Monday, May 29, 2017

Blinded by The Light

Paul the Apostle was miraculously converted on his way to Damascus.  His story is best described in his own words while he was in prison, and are recorded in the Bible in the New Testament.

Acts 22:1-16
1“Brothers and fathers, hear the defense that I now make before you.”
2 And when they heard that he was addressing them in the Hebrew language, they became even more quiet. And he said:
3“I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated at the feet of Gamaliel according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers, being zealous for God as all of you are this day.

4 I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering to prison both men and women, 5 as the high priest and the whole council of elders can bear me witness. From them I received letters to the brothers, and I journeyed toward Damascus to take those also who were there and bring them in bonds to Jerusalem to be punished. 


6 “As I was on my way and drew near to Damascus, about noon a great light from heaven suddenly shone around me. 
7 And I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’
8 And I answered, ‘Who are you, Lord?’
And he said to me, ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting.’
9 Now those who were with me saw the light but did not understand the voice of the one who was speaking to me.
10 And I said, ‘What shall I do, Lord?’
And the Lord said to me, ‘Rise, and go into Damascus, and there you will be told all that is appointed for you to do.’
11 And since I could not see because of the brightness of that light, I was led by the hand by those who were with me, and came into Damascus. 
12 “And one Ananias, a devout man according to the law, well spoken of by all the Jews who lived there, 
13 came to me, and standing by me said to me, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight.’ And at that very hour I received my sight and saw him.

14 And he said, ‘The God of our fathers appointed you to know his will, to see the Righteous One and to hear a voice from his mouth; 15 for you will be a witness for him to everyone of what you have seen and heard. 

16 And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name.’
Paul's story continues in the rest of Acts, chapters 22 and 23.

The apostle's life was an exemplary testimony of his faith in Christ. An extraordinary man of courage, Paul endured unimaginable suffering for his faith. A very detailed account of Paul's life is in his own words throughout his writings in the New Testament.

Diego Velázquez

The fingers of the left hand timidly appear on the thick book that indicates his status as an apostle. Top, left, is the inscription S.PAVLVS, text that connects the person with the apostle, without showing the sword, his only known attribute.

Thursday, May 25, 2017



Paul the Apostle in Prison

Discontent! Was there ever a time when there was so much restlessness in the world as there is today? We very much doubt it. Despite our boasted progress, the vast increase of wealth, the time and money expended daily in pleasure, discontent is everywhere. No class is exempt. Everything is in a state of flux, and almost everybody is dissatisfied. Many even among God's own people are affected with the evil spirit of this age.

Contentment! Is such a thing realizable, or is it nothing more than a beautiful ideal, a mere dream of the poet? Is it attainable on earth or is it restricted to the inhabitants of heaven? If practicable here and now, may it be retained, or are a few brief moments or hours of contentment the most that we may expect in this life? Such questions as these find answer, an answer at least, in the words of the apostle Paul: "Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content" (Phil. 4:11). 
The force of the apostle's statement will be better appreciated if his condition and circumstances at the time he made it be kept in mind. When the apostle wrote (or most probably dictated) the words, he was not luxuriating in a special suite in the Emperor's palace, nor was he being entertained in some exceptional Christian household, the members of which were marked by unusual piety. Instead, he was "in bonds" (cf. Phil. 1:13, 14); "a prisoner" (Eph. 4:1), as he says in another Epistle. And yet, notwithstanding, he declared he was content!

Now, there is a vast difference between precept and practice, between the ideal and the realization. But in the case of the apostle Paul contentment was an actual experience, and one that must have been continuous, for he says, "in whatsoever state I am." How then did Paul enter into this experience, and of what did the experience consist? The reply to the first question is to be found in the word, "I have learned . . . to be content." 

The apostle did not say, "I have received the baptism of the Spirit, and therefore contentment is mine." Nor did he attribute this blessing to his perfect "consecration." Equally plain is it that it was not the outcome of natural disposition or temperament. It is something he had learned in the school of Christian experience. It should be noted, too, that this statement is found in an Epistle which the apostle wrote near the close of his earthly career! 
But let us endeavor to go a little deeper. What is "contentment"? It is the being satisfied with the sovereign dispensations of God's providence. It is the opposite of murmuring, which is the spirit of rebellion-the clay saying to the Potter, "Why hast Thou made me thus?" Instead of complaining at his lot, a contented man is thankful that his condition and circumstances are no worse than they are. Instead of greedily desiring something more than the supply of his present need, he rejoices that God still cares for him. Such an one is "content" with such as he has (Heb. 13:5). 

"Godliness with contentment is great gain" (I Tim. 6:6). Negatively, it delivers from worry and fretfulness, from avarice and selfishness. Positively, it leaves us free to enjoy what God has given us. What a contrast is found in the word which follows-"But they that will be (desire to be) rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows" (I Tim. 6:9,10). May the Lord in His grace deliver us from the spirit of this world, and make us to be "content with such things as we have." 

Contentment, then, is the product of a heart resting in God. It is the soul's enjoyment of that peace which passeth all understanding. It is the outcome of my will being brought into subjection to the Divine will. It is the blessed assurance that God doeth all things well, and is, even now, making all things work together for my ultimate good. This experience has to be "learned" by "proving what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God" (Rom. 12:2). Contentment is possible only as we cultivate and maintain that attitude of accepting everything which enters our lives as coming from the Hand of Him who is too wise to err, and too loving to cause one of His children a needless tear.

