Sunday, May 28, 2023

The Important Example of Jesus by Rev. William Ellery Channing

The importance of example, who does not understand? How much do most of us suffer from the presence, conversation, spirit, of people of low minds by whom we are surrounded! The temptation is strong, to take as our standard the average character of the society in which we live,and to satisfy ourselves with attainments which secure to us among the multitude a sense of respectability. 

On the other hand, there is a power (have you not felt it?) in the presence, conversation, and example of Jesus, a man of strong principle and magnanimity, to lift us, at least for the moment, from our vulgar habits of thought,  and to kindle  some generous aspirations after the excellence whivh we were meant to attain.

It is possible to place ourselves under the influence of the example of Jesus. This introduces us to the highest order of virtue. this awakens the whole mind.  

Nothing has equal power to neutralize the coarse, selfish,  and sensual influences into which we are daily plunged, to refine our conception of duty, and to reveal the perfection our hopes and most strenuous desires should habitually fasten.

There is one cause which has done much to defeat this good influence of Jesus's character and example, and which ought to be exposed.  it is the idea of the multitudes that Jesus should be admired but not approached and followed. they have a vague notion of his nature and character that makes it seem presumptuous to think of him as their standard of behavior. He is thrown so far from them that he does them little or no good.Mamy feel that a close resemblance to Jesus is not to be expected, that his teachings are utterly incapable of being put into practice. 

I think this is an error that influences many minds. Until human beings think of the faith and character of Jesus as applicable to them, and intended to be brought into continual operation, in cooperation with their whole spiritual nature, they will derive little good from Jesus.

People think to honor Jesus when they place him so high as to discourage all efforts to approach him. they really degrade him by doing this. they don't understand his character; they throw a glare over it, which hides its true fearures. this vague admiration is the poorest tribute with which they can pay him. 

I wish to prevent the discouraging influence of the greatness of Jesus, to show that he may indeed be imitated.

His real greatness of character is greatness of the highest order, and far from being discouraging, is fully  accessible and imitable by us, and far from severing him from us, makes him our friend and model.

True elevation of mind does not take a  being out of the circle of those who are below him, but binds him closer to them, and gives them advantages for  a closer attachment and conformity to him.

 

Sunday, May 21, 2023

A Faith in Jesus That Challenges Us to Be Better! #JesusFollowers

 

 A few years ago, a young man named Jefferson Bethke posted a video on YouTube and later followed it up with a book, “Jesus [is greater than] Religion: Why He Is So Much Better Than Trying Harder, Doing More, and Being Good Enough.” He was wrong on all counts.

Sure, those terms, as today's world defines them,  are often a call to join "the rat rat race," and judge others,  and ourselves, by material success alone. If that's all this auther had said, that would have been fine. Jesus definitely says God calls us to more than that.

But inherent in the book, and in modern Christendom, is an urge to have faith and then do nothing, an alluring and seductive message the is the very WIDE GATE and easy path of which Jesus warns us. The urge to make excuses for our inability to serve God as Jesus calls us to do is very strong, and it’s a very old message indeed. But it’s a call to half-serve God, and it’s a repudiation of the message God called and anointed Jesus to preach to all humanity.

If you are not actively seeking to walk as Jesus walked, you are not a follower of Jesus. You may be an admirer of Jesus, or a flatterer of Jesus, but not a follower. Jesus calls us to a life of holy struggle and humble service, not a life of shallow words and false phrases. He challenges us to be better than we are, not remain as we were before we met him.

Yes, "Come just as you are" to Jesus. But expect to grow and be changed by his words, life and example. He was meant to be followed, not just admired - he urged us to obey God, not to simply shower him with flattery every weekend.

The words, life, teachings and death of our Master, Jesus, challenge us to do, to act, to follow, to serve, to be better, to do more, to try harder, to be humble, yet be Righteous, to serve God, not money, to lose ourselves and gain eternity.

Jesus' call for us is to count the costs, then pick up a cross, go the extra mile, expand our 'talents' to serve others, and be good Samaritans. And Jesus cannot also have meant for us to seek a life of leisure and ease. He calls us to action. If we say we love Jesus, but don't hear and do what he says, we've built our lives on shifting sands, not the Rock of his Words.

The Gospel that Jesus explicitly taught isn't a call to merely have belief in him, or even in a book about him,  but it's a call to serve God, to follow Jesus' teachings, and to love others just as we love ourselves. His Gospel calls us to serve and act, not sit and contemplate, nor to simply admire Jesus or even to worship him.

And since there is deep confusion among Christians today (sown by folks like Mr. Bethke) let there be no mistake: We are equipped from birth by God to begin the works Jesus calls us to accomplish. We have the ability to recognize Truth, the ability to know right from wrong, to do Good, and to serve others, as Jesus calls us to do. 

