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
"And Jesus said to them, 'Do you not see all these things? Assuredly, I say to you, not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down.' Now as He sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, 'Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?'" (Matthew 24:2,3)
Let us keep in mind that this is our Lord's anwer to the questions about His coming--the full-end of the age--and the destruction of Jerusalem which, in their (the disciples') minds, was connected with His coming.
The Olivet Talk, in Matthew's account of it, may be easily grouped under three general headings, after the introductory bit out of which it all grew.
The first of these may be called the tribulation group of paragraphs. It runs from verses four to forty-four of chapter twenty-four. In it our Lord speaks of a time of great distress or tribulation coming to the whole earth. This is the uppermost thought through the whole section. This is apt to come as a distinct surprise to one who is listening for something about His coming again. Yet this is the first thing He speaks of in answering the questions about when He will come.
There are five distinct paragraphs in this tribulation section.
The first paragraph runs through verses four to eight. It cautions against evil men coming under the pretence of being Christ, and gives the general characteristics of the tribulation in its beginnings as wars, rumors of wars, famines, and earthquakes.
The second paragraph runs through verses nine to fourteen inclusive. It tells of great tribulation coming to the Lord's followers. It helps here to remember who these disciples are representatively -- not the Jewish nation but the Church. The Church will suffer during this awful time of persecution, and some will be killed. As a result of the terrible persecution, there will be a great testing and sifting. Many will "stumble", that is, give up their faith; false religious teachers will add to the confusion; and the love of many true Christians will grow cold. These are the general characteristics of the time for the Christian people. Then our Lord gives a clue to determining when the end of all will come -- it will not be until the Gospel of the Kingdom has been preached in all the world as a testimony unto all nations.
The third paragraph runs through verses fifteen to twenty-eight. It gives the opening event of this tribulation time, by which its beginning may be surely recognized. Jesus makes a quotation from Daniel, referring to something or someone called "the abomination of desolation"; when this is seen standing in the holy place of the temple in Jerusalem, that will indicate the beginning of this great tribulation. And our Lord significantly adds, "let him that reads understand." This event will be followed by a time of awful happenings. The tribulation will be such as has never been known, and never will be again. It will be a time of such terrible experience for Christ's own followers that for their sakes it is mercifully shortened.
The fourth paragraph is a brief one but brings us to the central event we are thinking of. It runs through verses twenty-nine to thirty-one, and fixes the closing event of the tribulation time. There will be disturbances in the heavenly bodies -- the sun, moon, and stars, and "the powers of the heavens" (i.e., powers of physical attraction and cohesion) "shall be shaken." Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. His appearance will cause mourning among all the tribes of the earth. The word translated "mourning" has in it the thought of grief. And that suggests a sorrow and penitence among men when they see and recognize the Lord Jesus in His glory. Then he sends His angels with the great sound of a trumpet, and the redeemed will be caught up into His presence from every corner of the earth.
The fifth paragraph runs through verses thirty-two to forty-four, and mingles earnest pleadings to faithfulness with additional information. The budding of the fig tree was a certain sign to them of the coming of summer, so these occurrences will be the sure indication not only of His coming but that He is near. Then comes the prophetic utterance abaout the preservation of the Jewish race until all these things shall take place. Then an assurance of the absolute certainty of these events occurring; but the secrecy of the time from all, save the Father. The people of the earth will be as unprepared and as completely taken by surprise as were the people in the days of Noah. The separation of some being caught up, and the rest being left on the earth, would come as they were busy about their common duties, utterly unexpectant of anything unusual likely to occur just then. Then is the earnest plea to live so as to be always ready for His coming, however unexpected it may be when it actually occurs.
It is interesting to note that the line of division between the Jew, the nations, and Christ's followers is distinctly drawn in this Olivet Talk.
The Jews are referred to in the third person as "this people" (Luke 21:23), as "they" (Luke 21:24), and as "this race" (Matt. 24:34; Mark 13:30; Luke 21:32).
The nations or people of the earth generally, as distinct from Jews and from the group of Christ's followers, are referred to likewise in the third person as "Gentiles".
Christ's folowers are spoken to, the second person being used. The persecution which they suffer is "for My Name's sake" (Matt. 24:9; Mark 13:13; Luke 21:12). To them is promised special wisdom in need (Mark 13:11). It is they who are urged to be watchful against the evil, and for His return. Indeed the whole talk is addressed to the circle of Christ's own people, later called the Church.
Here then may be put into a few sentences the teaching of Matthew, from our Lord's own lips, regarding His return. It is to be preceded by a time of tribulation, which will be a terrible experience for all, and of sore testing and suffering for God's people. This will be introduced by an event in the Jewish world at Jerusalem, something or someone called "the abomination of desolation" set up in the holy place in the temple at Jerusalem. And it will come to an end with an unsettling or a shaking of the powers that hold the heavenly bodies in their places. Then our Lord Jesus Himself shall come openly to all, in great glory, and gather to Himself His own followers, leaving all others on the earth. His coming will find the world wholly unprepared.
Quoted by John J. Scruby in The Great Tribulation The Church's Supreme Test
See also Ken's study on The Olivet Discourse.
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"You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.' But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, 'Raca!' shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, 'You fool!' shall be in danger of hell fire. Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother and then come and offer your gift. Agree with your adversary quickly while you are on the way with him, lest your adversary deliver you to the judge, the judge hand you over to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. Assuredly, I say to you, you will by no means get out of there till you have paid the last penny." (Matthew 5:21-26)
Christ here explains the law of the sixth commandment according to the true intent and full extent of it. The exposition of this command which the Jewish teachers contented themselves with was, Whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment. This was all they had to say upon it -- that willful murderers were liable to the sword of justice, and casual ones to the judgment of the city of refuge. The courts of judgment sat in the gate of their principal cities; the judges, ordinarily, were twenty-three in number. These tried, condemned and executed murderers, so that whoever killed was in danger of their judgment. Now this gloss of theirs upon this commandment was faulty, for it intimated that the law of the sixth commandment was only external and forbid no more than the act of murder. It laid no restraint upon the inward lusts. This was indeed the fundamental error of the Jewish teachers -- that the divine law prohibited only the sinful act and not the sinful thought.
The commandment is exceedingly broad and not to be limited by the will of men. Christ tells us that rash anger is heart murder. Whoever is angry with his brother without a cause breaks the sixth commandment. Anger is a natural passion. There are cases in which it is lawful and laudable. But it is sinful when we are angry without cause: (l) When it is without any just provocation given; for no cause or no good cause. (2) When it is without any good aim but merely to show our authority, to gratify a brutish passion, to let people know our resentments and excite ourselves to revenge. If we are at any time angry, it should be to awaken the offender to repentance and prevent his doing so again. (3) When it exceeds due bounds; when we are headstrong in our anger, violent and vehement; when we seek the hurt of those we are displeased with.
From this it is inferred that we ought carefully to preserve Christian love and peace with all our brethren, and that if at any time a breach happens, we should labor for a reconciliation by confessing our fault, humbling ourselves to him, begging his pardon, or offering satisfaction for wrong done in word or deed. Because until this be done, we are utterly unfit for communion with God in holy ordinances. The case supposed is, "That your brother has something against you;" that you have injured and offended him either in reality or in his apprehension. If you are the party offended, there need be no delay; make short work of it as there is no more to be done but to forgive him. But if the quarrel began on your side and the fault is yours, go and be reconciled before you offer your gift at the altar. God will have reconciliation made and is content to wait for the gift rather than have it offered while we are under guilt.
Until this is done, we lie exposed to much danger. It is at our peril if we do not labor after an agreement, and that quickly, upon two accounts: (l) If the offense we have done is in his body, goods, or reputation, such as will bear an action in which he may recover considerable damages, it is our wisdom and duty to our family to prevent that by a humble submission and a just and peaceable satisfaction. Otherwise he may recover it by law. In such a case, it is better to make the best terms we can than to stand it out, for it is in vain to contend with the law, and there is danger of our being crushed by it. (2) While the quarrel continues and we are unfit to bring our gift to the altar, unfit to come to the table of the Lord, so we are unfit to die. If we persist in this sin, there is danger lest we be suddenly snatched away by the wrath of God, whose judgment we cannot escape. Hell is a prison for all that live and die in malice and uncharitableness, and out of that prison there is no rescue, no redemption, no escape.
This is very applicable to the great business of our reconciliation to God through Christ. (l) God is an adversary to all sinners; he has a controversy with them, an action against them. (2) It is our concern to agree with him, to acquaint ourselves with him that we may be at peace. (3) It is our wisdom to do this quickly, while we are in the way. While we are alive, we are in the way; after death it will be too late. (4) They who continue in a state of enmity to God are continually exposed to the arrests of his justice and the most dreadful instances of his wrath. Hell is the prison into which those will be cast who continue in a state of enmity. (5) Damned sinners must remain in it to eternity; they shall not depart until they have paid the last penny, and that will not be to the utmost ages of eternity. Divine justice will be forever in the satisfying, but never satisfied.
Matthew Henry's Commentary
Spurgeon has a very good sermon on this subject, "Consider Before You Fight".
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“Then Moses lifted his hand and struck the rock twice with his rod;
and water came out abundantly, and the congregation and their animals drank.”
It was indeed most fitting that at the end of the thirty-seven years' wanderings Israel should once more gather at Kadesh. There they had been scattered when the evil report that the spies had brought led to their unbelief and rebellion. And now a new generation was once more at Kadesh. Besides Joshua and Caleb, to whom entrance into the land had been specially promised, only three of the old generation still remained. These were Miriam, Moses, and Aaron. And now, just at the commencement of this fresh start, as if the more solemnly to remind them of the past, Miriam, who had led the hymn of thanksgiving and triumph on their first entering the desert, was taken away. Only Moses and Aaron were now left -- weary, travel-worn pilgrims -- to begin a new journey with new pilgrims who had to learn afresh the dealings of Jehovah. And this may help us to understand what happened at the very outset of their pilgrimage.
Israel was in Kadesh, or rather in the desert of Zin, the name Kadesh applying probably to the whole district as well as to a special locality. So large a number of people gathered in one place would naturally soon suffer from lack of water. Let it also be remembered that this generation knew of the wonders of the Lord chiefly by hearing; but they knew of his judgments by what they had seen of death sweeping away all who had come out of Egypt. In the hardness of their hearts, it now seemed to them as if the prospect before them was hopeless, and they were destined to suffer the same fate as their fathers. Something of this unbelieving despair appears in their cry, "Would God that we had died when our brethren died before Jehovah," -- that is, by divine judgment during these years of wandering. The remembrance of the past with its disappointments seems to find expression in their complaints. It is as if they contrasted the stay of their nation in Egypt and the hopes awakened on leaving it with the disappointment of seeing the good land almost within their grasp and then being turned back to die in the wilderness! And so the people broke forth in rebellion against Moses and Aaron.
Feelings similar to theirs seem to have taken hold even of Moses and Aaron, only in a different direction. The people despaired of success and rebelled against them. With Moses and Aaron as leaders, they would never get possession of the Land of Promise. On the other hand, Moses and Aaron also despaired of success and rebelled, as it were, against the people. Such an unbelieving people rebelling at the very outset would never be allowed to enter the land. The people felt as if the prospect before them was hopeless, and so did Moses and Aaron, although on opposite grounds. But in the final analysis, the ground of despair was precisely the same. In both cases it was really unbelief in God. The people had looked upon Moses as their leader into the land, and not upon God. Moses looked at the people as they were in themselves, instead of thinking of God who now sent them forward, secure in his promise which he would assuredly fulfill. This soon appeared in the conduct and language of Moses.
It is generally thought that the sin of Moses, in which Aaron shared, consisted in his striking the rock -- and doing so twice -- instead of merely speaking to it. And also in the hasty and improper language which he used: "Hear now, ye rebels, must we fetch you water out of this rock?" But it seems difficult to accept this view. On the one hand, we can scarcely imagine that unbelief should have led Moses to strike rather than speak to the rock, as if the former would have been more efficacious. On the other hand, it seems strange that Moses should have been directed to "take the rod," if he were not to have used it, the more so as this had been the divinely sanctioned mode of proceeding at Rephidim. Lastly, in such a case, how could Aaron have been implicated in the sin of Moses?
Be it observed that Moses is nowhere in Scripture blamed for striking instead of speaking to the rock, while it is expressly stated that the people "angered him also at the waters of strife so that it went ill with Moses for their sakes." The other aspect of the sin of Moses was afterward expressly stated by the Lord Himself, when he pronounced on Moses and Aaron the sentence that they should not "bring this congregation into the land." It was on this ground: "Because you believed me not, to sanctify me in the eyes of the children of Israel." Thus, in their rebellion against Moses and Aaron, the people had not believed that Jehovah would bring them into the land. In their anger at the people, Moses and Aaron had not believed God, to sanctify him in his power and grace. Israel failed as the people of God; Moses as their mediator. For the first time Moses failed through unbelief by looking at the sin of the people, and thence inferring the impossibility of their inheriting the promises, instead of looking at the grace and power of God which made all things possible. Unlike Abraham in similar circumstances, he staggered at the promises. And having through unbelief failed as mediator of the people, his office was to cease, and the leading of Israel into the land was to devolve upon another.
Bible History Old Testament
Charles Bridges gives a good exposition of Psalm 119:21, "You rebuke the proud--the cursed, who stray from your commandments."
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“So then neither is he that plants anything, neither he that waters;
but God who gives the increase.”
1 Corinthians 3:7
The design of God in all his works of creation, providence, and grace, is to advance and secure the glory of his own name; and, therefore, though he makes use of secondary causes as the instruments of his operations, yet their efficacy depends upon his superintending influence.
When we see a people enjoy the frequent cultivations of the gospel and the means of spiritual fruitfulness, and yet few new trees of righteousness planted -- and those that have been planted seemingly withering and unfruitful -- we cannot but conclude that something is lacking. Here are the gospel and its ordinances, which at times have done great things, and sinners have yielded to their resistless energy. Here is a minister who, however weak, has sometimes been the happy instrument of giving a sinner an alarm and speaking a word in season to those that were weary. Here are hearers that crowd our sanctuary, hearers of the same kind with those whom we have seen ere now fall under the power of the word. And what, then, is lacking? Why God, who alone can give the increase, is not here by [with] the influences of his grace. And in his absence "neither he that plants is anything, nor he that waters." They are all nothing together, and may labor till dooms-day and never convert one soul.
How essential and important the doctrine of divine influence is to the church of God. The very life and the whole success of the gospel depend upon it. And since this necessarily supposes the utter depravity and spiritual impotence of human nature in its fallen state, that doctrine also must be frequently and plainly inculcated.
Alas, [to see] the great defect of the system of divinity too fashionable in our days, and [the] one great cause of the languishing state of religion in our age, and of the prevalence of vice and impiety! Since it has been the mode to compliment mankind as able to do something very considerable in religion, religion has died away. Since it has been the fashion to press a reformation of men's lives without inculcating the absolute necessity of divine grace to renew their nature, there is hardly such a thing as a thorough reformation to be seen; but mankind are evidently growing worse and worse. Because men think they can do something and scorn to be wholly dependent on divine grace, the Lord, as it were, looks on and suffers them to make the experiment. And, alas! it is likely to be a costly experiment to multitudes. God withholds his influence in just displeasure, and lets them try what mighty things the boasted powers of degenerate nature can do without it. And hence they lie all secure and asleep in sin together. Sermons are preached; the house of God is frequented; the ordinances of the gospel administered; yet vice is triumphant, carnal security almost universal, and so few are earnestly seeking after religion that one would hardly suspect from the success that they are intended as means to bring them to this! Thus, alas, it is around us, if we believe our senses. And thus it will continue to be until ministers and people are brought to the dust before God, to acknowledge their own weakness and entire dependence upon him.
A. N. Martin's essay, "The Practical Implications of Calvinism", is must reading.
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"Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death."
Now perhaps some of you look forward with fear to that passage, "through the valley of the shadow of death." "Ah!" says one, "it is so dark." Tell me, did you ever stand on the edge of a dark valley filled to the very brim with the damp mists of night in the early morning before the sunrise? And have you waited till the sun rose and shone down into its depths, turning those black mists to golden clouds? And though you have feared to go down in the darkness, have you feared to go down in the light? Now 'tis something like this with death. If you are God's child, when you come to the edge of this valley God shall so cause the gates of glory to be opened beyond as to fill this valley with light, and all your fears shall vanish with the darkness.
There is an old saying which occurs to me just now about this darkness. It is well worth repeating to you. "There never was a shadow without a light!" Now I say, look not at the shadow of death but rather at the light of life. What light? Why this: "Thou art with me!"
