Differences between Semi-Pelagianism and Arminian Beliefs





While not denying the necessity of Grace for salvation, Semi-Pelagianism maintains that the first steps towards the Christian life are ordinarily taken by the human will and that Grace supervened only later.


In contrast to Semi-Pelagianism, Arminianism teaches that the first steps of grace are taken by God. This teaching derives from the Remonstrance of 1610, a codification of the teachings of Jacob Arminius (1559-1609). Here are the 3rd and 4th articles of five to show how close it actually approaches traditional Calvinism, but still leaves man with a small island of righteousness, as it affirms that, unregenerate man can think spiritual thoughts, perceive the beauty and excellency of Christ, create affections for Him and thus turn in faith to Him, apart from the quickening of the Holy Spirit – although it is claimed that prevenient grace places the sinner in a semi-regenerate-like state. The following Arminian articles of the Remonstrance affirm that God’s grace is always resistible, therefore, when one believes, it is not grace which makes one to differ from another person, but naturally produced faith:

Article III.  That man has not saving grace of himself, nor of the working of his own free-will, inasmuch as in his state of apostasy and sin he can for himself and by himself think nothing that is good–nothing, that is, truly good, such as saving faith is, above all else. But that it is necessary that by God, in Christ and through his Holy Spirit he be born again and renewed in understanding, affections and will and in all his faculties, that he may be able to understand, think, will, and perform what is truly good, according to the Word of God [John 15:5].

Article IV.  That this grace of God is the beginning, the progress and the end of all good; so that even the regenerate man can neither think, will nor effect any good, nor withstand any temptation to evil, without grace precedent (or prevenient), awakening, following and co-operating. So that all good deeds and all movements towards good that can be conceived in through must be ascribed to the grace of God in Christ. But with respect to the mode of operation, grace is not irresistible; for it is written of many that they resisted the Holy Spirit [Acts 7 and elsewhere passim].

Reformed Theology by contrast teaches that the natural men may have common grace, common illuminations, and common affections that are from the Spirit of God. Natural men have sometimes the influences of the Spirit of God in His common operations and gifts, and therefore God’s Spirit is said to be striving with them, and they are said to resist the Spirit, (Acts 7:51;) to grieve and vex God’s Holy Spirit, (Eph. 4:30; Isaiah 63:10;) While indeed fallen men resist grace every day when the gospel is presented to them, for that is their nature and desire. But it is important to note that God can and does make His grace effectual or irresistible at a time of His sovereign merciful choosing (John 6:37, 39, 44, 63-65; John 3:8; Matt 11:27; 1 Corinthians 1:9; Paul’s conversion in Acts 2:39, Acts 9; Rom 8:30 ROM 9:11-24; 1 Cor. 1:9-26; Gal. 1:6-15; 1 Thess. 1:5, 6; 1 Thess. 2:12; 5:24; 2 Thess. 2:14; Eph. 1:18; 4:1-4, 5; 2 Tim. 1:9; Heb. 3:1; 1 Pet. 2:9; 5:10; 2 Pet. 1:3-10). If this kind of effectual grace can be resisted, as Arminians claim, then faith is understood as a natural preparation for saving grace, as the fulfillment of a condition for receiving supernatural grace by the performance of something that is within man’s natural capacity/desire to do. Man, in this scheme, cooperates with God’s prevenient grace according to his native ability. But the Scripture teaches that salvation is not a faith-contribution or a principle standing ultimately independent of God’s action of grace. Rather, it does not owe exclusively to man’s natural endowment with a free will and does not arise out of an inherent capacity of the natural man, as Arminians teach. Rather, God acts unilaterally and exclusively, taking the sole initiative in a free act of sovereign grace—grace that is altogether prior to, and productive of, justifying faith. As such, the grace of Christ is not only necessary but sufficient to save us to the uttermost. Salvation is of the Lord since God was entirely responsible for it and, as such, we thank God for our entire salvation. This strips us of all of our self-righteousness and boasting since we cannot attribute even our faith to our own natural wisdom or sound judgment, or better understanding than our neighbor, but only to God.

Hannah More said:

“The sacred writings frequently point out the analogy between natural and spiritual things. The same Spirit, which in the creation of the world moved upon the face of the waters, operates on the human character to produce a new heart and a new life. By this operation the affections and faculties of the man receive a new impulse — his dark understanding is illuminated, his rebellious will is subdued, his irregular desires are rectified; his judgment is informed, his imagination is chastised, his inclinations are sanctified; his hopes and fears are directed to their true and adequate end. Heaven becomes the object of his hopes, and eternal separation from God the object of his fears. His love of the world is transformed into the love of God. The lower faculties are pressed into the new service. The senses have a higher direction. The whole internal frame and constitution receive a nobler bent; the intents and purposes of the mind, a sublime aim; his aspirations, a loftier flight; his vacillating desires find a fixed object; his vagrant purposes a settled home; his disappointed heart a certain refuge. That heart, no longer the worshiper of the world, is struggling to become its conqueror. Our blessed Redeemer, in overcoming the world, bequeathed us his command to overcome it also; but as he did not give the command without the example, so he did not give the example without the offer of a power to obey the command.”

While it is clear that Arminian Theology and Semi-Pelagianism have a different view of grace; (Arminianism believes God must initiate with grace and Semi-Pelagianism believes man must initiate to receive grace), but both systems ultimately share in common a characteristic – synergism. The question Arminians still need to answer is why do some people believe the gospel and not others? Is the ultimate power/desire to cooperate with God’s grace itself a work of the Holy Spirit or of the natural man? How can a natural man produce holy affections without God illuminating and regenerating the mind and heart? What ultimately makes men to differ, grace or faith?

