet, may I direct your attention to another point? What was the sum and substance of His words? What was the sum and substance of His miracles? What was the sum and substance of His life and character? In all these He was different from all other God-sent men, for He Himself was the substance. All other prophets taught the truth, but they directed the hearts and attention of the people to wait for One who was yet to come who would fulfill their desires. But Jesus says not merely, 'I teach the truth,' but 'I AM the truth!' Other prophets perform miracles in order that their mission may be thereby sealed, and people might attach importance to the teachings or commandments that they brought to the nation. However, in the miracles of Jesus, He manifests Himself as the HEALER of the sick, the COMFORTER of those that are cast down, the REDEEMER of those in bondage, and as the QUICKENER of the dead.
Again, let me emphasize, in the life and character of the Lord Jesus, the Messiah, it is Himself that He displays. He is that centre around whom Israel was to be gathered, to the glory of the Father. "I AM" is the name of Jesus! For observe, dear friends, how Jesus exclaims, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together!" Did any prophet in Israel ever speak of himself as the centre of the nation? Did Moses say that he wished to gather the nation around him? Or did David or any other of the prophets say that they were to be the centre of Israel, that Israel was to find in them their rest and their peace? Therefore, when Jesus says that He wanted to gather Jerusalem round Himself, He declares Himself YEHOVAH, the LORD God of Israel.
When Jesus says, "If any man thirst, let him come to Me and drink," He declares Himself to be Yehovah, the fountain of living waters. When Jesus says, "Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest," He declares Himself the LORD God omnipotent, Who alone is able to fill the desires and satisfy the cravings of an immortal soul. You see, beloved, when they objected to Jesus they rejected the only centre around which Israel can be gathered into eternal life.
Now, have you ever wondered exactly what it was in Jesus that they rejected? They did not reject anything in Jesus; they rejected Jesus Himself. There was no point of controversy between Jesus and the Jewish leaders. Jesus brought no new belief-system to them. He said, 'what the masters in Israel teach, what the Pharisees and the Scribes teach, is perfectly correct.' There was no doctrine that was the cause of controversy between Jesus and the nation. There was no new custom that He was introducing. He went into the temple every day, and He observed the ordinances and the festivals of Israel. What, then, was the point of dispute and controversy between Jesus and the Jewish leaders? It was not doctrine, it was not innovation; it was in truth, Jesus Himself whom they rejected. There was a hostility in them to the very person of Jesus. It was the LORD Himself whom they hated, because they hated the Father. This was why Jesus was so grieved when they rejected Him. Let me elaborate briefly on this last point.
Why was Jesus grieved when they rejected Him? When any of us are rejected or when men speak against us or accuse us of wrong, we would do well to examine ourselves, to ask ourselves the question: 'Is it for God's sake, or is it on account of our own sins or some of our own faults that we are being opposed?' Yet Jesus knew perfectly that He and the Father are one. He knew perfectly that in all His doings and in all His sayings He was constantly abiding with the Father. He knew that it was because He was one with God, because He was "the express image of His person," because He was the perfect manifestation of the character of God--[that] this is why they hated Him. Consequently, Jesus was grieved; not because they hated Him, but because they hated the Father in Him. He was grieved because He was the manifestation of Yehovah.
"How often I wanted to gather your children together." Jesus was Yehovah, yet they hated Him, and in hating Him they hated the Father. For the Yehovah of whom the Scriptures spoke (that Yehovah Who Himself had brought them out of Egypt, Who had led them through the wilderness, Who had promised that He would come down and visit His people), He it was Who was before them. The very countenance of God was beaming upon them, and yet they hated both Him and the Father.
From the lecture (1911), "MESSIAH: The True Centre of Israel"
Note: English modernized by Michael Lee Craddick of Lion of Judah Publication; we further modernized some of the punctuation.
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Will the nation of Israel be regathered in the holy land? See "Israel's Restoration" by John Walvoord.
"See! Your house is left to you desolate. Assuredly, I say to you, you shall not see Me until the time comes when you say, Blessed is He who comes in the name of Yahweh." (Luke 13:35)
After they had rejected Him, Jesus sent down the Promise of the Father. What is more, for years after that great Pentecost at Jerusalem, Jesus was preached to them in the power of the Spirit. Nevertheless, they hardened their hearts and resisted the Holy Spirit. This was the sin of Israel--the rejection of Yehovah.
Now then, what was their punishment? The pronouncement came, "Behold your house is left to you desolate." We may take this expression in more than one sense. The most obvious sense is this: Jerusalem was destroyed. The temple, the beautiful house of God, was demolished. Sufferings and agonies unspeakable came upon the inhabitants of that chosen city. The nation was dispersed and scattered among all the nations of the world. For eighteen centuries now they have been without king and without priest, away from their own home; and for many years they have suffered reproach, disgrace, persecution, and even death.* As the Savior said, their house is left desolate.
Yet this is not the only sense in which the words are to be taken. Israel had another house besides Jerusalem, besides Palestine. It was not merely their national existence. There was another residence which God had given to them--the dwelling place of Israel was the Word of God. Their house is left to them desolate. They are still reading Moses and the prophets, they are still familiar with the outward form of the Word, but the house is desolate. They read the Scriptures, but they do not see the Master of the house. They read Moses, but they do not know him of whom Moses testifies. They read the prophets, but the Messiah and His great work--look! this is hidden from their eyes! They have a house, but "Your house is left to you desolate."
Israel has still another house; not merely the Land, not merely the Word, but the law of Moses. That was the house of Israel. And oh, how beautiful is that house, how radiant!--if only they saw the Messiah, if they understood the meaning of the Paschal Lamb and the Day of Atonement, if only they understood all the various offerings which prefigured the Messiah in His manifold character. But now Israel has its Passover feast, and Israel has its Day of Atonement, and Israel tries as far as possible to observe the law of Moses, but their "house is left to them desolate." They do not see the substance of which these things are the mere shadows. What a sad picture is the spiritual condition of Israel! What has happened to them?
There are principally two parties among Israel at the present day. The first are those who have added tradition to the Word of God, thereby making it of none effect. Because, as you well know, the Word of God is not a mechanical substance to which you may add something and expect it to remain unchanged, so that you would have the Word of God and then something else in addition. The Word of God, if I may use a metaphor, is like something chemical. If you add something to it, you altogether change its character. Tradition is not something merely added to the Word of God, but rather tradition is something put into the Word of God, which immediately changes it and renders it of none effect. Oh, if we would only learn from the Jewish people the lesson of what has also happened in Christendom--that when Israel added to the Word of God, it made the Word of God of none effect!
Then there is a second segment among Israel: those who have altogether rejected tradition. However, in rejecting tradition they have also rejected the Word of the Most High. It is not too difficult to grasp how this has happened. The blessed Savior says, "No one comes to the Father except through Me." Now if Israel has rejected Jesus, how is it possible that in the course of time they should become anything other than pantheists and atheists? It is nothing but the inevitable logic of history--that, out of apostate Israel (who has rejected Jesus the Mediator), there has arisen Spinoza, the father of modern pantheism. It cannot be otherwise.
To what other people shall I compare Israel during the last centuries? I would compare them to the nation when they were at the foot of Mount Sinai, when Moses had been away speaking with God for a long time and Israel in their ingratitude and unbelief said, "We know not what has become of Moses. Up, make us gods, which shall go before us." In the same manner, for the last centuries, unbelieving Israel has been saying, 'We don't know what has become of Moses. The old law does not agree with us, and the old decrees of God are an immense restriction upon us. The miracles and predictions that we read about in the old book surely cannot be taken literally. Therefore let us follow the spirit of the age. Let us educate ourselves in the wisdom of the Gentiles. Let us make for ourselves our own gods, that they may lead us.'
Do not be misled. There are modern Jews who will speak of Jesus with the greatest of respect, who will say that Jesus was a great prophet, that He was a wise man, and that it was only intolerance, bigotry, and fanaticism that put Him on that cross. Do not imagine for a single moment that individuals such as these are any nearer to the Kingdom of God and to the Lord Jesus than the blind Pharisees of old. They do not see the divinity of Jesus, nor do they feel their own sin. It is a sad thing, but the truth must be said that, notwithstanding all the punishments, all the sufferings, all the reproach Israel has had to bear, their heart is unbroken and their conscience is untouched. They have not acknowledged that it is on account of sin that these sufferings have come upon them.
They have not acknowledged that it is "because [they] did not know the time of [their] visitation" that they have been scattered among the nations. No, even worse than this they boast, they glory, they say they have borne all these sufferings with wonderful courage and poise, and that now it is a merit which belongs to them; and that for the sake of these sufferings which they have endured, they have a right to expect the special favor of God. This is the saddest part of Israel's punishment--the blindness and impenitence that have come upon them.
*When this was written, Israel was still dispersed throughout the nations with no homeland.
From the lecture (1911), "MESSIAH: The True Centre of Israel"
Note: English modernized by Michael Lee Craddick of Lion of Judah Publication; we further modernized some of the punctuation.
Ken has a short paper that you may find of interest, "Does Eschatology Matter in Jewish Evangelism?".
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"And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: "The Deliverer will come out of Zion, and He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob; for this is My covenant with them, when I take away their sins." (Romans 11:26,27)
Is it always to remain like this? "Your house is left to you desolate; for I say to you, you shall see Me no more till you say, 'Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD.' " Now, do you not believe that Israel has a great future? What do you think, is the Word of God to be fulfilled? Do you believe the Word of God? Do you believe what has been fulfilled in the Word of God because it has already taken place? Or do you believe it because God has spoken it? If you believe the past fulfillment merely because it is past, then you do not believe God. If you believe God, you must believe concerning the future as well as the past. Israel has a great future before it. Why? Because God has said so! We remember His promises which He gave to Abraham forty centuries ago, even up to the last words which came down from heaven from Messiah Jesus in glory, when He called Himself "the Root and the Offspring of David."
Throughout the whole of the Word of God one truth is written more clearly than any other--that Israel is the chosen nation of God forever. Isaiah calls them the 'everlasting nation.' Although the circumference of God's dealings with men may enlarge, the centre always remains the same, and the purposes of God concerning Israel can never change. So God declared it to Abraham; so God declared it through Moses; so God declared it through David; so God declared it through Isaiah and Jeremiah. So God declared it during the captivity through Ezekiel and Daniel, and after the captivity through Haggai and Zechariah. God declared it by an angel that appeared to the virgin Mary . . . and also through Jesus, the LORD of glory Himself. God continued to declare it through Paul, the great Apostle to the Gentiles. "All Israel will be saved"; and in Israel the light and the power of God shall be made manifest to all the nations.
Dear brethren, observe and consider: God has chosen Israel. Now I ask you, is it a privilege to be chosen of God? Certainly. Well then, what has been the privilege of Israel? I have spoken of the privileges with which God favored His people, it is true. However, what is it that Israel has actually realized and entered into? During four centuries these people were wanderers or in bondage groaning under oppression. For forty years theirs was a life of wandering in the wilderness. Then again they experienced four hundred years of wretchedness, bloodshed, and war. This was succeeded by a short period of glory under the earlier monarchy, which was again followed by a long downgrade of apostasy and chastisement and seventy years of captivity in Babylon. After this another four hundred years of subservience and silence on the part of God, culminating in the birth of the promised Messiah whose rejection by the nation resulted in suffering spiritual blindness and wrath to the utmost these last nineteen centuries.
Now is this to be the end of the history of Israel? Is this to be the completion of that wonderful building of which we can see little more than ruins? Certainly not! The time of Israel's favor is yet in the future; and when Israel shall return to the LORD, then there shall be given to them true repentance, true faith, and a marvelous abundance of love and zeal. At that time it will be for them as it was for the brothers of Joseph. When Joseph could not restrain himself any longer . . ., when he was alone with his brothers, he revealed himself to them and said, "I am Joseph, your brother." They were suddenly filled with bewilderment and remorse. Terror and awe overtook them. That is how it will be with Israel when Jesus will make Himself known to them. "They will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn."
Then Joseph spoke to them with words full of affection. He went around and kissed them all, and embraced his brother Benjamin and wept and kissed him. This is how it will be when Israel shall be pierced through the heart and humbled. And while bitter tears of repentance and shame will flow from their eyes, the love and tenderness of Jesus will fill their hearts in an extraordinary way. [It will be] like that man who went from Jerusalem to Damascus, who was proud in his own righteousness and was persecuting the disciples of Jesus. However, after Jesus appeared to him his whole being, his whole heart, indeed his whole life became a sacrifice to Jesus; the love of Messiah constrained him. This is how it will be with Israel. Deep repentance, deep love, deep zeal, shall be given to them. Then the words of the prophet will be fulfilled. Israel will not turn back; they will be faithful and loyal to God, and they will serve Him without backsliding--"They shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint."
Now then, we have spoken of ages past and of the ages to come, of the time when God first called Abraham, when Israel rejected Jesus, and when Jesus shall again appear and comfort Israel. Notice what a vast stretch of time that has passed before us! Yet faith knows no time. A thousand years in God's sight are but as a day when it is passed. To faith, a thousand years are also but "as a day." Don't you recall from your own experience how faith thoroughly destroys time? How long has it been since Adam fell?
But when the Spirit of God brought it home to your conscience, wasn't the fall of Adam a present reality to you? Didn't you feel in your whole heart, mind, character, and body that Adam had truly fallen? How long ago was it since Jesus died upon the cross? Martin Luther says, "It appears to me but yesterday, since Jesus was crucified."
I can see Him even now,
With His pierced, thorn-clad brow,
Agonizing on the tree:
Oh, what love, and all for me!
Now, when Jesus will come again I do not know. Nonetheless, His coming is near. Faith knows no time. "Behold, He is coming!" We are waiting for the coming of the Lord Jesus the Messiah from heaven. Jesus saw it all--past, present and future--in a moment when He exclaimed, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem!" Nineteen hundred years have passed already, yet Jesus says, "You shall see Me no more till you say, 'Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD.' " What a glorious future!
Let us now note a few prominent lessons. In the first place, let us adore the greatness of our God. How wonderful God is! How wonderful is His wisdom, His power! How marvelous is the harmony of His plans! The times of the Gentiles--observe, it is only a brief parenthesis, it is merely a slight pause. The God of power and might will come again, and the miraculous history will be continued. Jerusalem will be called Yehovah-Shammah, "the LORD is there." And from Jerusalem the power of God shall be seen to all the ends of the earth.
