God’s Will

I was reading God’s word and stumbled across this passage again:

I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life.

And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us.

And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.

1 John 5:13-15 English Standard Version (ESV)

It hit me that very few things are as sure as this. You can say we have God’s word on it.

All that’s left for us is to discern His will. Impossible you say? Well not for the things He has revealed to us. For other things, He has promised He, Himself, will intercede for us.

Now, what kinds of things are His will?

Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God [bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God], just as you are doing, that you do so more and more.

For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality.

For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore, whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.

1 Thessalonians 4:1-3, 7-8 (ESV)

Here we have our first example of His will; that we walk so as to please God (bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God,) that we be sanctified. Note, here, that the Apostle uses ‘moral purity’ vice ‘set apart’ which he exemplifies by ‘sexual immorality.’ It’s as prevalent now as then. Fruit is grown in us by His agency and though our submission to His will.

What else is explicitly His will that we may ask for it and be confident that we will receive it? In our churches, we should:

We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work.

Be at peace among yourselves.

And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.

See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone.

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances;

for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good.

1 Thessalonians 5:12-21 (ESV)

Pray that you do these things.

But, what else? In society we should:

Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good.

For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.

Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God.

Honor everyone.

Love the brotherhood.

Fear God.

Honor the emperor.

1 Peter 2:13-17 (ESV)

At our work places, we should:

Bondservants, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant or is free.

Masters, do the same to them, and stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him.

Ephesians 6:5-9 (ESV)

And, to sum up, we should be good stewards of God’s grace:

Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God. For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry.

1 Peter 4:1-3 (ESV)

Each of us, then, praying that we submit to His will and bear these fruits, open ourselves to the following glorious promise:

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.

For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.

For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins.

Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall.

For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

2 Peter 1:3-11 (ESV)

Resolve, then, to pray for God’s will to be done in our lives from this point on.

Why Don’t Christians Care That They Sin? Ligonier Ministries, Published on Jan 17, 2013

Conspiracy

If only they could find the President guilty of collusion with the Russians to manipulate the 2016 election. Why, that would be a conspiracy to subvert the government; an impeachable offense; a veritable constitutional crisis.

But, so far, it’s not; not even close. If anything, some contend our President sounds much like the Founders.

Turns out, social media feeds this sort of thing by gaming what you see. It must increase its’ profits; why else would they do it? So much for knitting, quilting, and cat videos; go figure.

Maybe we have Russian bots too much on our minds? We certainly like to spread novel falsehoods. But maybe, just maybe, the real collusion story has yet to surface?

The definition of conspiracy is:

con·spir·a·cy

/kənˈspirəsē/

noun: conspiracy; plural noun: conspiracies

1. A secret plan by a group to do something unlawful or harmful.

“a conspiracy to destroy the government”

synonyms: plot, scheme, plan, machination, ploy, trick, ruse, subterfuge; informal racket

“a conspiracy to manipulate the results”

2. The action of plotting or conspiring.

“they were cleared of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice”

synonyms: plotting, collusion, intrigue, connivance, machination, collaboration; treason

“conspiracy to commit murder”

The Bible addresses the concept in various circumstances. One of the most striking is in the Book of Isaiah:

For the Lord spoke thus to me with his strong hand upon me and warned me not to walk in the way of this people, saying:

“Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread. But the Lord of hosts, him you shall honor as holy. Let him be your fear and let him be your dread.

“And he will become a sanctuary and a stone of offense and a rock of stumbling to both houses of Israel, a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem.

“And many shall stumble on it. They shall fall and be broken; they shall be snared and taken.”

Isaiah 8:11-15 English Standard Version (ESV)

Calvin remarks on these verses, starting from Isaiah’s perspective:

For thus Jehovah spoke to me. Here the Prophet contends…against the unbelief of the people; and…there were two remarkable temptations, the one external, and the other internal.

The external temptation came from professed enemies, such as from the Assyrian; and when the people saw his plundering and cruelty, they thought that all was over with them, because he had brought them almost to utter ruin.

The other temptation was internal; for that sacred people, which boasted of having been chosen by God, relied on the assistance of man rather than of God. Now, this was a most dangerous temptation; for it appeared as if that nation, by its unbelief, refused [acknowledgement of] the promises of God, which were daily offered, and which were continually sounded in their ears…

And he continues:

As if by taking hold of my hand. This is a beautiful metaphor, [by which Isaiah] alludes to fathers or teachers, who, when their words have not sufficient effect, seize the hand of their children or scholars, and hold them to compel them to obey.

