Cords of Kindness

Do you respond quicker to threats and oppression or to gentleness and mercy? It’s not an easy question to answer. Though we might prefer gentleness, threats often stir up a faster response. Though this is the case, God chooses to be merciful to His people. He said, through His prophet, Hosea:

I led them with cords of kindness [or humaneness],

    with the bands of love,

and I became to them as one who eases the yoke on their jaws,

    and I bent down to them and fed them.

Hosea 11:4 English Standard Version (ESV)

The preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon spoke about this verse to his congregation more than once. He explains the first half of Hosea 11:4 this way:

GOD, by the mouth of His Prophet, is here [taking issue] with His people for their ungrateful rebellion against Him. He had not treated them in a harsh, tyrannical, overbearing manner, else there might have been some excuse for their revolt. But His rule had always been gentle, tender, and full of pity.

Therefore, for them to disobey Him was the very height of wanton wickedness. The Lord had never made His people to suffer hard bondage in mortar and in brick as Pharaoh did, yet we do not find that they raised an insurrection against the Egyptian tyrant. They gave their backs to the burdens, and they bore the lash of the taskmaster without turning upon the hands which oppressed them.

But when the Lord was gracious to them and delivered them out of the house of bondage, they murmured in the wilderness, and were justly called by Moses, “rebels.” They had no such burdens to bear under the government of God as those which loaded the nations under their kings, and yet they willfully determined to have a king for themselves.

No taxes were squeezed from them, no servile service was demanded at their hands. Their thank offerings and sacrifices were not ordained upon a scale of oppression. Their liberty was all but boundless—their lives were spent in peace and happiness, every man under his own vine and fig tree—none making them afraid…

The whole dealings of Jehovah with His people Israel were full of matchless tenderness. As a nursing mother with her child, so did God deal gently with His people. Yet, hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth! The Lord has nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against Him. Did a nation ever cast away her gods, even though they were not gods? Were not the heathen faithful to their idols? But Israel was bent on backsliding—her heart was set upon idolatry, and the God of her fathers was disregarded.

Jehovah was despised, and His gentle reign and government she set herself to destroy. This was the complaint against Israel of old. As in water face answers to face, so the heart of man to man. As men were in days of [old], so are they now.

God has dealt with us who are His people in an [exemplary] way of loving kindness and tender mercy, and I fear that to a great extent the recompense we have rendered to Him has been very much like the ungrateful return which He received from the seed of Jacob of old…

Thus, Spurgeon, through example, illustrated the truth of the following:

Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did…Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. Therefore, let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. 1 Corinthians 10:6, 11-12 (ESV)

Spurgeon, the pastor that he was, then unfolded the example for his congregants and for us today:

This morning I shall ask you to think of the tender dealings of God with you, my Brothers and Sisters, that you may not be as Israel was. But that feeling the power of the Divine gentleness, you may serve your God with a perfect heart, and walk before Him as those should who have partaken of such benefits…

As for the Christian, other and higher considerations rule him. He is drawn by the cords of a man and by the bands of love. Further, you will see the gentleness of the way in which God calls His people to duty in the fact that He is pleased to accept their service even when it is, in itself, far from being at all worthy of His smile.

O my Brethren, if you and I had to be saved or to be preserved in spiritual life by our doings, then nothing but perfection in service could answer our turn. And every time we felt that what we had done was marred and imperfect we should be full of despair.

But now we know that we are already saved, and are forever safe, since nothing remains unfinished in [Christ’s] work which justifies us. We bring to the Lord the loving offerings of our hearts, and if they are imperfect we water with our tears those imperfections.

We know that He reads our hearts and takes our works not for what they are in themselves but for what they are in Christ. He knows what we would make them if we could. He accepts them as if they were what we mean them to be. He takes the will for the deed often, and He takes the half deed often for the whole.

And when Justice would condemn the action as sinful, for it is so imperfect, the mercy of our Father accepts the action in the Beloved, because He knows what we meant it to be. And though our fault has marred it, yet He knows how our hearts sought to honor Him.

Oh, it is such a blessed thing to remember that though the Law cannot accept anything but what is perfect, yet God, in the Gospel, as we come to Him as saved souls, accepts our imperfect things!

Why, there is our love! How cold it often is, and yet Jesus Christ takes pleasure in our love! Then, again, our faith, I must almost call it unbelief, it is often so weak—and yet though it is as a grain of mustard seed, Jesus accepts it, and works wonders by it.

As for our poor prayers, often so broken with so many distracted thoughts in them, and so poverty-stricken in importunity and earnestness, yet our dear Lord takes them, washes them in His blood, adds His own merit to them, and they come up as a sweet savor before [God] Most High.

It is delightfully encouraging to know that in our sincere but feeble service the Scripture is fulfilled—“a bruised reed shall He not break, and a smoking flax will He not quench.” Even our green ears of corn may be laid on the altar. If we cannot bring a lamb, our turtle doves and two young pigeons shall be received

Yes, blessed be God, all true fruit of Grace comes from Him. Is not this a charmingly powerful motive to service? Though it is so different from the reasons which drag on the sons of men, do we not feel it to be mightily operative? The Lord will help us in the service, and render unto man according to his work. He has said, “Fear you not. For I am with you: be not dismayed. For I am your God: I will strengthen you; yes, I will help you; yes, I will uphold you with the right hand of My righteousness.”

