November 21, 2013
‘The prayers of David the son of Jesse are ended.’ Psalm 72:20
‘Blessed be Jehovah our God, the God of Israel, who only doeth wondrous things: and blessed be his glorious name for ever; and let the whole earth be filled with his glory. Amen, and Amen.’ What a beautiful ending for a prayer! Should not each one of our prayers be concluded with such a rapturous and longing sentiment? Should we not, with David the son of Jesse, be blessing God and looking for that great day when ‘the knowledge of glory of Jehovah shall cover the face of the earth as the waters cover the sea’? Is that the extent of the activity of this king in Israel? Did he do nothing more than pray and hope? Or is it not so that he labored as well, according to his position and privilege, to bring about the very thing for which he prayed? Did he not, in the responsibilities set before him, prepare for all the necessary materials to be used in the building of the temple of God? When God told him that, ‘thou shalt not build a house unto my name, because thou hast shed much blood upon the earth in my sight’ did David leave off doing anything whatever? Not at all; rather, he said, ‘the house that is to be builded for Jehovah must be exceeding magnificent, of fame and of glory throughout all countries: I will therefore make preparation for it.’ 1 Chronicles 22:5. Christ has declared that He would build His church so that the gates of hell shall not prevail against her, and He has prepared all the means for His Church to be thus built. Are we not to be laboring as workmen for this glorious edifice; His own Church? And since we have no way of knowing that we will be employed in the completion of this building, ought we not to imitate David in doing what we can to prepare and provide materials for the completion of that structure by other of the Lord’s builders? Let some plant, let some water, and may God be pleased to give increase!
What may we be doing to prepare for that hoped for visitation? It would seem that David was calling upon the people of God to be blessing Jehovah, verse 18, as the God of Israel. It would also appear that he was exhorting the covenant folk to be blessing that glorious name. How might we be the instruments to accomplish that grand design; to magnify the blessed Name? First of all, we must be doing everything we can to honor the Name and that, by never taking it in vain. How is the Lord’s Name taken in vain? We hear it taken in vain by those who would use it in oath taking; we hear it used in cursing, calling down God’s wrath to damn some poor soul or, even, some nail or splinter. This is the manner in which the world takes the Lord’s Name in vain and we should firmly this whenever we are in a position to do so. But how may the church of Jesus Christ be guilty of taking His Name in vain? Certainly we shall have to include those who take the name of Christ; those who make a profession of that faith that saves without the reality of a new heart given by the Holy Spirit of that Christ who’s Name they apply when calling themselves Christians. These are they that are ‘nominal’ Christians; in name only.
Yet are not every one of the true children of God in Christ taking the Name of the Lord in vain if we fail to ‘pronounce’ it abroad in order that the ‘whole earth be filled with his glory’? As in every commandment given us by God through Moses there is a positive side, a ‘Thou shalt’ implied in every ‘Thou shalt not,’ so if we neglect blessing Jehovah God, His glorious Name, are we not in some manner taking that Name in vain? That is, to say, if we are not doing all we can to see the earth filled with His glory, to see His Name magnified, to prepare for its proclamation to the world, even the small corner of the world that we call our own community, can we say that we are blessing the Name? Did David, perhaps, have more of a missionary spirit than the 21st century church? Was he, perhaps, more concerned than ourselves with a longing, as it were, for every knee to bow and every tongue to confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God? Could it be that he knew more of that Name which is above every name than the church today? How can these things be?
Surely David depended upon Jehovah for the gathering of the materials required for the building of a house unto the Lord. Surely he knew that though he would use every resource and means allowed, that it was still God who provided, for ‘we have nothing but that which we have received.’ So while we dependently pray unto God for a visitation from on high, for an outpouring of His Holy Spirit in regenerating power; while we long for an awakening such as we have not seen in our lifetime, let us keep our ear to the ground waiting to hear that still, small voice saying, ‘this is the way, walk ye in it.’ May we have oil in our lamps. Let us be looking unto the needs for wrought stone, of iron in abundance for the nails, brass in abundance, cedars in abundance without number, trusting that when the time is come for God to bring forward hewers and workers, the materials will be gathered and ready for the great construction.
Did David pine away because he was not to be permitted to build the house as he had so vehemently desired? Did he say to himself, ‘if I cannot build it, I care not whether it be built at all’? Rather, he with patience contentedly set about the work of preparing for another to build. If it be not according to the Lord’s will for our generation to be involved in the ingathering of the church of Jesus Christ to the degree that we might wish, we can still prepare, with that same patient contentedness, the foundational materials for the time that is God’s perfect time. Let us be workman that need not be ashamed; let us be gathering for a harvest that others may enter into. And let not the prayers of David be ended until then.
October 28, 2013
‘For the chief musician; on stringed instruments.’ Psalm 67
This Psalm of David begins with the inspired superscription, ‘For the chief musician; on stringed instruments,’ the word employed in the Hebrew, is Neginoth, and is rendered, ‘on stringed instruments,’ and could as well have been translated, ‘song, or music.’ This would certainly follow since it is either for, or of, the chief musician. Neginoth is indeed followed by further description, ‘A Psalm, a song,’ suggesting the possible understanding of the words as, A song, a Psalm, a song.’ The Greek translation, the Septuagint (LXX) often renders these words, ‘hymn, Psalm, and song (ode),’ at the very least reminding one of Paul’s expressions, in his epistles, of ‘Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs,’ and perhaps, making melody from the ‘stringed instruments’ of our hearts unto the Lord Jehovah. And we could even think of Jesus Christ as the Chief Musician of Hebrews 2:12, whom we are reminded, as Psalm 22 is cited, that, ‘in the midst of the congregation will I sing thy praise.’ The words of that Psalm which is recognized by virtually all as a Messianic Psalm, speaking of Jesus Christ (cf. Matthew 27:46), are from verse 22, ‘I will declare thy name unto my brethren: in the midst of the assembly will I praise thee.’ Is this not the Shepherd of His people, ‘having been heard for his godly fear’ (Hebrews 5:7), declaring the name of God to His people (in their midst); setting the example of praising (the Holy Spirit rendering it ‘sing thy praise’ in Hebrews 2:12; literally, ‘I will hymn You), and calling them to ‘fear Jehovah, praise him, glorify him,’ and, ‘stand in awe of him, all ye seed of Israel, verse 22. Are we not Abraham’s seed? Then let us praise God in ‘Psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.’
It is very appropriate to consider Jesus Christ, the ‘son of David,’ taking the lead in singing praise unto God even as His human progenitor leads the people in Psalm 67, our focus passage this week. The ‘sweet Psalmist of Israel’ says, ‘let the peoples praise, O God; let all the peoples praise thee.’ Beginning by requesting God’s merciful blessing and the shining of His face upon His people, David cries out that, ‘the knowledge of the glory of Jehovah might cover the face of the earth as the waters cover the sea.’ Framing that desire in other words than Isaiah, he begs, that thy way may be known upon earth, thy salvation among all nations.’ Could it be that this Older Testament saint was more concerned with the diffusion of the knowledge of God than this present Newer Testament generation has demonstrated? Could it be that a ‘bigoted Jew’ centuries before the advent of the Savior might have a greater longing that all nations might come to a saving knowledge of his God than that which we have?
What may we do to emulate the heartfelt desire of this king in Israel for the glory of God to be manifested in the ingathering of the nations to Himself? Do we not stand far behind David in our hope of the worldwide glory of God? Have we ever felt our hearts crying out, ‘Let the peoples praise thee, O God’? Have they ever resounded with sentiments such as, ‘Oh let the nations be glad and sing for joy’? Do we truly care for those in other parts of this globe? Is it our daily prayer that God would, ‘judge the people with equity, (the righteousness of Christ), and that Jesus Himself would, ‘govern the nations upon earth;’ that He would rule them by making them willing in the day of His power to come to Himself?
How does David express this yearning for God’s glory; what does he suggest that we might be engaged in as we await an outpouring of Holy Spirit power and direction? Continuing to beseech God that He, ‘would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at His presence,’ as they indeed did at His first advent, ought we not to give heed to worshipping and praising our God among His people? The Psalmist exhorts with these words, does he not, ‘Let all peoples praise thee, O God; let all the peoples praise thee’? This is a call for us to praise and worship God in the assembly of His gathered people. It is not just only a prayer that, through the spread of the gospel, all people on earth would worship, but that we would worship, praise, and love with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, the One who has called us, saving us through His own Son because of His wonderful, marvleous love to us. Is it not that which we ought to be doing as we await our ‘marching orders.’ And should we not be exercising the care, having our loins girded with truth, having upon our heads the helmet of salvation, upon our chests the breastplate of righteousness, taking up the shield of faith and the sword of the Spirit, and perhaps with most relevance to this issue of the gospel to the nations, having our feet shod with the preparation of the gospel? Is this not all spoken by the apostle in the context of his missionary endeavors and his proclamation of the Word of God to the lost, ‘to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel’? Are we not called thereby to, ‘all prayer and supplication praying at all seasons in the Spirit, and watching thereunto in all perseverance’?
The Psalmist says further, that, ‘God will bless us; and all the ends of the earth shall fear him.’ Is not the primary blessing of the Church of Jesus Christ according to the ingathering of the elect of God and thereby the building up of that very Body of Christ? Can we receive a greater blessedness than that which shall come from the completion of His Body? Do we not desire the earth to yield its increase in this sense of the fulness of the Gentiles being brought in, all Israel being saved, the Lord descending from heaven with a shout, the voice of the archangel, and the trump of God, that we might meet Him in the air, being joined finally and fully with Himself and ALL His saints, even those of old who sought and searched diligently, those who with our Psalmist testified beforehand of the sufferings of Christ and the glories that should follow them; those who preached the gospel unto us by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things angels desire to look into?
September 23, 2013
‘My heart’s desire and my supplication to God is for them.’ Romans 10:1
Let us consider just what is involved in this statement of the apostle? Who, indeed, is the ‘for them’ of whom he assertst that his ‘heart’s desire and [his] supplication is for them?’ The King James translators, following the Textus Receptus, which has rather than them, Israel, and therefore answers the question for us. At least, this is not something which has been supplied by translators working under the rubric of what is known as the ‘dynamic equivalence’ method of translation, whereby words are supplied (without italics) which are not to be found in the original. This is, in all charity, ostensibly done for the sake of clarity, or to ‘help’ the reader understand the passage. The philosophy of the dynamic equivalence method is, simply put, placing a priortization upon the readability of the text, while its opposite, the literal equivalency method, places the priority upon accurately representing the original with the closest, in our case English, word available, leaving the understanding and interpretation to the reader. Unfortunately, and often, the reality is that an interpretation is inserted by the dynamic method into the text so that rather than being merely added, the reader is also inclined toward the interpretation of the translator. A translator’s job is not to interpret, but to translate. And the responsibility of hte reader of the Word is to be as those in the example of the Bereans in Acts 17, who were ‘examining the scriptures daily, whether these things were so.’
Having said that much, let us state that it is virtually certain that Paul is referring his comments to Israel; the question remains, however, to which Israel does he refer? It seems without doubt that the apostle, with a lamentation similar to this in our focus passage, in chapter nine and verses two and three, is speaking of , as he himself says, his ‘kinsmen according to the flesh.’ Yet he subsequently declares, ‘they are not all Israel, that are of Israel.’ We conclude that in the context of chapters nine, ten, and eleven, that Paul has in mind both groups of ‘Israelites,’ those that are children of the flesh and those that are children of the promise. For whom does the apostle vent his heartfelt desire and supplication? Is he praying that all Israel may be saved; or the remnant according to election?
This is the burden of our present discussion. And does it not have great application to ourselves? For whom are we to pray? Is it according to God’s will that we pray for every man, woman, and child to be saved? Is it according to God’s will that every man, woman, and child be saved? Did not Christ Himself, in his marvelous high priestly prayer, pray ‘not for the world, but for those whom thou hast given him?’ Yet, we must remind ourselves that this utterance of the God-man, Jesus Christ is couched in the language of omniscience. He could pray specifically for those whom the Father had given Him, knowing exactly the souls that were to be included as the subjects of His requests. This is the vast difference between our own praying and that of our Savior. ‘He Himself knew what was in man.’ John 2:25. The apostle, Paul, equally with ourselves, knew not who the elect. And so he prayed for two sorts of persons; those who would believe and those who would not, for the simple reason that he had not the ability to differintiate; this ability is the sole prerogative of God; as was told Samuel, ‘Jehovah seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but Jehovah looketh on the heart.’
Discriminate praying may be agreeable with those who would refuse to preach the gospel indiscriminatley, but what has that to do with Paul; what has that to do with the Lord Jesus Christ, who came into the world to save sinners; shall we not pray for all men? Can we not echo the cry of Paul; ‘my heart’s desire and supplication to God is for them, that they may be saved’? Ought we not to imitate him in this, and to leave the issue with God? Surely, we long to see men, women, and children made willing in the day of God’s power to flee the wrath to come; to flee unto Jesus Christ as both their Lord and Savior.
Rather than dwelling upon the matter of who is predestined, and who is not; shall we not dwell upon the glory of God in Christ? And this very jealousy for God’s glory will, at the same time, cause us to avoid falling into the error of the Universalist, who perhaps from a misplace philanthropy, holds a doctrine that insists that God loves all men indiscriminantly and therefore, Christ died for all men indiscriminantly and therefore, we ought to pray for all men and preach the gospel to all men indiscriminantly. No, it is precisely because God has chosen some to salvation through the satisfying atonement of His Son, and because His Son has sent His Holy Spirit into the world to regenerate those for whom He has died, that, as the Lord told Paul, ‘I have much people in this city,’ so preach the gospel to all in the city and you will certainly be preaching the gospel to my people. Perhaps He has much people in the world, in South Carolina, even in Greenville. We ought then to be praying for them and, as well, for an opportunity to speak and so to preach Christ to them that they may be saved.
And is this not a marvelous encouragement to pray for our ‘kinsmen according to the flesh,’ an encouragment to pray for our sons and daughters, for our brothers and sisters, for our mothers and fathers? Ought we not to be very emboldened by the knowledge that the election of God shall most surely obtain salvation? And since we know not but that our kinsmen are, indeed, among the elect, ought we not to open our mouths wide and cry unto God with our heart’s desire and supplication unto Him for them, that they might be saved? Can we do anything greater than this for them? Ought we to do any thing less? God forbid! Though we have not the apostolic authority; though we have not the inpiration given to Paul, we may cry day and night for a visitation from God.
September 16, 2013
‘Phinehas………was jealous with my jealousy among them.’ Numbers 25:11
The narratives in the Old Testament are often referred to in a manner that perhaps betrays something of a Marcionite propensity. Marcion was an early heretic whose heresy involved separating that which God had joined together. In his case, it was the separation of the Older Testament from the Newer Testament. Yet today it is not infrequent to hear persons speaking of the God of the Old Testament Scriptures as wrathful and vindictive contrary to the ‘meek and lowly’ One of the New Testament. The occasions of the destruction and slaughter of the many different tribes of Canaanites are cited as demonstrations that the God who would not only permit such slaughter of ‘innocents,’ but actually command their annihilation is simply not the same with the God of the New Testament, Jesus Christ.
The zeal of Phinehas in the narrative before us would, no doubt, be such an occasion of reprehension and, perhaps, disgust with such a bloodthirsty God. These thoughts, of course, are not warranted by Scripture; God is One in three and Three in one. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever; He changes not. We see an instance of remarkable pathos in the expression of this ‘Old Testament’ God toward His rebellious people recorded for us in Hosea 11:8, ‘How shall I give thee up, Ephraim? how shall I cast thee off, Israel? My heart is turned within me, my compassions are kindled together. I WILL NOT execute the fierceness of mine anger, I WILL NOT return to destroy Ephraim: for I am God, and not man, the Holy One in the midst of thee; and I WILL NOT come in wrath.’ The God of the Older Testament is full of compassion even as the One who wept over Jerusalem.
Keeping that truth in mind, let us consider the zeal of Phinehas that brought him to the place where he was so jealous for God that it could be said that he was jealous with God’s jealousy. The circumstances involved that apostasy which was so conspicuously frequent in Israel’s history, namely, the nation’s departure from the commands of their covenant God. The Lord had demonstrated most abundantly His displeasure at the union of his sons with the daughters of men in the days of Noah. This prohibition was stated more fully for the people of God by the apostle Paul, ‘Be not unequally yoked with unbelievers.’ 2 Corinthians 6:14. Here, as we read of Israel’s wilderness wandering, we see the principle brought to our attention once again.
Israel was fast approaching the land of Moab causing much consternation to the Moabites and their king, Balak. They were fully aware of the conquests of Israel as they proceeded through one kingdom to the next. Balak proposed, therefore, to hire Balaam to prophesy against Israel. The Lord would not permit Balaam to satisfy Balak’s desires, and whenever Balaam opened his mouth, he spoke good for the people of God in spite of himself. Reading the sequel found in chapter 31 and verse 16, we learn that it was thus the counsel of Balaam to encourage the women of Moab to ‘infiltrate’ the camp of Israel and induce the men ‘to play the harlot with the daughters of Moab.’ Not only did they seduce the men to commit fornication, but they ‘called the people unto the sacrifice of their gods….and Israel joined himself unto Baal-Peor.’ And even while the congregation of the children of Israel were weeping at the door of the tent of meeting over their sin and its ensuing judgment, one especiallly bold prince of the Simeonites paraded the daughter of Moab, Cozbi, a princess of Moab, defiantly before Israel’s mourners and priests. Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, rose up in his zeal for the Lord, went into the alcove where the two brazen fornicators were blatantly demonstrating their contempt for the law of Jehovah, and pierced them through, both of them with one spear. The immediate results of this jealousy for the Lord of hosts were two: the first being that the plague which had destroyed 24,000 of the people was stayed, and secondly, Jehovah gave unto Phinehas his covenant of peace, which seems to have involved integrally, the covenant of the everlasting priesthood. This because Phinehas ‘was jealous for his God, and made atonement for the children of Israel.’ Who is our everlasting Priest; who is our covenant Prince of Peace?
While Phinehas may not properly be spoken of as a type of Christ, we have nonetheless, a beautiful picture of Him of whom it is said that ‘the zeal of thy house hath eaten me up; and the reproaches of them that reproach thee are fallen upon me.’ Psalm 69:9. Even as Phinehas wrought against the sin of his people and made atonement for them, so in a most preeminent manner has Christ done so and stayed the plague, that is, the wrath of God due unto us for sin. And even as the example of Phinehas does not appear to have continued to work fear in the hearts of God’s people, for we see a continuum of this very sin among His people exemplified even in the leaders of the covenant people; eminent leaders such as Solomon, the son of David, so we fear among ourselves at this day. Was there ever a time in the history of the church when the prohibition against joining ourselves to unbelievers was more universally ignored? What are the criteria, even among professing Christians, for determining upon that one with whom they shall join themselves and become one for life? Is it not, far too often, the same criteria used by those outside of the church? Do not the considerations of a ‘good match’ commonly involving matters of temporal and practical issues, setting aside eternal issues completely, more often than not, guide even professing Christians? Brethren, these things ought not to be! We must be jealous for our God with His jealousy.
September 9, 2013
‘Which of the two did the will of his father?’ Matthew 21:31
Our Savior is addressing the Pharisees with one of His many parables; and this one is another example of His applying a parable to the state of the hearts of the Pharisees. They had come to Him as they so frequently did with a question through which they had hoped to trap Him. In response to their question regarding the source of His authority, He propounded His own question to them. They had required Him to declare from whence He derived authority for His many teachings. He ‘made a deal with them’ that He would indeed answer their question if they would first answer one put to them.
‘The baptism of John, whence was it? from heaven or from men?’ In this, the trappers were trapped; hanged, like Haman, upon the gallows which they had erected for Him. They could not give an answer fro, as they said to one another, ‘if we shall say, From heaven; he will say unto us, Why then did ye not believe him?’ He had properly skewered them! ‘If John spoke the truth of God, why is it that you refused to hear and obey his words?’ And they were not willing to admit what they really believed; that John’s words were nothing more than men’s words, for they were afraid that the multitude, holding John to be a prophet, would skewer them if they asserted such. They were skewered which ever way they turned. So they gave Him the age proven, ‘Duh, we don’t know.’ They sound very much like our own American Pharisees.
On the heels of this ‘pooled ignorance,’ our Savior continued by exposing them further with this parable of two sons. And as He so often and wonderfully had done, He pictured the most prominent feature of the distinctions between these Pharisees and those whom they so heartily despised, sinners and Publicans. The first son presented a picture of those who are publicans and sinners, those whose outward behavior and appearance is contrary to everything entailed in the law of God. Among their number are tax collectors, honorable thieves if you will, and harlots, the base things of the world: the foolish, the weak, and the ignoble. Yes, these were the ones who upon being told, ‘Child, go work today in the vineyard….answered and said, I will not: but afterward repented [themselves] and went.’ These sinners that in the eyes of the self-righteous Pharisee were no better than dogs turned out to be sheep belonging to the Good Shepherd, for they repented of their sin and followed the Lamb whithersoever He would lead them.
In contrast, and to point out their wickedness, Christ accurately portrays these who trusted in themselves, trusted in their genealogy from Abraham, trusted in their supposed obedience to every jot and tittle of the law, even making up their own jots and tittles, as those who ‘covenanted’ with their Father and along with their fathers of old saying to Moses, ‘speak thou unto us all that Jehovah our God shall speak unto thee; and we will hear it, and do it.’ Those of whom the apostle John speaks when he says of Christ, that, ‘he came unto his own, and they that were his own received him not,’ were charged by the Messiah with the sin of lip service prophesied by Isaiah; ‘this people honoreth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me.’ So that with this parable of the two sons, Christ relates His hearers to those who would say, ‘I will,’ but do not.
The question today becomes for us; are there not still with us two such sons? Are there not even in the professing church of Jesus Christ those who have said at their baptism, ‘we will do,’ and yet do it not? Is there not even yet in our own lives still an indication of this warfare when our hearts say ‘we will do,’ but we do it not? Is this not the complaint of the Apostle to the Gentiles when he says to the saints at Rome, ‘I see a different law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity under the law of sin which is in my members.’ He speaks of two laws, the law of his mind, and the law which was in his members. Well might he have said, ‘the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.’ The grand confession and question of the apostle, ‘Wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me out of the body of this death,’ with its glorious answer, ‘I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord,’ then becomes a benchmark, or a plumb line, for us to challenge ourselves as to which of these two sons is a picture of ourselves. Is Jesus Christ our Deliverer from the body of this death?
Are we descended, as it were, from the first son who repented of his initial response to his father, came to himself and went to work in the vineyard? If we have gone to work in the Father’s vineyard, we know that there is much labor and sweating involved. We will be ever busy weeding and feeding, irrigating and spraying, looking and longing for any fruit that we may see of our efforts. We will be necessarily concerned about any blight coming upon our leaves, or any insects consuming the fruit of our labor. Are we concerned?
Or, are we descendants of the second son? We read of him simply that he went not after having said that he would work in his father’s vineyard. How many ‘went nots’ are there in the professing church; sons of the church, but not sons of the Father? Persons who have professed that they would do the work of their Father, having yet to enter the vineyard because they are not willing to leaves the things of this world; neither will they, says our Lord, ‘go into the kingdom of God.’
September 2, 2013
‘It is of Jehovah’s lovingkindnesses that we are not consumed.’ Lamentations 3:22
It is understood by most conservative scholars that Jeremiah is the human author of the Lamentations. ‘In the Hebrew Bible the book is named after its first word echah (how).’ E. J. Young. The Septuagint have named it after its content in calling it The Tears of Jeremiah with the Vulgate following that thought and calling it simply ‘tears‘ which they interpret into the Lamentations of Jeremiah. Our English title then is derived from the Latin.
All are agreed that the main thrust of Jeremiah’s thoughts and concerns involve great lamentations, weeping, and tears. The cause of this remarkable sorrowing, grieving, and mourning is discoverable in the experience of Judah and Jerusalem as they lay waste before the eyes of the prophet, having ignored the warnings of God through His spokesman of impending judgment for their terrible backsliding and apostasy. Jeremiah expresses his grief at the outset of these lamentations, ‘How doth the city sit solitary, that WAS full of people! She is become as a widow, that WAS great among the nations!’
Perhaps we could relate by reflecting upon the ‘former glory’ of the World Trade Center. Surely, there have been multitudes that have visited the site of this terrible destruction and wept profusely and uncontrollably as they considered the magnitude of the ruin and thought upon how that building and what it represented WAS full of people and WAS great among the nations. A large number of human beings almost instantly disintegrated in the intense heat of the flames from the burning fuel which had been stored in the jetliners with the purpose of propelling these vessels safely to their destinations on the other side of the country. How manifold and visible, and how great was the weeping and wailing extending over a period of days and weeks, months and years, continuing to this very day over such incredible loss and destruction. Was this exceptional event a case of God’s judgment upon a wicked nation? We are not able to answer that question in either the negative or the affirmative, for we simply do not know, nor should we pretend to know things not revealed to us.
The case is manifestly different with Judah and Jerusalem for God sent His servant, the prophet Jeremiah, to denounce the behavior of the nation and to expressly warn them of impending doom if they did not change their ways and return to Him. How immensely grievous it was to the prophet as he spoke the word of the Lord to the Lord’s chosen nation and they would not hear, but chose to ignore his warnings. It is claimed that there were warnings given to the federal government regarding the September 11th attack upon the World Trade Center. If that is so, imagine the frustration of those seeking to spur the authorities into action, and then the sadness to see the eventuating of the destruction in helpless shock and sorrow. This barely approximates the case as it was with Jeremiah and Jerusalem, but it may be a helpful analogy. The issues that so predominate the book of Lamentations are the woeful weeping of this faithful servant of the Lord along with his great trust and dependence upon his God. What may we learn from the Lamentations?
Are we not, as believers, as the servants of Jehovah, in much the same situation as was this man of God? Do we not daily witness the wickedness around us, both in the ‘world’ and in the church? Even as Jeremiah considered both the evil of the nation that God would employ to punish His own people, and witnessed the gross idolatry and apostasy of those very people claiming to be the peculiar possession of God, so must we consider the godlessness of the enemies of this land and at the same time to lament our own nation’s godlessness. But even as Jeremiah most certainly grieved the most over the kings and priests who were backslidden and apostate, so as we observe the condition of those in our land who claim with their professions of faith to the ‘kings and priests’ of the kingdom of Jesus Christ, ought we not to be lamenting and weeping on our knees, crying unto God for yet another ‘Great Awakening’?
By the grace of God, we are not limited to bewailing the sad state of our present circumstances; the ‘bad news.’ But there is, even as in the days of this ‘weeping prophet,’ abundant ‘good news.’ We hasten to our focus passage to remind ourselves of this beautiful truth; ‘It is of Jehovah’s lovingkindnesses that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not.’ This points to the reality that while terrible destruction awaits all those who continue to oppose the Lord and His truth, there is yet a remnant according to the election of grace. We are not, all of us, consumed, because God is a merciful God, longsuffering and abundant in lovingkindness. According to strict justice, we all ought to have been consumed even as all Jerusalem deserved annihilation for their wickedness. Yet there were many saved by being carried away captive because they trusted the word from the Lord at the mouth of His prophet that they should not resist the righteous punishment upon them from God.
There is great cause for rejoicing in this ‘good news.’ We must never forget that our sins deserve merciless destruction from Him whom we have offended so willfully and so often. May we embrace the Word from the mouth of our Prophet, Jesus, as it has been recorded by men of old under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit of Christ and taste and see that God is gracious for ourselves.
And as we embrace and taste, may we also behave like Jeremiah and pronounce the Word of the Lord to all with whom we have any relationship that others may surrender to Christ, being made willing in the day of His power. Let us bethink ourselves as did those four lepers outside the gates of Samaria when they found such treasures of necessities and say, ‘We do not well; this day is a day of good tidings, and we hold our peace.’ 2 Kings 7:9.
August 26, 2013
‘Both of them alike are an abomination to Jehovah.’ Proverbs 17:15
It should concern us right early when we read such a statement as this to determine, ‘who is the them spoken of?’ Just who are these persons the Holy Spirit refers to as ‘an abomination to Jehovah’? We most assuredly should wish to ascertain that neither of the ‘both’ is ourselves. We need only to give heed to the first part of the verse to learn of whom this denunciation is spoken. It is spoken against those, ‘that justify the wicked, and he that condemneth the righteous.’ These are they of whom Isaiah speaks in denuciatory terms, ‘Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!’ Isaiah 5:20. Isaiah seems to be referring to the wicked in general. How sadly true to life is this description in our own day! ‘If it feels good, do it’ is still the cry of this generation, and the fact that it supposedly feels good presumably offsets any real evil involved in the act. Therefore, the true evil is accounted good because of its sensory delight, while the evil would be to abstain from it and thus deprive ourselves of something that feels so right? Our feelings are not, however, to be the measure of good or evil. And whenever we justify the wicked thing under whatever pretext, or condemn the righteous act simply because it does not satisfy our ‘feelings’ it is, MARK IT WELL, an abomination to Jehovah!
Placed upon the bench of a local judge was the wonderful citation from the prophet, Micah; ‘He hath showed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth Jehovah require of thee, but to do justly, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with thy God?’ O that we actually had in our land today some among the attorneys and jurists who took this Scripture to heart and applied it in their activities before the bench and behind the bench! When is the last time we were able to witness the proceedings of a court case without the complete predomination being given toward feeling over right? Such a sight would, sadly, be an anomaly in our ‘halls of justice.’ We evidently have judges who are more concerned with having a reputation of being a nice guy than having a reputation for being just. Why should this surprise us? After all, what are judges? They are every one of them attorneys. Moreover, many of these so-called justices, have their eyes set on some preeminent post, perhaps even the Supreme Court. What a travesty; what an abominaton! Those who call evil good, and good evil are the very same ones found upon the very benches of our highest courts; pragmatists every last one, and the people love to have it so! Justice has been turned on its head and we wonder what is wrong with our country. The attorneys and judges in our court systems are, almost to a man (or woman), those who will be advancing to the highest lawmaking bodies of our country, the House of Representatives, and the Senate where lobbying is not only expected, but also freely condoned. What folly! A body of attorneys and judges making and interpreting laws that they never anticipate keeping to the letter, but fully knowing that these laws will be ‘stretched’ and ‘twisted’ to conform to the ‘feelings’ of the majority of voters, whosoever may constitute that present majority or whatever number of minorities may join together to form a politcal voting ‘block.’ These all are an abomination to Jehovah!
