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
"How many hired servants of my father's have bread enough and to spare,
and I perish with hunger!"
"The way of transgressors is hard." God's word [Prov. 13:15] says so, but so does all human experience. Not that vicious propensities bring immediate retribution; not that there are no flowers--such as they are--in the gardens of sin; not that the treasures of youth and health and money may not seem for a while quite inexhaustible and other worldly advantages sufficient and sufficing; only that a day surely comes when the fires of the senses burn low, when the power of drawing pleasure from the gratification of desire departs, though the habit of seeking such pleasure is riveted. What is best in the man may be vulgarized and degraded beyond recognition. Yet there will come an hour of awakening, an hour when the past life appears in its issues like a carcass in process of corruption, and reason and conscience and memory and the thought of what might have been are like vultures preying upon the still-quivering vitals.
In the current fiction of the day, we sometimes have the reassuring combination in a single hero of magnificent physical powers and an unlimited capacity for deeds of daring and generous impulse, along with habitual disregard of duty whether to God or man. And frequently the end attained is a triumphant arrival in ports of peace and safe anchorage, the evil doings condoned, forgotten, or redressed by some one act or coup of splendid showy self-sacrifice. It is safe to say that in most of these imaginary histories the hero is a wild impossibility, the character wholly unlike any met with in common life, just as the events through which he marches to the denouement are totally unlike such as meet us in natural sequence in our individual experience. But be sure that, however men conduct themselves in fiction or in real life, human actions are, and must be, subjected to a Divine scrutiny, which does not vary with circumstances. There is no world of living men where there is no God, and no law of God, and no sure consequences of evil doing. On this side of the grave anticipate that final judgment seat, before which every one of us alike will one day give account of the deeds done in his body.
Look at the picture in the parable. The youth in the parable whom we all call the prodigal son, though he is not called that in the Gospel, has had a sorrowful experience. He has cast off restraint--the restraint of love and duty, of home and conscience, of law--social and Divine. To use a late phrase, he has wearied of the stagnation of comfort, the quiet order, the loving care of his father's house. Like so many he has undervalued the sweetness of innocence, of lying down at night and rising in the morning in health of body and mind with no black stain in the memory, no frenzied grip at some base indulgence. The hot blood surges through his veins and cries out for freedom to have his own and do what he will with it. The daily round of prayer and blessing is irksome. Any daily round is irksome. He chafes at his mother's gentle remonstrances and his father's firm refusals. Oh, for the wilderness and the sea! To try things for one's self, to pluck at will the poisonous wild flowers, to lose his way in the trackless desert, to stray into the portal and chambers of moral death! What he wants is life without conscience, without duty, without God. This he fancies is to live like a man, with some dash and swing and sparkle in life, although he shatters a father's hopes and breaks his mother's heart.
Then when the inevitable hour comes and the fires of passion are spent, and the precious gifts of life exhausted, memory becomes an avenger. The thought of the past is an awful reproach. The early days, before vice had taken root, come back to him--when the morning land was fresh with the verdure and blossoms of spring, when the voice of parents was sweet in childish ears, and the chances of happiness and blessing still lay in the near distance. All this rises before the mind of the broken, remorseful, hopeless spendthrift. What might have been! That is the barbed arrow that rankles in the wound. While his choice was still in his hands, and the lovely helps of home and the means and encouragements God devises to win us to His service were still his, how had he tossed them away! And now where am I, and what am I? "How many hired servants of my father's have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger!"
Alas, in the majority of cases the lost soul stops here. I must warn all of you younger ones who are before me that it is not safe to count on rising like the prodigal in our Blessed Lord's parable from the thought of what might have been to the hope of what yet may be. Vicious indulgence, sinning against light and knowledge paralyzes the moral powers. The long disuse of prayer incapacitates one for praying. Memory and association may call from the years long past, but the will may be hopelessly weakened. And so, the day of grace passes, and the shadows lengthen, and that night comes on in which there is no possibility of self-deceiving and no opportunity for repentance.
My dear friends and children, we all need the warnings. We are none of us in any danger of dreading sin too much. We are none of us in the land of security. We are still in a world of great temptation; and many of you have a hard struggle before you, if you are to hold fast and tread the narrow way. But if you will take it, the pillar of the cloud will shine before you, and in the distance the peace and plenty and the welcome home of the Father's House will await you. You may now accept the blessings and prerogatives, not of hired servants, but of sons, if you will only try to fulfill the duties of sonship.
School Sermons (condensed)
You might enjoy this article, "Who Can Forgive Sins," by Pastor Elifson.
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"He also said to His disciples: There was a certain rich man who had a steward, and an accusation was brought to him that this man was wasting his goods. So he called him and said to him, 'What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your stewardship, for you can no longer be steward.' Then the steward said within himself, What shall I do? For my master is taking the stewardship away from me. I cannot dig; I am ashamed to beg. I have resolved what to do, that when I am put out of the stewardship, they may receive me into their houses. So he called every one of his master's debtors to [him], and said to the first, 'How much do you owe my master?' And he said, 'A hundred measures of oil.' So he said to him, 'Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.' Then he said to another, 'And how much do you owe?' So he said, 'A hundred measures of wheat.' And he said to him, 'Take your bill, and write eighty.' So the master commended the unjust steward because he had dealt shrewdly. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in their generation than the sons of light. And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by unrighteous mammon, that when you fail, they may receive you into an everlasting home." (Luke 16:1-9)
The rich man of ver. 1 is a great lord living in the capital, far from his lands, the administration of which he has committed to a factor. The latter is not a mere slave, as in 12:42; he is a freeman, and even occupying a somewhat high social position (ver. 3). He enjoys very large powers. He gathers in and sells the produce at his pleasure. Living himself on the revenue of the domain, it is his duty to transmit to his master the surplus of the income. . . . The master can only represent God Himself, Him who maketh poor and maketh rich, who bringeth low and lifteth up. In relation to his neighbor, every man may be regarded as the proprietor of his goods; but in relation to God, no one is more than a tenant. This great and simple thought, by destroying the right of property relatively to God, gives it its true basis in the relation between man and man. Every man should respect the property of his neighbor, just because it is not the latter's property, but that of God, who has entrusted it to him. In the report made to the master about the delinquencies of his steward, we are to see the image of that perfect knowledge which God has of all human unfaithfulness. To waste the goods of God, means, after having taken out of our revenue what is demanded for our maintenance, instead of consecrating the remainder to the service of God and of His cause, squandering it on our pleasure, or hoarding it up for ourselves. Here we have the judgment of Jesus on that manner of acting which appears to us so natural: it is to forget that we are but stewards, and to act as proprietors.
The saying of the master to the steward (ver. 2) does not include a call to clear himself; it is a sentence of deprivation. His guilt seems thoroughly established. The account which he is summoned to render is the inventory of the property confided to him, to be transmitted to his successor. What corresponds to this deprivation is evidently the event by which God takes away from us the free disposal of the goods which He had entrusted to us here below, that is, death. The sentence of deprivation pronounced beforehand denotes the awakening of the human conscience when it is penetrated by his voice of God: "Thou must die; thou shalt give account."
The situation of the man is critical. Of the two courses which present themselves to his mind, the first, digging, and the second, begging, are equally intolerable to him, the one physically, the other morally. . . . But has he not those goods, which he is soon to hand over to another, in his hands for some time yet? May he not hasten to use them in such a way that he shall get advantage from them when he shall have them no more, by making sure, for example, of a refuge for the time when he shall be houseless? When man thinks seriously of his approaching death, it is impossible for him not to be alarmed at that deprivation which awaits him, and at the state of nakedness which will follow. Happy if in that hour he can take a firm resolution. For some time yet he has in his hands the goods of his divine Master, which death is about to wrest from him. Will it not be wisdom on his part so to use them during the brief moments when he has them yet at his disposal, that they shall bear interest for him when they shall be his no more?
This steward, who will soon be homeless, knows people who have houses: "Let us then make friends of them; and when I shall be turned to the street, more than one house shall be open to receive me." The debtors, whom he calls to him with this view, are merchants who are in the habit of coming to get their supplies from him, getting credit probably till they have made their own sales, and making their payments afterward. . . . He knows his men, as the saying is, and can calculate the degree of liberality which he must show to each to gain a like result, that is to say, the hospitality he expects to receive from them until it be repaid. Jesus here describes alms in the most piquant form. Does a rich man, for example, tear up the bill of one of his poor debtors? He only does what the steward does here. For if all we have is God's, supposing we lend anything, it is out of His property that we have taken it; and if we give it away, it is with His goods (that which is another's, ver. 12) that we are generous in so acting. Beneficence from this point of view appears as a sort of holy unfaithfulness. By means of it we prudently make for ourselves, like the steward, personal friends, while we use wealth which, strictly speaking, is that of our Master. But differently from the steward, we do so holily, because we know that we are not acting without the knowledge and contrary to the will of the divine Owner, but that, on the other hand, we are entering into His purposes of love, and that He rejoices to see us thus using the goods which He has committed to us with that intention. This unfaithfulness is faithfulness (ver. 12).
The commendation which the master gives the steward (ver. 8) is not absolute. It has a twofold limitation, first in the word "the unjust steward," an epithet which he must certainly put in the master's mouth, and then in the explanatory phrase: "because he had done wisely." The meaning of the commendation, then, is to this effect: "Undoubtedly a clever man! It is only to be regretted that he has not shown as much probity as prudence." Thus, even though beneficence chiefly profits him who exercises it, God rejoices to see this virtue. And while He has no favor for the miser who hoards His goods, or for the egoist who squanders them, He approves the man who disposes of them wisely in view of his eternal future.
It is with the second part of ver. 8 that the application begins. "Wisely: Yes, adds Jesus, it is quite true. For there is more wisdom found among the children of this world in their mode of acting toward the children of the generation to which they belong, than among the children of light in their conduct toward those who belong to theirs." . . . Those belonging to the first sphere use every means for their own interest, to strengthen the bonds which unite them to their contemporaries of the same stamp. But those of the second neglect this natural measure of prudence. They forget to use God's goods to form bonds of love to the contemporaries who share their character, and who might one day give them a full recompense, when they themselves shall want [lack] everything and these shall have abundance.
Ver. 9 finishes the application. The words: and I also say unto you, correspond to these: and the Lord commended (ver. 8). As in chap. 15 Jesus had identified Himself with the Father who dwells in heaven, so in this saying He identifies Himself with the invisible owner of all things: and I. Jesus means: Instead of hoarding up or enjoying--a course which will profit you nothing when, on the other side of the tomb, you will find yourselves in your turn poor and destitute of everything--hasten to make for yourselves, with the goods of another (God's), personal friends (to yourselves), who shall then be bound to you by gratitude, and share with you their well-being. By a course of beneficence make haste to transform into a bond of love the base metal of which death will soon deprive you. What the steward did in his sphere in relation to people of his own quality, see that you do in yours toward those who belong like you to the world to come.
According to the parable, the friends can only be men who have been succored by him on the earth, poor here below, but possessing a share in the everlasting inheritance. What service can they render to the dying disciple? Here is perhaps the most difficult question in the explanation of the parable. Love testified and experienced establishes between beings a strict moral unity. This is clearly seen in the relation between Jesus and men. May not the disciple who reaches heaven without having gained here below the degree of development which is the condition of full communion with God, receive the increase of spiritual life, which is yet wanting to him, by means of those grateful spirits with whom he shared his temporal goods here below? (Comp. Rom. 15:27 and 1 Cor. 9:11.) Do we not already see on the earth the poor Christian, who is assisted by a humane, but in a religion point of view defective, rich man, by his prayers, by the overflowing of his gratitude, and the edification which he affords him, requiting his benefactor infinitely more and better than he receives from him? Almsgiving is thus found to be the most prudent investment; for the communication of love once established by its means, enables him who practises it to enjoy provisionally the benefits of a spiritual state far superior to that which he has himself reached. A similar thought is found in 14:13, 14. But if this explanation seems to leave something to desire, we must fall back on sayings such as these: "He that hath pity upon the poor, lendeth unto the Lord." "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me." It is Jesus, it is God Himself, who become our debtors by the assistance which we grant to those who are the objects of their love.
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"So I gave them over to their own hearts' lusts,
and they walked in their own counsels."
Here was the act of rebellion, the determination not to serve and obey God; and it was a determination which was sure to bring down evil on their heads. And so it did; but mark what kind of evil, mark what was the sentence of God upon a chosen people who had made up their minds to disobey: "So I gave them up unto their own hearts lusts, and let them follow their own imaginations." A strange punishment this truly [was]! Strange at least to a mind not looking below the surface of things. Israel wishes to have his own way instead of God's way; wishes to follow his own imaginations instead of God's law; and the punishment is this--that instead of correcting the rebellious spirit by sharp chastisement and discipline, God suffers His rebellious servants to have their own way.
And it is clear from the tone of the Psalm that this punishment is looked upon as one of the most grievous which God's wrath can inflict, for the writer of the Psalm (speaking as in the words of God) laments over the people as over those who were now past recovery; as though the sword of the enemy, the famine, the pestilence were but slight scourges compared with that more bitter curse of being allowed to do as they would without check or curb.
This must needs seem strange to one who judges after the manner which is common in this world. For to be free from check, to do as he will, to be permitted to have his heart's lust or desire, to be able without let [permission] or hindrance to follow his own imagination, this is what half the world are seeking after. This, to half the world, would be almost the definition of happiness. It is the restraint of rules and laws which many men find so galling. The laws of society forbid this, and the bonds of family interfere with that, and the Bible is severe in its code, and the Church protests, and withal conscience is forever tormenting and vexing. And so a man who desires to walk after the ways of his own heart finds himself perpetually curbed and harassed by all kinds of restrictions. And nothing would delight him more than to receive such a sentence as this--"From henceforth you shall have your own heart's lusts, and you shall be allowed to follow your own imaginations." And yet this boon of freedom would be the deadliest curse. This coveted state of liberty is the last awful punishment reserved for those who have made up their minds to rebel, and whom the ordinary chastisements and warnings of God have failed to bring to repentance.
Now let us look into this subject a little more closely. The Psalm from which the text is taken throughout belongs to Israel. It is a hymn of merry-hearted joy to the God of Jacob for all His mercy and goodness. Let us then for a moment consider the relation of Israel to their God. Israel was the chosen people. They were taken out of all the world as a witness for the true God, they were to be treated with special favor, they were to be the holiest as well as the happiest of mankind. How did God shew His love to them? Did He say, Your natural appetites lead you to such and such things, and as you are My chosen people I will not interfere to thwart your propensities? Did He say, Restraints are hard to human nature to bear, and therefore I will free you from restraints and you shall do as you please? Surely He did the very opposite of all this. God shewed His love to the Israelites by giving them a law more strict than any which had gone before it. He revealed Himself as a jealous God who would be obeyed. He showed that they were His chosen people by laying upon them a most complex system of ordinances and sacrifices and ceremonies. He curbed all their actions, and He punished them severely for all transgressions of His law. Thus the marks of His favor must have formed, to those who loved Him not, the most heavy galling bondage. And it was only as a last step, when the people were determined to rebel, that He granted to them that prime blessing--as a worldly mind would consider it--namely, license to follow their own hearts' lusts, and to do according to their own imaginations.
