Their Hearts Were Hardened (Mark 6:45-52)

Here, we see the disciples’ complete failure to appreciate or acknowledge who Christ was after the clear and unmistakable miracle of feeding the 5000 (actually, more like 15,000 – 25,000!). There is a limit to how much they could have understood of Christ before His death, burial, resurrection and ascension, but still – why did these many miracles not make them understand?

Amidst the disciples’ confusion, Christ is faced with a large crowd which likewise misapprehends who He is, or more likely, simply doesn’t care. They only want a solution to a political problem, not the Kingdom He was preaching and offering. They wanted no part of this Gospel of repentance and belief (Mk 1:15). As they finished their meal, miraculously provided by Christ, their only thought was to seize Him by force and make Him their King (Jn 6:15). Here we see only one of three instances where Christ retreats alone to pray, disconsolate and beset with a very human need to speak to His Father.hardened-heart

This is a very powerful message of faith; it is about understanding who Christ really is. The disciples were not ready for ministry and had a long road ahead of them, for Scripture tells us they did not apprehend who Christ was “for their heart was hardened,” (Mk 6:52).

Do you have a true and full appreciation and understanding of Jesus Christ today?

I preached this message for teen Sunday School at my church this morning.

Sermon notes – Mark 6:45-52

Marks of Having Received the Holy Ghost (George Whitefield)

This is another sermon by the great George Whitefield (1714-1770), an evangelist from the Great Awakening

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“Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed?” (Acts 19:2)

Two different significations have been given of these words. Some have supposed, that the question here put, is, Whether these disciples, whom St. Paul found at Ephesus, had received the Holy Ghost by imposition of hands at confirmation? Others think, these disciples had been already baptized into John’s baptism; which not being attended with an immediate effusion of the Holy Spirit, the Apostle here asks them, Whether they had received the Holy Ghost by being baptized into Jesus Christ? And upon their answering in the negative, he first baptized, and then confirmed them in the name of the Lord Jesus.

Which of these interpretations is the most true, is neither easy nor very necessary to determine. However, as the words contain a most important inquiry, without any reference to the context, I shall from them,

First

  • Show who the Holy Ghost here spoken of, is; and that we must all receive him, before we can be stiled true believers.

Secondly

  • I shall lay down some scripture marks whereby we may know, whether we have thus received the Holy Ghost or not. And

Thirdly

  • By way of conclusion, address myself to several distinct classes of professors, concerning the doctrine that shall have been delivered.

First:

I am to show who the Holy Ghost spoken of in the text, is; and that we must all receive him before we can be stiled true believers.

By the Holy Ghost is plainly signified the Holy Spirit, the third Person in the ever-blessed Trinity, consubstantial and co-eternal with the Father and the Son, proceeding from, yet equal to them both. He is emphatically called Holy, because infinitely holy in himself, and the author and finisher of all holiness in us.

This blessed Spirit, who once moved on the face of the great deep; who over-shadowed the blessed Virgin before that holy child was born of her; who descended in a bodily shape, like a dove, on our blessed Lord, when he came up out of the water at his baptism; and afterwards came down in fiery tongues on the heads of all his Apostles at the day of Pentecost: this is the Holy Ghost, who must move on the faces of our souls; this power of the Most High, must come upon us, and we must be baptized with his baptism and refining fire, before we can be stiled true members of Christ’s mystical body.

Thus says the Apostle Paul, “Know ye not that Jesus Christ is in you, (that is, by his Spirit) unless you are reprobates?” And, “If any man hath not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his,” And again, says St. John, “We know that we are his, by the Spirit that he hath given us.”

It is not, indeed, necessary that we should have the Spirit now given in that miraculous manner, in which he was at first given to our Lord’s Apostles, by signs and wonders, but it is absolutely necessary, that we should receive the Holy Ghost in his sanctifying graces, as really as they did: and so will it continue to be till the end of the world.

For this stands the case between God and man: God at first made man upright, or as the sacred Penman expresses it, “In the image of God made he man;” that is, his soul was the very copy, the transcript of the divine nature. He, who before, by his almighty fiat, spoke the world into being, breathed into man the breath of spiritual life, and his soul was adorned with a resemblance of the perfections of Deity. This was the finishing stroke of the creation: the perfection both of the moral and material world. And so near did man resemble his divine Original, that God could not but rejoice and take pleasure in his own likeness: And therefore we read, that when God had finished the inanimate and brutish part of the creation, he looked upon it, and beheld it was good; but when that lovely, God-like creature man was made, behold it was very good.

Happy, unspeakably happy must man needs be, when thus a partaker of the divine nature. And thus might he have still continued, had he continued holy. But God placed him in a state of probation, with a free grant to eat of every tree in the garden of Eden, except the tree of knowledge of good and evil: the day he should eat thereof, he was surely to die; that is, not only to be subject to temporal, but spiritual death; and consequently, to lose that divine image, that spiritual life God had not long since breathed into him, and which was as much his happiness as his glory.

These, one would imagine, were easy conditions for a finite creature’s happiness to depend on. But man, unhappy man, being seduced by the devil, and desiring, like him, to be equal with his Maker, did eat of the forbidden fruit; and thereby became liable to that curse, which the eternal God, who cannot lie, had denounced against his disobedience.

Accordingly we read, that soon after Adam had fallen, he complained that he was naked; naked, not only as to his body, but naked and destitute of those divine graces which, before decked and beautified his soul. The unhappy mutiny, and disorder which the visible creation fell into, the briars and thorns which not sprung up and overspread the earth, were but poor emblems, lifeless representations of that confusion and rebellion, and those divers lusts and passions which sprung up in, and quite overwhelmed the soul of man immediately after the fall. Alas! he was now no longer the image of the invisible God; but as he had imitated the devil’s sin, he became as it were a partaker of the devil’s nature, and from an union with, sunk into a state of direct enmity against God.

Now in this dreadful disordered condition, are all of us brought into the world: for as the root is, such must the branches be. Accordingly we are told, “That Adam beget a son in his own likeness;” or, with the same corrupt nature which he himself had, after he had eaten the forbidden fruit. And experience as well as scripture proves, that we also are altogether born in sin and corruption; and therefore incapable, whilst in such a state, to hole communion with God. For as light cannot have communion with darkness, so God can have no communion with such polluted sons of Belial.

Here then appears the end and design why Christ was manifest in the flesh; to put an end to these disorders, and to restore us to that primitive dignity in which we were at first created. Accordingly he shed his precious blood to satisfy his Father’s justice for our sins; and thereby also he procured for us the Holy Ghost, who should once more re- instamp the divine image upon our hearts, and make us capable of living with and enjoying the blessed God.

This was the great end of our Lord’s coming into the world; nay, this is the only end why the world itself is now kept in being. For as soon as a sufficient number are sanctified out of it, the heavens shall be wrapped up like a scroll, the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth, and all that therein is, shall be burnt up.

This sanctification of the Spirit, is that new birth mentioned by our blessed Lord to Nicodemus, “without which we cannot see the kingdom of God.” This is what St. Paul calls being “renewed in the spirit of our minds;” and it is the spring of that holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.

Thus then, it is undeniably certain, we must receive the Holy Ghost ere we can be stiled true members of Christ’s mystical body.

Second

I come in the Second place to lay down some scriptural marks, whereby we may easily judge, whether we have thus received the Holy Ghost or not.

And the First I shall mention, is, our having received a spirit of prayer and supplication; for that always accompanies the spirit of grace.

No sooner was Paul converted, but “behold he prayeth.” And this was urged as an argument, to convince Ananias that he was converted. And God’s elect are also said to “cry to him day and night.”

And since one great work of the Holy Spirit is to convince us of sin, and to set us upon seeking pardon and renewing grace, through the all- sufficient merits of a crucified Redeemer, whosoever has felt the power of the world to come, awakening him from his spiritual lethargy, cannot but be always crying out, “Lord, what wouldst thou have me to do?” Or, in the language of the importunate blind Bartimeus, “Jesus, thou Son of David, have mercy upon me.”

The blessed Jesus, as he received the Holy Ghost without measure, so he evidenced it by nothing more, than his frequent addresses at the throne of grace. Accordingly we read, that he was often alone on the mountain praying; that he rose a great while before day to pray: nay, that he spent whole nights in prayer. And whosoever is made partaker of the same Spirit which the holy Jesus, will be of the same mind, and delight in nothing so much, as to “draw nigh unto God,” and lift up holy hands and hearts in frequent and devout prayer.

It must be confessed, indeed, that this spirit of supplication is often as it were sensibly lost, and decays, for some time, even in those who have actually received the Holy Ghost. Through spiritual dryness and barrenness of soul, they find in themselves a listlessness and backwardness to this duty of prayer; but then they esteem it as their cross, and still persevere in seeking Jesus, though it be sorrowing: and their hearts, notwithstanding, are fixed upon God, though they cannot exert their affections so strongly as usual, on account of that spiritual deadness, which God, for wise reasons, has suffered to benumb their souls.

But as for the formal believer, it is not so with him: no; he either prays not at all, or if he does enter into his closet, it is with reluctance, out of custom, or to satisfy the checks of his conscience. Whereas, the true believer can no more live without prayer, than without food day by day. And he finds his soul as really and perceptibly fed by the one, as his body is nourished and supported by the other.

A Second scripture mark of our having received the Holy Ghost, is, Not committing sin.

“Whosoever is born of God, (says St. John) sinneth not, neither can he sin, because his seed remaineth in him.” Neither can he sin. This expression does not imply the impossibility of a Christian’s sinning: for we are told, that “in many things we offend all:” It only means thus much: that a man who is really born again of God, doth not willfully commit sin, much less live in the habitual practice of it. For how shall he that is dead to sin, as every converted person is, live any longer therein?

It is true, a man that is born again of God, may, through surprise, or the violence of a temptation, fall into an act of sin: witness the adultery of David, and Peter’s denial of his Master. But then, like them, he quickly rises again, goes out from the world, and weeps bitterly; washes the guilt of sin away by the tears of sincere repentance, joined with faith in the blood of Jesus Christ; takes double heed to his ways for the future, and perfects holiness in the fear of God.

The meaning of this expression of the Apostle, that “a man who is born of God, cannot commit sin,” has been fitly illustrated, by the example of a covetous worldling, to the general bent of whose inclinations, liberality and profuseness are directly opposite: but if, upon some unexpected, sudden occasion, he does play the prodigal, he immediately repents him of his fault, and returns with double care to his niggardliness again. And so is every one that is born again: to commit sin, is as contrary to the habitual frame and tendency of his mind, as generosity is to the inclinations of a miser; but if at any time, he is drawn into sin, he immediately, with double zeal, returns to his duty, and brings forth fruits meet for repentance. Whereas, the unconverted sinner is quite dead in trespasses and sins: or if he does abstain from gross acts of it, through worldly selfish motives, yet, there is some right eye he will not pluck out; some right- hand which he will not cut off; some specious Agag that he will not sacrifice for God; and thereby he is convinced that he is but a mere Saul: and consequently, whatever pretensions he may make to the contrary, he has not yet received the Holy Ghost.

