Perfect Gifts: All Ills The Lord Wills For Your Skills

What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.

Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”—yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin. (James 4 ESV)

The epistle of James confronts us with the nagging question, “who is my neighbor?” James, as John, is drawing the line connecting the dots. My neighbor is my brother. Just like John, James is quick to point out, brothers are those whose works demonstrate that they are.

Going back to the beginning of James, we see a leveling of the playing field in, “Consider… my brothers… God, who gives generously to all without reproach… in faith.” James’ considerations concern brothers. By “all” he means those of faith, for that is the condition set forth to receive. The unbelieving should not think they will receive anything. Specifically, James is instructing his readers about the Holy Spirit’s perfecting work of sanctification in the life of believers though trials. What is in view is that, though the rich are those without apparent trials while the poor are those whose trails are obvious, the true riches of the faith are produced by trials. Steadfastness God provides as a blessing so that all, rich and poor, may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

The brother of humble estate is exalted, and the brother of exalted estate is brought low. Each will be rewarded who perseveres and all who are believers persevere according to the promise of God and not according to the estate of the individual. It is neither might nor power, riches or name, but by the Spirit, and all a perfect gift of God’s condescension not man’s ascension.

It is also here that James makes the subject of the trials evident when he speaks of the inward struggle of temptation to lust which equally abides in the hearts of believers, rich and poor. That there are trials which press in from without out is true, however, here the subject of James is the relation of the inward man’s perfection to trials no matter their source. External realities must pass through the darkness of the soul, and each man’s lust will have its way except that God causes him to stand against it (Galatians 5:17, cf. Philippians 2:13). No matter the personal outcome, it is God’s purpose which prevails, if one believes that the Father gives good gifts to his children. The comfort is the assurance which is stated in the fact that it was God who purposed our being brought forth by the word of truth to be fruit. That we fail in and of ourselves is certain. But, 1 Corinthians 10 relates, God has provided the body and blood of Christ, who has perfected once and for all those being saved, as the way of escape. It is God who will work in us the doing of his good pleasure just as it was God who began the work. The struggle is a given fact of the Christian who is being disciplined as a son. Again, he who does not know should ask, and he will be shown that it is a wisdom from above that has purposed all things to work together for the good of the believer.

As James has begun to expose corruption of the message by the appraisers of the outward man, he goes on. The character of God is that he does not discriminate between the brothers based upon their outward appearance, or their giftings, but according God’s purpose in those brought forth by the word of truth. God, after all, is the gifter. James has already established as being a perfect gift, if indeed one is a brother, all things in all believers who are blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ.

Then we have it, the royal law, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Here, without any equivocation James does as John, and makes the second great commandment restrictive to the brethren. As we see, James has contrasted the poor with the wealthy in terms of spiritual realities. External reality, if that is what a man is looking at, betrays the lack of spiritual eyes which see that God doesn’t judge that way. Instead, God, who has provided all things including our ongoing trials, sees his own in terms of the glorification of his son. On the other hand, God does judge on the basis of who are his and who are not, and James is pointing to that in quoting the royal law. He adds:

“So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty.”(James 2:12 ESV)

It is not the world which is judged under the law of liberty, for theirs is to lord it over one another and by that standard they will be judged. So again, James is speaking to brothers about how they are to treat brethren.

In other words, who ever has been set free in Christ’s death has been judged already and found guilty, but through Christ, who has brought us to life through the resurrection, we have been granted mercy. So, believers should judge by that standard and not the law of sin and death unless they want to be found transgressors, guilty and worthy only of death. The perfect law of liberty judges on the basis of forgiveness of sin which accounts all as equals, for Christ did not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. For the believer that means a recognition of the personal, subjective need for forgiveness, and the extension of that love to the brethren.

Proceeding on, James says that faith without works is worthless. However, he has established that it is a particular kind of works of which he is speaking. He has quoted the royal law, he made it to apply to brothers over against those who are not, he has leveled the playing field making all to be equal in the sight of God so that as God does, we are to do- judge with mercy those who God has had mercy on. As it is, all go through trials. The trials’ target is that of personal sin, of which everyman is guilty, rich and poor. Even if the testing is coming from without, the object of the trial is sanctification. That is, the mortification of sin in the believer is an internal change executed by the Spirit, in this case, through the means of trials. If one says he has works but judges by the works of the law, he is not acting in faith, since faith works by the power of the Spirit who works in ways that no man can perceive. If a believer’s works are merciful, recognizing his brothers’ needs are the same as his own, his works are those which are like Abraham’s. Abraham was credited as being a friend of God because faith worked in a particular way- it believed that God has granted life through the promise despite the circumstance. A wisdom from above convinced Abraham that even if he sacrificed Isaac, God would raise him up. That promise was made to a man just like us, a sinner, who is indeed our exemplar if we believe in the particular way of escape. If we humble ourselves, God will surely raise us up. Humility, then, is a particular gift of believers. What it says is that all have fallen short of the glory of God, because all are sinners, and that it is not by our doing that God will raise us up. Ours is to believe God. Even that is a perfect gift coming down from God above.

There is in James, then, both the physical and the spiritual poverty in view. We often take into consideration that those who God has richly blessed in material things have been given a great charge to care for those who lack them. Unfortunately, we often also equate material blessing with spiritual status. But, James goes further than material things. Those who have been richly blessed in spiritual goods, likewise, are supposed to be to others messengers of mercy. Often, those who have the greatest external poverty have the greater wealth of spiritual blessing. And, often those who are richly blessed materially are poor spiritually. Never the less, seeing then that God has gifted each with the riches of the kingdom according to his good pleasure, each is to esteem others better than themselves. If there is a brother in distress, James sums up at the end of the epistle, each is to do his part. Just as he has begun, if one suffers we all are to suffer with him, if one rejoices, we all are to rejoice with him.

All, James has concluded, go through spiritual training because of remaining sin in them. Some to greater degrees than others, experience the fiery trials of all sorts. God is sovereign in his dispensation of material things, he also is sovereign in his dispensation of spiritual gifts. So that, to whom much is given much is expected. The one who lacks cannot be expected to give what they do not have. Still, God, has provided all the means of escape, in the blood and body of Christ. Let the brethren then comfort each other with this.

You see, James says, that works are proclamations of faith only if… He counters those who claim to have good works but do not love their brother with the fact that faith and works work together. The works are negated if they are not met with the truth that grounds them. Wealthy or poor, faith displays a certain attitude. He goes on explaining that not all make good teachers:

Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. (James 3:13-18 ESV)

Hard lessons are learned though trials and fruitful teaching is planted by those who have been trained by them, but the one who harbors ill will toward his neighbor (brother), still has not learned the wisdom of humility, still has not learned what grace has been given him, still has not learned that persevering through trial produces the peaceable fruit. Those who according to outward appearance sit in judgement, have forgotten the pit from which they were dug. That they were beaten, bloody and left for dead, has all but been forgotten. It is this point James has joined to the wisdom which is perfect which comes down from the Father of lights. So, in all, James is saying to those who would be teachers of law, if they have truly learned the lessons of the law, should show mercy, for that is what they have received. Namely, that by the law all men are found to be poor in themselves even though they are rich in their own eyes. If they say they see, they remain blind, and it is their pride which has put out their eyes. The lesson that comes from above teaches that law which set us free, which is found in Christ, is a perfect law of liberty, which operates by grace and extends mercy. Great is that faith which has learned the misery of its own sin, the forgiveness of it, and the extension of the love of God which sets free, and blessed is the man who extends the gifts he has received to a brother in need.