Let our final word be this: real contentment is only possible by being much in the presence of the Lord Jesus. This comes out clearly in the verses which follow our opening text; "I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: everywhere and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and suffer need. I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me" (Phil. 4:12, 13). It is only by cultivating intimacy with that One who was never discontent that we shall be delivered from the sin of complaining. It is only by daily fellowship with Him Who ever delighted in the Father's will that we shall learn the secret of contentment.


Monday, May 22, 2017

A Divine and Supernatural Light ~ Jonathan Edwards

What this spiritual and divine light is ~ a true sense of the divine excellency of the things revealed in the word of God, and a conviction of the truth and reality of them thence arising. 

This spiritual light primarily consists in the former of these ~ a real sense and apprehension of the divine excellency of things revealed in the word of God. 

A spiritual and saving conviction of the truth and reality of these things, arises from such a sight of their divine excellency and glory; so that this conviction of their truth is an effect and natural consequence of this sight of their divine glory. 

There is therefore in this spiritual light; a real sense of the excellency of God and Jesus Christ, and of the work of redemption, and the ways and works of God revealed in the gospel. 

There is a divine and superlative glory in these things; an excellency that is of a vastly higher kind, and more sublime nature than in other things; a glory greatly distinguishing them from all that is earthly and temporal. 

He that is spiritually enlightened truly apprehends and sees it, or has a sense of it. He does not merely rationally believe that God is glorious, but he has a sense of the gloriousness of God in his heart. 

There is not only a rational belief that God is holy, and that holiness is a good thing, but there is a sense of the loveliness of God's holiness. There is not only a speculatively judging that God is gracious, but a sense how amiable God is upon that account, or a sense of the beauty of this divine attribute. 

Thus there is a difference between having an opinion, that God is holy and gracious, and having a sense of the loveliness and beauty of that holiness and grace. 

There is a difference between having a rational judgment that honey is sweet, and having a sense of its sweetness. A man may have the former, that knows not how honey tastes; but a man cannot have the latter unless he has an idea of the taste of honey in his mind. 

So there is a difference between believing that a person is beautiful, and having a sense of his beauty. The former may be obtained by hearsay, but the latter only by seeing the countenance. There is a wide difference between mere speculative rational judging any thing to be excellent, and having a sense of its sweetness and beauty. The former rests only in the head, speculation only is concerned in it; but the heart is concerned in the latter. 

When the heart is sensible of the beauty and amiableness of a thing, it necessarily feels pleasure in the apprehension. It is implied in a person's being heartily sensible of the loveliness of a thing, that the idea of it is sweet and pleasant to his soul; which is a far different thing from having a rational opinion that it is excellent. 

This spiritual and divine light does not consist in any impression made upon the imagination. It is no impression upon the mind, as though one saw any thing with the bodily eyes: it is no imagination or idea of an outward light or glory, or any beauty of form or countenance, or a visible lustre or brightness of any object. 

The imagination may be strongly impressed with such things; but this is not spiritual light. Indeed when the mind has a lively discovery of spiritual things, and is greatly affected by the power of divine light, it may, and probably very commonly doth, much affect the imagination; so that impressions of an outward beauty or brightness may accompany those spiritual discoveries. 

But spiritual light is not that impression upon the imagination, but an exceeding different thing from it. Natural men may have lively impressions on their imaginations; and we cannot determine but the devil, who transforms himself into an angel of light, may cause imaginations of an outward beauty, or visible glory, and of sounds and speeches, and other such things; but these are things of a vastly inferior nature to spiritual light.

This spiritual light is not the suggesting of any new truths or propositions not contained in the word of God. This suggesting of new truths or doctrines to the mind, independent of any antecedent revelation of those propositions, either in word or writing, is inspiration; such as the prophets and apostles had, and such as some enthusiasts pretend to. 

But this spiritual light that I am speaking of, is quite a different thing from inspiration: it reveals no new doctrine, it suggests no new proposition to the mind, it teaches no new thing of God, or Christ, or another world, not taught in the Bible, but only gives a due apprehension of those things that are taught in the word of God. 
"For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God, in the face of Jesus Christ."  2 Cor 4:6

This plainly shows, that there is such a thing as a discovery of the divine superlative glory and excellency of God and Christ, and that peculiar to the saints: and also, that it is as immediately from God, as light from the sun: and that it is the immediate effect of his power and will; for it is compared to God's creating the light by his powerful word in the beginning of the creation.
"Jesus cried and said, He that believeth on me, believeth not on me, but on him that sent me. And he that seeth me, seeth him that sent me. I am come a light into the world, that whosoever believeth on me, should not abide in darkness."  John 12:44-46
This doctrine may well put us upon examining ourselves, whether we have ever had this divine light, that has been described, let into our souls. 

If there be such a thing indeed, and it be not only a notion or whimsy of persons of weak and distempered brains, then doubtless it is a thing of great importance, whether we have thus been taught by the Spirit of God; whether the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, hath shined unto us, giving us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ; whether we have seen the Son, and believed on him, or have that faith of gospel-doctrines which arises from a spiritual sight of Christ.

