Billy Graham: A Life Remembered | Billy Graham TV Special, YouTube, Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, Published on Feb 23, 2018, Approximately 29 minutes
I was taken aback, a while ago, by a statement I read in G. K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy to the effect that, in his opinion, Calvinism gave rise to the deterministic worldview of the atheists of his century. Here’s a particularly striking quote:
The modern world is not evil; in some ways, the modern world is far too good. It is full of wild and wasted virtues. When a religious scheme is shattered (as Christianity was shattered at the Reformation), it is not merely the vices that are let loose. The vices are, indeed, let loose, and they wander and do damage. But the virtues are let loose also; and the virtues wander more wildly, and the virtues do more terrible damage.
The modern world is full of the old Christian virtues gone mad. The virtues have gone mad because they have been isolated from each other and are wandering alone. Thus, some scientists care for truth; and their truth is pitiless. Thus, some humanitarians only care for pity; and their pity (I am sorry to say) is often untruthful…
There is no doubt of Chesterton’s superb erudition. However, his assignment of blame leaves me in a quandary. Was he blaming the Magisterial Reformation for the Radical one? Was he arguing for and against himself all at once?
In answer, what leapt to mind were several fundamental doctrines that even Calvin’s critics concede he held in common with Augustine. The first, in what may become a series of refutations, follows from the following two passages of scripture:
Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory. Romans 9:21-23 English Standard Version (ESV)
For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all.
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
“For who has known the mind of the Lord,
or who has been his counselor?”
“Or who has given a gift to him
that he might be repaid?”
Romans 11:32-35 (ESV)
We examine what Calvin and Augustine said about these passages. Forgive us if the comparison (for, I believe, there is no contrast) is long-winded. However, if you choose to skim the arguments, please take time to read the two paragraph conclusion at this post’s end.
Calvin says about Romans 9:
Has not the worker of the clay? etc. The reason why what is formed ought not to contend with its former, is, that the former does nothing but what he has a right to do. By the word power, he means not that the maker has strength to do according to his will, but that this privilege rightly and justly belongs to him. For he intends not to claim for God any arbitrary power but what ought to be justly ascribed to him.
And further, bear this in mind, — that as the potter takes away nothing from the clay, whatever form he may give it; so, God takes away nothing from man, in whatever condition he may create him. Only this is to be remembered, that God is deprived of a portion of his honor, except such an authority over men be conceded to him as to constitute him the arbitrator of life and death.
Still more so:
And what, etc. A second answer, by which [Paul] briefly shows, that though the counsel of God is in fact incomprehensible, yet his unblameable justice shines forth no less in the perdition of the reprobate than in the salvation of the elect.
He does not indeed give a reason for divine election, so as to assign a cause why this man is chosen and that man rejected; for it was not [proper] that the things contained in the secret counsel of God should be subjected to the judgment of men; and, besides, this mystery is inexplicable. He therefore keeps us from curiously examining those things which exceed human comprehension. He yet shows, that as far as God’s predestination manifests itself, it appears perfectly just.
…If we wish fully to understand Paul, almost every word must be examined. He then argues thus, — There are vessels prepared for destruction, that is, given up and appointed to destruction: they are also vessels of wrath, that is, made and formed for this end, that they may be examples of God’s vengeance and displeasure.
If the Lord bears patiently for a time with these, not destroying them at the first moment, but deferring the judgment prepared for them, and this in order to set forth the decisions of his severity, that others may be terrified by so dreadful examples, and also to make known his power, to exhibit which he makes them in various ways to serve; and, further, that the amplitude of his mercy towards the elect may hence be more fully known and more brightly shine forth; — what is there worthy of being [reprimanded] in this dispensation?
But that he is silent as to the reason, why they are vessels appointed to destruction, is no matter of wonder. He indeed takes it as granted, according to what has been already said, that the reason is hid in the secret and inexplorable counsel of God; whose justice it behooves us rather to adore than to scrutinize.
And he has mentioned vessels, as commonly signifying instruments; for whatever is done by all creatures, is, as it were, the ministration of divine power. For the best reason then are we, the faithful, called the vessels of mercy, whom the Lord uses as instruments for the manifestation of his mercy; and the reprobate are the vessels of wrath, because they serve to show forth the judgments of God.
That he might also make known the riches of his glory, etc. …It is the second reason which manifests the glory of God in the destruction of the reprobate, because the greatness of divine mercy towards the elect is hereby more clearly made known; for how do they differ from them except that they are delivered by the Lord from the same gulf of destruction? and this by no merit of their own, but through his gratuitous kindness. It cannot then be but that the infinite mercy of God towards the elect must appear increasingly worthy of praise, when we see how miserable are all they who escape not his wrath.
…Though in the second clause he asserts more expressly that it is God who prepares the elect for glory, as he had simply said before that the reprobate are vessels prepared for destruction; there is yet no doubt but that the preparation of both is connected with the secret counsel of God. Paul might have otherwise said, that the reprobate give up or cast themselves into destruction; but he intimates here, that before they are born they are destined to their lot.
Concerning Romans 11, Calvin remarks:
For God has shut up, etc. A remarkable conclusion, by which he shows that there is no reason why they who have a hope of salvation should despair of others; for whatever they may now be, they have been like all the rest. If they have emerged from unbelief through God’s mercy alone, they ought to leave place for it as to others also. For he makes the Jews equal in guilt with the Gentiles, that both might understand that the avenue to salvation is no less open to others than to them. For it is the mercy of God alone which saves; and this offers itself to both.
This sentence then corresponds with the testimony of Hosea, which he had before quoted, “I will call those my people who were not my people.” But he does not mean, that God so blinds all men that their unbelief is to be imputed to him; but that he has so arranged by his providence, that all should be guilty of unbelief, in order that he might have them subject to his judgment, and for this end, — that all merits being buried, salvation might proceed from his goodness alone.
Paul then intends here to teach two things — that there is nothing in any man why he should be preferred to others, apart from the mere favor of God; and that God in the dispensation of his grace, is under no restraint that he should not grant it to whom he pleases. There is an emphasis in the word mercy; for it intimates that God is bound to none, and that he therefore saves all freely, for they are all equally lost.