A Third mark whereby we may know, whether or not we have received the Holy Ghost, is, Our conquest over the world.

“For whosoever is born of God, (says the Apostle) overcometh the world.” By the world, we are to understand, as St. John expressed it, “all that is in the world, the lust of the eye, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life:” And by overcoming of it, is meant, our renouncing these, so as not to follow or be led by them: for whosoever is born from above, has his affections set on things above: he feels a divine attraction in his soul, which forcibly draws his mind heavenwards; and as the hart panteth after the water-brooks, so doth it make his soul so long after the enjoyment of his God.

Not that he is so taken up with the affairs of another life, as to neglect the business of this: No; a truly spiritual man dares not stand any day idle; but then he takes care, though he laboreth for the meat which perisheth, first to secure that which endureth to everlasting life. Or, if God has exalted him above his brethren, yet, like Moses, Joseph, and Daniel, he, notwithstanding, looks upon himself as a stranger and pilgrim upon earth: having received a principle of new life, he walks by faith and not by sight; and his hopes being full of immortality, he can look on all things here below as vanity and vexation of spirit: In short, though he is in, yet he is not of the world; and as he was made for the enjoyment of God, so nothing but God can satisfy his soul.

The ever-blessed Jesus was a perfect instance of overcoming the world. For though he went about continually doing good, and always lived as in a press and throng; yet, wherever he was, his conversation tended heavenwards. In like manner, he that is joined to the Lord in one spirit, will so order his thoughts, words, and actions, that he will evidence to all, that his conversation is in heaven.

On the contrary, an unconverted man being of the earth, is earthy; and having no spiritual eye to discern spiritual things, he is always seeking for happiness in this life, where it never was, will, or can be found. Being not born again from above, he is bowed down by a spirit of natural infirmity: the serpent’s curse becomes his choice, and he eats of the dust of the earth all the days of his life.

A Fourth scripture mark of our having received the Holy Ghost, is, Our loving one another.

“We know (says St. John) we are passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren.” “And by this (says Christ himself) shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one towards another.” Love is the fulfilling of the gospel, as well as of the law: for “God is love; and whosoever dwelleth in love, dwelleth in God.”

But by this love we are not to understand a softness and tenderness of mere nature, or a love founded on worldly motives (for this a natural man may have); but a love of our brethren, proceeding from love towards God: loving all men in general, because to their relation to God; and loving good men in particular, for the grace we see in them, and because they love our Lord Jesus in sincerity.

This is Christian charity, and that new commandment which Chris gave to his disciples. New, not in its object, but in the motive and example whereon it is founded, even Jesus Christ. This is that love which the primitive Christians were so renowned for, that it became a proverb, see how these Christians love one another. And without this love, though we should give all our goods to feed the poor, and our bodies to be burnt, it would profit us nothing.

Further, this love is not confined to any particular set of men, but is impartial and catholic: A love that embraces God’s image wherever it beholds it, and that delights in nothing so much as to see Christ’s kingdom come.

This is the love wherewith Jesus Christ loved mankind: He loved all, even the worst of men, as appears by his weeping over the obstinately perverse; but wherever he saw the least appearance of the divine likeness, that soul he loved in particular. Thus we read, that when he heard the young man say, “All these things have I kept from my youth,” that so far he loved him. And when he saw any noble instance of faith, though in a Centurion and a Syrophonecian, aliens to the commonwealth of Israel, how is he said to marvel at, to rejoice in, speak of, and commend it? So every spiritual disciple of Jesus Christ will cordially embrace all who worship God in spirit and in truth, however they may differ as to the appendages of religion, and in things not essentially necessary to salvation.

I confess, indeed, that the heart of a natural man is not thus enlarged all at once; and a person may really have received the Holy Ghost, (as Peter, no doubt, had when he was unwilling to go to Cornelius) though he be not arrived to this: but then, where a person is truly in Christ, all narrowness of spirit decreases in him daily; the partition wall of bigotry and party zeal is broken down more and more; and the nearer he comes to heaven, the more his heart is enlarged with that love, which there will make no difference between any people, nation, or language, but we shall all, with one heart, and one voice, sing praises to him that sitteth upon the throne for ever.

But I hasten to a Fifth scripture mark, Loving our enemies.

“I say unto you, (says Jesus Christ) Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to those that hate you, ad pray for them that despitefully use you and persecute you.” And this duty of loving your enemies is so necessary, that without it, our righteousness does not exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, or even of Publicans and sinners: “For if you do good to them only, who do good to you, what do you more than others?” What do you extraordinary? “Do not even the Publicans the same?” And these precepts our Lord confirmed by his own example; when he wept over the bloody city; when he suffered himself to be led as a sheep to the slaughter; when he made that mile reply to the traitor Judas, “Judas, betrayest thou the Son of man with a kiss?” and more especially, when in the agonies and pangs of death, he prayed for his very murderers, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

This is a difficult duty to the natural man; but whosoever is made partaker of the promise of the Spirit, will find it practicable and easy: for if we are born again of God, we must be like him, and consequently delight to be perfect in this duty of doing good to our worst enemies in the same manner, though not in the same degree as he is perfect: He sends his rain on the evil and the good; causeth his sun to shine on the just and unjust; and more especially commended his love towards us, that whilst we were his enemies, he sent forth his Son, born of a woman, made under the law, that he might become a curse for us.

Many other marks are scattered up and down the scriptures, whereby we may know whether or not we have received the Holy Ghost: such as, “to be carnally minded, is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.” “Now the fruits of the Spirit are joy, peace, long-suffering, meekness,” with a multitude of texts to the same purpose. But as most, if not all of them, are comprehended in the duties already laid down, I dare affirm, whosoever upon an impartial examination, can find the aforesaid marks on his soul, may be as certain, as though an angel was to tell him, that his pardon is sealed in heaven.

As for my own part, I had rather see these divine graces, and this heavenly temper stamped upon my soul, than to hear an angel from heaven saying unto me, Son, be of good cheer, thy sins are forgiven thee.

These are infallible witnesses; these are Emmanuel, God with and in us; these make up that white stone, which none knoweth, saving he who hath receiveth it; these are the earnests of the heavenly inheritance in our hearts: In short, these are glory begun, and are that good thing, that better part, and which if you continue to stir up this gift of God, neither men nor devils shall ever be able to take from us.

Third

I proceed, as was proposed, in the Third place, to make an application of the doctrine delivered, to several distinct classes of professors. And

First

I shall address myself to those who are dead in trespasses and sins. And, O how could I weep over you, as our Lord wept over Jerusalem? For, alas! how distant must you be from God? What a prodigious work have you to finish, who, instead of praying day and night, seldom or never pray at all? And, instead of being born again of God, so as not to commit sin, are so deeply sunk into the nature of devils, as to make a mock at it? Or, instead of overcoming the world, so as not to follow or be led by it, are continually making provision for the flesh, to fulfill the lusts thereof. And, instead of being endued with the god-like disposition of loving all men, even your enemies, have your hearts full of hatred, malice, and revenge, and deride those who are the sincere followers of the lowly Jesus. But think you, O sinners, that God will admit such polluted wretches into his sight? Or should he admit you, do you imagine you could take any pleasure in him? No; heaven itself would be no heaven to you; the devilish dispositions which are in your hearts, would render all the spiritual enjoyments of those blessed mansions, ineffectual to make you happy. To qualify you to be blissful partakers of that heavenly inheritance with the saints in light, there is a meetness required: to attain which, ought to be the chief business of your lives.

It is true, you, as well as the righteous, in one sense, shall see God; (for we must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ) but you must see him once, never to see him more. For as you carry about in you the devil’s image, with devils you must dwell: being of the same nature, you must share the same doom. “Repent, therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out.” See that you receive the Holy Ghost, before you go hence: for otherwise, how can you escape the damnation of hell?

Secondly

Let me apply myself to those who deceive themselves with false hopes of salvation. Some, through the influence of a good education, or other providential restraints, have not run into the same excess of riot with other men, and they think they have no need to receive the Holy Ghost, but flatter themselves that they are really born again.

But do you show it by bringing forth the fruits of the Spirit? Do you pray without ceasing? Do you not commit sin? Have you overcome the world? And do you love your enemies, and all mankind, in the same manner, as Jesus Christ loved them?

If these things, brethren, be in you and abound, then may you have confidence towards God; but if not, although you may be civilized, yet you are not converted: no, you are yet in your sins. The nature of the old Adam still reigneth in your souls; and unless the nature of the second Adam be grafted in its room, you can never see God.

Think not, therefore, to dress yourselves up in the ornaments of a good nature, and civil education, and say with Agag, “surely the bitterness of death is past;” For God’s justice, notwithstanding that, like Samuel, shall hew you to pieces. However you may be highly esteemed in the sight of men, yet, in the sight of God, you are but like the apples of Sodom, dunghills covered over with snow, mere whited sepulchers, appearing a little beautiful without, but inwardly full of corruption and of all uncleanness: and consequently will be dismissed at the last day with a “Verily, I know you not.”

But the word of God is profitable for comfort as well as correction.

Thirdly

Therefore I address myself to those who are under the drawings of the Father, and are exercised with the Spirit of bondage, and not finding the marks before mentioned, are crying out, Who shall deliver us from the body of this death?

But fear not, little flock; for notwithstanding your present infant state of grace, it shall be your father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. The grace of God, through Jesus Christ, shall deliver you, and give you what you thirst after: He hath promised, he will also do it. Ye shall receive the spirit of adoption, that promise of the Father, if you faint not: only persevere in seeking it; and determine not to be at rest in you soul, till you know and feel that you are thus born again from above, and God’s Spirit witnesseth with your spirits that you are the children of God.

Fourthly

and Lastly, I address myself to those who have received the Holy Ghost in all his sanctifying graces, and are almost ripe for glory.

Hail, happy saints! For your heaven is begun on earth: you have already received the first fruits of the Spirit, and are patiently waiting till that blessed change come, when your harvest shall be complete. I see and admire you, though, alas! at so great a distance from you: your life, I know, is hid with Christ in God. You have comforts, you have meat to eat, which a sinful, carnal, ridiculing world knows nothing of. Christ’s yoke is not become easy to you, and his burden light. You have passed through the pangs of the new birth, and now rejoice that Christ Jesus is spiritually formed in your hearts. You know what it is to dwell in Christ, and Christ in you. Like Jacob’s ladder, although your bodies are on earth, yet your souls and hearts are in heaven: and by your faith and constant recollection, like the blessed angels, you do always behold the face of your Father which is in heaven.

