Martin Bucer on Church Discipline: An Appreciation and Critique

As many know, the Reformers believed that discipline was one of the marks of the church. What many do not realize is that Martin was the first to introduce the idea of church discipline into England according to the Reformation principles. From his professorship at the Cambridge, his ideas took root and impacted not only his own generation, but it impacted the generations to come. One student of his at the English university wrote in May of 1550:

 Dr. Bucer incessantly clamors that we repent, that we give up the depraved customs of hypocritical religion, that we correct the abuses of feast days, that we more frequently give and hear sermons, that we apply some kind of discipline. He impresses on us many things of this kind ad nauseum.” lThomas Horton to Francisco Dryander, May 15,1550, Thesaurus Epistolicus Reformatoruin Alsaticoruin (TB) XX , p. 180, in the BibliothPque nationale et universitaire of Strasbourg; the orignal Latin quote is given in A.E. Harvey Martin Bucer in England (Marburg: Bauer, 1906), 4849.

The purity of the church was at stake, and Bucer believed that the ministers must apply the keys of the kingdom to remedy the problem.  “Our dear Lord Jesus is truly present in his church, ruling, leading, and feeding it himself.  But he effects and carries out his rule and the feeding of his lambs in such a way as to remain always in his heavenly nature, that is, in his divine and intangible state, because he has left this world.  Therefore it has pleased him to exercise his rule, protection and care of us who are still in this world with and through the ministry of his word, which he does outwardly and tangibly through his ministers and instruments.” (Concerning the True Care of Souls, 17). He explains,

“… our Lord Jesus, now in his heavenly nature, is with us and rules and feeds us from heaven; this rule and feeding, that is, the work of our salvation, he exercises among us through his ministers, whom he calls, ordains and uses for that purpose.  Through them he calls all nations to reformation and declares to them forgiveness of sins, pardoning their sins and accepting them as his disciples, giving them new birth to godly life in holy baptism and then teaching them all their lives to keep everything that he has commanded them.” (Ibid., p.21)

But the idea of church discipline is not merely the purity of the church, butit is for the ability to truly evangelize.   “For the people have been led by them into thinking that if they have been baptized and take part in the common ceremonies, and do not interfere in the affairs of the so-called priests, then they belong to the church and congregation of Christ, even though they may never really have come to know Christ our Lord, and live in open sin, relying for their comfort in God not on Christ, but on the ceremonies of the so-called priests, their own good works, and the merits of dead saints. Indeed, they would be unable to place their trust in Christ the Lord, since in all their life and conduct they contemptuously despise him and his holy word” (Ibid., Preface).

In his earliest discussions of church discipline, Bucer stressed that the essence of discipline was not excommunication but admonition with the goal of the sinner’s repentance. As Amy Burnett comments, “Admonitions to repent were not merely to be given once at each of the three stages prescribed in Matthew 18, the model for the exercise of discipline, but were to be repeated at each level for as long as there was hope that the sinner would listen” (A. Burnett, “Church Discipline and Moral Reformation in the Thought of Martin Bucer” (1991). Faculty Publications, Department of History. Paper 21; Cf. Bucer to Grynaeus and the Base1 pastors, Mar. 7,1532, Simler Sammlung Msc S 31) .

Excommunication was the last stage of church discipline, when all other steps failed to recover the person. It is here that we find Bucer condemning the Anabaptists “for their extreme eagerness to separate from all whom they regarded as sinners” (Burnett, Ibid.).

Separation is the final, and a dangerous remedy which we apply to our fallen brothers, and when we use it first, we are like doctors who apply medicines which are uncertain and full of danger at the beginning of an illness and like ships’ captains who, as soon as a more brisk wind begins to blow, immediately think about casting their wares and provisions into the sea (Quoted by Burnett; See Enarratio in evangelion lohannis, in Martini Buceri qera Omnia, Series 2: qera Latina. ParisiLeiden: Brill, 1955-, 2:483).

Bucer was not ignorant of the possible abuses or over severity of church discipline. The people feared that the practice of discipline would lead to a new form of papal tyranny. In response, Bucer argued that “the fear of a thing’s misuse was no justification for its disuse” (Burnett).  Preaching, the administration of the sacraments, even the office of the magistrate had all been misused, “but do we therefore want to have no preaching, sacraments or magistrate? What God has commanded must be good and bring about only good, and we should establish those things and observe them according to God’s word for as long as we can. “

Likewise, he addresses the concern over being too severe. Writing to Zwingli in 1530, he expressed his concern that Oecolampadius “favored too much the severity of the Fathers, by which more harm than good was often brought into the church” (Burnett; cf. Von der wren Seelsorge, DS-7, 161-62).  Nonetheless, as time went by, he adopted more of the policies of the early church: “”what [believers through the centuries] have handed on to us in the name of Christ . . . before we have actually examined it and are convinced that is has nothing from the Spirit of Christ” (Burnett; In sacra qvatvor evangelia, Enarrationes yerpetvae, secvndvm recognitae, in qvibus yraeterea habes syncerioris Theologiae locos communes . . . Basel: Herwagen, 1536, fol. 2v).  Consequently, like the early fathers, Bucer held that public acts of penance were required for public offenses.

Where the subject of a lord has gravely sinned against his lord and thereby forfeited his life, and the lord is persuaded to forgive him on the basis of his promise of amendment, will he not also desire him to prove by some kind of penance his contrition and amendment to the other citizens as a good example, so that others will be deterred from such misdeeds and disobedience? Such a lord will command his officials, “You should forgive and spare the lives of all those who are sorry for their disobedience and desire to reform, but as an example to the others you should discipline them so that one can see that they are truly sorry for their sin and misdeeds.” Must not this official, if he wishes to be truly obedient to his lord, still impose some form of penance on these people, whom he forgives on account of his lord, and diligently observe them to see how sincerely they devote themselves to amendment? (Burnett; cf. Von der wren Seelsorge, DS-7, 171, 181-83; quote 182-83).

Here we must express our disagreement with Bucer. There is nothing in Scripture that warrants this. The patristic penitential system is not the Scriptures, and they alone are our guide here. While we must maintain the emphasis on purity of the primitive church, we do not have to implement their extra-biblical ideas.

Bucer also addresses the perennial issue of how the church members should respond to the person under church discipline. It involves social ostracism. Bucer argued by the means of an analogy:

Respectable people. . . have dealings with those they otherwise avoid in the things which civil society or common human necessity require, and they do with them what has been imposed on them all by the magistrate. So, for example, they eat with them and do other things, work, buy and sell, and help them in need. But beyond this they do not accept them, have nothing to do with them, avoid their company and in all things demonstrate their aversion and indignation at their wanton and dishonorable life. Christians should act in the same way towards those who have been excluded from God’s church.

In this, Bucer is following the Lord’s teaching of Matthew 18 and the Pauline instructions. Yet, Bucer goes further. He does not merely stop where the Scriptures leave us, but Bucer believes that the civil authorities had a moral responsibility to punish heretics and the impenitent. This was a carryover from the medieval era.

