Sunday, January 30, 2022

Obtaining Wisdom From God #JesusFollowers

"Vanity of vanities, says the preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity.” (Ecclesiastes 1:2)

This is recorded as the declaration of one of the wisest, if not the wisest of all the men that recorded history give us an account of: and from what is recorded of him and of his sayings and doings, we have reason to believe that he was so. 

And when he was raised and exalted upon the throne of his father, David, he was humbled, no doubt, under a consideration of his incapacity, at that time, to govern and rule so great a people. 

And having done some work that was grateful to the Almighty, He made him an offer, to ask of him what good he should choose? 

It was not for long life, nor riches, nor honor that he asked, but that the Lord Almighty should endue him with an understanding heart, and wisdom that might qualify him to judge and rule so great a people. 

And his request was granted - the Almighty gave him greater wisdom than any other man; and from the account recorded of his wisdom and acts, it seems verified. 

Now, there is a good deal to be learned from this account of that great and wise king. By looking to this same Source for wisdom and understanding, we shall gain more true knowledge than we were ever able to arrive at through mere human, rational science. 

It is that only which can enable us to fill up our place in creation, agreeably to the design of a great and gracious Creator. 

By attention to the manifestations of God’s will, He will certainly give us this same knowledge, for we must know his commandments, and what he requires of us before we can do them: and therefore He has given to every man and woman a measure of His own Spirit.  

When we repent, and are sincerely sorry for what we have done, He grants us the gift of forgiveness, and we come to experience remission of sins, and reconciliation with our Heavenly Father. 

This is the way in which we can fulfil the first and great commandment, “You shall love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength.”  (Matt. 22:37)

We give all up for Him, and for His sake; not only all that is dear to us here on earth, but our own lives. This was shown in the example of our great and blessed pattern, Jesus; who, for the love he bore to the truth and the God of truth, readily surrendered his will and life, to the will and mind of his Heavenly Father - such was his love to him. 

When we come to love God with all our heart, and soul, and mind, and strength, it becomes the most excellent, and beautiful, of all things.

Therefore, as this comes to be our experience, it fixes and impresses upon our minds a care, that every step we take may be conformable to our duty to God, according to His requirements. 

Here, now, 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 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.

(Adapted from a December, 1826 sermon by Quaker lay preacher Elias Hicks)

Sunday, January 23, 2022

The Role of Jesus's Moral Example In Our Salvation #JesusFollowers

That Jesus was a Savior sent from God is a revealed truth, and is thus an essential article of faith. If there be any secret purpose, or mysterious efficacy in his doctrines and actions, they have not been made known, and therefore it is not a necessary part of a Christian's duty to search them out.

That Jesus is a Redeemer, and a Savior, with full power from heaven, is enough for anyone to know, who opens his mind to a ready reception of all the doctrines, which he has plainly taught, and who is determined to obey the precepts, and comply with the conditions of the Gospel.

But the busy curiosity of men has not been satisfied with this simplicity of faith. To believe in mysteries has been found a much easier task, than to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly; and hence many persons, in their notion of redemption through Christ, have indulged in fancies, which have little to do with the love of God, the religion of the heart, or a preparation for heaven.

John Taylor has some excellent remarks bearing on this point:

“Righteousness, goodness, and obedience, must be of the highest esteem and value with the Father of the universe, a pure and perfect Spirit; the only power, if I may so say, that can prevail with him, and the only acceptable price for purchasing any favors or blessings at his hands.”

This argument is rational, scriptural, and forcible. Place the subject in what position you will, and it must nevertheless be true at last, that a doctrine, which assigns the highest rewards of heaven to the exercise of righteousness and a cultivation of the moral powers, will be eminently fitted to encourage good morals, and quicken the pious affections. This will hold true of the above opinion respecting the way of salvation through Jesus, whether that opinion be an accurate deduction from the sense of Scripture or not.

So far from invalidating, it helps to enforce every moral precept, not only by insisting on a holy life as a necessary preparation for enjoying the benefits of Christ's death, but by maintaining that the power of conferring these benefits has been granted on the same consideration.