I need not exhort you to press forward, for you know that in walking in the Spirit there is a great reward. Rather will I exhort you, in patience to possess your souls yet a little while, and Jesus Christ will deliver you from the burden of the flesh, and an abundant entrance shall be administered to you, into the eternal joy and uninterrupted felicity of his heavenly kingdom.

Which God of his infinite mercy grant, through Jesus Christ our Lord: To whom, with the Father, and the Holy Ghost, three Persons and one God, be ascribed all honor, power, and glory, for ever and ever.

The Conversion of Zaccheus (by George Whitefield)

This is the full text of a sermon by George Whitefield (1714-1770), that incomparable preacher of the Great Awakening.

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Salvation, every where through the whole scripture, is said to be the free gift of God, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Not only free, because God is a sovereign agent, and therefore may withhold it from, or confer it on, whom he pleaseth; but free, because there is nothing to be found in man, that can any way induce God to be merciful unto him. The righteousness of Jesus Christ is the sole cause of our finding favor in God’s sight: this righteousness apprehended by faith (which is also the gift of God) makes it our own; and this faith, if true, will work by love.

 

These are parts of those glad tidings which are published in the gospel; and of the certainty of them, next to the express word of God, the experience of all such as have been saved, is the best, and, as I take it, the most undoubted proof. That God might teach us every way, he has been pleased to leave upon record many instances of the power of his grace exerted in the salvation of several persons, that we, hearing how he dealt with them, might from thence infer the manner we must expect to be dealt with ourselves, and learn in what way we must look for salvation, if we truly desire to be made partakers of the inheritance with the saints in light.

 

The conversion of the person referred to in the text, I think, will be of no small service to us in this matter, if rightly improved. I would hope, most of you know who the person is, to whom the Lord Jesus speaks; it is the publican Zaccheus, to whose house the blessed Jesus said, salvation came, and whom he pronounces a Son of Abraham.

 

It is my design (God helping) to make some remarks upon his conversion recorded at large in the preceding verses, and then to enforce the latter part of the text, as an encouragement to poor undone sinners to come to Jesus Christ. “For the Son of man is come, to seek and to save that which was lost.”

 

The evangelist Luke introduces the account of this man’s conversion thus, verse 1. “And Jesus entered and passed through Jericho.” The holy Jesus made it his business to go about doing good. As the sun in the firmament is continually spreading his benign, quickening, and cheering influences over the natural; so the Son of righteousness arose with healing under his wings, and was daily and hourly diffusing his gracious influences over the moral world. The preceding chapter acquaints us of a notable miracle wrought by the holy Jesus, on poor blind Bartimeus; and in this, a greater presents itself to our consideration. The evangelist would have us take particular notice of it; for he introduces it with the word “behold:” “and behold, there was a man named Zaccheus, who was the chief among the Publicans, and he was rich.”

 

Well might the evangelist usher in the relation of this man’s conversion with the word “behold!” For, according to human judgment, how many insurmountable obstacles lay in the way of it! Surely no one will say there was any fitness in Zaccheus for salvation; for we are told that he was a Publican, and therefore in all probability a notorious sinner. The Publicans were gatherers of the Roman taxes; they were infamous for their abominable extortion; their very name therefore became so odious, that we find the Pharisees often reproached our Lord, as very wicked, because he was a friend unto and sat down to meat with them. Zaccheus then, being a Publican, was no doubt a sinner; and, being chief among the Publicans, consequently was chief among sinners. Nay, “he was rich.” One inspired apostle has told us, that “not many mighty, not many noble are called.” Another saith, “God has chosen the poor of this world, rich in faith.” And he who was the Maker and Redeemer of the apostles, assures us, “that it is easier for a camel, (or cable-rope) to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.” Let not therefore the rich glory in the multitude of their riches.

 

But rich as he was, we are told, verse 3 that “he sought to see Jesus.” A wonder indeed! The common people heard our Lord gladly, and the poor received the gospel. The multitude, the ocloS, the mob, the people that know not the law, as the proud high-priests called them, used to follow him on foot into the country, and sometimes stayed with him three days together to hear him preach. But did the rich believe or attend on him? No. Our Lord preached up the doctrine of the cross; he preached too searching for them, and therefore they counted him their enemy, persecuted and spoke all manner of evil against him falsely. Let not the ministers of Christ marvel, if they meet with the like treatment from the rich men of this wicked and adulterous generation. I should think it no scandal (supposing it true) to hear it affirmed, that none but the poor attended my ministry. Their souls are as precious to our Lord Jesus Christ, as the souls of the greatest men. They were the poor that attended him in the days of his flesh: these are they whom he hath chosen to rich in faith, and to be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Were the rich in this world’s goods generally to speak well of me, woe be unto me; I should think it a dreadful sign that I was only a wolf in sheep’s clothing, that I spoke peace, peace, when there was no peace, and prophesied smoother things than the gospel would allow of. Hear ye this, O ye rich. Let who will dare to do it, God forbid that I should despise the poor; in doing so, I should reproach my Maker. The poor are dear to my soul; I rejoice to see them fly to the doctrine of Christ, like the doves to their windows. I only pray, that the poor who attend, may be evangelized, and turned into the spirit of the gospel: if so, “Blessed are ye; for yours is the kingdom of heaven.”

 

But we must return to Zaccheus. “He sought to see Jesus.” That is good news. I heartily wish I could say, it was out of a good principle: but, without speaking contrary to that charity which hopes and believeth all things for the best, we may say, that the same principle drew him after Christ, which now draws multitudes (to speak plainly, it may be multitudes of you) to hear a particular preacher, even curiosity: for we are told, that he came not to hear his doctrine, but to view his person, or, to use the words of the evangelist, “to see who he was.” Our Lord’s fame was now spread abroad through all Jerusalem, and all the country round about: some said he was a good man; others, “Nay, but he deceiveth the people.” And therefore curiosity drew out this rich Publican Zaccheus, to see who this person was, of whom he had heard such various accounts. But it seems he could not conveniently get a sight of him for the press, and because he was little of stature. Alas! how many are kept from seeing Christ in glory, by reason of the press! I mean, how many are ashamed of being singularly good, and therefore follow a multitude to do evil, because they have a press or throng of polite acquaintance! And, for fear of being set an nought by those with whom they used to sit at meat, they deny the Lord of glory, and are ashamed to confess him before men. This base, this servile fear of man, is the bane of true Christianity; it brings a dreadful snare upon the soul, and is the ruin of ten thousands: for I am fully persuaded, numbers are rationally convicted of gospel-truths; but, not being able to brook contempt, they will not prosecute their convictions, nor reduce them to practice. Happy those, who in this respect, like Zaccheus, are resolved to overcome all impediments that lie in their way to a sight of Christ; for, finding he could not see Christ because of the press and the littleness of his natural stature, he did not smite upon his breast, and depart, saying, “It is in vain to seek after a sight of him any longer, I can never attain unto it.” No, finding he could not see Christ, if he continued in the midst of, “he ran before the multitude, and climbed up into a sycamore-tree, to see him; for he was to pass that way.”

 

There is no seeing Christ in Glory, unless we run before the multitude, and are willing to be in the number of those despised few, who take the kingdom of God by violence. The broad way, in which so many go, can never be that strait and narrow way which leads to life. Our Lord’s flock was, and always will be, comparatively a little one; and unless we dare to run before the multitude in a holy singularity, and can rejoice in being accounted fools for Christ’s sake, we shall never see Jesus with comfort, when he appears in glory. From mentioning the sycamore-tree, and considering the difficulty with which Zaccheus must climb it, we may farther learn, that those who would see Christ, must undergo other difficulties and hardships, besides contempt. Zaccheus, without doubt, went through both. Did not many, think you, laugh at him as he ran along, and in the language of Michal, Saul’s daughter, cry out, “How glorious did the rich Zaccheus look today, when, forgetting the greatness of his station, he ran before a pitiful, giddy mob, and climbed up a sycamore-tree, to see an enthusiastic preacher!” But Zaccheus cares not for all that; his curiosity was strong: if he could but see who Jesus was, he did not value what scoffers said of him. Thus, and much more will it be with all those who have an effectual desire to see Jesus in heaven: they will go on from strength to strength, break through every difficulty lying in their way, and care not what men or devils say of or do unto them. May the Lord make us all thus minded, for his dear Son’s sake!

 

At length, after taking much pains, and going (as we may well suppose) through much contempt, Zaccheus has climbed the tree; and there he sits, as he thinks, hid in the leaves of it, and watching when he should see Jesus pass by: “For he was to pass by that way.”

 

But sing, O heavens, and rejoice, O earth! Praise, magnify, and adore sovereign, electing, free, preventing love; Jesus the everlasting God, the Prince of peace, who saw Nathanael under the fig-tree, and Zaccheus from eternity, now sees him in the sycamore-tree, and calls him in time.

 

Verse 5. “And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up, and saw him, and said unto him, Zaccheus, make haste and come down; for this day I must abide at thy house.” Amazing love! Well might Luke usher in the account with “behold!” It is worthy of our highest admiration. When Zaccheus thought of no such thing, nay, thought that Christ Jesus did not know him; behold, Christ does what we never hear he did before or after, I mean, invite himself to the house of Zaccheus, saying, “Zaccheus, make haste and come down; for this day I must abide at thy house.” Not pray let me abide, but I must abide this day at thy house. He also calls him by name, as though he was well acquainted with him: and indeed well he might; for his name was written in the book of life, he was one of those whom the Father had given him from all eternity: therefore he must abide at his house that day. “For whom he did predestinate, them he also called.”

 

Here then, as through a glass, we may see the doctrine of free grace evidently exemplified before us. Here was not fitness in Zaccheus. He was a Publican, chief among the Publicans; not only so, but rich, and came to see Christ only out of curiosity: but sovereign grace triumphs over all. And if we do God justice, and are effectually wrought upon, we must acknowledge there was no more fitness in us than in Zaccheus; and, had not Christ prevented us by his call, we had remained dead in trespasses and sins, and alienated from the divine life, even as others. “Jesus looked up, and saw him, and said unto him, Zaccheus, make haste and come down; for this day I must abide at thy house.”

 

With what different emotions of heart may we suppose Zaccheus received this invitation? Think you not that he was surprised to hear Jesus Christ call him by name, and not only so, but invite himself to his house? Surely, thinks Zaccheus, I dream: it cannot be; how should he know me? I never saw him before: besides, I shall undergo much contempt, if I receive him under my rood. Thus, I say, we may suppose Zaccheus thought within himself. But what saith the scripture? “I will make a willing people in the day of my power.” With this outward call, there went an efficacious power from God, which sweetly over-ruled his natural will: and therefore, verse 6, “He made haste, and came down, and received him joyfully;” not only into his house, but also into his heart.