A strange method of showing favor [this is], if the judgment of many in these as in all other days is to be taken as the standard of happiness! If freedom to follow our own ways were the great boon to be sought by mankind, then the wild children of Esau and not the tribes of Israel were the people really blessed by God, for they wandered after their own lusts and did according to their own imaginations while the Israelites were checked at every turn by some law or restriction or ordinance.
In truth we can only understand this mode of showing love and favor by supposing that that character of God is true which we recite in the Collect, that "His service is perfect freedom"; or by reflecting on that prayer which we ourselves offer up for the people of God, "Govern them and lift them up forever."
Therefore I would say in conclusion, let us claim our privileges as Christians. Let us think of ourselves as baptized into Christ precisely for this--that we may be His soldiers and servants, and so [thus] free from sin, free from the world, free from ourselves. Let us strive ever to live by rule, to keep a watch upon our lusts, our appetites, our words, our thoughts. Let us endeavor to realize the horrors of being allowed to do as we please. Let us seek nearer communion with Him who is our life--in prayer and sacraments and in doing good. And let us ever pray, with the earnestness of men who feel the awfulness of being without God in the world, "Oh Lord! never leave us to our own hearts' lusts and to our own imaginations, but of Thy mercy govern us in this world and so lift us up forever!"
Parish Sermons (condensed)
Read "The Story of Hazael" by Alexander Maclaren.
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"Yahweh is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name's sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; my cup runs over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of Yahweh forever." (Psalm 23:1-6)
"The Lord is my shepherd." What condescension is this, that the infinite Lord assumes toward his people the office and character of a Shepherd! It should be the subject of grateful admiration that the great God allows himself to be compared to anything which will set forth his great love and care for his own people. A sheep is an object of property, not a wild animal. Its owner sets great store by it, and frequently it is bought with a great price. It is well to know, as certainly David did, that we belong to the Lord. There is a noble tone of confidence about this sentence. There is no "if" nor "but," nor even "I hope so;" but he says, "The Lord is my shepherd." We must cultivate the spirit of assured dependence upon our heavenly Father. The sweetest word of the whole is that monosyllable, "My." He does not say, "The Lord is the shepherd of the world at large, and leads forth the multitude as his flock," but "The Lord is my shepherd." If he be a Shepherd to no one else, he is a Shepherd to me. He cares for me, watches over me, and preserves me.
"I shall not want." I might want otherwise, but when the Lord is my Shepherd he is able to supply my needs, and he is certainly willing to do so, for his heart is full of love. I shall not lack for temporal things. Does he not feed the ravens and cause the lilies to grow? How, then, can he leave his children to starve? I shall not want for spirituals, I know that his grace will be sufficient for me.
"He makes me to lie down in green pastures: he leads me beside the still waters." The Christian life has two elements in it--the contemplative and the active--and both of these are richly provided for. What are these "green pastures" but the Scriptures of truth--always fresh, always rich, and never exhausted. Sweet and full are the doctrines of the gospel, fit food for souls, as tender grass is natural nutriment for sheep. When by faith we are enabled to find rest in the promises, we are like the sheep that lie down in the midst of the pasture. But observe: "He makes me to lie down." It is the Lord who graciously enables us to perceive the preciousness of his truth and to feed upon it. How grateful ought we to be for the power to appropriate the promises! There are some distracted souls who would give worlds if they could but do this. They know the blessedness of it, but they cannot say that this blessedness is theirs. They know the "green pastures," but they are not made to "lie down" in them. Those believers who have for years enjoyed a "full assurance of faith" should greatly bless their gracious God.
"Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me." This unspeakably delightful verse has been sung on many a dying bed and has helped to make the dark valley bright. Every word in it has a wealth of meaning. To walk indicates the steady advance of a soul which knows its road, knows its end, resolves to follow the path, feels quite safe, and is therefore perfectly calm and composed. The dying saint is not in a flurry; he does not run as though he were alarmed nor stand still as though he would go no further. He is not confounded nor ashamed, and therefore keeps to his old pace. Observe that it is not walking in the valley but through the valley. We go through the dark tunnel of death and emerge into the light of immortality. We do not die, we do but sleep to wake in glory.
"I will fear no evil," not even the Evil One himself; I will not dread the last enemy. I will look upon him as a conquered foe, an enemy to be destroyed, "For thou art with me." This is the joy of the Christian! "Thou art with me." The little child out at sea in the storm is not frightened like all the other passengers on board the vessel. It sleeps in its mother's bosom. It is enough for the child that its mother is with it, and it should be enough for the believer to know that Christ is with him.
The Treasury of David
You might enjoy this article by Charles M. Horne, "The Assurance of Salvation".
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"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 5:29)
While in Lamech, the seventh from Adam within the Cainitic line [from Cain], the worldly tendency of this line rises to blasphemous arrogance, there appears in Enosh, Enoch, and Lamech, the third, seventh, and ninth of the Sethitic line [from Seth], an indigenous tendency toward the God of the promised salvation [in Genesis 3:15].
Lamech, the Sethite, when his first son was born, hoped that in him, the tenth from Adam, the period of the curse would come to a comforting conclusion. This is evident from his elevated words when he says (v. 29):
This one shall comfort us for our work and for the toil of our hands [according to the signification of the Hebrew word:
comforting, to make one free from painful work], because of the ground [i.e. that which the ground renders necessary]
that Yahweh hath cursed. [Brackets within the verse are original with Delitzsch.]
In this hope he calls him Noah, i.e. breathing out, rest (connected with [the Hebrew word] nachem, to comfort, by causing to breathe out). The comfort which he expects from God through him is not comfort in words, but the comfort of an act of salvation. This comfort was also fulfilled through him, although not fully and in entirety, but in a way preparatory to the completion. The rainbow after the flood was a comfort, the blessing of which extended from that time on until the end. It pledged mankind, after the wrathful visitation in judgment, of their continuance, and of the dawn of a better time, in which, instead of wrath, a blessing predominates, a time of favour, patience, and long-suffering of God (Acts 17:30, 14:17; Rom. 3:26).
Noah is the first mediator of the sacred history, a mediator of comfort. Comfort ([Hebrew] nechama) is one of the pregnant words in which all that is hoped from the God of salvation is combined. Yahweh, as Redeemer of His people, is called their Comforter, Isa. 49:13, 52:9. And the Servant of Yahweh, the Mediator of salvation, explains it as His calling to comfort all that mourn, Isa. 61:2. Noah is a forerunner of this great Comforter, in whom all who labour and are heavy laden find rest to their souls.
Comforter, [Hebrew] menachem, is an old synagogical designation for the Messiah...Jesus Himself is called [in Greek in the New Testament] parakletos, Comforter, for His promise, "He shall send you allov parakletov [another Comforter] (John 14:16), presupposes that Christ Himself is parakletos [Comforter]...
Messianic Prophecies in Historical Succession (1891)
It was predicted that the Messiah (the expected Comforter) would come from the line of Judah and later narrowed to the line of David. But what happened to the line of the Messiah when Jeremiah was told to "Write this man childless!" (King Jehoiachin)? See Ken's paper, "Write this Man Childless!"
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"Inasmuch as many have taken in hand to set in order a narrative of those things which have been fulfilled among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write to you an orderly account, most excellent Theophilus, that you may know the certainty of those things in which you were instructed." (Luke 1:1-4)
Luke was a Greek, educated in the Greek schools, prepared for the medical practice which was held in high regard as a profession, and among the Greeks had attained to a place of eminence among the nations of the world. Greek doctors of medicine were in attendance upon many of the royal families of other nations.
The Greeks were by nature and training a race of creative thinkers who pursued their studies in a scientific manner. Their sense of what really constituted scientific accuracy and method in the recording of history was well developed. The writings of Luke, both his Gospel and The Acts, demonstrates Luke's training as an historian.
He writes his Gospel to a Gentile friend, Theophilus. The name means "a god-lover," or "god-beloved," and may have been given him when he became a Christian. The words "most excellent," according to Ramsay, were a title like "Your Excellency," and show that he held office, perhaps was a Knight. Luke wrote the Gospel for Theophilus to use as a standard whereby to judge the accuracy of the many uninspired accounts of our Lord's life which were written in the first century. The facts he records were most surely believed by the first century church. Luke arranges the facts of our Lord's life in historical order as they occurred. The other Gospels do not claim to do that. The arrangement of events was dictated by the purpose which each author had in writing his account.
The sources of Luke's information were oral and written, from eye-witnesses of the events recorded. He as a trained historian would carefully check over these accounts, investigating and verifying every fact. And this is what he has reference to when he uses the words "having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first." The words "having had perfect understanding" are literally "having closely traced." The verb means "to follow along a thing in the mind." The word was used for the investigation of symptoms. Thus it speaks of a careful investigation of all sources, oral and written, which purport to be accounts of our Lord's life.
Luke had the historian's mind, a thing native to the educated Greek. Herodotus, the father of Greek history, exhibited the Greek determination to get at the truth no matter how much work it required, when he travelled to central Africa to verify the account of the annual rise and fall of the Nile River. In those days this was a long and difficult journey. Sir William Ramsay said, "I regard Luke as the greatest historian who has ever lived, save only Thucydides." Thus we have no doubt but that Luke made a personal investigation of all the facts he had recorded. He interviewed every witness, visited every locality. If Mary was still alive, he, a doctor of medicine, investigated the story of the virgin birth by hearing it from Mary's own lips. And as Professor John A. Scott, a great Greek scholar has said, "You could not fool Doctor Luke."
But Luke was not dependent alone upon his personal investigations for the accuracy of his record. He says that he closely traced all things from above. The words "from above" are from a Greek word translated "from the very first" in the Authorized Version. The word occurs in John 3:31; 19:11; James 1:17; 3:15, 17, and is in every instance translated "from above." It is used often in contrast to a word which means "from beneath." Paul had doubtless heard the account of the institution of the Lord's Supper from the eleven, but he also had it by revelation from the Lord (1 Cor. 11:23). He had received his gospel by direct revelation in Arabia, and this was his check upon the gospel he heard at Jerusalem from the apostles.
So Luke claims to have closely investigated the facts he had received, and to have done so through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, which fact guarantees the absolute accuracy of the record (Luke 1:1-4).
Golden Nuggets from the Greek New Testament
For more about Luke, you may want to check out Charles Erdman's "Introduction to the Gospel of Luke".
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"Now when Paul and his party set sail from Paphos, they came to Perga in Pamphylia; and John, departing from them, returned to Jerusalem. But when they departed from Perga, they came to Antioch in Pisidia." (Acts 13:13,14)
The facts that can be gathered from the narrative of Acts are these. Paul and his companions came to Perga with the view of evangelizing the next country on their route, a country similar in character to and closely connected in commerce and racial type with Cyprus, Syria, and Cilicia. For some reason the plan was altered, and they passed rapidly over the Pamphylian lowlands and the Pisidian mountain lands to Antioch, postponing the evangelization of these districts till a later stage of their journey. They went to Antioch for some reason which concerned only that city and did not contemplate as their object the evangelization of the province to which it belonged. John [Mark], however, refused to participate in the changed program, presumably because he disapproved of it. His refusal seems to have been felt as a personal slight by Paul, which suggests that the change of plan was in some way caused by Paul. What then was the reason? Is any clue to it given in any other part of Acts or in the words of Paul himself?
In passing from Perga to Pisidian Antioch, the travelers passed from the Roman province Pamphylia to the Roman province Galatia, and the rest of their journey lay in Galatia until they returned to Perga. Now we possess a letter written by Paul to the churches of Galatia in which he says, "You know that it was by reason of physical infirmity that I preached the gospel unto you on the first of my two visits; and the facts of my bodily constitution which were trying to you were not despised or rejected by you, but you received me as a messenger of God" (Gal. 4:13-14). We learn, then, from Paul himself, that an illness (we may confidently say a serious illness) was the occasion of his having originally preached to the churches of Galatia. The words do not necessarily imply that the illness began in Galatia; they are quite consistent with the interpretation that the illness was the reason why he came to be in Galatia and had the opportunity of preaching there. But they imply that the physical infirmity lasted for some considerable time and was apparent to strangers while he was in Galatia.
Here we have a reason, stated by Paul himself, which fully explains all the curious phenomena of the text of Acts. Paul had a serious illness in Pamphylia, and on that account he left Perga and went to Antioch. It is unnecessary to repeat the argument that this is in perfect agreement with the known facts. Any constitutional weakness was liable to be brought out by "the sudden plunge into the enervating atmosphere of Pamphylia" after the fatigue and hardship of a journey on foot through Cyprus; a journey accompanied by the constant excitement of missionary work and culminating in the intense nervous strain of the supreme effort at Paphos. The natural and common treatment for such an illness is to go to the higher ground of the interior; and the situation of Antioch (about 3,600 feet above the sea, sheltered by mountains on the north and east and overlooking a wide plain to the south and southwest), as well as its Jewish population and commercial connection with the Pamphylian coastal cities, made it a very suitable place for Paul's purpose.
It is plain that Paul at the moment felt deeply wounded. The journey, which he felt to be absolutely necessary in the interests of future work, was treated by Mark as an abandonment of the work; and Paul's sensitive nature would consider Mark's arguments, plausible as they were in some respects, as equivalent to a declaration of lack of confidence. But that feeling, though it lasted for some years, was not of the permanent nature which would put it on the same plane as the [other] facts recorded by Luke. Who can think that Paul would have desired permanent record of his illness and Mark's desertion? And his desire on a matter personal to himself would be Luke's law.
Now it is a probable and generally accepted view that the physical weakness which was the occasion why Paul preached to the Galatians was the same malady which tormented him at frequent intervals. I have suggested that this malady was a species of chronic malarial fever; it is a physical weakness which recurs regularly in some situation that one is regularly required by duty to face, produces strong and peculiar effects on our human nature. Now in some constitutions, malarial fever tends to recur in very distressing and prostrating paroxysms whenever one's energies are taxed for a great effort. Such an attack is for the time absolutely incapacitating. The sufferer can only lie and feel himself a shaking and helpless weakling when he ought to be at work. He feels a contempt and loathing for self and believes that others feel equal contempt and loathing. In the public nature of oriental life, Paul could have no privacy. In every paroxysm, and they might recur daily, he would lie exposed to the pity or the contempt of strangers. If he were first seen in a Galatian village or house, lying in the mud on the shady side of a wall for two hours shaking like an aspen leaf, the gratitude that he expresses to the Galatians, because they "did not despise nor reject his infirmity," was natural and deserved.
A strong corroboration is found in the phrase, "a stake in the flesh," which Paul uses about his malady (2 Cor. 12:7). That is the peculiar headache which accompanies the paroxysms. Within my experience, several persons, innocent of Pauline theorizing, have described it as "like a red-hot bar thrust through the forehead." As soon as fever connected itself with Paul in my mind, the "stake in the flesh" impressed me as a strikingly illustrative metaphor; and the oldest tradition on the subject, quoted by Tertullian and others, explains the "stake in the flesh" as headache.