Yet above all things, let us learn the love of God. Who could have sinned more than Israel? Could you or I? What ingratitude and unfaithfulness can exceed that of the chosen people of God? What greater offense could have been committed than the rejection of the Messiah? Yet Jesus loves them, the Father loves them, the Holy Spirit is still at work among them. Oh, let all poor sinners, let all "Jerusalem sinners" (as John Bunyan has rightly called us all) take heart and learn to love the tenderness of Jesus and the grace and mercy of God.
Again, let us learn this lesson: Jesus-Yehovah is the Only Savior! It was a strange scene when the scribes and Pharisees, the religious elders and rulers, and the great crowd of people had gathered together and were filled with rage. One man was the object of their enmity. However, there was no anger in his expression; his face was like the face of a seraph. There was Israel all gathered together. They had the Scriptures, they had the Sabbath, they had the Temple, they had the Law, but they did not have Yehovah.
What was the great difference that day between that crowd and Stephen? Stephen looked up to heaven and saw the LORD, the Son of Man, standing on the right hand of God. With open face gazing at the glory of Yehovah, he was changed into the same image from glory to glory. Israel had the Scriptures but not Yehovah, and therefore no centre! Yet Stephen, knowing God as the LORD above him, the LORD for him, and the LORD in him--indeed Jesus--had found a centre. And absorbed in Jesus he became like Him. He was a child of the Most High and an heir of eternal glory. Oh, that we would learn the truth--that Jesus must gather us to Himself, that Jesus must be the centre of our life, that Jesus must be the principle and strength of our lives, that forgetting ourselves and looking to Him we would follow obediently until at last we are glorified!
Even though God has reserved to Himself when the conversion of Israel as a nation will be, He wishes us to have the same mind as was in Jesus. Dear friends, if you love Jesus, if the mind of Jesus is in you, you will love the Jewish people. You will understand something of that sorrow which Jesus felt. You will understand something of those tears which Jesus shed when He wept over Jerusalem. This is the foremost thing, the foundation of all missionary effort. The mind of Christ must be in us as it was in the Apostle Paul, who said that he had "great sorrow and continual grief in [his] heart"; that he could wish himself "accursed from Christ for [his] brethren, [his] countrymen according to the flesh."
If we have the mind of Jesus, then we cannot regard the mission to the Jewish people in the same light in which we view other missions. We send missionaries to China, to India, or to Africa; and I bless God for all these enterprises of Christian love. However, the mission to the Jews is not to be regarded simply as one among many other missions. It is the first mission. In the mind of God it has a priority among all missions. We send missionaries into all the world because God commands us to, because it is the mind of God in Jesus the Messiah. But we know what is the mind of God concerning Israel--that Israel is "beloved for the sake of the fathers," that "the gifts and callings of God are without repentance," that through our mercies (the mercies of the Gentiles) they are to obtain mercy. The Gentiles are continually to remember that God has not forsaken His people and that God has not given up His old plan. Yet God still has His plan before Him, and that after "the times of the Gentiles" there will come a period when the kingdom shall be restored to Israel, and when all the nations shall walk in the favor of God.
And see how great is the encouragement the LORD our God has given to us. We do not deny or conceal the special difficulties of Jewish missions. There is something peculiar in the blindness and hardness of heart which we meet in Israel. Nevertheless God has His work among them! It was necessary for the Apostle, even in his day, to remind the Gentiles that even at that time God had not forsaken His people. God had a remnant according to the election of grace. There were tens of thousands (myriads) of Jews who believed in Jesus. According to Eusebius, the first fifteen bishops of Jerusalem were all from the house of Israel.
There has never been a time when God did not have some of His people brought to the true knowledge of Jesus. At the time of the Reformation it might have been expected that the zeal of God's people, having been directed again to the Word, would go to God's ancient people. However, the understanding of the Reformers with regard to God's plans for Israel was not clear, and therefore we find that for a long time the Church did not think of Israel. During the last century, however, God has stirred up the minds of His people to think of the Jewish people, to pray for them, and to send to them messengers of grace. And during the last fifty years [or 150 years], how many Israelites have been brought to the knowledge of the LORD Jesus the Messiah!
However, seeming success or the lack thereof is not the basis upon which we are to build. The Word of God is the basis, and love to Jesus is to be the motive. Faith in the Word of the Most High is to be our sustaining strength. Yet let us not forget to acknowledge with gratitude the wonderful encouragement which God has given to us--that He has brought out many from Israel to know, love, and serve Jesus. While we are therefore going on in this work, waiting upon the Lord, our own souls will be blessed!
If I have one wish, it is this: I wish there was not a single assembly of Christians in this country, by whatever name they choose to call themselves, in which the subject of missions to the Jewish people was not brought before the people at least once a year. It seems to me that every church is defective, the every church is wanting in its duty towards God and in its duty towards itself if it neglects this mission, which has a priority affixed to it by the Word of God itself.
And I am perfectly convinced of this: that such a blessing would come to the people themselves--an increased understanding of the Word of God, an increased realization of that Eternal One with whom we have to do, and of the nearness of the coming of the LORD Jesus--that not merely would Israel be benefited by the prayers and efforts of Christians, but they themselves would praise the LORD for having been led to study the Word of Prophecy and for having devoted themselves to this work.
From the lecture (1911), "MESSIAH: The True Centre of Israel"
Note: English modernized by Michael Lee Craddick of Lion of Judah Publication; we further modernized some of the punctuation.
Read J. C. Ryle's sermon, "Scattered Israel to be Gathered".
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"God has spoken once, twice I have heard this: that power belongs to God."
When the mind goes forth amidst the works of nature and the broad ranges of the universe, the first impression which it receives is that of power. Everywhere about us there is height, and depth, and expanse, and grandeur, and fulness. And of all these, power is the ever-present and ever-speaking attribute. The sky with its all-enclosing dome, the splendid sun, the glittering company of stars, the sweeping clouds, the broad-based solemn mountains, and the wide resounding sea all wear the constant expression of power. There is space which is boundless, and time which is incessant and endless, and the air which wraps up the globe of the world with all its inhabitants and contents, all proclaiming the word of power.
But whose power is it? For we perceive not only power but designing power. Where did it come from? Who can go out in the hushed and serious time of night and raise his regards to the spangled firmament with the knowledge that each point of light there is a ponderous world, steadfast in itself and in its relations to the great whole, and that those of them which are moving are moving with a velocity which confounds thought, and yet with a certainty of revolution which can be calculated to a second; who, when the winds are abroad making the ocean to rage mightily, can view the tumult from the shore conscious of his own safety, and that bounds are appointed to the threatening waves which they cannot pass; who can mark the seasons as they come round in punctual and yet ever varying return; who can see and understand such things and refuse entrance to the conviction that they were intended, that there is a purpose at work in them and over them, that these operations are directed by some intelligent existence, that there is some controlling and designing being to whom all this power belongs?
"It belongs to the things themselves," is the discordant cry of a few, and happily but of a few. "The power is in the machine itself. The universe is its own god. Why pretend to look further than you can see? Use your senses, which are the only means of knowledge." Well then, I will use my senses, since that is the word. I will go to them obsequiously and implore them to let me know where the intelligence is whose designs are everywhere around me.
[Alas!] they can tell me nothing. I look and I see nothing; I hearken and I hear nothing; I reach forth my hands and I feel nothing in the whole congregation of material existences which appears to me to possess mind and intelligence of itself. In the clods beneath me I perceive no self-governing wisdom; in the stars above me I perceive no spirit of order; in the waves of ocean I am apprised of no ruling mind. I see, I hear, I feel nothing in matter like a planning, organizing, directing principle. And that is the very reason why I believe that there is such a principle, or Being, separate from matter and superior to it. For [there is] one thing I do perceive, and that is design. Of one thing I am certain, and that is that there is somewhere a mind intently at work. The proofs of intention are too plain to be mistaken. Therefore when I use my senses and receive no information from them that matter can rule itself, I form the direct conclusion from this silence and negative evidence of my senses that there is a Being--a Supreme Being--who rules it; for sure I am that it is ruled. I will not be so superstitious as to believe in the contradiction of an unintelligent system acting of itself intelligently. Because my senses show me no visible, audible, tangible intelligence, I shall not therefore believe that there is no intelligence, but the very reverse--that there is one! One whom the senses cannot show me; one whom I cannot see nor hear nor feel, except in the wise and beautiful order of the universe and in the beatings of my heart; one who is invisible, inaudible, intangible--except to the eye of my mind, and the ear of my spirit, and the demonstrations of my reason.
But it is not in the surrounding universe alone that the believer perceives the power of God. He sees this power, in the first place, in his own life. What but almighty power brought him into existence? What but almighty power is equal to the creation of a living soul? What but the breath of the Original Spirit could breathe into us, or anything, the breath of life? What might is there but that of God, which can set in motion the living economy of one human being? And here we are, my friends, in the midst of millions and millions of brethren who have all received life from the same almighty and ever-quickening source. What an exhibition of power is this vast sum of life, existing as it does independently of those who live; offered to us, forced upon us (to say so reverently) without an exertion or volition of our own!
Also in the events of our lives, as well as in their continuance, we acknowledge a power in operation which is far greater than our own, and which can only belong to the Supreme Disposer. Liberty we have, indeed, and power we are intrusted with, but we cannot fail to perceive that our liberty and our power have their limits beyond which they are not suffered to go. Else why are we so often disappointed in our expectations, and defeated in our designs, and overthrown in our enterprises? And why, [on the other hand], is that which is done against our intentions and efforts so often better for us than that which we intended and strove to do? We cannot help feeling that we are free; but as little can we help feeling that our freedom is frequently bounded and controlled and directed by one whose right it is to rule.
Nor can we resist the acknowledgment that the power which we most justly call our own is, at its origin, derived; and that we can do nothing which the Almighty does not enable us to do, either by immediate help or by the original endowment of our ability. We shall be disposed to confess and adore the presence of divine power in all that befalls us--in the beginning and continuance of life, in strength and weakness, in growth and decay, in circumstances prosperous or adverse, in rejoicing and mourning, in what is given and what is denied and what is taken away, in what we are permitted and assisted to do and what we are held from doing. In every condition, and under every posture of affairs, we shall perceive the same unvarying superintendence and be ready to say with the Psalmist, "God has spoken once, twice have I heard this: that power belongs unto God."
In yet another way connected with our own being do we hear the declaration of the text. We hear it in the no less mysterious, and to many the very fearful event of death. Men are continually striving to elude it and protract their term of life, but they strive in vain. And as if to prove to them that life is never in their own hands for a moment, the power of death comes upon them at every moment, from the period of birth on to the undefined boundary of extreme old age. How universal is this power! Generation after generation occupies the world and then is swept away. If it was not for the divine power of life, which more than supplies the vacancies occasioned by the divine power of death, how silent the earth would be in a little while! One by one we should lie down and be still, and the sounds of humanity would grow more and more faint till at last they would be all hushed, and nothing would disturb the silence but the sighing of the winds, and the whispering of the trees, and the moans of the solitary sea. Is not here the impression of power?
And terrible and oppressive would the thought of that power be if we were not assured that, as easily and as surely as God exercises the power of life and death, so easily and so surely will he put forth the power of reanimation. The immortality of the soul--the future life--is a subject which concerns us more deeply than any other can, and is a subject which is removed from the cognizance of our senses and our common and daily habits. That he can exercise it, that it is not for his hand an extraordinary power, seems to be unquestionable.
Once, twice, have we heard the solemn asseveration that power belongs unto God. There are also other words succeeding, which are full of encouragement, motive, and consolation. "And also unto thee, O Lord, belongs mercy, for thou renders unto every man according to his work." Infinite power and infinite mercy are lodged in the same hands, never to be divided, never to be alienated. O then that we may so order our works and ways before him that we may render ourselves fit objects of his mercy, and feel hope and confidence instead of fear when we contemplate his power.
Sermons of Consolation (condensed)
God is all powerful, yet we read that "It repented Yahweh that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart." See Horatius Bonar's exposition, "The Sincerity of the Divine Compassion," Part 1 and Part 2.
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"Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another; not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord." (Romans 12:10,11)
Alexander Maclaren, one of the most brilliant expository preachers of modern times, was born in Glasgow in 1826. The family is an ancient one, and the old form of the name, Class mhic Labhrainn indicates that they are descendants of Laurentius or Lawrence. David, the father of Alexander Maclaren, spelled the name McLaren, and other branches of the family call themselves MacLaren, Maclaren, M'Laren and MacLauren. . . .
Having finished high school, Alexander Maclaren entered Glasgow University at an early age, but his studies were cut short when the family moved to London. He entered the Baptist college at Stepney, where he won distinction as a Hebrew and Greek student. There he formed the habit of reading the Bible in the original languages, laying the foundation for what was to become a daily custom for the next 68 years. From Stepney he went to London University, where once more his exceptional work in Hebrew and Greek aroused general admiration. During his residence in London he became acquainted with Dr. Thomas Binney, famous pastor of King's Weigh House Chapel, and one of London's eloquent preachers. Spurgeon, of Maclaren's own denomination, had not yet come to London.
While yet a student, Alexander Maclaren was asked to supply Portland Chapel, Southampton, for a period of three months. He found a dying congregation of but 20 communicant members. Various devices had been tried in the past to revive the dwindling little group. Maclaren had sufficient wisdom, even when not yet 20 years of age, to realize that a faithful preaching of Law and Gospel was the one thing needed by the people. Politely refusing all the social invitations that an attractive young candidate will receive, he devoted his full time to study. He rose at daybreak and he labored until late at night. While his first efforts were not remarkable, nevertheless the people realized that here was a young man who was in possession of gifts far beyond the ordinary. He was urged to stay, and upon finishing his course at London University, he became pastor of the Southampton congregation in 1846.
Maclaren was compelled at the outset to choose between popularity with his congregation and exceptional ability in the pulpit. It was his ambition to become an expository preacher, and he realized that this required long hours of study of the original texts. It meant reducing social calls to the absolute minimum, and facing the criticism of a congregation who believed that their pastor must devote the greater part of his time to visiting the people in their homes. There was objection at first, and Maclaren was admonished privately and criticized openly in congregational meetings, but gradually the empty seats were filled, and finally the church was crowded to capacity. Maclaren was in Southampton for 12 years, and the little group of 20 discouraged people became a strong congregation. Invitations came from all over Hampshire, Wiltshire and Sussex, and Maclaren was urged to preach special sermons and to deliver lectures, but he realized that his absence would interfere with a thorough preparation for his own pulpit, and he refused them all. . . .