 

Thus it is the great God brings home his children. He calls them by name, by his word or providence; he speaks to them also by his spirit. Hereby they are enabled to open their hearts, and are made willing to receive the King of glory. For Zaccheus’s sake, let us not entirely condemn people that come under the word, out of no better principle than curiosity. Who knows but God may call them? It is good to be where the Lord is passing by. May all who are now present out of this principle, hear the voice of the Son of God speaking to their souls, and so hear that they ma live! Not that men ought therefore to take encouragement to come out of curiosity. For perhaps a thousand more, at other times, came too see Christ out of curiosity, as well as Zaccheus, who were not effectually called by his grace. I only mention this for the encouragement of my own soul, and the consolation of God’s children, who are too apt to be angry with those who do not attend on the word out of love to God: but let them alone. Brethren, pray for them. How do you know but Jesus Christ may speak to their hearts! A few words from Christ, applied by his spirit, will save their souls. “Zaccheus, says Christ, make haste and come down. And he made haste, and came down, and received him joyfully.”

 

I have observed, in holy scripture, how particularly it is remarked, that persons rejoiced upon believing in Christ. Thus the converted Eunuch went on his way rejoicing; thus the jailer rejoiced with his whole house; thus Zaccheus received Christ joyfully. And well may those rejoice who receive Jesus Christ; for with him they receive righteousness, sanctification, and eternal redemption. Many have brought up an ill report upon our good land, and would fain persuade people that religion will make them melancholy mad. So far from it, that joy is one ingredient of the kingdom of God in the heart of a believer; “The kingdom of God is righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.” To rejoice in the Lord, is a gospel-duty. “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say, rejoice.” And who can be so joyful, as those who know that their pardon is sealed before they go hence and are no more seen? The godly may, but I cannot see how any ungodly men can, rejoice: they cannot be truly cheerful. What if wicked men may sometimes have laughter amongst them? It is only the laughter of fools; in the midst of it there is heaviness; At the best, it is but like the cracking of thorns under a pot; it makes a blaze, but soon goes out. But, as for the godly, it is not so with them; their joy is solid and lasting. As it is a joy that a stranger intermeddleth not with, so it is a joy that no man taketh from them: it is a joy in God, a “joy unspeakable and full of glory.”

 

It should seem that Zaccheus was under soul-distress but a little while; perhaps (says Guthrie, in his book entitled, THE TRIAL CONCERNING A SAVING INTEREST IN CHRIST) not above a quarter of an hour. I add, perhaps not so long: for, as one observes, sometimes the Lord Jesus delights to deliver speedily. God is a sovereign agent, and works upon his children in their effectual calling, according to the counsel of his eternal will. It is with the spiritual, as natural birth: all women have not the like pangs; all Christians have not the like degree of conviction. But all agree in this, that all have Jesus Christ formed in their hearts: and those who have not so many trials at first, may be visited with the greater conflicts hereafter; though they never come into bondage again, after they have once received the spirit of adoption. “We have not, (says Paul) received the spirit of bondage again unto fear.” We know not what Zaccheus underwent before he died: however, this one thing I know, he now believed in Christ, and was justified, or acquitted, and looked upon as righteous in God’s sight, though a Publican, chief among the Publicans, not many moments before. And thus it is with all, that, like Zaccheus, receive Jesus Christ by faith into their hearts: the very moment they find rest in him, they are freely justified from all things from which they could not be justified by the law of Moses; “for by grace are we saved, through faith, and that not of ourselves, it is the gift of God.”

 

Say not within yourselves, this is a licentious Antinomian doctrine; for this faith, if true, will work by love, and be productive of the fruits of holiness. See an instance in this convert Zaccheus; no sooner had he received Jesus Christ by faith into his heart, but he evidences it by his works; for, ver. 8, we are told, “Zaccheus stood forth, and said unto the Lord, Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give unto the poor; and if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him four- fold.”

 

Having believed on Jesus in his heart, he now makes confession of him with his mouth to salvation. “Zaccheus stood forth;” he was not ashamed, but stood forth before his brother Publicans; for true faith casts out all servile, sinful fear of man; “and said, Behold, Lord.” It is remarkable, how readily people in scripture have owned the divinity of Christ immediately upon their conversion. Thus the woman at Jacob’s well; “Is not this the Christ?” Thus the man born blind; “Lord, I believe; and worshipped him.” Thus Zaccheus, “Behold, Lord.” An incontestable proof this to me, that those who deny our Lord’s divinity, never effectually felt his power: if they had, they would not speak so lightly of him: they would scorn to deny his eternal power and Godhead. “Zaccheus stood forth, and said, Behold, Lord, the half of m goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him four-fold.” Noble fruits of a true living faith in the Lord Jesus! Every word calls for our notice. Not some small, not the tenth part, but the HALF. Of what? My goods; things that were valuable. MY goods, his own, not another’s. I give: not, I will give when I die, when I can keep them no longer; but, I give now, even now. Zaccheus would be his own executor. For whilst we have time we should do good. But to whom would he give half of his goods? Not to the rich, not to those who were already clothed in purple and fine linen, of whom he might be recompensed again; but to the poor, the maimed, the halt, the blind, from which he could expect no recompense till the resurrection of the dead. “I give to the poor.” But knowing that he must be just before he could be charitable, and conscious to himself that in his public administrations he had wronged many persons, he adds, “And if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold.” Hear ye this, all ye that make no conscience of cheating the king of his taxes, or of buying or selling run goods. If ever God gives you true faith, you will never rest, till, like Zaccheus, you have made restitution to the utmost of your power. I suppose, before his conversion, he thought it no harm to cheat thus, no more than you may do now, and pleased himself frequently, to be sure, that he got rich by doing so: but now he is grieved for it at his heart; he confesses his injustice before men, and promises to make ample restitution. Go ye cheating Publicans, learn of Zaccheus; go away and do likewise. If you do not make restitution here, the Lord Jesus shall make you confess your sins before men and angels, and condemn you for it, when he comes in the glory of his Father to judgment hereafter.

 

After all this, with good reason might our Lord say unto him, “This day is salvation come to this house; forasmuch as he also is the son of Abraham;” not so much by a natural as by a spiritual birth. He was made partaker of like precious faith with Abraham: like Abraham he believed on the Lord, and it was accounted to him for righteousness: his faith, like Abraham’s, worked by love; and I doubt not, but he has been long since sitting in Abraham’s harbor.

 

And now, are you not ashamed of yourselves, who speak against the doctrines of grace, especially that doctrine of being justified by faith alone, as though it leaded to licentiousness? What can be more unjust than such a charge? Is not the instance of Zaccheus, a sufficient proof to the contrary? Have I strained it to serve my own turn? God forbid. To the best of my knowledge I have spoken the truth in sincerity, and the truth as it is in Jesus. I do affirm that we are saved by grace, and that we are justified by faith alone: but I do also affirm, that faith must be evidenced by good works, where there is an opportunity of performing them.

 

What therefore has been said of Zaccheus, may serve as a rule, whereby all may judge whether they have faith or not. You say you have faith; but how do you prove it? Did you ever hear the Lord Jesus call you by name? Were you ever made to obey the call? Did you ever, like Zaccheus, receive Jesus Christ joyfully into your hearts? Are you influenced by the faith you say you have, to stand up and confess the Lord Jesus before men? Were you ever made willing to own, and humble yourselves for, your past offenses? Does your faith work by love, so that you conscientiously lay up, according as God has prospered you, for the support of the poor? Do you give alms of all things that you possess? And have you made due restitution to those you have wronged? If so, happy are ye; salvation is come to your souls, you are sons, you are daughters of, you shall shortly be everlastingly blessed with, faithful Abraham. But, if you are not thus minded, do not deceive your own souls. Though you may talk of justification by faith, like angels, it will do you no good; it will only increase your damnation. You hold the truth, but it is in unrighteousness: your faith being without works, is dead: you have the devil, not Abraham, for your father. Unless you get a faith of the heart, a faith working by love, with devils and damned spirits shall you dwell for evermore.

 

But it is time now to enforce the latter part of the text; “For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.” These words are spoken by our savior in answer to some self-righteous Pharisees, who, instead of rejoicing with the angels in heaven, at the conversion of such a sinner, murmured, “That he was gone to be a guest with a man that was a sinner.” To vindicate his conduct, he tells them, that this was an act agreeable to the design of his coming: “For the Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.” He might have said, the Son of God. But O the wonderful condescension of our Redeemer! He delights to stile himself the Son of man. He came not only to save, but to seek and to save that which was lost. He came to Jericho to seek and save Zaccheus; for otherwise Zaccheus would never have been saved by him. But from whence came he? Even from heaven, his dwelling-place, to this lower earth, this vale of tears, to seek and save that which was lost; or all that feel themselves lost, and are willing, like Zaccheus, to receive him into their hearts to save them; with how great a salvation? Even from the guilt, and also from the power of their sins; to make them heirs of God, and joint heirs with himself, and partakers of that glory which he enjoyed with the Father before the world began. Thus will the Son of man save that which is lost. He was made the son of man, on purpose that he might save them. He had no other end but this in leaving his father’s throne, in obeying the moral law, and hanging upon the cross: all that was done and suffered, merely to satisfy, and procure a righteousness for poor, lost, undone sinners, and that too without respect of persons. “That which was lost;” all of every nation and language, that feel, bewail, and are truly desirous of being delivered from their lost state, did the Son of man come down to seek and to save: for he is mighty, not only so, but willing, to save to the uttermost all that come to God through him. He will in no wise cast out: for he is the same today, as he was yesterday. He comes now to sinners, as well as formerly; and, I hope, hath sent me out this day to seek, and, under him, to bring home some of you, the lost sheep of the house of Israel.

