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
"He who testifies to these things says,
'Surely I am coming quickly.'
Amen. Even so, come Lord Jesus!"
Until the second quarter of the nineteenth century, general agreement existed among premillennial advocates of our Lord's Coming concerning the main outlines of the prophetic future. Amid differences of opinion on the interpretation of the Apocalypse and other portions of Scripture, the following scheme stood out as fairly representative of the school.
1. The approaching Advent of Christ to this world will be visible, personal, and glorious.
2. This Advent, though in itself a single crisis, will be accompanied and followed by a variety of phenomena bearing upon the history of the Church, of Israel, and the world. Believers who survive until the Advent will be transfigured and translated to meet the approaching Lord, together with the saints raised and changed at the first resurrection. Immediately following this, Antichrist and his allies will be slain, and Israel--the covenant people--will repent and be saved by looking upon Him whom they pierced.
3. Thereupon, the Messianic Kingdom of prophecy, which as the Apocalypse informs us will last for a thousand years, will be established in power and great glory in a transfigured world. The nations will turn to God, war and oppression cease, and righteousness and peace cover the earth.
4. At the conclusion of the kingly rule of Christ and His saints, the rest of the dead will be raised, the Last Judgment ensue, and a new and eternal world be created.
5. No distinction was made between the Coming of our Lord, His Appearing, Revelation, and Day, because these were all held to be synonymous, or at least related, terms, signifying always the one Advent in glory at the beginning of the Messianic Kingdom.
6. While the Coming of Christ--no matter how long the present dispensation may last--is the true and proper hope of the Church in every generation, it is nevertheless conditioned by the prior fulfillment of certain signs or events in the history of the Kingdom of God: the Gospel has first to be preached to all nations, the Apostasy and the Man of Sin be revealed, and the Great Tribulation come to pass. Then shall the Lord come.
7. The Church of Christ will not be removed from the earth until the Advent of Christ at the very end of the present Age. The Rapture and the Appearing take place at the same crisis; hence, Christians of that generation will be exposed to the final affliction under Antichrist.
Such is a fair statement of the fundamentals of Premillennialism as it has obtained since the close of the Apostolic Age. There have been differences of opinion on details and subsidiary points, but the main outline is as I have given it.
These views were held in the main by Irenaeus (the "grandpupil" of the Apostle John), Justin Martyr, Tertullian, and the primitive Christians generally, until the rise of the Catholic, political Church in the West. Since the beginning of the last century, what a galaxy of preachers, theologians, and expositors have appeared to maintain the ancient faith! The fact that so many eminent men reached similar conclusions regarding the subject of Christ's Coming and Kingdom creates a strong presumption that such views are scriptural, and that nothing plainly taught in Scripture and essential to the Church's hope was overlooked.
The Approaching Advent of Christ
See also our study on the Book of Revelation.
A very good book is "The Hope of Christ's Second Coming" by Samuel P. Tregelles.
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"For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be. And unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect's sake those days will be shortened...Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory." (Matthew 24:21-30)
The Lord Jesus gives a warning of an unequaled tribulation which shall immediately precede His coming in glory. Some have said, "What a fearful prospect it is if the Church shall be in this tribulation! Can we suppose it possible that the Lord can permit any part of this suffering to fall on His redeemed and believing people? Is it not more fitting, more in accordance with His dealings in grace towards them, that they should be removed to be with Him before this trouble sets in?" And by such thinking any theory is judged admissible which shall exclude the Church from sharing at all in this suffering or from being on earth at the time.
We cannot draw conclusions in this transcendental manner. Thus Peter argued and spoke when his Master foretold "that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day." It was nature, and not spirituality, that led Peter to think in this way of the sufferings of his Lord, rather than of the promise of His resurrection. "Far be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to You!" Should not our Lord’s rebuke to Peter check all such reasonings, especially when He speaks of His followers taking up their cross and losing their lives, but having before them the promise that the "Son of Man shall come in the glory of His Father?" We can never set our opinion of what is fitting in opposition to any direct statement of the Lord.
But is suffering and trial so strange a lot for the people of Christ? "These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world." How continually did the apostles teach that "we must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God." "No one should be shaken by these afflictions: for you yourselves know that we are appointed to this. For, in fact, we told you before when we were with you that we would suffer tribulation." If, then, certain tribulations are to be expected as the common experience of the faithful servants of Christ, why should it seem strange that they should be instructed concerning the great and final tribulation? Why should it be thought that they must previously be taken away?
"Who are these arrayed in white robes, and where did they come from? These are the ones who came out of the great tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple." The gathered assembly of those whose robes have been washed and made white in the blood of atonement are set forth as those who have passed through great tribulation. It is so spoken of as their characteristic; as if the last scene on earth in which they had been regarded was one marked by tribulation.
It has been asked, "If the great tribulation is an affliction for Israel and a punishment for the Gentiles, how can the Church be in it?" In this inquiry, two fallacies are assumed: First, that this tribulation is part of the outpouring of judgment; and second, that the Church, while in the world, is exempted from part of the suffering which falls on men or on nations. Concerning the first, for believers there is no penal suffering, because Christ in life and in death endured for His people all that is penal. As regards the second, any disciplinary sorrow on Israel or on the nations before Christ comes has, in part at least, a corrective character: it ought to lead to repentance. And from this, the last tribulation (though of a very special kind) is not to be excepted. However, in this last tribulation Christ is very mindful of His people: "for the elect’s sake, those days shall be shortened." Besides this, they are warned of that time, in order that they may at once flee away from the scene of suffering. Those who believe that these warnings are intended for Christians may, by obeying the word of the Lord, be locally removed from the fierceness of the trial.
Thus the Lord desires that His people should be enabled to endure; that in obedience to Him, they should watch the coming on of this tribulation, and that they should know that, however they may in part be sharers in it, His own coming is to follow at once.
The Hope of Christ's Second Coming
See also our study on the Book of Revelation.
John Scruby has a chapter examining pretribulationism which you might like, "Pre-Tribulation-Rapturism Merely Inferential".
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"How can you believe, who receive honor from one another,
and do not seek the honor that comes from the only God?"
From the fall to this day, from Adam who hid himself from the face of the Lord God among the trees of the Garden to the unbeliever who listens with a careless heart to this sermon, "Everyone that does evil hates the light, neither comes to the light lest his deeds should be reproved." And "this is the condemnation" of us all--until we become children of God in Jesus Christ--"'that light," the light of truth, the light of holiness, the light of mercy, the light of virtuous hope, "has come into the world, and men love darkness rather than light, because their deeds are evil." Hence the necessity of that entire change of the heart which the Scriptures call a new birth, the acquiring of a new nature, before we can enter by faith into the kingdom of God.
One form of this evil influence so fatal to faith, our Saviour describes in our holy text. The Pharisees were enraged against him for the strange crime of healing a poor paralytic on the Sabbath day. But their rage rose to madness when he declared that he was working his Father's will with the power of God. They were ready to put him to death because he proved that he was the Son of God by an act of miraculous mercy, which nothing less than divine power could have performed. So true is it, that when men are determined to find fault they never lack a pretext, and that there are none so skeptical of goodness as those who are hypocritical boasters of their own morality. Our Saviour flings back the charge in their false faces. He shows them that if they truly believed in God, they could never doubt such mercy and such power. Then, as with a two-edged sword, he pierces to the malice rankling in their bosoms and says, "I know ye, that ye have not the love of God in you. I am come in my Father's name," with the manifest proofs of my Father's approbation, "and ye receive me not. If another come, in his own name," one, like yourselves, pleasing your pride with a less holy doctrine, "him ye will receive. How can ye believe, which receive honor one of another, and seek not the honor that comes from God only?"
The doctrine is plain. No man can believe in Christ who, for the sake of praise from men, neglects to secure the approbation of his God.
Let me guard the proposition from being misunderstood. The Master does not mean to say that a Christian may take no pains to have a good character in the world. On the contrary, in another place he calls his true disciples "lights of the world," bidding them "let their light so shine before men, that they, seeing their good works, may glorify their Father who is in heaven." And Paul commands in his Lord's name that we "let not our good be evil spoken of," and "avoid the very appearance of evil."
Christian character has taken the place of natural miracles in proving the moral power of religion. The Christian should guard his character as not his own, but the testimony and property of Jesus Christ. And foul guilt rests upon those who, from envy, or malice, or idle tattling, mar the fair fame and so hinder the usefulness of any child of God. They become one with the devil in the loathsome office of accusing the brethren and the saints of the Most High. Our Saviour here means to say, that the approbation of God should be our first care, and the praise of men sought only while obedient to his will. Though all the world should hiss and scoff, we are to hold fast our integrity in the sight of Him who knows the heart and metes out unfailing justice.
Let us seek more earnestly to praise Christ. See Theodor Zahn's sermon, "The Beauty of Praise".
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"For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame." (Hebrews 6:4-6)
There is but one sin spoken of in the Book of Hebrews, namely, the act of a first century Jew who has left Judaism and has identified himself with the visible Christian church, who having made a profession of Christ now is in danger under stress of persecution, of renouncing that faith and going back to the abrogated ritual of the Levitical system.
It is described in chapter 2:1 as a "slipping away from the New Testament truth," a "hardening of the heart against the Holy Spirit" (3:7,8), a "falling away," and a "crucifying the Son of God afresh" (6:6), a "wilful sin" consisting of three-fold sin against the Triune God, "treading under foot the Son of God," a sin against the Father who sent the Son, "counting Jesus' blood as common blood," a sin against the Son who shed His blood, and "doing despite to the Holy Ghost," a sin against the Holy Ghost who led them to the place of repentance (10:26, 29).
The words "falling away" are from a Greek word which literally means "to fall beside a person or thing, to slip away, to deviate from the right path, to turn aside." From early manuscripts we have two illustrations of its use:  "if the terms of the contract be broken," and  where it is used of a person who falls back to his earlier interpretation.
These two uses fit exactly into the historical background of the book, and the context in which the word is found. Here is the case of Jews who professed faith in Christ, who going along with the Holy Spirit in His pre-salvation work, had been brought into the place of repentance, to the very threshold of salvation. They had made a contract so to speak with the Spirit, willingly being led along by Him. Now, should they refuse the proffered faith and return to Judaism, they would be breaking their contract which they made with the Spirit.
Again, at one time they had adhered to the sacrificial system of the First Testament. Then they had left it to embrace the New Testament truth. Now, should they return to the temple sacrifices, they would be reverting to their former opinion regarding the same.
These words "falling away," can only refer to the one sin spoken of in this book. It could only be committed in the first century and by a Jew, or a Gentile proselyte to Judaism, and for the reason that conditions since A.D. 70 have been such as to make impossible the committing of that sin. The temple at Jerusalem was destroyed on that date. There are no Jewish sacrifices to leave nor to return to. This was apostasy, a most serious sin. These Jews had been made partakers, "partners," see Luke 5:7, same Greek word, of the Holy Ghost, going along with Him in His pre-salvation work. Now, to reject His further ministrations was a most serious thing from which act there was no recovery.
Golden Nuggets from the Greek New Testament
See also this exposition by J. B. Rowell, "Hebrews Six, An Age-long Battleground".
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"But those who wait upon Yahweh shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint." (Isaiah 40:31)
Almighty power and infinite wisdom belong unto God. The continual exertion of his power in the sustaining of all things occasions no weariness to him. As he is strong himself, so he is the source of strength to such as trust in him, although they be weak in themselves. But all who rely on their own strength, though they be young and vigorous, will utterly fail; for as human wisdom in the sight of God is counted as folly, so human strength in the most vigorous is but weakness.
Wherein consists the strength spoken of by the prophet? The essence of spiritual strength resides in the will. A fixed purpose is that which more clearly characterizes the genuine Christian than anything else. When the determination of the will is not only fixed but strong, then the soul is in a vigorous state. Where there is strength there will be diligence in well-doing. Indolence is incompatible with spiritual energy; it is its opposite--its most insidious foe.
It has already been shown that the source of this strength is not in ourselves but in God. We are not exhorted, therefore, to be strong in ourselves, but "in the Lord, and in the power of his might." But in order to obtain aid from on high, we must make use of the appointed and appropriate means. These are all comprehended in one expression: "waiting on the Lord." Let us then attentively consider what is included in the duty here recognized. The allusion is probably to the case of persons waiting in the antechamber, or some appointed place, for the entrance of a prince or other exalted personage whose aid is sought in some concern of moment. Suppliants cannot command the presence of a king or great man with whom they have business. They must wait his leisure or convenience, and sometimes such petitioners are kept long waiting. The petition may be sent in through the proper medium, and an answer is expected, but the suppliant must wait until it is received.
Analogous to this is the condition of those who seek God. They must attend where he has appointed to meet with humble worshippers. If no means of access had been appointed, they could have little encouragement to prosecute their suit. Or if they devise means which he has never sanctioned, they need not expect a favourable answer. Now, it is our happiness to know that means of access to God have been appointed. The public worship of God in the assemblies of his people, where prayer and praise are offered, and where his word is preached and ordinances dispensed, affords to every sincere seeker an opportunity of drawing nigh to God and presenting his petitions.
When the body is debilitated and needs to be strengthened, the men of this world spare no pains or expense to recover impaired health. If they hear of a medicinal spring far off in the mountains, they hesitate not to undertake the journey and undergo the hardships of the rugged way, that they may test the efficacy of the mineral waters. And this is done commonly, in the greatest uncertainty whether the means will prove effectual. The diseased in body will apply to the most skilful physicians, and be at any expense which they can afford to procure the medicines prescribed. But although there is a fountain opened for sin and uncleanness, yet how slow are men to avail themselves of this effectual means of purification! Although a great and infallible Physician offers his services with all needed remedies to heal the diseases of the soul; and not only so but to confer immortal life on everyone who is willing to come to him and confide his case entirely to his hands; and notwithstanding that there are multitudes perishing who are within reach of the great Physician and hear his kind invitation every week--they refuse to apply to him and are unwilling to submit to his prescriptions.
As our natural life requires to be nourished by suitable food from day to day, without which it would decline and death would ensue, so the spiritual life of the Christian needs to be recruited continually with the nutriment which is suited to its growth and strength. And if this be withheld, or sparingly partaken of, the soul will lose its healthful vigor and will languish and fall into dangerous diseases. Of their daily bread men in health are led to partake by the stimulus of appetite, so that there is no occasion to exhort them to attend to this matter. But in regard to spiritual nutriment, there is often in many professors a manifest defect of both taste and appetite, so that while the means are accessible--and that without expense or trouble--yet they are neglected. And the spiritual life remains languid, exhibiting few symptoms of vitality and none of strength. Or, as there is too much reason to fear, in many cases the principle of life is wanting. Having a name to live, they are dead, and no more enjoy the rich provisions of the house of God than a dead man would the most savory and nourishing food. A love to divine ordinances, and a disposition to wait upon God in attendance on them, in private as well as in public, may be given as one test of Christian character.
Although every degree of spiritual strength is a precious possession, and we are not permitted "to despise the day of small things," nor to reject from our fellowship those who are weak in the faith, yet it is the duty and privilege of every believer to aim at high attainments in the divine life, and to encourage and aid others in doing the same. They should be covetous of those rich experiences in the divine life which are represented by mounting up as on wings of an eagle. Such elevated seasons of religious experience are not only inexpressibly delightful, but exceedingly profitable. One day thus spent, whether in the sanctuary or in the closet, is better than a thousand in worldly business and carnal pleasures. The soul thus favoured possesses an evidence of the truth of the Christian religion, which no other can have. Such elevated views and affections also give an impulse to the soul in its spiritual progress, which is like to that which a ship receives from a favourable wind springing up, after the experience of headwinds or a calm.
But if we should not be so highly favoured as to be able thus to mount and fly, yet we should certainly not be contented to creep, when, by renewing our strength, we may run and yet not be weary, and walk and not faint. Some who are strong in the Lord are men of a sorrowful spirit and subject to fearful conflicts. But God causes them to triumph; and following the Captain of salvation wherever he leads, through evil and through good report, they are made more than conquerors through his love, through his merit, through his faithfulness, and through his power.