From A Sermon by Jonathan Edwards (Excerpts)

Jonathan Edwards (1703 – 1758) was a Protestant preacher, philosopher, and theologian. Edwards "is widely acknowledged to be America's most important and original philosophical theologian," and one of America's greatest intellectuals. Edwards's theological work is broad in scope, but he was rooted in Reformed theology, the metaphysics of theological determinism. 

Zeeshan Siddiqui Photography


Saturday, May 20, 2017

"And The Woman Was Very Beautiful to Look Upon."

King David not only committed adultery, but he arranged the death of Bathsheba's husband.  
The entire narrative is in 2 Samuel 11.
One evening David got up from his bed and strolled around on the roof of the palace. 
From the roof he saw a woman bathing—a very beautiful woman.  
So David sent someone to inquire about her, and he reported, “This is Bathsheba, daughter of Eliam and wife of Uriah the Hittite.”
David sent messengers to get her, and when she came to him, he slept with her.
14 The next morning David wrote a letter to Joab and sent it with Uriah.  
15 In the letter he wrote:
Put Uriah at the front of the fiercest fighting, then withdraw from him so that he is struck down and dies.
 27 When the time of mourning ended, David had her brought to his house. She became his wife and bore him a son. However, the Lord considered what David had done to be evil.
Commentary ~ Charles Spurgeon:
"At that hour David saw Bathsheba. We are never out of the reach of temptation. Both at home and abroad we are liable to meet with allurements to evil; the morning opens with peril, and the shades of evening find us still in jeopardy. They are well kept whom God keeps, but woe unto those who go forth into the world, or even dare to walk their own house unarmed. 
Those who think themselves secure are more exposed to danger than any others. The armour-bearer of Sin is self-confidence.  David should have been engaged in fighting the Lord's battles, instead of which he tarried at Jerusalem, and gave himself up to luxurious repose, for he arose from his bed at eventide. Idleness and luxury are the devil's jackals, and find him abundant prey. In stagnant waters noxious creatures swarm, and neglected soil soon yields a dense tangle of weeds and briars. 
When I see the King of Israel sluggishly leaving his couch at the close of the day, and falling at once into temptation, let me take warning, and set holy watchfulness to guard the door. Is it possible that the king had mounted his housetop for retirement and devotion? If so, what a caution is given us to count no place, however secret, a sanctuary from sin! While our hearts are so like a tinder-box, and sparks so plentiful, we had need use all diligence in all places to prevent a blaze. Satan can climb housetops, and enter closets, and even if we could shut out that foul fiend, our own corruptions are enough to work our ruin unless grace prevent. 
Reader, beware of evening temptations. Be not secure. The sun is down but sin is up. We need a watchman for the night as well as a guardian for the day. O blessed Spirit, keep us from all evil this night. Amen."

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

God's Sovereignty ~ Jonathan Edwards

The attributes of God: grace, mercy, and sovereignty, are revealed throughout Scripture.  Many believe that the way of salvation (sola fide, sola gratia) is New Testament theology, mostly because they are not familiar with the Old Testament.

 The way to salvation is throughout Scripture, beginning in the Old Testament where believers hoped for the future Savior.  In the New Testament, believers look back to our Savior and Redeemer our Lord, Jesus Christ. 

Thus <grace alone by faith alone in Christ alone> is not Pauline theology per se; Paul quoted from the Old Testament. Neither is it authored by Charles Spurgeon, John Calvin, Martin Luther, Augustine, et al.  These theologians articulated the doctrines of Grace as Scripture revealed, beginning in the Old Testament.

Jonathan Edwards is one of many theologians who illuminate the divine decrees.

This sermon is quite lengthy, and therefore I have selected excerpts from it.  I encourage you to read the entire discourse to deepen your knowledge of the sovereignty of Almighty God.

God's Sovereignty in the Salvation of Men
Jonathan Edwards

"Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth."
Romans 9:18

The apostle, in the beginning of this chapter, expresses his great concern and sorrow of heart for the nation of the Jews, who were rejected of God. This leads him to observe the difference which God made by election between some of the Jews and others, and between the bulk of that people and the christian Gentiles. In speaking of this he enters into a more minute discussion of the sovereignty of God in electing some to eternal life, and rejecting others, than is found in any other part of the Bible; in the course of which he quotes several passages from the Old Testament, confirming and illustrating this doctrine. 

In the ninth verse he refers us to what God said to Abraham, showing his election of Isaac before Ishmael - 'For this is the word of promise; At this time will I come, and Sarah shall have a son:'

then to what God had said to Rebecca, showing his election of Jacob before Esau; 'The elder shall serve the younger:' in the thirteenth verse, to a passage from Malachi, 'Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated:' 

in the fifteenth verse, to what God said to Moses, 'I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy; and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion:' 

to what God says to Pharaoh, 'For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might show my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth.' 

In what the apostle says in the text, he seems to have respect especially to the two last-cited passages: to what God said to Moses in the fifteenth verse, and to what he said to Pharaoh in the verse immediately preceding. God said to Moses, 'I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy.' 

To this the apostle refers in the former part of the text. And we know how often it is said of Pharaoh, that God hardened his heart. And to this the apostle seems to have respect in the latter part of the text; 'and whom he will he hardeneth.' 

