Sunday, February 28, 2016

Knowing God's Will For Us. #JesusFollowers

It is not by what people profess or believe that we are to judge of them, but by their works and doings. If all their works give evidence that they arise from the love of God; if they are clothed with his love, and wisdom, and humility, this exalts the creature.

For it is only the humble soul that is exalted by God. And what encouragement we receive through when we are brought by the light into a feeling of unity with our great Pattern, Jesus Christ, and with God, our Creator!

When the Almighty enters into our souls by his light and life, by his penetrating eye, he sees the evil and the good, and is a searcher of the hearts and a trier of the reins. And here, in His abundant mercy and loving kindness, He makes a rule for us; we learn His commandments, and we find that they are not grievous.

When we come to know God, and feel him to be continually with us, an observer of all our works, and watching over us continually for good, it enables us to put in practice what is comprehended in the saying of the wise man, "Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man."

And our duty to our Heavenly Father, and our own best interest, can never be divided: they are one, because Almighty Wisdom has ordained that every act of a man's life shall have its consequent reward, let it be good or evil.

We must now not only be gathered together, but we must set to work in good earnest, and do what the Lord has furnished us with ability to do; and as he has given us the means to exercise.

We ought to use all our mental powers to get our bodies quiet, under a consideration that we are now in the presence of the Almighty and merciful God, who will distribute unto us according to our wants and necessities.

We are to do all that we can, to be humble, and to show ourselves humble, by stilling our bodies and keeping our minds clear of agitation and unprofitable thoughts.

We are all to attend to our own salvation: and if we are concerned to do this, will we give way to notions that will hinder this salvation? God is to judge of these things; and man is only to judge of the overt acts of his fellow creatures - those which have a tendency to injure his fellow creatures.

But if a brother does all his duty, consistent with the will of God Almighty, we have no right to judge any farther than this, "By their fruits ye shall know them."

We know that love and good works are the only fruits of the right and good tree, and a soul fixed on God, its maker, for support is happy beyond all comprehension.

(Adapted from sermons by Elias Hicks, 1826)

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Faith Without Works Cannot Bring Salvation #JesusFollowers

When our Master began preaching, he did not only require men to believe in his name, but also exhorted us to forsake our evil ways, and charged those who became his disciples to distinguish themselves by their good works.

"Let your light so shine before men," said he to his disciples, "that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father, which is in Heaven' (Matt. 5:16.) 

And when Jesus sent his apostles to preach the Gospel, he enjoined them to teach those whom they baptized, to observe all things whatsoever he had commanded them, (Mat. 18:20) - a commission they faithfully executed. For they declared to their hearers that Jesus is the author of eternal salvation to only those who obey him. (Acts 5:32)

When we reflect on these things, we might think that ministers of the gospel should have nothing to do except to instruct us in the practice of our duties; and that we should have no occasion to prove either the necessity of faith, or of good works. But yet so prone are men to degenerate from true principles, that both of these are now necessary to be done.

Some hope to be saved by their faith in Jesus Christ, though they are destitute of those good works which God has ordained that we should walk in them. 

St. James seeks to convince them of their mistake. 

He shows them, that as it would be an idle presence, for a man to say he loved his brother, if he did not show his love by kind actions; it would be mere presumption for anyone to rely upon his faith, if it was not producing good works.

"What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, 'Go in peace, be warmed and filled,' without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead." (2:15-17)

The works here intended are undoubtedly good works, done in obedience to the will of God, and proceeding from faith in Jesus; and therefore, though from the context it may seem, that he principally intends works of charity and mercy, yet they comprehend the whole Christian practice, without which our faith will not, for when he asks, "can faith save him?"

He affirms in the strongest way that faith alone cannot save him. This says that faith in Jesus, which is producing good works, will save us, as a means by which is necessary to our salvation.

Many will therefore be most unhappily disappointed, who flatter themselves with the hope of heaven, because they believe in Jesus, and rely upon his merits, but do not reform their lives. And yet is not this the unhappy condition of many Christians? They hope to be saved by Jesus, but few live in conformity to his precepts and example.

