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  • Samuel at Gilgal

    This year I will be sharing brief excerpts from the articles, sermons, and books I am currently reading. My posts will not follow a regular schedule but will be published as I find well-written thoughts that should be of interest to maturing Christian readers. Whenever possible, I encourage you to go to the source and read the complete work of the author.

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  • Recommended Reading

Moving Beyond The Milk

Quoting Keith Mathison:

In the early centuries of the church’s existence, Christian apologists would sometimes appeal to the distinctively holy lives of Christians as evidence for the truth of Christianity. Would such an appeal be of any use today? According to numerous surveys, the behavior of professing Christians is not discernibly different from the behavior of those who profess other religions or no religion at all. The phrase one often hears on the lips of pagans who observe contemporary Christian behavior is: “The church is full of hypocrites.” This should not be. We worship a holy God who calls His people to be holy and who has provided the means by which they may be holy.

The problem of lax and hypocritical Christianity is not a new one, and one of the best treatments of the entire subject is a classic written by J.C. Ryle (1816–1900), who served as the Anglican Bishop of Liverpool for twenty years. Ryle was a deeply committed and non-compromising evangelical Christian. In fact, Charles Spurgeon referred to him as an “evangelical champion.” His book Holiness has been reprinted numerous times since its original publication in 1879. It is deservedly considered a Christian classic on the subject of sanctification. It ranks up there with the work of John Owen on the mortification of sin.

I first read Bishop Ryle’s Holiness some twenty years ago. The book was deeply convicting and made a lasting impact on my thinking. Ryle’s work is convicting because he does not appeal to silly gimmicks and other manmade answers to the problem of sin. He appeals over and over to Scripture, to the Word of the living God, and he drives the Word of God home through careful and direct application. If you are complacent in your sin and do not want to be disturbed in your enjoyment of it, do not read Ryle. This is a book about the necessity of sanctification, the necessity of holiness. It deals with weighty subjects, the weightiest in fact: God, sin, Jesus Christ, the gospel, the Holy Spirit, justification, sanctification, heaven, and hell. It is a book for those who want to move beyond milk and get to the meat of the Word.

What Power Does God Have Over Evil Actions?

B.H. Carroll

Providence is an effective, all-comprehensive, divine agency that touches every event in the physical and spiritual world. Many of God’s saints, in the hardest and darkest times of their lives, have had peace by their understanding of and faith in the Lord’s providential care. The Lord God omnipotent reigns! B.H. Carroll (1843-1914) explains further:

If the foundations be destroyed what can the righteous do? (Psalm 11:3)

The providence of God is not only preventive and permissive of evil but is also directive. What do I mean by directive? I mean that God so directs evil actions as to disappoint the purpose and expectation of the sinner and his tempter. Let us get that very clear. Two scriptures will serve to show that God’s providence is directive with reference to the actions of evil men when it so operates that this evil action shall miss its issue, shall come to another issue neither intended nor desired by the perpetrator.

The first scripture is from the book of Genesis. The wicked brothers of Joseph, who had sold him into Egypt, are now in trouble in that very land. Their consciences accuse them:

“And they said one to another, We are verily guilty concerning our brother,in that we saw the anguish of his soul, when he besought us and we would not hear; therefore is this distress come upon us. And Reuben answered them, saying, Spake I not unto you, saying, Do not sin against the child; and ye would not hear? Therefore, behold, also his blood is required.” (Genesis 42:21, 22.)

This was the human side. On the other hand, hear Joseph: “I am Joseph, your brother, whom ye sold into Egypt. Now, therefore, be not grieved nor angry with yourselves that ye sold me hither; for God did send me before you to preserve life *** to preserve you a posterity in the earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So now, it was not you that sent me hither, but God.” That is, you meant evil. God directed that action so as to change it into an issue that was not foreseen nor purposed by you. The other scripture is from the fourth chapter of Acts. These two will answer for a thousand. They equal in importance any in the Bible:

“And when they heard that, they lifted up their voice to God with one accord, and said, Lord, Thou art God, which hast made heaven and earth, and the sea, and all that in them is: Who by the mouth of Thy servant David hast said, Why did the heathen rage, and the people imagine vain things? The kings of the earth stood up, and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord, and against His Christ. For of a truth against Thy holy child Jesus, whom Thou has anointed, both Herod, and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered together, for to do whatsoever Thy hand and Thy counsel determined before to be done.” (Acts 4:24-28.)

Now here was an entirely independent purpose and expectation on the part of Herod, on the part of Pilate, on the part of the Jews. They meant death and ruin and yet God’s providence governed their very malice to an issue neither foreseen, desired nor purposed by them, in that it accomplished not only His own predetermined purpose, working not for the ruin but for the salvation of the world.

