Saturday, January 31, 2015
29 Thou shalt not delay to offer the first of thy ripe fruits, and of thy liquors: the firstborn of thy sons shalt thou give unto me. (Ex 22:29)
God implants lasting reminders of that first Passover in Egypt after which God required the first born of each household to be dedicated to the Lord. This is not simply to be understood to mean only children, but first fruits of all increase in crops, wages, etc. Of course the means of granting these to the Lord differ. A first-born son was to be dedicated to God, but the first-fruits of harvest and of cattle were to be publicly sacrificed as a public testimony of the goodness of god in granting harvest. Verse 30 following that above reads: “Likewise shalt thou do with thine oxen, and with thy sheep: seven days it shall be with his dam; on the eighth day thou shalt give it me.” (Ex 22:30) The eighth day is significant in its relationship to the day of circumcision of sons. It is quite applicable to our Sacrament of Baptism of babies in the Reformation Anglican tradition.
This chapter continues to reveal civil and statutory laws that were to be observed by the Children of Israel. God's approach and intention of regulating civil conduct and behavior flies in the face of all who constantly harp upon a Constitutionally non-existent mandate of ‘separation of church and state.’ Even were the US Constitution to contain such an article, it would not be legitimate under the Higher Law of God. Please read the First Amendment (of Bill of Rights) of the US Constitution and tell me which part precludes the free prayer of little children in schools, of posting of the Ten Commandments, or of public prayers at school, or governmental, events, etc:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
God makes very little distinction between His Moral Law, and the ordinances and laws of implementation thereof. Civil law is also moral. All governments incorporate parts of the Moral Law in their own laws and statutes. “Thou shalt not kill;” “Thou shalt not steal;” “Thou shalt not bear false witness;” and, until recently, “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” Is this not legislating morality that the moderns deny?
In Chapter 22, we find three major categories of offenses, each of which could be attributed to the disobedience of one of the Ten Commandments:
Though the sins and penalties under this heading cover theft explicitly, it also makes application to careless neglect that also takes from the rightful owner property, crops or livelihood. Let us examine select verses under this heading: “1 If a man shall steal an ox, or a sheep, and kill it, or sell it; he shall restore five oxen for an ox, and four sheep for a sheep.” (Ex 22:1) Not only were thieves to be punished for their crimes, but pay restitution as well. “If a thief be found breaking up, and be smitten that he die, there shall no blood be shed for him.” (Ex 22:2) God recognizes the sanctity of home and private property. If a burglar breaks in at night and you kill him, you are free from penalty. But if the sun has risen, then there will be a penalty for the shedding of his blood since you could recognize the man and require compensation in kind. The following verses continue to express the sanctity of private property as opposed to a socialistic system of property in common. If a man’s animal eats in the field of another, the owner will compensate, and if a fire is started and gets out of control, the one who started the fire will pay restitution to the one who suffers loss. “If fire break out, and catch in thorns, so that the stacks of corn, or the standing corn, or the field, be consumed therewith; he that kindled the fire shall surely make restitution.” (Ex 22:6) Verses 7-15 continue a defense of private property from trespass. I hope you will read these verses for further enlightenment.
We might discover a surprising connection here between adultery and idolatry that we discussed earlier. Please note the odd context of the first three verses: 16 And if a man entice a maid that is not betrothed, and lie with her, he shall surely endow her to be his wife. 17 If her father utterly refuse to give her unto him, he shall pay money according to the dowry of virgins. 18 Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live. (Ex 22:16-18) The first three verses are obviously describing a form of fornication in promiscuity; however, why the sudden change to a seemingly altogether other subject: “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live?” Are these two possibly related? Yes, they are. The first discussion of promiscuity is carnal and physical, but the reference to witches is of the same tenor, but spiritual. See what Leviticus says regarding the matter: “20.6 And the soul that turneth after such as have familiar spirits, and after wizards, to go a whoring after them, I will even set my face against that soul, and will cut him off from among his people.” This is spiritual adultery, or idolatry. Here is an unmentionable sin (at least it was thus only a few years ago): “Whosoever lieth with a beast shall surely be put to death.” (Ex 22:19) It may surprise some of us to know that a bill was introduced in the US Senate in 1982, sponsored by Sen. Ted Kennedy, to legalize bestiality in the nation’s capital (District of Columbia). The bill felled of passage, but do not be surprised if that perversion does not find respectability along with its similar perversions of homosexuality and lesbianism in the coming months or years.