The malady was a "messenger of Satan." Satan seems to represent in Pauline language any overpowering obstacle to his work, an obstacle which it was impossible to struggle against. The words "messenger sent to buffet me" imply that it came frequently and unexpectedly, striking him down with the power of the Enemy.
Paul describes the malady as sent to prevent him from "being exalted overmuch by reason of the exceeding greatness of the revelations" which had been granted to him; and he clearly implies that it came later than the great revelation when "he was caught up even to the third heaven," about the year 43. The malady certainly did not begin long before this journey, and the attack in Pamphylia may perhaps have been the first.
St. Paul the Traveler and Roman Citizen
You may like to refer to Pastor Don Elifson's article, "What Happened to Miracles? A Look at Charismatic Gifts".
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"Now Barzillai was a very aged man, eighty years old."
2 Samuel 19:32
[Here] we have a man who knows that he is old, but who is not distressed by the thought of it. There are old men who do not know that they are old, or who seek to suppress the knowledge. "Grey hairs," the prophet says, "are here and there on him, yet he knows not." They do all they can to hide their growing age from others, and from themselves; and when multiplying infirmities compel them to confess it, it is with melancholy, if not with bitterness. Now here is an old man who has no difficulty in owning that he is old. He has no reticence, no shame, and, so far as we can see, he has no regret. He numbers up his weaknesses indeed, but it is much in the way a soldier counts the scars he has brought from his battle-fields. . . . We feel that if he had lived in the time of the New Testament, he would have been such a one as Paul the aged, and that he would have expressed himself in such words as these: "I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith." "Now is our salvation nearer than when we believed." Few things in the world are so pleasant as the sight of such a conscious, cheerful, hopeful old age, certain that it has not long to stay but interested to the last in the best things of life--in the cause of God and man, and country and church.
This is the hoary head which is so beautiful when it is found in the way of righteousness. We should aim at this even from youth, for, if we live, we shall grow old; yes, if we live, we shall grow old. It is a truism which most people forget. They think often of life, they think sometimes of death, they seldom think of old age.
But how are we to prepare for this? First, surely, by taking God with us early in the journey of life, that we may be able to press the plea: "O God, Thou hast taught me from my youth; and now, when I am old and grey-headed, O God, forsake me not." God is willing to receive a man whenever he turns to Him; but the later he turns, the more shall be his regrets.
Next, by providing beforehand the compensations which God is willing to give for everything that may be taken away by the changes of life. If the eye is to become dim, we may be preparing an inner vision more open and clear for divine and eternal realities. . . .
And if we reach old age, we can make it happy by seeking to make it unselfish. If, as we advance in life, we make our growing infirmities a discomfort to all about us, if we dwell upon them with needless and peevish rehearsal, if we use them for taxing our friends to do what we can perform for ourselves, we shall make our load heavier by having it always in our thoughts, and we shall lose the sympathy which would have made it lighter. But if, while we are conscious of increasing weaknesses we strive to save others from suffering by them, we shall more than half forget them in forgetting ourselves. And we shall commend old age by showing the young that every period of life has its resources for being happy and for doing good.
The Victory of Faith and other Sermons
Read more about Paul and his preparation for death in H. Harvey's "Introduction to Second Timothy".
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"When pride comes, then comes shame; but with the lowly is wisdom."
The writings of Solomon are filled with such observations upon the nature and life of man as to be the result of long experience, assisted with every advantage of mind and fortune. It was an experience that had made him acquainted with the actions, passions, virtues and vices of all ranks, ages, and denominations of mankind, and enabled him with the divine assistance to leave to succeeding ages a collection of precepts that, if diligently attended to, will conduct us safe in the paths of life.
Among all the vices against which he has cautioned us (and he has scarcely left one untouched) there is none upon which he animadverts (denounces) with more severity, or to which he more frequently recalls our attention by reiterated reflections, than the vice of pride. Pride is a corruption that seems almost originally engrafted in our nature. It exerts itself in our first years, and without continual endeavors to suppress it, influences our last. It mingles with all our other vices, and without the most constant and anxious care will mingle also with our virtues. It is no wonder, therefore, that Solomon so frequently directs us to avoid this fault, to which we are all so liable.
Pride was probably a crime to which Solomon himself was most violently tempted; and indeed it might have been much more easily imagined that he would have fallen into this sin than into some others of which he was guilty, since he was placed in every circumstance that could expose him to it. He was a king absolute and independent, and by consequence surrounded with sycophants ready to second the first motions of self-love and blow the sparks of vanity; to echo all the applauses and suppress all the murmurs of the people; to comply with every proposal and flatter every failing. Could any superiority to the rest of the world make pride excusable, it might have been pardoned in Solomon. But he has been so far from allowing it either in himself or others, that he has left a perpetual attestation in favor of humility--"When pride comes then comes shame, but with the lowly is wisdom."
Pride, simply considered, is an immoderate degree of self-esteem or an over-value set upon a man by himself, and, like most other vices, is founded originally on an intellectual falsehood. He who overvalues himself will undervalue others; and he who undervalues others will oppress them. To this fancied superiority it is owing that tyrants have squandered the lives of millions and looked unconcerned on the miseries of war. In this manner does pride operate when unhappily united with power and dominion, and has in the lower ranks of mankind similar though not equal effects. It makes masters cruel and imperious, and magistrates insolent and partial. It produces contempt and injuries, and dissolves the bond of society. Nor is this species of pride more hurtful to the world than destructive to itself. The oppressor unites heaven and earth against him. If a private man, he at length becomes the object of universal hatred and reproach; and if a prince, the neighboring monarchs combine to his ruin--so that when pride comes, then comes shame.
He who sets too high a value upon his own merits will of course think them ill rewarded with his present condition. He will endeavor to exalt his fortune and his rank above others in proportion as his deserts are superior to theirs. He will conceive his virtues obscured by his fortune, lament that his great abilities lie useless and unobserved for lack of a sphere of action in which he might exert them in their full extent. Once fired with these notions, he will attempt to increase his fortune and enlarge his sphere; and how few there are that prosecute such attempts with innocence a very transient observation will sufficiently inform us.
Every man has noted the indirect methods made use of in the pursuit of wealth--a pursuit for the most part prompted by pride. For to what end is an ample fortune generally coveted? Not that the possessor may have it in his power to relieve distress or recompense virtue, but that he may distinguish himself from the herd of mankind by expensive vices, foreign luxuries, and a pompous equipage. To pride therefore must be ascribed most of the fraud, injustice, violence and extortion by which wealth is frequently acquired.
Another consequence of immoderate self-esteem is an insatiable desire of propagating in others the favorable opinion he entertains of himself. No proud man is satisfied with being singly his own admirer. His excellencies must receive the honor of the public suffrage, he must make himself conspicuous and to draw the eyes of the world upon him. It is impossible to enumerate all the fictitious qualities, all the petty emulations and laborious trifles to which this appetite, this eagerness of distinction, has given birth in men of narrow views and mean attainments.
There is a dangerous species of pride arising from a consciousness of virtue. Spiritual pride represents a man to himself as beloved by his Creator in a particular degree, and, of consequence, inclines him to think of others not so high in his favor as himself. This is an error into which weak minds are sometimes apt to fall, not so much from the assurance that they have been steady in the practice of justice, righteousness and mercy, as that they have been punctually observant of some external acts of devotion. This kind of pride is generally accompanied with great uncharitableness and severe censure of others.
Having thus proved the odious nature of pride, I am in the last place to show the amiableness and excellence of humility. Upon this head I need not be long since every argument against any vice is equally an argument in favor of the contrary virtue. But to evince beyond opposition the excellence of this virtue, we may in few words observe that the life of our Lord was one continued exercise of humility. The Son of God condescended to take our nature upon him, to become subject to pain, to bear from [the time of] his birth the inconveniences of poverty, and to wander from city to city amidst opposition, reproach and calumny [slander]. He disdained not to converse with publicans and sinners, to minister to his own disciples, and to weep at the miseries of his own creatures. He submitted to insults and revilings, and being led like a lamb to the slaughter opened not his mouth. At length, having borne all the cruel treatment that malice could suggest or power inflict, he suffered the most lingering and ignominious death.
God of his infinite mercy grant that by imitating his humility we may be partakers of his merits. To whom, with the Father and the Holy Ghost, be ascribed, as is most due, all honor, adoration and praise, now and forever! Amen.
Sermons on Important Subjects (condensed)
A good sermon on boasting is "Putting on the Armor" by Alexander Maclaren.
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"Is any among you afflicted? Let him pray. Is any merry? Let him sing psalms."
Much of our experience, which is also intended to be the discipline of life, is divided between its sorrows and its joys. It is the counsel of the apostle James that the sentiments and principles of religion should be present with their holy influences in both of these conditions. He would have us sanctify our troubles and our pleasures by thoughts of Him who appoints them.
To consider the condition which is first mentioned in the text, how is it with our souls in sorrow? When we are afflicted, do we pray? Do we lay the burden of our woes at the feet of our Father? Do we sympathize with the spirit of the Psalmist when he says, "Be merciful unto me, O God, be merciful unto me, for my soul trusts in thee; and under the shadow of thy wings shall be my refuge until this calamity be past"? Do we regard adversities as the sober angels of God sent from him and leading to him? Or, on the other hand, do we rest our regards upon the ground and cast upwards not a glance, not a hope, not the least whispering of a prayer? Are we never brought before the footstool of the Almighty but by some signal misfortune, some strong and irresistible grief, and only then to cry out in terror or impatience and pray to be delivered from trouble, without praying for submission and strength to bear it? If this is all our prayer [is], we do not pray. There is no faith, no humility, no resignation in such a cry. It is complaint, not prayer. We are among the worldly. We have yet to learn the nature and to experience the power of true religion.
Let us look and observe how sorrows are entertained by the mass of mankind. If they are afflicted, do they pray? Far from it. I do not mean that it is necessary they should pray aloud in affliction and before the presence of men. But their manners, their language, their conduct show plainly that they do not pray, that they do not bow themselves down in humble supplication before Him who chastens them. They do not look beyond the mere event, the loss, the disappointment, the pain, the care, or whatever else the immediate occasion of their grief may be. They are the slaves of circumstance. They talk of fate, they murmur at their destiny, they blindly submit to a blind fortune.
One man is irritated by adversity. He takes no pains to conceal his vexation. The gloom of night is under his brows. He speaks as if he had suffered some sore injustice. He cannot specify any individual who has wronged him, but conceives himself wronged in some way by the event itself, which causes his affliction; and as he cannot make the event feel any retaliation, he vents his moroseness in the ears or to the eyes of all who approach him. Another man is not irritated by adversity, or at least he does not openly show it. He endures misfortune, bereavement, pain. "There, it has come and I must bear it! It is done and cannot be undone. The harsh commands of fate are issued, and as I cannot resist, I have nothing to do but submit to them."
The way in which joy is received and appreciated by the multitude is not in its nature different from their entertainment of sorrow. It shows the same shallowness, the same want of reflection and hope and elevation, the same confinement to the present, the same dependence on circumstance. The joy of one will be noisy and boisterous while that of another will run in a gentler, though not a deeper, stream. Both are derived from casual sources, flow but a short distance, and are soon dried up. There is enough of mirth among men, but very little pious mirth. Made glad by the mercies of God, he sings no psalms to his praise and gives no glory to his name. It heeds not the Psalmist's injunction, "Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits." It was never mindful of those benefits, and therefore cannot even forget them. He takes the blessing which descends to him from above as if he had found it or bought it, as if it were entirely his own--his own to use as he pleases, to abuse if he pleases. He receives but considers not that there is One who bestows.
Am I at all unjust in these delineations? If I am right so far, then the conclusion follows inevitably that this number are either without religion or that their religion is for the most part nominal and without efficacy. Are we content to be numbered among them? God grant that we may not be. But if we are not, we must necessarily fall into the class of those whose religion is lifeless and inefficient, if our sorrow is prayerless and the hymn of our joy rises not to heaven. If in adversity we are murmuring and despairing, or rigid and obstinate; if in prosperity we congratulate ourselves without thanking our Maker or even thinking of him; if the occasions of grief and gladness do not both lead us into his presence and unite us to him with increasing closeness, we may be sure that our religion is sadly deficient--that it is little more than a name, and that we are very far from the kingdom of God.
But who is he in whose heart the principles of religion have been carefully, tenderly fostered, and on whose conduct and life they exercise their proper energies, and to whose character they yield their natural fruits? We may know him by his deportment in the day of tribulation and anguish, and in the day of prosperity and rejoicing. And if we can see in our own deportment any good correspondence to his, we have a fair ground for concluding that our hearts and lives are regulated by the same influences, that we have some true knowledge of religion, some practical experience of its supporting and sanctifying power. In affliction he prays. He needs not to be directly reminded of the apostle's counsel. He goes easily and naturally, and by an inward prompting, to his heavenly Father and unbosoms his griefs before him. He waits not for other consolations but looks immediately to the grace of God, saying, "O God, thou art my God; early will I seek thee." "From the ends of the earth will I call upon thee, when my heart is in heaviness." The answer of his prayer is peace. There is peace on his countenance, peace in his gentle words, peace in his kind deportment, because peace has come down from God whose only gift it is, and has taken up its abode in his quiet and trusting soul. You may witness his sadness, you may see his tears, but his sadness wears no despairing or repulsive guise and there is no unbecoming passion in his tears. He complains not of fate, for he acknowledges no such power. He neither reviles nor submits to fortune, for he worships not fortune but the eternal and unchangeable God.
And how harmless, how childlike, how grateful is his joy! How careful is he not to let it run to riot, and spend itself in vain dissipation. The song of his gladness is a psalm of gratitude. He sympathizes with all the innocent joy on the earth, but he remembers that all this joy has a source; and as before in sorrow, so now in delight, he looks beyond earth and earthly things. He regarded affliction as sent, and he prayed and was resigned. He regards his happiness as given, and he is grateful and seeks to impart of his abundance, and make others happy and cheerful and grateful.
Is this the manner in which we receive the impressions of sorrow and joy? In these two great conditions of life--the sad and the joyful condition--do we acknowledge a Supreme Disposer and connect ourselves with him, and feel and act as under his disposal? If so, then we are not strangers to religion. We are in the right way, the way of life. Doubt and mistrust belong only to those who have not made religion their own by a practical and close application of its principles to the conditions of their life. They may have professed religion, and may have thought with entire sincerity that religion was no stranger to them, but they have not made it their own unless they have experienced its instructing and sustaining power, unless it has taught them to pray and to sing. It really abides with those alone within whom it effectually works. They who have experienced its help and operation within them cannot doubt of its presence, and cannot mistrust its character. It is not with them a matter of profession only, but of conviction.
Sermons of Consolation (condensed)
Read James McConkey's sermon on James 5:15, called "Prayer and Healing".
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"Who can say, 'I have made my heart clean,
I am pure from my sin?'"
