Studying God

A Holy Priesthood

Julie / November 8, 2014

The concept of believers as “a holy priesthood” (1 Peter 2:5) as I have long understood it is very much the object of derision and scorn.  “The Bible isn’t clear!”  Whether it’s formal ordination by an approved apostolic body or a Th. D. and peer-reviewed papers, the ability of the simple Christian to understand Scripture effectively is in serious question.

Yet Scripture itself testifies, and the testimony of God is greater (1 John 5:9).

The sufficient teaching of the Spirit

Jesus said to the disciples in John 14:26, speaking of the coming ministry of the Spirit, that He will “will teach you all things and remind you of everything I have told you” (hcsb).  Jesus says a little bit later, “He will guide you into all the truth” (16:13).  This is affirmed by Paul, who says in 1 Corinthians 2:10-15, “God has revealed these things to us by the Spirit, for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God… The spiritual person, however, can evaluate everything, yet he himself cannot be evaluated by anyone.” and by John, who writes,

But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you all know…The anointing you received from Him remains in you, and you don’t need anyone to teach you. Instead, His anointing teaches you about all things and is true and is not a lie; just as He has taught you, remain in Him.” (1 John 2:20,27)

And also, “the one who believes in the Son of God has this testimony in himself” (1 John 5:9).  Solomon also said in Proverbs 28:5, “those who seek the Lord understand [what is right] fully.”  And Jeremiah prophesied it in 31:34, “they will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they will all know Me.”

1 Corinthians 2:14 holds a really important point: how do we understand spiritual things?  By the Spirit.  Not by being taught them, not by man’s wisdom, not by advanced theological concepts… but by the Spirit.  And why?  2:5, “so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.”  Our faith rests in the power of God.  Our discernment comes from that power, from the Spirit, which Jeremiah prophesied, Jesus promised, and Paul and John affirmed.

The sufficient evidence of Scripture

The second, tangential question, of course, is whether or not Scripture is adequate as a written text to go alongside the ministry of the Spirit.

The go-to verse is 2 Timothy 3:16, but I am struck even more strongly by the context (vv. 12-17, hcsb):

In fact, all those who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. Evil people and impostors will become worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed. You know those who taught you, and you know that from childhood you have known the sacred Scriptures, which are able to give you wisdom for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

So, in the context of talking about persecution, Paul warns Timothy that deception is coming, exhorts him to continue in what he was already taught, affirms who taught him (his mother and grandmother, neither ordained nor seminary graduates), and then names what he already knew—the sacred Scriptures.  And then he makes this profound statement: “Scriptures, which are able to give you wisdom for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.”  I really don’t think he could possibly be any more clear about the sufficiency of Scripture (and the Old Testament alone, at that, as Timothy knew these Scriptures from childhood!) to lead to wisdom for salvation through faith in Christ.  It’s very precise and very adequate.   And it’s into this context that the famous verse 16 falls.  Is Scripture just useful and vaguely profitable?  Resoundingly not.  It’s sufficient for faith and salvation.  And then Paul elaborates, verse 17, “so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”  Scripture, taught by one’s own parents, is adequate protection against deceivers, and adequate teaching to for wisdom for salvation, for faith in Christ Jesus, and for completeness and readiness for everything.

And yet even more can we say!

Jude 3 reminds us that “the faith was once for all entrusted to the saints.”  It’s not an ongoing revelation.  The faith is established.  That’s why Paul warns “if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be anathema!” (Galatians 1:8) And John joins in, warning again against “many deceivers,” saying that “everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God… if anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting” (2 John 7-10), again warning against adding to the basic, given teaching of Christ, which we are supposed to not add to, but rather “abide in.”  Proverbs 30:5-6, “Every word of God is tested; He is a shield to those who take refuge in Him. Do not add to His words, or He will reprove you, and you will be proved a liar.”

In 2 Timothy 4:2-3 Paul tells Timothy to “preach the word… for the time will come when they will not tolerate sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, will multiply teachers for themselves because they have an itch to hear something new.”  Once again, the idea to stick to the word as opposed to “new” doctrine.

David also spoke of the beautiful adequacy of the words of the Lord (Psalm 19:7-8, hcsb):

The instruction of the Lord is perfect,
renewing one’s life;
the testimony of the Lord is trustworthy,
making the inexperienced wise.
The precepts of the Lord are right,
making the heart glad;
the command of the Lord is radiant,
making the eyes light up.

The instruction of the Lord is perfect.  It doesn’t need us to embellish or impose elaborate scholarship upon it.  The testimony of the Lord makes the inexperienced wise.

the priesthood of all believers

So, God is able by the Spirit to make us understand all spiritual things, without special teachers, and Scripture is an adequate collection of knowledge for salvation, faith, and wisdom.  The final piece falls into place very neatly: the temple veil was rent in two, and there is now “one mediator between God and men,” Christ (1 Timothy 2:5), who is the great high priest (Hebrews 4:14).  The Spirit of God no longer rests over the Ark of the Covenant, but indwells His people (1 Corinthians 3:16).

Christ was the sacrifice for sins once for all, and replaces the intermediary priests in that way (Hebrews 10:12) but now Christians also “offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5).  By His blood our worship is acceptable.  Priests in the Old Testament had another function: the priests made the offerings, and they appealed to God on behalf of the people (e.g. Joel 2); they distinguished between the “holy and the common, and between the unclean and the clean” (Lev. 10:10), they adjucated legal decisions (Deuteronomy 17), acted as judges and maintained the Sabbaths (Ezekiel 44), and settled all disputes (Deuteronomy 21).  All of this echoes in the New Testament descriptions of Christ as High Priest (Hebrews 9:11) of a more perfect tabernacle and believers as a royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:9) and “heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:17). 

