Blessed are the Persecuted for Righteousness’ Sake

Taken from, “Plain Village Sermons on the Lord’s Prayer and the Beatitudes”
Written by, Henry Alford, (1810 – 1871)

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“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”    –Matt. 5:10-12

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Besides the blessings which are poured into the cup of Christ’s people, on account of those graces which he plants in their hearts…

…there are others coming from the natural and necessary temper of others towards them, and the situation of affairs with respect to them.

Now, they are described as a peculiar, a separated people; as citizens of a kingdom which is situated in another country, and having their affections fixed, and their rule of conduct laid down, not here, but in a place far away. Moreover, it is said that they are not com formed to the world in which they live, that they not only do not run with its inhabitants to that excess of riot and surfeiting; but that they do not, even in things seemingly innocent, suffer their hearts to be bound down to this lower world. Nor is this all: –they are transformed in the image of their minds, they are all united by faith to one living Head –even the Lord Jesus; and are all members of His body. They are begotten anew in Christ, and therefore they have lost their relish and taste for the old and cast off things of this vain world.

What, then, is the consequence? The children of the world, those who are living well contented to enjoy their present life, and caring for nothing beyond, think it strange that there should be those among them, who do not care for the life of which they make so much; and more than this, –they are moved by their holy and constant lives, to envy them, and to endeavor to remove them, if possible, out-of-the-way; for their own evil deeds cannot abide the light of truth and justice which these persons, by their presence, cast upon them. This same motive leads them also to speak evil of the saints of God, and to endeavor to reduce them down to their own level, that they may be able to carry on their bad practices, without the purity of the Christian character even giving warning to them to consider their path, and amend their ways.

And add to all these reasons the enmity natural to the heart of man, against everything that is of God, or belongs to the new nature, of which the members of Christ are partakers, and you will see abundant reason, independently of circumstances, why the servants of God should be held in hatred and contempt by the children of this world. At times these feelings have broken out openly, and they have been subjected to violent persecutions, and loss of goods and life; but in all times the world is of the same mind towards them –therefore the world hates them, because they are not of the world, as He Himself was not of the world.

And this has not been concealed from us by Christ; He has not held us out any prospect of ease and luxury. He has told us plainly, “In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” Nay so far from concealing it from them, He makes it, as in the text, a part of their blessedness, that they are persecuted for righteousness’ sake. We have seen in the other blessings, that they belong to persons and qualities not highly esteemed by the world: but this seems the strangest blessing of the whole, that those should be blessed, who are persecuted –who are forsaken of their nearest friends, and made a gazing stock for all men.

We are naturally fond of the quiet and comfort of society, –of the smiles of our friends, and their confidence, and all the little advantages of friendly intercourse; we are fond of sharing our worldly advantages with those about us, and being counted as peaceful members of society, and respectable persons; we are jealous of our characters, and wish to keep them without stain among men, and our own advantage we consult, and eagerly pursue our own profit.

But here is a man who is cast out from society and comfort, –whose enemies are even those of his own household; who has few, and perhaps those, distant friends –and is left alone in the world: advantage she seems to have none, much less any with whom he can share them; owing to the malice of his adversaries, he is represented as a disturber of peace, and disreputable, his fair character in the eyes of men is blotted by their slanders, –he seems to neglect his own advantage, and seeks but little after that profit which all around him are going after, –he appears like one who has a mark set upon him that men should hate him, and cast him out from their company. One would think his very heart would sink within him, and that he would perish under the accumulated load of slight and injuries. But this is the very person who in the text, is pronounced blessed.

There must then be some upholding power, some mighty inward comfort which must work against the attacks of the enemies from without.

If we examine the nature of the blessing, we shall find that such does indeed exist: theirs is the kingdom of heaven. They are the sons of a king, waiting for their inheritance; nay, it is already theirs, they are counted in the Church, who is the body and spouse of that King, –even of Christ. He came down upon earth to purchase the Church to Himself; He stayed with her awhile here below; and He is gone up into heaven to prepare the heavenly mansions to receive her in.

Meanwhile He has left her on earth deprived of His bodily presence, but living on His precious promises, fed with His spiritual flesh and blood, to try her faithfulness to Him. She is espoused, betrothed, given in marriage to Christ, the King of heaven; and in her all His faithful ones, so that already, signed and sealed with a sure promise, the kingdom of heaven is theirs. And He has sent down to His earthly bride this memorable sentence, “To him that overcome will I grant to sit with Me in My throne, even as I overcame, and am set down with My Father in His throne.” Earthly power, riches, or kingdoms, belong not to the servants of Christ; yet however poor, however despised they are, they are princes in disguise: even now their royalty shews itself in an exalted and heavenly mind, in affections raised above the earth, in subduing their stubborn wills, and bringing every thought into subjection unto the righteous law within them: and they have their attendants too, –the ministering spirits who are sent forth to minister to those who shall be heirs of salvation; the angels of the Lord tarry round about them that fear Him, and if our eyes could be opened, and we could see the goodly company of heavenly guards which surround the head of the faithful servant of God, –if we could behold him in his most forsaken moment, when all are turned against him, thronged with bright ministers of joy and defense, we should see that not even Solomon in all his glory was attended like one of these.

When men revile them, and taunt them with lifting themselves above their neighbors, and cut them to the heart with bitter reproaches, they can hear the sweet voice of the heavenly Bridegroom saying to His Church, “Behold, thou art all fair My love, there is no spot in thee.” When the sons of the earth deprive them of their possessions, they can hear the same voice saying, “Fear not little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” And when they are put under severer trials than these, which are hard for flesh and blood to bear, cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover bonds and imprisonment; when their flesh and their heart fail, He who is the strength of their heart and their portion forever, is a very present help for them; and His golden words, “Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life,” disarm all their tortures, and fix their eyes on Him who is waiting to receive their souls.

Thus great, thus exalted, is the blessing of those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake. And there is yet more of it behind. “Rejoice and be exceeding glad, for great is your reward in heaven.” If a cup of cold water given in Christ’s name shall not lose its reward, surely those who suffer for Him, and are made outcasts for His sake, shall have great and worthy reward in His kingdom. It is one of the marks of God’s people, to have respect unto the recompense of the reward;” to be fully assured that works done in Christ and for His name’s sake shall not be forgotten; but are all recorded before Him. There is no surer sign of a humble spirit and one subjected to the will of God, than a clear and practical view of the nature of our Christian reward for works done in Christ.

While some vainly suppose that our own works can effect our salvation; and some on the other hand seem almost to forget that such a thing as the Christian reward is mentioned in Scripture; he who loves Christ by faith, fully assured of his union with Christ and salvation in Him, is also fully assured that not the meanest work done in His name shall be unrewarded; for he has the word, the eternal unalterable word of his Savior for it; and long as the seal on that bond of the Scripture remains, –long as those words remain which though heaven and earth pass away, shall not pass away, –so long shall the work and labor of love of Christ’s justified people not be forgotten, but be surely and gloriously rewarded. To those who are in Christ sin is not imputed: being received into Him their sins are canceled by His satisfaction; and therefore all that they do and suffer for, and in Him, is accepted by God the Father, and will be rewarded by Him. “Rejoice and be exceeding glad; for great is your reward in heaven.”