Interestingly, in this polemic against unlawful sexual sins of fornication, we again find reference to idolatry – sister to the first. “He that sacrificeth unto any god, save unto the LORD only, he shall be utterly destroyed.” (Ex 22:20) Just as a strong and loving husband is jealous of his bride, so is Christ jealous of His Bride, the Church. He will brook no whoring after other gods: “Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God.” (Ex 20:5) Those widows who have no earthly husband have a Father in Heaven that will avenge their persecutions on any who dare lay a hand o malice upon them: “Ye shall not afflict any widow, or fatherless child. If thou afflict them in any wise, and they cry at all unto me, I will surely hear their cry; And my wrath shall wax hot, and I will kill you with the sword; and your wives shall be widows, and your children fatherless.” (Ex 22:22-24)
God makes provision for honest entrepreneurship, but abuse of privileges of financial transactions is a violation of the Morals, as well as civil, law. “If thou lend money to any of my people that is poor by thee, thou shalt not be to him as an usurer, neither shalt thou lay upon him usury. If thou at all take thy neighbour's raiment to pledge, thou shalt deliver it unto him by that the sun goeth down: For that is his covering only, it is his raiment for his skin: wherein shall he sleep? and it shall come to pass, when he crieth unto me, that I will hear; for I am gracious.” (Ex 22:25-27) Please not that, just as with widows and orphans, God lends a special ear to the oppressed of His people.
Here is an interesting turn on a particular term, ‘gods.’ “Thou shalt not revile the gods, nor curse the ruler of thy people.” (Ex 22:28) Though the term is, in the Hebrew, Elohym, as it appears also in the first verse of Genesis; its application is quite different. The term here is plural, meaning judges. The Elohym of Genesis 1:1 is plural intensive (meaning a plural/singular, or Trinity in One). In the days of the Wilderness Journey and after in the days of the judges, the judges of the people, ecclesiastically appointed, stood under the moral imperative of God to render justice. We are to honor the secular arms insofar as it does not overlap the spiritual arm.
“Thou shalt not delay to offer the first of thy ripe fruits, and of thy liquors: the firstborn of thy sons shalt thou give unto me. Likewise shalt thou do with thine oxen, and with thy sheep: seven days it shall be with his dam; on the eighth day thou shalt give it me.” (Ex 22:29-30) Yes, these were the two introductory verses for today’s devotion. The first of every profit and gain; and the first of every endeavor is the Lord’s. Read what Adam Clarke says about these verses: “The rejoicings at our harvest-home are distorted remains of that gratitude which our ancestors, with all the primitive inhabitants of the earth, expressed to God with appropriate signs and ceremonies. Is it not possible to restore, in some goodly form, a custom so pure, so edifying, and so becoming? There is a laudable custom, observed by some pious people, of dedicating a new house to God by prayer, etc., which cannot be too highly commended.”
“And ye shall be holy men unto me: neither shall ye eat any flesh that is torn of beasts in the field; ye shall cast it to the dogs.” (Ex 22:31) With such soiled hands and hearts, how can we be holy unto God? Once more rings loudly the bell of LOVE. Love is the key and it is best summed up by the words of Octavius Winslow that a friend, the Rev. Geordie Menzies-Grierson sent to me from Newcastle, England this morning:
““I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore with loving-kindness have I drawn you." (Jeremiah 31:3) “The law of love is the law of God's moral government of His people. By this, and by this alone, He rules them. All that is disciplinary in His conduct is resolvable into love. It is by kindness, "loving-kindness," yes, "marvelous loving-kindness," that He wins back their truant hearts, and binds them closer to Himself. "I am the Lord, who exercise loving-kindness." Oh, to imitate Him in this particular!- to be like God in His kindness to the children of men. Then would there be less sitting in the judgment-seat; less readiness to cast the first stone; less harshness and censoriousness in our conduct and spirit towards others; and more of that self-judging, self-condemning, and self-abasement, before the holy, heart-searching, all-seeing Lord God, without which we may be awfully deceived.”