Blessed then are all they who continually wait on the Lord, for they will enjoy spiritual health and vigour, while those who rely on their own strength shall utterly fall.
Practical Sermons (condensed)
Here is a great sermon by George Mountain on Luke 18:1, "He spake a parable . . . that men ought always to pray and not to faint".
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"And God sent me before you to preserve a posterity for you in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So now it was not you who sent me here, but God; and he has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house, and a ruler throughout all the land of Egypt." (Genesis 45:7,8)
This is a remarkable passage. We are taught that the right course of events is never so disturbed by the depravity and wickedness of men but that God can direct them to a good end. We are also instructed in what manner and for what purpose we must consider the providence of God. Men of inquisitive minds argue against God's providence. They do not regard the end designed, but invent every absurdity to sully the justice of God. As soon as it is declared that God holds the government of the whole world in his hands, and that nothing is done but by his will and authority, they who think with little reverence of the mysteries of God break forth into frivolous and injurious questions. As a consequence, good men are ashamed to confess that what men undertake cannot be accomplished, except by the will of God. They fear that unbridled tongues will claim that either God is the author of sin, or that wicked men are not to be accused of crime, seeing they fulfill the counsel of God.
It is right to maintain what is declared by the clear testimonies of Scripture: Whatever men may contrive, yet, amid all their tumult God from heaven overrules their counsels and attempts. In short, God does, by their hands, what he has himself decreed. I speak of evils with respect to men who propose nothing else but to act perversely. As this vice dwells in them, so ought the whole blame also be laid upon them. But God works in a marvelous way, that from their wickedness he may bring forth his perfect righteousness. This method of acting is secret and far above our understanding. Therefore, it is not surprising that our carnal nature should rise against it. Much more diligently must we be on our guard that we do not attempt to reduce this lofty standard to the measure of our own littleness. Let this sentiment remain fixed with us, that while the lust of men exults and drives them here and there, God is the ruler. He, by his secret rein, directs their motions wherever he pleases. At the same time, however, it must also be maintained that no vice can attach itself to God's providence, and that his decrees have no affinity with the crimes of men.
A most illustrious example of this principle is placed before our eyes in this history. Joseph was sold by his brothers. For what reason? Because they wished, by any means whatever, to ruin and kill him. The same work is ascribed to God, but for a very different end; namely, that in a time of famine the family of Jacob might have an unexpected supply of food. Therefore, God willed that Joseph should be as one dead, for a short time, in order that he (God) might bring him forth from the grave as the preserver of life. Though God seems, at the beginning, to do the same thing as the wicked brothers, yet there is a wide distance between their wickedness and his admirable judgment.
Let us now examine the words of Joseph. For the consolation of his brothers, he seems to draw the veil of oblivion over their fault. But we know that men are not exempt from guilt, even though God may, beyond expectation, bring what they wickedly attempt to a good and happy issue. Joseph neither traces their fault to God as its cause, nor absolves them from it. Those whose consciences accuse them of evil derive no advantage from the pretense that the providence of God exonerates them from blame.
We see that Joseph was a skillful interpreter of the providence of God when he borrowed from it an argument for granting forgiveness to his brothers. The magnitude of the crime committed against him might have so incensed him that he would burn with a desire for revenge. But when he reflects that their wickedness had been overruled by the wonderful goodness of God, he forgets the injury received and kindly embraces his brothers, whose dishonor God had covered with his grace. Truly, love is ingenious in hiding the faults of others.
Joseph is carried forward to another view of the case; namely, that he had been divinely chosen to help his brothers. He not only remits their offense, but from an earnest desire to discharge his duty, he delivers them from fear and anxiety as well as from want. This is the reason why he asserts that he was ordained to preserve you a posterity. That is, to preserve them alive, and that by an excellent and wonderful deliverance.
In saying that he is a father to Pharaoh, Joseph is not carried away with empty boasting, as vain men are accustomed to be. Nor does he make an ostentatious display of his wealth. But he proves from an event so great and incredible, that he had not obtained the post by accident or by human means. Rather, by the wonderful counsel of God, a lofty throne had been raised for him from which he might aid his father and his whole family.
For some additional reading, see "The Providence of God" by Loraine Boettner.
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"Then he began to rebuke the cities in which most of his mighty works had been done, because they did not repent: Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, who are exalted to heaven, will be brought down to Hades; for if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I say to you that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment than for you." (Matthew 11:20-24)
The sin charged against these cities was not a sin against the moral law, for then an appeal would have been made to the gospel. But it was a sin against the gospel--the remedial law--and this is impenitence. They were reproached with the most shameful, ungrateful thing that could be: they repented not. Willful impenitence is the great damning sin of multitudes that enjoy the gospel, and which (more than any other) sinners will be upbraided with to eternity. Christ does not say because they believed not--for some kind of faith many had (that Christ was a teacher come from God)--but because they repented not. Their faith did not prevail to the transforming of their hearts and the reforming of their lives.
Let us see the aggravation of this sin. These were the cities in which most of Christ's mighty works were done, for thereabouts had been his principal residence for some time. Some places enjoy the means of grace in greater plenty, power, and purity than others. God is a free agent and acts so in all his disposals, both as the God of nature and as the God of grace, both common and distinguishing. The stronger inducements we have to repent, the more heinous is the impenitence and the more severe will be the reckoning. Christ keeps account of the mighty works done among us and of the gracious works done for us by which we should be led to repentance.
Now Chorazin and Bethsaida are here compared with Tyre and Sidon, two maritime cities we read much of in the Old Testament. They had been brought to ruin, but began to flourish again. These cities bordered upon Galilee, but they bore an ill name among the Jews because of their idolatry and other wickedness. Christ sometimes went into the coasts of Tyre and Sidon, but never there. The Jews would have taken it as reprehensible if he had. Therefore, Christ, in order to convince and humble the Jews, here shows that Tyre and Sidon would not have been so bad as Chorazin and Bethsaida if they had had the same word preached and the same miracles worked among them. They would have repented, and that long ago, as Nineveh did, in sackcloth and ashes. Christ, who knows the hearts of all men, knew that if he had gone and lived and preached among them, he should have done more good there than where he was. Our repentance is slow and delayed, but theirs would have been speedy--they would have repented long ago. Ours has been slight and superficial, but theirs would have been deep and serious--in sackcloth and ashes. Yet we must observe, with an awful adoration of the divine sovereignty, that the Tyrians and Sidonians will justly perish in their sin, though, if they had had the means of grace, they would have repented. God is a debtor to no man.
Capernaum is here condemned with an emphasis. "And you, Capernaum, hold up your hand and hear your doom." Capernaum, above all the cities of Israel, was dignified with Christ's most usual residence. It was like Shiloh of old, the place where God chose to put his name, and it fared with it as with Shiloh. Christ's miracles in Capernaum were daily bread, and as the manna of old, were despised. We have here that city's doom: "You who are exalted to heaven shall be brought down to hell." Those who enjoy the gospel in power and purity are thereby exalted to heaven. They have a great honor for the present and a great advantage for eternity. They are lifted up toward heaven, but if, notwithstanding, they still cleave to the earth, they have only themselves to thank if they are not lifted up into heaven. Gospel advantages abused will sink sinners so much the lower into hell.
We have it here put in comparison with the doom of Sodom, a place more remarkable both for sin and ruin than perhaps any other. Yet Christ here tells us that Capernaum's means would have saved Sodom. If these miracles had been done among the Sodomites, even as bad as the Sodomites were, they would have repented and their city would have remained unto his day. It would have remained a monument of sparing mercy rather than of destroying justice. Upon true repentance through Christ, even the greatest sin shall be pardoned and the greatest ruin prevented, that of Sodom not excepted. Angels were sent to Sodom, but the city was destroyed. If Christ had been sent there, the city would have remained. Sodom's ruin will, therefore, be less at the great day of judgment than Capernaum's. Sodom will have many things to answer for, but not for the sin of neglecting Christ, as Capernaum will.
We who now have the written word in our hands, the gospel preached, the gospel ordinances administered, and who live under the dispensation of the Spirit, have advantages not inferior to those of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum. And the account in the great day will be accordingly. The professors of this age, whether they go to heaven or hell, will be the greatest debtors in either of these two places. If to heaven, they will be the greatest debtors to divine mercy for those rich means that brought them there. If to hell, they will be the greatest debtors to divine justice for those rich means that would have kept them from there.
Matthew Henry's Commentary
Please check out Ken's article, "Gehenna and the Doctrine of Eternal Punishment".
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"You are already full! You have reigned as kings without us--and indeed I could wish you did reign, that we also might reign with you! For I think that God has displayed us, the apostles, last, as men condemned to death; for we have been made a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men. We are fools for Christ's sake, but you are wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are distinguished, but we are dishonored! . . . Therefore I urge you, imitate me." (1 Corinthians 4:8-10, 16)
This is one of the very few passages in which the apostle gives vent to his feelings as a suffering and injured man. Through no less than six verses here (8-13) there runs the utterance of a solemn sorrow, we might almost call it melancholy, at the contemplation of his present lot as an apostle of the Lord.
His life had many a bitterness. Danger, weariness, contempt, persecution, hunger, thirst, nakedness, buffeting, reviling, stoning, bonds--these were its chief earthly ingredients. And had there not been something heavenly compensating for all these, he would have been of all men most miserable. He felt the sorrow, for conversion had not lifted him out of the region of human feeling. Yet he seldom refers to it, and when he does it is more with triumph than with sadness: "I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us" (Rom. viii. 18).
Here [in our text] his reference to his sorrows has more in it of sadness than elsewhere. Yet he has not repented of his course; he is not ashamed of his apostleship; he is willing to drink even a bitterer cup than he has yet tasted. The sadness that thus comes is altogether natural and shows how truly the apostle was a man--a man of like passions with ourselves. We get a passing insight into the noble soul and learn how profoundly he felt the evils that, like the waves of the storm, beat upon him without ceasing, and how oftentimes his heart was like to break even in the midst of the joy unspeakable and full of glory. He does not draw back nor refuse to pay the cost of apostleship. He accepts the present honour and the coming glory with all their conditions and penalties. For the joy set before him he endures the shame.
With some, [however], I fear there is more than the apostle's sorrow. They do not, perhaps, repent having taken up the cross, but they shrink sometimes from what it has brought upon them. They counted on a little, but it has come to much [more]. They gladly took up the cross, but they had not ascertained its weight and its sharpness. They were prepared for some bitterness, but not for all this gall and wormwood. They made ready for battle, but the fight has proved sorer and longer than they dreamed of. They were not unwilling to bear shame for his name, but the reproach has proved heavier than they can bear. They knew that they were to meet resistance from the world, but not all this enmity, this malignity, this misrepresentation. They did not refuse sacrifice and suffering, but the poverty, the disappointment and the all but broken heart have gone beyond their calculations. The wounds are deeper, the fiery darts are sharper, the furnace is hotter, the road is rougher, the hill is higher, the stream is deeper than they thought.
They do not wish they had not become Christians, but they hardly know what to do nor which way to turn. They submit, but they do not count it all joy. They have the sadness of the apostle without his exulting gladness. His was but half a sorrow because of the joy; theirs is but half a joy because of the sorrow. In such a case they need to be put in mind of the apostolic hope by which the primitive Church was sustained, lest Satan should get an advantage over them, or lest they be weary and faint in their minds.
There is another class of Christians, however, of whom Paul here more especially speaks. They are the easy-minded and self-satisfied, who think themselves full and rich. They have not been emptied from vessel to vessel, and so they have settled on their lees. They are not Laodiceans, but very near them. They are not foolish virgins, but very like them. They would not think of following the world, but they do not like the idea of confronting and condemning it. They would rather be saved from the ill-will and scorn which separation from its vanities and gaieties is sure to produce, all the while enjoying Christianity at their firesides and congratulating themselves on the prudence by means of which they have succeeded in avoiding the reproach without relinquishing their profession. They would rather not expose themselves to too much shame, or over-zeal, or over-decision, or over-boldness in the cause of Christ. A little compromise with the world, they think, does no harm. A proper enjoyment of its harmless amusements, they are persuaded, is of great benefit to themselves, and of wonderful use in conciliating worldly men and smoothing away their prejudices. They look with no small dislike upon the outspoken fervor of fearless single-eyed disciples, to whom Christ is everything and the world nothing. Nay, they join with the scoffer in reviling these men as excited enthusiasts, professing themselves the best of Christians all the while, and announcing that the religion they admire is unostentatious and undemonstrative, modest and retiring. Nay, they grow warm in denouncing zeal for Christ, and never fail to add that these over-zealous Christians do more harm than good. Of such it is that the apostle writes these words of solemn rebuke: "Now ye are full, now ye are rich, ye have reigned as kings without us."
Family Sermons (condensed)
You will enjoy Charles Bridges' exposition of Psalm 119:5, "Oh, that my ways were directed to keep your statutes."
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"But He needed to go through Samaria. So He came to a city of Samaria which is called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. Now Jacob's well was there. Jesus therefore, being wearied from His journey, sat thus by the well. It was about the sixth hour. A woman of Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, Give Me a drink. . . . The woman then left her waterpot, went her way into the city, and said to the men, Come, see a Man who told me all things that I ever did. Could this be the Christ? . . . Then they said to the woman, Now we believe, not because of what you said, for we ourselves have heard Him and we know that this is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world." (John 4:4-42)
A strange phrase introduces this episode: He must needs pass through Samaria." The word "must" implies logical necessity rather than personal obligation. It is the term one would use in saying, "A triangle must have three sides." Why it should be used here is not immediately clear, since there were other roads that Jesus could have taken to Galilee. In the light of the general tenor of the Gospel, the word suggested that His reason was not geographical necessity nor social pressure, but the underlying compulsion of the Divine Will that sought out the lost Samaritan sheep. That little phrase, "He must," makes this interview to glow with the light of destiny.
The place of the interview was Sychar, or near it. The city stood at a fork of the road, one branch of which went toward Capernaum and the other branch to Nazareth. The well of Jacob was located about one half mile from the village.
The time is given as the sixth hour. Bernard takes the view that time in John's Gospel is computed from sunrise to sunset, which would make the sixth hour to be twelve o'clock noon. In this narrative it would explain why Jesus sat down to rest, since He would be weary after the travel of the morning, and ready for the food which the disciples had gone to buy. Although noon was not the customary hour for women to visit the well, the presence of the Samaritan may be explained plausibly by supposing that she was in ill repute among the women of her village, and so preferred to come for water at a time when others would not be there.
The woman was an an interesting character. As the second in the series of interviews, she was all that Nicodemus was not. He was a Jew; she was a Samaritan. He was a man; she was a woman. He was learned; she was ignorant. He was morally upright; she was sinful. He was wealthy and from the upper class of society; she was poor, and probably almost an outcast. He recognized Jesus' merits and sought Him out; she saw Him only as a curious traveler and was quite indifferent to Him. Nicodemus was serious and dignified; she was flippant and possibly boisterous. It is hard to imagine a greater contrast in personalities than that which existed between these two individuals.
The tact and persistence of Jesus was demonstrated in His appeals to her. He began on the ground of her kindness. "Give me to drink" is a request that would be granted to almost anybody. One would scarcely deny a cup of cold water to his worst enemy. Doubtless Jesus knew also that the surest way to win the friendship of another is to ask a favor. The sense of having another obligated for a favor given is much more pleasing than the sense of being obligated for a favor received. Jesus' indebtedness to the woman for the drink might serve to undermine the natural prejudice that she as a Samaritan would have toward Him a Jew.
