Daily Devotions from the Classics

A Monthly Reading of Insights from Renowned Christians

April

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Day 1

A Morning Prayer

We adore and magnify your name, O Father of mercies and God of all consolation, for having called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to your own purpose and grace given us in Christ Jesus before the world began. O for a song of praise, for a psalm of everlasting thanksgiving to you, the God of our salvation, in whose hand all power resides! Your power is to be seen everywhere man can turn his eye, and yet the impenitent man refuses to acknowledge it, refuses to see it in the creation of his very own soul. Open his eyes, we pray, to the light of your truth, lest he perish in his sins. We ask in the name of our great High Priest, Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God. Amen.


The Narrow Gate
by
Henry Scougal

"Then one said to Him, 'Lord, are there few who are saved?' And He said to them, 'Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be able. When once the Master of the house has risen up and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and knock at the door, saying, "Lord, Lord, open for us," and He will answer and say to you, "I do not know you, where you are from," then you will begin to say, "We ate and drank in Your presence, and You taught in our streets," But He will say, "I tell you I do not know you, where you are from. Depart from Me, all you workers of iniquity."'" (Luke 13:23-27)

Among all the stratagems whereby Satan plots and contrives man's ruin, few are sadly more successful than the fond persuasion that heaven and everlasting happiness are easily attainable. The doors of Christian churches are now very wide, and men have access to them upon the easiest of terms. Many are reckoned "Christians" even before they come to know what it means!

Men have no marks on their foreheads whereby we can judge of their eternal future. They die, are laid in the grave, and none come back to tell us how it fared with them. We desire to think the best of every particular person. But whatever charity there is in this, there is little prudence in the inference that many draw from it -- that if they live as their neighbors did, then they will die just as happily, for the greatest part of mankind are such as themselves; and if they all are to be excluded from heaven, then heaven must be a very empty place. Self-love so strongly blinds the minds of men that they can hardly be turned from a belief which they would gladly believe were true. Hence it is that the opinion of the broadness of the way to heaven and easy access to it is the most epidemic and the most dangerous heresy.

Duty obliges us, and the Scriptures warrant us, to assure you that there are very few that shall be saved; that the whole world lies in wickedness; and that they are a little flock to whom the Father will give the kingdom. That this certain, though lamentable truth, may more deeply impress our minds, we shall propose some considerations for the better understanding of what great things are required in those who look for everlasting happiness.

First, consider the nature of that divine Majesty, whose presence and enjoyment makes heaven desirable. How inconsistent it is with God's infinite holiness to admit impure and impenitent sinners into the habitation of his glory. Certainly he is of purer eyes than to behold evil. He has no pleasure in wickedness; neither shall he allow evil to dwell with him. It is strange what conceptions foolish men entertain of Almighty God, who imagine that those who have been all their days wallowing in sin shall be admitted into an everlasting fellowship with God! Mercy is open to all who forsake their sins, but justice shall seize upon those who continue in them.

Second, consider the magnitude of the happiness which everyone so confidently promises to himself. "Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him" (1 Cor. 2:9). All that is excellent in the world is borrowed to shadow forth this bliss. We are told of crowns, kingdoms, treasures, rivers of pleasure, and fountains of living waters. Can we expect so glorious a prize to be gained without any labor? Shall such a recompense be bestowed on those who never took any pains to obtain it?

What toil and travail does a man take in order to accrue much money! What industry and study do men employ to be reckoned among the learned! And shall heaven and everlasting happiness slide into our arms while we sleep? No, most certainly not. God will never disparage the glories of that place to bestow them on those who have not thought them worthy of their most serious endeavors. Perhaps men think that in heaven they will feast and revel and lounge about in luxury, spending all their time in foolish mirth and vain talk, in sport and jesting and sensual pleasure. No, indeed. The joys of heaven are pure and spiritual, and in that place blessed spirits behold and admire the divine perfections and engage in intimate communion with the Lord Jesus Christ. It is a strange infatuation of self-love that men in the gall of bitterness should think themselves good enough for the enjoyment of divine pleasures.

Third, let us reflect on those who have gone to heaven before us, who have fought, wrestled, and given their lives to obtain that glorious prize. And shall the greatest part of mankind think they may possess it with so little effort, much less pain? Read a catalog of their persecutions and scourgings in the 11th chapter of Hebrews. There you will find them inflamed with a holy passion for the glory of God and the propagation of the Christian faith. If heaven and happiness cost them so dearly, then why should anyone think he should be carried to heaven while fast asleep, or while engaging his energies in the exact opposite direction?

Fourth, a serious consideration of the laws and precepts of the gospel will fully convince us of the narrowness of the way that leads to eternal life. Read through that excellent Sermon on the Mount and you will see what our Savior requires of his followers. You will find him enjoining such a profound humility as shall make us think nothing of ourselves, and be content that others think nothing of us too; a meekness that overcomes all injuries, affronts, and indignities; a universal love that will make us tender toward another man's welfare, and that will never take revenge even against our most bitter enemy.

How do the tempers and actions of men accord with this? Looking back upon the old world, we see how quickly wickedness overspread the face of the earth. All flesh had corrupted their way; and of all the multitudes then in the world, only Noah and his family were found worthy to escape the general flood. After that, the church of God was confined to a very narrow corner; and while darkness covered the face of the earth, only Palestine was enlightened with the knowledge of God. God gave his statutes to Israel, but the rest of the nations were given up to the lusts of their own hearts, and they worshiped the works of their own hands. In the present condition of the world, what do we find? We find that the number of Christian nations is a very small percentage of the whole.