Thursday, January 29, 2015
But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe. But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed. Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster. (Gal 3:22-25)
Having just completed a detailed study of the Ten Commandments of God, I think it appropriate to point out that these have never been annulled or done away with – they are as binding upon us today as when thundered by the Voice of God from the earth shaking Cloud atop Sinai. They were, at that time, written by the very finger of God on Stone Tables. We could not have known the great magnitude of God’s Majesty had we not learned it by steps – it was too great to learn on short notice. So God gave His Law of Commandments to reveal to us our great need and depravity, thereby we learned that we can, in no wise, enter in the presence of God with the hands made filthy by fleshly lust and greed. Not being able to keep the Law of God, we came to understand the urgent need of a Redeemer and Savior. Yet, we are still bound with bands of love to keep the Commandments of God inviolate.
It is very difficult to learn the science of music unless one loves music. If he loves music, he will eagerly learn the notes and chords thereof; but if he hates the drudgery of that science, he will attempt to learn unnaturally and with great dread that science. The same is true of obedience to God. Once we have come to the point of knowing God with intimate love and understanding, obedience becomes a burning desire rather than a dutiful dread. We grew in knowledge and understanding of God beginning with our expulsion from Eden; then the journeying of Abraham in following after God; then the bondage in Egypt; then the great plagues with which God struck the land and the miracles which saved Israel from those same plagues; then the great salvation at the shores of the Red Sea; the Manna and Water from the Rock; and finally, the issuance of the Ten Commandments. Centuries past and finally god sent forth His only Begotten Son, after four hundred years of silence, so that we might know God in the fullness of His wonder and beauty. We had come to know that we were without merit or virtue – only a Savior would suffice – and we came to have God’s commandments written in the soft sinews of our hearts. After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. (Jer 31:33)
We now turn from the Commandments of God to the ordinances and laws of Moses to facilitate our obedience. If no consequence follows disobedience, there is no substance to the Law that we have broken; so Israel is given detailed accounts of the manner in which God’s Law will be implemented and the punishments for disobedience beginning in Chapter 21. These are divided into two major headings: 1) Laws for servants of Israel; and 2) Laws for personal liability and injuries. I will give far less emphasis to this chapter due to the fact that it is merely a mode of applying the Law given to daily life much of which is no longer relevant in our day since servants are not owned in civil societies (for example).
Verses 1-11 have reference to the judicial laws and ordinances regarding servitude and the servant’s rights under God’s Law. Servitude can be an emblem of the old man under bondage to sin and the devil. But God’ provides an escape, always, for the soul to be released from such bondage. I will point out only selected verses from these eleven. If thou buy an Hebrew servant, six years he shall serve: and in the seventh he shall go out free for nothing. (Ex 21:2) The seventh year is a sabbatical year, both spiritual and fiscal. Each seventh year, the servants must be set free without personal charge to them.
Did you ever wonder where the notion of a Genie in a bottle comes from, or from whence came the great golden earring. The Jinn (or Jinni, singular) comes from the ancient Persian, but derived from Arabian and Quranic superstitions. The Jinni (or Genie in a bottle) was related in One Thousand and One Nights and Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp (among other tales). The Genie appears out of a vapor from the magic bottle when rubbed. It is strong and powerful, and able to act with magical wonders. But it is a slave to its owner (who owns the lamp). It wears a great golden earring to evidence its volunteer bondage. When I see a man wearing an earring, I wonder “to whom is he a bond-servant” – but I have an idea! The following verse may give further clarification of the reason for the bond-servant’s earring: And if the servant shall plainly say, I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free: 6 Then his master shall bring him unto the judges; he shall also bring him to the door, or unto the door post; and his master shall bore his ear through with an aul; and he shall serve him for ever. (Ex 21:5-6) Some have theorized that the bond-servant who wishes to remain so filled that unsightly hole in his ear with an earring. Effeminate young man, whose slave are YOU?