Her reaction was that of raillery. Good-naturedly she gave Him what He asked, but could not resist the opportunity to have a little fun with it. "How is it that thou, being a Jew, askest drink of me, who am a Samaritan woman?" In other words, "We Samaritans are to you the scum of the earth, but we will serve well enough when you are thirsty!" There was a sting hidden in her jest. She felt inferior to this thirsty stranger and so made her reply a bit tart.
Jesus took no offense but tried a different appeal, this time to her curiosity. His statement would invariably bring a quick response from any woman: "If thou knewest . . ." The mere hint that He knew something that she did not know was sufficient to change her attitude from badinage to serious inquiry.
Incredulity and curiosity appeared in her reply. "Sir, thou hast nothing to draw with, and the well is deep: whence then hast thou that living water? Art thou greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well?" Her understanding was limited, but the shell of reserve behind the bantering manner was broken and she was ready for serious conversation.
In order to insure more than idle inquiry, Jesus appealed to her desire. "Every one that drinketh of this water shall thirst again: but whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall become in him a well of water springing up unto eternal life."
The woman's comprehension of this statement was quite imperfect. She did not grasp the fact that Jesus was speaking of spiritual water. She was still thinking in terms of the material. To her, His promise was a gratification of common human laziness. "Give me this water," she replied, "that I thirst not, neither come all the way hither to draw."
Upon the expression of a genuine desire, however elementary and mundane, Jesus made an appeal to her ambition: "Go, call thy husband, and come hither." If she wanted badly enough what He had to offer, she would be willing to exert herself to obtain it. His command, taken at face value, called for a walk of a mile in the hot sun with only the word of a stranger to make it worthwhile. In that sense it was an appeal to faith. But Jesus had an even deeper purpose than appealing to ambition. The command had a double edge for it cut sharply into her heart. If she obeyed, her action would necessitate the disclosure of her private life to this wayfarer, and she was not ready for that.
Her reaction was that of sullen withdrawal. The curt answer, "I have no husband," containing four words in English and three in Greek, was spoken probably with a tone of keen resentment. The reply was true, but was intended as a screen for her own falsity. She did not wish to be investigated, least of all by a Jew.
While she struggled with the conflicting emotions of desire and withdrawal, Jesus calmly proceeded to unmask her completely by an appeal to her moral sense. "Thou saidst well, I have no husband: for thou hast had five husbands; and he whom thou now hast is not thy husband." By the exercise of His prophetic knowledge He turned her life inside out before her very eyes.
This disclosure of His knowledge shocked her and put her on the defensive. Like many others whose moral position is challenged, she took refuge in arguing impersonally about religion. Acknowledging Him as a prophet, she immediately sought to divert His inquiry by asking Him the question which for years had divided Jew from Samaritan. "Our fathers worshipped in this mountain; and ye say, that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship."
Skillfully Jesus replied both to the controversial issue which she raised and to the deeper personal need concealed behind it. His reply was blunt, and He made no concession to the Samaritan position, for He said, "Salvation is from the Jews." On the other hand, He lifted the whole problem out of the categories of time and space and made it a matter of the heart. "God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship in spirit and truth." He appealed directly to her religious sensibilities. In effect, He said, "If you really want to know the truth about worship, you will find it not in the formula of our fathers, but in the relation of your own heart with God. You must deal with Him through His Spirit, and on the basis of truth, which precludes the kind of a life that you are living now."
The woman's answer showed that there was a measure of sincerity in her heart. She could have gone away at this time, but did not. Instead, she said with wistful emphasis, "I know that Messiah cometh . . . when he is come, he will declare unto us all things." The words were a confession both of ignorance and of hope. She was waiting for light, and, soiled as she was, she clung to the ancient promise of God that a Deliverer would come who would take away the darkness from her eyes.
To such elementary faith as this Jesus revealed Himself more openly than He did even to Nicodemus. "I that speak unto thee am he." It was a direct challenge to her personal faith. Would she believe, or would she not?
Through the interview may be traced a rising estimate of Jesus in the woman's thinking. In verse 9 she called Him a Jew--just another traveler who happened to be visiting Samaria. In verse 12 she suggested the possibility that He might be greater than Jacob, though she did not entertain the thought seriously. At any rate, He was an unusual personage. In verse 19 she called Him a prophet because she could explain His insight into her life in no other way. Finally, in verse 29, among her own villagers, she said, "You don't suppose that this is the Messiah, do you?" She was too cautious to assert definitely that her judgment was correct, but her language implied that there was no doubt in her mind.
The consequent belief of the Samaritans is noteworthy, as the type of reaction that follows personal investigation of Jesus. The woman's testimony, plus the Lord's word (v. 41) brought the conviction that He was the Saviour of the world.
In this one instance Jesus had to overcome the obstacles of the woman's indifference, materialism, selfishness, moral turpitude, and religious prejudice, ignorance, and indefiniteness. Nevertheless in this sample conversation He led her straight to the beginning of an active faith. The interview was a superb example of His divine understanding and mastery of human nature.
The conversation with the disciples was parenthetic to the main narrative but not unimportant. It was a disclosure of Jesus' consciousness of His mission and of His desire that the disciples should share in it. They were bound by routine and convention. They could not understand why He would not eat, since He had seemed so faint when they left Him, and since they had gone to the trouble of procuring food for Him. Neither could they comprehend how He could lower Himself to talk to a woman in public, and a Samaritan at that. He disclosed that His chief passion in life, stronger even than the appetite for food, was to do the Father's will. There was a task waiting to be finished which the Father had committed to Him, and in which He wanted the disciples to have a part. As He uttered the words of explanation, the Samaritans, led by the returning woman, were filing toward Him along the path through the fields. Looking upon them as they came, He said, "Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields, that they are white already unto harvest." The invitation was another outcropping of the missionary vision of Jesus that appeared so often in the Fourth Gospel.
JOHN: The Gospel of Belief
You will like Spurgeon's sermon, "Come, For All Things Are Now Ready".
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"And again He entered Capernaum after some days, and it was heard that He was in the house. Immediately many gathered together, so that there was no longer room to receive them, not even near the door. And He preached the word to them. They they came to Him, bringing a paralytic who was carried by four men. And when they could not come near Him because of the crowd, they uncovered the roof where He was. So when they had broken through, they let down the bed on which the paralytic was lying. When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, 'Son, your sins are forgiven you.' And some of the scribes were sitting there and reasoning in their hearts, 'Why does this Man speak blasphemies like this? Who can forgive sins but God alone?'" (Mark 2:1-5)
Here is a swift series of pictures both forceful and pathetic. There is the helpless paralytic, his face now and again revealing the faint flickering light of a glimmering hope, like the spasms of diluted sunshine which sometimes break through the murky November gloom. And here are the four friends, sympathetic, optimistic, perfectly assured, urging their way through the thick-set surging crowd. And here are "certain of the Scribes" sitting in the house, cold, unemotional, friendly only to precedent and tradition, and jealous for the sustained authority of their own school. And in the midst of it all, the Master! What does He think about it? What is the nature of His aspirations? What does He see? He sees the invisible. The merely material becomes the unsubstantial, and the spiritual stands revealed.
The picturesque setting melts away, and the unseen background of dispositions emerges into view. Bodies become transparencies, and the naked spirit stands unveiled in the searching light of the uncreated beam. The harvest of the Master's eye is gathered from the mystic fields of the soul. He gazes at the bearers and sees their faith. He looks behind the rebellious limbs of the palsied and sees the servitude of the soul. He pierces the hard, impassive masks of the Scribes and reads their innermost thoughts. Everywhere it is the unseen which becomes conspicuous; the spiritual becomes emphatic. Let us look at the scene through the Master's interpreting eyes, and in His light we may see light.
The Master sees the faith of the bearers. "Jesus seeing their faith." There we have the faith in its last analysis. Its essential ingredient is simple confidence. It is not primarily the apprehension of a doctrine, it is simple trust in a person. To have faith in Jesus is to have confidence in the ability and reliability of Jesus to do what He claims to do. We have a similar instance in the graphic narrative recorded in the ninth chapter of John. I know that towards the end of that great chapter the once blind man is confronted with the mighty demand: "Dost thou believe on the Son of God?" Yes, but the question was asked only after his sight had been restored. Simple faith had been manifested before Jesus sought to incite him to the grip of a large and vitalizing doctrine. "Go, wash in the Pool of Siloam." The man obeyed and went. That was the vital element in his faith. The simple faith paved the way to the larger belief. The healed man was ready for the unveiling of the personality of the Healer; but first of all the primary faith consisted in untroubled confidence, in perfect trust that Jesus was as good as His word, and would make His word good. So it is in the passage before us. These four men had trust in the Saviour's trustworthiness. They were assured that He had the power and the disposition to fulfil His own program--"The recovery of sight to the blind and the setting at liberty of them that are bruised."
Now if simple trust be the primary ingredient in faith, see how such faith in Jesus operates in the common life. The faith of these friends of the paralytic had three characteristics. It was energetic. It was a workful faith. Vital faith and vital energy are inseparable. There is a wonderful little list of inseparables in the Epistle to the Thessalonians. "Your work of faith, and labor of love, and patience of hope." Faith evinces itself in work, and love in labor, and hope in patience. Where there is no faith, there is a consequent loss of heart and loss of courage, and strength is dissipated in waste of retreat. The faith of these men was full of power, applying itself as a splendid dynamic in actual service. It was philanthropic. Faith is primarily individualistic; influentially it is grandly socialistic. The sweep of its energy inevitably enwraps the lives of others. In the energy of its prayer, its ambitions, its strivings after holiness, we discover a force which is humane and philanthropic, "looking not only at its own things, but also on the things of others." Faith laid hold of this poor paralytic, the man of the palsied body and soul, and carried him to the Master's feet. It is inventive. Unbelief soon exhausts its resources. It makes a hopeless and therefore a lukewarm attempt, fails and turns back, and says "I told you so." Faith is full of ideas, expediences, designs. Faith is fertile and plans devices. Does the road seem closed this way? Faith says: We will try another. Have the usual methods failed to reach the masses? Then faith will employ the ministry of the Salvation Army. Have the ordinary services proved uninviting? Then faith will begin a P.S.A. When faith could not get near one way, she uncovered the roof! This man must be brought to the Master, and the pushing inventiveness of an energetic faith makes a way and lays its burden at the Healer's feet.
The Master sees the spiritual misery of the palsied. Here lies the man. His muscular action has lost its motion owing to some insidious disease upon the nerves. He can no longer command the muscular activities of his own body. Here he lies a helpless log. The Master looks at him, through him, and behold! another kind of paralysis is revealed. The man cannot command the activities of his own soul. His spiritual volition is impaired. His body is imprisoned in the palsy, his soul is imprisoned in sin. The four friends had laid the paralyzed body at the Master's feet, and they expected that the great Healer would immediately address Himself to its clamant [urgent] needs. How startled they would be when the first words of the Master had no reference to the body but were addressed to some need apparently remote. "Thy sins be forgiven thee."
The Lord addresses Himself to the direst need, to the palsied spirit. He sets Himself to liberate the powers and dignities of the soul. The paralysis of the soul is unveiled by the Bible in startling phraseology. Let me recall one or two of the phrases, that we may sharpen our conception by what is meant by the hideous presence of sin. "Sin dwelleth in me": my personality is a kind of house, and sin is the master of the house. "Sin reigneth in me": sin is not only my master but my tyrant. "I was sold unto sin": I am a piece of merchandise, and I am disposed of into slavery; sold to a lust, to an evil desire, to the habit of greed, to the passion of jealousy, or to the ugly genius of revenge. "They are all under sin": we are under its crushing domination, as though its feet were upon our necks. "Sin abounds": it is a horrible disease that scatters its prolific germs over every faculty and disposition of life.
In all these phrases I see what is meant by the appalling sovereignty of sin. It is a dominion which results in a moral and spiritual paralysis, every dignity and prerogative in the life being crushed in an unclean and debasing servitude. And so to this sin-bound soul the Master brings the gracious evangel of forgiveness. "Thy sins be forgiven thee." The forgiveness of the Lord is not some sweet and ineffectual sentiment. It is the mystic and mighty energy of creation engaged in the work of re-creation. When the Lord says "Forgiven," the life that was locked and imprisoned in icy winter feels round about it the influence of a warm and expansive spring. The Bible appears almost to wrestle for a varied phraseology in which to reveal the realities of this glorious deliverance. Sins are to be "blotted out," "wiped away," "covered," "taken away." Where sin abounds grace does much more abound. The forces of spiritual health are in the ascendant, and the powers of evil and night are dethroned and in retreat. "The winter is past, the rain is over and gone, the flowers appear on the earth, and the time of the singing of birds is come." When the Master said "Thy sins are forgiven thee," an angel might have witnessed, "This thy brother was dead and is alive again, he was lost and is found."
Thirsting for the Springs
You will like Ken's article, "Am I Going to Heaven?"
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"Who are you to judge another's servant?"
To his own master he stands or falls."
In this chapter we find the Apostle, with his usual zeal, opposing that spirit of censuring and judging one another, which very early showed itself in the Christian church. The things which gave ground for this ill behavior of Christians to one another were of the smallest moment: some thinking to please their common master with observing several Jewish and trivial rules with respect to eating, and holy days, and the like; others thinking this a weakness and that Christians were freed from such like burdens.
Too much of this spirit was still seen in the earliest ages of the Church, and too much remains to this day; to which there is no other remedy to be applied but the same remedy prescribed in the Gospel, the same rules laid down by St. Paul, and the same arguments which he thought fit to make use of.
[First], We are not at all qualified to sit in judgment upon one another. For who are you that judges another, but a weak, prejudiced, fallible man yourself and, consequently, not at all qualified for such an office? This is indeed a strong consideration against our assuming to ourselves the office of judging others--that we are void of all those qualifications which are requisite to our judging aright about them, and particularly with regard to their religious conduct. For being ourselves weak and fallible, and often passionate men, we are so easily imposed upon and misled; so insensibly and even undesignedly prejudiced; so little acquainted with the first springs of action in others; so wholly strangers to the inward thoughts and designs of their hearts; so unable to know all the several circumstances that ought to be thrown into the balance; and so unwilling to make all those necessary and due allowances which we always expect in our own case. Who would venture so far out of his depth as to declare or insinuate anything concerning not only the evil designs of others but their unacceptableness to God, [Christian brethren] who have no other apparent and visible mark of wilful evil upon them but their differing in some opinions or circumstantial practices from ourselves?
[Second], It is wholly out of our province, who are ourselves but fellow servants with those whom we thus treat as if we were their lords and masters. [Judge] one [who is] in the same rank and order with yourself? His being of another mind, or differing in judgment about some things relating to his master's service--in which honest men may differ--is no real injury to us. It imports no calamity, threatens us with no ruin, and therefore we have not the pretense of self-defense or self-preservation to take up the province. They are as tenacious of what they believe as we are, and think it as sacred and as important as we can think our own, and as far as we can know are as fully persuaded that it has all the marks of truth upon it.
[Third], It is to be particularly considered that this is the province reserved to Himself, by that common Master whom we all serve. To Him the last appeal is justly made. He is qualified for the office, being perfectly knowing, wise, and good; perfectly free from all bias and prejudice; fully acquainted with every particular necessary to the forming a right judgment; and fully disposed to make all fitting and reasonable allowances for his creatures and servants. We invade the province of God, usurp his dominion, erect ourselves into gods over our brethren, and like the Man of Sin exalt ourselves to a dignity and office which is the sacred prerogative of God himself, who alone knows the hearts of men.
[Fourth], We shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ, and we shall every one give an account of himself to God. We have enough to do to prepare for our own judgment at that great and solemn day without troubling ourselves [today] with the censuring and judging [of] others. Who that thinks of that solemn day does not hope for and stand in need of the mercy of God to himself? And who that considers the matter in this light can suffer in himself a severity towards others while he himself expects all reasonable allowances at the hands of his great judge?
But what is it, then, that Christianity allows in this case? Does it not permit us to take any notice of the errors and mistakes in the important matters of religion in which we imagine others to be? Two particulars I shall mention in answer to this inquiry.