The wonderful working of grace here is that not only does the Spirit teach us, not only is Scripture able  for salvation, wisdom, and equipping, but we as believers are also adopted into a holy priesthood…

so that you may proclaim the praises of the One who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

(1 Peter 2:9-10)

This is what the priesthood of all believers is about; a people called to glorify God, for He alone is the source and instructor of their salvation.

Sufficiency in action

One of my favorite examples of this is in 2 Kings 22.  Josiah becomes king of Israel at eight years old, and “he did what was right in the Lord’s sight” (v.2).  One of the first things he does is turn to the repair of the temple, and in the process, Hilkiah the high priest finds… the book of the law.

When the king heard the words of the book of the law, he tore his clothes…Go and inquire of the LORD for me, the people, and all Judah about the instruction in this book that has been found. (2 Kings 22:11-13)

Scripture led to repentance and, indeed, salvation (2 Kings 22:20).  The priests had lost it, but it was easily recovered from the book of the law.

The second major example is in Acts 17, where the Bereans are commended for not merely accepting the words of the apostles, but for comparing what the apostles taught to the Scriptures “to see whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11).  So we see that even when the Apostles taught, it was still “noble-minded” to check their words against Scripture.  And the reward, the “therefore,” was that many of them believed.  Again, Scripture leads to repentance and salvation.

Biblical cautions about tradition

One final point worth noting is how tradition plays into the story, biblically speaking.  While we are exhorted to hold fast to the traditions that were already taught by the Apostles (2 Thesalonians 2:15), Colossians 2:8 warns against being taken “captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition.” In 2:23 Paul is even more specific, ascetic and additional “regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.”  We are not to go beyond the bounds of Scripture.  Paul also tells Timothy, “guard what has been entrusted to your care.  Turn away from.. the opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge” (1 Timothy 6:20).  This is in perfect alignment with the view of tradition in the Old Testament prophets and as taught by Christ.

Beginning in Isaiah 3:12 we see the caution of following the leaders’ teaching: “Those who guide you lead you astray and confuse the direction of your paths.”  Micah 3:5 also warns of “prophets who lead my people astray” and Jeremiah cautions “the lying pen of the scribes has made [the law of the Lord] into a lie.”  These are the same traditions, additions to Scripture, that Jesus questioned in Matthew 15:3, “why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?” and 15:6, “for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God.” 

An appalling and horrible thing
    has happened in the land:
the prophets prophesy falsely,
    and the priests rule at their direction;
my people love to have it so,
    but what will you do when the end comes?
(Jeremiah 5:30-31)

Christ appeals to the authority of Scripture specifically, against the traditions that had developed after the law was given, and the disciples of Jesus did “not walk according to the tradition of the elders” (Mark 7:5).  Jesus rejected the authority of even the priests and elders to go beyond the teaching of Scripture.  Paul warned that this is how deceivers would lead the church astray, by adding to Scripture.  Peter exhorts us further, “remember the words previously spoken by the holy prophets and the command of our Lord and Savior given through your apostles” (2 Peter 3:2).  And all throughout, the constant theme is that “His divine power has given us everything required for life and godliness”—and how?—”through the knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness” (2 Peter 1:3). 

What does Peter say God gave us by that glory and goodness?  Not the teachings of men, which he warns against again in the very same section (2 Peter 2:1), but “very great and precious promises,” (v 4), promises found in Scripture (the testimony of the prophets and apostles, 3:2) and taught through the Spirit (1:20-21).

Study Notes

Judges: God uses broken people.

Julie / October 17, 2014

I just finished my study of the book of Judges, and, wow, so many thoughts.

The stories that have stuck out to me: Deborah and Barak.  Gideon.  Abimelech.  Jephthah.  Samson,  Micah, Gibeah.  With a few others stuck in.  Every single story is about the failure of people to do the right thing. 

First we have Barak (Judges 4), who ought to have obeyed God’s command to go to Mount Tabor… but doesn’t, until Deborah summons him and reminds him of what God already commanded.  Then he still refuses until Deborah agrees to go with him, at the cost of losing all honor for the victory, and Jael kills Sisera.

Then we have Gideon, who is a pretty decent if highly-doubtful guy, who actually meets YHWH (Judges 6) in the flesh, continues asking God for extra confirmation at every step, but basically, fears God and does well… until the end, when he collects booty from everyone and makes an idol which leads his household astray.  He also has tons of wives and children.

This doesn’t bode well for Gideon’s son Abimelech (Judges 9), who kills every last one of his brothers except the youngest, Jotham, who manages to escape.  Abimelech names himself king after this mass slaughter, and various other atrocities and mass-murders ensue, until God “turns back” the evil Abimelech had done on his head.

Then we come to Jephthah, who fears God and judges pretty well, but does this awful hideous thing of promising to human-sacrifice something (which turns out to be his beloved daughter), and then… he follows through on his oath (Judges 11).

Then Samson (Judges 13), whose parents have an encouraging and unblemished testimony of fearing God, and who is himself filled with the Spirit incredibly constantly, but Samson himself makes a ton of foolish decisions, is vain, is a womanizing partier, is prone to fits of incredible temper, revenge, and wiping people out, breaks his vows, lies, gives into nagging women repeatedly… and dies.

Then Micah (Judges 17), who steals from his mother, then creates a completely invalid little shrine in the name of YHWH but with false gods abounding, bribes a Levite priest into lending it some legitimacy.  But along comes the tribe of Dan, which steals his little shrine, his priest, and his false gods, and carries them off to set up in Dan, where it remained for “as long as the house of God was in Shiloh” (18:31, hcsb).