Having shown us that God deals gently and mercifully with us as we seek to serve Him, he presents how our actions should mirror His among ourselves:

…But Gospel motives to God’s people are as nails fastened in a sure place. They are suitable, and therefore effectual. You could not hope to govern the nation by the same ruler and methods with which, as a father, you order your family. In your family, it may be there is not even a rod, certainly there is no [police officer], no prison, no [judge that passes death sentences].

Children are ruled by a father on a scheme essentially different from the rule of magistrates and kings. There are maxims of courts of legislature which would never be tolerated in the home of love. Just so, within the family of God there are no penal inflictions, no words of threat such as must be employed by the great King when He deals with the mass of His rebellious subjects.

You are not under the Law, else there would be judgment and curses for you. You are under Grace, and now the motives by which you are to be moved are such as might not affect others, but which, since you are renewed in the spirit of your mind, most powerfully affect you.

It is a great thing for a man to feel that God does not now appeal to him as He would to an ordinary person, but that having given him a new nature, He addresses him on higher grounds.

“I beseech you therefore, Brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be you transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God.”

…The really saved soul, overwhelmed with gratitude, exclaims, “My God, my Father, I cannot sin, I must live as You would have me, I must serve You. Such love as this touches my heart, it stirs everything that is noble that You have implanted in me. Tell me what Your will is, and whether I have to bear it or to do it, I will delight in it if You will give me all-sufficient Grace.”

Yes, the Lord always appeals to the higher points in the Christian’s constitution, and thus He draws us with the cords of a man, with bands of love…

Finally, Spurgeon sums up the meaning of God’s words communicated through the prophet Hosea.

Thus I have, without dwelling on the mere words, given you the sense of the first clause of the text, “I drew them with cords of a man, with bands of love.”

The impelling, urging powers that lead Christians on to consecration and holiness are never those which befit slaves or carnal minds.

They are such as are worthy of the dignity of the sons of God, and they are full of tenderness, and kindness, and love. For the gentleness of God is great towards His people.

Therefore, let us act accordingly.

Sam Phillips — I Need Love (with The Section Quartet), YouTube, Lyrics

Making the Invisible Visible

How can you see a thought, an intention, or the integrity of someone’s words? It’s obvious you can’t see these things themselves. However, what you can see are the effects of these in the deeds of those possessing them. Scripture points us to this truth and far beyond when it says:

If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. 1 John 4:20 English Standard Version (ESV)

Previously, we explored what Calvin thought about this verse. This time, let’s see what Augustine, who lived in the days of Roman Emperors, said:

[Earlier, the Apostle John] said, “He gave us commandment that we should love one another.” How [can you] be said to love Him whose commandment [you hate]? Who shall say, I love the emperor, but I hate his laws? In this the emperor understands whether [you] love him, that his laws be observed throughout the provinces.

Our Emperor’s [i.e., Christ’s] law, what is it? “A new commandment give I unto you, that you love one another.” [You say] then, that [you love] Christ: keep His commandment, and love thy brother. But if [you] love not [your] brother, how [can you] be said to love Him whose commandment [you despise]?

Yet, though “the quality of mercy is not strained.” we still seek our pound of flesh. Alexander MacLaren comments on the necessary quality of our love towards one another:

…The real reason which makes [our] obedience to [the command to love one another] difficult is the slackness of our own hold on the Centre. In the measure in which we are filled with Jesus Christ, in that measure will that expression of His spirit and His life become natural to us.

Every Christian has affinities with every other Christian, in the depths of his being, [in such manner] that he is a great deal more like his brother, who is possessor of ‘like precious faith,’ however unlike the two may be in outlook, in [distinctive habits], and culture and in creed, than he is to another man with whom he may have a far closer sympathy in all these matters than he has with the brother in question, but from whom he is parted by this, that the one trusts and loves and obeys Jesus Christ, and the other does not.

So, for individuals and for churches, the commandment takes this shape—Go down to the depths and you will find that you are closer to the Christian man or community which seems furthest from you, than you are to the non-Christian who seems nearest to you. Therefore, let your love follow your kinship, and your heart recognize the oneness that knits you together.

That is a revolutionary commandment; what would become of our present organizations of Christianity if it were obeyed?

That is a revolutionary commandment; what would become of our individual relations to the whole family who, in every place, and in many tongues, and with many creeds, call on Jesus as on their Lord, their Lord and ours, if it were obeyed?

I leave you to answer the question. Only I say the commandment has for its [primary] scope all who, in every place, love the Lord Jesus Christ…

Note that MacLaren’s comments were directed toward this verse:

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:34-35 (ESV)

Here we see again that Christ directs us to make the invisible (i.e., our following Him) visible to the world through our deeds of heartfelt sacrificial love towards one another. Let us act accordingly.