We may observe in the text:

 1. God's different dealing with men. He hath mercy on some, and hardeneth others. When God is here spoken of as hardening some of the children of men, it is not to be understood that God by any positive efficiency hardens any man's heart. There is no positive act in God, as though he put forth any power to harden the heart. To suppose any such thing would be to make God the immediate author of sin. God is said to harden men in two ways: by withholding the powerful influences of his Spirit, without which their hearts will remain hardened, and grow harder and harder; in this sense he hardens them, as he leaves them to hardness. And again, by ordering those things in his providence which, through the abuse of their corruption, become the occasion of their hardening. 

2. The foundation of his different dealing with mankind; viz. his sovereign will and pleasure. 'He hath mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth.' This does not imply, merely, that God never shows mercy or denies it against his will, or that he is always willing to do it when he does it. A willing subject or servant, when he obeys his lord's commands, may never do any thing against his will, nothing but what he can do cheerfully and with delight; and yet he cannot be said to do what he wills in the sense of the text. But the expression implies that it is God's mere will and sovereign pleasure, which supremely orders this affair. It is the divine will without restraint, or constraint, or obligation.

Doctrine. God exercises his sovereignty in the eternal salvation of men.

He not only is sovereign, and has a sovereign right to dispose and order in that affair; and he not only might proceed in a sovereign way, if he would, and nobody could charge him with exceeding his right; but he actually does so; he exercises the right which he has.

 The sovereignty of God is his absolute, independent right of disposing of all creatures according to his own pleasure. The will of God is called his mere pleasure.

 I observe, it implies that God can either bestow salvation on any of the children of men, or refuse it, without any prejudice to the glory of any of his attributes, except where he has been pleased to declare, that he will or will not bestow it. It cannot be said absolutely, as the case now stands, that God can, without any prejudice to the honour of any of his attributes, bestow salvation on any of the children of men, or refuse it; because, concerning some, God has been pleased to declare either that he will or that he will not bestow salvation on them; and thus to bind himself by his own promise. And concerning some he has been pleased to declare, that he never will bestow salvation upon them; viz. those who have committed the sin against the Holy Ghost.

Hence, as the case now stands, he is obliged; he cannot bestow salvation in one case, or refuse it in the other, without prejudice to the honour of his truth. But God exercised his sovereignty in making these declarations. God was not obliged to promise that he would save all who believe in Christ; nor was he obliged to declare, that he who committed the sin against the Holy Ghost should never be forgiven. But it pleased him so to declare. And had it not been so that God had been pleased to oblige himself in these cases, he might still have either bestowed salvation, or refused it, without prejudice to any of his attributes. If it would in itself be prejudicial to any of his attributes to bestow or refuse salvation, then God would not in that matter act as absolutely sovereign. Because it then ceases to be a merely arbitrary thing. It ceases to be a matter of absolute liberty, and is become a matter of necessity or obligation. For God cannot do any thing to the prejudice of any of his attributes, or contrary to what is in itself excellent and glorious.

In calling one people or nation, and giving them the means of grace, and leaving others without them. According to the divine appointment, salvation is bestowed in connexion with the means of grace. God may sometimes make use of very unlikely means, and bestow salvation on men who are under very great disadvantages; but he does not bestow grace wholly without any means. But God exercises his sovereignty in bestowing those means.

All mankind are by nature in like circumstances towards God. Yet God greatly distinguishes some from others by the means and advantages which he bestows upon them.  In this he has exercised his sovereignty. He did this of old, when he chose but one people, to make them his covenant people, and to give them the means of grace, and left all others, and gave them over to heathenish darkness and the tyranny of the devil, to perish from generation to generation for many hundreds of years.

The earth in that time was peopled with many great and mighty nations. God did not choose them for his people, but left them for many ages under gross heathenish darkness, to perish for lack of vision; and chose one only people, the posterity of Jacob, to be his own people, and to give them the means of grace.  Ps 147:19-20   

'He showeth his word unto Jacob, his statutes and his judgments unto Israel. He hath not dealt so with any nation; and as for his judgments, they have not known them.' This nation were a small, inconsiderable people in comparison with many other people. Deut. 7:7. 'The Lord did not set his love upon you, nor choose you, because ye were more in number than any people; for ye were the fewest of all people.' So neither was it for their righteousness; for they had no more of that than other people. Deut. 9:6. 'Understand therefore, that the Lord thy God giveth thee not this good land to possess it for thy righteousness; for thou art a stiff-necked people.'

God gives them to understand, that it was from no other cause but his free electing love, that he chose them to be his people. That reason is given why God loved them; it was because he loved them.  Deut 7:8. Which is as much as to say, it was agreeable to his sovereign pleasure, to set his love upon you.

God exercises his sovereignty in the advantages he bestows upon particular persons. All need salvation alike, and all are, naturally, alike undeserving of it; but he gives some vastly greater advantages for salvation than others. To some he assigns their place in pious and religious families, where they may be well instructed and educated, and have religious parents to dedicate them to God, and put up many prayers for them. God places some under a more powerful ministry than others, and in places where there are more of the outpourings of the Spirit of God. To some he gives much more of the strivings and the awakening influences of the Spirit, than to others. It is according to his mere sovereign pleasure.

 God exercises his sovereignty in sometimes bestowing salvation upon the low and mean, and denying it to the wise and great. Christ in his sovereignty passes by the gates of princes and nobles, and enters some cottage and dwells there, and has communion with its obscure inhabitants. So God sometimes passes by wise men, men of great understanding, learned and great scholars, and bestows salvation on others of weak understanding, who only comprehend some of the plainer parts of Scripture, and the fundamental principles of the christian religion. Yea, there seem to be fewer great men called, than others. And God in ordering it thus manifests his sovereignty. 1 Cor. 1:26,27,28. 'For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; and base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are.

