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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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BY THEIR FRUITS SHALL THEY BE KNOWN

tree-good-fruitYou will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits. (Matthew 7:16-20 ESV)

If the qualities of the Christian faith were all equally apparent in the lives of the saints, it would be very easy to tell who is a Christian and who is not. The truth is, however, that love, faith, obedience, and piety will often vary during different stages of the Christian’s life. The process of Christian sanctification is by degrees. A Christian may be a baby in grace and knowledge and his faith and love may be weak. He has, nevertheless, passed from death unto life. His spiritual growth may not be consistent. There are successes and failures as he navigates the path. Continue reading

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Tell Satan to Look at the Cross

What will hold us firm when temptations come? J. C. Ryle has considered this question and answered:

“Far be it from me to boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” (Galatians 6:14)

Shall I look at my own graces and gifts? Shall I take comfort in my own faith, and love, and penitence, and zeal, and prayer? Shall I turn to my own heart, and say, “this same heart will never be false and cold”? Oh, no! God forbid! I will look at the cross of Christ. This is my grand argument. This is my main stay. I cannot think that He who went through such sufferings to redeem my soul, will let that soul perish after all, when it has once cast itself on Him. Oh, no! what Jesus paid for, Jesus will surely keep. He paid dearly for it. He will not let it easily be lost. He called me to Himself when I was a dark sinner — He will never forsake me after I have believed. When Satan tempts us to doubt whether Christ’s people will be kept from falling, we should tell Satan to look at the cross.

“The believer is so freed from eternal wrath, that if Satan and conscience say, ‘You are a sinner, and under the curse of the law,’ he can say, ‘It is true, I am a sinner; but I was hanged on a tree and died, and was made a curse in my Head and Lawgiver Christ, and His payment and suffering is my payment and suffering.'” — Rutherford’s Christ Dying. 1647.

And now, will you marvel that I said all Christians ought to boast in the cross? Will you not rather wonder that any can hear of the cross and remain unmoved? I declare I know no greater proof of man’s depravity, than the fact that thousands of so-called Christians see nothing in the cross. Well may our hearts be called stony — well may the eyes of our mind be called blind — well may our whole nature be called diseased — well may we all be called dead, when the cross of Christ is heard of and yet neglected. Surely we may take up the words of the prophet, and say, “Hear, O heavens, and be astonished O earth; an astounding and a horrible thing is done,” — Christ was crucified for sinners, and yet many Christians live as if He was never crucified at all! (“The Cross of Christ”)

The New Heart

From the pen of J. C. Ryle:

A right heart is a NEW heart (Ezek. 36:26). It is not the heart with which a person is born—but another heart put in them by the Holy Spirit. It is a heart which has new tastes, new joys, new sorrows, new desires, new hopes, new fears, new likes, new dislikes. It has new views about the soul, sin, God, Christ, salvation, the Bible, prayer, heaven, hell, the world, and holiness. It is like a farm with a new and good tenant. “Old things are passed away. Behold all things are become new” (2 Cor. 5:17).

Self-Righteousness

This parable is a picture of many professing Christians today. You cannot search your heart too thoroughly for self-righteousness. Beware falling for the devil’s tricks that would have you thinking this parable applies to others but not to you. J. C. Ryle writes:

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14 ESV)

“I tell you,” says Jesus, “this man went down to his house justified rather than the other.” The tax collector came poor in spirit, and he was justified. The Pharisee, rich in merits and self-esteem, went empty away. The penitent was not only pardoned—but justified. He had left his house heavy and afflicted by a sense of sin, he returned with joy and peace; he had asked mercy and received it, he had sought grace and found it; he had come hungering and thirsting after righteousness and he was justified. “He went down to his house justified.” But the proud Pharisee, not feeling his own needs, not acquainted with his own sinfulness, had sought no mercy, and had found none, and he departed unblessed and unheard; and from the saying the “tax collector went down to his house justified rather than the other,” we may fairly suppose this man of self-righteousness and self-dependence had none of that sense of favor and acceptance which the repenting sinner enjoyed.

See now the general APPLICATION which our Lord makes: “Everyone who exalts himself shall be abased—but he who abases himself shall be exalted.” Mark these words, “everyone who exalts himself.” High or low, rich or poor, young or old, it matters not; for God is no respecter of people, “everyone who exalts himself” and not free grace; who trusts either in whole or in part in his own righteousness and performance and not entirely in Jesus Christ—though he go to church twice a day, though he keep the letter of the Ten Commandments, though he pays everything he owes, though he is sober and moral and decently behaved—everyone who exalts himself shall be abased and condemned, when Jesus Christ shall come to judge.

