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Wednesday, August 31, 2016
13 Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. 14 For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil. (Eccl 12:13-14)
Ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do. (Luke 17:10b)
In the easy-believism of the modern church, you will rarely, if ever, hear mention of the term DUTY unless appeal is made to the so-called duty to give and tithe more money than you can afford. The modern church is into making large its membership rolls to the detriment of true faith and the nurturing in God’s Word. Just come forward and profess Jesus Christ (even if you have no idea WHO Jesus Christ is), and we will add your name to our membership rolls for all time and eternity without further ado. A large membership roll may impress worldly denominational leaders, but it will make no impression on the God of Heaven. He is not impressed with prestigious buildings, high steeples, elaborate vestments of gold-embroidered silk, miters, nasalized Oxford accents, etc. God is interested in the true heart of the individual believers who alone comprise the Church of God. He would prefer three souls of true faith meeting under a desert palm tree to one thousand phony professors meeting at St. Paul’s Cathedral.
DUTY is a hard term for the modern church because it insists faith must result in good works and action. And when one has performed all good works to the best of his ability, no credit is due him for the doing – it was simply his duty! Duty is simply performing those minimum requirements of good faith and character that is expected of every believing Christian. It was the DUTY of the Temple priest to stop and help the wounded Jew on the Road to Jericho – he did not! It was the DUTY of the Levite to stop and offer help as well – he did not! But the hated and lowly Samaritan did his DUTY by stopping, helping the man as much as he could have done, expending expensive oils and wine on his wounds, bearing him on his beast of burden to an inn, caring for him there, and paying for his further care while he went to Jerusalem on business. Even the Good Samaritan has nothing to boast of for he simply did his DUTY.
Fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, neighbors – all have duties to observe. There are the duties of common humanity and courtesy, but also duties that one owes, first to God, and then to his fellow man. This complies with the Two Great Commandments of the Pentateuch which Jesus quoted to the obdurate lawyer: 37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. 38 This is the first and great commandment. 39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. (Matt 22:37-40)
I trust the reader needs no reminder a Commandment of God is not a suggestion of optional compliance? Even if we were able to keep these two Commandments without flaw, we still would have merely done our DUTY. This may not sit well with the silken-attired pulpit dandies of our day, but it is nonetheless spot-on Scripture. The modern church is more concerned in finding avenues to circumvent DUTY rather than in living up to their obligations under its mandate.
The rigorous duties of a soldier are many and varied. Sleeping at guard-mount warrants a capital punishment; but when the soldier stands his guard duty without sleeping once, is he commended for that? No, sir! He has simply performed his DUTY. The soldier has a DUTY to obey lawful orders without question or hesitation. If commanded to leave the trenches under heavy fire and join the line of battle, he must do so not expecting a commendation for obedience to that order – it was his DUTY. The soldier must be willing to lay down his life if necessary in defense of the nation and her colors. Military cemeteries from Arlington to Colleville-sur-Mer Military Cemetery at Omaha Beach; and from the Military Cemetery at Guadacanal to the “American Military Cemetery and Memorial which is in Manila, the Philippine Islands, and is the largest American military cemetery on foreign soil. Over 17,000 graves are arranged in a circular layout encompassing 125 acres. Constructed in the middle are two hemicycles, listing a staggering 36,282 names of Americans who lost their lives in the South Pacific during WWII and have no known resting place.” (from Tablets of the Missing)
Those missing men who sleep in the marshes and jungles of the Pacific, or in silent tombs of the deep of the ocean-seas, are not recognized for any special, above-the-call-of-duty, award; for they simply did their DUTY.
In God’s economy, there is no such thing as “above-and-beyond-the-call-of-duty.” The Roman Catholic doctrine of “works of supererogation” holds that one can do more than duty requires of him in the service of God. Really? What would that be? The Protestant Reformers rejected this prideful claim along with indulgencies, and that rejection is clearly stated in the 14th Article of the Articles of Religion of the Reformation Church of England. It was not the DUTY of our Lord to die for us – it was motivated by His unmitigated love for us that He deigned to do so. So, if we die for Him or for others, we have not done as much, being guilty of sins ourselves, as He has done without sin or blemish.