But what is to be found concerning the generality of the churches within these nations? First, we should find the great number of them so grossly ignorant of the Scriptures that they know not the way that leads to eternal life. And if we should remove the adulterers, idolaters, effeminate, thieves, coveteous, drunkards, deceivers, and scornful, to what a small number would the worshipers be reduced! This does not even include those who indulge in that hellish and unaccountable sin of swearing, whereby men throw away their souls without any temptation, pleasure, or advantage. This sin of taking the sacred name of God in vain is certainly inconsistent with a religious temper; and this alone would damn the greatest part of the Christian world.

When all has been said, there are many who cannot think it consistent with the goodness and mercy of God that the greatest part of mankind should be damned. They cannot imagine that heaven should have so very few to inhabit it. But what folly and madness is this for sinful men to set rules for the divine goodness and draw conclusions so expressly contrary to what God himself has revealed. Is it not enough that he has taught us the way to be happy and given his own Son to death to make it possible, and that he has waited so long and invited us so earnestly to repent? If we obstinately resolve to continue in our wickedness, to despise his goodness, to slight his warnings and have none of his reproof, to court damnation and throw ourselves headlong into hell, then how can we expect that he should put forth his omnipotence to pull us from thence and place us in heaven against our own will?

Let us be reminded that God was infinitely happy before he had made any creature. Though there are thousands of angels and ten thousand times ten thousand who stand about his throne praising him, yet he needs not their society. Most assuredly, he will never admit wicked and irreligious men to enter in.

Were the sense of these words deeply engraved upon our minds, with what care and diligence, with what seriousness and zeal would ministers deal with the people committed to their charge that they might save some. How would parents, husbands, and wives employ all their diligence and industry for reclaiming their near relations and pulling them from the brink of hell. And with what holy violence would we use for saving ourselves from this common ruin and making our calling and election sure.

The Works of the Rev. H. Scougal

Prayer from Prayers for the Use of Families by William Jay

Here are two helpful articles on the fate of unbelievers: "The Fate of the Heathen" by John Gerstner, and "The Guilt of the Pagan" by W. G. T. Shedd. But let us take to heart God's mercy and grace in saving sinners by reading "Am I Going to Heaven" by Ken, "The Plan of Salvation" by Pastor Elifson, and "The Method of Salvation through Jesus Christ" by Samuel Davies.

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Day 2

A Morning Prayer

Heavenly Father, you are the God of all grace. We ask now that you would endue us with wisdom that we may use our time wisely, not as our own but as yours, so that we may be prepared at the last to render an account of our stewardship. Give us godly dispositions in conformity with our Savior's, that we may be meek, kind, forgiving, patient, and faithful. Teach us the forbearance that suffers long, which is your gift, the desire for our neighbor's best welfare, which is the Christian's mark, and the obedience that shows we are Christ's disciples indeed. Opportunities abound in which we may bring glory to you. Let us not allow them to pass by unnoticed, but accept them as the paths to spiritual blessing. We ask in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.


Means of Grace
by
George W. Perkins

"Seeing you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit."
1 Peter 1:22

Our modern religious phraseology has coined and thrown into universal currency a term not found in the Bible. The phrase I mean is that familiar one, "means of grace." But I am forced to believe that very inadequate ideas are held of "means of grace," and that great loss and evil result from the mistake.

Public worship is a means of grace, and of the service a prominent feature is the sermon. But what is the sermon? Perhaps an able theological discussion whereby the mind has gained a firmer hold on truth. That is valuable. Perhaps it unfolds the consequences of sin and holiness in the endless future. That is valuable, revealing to the mind worthy and powerful motives. Perhaps it states the principles of right, the details of duty. That also is valuable. The hearer knows the will of God. But where is the grace, the growth in goodness, even if the sermons have been listened to with profound attention and marked effect? The improvement is not yet. The sermon becomes profitable and growth in grace begins only when the hearer departs to put into practice what he has heard.

In everyone's daily life there are many and nameless annoyances -- vexations, carelessness, rudeness, unpleasant manners, mistakes, forgetfulness. They are countless, and they provoke peevishness. And though these annoyances are for the most part insignificant, still they are the usual incentives to anger and the ordinary occasions of fretfulness and irritability. Now few is the number of people who think religion has anything to do with such petty affairs. Nevertheless, since they are the occasions of no little sin, why not consider them as constantly recurring opportunities for the exercise of that noble Christian virtue self-control? At each one of the thousands of petty vexations one meets in the course of years, we have the opportunity of reflecting, "God will be pleased if I control myself, if I remain quiet and calm without excitement or irritability; therefore I will do so." In other words, God has given us countless "means of grace."

"But you forget," urges one, "there is one class of events or circumstances which must be excepted. We are surrounded by temptations. Surely they are not means of grace, are they?" But why not? For what is a temptation? It is a position in which there are opportunities and inducements to do wrong. Thus it is one of the noblest opportunities for obedience; for in God's sight it is a higher act of honor to choose right when there are strong inducements to do wrong. Yes, even a temptation may be a "means of grace" -- a struggle and a victory for a high moral purpose, both of which make him a better man.

Let us then understand God's plan. What we call drudgery, temptation, sorrow, misfortune, difficulties--all these are resplendent with this glorious end, that they are to qualify us to be heirs of God and future kings in heaven.