Yet another term may be employed to show how the providence of God touches evil actions, to-wit, determinative. Terminus means a boundary, a limit, and to determinate is to set a boundary. The providence of God then touches evil actions by putting a limit upon them. An illustrative case or two may be rapidly stated. The devil wanted to get hold of Job, to worry and destroy him. He asked the Lord for an opportunity. God, having purposes of His own to accomplish concerning Job and others, gave the permission but set a limit at Job’s life: “You may take his cows; you may take his camels; you may take his children so far as their earthly health and existence is concerned; you may touch Job himself and cover his body with loathsome ulcers, but the life of Job, the soul of Job, the spiritual standing of Job in the sight of God, oh, devil, you cannot touch.” There God puts an impassable barrier.

In the same direction are the words of the Psalmist:

“If it had not been the Lord who was on our side, now may Israel say: If it had not been the Lord who was on our side, when men rose up against us, then they had swallowed us up quick, when their wrath was kindled against us: then the waters had overwhelmed us, the stream had gone over our soul; then the proud waters had gone over our soul; blessed be the Lord, who hath not given us as a prey to their teeth. Our soul is escaped as a bird out of the snare of the fowlers; the snare is broken, and we are escaped. . . .” (Psalm 124:1-7)

Leave out the determinative providence of God, that feature of God’s providence that sets a limit to the wrath of evil men and the devil, and the foundation would be removed, and then what could the righteous do?

In The Hands Of A Holy God

From the desk of R. C. Sproul:

The problem is simply this: If God is just and requires perfection from me and I come short of that perfection and he is going to deal with me according to justice, then I am looking at a future punishment at the hands of a holy God. If the only way I can escape punishment is through a Savior and if I want to escape that, then I need a Savior. Some people will say that we’re just trying to preach Jesus as a ticket out of hell, as a way to escape eternal punishment. That’s not the only reason I would commend Jesus to people, but that is one of the reasons.

I think that many people in today’s culture don’t really believe that God is going to hold them accountable for their lives—that God really does not require righteousness. When we take that view, we don’t feel the weight of the threat of judgment. If you’re not afraid to deal with God’s punishment, then be happy as a clam if you want. I would be living in terrible fear and trembling at the prospect of falling into the hands of a holy God.

Salvation’s Need Of The Scripture

James Montgomery Boice

There is no doubt that faith needs the Word of God just as fruit needs the living root of a tree. The knowledge of God is not the product of anyone’s imagination, but only what God reveals to us in the Bible. So there is a relationship between faith and the Word which leads to salvation. The Word is used by God in the process of salvation. How then can the preacher led anyone to God without preaching the whole Word of God? James Montgomery Boice gives a more complete explanation:

And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (2 Peter 1:19-21)

Divine truthfulness was the rock beneath [the Apostles’] approach to Scripture. Their study of the Bible led them to this conclusion, and thereafter they approached the difficulties of biblical interpretation from this premise. This approach has characterized the majority of their heirs in the Reformation churches down to and including many at the present time, although not all inerrantists feel obligated to use this approach. In fuller form, the argument has been presented as follows:

The Bible is a reliable and generally trustworthy document. This is established by treating it like any other historical record, such as the works of Josephus or the accounts of war by Julius Caesar.

On the basis of the history recorded by the Bible we have sufficient reason for believing that the central character of the Bible, Jesus Christ, did what he is claimed to have done and therefore is who he claimed to be. He claimed to be the unique Son of God.

As the unique Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ is an infallible authority. Jesus Christ not only assumed the Bible’s authority; he taught it, going so far as to teach that it is entirely without error and is eternal, being the Word of God: “For truly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished” (Matt. 5:18).

If the Bible is the Word of God, as Jesus taught, it must for this reason alone be entirely trustworthy and inerrant, for God is a God of truth. Therefore, on the basis of the teaching of Jesus Christ, the infallible Son of God, the church believes the Bible also to be infallible. . . .