The servants of the Lord are sometimes disposed to throw everything away, because they think that they are laboring to no purpose; but the Lord lays as it were, his hand on them, and holds them fast, that they may go forward in the discharge of their duty.

…Undoubtedly, we would every moment be driven up and down, were it not that we are held by the powerful government of God and fix the anchor of constancy in firm ground.

Every one of us ought to meditate earnestly on this thought; for though we may be convinced, yet when it comes to the trial we fail, and look [to] men rather than [to] God. We should, therefore, attend more carefully to this doctrine, and pray to God to hold us, not only by his word but by laying his hand on us…

Next, Calvin examines God’s admonition to Isaiah:

Say not, a conspiracy. …We must consider what was the condition of that people, for they saw that they were not provided with numerous forces and were not able to contend in battle against such powerful enemies. They longed for outward assistance, and eagerly desired to obtain it, for they thought that they were utterly ruined if they did not obtain the assistance of others…

The Lord…admonishes Isaiah not to regard the counsels of wicked men, though the whole of the people should vie with each other [over their guidance.]

Neither fear ye their fear, nor be afraid. There may also be a twofold meaning; for some read it separately, as if in this second clause the Prophet condemned in general terms the wicked customs of the people. But these two clauses ought rather to be joined together. “Let it not distress you, if your countrymen in the present-day plot about unlawful confederacies, and do not consent to them.”

And he explains the people’s fear:

Their fear. …The same cause of fear was alleged against [both] the godly and…the ungodly; but all did not fear in the same manner…

The Lord certainly does not forbid the godly to fear, for they cannot avoid that; but he bids them overcome that excessive terror by which the ungodly are swallowed up. [Therefore,] let us not, by their example, gaze around in every direction, and rush headlong to seek unlawful aid; and especially we must [be on guard] lest fear take away our judgment.

There is but one remedy for this evil, to restrain ourselves by the word of God, from which proceeds real tranquility of mind. Comparing the condition of that people with our own, let us learn to [seek refuge in] the name of God, which will be to us an impregnable fortress. (Proverbs 18:10.)

Here, Calvin gets to the heart of God’s message to those who follow Him:

Sanctify Jehovah of hosts himself. …Dangers lead to immoderate alarm [because] wretched men do not raise their eyes and minds to heaven. The Prophet…therefore proposes a suitable remedy for allaying terrors, that they who dread the evils which threaten them may learn to give to God the honor due to him.

To sanctify the God of armies means to exalt his power highly [in such manner] to remember that he holds the government of the world, and that the beginning and the end of good and evil actions are at his disposal. Hence it follows that, in some respects, God is robbed of his holiness, when we do not immediately [go] to him in cases of perplexity.

This expression [i.e., Sanctify the God of armies,] …is highly emphatic; it shows us that no higher affront can be offered to God than to give way to fear, as if he were not exalted above all creatures, [and not in] control [of] all events.

On the other hand, when we rely on his aid, and, through victorious steadfastness of faith, despise dangers, then do we ascribe to him lawful government; for if we are not convinced that innumerable methods, though unknown to us, are in his power for our deliverance, we conceive of him as a dead idol.

Then he presents God’s “blessing and cursing” of obedience or disobedience:

And let him be your fear and let him be your dread. He…means that [those] will be free and exempted from [anxiety], if a sincere fear of God be deeply engraven on their hearts, and never pass away from them; and indeed every person who freely devotes himself to God, and undertakes to fear him alone, so as to lay this restraint on himself, will find that no haven is more safe than his protection.

But as the ungodly do not cease to provoke his anger by shameless transgression, he harasses their minds by continual uneasiness, and thus inflicts the most appropriate revenge for their careless indifference.

And Calvin goes deeper and explains God’s relation to His people:

And he shall be for a sanctuary. He promises that the true worshipers of God will enjoy tranquility of mind, because the Lord, covering them, as it were, under his wings, will quickly dispel all their fears…

The meaning therefore is, that God demands nothing for which he does not offer mutual recompense, because everyone that sanctifies him will undoubtedly find him to be a place of refuge. Now, although in this sanctification there is a mutual relation between us and God, yet there is a difference, for we sanctify him by ascribing all praise and glory to him, and by relying entirely upon him; but he sanctifies us, by guarding and preserving us from all evils.