But on the other hand remember, “he who humbles himself “as a sinner before God and comes unto Christ, though he may have been the most wicked of transgressors, though he may have broken all the commandments, though he may have been a Sabbath-breaker, a drunkard, a thief, an adulterer, an extortioner—whatever his sin may have been, if he acts as the tax collector did, “he shall be exalted.” That is—he shall be pardoned, and washed and sanctified and justified for the sake of Jesus Christ, and shall have his place with David and Manasseh and Mary Magdalene and the thief upon the cross—in the everlasting kingdom of our God and of the Lamb.

Never!

From the pen of J. C. Ryle:

“I will NEVER leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5)

Let every believer grasp these words and store them up in his heart. Keep them ready, and have them fresh in your memory; you will need them one day. The Philistines will be upon you, the hand of sickness will lay you low, the king of terrors will draw near, and the valley of the shadow of death will open up before your eyes. Then comes the hour when you will find nothing as comforting as a text like this, nothing so cheering as a real sense of God’s companionship.

Stick to that word, “never”. It is worth its weight in gold. Cling to it as a drowning man clings to a rope. Grasp it firmly, as a soldier attacked on all sides grasps his sword. God has said, and He will stand to it, “I will never leave you, nor forsake you.”

NEVER! Though YOUR HEART is often faint and you are sick of self and your many failures and infirmities overwhelm you – even then the promise will not fail.

NEVER! Though THE DEVIL whispers, “I shall have you at last; yet a little time and your faith will fail, and you will be mine.” Even then the Word of God will stand.

NEVER! When the cold chill of DEATH is creeping over you and friends can do no more, and you are starting on that journey from which there is no return – even then Christ will not forsake you.

NEVER! When the day of JUDGMENT comes, and the books are opened, and the dead are rising from their graves, and eternity is beginning- even then the promise will bear all your weight; Christ will not leave His hold on your soul.

Oh believing reader, trust in the Lord for ever, for He says, “I will never leave you.” Lean back all your weight upon Him, do not be afraid. Glory in His promise. Rejoice in the strength of your consolation. You may say boldly, “The Lord is my Helper, I will not fear.”

The Tax Collector And The Pharisee

I think that this story serves well as another reminder of the ongoing personal battle between pride and humility. This battle takes place in our minds and hearts every day. Christ will always oppose a man-oriented religion of works. So let us read J. C. Ryle’s explanation of the following verses:

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14 ESV)

[L]et us attend to the difference in the PRAYERS of these two characters. Hear the PHARISEE: “God, I thank you that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers—or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all I possess.” Mark these words: there is no expression of any need here; he seems perfectly self-satisfied; he recites complacently what he is not, and he proudly brings forward what he is. Remember, beloved, there is ground for much thankfulness if God enables us to resist gross sins—but then there is no excuse for boasting. None of us have anything which we did not receive, and we cannot do better than follow the example of Paul, who said, “By the grace of God I am what I am.”

But the Pharisee had none of this spirit. He was wrong on every point. He was wrong in supposing, as he evidently did, that his own power and strength had kept him from these vices; he was wrong in believing that he could lay any claim to the title of a perfect observer of the law on these points. It is one thing to keep God’s commandments in the letter, and another to keep them in the spirit. The one may think they do, like this Pharisee—but the other no man ever did but our Lord Jesus Christ. “In many things we offend all,” says James. “Who can tell how often he offends? O cleanse me from my secret faults,” is the language of the psalmist.

Lastly, he was wrong in supposing that his external fulfilment of the law would give him a title to justification in the sight of God. Salvation is all of grace, not of works, lest any man should boast. “By the deeds of the law shall no flesh living be justified.”

But the Pharisee, besides this, was especially wrong in going out of his way to make unnecessary and uncharitable remarks upon the tax collector. He talks like one who had no account to settle about his own soul; he assumes as a matter of course that the tax collector was more vile in God’s sight than himself. And he proves himself a child of the devil by usurping Satan’s office—he becomes an accuser of his brethren. “I am not as other men are—or even as this tax collector.”

Beloved, I must call your particular attention to this language, for I declare unto you with grief that I have heard people say things, which in effect are very much the same about themselves, who yet profess and call themselves Christians. Many say, if they are urged about their own sinfulness in God’s sight, “Well, at any rate I am no worse than my neighbors: I am thankful I do not drink, like such a one next door. I am no fornicator, like such a one down the way. I do not miss church altogether, like such a one who lives down the road.” Listen to me, I beseech you: is not this the very mind of the Pharisee? You are not to be judged by the standard of those around you; it will be no excuse before God to talk about your neighbors—sin is sin whether you live in it in company or alone. Be sure that it will not diminish your misery in hell, to find that all your neighbors are there as well as yourself. Oh, beloved, beware of this delusion; not a few allow such thoughts to dwell within them, who never express them with their lips, and even in the presence of God they flatter themselves they are acceptable to Him, because they are free from open and gross vices, and perform certain known duties. All such are Pharisees; they use the Pharisee’s prayer, and they will meet with the Pharisee’s reception at the hand of God.

