Sunday, March 18, 2018

What More Are We Doing Than Others? #JesusFollowers

"What more are you doing than others?" Matt. 5:47

The discourse of our Master of which these words are a part was addressed to his first followers, and especially those who were afterwards Apostles, and preachers of the gospel.

In it, he explains what was their proper character, their station, and their duty; setting them in as striking a light as possible. "You," he says, "are the salt of the earth, the light of the world, and a city set upon a hill."

They were to be the public instructors of mankind, ambassadors, as it were, from God, sent by him for the great purpose of persuading a sinful world to abandon their vices, and sinful customs, and to devote themselves to a life of virtue, with a view towards a happy immortality.

It was expected that they should be examples to others, that their lives might illustrate their doctrine. As they were supposed to know more than others, so it would be reasonably expected that they should do more than others.

And in what ways our Master’s disciples should seek to outdo others, he tells them; and the instances he mentions are indeed most worthy of our ambition. Namely, to strive to carry the generous virtues of benevolence, forgiveness of injuries, and the desire to live useful lives, to the greatest height.

He says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” And as an incentive to a virtue so seemingly above humanity, he annexes this noble motive, “so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”

Pursuing the same argument, he adds, “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

To act in this manner with such true greatness of mind, and disinterested benevolence, is to act the part that the almighty and infinitely benevolent maker of all things continually acts, it is to be as the sons of God, doing the work of our heavenly father. 

Could a nobler principle or a nobler cause of action be proposed to mankind or could they be enforced by a more powerful and worthy motive.

To be governed by these principles, and to act in this manner is to approach as near to the sentiments and conduct of Divinity, as is permitted to mortals.

The religion of Christ lays us under obligation to live as he did, to resemble him in the temper our minds, and the course of our conduct, to obey his commands, and to copy his example, is to confess him before men, and such only as confess him in this manner, will he confess, and acknowledge to be his, before his heavenly Father.

Are we trained up in the sound belief that nothing but a good heart and an exemplary life are pleasing to Almighty God, and will recommend us to his favor and acceptance? Is this our faith? 

So pure and spiritual a profession lays us under obligations to live lives in the highest degree pure and spiritual, worthy of a pure and undefiled religion.

The end [goal] of all knowledge is practice, and it would ill become us to show the zeal that we do by forming ourselves into separate societies, and being at the expense of supporting them, by which we hold out to the world our idea of their importance, if we thought they were merely matters of speculation, and had no connection with moral duty.

Let our lives be as pure, as our sentiments, equally worthy of God and of Christ, and we shall be indeed the light. of the world, the salt of the earth, and a city that is set upon a hill.

Let us not be ashamed of our good confession. I trust we are bearing a public testimony in favor of the purity of. the worship of the one true God, amidst a corrupt and idolatrous generation.

Let all those persons who are possessed of whatever themselves and the world consider as advantages, ask themselves what they do more than others, who are lacking them.

Better for us to be poor, than to be rich and not generous; to be fools, than to be knaves; and to have been taught nothing at all, than to make a bad use of superior knowledge. It would have been better for us never to have heard of Christ than to be Christians in name only, and not in deed and in truth.

(Adapted from a sermon by Dr. Joseph Priestley, “On the Necessity of Self-Examination,” 1805)

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Let’s Stop Vilifying Reason #JesusFollowers

God has never enjoined on human beings the duty of believing without evidence. He has never addressed us other than as rational beings, capable of discerning between truth and falsehood, and expected to do so on our own responsibility.

Revelation came not to supersede reason, or to set aside its deductions; but to enlighten its course, to expand its views, to enlarge its field of action, to dispel the earth-born mists that obscured its vision, to give it broader and more solid premises, on which to build its conclusions, and to prep its wings for a higher flight.

It never calls for the subjection of reason - the 'prostration' of the understanding, to its dictates. On the contrary, it is itself subjected to the decision of reason; and must abide the test. It must be received or rejected according to the dictates of our sober judgment on the evidence presented. And as with the evidence on which it rests, so with the doctrines it contains.

