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
"Behold, I have refined you, but not with silver;
I have chosen you in the furnace of affliction."
What is the great thing for a natural man to hear? What is it? Why, not only that God has chosen us, but "chosen us in the furnace of affliction." What can be the meaning of the words? Why, it is very plain that the import of them must be this: I have chosen you, and it is my determination from everlasting to the end of time, and forever. I have chosen you with this determination, that the way to heaven should be through the road of affliction.
This is the believer's way, especially the ministers of Christ. When Paul was converted, pray what preferment did God promise him? Was it to be a great dignitary in the church? Was it to wear a triple crown? Says God, "I will show him what great things he must suffer for my name's sake." Ministers that hold the standard up must expect the enemy will fire on them from every quarter. And if they happen to be instrumental in comforting others "with the same comforts wherewith they themselves are comforted of God," they must expect to bear their part, not only for their own purification but for the benefit of those to whom they minister. And I believe audiences find that ministers minister best, and the bread comes best, when it comes out of the furnace of a minister's affliction.
The word affliction is of a very complex kind. It is like the word tribulation, which comes from the Latin tribulus, signifying a pricking thorn, a scratching briar, or wounding spikes concealed in the way. And the word affliction arises from a word that signifies something that beats down, presses sore, and is very grievous and tormenting. It is a word of so general import that it takes in all the trouble we meet with from men, all the wounds we receive from enemies as well as in the house of our friends. It takes in all our domestic trials, all our inward struggles and dreadful temptations occasioned by the fiery darts of a watchful devil. And if I am not mistaken, when the great God said, "I have chosen you in the furnace of affliction," it implies that this is really to continue with us even to the very end of our days.
This is what young converts, in the time of their first love, do not wholly see. For if young Christians were to know all they have to suffer, it would dreadfully discourage them. It is our happiness that God lets us know our trials but very little beforehand. But when one trial is gone, God does with us as masters do with their scholars--turns over a new leaf; and when one trial is over, teaches us another. Hence our trials are not only new but constant. This may perhaps open to us a gloomy scene. It would be gloomy indeed if we were not living in a state of preparation. It would be gloomy indeed if God were to afflict without a cause. But there is so much corruption, such remainders of indwelling sin even in God's own children, that if God were not to send them afflictions there is not a child of God but would be overset [set back] even with the comforts God vouchsafes to them. We find it so with our bodies, that if we live without exercise we are liable to have a variety of diseases. We therefore submit to various ways and means that a physician can prescribe. And if the disorders to which we are exposed in our bodies make us willing to submit to a regimen prescribed by a skilful physician, does it not follow by a parity of reasoning that we for our souls want something like a caustic to eat off the proud flesh that cleaves to us?
God does not intend to destroy you, but to refine you and to humble you by it. The devil wants to sift you as wheat. He thinks to let the grain go through the sieve. But Christ will only let the chaff fall through, and the sooner that is gone the better. Therefore, if any of us have a mind to set out for heaven, expect trouble. "If any man will come after me, let him take up his cross and follow me."
Sermons on Important Subjects (condensed)
How did Thomas Chalmers pray during the affliction that brought him close to death? See "A Prayer".
* * * * *
"To him that works not but believes on him who justifies the ungodly,
his faith is counted for righteousness."
This message is for you. Are you not surprised that there should be such an expression as this in the Bible, "Who justifies the ungodly?" Those men who hate the doctrines of the cross bring it as a charge against God that He saves wicked men and receives to Himself the vilest of the vile. But see how this Scripture accepts the charge, and plainly states it! By the mouth of His servant Paul, by the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, God takes to Himself the title of "Him who justifies the ungodly." He makes those just who are unjust, forgives those who deserve to be punished, and favors those who deserve no favor. You thought, did you not, that salvation was for the good and that God's grace was for the pure and holy who are free from sin? It has entered your mind that, if you were excellent, then God would reward you. You have thought that because you are not worthy, there could be no way of your enjoying His favor. You must be somewhat surprised to read a text like this, "Who justifies the ungodly." We, according to the natural legality of our hearts, are always talking about our own goodness and our own worthiness, and we stubbornly hold that there must be something in us to win the notice of God. Now, God, who sees through all deceptions, knows that there is no goodness whatever in us. "There is none righteous, no not one."
Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners. Now, while this is very surprising, I want you to notice how it makes the gospel available to you and to me. If God justifies the ungodly, then, dear friend, He can justify you, for are you not that very kind of person? If you are unconverted at this moment, it is a very proper description of you. You have lived without God, you have been the reverse of godly. In one word, you have been and are ungodly. Perhaps you have not even attended a place of worship on Sunday, but have lived in disregard of God's day, house, and Word. This proves you to have been ungodly. Sadder still, it may be that you have even tried to doubt God's existence, and have gone so far as to say that you did. You have lived on this fair earth, which is full of the tokens of God's presence, and all the while you have shut your eyes to the clear evidences of His power and Godhead. Possibly you have lived a great many years this way, so that you are now pretty well settled in your ways. If you were labeled ungodly, it would describe you in the same way as the sea is labeled salt water, would it not?
Possibly you are a person of another sort. You have regularly attended to all the outward forms of religion, but you have had no heart in them. Though meeting with the people of God, you have never met with God himself. You have been in the choir and yet not praised the Lord with your heart. You have lived without any love to God in your heart or regard to his commands. Well, you are just the kind of man to whom this gospel is sent--this gospel which says that God justifies the ungodly. It is happily available for you. It suits you perfectly, does it not? How I wish that you would accept it! If you are a sensible man, you will see the remarkable grace of God in providing for such men as you, and you will say to yourself, "Justify the ungodly! Why then should I not be justified, and justified at once?"
If there is a physician who has discovered a sure and precious remedy, to whom is that physician sent? To those who are perfectly healthy? I think not. Put him down in a district where there are no sick persons, and he feels that he is not in his place. There is nothing for him to do. "The whole have no need of a physician, but they that are sick." Is it not equally clear that the great remedies of grace and redemption are for the sick in soul? If you, dear friend, feel that you are spiritually sick, the Physician has come into the world for you. Jesus seeks and saves those who are lost.
Do not attempt to touch yourself up and make yourself something other than you really are, but come as you are to Him who justifies the ungodly. The gospel will receive you into its halls if you come as a sinner, not otherwise. Wait not for reformation, but come at once for salvation. God justifies the ungodly, and that means you as you now are; it meets you in your worst estate. Come to your heavenly Father in all your sin and sinfulness. Come to Jesus just as you are: leprous, filthy, naked, neither fit to live nor fit to die. Come, though you hardly dare to hope for anything but death. Come, though despair is brooding over you, pressing upon you like a horrible nightmare. Come and ask the Lord to justify another ungodly one. Why should He not? Come, for this great mercy of God is meant for such as you are.
I put it in the language of the text, and I cannot put it more strongly. The Lord God Himself takes to Himself this gracious title, "Him who justifies the ungodly." Those who by nature are ungodly, He makes just and causes to be treated as just. Is not this a wonderful word for you?
All of Grace
Read William Nevin's sermon on Micah 7:18, "Who is a God like unto thee, who pardons iniquity?"
* * * * *
"And they reported to Sisera that Barak the son of Abinoam had gone up to Mount Tabor. So Sisera gathered together all his chariots . . . and all the people who were with him, from Harosheth Hagoyim to the River Kishon . . . Barak went down from Mount Tabor with ten thousand men following him. And Yahweh routed Sisera and all his chariots and all his army with the edge of the sword before Barak; and Sisera alighted from his chariot and fled away on foot . . . to the tent of Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite; for there was peace between Jabin king of Hazor and the house of Heber the Kenite. And Jael went out to meet Sisera and said to him, Turn aside, my lord, turn aside to me; do not fear . . . Then Jael took a tent peg and took a hammer in her hand, and went softly to him and drove the peg into his temple, and it went down into the ground; for he was fast asleep and weary. So he died." (Judges 4:12-21)
Sisera and all his chariots, even nine hundred chariots of iron, and all the people that were with him were encamped on the plain. Barak, accompanied by the heroic Deborah, with ten thousand courageous men of Naphtali and Zebulun from Kedesh, occupied Mount Tabor. On the morning of that eventful day, probably long before it was light, Deborah set the army in motion with the energetic command and animating promise, "Up! For this is the day in which the LORD has delivered Sisera into your hand. Has not the LORD gone out before you?" Rapidly they descended the mountain and crossed over below Nain into the valley of Jezreel, inclining to the left to avoid the low and marshy ground, and by the first faint light of morning were upon the sleeping host of the Canaanites.
This assault, wholly unexpected, threw the Canaanites into instant and irrecoverable confusion. Only half awake, they fled in dismay down the plain, hotly pursued by the victorious Barak. God also fought against them: "They fought from the heavens; the stars from their courses fought against Sisera." Josephus adds that a storm from the east beat furiously in the faces of the Canaanites, but only on the backs of the Jews. It was certainly this storm which swelled the Kishon. The army of Sisera naturally sought to regain the strongly fortified Harosheth of the Gentiles, from which they had marched to their camping ground a short time before. The narrative of the battle leads us to seek it somewhere down the Kishon, for only in that direction would they flee from an attack coming from the northeast. It was probably at the lower end of the narrow pass through which the Kishon flows out of Esdraelon into the plain of Acre.
The victorious Barak is behind them. On their left are the hills of Samaria, in the hand of their enemies. On their right is the swollen river and marshes of eth Thorah. The only alternative is to make for the narrow pass which leads from Esdraelon to Harosheth, a part of the plain perfectly level but extremely muddy during the wet season. Between the hills of Samaria and those of Galilee on the opposite side is a vale for the Kishon, which becomes more and more narrow until within the pass it is only a few rods wide. And there the horses, chariots, and men become mixed in horrible confusion, jostling and treading down one another. Swifter and deeper than above, the Kishon zigzags until it reaches the perpendicular base of Carmel. There is no longer any possibility of avoiding it. Rank upon rank, the fleeing Canaanites plunge madly in, those behind crushing those in front. Then we read, "the torrent of Kishon swept them away."
It is recorded that "Sisera alighted from his chariot and fled away on foot." How did it come to pass that Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, is found so near the battlefield that Sisera could flee to her tent? We are told in the narrative that their home was near Kedesh, two days' travel to the northeast.
An incident that happened to me may explain why Heber was found upon this plain at the time of the battle. With a guide from Nazareth, I once crossed the lower part of Esdraelon in the winter. It was then full of Arab tents. Their home was in the mountains north of Nazareth, but they came down to pass the cold months of winter below. This was the very thing, I suppose, that Heber and his tribe of Kenites did in the days of Jael. The text mentions that Heber the Kenite, who was of the children of Hobab, had severed himself from the Kenites and pitched his tent on the plain of Zaanaim, which is by Kedesh. Heber probably migrated to that distant region for the simple reason that it was under the government of his ally Jabin. We need by no means take for granted, however, that because the Kenites were not at war with the tyrannical Jabin, that therefore they were treated with justice. It may have been from fear and the inability to protect themselves, or because they could not throw off the galling yoke, that they were at peace. It is nearly certain that in those lawless times the defenseless Kenites would be oppressed by Jabin and would gladly embrace any opportunity to escape his intolerable bondage. Their deliverer, therefore, would be esteemed a patriot and hero, not a murderer.
Even if it be supposed that Jabin was a kind friend and just protector of the Kenites, it still does not follow that Jael might not have had special reason to fear and hate Sisera himself. He had command of the immediate neighborhood where the Kenites were encamped, and, unless he differed from modern commanders of Eastern armies, he would most certainly abuse them or allow them to be insulted by those in his command. Jael might have thus been injured in the highest degree, if not by Sisera, by some of his lewd captains. Or there may have been a recent blood feud between their tribe and he or his family. This would not only justify Jael according to the law of retribution, but render it obligatory upon her and every one of the tribe to take revenge upon their common enemy, as is done even to this day among the Druses and Bedawin Arabs.
It may be assumed as nearly certain that Jael would not have ventured upon this daring act unless she knew that her husband and her whole tribe would not only justify but rejoice in it as a righteous retribution upon their oppressor, and as the means of escape from an intolerable bondage against which they were watching for an opportunity to revolt. Even on the nearly incredible supposition that neither the Kenites nor Jael herself had any cause of complaint against Sisera, we still may fairly conclude that they were believers in Israel's God, and friends of his people. Their whole history confirms this. Therefore, they must have been deeply grieved at the cruel oppression which their brethren suffered from Sisera.
The reason why it is mentioned that the Kenites were neutral in this war was not to give the idea that they were under any obligation to take sides with Sisera, or to protect him if defeated. It was necessary simply in order to account for the Kenites being down on Esdraelon when the army of Sisera was there. It deserves to be remembered that if the Kenites had attempted to shield and aid Sisera after his defeat, they would have rendered themselves partisans in the war on the losing side, and might have been treated as enemies by the now victorious Israelites.
On the whole, I conclude that if all the circumstances and influences which impelled Jael to the daring act and sustained her in it were known, we should find that she violated neither the customs of her people and laws of war then in force, nor the abstract and greater laws of righteousness, by thus destroying the enemy of God's people and the oppressor of her own, who from necessity sought in her tent an asylum to which he had no right. Under these impressions, I can join with Deborah in celebrating Jael and her deed.
The Land and The Book, Vol. 11
A somewhat related subject is covered in "Did the Lord Instruct Samuel to Lie?" by Graham Gilmer.
* * * * *
"I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth." (Revelation 3:15,16)
My present design is to expose the absurdity and wickedness of lukewarmness or indifference in religion, a disease that has spread its deadly contagion far and wide and calls for a speedy cure. If there be a God (as religion teaches), then he is the most glorious and lovely Being. Nothing can be so important to us as his favor, and nothing so terrible as his displeasure. If he be our Maker, Benefactor, and Judge, then it must be our greatest concern to serve him with all our might. If Jesus Christ be such a Saviour as our religion represents and we profess to believe, then he demands our warmest love and most lively service. If eternity, heaven and hell, and the final judgment are awful realities, then the most weighty concerns of the present life are but trifles in comparison. If prayer and other religious exercises are our duty, then certainly they require all the vigor of our souls. Nothing can be more absurd or incongruous than to perform them in a languid, spiritless manner.
Consider who and what God is. He is the original uncreated beauty, the sum total of all natural and moral perfections, the origin of all the excellencies that are scattered throughout this glorious universe. He sustains the most majestic and endearing relations to us--our Father, our Preserver and Benefactor, our Lawgiver and our Judge. And is such a Being to be put off with heartless, lukewarm services? What can be more absurd or impious than to dishonor this supreme excellency with a languid love and esteem; to trifle in the presence of the most venerable Majesty; to treat the best of Beings with indifference; to be careless about our duty to such a Father; to return such a Benefactor only insipid complimentary expressions of gratitude; to be dull and spiritless in obedience to such a lawgiver; and to be indifferent about the favor or displeasure of such a Judge! I appeal to heaven and earth to attest if this be not the most shocking conduct imaginable. Does not your reason pronounce it horrid and most daringly wicked? And yet thus is the great and blessed God treated by mankind in general. It is most astonishing that God should bear with such treatment so long.
Are there not some lukewarm Laodiceans in this assembly? Jesus knows your works, that you are neither cold nor hot; and it is fit that you also should know them. Are you not convinced, upon a little inquiry, that your hearts are habitually indifferent toward God? You may indeed entertain a speculative esteem or a good opinion of him, but are your souls alive toward him? Do they burn with his love? Are you fervent in spirit when you are serving him? Is lukewarmness a suitable return for that love which brought Christ down from his native paradise into our wretched world, kept his mind for thirty-three painful and tedious years intent upon the salvation of sinners, rendered him cheerfully patient of the shame, curse, and tortures of crucifixion? Is it a suitable return for that love which makes him the sinner’s friend still in the courts of heaven, where he appears as our prevailing Advocate and Intercessor?
My fellow-sinners, you who are the objects of all this love, can you put him off with languid devotions and faint services? If so, then every grateful and generous passion is extinct in your souls. Was Christ indifferent about your salvation? Was his love lukewarm toward you? No. Your salvation was the object of his most intense application night and day through the whole course of his life, and it lay nearest his heart in the agonies of death. His love! what shall I say of it? What language can describe its strength and ardor? Never was a father more anxious to rescue an only son from the hands of a murderer, or to pluck him out of the fire, than Jesus was to save perishing sinners. Do you not expect everlasting happiness from him, purchased at the expense of his own blood? And can you hope for such an immense blessing without feeling yourselves most sensibly obliged to him? Can you hope he will do so much for you, yet be content to do nothing for him or hurry through his service with lukewarmness and languor? Can anything be more absurd or impious than this? If this be your habitual temper, then you may expect he will reject you with the most nauseating disgust and abhorrence.
View a lukewarm professor in prayer. He pays to an omniscient God the compliment of a bended knee, yet in addressing the Supreme Majesty of heaven and earth, he hardly recollects in whose presence he is or to whom he is speaking. It were as if he were worshiping without an object, pouring out empty words into the air. Perhaps through the entire prayer he had not one solemn, affecting thought of that God whose name he so often invoked. Here is a needy, famishing beggar pleading for such immense blessings as everlasting salvation and the joys of heaven, yet so lukewarmly and thoughtlessly that one would think he did not care whether his requests were granted or not. He is an obnoxious offender confessing his sins with a heart untouched with sorrow, worshiping the living God with a dead heart, making great requests which are forgotten as soon as he rises from his knees. Can there be a more shocking, impious, and daring conduct than this? For a criminal to catch flies or play with a feather when pleading with his judge for his pardon would be but a faint shadow of such religious trifling. Such prayers are an abomination to the Lord.
