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Saturday, April 29, 2017

Fundamental Questions of the Christian Life # 4

Fundamental Questions of the Christian Life # 4

(b) The Monarchical Aspect

The monarchy runs from the First Book of Samuel to the end of the Second Book of Chronicles. The supreme factor in the monarchy was that of glory: God's glory manifested, enjoyed and displayed in the people of His grace, - for, as we have seen, they are indeed that. Now, because they are such, they are to be the people of His glory. The throne is the symbol of ascendency, of power, authority, dominion. It was intended to be the expression of a 'glorious high throne' set in the heavens (Jere. 17:12).

Now, as we considered Israel in themselves, so in this connection we have to consider the father and the son in whom the monarchy came to its peak of glory and power - David and Solomon. What shall we say about them?

Consider David. Who is David? What does he think and say about himself, about his past, his present? We are told that David went in and sat before the Lord and said: "Who am I, O Lord God, and what is my house...?" (1 Chron. 17:16). The Lord said to David: "I took thee ... from following the sheep" (vs. 7). David - a man of humble and despised beginning, of little account in the eyes of his own brothers, and of less account in his own eyes. David - a man whose faults and weaknesses are written in large letters and not hidden by God. Things which we gladly would cover, and which we wish were not in the Bible - acts of murder, treachery, passion - the Spirit of God has had written and preserved for all time. This is not the story of a man who is outstanding for his perfection and moral excellencies. Indeed, there are good things about David, there are wonderful things about David; but God has given this other side. He is a man, and a man compassed by all the weaknesses and passions of humanity; falling into the deep, deep mire of sin - terrible sin; crying out of the mire for deliverance, and eventually praising God that he has been taken from the pit, the horrible pit. But he had been in it.

Then consider Solomon. Think of his beginning, the handicap of his birth, the sin in which he was born, the iniquity in which he was shapen. Have you never felt a shock reading the eleventh chapter of the First Book of the Kings? Here is the man for whom God had done everything: the man whom God had endued and endowed with wisdom above all men, with riches and honor and power beyond all precedent; standing out, as he did in those days of his glory, head and shoulders above everyone else by Divine blessing. And yet, with all that God had done, his real nature was revealed, and in that terrible chapter: "Now king Solomon loved many strange women." There begins the story of decline and downfall, the awful tragedy of a man going down into the much and the mire of human iniquity, leading directly to the division of the kingdom and the terrible line of tragedy in the monarchy, issuing eventually in the exile. That is Solomon. It seems almost unthinkable that such a man should have such a downfall.

And yet God knew all that about Solomon before ever He gave him a first blessing. God knew His man; God knew all that could happen and would happen. What are you dealing with in David and Solomon? Ah, you are dealing with men who were ordinary, common stuff, coming to the peak of power and glory - why? - because of the grace of God. And why did God do it? Why did He give Solomon, as the Scripture says, wisdom and riches and glory and power beyond any man that had ever been before him or should come after him (1 Kings 3:12, 13: ;10:23, 24)? Why did He make the glory of Solomon fabulous? He has become a proverb. If you want to speak of wisdom, riches and glory, you mention the name 'Solomon'. Even the Lord Himself did that. He spoke of "Solomon in all his glory" (Matt. 6:29). Why did God go out of His way to do all that with, and for, David and Solomon?

The answer is found in the New Testament, quite clearly and definitely. Read the passage in the New Testament where David and Solomon are linked with the Lord Jesus. God always had His Son in view. In David and Solomon God was as it were throwing upon the screen a symbolic presentation of the kingdom of His Son, with all the glory and the blessing that would come to His people through grace by Jesus Christ. That is the explanation of the period of the monarchy. It has no meaning otherwise. By means of these people God is drawing upon the canvas of history the great truths concerning His Son. He portrays first, in the priesthood, the great truth of redeeming grace; everything is provided to bring a people into His presence in unclouded fellowship. Then, in the monarchy, He draws the picture of what grace will lead to: it leads to glory through Christ Jesus.

(c) The Prophetical Aspect

The third sub-section, the prophetical, falls into two periods: that before the captivity and that after the captivity. Now the prophetic ministry was intended to represent the full mind of God as to His Son and His people, and through them to the nations. The prophets were the bulwark against the incorrigible downgrade tendency of the people of God. It is always there, this downgrade tendency, even in the Lord's people, and the prophets were the bulwark against that tendency. They either encouraged or combated priests and kings in relation to this matter, and in so doing they stood for the Divine meaning both in the priesthood and in kingship: that is, holiness, incorruptibility, righteousness and truth. But they were oppressed by the hopelessness of their own immediate times, and so spoke much of a coming day, and a coming Person. The day of that Person was the strength, the hope, and the inspiration of the prophets. For them salvation and glory were in the coming One.

When Jesus put this question to His disciples 'Who do you say that I am?' - they gave answers from public opinion which brought forward the prophetic hope; but to Him this was insufficient. He was the answer to that hope, and so He pressed them for their answer in order to see whether they had arrived at that point.

They had been with Him for some three very full years, in which time they had sen His works, heard His words, known Him in person, in the flesh. The time is finished, and there away up in the North, as He turns His face towards Jerusalem (to be the scene of that last moments of His life here on earth) He probes, He probes with this question: "Who do men say that I the Son of man am?" (Matt. 16:13). Getting a variety of answers as to what men were saying, He brings the question straight home. "Who do you say that I am?" He is asking, 'What does it all amount to, for you?' After all, what does it amount to? You have heard it all, you have seen it all, you have been in touch with it all: now, what does it amount to? What is your apprehension of Me? What is your conclusion? How much have you really seen, after all?'

Now, although Peter gave an answer which in itself satisfied the Lord Jesus, it was a transient, fleeting illumination, for so soon afterwards the man who said it denied his Lord. From the Gospels we are led to one sad conclusion: that, although they had companied with Him in close association, heard all that He had to say and seen all that He had to do, though they had listened to Him and watched Him, they had not really seen Him. Are you thinking, 'That is a terrible thing to say!?' Ah, but there is all the evidence and proof of it. This was not the only time that He exposed their failure to recognize. Just look what happens afterwards, after He has gone and He comes back and visits them here and there, and speaks to them. See their profound and utter ignorance. They had not seen. They knew their Bibles - they knew Moses, they knew the Psalms, they knew the prophets - but they had not seen Him. That is the thing that He makes perfectly clear. And - this is what I am coming to - because they had not really seen, disaster overtook their lives as disciples. That is why they all forsook Him and fled; that is why the leader among them denied Him thrice, passionately and vehemently; that is why they are found,after the Cross, scattered and disillusioned and hopeless. They had not really apprehended Him.