Remember: the Law is our schoolmaster. While learning our ABCs in school, we had to sit through boring classes and respond each time we were called on by the teacher. Every math or science problem was a designed scenario that required our solution; however, upon our graduation, we applied those principles, learned under duress, in school to the real life problems and business dealings in which we were rewarded by profitable outcomes. The Christian, in loving God’s Law, and the Author of that Law, cheerfully seeks ways to obey God and to promote obedience in others. In examining verses 12-19, we find a rather advanced and sophisticated treatment concerning laws that are quite timely today. 12 He that smiteth a man, so that he die, shall be surely put to death. God ordained the death penalty, without exception, for premeditated murder. American law did as well until recent years. God also makes an allowance for murders by accident or passion: 13 And if a man lie not in wait, but God deliver him into his hand; then I will appoint thee a place whither he shall flee. This describes accidental killings or unavoidable circumstances that lead to death of victims. Cities of Refuge were established so that a man might run there to escape the Avenger of blood (next of kin of victim). But before Cities of Refuge, a man might claim sanctuary at the altar of God.
14 But if a man come presumptuously upon his neighbour, to slay him with guile; thou shalt take him from mine altar, that he may die. Sanctuary was denied a man of deliberate intention of murder.
Now comes a dire warning to children who have dishonored their mother and father. The verse here bears out the grave need for Christ in their lives: “15 And he that smiteth his father, or his mother, shall be surely put to death.” Christ, through our hearty repentance and turn to Him, offers salvation from that death sentence.
The civil law of God also makes provision for the death sentence for kidnapping. American law did as well until recent decades. 16 And he that stealeth a man, and selleth him, or if he be found in his hand, he shall surely be put to death.
Sorry, young folks, but here comes another broadsides against disrespect of parents: 17 And he that curseth his father, or his mother, shall surely be put to death.
Next comes provision for liability to be paid to one injured by another: 18 And if men strive together, and one smite another with a stone, or with his fist, and he die not, but keepeth his bed: 19 If he rise again, and walk abroad upon his staff, then shall he that smote him be quit: only he shall pay for the loss of his time, and shall cause him to be thoroughly healed. (Ex 21:18-19)
What does God say in this chapter regarding abortion? 22 If men strive, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart from her, and yet no mischief follow: he shall be surely punished, according as the woman's husband will lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine. 23 And if any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life, 24 Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 Burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe. (Ex 21:22-25) Clearly, abortion is regarded by God as MURDER if the fetus (child in the womb) is hurt fatally.
Negligent homicide also ranks on the same level as MURDER: 28 If an ox gore a man or a woman, that they die: then the ox shall be surely stoned, and his flesh shall not be eaten; but the owner of the ox shall be quit. 29 But if the ox were wont to push with his horn in time past, and it hath been testified to his owner, and he hath not kept him in, but that he hath killed a man or a woman; the ox shall be stoned, and his owner also shall be put to death. (Ex 21:28-29)
The laws and ordinances of Moses also addressed matters of equity in dealing with others: 33 And if a man shall open a pit, or if a man shall dig a pit, and not cover it, and an ox or an ass fall therein; 34 The owner of the pit shall make it good, and give money unto the owner of them; and the dead beast shall be his. 35 And if one man's ox hurt another's, that he die; then they shall sell the live ox, and divide the money of it; and the dead ox also they shall divide. 36 Or if it be known that the ox hath used to push in time past, and his owner hath not kept him in; he shall surely pay ox for ox; and the dead shall be his own. (Ex 21:33-36)
God loves His Creation – He places a high premium upon the lives that He has created. His laws are designed to protect life, and facilitate a happy and free society. Without laws, this is not possible.
