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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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JESUS CAME FOR US

And as he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him. (Mark 2:14 ESV)

Every culture has people who are unpopular for one reason or another. How would you feel if you answered the door bell to find an agent of the IRS who has come to audit your taxes? However, Levi was a very different type of tax collector than we have experienced.

Levi was considered to be a traitor and collaborator by the Jews because he worked for the occupying Romans who ruled Israel during this time. Tax collectors in Israel were hated men because they not only worked for the enemy, they were thieves. The Romans sold tax collecting franchises to anyone who could afford them. Once you owned the right to collect taxes, you would collect so much to give to the Romans and then you were allowed to add whatever amount you wanted to the tax for your fee.

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A Clear View of Jesus Christ

Bishop J. C. RyleJ.C. Ryle (Commenting on Mt. 1:18-25):

Let us take care that we have clear views of our Lord Jesus Christ’s nature and person. It is a point of the deepest importance. We should settle it firmly in our minds, that our Savior is perfect man as well as perfect God, and perfect God as well as perfect man. If we once lose sight of this great foundation truth, we may run into fearful heresies. The name Emmanuel takes in the whole mystery. Jesus is “God with us.” He had a nature like our own in all things, sin only excepted. But though Jesus was “with us” in human flesh and blood, He was at the same time very God. (Expository Thoughts on Matthew)

An Example of Faith

Bishop J. C. RyleJ.C. Ryle:

…the conduct of the wise men is a striking example of faith. They believed in Christ when they had never seen Him–but that was not all. They believed in Him when the Scribes and Pharisees were unbelieving–but that again was not all. They believed in Him when they saw Him a little infant on Mary’s knee, and worshiped Him as a king. This was the crowning point of their faith. They saw no miracles to convince them. They heard no teaching to persuade them. They beheld no signs of divinity and greatness to overawe them. They saw nothing but a newborn infant, helpless and weak, and needing a mother’s care like any one of ourselves. And yet when they saw that infant, they believed that they saw the divine Savior of the world. “They fell down and worshiped Him.”

We read of no greater faith than this in the whole volume of the Bible. It is a faith that deserves to be placed side by side with that of the penitent thief. The thief saw one dying the death of a malefactor, and yet prayed to Him, and “called Him Lord.” The wise men saw a newborn babe on the lap of a poor woman, and yet worshiped Him and confessed that He was Christ. Blessed indeed are those that can believe in this fashion!

This is the kind of faith, let us remember, that God delights to honor. We see the proof of that at this very day. Wherever the Bible is read the conduct of these wise men is known, and told as a memorial of them. Let us walk in the steps of their faith. Let us not be ashamed to believe in Jesus and confess Him, though all around us remain careless and unbelieving. Have we not a thousand-fold more evidence than the wise men had, to make us believe that Jesus is the Christ? Beyond doubt, we have. Yet where is our faith? (Expository Thoughts on Matthew)

Seeing God

Jonathan EdwardsIt is impossible that God should take pleasure in wickedness and therefore, the wicked have no vision of God, for they do not see God’s love. Jonathan Edwards writes:

“Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.” (Matthew 5:8)

It becomes persons when they come into the presence of a king, so to attire themselves, that they may not appear in a sordid habit, and it would be much more unsuitable still, for any to come all defiled with filth. But sin is that which renders the soul much more loathsome in the sight of God. This spiritual filth is of a nature most disagreeable to that pure, heavenly light; it would be most unsuitable to have the pollution of sin and wickedness, and the light of glory, mixed together; and it is what God never will suffer. It would be a most unbecoming thing for such to be the objects of God’s favor, and to see the love of God, and to receive the testimonies of that love. It would be most unsuitable for the glorious and most blessed God to embrace in the arms of his love, that that is infinitely more filthy than a reptile.

It is naturally impossible that the soul, which is impure, should see God. The sight of God’s glory, and impurity of heart, is not compatible in the same subject. Where spiritual defilement holds possession of the heart, it is impossible that the divine light, which discovers God’s glory, should enter. How can he, who is under the power of enmity against God, and who only hates God, see his beauty and loveliness at the same time? Sin, so long as it has the government and possession of the soul, will blind the mind and maintain darkness. As long as sin keeps possession, the heart will be blinded through its deceitfulness.