"But," says one, "you cannot persuade me we don't suffer in death, for I have seen some who have suffered intense pain in dying." But may not your comfort outweigh your suffering? There was one, not long since, on his death-bed who often had, during his ministry, his fears of death. But when he came to the last, those fears were taken away. In fact, he expressed himself in these words: "My pains are so great that I feel as if I were being consumed with fire. But I am filled with joy in God." And before his spirit departed, he had himself propped up with pillows, and he took a pen in his hand and wrote thus to his sister: "My much-loved sister, were I to use the figurative language of Bunyan, I would date my letter from the land of Beulah; for here all is light by day and by night. My sins are gone! My soul seems to float in the light of God's countenance." Now mark what he added: "Death's cold river that I once feared is now narrowed to a little stream, which I can cross at a single step. And to me to die is gain." And he laid himself back gently, and his eyelids fell over forever, and angels bore him to the bosom of Jesus. Now you may never suffer such pain of body as that man suffered. But even if you did, if God's comforts come in and fill you to overflowing, will you not be able to bear it? Oh! say with David, "I will fear no evil."
"But," says one, "is not death the king of terrors?" It is so to the ungodly. It is to them the hand of God hurrying them to judgment and to hell. But not so to the Christian. It wears a dark mask, 'tis true, but a face -- bright with loving-kindness -- is shining underneath! A little child lies awake near its mother in the room at night. It sees a dark shadowy form coming towards it and screams with terror. "Fear not, child!" says the mother, "I am with you." But the child still trembles. Then she rises and and goes to the window, lifts the curtains and lets in the dawning light of day. And the child sees the countenance of one who loves it in the face of the stranger and smiles at its former fears, running to his bosom.
So with you, Christian. Death is coming and you fear it. Christ says, "Fear not, for I am with you." But you still tremble. Ah, when you come to die Christ will lift the veil, let the light of eternity shine on the face of death, and you will see the face of an angel holding in his hand the key of heaven, ready to bear you away from sorrow to joy, from darkness to light, and from the bed of pain to the rest of peace everlasting.
"Thy road and thy staff, they comfort me." Did you ever see a man fording a river on foot? Taking his staff, he goes down into the water feeling his way as he goes. When he comes to a deep place, he puts down the staff first in order to find the bottom, and having felt it he takes the step with confidence and so passes safely through. Christian, as you walk through the waters of death, and when you come to the deep places where you say "Surely I shall sink," put down the staff of precious promises and you shall find the rock -- Christ Jesus -- at the bottom and shall cross safely over.
See also Pastor Nolen's sermon on Infant Salvation.
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"Whoever guards his mouth and tongue keeps his soul from troubles."
Here we have still another characteristic and another advantage of wisdom. It enables its possessor to "keep the mouth and the tongue" -- to know the "time to be silent and the time to speak," and in the time to speak what to say.
We have had repeated occasion to notice the incalculable amount and variety of mischief of which the tongue is the occasion:  how its openly uttered or secretly whispered words may break hearts, may ruin characters, may sever friends, may bring individuals and families to beggary and disgrace;  may spread alienation and discord through extensive circles of intimacy and affection;  may "pierce through with many sorrows" spirits that were enjoying peace and love;  may be even as barbed daggers that take away life.
We have also noticed how too they recoil in mischief to ourselves:  how a word of slander brought out in a moment of irritation or thoughtlessness may cost a man the humiliation of submissive apology, or the annoyance and expense of litigation and the reparation of heavy damages;  how the recollection of a hasty expression, along with the effects which have arisen from it to those to whom at the time no harm was meant, may inflict severe and long-continued self-reproach with all its accompaniments of mental disquietude and distress;  how the foolish utterances of an unguarded hour may go far to shake the credit of years of discretion -- the recollection of that hour of folly ever returning upon the mind of previous admirers, and, if not absolutely obliterating their former estimate of a man's sound sense and dignity, operating at least as a serious drawback on their respect for his character;  how too it leads to inward deep remorse arising from a consciousness of having spoken inconsistently with our Christian profession and principles, and the thought of having given an unfavorable impression of our religion and failed of an opportunity of honoring God is a thought which to a Christian heart there is none more galling, spirit-sinking, and severe.
It is indeed emphatically true that "whoso keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps his soul from troubles."
Lectures on the Book of Proverbs
We will all bow our heads in shame after reading Walter Smith's sermon entitled "The Law Kept by Sympathy".
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“Blessed is the man to whom Yahweh shall not impute sin.”
The righteousness of Christ is imputed to the believer for his justification. The word impute is familiar and unambiguous. To impute is to ascribe to, to reckon to, to lay to one's charge. When we say we impute a good or bad motive to a man, or that a good or evil action is imputed to him, no one misunderstands our meaning. Philemon had no doubt what Paul meant when he told him to impute to him the debt of Onesimus. "Let not the king impute anything unto his servant" (1 Sam. 22:15). "Let not my lord impute iniquity unto me" (2 Sam. 19:19). "Neither shall it be imputed unto him that offereth it" (Lev. 7:18). "Blood shall be imputed unto that man; he hath shed blood" (Lev. 17:4). "Blessed is the man unto whom Yahweh imputes not iniquity" (Ps. 32:2). "Unto whom God imputes righteousness without works" (Rom. 4:6). God is "in Christ not imputing their trespasses unto them" (2 Cor. 5:19).
The meaning of these and similar passages of Scripture has never been disputed. Every one understands them. We use the word impute in its simple admitted sense, when we say that the righteousness of Christ is imputed to the believer for his justification.
It seems unnecessary to remark that this does not, and cannot, mean that the righteousness of Christ is infused into the believer, or in any way so imparted to him as to change or constitute his moral character. Imputation never changes the inward, subjective state of the person to whom the imputation is made. When sin is imputed to a man he is not made sinful; when the zeal of Phinehas was imputed to him he was not made zealous. When you impute theft to a man you do not make him a thief. When you impute goodness to a man you do not make him good. So when righteousness is imputed to the believer he does not thereby become subjectively righteous. If the righteousness be adequate, and if the imputation be made on adequate grounds and by competent authority, the person to whom the imputation is made has the right to be treated as righteous. And, therefore, in the forensic, although not in the moral or subjective sense, the imputation of the righteousness of Christ does make the sinner righteous. That is, it gives him a right to the full pardon of all his sins and a claim in justice to eternal life.
That this is the simple and universally accepted view of the doctrine as held by all Protestants at the Reformation, and by them regarded as the cornerstone of the Gospel, has already been sufficiently proved by extracts from the Lutheran and Reformed Symbols, and has never been disputed by any candid or competent authority.
You may enjoy Theodor Zahn's sermon, "True Righteousness".
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“Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing.”
1 Thessalonians 5:16,17
Few expressions in theology are older than that which speaks of the "privilege of prayer." But nothing could be a greater novelty, in the history of some who now hear me, than to find prayer an actual privilege. Am I wrong? "The privilege of prayer!" Do not some feel that the burden of prayer, the obligation, the duty, would be a truer name for it? Do not some of you feel that to call it a privilege is just to give a pleasant name to an irksome thing? If so, instead of initiating you in a new science, that individual would do you a better service who should give you fresh light on this old truth, and make you feel that not only has prayer power with God, but [that it] is very nearly the highest privilege of man.
Let us make a supposition. Suppose that the individual in this kingdom, who combines in himself the greatest wisdom and goodness, were accessible to you. Suppose that when anything pressed upon you -- a difficulty from which your own sagacity could not extricate you, or an undertaking which your own resources could not compass -- you had only to send him a statement of the case, and were sure, in good time, to get his best and kindest counsel. Would not you deem this a great privilege?
Would not something of this sort just meet the case of many here? One is entering on a new course of occupation, and in its very outset meets with problems that fairly baffle him, but which a friend of a little more experience or perspicacity could instantly solve. Another is overtaken by a sea of troubles -- a concourse of trials which quite overwhelm him, but through which he perfectly believes that a stronger arm or a more buoyant spirit could carry him. But where shall he look for that wiser friend -- that stronger arm?
Suppose again that when in sudden danger or in deep distress there were some way by which you could make known your situation to a spirit departed. That spirit is now far wiser than he was when on earth. He has sources of knowledge that are not open to you, and he has powers not yet possessed by you. Suppose that in grief or in difficulty you could invoke him. Suppose that there were some process by which you could arrest his ear among the glorified, and in the lapse of a brief moment bring him, though unseen, to your side. And suppose that to this spirit made perfect (the spirit of your departed parent or of someone remarkable for his wisdom and sanctity) you could detail the whole matter that grieves and perplexes you; and though there should be no response from the viewless shade, you knew that he had heard you and was away to interpose effectively on your behalf. Would you not feel much comforted and lightened? Would you not resume your own active exertions with far greater hopefulness, assured that there would now attend them a power beyond what was proper to them or inherent in yourself?
But further, suppose that instead of any wise or influential personage on earth or any glorified spirit in paradise, it was possible for you to secure the ear and engage the help of one of the principalities or powers in the heavenly places, some being of such bright intelligence that he can smile at all our wisdom, and [of] such commanding might that he can do in a moment what would occupy our race for a millennium. Could you for an instant bespeak his attention and gain assurance of his willingness to help, would you not feel that your object was unspeakably promoted, or your burden amazingly lightened? To have enlisted such ability and skill upon your side [by means of] the few minutes spent in securing such superhuman help, would you not feel that they [those minutes] were a larger contribution towards eventual success than a lifetime of your personal efforts?
But rise a step higher -- an infinite step! -- and suppose that it were possible to arrest the ear and secure the help of the Most High. Suppose that you could, by any possibility, gain the attention of the living God, that you could secure not the cold and distant on-looking but the interested regard and the omnipotent interposition of Jehovah himself. Would not this be a privilege? But this is precisely what prayer is.
Some have no friend of extraordinary sagacity or power to go to. The spirits of the departed cannot come to us; and neither to them nor to angels are we warranted to pray. And even though we could evoke a Samuel from the sepulchre or bring down Gabriel from above the sky, the blessings which are most needful for us are such as neither Samuel nor Gabriel can give -- blessings of which the treasure lies within the light inaccessible, and of which Omnipotence alone preserves the key. That Almighty hand prayer moves. That incommunicable key prayer turns. That unapproachable treasure prayer opens. The blessings which Solomon in all his glory, and Abraham in the bosom of his God, and the seraphs who overshadow the throne, -- the blessings which these have not to impart, it is the privilege of prayer to procure.
But set it in another light. Imagine that there had been certain limitations on prayer. Imagine that there had only been one spot on the earth from which prayer could arise with acceptance. Imagine -- by no means inconceivable, for there was once something very like it -- imagine that the Lord had selected some little spot of earth, a Mount Zion or a Holy Land, and said that here and here only was the place to worship. Imagine that from this hallowed spot alone there had existed a passage into heaven for the prayers of earth, and that all supplications, however earnest, uttered on the profane soil of the common globe had gone for nothing. What a resorting we should have seen to this place of only prevalency! When there occurred some conjuncture [crisis] decisive of weal or woe to an individual or a family, or when a man became so anxious about his soul's salvation that nothing could content him save light from above, [then] we should have seen the busy trader arranging for his protracted absence, and the cautious untraveled husbandman preparing for the perilous pilgrimage, and multitudes on their own behalf or on behalf of others resorting to the place where prayer is heard and answered.
And imagine, further, that there had just been one day in the year when prayer was permitted; that those who arrived at the appointed place too late found the gate of access closed for the next twelve months; and however sudden the emergency and however extreme its exigency, that it was impossible to do anything for it till the weary year moved round and brought back the one propitious day. Even thus restricted, would not prayer have been felt to be a privilege worth a pilgrimage and worth a long on-waiting?
Just fancy that in our earth's yearly revolution round the sun there was disclosed a crevice in the sky; that on one night in the year and on one mountaintop there was a vista opened through the encircling vault and a sight of dazzling glories revealed to all who gazed from the favored summit. And fancy that through the brilliant gap there fell a shower of gold and gems, and that this recurred regularly on the self-same evening every year. What a concourse to that Pisgah might you count upon! How many eager eyes would strain the breathless hour beforehand till the first streak of radiance betokened the bursting glory! And how many emulous hands would rush together to catch the flaming rubies and the diamond-rain!
And just conceive -- the only other supposition we shall make -- that certain costly or arduous preliminaries were essential in order to successful prayer. Suppose that a day's strict abstinence or some painful self-punishment were exacted; or that each worshiper were required to bring in his hand some costly offering -- the choicest of his flock, or a large percentage on his income. And who would say that this was unreasonable? Would not access into God's own presence -- a favor so ineffable -- would it not be wisely purchased at any price? And might not sinful "dust and ashes" marvel that after any ordeal or purifying process it was admitted near such Majesty?
But how stands the case? Prayer is not a consultation with the highest wisdom which this world can supply. It is not intercourse with an angel or a spirit made perfect. But it is an approach to the living God. It is access to the High and Holy One who inhabits eternity. It is detailing in the ear of Divine sympathy every sorrow. It is consulting with Divine wisdom on every difficulty. It is asking from Divine resources the supply of every want. And this not once in a lifetime or for a few moments on a stated day of each year, but at any moment, at every time of need.
Whatever be the day of your distress, it is a day when prayer is allowable. Whatever be the time of your calamity, it is a time when prayer is available. However early in the morning you seek the gate of access, you find it already open. And however deep the midnight moment when you find yourself in the sudden arms of death, the winged prayer can bring an instant Saviour near. And this wheresoever you are. It needs not that you ascend some special Pisgah or Moriah. It needs not that you should enter some awful shrine or put off your shoes on some holy ground.
Could a memento be reared on every spot from which an acceptable prayer has passed away, and on which a prompt answer has come down, we should find Jehovah-shammah -- "the Lord has been here" -- inscribed on many a cottage hearth and many a dungeon floor. We should find it not only in Jerusalem's proud temple and David's cedar galleries, but in the fisherman's cottage by the brink of Gennesaret and in the upper chamber where Pentecost began. And whether it be the field where Isaac went to meditate, or the rocky knoll where Jacob lay down to sleep, or the brook where Israel wrestled, or the den where Daniel gazed on the hungry lions and the lions gazed on him, or the hillsides where the Man of Sorrows prayed all night, we should still discern the prints of the ladder's feet let down from heaven--the landing place of mercies because the starting point of prayers.
And all this whatsoever you are. It needs no saint, no [one] proficient in piety, no [one] adept in eloquent language, no dignitary of earthly rank. It needs but a simple Hannah, or a lisping Samuel. It needs but a blind beggar or a loathsome lazar [leper]. It needs but a penitent publican or a dying thief.
And it needs no sharp ordeal, no costly passport, no painful expiation to bring you to the mercy seat. Or rather, I should say [that] it needs the costliest of all. But the blood of atonement, the Saviour's merit, the name of Jesus -- priceless as they are -- cost the sinner nothing. They are freely put at his disposal, and instantly and constantly he may use them. This access to God in every place, at every moment, without any price or any personal merit, is it not a privilege?
Expositions of Holy Scripture
How gracious is our God, the creator and owner of all, who says to us, "Ask, and it shall be given you." Read Henry Alford's sermon on Matthew 7:7.
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“The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked."
“That ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil."
If, as the Word of God assures me, "the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked," how shall I be enabled to ascertain, of any particular temptation which assails me, whether it be the offspring of my own evil imagination, and therefore has its rise and origin within my own breast, or whether it comes from without and is the inspiration of the spirit of wickedness and sin?
This is an extremely difficult point to determine, and in offering a few very brief remarks upon it, I would not be understood to speak with the same degree of confidence as upon those things which are the subjects of express revelation, for here we can only give the opinion and experience of men, not the word of God; of eminent Christians, indeed, but still merely of uninspired mortality.
Following, then, the guide of Christian experience, we should say that one of the most decisive points of distinction is this: that when sin is the natural birth of our hearts, it grows up leisurely and by degrees. It does not rush upon us at once in an overwhelming flood, but is thought of and ruminated upon, and viewed perhaps at first with reluctance, but soon with complacency, and then entered upon gradually from its lighter to its deeper shades of criminality and guilt. For even a heathen writer has handed down to us the observation that no man becomes in an instant deeply abandoned. But when sin comes immediately from the devil, there are none of these gradations, and it is remarkable for its suddenness and abruptness. It rushes in at once upon the thoughts, and we are hurried away, without time or reflection or consideration, into transgression. It is, perhaps, on this account that the devices of Satan are compared, in the passage of Scripture from which the text is taken [Eph. 6], to "fiery darts," which can be cast in a moment, and carrying sudden destruction to the soul.
Two other methods of determining this difficult point are,  by the nature of the sins to which we are tempted, and  the effect they have on our minds and on our hearts.
The nature of the sin. Some of the most horrible and dreadful sins that can be conceived are referred in the Scriptures of truth to the direct agency of Satan: profane and blasphemous thoughts of God, murder, and especially self-murder. To this sin, through the instrumentality of Job's wife, Satan tempted that holy patriarch. To this sin the devil, in his own person, tempted the Saviour of the world, when having placed him upon a pinnacle of the temple he said, "Cast thyself down." To this, again, he tempted successfully the miserable Judas, for we are expressly told that Satan entered into him before he engaged in his last dreadful deed of blood.