But there is another source of comfort still; indeed they seem inexhaustible and never-ending to those who are united to Christ. “So persecuted they the prophets which were before you.”

Ye that are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, lift up your eyes and look on the stars, and see if you can tell their number and names. Far more in number is the company who are gone before you from affliction like yours, to glory brighter than the brightest of those heavenly bodies. Once, and once only, are we told that any of them descended and were seen by men, –and then, even our Lord Himself put on for a moment the brightness of His glory to meet them; when He was transfigured on the mount, Moses and Elias, two of those that were persecuted for righteousness’ sake, appeared in glory and talked with Him: and the Apostles trembled as they entered into the cloud which surrounded them –so bright and so heavenly was their appearance. But, as we advance in this divine subject, grounds of support and joy seem to thicken upon us, and the seed-time of persecution and tears appears, indeed, to lead to a rich harvest of rejoicing; –“Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you; but rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings, –that when His glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy.”

Our profession is, to have been buried with Him by baptism into death; if therefore, we find ourselves made partakers visibly of His sufferings we, see accomplished in us what every Christian desires –likeness to Him; and the visible sign and participation of His death is openly shown forth in us. “If we be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye –for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you; on their part He is evil spoken of, but on your part He is glorified.”

Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast in the Lord.

If you live united to Christ, you have trials and severe ones too; it is equally true in all times, that those who live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution. Let not the neglect, the scorn, the taunts of men, turn you aside from the steady serving of God and cleaving unto Christ. Be not ashamed of His name in the presence of men: what are their taunts and scorn to you? You are kings; surely it is not for you to tremble at these poor foolish slaves of worldly thought –surely it is not for God’s ransomed ones and the heirs of glory, to tremble at the presence of an ignorant scoffer of this world.

Look forward but a few years, and where are all their taunts and bitter words, and scornful looks?  Whenever you feel tempted to deny or to compromise Christ, look straight to that day when you hope to awake up after His likeness; look to the great day of recognition and account, and as you wish to be acknowledged by Him at that day, so now let your acknowledgement of Him be. And if you fall into persecution, if ungodly companions ridicule you or hinder your faith; for this you are all the more blessed –for you will be, by a visible likeness, shewing forth your Savior, “you will be by their persecution driven to cling closer to Him, to commune with Him more in prayer, to grow in grace and in the knowledge of Him.

One word more.

God knows whether I be now speaking to any who have been, or are, the persecutors of the children of God –who by deed, word, look, or thought, have attempted to hinder the faith and progress in holiness, of a neighbor. If have been destroying the sheep of Christ whom He bought with His blood. And, as one of those appointed to watch over His fold, I solemnly tell you in His name, that “it had been better for you never to have been born.” “Whosoever offends (they are His own words) one of these little ones that believe on Me, it were better for him that a millstone were hung about his neck, and that he were cast into the sea.” You may well tremble before that king whom you have so grievously angered.

Turn then to the Lord and to His people, with weeping, and mourning, and praying, if perchance, this thought of your heart may be forgiven you. Far better is the state of those you persecute and despise, than your own; with all your scoffs and reproaches they are happier than you –they have no hurt from without, and what is more, they have no worm gnawing within. Here I leave the comparison, for I tremble to think of you, if I look forward any further. May God give you a better mind, even the spirit of true repentance. Oh shame and sorrow, that we should have to turn in a Christian Church to address such as these! When will the Lord come and purify His temple, and present us to His Father, an acceptable people, a pure and blessed Church?

Pray, my brethren, for that glorious time, when the number of the elect shall be accomplished, and those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake now, shall have entered on the possession of the kingdom!

Christian and Social Tolerance vs. Overbearing Leadership: A Word to the Wise

Taken and adapted from the “United Presbyterian Magazine”
Written by, John D. Ker, D.D.,  January 1, 1883
Edited for thought and sense

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If in Christian or social intercourse we wish to deliver any man from what we think error…

…we must do so by putting him in the way of convincing himself. To beat him down by unreasoning opposition or even by irresistible argument may please us, but is not likely to gain him. There is a great chasm between achieving a victory and making a conquest, and the completeness of the first often prevents the last. To respect a man’s freedom, never to press him so hard as to humiliate him, to give him the clue that may help him to guide himself to the right, is according to the divine model, and would aid us in serving, at the same time, both our fellow-men and the truth. How much this is needed in the Christian Church every one can perceive who looks around.

Again, it is often painful to see minds that, from their strength of character, are fitted to influence all around them for good, losing the power through the over-assertion of self.

Authority must exist, but influence may have its opportunity to do its work; and when authority makes itself felt at every turn and pushes itself into every little act, freedom is gone and influence vanishes with it. Firm law on certain great essentials, but freedom within this to grow up according to taste and temperament. If those with strong natures, and with deep convictions, could only be made to see this, and could learn to control themselves, their end would be sooner gained. Power of character and steadfast example have an assimilating influence which seldom fails.

It should be considered further, that if we wish those we are influencing to become valuable for anything, it must be by permitting them to be themselves. They will do very little if they turn out dead transcripts of us. If any man is to have power either in the world or the Church, he must have independent life, and for independent life liberty is indispensable. We can never sanction liberty in the way of sin, but there are a thousand little daily acts, where it will demand to be left to itself, and where we should take pleasure in recognizing it. Those are the very signs and safeguards of the personality which God has bestowed upon His creatures, and it is only by seeking to enter it, as He does, freely and kindly, respecting it and conforming to it, that we can guide it to a right end and make it a real power for good.

Losing Salt: Seeker-Friendliness and Our Idolatry in Worship.

Written by Michael W. Pursley

Family at the CrossAscribe to the LORD the glory of His name;
Bring an offering and come into His courts.
Worship the LORD in holy attire;
Tremble before Him, all the earth.
Say among the nations, “The LORD reigns;
Indeed, the world is firmly established,
it will not be moved;
He will judge the peoples with equity.”
Psalms 96: 8-10.
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Did you see the phrase in the above verse, “Worship the LORD in holy attire” ?

Do you realize just how outdated that verse is in today’s Seeker-friendly churches? Today, we live in a world where we go to church in flip-flops. We politely(?) sip water from plastic bottles, or our coffee Lattes during the church services. Sometimes we show up with our hair looking like we just rolled out of bed. In fact, we sometimes dress up better to watch television than we do for church. And then, to justify the egregiousness of our attitudes, we tell ourselves that God is just happy that we even decided to get out of bed to show up and to worship Him…. Really? Says who?

I’m serious!