It has not been evident in any recent history of this land that the issues before lawmakers and justices were fairly defined as right and wrong. That is not to say that there have been no single occasions; we speak in general terms, but sady, generally speaking, the courts of this nation no longer know how to judge righteously. Judges wish to abdicate their responsibilities in the same manner that many ‘men’ of this country have abdicated their responsibilities to their wives or children. They, too, find themselves justifying the wicked and condemning the righteous. These judges have been replaced in many instances by juries. These juries have ably demonstrated that they are no better ‘judges’ than those sitting on the bench. These juries are practicing what they understand of ‘doing unto others as they would that others would do unto them.’ In other words, they empathize with the plaintiff in a civil suit to the extent that they award the aggrieved person some millions of dollars, not because they truly believe the allegations, but because they see themselves in the plaintiff’s chair and would have someone to give them such an award. Or if it is a criminal trial, the jurors would wish themselves to be acquitted for the least ‘reasonable doubt,’ whether that be temporary insanity, or simply that, ‘the glove didn’t fit.’ These things are all abominations to Jehovah!
Realistically, there is nothing that we are able to do with regard to the egregious violations of simple justice in the land. It may be well for us, however, to do all in our power to avoid this melancholy wickedness in ourselves. Are we not all too prone to the sin of calling evil good, and good evil? Is it not so with us that we are much too hasty to justify our own behavior in the same terms and with the same pragmatism that the judges and juries make use of to justify their decisions? Do we not sadly identify with those principles of jurisprudence? Do we not justify our own wicked behavior with the same sort of rationale that is used by the courts? Are not the pleas, ‘nobody’s perfect,’ and ‘everybody does it,’ or, ‘it’s only a little one,’ exactly the kind of pleas made by our pretended judges? Did you never hear of the judge who acquitted the father and son in Dearborn, Michigan, of the charge of having clubbed to death and Asian-American because they were upset about losing their auto jobs to the Asian competition? What was the ground of this acquittal? ‘Well,’ said the judge, ‘they have never done it before.’ God forbid we should palliate our sins in that manner. May God help us to call sin, sin, and righteousness, righteousness!
August 19, 2013
‘Rightly dividing the word of truth.’ 2 Timothy 2:15
The word that is rendered, unfortunately, in the King James version of the Holy Bible, rightly dividing, is in the original, orthotomeo, which literally means, to make a straight cut. we are familiar with the term, orthopedics, which term applies to the ‘surgical or manipulative treatment of disorders of the skeletal system,’ (American Heritage Dictionary). This particular branch of medical expertise has as its primary function, then, the straightening of bones, straight being derived from the Greek, ortho. The Greek word, tomos, which forms the posterior half of the compound, orthotomeo, means, to cut; thus the literal meaning, to make a straight cut. It is most obvious that while it can mean to rightly divide, it does not necessarily mean any such thing, especially in the commonly accepted thought of dividing as a separating. It may be said with equal fairness that rightly is not necessarily synonymous with straight. To say that something is straight implies that it is right; but to say that something is right does not necessarily mean that it is straight. We are suggesting that, in the matter of this translation, ‘rightly dividing,’ the possibility is opened for a ‘curved,’ or skewed understanding of the intent of the apostle’s statement. In point of fact, this is precisely the case with regard to a prominent theological system which has made of this text its leading banner: a system popularized by one of its chief exponents with his little booklet, ‘Rightly dividing the Word of Truth.’
What has, in reality, been accomplished by this system is that they have put asunder that which God has joined together. In ‘dividing’ the Word rather than seeking to ‘cut a straight line,’ or path, through the indivisible Truth, they have separated Moses from Christ, David from Paul, Isaiah from John, the Old Covenant saints from the New Covenant people of God in the church in the church of Jesus Christ in a manner neither intended, nor sanctioned by Scripture. The church, which by God’s grace, is the remnant according to God’s electing purposes in Christ; the remnant which is seen running through the entire body of God’s Word, like a scarlet cord, from Abel and on through the list of saints given us in Hebrews eleven to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost when the new covenant promises given through the prophets began to be fulfilled as the New Testament church was formed with the ingathering of those who were given new hearts, new spirits within, and upon whose hearts the law of their God has been inscribed.
We are force to inquire if there are many, or any, in the church today who are able to truly say with David, ‘Oh, how love I thy law! It is my meditation all the day’? Do we number in our day any like Moses that cry out, ‘Show me, I pray thee, thy glory’? Do we see anything like the repentance of David which caused him to declare vehemently, ‘Against thee, and thee only, have I sinned and done this evil in thy sight,’ or with Moses, I ‘trespassed against (Jehovah) in the midst of the children of Israel at the waters of Meribah of Kadesh; (I) sanctified (Jehovah) not in the midst of the children of Israel’? Deuteronomy 32:51. Do we wish, do we really wish, to divide ourselves from such men who, ‘apart from us (they) should not be made perfect’? Hebrews 11:40. While the author of the epistle to the Hebrews definitely affirms that the New Covenant is superior to the Old Covenant, let us beware of taking unto ourselves any of this superiority until we know something of walking with God as did Enoch and Noah; until it can be said of us that which is spoken of faithful Abraham who, ‘by faith…..was offering up his only begotten.’ Hebrews 11:17. What have we ever given?
Dispensationalists disparage anyone longing for the day when they shall sit with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, under the guise that they themselves long rather to be with Jesus as though these were not one and the same thing. Certainly the believer longs to see Jesus. Yet it is that same Jesus, the Christ, who Himself said, in speaking of the faith of the Gentiles and as he rebuked the unbelieving Jews, those ‘sons of the kingdom,’ with the following pointed words, ‘many shall come from the east and the west, and shall sit down (recline) with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven.’ Matthew 8:11. Is it not eminently clear that believers in this age will be with Christ in the kingdom of heaven, and with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? Jesus Himself also pointed out to His determined enemies that their ‘father Abraham rejoiced to see my day, and he saw it, and was glad.’ John 8:56. What grave danger lay in adopting this system that may engender such a spiritual pride as that displayed by these very Pharisees and scribes to whom Christ spoke; to elevate one’s self above the Old Testament saints of whom the apostles repeatedly speak so highly.
What may we do in order to avoid these tendencies and that latent pride which remains in every one of us? The best course is clearly before us in the words of our focus passage if correctly rendered; ‘Give diligence to present thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, handling aright the word of truth.’ Did Paul mean these words for Timothy alone? Were they written only for those in Timothy’s position? Are they meant for evangelists, pastors and teachers, and not for the entire community of the sons of God? Are we not every one of us to study the word of God and to labor to cut a straight line; to beseech God to give to us the Holy Spirit who has been promised to all; whose, ‘anointing teacheth you all things, and is true and is no lie’? And has not the Word of God been granted to every one of us that with this sharp, two-edged sword we might cut a straight line? What a blessed picture of the analogy of Scripture: Scripture verifying Scripture! May we never surrender this perfectly balanced Sword to those wishing to divide it.
August 12, 2013
‘But where are the nine?’ Luke 17:17
There is what is purported to be a hymn based upon the incident recorded in our focus passage. The term purported is used intentionally because memory suggests that it is not a song that agrees with even the American Heritage Dictionary’s idea of a hymn. They define a hymn as, ‘a song of praise or thanksgiving to God.’ It could well be that the song, ‘Where are the nine,’ contains more praise and thanksgiving than readily comes to mind, but the entire thought of such an absence is profoundly interesting since this was the fault of the nine of which it speaks. They did not return to give praise and thanks to after being healed from their leprosy. Only one of the ten lepers came back to Christ to give glory to God which evoked the sentiment from our Lord, ‘Were there none found that returned to give glory to God, save this stranger?’ It is a remarkable occurence, is it not? These were ten lepers who by reason of their disease were forced to stand at a distance from the village lest they be driven away, for the separation of lepers was one command that was assiduously kept even by a community that generally corrupted the laws with their traditions. When they saw the Christ, they evidently recognized Him as the ‘prophet’ that had been going from village to village healing the people of their infirmities, whether leprosy, blindness, deafness, or lameness. So they cried out to him, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.’ It remains a question just what they knew or believed regarding the person of Jesus. They obviously knew His personal name and that he ‘stood above others,’ for that is what the word employed here for ‘Master’ means. Just what else they may have known about Him remians undisclosed to us. We must gather from their subsequent behavior what was their understanding of the One before them. We are informed that all were healed of their leprosy for they were all directed to go show themselves to the priest, a response commanded by the law. And as they went, they were cleansed. Yet one, and only one, returned to give God glory. Upon this one Jesus pronounced, ‘Arise, and go they way: thy faith hath made thee whole.’
We pause to ask, ‘what made the others whole?’ Perhaps there were not made whole in the sense of Jesus’ words here. And was it their faith that had procured for them this wholeness? Jesus says nothing of faith save in the case of this one who returned to give God glory.
Do we not have in this narrative a surprisingly accurate picture of just what we have seen over many decades now with respect to ‘evangelistic tent meeting,’ and man-made ‘revivals’? If this was a modern day account of such a service, would not the recorded number of the ‘saved’ be ten? And yet, is there not a serious question, at least a question, as to the spiritual condition of the nine who returned not to give God the glory? Is there not seen a remarkable, and incredible difference between the behavior of the nine compared with that of the one? Yet it must be said that many in the churches of our land today would pronounce as judgmental any consideration of such a differnence. They were all healed, or in modern jargon, they all went forward; they all received Jesus and perhaps even a certain ‘healing’ from the things that were ‘plaguing’ them. It might be divorce, financial strife, alcoholism, drug abuse, illicit sexual relationships, etc, etc. They have, perhaps, been brought under some sort of conviction that they were not living as they ought. Their wills were coerced into making a promise that they would give up their sinful activities, and they in turn were promised that now they would certainly be ‘happy, happy, happy, all the time, time, time.’ In this sense, and in this sense only, were they ‘healed.’ But nonetheless they are included among the number added to the trophy case of some, perhaps, well meaning, evangelist. Is it not an established fact and admitted by those who engage in such enterprises that a huge percentage of those who come forward and make professions of faith at these meetings never ‘return to give God the glory’? It may even be that the percentage is very close to the ninety percent recorded in the narrative before us.
The response of many is to the effect, ‘Yes, but at least one of ten was truly saved.’ If it be true that one of ten were truly saved, that would in itself be a fine thing, and God has saved and does save many in spite of the methods employed. His hand is not shortened that it cannot save; He is not tied to any particular methodology excepting that which He has ordained, that is, the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Were the gospel to be proclaimed by an absolute apostate, and it has been, the Holy Spirit is well able to use pronuncement of His own Word from that unclean tongue and save one or many of His own elect.
We return, however, to the initial question, ‘where are the nine?’ In other words, to bring the question forward to modern evangelism, where are the ninety percent and, more to the point, what is their present condition? Is it not sadly the case that the most of these will never be saved, and that for at least two reasons. Their condition is going to be a choice between between the following two: either they will become discouraged, not to say disgusted, after discovering that there has been no change in their circumstances, for they were promised great things if they would only believe, or they are convinced that they are in a safe and secure position before God on the basis of what they have done without having a clue as to what they owe God and what Christ has done to satisfy that debt for His people. So they either discover that they were deceived regarding the real submission demanded by the gospel and refused to do so, or they have not discovered that they were deceived and go on in their merry way happy——and lost.
August 5, 2013
‘And yet there is room.’ Luke 14:22
Implicit and glorious is the hope contained in these simple words, ‘and yet there is room.’ While these words are, in fact, part of a parable and not any express promise to Christian husbands, wives, parents, children, as well as siblings, that there is room for their unsaved loved ones in the kingdom of God, surely the possibility is implied. Parables are utterances of which the significance is that of ‘being placed alongside’ (parabole) with the design of comparison. The twin dangers must always be kept in mind ‘of ignoring the important features, and that of trying to make all the details mean something.’ (Vine). And then, with regard to the application, we must be equally cautious that we do not apply the illustration incorrectly to something that was never intended. In the parable under our consideration, it is evident that the primary application, as in most of the kingdom parables, is to be directed toward the Jews in general and the Pharisees in particular.
But while the Jews and Pharisees are likely represented by those who were the first bidden to the feast; the publicans and harlots being represented by those bidden secondly, it seems very reasonable to take those spoken to as in ‘the highways and hedges’ who were lastly ‘constrained to come in’ as being the Gentiles, men, women, and children of all nations beyond Jewry and to the end of these last days until ‘my house may be filled.’
Is it not the fact that ‘yet there is room’ just because God’s house is not yet filled? Every one of the elect of God has not as yet been brought to the great marriage supper of the Lamb. The Lord continues to send out His servants into the highways and hedges to invite sinners to ‘come; for all things are now ready.’ We may add to our hope the fact that the servant who was lastly sent out was told to ‘constrain them to come in,’ and the implication that this Servant must suggest the Holy Spirit for He it is alone that is able to constrain any to come in. If it is our hope and desire that many including our ‘kinsmen according to the flesh’ be among those that shall be constrained to come in, should we not ask ourselves, ‘Lord, what will thou have me to do?’ And what does the Word answer? ‘Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I commanded you: and lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world,’ or, the consummation of the age. Mt. 28. We therefore have both a hope and a command with regard to the salvation of sinners. What are we to do about it?
Are we satisfied with only ‘praying the Lord of the harvest to send forth laborers into his harvest’? Are we satisfied to relegate this responsibility to others? Are we ourselves not included in the command? Should we not with the prophet exclaim, ‘Here am I, send me’? If everyone in the church is responsible in the matter of evangelism, are we all of us to go forth? Well, aside from the fact that God provisions those whom He would utilize for the express purpose of proclaiming the gospel, yes, we are all to do our part. Our part may be to be one constant in prayer for the salvation of souls to the glory of God. Our part may be to do all we can in order that as much as in us lies, we may be living epistles in our neighborhood and every contact with the world. Our part may, indeed, be that God has called us to ‘do the work of an evangelist.’ Our part may involve the ministry of the Word in the context of the body of Christ. The preaching of the Word should properly include the evangel; the message of the good news that ‘Christ Jesus has come into the world to save sinners.’
We witness in the Acts of the Apostles the growth of the church of Jesus Christ immediately subsequent to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in order to fulfill through the Spirit the pronouncement of Christ, ‘All authority hath been given unto me in heaven and on earth,’ and the promise, ‘Lo, I am with you always.’ These apostles, filled peculiarly with the Spirit of God, grew the church and their disciples were scattered throughout the known world insomuch that we read in Colossians 1:3ff. of Paul’s giving thanks, v.3, ‘because of the hope which is laid up for you in the heavens, whereof ye heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel, which is come unto you; even as it is also in all the world bearing fruit and increasing,’ vs. 5, 6. Are we to gather from this example that it is our duty or calling to go into the entire world proclaiming the gospel? Or is it possible that we are responsible to proclaim the gospel in only our part of the world in whatever manner the Lord has gifted us so to do? May we not fulfill the ‘great commission’ by living godly lives before our neighbors and families? May we not do so by being ‘living epistles’ before our unsaved loved ones? And may we not, yes, pray the Lord of the harvest to send us forth as sheep in the midst of wolves in this community? Can we not search out by prayer and meditation and joint conference with our people was of actualizing this God given responsibility?
Can we say with Paul that, ‘I could wish that I myself were anathema from Christ for my brethren’s sake, my kinsmen according to the flesh’? Romans 9:3. Perhaps not; that a hared statement to comprehend. But we can, I am confident, say with Paul, ‘my heart’s desire and supplication to God is for them, that they may be saved.’ Romans 10:1. But let us not simply say, in effect, ‘go in peace, be ye warmed and filled; and yet give them not the things needful,’ James 2:16, while we have it with us to give. We have the gospel of salvation; the only Way, Truth, and Life in and through Jesus Christ. How can we stand by with the only worthwhile prescription in our hand and not offer it to dying sinners? Let us do all that we can while it is yet day, and while there is yet room!
July 29, 2013
‘Think ye that I am come to give peace in the earth?’ Luke 12:51
There was, some years back, a movie titled ‘The War Lover’ which suggested, of course, that there might be such a thing as a person who loves war. Credence may be given to this idea of a lover of war by the many in history that have begun wars, yet it must be said that these did not love war for the sake of war, but for the power and profit which would be the hopeful result. Surely, we hear of occasional mercenaries who seem, at least, to enjoy war and yet, even in the case of those persons, it is likely that the primary reason is simply that they have discovered something that they are expert at which also pays rather well. Basically, all men prefer peace to war; ‘make love, not war,’ was the hue and cry of the ‘peaceniks’ of the sixties. In fact, as these protestors demonstrated very well, the most of us seek peace at any cost. The reality of history as well as the present is that peace is a very elusive thing of which recent events in the Middle East have once again convinced the world. Our focus passage indicates that even the Prince of Peace came not to bring peace in the earth. What are we to make of this? How are we to understand this statement?
It seems reasonable from the context to take the statement as a reference to familial life. Christ was going to bring division, or a sword, as the parallel in Matthew states it, in the midst of families between fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, daughters-in-law and mothers-in-law. How are we to reconcile this concept with the prophecy of Malachi that Christ’s forerunner was going to ‘turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers’? (Malachi 4:6). If the hearts of the fathers (parents) and their children have been turned to one another, then why this division between them, why this sword of enmity? It is quite apparent that the two things are harmonized in a striking manner and that they are intrinsically related. Is it not the case that the ‘sword’ of division which Christ has brought to earth is the gospel? And is it not equally true that Malachi was speaking of John the Baptizer’s coming to ‘prepare the way of the Lord’ by bringing many in Israel to repent of their having violated the wisdom of Solomon’s injunction, ‘My son, hear the instruction of thy father, and forsake not the law of thy mother’? Proverbs 1:8. What was the instruction of their father and the law of their mother? Was it not the gospel that had been revealed by God to both through their fathers, Abraham, Moses, and David? We see this in the repentance which was the cause of ‘Jerusalem, and all Judea, and all the region round about the Jordan’ going out to be ‘baptized of him (John) in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.’ Mt. 3:5, 6. One will come after me, John said, who ‘shall baptize you in the Holy Spirit and in fire.’ While we believe with all our heart that the baptism of the Holy Spirit speaks of that new birth, or regeneration, that He alone is able to accomplish in the hearts of the sons and daughters of Adam, the question remains as to that which is intended by John’s reference to fire. Many and diverse are the thoughts of individual commenatators on this issue. In all exegesis, we must ever be careful not to divorce a word or statement from its context. This is manifestly true in the consideration before us. Likewise, the analogy of Scripture is a most important hermeneutical principle which is a tried and true aspect of biblical interpretation.
Let us then consider the context in which John involves this ‘baptism of fire’ with Christ’s separating the wheat from the chaff and, yes, burning the chaff in unquenchable fire. Is not that fire then a fire of separation? In the context of our focus passage we see that Christ has combined, ‘I came to cast fire upon the earth,’ with His baptism and the ensuing divisions in families. And is it not so that His ‘baptism of fire’ refers to His being made for His people and enduring the fiery wrath of His Father deserved by that people? Turning to the analogy of Scripture we find in passages referring to that fiery baptism that Christ asks His disciples the question, ‘Are ye able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?’ They, perhaps overconfidently, said, ‘we are able,’ to which Christ responded, ‘with the baptism that I am baptized withal shall ye be baptized.’ Now returning to our focus passage and collating all these truths, may we not at least suggest that many of Christ’s people are going to be baptized with a ‘baptism of fire’ that may involve familial divisions? Can we not at least aver that these divisions are not to be thought of as extraordinary?
We are faced as we often are with the relationship of thata which is real and that which is ideal. We see this plainly in the case of our ‘first family;’ not in the White House, but in Adam and Eve, along with Cain and Abel (who may have been twins). Yes, God has spoken with reference to the design of marriage, ’these two shall be one’ and with regard to rupturing divorce, ‘from the beginning it was not so.’ That is, of course, the ideal revealed in the Word from the beginning of mankind. Reality is demonstrated shortly in the case of the conflict between Cain and Abel; ‘And wherefore slew he (Cain) him (Abel)?’ Can we imagine the heartache of Adam and Eve? Perhaps we can; it may even be taht we know something of their grief in our own experience. Many of the people of God have discovered that He has called them to choose between a beloved child, a darling son (remember Abraham), and obedience to Himself. Let us not, however, simply take solace in empathizing with the grief of Adam and Eve, but let us move forward as they did, seeking what else the Lord has appointed for us as He appointed for them ‘another seed.’ And let us then ‘call upon the name of Jehovah.’ Gen. 4:25, 26. For He alone is our Peace!
July 22, 2013 ‘They buried him (Jehoiada) in the city of David among the kings.’2 Chronicles 24:16
What we find in our focus passage account of the priest, Jehoiada, is rather remarkable. It is remarkable that a priest was buried ‘among the kings.’ To make it additionally remarkable, we read several verses later that the king, Joash, when he died, ‘they buried him not in the sepulchre of the kings.’ We are not left to wonder about the reasons for this ‘abnormality.’ The causes are specifically stated in connection with each account. Jehoiada was buried ‘among the kings, because he had done good in Israel, and toward God and his house.’ While we are not explicitly told why it was that Joash was not buried in the sepulchres of the kings, we are informed, regarding his assassination, that his own servants ‘conspired against him for the blood of the son of Jehoiada the priest.’ What was the good that Jehoiada had done; what the evil done by Joash that brought about his assassination?
Jehoiada was the instrument in the hand of God to preserve the line of David. When Athaliah, the grandmother of Joash, saw that her son, Ahaziah, had been slain by Jehu, she saw her opportunity to rule over Judah in her own stead. And as difficult as it is for us to imagine, she ‘arose and destroyed all the seed royal,’ 2 Chronicles 22:10. However, Jehoiada’s wife, the sister of Ahaziah and, therefore, a daughter of Athaliah, Jehoshabeath, the wife of Jehoiada the priest, took from among all her nephews, the king’s sons, Joash, and hid him from his murderous grandmother. It was, then, Jehoiada the priest who, after several years had past, brought Joash out from hiding and, with the aid of faithful men whom he had armed, presented the king to the people, saw to it that Athaliah was slain and established the young king upon the throne of David. This was the good for which Jehoiada was buried among the kings.
What became of this young king so preserved and established? While Jehoiada was his mentor, he involved himself in many reforms. We are informed that, ‘Joash did that which was right in the eyes of Jehovah’ not all the days of his life as did David, but, ‘all the days of Jehoiada the priest.’ And, sadly, in the sequel, after the death of Jehoiada at the grand old age of one hundred and thirty, that Joash seems to have hearkened as did his ancestor, Rehoboam, to the counsel of the young men around him. ‘They forsook the house of Jehovah, the God of their fathers, and served the Asherim and the idols.’ Yet God ‘sent to them his prophets to bring them again to Jehovah; and they (the prophets) testified against them: but they would not give ear.’ Then the Spirit of God came upon Zechariah the son of Jehoiada and he testified against them, but they did conspire against him and ‘stoned him with stones <em>at the commandment of the king</em>.’ Thus Joash the king remembered not the kindness which Jehoiada….had done to him, but slew his (Jehoiada’s) son.’ It is for this wickedness that his own servants conspired against him and slew him; ‘for the blood of the son of Jehoiada the priest.’ And, ‘they buried him not in the sepulchres of the kings.’ No doubt but this was the doing of the Lord in response to Zechariah’s dying cry, ‘he said, Jehovah look upon it, and require it.’ But is it not incredible to us that such an ‘ingrate’ would be found among the kings of Judah? How could Joash forget such a kindness as that which he received from Jehoiada?
Before we respond toward Joash too severely, let us be reminded just how quickly we forget all the kindnesses that we have received from our Father in heaven. Just like the children in the wilderness who received heavenly manna as needed and water from the rock when thirsty and, yet, forgot so soon wishing to return to Egypt and all their leeks and onions. How like unto those who were delivered from their bondage are we who have been delivered from sin’s thrall. May we often be looking back at our Jehoiada, our great High Priest, even Jesus Christ, who has done all things for us, and not listen to the counsel of new things.
Another of the lessons that may be learned from this history is that ‘God is not mocked, whatsoever a man sows, that shall he reap,’ and, ‘vengeance belongs unto the Lord, he will repay.’ Yet, how much better the lesson that our gracious God does not remember the evil done by His people against Him and His law. God, speaking through Isaiah says to us, ‘I, even I, am he that blotteth out thy transgressions for mine own sake; AND I WILL NOT REMEMBER THY SINS,’ Isaiah 43:25. Indeed, we are told expressly that He puts ours sins and our iniquities away, ‘as far as the east is from the west.’ How far is that? You are absolutely correct; there is no computing the distance ‘as far as the east is from the west,’ not even with all our modern computers and technological advances. We are told that He has cast our sins into the depths of the deepest seas. Now we know that there are yet depths in the oceans which man has not been able to, no, nor may ever be able to reach. It is an expression of ‘unreachableness,’ if we be allowed to coin a word synonymous with unsearchableness. God tells us further that He puts our sins behind His back. He is, in this anthropomorphism, illustrating the idea of ‘out of sight.’ Would it not be pleasing to our Father if we were to behave toward others as He has behaved, and does behave, toward us? Is this not truly something of what it means to turn the other cheek and to go the extra mile? Why is it that we are so slow to forgive? Why is it that we are so loathe to forget an injury done to us, real or imagined? Are we echoing the now famous (infamous) ‘exhortation’ of Rodney King of Los Angeles fame, ‘Can’t we all just get along?’ No, but rather: ‘Take heed to yourselves,’ Jesus said, Luke 17:3-4, ‘if thy brother sin, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him. And if he sin against thee seven times in the day, and seven times turn again to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him.
July 15, 2013
‘Jehovah, remember for David all his affliction.’ Psalm 132:1
Who is the human speaker of this plea, ‘Lord, remember David, and all his affliction’? Some there are that assume it to be David himself while others are as certain that it is Solomon, his renowned son and also the king in Israel after his father. It would seem to be more consistent with our usage of grammar if we take it to be Solomon, or at least some other than David himself, because of the way in which David is spoken of in the third person throughout. Be that as it may, we believe that the key issue is the Psalmist’s plea to be remembered, whether it is David asking Jehovah to remember all his afflictions, or whether it is Solomon asking the Lord to remember all his father’s afflictions. Surely both David and his son, Solomon, endured many afflictions from within and without. But this also has reference to the covenant that was made with David as we find recorded in 2 Samuel, chapter seven:
When thy days are fulfilled, and thou shalt sleep with thy fathers, I will set up thy seed after thee, that shall proceed out of thy bowels, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom for ever. vs. 12, 13.
Did Jehovah, indeed, make covenant with David? Yes, He did! Did this covenant have reference to David’s son, Solomon? Yes, it did! It had reference to both of these ‘sons of affliction.’ Yet is there not reference to another ‘Son of affliction’?Is the inspired writer speaking only of David and Solomon, or even only of other believers experience of the children of God that they ‘shall suffer persecution’? And is it not equally true that God remembers all the afflictions of all His people? And does He not as well remember His covenant made with all His people? God said unto Noah, ‘I will remember my covenant, which is between me and you and every living creature.’ and, likewise, He remembers His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. In spite of the terrible wickedness of His people, Israel, He tells them through the prophet in Ezekiel 16:60, ‘Nevertheless I will remember my covenant with thee in the days of thy youth, and I will establish unto thee an everlasting covenant.’
But who is it to whom these covenant promises and remembrances especially pertain? Who is the One to whom Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, and all the saints looked unto in the covenants? Whose afflictions are they that the Holy Spirit would particularly desire God to remember? When we pray to our God do we not do so in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ? And when we do, are we not implicitly asking the Father to remember His covenant with us through Christ? Are we not requesting Him to remember for us the afflictions that Christ endured for our sakes? Is this not the basis for our coming to God at all? Is it not because ‘it pleased Jehovah to bruise him’? ‘Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows; yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.’ As we approach the throne of grace, we say, ‘remember for David all his affliction.’ Father, please do remember that the names of thy people were written upon the hands lifted up and nailed to the tree; upon that glorious breastplate whose own breast was pierced with spear. Is this not he of whom Zacharias’ ‘Benedictus’ spake when he, filled with the Holy Spirit, said, ‘he hath raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David…to show mercy towards our fathers, and to remember his holy covenant’? Luke 1:67ff.
Lord, remember thy covenant with this greater Son of David, ‘who in the days of his flesh, having offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and having been heard for his godly fear, though he was a Son, yet learned obedience by the things which he suffered.’ Remember this David when He cried, ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’ Is it not our duty and privilege to plead with the Father the unspeakable merits of our Savior to remind Him of His covenant promises as well as to remind Him of all of Christ’s afflictions on our behalf?
While the Christ is primarily in view, this in no way detracts from the reality that God is concerned with our individual afflictions. Is it not powerfully suggested by the Psalmist elsewhere, in Psalm 56:8, ‘thou numberest my wanderings; Put thou my tears into thy bottle; are they not in thy book?’ Has not the Lord Jesus Christ Himself taught us that God even numbers the hairs of our heads? This it was that caused God to bring forth Moses in order to send him to Pharaoh commanding that His people be let go, when He had, ‘surely seen the affiction of my people that are in Egypt, and have heard their cry by reason of their task masters.’ And now Christ, the greater than Moses, is at God’s right hand ever living to intercede on behalf of those for whom, by His perfect life, he has obtained a righteousness, and by His perfect death, forgiveness. God who has not spared His own Son, will he not with Him freely give us all things? Will He not now hear the cries of His people when they are in affliction and remember the afflictions of His Son and His covenant with Him? Plead all the afflictions of Jesus Christ; the One eminently greater than David. And may we strive to build up these temples unto God where He may delight to dwell by His Spirit.