Not only does God exalt his name and his very words in the Scriptures and likewise in the preaching of that Word, but he also exalts his Word in the saving of men and women. For it is by his Word and Spirit, and not by testimonies, eloquent arguments, or emotional appeals, that he regenerates the one who apart from that regeneration is spiritually dead. Peter states it thus: “You have been born anew, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God” (1 Peter 1:23). (The Foundation of Biblical Authority. London & Glasgow: Pickering & Inglis, 1979. pp.123-143)

Transforming Life

Quoting Albert N. Martin:

B. B. Warfield describes Calvinism as ‘that sight of the majesty of God that pervades all of life and all of experience’. In particular as it relates to the doctrine of salvation its glad confession is summarized in those three pregnant words, God saves sinners. Now whenever we are confronted with great doctrinal statements in Holy Scripture, God does not leave us merely with the statement of doctrine. The end of God’s truth set before the minds of God’s people is that, understanding it, they might know its effect in their own personal experience. So the grand doctrinal themes of Ephesians, chapters 1, 2 and 3 are followed by the application of those doctrines to practical life and experience in Ephesians, chapters 4, 5 and 6. The end for which God gave his truth was not so much the instruction of our minds as the transformation of our lives. But a person cannot come directly to the life and experience, he must come mediately through the mind. And so God’s truth is addressed to the understanding and the Spirit of God operates in the understanding as the Spirit of wisdom and knowledge. He does not illuminate the mind simply that the file drawers of the mental study may be crammed full of information. The end for which God instructs the mind is that he might transform the life. (Albert Martin is the Senior Pastor of Trinity Baptist Church, Essex Fells, New Jersey)

Discerning God’s Will For You

If you study the operations of the Holy Spirit, you will notice that He always guides us by sending us to the Word of God and His Providence. Between the two, they will lead us to the path we should choose. We can certainly say, in general, that after serious deliberation and earnest supplication, if our choice is not in accord with the Word of God or is impracticable, or immoral; it certainly is not the will of God for us. If our choice is in accord with the Word of God and allows us to go ahead while walking in holiness and honoring God, this may be perceived (at least to some degree) as a proper sign of His Will.

Let us take our employment as an example. Sometimes providence may begin to make our present jobs very uncomfortable. It may become unprofitable to us or make our continuance impractical. In such conditions we may certainly seek to alter our circumstances. Maybe in our present condition the work is easy and profitable. However, there are changes to be made which violate the Word of God. By this action, we know that this is a business in which we cannot continue our employment.

If we are offered employment in two places (I know this is a touchy issue considering the economy just now) we must seek to learn all we can about both businesses. After much prayer and considering biblically related issues, if we find that one of the businesses engages in unbiblical moral practices then the answer is obvious as to which job to take. If both chances of employment are evil, flee from them both as quickly as possible.

What if we are offered two good jobs that do not conflict with the God’s Word? In this case, we should choose the one where we can honor God most in our duty and achievements.

If we are to discern God’s Will for us in such areas of life, we must look away from riches and pleasures because they will deceive us and turn us from God’s good and perfect will. Always check your motives carefully.

After prayer, careful thought, and study of the Scriptures, if we find our way is still not clear to us – wait; wait upon the Lord in prayer. Ask God to hedge up the wrong way and in His providential care to make known the right path.

In general, we must put temptation out-of-the-way. We must use the Bible for our rule of action. We must be earnest with God and seek to saturate our minds with His Truth. We cannot seriously believe that the Holy Spirit will give us discernment of God’s Will, if we do not even study the Bible. This would be like trying to turn a flashlight on without batteries. Dear Christian, if you truly want the light of the Holy Spirit to shine on the decisions you must make; you must first be sure you are a Christian; consistently study the Bible; and be constant in prayer.

Charles Spurgeon On The Will

Charles H. Spurgeon

From the desk of Charles Spurgeon:

Blessed be the God of grace that it is so! He has a people whom He has chosen from of old to be His peculiar portion. These by nature have wills as stubborn as the rest of the froward sons of Adam; but when the day of His power comes and grace displays its omnipotence, they become willing to repent and to believe in Jesus. None are saved unwillingly, but the will is made sweetly to yield itself. What a wondrous power is this, which never violates the will and yet rules it! God does not break the lock, but He opens it by a master key which He alone can handle. Now are we willing to be, to do, or to suffer as the LORD wills. If at any time we grow rebellious, He has but to come to us with power, and straightway we run in the way of His commands with all our hearts. May this be a day of power with me as to some noble effort for the glory of God and the good of my fellowmen! LORD, I am willing; may I not hope that this is a day of Thy power? I am wholly at Thy disposal; willing, yea, eager, to be used of Thee for Thy holy purposes. O LORD, let me not have to cry, “To will is present with me, but how to perform that which I would, I find not”; but give me power as Thou givest me will. (“Faith’s Checkbook”)

John Jay On The Bible

John Jay

Quoting John Jay – 1st Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court:

“By conveying the Bible to people thus circumstanced, we certainly do them a most interesting kindness. We thereby enable them to learn that man was originally created and placed in a state of happiness, but, becoming disobedient, was subjected to the degradation and evils which he and his posterity have since experienced.