When you are ushered before the presence of God on the Day of Judgment are you willing to declare, ‘I’m here because of something “I” did’, or even partly did in cooperation with Christ? Or will you give ALL GLORY to God, even for your new eyes, ears and heart to believe.

Humble Souls… Part 2.

Written by Thomas Brooks. Edited for thought and sense by Michael Pursley.

A humble soul doth highly prize the least of Christ.

JesusCuresThe least smile, the least good word, the least good look, the least truth, the least mercy, is highly valued by a humble soul.

The Canaanite woman in the fifteenth of Matthew sets a high price upon a crumb of mercy. Ah, Lord, says the humble soul, if I may not have a loaf of mercy, give me a piece of mercy; if not a piece of mercy, give me a crumb of mercy. If I may not have sun-light, let me have moon-light; if not moon-light, let me have star-light; if not star-light, let me have candle-light; and for that I will bless thee.

In the time of the law, the meanest things that were consecrated were very highly prized, such as leather or wood, if it was in the tabernacle.

A humble soul looks upon all the things of God as consecrated things. Every truth of God is a consecrated truth; it is consecrated to holy use, and this causes the soul highly to prize it; and so every smile of God, and every discovery of God, and every drop of mercy from God, is very highly prized by a soul that walks humbly with God. The name of Christ, the voice of Christ, the footsteps of Christ, the least touch of the garment of Christ, the least-regarded truth of Christ, the meanest and least-regarded among the flock of Christ, is highly prized by humble souls that are interested in Christ, Song 1: 3; John 10: 4, 5; Ps. 27: 4; Mat. 9. 20, 21; Acts 24. 14; 1 Cor. 9. 22.

A humble soul cannot, and humble soul dares not, call anything little that has Christ in it; neither can a humble soul call or count anything great wherein he sees not Christ, wherein he enjoys not Christ. A humble soul highly prizes the least nod, the least love-token, the least courtesy from Christ; but proud hearts count great mercies small mercies, and small mercies no mercies ; yea, pride does so unman them, that they often call mercy, a misery.

From The Complete Works of Thomas Brooks, Vol. III, “The Unsearchable Riches of Christ”

Meet the author and part of your Christian heritage: Thomas Brooks (1608–1680) was an English non-conformist Puritan preacher and author. Much of what is known about Thomas Brooks has been ascertained from his writings. Born, likely to well-to-do parents, in 1608, Brooks entered Emmanuel College, Cambridge in 1625, where he was preceded by such men as Thomas Hooker, John Cotton, and Thomas Shepard. He was licensed as a preacher of the Gospel by 1640. Before that date, he appears to have spent a number of years at sea, probably as a chaplain with the fleet.

After the conclusion of the First English Civil War, Thomas Brooks became minister at Thomas Apostle’s, London, and was sufficiently renowned to be chosen as preacher before the House of Commons on December 26, 1648. His sermon was afterwards published under the title, ‘God’s Delight in the Progress of the Upright’, the text being Psalm 44:18: ‘Our heart is not turned back, neither have our steps declined from Thy way’. Three or four years afterwards, he transferred to St. Margaret’s, Fish-street Hill, London.

As a writer C. H. Spurgeon said of him, ‘Brooks scatters stars with both hands, with an eagle eye of faith as well as the eagle eye of imagination’. In 1662, he fell victim to the notorious Act of Uniformity, but he appears to have remained in his parish and to have preached as opportunity arose. Treatises continued to flow from his pen.

Justification by Faith, its Heritage, its Necessity, and its Attackers

By J. I. Packer

Martin Luther described the doctrine of justification by faith as articulus stantis vel cadentis ecclesiæ—the article of faith that decides whether the church is standing or falling.

00000By this he meant that when this doctrine is understood, believed, and preached, as it was in New Testament times, the church stands in the grace of God and is alive; but where it is neglected, overlaid, or denied, as it was in mediaeval Catholicism, the church falls from grace and its life drains away, leaving it in a state of darkness and death. The reason why the Reformation happened, and Protestant churches came into being, was that Luther and his fellow Reformers believed that Papal Rome had apostatised from the gospel so completely in this respect that no faithful Christian could with a good conscience continue within her ranks.

Justification by faith has traditionally, and rightly, been regarded as one of the two basic and controlling principles of Reformation theology. The authority of Scripture was the formal principle of that theology, determining its method and providing its touchstone of truth; justification by faith was its material principle, determining its substance. In fact, these two principles belong inseparably together, for no theology that seeks simply to follow the Bible can help concerning itself with what is demonstrably the essence of the biblical message. The fullest statement of the gospel that the Bible contains is found in the epistle to the Romans, and Romans minus justification by faith would be like Hamlet without the Prince.

A further fact to weigh is that justification by faith has been the central theme of the preaching in every movement of revival and religious awakening within Protestantism from the Reformation to the present day. The essential thing that happens in every true revival is that the Holy Spirit teaches the church afresh the reality of justification by faith, both as a truth and as a living experience. This could be demonstrated historically from the records of revivals that we have; and it would be theologically correct to define revival simply as God the Spirit doing this work in a situation where previously the church had lapsed, if not from the formal profession of justification by faith, at least from any living apprehension of it.

This being so, it is a fact of ominous significance that Buchanan’s classic volume [THE DOCTRINE OF JUSTIFICATION, An Outline of its History in the Church and of its Exposition from Scripture], now a century old, is the most recent full-scale study of justification by faith that English speaking Protestantism (to look no further) has produced. If we may judge by the size of its literary output, there has never been an age of such feverish theological activity as the past hundred years; yet amid all its multifarious theological concerns it did not produce a single book of any size on the doctrine of justification. If all we knew of the church during the past century was that it had neglected the subject of justification in this way, we should already be in a position to conclude that this has been a century of religious apostasy and decline. It is worth our while to try and see what has caused this neglect, and what are the effects of it within Protestant communities today; and then we may discern what has to be done for our situation to be remedied.