Wednesday, January 28, 2015
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: a good understanding have all they that do his commandments: his praise endureth for ever. (Psalms 111:10)
18 And all the people saw the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the noise of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking: and when the people saw it, they removed, and stood afar off. 19 And they said unto Moses, Speak thou with us, and we will hear: but let not God speak with us, lest we die. 20 And Moses said unto the people, Fear not: for God is come to prove you, and that his fear may be before your faces, that ye sin not. 21 And the people stood afar off, and Moses drew near unto the thick darkness where God was. (vs 18-21)
The purpose of the Commandments was never to comfort, but to CONVICT! Without the conviction that leads to repentance, there could follow no salvation. It is precisely the fear evoked in a sinful heart that is the only means of making an opening for God to enter thereunto. Before we came to reverence God, we first came to fear His righteous indignation at our disobedience. This fear drove us to endeavor to know Him better that we may satisfy His wrath against us and seek ways and means under His government to justify ourselves and to become acceptable vessels in His Kingdom. Remember the Pharisee and the Publican? 10 Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. 11 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. 12 I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. 13 And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted. (Luke 18:10-14)
The sense of guilt and sin that possessed the heart of the publican drove him to flee to the Temple grounds to seek the forgiving grace of God. It was not sudden impulse that brought him to this state. It was an awesome and growing fear that had nagged at his heart for quite a long time. The more he thought about the Law of God, the larger and more egregious grew his burdens of sin. Finally, that fear drove him to the Throne of Grace. The Pharisee had no such fear. In fact, he was quite confident in his self-righteousness. But self-righteousness is an oxymoron/since self is always contradictory to righteousness. For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23) In the Publican’s reverence for God, he feared to approach too near. He stood afar off to plead his cause. This is entirely appropriate since the sinner is far removed from God until he turns to Him with a broken and a contrite heart. (Psalm 51:17)
It is difficult to comprehend the awe and fear evinced in the hearts of a primitive people gathered about the foot of Mount Sinai, when “all the people saw the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the noise of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking: and when the people saw it, they removed, and stood afar off.” Such a scene had never been observed before by them, or any others. They did not know God in an intimate way though He had been their strong Defense and Champion in bringing them out of Egypt, feeding an watering them in the wilderness, and now deigning to bring to them His Law from the heights of Sinai. God demonstrated His loving grace in Egypt and since before He revealed His Law.
It is clearly obvious from the description of these events that those who do not know God intimately are, at first, struck with fear that drives them a respectful distance away, while those who know Him intimately are drawn into His Clouds of Mystery just as was Moses. In demonstrating His mighty power and majesty, God intended to 1) gain the undivided attention of the people: 2) insist upon their utmost respect and obedience; and 3) to reveal to them their sins and great need for the Redeemer that He had decreed to send from before the foundation of the world. Dr. C.A. Goodhart contrasts the two responses to this fear as follows:
“When Christ was upon the earth, so winning was his graciousness that crowds flocked to him, and one man at least exclaimed, “Lord, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest.” But at the same time so terrible was the manifestation of his power, that there were those who “besought him that he would depart out of their coasts.” God is love, and God is power, and wherever he is, be exhibits both qualities; but there are some who sea mainly the love, and there are others who see only the power. Hence the Divine presence at once attracts and repels, charms men and affrights them. The Israelites invited to draw near to God, and hold with him direct communication, after brief trial, decline the offer, and will have an intermediary.”
God has made a dramatic introduction of Himself to the Children of Israel. He had worked many mighty miracles and curses in Egypt; He had spared Israel from all these plagues, and especially, the last of the Passover Lamb while they were yet in Goshen; He had brought them forth across the Red Sea bed and baptized them at once as a nation anointed by Him and chosen; He had provided Manna when rations failed, and even meat; and He had given them water from the Rock of Horeb (a part of Sinai demonstrating that grace also comes by way of the Law) which Rock represented His only Begotten Son, Jesus Christ whom Moses struck to open. The lance that opened the side of Christ on the cross was a fuller revelation of that opened Rock from which poured forth redeeming blood and the Water of Life. In case this was not enough, God now reveals Himself in a veil of cloud and lightning from atop Sinai:
22 And the LORD said unto Moses, Thus thou shalt say unto the children of Israel, Ye have seen that I have talked with you from heaven. 23 Ye shall not make with me gods of silver, neither shall ye make unto you gods of gold. 24 An altar of earth thou shalt make unto me, and shalt sacrifice thereon thy burnt offerings, and thy peace offerings, thy sheep, and thine oxen: in all places where I record my name I will come unto thee, and I will bless thee. 25 And if thou wilt make me an altar of stone, thou shalt not build it of hewn stone: for if thou lift up thy tool upon it, thou hast polluted it. 26 Neither shalt thou go up by steps unto mine altar, that thy nakedness be not discovered thereon. (Ex 20:18-26)
Please note the serious reinforcement God makes of the Second Commandment in verse 22 & 23. He has their fearful and undivided attention at this moment as they tremble from all of the thundering from the Divine Cloud on Sinai. At least, though they may forget later, they know this is the One God who is so mightily present on Sinai. So God goes to the Second Commandment to demonstrate its gravity. Little images of non-gods made of gold or silver bear no resemblance to God – they cannot move, think, or benefit in any way. These were simple creations of the great God. God contrasts His own simple nature to that attributed to false gods of precious metal, wood or stone: “An altar of earth thou shalt make unto me, and shalt sacrifice thereon thy burnt offerings, and thy peace offerings, thy sheep, and thine oxen: in all places where I record my name I will come unto thee, and I will bless thee.” God would have Israel to know that it is not the sophistication of the altar, but the God to whom it is dedicated that is important. Our hearts, too, are altars to God – and they are made from the dust of the earth, are they not?