Where there is a proper, God-fearing government, the imperial statutes and old Christian practices towards those banned from the church will be enforced also in their civil relations, as they have deserved, and through civil exclusion and avoidance which the magistrate brings about they will be brought to reformation. For heathens among Christians should be held as heathens (Quoted in Burnett; cf. Von der wren Seelsorge, DS-7, 222).

Again, while we see that he was a man of his age and that we men of our age, we must file our complaint, nonetheless. There is no biblical warrant for this, and it was not until the late ante-Nicene era that anything like this took place. For this, we sadly point to teaching of Augustine for its root and foundation, but not the Scriptures and the primitive church’s practice.

While having lodged a couple of criticisms of Bucer, we find ourselves in great agreement with Bucer. The church must include church discipline. We are thankful for his injecting this into the English and, therefore, American Protestant churches. It is the means to keep the church pure in a wicked world.

Statement on the Doctrine of Justification: Theses on the Doctrine Upon Which the Church Stands or Falls

 Luther at Worms

Theses on Justification

Reformation Sunday

Introduction

The Gospel of Jesus Christ reveals the righteousness of God, which is apart from the works of the Law and is received by faith alone.  This apostolic doctrine, upon which the church stands or falls, was recovered during the Protestant Reformation. However, new challenges to this divine doctrine have been raised and new Gospels have been forged in contradistinction to it from both likely and unlikely sources.

First, we find Evangelicals and historically Protestant groups signing ecumenical documents, such as “Evangelicals and Catholics Together,” “The Gift of Salvation,” and “The Joint Declaration,” that purposely articulate the doctrine in ambiguous terms so that the doctrine is compromised and the old doctrine of Rome is reintroduced, or we find them signing documents, such as “The Manhattan Declaration,” that neglects the importance of the doctrine so that groups of different confessional backgrounds can act as co-belligerents in the fight against social decay.

Second, we find certain scholars within Protestant academia who have argued that Luther and Calvin misunderstood what Paul was actually teaching and so constructed a false doctrine of justification. The so-called “New Perspective on Paul” offers such an argument.  In its place, they have called us either to a legalistic “covenantal nominalism,” wherein our participation in the covenant is maintained by works, or to an empty doctrine of justification, wherein it has nothing to do with Soteriology but ecclesiology and the erasing of ethnic-religious boundaries.

Third, we find some who claim to be Reformed denying  the basis of justification (the imputation of the active righteousness of Christ), introducing works through their idea of an obedient faith, reviving the Romanist view of baptism as an instrument of justification, rejecting the completed status of our justification by speaking of a final justification based upon works, and insinuating (through their concept of an objective covenant) that those who are vitally united to Christ may finally apostatize. All of this is a rejection of the biblical Gospel of Justification by Faith Alone and an introduction of covenant moralism.

Because of these denials of the Scriptural doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone, it is fitting that we set forth our confession of this doctrine. It is not merely our desire to protest these other so-called Gospels, which are no Gospels at all, but it is our desire to set forth our hope so that our people will find consolation in Christ and be rooted in a proper understanding of Christ’s passive and active work in our behalf.

Theses on the Significance of Justification

  1. Pervading Principle for the Church: We affirm that the doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone is the doctrine upon which the church stands or falls. It is the critical principle of the Gospel. As such, this doctrine colors and influences our concepts of the ordinances (sacraments), the preaching and teaching, the worship (liturgy), the mission (evangelism, discipleship), and the nature, unity, and discipline of the church. We deny that a true Church exists wherein this doctrine of justification is rejected. We further deny that a church is healthy, if this doctrine is obscured, regardless if other things seem to indicate otherwise.
  2. Pervading Principle for the Christian: We affirm that this doctrine is the spring of the Christian’s life of obedience out of love, the basis of the his walk of faith, the fuel for his worship out of gratitude, and the ground of his assurance and comfort in all his afflictions and circumstances of this present life. We deny that a person is a Christian wherein this doctrine is denied. And, though a person may truly be a Christian who is ignorant of this doctrine, we deny that he can live a healthy Christian life; in fact, if this doctrine is misunderstood, his Christian life of obedience, worship, and assurance  will consequently be deformed and either legalistic or antinomian.
  3. Pervading Principle for Fellowship: We affirm that the biblical marks of a true church center and flow from this doctrine of justification. We deny, therefore, that any true unity can exist wherein one party denies it; in fact, we feel that it is our moral obligation and duty before God to separate ourselves from all churches, Para-church organizations, and individuals who deny this core doctrine of the faith.

Theses on the Necessity of Justification

  1. Guilt from Sin: We affirm that man needs justification because he is by nature a child of wrath, liable to the punishment of death and hell, and under the curse of God’s Law. We deny any partial righteousness established on the basis of partial obedience, since it underestimates the severity of God’s demands and the sinfulness of sin.
  2. Bondage to Sin: We affirm that man needs justification because he is by nature prone to hate God and his neighbor, wholly incapable of doing any good, inclined to all evil, and morally in bondage to sin. We affirm that even justified men are still sinners and thereby incapable of producing any good work to stand before the strict justice of God. The believer’s best works are imperfect and defiled in sight of God. We deny, therefore, the place of all works within justification, seeing that they are tainted sin and that God’s justice immutably demands perfection. By all works, we include “works of the Gospel,” “post-regeneration works,” “obedient faithfulness,” “evangelical obedience,” and even faith itself, if counted as a work. We deny any ground for man to boast in any form of works, “not merely works of the Law.”

Theses on the Nature of Justification

  1. Definition: We affirm that justification is a judicial act of God, wherein He declares, on the basis of the righteousness of Christ, that all the claims of the Law and the justice of God are satisfied with respect to the believing sinner. Being a judicial act, it is a change of status. We deny, therefore, that justification is a process wherein the sinner is made righteous by an infused righteousness or a combination of imputation and infusion wherein the sinner is declared to be righteous and thereby made righteous by virtue of this declaration.
  2. Elements: We affirm that justification consists of two parts: remission of sins and the imputation of righteousness. We affirm that these two parts meet both our negative need to pay the penalty of our sins and the positive need to obey the strict requirements of the Law. We deny any attempt to confuse justification with sanctification, though they are inseparable blessings from God in Christ. We also deny that justification is merely the negative remission of sins without the positive acceptance of those who are in strict conformity to God’s Law on the basis of Christ’s imputed righteousness.
  3. Time: We affirm that justification is an instantaneous, once-and-for all, judicial act of God in time. We deny the idea of eternal justification, seeing that we were all children of wrath by nature. We also deny that justification is a process, whereby we are made just. Finally, we deny that that justification is something that takes place at the final judgment; rather, the believer’s justification will be vindicated at the Last Day.