If the nature of the temptation is thus in some degree a proof of the source from which it flows, so also is its effect upon our own minds and hearts. For instance, suppose that the moment an evil suggestion arises in your soul you feel an unspeakable degree of loathing and abhorrence. This is a strong presumptive evidence that it is the work of an enemy from without. The heart does not usually feel such violent dislike and hatred for sins which it has itself engendered. This then is a favorable sign to the tempted believer, and one which if followed up by fervent, faithful, persevering prayer, will usually be succeeded by victory over temptation and the tempter.
We proceed now to the consideration of some of the reasons for which our heavenly Father, of his mercy and goodness, permits many -- nay all -- his children during their pilgrimage state to suffer from the wiles of the devil.
When you become a Christian (not merely in name but in heart and in soul), you must remember that you become a soldier, not a conqueror; that you are called to "fight," and to "run," and to "wrestle," to enter upon a course of difficulty and trial, not upon a season of enjoyment and rest. The Christian life, compared with the happiest worldly life, is unquestionably pleasantness and peace. But compared with "the rest which remains for the people of God," it ever has been and ever will be full of disquietudes and trouble; or why should our Lord himself have told us first to sit down and count the cost? You ought, therefore, to expect to meet with these spiritual assailants and spiritual difficulties. And the following are among the many reasons we might offer for which our heavenly Father sees good that it should be so.
Temptation or trials are most effectual tests of our Christian graces. Thus the full extent of Abraham's faith would never have been known to the Church of God had it not been tried by God himself. And the reality and depth of Job's sincerity and patience would have been equally unknown had they not been subjected to the temptations of Satan. Our heavenly Father, therefore, permits you to be tempted [in order] to bring out your Christian graces and your holy obedience into far more abundant fruit-bearing to the honor of his name, thus in the end working for you a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.
While the temptations of Satan are producing this good and valuable effect upon your Christian graces, they are often producing equally salutary effects upon the darker and more unholy portion of your Christian character. For instance, you are perhaps beginning to feel the risings of spiritual pride (forever springing up out of the remains of natural corruption even in the renewed heart). Then does God permit your spiritual enemy to tempt you, so that the very feeling of your liability to sin (which you perhaps with some degree of self-complacency hoped you had forever cast beneath your feet) may tend to humble you and lower you in your own opinion, to show you what is in your heart, and to destroy these first buddings of pride. It was thus that God permitted St. Paul to suffer from a thorn in the flesh, which he expressly says "was a messenger of Satan to buffet him," not because he had actually become proud and self-sufficient, but lest he should be lifted up; lest he should grow proud through the abundance of the revelations which was vouchsafed him.
There are yet other and minor motives from which it probably pleases our heavenly Father to subject us to the fiery trial of temptation. For instance, to enable us wisely to counsel and thoroughly to sympathize with those who are tempted. It was a frequent saying of the great Martin Luther, that "temptation, meditation, and prayer can alone make a minister." He who has never been deeply tried and exercised in his own heart will never be able to say with St. Paul, "We are not ignorant of Satan's devices," and therefore will never be able wisely and feelingly to counsel those who are in "danger through manifold temptations."
But probably above all other reasons the Almighty permits us to be thus tried and tempted is that we may not fix ourselves too strongly and root ourselves too firmly here below; but may in the midst both of worldly and spiritual prosperity know something experimentally of the Psalmist's feeling, "Oh that I had wings like a dove, for then would I fly away and be at rest." Blessed is that trial, be it what it may, if it in any degree strengthens this desire to be forever with the Lord and to behold his glory.
I proceed to consider some of those assistances and supports which God in mercy bestows upon his tempted children, that they may be able to "stand against the wiles of the devil."
The first of these is the "sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God." This is the only offensive weapon which you can successfully use against our powerful adversary. Even the Lord Jesus Christ condescended to wield this weapon. When Satan tempted him, he replied to every one of the three temptations by a quotation from the written Word, probably to encourage us by the thought that even the eternal Son of the Father, with all the infinity of weapons in heaven's own armory at his command, chose to select his arrows from the same quiver which is open to you and to myself, to the very weakest and the most helpless of his followers.
As the written Word is the one great offensive weapon, so is constant, faithful, fervent prayer the one great defensive weapon. When you feel a temptation injected into your thoughts or your affections, betake yourself at once to secret, silent prayer. By this you may hide yourself, as it were, under the very wings of Omnipotence, through which no weapon of Satan's armory, no dart from Satan's bow can ever penetrate.
Let every tried and tempted soul among us throw aside all other dependencies and rest calmly and contentedly upon these two, the strongest and best, God's promises and God's omnipotence, pledged as they are to us through Jesus Christ for every hour of trial or of suffering. In this blessed and comforting and soul-satisfying assurance we shall obtain fresh grace, fresh strength, fresh resolution to "run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith."
Here is a very good sermon by Howard Crosby on Matthew 6:13, Lead us not into temptation, entitled "The Philosophy of Temptation".
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“Who gave Himself for us that He might redeem us from all iniquity."
That Jesus Christ is the person here spoken of is perfectly evident; but what the true character of Jesus Christ is, is a point disputed, and one of unspeakable importance. No greater difference of opinion can exist than whether our Saviour is a mere man or the mighty God. As we embrace the one or the other of these opinions, our whole system of doctrines will be modified. Accordingly, it is found that all who deny the deity of Christ reject all the fundamental truths of the Christian religion. The divinity of Christ being a fundamental doctrine, we find the proofs of it everywhere scattered through the Scriptures.
In the context we have a proof of the doctrine of the most convincing kind. In the verse preceding our text the apostle Paul, under the inspiration of the Spirit, says: "Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God, and our Saviour Jesus Christ; who gave himself for us . . ." Now the point to be determined is whether by the terms "the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ" two persons are intended or only one. If the former, then this text furnishes no evidence of our doctrine. But if both appellations belong to one person, then the doctrine of Christ's supreme Deity is taught in the very strongest terms.
In our version there exists some ambiguity which does not appear in the original. For according to the established rules of construction in the Greek tongue, where two nouns are connected by a copulative and the first has the article prefixed and the other is without it, both must be referred to the same person or thing. That is the fact in this case. Therefore the Saviour, Jesus Christ, is the great God. Ambiguity would be removed and the true meaning given, if for "and" we substitute "even." Then it will read, "the great God even our Saviour Jesus Christ."
And the same doctrine seems to be clearly indicated by comparing the third and fourth verses of the third chapter of this epistle. For in the former God is called our Saviour; and in the latter "the Lord Jesus Christ our Saviour" is the form of expression. We can hardly avoid the conclusion that in both verses the same person is called Saviour. Moreover, the word appearing is never used in reference to the Father, whom no man has seen or can see, but constantly in relation to the second Person, who was manifest in the flesh.
Having ascertained the character of the person spoken of in our text, we are prepared to consider the gift which he is said to have made, and the end which he had in view in making it: "Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity." The value of a gift may be estimated by several considerations, to which your attention is earnestly requested.
From the dignity of the person by whom it is bestowed. A ring or medal from a king or queen, or from some other royal personage, is appreciated not so much by the intrinsic value of the gift itself as by the condescension manifested by an exalted personage towards one in an inferior condition. But what is the disparity between a king and the meanest of his subjects compared with that which exists between the infinite God and the greatest of his creatures? That this august Being should with any favour regard such creatures as sinners of the human race is indeed wonderful.
Another consideration proper to be taken into view in estimating the value of a gift is the sacrifice at which it is made, or what it costs the donor. God gave us existence by a single act of his will, by the mere word of his power, and bestows upon us the bounties of his providence without any sacrifice; for giving does not impoverish him. But in man's redemption it was necessary that God should give his own Son. It is written that "He spared not his own Son, but gave him up for us all." And of the Son it is said, "He loved us, and gave himself for us, an offering and a sweet smelling sacrifice unto God."
Next, let us endeavour to estimate the value of the gift itself. The text says, "He gave himself for us." This was the greatest gift which could possibly be made. Heaven itself could furnish nothing more valuable than the Son of God. And a second gift equal to it could not be made.
But after all, that which chiefly enhances the value of a gift is the motive which impelled the donor to bestow it. Now that motive, which above every other stamps a value on a gift, is love. Love may be truly said to be the most excellent thing in the universe. It is that which gives worth to everything else. The love of rational creatures toward others is the most valuable thing which they have it in their power to bestow. And the richest possession which any creature is capable of receiving is the love of God. Such love as this is continually manifested in all the laws by which the natural world is governed, and particularly by the constitutions of all sensitive beings, and the provision which is made for their comfort. But in the gospel we have a new view of this attribute of the divine nature. It is the love of God to sinners and the wonderful provision for their redemption: "God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life."
The excellency of this gift will also be manifest from the benefit which accompanies it. Man was placed in a very necessitous condition. He had fallen into a state of sin and misery, from which he could not deliver himself. Nor was it in the power of any creature to afford him any effectual relief. He was bound by a holy law to suffer a dreadful penalty, which could not be set aside unless an adequate atonement should be made. The eternal Son of God offers himself to be the Redeemer, and to pay the price required. "Lo, I come," says he, "in the volume of the book it is written of me, to do thy will, O God, by which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all."
When all the ransomed children of God shall be gathered together from every region under heaven, and shall sit down in the kingdom of heaven with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and shall surround the throne of God and the Lamb, their song shall ever be--"To him who loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood."
Practical Sermons (condensed)
Here is an interesting article by Wayne Ward, "The Person of Christ: The Kenotic Theory".
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"We then who are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let every one of us please his neighbor for his good to edification. For even Christ pleased not Himself; but, as it is written, The reproaches of them who reproached Thee fell on me." (Romans 15:1-3)
St. Paul here gives us the rule for our behavior to one another in the common everyday concerns of life; in the hundreds and thousands of little matters that rise up between us all as we are joined together in families, or as acquaintances, or in employments; of the way we guide our words and deeds to those whom we meet with continually day after day.
I said just now, the little matters that rise up in our daily intercourse with one another. We call them little matters, and taken one by one they are, perhaps, so. But they are not at all little or of small consequence when taken all together. For, in fact, what is our whole life made up of but of these little matters? We are at our meals, or at our work, or we are chatting with people near us, or we are walking, or reading, or taking our pleasure. Small things in themselves, but they fill up our hours and days. Great and serious actions and events do not make up our lives. It is not every day that we have an opportunity of helping some neighbor in trouble, or of bearing some great trial well, or of showing our patience in suffering. These things come only now and then. But our ordinary way of behaving to one another, our ordinary way of speaking to one another never stops. It goes on all day long, and from day to day, and from week to week.
The truth is, that what a man is is much more shown in his common words and doings than in his uncommon and seldom ones; and therefore it is these common words and doings which are of even more importance than what we call greater occasions. It may chance that a person who is peevish and ill-natured to people about him may be greatly touched by some case of distress, and may even put himself to great trouble and inconvenience to relieve it. It is a good thing that he should do so. Perhaps he may look on it as a proof of his ready sense of duty, of his love to Christ; [and] perhaps he gives little thought to the peevishness and ill-nature which prevail generally in what he says and does. But I greatly doubt whether this continual bad temper which is showing itself in the small events of life is not a much more serious matter in Christ's eyes than any one service, however apparently great.
This then is the Christian rule, not for great occasions but for ordinary and common life; the rule not for once in a while but for all day long, for about the house and in the room with others; the rule not merely for what we do to others but for what we say to them, and not merely for what we say to them but for the way of saying it; the rule against any vexing of others not by word only but by look and manner, and unkind tone of voice, or unkind holding our tongue. Who can tell the unkindness and uncharitableness and selfishness which is spread over the whole of our lives in our everyday going out and coming in, in the short speeches and even the short "yes" and "no" which pass between us -- which wound, and sting, and provoke without our caring or troubling ourselves about it!
It is here that the Apostle reminds us that Christ has bound us by law and by example not merely to help our neighbor, not merely to seek his good and do him service when he needs our assistance, but in all that is for his good to please him. We are not to keep our charity, our kindness, our readiness to put ourselves to trouble only for great occasions. These are but a small part of the life of any of us, and Christ never meant that they alone were to manifest our love and faith; and that the rest of our life (which is spent in the small common concerns and conversation of the day) was to go on without them; that were we kind and helpful when there was a case of distress or affliction, we might be as harsh and rough and sharp as we chose, as careless of what hurt other people's feelings and gave them pain when there was nothing but the usual course of our life going on. Here also we were to take care that we did not show ourselves selfish; that we were ready to give up our pleasure to please others, to think of what others would like, of what would vex and hurt them, of what would do them harm and lead them wrong.
Such is St. Paul's rule -- the rule of taking thought for the feelings and wishes and comfort of others; how such and such a way of speaking, how such and such a look or tone of voice will affect them; keeping watch over words and speech in common matters of conversation in which -- trifling as they are--so often a hasty word will bring up unkindness, put men out of humor, or even rise up into a quarrel.
What a different rule is this from that of the world! "Why should I care about what so and so likes? Why may I not say what I think? Why should I put up with his unpleasant disagreeable manner?" These are the common sayings of the world. They bid us to please ourselves, and show our dislike of what does not please us. They bid us be kind and friendly to those we like, and to change our countenance and words and behavior to those we do not like. They teach us to pretend to be kind and friendly when we do not feel it, but where it is unsafe to show it. They tell us that there is no harm in always putting first our own wishes, our own credit, our own pleasure; that it is sufficient to be well-behaved in company but that we may be as ill-natured, sulky, bad-tempered as we choose at home.
There is hardly a better test of whether a man is in his secret heart trying to serve Christ with all his strength than his steady effort not to think first of what pleases himself, but of what pleases his neighbor in the small daily concerns of life. I say in the small daily concerns of life, for indeed it is in these that the difficulty is greatest. It is easier to please him, easier to give up our own pleasure in some one particular thing, once for all, than [to do so] continually day after day in the common course of things. It is easier to do a great act of kindness than to do it graciously. Many men could do the one who would fail in the other. Many men, after having begun the act of kindness, would find the single separate instances of having to bear with another's ways and to give up their wishes and pleasures to another day-after-day, often in mere trifles, too heavy a burden for their faith and their love of Christ.
Surely nothing shows the heart mortified from the world, and indeed given up to God, more than the cheerful, gentle, constant endeavor to make the pleasure of others round us our pleasure. Nothing shows it more than the honest attempt to bear, with good heart and hope, the infirmities and faults of those with whom God has bound up our lot, and not to let our own faults provoke them and make their path more difficult and more troublesome. Nothing shows it more than the endeavor to be all day long looking out not for what will please ourselves, but for what will please those with whom we have to speak and to work and to live -- whether they be strong or weak, good-tempered or cross, sensible or foolish, patient or impatient; to seek what will please them for their good, and, in pleasing them, will please God and Christ.
Christ has given us an example: "For even Christ pleased not Himself; but, as it is written, The reproaches of them that reproached Thee, fell on me." Let us feel what a shame it is for Christians to be cross, ill-natured, selfish towards one another in even the small things of everyday life, when He who was so perfect put up with so much imperfection, He who was so wise bore with and was considerate to so much folly, He who was sinless welcomed sinners and gave them time to mend. Let us remember how tender, how compassionate, how full of care for those round Him, how ready to make allowances was the Master whose Name we bear. Let us in word and look and voice try to bear one another's burdens instead of making those of others heavier. Let us not be afraid of denying ourselves. In time we shall reap the blessed fruit of such self-denial in the enlargement of our love and the strengthening of our faith. With the love of Christ shed abroad in our hearts, we shall find it not so hard and unpleasant a thing to give up pleasing ourselves in order to please our neighbor to his good.
Village Sermons (condensed)
Read Charles Bridges' brief exposition of "Proverbs 16:7", "When a man's ways please Yahweh."
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“My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials,
knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience."
We are exhorted to bear trials with a cheerful mind. It was especially necessary at that time to comfort the Jews, as they were almost overwhelmed with troubles. The very name of the nation was so infamous that they were hated and despised wherever they went. Their condition as Christians rendered them still more miserable because their most inveterate enemies were of their own nation. This consolation was not suited to one time only, but is always useful to believers whose life is a constant warfare on earth.
We must doubtless take trials as including all adverse things, and they are so called because they are the tests of our obedience to God. He bids the faithful, while exercised with trials, to rejoice, and not only when they fall into one temptation, but into many of various kinds. They doubtless serve to mortify our flesh; and as the vices of the flesh continually shoot up in us, so trials must necessarily be often repeated. As we labor under diseases, so it is no wonder that different remedies are applied to remove them. The Lord then afflicts us in various ways, because ambition, avarice, envy, gluttony, intemperance, excessive love of the world, and the innumerable lusts in which we abound cannot be cured by the same medicine.
When he bids us to count it all joy, it is the same as though he had said that temptations ought to be deemed as gain; as to be regarded as occasions of joy. He means, in short, that there is nothing in afflictions which ought to disturb our joy. And thus, he not only commands us to bear adversities calmly and with an even mind, but shows that there is a reason why the faithful should rejoice when pressed down by them. It is, indeed, certain, that all the senses of our nature are so formed that every trial produces in us grief and sorrow, and no one of us can so far divest himself of his nature as not to grieve and be sorrowful whenever he feels any evil. But this does not prevent the children of God from rising, by the guidance of the Spirit, above the sorrow of the flesh.