In saving some of those who seek salvation, and not others. Some who seek salvation, as we know both from Scripture and observation, are soon converted; while others seek a long time, and do not obtain at last. God helps some over the mountains and difficulties which are in the way; he subdues Satan, and delivers them from his temptations: but others are ruined by the temptations with which they meet. Some are never thoroughly awakened; while to others God is pleased to give thorough convictions. Some are left to backsliding hearts; others God causes to hold out to the end. Some are brought off from a confidence in their own righteousness; others never get over that obstruction in their way, as long as they live.

 Those who are in a state of salvation are to attribute it to sovereign grace alone, and to give all the praise to him, who maketh them to differ from others. Godliness is no cause for glorying, except it be in God. 1 Cor. 1:29,30,31. 'That no flesh should glory in his presence. But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption. That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.' Such are not, by any means, in any degree to attribute their godliness, their safe and happy state and condition, to any natural difference between them and other men, or to any strength or righteousness of their own. They have no reason to exalt themselves in the least degree; but God is the being whom they should exalt. They should exalt God the Father, who chose them in Christ, who set his love upon them, and gave them salvation, before they were born, and even before the world was. If they inquire, why God set his love on them, and chose them rather than others, if they think they can see any cause out of God, they are greatly mistaken.

They should exalt God the Son, who bore their names on his heart, when he came into the world, and hung on the cross, and in whom alone they have righteousness and strength. They should exalt God the Holy Ghost, who of sovereign grace has called them out of darkness into marvelous light; who has by his own immediate and free operation, led them into an understanding of the evil and danger of sin, and brought them off from their own righteousness, and opened their eyes to discover the glory of God, and the wonderful riches of God in Jesus Christ, and has sanctified them, and made them new creatures.

When they hear of the wickedness of others, or look upon vicious persons, they should think how wicked they once were, and how much they provoked God, and how they deserved for ever to be left by him to perish in sin, and that it is only sovereign grace which has made the difference. 1 Cor. 6:10.

 'Such were some of you; but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified, in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.'

The people of God have the greater cause of thankfulness, more reason to love God, who hath bestowed such great and unspeakable mercy upon them of his mere sovereign pleasure.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Seventy Times Seven

Anger and bitterness wrapped around the words tumbling carelessly out of my mouth, accusing an estranged friend how much pain and destruction he caused in my life many years ago. It was a self-righteous, merciless, and hypocritical response which I tried to justify in my prayers this morning. I should have pleaded with the Lord to forgive me for not forgiving this man.  

I went for a walk in the blustering wind. "Who does he think I am that I would so easily forgive and forget! He tore my family to shreds, and he is asking me to forgive him? Never!"
A sudden rush of tears...I'm not crying, it's this brutal wind... but then came that dark image of me: an unrepentant criminal scurrying down an alley like a rat.

Despite the warmth of my kitchen, and coffee, and my classical music, I could not shake this intense guilt.  I opened my Bible to Matthew.  Christ is teaching His disciples about forgiveness. It was compelling and convicting...especially His answer to Peter.  (Matthew 18:21-22)

The Lord's will is that we forgive as He forgives us, showing mercy to the ones who do us wrong, to the depth that He forgave us in Christ, "while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." Romans 5:8

Commentary by Matthew Henry

"Those that come to God for the forgiveness of their sins against him, must make conscience of forgiving those who have offended them, else they curse themselves when they say the Lord's prayer. We must forbear, and forgive, and forget the affronts put upon us, and the wrongs done us; and this is a moral qualification for pardon and peace.
Lord, how oft shall my brother trespass against me, and I forgive him? Will it suffice to do it seven times? 

  • He takes it for granted that he must forgive; Christ had before taught his disciples this lesson (Matthew 6:14,15), and Peter has not forgotten it. He knows that he must not only not bear a grudge against his brother, or meditate revenge, but be as good a friend as ever, and forget the injury.

  • He thinks it is a great matter to forgive till seven times.
Christ's direct answer to Peter's question; I say not unto thee, Until seven times (he never intended to set up any such bounds), but, Until seventy times seven; a certain number for an indefinite one, but a great one. It is necessary to the preservation of peace, both within and without, to pass by injuries, without reckoning how often; to forgive, and forget. God multiplies his pardons, and so should we. It intimates that we should make it our constant practice to forgive injuries, and should accustom ourselves to it till it becomes habitual.

  • Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us. Those, and those only, may expect to be forgiven of God, who forgive their brethren.

When we pray to God as our Father in heaven, we are taught to ask for the forgiveness of sins, as we forgive our debtors. Observe here:

  • The duty of forgiving; we must from our hearts forgive. Note, We do not forgive our offending brother aright, nor acceptably, if we do not forgive from the heart; for that is it that God looks at. No malice must be harboured there, nor ill will to any person, one or another; no projects of revenge must be hatched there, nor desires of it, as there are in many who outwardly appear peaceable and reconciled. Yet this is not enough; we must from the heart desire and seek the welfare even of those that have offended us"

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Brought Up From The Horrible Pit ~ C.H. Spurgeon

"I waited patiently for the Lord; and he inclined unto me, and heard my cry.  