Where in the bible does God say that He is just happy that YOU decided to show up for church to worship Him? I want to see that verse. I know the verse where all of heaven rejoices when you repent. –Luke 15:10; but like the woman at the well, I tell you plainly if you think that God appreciates a lazy, insincere form of worship just because it suits your tastes then, “You worship what you do not know….” And just like that woman; found in John 4, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” In fact, you would be on your knees, with tears, begging him.

Do you think that I am making a big of a deal about this?

Here, you are worshiping the transcendent King of the universe, just like you were reading the Sunday comics, but you don’t think that that fact hasn’t escaped God’s notice? Do you think the awful and glorious King of the Universe, the one whose sinless seraphim cover their faces in his presence, is going to give you two thumbs up for your laissez faire, anything goes, attitude?

Ok, show up for work, the way you show up for church; see how long you last…

What would your boss say if you showed up for work like many of you show up for church? You don’t think that he would come to you and ask you if you didn’t have an attitude problem? And if you were by chance naive enough to ask him what he means, don’t you think that you wouldn’t hear a lecture about respect? Don’t you think that you would hear a lecture about respect for the business, respect for your fellow employees and your boss and respect for your customer? You might even get reprimanded by being written up. Continue along this course and your position in the company may very well be jeopardized. Even many of the most menial positions have uniforms…. Respect.

We must have respect for God. And our worship of God actually does reflect our level of Respect for Him.

This is totally counter-cultural to the thinking of today’s seeker-friendly churches. Yes, they are noisy. Yes, they are filled with bright, colorful lights, power-point presentations, and big movie screens. But have they replaced a truly spirit-filled, worship service? In many instances the answer is an unfortunate yes. And as a result, the Christian church today is losing both its orthodoxy and its heritage; In short, it is losing its saltiness. Look how Jesus provides this timely warning in Matthew 5:13: “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men.”

However, let me be totally upfront, this is not a member problem, this is largely a leadership problem.

Listen to this thought by Reformed pastor, Bill Hornbeck:

“I have come to the conclusion over a long time through a study of Reformed Doctrine, sometimes kicking and screaming against it, that first of all, our worship services should not be just about what suits our taste and preference, but our worship services should be, so to speak, what suits God’s taste and preference (or in the language of today’s Scripture “as He commands us”). Second, God is Holy and Almighty and deserves more of a reverential worship service, more of a worship service where we worship in “holy attire” and are more properly in awe of God. Third, God is perfect and deserves more of a perfect worship service, whatever that may be.”

Now compare it to this thought by professor Robert D. Decker of the Protestant Reformed Churches:

“… Not only in the sphere of what may be called “broadly evangelical churches,” but also among Presbyterian and Reformed denominations the contemporary church is plagued by “worship wars.” We hear of contemporary worship, seeker-sensitive worship services. There is a wide variety of worship styles among the churches. There’s even blended worship, which is an attempt to combine the new worship styles with the old, traditional worship. How did we get to this point…? We are where we are because of a couple of false assumptions. One is that traditional worship is too somber and sober, too unemotional. We need to experience the joy of salvation in our worship. Another false assumption is that we need to attract the unconverted. Our worship must not make them feel uncomfortable.

R. C. Sproul once said, that “Ideas have consequences.” I believe that as a result of our slothfulness in our worship, our loss of Divine perspective, that the Christian church is fast losing its saltiness… because it has lost its perspective of who God is and what our relationship is to him.

A friend of mine, who was once a missionary in Africa, tells about a deacon in his church that would always put on his white shirt and suit before he would pray… even at home. And though he was often told by the pastor that he didn’t need to dress up to pray to God, especially at home, this old deacon, would reply that if he went before the governor in his bed-clothes would he be well received by showing such disrespect? Could he then ignore the fact that he was praying to the King of the Universe? Can you? If you have lost that perspective of who God is, is not your worship then in fact, idolatry?

Maybe, that is the point. You ARE worshiping and praying to the King of the Universe.

Tremble before Him, all the earth.
Say among the nations, “The LORD reigns…”

 

Just a Bit O’ History… Psalm 34: A Psalm of Communion, of Christian Heroes, and of the Ages

 

Psalm 34

Lent DevotionalThe 34th Psalm is mentioned by Cyril, A.D. 340, and also by Jerome, as being usually sung by the Church of Jerusalem at the time of Communion.
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It is appropriate throughout for Communion with some of the parts especially so, and it contains the passage which the Evangelist John (19:36) applies to our Lord, ‘He keeps all his bones; not one of them is broken.’

Error had begun in different ways to creep into the Christian Church, but the memorials of the bread and wine were parted among all, and the thanksgiving of the communion had not passed into the sacrifice of the mass. The efficacy of atonement is ascribed only to the personal work of Christ himself, and such expressions as these occur: ‘It is by Jesus Christ we bring this sacrifice of praise in thy name, and in the name of Christ and of the Holy Spirit. O Lord, we render thanks to thee by thy well -beloved Son Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent in the last times to be our Savior and Redeemer, the Messenger of thy Counsel. It is by him, the Word who comes forth from thee, that thou hast done all.’

It may be seen how well this spirit agrees with the burst of gratitude in the opening of the psalm, ‘I will bless the Lord at all times: his praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul shall make her boast in the Lord: the humble shall hear thereof, and be glad,’ Sometimes there was added the fervent aspiration of the 42nd Psalm, ‘As the hart panteth after the water-brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, 0 God.’

It was the love of youth burning all the brighter that it was borne heavenwards by winds of persecution.

Verse 10. The young lions do lack, and suffer hunger:  but they that seek the Lord shall not want any good Thing,’ were the last words written by Columba after he had spent a long life of incessant Christian labor, part of which was given to the transcription of copies of the Psalms and Gospels. Columba’ s figure in the history of the British Church is the most clear and noble from the entrance of Christianity to the Reformation, with the exception of Bede and Wycliffe; and he surpassed both of these in the missionary ardor he felt and infused into his followers. His position in Scotland is a singular one. He stands among the stormy Hebrides, like one of their lonely lighthouses, upheld by a mighty arm of rock, to cast a sudden gleam over the waters, and draw it back again into the night.

But like theirs, too, the light appears, hidden, but not quenched…

…or, still more, it is flashed from point to point as time moves on. Placed as he and his disciples were on the known limits of the western world, their zeal turned eastward, and sought a field among the Celtic and Gothic tribes to the very center of Europe. The endless knot “the peculiar signet mark of Scottish art” is found carved in stone, graven in gold and silver, inscribed on illuminated parchment, and tells at Wurtzburg, at St. Gall, at Eatisbon, that the foot of the Columban missionary has pressed the heathen soil with the message of the faith.

Columba died on the morning of the Lord’s day, June 9, A.D. 597, in his beloved lona.