James rejoins the covetous and corruption that boils up from within, those temptations which cause wars, which provoke envy, strife and self-exaltation at the expense of those who are little esteemed by apparent appraisal. These temptations affect all, and the remedy is not to go to law with a brother, it is not to exalt oneself, but to submit to God who judges without prejudice. The right judgement, love of mercy and humility required of the walk of faith brings to the one who believes in God’s answering prayer, a blessing through his recognition of his own misery. God will exalt him, who being humbled and undone by his own sin, as God has purposed, that being tested he will receive in the end the righteousness which is by faith and the inheritance of the saints which is eternal life. Surely, he who does not know what he will do tomorrow, is better off believing in Him who does. If you know what is right to do, do it, if it is in your power to do so, but to judge your brother by the gifts that God has given you is to walk contrary to the Gospel. “Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven,” Jesus said to those who did not understand the “authority” which had been given them was not at all of them. Instead of the gifts, the mercy of God, who has set aside a people for himself, is called to be examined. Take care, how you judge, for the judgement with which you judge will be meted back to you. Therefore, humbly submit to God and he will cause you who can stand no taller than your brother, to stand with him. Humbly submit to God, and in doing so resist the devil’s gambit, and he will flee, but take care if you think it was you who took a stand, unless you fall into that snare which pride sets for itself.

James final warning is to those he has marked out before. It is to those who think that they need not fear, for their wealth, either spiritual or material, will sustain them. Lest we forget, James is addressing the brothers. It is not that he is addressing non-brothers among the faithful, but those who are acting as if they are. So that no one think more highly than he should, it is to be recognized that the poor in James, the really poor, are those who do not recognize their poverty. Examine David’s Psalm 37, and remember that David, if in deed he wrote it in his old age, in his own right was the wealthiest man in the land. As rich as David was he recognized his poverty and sole dependence upon God for all things. He had been poor and was rich, he had been the evil doer, but learned that God is the one who upholds a man if God has so purposed. James makes no distinction, either, all are in need. The final admonition reflects back to the first. All go through the trials, all are either those who look down upon their brothers, or those who look upon the rich with envy. The point being, that there is a way that seems right to men, but the end is death. There is a better way, which is to esteem others better than oneself, at all times, upholding their cause before God, and for each to recognize his own need for God’s sustaining hand extended though the tender foot-washing care that is the mark of works of faith. Those who argue that the keeping of laws makes them better, or that their endowments are a sign of their spiritual status, miss the mark James has set:

As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful. (James 5:10-11 ESV)(

It was those who remained steadfast who were considered blessed, because they knew that the purposes of God cannot be thwarted. Love God and your brother as yourself, for by this will the world know who are and who are not disciples. God, who is compassionate and merciful has sent his son in the likeness of sinful brothers to die for those things they do in the flesh. So also, the brothers for whom Christ died should lay down their lives for their brethren. All believers face trouble, but all men who are of faith, James is making clear, can pray, believing, and God will restore to him the rest which is found in Christ. That rest is not in our circumstance, not in our giftings, but in his mercy. As it was with Abraham, who looked to the resurrection where his hope was, our eyes should be fixed on the author and perfecter of our faith. And therefore, if any are sick, they should ask, if any are sick, the elders should pray, if any are sick the prayer of the faithful will be answered, if any knows what is right they are to do it, if any has he is to give. For we are all men like Elijah, sinners through whom God speaks. Therefore if any should wander from this faith which places no trust a feeble creation but only in the Almighty Creator, we should seek the weak out and restore them rather than taking them before the law to judge them as unworthy of our love:

Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.

My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins. (James 5:13-20 ESV)

How long without rain? And yet, the earth bore fruit. James has connected this to suffering and to sin. We are not then to give up on the brother who in either circumstance, spiritual or physical, is undergoing trial.

Is anyone suffering? Yes. Is anyone going through fiery trials? Yes. Do we rejoice with those who rejoice? Yes. And does God always answer? Yes, James says, he answers with perfect wisdom those who do not doubt. So who is it who would save his soul from death and cover a multiple of sins? Is it not he who humbles himself under the mighty hand of God? For, isn’t it those who have been forgiven much who love much? If God richly gives us all things through Christ then what we do have let us freely give. As each man has received his gift, let each man minister, Peter concurs. By this we know that we are the children of God, that we love the brothers, and so would spend and be spent, along with Paul, if only through fire, we might save some, so that each might receive his reward. Let each then look out for the interest of others and not just his own. After all, is that not what John said, too, that if Christ laid down his life for us so we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren? And, is that not what Christ meant when he said that such love for one another would set us apart as disciples of Christ? Then let patience have its perfect work that we might be fully equipped in truth abounding in every good work.

Originally posted on 5 Pt. Salt:

David_Crockett

Congress has no power to appropriate this money as an act of charity. Every member upon this floor knows it. We have the right, as individuals, to give away as much of our own money as we please in charity; but as members of Congress we have no right so to appropriate a dollar of the public money.

[From The Life of Colonel David Crockett, by Edward S. Ellis (Philadelphia: Porter & Coates, 1884) ]

Crockett was then the lion of Washington. I was a great admirer of his character, and, having several friends who were intimate with him, I found no difficulty in making his acquaintance. I was fascinated with him, and he seemed to take a fancy to me.

I was one day in the lobby of the House of Representatives when a bill was taken up appropriating money for the benefit of a widow of a distinguished…

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Not Fore Prophet?

Commentary on Matthew, Mark, Luke – Volume 2 – Christian Classics Ethereal Library.

Now when John had heard. The Evangelists do not mean that John was excited by the miracles to acknowledge Christ at that time as Mediator; but, perceiving that Christ had acquired great reputation, and concluding that this was a fit and seasonable time for putting to the test his own declaration concerning him, he sent to him his disciples. The opinion entertained by some, that he sent them partly on his own account, is exceedingly foolish; as if he had not been fully convinced, or obtained distinct information, that Jesus is the Christ. Equally absurd is the speculation of those who imagine that the Baptist was near death, and therefore inquired what message he should carry, from Christ’s mouth as it were, to the deceased fathers. It is very evident that the holy herald of Christ, perceiving that he was not far from the end of his journey, and that his disciples, though he had bestowed great pains in instructing them, still remained in a state of hesitation, resorted to this last expedient for curing their weakness. He had faithfully labored, as I have said, that his disciples should embrace Christ without delay. His continued entreaties had produced so little effect, that he had good reason for dreading that, after his death, they would entirely fall away; and therefore he earnestly attempted to arouse them from their sloth by sending them to Christ. Besides, the pastors of the Church are here reminded of their duty. They ought not to endeavor to bind and attach disciples to themselves, but to direct them to Christ, who is the only Teacher. From the beginning, John had openly avowed that he was not the bridegroom, (John 3:29.) As the faithful friend of the bridegroom he presents the bride chaste and uncontaminated to Christ, who alone is the bridegroom of the Church. Paul tells us that he kept the same object in view, (2 Corinthians 11:2,) and the example of both is held out for imitation to all the ministers of the Gospel.

Art thou he who was to come? John takes for granted what the disciples had known from their childhood; for it was the first lesson of religion, and common among all the Jews, that Christ was to come, bringing salvation and perfect happiness. On this point, accordingly, he does not raise a doubt, but only inquires if Jesus be that promised Redeemer; for, having been persuaded of the redemption promised in the Law and the Prophets, they were bound to receive it when exhibited in the person of Christ. He adds, Do we look for another? By this expression, he indirectly glances at their sloth, which allowed them, after having been distinctly informed, to remain so long in doubt and hesitation. At the same time, he shows what is the nature and power of faith. Resting on the truth of God, it does not gaze on all sides, does not vary, but is satisfied with Christ alone, and will not be turned to another.

Go and relate to John As John had assumed for the time a new character, so Christ enjoins them to carry to him that message, which more properly ought to have been addressed to his disciples. He gives an indirect reply, and for two reasons: first, because it was better that the thing should speak for itself; and, secondly, because he thus afforded to his herald a larger subject of instruction. Nor does he merely supply him with bare and rough materials in the miracles, but adapts the miracles to his purpose by quotations from the Prophets. He notices more particularly one passage from the 35th, and another from the 61st, chapter of Isaiah, for the purpose of informing John’s disciples, that what the Prophets declared respecting the reign of Christ was accomplished and fulfilled. The former passage contains a description of Christ’s reign, under which God promises that he will be so kind and gracious as to grant relief and assistance for every kind of disease. He speaks, no doubt, of spiritual deliverance from all diseases and remedies; but under outward symbols, as has been already mentioned, Christ shows that he came as a spiritual physician to cure souls. The disciples would consequently go away without any hesitation, having obtained a reply which was clear and free from all ambiguity.

