The Living Stones and the Spiritual House

Taken and adapted from, “The British Monthly,” December, 1901
Written by, J.H. Jowett

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“Ye also, as living stones,
are built up a spiritual house.”

–1 Peter 2: 5

 THERE is a wonderful ascending gradation in the earlier portions of this great chapter…

It begins in the darkness, amid “wickedness” and “guile” and “hypocrisies,” and it winds its way through the wealthy, refining processes of grace, until it issues in the “marvelous light” of perfected redemption. It begins with individuals, who are possessed by uncleanness, holding aloof from one another in the bondage of “guile” and “envies” and “evil speakings”; it ends in the creation of glorious families, sanctified communities, elect races, “showing forth the excellencies” of the redeeming Lord. We pass from the corrupt and isolated individual to a redeemed and perfected fellowship. We begin with an indiscriminate heap of unclean and undressed stones; we find their consummation in a “spiritual house,” standing consistent and majestic in the light of the glory of God. We begin with scattered units; we end with co-operative communions.

The subject of the passage is therefore clearly defined. It is concerned with the making of true society, the creation of spiritual fellowship, the realization of the family, the welding of antagonistic units into a pure and lovely communion.

 The Preparation of the Individual

Where must we begin in the creation of this communion? The building of the house, says the Apostle, must begin in the preparation of the stones. If the family is to be glorified, the individual must be purified. A choir is no richer than its individual voices, and if we wish to enrich the harmony we must refine the constituent notes. The basis of all social reformation is individual redemption.

And so I am not surprised that the Apostle, who is contemplating the creation of beatified brotherhoods, should primarily concern himself with the preparation of the individual. But how are the stones to be cleaned and shaped and dressed for the house? How is the individual to be prepared? By what spiritual processes is he to be fitted for larger fellowships and family communion? I think the Apostle gives us a threefold answer.

I. An Experience of Grace.

“If ye have tasted that the Lord is gracious.” That is the basal clause of the entire chapter. Everything begins here. It is no use our dreaming of perfected human relationships until the individual has deliberately tasted the things that are Divine.

A chastened palate in the individual is a primary element in the consolidation of the race. There must be a personal experimenting with God. There must be a willingness to try the spiritual hygiene enjoined in the Gospel of Christ. We must “taste and see” what the grace is like that is so freely offered to us of God. We must taste it, and find out for ourselves its healthy and refreshing flavor. What is implied in the Apostle’s figure? In the merely physical realm, when we taste a thing, what are the implications of the act? When we take a thing up critically for the purpose of discerning its flavor, there are at any rate two elements contained in the method of our approach. There is an application of a sense, and there is the exercise of the judgment. We bring an alertness of palate that we may register sensitive perceptions, and we bring an alertness of mind that we may exercise a discriminating judgment.

Well, these two elements are only symbolic of the equipment that is required if we would “taste and see how gracious the Lord is.” We need to present to the Lord a sensitive sense and a vigilant mind. There is no word which is read so drowsily as the Word of God. There is no business so sluggishly executed as the business of prayer.

If men would discern the secret flavors of the Gospel, they must come to it wide awake, and sensitively search for the conditions by which its hidden wealth may be disclosed. “Son of man, eat what you find… Then did I eat it, and it was in my mouth as honey for sweetness.” He had tasted and seen. “Eat what you find!” Well, the only way in which we can eat a message is to obey it. 

Obedience is spiritual consumption; and in the act of consumption we discern the wondrous flavors of grace. We are therefore to approach the Gospel of our Lord. We are to patiently and sensitively realize its conditions.

We are to put ourselves in the attitude of obedience, and, retaining a bright and wakeful mind, we shall begin to discern the glories of our redemption. We shall taste the flavor of reconciliation, the fine grace of forgiveness, and the exquisite quality of peace. This is the primary step in the creation of the family; the individual is to taste and appreciate the things of God.

II  A Purging of Evil.

–All delights imply repulsions. All likes necessitate dislikes. A strong taste for God implies a strong distaste for the ungodly. The more refined my taste, the more exacting becomes my standard. The more I appreciate God, the more shall I depreciate the godless.

I do not wonder, therefore, that in the chapter before us the “tasting” of grace is accompanied by a “putting away” of sin. If I welcome the one, I shall “therefore” repel the other. The finer my taste, the more scrupulous will be my repulsions. Mark the ascending refinement in this black catalogue of expulsions: “wickedness, guile, hypocrisies, envies, evil speakings!” The list ranges from thick, soddened, compact wickedness up to unkindly speech; and I am so to grow in my Divine appreciation that I just as strongly repel the gilded forms of sin as I do those that savor of the exposed and noisome sewer. The taste of grace implies the “putting away” of sin; and therefore the second step in the creation of the family is the cleansing of the individual. Is the cleansing essential? Let us lay this down as a primary axiom in the science of life– there can be no vital communion between the unclean. Why, we cannot do a bit of successful soldering unless the surfaces we wish to solder are vigorously scraped of all their filth. I suppose that, in the domain of surgery, one of the greatest discoveries of the last fifty years has been the discovery of dirt, and the influence which it has exercised as the minister of severance and alienation. It has been found to be the secret cause of inflammation, the hidden agent in retarded healing, the subtle worker in embittered wounds; and now surgical science insists that all its operations be performed in the most scrupulous cleanliness, and its intensified vigilance has been rewarded by pure and speedy healings and communions. It is not otherwise in the larger science of life.

Every bit of uncleanness in the individual is a barrier to family communion. All dirt is the servant of alienation. It is essential, if we would have strong and intimate fellowships, that every member be sweet and clean. “Wherefore put away all wickedness and all guile and hypocrisies and envies and evil speakings,” and by purified surfaces let us prepare ourselves for spiritual communion.

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Meet the author and part of your Christian heritage: John Henry Jowett (1863–1923) was an influential British Protestant preacher at the turn of the nineteenth to the twentieth century and wrote many books on topics related to Christian living. When Jowett preached in the sermon class at Airedale College, Dr. Fairbairn said to his students: “Gentlemen, I will tell you what I have observed this morning: behind that sermon there was a man.”
That man grew in wisdom and stature and in favor with the churches, until he became one of the princes of the pulpit.
Jowett was born in Halifax in 1863. He taught school for a while and then resolved to study law. On the day before his articles were to be signed (to begin his legal work), he met his Sunday School teacher in the street and told him what he was going to do. Mr. Dewhirst said: “I had always hoped that you would go into the ministry.”
Jowett decided to enter the Congregational ministry. After his training in Edinburgh and Oxford, he was called in 1889 to St. James Church in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. This was a church with a seating capacity of more than a thousand and from the first Jowett preached to large crowds. His fame soon spread and, on the death of Dr. Dale in 1895, he became his successor at Carr’s Lane, Birmingham.
He wisely did not attempt to match Dale’s stride. The difference between the two men was well expressed thus: “Dale’s congregation could pass an examination in the doctrines and Jowett’s in the Scriptures.”
Jowett confessed that he had been in danger of mere prettiness in preaching but carrying on Dale’s work had proved his deliverance. Dr. Lynn Harold Hough compared Dale to a great Cathedral and Jowett to the marvellously embroidered communion cloth on its altar. “I was interested in the rare art which hid from sight the fact that it was art at all.”
He was invited to become minister of Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York. He declined the call twice but when it was repeated the third time in 1911 he felt it his duty to accept it.
The church was crowded long before the hour of Jowett’s first service. Reporters crowded the side galleries, expecting to find a sensational preacher with dazzling oratory and catchy sermon topics on current events. Instead they found a shy, quiet little man, bald-headed and with a cropped white moustache, who spoke in a calm, simple manner.
He remained in New York until April 1918 when he felt it his duty to return to England. He was called to Westminster Chapel, London, to succeed G. Campbell Morgan. Preaching to 2,500 people twice a Sunday and a weekday service proved too much for his health, which had never been robust. He resigned in 1922 and died in December 1923, at the age of sixty.
In a letter to a friend Jowett wrote: “If the pulpit is to be occupied by men with a message worth hearing, we must have time to prepare it.”
No one can read his sermons and notice the variety of illustrative matter from literature and life without feeling that he was preparing all the time. His mind was like a notebook, instinctively recording what he saw in books and life, and bending it not only to the use of the artist in words, but to those of an apostle of the truth, an evangelist of love.
As one of Jowett’s friends in the ministry said of him, “With the greatest ease he could turn his bright lamp upon the hidden things of Scripture, wrest the truth from ancient Oriental figures and symbols and make it simpler, beautiful and seductive to Western modern minds.”
What was the secret of his power? Was it his fine presence, his consummate art, his flawless diction, his pellucid style? No doubt these helped but Jowett touched the heart as perhaps no other preacher did because of his constant proclamation of the Gospel in all its urgency and winsomeness–‘the wooing note” as he called it.
Redeeming grace was the center of his message, the great theme to which he returned again and again. He said: “I have but one passion and I have lived for it–the absorbingly arduous yet glorious work of proclaiming the grace and work of our Lord.”
His Yale lectures on “The Preacher: His Life and Work,” reveal to us his method in the study and in the pulpit. Bible study occupied his best hour, the early morning hours. He began at 6 a.m. He told his New York congregation that if working people can rise at six in order to earn their daily bread, much more should a minister be at his desk at the same hour, because he is concerned with the bread of life.