The Bible will also inform them that our gracious Creator has provided for us a Redeemer, in whom all the nations of the earth shall be blessed; that this Redeemer has made atonement “for the sins of the whole world,” and thereby reconciling the Divine justice with the Divine mercy has opened a way for our redemption and salvation; and that these inestimable benefits are of the free gift and grace of God, not of our deserving, nor in our power to deserve.” (In God We Trust—The Religious Beliefs and Ideas of the American Founding Fathers, p. 379)

“In forming and settling my belief relative to the doctrines of Christianity, I adopted no articles from creeds but such only as, on careful examination, I found to be confirmed by the Bible.” (American Statesman Series, p. 360)

God Comes To Man

The Advent season is upon us. Christmas will arrive all too soon. However, it is possible to miss the spiritual benefits of this time we have set aside to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. How will you take part in this Advent and Christmas season? What do you hope to experience? John M. Buchanan is pastor of the Fourth Presbyterian Church of Chicago. Below, he shares with us his thoughts on Advent:

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. (Isaiah 7:14 ESV)

Experts in human culture, particularly our post-Enlightenment, rational, Western, consumer culture, concluded a long time ago that the question of God would be more and more marginalized—that the more educated and scientific we became, the less we’d need God, and the more secure and comfortable we became, the less we’d be interested in God. We live in the post-Christian, post-religious age, it is said. God, some announced, was clearly dead; the idea of God, the need for God, the search for God, was essentially dead, and religion would soon follow.

It hasn’t happened, of course. As a matter of fact, those same scholars are now saying that we are living in the midst of a religious boom and that the topic of God has never been hotter—or more relevant, for that matter.

And so we come to Advent, which seems somehow more precious than ever. . . .

Advent unapologetically invites us to look back into time, all the way back to the time before Jesus, back to the time of his humble birth, and back in our own time, back in memory to the previous Christmases we have experienced in our own lives: the family traditions, the customs lovingly preserved year after year, the favorite recipes, the worn tree ornaments, the star Scotch-taped together, carefully removed from its box to shine one more year. And Advent invites us to look forward to the fulfillment of human history, to the ongoing process of redemption and salvation, and to look forward to God’s continuing activity in our own lives. Advent is about God—a God who came into human history in Jesus Christ and a God who promises to continue coming into your history and mine, the history still ahead of us. . . .

Advent is precious because it comes at the darkest time of the year, just when we most need it, to speak an important and good word about God. . . .

Advent invites us to be watchful and alert for that God: the God who is our creator and judge but supremely our redeemer; the God who loves us with an everlasting love from which nothing, not even death itself, can separate us.

Advent comes quietly to invite us—all of us: lifelong believers, skeptics, seekers, the curious, and unbelievers—invites all of us to ponder for a moment a most incredible, most improbable idea: namely that a humble birth in Bethlehem of Judea is the Advent of God, the coming of God into our lives. . . .

Advent is an invitation to trust that God: to give your heart to that God, to trust your future to the God who promises to be with you and to come into your life with healing and hope and peace. (“The Advent of God”)

Entering into Mystical Union

R. C. Sproul

Quoting R. C. Sproul

The Christian life is lived in the context of mystical union with Christ. This union finds its initial origin in eternity. Our salvation is from the foundation of the world, resting in the grace of God’s sovereign election. Paul indicates this in Ephesians 1:3-6.

It is in the Beloved that our redemption is found. From eternity, God considers the elect to be in Christ. Before our mystical union is effected with us in time, it is already a present reality in the mind of God.

Just as Christ invaded time from eternity two thousand years ago, so our eternal union intrudes in time through the work of the Spirit. What has always existed in the mind of God in eternity becomes a time-bound reality in the heart of the regenerate. The result is that, in Christ, through the Spirit, we will behold the Father at our death and from there to eternity. We are sons and daughters of the Father, as it was in the beginning.

Our salvation is by Christ and in Christ. By His righteousness we are made just. By His atonement our sins are forgiven.

Read more by R. C. Sproul. . . .