Commentary on Matthew, Mark, Luke – Volume 2 – Christian Classics Ethereal Library.

Verily I say to you These words not only maintain the authority of John, but elevate his doctrine above the ancient prophets, that the people may keep in view the right end of his ministry; for they mistook the design of his mission, and, in consequence of this, derived almost no advantage from his discourses. Accordingly, Christ extols and places him above the rank of the prophets, and gives the people to understand that he had received a special and more excellent commission. When he elsewhere says respecting himself that he was not a Prophet, (John 1:21,) this is not inconsistent with the designation here bestowed upon him by Christ. He was, no doubt, a Prophet, like others whom God had appointed in his Church to be expounders of the Law, and messengers of his will; but he was more excellent than the Prophets in this respect, that he did not, like them, make known redemption at a distance and obscurely under shadows, but proclaimed that the time of redemption was now manifest and at hand. Such too is the import of Malachi’s prediction, (Malachi 3:1,) which is immediately added, that the pre-eminence of John consisted in his being the herald and forerunner of Christ; for although the ancient Prophets spoke of his kingdom, they were not, like John, placed before his face, to point him out as present. As to the other parts of the passage, the reader may consult what has been said on the first chapter of Luke’s Gospel.

There hath not arisen Our Lord proceeds farther, and declares that the ministers of the Gospel will be as far superior to John as John was superior to the Prophets. Those who think that Christ draws a comparison between himself and John have fallen into a strange blunder; for nothing is said here about personal rank, but commendation is bestowed on the pre-eminence of office. This appears more clearly from the words employed by Luke, there is not a greater Prophet; for they expressly restrict his eminence to the office of teaching.

I don’t know how anyone could say that John did not know who Jesus was, or what the Kingdom was, or how it was to come into being. Calvin has to be appreciated for pointing out the pastoral aspect of John in respect to his disciples. He knew his time was short, that they would soon be without him, and must go and follow the One. We remember at the baptism, that John had sent those disciples who were with him then off to follow Jesus. Now, Calvin remarks, that to shore up the faith of those who were clinging to him, he sends his disciples to see for themselves that what he had been saying all along of the Christ was true. The testimony is not for John’s benefit, it was for those who were doubting the message that John preached. One of the things that faith consists of is a true knowledge which brings comfort because it can be trusted.

John was a prophet. Not just any prophet, the greatest of all who preceded him. We must remember the message of the Angel:

…he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.” (Luke 1:14-17 ESV)

Or the words of the Spirit:

…his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, saying, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us; to show the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days. And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” (Luke 1:67-79 ESV)

Calvin points out Isaiah’s prophecies as being those Jesus told the disciples to return to John with, they being in truth fulfilled. As John’s father Zechariah had also heralded, the deliverance spoken of in the Law and Prophets was being fulfilled in John’s arrival as the forerunner of Christ. The Prophets knew that Jesus would be sent and would confirm himself as the suffering messiah through signs and wonders. The Kingdom, the Greatest Prophet knew, was to be instituted upon the death of the One, who would be pierced, to save his people from their sin. The Kingdom had a particular message, a message of offense. For the savior of God’s people was not coming as a conquering hero, that was a Judas-hope. Instead, he was coming as the propitiatory sacrifice of Isaiah 53.

Assuredly, John understood the fate of the Prophets, he knew his own head was on the chopping block. He understood that the Lord himself would not usher in a new political kingdom of Israelis, but of the Kingdom of true Israel, the Son, composed of both Jew and Gentile. After all, how could a national Israel be in the offing if those who were Israel’s enemies were to be part of the New Kingdom of Christ? Just so, seeking hope for a best life now is mistaken. The True Hope is the One yet to come, who as Job said, would stand on the Earth at the eschaton. For all those who would follow the Lord must follow him to Calvary and not to Herod’s throne. It is the laying down of life to save it, that is the message. It is not the Gospel of glory, but the Gospel offense and shame.

Did John doubt? Not at all. The things that John had heard in prison were exactly what he had expected. They were what he always knew would be. He was a fore-teller of Christ’s sufferings: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world,” and not of the messianic conqueror of the zealots’ myths. We must agree with Calvin, it wasn’t John’s doubt, he was a prophet, he knew the story line. It was for the benefit of his disciples that they were sent to inquire of Christ. He had already caught a womb to tomb glimpse of the Kingdom, and was prepared to die. He was filled with the Holy Spirit from conception for that very thing. There’s no doubt, that being an OT prophet, he understood his end, and glorified God who would account him such an honor as the Greatest Prophet to be born of a woman in accomplishing that end. Other prophets had seen Christ’s glory from afar. John, up and personal, was the only one to see Him in the flesh and know first hand Isaiah’s promise of the suffering servant. No greater honor could be paid than to be granted to suffer and to die for Christ’s sake. If John would have been expecting what the Jewish teachers were, he wouldn’t have been the Greatest Prophet. He would have been not fore prophet, at all.

To Keep You From Doing Your Will

For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. (Galatians 5:17 ESV)

Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure. For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.

So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. (Romans 7:13-25 ESV)

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
(Philippians 2:12-13 ESV)

Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin!
For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you may be justified in your words
and blameless in your judgment.
Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
and in sin did my mother conceive me.
Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being,
and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones that you have broken rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins,
and blot out all my iniquities.
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from your presence,
and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and uphold me with a willing spirit.
Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
and sinners will return to you.
Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God,
O God of my salvation,
and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness.
O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth will declare your praise.
For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;
you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
Do good to Zion in your good pleasure;
build up the walls of Jerusalem;
then will you delight in right sacrifices,
in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings;
then bulls will be offered on your altar. (Psalm 51 ESV)

The greatest fear of David was that God would take from him the Holy Spirit. Of course, what he meant by that can be summed up in the NT teaching of:

But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.

Recently in a sermon on the Lord’s prayer my pastor taught in principle that there is no “lump sum grace.” I have called it carte blanche grace. Historically, it is more or less known as imputed grace, “the force,” if you will, which is assistive and can be cashed in at anytime if one so wills. But there is no such thing, according to Scripture, and thus the prayer: “Give us this day our daily bread.” This has been considered to be merely petition for daily provision of food, or those physical needs which sustain our biological life. But, there is a greater meaning, for man does not live by bread alone. If we look at David’s Psalm we will see the very pattern of the Lord’s prayer including that God’s will be done. If we look to Paul, we also see the very same. That in everything, we are so dependent upon God’s provision, Paul makes clear, that it is only in the mind where we can truly serve the law of God, for our sin is ever before us. Because we are in the flesh, it must be according to the Spirit that the deeds of the flesh are put to death. He wars for us. Therefore, we pray, you kingdom come, your will be done, because our will is opposed to his and so we cannot do what we please even if it pleases him, but only according to his good pleasure will we do anything. David’s life, he says in Psalm 139, was written for him, even the very words of his mouth, and in fifty-one, also, the very words of the lips are formed by God. He speaks as one who wants to be carried, not as one who carries. Born along by the Spirit, David proclaims, is every moment of every day a dependence upon the providential care of God’s meticulous design. Even his very words. So, he prays that God will not take the Holy Spirit from him, for that would spell catastrophe.

Daily provision might further be explained as all that pertains to life, not just the physical, but the spiritual as well. We see in the petitions at least four other parts- forgiveness of sin, contriteness, submission, and deliverance. The whole is predicated upon God’s sovereignty as our Father, enthroned in heaven, transcendent, whose kingdom is coming into being by his will. And why? Even though the closing doxology is not found in the majority texts, it appropriates the invocative doxology in that it is God’s eternal kingdom, by his power, for his glory, in which he has decreed his will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

What does this have to do with depravity?