Yet There is Room

Taken and adapted from, “Yet There is Room”
Written by C.H. Spurgeon

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Although there are still many sinners who seem to have no room for Christ…

yet there is plenty of room for sinners in the heart and love of Christ, and I am going to give them an earnest, tender, affectionate invitation to come to Christ while “yet there is room.” Ye who have hitherto been strangers to the grace of God, ye who, as yet, have never feasted at the gospel banquet, ye who have, until now, been content with this world’s frothy dainties, and have never tasted that which is substantial and satisfying for time and for eternity—to you, even to you, comes the message of our text, “yet there is room.”

My first question concerning the text is, where is there room? And the answer is, there is room in the fountain opened for sin and for uncleanness, room for you to be washed and to be made clean. Vast multitudes have gone into that fountain black as the thickest night, and they have come up from the washing “whiter than snow” (Psalm 51:7). Innumerable offenses have there been washed away, but the fountain has lost none of its cleansing power, nor will it until the last elect soul has been washed therein, as Cowper (1731-1800) so confidently and so truly sings,

“Dear dying Lamb, thy precious blood
Shall never lose its power,

Till all the ransom’d Church of God
Be saved to sin no more.”

It is our joy to be able to assure you that, in that blessed bath of cleansing, “yet there is room.”

There is room, too, in that chariot of love which carries the washed ones all the way to heaven—that chariot of which Solomon’s was a type, and of which we read, “he made the pillars thereof of silver, the bottom thereof of gold, the covering of it of purple, the midst thereof being paved with love, for the daughters of Jerusalem” (Song of Solomon 3:10).

In this chariot there is room for millions more; if thou art washed in His precious blood, He who is greater than Solomon will take thee up, and carry thee on and over the rough and rugged road of this wilderness world, and conduct thee safely to His Father’s house above. Thou shalt travel joyously in the best of company; so, enter while there is room, sinner, and there is room now.

There is room, too, in the Father’s great family. He has adopted an innumerable multitude of those who once were children of wrath and servants of Satan. He has selected some of the vilest of the sons and daughters of Adam, but they are washed, they are cleansed, they are regenerate, and they have received the seal of their adoption into the family of God, and are joyously crying, “Abba, Father” (Rom 8:15)—but there is room for millions more in that great family. Earthly fathers, as a general rule, have no room for strangers in their home; the house is crowded already with their own boys and girls, so they cannot receive other people’s children into their family. But there is still room in the great Father’s heart for all who will come unto Him by Jesus Christ His Son. All whom He has chosen unto eternal life have not yet believed in Jesus, and been “sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise, which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession” (Ephesians 1:14). All whom He intends to save have not yet been brought to recognize Him as their Father and their God. So again I say that there is still room in the great Father’s heart for all who will come unto Him by Jesus Christ His Son.

There is room, too, in the church visible here below. We gladly welcome every new convert, and we say to each one,

“Come in, thou blessed of the Lord,
Stranger nor foe art thou;

We welcome thee with warm accord,
Our friend, our brother now.”

“The Lord knows them that are his” (2 Timothy 2:19), but all that are the Lord’s are not yet added to His visible church. Thousands of them still stray in the paths of sin, millions of them are as yet like jewels hidden away in the mire, or pearls lying many fathoms deep in the caverns of the sea. There is still room for more stars in the diadem that adorns the brows of the church on earth; there is still room for more golden candlesticks to give her light; room hath she still for many more children to be dandled on her knees, and to suck at her breasts. Use whatever metaphor we may, we can still say, in the words of our text, “yet there is room.”

There is room, too, in the ordinances of God’s house. There is room for thee, Christian brother or sister, in the liquid tomb which is the emblem of thy Savior’s grave; thou may be buried with Him by baptism into death, and rise from the baptistery in the likeness of His resurrection, thenceforth to walk with Him in newness of life (Rom 6:4-6). There is room for thee, too, at that communion table where, in eating bread and drinking wine, we spiritually eat Christ’s flesh and drink His blood, and so prove that He dwells in us, and we dwell in Him.

There is room for thee at the children’s table; thou wilt not overcrowd us. We are not like the elder brother, who was jealous because the prodigal was welcomed back to his father’s house and his father’s table (Luke 15). We shall have none the less enjoyment, but all the more, if thou wilt come and join us at the feast of love; there is abundant room for thee there.

Better still, and more to thy soul’s solace, there is room for thee in heaven. The long procession has been streaming through the gates of pearl from the day when Abel, the proto-martyr, entered the heavenly city until this moment, while I am speaking to you. The last emancipated soul has just flapped its wings for joy, left its mortal cage behind, and entered into everlasting liberty. The redeemed from among men have been taking their appointed places before the throne, waving their palms, wearing their crowns, playing their golden harps, and singing their songs of victory—but there is still room in heaven for many more.

There are crowns there without heads to wear them, and harps without hands to play them, and mansions without tenants to inhabit them, and streets of gold that shall have something lacking until you have trodden them, if you are one of the Lord’s own people. There is room for multitudes, whom God has chosen, yet to come to swell the hallelujah chorus of the skies. It is very sweet even now, but it has not yet reached its full force and grandeur; it needs to have ten thousand times ten thousand voices added to the already mighty choir. And then the glorious chorus shall roll up to the throne of God louder than the noise of many waters, and as the voice of a great thunder, Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! “For the Lord God omnipotent reigns” (Rev 19:7); and He shall reign forever and ever.

What a dreary message I should have to deliver if I had to tell you that there was no room! Let me give you one or two illustrations. In passing over some of the more difficult passes of the Alps, the traveler sees small habitations by the side of the road, marked “Refuge No. 1,” “Refuge No. 2,” and so on, up to the hospice on the summit, and then down the other side more refuges similarly marked. When the storm comes on and the wind and snow beat in the man’s face so that he cannot discover his road, and he sinks more than knee-deep in the drifts, it is a happy circumstance for him that, perhaps a little way ahead, there is a refuge where he and others in the like plight may find shelter till hospitable monks come and take them to the hospice, or send them on their way. Imagine that, one dark night, the snow is pouring down; the flakes fall so thickly that you cannot see a star; the wind howls among the Alps. And the poor traveler, nearly blinded, staggers up to the door of the refuge, but he sees outside of it a dozen or two other travelers all clustered together, nearly frozen to death, and they say to him, “The refuge is crammed; we can’t get in, so we must perish though we have reached the door of the refuge, for there is no room for us inside.”

Ah! But I have no such ill news as that to bring to you. Crowded as you are here, this great building has scarcely room enough to hold you; but the love of Christ is not so cramped that I need say to you, “There is no room here.” “Yet there is room.” All who are inside the refuge are but a small number compared with those who are yet to come; for, in later and brighter ages, of which this is but the dawn, we believe that conversion work will go on far more rapidly, and that the Lord’s elect will be brought to Him in much greater numbers than in these days. Whether it will be so or not, it is our joy to tell you that “yet there is room” in the great gospel refuge which the Lord of the way has so graciously provided for all who will enter it.

Here is another picture. There has been a wreck out there upon the coast. The ship has struck upon the rocks, and she is fast going to pieces. Some of the poor mariners are clinging to the mast; they have been hanging there for hours. Heavy seas have broken over them and they can hardly retain their hold. Some of the crew have already become exhausted and have fallen off into the deep, and the others, who are clinging for dear life, are almost frozen with cold. But see there! a rocket goes up; they believe that they have been perceived, and after a while, they see that the lifeboat is coming to their rescue. Perhaps the brave men give a cheer as they row with all their might to let the poor shipwrecked sailors know that there is help at hand.

As the lifeboat comes nearer, its captain cries, “Oh, what a lot of men! What can we do with so many? We will take as many of you as we can, but there is not room for all.” The men are helped off the wreck one after the other until they seem to fill the boat. Each man’s place has two crammed into it, but at last the captain says, “It’s no use; we can’t take any more. Our boat is so full that she’ll go down if we put in another man.” It’s all over with those poor souls that must be left behind; for before the gallant boat can make another trip, they must all have fallen into the trough of the sea and been lost.

But I have no such sad tale to tell you, for my Master’s gospel lifeboat has thus far taken in but few compared with those she will yet take. I know not how many she will hold; but this I know, that a multitude which no man can number shall be found within her (Rev 7:9), and amid songs of everlasting joy they shall all be safely landed on the blessed shore, where rocks and tempests will never again trouble them. The lifeboat is not yet full; there is still room in her for all who will trust in Jesus. Poor mariner, give up clinging to that wreck on the rocks! Poor sinner, give up clinging to thy works and to thy sins.