He then punctuates the explanation with strong encouragement for his hearers:

To the two houses of Israel. …[Isaiah] enjoins believers, though nearly the whole multitude of both kingdoms should dissuade them from obedience to God, not to be discouraged, but to disregard everything else, and break through all opposition…

This is a remarkable passage and cannot be [recalled often enough], especially [now], when we see the state of religion throughout the whole Christian world brought nearly to ruin. Many [people] boast that they are Christians who are strongly alienated from God, and to whom Christ is a stone of stumbling…

Wherever we turn our eyes, very sore temptations meet us in every direction; and, therefore, we ought to remember this highly useful instruction, that it is no new thing, if a great multitude of persons, and almost all who [claim] that they belong to the Church, stumble against God. Yet let us constantly adhere to him, however small may be our numbers.

Then turning, with Isaiah, back to the disobedient, Calvin says:

For a snare to the inhabitant of Jerusalem. …[Isaiah] means that God became a snare, not only to the common people who were scattered throughout the fields and villages, but to the nobles themselves, and to the priests who dwelt in Jerusalem, who dwelt in that holy habitation in which God intended that the remembrance of his name should be chiefly preserved…

And, finally, he reiterates God’s admonishments to both groups:

And many among them shall stumble. …Let not the ungodly…imagine that they are stronger or wiser than God; for they will find that he excels them in strength and wisdom, and that to their destruction. They must, therefore, unavoidably be ruined; for either they will be utterly bruised, or they will be snared in such a manner, that they can never [extract] themselves.

This threatening also regards the godly, that they may not hesitate to withdraw from holding fellowship with the multitude, and that they may not resolutely disregard the sinfulness of revolt…Peter reminds us that, though many unbelievers stumble, this is no reason why their stumbling should obstruct the progress of our faith; for Christ is…a chosen and precious stone. (1 Peter 2:4.)

Let us therefore, Sanctify the God of armies and cling to Him.

***

Perhaps the greatest conspiracy that was plotted and actually carried out was the one where the leaders of Israel, the occupying rulers, and the government servants conspired to withhold the Good News of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. Yet, it was all in accordance with God’s consummate plan. God’s servants prayed that God would thwart their enemy’s plan:

“…Now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”

And, as a result:

…When they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.

Is your world shaking? Or are your energies spent in foolish controversies?

R.C. Sproul: The Resurrection of Christ, YouTube, Ligonier Ministries, Published on May 29, 2015

Stealing Seeds

Have you ever wondered whether that neighbor, coworker, or friend ever reconsidered their decision to reject the gospel? I’m not speaking of the ones who threw you out of their houses, fired you, or never spoke to you again; but those who, after some consideration, said no, not yet, or “I still have time.” Maybe they even attend church with you. Turns out, the Lord Jesus addressed this very issue when He walked among us two thousand years ago:

“Hear then the parable of the sower: When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. Matthew 13:18-19 English Standard Version (ESV)

One of the leaders of the Protestant Reformation John Calvin, commented on the Lord’s words.

First, Calvin summarizes the entire passage:

…The doctrine of the Gospel, when it is scattered like seed, is not everywhere fruitful; because it does not always meet with a fertile and well cultivated soil. He enumerates four kinds of hearers: the first of which do not receive the seed; the second appear, indeed, to receive it, but in such a manner that it does not take deep root; in the third, the [seed] is choked; and so there remains a fourth part, which produces fruit.

…Where the word is sown, the produce of faith is not always alike, but is sometimes more abundant, and at other times [scantier]. …In many persons, the seed of life is lost [due to] various [failings, as result] of which it is either destroyed immediately, or it withers, or it gradually degenerates.

Then, he points out that the soils do not include those he terms: “the despisers:”

…We ought to bear in mind, that he makes no mention of despisers who openly reject the word of God, but describes those only in whom there is some appearance of docility. But if the greater part of such men perish, what shall become of the rest of the world, by whom the doctrine of salvation is openly rejected?

Next, Calvin delves into each verse. He starts with those “unprepared:”

When any one hears the word of the kingdom, and understands it not. …The barren and uncultivated, who do not receive the seed within, because there is no preparation in their hearts. Such persons he compares to a stiff and dry soil, like what we find on a public road, which is trodden down, and becomes hard, like a pavement.

He comments in his time, as it is now, how many hear and fall away:

I wish that we had not occasion to see so many of this class at the present day, who come forward to hear, but remain in a state of [disbelief], and acquire no [desire] for the word, and in the end, differ little from blocks or stones. Need we wonder that they utterly vanish away?