Martin Luther King Speaks! Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution, Transcript

The End of the World

It was trending on Twitter so it must be true:

Any number of apocalyptic events are predicted for various and sundry reasons and pretexts. There’s the: “sky is falling” crowd. And there’s always this fictional portrayal of nuclear holocaust and its real world counterpart. Even the super-rich are preparing for doomsday.

But we have it on reliable authority—not that anyone believes in authorities anymore—that the world will end, and no one will notice until it does:

“But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Matthew 24:36-39 English Standard Version (ESV)

Calvin, as usual, has a lot to say about these verses. However, let’s key in on what he says about verses 37 through 39 to understand why everyone will be so unaware.

But as the days of Noah were. …When he says that men were giving their whole attention to eating, drinking, marriage, and other worldly employments, at the time when God destroyed the whole world by a deluge, and Sodom by thunder; these words mean that they were as fully occupied with the conveniences and enjoyments of the present life, as if there had been no reason to dread any change.

…Promising to themselves that the condition in which they then were would remain unchanged, they did not [hesitate] to follow without concern their ordinary pursuits. And, …it would not have been improper, or worthy of condemnation, to make provision for their wants, if they had not, with gross stupidity, opposed the judgment of God, and rushed, with closed eyes, to unbridled iniquity, as if there had been no Judge in heaven.

Let us, therefore, not scoff as some do, but acknowledge the Lord who surely brings judgment. And those who mock the coming judgment do so because:

And knew not until the deluge came. The source and cause of their ignorance was, that unbelief had blinded their minds; as, on the other hand, we are informed by the Apostle, that Noah beheld at a distance, by the eyes of faith, the vengeance of God which was still concealed, so as to entertain an early dread of it, (Hebrews 11:7.)

…But it must be observed that the reprobate, at that time, were hardened in their wickedness, because the Lord did not show his grace to any but his servants, by giving them a [beneficial] warning to beware in proper time.

Not that information of the future deluge was altogether withheld from the inhabitants of the world—before whose eyes Noah, in building the ark for more than a hundred years, presented a warning of the approaching calamity—but because one man was specially warned, by divine revelation, of the future destruction of the whole world, and raised up to cherish the hope of salvation.

A very large sign of impending destruction was plain to see; yet, they did not heed the warning. Therefore, we should listen to the One who calls from heaven. Even in Calvin’s day, five hundred years ago, many had heard, but few believed:

Though the report of the last judgment is now widely circulated, and though there are a few persons who have been taught by God to perceive that Christ will come as a Judge in due time, yet it is proper that those persons should be aroused by this extraordinary kindness of God, and that their senses should be sharpened, lest they give themselves up to the indifference which so generally prevails.

For Peter compares the ark of Noah with our baptism on this [basis], that a small company of men, separated from the multitude, is saved amidst the waters, (1 Peter 3:20, 21.) To this small number, therefore, our minds must be directed, if we desire to escape in safety.

To Calvin’s statement about baptism, we should add:

For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 (ESV)

Let us, then, hear and obey the gospel. No amount of treading water will help this time (and it didn’t help then); the present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire. And our individual ends draw near every day.

Dr. R.C. Sproul – “Crisis In Eschatology,” May 2, 2015,

Video Series

Other Resources:

The Day of the Lord” – Mark Dever

Signs of the End” – Alistair Begg

The Coming of the Son of Man” – Alistair Begg

Matthew Henry’s Commentary on Matthew 24

Alexander MacLaren’s Expositions of Luke 21:20–36

“Oklahoma,” The Call, Written by Michael Been

Wisdom From Above

Bitter jealousy and selfish ambition motivate most enterprises in this world. Sure, there are some in those institutions who work selflessly, not seeking credit for themselves. But, even these individuals may be seduced by ambition’s rewards and caught in its snares. This happens in secular and non-secular institutions. No one is immune to the temptation. Very few resist and persevere. The Apostle James contrasts this wisdom of the world with the wisdom God dispenses freely if only we ask:

But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. James 3:17-18 English Standard Version (ESV)

This sounds like what we all would want were we not so preoccupied with seeking our own good. The reformer, John Calvin, analyzes these verses with direct application to those in the church:

But the wisdom which is from above. [James] now mentions the effects of celestial wisdom which are wholly contrary to the former effects:

He says first that it is pure; by which term he excludes hypocrisy and ambition.

He, in the second place, calls it peaceable, to intimate that it is not contentious.

In the third place, he calls it kind or humane, that we may know that it is far away from that immoderate [strictness] which tolerates nothing in our brethren.

He also calls it gentle or tractable; by which he means that it widely differs from pride and malignity.

In the last place, he says that it is full of mercy, etc., while hypocrisy is inhuman and inexorable.

By good fruits he generally refers to all those duties which benevolent men perform towards their brethren; as though he had said, it is full of benevolence. It [therefore] follows, that they [depart from the truth] who glory in their cruel [severity].

…Though he had sufficiently condemned hypocrisy…he makes it more clear by repeating the same thing at the end. We are [therefore] reminded that [we are miserable or severe] for no other reason…but [that] we too much [excuse] ourselves, and [scheme] at our own vices.