I come back then to our main question: the fundamental importance of an adequate apprehension and knowledge of Christ, as born in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. We could sum up by saying that the Bible has but one object from beginning to end, and that is to reveal the mind of God concerning man, with a view to bringing glory to God in man's eternal good. But the one means of that revelation is God's Son. He not only brings God's mind to us - He is God's mind for us. He is not only the Word as an utterance - He is the Word as a Person. Therefore the whole Bible is comprehended and governed by Christ. He answers the one purpose of it all - past, present, future and eternally.Christ is central, Christ is supreme, Christ is universal, Christ is dominant in all. The Christian life  will be greater or smaller according to our spiritual apprehension and knowledge of Christ, through what Paul call 'having the eyes of our hearts enlightened' (Eph. 1:18). Christ is the sum of all things; and the kind of Christians we are and the measure of His fullness to which we shall attain will be determined exclusively by our knowledge of Him.

~T. Austin-Sparks~

(continued with # 5)

Monday, April 24, 2017

Fundamental Questions of the Christian Life # 3

Fundamental Questions of the Christian Life # 3

The Israelitish Section

The next section, the Israelitish period, from Exodus to Malachi, is divided subsectionally into, firstly, the priestly aspect, from Exodus 12 to the First Book of Samuel; secondly, the monarchical aspect, from 1 Samuel to 2 Chronicles 36:21; thirdly, the prophetical aspect, from Isaiah to Malachi.

(a) The Priestly Aspect

In order to appreciate the significance of the priestly aspect of the Israelitish section, it is necessary to recognize the Divine meaning in choosing Israel; that is, to recognize Israel's place and nature and vocation. Very much has been said and written regarding the Jewish people, and what a wonderful people they are. They have been called the most wonderful people in history. Comment has been made on what is termed "the Jewish genius for religion." I do not so read the Bible! Anything at all wonderful about these people was not due to themselves at all, but wholly to the grace of God.

What the Bible reveals as to the children of Israel is not their 'genius for religion,' but the fact that they were a people no better than, if as good as, many others. Their outstanding characteristic was rather a genius for covetousness and selfishness and hard-heartedness and stiffneckedness and murder, if their interests were threatened or their ambitions frustrated. Stephen rightly summed up their history when he said to their leaders in his own time: "Which of the prophets did not your fathers persecute? and they killed them which shewed before of the coming of the Righteous One." (Acts 7:52). " There is a challenge. In that marvelous discourse of Stephen, the whole history of Israel was taken up and presented in very dark lines. Not a genius for religion - very much to the contrary! God's own categorical statement about Israel was: "I did not choose you because you were better or greater than other peoples" (Deut. 7:7).

Why, then, did God choose such a people? How could such a people come to full acceptance with God and have access to God, stand in His love, draw out all His favor,stir Him to fierce jealousy on their behalf - how could that be with such a people? Let it then at once be recognized that their whole life was based upon the mediatorial principle: a holy priesthood, a holy altar, holy sacrifices and offerings, blood sacrifices of creatures without spot or blemish, meal offerings of very fine-ground flour, meat offerings of that in which the closest inspection could detect no traces of corruption. Everything proclaimed with a loud voice that - not for a wonderful people at all, not for a people with a genius for religion and goodness - but for the chiefest of sinners, the most hopeless of men, the most disobedient, most provocative, most reprobate, most unfaithful people on earth - for such, God has provided a basis for the closest intimacy with Himself! Let anyone who despairs of themselves read Psalm 105, and then, having read it, turn to the Psalms immediately preceding and following it. In Psalm 105 you have the long-drawn-out, monotonous story of the unfaithfulness and unreliableness of that nation. And yet all the way along, God forgave, and He forgave, and He forgave. Why?

The history of Israel can only be read in the light of Jesus Christ. He is the only explanation. Why did God choose Israel? What is their place, their nature, their vocation? Israel is God's great object-lesson of grace: grace providing all that which is lacking in man, but which is essential to fellowship with God. God provides it Himself. Out of the womb of Israel Jesus Christ was born, but He was implicit in the whole priestly order of her history, declaring all the way along: 'It is not your merit or your goodness - it is My perfection.' Israel shows forth - not her own greatness, not her own goodness, not her own genius, but just the greatness of Christ, Who, for such as they and such as we, is "made unto us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption" (1 Cor. 1:30). For what purpose? "That no flesh should glory before God" (vs. 29). All the glory comes to Christ. God thought it worth while to take that long section of human history and constitute it in such a way as to set forth, in a people and through a people, to the nations, to the world, to sinful and worthless men, His wonderful grace - His 'grace which is in Christ Jesus' (1 Timothy 1:14).

~T. Austin-Sparks~

(continued with # 4)

Friday, April 21, 2017

Fundamental Questions of the Christian Life # 2

Fundamental Questions of the Christian Life # 2

Behind the Scenes With the Bible

Now, let us take up our Bibles and allow them to lead us to this whole matter of the knowledge of Christ.

The Christian, with his Bible in his hand, is led behind the whole scene of history. On the stage of the world, a wonderful drama is being worked out, set in all the branches of science: the earth -geology; the heavens - astronomy; life - biology; the human body - physiology; and the human mind - psychology. All these things - the world and man and history - are in the foreground. But with the Bible in hand the Christian is led behind them all - behind the state, so to speak, behind the scenes - into the background of these things. He is led into the very presence of God - to God behind it all. Moreover, with Bible in hand the Christian is brought to see that God is a God of purpose, a God of plan, a God Who has conceived and projected this wonderful design which is being worked out. And as a third step, the Christian is led through the Bible to see that that great design, that great purpose, that great plan, with all the Divine resources for its accomplishment is all centered and summed up in one Person, God's Son. The whole design, the whole scene, the whole intention and all the Divine resources are focused upon one Person, the Son of God. It all concerns Him.

Seven Sections of the Bible

Next, the Christian discovers that, in relation to that God of purpose, and to His great purpose concerning His Son, the Bible falls into seven distinct sections. The first - the Creation - is comprehended in quite a small compass of the record. The Bible has much to say about the creation in relation to the Son of God. In Him, through Him, and unto Him were all things created (Col. 1:16). That is comprehensive!

The second, which we will call the patriarchal section, runs from the fourth chapter of Genesis almost to the close of the book in chapter fifty. We shall look at this more closely in a moment.

The third section, beginning with the Book of Exodus, is what we call the Israelitish section. This runs from the beginning of the Bood of Exodus right to the end of the Old Testament. But it has some sub-sections. There is the priestly sub-section, running from the twelfth chapter of the Book of Exodus to the First Book of Samuel, the kingly or monarchical sub-section,from the First Book of Samuel to the end of the Books of Kings and Chronicles, where the kingship is set aside and the people go into captivity, and the prophetical sub-section, which occupies the last quarter of the Old Testament.

The fourth of the main sections of the Bible comprises the Incarnation, the Life, Death and Resurrection, of God's Son.

The fifth, a short but very important section, embraces the forty days after His Resurrection.

The sixth section is the heavenly session of the ascended Lord, with its two aspects - the advent of the Holy Spirit, and the birth, vocation and completion of the Church.

The seventh and final section - the Son coming in His Kingdom - has various aspects and implications and effects, in three particular connections: firstly, in relation to the Church; secondly, in relation to the nations; and thirdly, in relation to satan and his kingdom.