As David acknowledges, and as the Lord’s prayer does also, it is God, who by the Spirit grants all things, sustains all things and determines all things. This day’s provision reminds us of the creation narrative in Genesis. When we read that we cannot do as we will, it comes as a shock to most believers. Why, they say, has God regenerated us, but leaves us unable to do what he commands? That is not quite accurate, we do what he wills. That is the point. If it were left to our wills we would not do what he commands. Instead, he works in us the willing and the doing of his good pleasure, not our own. He creates in us a new heart, upholds our spirit as we do and that ability is by the moment sustained by his power.

We find in us always the allurement of sin, even as believers. So, Paul says, even if we wanted to do good, we are unable because evil is present in us at all times. So also, when we do not want to do evil we find ourselves unable in our own strength to resist. It makes for a wretched existence except for the proviso that Paul offers in Christ. Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians that we have been given the mind of Christ and his Spirit that we might understand the things of God. In Romans, Paul explains that it is in the mind where we serve God. At all times, believers are unable except as God enables. Thus we must pray, give us, forgive us, lead us, deliver us, this very day. Even when we do good, it is tainted with sin. The greatest of saints still has enough evil in him to make another devil, it has been said. If and when there is true righteousness done by us, it is the Spirit who has done it, for we are sinners at our core.

Then how is it that when we are commanded to do good, we do at times? While it is true that we have been given a new nature, the manner of that gifting is often left undiscussed. So much so that we find the lump sum grace idea fills the void. We are told that the graces God has imparted are ours to use as we will, denying the Spirit’s sovereignty in them.

We often hear of the now not yet reality with which Scripture characterizes the situation of the believer in this between times as we await the appearance of our Lord. As believers we know God, or better, are known by him, and by that know ourselves to be sinners even as Scripture declares us saints. In speaking of the Spirit’s work, Paul says that it is the Spirit who endows, it is the Spirit who works, and it is the Spirit who will sanctify. To state it succinctly, it is the Spirit who is restraining evil in us while working the willing and doing of good deeds from the first repentance and faith to the final transfiguration at the Lord’s appearing. Calvin speaks of the Spirit of regeneration when he speaks of the new heart, and Ezekiel tells us that the new heart which we have been given is His Spirit. Or as Paul has said, God has given us his Spirit that we might understand. Or, out of the heart flows the issues of life, or, with the heart one believes. David’s plea becomes understandable, then, if God were to remove the restraining power of the Spirit, he would again fall to the temptations which caused him to steal, kill, and destroy. So, also, with us. If God does not prevent us we will do the will of our flesh.

There is then a mystery about the new man which seems to go along with 1 Corinthians 15. That, for now we exist as perishable. That, we are corruptible in thought and deed cannot be denied. It is only in the resurrection where it is said that we will be incorruptible. But, we are told to now consider ourselves dead and alive in Christ, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin. Then it is now, also, where we are dead in trespasses, he makes us alive in Christ, by the Spirit. For what is impossible for a dead man, God has done by his Spirit when he raised Christ from the dead. Though now it remains that we are in and of ourselves, dead, unable to do the good we want, or to resist the evil we do not want, by the Spirit we have been set free so that in the mind we serve God while in the flesh we serve sin. In all ways we are set free in Christ Jesus who for us was condemned so we are not. Knowing that we have been set free is the private property of the spiritual man, who alone desires to please God. Those who are unspiritual cannot. Indeed, they refuse to.

I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
“O death, where is your victory?”
“O death, where is your sting?”

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:50-58 ESV)

What we must note in this passage is that it cannot be solely speaking of the material, but of the immaterial, as well. For the material cannot sin, nor is it inherently sinful, even though it is subject to the effects of sin which plagues the creation. Beside, the context is found in the beginning of the chapter, speaking of the resurrection, that we who were dead in sin were made alive in Christ. We find here that sin’s effect is death and it is the law which empowers it. We sin. And when we do we are judged and we die. We are not left there. What we also find is that the victory over the powers of sin and death has been granted us through Christ. That it is against him we have sinned, that judgement begins with the household of God, that we are being disciplined as sons, that we are made alive in him, that we are granted in him to declare his righteousness and not our own, is all owing to the fact that we are depraved from the womb, and that having our sins blotted out by him, it is even his doing that our lips will sing his praises. What God has done in us through Christ we proclaim, not what we have done. It is that Gospel which David exalts when he says that he will teach sinners God’s way. Sinners, like himself. The victory belongs to Christ, for sinners cannot please God.

The fact that the believer remains in a state of depravity throughout his life is found everywhere in Scripture, it is thus we find in both the OT and the NT, that it is the Holy Spirit to which we must look if we are to do at all any labor which is not in vain. It has been granted us to not only to believe but also that we may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless in the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus, to the glory and praise of God alone. The good work begun in us by the Spirit is completed by him and not by us through our flesh. The Spirit began it, it is the Spirit who works it, and it is the Spirit who will bring it to completion all for the glory of God through Jesus’ work on our behalf.

Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God. For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry. With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you; but they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. For this is why the gospel was preached even to those who are dead, that though judged in the flesh the way people are, they might live in the spirit the way God does. (1 Peter 4:1-6 ESV)

Gospel Law Is Deadly

Gresham Machen, What Is Faith?, 1925-

A new and more powerful proclamation of law is perhaps the most pressing need of the hour; men would have little difficulty with the gospel if they had only learned the lesson of the law. As it is, they are turning aside from the Christian pathway; they are turning to the village of Morality, and to the house of Mr. Legality, who is reported to be very skillful in relieving men of their burdens… ‘Making Christ Master’ in the life, putting into practice ‘the principles of Christ’ by one’s own efforts-these are merely new ways of earning salvation by one’s obedience to God’s commands.

Big Brother And Chicken-heart

My dear brother,

The ancients made fortitude one of the four cardinal virtues; meaning by this term, not merely the power of enduring pain—but everything that we now call courage; and they used to say, with truth, that where there was no fortitude, the other virtues were left defenseless. I have often thought that half the bad actions of boys arise from a sort of cowardice, a lack of manly independence. Peter will not wear his new hat for several days after he gets it, for fear James will laugh at him. And James, though he knows it is wrong to play truant, does so, lest Charles should think him a coward.

Make it a rule for life to do what you know to be right, no matter what others think or say. Do your duty, and leave the consequences to God. Some people lose their souls from neglect of this. They know very well that they ought to pray, and read the Scriptures, and attend on other means of grace, and own Christ by a public profession; but they are afraid of the scoffs of the world-they hesitate-they procrastinate-they are lost.

Remember, my dear boy, that you are now forming your character for life. When you trained the woodbine vine around the columns of our piazza, its stock was very slender. You could bend it with your finger and thumb. I looked at it yesterday; it is as thick as my wrist, and perfectly hard and immovable. You might break it—but you could not possibly alter its twists. The woodbine vine has a habit of being twisted. This habit was formed when it was tender and supple. If it had been trained between long iron bars, I suppose it might have got a habit of being straight. But it is now too late to straighten it.

Now, is it not possible that my dear brother is growing crooked? You understand my meaning. Is it not possible that you are getting habits which are wrong? My heart’s wish is for you to grow up in such a way as to be erect, upright, and noble—in all your principles. If you are always calculating what John, or Maria, or this man, or those girls, or the world at large will think of you—it is certain you can never have any manly firmness. I wish you to begin from the hour you read this, to do what is right in every particular case, in spite of what ignorant or wicked youth may say.

There is Lewis Lee, your Philadelphia acquaintance. He is altogether a slave to other people’s notions. I remember that last summer he refused to accompany his mother to the steamboat, because he had found out that some young men in Chestnut Street had made fun of the cut of his coat. Lewis cannot bear to be the object of ridicule. Again I say, be independent. Try to get right opinions, and to do right acts; and bid defiance to the idle remarks of others.

But do not be hasty in forming opinions—nor obstinate in retaining them. Take the advice of the wise and the good, and use every means to learn the best path. Only stick to it when you are sure that you are in it.