Hearken now to the TAX COLLECTOR. “He smote upon his bosom, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.” He does not say “Be merciful to all sinners,” thus leaving it doubtful whether he means himself or not—but “Be merciful to me,” a sinner in whom there is no health, in whom there is no good thing—a sinner in thought, word and deed; and he gives the ground of his hope too, not like some among you, who hope to be forgiven without exactly knowing how or why. The words translated “be merciful,” go further. They mean, “offer an atonement for me, be reconciled unto me, through the sacrifice You have appointed.” Do you think he would have been offended, as some are now, if he had been called a child of the devil, utterly corrupt, full of iniquity and worthy of nothing but wrath? Far from it: he knew he was a sinner, he felt his lost condition, he made no excuses, he offered no justification, he did not talk about his temptations, he did not make great professions of amendment, as if that could make up for the past; he presented himself at the throne of grace, as he was, weary and heavy laden, casting himself on the mercy of God with all his iniquities, and pleading the blood of the atonement. “God be merciful to me a sinner.” Blessed indeed are all among you who have done likewise! (“Self-Righteousness”)

J. C. Ryle: The Pharisee And The Tax Collector

We may know a man by his outward behavior, but only God can truly see the man’s heart. J. C. Ryle writes:

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14 ESV)

The parable—or rather narrative, for it is probably a true story, adapted by our Lord to the purpose of the moment—begins by stating that “One was a Pharisee, the other a tax collector.” Now, it is almost impossible to imagine a more striking contrast, in the opinion of a Jewish congregation. The PHARISEES were the strictest sect among the Jews: “I was of the strictest sect of the Pharisees,” says Paul. They prayed often—which was very right—but they also made long prayers for a pretense, and they would pray at the corners of the streets where two roads met, that they might be seen by people going and coming both ways and so get a name for uncommon sanctity. There is no reason for supposing they were generally anything but moral men—but their grand fault was that they relied on their good works, as a ground of acceptance before God. They seem to have been indifferent as to the real state of their hearts, and to have cared only for keeping up a fair appearance before men, for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.

We may get some idea of their real character from our Lord’s saying, that they gave tithe of mint, anise, and cummin, while they neglected the weightier matters of the law—justice, mercy and truth; and from His comparison of them to whitened sepulchers, which outwardly appear beautiful before men—but inwardly are filled with dead men’s bones and all corruption. They “made broad the borders of their phylacteries,” they had pieces of parchment sewed to the edge of their long robes, on which some texts of Scripture were written, that people might see them and infer that they were great lovers of the law of God. They were very strict about outward purifications, and set great value on the washing of pots, brazen vessels and tables, and many other such-like things that they did. They were particularly zealous for the traditions of the fathers, and for the observation of the rites and ceremonies of the Church, and yet they often made the law of God void by their traditions. They were exceeding exact in the outward observation of the Sabbath—so much so that they called our Lord a sinner, and said he was not of God, because on the Sabbath day He had healed a man who was born blind.

And for all these reasons they were held in high esteem by the people; for men always prefer the things of sight to the things of faith, and think more of outward service than of heart; they had the uppermost places in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces, and were called of men Rabbi. In short, they got such a reputation for piety, that it became a proverb among the Jews that if there were but two men saved, one of them must be a Pharisee.

Such were the Pharisees. But what was the character given to the TAX COLLECTORS? It was very different in every respect. They were generally Jews who were employed to collect the Roman taxes. And as the Jews always disliked to pay tribute to the Gentiles, their office as tax collectors was looked upon as disgraceful and disreputable. Besides this, it is pretty clear that they used to exact much more than their due, and to amass much wealth by false accusations, to the great disgust of their fellow-countrymen. On these accounts they were so universally notorious, that our Lord Himself tells His disciples that if any man would not listen to the church, he must be to them as a heathen man and a tax collector. The enemies of Jesus thought it a heavy charge against Him that He was a friend of tax collectors and sinners; and in one place we find the tax collectors and harlots mentioned together, as people of like reputation.

On the whole, then, we may fairly conclude that in teaching the nature of acceptable worship, our Lord could not have chosen two examples more unlike each other than a Pharisee and a tax collector. One is of great repute with his fellow-creatures, while the other is peculiarly offensive—but which will God accept? (“Self-Righteousness”)

Another excerpt from this sermon will be posted soon.

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