Lastly, there’s Gibeah, which is really just… unspeakable.  Atrocity compounding atrocity, one after the other.  I’m not sure there are more revolting chapters anywhere in Scripture than Judges 19-21.

And yet, through all of this, God is accomplishing His ends.  Israel  has no king.  Joshua, the faithful leader, has died, and the tribes have continually (chapter 1) failed to take control of the land from the Canaanites.  A lot more of that is accomplished through these stories.  And the Israelites are disciplined again and again, and forced to return to God and beg for mercy and assistance, again and again.  One time God denies them—I’ve rescued you before, and you went away again, “cry out to the gods you have chosen” (Judges 10:14, hcsb), but they persist in their repentance and God “became weary of Israel’s misery” (10:16, hcsb), which is one of the most startlingly beautiful phrases in Scripture.  Another time—after Gibeah—the Israelites consult Him for help, and He tells them what to do… only to have them be considerably wiped out, beginning with Judah (Judges 20).  It is only after they come to God again with fasting and sacrifices and weeping that He delivers the rebelling tribe Benjamin into their hands.

So we see here, first of all, how remarkably God works.  This is both justice and mercy tempered together, love and discipline.  But what I found incredibly encouraging—and surprising—was how very screwed up the “good guys” are, and yet they are included in Hebrews 11 among the faithful and righteous.  We point to David as an example of how fallen Christians can be, but here we have Barak, who ignores God’s explicit calling; Gideon, who doubts God repeatedly and falters at the end; Jephthah, who murders his own daughter in the name of God; and Samson, who seems in many ways to live a really, really depraved lifestyle filled with women and drinking and hedonism and lawbreaking.  And yet these are the people God called, used, and justified.

It’s also scary the reality of God’s judgment here.  Barak loses the honor of the victory.  God repays Jephthah’s rash vow with the loss of his daughter.  Gideon’s whole family is massacred by his own son.  Samson loses everything he seems to strive after, and then his own life.  The nation of Israel as a whole loses many of their men in the skirmish with Benjamin (not to mention nearly the entire tribe of Benjamin itself), then because of their own rash vow-making, they end up losing another entire town of people, and basically inviting the remaining Benjaminites to come along and kidnap and rape innocent women in Shiloh with no consequences.

Judges is a really easy book to read.  But a very hard one to process.

Study Notes

Jesus, Simon, and a Sinner.

Julie / September 18, 2014

Well, that took me long enough, huh?  I feel like Martha, distracted by many things.  But back to Luke 7:36-50 tonight, at least!

So after Jesus gets finished rebuking the Pharisees and experts in the law, one of them invites Him over for dinner.  The Pharisee’s name is Simon (v. 40), which oddly I’d never noticed, despite the fact that “the woman” in this passage is often named Mary Magdalene (with no textual warrant whatsoever).

We talk a lot about how Jesus “hung out with sinners” but this passage is spectacular: Jesus is having dinner with an unregenerate sinner (who is a Pharisee) and visited by a saint (who is a prostitute).  God’s sovereign grace is on broad display here as the categories are all topsy-turvey.  We would expect the Bible teacher to be the regenerate one and the prostitute to be the lost one!

But we see the woman’s faith from the very beginning: she was weeping, enough to wash his feet.  That’s some serious crying.  Her whole soul is obviously very invested in this meeting.  Moreover, unlike Simon, who confidently (and deceitfully) invites Christ boldly to his house (in stark contrast to the humility of the centurion, for example), the woman won’t even stand in front of Jesus, but just at His feet.  This is all very self-abasing.

Simon, though, is worried about the Law (v 39, HCSB):

This man, if He were a prophet, would know who and what kind of woman this is who is touching Him–she’s a sinner!

The Pharisees forbade themselves from touching even the garments of the common people, and here this woman—this vile sinner!—is not only touching Jesus’s garments but His actual feet!  Simon doesn’t speak to Jesus about it, but Jesus knows Simon’s heart and answers him with a parable: who will love more, the debtor who is forgiven much, or the debtor who is forgiven only a little?

Jesus then explains: Simon didn’t even wash Jesus’s feet, but the woman washed them—with tears!  Simon didn’t give Him a kiss, but the woman kissed—His feet!  Simon didn’t give Him the usual respect at feasts of anointing His head with common oil, but the woman anointed His feet—with very costly oil!

The woman had many sins, the woman knew she was forgiven, hence she loved much (Luke 7:46).  Simon doesn’t appear to have been very worried about his sins, or have loved at all.  The woman was forgiven; Simon was trying to cause trouble (v 49) for the Man he should have fallen down and worshipped.  The woman exhibited a plain saving faith, despite her sinfulness; Simon exhibited straightforward animosity toward God, despite his religious status.

I don’t think I’ve found any of Jesus’s teachings thus far as terrifying as this one.  It is far too easy to be Simon, proud and secure in my own works and my own understanding of Scripture.  Far too hard to be the woman, with sin on full display and humble enough to come to the house of a respected member of the community—who wants nothing to do with me—just to do the right thing and honor a Savior.  And then to be so aware of my own sin to not even speak or have any boldness at all, but just to humbly serve, and give all I have, to face criticism and hatred, not to gain anything at all, but just to worship at His feet.

That’s what saving faith looks like.

Study Notes

God has visited His people.

Julie / September 5, 2014

The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother.  Then fear came over everyone, and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has risen among us,” and “God has visited His people.”
[Luke 7:15-16, hcsb]

I’m not sure I’ve ever properly heard the story of Luke 7:11-17, despite it being the story that spread through Judea and brought Jesus’s fame to John the Baptist.  But the story itself is maybe less famous.