These too, are subjected to the test of reason. We believe them just in so far as we understand them; and no farther. The provinces of faith and reason are not distinct, the one beginning where the other ends. They cover the same ground. 

It seems to us a mere identical proposition to state that what is not understood, cannot be believed. In this case no object is presented to the mind for it to receive or reject. What is not understood is to me no revelation. If a man say that he believes what he does not pretend either to explain or comprehend, he deceives himself. His faith is merely verbal and illusory.

Doubtless there may be many truths both in nature and in scripture, of which we are ignorant. But to us, so long as we remain ignorant of them, they are nothing - they are to us as though they did not exist. 

We pretend not to comprehend the nature and perfections of the Divine Being, for example; but in so far as they are displayed, they are perfectly plain and intelligible - 'he that runs may read them.' And what is not displayed is no concern of ours.

My eye cannot penetrate the deep infinitude of the space that surrounds me; but within the verge of my own horizon I can see clearly, and move freely. Let it not be said that we exalt reason at the expense of revelation. We do but assign to each its appropriate sphere.

Reason, we must admit, was weak and inefficient by itself. And why? It lacked authority to still the clamor of the passions, that disturbed its operations. It lacked facts to render its conclusions certain.
Above all, it wanted sanctions to bind them on the conscience. All this revelation has supplied; and thus, it has completed the system of God's dispensations to humanity.

Those who vilify and degrade human reason; representing it as corrupt and debased; cautioning us continually against trusting to its guidance, and making it the test of a docile and humble spirit, and urging us to embrace doctrines from which reason recoils; do justice neither to reason, nor to scripture; neither to human beings, nor our Maker.

(Adapted from “Presumptive Arguments in Favor of Unitarianism" Jan. 1834, by Rev. Martin Luther Hurlbut)

Sunday, March 4, 2018

The Words of #Jesus Will Outlast Men’s Doctrines! #JesusFollowers

Jesus says his words shall never pass away. Yet at first sight nothing seems more fleeting than a word. It is an evanescent impulse of the most fickle element. It leaves no track where it went through the air. Yet to this, and this only, did Jesus entrust the truth for the salvation of the world. 

He took no pains to perpetuate his thoughts; they were poured forth where occasion found him an audience - by the side of the lake, or a well; in a cottage, or the temple; in a fisher’s boat, or the synagogue of the Jews.

He did not even write his words in a book. With a noble confidence, the result of his abiding faith, he scattered them broadcast on the world, leaving the seed to its own vitality.

Looking at the Word of Jesus, at real Christianity, the pure religion he taught, nothing appears more fixed and certain. Its influence widens as light extends; it deepens as the nations grow wiser. But, looking at the history of what men call Christianity, nothing seems more uncertain and perishable.

In actual Christianity, there seem to have been, ever since the time of its earthly founder, two elements, the one transient, the other permanent. The one is the thought, the folly, the uncertain wisdom, the theological notions, the impiety of man; the other, the eternal truth of God.

Transient things form a great part of what is commonly taught as Religion. An undue place has often been assigned to forms and doctrines, while too little stress has been laid on the divine life of the soul, love to God, and love to man. Religious forms may be useful and beautiful. They are so, whenever they speak to the soul, and answer a want of it.

Anyone who traces the history of what is called Christianity, will see that nothing changes more from age to age than the doctrines taught as Christian, and insisted on as essential to Christianity and personal salvation. What is falsehood in one province passes for truth in another. The heresy of one age is the orthodox belief and “only infallible rule” of the next. Since these notions are so fleeting, why need we accept the commandment of men, as the doctrine of God?

Doubtless the time will come when men shall see Christ Jesus also as he is. Well might he still say: “Have I been so long with you, and yet hast thou not known me?” No! we have made him an idol, have bowed the knee before him, saying, “Hail, king of the Jews;” called him “Lord, Lord!” but done not the things which he said. Truth will triumph at the last, and then we shall see the Son of God as he is. Then will men understand the Word of Jesus, which shall not pass away.