In 1858, when 32 years of age, Alexander Maclaren was called to Union Chapel, Oxford Road, in the great city of Manchester, where nearly all of the remaining 52 years of his life were spent. The congregation was composed largely of Baptists, although people of other denominations had helped to establish it in an outlying part of the city. Maclaren made it clear from the start that he did not propose to spend much time making social calls, nor attending meetings nor preaching in other churches on special days. He continued his habit of early rising and devoted each day to painstaking study. He had discovered before this that the task of writing out a sermon in longhand, revising it and polishing it, consumed much of the average pastor's time. In order to devote as many hours as possible to the study of the subject matter of his sermon, he wrote out the introduction of his sermon, then some of the more important sentences or parts of sentences, and finally the conclusion in full. He trained himself to compose sentences and paragraphs in a finished literary style as he delivered the sermon. His life-long friend, Sir W. Robertson Nicoll, the noted Presbyterian expositor, declared that Maclaren's style in the pulpit had a higher degree of perfection than his writings. In his spoken discourses one heard the English language at its best. There was never a repetition, nor was their a needless word. It was superb English, and with a minimum of adjectives. . . .
Dr. Maclaren had every quality that an eminent preacher could desire. He was a man of fine presence, with the bearing of a Highland chieftain. Sir W. Robertson Nicoll said of him that in any company in which he sat, his place became the head of the table. He had a strong personality, an excellent voice, a mind of extraordinary vigor to the very end of his life, a superb command of the English language both in speaking and in writing, and an evangelical fervor of the best sort. Not only was he the foremost Hebrew and Greek scholar of his day, but he had mastered Latin, German and other languages, and was able to read exegetical and dogmatical writings with ease and with discrimination. He had a wide knowledge of the theological writings of several countries, and yet he remained unmoved at a time when the faith of many was shaken by the Higher Criticism. An admirer of St. Augustine, he preached sin and grace. He gave the salvation of the sinner the first place in his preaching, at a time when many were beginning to preach the doctrine of social salvation. He declared, "There must be individual Christianity before there can be social. It must be possessed before it can be applied."
Dr. Maclaren had no confidence in the modern expedients that were being set forth as essential to the growth of a church. To a gathering of theological students he said: "I thank God that I was stuck down in a quiet, little, obscure place to begin my ministry; for that is what spoils half of you young fellows. You get pitchforked into prominent positions at once, and then fritter yourselves away in all manner of little engagements that you call duties, going to this tea-meeting, and that anniversary, and the other breakfast celebration, instead of stopping at home and reading your Bibles, and getting near to God. I thank God for the early days of struggle and obscurity." Had Alexander Maclaren yielded for expediency's sake when his congregation complained that he made few social calls, he might have gained in personal popularity, but it is not likely that he would have taken a place with Spurgeon, Parker, Dale and Liddon as one of the five greatest English preachers of the nineteenth century. From the standpoint of expository preaching, he excels the other four, although each man had his own excellencies. . . .
Maclaren's real strength lay in his skill at Biblical exposition, and his ability to show the relation of everything in the Scriptures to the central theme of sin and salvation. Sir W. Robertson Nicoll, who devotes a chapter of his Princes of the Church, (1921), to Dr. Maclaren and his preaching, says that the great Manchester preacher confined his preaching to Scriptural themes and paid no heed to subjects of the day. He believed that the great truths of the Bible are timeless. A queen might die, a new king might be crowned, a public calamity might take place or an important national holiday might fall on Sunday, but it was most unlikely that a "special sermon" would be preached at Union Chapel, Manchester, on such occasions. "He was continually alive," says Dr. Nicoll, "to the great realities of sin and grace, and this was the secret of the intense and solemn emotion that burned into the midst of Heaven when he spoke to the people." He disliked organization, advertizing, newspaper notoriety, and even special music and special days. He knew that these are but the crutches used by clergymen who come to the pulpit with insufficient preparation. He was a skilled craftsman himself, and he knew from experience that a good sermon cannot be produced in ten or twelve hours. Results, in such cases, are sure to be superficial. Even with so nimble a mind as his, a sermon worth hearing meant at least 60 hours of laborious work. . . .
Careful preparation, Maclaren believes, consists in devoting many hours to probing the Scriptures deeply in order to discover just what they teach. It includes selecting a text, drawing out of it the teachings contained in it; and certainly not selecting a theme first, and then attempting to support it by means of proof texts. The first method is that of the expository preacher: the latter is that of the more superficial topical preacher.
A History of Preaching
This exposition by Bridges of "Proverbs 13:4" surely applies to Alexander Maclaren.
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"Into Thy hands I commend My spirit:
for Thou hast redeemed Me, O Lord, Thou God of truth."
We have already observed, that the first words of the 22nd Psalm are the fourth of the seven sayings on the Cross--that great and exceeding bitter cry which went up to Heaven as the midday darkness began to clear away--"My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" Here in my text is another of the seven sayings, recorded by S. Luke alone--"And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, He said, Father, into Thy hands I commend my spirit: and having said thus, He gave up the ghost" (32:46).
Nothing can make us Christians to love the book of Psalms so much as the reflection that they, just as we have them, were the Saviour's own book of prayers; that as God's people for three thousand long years have daily used these sacred compositions in their acts of prayer, praise, and thanksgivings to God, so we have these sure indications that our Lord Himself did so, that they were so familiar to Him, and thus He has set His seal upon their inspiration and excellence. There are other passages from the Psalms quoted by our Lord, and others applied to Him by the Apostles; but those first words of the 22nd Psalm, and these first words of my text from the 31st Psalm, were, we know, our Lord's own words uttered from the Cross--those of today the very last of the seven sentences--the very last words, with which Christ died with them upon His lips.
There can be no doubt that David was in one of his many sore trials and dangers when he wrote this psalm; for we find him saying at the 10th verse, "My eye is consumed for very heaviness;" at the 11th, "My life is waxen old with heaviness, and my years with mourning;" at the 13th, "I became a reproof among all my enemies, but especially among my neighbors;" at the 15th, "Fear is on every side, while they conspire together against me, and take their counsel to take away my life." This was his state of fear and danger at the moment; but then, what effect had all this upon him? Only to make him trust the more upon God. The expression of this feeling of trust and confidence in God's care and love is as frequent as his sense of danger. In the very first verse he says, "In Thee, O Lord, have I put my trust;" in my text (verse 6), "Into Thy hands I commend my spirit;" in the next verse, "My trust has been in the Lord;" in the 16th verse, "But my hope has been in Thee, O Lord: I have said, Thou art my God;" in the 18th verse, "Show Thy servant the light of Thy countenance, and save me for Thy mercy's sake;" and at the 21st verse there is this beautiful exclamation, "O how plentiful is Thy goodness, which Thou has laid up for them that fear Thee: and that Thou has prepared for them that put their trust in Thee, even before the sons of men!" And, once more, look at this admonition to others: "O love the Lord, all ye His saints: for the Lord preserves them that are faithful, and plenteously rewards the proud doer."
Still, out of this whole psalm there are no words so sacred and memorable as those of my text, "Into Thy hands I commend my spirit," because they are the very words, as I have said, which our great Redeemer died with upon His lips. In Him were all the troubles of David far exceeded and surpassed. Even His great and terrible bodily sufferings, which we dwelt upon while considering the 22nd Psalm, were, we believe, as nothing compared to the agony of soul and spirit through which the Saviour passed in His work for our Redemption. There is no pulpit like the Cross, from which so much is to be learned--none so great a signpost along the pathway to heaven. It is but natural that those words, above all others, would be most deeply treasured up in the hearts and memories of His Apostles; and we have one direct proof of this in the prayer of His first martyr, S. Stephen, at the moment of his death. He knelt down, and prayed, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit;" while His last words, very like to the Saviour's first from the Cross, were, "Lord, lay not this sin to their charge;" as his Master had said, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do."
And surely, my brethren, these words of my text are very true and beautiful words for each of us to use continually for ourselves; and above all, as so many great saints are recorded to have done, at the moment of our death, "Into Thy hands I commend my spirit: for Thou hast redeemed me, O Lord, Thou God of truth." How often would it be well for us to repeat this when we first wake in the morning, and have all the day before us, when we think of ourselves as fulfilling once more those expressive words, "Man goes forth to his work and to his labor until the evening." How little do any of us know, and how seldom are we able to reckon for certain upon anything which may happen to us during the day. Day by day, as we know, many leave their homes never to return to them again; others in the course of a day meet with accidents, fortunate or unfortunate, which shape and change, if they do not altogether mar and disappoint, their whole work and prospects in life. We often talk, it is true, with great assurance of our plans, and hopes, and expectations; but how often does the event belie the anticipation? It is so truly said in this psalm we are considering, "My time is in Thy hand." What then is right, or what is better, than that we should humbly yet confidently commit ourselves, and all we are or have, to God's gracious care and guidance and protection, and say, in the words of my text, "Into Thy hands I commend my spirit: for Thou hast redeemed me, O Lord, Thou God of truth"? This is exactly to do what the apostle S. James would lead us to, by saying, "Go to now, ye that say, today or tomorrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain: whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor, that appears for a little while, and then vanishes away. For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we should do this, or that."
Again, at night, when the day's work is over, when, good or bad, its record has been entered on the registers, which never fade or perish, what is better than that we should, with the same blessed confidence and trust with which we went forth in the morning to our work of the day, commit ourselves afresh to God's holy keeping through the silent hours of the night, and pray for the protecting care of His Angels, and say, "Into Thy hands I commend my spirit: for Thou hast redeemed me, O Lord, Thou God of truth"? Our lying down at night should be a daily reminder to us all how soon at furthest we shall be lying in our graves, as our rising up in the morning may be as true a reminder to us of our Resurrection at the dawn of the Great Day of all. If, brethren, we are mindful of the mercies which we every day receive, how God provides all things that are good and necessary for every one of us; how often the very wants and distresses of sickness or poverty are His special instruments to raise us up friends; how often we have been preserved from accidents and dangers which fall on others, but have not touched us; when we think of our many daily sins and transgressions in one way or other, and yet God spares us; how often good has been within our power, but we have neglected to follow or do it; when we think of the need we all have of rest to recruit our powers of mind and body, and enable us to go forth with strength and energy to the work which lies before us, how can any one who is not altogether blind and dead, like unto the brutes that perish, lay his head down upon his pillow without humbly thanking the great Giver of all good for the Blessings he enjoys, and commend his body, soul, and spirit into God's safe keeping, saying, "Into Thy hands I commend my spirit: for Thou hast redeemed me, O Lord, Thou God of truth"?
And once more, when we feel and know our end to be near at hand, how blessed for us if we are able then humbly but confidently to rest our souls upon the Almighty Lord; if we are able so far to follow Christ as to be able to say, "Into Thy hands I commend my spirit: for Thou hast redeemed me, O Lord, Thou God of truth." It is then indeed that a true faith brings its own sure peace and comfort to the Christian's heart. When this world is all past and gone to him; when he feels that another sun, or perhaps not even that, will be all that will ever rise and set to him in this life; when he has carefully looked back through his past life, and while asking God's forgiveness for all his unnumbered sins and offences, sees how His grace has worked in him and with him; how through this secret power of God he has gone on from grace to grace, from strength to strength, how will such a one humbly but thankfully say, with the assurance of faith, as so many have been known to do before--S. Polycarp, S. Basil, S. Bernard, and many others--"Into Thy hands I commend my spirit: for Thou hast redeemed me, O Lord, Thou God of Truth."
But let us not hope that we may take all this comfort and assurance to ourselves on false grounds. We are told that men's estimates of others will be strangely reversed at last, and "many that are first will be last; and the last will be first then." And if we would desire for ourselves that we may at our last die the death of the righteous, we must, brethren, live the life of faith and righteousness while we are in health and strength. Christ is our Redeemer from sin, not in our sins. Nothing we can name is so sure as that we shall each be judged at the last day according to the deeds done in the body. Christ has gained for us, by the sacrifice of Himself, not only Redemption from eternal death, as the penalty of sin, but Redemption from the power of sin also. We cannot say, as they of old might, that we are altogether unable and powerless to resist the devil, and so to conquer. The Saviour has taught us how that may be done. He has shown us how to do so in His own most holy life and person; and that we may do this, He gives us His Holy Spirit, as it dwelt without measure in Him. He assures us that no prayer shall ever fail of being accepted through His name. He feeds us with the bread of heaven, and makes us one with Himself, and becomes "Christ in us, the hope of glory." What more could be done, which He has not done for us? What less can we do than often say and feel, "Into Thy hands I commend my spirit: for Thou hast redeemed me, O Lord, Thou God of truth."
Short Sermons on the Psalms
For more reading on this subject, see Theodor Zahn's sermon, "Three Words from the Cross".
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"And David arose and went with all the people who were with him from Baale Judah to bring up from there the ark of God, whose name is called by the Name, Yahweh of Hosts, who dwells between the cherubim. . . . And when they came to Nachon's threshing floor, Uzzah put out his hand to the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen stumbled. Then the anger of Yahweh was aroused against Uzzah, and God struck him there for his error; and he died there by the ark of God. . . . David was afraid of Yahweh that day; and he said, How can the ark of Yahweh come to me? So David would not move the ark of Yahweh with him into the City of David; but David took it aside into the house of Obed-Edom the Gittite." (2 Samuel 6:1-2, 6-7, 9-10)
Who can well conceive the tumult and distress which this melancholy event must have produced? How suddenly did the sound of the harps and of the timbrel cease! Where are those demonstrations of joy which, but a few moments before, were seen in this vast assembly? A crowd of reflections present themselves in view of this important portion of sacred history. I shall content myself with barely suggesting a few of them, leaving a fuller application of the subject to your own meditations.
Who can help remarking, in the first place, how happy it is when our prosperity does not make us forget God. In a multitude of cases, men who have been apparently respectful towards religion (if not devout) while in the vale of poverty or obscurity, have greatly altered their tone of feeling when suddenly elevated to wealth or power. This was the case of Saul. It was otherwise with David. He felt the need of God's protection while a shepherd in the wilderness and when hunted like a partridge upon the mountains by his cruel persecutors. And he did not lose his sense of dependence upon God nor his love to the duties of religion when raised to the pinnacle of earthly greatness. How desirable to resemble him, and to let our prosperity brighten our zeal rather than diminish it!
We are taught, moreover, by this narrative, the great importance of doing everything in religion according to the rules which God himself has prescribed. God requires that we should understand our duty, and makes our ignorance penal where it proceeds from an inattention to his written law. What an argument is this for a constant and prayerful application to his holy word. If we are ignorant with both testaments in our hands, woe be to our folly and perverseness.
The conduct of David in bringing up the ark may lead us to reflect that while great zeal may have great defects, yet where it proceeds from honest principles it will not be easily discouraged. It may be chastened for its irregularity, for its ignorance, for its pride and vain glory. It may be foiled in its exertions; but it will not give over. Proceeding in the main from love to God and a regard to his honour, it will renew its efforts until its desires are accomplished. Does our zeal, brethren, hold out? Or does it lack that persevering character which is the touchstone of sincerity?
