“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matt. 11:28)
Sunday, May 9, 2021
Sunday, May 2, 2021
“And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.” (Matt. 6:7-8)
The reasonableness of our worship, and of prayer to God, prompts us most naturally to look to Him Who made us, in the fitness of acknowledging His continual favors, and the assurance we have that He is present with us.
God attends to and directs those who seek to recommend themselves to Him in the best way they are able.
The power, wisdom and goodness displayed in bringing us into being, and the various ways and methods to make it happy to us, are a just foundation for this our application to our Maker.
Nor can He ever be absent from us, so as not to hear and attend to us. For the same divine energy by which he first made us and all nature is necessary to support us in being. We cannot divest ourselves of the idea that His continual presence is with us.
We need never fear our being overlooked or disregarded by God. Our attention indeed can only be fixed on one object at once, and we are soon disturbed and perplexed with a multiplicity of affairs. But, as the sacred writer speaks, “Yahweh’s eyes are everywhere, keeping watch on the evil and the good.” (Prov. 15:3)
These natural grounds of the duty of prayer and thanksgiving to God appear plain and obvious, and afford much satisfaction to the pious mind.
Nevertheless it is a great privilege, that we have the express encouragement from God to offer up our prayers to Him, which He has given us by holy men, His prophets; and last of all by our Savior, Jesus.
And in that part of our Master’s sermon which is before us, he is giving some cautions to his followers concerning this duty, and directing them how to perform it in the way most acceptable to God and useful to themselves.
After severely condemning many in those days, who, by their holy outward appearance of great devotion, sought to impose on the world that they were better and more to be trusted than others, to serve their private ends of gain and ambition.
Jesus’ words are a caution to those who thought they were religious because of the frequency and length of their prayers, or who thought so poorly of their Maker, as if He, the all-knowing God, needed to be told often about their needs, as if He had forgotten them!
Our prayers and thanks to Him are not needed for any information or satisfaction that He can derive from them, they are in the highest degree serviceable to ourselves, and therefore are fitly and most kindly enjoined by Him who seeks our good.
Everything in us, good or bad, is the effect of habit. To keep up a due sense of God, it is necessary to think of Him frequently, to bring Him, His goodness, His greatness, freshly to our minds. And this is done most effectually in prayer, which puts us into His presence.
To pray with any degree of fervor or earnestness, one must have some persuasion that it will be of service to him to procure what he prays for.
The Scriptures therefore uniformly represent Almighty God as listening to the prayers of human beings, and disposed to bestow upon them everything they ask that is good for them.
However, as we ourselves are creatures so shortsighted and unknowing what might be good for us, and our heavenly Father, who is ever most kindly disposed toward us, as our Master here tells us, knows what things we have need of before we ask him, we should never pray for anything but only so far as His wisdom may see it best for us.
The great subject of our prayers to God undoubtedly ought always to be for our virtuous improvement, and to be assisted to do his will in all things, and that we may be assisted in watching over ourselves where we are most likely to fall; giving us such a great love of wisdom and goodness it will keep us above the narrow gratifications of our appetites and every unlawful desire, and make all the temptations of the world lose their power over us.
The great end of prayer is to bring us to live under a habitual sense of the divine presence, with which it will be impossible for any to live or continue in any known evil or dishonest practice.
Far from interrupting or taking us away from our worldly pursuits, prayer furnishes us with a greater ability to go through the necessary duties of life, and spread continual comfort, cheerfulness, and joy all around us.
(Adapted from a sermon by Theophilus Lindsey, given in March, 1778)
Sunday, April 25, 2021
In his ministry, Jesus challenged all those around him.
He challenged the religious authorities who led a faith of empty ritual and mindless words to instead embrace an authentic faith of love and devotion.
He challenged the wealthy to give up the idol of money.
He challenged those who would exclude the weak, the poor, the “outcast” and the outsider to be fully inclusive, because God loves all people equally. (Luke 4:12-13)
And Jesus challenged average people to “come, follow me,” and change the world with their works of Righteousness. (Matt. 4:19)
Jesus’ teachings, when seen as the core of his ministry, challenge us today, as well.