The wicked have broken his laws, and by this reason are subject to the penalty of disobedience; nor can they ever be reconciled to his good government, till their minds are renewed, their sins forsaken, and their characters changed. When this is done, a reconciliation will be brought about, not on the part of God, but of men. To produce this reconciliation, that is, to suppress all opposition to the wise and righteous laws of God, was the grand object of the Savior's mission into the world.

God is the author of the whole; and everything in the economy of redemption is to be traced to his love, and not to wrath or vindictiveness, for no such emotions can exist in the divine nature. Not a more imposing truth presents itself in the whole tenor of Scripture, and the whole moral work of creation, than that “God is love.”

The very reason why God sent His Son to be a Redeemer and a Savior is declared to be, that He loved the world. The well-being and happiness of His creatures contribute as much to His glory, as the beauty, order, and perfection of His works.

In what can a holy God delight more, than in beholding the creatures, whom he has formed with high and varied powers, enjoying the felicity, which results from the noblest exercise of these divine gifts, and which exhibits in a brilliant light the power, wisdom, and benignity of their author ?

When they have unwisely forsaken his counsels, and brought misery upon themselves, it does not excite anger in their heavenly Father, but compassion.

Everything done by him which has a tendency to reconcile men to God, constitutes a part of his great work. His instructions, his preaching, his wonderful Sermon on the Mount, his appropriate and beautiful parables, his advice, counsel, warnings, threats, promises, have their respective important effects. That he acted by the aid, and guidance, and power of his Father and our Father, these hold a distinguished place in the work of redemption through Christ, by convincing men of the truth of his doctrines, and strengthening their confidence in the divinity of his character.

The holy and perfect example of Jesus, his piety and humble submission to God, his deeds of goodness and love, his disinterested and unceasing benevolence, his patience in adversity and fortitude under every trial, his invariable uprightness of conduct and excellence of temper, all these are so many incitements to repentance and a good life.

Hence, redemption through Christ Jesus is not a consequence of his death alone, nor of any one single act, but of all he did, taught, and suffered during his ministry on earth.

(Adapted from a sermon by Rev. Jared Sparks, 1823)

Sunday, January 16, 2022

What Is The Church? #JesusFollowers

A Christian church is a body of men and women united together in a common desire of religious excellence, and with a common regard for Jesus of Nazareth, regarding him as the noblest example of morality and religion - as the model, therefore, in this respect, for us.

The action of a Christian church seems to be twofold: first on its own members, and then, through their means, on others out of its pale.

Let a word be said of each. If I were to ask you why you came here today why you have often come to this house hitherto - the serious amongst you would say: That we might become better; more human; upright before God and downright before others, that we might be Christians, good and pious, after the fashion Jesus spoke of. 

The essential of substance, which makes a church a religious body, is the union for the purpose of cultivating love to God and humanity; and the essential of form, which makes it a Christian body, is the common regard for Jesus, considered as the highest representative of God that we know. 

It is not the form, either of ritual or of doctrine, but the spirit, which constitutes a Christian church.

The first design of such a church then is to help ourselves become Christians. Now the substance of Christianity is Piety - Love to God, and Goodness - Love to others. 

It is a religion, the germs whereof are born in our hearts, appearing in our earliest childhoods, which are developed just in proportion as we become adults, and are indeed the standard measure of our lives.

Christianity, to be perfect and entire, demands a complete humanity, the development of the whole person - mind, conscience, heart, and soul. 

It aims not to destroy the sacred peculiarities of individual character. It cherishes and develops them in their perfection.

We are born different, into a world where unlike things are gathered together, that there may be a special work for each.

Christianity respects this diversity in us, aiming not to undo but further God's will; not fashioning all people after one pattern, to think alike, act alike, be alike, even look alike. It is something far different than Christianity which demands that.

In becoming Christians let us not cease to be human; nay, we cannot be Christians unless we are human first. It were unchristian to love Christianity better than the truth, or Christ better than humanity.