He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings.  

And he hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God: many shall see it, and fear,  and shall trust in the Lord."   Psalm 40:1-3  

A Sermon Delivered on Lord's-Day Morning
August 13th, 1882 
by Charles H. Spurgeon


Bringing up out of a horrible pit is a terribly suggestive metaphor. I have been in the dungeon in Rome in which, according to tradition, Peter and Paul were confined.  It was indeed a horrible pit, for originally it had no entrance but a round hole in the rock above; and when that round hole at the top was blocked with a stone, not a ray of light nor a particle of fresh air could possibly enter. 

The prisoners were let down into the cavern, and there they were left. When once the opening was closed they were cut off from all communication with their fellow men.  No being has ever been so cruel to man as man. Man is the worst of monsters to his kind, and his cruel inventions are many. He has not been content to leave his fellows their natural liberty, but he built prisons and dug pits in which to shut up his victims. 

At first they would place a man in a dry well merely for custody and confinement, or they would drop him into some hollow cavern in the earth in which corn or treasure had been concealed; but afterwards with greater ingenuity of malice they covered over the top of these pits so that the prisoners could not be partakers of God's bountiful air, or the merciful light of the sun, or the silver sheen of the moon. Covered all over and shut in, the captives were buried alive.

Even in modern times we have seen what they call oubliettes, or dungeons in which prisoners were immured, to be forgotten as dead men out of mind, buried so as never to come forth again. Such unfortunates as were doomed to enter these tombs of living men bade farewell to hope. They were inhabitants of oblivion, dwellers in the land of death shade, to remain apart from their kind, cut off from memory. These worst of dungeons may illustrate our text—"He brought me up also out of a horrible pit."

Imagine yourself now confined in one of those caverns, with the big stone rolled over the mouth of it. There would be neither hearing nor answering. Now will you know the dread solemnity of silence. You may speak, but no gentle whisper of sympathy will reach your ears in return; you may cry again and again and make the dungeon's dome echo to your voice, but you are speaking as to brass—no man cares for your soul. You are alone; alone in a fearful solitude. 

Of course, a prisoner in such a pit as that was in total darkness. He could not see the walls which enclosed him, nor so much as his own hand. No beam of sunlight ever wandered into that stagnant air; the captive would have to grope for the pitcher of water and the morsel of bread which a cruel mercy would allot to him. 

Our Lord was in the dark; midnight brooded over His spirit. He said—"Now is my soul troubled." "My soul is exceeding sorrowful even unto death." His was a pit of gloom, the region of the shadow of death, a land of darkness as darkness itself.

When a man is shut up in a pit, he is, of course, full of distress. If you were, any of you, to go into one of the solitary cells of our own jails, I warrant you a short sojourn in it would be quite enough. These cells some years ago were thought to be wonderful cures for all sort of evil dispositions in men, but probably they have oftener destroyed reason than conquered depravity. Go in, if you dare. Ask the warden to shut the door, and leave you in the dark all alone, that you may try the solitary system for yourself.  

 No, I should not advise you to try it even for five minutes, for you might even in that short pace inflict such an injury upon your nervous system as you would never recover. I believe that many of the gentler ones here would be quite unable to bear total darkness and solitude even for the shortest space. In the grim gloom the soul is haunted with phantom fears, while horror peoples the place which is empty of human beings; the heart is worried with evil imaginations, and pierced with arrows of distress; grief takes hold of the spirit, and alarm conquers hope.

 In our Lord's case, the grief and sorrow which He felt can never be described, nor need it be conceived. It was something tantamount to the miseries of damned souls. The holy Jesus could not feel the exact misery which takes hold on abandoned rebels, but He did suffer what was tantamount to that at the judgment seat of God. 

 He gave something which in God's esteem, reckoning the dignity of His mighty person, stood instead of the sinner's eternal suffering. He felt woe upon woe, night blackening night. Do not try to realize His agony; He wills that you should note, for He has trodden the winepress alone, and of the people there were none with Him, as if to show that none could understand His sorrows, and that we can do no more than speak of His "unknown sufferings."

 "He brought me up out of a horrible pit." The Lord Jesus Christ was lifted up from all sorrow of spirit at that moment when He said so bravely, "It is finished," and though He died, yet was He lifted up from death, as it is written, "Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption." His Spirit ascended to God, and by-and-by, when the third day had blushed with morning light, His body rose from the tomb, to ascend in due time to glory. He came up out of the pit of the grave, delivered from all fear of corruption, pain, or defeat.

 "Many shall see." Do you wonder that it is added, "and shall fear?" It makes men fear to see a bleeding Christ, and to know that they crucified Him. It makes men fear, however, with a sweet filial fear that is akin to hope, when they see that Jesus died for sinners, the Just for the unjust, to bring them to God. Oh, when they see the Lord of love acting as a scapegoat, and bearing their sins away into the wilderness of forgetfulness, they begin to hate their evil ways, and to have a reverent fear of God; for so saith the Scripture, "there is forgiveness with thee that thou mayest be feared."

But best of all—they come to "trust in the Lord." They build their hope of salvation upon the righteousness of God as manifested in Christ Jesus. Oh, I would to God that some of you would trust Him at once. Beloved friend, are you trying to be saved by your own works? That is a delusion. Are you hoping to be saved by your own feelings?
That is a lie. 