That comprehends the whole Bible in seven sections. For the present I am goin to confine myself to the second and third, the patriarchal and the Israelitish sections, keeping in mind our object, which is to discover the place and significance of the Lord Jesus in the Divine scheme of things, so that we may come to that adequate knowledge of Him which is essential to spiritual fullness in the Church and in the believer.

The Patriarchal Section

In the patriarchal section of the Old Testament, we find seven outstanding personages, who dominate the scene. Seven, as we know, is the biblical number for spiritual fullness or completeness; and, if we rightly understood the significance of these seven men, who were Divinely and sovereignly chosen for this very purpose, we should see that in them God has outlined seven features of His Son, which give a complete spiritual portrait of Him. It is not my intention to follow that out in detail, but I take it up in a general way in relation to our present specific purpose. Here are the seven dominating characters of that period: Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph. Every one of these represents a distinct feature in the drawing of the portrait of Christ.

Abel: the door of Heaven had been closed to Adam, but re-opens to a man who was prepared to let go everything in this life in order to serve the thought of God. Cain tried in his own way to get through the door of the garden, but found it closed and barred to man - there was no access. To Abel the closed door of Heaven re-opened: Abel got through because he was prepared to let go everything in this life, and even life itself, in order to correspond to the thought of God. Here we can see an outstanding feature of the Lord Jesus.

Enoch: the man who alone walked with God on this earth, when everyone else walked away from or far from God. The Lord Jesus did that, and He was probably the only man who did that in His day. He walked with the Father, as no one else did. And so, when everyone else was walking apart from God, or away from God, Enoch walked with God.

Noah: the man who lived in the light of a coming day of judgment and renewal, and worked in relation to that day. That is a brief and very comprehensive statement. The whole life of Noah was a long-drawn-out business. Tested by time; tested by all appearances which seemed to contradict and deny the line that he had taken, yet he lived and worked through a long life in the light of a day to come - a day of judgment, and a day beyond judgment in renewal. Is not that a picture of the Lord Jesus?

Abraham: the man whose portion alone was the Lord. "Fear not, Abram: I am Thy ... reward" (Genesis 15:1). That is all. A man deprived of his country and deprived of all foothold in the land of his sojourn, he went up and down that land as "a stranger and a sojourner" (Gen. 23:4), but his portion was the Lord. We are told that he was looking for "a better country ... a heavenly"; for "the city... whose builder and maker is God" (Heb. 11:16, 10). Abraham's alone portion was the Lord. There is very much more in it than that, but that sums it up. And such was the Lord Jesus. What a lonely life was His, and, so far as things here were concerned, what a life of forgoing, of deprivation! But the Father was His portion, and that was enough for Him.

Isaac: the living embodiment of the fact that there is a life which cheats death of its prey, renders death null and void and leaves it behind, and goes on. Again, that is the Lord Jesus: a life which all the time declares that death is vanquished; and death is cheated; life that goes on and ever on, triumphant over death.

Jacob: a difficult character, Jacob. Yet, when you come to sum up his story, here was a man who came to know the thing which the Lord Jesus knew, and which characterized Him perhaps more than anything else: that it is only the life in the Spirit that is ascendent life. Jacob made a very thorough and exhaustive trial of gaining ascendency in the flesh. The day came when his flesh was smitten, and he was weakened and broken. He discovered in that moment that ascendency is not by the wit and cunning and strength of the flesh, but wholly by the Spirit. The Lord Jesus lived on that principle. God brought Jacob through to the ground of His own Son - the ground of ascendency in the Spirit.

Joseph: he sums up all the others and embodies the great truths of Christ: suffering and glory.

Here, then, in outline, we have God's portrait of His Son. Now remember: it is said that it was by the Son that all things were created (John 1:3; Col. 1:16). The end of the first section, the creation, therefore, is arrived at by the Son. What is He doing after that? It is true that God has entered into His rest - but what is the Son doing? Has the Son sat down and said, 'That is the end of everything?' For the whole of that long period afterward, what is the Son doing? The Son is active in the inculcation of Himself in the lives of those seven men. He is building Himself into their spiritual experience. He is bringing out the lines of those seven men. He is bringing out the lines of His own character in this sevenfold way. The only profitable and right way to study the Patriarchs is to study them in the light of Jesus Christ. They are interesting as human studies, but that will not get you anywhere. If you can see that what God is after, what He has committed Himself to, and what the Son is engaged upon, is to reproduce Himself in the spiritual life of men, then you have something to bring you into a knowledge of Christ that is helpful knowledge, building knowledge, constructive knowledge, knowledge that is power and life.

~T. Austin-Sparks~

(continued with # 2 - The Israelitish Section

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Fundamental Questions of the Christian Life # 1

Fundamental Questions of the Christian Life # 1

The Fundamental Importance of An Adequate Apprehension of Christ

"Now when Jesus came into the parts of Caesarea Phillippi, He asked His disciples, saying, Who do men say that the Son of man is? And they said, Some say John the Baptist; some, Elijah; and others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets. He saith unto them, But who say ye that I am? (Matthew 16:13-15).


The answer that each one of us is able to give to that question will reveal the measure of our own spiritual life. Let me say, however, at the outset that, although our Lord was undoubtedly seeking the answer that Peter gave Him - a testimony to, an affirmation of, His Deity, as the Son of God - we are not here concerned with any argument for, or discussion of, the Deity of Christ, although that will, we trust, be the natural and logical conclusion of all that we say. Our aim is to help toward a fuller realization of the place and the significance of Christ in the whole Divine scheme.

The Knowledge of Christ Basic To Human Destiny

We begin by making one basic statement of fact. It is that everything related to human destiny is bound up with the knowledge of Christ. And for the Christian, in a peculiar way, the knowledge of Christ governs everything. The Scriptures make two things very clear in that connection.

(a) Christ The Foundation of the Christian Life

First of all, the knowledge of Christ is the foundation and the beginning of the Christian life. "This is life eternal, that they should know Thee the only true God, and Him Whom Thou didst send, Jesus Christ" (John 17:3). Although that is recognized and accepted, as a simple and elementary truth, let it be said at once that the Divine record in the New Testament makes it evident that the Christian life may have either a good or a poor beginning. And much may depend, perhaps for some time to come upon of these has been the case. We know that to be true in natural human life. If a baby has a poor beginning, it may cause anxiety and require much care for some time to come. It it has a good beginning, it usually goes ahead without much trouble to itself or anyone else.

So it is with the Christian life: the beginning can be a good one, or it can be a poor one, and the effect of the beginning maybe evident for a long time in the life itself. The strength or the weakness, the progress retarded or accelerated, the fruitfulness or the poverty of the life will greatly depend upon the initial apprehension of Christ. This is something that we need to bear in mind. The apostles were well aware of it, and were very much alive to it, and they always sought to lay the foundations of a good beginning in an adequate knowledge of the Lord Jesus.