There is room in the gospel lifeboat for thee, and all who will put themselves under the care of the great Captain of salvation, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Understanding the Framework of Covenant Theology

Taken from, INTRODUCTION: ON COVENANT THEOLOGY” (Packer’s Introduction to Witsius and De Oeconomia)
Written by, J. I. Packer,

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I

The name of Herman Wits (Witsius, 1636-1708) has been unjustly forgotten.

He was a masterful Dutch Reformed theologian, learned, wise, mighty in the Scriptures, practical and “experimental” (to use the Puritan label for that which furthers heart-religion). On paper he was calm, judicious, systematic, clear and free from personal oddities and animosities. He was a man whose work stands comparison for substance and thrust with that of his younger British contemporary John Owen, and this writer, for one, knows no praise higher than that! To Witsius it was given, in the treatise here reprinted, to integrate and adjudicate explorations of covenant theology carried out by a long line of theological giants stretching back over more than century and a half to the earliest days of the Reformation. On this major matter Witsius’s work has landmark status as summing up a whole era, which is why it is appropriate to reprint it today. However, in modern Christendom covenant theology has been unjustly forgotten, just as Witsius himself has, and it will not therefore be amiss to spend a little time reintroducing it, in order to prepare readers’ minds for what is to come.

 

II

What is covenant theology?

The straightforward, if provocative answer to that question is that it is what is nowadays called a hermeneutic — that is, a way of reading the whole Bible that is itself part of the overall interpretation of the Bible that it undergirds. A successful hermeneutic is a consistent interpretative procedure yielding a consistent understanding of Scripture in turn confirms the propriety of the procedure itself. Covenant theology is a case in point. It is a hermeneutic that forces itself upon every thoughtful Bible-reader who gets to the place, first, of reading, hearing, and digesting Holy Scripture as didactic instruction given through human agents by God himself, in person; second, of recognizing that what the God who speaks the Scriptures tells us about in their pages is his own sustained sovereign action in creation, providence, and grace; third, of discerning that in our salvation by grace God stands revealed as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, executing in tripersonal unity a single cooperative enterprise of raising sinners from the gutter of spiritual destitution to share Christ’s glory forever; and, fourth, of seeing that God-centered thought and life, springing responsively from a God-wrought change of heart that expresses itself spontaneously in grateful praise, is the essence of true knowledge of God. Once Christians have got this far, the covenant theology of the Scriptures is something that they can hardly miss.

Yet in one sense they can miss it: that is, by failing to focus on it, even when in general terms they are aware of its reality. God’s covenant of grace in Scripture is one of those things that are too big to be easily seen, particularly when one’s mind is programmed to look at something smaller. If you are hunting on a map of the Pacific for a particular Polynesian island, your eye will catch dozens of island names, however small they are printed, but the chances are you will never notice the large letters spelling PACIFIC OCEAN that straddle the map completely. Similarly, we may, and I think often do, study such realities as God’s promises; faith: the plan of salvation; Jesus Christ the God-man, our prophet, priest and king; the church in both testaments, along with circumcision, Passover, baptism, the Lord’s Supper, the intricacies of Old Testament worship and the simplicities of its New Testament counterpart; the work of the Holy Spirit in believers; the nature and standards of Christian obedience in holiness and neighbor-love; prayer and communion with God: and many more such themes, without noticing that these relational realities are all covenantal in their very essence. As each Polynesian island is anchored in the Pacific, so each of the matters just mentioned is anchored in God’s resolve to relate to his human creatures, and have us relate to him, in covenant — which means, in the final analysis, a way for man to relate to God that reflects facets of the fellowship of the Son and the Spirit with the Father in the unity of the Godhead. From this, perhaps, we can begin to see how big and significant a thing the covenantal category is both in biblical teaching and in real life.

“The distance between God and the creature is so great,” says the Westminster Confession (VII.I), “that although reasonable creatures do owe obedience unto him as their Creator, yet they could never have any fruition of him as their blessedness and reward, but by some voluntary condescension on God’s part, which he hath been pleased to express by way of covenant.” Exactly! So biblical doctrine, first to last, has to do with covenantal relationships between God and man; biblical ethics has to do with expressing God’s covenantal relationship to us in covenantal relationships between ourselves and others; and Christian religion has the nature of covenant life, in which God is the direct object of our faith, hope, love, worship, and service, all animated by gratitude for grace. 

Our theme is the life-embracing bedrock reality of the covenant relationship between the Creator and Christians, and it is high time we defined exactly what we are talking about. A covenant relationship is a voluntary mutual commitment that binds each party to the other. Whether it is negotiated, like a modern business deal or a marriage contract, or unilaterally imposed, as all God’s covenants are, is irrelevant to the commitment itself; the reality of the relationship depends simply on the fact that mutual obligations have been accepted and pledged on both sides. Luther is held to have said that Christianity is a matter of personal pronouns, in the sense that everything depends on knowing that Jesus died for me, to be my Savior, and that his Father is my God and Father, personally committed to love, nurture, uphold, and glorify me. This already is covenant thinking, for this is the essential substance of the covenant relationship: God’s covenant is precisely a matter of these personal pronouns, used in this way, as a basis for a life with God of friendship, peace and communicated love. 

Thus, when God tells Abraham, “I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you . . . to be your God . . . I will be their God” (Gen. 17:6-8), the personal pronouns are the key words: God is committing himself to Abraham and Abraham’s seed in a way in which he does not commit himself to others. God’s covenant commitment expresses eternal election; his covenant love to individuals sinners flows from his choice of them to be his for ever in the peace of justification and the joy of glorification. The verbal commitment in which electing sovereignty thus shows itself has the nature of a promise, the fulfillment of which is guaranteed by God’s absolute fidelity and trustworthiness — the quality that David Livingstone the explorer celebrated by describing God as “an honorable gentleman who never breaks his word.” The covenant promise itself, “I will be your God,” is an unconditional undertaking on God’s part to be “for us” (Rom. 8:31), “on our side” (Ps. 124:1-5), using all his resources for the furthering of the ultimate good of those (“us”) to whom he thus pledges himself. “I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God” (Ex. 6:7), the covenant promise constantly repeated throughout both testaments (Gen. 17:6-8; Ex. 20:2, 29:45 f.; Lev. 11:45; Jer. 32:38; Ezekiel 11:20, 34:30 f., 36:28; 2 Cor. 6:16-18; Rev. 21:2 f.; etc.), may fairly be called the pantechnicon promise, inasmuch as every particular promise that God makes is packed into it — fellowship and communion first (“I will be with you,” “I will dwell among them,” “I will live among you,” etc.), and then the supply of every real need, here and hereafter. Sovereignty and salvation, love and largesse, election and enjoyment, affirmation and assurance, fidelity and fullness thus appear as the spectrum of themes (the second of each pair being the fruit of the first as its root) that combine to form the white light, glowing and glorious, of the gracious self-giving of God to sinners that covenant theology proclaims.

The God-given covenant carries, of course, obligations. The life of faith and repentance, and the obedience to which faith leads, constitute the covenant-keeping through which God’s people receive the fullness of God’s covenant blessing. “I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession” (Ex. 19:4 f.). Covenant faithfulness is the condition and means of receiving covenant benefits, and there is nothing arbitrary in that; for the blessings flow from the relationship, and human rebelliousness and unfaithfulness stop the flow by disrupting the relationship. Israel’s infidelity was constantly doing this throughout the Old Testament story, and the New Testament makes it plain that churches and Christians will lose blessings that would otherwise be theirs, should covenant fidelity be lacking in their lives.

 

III

From what has been said so far, three things become apparent. First, the gospel of God is not properly understood till it is viewed within a covenantal frame.

Jesus Christ, whose saving ministry is the sum and substance of the gospel, is announced in Hebrews the mediator and guarantor of the covenant relationship (Heb. 7:22, 8:6). The gospel promises, offering Christ and his benefits to sinner, are therefore invitations to enter and enjoy a covenant relationship with God. Faith in Jesus Christ is accordingly the embracing of the covenant, and the Christian life of glorifying God by one’s words and works for the greatness of his goodness and grace has at its heart covenant communion between the Savior and the sinner. The church, the fellowship of believers that the gospel creates, is the community of the covenant, and the preaching of the Word, the practice of pastoral care and discipline, the manifold exercises of worship together, and the administration of baptism and the Lord’s supper (corresponding to circumcision and Passover in former days) are all signs, tokens, expressions, and instruments of the covenant, through which covenantal enrichments from God constantly flow to those who believe. The hope of glory, as promised in the gospel, is the goal of the covenant relationship (Rev. 21:2 f.), and Christian assurance is the knowledge of the content and stability of that relationship as it applies to oneself (Rom. 5:1-11, 8:1-39). The whole Bible is, as it were, presented by Jesus Christ to the whole church and to each Christian as the book of the covenant, and the whole record of the wars of the Word with the church as well as the world in the post-biblical Christian centuries, the record that is ordinarily called church history, is precisely the story of the covenant going on in space and time. As artists and decorators know, the frame is important for setting off the picture, and you do in fact see the picture better when it is appropriately framed. So with the riches of the gospel; the covenant is their proper frame, and you only see them in their full glory when this frame surrounds them, as in Scripture it actually does, and as in theology it always should.