But extremely gross is their folly who hence conclude that all shall be saved; for Paul simply means that both Jews and Gentiles do not otherwise obtain salvation than through the mercy of God, and thus he leaves to none any reason for complaint. It is indeed true that this mercy is without any difference offered to all, but everyone must seek it by faith.
Oh! the depth, etc. …Whenever then we enter on a discourse respecting the eternal counsels of God, let a bridle be always set on our thoughts and tongue, so that after having spoken soberly and within the limits of God’s word, our reasoning may at last end in admiration. Nor ought we to be ashamed, that if we are not wiser than [Paul], who, having been taken into the third heaven, saw mysteries to man ineffable, and who yet could find in this instance no other end designed but that he should thus humble himself…
How incomprehensible, etc. …Let us then learn to make no [searches regarding] the Lord, except as far as he has revealed himself in the Scriptures; for otherwise we shall enter a labyrinth, from which the retreat is not easy. It must however be noticed, that he speaks not here of all God’s mysteries, but of those which are hid with God himself, and ought to be only admired and adored by us.
Who has known the mind of the Lord? He begins here to extend as it were his hand to restrain the audacity of men, lest they should clamor against God’s judgments, and this he does by stating two reasons: the first is, that all mortals are too blind to take a view of God’s predestination by their own understanding, and to reason on a thing unknown is presumptuous and absurd; the other is, that we can have no cause of complaint against God, since no mortal can boast that God is a debtor to him; but that, on the contrary, all are under obligations to him for his bounty.
Within this limit then let everyone remember to keep his own mind, lest he be carried beyond God’s oracles in investigating predestination, since we hear that man can distinguish nothing in this case, any more than a blind man in darkness.
This caution, however, is not to be so applied as to weaken the certainty of faith, which proceeds not from the acumen of the human mind, but solely from the illumination of the Spirit; for Paul himself in another place, after having testified that all the mysteries of God far exceed the comprehension of our minds, immediately subjoins that the faithful understand the mind of the Lord, because they have not received the spirit of this world, but the Spirit which has been given them by God, by whom they are instructed as to his goodness, which otherwise would be incomprehensible to them.
As then we cannot by our own faculties examine the secrets of God, so we are admitted into a certain and clear knowledge of them by the grace of the Holy Spirit: and if we ought to follow the guidance of the Spirit, [then,] where he leaves us, there we ought to stop and as it were to fix our standing. If anyone will seek to know more than what God has revealed, he shall be overwhelmed with the immeasurable brightness of inaccessible light.
But we must bear in mind the distinction, which I have before mentioned, between the secret counsel of God, and his will made known in Scripture; for though the whole doctrine of Scripture surpasses in its height the mind of man, yet an access to it is not closed against the faithful, who reverently and soberly follow the Spirit as their guide; but the case is different with regard to his hidden counsel, the depth and height of which cannot by any investigation be reached.
Who has first given to him, etc. Another reason, by which God’s righteousness is most effectually defended against all the accusations of the ungodly: for if no one retains him bound to himself by his own merits, no one can justly [disagree] with him for not having received his reward; as he, who would constrain another to do him good, must necessarily adduce those deeds by which he has deserved a reward.
The import then of Paul’s words is this — “God cannot be charged with unrighteousness, except it can be proved, that he renders not to everyone his due: but it is evident, that no one is deprived by him of his right, since he is under obligation to none; for who can boast of anything of his own, by which he has deserved his favor?”
Now this is a remarkable passage; for we are here taught, that it is not in our power to constrain God by our good works to bestow salvation on us, but that he anticipates the undeserving by his gratuitous goodness.
But if we desire to make an honest examination, we shall not only find, that God is in no way a debtor to us, but that we are all subject to his judgment, — that we not only deserve no [outlay], but that we are worthy of eternal death.
And Paul not only concludes, that God owes us nothing, on account of our corrupt and sinful nature; but he denies, that [even] if man were perfect, he could bring anything before God, by which he could gain his favor; for as soon as he begins to exist, he is already by the right of creation so much indebted to his Maker, that he has nothing of his own.
In vain then shall we try to take from him his own right, that he should not, as he pleases, freely determine respecting his own creatures, as though there was mutual debt and credit.
Augustine, unlike Calvin, tends to use scripture to explain scripture as much as possible in his commentaries. In Chapter 15 of his Anti-Pelagian Writings, titled: “The Apostle Meets the Question by Leaving It Unsolved,” he says:
Since, in the case of those two twins (Romans 9:10-13,) we have without a doubt one and the same case, the difficulty of the question why the one died in one way, and the other in another, is solved by the apostle [Paul] as it were by not solving it; for, when he had proposed something of the same kind about two twins, seeing that it was said (not of works, since they had not as yet done anything either of good or of evil, but of Him that calls), “The older shall serve the younger,” and, “Jacob have I loved, and Esau have I hated;” and he had prolonged the horror of this deep thing even to the point of saying, “Therefore has He mercy on whom He will, and whom He will He hardens.”
[Paul] perceived at once what the trouble was, and opposed to himself the words of a gainsayer which he was to check by apostolical authority. For he says, “You say, then, unto me, “Why does He yet find fault? For who has resisted His will?” And to him who says this he answered, “O man, who art you that replies against God? Does the thing formed say to him that formed it, “Why have you made me thus?” Has not the potter power of the clay of the same lump to make one vessel unto honor and another unto dishonor?”
Then, following on, he opened up this great and hidden secret as far as he judged it fit that it should be disclosed to men, saying, “But if God, willing to show His wrath and to demonstrate His power, endured in much patience the vessels of wrath fitted for destruction, even that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy which He has prepared for glory.”
This is not only the assistance, but, moreover, the proof of God’s grace—the assistance, namely, in the vessels of mercy, but the proof in the vessels of wrath; for in these He shows His anger and makes known His power, because His goodness is so mighty that He even uses the evil well; and in those He makes known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, because what the justice of a punisher requires from the vessels of wrath, the grace of the Deliverer remits to the vessels of mercy.
Nor would the kindness which is bestowed on some freely appear, unless to other equally guilty and from the same mass God showed what was [truly] due to both, and condemned them with a righteous judgment.
“For who makes you to differ?” says the same apostle to a man as it were boasting concerning himself and his own benefits. “For who makes you to differ” from the vessels of wrath; of course, from the mass of perdition which has sent all by one into damnation?