This question may be viewed in various lights. We may apply it in regard to original sin--the hereditary taint of our apostate nature. That there is such a taint, such an absence of the right and only principle of all true goodness (such an innate tendency to defection from God and to what is evil) might on philosophical principles be demonstrated from the facts of the case, from the absolute impossibility of accounting reasonably for the universality of sin in the whole species and in every individual of every generation, [than] on any other hypothesis. And that such is the representation of Scripture might be shown from the pervading tenor of the whole Bible and from many explicit passages. This universal inherent sinfulness of nature was, I cannot doubt, in Solomon's mind when he wrote the words before us.
They proceed too on the universally Scriptural assumption that all that is truly and spiritually good in the heart of man is the product of divine operation--of the renewing influence of God's Spirit: "Who can say," that is, say with truth, "I have made my heart clean, I am pure from my sin?" If the position of the apostle be a true one, that "the carnal mind is enmity against God," there can hardly be a greater absurdity than is involved in the idea of spontaneously originating self-change--self-conversion; of enmity changing itself into love--choosing to love the object of its hatred!
The words more than imply--under the form of a question they strongly affirm--that the purification of the heart is in no man perfect here. There is a purity of heart ascribed to God's people and characteristic of them. God's children are "renewed in the spirit of their mind." But still, "Who shall say, I have made my heart clean, I am pure from my sin?" There have been some who have presumed to say it. But what is the truth? It is easy to say it, but it will not be easy to make it good in direct contradiction of the explicit affirmations of Scripture. We may be perfectly sure that the idea of sinless perfection in any case is a delusion. Were it in any one case realized, it would cease to be true that "there is not a just man upon earth, that does good and sins not." And to the question in the text, "Who can say, I am pure from my sin?" it might in that case be answered, "I am."
It must, therefore, be either a melancholy proof of the power of self-deception or a shocking manifestation of the extravagance of hypocritical pretension. It is a characteristic of God's children that they see, as they advance heavenward, more and more reason for self-abasement. Not that they sin more, for they become holier. But their views, at the same time, of the purity of God become fuller and stronger. The glass in which they view themselves becomes clearer and more faithful. Little sins, to minds growing in holiness, become more loathsome. Yet "the path of the just is as the shining light, that shines more and more unto the perfect day."
Lectures on the Book of Proverbs
See the article by Charles Hodge on Perfectionism.
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"This being so, I myself always strive to have a conscience
without offense toward God and men."
The glory of a good man is the testimony of a good conscience. Have a good conscience and you shall ever have joy. A good conscience is able to bear very much, and is very cheerful in adversities. An evil conscience is always fearful and unquiet. You shall rest sweetly if your heart condemn you not. Never rejoice but [except] when you have done well.
Sinners have never true joy, nor feel inward peace; because "There is no peace to the wicked," saith the Lord. And if they should say, "We are in peace, no evil shall fall upon us, and who shall dare to hurt us?" believe them not; for upon a sudden will arise the wrath of God, and their deeds shall be brought to nought, and their thoughts shall perish.
To glory in tribulation is no hard thing for him that loves; for so to glory is to glory in the Cross of the Lord. That glory is short which is given and received from men. Sorrow always accompanies the glory of the world. The glory of the good is in their consciences, and not in the tongues of men. The gladness of the just is of God, and in God; and their joy is of the truth.
He that desires true and everlasting glory cares not for that which is temporal. And he that seeks temporal glory, or despises it not from his soul, shows himself to have but little esteem of the glory of heaven. He enjoys great tranquility of heart that cares neither for the praise nor dispraise of men. He will easily be content and at peace whose conscience is pure. You are not the more holy for being praised; nor the more worthless for being dispraised.
What you are, that you are; neither by words can you be made greater than what you are in the sight of God. If you consider what you are in yourself, you will not care what men say of you. Man looks on the countenance, but God on the heart. Man considers the deeds, but God weighs the intentions. To be always doing good, and to esteem little of one's self, is the sign of a humble soul. . . He that seeks no testimony on his behalf from without, does show that he has wholly committed himself unto God. "For not he that commends himself is approved (saith Saint Paul), but whom God commends.
To walk in the heart with God, and not to be held in bondage by any outward affection, is the state of a spiritual man.
Of the Imitation of Christ
I like this exposition by Charles Bridges on "Proverbs 15:1" "A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger."
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"But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness,
and all these things shall be added to you."
Here is a double argument against the sin of thoughtfulness. Take no thought for your life, the life of the body, for you have greater and better things to take thought about--the life of your soul, your eternal happiness. That is the one thing needful about which you should employ your thoughts, and which is commonly neglected in those hearts wherein worldly cares have the ascendancy. If we were but more careful to please God and work out our own salvation, we should be less solicitous to please ourselves and work out an estate in the world. Thoughtfulness for our souls is the most effectual cure for thoughtfulness for the world. Also, you have an easier and more sure way to obtain the necessities of this life than by fretting about them, and that is by seeking first the kingdom of God. Do not say that this is the way to starve. No, it is the way to be well provided for, even in this world.
It is the sum and substance of our whole duty. We must mind heaven as our end and holiness as our way. We must press toward it, give diligence to make it sure. We must prefer heaven and heavenly blessings before earth and earthly delights. Let care for our souls and another world take the place of all other cares.
"And all these things shall be added unto you." You shall have what you seek, the kingdom of God and his righteousness, for never anyone sought this in vain that sought it in earnest. And over and above this, you shall have food and raiment besides. What a blessed change would it make in our hearts and lives did we but firmly believe this truth, that the best way to be comfortably provided for in this world is to be most intent upon another world! If we give diligence to make sure to ourselves the kingdom of God and the righteousness thereof, the Lord will provide as much of the things of this life as he sees good for us, and more than that we would not wish for.
"The morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof." We must not perplex ourselves inordinately about future events, because every day brings along with it its own burden of cares and grievances. This does not forbid a prudent foresight and to prepare accordingly, but forbids perplexing solicitude and anxious thoughts over difficulties and calamities which may perhaps never come or, if they do, may be easily borne. What a folly it is to take upon ourselves today by care and fear that trouble which belongs to another day and which will never be the lighter when it comes!
The conclusion of the whole matter is this: It is the will and command of the Lord Jesus that his disciples should not be their own tormentors nor make their passage through this world more dark and unpleasant by their apprehension of troubles than God has made it by the troubles themselves. By our daily prayers we may procure strength to bear us up under our daily troubles and to arm us against the temptations that attend them.
Matthew Henry's Commentary
Also read Matthew Henry's helpful commentary on "The Beatitudes".
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"Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure." (Philippians 2:12-13)
Before attempting to explain this passage, we must be clear as to what it does not teach. There is no idea here of an unsaved person doing good works to earn salvation, and for two reasons: first, because those addressed were already saved, and second, because the Bible is clear in its teaching that "not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us" (Titus 3:5). Again, the passage does not mean that a Christian should work out an inworked salvation. There is no such idea in the Greek.
The English translation is good, if one uses the words "work out" as one does when referring to the working out of a problem in mathematics, that is, carrying it to its ultimate goal or conclusion. The Greek word here means just this.
The words "your own salvation," are to be taken in their context. The working out of the Philippians' salvation was affected in some way by the presence of Paul with them and his absence from them. When Paul was with them, his teaching instructed them, his example inspired them, his encouragement urged them on in their growth in grace. Now in his absence they were thrown upon their own initiative. They must learn to paddle their own canoe. Thus Paul sets before them their human responsibility in their growth in grace, for sanctification is in the apostle's mind. They have their justification. Their glorification will be theirs in eternity. Their growth in Christ-likeness is the salvation concerning which Paul is speaking. Thus, the saints are exhorted to carry their growth in grace to its ultimate goal, Christ-likeness. 1 John 3:2 speaks of the saint's future conformation to the image of Christ, and (3:3) says, "And every man that hath this hope set on him purifieth himself even as he is pure."
The salvation spoken of in verse twelve is defined for us in verse thirteen, namely, the definite act of willing to do God's good pleasure and the doing of it. That is the saint's responsibility from the human standpoint. But the saint is not left without resources with which to do both, for God the Holy Spirit indwelling him produces in him both the willingness and the power to do His will. The saint avails himself of both of these by fulfilling the requirements laid down by our Lord in John 7:37, 38, namely, a thirst or desire for the fullness of the Spirit, and a trust in the Lord Jesus for that fullness. The literal translation is as follows: "Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, carry to its ultimate goal your own salvation with fear and trembling, for God is the One who is constantly supplying you the impulse, giving you both the power to resolve and the strength to perform his good pleasure." In verse twelve we have human responsibility, and in verse thirteen divine enablement.
Golden Nuggets from the Greek New Testament
Who is the first mover in the work of conversion? Read this short exposition of "Proverbs 16:1" by Charles Bridges.
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"O Yahweh, you have searched me and known me."
How well it is for us to know the God who knows us! The divine knowledge is extremely thorough and searching. It is as if he had searched us, as officers search a man for contraband goods or as pillagers ransack a house for plunder. Yet we must not let the figure run upon all fours and lead us further than it is meant to do. The Lord knows all things naturally and as a matter of course and not by any effort on his part. This infallible knowledge has always existed, and it continues unto this day, since God cannot forget that which he has once known. There never was a time in which we were unknown to God, and there never will be a moment in which we shall be beyond his observation.
That God should think upon him is the believer's treasure and pleasure. He cries, "How costly, how valued are thy thoughts, how dear to me is thy perpetual attention!" He thinks upon God's thoughts with delight; the more of them, the better is he pleased. It is a joy worth worlds that the Lord should think upon us who are so poor and needy. It is a joy which fills our whole nature to think upon God, returning love for love, thought for thought, after our poor fashion. How great is the sum of them! When we remember that God thought upon us from old eternity, continues to think upon us every moment, and will think of us when time shall be no more, we may well exclaim, "How great is the sum!" Thoughts such as are natural to the Creator, the Preserver, the Redeemer, the Father, the Friend, are evermore flowing from the heart of the Lord. Thoughts of our pardon, renewal, upholding, supplying, educating, perfecting, and a thousand more kinds perpetually well up in the mind of the Most High. It should fill us with adoring wonder and reverent surprise that the infinite mind of God should turn so many thoughts towards us who are so insignificant and so unworthy! What a contrast is all this to the notion of those who deny the existence of a personal, conscious God! Imagine a world without a thinking, personal God!
"If I should count them, they are more in number than the sand." This figure shows the thoughts of God to be altogether innumerable; for nothing can surpass in number the grains of sand which belt the main ocean and all the minor seas. The task of counting God's thoughts of love would be a never ending one. If we should attempt the reckoning we must necessarily fail, for the infinite falls not within the line of our feeble intellect. Even could we count the sands on the seashore, we should not then be able to number God's thoughts, for they are "more in number than the sand." This is not the hyperbole of poetry, but the solid fact of inspired statement. God thinks upon us infinitely. There is a limit to the act of creation, but not to the might of divine love. When I awake, I am still with thee. Thy thoughts of love are so many that my mind never gets away from them, they surround me at all hours. I go to my bed and God is my last thought. When I wake, I find my mind still hovering about his palace gates. God is ever with me, and I am ever with him. This is life indeed.
"Search me, O God, and know my heart." David is no accomplice with traitors. He has disowned them in set form, and now he appeals to God that he does not harbor a trace of fellowship with them. He will have God himself search him, and search him thoroughly, till every point of his being is known, and read, and understood. He is sure that even by such an investigation there will be found in him no complicity with wicked men. He challenges the fullest investigation, the innermost search. He had need be a true man who can put himself deliberately into such a crucible. Yet we may each one desire such searching, for it would be a terrible calamity to us for sin to remain in our hearts unknown and undiscovered. "Try me, and know my thoughts." Exercise any and every test upon me. By fire and by water let me be examined. Read not alone the desires of my heart but the fugitive thoughts of my head. Know with all penetrating knowledge all that is or has been in the chambers of my mind.
What a mercy that there is one being who can know us to perfection! He is intimately at home with us. He is graciously inclined towards us and is willing to bend his omniscience to serve the end of our sanctification. Let us pray as David did, and let us be as honest as he. We cannot hide our sin. Salvation lies the other way, in a plain discovery of evil and an effectual severance from it.
The Treasury of David
John Gerstner has an article you will like, "Adoption:Belonging to God's Family".
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"It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting."
When the proprieties of time and condition invite to enjoyment, and the boundaries of God's law will not be transgressed by enjoyment, religion freely says to us "Enjoy." The text does not proscribe the house of feasting as always unlawful. It does not forbid our going to it, but it tells us that it is better to go to the house of mourning.
It is better to go to the house of mourning because we obtain more improvement there. More valuable lessons are imparted there than in the house of feasting. Impressions of the most solemn, and not only so, but of the most useful kind are received there. Our roving thoughts are chastened by the influences of affliction. Our hearts are instructed in the sober wisdom of life. A discipline is administered which befits our condition and is required by some of the highest wants of our souls.
The ways in which this instruction is conveyed to us may be made apparent by reflection. The death of a fellow being, the departure of one of our friends from the midst of us, is calculated to remind us more powerfully than almost any other event of our complete dependence upon God. Can any more important truth than this be borne in upon the mind? And plain as it is, do we not need to have it brought before us in such a manner that we cannot put it by? It is no light thing that a voice which for years has answered ours in the tones of social intercourse should be struck silent, that a form which has long been familiar to our sight--perhaps one of the daily blessings of our eyes--should pass away and be seen no more. Then it is that we cannot help feeling how frail we are. Who can stay the progress of disease, either of body or of mind? Who can guard against the fatal blows of sudden casualty? We are altogether in the hands of God. He takes away the breath which first he gave, and then we die and return to our dust. We depend on him.
With this sense of dependence on God comes humility into our hearts. We cannot but divest ourselves of pride when we gaze on the poor, unconscious, and decaying relics of humanity. That this is the end of the body and of its glories, we know. We know also that the spirit itself is as little able as the body is to choose and command its own life and destiny.
With humility comes a godly fear. We cannot presume that our own life is more secure than was the life of the departed neighbor or friend. We therefore feel as if we ought no longer to brave, if we have hitherto braved, the divine forbearance nor delay the preparation which we need. We are moved to look on our neglected lamps, and we resolve to fill and trim them before the door is shut against us and we are left in outer darkness.
With godly fear come holy trust and earnest love. God is revealed to us not only as the omnipotent Disposer who does what he wills with his own, but as the Judge of all the earth who will do right, and the merciful Father of his children who chastens us for our benefit and loves those whom he chastens. Such a Being is not to be feared only, but chiefly and supremely to be loved. And this is our conviction in the house of mourning. It is a fact, and one which deserves to be pondered, that the love of God is often deepest in the midst of affliction.
And now let me pause to ask whether these impressions and thoughts are not in the highest degree beneficial? Do they not correspond with our true condition as mortal and immortal men? But do they come to us in the house of feasting? If they ever do, it is but rarely and uncertainly. There is no place for them, no time for them in that house. The sounds of merriment chase them away, except from prepared minds which cannot be long deluded, and from which the convictions of man's real state can never long be absent. But if we are not well established, we are apt to be entirely deceived in the house of feasting. Devoted to immediate enjoyment, we think not whence it was bestowed nor how soon it may be disturbed and turned into mourning. We become giddy and thoughtless, if not exceedingly vain and presumptuous. Levity may be obstinate as well as wild, and in her own congenial hall she refuses instruction and shuts out wisdom. There is imminent danger that the heart may grow hard in the house of feasting. We are not sensible there of our dependence on God. In the house of mourning our eyes are opened, and we see on what loose and shifting sands, and of what fragile materials our poor tabernacle is built.