Jesus is on his way to Nain, and meets up with the funeral of a man who had been his widowed mother’s only son.  The mother and a large crowd is trailing along.  They don’t ask Jesus for anything.  This is really quite extraordinary.  These people didn’t come to Christ; He came to them.

Then, the text says, He looked at the widow and “had compassion on her and said, ‘Don’t cry.’”

Still no request for intervention from the widow or her friends.  Did they not know Who spoke to them?  They kept moving, in fact!  It wasn’t until Jesus came up and touched the coffin that they stopped carrying the man onward.

Then the simple words, “Young man, I tell you, get up!”  And the dead began to speak.

And once again, we see the right reaction to God’s presence in verse 16—“fear came over everyone.”  It is amazing to me how deliberately and consistently all of Jesus’s miracles led straight to the glorification of God.  It was apparently really recognizable to even the common people, and even the people knew how to respond—with fear, with trembling, with “I’m a sinner” and “I’m not worthy!”  Even in this case, where the people don’t seem to have known who Jesus was, and still seem a little confused, with some of them calling Him a “great prophet” (although Gill points out that the Messiah is called a “great prophet” in Deuteronomy 18:15, which may have been their reference); at any rate, recognizing this really incredible truth that after centuries of prophetless silence, God has visited His people.

And: fear.  And: the word would not be suppressed.  Jesus performs a miracle to strangers—out of compassion alone—and suddenly not just Capernaum but “all the vicinity” knew Him, with word reaching the disciples of John the Baptist.

(On a sidenote, I can’t help but notice how perfect a microcosm this is for salvation: the dead man going to his funeral, unable to ask for Christ’s help; his friends equally unable, by ignorance and distraction, to ask for Christ’s help; Christ looks at them, has compassion, interrupts their plans very abruptly, touches the man; and brings him to life; all for the glory of God the Father.)

Old Wisdom

Praying with the Spirit – Application

Julie / August 31, 2014

by John Bunyan, modernized; scripture quotations from HCSB

1. What it is to pray.
2. What it is to pray with the Spirit.
3. What it is to pray with the Spirit and with the understanding.
4.  Use and application

Now, with a word or two of application, we will conclude with, first, a word of information; second, a word of encouragement; and third, a word of rebuke.

A word of information.

For the first to inform you; as prayer is the duty of every one of the children of God, and carried on by the Spirit of Christ in the soul; so every one who offers to take up the task of praying to the Lord must be very wary, and go about that work especially with the dread of God, as well as with hopes of the mercy of God through Jesus Christ.

Prayer is an ordinance of God, in which a man draws very near to God, and therefore it calls for so much more of the assistance of the grace of God to help a soul to pray as is needed for one that is in the presence of him. It is a shame for a man to behave himself irreverently before a king, but a sin to do so before God. And as a king, if wise, is not pleased with an oration made up with unseemly words and gestures, so God takes no pleasure in the sacrifice of fools (Eccl 5:1, 4). It is not long discourses, nor eloquent tongues which are the things that are pleasing in the ears of the Lord—but a humble, broken, and contrite heart is that which is sweet in the nostrils of the heavenly Majesty (Psa 51:17; Isa 57:15).

Therefore, for information, know that there are these five things that are obstructions to prayer, and even make void the requests of the creature:

1. When men regard sin in their hearts, at the time of their prayers before God. “If I had been aware of malice in my heart, the Lord would not have listened” (Psa 66:18). When there is a secret love for a sin, though your misleading lips pray for strength against it, your heart may be tempted even in prayer.  For this is the wickedness of man’s heart, that it will even love, and hold fast, that which with the mouth it prays against—these are they that honour God with their mouth, but their heart is far from him (Isa 29:13; Eze 33:31). Oh, how ugly would it be in our eyes to see a beggar ask for money so that he could throw it to dogs!  Or that he should say with one breath, “give me this!” and with the next, “Please, don’t give it to me!”  Yet this is how it is with these kind of people; with their mouth they say, “Your will be done,” and with their hearts no thought is further.  With their mouth they say, “Holy be your name!” and with their hearts and lives they love to dishonor God all day long.  These are the prayers that become sin (Psa 109:7), and though they may be prayed often, the Lord will never answer them (II Sam 22:42).

2. When men pray for a show to be heard, to be thought to be somebody in religion, and the like; these prayers also fall far short of God’s approval, and are never likely to be answered, with regard to eternal life. There are two sorts of men that pray to this end:

(1.) Your greedy clergymen, who thrust themselves into wealthy families, pretending the worship of God, when in truth the great business is their own bellies; great examples of which were Ahab’s prophets, and also Nebuchadnezzar’s wise men, who, though they pretended great devotion, yet their lusts and their bellies were the great things aimed at by them in all their pieces of devotion.

(2.) Them also that seek fame and applause for their eloquent terms, and seek more to tickle the ears and heads of their hearers than anything else. These are those who pray to be heard of men, and have all their reward already (Matt 6:5).  They may be discovered by these things: (a.) They only take care to the sound of their expressions. (b.) They look for praise when they are finished. (c.) Their hearts either rise or fall according to their praise or promotion. (d.) The length of their prayer pleases them; and they repeat things over and over so that it will be long (Matt 6:7). They study for advancements, but don’t look at the heart from which they come; they look for returns, but all they have is the windy applause of men. And so, they do not love to be in private, but prefer to be among others: and if at any time conscience thrusts them into private, yet hypocrisy will cause them to be heard in the streets; and when their mouths have finished moving, their prayers are ended; for they wait not to listen what the Lord will say (Psa 85:8).