(b) Growth In The Knowledge of Christ

A second thing that the Scriptures make clear is that Christians, after their beginning, are meant to be increasing all the time in the knowledge and apprehension of Christ. This is indicated in several ways.

Firstly, the very fact of the existence of the whole body of teaching found in the New Testament, addressed to believers, surely in itself carries this implication.

Then again, a progressive change can be noticed in the course of the teaching. For the beginning of the Christian life, the simple word 'know,' or 'knowledge,' is used, as in the passage we have already quoted: "This is life eternal, that they should know ..." But that growth and progress toward maturity is expressed by a further word. It is not apparent in our English translations, but it is there all the same. The fuller word, in its substantive form "Epignosis," is used at least thirteen times in relation to the believer's progress in the Christian life. It may be translated ""full knowledge," "recognition," "realization," and you would be advised and helped to take account of the occurrences of that word with the aid of a good concordance. It is very impressive that, after the mention of the knowledge of the Lord in the beginning of salvation, the apostles then speak so much about going on to full knowledge of Him.

Further, this is indicated by the specific teaching of the Word. We cite just one instance of this in the familiar words of Ephesians 1:17: "The God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, grant unto you a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the full knowledge of Him." Now these words were addressed to the people who had already received what the apostle called "the whole counsel of God" (Acts 20:27). It was to the Ephesian elders, you remember, that the apostle said that, during the long period in which he had been with them, he had not shunned to declare to them the whole counsel of God. And yet we find him, some time afterward, praying for them, that they may have a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the full knowledge of Christ.  That is significant and impressive.

We have, therefore, very much behind our statement that Christians are supposed and meant to be progressive all the time in their knowledge and apprehension of Christ. The Word of God makes this abundantly clear; and although perhaps it hardly needs to be emphasized, it must be established, as part of any foundation consideration of a matter of this kind, that the knowledge of Christ is basic to the attainment of the fullness of Christ by believers.

~T. Austin-Sparks~

(continued with # 2)

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Turning Northward # 5

Turning Northward # 5

Paul was growing old, when he spoke of forgetting things behind and reaching forth to things before. His best was yet to be attained. So it should always be with Christian old age. We must ever be turning northward, toward fuller life and holier beauty. This can be the story of our experience, only if our life is hid with Christ in God. Torn away from Christ, no life can keep its zest or its radiance.

Another phase of this call as it comes to us in life's quiet days, is to increased activity. We cannot fulfill our Master's requirement for us as Christians, unless we are ready for self-forgetful devotion to service. A birthday or the beginning of a new year is a most fitting time for renewed interest in Christian work. "You have circled this mountain long enough." That is, you have been going through the old rounds, living the old way, long enough. Is any one of us satisfied with the measure of work we have done for Christ during the past year, for example? "To each one his own work," is the rule of the kingdom. The work of the church is not meant to be done by a few rare souls merely. Some portion of it is to be done by each one, and that portion is not transferable. No one can do your work for you, for each one has enough of his own to fill his hands. No one can get any other person to do his allotted task for him. All anyone can do, is his own little part.

Are there any of us who have done nothing? We need not press the question for the past, for what has not been done in its time, cannot be done now. The hands that have been idle through a past year, can do nothing in the new year to make up the lack. If you have left a blank where there ought to have been beautiful work done - there can be only a blank there forever. You cannot fill it now. Toil as you will any new year, you cannot make the year you left empty, anything but empty. We cannot go back over our life, and do omitted or neglected duties.

Shall we not cease going around and around in the same little grooves, and turn northward, with our faces toward God and Heaven? Our Master is not exacting, does not require of us what we cannot do. All expected of anyone is his part - what he can do. No one is required to do the work of the whole world - but everyone is required to be faithful in his own place. All that the Lord requires of us is faithfulness to that which He has called us to do.

We get into the habit of talking about Christian life and work, as if it were something altogether apart from common work, the work we do on our business days. But if we are living as we should, then everything we are called to do, is work for Christ. We need heavenly grace for our secular tasks and duties - quite as much as for our Christian services and occupations.

It is said that at a certain moment of the night, a man in the Lick Observatory, California, lying upon his back, looks out through the great telescope and waits for a certain star to cross a fine line made by the tiny thread of a spider's web drawn across the telescope. This indicates the time, and from this indication the great clock is set. Thus a star from Heaven directs the movements of all the railway trains, all shops and factories, all business of every kind in all the vast region.

In the same way, we are to get light from Heaven for all our life on earth, not only for our worship, our religious activities, our Christian service, but for our business affairs, our amusements, all our tasks and duties, our home matters, our plans and pleasures. The light of the star regulates everything. The smallest things in our lives should get their inspiration from Heaven. All of life should follow the star. Thus we are ever being called to a new life - a holier life, greater activity, and better service.

"You have circled this mountain long enough. Turn northward!" Break away from the routine. Do not keep on doing just what you have been doing heretofore. Do not be content to go over the same old rounds. Turn northward - start in new lines, with your face toward God. Do larger things than you have done heretofore. Pray more fervently. Love better, more sweetly, more helpfully. Live where Heaven will break into your soul. Let Christ have all your life. Do not merely go around the mountain's base - climb up its side! Every time you circle it, gain a little higher range, get nearer Heaven, nearer God.

We never should forget with what sympathy God looks down upon us continually. God is not a hard master. He knows how frail we are. He remembers that we are dust. Therefore He is patient with us. He judges us graciously. If we try to do our best, though we seem to fail, marring our work - He understands and praises whatever we have done. With such a master, we should never lose heart, never grow discouraged, never become depressed, never let gloom or bitterness into our heart - but should always keep brave, hopeful, sweet, forgetting the past and straining forward, knowing that no life which is true to its best, can ever fail!

~J. R. Miller~

(The End)

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Turning Northward # 4

Turning Northward # 4

There are human lives which may be made to shine in the fairest beauty that Christian culture can produce. They may be freed from all that is course and unrefined. They may be nurtured into gentleness of manner and sweetness of spirit. Yet in certain experiences of testing and temptation -blemishes are revealed, undivine qualities are brought out, unhallowed tempers and dispositions are disclosed. The trouble is in the heart itself. Sin is still in the heart. The only way to be made perfect is to have the very springs of the life cleansed. "I long to be pure all through." That is the kind of men and women we should pray to become.

It was the lifelong prayer of Frances Willard, "O God, make me beautiful within!" Think what spiritual beauty there would be in any church, what healing for the world - if all its members were thus made pure, through and through - if all were really beautiful within.

It is to this that we are called each new year, for example, and each birthday. We are summoned to leave our routine Christian life, the commonplace godliness which has so long satisfied us, and turn northward. We are called to be saints - not when we are dead and our bodies have been buried out of sight - but now, while we are busy in the midst of human affairs, while we live and meet temptations every day, while men see us, and are touched and impressed by what we do. Shall we not give up and leave behind our conventional godliness, our fashionable holiness, our worldly conformity - and be holy men, holy women, turning northward to get nearer to God?