Calvin, then, finds it logically necessary to defend the seed’s integrity in the face of such rejection; not that the seed is lacking, but the soil that receives it:

That which was sown in their heart. …The wickedness and depravity of men does not make the word to lose its own nature, or to cease to have the character of seed. …We may not suppose the favors of God to cease to be what they are, though the good effect of them does not reach us.

With respect to God, the word is sown in the hearts, but it is [not] true that the hearts of all receive with meekness what is planted in them, as James (1:21) exhorts us to receive the word. So then, the Gospel is always a fruitful seed as to its power, but not as to its produce.

And, finally, in answer to our question that we first posed:

Luke adds, that the devil takes away the seed out of their heart, that they may not believe and be saved Hence we infer that, as hungry birds are wont to do at the time of sowing, this enemy of our salvation, as soon as the doctrine is delivered, watches and rushes forth to seize it, before it acquires moisture and springs up…

This is one important reason, among many, why the gospel is preached every Lord’s Day.

To examine our question more deeply, Augustine helpfully explains the relation of the soils to the wheat and the tares:

…You know that those three places…where the seed did not grow, “the way side,” “the stony ground,” and “the thorny places,” are the same as [“the tares sown among the wheat.”] They received only a different name under a different [likeness.]

He, then, assures his hearers (this was a sermon) that though they and those described in the parable might desire that all the ungodly be separated from their congregations, they were not infallible and therefore not equipped for the task:

…O you Christians, whose lives are good, you sigh and groan as being few among many, few among very many. The winter will pass away, the summer will come; lo! the harvest will soon be here. The angels will come who [are able to] make the separation [between the wheat and the tares, without mistake…]

…We too indeed, if we finish our course, shall be equal to the angels of God; but now when we chafe against the wicked, we are as yet but men. And we ought now to give ear to the words, “Wherefore let him that thinks he stands, take heed lest he fall.”

Next, Augustine exposes what is evident in all the churches, and yet, by our words and actions, we deny it:

…I tell you a truth, my Beloved, even in [the church leadership] there is both wheat, and tares, and among the [laypeople] there is wheat, and tares. Let the good tolerate the bad; let the bad change themselves, and imitate the good.

Finally, he follows through in his exhortation to his congregation and to us:

Let us all, if it may be so, attain to God; let us all through His mercy escape the evil of this world. Let us seek after good days, for we are now in evil days; but in the evil days let us not blaspheme, that so we may be able to arrive at the good days.

How, then, shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? Let us not trample underfoot the Son of God nor reject the Holy Spirit. Rather, believe on the Lord Jesus and be saved.

The Parable of the Sower – C. H. Spurgeon, YouTube, Condensed Sermon Text

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

Not of Us

Last week we discussed disunity in the churches. We discovered that God providentially uses church disunity for our good, to refine us and to prove our salvation. The subject we consider today is often the result of disunity:

They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us. 1 John 2:19 English Standard Version (ESV)

This is a solemn verse that should cause us to revere the Lord Jesus Christ. The preacher John Calvin doesn’t mince words when discussing this verse’s import:

They went out from us …The Church is always exposed to this evil; so that it is constrained to bear with many hypocrites who, [in reality], know not Christ, however much they may [verbally] profess his name.

By saying, they went out from us, [the Apostle John] means that they had previously occupied a place in the Church, and were counted among the number of the godly. [John], however, denies that they were of them, though they had assumed the name of believers, [in the same way] as chaff…mixed with wheat on the same floor cannot yet be deemed wheat.

Calvin analyzes those who profess the gospel:

For if they had been of us …Here [is] a difficulty, for it happens that many who seemed to have embraced Christ, often fall away.

To this I answer, that there are three sorts of those who profess the Gospel; there are those who feign piety, while a bad conscience reproves them within; the hypocrisy of others is more deceptive, who not only seek to disguise themselves before men, but also dazzle their own eyes, so that they seem to themselves to worship God aright; the third are those who have the living root of faith, and carry a testimony of their own adoption firmly fixed in their hearts.

The two first have no stability; of the last John speaks, when he says, that it is impossible that they should be separated from the Church, for the seal which God’s Spirit engraves on their hearts cannot be obliterated; the incorruptible seed, which has struck roots, cannot be pulled up or destroyed (2 Timothy 2:19.)

[The Apostle John], in short, means that they who fall away had never been thoroughly imbued with the knowledge of Christ, but had only a light and a transient taste of it.

