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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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For Our Good!

In the words of R.C. Sproul:

“Romans 8:28 is one of the most comforting texts in all of Scripture. It assures the believer that all “tragedies” are ultimately blessings. It does not declare that all things that happen are good in themselves but that in all the things that happen to us God is working in and through them for our good. This is also firmly grounded in His eternal purpose for His people.” (Loved by God)

The Jerusalem Water Shaft

Archaeology and the Bible:

And the king and his men went to Jerusalem against the Jebusites, the inhabitants of the land, who said to David, “You will not come in here, but the blind and the lame will ward you off”—thinking, “David cannot come in here.” Nevertheless, David took the stronghold of Zion, that is, the city of David. And David said on that day, “Whoever would strike the Jebusites, let him get up the water shaft to attack ‘the lame and the blind,’ who are hated by David’s soul.” (2 Samuel 5:6-8 ESV)

David’s capture of Jerusalem recounted in 2 Samuel 5:6-8 speaks of Joab using a water shaft built by the Jebusites to surprise them and defeat them. Historians had assumed it was simply a legend until archaeological excavations by R.A.S. Macalister, J.G. Duncan, and Kathleen Kenyon on Ophel found these very water shafts.

Reformation Day 2012

Today is a religious holiday celebrated in remembrance of the Reformation. On Reformation Day, we give praise to God for what He did in 16th century Germany through Dr. Martin Luther and the other Reformers who followed. They accomplished nothing less than the recovery of the true gospel of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

The Catholic Church of the 16th century had incorporated many errors and superstitions into its doctrine of beliefs. One, the sale of indulgences, incensed Martin Luther and he determined to hold a debate with other faculty members at the University of Wittenberg on the subject. Luther knew that forgiveness from sins could not be purchased. He taught that salvation is not earned by good deeds but received only as a free gift of God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Among other things, Luther had made a study of the Greek New Testament and had been persuaded that the Greek word for repentance, “metanoia”, meant a change of heart, not a performance of outward works.

Luther’s Ninety-five Theses were written in Latin. He nailed them on the Wittenberg Castle Church Door on October 31st, 1517. The church door functioned as a public bulletin board and it was there that important notices were displayed. Luther wished these to be discussed by scholars, rather than the general populace. Yet, within a couple of weeks, copies were available all over Germany. The Ninety-five Theses were quickly translated into German and were made available to people as far away as Rome. Luther’s ideas spread like wildfire, aided by the newly invented printing press.

The Catholic Church tried to silence Luther with accusations of heresy and threats of excommunication. However, He was protected by his local ruler, Frederick the Wise. Martin Luther continued to write more critiques of the Church in the years that followed.

I am thankful for Luther and the other Reformers who returned the church to the faith of Paul and Augustine by putting the Scriptures ahead of church traditions and church authority. I also pray that God will keep us faithful to the true gospel of Jesus Christ.

Contemplating Providence

John Calvin writes:

“We ought to contemplate providence not as curious and fickle persons are wont to do but as a ground of confidence and excitement to prayer. When he informs us that the hairs of our head are all numbered it is not to encourage trivial speculations but to instruct us to depend on the fatherly care of God which is exercised over these frail bodies.”

The Marcionite Heresy

Heresy and the Church:

Marcion was born around the year 85. He traveled to Rome around 135 A.D. where he became known in the church and began to teach. He thought there were huge differences between the God revealed in the Old Testament (OT) and the God found in the New Testament (NT). He decided to reject the God of the OT because he believed Him to be an evil craftsman who created an evil world. Marcion put together his own bible, excluding the OT, and including only Paul’s letters and Luke’s gospel. He excluded a few parts of Paul’s letters where Paul refers to the OT and references to hell and/or judgment. Marcion’s unorthodox canon forced the church fathers to begin naming the accepted documents. Marcionite churches spread throughout the Roman world until the beginning of the fourth century.

“And if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.” (Revelation 22:19 ESV)

Professing Christians, Awake!

The language of this text is borrowed from natural sleep, in which a person is in a great measure unaware of what is happening around him but life remains in the body. This condition is applied to Christians who have grown insensitive to divine things – they sleep, but life remains in their souls. In particular, the exhortation is for those who find themselves in a state of spiritual slumber to shake off their drowsiness and awake to spiritual realities.

“Now it is high time to awake out of sleep” (Rom. 13:11).