First, we are not at all forbidden but encouraged to endeavor to remove all prejudices and errors out of the minds of our fellow Christians, and to recommend to them--with all demonstration both of good argument and Christian temper--the way of truth which we are persuaded is right. St. Paul does not scruple to declare his own judgment in favor of that notion that there was no sort of meat but what it was lawful to partake of; and this, to be sure, with [the] design to lead insensibly those Christians who were troubled with the contrary scruple into a true notion of this matter, that they might be rid of a false notion in their judgments and a great burden in their practice.
But then, secondly, after this is done in the most inoffensive way, all the rest must be left to Christian charity, which never shines brighter, never displays its glory more than when it shows its power among those of different minds and different persuasions. St. Paul, in this chapter, lays down his own judgment. And though he was an apostle and had as just a claim as possible to be followed in that judgment, yet he does not immediately expect that all those Christians--prejudiced and biased the other way--should at once leave off their practices or correct their wrong judgment in a matter which concerned not the vitals of religion. But [he] thinks it most for the honor of God that charity should show its part in these differences, and rather chooses that humility and brotherly kindness should conquer passion and personal prejudice than that they all should presently be obliged to have or profess the same notions or to conform themselves to the judgment of one another.
Twenty Sermons (condensed)
Also see John Calvin's entry from his Institutes entitled "Concerning Things Indifferent".
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"When Jesus departed from there, two blind men followed Him, crying out and saying, Son of David, have mercy on us! And when He had come into the house, the blind men came to Him. And Jesus said to them, Do you believe that I am able to do this? They said to Him, Yes, Lord. Then He touched their eyes, saying, According to your faith let it be to you. And their eyes were opened. And Jesus sternly warned them, saying, See that no one knows it." (Matthew 9:27,30)
Let us observe here the confession of faith which Christ drew from these two blind men. When they came to him for mercy, he asked, "Do you believe that I am able to do this?" Faith is the great condition of Christ's favors. They who would receive the mercy of Christ must firmly believe the power of Christ. What we would have him do for us, we must be fully assured that he is able to do. They followed Christ, and followed him crying, but the great question is, Do you believe? Nature may work fervency, but it is only grace that can work faith, and spiritual blessings are obtained only by faith.
The blind men had intimated their faith in the office of Christ--as the Son of David--and in his mercy. But Christ demands likewise a profession of faith in his power. "Do you believe that I am able?" Christ will have the glory of his power ascribed to him by all those who hope to have the benefit of it. "Believe you that I am able, not only to prevail with God for it as a prophet, but that I am able to do it by my own power?" This will amount to their belief of his being not only the Son of David, but the Son of God.
When they begged for a cure, he did not inquire into their wealth--whether they were able to pay him--nor into their reputation, but he inquired into their faith: "According to your faith let it be to you." This speaks of Christ's knowledge of the sincerity of their faith and his acceptance and approbation of it. It is a great comfort to true believers that Jesus knows their faith and is well pleased with it. Though it be weak, though others do not discern it, though they themselves are ready to question it, it is known to him.
Christ insists upon their faith as necessary for their cure. "If you believe, take what you come for." They who apply themselves to Jesus Christ shall be dealt with according to their faith, not according to their fancies or profession. True believers may be sure to find all the favor which is offered in the gospel, but our comforts ebb or flow according as our faith is strong or weak. We are not straitened in Christ, so let us not then be straitened in ourselves.
To Christ's question they give an immediate answer. "Yes, Lord." Though he had kept them in suspense and had not helped them at first, they honestly imputed this delay to his wisdom, not to his weakness. The treasures of mercy that are laid up in the power of Christ are laid out for those that trust in him. "Then he touched their eyes...and their eyes were opened."
Jesus charges the men to keep their healing private, and thus sets us an example of humility and lowliness of mind. In the good we do, we must not seek our own praise, but only the glory of God. It must be more our care and endeavor to be useful than to be known and observed to be so. Some think that Christ, in keeping it private, showed his displeasure against the people of Capernaum, who had seen so many miracles and yet believed not. The silencing of those who should proclaim the works of Christ is a judgment to any place or people. Christ is just in denying the means of conviction to those who are obstinate in their infidelity, and to shroud the light from those that shut their eyes against it. Christ also commanded it for his own preservation. The more he was proclaimed, the more jealous would the rulers of the Jews be of his growing interest among the people. Another reason, which is very considerable, is that Christ sometimes concealed his miracles because he would not indulge that pernicious conceit, which obtained among the Jews, that their Messiah should be a temporal prince. Christ refrained from giving occasion to the people to attempt the setting up of his kingdom by tumults and seditions. But after his resurrection (which was the full proof of his mission), when his spiritual kingdom was set up, then that danger was over and his miracles must be published to all nations.
Matthew Henry's Commentary
Take a few minutes to read "Sinners Entreated to Hear God's Voice" by Edward Payson.
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"Redeeming the time, because the days are evil."
Of all the talents with which the Almighty here on earth entrusts his creatures, time is the most important, and we fear we must add the most frequently abused. Our infancy is spent in idleness, our youth in thoughtlessness, our age in business. But which of them, as regards the great mass of mankind, can be said to be employed for God or for the important purpose for which it is bestowed? All complain of the shortness of time, and yet most possess more than they know what to do with, and everyone more than he employs well. Still it is of this much-wasted and misapplied talent that we shall one day be called upon to render a strict account.
If you were to hire a laborer for a day's work, and he were to come to you in the evening and upon your asking him "How have you spent your day, what have you done for me?" he were to reply, "I have spent four hours in loitering or talking with my fellow-laborers, and four at my meals, and three more in working for myself, and the remaining hour I have dedicated to your service," would you be satisfied with such a reply? Would you pay that man his wages? I think not. And yet let me ask you what better account, when you retire to rest at night, can you give to your Heavenly Master of many a day which passes over you?
In explaining what is meant by redeeming time, I shall take the most simple illustration possible. The word is in the original to buy out, and the English word redeem expresses this as closely as possible. If an estate be mortgaged, if an article be pledged, the owner cannot repossess himself of them unless he be able to buy them out, or redeem them. By the use of this term, therefore, the apostle not merely urges us to future diligence, but most strongly implies our foreseen improvidence and misuse of time. The very fact that it is necessary to redeem it implies that we have, as it were, mortgaged it to Satan, pledged it to vanity and sin. Now, strictly speaking, time misapplied is irrevocable. The hours and days and years that have been so improvidently disposed of are among those unredeemed pledges which must remain as evidences of our folly and our guilt to all eternity. The sin may, blessed be God, be removed by a penitent application to the blood of our great Redeemer, the guilt may be washed away, the iniquity be blotted out forever; but the years so spent can never be recalled, redeemed, or brought back again. That blessed privilege, as regards those hours, is forever lost to us.
Since, then, the advice of the apostle in its literal and strictest sense cannot be applied to the time which is passed, we must endeavor to render it applicable in our own case to that which may remain to us. My brethren, who shall say what this may be? It is easy to number the days that have fled, but who can calculate what is to come? Can the youngest or the strongest here present say that he assuredly shall hail the opening even of another month in the same health, under the same circumstances, or even in the same state of existence in which he has beheld the present? You know that he cannot. You know that your sentence may have gone forth, that your hours may even now be numbered. I proceed, then, to consider from what you are to redeem the time which yet remains to you.
First, I charge you to redeem it from sloth and procrastination. An idle Christian is a disgrace to the very name he bears. Did our Divine Master, while on earth, so occupy his time about his Father's business that he often (as the Evangelist declares) had not time to eat and to drink? And can you imagine that you are among the number of his followers when you find time, perhaps, for little else? When every duty that is urged upon you is too toilsome or too troublesome, and when you would rather sit for days in perfect inactivity or in the most trifling occupations of this poor, miserable, transitory life than stir one hand or engage in one labor for the glory of God or the eternal existence which is approaching?
Secondly, I would urge you to redeem your time from vain and foolish company, and idle and unprofitable pleasures. There is nothing which tends more to rob the heart of every spiritual affection, to deaden the love to God, to make all religious exercises dull and unprofitable than these great time-destroyers. Thus the Prophet Isaiah, describing persons who so occupy themselves, says, "The harp and the strings, the tambourine and flute, and wine are in their feasts; but they do not regard the work of Yahweh, nor consider the operation of His hands." Will you ask in reply, "Is then the spiritual life of a Christian, as portrayed by the example of his Divine Master and urged upon him by his commands, at variance with all the innocent intercourse of life? If we become really in earnest in the great work of salvation, must we give up our friends, our social meetings, and many of the greatest enjoyments of our present lot?" This is by no means implied in the command to redeem your time from foolish company, and idle and unprofitable pleasures. When you become distinctly and decidedly the friends of the Lord Jesus Christ, they who are not his friends will very shortly cease to be your friends; while they who love him will infallibly love you. "Whether you eat or drink, or whatsoever you do, do all to the glory of God."
Lastly, I would urge you to redeem your time from worldly cares and worldly business. Our Lord himself has declared that "a man's life consists not in the abundance of the things which he possesses," and he exemplifies this truth by the story of the foolish rich man who "laid up treasure for himself but was not rich towards God." Give some portion, however small, of every day to God, to private prayer and quiet meditation upon the things which belong to your peace, to reading carefully and prayerfully his blessed Word.
A very few words in conclusion upon the objects for which you are to "redeem the time," and I have done. The first great object is for the glorifying of God. This was one of our dying Lord's last declarations: "I have glorified thee on earth, I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do." If you are a follower of the Lord Jesus, you must strive by his grace to be enabled to say the same. He had his work, and you have yours. His was the work of redemption, yours is the work of constant service and continued thankfulness.
Above all, far infinitely above all, you will "redeem the time" [in order] that you "may win Christ and be found in him." Every hour you can redeem will be made in some manner or other to contribute to this important and blessed end. This is the one great object of the believer's search on earth--to know more, to obey more, to love more the Lord Jesus Christ.
Posthumous Sermons (condensed)
Don't miss this study by Richard Trench, "The Unfinished Tower and the Deprecated War".
* * * * *
"Remember now, O Yahweh, I beseech thee, how I have walked before thee in truth, and with a perfect heart, and have done that which is good in thy sight. And Hezekiah wept sore." (Isaiah 38:3)
There is a natural love of life, and yet how few understand its value or the purpose for which it was given. How few feel that a whole eternity depends upon it. Days and years are wasted in those things that cannot profit. The great mass seem to have no proper medium, but go to the extremes of presumption and despair. It is wasted as if it could have no end and could not be exhausted, or it is suffered to rust out in idleness as if it had no object and no proper use. But, whether men are aware of it or not, life has a determined object--an object that cannot be accomplished without effort.
There is much to endure; there is much, very much, to be done. And what our hands find to do, we are to do with our might. We must enter heartily into all the appropriate business of life. We form characters for eternity. We sow seed whose fruit of good or evil, according to the seed, we shall reap forever. Here we receive that hue of righteousness or wickedness which fits for heaven or hell, which all eternity will but deepen. How important, then, this present life! And how foolish to dream it away in idle fancies or merely to be busy here and there! The beasts have their appropriate object in existence, and it is answered without their concurrence or consent. And with appetites satisfied they sink to rest, remembering no evil past, anticipating none future. And shall man live and die like them? Eat and drink, and sink to rest or rise up to play? Or spend all his strength and labor and thought about those things which perish with the using, laying up treasures on earth and none in heaven? Immortal interests are involved in this present life. It is the most important field that men can occupy.
Life is not too long, at longest, to answer life's great end. There is something still to do, or bear. No human being on earth ought, through depression of spirits or false views of life, to make himself useless. All cannot serve their generation in the same way, nor is the same kind of service needed from all; but each according to his several ability, or the circumstances in which the providence of God has placed him. An example of faith and patience in the midst of severe and protracted affliction is not lost upon the world, nor is cheerful resignation in extreme poverty and age. The world needs such examples, and they are among the most useful that can be presented. They teach, experimentally and practically, lessons of the utmost importance and deepest interest. Those that cannot labor for Christ may suffer for him, and those that have no power of language to speak for him may yet exhibit in real life the power of his grace and exhibit it with a force and vividness that no language can equal. And then, who shall calculate the influence of their prayers, who are princes in disguise and have power with God and prevail. There is a great and grievous mistake upon this subject, arising from very partial and limited views.
A man who can no longer labor at his vocation or do business to his own advantage is too often deemed useless; and in spite of himself, perhaps, in measure partakes of the same feeling. "I am this day fourscore years old," as said Barzillai. "Can thy servant taste what I eat, or what I drink? Can I hear any more the voice of singing men or singing women? Wherefore then should thy servant be yet a burden unto my lord, the king." This was a good reason why he should not go to court, since age had unfitted him for its duties. But was Barzillai, though fourscore years old, useless? In a time of trouble and rebellion, his influence in favor of the right was better than a thousand fighting men. There is always a legitimate motive to live.
Sermons by the late Rev. David Merrill
More on this subject in Ken's article, "The Christian Answer to Death and the Eternal Destiny of the Redeemed".
* * * * *
"In thee, O Yahweh, have I put my trust;
let me never be put to confusion."
There are times in our lives when at the thought of all that we have to do, and of all that we have to fear, our hearts sink within us. Our duties are great and often difficult, and they are unceasing. There is no end of them. Doing them today does not relieve us from the necessity of having to meet new ones tomorrow. And so much hangs on these duties. How can we be sure of always answering as we were meant to answer the call of God? Of fulfilling, as He requires of us, His will?
And our dangers, too, are great. We see in the Bible, we see in all experience, how common it is to fail; to be led from the right way into the wrong; how much there is in the world of secret, hidden mischief; how the path of human life lies among snares and pitfalls. We know that we must be tried; we know that we must be tempted. Things will happen which will put us to the proof, which will show what we are and what is in our hearts. And we know that we are weak and have made mistakes; that we have before now been tried and found wanting. And who can tell what is waiting for us in the dark unknown future before us? Who knows what we may have to suffer; who knows what we may have to lose; who knows what enemies are lying in wait for us in the dark time to come--enemies terrible, unseen, and unknown, of those in the spiritual world which war against the soul? What may not be our appointed lot of trouble? What strange changes of our fortune may we not see on our passage to the grave? What may we not have one day to choose between?
When these thoughts oppress us, we are told--and rightly told--to put them away from us. They are weak thoughts, vain thoughts, faithless thoughts, useless thoughts; and, taken by themselves as they come upon us when they distress us, they are false thoughts. For if it is true that our duties are great, it is true also that in their own due time and season they will not be greater than we may hope to have strength to do. If it is true that our dangers are great and manifold, it is also true that our safeguards and means of escape are as many and as various, and that we may wisely and reasonably trust them. If experience shows many failures, it shows too as many triumphs, so that to think only of what is against us is to think of what is only half the truth. And half the truth becomes falsehood when we think of it as if it were the whole truth.
But in our days of weakness and trouble these fears and anxieties will not always go because we bid them. They will not always give way to what, in calmer and cooler moments, we see to be truth and reason and good sense. And even if we do keep them down, they do not lose their power to disquiet and sadden. Their shadow falls across our path, and we cower and shrink before the unknown future and its unsearchable darkness, which looks so threatening because no one can tell what it may hide and have in store.
Is there nothing but the calm, deliberate debate of unexcited reason--arguing about what is likely and what is sensible and prudent--to meet this pressure? Is there nothing else to take off the burden on the heart and spirit? Is there no present and immediate remedy against fears which are so trying just because they are so dim and vague? Is there any thought strong enough to overpower them, weighty enough to be put in the balance against them?
There is such a thought. It is the thought that God guides us. That we are not walking and wandering unwatched, uncared for, helpless among enemies, blindly stumbling along a path in which no one directs our steps. But that all around us--now, and tomorrow, and each hour until the end--are the watchful eyes of God, are the mighty hands of God. From the range of those eyes we can never stray. From out of those hands we can never fall. Infinite wisdom is in that foresight that never fails. Infinite love and goodness in that power which has no master. Are we able to trust that wisdom? Are we willing to submit ourselves to that will? Then we are within a shelter where we can take no harm. Then, come what may, we are safe.
