“No chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterwards it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” Hebrews 12:11
How happy are tried Christians, afterwards. There is no calm more deep than that which follows a storm. Who has not rejoiced in clear shinings after rain? Victorious banquets are for well-exercised soldiers.
After killing the lion–we eat the honey;
after climbing the Hill Difficulty–we sit down in the arbor to rest;
after traversing the Valley of Humiliation, after fighting with Apollyon, the shining one appears, with the healing branch from the tree of life.
Our sorrows, like the passing keels of the vessels upon the sea, leave a silver line of holy light behind them “afterwards.” It is peace, sweet, deep peace–which follows the horrible turmoil which once reigned in our tormented, guilty souls.
See, then, the happy estate of a Christian! He has his best things last, and he therefore in this world receives his worst things first. But even his worst things are “afterwards” good things–harsh ploughings–yielding joyful harvests. Even now . . .
he grows rich by his losses,
he rises by his falls,
he lives by dying, and
he becomes full by being emptied.
If, then, his grievous afflictions yield him so much peaceable fruit in this life–what shall be the full vintage of joy “afterwards” in Heaven? If his dark nights are as bright as the world’s days–what shall his days be? If even his starlight is more splendid than the sun–what must his sunlight be? If he can sing in a dungeon–how sweetly will he sing in Heaven! If he can praise the Lord in the fires–how will he extol Him before the eternal throne! If evil is good to him now–what will the overflowing goodness of God be to him then?
Why did Jesus have to die? Many object to the fact that Christ had to be put to death and that blood had to be shed for the remission of sins (Matt 26:28). They believe this is unbecoming of God. Others believe that if we as humans can forgive each other without punishment and God cannot, then humans are more kind and forgiving than God.*
We hear these arguments coming from people who think they need to protect God from the doctrine of penal substitution. Besides their lack of understanding scripture, these arguments escape reason. They escape reason because the same people who make these arguments then go on to make distinctions between good and evil and preach moral living.
Why should man be moral? Why is it wrong to be immoral? These are the questions Anselm raised when dealing with the necessity of Christ’s death. He then went on to lay out the following argument:
To remit sin without satisfaction or adjustment is not to punish it.
And if sin needs no adjustment or punishment, then the one who sins is no different before God than the one who does not sin.
And if there is no adjustment that needs to be made before God, then what needs to be forgiven?
Following this logic there is no reason for forgiveness at all because to be unrighteous or righteous makes no difference before God.
Therefore, it is unbecoming of God not to punish sin because it would make evil and good equal in His sight.
Since this cannot be the case, then God must punish sin.
The idea that God can forgive sin without requiring its just punishment leads us to another conundrum. If it is true that God does not need to justly punish sin, then anyone He sends to hell would be sent there arbitrarily and not out of necessity. Of course, that would be reprehensible which is why many who reject penal substitution eventually become universalists (the idea, contrary to scripture, that no one will go to hell).
The wages of sin is death according to scripture (Rom. 6:23). For God to offer forgiveness, the satisfaction of these wages must be met. This is what the cross is all about. Christ bore upon Himself the sins of all those who come to Him through faith. It necessarily had to happen in order for God to be both just and the justifier of those who believe in Him (Rom. 3:26).
Every sin will receive its just recompense. Either we will pay for it ourselves, or, through faith, we will accept His payment upon the cross on our behalf.
Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. – Isaiah 53:4
*Even we cannot forgive each other without a cost being paid. If you break my lamp on purpose, and I say, “I forgive you,” some one has to pay for the new lamp. If I slander your good name, and you say, “I forgive you,” there is still a cost. Either you will bear the damage I have done to your reputation, or, if I go to all your friends and tell them I slandered, I will bear a loss of my own reputation. More importantly, even those sins against each other are sins against God for which either we will pay or Christ will bear in our place. Even among each other, sin always has a cost.
This morning I had the privilege of preaching at First Artesia Christian Reformed Church. We took some time to look at the Cities of Refuge found in the Old Testament and the amazing picture of Jesus they paint for us.