Second, the Word of God is not properly understood till it is viewed within a covenantal frame.

Covenant theology, as was said above, is a biblical hermeneutic as well as a formulation of biblical teaching. Not only does it spring from reading the Scriptures as a unity, it includes in itself specific claims as to how this should be done. Covenant theology offers a total view, which it is ready to validate from Scripture itself if challenged, as to how the various parts of the Bible stand related to each other. The essence of the view is as follows. The biblical revelation, which is the written Word of God, centers upon a God-given narrative of how successive and cumulative revelations of God’s covenant purpose and provision were given and responded to at key points in history. The backbone of the Bible, to which all the expository, homiletical, moral, liturgical, and devotional material relates, is the unfolding in space and time of God’s unchanging intention of having a people on earth to whom he would relate covenantally for his and their joy. The contents of Scripture cohere into a single consistent body of truth about God and mankind, by which every Christian — indeed, every human being — in every generation is called to live. The Bible in one sense, like Jesus Christ in another, is God’s word to the world.

The story that forms this backbone of the Bible has to do with man’s covenant relationship with God first ruined and then restored. The original covenantal arrangement, usually called the Covenant of Works, was one whereby God undertook to prolong and augment for all subsequent humanity the happy state in which he had made the first human pair — provided that the man observed, as part of the humble obedience that was then natural to him, one prohibition, specified in the narrative as not eating a forbidden fruit. The devil, presented as a serpent, seduced Adam and Eve into disobeying, so that they fell under the penal sanctions of the Covenant of Works (loss of good, and corruption of nature). But God at once revealed to them in embryo a redemptive economy that had in it both the covering of sin, and a prospective victory for the woman’s seed (a human Savior) over the serpent and his malice. The redemptive purpose of this new arrangement became clearer as God called Abraham, made a nation from his descendants, saved them from slavery, named himself not only their God but also their King and Father, taught them his law (the family code), drilled them in sacrificial liturgies, disciplined their disobedience, and sent messengers to hold up before them his holiness and his promise of a Savior-King and a saving kingdom; which in due course became reality. The Westminster Confession summarizes what was going on in and through all this.

“Man, by his fall, having made himself incapable of life by (the first) covenant, the Lord was pleased to make a second, commonly called the covenant of grace: wherein he freely offereth unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ, requiring of them faith in him, that they may be saved, and promising to give unto all those that are ordained unto eternal life his Holy Spirit, to make them willing and able to believe. . .

“This covenant was differently administered in the time of the law, and in the time of the gospel; under the law it was administered by promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the paschal lamb, and other types and ordinances delivered to the people of the Jews, all fore signifying Christ to come, which were, for that time, sufficient and efficacious, through the operation of the Spirit, to instruct and build up the elect in faith in the promised Messiah, by whom they had full remission of sins, and eternal salvation; and is called the old Testament.

“Under the gospel, when Christ, the substance, was exhibited, the ordinances in which this covenant is dispensed are the preaching of the Word, and the administration of the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper . . . in them, it is held forth in more fullness, evidence and spiritual efficacy, to all nations, both Jews and Gentiles; and is called the new Testament. There are not therefore two covenants of grace, differing in substance, but one and the same, under various dispensations” (VII. iii. v. vi).

So the unifying strands that bind together the books of the Bible are, first, the one covenant promise, sloganized as “I will be your God, and you shall be my people,” which God was fulfilling to his elect all through his successive orderings of covenant faith and life; second, the one messenger and mediator of the covenant, Jesus Christ the God-man, prophet and king, priest and sacrifice, the Messiah of Old Testament prophecy and New Testament proclamation; third, the one people of God, the covenant community, the company of the elect, whom God brings to faith and keeps in faith, from Abel, Noah and Abraham through the remnant of Israel to the worldwide New Testament church of believing Jews and Gentiles; and fourth, the one pattern of covenant piety, consisting of faith, repentance, love, joy, praise, hope, hatred of sin, desire for sanctity, a spirit of prayer, and readiness to battle the world, the flesh, and the devil in order to glorify God . . . a pattern displayed most fully, perhaps, in Luther’s “little Bible,” the Psalter, but seen also in the lives of God’s servants in both Testaments and reflected more or less fully in each single one of the Old and New Testament books. Covenant theologians insist that every book of the Bible in effect asks to be read in terms of these unities, and as contributing to the exposition of them, and is actually misunderstood if it is not so read.

Third, the reality of God is not properly understood till it is viewed within a covenantal frame. 

Who is God? God is the triune Creator, who purposes to have a covenant people whom in love he will exalt for his glory. (“Glory” there means both God’s demonstration of his praiseworthiness and the actual praising that results.) Why does God so purpose? — Why, that is, does he desire covenantal fellowship with rational beings? The most we can say (for the question is not one to which God has given us a direct answer) is that the nature of such fellowship observably corresponds to the relationships of mutual honor and love between Father, Son and Holy Spirit within the unity of the divine being, so that the divine purpose appears to be, so to speak, an enlarging of this circle of eternal love and joy. In highlighting the thought that covenantal communion is the inner life of God, covenant theology makes the truth of the Trinity more meaningful than it can otherwise be.

Nor is this all. Scripture is explicit on the fact that from eternity, in light of human sin foreseen, a specific agreement existed between the Father and the Son that they would exalt each other in the following way: the Father would honor the Son by sending him to save lost sinners through a penal self-sacrifice leading to a cosmic reign in which the central activity would be the imparting to sinners through the Holy Spirit of the redemption he won for them; and the Son would honor the Father by becoming the Father’s love-gift to sinners and by leading them through the Spirit to trust, love and glorify the Father on the model of his own obedience to the Father’s will. This covenant of Redemption, as it is commonly called, which underlies the Covenant of Grace, clarifies these three truths at least: 

(1) The love of the Father and the Son, with the Holy Spirit, to lost sinners is shared, unanimous love. The tritheistic fantasy of a loving Son placating an unloving Father and commandeering an apathetic Holy Spirit in or save us is a distressing nonsense.

(2) As our salvation derives from God’s free and gracious initiative and is carried through, first to last, according to God’s eternal plan by God’s own sovereign power, so its ultimate purpose is to exalt and glorify the Father and the Son together. The man-centered distortion that pictures God as saving us more for our sake than for his is also a distressing nonsense. 

(3) Jesus Christ is the focal figure, the proper center of our faith-full attention, throughout the redemptive economy. He, as Mediator of the Covenant of Grace and of the grace of that covenant, is as truly an object of divine predestination as are we whom he saves. With him as our sponsor and representative, the last Adam, the second “public person” through whom the Father deals with our race, the Covenant of Grace is archetypally and fundamentally made, in order that it may now be established and ratified with us in him. (“With whom was the covenant of grace made?” asks question 31 of the Westminster Larger Catechism, and the prescribed answer is: “The covenant of grace was made with Christ as the second Adam, and in him with all the elect as his seed.”) From the vital union that we have with Christ through the Holy Spirit’s action flows all the aliveness to God, all the faith, hope and love God-ward, all the desire for him and urges to worship him and willingness to work for him, of which we ever were, are, or will be conscious; apart from Christ we should still be spiritually dead (objectively, lifeless; subjectively, unresponsive) in our trespasses and sins. Christ is therefore to be acknowledged, now and forever, as our all in all, our Alpha and Omega, so far as our salvation is concerned — and that goes for salvation subjectively brought home to us, no less than for salvation objectively obtained for us. The legalistic, sub-spiritual Roman Catholic theology of Mass and merit, whereby Christians are required by the Father, and enabled by the Son, to take part in the achieving of their own salvation, is a further distressing nonsense.

These three truths together shape the authentic biblical and Reformed mentality, whereby God the Father through Christ, and Christ himself in his saving ministry, are given all the glory and all the praise for having quickened us the dead, helped us the helpless, and saved us the lost. Writes Geehardus Vos: “Only when the believer understands how he has to receive and has received everything from the Mediator and how God in no way whatever deals with him except through Christ, only then does a picture of the glorious work that God wrought through Christ emerge in his consciousness and the magnificent idea of grace begin to dominate and form in his life. For the Reformed, therefore, the entire ordo salutis [order of salvation], beginning with regeneration as its first stage, is bound to the mystical union with Christ. There is no gift that has not been earned by him. Neither is there a gift that is not bestowed by him and that does not elevate God’s glory through his bestowal. Now the basis for this order lies in none other than in the covenant of salvation with Christ. In this covenant those chosen by the Father are given to Christ. In it he became the guarantor so that they would be planted into his body in the thought-world of grace through faith. As the application of salvation by Christ and by Christ’s initiative is a fundamental principle of Reformed theology, this theology has correctly viewed this application as a covenantal requirement which fell to the Mediator and for the fulfilling of which he became the guarantor” (Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation, ed. Richard B. Gaffin, Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1980, p. 248). The full reality of God and God’s work are not adequately grasped till the Covenant of Redemption — the specific covenantal agreement between Father and Son on which the Covenant of Grace rests — occupies its proper place in our minds.