3. A third sort of prayer that will not be accepted of God, it is, when either they pray for wrong things, or if for right things, so that they may be spent upon their desires, and given for wrong purposes. Some have not, because they ask not, says James, and others ask and have not, because they ask amiss, that they may spend it on their passions (James 4: 2-4). Ends contrary to God’s will is a great argument with God to frustrate the requests presented before him. This is why so many people pray for this and that, and yet don’t receive it. God answers them only with silence; they have their words for their labor; and that is all.  You may object that God does hear some persons, although their hearts are not right with him, as he did Israel, in giving quails, though they spent them upon their desires (Psa 106:14).  Yet, even if God does, it is given in judgment, not in mercy. He indeed gave them their desire, it would have been better if they had been without it, for he “sent leanness into their soul” (Psa 106:15). Woe be to that man that God answers this way!

4. Another sort of prayers there are that are not answered; and those are such as are made by men who are not in the Lord Jesus, but who present to God in their own persons only. For though God has given prayer, and promised to hear the prayer of the creature, yet he has not promised to hear the prayer of any creature that approaches not in Christ. “If you shall ask anything in my name.” And whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ (Col 3:17). “If you ask anything in my name,” etc., (John 14:13, 14).  Even if you are never so devout, zealous, earnest and constant in prayer, it is still in Christ only that you must be heard and accepted. But, alas! The majority of people don’t know what it is to come to him in the name of the Lord Jesus—which is the reason they either live wicked, pray wicked, and also die wicked. Or else, that they reach nothing else but what a mere natural man may attain, to be exact in word and deed among men, and to appear before God with still only the righteousness of man.

5. The last thing that hinders prayer is, the form of it without the power. It is an easy thing for men to be very eager for such things as forms of prayer, as they are written in a book; but yet they are altogether forgetful to inquire with themselves, whether they have the spirit and power of prayer. These men are like a painted man, and their prayers like a false voice. They in person appear as hypocrites, and their prayers are an abomination (Prov 28:9). When they say they have been pouring out their souls to God, He says they have been howling like dogs (Hosea 7:14).

When, therefore, you wish, or have a mind to pray to the Lord of heaven and earth, consider these following particulars: Consider seriously what you want. Do not, as many who in their words only beat the air, and ask for such things as they don’t actually desire, or even see that they need.  Second, when you see what you want, keep to that, and be careful to pray sensibly.

Objection: But I have an awareness of nothing, so, by your argument, I must not pray at all.

Answer. 1. If you find yourself unaware in some sad measure, yet you cannot complain of that lack of awareness, but by being aware there is a lack. According to what awareness you have, then, that you have the need of anything, pray for that; (Luke 8:9)—so if you are aware of your lack of awareness, pray that the Lord would make you aware of whatever your heart is unaware of. This was the usual practice of the holy men of God. “Lord, reveal to me the end of my life,” said David (Psa 39:4). “What does this parable mean,” said the disciples (Luke 8:9). And to this is given the promise, “Call to Me and I will answer you and tell you great and incomprehensible things you do not know,” that you are not aware of (Jer 33:3).

But, also—be careful that your heart goes to God as well as your mouth.
Don’t allow your mouth to go further than your heart will be drawn along with it.  David would lift his heart and soul to the Lord; and good reason; for so far as a man’s mouth goes along without his heart, it is but lip-service only; and though God calls for, and accepts, the calves of the lips, yet the lips without the heart argues, not only for unawareness, but for our being without a sense of our lack of awareness, and therefore if you have a mind to grow in prayer before God, see that you pray with your heart!

Lastly, be careful of emotional, highfalutin expressions, which please yourself with the use of them, lest you forget the life of prayer.

I shall conclude this section with a caution or two.  First, be careful that you don’t throw off prayer, through sudden convictions that you don’t have the Spirit, nor pray by the Spirit.  It is the great work of the Devil to do his best—or rather, worst—against the best prayers.  He will flatter your false pretentious hypocrites, and feed them with a thousand fancies of doing well, though even their duties of prayer, and everything else, stink in the nostrils of God.  But when he stands at a poor Joshua’s hand to resist him—that is, to persuade him!—that neither his person nor his actions are accepted of God (Isa 65:5; Zech 3:1). Be careful, then, of such false conclusions and groundless discouragements; and though such persuasions encroach upon your spirit, react by being so far from discouraged by them, that you instead use them to turn you to further sincerity and restlessness of spirit, as you approach God.

The second caution is this: as such sudden temptations should not stop you from prayer, and from pouring out your soul to God, neither should your own heart’s corruptions hinder you. (Let not your failures stop your prayers). It may be you will find in yourself all those things before mentioned, and that they will be attempting to bring themselves forth in your prayers to God. Your business is to judge them, to pray against them, and to lay yourself so much more at the foot of God, in a sense of your own vileness, and instead, make an argument from your vileness and corruption of heart, that you may plead with God for justifying and sanctifying grace, than that you will pray to God of discouragement and despair. David went this way. “Because of Your name, Yahweh,” he said, “forgive my sin, for it is great” (Psa 25:11).

A word of encouragement.

And therefore, secondly, to speak a word by way of encouragement, to the poor, tempted, and cast down soul, to pray to God through Christ. Though all prayer that is accepted of God in reference to eternal life must be in the Spirit–for that only makes intercession for us according to the will of God, (Rom 8:27)–yet because many poor souls may have the Holy Spirit working on them, and stirring of them to groan unto the Lord for mercy, although through unbelief they do not, indeed, cannot believe that they are the people of God, in whom He delights; yet forasmuch as the truth of grace may be in them, I have some more particulars to say, for their encouragement.

persistence is effective.