“Who makes you to differ?” And, as if he had answered, “My faith makes me to differ, —my purpose, my merit,”— he says, “For what have you which you have not received? But if you have received it, why do you boast as if you received it not?”—that is, as if that by which you are made to differ were of your own.
Therefore, He makes you to differ who bestows that whence you are made to differ, by removing the penalty that is due, by conferring the grace which is not due. He makes to differ, who, when the darkness was upon the face of the abyss, said, “Let there be light; and there was light, and divided” —that is, made to differ— “between the light and the darkness.”
For when there was only darkness, He did not find what He should make to differ; but by making the light, He made to differ; so that it may be said to the justified wicked, “For ye were sometime darkness, but now are you light in the Lord.” And, thus, he who glories must glory not in himself, but in the Lord. He makes to differ who—of those who are not yet born, and who have not yet done any good or evil, that His purpose, according to the election, might stand not of works, but of Himself that calls—said, “The older shall serve the younger,” and commending that very purpose afterwards by the mouth of the prophet, said, “Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.”
Because he said, “the election,” and in this, God does not find made by another what He may choose, but Himself makes what He may find; just as it is written of the remnant of Israel: “There is made a remnant by the election of grace; but if by grace, then it is no more of works, otherwise grace is no more grace.”
On which account you are certainly foolish who, when the Truth declares, “Not of works, but of Him that calls, it was said,” say that Jacob was loved on account of future works which God foreknew that he would do, and thus contradict the apostle when he says, “Not of works;” as if he could not have said, “Not of present, but of future works.” But he says, “Not of works,” that He might commend grace; “but if of grace, now is it no more of works, otherwise grace is no more grace.”
For grace, not due, but free, precedes, that by it good works may be done; but if good works should precede, grace should be repaid, as it were, to works, and thus grace should be no more grace.
Augustine goes on, in Chapter 29, titled: “It is an Inscrutable Mystery Why Some are Saved, and Others Not,” to say:
Now there is much significance in that He does not say, “The wrath of God shall come upon him,” but “abides on him.” For from this wrath (in which we are all involved under sin, and of which the apostle says, “For we too were once by nature the children of wrath, even as others”) nothing delivers us but the grace of God, through Jesus Christ our Lord. The reason why this grace comes upon one man and not on another may be hidden, but it cannot be unjust. For “is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid.”
But we must first bend our necks to the authority of the Holy Scriptures, in order that we may each arrive at knowledge and understanding through faith. For it is not said in vain, “Thy judgments are a great deep.” The profundity of this “deep” the apostle, as if with a feeling of dread, notices in that exclamation: “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God!”
He had indeed previously pointed out the meaning of this marvelous depth, when he said: “For God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that He might have mercy upon all.” Then struck, as it were, with a horrible fear of this deep: “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God! how unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been His counselor? or who hath first given to Him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again? For of Him, and through Him, and in Him, are all things: to whom be glory forever. Amen.”
How utterly insignificant, then, is our faculty for discussing the justice of God’s judgments, and for the consideration of His gratuitous grace, which, as men have no prevenient merits for deserving it, cannot be partial or unrighteous, and which does not disturb us when it is bestowed upon unworthy men, as much as when it is denied to those who are equally unworthy!
Augustine, through various works, explains: that it is justice that all are condemned but mercy that some are saved, the mystery of human will and God’s mercy, that man continues to be born under sin (An argumentation against Pelagius), that God is good in all he does, that God’s secret will and just choice follow from the scriptures, more on His own just and secret judgment, that God’s unmerited favor is bestowed through His secret providence,”, that those that learn, live, and that rebuke in love is necessary for correction; and, lastly, an exquisitely short and subtle commentary on so-called double predestination.
All of this exposition is encapsulated in Augustine’s Treatise on the Predestination of the Saints.
God, through the Apostle Paul in Romans 9 and Romans 11, declares that all stand justly condemned, and yet some are saved by God’s unmerited favor according to His secret will. And, as we’ve shown, both Calvin and Augustine concur with this doctrine.
Therefore, might we not conclude that Calvin was an Augustinian and Augustine a Calvinist, in as much as they are clearly in concordance with each other on these points in their explication of the God-breathed scriptures? What these labels have become over the centuries belies the integrity of these two great men toward the Lord’s Word.
Shadows are where things hidden lay or where those who wish to hide lurk. These are not characteristics of the Living God:
Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change [or, turning.] Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures. James 1:16-18 English Standard Version (ESV)
Do not err. This is an argument from what is opposite; for as God is the author of all good, it is absurd to suppose him to be the author of evil. To do good is what properly belongs to him, and [is] according to his nature; and from him all good things come to us.
…James, leaving to God his right and office of punishing, only removes blame from him. This passage teaches us, that we ought to be so affected by God’s innumerable blessings, which we daily receive from his hand, as to think of nothing but of his glory; and that we should abhor whatever comes to our mind, or is suggested by others, which is not compatible with his praise.
God is called the Father of lights, as possessing all excellency and the highest dignity. And when [James] immediately adds, that there is in him no shadow of turning, he continues the metaphor; so that we may not measure the brightness of God by the irradiation of the sun which appears to us.
Indeed, God’s glory is unlike that of the sun. The sun’s light causes a sundial’s shadow to process around a dial by which we may tell time. His radiance is unchanging; as it were, without shadow. Calvin goes on:
Of his own will. He now brings forward a special proof of the goodness of God which he had mentioned, even that he has regenerated us unto eternal life. This [is an] invaluable benefit [that] every one of the faithful feels in himself. [Therefore,] the goodness of God, when known by experience, ought to remove from [the regenerated] all contrary opinion respecting him.
…This passage teaches us, that as our election before the foundation of the world was [unmerited], so we are illuminated by the grace of God alone as to the knowledge of the truth, so that our calling corresponds with our election. The Scripture shows that we have been gratuitously adopted by God before we were born.
But James expresses here something more, that we obtain the right of adoption, because God…also calls us gratuitously (Ephesians 1:4, 5.) Farther, we…learn, that it is the [unique] office of God…to regenerate us [spiritually…]
That the same thing [(i.e., spiritual regeneration)] is sometimes ascribed to the ministers of the gospel, means [nothing] other…than this, that God acts through them; and it happens indeed through them, but he nevertheless alone does the work.