Thus it appears that, confessionally and doxologically, covenant theology brings needed enrichment of insight to our hearts; and devotionally the same is true. Older evangelicals wrote hymns celebrating the covenant of grace in which they voiced fortissimos of the triumphant assurance of a kind that we rarely hear today — so it will be worth our while to quote some of them. They merit memorizing, and meditating on, and making one’s own; ceaseless strength flows to those saints who allow these sentiments to take root in their souls. Here, first, is the eighteenth-century leader, Philip Doddridge:

‘Tis mine, the covenant of his grace,
And every promise mine;
All sprung from everlasting love,
And sealed by blood divine.
On my unworthy favored head
Its blessings all unite;
Blessings more numerous than the stars,
More lasting, and more bright.

And again:

 My God! The covenant of thy love
Abides forever sure;
And in its matchless grace I feel
My happiness secure.
Since thou, the everlasting God,
My Father art become
Jesus, my Guardian and my Friend,
And heaven my final home;
I welcome all thy sovereign will,
For all that will is love;
And, when I know not what thou dost,
I wait the light above.

Also in the eighteenth century, Augustus Toplady wrote this:

 A debtor to mercy alone,
Of covenant mercy I sing;
Nor fear, with thy righteousness on,
My person and offering to bring.
The terrors of law, and of God,
With me can have nothing to do:
My Savior’s obedience and blood
Hide all my transgressions from view.
The work which his goodness began
The arm of his strength will complete;
His promise is Yea and Amen,
And never was forfeited yet.
Things future, nor things that are now
Not all things below or above,
Can make him his purpose forego,
Or sever my soul from his love.

Then, a hundred years later, Frances Ridley Havergal gave us the following:

Jehovah’s covenant shall endure,
All ordered, everlasting, sure!
O child of God, rejoice to trace
Thy portion in its glorious grace.
‘Tis thine, for Christ is given to be
The covenant of God to thee;
In him, God’s golden scroll of light,
The darkest truths are clear and bright.
O sorrowing sinner, well he knew,
Ere time began, what he would do!
Then rest thy hope within the veil;
His covenant mercies shall not fail.
O doubting one, Eternal Three
Are pledged in faithfulness for thee
Claim every promise sweet and sure
By covenant oath of God secure.
O feeble one, look up and see
Strong consolation sworn for thee:
Jehovah’s glorious arm is shown
His covenant strength is all thine own.
O mourning one, each stroke of love
A covenant blessing yet shall prove;
His covenant love shall be thy stay;
His covenant grace be as thy day.
O Love that chose, O Love that died,
O Love that sealed and sanctified,
All glory, glory, glory be,
O covenant Triune God, to thee!

One way of judging the quality of theologies is to see what sort of devotion they produce. The devotional perspective that covenant theology generates is accurately reflected in these lyrics. Readers will make up their own minds as to whether such devotion could significantly enrich the church today, and form their judgment on covenant theology accordingly.

IV

Earlier it was said that the Bible “forces” covenant theology on all who receive it as what, in effect, it claims to be — God’s witness to God’s work of saving sinners for God’s glory. “Forces” is a strong work; how does Scripture “force” covenant theology upon us? By the following four features, at least.

First, by the story that it tells. The books of the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, are, as was said earlier, God’s own record of the progressive unfolding of his purpose to have a people in covenant with himself here on earth. The covenantal character of God’s relationships with human beings, first to last, has already been underlined, and is in fact reflected one way and another on just about every page of the Bible. The transition in Eden from the covenant of works to the covenant of grace, and the further transition from all that was involved in the preliminary (old) form of that covenant to its final (new) form, brought in through the death of Jesus Christ and now administered by him from his throne, are the key events in the covenant story. The significance of the fact that God caused his book of instruction to mankind to be put together with the history of his covenant as its backbone can hardly be overestimated. Covenant relationships between God and men, established by God’s initiative, bringing temporal and eternal blessings to individuals and creating community among them, so that they have a corporate identity as God’s people, are in fact the pervasive themes of the whole Bible; and it compels thoughtful readers to take note of the covenant as being central to God’s concern.

Second, Scripture forces covenant theology upon us by the place it gives to Jesus Christ in the covenant story. That all Scripture, one way and another, is pointing its readers to Christ, teaching us truths and showing us patterns of divine action that help us understand him properly, is a principle that no reverent and enlightened Bible student will doubt. This being so, it is momentously significant that when Jesus explained the memorial rite for himself that he instituted as his people’s regular form of worship, he spoke of the wine that they were to drink as symbolizing his blood, shed to ratify the new covenant — a clear announcement of the fulfilling of the pattern of Exodus 24 (Jesus echoes directly the words of verse 8) and the promise of Jeremiah 31:31-34. It is also momentously significant that when the writer to the Hebrews explains the uniqueness and finality of Jesus Christ as the only source of salvation for sinners he does so by focusing on Jesus as the mediator of the new covenant and depicts him as establishing this prophesied relationship between God and his people by superseding (transcending and thereby cancelling) the inadequate old covenant institutions for dealing with sins and giving access to God. It is also momentously significant that when in Galatians Paul tells Gentiles that their faith in Christ, as such, has already made them inheritors of all that was promised to Abraham, he makes the point by declaring that in union with Christ, as those who by baptism have “put on” the Christ in whom they have trusted so as to become his own people, they are now the seed of Abraham with whom God has made his covenant for all time (Gal. 3) . . . the covenant that brings liberty from law as a supposed system of salvation and full fellowship forever with God above (Gal. 4:24-3 1). Such Scriptures require us to interpret Christ in terms of God’s covenant, just as they require us to interpret God’s covenant in terms of Christ, and this fact also alerts thoughtful readers to the centrality of the covenant theme.

The third way in which Scripture directs us to covenantal thinking is by the specific parallel between Christ and Adam that Paul draws in Rom. 5:12-18; 1 Cor. 15: 21 f., 45-49). The solidarity of one person standing for a group, involving the whole group in the consequences of his action and receiving promises that apply to the whole group as well as to himself, is a familiar facet of biblical covenant thought, usually instanced in the case of family and national groups (Noah, Gen. 6:18, 9:9; Abraham, Gen. 17:7; the Israelites, Ex. 20:4-6, 8-12, 31:12-17 (16); Aaron, Lev. 24:8 f.; Phinehas, Num. 25:13; David, 2 Chr. 13:5, 21:7; Jer. 33:19-22). In Rom. 5:12-1 8 Paul proclaims a solidarity between Christ and his people (believers, Rom 3:22-5:2; the elect, God’s chosen ones, 8:33) whereby the law-keeping, sin-bearing obedience of “the one man” brings righteousness with God, justification, and life to “the many,” “all;” and he sets this within the frame of a prior solidarity, namely that between Adam and his descendants, whereby our entire race was involved in the penal consequences of Adam’s transgression. The 1 Corinthians passages confirm that these are indeed covenantal solidarities; God deals with mankind through two representative men, Adam and Christ; all that are in Adam die; all that are in Christ are made alive. This far-reaching parallel is clearly foundational to Paul’s understanding of God’s ways with our race, and it is a covenantal way of thinking, showing from a third angle that covenant theology is indeed biblically basic.

The fourth way in which Scripture forces covenant theology upon us is by the explicit declaring of the covenant of redemption, most notably (though by no means exclusively) in the words of Jesus recorded in the gospel of John. All Jesus’s references to his purpose in the world as the doing of his Father’s will, and to his actual words and works as obedience to his Father’s command (Jn. 4:32-34, 5:30, 6:38-40, 7:16-18, 8:28 f., 12:49 f., 14:31, 15:10, 17:4, I9:30); all his further references to his being sent by the Father into the world to perform a specific task (3:17, 34, 5:23, 30, 36, 38, 6:29, 57, 7:28, 29, 33, 8:16, 18, 26, 9:4, 10:36, 11:42, 12:44, 13:20, 14:24, 15:21, 16:5, 17:3, 8,18, 21, 23, 25, 20:21, cf. 18:37); and all his references to the Father “giving” him particular persons to save, and to his acceptance of the task of rescuing them from perishing both by dying for them and by calling and shepherding them to glory (6:37-44, 10:14-16, 27-30, 17:2, 6, 9,19, 22, 24); are so many testimonies to the reality of the covenant of redemption. The emphasis is pervasive, arresting, and inescapable: Jesus’ own words force on thoughtful reader’s recognition of the covenant economy as foundational to all thought about the reality of God’s saving grace.

 

V

Historically, covenant theology is a Reformed development.