Sermons (condensed and paraphrased)

Prayer from Short Prayers for the Morning and Evening

Read "Growth in Grace" by James Yonge. And when surrounded by temptation, take time to read some of the many entries on our Prayer Page. Another sermon that will be of help is "Mahanaim: The Two Camps," by Alexander Maclaren.

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Day 3

A Morning Prayer

O Lord our God, we entreat your favor with our whole heart. We confess that we have forfeited all claims to it, and if we had no better ground of hope than our merits, we must sink into despair. But with you there is mercy, and with you there is plenteous redemption. You have sent your own Son into the world not to condemn it, but that the world through Christ might be saved. We rejoice that neither the number nor heinousness of our transgressions is a barrier to your forgiveness, a forgiveness founded on the sufferings and sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. But keep us from the hope of the hypocrite, who rests satisfied with a mere profession of belief and outward forms of worship, all the while having a heart not right with God. May we judge of our sincerity by our fear to offend you, by our concern to know what you would have us to do, and by our willingness to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Christ. We offer this prayer in the all prevailing name of our blessed Redeemer, who loved us and washed us from our sins in his own blood. Amen.


The Pharisee and the Publican
by
George Whitefield

"And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, God, be merciful to me a sinner!" (Luke 18:13)

"Two men went up to the temple to pray" (and never two men of more opposite characters), "the one a Pharisee and the other a Publican." The Pharisees were the strictest sect among the Jews. "I was of the strictest sect of the Pharisees," says Paul. They not only prayed often, but they made long prayers. And that they might appear extraordinarily devout, they would pray at the corners of the street in order that people going or coming both ways might see them.

As for the Publicans, it was not so with them. It seems they were sometimes Jews, or at least proselytes of the gate. But I am apt to think they were for the most part Gentiles, since they were gatherers of the Roman taxes and used to amass much wealth by wronging men with false accusations. They were so universally infamous that our Lord himself tells his disciples, "the excommunicated man should be to them as a heathen man, or a Publican." And the Pharisees thought it a sufficient impeachment of our Lord's character that he was a friend to Publicans and sinners, and sat down with them to eat.

But however they disagreed in other things they agreed in this: that public worship is a duty incumbent upon all, for they both came up to the temple. And what did they go there for? "To pray." I fear one of them forgot his errand. I have often been at a loss as what to call the Pharisee's address; it certainly does not deserve the name of a prayer. He may rather be said to come to the temple to boast rather than to pray; for I do not find one word of confession of his original guilt, not one single petition for pardon of his past actual sins, or for grace to help and assist him for the time to come. He only brings to God, as it were, a reckoning of his performances, and does that which no flesh can justly do -- I mean, glory in his presence.

"The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself: God, I thank thee that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this Publican." Here is some appearance of devotion, but it is only in appearance. To thank God that we are not as wicked in our practices as other men are is certainly suitable, right, and our bound duty; for whatever degrees of goodness there may be in us more than in others is owing to God's restraining, preceding, and assisting grace. If the Pharisee had been thinking in this manner, then it would have been an excellent introduction to his prayer. But he was a free-willer as well as self-righteous (for he that is one must be the other) and thought that by his own power and strength he had kept himself from these vices.

Let us now take a view of the Publican. "And the Publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner." Perhaps he was standing in the outward court of the temple, conscious to himself that he was not worthy to approach the Holy of holies; so conscious and so weighed down with a sense of his own unworthiness that he would not so much as lift up his eyes unto heaven, which he knew was God's throne. I think I see him standing afar off, pensive, oppressed, and even overwhelmed with sorrow. Sometimes he attempts to look up, but then perhaps remembers that the heavens are unclean in God's sight and the very angels charged with folly. How then shall such a wretch as he dare to lift up his guilty head? And to show that his heart was full of holy self-resentment, and that he sorrowed after a godly sort, he smote upon his breast. The word in the original implies that he struck hard upon his breast. He will lay the blame upon none but his own wicked heart. Out of the abundance of his heart and with many tears he at last cries out, "God be merciful to me a sinner!" Not, "God be merciful to yonder proud Pharisee." Not, "God be merciful to me a saint." But, "God be merciful to me," even to me a sinner--a sinner by birth, a sinner in thought and word and deed, a sinner as to my person and all my works, a sinner in whom is no health and in whom dwells no good thing, a sinner full of wounds and putrefying sores from the crown of the head to the sole of the feet, a self-accused and self-condemned sinner.

This man came up to the temple to pray, and he prayed indeed. And a broken and contrite heart God will not despise. "I tell you," says our Lord -- I who lay in the bosom of the Father from all eternity; I who am God and therefore know all things; I who can neither deceive nor be deceived, whose judgment is according to right -- I tell you, whatever you may think of it, or think of me for telling you so, "this man," this Publican, this despised, sinful, but broken-hearted man, "went down to his house justified" (acquitted, and looked upon as righteous in the sight of God) "rather than the other." That the Pharisee was not justified is certain, for "God resists the proud." That the Publican was at this time actually justified we have great reason to infer from the latter part of the text: "For everyone that exalts himself shall be abased, and he that humbles himself shall be exalted."

The parable of the Publican and Pharisee is a glass wherein we may see all mankind divided into two general classes. The first is comprised of those who trust wholly or partly in themselves, believing they are righteous. These are Pharisees. The second comprises those who have no confidence in the flesh and see themselves as self-condemned sinners. These come under the character of the Publican just now described.