 

What say you? Shall I go home rejoicing, saying, That many like sheep have went astray, but they have now believed on Jesus Christ, and so returned home to the great Shepherd and Bishop of their souls? If the Lord would be pleased thus to prosper my handy-work, I care not how many legalists and self-righteous Pharisees murmur against me, for offering salvation to the worst of sinners: for I know the Son of man came to seek and to save them; and the Lord Jesus will now be a guest to the worst Publican, the vilest sinner that is amongst you, if he does but believe on him. Make haste then, O sinners, make haste, and come by faith to Christ. Then, this day, even this hour, nay, this moment, if you believe, Jesus Christ shall come and make his eternal abode in your hearts. Which of you is made willing to receive the King of glory? Which of you obeys his call, as Zaccheus did? Alas! why do you stand still? How know you, whether Jesus Christ may ever call you again? Come then, poor, guilty sinners; come away, poor, lost, undone publicans: make haste, I say, and come away to Jesus Christ. The Lord condescends to invite himself to come under the filthy roofs of the houses of your souls. Do not be afraid of entertaining him; he will fill you with all peace and joy in believing. Do not be ashamed to run before the multitude, and to have all manner of evil spoke against you falsely for his sake: one sight of Christ will make amends for all. Zaccheus was laughed at; and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus, shall suffer persecution. But what of that? Zaccheus is now crowned in glory; as you also shall shortly be, if you believe on, and are reproached for Christ’s sake. Do not, therefore, put me off with frivolous excuses: there’s no excuse can be given for your not coming to Christ. You are lost, undone, without him; and if he is not glorified in your salvation, he will be glorified in your destruction; if he does not come and make his abode in your hearts, you must take up an eternal abode with the devil and his angels. O that the Lord would be pleased to pass by some of you at this time! O that he may call you by his Spirit, and make you a willing people in this day of his power! For I know my calling will not do, unless he, by his efficacious grace, compel you to come in. O that you once felt what it is to receive Jesus Christ into your hearts! You would soon, like Zaccheus, give him everything. You do not love Christ, because you do not know him; you do not come to him, because you do not feel your want of him: you are whole, and not broken hearted; you are not sick, at least not sensible of your sickness; and, therefore, no wonder you do not apply to Jesus Christ, that great, that almighty physician. You do not feel yourselves lost, and therefore do not seek to be found in Christ. O that God would wound you with the sword of his Spirit, and cause his arrows of conviction to stick deep in your hearts! O that he would dart a ray of divine light into your souls! For if you do not feel yourselves lost without Christ, you are of all men most miserable: your souls are dead; you are not only an image of hell, but in some degree hell itself: you carry hell about with you, and you know it not. O that I could see some of you sensible of this, and hear you cry out, “Lord, break this hard heart; Lord, deliver me from the body of this death; draw me, Lord, make me willing to come after thee; I am lost; Lord, save me, or I perish!” Was this your case, how soon would the Lord stretch forth his almighty hand, and say, Be of good cheer, it is I; be not afraid? What a wonderful calm would then possess your troubled souls! Your fellowship would then be with the Father and the Son: your life would be hid with Christ in God.

 

Some of you, I hope, have experienced this, and can say, I was lost, but I am found; I was dead, but am alive again: the Son of man came and sought me in the day of his power, and saved my sinful soul. And do you repent that you came to Christ? Has he not been a good master? Is not his presence sweet to your souls? Has he not been faithful to his promise? And have you not found, that even in doing and suffering for him, there is an exceeding present great reward? I am persuaded you will answer, Yes. O then, ye saints, recommend and talk of the love of Christ to others, and tell them, O tell them what great things the Lord has done for you! This may encourage others to come unto him. And who knows but the Lord may make you fishers of men? The story of Zaccheus was left on record for this purpose. No truly convicted soul, after such an instance of divine grace has been laid before him, need despair of mercy. What if you are Publicans? Was not Zaccheus a Publican? What if you are chief among the Publicans? Was not Zaccheus likewise? What if you are rich? Was not Zaccheus rich also? And yet almighty grace made him more than conqueror over all these hindrances. All things are possible to Jesus Christ; nothing is too hard for him: he is the Lord almighty. Our mountains of sins must all fall before this great Zerubbabel. On him God the Father has laid the iniquities of all that shall believe on him; and in his own body he bare them on the tree. There, there, by faith, O mourners in Zion, may you see your Savior hanging with arms stretched out, and hear him, as it were, thus speaking to your souls; “Behold how I have loved you! Behold my hands and my feed! Look, look into my wounded side, and see a heart flaming with love: love stronger than death. Come into my arms, O sinners, come wash your spotted souls in my heart’s blood. See here is a fountain opened for all sin and all uncleanness! See, O guilty souls, how the wrath of God is now abiding upon you: come, haste away, and hide yourselves in the clefts of my wounds; for I am wounded for your transgressions; I am dying that you may live for evermore. Behold, as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so am I here lifted up upon a tree. See how I am become a curse for you: the chastisement of your peace is upon me. I am thus scourged, thus wounded, thus crucified, that you by my stripes may be healed. O look unto me, all ye trembling sinners, even to the ends of the earth! Look unto me by faith, and you shall be saved: for I came thus to be obedient even unto death, that I might save that which was lost.”

 

And what say you to this, O sinners? Suppose you saw the King of glory dying, and thus speaking to you; would you believe on him? No, you would not, unless you believe on him now: for though he is dead, he yet speaketh all this in the scripture; nay, in effect, says all this in the words of the text, “The Son of man is come to seek and to save that which is lost.” Do not therefore any longer crucify the Lord of glory. Bring those rebels, your sins, which will not have him to reign over them, bring them out to him: though you cannot slay them yourselves, yet he will slay them for you. The power of his death and resurrection is as great now as formerly. Make haste therefore, make haste, O ye publicans and sinners, and give the dear Lord Jesus your hearts, your whole hearts. If you refuse to hearken to this call of the Lord, remember your damnation will be just: I am free from the blood of you all: you must acquit my Master and me at the terrible day of judgment. O that you may know the things that belong to your everlasting peace, before they are eternally hid from your eyes! Let all that love the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity say, Amen

The Way, the Truth and the Life

It is a common fantasy of sinful men that each person can “find their own path to God.” In this un-Biblical conception of deity, our Heavenly Father is little more than a vague concept to be appropriated by “whosoever will” in whatever fashion tickles one’s particular fancy.  This cannot be farther from the truth. God desires to be worshipped in spirit and in truth (Jn 4:24). Observe Calvin’s remarks on theological pluralism;

They deem it enough that they have some kind of zeal for religion, how preposterous soever it may be, not observing that true religion must be conformable to the will of God as its unerring standard; that he can never deny himself, and is no spectra or phantom, to be metamorphosed at each individual’s caprice. It is easy to see how superstition, with its false glosses, mocks God, while it tries to please him. Usually fastening merely on things on which he has declared he sets no value, it either contemptuously overlooks, or even undisguisedly rejects, the things which he expressly enjoins, or in which we are assured that he takes pleasure. Those, therefore, who set up a fictitious worship, merely worship and adore their own delirious fancies; indeed, they would never dare so to trifle with God, had they not previously fashioned him after their own childish conceits. Hence that vague and wandering opinion of Deity is declared by an apostle to be ignorance of God: “Howbeit, then, when ye knew not God, ye did service unto them which by nature are no gods.” And he elsewhere declares, that the Ephesians were “without God” (Eph 2:12) at the time when they wandered without any correct knowledge of him. It makes little difference, at least in this respect, whether you hold the existence of one God, or a plurality of gods, since, in both cases alike, by departing from the true God, you have nothing left but an execrable idol. It remains, therefore, to conclude with Lactantius (Instit. Div. lib 1:2, 6), “No religion is genuine that is not in accordance with truth.”

Our Savior declared unequivocally; “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me,” (Jn 14:6). This is not a statement of theological pluralism. It is a statement of fact. We are fallen sinners and God is holy. His very nature cannot tolerate sin. Christ is the perfect sacrifice, who died for our sins.

Salvation consists of repentance of our sins and faith in Jesus Christ.

  • Repentance is a change of mind (1 Thess 1:9). This involves a turn away from sin (Heb 6:1; Rev 9:21) and towards God (Acts 20:21). It is an honest appraisal of our own unfitness in God’s sight and an open acknowledgement of our inability to meet His holy standard on our own.
  • Saving faith is the knowledge of, assent to and unreserved trust in the accomplished redemption of Christ as revealed in the Scriptures. This faith involves intellectual understanding (e.g. “Christ is the Son of God!”), emotional understanding (e.g. “Christ died for my sins!”) and voluntary action (“I will trust Christ as my Lord and Savior!”).

The person recognizes and repents of their sin, and places saving faith in Jesus Christ. I pray that if you are not a Christian, the Holy Spirit of God would do His work in your heart, so you might voluntarily turn from your sins and accept Christ as Savior.

Biblical Illiteracy and Post-Modernism in Action

A while back, I dedicated an apologetics class to a very sad article entitled “Why I Raise My Children Without God.” The article was written by a young mother for CNN’s iReport back in January 2013. There is nothing “new” in her objections; indeed, there are really only two issues for the Christian to deal with in her entire letter;

(1)    She is Biblically illiterate and does not understand the God she is attacking; and

(2)    She has questions about how God could permit suffering

These objections should prove no big hurdle for the average Christian. The fact that they do speaks volumes about the state of Christianity. The article is linked above, and re-produced in total below. The discussion and response to her objections are in MP3 format below.

Before you start – I must re-emphasize something which is very important. Apologetics and theology go hand in hand; and we must approach this woman’s questions with a humble and contrite spirit. This is not about having cue-card responses down; Christians are called to love the Lord with all our heart, mind and strength (Deut 6:4). Apologetics is merely the practical outworking of this earnest desire to please God.

———————————————————

When my son was around 3 years old, he used to ask me a lot of questions about heaven. Where is it? How do people walk without a body? How will I find you? You know the questions that kids ask.

For over a year, I lied to him and made up stories that I didn’t believe about heaven. Like most parents, I love my child so much that I didn’t want him to be scared. I wanted him to feel safe and loved and full of hope. But the trade-off was that I would have to make stuff up, and I would have to brainwash him into believing stories that didn’t make sense, stories that I didn’t believe either.

One day he would know this, and he would not trust my judgment. He would know that I built an elaborate tale—not unlike the one we tell children about Santa—to explain the inconsistent and illogical legend of God.

And so I thought it was only right to be honest with my children. I am a non-believer, and for years I’ve been on the fringe in my community. As a blogger, though, I’ve found that there are many other parents out there like me. We are creating the next generation of kids, and there is a wave of young agnostics, atheists, free thinkers and humanists rising up through the ranks who will, hopefully, lower our nation’s religious fever.

Here are a few of the reasons why I am raising my children without God.

God is a bad parent and role model.

If God is our father, then he is not a good parent. Good parents don’t allow their children to inflict harm on others. Good people don’t stand by and watch horrible acts committed against innocent men, women and children. They don’t condone violence and abuse. “He has given us free will,” you say? Our children have free will, but we still step in and guide them.

God is not logical.

How many times have you heard, “Why did God allow this to happen?” And this: “It’s not for us to understand.” Translate: We don’t understand, so we will not think about it or deal with the issue. Take for example the senseless tragedy in Newtown. Rather than address the problem of guns in America, we defer responsibility to God. He had a reason. He wanted more angels. Only he knows why. We write poems saying that we told God to leave our schools. Now he’s making us pay the price. If there is a good, all-knowing, all-powerful God who loves his children, does it make sense that he would allow murders, child abuse, wars, brutal beatings, torture and millions of heinous acts to be committed throughout the history of mankind? Doesn’t this go against everything Christ taught us in the New Testament?