The history before us presents us with another truth written as with a sunbeam: that a careless or presumptuous familiarity with respect to the great objects of our devotion is highly offensive to God. We are not to speak to Him as to our neighbor. We are not to treat the great subjects of his attributes, his laws, his kingdom, with the same kind of levity or indifference as we do things which are merely secular.
The solicitude of David to place the ark in the royal city, and to regulate the public service of God according to the prescribed forms, teaches us that the externals of religion are not to be disregarded, but everything to be done with decency and in order. And especially his great attention to psalmody, or the manner of publicly praising God in the congregation, shows us that this is no insignificant part of divine service even in the Christian church.
You will also like this most pertinent sermon by James Richards, "Behaviour Appropriate to God's House".
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"There was not a word of all that Moses had commanded which Joshua did not read before all the assembly of Israel, with the women, the little ones, and the strangers who were living among them." (Joshua 8:35)
The Pentateuch, the name by which the first five books of the Bible are designated, is derived from two Greek words, pente, five, and teuchos, a volume, thus signifying the five-fold volume. Originally these books formed one continuous work, just as in the Hebrew manuscripts they are all connected in one unbroken roll. At what time they were divided into five portions, each having a separate title, is not known, but it is certain that the distinction dates at or before the time of the Septuagint translation. In the later Scriptures, they are frequently comprehended under the general designation, The Law, The Book of the Law, since to give a detailed account of the preparations for and the delivery of the Divine code with all the civil and sacred institutions that were peculiar to the ancient economy is the object to which they are exclusively devoted. They have been always placed at the beginning of the Bible, not only on account of their priority in point of time, but as forming an appropriate and indispensable introduction to the rest of the sacred books. The numerous and oft-recurring references made in the later Scriptures to the events, the ritual, and the doctrines of the ancient church would have not only lost much of their point and significance, but have been absolutely unintelligible without the information which these five books contain. They constitute the groundwork or basis on which the whole fabric of revelation rests, and a knowledge of the authority and importance that is thus attached to them will sufficiently account for the determined assaults that infidels have made on these books, as well as for the zeal and earnestness which the friends of the truth have displayed in their defense.
The books of the Pentateuch, of which Moses was the author, contain the history of the creation of the world and its inhabitants, the fall and curse of man, the destruction of all the human race save one family of eight souls, the dispersion of the nations, the deliverance of the chosen people of God from oppression, and the introduction of that wonderful dispensation of which the Divine Being Himself was the author and executor, and under which the civil and ecclesiastical government of these nations was administered for so many ages.
And whence did Moses receive the knowledge which philosophy has been so long in reaching through the paths of geology? Was the generation in which he lived more learned than any which succeeded for thousands of years? There is not the slightest shadow of evidence to sustain so incredible a position. It could not be through the slow processes of geological investigation, either of himself or his contemporaries, that Moses learned the sublime truths which were hidden from Aristotle and Pythagoras. The superior wisdom which distinguishes the Hebrew prophet from all his contemporaries, and renders his simple narrative a standard of truth in all ages, was from above. It was from Him who made the world that Moses learned the history of its creation; and in no other way could his successors on the inspired page be possessed of the truth and wisdom which shines as brightly in their pages as in his.
The inspiration of the author of the Pentateuch is one of "the things most surely believed among us." Messiah Himself was a prophet like unto Moses. The Pentateuch is the foundation of Scripture; all the subsequent books of revelation are full of allusions to these early documents. The books themselves claim Moses for their author, and there is no reason to doubt their statement. Their style and composition show them to have been written "at sundry times;" narrative and legislation are naturally interspersed. Laws are given in various forms; for, according to the growing exigencies of the time, earlier statutes required modification. Had these books been a modern compilation, the laws would have been classified and arranged under separate heads; but they are given by Moses in the simple form in which they were originally enacted. The Hebrew nation has always received these treatises as the books of Moses, and they were read to the assembled tribes at stated periods. It is impossible that the nation could have received such publications at any period later than Moses. And so we find from the time of Moses downward, uninterrupted witness to the existence and genuineness of the Pentateuch.
Let not the evidence adduced be deemed defective because we cannot produce testimonies that Moses was the author of the Pentateuch from contemporary writers. If there were any at that remote period, their works and their memory have perished. "The Jews, as a nation," says Sumner in his Treatise on the Records of Creation, "were always in obscurity, the certain consequence, not only of their situation, but of the peculiar constitution and jealous nature of their government." Can it, then, reasonably be expected that we should obtain positive testimony concerning this small and insulated nation from foreign historians when the most ancient of these, whose works remain, lived more than 1000 years posterior to Moses? Can we look for it from the Greeks, when Thucydides has declared that even respecting his own countrymen he could procure no authentic record prior to the Trojan war, or from the Romans who had scarcely begun to be a people when the empire of Jerusalem was destroyed and the whole nation reduced to captivity? Such profane testimony as can be produced serves only to show what was the prevailing opinion among heathens, and when we find them not only recording many of the facts in the narrative of Moses but speaking of him by name and referring to his law, we conclude that no doubt was entertained that he was the lawgiver of the Jews, or that his writings were genuine. Diodorus Siculus, Strabo, Tacitus, Juvenal and Longinus make mention of him and his writings in the same manner as we appeal to Cicero and his works. The truth is, no ancient book is surrounded with such evidence of its genuineness, authenticity, and inspiration as the Pentateuch. Venerable in their age, sublime in their natural simplicity, overpowering in their evidence, and mighty in their results are the five books of Moses.
Smith's Bible Dictionary
"All Scripture is given by inspiration of God." Read Calvin's sermon on 2 Timothy 3:16,17.
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"I charge thee before God, who quickeneth all things, and before Christ Jesus, who gave testimony under Pontius Pilate, a good confession, that thou keep the commandment without spot, blameless, unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, which in his time he shall show who is the Blessed and only Mighty One, the King of kings, and Lord of lords; who only hath immortality, and inhabiteth light inaccessible, whom no man hath seen, nor can see: to whom be honour and empire everlasting. Amen." (1 Timothy 6:13-16; Douay-Rheims Bible)
To anyone who attends to the Gospel history, it must appear that humility and self-denial, zeal for God's glory and compassion to souls, usefulness to all and disinterested goodness, contempt of this world and heavenly-mindedness, patience under sufferings and resignation to the will of God in all things, eminently shone forth in Christ Jesus, our blessed Lord and Savior; that he redeemed his time, improved all opportunities for service, sought the honor of God in all his actions, fervently prayed to him in all difficulties, trusted in him in all dangers, counted no service, no suffering too hard to which he called him, and was obedient even unto death.
My dear brother, I feel I have undertaken a task infinitely above my power to perform. The character, temper, and disposition of Jesus far exceed the prophetic description. In was in every respect perfect, without spot, and without blemish. The pious Bishop Newcome, speaking of the character of Christ, says, "He set an example of the most perfect piety to God, and of the most extensive benevolence, the most tender compassion to men. He does not merely exhibit a life of strict justice, but of overflowing benignity. His temperance has not the dark shades of austerity. His meekness does not degenerate into apathy. His humility is signal, amidst a splendor of qualities more than human. His fortitude is eminent and examplary in enduring the most formidable external evils, and the sharpest actual sufferings. His patience is invincible, his resignation entire and absolute. Truth and sincerity shine throughout his whole conduct. Though of heavenly descent, he shows obedience and affection to his earthly parents. He approves, loves, and attaches himself to amiable qualities in the human race. He respects authority, religion and civil; and he evidences regard for his country by promoting its most essential good in a painful ministry dedicated to its service by deploring its calamities, and by laying down his life for its benefit.
"Every one of his eminent virtues is regulated by consummate prudence, and he both wins the love of his friends and extorts the approbation and wonder of his enemies. Never was a character at the same time so commanding and natural, so resplendent and pleasing, so amiable and venerable. There is a peculiar contrast in it between an awful greatness, dignity, and majesty, and the most conciliating loveliness, tenderness and softness. He now converses with prophets, lawgivers, and angels, and the next instant he meekly endures the dullness of his disciples and the blasphemies and rage of the multitude. He now calls himself greater than Solomon, one who can command legions of angels, the giver of life to whomsoever he pleases, the Son of God who shall sit on the glorious throne to judge the world. At other times we find him embracing young children; not lifting up his voice in the streets, not breaking the bruised reed nor quenching the smoking flax; calling his disciples not servants but friends and brethren, and comforting them with an exuberant and parental affection.
"Let us pause an instant and fill our minds with the idea of one who knew all things, heavenly and earthly; searched and laid open the inmost recesses of the heart, rectified every prejudice, and removed every mistake of a moral and religious kind; by a word exercised a sovereignty over all nature, penetrated the hidden events of futurity, gave promises of admission into a happy immortality, had the keys of life and death, claimed a union with the Father; and yet was pious, mild, gentle, humble, affable, social, benevolent, friendly, and affectionate. Such a character is fairer than the morning star. Each separate virtue is made stronger by opposition and contrast; and the union of so many virtues forms a brightness which fitly represents the glory of that God who inhabiteth light inaccessible."
Notwithstanding the imperfect description I have given of the character of Jesus Christ, I earnestly pray that the Lord may give me and you, my dear Benjamin, grace to imitate his example. And may "the same mind be in us which was also in Christ Jesus, who being in the form of God, thought it no robbery to be equal with God; but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross." To him be glory forever. Amen.
Joseph and Benjamin
Daniel Clark has a helpful sermon called "The Son of God Must be Reverenced".
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"And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." (Matthew 28:18-20)
One of the most famous missionaries of all time, and a man whose name is often mentioned with that of William Carey and Henry Martyn, was David Brainerd. Like Carey and Martyn, he was not only a missionary, but an admirable preacher as well. David Brainerd was born at Haddam, Conn., in 1718, and he was a descendant of the Puritans who had settled at Hingham, Mass. He was interested in religion from childhood, but in his youth he became a Pharisee, taking delight in his own righteousness. It was not until he was 21 years of age that he learned the true way of salvation. "At this time the way of salvation opened to me with such infinite wisdom, suitableness and excellency," he writes, "that I wondered I should ever think of any other way of salvation." The same year, 1739, he entered Yale College. While there he became deeply interested in the work of George Whitefield, and he was grieved to learn that few of the professors and tutors could see any good in the famous English clergyman.
In 1742 Brainerd, then in his third year of college work, and one of the leaders of his class, was expelled from college because of a remark that he had made in regard to one of the tutors. He studied with the Rev. Jedediah Mills, of Ripton, Conn., and was licensed to preach in 1742.
Some of his friends, realizing the injustice that he had suffered at the hands of the Yale faculty, suggested to the Society in Scotland for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge that Brainerd be sent as a missionary to the American Indians. He was one of two men selected for this work. He went at once to Kaunaumeek, 20 miles from Albany, where he suffered untold privation, living first in a rude shelter made of a few logs, then in a wigwam and finally in a small shanty that he had built for himself in the forest. He tramped 20 miles through the woods in order to learn the language of the Indians among whom he worked. The nearest white family lived a dozen miles away, and the food that he received from them was often spoiled by the time it reached him, and often, due to the weather, it was lacking entirely. He was a young man of 24, none too robust in health, and his hardships in the forests laid the foundation for his early death. He received repeated calls to become pastor of a congregation in Easthampton, L. I., where he could have had a comfortable home, but his devotion to the missionary cause led him to refuse.
David Brainerd was ordained in 1744 by the New York Presbytery, and sent to work among the Indians at the Forks of the Delaware, near Easton, Pa. He speaks of the appalling hardships of the journey from Albany to New York, for he went on foot, and through dense forests. In his haste he seems to have taken a direct route which led over the tops of the mountains, rather than following the Indian trails which wound back and forth in the valleys. There were many places where it was necessary for him to ascend a steep mountain side by drawing himself up through the dense underbrush, and then to descend again on the other side by clinging to trees and bushes. It was no doubt a bruised and ragged candidate who appeared at last in New York for his examination and ordination.
After working for a year at the Forks of the Delaware, he went to Crossweeksung, near Freehold, N. J., also paying a visit to the Delawares on the Susquehanna. It was at Crossweeksung that David Brainerd did his greatest work. His health was frail, due to his three years of hardship, but he did not hesitate, even though his work involved traveling as many as 4000 miles in a single year, and much of this on foot. Roads were few in 1745, and to reach the Indian villages meant following the trails through endless forests. There were no chapels at his disposal, and the Indian families were scattered. Bibles and catechisms in the Indian language were unknown when he began his work. In summer it was often possible to preach in the open forest, but as soon as the long winter set in, it meant preaching in smoke-filled wigwams to the few who could crowd around him. The Indians were not accustomed to preaching, and they had to be taught to lay aside their usual occupations and to remain silent while he spoke to them.
Even in the face of such discouragements, Brainerd's work was eminently successful. He did not waste his time teaching the Indians the ways of the white man, nor were his sermons mere ethical lectures. "I have frequently been enabled to represent the divine glory," he writes, "the infinite preciousness, and transcendent loveliness of the great Redeemer, the suitableness of His Person and purchase to supply the wants and answer the utmost desires of immortal souls; to open the infinite riches of His grace and the wonderful encouragement proposed in the Gospel to unworthy, helpless sinners; to call, invite, and beseech them to come and give up themselves to Him and be reconciled to God through Him; to expostulate with them respecting their neglect of One so infinitely lovely and freely offered; and this in such a manner, with such freedom, pertinency, pathos, and application to the conscience as I am sure I never could have made myself master of by the most assiduous application of mind." With all his labors among the Indians, David Brainerd did not neglect the scattered white settlers. He preached to them whenever he had opportunity. His success in bringing his Indians to repentance and faith in the Savior was remarkable, considering the fact that he died at the age of 29. Many missionaries labored for years before seeing the results of their preaching and teaching, but Brainerd was able to show remarkable fruits almost from the outset. In 1747, wasted by the disease that he had contracted, he made his way to New England, hoping for medical aid, but it was too late. He died at the home of Jonathan Edwards, and was buried just inside the gates of the churchyard at Northampton.
During his lifetime the missionary society under whom he worked published an account of his labors, much of it in his own words. After his death Jonathan Edwards published the story of his life, with extended quotations from his daily journal. From the time that a stupid faculty expelled one of their most promising students from college to the day that he died was five years, but in that time David Brainerd made a record for himself that the Christian world will never forget, while the faculty members who dealt harshly with him are all but unknown today.
