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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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THE HANDBOOK FOR LIFE

Michael HortonMichael Horton:

To preach the Bible as ‘the handbook for life,’ or as the answer to every question, rather than as the revelation of Christ, is to turn the Bible into an entirely different book. This is how the Pharisees approached Scripture, as we can see clearly from the questions they asked Jesus. For the Pharisees, the Scriptures were a source of trivia for life’s dilemmas. 

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The Need for Reconciliation

Reconciliation“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny. (Matthew 5:21-26 ESV)

We see in the above verses that Jesus is responding to the traditional interpretations of the Law during His time on Earth, not the Law itself. Note that He says, “You have heard that it was said to those of old.…” He is referring to the oral traditions rather than the written Law. These were the accepted traditions of the Scribes and Pharisees.

For instance; the phrase “whoever murders will be liable to judgment” may be referring to local courts, but Jesus did not see this as going far enough. Was this Law only concerned with real acts of murder?

“But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.”

(Matthew 5:22 ESV) Jesus taught that “everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment.” Indeed, “whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council (Sanhedrin).” Anyone who says, “You fool! will be liable to the hell of fire.”

Therefore, we see that the traditional interpretation of the Law fell far short of the teachings of Christ. Matthew 5:23-24 says, “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5:23-24 ESV) In other words; we should not try to worship God when we are presently having a conflict with a brother. Such relationships should be restored before worshipping God. Wrong feelings towards others can harm our relationship with God.

Jesus has provided us here with an interesting contrast between traditional views of the Law and the righteousness of the kingdom of heaven. He shows us that the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees did not go far enough in applying the Law.

Jesus also teaches us that wrong thoughts and emotions, such as anger toward others, can harm our relationship with God. We only want to think of murder as the physical act of killing someone, but we can also murder relationships and the reputations of others. We must learn to overcome wrong thoughts and emotions – and, in order to do this, we must be born again. Peter writes, “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God. . . .” (1 Peter 1:22-23 ESV)

Samuel at Gilgal

Man’s Natural State

Archibald Alexander (1772-1851) originally published this essay in the Princeton Theological Review, 1836. In these excerpts, Alexander describes the alienation of man from God:

That human nature has lost that moral purity and perfection with which it was originally endued, is a truth which lies at the heart of the Christian religion. Indeed, we see not how it can be denied by the deist, without casting a gross reflection on the character of God. It is only from the Scriptures, however, that we learn the origin of evil. Here we read that God made man upright, but he hath sought out many inventions. Man being in honor continued not. When God created man he formed him in his own image and after his own likeness; and what that image consisted in, the apostle Paul informs us, when he speaks of the new creation. “And that ye be renewed in the spirit of your mind. And that ye put on the new man which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.” The phrase “after God,” means after the image of God. This is expressed in the parallel passage, “Seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him.”

By the fall this moral image was effaced. The mind which had been illumined by divine truth became spiritually blind; the heart whose exercises had been holy and harmonious, became corrupt, the hot-bed of every vicious propensity, and the center of darkness and disorder. Instead of moral beauty, there was now deformity. In the place of pure felicity, misery succeeded. The soul was now turned with aversion from God and holiness, and the affections attached themselves to the creature. Reason and conscience no longer had control over the inferior passions and appetites; but these, seizing the reins of government, urged man on to carnal indulgences inconsistent with purity and peace. Being now alienated from God, man became his own center around which he endeavored to make all things revolve, from which the most direful disorder ensued; yet he persists in acting upon this principle of supreme selfishness. Although this depravity was from its commencement total, inasmuch as all holy exercise and all holy motives were banished from the mind; yet is human iniquity capable of indefinite increase. Its natural progress is from bad to worse, without a conceivable limit. All therefore are not equal in sin and guilt. The same person is comparatively innocent when he commences his course, to what he becomes at the end of a long life of transgression. And the enormity of his guilt, as well as the obstinate perverseness of his evil nature, depends on the clearness of the light resisted, and the multitude of the mercies abused. Wickedness may attain its greatest visible height among the heathen, but in the sight of God, self-righteous Pharisees are more guilty than Publicans; and Bethsaida, Chorazin and Capernaum will have a more intolerable doom than Tyre and Sidon, or even than Sodom itself. The deepest guilt is contracted under the clear sunshine of the gospel, and by those whose privileges, opportunities, calls and professions, lay them under the strongest obligations to love and serve their Creator. (“A Practical View of Regeneration”)