If that level of Love commanded in the Two Great Commandments recited by Christ is enshrined in the Temples of our Hearts, then DUTY need not be evoked, for love itself is its own cause and objective. When we feed a hungry animal by the wayside, our actions are motivated by, at the least, an embryonic love for the creature. Compassion is the fruit of love that compels us to act always with mercy and sacrifice. There is no recorded episode in Scripture in which Christ did not have a deep compassion for every sinner that crossed his path. The only persons for whom Christ showed contempt were the self-righteous, the proud, and the propagators of error. These, ironically, were primarily those who were supposed to be loving and kind – the high clerics and priests of His day.
The professing Christian (who does more than profess by living out his faith) will acknowledge the right of the Maker to His Creation and His Creatures. The painting of the Last Supper cannot complain to da Vinci for the colors he used in the painting, and neither can the Christian complain to his Maker for the foils and foibles of life, or the sacrifice he is compelled by love to make. Though we may render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s, we can, in no way, offer any gift to God that will enrich His Treasures in Heaven. All that we have and, in fact, all that we ARE, belongs to Him already. If the steam engine belongs to the ship’s owner, then so does the energy and labor that the engine performs. So with our works of righteousness before God – it is the righteousness of Christ working through us and not our own.
What do you suppose the Lord means in the text from Luke 17:10? Ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do. In saying we are ‘unprofitable’ servants, we are not saying we are worthless or anything of the like. We are saying we cannot do enough to earn our wages of salvation. Though the gentleman, BOAZ, of the Book of Ruth is an exception, most masters do not thank the hired servant for the labors they do for they are simply doing the least that is expected of them. So are we.
I believe the good Dr. Martin Luther misinterpreted the Book of James’ claim that faith without works is dead. 14 What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, 16 And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? 17 Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. 18 Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works. (James 2:14-18) Martin Luther was led to question the canonicity of the Book of James because it seemed, to Luther, to contradict his entire doctrine of Grace Alone; but it does not. Grace stands above and apart from all claims of salvation by works; however, true faith, ensuing from a mighty Grace, is compelled to good works. It is not an option. So good works are the evidence of strong faith – not the cause. 13 And I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Write, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours; and their works do follow them. (Rev 14:13)
I will ask a sobering question, dear reader: Which works will follow YOU beyond Jordan Banks?
Tuesday, August 30, 2016
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2 The people that walked in darkness have seen a great LIGHT: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined. (Isaiah 9:2)
19 We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the DAY STAR arise in your hearts. (2 Peter 1:19)
I chose this hymn for its artful composition and beauty of expression. The word pictures flow as a peaceful river through pastures of contentment. One can almost see and feel the beauty of a celestial sunrise that shall mark the final day in the annals of this world. The heart-wrenching fevers and suffering of the world have been borne in misery, but also in hope of a future Promise – and the consummation of that future Promise is illustrated wonderfully in the lines of this old Presbyterian classic hymn.
Lyrics for this hymn are the composition of Thomas Hastings in 1831; and the tune, Wesley, was the work of Lowell Mason in 1830.
Hail to the Brightness of Zion’s Glad Morning
Hail to the brightness of Zion’s glad morning!
Joy to the lands that in darkness have lain!
Hushed be the accents of sorrow and mourning;
Zion in triumph begins her mild reign.
Hail to the brightness of Zion’s glad morning!
Long by the prophets of Israel foretold!
Hail to the millions from bondage returning!
Gentiles and Jews the blest vision behold.
Lo, in the desert rich flowers are springing,
Streams ever copious are gliding along;
Loud from the mountain tops echoes are ringing,
Wastes rise in verdure, and mingle in song.
See, from all lands, from the isles of the ocean,
Praise to the Savior ascending on high;
Fallen the engines of war and commotion;
Shouts of salvation are rending the sky.
Hail to the brightness of Zion’s glad morning! Joy to the lands that in darkness have lain! Hushed be the accents of sorrow and mourning; Zion in triumph begins her mild reign. Are you one of those incorrigible sleepy-heads who are difficult to rouse from bed at the breaking of day? Never mind! There is coming a Day Break whose brilliant beams and effulgent light you will not be able to block out even with closed eyes. 30 And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 31 And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. Matt 24:30-31 Why do you suppose Matthew makes reference to the Trumpet? It is because that was the custom of the Bridegroomsmen in sounding a trumpet when the Bridegroom (Jesus Christ) approached the house of His betrothed Bride (the Church). The dawning of this Day of the Lord will be unlike the dawning of any other day for glory, for beauty, for joy, and for span; for this Day shall begin and never end. The light shall illumine the dark mountains of North Korea where manmade lights are not visible at night; the jungle regions of Africa, and all of the islands of the sea. God has His elect in all of these quarters, and He knows who, and where, they sleep. The only human utterances will be of joy muffled by awe. Sorrow and mourning shall become a distant memory. Finally, truly upright and righteous reign shall be established in the earth.