Theses on the Ground of Justification

  1. The Twofold Nature of Christ’s Obedience: We affirm that Christ passively and actively obeyed God in our behalf. We affirm that, by His obedience unto death, Christ has appeased the wrath of God by His full satisfaction of the penalty due to us for our sins. We affirm that, by His obedience to the Law, Christ has earned righteousness for us. We deny that Christ only passively died for us, suggesting that His work for us is not sufficient, “but that something more is required besides Him. . . for hence it would follow that Christ was but a half Savior” (Belgic Confession, Article 22).
  2. The Twofold Imputation of Christ’s Obedience: We affirm that our disobedience was imputed to Christ and that His righteous obedience was imputed to us. We affirm that this righteousness is external to us and in Christ. We deny that this righteousness of Christ is inherent within us or declared to be inherent within us contrary to the fact. We deny the idea that, while the Christian enters into the covenant by grace, he must maintain his position within the covenant by our works. “Therefore, God does not, as many stupidly believe, once for all reckon to us as righteousness that forgiveness of sins concerning which we have spoken in order that, having obtained pardon for our past life, we may afterward seek righteousness in the Law; this would be only to lead us into false hope, to laugh at us, and mock us” (Calvin, Institutes, 3.14.10).

Theses on the Appropriation of Justification

  1. The Appropriating Nature of Faith: We affirm that faith has an appropriating nature, wherein the person receives as with an open mouth the offer of Christ in the Gospel. We affirm that faith is “a receiving and a resting in Christ and His righteousness” (Westminster Confession of Faith, 11.2). We deny that we are accounted righteous because of our faith, but by faith we “embrace Christ our righteousness” (Belgic Confession, Article 22). We also deny the ideas of a formed and an unformed faith, as Romanists teach. We also deny the idea that saving faith is really faithfulness to the covenant, which turns faith into works; rather it is a faith in Him who has kept the covenant for us. We deny any kind of mixture of faith and works.
  2. The Unique Role of Faith: We affirm that faith is the sole instrument of justification. We deny that, though justifying faith is never alone, the effects of faith play any part in our justification. We deny that baptism is an instrument of justification, whether taken in the Romanist view of baptismal regeneration or the Federal Vision view of the efficacy of baptism for justification.

Theses on the Evidence of Justification

  1. The Inevitability of Sanctification: We affirm that, while faith alone justifies, faith is never alone. We affirm that faith is necessarily and generally followed by good works. We affirm that justification and sanctification are inseparable, though the distinction between them must be maintained. We affirm that justification is a prerequisite for a holy life, seeing that no man ‘”can be fit for the pursuit of holiness save those who have first imbibed this doctrine” of justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone (Calvin, Institutes, 3.16.3). We deny the delusion of the antinomian that justification and sanctification are separable. We deny the pernicious claim that this doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone is “ethically subversive.”
  2. The Vindication of Sanctification: We affirm that our justification is demonstrated to others by our good works. We affirm that good works and other fruits of sanctification play a secondary and important role in our assurance, demonstrating that our assurance of faith is no delusion. We affirm that our sanctification will vindicate us at the last day, evidencing that we are truly God’s children and justified in Christ. We deny that a profession of justification, which is void of good works and the pursuit of holiness, is acceptable before the Church for membership and before the watching world. We deny that a person’s assurance of justification is valid, when it does not evidence itself in a pursuit of holiness, though that pursuit is imperfect and full of defects.  We deny that a person’s final status is based upon works; rather, the person’s works are merely evidential proof of the veracity of his Justification by Faith Alone.

Conclusion

The truths contained in the above theses form the basis of our hope and confidence. We dare not trust ourselves; we have no confidence in the flesh. We are very aware that all of our works of righteousness were and continue to be filthy rags.  We humbly cast ourselves upon the merits of our Savior, who has been made unto us wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption.  Here we stand, for we can do no other. So help us God. Amen.

Quote on Calvin as Model Exegete

C.E.B. Cranfield speaks of Calvin’s Commentary on Romans in glowing terms. He writes, for instance, that it is characterised by “an outstanding degree of that humility before the text which is shared to some degree by every commentator on a historical document who is of any worth, the humility which seeks, not to master and manipulate, but to understand and to elucidate” (Cranfield, E. B., A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans [ICC], Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark, 1975. Vol. 1, p. 40).

The Social Prayer-Meeting by Rev. Edwin F. Hatfield

“Again I say unto you,—That if two of you shall agree on earth, as touching anything that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”—Matt. 18:19,20.

In the hour of distress we naturally seek relief. The least we can do is to ask help of any who have the means of giving us aid. If God only can relieve us, the same feeling prompts us to ask or seek his assistance;—to present ourselves before the mercy-seat of an all-hearing God, and humbly request him to consider our case, and give us help in our time of need.

To pray, therefore, is but to act in accordance with the unconstrained operations of our sinful and needy souls; it is but to deal with God, in whom we live, and move, and have our being, as with those of our fellow-beings on whom we are dependent. It is more incumbent, then, on those who deny the propriety and usefulness of prayer, to show why we should not pray, than for us who maintain the duty to show why men ought always to pray and not to faint.

Mutual wants and common griefs prompt to the union of the needy and sorrowing in drawing nigh to God. All human experience testifies that it is not enough to pray alone. “It shall yet come to pass, that there shall come people, and the inhabitants oi many cities; and the inhabitants of one city shall go to another, saying,—Let us go speedily to pray before the Lord of hosts; I will go also. Yea, many people and strong nations shall come to seek the Lord of hosts in Jerusalem, and to pray before the Lord.” The prophet in this passage does but express what has a thousand times taken place in every age of the Church. But why this desire for the presence and agreement of others—of many others, in the presentation of prayer? Why not each for himself be content to pray at home, and in the secret place where none but God can hear?

That mankind have ever felt that secret supplication, intercession, and giving of thanks, though indispensable alike to piety and its cultivation, are not enough, and that peculiar advantages attend the offering of united prayer, is clearly to be seen in their practice. There never has been a time, since the Almighty said,—” It is not good that the man should be alone,” when social prayer has not been addressed to the Most High,—a time, when men have not been wont to come one to another, and say,—”Let us go to pray before the Lord of hosts.”

Social prayer, therefore, as well as the lone prayer of the closet, it will be seen, is one of the promptings of human nature; felt, as all history teaches, in all times, kindreds and generations. To neglect, withhold, and restrain such prayer, is to act contrary to the convictions,—the sober, long-cherished and fully-established convictions,— of every age, and of all the world.

To these convictions the Saviour of the world affixed his seal. He himself prayed both in secret and in company with others. What he encouraged and commended by his example, he also enforced with exhortations and promises. More explicit, unequivocal, and positive promises, cannot be framed than those which fell from his lips in relation to prayer. “Pray to thy Father, and thy Father shall reward thee openly.” “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.” “And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them. I tell you that he will avenge them speedily.” “And all things whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive.” “What things soever ye desire when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them.” “Whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do.” “If ye shall ask anything in my name, I will do it.” “If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall. ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.” “Verily, verily, I. say unto you, whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you.” “Ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full.”

All these declarations of the Son of God are plain and direct. Whatever else they do or do not teach, of one thing they assure us beyond all question,—God will hear and answer when we pray; we never pray in vain. Doubt anything else sooner than this. Deny every other doctrine of the Bible, or admit this; for no other is more abundantly confirmed. Question your own humanity, your own natural affection, sooner;—” If ye, then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?” Such an appeal should silence every doubt.