The question we should be asking is this: “Why did we allow this to happen?” How can we fix this? No imaginary person is going to give us the answers or tell us why. Only we have the ability to be logical and to problem solve, and we should not abdicate these responsibilities to “God” just because a topic is tough or uncomfortable to address.

God is not fair.

If God is fair, then why does he answer the silly prayers of some while allowing other, serious requests, to go unanswered? I have known people who pray that they can find money to buy new furniture. (Answered.) I have known people who pray to God to help them win a soccer match. (Answered.) Why are the prayers of parents with dying children not answered?

If God is fair, then why are some babies born with heart defects, autism, missing limbs or conjoined to another baby? Clearly, all men are not created equally. Why is a good man beaten senseless on the street while an evil man finds great wealth taking advantage of others? This is not fair. A game maker who allows luck to rule mankind’s existence has not created a fair game.

God does not protect the innocent.

He does not keep our children safe. As a society, we stand up and speak for those who cannot. We protect our little ones as much as possible. When a child is kidnapped, we work together to find the child. We do not tolerate abuse and neglect. Why can’t God, with all his powers of omnipotence, protect the innocent?

God is not present.

He is not here. Telling our children to love a person they cannot see, smell, touch or hear does not make sense. It means that we teach children to love an image, an image that lives only in their imaginations. What we teach them, in effect, is to love an idea that we have created, one that is based in our fears and our hopes.

God Does Not Teach Children to Be Good

A child should make moral choices for the right reasons. Telling him that he must behave because God is watching means that his morality will be externally focused rather than internally structured. It’s like telling a child to behave or Santa won’t bring presents. When we take God out of the picture, we place responsibility of doing the right thing onto the shoulders of our children. No, they won’t go to heaven or rule their own planets when they die, but they can sleep better at night. They will make their family proud. They will feel better about who they are. They will be decent people.

God Teaches Narcissism

“God has a plan for you.” Telling kids there is a big guy in the sky who has a special path for them makes children narcissistic; it makes them think the world is at their disposal and that, no matter what happens, it doesn’t really matter because God is in control. That gives kids a sense of false security and creates selfishness. “No matter what I do, God loves me and forgives me. He knows my purpose. I am special.” The irony is that, while we tell this story to our kids, other children are abused and murdered, starved and neglected. All part of God’s plan, right?

When we raise kids without God, we tell them the truth—we are no more special than the next creature. We are just a very, very small part of a big, big machine–whether that machine is nature or society–the influence we have is minuscule. The realization of our insignificance gives us a true sense of humbleness.

I understand why people need God. I understand why people need heaven. It is terrifying to think that we are all alone in this universe, that one day we—along with the children we love so much—will cease to exist. The idea of God and an afterlife gives many of us structure, community and hope.

I do not want religion to go away. I only want religion to be kept at home or in church where it belongs. It’s a personal effect, like a toothbrush or a pair of shoes. It’s not something to be used or worn by strangers. I want my children to be free not to believe and to know that our schools and our government will make decisions based on what is logical, just and fair—not on what they believe an imaginary God wants.

Jesus Feeds the 5000 – (Mark 6:30-44)

The account of Jesus feeding the 5000 is the only miracle account which appears in all four Gospels. Ironically, Christ fed far more than 5000 that afternoon. There are several truths for Christians in this account for everyday life;

  1. Jesus is a new type of Moses, leading His people to the wilderness, miraculously providing food, acting like a shepherd to a leaderless people. Is Christ your teacher, or is the world?
  2. God supplies our needs in the way He feels best. Are you content with what He has given you?
  3. God works through us to accomplish His will. Are we allowing ourselves to be used?

This sermon was preached on Sunday Morning, 09JUN13, for Teen Sunday School at my church.

Sermon NotesMark 6 (30-44)

The New Testament Books are the Earliest Christian Writings We Possess

Below is a linked article to a short blog series entitled “10 Basic Facts About the New Testament Every Christian Should Memorize.” The author is Michael Kruger, author of an excellent book on the canon of the New Testament entitled Canon Revisited.

This excerpt is from the first in the series, which emphasizes that Christians should know that the NT writings are the earliest Christian writings we have!

One of the most formidable challenges in any discussion about the New Testament canon is explaining what makes these 27 books unique.  Why these and not others?  There are many answers to that question, but in this blog post we are focusing on just one: the date of these books.  These books stand out as distinctive because they are earliest Christian writings we possess and thus bring us the closest to the historical Jesus and to the earliest church.   If we want to find out what authentic Christianity was really like, then we should rely on the writings that are the nearest to that time period.

The full article is here.

Are We Serious About Our Christianity?

Linked below is a very thought-provoking article examining the viewpoints of former “Christians” who have left their churches. It is very likely some of the folks interviewed were never really Christian to begin with (1 Jn 2:19). However, what is quite clear is that shallow doctrine, syrupy platitudes and a fruitless quest to be “relevant” are hindering the Gospel of Jesus Christ, not helping it.

Following our 2010 debate in Billings, Montana, I asked Christopher Hitchens why he didn’t try to savage me on stage the way he had so many others. His reply was immediate and emphatic: “Because you believe it.” Without fail, our former church-attending students expressed similar feelings for those Christians who unashamedly embraced biblical teaching. Michael, a political science major at Dartmouth, told us that he is drawn to Christians like that, adding: “I really can’t consider a Christian a good, moral person if he isn’t trying to convert me.” As surprising as it may seem, this sentiment is not as unusual as you might think. It finds resonance in the well publicized comments of Penn Jillette, the atheist illusionist and comedian: “I don’t respect people who don’t proselytize. I don’t respect that at all. If you believe that there’s a heaven and hell and people could be going to hell or not getting eternal life or whatever, and you think that it’s not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward…. How much do you have to hate somebody to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?” Comments like these should cause every Christian to examine his conscience to see if he truly believes that Jesus is, as he claimed, “the way, the truth, and the life.”

This comment was very convicting, honestly. I believe it will speak to you as well. Read the article here.

Great is Thy Faithfulness! (Amos 9)

PDF version – Amos 9 (02JUN13)

INTRODUCTION

In this vision in Amos 9, the prophet foretells three extraordinary, literal events for Israel. One of these events has already come to pass, and two are yet to be fulfilled. They are:

  1. Divine judgment, in the destruction of the temple at Bethel and the Northern Kingdom (9:1-10)
  2. A future restoration of the Davidic Kingdom (9:11-12);
  3. Future blessings upon Israel in the millennium (9:13-15)

A faithful reading of Scripture demonstrates that divine judgment for sin, restoration of Israel and corresponding blessings upon the nation are literal promises. God is faithful to His character and punishes sin, yet He is likewise true to covenant promises to His people.

DIVINE JUDGMENT (9:1-10)

9:1

I saw the Lord standing upon the altar: and he said, Smite the lintel of the door, that the posts may shake: and cut them in the head, all of them; and I will slay the last of them with the sword: he that fleeth of them shall not flee away, and he that escapeth of them shall not be delivered.

 

Amos provides a vision of God Himself standing before an altar, issuing a simple command – destroy the temple. The New English Translation (NET) perhaps captures the sense of Amos’ phrase best, “strike the tops of the support pillars.” Someone, most likely an angel, is commanded to destroy the temple while people worship inside. The entire edifice will crumble once the support pillars are done away with, crushing those inside to death suddenly and violently. Those who survive will be hunted down and killed; none shall be spared.

One crucial question is this – which temple is Amos referring to? The temple at Bethel or the temple in Jerusalem? Does Amos have corporate Israel in mind, or merely the Northern Kingdom? Keil and Delitzsch remark, “[t]he correct and full interpretation not only of this verse, but of the whole chapter, depends upon the answer to be given to the question.”[1]

Keil argues that Amos does not draw such a hard distinction between Israel and Judah, and that because there were multiple alters at Bethel (3:14), Amos was here (9:1) referring to Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem.[2] McComiskey claims Amos is referring to the literal temple at Bethel but has in mind the false religion of the Northern Kingdom in general.[3] It is more probable that Amos was referring to Israel’s temple at Bethel. Later in this chapter, however, Amos will expand the vision to corporate Israel in general.

Amos’ predominant focus throughout the text is on the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Though Amos does indeed prophesy against the various Israelite enemies (1:2-2:3) and the Southern Kingdom of Judah (Amos 2:4-5), his focus is on Israel. His frequent reference to idol worship at Bethel (3:14; 4:4; 5:5-6), political pressure brought to bear by Amaziah, the priest at Bethel (7:10-17), and the warning visions (chapters 7-9) testify to a marked emphasis on the Northern Kingdom.

When was the prophesy of the temple destruction fulfilled? Commentators are divided on the matter. McComiskey puts the destruction in 622 B.C. at the direction of King Josiah (2 Kgs 23:15-16).[4] Smith believes the sanctuary was destroyed in the earthquake two years after Amos spoke (1:1).[5] Freedman and Anderson argue Amos was describing both an earthquake and persecution at the hands of a foreign army and provide no date.[6]

The earthquake Amos mentions (1:1), which Smith posits for the destruction of the Bethel sanctuary, occurs in approximately 760 B.C.[7] The Assyrians invaded Israel in approximately 722 B.C., after a period of subjugation and increasing Assyrian dominance. It is very probable, therefore, that these are the very events Amos prophesized about. The precise date and nature of the destruction of this sanctuary remains elusive, but it was unquestionably destroyed. No trace of it has yet been found.[8]

This destruction and judgment (9:1) is centered on the temple and the idolatrous priests who worked evil inside it (7:10-12), not the whole city. “In other words, it is selective destruction but, within its limits, total.”[9] God was furious with the corruption and idolatry of the people (4:4-5; 5:26), and He is specifically targeting this place of false worship for destruction.

The Northern Kingdom’s one brief period of prosperity died with King Jeroboam II in 753 B.C.

The reign of Jeroboam II was the northern kingdom’s one period of brilliance. With the death of his son, however, the nation rapidly declined in both strength and position. This period of decline closed with the fall of Israel’s capital, Samaria, to the great Assyrian war machine in 722 B.C.[10]

God’s judgment is sure and certain.

9:2

Though they dig into hell, thence shall mine hand take them; though they climb up to heaven, thence will I bring them down:

9:3

And though they hide themselves in the top of Carmel, I will search and take them out thence; and though they be hid from my sight in the bottom of the sea, thence will I command the serpent, and he shall bite them:

9:4

And though they go into captivity before their enemies, thence will I command the sword, and it shall slay them: and I will set mine eyes upon them for evil, and not for good.