The word begotten means that we become new men, so that we put off our former nature when we are effectually called by God. He adds how God begets us, even by the word of truth, so that we may know that we cannot enter the kingdom of God by any other door.
And, finally, he says:
That we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures. The word τινὰ, “some,” has the meaning of likeness, as though he had said, that we are in a manner firstfruits. But this ought not to be restricted to a few of the faithful; but it belongs to all in common.
For as Man excels among all creatures, so the Lord elects some from the whole mass and separates them as a holy offering, to himself. It is no common nobility into which God extols his own children. Then justly are they said to be excellent as firstfruits, when God’s image is renewed in them.
Sometimes appearances deceive us. Or could it be that they almost always do? As I grow older, I’m not sure. Take, for instance, this vignette from the first book of the Bible:
In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell. Genesis 4:3-5 English Standard Version (ESV)
If we look only at the externals, we might ask: “Why did God accept one, but not the other? Was it the type of sacrifice each offered?” One, an animal sacrifice, reminiscent of the animals slain when God made garments of skins for Adam and Eve. The other, a grain offering, which was someday to symbolize the food offering described in Leviticus. “Was the grain not prepared correctly or, perhaps, not the first of the crop?”
Our best answer always results when scripture explains scripture. In the Letter to the Hebrews, the writer says:
By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks. Hebrews 11:4 (ESV)
Calvin succinctly expounds on this point:
By faith Abel offered, etc. The Apostle’s object in this chapter is to show, that however excellent were the works of the saints, it was from faith they derived their value, their worthiness, and all their excellences; and hence follows what he has already intimated, that the fathers pleased God by faith alone.
Now he commends faith here on two accounts, — it renders obedience to God, for it attempts and undertakes nothing, but what is according to the rule of God’s word, — and it relies on God’s promises, and thus it gains the value and worth which belongs to works from his grace alone. Hence, wherever the word faith is found in this chapter, we must bear in mind, that the Apostle speaks of it, in order that the Jews might regard no other rule than God’s word, and might also depend alone on his promises.
Then, more specifically to the Genesis passage, he says:
…Abel’s sacrifice was for no other reason preferable to that of his brother, except that it was sanctified by faith: for surely the fat of brute animals did not smell so sweetly, that it could, by its odor, pacify God. The Scripture indeed shows plainly, why God accepted his sacrifice, for Moses’s words are these, “God had respect to Abel, and to his gifts.” It is hence obvious to conclude, that his sacrifice was accepted, because he himself was graciously accepted. But how did he obtain this favor, except that his heart was purified by faith.
Going on, Calvin explains what the writer meant:
God testifying, etc. He confirms what I have already stated, that no works, coming from us can please God, until we ourselves are received into favor, or to speak more briefly, that no works are deemed just before God, but those of a just man: for he reasons thus, — God bore a testimony to Abel’s gifts; then he had obtained the praise of being just before God.
Next, he addresses the issue of external appearances:
This doctrine is useful, and ought especially to be noticed, as we are not easily convinced of its truth; for when in any work, anything splendid appears, we are immediately rapt in admiration, and we think that it cannot possibly be disapproved of by God: but God, who regards only the inward purity of the heart, heeds not the outward masks of works. Let us then learn, that no right or good work can proceed from us, until we are justified before God.
And, Calvin concludes:
By it he being dead, etc. To faith he also ascribes this, — that God testified that Abel was no less the object of his care after his death, than during his life: for when he says, that though dead, he still speaks, he means, as Moses tells us, that God was moved by his violent death to take vengeance. When, therefore, Abel or his blood is said to speak, the words are to be understood figuratively. It was yet a singular evidence of God’s love towards him, that he had a care for him when he was dead; and it hence appears, that he was one of God’s saints, whose death is precious to him.
It’s Not the Doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone that Saves—It’s Christ Who Saves, YouTube, Ligonier Ministries, Published on Apr 19, 2017, Longer Teaching on the Same Subject, and Longer Still
How Churches Can Encourage Honesty About Sin, YouTube, The Gospel Coalition, Published on Dec 4, 2016
Rosaria’s statement, that starts at the 3:05 mark, grabbed me: “…That’s a starvation diet of family and community, nobody can live like that…”
Rosaria Butterfield, Sam Allberry, and Jackie Hill Perry discuss the value of community within the church. In light of my desire for church revival, I’ll let the video speak for itself.
Some think it’s for SHOPPING! Retail certainly hopes so. Some think it’s for time off from normal obligations. Family and friends look forward to these times. Some think it’s discriminatory to single out a point of view that is only one among many. And some think it’s all too much.
But, the Lord Jesus Christ, through His servant, Luke, wrote:
And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. Luke 2:8-11 English Standard Version (ESV)
The holiday commemorates this prophecy’s fulfillment: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us.) Matthew 1:23, quoted from Isaiah 7:14.
The angel opens his discourse by saying, that he announces great joy; and next assigns the ground …of joy, that a Savior is born. These words show us, first, that, until men have peace with God, and are reconciled to him through the grace of Christ, all the joy that they experience is deceitful, and of short duration.
Ungodly men frequently indulge in frantic and intoxicating mirth; but if there be none to make peace between them and God, the hidden stings of conscience must produce fearful torment. Besides, to whatever extent they may flatter themselves in luxurious indulgence, their own lusts are [, themselves,] tormentors.
The commencement of solid joy is, to perceive the fatherly love of God toward us, which alone gives tranquility to our minds. And this “joy,” in which, Paul tells us, “the kingdom of God” consists, is “in the Holy Spirit,” (Romans 14:17.)
By calling it great joy, he shows us, not only that we ought, above all things, to rejoice in the salvation brought us by Christ, but that this blessing is so great and boundless, as fully to compensate for all the pains, distresses, and anxieties of the present life.
Let us learn to be so delighted with Christ alone, that the perception of his grace may overcome, and at length remove from us, all the distresses of the flesh.
…Christ proclaims peace, not only, to them that are [near], “but to them that are, far off,” (Ephesians 2:17,) to “strangers” (Ephesians 2:12) equally with citizens. But as the peculiar covenant with the Jews lasted till the resurrection of Christ, so the angel separates them from the rest of the nations.