A History of Preaching
Prayer was no doubt the foundation of his success. See B. W. Maturin's sermon, "On Prayer".
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"And Jesus said to him, 'Today salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham; for the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.'" (Luke 19:9,10)
Our Lord's fame was now spread abroad through all Jerusalem and all the country round about. Some said he was a good man; others, "Nay, but he deceives the people." And therefore curiosity drew out this rich publican Zaccheus to see who this person was, of whom he had heard such various accounts. But it seems he could not conveniently get a sight of him for the press [throng], and because he was little [short] of stature. Finding he could not see Christ, he ran before the multitude and climbed up into a sycamore tree, for he was to pass that way.
From mentioning the sycamore tree and considering the difficulty with which Zaccheus must climb it, we may learn that those who would see Christ must undergo other difficulties and hardships besides contempt. Zaccheus, without doubt, went through both. Did not many, think you, laugh at him as he ran along; and in the language of Micah (Saul's daughter) cry out, "How glorious did the rich Zaccheus look today when forgetting the greatness of his station he ran before a pitiful giddy mob and climbed up a sycamore tree to see an enthusiastic preacher!"
At length, after taking much pains and going through much contempt (as we may well suppose), Zaccheus has climbed the tree and there he sits, as he thinks, hid in the leaves of it and watching. But sing, O heavens, and rejoice, O earth! Praise, magnify, and adore sovereign, electing, free, preventing [going before] love. Jesus, the everlasting God, the Prince of peace, who saw Zaccheus from eternity, now sees him in the sycamore tree and calls him in time. "And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and saw him, and said to him, Zaccheus, make haste and come down; for today I must abide at your house." He also calls him by name, as though he were well acquainted with him; and indeed well he might, for his name was written in the book of life. He was one of those whom the Father had given him from all eternity. Therefore he must abide at his house that day--"For whom he did predestinate, them he also called."
Here then, as through a glass, we may see the doctrine of free grace evidently exemplified before us. Here was no fitness in Zaccheus. He was a publican--chief among the publicans. And if we do God justice, and are effectually wrought upon, we must acknowledge there was no more fitness in us than in Zaccheus. Had not Christ prevented [gone before] us by his call, we had remained dead in trespasses and sins, and alienated from the divine life even as others.
With what different emotions of heart may we suppose Zaccheus received this invitation. Think you not that he was surprised to hear Jesus Christ call him by name, and not only so, but invite himself to his house? Surely, thinks Zaccheus, "I dream. It cannot be. How should he know me? I shall undergo much contempt if I receive him under my roof." But what says the scripture? "I will make a willing people in the day of my power." With this outward call there went an efficacious power from God which sweetly overruled his natural will. And therefore, "He made haste, and came down, and received him joyfully," not only into his house but also into his heart.
Thus it is [in this manner that] the great God brings home his children. He calls them by name, by his word or providence; he speaks to them also by his Spirit. Hereby they are enabled to open their hearts and are made wiling to receive the King of glory.
"Zaccheus stood forth and said, Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken anything from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold." Noble fruits of a true living faith in the Lord Jesus! Every word calls for our notice. Not some small, not the tenth part, but the half! Of what? "My goods"--things that were valuable; his own and not another's. "I give"--not I will give when I die, when I can keep them no longer; but I give now, even now. But to whom would he give half of his goods? Not to the rich, not to those who were already clothed in purple and fine linen, whom he might be recompensed again. But to the poor, the maimed, the halt, the blind.
And now are you not ashamed of yourselves who speak against the doctrines of grace, especially that doctrine of being justified by faith alone, as though it led to licentiousness? What can be more unjust than such a charge? Is not the instance of Zaccheus a sufficient proof to the contrary? Have I strained it to serve my own turn? God forbid. To the best of my knowledge I have spoken the truth in sincerity, and the truth as it is in Jesus. I do affirm that we are saved by grace, and that we are justified by faith alone. But I do also affirm that faith must be evidenced by good works, where there is an opportunity of performing them.
But it is time now to enforce the latter part of the text: "For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost." These words are spoken by our Saviour in answer to some self-righteous Pharisees who, instead of rejoicing with the angels in heaven at the conversion of such a sinner, murmured "that he was gone to be guest with a man that was a sinner." To vindicate his conduct, Jesus tells them that this was an act agreeable to the design of his coming. He came not only to save but to seek and to save those who were lost. He came to Jericho to seek and save Zaccheus; for otherwise Zaccheus would never have been saved by him.
Which of you obeys the call as Zaccheus did? Alas, why do you stand still! How know you whether Jesus Christ may ever call you again? Come then, poor guilty sinners. Make haste, I say, and come away to Jesus Christ. The Lord condescends to invite himself to come under the filthy roofs of the houses of your souls. Do not be afraid of entertaining him. He will fill you with all peace and joy in believing.
Sermons on Important Subjects (condensed)
Read what Richard Trench has to say about "Zacchaeus".
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"For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels."
Following the open revelation of the necessity of His death, our Lord immediately promises that He will come again, this time in the full glory they had expected on the basis of Old Testament prophecy: "For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels" (Matt. 16:27). Here we have for the first time in the gospel narrative an explicit reference to the second advent. And the second advent is associated with the coming of the Kingdom: for the Son of man will come "in his kingdom" (Matt. 16:28). Furthermore, the promise in verse 27, that "then he shall reward every man according to his works," confirms the identification of the coming of the Kingdom in time with the second coming of Messiah. For this judicial work of Messiah clearly appears in Old Testament prophecy of the Kingdom, and it certainly was not accomplished at His first coming to earth. The testimony of the New Testament writers as to this synchronism is both clear and consistent: The judging work of Christ will begin at His second coming (Matt. 25:31ff.; 1 Cor. 4:5; 2 Tim. 4:1).
Actually, of course, the rejection and death of Messiah introduced nothing new into the concept of the Kingdom, except to clarify the puzzling element of time. The Old Testament prophets had already pictured Messiah as both a glorious and a suffering person. But the idea of two separate comings of Messiah could not be clearly revealed until His first arrival on earth and His rejection had become historically certain in the movement of events. Only then could the certainty of a second coming be fully unveiled; and this future coming is now made the focal point for the hopes of men regarding the establishment of God's Kingdom on earth.
Nothing is clearer, according to Old Testament prophecy, than that the great goal of the Lord's people was centered in the arrival of God's Kingdom on earth. But if that Kingdom was established at the first coming of our Lord, as some affirm, it becomes impossible to explain why following His rejection by Israel all New Testament Scripture agrees in setting the goal, not in the present world order, but in the future at His second coming. The interpretative dilemma is very simple: either the Kingdom has not yet been established in the Old Testament prophetic sense, or the reality of Christ's second advent must somehow be explained away.
In order to indicate certain aspects of its nature, Christ gives to three of His disciples a prevision, in miniature, of His coming in the Kingdom. Following the promise of a second coming in glory, He had made the following prediction: "Verily I say unto you, There be come standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom" (Matt. 16:28). To identify the coming event to which our Lord referred in these words, at least half a dozen different views have been proposed. The most natural reference is to the Transfiguration which occurred a few days later. The connection between the prediction and its fulfillment has been obscured in Matthew by an unfortunate chapter division. But the conjunction with which chapter 17 begins clearly establishes the unbroken continuity of thought between 16:28 and 17:1, as also in the accounts of Mark and Luke were no chapter division occurs.
This is the view of [S. J.] Andrews who says, "The promise that some then standing before Him should not taste death till they had seen 'the Son of man coming in his kingdom' . . . was fulfilled when, after six days, He took Peter, James, and John into a high mountain apart, and was transfigured before them. . . . These apostles now saw Him as He should appear when, risen from the dead and glorified, He should come again from heaven to take His great power and to reign. They saw in the ineffable glory of His Person and in the brightness around them, a foreshadowing of the Kingdom of God as it should come with power, and were for a moment 'eyewitnesses of his majesty' (2 Pet. 1:16)."
Any doubts regarding the correctness of this interpretation should be settled by the word of the Apostle Peter himself who, writing by divine inspiration, has explained the significance of our Lord's Transfiguration (2 Pet. 1:16-18). In this passage, Peter first speaks of "the power and coming" of Christ, a reference certainly to His second coming in power. Then, in support of the reality and glory of this event, Peter cites the personal experience of himself with James and John, when they were on "the holy mount" (vs. 18). There, he insists, they "were eyewitnesses of his majesty," and they "heard" the heavenly voice saying, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased" (vss. 16-17).
If the reader will observe carefully the order of events recorded in Matthew 16:21-17:8, it will become increasingly clear that against the dark background of the Lord's open announcement of His rejection and death, there was need for some reassurance as to the reality and nature of the Kingdom which the apostles had been preaching to the nation of Israel. And this reassurance was given to them on the Mount of Transfiguration. In this prevision of "the Son of man coming in his kingdom," certain things were made crystal clear.
First, when the Kingdom comes at the second advent of Christ, it will be tangibly evident to sense experience: men will see the "majesty" of the King and "hear" His voice. Second, the arrival of the Kingdom will be attended by great supernatural events, as suggested by the details of the Transfiguration scene. Third, the presence of Moses, under whose mediatorial rule the ancient Theocratic Kingdom was established at Sinai, speaks strongly of the reality of its future re-establishment. Fourth, the appearance of Elijah, whose coming was promised prior to the establishment of the Kingdom, witnesses to the literal fulfilment of Old Testament prophecies concerning the Kingdom. Fifth, the Transfiguration experience suggests that at the coming of Christ in His Kingdom, His presence will supersede all other authority: the heavenly voice commands, "Hear ye him," and even Moses and Elijah are no longer seen. In their place there will be One who is both Mediatorial Ruler and Prophet.
The question of the disciples, probably uttered sometime later (cf. Mark 9:10-11), is interesting. Evidently assuming that the appearance of Elijah on the Mount had fulfilled the Old Testament prophecy concerning His coming (Mal. 4:5), the disciples ask, "Why then say the scribes that Elijah must first come?" (Matt. 17:10). But the Lord's reply set them right: In this matter the scribes had not been wrong; for "Elijah truly shall first come, and restore all things" (Matt. 17:11). This does not deny to John the Baptist a place in divine prophecy. For as S. J. Andrews has pointed out, since there were to be "two comings" of Messiah, so also there must be "two forerunners." John the Baptist was the forerunner of Messiah at His first coming when He offered to Israel the Kingdom. Elijah will be the forerunner of Messiah when He comes a second time to establish His Kingdom. But the mystery of these two forerunners could not be cleared up until Messiah arrived for the first time and had revealed that there would be a second coming.
The Greatness of the Kingdom
You can read Alexander McCaul's sermon "Prayer for the Second Advent" here.
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"Now godliness with contentment is great gain."
1 Timothy 6:3
The Apostle Paul had been cautioning Timothy against certain "men of corrupt minds and destitute of the truth, who supposed that gain was godliness," or (as it should rather be translated) "who supposed that godliness was a scheme for gaining," a plan for making money and getting forward in the world.
Now contentment without godliness "is gain" as respects this world. For there may be, and is, a sort of contentment without godliness. You may meet with persons who would decidedly be called, and who account themselves in a qualified sense as, contented; and yet they could not be said to be godly persons. They have no real fear of God before their eyes, no real love of him in their hearts. Their contentment does not rest upon religious principle but upon natural constitution favored by outward easy circumstances. Just as some persons are born with an indolent disposition and others with a passionate, so these are born with a contented disposition. And not having been fretted and soured in early life, or disquieted and harassed immoderately as they have gone through life, they remain contented. And their contentment, though without godliness, "is gain" as respects this world. They pass through the world with much less pain and abundantly more enjoyment than many of their neighbors who, with as little godliness as themselves, have far more discontent and therefore far less pleasure.
Also, godliness without perfect contentment "is gain" as respects the world to come. For there may be, and is, godliness without perfect contentment. Now some persons show their natural sinfulness more in one way than another. The natural sinfulness of some persons particularly shows itself in a sort of perpetual restlessness and dissatisfaction with all about them. Discontent may be said to be in them an easily-besetting sin. And if it be, and they be converted by the power of God and the grace of Christ, and be renewed in the spirit of their mind by the Holy Ghost, still discontent lingers as "a sin that dwells in them." The grand difference is that whereas they once dwelt in discontent, now discontent only dwells in them--dwells in them no longer as an allowed indulged friend but as "an enemy in their habitation," at whose gradual expulsion they shall never cease to aim. But no native evil disposition is hastily expelled, nor in general fully and finally expelled till this body of sin is taken down by death and every "fretting leprosy" purged out of it in the dust. Hence there is many a godly man, many a true convert and sincere Christian, who has to struggle with a naturally discontented disposition to his life's end. His unhappy temper not a little interferes with his enjoyment in this world, but still his godliness without exact contentment "is gain" as it respects the world to come. For when his natural frame shall molder into dust, the dregs of discontent will vanish with it. And then his godly spirit, set free from "the bondage of corruption," will find itself indeed a gainer before the throne for having--through grace--maintained on earth an uncompromising struggle with "the lust of the flesh."
"But godliness with contentment is great gain." A man is happy as he feels himself to be so. His happiness does not depend so much upon his outward circumstances as upon his inward feelings. What happiness therefore can compare with his, who as a godly man "has peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ," and who as a contented man is satisfied with "the portion of goods that falls to him" from his heavenly Father? Such a happy man was St. Paul. When he said "godliness with contentment is great gain," he said so from his own experience. For hear how he speaks to the Philippians: "But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at last your care for me has flourished again; though you surely did care, but you lacked opportunity. Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me" (Phil. 4:10-13).
You observe, contentment is a feeling to be acquired. St. Paul says he had "learned" to be content. But not learned without godliness. He says he learned contentment "through Christ strengthening him." And yet he went through extraordinary hardships, and had more natural causes for discontent than any of us can have. We see therefore how powerful will be the secret grace of Christ in overcoming our corruptions and enabling us to learn the hardest lessons if we will but "trust in him at all times, and pour out our hearts before him, for he is our help." We through our littleness of faith may never learn contentment as perfectly as the Apostle did. But no one can pretend to set bounds to what we can do "through Christ strengthening us."
Let us aim therefore first at godliness, and then, through godliness, at "being content with such things as we have."
Sermons, Preached in the Parish Church of St. Michael's
Read Pastor Nolen's sermon, "Giving Thanks in Hard Times".
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"Be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace;
and the God of love and peace will be with you."
2 Corinthians 13:11
We might enjoy much peace if we would not busy ourselves with the words and deeds of other men, and things which appertain nothing with to our charge. How can he abide long in peace who thrusts himself into the cares of others, who seeks occasions abroad, who little or seldom comes to himself? Blessed are the single-hearted; for they shall enjoy much peace.