We shall now consider the Word of God. You believe it to be divine, you profess it the standard of your religion and the most excellent book in the world. It is God that speaks to you; it is God that sends you a letter when you are reading or hearing his word. How impious and provoking, then, must it be to neglect it and let it lie by you as an antiquated, useless book. How impious must it be to read it in a careless, superficial manner and hear it with an inattentive, wandering mind? How would you like it if, when you spoke to your servant about his own interest, he should turn away and ignore you? Would you like it if you wrote a letter to your son and he did not carefully read it or labor to understand it? But do not some of you treat the sacred oracles in this manner? One would think you would be all attention and would reverence every word, drink it in, feel its energy, and acquire the character of that happy man to whom the God of heaven condescends to look upon.
Consider how earnest and active men are in other pursuits--full of energy, fire, and hurry. What labor and toil! What schemes and contrivances! What solicitude about success! What fears of disappointment! Hands, heads, hearts, all busy. And all this to procure those enjoyments which at best they cannot long retain and which, the next hour, may be torn from them. What hardships are undergone, dangers confronted, rivers of blood shed to acquire a name or obtain riches and honors! On sea and land, at home and abroad, you will find men eagerly pursuing some temporal good. Here men act like themselves; they show they are alive and endowed with powers of great activity. And shall they be zealous and laborious in the pursuit of earthly vanities but quite indifferent and sluggish in the infinitely more important concerns of eternity? Solicitous about a mortal body but careless about an immortal soul!
If you are possessed with this Laodicean spirit, I beseech you, indulge it no longer. It mars all your religion and will end in your eternal ruin. Let the best of us lament our lukewarmness and earnestly seek more fervor of spirit. You know where to apply. Christ is your life, so cry to him for the communication of it. “Lord Jesus! A little more life, a little more vital heat to this languishing soul, I pray.”
Sermons on Important Subjects, Vol. 1
Did Demas belong to this group of Lukewarm Christians? You might like John Rachoy's article, "A Note on Demas".
* * * * *
"It is an honor for a man to cease from strife;
but every fool will be meddling."
Strife is best let alone altogether --"left off before it be meddled with." But suppose, in any case, strife [is already] begun. Is it an honor still to cease from it? Solomon says it is. This is not the world's view of the matter; not the view which human nature (that nature as it exists and operates, whether fully or in conflict with a better in every one of us) is disposed to like or to dictate. Quite the contrary. When we have started a controversy, how trivial soever the matter in debate may be, how fond we naturally are to have the last word! To let our adversary have it is the keenest mortification. When it is affirmation against affirmation, if he persists in repeating his, we persist in repeating ours. We feel as if the victory depended on who should say it last! We get impatient, our voice rises, our face flushes, our eyes kindle, and our utterance is choked with passion. Or, on the contrary, knowing the temper of our opponent, we keep ourselves provokingly calm, and by our very calmness--cool and scornful--stir up with secret delight all his hasty passions, all the fuel of his fiery spirit.
If a man of the world's honor has sent a challenge, he is bound to stand to the very last upon every punctilio which the law of that honor has fixed, and to fight it out till the honor of the last shot is determined by the fall of his adversary or himself. The man of a litigious spirit, having once instituted his process and begun his suit, feels himself bound in honor (not the honor of high principle towards another, but a jealous and proud determination to maintain his own) to prosecute to the utmost; to go from the lowest court up to the highest, never resting short of the last appeal. No matter what the value of the litigated object may be--though a mere trifle--he must risk all that he is worth rather than give in; be ruined rather than yield, because to yield is dishonor, so his pride and folly think.
How different, how opposite the principles and maxims of the Bible! "It is an honor to a man to cease from strife." This is just saying what, after all, must find the assent of every sound and calmly-thinking judgment:  that it is "an honor" to a man to have the command of his own passions;  that it is "an honor" to a man not to tamper selfishly and recklessly with the passions of others;  that it is "an honor" to a man to keep his ear candidly open to reason; and when convinced, to yield to truth;  that it is "an honor" to a man not only to shun quarrels, but when (in spite of the apostle's warning--"if it be possible, as much as lies in you live peaceably with all men") he has unhappily been unable to avoid falling into one, to look at the cause of it with fairness; to admit the equity of every equitable claim and the reasonableness of every reasonable explanation. And when he discovers in his opponent an indomitable spirit of stubbornness, passion, and pride--with which there is obviously no dealing, and which there is no hope of bringing to anything like calm and fair settlement--instead of persisting, quietly leaving him to himself, rather than making matters worse by imitating his spirit;  that it is "an honor" to a man never to go unjustly or even needlessly to law with others; and when obliged to have recourse to it, never to persist further in a process than is necessary to ascertain with clearness what the law of the case is; never either to institute a plea or to maintain and urge it on for pleading's sake and in the spirit of reckless and resentful pride, but to be rather the last to begin and the first to give up.
In a word, the spirit of peace and love and concord is the Bible spirit of "honor."
Lectures on the Book of Proverbs
* * * * *
"And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice,
and yielded up His spirit."
It was the world's blackest hour. It was the world's brightest hour. This is the paradox of the cross. It was the blackest hour because human hate came to its fiercest focus. It was the brightest hour because divine love came to its fullest flower. There, hate was seen in all its heinous horror. But there also, love revealed the heart of God.
Calvary stands at the crossroads of human history. All the divine paths of the past led to it. All the divine paths of the present and future lead from it. At the cross, all the sin of the ages was placed on the heart of the sinless Son of God, as he became the racial representative of all humanity. From the cross, salvation flows to every believing soul. This is the Gospel, the greatest good news the world has ever heard.
The death of Jesus differed from that of every other man. He "dismissed his spirit." His was a completely voluntary decease: "No man takes it from me, but I lay it down of myself." Death was not forced upon him. He accepted it as the will of God for the salvation of man. What did Jesus' death mean for him? The answer is best suggested by his prayer in Gethsemane. There he cried out in agony of soul, "O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me." Then, he bowed his head in humble submission and said, "Nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt."
What was this cup from which he prayed to be delivered? Carping critics have said that Jesus cringed with cowardly fear at the thought of death. But such cavilers are utterly ignorant of the true significance of that hour. Jesus was not afraid to die! It was his Father's face turned away from him in the awful hour from which he shrank in anguish of spirit. Our substitute took the torturous trail of a lost soul, walking out into the labyrinthine depths of outer darkness. He tasted death for every man. That means more than physical death. He was paying the penalty for sin--not his, but ours. The penalty for sin is separation from God. This was the price that Jesus had to pay for our salvation. He who could say "I do always those things that please him," had to endure the displeasure of the one he delighted to serve.
In those few but fateful hours on the cross, Jesus tasted the unspeakable horror of eternal death. Olin Curtis has well expressed it thus: "And so, there alone, our Lord opens his mind, his heart, his personal consciousness to the whole inflow of the horror of sin--the endless history of it, from the first choice of selfishness on to the eternity of hell; the boundless ocean and desolation he allows, wave upon wave, to overwhelm his soul." This terrific cost reveals God's moral concern for sin. His holiness forbade him to treat it lightly. That he would forsake his Son shows the ethical intensity of the redemptive deed.
What does Jesus' death mean to us? First, it means that a guilty sinner has access to a holy God. This was symbolized by the fact that at Jesus' death the inner veil, which closed off the Holy of Holies, was torn in two. Second, it means the forgiveness of sins. The essential thing in forgiveness is the separation of the sinner from his sin. This required Calvary. Third, it involves the crucifixion of self. His crucifixion must become our crucifixion. What was potential and provisional at Calvary must become actual and experimental in our own lives.
Without the resurrection, the crucifixion would have been in vain. Brunner asserts: "On the resurrection everything else depends." It was the resurrection that validated the atoning death of Jesus and gave it value. It proved that his sacrifice for sins had been accepted. The whole redemptive scheme would have fallen apart without it. For by his resurrection, Jesus Christ became the first fruits of a new race, a new humanity.
The resurrection holds a more prominent place in the New Testament as a whole than in modern preaching, even that of evangelicals. Alan Richardson asserts: "Every book in the New Testament declares or assumes that Christ rose from the dead." One striking feature of early apostolic preaching is the emphasis not only on Christ's rising from the dead, but on the fact that God raised him. The resurrection was a divine act. It is the keystone of the Christian faith. Without it, we have no salvation from sin and no hope of our own resurrection.
Actual descriptions of the ascension are very limited in number and scope. Only two specific passages can be cited, both written by Luke. But as Floyd Filson notes, "...eleven New Testament books, by at least seven different writers, refer clearly to this Exaltation. It obviously was a constant feature of early Christian preaching and teaching."
It should be noted in this connection that the resurrection and ascension are very closely united in the apostolic kerygma [proclamation]. Together they constitute the exaltation of the crucified Christ. The significance of the ascension is clear. It means that Jesus Christ was exalted to the right hand of the Father, there to receive his proper place as Sovereign Lord. But it also suggests that he carried his humanity with him back to heaven. This idea is emphasized in Hebrews where it is stated that since he shared our human experiences, he is able to be a merciful and faithful High Priest.
The death, resurrection, ascension--these were epochal events in human history. But have they become epoch-making experiences in our individual lives? Do we know Christ in the forgiveness of our sins, in identification with him on the cross, in the crucifixion of self? Do we know him in the power of his resurrection? Have we accepted him as Sovereign Lord of our lives?
Basic Christian Doctrines (edited by Carl F. H. Henry)
Please read Robert Culver's short book of six chapters on Isaiah 53, "The Sufferings and the Glory of the Lord's Righteous Servant".
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"Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away
before all these things take place."
This has been regarded as a hard saying by those who take it to refer to Christ's second advent, his coming in glory. If Jesus really affirmed that this event would take place within a generation from the time of speaking (which was only a few days before his arrest and execution), then, it is felt, he was mistaken, and this is for many an unacceptable conclusion.
Some students of the New Testament who do not concede that Jesus might have been mistaken are nevertheless convinced that the reference is indeed to his glorious advent. If 'all these things' must denote the events leading up to the advent and the advent itself, then some other interpretation, they say, will have to be placed on 'this generation'. Other meanings which the Greek noun genea (here translated 'generation') bears in certain contexts are canvassed. The word is sometimes used in the sense of 'race', so perhaps, it is suggested, the point is that the Jewish race, or even the human race, will not pass away before the second advent. Plainly the idea that the human race is meant cannot be entertained; every description of that event implies that human beings will be around to witness it, for otherwise it would have no context to give it any significance. Nor is there much more to be said for the idea that the Jewish race is meant. There is no hint anywhere in the New Testament that the Jewish race will cease to exist before the end of the world. In any case, what point would there be in such a vague prediction? It would be as much as to say, 'At some time in the indefinite future all these things will take place.'
'This generation' is a recurring phrase in the Bible, and each time it is used it bears the ordinary sense of the people belonging, as we say, to one fairly comprehensive age-group. One desperate attempt to combine the recognition of this fact with a reference to the second advent in the text and yet exonerate Jesus from being mistaken in his forecast, is to take 'this generation' to mean not 'this generation now alive' but 'the generation which will be alive at the time about which I am speaking'. The meaning would then be, 'The generation on earth when these things begin to take place will still be on earth when they are all completed; all these things will take place within the span of one generation.'
Is this at all probable? I think not. When we are faced with the problem of understanding a hard saying, it is always a safe procedure to ask, "What would it have meant to the people who first heard it?" And there can be but one answer to this question. Jesus' hearers could have understood him to mean only that 'all these things' would take place within their generation. Not only does 'generation' in the phrase 'this generation' always mean the people alive at one particular time, the phrase itself always means 'the generation now living.'
But what are 'all these things' which are due to take place before 'this generation' passes away? Jesus was speaking in response to a question put to him by four of his disciples. They were visiting Jerusalem for the Passover, and the disciples were impressed by the architectural grandeur of the temple, so recently restored and enlarged by Herod. "Look, Teacher," said one of them, "what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!" Jesus replied, "Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down." This aroused their curiosity and, seizing an opportunity when they were with him on the Mount of Olives, looking across to the temple area, four of them asked, "Tell us, when will this be? And what will be the sign when all these things are to be accomplished?" (Mark 13:1-4).
In the disciples' question, 'all these things' are the destruction of the temple and attendant events. It seems reasonable to regard the hard saying as summing up the answer to their question. If so, then 'all these things' will have the same meaning in question and answer. The hard saying will then mean, 'this generation will not pass away before' the temple is totally destroyed. It is well known that the temple was actually destroyed by the Romans under the crown prince Titus in August of A.D. 70, not more than forty years after Jesus spoke.
But if that is what the saying means, why should it have been thought to predict the last advent within that generation? Because, in the discourse which intervenes between verse 4 and verse 30 of Mark 13, other subject-matter is interwoven with the forecast of the time of trouble leading up to the disaster of A.D. 70. In particular, there is the prediction of 'the Son of man coming in clouds with power and great glory' and sending out his angels to 'gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven' (vss. 26-27). Some interpreters have taken this to be a highly figurative description of the divine judgment which many Christians, and not only Christians, saw enacted in the Roman siege and destruction of Jerusalem; but it is difficult to agree with them.
Mark probably wrote his Gospel four or five years before A.D. 70. When he wrote, the fall of the temple and the coming of the Son of man lay alike in the future, and he had no means of knowing whether or not there would be a substantial lapse of time between these two events. Even so, he preserves in the same context another saying of Jesus relating to the time of a future event: "But of that day or that hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father." But what is the day or hour to which it refers? Certainly not the day or hour of the destruction of the temple: what the whole context emphasizes about that event is its nearness and certainty. The event whose timing is known to none but the Father cannot be anything other than the coming of the Son of man described in verse 26.
Luke, as he reproduces the substance of the discourse of Mark 13:5-30, lays more emphasis on the fate of Jerusalem, the city as well as the temple: "Jerusalem will be trodden down by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled" (Luke 21:24). Matthew, writing his Gospel probably a short time after the destruction of the temple, could see, as Mark naturally could not, the separation in time between that event and the coming of the Son of man. For Matthew, the one event had taken place while the other was still future. He rewords the disciples' question to Jesus so that it refers to both events distinctly and explicitly. Jesus, as in Mark, foretells how not one stone of the temple will be left standing on another, and the disciples say, "Tell us, (a) when will these things be, and (b) what will be the sign of your coming and of the close of the age? (Matt. 24:3). Then, at the end of the following discourse, Jesus answers their twofold question by saying that (a) "this generation will not pass away till all these things take place" (Matt. 24:34) while, (b) with regard to his coming and 'the close of the age', he tells them that 'of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only" (Matt. 24:36). The distinction between the two predictions is clear in Matthew, for whom the earlier of the two predicted events now lay in the past; but it was already implicit, though not so clear, in Mark.
The Hard Sayings of Jesus
Be sure to read Ken's paper, "The Structure of the Olivet Discourse". Scroll down to page 20 to find the section on the "fig tree generation."
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"Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all things take place."
People who apply Matthew 24 in a figurative way to the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus are obliged to make out that the coming of the Son of man from heaven is a mere figure, representing the providential acting of God through Titus to put down the Jews. But Luke 21 gives a complete refutation to this idea. For here the Spirit of God shows that Jerusalem has been taken, and the Gentile times run on. When they are about to expire, the Son of man comes in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory -- hundreds of years after Titus. The closing scene is brought in as finishing up, or consequent on, the times of the Gentiles.
But there is more. "And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draws nigh." And then, a little further on (verse 32), we find this remarkable expression, "Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass away till all be fulfilled." It is a misuse of this term which has led to a good deal of the confusion on the subject. When does the phrase "this generation" come in? After the Son of man has already come in power and glory -- not when they saw Jerusalem compassed with armies. That is an important point to help in determining its true meaning. If "this generation" really meant a man's lifetime, such a place in the prophecy would be incongruous. The vulgar notion might have been reasonable if the phrase occurred just at the compassing of Jerusalem with armies. But it has no sense if put in after the times of the Gentiles are accomplished. So that "this generation," if taken temporally, must plainly embrace a scope of eighteen centuries at the least.
What then, is its true force? It means (what it does very often in Scripture) this Christ-rejecting race of Israel, and not a mere period of time. It is used in a moral sense to describe a race acting after a particular way, good or evil. Moses, reproaching them, says, "They have corrupted themselves . . . they are a perverse and crooked generation. . . . . And He said, I will hide My face from them, I will see what their end shall be; for they are a very froward generation" (Deut. 32). Here, most clearly, their moral condition as a people is meant, and not the time in which this was manifested.
In the Psalms we have a further key to the proper meaning. Thus, in Psalm 12, "Thou shalt keep them, O Lord, Thou shalt preserve them from this generation for ever." If by "generation" were merely meant a term of thirty or forty years, what sense would there be in the words "for ever"? This refers not at all to a course of a few years, but to the moral state of a people, and that of the people of Israel.