In the house of mourning we are initiated into a discernment of the true worth of our pleasures. We are taught to know that the allurements with which many joys of earth array themselves are very deceptive and transitory. Thus we are made willing to be weaned from them, seeing that they are not so desirable as we once supposed them to be, that they have promised more than they can possibly perform, that they lead to disappointment certainly and perhaps to shame. We see how devoid of permanent value they are in their most innocent state, and how worse than worthless when they unfit us, which is their frequent tendency, for the appreciation and inheritance of those real joys which so immeasurably surpass them.
Again, we see in the house of mourning, in a stronger light than perhaps anywhere else, the indispensable importance of a good life. Virtue is revealed there in its true excellence and character. All doubt of its worth vanishes. All suspicions of its reality are dismissed and forgotten. We are skeptics no more. We see that the distinction between righteousness and unrighteousness is a real distinction, the most real of any. It convinces us that a good name is the most honorable title, and that all the wealth which ever occupied the grasp or the dreams of avarice is dross, is dust, [compared] to the riches of an upright, useful, and benevolent life.
I will only observe, in the seventh and last place, that we are there more than usually disposed to mutual forgiveness and charity. Can we nurture hostile emotions in this house of peace and equality? A soul has gone from it to meet its Judge. It cannot be long before all who are left to mourn or sympathize must follow that soul to the only infallible tribunal. Where will be our petty animosities then? Where the disputes with which we have troubled each other's existence? Where the envyings and strifes, suspicions and evil speakings of which we have been guilty? Are not the unavoidable miseries of life enough in number and in weight, but we must be still increasing the load to others and ourselves? Can we not forgive offenses, we who have so deeply and continually offended? Can the righteous God be merciful to us [who have been] unmerciful? Will Christ salute us as blessed children of his Father who have nourished in our bosoms animosity and revenge against our brethren?
These and similar considerations force themselves upon us in the house of mourning. It would be strange if they left us entirely as soon as we departed from it. It is more likely that they will remain with us, at least a little while, and influence our conduct, at least in some degree, when we return into the world.
Valuable are the influences of the house of mourning! It is better that we should go to it than to the house of feasting. The lessons of the one cannot so well be spared as the pleasures of the other. Feasted and filled, unchecked, unalarmed, unsoftened, we are too apt to forget our dangers, our mercies, and our obligations. Earthly desires and passions, temporal objects and interests claim us as wholly their own. But they seldom dare to go with us to the mansion of bereavement and sorrow. On its threshold they loosen their grasp and fall back; and we enter in alone, to be spoken to by other monitors, to be sobered and subdued. By the sadness of our countenances our hearts are made better. We see light in darkness, and hear a voice of comfort and joy from the chambers of mourning and death.
Sermons of Consolations (condensed)
Read Spurgeon's sermon on "The Prodigal's Return".
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"All Scripture is given by inspiration of God,
and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness."
2 Timothy 3:16
A recent writer opens his book with the words: "The present generation is impatient of theological distinctions." He lets the cat out of the bag when he begins the next paragraph with the words: "There is a good deal of common sense in this reaction against the theological hair-splitting of former times." He has, perhaps not unnaturally, mistaken his own opinion for the general judgment of the day. The truth is that the world, even in this generation, is made up of a good many people; and a good many varying points of view may be found represented among them. Some are very impatient of theological distinctions, and some are very patient of them: the most are patient to a fault with those they themselves wish to make, and quite impatient of those made by others. The fact is, of course, that everybody makes and must make theological distinctions. Men differ only as they make sound or unsound distinctions, and through these distinctions embrace and live by truth or error.
It is easy to say: "We refuse to believe that a man's opinions on the minute details of history or metaphysics [philosophy] are sufficient either to admit or to exclude him from the Kingdom of grace and glory." But when we have said that, we have already expressed a portentous opinion. We have also made a tremendous theological distinction; we have made it most unsoundly; and, as a consequence, we have cast ourselves into the arms of the grossest error, which must mar all our life. The truth is that a man's opinions on matters of historical fact or of metaphysical truth--call them opinions on minute details or not, as you choose--are absolutely determinative of his whole life. It is a matter of metaphysical opinion whether there is a God or not; or whether there is such a thing as right or such a thing as wrong. We cannot adopt even so simple a maxim as David Crockett's famous "Be sure you are right and then go ahead," without having committed ourselves to many very deeply cutting metaphysical opinions, and many of these are capable of being represented as opinions on very minute details. It is a matter of metaphysical opinion whether we worship a fragment of bone or the God of heaven and earth; what separates the fetish-worshipper from the Christian here is a little matter of metaphysical opinion. It is a matter of historical opinion whether such a person as Jesus Christ ever existed, and surely whether any given man ever existed or not is a very small historical detail. And if we are of the opinion that he existed, it is still a matter of historical opinion whether he was the Son of God who came into the world on a mission of mercy to lost men, and died for our sins and rose again for our justification; or was merely a man who suggested to us as his opinion, which it was his opinion it would be well that we also should adopt, that God is a good fellow, and it is all right with the world. We cannot get along without metaphysical delimitations and historical judgments. We cannot go one step without them. And what we call Christianity is bound up with a very definite set of both.
He who adopts this definite set of metaphysical and historical opinions is so far on his way to being a Christian. He who rejects them, or treats them as indifferent, is not even on his way to being a Christian. This is not to say that Christianity is just a body of metaphysical and historical opinions. But it is to say that Christianity is, among other things, a body of metaphysical and historical opinions. It is absurd to say that a man can be a Christian who is of the opinion that there is no God; or that no such person as Jesus ever lived: or who does not believe very many very definite things about the really existing God and the actually living Jesus. Some of these things may be represented as very "minute details." Gibbon, for example, made himself merry, or made himself miserable, as the case may have been, over the spectacle of Christianity split to its foundations in violent dispute over a mere diphthong--whether Christ should be said to be homo-ousios or only homoi-ousios with God: whether, that is, he should be conceived as all that God is, or only in some greater or less degree, more or less like God. The whole substance of Christianity was involved, however, in this controversy; the issue was nothing less than whether the world should be Christian or heathen. To represent it as a dispute over a "minor detail," a mere diphthong, were as sensible as to say that as "gold" and "god" differ in but a single letter, it cannot be of importance whether we serve God or mammon; and there surely can be no reason (despite what Jesus says) why we should not serve both.
No less a man than John Wesley is appealed to, however, to support this minimizing of the value of truth. And certainly John Wesley did say--he surely was speaking unadvisedly with his lips--something which lends itself too readily to this bad use. "I am sick of opinions," he writes; "I am weary to bear them; my soul loathes the frothy food. Give me solid substantial religion; give me a humble gentle lover of God and man, a man full of mercy and good fruits, a man laying himself out in the work of faith, the patience of hope, the labor of love. Let my soul be with those Christians wheresoever they be and whatsoever opinions they are of." John Wesley's righteous soul had evidently been vexed by men who had nothing but "opinions" to show for their Christianity. But did he ever see such a man as he here paints for us: "a humble gentle lover of God and man, a man full of mercy and good fruits, a man laying himself out in the work of faith, the patience of hope, the labor of love," who was without the opinion that there is a God to love? No man can have faith, or hope, or love, who is not consciously in the presence of an object on which his faith and hope and love can rest. He must be of the opinion that the object exists, and that it is such as to justify or even to command his faith, hope, or love. It sounds very well to rail at "opinions" in contrast with "solid substantial religion." Did "solid substantial religion" ever exist apart from the "opinions" which lie at its basis? A man who is of the opinion that there is no God will not manifest "solid substantial religion" in his life. A man who is of the opinion that Christ, if he ever existed--which he may doubt or deny--was a mere man among men, a peasant of Galilee of the first century of the era absurdly called Christian, who still sleeps his unbroken sleep beneath the Syrian sky, will not entrust his soul's welfare to his keeping. "Faith" in Jesus--in his blood (Rom. 3:37) and his righteousness (2 Pet. 1:1)--cannot possibly get itself born except on the basis of quite a body of very definite and very definitely held "opinions." No man can live a Christian life who is not first of "the Christian persuasion."
That is the reason why Christianity is propagated by preaching. There may be other ways in which other religions are spread. The propagation of Christianity has been very definitely committed to "the foolishness of preaching"--not to foolish preaching, however, which is something very different. It is fundamentally "faith"; and faith implies something to be believed and therefore comes of hearing; while hearing implies something presented to the apprehension of the intelligence--the "Word of God." Whatever we may say of a so-called Christianity which is nothing but "opinions," there is no Christianity which does not begin with opinions, which is not formed by opinions, and which is not the outworking of these opinions in life. Only we would better call them "convictions." Convictions are the root on which the tree of vital Christianity grows. No convictions, no Christianity. Scanty convictions, hunger-bitten Christianity. Profound convictions, solid and substantial religion. Let no man fancy it can be otherwise. Ignorance is not the mother of religion, but of irreligion. The knowledge of God is eternal life, and to know God means that we know him aright.
Selected Shorter Writings of Benjamin B. Warfield Vol. I
You will also enjoy this good sermon on faith by Alexander Maclaren entitled "Hobab".
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"Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are ye not much better than they? . . . Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: and yet I say to you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these." (Matthew 6:26-29)
All nature, as we may gather from Scripture, is made to glorify the Great Creator, and unintelligent and even inanimate nature may praise Him. "O Lord," exclaims the Psalmist, "how manifold are Thy works, in wisdom hast Thou made them all; the earth is full of Thy riches." And again, "Praise the Lord from the earth, creeping things and birds of wing." Behold then the fowls of the air, ye who possess intelligent mind and soul of lofty aspirations, and for them and in their stead (who have not articulate speech) praise and glorify the Great Creator of all.
But we notice that the Savior impresses another lesson upon His hearers in connection with the existence of the feathered tribes. "They sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns." Yet they are fed--God feeds them. How simple and practical a faith is here inculcated! We know, of course, that the birds live from year to year, that with curious instinct they seek and find a supply of food for daily need. Seldom, perhaps, do we look beyond the operation of instinct or think from whence this wonderful faculty is derived. And we might reflect further that even the faculty of instinct would be useless and insufficient if there were no provision made apart from it, and quite independent of it, for a supply of that upon which the intelligence of the lower animals is exercised. "Your Heavenly Father feeds them." Instantly the Savior turns to the Great First Cause.
We talk of instinct and admire it. The more religious go so far as to speak of a Providence. Christ speaks directly, plainly, reverently of the "Heavenly Father" and of His constant and condescending care. And then He impresses the great lesson--the lesson of faith and trust and confidence in God's overruling Providence and special care for man. The Savior teaches no mere religion of sentiment or imagination or ardent profession. His is an eminently practical religion--a religion to be lived and acted upon; a religion of faith, and yet of a faith that is brought into action, that shapes a man's ways as well as his thoughts. If God feeds the fowls of the air, will He not feed you? "Are ye not much better than they?"
Now, while we may very reasonably and properly believe that in this teaching the Savior gives no encouragement or sanction to that spirit of presumption which would throw all provision for the maintenance of life literally upon the Almighty and expect daily miracles, and certainly not to that disposition of mere idleness and indolence that would prefer any course to active energetic work, the evident meaning of His words much not be kept out of sight. He does counsel faith in God as regards the supply of food necessary for the sustenance of human life. And this faith, it should be borne in mind, seems to be required of all God's people. Not of those alone who are but ill supplied with the necessaries of life and who may not know at all how provision is to be made for even a day in advance, but it is required of those also whose wants (as far as man's eye can see) are amply provided for, for all time. The prayer that asks for "daily bread" is said by all, rich and poor. It was no doubt intended for all to use, and shows us how real should be that spirit of dependence upon God of which the Savior speaks in the Sermon on the Mount.
And such a faith, we can readily see, is honoring to God, for it keeps His rational creatures (those higher works of His hand) always in mind of their true position in His sight. It will not suffer them to indulge in a spirit of irreligious independence, nor to fall into that sad state of indifference (that really very unsafe and dangerous state) which consists of nothing worse than forgetfulness of God.
And if this spirit of faith dwelt in every human breast, what a glorious offering of willing, loyal praise would go forth continually from all parts of this world where the human race dwells! And, while honoring to God, this spirit of faith would be an immense comfort and advantage to man. An advantage, because if misfortune should come upon him, if heavy losses in business threaten him, he will not feel driven to unjustifiable or dishonest means to prevent exposure or to retrieve his position. Accustomed really to rely upon God's care, he will submit reverently to reverses and trials, and will be convinced that although his means might be greatly lessened, his comforts fewer, and his luxuries entirely cut off, the Heavenly Father in whom he has trusted is both able and willing to supply what is absolutely necessary for the body. Possessing a clear conscience and an honest heart, he can confidently look for His timely help and care. "I have been young," wrote the Psalmist, "and now am old, and yet saw I never the righteous forsaken nor his seed begging their bread."
The great comfort of feeling this genuine faith and trust in God is obvious--for how much of anxious and depressing care will be avoided! Our Savior points to this when he says, "Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink, nor yet for your body what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat and the body than raiment?" . . . That body, that life will be God's care if He be not forgotten, and while they are not used in conscious rebellion against Him. And He who, by His word, made the body of the dust of the earth and with a breath animated the molded form can, with the utmost ease, provide for the perpetual preservation of both. And although it be not His will or His plan in our day to work miracles for this purpose, yet undoubtedly for His faithful people He will so order events and direct the thoughts and stimulate the energies that a way will be found--sometimes a very unlooked-for way out of threatening perplexity and want.
Take, therefore, no anxious thought for your life; for even the fowls of the air that neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns are provided for. And "are ye not much better than they?" So are the flowers of the field clad in dress of finest texture and of richest hue. And these continue but for a day, as it were. Tomorrow they are withered and gone or cast as fuel into the fire. "Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, shall He not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?" Let the bird and the flower read in man's ear their plain, though silent and inarticulate, lesson--"Have faith in God."
And let us, after the example of the Lord, notice with intelligent and interested eye all the works of God. Let us thoughtfully study them, assured that there are lessons of great value to be learned from all we see around us. The works of nature tell of the God who made them--of His wonderful wisdom, power, and skill. And the more these are studied, the more should the soul be filled with admiration and with love toward Him.
A helpful sermon here is Theodor Zahn's "Calm After Storm".
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"And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us.” (Luke 16:26)
The lost spirits in hell are shut in forever. I see the angel standing at that iron door. I hear the awful key as it grates among the tremendous wards, and when that gate is closed he hurls the key into the abyss of oblivion, and the captives are fast immured, bound in fetters which will never break, in chains which never rust.