Asahel Nettleton writes:

Consider the glorious future that awaits you. You who have long traversed the wilderness on your way to Zion, your struggles for eternal life will have an end. You who have long labored, prayed, and groaned to be delivered from the bondage of sin, “look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh” (Luke 21:28). This night you may wake up amid the song of angels, and a crown of glory may be placed on your head. Awake, then, and behold the glorious dawn of a bright new day!

Finally, consider the great danger of being deceived. A genuine Christian can never sleep sound without being disturbed. He inevitably will become frightened and wake up alarmed about his own condition. However, there are those who remain sound asleep and live at ease in Zion. They neither weep for their sins nor rejoice in the glory of God. Their hope of heaven is really only a pleasant dream while meanwhile they sink further into spiritual deception.

The Christian church is a net that gathers of every kind. Remember that ten virgins professed to be followers of Christ but only five were ready for the bridegroom. Many who now commune on earth will never meet in heaven. Many who now appear to us to be real Christians will, no doubt to our surprise, be found on the left hand of Christ, “for many are called, but few are chosen” (Matt. 22:14). Sadly, the sinner who has professed religion with a false hope can hardly be driven to give it up. However, it is far better to destroy such hope and for the person to conclude that he is lost than for him to awake too late. “Watch ye therefore: for ye know not when the master of the house cometh . . . : lest coming suddenly he finds you sleeping” (Mark 13:35-36). At midnight the cry will be made. Then there will be a great confusion, for thousands will be deceived. Therefore, “let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:12).

These things saith he that hath the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars; I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead. Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die: for I have not found thy works perfect before God. Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent. If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee. (Rev. 3:1-3)

Moving beyond the Gospel?

Quoting Benjamin B. Warfield:

It belongs to the very essence of the type of Christianity propagated by the Reformation that the believer should feel himself continuously unworthy of the grace by which he lives. At the center of this type of Christianity lies the contrast of sin and grace; and about this center everything else revolves. This is in large part the meaning of the emphasis put in this type of Christianity on justification by faith. It is its conviction that there is nothing in us or done by us, at any stage of our earthly development, because of which we are acceptable to God. We must always be accepted for Christ’s sake, or we cannot ever be accepted at all. This is not true of us only “when we believe.” It is just as true after we have believed. It will continue to be true as long as we live. Our need of Christ does not cease with our believing; nor does the nature of our relation to Him or to God through Him ever alter, no matter what our attainments in Christian graces or our achievements in Christian behavior may be. It is always on His “blood and righteousness” alone that we can rest. There is never anything that we are or have or do that can take His place, or that can take a place along with Him. We are always unworthy, and all that we have or do of good is always of pure grace. Though blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies in Christ, we are still in ourselves just “miserable sinners”: “miserable sinners” saved by grace to be sure, but “miserable sinners” still, deserving in ourselves nothing but everlasting wrath. That is the attitude which the Reformers took, and that is the attitude which the Protestant world has learned from the Reformers to take, toward the relation of believers to Christ. (“Miserable-Sinner Christianity’ in the Hands of the Rationalists,” chapter III in Perfectionism, Part One, vol. 7 of The Works of Benjamin B. Warfield [New York: Oxford University Press, 1932; Grand Rapids: Baker, 2000] pp. 113–14)

Ancient Papyrus Claiming that Jesus had a Wife is a Fake!

British New Testament scholar Professor Francis Watson of Durham University says the fragment of papyrus, suggesting that Jesus had a wife, is a hodgepodge of texts from the Gospel of Thomas. Professor Watson points out that the text has been constructed out of small pieces of words and phrases taken mostly out of context from the Coptic Gospel of Thomas.

Professor Watson believes that it is indisputable that he has shown how the papyrus was composed. He says, “I would be very surprised if it were not a modern forgery, although it was composed in this way in the fourth century.” Professor Watson argues that a line-break in the middle of one word on the fragment shows that the copy has been lifted from modern editions of the Gospel of Thomas.

Such manuscripts, including the gospel of Thomas, the gospel of Philip and the Secret Revelation of John, present the Gnostic version of Christianity which is radically different from the teachings of Christ and the Bible. Gnosticism is an ancient heresy which has found popular favor with many liberal Christians. The origins of this latest fragment are as yet unknown. It was received from an anonymous benefactor.

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What Are You Building Your Life On?

“Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you? Everyone who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like: he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well-built. But the one who hears and does not do them is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the stream broke against it, immediately it fell, and the ruin of that house was great.” (Luke 6:46-49 ESV)

Above is one of the more sobering quotes from Jesus. I believe Jesus is saying here that there are people who think they are Christians but are not. They are counterfeit or perhaps “cultural” Christians.

They may say “Lord! Lord!” and even teach Sunday School and preach sermons, however, they are not real Christians. Jesus will someday say to them “I never knew you.” We see in the verses above that obedience is greater than just words. Please don’t misinterpret what I am saying here. It might sound like I am saying good works are more important than grace and faith, but to say that would be to contradict the Scriptures by taking these verses out of context.

There is only one way to be saved from sin; it is through personal faith in Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord. “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) These two verses make it absolutely clear that there is nothing we can do to earn, somehow deserve, or add to our salvation. Jesus has done everything.

Christians are not perfect and still sin, but they make every effort to conduct themselves like Christians. If you are really a Christian, there will be evidence of your continuing growth in sanctification. A true Christian does not consistently behave like an unbeliever. This does not mean that doing good makes a person a Christian, but living righteously is a good sign of whether someone really is a Christian. The Bible teaches: “So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (James 2:17 ESV) We are saved by faith alone, but it is a faith that is accompanied by changes in the way we live and worship.

Imagine two men looking for locations to build their homes. They both narrow their search down to two choices. One place is on rocky ground that is higher up, but it will take a lot of time and work to prepare a foundation there. However, lower down is a second site where the ground is sandy and soft. Building a home in this location would require less time, work, and money.

The two men make their choices. One chooses the solid rocky ground and the other chooses the soft sand. It is then that we find there are storms in the locations where these men built their homes. Indeed, we also have storms in our lives that hit us suddenly, unexpectedly, and sometimes overwhelmingly.

However, the point of the story is Jesus’ description of people who come to Him and hear His words and then obey them. They are like the man who built his foundation and home on rock. When the storm struck that house, it could not be shaken because it had been well-built. This is a description of those who live in obedience to Christ. When Jesus is your rock and the storms of life come, you will not be overwhelmed. Another point is that the time to obey the words of Jesus is before the storms of life actually come. If you build your life on anything else but faith in Jesus Christ, it will eventually collapse.

Let us look at our lives for any signs that we may be counterfeit Christians. Lord, help us to believe and obey. Help us to become Christians who are solidly standing on the rock of Jesus Christ. Let us say with the psalmist; “I love you, O LORD, my strength. The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.” (Psalm 18:1-2 ESV)

In the Presence of God

R. C. Sproul:

“The clearest sensation that a human being has when he experiences the holy is an overpowering and overwhelming sense of creatureliness. That is, when we are in the presence of God, we are humbled and become most aware of ourselves as creatures. This is the opposite of Satan’s original temptation, “You shall be as gods.” (The Holiness of God)

Traditions of the Patriarchs Verified

Edward J. Young shares with us more information on the Nuzi Tablets below:

We should note also the importance of the patriarchal blessing in the Genesis narratives. This blessing was considered as binding. One of the Nuzi tablets reads: “My father, Huya, was sick and lying in bed, and my father seized my hand and spoke thus to me: My other older sons have taken wives but thou hast not taken a wife and I give Zuluishtar to thee as a wife.” It may be noted that like the patriarchal blessings, this one also is oral; it is made by a dying father to a son and possesses legal validity.

One additional point may be mentioned. Jacob claims, “I did not eat the rams of thy flocks” (Genesis 31:38). In the light of some of the difficulties that are reflected upon the tablets of Nuzi this claim takes on peculiar significance. Apparently the shepherds would frequently slaughter lambs and eat mutton at the owner’s expense. Several legal cases in the Nuzi tablets cover this particular matter. Tehiptilla, for example, won at least two cases in law against one of his shepherds who had been slaughtering sheep clandestinely. Jacob, whatever his faults may have been, in this respect at least was guiltless.

Similar parallels might be multiplied. They are indeed both interesting and instructive. But what is of utmost importance is the fact that these parallels in the Nuzi tablets demonstrate quite clearly that the patriarchal background which is presented in the book of Genesis is perfectly accurate. Instead of mirroring a late age, as Wellhausen erroneously claimed, Genesis correctly sets forth the background of the very age in which the patriarchs themselves lived.