That scripture in Luke 11:8 is very encouraging to any poor soul that hungers after Christ Jesus. In verses 5-7, he tells a parable of a man that went to his friend to borrow three loaves, who, because he was in bed, denied him; yet when the man was persistent, the friend did arise and give him, clearly signifying that although poor souls, through the weakness of their faith, cannot see that they are the friends of God, yet they should never leave asking, seeking, and knocking at God’s door for mercy. Mark, says Christ, “I tell you, even though he won’t get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his friend’s persistence, he will get up and give him as much as he needs.” Poor heart! You cry out that God won’t regard you, you aren’t a friend to him, but rather an enemy in your heart by wicked works (Col 1:21). It is as if you heard the Lord saying to you, “Don’t trouble me, I can’t give you anything,” as the man in the parable—yet, I say, continue knocking, crying, moaning, and wailing! I tell you, “though he won’t get up and give you anything because you are his friend, yet because of your persistence, he will get up and give you as much as you need!” The same thing occurs in Luke 18, in the parable of the unjust judge and the poor widow; her persistence prevailed with him. Indeed, my own experience tells me, that there is nothing more effective with God than persistence. Isn’t this what happens when beggars come to your door? Though you have no heart to give them anything at first, yet if they follow you, bemoaning themselves, and refuse to take no for an answer, you will give them what they ask; for their continual begging overcomes you. Are there depths in you that are wicked, and will they be worked upon by a persistent beggar? Go and do likewise. It is an effective motive, and proven by good experience, that he will arise and give you as much as you need (Luke 11:8).

God sits on a mercy-seat.

Another encouragement for a poor trembling convinced soul is to consider the place, throne, or seat, on which the great God has placed himself to hear the petitions and prayers of poor creatures; and that is a “throne of grace” (Heb 4:16). “The mercy-seat” (Exo 25:22). Which is a sign that in the days of the gospel God has taken up his seat, his abiding-place, in mercy and forgiveness; and from there he does intend to hear the sinner, and to commune with him, as he says (Exo 25:22),–speaking before of the mercy-seat–”I will meet with you there,” mark, it is upon the mercy-seat: “There I will speak with you, and” there “I will meet with you, from above the mercy-seat.” Poor souls! They are very apt to entertain strange thoughts of God, and his attitude towards them: and suddenly to conclude that God will have no regard for them, when yet he is upon the mercy-seat, and has taken up his place on purpose there, to the end he may hear and regard the prayers of poor creatures. If he had said, I will speak with you from my throne of judgment, then indeed you might have trembled and fled from the face of the great and glorious Majesty. But when he says he will hear and speak with souls upon the throne of grace, or from the mercy-seat, this should encourage you, and cause you to hope, no, to “approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us at the proper time.” (Heb 4:16).

Beside the mercy seat is Christ.

There is yet another encouragement to continue in prayer with God: and that is this: as there is a mercy-seat, from which God is willing to speak with poor sinners; so there is also by his mercy-seat, Jesus Christ, who continually sprinkles it with his blood. Thus it is called “the blood of sprinkling” (Heb 12:24). When the high-priest under the law was to go into the holy of holies, where the mercy-seat was, he might not go in “without blood” (Heb 9:7).

Why so? Because, although God was upon the mercy-seat, yet he was perfectly just as well as merciful. Now the blood was to stop justice from running out upon the persons involved in the intercession of the high-priest, as in Leviticus 16:13-17, to signify that all your unworthiness that you fear should not hinder you from coming to God in Christ for mercy. You cry out that you are vile, and therefore God will not regard your prayers; it is true, if you delight in your vileness, and come to God out of a mere pretence. But if from a sense of your vileness you do pour out your heart to God, desiring to be saved from the guilt, and cleansed from the filth, with all your heart; don’t worry, your vilness will not cause the Lord to stop his ear from hearing you! The value of the blood of Christ which is sprinkled upon the mercy-seat stops the course of justice, and opens a floodgate for the mercy of the Lord to be extended unto you. You have, therefore, as we have said, “boldness to enter the sanctuary through the blood of Jesus,” which has made “a new and living way” for you, you shall not die (Heb 10:19, 20).

Besides, Jesus is there, not only to sprinkle the mercy-seat with his blood, but he speaks, and his blood speaks; he has God’s ear, and his blood has God’s ear; insomuch that God says, when he merely sees the blood, he “will pass over you. No plague will be among you to destroy you,” (Exo 12:13).

I shall not detain you any longer. Be sober and humble; go to the Father in the name of the Son, and tell him your case, in the assistance of the Spirit, and you will then feel the benefit of praying with the Spirit and with the understanding also.

A word of reproof.

1. To those who never pray.

This speaks sadly to you who never pray at all. “I will pray,” says the apostle, and so says the heart of those who are Christians. Then you are not a Christian who are not a praying person. The promise is that every one who is righteous will pray (Psa 32:6). You, then, are a a wicked wretch that prays not. Jacob got the name of Israel by wrestling with God (Gen 32). And all his children bore that name with him (Gal 6:16). But the people that forget prayer, that do not call on the name of the Lord, they have prayers made for them, but it is prayers like this, “Pour out Your wrath on the nations,” O Lord, “and on the families that don’t call on Your name,” (Jer 10:25). How do you like this, oh you that are so far off from pouring out your heart before God, that you go to bed like a dog, and rise like a hog, or a sot, and forget to call upon God? What will you do when you are damned in hell, because you could not find in your heart to ask for heaven? Who will grieve for your sorrow, that did not count mercy worth asking for? I tell you, the ravens, the dogs, and all, shall rise up in judgment against you, for they will, according to their kind, make signs, and a noise for something to refresh them when they want it; but you have not the heart to ask for heaven, though you must eternally perish in hell, if you don’t have it!