Hear this, all you who justify yourselves! Tremble and behold your doom, a doom more dreadful than words can express or thoughts conceive! If you refuse to humble yourselves after hearing this parable, I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day that God shall visit you with all his storms and pour all the vials of his wrath upon your rebellious heads. You exalted yourselves here, and God shall abase you hereafter. "Be not deceived, God is not mocked." He sees your hearts, he knows all things. Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God. Pull down every self-righteous thought and every proud imagination that now exalts itself against the perfect, personal, imputed righteousness of the dear Lord Jesus. "For he," and he alone, "who humbles himself shall be exalted."

Are there no poor sinners among you? What, are you all Pharisees? Surely you cannot bear the thought of returning home unjustified, can you? What if a fit of apoplexy should seize you and your souls be hurried away to stand before the awful Judge of the quick and dead? What will you do without Christ's righteousness? If you go out of the world unjustified, you must remain so forever. Oh, that you would humble yourselves! Then would the Lord exalt you.

Greater love can no man show than to lay down his life for a friend. But Christ laid down his life for his enemies, even for you, if you are enabled to humble yourselves as the Publican did. One act of true faith in Christ justifies you forever and ever, and He has not promised you what he cannot perform. He is able to exalt you.

Sermons on Important Subjects (condensed)

Prayer from Prayers for the Use of Families by "Various Authors"

See "The Humiliation of the Man Christ Jesus" by Henry Melvill. And here's a good sermon by Theodor Zahn, "The Good Physician."

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Day 4

A Morning Prayer

Gracious Father, awaken us from the paralyzing delusion that we may sit with our arms folded and our minds at ease, having nothing to do this day for you. Rouse us now, while we have energy to stir, to a sense of our danger from the enemy who roams tirelessly about seeking whom he may devour. Impress upon us the solemn and startling truth that it was anger kindled by our sins that led our Savior to the cross, and that only through his merits can we behold your holiness and glory. Strengthen us by your Holy Spirit that our penitence this day may be sincere, and sanctify us that we may glorify the triune God in sending forth the good news of salvation through the blood of Christ, in whose name we pray. Amen.


Man's Unwillingness to Come to Christ
by
Joseph Washburn

"But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life."
John 5:40

Consider the two following statements: (1) Sinners are freely invited to come to Christ, and there is nothing which prevents their coming and receiving salvation except their own unwillingness. (2) This unwillingness or opposition of heart to Christ is so strong that nothing will overcome it but the power of God renewing their hearts, thereby drawing them or causing them to be willing in the day of his power. Now where is the contradiction?

Consider again these two statements: (1) Divine influence is necessary to draw men to Christ, or in other words, make them willing in the day of his power. (2) Sinners may come to Christ if they will, for they are under no natural inability and the only obstacle is opposition of heart. Where is the inconsistency?

If nothing more is done in a day of divine power when a sinner is drawn to Christ than to remove his opposition of heart and give him a willing mind, then it is evident that nothing else is lacking in the sinner but a willing mind.

And yet it may be true, as is indeed taught in the Scriptures, that he will continue to lack this. In other words, he will continue voluntarily opposed to coming to Christ until he is humbled and renewed by divine power. According to Scripture, such is the moral depravity of sinners that if left to themselves they will never come to Christ that they may have life, though under no natural inability. However capable they may be considered as rational and moral beings of coming to Christ and of complying with the conditions of salvation, yet there is not such a heart in them. Hence the necessity of a merciful divine influence, and the perfect consistency of this with the doctrine of a free offer of salvation to sinners and their criminality in refusing to accept it.

Sermons on Practical Subjects

Prayer from Short Prayers for the Morning and Evening

Another good exposition of this text is that of J. C. Ryle. Here also are three good sermons: "Sinners Entreated to Hear God's Voice" by Edward Payson, "Free Will -- A Slave" by Charles Spurgeon, and a "Practical Excursus on the Potter and the Clay" by James Morison. You will also enjoy "The Best Personal Testimony to Calvinism is Given by an Arminian!" written by Ken.

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Day 5

A Morning Prayer

O Lord, who is like you? Who but you can order all things? Who but you are high, holy, and omnipotent? Who but you can give life and take it away? And yet it is you who are mocked, despised, blasphemed, and neglected. You have given man the ability to reason so he can know you, and given him understanding so he can walk unharmed through this troubled scene of our mortality. Yet these very gifts are used to defy you. Spare us, we plead, from such iniquity! Break down the pride and stubbornness of our corrupt nature and bring us all into subjection to the law of Christ. Teach us his obedience, that we may go about doing good. Make us ready to assist others when we can lessen their burden, seeing that Jesus was ever ready to stretch forth his arm in acts of mercy and love. We ask all in the name of our great high priest, the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.


The Knowledge of God
by
John Calvin

"For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse." (Romans 1:20)

That there exists in the human mind (and indeed by natural instinct) some sense of Deity we hold to be beyond dispute, since God himself, to prevent any man from pretending ignorance, has endued all men with some idea of his Godhead. This memory he constantly renews and occasionally enlarges, that all to a man may be condemned by their own conscience when they neither worship him nor consecrate their lives to his service. Certainly, if there is any quarter where it may be supposed that God is unknown, the most likely is among the dullest tribes farthest removed from civilization. But, as a heathen tells us, there is no nation so barbarous, no race so brutish, as not to be imbued with the conviction that there is a God. Nay, even idolatry is ample evidence of this fact. We know how reluctant man is to lower himself in order to set other creatures above him. Therefore, when he chooses to worship wood and stone, it is evident how very strong this impression of a Deity must be. In opposition to his natural haughtiness he spontaneously humbles himself before the lowliest object as an act of reverence to God.