Lack of this courage and firmness ruins thousands of young men every year. In our colleges, most of the disturbances and rebellions which take place are from this source. A few youth, who are perhaps already in disgrace, entice a number of others into their plots; and the latter, like silly sheep, follow wherever the ringleaders go. Why? O, because it would expose them to contempt or insult to go back, or return to honorable obedience. They put on a bold face—but they are chicken-hearted in reality. Not one of them can stand alone, or think for himself. O beware of such yielding weakness! “Fear God, my children,” said a great Frenchman, “have no other fear.”

via BROTHERS KEEPER.

Another John 3:16: Who Is My Neighbor For Whom Christ Died?

By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. (1 John 3:16 ESV)

Interesting, isn’t it, that John doesn’t say for the world, or my neighbor, but us?

We find many who place upon the Christian a burden of love for neighbor which encompasses the entirety of mankind, or at minimum, equivocates by either lowering the status of believers, or raising the world to their level. This verse in its context, however, points to another reality. Beside it being about a limited particular atonement, it is found among others which specify the commandments. John is speaking of the two great commandments, of course. This parallel is found in the final verse of the Epistle:

And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. (1 John 4:21 ESV)

Again, shouldn’t this read whoever loves God must also love his neighbor? But no, John restricts the application of the second commandment, You shall love your neighbor as yourself, by the scope of the sacrifice of Christ. His atonement is limited to the brothers, and likewise, love of neighbor is limited by the same parameter.

How is it I make this leap? We can look at the OT passages where we find love of neighbor. There are two things to note there. First, a neighbor is one within the covenant community. Second, those who were not of it were not allowed to partake in all things pertaining to Israel unless they submitted to the covenants of the Law, such as circumcision. In modern parlance, unless one is a communicating member of a church in covenanted, spiritual family relationship, known as a brother, he is not to be afforded the consideration of being a neighbor.

Or, we can look at the NT, where we find the restatement of those laws governing the treatment of neighbor. The two Great Commandments sum up the spirit of the Law, love of God and love of neighbor. John reissues these commandments and is clarifying their application. The question that needs to be asked, afresh, is “who is my neighbor.” It is at this juncture that more often than not the teaching of brotherly responsibility and responsibility to those in the world goes astray. John transposes brother with neighbor in these commandments. Why then are most appeals made to the Good Samaritan parable where teachers universalize neighbor? That’s a problem in John. Universalizing destroys any sense in which John is drawing a distinction. Destroying the distinction would not equip his readers, which is his aim, to discern who are their enemies and who are not, but would confuse them making them more vulnerable to deception.

The parable itself is not so much prescriptive, as descriptive. It is descriptive of the hypocrisy of some religious men. It is prescriptive only in that the conclusion is obvious. The parable does not define neighbor in the sense it was asked. As is often the case, Jesus reframes the question so as to expose the heart of the inquisitor. Instead of an objective answer, a subjective one is given. Beside, if neighbor is universalized, shouldn’t the circumstance be? This is a specific circumstance. A universalized parable would consider universal needs, wouldn’t it? The parable speaks in not so generic terms. Not just about the circumstance, but who the players are is often glossed over.

A man went down from Jerusalem and was stripped, beaten and left for dead. The inference, though not specific, is that he is a Jew. Only a Samaritan stops to render aid. Two, a priest and a Levite, and most likely both Jews, did not do what the Law required of them, even though the inference is that they were keepers of the Law. The Samaritan, who also by inference is an Israelite, a brother of the Jews by Law, though estranged, did what the Law required, even though the Samaritans had long before abandoned the Temple worship and had corrupted the teachings of Moses in many ways. This particular Samaritan had retained some of the Law, if only its spirit, for this Samaritan does what the Law requires. The particular Jewish/Israelite references are germane to the parable’s object, that being, to point out the hypocrisy of the Jewish teachers of the Law who could choke on a gnat and swallow a camel.

Jesus further explained what it means to be a neighbor when he asked “who proved himself a neighbor?” The man’s answer was that which Jesus said that his inquirer should do. So, being a neighbor is showing mercy. And again, the focus is not on the beaten man as a neighbor, but the one who showed mercy. So, also, is John’s focus. It is not so much who needs, though that is part of it, but who shows mercy.

How does any of this further the proof that everyone is my neighbor? It doesn’t. The parable wasn’t about who I should consider my neighbor, but to whom am I a neighbor. Mercy was part and partial with the meaning of the Law. As it was said in reference to another use of this commandment in the NT, mercy is greater than all the sacrifices. Or, as the prophet said, we are to love mercy (after saying we are to judge rightly). Prior to the Law God had shown mercy to Israel, indeed, before there was an Israel, or even a Jacob, God had shown himself a God of mercy. And so it is, that above the Law is a principle which overrules the Law’s ceremonial and civic observances. Namely, that the sacrifices pointed to God’s mercy and not to the Law’s subjects. God, in whose image man was made, counted his likeness a priority. And thus we have the first commandment. The love of God is reflected in the second, love of neighbor who was created in the image of God. The subject of both is the one doing the loving, even though there is a particularity shown to those who are loved. We should also recall, that in God’s offer of mercy to Israel, he invited strangers. However, there were requirements attached to the receiving of that mercy. The stranger had to separate himself from Egypt and attach himself to a household of Israel and remain in it, partaking of the Passover with that house, until the Angel of Death had passed over. Beside, God had proclaimed that he would have mercy on only some, not all. Further, we find some who had received God’s offer of mercy of separation deceptively would be destroyed in the wildness. We also understand that prior to the Law, even prior to the Egyptian captivity, God had chosen a particular people. It was not all nations, but only one, to whom God would show mercy.

It is right to note that the image of God is in all men, believer and unbeliever alike. So that, there is a sense in which we must show mercy to all. But, we should not refrain from examining the worthiness of the recipients of it, nor apply it without regard to the circumstance. Jesus did both. There are requirements, which if are not met, demonstrate a rejection of mercy. Then, there are circumstances, each requiring reasoned response. His sending out of the disciples, demonstrated that. There was always a required response from those to whom they were sent. He didn’t always send them out. At times the circumstances were presented to them as with the blind man, made blind by God so that mercy might be shown for the particular man and the particular teaching it demonstrated. In all, however, the requirements remain. We should not faint at the fact that in some circumstances the help preceded and in others followed the requirements. In any case, mercy was withheld when the message was rejected.

That we don’t find willingness on the part of the beaten in the parable of the Samaritan, we assume it, tells us something about it. It is not focussed upon the one in need of assistance as much as it is upon the one, who having the world’s goods, shows mercy to a fellow kinsman. That is over against those who, though religious and having the world’s goods, would let their brother die. There is, then, a uniqueness about the parable, in that the man, half-dead, either could not respond, or we must assume that he did so in an affirmative, acceptable manner. But, speculation on the parable moves us beyond its primary goal of demonstrating hypocrisy, and not who is my neighbor, or even mercy. Unfortunately, much of the teaching that goes on under the rubric of this parable has little to do with the reality of rightly showing mercy to either the world or the brothers because much of such teaching has erased the distinctions drawn elsewhere in Scripture.

Jesus required the eating of his flesh and the drinking of his blood to have part in him. So must we. He demonstrates in the foot washing what is meant by stating later that the world will know his disciples by their love for one another. Such service we must also require. His description of the final judgement posits that it is not his disciples who are to give to the world, but it is those who give to the disciples who will be counted among them. There is this requirement, then, that the disciples were to die to themselves for one another. Serving one another in love, as John points out is a mark, though not the only one, of a worthy recipient of a cup of water.

It is this dividing line that is the point of John. John’s first epistle is not about love in a generic sense going out to all men as brothers, but to the brothers who are in Christ. Jesus said, “in as much as you have done it to the least of these my brothers,” brothers who likewise have done it unto others. On the left will be one group, on the right another. Jesus is pointing out what the difference is and that his brothers are not both groups. John is expounding upon the priority of the brethren over those who are in the world to whom the brothers should not love while giving them the earmarks of those to whom they should.

No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God. By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.

For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. (1 John 3:9-11 ESV, cf. John 13:34)

The reciprocal arrangement is all too obvious.

Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you. We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.

By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. (1 John 3:13-18 ESV)

John has vigorously pointed out that there is a difference in the way we approach the world and the way we approach those of the church:

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. (1 John 2:15-17 ESV)

Love must not only be in deed, but in truth, or it is not love at all.

John has explained that those who love the fellowship of believers are brothers. It is a strict warning. This is reflexive. If they are hated by the world they are not to love the world, if they are loved then it is by the brethren. There are parameters to that love. It requires that one loves the Son, for if he does not love Him he does not love the Father, and if he does not keep the first commandment, he cannot keep the second. John’s warning is to believers so that they won’t be deceived. The fact is, that those who do not have eternal life cannot love. John calls them murderers, because those who do not love, hate. Irrespective of their “felt needs,” or even those which are physical, the reason for their seeking help from the brethren, or receiving it, is not so that they may show reciprocity. To the contrary, it is to bleed the body dry. They cannot love, for they have not known Him who is love. Their aim is selfish not sacrificial. Whether those in the world are aware of it or not, their mission is vampirically diabolical. It is to sap the body of Christ.

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? (1 John 5:1-5 ESV)

At the beginning of this post I quoted John in saying that we lay down our lives for the brothers. And why? Because Jesus laid down his life for us (the brothers). This is vitally important. Jesus didn’t lay down his life for the world, but for believers. So like that, John requires of us no new commandment. We are to love God and our brother as ourself. Why? Because, as he is so are we in this world. We are not to love the world that way. He who denies the Son came in the flesh is the world. God so loved the world this way: that he sent his Son that the brothers might be saved, 1 John 3:16 says.

Taking the Gospel to the world to call out of it those for whom Christ died becomes a muddled mess when that Gospel is mixed with the social gospel of humanitarian samaritanism which will not discriminate. The Gospel discriminates between those who love God and those who don’t, just as Jesus did when he called all to either be part of him or against him. He required submission to his crucifixion and resurrection to be partakers in the substance of his body. He required fellowship of the common table and the rejection of the world. This then must be the priority of a right Gospel. We cannot win the people of the world to the Gospel by trying to redeem their circumstances. We can call people out of the world to Gospel obedience, however. When and if they repent and believe and give themselves to the accountability of the love of the brothers, in faithful fellowship, then we can answer rightly who is our neighbor.

The difference is that the sheep cared for each other. Earlier in the sermon, Jesus warned his followers that they would be hungry, thrown out of their homes by their own family members who would even turn them in to the authorities, imprisoned, and abandoned. The sheep are those who cared for their brothers and sisters—even total strangers—in the face of persecution, even at the cost of their own safety.

A Journey To The Dark Side

Journey allows no alcohol on premises? Give strong drink to the one who is perishing, and wine to those in bitter distress.

Perhaps the one thing that men need more than an adventure, beside a stiff drink so they might forget the pain, is balance. Journey provides Eldredge’s message it doesn’t provide balance, and apparently, neither does it provide wine to make the heart merry. It is geared to those who have cash- those who can afford to get drunk on themselves in ways that others cannot, but it offers no Scriptural solution to what men need most. It appeals to those who are dissatisfied with life, and offers just another quick-fix remedy to a best life now. In short, it is a self-improvement program that centers on the narcissistic tendencies of people. Surely, one cannot think this plays well to those who live in poverty, or those who live in inner-city blighted neighborhoods, or those in countries where mobility is limited by governments so that people cannot use the wilderness? There are dozens of scenarios where men could never avail themselves of anything like what is offered by Journey. Most men will never leave their communities, not out of choice, but by necessity dealt to them by the circumstances into which God has placed them.

The sight questions whether it is good to continue to instruct men on original sin and offers instead the alternative instruction on men’s original glory that can be found within. What original glory? Man’s heart is desperately wicked, without remedy, what man can understand it, Scripture says. And it instructs us not to look for the things this world has to offer, but to seek His heart and his glory. Beside, what was man’s anointed duty? Adventure? Glory seeking? Hardly. It was to be a caretaker of a garden. He was given charge over it, and was to prosper in it, multiplying, finding the joy of serving God in God determined circumstance. He was to live in God’s glory, not his own. No great adventures, no glory except God’s and that reflected in the good creation.

I would ask also, what is original sin? Is it important to instruct men in it? How can men find glory without recognition of who they are now? Or, perhaps, some think they’re not still under the effects of the noetic consequences of the fall? What is meant by the fall? If there is any glory in man, it cannot be found this side of the resurrection when we will be made like the One who is truly Glorious, can it? No, Scripture promises glory when we are in the presence of the Glorious one, and that in the resurrection, not before. Until then, noetically speaking, we can’t really know what it meant to be a man, originally.

One thing I do agree with, men have more often than not been made the fall-guys for every complaint of the feminized church. And it is tiring. But doesn’t Eldredge offer merely the satisfaction of being what is demanded by others? So, what is the difference, isn’t measuring up to some standard that is not being met the object of Journey? Journey offers the solution to the complaints, but the solution is just another capitulation to the demands of judges of appearance, judges no better, and no less full of pride than themselves. Both men and women are failures, that is the default position of Scripture. That is the only option, we can never quite measure up, and that because of original sin. Which is why we must emphasize it and teach it clearly. Humility, not self-glorification, paves the road to grace. To know ourselves truly, is the only way to recognize what we truly need.

As Isaiah reveals, we are men who are unclean, and the only solution is not a grand adventure to find our inner glorious man, but to humbly throw ourselves upon the mercies of God that he might lift us up to glory- that he might send help to the helpless. The glory which is spoken of in Scripture that we will have is that which is sent to us, which we are clothed in by another, into which we are being transformed, and of which belongs solely to God, alone. How childlike we should be then, for we cannot even dress ourselves. It is a shallow and empty belief that finds its hope in this life and what it offers. Even if a man could be set free by Journey’s offer, he would still be without hope and to be pitied. What man can offer men is only what men have, filthy rags and not the vestments of kings.

It is a curious thing that Journey offers freedom in their alternate religious pursuit when Scripture declares it is truth that will set men free. And the truth is, men, even those who are saved, are still sinners, inglorious in and of themselves. But that is original sin in its out working. If we are not to teach it, we will never know that it is Christ who provides the means to glory, and not some four-day adventure. Think of the usurpation- Journey claims it sets men’s hearts free, not Christ. The only way to Him is to accept what he says of us, not to perfect one’s manhood at a four-day retreat.

Compare the apostle’s vision of manly maturity with John Eldredge’s famous sine qua non of manhood.” Eldredge says, “Deep in his heart, every man longs for a battle to fight, an adventure to live, and a beauty to rescue.”

That is a little boy’s lie. That’s the stuff of children’s fantasies. You simply won’t find a description of manliness like that in Scripture. Instead, Scripture says what motivates real men is a love for the truth; a contempt for error; and a passion for being used by God in the work of snatching people from the grip of the father of lies.

I keep hearing about churches who (in order to appeal to ostensibly “masculine” instincts) have moved their men’s fellowship to the pub, where they discuss theology as a hobby and share their views on life as Christian men over beer and cigars.

Let me point out that there’s nothing particularly manly about that. It’s still a private hen party, but you’ve just substituted beer and cigars in place of tea and crumpets.