It was thus that he, who “is in the bosom of the Father,” discoursed of prayer. And what he taught he practised:—

“Cold mountains, and the midnight air,
Witnessed the fervor of bis prayer.”

Much of what he said in relation to this exercise related, no doubt, to secret prayer—the praying of an individual by himself. But no small part of it, especially those promises that are recorded by the beloved John, has an obvious reference to united, social, public prayer. Such is the reference, it will be seen, in the text:—”If two of you shall agree on earth, as touching anything that they shall ask.”

The language of the text is worthy of special consideration. It presents an additional feature in respect to prayer,—a new fact, a particular promise. The Saviour had already, in the plainest terms and most explicit manner possible, reiterated, confirmed and established the ancient promises which had served, in former days, as the basis of the believer’s faith in prayer. The disciples, therefore, needed not any additional assurance that their individual prayers would be heard in, heaven and avail with God. On this point no room for doubt was left. They needed, however, an additional lesson in the doctrine of prayer.

Advancing from his former position, the great Teacher now takes still higher ground. He proceeds to inform them of the peculiar efficacy of union in prayer; to teach them that the united prayer of any two of them has an efficacy much superior to that of the lone prayer of any one of them; that such a presentation of united desire has, not only the combined power that each suppliant would have with God, if he prayed alone, but an additional and peculiar power resulting from this very combination of hearts in the utterance of the same request. Just as there is greater power in a heap of living coals, than in the sum of the whole when each is detached from the other.

Nor is this additional feature of the doctrine removed or impaired by insisting, as many do, that the language of the Saviour in this passage is to be referred and limited to the twelve and to their ecclesiastical canons, sanctions and censures. Even in this restricted application of the words,—an application derived more from the juxtaposition of the text, than from the declaration itself, which seems to include a general principle of the divine procedure,—it is yet most clearly taught, that the united prayer of any two of the twelve would have an efficacy greater than the sum of the efficacy of the prayer of each if offered separately. “How should one chase a thousand, and two put ten thousand to flight,” except on this principle?

The doctrine, therefore, that is taught in these words of our Lord, is plainly this:—That any number of praying souls, two or more, have much greater reason to expect success when they pray together than when they pray for the same thing separately. Blessed promises, “exceedingly great and precious,” are, it is true, addressed to those who pray in secret; but greater and more glorious results may be expected from the social offering of prayer by any two or more of the disciples of Christ. This is the grand truth which, in this discourse, it is proposed to illustrate and commend.

The particular reason presented by our Saviour for this superior efficacy of social prayer is to this effect:—”For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” Such a meeting, for such a purpose, is sure to attract the presence, the sympathy, and cooperation of the great Redeemer himself;—sure to interest him in the matter prayed for, and to secure his joint-intercession for the desired blessing. When Jesus himself makes one of the praying company, as he often did when on earth,—when he, who “ever liveth to make intercession for them” who love him, mingles his supplications with the petitions of any twain of us,—when he bows down, as it were, with us at the mercy-seat,—what wonder is it, that the thing for which we ask is done for us of our Father in heaven?

It may now be seen on which principle it is that social prayer has a peculiar efficacy above secret prayer; not indeed where the latter is neglected; but when we go from the latter to the former; when, having offered in its season the sacrifice of the closet, we go, still breathing the atmosphere that we have inhaled by communing with God in secret, to the place where prayer—united prayer—is “wont to be made.” Thus we gather to ourselves the aid of as many as come together, each privileged for himself to plead all the promises, and throwing all their resources into a common fund with which to effect their desired object; and not only their aid, but the presence, countenance, support, and joint-intercession of one who is “worth ten thousand of us,” and “ten thousand times ten thousand,”—one who alone and infinitely is worthy,—one who can never pray in vain,—one who has only to ask and the treasure-house of heaven is thrown open to him. “Thinkest thou,” said he to his disciples, “that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels?”

Yes, in a peculiar manner, and as he is not with the secret suppliant, Christ is present and mingles with an assembly of his disciples, however small; be they but two in number, the least that can constitute an assembly. This, his peculiar presence, sanctifies both the altar and the gift,—the place of prayer and the prayer itself. For, when thus present, it is not in the character of an unconcerned spectator, or merely of a sympathizing friend; but, as the most concerned and interested of the company, to lead them, as he was wont to do when in the body, to the throne of the heavenly grace, to the mercy-seat, and to him that “sitteth between the cherubims,” and to offer lor them “the effectual fervent prayer” of him who alone is righteous. It cannot but be, therefore, that peculiar efficacy should pertain to the prayer which proceeds, at one time and place, from the hearts and lips of the people of God.

In further illustration of this fact, appeal may be made

I. To the prevalence of social prayer among men.

It has already been observed that social prayer has, in every age, been the resort, in time of need, of our sinful and perishing race. Wherever God has been known and worshipped, united prayer has constituted a part—a principal part—of that worship. Where, too, in their blindness and folly, men have “changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator,” where they have “changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things”—to these their idols they have appealed for help with all the supposed power of union in prayer. The conviction of the world has ever been, that such prayer, not only is a proper way in which to worship the Creator, but has a remarkable superiority over prayer in secret.

Whether this universal fact may be regarded as the result of an original dictate of man’s nature—of a feeling growing out of his original constitution,—or as the consequence of an early revelation of the divine will preserved by a common tradition among all nations,—it shows beyond a question that the experience of every age and generation has confirmed the position that social prayer has a value peculiar to itself; that there are blessings, the bestowment of which can be secured in this and in no other way, or better thus than by other means.

The appeal may also be made

II. To the experience of those who neglect social prayer.

It is in accordance with invariable experience, that in order to preserve the power of religion the form thereof must be sustained. The form, it is true, may and often does exist without the power; but the power is never found without ” the form of godliness.” Consequently, whenever men have neglected and abandoned the practice of social prayer, their religion has first degenerated, and then dwindled away, until it ceased to have even

“A local habitation and a name.”

This fact is particularly observable in communities of small extent, such as are found in towns and villages. Let the practice, in any such community, of assembling together for united prayer be for any cause suspended, and at length entirely discontinued for years and generations, and it is no difficult thing to foretell the consequences to the religion and morals of that community. Sad and deplorable evidences enough can be found, that in such cases, with the neglect of social prayer, religion has departed, errors of the most glaring and disastrous character have crept in and stalk abroad at noon day, while vice grows up and flourishes like weeds in the garden of the sluggard.

All this we know to have resulted from the neglect of what is called public prayer or worship, which is social prayer in its most enlarged form. Similar consequences flow, as might be shown, from the neglect of household prayer, in which the social character is still retained, but in a limited form.

There is, however, another form of social prayer, occupying a middle ground between public and household prayer, neither so restricted as the one, nor so extended as the other;—a form which is ordinarily distinguished as social prayer. An assemblage for such a purpose is, by way of farther distinction, commonly called a prayer-meeting. Such assemblages are not confined to the Lord’s day, as those for public worship ordinarily are; nor are they held only in the sanctuary. The whole, or a part of a church, or neighborhood, may come together, in any convenient place,—a lecture-room, a vestry, a parlor, a cabin, or “an upper chamber,”—on any day or evening of the week, for the avowed purpose of continuing an hour or two in united prayer. So did they in the days of the Apostles, and so were they assembled, some of the early Christians, on the memorable occasion of Peter’s deliverance from the prison and the sword.