Hail to the brightness of Zion’s glad morning! Long by the prophets of Israel foretold! Hail to the millions from bondage returning! Gentiles and Jews the blest vision behold. In case you may forget, the first line of the first verse is repeated in the second. Our Lord Jesus Christ was present in the primordial darkness of Creation. He was the Executive Agent of Creation – 1 In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. (Gen 1:1) 1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word (Jesus Christ) was God. 2 The same was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. (John 1:1-3) From the first verse in Genesis to the last in Revelations, this is the Word that personifies our Lord Jesus Christ – all of the historical books of the Bible, all of the poetic books, all of the prophets, all of the Gospels, epistles and prophecies are of Christ! There will be no border or boundary separating nations, tribes, or tongues in that Day. Sin is a deadly bondage; but mortal life itself is bondage to the soul that yearns for its Maker. Lying in wait from the desert dunes of the Sahara, the rocky mountains of Persia, the plains and river valleys of Asia, the frozen prairies of the north and south, and in every patch of ground of this primitive planet, the souls of God’s Elect shall arise from their dusty deposits and rise up with those Elect yet living to see and meet their dear Savior.
Lo, in the desert rich flowers are springing, Streams ever copious are gliding along; Loud from the mountain tops echoes are ringing, Wastes rise in verdure, and mingle in song. The most beautiful foliage of all of the world is found in desert regions where virgin soil has lain dormant for extended periods of time. Suddenly, a refreshing rain graces the waste places and the desert blooms in a grand abundance of beauty and joy. In flying over the deserts of old Persian, I was astonished at the carpet of elegant colors that graced the desert sands after a rare rainfall. The world today is all a desert – a desert and a wilderness of sin. But the day comes when the rains of the Lord shall replenish the earth with a righteous downpour. The desert places will bloom again. The thousands of martyred souls in the deserts of Syria, Iraq, Libya, Egypt, and every other imaginable Hell Hole shall arise in full bloom of beauty to meet their Lord. There will also be a resurrection of those wicked who beheaded them whose rising will be to a different kind of eternity altogether – eternal suffering and darkness. And . . . . there will be music the likes of which no Bach or Beethoven could have conceived. The gifted and gilded choir of angels shall sound forth in chorus whose beauty shall lift the souls of the righteous to high Heaven.
See, from all lands, from the isles of the ocean, Praise to the Savior ascending on high; Fallen the engines of war and commotion; Shouts of salvation are rending the sky. The most glorious and beautiful chorus I have ever heard was on the Island of Isabel of the Solomon Island Chain. The deep rich voices of the male members seated on the left, echoed by the harmonious and shrill voices of the ladies, and enriched by the pipe organs of bamboo, made one’s soul lift from its mortal anchorage and drift toward the very Gates of Heaven. God hears those wonderful voices, and they praise and glorify His Name. 14 They shall lift up their voice, they shall sing for the majesty of the LORD, they shall cry aloud from the sea. 15 Wherefore glorify ye the LORD in the fires, even the name of the LORD God of Israel in the isles of the sea. (Isaiah 24:14-15) It is no secret either that many of our martyrs – even Anglican martyrs – glorified the name of the Lord even from the fires of martyrdom. John Hus, a Czech priest of pre-Reformation died in the fires singing a Psalm of Praise. Archbishop Thomas Cranmer was burned at the stake holding his right hand into the fire for having made a false recantation previously. Bishop Hugh Latimer encouraged his fearful friend, Nicolas Ridley, with these words just before the two were tied to the stake to be burned outside Oxford: “Be of good cheer, master Ridley, and play the man; we shall this day light such a candle in England, as I hope, by God's grace, shall never be put out.”
There will no longer be raised shouts of vengeance on the part of the martyred souls for their joys will overtake lesser causes. Vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lord! War, pestilence, and disease will be the former things; and every tear will be wiped from the eyes of those faithful of God.
Will you and your loved ones be of the blessed few who shall hail the brightness of Zion’s glad morning?