We need to be always watchful lest we allow our life to deteriorate in its quality as we go on from year to year. This is especially one of the temptations of advancing old age. There seems less to live for, less to draw us onward and upward, and inspiration is apt to grow less strong. The best seems behind us, and zest for toil and struggle grows less keen. We yield to weariness, we relax our discipline and self-restraint, we do not mind so much the little slips, the small neglects, the lowering of tone in feeling, in sentiment, in conduct. We are losing our life's brightness and beauty - and we know it not! We allow ourselves to become less thoughtful, less obliging, less kindly, less forgetful of self, less toward the mistakes of others, less tolerant of others' faults and weaknesses. People to whom we have been a comfort in the past, begin to note a change in the degree of our congeniality and our spirit of helpfulness. We are not interested in others' needs and troubles, as we used to be. Friends apologize for us by saying that we are not well, that we have cares and sufferings of our own, or that we are growing old. But neither illness nor age nor pain should make us less Christlike!

Paul tells us that though our outward man is decaying, yet our inward man should be renewed day by day. The true life within us should become diviner continually in its beauty - purer, stronger, sweeter, even when the physical life is wasting away.

To all men there come, along the years, experiences that are hard to endure. Disappointments and misfortunes come, in one form or another. Business ventures do not always succeed. In some cases, there are years of continual and repeated disaster. Ill health saps the energy and strength of some men, leaving unequal to the struggle for success,and compelling them to drop out of the race.

Life is hard for many people, and there are those who do not keep brave and sweet in the struggle. Some lose heart and become soured in experiences of adversity. Nothing is sadder than to see a man give way to disheartenment and depression - and grow selfish, or cynical, or gloomy, or soured in spirit.

But this is not worthy living for one who is immortal, one who is a child of God. The hard things are not meant to mar our life - they are meant to make it all the braver, the worthier, the nobler. Adversities and misfortunes are meant to sweeten our spirits - not to make them sour and bitter.

We need to think of these things. There should be a constant gaining - never a losing in our spiritual life. Every year should find us living on a higher spiritual plane than the year before. Old age should always be the best of life - not marked by emptiness and decay, but by richer fruitfulness and more gracious beauty.

~J. R. Miller~

(continued with # 5)

Turning Northward # 3

Turning Northward # 3

If you have done anything good, worthy, or great in the past - forget it! It belongs to the last year and adorned it - but it will not be an honor for this year. Each year must have its own adornments. However, fine any past achievements of ours may have been, they should be forgotten and left behind. We are to go on to perfection, making every year better than the one before. Dissatisfaction with what we have done, spurs us ever to greater things in the future.

We should forget also the SINS of the past. Somehow many people think that their sins are the very things they never should forget. They feel that they must remember them, so that they shall be kept humble. But remembering our sins, weaving their memories into a garment of sackcloth and wearing it continually - is the very thing we ought not to do. Do we not believe in the forgiveness of our sins, when we have repented of them? God tells us that our sins and our iniquities, he will remember no more forever. We should forget them, too, accepting the divine mercy, and since they are so fully forgiven by our Father, our joy should be full.

One of the Psalms tells us of being brought up out of a horrible pit, and our feet set upon a rock. Then comes the song beginning: "He has put a new song in my mouth" - rejoicing instead of hopeless grief over sin. Brood not a moment over your old sins. Circle the mountain no longer, but turn northward! Turn your penitence into consecration. Burn out the shame of your past evil, in the fires of love and new devotion!

These are suggestions of the meaning of Paul's secret of noble life. Of course we should never leave behind us and throw away anything that is good and beautiful. The blossom fades and falls, but from it comes the fruit. In the most transient experiences, there are things that remain - influences, impressions, inspirations, elements of beauty, glimpses, of better things. These we should keep as part of life's permanent treasures.

Paul did not mean that in forgetting the things that were behind, he threw away the lessons of experience. In leaving the mountain and turning northward, the people did not leave the mountain behind them - they carried it with them. One never can forget a mountain nor lose the gifts it puts into one's life.

But all that is evanescent and transient is to be forgotten, left behind, while we move on to new things. Forget the things that are behind. Move entirely out of the past. It is gone, and you have nothing whatever more to do with it. If it has been unworthy - then it should be abandoned for something worthy. If it has been good - then it should inspire us to things yet better.

"You have circled this mountain long enough. Turn northward!" Paul also teaches this in the other word which he uses in his plan of progressive life. First, forget everything that is past. Then STRAINING TOWARD THAT WHICH IS AHEAD. What are these things that are ahead, to which we ought to strain. The answer may be given in a phrase - growth in spiritual life. Jesus told His disciples he had come that they might have life. We have no life until we receive it from Christ. Christ is the fountain from which all life flows. His own heart broke on the Cross that we might receive life, His life. Nothing will meet our need but life. A picture may seem perfect, but it is only a picture; it has no life.

There is a story of a sculptor who had chiseled a statue in marble and set it before a church in Florence. Michael Angelo was asked to see it. He stood before the marble and was amazed at the success of the young artist. Every feature was perfect. The brow was massive. Intelligence beamed from the eyes. One foot was in the act of moving as if to step forward. Gazing at the splendid marble figure, Angelo said, "Now, march!" No higher compliment could the great artist have paid to the statue in marble. Yet there was no response. The statue was perfect in all the form of life, but there was no life in it. It could not march.

In the same way, it is possible for us to have all the semblance of life in our religious profession, in our orthodoxy of belief, in our morality, in our Christian achievements, in our conduct, in our devotion to the principles of right and truth - and yet not have life in us. Life is the great final blessing we should seek.

Not life merely, not just a little of it, but fullness of life. Jesus said he had come that we might have life, and might have it abundantly. The turning northward was that the people might exchange the wilderness for Canaan. The wilderness meant emptiness, barrenness, sin's bitter harvest. Canaan was a figure of Heaven. What does turning northward mean for us today? It means a larger and holier Christian life. Note some definite elements in its meaning: We rejoice in all that God has done for us in the past. We are grateful for the blessings we have received. But we are only on the edge of the spiritual possibilities that are within our reach. We are in danger of sitting down in a sort of quiet contentment, as if there were no farther heights to be reached.

"You have been going about this mountain long enough. Turn northward!" Northward is toward new and greater things, larger spiritual good, more abundant life. It means something intensely practical and real. It is a call to holier life. We must be holier men, better women, better Christians. We must be more noble in Christian character. The abundant life must be pure. One man wrote on a New Year's eve, that he wanted to be a purer man in the new year than ever before. "How I long to be pure all through! What a blessed life that would be!" We need all and always to seek the same purity. It must begin within. "Blessed are the pure in heart."

A little story tells of a man who was washing a large plate glass in a show window. There was one soiled spot on the glass which defied all his efforts to cleanse it. After long and hard rubbing at it, with soap and water, the spot still remained, and then the man discovered that the spot was on the inside of the glass. In the same way, there are many people who are trying to cleanse their lives from stains by washing the outside. They cut off evil habits and cultivate the moralities, so that their conduct and character shall appear white. Still they find spots and flaws which they cannot remove. The trouble is within. Their hearts are not clean, and God desires truth in the inward parts.