To such meetings the language of the text has a most manifest and particular application, as may be seen from the sad experience of those churches and Christians who are strangers to such meetings. Show me a church of any name, in any part of the world, who have always, or for many years, contented themselves with the assembling of themselves together for public worship once or twice on the Lord’s day; who are never seen at other times gathering to their solemn meeting; who never, when two or three have come together, bow themselves down at the mercy-seat; who are never heard presenting the voice of united prayer in social circles;—and I will show you a church where revivals of religion are unknown and undesired; where individual cases of conversion seldom or never occur; where the waters of life stagnate; where the fire on the altar is almost quenched; where the heavens are brass and the earth iron; a church, whose dwelling place is in the top of Gilboa, or on “a heath in the desert;” and who can scarcely be distinguished from the very lovers of this world.

Or, if such churches cannot be found, show me a church among whom one or more weekly meetings for prayer have been set up, either for males or females, or both; but where not one in ten or twenty of their number is ever seen in the place of prayer; and of those who come, a large part, perhaps, are occasional visitants; where but few and infrequent means are used to induce the’church to attend, or if used are ineffectual; where prayer-meetings are set up only to languish and die;—and I need not tell you what is the spiritual state and prospects of that people; you know already. There the ambassador of Christ, if he be what a herald of the cross ever should be, is often heard to cry—” Who hath believed our report, and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?” It would be presumptuous in the extreme to expect to find a revival of religion or a refreshing from the presence of the Lord in such a church. “Do men gather grapes of thorns or figs of thistles?” So uniform are these consequences, that the prayer-meeting is ordinarily regarded as the spiritual thermometer of the church.

Once more: take the case of an individual who is connected with the Church, and dwells among a people where such means of grace are afforded him, but who, though frequently invited and urged to associate in such exercises with “the praying few,” finds neither time nor inclination to be present and participate in the duties and privileges of such an occasion. Such a Christian professor may possibly be found among them whom I now address. Yes—I have one even now in my eye. “Thou art the man!” Let me ask thee, why is it that thou canst never find time for the weekly exercise of social prayer? How is it that the appointed season always finds thee so busily occupied with other concerns? When have I seen thee in a prayer-meeting? Alas! it is, “long—long ago !” Seldom hast thou ever been heard to open thy lips in prayer. And what now is the character ‘of thy religion 1 what the state of thy heart 1 Shall I tear away the veil that hides it from the eyes of mortals? Shall I penetrate its dark chambers, explore its deep and gloomy recesses, and draw a picture of its wretched condition? This would but expose you before the world, and I am loth to do it. God knows it all, and not a little of it thou knowest thyself. Thou knowest full well that it is by no means with thee as in months and years that are past. With thyself and with thy God I leave thee.

But let me ask, did ever a Christian become at all distinguished for piety, who had no place, nor desire for a place, in the social praying circle? Show me the man. I have never seen him. Or is there one whom I now address, who walks with God daily, and always, or for the most part, has delightful fellowship with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ—one who is growing in grace and ripening for heaven, who, at the same time, never or seldom accompanies his Redeemer, nor desires to accompany him, to the place where two or more are met together in the name of Christ for united prayer? But why do I ask 1 How vain the thought! Who for one moment would undertake, or think of, such a fruitless search?

Let me, however, direct attention to yet another class. There are those, perhaps, who now hear me, to whom this subject has brought many painful recollections. You were once among the number who came to the place of prayer, bowed down with the lowly band before the throne of grace, lifted up your voices in the midst of your brethren and sisters, and poured out your hearts in fervent supplication unto him who heareth prayer. For a season you, too, “did run well.” But that season was short. Months have passed away, and we have looked for you at the appointed time and place, but you were not to be seen. Surely, we have said, after such an appeal as he heard on the Sabbath, after so much entreaty and urgency on the part of the pastor, surely he will come this evening. But the evening came, and our hearts sunk within us when we found that your place was still vacant; that you could not be seen even lingering about the door. Need I call you by name? Not at all; it is well known. The eyes of your brethren and sisters are on you; and what is more, the all-seeing eye is also on you. Your God and Saviour too has looked for you, and you came not. When our hearts have felt his presence, and overflowed with streams of bliss, we have wished for you, but wished in vain.

And now suffer me to ask—not what has prevented your attendance, and repressed your desire—but is it better with you, than when you would sooner offend all your kindred than fail to keep your engagement with the Saviour at the hour and place for the weekly prayer-meeting, better than when you would as soon make an engagement for worldly business or pleasure on the Lord’s Day, as on the evening consecrated to social prayer? Better? Alas! how art thou fallen! scarcely canst thou recognize thy former self. Is this he who once so breathed the atmosphere of Heaven in his interviews with God, that his very countenance shone as he came down from the mount, and his garments were filled with the rich perfume,

“When one, that holds communion with the skies,
Has filled his urn where these pure waters rise,
And once more mingles with us, meaner things,
Tis e’en as if an angel shook his wings:
Immortal fragrance fills the circuit wide,
That tells us whence his treasures are supplied.”

So was it with thee, poor wanderer! Such was the fragrance of those happy seasons when the world was far away, and heaven was brought down to the earth. But what a mere skeleton hast thou now become I What an image art thou of living death!” How is the gold become dim, how is the most fine gold changed!” Would that I could persuade thee to come and, like the prodigal, deplore thy folly in leaving thy Father’s house! Why longer stay away to starve and perish? Believe me, thou canst never thrive on husks; canst never again experience the bliss of former days, until thy feet are once more Ted, with a longing heart, to the place where Jesus is—the place where he makes one of a praying circle in mutual sympathy and intercession.

Bear with me, if I seem to be urgent. “The love of Christ constraineth” me. I am in earnest. 1 am distressed for you who are impoverishing your souls. I am anxious—greatly anxious—that it should be with each of you as once it was. I have one request to make of you. Will you not grant it 1 It will cost you nothing. You can comply, I doubt not, if you will. Your brethren and sisters— a few of them at least—are wont to meet at a specified hour and place every week, to pray for the out-pouring of the spirit and the prosperity of Zion. Will each of you be present, God willing, at the next meeting? The Master has said—”where two or three are gathered together in my name there am I in the midst of them.” Christ will be there, for he will keep his word for ever. Will you be there ?—No? can you say it 1 Not even to meet Christ there 1 Not even to honor him with your presence 1 Not even to obtain of him the desire of your heart?

What aileth thee, friend? Must Jesus stand begging with thee, day after day, and be denied after all? Dost thou believe or not what he tells thee in the text? If thou dost not believe his word, what dost thou but give him the lie? Thou makest thy God a liar! Either thou dost not believe that Christ will be present in deed and in truth, or dost not care for his company. If thou lovest him, then to be where he is,

“Is sweeter than ten thousand days
Of pleasurable sin.”