In like manner, the force of the words in Luke is quite plain. "This generation shall not pass away till all be fulfilled." The race of Israel still going on in unbelief and rejection of Christ is what the Lord means. He is saying, as it were, I will prepare you for the terrible truth: that this Christ-rejecting generation is to continue till all these things are fulfilled. Apart from prophecy, how could such an issue have been anticipated? For it might have been supposed that, while Christianity was going over the whole earth and making conquests everywhere, if one nation more than another was to be brought under the power of Christ it must be Israel, loved for the fathers' sake. But no. The Jews are to proceed in the same unbelief. There might be a line of faithful ones among them, but the wicked generation which Christ then denounced shall not pass away till all is fulfilled. And what will follow? Even as the Psalms say, "the generation to come." Israel will be born again, will have a new heart given them. Then are they to be the people that shall praise the Lord.
This, I must add, entirely falls in with the rest of Scripture. For the Lord, under the figure of a fruitless fig tree, had set forth the then Israel. On that tree He consequently pronounced a curse. When it is said in one of the Gospels that the time of figs was not yet, it means the season of their ripeness or of their ingathering was not yet arrived. Hence the figs could not have been taken from the tree. Had it borne any, they must have been there. It was merely when the figs were still unripe that our Lord came to seek fruit. But there was not one. There was plentiful profession -- leaves, but no fruit. Therefore said He: "Let no fruit grow on thee henceforward for ever!" Such, in figure, is "this generation." But how is that to be reconciled with Israel's being to the praise of the Lord by-and-bye? Israel must be born again. "This generation" will never produce fruit for the Lord. It is to be destroyed under the judgment of God, and a new race will be born. The type of the past makes room for a striking figure of the future.
The Great Prophecies of Daniel
More on the "the fig tree generation" by Henry Frost (scroll down and start at section 45). Two other sources you might like to consult are An Original Harmony and Exposition of the Twenty-fourth Chapter of Matthew, and the Parallel Passages in Mark and Luke: Comprising a Review of the Common Figurative Theories of Interpretation by D. D. Buck, and sermons 2 and 3 of Sermons by Samuel Horsley.
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"All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of god may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work." (2 Timothy 3:16,17)
It is very common for professing Christians to draw a distinction between essentials and non-essentials in religion, and to infer that if any fact or doctrine rightly belongs to the latter class, it must be a matter of very little importance, and may in practice be safely set at nought. The great bulk of men take their opinions on trust; they will not undergo the toil of thinking, searching, and reasoning about anything, and one of the most usual expedients adopted to save them the trouble of inquiry, and to turn aside the force of any disagreeable fact, is to meet it by saying, "The matter is not essential to salvation; therefore we need give ourselves little concern on the subject."
If the distinction here specified is safe, the inference drawn from it is certainly dangerous. To say that, because a fact of Divine revelation is not essential to salvation it must of necessity be unimportant, and may or may not be received by us, is to assert a principle, the application of which would make havoc of our Christianity. For, what are the truths essential to salvation? Are they not these: That there is a God; that all men are sinners; that the Son of God died upon the cross to make atonement for the guilty; and that whosoever believes on the Lord Jesus Christ shall be saved? There is good reason for believing that not a few souls are now in happiness, who in life knew little more than these--the first principles of the oracles of God, the very alphabet of the Christian system. And if so, no other Divine truths can be counted absolutely essential to salvation. But if all the other truths of revelation are unimportant because they happen to be non-essentials, it follows that the Word of God itself is in the main unimportant; for by far the greatest portion of it is occupied with matters, the knowledge of which, in the case supposed, is not absolutely indispensable to the everlasting happiness of men. Nor does it alter the case if we regard the number of fundamental truths to be much greater. Let a man once persuade himself that importance attaches only to what he is pleased to call essentials, whatever their number, and he will, no doubt, shorten his creed and cut away the foundation of many controversies; but he will practically set aside all except a very small part of the Scriptures. If such a principle does not mutilate the Bible, it stigmatizes much of it as trivial. Revelation is all gold for preciousness and purity, but the very touch of such a principle would transmute the most of it into dross.
Though every statement in the Scripture cannot be regarded as absolutely essential to salvation, yet everything there is essential to some other wise and important end, else it would not find a place in the good Word of God. Human wisdom may be baffled in attempting to specify the design of every truth that forms a component part of Divine revelation, but eternity will show us that no portion of it is useless. All Scripture is profitable. A fact written therein may not be essential to human salvation, and yet it may be highly conducive to some other great and gracious purpose in the economy of God--it may be necessary for our personal comfort, for our guidance in life, or for our growth in holiness, and most certainly it is essential to the completeness of the system of Divine truth. The law of the Lord is perfect. Strike out of the Bible the truth that seems the most insignificant of all, and the law of the Lord would not be perfect any more. Every fact, great or small, that God has been pleased to insert in the Bible is, by its very position, invested with importance, answers its end, and, though perhaps justly considered as non-essential to salvation, does not deserve to be accounted as worthless.
Every Divine truth is important, though it may be that all Divine truths are not of equal importance. The simplest statement of the Bible is a matter of more concern to an immortal being than the most sublime sentiment of mere human genius. The one carries with it what the other cannot show--the stamp of the approval of God. The one comes to us from heaven, the other savors of the earth. The one has for us a special interest, as forming a constituent portion of that Word which is a message from God to each individual man; the other is the production of a mind merely human, to which we and all our interests were alike unknown. Any truth merely human should weigh with us light as a feather in comparison with the most insignificant of the truths of God. The faith of a Christian should strive to reach and grasp everything that God has honored with a place in that Word, the design of which is to be a light to our feet as we thread our way through this dark world. Besides, this, unlike every other book, is not doomed to perish. Heaven and earth may pass away, but the words of Christ shall not pass away. The seal of eternity is stamped on every verse of the Bible. This fact is enough of itself to make every line of it important.
The Apostolic Church, Which is it?
You might enjoy Ken's article entitled, "Who Is the King of Glory?".
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"And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed."
When Abraham lived in the midst of a pagan environment, God called him forth and commanded him to leave relatives, friends, and the land of his nativity with all of its cherished memories and associations and to journey to a land which He would show him. The call of God frequently involves separations, privations, and even persecutions. At first he failed to follow the Lord implicitly, in that he took his father and his nephew Lot along. Because of this failure he was not permitted to enter the promised Land until after his father's death. Disobedience always hinders or prevents the bestowal of the blessings of God. After his father's home-going when he was dwelling in Haran, the Lord called him again. At this time He entered into a sevenfold covenant with him.
"Now the Lord said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, unto the land that I will show thee: and I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and be thou a blessing: and I will bless them that bless thee, and him that curseth thee will I curse: and in thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed" (Gen. 12:1-3).
The heart and soul of this call and covenant are God's yearning desire to bless all families of the earth. In fact, no man is blessed simply and solely for his own enjoyment. On the contrary the Lord bestows His blessings upon men in order that they may pass on to others the good things received. . . .
Since the prediction is that all families of the earth shall be blessed in Abraham's seed, it is of the utmost importance to ascertain the significance of zera' seed in this promise. This word is derived from the verb which literally means to sow, or scatter seed. Hence in the primary sense it refers to the seed of plants (see Gen. 1:11; 47:19); in a secondary use it refers to the offspring or posterity of men. Like the English word seed, zera', though a singular noun, is frequently used in a collective sense. For instance, this usage appears in the statements, "I will make thy seed as the dust of the earth" (Gen. 13:16), "Know of a surety that thy seed shall be sojourners in a land that is not theirs" (Gen. 15:13), and "I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heavens" (Gen. 22:17). In these and many other passages seed unmistakably refers to the literal descendants of Abraham. On the other hand, many contexts where this same word is used in the singular show most clearly that it refers to a single individual. For example, in Adam's statement, "God hath appointed me another seed instead of Abel," the context shows that he is speaking specifically of Seth. Again, the same use appears in Hannah's prayer (1 Sam. 1:11): "If thou wilt indeed look on the affliction of thy handmaid, and remember me, and not forget thy handmaid, but wilt give unto thy handmaid a man-child" ( [Hebrew phrase] literally "seed of men"). The facts show that Hannah was asking for a son, which petition was fulfilled in the birth of Samuel. The same usage is found in 1 Samuel 2:20. In many other passages this same individual meaning appears.
Inasmuch as this word has both the individual and collective meanings, it is necessary to examine each context to ascertain its significance in any given case. What, therefore, is its meaning in the promise made to Abraham and reaffirmed to his son and grandson? The context must decide, if possible, and then the conclusion must be tested by other plain declarations of God's Word. In the original promise to Abraham (Gen. 12:3) and the restatement of it (Gen. 18:18) the Lord said that He purposed to bless the nations of earth in that patriarch. After he by faith attempted to sacrifice Isaac, God revealed more specifically the way in which He would bless the world in him, namely, in his seed: "In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed" (Gen. 22:18). To Isaac (Gen. 26:4) and to Jacob (Gen. 28:14) God gave the same assurances.
In order to determine its specific meaning in this wonderful and far-reaching promise, we must examine two predictions made in connection with it. First, the Lord affirms that He will bless all nations through Abraham's seed. The question arises at once: Has the world been blessed, in the way and to the extent contemplated in this promise, through the literal descendants of Abraham? Undoubtedly a blessing has flowed out to the world through the Hebrew people. No intelligent, informed person will question this statement. Israel has been used mightily during the past in keeping alive the knowledge of the true God. But the promise is that all nations shall be blessed in this seed, that is, all nations shall receive the blessing of God through the seed. No one acquainted with history and present conditions will affirm that the world has been signally blessed as pledged in these passages. The promise includes the acceptation and appropriation of the blessing as well as the offer of it. Since such is not the case, we may be sure that the promise has not yet been realized through Israel.
In the second place, the Lord assured Abraham, "thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies" (Gen. 22:17). A slight knowledge of the past and the present proves that in no sense have the Hebrew people enjoyed the realization of this prediction. To the contrary, we see that the nations of earth have greatly mistreated the Chosen People. Israel has been properly called the football of the nations. Her history for nearly three thousand five hundred years, with short respites now and then, has been written in blood. In no sense have the Hebrew people possessed the gate of their enemies. For the reasons discussed in this paragraph and the preceding one, therefore, we cannot believe that seed in these passages primarily refers to Abraham's literal descendants. It may, and doubtless does, include them but its primary meaning unquestionably is that of an individual of the race who shall bring this universal blessing and relief from the curse.
In our study thus far we have seen that deliverance from the curse is to come through an individual, "the seed of the woman" (Gen. 3:15). Since men cannot be blessed and enjoy life so long as sin, sickness, and sorrow prevail and the curse remains, and since these evils will be banished only when "the seed of the woman" triumphs over the great enemy of mankind, it follows that the blessing of the nations will come as a result of His conquest of Satan, the adversary. When, therefore, the Abrahamic covenant is studied in the light of these early predictions, it becomes clear that He who is called "the seed of the woman" is here called "thy (Abraham's) seed." . . .
Habakkuk portrays very graphically the conquest of the Lord when He comes as a mighty warrior. (See Hab. 3:1-15.) The inspired psalmist likewise gave a vivid picture of the conquests of the King concerning whom he sang in Psalm 45. In fact, most of the prophets delivered messages of the final triumphs of this same one.
In the light of all the facts one logically concludes that the seed of Abraham in these passages does not primarily refer to the nation of Israel, though she doubtless is included in the prediction, but to an individual of the race who can properly be called the seed of Abraham.
The primeval prediction simply foretold the coming of one who should be in a special and peculiar sense the seed of the woman. The oracle affirms that this future world deliverer, though more than man according to the necessary inferences of the forecast, is nevertheless a man--the man par excellence. In the prophecy of Noah the statement relative to the deliverer becomes more specific in that it is narrowed to the Semitic world. The Abrahamic covenant limits it still more by restricting the promise to the seed of Abraham. Therefore the descendants of Abraham have correctly contended that the Prince of Peace will come to the world through the Hebrew race.
Messiah: His Nature and Person
Note: Cooper had the Hebrew word where we have given its transliteration into English letters.
Genesis is a fascinating book. You may want to check out this "Introduction to Genesis" by W. H. Griffith Thomas.
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O Lord our Lord, there is none like Thee in heaven above or in the earth beneath. Thine is the greatness and the dignity and the majesty. All that is in the heaven and the earth is Thine; Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever, O God, and Thou art exalted as head over all. Amen
When we speak of God as transcendent, we mean of course that He is exalted far above the created universe, so far above that human thought cannot imagine it. To think accurately about this, however, we must keep in mind that ”far above” does not here refer to physical distance from the earth but to quality of being. We are concerned not with location in space nor with mere altitude, but with life.
God is spirit, and to Him magnitude and distance have no meaning. To us they are useful as analogies and illustrations, so God refers to them constantly when speaking down to our limited understanding. The words of God as found in Isaiah, ”Thus says the high and lofty One that inhabits eternity,” give a distinct impression of altitude, but that is because we who dwell in a world of matter, space, and time tend to think in material terms and can grasp abstract ideas only when they are identified in some way with material things. In its struggle to free itself from the tyranny of the natural world, the human heart must learn to translate upward the language the Spirit uses to instruct us.
It is spirit that gives significance to matter, and apart from spirit nothing has any value at last. A little child strays from a party of sightseers and becomes lost on a mountain, and immediately the whole mental perspective of the members of the party is changed. Rapt admiration for the grandeur of nature gives way to acute distress for the lost child. The group spreads out over the mountainside anxiously calling the child’s name and searching eagerly into every secluded spot where the little one might chance to be hidden.
What brought about this sudden change? The tree-clad mountain is still there towering into the clouds in breath-taking beauty, but no one notices it now. All attention is focused upon the search for a curly-haired little girl not yet two years old and weighing less than thirty pounds. Though so new and so small, she is more precious to parents and friends than all the huge bulk of the vast and ancient mountain they had been admiring a few minutes before. And in their judgment the whole civilized world concurs, for the little girl can love and laugh and speak and pray, and the mountain cannot. It is the child’s quality of being that gives it worth.
Yet we must not compare the being of God with any other as we just now compared the mountain with the child. We must not think of God as highest in an ascending order of beings, starting with the single cell and going on up from the fish to the bird to the animal to man to angel to cherub to God. This would be to grant God eminence, even pre-eminence, but that is not enough; we must grant Him transcendence in the fullest meaning of that word.
Forever God stands apart, in light unapproachable. He is as high above an archangel as above a caterpillar, for the gulf that separates the archangel from the caterpillar is but finite, while the gulf between God and the archangel is infinite. The caterpillar and the archangel, though far removed from each other in the scale of created things, are nevertheless one in that they are alike created. They both belong in the category of that-which-is-not-God and are separated from God by infinitude itself.
Reticence and compulsion forever contend within the heart that would speak of God.
How shall polluted mortals dare
To sing Thy glory or Thy grace?
Beneath Thy feet we lie afar,
And see but shadows of Thy face.
Yet we console ourselves with the knowledge that it is God Himself who puts it in our hearts to seek Him and makes it possible in some measure to know Him, and He is pleased with even the feeblest effort to make Him known.
If some watcher or holy one who has spent his glad centuries by the sea of fire were to come to earth, how meaningless to him would be the ceaseless chatter of the busy tribes of men. How strange to him and how empty would sound the flat, stale and profitless words heard in the average pulpit from week to week. And were such a one to speak on earth would he not speak of God? Would he not charm and fascinate his hearers with rapturous descriptions of the Godhead? And after hearing him could we ever again consent to listen to anything less than theology, the doctrine of God? Would we not thereafter demand of those who would presume to teach us that they speak to us from the mount of divine vision or remain silent altogether?
When the psalmist saw the transgression of the wicked, his heart told him how it could be. ”There is no fear of God before his eyes,” he explained, and in so saying revealed to us the psychology of sin. When men no longer fear God, they transgress His laws without hesitation. The fear of consequences is not deterrent when the fear of God is gone.
In olden days men of faith were said to ”walk in the fear of God” and to ”serve the Lord with fear.” However intimate their communion with God, however bold their prayers, at the base of their religious life was the conception of God as awesome and dreadful. This idea of God transcendent runs through the whole Bible and gives color and tone to the character of the saints. This fear of God was more than a natural apprehension of danger; it was a nonrational dread, an acute feeling of personal insufficiency in the presence of God the Almighty.
Wherever God appeared to men in Bible times, the results were the same--an overwhelming sense of terror and dismay, a wrenching sensation of sinfulness and guilt. When God spoke, Abram stretched himself upon the ground to listen. When Moses saw the Lord in the burning bush, he hid his face in fear to look upon God. Isaiah’s vision of God wrung from him the cry, ”Woe is me!” and the confession, ”I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips.” Daniel’s encounter with God was probably the most dreadful and wonderful of them all. The prophet lifted up his eyes and saw One whose ”body also was like the beryl, and his face as the appearance of lightning, and his eyes as lamps of fire, and his arms and his feet like in color to polished brass, and the voice of his words like the voice of a multitude.” ”I Daniel alone saw the vision” he afterwards wrote, ”for the men that were with me saw not the vision; but a great quaking fell upon them, so that they fled to hide themselves. Therefore I was left alone, and saw this great vision, and there remained no strength in me: for my comeliness was turned in me into corruption, and I retained no strength. Yet heard I the voice of his words: and when I heard the voice of his words, then was I in a deep sleep on my face, and my face toward the ground."
These experiences show that a vision of the divine transcendence soon ends all controversy between the man and his God. The fight goes out of the man and he is ready with the conquered Saul to ask meekly, ”Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?”
Conversely, the self-assurance of modern Christians, the basic levity present in so many of our religious gatherings, the shocking disrespect shown for the Person of God, are evidence enough of deep blindness of heart. Many call themselves by the name of Christ, talk much about God, and pray to Him sometimes, but evidently do not know who He is. ”The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life,” but this healing fear is today hardly found among Christian men.