Here, …the angel expresses the cause of the joy. This day is born the Redeemer long ago promised, who was to restore the Church of God to its proper condition.
Some think the President of the United States is unqualified and unfit to hold office. Some think this man is the best chance to turn America around peacefully. Providence has caused many more hurricane landfalls on the US mainland than in the past ten years. Russia and China continue to use their proxies, Iran and North Korea, respectively, to cause strife in the world with the goal of overturning the existing world order. Whatever shall we pray in times like these?
The Lord Jesus Christ, when His followers requested: “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples,” said:
Pray then like this:
“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.”
Matthew 6:9-13 English Standard Version (ESV)
And the Lord prefaced His instruction with a reassurance: “Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”
Do therefore pray thus …It was not the intention of the Son of God… to prescribe the words which we must use, so as not to leave us at liberty to depart from the form which he has dictated. His intention rather was, to guide and restrain our wishes, that they might not go beyond those limits and hence we infer, that the rule which he has given us for praying aright relates not to the words, but to the things themselves.
This form of prayer consists …of six petitions. The first three, it ought to be known, relate to the glory of God, without any regard to ourselves; and the remaining three relate to those things which are necessary for our salvation. …In prayer, Christ enjoins us to consider and seek the glory of God, and, at the same time, permits us to consult our own interests. …It would be altogether preposterous to mind only what belongs to ourselves, and to disregard the kingdom of God, which is of far greater importance.
Concerning our address to God, he says:
Our Father who art in heaven Whenever we engage in prayer, there are two things to be considered, both that we may have access to God, and that we may rely on Him with full and unshaken confidence: his fatherly love toward us, and his boundless power. Let us therefore entertain no doubt, that God is willing to receive us graciously, that he is ready to listen to our prayers, — in a word, that, of Himself, he is disposed to aid us.
…Now, as it would be the folly and madness of presumption, to call God our Father, except on the ground that, through our union to the body of Christ, we are acknowledged as his children, we conclude, that there is no other way of praying aright, but by approaching God with reliance on the Mediator.
Next, to the crux of the first petition, he says:
May thy name be sanctified …It is of unspeakable advantage to us that God reigns, and that he receives the honor which is due to him: but no man has a sufficiently earnest desire to promote the glory of God, unless (so to speak) he forgets himself, and raises his mind to seek God’s exalted greatness.
…To sanctify the name of God means nothing else than to give unto the Lord the glory due unto his name, so that men may never think or speak of him but with the deepest veneration. The opposite of this is the profanation of the name of God, which takes place, when men either speak disrespectfully of the divine majesty, or at least without that reverence which they ought to feel.
…We need not …wonder, if we are commanded to ask, in the first place, that the reverence which is due to [His Name] may be given by the world. Besides, this is no small honor done to us, when God recommends to us the advancement of his glory.
And, to the second petition:
May thy kingdom come …The substance of this prayer is, that God would enlighten the world by the light of his Word, — would form the hearts of men, by the influences of his Spirit, to obey his justice, and would restore to order, by the gracious exercise of his power, all the disorder that exists in the world.
Now, he commences his reign by subduing the desires of our flesh. Again, as the kingdom of God is continually growing and advancing to the end of the world, we must pray every day that it may come: for to whatever extent iniquity abounds in the world, to such an extent the kingdom of God, which brings along with it perfect righteousness, is not yet come.
Finally, to the third:
May thy will be done …It is said, that the will of God is done, when he executes the secret counsels of his providence, however obstinately men may strive to oppose him. But here we are commanded to pray that, in another sense, his will may be done, — that all creatures may obey him, without opposition, and without reluctance.
…It is a prayer, that God may remove all the obstinacy of men, which rises in unceasing rebellion against him, and may render them gentle and submissive, that they may not wish or desire anything but what pleases him, and meets his [approval].
…When we pray that the earth may become obedient to the will of God, it is not necessary that we should look particularly at every individual. It is enough for us to declare, by such a prayer as this, that we hate and regret whatever we perceive to be contrary to the will of God, and long for its utter destruction, not only that it may be the rule of all our affections, but that we may yield ourselves without reserve, and with all cheerfulness, to its fulfillment.
Now Calvin tackles what he calls ‘the second table:’
…Of the form of prayer which Christ has prescribed to us this may be called, as [it were], the Second Table. I have adopted this mode of dividing it for the sake of instruction. The precepts which relate to the proper manner of worshipping God are contained in the First Table of the law [above], and those which relate to the duties of charity in the Second [below].
…We must not be so exclusively occupied with what is advantageous to ourselves, as to omit, in any instance, to give the first place to the glory of God. When we pray, therefore, we must never turn away our eyes from that object.
He has much to say about the first petition of the second table:
Give us today our daily bread …Though the forgiveness of sins is to be preferred to food, as far as the soul is more valuable than the body, yet our Lord commenced with bread and the supports of an earthly life, that from such a beginning he might carry us higher. …Since God condescends to nourish our bodies, there can be no doubt whatever, that he is far more careful of our spiritual life. This kind and gentle manner of treating us raises our confidence higher.
…It is indeed the true proof of our faith, when we ask nothing but from God, and not only acknowledge him to be the only fountain of all blessings, but feel that his fatherly kindness extends to the smallest matters, so that he does not disdain to take care even of our flesh.
…Such a petition as the following: “O Lord, since our life needs every day new supplies, may it please thee to grant them to us without interruption.” The adverb ‘today,’ as I said a little ago, is added to restrain our excessive desire, and to teach us, that we depend every moment on the kindness of God, and ought to be content with that portion which he gives us, to use a common expression, “from day to day.”
…These words remind us that, unless God feed us daily, the largest accumulation of the necessaries of life will be of no avail. Though we may have abundance of corn, and wine, and everything else, unless they are watered by the secret blessing of God, they will suddenly vanish, or we will be deprived of the use of them, or they will lose their natural power to support us, so that we shall famish in the midst of plenty.
There is …no reason to wonder, if Christ invites the rich and poor indiscriminately to apply to their Heavenly Father for the supply of their wants. No man will sincerely offer such a prayer as this, unless he has learned, by the example of the Apostle Paul, “to be full and to be hungry, to abound and to suffer need,” (Philippians 4:12,) to endure patiently his poverty or his humble condition, and not to be intoxicated by a false confidence in his abundance.