The Grace Of God Is That You Will Unfailingly Believe

Can you say, ‘We will first walk in His righteousness, and will observe His judgments, and will act in a worthy way, so that He will give His grace to us’? But what good would you evil people do? And how would you do those good things, unless you were yourselves good? But Who causes people to be good? Only He Who said, ‘And I will visit them to make them good,’ and, ‘I will put my Spirit within you, and will cause you to walk in my righteousness, and to observe my judgments, and do them’ (Ezek.36:27). Are you asleep? Can’t you hear Him saying, ‘I will cause you to walk, I will make you to observe,’ lastly, ‘I will make you to do’? Really, are you still puffing yourselves up? We walk, true enough, and we observe, and we do; but it is God Who He makes us to walk, to observe, to do. This is the grace of God making us good; this is His mercy going before us…

Since these things are so, everything that is commanded to human beings by the Lord in the holy Scriptures, for the sake of testing human free will, is either something we begin to obey by God’s goodness, or is demanded in order to show us our need of grace to do it. Indeed, a person does not even begin to be changed from evil to good by the first stirrings of faith, unless the free and gratuitous mercy of God produces this in him…. So, therefore, we should think of God’s grace as working from the beginning of a person’s changing towards goodness, even to the end of its completion, so that he who glories may glory in the Lord. For just as no-one can bring goodness to perfection without the Lord, so no one can begin it without the Lord…

The kind of teaching we are talking about is spoken of by the Lord when He says: ‘Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me’ (Jn.6:45). So if someone does not come to Christ, we cannot correctly say of him, ‘he has heard and learned that he ought to come to Christ, but he is not willing to do what he has learned.’ It is indeed absolutely improper to apply such a statement to God’s method of teaching people by grace. For if, as the Truth says, ‘Everyone who has learned comes,’ it follows, of course, that whoever does not come has not learned. But who can fail to see that a person’s coming or not coming is by the choice of his will? If a person does not come to Christ, he has simply made his choice not to come. But if he does come, it cannot be without assistance — such assistance that he not only knows what it is he ought to do, but actually does what he knows.

And so, when God teaches, it is not by the letter of the law, but by the grace of the Spirit. Moreover, He teaches so that whatever a person learns, he not only sees it with his perception, but also desires it with his choice, and accomplishes it in action. By this method of divine instruction, our very choosing itself, and our very performance itself, are assisted, and not merely our natural ‘capacity’ of willing and performing. For if nothing but this ‘capacity’ of ours were assisted by this grace, the Lord would have said, ‘Everyone that has heard and learned from the Father may possibly come to Me.’ This, however, is not what He said. His words are these: ‘Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me.’

Now Pelagius says that the possibility of coming lies in our nature. Or as we even found him attempting to say some time ago, it lies in grace (whatever that may mean according to him), as when he says, ‘grace assists our capacity of coming to Christ.’ But he holds that our actual coming to Christ lies in our own will and act. Now just because a person may come to Christ, it does not follow that he actually comes, unless he has also willed and acted to come. But everyone who has learned from the Father not only has the possibility of coming, but actually comes! And in this result are already included the use of the capacity, the affection of the will, and the effect of the action…

Accordingly, our only Master and Lord Himself, when He had said what I previously mentioned — ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent’ (Jn.6:29) — says a little afterwards in the same discourse, ‘I said to you that you also have seen Me and have not believed. All that the Father gives Me will come to Me’ (Jn.6:37). What is the meaning of ‘will come to Me’ but ‘will believe in Me’? But it is the Father’s gift that this happens. Moreover, a little later Jesus says, ‘Do not murmur among yourselves. No-one can come to Me unless the Father Who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the prophets, And they will all be taught by God. Everyone who has heard from the Father, and has learned, comes to Me’ (Jn.6:43-5). What is the meaning of ‘Everyone who has heard from the Father, and has learned, comes to Me,’ except that there is no-one who fails to come to Me if they hear from the Father and learn? For if everyone who has heard from the Father, and has learned, comes, then certainly everyone who does not come has not heard from the Father! For if he had heard and learned, he would come. No-one has heard and learned, and yet has failed to come. But everyone, as the Truth declares, who has heard from the Father, and has learned, comes.

This teaching in which the Father is heard, and teaches to come to the Son, is far removed from the senses of the flesh. The Son Himself is also involved in this teaching, because He is the Father’s Word by which He teaches; and He does not do this through the ear of the flesh, but the ear of the heart. The Spirit of the Father and of the Son is also, at the same time, involved in this teaching; He, too, teaches, and does not teach separately, for we have learned that the workings of the Trinity are inseparable. And that is certainly the same Holy Spirit of Whom the apostle says, ‘We, however, having the same Spirit of faith’ (2 Cor.4:13). But this teaching is especially ascribed to the Father, because the Only Begotten is begotten from Him, and the Holy Spirit proceeds from Him, of which it would be tedious to argue more elaborately. I think that my work in fifteen books on the Trinity which God is, has already reached you.

No, this instruction in which God is heard and teaches is very far removed, I say, from the senses of the flesh. We see that many come to the Son because we see that many believe in Christ; but when and how they have heard and learned this from the Father, we do not see. It is true that that grace is exceedingly secret, but who doubts that it is grace? This grace, therefore, which is invisibly bestowed on human hearts by the divine gift, is not rejected by any hard heart — because it is given for the purpose of first taking away the hardness of the heart! When, therefore, the Father is heard within, and teaches, so that a person comes to the Son, He takes away the heart of stone and gives a heart of flesh, as He has promised in the declaration of the prophet. He thus makes them children and vessels of mercy which He has prepared for glory… Augustine

The grace of God is worked in us not by us. It unfailingly brings about the affection in the heart so that those who are called will come to Christ. The prior secret working of the Spirit through whom the Father draws is necessary for one to come to Jesus. It is the bestowal of spiritual gifts that enable the hearing, understanding and embracing of the Word. No one can come to Jesus on his own, no one can call another to come to Jesus through mere words preached. To the contrary, as is shown by Jesus himself, if one is not of the Father, they will not come. The conclusion is, that before one can come, the Father must draw those he chooses. It is only after the Father has sent this grace into the heart by the Spirit, logically and temporally, that the preached word has an effect on the person hearing it.

Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.” (John 8:42-47 ESV)

Everyone who hears Christ has been born again of God (John 1:12-13). Prior to any other means of grace the calling of the Father teaching the heart to love and obey has already done its work. By the Spirit a new life is given, and only then is the preaching of the word of God believed by those who hear it. Having heard it, they will, without fail, obey the message of the Gospel. The Spirit goes before, preparing a way in the desert for the word, so that when Jesus is exalted by the word, he draws men to himself. It is first the Father who draws, teaching by the Spirit and then, as Jesus so often says, he does what he sees the Father doing, he draws men and gives them eternal life, the life that the Father has already created in them.

Jesus said that the reason that some do not believe the truth is because they are not of the Father. If it were the case that his preaching conveyed eternal life would he not have said so? To the contrary, he says his preaching has no effect because it was not first preceded by the work of the Father. That said, the grace of God which the Father bestows through the Spirit does precisely what the preaching cannot do. As Jesus told Nicodemus, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God. It is the Spirit who does this, it is this calling which the Father sends which converts the heart enabling it to embrace the Gospel. Having done that work, Jesus remarks that all who have heard of the Father, all who are of the Father, all who are of God, will inevitably come to him. This is the work of God, that you will unfailingly believe.

Of Cratetes the Theban, Good Goods, Helps And Hinderances And God’s Calling

1. By such rudiments we are at the same time well instructed by Scripture in the proper use of earthly blessings, a subject which, in forming a scheme of life, is by no mean to be neglected. For if we are to live, we must use the necessary supports of life; nor can we even shun those things which seem more subservient to delight than to necessity. We must therefore observe a mean, that we may use them with a pure conscience, whether for necessity or for pleasure. This the Lord prescribes by his word, when he tells us that to his people the present life is a kind of pilgrimage by which they hasten to the heavenly kingdom. If we are only to pass through the earth, there can be no doubt that we are to use its blessings only in so far as they assist our progress, rather than retard it. Accordingly, Paul, not without cause, admonishes us to use this world without abusing it, and to buy possessions as if we were selling them (1 Cor. 7:30, 31). But as this is a slippery place, and there is great danger of falling on either side, let us fix our feet where we can stand safely. There have been some good and holy men who, when they saw intemperance and luxury perpetually carried to excess, if not strictly curbed, and were desirous to correct so pernicious an evil, imagined that there was no other method than to allow man to use corporeal goods only in so far as they were necessaries: a counsel pious indeed, but unnecessarily austere; for it does the very dangerous thing of binding consciences in closer fetters than those in which they are bound by the word of God. Moreover, necessity, according to them, was abstinence from every thing which could be wanted, so that they held it scarcely lawful to make any addition to bread and water. Others were still more austere, as is related of Cratetes the Theban, who threw his riches into the sea, because he thought, that unless he destroyed them they would destroy him. Many also in the present day, while they seek a pretext for carnal intemperance in the use of external things, and at the same time would pave the way for licentiousness, assume for granted, what I by no means concede, that this liberty is not to be restrained by any modification, but that it is to be left to every man’s conscience to use them as far as he thinks lawful. I indeed confess that here consciences neither can nor ought to be bound by fixed and definite laws; but that Scripture having laid down general rules for the legitimate uses we should keep within the limits which they prescribe.