But you can be saved, you shall be saved: if you will trust yourself with that blessed One who was alone in the dark pit for the sake of sinners, and slipped in the miry clay for the ungodly, you shall assuredly be saved from wrath through Him.  

Trust Him, and as surely as He liveth you shall be saved; for he that trusteth in Him cannot perish.

Peter Paul Reubens


Thursday, May 4, 2017

"Consider the Lilies of the Field..."

It was many years ago on a beautiful Sunday morning, I was walking and praying. Every day I would ask the Lord to show me something that would make me a person of enduring faith. I always thanked the Lord for what He provided, but I was very disheartened, distraught, with what seemed to be overwhelming difficulties in my life.  

He would not answer my prayers. I did not realize it then, but I do now. Sometimes He makes us wait to give us time. When we least expect it, the answer is in something He created for us to meditate on. When we truly come to understand God’s nature, we dig deeper and the answers are there in His Word. 

Lilies of the Fields
That day, on the way to the park, all along the narrow street, the curbs were edged with graceful lilies, their orange faces stretched toward the sun. They seed themselves each year, and grow wild into the fields. 

It was then I remembered  "lilies of the field".

The Lord reminded me that my anxiety for material goods such as food and clothing is in vain. My preoccupation with physical existence should not be my focus. The time we have to live on earth until we take our last breath, the measure of our lives is not in our hands, nor within our power to add to it; therefore, we should leave the concern of our physical lives to Him.

He tells us: Look at the lilies which spring up in the fields! indeed, when in bloom, they are adorned with more splendor than was the great King in his glory. God has fashioned for these lilies of the field more beauty than have industries of men and occupations of women. While "the lilies neither labor nor spin", why do you trouble yourselves worrying?  "For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things." 

I continued to recall: You are able to live in opulence and in scarcity, the understanding of true good, and of the true righteousness of God. You have in God a Father, naturally greater than your heart. Even if you do not understand Him, know that He is in Heaven and that it is there He takes your measure and places your treasures. Reserve above everything else a place for the Name of your Father, a desire that His Will be done.

Matthew 6:27-33

Friday, April 28, 2017

"I am with you always, even unto the end of the world."

The Four Evangelists
It is recorded at the end in each gospel of the four evangelists: the instructions given to His disciples.  

Christ gathered them to their meeting place in Galilee for a last rendezvous, a most intimate one: 
He was leaving them for the final time.  

Let us imagine we are there.  

Approximately forty days earlier, He was violently put to death by crucifixion, and amazed all of us by coming back to life; resurrecting Himself, the power He said He had He has proven!

He walks among us, appears before us at any time of day or night.  He talks to us, sups with us ~ and we expect Him to be here, as He has always been. He is our brother, our counselor, and friend.  We love Him...we do not understand.

He has called us together to say goodbye, again.  He is departing Heavenward, to the Father.  

Remember, He spoke of these things to all of us; but we did not understand then.  Some believe now; yet, some remain doubtful.

He has recited the Scriptures to us, and talks about repentance and forgiveness of sins.  

He tells us that all power is given to Him in Heaven and in earth.

We are to teach all nations to observe all that He has commanded,

baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

And He promised that He will be with us always, even until the end of the world.
16 But the eleven disciples went into Galilee, unto the mountain where Jesus had appointed them.
17 And when they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.
18 And Jesus came to them and spake unto them, saying, All authority hath been given unto me in heaven and on earth.
19 Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit:
20 teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I commanded you: and lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.

Matthew 28:16-20

Thursday, April 20, 2017

God and That Old Car Radio

My night had been a restless one filled with fear and turmoil. The hours waltzed through the darkness around my room in slow motion. It was quite early; the sun hadn’t taken its first look at the island yet, and the geese were beginning to organize their flight pattern for the day. I could hear the ducks on the shore outside my window.  I sat up and parted the blinds, finally admitting that I belonged with the creatures of this predawn rhapsody.

It certainly was a beautiful day.  The sun peeked through a parakeet blue sky. I walked beside the ducks on the dirt road hugging the shoreline.  They seemed attentive to my troubles, walking quietly ahead of me.  

The cancer was strangling my strength. These days I would tire easily.  And I was becoming unusually angry at the Lord. It was time for Him to give me an answer. I felt that He had forgotten why He allowed me to live all these years.

Or maybe I had forgotten...

There was a night many years ago when I was gripped with fear and desperation. I deliberately went for a dangerous ride with my best friend ~ Johnny Walker Red.
 Speeding over the Fore River Bridge in my old Chevy, I didn’t care about me or anyone. I just wanted out; drunk, and in misery of my own making. I began pounding on that old car radio, the one with the chrome buttons, looking for something, anything, to distract me from the noise in my head. Suddenly all of the buttons jammed, stuck on one station.  I heard the voice of a slow-talking preacher, just like he was sitting beside me, telling me about Christ and the prostitute, and how the men dragged her to the city because they were going to stone her to death. Christ looked at them and said ‘he that is without sin, let him cast the first stone’.  And then He looked at her and told her to sin no more.  John 8:3-11  
 "Sin no more."  Christ forgave me! He died on the cross for we who are dead in our sins and come to believe in Him. I had never heard of Christ as truly man, truly God, talking to his disciples, and I had never heard of forgiveness of sins, or eternal life if we believe in Him. I pulled over on the side of the bridge and sobbed like a child.   
I will never forget that night.  