 

God will not spare any of the people responsible for facilitating this idolatrous worship. They may hide in the depths of the ocean or in the highest mountaintop close at hand (Carmel), but they cannot escape. “The view, then, is that the Bethel sanctuary and its personnel were the direct target of this unparalleled onslaught and that both the sanctuary and its priests would be obliterated, regardless of attempts to escape.”[11] Approximately 38 years would pass between the destruction of the sanctuary and the Assyrian invasion. In this span of time, the culprits will be found and dealt with in one form or another.

9:5

And the Lord GOD of hosts is he that toucheth the land, and it shall melt, and all that dwell therein shall mourn: and it shall rise up wholly like a flood; and shall be drowned, as by the flood of Egypt.

9:6

It is he that buildeth his stories in the heaven, and hath founded his troop in the earth; he that calleth for the waters of the sea, and poureth them out upon the face of the earth: The LORD is his name.

 

God is sovereign and His wrath will come in response to disobedience (Deut 28-30). Because He is so omniscient, people cannot escape His judgment or thwart it in some fashion.  It is possible Amos is referring to an earthquake in 9:5 (“toucheth the land, and it shall melt”). This may be the literal earthquake spoken of in 9:1, which occurred two years after Amos wrote and likely destroyed the sanctuary at Bethel. Amos may also be merely emphasizing God’s sovereignty over His creation. “Both heaven and earth are his domain where he has sovereign authority. This is why escape from him is futile.”[12]

9:7

Are ye not as children of the Ethiopians unto me, O children of Israel? saith the LORD. Have not I brought up Israel out of the land of Egypt? and the Philistines from Caphtor, and the Syrians from Kir?

 

The Israelites’ spiritual arrogance was astounding. They took their elect status for granted, and seemingly forgot Moses’ warnings for disobedience to the covenant (Deut 28:15). This sin was pervasive throughout Israel’s history.

For example, the prophet Jeremiah, writing much later, recorded a truly arrogant and astounding request by King Zedekiah:

Inquire, I pray thee, of the LORD for us; for Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon maketh war against us; if so be that the LORD will deal with us according to all his wondrous works, that he may go up from us (Jer 21:2).

This entreaty came after the high priest, Pashur, had beaten Jeremiah and put him “in stocks” for a day. Upon his release, Jeremiah prophesied of Babylon’s capture of Jerusalem. Therefore, such a request from King Zedekiah could only be borne out of an arrogant, haughty mindset.

Amos’ words here are meant to rob the Israelites of this very faulty idea. Outward circumcision is no guarantee of an inward regeneration (Deut 10:16; Rom 2:29). To carnal, unsaved Israelites who blindly trusted in their status as physical children of Abraham, God had a simple message – their exodus from Egypt had no more significance than the movements of heathen nations.[13] “The exodus did not give them license to presume on the holiness of God.”[14]

Excursus – Day of the Lord

Earlier, Amos had criticized Israel for their longing for the “day of the Lord,” (5:18-20). Amos was the first prophet to mention this concept, but it was evidently well-known because Amos assumes his audience understood him.[15] “The day of the Lord refers to the complex of events surrounding the coming of the Lord in judgment to conquer his foes and to establish his sovereign rule over the world.”[16]

This passage was directed at disobedient Israelites who reveled in eschatological promises. The warnings would have made no sense is they were issued to faithful Israelites! Their collective arrogance about final deliverance is unwarranted. “They regarded their election as the guarantee of the Lord’s favor.”[17] It is false security for those who do not love God.

Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will punish all them which are circumcised with the uncircumcised; Egypt, and Judah, and Edom, and the children of Ammon, and Moab, and all that are in the utmost corners, that dwell in the wilderness: for all these nations are uncircumcised, and all the house of Israel are uncircumcised in the heart (Jer 9:25-26).[18]

Sifting of the Remnant (9:8-10)

9:8

Behold, the eyes of the Lord GOD are upon the sinful kingdom, and I will destroy it from off the face of the earth; saving that I will not utterly destroy the house of Jacob, saith the LORD.

9:9

For, lo, I will command, and I will sift the house of Israel among all nations, like as corn is sifted in a sieve, yet shall not the least grain fall upon the earth.

9:10

All the sinners of my people shall die by the sword, which say, The evil shall not overtake nor prevent us.

 

Returning to the theme of judgment, Amos prophesies an end to the “sinful kingdom.” Here, Amos continues to confound Israel’s expectations about their election. The Northern Kingdom cannot take their election for granted. The sinners in Israel, who do not love God, will be destroyed. This is not a blanket edict of destruction; those who do love God will live! The nation itself is not the remnant; those who are actually saved within her are the remnant.

Amos gives Israel an explicit promise to save those who are His. “As a fine-meshed sieve lets the chaff and dust go through, but catches the good grain, so God would screen out and save any righteous among His people.”[19] Israel’s subsequent exile abroad (5:27; 2 Kgs 17:23-24) will be the means to fulfill this prophesy. “Still God in his grace will not destroy them wholly, but only sift them, and even the carrying away is to serve as a means to this end.[20]

Amos makes this very clear in his next statement. Those who presume upon corporate election for salvation (“disaster shall not overtake or meet us”) are “sinners” who “shall die by the sword” (9:10). As Gary Smith observes, “[b]lessings are not a right to be claimed, but the fruitful outworking of a godly life.”[21]

God will use pagan nations, (in this instance Assyria – 5:27 [2 Kgs 17:23-24]), to sift Israel and execute His judgment. Judah’s day would come later, also at the hands of a pagan nation (Jer 20:4-6).[22] The scope of the coming destruction is described in chilling detail by Joel (2:1-11).

There have been people in every age who have presumed upon the holiness of God and loved Him in an outward manner, devoid of inward light and life (Jer 9:23-26; 1 Jn 2:19-20). Amos was warning Israel against this very mindset.

The self-secure sinners, however, who rely upon their outward connection with the nation of God, or upon their zeal in the outward forms of worship, and fancy that the judgment cannot touch them will all perish by the sword.[23]

RESTORATION OF THE KINGDOM (9:11-12)

9:11

In that day will I raise up the tabernacle of David that is fallen, and close up the breaches thereof; and I will raise up his ruins, and I will build it as in the days of old:

 

At this point, Amos’ distinction between the Northern and Southern Kingdoms is completely abandoned. He has already established that the corporate nation itself is not the righteous remnant; but those Israelites within corporate Israel who love God are (Deut 6:5). Amos asserts that God will restore the “booth of David that is fallen and repair its breaches,” (9:11). No longer will the Kingdom be rent in two, fragmented by the sinfulness of man (1 Kgs 12:16-24). It would be re-united after punishment for sin (Jer 25:8-14; 29:10-14; Dan 9:24). It would be restored and re-habilitated in a very literal sense.

But fear not, O Jacob my servant, nor be dismayed, O Israel, for behold, I will save you from far away, and your offspring from the land of their captivity. Jacob shall return and have quiet and ease, and none shall make him afraid. Fear not, O Jacob my servant, declares the Lord, for I am with you. I will make a full end of all the nations to which I have driven you, but of you I will not make a full end. I will discipline you in just measure, and I will by no means leave you unpunished (Jer 46:27-28).

Just as the punishment for Northern Kingdom was meant literally and came to pass, the promised restoration is also literal. It will be raised up from ruins and rebuilt as in the days of old. God will not forget His covenant at Sinai (Ex 19:1-6), which had once seemed so close to fulfillment (1 Kgs 10:1-9). Amos was promising his listeners that the covenant curses upon Israel would be reversed one day in the future. God provides hope in dark days for those who love Him (Rom 8:28).

Elsewhere, other prophets reveal that not only would the nation be united and restored, a leader would also be raised up (2 Sam 7:11-16). That leader is Christ. This glorious day will come in the future, after the Tribulation and the establishment of Jesus’ Millennial Reign. Amos does not divulge the specific times and circumstances of these events, but Daniel does elsewhere (Dan 9:24-27). Thus Amos, the first of the writing prophets,[24] delivers word of impending judgment because of sin, while simultaneously promising eventual deliverance. God will be faithful to His covenant promise to Abraham (Gen 15:17-21).

9:12

That they may possess the remnant of Edom, and of all the heathen, which are called by my name, saith the LORD that doeth this.

 

Israel’s election was never an end in and of itself; she had a divine mandate to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Ex 19:6), drawing Gentiles to God by her own righteous example. In this divine mission, she failed.

Election was not a call to privilege but a choosing for service to God . . . The people were to be God’s ministers, his preachers, and his prophets to their own nation as well as to other nations.[25]

This time, however, there will be a very different result. Jesus Christ will reign in Jerusalem (Dan 2:44; 7:13-14, 27). The Gentile remnant (represented by Edom and “all the nations) will eventually serve and love Him (Dan 7:14, 27; Zech 14:16). “The united kingdom under it’s Davidic King will then become the source of blessing to all Gentiles,[26]” as it was supposed to be from the beginning (Gen 12:1-3).

Excursus – The Church or Israel?

God does indeed have an eternal purpose for the Gentiles. However, how does the church fit into this program? Is the church the fulfillment of this promise, where Gentiles are fellow heirs with Israel (Eph 3:6) and indwelt with His spirit (Joel 2:28-29; Acts 2:14-21)? Or is the church a distinct, separate entity?

Critics of dispensationalism have cited James’ quotation from Amos in Acts 15:16-17 and argued that the church fulfills this promise. In context, however, James is not arguing this point at all.[27] He was simply arguing that, in light of God’s revelation to Peter (Acts 10:45) and also Paul (Eph 3:6), Gentiles did not need to conform to Mosaic law to be saved. James did not argue that Amos 9:11-12 was being fulfilled; merely that it was in perfect accord with Amos’ prophesy. Gentiles have always been part of God’s eternal plan for salvation (Gen 12:1-3). This accords well with the Biblical teaching that God administers His rule over the world in different ways as He progressively works out His purpose for world history. God is not dealing with men under the Mosaic law any longer, and the edict of the Jerusalem Council reflects this reality (Acts 15:22-29).[28]

From the comfortable vantage point of the modern era, it is obvious Israel, as an earthly theocracy ruled by sinful men, was living on borrowed time ever since God’s glory departed from the temple shortly after the conquest of Judah.[29]

Those opposed to dispensationalism will readily admit Amos teaches a literal judgment on Israel (9:1-10), but will curiously balk at asserting a corresponding literal restoration of the nation (9:11-12)!

BLESSINGS UPON THE KINGDOM (9:13-15)

9:13

Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that the plowman shall overtake the reaper, and the treader of grapes him that soweth seed; and the mountains shall drop sweet wine, and all the hills shall melt.