The sinner cannot come to heaven for a multitude of reasons. Among the rest, these. First, his own character forbids it. As a man lives and dies, so will he be throughout eternity. The drunkard here will have all a drunkard's thirst there without the means of gratifying it. The swearer here will become a yet more ripe and proficient blasphemer. Death does not change but fixes character; it petrifies it. "He who is holy let him be holy still; he who is filthy let him be filthy still." The lost man remains a sinner and a growing sinner, and continues to rebel against God. Would you have such a man in heaven? Shall the thief prowl through the streets of the New Jerusalem? Shall the atmosphere of Paradise be polluted by an oath? Shall the songs of angels be disturbed by the ribaldry of licentious conversation? It cannot be. Heaven were not heaven if the sinner could be permitted to enter it. "Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God," and as there is no hope of the finally lost ever being born again, that kingdom of God they cannot see.
Sinner, if you are not fit for heaven now, have you any right to hope you ever will be? If you die without God and without hope, where must your portion be? Without a God can you dwell in heaven--God's own dominions? Without hope can you enter where hope is consummated in full fruition? Never.
Remember sinner, there never was but one bridge between fallen man and a holy God. That bridge you reject. The person of the Mediator, his substitution, his righteousness, his painful death -- these make the only road from sin to righteousness, from wrath to acceptance. But these you reject. If you should ever be lost you will have finally rejected Christ; and inasmuch as you are not this morning saved, O my poor fellow creature, you are now rejecting Christ. You are as good as saying, "Christ died, but not for me. Christ shed his blood to save men, but I will not be saved in his way. Let Christ die. I count his death a trifle and his blood a vanity. I had sooner perish than be saved by him." This is what you in effect are saying. I know the words make you shudder. You would not venture to utter them, but that is your feeling. You will not have this man to reign over you. You will not bow the knee and kiss the Son. You will still be an adversary to God and sooner be destroyed than be saved through the atonement of Christ. Well, now, if you reject the only way, what wonder if having rejected that there remains no hope? Besides, remember there is no other sacrifice for sin.
"But," says one, "how may I lay hold on Christ?" May the blessed Spirit enable you to do it. Here it is: trust Jesus Christ and you shall be saved. Conscious that you deserve his wrath, trembling because of his terrible law, look to Jesus. There hangs a bleeding Saviour. I think these eyes can see him bleeding there. God eternal, he by whom the heaven of heavens were made and the earth and the fulness thereof, takes upon himself the form of man and hangs upon the tree of the curse.
See from his head, his hands, his feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down!
Did e'er such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?
There is life in a look at that crucified One. There is life at this moment for you. Will you glance at him with a tearful eye, "Jesus, slaughtered, martyred, murdered for my sake, I do believe in you. Here at your feet I throw myself, all guilty, polluted, foul. Let your blood drop on me. Turn your eye upon me and say to me, I have loved you with an everlasting love, therefore with the bands of my kindness have I drawn you."
O that you would believe in Jesus. He is freely preached to you -- accept him. May the Spirit of God lead you now to accept him. These are no hard terms, no stern conditions of a blood-thirty tyrant. He does but say, "Bow the knee and kiss the Son. Come, and welcome, sinner--come." Young man, will you be saved or not? You sinner, yonder, with your gray head betokening the approach of death, will you believe in Christ or not? It may be this is your last time; you shall never hear the gospel faithfully and affectionately pressed home upon you again. Will you have Jesus to be yours? Spirit of God, lead that heart to say "Yes, Lord, I will." And as the acceptance is heard on earth, may it be registered in heaven, and may salvation come to that man's heart this day.
Miracles and Parables of Our Lord (Volume 3) (condensed)
Be sure to read this great salvtion sermon by Samuel Davies, "The Method of Salvation through Jesus Christ".
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"If any man sees his brother sinning a sin which does not lead to death, he will ask, and He will give him life for those who commit sin not leading to death. There is a sin leading to death. I do not say that he should pray about that. All unrighteousness is sin, and there is a sin not leading to death." (1 John 5:16,17)
The sin mentioned here is not the same as the "sin against the Holy Ghost." The persons spoken of, as respectively guilty, are very different from each other. In the latter sin, it is the Scribes and Pharisees, the malignant enemies of Christ that are the criminals. In the former, that is, the case before us, it is a Christian brother that is the offender--"If any man see his brother sin." We must beware of confounding the two sins and the two parties. The sin unto death is spoken of as that which a believer could commit; but no believer could possibly be guilty of the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost.
This clears the way so far, or at least it narrows the ground, and so facilitates our inquiry. But while removing one difficulty, does it not introduce another? Does it not assume the possibility of falling from grace, and [does it not] deny the "perseverance of the saints?" We think not. But, as much depends on the meaning of the expression "a sin unto death," we must first take up this.
Death may mean either temporal or eternal death--either the death of the soul or that of the body. In the passage before us it seems to me to mean the latter. The sin unto death would mean a sin involving temporal death, such a sin as God would chastise with disease and death, though he would not exclude the doer of it from his kingdom.
The difference between these two kinds of sins may be illustrated by the case of Israel in the desert. The generation that came out of Egypt died in the wilderness because of their murmurings; yet many of these were believing men and women who, though thus chastised by the infliction of temporal death and deprivation of the earthly Canaan, were not delivered over to eternal death. Moses himself (we might add Aaron and Miriam) is an example of the same thing. In him we see a believing man suffering temporal death for his sin yet still a child of God, and an heir of the heavenly Canaan.
But have we any cases of this kind in the New Testament? The most remarkable instance of the kind is in the Corinthian church. That church was in many respects noble and Christlike, "coming behind in no gift." Yet there was much sin in it, and many of its members were not walking "as becomes saints." Specially in reference to the Lord's Supper, there was grievous sin, as the latter part of the eleventh chapter of the First Epistle to that church intimates. God could not suffer such sin in his saints. They are not indeed to be cast away nor condemned with the unbelieving world, but they are not to be permitted to go on in evil, unrebuked. Accordingly, God interposes. He sends disease on some of these transgressing members, and death on others. "For this cause," says the apostle, "many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep"(1 Cor. 11:30). Weakness, sickliness, and death were the three forms of chastisement with which the Corinthian church was visited.
We find the same solemn truth in the Epistle of James (5:14,15): "The prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him." Here sickness is spoken of as the consequence of sin--sin in a saint. The sick and sinning one is to be prayed for, and if his sin and sickness be not unto death, God will have mercy on him. The sin shall be forgiven and the sickness taken away.
These passages shew the true meaning of our text. The sin unto death is a sin such as God chastises by the infliction of disease and death. What this sin is, we do not know. It was not the same sin in all, but different in each.
But then the question would arise, How are we to know when a sin is unto death and when it is not unto death, so that we may pray in faith? The last clause of the 16th verse answers this question. It admits that there is a sin unto death, which admission is thus put in the 17th verse: "All unrighteousness is sin; but all sin is not unto death." But what does the apostle mean by saying in the end of the 16th verse, "I do not say that he shall pray for it?" If we cannot know when a sin is unto death and when not, what is the use of saying, "I do not say that he shall pray for it"?
The word translated "pray" means also "inquire," and is elsewhere translated so: John 1:19, "The Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, Who art thou?" (See, also, John 1:21, 25; 5:12; 9:2; 19:21.) If thus rendered, the meaning would be: "I say he is to ask no questions about that." That is to say, if he sees a brother sick and ready to die, he is not to say, "Has he committed a sin unto death, or has he not?" He is just to pray, letting alone all such inquiries and leaving the matter in the hands of God who, in answer to prayer, will raise him up if he has not committed the sin unto death.
The passage now becomes plain. And while it remains as an unspeakably solemn warning, it does not teach us that there is some one mysterious sin which infers eternal damnation; still less, that a saint of God can commit such a sin. It may be thus paraphrased: "If any one see his brother in Christ sin a sin, and see him also laid upon a sickbed in consequence of this, he shall pray for the sick brother; and if his sin be one of which the punishment is disease, not death, the sick man shall be raised up; for all sins that lead to sickness do not necessarily lead to death. And as to the difficulty, How shall we know when the sin is one which merely infers sickness and when it is one which infers death, I say this: Ask no questions on this point, but pray and leave the case to God."
Let us now come to the lessons of our text: (1) Don't puzzle yourself with hard questions about the particular kind of sins committed. Be satisfied that it is sin and deal with it as such. It is not the nature or the measure of its punishment that you have to consider but its own exceeding sinfulness. (2) Be concerned about a brother's welfare. If any of you see a brother sin, do not leave him alone as if it did not concern you. Desire the spiritual prosperity of all the saints. Seek, too, the salvation of the unsaved. (3) Don't trifle with sin. Count no sin trivial, either in yourself or another. Do not dally with temptation. Do not extenuate guilt. Part with it, or it will cost you dear. (4) Take it at once to God. Don't puzzle yourself with useless questions as to its nature, but take it straight to God. In the case of a brother, do not raise evil reports against him because of it, but go and tell God about it. In your own case do the same. Do not let it remain unconfessed a moment after it is discovered.
There is such a thing as the second death. And who shall deliver the doomed one from it? Who shall pray him up out of hell? The second death! Ah, when it has come to that, all is over! No Christ will do then, no blood, no cross! Oh, wait not till your sins have landed you in that! Take the proffered pardon. God gives it to you in his Son. Take it, and live forever. He who died and lives presents to you the gift of everlasting life.
Family Sermons (condensed)
Be sure to read this sermon by William Nevins on Micah 7:18, "Who is a God like unto thee, who pardons iniquity?"
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"Judge not, that you be not judged."
Our Savior is here directing us how to conduct ourselves in reference to the faults of others, and his expressions seem intended as a reproof to the scribes and Pharisees who were very rigid and severe, very magisterial and supercilious in condemning all about them, as those commonly are who are proud and conceited in justifying themselves. There are those whose office it is to judge--magistrates and ministers--but this is directed to private persons, to his disciples who shall hereafter sit on thrones judging, but not now.
Now observe the prohibition: Judge not. We must judge ourselves and judge of our own acts, but we must not judge our brother, not magisterially assume such an authority over others as we allow not them over us. We must not sit in the judgment-seat and make our word a law to everybody. We must not judge rashly nor pass such a judgment upon our brother as has no ground but is only the product of our own jealousy and ill nature. We must not make the worst of people nor infer such invidious things from their words and actions as they will not bear. We must not judge uncharitably, unmercifully, nor with a spirit of revenge and a desire to do mischief. We must not judge of a man's state by a single act, nor of what he is in himself by what he is to us, because in our own cause we are apt to be partial. We must not judge the hearts of others nor their intentions, for it is God's prerogative to try the heart, and we must not step into his throne. Nor must we judge of their eternal state; that is stretching beyond our line. Counsel him, help him, but do not judge him.
"That you be not judged." This intimates that if we presume to judge others, we may expect to be judged ourselves. He who usurps the bench shall be called to the bar; he shall be judged of men. Commonly none are more censured than those who are most censorious. No mercy shall be shown to the reputation of those that show no mercy to the reputation of others. Yet that is not the worst of it: they shall be judged of God. From him they shall receive the greater condemnation.
There are degrees of sin. Some sins are comparatively but as motes, others as beams; some as a gnat, others as a camel. Our own sins ought to appear greater to us than the same sins in others. That which charity teaches us to call but a splinter in our brother's eye, true repentance and godly sorrow will teach us to call a beam in our own; for the sins of others must be extenuated but our own aggravated. It is common for those who are most sinful themselves and least sensible of it to be most forward and free in judging and censuring others. The Pharisees, who were most haughty in justifying themselves, were most scornful in condemning others. Pride and uncharitableness are commonly beams in the eyes of those that pretend to be critical and nice in their censures of others. Nay, many are guilty of that in secret, which they have the face to punish in others when it is discovered. Men's being so severe upon the faults of others while they are indulgent of their own is a mark of hypocrisy.
Here is a good rule for reprovers. Go in the right method by first casting the beam out of thine own eye. A man must first reform himself that he may thereby help reform his brother. Those who blame others ought to be blameless and harmless themselves.
It is not everyone that is fit to be reproved: "Give not that which is holy unto the dogs". This may be considered as a rule to all in giving reproof. Our zeal against sin must be guided by discretion, and we must not go about to give instructions, counsels and rebukes, much less comforts, to hardened scorners to whom it will certainly do no good, and who will be exasperated and enraged at us. Among the generation of the wicked, there are some that have arrived at such a pitch of wickedness that they hate and despise instruction; they are irrecoverably wicked. Yet we must be very cautious whom we condemn as dogs and swine and not do it until after trial and upon full evidence. Many a patient is lost by being thought to be so, who, if means had been used, might have been saved. As we must take heed of calling the good 'bad', by judging all professors to be hypocrites, so we must take heed of calling the bad 'desperate' by judging all the wicked to be dogs and swine.
Our Lord Jesus is very tender of the safety of his people and would not have them needlessly expose themselves to the fury of those that will turn again and rend them. Let them not be righteous overmuch so as to destroy themselves. Christ makes the law of self-preservation one of his own laws, and precious is the blood of his subjects to him.
Matthew Henry's Commentary
Here is a must read sermon on this subject by Walter C. Smith, "The Law Kept by Sympathy".
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"So passing by Mysia, they came down to Troas. And a vision appeared to Paul in the night. A man of Macedonia stood and pleaded with him, saying, 'Come over to Macedonia and help us.' Now after he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go to Macedonia, concluding that the Lord had called us to preach the gospel to them." (Acts 16:8-10)
The introduction of the first person at this striking point in the narrative must be intentional. Everyone recognizes here a distinct assertion that the author was present; the sudden change from third to first person is a telling element in the total effect. If Luke changes here at random from third to first person, it would be absurd to look for purpose in anything he says.
Luke, therefore, entered into the drama of the Acts at Troas. Now it is clear that the coming of Paul to Troas was unforeseen and unforeseeable. The whole point of the paragraph is that Paul was driven on, against his own judgment and intention, to that city. The meeting, therefore, was not prearranged. On the ordinary principles of interpreting literature, we must infer that this meeting, which is so skillfully and pointedly represented as unforeseen, was between two strangers: Luke became known to Paul here for the first time. The narrative pointedly brings together the dream and the introduction of the first person element: "When he saw the vision, straightway we sought to go".
When we examine the dream, we observe that in it "a certain man of Macedonia" was seen by Paul. Paul did not infer his Macedonian origin from his words but recognized him as a Macedonian by sight. Now there was nothing distinctive in the appearance or dress of a Macedonian to mark him out from the rest of the world. On the contrary, the Macedonians rather made a point of their claim to be Greeks, and undoubtedly they dressed in the customary Greek style of the Aegean cities. There was, therefore, only one way in which Paul could know the man by sight to be a Macedonian--the man in the dream was personally known to him. In fact, the Greek implies that it was a certain definite person who appeared.