“And if thou wilt make me an altar of stone, thou shalt not build it of hewn stone: for if thou lift up thy tool upon it, thou hast polluted it.” The substance of which the altar of God is made must remain as God made it. It is not the labor of our hands that consecrate the altar, for our works are entirely unprofitable. If we attempt to add a single chip by the works of our hands to the overcoming salvation of God, we have polluted the altar (our hearts). We can claim no righteousness in our works, but salvation is all of grace. Here is a strong warning to the elaborate, gaudy articles and utensils used in Romish churches and others that tend to worship the structure or building more than the One to whom it is dedicated.
“Neither shalt thou go up by steps unto mine altar, that thy nakedness be not discovered thereon.” There seem, to me, to be two logical and rational reasons for this last verse:
1. Owing to the full flowing robes, or even knee length ‘kilts’ of men of that day, modesty of appearance should have been observed in going up to the altar. If there were an elevation of steps, that modesty would have been compromised;
2. God does not desire HIGH altars. Such ornate and high structures often diminish the reverence owed to God alone. We all remember that the Taj Mahal was begun to honor the memory of an Indian princess, but in its years of construction, the edifice became more important than the princess who was to be memorialized. We have many, many Taj Mahals depicted in modern churches.
We all seem to want to be the First Church – bigger, richer, and better than all around. That mentality will only feed the fires in which they shall be consumed at the Last Day. God wants the flesh and blood altars of a tender heart, not an ornately constructed temple that worships itself more than its Creator.
May the AOC never become such a Church.
Tuesday, January 27, 2015
Am I a Soldier of the Cross?
3 Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. 4 No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier. (2 Tim 2:3-4)
The author of this great anthem/hymn was a diminutive (5 ft. tall) sickly man who gave evidence of precocious nature early in life. At the tender age of four, he was learning Latin; at age nine, Greek; French at age eleven; and Hebrew at age thirteen. What language were YOU learning at age four and nine?
Isaac Watts (1674-1748) is known as the Father of English Hymnody. A Non-Conformist, Isaac declined an opportunity for paid matriculation at Cambridge. He authored more than 750 hymns, many of which were metrical Psalms, and includes Joy to the World and When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.
Due to recurrent illness, Watts felt inclined to resign as minister of his church in 1722. His physical stature and physical constitution in no way would betray a soldier’s heart, but that is precisely the kind of persevering heart that Isaac Watts, by the grace of God, possessed. He yearned to evoke in the hearts of worshippers the inward joy that their outward worship should demonstrate. His hymns were a fine step forward in achieving that lofty purpose. This hymn under present study should provoke a question in our minds: Are we an enduring, soldierly servant of the Lord, or merely paid wimps of the realm?
Am I a Soldier of the Cross
Am I a soldier of the Cross,
a follower of the Lamb,
and shall I fear to own his cause,
or blush to speak his Name?
Following General Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appaomattox courthouse on 9th April 1865, Herman Melville penned a poem encouraging recognition of the valor of the fallen soldiers of the Confederacy. Of the Color Bearers at Shiloh, he wrote:
The color-bearers facing death
White in the whirling sulphurous wreath,
Stand boldly out before the line
Right and left their glances go,
Proud of each other, glorying in their show;
Their battle-flags about them blow,
And fold them as in flame divine:
Such living robes are only seen
Round martyrs burning on the green—
And martyrs for the Wrong have been.