Measure him by the best of men, how little and low they appear. Exalt him as much as we may, we shall yet, perhaps, come short of the mark. But still, was he not our brother; the son of man, like ourselves? His excellence, was it not human excellence? His wisdom, love, piety - sweet and celestial as they were - are they not what we also may attain?

But if, as some early Christians began to do, you take a heathen view, and make him a God, the Son of God in a peculiar and exclusive sense - much of the significance of his character is gone. His virtue has no merit; his love no feeling; his cross, no burden; his agony no pain. His death is an illusion; his resurrection but a show. 

For if he were not a man, but a god, what are all these things; what his words, his life, his excellence of achievement? It is all nothing, weighed against the inimitable greatness of Him who created the worlds and fills up all time and space! Then his resignation is no lesson; his life no model – to we, who are not gods, but mortal men.

While one generation of opinions passes away, and another rises up; Christianity itself, that pure Religion, which exists eternal in the constitution of the soul and the mind or God, is always the same. This truth we owe to God; the revelation of it to Jesus, our elder brother, God’s chosen son.

Come to the plain words of Jesus of Nazareth, and Christianity is a simple thing; very simple. It is absolute, pure Morality; absolute, pure Religion; the love of man; the love of God acting without let or hindrance. The only creed it lays down is the great truth which springs up spontaneous in the holy heart: there is a God. Its watchword is, be perfect as your Father in Heaven.

Compare the simpleness of Christianity, as Jesus sets it forth on the Mount, with what is sometimes taught and accepted in that honored name; and what a difference! One is of God; one is of man. There is something in Christianity which sects have not reached; something that will not be won by theological battles, or the quarrels of pious men.

The Christianity of sects, of the pulpit, of society, is ephemeral - a transitory fly. It will pass off and be forgot. Some new form will take its place, suited to the aspect of the changing times.

That pure ideal Religion which Jesus saw on the mount of his vision, and lived out in the lowly life of a Galilean peasant; which transforms his cross into an emblem of all that is holiest on earth; which makes sacred the ground he trod, and is dearest to the best of men, most true to what is truest in them, cannot pass away.

His words and example passed into the world, and can no more perish than the stars be wiped out of the sky. The truths he taught; his doctrines respecting man and God; the relation between man and man, and man and God, with the duties that grow out of that relation, are always the same, and can never change till man ceases to be man, and creation vanishes into nothing.

(Adapted from “The Transient and Permanent In Christianity,” an 1841 sermon by Rev. Theodore Parker)

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Using Our Talents To Do Good and Righteous Works #JesusFollowers #parables #Jesus

God has implanted within us an Original Goodness that, when spiritually nurtured, beings forth spiritual completeness, peace, and joy. It is our task to bring out the talents within us, and use them in a Godly manner.

Jesus (Matthew 25:14-30) alludes to this work God has for us to do in the Parable of The Talents (a "Talent" being a description for a sum of money in his time. It is also where we get our word talent, meaning an ability we possess.)

When a group of men were given money, one buried it, two others invested it. Those who used their money for good were praised. The one who hid their money and did nothing with it was condemned for not using the gifts he was given.

We, too, must use wisely the gifts we are given.

And while all of us are flawed, and imperfect, we cannot hide behind this as an excuse for inaction.

All our gifts and abilities come from God. We ought never downplay, degrade or disparage those abilities by saying that they are not good enough to do what God asks us to do. Nor must we pray to God, telling Him that it is HIS job to do the Good Works He calls on US to do.

By asserting that we are somehow unable and ill-equipped to perform them, we take an ungrateful attitude to our Creator's ears. And we must never do that.

God, therefore, doesn't exist to do these things for us. Instead, He gave us the ability to act and do Good on His behalf, and the ability thru Jesus' teachings to know what is Good and Right.

Jesus, the Spokesman of God, and our Example and Template in all things, asks us to use our God-given gifts to act in the service to others.

Jesus preached a Gospel of doing Good Works of Righteousness in humility, seeking to establish God's Kingdom here and now, upon this earth.

Jesus calls on us to love God with every fiber of our Being, to deny ourselves, put others first, and love our neighbors just as we love ourselves.