The doctrine of justification by faith is like Atlas: it bears a world on its shoulders, the entire evangelical knowledge of saving grace. The doctrines of election, of effectual calling, regeneration, and repentance, of adoption, of prayer, of the church, the ministry, and the sacraments, have all to be interpreted and understood in the light of justification by faith. Thus, the Bible teaches that God elected men in eternity in order that in due time they might be justified through faith in Christ. He renews their hearts under the Word, and draws them to Christ by effectual calling, in order that he might justify them upon their believing. Their adoption as God’s sons is consequent on their justification; indeed, it is no more than the positive aspect of God’s justifying sentence. Their practice of prayer, of daily repentance, and of good works—their whole life of faith—springs from the knowledge of God’s justifying grace. The church is to be thought of as the congregation of the faithful, the fellowship of justified sinners, and the preaching of the Word and ministry of the sacraments are to be understood as means of grace only in the sense that they are means through which God works the birth and growth of justifying faith. A right view of these things is not possible without a right understanding of justification; so that, when justification falls, all true knowledge of the grace of God in human life falls with it, and then, as Luther said, the church itself falls. A society like the Church of Rome, which is committed by its official creed to pervert the doctrine of justification, has sentenced itself to a, distorted understanding of salvation at every point. Nor can these distortions ever be corrected till the Roman doctrine of justification is put right. And something similar happens when Protestants let the thought of justification drop out of their minds: the true knowledge of salvation drops out with it, and cannot be restored till the truth of justification is back in its proper place. When Atlas falls, everything that rested on his shoulders comes crashing down too.

How has it happened, then, we ask, that so vital a doctrine has come to be neglected in the way that it is today?

The answer is not far to seek. Just as Atlas, with his mighty load to carry, could not hover in mid-air, but needed firm ground to stand on, so does the doctrine of justification by faith. It rests on certain basic presuppositions, and cannot continue without them. Just as the church cannot stand without the gospel of justification, so that gospel cannot stand where its presuppositions are not granted. They are three:

1. The divine authority of Holy Scripture,

2. The divine wrath against human sin, and

3. The substitutionary satisfaction of Christ.

The church loses its grip on these truths, loses its grip on the doctrine of justification, and to that extent on the gospel itself. And this is what has largely happened in Protestantism today.

Let us look at this in detail. Take the three doctrines in order.

1. The divine authority of the Bible.

To Reformation theologians—among whom we count the Puritans, the early Evangelicals, and theologians like Buchanan—what Scripture said, God said. To them, all Scripture had the character claimed for itself by biblical prophecy—the character, that is, of being the utterance of God spoken through human lips. The voice that spoke was human, but the words spoken were divine. So with the Bible: the pen and style were man’s, but the words written were God’s. The Scriptures were both man’s word and God’s word; not just man bearing witness to God, but God bearing witness to Himself. Accordingly, theologians of the Reformation type took the biblical doctrine of sin and salvation exactly as it stood. They traced out the thoughts of Paul, and John, and Peter, and the rest of those who expounded it, with loving care, knowing that hereby they were thinking God’s thoughts after Him. So that, when they found the Bible teaching that God’s relationship with man is regulated by His law, and only those whom His law does not condemn can enjoy fellowship with Him, they believed it. And when they found that the heart of the New Testament gospel is the doctrine of justification and forgiveness of sins, which shows sinners the way to get right with God’s law, they made this gospel the heart of their own message.

But modern Protestants have ceased to do this, because they have jettisoned the historic understanding of the inspiration and authority of Holy Scripture. It has become usual to analyse inspiration naturalistically, reducing it to mere religious insight. Modern theology balks at equating the words of the Bible with the words of God, and fight shy of asserting that, because these words are inspired, they are therefore inerrant and divinely authoritative. Scripture is allowed a relative authority, based on the supposition that its authors, being men of insight, probably say much that is right; but this is in effect to deny to Scripture the authority which properly belongs to the words of a God who cannot lie. This modern view expressly allows for the possibility that sometimes the biblical writers, being children of their age, had their minds so narrowed by conditioning factors in their environment that, albeit unwittingly, they twisted and misstated God’s truth. And when any particular biblical idea cuts across what men today like to think, modern Protestants are fatally prone to conclude that this is a case in point, where the Bible saw things crooked, but we today, differently conditioned, can see them straight.

So here. Modern man, like many pre-Christian pagans, likes to think of himself as a son of God by creation, born into the divine family and an object of God’s endless paternal care. The thought appeals, for it is both flattering and comforting; it seems to give us a claim on God’s love straight away. Protestants of today (whose habit it is to take pride in being modern) are accordingly disinclined to take seriously the uniform biblical insistence that God’s dealing with man are regulated by law, and that God’s universal relation to mankind is not that of Father, but of Lawgiver and Judge. They grant that this thought meant much to Paul, because of his rabbinic conditioning, and to the Reformers, because legal concepts so dominated the Renaissance culture of their day; but, these Protestants say, forensic imagery is really quite out of place for expressing the nature of the personal, paternal relationship which binds God to His human creatures. The law-court is a poor metaphor for the Father’s house. Paul was not at his best when talking about justification. We, in our advanced state of enlightenment, can now see that God’s dealings with His creatures are not, strictly speaking, legal at all. Thus modern Protestantism really denies the validity of all the forensic terms in which the Bible explains to us our relationship with God.

The modern Protestant, therefore, is willing to see man as a wandering child, a lost prodigal needing to find a way home to his heavenly Father, but, generally speaking, he is not willing to see him as a guilty criminal arraigned before the Judge of all the earth. The Bible doctrine of justification, however, is the answer to the question of the convicted lawbreaker: how can I get right with God’s law? How can I be just with God? Those who refuse to see their situation in these terms will not, therefore, take much interest in the doctrine. Nobody can raise much interest in the answer to a question which, so far as he is concerned, never arises. Thus modern Protestantism, by its refusal to think of man’s relationship with God in the basic biblical terms, has knocked away the foundation of the gospel of justification, making it seem simply irrelevant to man’s basic need.