It is of great importance to recall to our minds the real nature of our work as ministers of the Gospel. We should remember constantly the great ideal of what a Christian minister ought to be, sketched out in the sixth chapter of the Acts: “We will give ourselves to the Word of God and to prayer.”
The preachingand expounding of the Word of God, with nothing added, and with nothing taken away–is beyond all doubt our principal business. We must take heed that we give due honor to the Word of God in our public ministrations. A thousand things continually call us away from this–committees, schools, visiting, and the like. But we must remember that we are ministers of the Word of God, that our province is the Word of God, and that we must be very careful not to leave the Word of God to serve tables.
But after that, we must never forget private prayer. This is one grand secret of the strength of the ministry. It is here that the roots of the ministry, practically speaking, are to be found. The ministry of the man who has gifts, however great, but who does not give the prayer-closet the principal place–must sooner or later become tedious and ineffective.
I will remark, in the next place, that it is of immense importance that we should take heed to our own lives. “Pay close attention to your life and your teaching; persevere in these things” 1 Timothy 4:16.
I have been lately studying the lives and private habits of those men whom God raised up to be the revivers of the Church in the last century. I have been much struck with their self-denial, and entire devotedness to the work of the ministry. They were men who lived very plainly and simply, and did not seem to care much for anything but their pastoral work. They were not men who sought the entertainments of the great and the rich. We would do well to consider whether we are living as near to God as they did.
I will remark, in the next place, that we all need to be more careful in the employment of our time. There is a danger of trying to do too much. Some clergymen have so many irons in the fire, that it is impossible to keep them all hot. A few things well done, are far better than twenty poorly done. The man whose work will stand the longest, is the man who, whatever people may say, however lazy they may call him determines that he will not do more than he can do well.
And always remember: What costs little, is worth little.
You may easily be sure that most quarrels online tends to the ruin of the Church, and the hindrance of the gospel, and the injury of the common interest of Christianity. You know ungodly divisions are greatly condemned in the scriptures, and that they are usually the result of pride, uncharitableness, and temper, and that the Devil is best pleased with it because he gains the most by it.
If arguments cause any divisions, be sure to look first to the interest of common truth and good, and to the exercise of love: and do not become passionate contenders for any party in the division, or censure those to do not enter the fight, but join rather with the moderate and the peacemakers than with the contenders and dividers.
I understand that those who want to draw you into a combative fervor will tell you that their cause is the cause of God, and that you will betray him if you are not zealous in it. They will tell you that it is your sinfulness that makes you selfishly desire moderation and peace. They will also condemn you by saying you are hypocrites, that you are lukewarm, and that you agree with error. And they are right, if it is indeed the cause of God, but upon great experience, I must tell you, that of the zealous contenders online that claim the cause of God and truth, there are very few that know what they are talking about.
Some of them claim the cause of God, when their cause is the spoiled spawn of a proud and ignorant mind. Some of them are impassioned before they have even had time to give it any serious thought. Others are lead astray by some person or tribe that fascinates their minds. Many are blinded by their carnal interests, and many of them, in mere pride, think highly of an opinion because they believe they know more than ordinary men do. Finally, many of them are simply looking for likes and retweets.
As far as my judgment has been able to reach, the people that have stood for restraint have been the most sensible, and have had the best understanding of the controversies that are under debate among good Christians. Those that castigate them as lukewarm or corrupted have been people that have had the least judgement, and are usually full of proud and foul mistakes in the points in question.
In all this, I do not deny that every truth of God is to be highly valued and that those that plead for neutrality, whenthe essential doctrines of the faith are being disputed, are false-hearted hypocrites. However, some truths must be silenced for a time, (though not denied) when contending for them is untimely and tends to the injury of the Church. Take heed what you do online when God’s honor, and men’s souls, and the Church’s peace are are at stake.