…James here, by [the opposite of impartiality] refers to that overanxious and over-scrupulous inquiry, such as is commonly carried on by hypocrites, who too minutely examine the sayings and doings of their brethren, and put on them the worst [spin].

So, Calvin shows us how the Apostle James elaborates on the Lord Jesus’ statement: “…Out of the abundance of the heart…” Calvin then goes on to say:

And the fruit of righteousness. This admits of two meanings, — that fruit is sown by the peaceable, which afterwards they gather, — or, that they themselves, though they meekly tolerate many things in their neighbors, do not yet cease to sow righteousness.

…James says, that those who are wise according to God’s will, are so kind, meek, and merciful, as yet not to cover vices nor favor them; but on the contrary, in such a way as to strive to correct them, and yet in a peaceable manner, that is, in moderation, so that union is preserved.

And thus, he testifies that what he had said [before] tends in no degree to do away with calm reproofs; but that those who wish to be physicians to heal vices ought not to be executioners.

In this way, Calvin points out the difference between the peaceable, who seek righteousness through correction leading to unity, and those who don’t. Calvin finally contrasts zeal tempered by peaceability versus untempered zeal resulting in disorder and division:

[James] adds, by those who make peace; which ought to be explained [as]: they who study peace, are nevertheless careful to sow righteousness; nor are they slothful or negligent in promoting and encouraging good works; but they moderate their zeal with the condiment of peace, while hypocrites throw all things into confusion by a blind and furious violence.

A good friend of mine exhibits these peaceable attributes. It’s a pleasure to converse with him about the blessings and trials of life. Though he has opinions on all we discuss, I can hear when he tempers his discussion to correct me and preserve our union. I would have to say he sows righteousness benevolently. He is a rare friend. Others I’ve known, wishing to be physicians that heal vices, have been, as Calvin termed it, executioners instead.

Which are you?

Peaceable Kingdom - E. Hicks

Peaceable Kingdom, circa 1834, Edward Hicks (1780-1849), Public Domain in the US

The Political and Domestic Social Order – Bernhardt Writer

In case you missed it, we’ve had a revolution in America. No one’s blood was spilt; but the establishment was sternly rebuked by the unitary representative of the people of the United States, namely, the President of the United States:

We, the citizens of America, are now joined in a great national effort to rebuilt our country and to restore its promise for all of our people…

Today’s ceremony, however, has very special meaning, because today we are not merely transferring power from one administration to another, or from one party to another — but we are transferring power from Washington, D.C. and giving it back to you, the American People.

For too long, a small group in our nation’s Capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost. Washington flourished — but the people did not share in its wealth. Politicians prospered — but the jobs left, and the factories closed.

The establishment protected itself, but not the citizens of our country. Their victories have not been your victories; their triumphs have not been your triumphs; and while they celebrated in our nation’s capital, there was little to celebrate for struggling families all across our land.

The President spoke these words to all of us: “Whether we are black or brown or white, we all bleed the same red blood of patriots.” Considering this turn of events, we should ask: “Now what?”

The wisest king of Israel, Solomon, wrote:

Unless the Lord builds the house,

    those who build it labor in vain.

Unless the Lord watches over the city,

    the watchman stays awake in vain.

Psalm 127:1 English Standard Version (ESV)

The reformer, John Calvin, summarized the entire Psalm, writing:

…Psalm [127] shows that the order of society, both political and domestic, is maintained solely by the blessing of God, and not by the policy, diligence, or wisdom of men…

This week, we concentrate on political order. Mandated Memoranda will cover domestic order in the coming weeks. Calvin explains our passage this way:

Except Jehovah build the house…In affirming that God governs the world and the life of man, [Solomon] does so for two reasons:

First, whatever prosperous event may fall out to men, their ingratitude is instantly manifested by their ascribing it wholly to themselves; and thus God is defrauded of the honor which is his due. Solomon, to correct such a perverse error, declares, that nothing happens prosperously to us except in so far as God blesses our proceedings.

Secondly, his purpose was to beat down the foolish presumption of men, who, setting God aside, are not afraid to undertake to do anything, whatever it may be, in exclusive reliance upon their own wisdom and strength. Stripping them, therefore, of that which they groundlessly arrogate to themselves, he exhorts them to modesty and the invocation of God.

But, this doesn’t mean we should sit on our hands; Calvin says:

He does not, however, reject either the labor, the enterprises, or the counsels of men; for it is a praiseworthy virtue diligently to discharge the duties of our office. It is not the will of the Lord that we should be like blocks of wood, or that we should keep our arms folded without doing anything; but that we should apply to use all the talents and advantages which he has conferred upon us.

It is indeed true that the greatest part of our labors proceeds from the curse of God; and yet, …had [humankind] still retained the integrity of their [original] state, God would have had us to be employed, even as we see how Adam was placed in the garden of Eden to dress it. (Genesis 2:15.)