Why were some of the Saints so perfect and contemplative? Because they laboured to mortify themselves wholly to all earthly desires; and therefore they could with their whole heart fix themselves upon God, and be free for holy retirement. We are too much led by our passions, and too solicitous for transitory things. We also seldom overcome any one vice perfectly, and are not inflamed with a fervent desire to grow better every day; and therefore we remain cold and lukewarm.
If we were perfectly intent upon our own hearts, and not entangled with outward things, then should we be able to relish divine things, and to have some experience of heavenly contemplation. The greatest, and indeed the whole impediment is, that we are not free from passions and lusts, neither do we endeavour to walk in the perfect way of the Saints; and when but a small adversity befalls us, we are too quickly dejected, and turn ourselves to human consolations. If we would endeavour like brave men to stand in the battle, surely we should feel the assistance of God from Heaven. For He who gives us occasion to fight, to the end we may get the victory, is ready to succour those that fight, and that trust in His grace
If we esteem our progress in religious life to consist only in some outward observances, our devotion will quickly be at an end. But let us lay the axe to the root, that being freed from passions, we may find rest to our souls. If every year we would root out one vice, we should sooner become perfect men. But now oftentimes we perceive, on the contrary, that we were better and purer at the beginning of our conversion than after many years of our profession. Our fervour and profiting should increase daily; but now it is accounted a great matter if a man can retain but some part of his first zeal. If we would do but a little violence to ourselves at the beginning, then should we be able to perform all things afterwards with ease and delight.
It is a hard matter to forego that to which we are accustomed, but it is harder to go against our own will. But if you do not overcome small and easy things, when will you overcome harder things? Resist your inclination in the very beginning, and unlearn evil habits lest perhaps by little and little they draw you to greater difficulty. O if you did but consider how much inward peace unto yourself, and joy unto others, you would procure by demeaning yourself well, I think that you would be more careful of your spiritual progress.
Of the Imitation of Christ
As an aid to increasing our zeal, read Maclaren's sermon "Christ's Gift of Himself".
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"There is a way which seems right to a man,
but its end is the way of death."
There are some ways which can hardly "seem right" to any man--the ways, namely, of open and flagrant wickedness; although even in these the presumptuous sinner may delude himself with false, self-flattering views of the divine mercy, fondly assuring himself that God will not be hard upon him and that all, no doubt, will be well at last! But many are the ways which, under the biased influence of pride and corruption, "seem right," and yet their "end" is "death."
There is the way of the sober, well-behaved worldling. He flatters himself in proportion as he is flattered by others; that all is right, and that there is no fear of him. And yet he lives "without God," a stranger to the spiritual feelings and exercises of a renewed heart; without regard to the divine authority as his rule, the divine glory as his end, the divine love as his motive, the divine blessing as his portion. And with all his earth-born virtues he goes down to the grave "with a lie in his right hand." His way "seems right." But it is not the way of life, for God is not in it.
There is the way of the formalist. He follows, strictly and punctually, the routine of external religious observance. He reads his Bible. He goes pretty regularly to church and sacrament. He maintains, perhaps by tradition from his fathers, a form of family worship, and even possibly says a prayer when he rises and when he goes to bed. But his heart has not been given to God. The world still has it. He compromises the retention of its affections for the things of the world and of sense by giving to God the pitiful and worthless offering of outward homage. It will not do. The services cannot terminate in life which have no life in them. The way of mere form is the "way of death."
There is the way of the religious speculatist, or the speculative religionist. From education, or as a matter of curiosity, he has made himself adept in theological controversy; especially, it may be, in the particular questions of the day. He holds by the creed of orthodoxy and is ready-armed at all points in its defense; and he imagines that this kind of knowledge is religion. His way "seems right" to him. And yet there may not be in all his knowledge and in all his talk one atom of religion, one "vital spark" of its "heavenly flame." The heart may not be touched, neither warmed nor purified in any one of its affections, nor the conscience rendered sensitive and tender in its submission to the dictates of the divine will. Speculative opinion is not saving knowledge, is not the faith which "works by love" and "overcomes the world." It is not the way of spiritual life, and the "end thereof is the way of death."
There is the way of the self-righteous. It is, we shall suppose, a combination of all the other three--of sobriety, formality, and knowledge--and of self-confidence thence arising. Such was the way of the Pharisees in Christ's time, on whom, notwithstanding their high pretensions, he denounces the heaviest and most terrific woes. And such was the way of the unbelieving Jews of that age more generally, of whom Paul in his Epistle to the Romans presents such a graphic and powerful description.
In the "way which seems right unto a man" may be comprehended, in short, all that bears the semblance of religion and may be mistaken for it, but is not the reality. The "end" of everything of this kind is and must be "the way of death."
God's way must be the only right way. It is, we remind you anew, the way of faith and obedience; of faith producing obedience, of obedience springing from faith. The way to heaven--the way of life--is measured from Calvary. From the foot of the cross alone can any sinner set out in it. The course of holy obedience commences with the acceptance of mercy there. It is there through faith in atoning blood and mediatorial righteousness that the sinner is freed from the burden of conscious guilt and heart-sinking fear; and thence, under the spring and elasticity of a light and joyful heart, he starts in "the narrow way"--the one and only divinely provided way to heaven. "I am the way," says Jesus. "No man comes unto the Father but by me."
Lectures on the Book of Proverbs
See also Wardlaw's sermon "Wisdom Cries".
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"Lamech lived one hundred and eighty-two years, and had a son. And he called his name Noah, saying, This one will comfort us concerning our work and the toil of our hands, because of the ground which Yahweh has cursed." (Genesis 5:28,29)
In Lamech, the seventh from Adam in the line of Cain, the worldly tendency and ungodliness rose to the heights of blasphemous arrogance and total disregard for God and man. Under such conditions religious indifference held high carnival. In amazing contrast with this group of worldly, irreligious people, the descendants of Adam through Seth stand out as bold witnesses to the truth of God. Especially is this statement true with reference to Enosh, Enoch, and Lamech, the third, the seventh, and the ninth from Adam. Lamech in the Sethitic line hoped that in his son Noah, the tenth from Adam, would be fulfilled and realized the deliverance promised at the time of the Fall. This fact shines forth through the name Noah which he chose for the child, and which indicates his hope that "the period of the curse would come to a comforting conclusion" through this son. "And he called his name Noah, saying, This same shall comfort us in our work and in the toil of our hands, which cometh from (or because of) the ground which the Lord hath cursed." The name Noah is a substantive form derived from nuach which primarily means to rest, to settle down and remain. God rested after His toil (Ex. 20:11); cattle were to be allowed to rest from their toil on the Sabbath (Ex. 23:12); and the Jews in the days of Esther opposed their enemies and then had rest from them (Esther 9:16). From these and many other examples that might be given it is clear that nuach means to enjoy rest by being freed from exhausting labors, irksome duties, and unpleasant conditions, and, as in the preset case, by being delivered from the wearisomeness of toil entailed by the curse.
In naming his son, Lamech stated that he had chosen this special word because "this same shall comfort us from our work," etc. Thus the father connected the hope of comfort expressed by m'nahem with the word nuach. The former of these words means to comfort or console; the latter, to repose, be quiet, have rest. In the nature of the case, the comfort comes only after cessation from the toil caused by the curse is granted. By some means or agency, which the Lord did not see fit to record, Lamech knew that his son would comfort the human race, not with words, but by delivering it from the curse. A comparison of his language with that spoken by the Lord in the original promise concerning "the seed of the woman" shows that the former is an unmistakable echo of the latter. Such a study also proves positively that the patriarchs understood "the seed of the woman" as indicating a man who would bring the desired deliverance from the curse.
The sacred record shows that Noah wrought, by preparing the ark, a deliverance for the race but not the salvation promised originally. But what he did was a type and a shadow of the great deliverance that "the seed of the woman" would bring to the human family. This fact is clearly seen in one of the names applied to Messiah by the ancient synagogue. The venerable rabbinic designation of Messiah as M'nahem is doubtless based upon its use in Lamentations 1:2, 9, 17, 21. The prophet in these verses laments the fact that Zion is lying in waste and that there is no one to comfort her, that is, to comfort her by bringing deliverance. In verse 16 of this same chapter there seems to be a very definite reference to one who can properly be called the Comforter of Zion and who is to refresh her soul. Here the complaint is that this one is far from her while she is lying, as it were, prostrate. This passage in the midst of a poem lamenting her hopeless state is undoubtedly an echo of the language of Lamech concerning Noah and depends upon the meaning which it there has for its force in this passage. As has already been seen, Lamech's statement shows that he who brings the comfort does so by delivering the servants of God from the curse upon the ground. Hence, since Noah did not fulfill the expectations aroused by his father's language, it is certain that he was simply a type of the great Comforter of the race and that what he did was only a shadow of the final and complete deliverance by the Comforter. In view of the partial and imperfect fulfillment of the expectations of this passage in the past, we may be bold in asserting that the language will be fulfilled literally and completely when the great Comforter, whom Noah foreshadowed, comes.
Since the curse was placed upon the ground by the decree of the Almighty God, it is certain that an ordinary man cannot lift it. Only God Himself or one whom He especially empowers can remove this universal judgment. Confirmation of this position is found and further light is thrown upon this general subject in the predictions of Isaiah. In chapters 51 and 52 the prophet discusses the time when Israel shall be restored to fellowship with her God and shall become the head of the nations (Deut. 28:13). At that time "the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come with singing unto Zion; and everlasting joy shall be upon their heads: they shall obtain gladness and joy; and sorrow and sighing shall flee away" (Isa. 51:11). Such a condition as here described presupposes the lifting of the curse. This quotation is immediately followed by the words of the Lord: [Hebrew clause] "I, even I, am he that comforteth you." Here m'nahem is an echo of the prediction of Lamech concerning Noah and not only has the force of the original statement, which it graphically reproduces, but also completes the picture of Messiah and His redemptive work, which is roughly sketched in the Torah. As has already been seen, Lamech's portrait melts away and gives place to that of the great Comforter whom Noah typified.
It is to be noted the prophet declared that God Himself is the one who will comfort Zion. The repetition of the Words, I, even I, is employed for the express purpose of calling attention to the fact that it is the Lord, and not some prophet or representative of His, who brings the long-desired comfort, not only to Zion, but also to the entire human race. His work, as set forth in this passage, was clearly reflected in the language of Lamech.
Noah, the early type of the great Comforter of the race, was granted a view into the future and accurately foretold the three great sections of the human race into which it subsequently divided, the special sphere of each, and its contribution to the world. Upon Canaan is pronounced the curse of servitude; to Japheth is given far-flung political power and dominance; and to Shem is granted preeminence in spiritual affairs. True to this prophetic outline, the descendants of Ham have been the slave nations of earth, the posterity of Japheth has held and wielded the sceptre of political preeminence and power over the peoples of the globe, and the offspring of Shem has made its contribution to the world in the moral, spiritual, and religious realms. As we shall see in the following section, it was from the Semitic branch of the race that Abraham, the father of the Hebrew people, sprang. To him God gave the promise that all families of the earth should be blessed in his seed. In perfect alignment with this announced plan, all that has really blessed the peoples of earth has come through the Hebrew people.
Messiah: His Nature and Person
Note: Cooper had the Hebrew word where we have given its transliteration into English letters.
Genesis is a fascinating book. You may want to check out this "Introduction to Genesis" by W. H. Griffith Thomas.
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"Ye do always resist the Holy Ghost."
We are apt to ascribe, I apprehend, less concern, less engagedness, and less solicitude to the Spirit in regard to the salvation of sinners than to either of the other Divine persons; that the Holy Spirit--in performing his part of the great work of redemption--makes, if I may use the word, a less sacrifice, receives fewer provocations than either the Father or the Son, and especially the Son. We can easily conceive the tender yearnings of the Father's heart in giving up his Son to such deep humiliation, such sufferings, and to such a death, and of the Son in thus voluntarily taking the sinner's place and enduring what he did. But a moment's proper reflection will show us the error and the injustice of such a discrimination and distinction.
Their perfect unity and equality at once forbid such a supposition. Their feelings on this, and on everything else, are necessarily the same in nature and infinite in degree. Their respective works are indeed different: the Father accomplished his when the whole arrangement of the mighty plan was made; the Son accomplished his, in everything absolutely essential, when he made an all-sufficient atonement, and himself exclaimed, "It is finished," and in his prayer to his Father said, "I have accomplished the work thou gavest me to do; and now, Father, come I unto thee."
Not so the Spirit. His work will not be accomplished till the last heart is regenerated and sanctified, and the soul is wholly fitted for heaven. It is the work of his office to apply the whole provision that has been made--to secure to the Son the full promise of the Father, that his people shall be willing in the day of his power, and that he shall see of the travail of his soul and be satisfied. And meets he with no opposition in his work? How hard the heart on which he must operate, how obstinate the will, how corrupt the sinner's whole nature, how blind, how opposed to his highest interests to secure which so much has been done and suffered! How hard to awaken him to a sense of his danger. How often are his gentlest influences repelled, his kindest invitations utterly slighted--for the record of every invitation, every expostulation, every warning, every entreaty which this Sacred Book contains was by his own inspiring influence: "All Scripture was given by inspiration of God." "Holy men spoke as they were moved by the Holy Ghost." Hence we are told of his being vexed, of his being grieved. Even his own people, at times, quench his tenderest and gentlest influences. Alas, what provocations do sinners give him!
The Spirit's agency is much more extensive, as well as particular, than is generally suspected. His influence is concerned in every serious thought, as well as [in every] painfully awakened feeling. It is not the deeply convicted sinner only that is the subject of it, but he that ever thinks seriously of his condition and his prospects for eternity. Conscience never utters its voice but under the Spirit's influence. In this sense, at least, he strives with all men. There is not a sinner on earth thus situated with whom the Holy Spirit does not daily strive. And when serious thoughts and reflections are dismissed or suppressed because of the pain they give, when they are not cherished as that on which the salvation of the soul may be depending, then is the crime of resisting the Holy Ghost committed. And yet, what multitudes suspect it not! How even unconscious of that offense is the generality of the impenitent! How [few] little or never think that these are the kind and gentle monitions of the Spirit. And hence, if ever they expect to be saved, they are waiting to experience his overwhelming power; and till they experience that, excuse themselves for remaining as they are. David has well described their state in the following words: "They are like the deaf adder, that stops her ear; which will not hearken to the voice of charmers, charming never so wisely." The Holy Spirit would woo the sinner to repentance, but he will not hearken to his gentle whispers.