-Richard Baxter (edited and updated for today’s reader)
One Sabbath morning, I preached from the text, `My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?’ and though I did not say so, yet I preached my own experience. I heard my own chains clank while I tried to preach to my fellow-prisoners in the dark; but I could not tell why I was brought into such an awful horror of darkness, for which I condemned myself. On the following Monday evening, a man came to see me who bore all the marks of despair upon his countenance. His hair seemed to stand up right, and his eyes were ready to start from their sockets. He said to me, after a little parleying, “I never before, in my life, heard any man speak who seemed to know my heart. Mine is a terrible case; but on Sunday morning you painted me to the life, and preached as if you had been inside my soul.” By God’s grace I saved that man from suicide, and led him into gospel light and liberty; but I know I could not have done it if I had not myself been confined in the dungeon in which he lay. I tell you the story, brethren, because you sometimes may not understand your own experience, and the perfect people may condemn you for having it; but what know they of God’s servants? You and I have to suffer much for the sake of the people of our charge….You may be in Egyptian darkness, and you may wonder why such a horror chills your marrow; but you may be altogether in the pursuit of your calling, and be led of the Spirit to a position of sympathy with desponding minds.
In my studies of Scripture and theology, I occasionally run across someone who sees me reading a systematic theology or commentary, who says to me, “I don’t need all those other books, I only need the Bible.” This statement is troublesome because, in one sense, it is arrogant. Does this person really think they have enough brain power and spiritual fortitude to gain as much understanding and wisdom as the whole community of faith combined, without their assistance. I realize they do not mean it this way because they have not thought through the logical implications of their statement so grace needs to be extended, but the statement is dangerous.
There is one sense, however, that the statement is true, and it is this sense that causes them to make the statement in the first place. If we did not have access to any other books and only had the Bible, it would be enough. We could still be saved and experience growth in the Lord, but the Lord never intended us to live our lives shunning the wisdom of other believers. Building each other up is one of the reasons He calls us to be part of a local church.
The Lord has given us many books, which are simply the written thoughts of the community of faith, to help us to grow in the grace and knowledge of His word. Wayne Grudem, in his systematic theology says, “And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers (1Cor. 12:28). We should allow those gifts of teaching to help us understand Scripture.” To think that we, somehow, do not need these God ordained teachers, or that none of the books they have written could be any help to us, rejects God’s word which tells us he has given us these teachers.
They also seem to be using a double standard when it come to books. I was once told I should not read commentaries because they were all fallible, and I should only read the Bible. When I asked the if he went to church to listen to sermons, he said, “of course I do.” He began to stumble when I asked him if his pastor was fallible. A good commentary and good pastor often do similar things, they explain and proclaim the meaning of the text. If you are going to reject one, you will have to reject the other. I suggest embracing both as gifts from God.
I do realize that some neglect the scriptures in order to read all these other books and that is equally dangerous, but we should utilize what the Lord has given us through men and women who have been given the gift of teaching. Though, unlike the Bible, they are fallible, just like the the teaching of the man who says we do not need other books, there is truth in there from which we should benefit.
And let us not forget Spurgeon who said: “The man who never reads will never be read; he who never quotes will never be quoted. He who will not use the thoughts of other men’s brains, proves that he has no brains of his own.”
Post Script: I realize that someone who refuses to read Christian writings other than the Bible will not be reading this blog, which means I am preaching to the choir. However, if you run into one of them, maybe you can pass the message along.
Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love. He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities underfoot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea. – Micah 7:18-19
Even as Christians, the greatest storm we face is the sin that rages in us. It crouches at our door, its desire is for us, and its only fruit is destruction. It threatens to sear our consciences, hinder our prayers, and even cause our love for Christ to grow cold. But even when we fail, and some of these things begin to be seen in our lives, let us never forget that our God will have compassion on His children. He delights in mercy, He will turn again to us to subdue our iniquities, and cast’s our sins to the depths of the sea.
Do you see dear believer what hope is found in this Scripture? God is not looking to help you because you have been perfect and you deserve to be helped. He desires to pardon your iniquity. He knows you have sinned and need to be delivered. He has placed the wrath that your sins deserve on Christ your substitution. And though your sinful heart still threatens to toss you where it will, like a lost vessel on an angry sea, our God anchors you with a strong and secure hope.
Grab hold of Christ who is that hope. Like an anchor securing a ship on a stormy sea has plunged beneath the veil of the water and cannot be seen, so Christ has entered within the veil; where he has gone as a forerunner on your behalf (Heb. 6:17). And though we cannot see Him at this moment, the hope he has given us is like a secure chain anchored to the throne of God, which is pulling us home through the tumultuous sea.