In fact, the Good News that Jesus preached is nothing but a challenge to our comfortable lives. It challenges the lazy faith which is based on mere words and devoid of love of others or Good Works on their behalf.
It’s a challenge to us all, individually, to begin to reach our full potential, by living the way God wishes us to live – lives of selfless service and love.
The words, life, teachings and death of our Master, Jesus, challenge us to do, to act, to follow, to serve, to be better, to do more, to try harder, to be humble, yet Righteousness, to serve God not money, to lose ourselves, but gain eternity.
Jesus preached to challenge us, and calls us today to live as examples in his name. As God’s chosen Spokesman, Jesus authoritatively calls us to take up his challenge and to follow his example. (John 13:15; 14:12)
We are called by Jesus to seek and do Good, in order to advance God’s Kingdom on this earth.
Jesus lived, taught and died as a pure moral example for us, so that we should follow him and be made perfect in Righteousness. We do this with God’s help and a reliance on God’s holy Spirit.
And we are required, on this journey of Faith, to always seek God's forgiveness for our faults and failures as we strive towards the perfect expression of Righteousness God's Anointed Son, Jesus, has modeled for us.
We must seek to follow Jesus in ALL his teachings – because Jesus followed God in ALL things, and said we could do all that he had done. (John 8:29; 12:50; 13:15; 1 John 2:6)
We are called to show by our ACTS that we are heeding his call, and are taking up his challenge – not in a prideful way, but in a way that is pleasing to God.
Jesus clearly calls us to an active Faith - a Faith that Works. His teachings, his Gospel, is a challenge worth accepting and worth LIVING, because it leads to directly to a spiritually complete life and, God willing, to eternal life with our Creator.
Jesus calls us to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength (Mark 12:30.) That’s complete and total love, not just lip service or weak emotionalism.
Jesus calls us to love each other, our neighbors, with the same zeal with which we love God – a complete and total love. (Mark 12:31)
Jesus calls us to deny ourselves take up our cross and follow him. (Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23.) We are to be “other-centered,” not focused on Self.
Jesus calls on us to do the will of the Father – His God and our God, the Creator of all that is. (Matt. 12:50; John 5:30) Mere words and vain professions are NOT enough to ensure eternity with God (Matt. 7:21.)
Jesus calls on us to forgive others, and makes this duty a condition of being forgiven by God (Matt. 6:15-16.)
Jesus calls on us to let our Good Deeds shine like lights in this world, so that others will see by that light the goodness and love of our Father and Creator, which He has placed within us all. (Matt. 5:15-16)
And Jesus calls on us to “go the second mile” (Matthew 5:38–42) which is not a challenge to be lukewarm or partially committed to serving others.
When we encounter what is being claimed to be “the Gospel,” if it fails to challenge us to pursue Good Works, we know that it's a false and easy Faith we've encountered – a wide gate, rather than the Gospel preached from the very mouth of Jesus.
That Jesus challenges us with incredibly high goals is undeniable. That he believed we could achieve them is proven by his words. And because Jesus, a human being like us, has done this, we are assured that we, too, may accomplish God’s will for our lives.
So let’s take up the Good News of Jesus’ challenge in our lives and let it shine within us for all to see!
Sunday, April 18, 2021
Jesus never lost an opportunity to teach a moral lesson; so he illustrated the subject of riches with a parable.
A certain rich man's ground brought forth such abundant crops, that he could only get them safely housed by pulling down all his old barns and building larger ones.
When this was done, and he saw his large stores which would provide for every contingency for many years, he resolved to begin to enjoy himself. He had now succeeded in attaining that for which he had labored many years, and for which he had likely denied himself every luxury, and had perhaps also oppressed the laboring poor who worked under him.
He had lived until then as if this world were all there is, and there was no hereafter, as if this world and its goods were for him alone, and as if he had no interest in the distresses of his neighbors, whom his helping hand might perhaps have saved.
Little did he know he was not to live to enjoy those accumulated stores; for God gave forth the fiat, "This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?" (Luke 12:20)
This parable had a double reference. It not only strongly illustrated the folly of being covetous of worldly riches, seeing we might never be spared to enjoy them; but it also served as the connecting link between what he had previously said as to men being only able to kill the body, while God was able to punish the soul in hell-fires, and what he immediately discoursed on afterwards, namely, the necessity of providing for the future life more even than for this.