When we repent of our sins, and commit to stop sinning and serve God, then our Heavenly Father will equip us further with wisdom, with hope, with courage and with the strength to endure anything.

If we fail to grasp the simple, clear and profound message of Jesus, we will have fallen prey to the error of "easy believism"  - the wide road that leads to a failed and worthless faith, rather than a fulfilling one that actively fills the world with love, hope and light.

Anyone calling us to a faith of easy belief, of a faith without Works, of emotion without action, of a hope of Heavenly rewards without our hands engaged in helping others, is calling us to "another Gospel" that is false, and "another Christ" who is an imitation of the original Jesus.

The clear, challenging religion of Jesus that he first preached is far superior and far more profound and Godly than all the superstitions, mythologies, complexities and unimaginable nonsense men have attached to it ever since. It's time to return to Following Jesus and serving Jesus' God in spirit and in truth.

A faith that fails to challenge us to bold, radical service isn't worth having. A free gift is worthless if it's never opened and used as it was designed. Jesus offers us such a faith, such a gift, if we would only open it and act upon it.

Let us, then, act.

Sunday, May 14, 2023

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, May 7, 2023

Human Beings: Created To Advance! [#JesusFollowers]

 

Improvement is a law of the Universe. All things, great and small, are made to improve and progress. Human beings must not be an exception.

We must not allow everything else to move on, while we remain stationary. When the insensible earth and the irrational animals obey the commandment of Nature, let not us, who alone are capable of voluntary obedience, alone be unfaithful.

When even the all-wise Creator, in unfolding His ways and purposes to His children, observes this rule of constant progression, let not us, with wisdom only of yesterday, children in understanding, think that we may rest where we are, and refuse to move forward.

Our very capacity of progress is itself a further reason for striving after perpetual improvement. The plants and animals around us have limits set to their advancement which they can never pass.

They go forward by a prescribed course to their maturity, and there they necessarily stop. The voice which spake to the sea, “Thus far shall you go, and no farther,” has spoken to all things terrestrial except us.

From that mandate our spirit is exempted. The tree has its growth, and the bird its instinct, and they can add to themselves nothing beyond it. Human beings, reasoning, immortal, immaterial beings, to whom the inspiration of the Almighty has given understanding, has received the power of expansion. Our souls may grow - not like the body, which is to perish in about a hundred years, and therefore becomes perfect in twenty; but, as it is never to perish, it never reaches a perfection beyond which it may not pass.

If the soul's duration were bounded by a thousand years, or a hundred thousand centuries, then we might anticipate the day when its growth should be completed. But since it shall exist through eternity, since it can never approach the termination of its existence, neither can it approach the termination of its progress. It must enlarge, extend itself, and continue to advance.

So, other creatures may stop growing, and become stationary; for they are to come to an end. But not human beings, for we are to know no end. Others may be satisfied with a perfection which earth can understand and contain; for they are of the earth, and shall return to its bosom.

But human beings are children of the Most High, our spirit a ray from the fountain of unquenchable light, made capable of attainments which earthly beings cannot hardly imagine. Let us not dream that any present attainment is our perfection; let us press forward to that mark - that something immense and infinite -  which Jesus has set before us as the prize of our high calling.

For us to be stationary would be rebellion against our nature, a willful forfeiting of our birthright, and should subject us to the harsh reproaches of our own minds, and to the deserved scorn of all higher and lower beings.

This great progress of the human soul is only begun upon earth. But it is begun. The desire of purity, the love of excellence, the habits of holiness, the relish for spiritual pleasures, are begun here below; and ones who have made the greatest advances in these during their mortal lives, are doubtless best fitted for entering into a future state. This thought suggests to us another reason for improvement.

The degree of happiness and glory to which the soul shall be admitted at death, must depend on the progress which it has made on Earth. In our Father's house are many mansions; differing unquestionably in order offense. And how are they to be assigned? What says the Scripture? “According to their works,” for “He that has been faithful in little, shall be placed over few cities; he that has been faithful in much, shall be placed over many cities.” (Luke 16:10; Matt. 25:23)

Happiness and honor shall be rendered to every person according to their preparation for them and their capacity to receive them. And our capacity to receive will be just in proportion to the state of advancement at which we have arrived on leaving the present scene.

And the soul that issues from its mortal tabernacle a trembling, anxious penitent, - just "assured" that its sins are forgiven, but without any confirmed religious experience, or spiritual maturity of character - cannot enter at once into the fulness of bliss which awaits the faithful servant of God, who has toiled for duty during a long life, and become almost spiritualized before laying aside the body.

Therefore let us strive to be found, at our death, so far advanced in holiness, that we may join the company of those who stand nearest to the throne; that we may be ushered into the light of the highest heaven.

(Adapted from a Sermon by Henry Ware, Jr.)