Solomon, therefore, does not condemn watchfulness, a thing which God approves; nor yet men’s labor, by which when they undertake it willingly, according to the commandment of God, they offer to him all acceptable sacrifice; but lest, blinded by presumption, they should forcibly appropriate to themselves that which belongs to God, he admonishes them that their being busily occupied will profit them nothing, except in so far as God blesses their exertions.

From this, Calvin lays out an admonishment for all, including us:

…It behooves us to remember what I have just now touched upon, that since the minds of men are commonly possessed with such headstrong arrogance as leads them to despise God, and to magnify beyond measure their own means and advantages, nothing is of more importance than to humble them, in order to their being made to perceive that whatever they undertake it shall dissolve into smoke, unless God in the exercise of pure grace cause it to prosper…

Let us then so occupy ourselves, each according to the measure of his ability and the nature of his office, [in such a way that] the praise of the success attending our exertions may remain exclusively with God. The partition which many devise — that he who has behaved himself valiantly, while he leaves the half of the praise to God, may take the other half to himself, is deserving of all condemnation. The blessing of God should have the whole share and exclusively hold the throne.

Finally, commenting on his times and ours, Calvin says:

…It is not wonderful to find in the present day the state of the world so troubled and confused as it actually is — justice put to flight in cities, the husband and the wife mutually accusing each other, fathers and mothers complaining of their children — in short, all bewailing their own condition.

For how few are to be found who, in their vocation, turn to God, and who, being rather inflated with arrogance, do not wickedly exalt themselves? God then justly renders this sad reward to ungrateful men when he is defrauded of his honor.

But were all men humbly to submit themselves to the providence of God, there is no doubt that this blessing which Solomon here commends would shed its luster on all parts of our life, both public and private…

Therefore, let’s reflect on and, especially, do what the Apostle Paul exhorted:

…I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 1 Timothy 2:1-4 (ESV)

God does wonderful things when we believe Him and give Him glory rightly due His name.

The Inauguration of the 45th President of the United States, YouTube, The White House, Transcript

Do Justly

The ends don’t justify the means any time. The news brings more tales of injustice to our doorsteps every day. The Middle East, the regulatory explosion, crime in the inner cities… So much that we forget what it is we’re here to do. To this point, 27 centuries ago, the prophet Micah spoke the word of the Lord:

“With what shall I come before the Lord,

and bow myself before God on high?

…He has told you, O man, what is good;

and what does the Lord require of you

but to do justice, and to love kindness,

and to walk humbly with your God?

Micah 6:6-8 English Standard Version (ESV)

The following discussion comes from Calvin’s Commentaries – General Introduction, in a section collecting together his comments on the topic: Ethics and the Common Life. First, Calvin summarizes the prophet’s argument at a high level:

Now the prophet assumes the people’s role and asks what it is that he ought to do. But, [in his role as the prophet,] he answers the question by citing the law, and so deprives [the people] of the excuse of ignorance. …He does [this] in the hope that they may be induced to confess their guilt.

Delving deeper into the passage, Calvin says:

…Now let us consider the prophet’s counsel. When he begins, “With what shall I come before God?” we are to understand that God has come down as if to meet men in a court of law. When men go to law with one another, there is no good cause which the other side cannot obscure with caviling and technicalities. But the prophet shows that when God himself brings them to trial, their evasions only make them ludicrous…

Then, arguing from our common experience, he says:

…In our own day we know well enough, and if our eyes are open, common experience shows us clearly that the wicked, who have no real and sincere relation to God, exhibit great anxiety and pretend to be wholly intent upon worshiping God correctly.

But, [instead,] they run off in all directions and seek innumerable [indirect routes], to avoid being forced to present themselves before God. Now we see how such pretense can be exposed; God has already shown in his law what he approves and what he demands of men.

Calvin then explains the importance of God’s requirements:

…Now when the prophet says do justly, seek mercy (or kindness) and walk humbly before God, it is clear enough that the first two points refer to the second table of the Law… Nor is it strange that he begins with the duties of love of neighbor.

For although the worship of God has precedence and ought rightly to come first, yet justice which is practiced among men is the true evidence of devotion to God. The prophet therefore names here justice and compassion, not because God omits the first essential of religion, his worship, but because he is here defining true religion by its manifestations.

Finally, he explains the consequence of those requirements:

…It is worth noting that he says, to walk with God, men must be humble. Here he condemns all pride, all confidence in the flesh. For whoever claims anything at all for himself [turns his back on God.] The true way to walk with God is to surrender ourselves wholly, making ourselves as nothing. The beginning of worshiping God and glorifying him is to think humbly and modestly of ourselves.

With that, we double back to our subjects from a few weeks ago. We must labor with His might and must accept the outcomes He’s ordained. The way of man is not in himself.