Once in conversation with his friend Eckermann, the poet Goethe turned to thoughts of religion and spoke of the abuse of the divine name. ”People treat it,” he said, ”as if that incomprehensible and most high Being, who is even beyond the reach of thought, were only their equal. Otherwise they would not say ‘the Lord God, the dear God, the good God.’ This expression becomes to them, especially to the clergy, who have it daily in their mouths, a mere phrase, a barren name, to which no thought whatever is attached. If they were impressed by His greatness they would be dumb, and through veneration unwilling to name Him."
Lord of all being, throned afar,
Thy glory flames from sun and star;
Center and soul of every sphere,
Yet to each loving heart how near!
Lord of all life, below, above,
Whose light is truth, whose warmth is love,
Before Thy ever-blazing throne
We ask no luster of our own.
(Oliver Wendell Holmes)
The Knowledge of the Holy
You might also like Alexander McCaul's sermon on "The Scripture Doctrine of Church and State".
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"Who gave himself for us,
that he might redeem us from all iniquity."
Man's lost and desperate condition--requiring an atonement--is found in one shape and another on almost every page of the Bible. And his safety depends on knowing it, and the gospel was sent to acquaint him with it. Hence this must be a radical truth in every message which we carry from God to man. Moreover, we see men exhibit that temper and form those habits which would teach us their ruin, [even] if we had not been taught it from heaven. Now a truth that comes to us so confirmed we must receive and must proclaim. And if men will not believe it, or they do not choose to lay it to heart, we can only say with the prophet, "If ye will not hear, my soul shall weep in secret places for your pride."
If you can keep your apostasy a secret from your fellowmen, or from angels, or from devils, do! And if you can hide the shame of it, do! And if by such a course you can escape the dire consequences of that apostasy, do! We wish you safe and wish you happy. And if you know of a safer or happier course than this gospel presents, you have but to make the experiment. But then remember--if your experiment fails and you do not find out your ruin till death, you must not calculate that your mistake can then be corrected.
If you are conscious of some depravity and still cannot make up your mind to owe your redemption to the death of Christ, then you must reject the Bible or explain it as you can. The text says he gave himself for us. And we hear him say, "I lay down my life for the sheep." And many scriptures that have been quoted, and more that might be, seem evidently to put his blood in the place of ours, and heal us, if we are ever healed by his stripes.
Why object to the idea that he died for us? Does it too much degrade and blacken the human character that we must thus come as it were to the place of execution, and have the halter about our neck, and there stand and see another take our place and hang upon the tree in our stead? I know it will be the everlasting disgrace of our world that we should have so conducted [ourselves] as to render it necessary that Christ should die for us. But it will deepen our disgrace if we deny the fact and assign some other reason (not the true one) why the Lord of glory was hanged on a tree. We shall then crucify him afresh, and put him to open shame.
If his was not a vicarious death, why did he die? Do you answer, "Death has passed upon all men for that all have sinned." Then it seems you make him a sinner! But the good Book assures me that there was no guile found in his mouth. Satan came and found nothing in him. He was a Lamb without spot.
Do you say that he died to finish out his obedience? Obedience to what law? Does the law of God require that his perfectly obedient subjects should die? Or is death there made the wages of sin? I see no demand for his death unless he died for us, or was [himself] a sinner. If you are not driven to the same alternative and can invent a third reason more satisfactory, [then] you must adopt it and make the Bible bear you out in it if you can.
Do you object to this gospel because it requires that you be purified? Then it seems you doubt whether sin has polluted you! And if so, why have any gospel? Or [do] you choose to carry all your moral deformity with you into the grave and into eternity? And if [this be] so, then we understand you. You have only to let the gospel alone then and let others who would not choose to die in their sins have the benefit of its overtures.
Sermons, Vol. III
Don't neglect to read Robert Culver's chapter, "The Atonement of the Servant of the Lord", a study on Isaiah 53:4-6.
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"For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. Now when he had agreed with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And he went out about the third hour and saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and said to them, 'You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right I will give you.' So they went. Again he went out about the sixth and the ninth hour, and did likewise. And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing idle, and said to them, 'Why have you been standing here idle all day?' They said to him, 'Because no one hired us.' He said to them, 'You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right you will receive.' So when evening had come, the owner of the vineyard said to his steward, 'Call the laborers and give them their wages, beginning with the last to the first.' And when those came who were hired about the eleventh hour, they each received a denarius. But when the first came, they supposed that they would receive more; and they likewise received each a denarius." (Matthew 20:1-10)
When the laborers assembled in the evening to receive their wages, the owner of the vineyard bountifully directed that a sum of money the same with that which he had contracted to give to the persons who had been hired early in the morning should also be paid to the others who had been hired at later periods of the day--even up to an hour before sunset. This determination raised considerable discontentment among the laborers who had been sent early to the work, and who now imagined that they should receive an additional sum to the terms for which they had bargained. Disappointed in their expectation, they murmured against the landowner, saying, "These last men have worked only one hour, and you made them equal to us who have borne the burden and heat of the day." The landowner answered, "Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what is yours and go your way. I wish to give to this last man the same as to you. Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with my own things? Or is your eye evil because I am good?"
We may easily suppose the landowner, kind no less than just, to have perceived various motives which might well induce a man of such principles to act as he had done. Perhaps he was aware that it was not from unwillingness to labor that several groups of his workmen had lost part of the day, but merely because no man had hired them. Perhaps he observed that when they were sent into his vineyard they worked with greater diligence than their companions who had been hired sooner. Perhaps he reflected that the men who were hired at the eleventh hour would have to pay as much money for necessities during the past day as the others. At any rate, he was under no obligation to account to the murmurers for the reasons of his liberality to the rest. They did not complain that he was withholding from them any portion of the sum which he had promised. They did not intimate that the sum which they received from him was not an equitable recompense for their labor. Their eye was evil because he was good; because he was kind they were grudging.
The principal causes from which discontentment proceeds are selfishness, envy, and pride. Selfishness renders a man so anxious respecting his personal comforts and interests that the sight of an object which he supposes likely to contribute to either, or even the recollection of its existence, will suffice to render him uneasy and restless. His mind becomes busied in projects for obtaining it, or in complaints that it is beyond his reach. The envious man is discontented when he views the happiness of another. He has no interest in the object itself. He is perhaps conscious that it would be a trouble and burden to him, or that it is unattainable. Yet he is wretched without it simply because his neighbor has it. The proud man is indignant that others whom he despises should possess an advantage of which he deems them unworthy. Even if he does obtain it, he is still discontented because the others enjoy it likewise.
Discontentment, viewed as an offense against God, involves folly, ingratitude, and presumption. It charges the wisdom of God with folly. It implies that He has not distributed His gifts to the greatest advantage, that we could have chosen better for ourselves than He has chosen for us. Now when Job was suffering--not under an imaginary trouble from the desire of some object which he had never possessed, but under the loss of all his earthly wealth and children--in all this tribulation "he sinned not, nor charged God foolishly." Contrasted with this example, how grievous is the folly of Discontentment!
Discontentment is base ingratitude to our Heavenly benefactor. Because He withholds some one particular gift on which we have fixed our desires, we refuse to render the tribute of cheerful thanks for the benefits which He has bestowed. He has crowned us with numberless blessings. He sustains and protects us by night and by day. He has mercy upon us notwithstanding our continual transgressions. He has given his own Son to die for our iniquities. He sets before us a kingdom of everlasting glory. Yet because there is one object which He withholds or refuses--and withholds or refuses because He loves us--we are dissatisfied with His dealings and slight His immeasurable goodness. When, in addition to the sudden loss of wealth and children, Job had to sustain the severest bodily afflictions, was his language that of a discontented spirit? "What! Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil? In all this did not Job sin with his lips."
Discontentment is presumption against the Lord of the whole earth. It forgets that we are His servants. It assumes God's prerogative, and aspires to regulate after its own will the course of His providence, to dispense according to its own pleasure the works of His hand and the offices of His household. Shall an earthly master choose his own servants for the different posts in his house, and do you deny the same power to God? Shall an earthly master judge what is the situation in which this man may serve him best, and would you interfere with God in a similar exercise of His rights? Shall an earthly proprietor dispense his bounty according to his discretion, and do you call to account the Proprietor of all things for the manner in which He distributes His blessings? When Job, stung by the groundless accusations of his friends, was hurried into the rash and hopeless attempt of justifying himself before God, we are not surprised that he was ensnared into the language of discontentment. But the Lord answered Job and said, "Shall he that contends with the Almighty instruct Him?" Job instantly felt conviction: "Behold, I am vile. What shall I answer thee? I will lay my hand upon my mouth. Once have I spoken, but I will not answer; yea twice, but I will proceed no farther."
Consider how deeply the spirit of discontentment encroaches on the moral actions of relative duties. If subjects are discontented with their governors, how languid is loyalty, how cold is obedience! In private life, when discontentment occupies the bosom, every object is viewed through the medium of irritation. Incidents in themselves indifferent are misinterpreted and excite commotion; incidents actually unpleasant raise a tempest.
Let me now suggest some considerations which may be instrumental, under the grace of God, in strengthening you against discontentment.
Recollect, in the first place, that when you have procured those objects which you were so anxious to obtain, they have not fulfilled the expectations you had cherished.
In the next place, has it not repeatedly happened that when some other object on which you had set your heart has proved unattainable, you have learned by experience not only that the possession of it was of less importance to your welfare than you had supposed, but that you have been enabled to live in reasonable comfort without it? Why should not the case be the same with respect to the present object of your pursuit?
Third, has not discontentment been a source of unhappiness to you? Has it not destroyed your tranquility, poisoned your satisfactions, shut up many sources of delight, rendered you your own tormentor? And how often has an object, the lack of which filled you with discontentment, repaid you with more uneasiness when once acquired than before you possessed it. In computing your present advantages, reckon this as one of them--you do not possess the object which now renders you discontented. Since God has not bestowed it upon you, it can be presumed that it would not be advantageous to you; and your dissatisfied temper in not possessing it presumes that you would probably employ it amiss if it were granted. Be thankful that you have it not.
Next, look to the example of your Lord and His disciples. When the Lord of glory had no place to lay his head, but was placed for our sakes in a condition inferior not only to the owner of the humblest cottage but to that of the foxes which have holes and the birds which have nests, did He repine at the dispensation? "Lo, I come to do Thy will, O God" was under every circumstance the language of his heart. Look to his apostles. How diligently they followed the example their master had set before them. Paul, who had relinquished the most and had suffered the most, was enabled through the grace of His Lord truly to affirm, "I have learned in whatever state I am therewith to be content." Look to the early Christians, who took joyfully the spoiling of their goods, knowing themselves to "have in heaven a better and more enduring substance."
Listen to one consideration more. "All things work together for good to those who love God." Where, then, is the place for discontentment? If you do not love God, on what pretense can you desire gifts and favor from Him? If you do love Him, then all things work together for your good. Let us, my brethren, seek from the Giver of all good things the blessing of a contented spirit. "Let us be content with such things as we have, for He has said, I will never leave you nor forsake you."
Sermons Principally Designed to Illustrate and to Enforce Christian Morality (condensed and lightly edited)
You may like to read Bishop Weaver's sermon entitled "Providence-Mysterious".
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"The two disciples heard him [John the Baptist] speak, and they followed Jesus. Then Jesus turned, and seeing them following, said to them, 'What do you seek?' They said to Him, 'Rabbi' (which is to say, when translated, Teacher), 'where are You staying?' He said to them, 'Come and see.' They came and saw where He was staying, and remained with Him that day (now it was about the tenth hour). One of the two who heard John speak, and followed Him [Jesus], was Andrew, Simon Peter's brother. He first found his own brother Simon, and said to him, 'We have found the Messiah' (which is translated, the Christ)." (John 1:37-41)
The first person who appears before us in St. John's account is his namesake, St. John the Baptist--he who came to prepare the way for the greater Son of God. His preaching in the wilderness had led many to repentance. Multitudes flocked to him from far and near, from crowded cities and lonely villages. Rich and poor, great and small, learned and ignorant, [all] were eager to hear the burning words in which he proclaimed the approaching kingdom of heaven, and besought all men to bring forth fruits worthy of repentance. Among the rest who clung to him as a teacher come from God, and lingered near him for the sake of his lessons of holiness, were two disciples. One we are told was Andrew; the name of the other is not given, but there can be little doubt that it was John himself.
These two were with John the Baptist one day when they saw Jesus walking near them. This was not the first time that the Baptist had met Jesus. He had beheld with wonder and awe the heavenly life which Jesus lived, as yet in private and unknown. And when Jesus had come to be baptized by him, and he had heard the voice from heaven and seen the descending Spirit, the thought had flashed upon him who that meek and humble Nazarene must be. But we do not hear of his telling out any such higher belief about Jesus to the two disciples who stood by his side. He merely said in their presence, " Behold the Lamb of God." But this was enough to stir up the two disciples to seek further. Looking with their own eyes on Jesus as He walked, and hearing their own revered master speak of Him in such tender and yet solemn and awful words, they followed Jesus as He walked. The scene which came after is told in very few words, but surely we can without effort picture it to ourselves.
Jesus turned round and saw the two disciples of John the Baptist following Him. He stopped and waited till they came up and asked them simply, "What seek ye?" A difficult question, perhaps, to answer. Most probably they had never thought of asking themselves what they wanted of Jesus, what they were to say to Him when they should overtake Him. Only His own look and the testimony of their master's language of reverence and almost worship had led them to desire dimly to draw near to Him and see more of Him.
First, they called Him Rabbi, that is, Master or Teacher. Perhaps we hardly take in the force of this name. A few months later it would have been natural enough that Jesus should be called by the name belonging to great teachers. But as yet He had not begun to teach or shown any signs that that was to be any part of His work. He had come humbly to be baptized by John just like one of themselves. He had displayed no learning like the wise scribes at Jerusalem who sat in Moses' seat and explained the law. He had not preached in the wilderness in the fashion and in the form of an ancient prophet like John the Baptist. But still they were sure, they could not tell how, that there were deep things which He knew and they knew not. And so out of the fulness of their hearts they called him Rabbi.
"Rabbi," they asked, "where dwellest thou?" He answered their half-formed wish rather than the words of their question by saying only, "Come and see." They came and saw where He dwelt, and abode with Him that day, for it was about the tenth hour. What and where that home was we are not told, and it is useless to guess. We should most of us be still more glad to know what took place there on that memorable afternoon, what passed between Jesus and the two disciples. But here too the Gospel is silent. We are told what followed, perhaps on the next day, and this gives us some idea of the impression made on the mind of at least one of the disciples by their stay with Jesus. "One of them was Andrew, Simon Peter's brother. He first findeth his own brother Simon, and saith unto him, We have found the Messias, which is, being interpreted, the Christ. And he brought him to Jesus."
It would be out of place to say much about St. Peter today. I will only remind you how many of his sayings and doings are recorded in the Gospels, how large a place he fills in the Acts of the Apostles, how he is mentioned repeatedly by St. Paul, and himself wrote part of the New Testament. He is beyond all comparison the most famous and the best known of the Twelve Apostles. And now how stands it with Andrew? Except in these few verses of St. John we hear nothing whatever of him beyond his name. He was, we know, one of the Twelve, and must have borne his share of the work which was laid on them. But what it was or how it was done we know not. As far as the Bible is concerned, the one single action by which he will be known to Christian people to the end of the world is by his having brought another man to Christ, even St. Peter.
When we consider it, brethren, this is a thought well worthy of being deeply weighed and remembered. We often are tempted in one mood to ask ourselves or others, Of what possible use can this or that man be in the world? Or in what may sometimes be a better and a humbler, but never a right mood, we question with ourselves of what use we can possibly be. Often the next result is that we resolve to go our own way and seek our own pleasure, because we cannot think that what we do can matter to anyone else. We do not see how deep and subtle and manifold is God's Providence, how He uses His creatures to minister to each other step over step in a wonderful order. A Peter may be only the last link in the chain by which God works out a mighty purpose. Men see him and think not of any other, while all the while an Andrew is just as needful for God's purposes. He is the next link, and without him perhaps a Peter would not be. The fiery zeal, the vigorous action of Peter may be required for some things, and yet those very qualities may make his heart too hot and restless to discern first for himself the Divine glory in the gentle eye and voice of the Lamb of God. He must be led there by the hand of Andrew, one of calmer but more heavenly spirit, though not fit perhaps for stirring deeds. When Andrew's own task is done, he falls into the background; but he is not forgotten before God.
Notice again how little we can judge whether a matter be great or small. What Andrew discovered and told Peter was by him told to others, and from them it has spread on and on even to ourselves. The good news which Andrew invited Peter to share was the first message in the good news which we call the Gospel of Christ. Shall we ever dare again to think and act on the thought that our good or our evil are for ourselves alone, and not for all with whom we have anything to do?
Lastly, learn from Andrew's own experience how God in Christ makes Himself known to the hearts of men. There were thousands in that day who were ever on the lookout for the Messiah, and yet saw Him not when He came among them. Such were the men who sought to stone Him, and who at last crucified Him. Andrew, the ignorant fisherman, was able to see the glory of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth, only because his hopes and desires were such as none but One of perfect holiness and goodness could satisfy. When he met with Jesus, he needed no proofs to tell him that he had found One come from God. With the man of simple trusting heart, who strives to be delivered from his own sin and burns with love to God and man, Christ Himself, the image of the Father's love, will surely dwell.