Since the perfection of blessedness consists in the knowledge of God, he has been pleased . . . not only to deposit in our minds that seed of religion of which we have already spoken, but so to manifest his perfections in the whole structure of the universe. Daily he places himself in our view so that we cannot open our eyes without being compelled to behold him. His essence, indeed, is incomprehensible, utterly transcending all human thought; but on each of his works his glory is engraved in characters so bright, so distinct, and so illustrious, that none, however dull and illiterate, can plead ignorance as their excuse. Hence, with perfect truth the Psalmist exclaims, "He covers himself with light as with a garment" (Psalm 104:2). Because the glory of his power and wisdom is more resplendent in the firmament, it is frequently designated as his palace. Wherever you turn your eyes, there is no portion of the world, however minute, that does not exhibit at least some sparks of beauty. It is impossible to contemplate the vast and beautiful fabric as it extends around without being overwhelmed by the immense weight of glory. Hence, the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews elegantly describes the visible worlds as images of the invisible (Heb. 11:3), the elegant structure of the world serving as a kind of mirror in which we may behold God, though otherwise invisible. For the same reason the Psalmist attributes language to celestial objects, a language which all nations understand (Psalm 19:1), the manifestation of the Godhead being too clear to escape the notice of any people, however obtuse.

Calvin's Institutes, vol. 1, from chapters 4 and 5.

Prayer from Short Prayers for the Morning and Evening

Read this article by Addison Leitch, "The Knowledge of God: General and Special Revelation," as well as John Murray's essay "The Significance of the Doctrine of Creation." You will also find Ken's article "Who Is the King of Glory?" quite interesting. And for more about the book of Romans, Robert Haldane has a very helpful introduction.

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Day 6

A Morning Prayer

Almighty God, arise and let your enemies be scattered! Like the smoke that vanishes, drive them away. But be merciful to us, your disciples, and send your Holy Spirit upon us in his fulness and power. Let him anoint our hearts that we may read your word with profit and pray with mighty power. We know your word is truth, but we are slow to believe it. We confess with our lips that Jesus is coming again soon, but we live as if there were no urgency in preparing for it. May your Holy Spirit be to us as cloven tongues of fire, giving us a burning zeal for you. May his influence be visibly seen by our lives and actions, and may we ever rejoice in his holy comfort. We bring these petitions before your throne through the merits of Jesus Christ our Savior, who intercedes now for us. Amen.


Law and Grace
by
John Brown

"You have become estranged from Christ,
you who attempt to be justified by law;
you have fallen from grace."
Galatians 5:4

Whenever a man shifts the ground of his hope in any degree from the finished work of Jesus Christ, whenever he depends on anything he himself has done or is to do, he then lays himself open to a claim for complete perfect obedience and satisfaction to that law by which he is seeking justification. But to depend on works at all is absurd unless we have perfect works. We must, therefore, choose between two principles: either justification by faith or justification by works; in other words, either justification as a free gift or justification as a merited reward. There is no combining the two. And if we prefer the law, let us recollect we must stand by its terms: "The soul that sins shall die."

The Galatians had professed faith in Christ, but their conduct in seeking justification by the law was a proof that they never understood the gospel they had professed to believe. "Christ" for justification and "the law" for justification are not only two different things but two incompatible ones. The man who is seeking pardon and salvation as the reward of his own doings, either in whole or in part, cuts himself off from the benefit of Christ's mediation. God will give freely or He will not give at all. Christ must be the sole Saviour, for He will not divide his honor with the sinner.

"You have fallen from grace." Grace is here used as opposed to works, and what the apostle says to the Galatians is that by seeking to be justified by works they have renounced the way of justification by grace: "If it be by grace, then is it no more of works; otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace; otherwise work is no more work." Men give up all claims on the Divine favor or kindness when they go about to establish a method of justification of their own.

We are as much in need of Paul's words as the Galatian converts. The principle in human nature that led them to seek for justification by the Mosaic law still exists and is in active operation. Under a profession of Christianity, we "make void the grace of God" by trying to establish our own methods of justification. Let us all carefully examine the foundation of our hope, for the only secure ground is faith in the finished work of Christ. But let us never forget that the only permanent and satisfactory evidence of our faith in Christ's atonement is our personal experience of its sanctifying and comforting efficacy. In other words, the only sure evidence of having the true faith of the gospel is our experiencing and exemplifying its purifying and transforming influence.

An Exposition of the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Galatians

Prayer from Short Prayers for the Morning and Evening

Be sure to read Ken's paper, "The Law of Moses in the Old and New Testaments." G. M. Mathews has an informative essay entitled "The Fruits of Justification." You might also like to read the following John Calvin entry, "Concerning Works and Rewards."

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Day 7

A Morning Prayer

O Lord God, who is like you, full of mercy, tenderness, and compassion? You know our infirmities and pity us because we are weak and frail. You sustain us because we cannot stand alone. You have wrought out a redemption for us because we could not redeem ourselves. You provide food, clothes, and all things necessary, even though our thoughts are not on you. You preserve us from danger and distress and are ever near to help and defend, though we neglect to return grateful thanks. O pardon our blind ignorance, our presumptuous rebellion, our daring folly, and open our eyes to see your favor working for us in every event, your providence directing all things for our welfare. And may we keep them in remembrance that they may sustain us during times of trial or affliction, even when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death. We ask in Christ's name. Amen.


The Consolation of Christ
by
Robert Smith Candlish

"Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died."
John 11:21

It is remarkable that two persons so different in their turn of mind, so apt to view things in different lights and to be affected by them with different feelings, should both utter the very same words on first meeting the Lord Jesus: "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died."

