Sunday, April 11, 2021

We Have a Duty To Follow #Jesus! #JesusFollowers


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

Human Beings Matter to God! #JesusFollowers


“Not one of them is forgotten before God.” Luke 12:6

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 Nature of The Gospel #JesusFollowers

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)

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Strong Minds, Strong Spirit - An Exhortation by Joseph Priestley #JesusFollowers


A mind destitute of knowledge is like a field on which no culture has been bestowed, which, the richer it is, the worse weeds it will produce. If nothing good be sown in it, it will be occupied by plants that are useless or obnoxious.

Thus, the mind of man can never be wholly barren.

Finding yourselves, therefore, in such a world as this, in which nothing is at a standstill, it behooves you seriously to reflect upon your situation and prospects. 
 
Form then, the generous resolution (and every thing depends upon your resolution) of being at present what you will certainly wish you had been some years from now, what your best friends now wish you to be, and what your Maker has intended, fitted, and enabled you to be.

Above all things, be careful to improve and make use of the reason which God has given you, to be the guide of your lives, to check the extravagance of your passions, and to assist you in acquiring that knowledge, without which your rational powers will be of no advantage to you.

If you would distinguish yourselves as human beings, and attain the true dignity and proper happiness of your natures, it must be by the exercise of those faculties which are peculiar to you as men.

If you have no higher objects than the gratification of your animal appetites and passions, you rank yourselves with the brute beasts. 

In fact, you are incapable of the happiness of brute animals. Aspire therefore, to those superior pursuits and gratifications for which you were formed, and which are the prerogative and glory of your natures.

Let it be seen, that when God is considered as the proper object of reverence, love and confidence, as the benevolent Father of all His offspring of humanity, and their righteous and impartial moral Governor, the principle of obedience is the most ingenuous and effectual.

Cherish the most genuine gratitude to the Father of lights, that your minds are no longer bewildered with the gloom and darkness, in which our excellent religion was, for so many ages, involved. And let this consideration be a motive with you to walk as becomes so glorious a light.

In a thing so interesting to you as the business of religion, affecting the regulation of your conduct here, so as to prepare you for immortal happiness hereafter, respect no human authority and stand fast in the liberty with which God has made you free.

NOTE:
March 24, 2021 will mark the 288th anniversary of the birth of Joseph Priestley, a scientist (discoverer of oxygen) as well as a religious thinker and theological speaker. The preceding was adapted excerpts from his book "Institutes of Natural and Revealed Religion," published in 1772.

(Adapted from the "Dedication of 'Institutes of Natural & Revealed Religion,' by Joseph Priestley, 1772)

Sunday, March 14, 2021

The Proper Humanity Of #Jesus. #JesusFollowers


To entertain all just, honorable, and worthy notions of Christianity, as it is represented to us in the writings of the new testament, is certainly a matter of the highest importance to mankind.

And it is no less certain, that all wrong and mistaken notions of it must be, more or less, hurtful and prejudicial to the interests of true religion.

Especially when they are received, as sacred Truths, or scripture Truths, and when those who have once imbibed them, or have been bred up in them , are afraid to examine them with the freedom and impartiality which they ought to do.

But so it is, and much to be lamented, that the scriptures have, at all events, been made to fit in with human systems, creeds and confessions, which have been taught and set up in lieu of them.

And these are not only contrary to the real meaning of the sacred writers, but in many respects absurd and inconsistent in themselves, and even repugnant to the most fundamental principles of all religion, both natural and revealed.

Such articles are consistent with human contrivance, and not the scriptures of truth, which are the only criterion by which to judge of the true, sound faith.

Now, since the doctrine of the UNITY, or of one God, is the first and chief article, and has been always allowed to hold the first place, in every creed, this will naturally introduce the immediate and present design of this paper, by leading us to make some interesting and serious reflections, which must, I think, be very plain and obvious to a common understanding.

If the Unity of God then, is the first and leading principle in religion, and the truth of this article was never once called in question by those who have been most divided in other matters, I may fairly ask, what a weak and groundless opinion must that be which many have entertained concerning "person of Christ,"  As if
 he, the man Christ Jesus, differed from all other men, in having two distinct natures, the human and the divine, or that of God and man, essentially and personally united!

This, I am truly persuaded, has led many pious, well-meaning persons, through the strength of custom and prejudice, or the want of honest and free enquiry, to put a wrong, and oftentimes very absurd sense upon many passages of the New Testament.

I would be far from entering into quarrelsome contention with any who may differ from me in their religious sentiments.

But I may be allowed to expostulate and reason a little upon the point itself, without giving reasonable or just offense to any, and especially, as I apprehend it to be a matter of moment, and what ought indeed to be maturely weighed, and well understood, if we would be ever able rightly to interpret that revelation which God has given us, or to set the doctrines of the New Testament in a consistent, easy, and amiable light.