Here, after delivering such dark tidings of impeding judgment for sin, Amos describes the glorious future which awaits Israel in the Millennium. “He depicts a time when God’s blessing will be poured out in unimaginable abundance.”[30] This is a radical reversal of fortunes.

This marvelous work is by the grace of God alone; for Israel did not earn this unmerited favor. It was simply given (Deut 10:15). Abraham himself was an idolater (Josh 24:2). Writing much later, Ezekiel makes it plan that God will gather Israel from abroad and re-constitute her in the land (Eze 20:33-44). Those who hate God will be judged at this time (Eze 20:38). God does these works for the sake of His name, not Israel’s (Eze 36:22).

What is stated plainly in Amos, namely judgment followed by restoration, is clearly explained elsewhere by later prophets. The picture is one of bliss, fitting for life in a restored kingdom ruled by Christ Himself! “No one in the new day would want for food and drink. With God’s blessing upon it, the land would truly become the land that was promised, flowing with milk and honey.”[31] What sinful men failed to accomplish in the earthly kingdom, Christ will infallibly bring to pass in the Millennium.

It is surely too much to force upon Amos an understanding of the distinction between the Millennial Reign and glorious Eternity (Rev 20:1-10), which was made clear in the New Testament. What is clear, however, is that Amos prophesied a literal judgment, restoration and blessing upon the remnant of Israel which would be everlasting.[32]

Literal or Spiritual?

It is surely an error to spiritualize these blessings upon Israel, as one commentator does at this point:

[A]s the events in it are altogether impossible in the natural world, it must obviously be taken in a spiritual sense. The plenty, like the previously threatened famine (ch. 8:11), was not to be one of bread and water, but “of hearing the words of the Lord.[33]

This method of interpretation seems more closely aligned with the old Alexandrian school of allegorical interpretation than serious hermeneutics! The commentator went on to equate the mountains dripping with sweet wine with the abundance of the word of God dripping from evangelists metaphorical lips! “From the gracious lip there drops continually the new wine of ‘a word in season.’ ”[34]

Calvin did not go nearly so far afield, yet he likewise spiritualizes this passage.

Further, what is here said of the abundance of corn and wine, must be explained with reference to the nature of Christ’s kingdom. As then the kingdom of Christ is spiritual, it is enough for us, that it abounds in spiritual blessings: and the Jews, whom God reserved for himself as a remnant, were satisfied with this spiritual abundance.[35]

It is curious why some critics are so reluctant to see a literal blessing upon a literal Israel. The whole creation longs to be set free from its bondage to corruption (Rom 8:21). With the curse of sin removed, should Christians dare to place restraints upon God’s glorious blessings upon this earth? Why must these promises be spiritual?

Nathan prophesized that God would take a seed of David and establish his throne and his kingdom forever (2 Sam 7:12-16; Ps 89:3-4). Elsewhere, God promised David He would not break or alter this covenant (Ps 89:33-35). In light of these explicit promises, there is no warrant in the text to assume Amos’ audience did not understand that he spoke here of literal blessings upon a literal restoration of the kingdom of Israel.[36]

9:14

And I will bring again the captivity of my people of Israel, and they shall build the waste cities, and inhabit them; and they shall plant vineyards, and drink the wine thereof; they shall also make gardens, and eat the fruit of them.

9:15

And I will plant them upon their land, and they shall no more be pulled up out of their land which I have given them, saith the LORD thy God.

 

This vision explodes at once the erroneous, popular notion of a redeemed people sitting on fluffy clouds, playing harps and worshipping God! “[S]alvation is the restoration of God’s creation on a new earth.”[37] What was soiled by sin will be restored perfectly, without Satan! Man’s original charge in the garden will be renewed, now without possibility of failure.

Amos did not have the benefit of the New Testament to augment his proclamations, but it is clear that Israel has a literal future which cannot be shaken. Fortunes will be restored by God’s grace. Ruins will be rebuilt and inhabited. Agriculture will be restored and the ground will yield fruit plentifully. This restoration is not contingent on anything; it is permanent.

CONCLUSION

Amos prophesied about a literal judgment for sin, a restoration of the nation and corresponding blessings upon Israel.

Judgment (9:1-10)

Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people and upon thy holy city, to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity (Dan 9:24a).

Amos prophesied about coming judgment for sin; for God’s justice can tolerate nothing less. His focus was on the Northern Kingdom, but his words have broad application to all of corporate Israel. The religious apostates controlling worship in Israel would be killed (9:1), and those who assisted them would never escape His judgment (9:2-4). God is sovereign and will vindicate His name (9:5-6). Israel must never presume upon her election, or the forbearance of God (9:7-10).

Restoration (9:11-12)

. . . and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most Holy (Dan 9:24b).

Israel will be literally re-constituted and gathered from abroad. There will be one, united, literal kingdom as there was in the days of old! (9:11). The nation will fulfill its original mandate to bring all nations of the earth to God (Gen 12:1-3; Ex 19:1-6; Amos 9:12).

Blessings (9:13-15)

And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever (Dan 2:44).

This literal, re-constituted nation of Israel will experience the covenant blessings promised to her (Deut 30:9). Crops will flourish, cities will be re-built and the land will be blessed (9:13-14). Israel will never again be uprooted from her land, which God swore to Abraham (Gen 15:17-21).

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Bartholomew, Craig G. and Michael W. Goheen. The Drama of Scripture. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004.

Calvin, John and John Owen. Commentaries on the Twelve Minor Prophets, vol. 2. Bellingham: Logos Bible Software, 2010.

Freedman, David N. and Francis I. Anderson. Amos. New York: Doubleday, 1989.

Kaiser, Walter C. Jr. Mission in the Old Testament, 2nd ed. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2012.

Keil C.F. and F. Delitzsch. “The Minor Prophets,” vol. 10, Commentary on the Old Testament. Peabody: Hendrickson, 2011.

McComiskey, Thomas E. and Tremper Longman III. “Amos,” vol. 8, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008.

Lange, John Peter, Philip Schaff, Otto Schmoller and Talbot W. Chambers. A Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Amos. Bellingham: Logos Bible Software, 2008.

Smith, Billy K. and Franklin S. Page. “Amos, Obadiah, Jonah,” vol. 19b, The New American Commentary. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1995.

Smith, Gary V. Hosea, Amos, Micah.Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001.

Spence-Jones, H.D.M. The Pulpit Commentary. London; New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1909.

Sunukjian, Donald R. “Amos,” The Bible Knowledge Commentary, ed. John Walvoord and Roy Zuck. Wheaton, IL: Victor, 1985.

Wood, Leon. A Survey of Israel’s History, revised ed. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1986.

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[1] C.F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, “Amos,” vol. 10, Commentary on the Old Testament (Peabody, MS: Hendrickson, 2011), 214.

[2] Ibid, 215.

[3] Thomas E. McComiskey and Tremper Longman III, “Amos,” vol. 8, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008), 415. See also Gary V. Smith, Hosea, Amos, Micah (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001), 401.

[4]Ibid, 415.

[5] Smith, Hosea, Amos, Micah, 401.

[6] David N. Freedman and Francis I. Anderson, Amos (New York, NY: Doubleday, 1989), 841.

[7] McComiskey, “Amos,” 356.

[8] Freedman and Anderson, Amos, 842.

[9] Ibid, 842.

[10] Leon Wood, A Survey of Israel’s History, revised ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1986), 278.

[11] Freedman and Anderson, Amos, 841.

[12] Billy K. Smith and Franklin S. Page, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, vol. 19b, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1995), 158-59.

[13]Keil, “Amos,” 218-219. “For degenerate Israel, the leading up out of Egypt had no higher significance than the leading up of the Philistines and Syrians out of their former dwelling-places into the lands which they at present inhabited.”

[14]McComiskey, “Amos,” 416.

[15] See Freedman and Anderson, Amos, 520. “This passage is one of the earliest occurrences, if not the first, of a term that becomes a leitmotif in prophetic discourse and is central to a theology of the Bible.” See also McComiskey, “Amos,” 400.

[16]McComiskey, “Amos,” 400.

[17] Ibid.

[18] For the spiritual arrogance of Israel, see especially Jer 36; 44:15-19. The chastening of corporate Israel began with Israel (the Northern Kingdom, conquered by Assyria), and continued later with Judah (the Southern Kingdom, conquered by Nebuchadnezzar).

[19]Donald R. Sunukjian, “Amos,” The Bible Knowledge Commentary, ed. John Walvoord and Roy Zuck (Wheaton, IL: Victor, 1985), 1451.

[20] John Peter Lange and others, A Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Amos (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2008), 56.

[21] Smith, Hosea, Amos, Micah, 403.

[22] For God’s sovereign judgment upon both Israel and Judah, see Jer 50:17-18.

[23] Keil, “Amos,” 220.

[24] McComiskey, “Amos,” 356, argues that Amos is “the first written prophetic text.”

[25] Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., Mission in the Old Testament, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2012), 14.

[26] Sunukjian, “Amos,” 1451.

[27] “The focus of James’s concern, however, was not prophecy of future events but how to handle the current problem of Gentile inclusion in the church.” Smith and Page, “Amos, Obadiah, Jonah,” 168.

[28] For a more detailed response, see Stanley D. Toussaint, “Acts,” The Bible Knowledge Commentary, ed. John Walvoord and Roy Zuck (Wheaton, IL: Victor, 1983), 394-396. See also Thomas Constable, Acts (Dallas, TX: SonicLight, 2013), 214-219.

[29] Eze 8:4; 8:12; 9:3-8; 10; 11:23.

[30]McComiskey, “Amos,” 419.

[31] Smith and Page, “Amos, Obadiah, Jonah,” 169.

[32] Smith, Hosea, Amos, Micah, 415, forcefully makes this very point. He states the millennial kingdom “is totally unknown to Amos and all the other Old Testament prophets.”

[33]Amos, ed. H. D. M. Spence-Jones, The Pulpit Commentary (London; New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1909), 185.

[34]  Ibid.

[35] John Calvin and John Owen, Commentaries on the Twelve Minor Prophets, vol. 2 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 413.

[36] Let every honest Christian consider that the most basic principle of interpretation is to gather from Scripture the original meaning the writer intended to convey to his original audience.

[37] Craig G. Bartholomew and Michael W. Goheen, The Drama of Scripture (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2004), 210.

Are God’s Promises to Israel Spiritual?

Here is an excellent, short article on this point! I am not known for writing short articles, so I thought I’d pass this one along. I’ll be posting an exposition of Amos 9 in the next few days, which demonstrate that God’s promises to Israel were literal and must be interpreted as such, if we are to be faithful to the text.

Here is the article – http://sharperiron.org/article/promises-to-israel-we-should-expect-literal-fulfillment