Finally, Calvin states the blunt truth of the verse:

That they might be made manifest [John] shows that trials [are] useful and necessary for the Church. It hence follows, on the other hand, that there is no just cause for [upset]. Since the Church is like a threshing-floor, the chaff must be blown away [so] that the pure wheat may remain. This is what God does, when he casts out hypocrites from the Church, for he then cleanses it from refuse and filth.

Again, this makes me want to cling to God all-the-more. Each of us should make every effort to obey Him and He will bring it to pass.

Keith Green – “The Sheep And The Goats” (live), YouTube, Lyrics, Key Verse

What Shall I Do to be Saved?

Where were you when that dumpster exploded on Saturday, the 17th of September, 2016, at about 8:30 PM, between 6th and 7th Avenues on 23rd Street in Manhattan? Witnesses reported an event that shook buildings around the epicenter. Windows were blown out, and those on the street were injured. It didn’t look like terrorism initially (it was,) but the neighborhood was shaken up.

Something similar happened in first century Philippi, in Eastern Macedonia and Thrace, Greece. This time it was an earthquake that shook up the neighborhood. Doors to cells in the local prison were opened, and the jailer, no doubt shaken from sleep, supposed his life was forfeit because his charges had escaped. One of the prisoners, the Apostle Paul, called to the jailer not to harm himself; they were all still there. The jailer, trembling with fear, rushed to Paul and his companion, Silas, and:

…He brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” Acts 16:30 English Standard Version (ESV)

Paul and Silas “spoke the word” to the jailer and his household. As a result, he and his household all believed in God. John Calvin comments on this verse here.

This same Apostle Paul concisely addressed the nature of this belief:

…If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. Romans 10:9-10 (ESV)

But, how are we to believe this? Is it by strength of will or a leap into the dark? Stepping back a bit, Calvin says we must first have faith to believe. What, then, is the nature of this faith? To this, the author of the letter to the Hebrews says:

…Without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. Hebrews 11:6 (ESV)

Calvin explains the second clause of this verse this way:

…We ought to be fully persuaded that God is not sought in vain; and this persuasion includes the hope of salvation and eternal life.

And, it behooves us to recognize that God freely grants us this faith by His unmerited favor (i.e., grace) so that we might believe in Him:

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. Ephesians 2:8-9 (ESV)

Probing further, this belief was encapsulated in the Apostle’s Creed (as early as 180 AD):

  1. I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth:
  2. And in Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, our Lord:
  3. Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary:
  4. Suffered under Pontius Pilate; was crucified, dead and buried: He descended into hell:
  5. The third day he rose again from the dead:
  6. He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty:
  7. From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead:
  8. I believe in the Holy Ghost:
  9. I believe in the holy catholic church: the communion of saints:
  10. The forgiveness of sins:
  11. The resurrection of the body:
  12. And the life everlasting. Amen.

After controversies over God’s nature, a creedal statement, attributed to Athanasius of Alexandria and rooted in Augustine’s On the Trinity (415 AD), was formulated that encompassed right belief on the matter. The gist of the Athanasian creed is:

  • Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the catholic [i.e., all-embracing or universal] faith;
  • And the catholic faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity;
  • Furthermore, it is necessary to everlasting salvation that he also believe rightly the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The Nicene creed (381 AD) appears to combine significant elements of the prior two creeds:

I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.

Who, for us men for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.

And I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life; who proceeds from the Father [and the Son]; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets.

And I believe one holy catholic and apostolic Church. I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; and I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen

These and other historical creeds have been systematized in the Westminster Confession of Faith. Many scripture truths are condensed in the Westminster Larger and Shorter Catechisms.

I heartily encourage that you study these Westminster documents as you diligently read the Scriptures which, as the Apostle James admonishes, are able to save your soul.

So, if you have believed in His name; be certain that it has been granted to you and:

…If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 2 Corinthians 5:17 (ESV)

Now, we embark together to follow our Savior.

Stephen Nichols: East of Eden: Our Need for a Savior, Reformation Bible College

Sabbath for Man

The Lord Jesus Christ opposed Israel’s religious rulers over legalistic practices that they thought commended them to God and kept them in power. These rulers had condemned His disciples for picking and eating grain on the Sabbath. Near the end of this confrontation, He said:

…If you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. Matthew 12:7 English Standard Version (ESV)

And in a separate report of the event:

…He said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.” Mark 2:27-28 (ESV)

The Gospels go on to describe how the Lord healed a man on the Sabbath. Rather than repent and believe in God, Israel’s rulers viewed these presumed violations as a pretext to kill the Savior.