2. Let this be our principle, that we err not in the use of the gifts of Providence when we refer them to the end for which their author made and destined them, since he created them for our good, and not for our destruction. No man will keep the true path better than he who shall have this end carefully in view. Now then, if we consider for what end he created food, we shall find that he consulted not only for our necessity, but also for our enjoyment and delight. Thus, in clothing, the end was, in addition to necessity, comeliness and honour; and in herbs, fruits, and trees, besides their various uses, gracefulness of appearance and sweetness of smell. Were it not so, the Prophet would not enumerate among the mercies of God “wine that maketh glad the heart of man, and oil to make his face to shine,” (Ps. 104:15). The Scriptures would not everywhere mention, in commendation of his benignity, that he had given such things to men. The natural qualities of things themselves demonstrate to what end, and how far, they may be lawfully enjoyed. Has the Lord adorned flowers with all the beauty which spontaneously presents itself to the eye, and the sweet odour which delights the sense of smell, and shall it be unlawful for us to enjoy that beauty and this odour? What? Has he not so distinguished colours as to make some more agreeable than others? Has he not given qualities to gold and silver, ivory and marble, thereby rendering them precious above other metals or stones? In short, has he not given many things a value without having any necessary use?

3. Have done, then, with that inhuman philosophy which, in allowing no use of the creatures but for necessity, not only maliciously deprives us of the lawful fruit of the divine beneficence, but cannot be realised without depriving man of all his senses, and reducing him to a block. But, on the other hand, let us with no less care guard against the lusts of the flesh, which, if not kept in order, break through all bounds, and are, as I have said, advocated by those who, under pretence of liberty, allow themselves every sort of license. First one restraint is imposed when we hold that the object of creating all things was to teach us to know their author, and feel grateful for his indulgence. Where is the gratitude if you so gorge or stupefy yourself with feasting and wine as to be unfit for offices of piety, or the duties of your calling? Where the recognition of God, if the flesh, boiling forth in lust through excessive indulgences infects the mind with its impurity, so as to lose the discernment of honour and rectitude? Where thankfulness to God for clothing, if on account of sumptuous raiment we both admire ourselves and disdain others? if, from a love of show and splendour, we pave the way for immodesty? Where our recognition of God, if the glare of these things captivates our minds? For many are so devoted to luxury in all their senses that their mind lies buried: many are so delighted with marble, gold, and pictures, that they become marble-hearted—are changed as it were into metal, and made like painted figures. The kitchen, with its savoury smells, so engrosses them that they have no spiritual savour. The same thing may be seen in other matters. Wherefore, it is plain that there is here great necessity for curbing licentious abuse, and conforming to the rule of Paul, “make not provision for the flesh to fulfil the lusts thereof,” (Rom. 13:14). Where too much liberty is given to them, they break forth without measure or restraint.

4. There is no surer or quicker way of accomplishing this than by despising the present life and aspiring to celestial immortality. For hence two rules arise: First, “it remaineth, that both they that have wives be as though they had none;” “and they that use this world, as not abusing it,” (1 Cor. 7:29, 31). Secondly, we must learn to be no less placid and patient in enduring penury, than moderate in enjoying abundance. He who makes it his rule to use this world as if he used it not, not only cuts off all gluttony in regard to meat and drink, and all effeminacy, ambition, pride, excessive shows and austerity, in regard to his table, his house, and his clothes, but removes every care and affection which might withdraw or hinder him from aspiring to the heavenly life, and cultivating the interest of his soul. It was well said by Cato: Luxury causes great care, and produces great carelessness as to virtue; and it is an old proverb,—Those who are much occupied with the care of the body, usually give little care to the soul. Therefore while the liberty of the Christian in external matters is not to be tied down to a strict rule, it is, however, subject to this law—he must indulge as little as possible; on the other hand, it must be his constant aims not only to curb luxury, but to cut off all show of superfluous abundance, and carefully beware of converting a help into a hinderance.

5. Another rule is, that those in narrow and slender circumstances should learn to bear their wants patiently, that they may not become immoderately desirous of things, the moderate use of which implies no small progress in the school of Christ. For in addition to the many other vices which accompany a longing for earthly good, he who is impatient under poverty almost always betrays the contrary disease in abundance. By this I mean, that he who is ashamed of a sordid garment will be vain-glorious of a splendid one; he who not contented with a slender, feels annoyed at the want of a more luxurious supper, will intemperately abuse his luxury if he obtains it; he who has a difficulty, and is dissatisfied in submitting to a private and humble condition, will be unable to refrain from pride if he attain to honour. Let it be the aim of all who have any unfeigned desire for piety to learn, after the example of the Apostle, “both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need,” (Phil. 4:12). Scripture, moreover, has a third rule for modifying the use of earthly blessings. We have already adverted to it when considering the offices of charity. For it declares that they have all been given us by the kindness of God, and appointed for our use under the condition of being regarded as trusts, of which we must one day give account. We must, therefore, administer them as if we constantly heard the words sounding in our ears, “Give an account of your stewardship.” At the same time, let us remember by whom the account is to be taken—viz. by him who, while he so highly commends abstinence, sobriety, frugality, and moderation, abominates luxury, pride, ostentation, and vanity; who approves of no administration but that which is combined with charity, who with his own lips has already condemned all those pleasures which withdraw the heart from chastity and purity, or darken the intellect.

6. The last thing to be observed is, that the Lord enjoins every one of us, in all the actions of life, to have respect to our own calling. He knows the boiling restlessness of the human mind, the fickleness with which it is borne hither and thither, its eagerness to hold opposites at one time in its grasp, its ambition. Therefore, lest all things should be thrown into confusion by our folly and rashness, he has assigned distinct duties to each in the different modes of life. And that no one may presume to overstep his proper limits, he has distinguished the different modes of life by the name of callings. Every man’s mode of life, therefore, is a kind of station assigned him by the Lord, that he may not be always driven about at random. So necessary is this distinction, that all our actions are thereby estimated in his sight, and often in a very different way from that in which human reason or philosophy would estimate them. There is no more illustrious deed even among philosophers than to free one’s country from tyranny, and yet the private individual who stabs the tyrant is openly condemned by the voice of the heavenly Judge. But I am unwilling to dwell on particular examples; it is enough to know that in every thing the call of the Lord is the foundation and beginning of right action. He who does not act with reference to it will never, in the discharge of duty, keep the right path. He will sometimes be able, perhaps, to give the semblance of something laudable, but whatever it may be in the sight of man, it will be rejected before the throne of God; and besides, there will be no harmony in the different parts of his life. Hence, he only who directs his life to this end will have it properly framed; because free from the impulse of rashness, he will not attempt more than his calling justifies, knowing that it is unlawful to overleap the prescribed bounds. He who is obscure will not decline to cultivate a private life, that he may not desert the post at which God has placed him. Again, in all our cares, toils, annoyances, and other burdens, it will be no small alleviation to know that all these are under the superintendence of God. The magistrate will more willingly perform his office, and the father of a family confine himself to his proper sphere. Every one in his particular mode of life will, without repining, suffer its inconveniences, cares, uneasiness, and anxiety, persuaded that God has laid on the burden. This, too, will afford admirable consolation, that in following your proper calling, no work will be so mean and sordid as not to have a splendour and value in the eye of God.

via Institutes of the Christian Religion – Christian Classics Ethereal Library.