Huldreich Zwingli, Henry Bullinger, John Calvin, Zacharias Ursinus, Caspar Olevianus, Robert Rollock, John Preston, and John Ball, were among the contributors to its growth, and the Westminster Confession and Catechisms gave it confessional status. Johann Koch (Cocceius) was a Dutch stormy petrel who in a Latin work, The Doctrine of the Covenant and Testament of God (Summa doctrinae de foedere et testamento dei, 1648) not only worked out in detail what we would call a biblical-theological, redemptive-historical perspective for presenting covenant theology (three periods — the covenant of works, made with Adam; the covenant of grace, made with and through Moses; the new covenant, made through Christ), but muddied his exegesis by allegorical fancies and marginalized himself by needless attacks on the analytical doctrine-by-doctrine approach to theological exposition that was practiced by his leading contemporaries in Holland, Maccovius, Maresius, and Voetius. It seems clear with hindsight that his method and theirs were complementary to each other, and that both were necessary then, as they are now. (Today we name the Cocceian procedure “biblical theology” and that which he opposed “systematic theology,” and in well-ordered teaching institutions students are required to study both.) But for more than half a century following the appearance of Cocceius’ book clouds of controversy hung over Holland as Cocceians and Voetians grappled with each other, each side trying to prove the illegitimacy and wrong-headedness of what the other was attempting.

Within this embattled situation, Witsius tries to have the best of both worlds — and largely succeeds. His full title (The Economy of the Covenants between God and Man: comprehending a complete Body of Divinity) might seem to claim too much; but it is clearly a friendly wave to the Cocceians, who were insisting that the only way to organize theology and set out Christian truths was in terms of the historical unfolding of God’s covenant dealings. His four books, the first on the Covenant of Works, the second on the Covenant of Redemption, the third on the Covenant of Grace, and the fourth on covenant ordinances at different times, and on the knowledge and experience of God’s grace that these conveyed, are a journey over Cocceian ground, in the course of which Witsius, excellent exegete that he is, manages to correct some inadequacies and errors that poor exegesis in the Cocceian camp had fathered. But he treats each topic analytically, and draws with evident happiness on the expository resources produced by systematicians during the previous 150 years including, be it said, much deep wisdom from the Puritan-Pietist tradition, which is particularly evident in Book Three. This is a head-clearing, mind-forming, heart-warming treatise of very great value; we possess nothing like it today, and to have it available once more is a real boon. I thank the publishers most warmly for taking a risk on it, and I commend it enthusiastically to God’s people everywhere.

 

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Introduction by J. I. Packer to “The Economy of the Covenants between God and Man: Comprehending A Complete Body of Divinity”. HermanWitsius. REPRINTED 1990. Escondido. California: The den dulk Christian Foundation. DISTRIBUTED by Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, Phillipsburg, New Jersey.

Attributes of God’s Mercy

Taken and adapted from, “A Body of Practical Divinity,” Volume 1: The Mercy of God (sermon) Written by Thomas Watson,(1620 – 1686), pp. 101-107.  Published, London, 1869. Material sourced from, “The Dead Poet Society” hosted by Paul D.

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“Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”   –Hebrews 4:16 (ESV)

God’s mercy is free

To set up merit is to destroy mercy. Nothing can deserve mercy, because we are polluted in our blood; nor force it. We may force God to punish us, but not to love us. ‘I will love them freely.’ Hos 14:4. Every link in the chain of salvation is wrought and interwoven with free grace. Election is free. ‘He has chosen us in him, according to the good pleasure of his will.’  Eph 1:1. Justification is free.  ‘Being justified freely by his grace.’ Rom 3:34. Salvation is free.  ‘According to his mercy he saved us.’  Titus 3:3. Say not then, I am unworthy; for mercy is free.  If God should show mercy to such only as are worthy, he would show none at all.

God’s mercy is an overflowing mercy…

God’s mercy is infinite.  ‘Plenteous in mercy.’  Psalm 86:6. ‘Rich in mercy.’ Eph 2:2. ‘Multitude of mercies.’  Psa 51:1: The vial of wrath drops, but the fountain of mercy runs.  The sun is not so full of light as God is of mercy.  God has morning mercies.  ‘His mercies are new every morning.’ Lam 3:33.  He has night mercies.  ‘In the night his song shall be with me.’  Psalm 13:3. God has mercies under heaven, which we taste; and in heaven, which we hope for.

God’s mercy is eternal. 

‘The mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting.’  Psalms 103:37. ‘His mercy endures for ever,’ is repeated twenty-six times in one psalm, Psalms 136.  The souls of the blessed shall be ever bathing themselves in this sweet and pleasant ocean of God’s mercy.  God’s anger to his children lasts but a while, ‘but his mercy lasts for ever.’ Psalms 103:3.  As long as he is God he will be showing mercy. As his mercy is overflowing, so it is ever-flowing.  Use one: We are to look upon God in prayer, not in his judgement robes, but clothed with a rainbow full of mercy and clemency.  Add wings to prayer.  When Jesus Christ ascended up to heaven, that which made him go up thither with joy was, ‘I go to my Father;’ so that which should make our hearts ascend with joy in prayer, is, ‘We are going to the Father of mercy, who sits upon the throne of grace.’  Go with confidence in this mercy; as when one goes to a fire, not doubtingly, saying, perhaps it will warm me, perhaps not.

Believe in God’s mercy. 

‘I will trust in the mercy of God for ever.’ Psalms 52:2. 

God’s mercy is a fountain opened.  Let down the bucket of faith and you may drink of this fountain of salvation.  What greater encouragement to believe than God’s mercy?  God counts it his glory to be scattering pardons; he is desirous that sinners should touch the golden scepter of his mercy and live.

joy over the one sinner that repents

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A couple of hundred years ago, the following anecdote was told to Dr. J. Todd by an old hunter in the forests of America…

“I had been out all winter alone trapping for furs. It was in March, when I was hunting beaver, just as the ice began to break up, and on one of the farthest, wildest lakes I ever visited. I calculated there could be no human being nearer than one hundred miles. I was pushing my canoe through the loose ice, one cold day, when just around a point that projected into the lake, I heard something walking through the ice. It made so much noise, and stepped so regularly, that I felt sure it must be a moose. I got my rifle ready, and held it cocked in one hand, while I pushed the canoe with the other. Slowly and carefully I rounded the point, when, what was my astonishment to see, not a moose, but a man, wading in the water—the ice water! He had nothing on his hands or feet, and his clothes were torn almost from his limbs. He was walking, gesticulating with his hands, and talking to himself. He seemed to be wasted to a skeleton. With great difficulty I got him into my canoe, when I landed and made up a fire, and got him some hot tea and food. He had a bone of some animal in his bosom, which he had gnawed almost to nothing. He was nearly frozen, and quieted down, and soon fell asleep. I nursed him like an infant. With great difficulty, and in a roundabout way I found out the name of the town from which he came. Slowly and carefully I got him along, around falls, and over portages, keeping a resolute watch on him, lest he should escape from me in the forest. At length, after nearly a week’s travel, I reached the village where I supposed he lived. I found the whole community under deep excitement, and more than a hundred men were scattered in the woods and on the mountains seeking for my crazy companion, for they had learned that he had wandered into the woods.

It had been agreed upon that if he was found, the bells should be immediately rung and guns fired; and as soon as I landed a shout was raised, his friends rushed to him, the bells broke out in loud notes, and guns were fired, and their reports echoed again and again in forest and on mountain, till every seeker knew that the lost one was found. How many times I had to tell the story over. I never saw people so crazy with joy; for the man was of the first and best families, and they hoped his insanity would be but temporary, as I afterwards learned it was. How they feasted me, and, when I came away, loaded my canoe with provisions and clothing, and everything for my comfort. It was a time and place of wonderful joy. They seemed to forget everything else, and think only of the poor man whom I had brought back.”

The old hunter ceased, and I said, ” Don’t this make you think of the fifteenth chapter of Luke, where the man who lost one sheep left all the rest and sought it, and brought it home rejoicing; and of the teaching of our Savior, that there is joy in heaven over one repenting, returning sinner?” “Oh, yes; I have often compared the two, and though I don’t suppose they ring bells and fire guns in that world, yet I have no doubt they have some way of making their joy known.”

My dear friend, may I add that if you are that lost person, the one wandering alone in the wilderness of sin, that there is a hunter looking for you! His name is Jesus, and he will not stop looking for you until he finds you. And when he finds you, all of heaven will rejoice! It will be the news piece of the heavenly air waves, angels will sing and cry with joy… over you! Will you not let Jesus find you? Will you not pray to him right now, Jesus save me!?! Yes! I pray that you will. Find me, Oh Lord Jesus!

“There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repents.” — Luke 15:10

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Story taken from, Anecdotes Illustrative of New Testament Texts, Author Unknown

will you come home?

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“God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself.”
–2 Cor. 5:19

“A certain stubborn, reckless youth had a violent quarrel with his kind father…

…and after stealing money from his drawer, ran away. A year or two afterward the father learned that the scapegrace was in London, living fast, and drinking hard.

The father employed a detective to ascertain his son’s whereabouts; and at length the officer found him, shattered in spirit and sick of body, living near a house of infamy by the wharf. The father hastened to this place, and the words, ‘That youth is my son,’ were all the words he needed for a passport.

The father aroused this wretched young man. His first words were, ‘My poor boy, I have come for you; will you come home?

‘In a flood of tears the subdued rebel sobbed out, ‘Father, can you forgive me?