…Why [do] we ask that bread to be given to us, which we call OUR bread? I answer: It is so called, not because it belongs to us by right, but because the fatherly kindness of God has set it apart for our use. It becomes ours, because our Heavenly Father freely bestows it on us for the supply of our necessities. …What we seem to have acquired by our own industry is his gift.
We may likewise infer from this word, that, if we wish God to feed us, we must not take what belongs to others: for all who have been taught of God, (John 6:45,) whenever they employ this form of prayer, make a declaration that they desire nothing but what is their own.
Next, he comments on a second petition composed of two complementary parts:
And forgive us our debts …Christ has included in two petitions all that related to the eternal salvation of the soul, and to the spiritual life: for these are the two leading points of the divine covenant, in which all our salvation consists. He offers to us a free reconciliation by “not imputing our sins,” (2 Corinthians 5:19,) and promises the Spirit, to engrave the righteousness of the law on our hearts. We are commanded to ask both, and the prayer for obtaining the forgiveness of sins is placed first.
…For, though the righteousness of God shines, to some extent, in the saints, yet, so long as they are surrounded by the flesh, they lie under the burden of sins. …For, when he commands all his disciples to betake themselves to him daily for the forgiveness of sins, everyone, who thinks that he has no need of such a remedy, is struck out of the number of the disciples.
Now, the forgiveness, which we here ask to be bestowed on us, is inconsistent with satisfaction, by which the world endeavors to purchase its own deliverance. For that creditor is not said to forgive, who has received payment and asks nothing more, —but he who willingly and generously departs from his just claim, and frees the debtor…
Thus reminding us: “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” So, then, it follows:
As we forgive our debtors This condition is added, that no one may presume to approach God and ask forgiveness, who is not pure and free from all resentment. And yet the forgiveness, which we ask that God would give us, does not depend on the forgiveness which we grant to others: but the design of Christ was, to exhort us, in this manner, to forgive the offenses which have been committed against us, and at the same time, to give, as it were, the impression of his seal, to ratify the confidence in our own forgiveness. …If the Spirit of God reigns in our hearts, every description of ill-will and revenge ought to be banished.
And, of course, this calls to mind the example of: “the unmerciful servant.”
Finally, Calvin tackles the third, a second compound petition that happens to be recently in the news:
And lead us not into temptation Some people have split this petition into two. This is wrong: for the nature of the subject makes it manifest, that it is one and the same petition.
…The meaning is: “We are conscious of our own weakness, and desire to enjoy the protection of God, that we may remain impregnable against all the assaults of Satan.” We showed from the former petition, that no man can be reckoned a Christian, who does not acknowledge himself to be a sinner; and in the same manner, we conclude from this petition, that we have no strength for living a holy life, except so far as we obtain it from God. Whoever implores the assistance of God to overcome temptations, acknowledges that, unless God deliver him, he will be constantly falling.
The word temptation is often used generally for any kind of trial. …We are tempted both by adversity and by prosperity: because each of them is an occasion of bringing to light feelings which were formerly concealed. But here it denotes inward temptation, which may be fitly called the scourge of the devil, for exciting our lust.
…All wicked emotions, which excite us to sin, are included under the name of temptation …We ask that the Lord would not cause us to be thrown down, or suffer us to be overwhelmed, by temptations. …We are liable to constant stumbling and ruinous falls, if God does not uphold us with his hand.
As the news says, some would want to change this petition. To this, almost five hundred years ago, Calvin said:
Christ used this form of expression, (μὴ εἰσενέγκὟς,) Lead us not into temptation: or, as some render it, Bring us not into temptation.
It is certainly true, that “every man is tempted,” as the Apostle James says, (1:14) “by his own lust:” yet, as God not only gives us up to the will of Satan, to kindle the flame of lust, but employs him as the agent of his wrath, when he chooses to drive men headlong to destruction, he may be also said, in a way peculiar to himself, to lead them into temptation.
In the same sense, “an evil spirit from the Lord” is said to have “seized or troubled Saul,” (1 Samuel 16:14) and there are many passages of Scripture to the same purpose. And yet we will not therefore say, that God is the author of evil: because, by giving men over to a reprobate mind,” (Romans 1:28,) he does not exercise a confused tyranny, but executes his just, though secret judgments.
And, Calvin concludes the third petition with:
Deliver us from evil …The meaning remains nearly the same [to the previous clause], that we are in danger from the devil and from sin, if the Lord does not protect and deliver us.
Lastly, Calvin comments on a sometimes omitted clause:
For thine is the kingdom [Left out of the Latin, this petition] was not added merely for the purpose of kindling our hearts to seek the glory of God, and of reminding us what ought to be the object of our prayers; but likewise to teach us, that our prayers, which are here dictated to us, are founded on God alone, that we may not rely on our own merits.
“See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven.” Matthew 18:10 English Standard Version (ESV)
Beware of despising one of these little ones – As pride is the mother of disdain, and as contempt hardens men in giving offense, our Lord, for the purpose of applying an appropriate remedy for curing this disease, forbids his disciples to despise the little ones.
And certainly, as we have already hinted, no man who has a proper care for his brethren will ever allow himself, on light grounds, to give them offense. This conclusion of our Lord’s discourse has the same tendency as the commencement of it, to remind us that we ought to [compete] with each other who shall be most submissive and modest; for God embraces with wonderful love the little ones.
He goes on to explain the untenable position despisers put themselves in:
It would be strange indeed that a mortal man should despise, or treat as of no account, those whom God holds in such high esteem. He proves this love from the fact, that angels, who are ministers of their salvation, enjoy intimately the presence of God.
Yet I do not think that he intended merely to show what honor God confers on them by appointing angels to be their guardians, but likewise to threaten those who despise them; as if he had said, that it is no light matter to despise those who have angels for their companions and friends, to take vengeance in their behalf. We ought therefore to beware of despising their salvation, which even angels have been commissioned to advance.
And, in order to encourage the Church and thwart theological errors that are as common now as then, Calvin says:
The interpretation given to this passage by some commentators, as if God assigned to each believer his own angel, does not rest on solid grounds.
