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)