I left the ducks to play in the water while I contemplated His reasons for allowing me to live that night, and yet allowing cancer to threaten my life now...

I said aloud, "Lord, You know my life has changed ~ I’ve changed! Why are You letting this happen to me?”

I struggled with this challenging theological question and asked the Lord to give me the answer: why do the righteous suffer? If You are just and loving, why did You permit a truly righteous man like Job to suffer?

For nearly two hours, I read through the entire book of Job.  One of the most important tenets remains that the real foundation of faith is not in God’s blessings He has bestowed upon us, but, rather, in the revelation of God Himself to us. When we pray to Him humbly and honestly, talking to Him even in anger, He does reveal who He is ~ Almighty God Himself, merciful and loving.
It was through His grace, His merciful grace and lovingkindness, that He allowed me to live that night so long ago, and very many years following, not only here on earth, but also with Him eternally in Heaven.  

He and He alone ordains our time to die... and our time to live.

© Angelina Lenahan
Excerpt from That Old Car Radio, initially published in 2007, revised.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Did He Not Tell Us?

Eugene Burnand

Peter and John rush to the tomb! They have just been told by Mary Magdalene that the stone was taken away.  
"So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, 
'They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.'
 So Peter went out with the other disciple, and they were going toward the tomb.  Both of them were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first.
 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there, and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus' head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself.
Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that He must rise from the dead."  John 20:2-9
John, the evangelist, the one whom Jesus loved, is the disciple who is with Peter, now inside of the empty tomb, contemplating what is before them: the strips of cloth on the ground, the shroud folded and arranged, set aside.  
This expensive material had been purchased by the wealthy Joseph. Nicodemus and Joseph wrapped the linens around the head of Christ and enveloped His body for entombment, which was according to Jewish burial custom.  John 19:38-42 
John confesses here that it was at this moment that he believed; without question, but not before having seen the empty tomb and this array of cloths inexplicably arranged neatly and set aside.  Scripture has all one needs for belief; but we have not understood it, that He must actually do what He told us He would do: Rise from the dead!  We have not conceived of this great mystery, this Jesus conquering over suffering, and now even death.   
But, did He not tell us He has the power to take up His life again?
"For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life so that I may take it again. No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This commandment I received from My Father.”  John 10:17-18

Peter Paul Rubens

Commentary: © Angelina Lenahan

Friday, April 14, 2017

"Lord, Remember Me..."

And he said unto Jesus, 'Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom'. And Jesus said unto him, 'Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise'. And it was about the sixth hour, and there was a darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour.And the sun was darkened..   Luke 23:42-45

Venecellio Titian

"I know not that, since the creation of the world, there ever was a more remarkable and striking example of faith; and so much the greater admiration is due to the grace of the Holy Spirit, of which it affords so magnificent a display. A robber, who not only had not been educated in the school of Christ, but, by giving himself up to execrable murders, had endeavored to extinguish all sense of what was right, suddenly rises higher than all the apostles and the other disciples whom the Lord himself had taken so much pains to instruct; and not only so, but he adores Christ as a King while on the gallows, celebrates his kingdom in the midst of shocking and worse than revolting abasement, and declares him, when dying, to be the Author of life. Even though he had formerly possessed right faith, and heard many things about the office of Christ, and had even been confirmed in it by his miracles, still that knowledge might have been overpowered by the thick darkness of so disgraceful a death. 
But that a person, ignorant and uneducated, and whose mind was altogether corrupted, should all at once, on receiving his earliest instructions, perceive salvation and heavenly glory in the accursed cross, was truly astonishing. For what marks or ornaments of royalty did he see in Christ, so as to raise his mind to his kingdom? And, certainly, this was, as it were, from the depth of hell to rise above the heavens. To the flesh it must have appeared to be fabulous and absurd, to ascribe to one who was rejected and despised, Isaiah 53:3, whom the world could not endure, an earthly kingdom more exalted than all the empires of the world. Hence we infer how acute must have been the eyes of his mind, by which he beheld life in death, exaltation in ruin, glory in shame, victory in destruction, a kingdom in bondage.
Now if a robber, by his faith, elevated Christ—while hanging on the cross, and, as it were, overwhelmed with cursing—to a heavenly throne, woe to our sloth, if we do not behold him with reverence while sitting at the right hand of God; if we do not fix our hope of life on his resurrection; if our aim is not towards heaven where he has entered. Again, if we consider, on the other hand, the condition in which he was, when he implored the compassion of Christ, our admiration of his faith will be still heightened. With a mangled body, and almost dead, he is looking for the last stroke of the executioner and yet he relies on the grace of Christ alone. First, whence came his assurance of pardon, but because in the death of Christ, which all others look upon as detestable, he beholds a sacrifice of sweet savor, efficacious for expiating the sins of the world. And when he courageously disregards his tortures, and is even so forgetful of himself, that he is carried away to the hope and desire of the hidden life, this goes far beyond the human faculties. 
From this teacher, therefore, whom the Lord has appointed over us to humble the pride of the flesh, let us not be ashamed to learn the mortification of the flesh, and patience, and elevation of faith, and steadiness of hope, and ardor of piety; for the more eagerly any man follows him, so much the more nearly will he approach to Christ."  -John Calvin