Sunday, October 25, 2015

#God's Justice Is Not Transferable. #JesusFollowers

It has long been a prevalent belief that it was the purpose of God, through the sufferings of his Son, to make a striking show of His just displeasure against sin and His inflexible desire that sin shall not pass unpunished by inflicting on His Son the punishments due to the sins of humanity.

But vicarious punishment is incompatible with a show of justice, because punishment is an act which no one but the guilty can deserve.

To perceive justice in the infliction of a capital punishment, we must perceive the sufferer deserves the punishment. When no such deserving of punishment is perceived, how is it possible to perceive a display of justice in penal sufferings?

In considering the equity of God, Elihu said to Job, "Surely God will not do wickedly; neither will the Almighty pervert judgment." (Job 34:12) In what way can a king or a judge more flagrantly "pervert judgment," than by intentionally punishing the innocent that the guilty may escape, or be acquitted?

Yet it is to human beings that it has been supposed God made a show of His justice in the sufferings of His Son, Jesus. But this is not possible, when the very faculties with which our Maker has given us lead us to regard such conduct as a perversion of justice, if done by a human judge.

How can punishing the innocent express hatred of sin; or even suggest the idea that God hates it? We might more naturally infer from this punishment that God hates innocence or righteousness.

It is like a parent proving to the guilty members of his family, that wicked children deserve to be punished by inflicting what they deserve on one who is known to them all as the unoffending child.

Any earthly parent, or ruler, adopting such a method to display such a “moral truth" would be suspected of insanity, or accused of abominable injustice. Yet this method is ascribed to God!

When we examine the words in scripture, they are found to be a declaration that one shall not die for the sin of another, but everyone for their own sin, unless they repent.

“The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself. But if a wicked person turns away from all his sins that he has committed and keeps all my statutes and does what is just and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die.” Ezekiel 18:20-21

What can be more obvious than that this one passage clearly contradicts the doctrine of vicarious punishment, or that of one's dying as a substitute for another! It is not possible for words to more clearly express the doctrine of pardon on condition of repentance alone.

The Gospel does not portray God as such an austere Sovereign that He cannot forgive a penitent person without inflicting the deserved evils on an innocent victim; but, as a being who has a Father's heart, and is disposed, by tender compassion for His guilty offspring, to do all that wisdom and love shall dictate to reconcile and save them.

Perhaps there is no portion of the Gospels which has had a more extensive, or a more favorable influence on the minds of men, than the parable of the Prodigal Son. Our Master describes the feelings of a true penitent, and the forgiving love of God – and the readiness with which He pardons and restores us when, with contrite hearts, we turn from the ways of sin.

It is remarkable how perfectly this parable precludes every idea of the necessity of vicarious suffering in order for God to the pardon of the penitent sinner. 

Had it been the special purpose of our Master to provide an antidote for such a doctrine, it is difficult to conceive what could have been devised better adapted to it.

Have we not in this parable a striking miniature painting of the great truths of the Gospel of reconciliation?

These views of the subject excludes the awful, the painful, and unnatural idea of God's displaying avenging justice on an innocent and holy victim, as necessary to the exercise of forgiving love toward his penitent children.

It is presumed that this supposed example of the mode of Divine forgiveness, has never been, and never can be, imitated by any enlightened and benevolent being in the universe. Yet every Christian is required to forgive, as God forgives!

The idea of substituted suffering is essential to the prevalent theory respecting the atonement; and also essential to the hypothesis that the anger or avenging justice of God was displayed in the sufferings of Jesus. But there is not one Biblical instance in which can be discovered the least appearance of substituted suffering; and this is strong proof that the nature of Jesus’ sufferings has been greatly misunderstood; and that the prevalent hypothesis respecting them is incorrect and unwarranted by the Bible.

(Adapted from “The Atoning Sacrifice – a Display of Love, Not Wrath,” by Noah Worcester (1829)

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Vain Words Cannot Save Our Souls #JesusFollowers

Uttering a few words expecting those words alone to actually accomplish something is the very definition of "vain words."

Just saying, "I'm more financially stable," or "I'm thinner," won't do anything without effort to make those goals happen, any more than saying "I'm college educated" can be true without actually attending college!

To "name and claim" something, is therefore a pointless exercise, especially when it's eternal life with God that's the object being sought.

Jesus repeatedly made it clear that we cannot take a short cut to either righteousness or eternal life. Nor should we seek gain from God for ourselves. This means material gain, of course, but it even goes deeper - deeper than modern Christians frequently dare to venture, because so many casually disregard Jesus' own teachings.

Jesus specifically said that those who seek to save their lives would lose their lives (Luke 17:33.) And that when we are standing before God, vain professions will have nothing to do with how we are judged worthy (Matt. 7:22) but our works alone will be how we are judged (Matt. 10:41; Matt. 16:27; Jer. 32:19.)

Why, then, is self-salvation by profession of our faith alone the entire focus of the modern Christian message?

Nearly the entire message of Jesus was focused on living righteously here on earth and serving others (Mark 10:43; Matt. 20:26.) But Christians focus entirely on individuals selfishly escaping from this world, which they degrade as TOTALLY fallen and corrupt - something Jesus never did.

Jesus calls us to a life of self-sacrifice, a life of Good Works, joyfully serving each other in the name of God's Kingdom, bringing it to fruition right here, and right now.