"Knowing this, that the trying of your faith produces patience." We now see why he called adversities trials -- because they serve to try our faith. We ought to rejoice in afflictions because they produce fruit that ought to be highly valued, even patience. Were God not to try us but rather leave us free from trouble, there would be no fortitude of mind in bearing evils.
"But let patience have her perfect work." As boldness and courage often appear in us and soon fail, James therefore requires perseverance. "Real patience," he says, "is that which endures to the end." Work here means the effort not only to overcome in one contest, but to persevere through life. There are many, as we have said, who show at first a heroic greatness, but who shortly afterward grow weary and faint. He therefore bids those who would be perfect and entire to persevere to the end, since those who being overcome as to patience must by degrees be necessarily weakened and at length wholly fail.
Read Pastor Nolen's sermon, "Giving Thanks in Hard Times".
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“For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."
When our Saviour uttered these words he did not mean to say that his disciples would be free from all trouble. He did not intend to propose to them a complete security against the cares and misfortunes of life. He did not wish to represent the religion which he taught as requiring of its professors no sacrifices or as exposing them to no evils. Meek and forgiving as was his own character, he foresaw that this could not protect him against the malice of his foes, and that his heart, which was full of kindness to all around him, must soon pour forth its blood upon the cross. What else, then, could his friends expect? "The disciple," said he, "is not above his master, nor the servant above his lord."
When he invites us to come unto him, therefore, it is to ameliorate our condition indeed, but not to render it perfectly happy in this life. It is that we may cast off the yoke which the world imposes upon us and wear his which is comparatively easy to be borne. It is that we may enter upon a more delightful service than that of the slaves of sin, yet a service not without its pains and trials. It is that we may find rest unto our souls, but a rest not complete and uninterrupted on this side the grave. The life of the Christian must indeed be a life of self-denial, and yet it is comparatively a happy life. His condition is not without its cares and sorrows, and yet it is the most desirable of all conditions.
Behold a paradox, my brethren, which the world always makes matter of wonder, and sometimes of ridicule, but which is capable of being defended on the plainest principles of common sense. The force of these principles is admitted in everything that relates to the daily concerns of life, and yet we are too apt to reject them when applied to the concerns of the soul. A man who wished to secure any earthly benefit would be thought a fool if he did not adopt them. Yet if adopted in order to obtain an eternal good, they are too often viewed as weak and childish. Let us consider them, and in so doing let not our consciences shrink from the duty of deciding whether, while we recognize their force with regard to our temporal interest, we also apply them to the more important concerns of eternity.
The first of these principles is that no prudent man who consults his own happiness is ever so much engrossed with present objects as to be regardless of the future [their future value]. I speak now of the man of the world--of one whose sole purpose is to make the most of human life, to secure the greatest possible share of its pleasures, its riches, its honours, or its ease. Scrutinize his daily conduct, follow him to his retirement, enter into the chamber of his soul. What engrosses his thoughts? Where do his motives of conduct lead? Where do his desires tend? To what are his plans directed? When does he hope to see them accomplished? Tomorrow! Tomorrow he expects to "bear his blushing honours thick upon him." His coffers in a little while will be full, his sources of enjoyment and of ease equal to all the wants of his soul. Urge him to abandon his toil for what is future and uncertain, and to think only of the present moment so as to make the most of it--to eat, and drink, and be merry for tomorrow he may die. Talk to him of the disappointments of human life, and point to him thousands who have trod the same paths of diligence and carefulness in which he is walking and have at last found them to end in complete failure. He would call such language that of a madman; and unless wallowing in the lowest depths of sensuality, seeking no gratifications but what are common to him with the brute, he would reply that the voice of Wisdom bids him look to something beyond the present day, and that the smile of hope invites him to follow her towards some distant good. This regard to the future governs all the conduct of life. Why should it not govern the concerns of the soul? It is folly to bound our views by the setting sun. Why not extend them beyond the grave? It is prudent to make provision for old age. Why should we neglect to provide for eternity?
Now of all men the Christian is the only one who does this. His views are commensurate with his existence. His plans are laid for eternity. His tomorrow will never end. Whatever, then, may be his trials and his sorrows in this pilgrimage of weariness, he has continually the satisfaction of reflecting that his eternal good is secure. Now a conviction of this nature is sufficient to counterbalance all possible human evil, and to beget within the soul a kind of happiness which partakes of the divine. It does thus counterbalance human evil, for it may be seen shedding its solace in the obscurest abode of poverty and in the darkest cell of the dungeon. It often glows serenely on the cheek of the dying.
Again, it is a plain principle of common sense that great sacrifices ought to be made for the attainment of any valuable distant good. Ask the conqueror how many wearisome days and sleepless nights his crown has cost him. Let the statesman tell us what have been the paths of toil and difficulty which have led him near the throne of majesty. What price has the orator paid for the powers of his eloquence, or the painter for the skill of his pencil, or the poet for the magic of his song? Count the daily cares and projects and anxieties through which he has passed on whom wealth rolls in like a flood. In short, ask the thousands whom you see busy around you what is the meaning of all their bustle and industry, their rising early and sitting up late, their traversing of sea and land, the relinquishment of ease and comfort, and their incessant and indefatigable toil. They all aim at something future, and they hope to procure it by the sacrifice of a present good. This is their solace. This, in fact, is the sum of their actual happiness. Walk the rounds of life and you will scarcely meet one who will not tell you that his present enjoyment consists in the hope of some distant good, and that to obtain this he is not unwilling to make frequent and great sacrifices.
This, my brethren, is the yoke of the world. None who are engaged in the pursuits of the world can lay it aside; and it is grievous to be borne. He who sustains it toils for what must perish in the very using. He knows that after a few short days what has cost him so much labor and anxiety, so much self-denial and so many sacrifices, must inevitably, like himself, be laid in the grave of forgetfulness. Not a century will elapse before his very name may never be mentioned, except by the passing traveler who reads it on his tomb.
But the Christian, for what does he toil? For what does he take upon him the yoke of his Divine Master? For what does he practice a self-denial which, it is not to be denied, is at first irksome to the native propensities of his heart but which the grace of God renders more and more easy--and even delightful--and which is often actually less than that of the worldling himself? For what does the disciple of Christ bear this yoke? For an inheritance that is "incorruptible, undefiled, and that fades not away"; for an admittance into the mansions of everlasting rest; for an imperishable treasure; for unalloyed pleasures; for an endless state of being in which he will mingle with the spirits of the just made perfect, in which he will be admitted to the presence of God--to the ineffable manifestations of his glory, to the sublime delights of his worship, to the solution of the mysteries of his providence; in short, to an unceasing progress in knowledge, in holiness, and in happiness.
What are the petty cares and anxieties, or even the deepest sorrows of life, when compared with this weight of glory? Shall the man of this world be deemed wise and prudent because he relinquishes his present ease and quiet for the acquisition of some temporal good, and shall the Christian deserve reproach because he deems heaven itself worth some crosses and sacrifices as he is passing to it through his short pilgrimage?
The yoke of Christ is not only easier than that of the world, even under circumstances the most unfavorable (so to speak) for the Christian, but this very yoke becomes easier and easier to be borne, so as to be at last not the mark of toil and servitude but the badge of peace and triumph. May it always, my brethren, prove such to each one of us! May the Spirit of grace incline us cheerfully to sustain it in this life! And may the same Spirit, through the merits and intercession of Jesus Christ, conduct us all at length to that world of entire rest where no more sacrifices will be required of us, where no more self-denial will be necessary, but where every want of the soul will be supplied and all its wishes gratified!
Discourses on Various Points of Christian Faith and Practice (condensed)
Take time to read Maclaren's sermon, "A Strange Reward for Faithfulness".
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“The former account I made, O Theophilus,
of all that Jesus began both to do and teach."
It is rare to find a narrative so simple and so little forced as that of Acts. It is a mere uncolored recital of the important facts in the briefest possible terms. The narrator's individuality and his personal feelings and preferences are almost wholly suppressed. He is entirely absorbed in his work; and he writes with the single aim to state the facts as he has learned them. It would be difficult to find a work where there is less attempt at pointing a moral or drawing a lesson from the facts. The narrator is persuaded that the facts themselves in their barest form are a perfect lesson and a complete instruction, and he feels that it would be an impertinence and even an impiety to intrude his individual views into the narrative.
It is, however, impossible for an author to hide himself completely. Even in the selection of details his personality shows itself. So, in Acts, the author shows the true Greek feeling for the sea. He hardly ever omits to name the harbors which they sailed from or arrived at, even though little or nothing in the way of incident occurred in them. But on land journeys, he confines himself to missionary facts and gives no purely geographical information. Where any statements of a geographical character occur, they serve a distinct purpose in the narrative.
Under the surface of the narrative there moves a current of strong personal affection and enthusiastic admiration for Paul. Paul is the author's hero. His general aim is to describe the development of the church, but his affection and his interest turn to Paul, and after a time his narrative groups itself around him. Luke is keenly concerned to show that Paul was in perfect accord with the leaders among the older apostles. That is the point of view of a personal friend and disciple: full of affection and jealous of Paul's honor and reputation.
The characterization of Paul in Acts is so detailed and individualized as to prove the author's personal acquaintance. Moreover, the Paul of Acts is the Paul who appears to us in his own letters, in his ways and his thoughts, in his educated tone of polished courtesy, and in his quick and vehement temper. He appears in the extraordinary versatility and adaptability which made him at home in every society, moving at ease in all surroundings, and everywhere the center of interest -- whether he is the Socratic dialectician in the agora of Athens or the rhetorician in its university; whether he is conversing with kings and proconsuls or advising in the council on shipboard, cheering a broken-spirited crew to make one more effort for life. Wherever Paul is, no one present has eyes for any but him.
The question must be fairly considered, whether Luke had completed his history. There is one piece of evidence from his own hand that he had not completed it but contemplated a third book at least. His work is divided into two books, the Gospel and the Acts; but in the first opening line of the Acts he refers to the gospel as the First Discourse. Had he not contemplated a third book, we would expect the term Former Discourse. In a marked position like the opening of a book, we must take the word "first" strictly.
St. Paul the Traveler and Roman Citizen
You will find more facts about Paul's travels in "Chronology of the Apostle Paul" by Olaf Moe.
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"O Yahweh, You are my God. I will exalt You, I will praise Your name, for you have done wonderful things; your counsels of old are faithfulness and truth." (Isaiah 25:1)
The Bible reveals that the very worthiness of God as the object of the faith of the patriarchs requires that He yet restore Israel and fulfill the promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
In Romans 11:28 Paul writes that Israel is yet "beloved for the fathers' sake." This means that God's present care for His ancient people is, at least in part, out of respect for the faith of "the fathers" who believed God and expected Him to fulfill His ancient promises. After writing of the faith of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the writer to the Hebrews observes: "These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth" (Hebrews 11:13, A.S.V.).
Not all of the promises of God to the patriarchs have been fulfilled yet. Of course, as the New Testament makes clear, some of the promises have come true in Christ, in the benefits of His redeeming work at Calvary. But all the distinctive promises to Israel wait for complete fulfillment. We know that unbelief and resultant chastening are the cause. But God has made a promise concerning the overruling of the unbelief, and to this promise Paul must have turned his mind as he wrote that Israel was still "beloved for the fathers' sake." I refer to a passage in the Pentateuch, the portion of God's Word in which this series of arguments began. After detailing the dread results of disobedience--banishment from the land--God says:
"They shall confess . . . then will I remember my covenant with Jacob; also my covenant with Isaac, and also my covenant with Abraham will I remember; and I will remember the land. The land also shall be left by them, and it shall enjoy its sabbaths . . . And yet for all that, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not reject them, neither will I abhor them, to destroy them utterly, and to break my covenant with them; for I am Jehovah their God; but I will for their sakes remember the covenant of their ancestors, whom I brought forth out of the land of Egypt in the sight of the nations, that I might be their God: I am Jehovah" (Leviticus 26:40, 42-45, A.S.V.).
I can think of nothing more utterly compelling and appropriate with which to close my remarks on this theme than the prophecy of Jeremiah 33:25,26. "Thus saith Jehovah: If my covenant of day and night stand not, if I have not appointed the ordinances of heaven and earth; then will I cast away the seed of Jacob and of David my servant, so that I will not take of his seed to be rulers over the seed of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob: for I will cause their captivity to return, and will have mercy on them."
Daniel and the Latter Days
For more on the return of Israel and the millennium, read Jack Deere's essay "Premillennialism in Revelation 20:4-6".
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"Rest in Yahweh, and wait patiently for Him; do not fret because of him who prospers in his way, because of the man who brings wicked schemes to pass." (Psalm 37:7)
Rest is a blessing which properly belongs to the child of God; it is his spiritual birthright. The idea glimmers like some distant nebula through every page of the Holy Scriptures. You see it in the ordinance of the Sabbath; in the law relating to the tilling of the soil, which provided that the land was to lie fallow, to rest, every seventh year; the year of Jubilee too was a time of peculiar and emphatic rest; the idea was symbolized in the Conquest of Canaan. Then as if to show us even still more clearly how this idea of rest enters into the Divine plan of human life, God is spoken of as resting. It is of course inconceivable that He should actually be fatigued; it were profanity to suppose that He who "faints not, neither is weary," of whose understanding there is no searching, can ever be in a condition to render rest needful. And yet when He had finished all the work from His hands in the six days' creation, we are told "He rested on the seventh day" and "sanctified it."
We will consider for a few minutes what this rest is. It is a rest of mind, an equipoise of feeling, a harmony of the inner with the outer life, the peace of desire, the repose of the consciousness of truth.
1. Perhaps the most prominent ingredient in this rest is a sense of security and fixedness, a settled belief in the teachings of the Divine Spirit in the Gospel we have received, a sense of having grasped the blessings which that Gospel holds out to us, and therefore a sense of our acceptance with God and of our eternal security in Christ Jesus. This hallowed state of mind cannot exist in the man who is always in a state of unsettled doubt, who changes his creed almost every day of his life. The sacred dove-like spirit quits [leaves] the regions of uncertainty and dwells with those who know whom they have believed. There is no real rest till you are sure. A little "if" is like a small stone in one's shoe, which soon blisters the foot and prevents anything like restful progress. "We who have believed do enter into rest." "My presence shall go with thee and I will give thee rest.'' He only truly rests who turns from the false and changing, the troubled and vexed, from all the arguments and controversies, the schisms and cavils, the perpetual questionings, the rush and the discord of the Church and the world, to the haven of that one grand stillness -- the Lord.
2. But this rest is in another aspect contentment, perfect satisfaction with our earthly lot. That life is a great mystery is a truism. Many things come to us in strange garbs. We often feel how difficult, how well-nigh impossible it is to see the reason for many experiences we are called to pass through, and in our innermost hearts we say, "Is this right?" "Can this be a tender Father?" "Can this be love -- infinite, unerring love?" And so the murmuring spirit finds its way to the throne of the heart. Better would it be for us could we live so high above the events of life that from our higher atmosphere we could look down and say, "None of these things move me." Remember too, that though God is revealed, His providences are not revealed. In this respect it is easier to read the invisible than the visible; we can read God when we cannot read His doings. He is a God that hides Himself. His path is in the great waters. His footsteps are not known. But He is our own precious God, working in His own way, in His own time, His own purposes of love. The contented spirit leaves all to him and tarries his leisure -- it rests in the Lord.
3. Then, this rest consists in submission. The text according to the Hebrew is, "Be silent to the Lord." One of the old versions has it, "Hold thou still before God." This is illustrated by what we read of Aaron. When his sons died before the Lord, Aaron held his peace. In like manner let your tongue be quiet. Do not murmur, do not argue, be quite still, leave all to God and bow in silence.
4. Then there is, in this rest, a patient waiting. ''Rest in the Lord," says the text; "wait patiently for Him." That is, while you have and must have desires, feel that you can waive them and wait the Lord's time. While you have and must have wishes, keep them tethered. While you have a will, keep it in subservience to a wiser and kinder will that rules above. God never sent you yet upon a sea of tribulation without bringing you safe home again. He never sent you to battle at your own charges. He never bade you work without giving you the needed strength. He never called you to suffer without sustaining you under the pain. Oh, it is a blessed thing to be quite confident that God cannot err, cannot forsake, cannot cease to love, and that everything that comes from Him comes at the right time, in the right way, and in the right measure -- that all is well and will end well. Yes, though all the tempests should come forth from their caverns to howl at once across the angry sea, though every hurricane and cyclone that ever blew should come back again and swell the storm so that one's whole life is apparently wrecked by reason of its relentless fury, all is well. Wait God's time. And if only on a plank or broken spar, you will come safe to land. Rest in the Lord.
5. There is just one other feature of this rest that we may allude to, and that is expectation -- especially with regard to the Kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ. The greatest fret that some of us ever have is about the cause of God. Personal and domestic troubles sit very lightly on some of us, but Church troubles perplex us and harass us greatly.