Then if thou dost believe his word, thou canst not stay away. Everything will be laid aside, and time redeemed, to have such an interview with Christ . If it be, however, thy choice to stay away, then say not —” Lord!—thou knowest that I love thee.”

But we may appeal also, and with great confidence,

III. To their experience who faithfully improve their opportunities of Social Prayer.

That the Saviour himself delighted in this heavenly exercise can be doubted not at all. He and his disciples, with others of a kindred spirit, often had their prayer-meetings. Frequently when two or three of those who loved him, trusting in the memorable words of the text, had met together, and were seeking the consolation of Israel, the Lord, whom they sought, would suddenly and unexpectedly come in, and, bowing down with them at the mercy-seat, give an inexpressible interest to their meeting.

At times he would take two or three of them aside from the rest, and when by themselves engage with them in exercises of devotion. On one occasion he expressed, to Peter and James and John, his desire for their company and participation in this heavenly privilege. He would go forth to a retired spot and pray; and these his bosom-friends he would have with him. They arrive at the place, sequestered from the observation of the world, and shut in by the covert, perhaps, of a grateful grove of olives. There, on the mountain-side, they bow down together, and Jesus prays. The longer he continues in the delightful employment, the more he seems to partake of the spirit, and to breathe the atmosphere of heaven; so much so, that presently his whole form becomes radiant with the light of the upper world, and heaven is brought down to the earth. And with the light of heaven came two of its glorified inhabitants;—Moses, the great lawgiver, and Elijah, the great prophet of Israel. It seemed but a step that day from earth to heaven. Had Jacob been there, he would have exclaimed, as with far less reason at Bethel—” This is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” As it was, however—such was the inspiration of the occasion, Peter said to his Saviour—” Lord! it is good for us to be here; if thou wilt, let us make here three tabernacles.”

Yes, it is good to be where Christ is, and in the praying circle. Experience is the best evidence. Taste and see. Ask them who have put the social prayer-meeting to the proof, and they can tell. “We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen.” Our testimony is—that they who faithfully improve their opportunities of social prayer, other things being equal, experience more sweet and pure delight in the very exercise; grow more rapidly and steadily in grace; become the most devotional, active and useful Christians; constitute, in fact, the life and soul of the Church; and, finally, that to them more than to all other human means, are we indebted for showers of divine grace and abundant harvests of spiritual blessings.

1. They experience more sweet and pure delight in the very exercise. —See this exemplified in the case of a young convert. The prayer-meeting is the delight of a newborn soul. That which creates delight will be sought again and again. Conscious of the happiness thus afforded, the soul instinctively desires a renewal of the gratification. One who has just been truly converted to God needs no entreaty to engage in the exercise of social devotion. Every opportunity is eagerly embraced.

Recall, fellow-Christian! the days of your own spiritual childhood. With what eagerness was the occasion embraced that gave you an opportunity of such spiritual communion! Were you busily occupied at the time with the cares of the world 1 They were felt to be a grievous burden, because they interfered with the gratification of this longing desire to be one of the ” two or three.” Were you pressingly occupied with household affairs 1 How were the labors of the evening anticipated and put out of the way, that you might have leisure to meet your brethren and sisters “where prayer is wont to be made!” And, when a kind Providence afforded you the gratification, with what emphasis could you say—” Lord! it is good for us to be here!” How sweet the peace—how pure the delight—how full, even to overflowing, 1he grateful heart, as you bowed before the Lord, as you sung the praises of your glorified Redeemer! These are among the most pleasant remembrances of your whole spiritual history. It was a reaJljoy, an unfeigned and satisfying delight . Those were ” spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ,” for which you could not be too grateful. And, when the short hour of prayer had passed, did you not go away from the much-loved spot with a renewed relish for the service of God, with a livelier gratitude for the grace of regeneration, and with more ardent anticipations of another such season of pure enjoyment 1 I need not ask. There can be but one answer to these questions.

Let me refer also to those seasons of grace when God pours out his Holy Spirit, and the Church is refreshed with frequent showers of divine grace. Then, if ever, spiritual affections and apprehensions are lively; then the renewed heart longs for, and can be satisfied with nothing short of, a real, rational and rich spiritual feast. Baser pleasures no longer please. Worldly gratifications are no longer desired, but regarded even with disgust. Led by the Spirit, the soul of the Christian seeks those places of resort, where its keen and purified appetite for heavenly joys can be gratified to the. full. Under this guidance, and impelled by this desire, mindful of former joys, and conscious of the delight afforded by the very thoughts of such a meeting, the Christian hastes to the place of prayer. From “all the dwellings of Jacob” they come up at the appointed hour and crowd the place. Many, who have long absented themselves, by reason of their lukewarmness or coldness, now with eager haste are seen flocking together, evening after evening, and week after week, as though they could not be satiated with such delights.

“They drink, and drink, and drink again,
And yet they still are dry.”

Such, beloved in the Lord! has been your experience again and again. You can add your testimony, I know, to that of thousands in all parts of the Lord’s heritage, that the more you engage in such exercises of devotion, the more you delight in them and desire them. When, in the providence of God, you are separated for a season from the place of prayer, it is felt to be a hardship indeed. If laid on a bed of sickness, or confined to your dwelling by a lingering and debilitating disease, the place and hour of social prayer is not, cannot be forgotten. If you have been called to take up your abode temporarily or permanently at a place remote from such opportunities, how often do you feel constrained to say—”Oh that I could once more enjoy those blessed prayer-meetings!” Said one to me a short time since—” There is nothing that makes me feel that I have gone from home so much as those prayer-meetings.” And this testimony is repeated over and over again. It shows what are the honest convictions of God’s dear children, how great has been their sense of enjoyment in such gatherings, and how much they are to be prized as affording the means of greatly increasing one’s spiritual gratification.

2. They grow more rapidly and steadily in grace.—” They that wait Upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk and not faint.” If this is true, as every Christian knows, of secret prayer, it is no less true of social worship, as a great “cloud of witnesses” can testify. Too frequently the course of the believer is like the waves of the sea in their undulations, but not in their progress. Now he is all life, and presently he seems scarcely to breathe. Now he advances with a rapid step, and seems as if he would take heaven itself by storm, and then he is borne onward and downward by the current of worldliness.

There are some, however, who evidently, even in times of great degeneracy, are making steady progress in their journey to the New Jerusalem; whose graces are becoming more and more perfectly developed; whose principles are gaining depth and strength, and who are daily learning more and more of their own hearts and of the riches of grace that are treasured up in Christ Jesus, their Lord. To any of these you may go, and learn how the prayer-meeting is attended. They can tell you, for they are always there, unless an evident providence prevent. Their growth in grace not only prompts them to seek the place of prayer, but is itself in part, and so they feel it to be, a result of frequent attendance there.

Has there ever been a time, my brother! when every week you were accustomed to attend one or more prayer-meetings, and when you endeavored faithfully to improve these means of grace? Are you not convinced that that was a season, not only of high spiritual enjoyment, but of evident and great advance “in grace and in the knowledge of oar Lord Jesus Christ?” And this because you were then brought under such influences as served to dispel the darkness, dissipate the mist, and give clearness to your spiritual vision, as also to promote the growth and strength of all the members of the spiritual body. So has it ever been with all who have fairly made this experiment.