I would therefore fain learn, where we have any ground to believe what is called the "hypostatic union," or a duplicity of natures in the person of Christ.

Was it not as man, and in that nature only, that Christ here prays to God as his Father in the Gospel of John? And had he not hereby taught us, even all his disciples and brethren, to pray in like manner to that same almighty Being, whom he expressly styles his God and our God, his Father and our Father (John 20:17)

The doctrine of his strict and proper humanity from this, as well as many other places, is very apparent to the understanding and reason of every man.

Or where it is that we are taught or instructed in any part of scripture, to speak of Jesus, as many of our divines have done, sometimes as God, at other times as man - a mere imaginary distinction this such as only tends to embarrass and confound, but it is far from conveying to the mind any one clear, rational, or instructive idea concerning, either the one God, or the one Lord Jesus Christ.

Our Savior prays, "My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me." (17:20-21)

Does he then pray to himself? Reason and understanding recoils at such an unnatural perversion, such a distortion of ideas!

Let learned and inquisitive men argue and debate this matter as long as they will, this must always pass with me for an axiom, or an indubitable self-evident truth, that Jesus and his Father are two beings, two distinct natures.

("A Comment On Some Remarkable Passages Of Christ's Prayer At The Close Of His Public Ministry," by Rev. Paul Cardale, 1772)

Sunday, March 7, 2021

Seeking After, And Doing, Righteousness. #JesusFollowers

"Then the Righteous will shine like the Sun in the Kingdom of their Father." (Matt. 13:43)

These words lead our thoughts to that awful and illustrious day when every person’s religious and moral character will be set in its true light, and made manifest to the world.

The eternal states of all the dead will be finally determined, and an open and visible distinction be made in favor of the righteous and the good, by the equitable and unerring sentence of that Supreme judge, Who knows the secrets of every breast, and will render to all according to how their Works have been.

The practice of righteousness is the only sure proof that we are born of God, as vice is an unquestionable proof of a person's belonging to evil. (1 John ii. 29.)

Righteousness in the heart is the Love of what is right, a love of Truth and virtue or of whatever appears to be right both in sentiment and practice.

The principles that are lodged and cherish in the heart, whether good or bad, will always produce different effects.

So it may be said of the doctrines of Christianity, or the principles of religion, when sowing them in the heart.

In some, they are wholly stilted and suppressed, and in others they produce the fruits of righteousness, more or less, according to the moral State and complection of the mind.

The righteous and the wicked, good and bad men, of every degree, now pass under the denomination of Christians.

Much depends on the discarding or banishing from our hearts whatever may prove a hindrance or obstruction, two are receiving and embracing the truth.

Of this kind are all groundless prejudices, all evil or artificial suggestions, all malice and wickedness, all pride, obstinacy, and self-conceit. All who indulge in passions and bad examples are instruments of evil.

These, and other such things, have a pernicious influence. They tend to deprave and harden the heart, and prevent the doctrines of True religion for making any deep and lasting impressions.

If we would receive the doctrines and precepts of Christianity, to profit by them, we must root out, and discard those irregular affections towards the world which always obstruct a holy life, or tend, at best, to make people hypocrites in religion. 

And the concealed wickedness of some, and the secret piety and virtue of others, may be one principal reason of a future judgment that, however people may pass at present, Justice may be done to all at last.

Righteousness is a sincere and prevailing compliance of the whole soul with what we apprehend or perceive, upon an impartial enquiry, to be the mind and will of God, whether in things to be believed or done, abstracted from any undue regard to the opinions, sentiments, and practices of humanity.

Where these principles rule and govern the heart, they cannot fail to recommend us to God, and to all the wise, sober, and considerate part of humanity.

A sincere desire of righteousness is righteousness, as it argues a right state of mind and is always productive of suitable dispositions and endeavors.

By "righteous," we are not to understand it as an exact and sinless conformity to the law of God, or even such as made selling virtue, and are eminently good. But it is their upright and sincere, such as those who desire and endeavor to do the will of God, so far as they are acquainted with it, or can arrive to the knowledge and understanding of it.

As it is part of a man to think freely, so it always argues a nobleness and greatness of spirit to be true to the dictates of reason, and to all its wise and good resolutions. 


Next to our seeking and receiving the truth in love, it should be our great care not to hold the truth in unrighteousness. If we are in the truth, we should walk in the truth, or live in act agreeably to it, and always remember that he that does righteousness is righteous, and that he does not do righteousness is not of God. ( 1 John 3:7-10.)

Religion is, in substance, our imitation of God in His moral perfections of goodness, Righteousness, and Truth.

And this is that in which our present and future happiness consists. We are happy the same way as God Himself is happy.