Village Sermons (condensed)
Find out more about Andrew in "The Early Preaching and the First Disciples" by G. A. Chadwick.
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"Has anything like this happened in your days,
or even in the days of your fathers?"
I once witnessed a curious and striking incident when traveling in the area of Kabul. The whole region then swarmed with locusts, and great efforts were being made to destroy them. The governor of the district had summoned the entire population--men, women, and children--to engage in the work of extirpation. The people, forming a wide circle, were beating the bushes and shouting at the top of their voices in order to drive the locusts onto an isolated hill covered with dry grass and thorn bushes. The locusts had not yet formed wings and could, therefore, be driven before that noisy cordon. The whole hillside soon became black with countless numbers of locusts, and the grass was set on fire in many different places. A strong breeze blew from the west, and the entire hill was speedily ablaze. With this fierce conflagration spreading far and wide, the atmosphere soon became pervaded with an overpowering odor of roast locust, and we hastened to escape. I saw the same operation, though on a smaller scale, in several other places during that day's ride.
In some parts of the land, as in the eastern desert, locusts can reappear every year, and they are indeed a terrible calamity. The first time I saw them in this country was on the hill above Fuliyeh. Noticing something peculiar on the hillside, I rode up to examine it when, to my amazement, the whole surface became agitated and began to roll down the declivity. My horse was so frightened that I was obliged to dismount. The locusts were very young, not yet able even to jump. They had the shape, however, of minute grasshoppers. Their numbers seemed infinite, and in their haste to get out of my way, they literally rolled over and over like fluid mortar. Several years after that I became better acquainted with these insects on Mount Lebanon.
Early that spring, the locusts appeared in considerable numbers along the seacoast and on the lower spurs of the mountains. They did not do significant damage at the time, and, having laid their eggs, immediately disappeared. The people, familiar with their habits, looked with anxiety to the time when those eggs would hatch. Their fears were not groundless or exaggerated. For several days previous to the first of June, we had heard that thousands of young locusts were on their march up the valley toward our village, and at length I was told that they had reached the lower part of it.
Summoning all the people I could collect, we went to meet and attack them, hoping to stop their progress altogether, or at least to turn aside the line of their march. Never shall I lose the impression produced by the first view of them. I had often passed through clouds of flying locusts, but these we now confronted were without wings and about the size of full-grown grasshoppers, which they closely resembled in appearance and behavior. Their number was astounding; the whole face of the mountain was black with them. On they came like a disciplined army. We dug trenches and kindled fires; we beat and burned to death "heaps upon heaps," but the effort was utterly useless. They charged up the mountainside and climbed over rocks, walls, ditches, and hedges, those behind covering up and passing over the masses already killed. After a long and fatiguing contest, I descended the mountain to examine the length of the column, but I could not see the end of it. Wearied by my hard-fought battle, I returned and gave up the vain effort to stop its progress for that day.
By the next morning, the head of the column had reached my garden, and, hiring eight or ten people, I resolved to rescue at least any flowers and vegetables. During the day we succeeded--by fire, and by beating the locusts off the walls with bushes and branches--in keeping our little garden tolerably clear of them, but it was appalling to watch that irresistible army as it marched up the road and ascended the hill above my house. At length, worn out with incessant skirmishing, I gave up. Carrying the pots into the house and covering up what else I could, I surrendered the remainder to the conquerors. For four days they continued to pass on toward the east, until finally only a few stragglers of the mighty host were left behind.
In every stage of their existence, the locusts give a most impressive view of the power of God to punish a wicked world. Observe the pioneers of the host, those flying squadrons that appear in early spring. No power of man can interrupt them; thousands on thousands, with most fatal industry, deposit their innumerable eggs in the field, plain and desert. This done, they vanish like morning mist. But in six or eight weeks, the very dust seems to waken into life and begins to creep. Soon this animated earth becomes minute grasshoppers, and creeping and jumping all in the same general direction, they begin their destructive progress. While on the march, they consume every green thing with wonderful eagerness and expedition. A large vineyard and vegetable garden adjoining ours was as green as a meadow in the morning, but long before night, it was as bare as a newly plowed field or dusty road. The noise made by them in marching and foraging was like that of a heavy shower falling upon a distant forest.
The references to the habits and behavior of locusts in the Bible are very striking and accurate. Joel says, "He has laid waste My vine, and ruined My fig tree; He has stripped it bare and thrown it away; its branches are made white." The locusts at once strip the vines of every leaf and cluster of grapes and of every green twig. I also saw many large fig orchards "clean bare," not a leaf remaining; and as the bark of the fig tree is of a silvery whiteness, the whole orchards were made white in melancholy nakedness to the burning sun. Joel says again, "How the animals groan! The herds of cattle are restless, because they have no pasture; even the flocks of sheep suffer punishment." A field over which this army of desolation has passed shows not a blade of grass for even a goat to nip.
The prophet Nahum says that the locusts "camp in the hedges on a cold day; when the sun rises they flee away, and the place where they are is not known." To anyone who has attentively watched the habits of the locust, that allusion is very striking. In the evening, as soon as the air becomes cool, they literally camp in the hedges and loose stone walls, covering them over like a swarm of bees settled on a bush. There they remain until the next day's sun waxes warm, when they again commence their march. If the day is cool, the locusts scarcely move at all from their camps, and multitudes remain actually stationary until the next morning. It is an aggravation of the calamity if the weather continues cool, for then they prolong their stay and do far more damage.
I am not surprised that Pharaoh's servants remonstrated against his folly and madness when they heard the plague of locusts announced. The coming of locusts is a sore judgment from God.
The Land and The Book
You will enjoy reading all about Palestine in W. M. Christie's book, "Palestine Calling".
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"But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life."
An eminent minister gave, in one of his sermons, the following illustration of the Divine dealings with sinners.
A clergyman sitting in his study saw some boys in his garden stealing melons. He quietly arose, and walking into his garden, called them: "Boy, boys." They immediately fled with the utmost precipitation, tearing through the shrubbery and tumbling over the fences. "Boys," cried out the gentleman, "stop, do not be afraid. You may have as many melons as you want. I have more than I know what to do with." The boys, urged by the consciousness of guilt, fled with increasing speed. They did not like to trust themselves in the gentleman's hands. Neither did they exactly relish the idea of receiving favors from one whose garden they were robbing.
The clergyman continued to entreat them to stop, assuring them that they should not be hurt, and that they might have as many melons as they wished for. But the very sound of his voice added wings to their speed. They scampered on in every direction, with as determined an avoidance as though the gentleman was pursuing them with a horsewhip. He determined, however, that they should be convinced that he was sincere in his offers, and therefore pursued them.
Two little fellows who could not climb over the fence were taken. He led them back, telling them they were welcome to melons whenever they wanted any, and giving to each of them a couple, allowed them to go home. He sent by them a message to the other boys that whenever they wanted any melons they were welcome to them if they would but come to him.
The other boys, when they heard of the favors with which the two had been laden, were loud in the expression of their indignation. They accused the clergyman of partiality in giving to some without giving to all. And when reminded that they would not accept of his offers but ran away from him as fast as they could, they replied, "What of that? He caught these two boys, and why should he have selected them instead of the rest of us? If he had only run a little faster, he might have caught us. It was mean in him to show such partiality."
Again they were reminded that the clergyman was ready to serve them as he did the other two he caught and give them as many melons as they wanted, if they would only go and ask him for them. Still the boys would not go near him, but accused the generous man of injustice and partiality in doing for two that which he did not do for all.
So it is with the sinner. God finds all guilty, and invites them to come to him and be forgiven and receive the richest blessings heaven can afford. They all run from him, and the louder he calls the more furious do they rush in their endeavors to escape. By his grace he pursues, and some he overtakes. He loads them with favors and sends them back to invite their fellow-sinners to return and receive the same. They all with one accord refuse to come, and yet never cease to abuse his mercy and insult his goodness. They say, "Why does God select some and not others? Why does he overtake others who are just as bad as we and allow us to escape? This election of some and not others is unjust and partial." And when the minister of God replies, "The invitation is extended to you; whosoever will, let him come and take of the water of life freely," the sinner heeds it not but goes on in his sins, still complaining of the injustice and partiality of God in saving some and not saving all.
The Clergy of America
You will find much help in understanding Calvinism by reading Spurgeon's article, "A Defence of Calvinism".
See also the essay by J. Norval Geldenhuys on "Effectual Calling".
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"For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works." (Titus 2:11-14)
In speaking on Adorning the Gospel, or, as the subject may be called, the Manward Expression of Piety, I am convinced of two things:
1. How difficult the subject is!--difficult, not because there is not abundant instruction given in the Bible on adorning the gospel, but because the teaching of Scripture is so copious that it is difficult to know on what to focus attention. Again, when the manward expression is the subject, it is doubly difficult for the reason that, if we truly adorn the gospel, our thought is not absorbed in the manward expression so much as in the necessity of exemplifying the claims of the vocation with which we are called.
2. How far short we come of adorning the gospel! I am convinced that piety is a rare plant. Formal profession is common but piety in the sense of godliness is not.
If we are to express piety there must be piety. We cannot express what does not exist. I am not saying that there may not be witness to the gospel, and witness to its effects, without the piety of the heart. A person may declare the gospel who is himself a stranger to its saving and sanctifying power, and we may not say that this witness is without good effect and useless. And a person may exemplify fruits in outward morality, beneficence, charity, kindness, and not be himself a partaker of the grace of the gospel, or manifest the fruit of the Spirit. The words of unregenerate men may be, as to the matter of them, things which God commands and of good use both to themselves and others.
But if there is to be the expression of piety, there must be piety.
What is piety? It is godliness. Godliness is God-consciousness, an all-pervasive sense of God's presence. It will mean that never do we think, or speak, or act without the undergirding sense of God's presence, of his judgment, of our relation to him and his relation to us, of our responsibility to him and dependence upon him. This God-consciousness is spoken of as the fear of God, the profound reverence for his majesty and the dread of his judgments. This fear of God is not something abstract--it is filial reverence springing from a relation that has been constituted by redemption in Christ, justification and forgiveness by his grace, adoption in his love. There is faith, love, gratitude, confidence. In a word, this God-consciousness is conditioned by all the provisions of saving grace as brought to bear upon us in Christ Jesus, and by the distinct relations that we sustain by God's grace to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
There is the intimacy constituted by adoption and the sonship created thereby, but never an intimacy that degrades the majesty of God or degenerates into the familiarity that destroys reverence.
Where this godliness exists it cannot but express itself and it will express itself in the following:
1. Conformity to the revealed will of God. To speak of godliness apart from the direction proceeding from the only way in which God relates himself to our consciousness is mockery. He relates himself to our consciousness only in revelation. And this is principally for us his Word, the Scripture. This is a commonplace of our faith but not a platitude. It is here that so often our manward expression of piety suffers most of all. The psalmist expresses it thus: 'Thy word have I hid in my heart that I might not sin against thee' (Psa. 119:11). Jesus, in prophetic utterance, says: 'I delight to do thy will, O my God, yea, thy law is within my heart' (Psa. 40:8). Paul expresses it by saying, 'bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ' (2 Cor. 10:5).
The Word of God is relevant to all of life and therefore to all the relations we sustain to our fellow men. In our human relations, to what extent do we bring the mind, judgment, and will of God to bear upon our viewpoint, our assessment of situations, our conduct? To what extent are our speech, our reactions, our responses theistically conditioned? The whole case of manward expression is focused in this consideration. For it drives us back to the exercises of piety itself--the study of God's Word, meditation, and prayer. So there is the constant interaction and interdependence of the exercises of godliness and the manward expression of it.
2. Obedience to the commandments of God. Nothing is more prejudicial to the adornment of the gospel and the manward expression of faith than to be long on profession and short on integrity. What contradiction! What occasion given to the adversary to speak reproachfully and to blaspheme, if profession is not complemented by the basic elements of morality. Dishonesty, untruth, impurity, grasping, greed, intemperance, loose talk, gossip, slander, irreverent use of the name of God, sacrilegious and salacious humor--they all make profession a travesty of Christian witness.
The snare here is that there are accepted patterns of behaviour prevalent in business, in society, and in the professing church that are the violation of the commands of God. And because they are the accepted patterns they are not reckoned to be wrong and we do not come under reproach when we conform. There, brethren, is the claim and the opportunity for us. It may be as a bombshell. But there is the opportunity for us to interject the biblical ethic. We dishonour Christ when we conform to accepted practice. By well-doing we put to silence the ignorance of foolish men.
Paul says of office-bearers that they must have good report of them that are without.
3. Meekenss. The world mistakes meekness for weakness. And we are liable to succumb to the world's estimate of strength and fight fire with fire.
Meekness is to be contrasted with retaliation, reviling, vengefulness, backbiting, unholy temper, envy, strife, malice. 'Laying aside all malice, and all guile, and hypocrisies, and envies, and all evil speakings' (1 Pet. 2:1).
Meekness and humility are companionate, just as envy and pride are.
4. Compassion. This comprises a group of virtues such as generosity, hospitality, mercy. It has respect to the destitute condition of others and is the expression of love. It means that we identify ourselves with the condition of other people, particularly the poor and the afflicted. 'He that seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?' (1 John 3:17).
Here we touch upon one of the great evils which in our situation has marred the witness of the church of Christ. The ministry of mercy is one of the arms which Christ has put into the hands of the church for effective witness. It is underlined by the fact that one of the permanent offices in the church of Christ has this ministry as its function.
5. Cheerfulness. When we suffer reverse, calamity, or affliction, do we behave as if the bottom had fallen out of the universe? Do we show composure, tranquillity, resignation, gratitude, thanksgiving; patience in adversity, gratitude in prosperity, confident assurance respecting the future? Again, this touches the heart of godliness. Do we believe in the living God? that the very hairs of our head are all numbered? Let us express this in the day of adversity, not by forced hypocritical smiles which belie our inmost attitude, but by the confident assurance that God reigns and that not a sparrow falls to the ground without his knowledge. Fretful, gnawing, distrusting, unbelieving anxiety is a denial of faith. 'The Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away: blessed be the name of the Lord' (Job 1:21). 'Shall we receive good at the hand of the Lord and shall we not receive evil?" (Job 2:10). 'Be careful for nothing . . . let your requests be made known unto God' (Phil. 4:6).
6. The Proclamation of the Gospel. 'Be ready always to give a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear' (1 Peter 3:15).
There are three things that need to be stressed--sincerity, earnestness, urgency. We are never to be self-assertive--that is pride. We are never to have a superiority complex--that is the opposite of meekness! We must never act as if we had in ourselves a reservoir of resources to meet every situation. But let us never be apologetic about the gospel. Let us never have an inferiority complex respecting the gospel, but forthrightness, confidence, arising from the conviction that there is none other name given under heaven among men whereby men must be saved, that it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believes.
'Thanks be unto God which always causeth us to triumph in Christ" (2 Cor. 2:14).
Collected Writings of John Murray, vol. 1
You will find more helpful advice in Bridges' commentary on Proverbs 10:12, "Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all sins."
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"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation;
old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new."
2 Corinthians 5:17
Relative to the nature of regeneration, there are several misconceptions which should be avoided. It may be well to mention these first, before stating the positive qualifications of this re-creative work of God.
MISCONCEPTIONS: (a) Regeneration is not a change in the substance of human nature. No new physical seed or germ is implanted in man; neither is there any addition to, or subtraction from, the faculties of the soul. (b) Neither is it simply a change in one or more of the faculties of the soul, as, for instance, of the emotional life (feeling or heart), by removing the aversion to divine things, as some evangelicals conceive of it; or of the intellect, by illuminating the mind that is darkened by sin, as the Rationalists regard it. It affects the heart, understood in the Scriptural sense of the word, that is, as the central and all-controlling organ of the soul, out of which are the issues of life. This means that it affects human nature as a whole. (c) Nor is it a complete or perfect change of the whole nature of man, or any part of it, so that it is no more capable of sin. This does not mean that it does not in principle affect the entire nature of man, but only that it does not constitute the whole change that is wrought in man by the operation of the Holy Spirit. It does not comprise conversion and sanctification.
POSITIVE CHARACTERISTICS OF REGENERATION. First, regeneration consists in the implanting of the principle of the new spiritual life in man, in a radical change of the governing disposition of the soul, which, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, gives birth to a life that moves in a Godward direction. In principle this change affects the whole man: the intellect, the will, and the feelings or emotions.
Second, it is an instantaneous change of man's nature, affecting at once the whole man, intellectually, emotionally, and morally. The assertion that regeneration is an instantaneous change implies two things: (1) That it is not a work that is gradually prepared in the soul, as the Roman Catholics and all Semi-Pelagians teach; there is no intermediate stage between life and death; one either lives or is dead. (2) That it is not a gradual process like sanctification.
Third, it is in its most limited sense a change that occurs in the sub-conscious life. It is a secret and inscrutable work of God that is never directly perceived by man. The change may take place without man's being conscious of it momentarily, though this is not the case when regeneration and conversion coincide; and even later on he can perceive it only in its effects. This explains the fact that a Christian may, on the one hand, struggle for a long time with doubts and uncertainties, and can yet, on the other hand, gradually overcome these and rise to the heights of assurance.
DEFINITION OF REGENERATION. Regeneration is that act of God by which the principle of the new life is implanted in man, and the governing disposition of the soul is made holy. But in order to include the idea of the new birth as well as that of the "begetting again," it will be necessary to complement the definition with the following words: "and the first holy exercise of this new disposition is secured."