The ChoirMercy Will Prevail, YouTube, Sept. 17, 2016, thechoirvideos

Treasure of the Broken Land

So many have died this winter. Simply scanning the list of deaths in December noted by Wikipedia is overwhelming. Imagine, then, a valley of dry bones. Surely, symbolic of something epochal. The prophet Ezekiel recounts his vision in chapter 37 of the book of the Bible named after him. He tells of a conversation between the Lord God and himself:

And [God] said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” Then he said to me, “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the Lord.” Ezekiel 37:3-6 English Standard Version (ESV)

Some commentators think Ezekiel’s vision pertains to national Israel, either prior to and during the Lord’s first advent or His second. Some think it represents the resurrection to life of spiritual Israel, either prior or after the same two appearances. Finally, some think it refers to the general resurrection at the last day. Here’s a sample of three commentators’ views. Matthew Henry says:

…It is without doubt a most lively representation of a threefold resurrection, besides that which it is primarily intended to be the sign of:

1.) The resurrection of souls from the death of sin to the life or righteousness, to a holy, heavenly, spiritual, and divine life, by the power of divine grace going along with the word of Christ, John 5: 24-25.

2.) The resurrection of the gospel church, or any part of it, from an afflicted persecuted state, especially under the yoke of the New-Testament Babylon, to liberty and peace.

3.) The resurrection of the body at the great day, especially the bodies of believers that shall rise to life eternal.

Next, Alexander MacLaren says:

This great vision apparently took its form from a despairing saying, which had become a proverb among the exiles, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost: we are clean cut off’ (v. 11). Ezekiel lays hold of the metaphor, which had been taken to express the hopeless destruction of Israel’s national existence, and…from it wrings a message of hope…We may look at the vision from three points of view: considering its bearing on Israel, on the world, and on the resurrection of the body.

…The spirit promised in them is simply the source of life, literally, of physical life; metaphorically, of national life…The proper scope of the vision is to assure despairing Israelites that God would quicken the apparently slain national life, and replace them in the land.

…We may extend the application of the vision to the condition of humanity and the divine intervention which communicates life to a dead world, but must remember that no such meaning was in Ezekiel’s thoughts…

As to the bearing of the vision on the doctrine of the resurrection little need be said…For clear expectations of such a resurrection we must turn to scriptures [such] as Daniel 12: 2, 13 …

Finally, Charles Haddon Spurgeon says:

This vision has been used, from the time of Jerome onwards, as a description of the resurrection…But while this interpretation of the vision may be very proper as an accommodation, it must be quite evident to any thinking person that this is not the meaning of the passage…

The meaning of our text [from] the context is most evidently, if words mean anything, first, that there shall be a political restoration of the Jews to their own land and to their own nationality. And then, secondly, there is in the text and in the context a most plain declaration that there shall be a spiritual restoration— in fact a conversion—of the tribes of Israel…

…There will be a native government again. There will again be the form of a political body…A State shall be incorporated and a king shall reign…And they are also to be reunited. There shall not be two, nor ten, nor twelve, but one—one Israel praising one God—serving one king and that one King the Son of David, the descended Messiah!

But there is a second meaning here. Israel is to have a spiritual restoration or a conversion…The unseen but Omnipotent Jehovah is to be worshipped in spirit and in truth by His ancient people. They are to come before Him in His own appointed way, accepting the Mediator whom their [ancestors] rejected. They will come into Covenant relation with God…that Covenant of which Christ is the federal Head, the Substance and the Surety…

Our times are in turmoil as many watch for the fulfillment of this prophesy in one or many of its stated understandings. However, though Ezekiel’s prophesy may not explicitly refer to the general resurrection, we know that this event is sure. In line with our recent postings on Ecclesiastes 9:10-11: Marking Time and The Race, I refer you to lyrics that one of our poets wrote:

…I thought our days were commonplace

Thought they would number in millions

Now there’s only the aftertaste

Of circumstance that can’t pass this way again

.

…I can melt the clock hands down

But only in my memory

Nobody gets the second chance to be the friend they meant to be

.

…Treasure of the broken land

Parched earth give up your captive ones

Waiting wind of Gabriel

Blow soon upon the hollow bones

I have these lyrics framed on my desk in memory of my mother’s going to be with Christ. Soon, we will see our treasures in heaven: the people we loved who obeyed the Lord Jesus Christ even unto death.

Mark Heard – Treasure of the Broken Land, March 12, 2013, YouTube, Righteous Rock Radio

Is the Race to the Swift?

Why do things turn out the way they do? Yesterday you were winning; you finished everything you started. Everyone cooperated. Things fell into place. Today, not so much. And it started with that fellow who cut in front of you. Of what could this be a sign? Returning to our disgruntled king this week, he says:

Again, I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to those with knowledge, but time and chance happen to them all. Ecclesiastes 9:11 English Standard Version (ESV)

Matthew Henry gives us insight into the meaning of what King Solomon, also known as “the preacher,” offers us. First, Henry puts the verse in context of what preceded it:

The preacher here, for a further proof of the vanity of the world, and to convince us that all our works are in the hand of God, and not in our own hand, shows the uncertainty and contingency of future events, and how often they contradict the prospects we have of them.

He had exhorted us (v. 10) to do what we have to do with all our might; but here he reminds us that, when we have done all, we must leave the issue with God, and not be confident of the success.