Traditions And God’s Word

John Calvin

How many people are there in this world who have continued to sit at the feet of ignorance when the Word of God was close at hand? Satan has so captured the minds of men with sinful lusts that they have become blind to the Gospel. They have replaced God’s Word with the traditions of men and have ignored the true and living God. Therefore, they have created and worshiped idols and traditions which continuously spring from the darkened mind. The following is an excerpt from a sermon of John Calvin:

Unto the pure all things are pure; but unto them that are defiled and unbelieving is nothing pure; but even their mind and conscience is defiled. They profess that they know God; but in works they deny him: being abominable and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate. (Titus 1:15-16)

It has been the case in all ages that men have despised God’s law for the sake of their own traditions. Our Lord Jesus Christ upbraided the Pharisees, when He saith, “Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition” (Mat. 15:3). Thus it was in former times, in the days of the prophets. Isaiah crieth out, “Wherefore the Lord said, forasmuch as this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honor me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men: therefore, behold, I will proceed to do a marvelous work and wonder; for the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hid” (chap. 25:13). While men occupy themselves about traditions, they pass over the things that God hath commanded in His Word.

This it is that caused Isaiah to cry out against such as set forth men’s traditions; telling them plainly that God threatened to blind the wisest of them, because they turned away from the pure rule of His Word to follow their own foolish inventions. St. Paul likewise alludes to the same thing, when he saith they have no fear of God before their eyes. Let us not deceive ourselves; for we know that God requires men to live uprightly, and to abstain from all violence, cruelty, malice, and deceit; that none of these things should appear in our life. But those that have no fear of God before their eyes, it is apparent that they are out of order, and that there is nothing but uncleanness in their whole life.

If we wish to know how our life should be regulated, let us examine the contents of the Word of God; for we cannot be sanctified by outward show and pomp, although they are so highly esteemed among men. We must call upon God in sincerity, and put our whole trust in Him; we must give up pride and presumption, and resort to Him with true lowliness of mind that we be not given to fleshly affections. We must endeavor to hold ourselves in awe, under subjection to God, and flee from gluttony, whoredom, excess, robbery, blasphemy, and other evils. Thus we see what God would have us do, in order to have our life well regulated. (“The Word our Only Rule”)

The Inch Turns In To A Mile

Thomas Manton

Quoting Thomas Manton:

If you yield to Satan in the least, he will carry you further and further, till he has left you under a stupefied or terrified conscience: stupefied, till thou hast lost all thy tenderness. A stone at the top of a hill, when it begins to roll down, ceases not till it comes to the bottom. Thou thinkest it is but yielding a little, and so by degrees are carried on, till thou hast sinned away all thy profession, and all principles of conscience, by the secret witchery of his temptations.

They Abide In His House Forever

For the Christian, the life of God in their souls is exercised in seeking God’s face and strength. They, through grace, shall endeavor to do His will. Dr. John Kennedy writes:

“The secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him.” (Psalm 25:14)

They who fear the Lord seek to do His will. He who does homage to the Lord at the footstool of His throne comes forth to serve Him. In earthly families there are children who make a show of affection in their manner towards their father, but quite forget to do his will when he is out of sight. There are no such children in the heavenly family. Men have children who cannot refrain from expressing a reverent love to their fathers when they are near them, and who act according to their directions when they send them on an errand. Such as these do all God’s children seek to be. . . .