For my own part, I would fain believe that none of you ever intentionally cause me distress of mind. But there are some of you who grieve and trouble me, for you seem little if any bettered by what you hear, and resolutely refuse to give yourselves to Christ. Many of you, too, lack the enthusiasm, the steadfast earnest continuance in the work of Christ and in the attendance on the means of grace, which in my judgment is so necessary to make a truly prosperous and powerful Church. And if one looks outside the Church, one sees everywhere dark clouds looming ominously. There is a great deal of looseness and disjointedness. Many of the old landmarks have been pulled up, the hedges broken down. The old saying is still true: "They break down the carved work . . . with axes and hammers; they have cast fire into Thy sanctuary; they have defiled by casting down the dwelling-place of Thy name to the ground." Still, even in these things we are to rest in the Lord. "Go thy way," says He, "till the end be; for thou shall rest and stand in thy lot at the end of the days." Christ will take care of His own. Against them the gates of hell shall not prevail. And we may therefore rest in the Lord with the certain expectation that He will overrule the evil, and will Himself surely come to end it all and "reign among His ancients gloriously."
Two Sermons (condensed)
You might enjoy the sermon "He Doeth All Things Well" by Theodor Zahn.
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"But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life." (Romans 6:22)
The ordinary idea of freedom as the happy state of not being a slave is common throughout the Bible. The unique biblical development of it sprang from reflection on the unique privileges of Israel. God, in sovereign mercy, had brought the Israelites out of bondage, made them his people, given them his covenant, settled them in the promised land, and undertaken to maintain them there in political independence and economic prosperity as long as they eschewed idolatry and kept his laws. This meant that Israel's freedom would depend, not on human effort or achievement, either military or political, but on the quality of Israel's obedience to God. Freedom was a supernatural blessing, God's gracious gift to his own people, unmerited and, apart from God, unattainable in the first instance, and now maintained only through God's continued favor. Disobedience, whether in the form of religious impiety or social injustice, would mean the loss of freedom; divine judgment would take the form of national disaster and subjugation, and ultimately of deportation into a land in which no token of God's favor could be expected (see Deut. 28:15 ff.; Amos 5; II Kings 17:6-23). The theological idea of freedom thus comes to mean, on the one hand, deliverance from all created forces that would prevent men from serving and enjoying their Creator, and, on the other, the positive happiness of living in fellowship with God in the place where he is pleased to bless. It is a free gift of grace, bestowed on those who serve God according to his covenant. The condition of freedom from bondage to the created is therefore bondage to the Creator. Freedom is God's gift to his own slaves. This is the essence of the biblical concept.
This concept was given its Christian reference, in outline at least, by Christ himself, who opened his public ministry by announcing himself as the fulfilment of Isa. 61:1: ". . . he hath anointed me . . . to preach deliverance to the captives. . ." (Luke 4:16 ff.). Ignoring Zealot hankerings after national deliverance from Rome, Christ declared that he had come to liberate the slaves of sin and Satan (John 8:34-36, 41-44); to overthrow the "prince of this world," the "strong man"; and to release his prisoners (John 12:31-32; Mark 3:27; Luke 10:18). Exorcisms (Mark 3:22 ff.) and healings (Luke 13:16) were part of this work of dispossession.
Paul expands the thought that Christ liberates believers, here and now, from destructive influences to which they were previously in bondage: from sin, the tyrant whose wages for services rendered is death (Rom. 6:18-23); from the "power of darkness" (Col. 1:13); from polytheistic superstition (I Cor. 10:29; Gal. 4:8 f.); from the law as a system of salvation (Gal. 4:21 ff.; 5:1; Rom. 7:6), and from the burden of Jewish ceremonialism (Gal. 2:4). To all this, freedom from physical corruption and death will be added in due course (Rom. 8:18-21). This comprehensive freedom is the gift of Christ, who bought his people out of bondage (I Cor. 6:20; 7:22-23), just as, by a legal fiction, Greek deities "bought slaves for their manumission." It is creatively conveyed to believers by the indwelling Spirit of Christ (Rom. 8:2; II Cor. 3:17).
It is the royal freedom of God's adopted sons, to whom accordingly the Spirit witnesses as a Spirit, not of bondage, but of adoption (Rom. 8:15-16; Gal. 4:6-7). The obverse of Christ's gift of freedom (eleutheria) is the Christian's freely accepted bondservice (douleia) to God (Rom. 6:22), to Christ (I Cor. 7:22), to righteousness (Rom. 6:18), and to all men for the sake of the gospel (I Cor. 9:19-23) and of the Saviour (II Cor. 4:5). The "law of liberty" (James 1:25; 2:12), which is the "law of Christ" (Gal. 6:2; cf. I Cor. 9:21) for his free servants, is the law of love (Gal. 5:13-14), the principle of voluntary self-sacrifice without limit for the good of men (I Cor. 9:1-23; 10:23-33) and the glory of God (I Cor. 10:31). This is the essential NT ethic; a life of love is the response of gratitude which the gospel of grace both requires and evokes. Christian liberty is precisely freedom to love and serve, and is therefore abused when it is made an excuse for loveless license (Gal. 5:13; cf. I Pet. 2:16; II Pet. 2:19) or inconsiderateness (I Cor. 8:9-12).
The historic controversy about "free will" is connected with the biblical concept of freedom only indirectly. It concerns the question whether fallen man's slavery to sin is so radical and complete as to make him wholly unable to perform spiritual good or to avoid sinning, or to repent and put faith in Christ. Reformed theology follows Augustine in affirming, on the basis of such passages as Rom. 8:5-8; Eph. 2:1-10; John 6:44; 15:4-5, that man's will is not in fact free for obedience and faith till freed from sin's dominion by regenerating grace. Only on this basis, it is claimed, can human merit be excluded and God's sovereignty acknowledged in the matter of salvation, and justice be done to the biblical insistence that we are saved by faith alone (without works, Rom. 3:28), through grace alone (not human effort, Rom. 9:16), and for God's glory alone (not man's, I Cor. 1:28-31). Any alternative view, it is said, makes man a decisive contributor to his own salvation, and so in effect his own Saviour.
Arndt; MM; H. Schlier in TWNT; J. P. Thornton-Duesbery in RTWB; Deiss LAE, pp. 326 ff.; H. Wedell in AThR 32, pp. 205-16.
Baker's Dictionary of Theology (pp. 229-230)
See also this article by John Smalley, "On the Immutability of God".
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"For thus says Yahweh of hosts: He sent Me after glory, to the nations which plunder you;
for he who touches you touches the apple of His eye."
The general thought in professing Christendom is that Israel as a nation has been cast off by God forever. The many promises of her restoration, along with the denunciations of doom for disobedience, have been spiritualized and applied to the church. Someone has well said, "All the curses in the Old Testament are still the property of the Jews, but the blessings have all been appropriated by the church." The apostle Paul both raised and answered this question in Romans 11 when he said, "Has God cast away His people? God forbid. God has not cast away His people whom He foreknew" (Romans 11:1,2). To those who are willing to accept the writings of Paul as the inspired Word of God, this should settle the question forever.
Over the centuries, the nations of the world have tried to exterminate the Jew. Rome carried 97,000 Israelites into captivity after slaughtering more than a million. The same year that King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella became idolized in history by equipping Columbus for his journey, they also made 500,000 Jews homeless. And who can forget the gas chambers of Hitler, and the persecution of Jews within the Soviet Union?
But the Jews saw the powerful army of Egypt perish in the waters of the Red Sea. They heard Babylon fall, witnessed the Macedonian conquest, outlived the Caesars, and survived the dark ages. This nation has gone through civilization after civilization, shared the world's convolutions, and kept pace with progress and discovery. Today, though weary of foot and grown affluent, they stand distinct and unassimilated by the nations. Can you tell why? Jeremiah told us when he wrote,
Thus says the Yahweh, who gives sun for a light by day, and the ordinances of the moon and of the stars for a light by night, who divides the sea when its waves roar; Yahweh of hosts is His name: If those ordinances depart from before Me, says Yahweh, then the seed of Israel also shall cease from being a nation before Me forever. Thus says Yahweh, If heaven above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth searched out beneath, I will also cast off all the seed of Israel for all that they have done, says Yahweh" (Jeremiah 31:35-37).
Man says cut them off. But God says that they shall not "cease from being a nation before Me forever."
How does the present condition of Israel relate to God and His plan? God revealed the answer through Paul.
For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits: that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in (Romans 11:25).
A "mystery" in the New Testament sense is not something uncanny, unexplainable, or mysterious; rather, it is something that has been kept secret but is now explained for the first time. It's a piece of new information.
What is the mystery of which the apostle speaks? Israel was blind to the work of God. They did not know the Messiah when He appeared the first time. "He came unto His own, and His own received Him not" (John 1:11). The nation rejected Him until He said, "Your house is left unto you desolate." Israel has been blind -- judicially hardened -- but only "in part." Even after the Jews rejected God's anointed One, 3,000 Israelites were saved on the day of Pentecost. The apostle Paul said, "Even so, then, at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace" (Romans 11:5).
The next part of the mystery is this: the Jews are blinded "until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in." A political entity exists in the land of Palestine today. On May 14, 1948, a republic headed by a president elected by the Knesset (or parliament) came into existence. But this is not the restored and regathered Israel. Perhaps they are the dry bones of Ezekiel 37, or even the bones with flesh and sinew upon them. But no breath, no divinely imparted life is in them. That will come at a future time.
The Jews are blinded in part until "the fullness of the Gentiles be come in." That word "fullness" means literally "that which fills a gap." God is today filling up a gap. This means that He is gathering out from the midst of the nations a people -- the church. The divine order is given in Acts 15:14 through 16.
The Scriptures emphatically teach that God is not through with Israel. Someday He will surely regather that nation to its own land from the worldwide dispersion. On few great truths have the Scriptures spoken more fully. If I should choose some books in the Bible that teach the regathering of Israel, I could without exhausting the list go to Genesis, Leviticus, Deuteronomy, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Micah, Zephaniah, Zechariah, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and Romans. May I suggest that you read Jeremiah 23:7,8 and Ezekiel 36:24.
Israel and Judah will be reunited in that day. In his epistle, James spoke of the "twelve tribes scattered abroad." The time is coming when they will again be one in the land. But some dreadful days are still ahead for the Jew.
In Daniel 9 we learn that 70 weeks of years are measured out for Israel, beginning with the edict to rebuild Jerusalem. This prophecy was made while the Jews were in the Babylonian captivity. The proclamation to restore the holy city took place under Artaxerxes and is recorded in Nehemiah 2:1-5. A careful reading of Daniel's prophecy will show that these 490 years are divided into three sections: 49 years for the rebuilding of the streets and wall, 434 years until the "cutting off" of the Messiah, and a final 7-year period. The 483 years ran continuously, as history attests. With the "cutting off" of the Messiah (His crucifixion), a break took place in Israel's history. The clock of Jewish prophecy stopped ticking with the death of Christ, and God introduced the church age.
When the church is completed and caught up to meet her Lord, God's timepiece will once more begin, and the remaining 7 years for Israel will unfold. When that era begins, a prince coming from the people who destroyed Jerusalem, a Roman prince, will make a peace treaty with the Jews. The great mass of unbelieving Israel will gladly enter into a covenant relationship with this political dictator. But he will be the devil's superman. He will attempt to do that which God has ordained that only His Son shall do; that is, to establish a millennium of peace on this earth. The world right now is eagerly awaiting just such a person. His false millennium will be short-lived, however, like all attempts in history to have peace without Christ.
The Jews very probably will have rebuilt their temple either before or shortly after the signing of this covenant with the Antichrist, and they will have resumed their sacrifices and services. Isaiah 66 indicates that these sacrifices will be an abomination unto God, since at this point there will have been no true repentance.
This ruler will suddenly break his covenant with Israel, order their sacrifices and oblations to cease, and enter the temple to establish himself as the object of worship.
Let no man deceive you by any means; for that day shall not come, except there come the falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God, or that is worshiped, so that he, as God, sits in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God (2 Thessalonians 2:3,4).
In all probability this Satan-inspired leader will achieve this position in the temple by demonic power and delusions. But this breaking of the covenant and enthronement of the man of sin will mark the beginning of the great tribulation, the last 3 1/2 years of the 7-year period. Jeremiah said of this time, "Alas! for that day is great, so that none is like it; it is even the time of Jacob's trouble, but he shall be saved out of it" (Jeremiah 30:7). The Lord Jesus described it as follows: "For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be" (Matthew 24:21). That the whole world will be involved is plain, but the center of the holocaust will be Palestine. Man cannot imagine the horror of that time when demons are released upon this earth -- two hundred million of them from the abyss. They will slay one-third of the world's population. What will Israel do in this time?
Our Lord warned Israel in His Olivet Discourse about that dreadful day, saying, "Then let them who are in Judea flee . . ." (see Matthew 24:16-21). Israel will run in terror from the most ruthless dictator the world has ever seen. But one thing is certain. God will have a place of protection for His covenant people.
Come, My people, enter thou into thy chambers, and shut thy doors about thee; hide thyself as it were for a little moment, until the indignation is past. For, behold, the Lord comes out of His place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity (Isaiah 26:20,21).
In the tribulation, the time of Jacob's trouble, Antichrist will unleash his hellish wrath against Israel. But a remnant of that nation will be protected by God and spared. Ezekiel 20 records Jehovah's [Yahweh's] promise to the Jews: "I will bring you into the wilderness of the peoples, and there will I enter into judgment with you face to face. And I will cause you to pass under the rod, and I will bring you into the bond of the covenant. And I will purge out from among you the rebels, and them that transgress against Me" (Ezekiel 20:35,37,38). In that day the faithful remnant in Israel will indeed become the nation, the real Israel of God. Repentant, purged, refined, the remnant will enter the land and become "Israel, God's glory" (Isaiah 46:13).
In expectation of that glorious day, Paul wrote, "And so all Israel shall be saved; as it is written, There shall come out of Zion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob; for this is My covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins" (Romans 11:26,27).
With the return of Israel's Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ, the nation will be gathered again to her own land. Jerusalem will be restored and become the capital of the world. Its splendor will eclipse anything the earth has ever seen. Israel will become a world blessing as the head of the nations. "For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of Yahweh from Jerusalem" (Isaiah 2:3). Until this very moment, Israel has possessed only a small portion of the land God gave to them. In that future day, with David's greater son sitting upon the throne, the nation of Israel will fully possess her earthly inheritance.
And it shall come to pass that, as ye were a curse among the nations, O house of Judah and house of Israel, so will I save you, and ye shall be a blessing (Zechariah 8:13).
Zechariah added in the 14th chapter of his prophecy that "Yahweh shall be king over all the earth; in that day shall there be one Yahweh, and His name one" (Zechariah 14:9).
Is God through with the Jew? Absolutely not! Days of deepest trouble and greatest joy are still ahead for Israel. But God's purpose for the Jew, recorded in His Word, will be carried out in full.
Is God Through with the Jew?
Please check out Ken's article, "A Comparison of the Three Millennial Views".
* * * * *
"Choose you this day whom ye will serve."
I must ask you to read the last two chapters of this Book of Joshua to recall to your minds the circumstances under which these words were spoken. Joshua was an old man. His life as a chieftain and a statesman was about to end. He was giving his last words to the people. He did not carry them through the details of the life which they were to live. He did not give them commandments arranged in systematic order. He brought them rather to one point where they were to stand, and, standing there or moving from that point towards God, they were to make up their life. He did not mean that they were to choose between one God and another, although the form of his words might suggest that. He knew there was not a man among them who would choose the gods of the Amorites or the gods on the other side of the river instead of Jehovah. What he did was to state in a strong way their duty and privilege -- that they should choose as he had done; that they should choose the Lord to be their God. Moses had been placed in somewhat similar circumstances on the day of the worship of the golden calf, when standing before the people he cried with a voice of indignation and reverence, "Who is on the Lord's side? Let him come unto me." Later than this, in the days of Baal, Elijah cried with the same spirit, "How long halt ye between two opinions? If the Lord be God, follow him."
It is evident that this mode of presenting the claim which God makes upon us is somewhat different from that in which it is usually presented. This form of words has very much passed out of use, and the thought which lies within the words has been in a measure superseded. We are not saying today, "Choose you whom ye will serve." We are saying, "Choose you whom ye will trust." We have passed over from this idea of a life which is to be lived for God to a life in which God is to take us up and carry us on -- promising us Heaven, alluring us with pleasures all the way, and indulging our wishes at every point, if so be in our condescension we will consent to be saved. I think that it is for lack of the strong element which the Scriptures always present -- it is man's duty to obey God -- that our piety has fallen so much upon inefficiency; that it lacks nerve; that even our belief of the truth grows feeble and our obedience of the truth feebler; that our devotion to God is an uncertain thing, and our service almost as variable as our states of mind. We need to have breathed into our thoughts a feeling of duty, a sense of something which we must do, of a life which we are to live. I gather it all up into this saying of the old Hebrew statesman, in which we are called upon to choose whom we will serve -- to choose God and to serve him continually.