There is a story of a mother who had lost a beautiful child. She was inconsolable, and, to occupy her hands with something about her beloved child, in order that she might find comfort, she began to color a photograph of the precious little one. Her fingers wrought with wonderful skill and delicacy, and at length the face in the photograph seemed to have in it all the winsome beauty of life. The child appeared to the mother to live again before her eyes. When the work was done,she laid the picture away for a time in a drawer. When she took it out by and by, to look at it, the face was covered with blotches and the beauty was sadly marred. Again the mother took her brush, and with loving skill painted out the spots and touched the picture afresh, until once more the face had all its beauty. Then again the photograph was laid away,and when it was brought out the blotches were there as before. There was some fault in the paper on which the likeness was printed.

~J. R. Miller~

(continued with # 4)

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Turning Northward # 2

Turning Northward # 2

In the same way, our call is northward, away from the common things into the higher and nobler things of life. We belong to God, and we should seek the things of God. We are risen with Christ, and we should seek the things of the resurrection life. Our citizenship is in Heaven, and we should have our hearts there. We are called to leave the narrow life of our earthly state, and turn northward.

Paul teaches us the same lesson in a remarkable passage in one of his epistles. He gives us a glimpse of the ideal life, the perfect life in Christ. He says frankly that he himself has not yet attained this sublime height, has not reached the best. "Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus!" (Philippians 3:12-14).

But this unattained life, he does not regard as unattainable - he will come up to it sometime. "I press on." He is like the boy in Longfellow's Excelsior." At the foot of the mountain he stood, gazing at the far-away radiant heights, but he wasted no moments in mere gazing. Carrying a banner which bore his motto, he began to climb. Disregarding all allurement, he kept on in his ascending path until he was lost sight of in the storms of the mountain crest. Thus Paul, this man of quenchless ardor, pressed his way toward the highest and best. He was in prison now, but prison walls were no barrier to his progress. He tells us, too, the method of his life. These two phrases which contain the secret of his noble career:

"Forgetting what is behind"
"straining toward what is ahead."

There were certain things that he FORGOT. Look at this a moment, for the word contains for us a secret we must learn if we would make progress northward. "Forgetting what is behind."

"Remembering" is a favorite Bible word. We are constantly extorted to remember, and urgently counseled not to forget. It is perilous to forget some things - to forget God, to forget the divine commandments. We are not to forget our past sinful condition, lest we grow proud. We are not to forget God's goodness and mercy, lest our love shall grow cold.

But there is a sense also in which our only hope is in forgetting. We never can get on to higher things, if we insist on clinging to our past and carrying it with us. We can make progress only by forgetting. We can go forward, only by leaving behind what is past.

For instance, we must forget our past MISTAKES. There are many of them, too. We think of them in our serious moods, at the close of a year, when we are forced to review our past, or when some deep personal experience sets our life before us in retrospection. We sigh, "Oh, if I had not made that foolish decision, if I had not let that wrong companionship into my life, if I had not gone into that wretched business which proved so unfortunate, if I had not blundered so in trying to manage my own affairs, if I had not taken the bad advice which has led me into such hopeless consequences - how much better my life would have been!"

Some people keep circling regretfully the mountains of their one year's mistakes through all the following year. They do little but fret over their errors all the months which they ought to make bright with better things, nobler achievements, loftier attainments. But what good comes of it? Worry undoes no folly, corrects no mistakes, brings back nothing you have lost. A year of fretting, sets you no further forward. The best use you can possibly make of last year's blunders, is to forget them, and then to get wisdom from the experience for this year. Remembering them, keeping them before you in painful regret will only make you less strong for avoiding them hereafter. To err is human. We learn by making mistakes. Nobody ever does anything perfectly the first time he tries it. The artist spoils yards of canvas and reams of paper in mastering his art. It is the same in living. It takes most of a lifetime to learn how to live gracefully and holily.

There is a way also by which our mistakes may be made to work good for us. We can so deal with them that they shall be made to yield good instead of evil. We well know that many of life's best things in character and virtue, have come out of follies. We owe far more than we know, to our blunders.

One day Ruskin was with a friend who, in great distress, showed him a fine handkerchief on which someone had carelessly let fall a drop of ink. The woman was vexed beyond measure at the hopeless ruining of her fine handkerchief. Ruskin said nothing, and took the handkerchief away with him. In a few days he brought it back, but ruined no longer. Using the blot as the base of a drawing, he had made an exquisite bit of India-ink work on the handkerchief, thus giving it a beauty and a value far beyond what it possessed before it had been blotted.

There is a mysterious ability in God's wisdom and goodness, which can take our mistakes and follies - and out of them bring beauty, blessing, and good. Forget your blunders, put them into the hands of Christ, leave them with Him to deal with as He sees fit, and He will show them to you afterward as marks of loveliness, no longer as blunders,but as the very elements of virtuous character. Forget your mistakes and turn northward!

We should forget our past HURTS. There are hurts in every life. Somebody did you harm last year. Somebody was unkind to you, and left a sting in your memory. Somebody said something untrue about you, talked malignly of you, misrepresented you.You say you cannot forget these hurts, these injuries, these wrongs. But you can. Do not nourish them. Only worse harm to you, will come from keeping them in your memory and thinking about them. Do not let them rankle in your heart.

The Master forgot the wrongs and injuries done to Him, and you have not suffered the one-thousandth part of the things He suffered in this way. He loved on, as if no wrong had been done to him. A few moments after a boat has ploughed the water, the bosom of the lake is smooth again as ever. So it was in the heart of Jesus after the most grievous injuries had been inflicted upon Him.

Thus should we forget the hurts done to us. Only worse hurt will come to us through our continuing to brood over our injuries. Crimes have been done, by remembering wrongs. But hurts forgotten in love, become new adornments in the life. A tiny grain of sand in a pearl oyster makes a wound; but instead of running into a festering sore, the wound becomes a pearl. So a wrong patiently endured, mastered by love, adds new beauty to the life.

We should also forget our past ATTAINMENTS - the things we have achieved, our successes. Nothing hampers and hinders a man more than thinking over the good or great things he has done in the past. There are many people who never achieved much worth while, after doing one or two really worthy or beautiful things. The elation spoiled him, and that was the end of what might have been a fine career. There are people who once did a good thing, and have done little since but tell others about it. They have been circling their Mount Seir many days.

~J. R. Miller~

(continued with # 3)

Friday, April 7, 2017

Turning Northward # 1

Turning Northward # 1

While we live, we must be moving upward. When we stop, we begin to die. Rest is necessary, but only to renew our strength that we may press on again. An anchor is needful for a ship, but anchoring is not a ship's business; it is built for sailing. A man is made for struggle and effort, not for ease and loitering.