‘There sleep the saintly dead,
Whom from their island home
The Baptist’s hermit spirit led
O’er moss and moor to roam.
Where, soft as spring-tide dew,
Their gracious speech was heard,
Wild tribes whom Caesar never knew
Bowed captive to the Word.’

The narrative Adamnan gives of his closing hours, of his farewell words with his sorrow-stricken disciples, of his parting with his faithful old horse, which put its head on its master’s breast as if aware of the event, reveals the deep tenderness and humanity of his nature.

When the biographer has lingered lovingly on the little incidents that preceded the death, he continues: ‘After these words he descended the hill, and, having returned to the monastery, sat in his hut transcribing the Psalter; and coming to that verse of the 34th Psalm, where it is written, “They that seek the Lord shall want no manner of thing that is good,” “Here,” said he, “at the end of the page I must stop, and what follows let Baithen write.” The last verse he had written was very applicable to the saint who was about to depart, and to whom eternal good shall never be wanting; while the one that follows is equally applicable to the father who succeeded him, the instructor of his spiritual children, “Come, ye children, and hearken unto me: I will teach you the fear of the Lord.” And indeed he succeeded, as recommended by him, both in writing the words, and in teaching his disciples.’

Far away from Columba in time, and yet with the same simple faith, two men sang a part of this psalm at the place of execution in Edinburgh, 1679. They were Andrew Sword and John Clyde, countrymen from Galloway, who were condemned for having been at Bothwell, and in penalty for the death of Arch Bishop Sharp, though neither of them had ever seen him.

“The troubles that afflict the just
In number many be;
But yet at length out of them all
The Lord doth set him free.’  

–Verse 19

‘God hath not promised,’ said one of them, ‘to keep us from trouble, but to be with us in it, and what needs more? ‘I bless the Lord for keeping of me to this very hour; for little would I have thought a twelve month since that the Lord would have taken a poor plowman lad, and have honored me so highly as to have made me first appear for him, and then to keep me straight, and now hath kept me to this very hour to lay down my life for him.

At the ladder foot, he said to his brother, ‘Weep not for me, brother, but weep for yourself and the poor land; and make him sure for yourself, and he shall be better to you than ten brethren.’

It was surely fire from God’s own heaven which breathed this soul into the mold of a Scottish plowman.

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Written by John Ker, D. D.
Taken from, “The Psalms in History and Biography”.

Meet Colomba, a very important early Irish Christian Missionary and part of your Christian heritage: Columba (Irish: Colm Cille, ‘church dove’; 7 December 521 – 9 June 597) was an Irish abbot and missionary credited with spreading Christianity in present-day Scotland. He founded the important abbey on Iona, which became a dominant religious and political institution in the region for centuries. He is the Patron Saint of Derry. He was highly regarded by both the Gaels of Dál Riata and the Picts, and is remembered today as a Christian saint and one of the Twelve Apostles of Ireland.

Columba reportedly studied under some of Ireland’s most prominent church figures and founded several monasteries in the country. Around 563 he and his twelve companions crossed to Dunaverty near Southend, Argyll in Kintyre before settling in Iona in Scotland, then part of the Irish kingdom of Dál Riata, where they founded a new abbey as a base for spreading Christianity among the northern Pictish kingdoms who were pagan. He remained active in Irish politics, though he spent most of the remainder of his life in Scotland. Three surviving early medieval Latin hymns may be attributed to him.

Understanding Erasmus

Taken from, “ERASMUS & LUTHER: Their Attitude to Toleration.”
Written by, Robert Henry Murray.
Edited for thought, sense and space.

8761879_f520[Today, that is, in this day and age, we usually try to understand Luther by understanding Erasmus, and I am no exception. But I would like to take a moment to understand where Erasmus was coming from and to understand the issues and problems that he faced. In doing so I think that we will better understand Luther, which is no easy feat, for Luther was a very complex man. A professor once told me that to understand a philosopher or theologian you needed to understand his torment, and the “goads” drove him, and Erasmus was certainly one of those goads that drove Luther. To understand Luther and what he did, also means to understand his day with its controversies; it also means to understand the great trends as well as its great thinkers of his day. But to understand Luther well… you must understand his adversaries. When Luther wrote “Bondage of the Will,” he realized that he not only had to crush Erasmus’ thought, but he had to crush Erasmus’ reputation, his credentials as it were, as a leading thinker. In short, Luther not only had to prove his works and thoughts against Erasmus, he had to prove “himself.” Not as some rural friar, or as some “drunken German,” as the pope described him, but as a most worthy man, or scholar, against the most respected thinker, or worthy man, of his day… and he had to do it in the field of scholarly combat. This he did.  But it took time for Luther to bring himself up to do it. And I also believe that the effort and the ordeal cost Luther… dearly.  One does not go into combat of this variety, against the forces of evil, in high places, without cost. But that is the subject of another post. –On a pastoral note, what has the Gospel of Christ cost you? Think about it.  –MWP]

Hans_Holbein_d._J._-_Erasmus_(detail)_-_WGA11500Great is the domination of Voltaire over the eighteenth century, great is the domination of Goethe over the first half of the nineteenth century, but greater still is the domination of Erasmus over the opening years of the sixteenth century.

Latin was then the common language of literary men of all nations, and over them all Erasmus reigned supreme: his was the seminal mind of the whole continent. As we shall see, perhaps no one ever demonstrated more clearly the seeming wisdom of Plato’s advice “that the world should be ruled by philosopher.”

The position of Erasmus was not a new one. The learned doctors of the Middle Ages were his predecessors. In that greatest century of their period, the thirteenth, they had created a method of thought. In the fourteenth they evolved a system of ecclesiastical government. In the fifteenth, through the work of the conciliar theory at the Councils of Bale and Constance, they directed the policy of the Church. What a body of men had accomplished, one man was now to accomplish. Had he not at his command that formidable machine, the printing-press, to diffuse his ideas throughout Europe?

With Petrarch, he could say, “Scribendi enim mihi vivendiqueunus finiserat.” He was more anxious to express ideas than to impress people. Life, however, saved him from being merely a humanist. “Erasmus and Reuchlin,” confessed Hutten, “are the two eyes of Germany.” “Not to respect, love and venerate Erasmus proves a man lacking in goodness and learning,” was the opinion of Lefevre d’ Etaples. Conrad Mutianus esteemed him “more eloquent than the eloquent Jerome,” and Andreas Carlstadt did not hesitate to declare him “the prince of the theologians.” “Almost all scholars are Erasmians,” so Johann Eck informed him.

For John Calvin, Erasmus is “the honour and delight of letters.” Philip Melanchthon once considered himself “as a simple soldier under the standards of Erasmus.” “To Martin Luther, for a time at least, he was “our honour and our hope,” the “king of literature.” There were many who even stated that Erasmus was due honors normally attributed to Divinity, he was the “New Evangelist.”