Our Teacher and Master, Jesus, challenges us to become spiritually complete by actively seeking and doing Righteousness.

THAT is the Gospel Jesus preached, and he challenges us today to take on his Gospel of Good Works, service, and love of others.

And we are well equipped to do this, because this man, Jesus, said that we have the ability to do all the he did. And in all that he did, he pleased God.

Our hope doesn't rest in the idea that God is going to do things to make us materially successful. It rests in the knowledge that God gave us the ability to succeed, spiritually, whether we successful or not in our current material endeavors.

What a great hope and comfort that is!

We ought to be grateful for the abilities God has given us, and while thanking God for them, ask Him to continue granting us the spiritual strength, comfort, and, encouragement that will sustain us thru our lifelong journey.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

#Jesus, Teacher of Wisdom #JesusFollowers

Jesus of Nazareth has forever impressed upon the human race a whole series of truths which Millions regard as normative for life. This fact rates him as one of the world's pre-eminent thinkers. Should he then properly be called a philosopher?

Certainly not in the modern technical sense of the term philosopher common or in the ancient sense of the term as the Greeks understood and used it.

Philosophy is esteemed as the gift of the Greeks to civilization. But there is an important difference between Jesus, and Plato and Aristotle. These latter men, as typical philosophers, were primarily interested in an intellectual understanding of the universe in which we live and of which we are a part. Jesus shared that interest, certainly, but speculation was not his primary concern.

His primary interest was morality and religion, and about these, his thinking was not abstract, but concrete and practical.

In its literal meaning, philosophy means "love of wisdom." Philosophy is not merely the "love of wisdom," it is the best wisdom of the lovers of wisdom. The Jewish people, in New Testament times, had their lovers of wisdom.

They were known variously as wise men, the wise, sages, or teachers of wisdom. They were the educators of their day, men whose special interest lay in knowing and producing the kind of thought which is technically termed Wisdom.

Such sages were usually men of professional scribal training, but a Jew, such as Jesus, might gain a knowledge of the Hebrew language and the Hebrew Scriptures outside of a formal School.

The Jewish sages did not form Schools of thought as the Greeks did. But they were differences among them, especially in regard to the nature of the divine government of the world, and regarding the dignity and possible happiness of human life.

From the Seventh to Second Centuries, BC, there was growing an increasing body of Jewish wisdom teaching. Among these can be classed the Book of job, Ecclesiastes, the Wisdom of Ben Sirach, The Testament of the twelve Patriarchs, the Wisdom of Solomon, and 4th Maccabees.

While the Greek philosopher sought to read the riddle of the universe by the investigation of natural phenomena, the Hebrew philosopher already held in his hand the key of Revelation, and with the help of this, sought a closer understanding of the ways of God and the duty of man.

Jewish Wisdom, therefore, was not a view of the universe distinct from God much less a view of God distinct from the universe it was a view of the universe with God dwelling in it.

Jesus’s thinking likewise was built on the same fundamental Axiom of Jewish thought. No doubt about the existence of God ever crossed his mind. He never argued about or sought to prove the reality of God. He was too much profit to feel the need for any such proof. Nor did he attempt a systematic presentation of the idea of God. Jesus assume the existence of God, not because it was traditional to do so but because of his own inner experience of God.

Like every prophet, Jesus was a man of insight and action. "Not learning, but doing, is the chief thing," was a basic principle of Jewish wisdom teaching. That principle set the motive for Jesus. Life was something to be lived, rather than something about which to speculate or construct a systemic Theory.

Jesus thought and taught Jewish wisdom. The spirit of the wise was in him. To consider Jesus as a teacher has long been commonplace. What kind of teacher he was has not been so clearly pointed out. Jesus is properly to be integrated with the wisdom teachers of Judaism. This interpretation not only does not modernize Jesus, emphatically orients him, historically.