There is an incident in the history of the wandering of the Israelites which is suggestive. It was near the close of the forty years in the wilderness. The people had been for some time in the region of Mount Seir, and seem to have been going around and around the mountain. The meaning is not very clear, but the record says they had circled Mount Seir many days. They were constantly in motion, and yet were making no progress, were not getting any nearer the promised land. They would journey laboriously for many days through the wilderness, enduring hardship, suffering pain and weariness, and at last would come to the very place from which they had started. It was a fruitless kind of journeying. Then they were called to cease their going around the mountain and to enter on a course that would lead them to the promised land. "Jehovah spoke unto me, saying, You have circled this mountain long enough. Now turn Northward. 

There is a tendency among people to do something like this in their everyday life. We are inclined to settle down in our present condition and stay there, when we ought to be moving on to something beyond, something better, something higher and nobler. We let ourselves form the habit of moving around and around in a circle, when we ought to break away from the circular course and start forward. It is easy for us to get into a routine in life which will keep us in the same lines from day to day and from week to week.

Sometimes in the country one sees in an old-fashioned tannery, a primitive contrivance for grinding bark. A horse, attached to a pole, goes around and around, running the bark-mill. For hours every day the patient animal treads on, always moving, but never getting away from his little circular path. So it is that many people plod on in their daily routine of life. They do the same things day in and day out, week in and week out. This routine is not idle. It is really necessary that we do the same tasks over and over, with scarcely a variation from year to year.

The women find it so in their home life; their housekeeping duties are about the same every day. It cannot be otherwise. To break up the routine would be to mar the completeness of the home life and work. To omit any of the little duties of the kitchen, the dining room, or the general housework - would be to leave the work of the home less beautifully done. Most men in their daily task-work must follow a similar imperious routine. They must rise at the same hour, take the same train or car, be at their desk in the office, or at their place of work, at the same time, follow the same order, perform the same tasks, go to their meals at the regular times, day after day. To miss a link anywhere in the routine, would mar the day's work.

Some people fret and chafe over the drudgery, as they call it, of their common lives. They weary of its monotonous rounds, its lack of variety, its never-ending repetition. But really there is a benefit, a discipline, in this very unbrokenness of tasks. The old horse that goes around and around in his circular track, turning the creaking, crunching mill - does his duty well, grinding the bark honestly though he never makes any progress himself. No doubt his work through the years adds thousands of dollars to the world's wealth. The men and the women who rise in the morning and go through the same monotonous round of tasks every day, six days in the week, are doing their work faithfully, and at the same time and forming their own character. That is the way we build our life. It would not be well if we were released from the daily round, though it is so monotonous. We owe much to it. It trains us.

Yet there is always danger that we come to be contented with our routine, and indisposed to go beyond it. We must always do the same daily tasks, never omitting any of them, never neglecting the least duty, however dull or tedious. But, besides this monotonous round, and in it, there should always be something larger and nobler going on. "You have circled - gone around - this mountain long enough: turn Northward!" We must not let our life run forever and only in a little circle, but must reach out, learn new lessons, venture into new lines, leave our narrow past, and grow into something that means more. Our daily walk should be like that of one whose path goes around a mountain, moving in a circle, perhaps, but climbing a little higher with each circuit, pursuing a sort of upward spiral course, constantly ascending the peak, until at last he reaches the clear summit, and looks into the face of God!

Narrowness is a constant peril, especially for those whose lives are plain and without distinction, the two-talented men and women, the common people whom, Mr. Lincoln said, "God must love, because He made so many of them." They must do chiefly, the tasks that are set before them. They do, all their life, some one little thing over and over. It is not easy to live an ever-widening life min such  conditions. We are apt to let our immortality shrink into the measure of the little place we fill in the world. Yet it is possible, though our daily round is so small - to keep our mind free and be ever reaching out in sublime flights. There are men who work year after year in some small department of business, and then spend the hours outside of business in some line of work or research in which they are ever growing in knowledge, in mental breadth, into larger, stronger, better, and worthier men.

That is the way the lesson shapes itself for many of us. We must not allow our narrow occupation to dwarf our souls. Our work itself is valuable and noble, and we must never be ashamed of it, and must do it with zest and enthusiasm. Then while we do our little allotment of lowly duty faithfully - we must never permit our minds to dwarf or shrivel, but must continually train ourselves into larger things. Instead of hugging our little mountains and never going off the old paths - we should turn northward and find delight in new fields. This is a large world, and we live most inadequately when we stay all our life in a little one acre lot.

There seems to be in this thought a suggestion for New Years or birthdays. We should not live any year merely as well as we lived the year before. There are people who really never advance in anything. They do their common task-work this year as they did it last year, certainly no better. They keep the same habits, faults, and all. They become no more intelligent, no more refined, no more holy. They seem never to have a new thought, to learn a new fact, to become more useful among men. They grow no more patient, gentle, or sweet. They take no larger place in the community, count for no more, are no more useful among their fellows. They read no new books, make no advance in knowledge. Their conversation consists of the same old commonplaces, they tell the same little jokes over and over. In their religious life, they do not grow. They know God no better, have no more trust in time of trouble, love no more, live no more helpfully, and never get to know their Bible any better. They quote only the same two or three verses which they learned in childhood. If you hear them often, you will get to know their prayers by heart. They live the same pitiably narrow religious life at fifty, at sixty - which they were living at twenty. They simply go around and around the mountain, never climbing up to any loftier height as they journey. They never get the wider look they would get by ascending as they plod.

This is not the way to live. The message comes to us continually, "You have been going around this mountain long enough. Now turn northward!" Northward for these pilgrims was toward Canaan, the new homeland. The wilderness was not their destination - it was only a road on which they were to travel, a region through which they were to pass to reach their land of promise, the good land of their hopes.

~J. R. Miller~

(continued with # 2)

Monday, April 3, 2017

Quotes from Classic Christians

(17) Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

  James 2:20

(20) But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? 