For the words of Christ do not mean that a single angel is continually occupied with this or the other person; and such an idea is inconsistent with the whole doctrine of Scripture, which declares that the angels encamp around (Psalm 34:7) the godly, and that not one angel only, but many, have been commissioned to guard every one of the faithful.
Away, then, with the fanciful notion of a good and evil angel, and let us rest satisfied with holding that the care of the whole Church is committed to angels, to assist each member as his necessities shall require.
Finally, he clarifies our relationship to the angels of God:
It will perhaps be asked, Do the angels occupy a station inferior to ours, because they have been appointed to be our ministers? I reply, though by nature they take rank above us, this does not prevent them from rendering service to God in dispensing the favor which he freely bestows upon us. For this reason, they are called our angels, because their labors are bestowed on us.
Let us always follow His command to: “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven,” and beware, for: “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.” And finally, to those who esteem the Church lightly, scripture declares that the angels encamp around (Psalm 34:7) the godly who are in Christ Jesus.
The Guardian Angel, 1656, Pietro da Cortona (1596-1669), In the Public Domain in the United States
What’s the quality of our friendships? Do you share yourself unreservedly with others? Do you communicate with vulnerability, even after long periods of absence, without missing a beat? If the truth be told, many of us fall short of this ideal. Some of us don’t have even one person with whom we can be this intimate. Perhaps we chalk this up to our fast-paced lifestyles. Could the crowd we run with not be the types with whom we have that much in common? Or, maybe, we’ve been burned before and haven’t even tried for such friendships.
There once walked a Person who, though he was highly exalted, did not count His high honor as something to hold on to, but gave up all privilege, becoming like one of us; in fact, becoming our servant, He walked among us, ate with us, and cried with us and for us. And, as one of us, yet righteous in all His ways, He humbled himself by suffering, in place of us, the ignominious punishment that is our due. This One said:
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. John 15:12-15 English Standard Version (ESV)
Speaking on these verses, C. H. Spurgeon delivered a sermon, number 1552, on Lord’s-Day morning, August 8, 1880, at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington, titled: “The Friends of Jesus,” based on verse John 15:14: “You are My friends if you do whatever I command you.” Spurgeon introduced his theme this way:
OUR Lord Jesus Christ is beyond all comparison the best of friends…”You are My friends if you do whatever I command you.” That is the point by which your friendship shall be tested — “If you are obedient you are My Friends.” …You must, my Brothers and Sisters, yield obedience to your Master and Lord and be eager to do it, or you are not His bosom friends …This is the one essential which Grace, alone, can give us. Do we rebel against the request? Far from it! Our joy and delight lie in bearing our Beloved’s easy yoke.
Next, he describes what obedience our Lord himself requests:
From those who call themselves His friends. True friends are eager to know what they can do to please the objects of their love. Let us gladly listen to what our adorable Lord now speaks to the select circle of His chosen. He asks of one and all obedience. None of us are exempted from doing His commandments. However lofty or however lowly our condition, we must obey. If our talent is but one, we must obey and if we have [ten], still we must obey. There can be no friendship with Christ unless we are willing, each one, to yield Him hearty, loyal service.
The smallest command of Christ may often be the most important and I will tell you why. Some things are great, evidently great and, for many reasons even a hypocritical professor will attend to them. But the test may lie in the minor points, which hypocrites do not take the trouble to notice, since no human tongue would praise them for doing them. Here is the proof of your love. Will you do the smaller thing for Jesus as well as the [weightier] matter?
…When we refuse to obey, we refuse to do what the Lord, Himself, commands! When the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God and our Redeemer, is denied obedience, it is treason! How can rebels against the King be His Majesty’s friends? The precepts of Scripture are not the commandments of man nor the ordinances of angels, but the Laws of Christ and how dare we despise them! We are to act rightly because Jesus commands us and we love to do His pleasure—there can be no friendship without this. Oh, for Grace to serve the Lord with gladness!
To close this first point, it appears that our Lord would have us obey Him out of a friendly spirit. Obedience to Christ as if we were forced to do it under pains and penalties would be of no worth as a proof of friendship. Everyone can see that. He speaks not of slaves, but of friends. He would not have us perform duties from fear of punishment or love of reward. That which He can accept of His friends must be the fruit of love. His will must be our Law because His Person is our delight. Some professors need to be whipped to their duties. They must hear stirring sermons and attend exciting meetings and live under pressure. But those who are Christ’s friends need no spur but love.
Spurgeon, then posits: “those who do not obey him are not friends of his.”
…He who is truly Christ’s friend delights to honor Him as a great King, but he who will not yield Him His sovereign rights is a traitor and not a friend. Our Lord is the Head over all things to His Church and this involves the joyful submission of the members. Disobedience denies to Christ the dignity of that holy Headship which is His prerogative over all the members of His mystical body and this is not the part of a true friend. How can you be His friend if you will not admit His rule? It is vain to boast that you trust His Cross if you do not reverence His crown! He who does not do His commandments cannot be Christ’s friend because he is not of one mind with Christ—that is evident. Can two walk together unless they are agreed?
He, next, explores the thesis: “those who best obey Christ are on the best of terms with him.”
…There is no feeling of communion between our souls and Christ when we are conscious of having done wrong and yet are not sorry for it. If we know that we have erred, as we often do, and our hearts break because we have grieved our Beloved and we go and tell Him our grief and confess our sin, we are still His friends and He kisses away our tears, saying, “I know your weakness. I willingly blot out your offenses. There is no breach of friendship between us. I will still manifest Myself to you.”
When we know that we are wrong and feel no softening of heart about it, then we cannot pray, we cannot speak with the Beloved and we cannot walk with Him as His friends. Familiarity with Jesus ceases when we become familiar with known sin.
Search the Scriptures for yourselves, each one of you, and follow no rule but that which is Inspired. Take your light directly from the sun! Let holy Scripture be your unquestioned rule of faith and practice and, if there is any point about which you are uncertain, I charge you by your loyalty to Christ, if you are His friends, try and find out what His will is. And when you once are sure upon that point, never mind the human authorities or dignitaries that oppose His Law. Let there be no question, no hesitation, no delay. If He commands you, carry out His will though the gates of Hell thunder at you! You are not His friends, or, at any rate, you are not His friends so as to enjoy the friendship unless you resolutely seek to please Him in all things!