In Galilee, Jesus's Ministry was primarily that of a prophet and a teacher. The most certain fact that we know about Jesus is that he was a teacher. As the Fourth Gospel quite fittingly ascribes to Jesus this self-appraisal: "You call me Teacher, and Master, and rightly so, for such I am." (John 13:13)

His ethical teaching shines through every account of his life. In Mark, he says, "Let us go elsewhere into the next towns, that I may preach there also, because I came out for this reason." (Mark 1:38)

Mark records that Jesus was saluted as a rabbi by his disciples. Mark refers to the long, tasseled, teacher's robe which Jesus wore, on which some in the crowd tried to grab.

This picture of Jesus as a teacher is not one that Mark would have invented. It was not a role that was expected of the Messiah.

Here then, Jesus is understood as a man of Wisdom. He is depicted as an itinerant teacher. He preached in the synagogues, for example in Nazareth, Capernaum, and elsewhere. He addressed people in the villages; not only in synagogues, but on the streets. He taught them in the countryside wherever he met them, by the lake, in the field, or on the hillside.

This method of Jesus is characteristically that of the Wisdom teachers. Jesus pursued his ministry in the manner of friendship and intimate personal relationship. He deliberately chose this method rather than any other for his work, for it was a customary method with Jewish teachers.  

Such itinerant teachers are popularly called philosophers. The whole emphasis of philosophy in the first century was ethical, its aim was the formation and guidance of moral character.  But Jesus did not write down his Wisdom, instead, he embodied the living spirit of his teaching in his life.

(Adapted from "The World-View of Jesus," by Elmer W. K. Mould, 1941)

Sunday, February 11, 2018

#Jesus: A Practical Preacher And Fitting Example #JesusFollowers

Jesus was a preacher of repentance and righteousness. He made known the love of God and declared the mercy of God to a guilty world; but at the same time, he insisted that without repentance there can be no salvation. (Luke 13:3-5.) God sent him to bless mankind; but it was by turning them from their iniquities. (Acts 3:26.)

He declared that a leading object of his mission was to call sinners to repentance. (Mark 2:17.) To deny the efficacy of repentance would be to render the mission of Jesus a nullity.

In his Sermon on the Mount he appears altogether in the character of a practical preacher.

He taught that to do the will of God, and seek to be like Him, is the only way to gain admittance into his kingdom, that the condition of forgiveness is our forgiving others, and that the man who hears his sayings and doeth them builds on a good foundation, that our righteousness must exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees or we shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven. (See Matt. 5, 6 & 7.)

When he upbraided the cities in which most of his mighty works were done, because they repented not, he spoke of their impenitence as the sole cause of their destruction, Chap. 11:20-24.

He taught that men will be accepted or rejected according to the use they make of the talents entrusted to their care; that when brought to judgment, they will be received to glory, or doomed to punishment, according to their works (Chapter 25.) Throughout his ministry he taught men to expect salvation, and every blessing, on the ground of the love, mercy and favor of God, solely on the terms of repentance and obedience to the Gospel.

He accepted those as his nearest relatives who did the will of his heavenly Father. Mark 3:35. When a young man inquired of him what he must do to inherit eternal life, he directed him to keep the commandments of God. chap 10:19. He informed the lawyer who tempted him that if he kept the commandments he should live. (Luke 10:25-28.)

Jesus represented God as accepting penitent sinners, on the ground of his free mercy, just as a compassionate father would his offending child when he saw him turn from his folly. (Luke 15.)

He said to his disciples if you know these things happy are you if you do them: (John 13:17) which implies that happiness can be attained only by obedience. He taught them that they should continue accepted if they continued in his word, and that if they did not they should be rejected. (Chap. 15:1-8.)

The Gospel is undoubtedly a system of divine mercy and grace, but in this system conditions are certainly comprehended. The conditions are repentance, faith, and obedience. Without a compliance with these conditions sinners cannot be saved.

We have redemption in Jesus as we have it in his Gospel: he came and revealed it, he lost his life in making it known, he is appointed by the Father to dispense it, and we enjoy it so far as we conform to his teaching and example, so that we should not henceforth live to ourselves, in the gratification of our evil passions and desires, but to him, in obedience to his Gospel, and in the imitation of his example, especially of that generous love which he manifested in laying down his life for the good of men.