Works, which are necessary to render our faith effectual for our salvation, must be done according to the will of God revealed in the Gospel, and proceed from faith and the other true principles of religion; they must extend to the full compass of our Christian duty, and be uniform and persevering.

But though faith, destitute of good works, is not sufficient for our salvation by Jesus, yet we are not to rely upon the observation of moral duties; without faith in our blessed Mediator.

All the doctrines of Jesus have a tendency to promote holiness of life; and therefore those who most perfectly understand them, ought to be most active promoters of good works. And if they, notwithstanding their superior knowledge, live wickedly, their faith will be so from saving them, but it will add to their guilt, and aggravate their condemnation.

None are more confident of their salvation than the hottest zealots, even though their lives are irregular. How often do they condemn others who are holier than themselves, and because they think themselves sound in the faith, have no scruples about their own salvation, however they live, as if they hoped to atone for the badness of their temper, and the irregularity of their lives, by the heat of their zeal?

For such an intemperate, and flaming zeal as this, is so far from promoting good works, that it actually destroys them. Those who defame and oppress their neighbors, because they are not of the same judgment with themselves, act most uncharitably, and transgress the great and plain law of equity given us by our blessed Savior.

Let such people consider, and tremble at the words of our apostle, "do you not know, vain man, that faith without works is dead?"

And at the words of Jesus himself, "Not everyone that says to me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father, who is in Heaven." (Matt. 7:21)

The fairest external profession of religion, therefore, will not secure to us the favor of God, unless we live in obedience to Jesus, and our obedience flows from an inward principle of religion in our hearts.

No faith in him can be saving, but that which produces a universal obedience to his authority and commandments. Yea, a man may say, to use the words of James, “Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” (James 2:18)

(Adapted from a sermon by Rev. James Morris, 1757)

Sunday, February 14, 2016

The Meaning Of Love #JesusFollowers

What Is Love? Love is one of those words in the English language that can be easily confused. Love can mean a strong attachment to pancakes or pickles, a deep emotional attachment to another person like a spouse, parent or neighbor, it can express a deep “fan” relationship with a movie franchise like Star Wars, or it can mean lust for a drug, a person, an object, or a stranger.

This imprecise definition didn’t exist in the oldest manuscripts of the words of our Master, Jesus, which were preserved in Greek. 

Love most often was conveyed with a word, agape [agapaō] which means a pure, all-consuming love. 

It’s this word that is used when Jesus calls us to, "Love Yahweh, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind." And, "Love your neighbor as yourself."

It was not limited to our friends, or to those who love us, because it’s agape that is used when Jesus says “Love your enemies.” (Matt. 5:43)

The Fourth Gospel records, “For God so loved the world,” using that same word, agape, showing that God has deep, abiding and unlimited love for us. God chose and sent out Jesus as our special example to us, so that we might not live in darkness, but in light.

And it’s not just God than can show this love, however. We are called by Jesus to “Love one another; just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” (John 13:34)

The fact that we are to love “JUST AS I HAVE LOVED YOU” is a powerful calling to us. We are told by Jesus that we may indeed love just as he loved; act just as he acted; serve just as he served. Our love is to have no bounds, just as Jesus’ love had no bounds.

This is all important to understand, given the many misconceptions about “love” – even among those who attend the churches of Christendom today – and even among those who do not.

"Love" having so many meanings, many today believe the love we are called to show is the shallow love of food, movies and other things we have a strong emotional attachment.

It would be a serious mistake, however, to assume that ALL we must do is express a light, shallow Love towards God and towards others. "Love is All You Need" is the name of an awesome Beatles song about emotional attachment between two lovers, not the imperative that Jesus calls us to embrace.

The Power of Love, the kind of Love God shows us through His son, Jesus, is the kind of Love that is deep, unattached to emotions. It’s not an erotic love, or a shallow love, or a "love" that has no meaning or caring behind it, but it is instead the deepest and most pure Love there is. 