Our Savior's conclusion, therefore, to this parable, “So is the one who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich towards God," (Luke 12:21) naturally led him to discourse on the necessity of seeking first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, when all things we have need of here will be added to us.
Some men's love for riches is such, that they will leave no means untried to gain them, however dishonorable these means may be. These men, therefore, forsake the paths of honesty, and ruin their own souls to secure that perishing dust which they cannot carry with them out of this world.
Riches render such men proud and uncharitable, and shut out every holy feeling. They think their riches can buy everything, but it can neither purchase the favor of God nor the respect of their fellow-men.
How true, then, was the saying of Jesus regarding such men, “ “How difficult it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!" (Luke 18:24) And the reason for this is fully apparent; for "where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." (Luke 12:34)
If, therefore, your treasure is on earth, and is composed of earthly things, earthly thoughts alone will occupy your mind, and leave no time, no thought, no leisure for God or heavenly things.
Our Father in heaven is a merciful and gracious God; but he is also just, and shall reward every man according to his works. (Psalm 62:12)
It is therefore every person's duty and interest to live in preparation for eternity, as we do not know how soon our lives shall end. No one is sure of their life even for a day. The thousand accidents that may cut us off, we see exemplified in our friends and brethren around us. Those whom we saw in full vigor in the morning, are often seen cut off before the evening.
God will judge the world.
That is a momentous subject to us all, and is one on which we ought to have clear notions, or else we might commit the most egregious of blunders, and deceive ourselves with the belief that it is all well with us, when we are in reality slaves to evildoing.
Sunday, April 11, 2021
Whatever we speak or do, we say or do in acknowledgment that we are disciples of Jesus.
Not that we are to preface every word or action with a solemn declaration to this effect, but that whenever a fit occasion offers, we should exhibit a constant expression of our principles in the propriety and decency of our behavior.
We should show to the world that we are followers of Jesus, both by our general profession, and by regulating our conduct in particular actions by an open regard to his laws, respect to his authority, and hope in the accomplishment of his promises. And we should take care not to contradict our profession by willfully breaking any of his commandments, or living in a visible disregard to his teachings.
Doing all we do in the name of Jesus implies that we consider his honor in all we say or do, and act upon a principle of love to him. For he said, “If you love me, you will obey my commands.” (John 14:15)
So, whatever word or action you do that will cause the name of Jesus to be honored, whatever will place any particular doctrines or duties of his teachings in a positive light, do not let that opportunity pass.
Let every part of your conduct be regulated by a desire to express your own honor of Jesus as a lawgiver, by yielding a uniform obedience to his commands. For, is it not the duty of all Jesus Followers to promote the honor of their Master?
This implies that we order our whole conduct by a conscientious regard to his authority, derived from his Father, God, and in strict obedience to all his precepts, which he delivered in commission from the Father.
Thus we should do all things in the name of our Master, Jesus. His word should be constantly before our eyes, and direct our words.
This is the duty in which our divine Faith confers a great honor and benefit on those who duly observe it. Our Father will accept the sincere worship of those who present themselves to Him in the name of the Master Jesus.
We should consider what he has required of us, and we should reject temptation for his sake and because of the authority which Jesus received from the Father; and if we act thus, we may justly be said to do so in his name.
When we perform any of the common duties of life - for instance, charity in relieving the poor - we should consider what our Master requires and what example he set for us in this respect.
And when we do relieve the poor, we act in his name, we conform to his religion, and we imitate his example and obey his commands.
We should express ourselves with all the plainness and simplicity of language which he required of his followers when he said, “Let your yes be yes, and your no, no."
Are we ashamed or negligent of making an open profession of our relation to him, or of discharging the duties which he has required? But how can we be so, when we know his declaration, “Whoever shall be ashamed of me or my words, of him shall the Son of man be ashamed"?
We ought to copy the example of his holy and blameless life, and regulate our whole behavior “in word and in deed,” by his precepts.