This is the belief which is the foundation of the book of Psalms. No men ever in this world felt this truth so deeply and so unceasingly, felt it as the living and ever-present principle of each word and thought as the men whose hearts the Spirit of God taught to write the Psalms. This thought, this truth that God guides those who trust Him and never guides them wrong, is the mark, the distinguishing doctrine, the keynote of the book of Psalms.
Let us then turn to those great truths of God's Guardianship and Providence on which our souls were meant to rest and stay themselves, and be at peace. Let us now, in our day of peace and calm, learn to commend into the Hands of God our spirit, soul, and body, which He has created, redeemed, regenerated; and with it our whole course of life, and all who are ours, and all that belongs to us.
Village Sermons (condensed)
See also this article by Andrew Rule, "Providence and Preservation".
* * * * *
"Looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing
of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ."
A brief account of the origin of the doctrine known as the pre-tribulational rapture of the Church should prove enlightening to all, and especially to those who adhere to that belief.
In the early part of the nineteenth century, the "Irvingite" movement came into existence. Among other things which distinguished the Irvingites (so named after their leader), was their alleged speaking in tongues and receiving inspired messages from the Holy Spirit through their supposed "prophets" and "prophetesses". The work went well for awhile, but gradually errors and extravagances crept in, the work fell into disrepute, and at last it died an apparently well-deserved death, if one may judge from certain statements that have come down from those days. (There were many "confessions" by disillusioned adherents of the movement who declared that they had come to realize that frequently, at least, while speaking in tongues or allegedly giving messages in the Spirit, they were really under demon control.)
In one of the Irvingite meetings, a woman, professedly under the influence of the Spirit of God, gave a message to the effect that the Church would not go through the Great Tribulation, as had always been supposed, but would be raptured before it. Since at that time the Irvingites believed all such messages were divinely inspired, of course they had to believe this one too, although it contradicted what they had learned from the Scriptures and what had always, until then, been taught as "the faith once delivered to the saints." Later, as stated, many of them came to question the origin of these messages, then afterward to attribute them to demons (because of accompanying "manifestations"), and finally to reject them. Then an era of sanity followed, and Irvingism died, the good in the movement perishing with the bad.
But this particular message--that the Church would be raptured before the Tribulation--had fallen into soil favorable to its rapid and stupendous growth. That soil was the "weak flesh" of man. No matter that the spirit of the Christians of the first eighteen centuries had been willing to face the horrors of the Great Tribulation for their Lord's glory and their own resultant blessing. Had they known of any Biblical teaching that held out the hope of escape by removal from these ever-threatening horrors, certainly they would have caught at this hope and emphasized this teaching. But in none of the writings of any Christians during those eighteen centuries do we find so much as a hint of such a hope or such a doctrine.
The doctrine of the pre-tribulational rapture might also have perished with the other errors of Irvingism if not for an incident which gave it new impetus. A few earnest men in Dublin, Ireland, gave themselves to independent study of the Scriptures. While doing so, they came to see the prominence which the Scriptures give to the second coming of Christ, and they at once began to preach Christ's coming as imminent--seeing that it was then eighteen hundred years since the formation of the Church to whom this doctrine had been given as an inspiring force. But when emphasizing the imminence of the coming of Christ, they were confronted with a difficulty, namely, the words of Christ in Matthew 24:29,30: "Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory." For three years this passage tended to dampen their ardor when declaring the imminence of the Coming, for they realized that not only was the Tribulation not then in sight, but also that its immediately antecedent events were conspicuous by their absence.
Finally a minister came to them from England, named Tweedy, who taught that Jesus' discourse in the twenty-fourth chapter of Matthew's Gospel was intended for the Jews alone, not for the Church, and so he gave them the doctrine of the Pre-Tribulation Rapture, as we know it today. This seemed to them to be a happy solution to their problem. They proceeded with their "Imminent Coming" teaching, led by that eminent man J. N. Darby, whose piety and scholarship gave prestige to the doctrine, and it forged to the front in spite of opposition from prominent believers such as S. P. Tregelles, Charles H. Spurgeon, George Mueller of Bristol, and others.
The Great Tribulation, the Church's Supreme Test
See also our study on the Book of Revelation.
For more on Christ's coming again, see Wilbur Smith's "The Second Advent of Christ".
* * * * *
"Then Jesus went out and departed from the temple,
and His disciples came to Him."
It is often objected that the prophetic instructions and warnings given by our Lord in Matthew 24 have no direct bearing on ourselves as present-day believers. Rather, the disciples, including Peter, James, and John (who had forsaken all and followed Christ), were representatives not of "The Church of the Firstborn," but of a future "Jewish Remnant" who will be found in the place of testimony during the last Great Tribulation.
That our Lord, in Matthew 24, was not addressing Jews as such is abundantly clear from the concluding verses of chapter 23, which indeed seem expressly recorded to warn us against such a thought, marking, as they do, the close of the Savior's personal ministry in Jerusalem. These verses contain his solemn and significant declaration that they (the Jewish people) should see him no more until his return in glory. "For I say to you, you shall see Me no more till you say, 'Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!'"
After speaking these words, it is written, "Then Jesus went out and departed from the temple, and His disciples came to Him." These are the disciples of whom Christ witnessed, "You are those who have continued with Me in My trials," (Luke 22:28). A little afterward, Christ says, "No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you," (John 15:15). These are the very same disciples of whom he afterward testified, "They have kept Your word. Now they have known that all things which You have given Me are from You. For I have given to them the words which You have given Me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came forth from You; and they have believed that You sent Me," (John 17:6-8). They are the very same disciples for whom he prayed, "Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me," (John 17:24).
If such disciples were not Christians proper, and so do not properly represent us in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21--wherein the Lord instructed them with respect to circumstances that should surround them after his departure and after they should have received the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven--when do they represent us, if at all?
If we reject our Lord's counsel in the above Scriptures, can we consistently claim his comfort in John 13 to 17? Were not the Apostles quite as much Jews by nature and by earthly location when that precious promise, recorded for us in John 14:3, fell on their ears: "And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am there you may be also." Were they not quite as much Jews when he said a few hours before, "Now learn this parable from the fig tree: When its branch has already become tender and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near. So you also, when you see these things happening, know that He is near--at the doors!" (Mark 13:28,29). And as if anticipating the teaching against which we contend, Christ adds, "And what I say to you, I say to all: Watch!" (Mark 13:37).
Quoted by John Scruby in The Great Tribulation, The Church's Supreme Test
See also Ken's study on the Olivet Discourse.
* * * * *
"Know you not that they which run in a race run all, but one receives the prize?
So run, that you may obtain."
1 Corinthians 9:24
To a certain and great extent our lot is controlled by the providence of God; and so far as temptations and trials thus come to us, they are a part of the probation through which we are to pass. And if we fail under this discipline, we have no reason to think we should have done better had God's providence ordered our lives differently. The very blessings of God--such as health, temporal prosperity, and earthly friends--are often occasions of danger. If men fall from their Christian devotedness through the allurements of property, and in consequence of the associations of earthly friendship not favorable to the spiritual interests of the soul, it is because they abuse the mercy of God and forget the design of His goodness. And yet nothing is more common than this attempt to find in our providential and merciful lot the cause of our sins. The heart follows in this the example of the first father of the race. When the Almighty charged upon him his first act of disobedience, he said, "The woman whom Thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat."
If God sends many blessings, they may become, through an evil heart, sources of temptation. If He withdraws those blessings the temptations change, but they are temptations still. Thus the rich may find them in their riches, and the poor in their poverty; the strong and healthy in their strength, and the weak and sickly in their weakness; those in high position in their earthly honor, and those in low estate in their want of the favor of man. With outward changes duties and temptations vary indeed, but the great causes of danger and difficulty in the work of salvation remain. The hermit flies from the busy world to the desert; but although the temptations of the world may thus be eluded, those from within his own heart may increase in power by the very fact of his loneliness. One forsakes the world, in disgust or from an earnest but ascetic purpose, and seeks to commune uninterruptedly with his God; but he carries with him the same heart, the same passions, the same appetites. And if he has not subdued and controlled these when in the world, he will not find that this can be done by a mere change of the outward life.
This is the truth we are to learn and apply from such experience: that whatever and wherever our lot in the providence of God, we are to use it, and by firm and resolute religious purposes overrule it for the highest ends of a religious life. We are to accept it as the sphere of probation to which we are called, and by God's blessing turn it to the great end of the spiritual and eternal good of the soul. And if men sought to regard their providential lot in this light, it would not so often be found an apparent hindrance to the great end of existence. Whether marked by temporal prosperity or by adversity, it would be made to promote their spiritual and eternal interests. If it be his supreme object to live unto God and to work out his salvation, he will not find his providential lot a hindrance, but on the other hand will discover that "all things work together for good to them that love God." He will be able, in some degree, to enter into the experience of him who declared, "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us."
From no such varying circumstances do the great trials and difficulties of Christian life spring. Wherever the Christian moves, they follow him. Their sources are unchanging. As long as he is in the body they will attend him. They form the discipline by which every soul must be trained for the heavenly world. They attend alike all the disciples of the Saviour. Christ has ordained that none shall follow Him who are not ready to take up the cross. Every disciple of Christ--whatever the circumstances of his outward lot or condition--must deny himself, be crucified to the world, and manfully contend against temptation. The vow which the Christian takes is plain and binding. It is "to resist the world, the flesh, and the devil."
Salvation must be worked out by constant watchfulness against the daily recurring temptations which beset the path of all who would live unto God. The prize set before the Christian will never be won by any who fail to run with patience the Christian race unto the end. We must fight the good fight of faith against all the sinful tendencies of our hearts and the corrupting influences of the world. We must strive against every temptation to lay aside any of the weapons by which alone the victory can be gained. We must put on the whole armor of God and remember that in this life these conflicts will never end. The Christian can lay down his arms only when he enters the gates of the celestial city, there to receive the victor's palm and the crown of glory.
"Now unto Him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy, to the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen."
Parochial Sermons (condensed)
Also see John Calvin's entry from his Institutes entitled "Concerning Works and Rewards".
* * * * *
"Thy hands have made me and fashioned me:
give me understanding, that I may learn thy commandments."
This 119th Psalm is in a high degree the language of direct communion with God. In it the Psalmist "set the Lord always before him," so much so that almost every verse is a fervent prayer, and a fervent prayer for some great spiritual benefit. He uses all sorts of arguments and pleas before his God, apparently with Jacob's determination--"I will not let thee go except thou bless me." There is, however, one blessing which, in this psalm, he seems to have desired above all others. He prays for it in every variety of supplication, and urges a multitude of reasons why it should not be withheld from him: I mean, the blessing of a spiritual understanding, or a power rightly and truly to "learn God's commandments."
Let us consider the force of this plea. The text is the language of man pleading with his Maker not to leave unfinished a great and good work which He had bountifully begun. "Thy hands have made me, and fashioned me: O give me understanding that I may learn thy commandments." Here the experience of some of God's power, and skill, and kindness is turned into a plea for experiencing the remainder. The argument is from the lesser to the greater. You have done great things for my body, but I want greater things done for my soul.
Let us also consider the propriety of our personally urging it in our own behalf.
First, we have the same need to use it. If David had not spiritual understanding, or had it not to the extent that was desirable, so neither have we. The most advanced among us will hardly presume ourselves to be better than "the man after God's own heart." In truth, the more advanced we are, the more sensible we are rendered of our short-comings. The more light that has shone into our hearts, the more it has made our remaining darkness visible to ourselves. It is self-ignorance that alone suffers any person to be puffed up with self-conceit. True are St. Paul's words: "If any man thinks that he knows anything, he knows nothing yet as he ought to know." "If any man among you seems to be wise, let him become a fool that he may be wise." "See a man," says Solomon, "wise in his own conceit? There is more hope of a fool than of him."
Second, we have the same ground on which to urge it as David had. My brethren, we may each look at ourselves and then look up to God and say, "Thy hands have made me and fashioned me." "I am fearfully and wonderfully made." "Marvelous are thy works, and that my soul knows right well." David felt this of his own person, and we ought to feel it of ours. And feeling it, we should make it, as he did, a ground of pleading with God--that since He has done such wonders in our body, that He would do yet greater wonders in our soul.
This is a good plea in three respects.  It is solid. There is a real and great weight in it. All unasked-for kindness naturally begets in the recipient an opinion of the goodwill of him that bestowed it. Our creation was an act of free goodness on the part of God. Hence, in that He made us He must have had goodwill towards us. Why did He act toward us in a manner directly calculated to inspire us with hope unless He indeed meant that we should hope in Him? We think it unprincipled in our fellow creatures to raise expectations which they never meant to satisfy; and shall we think that God would be guilty of what we should deem perfidious even in man? The perfect enjoyment of life is inseparable from the knowledge and favor of Him who gave it.
 It is a touching plea. What can our Creator say to us when humbly urging such a plea? How can He resist it? Indeed, so great is the love of God to us that nothing but extraordinary provocation on our part can make Him turn to be our enemy and fight against us.
 It is an honorable plea. It is for the honor of God that we should learn His commandments so thoroughly as to do them. "Herein is our Father glorified, if we bear much fruit." We may, then, honorably plead for that which, if granted, will be for the honor of Him who grants it. The stronger is our plea for such a favor, the more does it become us. Hence we shall do well to "put God in remembrance" that "his hands have made and fashioned us," because their having done so is the strongest reason for His enabling us by His grace to glorify Him.
Parochial Sermons (condensed)
Perseverance in prayer is crucial. See Neil McKinnon's sermon "The Unjust Judge".
* * * * *
"And I prayed to Yahweh my God, and made confession, and said, 'O Lord, great and awesome God, who keeps His covenant and mercy with those who love Him, and with those who keep His commandments, we have sinned and committed iniquity, we have done wickedly and rebelled, even by departing from Your precepts and Your judgments . . . O Lord, righteousness belongs to You, but to us shame of face . . . to the Lord our God belong mercy and forgiveness, though we have rebelled against Him." (Daniel 9:4-9)
Whenever we ask for pardon, the testimony of repentance ought to precede our request; for God announces that he will be propitious and easily entreated when men seriously and heartily repent. It is impossible for us to pray rightly unless we humble ourselves before God. This humility is a preparation for repentance. Daniel, therefore, sets before him the majesty of God, to urge both himself and others to cast themselves down before the Almighty, that they may really feel penitent before him. God is, he says, great and awesome. Too often we are careless in prayer and treat it as a mere matter of outward observance. The pious must humble their minds to prevent their aspiring to any self-exaltation or being puffed up with any self-confidence. Unless we appear in his sight with fear and trembling, and become truly humbled in his presence, it is impossible to obtain anything from God.
We must here notice the real condition of the people: the Israelites were in exile. We know how hard that tyranny was, how they were oppressed by the most cruel reproaches and disgrace, and how brutally they were treated by their conquerors. This might have impelled many to cry out, as doubtless they really did, "What does God want with us? What better are we for being chosen as his peculiar people?" Thus the Jews might complain with the most bitter grief, with the weariness of the weight of punishment which God had inflicted upon them. But Daniel presents himself before God, not to object or murmur, but only to entreat his pardon.
"We have done wickedly." Although we are easily induced to confess ourselves guilty before God, yet it is hard to find one who is affected with serious remorse; and those who do excel in this, who purely and reverently fear God, are still very dull and cold in recounting their sins. Scarcely do they acknowledge even one sin in a hundred. Of those which do come into their minds, they do not fully estimate their tremendous guilt, and although they perceive themselves worthy of a hundred deaths, yet they are not touched with bitterness; they do not loathe their own iniquities. Let us learn from this how far we are from penitence when we only verbally acknowledge our guilt. There are very few who prostrate themselves before God as they ought.