While the thought of trusting Christ and the offers of his grace appear so much in the New Testament, this thought of serving God is the underlying principle throughout. Our Lord never, in all his offer of rest and peace and mercy, lost sight of this. What was his most common idea of that life into which he called men? It was life in a kingdom. "The kingdom of God," "the kingdom of heaven," were his common phrases. Men are to live under the eye of a king and to obey him to the end. So, when he presented the kingdom of heaven with all its delights under the image of a marriage feast, it was not a feast spread by the wayside where men were working. It was not a table laid in the thickets where they might be reclining. It was a feast within the gates of the king's house. If any man ate of the feast, he came up out of the highways, passed through the door, entered into the place where the table was spread, and there took his place.
Christ knew nothing of any joy for a man outside of the king's house. So it was with the parable of the prodigal son, in which our Lord did not promise certain joys to be had by remaining in the "far country." He did not teach that there were for this wretch a robe, and a ring, and a kiss, and a fatted calf, and all the blessings of life, while he was by his own act an exile and wanderer; or that there was one of them anywhere but where his father was. If he was to be blessed as he wished, he must go home; and within his father's house he would find what was there alone -- his father's blessing and his grace.
Indeed, the whole thought of the redemption of Christ rests upon this. The cross of Christ springs indeed out of God's love, but it holds fast to this idea of the obedience of the soul to God. Christ bids men leave their boats and follow him; leave their lives and follow him.
This truth of obedience is in entire harmony with the tender thoughts applied to God. If we speak of God as love, we have asserted the strongest of all reasons why we should serve him. If we call God our father, we have declared at once the very reason why we ought to obey him and seek his pleasure in all things. If we speak of the love we have for God, we have declared the very principle which will make us do his will. The soul of obedience is love, and the body of love is obedience.
Can we do this? Can we not agree so far as this, that we will take the Lord to be our God? Can we agree upon this today, brethren, and then pass on to the study of God's will and to the results of it? Here, this morning, I speak to you and I speak to my own heart. Can we covenant with God so far as this, that we will serve him with all our heart and with all our life? He who shall come so far as that shall find the mercy of God bearing him up into the glory.
Cambridge Sermons (condensed)
A fitting sermon to go along with this is Charles Bridges' exposition of Psalm 119:60, "I made haste, and did not delay to keep your commandments."
You will also find this sermon by Joseph Milner helpful, "The Portion of the Men of the World and the Hope of the Godly".
* * * * *
"And now abide faith, hope, love, these three;
but the greatest of these is love."
1 Corinthians 13:13
The first commendation of love is this: that by patient endurance of many things, it promotes peace and harmony in the church. Near akin to this is the second excellence: gentleness and leniency. A third excellence is that it counteracts emulation [rivalry, competition], the seed of all contentions. Under emulation Paul comprehends envy. Where envy reigns, that is, where everyone is desirous to be the first or appear so, love has no place.
Another aspect of love is moderation. Paul declares it a bridle to restrain men so that they may live together in a peaceable and orderly manner. He adds that love has nothing of the nature of pride. A man, then, who is governed by love, is not puffed up with pride so as to despise others and feel satisfied with himself.
Love does not behave itself unseemly. That is, love does not exult in a foolish ostentation. It does not bluster, but observes moderation and propriety.
Love does not seek its own. From this we may infer how very far we are from having love implanted in us by nature, for we are naturally prone to have love and care for ourselves and aim at our own advantage. Nay, to speak more correctly, we rush headlong into it. The remedy for so perverse an inclination is love, which leads us to leave off caring for ourselves and feel concerned for our neighbors, so as to love them and be concerned for their welfare. In addition, to seek one's own things is to be devoted to self and to be wholly taken up with concern for one's own advantage. Paul does not here reprove every kind of care or concern for ourselves, but the excess of it which proceeds from an immoderate and blind attachment to ourselves.
Loves bears all things. By this Paul estimates that love is neither impatient nor spiteful. For to bear and endure all things is the part of forbearance: to believe and hope all things is the part of candor and kindness. As we are naturally too much devoted to self, this vice renders us morose and peevish. The effect is that everyone wishes that others should carry him upon their shoulders, but refuses for his part to assist others. The remedy for this disease is love, which makes us subject to our brethren and teaches us to apply our shoulders to their burdens. And as we are naturally spiteful, we are, consequently, also suspicious and take almost everything amiss. Love, on the other hand, calls us back to kindness so that we think favorably and candidly of our neighbors.
When Paul says "all things," we must understand him as referring to the things that ought to be endured, and in such a manner as is befitting. We are not to bear with vices so as to give our sanction to them.
Love believes all things. Not that the Christian knowingly and willingly allows himself to be imposed upon, or that he divests himself of prudence and judgment that he may be the more easily taken advantage of, but that there is simplicity and kindness in judging. The consequence will be that a Christian will reckon it better to be imposed upon by his own kindness and easy temper than to wrong his brother by an unfriendly suspicion.
Love never fails; it endures forever. We should eagerly desire an excellence that will never come to an end. And so it must be preferred before temporary and perishable gifts. Prophecies have an end, tongues fail, knowledge ceases. Hence love is more excellent than they on this ground -- that while they fail, love survives.
See Charles Bridges' exposition of Proverbs 3:27-28, "Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in the power of your hand to do so."
* * * * *
"Nevertheless we, according to His promise,
look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells."
2 Peter 3:13
In this chapter we shall deal with the final state of those who are in Christ. The Bible teaches that believers will go to heaven when they die. That they will be happy during the intermediate state between death and resurrection is clearly taught in Scripture. But their happiness will be provisional and incomplete. For the completion of their happiness they await the resurrection of the body and the new earth which God will create at the culmination of his redemptive work. To that new earth we now turn our attention.
The doctrine of the new earth, as taught in Scripture, is an important one. It is important, first, for the proper understanding of the life to come. One gets the impression from certain hymns that glorified believers will spend eternity in some ethereal heaven somewhere off in space, far away from earth. The following lines from the hymn "My Jesus, I Love Thee" seem to convey that impression:
"In mansions of glory and endless delight
I'll ever adore thee in heaven so bright."
But does such a conception do justice to biblical eschatology? Are we to spend eternity somewhere off in space, wearing white robes, plucking harps, singing songs, and flitting from cloud to cloud while doing so? On the contrary, the Bible assures us that God will create a new earth on which we shall live to God's praise in glorified, resurrected bodies. On that new earth, therefore, we hope to spend eternity, enjoying its beauties, exploring its resources, and using its treasures to the glory of God. Since God will make the new earth his dwelling place, and since where God dwells there heaven is, we shall then continue to be in heaven while we are on the new earth. For heaven and earth will then no longer be separated, as they are now, but will be one (see Rev. 21:1-3). But to leave the new earth out of consideration when we think of the final state of believers is greatly to impoverish biblical teaching about the life to come.
Secondly, the doctrine of the new earth is important for a proper grasp of the full dimensions of God's redemptive program. In the beginning, so we read in Genesis, God created the heavens and the earth. Because of man's fall into sin, a curse was pronounced over this creation. God now sent his Son into this world to redeem that creation from the results of sin. The work of Christ, therefore, is not just to save certain individuals, not even to save an innumerable throng of blood-bought people. The total work of Christ is nothing less than to redeem this entire creation from the effects of sin. That purpose will not be accomplished until God has ushered in the new earth, until Paradise Lost has become Paradise Regained. We need a clear understanding of the doctrine of the new earth, therefore, in order to see God's redemptive program in cosmic dimensions. We need to realize that God will not be satisfied until the entire universe has been purged of all the results of man's fall.
The Bible and the Future
Ken's article "How Much Did the Prophets Know?" will prove of interest. So will his short essay, "The Christian Answer to Death and the Eternal Destiny of the Redeemed."
* * * * *
"Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; he [was] the priest of God Most High." (Genesis 14:18)
"Yahweh has sworn and will not relent, You [are] a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek." (Psalm 110:4)
"For this Melchizedek . . . without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like the Son of God, remains a priest continually." (Hebrews 7:1,3)
In Hebrews 7 the priesthood of Christ is illustrated and enhanced by typical analogies in the character and position of Melchizedek. Four points of resemblance are there set forth. (1) Melchizedek was both king and priest; so Christ. (2) His timelessness -- being without recorded parentage, genealogy, or death -- is a figure of the perpetuity of Christ's priesthood. (3) Melchizedek's superiority over Abraham and over the Levitical priests is made to suggest the exalted dignity of Christ. (4) Melchizedek's priesthood was not, like the Levitical, constituted by formal legal enactment, but was without succession and without tribe or race limitations; so Christ, an independent and universal priest, abides forever, having an unchangeable priesthood. Much more is said in the chapter by way of contrasting Christ with the Levitical priests, and the manifest design of the writer is to set forth in a most impressive way the great dignity and unchangeable perpetuity of the priesthood of the Son of God.
But interpreters have gone wild over the mysterious character of Melchizedek, yielding to all manner of speculation, first, in attempting to answer the question "Who was Melchizedek?" and second, in tracing all imaginable analogies. Whedon observes sensibly and aptly: "Our opinion is, that Melchizedek was nobody but himself; himself as simply narrated in Gen. 14:18-20; in which narrative both David, in Psa. 110, and our author after him, find every point they specify in making him a king-priest, typical of the king-priesthood of Christ.
Yet it is not in the person of Melchizedek alone, but in the grouping also of circumstances around and in his person, that the inspired imagination of the psalmist finds the shadowing points. Melchizedek, in Genesis, suddenly appears upon the historic stage, without antecedents or consequents. He is a king-priest not of Judaism, but of Gentilism universally. He appears an unlineal priest, without father, mother, or pedigree. He is preceded and succeeded by an everlasting silence, so as to present neither beginning nor end of life. And he is, as an historic picture, forever there, divinely suspended, the very image of a perpetual king-priest. It is thus not in his actual unknown realty but in the Scripture presentation that the group of shadowings appears. It is by optical truth only, not by corporeal facts, that he becomes a picture, and with his surroundings a tableau, into which the psalmist first reads the conception of an adumbration [faint indication] of the eternal priesthood of the Messiah; and all our author does is to develop the particulars which are in mass presupposed by the psalmist.
Genesis is a fascinating book. You may want to check out this "Introduction to Genesis" by W. H. Griffith Thomas.
* * * * *
"For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad." (1 Corinthians 5:10)
Sin having been adjudged on the Cross, it remains that the saint's services should be scrutinized before "he shall receive a reward." For this, "we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that everyone may receive the things done in his body, according to that he has done, whether it be good or bad." The saints in Corinth were thus warned that the actions of present life had inevitable influences upon the measure and station of their eternal condition. In almost identical words St. Paul wrote to the Roman Christians: "We shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. . . . everyone of us shall give account of himself to God."
The remembrance of this assize might well restrain the Christians of those days and our time from mutual judgment and contempt. This will be found to be the teaching of the context. The purpose of the revelation of Christ to His people is declared by the Lord Himself: "Behold, I come quickly; and My reward is with Me, to give to every man according as his work shall be" (Rev. 20:12). The measure of our glory is determined before we die, or are "caught up." "Every man shall receive his own reward, according to his own labor." The differences in duties are not graded. "He that plants and he that waters are one." The reward will be assigned according to the motive and spirit of the service.
When the saint's character and consecration are examined, though "every man shall have praise of God," yet must every man "suffer loss." Who dare claim that throughout life he has built on the foundation "that is laid, which is Jesus Christ," nothing but "gold, silver, precious stones?" Have no "wood, hay, stubble," worthless and vain things, been worked into your character? We shall then know the importance of wasted time. At what a ruinous price of earthly pleasures will we find that we have exchanged our ranks in glory. "Every man's work shall be made manifest." The day of secret thoughts and covered selfishness, disloyal to grace, will have passed. "The day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is. If any man's work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man's work shall be burnt, he shall suffer loss; but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire." "The brightness of His coming," which shall afterwards consume the wicked, will in that day clear the saints of all taint of imperfection. They shall "have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb." And how their results of life shall be sifted. That which is true and pure and good shall be accepted, while that which has been imperfect through selfishness and sin must be denied.
What marvelous reversals of earthly judgments will the Master make. The pomp and pride of profession will pass for nothing when searched by "the eyes that were as a flame of fire." The meek and lowly, who have learned of Him, will no longer be despised. Not the least of the saints' services shall be forgotten. "Whatsoever good thing any man does, the same shall he receive of the Lord." "Whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only in the name of a disciple, verily I say unto you, he shall in no wise lose his reward." "Of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ."
With these passages before him it will not be difficult for every believer to learn a lesson of solemn responsibility. The trifling and frivolity of earth clearly detract from the capacity and condition of glory. The Christian has only time to "lay up treasures in heaven." To this he must dedicate every power of mind and soul and body. For this all days and institutions and associations are sanctified. In comparison with this, true prudence will permit no less worthy choice. "This is a faithful saying, and these things I will that thou affirm constantly, that they which have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable unto men."
Up, then, and linger not, thou saint of God,
Fling from thy shoulders each impeding load;
Be brave and wise, shake off earth's soil and sin,
That with the Bridegroom thou mayest enter in.
Oh, watch and pray!
Soon shall the voice be heard, "Behold, I come,"
That calls thee up[ward to thy glorious home,
That bids thee leave these vales and take swift wing,
To meet the hosts of thy descending King;--
And thou must rise!
'Tis a thick throng of foes, afar and hear;
All hell in front, a hating world in rear;
Yet flee thou canst not, victory must be won,
Ere fall the shadows of Time's setting sun;--
And thou must fight!
Gird on thy armor; face each weaponed foe;
Deal, with the sword of heaven, the deadly blow;
Forward, still forward in the fight divine,
Slack not the weapon till the field be thine.
Win thou the crown.
He Will Come
In view of Christ's coming, let us repent of our wasted time. You might find reading about "Nineveh's Repentance" helpful.
* * * * *
"Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition." (2 Thessalonians 2:3)
Why did the Lord Jesus conceal the Secret Rapture in Matthew chapter twenty-four? How are we to explain the silence of the Church for centuries concerning it? What about the passages that have been used to support it? Have we been lulling the Church into a false security? Are there any outstanding Christian leaders who believe that the Church will go through the Great Tribulation?
In my first book on Prophecy, I asked the question, "Will the Church pass through the Tribulation or be raptured out of it?" In answering, I made this statement: "I have always held the view that the Rapture precedes the Revelation by some seven years, and that the Church, therefore, will not go through the Tribulation, but I do not want to be dogmatic about it and, if God should reveal the contrary to me, I will gladly accept it". Hence, you see, I did not approach the subject with my mind closed to new light and my heart already prejudiced. I was open to whatever God might reveal.
Now, after years of study and prayer, I am absolutely convinced that there will be no rapture before the Tribulation, but that the Church will undoubtedly be called upon to face the Antichrist, and that Christ will come at the close and not at the beginning of that awful period. I believed the other theory simply because I was taught it by W. E. Blackstone in his book "Jesus is Coming," the Scofield Reference Bible, and Prophetic Conferences and Bible Schools. But when I began to search the Scriptures for myself, I discovered that there is not a single verse in the Bible that upholds the pre-tribulation theory, but that the uniform teaching of the Word of God is of a post-tribulation Rapture.
My first awakening to this important truth came one day in 1925. One of my neighbors simply made the suggestion to me. I opposed it at once. "Why," I exclaimed, "however could that be? What about the Scriptures? The teaching of a pre-tribulation Rapture is clear and indisputable." But he quietly affirmed that I was wrong. Of course, I was not convinced. I almost ridiculed the very idea of such a possibility. And there the matter rested.
One day, in the early twenties, I began preaching on Prophecy. I had taken my people through Daniel without difficulty. Then came Mark 13, Luke 21, and Matthew 24 and 25. But, lo and behold, no sooner had I started on Matthew 24 than I got into trouble. I had announced that I would deal with Matthew 24 at the next service. Hundreds had gathered. I was in a maze, for I was perplexed. So I took a verse here and there through the chapter and thus satisfied the people for that hour at least. But now the next meeting was coming. What was I to say? I need not point out that there is no pretribulation Rapture in Matthew 24. The Second Coming is unmistakably placed "immediately after the Tribulation," and I was forced to the conclusion that if the Rapture was to be before the Tribulation, the Lord Jesus Christ would certainly have given some hint of it at least. He was dealing with the end time of the Age. It is unthinkable that He would have spoken so minutely of the Tribulation without stating that the Church would escape. Instead, He purposely led His hearers to the belief that His followers would be in it. Hence, I was staggered, nor could I honestly defend my previous position. So, when I again faced the people, I said sufficient to let them know that I questioned my former stand and saw evidence of a post-tribulation Rapture. For, as I read Matthew 24 and 25, I saw that many things, as prophesied by the Lord Jesus Christ, simply had to take place before Jesus could come, namely, "All these things," especially the prediction regarding the preaching of the Gospel.