What pleasure would it give to the soul that hates holiness, to see the holiness of God? What pleasure to them who are God’s enemies, to see his greatness and glory? Wicked men have no relish for such intellectual, pure, and holy delights and enjoyments. As we have observed already, to have a relish for spiritual enjoyments is one part of the purity of heart spoken of in the text. (“The Pure in Heart Blessed”)

The Yoke of Sin

I pray that all who are burdened with sin and sinfulness, and desire to know how their sins may be forgiven and their souls saved – would hear the gracious words of the following text, and come to Jesus. John A. Broadus (1827-1895) writes:

Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30)

But it is impossible that men should be without subjection to some higher power; by our very nature we look up to some Being that is above us. All who are not subject to God are the subjects of Satan: and they who wish to be delivered from the dominion of the Evil One, must find such deliverance in having God himself for their King, as he intended they should when he made them. Accordingly, when the Savior offers to give rest, he bids them take his yoke upon them, and learn of him, and they shall find rest unto their souls. And then he concludes the invitation by encouraging them to believe that this exchange will be good and pleasant; they labor under the galling yoke of Satan, and are heavy laden with the grievous burdens of sin, but his yoke is easy. This burden is light. . . .

The same bountiful and gracious Being who suits the blessings of his providence to our various wants, does also adapt the invitations of his mercy to the varied characters and conditions of men. Are men enemies to God? – they are invited to be reconciled. Have they hearts harder than the nether millstone? – he offers to take away the stone, and give a heart of flesh. . . Are they sleeping the heavy sleep of sin? – “Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead.” Are men hungering with a craving hunger? – he tells them of the bread that came down from heaven. Are they thirsty? – he calls them to the water of life. And are they burdened with sin and sinfulness? – he invites them to come to Jesus for rest. It is those who are “bowed down beneath a load of sin,” that are here especially invited to come to Jesus.

Sin is great and grievous burden: and no man can ever see it as it is and feel it in its weight without wishing to be relieved of it. My hearers, are there not many among you who have often felt this – who have often felt heavy laden with the load of your transgressions, and the burden of your sinfulness? Are there not those among you who feel this now? If you do not all feel so, it is because your perceptions are blunted, you do not see things as they are. You have been servants of sin for a long time – have you not found it a hard master? You have been wearing the yoke of Satan lo! These many years – have you not found that his yoke is indeed galling and grievous? How many things you have done at his bidding that you knew to be wrong? How often you have stifled the voice of your conscience, and listened to the suggestions of the Tempter! How often you have toiled to gratify sinful desires and passions, and found that still the craving, aching void was left unfilled!

What has sin done for the world and for you that you should desire it? It brought death into the world, and all our woe. It has filled the earth with suffering and sorrow. It has made it needful that Jesus, the only-begotten Son of God, should suffer and die, to make atonement for it. It has brought upon you much of unhappiness now, and many most fearful apprehensions for the future. By your sins you have incurred the just anger of Him that made you-already they rise mountain high, and yet still you go on in your sinfulness, accumulating more and more, heaping up wrath against the day of wrath. You shudder when you think of death, you tremble when you think of God, for you know well that you are not prepared to die, that you cannot meet your Maker and Judge in peace. And not only has sin brought on you all these sufferings and fears, but you cannot rid yourself of it. . . .

If so, hear the Savior’s own invitation, and come to him. He will take off the heavy load that crushes you, and you shall find rest to your souls. He will intercede in your behalf before God, he will take away your guilt by the sacrifice he has offered, and he will “wash you thoroughly from your iniquity, and cleanse you from your sin.” (“Come Unto Me”)

The Single Eye

The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! (Matthew 6:22-23 ESV)

The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light. But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness! (Matthew 6:22-23 KJV)

Have you ever meditated on Matthew 6:22-23? I have often compared the two Bible translations above to attempt to discern what Christ means by His teaching. I think we all understand that when the eye is functioning properly, we can see everything around us as it really is. Here, however, Jesus is speaking spiritually about light and darkness and the eye’s effect upon the way we pursue our lives. The eye is the way we think spiritually. It will have a profound impact upon the development of our human character. It will determine what we treasure most in our lives.

The eye represents, in the sense used above, our moral sense of right and wrong, our understanding, and practical judgment. Just as the physical eye guides and directs our actions; the spiritual eye must be “healthy” or “single” in order to make correct judgments and discern the treasures which are “full of light”. On the other hand, if the eye is “bad” or “evil”, the heart and life will be “full of darkness”.

The healthy or single eye is a mind illuminated by the Spirit of God and the absolute truth of God’s Word. The healthy eye is focused on pleasing and glorifying God. If we aim at the glory of God, then the eye is healthy. But if the eye is bad, we will treasure those things that lead us away from God into the darkness. The healthy eye, therefore, represents spiritual wisdom which is the gift of God in Christ. It is Christ, “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” (Colossians 2:3 ESV)

The need of seeking a healthy eye is evidenced by the fact that the natural man possesses an eye that is bad or evil, and thus fills the whole body with darkness. The natural man does not see the things of God.