July 8, 2013
‘And he that was dead sat up, and began to speak. And he gave him to his mother.’ Luke 7:15
In the account given in John’s gospel of ‘doubting’ Thomas, we are told that Christ gave this disciple the opportunity of examining with his fingers and hands the wounds of our Savior that he might believe that Jesus had indeed risen from the dead as He had said He would. There have been many in the centuries since that event who contend that they themselves would also believe if they received the evidence that Thomas was presented with; undeniable proof that a man who had been dead was now alive. Arguing in this foolish fashion, they are implying that God has not given them sufficient evidence wherewith they would certainly believe the gospel; that it isn’t fair to call upon one today to believe without seeing, while this Thomas had such great advantage given him. They ignore the remonstrance and promise of Christ when He replied to Thomas’s, ‘My Lord and my God,’ with, ‘Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.’
Even if Christ had not spoken those words of remonstrance, and promised blessing to those who would believe through faith and not sight, do these doubters not consider how many during the life of Christ upon the earth were privileged to witness the restoration of dead men to life and yet refused to believe in Christ? The narrative here given by Luke in our focus passage–Luke 7:11-17–relates the case of the son of the widow of Nain. This widow, perhaps only recently being deprived of a husband, is now sadly deprived of her only son. This is one of three accounts given in the gospels which demonstrate the power of Christ to raise the dead. The chronological order generally accepted makes this the first, with that of the daughter of Jairus being the second, while that of Lazarus provides the third gospel record of a person being raised from death unto life by Jesus.
The subjects and circumstances of the aforementioned miracles have this in common, one with another; they were each definitely witnessed to be quite dead and beyond the help of any human instrument or remedy. The weepers and wailers were already at the house of Jairus upon Jesus’ arrival and when He said, ‘Weep not; for she is not dead, but sleepeth,’ we are told that, ‘they laughed him to scorn, knowing that she was dead.’ We should be careful to note that in the Matthean account, the ‘ruler’ himself said, ‘My daughter is even now dead.’ In the case of the widow’s son, in our focus passage; his body was already being carried out of the city on a bier and, presumably, prepared for burial. Here again, our Lord says, ‘Weep not.’ And in the best know of the miracles, ‘Lazarus is dead,’ was the testimony of Jesus, our infallible Witness. Subsequently, Martha, the sister of Lazarus, adds her own testimony when she points out to Jesus when He asked for the stone to be taken away from the tomb, ‘Lord, by this time the body decayeth; for he hath been dead four days.’ It is indisputable that each of these three was quite dead; they were corpses!
Perhaps the most conspicuous difference in the three cases is the length of time that they had been ‘quite dead.’ We care not that one of the three was a maiden, a female, while the others were men, for in Christ there is neither male nor female. Yet the daughter of Jairus had been dead, it would appear, for a relatively short time; long enough for some attendants to begin their weeping and wailing, yet not much longer than it would take for Jesus to make His way to the home of Jairus. We conjecture that she had been dead only a brief time. In the case of the son of the widow of Nain; he had been dead long enough to be prepared for burial, whatever that involved, placed upon a bier, and presently being carried from the the city as our Savior and His disciples came upon the scene. And, of course, we are specifically told that Lazarus had been dead four days.
We learn at least two things from these variations. Firstly, we are reminded that, not only is Christ the sovereign over life and death, but He is also the One who determines the times and seasons. What difference is time for Him to whom, ‘a thousand years are as one day, and one day as a thousand years’? Do you not know that Christ is well able to, and shall, call together all the atoms of every one of His martyrs whose bodies have been consumed in the flames of persecution? It matters not how many years these atoms float about the sky. He will but speak a word as He did to the son of the widow, to Jairus’ daughter, and to Lazarus; ‘young man, maiden, arise; Lazarus, come forth!’ and the bodies of both the wicked and the righteous will come before Him to be judged. ‘The hour cometh when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God,’ (John 5:25), and according to Daniel 12:2, ‘many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to everlasting shame and contempt.’
Yet, perhaps, today it is important that we note the differences in the method of Christ’s raising these individuals and apply this understanding to the experiential matter of the working of the Spirit of Christ in the new birth. Is it not our usual way to fix upon a certain methodology and seek to apply it without reservation to all cases? Do we not ourselves often view the conversions of others, such as Paul, and consider their experience, not as an example as we should, but as a pattern? This is a most hazardous thing! Our measure of all things is to be the Word of God! Has the Lord not healed the blind using different methods? He spoke the word in one case, touched the eyes in one, and anointed with clay and spittle in yet another. God forbid we should be so foolish as to make the experience of another our pattern or, worse, our experience a pattern for others! To the law and the testimony; to the Word and the Spirit!
July 1, 2013
‘The rest of the acts of Manasseh….are they not written in the book of the Chronicles of the kings of Judah?’ 2 Kings 21:17
We read only several lines in Scripture about the person of Manasseh. We have this account given us by the recorder of the histories of the Kings where all is seemingly summed up in the words, ‘the rest of the acts of Manasseh, and all that he did, and his sin that he sinned, are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Judah?’ Matthew informs us in his chronology of the ancestors of the Christ that, ‘Hezekiah begat Manasseh; and Manasseh begat Amon.’ We may reflect as we consider that human line of descendants how it was that Hezehiah was enabled to beget Manasseh. It was, we may recall, only because Hezekiah was delivered from an illness which was unto death that he lived to be the progenitor of Manasseh. Of course God could not have permitted this birth to fail if the promised Seed of the woman was to come through the line of David according to that covenant recorded in 2 Samuel. But Manasseh was indeed born and became one of the most wicked kings of Judah. We are told in verse six of our present chapter, that he even went so far as to make, ‘his son pass through the fire,’ possibly sacrificing his own child to the pagan god, Molech, and if it were not for a ‘rest of the story,’ Paul Harvey style, we would have little choice but to conclude Manasseh to be simply another sad example of a Judean king following the kings of Israel.
But we do have a ‘rest of the story’ and it actually begins in the context of this particular account when we consider the ‘b’ part of our focus verse, ‘are they not written in the chronicles of the kings of Judah?’ When we turn to the account of the reign of Manasseh as found in 2 Chronicles, chapter 33, the record is almost identical until we arrive at the tenth verse and read, ‘And Jehovah spake to Manasseh, and to his people; but they gave no heed.’ This, in itself, is consistent with the narratives as demonstrated thus far but we read in the very next verse, ‘WHEREFORE Jehovah!’ and it is much the same with the apostle Paul when he speaks to the Ephesians jof their former conduct and then says, ‘BUT God!’ This ‘Wherefore Jehovah’ respecting Manasseh imports much the same change of direction as does the ‘But God’ of Paul’s letter to the Ephesus. ‘Wherefore Jehovah brought upon them the captains of the host of Assyria, who took Manasseh in chains, and bound him with fetters, and carried him to Babylon.’ The Ephesians response to the ‘But God’ was the exercise of faith in Christ; what was Manasseh’s response to this ‘Wherefore God?’ We read that, ‘when he was in distress, he besought Jehovah his God, and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers. And he prayed unto him; and he was entreated of him, and heard his supplication, and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that Jehovah he was God.’
It is eminently apparent that our view of Manasseh will vary in an incredible way depending on whether or not we have ‘the rest of the story.’ It is a wonderful lesson regarding the importance of comparing Scripture with Scripture. In the same manner, we learn much by bringing the synoptic gospels into harmony by comparing the different perspectives utilized by the Holy Spirit in recording the narratives of the life of Christ. We learn the valuable lesson of the danger of allowing one verse to stand by itself without the analogy of Scripture being brought to bear upon the teachings of the Word. This is the sort of error that permits an isolated verse such as Mark 16:18 to lead to the taking up of serpents and the drinking of deadly things. May we behave ourselves like the Bereans and diligently search the Scriptures.
But may we not learn also, from the case of Manasseh, that as Yogi Berra said, ‘it ain’t over till it’s over’? We are to have the mind of Christ, but we do not share in the omniscience of God. We do not know who they are that are of the elect and who they are that are not. In observing Manasseh causing his own children to pass through the fire to Molech, one would wonder that he would ever become a child of God; seeing Saul of Tarsus holding the garments of those who stoned Stephen to death, giving his approbation to the murder of a saint of God, is it not surprising to discover this one becoming the great Apostle of the Gentiles? It required a ‘Son of consolation’ such as Barnabus to convince even the very apostles of Christ that such a man could become a disciple of the One whose followers he had been hounding and persecuting unto death. There is no sinner in the world that God cannot bring to become a trophy of His grace.
Are we then to pretend that the sins we witness daily and all around us do not exist? Of course not! We must with the Psalmist have, ‘rivers of waters running down our eyes because they keep not thy law.’ We must strive to do all within our ability and place to establish righteousness and truth. But this is not to be done so much by marching or demonstrating, but by being ‘living epistles.’ Do you not note that in the sequel to our focus passage as found in Chronicles? What may we understand by the expression that Manasseh ‘humbles himself greatly before the God of his fathers‘? Are we very far off if we suggest that the testimony of godly forbears was an instrument here in this grand conversion? Is it not likely that the example of his own father, Hezehiah, while perhaps spurned by Manasseh during the lifetime of his progenitor, became an instrument which God was pleased to use in bringing this one to Himself? Has it not been the case with many in the church? A saintly, praying, grandmother despised during her lifetime even because of her ‘peculiar’ ways comes inexplicably to the memory when the sinner is bound and humbled. May we be such in the memories of descendants. The witness of one being dead yet speaks; he under conviction of sin ‘humbles himself before the God of his fathers.’ The dungeon flamed with light; my chains fell off, my heart was free, I rose, went forth, and followed thee.’
June 24, 2013
‘And, behold, there came a man of God out of Judah by the word of Jehovah unto Beth-el.’ 1 Kings 13:1
Well might we refer to this narrative in 1 Kings 13 as the ‘story of the two prophets.’ It is the account of the ‘man of God’ being sent by Jehovah to Beth-el to cry against the altar which had been established in that place by Jeroboam. Why was this prophet directed to cry against this altar? This, we may recall, was an ‘alternative’ altar to that commanded by God to be in Jerusalem. Jeroboam, fearing that after he had led the ten tribes of Israel in rebellion against Judah and Rehoboam, established places of worship in Dan and Beth-el lest when the times of the appointed gatherings of all the tribes came around, his followers would be enticed to return to Jerusalem to worship there according to the commandment of God. God was displeased with what Jeroboam had done and therefore sent His prophet to testify against that false worship which He had not commanded.
The focus of our comments today is upon the command which was given to this ‘man of God.’ In verse nine when the prophet responded to Jeroboam’s invitation to come to his house to be refreshed and to receive a reward, we are told of the charge which he had received of the Lord, ‘the word of Jehovah, saying, Thou shalt eat no bread, nor drink water, neither return by the way that thou camest.’ It does not appear that God gave His prophet any reason for these directives. Often, as in the case of the prohibition given our first parents in the garden, God is testing the obedience of His creatures with a ‘thus saith the Lord,’ without any secondary reason being assigned. In verse ten we are told that, indeed, obedience was initially given to the charge, ‘so he went another way, and returned not by the way that he came to Beth-el.’
It is at this point that the narrative becomes so difficult for us to comprehend. We are told of another prophet in Beth-el; ‘Now there dwelt an old prophet in Beth-el; and one of his sons came and told him all the works that the man of God had done that day in Beth-el.’ Who was this ‘old prophet’? Was he a prophet of God? Or was he a false prophet? Was he one of those whom Jeroboam had set up contrary to the commands of God? We are not expressly told the answers to these questions, but it would seem fair to the record which follows to say that it is likely that he was, indeed, a false prophet. He certainly prophesied falsely to the ‘man of God.’ In fact, the narrative states that he ‘lied unto him.’ But the one who had come out of Judah believed the lie and ‘went back with him, and did eat bread in his house, and drank water.’ But even as they were sitting at the table, the true word of Jehovah came to this false prophet, this apparent Balaam, and he prophesied truly that the body of the former, ‘shall not come unto the sepulchre of thy fathers.’ Even though this man’s failure was the result of his being told a lie, it seems that he is held responsible for having received that lie as it contradicted the command of God.
How is it with ourselves? Have we not received commands from God? And have we, perhaps, found ourselves in situations, ‘between a rock and a hard place,’ where to our finite minds, it seems as though two directions from God are in conflict? What should have been the response of ‘the man of God out of Judah’? What should be our own response? ‘Let us choose the lesser of two evils’ is frequently given as the answer. Is it ever right to choose evil?
Is it being too severe to suggest that the disobedinet prophet had failed to pray, ‘Lord, lead me not into temptation, but deliver me from the evil one.’? We have no way of knowing whether that were the case, but we do know with regard to ourselves. Is it being too severe to suggest that when we find ourselves, seemingly, forced to choose between two evils that it may be the result of our own failure to have consistently besought God to keep us from temptation? Has not God promised to provide His people with a ‘way out’ of temptation? And is not pre-emptive prayer to be considered a ‘way out’? Buckling the seat belt after the accident will not prevent injury. Is it a possibility that the disobedient prophet was attempting to obey God in his own strength? Do we behave in such a manner? Do we not make excuses too readily for not taking the time in the morning to pray to God for His protecting care over us? Are we not, if this be the case, behaving as though we thought that we could walk out the door and face ‘the powers…..the world-rulers of this darkness…..the spiritual hosts of wickedness,’ without taking upon ourselves, by prayer, the whole armor of God? And is this not extreme arrogance and folly? God has promised that we would not be tempted above that which we are able to bear, but He expects that we shall pray for Him to provide the means with which He would deliver us.
What became of the old lying prophet? It is interesting that he should wish to be buried with the body of the ‘man of God’ to whom he spoke falsely and brought him to death. Are we tempted to consider that the old prophet became a follower of the true God simply on the basis of his expressed desire and because he mourned over him, ‘saying, Alas, my brother!’? We have no way of knowing but we must, sadly, be aware that there are many who would like to buried with us, as it were, as they anticipate a death without Christ. No one wishes to spend eternity in Hell. There are even many who will call us ‘brother,’ while their hearts are not truly with us. There are, today, false prophets, crying out with Balaam, ‘let me die the death of the righteous,’ yet they refuse to live the life of the righteous.
June 17, 2013
‘When David was a little past the top of the ascent, behold, Ziba the servant of Mephibosheth met him.’ 2 Samuel 16:1
How often have you heard the names of Mephibosheth and Ziba? These two men, let alone their histories, are infreqently mentioned in the church. And yet we may derive very helpful lessons from the narrative before us in this week’s focus passage. Ziba is first brought to our attention as David finds himself settled as king over Israel, having been brought by the Lord through many difficulties prior to his promised establishment on the throne. This is related in chapter nine of 2 Samuel as we find David asking, ‘Is there yet any that is left of the house of Saul, that I may show him kindness for Jonathan’s sake?’ We should here recall the covenant that obtained between David and Jonathan when David subscribed the promise asked him of Jonathan, ‘And thou shalt not only while yet I live show me the lovingkindness of Jehovah, that I die not; but also thou shalt not cut off thy kindness from my house for ever; no, not when Jehovah hath cut off the enemies of David every one from the face of the earth.’ (1 Samuel 20:14, 15).
As we have said, then, when Jehovah had ‘cut off the enemies of David,’ David inquired and was informed that there was of the house of Saul a servant named Ziba who upon being called before the king answered that, yes, there was a son of Jonathan by the name of Mephibosheth; one who was ‘lame of his feet’ having been dropped by his nurse as they fled upon occasion of the advance of the Philistines after the battle on Gilboa where the little child’s father and grandfather had both met their deaths.
Mephibosheth was then brought to David who told him that he would ‘restore thee all the land of Saul thy father; and thou shalt eat bread at my table continually.’ Mephibosheth’s humble response of obeisance was, ‘What is thy servant, that thou should look upon such a dead dog as I am?’ Notice that he referred to himself not as one like a dead dog, but as such a dead dog. This demonstrates, it would seem, sincerity and true humility before the one whom God had anointed king in Saul’s place. David then directed Ziba with his fifteen sons and twenty servants to till the land for Mephibosheth, to which Ziba replied, ‘According to all that my lord the king commandeth his servant, so shall thy servant do.’ We have no way of knowing the sincerity of Ziba in these remarks, but his later behavior suggests, at least, the possibility that he may have rather wished to receive the properties of Saul, his former master, for himself. The narrative of 2 Samuel then advances from David’s terrible sin with Bathsheba which, according to God’s pronouncement through Nathan, brought forth the rebellion of Absalom against his father and king. We next meet with Ziba, then, as David is found fleeing Jerusalem to escape the encroaching forces of Absalom. Ziba comes to David with provisions of food and asses for the king’s household to ride upon. When the king asks about Mephibosheth, Ziba claims that his master’s son has remained at Jerusalem in the hopes of seeing ‘the house of Israel restore me the kingdom of my father.’ Although this report seems to fly in the face of the expression of humility uttered earlier by Mephibosheth, David seems to have regarded it as truth and thus promises to Ziba ‘all that pertaineth to Mephibosheth.’ While we may wonder at the credulity of David, we have no certainty as to the truth or falsehood of Ziba’s claim. The likelihood of its falsehood does, however, appear in the sequel. Upon David’s restoration to the throne and his first subsequent meeting with Mephibosheth, the latter offers by way of defense that Ziba had deceived him and taken advantage of his lameness to go without him to the fleeing monarch and to slander him unto the king. David evidences his continuing uncertainty by then dividing the lands of Saul and Jonathan between Ziba and Mephibosheth.
The response of Mephibosheth to this division seems conspicuously to support his integrity as well as his disinterest in material things. He shows his primary concern for his father’s covenanted friend when he responds, ‘Yea, let him (Ziba) take all, forasmuch as my lord the king is come in peace unto his own house.’ Is this not a grand example of how to respond to being misrepresented?
The Holy Spirit reminds the Church through the pen of Peter, ‘this is acceptable, if for conscience toward God a man endureth griefs, suffering wrongfully.’ More often than not, we don’t endure griefs very well whether suffering wrongfully or rightfully. To apply the example of Mephibosheth to ourselves, we may see the greatness of setting the glory of the King in its primacy, for Peter continues by asking this very pertinent question, ‘what glory is it, if, when ye sin, and are buffeted for it, ye shall take it patiently? But if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye shall take it patiently, this is acceptable with God.’ We are so naturally inclined to defend our behavior, to justify ourselves, to prove that we are right in the matter, come what may. Does not this attitude betray a selfish concern for our reputation among men rather than a concern for the glory of Christ? Are we concerned firstly for the honor of Christ and His Church, or for our own supposed glory? The honor and glory of God and His kingdom under His anointed one, David, appears rather patently to be the first concern of Mephibosheth.
It is Mephibosheth who seems to be following in the steps of Him ‘who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth; who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously.’ (1 Peter 2:22ff.). Again Peter speaks of the Example set before us, not that of Mephibosheth, but of Christ when he reminds us, ‘For hereunto were ye called.’ How are we doing?
June 10, 2013
‘Having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace.’ Ephesians 6:15
We have here the Apostle’s statement concerning our spiritual warfare with his delineation of the armor necessary unto its success. He has utilized as a figure what was undoubtedly often before his eyes; the soldier of Rome with every piece of his armor in its rightful place upon those parts of the body to be protected from harm. In order that we may engage our great enemy and ‘stand against the wiles of the devil,’ Paul would have us to put on the ‘whole armor of God.’ In exhorting us thus, he reminds us of just what we are up against when he says that, ‘our wrestling in not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world-rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.’ Should we not be struck at our conspicuous helplessness against such foes? Could we ever entertain the thought of opposing such dark, invisible, and ruthless enemies in our own strength? Paul impresses upon us that our dependence is not found in ourselves by repeating his admonition, ‘take up the whole armor of God!’
This armor is comprised of such things as would readily come to our minds if we were preparing ourselves to do battle. We would expect to have a breastplate as a protection over our heart and other vital organs. We would add to that a shield which would serve as something of a moveable breastplate for protection from spears, arrows, or ‘darts’ that might be directed against otherwise unprotected areas of our body. A helmet would be a ‘no-brainer,’ to keep our skull from being crushed by many an anticipated blow. Of course, we would avail ourselves of a sword to be both a defensive and an offensive weapon; such as would enable us to parry the thrusts of our enemy as well as to deliver a mortal wound should the opportunity present itself. These things do not detract from the necessity of ‘having girded your loins with truth,’ nor do they diminish the requirement for prayer, supplication, and watchfulness; not only for our singular safety, but for the rest of the ‘regiment,’ as well, ‘for all the saints.’
But what are we to understand by the exhortation for, ‘having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace?’ We do not quickly think of footwear whether it be shoes, boots, or sandals, as a piece of armament. Yet the Holy Spirit, through the pen of the Apostle, includes this item and, in the context, suggests that without our feet being shod, we are unprepared. One is reminded of the well known poem, ‘For the want of a nail,’ in which it is declared that: ‘For want of a nail, the shoe was lost, for want of a shoe, the horse was lost, for want of a horse, the rider was lost, for want of a rider, the battle was lost, for want of a battle, the kingdom was lost, and all for the want of a nail!’ The importance of a single nail, a single shoe, is made conspicuous. In this progression, we see that an entire kingdom, or a complete cause, may be lost simply because of a failure at one small point. In the matter of having our feet shod, let us be reminded of the many occasions that this same apostle exhorts us to stand; three times in this very chapter to the Ephesians, and no less than fourteen times in all his epistles. To the Corinthians, he says, ‘Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong.’ Can we expect to stand fast if we have not our feet well shod? And not standing, how can we wield the sword?
The Roman soldier depended on his sandals of tough leather to protect his feet from hidden spikes planted in his path by his enemy to cause injury, infection, loss of limb, and even death. He depended also upon the hobnails, or studs, on the bottoms of the sandals to enable him to better keep his footing, even as we use studded tires on our cars to provide gripping power in snow or ice. If it is so important to keep our automobile ‘between the lines’ as we travel down the road, how much more important is it for Christians to maintain their balance and grip in a world of those who would delight to see us fall off the path of righteousness? We must not only put on the breastplate of righteousness, the helmet of salvation, and have in hand the shield of faith and sword of the Spirit, but Paul says that it is essential to have our feet shod if we are to stand fast.
With what should we cover our feet? The Apostle says, with nothing less than the preparation of the gospel of peace. The gospel of peace is, of course, that good news that Christ has died in the room and stead of His sinful people whose just desert it was to die themselves, that they might be justified through faith in Him and thus have peace with God (Romans 5:1). It is not so apparent what is meant by the ‘preparation’ of this gospel of peace. The word rendered ‘preparation’ that Paul here uses is the same that the Septuagint translators chose to use in Psalm 89:14 where in the English the word is ‘foundation,’ and that would naturally suggest to us the idea of a ‘firm footing,’ which corresponds with that of the use of the hobnails, or studs. In the same manner in which we must have our loins girded about with truth and taking the Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God, so must we have upon our feet this readiness and this firm foundation of the gospel of peace. We must determine to know all that we can with regard to the good news that is the God-appointed means whereby men may be saved. We must make no mistake about it. We must have the straps, as it were, secured tightly in place. We must have the studs tight, as well, if we will keep our balance, and how many are the unbalanced presentations of the gospel today? We must know what we believe!
June 3, 2013
‘And straightway coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens rent asunder, and the Spirit as a dove descending upon him: And a voice came out of the heavens, Thou art my beloved Son, in thee I am well pleased.’ Mark 1:10-11
The Trinity is one of those doctrines from Scripture the term for which is not actually to be found in the Scriptures. We search our concordances in vain to find in them, anywhere at all, the term, Trinity. Deists, and their offspring, the Unitarians, rejoice to exult, ‘the Lord our God is one God,’ while pointing to the fact of the absence in the Scriptures of the term, Trinity. Their wonted boasting falls to the ground before such passages as we find in the gospel accounts of the baptism of our Lord Jesus Christ. One has well said of these accounts, ‘behold, the Trinity.’
Christ came in obedience to the Father, even overturning John Baptist’s arguments with the rebuttal, ‘thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness.’ And not only to give approbation to the Savior but to give the promised testimony to the Baptist himself, the Holy Spirit descends in the form of a dove and rests upon the Savior, ‘descending upon him.’ We are prone to forget the fact that the Baptist was not only witness to the descent of the Spirit, as a dove, but that he also beheld the heavens rent asunder. We are not able to determine what is to be understood by the expression, ‘the heavens rent asunder.’ It is cause for conster-nation to the mind to attempt to imagine the picture before us. We will jump rather high at the clap of thunder and are even more startled at the bright flash of a bolt of lightning; what could it have been to have seen the very heavens rent asunder? Could it have been any less amazing than the occasion of the Spirit’s descent at Pentecost when, ‘there came from heaven a sound as of the rushing of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.’ What filled the house? Was it the sound? Was it the mighty wind? Was it the, ‘tongues parting asunder, like as of fire?’ Whichever is the case, ‘they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak with other tongues.’ This event of the descent of the Spirit seems always to overshadow His coming upon Christ at His baptism. Why should that be so? Are they not both of them testimonies of the Person and Work of Christ?
At His baptism, Christ received the validation of His ministry, as it were. Not to say, the validation of His Person or His unity with the other Persons of the Godhead, but to attest to all that, as John declared subsequently, this is, ‘the Lamb of God who taketh away the sin of the world.’ This is He of whom I spake. And what is the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost but the testimony to the disciples and all those around them, the thousands of witnesses, of the promise of the Father being given to the Son; the answer to His holy request, ‘I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter.’ John 14:16. This coming testifies to the veracity of the Savior’s words including His assertion of who He is, the Savior of the world, and one with the Father. John declared in the record of the gospel of John, chapter one and verses 33 and 34, ‘he that sent me to baptize with water, he said unto me, Upon whomsovever thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and abiding upon him, the same is he that baptizeth in th Holy Spirit, And I have seen, and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.’
This is the testimony of the Spirit at Christ’s baptism. He comes upon the Son even as it was told John. Here, in this event, we witness the Son and the Spirit together. but that is not all. At the same time, a voice is heard, ‘out of the heavens, Thou art my beloved Son, in thee I am well pleased.’ The voice of the Father resounds from heaven to complete the threefold witness; John Baptist, the Holy Spirit, and God the Father, that this is the Son of God. In the selfsame frame, if we may allude to a picture, we have the Trinity: Father, Son, and Spirit.
One of the lynchpins of Reformed theology has always been, not only the sufficiency of Scripture but, the analogy of Scripture. That is to say, that Scripture testifies to itself. We do rest a doctrine upon one verse of the Word, but find corroboration from other places of Scripture. In the case before us regarding the Trinity, while Mark gives to us, along with the other gospel writers, a beautiful picture demonstrating the Trinity, we find corroborating testimony from the words of our Savior Himself when He avows that it is the Father who sent Him; two distinct Persons, the One sending and the One sent. He relates, as well, while He comforts His disciples as they reflect extreme sadness and fear upon being told of His leaving them, that He will send another Comforter, even the Holy Spirit who, when He is come, will bring to their remembrance all things that He had taught them. Again, two distincts Persons are spoken of, in fact, all three, the One praying the Father, the Father Himself being the Sender, and the One sent, the Holy Spirit; three Persons in One.
The Unitarians will persist in arguing that while it has been demonstrated that there are three Persons, they are not, each of them, God. Christ declared that He and the Father are one; that He was with the Father at the creation of all things. Indeed, He Himself is represented to be the Creator of all things; ‘without him was nothing made that was made.’ He refers to Himself in the glorious covenant Name of God time and again saying, ‘I am…’ And in the history of Ananias and Saphira’s sad apostasy, recorded in Acts 5, Peter asks Ananias why he has to the Holy Spirit in verse three, and in repeating the accusation in the next verse, he reminds Ananias that he had ‘not lied unto men, but unto God,’ that is, the Holy Spirit who is God equal with the Father and Son. Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost!
May 20, 2013
‘The secret things belong unto Jehovah our God.’ Deuteronomy 29:29
And the generation to come, your children that shall rise up after you, and the foreigner that shall come from a far land, shall say, when they see the plagues of that land, and the sicknesses wherewith Jehovah hath made it sick; and that the whole land thereof is brimstone, and salt, and a burning, that it is not sown, nor beareth, nor any grass growth therein, like the overthrow of Sodom and Gommorah, Admah and Zeboiim, which Jehovah overthrew in his anger, and in his wrath: even all the nations shall say, Wherefore hath Jehovah done thus unto this land? what meaneth the heat of this great anger? Then men shall say, Because they forsook the covenant of Jehovah, the God of their fathers, which he made with them when he brought them forth out of the land of Egypt, and went and served other gods, and worshipped them, gods that they knew not, and that he had not given unto them: therefore the anger of Jehovah was kindled against this land, to bring upon it all the curse that is written in this book; and Jehovah rooted them out of their land in anger, and in wrath, and in great indignation, and cast them into another land, as at this day. The secret things belong unto Jehovah our God; but the things that are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law. Deuteronomy 29:22-29
Ever since Hiroshima and Nagasaki, there has been no shortage of picture films depicting supposed events following a catastrophic nuclear war. The scenes are usually intensely graphic in order to communicate the incredible devastation that would be the result of such a holocaust. Buildings that once were magnificent demonstrations of the glory of man are shown to be left in the dust and rubble from which they had been erected. The land is scarcely recognizable in its scorched barrenness with not a tree in view. The sun is barely visible through the haze of atomic dust and life is to be found nowhere.
There is suddenly to be heard the sound of a radio signal. Someone, or something, is evidently attempting to communicate; to see if there is anyone else ‘out there.’ There are moments of eerie silence bespeaking noiselessly the fact of isolation; something moves, it is the earth that moves, or at least, a small portion of it as thick metal doors covered in dust and debris are cautiously raised from the level of the ground. We then see human fingers slowly curling around the door as it is further raised. In due time, a gas mask is seen to poke up between the door and its jamb with what appears to be the head of a human being behind its antlike facial appearance. Ultimately, an individual very much like unto a human being in its remaining portions lifts itself up and upon what is left of ‘terra firma,’ only to look all around, three hundred and sixty degrees, through the twin lenses of the gas mask which serve to accentuate the strangeness of the entire spectacle before the filmgoer, as well as to exaggerate the assumed horror upon the face behind the mask.