The Reformation leader, John Calvin, had insight into the texts:

But if you knew …Christ conveys an indirect reproof to the [religious rulers] for not considering why ceremonies were appointed, and to what object they are directed. …God declares…that he sets a higher value on mercy than on sacrifice, employing the word mercy…for [services] of kindness [and] sacrifices [as] the outward service of the Law…

…Though piety is justly reckoned to be as much superior to charity as God is higher than men, yet believers, by practicing justice towards each other, prove that their service [for] God is sincere. It is not without reason that this subject is brought [to] the notice of hypocrites, who imitate piety by outward signs, and yet pervert it by confining their laborious efforts to the carnal worship alone…

Those trying to trap and kill the Lord and thereby save themselves and their power missed His offer of mercy. They missed that:

The Sabbath was made for man. …Those persons judge amiss who turn [the Sabbath into] man’s destruction…which God appointed for his benefit. …Is not this a foolish attempt to overturn the purpose of God, when they demand to the injury of men that observation of the Sabbath which he intended to be advantageous?

But they are mistaken, I think, who suppose that in this passage the Sabbath is entirely abolished; for Christ simply informs us what is the proper use of it. Though he asserted, a little before, that he is Lord of the Sabbath, yet the full time for its abolition was not yet come, because the veil of the temple was not yet rent, (Matthew 27:51.)

Calvin then analyses the sanction with which Christ acted:

For the Son of man is Lord even of the Sabbath. …He declares that he has received authority to exempt his followers from the necessity of observing the Sabbath. The Son of man, (he says,) in the exercise of his authority, can relax the Sabbath in the same manner as other legal ceremonies. And certainly out of Christ the bondage of the Law is wretched, from which he alone delivers those on whom he bestows the free Spirit of adoption, (Romans 8:15.)

The rulers meant to sacrifice the Lord of Sabbath in order to keep their lives; Christ meant mercy in giving up His.

***

Lest we be carried away with the thought that Calvin advocated doing away with Sabbath observance, Calvin sums up his understanding of the Sabbath from the scriptures in his Institutes of the Christian Religion:

…First, that during our whole lives we may aim at a constant rest from our own works, in order that the Lord may work in us by his Spirit; secondly that every individual, as he has opportunity, may diligently exercise himself in private, in pious meditation on the works of God, and, at the same time, that all may observe the legitimate order appointed by the Church, for the hearing of the word, the administration of the sacraments, and public prayer: And, thirdly, that we may avoid oppressing those who are subject to us.

And contemporary theologian R. C. Sproul continues the debate on the topic of Sabbath keeping as do others here, here, here, and here. In any case, we would do well to strictly adhere to that severe admonition:

Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Colossians 3:17 (ESV)

Jesus As Lord of the Sabbath – A sermon from Dr. R.C. Sproul

And

Jesus Is Lord of the Sabbath – A sermon from Dr. R.C. Sproul

Do You Swear?

During the Lord Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, He defined God’s standards for a righteous life. He cited common understandings for principled living and then raised the bar. Among these principles, He declared swearing (i.e., oath taking) off-limits.

“Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’

But I say to you, do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black.

Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil. Matthew 5:33-37 English Standard Version (ESV)

Specifically, Christ prohibits using God’s name (or euphemisms for it) to bolster our sincerity in what we promise or declare to others and to God.

John Calvin comments:

You shall not swear falsely… The man who perjures himself is not the only person who takes the name of God in vain, (Exodus 20:7). He does so, who idly and contemptuously pronounces the name of God on trivial occasions, or in ordinary conversation.

Calvin points out that some have used the Lord’s command to reject all vows. He says they’re mistaken:

Do not take an oath at all… His statement amounts to this, that there are other ways of “taking the name of God in vain,” besides perjury; and, therefore, that we ought to refrain from allowing ourselves the liberty of unnecessary swearing: for, when there are just reasons to demand it, the law not only permits, but expressly commands us to swear.

Stating the obvious, Calvin concludes:

Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ Christ now prescribes… that men act towards each other sincerely and honestly… Fairness and honesty in our words are, therefore, demanded by Christ, that there may be no longer any occasion for an oath.

And James, in his letter to the churches, echoed his Lord’s admonition:

But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your “yes” be yes and your “no” be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation. James 5:12 (ESV)

Therefore, let us speak truth, one to another.

Us – Michael Been, The Best of The Call