Jesus calls us to this kind of life not because he wants us to brag about being "children of the king" or claiming righteousness by proxy. Nor by tallying up our goodness and translating it into "points" that we can use to achieve Heaven.

Scoring and judging is up to Almighty God. We are simply called to play by His rules and let Him alone determine our worthiness.

We should also remember that Jesus' warning for us not to judge applies to our own eternal salvation, which is God's alone to give, not for us to demand, especially not with works-free faith, which amounts to spiritual shoplifting.

When we demand eternity from God - either by our vain words and vain, arrogant professions or by implying that we've "done enough" on this earth to earn it - we are failing to let God be our God, and are instead making God our servant.

In truth, Jesus calls on us to deny ourselves (Luke 9:23) and those who seek to be first should be the servant of all others (Mark 9:35.)

And if even Jesus didn't save himself from death on a cross by cleverly defending himself or by running away, why do some expect to save themselves with a few vain words, and running away from Good Works because they see them as "hard" or difficult?

Let us learn to therefore humble ourselves and deny ourselves before God, obeying Him and Jesus, the one He chose and adopted as His son, and sent out to be our example in all things.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

The Happiness and Security of Virtue #JesusFollowers

That our happiness hereafter depends on our conduct here is certain, because we find, in our present state, that the happiness of every successive period of human life is made to depend, in a great measure, on our conduct in the preceding periods.

The happiness of mature life depends on the habits acquired and the pains taken in early life; and mature life spent in folly and vice generally makes a miserable old age.

All we observe of the Government of the Deity, and all that we can learn with respect to His character, leads us to believe that He must approve righteousness and hate wickedness: and in the same proportion that He does this, He must favor the one and disapprove of the other.

To act righteously is to act like God. It is to promote the order of His creation. It is to go into His constitution of nature. It is to follow that conscience which he has given us to be the guide of our conduct. It must, therefore, be the likeliest way to arrive at happiness, and to guard against misery under His government. The accountability of our natures, and our necessary perceptions of excellence and good desert in virtue, demonstrate this.

The practice of virtue is, in this case, our security. It is the image of the Deity in our souls; and what we ought to depend upon is, that nothing wrong will ever happen to it. Let us then adhere to it in all events.

Walking uprightly will add to our present comfort, at the same time that it will preserve us from future danger. What is required of us, in this instance, is only to part with our follies and diseases; and to make ourselves happy now, in order to be safe forever.

That Being Who gave us our sense of moral obligations, must have designed us so that we would conform to them; and he could not design this, and at the same time design us so that we would find it most to our advantage not to conform to them.

This would have been to establish an inconsistency in the frame of nature; and acting in a manner which cannot be supposed of that supreme power, which, in every other part of nature, has discovered higher wisdom than we are able to comprehend.

By practicing virtue we gratify the highest powers in our natures. Reason is the nature of a reasonable being; and to assert that our chief happiness consists in deviating from reason, would be the same as to say that our chief happiness consists in violating our nature and contradicting ourselves.

Our highest powers are, undoubtedly, our sense of moral excellence, the principle of reason and reflection, benevolence to our fellow-creatures, and the love of the Deity. To practice virtue is to act in conformity to these powers.

(Adapted from a message by Rev. Richard Price)

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Repentance And Reformation #JesusFollowers

Jesus did not propose or point out to us any new way to God's favor and eternal life, but on the contrary, he recommended that good old way which always was, and always will be the true way to life eternal; namely, keeping the commandments, or the loving God and our neighbor which is the same thing, and is the sum and substance of the moral law. (Matt. 19:17; 22:37-40)

This plain path-way to heaven lay neglected, and for the most part unfrequented; men both Jews and Gentiles having forsaken the fountain of living water, that is, the true way to life eternal; and shown to themselves cisterns - broken cisterns that can hold no water; that is, they had found out new and false ways of recommending themselves to God.

And this rendered our Savior's undertaking and ministry so much the more needful. And therefore it was truly said of him that he was to be not the maker, but the restorer, of right paths to dwell and walk in.

Jesus requires and recommends a conformity of mind and life to that unalterable rule of action which is founded in the reason of things as the only ground of divine acceptance, and as the only way to life eternal; so if men have lived in a violation of this righteous law by which they have rendered themselves displeasing to God, and worthy of His just resentment.

Secondly, Jesus requires and recommends repentance and reformation of their evil ways as the only ground of the divine mercy and forgiveness. The doctrine of repentance and remission of sin were what Jesus was chiefly concerned to announce to the world.

 "Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." (Matt. 18:3)

As to the doctrine that Jesus has, by his sufferings and death, made satisfaction to God for the sins of the world, and thereby merited the sinners discharge from condemnation, this doctrine Jesus did not preach, and therefore it cannot be any part of his Gospel, but it is directly opposite to it, and tends to subvert it.

The true doctrines of the Gospel of our Master and Savior Jesus Christ concerning this matter are the doctrines of repentance and remission of sins; that is, repentance and reformation is the only way to the divine mercy.

"For if you forgive others their trespasses," says Jesus, "your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses." (Matt. 6:14-15)

Let not therefore the sinner trust nor rely upon the vain words of men, but let them trust and rely upon the words of our Master, Jesus, who was sent by God to be their guide and instructor in this particular, and who, they may be assured upon good grounds, will not deceive them.

(Adapted from a sermon by Rev. Thomas Chubb)