In spite of the terrible effects of the atomic bombings of Japan, and in spite of the imaginations of movie makers, we cannot well understand the conflagrations which such things involve. These are such as we hope neither we nor our children or grandchildren will ever know experimentally. Yet this is precisely what is depicted in our focus passage this week. The nation of Israel was, we are told, become like as Sodom and Gommorah, which the Lord overthrew in his anger. Is it not a picture, as well, of the spiritual devastation which has befallen our land? And are the reasons for the devastation not precisely the same? Should it surprise if the nations around the world asked, ‘wherefore?’ And should the answer be surprising? ‘They have forsaken the covenant of the God of their fathers.’
Many are fond of making use of the ‘escape hatch’ of Deuteronomy 29:29 to explain our ignorance of some matter. One prominent evangelist from Charlotte, N.C. upon a tour of the devastation left by Hurricane Katrina was asked by a reporter the ancient question, ‘How do you explain such disaster being permitted by a loving God?’ to which he gave the lamentable response, in effect, ‘I can’t explain it.’ Well if he had jumped into the ‘escape hatch’! The fact is that this is an example of a secret thing that does belong unto the Lord, and yet, we have a very possible reason given to us in the ‘b’ part of that famous verse. ‘the things that are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law.’ There are, indeed, secret things which belong to the Lord alone. But His most Holy law is not one of those secrets; He has made it known to us and to our children. He wrote it with His very own finger at Sinai and the Law incarnate has appeared unto all mankind. It is the duty of all to embrace the Savior of the World and to embrace the law which He Himself came to fulfill both by living that perfect life which we, in Adam, failed to live, and by satisfying the justice of God which was against us for having broken that law in becoming the perfect sacrificial Lamb.
Are we saying, as have some, that Katrina was the judgment of God? Are we saying that 9/11 was the judgment of God? We are avowing neither; we are admitting that the ‘secret things belong unto the Lord;’ things that we do not know, nor can we know. Neither is it true, on the other hand, to assert that these events are necessarily unrelated to the decadence which has become stereotypical of our nation. Let us strive to maintain Biblical balance while we show our love for Jesus by ‘keeping his commandments which are not grievous.’
May 7, 2013
‘Ye received the spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.’ Romans 8:15
It was in the middle of a cool and foggy springtime night in the Maryland countryside when a farmer, upon hearing an impatient and repeated knock at the door of his modest home, opened to see before him two men dressed in suits and shirts with frills rather than the clothing of those of his community who customarily dressed according to their station and occupation as plowers and planters of the ground. One of these men was conspicuously resting his weight upon the other and upon only one of his own feet. They informed the farmer of their being made aware that he was not only a farmer but a doctor of medicine and they were in need of medical attention. ‘Would he grant them that needed attention? they asked. ‘Come into my home and we’ll see what we are able to do to help you,’ he generously replied. Upon examination being made, the doctor saw that his patient’s leg was broken and needed to be set. Using the table in the kitchen, the doctor skillfully set the bone, applied a splint, taping it carefully to the man’s leg. When asked what the fee would be for the services rendered, the doctor graciously said, ‘No charge,’ to which the men responded that they would not accept his services at no cost and would he also allow them to stay the night for which they also insisted on paying him. This farmer/doctor put them up in his small barn as comfortably as he was able, refused again their offer to pay and bid them a good night’s rest. ‘See you in the morning,’ he said, and advised them that breakfast was usually taken at sunrise. However, at the rising of the sun, when the men were called to breakfast, it was discovered that they had taken their leave of the farmer’s hospitality sometime shortly before sunrise leaving under a lamp by the bedding monies easlily sufficient to cover the cost of the services and accommodations they had received. Dr. Samuel Mudd puzzled over the behavior of these strangers until later in the day when soldiers of the Union Army came to his home searching for the man that they believed had assassinated the president of the United States just a few nights earlier at Ford’s Theatre in Washington. Since the trail that they had followed led directly to Dr. Mudd’s home, they became convinced that the doctor was complicit in the assassination plot and arrested him immediately. He was subsequently tried along with Mary Surrat and six others and convicted of the charges against him. The others, for the most part, were convicted from much more damaging evidence and were sentenced to be hanged. Dr. Mudd only escaped hanging by one vote and was sentenced to life in prison at a penal colony on an island off the Florida coast. Just two years into his sentence a terrible plague broke out in the prison. Dr. Mudd risked his own life to attend the sick and even came down with the affliction himself. Due to his courageous efforts, he was pardoned by President Samuel Johnson and released to return to his Maryland farm. Mr. Lincoln’s widow herself extended forgiveness to the doctor.
For years after his death, family members fought to have the doctor’s name cleared. An expresson which gained nationwide usage did not sit well at all with them, ‘your name is Mudd!’ A grandson of Dr. Mudd, Dr. Richard Mudd, of Saginaw, Michigan, not a medical doctor, struggled for years to clear his ancestor’s name, until his own death in 2005 at the age of one hundred and one. His son has taken up the gauntlet and vows to continue the fight.
It may seem, not only futile, but foolish for these descendants to continue so determined in this matter. The thing that must be reflected upon, however, is the difference that exists between the pardon and forgiveness that Samuel Mudd received and the acquittal that his descendants seek. It would be as though Mr. Lincoln’s widow, rather than saying to Dr. Mudd, ‘I forgive you,’ said, ‘I believe that you are innocent.’ Likewise, to have President Johnson, not to say, ‘You are pardoned,’ but to say, ‘the courts have determined you to be not guilty.’ Not guilty is the verdict that believers receive from the Lord when He sees them to be covered in the robes of Christ’s righteousness; it is that justification pronounced by God toward the unrighteous when Christ’s righteousness has been imputed. It has been alleged that such a thing is the most wondrous of all; that we could be looked upon by God as not guilty in His sight. And indeed it is most wondrous, as well as marvelous, that vile, wicked rebels, murderers of God could be counted as not guilty, but righteous, justified, in the sight of an infinitely, eternally, Holy God.
How much more wonderful and marvelous, (And Can It Be?), to be the subjects of eternal adoption? Yet this is the very case. God has not only ‘ordained us to eternal life,’ Acts 13:48, but he has, ‘foreordained us unto adoption as sons through Jesus Christ,’ Ephesians 1:5. How marvelous are His ways, past finding out, that men in love with their sin should be given hearts to believe God, faith to apprehend Christ for forgiveness, and, if that were not enough, to actually be made heirs, and joint-heirs with Christ. To return to our historical illustration, it would be the same as if Mrs. Lincoln not only forgave Samuel Mudd, but that she desired, yea, insisted that he become one of her very own family; to take into her house the very man that many still believed had cruelly plotted and assisted the assassination of her husband. This is exactly what God has done. He has taken in as His own sons and daughters those very criminals who cried out regarding His Only Begotten, ‘Crucify him, crucify him!’ God Himself help us, who have received the Spirit of adoption, to rejoice in such a beneficent, merciful, loving, God that delights so much in mercy, by crying unto Him, ‘Abba, Father!’
April 22, 2013
‘Thou numberest my wanderings; Put thou my tears into thy bottle; Are they not in thy book?’ Psalm 56:8
Psalm 56 is numbered among the Psalms which are thought to be imprecatory in nature. But just what is meant by imprecatory? Our dictionary informs us that to ‘imprecate’ means ‘to invoke a curse,’ and that an imprecation is a curse. So how do we deal with these Psalms which invoke a curse? When we read them or sing them in our devotional time, or in family and public worship, are we to think in terms of invoking curses upon God’s enemies or upon our own enemies? And who, indeed, are God’s enemies? And who are our enemies? Shall we think ourselves to be cursing with David the Philistines? Or shall we think of ourselves to be asking God to destroy those who would swallow us up? We must remember that here in our focus passage, it is God Himself who is the possessor of the ‘tear bottle,’ or, lachrymatory, and the tears belong to David, the writer of this Psalm, when he says, ‘put my tears into thy bottle.’
Many of the Puritans of the 16th and 17th centuries dealt with the issue with the consideration that these enemies of which the Psalmist speaks may be today thought of as sin; that sin is the enemy of God’s people, both their own sins as well as the sins of others. Now while this is true in and of itself, it fails to deal with the identification of the associated tears being the tears of the Psalmist and the bottle belonging to God. If the tears are identified as the sins of David and the bottle as that container into which God keeps these sins, we have an immediate conflict with the Psalms which inform us that God, rather than keeping our sins, has put them ‘behind His back and as far away as the east is from the west.’
Is it not more likely that, in the context of this Psalm, David is speaking of the tears that are brought about because of those men, ‘who would swallow me up,’ and those that, ‘wrest my words,’ and whose, ‘thoughts are against me for evil?’ Are not David’s tears, in fact, those wanderings which he says God numbers and which are put in God’s record book? Is it not so that when David says, ‘are they not in thy book,’ that this record is parallel with the bottle of which he has spoken?
The Psalmist seems here, in fact, to be thinking in terms of the statement made elsewhere by God Himself when He says, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay.’ Our Savior has exhorted us to , ‘turn the other cheek.’ This is one of the most difficult things to do because ‘getting even’ is an inherent part of our sin nature. The very idea of walking away from a situation after having been injured, whether verbally, emotionally, or physically, is simply not something that we can easily do. Indeed, without the new nature, it is impossible. Even with the new nature, we yet struggle because of the sin that remains in us. As the apostle has so eloquently and correctly stated the matter, ‘that which I would do, I do not; that which I would not, that I do. Oh, wretched man that I am!’
Even when we are able to come to the place where we recognize with the Psalmist that we need not concern ourselves about the evils done to us, that God has written these evils down in His record book and He will one day repay, we must yet strive to keep ourselves from taking any pleasure in the idea tha someday they’ll get theirs, as one old television sitcom use to take relish in inserting every week somewhere in the dialogue the retort, ‘god will get you for that!’ This reply was supposed to be good for a guaranteed laugh each time it was used, but this sort of thought should be far from the child of God.
Nonetheless, the believer can know that God is not standing by unconcerned toward the ills that this world may design against him. The God who takes care over every sparrow that falls to the ground and who numbers the hairs of our heads, is eminently concerned with every detail of our lives. Nothing can befall the child of God but what He Himself allows. He numbers our wanderings, puts our tears into His bottle, and records them in His book. We need not be anxious, therefore, when the world defames us, cheats us, despises us; in fact, we should embrace the attitude expressed elsewhere by David when he was fleeing Jerusalem and a man named Shimei was running along a parallel ridge, cursing him vehemently. David’s lieutenant and nephew, Abishai, offered to go over and take off the head of this one who would so vilify the king. But David said no, he is only doing as much as God permits him to do, it is of God, let him alone. That certainly did not mean that David approved the behavior of Shimei, he later instructed his son, Solomon, to, ‘hold him not guiltless, for thou art a wise man; and thou wilt know what thou oughtest to do unto him, and thou shalt bring his hoar head down to Sheol with blood.’ 1 Kings 2:9. In like manner will God deal with all his and our enemies, but it is not for us to seek vengeance.
Indeed, we are taught throughout the Scriptures to love our enemies, to pray for those who would despitefully use us. This is what is meant by turning the other cheek, by going the extra mile, by giving our jacket to one who has snatced our shirt. These are not easy things to do. May we fight the good fight in this matter, for that is what it takes if we are to succeed in not even thinking evil toward our enemies, not wishing them any ill at all. Because it is a spiritual warfare, we must put on the whole armor of God and not repay evil with evil in any manner.
April 10, 2013
“…..ye shall see them again no more forever.” Exodus 14:13
On December 29th, 1890, a ‘battle’ was waged between a small remnant of Sioux Indians of the Lakota tribe and the U.S. Army (the Bluecoats). It was called by the U.S. the Battle of Wounded Knee and twenty-five members of the ‘occupation force’ were awarded the Medal of Honor for valor demonstrated in this engagement. More recently, the ‘battle’ has been referred to as the massacre at Wounded Knee. The Lakota were being removed by the army to a safer place; safer, that is, for them, since there had been recent concerns raised respecting the possibility of a general uprising of the Indian nations. Only weeks earlier conflict had erupted in a similar relocation attempt. Chief Sitting Bull with several of his followers had been killed along with several ‘Bluecoats’ in a most unfortunate incident which brought, understandably, both sides to the edge.
Now at Wounded Knee, called so because of its proximity to a creek of that name, the general of the ‘Bluecoats,’ desiring the safety of his hundreds of men, ordered the eighty or so Lakota braves to sit on the ground in the center of the camp as twenty of their number at a time were to procure any arms from their tents to be surrendered. Some of the soldiers attempted to search the person of a young brave who nervously pulled a gun from his garment and fired wildly. Soldiers responded immediately with a volley which cut down every brave. When women and children heard the tumult they came running out of tents upon which four strategically placed machine guns cut them down as well. Only a few infants survived the ‘battle’ of Wounded Knee and this sufficed to bring the Nations to realize the futility of further resistance; one of the chiefs of the Nations stated it thusly; ‘We will fight no more again forever.’ It was finished.
Virtually the same words are spoken by Jehovah through Moses to His people as they saw their plight; having left Egypt and having their backs to the Red Sea, they saw the pursuing army of Pharaoh who had obviously changed his mind as to letting these bondslaves go free. When the people cried to Moses, basically saying, ‘we should have stayed; now we die,’ God told Moses to say to them, ‘stand still, and see the salvation of Jehovah….for the Egyptians whom ye have seen today, ye shall see them again no more forever.’
Now, there is no warrant, hermeneutically, to make the Egyptians who will be seen no more again to be a type of the sins of believers. Nevertheless, there is a beautiful picture of salvation in the passage through the Red Sea spoken of by the apostle to the Corinthians in chapter ten of his first epistle to that church and the idea of bondage in Egypt is often thought of as a type of the bondage of sin. It may further be asked, ‘what do the Lakota have to do with all of this?’ It is simply the similarity in terms of the expression along with the concept of finality in both of these thoughts. As the expression of the chiefs was one of finality, so is that of God through Moses if we consider the reference to be to the sins of His people. ‘It is finished,’ indeed, is the expression of our Savior Himself from the tree.
Further, we find evidence thoughout Scripture with statements from God to the effect that He will remove our transgressions from us, ‘as far as the east is from the west,’ Psalm 103:12. How far is the east from the west? He will, ‘cast all their sins into the depths of the sea,’ Micah 7:19. And Hezekiah could say, ‘thou hast cast al my sins behind thy back,’ Isaiah 38:17. To be put away as far as the east is from the west, into the depths of the sea, behind His back, is to say that God puts them out of His sight and, as far as justification is concerned, He ‘will see them again no more forever.’ The children of God will also, ‘see them no more again forever,’ as far as concerns their position, in Christ. Paul reminds us of this, ‘who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth; who is he that condemneth?’ Romans 8:33.
Sadly, in many instances, we seem to be unable to put sin behind our own backs. We carry with us this ‘guilt trip’ in spite of Christ’s declaration of finality. Many have been taught to believer that if we cannot forgive ourselves, how can we expect God to forgive us. Is this not to put ourselves on a level with the Almighty? ‘Who art thou, O man?’ to contend with the decision of the Judge? This is not to suggest that it is wrong to remember our sins and our guilt, but we must know that, for Christ’s sake, and His merit, we are forgiven. Indeed, this very conjunction of guilt with forgiveness, in the heart of the believer, is a powerful antidote to further sin. We may see this in the lives of the saints, both Paul and David; how that this very remembrance brings them to renewed repentance and humility. Are we not, ‘knowing that the goodness of God leadeth (us) to repentance?’ Is it not the goodness of God in forgiving even the ‘chief of sinners’ that brought the apostle to daily repentance? And would he know anything of this forgiveness apart from a remembrance of his own sins? Was it not this that brought the woman, a sinner, to stand behind, at Christ’s feet, weeping and wetting his feet with her tears, wiping them with her hair, kissing His feet and anointing them with ointment, and of whom our Savior said, in essence, that remembering her own sins and the free forgiveness of them, loved Him much? Yes, she wept. Yes, she remembered. But she also remembered that God, because of Christ, was able to remember them, ‘no more again forever.’ May we remember and love and, yes, perhaps, even weep.
March 27, 2013
‘Jehovah is my shepherd; I shall not want.’ Psalm 23:1
Psalm twenty-three is probably the best known and most beloved portion of the Holy Scriptures in the minds and hearts of men, at least in this country and the United Kingdom in the past two centuries excepting, perhaps, John 3:16. If we find ourselves in the position of attending a funeral service, it is almost a certainty that there will be a reference to this Psalm if only on the little ‘In Memory of…..’ passed out upon your entering the chapel or placed in appropriate places at the ‘viewing,’ (wherever ‘viewings’ are found in the Scriptures is beyond discovery). This beautiful Psalm is embraced by virtually all people in our country as a grand and wonderful expression of the hope of the ‘dearly departed.’ This portion of God’s Word along with the singing of John Newton’s ‘Amazing Grace’ and, perhaps, the rendition of its’ tune upon bagpipes, expecially since 9/11, making every corpse, it would seem, an honorary Scot, have become almost essential parts of the standard American funeral in the twenty-first century. But is Psalm twenty-three truly a grand and wonderful expression of the ‘dearly departed’?
Is it not, rather, the hope of every living Christian: and expresssion, rather, of the trust of every believer in the Lord Jesus Christ? Let’s give our attention to what the Holy Spirit is saying through the Psalmist.
Firstly, the believer, and only the believer, can truly say, ‘Jehovah is my shepherd.’ While many bereaved members of families wish to say of their loved one, who has passed on, that the Lord is his shepherd, the fact is that if the Lord was not his shepherd while he lived, the Lord is certainly not his shepherd in death. David has said here that Jehovah is his shepherd NOW, in this life, in this time of writing which is the reason that he can add, ‘I shall not want.’ In other words, ‘I shall have all that the Lord sees as needful for me in this life, I shall not lack anything necessary for my life in the Lord.’ This, of course, is totally foreign to virtually all who live apart from Jesus Christ; especially so in the society in which we presently find ourselves where ‘want’ means, ‘whatever it takes to make me happy because I’m worth it.’
And when we consider the other statements in our Psalm, we find them equally at odds with the idea that there is comfort here for the one that cared not for the things of Christ while alive. Is it possible to speak of the unbeliever as one made to lie down in green pastures or led besides still waters? When the unbeliever is satisfied only to amass as many ‘toys’ as he can in this lifetime, how can he be said to be satisfied with the green pastures of which our Psalmist speaks? And how can he possess any appreciation for the peaceful still waters in an age where peace is almost non-existent between people, companies, ethnic groups, political groups, or countries? The peaceful still waters are the desideratum only of those that seek after peace with God through the Good Shepherd; those whose souls have been restored and who are being sanctified; that is, guided in the paths of righteousness. And while the focus of the unbeliever is upon the death spoken of in verse three, we note that it is not death that is spoken of, but the ‘shadow of death,’ which could be rendered ‘deep darkness’ and even then the man is only said to be ‘walking though the valley’ of this shadow. Walking through this ‘deep darkness’ is the experience of every child of God as he is being tried and proven. Yet, he will fear no evil because with him is ‘Thy rod and thy staff,’ the Word and the Spirit promised by Christ who is the Word. ‘Rod’ speaks of the power of God and ‘staff’ causes us to think of the ‘staff of bread;’ who is the Bread of Life, after all. Who is pleased with the table that God prepares for him but the child of God, and whose head has been anointed with oil by the Spirit but the believer whose, ‘cup runneth over,’ in his estimation, because he is satisfied with God in Christ? And, yes, ‘goodness and lovingkindness shall follow this one all the days of his life,’ because he knows that everything he receives is more than he could ask; for everything is more than the Hell that he deserves.
So, does the unbelieving ‘dearly departed’ have a shepherd? Yes, he does! But, sad as it is to say with the Psalmist in the forty-ninth Psalm and verse fourteen, ‘They are appointed as a flock for Sheol; Death shall be their shepherd.’ Are we able to understand the incredible blessedness of those who are not the sheep of this shepherd, Death? O, that we would more frequently reflect upon the teaching of Christ himself with respect to his place as our Shepherd. ‘I am the good Shepherd; the good Shepherd layeth down His life for the sheep,’ and, ‘My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: and I give unto them eternal life.’ If we thought more often upon this, our hearts would sing:
‘The Lord’s my shepherd, I’ll not want. He makes me down to lie in pastures green; he leadeth me the quiet waters by. My soul he doth restore again; and me to walk doth make within the paths of righteousness, ev’n for his own name’s sake. Yea, though I walk in death’s dark vale, yet will I fear none ill: For thou are with me; and thy rod and staff me comfort still. My table thou hast furnished in presence of my foes; My head thou dost with oil anoint, and my cup overflows. Goodness and mercy all my life shall surely follow me: and in God’s house for ever more my dwelling place shall be.’ Amen.
March 20, 2013
‘And suddenly there shone round about him a light out of heaven.’ Acts 9:3
The ‘Muslim Horde’ swept across virtually the whole of Northern Africa in the seventh century with their swords brandished against all who would pretend to withstand them. Their aim was to establish the Muslim religion throughout the entire world and they were very successful in North Africa, subduing it almost entirely, and even going beyond, across the Mediterranean and into Spain. The choices which they gave to those who came under their power, according to the historian Schaff, were three in number; ‘Idolaters had to choose between Islam, slavery, and death.’ Today, we see something of a ‘revival’ of that religion with its ‘take over the world for Allah attitude’ in men such as Osama Ben-Laden and we find it very difficult to relate to such a methodology in the twenty-first century.
Yet we are, each of us, likely familiar with the story of the conversion of Saul of Tarsus recorded in the ninth chapter of the book of Acts. In the relatively smaller confines of the ‘world of the Jews’ he was in truth doing the same thing as he went about to extirpate the new religion of ‘the Way.’ In fact, he was on his way to Damascus with letters of authority from the chief priests for the very purpose of apprehending any and all of these ‘traitors to Jehovah’ as he was able to find. And his design was not simply to bring them back to the ‘true faith,’ but as it is recorded here and in subsequent narratives in the book of Acts, he was ‘breathing threatening and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord’ (Acts 9:1), ‘that he might bring them bound to Jerusalem’ (Acts 9:2), ‘I persecuted this Way unto the death’ (Acts 22:4), ‘I…..journeyed to Damascus to bring them….unto Jerusalem in bonds to be punished.’ (Acts 22:5), ‘and when they were put to death I gave my vote against them.’ (Acts 26:10). Again in reciting his manner of life before conversion he testifies to the Galatians, ‘how that beyond measure I persecuted the church of God, and made havoc of it.’ (Gal. 1:13). Now it is not possible to consider these actions of the zealous Pharisee Saul in any other light than as horrifying as that of the Muslims of the seventh century, or worse. And yet, when the light ‘shone round about him,’ he fell to his knees before the true God.
Should we be in fear of the followers of Islam today as many believers feared Saul in the early church? The number of these followers of Mohammed, it is reported, is growing today faster than any other religion and we are being naive if this doesn’t alarm us in any way. But are we not looking through a glass clouded with disbelief if we are looking at the twenty-first century ‘Muslim Horde’ as persons impossible to be saved? Do we apprehend the great power of God in saving the zealous persecutor of His people on the road to Damascus and yet think it too hard a thing for Him to do the very same toward these modern persecutors of Christians? Surely we should be praying that God would be pleased to work a wonder before our very eyes in causing many among these unbelievers to fall before Him even as did Saul of Tarsus. Was it not the prayers of His people for such as Saul that caused Christ to apprehend Saul? Was not this the prayer of the proto-martyr Stephen when he died saying, ‘Lord, lay not this sin to their charge?’ How can we be pessimistic when our God is the one, ‘who does according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth?’ Are we not then behaving as the one on whose hand the king leaned who responded to the promise of God given by Elisha, ‘if Jehovah should make windows in heaven, might this thing be?’ (2 Kings 7:2). Oh, Lord, help our unbelief!
This is the objective view of the road to Damascus experience. The subjective view has frequently been something of a concern in the churches when individuals sitting under the preaching of the Word come to expect that the experience of Saul is to be considered a prototype of conversion even in its details. They are under the delusion that they should anticipate some sort of light from heaven shining down upon them and even perhaps the hearing of an aubible voice. This is not some fanciful flight of the imagination. There was a man applying for baptism in a small independent church who was asked to relate to the congregation his experience of the saving grace of God. He began by explaining how unhappy his life had been and how that he had tried all the world’s remedies such as alcohol and drugs and the pleasures of sex without any lasting satisfaction. One night he was awakened from his sleep and, ‘Jesus was standing at the foot of his bed telling this man that everything was going to be alright.’ This applicant for admission to the church said not a word about repentance, nay, not even an expressed understanding of what Christ had done at Golgotha in order to provide forgiveness, justification, and reconciliation with God; only this vision. Are saying that Christ cannot appear to someone today? The only ‘cannots’ for God are that He cannot sin nor do wrong. What we are saying, however, is that this is not the usual method of God’s working. His usual method is that of ‘shining from heaven’ with the light of His Word applied by the Holy Spirit. And this light when applied by the Spirit is always mixed with faith for that too is the work of the Spirit. Christ ‘appears’ in the Word and He is the Light!
March 13, 2013
‘And the dragon waxed wroth with the woman, and went away to make war with the rest of her seed, that keep the commandments of God, and hold the testimony of Jesus.’ Revelation 12:17
One should consider commenting upon any part of the book of the Revelation of Jesus Christ given to the apostle John only with great fear and trepidation. It is quite to the point when we bring to our remembrance that even one of the greatest commentators of Scripture in the churches throughout history, even John Calvin, did not make the attempt when it came to the Apocalypse. Having offered that condition, I hasten to add that the verse under our own consideration this week, Revelation 12:17, is one that in spite of its enigmatic context, can not easily be distorted. Nonetheless, it can be, and has been, the case that it has not been applied as often nor as fully as it ought to be applied.
Whenever we read a statement such as that before us which indubitably connects the commandments of God with the testimony of Jesus Christ, we ought immediately to reflect upon the frequency in recent generations of the errant tendency to disconnect these two blessed things. Especially, and we should say, ironically, this is done by those who seem to have make special ‘study’ of the book of the Revelation along with the other isolated portions of the Word of God in order, it seems, to rather separate that which God has joined together. In order to maintain their distinction between the old covenant people of God and the new covenant people of God they have separated the Old Testament (Covenant) from the New Testament (Covenant) which has ultimately forced many of their numbers to confine the law of God, the Ten Commandments, to the older covenant and to supply in its stead the Sermon on the Mount for the new covenant people. This, of course, presents a problem at the very outset, for there is no inconsistency between the law of God given to Moses and the law of Jesus Christ, the God-man, in the Sermon on the Mount. Any apparent inconsistencies are just that, only apparent and not real.
The import of the words of our focus verse are by no means spoken in isolation. We find essentially the same thing spoken in Revelation 14:12 where the Holy Spirit, speaking of the faith of the saints, defines these saints as ‘they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus.’ Without pretending to have knowledge which God alone possesses of the hearts of men, it nonetheless seems that there is a relationship between this proposed dichotomy between the law and the gospel and the idea that the God of the New Testament, Jesus, is a God of love and mercy, while the God of the Older Testament is a God of wrath and destruction. O, that we would remember that this God of the Older Testament is the same God who so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that the world should not perish but might be saved through Him; that this God of the Older Testament who inhabits eternity is the same God the Holy Spirit who inhabits the hearts of His people; that Jehovah our God is one Jehovah! How many are they who, practically speaking, have two Gods?
It seems without question to be the whole people of God that are spoken of as the ‘rest of her seed,’ with whom the dragon makes war. Equally apparent is it that the dragon spoken of is that ‘old serpent,’ the devil. Let us discover in this verse then these two things in particular, that those that are God’s will keep His commandments, not perfectly but nonetheless with a desire for that perfection, and secondly, that the devil, the dragon, will do his utmost to keep them from that perfection; he will make war with them. We deceive ourselves when we think that having peace with God is tantamount to having peace with the world. Rather, the two are diametrically opposed. James has told us very clearly that he who would be the friend of the world makes himself the enemy of God (James 4:4). The worst thing for a soldier is to be deluded into thinking that there is a truce when, if fact, there is not; to have some crying ‘peace, peace, when there is no peace.’ Paul has pointed out in large letters what the attitude must be if we would be good soldiers of Jesus Christ; we must put on the whole armor of God. How can we put on the breastplate of righteousness without having the law of God in our hearts? How can we bear the sword of the Spirit, which is the Truth if we have only embraced half of the truth? How can we have our feet shod with the preparation of the gospel if we have only on shoe, to put it that way? If we preach faith in Christ apart from repentance toward God? And how can repentance be expected apart from the Holy Spirit using the Word to convince men that they are sinners? And how can they understand that they are sinners except they be brought to realize that every transgression of the law of God is sin?
Paul said that when the law came, sin revived and he died. That is, he found himself dead in sins and trespasses, helpless to save himself from the just wrath of God against his sins. It is when men truly see their own helplessness that they will flee to Christ seeing their only help and hope in Him. Both the law and the glorious work of the great Lawkeepeer, Jesus Christ, are to be proclaimed. Men must see the holiness of the law as well as their own inability to keep it in order to drive them to the Savior. They must see that, indeed, the law of God has been kept perfectly, not by them, but by the Lord Jesus Christ and for all who will unto Him from the wrath to come. If half a gospel is proclaimed, what wonder should there be when we see so many ‘half-Christians?’ Let us not be guilty of dividing what God has joined together.
March 6, 2013
‘Ephraim is joined to idols; let him alone.’ Hosea 4:17
‘Little Bo Peep has lost her sheep and can’t tell where to find them; leave them alone and they’ll come home, wagging their tails behind them.’ This age-old nursery rhyme could have been penned by Father Flanagan of Boy’s Town fame who many years later argued that, ‘there is no such thing as a bad boy.’ This, of course, in consistent with the teaching that in every one there is a ‘spark’ of good or a ‘spark’ of faith and that what is necessary is that we simply wait until it comes out. In other words, ‘leave them alone and they’ll come home.’