Then came into my hands a copy of a book by Dr. Henry W. Frost. It was entitled "Matthew 24 and the Revelation," a volume of over 300 pages. I fairly devoured it. Portions of it I read through twice. It was most conclusive in its arguments for a post-tribulation Rapture. About the same time I got hold of a book by James H. McConkey, called "The Book of Revelation," and another--perhaps the best of all--by Edmund Shackleton entitled "Will the Church Escape the Great Tribulation?" Before I had read them through, I was firmly convinced that there would be no Rapture before the Tribulation, and that I had done wrong in promising the Church an escape instead of preparing her for the terrible ordeal that must most surely be awaited. My "any moment" theory could not be sustained. In fact, the very first statement in the latter book, which was written about 1890, amazed me beyond measure, and I was fairly staggered as I grasped its significance. Let me quote it verbatim:
"All who held the pre-millennial Coming of Christ were, till about sixty years ago, of one mind on the subject. About that time a new view was promulgated that the Coming of Christ was not one event, but that it was divided into stages, in fact, that Christ comes twice from heaven to earth, but the first time only as far as the air. This first descent, it is said, will be for the purpose of removing the Church from the world, and will occur before the Great Tribulation under Antichrist. This they call 'The coming for His saints' or 'Secret Rapture.' The second part of the Coming is said to take place when Christ appears in glory and destroys the Antichrist. This they call 'The coming with His saints.'
"Apart from the test of the Word, which is the only final one, there are certain reasons why this doctrine should be viewed with suspicion. It appears to be little more than sixty years old, and it seems highly improbable that if scriptural, it could have escaped the scrutiny of the many devoted Bible students whose writings have been preserved to us from the past. More especially, in the writings of the early Christian fathers would we expect to find some notice of this doctrine if it had been taught by the Apostles. But those who have their works declare that they betray no knowledge of a theory that the Church would escape the Tribulation under Antichrist, or that there would be any "coming" except that spoken of in Matthew 24, as occurring in manifest glory 'after the Tribulation.' This is all the more significant, because these writers bestowed much attention upon the subject of the Antichrist and the Great Tribulation. Augustine, referring to Daniel 7, wrote: 'But he who reads this passage even half asleep cannot fail to see that the kingdom of Antichrist shall fiercely, though for a short time, assail the Church.'
Then when I remembered that the death of Peter, his prediction of corruption and apostasy after his decease, the death of Paul, and many other events had to occur before the Rapture (especially the evangelization of the world), my "any moment" theory took wings and fled.
Last of all, I ran across "The Great Tribulation—The Church’s Supreme Test" by John B. Scruby, the most convincing and most unanswerable of all. It deals with every point minutely and proves conclusively that the Tribulation precedes the Rapture. Recently I got hold of that remarkable book "Tribulation to Glory" by H. A. Baker in which he wrote: "For eighteen centuries the fundamental principle of tribulation to glory was the universal belief of the truly born-again members of the Church." He goes on to show that the new pre-tribulation rapture teaching was first proclaimed as a direct revelation by a woman in Edward Irving’s church, and then taken up by John Nelson Darby (and the Scofield Reference Bible) in direct contradiction to the teaching of the Church for eighteen hundred years. But now, thank God, large numbers of our leading Bible Teachers are coming back to the original position.
Tribulation or Rapture - Which?
Check out our study on the Book of Revelation.
See also S. P. Tregelles' "The Hope of Christ's Second Coming".
* * * * *
"Rejoice always, pray without ceasing,
in everything give thanks.”
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
I have endeavoured to explain what is meant by drawing nigh unto God. Beholding the two inseparable gifts which the exalted Saviour holds in His pierced hand, repentance and faith, we have seen what is meant by sincerity in drawing nigh to God, a true turning away from sin and worldliness unto the grace and love and life of God, which in a crucified and risen Saviour are freely given to us. Let us now dwell on the abundant mercy, the overflowing riches, the infinite love awaiting us when we draw nigh; the atmosphere of free and all-sufficient grace which we breathe when we approach the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. All divine revelations encourage us to draw nigh to God.
It is man's duty to draw nigh to God. Reason and conscience fully admit this. The first commandment, and the foundation of all other commandments, is to worship God. But it is only in times of great and grievous dulness that the believer regards prayer as a duty, and not as a privilege. What higher dignity, what greater and more precious gift could we possibly possess? "Behold, what manner of love the Father has bestowed upon us." In every place and at all times we may come into His presence. In the name of Jesus we appear before His throne of grace, and He beholds us in Him, and loves us as His children. Though we cannot express in words what our souls desire and long for, we know that He interprets and hears the language of our heart. To Him we may confide what we could entrust to no human friend; where all earthly help is of no avail, we can ask His almighty succour. The thoughts and doubts which rise within us we can spread out before Him, to sift, to correct, to change them; the sorrow that lies too deep for human ministry we can bring to Love, omnipotent and all-compassionate. And we know that we can never weary Him with our approach, and that not one thought or petition will be overlooked by Him; all good that we ask will be granted abundantly, and with overflowing and tender mercies. And this is not all. Had we no petitions to offer, no gifts, no consolations, no deliverances to ask, what a privilege is prayer, were it merely to stand before the Lord, to be in the presence of the Holy and Blessed One, to behold with open face His glory, and to know that He sees and loves us, and that, through the blood of Christ, we have been brought into the circle of eternal life--one with all angels and saints!
Still we often feel lassitude in prayer, and our hearts seem heavy and not willing or able to rise into this serene and bright region. The Lord Jesus, the heavenly Wisdom and the true lover of men, counsels us always to pray and not to faint. Is not our tendency always to faint and not to pray? If we went to God with our cares and difficulties, with our sorrows and fears, aye, even with our apathy and sluggishness of mind and heart, we should obtain calmness, patience, strength. Instead of this, we go about weak, unhappy, with self-consuming care and self-reproach, in which there is no recuperative power. Our disinclination to pray is our most painful experience; it is so irrational and unaccountable. When we neglect prayer, a heavy weight is on our mind and heart. We anticipate, we exaggerate difficulties, we succumb to them. There is a cloud between us and our fellow-men; there is a cloud and veil between us and our heart. We have, as it were, lost it, even as we find our heart in approaching God.
Prayer makes the darkened cloud withdraw;
Prayer climbs the ladder Jacob saw;
Gives exercise to faith and love,
Brings every blessing from above.
We are convinced of this; we have experienced it. And yet how often we feel unwilling to pray, disinclined to go to Him who is all-glorious and all-good, who never receives us with harshness or indifference, who is always ready to bless, to comfort, and to help! Sometimes, even when we have abundance of leisure and solitude, when God in His providence seems to invite us to speak to Him, we feel this apathy. And yet we know that God regards even a look. He hears even the desire of heart unuttered; that not even words are needful. Let us be deeply humbled, but let us not sink into despondency. Hear the voice: "Draw high to God!" Let us dwell frequently on the encouragements to draw nigh to God.
The Hidden Life
See also our Prayer page for many helpful sermons.
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"My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation. For in many things we offend all. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man and able also to bridle the whole body." (James 3:1,2)
The common and almost universal interpretation of this passage is that the Apostle discourages the desire for the office of teaching and for this reason: because it is dangerous and exposes one to a heavier judgment in case he transgresses. But I take masters not to be those who performed public duty in the church, but such as took upon them the right of passing judgment upon others. Such reprovers sought to be accounted as masters of morals. It was a mode of speaking among the Greeks, as well as the Latins, that they were called masters who superciliously criticized others.
It is an innate disease in mankind to seek reputation by blaming others. And in this respect a twofold vice prevails: though few excel in wisdom, yet they all intrude indiscriminately into the office of master; and they are stimulated by hypocrisy and ambition, rather than care for the salvation of their brethren. It is to be observed that James does not discourage those brotherly admonitions which the Spirit so often recommends to us, but only that desire to condemn, which proceeds from ambition and pride when one exalts himself over his neighbor and slanders, carps, and malignantly seeks for what he may turn to a sinister purpose. This is usually done when impertinent censors insolently boast in the work of exposing the vices of others. James tells us that those who are thus severe toward others shall undergo a heavier judgment. He imposes a hard law on the man who tries the words and deeds of others according to the rule of extreme rigor: he does not deserve pardon who will pardon none. This truth ought to be carefully observed: they who are too rigid toward their brethren provoke the severity of God against themselves.
"For in many things we all offend." This may be taken as having been said by way of concession--"No one is free from sins, but do you think that you are perfect who uses a slanderous and virulent tongue?" James exhorts us by this argument to meekness, since we ourselves are surrounded with many infirmities. He acts unjustly who denies to others the pardon he needs himself.
"If any man offend not in word." James now shows that the disease of speaking evil is more odious than other sins. By saying that he who offends not with his tongue is perfect, he intimates that the restraining of the tongue is not only a great virtue but one of the chief virtues. Hence they act most perversely who curiously examine every fault, even the least, and yet so grossly indulge themselves. James indirectly touches here on the hypocrisy of censors, because in examining themselves they omitted what was of great importance, even their evil speaking. They who reproved others pretended a zeal for perfect holiness, but they ought to have begun with their own tongue if they wished to be perfect. As they made no account of bridling the tongue but on the contrary did bite and tear others, they exhibited only a fictitious sanctity. It is therefore evident that they were the most reprehensible of all because they neglected a primary virtue.
The contagion of the tongue spreads through every part of life; the tongue pollutes the whole man. When other vices are corrected by age or succession of time, or when they at least do not possess the entire man, the vice of the tongue continues to spread and prevail over every part of life. Supercilious censors who largely indulge themselves and at the same time spare none, seem to themselves to be very wise. But they are greatly mistaken. The Lord teaches his people to be meek and courteous to others. They alone are wise in the sight of God who connect meekness with honest conversation; for they who are severe and inexorable, though they may excel others in many virtues, do not follow the right way of wisdom.
Calvin has more to say about our need to bridle the tongue in his commentary on Matthew. See "Excerpts from Matthew" and scroll down to Matthew 7:1, "Judge not."
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"One thing I have desired of Yahweh, that will I seek: that I may dwell in the house of Yahweh all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of Yahweh, and to inquire in His temple. For in the time of trouble He shall hide me in His pavilion; in the secret place of His tabernacle He shall hide me; He shall set me high upon a rock. And now my head shall be lifted up above my enemies all around me; therefore I will offer sacrifices of joy in His tabernacle; I will sing, yes, I will sing praises to Yahweh." (Psalm 27:4-6)
Here in the psalm which we are meditating tonight, the veil is lifted, and we overhear the prayer of a saint of old. What is the nature of the prayer? What is the goal which offered the greatest allurement? "One thing that I desired of the Lord; that will I seek after." What is this thing which formed the all-attractive goal of his devotional life?
"That I may dwell in the House of the Lord all the days of my life." He prays that his life may be spent in a sanctuary. The ideal life is to him the life of ceaseless worship. In the perfected life the soul is always upon its knees. The saint "dwells in the House of the Lord all the days of his life." There are no interregnums. Life is not broken up into hours spent in the House of the Lord and days spent away from it. The whole life is pervaded by the atmosphere of worship. Now when we usually speak of the devotional life, we describe a mere patch of our days, a little fringe, or a thin thread in a wide, barren waste. We think of the early moments of the day, or of its later moments, and these we regard as constituting the devotional season. . . .
We commonly speak of the religious and the secular, as though they were two quantities that might run along in parallel lines without flowing into intimate combination. The distinction is perilous and illegitimate. We can no more separate the religious and the secular, and preserve their life, than we can preserve the life of flesh which is divorced from blood. We cannot isolate flesh and blood and sustain vitality. The condition of the life of each is the union of both. Religion without the secular is a wasted and ineffectual breath; the secular without religion is a dead and inert form. And so the distinction between secular music and sacred music, between secular books and religious books, between secular callings and sacred callings, is fraught with tremendous peril, and is usually the prelude to spiritual death. The psalmist wanted no such divisions in his life. He wanted all the days and every moment of the days to be spent as in the House of the Lord. . . .
"To behold the beauty of the Lord." That is the second of the great emphases of the psalmist's prayer. He yearned for a life that is inspired by contemplation of the divine beauty. Is it altogether irrelevant to say that nowadays we give ourselves very little time to "behold" anything? Is not seeing becoming a lost art? We go too much at the gallop; and quiet, fruitful seeing is not consistent with the racing and hurrying life. We have almost coined a word which has supplanted the old word "see," and is perhaps expressive of our modern ways. We speak of "doing" a place. We walk round the National Gallery and we have "done" it. But in the doing there is no seeing; in the going there is no quest. A mere glance appropriates nothing; a long gaze appropriates the beauty it beholds. It is only when we behold with quiet, steady, persistent contemplation that we pierce beneath the surface of things and possess the hidden wealth. I do not wonder that another psalmist proclaims this most natural sequence: "When I meditate on Thee in the night watches . . . my soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness." That is not an arbitrary connection; it is the natural fruit. Meditation appropriates the very marrow of things. . . .
"And to inquire in His Temple." He wants to seek his knowledge in the spirit of devotion. Where will he make his inquiries? "In His Temple." That is the place in which all inquiries should be made. All investigations should commence and be continued on one's knees. The solution of pressing problems must be sought in the mood of prayer. We are just here at the root of many of our errors. . . We ask our questions defiantly. Grief overshadows us, and we raise our questions in stiff rebellion. Adversity comes, and we project our inquiries in bitterness. The healing answer is frequently withheld because we have asked amiss. We must ask our questions in reverence. We must kneel if we want to inquire. We must not give up worship when we are face to face with a hard difficulty. Let us seek the clue in the Temple. "Take it to the Lord in prayer."
What would be the issues of such a life? The psalmist years for a life in which the spirit of worship is unceasing, and in which the divine beauty is intimately contemplated, and in which all investigation shall be made in the spirit of reverent supplication. What will be the fruits of such a quest?
Restfulness. "In the time of trouble He shall hide me in His pavilion; in the secret of His tabernacle shall He hide me." There shall be quietness at the heart of things. There shall be a center of rest even though there be a circumference of trouble. The life shall be kept calm and free from panic, as in a secret place. When the foes are many and threatening, there shall be a place of rest, even in their midst. . . .
Security. "He shall set me up upon a rock." He will give me the sense of the firm-rootedness of the good. He will inspire my consciousness with the faith that everything is not loose, and slippery, and uncertain. There is something firm and dependable. There is a rock. "The Lord is my rock." The man becomes sure of God, and in that assurance his security is complete.
Elevation. "Now shall my head be lifted up above my enemies round about me." The foes that conquer shall themselves be conquered. The enemy that ruled shall become a subject. The things that troubled him shall now be beneath his feet. . . I shall be above my old worries, my old irritations, my old temptations. The Lord lifts us above our enemies and makes us more than conquerors.
There are just two other words in the passage which I desire to emphasize. This kind of life was not only "desired" by the psalmist, it was "sought after." "That will I seek after." His prayer determined his pursuit. That is the order in all fruitful religion. A man's practical search must follow the vision of his supplications. It is not a mere coincidence that our Master has linked together the two words "ask" and "seek." We must find our purpose in our prayers. We must shape our ambitions out of our aspirations. We must turn our supplications into duties and let our prayers determine the trend and intensity of our search.
Brooks by the Traveller's Way
See Charles Hodge's helpful article, "Prayer".
* * * * *
"He who scatters Israel will gather him."
The prophecies of the future Mediatorial Kingdom are replete with glowing promises made to the Old Testament people of Israel. They are to be made the head over all other nations, both religiously and politically. All their enemies are to be put down. Through them the glorious blessings of the Kingdom will flow out to all the world. As to the existence and reality of these promises, there can be no dispute.
Attempts have been made, however, to deny the historical continuity of the Israel of the future Kingdom with the Israel of Old Testament history. Two hermeneutical schemes have been devised to implement this denial: first, certain of the Old Testament promises to Israel are treated as having been fulfilled in the historic return of the exiles from the Babylonian captivity; and second, those prophetic promises which cannot be thus handled are stripped down to a tenuous "spiritual" content and transferred to another "Israel" having no genuine nexus with the historical nation. Such attempts to eviscerate the promises of God to the Israel of history cannot be sustained in the face of the Biblical testimony. What are the facts?
First, all the prophets unite in a solemn warning that the people of Israel are to be punished for their sins, and that this punishment will involve defeat by their enemies, the loss of their place in the promised land, and dispersal among all the Gentile nations. "Ye shall be plucked from off the land whither thou goest to possess it. And the LORD shall scatter thee among all people, from the one end of the earth even unto the other. . . . And among these nations shalt thou find no ease" (Deut. 28:63-65). Here there can be no question as to identity--this is the Israel of Old Testament history.
Second, during this divinely imposed and world-wide dispersal of Israel, according to the prophets, there will be no absolute break in the historical continuity of the nation. "For I am with thee, said the LORD, to save thee: though I make a full end of all nations whither I have scattered thee, yet will I not make a full end of thee: but I will correct thee in measure, and will not leave thee altogether unpunished" (Jer. 30:11). "Behold, the eyes of the Lord GOD are upon the sinful kingdom, and I will destroy it from off the face of the earth; saving that I will not utterly destroy the house of Jacob, saith the LORD" (Amos 9:8).