3. They become the most devotional, active and useful Christians.— How could it be otherwise! They who most and best grow in grace are sure, as a matter of course, to be the most devotional. They carry away with them, from the place of prayer, such a love for prayer as sends them again and again to their closet and makes the flames of devotion burn brighter on the household altar. This spirit, moreover, accompanies them in, and gives character, to their daily walk and conversation. So much is this the case, that the contrast between them and other members of the Church is perceived, not only by those whose spiritual senses are highly cultivated, but by the ungodly world, who are constrained to take “knowledge of them that they have been with Jesus.”

Animated by this spirit of devotion they become, of course, more active in every duty. They are actuated by a living principle. They cannot be so much and so often with their divine Lord, and not partake of his spirit. From communion with him in the place where he is pledged to be present, they derive a lively zeal for doing good. This zeal shows itself in frequent and earnest exertions to bring others to be partakers of their joy. Their fellow-Christians feel the influence of such an example, and are humbled on account of their own deficiency. The unconverted feel it, and are brought to bow with them as they seek the grace of salvation. Thus their activity is of great use to the Church, and their success in doing good—the secret of which may to some extent be learned at the prayer-meeting—prompts others to go and do likewise.

4. Hence they become the life and soul, as it were, of the Church.— To put this matter to the test, let us suppose, that, by some remarkable providence, those who are accustomed to attend the meeting for social prayer were taken away from us, separated from their brethren by a removal to some distant place or to a better world, and their places left vacant. What, I ask, would become of the Church 1 There might be five, or even ten or twenty times as many professors remaining, and the public assembly on the Lord’s Day but little diminished; the body might still be there, but where would be the soul! where the pastor’s stay and comfort 1 where the upholders of his hands, where the spiritual life and prosperity of the Church. Alas! I tremble to think of the fatal consequences. God spare to us our praying brethren and sisters!— spare that precious band of believers, who, in summer and in winter, in the clear star-light and in the storm, in revivals and in the season of coldness, are seen gathering, true as the magnet to the pole, to the place of social prayer. Let him take away our wealth, our men of learning and distinction in society—let him take what he will, but Oh, that he would spare us, however poor and obscure they may be, our praying circle!

5. I need but add, that to them more than all other human means, we are indebted for showers of divine grace.—They are the representatives of that band of Christians, in answer to whose united prayers, in that “upper chamber” in Jerusalem, the promised Spirit came on the memorable day of Pentecost. And every subsequent revival of religion, it might easily be shown, has, with scarcely an exception, been connected with some such gathering. What pastor, in these days, ever hopes to see his people thus blest, except in connection with such means of grace? Where can the Church be found, on whom God is wont to pour out his Holy Spirit, who know nothing of prayer-meetings 1 If ever there was a matter placed beyond a doubt, it is that the social prayermeeting is indispensable to the spiritual prosperity of the Church. But for those, then, who love and frequent these meetings, the churches would soon become ” like a heath in the desert.”

In Conclusion, I cannot forbear asking,

(1.) If there be any truth in the promise of our text, why is it that prayer-meetings are so neglected 1 Why is it that in many churches not more than one in every eight or ten can be persuaded to become habitual attendants upon this social service 1 Let every Christian answer it to his Saviour.

(2.^ What blessings might not be expected, if but one half of every church would statedly and heartily engage in this neglected exercise? What a vast increase of spiritual-mindedness would ensue? what an emancipation of the Church from the bondage of the world? what an increase in the number and power of revivals of religion 1 what an impulse to every good work?

(3.) Can you bear the immense and fearful responsibility of preventing all this good? Can any of you bear it? If all were to do as you do, what would become of the Church? Will you, from this time, remember that Jesus is to be found in the prayer-meeting, and strive to be there yourself? Or, if you have no desire to be with Christ, will you give up your hope 1

The Pope, Evolution, and Serious Theological Implications

Pope_Francis

Most recently, the pope spoke on the issue of creation and evolution, stating, “Evolution in nature is not inconsistent with the notion of creation, because evolution requires the creation of beings that evolve.” As with many Evangelicals, such Tim Keller, the pope seeks to find agreement with modern ideas in science.

There are two things that alarm me. First, his discussion about God’s act of creation. He opined, “When we read about Creation in Genesis, we run the risk of imagining God was a magician, with a magic wand able to do everything. But that is not so.” Francis continued. “The Big Bang, which today we hold to be the origin of the world, does not contradict the intervention of the divine creator but, rather, requires it.”

The derogatory way in which he sets up the discussion is nothing short of ad hominem. Who ever thought God has a wand? Can he quote a single person who holds to such a bizarre idea? No, it is a straw man to attack the idea of creation ex nihilo by making the other side seem odd. By the word of His mouth, He did it. God does not need a wand, for He is omnipotent and omniscient.

Also, the question is not if the Big Bang suggests or demand a Creator, but is the theories of men in accordance to the Scriptures. The Scriptures are clear that God created all things within the space of six days. “For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it” (Exodus 20:11).

The deciding factor, in my conversion to six-day creationism was the text of Scripture itself . . . For whatever questions and concerns I might have about young-earth, six-day, twenty-four hour creation, it was my duty as a Christian to submit my mind to the clear teaching of God’s Word. Since that time I have learned much that has strengthened my belief in creation theology, and I am grateful for the clear witness of God’s Word to this matter.” Richard D. Phillips, Creation Study Group, 11 January 2009.

The Word of God is infallible, and the pope is not. We are to prove all things. This interpretation that is prominent among the believers throughout history. As Ken Ham reminds us, “The Greek and Latin Fathers and the Reformers stood on biblical authority against old-earth theorists of their times. Eastern Orthodoxy based its views on the Greek Fathers and so also held to traditional biblical young-earth creationism.” And isn’t the pope supposed to believe what the church has held, as Trent states? The majority of the Fathers of the Church and medieval theologians firmly believed in a literal six-day creation. In the Catholic Church views began to change since 1900. Pope Pius XII expressed a limited support for the theory of evolution in 1950 (Humani Generis). Pope John Paull II endorsed evolution even more emphatically. An ever-changing magisterium also goes against the idea of the certainty that they would have us buy from them.

Second, and this has far more implications, his view of man’s creation is highly problematic. Francis stated, “He created human beings and let them develop according to the internal laws that he gave to each one so they would reach their fulfillment.” He also said, “And so Creation continued for centuries and centuries, millennia and millennia, until it became which we know today, precisely because God is not a demiurge or a magician, but the Creator who gives being to all things.”