They had sat and watched together beside their brother's bed of sickness. They joined together in sending word to Jesus, saying, "Lord, behold, he whom you love is sick." In their distress they both thought of the same remedy, and applied to the same physician. It was a joint petition that they despatched, and they did not doubt that it would prevail. Together they waited anxiously for his coming. They reckoned the very earliest moment when he could arrive, and as they looked on their brother's languid eye and saw him sinking every hour and wasting away -- ah! they thought, soon their benefactor might appear and all might yet be well. But moments and hours rolled on, and no Saviour came. Wearisome days and nights were appointed to them. Often did they look out and listen. Often did they fancy that they heard the expected sound, and the well-known accents of kindness seemed to fall upon their ears. But still he came not. The last ray of expectation is extinguished; the dreaded hour is come. It is over. Their brother has fallen asleep. Lazarus is dead.

And now four days are past and gone since he has been laid in the silent tomb. The first violence of grief is giving place to the more calm but far more bitter pain of a desolate and dreary sadness, the prolonged sense of bereavement which recollection brings along with it, and which everything around serves to aggravate and embitter. The house of mourning, after the usual temporary excitement, is still. And amid the real kindness of sympathizing friends and the formal attentions of officious strangers, the sisters are soothing or suppressing as best they may those bitter feelings which their own hearts alone can know.

Suddenly they are told that Jesus is at hand. He is come at last. But is it not too late? "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died." It is the voice of nature that speaks in these words -- the voice of our common nature, mingling its vain regrets with the resignation of sincere and simple faith. Is it not thus that the heart speaks under every trying dispensation? Who has ever met with any affliction, who has ever lost any beloved brother or dear friend without cherishing some such reflection as this: If such or such a measure had been adopted, if such or such an accident had not happened, if it had not been for this unaccountable oversight or that unforeseen and unavoidable mischance, so grievous a calamity would not have befallen me.

Alas, the reflection, however natural, is only a sinful and sad delusion proceeding upon a very limited view of the power and the providence of God your Saviour. How did these sisters know that if Jesus had been there their brother would not have died? How could they tell whether he might not have ends to serve which would have required that, even though he had been there, he must have permitted their brother to die? And were they not aware that though he was not there, yet if he had so chosen and so ordered it their brother would not have died? Had they not heard of his being able at the distance of many a long mile to effect an immediate and complete cure of the most deadly disease? Did they not believe that he had but to speak and it would be done, had but to say the word and, however far off he was, his friend and their brother would be healed? Ah! they had forgotten who it was to whom they made this most touching and pathetic appeal -- that he was one who, though not actually present, could have restored their brother if it had been consistent with his wise and holy will; and that he was also one who, even if he had been present, might yet have seen fit, for the best ends, to permit their brother to die.

And are not these the very truths concerning him which, in your distress, even you who believe in him are tempted to forget when you dwell so much on secondary circumstances and causes instead of at once and immediately recognizing his will as supreme? You are overtaken by misfortune. You are overwhelmed in the depths of sorrow. You ascribe your suffering to what seems to be its direct occasion -- whether it be your own neglect of some precaution which you might have taken had you thought of it in time, or the fault of others with whose skill or diligence your dearest hopes were inseparably connected, or something perhaps in the course of events over which neither you nor they could have any control. And this is your train of thought: "If we had only suspected what was about to be the outcome, or if the help which we now see had only been within our reach, or if we had only been warned in time or had taken the warning or had been able to employ the right means of escape, then we might not now be left disconsolate."

But however natural the reflection, is it not in reality the very folly of unbelief, the dream of a soul forgetting that the Lord reigns? Do you conceive of him as limited by events which he himself ordains, as being the slave of his own laws? Do you think that if a certain obstacle had not stood in the way then the calamity which you bewail might not have happened? But, notwithstanding that obstacle, might he not, if he had seen fit, have found means to avert the calamity? And are you sure that even if that obstacle had been removed, he might not have seen fit still to let the calamity come?

Dear afflicted ones, look beyond second causes to Him who is the First Cause of all things. Believe and be sure that the circumstances which you regret as the occasion of your misfortune are but the appointed means of bringing about what he determines.

Bethany, or Comfort in Sorrow and Hope in Death

Prayer from Short Prayers for the Morning and Evening

Another good exposition of this text is that of J. C. Ryle. A pertinent sermon here is that of Maclaren, "A Petulant Wish." Read also an enlightening and brief summary of "Passion Week" by Alfred Edersheim, as well as this most interesting excerpt by G. H. Trench, "Mary, Martha, Lazarus."

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Day 8

A Morning Prayer

O Lord God, our creator and preserver, we bless your holy name for all your mercies granted to us. Enable us to recall them and thereby stir up our hearts to gratitude and heavenly love. May we be led to see more clearly how much you have done for us in giving your only beloved Son as an atonement for our sins. May we apprehend more fully the agonies of him whose vicarious death on the cross redeemed us from the power of Satan and set us on a sure footing in the kingdom of grace. And let us not keep such good news to ourselves, but give us the power of the Holy Spirit that we would be zealous in telling others of such great redemption. Then shall we be following in the steps of Jesus, who was ever zealous for his Father's glory. Amen.