The second doctrine which the gospel of justification presupposes is:

2. The divine wrath against human sin.

Just as modern Protestants are reluctant to believe that man has to deal with God, not as a Father, but as a Judge, so they are commonly unwilling to believe that there is in God a holy antipathy against sin, a righteous hatred of evil, which prompts Him to exact just retribution when His law is broken. They are not, therefore, prepared to take seriously the biblical witness that man in sin stands under the wrath of God. Some dismiss the wrath of God as another of Paul’s lapses; others reduce it to an impersonal principle of evil coming home (sometimes) to roost: few will allow that wrath is God’s personal reaction to sin, so that by sinning a man makes God his enemy. But Reformation theologians have always believed this; first, because the Bible teaches it, and, second, because they have felt something of the wrath of God in their own convicted and defiled consciences. And they have preached it; and thus they have in past days laid the foundation for proclaiming justification. But where there is an unwillingness to allow that sinners stand under the judicial wrath of God, there is no foundation for the preaching of deliverance from that wrath which is what the gospel of justification is about. Thus in a second way modern Protestantism undercuts that gospel, and robs it of relevance for man’s relationship with God.

The third presupposition is:

3. The substitutionary satisfaction of Christ.

It is no accident that at the time of the Reformation the penal and substitutionary character of the death of Christ, and the doctrine of justification by faith, came to be appreciated together. For in the Bible they belong together. Justification is grounded on the sin-bearing work of the Lamb of God. It is the second, completing stage in the great double transaction whereby Christ was made sin and believing sinners are made ‘the righteousness of God in him’ (2 Corinthians 5:211). Salvation in the Bible is by substitution and exchange: the imputing of men’s sins to Christ, and the imputing of Christ’s righteousness to sinners. By this means, the law, and the God whose law it is, are satisfied, and the guilty are justly declared immune from punishment. Justice is done, and mercy is made triumphant in the doing of it. The imputing of righteousness to sinners in justification, and the imputing of their sins to Christ on Calvary, thus belong together; and if, in the manner of so much modern Protestantism, the penal interpretation of the Cross is rejected, then there is no ground on which the imputing of righteousness can rest. And a groundless imputation of righteousness to sinners would be a mere legal fiction, an arbitrary pretense on God’s part, an overturning of the moral order of the universe, and a violation of the law which expresses His own holy nature—in short, would be a flat impossibility, which it would be blasphemous even to contemplate. No; if the penal character of Christ’s death be denied, the right conclusion to draw is that God has never justified any sinner, nor ever will. Thus modern Protestantism, by rejecting penal substitution, is guilty of undermining the gospel of justification by faith in yet a third way. For justification cannot be preached in a way that is even reverent when that which alone makes moral sense of it is denied. No wonder, therefore, that the subject of, justification is so widely neglected at the present time.

What must we do to reinstate it in our pulpits and our churches? We must preach it in its biblical setting; we must re-establish its presuppositions. We must reaffirm the authority of Scripture, as truth from the mouth of God. We must reaffirm the inflexible righteousness of God as a Judge, and the terrible reality of His wrath against sin, as Scripture depicts these things. And we must set forth against this black background the great exchange between Christ and His members, the saving transaction which justification completes. The good news of Christ in our place, and we in His, is still God’s word to the world; it is through the foolishness (as men call it) of this message, and this message alone, that God is pleased to save them that believe.

Taken from the Preface of: “THE DOCTRINE OF JUSTIFICATION, An Outline of its History in the Church and of its Exposition from Scripture,” by JAMES BUCHANAN, D.D., LL.D.  Preface written by J. I. Packer.

After ‘Hallowed be thy name’

 By Thomas Manton (1620–1677) 

He doth not say…

imagesWV1R6P4B‘And thy kingdom come;’ they are propounded as distinct sentences: but, ‘Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts,’ for three reasons:—

[1.] Without pardon all the good things of this life will do us no good. They are but as a full diet, or as a rich suit, to a condemned person; they will not comfort him and allay his present fears. Until we are pardoned, we are under a sentence, ready for execution and therefore we cannot have that comfort in outward things until we have some interest in God’s fatherly mercy. A man that is condemned hath the king’s allowance until execution. So it is the indulgence of God to a wicked man to give him many outward things, though he is condemned already. We should not satisfy ourselves with daily bread without a sense of some interest in pardoning mercy.

[2.] To show us our unworthiness. Our sins are so many and grievous that we are not worthy of one morsel of bread to put in our mouths. When we say, ‘ Give us this day,’ &c., we need presently to say, ‘ Forgive us our sins.’ There is a forfeiture even of these common blessings: Gen. xxxii. 10, ‘ I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies, and of all the truth, which thou hast showed unto thy servant.’ All that we have we have from mercy, and it is mercy undeserved. As we are creatures, there can be no common right between God and us to engage him to give temporal blessings, for we owe ourselves wholly to him, as being created out of nothing. Children cannot oblige their parents. But much more, as we are guilty creatures, it is merely of the mercy of the Lord.

He-hears-our-cries[3.] These are joined together because sin is the great obstacle and hindrance of all the blessings which we expect from God: Jer. v. 25, ‘ Your sins have withheld good things from you.’ When mercy comes to us, sin stands in the way and turns it back again, so that it cannot have so clear a passage to us. Therefore God must forgive before he can give, that is, bestow these outward things as a blessing on us.