This kind of Love must be the cornerstone of our faith. Love of God and love of our neighbors is what Jesus calls us to actively show in our daily lives.

The faith Jesus challenges us to love God so much that we love others just as God does, and show it by doing Good Works.

We are called to love and obey God and serve others, using Jesus' perfect example as our guide, and then we are to accept that GOD ALONE is our judge, and our God is a God of mercy, if we ask for it.

"Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me." (John 14:21)

"If you keep my commandments," says Jesus, "you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love." (John 15:10)

Sunday, February 7, 2016

A Desire for Doing Good #JesusFollowers

To be uniformly good, to consider ourselves as destined in this life to promote the happiness of all around us, and to make this steadily and invariably the rule of our actions; this, as it is the true Christian character, is surely the most noble and godlike that can be ascribed to human beings.

We cannot contemplate it without love and delight, and this will as naturally excite our emulation, and lead us to desire in ourselves what we necessarily admire in others.

But this perfect character is not to be attained by a transient wish, by the simple inclination and consent of the mind; it must be formed, like other virtuous habits, by time and patience, exercise and application.

God, who has made the welfare of mankind depend much on their mutual love and care one for another, has at the same time, lest reason and religion should have too cold an influence, implanted very powerful passions in the heart to stimulate and excite to these duties. 

We are so made as necessarily to commiserate the wants and feel the distresses of others. But if our mercy and compassion have no other foundation than this, though world may be the better for it, we shall be none the better ourselves.

But if we help others only to gratify ourselves, there is no virtue or merit in this appearance of charity. If we do Good only from instinct and inclination, from selfish or other human considerations, these principles vary in their influence and tendency; and, if some of them, at times, prompt us to what is generous and good, others will prevail in their turn, and more frequently seduce us from it.

To give stability to virtue, it must be founded on better motives, on the principles of reason and truth: these are everywhere the same, and operate in all circumstances alike; they will not bend to our own inclinations, or be moved by the entreaties and importunities of self-love.

This, then, is the proper foundation, the rock on which our virtue must be built. Whatever claims the authority of duty over us must be tried by our reason, not by our passions and inclinations. And where this authority is acknowledged, we must be subject: not for pleasure, profit, or fame, but for conscience sake.

This rational choice, this subjection of the mind to duty, is necessary not only to support but to constitute virtue. Without it our best actions will be worth nothing; it being a first principle in morality, that the virtue of every action is to be estimated from the principle and intention with which it is performed.

The best resolutions will not make us all of a sudden virtuous or charitable. We must not mistake the plan for the thing itself. Resolutions must be pursued to their proper consequences, and set the active powers of the mind at work, before we can take their character into ourselves. 

We purchase very cheaply our own good opinion. If we would know our true moral character, we must inquire about our actions, not about our sentiments and opinions. These latter are always on the side of truth and virtue. God has made them so.

Only our actions are properly our own, and tell what we are. "I will show you my faith by my works," says the Apostle James. If you have charity, show it by your works. You feel it in yourself, but let others feel it.

Our Savior has declared that whoever gives a cup of cold water only to a disciple, for his sake, shall not lose his reward.

What families or what persons have been the better for your bounty? Have your ears and your hands been open to the wants of your suffering neighbors? Is your labor or your fortune, in any good degree, spent in their service?

When any good work has invited our concurrence, have we, according to our ability, encouraged and promoted it? Or have we contented ourselves with bidding it Godspeed, and wishing it good luck in the name of our Master, Jesus?

Charity is a duty, a duty God has bound upon us by all the ties of nature, reason, and religion; a duty which strikes the mind with more piercing conviction than any other duty which we acknowledge, and even think ourselves resolved to practice. But if this is a duty in any circumstances, it is surely so when the sick and needy in the anguish of their souls call upon us.

It is thus we must bring our virtue in this and every other instance to the trial, before we can determine what our real character is.

(Adapted from a sermon by Rev. Dr. William Adams, “Perseverance in Well-Doing," given Sept. 14, 1749 in Shrewsbury, England )