But the Scriptures present us with a completely different picture of the condition of man. ‘There is none good, no, not even one.’ There is not some hidden ‘spark’ of good or faith in any one of the fallen sons of Adam. ‘We have all gone astray like lost sheep,’ is the pronouncement of the Word of God. Furthermore, none will ‘come home’ of their own accord, much less ‘wagging their tails behind them.’ Our Savior himself has taught us that, none can come to him except the Father draw him, making him willing in the day of His power to come to God in Jesus Christ. Except the Lord take out the stony heart and replace it with a heart of flesh, none will ever make the first move toward Him. In Roman Catholic legend, there is a ‘history’ of one of their ‘saints’ who was supposedly martyred in France by the headsman. It is then ‘related’ that he picked up his head and walked the several hundred miles to Rome. Spurgeon, in his own inimitable way remarked of this tale that he might believe that this ‘saint’ walked all the way to Rome if someone could only convince him of his taking the first step. You see, that is the problem; man cannot, will not, take that first step. The word ‘cannot’ is a word of inability; he cannot because he will not and he will not because his heart is not right; he requires a heart transplant; an operation which the Holy Spirit alone can perform. Man is comletely helpless.
How terrible then are the words in our focus passage, ‘Ephraim is joined to idols; let him alone!’ God has ordained that the means which He is pleased to use to bring lost unto Himself is the preaching of the Word as well as the prayers of the saints for the effectual work to be accomplished. If He then directs that the prophet, or preacher, no longer declare His Word and that the saints no longer pray for the reception of that Word, what is to become of sinners? Here Hosea is directed to ‘let them alone’ and in Jeremiah 7:16, 11:14, and 14:11 God commands Jeremiah, ‘pray not for this people!’ How awful when the means are taken away, the Word ceases, the prayers are stopped up; who then can be saved? None! If God has said, ‘let them alone,’ all is forever lost!!
But God spoke to Hosea to let Ephraim alone, He has not spoken to us to let any alone. God commanded Jeremiah not to pray for Judah in those days, but He has not commanded us to leave off praying for any, has He? We pretend to usurp the preogative of God Himself if we take it upon ourselves to determine that the salvation of such and such a person, or the salvation of such and such a people is no longer to be a matter of our prayers. Let us not be guilty of giving up on any if God has not revealed to us that He has given up on them. Have you thanked God for the many occasions that He has put it into your heart to pray for someone whom you love very dearly? Do you account the fact that the burden to pray for the salvation of this loved one is a gift from God Himself? Have we ever considered how grave it would be if we actually felt that burden removed? It would be tantamount to God having said, ‘let them alone!’ Let us cry unto God as long as He is pleased to place that burden upon our hearts and expect great things of Him in extending saving mercy to those for whom we are burdened.
When are we to leaave off ‘prophesying’ to our relatives, neighbors, and any and all sundry acquaintances that God in His providence may put across our paths? Have we received that command to ‘let them alone’ in regard to their need of being told of the Savior? Can we be satisfied with praying and not witnessing our faith? If God has not told us to leave these persons alone, then we must believe that they are among those whom God would have to hear His Word. Are we not, in this, guilty again of usurping God’s preogatives in a very practical way when we fail to speak to lost sinners about the One who has come to seek and to save the lost? If we have not a revelation from God such as the prophets Hosea and Jeremiah had to let certain people alone in their sins, then we are failing to sound the alarm in the day of battle and there will be blood upon our hands.
It is true that we witness so many in this day that are obviously ‘joined to their idols.’ We see this everywhere we turn; in our neighborhoods and in our own families, and we are not surprisingly tempted to give up on them. We must remember that it is not for us to determine when to give up on any. Surely we know that we ourselves were once joined to our idols and because God did not choose to leave us alone, He commanded others to not leave us alone. The Word was communicated to us, relatives and friends prayed for us and God was pleased in His own perfect time to bring us to Himself through His own appointed means. Is it not reason for rejoicing that God did not permit his people that we praying for us and witnessing to us to ‘let them alone?’
Let us then ‘give Him no rest’ as we strive to do the same for others.
February 27, 2013
‘He that abideth in the teaching (of Christ), the same hath both the Father and the Son.’ 2 John 9b
Most of us are likely guilty of the following practice; we have need of a physician and seek one out in order to receive his diagnosis along with a remedy for our particular ill. He provides us with a prescription which directs us to take a certain medication for a certain period of time and he anticipates that this will cure us. We accept all of his advice until the point in time when we find ourselves ‘on the mend,’ at which point we decide to become our own physician to determine that it is well enough to dispense with the medication before we have taken all of it; we pronounce ourselves cured.
In our passage (2 John 9b), John exhorts his readers that those having both the Father and the Son are they who abide in the teaching of Christ. What is it to abide in the teaching of Christ? We witness it said of the early church in Acts 2:42 that they who had received the Word continued steadfastly, not only in the breaking of bread and prayers but also in the apostle’s teaching and fellowship. They were not content with being ‘barely saved;’ having already received enough to believe and be baptized they earnestly desired to be daily fed with the Word.
We are reminded of the case of Peter on the occasion when Christ in the upper room began to wash the feet of His disciples. When He came to Peter, he remonstrated with his master that He should not be lowering Himself to wash the feet of any. Christ’s response was, ‘if I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me.’ Are we not taught by this response that we who are cleansed need to be daily cleansed ‘through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit?’ Do we not require to be cleansed day by day by the Word and Spirit? Has not the Christ prayed for us that we be sanctified by the Truth, that is, His Word?
God has provided for His church the instrumentality of the Word preached and taught in the assembly of His people. Is any sufficient to simply give himself a ’sponge bath’ at home and neglect the means of grace that God has provided? We may think that we can see behind our ears to satisfactorily wash or that we need no help in drying our backs, but the Scriptures teach that we require to be immersed in the Word and that God the Holy Spirit uses the preaching and the fellowship in the assembly in order to ‘get behind the ears.’
It should be no surprise to the one who neglects to take all of the prescribed medication if he or she suffers a relapse. By the same token, it will come as no surprise when those who consistently neglect the preaching and teaching of the Word of God find themselves lapsing into sin, wallowing in the mire, returning to the vomit. We may think that we know the dose that we need in order to be well, but God Himself is the only Physician. It is said that he who would defend himself in a court of law has a fool for a lawyer. It may equally be said that he who would prescribe for himself has a fool for a physician and, again, that he who would teach himself has a fool for a teacher.
We see witness in the book of Judges of the children of God contenting themselves with a limited possessing of their possessions. Time and again we see how that the ‘giants’ were left in the land. The warfare is not over when one city or town is taken, the race is not won by the rabbit that takes his ease on the road, but by the tortoise that continues steadfastly pursuing the goal. That is what the word rendered here ‘abide’ means; to continue steadfastly.
Can it be imagined that the one who neglects the means of grace is abiding; continuing steadfastly in the faith once delivered? We certainly are not capable of recognizing who they are that are abiding and who they are that are not even, as the rabbit did not recognize the tortoise as one who was continuing steadfast. Nonetheless, if we were to see the tortoise cozy up alongside the rabbit in the rest area, we would be caused to wonder if he were running the race at all.
There are those whose ‘rest areas’ are found at home while the assembly is met to sit under the teaching and preaching of the Word. They may be like the one who heard the Word and received it with joy but the cares of the world choked the seed of the planted Word. They had put their hand to the plow yet continue to look back like Lot’s wife. No wonder if they become as pillars of salt!
There are likely those who bring their bodies to the assembly but not their ears or their hearts. They are satisfied with attendance upon the assembly, as it were, without attendance upon the Word. According to Jude, ‘These are they who are hidden rocks in your love-feasts when they feast with you, shepherds that without fear feed themselves…’ They are hidden to the rest of the banqueters but not hidden to God Who knows every heart.
May each and every one of us cry unto God who has searched our hearts to search our hearts and see if there be any wicked way in us! May we each of us examine our own selves by the Word and Spirit! May we desire to be not only bathed at home, but immersed in the teaching and preaching that God has prescribed for us when His saints gather and may God bless all of us as we abide in that teaching and preaching for His own glory’s sake!
February 20, 2013
‘Dost thou still hold fast thine integriy?’ Job 2:9
It has always been interesting to me to take notice of the fact that while God had permitted Satan to take from Job whatever he wished to take away, that he took away from him all his possessions, livestock, children, physical comforts, seemingly leaving him nothing: but he left his wife to him. Did Satan have some kind of intuition or prescience? We know that he is not omniscient; only God knows all things. Yet does this case of Job’s wife not teach us that Satan does, indeed, have a certain understanding of human nature. Was this not so from the beginning in the garden? How is it, in fact, that Satan approached the woman rather than the man? Is it not a demonstration of some sort of intuitive knowledge? It is not simply a matter of supposing the woman to be more vulnerable to Satan’s wiles, but just as much a matter of the evil one being aware of the vulnerability of the man to the urgings of the woman. Old John Trapp expressed it in his comments upon the fall in his own inimitable way, ‘The devil has broken many a man’s head with his own rib; this bait he has found to take so well, that he never changed it since he crept into Paradise.’
Now the issue in the case before us is not so much surrounding the question as to the ‘weaker vessel’ as it is that we see the wiles of the evil one. We in the twenty-first century are prone to set thoughts of Satan on a shelf of those things which are regarded as superstitions and in so doing fail to recognize that Satan still ‘goes about as a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour.’ It is necessary for us to avoid the Scylla on the one hand of ‘the devil made me do it’ mentality, and the Charybdis on the other hand of failing to recognize the reality of the enemy of our souls. We must not be ‘ignorant of his devices,’ yet we must not, at the same time, attribute to him more than is according to truth.
The issue here in our focus passage is that of the integrity of the people of God. Jehovah had actually boasted of Job to Satan if we may put it that way without being guilty of irreverence. He queried Satan in verse 2:3, ‘hast thou considered my servant Job?…he still holdeth fast his integrity, although thou movedst me against him, to destroy him without cause.’ Satan’s response was to smite Job with ‘sore boils from the sole of his foot unto his crown.’ His wife, seeing her husband in such a condition yet sitting passively among the ashes and scraping his boils could tolerate his passivity no longer and says to him, ‘Dost thou still hold fast thine integrity? renounce God and die!’
Here is where the rubber meets the road, as they say. It was fine and dandy all the while the Lord was blessing Job and, of course, along with him, his wife and children with success in everything that they did. They had very great substance and all was well. Now, however, things are quite different. All their livestock has been stolen, their servants all slain, their sons and daughters have perished in a ‘hurricane,’ and, lastly, Job is now covered from his head to his foot with sore, excruciatingly painful boils. His wife is apparently not only totally unsettled about the losses and grief, but cannot stand the picture of Job contenting himself nonetheless with his God.
Is this not where believers are so often assailed by relatives and supposed friends? It’s okay to them if their believing parents or brethren hold to this religion of theirs; why not, they are doing well enough. If they want to ‘be religious,’ that’s fine. But when they witness a ‘reversal of fortune’ in the experience of these believers, they fully anticipate seeing them come around to their own views and opinions. They expect them to ‘renounce God and die,’ and are as frustrated as Job’s wife when this happens not.
It is to the glory of God when His people will emulate the patience of Job, which is none other than an expression of his integrity. In spite of all of the subsequent remonstrations of Job, it must have pleased God to be able to chide Satan again with the integrity expressed in Job’s statement, ‘What? shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?’
May we by the grace of God be so pleasing to our Father when we, as His children, are pleased with whatever He does knowing that He does all things well.
February 13, 2013
‘but when they were fully awake, they saw his glory.’ Luke 9:32
Although we have in the contexts of the Synoptic accounts of the transfiguration of Christ, no specific indication of any such comment on the part of the apostles, it is not much of a stretch to imagine them echoing the words of Moses when he cried unto Jehovah, ‘Show me, I pray thee, thy glory!’ Exodus 33:18. Do we not wish, nay, expect, to see the glory of the Lord? Do we not pray that, ‘the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of Jehovah, as the waters cover the sea?’ Is not the glory of God ‘what it is all about?’ Has He not created all things for His glory? And even as God caused His glory to pass by Moses as He declared His great Name unto him, is there not a sense in which on the mount of transfiguration, the glory of Jesus Christ was declared by Moses and Elijah ‘who appeared in glory?’ Was not the glory of the godhead of the Savior displayed as ‘his countenance was altered, and his raiment became white and dazzling?’ Was it not for the purpose that after Christ had risen, these very disciples should testify of the Savior that He is God indeed? Is it not recorded in Mark’s account, ‘that they should tell no man what things they had seen, save when the Son of man should have risen again from the dead?’ Mark 9:9. Did not James testify with his life, Acts 12:2, and Peter in his second epistle, 1:17-18, ‘For he received from God the Father honor and glory, when there was borne such a voice to him by the Majestic Glory, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased: and this voice we ourselves heard borne out of heaven, when we were with him in the holy mount’? Then again John in his gospel pronounces that, ‘we beheld his glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father.’ 1:14.
As we reflect upon our focus passage and its parallels in the Synoptics, we are brought face to face with the human condition. Or to put it in the interogative, can we well imagine Moses, although he was of course as human as the rest of us, but can we well imagine him falling asleep when Jehovah was about to pass by and declare His marvelous Name? Yet it would seem that this is precisely the case with our three apostles, Peter, James, and John. We are told that it was, ‘when they were fully awake, they saw his glory.’ These three who, we are told, ‘were heavy with sleep,’ are the same who were so sleepy at Gethsemane, to whom our Lord spoke these now very famous words, ‘The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak,’ words that we are much too inclined to use as an excuse in every and any instance of failure on our part. After all, who is responsible for the flesh being so weak? Is it not ourselves? And should we not confess that truth as did David in his grand Psalm of repentance, ‘I was born in sin and conceived in iniquity?’ Did we not, in Adam, bring this weakness upon ourselves?
But here we see ourselves to be no better than the three apostles. We claim that we wish to see Christ’s glory in His Church. Yet is it not true of the most of us that we are not fully awake? Are we behaving as awaked men? Must we not confess to being often drowsy when it comes to many of those works, ‘which God afore prepared that we should walk in them?’ Ephesians 2:20. Are we doing all that we can do; that which Christ has placed within our power to accomplish in order to the promotion of His gospel, the building up of His Church, and the advancement of the kingdom of Jesus Christ on this Earth? We can readily recall occasions where there were individual employees of a firm or a company, a shop or a factory, that had acquired the seeming ability to do their job, in a manner of speaking, in a semi-conscious state; their eyes wide open while their bodies were, for all practical purposes, sound asleep. Is it so with us? In the concerns of the Church and the spread of the glorious gospel, are we not moving about with our eyes open but little else functioning?
There was a practice suggested by supervisory personnel in an automobile plant where the above-mentioned conditions were commonplace. The suggestion was obviously meant to be sarcastic but the problem was real. They suggested that, when an individual was observed to have been immobile for a time, the immediate foreman hold a mirror under the person’s nose to see if they were breathing. This sarcasm may seem uncalled for in the church, but is it? Are we, in fact, ‘going about our Father’s business?’ The aposlte Paul seemed to well understand the issues involved. He told the believers at Rome, ‘already it is time for you to awake out of sleep!’ 13:11. He told those at Ephesus, ‘Awake, thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall shine upon thee.’ 5:14. The apostles, Peter, James, and John, ‘when they were fully awake, they saw his glory.’ The One who is the Light of the world shined upon them! Do we wish to have Christ shine upon us? Do we wish to see His glory; to see Him as Isaiah saw Him, high and lifted up and his train filling the whole temple? John tells us that Isaiah said these things in Isaiah 6, ‘because he saw his glory.’ John 12:41.
We must do more than simply wish for these things to come to pass. We must work while it is day. We must do the work of an evangelist. We know that we do not have the ability in ourselves to accomplish anything and yet, we are called to do it. We cannot bring in the kingdom, but Christ can! Neither can we build the Church, but Christ can, and He has promised to do so. We cannot save our loved ones, our neighbors, or anyone else, but Christ can! What can we do? We can spend and be spent! We can pray! The shipmaster said to Jonah, ‘What meanest thou, O sleeper? Arise, call upon thy God, if so be that God will think upon us….’ Can we not wake up and call upon our God until we see His glory in the Holy place? Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty!
January 30, 2013
‘all that are in the tombs shall hear his voice.’ John 5:28
Do you recall hearing the voice of your father as he has just come home from work on an occasion when you have been feverishly working at some project you were certain would please him? In a circumstance such as that his voice would raise excitement in your heart as you anticipated showing your dad the evidence of some loving act toward him; perhaps you had cleaned up his workshop or the garage and you knew very well that he would be pleased. But how did his voice cause you to react on those occasions when you had done something that you knew just as certainly would be very displeasing to him? Maybe this was the time that you thought you would paint your bicycle with a can of spray paint just for a change of color. The problem was that you didn’t pay attention to the fact of ‘overspray.’ Your father’s beautiful new sedan was now a ‘two-tone.’ Now his voice raised terror in your heart and your knees began to quake; you broke into a cold sweat. It was the very same voice which was heard under the former occasion, but this time your guilt put an entirely new aspect on that sound.
This precisely the case in our focus passage with regard to the consummation of all things. We are told that those that have done good will come forth unto the resurrection of life and those that have done evil to the resurrection of judgment. Now that may not, ‘make all the difference in the world,’ as they say, but it will make all the difference for eternity.
How differently will that voice then sound to those individuals? Can we imagine the beauty and sweetness of the voice of our Savior when it spoke to Lazarus, dead and buried, ‘Lazarus, come forth’? This is the manner of our Lord’s recorded in the passage we are looking at. ‘Come forth and be joined to your soul which has been these many years in my presence.’ The body of the one who has done good, that is, the believer in Christ, will at that time be able to approach his soul, as it were, with rejoicing at the union long awaited. The soul will be able to say then, ‘How happy that you did take me with you to frequent the house of God; that you did forbear so often to succumb to the temptations of the flesh, that you did choose the people of the Christ rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season.’ What a glorious reunion that will be!! The body will respond in kind to the soul, ‘Oh, how grand that you did turn my feet to the house of God. What joy to see you once again who so often convicted me from the course that I would take and set my feet upon the paths of righteousness when I was ready to take myself to the house of shame. How beautifully sweet and charming the voice that calls you to attend that reunion!! That voice that you so loved hearing as the Word of God was proclaimed in the assembly of the saints; the voice that spoke to you so often as you engaged in the reading of the Scriptures at the family altar, that voice now calls you home.
How dreadfully different it will be for the one doing evil in this life, whose body has lain in the grace for length of time when he must come forth to meet his soul. How will that body remonstrate with the voice, ‘No, no, leave me here, I do not wish to ever see that soul again; that soul that would bring to my mind every distraction when I would seek to attend on the worship of God; that soul that would bring all manner of wickedness into my mind when I would consider taking up the Scriptures.’ The soul would respond, ‘Well, neither do I wish to see that body again; that body that was never satisfied with the lust of the eyes and the flesh, but would have all; that body that could remain awake only for the indulgence of evil devices, but could not stay awake under the sound of the gospel, no, not one hour.’ ‘Now we must be joined together once again and cast into the pit prepared for the devils and his angels.’ O Eternity, Eternity! How shall I grapple with the misery that I must meet with in Eternity!
The distinction in the sound of the voice will be whether it is the voice of the Savior of the World, or the voice of the Judge of all the Earth. But be certain of this; we will all, according to this focus passage, hear the voice of the Son of God and our place will be forever fixed either in the place of all delight with Him in whom our soul delighted while we were on earth or it will be in the place of howling and torment where the fire is not quenched and the worm dies not.
He who has ears to hear, let him hear NOW; let him hear the voice of the Savior in the reading and preaching of the Word.
January 16, 2013
‘ye shall see them no more again forever.’ Exodus 14:13
On December 29th, 1890, a ‘battle’ was waged between a small remnant of Sioux Indians of the Lakota tribe and the U. S. Army (the Bluecoats). It was called by the U.S the Battle of Wounded Knee and twenty-five members of the ‘occupation force’ were awarded the Medal of Honor for valor demonstrated in this engagement. More recently, the ‘battle’ has been referred to as the massacre at Wounded Knee. The Lakota were being removed by the army to a safer place; safer, that is, for them, since there had been recent concerns raised respecting the possibility of a general uprising of the Indian nations. Only weeks earlier conflict had erupted in a similar relocation attempt. Chief Sitting Bull with several of his followers had been killed along with several ‘Bluecoats’ in a most unfortunate incident which brought, understandably, both sides to be on edge.
Now at Wounded Knee, called so because of its proximity to a creek of that name, the general of the ‘Bluecoats,’ desiring the safety of his hundreds of men, ordered the eighty or so Lakota braves to sit on the ground in the center of the camp as twenty of their number at a time were to procure any arms from their tents to be surrendered. Some of the soldiers attempted to search the person of a young brave who nervously pulled a gun from his garment and fired wildly. Soldiers responded immediately with a volley which cut down every brave. When women and children heard the tumult they came running out of the tents upon which four stategically placed machine guns cut them down as well. Only a few infants survived the ‘battle’ of Wounded Knee and this sufficed to bring the Nations to realize the futility of further resistance; one of the chiefs of the Nations stated this thusly; ‘We will fight no more again forever.’ It was finished.
Virtually the same words are spoken by Jehovah through Moses to His people as they saw their plight; having left Egypt and having their backs to the Red Sea they saw the pursuing army of Pharaoh who had obviously changed his mind as to letting these bondslaves go free. When the people cried to Moses, basically, saying, ‘we should have stayed; now we die,’ God told Moses to say to them, ‘stand still, and see the salvation of Jehovah….for the Egyptians whom ye have seen today, ye shall see them again no more forever.’
Now, there is no warrant, hermeneutically, to make the Egyptians who will be seen no more again to be a type of the sins of believers. Nevertheless, there is a beautiful picture of salvation in the passage through the Red Sea spoken of by the apostle to the Corinthians in chapter ten of his first epistle to that church and the idea of bondage in Egypt is often thought of as a type of the bongage of sin. It may further be asked, ‘what do the Lakota have to do with this?’ It is simply the similarily in terms of expression along with the concept of finality in both of these thoughts. As the expression of the chiefs was one of finality, so is that of God through Moses if we consider the reference to be the sins of His people. ‘It is finished,’ indeed, is the expression of our Savior Himself on the tree.
Further, we find evidence throughout Scripture with statements from God to the effect that He will remove our transgressions from us, ‘as far as the east is from the west,’ Psalm 103:12. How far is the east from the west? He will ‘cast all their sins into the depths of the sea,’ Micah 7:19. And Hezekiah could say, ‘thou hast cast all my sins behind thy back,’ Isaiah 38:17. To be put away as far as the east is from the west, into the depths of the sea, behind His back, is to say that God puts them out of His sight and, as far as justification is concerned, He ‘will see them again no more forever.’ The children of God will also, ‘see them no more again forever,’ as far as concerns their position, in Christ. Paul reminds us of this, ‘who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth; who is he that condemneth?’ Romans 8:33.
Sadly, in may instances, we seem to be unable to put sin behind our own backs. We carry with us this ‘guilt trip’ in spite of Christ’s declaration of finality. Many have been taught to believe that if we cannot forgive ourselves, how can we expect God to forgive us. Is this not to put ourselves on a level with the Almighty? ‘Who art thou, O man?’ to contend with the decision of the Judge? This is not to suggest that it is wrong to remember our sins and our guilt, but we must know that, for Christ’s sake, and His merit, we are forgiven. Indeed, this very conjunction of guilt with forgiveness, in the heart of the believer, is a powerful antidote to further sin. We may see this in the lives of the saints, both Paul and David; how that this very remembrance brings them to renewed repentance and humility. Are we not, ‘knowing that the goodness of God leadeth (us) to repentance?’ Is it not the goodness of God in forgiving even the ‘chief of sinners’ that brought the apostle to daily repentance? And would he know anything of this forgiveness apart from a remembrance of his own sins? Was it not this that brought the woman, a sinner, to stand behind, at Christ’s feet, weeping and wetting His feet with her tears, wiping them with her hair, kissing His feet and anointing them with ointment, and of whom our Savior said, in essence, that remembering her own sins and the free forgiveness of them, loved Him much? Yes, she wept. Yes, she remembered. But she also remembered that God, because of Christ, was able to remember them, ‘no more again forever.’ May we remember and love and, yes, perhaps, even weep.
January 9, 2013
‘And suddenly there shone round about him a light out of heaven.’ Acts 9:3
The ‘Muslim Horde’ swept across virtually the whole of Northern Africa in the seventh century with their swords brandished against all who would pretend to withstand them. Their aim was to establish the Muslim religion throughout the entire world and they were very successful in North Africa, subduing it almost entirely, and even going beyond, across the Mediterranean and into Spain. The choices which they gave to those who came under their power, according to the historian Schaff, were three in number, ‘Idolaters had to choose between Islam, slavery, and death.’ Today, we see something of a ‘revival’ of that religion with its ‘take over the world for Allah attitude’ in men such as Osama Ben-Laden and we find it very difficult to relate to such a methodology in the twenty-first century.
Yet we are, each of us, likely familiar with the story of the conversion of Saul of Tarsus recorded in the ninth chapter of the book of Acts. In the relatively smaller confines of the ‘world of the Jews’ he was in truth doing the same thing as he went about to extirpate the new religion of ‘the Way.’ In fact, he was on his way to Damascus with letters of authority from the chief priests for the very purpose of apprehending any and all of these ‘traitors to Jehovah’ as he was able to find. And his design was not simply to bring them back to the ‘true faith,’ but as it is recorded here and in subsequent narratives in the book of Acts, he was ‘breathing threatening and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord’ (Acts (9:1), ‘that he might bring them bound to Jerusalem’ (Acts 9:2), ‘I persecuted this Way unto the death’ (Acts 22:4), ‘I…..journeyed to Damascus to bring them….unto Jerusalme in bonds to be punished.’ (Acts 22:5), ‘and when they were put to death I gave my vote against them.’ (Acts 26:10). Again in reciting his manner of life before conversion he testifies to the Galatians, ‘how that beyond measure I persecuted the church of God, and made havoc of it. (Gal. 1:13). Now it is not possible to consider these actions of the zealous Pharisee Saul in any other light than as horrifying as that of the Muslims of the seventh century, or worse. And yet, when the light ‘shone round about him,’ he fell to his knees before the true God.
Should we be in fear of the followers of Islam today as many believers feared Saul in the early church? The number of these followers of Mohammed, it is reported, is growing faster today than any other religion and we are being naive if this doesn’t alarm us in any way. But are we not looking through a glass clouded with disbelief if we are looking at the twenty-first century ‘Muslim horde’ as persons impossible to be saved? Do we apprehend the great power of God in saving the zealous persecutor of His people on the road to Damascus and yet think it too hard a thing for Him to do the very same toward these modern persecutors of Christians? Surely we should be praying that God would be pleased to work a wonder before our very eyes in causing many among these unbelievers to fall before Him even as did Saul of Tarsus. Was not this the prayer of the proto-martyr Stephen when he died saying, ‘Lord, lay not this sin to their charge?’ How can we be pessimistic when our God is the One, ‘who does according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth?’ Are we not then behaving as the one on whose hand the king leaned who responded to the promise of God given by Elisha, ‘If Jehovah should make windows in heaven, might this thing be’? (2 Kings 7:2). Oh, Lord, help our unbelief!
This is the objective view of the road to Damascus experience. The subjective view has frequently been something of a concern in the churches when individuals sitting under the preaching of the Word come to expect that the experience of Saul is to be considered a prototype of conversion even in its details. They are under the delusion that they should anticipate some sort of light from heaven shining down upon them and even perhaps the hearing of an audible voice. This is not some fanciful flight of the imagination. There was a man applying for baptism in a small independent church who was asked to relate to the congregation his experience of the saving grace of God. He began by explaining how unhappy his life had been and how that he had tried all the world’s remedies such as alcohol and drugs and the pleasures of sex without any lasting satisfaction. One night he was awakened from his sleep and, ‘Jesus was standing at the foot of his bed telling this man that everything was going to be alright.’ This applicant for admission to the church said not a word about repentance, nay, not even an expressed understanding of what Christ had done at Golgotha in order to provide forgiveness, justification, and reconciliation with God: only this vision. Are we saying that Christ cannot appear to someone today? The only ‘cannots’ for God are that He cannot sin nor do wrong. What we are saying, however, is that this is not the usual method of God’s working. His usual method is that of ‘shining from heaven’ with the light of His Word applied by the Holy Spirit. And this light when applied by the Spirit is always mixed with faith for that too is the work of the Spirit. Christ ‘appears’ in the Word and He is the Light!
January 2, 2013
‘Dost thou still hold fast thine integrity?’ Job 2:9
It has always been interesting to me to take notice of the fact that while God had permitted Satan to take away from Job whatever he wished to take away, that he took away from him all his possessions, livestock, children, physical comforts, seemingly leaving him nothing; but he left his wife to him. Did Satan have some kind of intuition or prescience? We know that he is not omniscient; only God knows all things. Yet does this case of Job’s wife not teach us that that Satan does, indeed, have a certain understanding of human nature. Was this not so from the beginning in the garden? How is it, in fact, that Satan approached the woman rather than the man? Is it not a demonstration of some sort of intuitive knowledge? It is not simply a matter of supposing the woman to be more vulnerable to Satan’s wiles, but just as much a matter of the evil one being aware of the vulnerablility of the man to the urgings of the woman. Old John Trapp expressed it in his comments upon the fall in his own inimitable way, ‘The devil has broken many a man’s head with his own rib; this bait he has found to take so well, that he never changed it since he crept into Paradise.’
Now the issue in the case before us is not so much surrounding the question as to the ‘weaker vessel’ as it is that we see the wiles of the evil one. We in the twenty-first century are prone to set thoughts of Satan on a shelf of those things which are regarded as superstitions and in so doing fail to recognize that Satan still ‘goes about as a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour.’ It is necessary for us to avoid the Scylla on the one hand of ‘the devil made me do it’ mentality, and the Charybdis on the other hand of failing to recognize the reality of this enemy of our souls. We must not be ‘ignorant of his devices,’ yet we must not, at the same time, attribute to him more than is according to truth.
The issue here in our focus is that of the integrity of the people of God. Jehovah had actually boasted of Job to Satan if we may put it that way without being guilty of irreverence. He queried Satan in verse 2:3, ‘hast thou considered my servant Job?…..he still holdeth fast his integrity, although thou movedst me against him, to destroy him without cause.’ Satan’s response was to smite Job with ‘sore boils from the sole of his foot unto his crown.’ His wife, seeing her husband in such a condition yet sitting passively among the ashes and scraping his boils could tolerate his passivity no longer and says to him, ‘Dost thou still hold fast thine integrity? renounce God and die!’