Patrick Henry: A Nation Founded On The Gospel Of Jesus Christ

 

Patrick Henry

Patrick Henry – Ratifier of the U.S. Constitution:

“It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great nation was founded, not by religionists, but by Christians; not on religions, but on the gospel of Jesus Christ. For this very reason peoples of other faiths have been afforded asylum, prosperity, and freedom of worship here.” (The Trumpet Voice of Freedom: Patrick Henry of Virginia, p. iii)

“The Bible … is a book worth more than all the other books that were ever printed.” (Sketches of the Life and Character of Patrick Henry, p. 402)

Family Church

Charles H. Spurgeon

From the writings of Charles H. Spurgeon:

Is there a Church in this house? Are parents, children, friends, servants, all members of it? or are some still unconverted? Let us pause here and let the question go round-Am I a member of the Church in this house? How would father’s heart leap for joy, and mother’s eyes fill with holy tears if from the eldest to the youngest all were saved! Let us pray for this great mercy until the Lord shall grant it to us. . . . Is there an unconverted servant or child absent this morning? Make special supplication that such may, on their return to their home, gladden all hearts with good news of what grace has done! Is there one present? Let him partake in the same earnest entreaty. If there be such a Church in our house, let us order it well, and let all act as in the sight of God. Let us move in the common affairs of life with studied holiness, diligence, kindness, and integrity. More is expected of a Church than of an ordinary household; family worship must, in such a case, be more devout and hearty; internal love must be more warm and unbroken, and external conduct must be more sanctified and Christlike. We need not fear that the smallness of our number will put us out of the list of Churches, for the Holy Spirit has here enrolled a family-church in the inspired book of remembrance. As a Church let us now draw nigh to the great head of the one Church universal, and let us beseech Him to give us grace to shine before men to the glory of His name. (Morning & Evening)

The Press and Religion

Chuck Colson

From the desk of Chuck Colson:

The United States is often referred to as a “post-Christian” nation. In one sense, that is true: The moral and cultural assumptions shaped by Christianity that used to hold sway in American society, can no longer be taken for granted. They must be defended and contended for in the public square.

But that’s not the same as saying that Americans are becoming more like Europeans when it comes to matters like church attendance or belief in a personal God. In many ways the shift in cultural assumptions I just noted is taking place in spite of what Americans believe and do, not because of them.

You would be hard-pressed to know this judging from media reports. These reports seize on any bit of evidence, however suspect, to promote the thesis that Americans are becoming more “secular.” Every few months we are told about some new study that purports to show how secularism and even atheism is on the march.

We are supposed to conclude that instead of going to church our children will spend Sunday mornings reading the holographic edition of the New York Times on their iPad 15 while sipping a latte made from coffee beans grown hydroponically in zero gravity.

It’s a tidy, convenient story. But unfortunately for its tellers, it just doesn’t square with the facts. . . .

Read more here. . . .

Alexander Hamilton On The Evidence For Christianity

Alexander Hamilton

Quoting Alexander Hamilton – Signer of the Declaration of Independence and Ratifier of the U.S. Constitution:

“I have carefully examined the evidences of the Christian religion, and if I was sitting as a juror upon its authenticity I would unhesitatingly give my verdict in its favor. I can prove its truth as clearly as any proposition ever submitted to the mind of man.” (Famous American Statesmen, p. 126)

Do Not Measure Your Condition By The Condition Of Others

Bishop J. C. Ryle

Why die in your sins? Is sin so sweet that you cannot give it up? Is worldliness so satisfying that you cannot forsake it? Is being a servant of Satan so pleasant? Does your soul mean so little to you? Come to Christ now before it is too late! God is grieved when He sees you in your folly! Was it not Christ who wept over wicked Jerusalem? He said, “I would have gathered you—but you would not be gathered.” Bishop J. C. Ryle writes the following out of concern for your soul:

“And He has made you alive, who were once dead in trespasses and sins.” (Ephesians 2:1)

You do not know! Yet all around you is uncertainty. You are a poor frail worm—your body fearfully and wonderfully made—your health liable to be put out of order in a thousand ways. The next time the daisies bloom, it may be over your grave! All before you is dark. You know not what a day might bring forth, much less a year. Oh! Why not bring your soul’s business to a point without delay?

Let every reader of this paper begin the great business of self-examination. Rest not until you know the length and breadth of your own state in God’s sight. Backwardness in this matter is an evil sign. It springs from an uneasy conscience. It shows that a man thinks ill of his own case. He feels, like a dishonest tradesman, that his accounts will not bear inquiry. He dreads the light.

In spiritual things, as in everything else, it is the highest wisdom to make sure of your work. Take nothing for granted. Do not measure your condition by that of others. Bring everything to the measure of God’s Word. A mistake about your soul is a mistake for eternity! “Surely,” says Leighton, “they that are not born again, shall one day wish they had never been born.”

Sit down this day and think. Commune with your own heart and be still. Go to your own room and consider. Enter into your own closet, or at any rate contrive to be alone with God. Look the question fairly, fully, honestly in the face. How does it touch you? Are you among the living or among the dead?

“If your state be good, searching into it will give you the comfort of it. If your state be bad, searching into it cannot make it worse; nay, it is the only way to make it better—for conversion begins with conviction.” (Hopkins. 1680) (“Alive or Dead?”)

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