After his father happily assured him of his continued love, the son replied, ‘Father, I will go home with you.’

My dear friend, Your father calls you. Have you heard about Christ and know that you need to make that decision to come to him to ask him to come into your life? Is this decision for Christ, one that you have been putting off for no good reason?

Were you at one time you were a Christian and somehow things got in the way, and you would like to come back? –Yes, you Can come back!

You may even be one of those who believe that there is no hope for you; that you have done too much, or gone too far…You still can come home. For I hear your father calling you! Come home, my friend, your father is calling you.

Part Two. Female Prophets and their Followers of the 1700’s

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During the seventeen hundreds the religious world was scandalized by the wild fancies and pretensions of several female fanatics; being as equally mad or self-deceiving as with the most visionary impostors of the male sex. To continue our survey, we shall first look at…

ANN LEE

Ann Lee, the founder of the religious sect commonly called Shakers. She was the daughter of a blacksmith, who lived in Toad Lane in Manchester; a very poor man, who gave her no education, and sent her while a mere child to work in a cotton-mill. She seems to have been a violent, hysterical girl, ambitious of notice, and fond of power, and to have always possessed, in virtue of her strong will and vehement temper, a great deal of influence over the people around her. Marrying, while very young, to a blacksmith named Stanley, she had four children, all of whom died in infancy, and to this, perhaps, may be ascribed the preference of the celibate to the married life, which she ultimately raised into a part of her religious system. She became one of the earliest believers in a prophetess, who appeared the town of Bolton-on-the- Moors, in Lancashire –a poor woman, named Jane Wardlaw, the wife of a tailor, who believed she had ‘received a call’ to go forth and testify for the truth. The burden of Jane Wardlaw’s message was, that the end of all things was at hand, that Christ was coming to reign upon the earth, and that his second appearance would be in the form of a woman, as prefigured in the Psalms. In subordination to this, she took up several of the tenets of the Society of Friends, to which she and her husband originally belonged; “thus the strange American sect, the Shakers, sprang indirectly from the society of Friends. She converted Ann Lee, a poor woman of Manchester, to her faith. Ann Lee gained disciples, and led them to America, where they multiplied, until there were six thousand of them in eighteen village settlements.

Jane Wardlaw especially raised her voice against war and against profane swearing.  Her followers believed that she was filled with the Holy Spirit; they received her utterances as the voice of God; and she acted as if all the powers of earth and heaven had been given into her hands.

Ann Lee, on her conversion (about 1758), began to preach the same message in Toad Lane and the adjacent streets of Manchester; but she soon went beyond her teacher, and gained the leadership of her co-believers for herself. It happened that she was brought before a magistrate, charged with an obstruction of the streets, caused by the crowd collected to hear her preach, and she was sent to the Old Bailey Prison in Manchester. When she came out of prison, she gave forth, that one night a light had shone upon her in her cell; that the Lord Jesus stood before her; and that He became one with her in form and spirit (1770). Her pretension was, that Christ was come to reign in her person. It was favorably entertained by the followers of Jane Wardlaw; and they acknowledged her as their Head, or Mother, in place of Jane, whose pretensions had never gone so far. She found, however, that among her neighbors and fellow workers, her claim to be the Bride of the Lamb seen in the Book of Revelation by St John, excited only jeering and ridicule; and she received a revelation that she should seek in America a home for herself and her few disciples –and that it was in America that the foundations of Christ’s kingdom were to be laid. So she went to New York in 1774, accompanied by seven disciples –five males and two females.

Her husband also went with her; but he seems to have had no faith in her, and he left her soon after their arrival, in consequence of one of the features then introduced into her system. This was the practice of celibacy, which she had not previously enforced upon her followers, though she had commended it. Her teaching was, that men called into grace must live as the angels do, among whom there is no marrying or giving in marriage; that no form of earthly love could be allowed in the Redeemer’s kingdom. Finding a populous city unfavorable to her designs, she removed, with her followers, first to Albany, then far into the wilderness to Niskenna, and there founded the settlement of Wafer Vliet.

It was in the spring of 1780 when she had been three years and a half at Niskenna, looking for new believers to come in, but making no attempt to win them, that the first American converts joined her Society. A revival had taken place at Albany, and had spread through the surrounding districts; and from Hancock and New Lebanon a deputation was sent to Niskenna, to see what light its inhabitants enjoyed as to the way of salvation. The deputation consisted of Joseph Meacham and Lucy Wright –subsequently the heads of the Shaker Society. These persons became believers in Ann Lee; and through their agency, other converts were won, and a Shaker Society established at New Lebanon. Towards the close of 1780, the revolutionary war being then in progress, notoriety was given to Ann Lee’s pretensions, through an incident seemingly unfavorable. Owing to her British origin, her denunciations against war, and her refusal to take the colonial oaths, Ann was imprisoned for some time at Poughkeepsie, on suspicion of being a British spy.

Before she was let out of prison, in December 1780, all the colonies had heard of ‘the female Christ. In the following year, she started upon a missionary tour through New England and adjacent colonies; she found the people everywhere curious to see her, and she made not a few converts. She did not return to Water Vliet until September 1 783, and about a year after, she died. Her death was a surprise to many of her followers, who believed that she was to live among them forever; but her successors, the Joseph Meacham and Lucy Wright already mentioned –to whom, on her death-bed, she had made over the headship of the Society, were ready with a theory accounting for it. ‘Mother Ann,’ they said, could not die, and was not dead, and had not ceased to live among her people. She had only withdrawn from the common sight; she was still visible to eyes exalted by the gift of grace; she had cast the dress of flesh, and was now clothed with a glory which concealed her from the world. So it would be with every one of the saints in turn; but the spirits of those who ‘passed out of sight’ would remain near and be in union with the visible body of believers. This explanation was generally accepted, and has become a vital part of the Shaker creed, which thus falls in, in so far, with a more recent doctrine of ‘Spiritism,’ as it is called.

By Joseph Meacham and Lucy Wright, the successors of ‘Mother Ann,’ the Shakers were gathered into settlements, ten in number; and a covenant was drawn up embracing the chief points of their creed, and of the social system since associated with it. Their head was, of course, ‘Mother Ann’ ” the second incarnation of Christ -of whom Joseph and Lucy were temporarily the representatives: elders and deacons, male and female, were appointed; the institution of celibacy was confirmed; and a community of goods was introduced. On the death of Joseph Meacham in 1796, ‘Mother Lucy’ became the sole head of the Society, and she governed it with ample powers for twenty-five years. She named a female successor with the title of Elderess; and the name of ‘Mother’ has not, since that time, been applied to the female head of the community.

The Shakers were, at the census of 1860, more than six thousand in number, included in eighteen societies; of which three are in the state of New York, four in Massachusetts, two in New Hampshire, two in Maine, one in Connecticut, four in Ohio, and two in Kentucky. Their numbers have increased considerably since 1860; the influence of their opinions has greatly increased; and the eighteen separate settlements continue to form a united and peaceful Society.

Their doctrine has been to some extent developed as well as systematized since the death of ‘Mother Ann.’ They believe that the kingdom of heaven has come; that Christ has appeared on earth a second time, in the form of ‘Mother Ann,’ and that the personal rule of God has been restored. Then they hold that the old law has been abolished, and a new dispensation begun; that Adam’s sin has been atoned; that man has been made free of all errors except his own; that the curse has been taken away from labor; that the earth and all that is on it will be redeemed. Believers, ongoing ‘into union,’ die to the world, and enter upon a new life, which is not a mere change of life, but a new order of being. For them, there is neither death nor marriage; what seems death is only a change of form, a transfiguration which does not hide them from the purified eyes of the saints; and in union, as in heaven, there is no marrying or giving in marriage” the believer owes love to all the saints, but his love must be celibate in spirit and in fact. The believer, living in union, is in heaven. The Shakers believe that the earth, now freed from the curse of Adam, is heaven; they look for no resurrection besides that involved in living with them in ‘resurrection order.’ The believer, upon entering into union, leaves behind all his earthly relationships and interests, just as if he had been severed from them by death. Those who have ‘passed out of sight’ are still in union; and the Shakers live in daily communion with the spirits of the departed believers.

It being the work of the saints to redeem the earth from the effects of the curse, labor is a sacred and priestly function, especially when bestowed in making the earth yield her increase, and in developing her beauty. It should be done in a spirit of love; the earth, they say, yields most to those who love it; and love and labor will in time restore it to its primitive state. According to Mr. W. Hepworth Dixon, from whose New America (London, 1867) the materials of this sketch have been chiefly derived, they bestow upon their gardens and fields the affections which other men bestow upon family or worldly goods. Their country they regard only as it is a part of the earth, which they love, and as the favored land in which God’s kingdom is first to be established. In its politics and its fortunes, they take no interest; and, indeed, their whole system is a protest against the existing constitution of society, as well as against the ordinary lives of men. Consistently with their belief in the second appearance of Christ in the form of a woman, the Shakers seem to hold that there is a female as well as a male essence in the Godhead –to believe in the motherhood as well as the fatherhood of God.