2. To those who blaspheme the Spirit.

This rebukes you that make it your business to slight, mock at, and undervalue the Spirit, and praying in that way. What will you do, when God shall come to account for these things? You consider it high treason to speak but a single word against the king—no, you tremble at the thought of it—and yet, in the meantime, you will blaspheme the Spirit of the Lord!  Is God indeed to be dallied with, and will the end be pleasant for you? Did God send his Holy Spirit into the hearts of his people, to that end that you should taunt it? Is this to serve God? And does this demonstrate the reformation of your church? No, it is the mark of implacable reprobates. Oh fearful! Can you not be content to be damned for your sins against the law, but you must sin also against the Holy Spirit?

Must the holy, harmless, and undefiled Spirit of grace, the nature of God, the promise of Christ, the Comforter of his children, that without which no man can do any service acceptable to the Father—must this, I say, be the theme of your song, to taunt, deride, and mock? If God sent Korah and his company headlong to hell for speaking against Moses and Aaron, do you that mock the Spirit of Christ think to escape unpunished? (Num 16; Heb 10:29). Did you never read what God did to Ananias and Sapphira for telling but one lie against the Spirit? (Acts 5:1-8). Also to Simon Magus for merely undervaluing it? (Acts 8:18-22). And will your sin be a virtue, or go unrewarded with vengeance, that makes it your business to rage against, and oppose the Spirit’s office, service, and help, that it gives to the children of God? It is a fearful thing to spite the Spirit of grace (Compare Matt 12:31, with Mark 3:28-30).

3. To those who pray by man’s form.

As this is the doom of those who openly blaspheme the Holy Spirit, in a way of disdain and reproach to its office and service: so it is also sad for you, who resist the Spirit of prayer, by a form of man’s inventing. A very juggle of the devil—that the traditions of men should be of better esteem, and more to be owned than the Spirit of prayer!  How is this any less than that accursed abomination of Jeroboam, which kept many from going to Jerusalem, the place and way of God’s appointment to worship; and by that means brought such displeasure from God upon them, as to this day is not appeased? (I Kings 12:26-33). One would think that God’s judgments of old upon the hypocrites of that day should make them that have heard of such things take heed and fear to do so. Yet the theologians of our day are so distant from taking warning by the punishment of others that they desperately rush into the same transgression—that is, to set up an institution of man, neither commanded nor commended of God; and whoever will not obey it, they must be driven either out of the land or the world.

Has God required these things at your hands? If he has, show us where? If not, as I am sure he hasn’t, then what cursed presumption is it in any pope, bishop, or anyone else, to command that in the worship of God which he has not required? Further, it is not that part merely of the form itself, which is several texts of Scripture that we are commanded to say, but even all must be confessed as the divine worship of God, despite those absurdities contained in the forms, which because they have been well discussed by others, I won’t rehearse. Again, though a man be willing to live entirely peaceably—yet, because he cannot, for conscience sake, own forms to be one of the most eminent parts of God’s worship, although he never commanded them—therefore, that man must be looked upon as factious, seditious, erroneous, heretical; a disparagement to the church, a seducer of the people, and what not? Lord, what will be the fruit of these things, when for the doctrine of God there is imposed, i.e., more than merely taught, the traditions of men? Thus is the Spirit of prayer abandoned, and the form imposed; the Spirit humbled, and the form exalted; they that pray with the Spirit, though humble and holy, counted fanatics; and they that pray with the form, though with mere words, counted virtuous! And how will the favorers of such a practice answer that Scripture, which commands that the church should turn away from such as have “the form of godliness but denying its power”? (II Tim 3:5). And if I should say that men that do these things, do advance a form of prayer of other men’s making, above the spirit of prayer, it would not take long time to prove it. For he that puts the book of Common Prayer above the Spirit of prayer, advances a form of men’s making above the Spirit. But is what all those do who banish, or desire to banish, those that pray with the Spirit of prayer; while they hug and embrace those that pray by that form only, because they pray by that form. Therefore they love and advance the form of their own or others’ inventing, before the Spirit of prayer, which is God’s special and gracious appointment.

If you desire the clearing of the minor, look into the jails in England, and into the alehouses of the same; and you will find those that plead for the Spirit of prayer in the jail, and those that look after the form of men’s inventions only in the alehouse. It is evident by the silencing of God’s dear ministers, though never so powerfully enabled by the Spirit of prayer, if they in conscience cannot accept that form of Common Prayer. If this is not exalting the Common Prayer Book above either praying by the Spirit, or preaching the Word, I have missed my mark. It is not pleasant for me to dwell on this. The Lord in mercy turn the hearts of the people to seek more after the Spirit of prayer; and in the strength of that, to pour out their souls before the Lord. Only let me say it is a sad sign, that the thing which is one of the most eminent parts of the pretended worship of God is Antichristian, when it has nothing except the tradition of men, and the strength of persecution, to uphold and plead for it.

THE CONCLUSION.

I shall conclude this discourse with this word of advice to all God’s people:

  1. Believe that, as surely as you are in God’s way, you will meet with temptations.
  2. The first day, therefore, that you enter into Christ’s congregation, look for temptations.
  3. When they do come, beg God to carry you through them.
  4. Be jealous of your own heart, that it doesn’t deceive you in your evidences for heaven, nor in your walking with god in this world.
  5. Be careful of the flattery of false brothers.
  6. Keep in the life and power of truth.
  7. Look most at the things which are unseen.
  8. Be careful of little sins.
  9. Keep the promise warm upon your heart.
  10. Renew your acts of faith in the blood of Christ.
  11. Consider the work of your generation.
  12. Aim to run with the forerunners of your generation.

Grace be with you.

Study Notes

The Tree and the Storeroom

Julie / August 29, 2014

Luke 6 concludes with Jesus reinforcing this idea of those whose blessings depend on heaven, and those whose blessings are built on earth.