Then all who have obeyed him, he will acknowledge us to be his own, and receive us to be forever with him.
(Adapted from a sermon by William Turner, Jr., 1839)
Sunday, April 4, 2021
From certain points of view, nothing seems cheaper, or less entitled to remembrance, than human lives.
They come like the waves that break on the shore and die, and every new tide washes out the traces of its predecessor.
Thousands of lives begin every day; thousands end every day. The cradle is always full, and so is the coffin; and what comes between them in ordinary cases is usually little marked by any but the nearest of kin, and is forgotten by neighbors in a year.
Few raise their heads above the common level, and ordinary lives are hidden and lost in the general mass.
When I walk amid village graveyards, I find thousands of decaying stones, covered with names representing lives once active and useful, perhaps, that are now, after only a century, wholly without any memory among men.
The name means nothing definite, calls up no recollection, and matches with nothing special. It was a man, a woman, a child; but the name calls back no image, and is associated with no character.
How frail and insignificant such experiences make human life appear, and especially one individual life!
How little importance seems to attach to what so soon becomes as untraceable as a drop of rain that has fallen into the ocean!
Of course, the melancholy impression I have described is largely due to a mere infirmity of human faculties, to dullness of imagination.
Taken together these individuals are all-important. They make families, and towns, and parties that determine who shall rule over us. They make the wilderness a garden; they and plant and reap our fields, buy and consume the industry of others, and make up the great common life of the world.
In fact, the individual is not this mere indifferent, monotonous, undistinguishable atom in a mass, where he is little or nothing, and the mass is all important. The reverse is true.
After all, it is individuals alone that have mind, or heart, or will, or knowledge, or worth.
All the love, sympathy, worth, hope, faith, in the world, is in individual hearts; all the life is in individual shape; there is no such thing as a generation, or a race, except on paper and in words.
The truth is, human being’s lives and souls are not commensurate with this small earth and its transitory interests and affairs.
The most superstitious or blind instincts of faith in the least sophisticated forms of Christian belief are nearer the real facts of our human significance as individuals than the secular theories of the worldly, who would make this world the be-all and the end-all of life.
But when we reflect that our spirits are made in the Divine image, and are capable of everlasting development in the celestial likeness; and when we know that matter gains no moral glory by magnitude, however vast, that endless worlds on worlds have not one single thought, feeling, aspiration, of their own, and that we alone, or spirits like us, can ever perceive their beauty or order, or rise to the thought of their Maker, we can begin to understand that, though the heavens may roll up like a scroll and the stars cease to give their light, the humblest soul that lives will survive the decay, and be looking on a new heavens and a new earth, in which dwelleth righteousness, when they are no more.
Yes, not one of us is forgotten before God, not a sparrow, not a lily of the field, not a hair of the head; how much less one immortal soul! Let no person dare to think lightly of themselves.
No one can afford to forget that if they have any lofty conceptions of God or Jesus, or of other human beings they think great, they owe it to the immense discerning powers of their own God-endowed soul.
Human beings alone can grow Godlike. We are made a little lower than the angels, and are over all other creatures as a ruler. It is not our exceptional beauty, or gifts, or culture, that gives us this distinction. It is our nature; and that nature is priceless and glorious in every single specimen.
Ah, think not lowly of yourselves, and sink into no common mass of being, as if your individuality were ever destructible or not all significant. You can be nobody but yourself. You cannot hide away, nor be lost in any crowd.
You carry the glory and the burden of your individuality. You have an immortal title in this personality you possess. Seas could not drown it out, nor could fire, though it were of the heavens in flame, burn it up. You are, and you must be, eternally yourself, and you have a soul, whose powers and faculties lay hold on eternity.
And this self is directly related to God, — is precious to Him. It contains the awful, the sublime, the ineffable, as well as the trivial, the present, and the earthly.
God is not so busy that He overlooks you.
What do you mean by stifling the dignity and significance of your soul? No one is forgotten before God. No one is insignificant in all the immortal list, and no man is other than a countersigned proof-copy of his Maker, in whom God will defend his rights and claim his work.