Their mode of worship is thus described: ‘The two sexes are frequently arranged in ranks opposite to and facing each other, the front ranks about six feet apart. There is usually an address by one of the elders upon some doctrinal subject, or some practical virtue, after which they sing a hymn; then they form in circles around a band of male and female singers, to the music of whom they “go forth in the dances of them that make merry,” in which they manifest their religious zeal; and at times the excitement and fervency of spirit become very great, and their bodily evolutions, while maintaining the order and regularity of the dance and the music, are almost inconceivably rapid.’ It was in ridicule of the bodily movements accompanying their worship that the name of Shakers was given to them; the name by which they designate themselves is, The United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing. In their church-service, music bears a prominent part; the hymns and chants which are used being all of Shaker origin, communicated to believers in dreams and reveries by the spirits with whom they have communion. The spirits, it is said, show no great regard for rhyme or grammar.

They do not consider a life of celibacy as a duty for all, otherwise the race would soon come to an end. There are two orders in the world –The Order of Resurrection, and the Order of Generation.

Those who have entered the Society are of the Resurrection order, for whom there is no marriage ; they claim, says Mr. Dixon, to be a sort of priesthood of saints, appointed to serve God, and to redeem the world from sin. The outside world is of the Generation order, and for them marriage is still, for a time, allowed.

A Shaker settlement is, for convenience, divided into families, consisting of the brothers and sisters, who live in the same houses, each governed by an elder and an elderess. There are two orders of members –Probationers and Covenanters –that is, novices and full members. It is on becoming a covenanter that the Shaker puts his property into the common stock. On entering upon residence, he becomes subject to all the rules of the society; but he is free –whether a covenanter or a probationer –to leave the body whenever he pleases. Both men and women wear a dress of prescribed cut.

Some latitude is allowed as to the materials of the dress. Men and women, it is said, have the look of persons at peace with earth and Heaven. All labor with their hands, both men and women; but the latter do only indoor work. Every man, whatever his rank in the church, follows some manual occupation, and most of them have more than one. Working not for gain, but with loving care, and with the sense that they are exercising a priestly function, the Shakers are unrivalled among their neighbors in the arts to which they apply themselves, especially the culture of their land, and the production of fruits and flowers. They pay great attention to ventilation and to all sanitary conditions; they live almost entirely upon the produce of the soil, and drink only water; they employ no doctors, and take no drugs, and are, nevertheless, among the healthiest of communities. Their Society is recruited mostly by young men and girls; but occasionally, married persons with their children come ‘into union.’ Husbands and wives, when they have come ‘into union,’ become as brothers and sisters. The education of the children attached to the Society is the work of the sisters, and they do it exceedingly well. The brothers and sisters take their meals in a common room, eating at six in the morning, at noon, and at six in the afternoon. Their meals are taken in silence, any direction that has to be given being given by a gesture or in a whisper.

Such is this singular body, which is described as having exerted a powerful influence on the course of American thought and sentiment. And yet, strange to say, all this originated in the morbid visions of an illiterate, hysterical factory girl.

Jemima Wilkinson

Jemima Wilkinson was another American fanatic who flourished at the same time as Mrs. Lee. She was the daughter of a member of the Society of Friends of Cumberland, Rhode Island. Mentally deranged, her first visions occurred in 1775, when she pretended that she had been ill, and had actually died. Her soul having gone to heaven, as she alleged, she there heard the inquiry: ‘Who will go and preach to a dying world?’ Whereupon she answered: ‘Here am I, send me.’ Her body, as she said, was then reanimated by the spirit of Christ, upon which she set up as a public teacher, to give the last call of mercy to the human race. She declared that she had arrived at a state of perfection, and knew all things by immediate revelation, that she could foretell future events, heal all diseases, and discern the secrets of the heart. If any person was not healed by her, she conveniently attributed it to the want of faith.

Mrs. Wilkinson made many other extravagant pretensions. She assumed the title of universal friend; declared that she had left the realms of glory for the good of mankind, and that all who would not believe in her should perish. She pretended that she should live a thousand years, and then be translated without death. She preached in defense of a community of goods, and took for herself whatever ‘the Lord had need of.’ Multitudes of the poor, and many of the rich, in New England believed in the truth of these frantic assumptions, and made large contributions to her. Some gave hundreds, and one even a thousand dollars for her use. In a few instances wealthy families were ruined by her. No detection of her fallacies undeceived her willing dupes. She pretended that she could walk on water, in which she signally failed. She pretended that she could raise the dead to life, but a corpse placed in a coffin remained dead in spite of all her efforts. Her own death occurred in 1819, and thus her claims to immortality were completely falsified. Yet her followers would not at first believe that she was dead. They refused to bury her body, but at last were compelled to dispose of it in some secret way.

Elspeth Buchan

Mrs. Buchan, a resident in Glasgow, excited by a religious mania, announced herself in 1783 as a mother and leader of the elect. She likewise was resolute in proclaiming that she was the woman spoken of in the Revelations; that the end of the world was near; and that all should follow her ministrations. For some time she wandered from place to place, attended by hundreds of half-crazy dupes. This woman appears to have been one of the least selfish or arrogant of the class to which she belonged. She seems simply to have been a lunatic, whom it was cruel to allow to go at large. She announced that she was immortal, and that all who believed in her should never taste death; but in time, like all other mortals, she died; and this event staggered the faith of her followers. The Buchanites, as they were termed, are now, we believe, extinct. Perhaps some of them were absorbed by the next impostor-fanatic who appeared in England.

Joanna Southcott

Joanna Southcott was born in Devonshire about the year 1750, of humble parents. In early life, and till near her fortieth year, she was employed chiefly at Exeter as a domestic servant. Having joined one of the Methodist bodies, her religious feelings were powerfully awakened, and becoming acquainted with a man named Sanderson, who laid claim to the spirit of prophecy, the notion of a like pretension was gradually impressed on her mind.

Possessing a very inferior education, and naturally of a coarse mind, her efforts at prophecy, whether in prose or verse, were uncouth and unworthy of the notice of people enjoying a sane mind. There being, however, always persons of an unsettled turn ready to give credence to pretensions confidently supported, her influence extended; she announced herself, like her predecessors in England and America, as the woman spoken of in the Book of Revelations; and obtained considerable sums by the sale of seals which were to secure the salvation of those who purchased them.

Exeter being too narrow a field for the exercise of her prophetic powers, Mrs. Southcott removed to London, on the invitation and at the expense of William Sharp, an eminent engraver, who had become one of her principal adherents. Both before and after her removal to the metropolis, she published a number of pamphlets containing her crude reveries and prophecies concerning her mission.

Towards the year 1813 she had surrounded herself with many -credulous believers, and among certain classes had become an object of no small importance. Among other rhapsodies, she uttered dreadful denunciations upon her opposers and the unbelieving nations, and predicted the speedy approach of the millennium. In the last year of her life she secluded herself from the world, and especially from the society of the other sex, and gave out that she was with child of the Holy Ghost; and that she should give birth to the Shiloh promised to Jacob, which should be the second coming of Christ. Her prophecy was, that she was to be delivered on the 19th of October 1814, at midnight; being then upwards of sixty years of age.

This announcement seemed not unlikely to be verified, for there was an external appearance of pregnancy; and her followers, who are said to have amounted at that time to 100,000, were in the highest state of excitement. A splendid and expensive cradle was made, and considerable sums were contributed, in order to have other things prepared in a style worthy of the expected Shiloh. On the night of the 19th of October a large number of persons assembled in the street in which she lived, waiting to hear the announcement of the looked-for event; but the hour of midnight passed over, and the crowd were only induced to disperse by being informed that Mrs. Southcott had fallen into a trance. On the 27th of December following she died, having a short time previously declared that ‘if she was deceived, she was at all events misled by some spirit, either good or evil.’ Under the belief that she was not dead, or that she would again come to life, her disciples refused to inter the body, until it began to be offensive from decomposition. They then consented, with much reluctance, to a post-mortem examination, which fully refuted Joanna’s pretensions and their belief. The appearance which had deceived her followers was found to have arisen from dropsy (which was the old term for the swelling of soft tissues due to the accumulation of excess water).

The pretended mission of Joanna Southcott might be expected to have been now thoroughly abandoned; but whether influenced by fanaticism or shame, her disciples clung to the cause of the deceased. They most reluctantly buried the body, without relinquishing their hopes. Flattering themselves that the object of their veneration would still, in some way, reappear, they formed themselves into a religious society, under the name of the Southcottian Church. The members affected a peculiar costume, of which a brown coat of a plain cut, a creamy-brown hat, with a long unshaven beard, were the chief features. Joanna Southcott was unquestionably in the last twenty years of her life, in a state of religious insanity, which took the direction of diseased self-esteem. A lunatic asylum would have been her most fitting place of residence.

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Taken and adapted from, “Chambers’s Miscellany” (sp) Vol. IV.
Written by William Chambers

Also adapted from, “The Quakers”
Written by, Frederick Storrs Turner