He begins by talking about trees.  “Each tree is known by its own fruit,” Jesus says; good trees give good fruit, bad trees give bad fruit.  Fig trees grow figs.  Thornbushes grow thorns.  Grapevines grow grapes.  Everything produces according to its kind, just like God told them to in Genesis 1:24.

Then Jesus takes it up a notch: He’s not talking about trees, but about people.  “A good man produces good out of the good storeroom of his heart.  An evil man produces evil out of the evil storeroom, for his mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart” (v. 45, hcsb).  Solomon said this in Proverbs 4:23.  Jesus says it a few more times in Matthew—adding, in Matthew 12:34, “how can you who are evil say anything good?”  Here in Luke He asks “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and don’t do the things I say?”  Our mouths can lie, but our actions—they’re the fruit of the tree.

It’s really quite sobering to think of our hearts as being a storeroom for evil or good.  In an ultimate sense, of course, our hearts are redeemed, and Jesus seems to be talking in that absolute sense here—yet, as Solomon tells us to watch over your heart with all diligence (Proverbs 4:23) and Deuteronomy 4:9 says “be careful and watch yourselves closely”, and Solom says again in Proverbs 23:19 to “set your heart on the right path”, and, many other verses—take heed, be vigilant, be careful, be watchful.  Preserve our hearts because out of them flow our actions.

Jesus tells us this, as well.  Who is the man with the storeroom of good?  “I will show you what someone is like who comes to Me, hears My words, and acts on them…” (v 47, hcsb).  So here we see the actions the fake followers Jesus addresses lack: this man 1) comes to Christ, 2) hears Christ, and 3) acts on what Christ says.

And why?  Because when he was building his house, he “dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock.”  This is full-circle, back to the idea of treasures in heaven.  The man stands because he is built on something solid, not something shifty and insecure.  Just like the blessed in the beatitudes, his fulfillment is safe in eternity; his life is built on Christ, and Christ will not fall.

But for the one whose house is not built on Christ, “the destruction of that house is great!” (hcsb, v 49)  The world is passing, and the treasures of it will fade in but a moment, and destruction awaits.

So, we must build our houses, our heart-storerooms, our tree—on the Foundation that will not fail—taking care to rest each brick on it, before the river of God comes and washes away everything without such divine mooring.

Study Notes

The beatitudes: where are my blessings?

Julie / August 25, 2014

Ah, the beatitudes: I’ve heard so many completely different interpretations of these scant handfuls of words.  “Blessed are the poor.”  Does this mean 1) God saves the materially poor to make up for their poverty on earth; 2) Christians should strive to be poor; or 3) even the poor are blessed?

To begin, there’s a clear juxtaposition between the beatitudes and the woes—as you can see in table format, this is v 20-23 straight down in the left column, and v. 24-26 straight down in the right column (Luke 6:20-26, hcsb):

The eternally blessed (vv 20-23)

The temporally blessed (vv 24-26)

You who are poor are blessed, But woe to you who are rich,
because the kingdom of God is yours.   for you have received your comfort.
You who are now hungry are blessed, Woe to you who are now full,
because you will be filled. for you will be hungry.
You who now weep are blessed, Woe to you who are now laughing,
because you will laugh. for you will mourn and weep.
You are blessed when people hate you, when they exclude you, insult you, and slander your name as evil because of the Son of Man. Woe to you when all people speak well of you,
 “Rejoice in that day and leap for joy! Take note—your reward is great in heaven,  
for this is the way their ancestors used to treat the prophets. for this is the way their ancestors used to treat the false prophets.

I never noticed the incredibly precise structure there—this is clearly not just a meandering off-the-cuff sermon Jesus rambled out one day.  Beyond the side-by-side parallel, there’s interwoven reversals – the hungry will be filled, but the filled will be hungry; the weepers will laugh, but the laughers will weep.

Since elsewhere in Scripture we see that it is not a sin to be rich, nor a surety to be poor (and also, hungry/full, weeping/laughing, etc.), and since Jesus explicitly connects each group of people to either true believers (the prophets) or the damned (the false prophets)—and further, since He is explicitly addressing the disciples, not the crowd at large (v. 20)—it seems to make the most sense to interpret the “blessed” as referring to believers in general, and the “woe’d” as referring to the lost.  And, at least as it’s arranged here in Luke, it seems to be primarily an encouraging message.  “If you are poor, hungry, sad, hated in this world, rejoice!”  “If you are rich, full, happy, and popular in this world, beware!” 

Particularly, Christ seems to really hit somewhat subtly on the idea that we are either dissatisfied with the world, and looking to heaven; or we are satisfied with the world, and that is where our satisfaction will remain.  Jesus is simultaneously belittling the world’s empty pleasures, while promising better ones in heaven, and warning against finding the unsatisfying (the world) satisfying.

So, it’s a nice little encouraging passage, except harder to live out!  Be happy with trouble.  Rejoice in the day men hate you!  You’re in good company with all the prophets.  And, on the other hand, beware of the treasures of the world!  Woes and bad company and damnation.

Last note, I think it’s worth noting God’s dissatisfaction, generally, with Israel in these verses about how Israel treated the prophets and the false prophets.  These verses are an inverse of how one might think they should have been—that Israel should have loved the true prophets of YHWH and persecuted the false ones, as He charged them to.  But they didn’t.

“Prone to wander,” we see in Israel, and everyone since Genesis 8:21—”man’s inclination is evil from his youth” (HCSB).  The world is broken, and we cannot conform to it—or woe!  Christ’s word is dire and serious.  Is my satisfaction the kingdom of heaven, or my comfort?