Meet the Author and part of your Christian heritage: Thomas Manton (1620–1677) was an English Puritan clergyman.  Thomas Manton was invited to preach before Parliament on at least six occasions.  The first occasion was on June 30, 1647, which was a fast day for Parliament. His sermon was based on Zechariah 14:9 and entitled, “Meat out of the Eater; or, Hopes of Unity in and by Divided and Distracted Times.”

Exactly one year later, on June 30, 1648, he preached another fast sermon on Revelation 3:20, “England’s Spiritual Languishing; with the Causes and the Cure.” He also participated in the Westminster Assembly as one of three clerks, was later appointed to write a preface to the second edition of the Westminster Confession in 1658, and served Oliver Cromwell as a chaplain and a trier (an overseeing body that examined men for the ministry).

In 1656 he moved to London as he was appointed as a lecturer at Westminster Abbey and most importantly as rector of St. Paul’s, Covent Garden, succeeding Obadiah Sedgwick. During this time Cromwell died and England entered a period of great uncertainty. This led Presbyterians such as Manton to call for the restoration of Charles II in 1660, traveling along with others to Breda, The Netherlands, to negotiate his return. After Charles returned, Manton was part of the negotiations called the Savoy Conference, in which the scruples of the Presbyterians and Congregationalists concerning the Prayer Book were formally discussed. Yet since the Cavalier Parliament was filled with Laudians, 1662 saw the enactment of the Act of Uniformity 1662. All ministers were to be ordained or re-ordained by a bishop, they were to renounce the Solemn League and Covenant, promise loyalty to the Prayer Book, and subscribe the Thirty-Nine Articles. Since Manton was on favorable terms with Charles II he was offered the Deanery of Rochester, but he refused on conscience grounds.

Manton’s last years were tumultuous. The Act of Uniformity led to the “Great Ejection.” On August 17, 1662, Manton preached his last sermon at Covent Garden on Hebrews 12:1. He also continued to write even when imprisoned for refusing to cooperate for six months in 1670 in violation of the Conventicle Act. 1672 saw the Declaration of Indulgence, in which men like Manton were granted a license to preach at home. Manton then became a lecturer at Pinner’s Hall for the so-called “morning exercises.” Parliament, though, revoked this Indulgence the year after. Manton would later die on October 18, 1677, and was survived by his wife and three children.


Spiritual Apathy and the So-Called Christian

by J.C. Ryle

“The saddest symptom about many so-called Christians is the utter absence of anything like conflict and fight against spiritual apathy in their Christianity.

00They eat, they drink, they dress, they work, they amuse themselves, they get money, they spend money, they go through a brief round of formal religious services once or twice every week. But of the great spiritual warfare – its watchings and strugglings, its agonies and anxieties, its battles and contests – of all things they appear to know nothing at all. Let us take care that this case is not our own.”

0Meet the author and part of your Christian heritage:  John Charles Ryle (10 May 1816 – 10 June 1900) was the first Anglican bishop of Liverpool. Ryle was born at Macclesfield, and was educated at Eton and at Christ Church, Oxford, where he was Craven Scholar in 1836.  The son of a wealthy banker, he was destined for a career in politics before choosing a path of ordained ministry. While hearing Ephesians 2 read in church in 1838, he felt a spiritual awakening and was ordained by Bishop Sumner at Winchester in 1842. For 38 years he was a parish priest, first at Helmingham and later at Stradbrooke, in Suffolk. He became a leader of the evangelical party in the Church of England and was noted for his doctrinal essays and polemical writings.

Ryle was a strong supporter of the evangelical school and a critic of Ritualism. He was a writer, pastor and an evangelical preacher. Among his longer works are Christian Leaders of the Eighteenth Century (1869), Expository Thoughts on the Gospels (7 vols, 1856–69), Principles for Churchmen (1884). Ryle was described as having a commanding presence and vigorous in advocating his principles albeit with a warm disposition. He was also credited with having success in evangelizing the blue collar community. His second son, Herbert Edward Ryle also a clergyman, became Dean of Westminster.

A New Year’s Prayer of Thankfulness and Rejoicing, for God’s Almighty Providence.

Taken from, Prayers from Plymouth pulpit. “A New Year’s Day Prayer,”   (c. 1858) By Henry Ward Beecher.

We rejoice, O thou that dwellest in heaven,

that thou art not confined in thy wisdom, in thy power, in thy goodness, nor in thine administration, to the heavenly host. Throughout the whole domain, thou art the living God, and thy wisdom and thy power are felt wherever thou hast created, nor art thou ever weary of thy work, and the least thing that had the sovereign touch of life remains forever before thee, and all the wants of all the creatures that thou hast made rise up before thee for perpetual supply. Thou givest liberally; thou art inexhaustible in thy nature and resources. We cannot by searching, find out the nature of such a one, that dwells in unslumbering care, that knows no variableness, nor shadow of change, that outlives the passing generations of men, himself never old, forever young; full of goodness. And yet it is not so strange that thou shouldst be so, though we cannot understand the fullness thereof as that thou shouldst be a God of such tender mercy, a God of such divine love. We cannot understand how thou couldst bear us and carry us with such longing affections, and find in us reason for thy love; how thou canst see that which is desirable in the midst of so much pride and selfishness, so many passions, and the hurtful ways to which they give rise. This is the wonder and the love of Christ to sinful men. The mystery hid from ages, is an unsolved and unfathomable wonder yet; but we rejoice in believing that it is so, and that the divine grace of love that fills the heavens is to be the salvation of the earth. This is our hope.