Note that the first lesson of such an outcome at odds with our expectation is to rely on God. Henry drives home this point with:

We are often disappointed of the good we had great hopes of, v. 11. Solomon [had observed] that events, both in public and private affairs, do not always agree even with the most rational prospects and probabilities…

The [outcome] of affairs is often unaccountably [counter] to everyone’s expectation, that the highest may not presume, nor the lowest despair, but all may live in a humble dependence upon God, from whom every man’s judgment proceeds…

So, God deals equanimously with us all. Then Henry clarifies the meaning of “time and chance” in the context of the scriptures:

He resolves all these disappointments into an over-ruling power and providence, the disposals of which to us seem casual, and we call them chance; but really, they are according to the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, here called time, in the language of this book, Ecclesiastes 3:1; Psalm 31:15. Time and chance happen to them all.

A sovereign Providence breaks men’s measures, and blasts their hopes, and teaches them that the way of man is not in himself, but subject to the divine will. We must use means, but not trust [in] them; if we succeed, we must give God the praise (Psalm 44:3); if we [are thwarted], we must acquiesce in his will and take our lot.

This gives us a different perspective on causality and human agency. Finally, such turns of events should not, ultimately, catch us off guard:

We are often surprised with the evils we were in little fear of (v. 12): Man knows not his time, the time of his calamity, his fall, his death, which, in scripture, is called our day and our hour.

…It is not for us to know the times, no, not our own time, when or how we shall die. God has, in wisdom, kept us in the dark, that we may be always ready.

…Men often find their [trouble] where they sought their blessing, and catch their death where they thought to find a prize. Let us therefore never be [falsely] secure, but always ready for changes, that, though they may be sudden, they may be no surprise or terror to us.

Our end is always approaching. Our Judge is at the door, knocking. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ so you too can say: “Our salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed.”

Nobody Gets a Smooth Ride, The Choir, Lyrics, More Choir Videos

Marking Time

Sometimes I feel like I’m just marking time. Do you ever? Soldiers do it purposefully, marching in-place. But that’s not what I’m experiencing. Others suspend progress, waiting in readiness. Nope, that’s not it. I find that I’m operating in an apathetic and ineffective manner. A wise, if disillusioned, king once said:

Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with [all] your might, for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in [the grave], to which you are going. Ecclesiastes 9:10 English Standard Version (ESV)

Solomon’s disillusionment jumps out at us, yet his admonition to do whatever your hand finds to do with all your might still stands. However, maybe we should reconsider; is his insistence on our approaching death cynicism or is it realism?

Charles Haddon Spurgeon gave an impassioned sermon on this verse. Spurgeon first tackles the question of why we, who profess Christ as Lord, remain here on earth at all:

…Why is the army of the living God still on the battle field? One charge might give them the victory. Why are God’s ships still at sea? One breath of his wind might waft them to the haven.

…The answer is; they are here that they may glorify God, and that they may bring others to know his love. We are not here in vain, dear brethren. We are here on earth like sowers scattering good seed; like ploughmen ploughing up the fallow ground. We are here as heralds, telling to sinners around

“What a dear Savior we have found,”

and heralding the coming of our Master. We are here as the salt to preserve a world, which else would become putrid and destroyed. We are here as the very pillars of this world’s happiness: for when God shall take away his saints, the universal moral fabric “shall tumble to its fall; and great shall be the crash, when the righteous shall be removed, and the foundations shall be shaken.”

He then observes we have a definite purpose:

Taking it as granted that the people of God are here to do something to bless their fellow-men, our text comes in very pertinently as the rule of our life. May God help us to practice it by giving us much of his powerful Spirit. “Whatsoever thy hand finds to do, do it with thy might.”

This is what thou art here for. Thou art here for a certain purpose. That purpose will soon be ended, and whether it be accomplished or unaccomplished, there shall never be a second opportunity for attempting it, “for there is no work, nor device nor knowledge, nor wisdom in the grave, wither hither thou go.”

Since we are here for a purpose, he dissects the implications. First, do what is near at hand:

…Here we will observe, first, that this refers us to the works that are near at hand. You are not called upon today, the most of you, to do works which your eye sees far away in [India] or China. The most of you are called especially to do the work which is near at hand. People are always desiring to be doing something miles off; if they could but be somewhere else what wonders they would accomplish!

Then, do that which is possible:

…Again, “whatsoever thy hand finds to do,” refers to works that are possible. There are many things which our heart finds to do that we never shall do. It is well [that] it is in our heart; God accepts the will for the deed.

But if we would be eminently useful, we must not be content with forming schemes in our heart, and talking of them with our lips. We must [create] tangible schemes that we can really manage, ideas that we can really carry out; and, [in that way,] we shall fulfill the exhortation of Solomon, “Whatsoever thy hand finds to do, do it.”

And don’t shirk doing that which others consider menial:

…We all have a preference to do those duties which we regard as being honorable, as coming strictly within the range of our own office, those which probably will be rewarded with the praise of men.

But if there is any duty that shall never be heard of till the day of judgment, if there is any work that never shall be seen until the blaze of the last day shall manifest it to a blind world, then we generally [slight] such a duty and seek another.