As the storms grow stronger, by His grace He strengthens our hold upon this hope, as we learn that nothing else can save us. The tighter we hold to our hope, the more tight the line between us and our true home becomes, until we can feel it pulling us homeward.
Though the storms of sin surround, take heart that your sins have been removed, and you are anchored to the distant shore through Christ. Fear not, for no surer hope has ever been tested, and as your love for this world slowly weakens, you will notice the chain between you and your true home has become that much shorter. When you see this, you will know He has turned to you, and is having compassion upon you, because this is work that only He can do.
Let us end with a short verse by Charles Spurgeon, who inspired most of the content of this devotion.
Let the winds blow, and billows roll, Hope is the anchor of my soul. But can I by so slight a tie, And unseen hope, on God rely? Steadfast and sure, it cannot fail, It enters deep within the veil, It fastens on a land unknown, And moors me to my Father’s throne.
His eyes looked at me with such compassion I was sure I had found someone who understood, but that was not entirely the case. As I mentioned before, the skies have turned dark, and that darkness has begun to stir something deep within me
When I first saw him coming, I knew he cared and was going out of his way to minister to me. At first, he just sat with me, not saying anything, and that spoke such profound peace and compassion because it made me feel like I was not the only one feeling the weight of the storm. Then he began to speak, and my heart welled up with anticipation because if he was such a comfort when he was silent, how much more would he be a blessing when he started to talk.
At first, he reminded me that suffering exists in this life because of sin. Adam’s transgression opened up the world to all kinds of sickness, hardship, and even death. If it were not for sin in this world, there would be no suffering, but we have a Savior who has dealt with sin on the cross. In rising again, he defeated death and showed that all of our transgressions for which he had to pay, were atoned. He then proceeded to say that Christ would set all things right. My mind began to settle in on this truth. It reminded me that any of the sufferings I was facing, had nothing to do with God’s wrath because that had been satisfied in Christ on the cross. Then he began to tell me that we are saved by faith, and with this, I certainly agreed. In fact, I have said that this fight I am in is a fight of faith.
He then continued to instruct me by quoting our Savior saying that if our faith is strong enough, we can begin to move mountains. “We must trust that God has the power to clear these dark skies, and if we would claim that truth, then God would do it.” In essence, God would see our faith and move on our behalf. He explained that we have the Spirit of God living in us, and since he could speak things into existence, so could we.
He advised me always to speak positive words and think positive thoughts. I should not even acknowledge the dark skies existed. I should call things as I want them to be instead of as they are. This new thought would show God my faith, and he would perform the miracle I needed.
My heart wanted this to be true. As I’ve mentioned before I have a natural desire to be in control, and if there’s something I can do, then I feel it is something I can control. His discourse hit me in many ways that both stirred me to action and emptied me of my resolve. I could not figure out why his words troubled me so much.
Then it hit me. His statements came with a corollary thought that he was not saying out loud. If mustering up enough mental determination, which he called faith, could deliver me from this darkness and give me all I desired, then the very reason I am facing this now was my fault. If I control the Sovereign One through my faith, then any darkness in my life was a result of my lack of faith.
My mind immediately went to all the great saints in scripture: Moses, Abraham, David, Matthew, Joseph, John, and Paul. These were men of great faith who faced darker skies than I can even imagine, and scripture nowhere paints a picture that it was because of a lack of faith on their part. It was often just the opposite. God allowed the dark skies to reveal his glory and strength in their lives. God often paints bright hope across a dark and ominous canvas.
I realized at that point that my friend was Job’s friend. For the first time, his real name was revealed to me. Some have called him Half-truth. I remember reading through Job with the understanding that nowhere in the book was God sovereignty over Job suffering ever questioned, and it was not due to a lack of faith on Job’s part.
When I would read through Job, I would see the God-ordained trials he faced, and then, on top of it all, I would see Job’s friends piling on. Then something clicked, Job’s poor comforters were not some add-on that only happened by chance. They were part of God’s sovereign plan as well.