Every true soul, however forgotten, unknown, or undesired among men, has its divine patron, companion, and friend in God, the Father of spirits, its pattern in Jesus, the Savior of souls, and its sure and steadfast hope of immortal blessedness. Not one of them is forgotten before God!
(Adapted from a sermon by Rev. Henry W. Bellows, published 1886)
Sunday, March 28, 2021
The Gospel presents us with clear and comprehensive views of the nature and character of the Deity.
It teaches that there is but one God: by this simple principle, expressed in every way which is necessary to make it fully understood and cordially received, putting an end to heathen idolatry, which was so fruitful in practices of the most disgraceful and baneful nature, and which led to the most extreme corruption of morals.
It teaches us that this great Being is a Spirit; possessed of every natural and moral excellence in an infinite degree; almighty, all-wise, all-just, all-holy, and all-gracious; exercising a righteous moral administration over His creatures; rewarding the righteous, and punishing the wicked.
In short, that He is perfect goodness, pure and unlimited Love, our Friend and our Father; yet at the same time a Being of perfect rectitude, our Sovereign and our Judge.
The Gospel teaches us what the requirements of this great and gracious Being are.
It instructs, by precept and by example, that we should love Him with supreme affection; that we should exercise a steady faith and a devout and holy communion with Him; and that we should make it our first and highest concern to do His will.
It requires that we should exercise a careful government over our own hearts; that we should suppress all inordinate affections and all high thoughts of ourselves; that we should be sober, temperate, and chaste in all things.
We should be humble and watchful, earnestly desirous to be, as well as to do, what God commands. In short, the religion that is pure and undefiled before God is to keep oneself unstained from the world. (James 1:27)
Jesus is never represented as the cause, but as the effect of the Father's love: and to imagine that God was not disposed to be merciful to mankind till Jesus wrested pardon from him (as it has sometimes been expressed), is to contradict the simple but all-important assertion of the Gospel, that "God so loved the world…" (John 3:16)
It is nowhere stated in the Scriptures that God could not forgive sins without the death of Jesus, or without some other full satisfaction.
But many passages prove that though perfectly just, God is also essentially merciful; and which supply us with Divine declarations of pardon to the repentant sinner, and examples of the extension of it, without any reference to the death of Jesus.
The justice of God, as far as we have the means of knowing, consists in the due distribution of rewards and punishments according to the moral condition and character of the objects of His justice.
Jesus had to suffer for the completion of his spiritual excellence, and it was for the welfare of his followers that he should set them an example that they should follow in his steps – an example of meekness, of fortitude, of patience, of gentleness and mercy, of firm endurance and self-denial, of boundless love to man, and of obedience unto death.
When considering the effects and purposes of the death of Jesus, it should never be forgotten that they were all in view in the apostles' minds, as a whole, as they should be in ours; and then we cannot fail to perceive, that the effects on the spiritual excellence of our Master’s character, and the perfecting of his example, and all their blessed influences in the hearts of his disciples, are among the purposes of his death.
The death of Jesus is of service to only those who through the work of Jesus are redeemed from all iniquity; and its efficacy in effecting our salvation depends on its producing, through the influence of his sufferings, his precepts, doctrines, spirit and example, that spiritual sanctification, and eternal purification, which will make us dead to sin, and alive to God.
If neither our Master himself, during his ministry on earth, nor his apostles whose preachings are recorded in the book of Acts teach the doctrine that the death of Jesus was a propitiatiary sacrifice for the sins of men, is it reasonable to conclude that it cannot be essential to salvation?
There is no passage in support of the doctrine that the death of Jesus had some mysterious, unknown, immediate efficacy in obtaining from God the pardon of sin.
Persons who entertain this very doctrine of atonement, should shrink from the notion that Jesus was in any strict sense punished for the sins of men, or that he was substituted for them to bear the Father's displeasure, or that he thus made satisfaction for their sins.
Still less should they allow that the death of Jesus appeased the wrath of God, and made him merciful.
Of such a doctrine, often taught by theologians, I do not hesitate to declare that it is not Christianity, that it is not Judaism, that it is heathenism.
Abridged from a sermon by Lant Carpenter (1843)