You will appreciate this very thorough essay by Geoffrey Bromiley, "The Holy Spirit".
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"Take therefore no thought for the morrow."
Man is in reality wholly destitute of the power of foreseeing anything. He "knows not what shall be on the morrow." "He cannot tell what a day may bring forth." This we all are aware of, and often make it the subject of serious remark. Yet how inconsistently do we act! We are looking forward and anticipating future events, not only for days and weeks but for months and years to come. Sometimes we promise ourselves pleasures to be enjoyed at a distant period of time, and sometimes we forebode evils which will probably never occur, or which may occur to others when our heads are laid low in the dust. Now much--very much--of this is forbidden by our Lord and Master in the passage before us. But in order to our rightly understanding this precept, I think it will be necessary, before we inquire what the text prohibits, to consider what it does not forbid. This is the more necessary, because the words of our translation are apparently very strong, and would seem to forbid all forethought, all preparation for the future.
The original word does not imply this. It is literally, "let not your minds be divided"-- be not full of care, be not anxious and solicitous about the morrow. The word is the same as St. Paul uses when he says, "Be careful for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication make your requests known unto God." We are not therefore to understand our Lord as forbidding all forethought with respect to the future. We are told that "the prudent man foresees the evil and hides himself." We are told to "go to the ant, and consider her ways, and be wise, which having no guide, overseer, or ruler, provides her meat in the summer and gathers her food in the harvest." The providential appointments of God, moreover, render it necessary that man should use forethought.
To what then are we to apply the words? Our Lord clearly meant--
To forbid all such anxious attempts to provide for ourselves, or for our families, as would in any way imply a forgetfulness of our entire dependance upon God. Such care is the natural tendency of our hearts. We are proud. We like not the idea of depending upon God. We employ certain means for attaining our objects, and generally speaking, the means are successful. But we forget who made them so and take the credit to ourselves. We have found the means answer the end, and the more so in proportion as we have been skilful and industrious. We therefore say, we will be careful and industrious for the future, and then we shall be sure to succeed. The husbandman cultivates his land with care and is rewarded with an abundant harvest; and he says, "Here is my good management," and forgets Him "who caused his sun to shine, and his rain to descend." The tradesman carries on his business successfully and grows rich and great, and says, "My hand and the might of my arm has gotten me this wealth," and "forgets the Lord, who gave him the power to get wealth." And not content with what is past, these men, in the ungodliness of their nature, all say it shall be the same for the future. And they are taking thought for the morrow and for next year; and tomorrow's plan, and next year's plan, and all their schemes are formed without any reference to God, and are expected to succeed without him.
To such persons may be well applied the expostulation of the apostle, "Go to now, ye that say, "Today or tomorrow we will go into such a city and continue there a year, and buy and sell and get gain; whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live and do this or that."
All such care about our future temporal state is forbidden, as prevents serious attention to our spiritual welfare. The connection of our text implies this. The preceding verse is, "But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness"--comprising in these terms every spiritual benefit which man can need. To "seek the kingdom of God" is to seek admission into the true church of Christ by sincere repentance and living faith in the Lord Jesus; to seek to be numbered with his saints on earth as preparatory to being numbered with them in glory everlasting. To "seek his righteousness" is to seek for justification through him who "is made of God unto us righteousness." It is, moreover, "to hunger and thirst after righteousness," after holiness of heart and holiness of practice, the seal and evidence of our being "made the righteousness of God" in Christ.
But how is all this impeded--how sorely are we let and hindered in running the race that is set before by an over anxiety about the things of this present world! We cannot fix our affections on things above when our thoughts are occupied by "what we shall eat, and what we shall drink, and wherewithal shall we be clothed." Eternity and its vast concerns will be thrown into the background while we take anxious and over-eager thought for the morrow and its fading enjoyments. We all know this, yet we regard it not. Our Lord has therefore laid his command upon us. He prohibits all this solicitude, which we find standing in the way of our spiritual progress. Religion cannot flourish in the heart that is occupied with earthly cares. These cares therefore, must be kept under, that the soul may be the object of our unceasing regard.
But, once more, we are here forbidden to permit our thoughts to be so engaged about the things of the morrow as to destroy the peace and comfort of our minds. As I before observed, God graciously intends the happiness of even his sinful creatures. The import of every part of his word, as addressed to us, is "Do thyself no harm." Man is in every way the cause of his own unhappiness. He has ever been his own worst enemy. How much this is the case with regard to the subject before us, we are all in some degree aware. Troubles we have. We are indeed "born to trouble as the sparks fly upward." But our present distress is enormously aggravated by the anticipation of future evils--by anticipating disasters which may never befall us, and then making ourselves unhappy about them just as if they had already arrived. In the case of those who are already seeking the Lord and endeavoring to serve him, this practice springs from forgetfulness of his word, distrust of his providence, and lack of faith in his promises. He has again and again assured them that his eyes are upon them, and that his ears are open to their prayer. They are taught that nothing can befall them without his appointment, that "the very hairs of their heads are all numbered," and that "all things shall work together for good to them that love God."
For them therefore, to look forward to the future and thence to derive causes for anxiety and trouble, is unbelief and sin. It is to distrust their heavenly Father, as though his love and care were not to be depended upon. Our Lord, therefore, when specially addressing himself to his disciples, has expressly forbidden them thus to take thought for the morrow, thus to fill their minds with anxiety about what may then occur.
See Theodor Zahn for a good sermon on this text, "Freedom from Care".
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"For tomorrow will worry about its own things.
Sufficient for the day is its own trouble."
Were we endowed with the faculty of foreseeing events, we should indeed perceive that there would be no part of our future lives which would not be attended with many sorrows and many difficulties, though probably of a very different kind and character than we now imagine. Our knowledge of the future is so vague that it is very probable that even tomorrow will be passed under circumstances totally unlike what we now conjecture. How then can we expect to make provision for future months and years? But here again we have the consolation of thinking that when tomorrow comes with its train of unexpected difficulties, it will take thought for the things of itself. If it has new needs, it will have also its new supplies. If it has new difficulties, it will have also new expedients.
Look back, brethren, on the history of your past lives. How often have you met with trials that you never anticipated, difficulties that you never expected, and sorrows that you never so much as thought of! How were you brought through all these? Most clearly not by your own prudence and forethought, or by the provision you had made against the time of trial. No. But when the morrow came, it took thought for the things of itself. When the need came, God sent the supply. When the danger appeared, the means of relief appeared also. When the trouble began to press upon you, the everlasting arms were put underneath, and you were supported through the trial and your sorrow was turned into joy. Such has been the experience of your past life, and such will be also the experience of your future years--if future years are reserved for you. Your own anxious solicitude has often increased your sorrows, but it has never done anything toward relieving them. And why do you refuse to believe that it will be so for the future? You have been supported all your lives long and delivered from threatening difficulty and danger. And why do you hesitate to trust God for the future? Why will you refuse to believe him when he says, "the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself."
"Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof." To the truth of this saying we are all ready to give our assent, though we have but little inclination to act upon the acknowledged fact. It is but a sorrowful world that we live in. And though we appear to have portions in it, differing materially one from another, yet "every heart knows its own bitterness," and everyone is ready to think his own sorrow to be more acute than that of his neighbor. The Scriptures say nothing to invalidate this. On the contrary, they tell us much to show that man, as a sinner, is the child of sorrow. The Saviour assures us that we have, every day, a burden to bear, which is quite as heavy as we know how to carry--a burden sufficient to make us groan. Yet he sees us foolishly increasing our own troubles and making our burden heavier than God ever intended it should be; and doing this to no beneficial purpose whatever. If we could take tomorrow's load of cares and sorrows and so carry it today--that when tomorrow came we should find it a day of ease and satisfaction, a day free from anxiety and trouble--then there might be some wisdom in taking thought for the morrow. But this we cannot do. And yet the burden of today is grievously augmented with anticipated evils, with fears and apprehensions, while the load of tomorrow is not lightened a single grain! Thus, beside the burden God has laid upon us, we make another of our own--and groan and faint under the accumulated weight.
But why is this? It is because we are so worldly-minded; because our thoughts and affections are so much fixed on the things below. Examine yourselves, brethren, on this point. When your minds are led to look forward with anxious care to tomorrow, what are the things which most harass and distress you with fears and apprehensions? I do not say that the subjects are wholly unimportant, wholly unworthy of your attention; but I will venture to say that they are almost, if not entirely, relating to this present world. They may be important, but they are only important to you as an inhabitant of earth and not to an immortal being standing on the verge of eternity. Consider yourself as not formed for time only, but for eternity; not for this world, but for another. It is only when the things of this life are spoken of that anxious care about the future is forbidden. It is only then that it becomes the source of unhappiness. There are subjects of infinite moment to each of us, where forethought and solicitude are not only allowable but required of us. Such solicitude as will make us fear and tremble, even while we are using the means appointed by God to secure the prize set before us. Take thought for eternity, labor to secure an inheritance beyond the grave, to find pardon of sin through faith in the Lord Jesus. And then your most anxious solicitude, your most indefatigable exertions for the future will incur no censure. No, nor will they do anything towards diminishing your happiness; but the more earnest you are, the more present peace will you enjoy and the brighter will be your future prospects.
Also read Matthew Poole's helpful commentary on "The Beatitudes".
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"Then Job arose, tore his robe, and shaved his head; and he fell to the ground and worshiped. And he said: Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return there. Yahweh gave, and Yahweh has taken away; blessed be the name of Yahweh. In all this Job did not sin nor charge God with wrong." (Job 1:20-22)
How can such evils as cancer, infantile paralysis, and insanity be reconciled with the view that God is both good and sovereign?
The problem of evil has two difficult angles. One is the suffering of the righteous; the other, the presence of so-called "surd" evils [natural evil as opposed to moral evil]. Suppose it may be said that one can explain the suffering of the righteous on biblical lines--that is, that the experiences of this life are not to be evaluated as complete in themselves but form a part of a larger and eternal life for which they are a discipline; what then is to be said of such afflictions which quite clearly are not disciplinary, since they remove from the victim the ability to profit by such discipline?
Now, the seriousness of this question cannot be minimized. But it may just be that the Christian view, instead of constituting a burden on reason, may afford the only possibility of hope amidst the presence of such evils. Any view which denies the sovereignty of God places such evils outside the bounds of the meaningful and thus surrounds man in the worst trials of life with the irrational or inexplicable. Christianity declares that, ultimately, no event of life is without its meaning.
The problem of such evils, however difficult, is not nearly as difficult in the case of cancer and infantile paralysis as in the case of insanity. For, while rational life continues, who can deny the possibility of the disciplinary value of suffering in an experience which is fully yielded to the possibilities of faith? But in the case of insanity, discipline loses its meaning for the victim--at least, it is difficult to see how such discipline can exist, unless there is a subsequent restoration to sanity in this life.
But in the case of unrelieved insanity, while the disciplinary value for the individual concerned may not be in evidence, surely a disciplinary value to society cannot be denied. By this I do not mean that all insanity is due either to personal or ancestral sin, although the extent to which insanity can be explained in terms of intemperance, unrestrained immorality and persistence in a state of unrelieved spiritual tension is impressive. But, in any case, such tragedies as insanity or sudden accidents which result in the loss of the mental capacities of the victim are a constant warning to society of the temporal limits which are afforded man to establish his spiritual roots, to make such spiritual commitments as will safeguard his eternal destiny, to deal promptly with the spiritual issues of life and of death. In a sense, the same disciplinary value exists for the community at large in the death of individuals, which constitutes a reminder of the necessity for prompt and early spiritual commitments.
Now, it may be objected that such ends could be attained without such violent circumstances as insanity and death. That is a peculiar objection. The fact is that, with the presence of insanity and death, society at large nonetheless avoids the all-important individual spiritual commitment. It will be time enough when, given insanity and death, the majority of mankind respond to spiritual imperatives, to argue that they are disproportionate reminders of such a necessity.
Answers for the Now Generation
James Richards has a very helpful sermon on this subject, "God's Thoughts and Ways Above Ours".
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"And as it was in the days of Noah, so it will be also in the days of the Son of Man. They ate, they drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all." (Luke 17:26,27)
Although Christ lately expressed his desire to keep the minds of his followers in suspense, that they might not inquire too anxiously about the last day, yet, lest the indifference arising out of the world should lull them to sleep, he now exhorts them to solicitude. He wished them to be uncertain as to his coming, but yet to be prepared to expect him every moment. To shake off their sloth and to excite them more powerfully to be on their guard, he foretells that the end will come while the world is sunk in brutal indifference, just as in the days of Noah when all the nations were swallowed up by the deluge. Then they had no expectation of it, but rioted in gluttony and voluptuousness.
We have now ascertained the design of Christ: to inform believers that, in order to prevent themselves from being suddenly overtaken, they ought always to keep watch, because the day of the last judgment will come when it is not expected. When he says that men were giving their whole attention to eating, drinking, marriage and other worldly employments at the time God destroyed the world, he means that they were as fully occupied with the conveniences and enjoyments of the present life as if there had been no reason to dread any change. And though we shall immediately find him commanding the disciples to guard against surfeiting and earthly cares, yet in this passage he does not directly condemn the intemperance, but rather the obstinacy, of those times, in consequence of which they despised the threatenings of God and awaited with indifference their awful destruction. They promised to themselves that their condition would remain unchanged; they followed their ordinary pursuits without concern. In itself, it would not have been improper or worthy of condemnation to make provision for their needs if they had not, with gross stupidity, opposed the judgment of God; if they had not rushed with closed eyes to unbridled iniquity as if there had been no Judge in heaven. So now Christ declares that the last age of the world will be in a state of stupid indifference, so that men will think of nothing but the present life. The comparisons are highly appropriate. If we consider what happened then, we shall no longer be deceived that the uniform order of events which we see in the world will always continue. For when every man was conducting his affairs in the utmost tranquility, the world was swallowed up by a deluge.
"Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming." He who has his senses overloaded with food and wine, and living in intemperance, will never elevate his mind to meditation on the heavenly life. As there is no desire of the flesh that does not intoxicate a man, we ought to take care in all these respects not to satiate ourselves with the world if we wish to advance with speed to the kingdom of Christ. The uncertainty as to the time of Christ's coming--which almost all treat as an encouragement to sloth--ought to excite us to attention and watchfulness. God intended that the hour of Christ's coming should be hidden from us for the express purpose that we may keep diligent watch without the relaxation of a single hour.
You may wish to consult Scruby, "Pretribulationism Examined".