Here is where the rubber meets the road, as they say. It was fine and dandy all the while the Lord was blessing Job and, of course, along with him, his wife and children with success in everything that they did. They had very great substance and all was well. Now, however, things are quite different. All their livestock has been stolen, their servants all slain, their sons and daughters have perished in a ‘hurricane,’ and lastly, Job is now covered from his head to his foot with sore, excruciatingly painful boils. His wife is apparently not only totally unsettled about the losses and grief, but cannot stand the picture of Job contenting himself nonetheless with his God.
Is this not where believers are so often assaulted by relatives and supposed friends? It’s okay to them if their believing parents or brethren hold to this religionof theirs; why not, they are doing well enough. If they want to ‘be religious,’ that’s fine. But when they witness a ‘reversal of fortune’ in the experience of these believers, they fully anticipate seeing them come around to their own views and opinions. They expect them to ‘renounce God and die,’ and are as frustrated as Job’s wife when this happens not.
It is to the glory of God when His people will emulate the patience of Job, which is none other than an expression of his integrity. In spite of all of the subsequent remonstrations of Job, it must have pleased God to be able to chide Satan again with the integrity expessed in Job’s statement, ‘What? shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?’
May we by the grace of God be so pleasing to our Father when we, as His children, are pleased with whatever He does knowing that He does all things well.
December 26, 2012
‘Whosoever goeth onward and abideth not in the teaching of Christ, hath not God: he that abideth in the teaching, the same hath both the Father and the Son.’ 2 John 9
Most of us are likely guilty of the following practice: we have need of a physician and seek one out in order to receive his diagnosis along with a remedy for our particular ill. He provides us with a prescription which directs us to take a certain medication for a certain period of time and he anticipates that this will cure us. We accept all of his advice until the point in time when we find ourselves ‘on the mend,’ at which point we decide to become our own physician to determine that it is well enough to dispense with the medication before we have taken all of it; we pronounce ourselves cured.
In our focus passage, John exhorts his readers that those having both the Father and the Son are they who abide in the teaching of Christ. What is it to abide in the teaching of Christ? We witness it said of the early church in Acts 2:42 that they who had received the Word continued steadfastly, not only in the breaking of bread and prayers but also in the apostle’s teaching and fellowship. They were not content with being ‘barely saved;’ having already received enough to believe and be baptized they earnestly desired to be daily fed with the Word.
We are reminded of the case of Peter on the occasion when Christ in the upper room began to wash the feet of His disciples. When He came to Peter, he remonstrated with his Master that He should not be lowering Himself to wash the feet of any. Christ’s response was, ‘If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me.’ Are we not taught by this response that we who are cleansed need to be daily cleansed ‘through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit?’ Do we not require to be cleansed day by day by the Word and Spirit? Has not the Christ prayed for us that we be sanctified by the Truth, that is, His Word?
God has provided for His church the instrumentality of the Word preached and taught in the assembly of His people. Is any sufficient to simply give himself a ‘sponge bath’ at home and neglect the means of grace that God has provided? We may think that we can see behind our ears to satisfactorily wash or that we need no help in drying our backs, but the Scriptures teach that we require to be immersed in the Word and that God the Holy Spirit uses the preaching and the fellowship in the assembly in order to ‘get behind the ears.’
It should be no surprise to the one who neglects to take all of the prescribed medication if he or she suffers a relapse. By the same token, it will come as no surprise when those who consistently neglect the preaching and teaching of the Word of God find themselves lapsing into sin, wallowing in the mire, returning to the vomit. We may think that we know the dose that we need in order to be well, but God Himself is the only Physician. It is said that he who would defend himself in a court of law has a fool for a lawyer. It may equally be said that he who would prescribe for himself has a fool for a physician and, again, that he who would teach himself has a fool for a teacher.
We see witness in the book of Judges of the children of God contenting themselves with a limited possessing of their possessions. Time and again we see how that the ‘giants’ were left in the land. The warfare is not over when one city or town is taken, the race is not won by the rabbit that takes his ease on the road, but by the tortoise that continues steadfastly pursuing the goal. That is what the word rendered here ‘abide’ means; to continue steadfastly.
Can it be imagined that the one who neglects the means of grace is abiding; continuing steadfastly in the faith once delivered? We certainly are not capable of recognizing who they are that are abiding and who they are that are not even as the rabbit did not recognize the tortoise as the one who was continuing steadfast. Nonetheless, if we were to see the tortoise cozy up alongside the rabbit in the rest area, we would be caused to wonder if he were running the race at all.
There are those whose ‘rest areas’ are found at home while the assembly is met to sit under the teaching and preaching of the Word. They may be like the one who heard the Word and received it with joy but the cares of the world choked the seed of the planted Word. They had put their hand to the plow yet continue to look back like Lot’s wife. No wonder if they become as pillars of salt!
There are likely those who bring their bodies to the assembly but not their ears or their hearts. They are satisfied with attendance upon the assembly, as it were, without attendance upon the Word. According to Jude, ‘These are they who are hidden rocks in your love-feasts when they feast with you, shepherds that without fear feed themselves…’ They are hidden to the rest of the banqueters but not hidden to God who knows every heart.
May each and every one of us cry unto God who has searched our hearts to search our hearts and see if there be any wicked way in us! May we each of us examine our own selves by the Word and Spirit! May we desire to be not only bathed at home, but immersed in the teaching and preaching that God has prescribed for us when His saints gather and may God bless all of us as we abide in that teaching and preaching for His own glory’s sake!
December 19, 2012
‘He who testifies these things says, Yea I come quickly. Amen: come, Lord Jesus.’ Revelation 22:20
We near the end of the Holy Scriptures even as we near the end of yet another calendar year. Nearing the last Sabbath of the year 2012 we approach the day that the world at large celebrates the birth of the Babe in the manger, our Lord Jesus Christ. The words of the last verse of the Scriptures just before John’s benediction are, ‘He who testifies these things saith, Yea: I come quickly,’ and John responds with a hearty, ‘Amen; come, Lord Jesus.’ The particular words are not easy to misconstrue. ‘He who testifieth these things,’ is quite obviously the same as He who received this revelation of His Father and gave it to the apostle; the very One spoken of in the first chapter who was in the midst of the candlesticks and ‘like unto a son of man.’ The very same who, ‘was dead, and behold, I am alive for evermore,’ who told John to write these things. And now He says, ‘Yea: I come quickly.’ John’s response is very simple, ‘Amen: come, Lord Jesus.’ This not only confirms that it, indeed, was the Lord Jesus Christ who spoke the previous words, but that John’s reply is one of joyous aggreement with the proposition. He says, Amen, in other words, ‘let it be as thou hast said.’
I wonder at this season of the year if any of us are looking for Christmas Day and Santa Claus with great expectation such as should be reserved fro the King of kings and the Lord of lords. I am certain that many children are anxiously awaiting the arrival of Jolly Old Saint Nick and a time of toys and pumpkin pie on the day which is ostensibly a remembrance of the first advent of Christ, without giving a thought to the Second Advent. I wonder how many adults are guilty of the same basic fault. Even though we recognize that we don’t know the day or even the month in which Christ was born in Bethlehem, we should, one would think, at this time of the year–yea, every moment throughout the year–be especially grateful for the incarnation of our Savior. Yet, instead of so doing, I am afraid that for many of us–not unlike our children’s focus–it is a special time of football and great food. Considering the birth of Christ should lead us to focus upon His intercession for us at God’s right hand and His coming again to take us to Himself. After all, it was for this very purpose that He came, that He might ‘save His people from their sins,’ making us fit for His kingdom; a bride being prepared for her Bridegroom. And how many of us may have no oil in our lamps when the Bridegroom does come?
We should on this day worship Him who is coming again. Rather than the popular ‘Ho, Ho, Ho,’ we should be crying, ‘Holy, Holy, Holy.’ Many churches yield to society and cancel worship services because, as they say, it is a day for the family. Yes, but it a day for the family of God to be worshipping our heavenly Father; it is the Lord’s Day. It is very telling with regard to the direction that many leaders in the churches are taking their flocks when a choice is to be made between what God calls His people to do and what the world calls us to do; when they demonstrate that they would rather please men than God. How great and how terrible when the sheep are being led by their ‘shepherds’ to be more concerned about what is written on the list that Santa Claus is making than on whether their names are written in the Lamb’s book of Life. It is likely that there is much more time employed by even those in the churches in cleaning out their chimneys for Santa’s coming rather than striving to purify their hearts for Jesus’ return; setting out cookies and milk for Santa than doing works meet for repentance. We are all caught up in this to one degree or another. But ought we not to be about our Father’s business? Ought we not especially be striving to put Him first every day; remembering His loving the world so as to give us His Son?
This time of year is, perhaps, the preeminent occasion of the people of God being joined to the world; the ‘sons of God with the daughters of men.’ Should we not, as sons and daughters of God, be seeking a way of honoring the birth of the Saviour during this time without becoming so ensnared by the world as to become unrecognizable to this world as being those that differ; by being what we are called to be? It is so encouraging to witness churches whose desire is to so worship our Triune God together on every Sabbath whether the world refers to it as Christmas, or not. If some of the people of God that spend days and hours upon planning Christmas plays and cantatas would spend that amount of time upon their knees, could we not justifiably anticipate a pouring out of the Spirit upon our land with God honoring His church because they honor Him? How are we being salt and light when we are caught up in the hustle and bustle of the season right along with everyone else? I realize that many have cited 2 Chronicles so often as to make it, if that were possible, almost trite. Yet it is the Word of the living God given to His people when when the temple that had been prepared was being dedicated to God. Are we not called upon to dedicate these temples of our bodies in which dwells the Holy Spirit, preparing them for the Bridegroom’s coming, so that God is glorified and we are not ashamed at His coming? Apply these words then to the issues of this season; ‘if my people, who are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.’
This is not a time when we should be focusing on ‘Santa Claus is coming to town,’ but, rather, that Jesus is coming again. The facts of the incarnation, that the Consolation of Israel indeed appeared even according to the promise given of old should confirm in our hearts the reality of the second advent. Instead of saying, ‘Merry Christmas,’ perhaps we should be crying out with the Apostle to the Gentiles, ‘Merry-Natha,’ or Maranatha, even so, come Lord Jesus.’ Amen.
December 12, 2012
‘Hail, King of the Jews! and they struck him with their hands.’
‘Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.’ Just who does this gracious prayer from the lips of our dying Lord embrace? Generally, it is presumed that it most certainly embraced those who came to faith under the preaching of the gospel by Peter at Pentecost; those three thousand that were brought to cry, ‘Men and brethren, what shall we do?’ It is important to note that they were not only brought to faith, but that they were simultaneously brought to repentance as well. Faith and repentance go together as hand and glove. Yet that metaphor does not adequately express the union for obviously the glove may be removed from the hand whereas neither repentance nor faith can be removed one from the other. Those given true faith are always given true repentance. Peter exclaimed the culpability belonging to those to whom he preached his first post-Pentecostal sermon; the culpability belonging to those before him in their involvement in the crucifixion of the Lord of glory and they were pricked in their hearts. We may say that they saw the blood of Christ on their very own hands.
What about these individuals of whom we read in the gospel narratives having part in the ‘inquisition’ of Jesus the Christ? The hymn-writer raises the question to our minds and hearts, ‘Were you there when they crucified my Lord, were you there?’ and adds that, ‘sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble.’ Does it not cause us to tremble when we read of men that struck the Savior with their hands; men that raised their fists to the King of kings?
In Luke we read, ‘and the men that held Jesus mocked him, and beat him. And they blindfolded him, and asked him, saying, Prophesy: who is he that struck thee?’ In Mark’s account, ‘And they all condemned him to be worthy of death. And some began to spit on him, and to cover his face, and to buffet him, and to say unto him, Prophesy: and the officers received him with blows of their hands.’ And in Matthew’s account this is spoken of in 27:27-31, ‘Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered unto him the whole band. And they stripped him, and put on him a scarlet robe. And they platted a crown of thorns and put it upon his head, and a reed in his right hand; and they kneeled down before him, and mocked him, saying, Hail, king of the Jews! And they spat upon him, and took the reed and smote him on the head,’ physically struck, smote, buffeted, spat upon and mocked the Christ. We understand that these things were all done according to the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, but what of these individuals that actually and physically took part in these indescribable actions?
Perhaps because of the similarity between our words, buffet and buffer, we tend to imagine that buffeting is simply pushing around; shoving, etc. But the word refers to far more. It involves, according to W. E. Vine, ‘the closing of the fist to beat the face black and blue.’ The Holy Spirit kindly hides from us much of the graphic nature of the treatment received by our Lord. We are simply told in this chapter under our consideration that, ‘Pilate therefore took Jesus, and scourged him,’ while a dictionary informs us that, ‘Under the Roman method of scourging, the person was stripped and tied in a bending posture to a pillar, or stretched on a frame. The scourge was made of leathern thongs, weighted with sharp pieces of bone or lead, which tore the flesh of both the back and the breast.’
If Jesus has said, and He has, that those who failed to give Him a drink of water when they saw one of His own thirsting, and those who failed to visit Him in prison when they knew one of His own was suffering in a jail cell; if those are to be cast into the pit prepared for the devil and his angels, what has become of those officers and soldiers who had their part in actually laying their hands upon Jesus? According to Isaiah, He was wounded, bruised, and beaten with stripes; His visage was so marred more than any man, and his form more than the sons of men, so much so as to cause astonishment.
John Gill on Matthew 26:68, (Saying, Prophecy unto us, thou Christ) ‘Not that they owned him to be the Messiah: but because he asserted himself to be the Messiah, and his followers believed in him as such, they call him so; and in an ironical and sarcastic way, call upon him to divine, and tell them who the persons were, that used him in this manner; suggesting, that if he was the Christ, or Messiah, he would know all things, and what were done to him: who is he that smote thee? for they had covered his face, or blindfolded him, as the other Evangelists say, and then bid him tell them who smote him last. Christ did not think fit to give them an answer to this question, but he will let them know hereafter, who the particular person, or persons were, that smote him; and when it will appear to all the churches, and to all the world, that he is the Lord God omniscient. Some learned men have observed,’ ‘Such pastime,’ he continues, ‘as this the Jews had with Christ; in this ludicrous way did they use him, and him their sport and diversion, as the Philistines did Samson; but it will cost them dear another day.’ Remember what became of those Dagon-worshippers!
Oh, my; how terrible will it be for those brutalizers of the King of kings? Yet, will in not be terrible for all that declared, ‘we will not have this man to rule over us’? And must we not gratefully recall how that there was a day when we too were in that number, but we have heard the blessed words applied to ourselves, ‘Father, forgive them for they know not what they do,’ which, by God’s glorious grace of regeneration that His people have received, He has made us to differ.
December 5, 2012
‘I called by reason of mine affliction unto Jehovah.’ Jonah 2:2
Jesus has clearly told His people, and it has been recorded by John, that our Savior declared, ‘This is my commandment, that ye love one another, even as I have love you. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. Ye are my friends, if ye do the things which I command you.’ John 15:12-14. Our Lord unequivocally states that we are His friends; we that love Him and thus do His commandments. Just as unequivocal is His love for us stated. Indeed, greater love hath no man than this, His love for His own people. Yea, He has loved us with such an infinitely high love that, ‘God commendeth his own love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.’ Having loved us unto death, how is it that those for whom He died, seem to be able to so swiftly forget that love; so much so that, in exigencies real or imagined, we often despair of our being rescued out of them. ‘O ye of little faith,’ Christ must sadly declare so often in the biblical narratives, and continuing into our day. We have a Friend who has promised to care for us forever. He is a Friend that we also know to be all-powerful; omnipotent. Yet, in spite of that knowledge, in spite of that blessed understanding, we fail so often to apprehend His love, His power, or His promise and His nearness to us when we find ourselves in desperate straits. It is in cases such as this that we must cry out with the father of the epileptic, and even with his fervor, ‘Lord, I believe, help thou mine unbelief!’
Is this not what we discover in the narrative of Jonah? You remember how that this prophet forsook the direction of his God. The Lord expressly told Jonah to go to Nineveh. What did Jonah do? He found a ship going in the opposite direction; he found a ship bound for Tarshish, and he boarded that ship. It was not only that he wavered for a moment; he decidedly determined that he was going in a different direction from the command of the Lord. He, with premeditation, with ‘malice aforethought,’ as they say, walked up the gangway to sail for Tarshish. Is the Lord going to ignore such a stern breach of His commandments? Is Jonah not one of His own people, and will He permit any one of His own to go out of the way without a response? Surely, the answer is most certainly that He will not. He keeps His own unto the end; none is able to pluck them from His hand; not even themselves; not even by determined desertion. I have surely loved thee with an everlasting love and I will not let thee go. None is able to pluck any out of His hand. Praise God, we cannot pluck ourselves out of His hand. It is certain that if we had that ability, we would without contradiction exercise such ability to our own eternal destruction. The God who saves His own keeps His own unto the ages of the ages. But how does our Father keep His children? How does He bring them back when they go astray? For it is certain that they will go astray. Even the man after God’s own heart, David, the sweet Psalmist and king of Israel, was compelled to admit as much when he wrote, ‘I have gone astray like a lost sheep; Seek thy servant; For I do not forget thy commandments.’ Psalm 119:176.
Jehovah causes His people to cry unto Him in the way that David in these words cried; in the very same way that Jonah ‘called by reason of mine affliction unto Jehovah.’ in our focus passage. The Father brings to the remembrance of His people His commandments, ‘I do not forget thy commandments.’ He reminds them of His eternal love for them and brings them to ‘strengthen themselves in the Lord.’ Upon this strengthening, they cry; they call, unto Him and He hears the voice of their cries, for He ever hears the prayers of His people. He not only hears the prayers of His people, but ever stands ready to answer those prayers. Like the father of the prodigal in Luke 15, as one writer has suggested, He stands on the parapet of the house every morning and every evening casting His eye to the north and to the south; to the east and to the west, anticipating the day when His sons come to themselves and determine, ‘I will go to my father and home.’ Our Father, in like manner, scans the horizon waiting for the time when He may run to His son and throw His arms around his neck and kiss him. He speaks of His sons in the language of Hosea 11:8ff. when He cried, ‘How shall I give thee up, Ephraim? how shall I cast thee off, Israel? how shall I make thee as Admah? how shall I set the as Zeboiim? my heart is turned within me, my compassions are kindled together. I will not execute the fierceness of mine anger, I will not return to destroy Ephraim: for I am God, and not man; the Holy One in the midst of thee; and I will not come in wrath.’
What a striking expression of the love and compassion of our God and Father for us! It is Himself who made us, when we first came to Him, ‘willing in the day of His power,’ and it is He that ever and always makes us willing to come unto Him. We have nothing but that which we have received from Him. The faith that He has initially given, He continues to give daily when we cry unto Him with the disciples, ‘Lord, increase our faith.’ He it is that increases our faith and brings us to pray, even as He brought Jonah to call by reason of his affliction. Jehovah was He that afflicted His servant; Jehovah was He that brought him to himself; Jehovah was He that strengthened him to call upon Him in his distress. Yea, God brought the storm; God brought the whale; God gave the affliction and God gave the faith; ‘He does all things well.’ He will never leave us nor forsake us, and He will never allow us to finally forsake Him. ‘What a friend we have in Jesus,’ the hymn-writer said, ‘All our sins and griefs to bear! What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer! O what peace we often forfeit, O what needless pain we bear, All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.’ How blessed it is to know that He will cause all things to work together to bring us to prayer. Amen.
November 28, 2012
‘Sanctify in your hearts Christ as Lord.’
The title given by the Father that belongs alone to our Savior as the Anointed of God, is one of the titles made use of in this week’s text; that is, ‘the Christ.’ It has already been suggested that the meaning of Christ is ‘anointed.’ It is the ‘Anointed One‘ whom Peter exhorts the people of God to sanctify, that is, to set apart, in their hearts as Lord. This is a directive from the Holy Spirit through the pen and words of the apostle Peter. That is to say, this is not something that we may choose to do sometime subsequent to our regeneration and conversion experience, but it is incumbent upon us to do as part and parcel of our living unto God through Jesus Christ. He is our Lord that will bring us to glory with Himself. He has always been Lord; He will always be Lord; He is, by grace, especially, our Lord.
Our duty is to set Jesus, the Christ, apart in our hearts; that is, apart from all other things that may, and do, insinuate themselves into our hearts. Christ is to be set apart in our hearts in that He is to have the very chief place in our love and affections. We are to love Him as Lord because He first loved us, as Lord. While it must frankly be admitted that there is a textual issue with the language here in 1 Peter 3:15, yet the vast weight of scholarship is on the side of the translation that is employed above. The rendering found in the King James Version and its ‘next of kin,’ the New King James Version, and the periphrastic New Life Version, is ‘sanctify the Lord God in your hearts,’ choosing the name God rather than Christ. In some translations, though employing this choice of Christ over God, the option, sanctify the Lord Christ is preferred over sanctify Christ as Lord. Nonetheless, in both cases, Christ and Lord are joined together. Simon Kistemaker (N.T.C.) is among those (along with Alford and Robertson) whose preference is Christ as Lord. He has posited, ‘The position of the term Lord in the sentence creates two different translations: ‘sanctify the Lord Christ’ or ‘Sanctify Christ as Lord.’ Although both versions make good sense, I prefer the second translation,’ Kistemaker says, ‘because it imparts greater emphasis to the word Lord.’ This is, of course, an arbitrary choice among two valid options. In this day of controversy regarding the ‘Lordship’ of Christ, the choice of Kistemaker, arbitrary as it may be, presents us with a helpful ‘greater emphasis’ on the truth that the Lord Christ is to be recognized and worshipped, Christ as Lord. The view that is sadly put forward in our day by men claiming to be evangelical would inform their auditory that they may have Christ today as their ‘own personal Savior,’ while postponing the day when they ‘make Him Lord of their lives.’ They have dissected the Person of Christ into two persons; one who is the Savior of the world, the other who is the Lord of Glory. Brethren, this ought not to be done!
One of the translations found in Bible Gateway is that of a version called, the Contemporary English Bible. Its’ translators would have us to read Peter telling us to ‘Honor Christ and let him be the Lord of your life.’ (italics mine). This is appalling and contrary to truth, and it is most assuredly not honoring Christ. Christ was Lord when born in the manger. He was Lord when He had nowhere to lay His head, He was Lord when despised and rejected, He was Lord when He set His face steadfastly toward Jerusalem, He was Lord when bound and carried captive to the chief priests and Sadducees, He was Lord when He was mocked and scourged, He was Lord when He was lifted up above the earth on Golgotha, and He is Lord today at the right hand of God. Jesus Christ is Lord because He is Lord, not because men make Him Lord. He is the Lord of heaven and earth though the host of heaven and earth will not bow to Him. But surely for those for whom He has laid down His life are to own Him as Lord of their lives. ‘He had power to lay down His life and He had power to take it up again.’ No one took His life from Him; He gave it and He took it up, because He is Lord and there is none other. Yes, He is the Lord of whom the apostle speaks in his second epistle to the Thessalonians, as he declares, ‘so be that it is a righteous thing with God to recompense affliction to them that afflict you, and to you that are afflicted rest with us, at the revelation of the Lord Jesus.’This first chapter in the epistle concludes with, ‘that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and ye in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.’ It is clearly demonstrated, by the use of bold italics (mine), in this passage that the title Lord is a great part of the name of our Savior; if He is not Lord; neither is He Jesus the Christ. If He is the Son of God, the Anointed One, the God-man, Emmanuel, God with us, He is both Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36, or He is one and not the other, or His is neither.
‘Them that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus,’ are evidently those that refuse to bow the knee to Jesus as Lord. To reject Jesus as Lord cannot be done without rejecting Him as the Christ, the Anointed One, come to save His people from their sins. Let us not attempt to put asunder what God has joined together. In the Acts two passage, between verses 22 and 36, Peter makes several references to the Crucified One. In the context he begins by speaking of Him as ‘Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God,’ v.22, adding in v.25, ‘For David saith concerning him, I beheld the Lord always before my face.’ So Peter’s Jesus is David’s Lord. Furthermore, David speaks of the resurrection of Christ, of whom Peter says, ‘this Jesus did God raise up;’ this Christ and this Jesus are the same of whom he continues, ‘that God hath made him both Lord and Christ.’ This Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ; this Christ is Lord; this Lord is Savior of the World. Amen.
November 21, 2012
‘Remember also thy Creator in the days of thy youth, before the evil days come.’ Ecclesiastes 12:1
In a chapter from the Holy Scriptures that begins with the plea for the reader to ‘remember thy Creator in the days of thy youth,’ and concludes with the staunch admonition that, ‘this is the end of the matter; all hath been heard: fear God, and keep His commandments; for this is the whole duty of man,’ there is to be found between this plea and admonition a really incredible amount of food for thought. On the heels of the plea to ‘remember thy Creator in the days of thy youth’ is a reminder that ‘the evil days come, and the years draw nigh, when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them.’ These very formidable words speak most conspicuously about the necessary approach and certain advent of the last days of each individual. The metaphors that have been employed by the Holy Spirit to set before us the ‘way of all flesh’ and the ‘putting off of my tabernacle’ of which the apostle Peter has spoken in his second epistle are wonderfully graphic. Vividly portrayed before our minds’ eyes are features of the physical demise of each one of us in our latter days as the writer, Quohelet, observes, ‘before the sun, and the light, and the moon, and the stars, are darkened.’
While there are very few that do not possess some, more or less, aversion to thoughts of death and the last days preceding that event, the Word of God tells us in no uncertain terms, that, ‘it is appointed unto men once to die,’ and we do well to reflect on an event that is certain. Even more compelling to consider is the remainder of that verse just cited, ‘and after this cometh judgment.’ As we reflect upon the removal, or downgrade, of the faculties given each man by God, that enable the reception of communication, we must concern ourselves with the taking away of these very things whether partially or completely. Quohelet has told us of the ‘day when the keepers of the house shall tremble.’ These ‘keepers’ are evidently referring to those items that he is about to mention individually. In the first place, he speaks of the strong man bowing himself. What is this if it is not advising the reader that there will come a day when the back is not going to be as upright as when there existed strength in the body to keep the back straight? Yes, there is a day coming for every man, though once strong and sturdy of back, that it will become a difficulty to stand up straight. He shall walk with his back bone giving the appearance of one bowing. It is not necessary for men to become very long in years before this potential is easily recognized.
About that same time, depending upon the numerous variables among the many different circumstances of mankind, variables that affect the physical well being of each person in differing manners and ages, ‘the grinders cease because they are few.’ It is very common and usual for men to struggle with back pain in the relatively same time, perhaps the same decade, as they begin to lose some of their teeth (grinders), if not all of them. Not only so, but as the age increases, and dentures are needed, it may well be that ‘those that look out the windows shall be darkened.’ There are few persons that attain many years but what they can see as well as they did in ‘the days of thy youth.’ Eyeglasses are the thing now; and with each passing year, the prescription may change a little or a lot as ‘they that look out the windows’ are being more and more darkened.
Huh? What? did you say something? Yes, the doors shall be shut in the streets,’ that is, sounds that we once heard rather clearly, we hear as though from a distance now. The ‘sound of the grinding is low.’ It isn’t really any lower than it has always been; only now, with the advance of years, it seems that it is lower. The truth is that we no longer hear as well as we once did. Yeah, all our senses are diminishing; the sense of feeling, the sense of smell, the sense of hearing, the sense of sight, and the sense of taste, too. With the demise of these senses, there is a corresponding demise to our sense of security. Is that not the very reason that Quohelet makes mention of being afraid of that which is high? Are we not more afraid of falling in later years than we had been in our youth? ‘Terrors shall be in the way’ also. We become more concerned about uncertainties in our path because we know that we cannot defend ourselves as we once did; even ‘the grasshopper shall be a burden.’ Little things that once were no problem, are now a problem.
All this is because ‘man goeth to his everlasting home.’ And he may not go all at once, in a stroke, in a minute. More often the declining features come upon the man ‘here a little, there a little.’ There is a progression of features in this failing scene ‘before the silver cord is loosed.’ Whether the silver cord and the golden bowl represent the soul and the body; whether the nerves and the brain: whether the pitcher and the wheel are to be understood of the heart pumping the flow of life into the being, the issue is clear, ‘the dust returneth to the earth as it was, and the spirit returneth unto God who gave it.’ All this instruction is given by the wise Preacher as he ‘still taught the people knowledge,’ and ‘sought to find out acceptable words, and that which was written uprightly, even words of truth.’ Consider your latter days, for ‘the words of the wise are as goads; and as nails well fastened are the words of masters of assemblies, which are given from one shepherd.’
One such ‘master of assemblies’ has well said, ‘Abundant above all thought is the compensation, when the youthful remembrance has been heartily cultivated. The God remembered in youth will be the Friend of old age. The prayer of one, who had grown old in this remembrance, is a confidence that can never be disappointed–”O God, thou hast taught me from my youth; and hitherto have I declared thy wondrous works. Now also, when I am old and gray-headed, O God, forsake me not.’ (Psalm 71:17-18.) Amen!
November 14, 2012
‘I know that my Redeemer liveth, and at last he will stand up upon the earth.’ Job 19:25
We have wonderfully represented here in Job 19:25 both the faithfulness of the Redeemer as well as the faith of Job in his Redeemer. This somewhat enigmatic Old Testament personage puts to shame many professing Christians in our day whose faith has all the advantages of the New Covenant economy. How many are there, in fact, found in our churches today that are able to echo Job with his tremendous conviction, ‘But as for me I know that my Redeemer liveth, And at last he will stand upon the earth’?
The following is found in Joseph Caryl’s Practical Observations on Job; begging the reader’s toleration for so doing, I insert a lengthy portion from his ‘Observations’ in my insert for this week. I do so only out of confidence in the value of his words, as they, I believe, well represent the grounds for Job’s grand expression of faith and of his assurance n that faith. Joseph Caryl has written:
“Christ will certainly out-stand and vanquish all his enemies.