In the vision, then, a certain Macedonian who was personally known to Paul appeared and called him over into Macedonia. Now it has been generally recognized that Luke must have had some connection with Philippi, and we shall find reason to think that he had personal knowledge of the city. Further, Paul, whose life had been spent in the eastern countries and who had come so far west only a few days past, was not likely to be personally acquainted with natives of Macedonia. The idea then suggests itself at once that Luke himself was the man seen in the vision, and when one reads the paragraph with that idea, it acquires new meaning and increased beauty. As always, Luke seeks no effect from artifices of style. He tells nothing but the bare facts in their simplest form and leaves the reader to catch the causal connection between them. But we can imagine how Paul came to Troas in doubt as to what should be done. As a harbor, Troas formed the link between Asia and Macedonia. Here he met the Macedonian Luke, and with his view turned onwards, he slept and beheld in a vision his Macedonian acquaintance beckoning him onward to his own country.
Beyond this, we cannot penetrate through the veil in which Luke has enveloped himself. Was he already a Christian or did he come under the influence of Christianity through meeting Paul here? The prohibition against preaching in Asia would not preclude Paul from using the opportunity to convert an individual who was brought in contact with him. The inference that they met accidentally as strangers is confirmed by the fact that Luke was a stranger to the Levant*. In one of the many ways in which men come across one another in traveling, they were brought into contact at Troas. Luke was attracted to Paul, and the vision was taken by Luke, as well as by Paul, for a sign. He left all and followed his master.
*The lands bordering the eastern shores of the Mediterranean
St. Paul the Traveler and Roman Citizen
For more about Luke and Paul, read "Introduction to the Acts of the Apostles" by William Owen Carver.
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"Now it happened as they went that He entered a certain village; and a certain woman named Martha welcomed Him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus' feet and heard His word. But Martha was distracted with much serving, and she approached Him and said, 'Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me.' And Jesus answered and said to her, 'Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.' " (Luke 10:38-42)
My Dear Sister:
Your very welcome letter of last week reached me this morning, and I am rejoiced to learn that you are so much concerned about "the one thing needful." I have borne in mind that our sainted mother's prayers would not be forgotten by our heavenly Father. Though dead, her prayers, I trusted, would be precious in the sight of the Lord. The Saviour says in Mark, sixteenth chapter, sixteenth verse: "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved." But you may ask, "What is it to believe?"
To explain this I will quote from an able theologian, a devoted servant of God. To believe, in the sense in which the word is used here, is feeling and acting as if there were a God, a heaven, a hell; as if we were sinners and must die; as if we deserved eternal death, and were in danger of it. And in view of all, casting our eternal interests on the mercy of God, in Christ Jesus. To do all this is to be a Christian.
You speak of having done all that you know in order to be accepted. This is too apt to be our error. We must not depend on making ourselves holy, but just come to the Father and ask, for the sake of Jesus, and rely entirely on the merits of Christ for our prayer being answered. The Father loves the Son, and for His sake pardons those who plead the Son's merits. We should never think of presenting any merits of our own, for we are all sinners. Do not trouble yourself too much about not having repented enough for your sins, for your letter shows that you have much concern about the subject. But let me advise you simply to do as God enabled me to do: that is, to resolve to spend the remaining part of life in His service, to obey the teachings of the Bible until death, and to rely entirely on the mercy of God for being saved. And though the future looked dark, it has become very bright. Never despair; even old Christians sometimes have dark moments. Never omit to pray at regular times. For years your salvation has been my daily prayer and shall continue so.
A Letter from Thomas Jonathan Jackson to his sister, Feb. 8, 1858
You may enjoy this article by Eric Alexander entitled "Regeneration: Beginning with God".
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"Judge not, that you be not judged."
It is scarcely necessary to remark that this prohibition, like many others in our Lord's discourse, is not to be interpreted in its utmost latitude. The capacity of judging, of forming an estimate and opinion, is one of our most valuable faculties, and the right use of it one of our most important duties. "Why do you not of yourselves judge that which is right?" says our Lord. "Judge righteous judgment." If we do not form judgments as to what is true and false, good and evil, how can we embrace the one and avoid the other?
The judgments here referred to obviously respect personal actions and characters, and the command is as plainly addressed to the disciples of Christ as private individuals. It is one of the first duties of civil magistrates to form, and pronounce, and act on just judgments respecting all matters which come before them for determination. And it is one of the first duties of ecclesiastical rulers to form judgments respecting all who apply for admission to the communion of the church; and, like Paul and Silas, in the case of Lydia, to admit only those whom they "judge to be faithful," or believers; and also to censure and exclude those who disgrace their profession.
It cannot be supposed that our Lord here forbids his disciples to form a judgment of the state and character of men from their avowed principles and their visible conduct, for in a subsequent part of this chapter he directs them to judge by this rule. We are to "have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness"; but in order to do this we must exercise judgment as to what are unfruitful works of darkness. We are to "withdraw ourselves from every brother who walks disorderly"; but in order to do this we must judge as to what is disorderly walking. We are to "mark them that cause divisions and offenses, and avoid them"; but to do this we must judge what is calculated to cause division and offense.
When our Lord calls on his disciples not to judge, he calls on them not to be officious, rash, presumptuous, severe, or partial in forming their judgments, nor hasty in declaring them.
We are not to be officious in intermeddling with what we have no concern with. It is a Christian's duty to "mind his own business." There are many subjects on which we are not called to have any judgment at all.
We are not to be rash in our judgments. Even when called to judge, we are not to decide till we have carefully examined the subject. "He who answers a matter before he hears it, it is folly and shame to him."
We are not to be presumptuous in our judgments, pronouncing on things beyond our reach -- such as the views and motives of another, and acting as if our conjectures were infallible truths.
We are not to be severe in our judgments. We are surely not, as some people seem to think, bound to believe that an avowed infidel or an open profligate is a good Christian. But we are bound to put the best construction on doubtful actions, and never, without full proof, to trace apparently good actions to bad motives.
We are not to be partial in our judgments. We are not to condemn in one what we approve (or at any rate pass by) in others. We are not to condemn in our neighbor what we overlook in ourselves.
And as we are not to judge officiously, rashly, presumptuously, severely, or partially, so neither are we to be hasty in proclaiming our judgment. An official judge, whether civil or ecclesiastical, is commonly bound to declare his judgment. But a private individual should, in every case, have a very obvious call before he proclaims an unfavorable judgment. Indeed, I apprehend that the command, "Speak evil of no man," absolutely requires us steadily to avoid giving an opinion to a man's disadvantage to anyone but to himself, except when duty demands it.
To be fond of judging savors of pride. To be prone to condemnation savors of malignity. It is very difficult to obtain possession of all the materials that in any case are necessary to form a correct judgment. And to pronounce judgment without this is to run the hazard at least of doing cruel injustice. What I hastily condemn, if I knew all, I might only pity, perhaps approve. To pronounce on motives and principles is an invasion of His prerogative who searches the heart. In a being so liable to error himself, to condemn with rigor and apparent self-complacency [smugness] is unseemly and inhuman. And to be harsh and severe in their judgments of each other is peculiarly unbecoming in those who must equally stand before the judgment seat of God, each one to give an account of himself; and all of whom, if strict justice is the only principle attended to, must be condemned in that judgment.
Discourses and Sayings of Our Lord Jesus Christ
Be sure to read "The Law Kept by Sympathy"
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"Giving thanks unto the Father, who has made us meet
to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light."
"Meetness" is a suitableness, a fitness for a certain state or certain employments; a disposition of heart, of feeling, of habits, adapted to a certain condition, namely, the society of the saints in light. Meetness is a very different thing from pardon and justification, and the attempt to confound it with them and thus build up man's merits on the ruin of Christ's righteousness is the fundamental error of too many of our modern divines.
This meetness is an internal change, gradually produced by the Holy Spirit by the renewing of the soul, which fits and prepares the fallen and corrupt heart of man for holy pleasures, holy duties, and holy society in the heavenly world. By nature we have no meetness, no preparation, no qualification, no congruity, no capacity for partaking of the inheritance of the saints in light. We have not only no right nor title, because we are sinners and have broken the law of God and are under the curse, but besides that, we are excluded by having no taste, no possibility of finding happiness in a holy heaven. We should be out of our element there. It would afford us no gratification. It would be distasteful, incongruous, miserable to us.
There is a "carnal mind" in each of us which is "enmity against God." There is a will opposed to the divine will. There are affections full of impurity, disorder, perturbation, opposition to holiness. There is an understanding darkened, besotted, "alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in us, because of the hardness of our hearts." There are false notions attached to the words happiness, pleasure, satisfaction. The business of heaven, the perpetual songs of praise, the incessant contemplation, adoration, love of infinite holiness there exercised, the converse with holy beings, the ceaseless effusions of perfect love to God and his saints would afford us no delight. For "the natural man receives not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him. Neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned." Nor will the offers of the Gospel, nor a profession of belief in it, nor the outward privileges and sacraments of the church, if there be nothing more, make us fit. "No man can come unto me," says our Lord, "except the Father who has sent me draws him."
But God makes us meet by the interior operations of his Spirit, with which he is pleased to accompany the preaching of the Gospel. "The Lord opened the heart of Lydia, that she attended to the things spoken by Paul." "By grace ye are saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God. "Then has God also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life."
The apostle uses the expression partakers of the inheritance with reference to the division by lot of the land of Canaan to the several tribes and families of Israel. And he intimates that in like manner we are made meet to be partakers, to have our allotted portions, of the inheritance of the heavenly Canaan. Agreeable to this, "Come, ye blessed of my Father," will be the welcome at last, "inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world."
This implies what is the truth of the case, that we do not attain the heavenly glory by our own works or doings in the way of merit, but in the way of inheritance--a free gift in consequence of the will and testament of our dying Saviour who purchased the inheritance for us, for which the Father is pleased to fit us and make us meet by the operations of his Spirit.
This inheritance is of the saints in light. The saints are now in much darkness, in sorrow, in heaviness through divers temptations, in troubles, storms, afflictions. Though brought "out of darkness" already "into the marvelous light of the Gospel, compared with the total blindness of the heathen and ungodly, yet they are in so much remaining affliction and sorrow that compared with the glorious light and bliss of heaven their state is a dark one still.
It is only hereafter that they will be saints in light, absolutely and entirely. In joy without intermixture, in felicity without alloy, in light without obscurity, in holiness without defect, in entire freedom from darkness, temptation, sorrow, trouble, change. There the saints will walk in the unclouded light of the beatific vision. "The city will have no need of the sun, neither of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God will lighten it and the Lamb will be the light thereof."
Seek, brethren, more and more of this meetness. Implore the Father, through the merits of his Son, to vouchsafe you more of the grace of the Holy Spirit to carry on the sanctification of your souls. And let all the afflictions, and sorrows, and comparative darkness of this world have the blessed effect of quickening your desires and anticipations for the unclouded joy and brightness of the next.
Expository Lectures on St. Paul's Epistle to the Colossians
For those interested in the millennium, check out Alva J. McClain's "A Premillennial Philosophy of History".
* * * * *
"Then I heard the number of those who were sealed:
144,000 from all the tribes of Israel."
Who, then, are these 144,000 sealed ones? This is a vital question in the right interpretation of this part of holy writ. But very conflicting and uncertain have been the answers generally given to it. Many writers are so perplexed and confounded with it that they scarcely presume to answer it, and seek to quiet inquiry by saying that the subject is too difficult for man to handle. Did people only keep themselves to the plain reading of the words as they are, without subjecting them to chemical treatment to bring them into affinity with radically false conceptions of the Apocalypse, they would save themselves much perplexity, and their readers much confusion.
So long as men will keep thinking of the present Church and the location of these events in the past or in what is now transpiring, just so long they will remain bewildered in the fog and fail to find any solid way through these wonderful revelations. If we only take to heart, that, when John writes "children of Israel" he means "children of Israel"--the blood descendants of the patriarch Jacob--and that when he mentions "the tribe of Juda," "the tribe of Reuben," "the tribe of Gad," "the tribe of Aser," "the tribe of Nepthalim," "the tribe of Manasses," "the tribe of Simeon," "the tribe of Levi," "the tribe of Issachar," "the tribe of Zabulon," "the tribe of Joseph," and "the tribe of Benjamin," he truly means what he says, we will at once have the subjects of this apocalyptic sealing unmistakably identified.
But many are so morbidly prejudiced against everything Jewish that it is concluded in advance that anything merciful referring to the Israelitish race must needs be understood some other way than as the words are written. Though all the prophets were Jews, and Jesus was a Jew, and the writer of this Apocalypse was a Jew, and all the Apostles were Jews, and salvation itself is of the Jews, and the Jews as a distinct people are everywhere spoken of as destined to continue to the world's end--it is regarded as the next thing to apostasy from the faith to apply anything hopeful that God has said to this particular race. Though Paul says that to his "kinsmen according to the flesh" "the promises" pertain, that "God has not cast away His people which He foreknew," "that blindness in part is happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in" (but only "in part" and only until then), and that God's unchanging covenant still has something favorable for them in reserve--even many otherwise enlightened Christians become impatient and will not at all hear us when we presume to pronounce God's own words as if He really meant what He has said.
No wonder, therefore, that they cannot find a consistent interpretation of a vision of grace which is predicated of Jacob's literal seed, in contradistinction from all others. Nor is there a vice or device of sacred hermeneutics which so beclouds the Scriptures and so unsettles the faith of men as this constant attempt to read Church for Israel, and Christian peoples for Jewish tribes.
As I read the Bible, when God says "children of Israel," I do not understand Him to mean any but people of Jewish blood, be they Christians or not. And when He speaks of the twelve tribes of the sons of Jacob and gives the names of the tribes, it is impossible for me to believe that He means the Gentiles in any sense or degree, whether they be believers or not. And this would seem to be so plain and self-evident a rule of interpretation that I can conceive of no legitimate variation from it, except in such case as the Holy Ghost Himself may explain to the contrary.
* * * * *
"In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ." (1 Peter 1:6,7)
So long as we live in this world we cannot be without tribulation and temptation. Hence it is written in Job, "The life of man upon earth is a life of temptation." Everyone therefore ought to be careful about his temptations, and to watch in prayer, lest the devil find an advantage to deceive him; for he never sleeps, but goes about seeking whom he may devour. No man is so perfect and holy but he has sometimes temptations, and we cannot be altogether without them.
Nevertheless temptations are often very profitable to us, though they be troublesome and grievous; for in them a man is humbled, purified, and instructed. All the Saints passed through man's tribulations and temptations, and profited thereby. . . There is no order so holy, nor place so secret, as that there be not temptations, or adversities in it.
There is no man that is altogether free from temptations while he lives on earth: for the root thereof is in ourselves, who are born with inclination to evil. When one temptation or tribulation goes away, another comes; and we shall ever have something to suffer, because we are fallen from the state of our felicity. Many seek to fly temptations, and fall more grievously into them. By flight alone we cannot overcome, but by patience and true humility we become stronger than all our enemies. He that only avoids them outwardly, and does not pluck them up by the roots, shall profit little; yea, temptations will the sooner return unto him, and will be more violent than before. By little and little, and by patience with long-suffering through God's help, you shall more easily overcome, than by violence and your own disquietude.
Often take counsel in temptations, and deal not roughly with him that is tempted; but give him comfort, as you would wish to be done to yourself. The beginning of all evil temptations is inconstancy of mind, and small confidence in God. For as a ship without a helm is tossed to and fro by the waves, so the man who is careless and forsakes his purpose, is many ways tempted. Fire tries iron, and temptation a just man. We know not oftentimes what we are able to do, but temptation shows us what we are.