Finally, Spurgeon defends the statement: “the [friendliest] action a man can do for Jesus is to obey him.”
…If a man should give all the substance of his house for love it would utterly be [scorned]. Jesus asks not lavish expenditure, but ourselves. He has made this the token of true love—”If you do whatever I command you.” “To obey is better than sacrifice and to listen than the fat of rams.” However much we are able to give, we are bound to give it and should give it cheerfully. But if we suppose that any amount of giving can stand as a substitute for personal [obedience] we are greatly mistaken. To bring our wealth and not to yield our hearts is to give the casket and steal the jewels. How dare we bring our sacrifice in a leprous hand? We must be cleansed in the atoning blood before we can be accepted, and our hearts must be changed before our offering can be pure in God’s sight.
The practical outcome of it all is this—examine every question as to duty by the light of this one enquiry — “Will this be a friendly action to Christ? If I do this, shall I act as Christ’s friend? Will my conduct honor Him? Then I am glad. If it will dishonor Him, I will have nothing to do with it.” Set each distinct action, as far as you are able, in the scales and let this be the weight—is it a friendly action towards your Redeemer? I wish that we all lived as if Jesus were always present, as if we could see His wounds and gaze into His lovely countenance. Suppose that tomorrow you are brought into temptation by being asked to do something questionable? Decide it this way—if Jesus could come in at that moment and show you His hands and His feet, how would you act in His sight?
Behave as you would act under the realized Presence of the Well-Beloved. You would not do anything unkind to Him, would you? Certainly, you would not do anything to grieve Him if you saw Him before your eyes! Well, keep Him always before you.
Obedience will gladden you with the blissful Presence of your Lord and, in that Presence, you shall find fullness of joy. You shall be the envied of all wise men, for you shall be the beloved of the Lord. And your pathway, if it is not always smooth, shall always be safe, for Jesus never leaves His friends and He will never leave you! He will keep you even to the end. May this be my happy case and yours. Amen.
From Spurgeon’s sermon, we see we have no closer friend than the Lord Jesus Christ, to those He’s redeemed and those who shall respond to His call. Yet, though we’ve not covered it in this post, for those who resist Him, they have no fiercer enemy; and this is so to demonstrate His justice and hatred of evil.
Having said these things, what kind of friend are we to those who’ve come to Jesus, both those saved and those seeking Him? Do we die to ourselves? Do we put others first? Do we seek by faith, in all our ways, to honor and serve the One who’s purchased us at unfathomable cost to Himself? And, towards those outside who resist Him, do we leave vengeance to our Lord?
A feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals.
“the sense of community that organized religion can provide”
A church has common interests and goals built-in. And we should have one attitude. However, a church is also made up of a diverse collection of people. As with any group of flawed human beings, they will offend one another. For the cohesiveness of our church communities, we need to do the following more often:
Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. James 5:16 English Standard Version (ESV)
Confess your faults one to another. …[James] had [just] said, that sins were remitted to the sick over whom the elders prayed: he now reminds them how useful it is to [disclose] our sins to our brethren, even that we may obtain the pardon of them by [our brethren’s] intercession.
…Many…think that James [is indicating] …the way of brotherly reconciliation, that is, by mutual acknowledgment of sins. But…his object was different; for he connects mutual prayer with mutual confession; by which he [implies] that confession [benefits us] for this end, that we may be helped as to God by the prayers of our brethren; for they who know our necessities, are stimulated to pray that they may assist us; but they to whom our diseases are unknown are [less likely] to bring us help.
…For the words clearly mean, that confession is required for no other end, but that those who know our evils may be more solicitous to bring us help.
Here, Calvin calls us to vulnerable community. He goes on to elaborate on the nature and quality of our prayer for one another. First, he says:
Avails much. …When others pray for us, [James] expressly mentions the benefit and the effect of prayer. But he names expressly the prayer of a righteous or just man; because God does not hear the ungodly; nor is access to God open, except through a good conscience: not that our prayers are founded on our own worthiness, but because the heart must be cleansed by faith before we can present ourselves before God. Then James testifies that the righteous or the faithful pray for us beneficially and not without fruit.
Then, finally, Calvin says:
But what does he mean by adding effectual or efficacious? For this seems superfluous; for if the prayer avails much, it is doubtless effectual.
…Our prayers may properly be said to be ἐνεργούμεναι (i.e., working) when some necessity meets us which excites in us earnest prayer. We pray daily for the whole Church, that God may pardon its sins; but then only is our prayer really in earnest, when we go forth to [help] those who are in trouble.
But such efficacy cannot be in the prayers of our brethren, except they know that we are in difficulties. Hence the reason given is not general, but must be specially referred to the former sentence.
[We should privately confess our sins] to a godly minister or wise Christian [when we are] under deep wounds of conscience. It is but folly to hide our sores till they be incurable. When we have unburdened ourselves [to] a godly friend, [our] conscience finds a great deal of ease. Certainly, they are then more capable to give us advice, and can the better apply the help of their counsel and prayers to our particular case, and are thereby moved to the more pity and commiseration…
[Truly,] it is a fault in Christians not to disclose themselves and be more open with their spiritual friends, when they are not able to extricate themselves out of their doubts and troubles. You may do [so with] any godly Christians, but especially to ministers, who are solemnly entrusted with the power of the keys, and may help you to apply the comforts of the word when you cannot yourselves.
…The weak must pray for the strong, and the strong for the weak. There is none but should improve his interest. When there is much work to do, you give your children their parts… So in the family of Christ. None can be exempted: `The head cannot say to the feet, I have no need of you, 1 Cor. 12:21-22 .
God delights to oblige us to each other in the body of Christ, and therefore will not bless you without the mutual mediation and intercession of one an other’s prayers; for this is the true intercession of saints. And so, in a sense, the living saints may be called mediators of intercession. But chiefly the strong, and those that stand, are to pray for them that are fallen; for that is the intent of this place.
Oh! then, that we would regard this neglected duty. Not to pray for others is uncharitable; not to expect it from others is pride. Do not stand alone; two, yea, many, are better than one. Joint striving mutually for the good of each other makes the work prosper.
Let us, therefore, increase our sense of community in the churches by confessing to and praying for one another.