Color Bearers of both sides were traditionally young men of an age too tender to carry a rifle, so they were given the Colors of their unit which would be carried ahead of the leading elements of the Armies in battle. It took great courage, and perhaps a bit of youthful foolishness, to so expose oneself to the musketry and cannon fire of the enemy in open field. Valor is not always a measure of the righteousness of the combatant, but it certainly distinguishes a man who BELIEVES in something enough that he is willing to cast his life on the altar of his comrades, his nation, or his faith. Do we have the courage of a Color Bearer – we must for that is our primary obligation. We are Color Bearers of Christ, and there is no more righteous and glorious Color under which to engage the enemy of our souls than that of the Leading Ensign of Heaven – Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
The first verse of the hymn above asks a very probing question. Are WE soldiers of the Cross? or, are we afflicted with the popular disease of timidity in proclaiming the Name of our Lord? A soldier must wear his uniform that identifies his loyalties. He marches under the Colors of his Lord. He is undaunted by the schemes of the Adversary. He is not fighting for medals and recognition, and he has invested his ALL in the undertaking. His enlistment is “for the duration.” He took an oath, much as do we at our Confirmation, to serve.
Must I be carried to the skies
on flowery beds of ease,
while others fought to win the prize,
and sailed through bloody seas?
There is a great war, begun in Eden, that has been waged from that time until today. During war, there are two distinct categories of soldiers – the valiant warrior, or that cowardly miscreant we call a ‘homesteader’ meaning he gets a stateside, or otherwise comfy, assignment and sits the war out in that assignment. Have we curled up in the velvet pews of our churches and not gone out on the field of battle? A soldier is often required to give up home and comforts and to travel with just his weapons of war. We travel much like pilgrims and strangers in the earth searching for a country (Kingdom of Heaven). (Heb 11:13-14)
Are there no foes for me to face?
Must I not stem the flood?
Is this vile world a friend to grace,
to help me on to God?
Those sin-beleaguered souls that populate our world are not the enemy – it is the disease organism and its carrier (Satan) that is the enemy. We are to carry the cure to the sin-afflicted soul and, prodigiously, gain new recruits for our army in the process. The world is not our home. The world is enemy to all that is good and honorable. The world is stranger to the loving strains of grace. The world has not provision to help you on your way to God. In fact, it is a constant discouragement of grace.
Sure I must fight, if I would reign;
increase my courage, Lord.
I'll bear the toil, endure the pain,
supported by thy Word.
As Air Force Major General Frederick C. Blesse wrote in his manual for tactical fighter aviators in 1955 by the same title – “No Guts, no Glory.” Your spiritual courage is the measure of your faith. We lack the necessary courage in our native state, but the Lord imbues us with that courage necessary to prosecute our soldierly duties according to his Battle Plan. That Battle Plan is the Word of God! ““And ye shall be hated of all men for my name's sake: but he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.” (Mark 13:13) If the condition in which we began our lives is accounted as the full measure of importance, we shall all be destined for Hell. Happily, it is not the important thing. The important thing is not how we begin, but how we finish in the race of life.
Thy saints in all this glorious war
shall conquer, though they die;
they see the triumph from afar,
by faith they bring it nigh.
The Christian soldier is the only kind of soldier that forfeits his life on the damp, dank battlefield of life and finds himself ensconced at his awakening in the alabaster halls of Heaven. There is victory in death for the Christian soldier. They do, indeed, see that their battle has but one conclusion – victory for the King and total capitulation of the enemy.
When that illustrious day shall rise,
and all Thy armies shine
in robes of victory through skies,
the glory shall be thine.
Theodore O’Hara wrote a famous poem commemorating his fallen comrades during the Mexican-American War – Bivouac of the Dead. The poem later was used to memorialize fallen soldiers of the War Between the States. It is a beautiful and oft quoted poem, but it does not apply to the fallen Christian soldier. He LIVES though he were yet dead! War is a terrible mixture of wonders of fire and hail, screaming anguish, and unmitigated terror. But once an army wins its victory, the grimy, blood-stained uniforms and arms of battle are exchanged for the gleaming accoutrements of heraldry, and the crisp, clean uniforms of parade and pride. We shall see such a celebration of victory in the time of God’s choosing. We shall lay down, as the old song says, “our sword and shield, down by the riverside. . . . ain’t gonna study war no more.”