"Righteousness belongs to You, but to us shame of face." We cannot praise God, especially while he chastises us and punishes us for our sins, unless we become ashamed of our sins and feel ourselves destitute of all righteousness. Whoever cannot bear this self-condemnation displays his willingness to contend against God.
Daniel betakes himself to God's mercy as to a sacred asylum. It is not sufficient to acknowledge and confess our sins, unless we are supported by a confidence of our obtaining pardon from God's mercy. Recognition of a fault is without the slightest profit unless it has the hope of pardon. Daniel rests this hope of pardon on the very nature of God, who is full of mercy, inclined to clemency and pardon, and exercises much forbearance. To God belongs lovingkindness, and therefore, since he can never deny himself, he will always be merciful. This attribute is inseparable from his eternal essence. However we may have rebelled against him, yet he will never cast away nor disdain our prayers.
We may conclude from this passage that no prayers are lawful or rightly composed unless they consist of these two members. First, all who approach God ought to cast themselves down before him, acknowledging that they are deserving of a thousand deaths. Next, in order to emerge from this abyss of despair and to rise up to the hope of pardon, they should call upon God without fear or doubt, but rather with firm and stable confidence. For what is left, but for us to throw ourselves with all our trust upon the clemency and goodness of God, since he has borne witness to his being propitious to sinners who truly and heartily implore his favor!
This article on "Propitiation" by John Walvoord will be helpful.
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"If any man will come after me, let him deny himself,
take up his Cross, and follow me."
Did we but understand the true meaning of these words and order our lives accordingly, we should know what it is to be true Christians. I shall thus endeavor to give the true meaning of them, in their order.
"Let him deny himself." The self-denial here spoken of is properly opposed to self-love, or that corrupt and vicious habit of the soul whereby we are apt to admire and prefer our own fancies, wills, desires, interests, and such like, before Christ himself. He commands that we do not indulge or gratify ourselves in anything that stands in opposition to, or comes into competition with, his interest in the world, howsoever near and dear it may be to us. I shall show you more particularly what it is in yourselves that you are to deny.
First, you must deny your own reasoning in matters of divine Revelation. Use your reasoning no farther than to search into the grounds and motives for believing them to be revealed by God. We, who by all our art and cunning cannot understand the reasons for the most common and obvious things in nature, must not think to comprehend the great mysteries of the Gospel. These mysteries are not contrary to our reason, but are infinitely above them. He that would be wise unto salvation must look upon himself as a fool, and must not rely upon his own judgment but only upon God’s Testimony. It is reason enough to believe it because God has said it.
I know this is a hard doctrine to flesh and blood, for as Job tells us, "Vain man would be wise, though he is born like a wild ass’s colt." By nature we are foolish, vain and ignorant. We can no more understand the great mysteries of the Gospel than a wild ass’s colt can understand a mathematical demonstration. Yet we think ourselves so very wise as to comprehend within the narrow compass of our finite and shallow capacities matters of the highest, yea of an infinite, nature.
You must deny your own wills. Our wills, it is true, at first were made upright and perfect, in every way corresponding to the will of God himself. But being now perverted and corrupt with sin, our wills are naturally inclined toward evil. Instead of choosing the good and refusing the evil, we are generally apt to choose the evil and refuse the good. Yet, as crooked and perverse as our wills are, we cannot endure having them crossed or thwarted in anything, but must have our own way in everything. Christ himself denied his own most pure and perfect will, that his Father’s will might be accomplished. How much more cause have we to deny our wills, which by nature prefer that which is evil and destructive to us before that which is truly good and advantageous for us?
We must deny ourselves the use and enjoyment of our estates and earthly possessions whenever they come into competition with God's glory. We must be willing and ready to abandon and renounce whatever we have, rather than renounce our interest in Christ. Indeed, he is not worthy to be Christ’s disciple who does not prefer him before all things. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.
We must deny ourselves those sins, especially those lusts, in which we still indulge ourselves. It is vain to pretend to be true Christians so long as we live in any one known sin, with any love to it or delight in it. It is very rare to find a man that is not inclined to any. Ordinarily, every man has his darling, his beloved sin, his own sin, as David himself once had (though he afterward kept himself from it). So I fear that all of my readers have some sin, which he may in a peculiar manner call his own, and upon which his thoughts run most often, which he labors most after, and which he takes most pleasure in. It is a sin of which he is most loath to be reproved for, and by which he is most easily overcome. So long as we live in any known sin, it is that sin and not Christ that is our Master.
If we desire to follow after Christ, we must deny and renounce all our self-righteousness. I look upon this as a very great work of self-denial, for naturally we are all prone to boast of our own good works and to pride ourselves with the conceit of our own righteousness. Though we be ever so sinful, we would gladly be accounted righteous not only by men, but by God himself. This is the reason why justification by faith in Christ has so many adversaries in the world. Mankind, in general, being so much in love with themselves and doting upon what they themselves can do, think that have no need of any other righteousness besides their own.
We are hard-hearted indeed if we cannot deny ourselves for him who denied himself for us, who laid down his own life to redeem ours. Can we not deny ourselves so much as a fancy, a conceit, a sin or lust for him? Let us begin now and indulge our flesh no longer, but deny ourselves whatever God has been pleased to forbid. And for that end, let us endeavor each day more and more to live above ourselves, above the temper of our bodies, and above the allurements of the world. Let us live as those who believe and profess that we are not our own, but Christ’s; his by Creation, by Preservation, and by Redemption. It is he that has purchased and redeemed us with his own Blood.
Private Thoughts Upon a Christian Life
See Spurgeon's sermon, "Counting the Cost".
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"If any man will come after me, let him deny himself,
take up his Cross, and follow me."
In taking up one's cross, we are to understand those troubles or calamities, inward or outward, which we meet with in the performance of our duty to God or man. Christ does not invite us to an earthly paradise of idleness and outward pleasures, as if we had nothing to do or suffer for him. Even as men we cannot but find many crosses in the world. As Christians we must expect even more, for Christ himself has told us that in the world we shall have tribulation. Therefore, whatever we meet with is no more than what we are to look for, especially if we walk uprightly. We must not think to be carried to heaven with popular applause, nor to swim through a deluge of carnal pleasures into the haven of everlasting happiness. No, we must look to be tossed to and fro in this world, as in a raging and tempestuous ocean. Not that we should run into danger, but we should balk no duty to avoid it. We must be willing and ready to undergo the greatest suffering rather than to commit the least sin, and to run the greatest danger rather than neglect the smallest duty. If, while walking in the narrow path of holiness, there happens to lie a Cross in the way, we must not avoid it, but we must patiently take it up and carry it. If it be a little heavy at first, it will soon grow lighter and will not hinder, but rather further, our progress toward heaven. Let it be noted, however, that not every trouble we meet with in the world is the cross of Christ. We may suffer for our own fancy or humor, or perhaps for our own sin. If so, it is our own cross and not Christ’s. We have only ourselves to thank for it.
We may assure ourselves that God requires no more of us than what he has himself undergone, so we can suffer nothing for him but what he has suffered before for us. Have we grief and trouble in our hearts? So had he. Have we pains in our bodies? So had he. Are we derided and scoffed at? So was he. Are we arraigned or condemned, yea, do we suffer death itself? It is no more than what our Lord and Master endured. Remember what he told us when he was upon the earth: "A disciple is not above his master, nor a servant above his lord." If we be Christ’s disciples, we cannot expect to fare better in the world than Christ himself did. Neither, indeed, can we fare so badly, for it is impossible that we should undergo as much for him as he has undergone for us. Ours are only the sufferings of men, his the sufferings of one who was God as well as man. Therefore, we need not think it below us to stoop down and take up the cross of Christ, since Christ carried it before us. He has so blessed and sanctified the cross that it has now become an honorable, an advantageous, yes, a pleasant cross to them that bear it patiently. Whatever we can do or suffer for Christ here will be fully recompensed with glory hereafter.
I fear there are but few, if any, among us who are not conscious that they live either in the constant neglect of some known duty, or in the frequent commission of some beloved sin. The cross would never have been imposed upon us if it were not indispensably necessary for us. Therefore, if we are what we pretend to be--real and true Christians--let us manifest it to the world and to our own consciences by denying ourselves whatever Christ has denied us, and observing whatever he has commanded us. Self-denial, though unpleasant, is a most necessary duty. The cross, though it be ever so heavy, is but for a short time and has nothing less than a Crown annexed to it.
Private Thoughts Upon a Christian Life
Here is more about "William Beveridge" from F. R. Webber.
Also read Maclaren's sermon about "Amasiah", who willingly offered himself unto Yahweh.
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"Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of your affairs, that you stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel, and not in any way terrified by your adversaries, which is to them a proof of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that from God. For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake." (Philippians 1:27-29)
"Remember the word that I said to you, 'A servant is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you." (John 15:20)
The principle of Christians facing the Antichrist and enduring his persecutions is written large in the Scriptures. It is made very clear that the Church has always stood before and in opposition to antichrists, and has always suffered persecution from systems ruled by such. For the Church, therefore, to go into the days of the Antichrist and be called upon to endure his hatred and harassments, is but for her to pass from one phase of an experience into another, the difference being not in kind, but in degree. Moreover, the fact that Christians have faced past antichrists and suffered because of them presents strong, presumptive evidence that they will face the future Antichrist and suffer because of him. Whatever may be true in regard to this last, it is unmistakably plain that suffering on the part of the Church, because of antichrists, is not inconsistent but, rather, wholly harmonious with the thought and fact of God's most tender love. The question of divine love permitting such suffering, therefore, is not one which needs to be considered.
The thought is often expressed, and still more often felt, that God loves his saints too well to allow them to stand face-to-face with the Antichrist and to pass through the Great Tribulation. If Scripture and experience teach this, all controversy, of course, is immediately ended. But do they? Did God love Christ too well to forbid His standing before His antichrist and passing through His great tribulation? Did God love Peter, James, John, and Paul too well for them to suffer, or the apostolic Church, the Church of the Reformation, or the more modern Christians of Armenia, Madagascar, and China? It is a historical fact that the Church, from apostolic days to the present, has always faced antichrists and has frequently passed through periods of tribulation. The Scripture makes it plain that this will be her appointed portion to the end of her earthly pilgrimage (Acts 14:22, Rom. 8:35-39, I Thess. 3:4).
There is no occasion, then, for surprise on the part of the Church when an antichrist arises and persecution comes. As a matter of fact, there is more need for surprise when there are no antichrists and persecutions. Indeed, this latter is so true that Christians may well question, in times of universal quiet and peace, if things are with them spiritually as they ought to be. For it is suffering, not comfort, that is the appointed lot of God's heritage, even as Paul said, "For Thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter." And again, "We must through many tribulations enter into the kingdom of God."
On God's side, there has been granted to the modern Church a breathing space in order that there might be ample and unhindered opportunity to pass through divinely opened doors. But as for the saints, the vast majority have accepted the breathing space but then refused to pass through these open doors. Therefore, these saints have, over time, come to conclude that the prosperity of quiet and ease from suffering is not only their lot, but also their right. What a shock it was in 1900 when the Boxer movement broke over their cherished kin like a devastating storm! In those days of sorrow, many a soul secretly demanded to know from God what he was doing. His only answer was the allowance of further torture and death, until the storm passed. Since then he has given another, and even more dreadful, answer to questioning souls, as France, Germany, Turkey and Armenia bear witness.
It is evident that He who has for a time turned the usual state of suffering into the unusual state of peace, will in coming days turn this unusual state of peace into the usual state of suffering. Accumulating evidence indicates that the Church, which had torment in the old days but has sat at ease in the new, will be called upon to reenter blood-stained paths and follow the Lamb wherever He goes.
Matthew 24 and The Revelation
Check out "Church in the Tribulation?" by John Scruby.
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"Now after six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, led them up on a high mountain by themselves; and He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light. And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him." (Matthew 17:1-3)
The transfiguration is one of those passages in the Saviour’s earthly history which an expositor would rather pass over in reverent silence. Who is able fully to speak of that wondrous nightscene among the mountains of Hermon? The traditional scene of the transfiguration was Mount Tabor, where heaven was for a few brief moments let down to earth. There the mortal body of Jesus, being transfigured, shone with celestial brightness, and the spirits of just men made perfect appeared and held converse with Him respecting His approaching passion. And a voice came forth from the excellent glory, pronouncing Him to be God’s well-beloved Son. It is too high for us, this august spectacle, we cannot attain unto it. Its grandeur oppresses and stupefies; its mystery surpasses our comprehension; its glory is ineffable.
The transfiguration, to be understood, must be viewed in connection with the announcement made by Jesus shortly before concerning His death. This is evident from the simple fact that the three evangelists note the time of its occurrence with reference to that announcement and the conversation which accompanied it. All tell how, within six or eight days thereafter, Jesus took three of His disciples, Peter, James, and John, and brought them into a high mountain and was transfigured before them. The Gospel historians' minute accuracy here signifies in effect, “While the foregoing communications and discourses concerning the cross were fresh in the thoughts of all the parties, the wondrous events we are now to relate took place.” The relative date, in fact, is a finger post pointing back to the conversation on the passion, and saying, “If you desire to understand what follows, remember what went before.”
This inference is fully borne out by a statement made by Luke respecting the subject of the conversation on the holy mount between Jesus and His celestial visitants. "And behold, two men talked with Him, who were Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of His decease which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem." That exit, so different from their own in its circumstances and consequences, was the theme of their talk. They had appeared to Jesus to converse with Him about it, and when they ceased speaking, they took their departure for the abodes of the blessed. How long the conference lasted, we do not know, but the subject was sufficiently suggestive of interesting topics of conversation: the surprising contrast between the death of Moses, which was immediate and painless (while his eye was not dim nor his natural force abated), and the painful and ignominious death to be endured by Jesus; the not less remarkable contrast between the manner of Elijah’s departure from the earth, translated to heaven without tasting death at all (making a triumphant exit out of the world in a chariot of fire), and the way by which Jesus should enter into glory, the via dolorosa of the cross. Why this privilege of exemption from death or its bitterness granted to the representatives of the law and the prophets, and why denied to Him who was the end both of the law and prophecy? On these points, and others of kindred nature, the two celestial messengers, enlightened by the clear light of heaven, may have held intelligent and sympathetic converse with the Son of man, to the refreshment of His weary, saddened, solitary soul.
Luke further records that, previous to His transfiguration, Jesus had been engaged in prayer. It was the same as that prayer in the garden. The cup of death was present to the mind of Jesus, the cross was visible to His spiritual eye, and He prayed for nerve to drink, for courage to endure. The attendance of the three confidential disciples, Peter, James, and John, significantly hints at the similarity of the two occasions. The Master took these disciples with Him into the mount, as He afterwards took them into the garden, that He might not be altogether destitute of company and kindly sympathy as He walked through the valley of the shadow of death, and felt the horror and the loneliness of the situation.
It is now clear how we must view the transfiguration scene in relation to Jesus. It was an aid to faith and patience, specially vouchsafed to the meek and lowly Son of man in answer to His prayers, to cheer Him on His sorrowful path towards Jerusalem and Calvary. Three distinct aids to His faith were supplied in the experiences of that wondrous night. The first was a foretaste of the glory with which He should be rewarded after His passion, for His voluntary humiliation and obedience unto death. For the moment He was, as it were, raptured up into heaven, where He had been before He came into the world; for His face shone like the sun, and His raiment was white as the pure untrodden snow on the high alpine summits of Hermon. “Be of good cheer,” said that sudden flood of celestial light, “the suffering will soon be past, and Thou shall enter into Thine eternal joy!”