It is not that we are strong, nor wise, but that thou art all this for us. It is thy righteousness and not our own that surrounds us; it is thy love to us rather than the love which we have to thee that encourages us; it is thy faithfulness and not our own perseverance that lays the foundation of our courage. We trust in God who is all in all, for thou art, O Blessed One, first and last, including all between; thou art Alpha and Omega, and the whole alphabet. All grace and mercy and truth is in thee; and we rejoice in thee, not in ourselves, not in man, not in institutions of religion, not in any thing that is upon the earth. O, we rejoice in thee, that art the fountain of all excellence, the Father of mercies, and the God of all grace and goodness. We have had abundant occasion to prove thee, and have put thee to proof, and we bear witness that thou art he that doeth exceeding abundantly more than we ask or think. Thy promises are never so large as thy performances, thou art before-hand with us; and when we think that we are walking in a desolate way, behold the footstep of God is before us; thou hast been there and prepared our way.

We rejoice to find thee on every side of us, and to find that our life is hid in thee; the secrets of it, the duties of it, and the duration of it, are of thee. We rejoice that we have such a friend, so gentle, so patient, so persevering. And this is the wound and the shame of our sin, that it is disobedience and an unwilling service of one so gracious and so full of all noble excellence. We are ashamed when we reflect how little we have requited thy love with our love; thy reasonable command with our filial obedience; we have sought each one his own way; we have had our own will and purpose aside from thine and contradicting thine. O Lord, we are unworthy of thy name or of thy favor; we only plead thy grace, saying, “God be merciful to us sinners.”

And now thou hast completed the mercies and the history of another year; thou hast advanced us to the first day of this year upon which we are entering. We would call upon our souls and all that is within us to bless and to praise thy name for the goodness of the year that has gone. Our record of it may have been of sin; our record of resolutions broken; our record of time misspent, of powers not legitimately used but turned aside against our secret convictions, against our own consciences, against the call of God’s voice in us powers not employed to their vast purposes and to their highest ends.

Our record is indeed sadly blotted; and tears and sorrows, hopes not fulfilled, and aspirations not met by any adequate realization, fill our remembrance; all on our side is human, weak, and wicked. If we look only to the year as we have marked it, it is not a year to be remembered nor sighed after as something to be brought back again; but when we look at thy way with us, it is a year robed in mercy, growing with every day, and waning not one single hour. Thou hast made it a year of divine love, of pardoning mercy, of gracious guidance. Thou hast held us up and carried us in thine arms even as a mother carries her little child. Thou hast counseled us; thy rod and thy staff they have comforted us; thou hast whispered to us in the hours of dullness and discouragement ; thou hast inspired us in our wayward moments, and brought us back again by ten thousand tokens; thou hast showed thyself indeed a guiding God and a Father.

We thank thee for the ministration of the year. It has past and gone to the judgment, and hangs there, waiting our coming –a record that we must yet again know and read, and now we beseech thee, O Lord God, by the patience which thou hast manifested, by the gentleness which we have proved, by the grace which is revealed of thee, and by all that is of goodness in thyself, we beseech of thee, take charge of us for the year upon which we have now entered. We are strangers to it; we do not know one single path; we are pilgrims and wander up and down in our several ways. Thou only seest the light and the darkness alike; thou only seest the end from the beginning. Thou alone art perfectly wise, and all things are in thine hands for merciful administration.

We commend ourselves and families to thee for the year upon which we are entering; and we beseech thee that thou wilt be gracious to us in our ordinary estate. If it be thy rich pleasure confirm to us life, a life of labor and usefulness. Bless us in our households; bless us in our social relations, and all our affections, and to one another, and sanctify our love; make it purer, nobler, and more heavenly. Bless us in our several secular duties. May we go abroad into all the relations of this life, carrying the savor of the Gospel with us, sanctifying whatever we touch, bearing about the name not only, but also the disposition of the Lord Jesus.

We beseech thee that thou wilt bless us in our individual experiences. Some thou art just calling out of darkness into light, and they are this year being bathed with new hopes. Be gracious to them, and sustain them, that no trouble may overtake them mightier than their strength; that with every temptation they may have rescue ; and that they may know that they have entered this year with God the Father for their guide, Christ for their Saviour, and the Holy Spirit for their enlightener and sanctifier.

Confirm those that have been already some way advanced in the divine life and have had occasion to prove thy mercies. We beseech of thee that they may not be discouraged, nor turn back, nor refuse to bear willingly such burdens as are needful for their culture. May those that have been for a long time in thy service and are ready to lay down their burdens, have still that same nourishing care which has never left them from their cradle until this day.

We beseech thee that they may already taste that heavenly joy which is so soon to be theirs. Thou hast taken from us not a few during the past year; they rest from their labors; they are divided by the sense and by the flesh from us that we cannot see them nor speak with them any more; but they are not divided from us in faith, nor in love, nor in joy. We tarry yet a little longer; thou art translating this church, thou art augmenting the ranks of those in the heavenly state that are glorified. O we thank thee that so many departing leave behind the savor of a holy life and the testimony of a triumphant death. We are comforted as we draw near, believing that the same grace that gave them victory, will give final release and victory to us. We beseech thee, if there be any of us appointed unto death in the year on which we have entered, may we not be afraid. May we know what is the meaning of that sound –death; may we always hear the word Christ when it is pronounced; may we know that it is but that divine presence calling us home; and may we feel every motion of death to be but the throbbing of the heart of God. May we long to depart to be in his bosom.

If any are sick, wilt thou graciously sustain and comfort them; visit them with thy salvation, and make today their sick-chamber to be as light as the temple of God. May they feel that thou art present, and may their joys be as choiring angels to them; and may they have occasion for thanksgiving even in their sick-chamber and in their hours of seclusion.

Be with those that belong to us who are far away.  Wherever they may be today, may it be a Sabbath –God’s rest in their souls. If there be any present that are strangers among strangers, cause all heart-sickness and home-sickness to fly away quickly as they are in the presence of God, of Christ Jesus, and their brethren.  May the joy of thy house banish all sad thoughts, and here may they renew their strength; here may they taste the bread of life; here may they renew their covenant, and here may they see that this is a gate of heaven.   Be with us in the things we ask for, and wilt thou do for us all that we need.