In the end, it was the suffering inflicted by his friends that God used as the dark canvas to paint hope for the rest of us to see. Just think, how many of us has God helped by Job’s response to his friends? Those speakers of half-truths that condemned Job for his situation are still around today. If you don’t find them surrounding you, you will often find them living within you.
You may be facing accusing voices in your life as well, and we must correct their errors with the Word of God. Never forget that these speakers of half-truth are also part of Gods’ plan for you. Often what God is showing us when they arrive and begin to tell us that God would fix everything in this life if we truly trusted him, is that we are not supposed to place our ultimate hope in our friends or ourselves. We must fully trust in him and his plan. The other thing that begins to be corrected is our false expectations. It is not as if God has failed to do what he was supposed to do; we were simply expecting things from him that he never promised. It is much like when some of Jesus’ followers stopped following him because he was crucified. They expected Christ to reign without a cross. Instead, Jesus reigns through his suffering, and that plan is still in effect today.
God is still using unresolved difficulty in our lives to show his glory, and part of the dark canvas he is using as the backdrop to bring hope to a fallen world may include accusing voices. All things are under his sovereign plan.
In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith-more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire-may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. – 1 Peter 1:6-7
Which one of you having a slave plowing or tending sheep, will say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come immediately and sit down to eat’? But will he not say to him, ‘Prepare something for me to eat, and properly clothe yourself and serve me until I have eaten and drunk; and afterward you will eat and drink’? He does not thank the slave because he did the things which were commanded, does he? So you too, when you do all the things which are commanded you, say, ‘We are unprofitable slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done. –Luke 17:7-10 -New American Standard Version-
This parable at first glance can seem a bit perplexing as we try to understand what it is that Jesus is telling His disciples. But as we dig deeper it is quite an amazing teaching because in one short story Jesus shows that works are completely useless for earning salvation and completely necessary in another sense.
As you exegete scripture, you must always start with the context in which you find the passage. This parable is the response Jesus gives his disciples because they had requested more faith. Before Jesus begins to tell this parable, He lays two difficult commands on the disciples; first, he tells them not to cause anyone to stumble for it would be better to have a millstone tied around their necks and be thrown into the water; second, He tells them that they are to forgive anyone who wrongs them and asks for forgiveness, even if they do it seven times a day. In this context, seven represents the perfect number, which means there is no limit to how many times you are to forgive someone. It is these seemingly impossible commands that caused the disciples to ask Jesus for more faith, because they see the difficulty of the commands and understand their own weakness. As David Brown says, in the Critical and Experimental Commentary,
“What prompted so peculiar a petition? No doubt the felt difficulty of carrying into effect such holy directions—the difficulty first of avoiding offences and next of forgiving them so divinely.” (Brown, 298)
Jesus goes on to confirm their lack of faith by telling them that if they only had the faith of a mustard seed they would be able to do many wonders. This is used not only to humble them, but also to encourage them by showing the power of faith in Him. What they could never do themselves, would in fact be accomplished through faith. It is in this context that we find this parable, which cues us into the fact that faith has something to do with what Jesus wants to teach them.
We find in this parable two main characters; the master and the servant. In his book, Interpreting the Parables, Craig Blomberg lays out the idea that there will be a truth, or point, that can be derived from each character in the parable.
The first character we will consider in this parable is the master. It is clear that the master is the figure of authority, which immediately causes us to see him as a representation for God. The master places demands on the servant, with which, the servant is required to comply. We can see that the master is not an equal with the servant. He is clearly above him in authority, and the servant has no authority to question his commands.
The authority of the master is made explicitly clear in the fact that no “thanks” is required in the servant’s compliance with the master’s demands. When one of two people who are equals asks the other to do something for them and it is done, a thanks is usually required because the person who was asked had no real obligation to do it. This is not the case here. The master has the right to command the servant as he pleases and no thanks is required, even if the commands are difficult.
The servants are the subordinates. If the master is a representation for God, then clearly the subordinates are his disciples. As we consider the demands, we observe that they may be difficult, but they are nevertheless just. There is nothing in the demands that is too harsh. In light of the context we understand that the commands are representations of; not causing someone to stumble and to forgive others when wronged.