Perpetual duration triumphs over all. Whatsoever Christ hath done, or doth, or is to do, is wrapt up in this, That he was, and is, and is to come, or in this, that he is Alpha and Omega, First and Last. It is a Grand principle among Politicians; Take time and ye may do anything. He that is first and last, may take what time he will, and therefore he may and will do whatsoever he wills. The Eternal will have the last word, and the last blow. He that stands upon the ground, and keeps the field, carrieth the day against all, and is proclaimed Conqueror. What a mercy is it to have a friend who counts all our enemies his, and is too hard for all his enemies.
“Thirdly, these words (as others conceive) at least imply and intimate to us the Incarnation of Christ, or his taking flesh. I believe that my Redeemer liveth, or that he is God from everlasting. There is Job’s faith in the divine nature of the Redeemer, and that in the latter day he shall stand upon the earth; that is, that he shall take flesh and be incarnate, there is Job’s faith, that the Redeemer should assume our human nature, and so become God with us. He could not have had a true faith n the Redeemer unless he had believed this; he could not have called Christ his Goel, or kinsman in the former part of the verse, unless he had believed that he should stand upon the earth, as he expresseth in the latter. The Redeemer must be God, how else could he satisfy? The Redeemer must be man, how else could he suffer?
“Fourthly, others conceive these words speaking Job’s faith in the resurrection of Christ from the earth, or standing up upon the earth. Junius (If I apprehend him rightly) translates fully to this sense. And shall rise the last upon the dust. Not that Christ shall rise last, for he is the first born from the dead, and the First fruits of them that sleep, but he arose as the last Adam in opposition to Adam, who was the first man, as the Apostle speaks (1 Cor. 15:45). Mr. Broughton agrees also to this meaning, rendering the words, And at last shall rise upon the dust; which he thus explains, My Redeemer shall rise from death. See then how rich a store we have here of precious truths about the great mystery of Christ in this one Scripture, which the Holy Ghost hath been pleased so to phrase, that it may at once hold forth Job’s faith in the incarnation of Christ, that he should stand upon the dust in our nature, as also in the resurrection of Christ, that he should rise out of the dust in our nature. These two involve each other; for unless Christ had taken flesh, and stood upon the dust, he could not die and so lie down in the dust; and his rising from the dust, necessarily implies, that he had taken flesh, which he laid down by his free submission unto death.
“Yet (as I conceive) these words are more strictly to be understood, not of Christ’s taking flesh, and standing upon the earth in it, nor of the personal rising of his flesh out of the dust (both which are yet included) but of his coming to raise all flesh out of the dust, and then to proceed in judgment with them. And thus a late expositor concludes: These words (saith he) have various interpretations, all agreeing with the analogy of faith, yet this is a plain and pertinent sense which we follow, namely, that Job believeth his Redeemer to be eternal, who shall at last stand upon the earth & by his sovereign power or command raise the dead.”
Bildad had charged Job with unrighteousness in chapter 18. This amounted to Bildad insisting that the reasons for all the sufferings and afflictions that had come upon Job were due to some sin in Job; that God was punishing him for unrighteousness found in him. This attitude toward afflictions has been perpetuated among believers and unbelievers since time immemorial. Job is declaring his own righteousness in chapter 19. Bildad has said, among other things, that Job, or the unrighteous ‘shall have neither sons or son’s sons among his people, Nor any remaining where he sojourned. They that come after shall be astonished at his day, As they that went before were affrighted. Surely such are the dwellings of the unrighteous. And this is the place of him that knoweth not God.’ Job responds to these charges and declares, in no uncertain terms, that he knows God and that with a most firm assurance. We may wonder at some of Job’s statements when he is found to be asserting his own righteousness, statements that could belie trust in the righteousness only of God. But in his expression from our text this week, his trust appears to be fixed only upon his Redeemer. Amen, let it be so.
November 7, 2012
‘If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.’ 1 John 2:15
We can readily imagine the apostle John standing at the foot of the mount as Christ delivered His ‘sermon on the mount’ as it has come to be called. After all, we are told that the disciples of our Lord were with Him at the time. But we can scarcely imagine the impression made upon the hearers, and John, as our Savior spoke those particularly blessed truths. Yea, we are even told by the recorder at the conclusion of this message, that ‘the multitudes were astonished at his teaching.’ Surely, it is only reasonable to presume that John himself was also astonished at His teaching. It appears to us, in fact, that John was so astonished that he never forgot the words of the teaching that he had heard on that auspicious occasion. We believe that it is very likely that the words he wrote to his readers, and to ourselves, in this our focus passage for the week are , we might say, John’s paraphrase of the words of Christ on the mount when He said, ‘Ye cannot serve God and mammon,’ Matthew 6:24. It is suggested by many that ‘Mammon is referred to in the New Testament to describe material wealth or greed, most often personified as a deity.’ Is it not the case that multitudes have made a god of material wealth? It is not therefore odd at all that material wealth would be so personified. And is it not sadly the truth that this present world has become the god of many? It was unhappily the lot of Paul to have to write concerning one of his followers that ‘Demas forsook me, having loved this present world.’ Demas left the true and the living God for the figment of his imagination, a god known by the name World. Should it surprise us that the ‘prince of this world’ (John 16:11); the ‘god of this world’ (2 Corinthians 4:4), should so blind the eyes and dumb the minds of his subjects that they would see the world as a god competing for their affections? And so John, we assert, has ‘paraphrased’ the words of Christ, ‘Ye cannot serve God and Mammon,’ to read, ‘If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.’ The reason given by Paul for Demas having forsaken him was that he ‘loved this present world,’ but the more basic reason was that ‘the love of the Father was not in him.’
Demas could not serve God and this world. He could not serve Paul and the work of the gospel of Jesus Christ, for the love of the Father of Jesus Christ was not in him. ‘No man can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one, and love the other, or else he will hold to one, and despise the other.’ Demas decided to hold on to the world, and thus despised the apostle, the apostle’s gospel, and the apostle’s God. In the teaching of Christ found in the Sermon on the Mount, and in the teaching of is beloved disciple John, there is no place for a divided heart when it comes to the gospel. It is all Christ or no Christ at all. In the beginning, Adam and Eve made a choice; they chose to listen to Satan rather than hearkening unto the voice of God in the garden. Soon after, we discover their son, Cain, making a terrible choice to worship God in his own way, and persecuting his brother Abel to death because Abel worshipped God according to God’s prescription. There is, in the Bible, a sad and greatly extended litany of Cains and Demases who chose to love themselves, the things of this world, and this present world, rather than loving the Father. Even as there is a glorious catalogue of faithful saints left for us in Hebrews 11, so there is also a catalogue in the Scriptures of the many who had not the love of the Father in them. For every Joshua, there was an Achan, for every Jonathan, there was a Doeg, and so it is to this day.
Yet if it is true, and it certainly is, as John has declared, that ‘if any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him,’ so the contrary is equally true. And we may with joy proclaim that, ‘If any man love the Son, the love of the Father is indeed in him.’ If any man love the Word; if any man love the Law of God; if any man love the Church and the People of God, the love of the Father is most assuredly in him. No man can love the Son except the love of the Father is in him. Jesus spoke passionately of this love in His ‘high priestly prayer’ in John 17 when He said of this love, ‘for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world.’ The Father certainly loves the Son, and only those in whom the love of the Father exists can truly love the Son. Furthermore, the Son exulted in declaring, ‘I in them, and thou in me, that they may be perfected into one; that the world may know that thou didst send me, and lovedst them, even as thou lovedst me.‘ The Father loves the church; His Son’s bride, and those in whom is found the love of the Father will not only love the Son, but they will love every other soul that belongs to the bride of Christ.
This is that which is taught us later on in this first epistle of John, in the fourth chapter. And remember that this teacher of love was the very disciple who relishes referring to himself as the disciple whom Jesus loved. This one who reclined on Jesus’ bosom has now told us in unmistakable terms:
We know and have believed the love which God hath in us. God is love; and he that abideth in love abideth in God, and God abideth in him. Herein is love made perfect with us, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as he is, even so are we in this world. There is no fear in love: but perfect love casteth out fear, because fear hath punishment; and he that feareth is not made perfect in love. We love, because he first loved us. If any man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, cannot love God whom he hath not seen.
‘Let us love, and sing and wonder, let us praise the Savior’s name! He has hushed the law’s loud thunder, He has quenced Mount Sinai’s flame; He has washed us with His blood, He has brought us nigh to God.’–John Newton. Indeed, let us love and sing and wonder! Amen.
October 31, 2012
‘Who ever perished, being innocent? Or where were the upright cut off?’ Job 4:7
This is the first speech uttered by Eliphaz the Temanite as he began his efforts, and those of his associates, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite to comfort their friend, Job, who had fallen on such unspeakably hard times. The assumption of the three is that which we find sometimes among Christians even in our own day that if someone suffers it must be that they are being punished for some wrong that they have done. Goodness comes to those that do good while evil is the necessary recompense received by evil-doers. With this in mind, Eliphaz thus inquires, ‘Who ever perished being innocent? Or where were the upright cut off?’ The insinuation and assumed answer is that no innocent person has ever perished; no upright person has ever been cut off. Such a thing would never be allowed by our righteous God. Be assured; do that which is good and God will reward you. Do that which is evil and God will punish you.
The true answer to this question put forth by the Temanite, is affirmative. Has anyone innocent ever perished? Yes! Has anyone being upright ever been cut off? Yes! And the support for such an answer is found in the mouth of the prophet of God, Isaiah. He has pointedly affirmed of One, ‘By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who among them considered that he was cut offout of the land of the living for the transgression of my people to whom the stroke was due? And they made his grave with the wicked, and with a rich man in his death; although he had done no violence (He was innocent) , neither was any deceit in his mouth (He was upright).‘ How can a righteous God permit an innocent man to perish? How can a holy God allow an upright person to be cut off? Jehovah not only permitted and allowed this innocent Man to perish, and this upright Person to be cut off; He ordained that it would be so! Listen again to Isaiah’s prophetic message regarding this One who was taken away; this One that was cut off out of the land of the living; this One for whom they made his grave with the wicked; Isaiah loudly proclaims, ‘Yet it pleased Jehovah to bruise him,’ IT PLEASED JEHOVAH TO BRUISE HIM! ‘He hath put him to grief.’ It was God the Father; the Lord Jehovah that put Him to grief! Furthermore, He ‘made his soul an offering for sin.’ God made Him to be a sacrifice; a satisfaction for the guilt of His people. All of this in order that ‘he shall see his seed,’ and that ‘the pleasure of Jehovah shall prosper in his hand.’ How indeed shall the pleasure of Jehovah prosper in the hand of this innocent, upright Victim? Isaiah continues, ‘He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied.’ The Victim, the Lamb of God; the Sacrifice; the Atonement Himself; the Propitiation; will see of the travail of His soul and be satisfied because by the knowledge of himself shall my righteous servant justify many…..He shall bear their iniquities.’ Yea, ‘He bear the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.’
‘Who ever perished, being innocent? Or where were the upright cut off?’ The innocent One perished; poured out His life-blood on Golgotha, even though we are told by the Holy Spirit Himself through the words and pen of the apostle Paul speaking of hte Christ, that ‘Him who knew no sin he made to be sin on our behalf; that we might become the righteousness of God in him.’ 1 Cor. 5:21. He ‘knew no sin;’ He was perfectly innocent and upright, yet it pleased Jehovah to bruise Him. He made Him to be sin; He imputed our sin to Him that He might carry it away in suffering the death that was due unto us. We are the guilty ones; He is the innocent One. We are the wicked ones; He is the upright One. In order to redeem His people; in order to reconcile to the Father those who had been given Him from before the foundation of the world, He was bruised; He was slain; He was cut off out of the land of the living in order that His seed would not have to be cut off out of the land of the living.
Peter explained all these things that Isaiah had prophesied so many years before when he spoke to the thousands at the day of Pentecost after the Holy Spirit had come upon the disciples. He told his hearers that they had crucified the Lord of Glory. He impressed upon them that ‘him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye by the hand of lawless men did crucify and slay.’ Acts 2:23. This innocent One; this upright One, ‘whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead……He is the stone that was set at nought of you the builders, which was made the head of the corner. And in none other is there salvation; for neither is there any other name under heaven that is given among men, wherein we must be saved.’ Acts 4:10-12. This is He to whom Isaiah was pointing, and saying, ‘Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows; yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God and afflicted.’ Yes, it was of God that He was stricken, smitten, and afflicted, even as it was of God that, ‘he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities.’ It was appointed of God that He would be so wounded and so bruised; it was by His determinate counsel and foreknowledge. ‘The chastisement of our peace was upon him, and with his stripes we are healed…….Jehovah hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.’
He was absolutely innocent. He was perfectly upright. There was no guile found in His mouth. He was without sin. Yet, in answer to Eliphaz, ‘Who ever perished, being innocent,’ the meek and lowly Jesus set His face stedfastly toward Jerusalem in order that He might perish at the hand of lawless men, for it was the only way to reconcile His people unto His Father. The upright One was lifted up to die in order for His people to have eternal life with Him. Amen
October 25, 2012
‘northward of the gate of the altar this image of jealousy in the entry.’ Ezekiel 8:5
A. W. Tozer has well defined idolatry when he stated that, ‘the essence of idolatry is the entertainment of thoughts about God that are unworthy of Him.’ How may we determine whether our thoughts are unworthy of Him? From whence do our thoughts originate? Are not the events and things which may, and do, have their effect and impact upon our thoughts multitudinous? May they not even be called by the name ‘legion’ for they are many? The things which we set before our eyes, or permit to be set before our eyes have tremendous consequences upon our thought life; our thought life influences our imaginations.
What we have presented to us in the book of Ezekiel, and this chapter 8, have reference to imaginations. There are many images seen by the prophet in the vision which was given him by God–and the vision given to us through the record of this inspired prophet. The prophet informs us that, when the hand of the Lord Jehovah fell upon him, he was taken up by a lock of his hair by the Spirit of God who lifted him up between heaven and earth, ‘and brought me in the visions of God to Jerusalem, to the door of the gate of the inner court that looketh toward the north; where was the seat of the image of jealousy, which provoketh to jealousy.’–Ezekiel 8:3. He speaks shortly thereafter–two verses later–of this ‘image of jealousy’ when he says, ‘I lifted up mine eyes the way toward the north, and behold, northward of the gate of the altar this image of jealousy in the entry.‘ Whatever this ‘image of jealousy’ was, it was found here in the entry of Jehovah’s house. It was the temple where God had chosen to place His Name. Because of this the prophet can say, ‘And behold, the glory of the God of Israel was there.‘
‘Behold, the glory of the God of Israel was there.‘ It seems conspicuous that reflection upon this passage and chapter powerfully suggests to us that the glory of the God of Israel had been replaced. In the house which God had chosen to place His Name, and in which His glory resided, if we may put it that way, His place and His Name had been usurped by another. In Jeremiah 7:30, Jehovah is heard to complain, ‘For the children of Judah have done that which is evil in my sight, saith Jehovah; they have set their abominations in the house which is called by my name, to defile it.‘ Why do we find reference to an ‘image of jealousy’ in Ezekiel, chapter 8? Because something has displaced God’s place! Our God is a jealous God! This is the precise ground of our God declaring the law to Moses with regard to false worship in Exodus 20, ‘Thou shalt not bow down thyself unto them, nor serve them, for I Jehovah thy God am a jealous God.’ Our God is very jealous of His Name and His glory; He will not share with another! The Psalmist has virtually cried out, ‘they provoked him to anger with their high places, And moved him to jealousy with their graven images…..How long, O Jehovah? wilt thou be angry forever? Shall thy jealousy burn like fire?‘ The answer is ‘Yes!’ It shall never be that our God will not be jealous for His glory and for His Name.
Jehovah put His Name upon His house; His temple. And the Name of His Son, Jesus Christ, has been put upon the church; His body. We read in Acts 11:26 that the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch. This the only place in the Word of God that the plural ‘Christians’ is used; the singular only in Acts 26:28 as spoken by Agrippa to Paul, ‘With but little persuasion thou wouldest fain make me a Christian.‘ and 1 Peter 4:16, ‘If a man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed.‘ The Holy Spirit has not prostituted the Name Christian, but used it sparingly. Yet multitudes of churches today, in America, take that name without any apparent awe. And what would the prophet see in so many of these buildings were he given a vision inside? What would he see through a ‘hole in the wall’ if it were given him today? Would he be any less amazed at the assemblies where the name of Christ is named in this land than he was at the gatherings that he saw in this vision of the temple in Jerusalem? We fear not.
One may contend that what he saw in Jerusalem was blatant idolatry. The many ‘alternative’ worship practices in today’s American church scene does not amount to idolatry, they would proclaim vehemently. Perhaps so! But do we not see in this horrific vision in Ezekiel 8 a progression that should cause our loins to shake with those of Belshazzar in Daniel 5? What began with Ahaz simply wanting to imitate the altar that he saw in Damascus (2 Kings 16:10-20) proceeds from its being insinuated alongside the altar of God ‘in the entry.’ Following in a ‘natural’ order according to the sinfulness of ‘natural’ man, are images upon the walls; images of ‘creeping things, and abominable beasts, and all the idols of the house of Israel.‘ Eventually they turned their backs on the worship of Jehovah. Is this not the way that it has proceeded? It began, perhaps, ‘innocently.’ In the words of Lot, ‘is it not a little one?’ was the thought regarding the first desertion from the worship that God has prescribed in His Word for His people. And then, the entire elephant was eaten, albeit one little piece at a time.
We now have in our land peoples that declare they are worshipping the true God and name His Name, and take to themselves and their buildings, the Name of Christian. Yet they happily employ will-worship in their man-centered services. Whatever scratches itching ears; whatever makes the people happy. God forbid that we should send any away under conviction for sin! O, that an angel would speak to us as to Zechariah, ‘Cry thou saying, Thus saith Jehovah of hosts; I am jealous for Jerusalem and for Zion with a great jealousy.‘ O, that we would be given the zeal of Phinehas, who, ‘turned my wrath away from the children of Israel in that he was jealous with my jealousy among them.‘ Numbers 25:11. Amen!
October 18, 2012
‘Sanctify in your hearts Christ as Lord.’ 1 Peter 3:15
Christianity is hard work; it is heart work and we hardly know our own hearts. Whoever said it was going to be easy? Scripture declares over and again that the child of God is going to be engaged in much labor and conflict; there is work to be done and battles to be won. Those who have begun their course by a raising of the hand, a short walk down an aisle, a willingness to be immersed in water; a readiness to join a church and thus imagine that ‘they have done all,’ are sadly mistaken. While the methodology employed by God in each individual soul’s salvation–and there may thus be limitless degrees of the labors and battles each is called to even as the callings and gifts may and will differ much in each saint–nonetheless the call to work out one’s salvation, to war the warfare, to be salt and light in the world, is given not to some supposed ‘super-saints,’ but to all. For many years, decades, centuries perhaps, there have been forms of what is known in our circles as easy-believism, but there truly is no such thing. Yes, from one perspective, it is easy; that is, there is no work for us to do apart from the act of repenting and believing, but if that faith is the gift of God it will eventuate in work, as James insists, ‘faith without works is dead.’
There is, is there not, an enormous difference in modern evangelism’s call to ‘ask Jesus to come into your heart,’ and Peter’s call to ‘sanctify in your heart Christ as Lord.’? Is there, in fact, any place found in the Word of God where anyone is implored to ask Jesus to come into their heart? Is it not the truth as it is in Jesus that the heart must first be possessed by Jesus before anyone would ever come to Him through saving faith? Would we ever ask anyone to come into our church building who was already sitting in the front pew? When the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus Christ, regenerates the heart of an individual, that heart has the law written upon it (Ezekiel 36); that heart has been renewed and there has been a new creation; sanctification has been begun. Faith has been received as the gift of God that it is when the man, woman, or child has been born anew. And this is a once-for-all occurrence. There is no second-blessing work of the Holy Spirit other than the on-going indwelling and sanctifying activity of His work in the believer. He continues to convince and convict of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment (John 16:8), while the new creation responds in faithful and loving obedience to their newfound Lord and Savior. They now, through grace, have this desire to ‘set apart in their hearts Christ as Lord.’ ‘Him did God exalt with his right hand to be a Prince and a Savior, to give repentance to Israel, and remission of sins,’ (Acts 5:31). This part of the response of Peter and the apostles to the high priest and the council seems to be ignored, or perhaps skewed, by many of today’s professors of Christianity. They seemingly ignore the truth that in exalting Christ, God has not proclaimed that He is only Savior, but that He is a Prince to be obeyed. In order to that obedience, this Prince has not only given His subjects remission of sins, but He has equally, simultaneously, given repentance to all He came to save.
The hue and cry of much of today’s evangelism involves man ‘letting Jesus have a chance.’ Everything else that you have tried has failed; you are still unhappy; you are still a drunk or a whoremonger–or both; you are addicted to drugs; your marriage is on the rocks, on and on, ad infinitum. ‘Try Jesus,’ they say. ‘Give Him a chance, He will save you,’ is the gospel preached by so many in our day. This is not the gospel that has been proclaimed by Paul, Peter, John the Baptist, and Christ Himself. They have not only called sinners to repent and believe, but they have declared that He is Lord! They have never asked anyone to ‘make Jesus Lord.’ One of the favorite verses of these folk is found in Romans, chapter ten. In verse nine, Paul gives this invitation, ‘if thou shalt confess with thy mouth Jesus as Lord, and shall believe in thy heart that God raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.’ One must confess Jesus as Lord! This Lordship is so often completely left out of the call to confession of Christ. But the primary evangelistic tool of this camp is verse 13, ‘Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.’ In both these instances, the call is to be made to Jesus as Lord, not only Savior. In fact, in the book of Acts where we find the birth of the church of Jesus Christ along with the extension of missions and evangelism with the sending out of Paul and others, the title Savior is used of Christ only twice while the title Lord is employed some ninely times. We find in the very first post-Pentecost sermon–that of the apostle Peter–in the second chapter of Acts, when his hearers were ‘pricked in their heart,’ and said unto Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brethren, what shall we do?’ it was upon their hearing those blessed words of Peter, ‘that God hath made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom ye crucified.‘ And in the ninth chapter of Luke’s history, in the record given us of the conversion of Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus, upon hearing ‘a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?’ his unhesitating response was, ‘Who art thou, Lord?‘
Peter is saying, ‘But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord.’ here in this week’s focus passage. It is ever vital to keep the context in mind; and so it is here. God has set apart Christ as Lord in the hearts of every believer at regeneration and conversion, even as He place every chosen one in Christ from the foundation of the world. In the context, we are called to have Christ set apart in our hearts and minds in such a way as to be ‘ready always to give answer to every man that asketh you a reason concerning the hope that is in you,’ and the answer will thus readily be given that Christ in us…..as Lord is the hope of glory. Amen.
October 10, 2012
“No man can come to me, except the Father that sent me draw him.” John 6:44
Many have considered this verse to be the ultimate, irrefutable, solid, proof-text teaching the absolute sovereignty of God in the salvation of mankind. And it clearly and demonstrably does support that reformed doctrine which has been held by multitudes–often a minority nonetheless–for centuries in the church of Jesus Christ. In the case of this writer, and probably because he was reading from Arthur Pink’s commentary on the gospel of John, this particular verse was emblazoned upon his mind and memory then and now. But the reason that it has continued upon the billboard of his mind is because it was subsequently shown that the entire analogy of Scripture comes alongside and supports this most blessed truth that ‘Salvation is of Jehovah!’ (Jonah 2:9). How extremely satisfying it has been to find this truth supported again and again over the years. And how equally dissatisfying it would necessarily be to have hung one’s hat upon one proof-text without any further Biblical support? What is proof-texting?
One source has provided the following response to that question: ‘Proof-texting is the practice of using isolated quotations from a document to establish a proposition. Using discrete quoatations is generally seen as decontextualising. Critics note that such quotes may not actually reflect the original intent of the author, and that a document quoted in such a manner may not in fact support the proposition for which it was cited when read as whole.
Many ministers and teachers have used some version of the following humorous anecdote to demonstrate the dangers of proof-texting: ‘A man dissatisfied with his life decided to consult the Bible for guidance. Closing his eyes, he flipped the book open and pointed to a spot on the page. Opening his eyes, he read the verse under his finger. It read, ‘Then Judas went away and hanged himself.’ (Matthew 27:5b). Closing his eyes again, the man randomly selected another verse. This one read, ‘Jesus told him, Go and do likewise.’ (Luke 10:37b).’–Wikipedia, this article needs additional citations for verification.
While this is something of a worn-out illustration, nonetheless it makes the point very well. There is always danger involved in taking anything out of its context, even if one was to state that the most popular treat enjoyed by seniors was boiled peanuts without revealing that the ‘context’ for that survey was the hills of Georgia and the Carolinas of the United States. There may be few statements that cannot be made if the ‘fenced area’ that defines such a statement is made small enough for it to fit. But then, it is not the entire truth. One of the greatest such abuses with reference to biblical truth is possibly the isolation of the blessed words, ‘God is love.’ It is characteristic of a very large segment of professing Christianity in this nation, as well as many other countries, to form both doctrine and practice based upon this glorious attribute of God without bringing alongside the many other perfections of God; His essential holiness; His righteousness, and that He is yesterday, today, and forever, a consuming fire. It must needs always be remembered that the love of God is a holy love, and a righteous love, as well as being a marvelously gracious love that is only bestowed upon those for whom the Christ has endured the holy wrath of a righteous God.
May we then never employ this verse, John 6:44, apart from its context, its immediate context as well as its extended one. Jesus began in verse 37 to speak of this truth when He said, ‘All that which the Father giveth me shall come to me.’ We notice that He uses the encompassing All, and that He speaks of the All that which the Father giveth Him. There is not one single soul that the Father has given the Son that shall be cast out, for they shall come to Him. We know from the analogy of Scripture that these shall come precisely because the Father had given them to the Son from before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4). So there is this expressed certainty based upon that covenant expression whereby we understand that this transpires exactly as God has willed and ordained. Before the foundation of the world there was given to the Son a people–called the elect of God–a definite numer of individuals whose names are written upon His hands, as it were; their names emblazoned upon the breastplate of their Great High Priest. He further declares that, ‘of all that which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day.’ This is the salvation of the chosen of God from the beginning–the foundation of the world–to the end–at the last day. In beautiful accord with the compact between the Father and the Son, it is added in verse 63, ‘it is the Spirit that giveth life.’ Thus it is manifested that the Triune God both ordered and effected and is effecting salvation. It is revealed that the Father loved a people–who knows why–and gave them to the Son to redeem; the Son and the Father send the Spirit Himself to regenerate the hearts of those chosen to salvation, gifting them with faith and writing the law upon their hearts bringing them to repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ. God the Father has left nothing unplanned–I will be their God and they shall be my people; God the Son has left nothing undone–it is finished, was His cry–and God the Holy Spirit will leave nothing unapplied–the Wind bloweth where it will and thou hearest the voice thereof–the sheep follow him: for they know his voice.
Because salvation has been planned and provided by an omnipotent God, executed by an omnipotent Son, and applied by an omnipotent Spirit, it cannot and shall not fail to accomplish the very thing for which it has been designed. It shall be the salvation of every one belonging to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit now and for evermore; ‘I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand.’ Amen!
October 7, 2012
‘The hour cometh and now is.’ John 5:25
The now and the not yet seem to be set before our eyes in this passage. ‘The hour cometh,’ but is ‘not yet,’ as well as, ‘now is,’ which, of course, is the now in ‘now and not yet.’ That seems very conspicuous, and even, perhaps trite, on the surface. However, what it is that Jesus has reference to is certainly not trite. He is addressing the truth that the Father hath put all judgment into the hands of the Son. Our Savior has declared this reality in two particular statements; He has said firstly, that ‘as the Father raiseth the dead and giveth them life, even so the Son also giveth life to whom he will.’ He then proceeds to embellish this truth, if we may put it that way, when He adds, ‘neither doth the Father judge any man, but he hath given all judgment unto the Son.’ The fact is clearly demonstrated that the Father and the Son are One. The desired effect of this iteration is that, ‘all may honor the Son, even as they honor the Father;’ in point of fact, He goes on to say, ‘He that honoreth not the Son, honoreth not the Father that sent Him.’ We are thus informed that the Father and the Son are equally God of very God; that they share in the judgment of all things, yet that the Father hath committed to the Son the judgment regarding certain issues of life and death ‘that all may honor the Son, even as they honor the Father.’
Jesus begins the declaration with the ‘now,’ when He says that, ‘He that heareth my Word, and believeth Him that sent me, hath eternal life, and cometh not into judgment, but hath passed out of death into life.’ This is the ‘now.’ We think immediately, and rightly, of the words recorded, or spoken, with regard to the day of salvation. The preacher, or author, in Hebrews, makes the synonymous declaration no less than three times, when he says, ‘To-day if ye will hear his voice.’ 3:7, 15; 4:7. Jesus is pronouncing the ‘now’ to His hearers two thousand years ago when saying, ‘He that heareth my Word,’ now, ‘hath eternal life.’ Thus is declared the prerogative of the Son to give life immediately to any who hear His voice and believe on Him; they will receive life eternal ; they will not come into judgment; they will—there and then—pass out of death into life, eternal life. The parallel event was effected by the apostles after Pentecost when thousands responded, in effect, to the preaching of the gospel from the lips of Peter and cried out, ‘Brethren, what shall we do?’ That is the ‘now’ that was then. Many there were that thus passed out of death into life. Though there may have been only, ‘about a hundred and twenty,’ or so gathered together after the ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ, in very short order were three thousand and then five thousand, not counting the women and children, brought to admission of their culpability for their part in the slaying of the ‘Lord of glory,’ and the desire for forgiveness to be granted for the same. Thus began the church of Jesus Christ; ‘the now is.’