Righteousness always supposes a principle of true piety, and inward reverence and regard to the Deity, a thorough subjection of the soul to the Father of our spirits, and an unreserved obedience to those eternal laws of Truth and Righteousness which are founded in the unalterable Reason, fitness, and relation of things.

Our righteousness, as human beings, is our conformity to the law of Reason, or to the law of our creation, which is the law of God. 

This constitute that religion which is the perfection of humanity, and it is what every person's reason tells them that they should aspire after.

Since Christianity is the perfection of all religion, tending more than any other to the refinement and perfection of the moral life, we all now enjoy the light and benefit of divine revelation.

Our righteousness as Christians is a hearty and unfeigned compliance with the declarations of the Gospel, or with that more pure and perfect institution of religion which God has given us - our Master, Jesus.

Since this is that unalterable and perfect rule which God has now given us whereby to regulate our hearts and lives, it will be, for us, the final test of eveyone's religious character and conduct.

(Abridged and adapted from “The Distinctive Character And Honour Of The Righteous Man Considered,” by Rev. Paul Cardale, 1761)

Sunday, February 28, 2021

God Calls Us To A Holy Salvation! #JesusFollowers

“Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do, that I might have eternal life?” (Mark 19:16)

Suppose I was speaking with an immoral person who had heard of Jesus, but believed him to be an impostor. I might attempt to convert him by rational argument and by Jesus’ Gospel.

I first convince him of the existence of one infinite Creator, Governor and Father. You perceive that he would then be saved from his ignorance concerning the nature of the Supreme Being.

I next convince him that Jesus of Nazareth is the divinely commissioned Savior of the world. You perceive that he would then be saved from unbelief.

I further convince him that if he would be a true Christian, he must obey the instructions, imitate the example and soak in the spirit of the great author of our faith.

When his actions give evidence of a reformation of heart and life, we can perceive that he would be saved from his iniquities; as well as blessed with a righteous and holy character.

So, Christian salvation consists in deliverance from ignorance, and sin, and in the possession of Christian knowledge, virtue and piety. This salvation takes place whenever a person becomes a practical Christian. And Divine pardon can be obtained only by forming a Christian character.

Jesus became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him. We can obtain the divine pardon only by forming a Christian character.

Reason teaches us that our heavenly Father is our supreme Savior, the original author of our lives, and all things in existence. And for what purpose has he given us being? Solely for our own good; because He is infinite love.

If love prompted Him to create intelligent offspring, that same affection must dispose him to regard them with tenderness, and to be their eternal Benefactor.

Our heavenly Father has created and commissioned Jesus of Nazareth to be the Savior of all who would come unto him, and qualified him for the successful execution of his divine office. These truths are plainly taught in various parts of the Scriptures.

The whole process of salvation is perfectly plain and intelligible. Jesus exerts no mysterious influence over us.

So far as he induces us to become good, he is instrumental in our salvation, and no farther; for we are not saved, and we shall never be saved, unless we become holy.

This is expressly declared by our Savior himself. ”Not every one that says unto me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter into the Kingdom of Heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in Heaven.”

Those who continue in disobedience are not partakers of his salvation.

Our heavenly Father saves us by leading his intelligent children to consideration and obedience. This is clearly taught in various passages of scripture.

Our interest, our duty, and our happiness coincide. Let no one then be so simple as to think he shall be always sure of happiness, without personal holiness.

For unless he faithfully improves all his talents, they will hereafter swell the fountain of his misery.

Unless your talents serve to wean your affections away from earthly vanities; unless they raise your thoughts to the unseen realities of eternity; unless they lead you to self-scrutiny, self-discipline and self-cultivation, they cannot promote your Christian salvation. For this instrument will save you only so far as it makes you holy, and no farther.

The great majority in civilized lands profess to believe in the Christian religion. A part only are influenced by their faith to conform to its requisitions.

The remainder act in direct opposition to their profession, because their belief is merely speculative.

The substance of the whole matter, therefore, is this. Only so far as a person obeys Jesus, only so far will he bring forth good works; and only so far as he exhibits those good works, only so far is a person justified by all its exercises.

So, speedily reform whatever you discover amiss in your heart or lives. Quickly supply whatever you find defective in your faith or practice. Confirm and strengthen whatever you possess according to truth and godliness.

And never imagine that you have arrived at perfection; but forgetting your past mistakes, pressing forward most zealously to higher and still higher degrees of Christian knowledge and holiness.

Your Father remembers that you are dust, and he does not require impossibilities of his frail children.

Place the perfect example of your divine Master ever before you.

He came not to make us happy in our iniquities. This he could not do. This God himself will not do. He must first aid us in becoming good, before we can possibly be happy.

(Abridged and adapted from an 1831 sermon by Rev. Bernard Whitman)