A second source of comfort to Jesus was the assurance that the mystery of the cross was understood and appreciated by saints in heaven, even if not by the darkened minds of sinful men on earth. He greatly needed such comfort, for among the men then living (His chosen disciples no exception), there was not one to whom He could speak on that theme with any hope of eliciting an intelligent and sympathetic response. Only a few days ago He had ascertained, by painful experience, the utter incapacity of the twelve to comprehend the mystery of His passion, or even to believe in it as a certain fact. Speaking with the great lawgiver and the great prophet of Israel on the subject of His death was doubtless a real solace to the spirit of Jesus. We know how He comforted Himself at other times with the thought of being understood in heaven, if not on earth. When heartless Pharisees called in question His conduct in receiving sinners, He sought at once His defense and consolation in the blessed fact that there was joy in heaven at least, whatever there might be among them, over one penitent sinner. Surely, then, we may believe that when He looked forward to His own decease--the crowning evidence of His love for sinners--it was a comfort to His heart to think, “Up yonder they know that I am to suffer, and comprehend the reason why, and watch with eager interest to see how I move on with unfaltering step, with my face steadfastly set to go to Jerusalem.”
A third, and the chief solace to the heart of Jesus, was the approving voice of His heavenly Father. “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased," declaring in effect His satisfaction with the way in which His Son had glorified His name hitherto, and His confidence that He would not fail to crown His career of obedience by a God-glorifying death.
Training of the Twelve
Richard Trench has a lecture on this topic, "The Transfiguration."
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"The kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchantman."
If the citizen of the Kingdom of God can be suggestively compared to a merchantman, there must be something about him exceedingly businesslike and enterprising. Our Lord appears to teach that business qualities are needful in the pursuit of the things that are needful in the Kingdom of God. I am to be as businesslike in my religious life as I am in my commercial life. The peril proclaimed is this: that men who are exceedingly businesslike in the market are exceedingly unbusinesslike in the sanctuary, and that men who are thoroughly alert and enterprising in earning their daily bread are sleepy and resourceless in their pursuit of a holy life.
There are many men who are sharp and shrewd and all alive in the world who are dull and sluggish in the Church. Men, somehow or other, drop their business instincts when they go about their Father's business. Now this parable is an appeal to men to bring into religion the same wide-awake business capabilities which they exercise in the affairs of the world. If men would be as businesslike in the pursuit of holiness as they are in their pursuit of gold, they would speedily become spiritual millionaires, wealthily endowed with the unsearchable riches of Christ. The perfecting counsel of the parable is therefore this: Be as businesslike in the building up of character as you are in the building up of fortune. Bring your business gifts and aptitudes in the affairs of business, and exercise them in the acquisition of the treasures of Heaven.
Now I propose to go into business life and cull out two or three of the qualities which are essential to worldly success. And then I propose to carry them over to the life of the spirit, where we shall find them to be the secrets of perpetual growth.
Here, then, is a quality which is greatly esteemed in the ways of the world--the quality of alertness. It is characteristic of every successful merchantman. If I listen to the ordinary speech of the man of the world, I find how great is the value which he places upon this gift. "A man must have all his wits about him." "It is the early bird that catches the worm." These are recognized maxims in the way of success, and they point to the commanding necessity of an alertful spirit. A merchantman must be alert for the detection of hidden perils. He must be alert for the perception of equally hidden opportunity. He must be alert for the recognition of failing methods. His eyes must clearly see where old roads are played out and where new ground may be broken. Let us carry the suggestion over into the affairs of the Kingdom.
The Scriptures abound in counsel to alertness. "Awake, awake!" "Watch ye!" "Let us watch and be sober!" "Watching unto prayer." It is an all-essential ingredient in the life of the progressive saint. He is to be on the alert against pitfalls, against bad bargains, against selling pearls for refuse, against impoverishing compromise. "Watch ye, lest ye fall into temptation." He is to be on the alert for opportunity. What eyes our Lord wants us to have in the things of the Kingdom! "Watch ye, for at such an hour when ye think not the Son of Man comes."
We never know when the august Visitor may turn up. He may appear in some tame and commonplace duty, and if we are not "all alive" we shall never suspect His presence and we shall miss His appearing. He is always showing His face, and to have knowledge of His presence is great gain. Therefore it is all-needful that we watch every color, that we look into the eyes of every moment, if perchance we may see the opportunity of becoming rich in the treasures of Heaven.
So are we to be on the alert for the conversion of everything into spiritual gold. "Buy up the opportunity." We are especially to look at things that appear to be useless, lest they turn out to be the raw material of the garments of Heaven. Sir Titus Salt, walking along the quay of Liverpool, saw a pile of unclean waste. He saw it with very original eyes, and had the vision of a perfected and beautified product. He saw the possibilities in discarded refuse and he bought the opportunity. That is perhaps the main business of the successful citizen of the Kingdom--the conversion of waste. This disappointment which I have had today, what can I make out of it? . . . This grief of mine, what can I make of it? Must I leave it as waste in the tract of the years, or can it be turned into treasure? This pain of mine, is it only a lumbering burden or does the ungainly vehicle carry heavenly gold? It is in conditions of this kind that the spiritual expert reveals himself. He is all "alive unto God," and seeing the opportunity he seizes it like a successful merchantman.
I go again into business life in order to gain a knowledge of the attributes of success. And this is what I hear one man say to another who has risen to fortune: "Everything about him goes like clockwork." Of another man whose days witness a gradual degeneracy, quite another word is spoken: "He has no system, no method, everything goes by the rule of chance." Then the quality of method appears to be one of the essentials of a successful man of affairs. Is this equally true in the things of the Kingdom? How many there are of us who, in our religious life, are loose, slipshod, unmethodical! How unsystematic we are in our worship and our prayers! Our worldly business would speedily drop into ruin if we applied to it the same inconsiderate ways with which we discharge the duties of our religion.
William Law, in his inspired book, "Call to a Devout Life," has instructed us in methodical devotion. He systematically divides the day, devoting to certain hours and certain seasons special kinds of praises and prayers. This was the early glory of the Methodist denomination. Their distinctiveness consisted in the systematic ordering of the Christian life. I know that too much method may become a bondage, but too little may become a rout. Too much red tape is creative of servitude, but to have no red tape at all is to be the victim of disorder.
There is a happy medium between chaos and bondage. There is a reasonable method which leaves play for the spontaneous exercises of thought and affection. We need some method in prayer. We can so habituate ourselves to pray at certain seasons, that when the hour comes round the soul is instinctively found upon its knees. We need some method in the arrangement of our prayers lest they settle down into narrowness and poverty, and are wanting in sympathy and appreciation. We need method in our spiritual labors. Even the ministry on behalf of others requires to be regular and systematic. We need to have method of benefactions. It is the people who do not give by method who are always prone to greatly exaggerate the amount they give. Giving irregularly, they are ignorant of their giving, and their selfish instinct prompts them to think it great. A healthy citizen of the Kingdom of God is like unto a merchantman, and his life is regulated by vigorous order.
I go again into the realm of business, and here is a sentence that encounters me from one who knows the road: "The habit of firm decision is indispensable to a man of business." The real businessman waits till the hour is come and then acts decisively. "He strikes while the iron is hot." An indecisive businessman lives in perpetual insecurity. He meanders along in wavering uncertainty until his business house has to be closed. Is not this element of decision needful in the light of the Spirit?
Religious life is too apt to be full of "ifs" and "buts" and "perhapses" and "peradventures." [For example], I am experiencing at this moment a fervent, holy, spiritual impulse. In what [then] consists my salvation?--to strike while the iron is hot? "Suffer me first to go to bid them farewell." No, the iron will speedily grow cold. While the holy thing glows before you, strongly decide and concentrate your energies in supporting your decision. "I am resolved what to do." That was said by a man of the world [the prodigal son]. Let it be the speech of the man of the Kingdom of God.
I will go again into the ways of the world that I may find instruction for the way of the Kingdom. I find that in business life it is essential that a man must run risks and make ventures. He must be daring, and he must have the element of courage. What says the man of the world? "Nothing ventured, nothing gained." "Faint heart never won fair lady." Faint heart never wins anything. John Bunyan's Faintheart had repeatedly to be carried. Has the citizen of the Kingdom to risk anything? Indeed he has. He must risk the truth. A lie might appear to offer him a bargain, but he must risk the truth. Let him sow the truth even though the threatened harvest may be tears. Let him venture the truth even though great and staggering loss seems to be drawn to his door. "He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him." A man has again and again to make his choice between Christ and thirty pieces of silver. Let him make the venture, let the silver go; risk the loss! If it means putting up the shutters, he will go out with Christ! "He that loseth his life for My sake shall find it."
Alertness, method, decision, courage! These are some of the qualities that are needed by the citizen of the Kingdom. With these splendid business instincts he will do fine bargaining, and become rich in faith and hope and in love.
Thirsting for the Springs
You will like J. C. Ryle's sermon, "What Time Is It?"
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"Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he is tried [has stood the test], he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love him." (James 1:12)
There is nothing said in the Scriptures which gives us any reason to suppose that it is an easy thing to be faithful and sincere Christians. We have no promise against trial and temptation. Provision is made for us to resist and vanquish assaults, but the security and peace of heaven do not belong to us here. The promises of the Holy Ghost even, are, most of them, not for support and strength under temptation, but like that of our text, for a gracious reward after our love to God has brought us off victorious. It is true, we have some promises for our cross, but we have more for our crown. Some provision--and sufficient--is offered to us to enable us to resist the devil and overcome the enticements to sin. But you can scarcely have failed to notice, in reading your Bible, how the most full and clear and frequent of its promises are occupied about the triumphs of heaven and not the temptations of earth. So far is the Holy Spirit from assuring us that as Christians we shall have nothing to tempt our fidelity, he does not seem disposed, by promise, to dissipate our fears of falling when we are tempted. He promises everything to fidelity when we get to another world, but he promises sparingly while we stay in this. Heaven he holds up to our view to encourage and animate us while we are passing through the furnace. But even sustaining, cheering grace for the passage he has not so promised, that we ought ever to believe he intends our trials shall be small.
The express declarations of the Holy Scriptures assure us that believers will in this life have very much to tempt them and try their fidelity [loyalty]. The believer is engaged in a warfare. Enemies are before him. The battle is to be fought: "Fight the good fight of faith." "Put on the whole armor of God that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil." "Your adversary, the devil, as a roaring lion goes about seeking whom he may devour." The believer is a pilgrim, he is a stranger and sojourner upon the earth. He cannot be faithful if he forgets it; and, surrounded with enough to make him comfortable here, takes up with his present blessings and makes this world his home. He will never reach Canaan in this way. The desert must be trodden. Its wastes, its wilds, its barren sands must be traveled over. Through those regions where he feels that nothing but bread from heaven can feed him, and nothing but light from heaven be his guide, he must direct his footsteps. And when on the borders of his possession new difficulties rise to meet him, no towering son of Anak must force him to turn back.
Whatever we may hope, there is no situation in this world which places us beyond danger. Almost every Christian is prone to be looking after something in worldly condition which shall diminish his difficulties and make it more easy for him to serve God with a Christian's fidelity. He wishes to save his soul from the curse of God and the contamination of sin; and when he is wearied with difficulties which surround him, he longs for some other situation in which he might find repose. But he longs in vain. The very condition he covets is not what he thinks it to be. There is no condition in which a Christian can ever place himself where he will not find that tribulation is in the pathway to heaven. Take any example you will.
There are temptations of adversity. It is extremely difficult for those who have nothing in this world--and can expect to have nothing--to avoid envying the lot of more favored mortals. The hungry man will find it difficult, by faith, to live upon the precept, "Take no thought for tomorrow, what ye shall eat or what ye shall drink." The desolate man, stripped of those who were the joy and solace of his life, will find it difficult to say over the tombs of his wife and children, "The Lord gave and the Lord has token away, blessed be the name of the Lord." The friendless child of misery, whom adversity drives into the wilderness like David, will find it no easy matter to exclaim, "When my father and my mother forsake me, then the Lord will take me up." Our confidence is apt to be shaken by reverses. Oh, how few are the Christians of whom it would be said under such trial, "In all this Job sinned not, nor cursed God in his heart."
There are temptations of prosperity. Perhaps it is more difficult for the believer to be faithful when the world smiles upon him than when it frowns. Prosperity places the means of sinful indulgence within our reach. We are very apt to think better of ourselves when prospered, as if Divine Providence would not thus distinguish us were we not more deserving than others. There are also correspondent duties which prosperity imposes, and there is no little danger that we shall fail to serve God in proportion to the ability he puts into our hands! How many rich men are in danger of being unfaithful in their stewardship, using their possessions as if God had not given them! It is no small matter to resist the temptations of prosperity. Many a tempted and tried professor of piety is manifesting to us how hard it is for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven.
If we look at the course in which God has led his own people, we shall find that they have been tried so as by fire. Can we find among the biographies of the saints anyone that entered into his rest by a smooth path? Behold Moses. His journey is in the wilderness; his station that for which he feels himself by nature disqualified. Hunger, and thirst, and the accusations of those who feared he was leading them to ruin, and more than all, his own impatience under difficulty, present alarming obstacles to his fidelity. Behold Job. The possessions of the rich man are swept away; the health of the vigorous is gone; his children, over whom the heart of the father yearned, are dead; in the dust--sick, bereaved, abandoned--and hearing from the lips of his wife even the impious counsel, Curse God and die. Was there nothing of difficulty in having grace enough to say, "Shall we receive good at the hand of the Lord, and shall we not receive evil also?" Behold Abraham, Samuel, Elisha, Daniel, Jeremiah, Paul, Silas. Who of them ever found a way into heaven not beset with most perilous snares? Temptation ought to be expected by God's people.
And are there not those who bear the name of Christian whose course is very unlike that we have been contemplating? In these days not a few seem to imagine that it is easy to follow Christ. Their religion gives them little trouble. What trial means, what enduring means, they cannot tell! There is no spot in all their experience where they can say they were tried! There is no leaf in all their history which tells the tale of their endurance! When religion does not form a most distinct and important business with us, when we do not find it demanding effort, when it makes no calls but such as are easy to answer, when it leaves our whole heart sound and our whole life untouched with trouble, when it permits us to flow on with the world--like them to gather its possessions and like them to prize and enjoy them--where shall be our evidence that we are enduring trial, to be proved for the day of Christ? When I behold the easy life and untroubled mind of many who hope they shall be saved, I cannot but tremble for what is before them! So much like the world, and their hearts so much on it--can it be that they are the sons of God and their hearts on heaven?
What temptation has tried us? What endurance has demonstrated our faith? What furnace has kindled upon us to burn up the dross and brighten the spirit for its heaven?
Life, Practical and Experimental Sermons (condensed)
Read Charles Bridges' sermon on Psalm 119:28, "My soul melts from heaviness; strengthen me according to your word".
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"The fear of Yahweh is the instruction of wisdom,
and before honor is humility."
What a mercy is humiliation to a soul that receives it with a steadfast faith! There are a thousand blessings in it for ourselves and for others, for our Lord bestows his grace upon the humble. Humility renders us charitable toward our neighbor. Nothing will make us so tender and indulgent to the faults of others as a view of our own.
Two things produce humility when combined. The first is a sight of the abyss of wretchedness from which the all-powerful hand of God has snatched us, and over which he still holds us, as it were, suspended in the air. The other is the presence of that God who is ALL.
Our faults, even those most difficult to bear, will all be of service to us if we make use of them for our humiliation without relaxing our efforts to correct them. It does no good to be discouraged. Discouragement is the result of a disappointed and despairing self-love. The true method of profiting by the humiliation of our faults is to behold them, in all their deformity, without losing our hope in God and without having any confidence in ourselves.
We must bear with ourselves without either flattery or discouragement. This is a mean seldom attained, for we either expect great things of ourselves and of our good intentions, or we wholly despair. We must hope nothing for self, but wait for everything from God. Utter despair of ourselves (in consequence of a conviction of our helplessness) and unbounded confidence in God are the true foundations of the spiritual edifice.