But still, ‘the hour cometh.’ It has been coming ever since the death, burial, resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ; the outpouring of the Holy Spirit; the birth of the Church; the sending out of the apostles, in particular the ministry of the apostle Paul, not only establishing churches and ordaining elders in every church, but the setting forth of gospel truth in his many epistles. Paul could well say ‘the hour cometh and now is.’ Men and women and children were converted; churches were established; elders appointed and the gospel of Christ proclaimed. ‘The Word of God grew and multiplied,’ Acts 12:24; so ‘mightily grew the Word of the Lord and prevailed.’ ‘The hour cometh and now is,’ was duplicated again and again as the Word grew, multiplied and prevailed. And it is doing so today. Those words of our Lord were not spoken only for men in the time of our Savior’s sojourn on earth, but because of the purposes of God in His inscripturation of the Word, His preservation and propagation of the same throughout inhabitable time and space, we may continue to hear the voice of the Son of God. We may hear Him declare through the Word and by His Spirit, ‘the hour cometh and now is’ How blest is the reality that Jesus Christ has saved; that Jesus Christ is saving and that Jesus Christ shall save all those whom He came to seek and to save; all those for whom He shed His precious blood. None shall be lost! Every single man, woman, and child, whose names were written on His hands will come to Him through the blessed and sovereign gift of faith; will be justified, forgiven, adopted, sanctified, and glorified. They will pass out of death into life.
Why do we continue to preach that glorious gospel? Because of the ‘not yets.’ Until that day……
that we that are alive, that are left unto the coming of the Lord, shall in no wise precede them that are fallen asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven, with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first; then we that are alive, that are left, shall together with them be caught up into the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words.
This is the ‘now and the not yet’ brought together in the consummation of all things when the Bridegroom comes to take His bride unto Himself. Until that time, the ‘now is’ is for those sitting under the preaching of the gospel in our churches today. For them we cry, ‘To-day if ye shall hear His voice, harden not your hearts, as in the provocation.’ These who are presently the ‘not yets,’ may become the ‘nows.’ And when they become the ‘nows,’ they shall be made salt and light in order to bring many ‘not yets’ into the kingdom of God’s dear Son, for all that the Father hath given Him shall hear His voice and come to Him—now or later—for He shall see of the travail of His soul and be satisfied.
September 27, 2012
‘My people have changed their glory for that which doth not profit.’ Jeremiah 2:11
How did the people of God change their glory for that which doth not profit? What was their glory? How did it profit them? And how is it that what they changed it for doth not profit them? We must needs look into the context in which our focus passage is found to seek answers to these questions. The pericope, or contextual passage is contained in verses 9-13; a pericope which one commentator has labeled The Divine Complaint. Jehovah speaks through Jeremiah:
Wherefore I will yet contend with you, saith Jehovah, and with your children’s children will I contend. For pass over to the isles of Kittim, and see, and send unto Kedar, and consider diligently; and see if there hath been such a thing. Hath a nation changed its gods, which yet are no gods? but my people have changed their glory for that which doth not profit. Be astonished, O ye heavens, at this, and be horribly afraid, be ye very desolate, saith Jehovah. For my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water.
Again, what is the glory of God’s people? What is it they have exchanged this glory for? What is it that are called ‘broken cisterns?’ What is it that can hold no water? We may not know precisely what constitutes these ‘broken cisterns,’ but we are told that they are such as were ‘hewed out’ for themselves. We should fear any such thing as we have formed without any express prescription from God. In point of fact, Jehovah expressly told His people not to allow any tool (any human instrument) to be applied to the stones for the altar in Exodus 20:25.
Speaking of the Christian church at large today, is this a valid complaint that it could, and should, be charged with? Especially in the American church today, we may add? We say, especially the American church, for the reason that while that church has been going down the path trod by the British and European church for decades now, yet it has not succumbed as yet to the blatant pronounced atheism and apathy of the European community–not yet, anyway. The difference seems to be that here in our country the church, at large, has continued a facade of respectability; a facade that those in Europe have willfully cast aside. This is not all good news. Indeed, a facade, or pretense, is not necessarily better, but certainly may be worse. It even seems that God’s people of old continued to believe taht they were serving the God of their fathers. They imagined that they could behave as those ‘heathen’ in 2 Kings 17 whom the king of Babylon placed in Samaria instead of the children of Israel. ‘And so it was, at the beginning of their dwelling there, that they feared not Jehovah; therefore Jehovah sent lions among them, which killed some of them.’ They thought to assuage the anger of Jehovah with a mixing of worship, perhaps what some refer to in our day as ‘blended worship.’ We are told that they ‘feared Jehovah and served their own gods.’ Apparently, they feared the lions of Jehovah, but continued in bondage to ‘their own gods.’ Is not this that which is being done in the American church scene today? Multitudes still have a latent fear of God and hope to appease Him in certain ways, yet in truth they are worshipping ‘their own gods.’ They only give God lip-service.
We are able to be taught–if we will listen–by an illustration from the Older testament. Perhaps you recall the wicked sons of old Eli the priest in the tabernacle of God at Shiloh. Their names were Hophni and Phinehas; ‘now the sons of Eli were base men; they know not Jehovah.’ They did evil in the sight of God; ‘they lay with the women that did service at the door of the tent of meeting.’ The time came when the Israelites went out once more to battle their perennial enemy, the Philistines. They were sorely beaten and cried out for the ark to be brought unto them, thinking of it as some sort magical talisman rather than a representation of the presence of God. Hophni and Phinehas brought the ark into the fray; they were both killed and the ark was taken by the Philistines. When the news of this came to the old priest, Eli fell over backward from his seat, broke his neck, and died when he heard that the ark of God had been taken. Almost immediately, when his daughter-in-law, Phinehas’ wife heard–not just that Phinehas was dead–but that the ark of God was taken, as well as that her husband and father-in-law were both dead, she being ‘near to be delivered’ of a child, ‘bowed herself and brought forth’ a son. ‘She named the child Ichabod, saying, The glory is departed from Israel, because the ark of God was taken.’
Is not the glory of the church intended to be the presence of God? Has not the American church largely hewed out their own ways; their own gods, until the glory has departed? Has the church at large thus ‘changed their glory for that which doth not profit’? It has preferred to the fountain of living waters, the empty cisterns that can hold no water. Should it be any surprise that Ichabod has been written over its doors? Does it even know that the presence of the Lord has departed? It has been suggested by some that with all the programs many of these churches have; building programs, vacation bible schools, AWANA (Approved Workmen Are Not Ashamed), an acronym they may someday be ashamed of, so-called revivals, etc; that they are so busy with all these programs that if the Holy Spirit departed, they wouldn’t even notice His absence. What can we say to these things?
‘Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.’ Pray for the swift return of the glory of Jehovah to these churches throught the merciful renewing grace of our God being poured out upon them; the grace of faith and the grace of repentance for their changing their gods, and thus changing their glory. Well would it be if multitudes in today’s American church would leap ahead to Jeremiah 6:16 and be exhorted to ‘seek the old paths, wherein is the good way, and walk in it.’ O Lord, rend the heavens and come down that the mountains might quake.’ Amen.
September 19, 2012
‘Show love unto strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.’ Hebrews 13:2
The writer (preacher?) of this epistle to the Hebrews has, many believe, concluded the body of the epistle (sermon?) at the end of our chapter twelve. The declaration, ‘For our God is a consuming fire,’ would certainly be an appropriate conclusion to his entire message, and not only an argument supporting the ‘let us have grace, whereby we may offer service well-pleasing to God with reverence and awe.’ However that may be, the majority of commentators view this thirteenth chapter as something of an appendage to the main body of the epistle. Some have even suggested that the content of chapter thirteen could be thought of as what we would term, a postscript. One among them has thoughtfully referred to the chapter as the apostle’s ‘parting counsels.’ This contains the notion that the ‘counsels’ are disconnected from one another, and are something akin to aphorisms, adages, maxims, even proverbs.
One twenty-first century writer holds that there is no disconnect, but that the sentiments are indeed connected with one another. For example, the verses 2-5, he argues, naturally flow from the directive in verse one, ‘Let love of the brethren continue.’ He ably demonstrates likely connections between the several verses which follow, being connected by themes such as leadership (vs. 7 with vss. 17-19), distinctions between Judaism and the Christian life (vss. 9-16). His view of 20-25 is that they constitute a doxology, a parting comment, and a benediction. ‘Finally,’ he adds, ‘there is a theme presented in 12:28-29 that can very naturally provide a heading for all that is contained in this closing chapter. It is the kind of service that is appropriate in the unshakable kingdom that God has introduced through Jesus Christ.‘ (Hywel R. Jones).
Jones would, it seems, then connect our focus passage, ‘show love unto strangers,’ with, ‘Let love of the brethren continue,’ and not permit us to make a disconnect here of any sort. Both the Older and the Newer testaments definitely enjoin us that we must not limit our love to ‘the brethren,’ whoever they be. There is to be an outreach of love that goes far beyond our ethnic boundaries, our religious boundaries, or any other imposed boundary. We are to show love, to entertain, to show hospitality, to the brethren and strangers.
Virtually every commentator holds that the writer of Hebrews alludes to those narratives in Genesis which report the entertainment given angels by both Abraham and Lot in chapters eighteen and nineteen respectively. The account of Abraham’s behavior begins with him lifting up his eyes and looking, whereupon he sees three men standing ‘over against him.’ Evidently, it was oriental custom to so stand allowing the anticipated host to make invitation. The invitation made by Abraham is conspicuously oriental itself as he runs–not walks–bows himself to the earth–not in worship, for he knew only that they were men–and prays them not to pass by him without allowing him to serve them, even considering it a favor if they would so allow him. This was no ‘Hey, buddy, want a cup of coffee?’ Abraham was completely sincere toward them, entertaining angels unawares. It was only subsequently that Jehovah was revealed as one of the three. It may not be argued that Abraham behaved so kindly because he thought one of them was the Lord. It cannot even be supposed that he recognized any of them as angels; he did what he did lovingly and unawares.
In the next chapter, Jehovah having gone His way, we find the other two that were indeed angels (And the two angels came to Sodom at evening) having virtually the identical reception from Lot as they had gained from Abraham:
Lot saw them, and rose up to meet them; and he bowed himself with his face to the earth; and he said, Behold now, my lords (neither did Lot know they were angels at this point), turn aside, I pray you, into your servant’s house.
As Abraham had done, so Lot made himself to be their servant. He bowed before them and extended every hospitality of his house unto them. He was entertaining angels unawares; he was showing love unto strangers.
Is this not convicting? How is our love toward strangers? Does it exist? Can we try to show such love to folk that we don’t know; that are strange people? How may we attempt to do this? We feel that we must be ‘wise as serpents, harmless as doves’ in this wicked generation, yet that defense is often no more than an excuse for our fear. To be concrete, have you ever felt that you were violating this exhortation to show love to strangers as you drove past the young man on the shoulder of the road with his thumb out? Has it occurred to you that he might be an angel, and that you might have ‘entertained him unawares’ if only you had stopped to give him a lift? Is the apostle teaching us here that we are wrong in not stopping? What think you? Frankly, in this 21st century, it must be conceded that in most cases it would be utter carelessness and a jeopardizing of our lives to pick up such a stranger. But, even as we have greatly differing sets of circumstances than Abraham, Lot, or even Christians fifty or sixty years ago, we also have many advantages. We have cell phones, to be specific. We may call help in for the person on the road. You may immediately respond with the thought that the last person that hiker may wish to see is a police officer. Well, if that is the case, then you have likely shown love to a stranger that you did not meet, nor ever will meet, that may have been the victim of a ‘Jack the Ripper.’ The main thing to remember is that you did not do nothing; you cared, and showed it. Amen.
September 12, 2012
‘Let us have grace, whereby we may offer service well-pleasing to God with reverence and awe.’ Hebrews 12:28
‘He hath sent redemption unto his people; He hath commanded his covenant for ever: Holy and reverend is his name. The fear of Jehovah is the beginning of wisdom; A good understanding have all they that do his commandments: His praise endureth for ever.’ Psalm 111:9-10. Does not our focus passage virtually echo this praise found in Psalm 111? When the apostle declared in Hebrews 12, by way of a concluding exhortation, ‘Wherefore, receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us have grace, whereby we may offer service to God with reverence and awe: for our God is a consuming fire,’ is it possible that he had in his thoughts these very two verses of Psalm 111? Surely, he had the concepts in his mind; the concept of receiving a kingdm parallels the sending of redemption; the concept of His covenant may well parallel our offering service well-pleasing unto Him; ‘Holy and reverend is His name’ comes right alongside the inclusion of ‘reverence and awe’ in the Hebrews passage, and there is a likely relationship of ‘The fear of Jehovah’ and the reminder that ‘our God is a consuming fire.’
Godly fear is being inculcated by the preacher-writer to the Hebrews even as it is by the psalm-writer in Psalm 111. The word employed in Hebrews 12:28 is, in fact, the very same as that found in 5:7 where it is spoken of the Son of man:
So Christ also glorified not himself to be made a high priest, but he that spake unto him, Thou art my Son, This day have I begotten thee: as he saith in another place: Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek. Who in the days of his flesh, having offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and having been heard for his godly fear, though he was a Son, yet learned obedience by the things which he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became unto all them that obey him the author of eternal salvation; named of God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek. –Hebrews 5:5-10
The ‘mystery of godliness’ presented to our understanding when ‘in the days of his flesh,’ His priesthood and Sonship are seen joined into One. Yes, the very Son of God became man that, as our great High Priest, He might offer Himself up, the Lamb of God, for the sins of His people. Yet, being 100% man, in that incredible mystery, as well as 100% God, He cried and shed tears of ‘godly fear, though he was a Son.’ This glorious Person experienced, mysteriously, godly fear when He, ‘who knew no sin became sin for us.’ These words pointedly speak of the horror of Gethsemane when, according to Luke’s account:
And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly……..(Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me)……..and his sweat became as it were great drops of blood falling down upon the ground. –Luke 22:42, 44
Charles Wesley has captured–as much as humanly possible–something of this scene in one of his most moving hymns, ‘Tis mystery all! Th’Immortal dies. Who can explore His strange design?’ This hymn is aptly titled, ‘And can it be?’
If the second Person of the Trinity was willing, yea, happily willing, to be born of a woman, humbling Himself and becoming obedient even unto death, yea, the death of the cross; if He was willing to experience godly fear for us, how is that we know so little of godly fear in our day? There have been times, and not so far removed, when some men were spoken of as ‘a God-fearing man.’ These were such times when men who named the Name feared to bring reproach upon that Name above all names. They feared the displeasure of their God; they feared the frown of their Father in heaven; they feared to grieve the Holy Spirit of grace. Paul and David each spoke of the wicked in those frighteningly astounding words; ‘There is no fear of God before their eyes.’ Must these exclamations be turned toward the bride of Christ? Do not the Scriptures again and again inculcate both reverence and godly fear in our service? Do we no longer believe that God is a consuming fire? Do we not fear toying with things that have been consigned to that very flame? Has the fear of man usurped in our hearts the fear of God? Do we prefer the smile of men upon our behavior above the smile of God?
When David brought the ark back into Jerusalem, he not only danced and played before the ark, ‘on that day did David first ordain to give thanks unto Jehovah, by the hand of Asaph and his brethren,’ with the singing of a psalm that included these words, ‘For great is Jehovah, and greatly to be praised,’ yes, but that is not all, ‘He also is to be feared above all gods.’ The redeeming God, the One greatly to be praised for His redeeming grace is also to be feared with a godly fear. Are the people of God to be afraid of their Father? No! Was David afraid of Jehovah? He was when the Lord smote Uzzah for his lack of fear in touching the ark. We are expressly told, ‘And David was afraid of Jehovah that day.’ He knew that he had erred in bringing in the ark on a cart and not as prescribed by the Lord with the priests bearing it with staves. ‘He is greatly to be praised,’ but according to His revealed will, for ‘He is also greatly to be feared.’ He is to be served with reverence and godly fear, for He is absolutely holy; He is a consuming fire.
What agreement hath a temple of God with idols? for we are a temple of the living God; even as God said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people………….Having therefore these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.’
He loves His children with a holy love; let His children fear Him with a holy fear. Amen.
September 6, 2012
‘Trust ye in Jehovah for ever. For in Jah Jehovah (is) a rock of ages.’ Isaiah 26:4; Young’s Literal Translation
While most translators have opted for the rendering of Isaiah 26:4 that, ‘Jehovah is an everlasting rock,’ the literal translation of Robert Young, who was also the compiler of Young’s Analytical Concordance to the Bible, as well as a smaller number that have followed him in this have translated , as above, ‘Trust ye in Jehovah for ever. For in Jah Jehovah [is] a rock of ages.‘ The American Standard Version (1901), itself considered to be one of the most, if not the most, literal rendering of the Bible, has it, ‘Trust ye in Jehovah for ever; for in Jehovah, even Jehovah, is an everlasting rock.‘ Now far more important than the differing renderings found in various translations is the question of Who or What is the eternal rock, or the rock of ages. There seems to be no contest with regard to the antecedent; it is, or He is, Jehovah. But this raises yet another question. Jehovah; is He intended to be presented here as a rock of ages; one among many; an eternal rock among many, or does Isaiah intend it to be understood that He is the eternal Rock, and the Rock of ages? Allowing for the analogy of Scripture, we discover many texts where the rock is personified, such as Psalm 18:46, ‘Jehovah liveth; and blessed by my rock, and exalted be the rock of my salvation,’ and this verse uses the same Hebrew word, tsoor, which is very properly rendered, rock, rather than strength. To mention just one other example of this word tsoor, it is found in that somewhat ‘famous’ passage, Psalm 73:25-26, where Asaph cries out;
Whom have I in heaven but thee? And there is none on earth that I desire besides thee. My flesh and my heart faileth; But God is the strength (Rock; tsoor) of my heart and my portion for ever.
Eternal may be expressed properly as it often is, ‘unto the ages of the ages.’ This is frequently the marginal reading even in the New Testament. This is the case with Paul’s doxology in Romans 16:25. The conclusion, ‘through times eternal’ is found in many translations as, ‘for ages and ages.’ The result of all this provides us with sufficient basis to claim that Christ is that ‘Rock of Ages’ of the Bible.
He is assuredly the ‘Rock of Ages’ referred to by Augustus Toplady in his best known hymn. While we cannot say that Toplady had Isaiah 26:4 in mind he penned that wonderful song, we doubt very much the authenticity of the story found in many sources that suggest the following:
“he drew his inspiration from an incident in the gorge of Burrington Combe n the Mendip Hills in England. Toplady, a preacher in the nearby village of Blagdon, was traveling along the gorge when he was caught in a storm. Finding shelter in a gap in the gorge, he was struck by the title and scribbles down the initial lyrics on a playing card.”
Furthermore, ‘the fissure that is believed to have sheltered Toplady is now marked as the ‘Rock of Ages’, both on the rock itself and on some maps.
While we doubt this yarn very much, we confess that we would rather see it continue than the remarks by a popular author of hymn stories, when he claims,
“Whereas most hymns have been written out of some deep personal need or exerience, this hymn evidently was born in a spirit of passion and controversy.” [italics mine: please note the 'evident' assumption].
He refers to a long-standing controversy between John Wesley and Toplady over the doctrines of grace–Arminianism versus Calvinism–and assumes reflection in the words of this hymn. He further contends:
“Some of the expressions in Toplady’s hymn are quite obviously satirical swipes at such Wesleyan teachings as the need for contrite and remorseful repentance and the Arminian concept of sanctification–the belief that it is possible for any believer to live without consciously sinning and thereby to find the promised ‘rest,’ the state of moral perfection as described in Hebrews 4:9.” Note (this hymnologist says) “Toplady’s rebuttal in the second stanza;
Could my tears foreveer flow, could my zeal no languor know, these for sin could not atone–Thou must save, and Thou alone.
The sabbath rest that remains for the people of God is Wesley’s perfectionism, or some second blessing (?). Did John Wesley teach that from Hebrews 4:9? And even if he did, how is Toplady’s second stanza supposed to be a rebuttal? Toplady speaks simply of the fact that salvation–’thou must save’–is entirely of God; not even our tears or zeal contain the least merit. This ‘hymnologist’ should not have made such an attempt at continuing Wesley’s feud with Toplady. He should have confined himself to the facts, and paid more attention to the words of the hymn.
Paul reminded his readers–and us–in 1 Corinthians 10, of those that traversed the wilderness who, ‘were all baptized untoMoses in the cloud and in the sea; and did all eat the same spiritual food; and did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of a spiritual rock that followed them: and the rock was Christ. I believe that we could fairly say that Augustus Toplady drank of that same spiritual rock. This is what impelled him to write this beautiful hymn, not inspired by the Holy Spirit, yet as doctrinally clear as many of the psalms. When he spoke of that Rock that was cleft for him and in which he was permitted to hide; when he rejoiced in the double cure–from both the guilt and the power of sin–and as he relished the fact that his salvation was of Jehovah alone; nothing in his hand could he bring, but simply cling to the Rock. When he drew that fleeting breath, at the young age of 38, Augustus Toplady soared to worlds unknown, saw the Rock upon His throne, and hid himself eternally in that cleft in the Rock.
August 31, 2012
“I will declare thy name……..in the midst of the congregation will I sing thy praise.” Hebrews 2:12
In His great ‘High Priestly prayer,’ our Lord Jesus Christ, in praying for the success and safety of His church, began in John 17 with the petition that God would indeed give eternal life to all those given unto the Son. Jesus amplified upon this by insisting that ‘this is life eternal, that they should know thee the only true God.’ ‘I glorified thee on earth,’ He says. One of the manners in which He glorified God on earth was that, ‘I manifested thy name unto the men whom thou gavest me out of the world.’ He concludes this upper room discourse with the most fitting final words, ‘O righteous Father, the world knew thee not, but I knew thee;…….and I made known unto them thy name, and will make it known.’
Is this not in fulfillment of that which is spoken prophetically by the pre-incarnate Son of God through the Psalmist, even David, in Psalm 22:22? Yea, did He not say in that beautiful Psalm which began, ’My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me,’ these thrilling words, ‘I will declare thy name unto my brethren: in the midst of the assembly will I praise thee’? Does this passage not strongly imply that ‘singing thy praise’ and, ‘declaring thy name’ are coordinates; virtually synonymous phrases? ‘I will declare thy name,’ says, ‘him who hath been made a little lower than the angels, even Jesus,’ by the act of ’singing thy praise.’ Is it not the Lord Jesus Christ? Does not the entire context require this understanding?
For both he that sanctifieth and they that are sanctified are all one: for which cause he is not ashamed to them brethrren, saying, I will declare thy name unto my brethren, In the midst of the congregation will I sing thy praise. And again, I will put my trust in him. And again, Behold I and the children whom God hath given me. –Hebrews 2:11-13
Are we singing the praise of God if we are not declaring His Name? Is this not likely the intended effect of praising God; to declare His name unto our brethren? This is the example before us. The preacher-writer to the Hebrews references the words of the pre-incarnate Christ as they are recorded for him, and ourselves, by the sweet psalmist of Israel in the twenty-second Psalm, and verse 22, ‘I will declare thy name unto my brethren: In the midst of the assembly will I praise thee.’ Christians–Christ’s ones–are imitating Christ as they declare the name of God to their brethren in praising Him through song.
We have set before us a glorious picture of our Savior standing in the midst of His people as, not only Prophet, Priest, and King, but as Precentor, as well, leading His own in declaring the Name; in singing His praise. This is not an isolated occurence in Psalm 22. We are exhorted toward the very same practice in the 34th and 69th psalms, each interestingly enough, also penned by David. He veritably cries unto us, ‘Oh magnify Jehovah with me,’ in Psalm 34:3. And how are we to do so? We are immediately told, ‘Let us exalt his name together.’ In the 69th, David virtually calls us to join with him in adoring the Name, ‘I will praise the name of God with a song, And will magnify him with thanksgiving.’ This is another example of the poetic parallelism found in the psalms. To ‘praise the name of God with a song,’ is, in fact, to ‘magnify him with thanksgiving.’ It is a glorious privilege of the people of God–Christ’s brethren–to be led by Himself here in praising God by magnifying His Name, declaring the I AM to one another.
Thus are we following the admonition of Paul to the church in Colossae, when he enjoined them to ‘Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; in all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts unto God.’ We are declaring the Name! As we pronounce many of the glorious attributes of God as they are found in the psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, we are declaring His Name even as we sing His praise in the midst of the congregation. Even as we are called upon to ‘work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who worketh in you both to will and to work, for his good pleasure,’ that is, we are privileged to be fellowworkers –though unprofitable servants still–with God, so we are also privileged to join with Christ in our midst declaring the Name to our brethren. Were we not taught in Scripture that Christ calls us brethren, it would be a great audacity to take that name to ourselves. but as the puritan William Gouge said of that wondrous statement, ‘my brethren’ in the 22nd psalm and here in Hebrews:
‘My brethren.‘ This gives us evidence of the low condescension of the Son of God, and also of the high exaltation of sons of men; for the Son of God to be a brother to sons of men is a great degree of humiliation, and for sons of men to be made brethren with the Son of God is a high degree of exaltation; for Christ’s brethren are in that respect sons of God, heirs of heaven, or kings, not earthly, but heavenly; not temporary, but everlasting kings…..This respect of Christ to his brethren is a great encouragement and comfort to such as are despised and scorned by men of this world for Christ’s professing of them.
Indeed, the Son of God became the Son of man that sons of men might become sons of God. This should not only encourage and comfort us, as Gouge said, but it should compel us to that God-centered desire to lift up our voices together, and to one another, to declare the glorious and grand Name of God; to sing the praises of Him who is the High and Lofty One that inhabiteth eternity; to magnify; to ascribe glory unto that Name, Jehovah, the great I AM, and by grace, Abba, our Father who art in heaven. How, Father, may we hallow thy Name?
August 22, 2012
“He that pleadeth his cause first seemeth just.” Proverbs 18:17.
David was fleeing Jerusalem with his entourage in hope of escaping from his own son, Absalom, who had raised an army to take his father’s throne. Several incidents are recorded with respect to the king’s flight. The following is but one:
And when David was a little past the top of the ascent, behold, Ziba, the servant of Mephibosheth met him, with a couple of asses saddled, and upon them two hundred loaves of bread, and a hundred clusters of raisins, and a hundred of summer fruits, and a bottle of wine. And the king said unto Ziba, what meanest thou by these? And Ziba said, The asses are for the king’s household to ride on; and the bread and the summer fruit for the young men to eat; and the wine, that such as are faint in the wilderness may drink.
Ziba was among a number of individuals that came to king David bringing sustenance in the midst of this sad and horrific time in the life of the king. As the text informs us, he brought much in the way of provision for the needs of David and his followers. The next two verses, however, are the beginning of a puzzle:
And the king said, And where is thy master’s son? And Ziba said unto the king, Behold, he abideth at Jerusalem; for he said, Today will the house of Israel restore me the kingdom of my father. Then said the king to Ziba, Behold, thine is all that pertaineth to Mephibosheth. And Ziba said, I do obeisance; let me find favor in thy sight, my Lord.
It is nothing less than incredible to me that–without so much as a howdy-do–David here accepted the account given to him by one that pleaded his cause first. The history of Mephibosheth and Ziba is to be found in 2 Samuel 9. It was in David’s heart to show kindness to the house of Jonathan for the sake of the covenant that they had made between them. He therefore inquired ‘is there yet any that is left of the house of Saul?’ Ziba, servant of the house of Saul, was brought to the king and enquiry was made. Ziba told the king that, yes, there was a son of Jonathan, ‘who is lame of his feet.’ We are told in 2 Samuel 4:4, that Mephibosheth, at the age of five, became lame when he was dropped by his nurse in her haste to flee the Philistines, upon hearing of the death in battle of both Saul and Jonathan. David had this son of his ‘soul-mate’ brought to him. He restored to him all that pertained to Saul and made Ziba and his family to be servants unto Mephibosheth.
Now with David fleeing Absalom, this former servant of Saul, and present servant of Saul’s grandson, comes to David with report that Mephibosheth had said, ‘Today will the house of Israel restore me the kingdom of my father.’ Apparently without question, David responds, ‘Behold, thine is all that pertaineth to Mephibosheth.’ He immediately conferred upon Ziba all the property that he himself had given to Mephibosheth. The son of Jonathan was given no audience to overturn the claim that his servant Ziba had made of such vile behavior to the king who had taken him to his own table. We may surely make allowance for the crushing emotional stress that was conspicuously overwhelming the king, yet it still boggles the mind to imagine this judgment made based upon one witness. Had David forgotten how often his integrity had been maligned on such a basis?
How often this is the case with our criminal ‘justice’ system. The media is usually the instrument of pleading the cause first, and public opinion is prejudiced by whatever report the television or the newspapers offer, whether for good or evil. Remember the famous line from the movie that focused on the courtroom trial of a husband accused of the murder of a man that he believed had raped his wife. In the movie, ‘Anatomy of a Murder,‘ which was based upon a true story, the defense attorney, played by the veteran actor, James Stewart, slyly introduced a falsehood into the context of a question put to a witness on the stand. The prosecuting attorney, of course, immediately jumped to his feet to cry, ‘Objection!’ The judge responded by very justly sustaining the objection and also wisely instructed the jury to ‘disregard that comment.’ The defendant leaned over in his chair and whispered in the ear of his attorney, ‘How can they disregard something they’ve already heard?’ Stewart, with his own inimitable grin, wryly responded, ‘They can’t.’ There is a sense in which a cause was pleaded first in the minds of the jurors, and it would seem just to them although the judge had set it aside. They couldn’t set it aside in their memories. ‘He that pleadeth his cause first seemeth just; But his neighbor cometh and searcheth him out.’ Sadly, it often never happens that the ‘neighbor cometh and searcheth him out;’ a newspaper prints a falsehood on the front page; a week later a retraction is on the back page. Upon his return and restoration, David had the opportunity of correcting his error. When Mephibosheth met him when he came back to the Jordan, David asked him, ‘Wherefore wentest thou not with me, Mephibosheth?’ Mephibosheth answered that his servant had deceived him, and then him unto the king, but in his humility he yeilded to whatever the kiing decided between him and Ziba, ‘my lord the king is as an angel of God: do therefore what is good in thine eyes.’
God forbid we should be dissimulators like Ziba may have been, but are we not more likely even to be like David and believe the first one that comes with his story? This seems to be more common than we’d like to admit! Should we not train ourselves to wait until we hear ‘the rest of the story’? Should we not emulate the ‘neighbor that cometh and searcheth him out’? O, how many evils may be curtailed by our diligence in hearing both sides of the matter! ‘He that giveth answer before he heareth, it is folly and shame unto him.’