Jesus can be an example to us only so far as he was like us in nature, state and circumstances, or as we are capable of becoming like him. Had he never suffered, he could not have been an example to us in suffering: Had he not died he could not have been an example to us in dying. Had he not perfectly obeyed he could not have been an example of perfect obedience.

But now by his death, his character is perfected, his qualifications are completed, his testimony is finished, his obedience is tried and, found perfect, he received a glorious reward, and we have a suitable and perfect example of every excellency attainable by us.

(By Richard Wright in “The Anti-Satisfactionist, 1805)

Sunday, February 4, 2018

God Has Done Much For Us; And Gives Us Much To Do #JesusFollowers

Jesus has, with the utmost propriety, taught us to pray, “Give us our daily bread.” That God is the giver of our daily bread, we cannot hesitate a moment to admit.

But in vain would the sun shine and the rain descend, if we were not to prepare the ground, sow the seed, and gather in the produce, which would otherwise be scattered and lost.

Everything the hand of the Almighty has bestowed with the utmost liberality and profuseness – light, air, water, fire, minerals, metals – all require the labor and ingenuity of man to be productive of their greatest benefits.

And with respect to ourselves, the preservation of our bodies in health depends in no small degree upon our own care, caution, and prudence.

But in these calls upon the industry, care, and attention of humanity, there is no coercion - no absolute uncontrollable necessity; strong motives are indeed presented, but we may, if we will, counteract them. If we do so, we become culpable, and suffer in consequence.

Nothing can be more evident than that we are to work together with God; and it is equally clear that all this would have no meaning, if we were not endued with liberty of acting.

Let us then inquire whether he be not possessed of freedom as a moral agent. Our moral, as well as our rational faculties, are the gift of our Creator. By our moral faculties, it would be understood to mean our perception of the intrinsic difference between moral good and evil. Being thus given, it is ours for the time we are to exercise it.

Revelation, and particularly the Gospel revelation given to us by Jesus, is that influence under which the moral principle fully unfolds itself, and, like the ripening sun and fructifying showers of heaven, assisting and co-operating with human industry, attention and culture, exhibits it in all its beauty, fragrance and utility.

But as is true in Nature’s system, it is also true in the moral system: in vain may the sun of righteousness arise, in vain may divine instruction and assistance be offered, if we will not accept and improve; in vain may the hand of divine mercy be stretched out, if we will be disobedient. Almighty God has, by the laws He has established, put it out of His own power to save the obstinate and rebellious from the consequences of their misconduct.

As He spoke to Israel, saying, “Say unto them, As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live-turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways, for why will ye die, 0 house of Israel?” (Ezek. 18:31; 33:11)

It was as if He says, “I cannot help you if I would, if you will not help yourselves."

Indeed, the power of humanity to obey or disobey, to accept or refuse, is, like the unity of God, so clearly legible in every page of revelation, that it is so abundantly confirmed by every reasoning and feeling faculty, that to doubt of it would be to doubt of our existence. 

As little also can we doubt of the nature and reality of that influence and assistance which is imparted to us from above. Like the light that visits our eyes, it is present if we will but open them to see. Like the air that surrounds us, it is every moment ready to be inhaled, if we do not willfully obstruct the organs of respiration.

At any moment we please, we may have recourse to God’s word, which He has given us, as a good parent gives his children an estate. At first view, and on its very face, it is a generous gift, an ample patrimony, capable of supplying our most pressing demands, with a small degree of attention.

But we are not to satisfy ourselves with this. We are to dig into it to find the treasure it contains - we are to ascertain, by study and experiment, how it is to be made capable of producing the greatest possible benefit; and, if we are wise, shall hear and compare the different opinions of others before we finally decide upon our plan.

God has made us with such capacities for happiness as suited the plans of his infinite benevolence. A state of inaction on our part does not enter into those plans.

God has done much for us, but He has given us much to do; and if we neglect or refuse to fall in with His intentions, our interest and our happiness suffer in proportion, for His laws are not to be disregarded with impunity.

(Adapted from a sermon by Rev. Ralph Eddowes, 1817)