Here is an interesting article by Evan Probert on "Human Depravity".
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"Unless a man is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God."
True conversion is born of a godly sorrow, and issues in a life of devotion to God. It is a change that is rooted in the work of regeneration and that is effected in the conscious life of the sinner by the Spirit of God; a change of thoughts and opinions, of desires and volitions, which involves the conviction that the former direction of life was unwise and wrong and alters the entire course of life. There are two sides to this conversion, the one active and the other passive; the former being the act of God, by which he changes the conscious course of man's life, and the latter the result of this action as seen in man's changing his course of life and turning to God.
Consequently, a twofold definition must be given of conversion: (1) Active conversion is that act of God whereby He causes the regenerated sinner, in his conscious life, to turn to Him in repentance and faith. (2) Passive conversion is the resulting conscious act of the regenerated sinner whereby he, through the grace of God, turns to God in repentance and faith.
Conversion belongs to the re-creative rather than to the judicial acts of God. It does not alter the state but the condition of man. In conversion man becomes conscious of the fact that he is worthy of condemnation and is also brought to a recognition of that fact. While this already presupposes faith, it also leads to a greater manifestation of faith in Jesus Christ, a confident trusting in Him for salvation. And this faith, in turn, by appropriating the righteousness of Jesus Christ, is instrumental in the sinner's justification. In conversion man awakens to the joyous assurance that all his sins are pardoned on the basis of the merits of Jesus Christ.
Conversion takes place, not in the subconscious, but in the conscious life of the sinner. This does not mean that it is not rooted in the subconscious life. Being a direct effect of regeneration, it naturally includes a transition in the operations of the new life from the subconscious to the conscious life.
Conversion marks the conscious beginning, not only of the putting away of the old man, a fleeing from sin, but also of the putting on of the new man, a striving for holiness of life. This does not mean, however, that the struggle between the old and the new is at once ended; it will continue as long as man lives.
While conversion may be a sharply marked crisis, it may also be a very gradual change. Crisis conversions are most frequent in days of religious declension, and in the lives of those who have not enjoyed the privileges of a real religious education and who have wandered far from the path of truth, righteousness, and holiness.
When we speak of conversion, we have in mind a supernatural work of God resulting in a religious change.
See also Asahel Nettleton's article, "Regeneration".
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"And those who are with Him are called, chosen, and faithful."
Each particular title of the people of God has a practical import of its own. When God has been pleased to give us so many distinct and peculiar names, it is that we may consider our obligations as they are thus expressed, and regulate our characters and lives accordingly. These several titles may be arranged under several distinct classes. They display the origin, the relations, the characters, the privileges, the prospects of the servants and followers of Christ.
The present title comes under the first head. It describes the origin of our Christian state and character. It takes us back to the grace which has been manifested to us before the world began. It shows us that all things are of God, who has reconciled us unto himself by Jesus Christ, and has sent to us the word of reconciliation. Let me consider the practical importance of this great fact.
First, Who has chosen me. God has chosen me. All my hopes and privileges come from this one source--of his own love wherewith he loved me before the foundation of the world. With what gratitude I ought to think of him, with what confidence and affection I ought to regard him! It was not I that sought him but he that sought me. This is a blessed remembrance to me. My character and hope spring not from my feeble will but from his abounding grace. They stand not in my weakness but in his eternal strength. Do I love him? Have I sought him? Do I delight to pray to him? Is it my real desire to obey him? All these are the result of his choice. Every plant that can bear good fruit in me my heavenly Father has planted. Let me never fail to give him the glory and praise for his work.
Second, Why he has chosen me. It was for no excellence of mine. I was not [created] when his choice was made. When I came into being it was in sin and death. My nature was corrupt. There was no prospect of good from me. There could have been no motive in any excellence to be found in one so sinful; not for any good thing I could ever do for him. I could have no good but [except] from his gift. He could make all the instruments he needed as well as the end he desired. He could never depend upon me to bring out his ends. No. It was his own will, His own grace and love. I can assign no other reason than this. He had mercy because he could have mercy. There has never been anything in me but obstacles and objections to his work. I ought to think of this with deep humility, with entire renunciation of myself. I ought to give him all the glory both of his choice and for all that shall come out of it. My own sinfulness shuts out every reason for his goodness to me, but his own mercy. I can never have anything of my own in which to glory.
Thirdly, For what purposes he has chosen me. To honor himself. To show forth his own glory. He means to show in me his grace, and love, and power to save. He will display this in my present life of trial. He will display it in my future life of glory. How earnestly, then, ought I to watch! How carefully ought I to walk that I may honor him! It must be my effort, in all the fruits of holy action, to glorify him. I am never off duty in this respect. Every part of my life has some connection with his great design. Every step is a part of his plan. Let no part oppose it. When I am obedient I fulfil his will and further his design. When I am disobedient I dishonor him and violate his purpose. Oh, with what vigilance ought I to walk with him and before him, that my whole life may carry out the purpose for which I was made! This will be happiness to me as it passes. There is no other happiness for man. This will be happiness after it has passed. My eternity can be happy only as He reigns in it supremely, accomplishing all his will.
Fourthly, For what results he has chosen me. Surely this is for everlasting glory. He can have no inferior end to this. The end is eternal life. Then my hope ought to be clear and constant. God has chosen me to salvation. This will encourage me to press forward, to contend faithfully. I cannot be overcome. No weapon that is formed against me can prosper. Oh, let me never faint then. My present pilgrimage may be full of trial and pain. In the world I must have tribulation. But God my Saviour will carry me safely through. He will make me more than a conqueror. And then his rest remains. How glorious will be the result! How satisfied shall I be when I awake after his likeness and behold his glory!
Fifthly, Has God thus chosen me? The evidence of it is in my own character and state. I should never have sought him but for that. I was far off when he brought me nigh. It was he who made me seek his face and his favour. My choice of Christ is the evidence of Christ's choice of me. It is a very precious evidence. For I really choose him. Nothing seems to me so important as an interest in my Saviour and a partnership with him. How willingly would I part with everything rather than this! How rich and full should I feel myself with this alone! Oh, what mercy has thus been bestowed upon me! How grateful, how humble, how watchful, how hopeful I ought to be as one of God's chosen generation! Let me strive to grow in this blessed character and in these heavenly fruits. Thus my walk will be peaceful and successful. And the God of hope will fill me with all joy and peace in believing through the power of the Holy Ghost.
What thousands never knew the road!
What thousands hate it when 'tis known!
None but the chosen tribes of God
Will seek or choose it for their own.
Christian Titles: A series of Practical Meditations
Be sure to read Maclaren's sermon, "No Difference".
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"Knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit." (2 Peter 1:20,21)
One of the best ways to attack something is to demonstrate that it is unimportant, and that is precisely what some writers attempt to accomplish with respect to the Biblical doctrine of verbal inspiration. The originals of Scripture are lost, so it is argued, and we cannot completely reconstruct them. Therefore, those originals must have been unimportant. Evidently God did not think that it was necessary for us to have them. If a man wishes to do scholarly work on the Bible, he must use the Greek and the Hebrew texts which are available to him. He cannot obtain the original, and must be content with the texts at hand. More than that, the plain man who turns to the Bible for his devotional study must be content with a Bible in his own vernacular. He is removed from the original even a step further. Consequently, all this talk about an inspired and errorless original text is really beside the point. Furthermore, even if there were errors in the original, this would not hinder us from receiving a blessing from the Bible; and we would be foolish indeed if we were to maintain that, unless the original were free of errors, we could receive no blessing from the Bible.
But is the doctrine of an errorless autographa of Scripture actually so unimportant after all? A little reflection, we think, will make it clear that such is not at all the case. Let us suppose that the Scriptures actually were given to us by a special revelation of God. If they are indeed breathed forth from the mouth of God, does it matter whether they contain in them statements which are contrary to fact? To ask the question in this fashion is, of course, to answer it. It matters tremendously, for the veracity of God Himself is at stake.
How disturbing is the annoyance of tiny inaccuracies! Upon receiving a letter filled with trifling errors and misspelled words, we are displeased and annoyed; the letter casts reflection upon its writer. In fact, to send such a letter is to do a most discourteous thing. In writing a letter we want to spell our words correctly; also, for the sake of our own reputation, if for nothing else, we want to get our facts straight. If a person does not even take the trouble to do this, he may justly be considered a boor or an ignoramus. It is difficult to maintain a high respect for someone who, in writing letters to us, is consistently careless. When an educated person writes and permits minor inaccuracies to characterize his writing, we are disappointed in him and our respect for him is affected by it.
God has revealed to us his word. What are we to think of him if this word is glutted with little annoying inaccuracies? Why could not the omnipotent and omniscient God have taken the trouble to give us a word that was free from error? The present writer finds it difficult to have much respect for such a God. Does he expect us to worship him? What kind of a God is he if he has given such an untrustworthy word to mankind? And this brings us to the heart of the matter. The Scriptures claim to be breathed forth from his mouth; if they partake of error, must not he himself also partake thereof?
He, of course, tells us that his word is pure. If there are mistakes in that word, however, we know better; it is not pure. If the autographa of Scripture are marred by flecks of mistake, God simply has not told us the truth concerning his word. To assume that he could breathe forth a word that contained mistakes is to say, in effect, that God himself can make mistakes. We must maintain that the original of Scripture is infallible for the simple reason that it came to us directly from God himself.
It does not follow from this that only an errorless text can be of devotional benefit to Christians, nor do those who believe in the inerrancy of Scripture maintain such a position. Thousands have been brought to a knowledge of the truth and have come to know him whom to know aright is life eternal, and they have had no inerrant text. There are those who through the King James Version have come to know Christ and have grown in grace daily, yet the/ King James Version is not inerrant.
Be this as it may, however, the serious student of the Bible will desire to approximate the original in so far as that is possible. We may revert to the illustration of the teacher who had received a letter from the President. When the original was destroyed (shall we say that it is unimportant whether the President of the United States made minor mistakes in his letter?), the teacher had only the copies which the pupils had made. As a result of the ignorance of the children who did the copying, these became imperfect copies. The teacher might have remained satisfied with these imperfect copies. She, however, had great respect for her President. Consequently, she endeavored to the best of her ability to correct each copy so that the exact wording of the original might be restored.
It would be foolish to maintain that because they contained mistakes, the copies were therefore without any value. Anyone could read those copies and learn what the President had written. To obtain the President's message, all one had to do was to read a copy of his letter. So it is with the Bible. The copies of Scripture which are now extant are remarkably accurate, and hence, like the original, they are "profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness." Minor, indeed, are those errors which may be found in the copies of the Bible which we possess, and through careful, scholarly study they are being in remarkable measure removed. Very different, however, was the original. That was the actual God-breathed Word, true to fact in all its statements. Let no one say that it is a matter of indifference whether this original was inerrant; it is a matter of greatest importance, for the honor and veracity of God himself are at stake. If there are actual errors in the original copies of the Bible, the word which has come forth from the mouth of God is not a perfect word, and the God of truth is guilty of error. If God has spoken falsely in his word, he is not the God of truth, and consequently, the Christian religion is a false religion. This conclusion cannot be evaded. It is for this reason that those who embrace the Biblical doctrine are so zealous to maintain the absolute perfection of the Divine revelation in its original manuscripts.
Thy Word is Truth
Here are two helpful articles: "The Apocrypha" by David H. Wallace, and "The Importance of the Septuagint for Biblical Studies" by Everett F. Harrison.
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Lord, Thou knowest all things; Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising and art acquainted with all my ways. I can inform Thee of nothing and it is vain to try to hide anything from Thee. In the light of Thy perfect knowledge I would be as artless as a little child. Help me to put away all care, for Thou knowest the way that I take and when Thou hast tried me I shall come forth as gold. Amen.
To say that God is omniscient is to say that He possesses perfect knowledge and therefore has no need to learn. But it is more: it is to say that God has never learned and cannot learn.
The Scriptures teach that God has never learned from anyone. ”Who has directed the Spirit of the Lord, or being his counselor has taught him? With whom took he counsel, and who instructed him, and taught him in the path of judgment, and taught him knowledge, and showed to Him the way of understanding?” ”For who has known the mind of the Lord? or who has been His counselor?" These rhetorical questions put by the prophet and the apostle Paul declare that God has never learned.
From there it is only a step to the conclusion that God cannot learn. Could God at any time or in any manner receive into His mind knowledge that He did not possess and had not possessed from eternity, He would be imperfect and less than himself. To think of a God who must sit at the feet of a teacher, even though that teacher be an archangel or a seraph, is to think of someone other than the Most High God, maker of heaven and earth.
This negative approach to the divine omniscience is, I believe, quite justified in the circumstances. Since our intellectual knowledge of God is so small and obscure, we can sometimes gain considerable advantage in our struggle to understand what God is like by the simple expedient of thinking what He is not like. This method of trying to make men see what God is like by showing them what He is not like is used also by the inspired writers in the Holy Scriptures. ”Hast thou not known? hast thou not heard,” cries Isaiah, ”that the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary?” And that abrupt statement by God Himself, ”I am the Lord, I change not,” tells us more about the divine omniscience than could be told in a ten-thousand word treatise, were all negatives arbitrarily ruled out. God’s eternal truthfulness is stated negatively by the apostle Paul, ”God... cannot lie”; and when the angel asserted that ”with God nothing shall be impossible,” the two negatives add up to a ringing positive.
That God is omniscient is not only taught in the Scriptures, it must be inferred also from all else that is taught concerning Him. God perfectly knows Himself and, being the source and author of all things, it follows that He knows all that can be known. And this He knows instantly and with a fullness of perfection that includes every possible item of knowledge concerning everything that exists or could have existed anywhere in the universe at any time in the past or that may exist in the centuries or ages yet unborn.
Because God knows all things perfectly, He knows no thing better than any other thing, but all things equally well. He never discovers anything. He is never surprised, never amazed. He never wonders about anything nor (except when drawing men out for their own good) does He seek information or ask questions. God is self-existent and self-contained and knows what no creature can ever know--Himself, perfectly. ”The things of God know no man, but the Spirit of God.” Only the Infinite can know the infinite.
In the divine omniscience we see set forth against each other the terror and fascination of the Godhead. That God knows each person through and through can be a cause of shaking fear to the man that has something to hide--some unforsaken sin, some secret crime committed against man or God. The unblessed soul may well tremble that God knows the flimsiness of every pretext and never accepts the poor excuses given for sinful conduct, since He knows perfectly the real reason for it. ”Thou hast set our iniquities before thee, our secret sins in the light of thy countenance.” How frightful a thing to see the sons of Adam seeking to hide among the trees of another garden. But where shall they hide? ”Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence?...If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me; even the night shall be light about me. Yea, the darkness hides not from thee; but the night shines as the day.”
And to us who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope that is set before us in the gospel, how unutterably sweet is the knowledge that our Heavenly Father knows us completely. No talebearer can inform on us, no enemy can make an accusation stick. No forgotten skeleton can come tumbling out of some hidden closet to abash us and expose our past. No unsuspected weakness in our characters can come to light to turn God away from us, since He knew us utterly before we knew Him and called us to Himself in the full knowledge of everything that was against us. ”For the mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed; but my kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of my peace be removed, saith the Lord that hath mercy on thee.”
Our Father in heaven knows our frame and remembers that we are dust. He knew our inborn treachery, and for His own sake engaged to save us (Isa. 48:8-11). His only begotten Son, when He walked among us, felt our pains in their naked intensity of anguish. His knowledge of our afflictions and adversities is more than theoretic; it is personal, warm, and compassionate. Whatever may befall us, God knows and cares as no one else can.
The Knowledge of the Holy
Spurgeon has a great exposition of Psalm 139 that you will like.
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"Then he said, 'I have sinned; yet honor me now, please, before the elders of my people and before Israel, and return with me, that I may worship the LORD [Yahweh] your God.'" (1 Samuel 15:30)
Saul, the first king of Israel, speaks these words. Before the affair of Amalek he had given but too plain evidences of a heart not right with God. He was no idolater but a constant worshiper of the true God, in form at least, all his days. He appears to always have had some idea of serving God, but then it must be in his own say, by his own will, and in dependence only on his own judgment.
The chapter before us lets us into his true character very completely. He received a positive direction to destroy Amalek and all their possessions. Saul performed the commission with great partiality. What he approved of in it, he did. What did not suit with his reason, he left undone. He destroyed the Amalekites, but he spared the best of the sheep and the oxen. It appeared to him an unreasonable thing to waste so much property. The command of God is sufficient reason to a humble soul. A proud man is not content with this. You must satisfy him with reasons or he will not obey.
Saul, it seems, did not think he had done much, if anything, amiss. He boasts before Samuel how well he had done. He insists on it that he had obeyed. He enlarges on circumstances which made something in his favor; and what was not quite right he thinks might well be excused by his laying the blame of it on the people and because of the very pious ending of the disobedience--"to sacrifice to the LORD thy God in Gilgal." But Samuel shows him what a poor thing sacrifice is compared with obedience; and that though he had destroyed the witches out of Israel, his "rebellion was as the sin of witchcraft," and that though he did not bow down to idols, his "stubbornness was as idolatry." The self-will of a proud heart--which is determined to have its own way and will not bend to God--though varnished with the forms of true religion and clear of gross idolatry, ranks a man on the same level with an open worshiper of idols.