Most scholars today, whatever their personal theological beliefs may be, are beginning to acknowledge that Genesis does correctly set forth the background of the patriarchs. This of course is to be expected. On the other hand, they tell us that these discoveries do not prove the existence of the patriarchs themselves. And so the assault has shifted and a new hammer has been forged. But we have the New Testament to convince us of their historicity. As we consider the remarkable support which archaeology has given to our belief that the book of Genesis is accurate, we may well give thanks to God. Such support, of course, is what we should expect archaeology to give, for the book of Genesis is holy, infallible Scripture. May we read it with trusting, believing hearts, ready to hear what it says and to believe in the Redeemer of whom it speaks. (The Accuracy of Genesis)

Moving Forward Daily

From the desk of John Calvin:

“No one can travel so far that he does not make some progress each day. So let us never give up. Then we shall move forward daily in the Lord’s way. And let us never despair because of our limited success. Even though it is so much less than we would like, our labor is not wasted when today is better than yesterday!” (Institutes of the Christian Religion)

Matter Left to Itself does not Organize Itself!

Science and Creation:

A former Evolutionist, Dr. Wilder-Smith debated various leading scientists on the subject throughout the world. In his opinion, the Evolution model did not fit as well with the established facts of science as did the Creation model of intelligent design. “The Evolutionary model says that it is not necessary to assume the existence of anything, besides matter and energy, to produce life. That proposition is unscientific. We know perfectly well that if you leave matter to itself, it does not organize itself – in spite of all the efforts in recent years to prove that it does.”

God is Faithful

The faithfulness of God is the foundation of our hope of final perseverance. Christians shall persevere in holiness, because God perseveres in grace. Charles H. Spurgeon writes:

I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge—even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you—so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. (1 Corinthians 1:4-9 ESV)

Friend just beginning in the divine life, the Lord can give you an irreproachable character. Even though in your past life you may have gone far into sin, the Lord can altogether deliver you from the power of former habits, and make you an example of virtue. He can not only make you moral, but He can make you abhor every false way and follow after all that is saintly. Do not doubt it. The chief of sinners need not be a whit behind the purest of the saints. Believe for this, and according to your faith shall it be unto you. Oh, what a joy it will be to be found blameless in the day of judgement! We sing not amiss, when we join in that charming hymn:

Bold shall I stand in that great day,

For who aught to my charge shall lay;

While through Thy blood absolved I am,

From sin’s tremendous curse and shame?

What bliss it will be to enjoy that dauntless courage, when heaven and earth shall flee away from the face of the Judge of all! This bliss shall be the portion of everyone who looks alone to the grace of God in Christ Jesus, and in that sacred might wages continual war with all sin.

The hope which filled the heart of Paul concerning the Corinthian brethren we have already seen to be full of comfort to those who trembled as to their future. But why was it that he believed that the brethren would be confirmed unto the end? I want you to notice that he gives his reasons. Here they are:

God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. (1 Corinthians 1:4-9 ESV)

The apostle does not say, “You are faithful.” Alas! the faithfulness of man is a very unreliable affair; it is mere vanity. He does not say, “You have faithful ministers to lead and guide you, and therefore I trust you will be safe.” Oh, no! if we are kept by men we shall be but ill kept. He puts it, “God is faithful.” If we are found faithful, it will be because God is faithful. On the faithfulness of our covenant God the whole burden of our salvation must rest. On this glorious attribute of God the matter hinges. (All of Grace)

The Object of Faith

B. B. Warfield:

The saving power of faith resides thus not in itself, but in the Almighty Savior on whom it rests. It is never on account of its formal nature as a psychic act that faith is conceived in Scripture to be saving, – as if this frame of mind or attitude of heart were itself a virtue with claims on God for reward, or at least especially pleasing to Him (either in its nature or as an act of obedience) and thus predisposing Him to favor, or as if it brought the soul into an attitude of receptivity or of sympathy with God, or opened a channel of communication from Him. It is not faith that saves, but faith in Jesus Christ: faith in any other savior, or in this or that philosophy or human conceit (Col. 2:16, 18, 1 Tim. 4:1), or in any other gospel than that of Jesus Christ and Him as crucified (Gal. 1:8, 9), brings not salvation but a curse. It is not, strictly speaking, even faith in Christ that saves, but Christ that saves through faith. The saving power resides exclusively, not in the act of faith or the attitude of faith or the nature of faith, but in the object of faith; and in this the whole biblical representation centers, so that we could not more radically misconceive it than by transferring to faith even the smallest fraction of that saving energy which is attributed in the Scriptures solely to Christ Himself. (“The Religious Life of Theological Students”)

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