At regeneration the whole soul is filled with light. Provided with an enlightened understanding and conscience, the Christian is now able to distinguish between good and evil; that which is heavenly and that which is worldly. The blindness of the natural man appears in his ignorance of God and of himself. His mind has no spiritual discernment. The natural man is completely unaware of the darkness which blocks his understanding. Yet, he thinks himself wise.

Prior to the fall of mankind through Adam, our unencumbered faculties guided our actions and emotions. Afterwards, man’s mind became subject to his baser nature and emotions. The cure and only hope for man’s current condition is God’s grace. May He be merciful to us all!

When Evil Is Left On The Field Of Victory

According to John Henry Jowett (1863-1923), faith is a force. Faith is a deep, unshaken confidence in the righteousness of God’s cause. Faith has entire and absolute assurance. When a man speaks with faith that has a solid core of definite confidence burning in his soul, then he will become a flaming fire as he speaks the Word of God. See the article below for more thoughts on this subject:

Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it out?” He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matthew 17:19-20 ESV)

Nothing succeeds like success”; it is easy to be an optimist, and optimistic counsel is congenial, when one has the “open sesame,” when the iron gate swings back at one’s approach, and the obstructive mountains sink into a plain. In such conditions it is easy to engage in the winning shout. But is there anything more pathetic and depressing than the spectacle of men baffled in a noble enterprise and retiring beaten from the field? What can be more pathetic than to have watched some chivalrous knight, riding forth in the promising dawn, with waving plume and glittering lance, returning, in the melancholy evening, torn, bespattered, and ashamed, leaving the flippant enemy triumphant on the field? And the tragedy of the home-coming is all the deeper and darker when the way winds through ranks of contemptuous crowds, who assail the beaten knight with ribaldry and jeers. Such was the pitiable condition of this little company of the first knights of the Lord’s Kingdom. They had gone forth with flying banners, gazed at by sullen and silent crowds: they crept back with drooping banners, to the laughing accompaniment of the crowd’s contempt. They had met the enemy, and they had been overwhelmed in the fight. They had gone forth to battle, and they had been driven from the field. “I brought him to Thy disciples, and they could not cure him!”

Let us get the scene into the imagination. Here is a man devil-possessed, writhing in the torment of his awful bondage. And here are the expulsive knights of the Kingdom. And around them is a great crowd, the majority of them hostile, many of them cynical, and all of them curious, watching this mysterious encounter with devouring interest. And the knights of the Kingdom get to work. They command, but they are not obeyed! One after another tries his power, but his power is proved to be weakness. The knights become more vehement, their imperative rises to a scream, but the devil remains enthroned! Time after time is the attempt repeated amid the muttered comments of the suspicious crowed, and time after time are they repulsed, until at last these much-claiming knights have to confess their failure, and, to the accompaniment of laughter, they retire angrily or silently from the field, leaving the devil in possession. “I brought him to Thy disciples, and they could not cure him.”

The victim was possessed of a devil. I will only pause to say I accept the explanation of his bondage. Some malign presence was making this man’s life chaotic, and was driving him according to its own malicious whim. There are phenomena in human life which cannot be otherwise explained. I cannot explain mysterious emergencies in my own mind and soul except on the theory of subtle and active presences, who seek by illicit snare and fascination to entice me into degrading bondage. The glamour of the world does not account for them. The gravitation of the flesh is an insufficient explanation. They are only interpreted in the Scriptural suggestion that “our warfare is not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the world-rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” But it is not necessary for my present purpose to win your assent to any particular theory: it is sufficient to insist that here was an evil in possession, exercising horrible control, paralyzing its pitiable victim, and the knights of the Lord’s Kingdom were incompetent to its expulsion. The evil was left on the field!

Now, our modern experiences very readily lead us to place ourselves in the depressed ranks of the defeated knights. Who is there who has not set out to evict an established evil, and who has not encountered bitter and ultimate defeat? It may be the evil possession was in your own body, or in your mind, or soul, or, maybe, it was housed in the life of your child, or in the life of your friend, or perhaps it was lodged in the corporate body in the shape of some social tyranny, some industrial disease, some national vice, whatever it be, and wherever its home, you have faced the intruder with the purpose of expulsion, and you have signally and utterly failed.

And now it is high time we hear our Master’s explanation of the failure. “Then came the disciples to Jesus apart, and said, Why could not we cast it out? And He said unto them. Because of your unbelief!” There is no uncertainty in the diagnosis. The cause is not complicated. It is single and simple. “Unbelief!” There had been a want of confidence. There was doubt at the very heart of the disciple’s effort. There was a cold fear at the very core of his enterprise. He went out with a waving banner, but the flag in his heart was drooping! “Because of your unbelief!” (“The Energy of Faith”)

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