Yet we must be watchful, especially in the beginning of the temptation; for the enemy is then more easily overcome if he be not suffered to enter the door of our hearts but be resisted at the very gate, on his first knocking. Wherefore one said, "Withstand the beginnings; the remedy is applied too late when the evil has grown strong through long delay. For first there comes to the mind a bare thought of evil, then a strong imagination thereof, afterwards delight, and evil motion, and then consent. And so by little and little our wicked enemy gets complete entrance, for that he is not resisted in the beginning. And the longer a man is negligent in resisting, the weaker does he become daily in himself, and the stronger the enemy against him.
Some suffer great temptations in the beginning of their conversion; others in the latter end. Others again are much troubled almost through the whole of their life. Some are but slightly tempted, according to the wisdom and equity of the Divine appointment, which weighs the states and deserts of men, and ordains all things for the welfare of His own chosen ones.
We ought not therefore to despair when we are tempted, but so much the more fervently to pray unto God, that He will vouchsafe to help us in all tribulations; for He will surely, according to the words of St. Paul, make with the temptation a way to escape, that we may be able to bear it.
Let us therefore humble our souls under the hand of God in all temptations and tribulations, for He will save and exalt the humble in spirit. In temptations and afflictions a man is proved, how much he has profited; and his reward is thereby the greater, and his graces do more eminently shine forth. Neither is it any such great thing if a man be devout and fervent, when he feels no affliction; but if in time of adversity he bear himself patiently, there is hope then of great growth in grace. Some are kept from great temptations, and in small ones which do daily occur are often overcome; to the end that, being humbled they may never presume on themselves in great matters, while they are worsted in so small things.
Of the Imitation of Christ
You might enjoy Theodor Zahn's sermon, "Christ's Temptation and Ours".
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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." (Job 23:8,9)
The God whom we worship is incomprehensible. The Being whom we are required to serve is not subject to the apprehension of any of our senses. The stream perceives not its fountain; the creature understands not its Creator. Many things we know, but we know not him who knows us best--far better than we know ourselves.
God is incomprehensible in two principal respects: in his nature and in the ways of his providence; in the modes of his existence and the modes of his government. He is invisible, and on that account incomprehensible. No man has seen God at any time, nor can see him. It is not given to us to look upon his face and live. We know that he must be about us, wherever we are; but that he is so is a deduction of reason, and not an intimation of sense. Whatever is invisible must be unknown in all those respects in which sight contributes to knowledge.
God is incomprehensible, secondly, because he is eternal; and of eternity itself we can form no adequate conception. That this is an attribute of Deity is a plain conclusion of reason; and yet, that which our reason tells us must be, is not in itself to be comprehended by reason. It must be that everything which does or ever did exist should be brought into existence by some cause, and it must be that the cause of everything else is itself uncaused, independent, without beginning, and without end. What thoughts are these! And yet, that the first Cause could ever begin to exist, or that there ever was a time (go back as far as you will) before which there was no time, is, I will not say inconceivable, but unreasonable and absurd. There must have been time, antecedent to any supposed time; and that time must have been an eternity; and coeval with that unimaginable eternity must have been the existence of the great First Cause, the eternal, immortal, invisible God--God the uncreated and the incomprehensible. To escape therefore from an absurdity, the tired and feeble thought is forced to take refuge and rest from its baffled flight in that which is incomprehensible.
Again, God is incomprehensible because he is omnipotent and infinite. He fills all space as well as all time; inhabits both immensity and eternity; is endless and boundless. Equally present throughout his vast dominions, he lives and reigns, absolute and unapproachable. In the calm silence of a starry night, we look up to the myriads of worlds which adore God in their brightness. We calculate with time and pains the distance of one of these from the spot on which we stand, and the result seems like a fable and overwhelms us with astonishment. By artificial aids to our sight, new sparkles of heavenly fire emerge into the field of vision, as distant from those we last saw as they from us. What is this incalculable reach of nature's trebled vision but a glimpse into the thin suburbs of creation, an uncertain and unsatisfactory glance upon the sentinels and outposts merely of that host of heaven and army of God which stretch their numberless ranks beyond? And there, too, in the midst all around is God--to uphold what he has created, to regulate what he has ordained. And how can we perceive, how can we know the Maker when we see but a small fragment only of the works throughout the whole of which he dwells invisible?
Neither are our ideas capable of rising to the summits of God's power and wisdom. We know that these must be as infinite as the universe. How the same Hand which holds and balances all worlds should also give to every bird its plumage, and every blade of grass its hidden texture, and every insect its invisibly minute and yet perfect economy; and how the same Mind which orders the motions of the planets, and regulates the seasons, and commands the lightnings, and weighs the proportions of the atmosphere, should also note each sparrow which falls to the ground and number all the hairs of our heads, is something which we may distantly admire and yet endeavor to reach in vain. It is knowledge too high for us, and we cannot attain unto it.
But though we have attended to the mysteries of God's existence, we have not yet spoken of the wonders of his ways and the dispensations of his providence. Here too he is incomprehensible. We stand and contemplate the only world of whose affairs we have any knowledge, a world in which evil is mixed in large proportions with good, and we are prompted to ask why this is so. Why must earth be desolated and earth's inhabitants be mournfully swept away in the struggle? And, far worse than any physical evil or disorder, why is sin permitted to enter the bowers of innocence and blight its blossoms, to exercise dominion over the soul of man and often to reduce it into hopeless slavery? We see the proud sinner triumph, we see the righteous man distressed. We are made to know that from the first instant of its being, human flesh is the weeping heir of unnumbered ills. Diseases lay waiting in disregarded ambush and rush out upon us with deathly strength. The single, the unconnected, the apparently useless, who care for none and for whom no one cares, live on into shaking age and a second childhood while the son, who by his manly exertions placed himself as a staff in the hands of his parents, is suddenly struck from under them.
Why is it surprising or why should we be troubled that in many cases we cannot comprehend them, while we so feebly and imperfectly comprehend the Being who directs them? When we can see the whole plan of universal government spread out plainly before us; when we are acquainted with all that is done in each orb of creation; when all space unrolls itself like a scroll to our vision; when the acts of time past and the secrets of time to come are made present to our watching mind; when we can behold the end from the beginning and trace all the relations and dependencies between the beginning and the end--when we can do this, or but a part of this, then shall we be fitted to perceive how light springs up from darkness and order from confusion and good from ill; how imperfection ministers to perfection, accident to certainty, weakness to greatness, and temporal sorrow to everlasting bliss. But till then, let us be humble in our ignorance and confiding in our devotion. Let us be satisfied that he who knows all things completely will order all things wisely; and that we who cannot comprehend his ways ought not to elevate our blindness into the judgment-seat over them.
Our ignorance here becomes, in a high and important sense, our bliss. If it were so, that with our present constitution and powers borne of the dust (and doomed to return to the dust again) we could nevertheless understand fully the nature of the Supreme and make ourselves masters of his will, would not the circumstance argue his finiteness and imperfection, and diminish both our veneration and our confidence? But with respect to the eternal, all-seeing, and all-pervading Deity, this cannot be so. We cannot comprehend him. To know this is to know enough; for the very reason why we know no more is the reason why our dependence should be absolute and fearless. Weakness cannot comprehend Omnipotence, but it can lean upon it securely. The finite cannot measure the Infinite, but it can resign itself cheerfully and unreservedly to its disposal. Let us make, therefore, a wise use of our ignorance. Let the cause of doubt be the origin of confidence, and confusion and amazement will subside into submission and quietness.
Sermons of Consolation (condensed)
A good sermon on this subject is by James Richards, "God's Thoughts and Ways Above Ours".
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"For you were bought at a price."
1 Corinthians 6:20
How greatly this purchase price surpasses all the world's standards and reckonings! "Ye know that ye were not redeemed with perishable silver or gold . . . but with the precious blood of Christ as of a guiltless and unspotted lamb . . . foreseen before the foundation of the world . . . raised by God from the dead, Who granted to Him glory" (1 Pet. 1:18-21). Here Peter allows us to see five different facts:
1. All other payment is temporal, but the purchase of Golgotha is eternal. All money--silver and gold--had its beginning with the creation of the world; but we are purchased with the blood of a lamb "chosen before the foundation of the world."
2. All other payment is earthly, but the purchase price of Golgotha is heavenly. The metals, the common means of payment in general business life, come out of the earth; but Christ, the Son of the living God, came out of heaven. As He left heaven He said: "a body hast Thou prepared for Me . . . that I may do Thy will, O God." By this will we are now sanctified "through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all" (Heb. 10:5-10).
3. All other payment is human, but the purchase price of Golgotha is divine. In the mercantile life of the earth all values are settled by human agreement. Therefore there can be depreciation of the means of payment, inflation, change of values, indeed, departure from the gold standard, and it is men who determine the degree of these changes. But the purchase price of Golgotha derives its glory, its value, from God. It is God Who has chosen and glorified this Lamb with whose precious blood we are purchased.
4. All other means of payment are unclean, but the purchase price of Golgotha is holy. It is the blood "of a guiltless and unspotted lamb." To all earthly money there cleaves always some history of sin; if perhaps not in every case a sin of the present possessor, yet perhaps some sin of a former owner, or at least from the whole contact of the Mammon service of this world (Luke 16:9). But Jesus is holy. He, the Holy One, gave His life for us, the unholy; and now we, purchased through His blood, are privileged to be transferred into the world of purity and holiness. And finally:
5. All other means of payment have an end, but the purchase price of Golgotha is of endless efficacy. In the destruction of the world, in the burning of the elements, all silver and gold will be at last dissolved (2 Pet. 3:10). But Jesus in the glory, as the Lamb on the throne bearing the wound-marks of His love, will in all the endless ages be the central object of the praise and thanksgiving and worship of all the glorified (Rev. 5).
To lead to this centre of salvation was the task and meaning of the Old Testament. The Old Testament exists for the New Testament. Christ Himself is the goal and soul of the pre-Christian historical revelation. He is the goal of Old Testament history, the meaning of the Old Testament worship of God, the fulfilment of Old Testament Messianic prophecy, [and] already in Old Testament times the continually present and acting God in the whole Old Testament revelation.
From Eternity to Eternity
Isaiah 53 is the "heart of the Hebrew Prophetic writings" according to James Culroos. Please take time to read Robert Culver's short book of six chapters on "The Sufferings and the Glory of the Lord's Righteous Servant".
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"And the living creatures ran back and forth, in appearance like a flash of lightning. Now as I looked at the living creatures, behold, a wheel was on the earth beside each living creature with its four faces." (Ezekiel 1:14-15)
In the first chapter of the book of Ezekiel there is presented a most beautiful and grand illustration of the nature of God's government. The reader would do well to turn to the chapter and read it carefully. Whatever else the Almighty intended to teach by this wonderful vision, it serves to illustrate the nature of his providential dealings with men and nations. This vision may very properly be "epitomized as a representation of the march of God in the chariot of his providence, through the successive ages of the world."
The first object in the vision that attracts our attention is the appearance of the living creatures, which "ran and returned as the appearance of a flash of lightning." In this age of rationalism on the one hand and Spiritualism on the other, it is difficult to explain to the satisfaction of either party the plain, unambiguous meaning of any part of God's word. A careful study of the holy Scriptures will, however, warrant us in the belief that God in part carries on the affairs of his government by the ministry of men and angels, for "he makes his angels spirits and his ministers a flame of fire." And this subservience of men and angels in the execution of his plans and purposes serves to impress our minds with the truth that all are servants of God.
Every creature in heaven and in the earth, together with all the elements, is under his control and may at any time and in any manner be employed to execute his purposes. He may employ an angel or a legion of angels to carry out his plans. He may employ a bird, a fish, an insect if he chooses, for all are made to serve him and all stand in attitude of waiting, like the "living creatures," ready to go forward or return at his command. They all go straight forward as directed by his wisdom, accomplishing results sometimes that reach far into the future.
The old world was destroyed by water; the cities of the plain by fire; Baalam was reproved by the ass; the prophet was fed by ravens; Jonah was brought to the shore by a fish; the Egyptians were scourged by flies and frogs. He may employ the wind, famine, pestilence, war, lightning, and tempest to do his bidding. All are his servants, and he may use any one of them or any number of them. He may thrash a mountain with a worm and send an angel to protect a spire of grass. It is his absolute prerogative to employ such agencies and instruments as his own wisdom may dictate for the accomplishment of his designs.
Next in order we have the vision of the wheels. "Their rings, they were so high that they were dreadful," and to add to the grandeur of their appearance, "they were full of eyes." These are the wheels of divine providence, and indicate to us the various changes and revolutions which occur in order that the divine purposes of God may be accomplished. Their being full of eyes denotes that all the vast changes and revolutions of time, in all places and under every conceivable circumstance, are directed, controlled, or overruled by the same unerring hand. "The events of time are all directed by an infinite intelligence. There is an end, a design in every turn of providence. Every movement of the wheel has an object, and to that object do the eyes never cease to turn."
We are now directed to the appearance of a wheel in a wheel. This at once suggests the idea of complication, and of retrograde motion--one wheel revolving one way and the other in the opposite direction. Nevertheless, the prophet is particular to state, once or twice, that when the living creatures went, the wheels went--"they all went straight forward." Now the ways of Providence are often intricate and mysterious to us, and sometimes appear to be contradictory. But if we were permitted to see all the designs and purposes of the Almighty, we would at once be convinced that all his ways are wise and just.
We see and understand only in part, and hence in our blindness we often think his ways are unequal. Why he does this and that we are not at present permitted to know. We see through a glass darkly. Jacob, in the anguish of his heart, said, "All these things are against me." Joseph was gone, and now Benjamin was demanded. He must go in sorrow to the grave. He saw the appearance of a wheel in a wheel. To his mind there was not only complication in the movement of the wheels, but actually a retrograde motion, a moving backward instead of forward. He was looking through a glass darkly. But when his sons returned from Egypt and told him that Joseph was still living, and that all the necessary arrangements had been made to take the entire household down to Egypt where there was bread enough and to spare, the old man saw for the first time how straight everything had gone forward in his case. Then he exclaimed, "It is enough, my son Joseph lives. I will go and see him before I die." Thus it will be in the end. When the plans and purposes of God are understood, all will exclaim, "He has done all things well."
Another peculiarity about this machine was that "the wheels were so high that they were dreadful." This indicates that the plans of God are in many respects far above our comprehension, reaching from the beginning to the end. In our present condition we are only permitted to see detached parts of his plans, a link here and there, and are unable to put them together. We see in part and understand in part--only in broken glimpses. "But when from some pinnacle of the better land we take a retrospect of the way in which the Lord has led us, we shall see that every turn, winding, crossing, check, obstruction, fall, sickness and sorrow were just as necessary to our everlasting happiness as that Christ should have died, or that the Bible should have been written."
God's providence will assure the restoration of the nation of Israel. Read J. C. Ryle's sermon, "Scattered Israel to be Regathered".
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