That is a false humility which, acknowledging itself unworthy of the gifts of God, dares not confidently expect them. True humility consists in a deep view of our utter unworthiness and in an absolute abandonment to God, without the slightest doubt that He will do the greatest things in us. Those who are truly humble will be surprised to hear anything exalted of themselves. They are mild and peaceful, of a contrite and humble heart, merciful and compassionate, quiet, cheerful, obedient, watchful, fervent in spirit, and incapable of strife. They always take the lowest place, rejoice when they are despised, and consider every one superior to themselves. They are lenient to the faults of others in view of their own, and very far from preferring themselves before anyone. We may judge of our advancement in humility by the delight we have in humiliations and contempt.
Read the exposition of Proverbs 21:2, "Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but Yahweh weighs the hearts," by Charles Bridges.
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"Do not fret because of evildoers,
nor be envious of the workers of iniquity."
"Fret not thyself." Do not get into a perilous heat about things. And yet, if ever heat were justified, it was surely justified in the circumstances outlined in this psalm. Evildoers were moving about clothed in purple and fine linen, and faring sumptuously every day. "Workers of iniquity" were climbing into the supreme places of power and were tyrannizing over their less fortunate brethren. Sinful men and women were stalking through the land in the pride of life, basking in the light and comfort of great prosperity. And good men were becoming heated and fretful.
“Fret not thyself.” Do not get unduly heated! Keep cool! Even in a good cause fretfulness is not a wise helpmeet. Fretting only heats the bearings, it does not generate the steam. It is no help to a train for the axles to get hot--their heat is only a hindrance. The best contribution which the axles can make to the progress of the train is to keep cool. Fretfulness is just the heating of the axles; it is heat in the wrong place; it is heat becoming a source of weakness rather than strength. . . .
Now, when the axles get heated it is because of unnecessary friction; dry surfaces are grinding together which ought to be kept in smooth cooperation by a delicate cushion of oil. And is it not a suggestive fact that this word “fret” is closely akin to the word “friction,” and is indicative of the absence of the anointing oil of the grace of God? In fretfulness, thought is grinding against thought, desire against desire, will against will. A little bit of grit gets into the bearings--some slight disappointment, some ingratitude, some discourtesy,--and the smooth working of the life is checked. Friction begets heat, and with the heat most dangerous conditions are created.
We can never really foresee what kind of disaster this perilous heat may lead to. The psalmist in the early verses of this psalm, points out some of the stages of increasing destructiveness to which this unclean fire assuredly leads. It is somewhat strange, and yet not strange, that the second piece of counsel in this psalm is concerned with the disposition of envy. It is not put there as an irrelevance. It indicates a possible succession. Fretfulness frequently leads to jealousy. For what is jealousy? Again, let it be said that jealousy is heat out of place. The "jealous" man and the "zealous" man are somewhat akin, but in one case the fire is clean and in the other, it is unclean. It is the difference between fervor and fever. Fretfulness creates the unclean fire of envy.
Now see the further stage proclaimed by the psalmist. "Cease from anger." The fire is now burning furiously, noisy in the fierceness of its wrath. What shall we expect as the climax of all this? "Fret not thyself in any wise to do evil." That is what I should expect. Men who have worked themselves into envy and anger will be led into the very evil they originally resented. Men begin by fretting "because of evildoers," and they end by "doing the evil" themselves. "Behold how great a matter a little fire kindleth!" "Fret not thyself!" Do not let your bearings get hot. Let the oil of the Lord keep you cool, lest by reason of an unclean heat you be reckoned among the evildoers.
How, then, is fretfulness to be cured? The psalmist brings in the heavenly to correct the earthly. This psalm is full of “the Lord!" “The Lord” is the refrain of almost every verse, as though it were only in the power of the heavenly that this dangerous fire could be subdued. Let us look at the counsel in detail.
“Trust in the Lord.” "Trust." It is, perhaps, helpful to remember that the word which is here translated “trust” is elsewhere in the Old Testament translated “careless.” “Be careless in the Lord!” Instead of carrying a load of care, let care be absent! It is the carelessness of little children running about the house in the assurance of their father’s providence and love. It is the singing disposition that leaves something for the parent to do. Assume that He is working as well as yourself, and working even when things appear to be adverse. . . .
The supply of grace is not determined by the changes in our moods; it is independent of our feelings. "There is a river the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God!" That river is flowing even when we are temporarily depressed, and we are no longer enjoying the ecstasy of the heights. "Trust in the Lord!" Believe in His fidelity! Assume that the river is flowing even on the darkest day. This would be an amazing cure for fretfulness and excessive care.
“Delight yourself also in the Lord.” How beautiful the phrase! The literal significance is this: “Seek for delicacies in the Lord.” Yes, and if we only set about with ardent purpose to discover the delicacies of the Lord’s table, we should have no time and no inclination to fret. But this is just what the majority of us do not do. We take the crumbs from the Master’s table, and we have no taste of the excellent delicacies. Now the delicacies of anything are not found in the elementary stages; we have to move forward to the advanced. The delicacies of music are not found in the first half-dozen lessons; it is only in the later stages that we come to the exquisite. And so it is in art, and so it is in literature, and so it is with the “things of the Lord.” “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither has entered into the heart of man, the things which God has prepared for them that love Him.” Let us be ambitious for the excellent! God has not yet given to us of His best. He always keeps the best wine until the last. We shall never reach God's superlative! The "unsearchable riches of Christ" will reveal themselves more and more to us throughout the glorious seasons of the eternal day. When we sit at the table of the Lord, tasting of His delicacies, fretfulness will be unable to breathe.
“Commit thy way unto the Lord.” "Thy way!" What is that? Any pure purpose, any worthy ambition, any duty, anything we have got to do, any road we have got to tread, all our outgoings. "Commit thy way unto the Lord." Commit it to Him, not merely when we are in the middle of the way and are stuck and lost in the mire. Let us commit our beginnings unto Him, before we have gone wrong. Let us have His companionship from the very outset of the journey. "I am Alpha." He likes to be in at our beginnings. What am I purposing for tomorrow? What am I setting out to do? Have I committed it to the Lord, or am I setting out upon a solitary journey? If I am going out alone, fretfulness will encounter me before I have gone many steps in the way. If I go out in the company of Jesus I shall have the peace that passes understanding, and the heat of my life will be the ardor of an intense devotion.
“Rest in the Lord.” Having done all this, and doing it all, trusting in the Lord, delighting in the Lord, committing my way unto the Lord, let me now just “rest.” Don’t worry. Whatever happens, just refer it to the Lord! If it be anything injurious, He will suppress it. If it be anything containing helpful ministry, He will adapt it to our need. This is the cure for care.
The Silver Lining
See Alexander McCaul's sermon, "Advice and Consolation".
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"For after seven more days I will cause it to rain on the earth forty days and forty nights, and I will destroy from the face of the earth all living things that I have made." (Genesis 7:4)
I will now show that the Flood (recorded in Genesis chapter 7) did not typify the Great Tribulation itself, but the Day of the Lord, which day will terminate that Great Tribulation.
Notice first, that in this type there is seen no person who typifies the Antichrist, the central figure of the Tribulation. Second, that there is nothing in the type to show the various deadly happenings which are so prominently connected with the Tribulation; viz., war, pestilence, famine, demon locusts, scorching heat, etc. The Flood was one swift, destroying judgment and was not, as will be the Tribulation, a series of tormenting judgments. Third, that the Flood came not at the beginning, nor in the middle, but at the end of the "seven days." These seven days typify the last seven years of this present age. Fourth, that there is an utter absence of anything to show that Noah and his family were persecuted by any of their contemporaries, whereas the bitter and deadly persecution of the saints is one of the most outstanding characteristics of the Tribulation. This is not to say that Noah and his family were not persecuted, but only that if they were, the type does not show it; and this for the simple reason that it is not a Tribulation type.
About five years, perhaps less, before the Flood came, the Lord instructed Noah how to prepare for its coming, in order to ensure the safety of himself and his household. Noah acted upon those instructions. Finally, all was in readiness with the exception of a few finishing touches. "Then the Lord said to Noah, 'Come into the ark, you and all your household...for after seven more days I will cause it to rain on the earth forty days and forty nights," Gen. 7:1,4.
Noah and his family did not enter into the ark on the day the Lord gave him this command, nor was it intended that they should; but they proceeded to lead or drive the beasts into the ark and to see that they were safely stowed, and to attend to various other last-minute matters. Then, when everything to the last minute detail had been done, and just as the deluge swept upon them, Noah and his family rushed into the ark, just in time to escape the destroying waters, and the Lord closed the door. Let me try to describe it for you.
"Wife, sons, daughters," cried Noah, "the Lord has just informed me that we have only seven more days in which to get everything in order before the flood comes, so we must hurry, for there is much yet to do." And no matter how fast they may have labored before, now that they knew only one more week remained, they redoubled their efforts. Unquestionably, in addition to superintending the "round up" and arranging for the stowing of the creatures in the ark, Noah, like a traveler going with a large family on a first long journey, found a multitude of last-minute things to attend to, and they had to be attended to quickly.
The unbiased reader will readily see that the purpose of the warning--"For yet seven days, and I will cause it to rain upon the earth"--was to induce Noah to hasten and conclude these final matters. Here we have typified what the Church will be doing during the last seven years of this age. We will not be sitting idly by (shut up in the ark waiting for the Flood to come, as some erroneously think), but will be busy working, and more busy than ever, making final preparations for meeting the Tribulation-climaxing judgments of the Day of the Lord.
It is recorded, "In the second month, the seventeenth day of the month, on that day all the fountains of the great deep were broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened...On the very same day Noah and Noah's sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth, and Noah's wife and the three wives of his sons with them, entered into the ark," Gen. 7:11,13. The last hour of the last of the seven days had come. Apparently, Noah and his family were still outside the ark, seeing that nothing had been left undone, that nothing had been overlooked. Then, suddenly, "the fountains of the great deep were broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened," and the deluge was on. If anything were now undone, it was too late to attend to it. Rushing to the ark, "driven by the waters of the deluge," Noah and his family entered and the Lord shut them in, just in time to prevent the inrush of the judgment waters, and perhaps also of a multitude of death-doomed jeering sinners who may have assembled, attracted by the unusual activities of Noah and his family during these last seven days. "On the very same day," mark you, Noah and his family entered the ark. What "very same day?" The very same day on which the fountains of the great deep were broken up and the windows of heaven opened. In verse 7 it is recorded, "So Noah, with his sons, his wife, and his sons' wives, went into the ark because of the waters of the flood." This last sentence is very suggestive, for it indicates that Noah and his family were driven into the ark by the threatening waters.
As Noah entered the ark at the end of the seven days, so the rapture of the church will follow the tribulation. Because the Flood did not come until the very end of those seven days, it cannot typify the Tribulation, for the Tribulation is to begin in the middle of the last seven years of this age.
The Great Tribulation, The Church's Supreme Test
For more information on the rapture and other issues connected with the the second advent, please see our "Short Study on the Book of Revelation".
Samuel Tregelles has a great book, "The Hope of Christ's Second Coming".
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"The carnal mind is enmity against God."
The enmity of the mind of man against God is manifest from what we read and see of the unbelief of mankind with respect to His being and perfections. David says, "The fool has said in his heart, 'There is no God.'" Our English translators have supposed this to be his meaning, but in the Hebrew the words are only these: "The fool has said in his heart, 'No God.'" And some have thought the supplement there is to be improper or needless, that the psalmist meant to say what was the fool's secret wish, not what was his inward belief. By the fool is commonly meant in Scripture not an idiot, but a sinner in contradistinction to a saint; or, in the language of the New Testament, the natural man. And that the psalmist is so to be understood in this text is plain from what immediately follows: "They are corrupt, and have done abominable iniquity; there is none who does good." He is plainly giving the character of all mankind by nature. And if he meant that "No God" or "Let there be no such being" was the language of man's heart, then we have in this text an express assertion that natural men are of a disposition which is enmity to the existence of God. But if the psalmist be understood as only asserting the inward atheism of wicked men or their unbelief that there is a God, still this proves the enmity of the human heart against him.
The enmity of the human heart against the Supreme Being is exceedingly evident from the so early and universal prevalence of the most stupid and abominable idolatry in this fallen world. The apostle proves the extreme ungodliness of the heathen Gentiles in the first chapter of his epistle to the Romans. He says, "Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man--and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things." Paul imputes this not to their lacking the necessary means of coming to the knowledge of the truth, but to their holding the truth in unrighteousness--to their not being disposed to glorify God when they knew him, and to their not liking to retain God in their knowledge.
And undoubtedly no other probable account can be given of the so universal prevalence of the worship of false gods, and such strange ones as were worshiped in all parts of the world. Certainly had mankind been of a disposition to delight themselves in the Almighty, they would never have made them such gods as birds and beasts and the lowest reptiles; nor such as Bacchus and Venus, Belial and Moloch, or even as Jupiter and Juno--gods and goddesses, the patrons and patronesses of lewdness, drunkenness, envy, revenge, and every human or diabolical vice. By the gods that men believe in and worship, it is seen what gods they wish to have. We need not wonder, therefore, that the heathen idolaters are said to have been without excuse; or that their alienation from the life of God, through the ignorance which was in them, is resolved into the blindness of the heart.
That the carnal mind is still enmity against God appears evident from the strange delight in profaneness, so natural to mankind. The psalmist, complaining to God of the profligate workers of iniquity, says, "They speak against You wickedly; Your enemies take Your name in vain." And well may those be called the enemies of God who do this, or who take pleasure in them that do it. When our neighbors speak lightly of us--when they use our name as a proverb and a byword, when they make a mock of our serious instructions, counsels and admonitions--how do we take it? Certainly not as a mark of their esteem and friendship, but of their hatred and contempt.
But how common a thing is it among mankind to treat the name, and word, and ways of God in this contemptuous manner! How natural is it for the sons of men to be profane, to turn the sacred Scriptures into ridicule, to curse and swear, and take the name of God in vain! It is so natural to them that nothing is more difficult than to keep little children from learning such language when they hear it, or to break them of the habit when once they have learned it. The pleasure taken in profane discourse must proceed from a personal enmity against God and religion. Were it not for this enmity, such horrid profanation of sacred things could afford no delight or entertainment to any mortal. Were men friendly to the Deity, it would certainly be most offensive and disgusting to them.
The enmity of the natural mind of man against the very being of God is evident from the aversion revealed to his absolute purposes and decrees, and to the gospel doctrines of grace. It is well known that these doctrines are everywhere spoken against: "Being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will"; "Therefore He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens"; "Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor?" These are hard sayings; who can hear them?
The moment these texts and others like them are named as subjects of discourse, they give disgust to many in most congregations. Nor will this disgust be removed unless the true sense of the texts be wholly explained away or flatly contradicted. It does no good to show the reasonableness of them, and to guard against false inferences from them of a dangerous tendency. The difficulties are not removed, the objections still remain. And remain they forever will as long as the carnal mind remains, or unless the Most High resign his throne. The reins must be given up to everyone's own self-determining power, or the mind of man will not be satisfied. God must have no decrees, no sovereignty, no government of the moral world, or the haughtiness of man will be offended.
Some may be afraid, perhaps, that the preaching of such doctrines will make men think they are not free agents, or will encourage them in carelessness and sin. It is true that these doctrines may be perverted and abused to bad purposes; and so may every other doctrine of the gospel and everything else that is good. But, in general, the danger of this is not the root of the objection. If it were, why is there not as much opposition to other divine truths which are not more clearly revealed?
Whatever may be the ostensible reason, the real objection is that men do not like that God should govern the world. They are not willing that His counsel should stand, or that His pleasure should be done. They would have Him have no purpose which cannot be frustrated, or which is not perpetually liable to be altered by every caprice of his giddy creatures. They would have Him determine nothing without consulting them, and knowing first what is their will and pleasure. In short, man would be God, or he would have no God.
Sermons on a Number of Connected Subjects
A most pertinent article is "Regeneration: Beginning with God by Eric J. Alexander.
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