This admiration of Erasmus was not confined to the study of the scholar. Like Voltaire, he was courted by kings and princes. He can tell Polydore Vergilin 1527: “I have drawers full of letters from kings, princes, cardinals, dukes, nobles, bishops, written with the utmost civility. I receive uncommon and valuable presents from many of them.” German and Italian princelings felt honored by receiving letters from him. “The Emperor implores me to come to Spain,” he tells the Bishop of Augsburg, “King Ferdinand wants me at Vienna, Margaret in Brabant, and Henry in England; Sigismund asks me to go to Poland and Francis to France,and all offer me rich emoluments.” “Everywhere the greatest monarchs invite me,” he told Carondelet, April 30, 1526. Charles V nominated him a councilor and gave him a pension. Ferdinand, the brother of the Emperor,evinced the warmest regard for him: so too did Sigismund, the King of Poland. Francis I envied the glory of his rival in possessing such a subject, tried to attract him to Paris, “promising him mountains of gold,” and writing him a letter with his own hand.

Though the humanist was not always on friendly terms with the Church, the popes had, from motives of policy or from genuine admiration, promised him marks of their esteem.’ Leo X accepted with gratitude the dedication of his edition of the New Testament, and recommended the editor to Henry VIII.’ Adrian VI endeavored to bring him to Rome, there to compose books in defense of the Church. Paul III entertained the idea of bestowing on him a cardinal’s hat, and named him Prior of Deventer.

Since the time of Abelard, no man of letters exercised such widespread influence. It was indeed fitting that the Church should pay regard to the labors of her great son, for he embodied the religious, just as much as the literary, tendencies of the new age. “I have developed languages and letters,” he could proudly inform Louis Ber, “for the greatest good of theology.” He was the genius through whose clear brain all the questions of the time circulated, finding there an alembic whence they emerged clarified. What Leonardo da Vinci meant to the world in 1500, what Bacon meant in 1600, what Leibniz meant in 1700, what Goethe meant in 1800, Erasmus meant in the second and third decades of the sixteenth century.

Theology to the early Erasmus is truth, truth which must influence life. The aim of all religion is less to enlighten the mind than to transform the heart. Faith, hope and charity are the essence of Christianity. “What is religion?” is the question he addresses to Richard Foxe, Bishop of Winchester. “Is it anything else but true and perfect love? Is it not to die with Christ? Is it not to live with Him? Is it not to be only a body, only a soul with Christ?” “Through the Saviour we are one with God, and therefore one with all men. Theology requires a foundation of learning. For Erasmus is clear that if God does not require our knowledge, He does not require our ignorance. Therefore, at the age of twenty-two, in 1488, he had commented on the Epistle to the Romans. In 1505 he had published a Latin translation of the New Testament of Lorenzo Valla,with notes. In 1507 he asked Aldus Manutius to publish the Greek text of the New Testament. Throughout his early work there runs the assumption that theological knowledge is ascertainable, for it depends on the understanding of the text of the Bible, which, in spite of problems of interpretation, is clear.

The effort of school men, those pseudo-theologians, are vain. They define the indefinable, they distinguish the indistinguishable, and they divide the indivisible. They are like the heads of the Hydra: the more you cut them, the more they grow. He thoroughly agreed with Ambrosia that it did not please God to save men by dialectic. The goal of all our efforts, writes Erasmus, is Christ, and the road to Him is faith. “Faith is the only door which leads us to Christ.” He develops precisely the same conception of faith in his Paraphrases where he takes occasion to point out that in it “there is no compelling force, but by it all are invited” to come to Him.

Erasmus, like all humanists, was not prepared to believe in faith without works, but he was obviously prepared to lay more stress on faith than on works, and more stress on liberty than on grace. However, this “dagger of the Christian knight” poured scorn on the acceptance of scholastic dogmas and on the performance of outward rites. If men must adore the bones of Paul locked up in a casket, let them also adore the spirit of Paul which shines forth from his writing. If men honour the image of Christ’s face carved in wood or stone, or painted upon canvas, how much more ought they to honour the image of His mind expressed by the art of the Holy Spirit in the Gospel writing. In a word, the Church is a historical institution with a Divine foundation. Unlike Colet, he bestows more importance on the allegorical than on the literal meaning of the Bible. He warns men against the latter interpretation, exhorting them to break the hard and bitter husk so as to reach the sweet kernel “the spiritual sense” which is concealed within, and laying emphasis on the words of Jesus.

Religion to Erasmus is a process, not an act. Virtue, he insists, is a becoming. If it is true, he contends, in the spirit of Socrates, that evil is the result of ignorance, the first condition of virtue is knowledge of one’s self. “Let man look inward before he looks outward, though he is careful to add, “Carry out nothing under the pressure of feeling, but everything by reason.” What antique philosophy calls reason,” he teaches, “is what Paul sometimes calls the “Spirit”, sometimes the “hidden man,” sometimes the “law of reason.” Antiquity looks to reason, Christianity to grace. In the union of the ideals of Antiquity and Christianity, man becomes complete: he is a “whole being.”

Eight years after the appearance of the Enchiridion, came a book which dissolved all Europe in laughter, the Moria Ecomium, The Praise of Folly. Where the Enchiridion was intellectual and religious, the new work was classical and humanistic. For if on the one hand the author belongs to the Renaissance, on the other he belongs just as unmistakably to the Reformation.

A fortunate it was for Erasmus that Folly wore such a mask of jest when she appeared on the scene. The lash of Juvenal or Swift is forgotten for the mocking smile of Lucian or Voltaire. It is therefore no matter of surprise that the creator of the Moria Encomium never formally joined the party of reform.

His was not the enthusiasm of his younger rival, Luther: his was the calm observation of the irrationalities of mankind. However, many of the works of Erasmus are, in fact, an exposure of the follies and frauds of those who professed to serve the Church. For this very reason he must be counted among the forces preparing for the Reformation.

It should be noted that Erasmus, Reuchlin and Lefevre were, in spite of themselves, the precursors of Luther, Zwingli and Calvin.

It was the theologians who suffer from the lash of Folly: “They are deeply in my debt, as it is I who bestow upon them that self-love by which they are able to fancy themselves caught up to the third heaven, and to look down upon the rest of mankind as if they were so many sheep feeding on the ground; and indeed they pity their miserable condition, while they themselves… have so many escapes that no chains, though they should be forged on the anvil of Vulcan, can hold them so fast but that they will contrive to extricate themselves….”

From Church to State is an easy transition, and accordingly in 1515 Erasmus wrote the “Institution Principis Christiani” which discusses the education of a Christian prince. ‘Machiavelli’s survey of the same problem had been then in private circulation for two years. The humanist admits the position that the king rules by right divine, and draws the conclusion that his rule ought to be divinely right. The prince is urged to consider that “these are not your subjects whom you force to obey you, for it is consent which makes the prince, but those are your true subjects who serve you voluntarily,” a conception which the Erasmus afterwards applied to problems of the Church.