Third, the prophets promise specifically that there will be a restoration of the nation which was once cast off. "For I have mercy upon them," Jehovah declares, "and they shall be as though I had not cast them off; for I am the LORD their God, and will hear them" (Zech. 10:6). "And it shall come to pass, that like as I have watched over them, to pluck up, and to break down, and to throw down, and to destroy, and to afflict; so will I watch over them, to build, and to plant, saith the LORD" (Jer. 31:28).
Fourth, the prophets assert that the promised restoration of historic Israel will involve a regathering of the dispersed nation back into the land from which they were cast out. The Word of God is that He "shall set up an ensign for the nations, and shall assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth" (Isa. 11:12). "He that scattered Israel will gather him, and keep him, as a shepherd doth his flock" (Jer. 31:10). "The LORD thy God will . . . gather thee from all the nations, whither the LORD thy God hath scattered thee. . . . And the LORD thy God will bring thee into the land which thy fathers possessed, and thou shalt possess it" (Deut. 30:3,5).
Fifth, to this same historic nation of Israel, regathered from its world-wide dispersion, there will come a restoration of ancient privileges and rights. In the day of their regathering in the land, to "her that was cast far off," God will speak, "And thou, O tower of the flock, the stronghold of the daughter of Zion, unto thee shall it come, even the first dominion; the kingdom shall come to the daughter of Jerusalem" (Mic. 3:7-8). More than that, the future dominion will surpass all the glories of the past: "I will settle you after your old estates," Jehovah promises, "and will do better unto you than at your beginnings" (Ezek. 36:11).
Sixth, all this will come to pass in what the prophets call the last days. This is clearly indicated by the fourth chapter of Micah. The first five verses describe the glories of the LORD's Kingdom which will be established in "the last days," and verse six fixes definitely the regathering and restoration of Israel at that time. Since the phrase "in the last days," as used in the context of Micah 4, certainly refers to eschatological time, the prophecies of Israel's restoration cannot be regarded as fulfilled by any partial restorations in the past.
Seventh, all the prophetic descriptions of historic Israel's future restoration indicate that the restored relation to Jehovah's favor will be something permanent, never again to be interrupted. "The LORD shall reign over them in mount Zion from henceforth, even forever" (Mic. 4:7). Of this chosen people, finally restored, it is said by the prophet Isaiah, "Thy sun shall no more go down; neither shall thy moon withdraw itself: for the LORD shall be thine everlasting light, and the days of thy mourning shall be ended" (60:20).
The 37th chapter of Ezekiel may well be used to summarize the entire point under discussion. Here the prophet is set down in a valley filled with dry bones and commanded to prophesy to these dead bones. And as he spoke the word of the LORD, the bones came together, flesh and sinew appeared upon them, they stood up a great army, breath came into them, and they lived. The vision is explained by the LORD thus: "These bones are the whole house of Israel," who are to be brought up out of their graves, and back into their own historic land (vss. 1-11). Thus the people of Israel, long dispersed and with waning hopes as to the future, will again be made a nation. But this is not enough. The divided people must become one nation. To impress upon the prophet this lesson, the LORD commands him to take two sticks, one for Ephraim and one for Judah, and "make them one stick" before the eyes of the people. Then Ezekiel is told to explain the meaning of the symbol: "Thus said the Lord GOD; Behold, I will take the children of Israel from among the heathen, whither they be gone, and will gather them on every side, and bring them into their own land: And I will make them one nation in the land upon the mountains of Israel; and one king shall be king to them all: and they shall be no more two nations, neither shall they be divided into two kingdoms any more at all" (vss. 21-22).
Certainly, in no place throughout this remarkable chapter is there any point where the historical continuity may be broken. To use a modern figure: if anyone should wish to take off on some hermeneutical flight of fancy, he will find himself compelled to land exactly where he took off, or not come down at all. The Old Testament nation of Israel, historically ruptured and scattered among the nations, is the nation which in the prophets is again restored and reunited in the future Kingdom of God.
The Greatness of the Kingdom
You may find Alan Johnson's "A Brief Summary of the History of Millennialism" interesting.
* * * * *
"And the lord commended the unjust steward, because he had done wisely: for the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light." (St. Luke 16: 8)
"The children of this world:" that is, the people who plainly and entirely live for this world alone and do not care, or profess to care, for anything beyond it. "The children of light:" that is, those whom God's grace and calling has enlightened and drawn to the light of goodness and truth, whose hearts and consciences feel and acknowledge what is right and lovely and of good report, and who in various measures try to follow it--wish to be on the right side and in God's favor, [and] hope in the end to attain by His mercy to the light of His countenance and the blessedness of His kingdom. And the lesson which our Lord means to teach by the remarkable story of the unjust steward (the dishonest servant who did his evil work thoroughly, and, having begun by cheating his master and not being willing to repent and do better, did not stop half-way but carried out his cheating to the last and made the most of it as a provision against the evil day)--the lesson, for the sake of which our Lord is not afraid to represent the master as praising the unjust steward because he had done wisely, is this: that the men of this world, in the sense which they show and in the thoroughness and consistency with which they live for the world, outstrip and put to shame the men with consciences.
That was the general sight when our Lord was among us. It was never different before He came and has never been different since. The world is served more perfectly, more wisely, more successfully than God [is served]. Men think, and look forward, and take trouble, and even suffer for the world in a way in which they will not think and act and suffer for the sake of the world to come. The children of this world do their work with a whole heart; the children of light do theirs with only half a heart.
"In their generation." With a view to the object for which they choose to live and work, "the children of this world are wiser than the children of light." They are wiser, more prudent and sensible in what they do because they are more in earnest in what they want, and use the proper means to gain it. If the unjust steward wants still to enjoy himself and to have friends to receive him into their houses, he knows that he must think beforehand of the most likely way to gain his end; and when he has thought of the means, he must use them. He knows that he will never reach what he wants by dreaming about it, or wishing it, or talking about it, or beginning and then drawing back. Yet this is the way in which "the children of light" seem to think that they may gain their ends, may fulfill the will of God and please Him in their lives.
There are two points worth noticing in that wisdom of the unjust steward for which his master commended him. One is, that the unjust steward had the sense to look forward. The evil day, he knew, must come--the day when, unless he had something wherewith to meet it, things would go hardly with him. He knew it was no good shutting his eyes and wishing and hoping that it would not come. He did not try weakly and foolishly to escape from what cannot be escaped from. But he knew that he had certain means of preparing for it. He had time still; he had that knowledge of the business of his master's debtors and their affairs that gave him the opportunity of doing something for himself before the evil day came. We are not talking, as the parable does not talk, of the right and wrong of what he did. The point is, that there were certain things to be done and he did them.
In the next place, he went through with what he had begun. Wicked and unscrupulous at first, he was wicked and unscrupulous to the end. A less bad man might have seen his fault and repented of it, and taken the consequences--ruin and beggary--as the just punishment of it. A weaker man would have been frightened, and faltered, and hesitated, and have been afraid to go on in the bold bad path he had entered on. But the unjust steward saw that to save himself at all he must act boldly. Nothing could be gained by being a coward and shrinking from using the opportunity which lay open to him. He had had no scruples about cheating his master before, and he had no difficulty about it now. He was consistent. He would not lose the fruit of his past life by giving way to discouragement or shrinking from the courses which he had followed.
So does wickedness. In the resolute earnestness with which it follows its bad ends, in the trouble it takes about them, in the risks that it is willing to venture for them, in the forethought and patience with which it compasses them, [and] in the thorough and complete mind with which it sticks to them, it rebukes and shames the coldness, the half-heartedness, the cowardice with which most of us serve our Master and follow religion and goodness.
What goes on in the world, what succeeds in the world is a rebuke and condemnation to the "children of light." Take the two points which I mentioned in the case of the unjust steward--his looking forward to the day of trial and difficulty, and his steady, unflinching, thorough carrying out of the unscrupulous manner of life which he had chosen. Compare that with the way in which we so often act as regards the claims of God and the next world, as regards our duty and the principles which we profess. As to looking forward, how little does that come into the common ordering of our lives. We know that we have to be prepared. It is the very thing for which we believe that we are on earth. We have to be prepared for trials and temptations which may meet us--sickness, pain, losses; the breaking up of all that makes life happy. We have to be prepared for occasions which may try our principles, whether they are sound or only fair on the outside; our honesty, our tempers, our unselfishness. We have to be prepared for the judgment-seat of God.
Are such things to be met without preparation? Can we really expect that without looking forward, without taking any trouble to be ready when they come, they will cause us no difficulty, they will all come straight of themselves? Can we really think that these things can be safely left to take their chance, to find us as they may? Can we really think that it is safe to let our tempers, our thoughts, our tongues run riot now, and that in the day of temptation we shall be able to keep them in order without difficulty? What trouble do we commonly take by examining ourselves, by finding out what is amiss in us, by passing sentence in our own consciences, on our own evil and perverse ways, to condemn beforehand what God must condemn, to meet His judgment with that deep sense of all that has to be pardoned in us?
And so with the other point. We are not thorough. We have only half a heart in our wish to do right. Else why is it that when we know the sins and temptations which beset us we take so little trouble to escape from them and conquer them? Our conscience makes us see and wish for what is right. We follow it to a certain point. We follow it while it gives us no trouble. Nay, we follow it up to a certain point in spite of difficulties. We follow and keep to it for a certain time, in spite of attempts to lead us wrong. And then, just when we have half gained our victory we give way, we let ourselves be shaken, we slip back again into the mire from which our steps were all but delivered; and all our endeavors, all our progress, all our good resolutions are wasted and thrown away.
The unjust steward ended as he began. He began by cheating and carried his bad ways through. And so he gained what he cheated for--an idle living. We begin well and spoil it all by stopping short, by slackness, by lack of faith, by lack of serious belief that we have to live and work in earnest for God and in the ways of goodness, as much as people work in earnest for the world and its rewards. He went through and faltered not. We do things by halves.
Remember, our Master has warned us. Do not let us think that [just] because we may hope that by His mercy we have been made "children of light" we are freed from that care and trouble which we all see to be so necessary in the world. The world and all that goes on in it--its great movements, its wonderful schemes, its astonishing successes, its endless labors--all witness against us, that with such heavenly and lasting hopes we are so far below those who serve only the world in earnestness and seriousness and consistency.
* * * * *
"The heavens declare the glory of God."
The book of nature has three leaves: heaven, earth, and sea. Heaven is the first and the most glorious, and by its aid we are able to see the beauties of the other two. Any book without its first page would be sadly imperfect; especially the great Natural Bible, since its first pages--the sun, moon, and stars--supply light to the rest of the volume and are thus the keys without which the writing which follows would be dark and undiscernible. Man walking erect was evidently made to scan the skies, and he who begins to read creation by studying the stars begins the book at the right place.
The heavens are plural for their variety, comprising the watery heavens with their clouds of countless forms, the aerial heavens with their calms and tempests, the solar heavens with all the glories of the day, and the starry heavens with all the marvels of the night. What the Heaven of heavens must be has not entered into the heart of man. Any part of creation has more instruction in it than human mind will ever exhaust, but the celestial realm is peculiarly rich in spiritual lore. The heavens declare, or are declaring, for the continuance of their testimony is intended by the participles employed. Every moment God's existence, power, wisdom, and goodness are being sounded abroad by the heavenly heralds which shine upon us from above. He who would guess at divine sublimity should gaze upward into the starry vault. He who would imagine infinity must peer into the boundless expanse. He who desires to see divine wisdom should consider the balancing of the orbs. He who would know divine fidelity must mark the regularity of the planetary motions. And he who would attain some conceptions of divine power, greatness, and majesty must estimate the forces of attraction, the magnitude of the fixed stars, and the brightness of the whole celestial train. It is not merely glory that the heavens declare, but the "glory of God," for they deliver to us such unanswerable arguments for a conscious, intelligent, planning, controlling, and presiding Creator, that no unpredjudiced person can remain unconvinced by them. The testimony given by the heavens is no mere hint, but a plain unmistakable declaration, and it is a declaration of the most constant and abiding kind. Yet for all this, to what avail is the loudest declaration to a deaf man, or the clearest showing to one spiritually blind? God the Holy Ghost must illuminate us, or all the suns in the milky way never will.
"The firmament shows his handiwork." The expanse is full of the works of the Lord's skillful, creating hands (hands being attributed to the great creating Spirit to set forth his care and workmanlike action, and to meet the poor comprehension of mortals). It is humbling to find that even when the most devout and elevated minds are desirous to express their loftiest thoughts of God, they must use words and metaphors drawn from the earth. We are children and must each confess, "I think as a child, I speak as a child." In the expanse above us God flies, as it were, his starry flag to show that the King is at home, and hangs out his escutcheon that atheists may see how he despises their denunciations of him. He who looks up to the firmament and then writes himself down an atheist, brands himself at the same moment as an idiot or a liar.
"There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard." Every man may hear the voices of the stars. Many are the languages of terrestrials, but to celestials there is but one, and that one may be understood by every willing mind. The lowest heathens are without excuse if they do not discover the invisible things of God in the works which he has made. Sun, moon, and stars are God's traveling preachers; they are apostles upon their journey confirming those who regard the Lord, and judges on circuit condemning those who worship idols.
Treasury of David
See Ken's short article, "Who Is the King of Glory?"
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"Today, if ye will hear His voice,
harden not your hearts."
Time is the gift of God, and the man of true wisdom will improve the present by securing an interest in Christ and laying a foundation for a happy future. The salvation of the gospel is of such infinite importance, and delays respecting it are so dangerous, that no possible excuse can justify the sinner in neglecting it a single moment.
By the voice of Christ salvation is now offered to sinners, and for this reason they ought immediately to accept it. If this be not the case, if sinners are not obligated to accept Christ--to repent and believe immediately--but may put it off to the next moment or hour in order to prepare themselves (as some suppose they may and must), then it follows that were they to be cut off by death in the present hour or moment and be summoned to the bar of God, they might there plead "not guilty" for the neglect of salvation; and their plea would be admitted by the Judge of the quick and dead, for God is a reasonable being and cannot condemn the innocent.
But it is far otherwise. Were every sinner who has up till now neglected the offers of the gospel be immediately cut off, he would be wholly without excuse and speechless before God. We are nowhere informed that we may love the Lord Jesus Christ and accept of his gracious proposals tomorrow and not today. "But today, if ye will hear His voice"; "Behold now is the accepted time." It is therefore a plain, incontestable truth, that if sinners can ever be under obligation to accept salvation, they are to do so immediately without the least delay.
It seems too plain a case to need an illustration. The most inattentive sinner would be fully convinced that the criminal at the bar of justice ought to accept pardon from his judge as soon as it is offered, and instantly to return his most cordial thanks. To delay a moment would enhance his crime and greatly aggravate it. So too with an indulgent father, who had been long dishonored by a disobedient child. Were the father to offer forgiveness, the son would be under the strongest obligations to accept it immediately with humility and gratitude.
But what are such instances of offered pardon in comparison with God's saying to the sinner, "Come, for all things are ready?" He is infinitely above the best earthly rulers and parents. His salvation, therefore, ought to be immediately accepted because it is now offered. The nature of the present offer makes it a present duty to accept it.
Consider also that Christ's salvation is infinitely more excellent than anything which can engage our present affections. Nothing can compare with the salvation of the gospel. It is superlatively excellent. It therefore not only demands our attention and affections at some future period, but our supreme love and delight immediately. Hence Christ tells us to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness. This is the pearl of great price. If any pearl could be found more valuable and precious than the gospel, then sinners would be wise in neglecting salvation to secure it; for it is a dictate of reason that the most excellent things are to be preferred to all others.
But what is there that can compare in excellence to the love of the gospel? When we think of the length, breadth, depth, and height of the love of Christ, other things have no glory. "Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!" "Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love him."
I speak now to ministers of the gospel. Sinners are dying men and ought to be addressed as dying men, as those whose probation may end the next moment. We must therefore direct them to repent immediately; and if they refuse, we must direct them again to repent immediately, and continue to do so as long as we have any opportunity to give directions. To tell sinners in one breath that it is their immediate duty to seek first the kingdom of God, and in the next to direct them to something else because they have no disposition to do this, is inconsistent and dangerous. It plainly supposes that sinners are excusable for not repenting and accepting salvation so long as they have no disposition to do it. The gospel, however, makes no allowance for opposition of heart. The call of it is, "Today if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts"; "Come, for all things are now ready."
Allow me to conclude by repeating and pressing the exhortation upon all who hear the voice of Christ, to immediately comply with his gracious offer. Delays are infinitely hazardous; you do not know what a day may bring forth. Life and death are set before you. Therefore choose life, choose the Saviour, for whoever believes in Him shall live forever.
Sermons on Practical Subjects (condensed)
Read also "Sinners Entreated to Hear God's Voice" by Edward Payson.
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