And thine shall be the praise,

Father, Son, and Spirit.


Meet the Author and part of your Christian heritage: Henry Ward Beecher (June 24, 1813 – March 8, 1887) was an American Congregationalist clergyman, social reformer, and speaker, known for his support of the abolition of slavery, his emphasis on God’s love, and his 1875 adultery trial.

Henry Ward Beecher was the son of Lyman Beecher, a Calvinist minister who became one of the best-known evangelists of his age. Several of his brothers and sisters became well-known educators and activists, most notably Harriet Beecher Stowe, who achieved worldwide fame with her abolitionist novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Henry Ward Beecher graduated from Amherst College in 1834 and Lane Theological Seminary in 1837 before serving as a minister in Indianapolis and Lawrenceburg, Indiana.

In 1847, Beecher became the first pastor of the Plymouth Church in Brooklyn, New York. He soon acquired fame on the lecture circuit for his novel oratorical style, in which he employed humor, dialect, and slang. Over the course of his ministry, Beecher developed a theology emphasizing God’s love above all else, a contradiction of his father’s stern Calvinism. He also grew interested in social reform, particularly the abolitionist movement. In the years leading up to the Civil War, he raised money to purchase slaves from captivity and to send rifles—nicknamed “Beecher’s Bibles“—to abolitionists fighting in Kansas and Nebraska. He toured Europe during the Civil War speaking in support of the Union.

In assessing Beecher’s legacy, Applegate states that

At his best, Beecher represented what remains the most lovable and popular strain of American culture: incurable optimism; can-do enthusiasm; and open-minded, open-hearted pragmatism … His reputation has been eclipsed by his own success. Mainstream Christianity is so deeply infused with the rhetoric of Christ’s love that most Americans can imagine nothing else, and have no appreciation or memory of the revolution wrought by Beecher and his peers.

Character excerpts taken from Wikipedia

Humble Souls…

Written by Thomas Brooks. Edited for thought and sense by Michael Pursley.

pilgrimsprogressHow does God single out humble souls from all others, to pour out most of the oil of grace into their hearts?

Vessels that God delights to fill, are like broken vessels, they are like contrite spirits: James 4:6, ‘He resists the proud, and gives grace to the humble.’

The Greek word  for “resists” signifies, to set himself in battle array. God takes the wind out of a proud soul, but he gives grace to the humble. The silver dews flow down from the mountains to the lowest valleys.

God pours in grace to the humble, as men pour in liquor into an empty vessel. He does not drop grace into a humble heart, but he pours it in.

The altar under the law was hollow, to receive the fire, the wood, and the sacrifice ; so the hearts of men, under the gospel, must be humble, empty of all spiritual pride and self-conceitedness, that so they may receive the fire of the Spirit, and Jesus Christ, who offered himself for a sacrifice for our sins.

Humility is both a grace, and a vessel to receive grace. There is none that sees so much need of grace as humble souls. There is none prizes grace like humble souls. There is none improves grace like humble souls. Therefore God singles out the humble soul to fill him to the brim with grace, when the proud is sent empty away.

From The Complete Works of Thomas Brooks, Vol. III, “The Unsearchable Riches of Christ”

Meet the author and part of your Christian heritage:  Thomas Brooks (1608–1680) was an English non-conformist Puritan preacher and author.  Much of what is known about Thomas Brooks has been ascertained from his writings. Born, likely to well-to-do parents, in 1608, Brooks entered Emmanuel College, Cambridge in 1625, where he was preceded by such men as Thomas Hooker, John Cotton, and Thomas Shepard. He was licensed as a preacher of the Gospel by 1640. Before that date, he appears to have spent a number of years at sea, probably as a chaplain with the fleet.

After the conclusion of the First English Civil War, Thomas Brooks became minister at Thomas Apostle’s, London, and was sufficiently renowned to be chosen as preacher before the House of Commons on December 26, 1648. His sermon was afterwards published under the title, ‘God’s Delight in the Progress of the Upright’, the text being Psalm 44:18: ‘Our heart is not turned back, neither have our steps declined from Thy way’. Three or four years afterwards, he transferred to St. Margaret’s, Fish-street Hill, London.

As a writer C. H. Spurgeon said of him, ‘Brooks scatters stars with both hands, with an eagle eye of faith as well as the eagle eye of imagination’.  In 1662, he fell victim to the notorious Act of Uniformity, but he appears to have remained in his parish and to have preached as opportunity arose. Treatises continued to flow from his pen.

Edwin Shuman was beaten and tortured because he was determined to hold Church at Hanoi Hilton… He Won.

By , Published: December 24, 2013,  New York Times

Edwin A. Shuman III, Former Prisoner of War Who Defied Hanoi Hilton Guards, Dies at 82

As Christmas 1970 approached, 43 American prisoners of war in a large holding cell at the North Vietnamese camp known as the Hanoi Hilton sought to hold a brief church service. Their guards stopped them, and so the seeds of rebellion were planted.

The Hoa Lo prison, a 19th-century structure built by the French in central Hanoi, was christened the Hanoi Hilton by American prisoners during the Vietnam War.

A few days later, Lt. Cmdr. Edwin A. Shuman III, a downed Navy pilot, orchestrated the resistance, knowing he would be the first to face the consequences: a beating in a torture cell.

“Ned stepped forward and said, ‘Are we really committed to having church Sunday? I want to know person by person,’ ” a fellow prisoner, Leo K. Thorsness, recounted in a memoir. “He went around the cell pointing to each of us individually,” Mr. Thorsness continued. “When the 42nd man said yes, it was unanimous. At that instant, Ned knew he would end up in the torture cells.”