How slightly does this proud man confess his guilt after having defended himself as long as he could with cavils [frivolous objections] and excuses! In the text he owns he had sinned, but he adds, "Yet honor me now, please, before the elders of my people and before Israel, and return with me, that I may worship the LORD your God." Samuel, who had a strong affection for Saul and mourned for him deeply before God, complies. But he cannot reverse the righteous sentence which takes the kingdom of Israel from him. And how little reason is there to hope that Saul will repent while he is far more concerned for his own honor and character than on account of his sin. He saw what a disgraceful thing it would be in the eyes of the great men and of his subjects in general for the prophet to go away and leave him to sacrifice alone. Samuel must attend him in public, pay him respect, and own him; and the king and the prophet must appear together as of the same religion.
So I fear it is no uncharitable conjecture to believe that this false-hearted formalist, having been seen in public with the prophet and gone through some forms of prayer and thanksgiving with pomp, afterwards forgot his sin and dismissed the burden of it from his mind. His future conduct--full of pride, obstinacy, and rebellion against God, and ending in the dreadful guilt of self-murder--speaks awfully to the case of Pharisaic formalists who would be thought men of great virtue, while none are farther from it, and who will scarce ever see themselves sinful in anything. Saul, in short, seems the very picture of such characters, which are very common in the world! With our eye, however, on the pattern of Saul, we will endeavor more distinctly to describe in a few particulars the workings of a mind like his.
A false professor of religion, like Saul, is partial in his obedience. Some duties he will perform, others he will omit. In doing this he is led by his own will, humor, and what he calls his reason. It is indeed his reason, but not right reason. For the reasoning powers of man, in religion, are corrupted by sin and the fall as much as the affections and passions. Such men will pick and choose among the Scriptures themselves. Some things they approve, others they cannot endure. That which bears hard on their pride they will not receive. Hence, views of the natural depravity, misery, and ignorance of man, though most wholesome, most humbling, and directly leading us to Christ and salvation, they reject. They consult what is pleasing and agreeable, and by this they measure doctrines, practice, and everything in which they are concerned. Cheap duties and services, which cost them nothing, they will practice. Difficult, burdensome duties, which would cause them trouble or expose them to reproach, they disregard. Whatever happens to be the fashionable virtues, they will follow. What is not agreeable to the times they live in, they hate.
A false professor of religion never confesses his sin heartily. He does not see the evil of it. He will always defend himself as meaning well and as right in his intentions, even where his actions will bear no argument to vindicate them. Hear him represent his own cause and you can scarcely find anything wrong, even in those transactions where you are sure there must be great blame.
A false professor of religion hides, even from his own eyes, the wickedness of his heart by a multitude of formalities. This was the case of Saul all his days. He worshiped Jehovah, he suppressed witchcraft, he fought the Lord's battles against the Philistines, he discouraged all gross idolatry, he supported a decent show of religious forms, he reverenced the Lord's prophets, and he treated the law of Moses with decent respect. Can it be possible that a man so courageous in the cause of the Lord, so zealous for religion, so decorous in his deportment and so apparently devout, could be in his heart an enemy of God? If it had not been so, I believe it impossible that he should have been forsaken of God at last, and left to despair and self-murder.
A hypocritical professor of religion is far more solicitous about the praise of men than the praise of God. He quiets his mind concerning his sins and evils by contriving to appear well before men. The fear of God and the apprehension of his just displeasure are objects of small concern. If he can contrive to be well received by men, especially men of eminent reputation, he is at ease.
Brethren, tremble at the thought of self-deception. Cry unto God in the language of an honest and true penitent: "Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my thoughts; and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting."
A great article by John Gerstner is "Adoption: Belonging to God's Family".
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"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
the Father of mercies and God of all comfort."
2 Corinthians 1:3
Ploughing the soul with the sorrow of a great loss often turns into the furrow some nuggets of gold. When Mrs. Lizzie DeArmond lost one of her lovely daughters she was deeply stricken. Her struggle to understand the great question, "Why?" revealed a depth of character that has given us the comforting message of "Good-night and Good-morning." Like so many gospel hymns, it has come to us because someone had to say "good-bye" to a loved one.
Mrs. DeArmond said to me, "Mr. Sanville, when God called my girl to live with Him, I felt I could not spare her, and it left an ache in my heart that was difficult to bear. The ever-present, persistent question, 'Why should my girl be taken?' became the overwhelming burden of my waking moments. Why should it be my child?
"After several months of wrestling with this question, my health was affected and my faith clouded. Then one night, while I was pacing up and down on my lawn, there came to me the words as if spoken from the sky: 'We Christians do not sorrow without hope. We do have to say good-bye to our loved ones here, but we have that glorious hope of good-morning over there.'
"The message brought surcease [cessation] from my sorrow, comfort for my heart, and stimulus to my faith. I hastened to my room where the poem took form. God gave me a song that has been a blessing in my life, as it will be to others who sorrow for loved ones."
Homer Rodeheaver wrote the musical score for this lovely poem. The evident fine balance between music and poem has brought forth a song of peace and comfort to all who must say "Good-bye" to loved ones. "Let not your heart be troubled; . . . where I am, there ye shall be also."
Note: Our pastor from Chicago, Don Elifson, once sang this hymn during the church service. He introduced it by saying, "I want everyone to know that this is my testimony that when I say 'Good-night' here, I'll say 'Good-morning' up there." Click here for his memorial page and the words of the hymn.
Forty Gospel Hymn Stories
The reader will find Ralph Wardlaw's exposition of Ecclesiastes 3:21, "All Return to Dust," very interesting.
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"The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much."
Why do most of us fail so miserably in prayer? I have pondered this question nearly ever since I, by the grace of God, began to pray.
I think we will all admit, both to ourselves and to others, without any question, that to pray is difficult for all of us. The difficulty lies in the very act of praying. To pray, really to pray, is what is difficult for us. It feels like too much of an effort.
That natural persons feel that prayer is an effort is not strange in the least. They "receive not the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness unto them." Natural persons may, of course, feel a desire to pray at times. They may feel a desire to pray when they are in danger, for instance, or when they are in a religious frame of mind. But they can never become reconciled to daily and regular prayer. They feel that it is unreasonable on the part of God to be so particular about this matter of praying. They give many reasons why they do not pray quite as many prayers as most pastors and preachers demand of them. They say to themselves: "The Lord certainly does not expect people who are well and strong and able to work to spend so much valuable time in prayer. Especially in these modern times when everybody is so busy."
Natural persons look upon prayer as a burdensome task. Most unspiritual people never assume this burden. Some do, however, and pray to God a little each day. But they feel that it is a heavy requirement, and they do so only because they think that our Lord is strict in regard to this and insists that it be done. That this is the natural person's view of prayer does not surprise us.
It cannot help but surprise us, however, when we find that this view is prevalent also among believing Christians, at least among many of us. At conversion we were led into a life of earnest, diligent prayer. Our seasons of prayer were the happiest time of the day. But after a longer or a shorter period of time, we began to encounter difficulties in our prayer life. Prayer became a burden, an effort. As honest souls we clung diligently and faithfully to prayer, but often we had to compel ourselves to enter into our secret chambers. Prayer, which was once the free, happy, grateful communion of a redeemed soul with God, had begun to become a matter of duty, which we performed more or less punctiliously according to our character and the willpower we had.
The more of an effort prayer becomes, the more easily it is neglected. Results which are fatal to spiritual life follow, not immediately, but no less certainly. First, our minds become worldly, and we feel more and more alienated from God, and therefore have less and less about which to speak with Him. Then we develop an unwilling spirit, which always finds pretexts for not praying and excuses for having neglected prayer. Our inner life begins to weaken. The pain of living in sin is not felt as keenly as before, because sin is no longer honestly confessed before God. As a result of this, our spiritual vision becomes blurred, and we can no longer distinguish clearly between that which is sin and that which is not. From now on we resist sin in essentially the same way as worldly people do. They struggle against those sins only which are exceedingly dangerous from the standpoint of their consequences.
But such people have no desire to lose their reputation as Christians. For this reason they try to hide the worldliness of their minds as long as possible. In conversation, as well as in the prayer meeting, they are tempted to use language which is not in harmony with their inner selves. Empty words and affectation now seek to strangle what little prayer life is left in their hearts.
All this and a great deal more is the result of an impaired prayer life. And this is just what has taken place in the lives of many believers.
Do we ask amiss? Read "Prayer" by George Jehoshaphat Mountain.
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"Watch and pray, that you enter not into temptation."
Most of us cannot quite understand how prayer can involve difficulty and anguish. Why should praying entail so much suffering? Why should our prayer life be a constantly flowing source of anguish?
If we will reflect but for a moment, we will, however, see that it really cannot be otherwise. If prayer is the central function of the new life of faith, the very heartbeat of our life in God, it is obvious that our prayer life must become the target against which Satan directs his best and most numerous darts. He understands better than we do what prayer means to ourselves and to others. That is why his chief attack is directed against our prayer life. If he can in one way or another weaken it, his prospects of stealing our life in God without us even noticing it are of the very best.
This is not only the most painless way of stealing from us our spiritual life, it is also the quietest way--the way which creates the least sensation. Satan desires above all to provide himself with servants who think that they are God's children and who are even looked upon as children of God by others. For this reason, Satan mobilizes everything that he can commandeer in order to hinder our prayer. He has an excellent confederate in our own bosom: our old Adam. Our carnal nature is, according to the Scriptures and our own bitter experience, enmity against God. It realizes that it can expect nothing but mortification every time we really approach God in prayer.
It is important for us to bear this clearly in mind. By so doing, we will, in the first place, be able to account for something which we formerly could not understand, namely, the aversion to prayer which we feel more or less strongly from time to time. Our disinclination to pray should not make us anxious or bewildered. It should merely substantiate to us the old truth that the "flesh lusts against the spirit." We shall have our carnal natures with us as long as we live here below, and we must endure the discomfort occasioned thereby.
We should deal with the unwillingness of our flesh in this respect in the same way as we deal with all the other sinful desires of our flesh. We should take it to God and lay it all before Him. And the blood of Jesus Christ will cleanse us from this sin as it does from all others.
The first and the decisive battle in connection with prayer is the conflict which arises when we are to make arrangements to be alone with God every day. If the battle is lost for any length of time at this point, the enemy has already won the first skirmish. But even though we do gain the victory at the threshold of our prayer chamber, our prayer-struggle is by no means over. Our enemies will pursue us deliberately into our very prayer rooms. And here our carnal natures and Satan will take up the battle anew, though from a somewhat different angle. Our carnal natures will be just as afraid of meeting God now as before we went into our prayer room. Now every effort will be concentrated upon making our prayer session as brief as possible, or upon distracting us so completely that we are not even now given an opportunity to be alone with God.
My friend, do you know anything about this battle? As you kneel to speak with your Lord, it seems as though everything you have to do appears vividly before your's mind's eye. You see especially how much there is to do, and how urgent it is that it be done, at least some of it. As these thoughts occur, you become more and more restless. You try to keep your thoughts collected and to speak with God, but you succeed only for a moment now and then. Your prayer hour becomes really the most restless hour of the day. To put it plainly, you feel as though the time you are spending on your knees is just that much time wasted. Then you stop praying. The enemy has won a very neat victory!
Here is where we are face to face with enemies who are vastly superior to us. And they will defeat us every time if we do not learn the true secret of prayer: to open our hearts to Jesus and give Him access to our needs. Prayer is for the helpless. Helplessness is not a hindrance, but an incentive to prayer. Our helplessness in connection with our restless thoughts and distracted minds will not be a hindrance to prayer when the Spirit has succeeded in teaching us the little, but important secret of prayer, that my helplessness is Jesus knocking at my heart's door desiring to enter in and employ His power to relieve my distress. He has power over my restless thoughts. He can rebuke the storm in my soul and still its raging waters.
The only way in which we can gather and keep collected our distracted minds and our roaming thoughts is to center them about Jesus Christ. By that I mean that we should let Christ lay hold of, attract, captivate and gather about Himself all our interests. Then our sessions of prayer will become real meetings with God. "And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, shall guard your hearts and your thoughts in Christ Jesus."
I shall find no rest and peace in prayer as long as I think that I, by the concentration of my own will, can keep my thoughts on God. But as soon as I realize that I am helpless, then the peace of God will descend with healing and blessing upon my distracted soul.
George Adam Smith has a great sermon on this subject, "Our Lord's Example in Prayer".
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"I will praise You, O Lord my God, with all my heart,
and I will glorify Your name forevermore."
From the very beginning we approach prayer with a grave misconception. Our selfishness knows no bounds. We look upon Him as another means of gaining our own ends. We have a carnal nature, and when it can gain some advantage or be delivered from some great suffering or misfortune, it has no objections whatever to praying. On the contrary, then it, too, manifests a desire to pray which is nothing short of wonderful [astonishing]!
We should note well that the temptation to misuse prayer is native to us and comes, therefore, automatically to every believer. The sons of Zebedee came with their mother to Jesus one day and asked for the highest places of honor in the earthly kingdom which was about to be established, as they thought. Their prayer was no doubt offered in all innocence and good faith. They were cousins of Jesus and had, together with Peter, already been given positions of preference in the intimate circle of Jesus' friends. When the other apostles heard what the two had done, they became indignant.
But Jesus reacted in an entirely different way. He took very kindly and understandingly to the whole affair. He advised them of their fault and explained everything to them. Such a tender and fervent tone runs though the whole admonition and warms our very souls. It tells us what Jesus' attitude is toward us when we come by families into His presence and ask Him to favor us in every possible way and avert from us all danger and all unpleasantness. He does not become angry with us as we might expect. He understands us, advises us of our mistakes, and tells us how we should pray.
This is what the Spirit of prayer undertakes to do every time we misuse prayer and ask for things for ourselves, for our own enjoyment. Lovingly and kindly, but firmly, He reminds us that this is not in accordance with the true meaning of prayer. He shows us that this is to pray amiss, and points out our mistakes.
The purpose of prayer is to glorify the name of God. Prayer life has its own laws, as all the rest of life has. The fundamental law in prayer is this: Prayer is given and ordained for the purpose of glorifying God. Prayer is the appointed way of giving Jesus an opportunity to exercise His supernatural powers of salvation. And in so doing, He desires to make use of us. Through prayer we should give Jesus the opportunity of gaining access to our souls, our bodies, our homes, our neighborhoods, our countries, to the whole world, to the fellowship of believers, and to the unsaved. If we will make use of prayer, not to wrest from God advantages for ourselves or our dear ones, or to escape from tribulations and difficulties, but to call down upon ourselves and others those things which will glorify the name of God, then we shall see the strongest and boldest promises of the Bible about prayer fulfilled in our weak, little prayer life. Then we shall see such answers to prayer as we had never thought were possible.
It is written, "And this is the boldness which we have toward him, that, if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions which we ask of him." The apostle establishes the fact from his own prayer experience as well as that of his readers, that if we pray for anything according to the will of God, we already have what we pray for the moment we ask it. It is immediately sent from heaven on its way to us. We do not know exactly when it will arrive while we are asking for it, but those who have learned to know God through the Spirit of God have learned to leave this in His hands, and to live just as happily whether the answer arrives immediately or later.
By this time no doubt some of my sincere praying readers are feeling depressed. After what has been said so far, you are beginning to suspect that you have misunderstood and misused the sacred privilege of prayer altogether. You have in your daily prayer life been speaking with God about everything, greater as well as lesser things. You have even asked Him for most insignificant things. You are afraid that this is a misuse of prayer and that you should therefore cease at once.
No, my friend, you should by no means cease. On the contrary, you should pray God for still greater simplicity of mind in your daily conversation with Him. Pray that you may become so confidential with Him that you can speak with Him about everything in your daily life. That is what He desires. "In nothing be anxious; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God."
God knows that it is in our daily lives that we most easily become anxious. He knows that our daily lives are made up of little things, not great things. Therefore, whether you pray for big things or little, say to God, "If it will glorify Thy name, then grant my prayer and help me. But if it will not glorify Thy name, then let me remain in my predicament, and give me power to glorify Thy name in the situation in which I find myself." Only by praying in this way will we succeed in opening our hearts to Jesus. This will give Him the opportunity to exercise His power on our behalf, not only as He wills but also when He wills.
Another excellent sermon on prayer is "The Certainty of Prayer" by James H. McConkey.
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"Oh, that I knew where I might find him! That I might come even to his seat!
I would order my cause before him, and fill my mouth with arguments."
In Job's uttermost extremity he cried after the Lord. The longing desire of an afflicted child of God is once more to see his Father's face. Job's first prayer is not, "Oh that I might be healed of the disease which now festers in every part of my body!" nor even, "Oh that I might see my children restored from the jaws of the grave and my property once more brought from the hand of the spoiler!" The first and uppermost cry is, "Oh that I knew where I might find HIM--who is my God, that I might come even to his seat!" God's children run home when the storm comes on. It is the heaven-born instinct of a gracious soul to seek shelter from all ills beneath the wings of Jehovah. "He that has made his refuge God," might serve as the title of a true believer. A hypocrite, when he feels that he has been afflicted by God, resents the infliction, and, like a slave, would run from the master who has scourged him; but not so the true heir of heaven. He kisses the hand that smote him and seeks shelter from the rod in the bosom of that very God who frowned upon him.
It appears that Job's end in desiring the presence of God was that he might pray to him. He had prayed, but he wanted to pray as in God's presence. He desired to plead as before one whom he knew would hear and help him. He longed to state his own case before the seat of the impartial Judge, before the very face of the all-wise God. He would appeal from the lower courts, where his friends had judged unrighteously, to the High Court of heaven. There, said Job, "I would order my cause before him and fill my mouth with arguments."