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"Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, Inasmuch as God has shown you all this, there is no one as discerning and wise as you. You shall be over my house, and all my people shall be ruled according to your word; only in regard to the throne will I be greater than you." (Genesis 41:39,40)
This portion of the book of Genesis [chapters 37-50] is, without doubt, the most interesting and dramatic of the entire book. The author’s skill as a narrator is throughout displayed to excellent advantage. A part of the interest of the narrative lies in the greater wealth of detail. If the author employed available sources, as it seems most likely that he did, his source material, apparently, was more copious the farther he advanced in these early histories. But on the other hand, it seems equally true that the nearer he gets to the events of his own day, the more would his readers desire full information. Moses is now writing history that involves the fathers of the twelve tribes. There is much in this history that the tribes themselves should be acquainted with for their comfort and their admonition.
But when we say that the dramatic element begins to predominate more in the narrative, we do not imply that the author injected it. Truth still is stranger than fiction. It was not the author’s skill that rendered these tales dramatic. These things actually transpired as they were narrated. The drama involved is practically nothing other than the unusual display of divine providence, which shines forth more brilliantly here than perhaps anywhere else in sacred history. Step for step God’s providence watched over the chosen race as it was about to go into the depths of national enslavement. One element of encouragement for these trying days was to be the remembrance of the signal tokens of divine grace experienced shortly before.
One very noticeable feature of this "history (toledôth) of Jacob" is the predominance of Joseph practically throughout the entire section. Yet for all that, though he is the mainspring of the movement of the history, Jacob is still the dominant character. We remind of this, for though Joseph is prominent, he is not to be estimated too highly. God never appeared to him as he did to his father Jacob, or to Isaac and to Abraham. Joseph dare not be ranked higher on the level of faith than his forefathers. It is a case of misplaced emphasis to say that "the hero himself is idealized as no other patriarchal personality is . . . (Joseph) is the ideal son, the ideal brother, the ideal servant, the ideal administrator." In contact with non-Israelites, Joseph surely achieved remarkable prominence, but for the inner, spiritual history of the kingdom of God, he does not come up to the level of his fathers.
There is another feature of his life which is rather striking and demands closer attention. In a more distinct way than in the lives of his fathers, Joseph stands out as a type of Christ. Abraham exemplifies the Father’s love who gave up His only-begotten Son. Isaac passively typifies the Son who suffers Himself to be offered up. But in Joseph’s case, a wealth of suggestive parallels come to the surface upon closer study. Though these parallels are not stamped as typical by the New Testament, there can hardly be any doubt as to their validity. For as Joseph is a righteous man, and in this capacity is strongly antagonized and made to suffer for righteousness’ sake but finally triumphs over all iniquity, so the truly Righteous One, the Saviour of men, experiences the same things in an intensified degree. Lange lists the details of this type in a very excellent summary. He mentions as prefiguring what transpired in the life of the great Antitype, Jesus Christ, the following: "the envy and hatred of the brethren against Joseph and the fact that he is sold; the realization of Joseph’s prophetic dreams by the very fact that his brethren seek to prevent his exaltation by destroying him; the fact that the malicious plot of the brethren results in the salvation of many, however, in a very particular sense for the brethren and for Jacob’s house; the judgment of the Spirit upon the treachery of the brethren and the victory of forgiving love; Judah’s surety for Benjamin and his rivalry with Joseph in the spirit of self-sacrifice; the revival of Jacob in his joy over the fact that the son long deemed dead was alive and eminently successful."
This angle of the case is beautifully supplemented by Pascal (Pensées, quoted by Delitzsch): "Jesus Christ is prefigured by Joseph: the beloved of his father, sent by the father to his brethren, the innocent one sold by his brethren for twenty pieces of silver and so made their lord, their saviour and the saviour of strangers and the saviour of the world; all of which would not have happened if they had not had the purpose to destroy him, if they had not sold and rejected him. In prison Joseph the innocent one between two malefactors--Jesus on the cross between two evildoers: Joseph predicts good fortune to the one and death to the other, though both appear alike--Jesus saves the one and leaves the other in his just condemnation, though both stood charged with the same crime. Joseph begs of the one who is to be delivered to remember him when he is restored to honour, and he whom Jesus saves asks to be remembered when He comes in His kingdom." The ways of divine providence could hardly be stranger, and God’s guiding hand in history is marvelously displayed to the eyes of faith.
Exposition of Genesis
For more on God's providence, read "Providence and Preservation" by Andrew Rule.
For an excellent but lengthy reading, consider chapter XII, "The Types," from Prophetical Landmarks: Containing Data for Helping to Determine the Question of Christ's Pre-Millennial Advent by Horatius Bonar. (Please allow about 10 seconds for the link to come up.)
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"For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened." (Romans 1:21)
If a Hindu were brought up in India in a Hindu family and from the day of his birth to the day of his death he never heard any other view than Hinduism, what would happen to him? What of those who lived before Jesus Christ?
God is able to distinguish, in the total guilt of a moral being, between that proportion of moral failure which is due to one's environment and heredity, and one's personal revolt against the specific light which he has. The Scriptures teach that there is nowhere anyone without some light; it is precisely this light, against which man revolts, that makes him a sinner. However much distortion there is in the nonbiblical religions, the light of that objective spiritual and moral order which centers in the sovereign Lord of history is not extinguished. If it were extinguished, men would not be in any way different from the animals. They are different from the animals by virtue of the fact that they are related to God, and they are at the same time sinners by virtue of the fact that there is spiritual light against which they are in revolt. There is no person who has come to the age of accountability but that, whatever his religious environment, he refuses to live up to the light which he has.
While the Scriptures judge the nonbiblical religions negatively, their severest judgment falls upon the individual, personal moral revolt of a man against the light which he possesses. The Scriptures teach that all men are implicated in the sin of Adam, yet they make it plain that no man is eternally condemned on the ground of the sin of Adam alone. It is man's personal moral revolt against which the biblical teaching strikes out most forcibly. No man who has never heard of Jesus Christ is condemned for rejecting Christ; all men are condemned for their revolt against the light that they have. That light, in the Christian ages, is so much brighter in view of the coming of Jesus Christ into the world. The biblical teaching on the future punishment of those who do not turn to God for forgiveness and salvation emphasizes that there are degrees of punishment, using the terminology of "less" and "more" stripes. How much light do you have and what do you do with it?--that is the all-important question in a man's relationship with God.
The case of a man living up to the light that he has is, I believe, purely hypothetical and not actual. If there were such a man, on speaking terms with God, needing no salvation and mirroring the Christlife apart from supernatural regeneration, he would certainly not be representative of that great company in the pagan world to which the Christian missionaries carry the gospel. The Scriptures declare that all men are sinners, and it will be time enough to question that declaration when and if one should arise, whose intense moral sense knows neither sin nor guilt. The proclamation of the gospel to the heathen involves a double thrust, declaring that man is not on speaking terms with God because he is in a state of active revolt--to which his conscience bears witness--and that salvation is offered him as a free gift.
The man who most nearly lives up to the light he has is, paradoxically enough, the man who recognizes himself to be a sinner in moral revolt against a holy God and unable by his own effort to restore fellowship, and who, instead of pretending still to be on speaking terms with a holy God or instead of offering sacrifices which imply that God glosses over sin, recognizes that there is no salvation unless a holy God Himself provides it, and trusts God to provide the sacrifice. That He has done so is revealed in the Scriptures. That men will find their way to it, apart from the preaching of the gospel, is most unlikely. The Great Commission imposes upon the Christian community the breathtaking task of proclaiming the good tidings to the ends of the earth; and the testimony of Scripture and experience is that man in sin turns away from, rather than toward, God.
Can a person who hasn't rejected Christ be lost? That is a common question--the spiritual fate of those who have never heard of the historical Jesus, who provided salvation by His atoning death on Calvary. Granted that one who hears that Christ is the Saviour of sinners, but rejects Him, is lost, what of those who have never heard the name of Christ? The important fact here is that Christ has an existence which antedates and is broader than His historical incarnation. He is the truth and the source of all good.
In a real sense, a man who has never heard the name of Christ rejects Him nonetheless every time he sins against whatever light he has. In the midst of pagan darkness, men know that they do not live up to the best that they know and that God is holier than their deeds. The gods of men are always at least as good as their consciences, which judge the deeds of men. The idea of the good and the idea of the holy are everywhere found together, except where specifically modern naturalism has severed them.
The universal history of mankind is the story of man in revolt against light, of man as sinner, of man as reducing the highest that he knows to something less, of man as distorting and rejecting the good and the true, of man rejecting Christ. Some men reject Christ not only by revolt against the claim of truth and goodness upon them but reject Him also as Saviour. Those who reject Him as Saviour will be judged for this rejection; every man is judged in terms of the light against which he has rebelled.
Answers for the Now Generation
Read John Gerstner's article, "The Fate of the Heathen".
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"Now Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Syria, was a great and honorable man in the eyes of his master, because by him Yahweh had given victory to Syria. He was also a mighty man of valor, but a leper. And the Syrians had gone out on raids and had brought back captive a young girl from the land of Israel. She waited on Naaman's wife." (2 Kings 5:1-2)
It must have been a crushing sorrow that came upon that Israelitish household when the Syrian bands carried from it the little maiden whom we find afterward waiting on Naaman's wife. Yet this was the first link in the chain of events which brought healing of body and soul to the Syrian captain. It also proved anew to Jew and Gentile alike that there was a living God in Israel who had placed his accredited representative there.
Assuredly the most devoted affection could not have desired for a child a place of greater honor or usefulness than that which this Jewish maiden occupied in the household of the Syrian captain. What follows is told with utmost simplicity and bears the impress of truth, for it was only natural that this child should tell her mistress of the prophet in Samaria and express the full confidence in his ability to recover her master of his leprosy. Similarly, it was only what we should have expected when her mistress repeated to her husband what the child had said, and perhaps equally natural on the part of Naaman to repeat this to his king in order to obtain his leave to go to Samaria, and in such a manner as to secure the desired result.
As heathens, and especially as Syrians, neither Naaman nor Ben-hadad would see anything strange in the possession of such magical powers by a prophet of Israel. It was quite in accordance with heathen notions to expect that the king of Israel could obtain from his own prophet any result which he might desire. A heathen king was always the religious, as well as the political, chief of his people, and to command the services and obedience of his own prophet would seem almost a matter of course. It was for this reason that Ben-hadad furnished Naaman with a letter to the king of Israel: "Now be advised, when this letter comes to you, that I have sent Naaman my servant to you that you may heal him of his leprosy." Imperious as the tone of the letter seems, it scarcely warranted the interpretation which the king of Israel--probably Joram--put upon it: "Am I God, to kill and make alive, that this man sends a man to me to heal him of his leprosy? Therefore please consider and see how he seeks a quarrel with me."
What is reported in the sacred text must of necessity be regarded as only a part of the letter, that of stating its main object. But from the Jewish point of view, we can quite understand how Joram would speak of what he regarded as a demand (that he himself should heal Naaman of his leprosy), as equivalent to requiring of him what God alone could do. It was not unnatural that Joram should regard it as a desire [on Ben-hadad's part] to find occasion for quarrel, and the craven king of Israel rent his clothes in token of deepest mourning, as if he had already seen his own and his people's destruction.
Some of the lessons suggested by the conduct of Joram may be of practical use. We mark the cowardice of the man who gives way to despair before any danger has actually arisen. There are many who tremble before fears, which prove wholly groundless, who do not tremble before that which is real. It need scarcely be said how much good work, whether on the part of individuals or the Church, has been hindered by apprehensions of this kind. Joram knew, as the Syrian did not, that God alone could give help. He had religion, but it stood him in no good stead; it was laid aside precisely when it was needed. He did not call to mind that there was a prophet in Israel but in helpless terror rent his clothes. So we also, instead of immediately and almost instinctively resorting to God, too often forget him until every other means has been exhausted. We apply to him from despair rather than from faith.
Reverently speaking, it would have been impossible for Elisha as "the man of God" to be silent on this occasion. His message of reproof to the king, "Why have you torn your clothes? Please let him come to me, and he shall know that there is a prophet in Israel," is not one of self-assertion but of assertion of God. It was a testimony and a test, alike for Israel and for the heathen world, of the presence of the living and true God. While viewing it in this grander application, we ought not to forget what confirmation it gave to the simple faith of that "little one" in the service of Naaman's wife.
In accordance with the direction of the king, Naaman now betook himself with his horses and his chariot to the humble dwelling of Elisha in Samaria. Greater or more instructive contrast could scarcely be imagined. We know that Naaman had come to Samaria not only armed with a royal letter and at the head of a great retinue, but bringing with him princely gifts for his expected healing. The contrast was unspeakably intensified when the prophet, without even seeing the Syrian captain, sent him this message: "Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored to you, and you shall be clean." We cannot doubt that the bearing of Elisha was divinely directed. Elisha would thus teach Naaman that neither his pomp nor his wealth was the cause of his healing, and also that help did not come from the prophet, as if such power were inherent in him.
We can readily perceive how the manner and direction of Elisha would stir the indignation of Naaman. As Syria's captain he would naturally expect a different reception, and as a heathen he would have expected Elisha to use some magical means. And Naaman spoke both as a heathen and a Syrian when he contemptuously compared the turbid flood of Jordan with the limpid waters of Abana and Pharpar, which transformed the wilderness around Damascus into a very paradise of beauty and riches. "So he turned and went away in a rage."
The reasoning by which Naaman had so nearly deprived himself of a benefit that would be to him as life from the dead, is substantially the same as that which leads many to turn from the one remedy to which God directs them. The simple command of the Gospel--to "wash and be clean,"--is still to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness. The difficulty felt by Naaman is the same as that of so many in our days: the need of humiliation and of faith in a remedy which seems so inadequate to the end. If washing be required, let it be in the Abana and Pharpar of our own waters, not in the turbid stream of Israel! But it is ever this humiliation of heart and simple faith in God's provision which are required for our healing. "Unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven." Naaman had to learn it.
So it came to pass that instead of returning to Damascus a leper, Naaman went down to Jordan. Obedient to the saying of the man of God, he dipped himself seven times in Jordan. We can scarcely be mistaken in regarding the number seven as symbolic of the covenant, and as also implying a trial of faith, since presumably the healing did not come until after the seventh washing. It now appeared by the effect produced that Elisha had throughout sought not only the restoration of bodily health, but also the spiritual recovery of Naaman. Although not bidden so by the prophet, yet following the promptings of a renewed heart, Naaman returned to Elisha and made such full acknowledgment of God that it might have been said, "I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel."
Bible History Old Testament
Don't miss Part 1 of Ryle's exposition of John 3:3, "Except a man be born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God."
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