The following Sunday, Commander Shuman, who died on Dec. 3 at 82, stepped forward to lead a prayer session and was quickly hustled away by guards. The next four ranking officers did the same, and they, too, were taken away to be beaten. Meanwhile, as Mr. Thorsness told it, “the guards were now hitting P.O.W.’s with gun butts and the cell was in chaos.”

And then, he remembered, the sixth-ranking senior officer began, “Gentlemen, the Lord’s Prayer.”

“And this time,” he added, “we finished it.”

The guards had yielded.

Everett Alvarez Jr., who was the first American pilot captured in the Vietnam War when his Navy plane was shot down in 1964, said in an interview that the defiance Commander Shuman engineered was emulated by senior officers in other large holding cells.

“It was contagious,” said Mr. Alvarez, who was in another cell during the first prayer service. “By the time it got to the fourth or fifth cell,” he said, the guards “gave up.” He said the prisoners were also singing patriotic songs.

Commander Shuman remained incarcerated at the Hanoi Hilton for more than two more years. But by then the prisoners’ right to collective prayer had been established.

“From that Sunday on until we came home, we held a church service,” Mr. Thorsness, an Air Force pilot and recipient of the Medal of Honor for heroics on a mission in 1967, wrote in his memoir, “Surviving Hell: A POW’s Journey” (2008). “We won. They lost. Forty-two men in prison pajamas followed Ned’s lead. I know I will never see a better example of pure raw leadership or ever pray with a better sense of the meaning of the words.”

Edwin Arthur Shuman III was born in Boston on Oct. 7, 1931, the son of a marine architect and Navy officer. Growing up in Marblehead, Mass., he began to sail at age 5. He graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 1954 and arrived in Vietnam in September 1967.

On his 18th mission, his A-6 Intruder fighter was shot down just north of Hanoi, the capital, in the early hours of March 17, 1968, during a low-level attack on a railroad yard. He bailed out, together with his bombardier-navigator, and both men were captured.

He spent 17 months in solitary confinement. On one occasion, when he violated regulations, he was beaten for hours with a whip.

After United States special forces raided a small prison camp at Son Tay on Nov. 20, 1970, only to find no captives there — they had been transferred out months earlier — the North Vietnamese consolidated their prisoners, who had been held at several camps. They were taken to the large Hoa Lo prison, a 19th-century structure that was built by the French in central Hanoi and christened the Hanoi Hilton by American prisoners during the Vietnam War. The North Vietnamese felt the prisoners could be more securely guarded there and grouped them in large cells, which, as it turned out, made mass prayer sessions possible.

Commander Shuman was freed in March 1973 as part of a mass release of remaining P.O.W.’s. He retired from the Navy as a captain 11 years later. His commendations included the Silver Star for his resistance to brutal treatment.

He returned to North Vietnam in 1991 as part of a three-week humanitarian medical mission, mainly out of curiosity about what had become of it.

“I didn’t view this as a healing process,” he told The Baltimore Sun on returning. “I never had a nightmare.”

He said that he liked the Vietnamese people, whom he found to be hardworking.

Most of the prison was demolished in the mid-1990s.

Mr. Shuman died in a hospital in Annapolis, Md., where he lived. His wife, Donna, said the cause was complications of surgery on a leg he broke on Nov. 22 when he fell in his small boat while preparing to hunt geese.

In addition to his wife, he is survived by two sons, Edwin IV and J. Brant, and a daughter, Mary Dana Giardina, from his first marriage, which ended in divorce; a stepson, Robert Borte III; nine grandchildren; a great-grandson; three sisters, Mary Russell, Sally Smyth and Ann Mills; and two half brothers, William and John Boeckeler.

After returning from Vietnam, Mr. Shuman was in charge of the Naval Academy’s sailing program. In August 1979, he commanded the Alliance, the program’s aluminum sloop, in the Fastnet race off England and brought his crew back safely amid a storm in the Irish Sea that left 15 other sailors dead.

“I have often compared ocean racing in bad weather with being a prisoner of war, an environment with which, unfortunately, I have some experience,” he wrote in the U.S. Naval Institute magazine Proceedings, in 1999. “Harsh conditions, cramped quarters, bad food and diverse personalities. Instead of the guards beating on you, mother nature takes over.”

“You can’t get out so you make the best of it,” he continued. “It’s a character-builder.”

Horst Faas/Associated Press

A Christmas Poem

by Laura Kneiss

You can’t take Christ out of Christmas 
It’s the day Jesus was born. 
God sent Him to Earth for a purpose 
By Him the curtain of the temple was torn

We can now enter the Most Holy Place 
Because we are saved by His grace. 
He is our Redeemer to save us from our sin 
There is no other perfect Lamb but Him!

Don’t be fooled by what the world portrays 
Replacing “Merry Christmas” with “Happy Holidays.” 
There is a way that may seem right to man 
But God had a better plan!

There is so much more to Christmas 
But the world does not see 
That the baby boy born on that day 
Was born for you and me!

Read the Word of God this Christmas 
It our spiritual sword 
Proclaiming to all 
That is Jesus is Lord!

Look to Jesus on Christmas 
He is the reason we sing 
Worship and adore Christ 
Because He is King!

Let’s celebrate the birth of Jesus 
And thank Him for all He has done 
Because it is through Him 
Our victory is won!

Praise God for His precious gift to us 
On this Christmas Day 
The little baby born for us 
Is the Life, the Truth, and the Way!

‘What then is this killing of sin?

PilgrimsProgress_407x226‘What then is this killing of sin? It is the constant battle against sin which we fight daily – the refusal to allow the eye to wander, the mind to contemplate, the affections to run after anything which will draw us from Christ.’

– Sinclair B. Ferguson, ‘The Christian Life’