Job teaches us how he meant to plead and intercede with God. He does, as it were, reveal the secrets of his closet and unveils the art of prayer. We are admitted into the guild of suppliants; we are shown the art and mystery of pleading; we have taught to us the blessed handicraft and science of prayer.
There are two things here set forth as necessary in prayer--ordering of our cause, and filling our mouth with arguments.
First, it is needful that our suit be ordered before God. There is a vulgar notion that prayer is a very easy thing, a kind of common business that may be done anyhow, without care or effort. Some think that you have only to pull a book down from the shelf and get through a certain number of very excellent words and you have prayed, and then you may put the book up again. Others suppose that to use a book is superstitious, and that you ought rather to repeat extemporaneous sentences, sentences which come to your mind with a rush, like a herd of swine or a pack of hounds, and that when you have uttered them with some little attention to what you have said, you have prayed. Now neither of these modes of prayer were adopted by ancient saints. They appear to have thought a great deal more seriously of prayer than many do today.
The ancient saints were wont, with Job, to order their cause before God, that is, in the manner of a petitioner coming into Court. A petitioner does not come into court unprepared--stating his case on the spur of the moment--but enters into the audience chamber with his suit well prepared, having moreover learned how he ought to behave himself in the presence of the great One to whom he is appealing. There are times, when in peril and distress, that we may fly to God just as we are, as the dove enters the cleft of the rock even though her plumes are ruffled. But in ordinary times, we should not come with an unprepared spirit. See yonder priest? He has a sacrifice to offer. But he does not rush into the court of the priests and hack at the bullock with the first ax upon which he can lay his hand. He washes his feet at the brazen laver, puts on his garments, adorns himself with his priestly vestments, and then he comes to the altar with his victim properly divided according to the law. He is careful to do according to the command and takes the blood in a bowl and pours it in an appropriate place at the foot of the altar, not throwing it any which way. He does not kindle the fire with a common flame but with the sacred fire from off the altar. Now this ritual is all superseded, but the truth which it taught remains the same: our spiritual sacrifices should be offered with holy carefulness. God forbid that our prayer should be a mere leaping out of one's bed and kneeling down and saying anything that comes first to mind. On the contrary, may we wait upon the Lord with holy fear and sacred awe.
If any ask what order should be observed in prayer, I am not about to give you a scheme such as many have drawn out in which adoration, confession, petition, intercession, and ascription are arranged in succession. I am not persuaded that any such order is of divine authority. The true spiritual order of prayer seems to me to consist in something more than mere arrangement. It is most fitting for us first to feel that we are now doing something that is real; that we are about to address ourselves to God whom we cannot see, but who is really present. Feeling the reality of God's presence, our mind will be led by divine grace into a humble state. Consequently, we shall not deliver ourselves of our prayer as boys repeating their lessons, as a mere matter of rote; much less shall we speak as if we were rabbis instructing our pupils, or as I have heard some do, with the coarseness of a highwayman stopping a person on the road and demanding his money. On the contrary, we shall be humble yet bold petitioners, humbly importuning mercy through the Savior's blood.
When I feel that I am in the presence of God and take my rightful position in that presence, the next thing I shall want to recognize will be that I have no right to what I am seeking, and cannot expect to obtain it except as a gift of grace, and I must recollect that God limits the channel through which He will give me mercy--he will give it to me through his dear Son. Let me put myself then under the patronage of the great Redeemer. Let me feel that now it is no longer I that speak but Christ who speaks with me, and that while I plead, I plead his wounds, his life, his death, his blood, himself.
The next thing is to consider what I am to ask for. It is most proper in prayer to aim at great distinctness in supplication. It is well not to beat around the bush in prayer but to come directly to the point. I like that prayer of Abraham's, "Oh that Ishmael might live before thee!" There is the name of the person prayed for and the blessing desired, all in a few words. Many persons would have used a roundabout expression of this kind: "Oh that our beloved offspring might be regarded with the favor which thou bearest to those who," etc. Some people cannot even pray for the minister without using such circular descriptives that you might think it were someone whom it did not do to mention too particularly. Why not be distinct and say what we mean as well as mean what we say? It is not necessary, my dear brethren, to ask for every supposable good thing; it is not necessary to rehearse the catalog of every desire you may have, have had, can have, or shall have. Ask for what you now need, and, as a rule, keep to present need. Ask for it plainly, as before God, who does not regard your fine expressions and to whom your eloquence and oratory will be less than nothing and vanity. You are before the Lord; let your words be few but let your heart be fervent.
You have not quite completed the ordering when you have asked for what you want through Jesus Christ. There should be a searching as to whether it is assuredly a fitting thing to ask, for some prayers would never be offered if men did but think. A little reflection would show us that some things which we desire were better let alone. We may, moreover, have a motive at the bottom of our desire which is not Christ-like, a selfish motive which forgets God's glory and caters only for our own ease and comfort. Now although we may ask for things which are for our profit, yet still we must never let our profit interfere in any way with the glory of God. There must be mingled with acceptable prayer the holy salt of submission to the divine will. When we are sure that what we ask for is for God's glory, then, if we have power in prayer, we may say, "I will not let thee go except thou bless me."
Still, prayer itself is an art which only the Holy Ghost can teach us. He is the giver of all prayer. Pray for prayer; pray till you can pray and don't give up praying because you cannot pray. It is when you think that you cannot pray that you are most praying, and sometimes when you have no sort of comfort in your supplications, it is then that your heart, all broken and cast down, is really wrestling and truly prevailing with the Most High.
12 Sermons on Prayer
You will benefit from Walter Chantry's article on "Prayer".
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"Oh, that I knew where I might find him! That I might come even to his seat!
I would order my cause before him, and fill my mouth with arguments."
The second part of prayer is filling the mouth with arguments, not with words or good phrases or pretty expressions. When we come to the gate of mercy, forcible arguments are the knocks of the rapper by which the gate is opened.
Why are arguments to be used at all? is the first question. The answer is not because God is slow to give or because we can change the divine purpose or because he needs to be informed of our circumstances. The arguments to be used are for our own benefit, not for his. He requires us to plead with him and to bring forth our strong reasons because this will show that we feel the value of the mercy. When a man searches for arguments for a thing, it is because he attaches importance to that which he is seeking.
My brethren, there is no need for prayer at all as far as God is concerned, but what a need there is for it on our own account! If we were not constrained to pray, I question whether we could even live as Christians. If God's mercies came to us unasked, they would not be half so useful as they now are when they have to be sought for. The very act of praying is a blessing. To pray is, as it were, to bathe oneself in a cooling stream, to mount on eagle's wings above the clouds, to enter the treasure house of God. To pray is to grasp heaven in one's arms, to embrace the Deity within one's soul. To pray is to cast off your burdens, to tear away your rags, to shake off your diseases and to be filled with spiritual vigor. It is to reach the highest point of Christian health.
The most interesting part of our subject remains: a rapid summary and catalog of a few of the arguments which have been used with great success with God.
It is well in prayer to plead with Jehovah his attributes. Abraham did so when he laid hold upon God's justice when he pleaded for Sodom. "That be far from thee to do after this manner, to slay the righteous with the wicked. Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" Here the wrestling begins. It was a powerful argument by which Abraham grasped the Lord's left hand and arrested it just when the thunderbolt was about to fall. But there came a reply to it. It was intimated to him that this would not spare the city, and you notice how the good man, when sorely pressed, retreated by inches; and at last, when he could no longer lay hold upon justice, he grasped God's right hand of mercy, and that gave him a wondrous hold when he asked that if there were but ten righteous there the city might be spared. So you and I may take hold at any time upon the justice, the mercy, the faithfulness, the wisdom, the long-suffering, the tenderness of God, and we shall find every attribute of the Most High to be, as it were, a great battering ram with which we may open the gates of heaven.
Another mighty piece of ordnance in the battle of prayer is God's promise. When Jacob was on the other side of the brook Jabbok and his brother Esau was coming with armed men, he pleaded with God not to suffer Esau to destroy the mother and the children. As a master reason he pleaded, "And thou said, Surely I will do thee good." Oh the force of that plea! He was holding God to his word, "Thou said."
A third argument to be used is that employed by Moses--the great name of God. How mightily did he argue with God on one occasion upon this ground! "What will thou do for thy great name? The Egyptians will say, Because the Lord could not bring them into the land, therefore he slew them in the wilderness." Now, if the Lord should not be as good as his promise, not only is the believer deceived, but the wicked world looking on would say, "Aha! Where is your God?"
We may also plead the sorrows of his people. This is frequently done. Jeremiah is the great master of this art. "The precious sons of Zion, comparable to fine gold, how are they esteemed as earthen pitchers, the work of the hands of the potter!" He talks of all their griefs and trials in the siege. He calls upon the Lord to look upon his suffering Zion, and ere long his plaintive cries are heard.
It is good to plead with God the past. David prays, "Thou hast been my help. Leave me not, neither forsake me." Moses also, speaking with God, says, "Thou did bring this people up out of Egypt." As if he would say, "Do not leave thy work unfinished."
Lastly, the grand Christian argument is the suffering, the death, the merit, the intercession of Christ Jesus. Brethren, I am afraid we do not understand what it is that we have at our command when we are allowed to plead with God for Christ's sake. When we ask God to hear us, pleading Christ's name, we usually mean, "O Lord, thy dear son deserves this of thee; do this unto me because of what he merits." But we might go farther. Supposing you should say to me, you who keep a warehouse in the city, "Sir, call at my office and use my name, and say that they are to give you such a thing." I should go in and use your name and obtain my request as a matter of right and a matter of necessity.
This is virtually what Jesus Christ says to us. "If you need anything of God, all that the Father has belongs to me; go and use my name." When you have Christ's name, to whom the very justice of God has become a debtor and whose merits have claims with the Most High, there is no need to speak with fear and trembling and bated breath. Oh waver not and let not faith stagger. The name of Christ which you plead shakes the gates of hell!
The man who has his mouth full of arguments in prayer shall soon have his mouth full of benedictions in answer to prayer. It is said--I know not how truly--that the explanation of the text, "Open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it," may be found in a very singular Oriental custom. It is said that not many years ago (I remember the circumstance being reported) the King of Persia ordered the chief of his nobility, who had done something which greatly gratified him, to open his mouth. And when he had done so, he began to put into his mouth pearls, diamonds, rubies, and emeralds until he had filled it as full as it could hold. Then he bade him go his way. This is said to have been occasionally done in Oriental courts toward great favorites. God says, "Open thy mouth with arguments," and then he will fill it with mercies priceless, gems unspeakably valuable. Would not a man open his mouth wide to have it filled in such a style? Surely the most simple-minded among you would be wise enough for that. Let us then open wide our mouths when we have to plead with God. Our needs are great, let our requests be great, and the supply shall be great too.
12 Sermons on Prayer
Here is a most helpful sermon by B. S. Maturin, "On Prayer".
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"Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not know these things? . . . For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life." (John 3:10, 16)
The opening ministry of Jesus in Jerusalem had attracted a great deal of attention, both favorable and unfavorable. Many of the people who had seen His signs "believed on his name" (2:23). This phrase expressed saving faith, but the comment indicates that in this case their faith was superficial. It was vested only in the signs and did not extend to a full acceptance of His claims and commands. The Greek text has the same word for "believe" in verse 23 and for "trust" in verse 24. The people believed on Christ, but He did not believe them. He knew their hearts and could evaluate their faith exactly. Although the statement is negative in that its main import is Jesus' reason for not trusting Himself to the crowds in Jerusalem, it conveys also the positive truth that He knew the human heart thoroughly. Consequently the three main interviews that follow exhibit His method of dealing skillfully with three different types of personality with the purpose of bringing them to belief.
The first of these personalities was Nicodemus. As a Pharisee he was zealous for the law and scrupulous in his observance of it. He was called "a ruler of the Jews," which indicated that he had achieved a position of leadership in his nation. His coming by night might be attributable to any one of a number of motives: to fear of criticism, to a desire for uninterrupted conversation, or to an urge to make a private investigation before committing himself publicly for or against Jesus. Three utterances of Nicodemus in the ensuing conversation are recorded:
"Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that thou doest, except God be with him." Nicodemus' declaration was both a polite concession and an initial step of faith. His greeting revealed him as a gentleman and a thinker: a gentleman, because he paid Jesus a sincere compliment; a thinker, because his words implied that he had observed carefully Jesus' works, and had concluded that only a heaven-sent person could perform them.
The reply of Jesus was startling because of its abruptness: "Except one be born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God." At first the statement seemed almost irrelevant; yet it really was the expression of Jesus' discernment. Because He "knew what was in man," He saw through Nicodemus, and knew that his circuitous approach concealed a deeper need. Nicodemus, like many another of his time, was seeking the kingdom of God. Jesus bluntly answered his question before he could ask it, asserting that without a complete change, comparable only to rebirth, the natural man could not enter the spiritual kingdom. "Cannot" implies incapability rather than prohibition. The natural man is not arbitrarily debarred from the kingdom. He is inherently incapable of apprehending it, just as a blind man cannot enjoy a sunset. God's mysteries are not the heritage of the learned, the moral, or the religious simply because of learning, morality, or religion; they are the heritage of the spiritually transformed.
The figure of speech which Jesus employed was possibly familiar to Nicodemus. At any rate, its meaning was clear to him. Just as an infant, by the very occurrence of his birth, is fitted for a new life in a strange realm, so men must experience spiritual rebirth preparatory to their entrance into the kingdom of God.
Nicodemus' second utterance was a twofold query. "How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born, can he?" To assume that a man so astute as Nicodemus should have thought the new birth to be literally physical is absurd. The question rather meant: "I acknowledge that a new birth is necessary, but I am too old to change. My pattern of life is set. Physical birth is out of the question and psychological rebirth seems even less probable. Granting the truth of what you say, is not my case hopeless?"
The reply of Jesus was an appeal to Nicodemus' knowledge. "Except one be born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God." "Water" would recall to the inquirer the ministry of John the Baptist, whose preaching of repentance and of baptism would be fresh in his mind. To a Jew, the idea of baptism would be repugnant since it connoted the ceremony by which an unclean Gentile became a member of the Jewish faith. Such a step as this for Nicodemus would involve humiliation, a virtual acknowledgment that he, a Pharisee, needed to repent just as a Gentile outside the law needed repentance.
Furthermore, this birth must come through the Spirit. The statement presupposed the activity of the Holy Spirit within all who entered the kingdom. Nicodemus knew nothing of the Spirit experimentally. In Old Testament teaching, the Spirit came upon the prophets or other specially chosen men for unusual reasons, but nowhere in Judaism was taught the coming of the Spirit upon all men for their personal regeneration. The mystery and reality of the Spirit's work were both contained in Jesus' illustration of the wind whose origin was undiscoverable but whose presence was manifest. Nobody could deny its existence. Thus it was with those born of the Spirit. The origin of their life could not be defined, but its actuality could be seen by all.
Nicodemus posed a further question: "How can these things be?" This query should be interpreted as an earnest plea for a method of fulfillment, not as an expression of amazement and incredulity. The seeker was eager to participate in the spiritual privileges of which Jesus spoke, and he pressed the point. "How can I experience this new birth?" would be a fair paraphrase of the passage.
Jesus' rejoinder reflected surprise. "Art thou the teacher of Israel, and understandest not these things?" The definite article implied that Nicodemus must have been regarded as the outstanding teacher in Israel, yet he was ignorant of a cardinal spiritual truth. Jesus was hesitant about telling him more. If he were unable to comprehend matters illustrated by material experience, he would be incapable of grasping truth which had no earthly analogy. Beyond Jesus' own word there could be no further explanation. He was the sole link between heaven and earth.
For this reason Jesus approached the problem from the standpoint of the Jewish Scriptures with which Nicodemus undoubtedly was familiar. His selected the story of the brazen serpent (Num. 21:8) and made a direct comparison between the serpent and Himself. It was a startling simile, for the serpent was the emblem of sin under judgment, as Nicodemus would recognize. The points of comparison were as follows:
The brazen serpent was prepared by the command of God.
It symbolized God's way of saving men who are under the condemnation of sin and who are suffering from its effects.
It made curative power available on the basis of faith rather than of works. The sufferers did nothing but look at the serpent.
It was lifted up on a "standard." "Banner staff" would be an acceptable translation. A banner staff was frequently formed like a cross, with the transverse pole holding the banner. The word here translated "lifted up" (hypsoo) was used by John only of the passion of Christ (8:28, 12:32, 34), and the inference is clear that he intended an analogy between the brazen serpent and the cross.
The serpent itself was a representation of God's judgment on sin.
The destiny of the individual was determined by his response to God's invitation.
In effect, Jesus told Nicodemus that the new birth was a direct result of faith in His death and resurrection power. . . .
God's attitude is love. The word translated "love" is the noblest and strongest in Greek. It connotes an act of the will rather than an emotion, whim, or infatuation, and its measure is defined in terms of the result. "He gave his only begotten Son." God's positive purpose in Christ is the salvation of the unbeliever. Although judgment is the inevitable consequence of disbelief, it is not God's primary desire for men. The breadth of the invitation is revealed by the "whosoever," which is as inclusive and indefinite as possible. Salvation is not restricted to any race, color, or class, but is the heritage of all who will truly believe.
JOHN: The Gospel of Belief
Samuel Davies has a wonderful sermon on salvation, "The Method of Salvation through Jesus Christ".
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