They have respect to all their Father’s commandments. . . . Their righteousness exceeded in breadth “the righteousness of Scribes and Pharisees.” Nor do they rest contented unless their obedience arises from the heart; they seek to obey out of genuine love. Their righteousness thus exceeds in depth “the righteousness of Scribes and Pharisees.” The aim of their service is higher; they seek not their own, but the things which are Jesus Christ’s. That the Lord may be pleased and glorified is the end to which they aspire. Their righteousness thus exceeds in height “the righteousness of Scribed and Pharisees.” (Matthew 5:20)

[T]heir enjoyment of privileges depends greatly, on their obedience. They cannot be happy without having respect to all God’s commandments. (Psalm 119:6) They must first seek grace to fear the Lord in order that His secret may be with them. When they wander from His way, He will either frown upon them and be silent, or He will frown upon them and chasten them with His rod. They shall not be cast out of their father’s house because they sin; but when they regard in iniquity in their heart, the Lord will not hear them. (Psalm 66:18) When they have departed from the Lord they shall not again enjoy the light of His face till their backslidings have been healed. (Isaiah 57:18) An offended father may thrust out his child from his presence, and that child may for a time be outside with the dogs, but he is a child there as surely as when he lay on his father’s bosom. He has not been thrust out of the Father’s house. . . . He will not disown the adopted sons whom “the Only Begotten” has made free. He abides in the house forever, and so shall they. (Psalm 89:30-34, John 8:35-36) (“The Secret of the Lord”)

For Those Who Thirst

Nothing proves so conclusively the fallen nature of man as the lack of spiritual appetite. The vast majority thirst for money, for power, for pleasure, for rank, for honor, and for distinction. Fierce and unceasing is the competition for these corruptible crowns. But few, however, are those who thirst after eternal life. Let us take a moment to read what J. C. Ryle has written on this subject:

“In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst let him come unto Me, and drink. He that believeth on Me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.” (John 7:37-38)

The text which heads this paper contains one of those mighty sayings of Christ which deserve to be printed in letters of gold. All the stars in heaven are bright and beautiful; yet even a child can see that “one star differeth from another in glory.” (1 Cor. xv. 41.) All Scripture is given by inspiration of God; but that heart must indeed be cold and dull which does not feel that some verses are peculiarly rich and full. Of such verses this text is one.

In order to see the whole force and beauty of the text, we must remember the place, the time, and occasion when it comes in.

The PLACE, then, was Jerusalem, the metropolis of Judaism, and the stronghold of priests and scribes, of Pharisees and Sadducees.-The OCCASION was the feast of tabernacles, one of those great annual feasts when every Jew, if he could, went up to the temple according to the law.-The TIME was “the last day of the feast,” when all the ceremonies were drawing to a close, when the water drawn from the fountain of Siloam had been solemnly poured on the altar, and nothing remained for worshippers but to return home.

At this critical moment our Lord Jesus Christ “-stood” forward on a prominent place, and spoke to the assembled crowds. I doubt not He read their hearts. He saw them going away with aching consciences and unsatisfied minds, having got nothing from their blind teachers the Pharisees and Sadducees, and carrying away nothing but a barren recollection of pompous forms. He saw and pitied them and cried aloud, like a herald, “If any man thirst, let him come unto Me and drink.”-That this was all our Lord said on this memorable occasion I take leave to doubt. I suspect it is only the keynote of His address. But this, I believe, was the first sentence that fell from His lips: “If any man thirst, let him come unto Me.” If any one wants living satisfying water, let him come unto ME.

Let me remind my readers, in passing, that no prophet or apostle ever took on himself to use such language as this. “Come with us,” said Moses to Hobab (Num. x. 29); “Come to the waters,” says Isaiah (Isa. lv. 1); “Behold the Lamb,” says John the Baptist (John i. 29); “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.” says St. Paul (Acts xvi. 31). But no one except Jesus of Nazareth ever said, “Come to ME.” That fact is very significant. He that said, “Come to Me,” knew and felt, when He said it, that He was the Eternal Son of God, the promised Messiah, the Savior of the world. (Tract: “If Any Man!”)

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