Both Erasmus and Machiavelli leave the people to the one side in their State. Erasmus, in true Renaissance spirit, teaches that the prince is to be far removed from the options held by the people: it is low, common, unworthy of him to feel with the people. As in the Praise of Folly there is a strong appeal made on behalf of peace and for international arbitration. For “Christ founded a bloodless empire. He wished it always to be bloodless. He delighted to call himself the Prince of Peace.”

One begins to see Erasmus’ strong desire for toleration when corresponds with Leo X, beginning by complimenting him on his decent from Lorenzo de’ Medici, and then proceeding to speak of his labours on the New Testament. The Pope is a musician: he is a lover of the fine arts. He builds the new basilica of St. Peter’s,allowing the sale of indulgences for the cost thereof. As Tetzel sells the indulgences in Germany, Luther attacks their sale, not as a reformer, but as an orthodox member of the Church. It is possible to look on the architect of St. Peter’s as a friend to toleration, for he provides the occasion which makes the monk begin to realize how far he is drifting from his own communion. Leo delights in the comedies of Ariosto and Bibbiena no less than in Erasmus’s edition of the New Testament.’ He protects the Jews, and actually has a Jewish doctor. Erasmus singles out his tolerance as one of his chief merits.

In the North, though not in the South, Greek rose from the dead with the New Testament in her hand. Erasmus published it in 1516 under the title of the Novum Instrumentum, and indeed it proved to be a new instrument of thought. Though it was printed at Basle, it was the result of his stay in Cambridge. “A shock thus was given’ writes Mark Pattison, “to the credit of the clergy in the province of literature equal to that given in the province of science by the astronomical discoveries of the seventeenth century.” Truth was no longer a treasure to be discreetly hidden in a napkin. The Novum Instrumentum, like the Novum Organum of Bacon, appealed to facts, not to authority.

Further, Erasmus wrote that,

“I fight absolutely the opinion of those who refuse to the common people the right to read the divine letters in the popular language, as if Christ had taught unintelligent mysteries, understood only by some theologians. … I would wish that women should read the Gospels, read the Epistles of Paul, and I would to God that these books were translated into all languages, so as to be known, not only by the Scotch and Irish, but by the Turks and Saracens. … To make them understood is surely the first step. They might be ridiculed by many, but some would take them to heart. I long that the husbandman should sing portions of them to himself as he follows the plough, that the weaver should hum them to the tune of his shuttle, that the traveler should beguile with their stories during the tedium of his journey.”

Authority also received rude blows from comments like those on Matthew 16:18,“Upon this rock I will build my church.” The author expresses his surprise that these words should be applied exclusively to the Roman pontiff, “to whom they undoubtedly apply first of all, seeing that he is the head of the Christian Church; but they apply, not to him only, but to all Christians.” On Matthew 17:5, “Hear ye him,” he points out that “Christ is the only teacher who has been appointed by God Himself. Such authority has been committed to no theologian, to no bishop,to no pope or prince.”Authority is to be purified, not destroyed. Too many bishops forget that they are pastors “called to feed, not to shear the sheep.” The spiritual character of ecclesiastical power is paramount.

He tells Henry Bullock, who may have attended his Greek class in 1511, that he is glad to find that his New Testament is applauded at Cambridge, although he has heard from very credible authority that there is a college there which has put out a decree that the book shall on no account enter its precincts. Think of men so absurd as to condemn a work they had not read,or reading could not understand. They had only heard, over their cups, or in knots in the market, that a new work had appeared which was to pluck out the eyes of the theologians like crows.

Erasmus believed in parchment, though the parchment was that of learning, but now and then he was tempted to try the steel of abuse. The years that followed the edition of his New Testament brought much disappointment to the scholar. He saw the steady and peaceful growth of reform beginning to be broken by men who thought more of steel than of parchment. Shut out by temperament from the whirl of active life, his mind rose superior to his frail body and moved habitually on the plane of great thoughts and bold ideas. The ills of the day” in Church and State” his diagnosis reduced to one cause, and that was ignorance, ignorance of what Christ taught, ignorance of what the Bible meant, ignorance of what great contributions the Greek and the Latin had made to the education of the human race. These evils could all be cured by knowledge,and it was his duty to supply it.

The facts of life told the scholar plainly that there was duality in the soul of man, that evil and good were continually striving for the mastery. For him there could be no dualism in his outlook on life. Knowledge was destined to grow from more to more, and similarly there was to be more reverence within us. Mind and soul were to be in accord, making a complete unity: a synthesis, not a separation, is the aim of his method.

As Erasmus reconciles faith and works, so he reconciles nature and grace. We are free before grace so we can accept it or reject it, though our virtues are the work of God. Grace is offered to us, and by our free will we receive it. If we practice good works for the glory of God, God will requite us.

His solution is plainly Augustinian. Those who are the farthest from Pelagius attribute the utmost to grace, almost nothing to free will, without, however, suppressing it; they deny that man can will good without a particular grace, that he cannot take it in hand, make progress, and accomplish it completely without the essential and continual help of His grace. Their view seems right to me.” “Man, however, must co-operate with God. The gift of grace is God’s, but man’s share is the reception of it. Man is not condemned save by his own fault.” The will of man remains in the last resort incorporating itself with the Divine action: it is a reality, not a sheer illusion, making for liberty, not for serfdom.

To understand Erasmus, one needs to see his a reverential attitude to the past: it has handed down truth to the present. He is just as willing as the School men to receive the teaching of the Church. Unlike the preceding generation, he exhibits no interest in such matters as the superiority of the Pope to a General Council, and vice versa. He is well aware that it is the practice which produces the theory, and not the theory the practice.

Nevertheless, he firmly believes, and nothing ever shook this conviction –that the Church has the right to define dogma, to authorize its definitions, and to order the permanent recital of the Apostles Creed. “The Church,” he is amply convinced, “never goes wrong in whatever pertains to salvation. … I believe with the utmost implicit confidence what I read in the Bible and the Apostles Creed, and I seek nothing beyond that.” “Humorous people there are,” Erasmus quietly points out, who believe in the infallibility of the Pope on condition that they can submit it to their own infallibility. However, he maintains that “what comes from the authority of a General Council is a celestial oracle, and it has a weight, if not equal to that of the Gospels, at least equivalent.” “It is true that they can abuse their power, that they can establish unjust or evil laws, irreconcilable with the inward liberty of the Spirit. What does it matter? The liberty of a Christian is,” according to the Colloquies,” not to be able to do what he wishes, but to be always ready to do,in the fervor of the Spirit, with a light and contented heart, what he is ordered, rather as a son than as a slave.”

Freedom from rigid definition is the Erasmian ideal. Dogma there is and must be. There is no need to add fresh articles to the Creed. The Church says Deus homo: St. Anselm asks, Cur Deus homo? All that St. Anselm says is an approach to truth: no man, however,need take it as de fide. Thinkers propose, the Church imposes. Thinkers seek,the Church finds. They explain forms of truth: the Church crystallizes them into dogma. Erasmus felt with Montaigne that it is putting a high value on the opinions of a writer to burn men who do not see eye to eye with him. For knowledge, if found accurate, he had nothing but respect.