The noblest monument to Christ, the fairest trophy of religion, is a noble people, where all are well fed and clad, industrious, free, educated, manly, pious, wise, and good.

(Adapted from a sermon by Rev. Theodore Parker, ca. 1840.)

Sunday, January 9, 2022

What God Gives Us Lasts Forever #JesusFollowers

All truth is permanent. It can never pass away. The heart and mind cling with passionate love to all realized truth, and will hold it, even if mixed with error.

The miner who has found a nugget of gold holds it firmly, though it is mixed with earth and debris. He will not let it go until you can separate the earth and alloy, and leave the gold pure. So religious people cling to doctrines a thousand times over proved to be false and absurd, not because they love falsehood, but because they love the truth with which that error is mixed.

Mere logic cannot make them let go of the doctrine by any argument or ridicule. They will not relinquish it until someone comes who can see the truth in the error, and give them that truth in a purer form. Then they let the error go. This was what Jesus did. He took into the Gospel all that was true in Judaism.

Jesus was the greatest and boldest reformer who ever lived. To him the Jewish Temple was nothing, the Jewish Sabbath was nothing: human beings were the true temple, human good was the only reason for the Sabbath; and the pure in heart saw God. And yet Jesus, so much of a reformer, so radical in all things, said he came not to destroy, and that nothing would pass from the law until all was fulfilled. He took up all the truth of the past into the present, and carried it on into the future.

When God gives us love, he gives it forever. Superficial sympathies, based on accident, proximity, or common interests of the hour, are fleeting, but the love which sees what is best in us, and cares for that, is something which cannot pass away. For this is like God's love. He is the God of the living, and loves the loving part our nature. And this human love attaches itself to the deepest, noblest, and best thing in us, and often discovers better things in us than we know ourselves.

If we love that which is best in each other, not the fleeting, though seducing, charm, but the truth and sincerity and earnest feeling in each other's souls, our love to each other helps, and does not hinder; if we make it vital and encourage it by conscience and faith, if we help each other to be nearer to truth, duty, and God, our love for each other becomes immortal.

Goodness, real goodness, is so much better than anything else that, if we ever have it, we cling to it always. A person who has done one generous act values it in his heart, more than all of life’s outward successes.

Jesus came from the obscurest corner of an obscure state, to be the light of the world. He taught a year, and died, and is the life of mankind. So it was seen that, when God gave Jesus to the human race, he gave us forever.

Jesus says, "Whoever lives and believes in me shall never die." That is, "to one who has my faith, my spirit, who trusts in the truth I teach, there is no such thing as death. God’s spirit which is in me, if it exist in you, will carry you upward and onward."

It is no magical influence which Jesus exercises on the soul. Faith in him is no talisman, but a moral power.

(Adapted from a sermon by Rev. James Freeman Clarke, 1886)

Sunday, January 2, 2022

God Gives Us Freedom of Choice! #JesusFollowers

God, our Creator, has created all of us with the awesome responsibility of the Freedom to Choose. The abilities and knowledge we inherit from God at our birth allow us to choose the Good, but has also left us with the ability to choose what is evil. It is in recognizing what is evil, and avoiding or repenting of it, then actively choosing the Good that we are considered Righteous by God.

In the Hebrew Bibles, and as taught by Jesus, God repeatedly tells us to "choose" and "obey" and that we will be judged according to our choices.

God, through Moses, said that His Law was “not too hard” so that we “could do it.” (Deut. 30:14) And God expected us to obey his moral commands, as Jesus repeated consistently. Jesus said that no one else would be charged with our disobedience, and no other would be responsible for our actions except ourselves.

In the very beginning of the Hebrew Bible, we learn in the story of Adam and Eve how men were entrusted with a Freedom of Choice. The story portrays God as giving Adam and Eve the choice of not eating from a tree of knowledge and remaining in a Garden of innocence forever, or eating from it and eventually dying, and leaving to make his own way in the world.