Before we consider Jesus’ final statement to the disciples concerning this parable, it is important to point out that He begins this Parable with the phrase “Which of you.” Jesus starts many parables with this type of question. When He does this, he is usually expecting a unanimous and obvious answer. As the disciples would have heard this, they would have recognized the master’s authority over the servant, and the servant’s duties to feed the master and gird himself. So when they heard the question that was being posed, –Would you let your servant sit down and eat first before he fed you?–they would have of course answered, “No.” Jesus used what is called an “a fortiori”, or “lesser to the greater” argument. This means that He is saying if a human master has the right to command his servant this way, how much more does God have the right to command his disciples? In other words, if we think a human master has the right to require this of the servant and offer no thanks, then how much more does God have the right to do the same?
Understanding this, we are able to move to Jesus’ closing statement that says, “So you too, when you do all the things which are commanded you, say, ‘We are unprofitable slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done’.” It is in this statement that Jesus makes his reasons clear for telling this parable. Nothing we can do causes God to be indebted to us. Matthew Henry puts it this way,
“God cannot be a gainer by our services, and therefore cannot be made a debtor by them. He has no need of us, nor can our services make any addition to his perfections. It becomes us therefore to call ourselves unprofitable servants.” (Henry, 618)
This same truth is found in Job 22:2-3, which says, “Can a vigorous man be of use to God, or a wise man be useful to himself? “Is there any pleasure to the Almighty if you are righteous, or profit if you make your ways perfect?” We have nothing that can make God indebted to us. We are truly “unprofitable servants.” If we do anything right, we have only done what is required. Even if we go beyond the call of duty, we have been required to go the “extra mile.”
As stated before, this is in a teaching about faith. How does this parable give us instruction about faith? David Brown explains…
“The connection of this with the subject discoursed of (faith), may be thus expressed—‘but when your faith has been so increased as both to avoid and forgive offences, and do things impossible to all but faith—even then, be not puffed up as though you had laid the Lord under any obligation.” (Brown, 298)
Without faith we can do nothing that is pleasing to God, but with faith as small as a mustard seed we can move mountains. Even when we are doing things only possible by faith, we have no reason to boast of our benefit to God, because we are not profitable to Him. Jesus seems to be answering their inquiry about faith by saying, do not worry, you do not have it now but you will, and when you do, do not become proud thinking you have earned anything.
In one short parable Jesus has shown that works are useless in meriting our salvation, but for those who have faith they are absolutely required, because faith produces works. Even the disciples understood this truth. This is why when they are commanded to do great works they respond in asking for more faith. They also understood that faith comes from God, and not something they muster up themselves.
Using Blomberg’s system, we learn something from both characters in the parable. He finds that the two main points of this parable are as follows: First; “God retains the right to command his followers to live however he chooses.” Second, “God’s people should never presume that their obedience has earned them his favor.” (Blomberg, 263). Although both of Blomberg’s points are true it seems to leave out the emphasis on the faith that is required to do such works.
This parable should cause us to be humble as we do great things for God. Anyone who thinks that they have earned some special favor with the Lord because of their good works or service is severely mistaken, because this is what we are supposed to do. Even some of the greatest men who have ever lived such as the Apostle Paul, St. Augustine, John Calvin, Charles Wesley, or Charles Spurgeon, have not caused God to look with favor upon them. It is only by God’s grace that He looks with favor upon such people and upon us. There is nothing in ourselves that makes us worthy of being called children of God. That is why some translations of Scripture call the “unprofitable servants” the “unworthy servants.” In ourselves we have nothing of worth before God, but it is God’s love for us that gives us worth. As James Sire states in the Universe Next Door, “God does not love us because we are valuable, we are valuable because God loves us” (Sire, 29). Therefore, as we move forward doing the work God has commanded us to do, we can only do it by faith, and we must never begin to think that we are of such value that God owes us anything. For it is by grace through faith that we are saved, and anything we do for Him is the result of our salvation and not the cause of it. The favor God gives us is completely unmerited.