His Zeal to Suffer
by
Edward Wilson

"Now they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was going before them; and they were amazed. And as they followed they were afraid. Then He took the twelve aside again and began to tell them the things that would happen to Him." (Mark 10:32)

It was not in happy ignorance of the future that the Lamb of God was walking toward Jerusalem. Nor was it with the mere general knowledge of the fact that He should die there. No, we perceive He foresaw every tittle of every indignity and every pain which bitter Jew or scoffing Gentile was about to heap upon Him. What was said of Him in His last hour in the garden was true of Him throughout His life, that "He knew all things that should come upon him." Think then of our Redeemer -- perfect God, and so foretasting the bitterness of every drop in His cup of sorrows; perfect Man also, and endued with the finest feelings and most tender sensibilities of our human nature. Think of this God-man going up toward the bloody city, and say whether it were not natural to expect He would have gone up towards it with heavy heart and slow reluctant step.

But did He thus go up? Did His foot shrink back with fear from His approaching struggles? And did His tardy pace betray His inward uneasiness to His lighthearted and more nimble twelve? Quite the contrary. "They were in the way going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus went before them." Doubtless His great spirit was full of the glorious errand on which He was going, and His inward zeal quickened His outward movements. There was all through His life an amazing resoluteness of determination in our blessed Lord to finish, whatever it cost Him (and oh, who can conceive what it did cost Him), the work of our redemption which His Father had given Him to do; intending to build a tower of salvation for us perishing sinners into which we might "run and be safe." And He did what He recommends all builders do: He did "sit down first and count the cost, whether He should have sufficient to finish it" -- and finding He should at the cost of His own life.

He determined with a holy determination to be steadfastly willing. Hear how He speaks of Himself and His purposes in that fiftieth chapter of the prophet Isaiah, six hundred years before He came in the flesh: "The Lord GOD has opened my ear; and I was not rebellious, nor did I turn away. I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to those who plucked out the beard; I hid not my face from shame and spitting. For the Lord GOD will help me; therefore shall I not be confounded; therefore have I set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be ashamed."

The vehemence of the language sufficiently shows the vehemence of conflicting nature and resolution in the speaker. St. Luke says, "When the time was come that he should be received up, he steadfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem." There would have been no need for Him "steadfastly to set his face" had not some great conflict, some agony revolting to flesh and blood, been necessary to be gone through. But the Saviour's spirit was as dauntless as it was meek, as firm as it was gentle, as high as it was holy. Nothing and nobody could divert Him for a moment from His settled determination to drink to the very dregs the bitter cup of our redemption.

Oh, who can enough admire the Saviour's zeal for His Father's glory? He felt how He was dishonoured and His name blasphemed through our sins, and He was eager to give, on His bloody cross, an awful proof to the world, to angels, and to men that "God is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity," or forgive it without satisfaction. Jesus, therefore, was anxious to "magnify the law and make it honourable," that God's whole universe might know that "sin," which '"is the transgression of that law," could not be overlooked, nor tolerated with impunity, nor be expiated by a less costly sacrifice than His own blood.

Also, who can worthily admire His love to fallen man? God's justice would have been satisfied and His honour have remained unsullied by the everlasting destruction of our sinful race, like the race of the fallen angels. But Jesus loved us, and gave himself for us, that, through his obedience even unto death, "God might be just, and yet the justifier of him that believed in Jesus" (Rom. 3:26). And He gave not Himself by any constraint, except the constraint of holy pity, of Godlike compassion, which could not endure to see us perish everlastingly.

But the deportment of our blessed Lord in the text is recommended not only as the object of our just admiration but also as the pattern for our zealous imitation. "He left us an example that we should follow his steps." Let us then note His willingness to stoop and to work, and His readiness to suffer and to die that He might bring glory to His heavenly Father.

Again, was the Saviour zealous for the salvation of immortal souls? Was He panting to shed His heart's blood, if so be He might rescue them from eternal damnation? And can any of us look upon one another's spiritual interests with cold selfishness and frozen indifference and not be ashamed to call ourselves Christians? If our Lord and our God was so anxious and put forth such effort to save us, we ought also to do the same for others. Surely, there is nothing we can undergo in furthering the spiritual good of others but that it will be infinitely less than what our Redeemer underwent for us!

Parochial Sermons (condensed)

Prayer from Short Prayers for the Morning and Evening

Read John Calvin's exposition of Isaiah 52:13-53:12 on "The Suffering Servant." John Walvoord has a good article on "Propitiation." And Daniel Clark's sermon, "The Son of God Must Be Reverenced," is also well worth your time.

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Day 9

A Morning Prayer

Gracious Father, the Sabbath is closing, another day of grace is nearly ended, and what have we done? The voice of your minister has sounded in our ears, the united prayers of a congregation have mingled with the words of our lips, and your praises have been said and sung, and we must ask again, "What have we done?" Pardon us that we have worked so little to your honor and glory. The enemy has triumphed over us, for he is mighty and strong and we are very weak. Endue us with your strength, we plead, and give us the victory over the evil one. Let Jesus be our example, he who gained the greatest victory for us when he triumphed at the cross. We ask in his name. Amen.