Controversy Erasmus disliked even when it served the cause of truth. War he disliked much more intensely, for he felt that it tended to harden men’s views about other men and the causes on whose behalf they fought. Studies, he tells Servatius, are cold, but wars are hot. In those days of perpetual war it required no little courage to plead the cause of peace before princes. The matters of the Gospel must be treated in the spirit of the Gospel. Many humanists desired peace and goodwill among men because it secured their own peace. Erasmus, on the contrary, loved peace and ensued it for its own sake. Like St. Augustine, Dante, and Marsilius he ranks it as the highest earthly good.

The Necessary Importance of Shame in… THE DOCTRINE OF REPENTANCE. Part 9.

Written by, Thomas Watson.
Taken from, “THE DOCTRINE OF REPENTANCE.”
Published in 1668.

Ingredient 4. SHAME for Sin

120406-tdy-relationships.grid-6x2The fourth ingredient in repentance is shame: “that they may be ashamed of their iniquities” (Ezek. 43:10). Blushing is the color of virtue. When the heart has been made black with sin, grace makes the face red with blushing: “I am ashamed and blush to lift up my face” (Ezra 9:6). The repenting prodigal was so ashamed of his sinfulness, that he thought himself not worthy to be called a son any more (Luke 15:21). Repentance causes a holy bashfulness. If Christ’s blood were not at the sinner’s heart, there would not so much blood come in the face. There are nine considerations about sin which may cause shame:

Every sin makes us guilty…

…and guilt usually breeds shame. Adam never blushed in the time of innocency. While he kept the whiteness of the lily, he had not the blushing of the rose. But when he had deflowered his soul by sin—then he was ashamed. Sin has tainted our blood. We are guilty of high treason against the Crown of heaven. This may cause a holy modesty and blushing.

In every sin there is much unthankfulness…

…and that is a matter of shame. He who is upbraided with ingratitude will blush. We have sinned against God when he has given us no cause: “What iniquity have your fathers found in me?” (Jer. 2:5). Wherein has God wearied us, unless his mercies have wearied us? Oh the silver drops which have fallen on us! We have had the finest of the wheat; we have been fed with angels’ food. The golden oil of divine blessing has run down on us from the head of our heavenly Aaron. And to abuse the kindness of so good a God—how may this make us ashamed!

Julius Caesar took it unkindly at the hands of Brutus, on whom he had bestowed so many favors, when he came to stab him: “What, you, my son Brutus?” O ungrateful—to be the worse for mercy! One reports of the vulture, that it draws sickness from perfumes. To contract the disease of pride and luxury, from the perfume of God’s mercy—how unworthy is that! It is to requite evil for good, to kick against our feeder, “He nourished him with honey from the rock, and with oil from the flinty crag, with curds and milk from herd and flock and with fattened lambs and goats, with choice rams of Bashan and the finest kernels of wheat. You drank the foaming blood of the grape. Jeshurun grew fat, and kicked. He abandoned the God who made him and scorned the Rock of his salvation” (Deut. 32:13-15). This is to make an arrow of God’s mercies—and shoot at him! This is to wound him with his own blessing! O horrid ingratitude! Will not this dye our faces a deep scarlet? Unthankfulness is a sin so great, that God himself stands amazed at it: “Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth: I have nourished and brought up children—and they have rebelled against me!” (Isaiah 1:2).

Sin has made us naked…

mixburdons3…and that may breed shame. Sin has stripped us of our white linen of holiness. It has made us naked and deformed in God’s eye—which may cause blushing. When Hanun had abused David’s servants and cut off their garments so that their nakedness appeared, the text says, “the men were greatly ashamed” (2 Sam. 10:5).

Our sins have put Christ to shame…

…and should not we be ashamed? The Jews arrayed him in purple; they put a reed in his hand, spit in his face, and in his greatest agonies reviled him. Here was “the shame of the cross”. And that which aggravated the shame, was to consider the eminency of his person—as he was the Lamb of God. Did our sins put Christ to shame—and shall they not put us to shame? Did he wear the purple—and shall not our cheeks wear crimson? Who can behold the sun as it were blushing at Christ’s passion, and hiding itself in an eclipse—and his face not blush?

Many sins which we commit are by the special instigation of the devil

…and should not this cause shame? The devil put it into the heart of Judas to betray Christ (John 13:2). He filled Ananias’ heart to lie (Acts 5:3). He often stirs up our passions (James 3:6). Now, as it is a shame to bring forth a child illegitimately, so too is it to bring forth such sins as may call the devil father. It is said that the virgin Mary conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:35)—but we often conceive by the power of Satan. When the heart conceives pride, lust, and malice—it is very often by the power of the devil. May not this make us ashamed to think that many of our sins are committed in copulation with the old serpent?

Sin turns men into beasts (2 Peter 2:12)

CWGMovie061020…and is not that matter for shame? Sinners are compared to foxes (Luke 13:32), to wolves (Matt. 7:15), to donkeys (Job 28 11:12), to swine (2 Pet. 2:22). A sinner is a swine with a man’s head. He who was once little less than the angels in dignity—has now become like the beasts. Grace in this life does not wholly obliterate this brutish temper. Agur, that good man, cried out, “Surely I am more brutish than any!” (Proverbs 30:2). But common sinners are in a manner wholly brutified; they do not act rationally, but are carried away by the violence of their lusts and passions. How may this make us ashamed, who are thus degenerated below our own species? Our sins have taken away that noble, holy spirit which once we had. The crown has fallen from our head. God’s image is defaced, reason is eclipsed, conscience stupified! We have more in us of the brute, than of the angel.

In every sin there is folly (Jer. 4:22).

A man will be ashamed of his folly. Is not he a fool who labors more for the bread which perishes—than for the bread of life! Is not he a fool who for a lust or a trifle—will lose heaven! They are like Tiberius, who for a drink of water forfeited his kingdom? Is not he a fool who, to safeguard his body, will injure his soul? As if one should let his head be cut, to save his shirt! Is not he a fool who will believe a temptation of Satan—before a promise of God? Is not he a fool who minds his recreation more than his salvation? How may this make men ashamed—to think that they inherit not land—but folly (Proverbs 14:18).

That which may make us blush

…is that the sins we commit are far worse than the sins of the heathen. We act against more light. To us have been committed the oracles of God. The sin committed by a Christian is worse than the same sin committed by a heathen, because the Christian sins against clearer conviction, which is like weight put into the scale, which makes it weigh heavier.

luciferOur sins are worse than the sins of the devils.