New King James Version  

Just as surely as a dead person does no works, so a faith, a religion, that does not include works is also dead. Thus, a person in whom living, saving faith exists will produce works.
One must also consider Ephesians 2:8, 10, which tell us that salvation is by grace through faith, and that the Father created us for good works, which He prearranged for us to perform. Therefore, how can a person with a dead faith, one that produces no works, be in God's Kingdom, since he would be failing to do the very thing for which God is creating him in Christ?
Furthermore, we are to be in God's image and to imitate Christ. Jesus says in John 5:17, "My Father has been working until now, and I have been working." Our spiritual Father is a Creator, and a creator works. Most certainly, Jesus worked during His lifetime on earth, living a sinless life to provide us a means of justification. As our High Priest, He continues to work toward our salvation.
The root of this issue is that people have a dismally vague knowledge of what sin is, as well as an equally weak appreciation for the dangerous filthiness of sin, which can prevent us from entering God's Kingdom. We live in an exceedingly sinful nation in which we are confronted by sin from every quarter, including from within. Sin is so blatantly exhibited that most people seem to treat it with casual indifference until some form of it—rape, murder, thievery, lying, gossip, an out-of-wedlock pregnancy, drunkenness, etc.—personally hits them.
So many are unaware of what sin is that they ignorantly participate in it. Television and movie "entertainment" overflows with it. In fact, sin is woven so tightly into the fabric of movies and TV shows that one could wonder if any other subject material exists! In America, over one million unborn children are aborted each year, and people euphemistically call this a "privacy right," hiding from the reality that they are murderers! What else can one honestly call the taking of life from an unborn human being created in God's image?
Through Jeremiah, God accuses Judah of having a "whore's forehead," indicating a people so perverted and hardened in their sins they could no longer be shamed (Jeremiah 3:3). If we as a people have not reached that stage of degeneracy, we soon will because God cries through Ezekiel, "Make a chain, for the land is filled with crimes of blood, and the city is full of violence" (Ezekiel 7:23). Is there any other nation in the Western world that so openly exhibits as many violent crimes as the United States of America?
When one realizes sin's stranglehold on the United States, it becomes clear that a majority of its people are either ignorant of their responsibilities to God and fellow man, or no longer care what God thinks. A recent Barna poll reveals that an astounding 76 million American citizens never darken a church doorway to receive spiritual and moral instruction. How can they possibly appreciate what sin is and does?
Of far greater concern, though, are those who are reading this. God's ministers are responsible to make their teaching of God and His way as sharp and clear as they can so that those they teach can understand, not just the basics, but as broadly and deeply as possible so that it can be lived.
Wrong ideas about holiness usually lie in wrong ideas about human corruption. The responsibility of the Christian to seek the holiness of God provides the very reason God requires works. I Peter 1:15-16 charges us, "But as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, 'Be holy, for I am holy.'"
The obverse of this common ignorance of sin is that, without a firm understanding of human corruption, we have little appreciation of the radiant glory of God's holiness toward which we are to strive! Sin lies exposed as the root cause of humanity's corrupt condition, but many, even in the church, do not appreciate the depth of persistent corruption in themselves.
Vague, dim, and indistinct understandings of sin will never serve a Christian well. He must always apply his mind to growing in understanding to throw off spiritual vagueness and simultaneously glorify our Father and Elder Brother. If one does not grasp the depth of his carnal heart's disease, it will constantly deceive him into thinking he has little to overcome, thus dragging him into pride. The human heart is so sick God tells us in Jeremiah 17:9 that it is incurable!
Scripture uses terms for sin that are easily understood, but unless one meditates on them, they may not provide a clear picture of sin's many means of exerting its influence. The Bible's terms generally mean something like "missing the mark," "turning aside," or "slipping off the path." They can sound quite innocuous unless one recognizes the devastation sin has caused and ponders it seriously.

~John W. Ritenbaugh~

You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. (John 5:39 NIV)

Ministry is the expression of Life, and not the taking on of a uniform and a title. Once I thought that to be in the ministry was to go into a certain kind of work, to come out of business, and, well, be a minister! So one got into the thing. Many, many are laboring and toiling in it, breaking their hearts, afraid to leave that order of things, lest they should be violating what they conceived to be a Divine call. Many others cannot get out of it because it is a means of livelihood, and they too are breaking their hearts. It is all false. Ministry is not a system like that. Ministry is the expression of Life, and that is but saying in other words that it is the outworking of the indwelling of Christ. Disaster lies before the man or woman who ministers on any other ground than that. When the Lord gets a chance in us, and we really will trust Him on that ground and take our position there, He will show us that there is ministry enough for us; we shall not have to go round looking for it. The real labor so often is to get us down to that ground, the delivering of us from this present evil age even in its conception of the ministry, unto the heavenly ministry.
The Lord Jesus is our pattern. You see the spontaneous ministry, the restful ministry of that Heavenly Man. I covet that! It does not mean that we shall become careless, but it does deliver us from so much unnecessary strain. That is how it should be. May the Lord bring us to it; the heavenly Man with the heavenly Life as the full heavenly Resource.

~T. Austin-Sparks~

Today's ReadingLeviticus 21Matthew 28

Today's Thoughts: What Spiritual Temperature are You?

know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth. Revelation 3:15-16

In my house, temperature can be a “hot” topic. In the winter, the thermostat can never be too hot for me, but my husband loves to sleep in the cold. I like foods taken straight out of the fridge but he likes them steaming hot out of the oven. One extreme or the other tends to dominate in several areas in our home, but how extreme am I when it comes to the things of the Lord? What is my spiritual temperature? How many areas of my life am I content with just being lukewarm, especially when it comes to living for Jesus?
We as Christians are often afraid to live at the extremes. We are uncomfortable standing out and speaking out too much. We rationalize our positions by saying that we do not want to offend anyone or come across as too zealous in our faith. We even justify sinful behaviors by telling ourselves that if we blend in with the crowd, then we can be a more effective witness. Where did these ideas really come from? Are they from the Lord? Not according to Revelation 3:16. Jesus says He will “vomit” us out of His mouth if we are lukewarm. He wants us to pick a position; we are either cold or hot, for Him or against Him. We either take up our cross and follow Him with our whole hearts or we follow our own desires. To live in the gray areas is unacceptable, regardless of our human rationalizations.
Where are you today? Do you have a lukewarm relationship with Jesus? I fear greatly for many people who sit in church every Sunday proclaiming to know Jesus but having no evidence of Him in their lives. Many of us look righteous on the outside but are numb on the inside. Our churches are filled with complacent Christians who are quite content to live in the gray areas, not wanting to get too uncomfortable. Will Jesus say “well done good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:23)? Or will He say “I never knew you; depart from Me” (Matthew 7:23)?  Ask the Lord to light a fire in your heart today that will set a blaze in any area of your life that has become lukewarm and complacent. Life here on earth is but for a moment, but eternity is forever.

~Daily Disciples Devotional~

Responding to God's Love

God has to be true to Himself. People are foolish to entertain the hope that He will ignore justice and sacrifice holiness in order to allow unbelievers into heaven. Living a mostly moral life will not satisfy a righteous Judge.
As much as the Lord loves us and desires to save us from our sins, He cannot deny His holiness by accepting sin in His presence. The Father is pristine perfection--a holy Being who, by His very nature, must condemn all sin. Therefore, it is the height of egotism to think that God will bend both His law and His nature to welcome one whom still bears the stain of wrongdoing.
There is not one person who's good enough to enter heaven on his or her own merit. Every one of us needs Jesus. The stain of sin is washed clean only by the sacrifice of God's holy and blameless Son. Those who believe in Christ are forgiven their wrongs and cloaked in His righteousness (2 Cor. 5:21).
Let me make it very clear that trusting Jesus is far more than giving intellectual assent to His existence--that's something even the Devil acknowledges. A true believer enters into a relationship with the One who loves his soul enough to save him from eternal punishment.
Those who remain tightly wrapped in their mantle of sin cannot hope to sneak into heaven. God's holy nature demands perfection, and since we can't provide this for ourselves, the Lord has given it to all who believe in Him. He has exchanged our filthy rags for a cloak of righteousness (Zech. 3:4).

~Dr. Charles F. Stanley~