The Last Supper
by
Alfred Edersheim

"Now on the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying to Him, 'Where do You want us to prepare for You to eat the Passover?' And He said, 'Go into the city to a certain man, and say to him, The teacher says, My time is at hand; I will keep the Passover at your house with My disciples.' So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them; and they prepared the Passover." (Matthew 26:17-19)

It is difficult to decide how much of the ceremonial in regards to the Paschal Supper was obligatory at the time of Christ. Too often ceremonialism develops in proportion to the absence of spiritual life. But we may be fairly certain that, as prescribed, all men would appear at the Paschal Supper in festive array. We also know that they reclined on pillows, or divans, around a low table, each one resting on his left hand so as to leave the right free. But ancient Jewish usage casts a strange light on the painful scene with which the Last Supper opened. Sadly humiliating as it reads, and almost incredible as it seems, the Supper began with "a contention among them, which of them should be accounted to be greatest." We can have no doubt that its occasion was the order in which they should occupy their places at the table. We know that this was a subject of contention among the Pharisees, and that they claimed to be seated according to their rank. A similar feeling now appeared in the circle of disciples. We instinctively associate such a strife with Judas. We believe there is ample evidence to show that he not only claimed the chief seat at the table next to the Lord, but actually obtained it.

The table around which they reclined was an oval or elongated table of which one end was used for setting down the dishes. This end of the table was not covered with the tablecloth. The pillows, or divans, were placed around the perimeter of the table in the shape of an elongated horseshoe, and each guest reclined on his left side on a pillow with his feet stretching out behind him. This would make it necessary for the table to extend beyond the line of guests in order to place or remove anything from the table.

Jewish documents are explicit that in a company of more than two, say three, the chief personage or head, in this instance Christ, reclined on the middle divan. We know from the gospel record that John occupied the place on Jesus' right at the end of the divans. From this position he could lean back on the Savior. The chief place next to Jesus would be that to his left, or above him, and we believe this place was claimed and actually occupied by Judas. This explains how, when Christ whispered to John by what sign to recognize the traitor, none of the other disciples heard it. It also explains how Christ would first hand the sop to Judas as the chief guest, which formed part of the Paschal ritual, and not excite special notice. Lastly, it accounts for the circumstance that no one at the table knew what had passed when Judas, desirous of ascertaining whether his treachery was known, dared to ask whether it was he and received the affirmative answer. As regards Peter, we can quite understand how, when the Lord with such loving words rebuked their self-seeking and taught them of the greatness of Christian humility, he should, in his impetuosity of shame, have rushed to take the lowest place at the other end of the table. Finally, we can now understand how Peter could have beckoned to John, who sat across the table from him, and ask John who the traitor was.

The Paschal Supper began, as always, with the head of the company taking the first cup and speaking the thanksgiving over it. This thanksgiving consisted of two benedictions; one over the wine, the other for the return of this Feast day with all that it implied and for being preserved once more to witness it. From the gospels, the words seem to imply that Jesus made use of the ordinary thanksgiving so as to speak both these benedictions. The cup of wine, mixed with water according to Rabbinic testimony, was passed round. The next part of the ceremonial was for the head of the company to rise and wash hands. It is this part of the ritual that Christ adapted and transformed by washing the disciples' feet. There were two handwashings during the ceremony, but the second required all to wash, not the head only, and that would have meant that all were standing and thus not in the position to have their feet washed. Also, the footwashing was intended both as a lesson and as an example of humility and service, and evidently was connected with the dispute about which of them should be accounted the greatest. It was natural that the Lord should have begun with Peter who occupied the end of the table. This explains his expostulation. If Christ had turned to the others first, then Peter would have had to remonstrate before his own feet were washed, or else his later expostulation when the Lord came to him would be either an act of self-righteousness or of needless voluntary humility.

After the washing, the dishes were immediately brought to the table. Jesus would dip some of the bitter herbs into the salt water or vinegar, speak a blessing, partake of them, and then hand them to each of the disciples. Next, he would break one of the unleavened cakes of which half was set aside for after supper. This is called the Aphiqomon, or after dish, and we believe it was the bread of the holy eucharist. The dish in which the broken cake lies (not the Aphiqomon) is elevated, and these words are spoken: "This is the bread of misery which our fathers ate in the land of Egypt. All that are hungry, come and eat; all that are needy, come, keep the Pascha." As we think of the Lord's comment on the Passover and Israel's deliverance, the words spoken have deeper meaning attached to them.

After this the cup is elevated and the service proceeds somewhat lengthily, the cup being raised a second and then a third time. A prayer is spoken and the cup drunk. This ends the first part of the service.

The Paschal meal begins by all washing their hands, a part of the ritual that we scarcely think Christ observed. It was during this part of the meal that Jesus became troubled in spirit, and he solemnly testified to them of his near betrayal. It is no wonder that they all became exceedingly sorrowful and each asked, "Lord, is it I?" According to St. John, the disciples were looking at each other, wondering of whom he spoke. In this agonizing suspense, Peter beckoned from across the table to John, whose head was resting on the Lord's bosom, and asked him of whom Jesus spoke. And to the whispered question of John, the Lord gave the sign that it was he to whom he would give the sop when he had dipped it. Even this perhaps was not clear to John since each one in turn received the sop, Judas naturally receiving it first since he was reclining to Jesus' left in the first and chief position. But before Jesus did so, probably while he was dipping the sop in the dish, Judas, who could not but hear that his purpose might be known, whispered into the Master's ear, "Is it I, Rabbi?" It must have been whispered, for no one at the table either heard the question nor Christ's answer.

The meal was scarcely begun, and Judas rushed out into the night. None of the others knew why there was this strange haste, unless it was from obedience to something that Jesus had bidden him to do; perhaps to purchase something needful for the feast, or to give something to the poor. It is sufficient here to state that anything needful for the Feast was allowed on the 15th Nisan. And this must have been especially necessary when, as in this instance, the first festive day, or the 15th Nisan, was to be followed by a Sabbath on which no work was permitted. In the Paschal night, when the great Temple gates were opened at midni