The fallen angels never sinned against Christ’s blood. Christ did not die for them. The medicine of his merit was never intended to heal them. But we have affronted his blood by unbelief. The devils never sinned against God’s patience. As soon as they apostatized, they were damned. God never waited for the angels—but we have spent upon the stock of God’s patience. He has pitied our weakness, borne with our rebelliousness. His Spirit has been repulsed—yet has still importuned us and will take no denial. Our conduct has been so provoking as to have tired not only the patience of a Job, but of all the angels. The devils never sinned against example. They were the first that sinned and were made the first example. We have seen the angels, those morning stars, fall from their glorious orb; we have seen the old world drowned, Sodom burned—yet have ventured upon sin. How desperate is that thief who robs in the very place where his fellow hangs in chains. And surely, if we have out-sinned the devils, it may well put us to the blush.

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Meet the author and part of your Christian heritage: Thomas Watson (1620 – 1686) was an English, Nonconformist, Puritan preacher and author.

He was educated at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, where he was noted for remarkably intense study. In 1646 he commenced a sixteen-year pastorate at St. Stephen’s, Walbrook. He showed strong Presbyterian views during the civil war, with, however, an attachment to the king, and in 1651 he was imprisoned briefly with some other ministers for his share in Christopher Love’s plot to recall Charles II of England. He was released on 30 June 1652, and was formally reinstated as vicar of St. Stephen’s Walbrook. He obtained great fame and popularity as a preacher until the Restoration, when he was ejected for Nonconformity. Notwithstanding the rigor of the acts against dissenters, Watson continued to exercise his ministry privately as he found opportunity. Upon the Declaration of Indulgence in 1672 he obtained a license to preach at the great hall in Crosby House. After preaching there for several years, his health gave way, and he retired to Barnston, Essex, where he died suddenly while praying in secret. He was buried on 28 July 1686.

The success of life is not measured by the years we live, but by loyalty to Jesus Christ and service in the Gospel.

 

wishartThe light was rising; springtime was coming…

 
…the early rain of God’s grace was falling upon Scotland. Godly lives now sprang up thick as flowers in the meadow. They must be uprooted in bunches, thought the Romanists, or the people, gaining light, will cast off the Papal religion and be free to worship God according to His Word. During the next few years many were condemned and executed for their faith.
 
George Wishart arose at this time in the spirit and majesty of the Lord Jesus Christ. He was born in 1513 and became one of the earliest Scottish religious reformers.  Wishart’s character displayed the banner of truth with an invincible faith. His heart was true, pure, fresh, and fragrant as the heart of a rosebud. Through the indwelling Spirit of God, his life was wonderfully attractive. His eloquence was seraphic; his lips had been touched with a live coal from the altar of God; his soul was aflame with the Gospel. He was animated with transfiguring revelations of Christ and His redeeming truth. He was a burning and shining light. The light he shed was too bright to last long in those dangerous times.   In 1545, plague broke out in Dundee and as soon as Wishart heard of it he went back there, preaching to everyone and caring for the sick. He told them how there was a worse disease than the plague – sin – which could only be healed by the Lord Jesus Christ.
 
Opposed to Wishart was Cardinal David Beaton, a cruel and proud man who lived openly with a mistress and was despised by the people. He once disgraced himself at a cathedral door vying for precedence with another churchman. As the two quarreled, their followers shoved each other and tore off one another’s vestments. By contrast, when Beaton sent a priest to assassinate Wishart. Wishart took the dagger off the priest, subdued the man, and then saved him from the fury of the crowd.
 
The cardinal, prelates, and priests consulted for his overthrow and eventually it happened. Wishart suddenly fell into their hands, and his death was decreed. On March 1, 1546, soldiers from St. Andrews Castle ushered George Wishart to his place of death. Some beggars at the roadside pleaded with him for alms as he passed, but he replied that with his hands tied, he could give them nothing. He might have added that he had already given away all his money the day he was taken to trial.  The executioner lit the fire and hung sacks of gunpowder around the victim. Wishart knelt to ask God for mercy on himself and forgiveness for his persecutors. Touched, the executioner pleaded for pardon and Wishart gave it.  Wishart kissed his cheek, saying, “Go, here is a token that I forgive thee; do thine office.” One standing near said to him, “Be of good courage.” He replied, “This fire torments my body, but in no way abates my spirit.”
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Turning to the crowd, he urged them not to be offended with the gospel because of the end that had overtaken him.

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“Had I taught men’s doctrine, I had gotten great thanks by men;
but for the word’s sake and the true gospel, which was given to me by the grace of God, I suffer this day by men, not sorrowfully, but with a glad heart and mind,” he said. He was fixed to the stake and burned alive. His execution was in 1546.

Wishart’s execution set in motion a train of events that changed Scotland.

It was just one more incident aggravating popular resentment against the Roman Church. The people knew Wishart to be a godly man. Revenge was perpetrated: hotheads went in and assassinated Cardinal Beaton. Fortunately, John Knox, an associate of Wishart, became their chaplain and eventually ushered in the Scottish reformation. The Roman Church was overthrown and the Presbyterian brought in.

Do we have the Gospel of Jesus Christ in our own lives?

Are we every day trying to make our lives rich, radiant, successful, through earnest effort to bring others into the possession of the blessings of the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
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[ A NOTE TO MY READERS AS TO THE PURPOSE OF THESE STORIES:  These stories are about Christians who before us have suffered great persecution and/or died in the cause of Christ.  Their living faith was their testimony unto Christ Jesus.  They were not all great Christians.  Many of those that I read and write about had significant flaws, some morally and some theologically… But all had found “The Christ.”  And they each had witnessed to, and testified of that living Christ which takes away the sins of the world.  Having done all, these Christians stood, and their stories still stand today, demonstrating to us and pointing to us their Lord, both with their teachings, and more importantly, with their lives. And therein lies the power… They were totally committed. 
As you look around yourself, do you see that type of commitment?  As you look deep within yourself, do you see yourself standing in their shoes?  Can you say, with grace, “If called, there go I?”  As you look around your church, can you sense as a member, an increasing importance of who we are in Christ Jesus, or do you see an increasing importance of who we are in the world?  From your vantage point, which seems to be most important?
Never before has the Christian Church been assaulted on so many fronts.  Never before, has it faced so many enemies from without and enemies from within.  One shudders at the sound of all the axes being laid to the roots of our Christian heritage, and we ask ourselves, “When Christ comes will he find faith on the earth?”  To this question, I am deeply stirred with a sense of urgency.
Today, I call to you wherever you are, find your commitment, find your passion, find who you really are –in Christ!  Resolve in yourself right now, to make Him and his cause, the purpose for your highest commitment, and the reason for your deepest passion.  I can tell you, that you will never be sorry.
As apostates and apostasy continues in the church, I seek to point to our blessed Savior through the fingers and lives of those Christians who have once lived and died for Christ, and whose voices and anthems, I believe, now blend with the others from the church triumphant, and with the angels and cherubim as they circle around the throne of the Living God; “To whom be glory forever.  Amen.”  –MWP]