Oh, if [we] did but understand the true majesty of humility, and how great a thing it is for a Christian to do little things, to bow himself and to stoop, we should rather envy the meanest of the flock than the greatest, and each of us try to wash the saint’s feet and perform the most menial service for the Master…

Spurgeon then turns to our methods, how we are to do it. First, do not procrastinate:

Put it not off one hour. Do it! Procrastinate not a day. “Procrastination is the thief of time.” Let him not steal thy time. Do it, at once. Serve thy God now; for now is all the time thou canst reckon on.

Then, do it with all your might:

…But where is the might of a Christian? Let us not forget that the might of a Christian is not in himself, for he is perfect in his weakness. His might lies in the Lord of Hosts. It will be well for us if all we attempt to do is done in God’s strength, or else it will not be done with might: it will be feebly and badly done.

Whenever we attempt to [offer the Gospel] in the winning of souls, let us first begin with prayer. Let us seek his help. Let us go on with prayer mixed with faith; and when we have concluded the work, let us commend it again to God with renewed faith and fresh prayer. What we do thus will be well done, and will not fail in its effect.

But what we do merely with creature-strength, with the mere influence of carnal zeal, will come to nothing at all. “Whatsoever thy hand finds to do,” do it with that real might which God hath promised them that ask it, with that real wisdom which he gives liberally, which he bestows on all who seek it meekly and reverently at his feet.

His third consideration is on why we should do it with all our might:

…[Because] death is near and when death comes there will be an end to all our serving God on earth, an end to our preaching, an end to our praying, an end to our doing [anything] for God’s glory among the perishing souls of men. If we all lived in the light of our funerals how well should we live.

…If we build not now, the fabric can never be built. If now we spin not, the garment will never be woven. Work while you live, and live while you work; and God grant to each of us that we may discharge in this life all the desires of our hearts, in magnifying God and bringing sinners to the cross.

Lastly, Spurgeon closes with a reflection on his own work and ours:

…Though from this day forward I should preach every hour in the day, though I could spend myself and be spent; though night should know no rest and day should never cease from toil, and year should succeed to year till this hair was hoary and this frame exhausted, when I come to render up my account He might say, “Well done.”

But I should not feel it was so, but should rather say, “I am still an unprofitable servant; I have not done that which it was even my bare duty to do much less have I done all to show the love I owe.” Now will you think what you have done, dear brother and sister, and surely your account must fall short equally with mine.

Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved, for he that believes and is baptized shall be saved, and he that believes not shall be damned.”

At this time of year, having just lost a dear friend too early, I purpose to do those possible things near at hand with no consideration for recognition. And I purpose to do them without delay, in His strength, and to His glory.

And you?

Future of Forestry – Silent Night (LIVE – San Diego), YouTube, Published Dec. 20, 2016, Future of Forestry

To Forbear or Not to Forbear?

That is today’s question… While investigating last week’s issue of “jumping to conclusions,” we ran across a convicting passage in Calvin’s commentary on this all too familiar verse:

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.” Matthew 18:15 English Standard Version (ESV)

We’ve covered the mechanics of the confrontation–repentance–reconciliation process in “I’m Sorry, Please Forgive Me.” However, Calvin points out that there is a step prior to confrontation in which many of us fail.

But if thy brother shall sin against thee. [Since the Lord had broached the topic of] bearing the infirmities of [brothers and sisters], he now shows more clearly in what manner, and for what purpose, and to what extent, we ought to bear with them. [Without such guidance in the] way of avoiding offenses, every man [is abandoned to] winking at the faults of others, and thus what is evil would be encouraged by forbearance.

I find myself caught in this trap at times: not wishing to offend but knowing that the other is at fault to their own harm (as well as mine.)

Christ therefore prescribes a middle course, which does not give too great offense to the weak, and yet is adapted to cure their diseases; for that severity, which is employed as a medicine, is profitable and worthy of praise.

Having taken on our humanity, our Lord knows our own infirmities in these matters and provides a solution:

In short, Christ enjoins his disciples to forgive one another, but to do so in such a manner as to endeavor to correct their faults. It is necessary that this be wisely observed; for nothing is more difficult than to exercise forbearance towards men, and, at the same time, not to neglect the freedom necessary in reproving them.

Therefore, we see that we have an obligation to confront our brothers or sisters for their good.

Almost all lean to the one side or to the other, either to deceive themselves mutually by deadly flatteries, or to pursue with excessive bitterness those whom they ought to cure. But Christ recommends to his disciples a mutual love, which is widely distant from flattery; only he enjoins them to season their admonitions with moderation, lest, by excessive severity and harshness, they discourage the weak.

As we said last week, we have a duty to hope well of others, for we are not acquitted and shall stand before the Judge. And, yet, we must hold one another accountable for our mutual well-being, neither deceptively flattering nor harshly rebuking one another. Rather, Christ recommends to his disciples a mutual love: moderate admonition, that cures our diseases.

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The Reconciliation of the Montagues and the Capulets, 1854, Fredric Leighton (1830–1896), in the public domain in the United States