They chose to leave, and were told by God to "Be fruitful and multiply." This choice, and that of Eve, affected no one but them. And note that Adam and Eve - created in God's image (Gen. 1:27) - were created to be perfect by God, they lived in a perfect world, yet were able to disobey God. It was God's design that humans have choice.

Sin cannot be inherited. Here's how we know: God told Adam's son, Cain (just one generation after Adam!) that he COULD avoid sin, and MUST do so to avoid punishment (Gen. 4:7.)

God didn’t respect Cain and his offering, "So Cain was very angry, and the expression on his face fell. And Yahweh said to Cain, "Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door. It desires you, but you must rule over it." (Gen. 4:5b-8)

If he was morally able to freely choose to do Good, and "rule over" his temptation, so may we!

Only Cain was affected by his subsequent evil choice. The Bible teaches us that sins are acts, not THINGS. Sins are what we commit or avoid, not a thing we inherit, biologically.

This is why Ezekiel records: "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." (Ezek. 18:19)

Just after the Exodus out of Egypt, Joshua told the Israelites to serve Yahweh their God, "in sincerity and in truth," and to "choose this day whom you will serve," (Joshua 24:14-15) Clearly, Joshua believed they could choose to faithfully serve God in sincerity and in truth.

The prophet Isaiah also clearly agreed with God that human beings were capable of choosing to, "reject the wrong and choose the right." (7:15)

Psalm 24 notes who may stand before God: "The one who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not trust in an idol or swear by a false god." This strongly affirms our ability to obey God and seek to be righteous. If we cannot do these things, then literally no one would ever stand in God's presence. But that's not what the Bible teaches.

Psalm 25-27 are even more personal, with King David saying that he has (following repentance) led a clean life by choosing the righteous path. He had earlier written: "Yahweh dealt with me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands he rewarded me." (Psalm 18:20)

Jesus had high hopes for our moral abilities, and taught that we are to be, "perfect, as your Father in Heaven is perfect." (Matt. 5:48) 

This same teacher - this human being chosen by God - said that he did all things that pleased God (John 8:29.)

He also said that we must follow him, doing ALL that he had done. (John 13:15; 14:12) Based on these teachings, we definitely have the ability to do great good, if we choose to do it. 

Choosing to do what's right can be hard sometimes, but that does not diminish our ability to do the good.

We have this God-given ability to seek Godliness, and we can become Godly and complete – not by ourselves without God or without God’s chosen example, but with God's ongoing help and with the example of Jesus always before us.

As we have seen here, it is NOT our inherited destiny to be "unable to not sin," and that we are not born so depraved that we may not choose what is good, and seek to do it. The scriptures teach that we may indeed choose NOT to sin.

Ecclesiasticus records the clearest statement of our freedom to choose, saying: "If you choose, you can keep the commandments, and to act faithfully is a matter of your own choice. He has placed before you fire and water; stretch out your hand for whichever you choose. Before each person are life and death, and whichever one chooses will be given. For great is the wisdom of the Lord; He is mighty in power and sees everything; His eyes are on those who fear Him, and He knows every human action. He has not commanded anyone to be wicked, and He has not given anyone permission to sin." (15:15-20)

It is God’s choice – His GRACE alone – whether we shall live with Him eternally. But it is up to us whether WE CHOOSE to seek this gift, and God says we demonstrate this choice by our actions.

We are called to commit our lives to obedience to God's chosen Son, Jesus, the Anointed Prophet of God, and submit to humbly walk with him, relying, as he taught, on God's grace and forgiveness and growing into the Righteous Perfection that God knows we are capable of achieving.

And while sin may be waiting by the door for us, seeking to master us, we are assured that we may indeed defeat – and master – sinful temptations.

This is amazingly good news, because it shows that our Creator knows us, and trusts us with the ability to act and choose to obey Him freely!

Through the teachings of Jesus, God shows us that He is a parent Who allows His children to make mistakes, repent, and turn back to doing what is right.

We should thank God, our Creator in Whose image we were created, for trusting us to make our own choices, and let’s pledge to always take that awesome responsibility seriously in all that we do in this new year.