Setting aside the issue of macro and micro evolution, we are left with the distinct impression that man’s ‘fulfillment’ is through the process of evolution. But there serious issues with this. First, there is the issue of man’s being created in the image of God by a direct act of God. When did man come to this state in the theistic evolutionary process? And how do you know? Second, there is the issue of the fall and original sin. When did Adam exist on the evolutionary chain? Is sin nothing but a failure in the evolutionary process? Third, what about the incarnation. Christ is the second Adam, the last Adam, repairing what the first failed to do in His representation of us. But how can Christ be the second Adam? In fact, how can Christ be the representative for all mankind throughout the evolutionary process –backward and forward in time. Fourth, if the nature of man, the nature of sin, and the nature our Redeemer is brought into question, then the whole idea of salvation from sin in its temporal and eschatological aspects is brought into question.

We should reject the pope’s interpretation, even as we should decry the same ideas among Evangelicals. Too much is at stake. We are told to keep the form of sound doctrine, not seeking to accommodate the current opinions of men.

The Certainties of God’s Purposes

Jer 29:10-14  For thus saith the LORD, That after seventy years be accomplished at Babylon I will visit you, and perform my good word toward you, in causing you to return to this place.  (11)  For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.  (12)  Then shall ye call upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you.  (13)  And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart.  (14)  And I will be found of you, saith the LORD: and I will turn away your captivity, and I will gather you from all the nations, and from all the places whither I have driven you, saith the LORD; and I will bring you again into the place whence I caused you to be carried away captive.

Introduction

The commentator Jamieson said, “The moral malady of man is twofold: at one time vain confidence, then, when that is disappointed, despair. So the Jews first laughed at God’s threats, confident that they should speedily return; then, when cast down from that confidence, they sank into inconsolable despondency.”  Likewise, Calvin remarks here: “for as the Jews perversely despised all threatenings, so it was difficult for them to receive any taste of God’s goodness from his promises.”

And this is the truth for all of God’s people; we move from one form of unbelief to another.  The one thing that stands out in our text is the certainty of God’s Word. In the text four things are certain: 1.) The certain punishment of sin; 2.) The certain fulfilment of God’s gracious purposes; 3.) The certain effect of sanctified afflictions; and 4.) The certain acceptance of fervent pursuit of God.  Let us consider,

The certain punishment of Sin (Jer. 29:10)

Notice the words of our text: “After seventy years be accomplished in Babylon I will visit you.” But seventy years must be accomplished. For many years, the Lord had warned Israel about her unfaithfulness, but Israel would not listen.  She had come to wrong conclusion about her relationship to God. They had placed their hope in the external privileges. They had the temple, and God would not destroy them and remove them, so long as the temple was there. But the the Lord through His prophet says, “Trust ye not in lying words, saying, The temple of the LORD, The temple of the LORD, The temple of the LORD, are these” (Jer. 7:4).

How many place their confidence in the fact that they call themselves Protestants and Baptists, in the fact they regularly attend public worship, or in some other particular external manifestation of the Christian faith, while they live in the spirit of the world and without any scriptural evidence of being in a state of favor with God! How many trust to the supposed orthodoxy of their faith; or to their zeal against evolution, secularism, atheism, etc.; while they are ignorant of the scriptural way of salvation and indifferent to the great concern of making their calling and election sure! How many cherish a secret hope from the prayers of parents, the zeal and piety of their ministers. In short, innumerable are the ways in which persons deceive themselves on these subjects; fancying that the temple of the Lord is among them; and on this vain surmise remaining content and careless in their sins and ignorant of all true and vital Christianity. Now let us ask ourselves, whether such is our own case. On what are we placing our hopes for eternity? Are we resting upon anything superficial or external; upon anything short of genuine conversion of heart to God? True piety is not anything that can be done for us; it must be engrafted in us; it must dwell in our hearts, and show its blessed effects in our conduct.

Let us always remember that when we sin against Him, breaking His law, worshipping idols, searching for satisfaction in created things rather than in Him, we reject His kingship over us and thereby make ourselves liable to His good and righteous judgment. The Lord had told this for year and years, but the delay seemed to take the edge off the threat. But now the Lord pours out upon her the threatened curses, including the sending them out of the Lord. God is never mocked! What He threatens, He shall perform, unless we repent.  Iain Duguid notes,

The Lord waits so long in His graciousness that people think He cannot judge, but when He does come in judgment, it is so decisive that it seems as if He cannot show mercy. For this is not the sudden anger of an irritable temper, easily inflamed but equally easily pacified. This is deliberate, measure wrath, following a full investigation of the facts. There can be no last-minute appeals or reprieves, for there is no higher court to whom appeal can be made, and no pertinent facts have been overlooked in reaching the verdict. So it was with Sodom and Gomorrah, and so it shall be at the end of history [see Luke 17:28-30].

The words of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem “Retribution” are accurate:

Though the mills of God grind slowly;

Yet they grind exceeding small;

Though with patience he stands waiting,

With exactness grinds he all.

But many will object to the way that I am coming at this. They will say that this can only and should only apply to the unconverted. In fact, one of the teachings of the older forms of Antinomianism was that no judgment whatsoever comes to the Christian. However, mark that this threatening was fulfilled towards the most pious of God’s people among the Jews, as well as the most impious. “One event happeneth to all.” “The soul that sinneth,” etc.

And this means that we must correct our thinking, if correcting needs to take place, that salvation from wrath does not mean salvation from chastisement. The blood of Christ, applied by faith, delivers from the curse of sin hereafter, but the consequences of sin are often bitterly felt by God’s people here. It is the law of Divine dispensations that sin should bring sorrow; and it is the tendency of Divine grace to make sin appear exceeding sinful. Job and David and Hezekiah and Peter, even though through rich grace their sins were forgiven and their hopes were restored, found that it was “an evil thing and bitter to sin against God;” and in the text the pious Jews equally with their irreligious countrymen endured captivity in Babylon seventy years. Charles Spurgeon is correct when he preached:

God’s people can never by any possibility be punished for their sins.  God has punished them already in the person of Christ, their substitute. But yet, while the Christian cannot be condemned, he can be chastised. Punishment is laid on a man in anger; God strikes him in wrath. But when he afflicts His child, chastisement is applied in love. The rod has been baptized in deep affection before it is laid on the believer’s back.

So, we have to say that God’s threats will certainly come about, if we do not repent. Let us also consider,

The Certain fulfilment of God’s gracious purposes (Jer. 29:11).

Notice the wonderful words, “I will visit and perform My good word. For I know the thoughts,” etc. The “good word” was the word of promise of deliverance from captivity, and the coming and reign of Christ. It is the mercy of the penitent sinner, it is the comfort of the humblest believer, that God is as true to His promises as to His threatenings—as faithful to the declarations of the covenant of His grace as He is to the sentence of His holy law—as ready to listen to the voice of the blood of sprinkling as He was to listen to the voice of the blood of Abel.

But if you will look at this, you will see that God’s thoughts are toward us. They are not merely something that comes upon His mind here or there, but as Spurgeon said, “His thoughts are all drifting your way. This is the way the south wind of His thoughts of peace is moving: it is towards you.”  They are thoughts of peace. They are thoughts of wholesomeness. They are thoughts of reconciliation and restoration.  And these thoughts are determined, settled thoughts.  They are not wavering, but they are eternal thoughts. One commentator rightly remarks,

The word for “thoughts” might often be rendered “purposes,” as it is sometimes in our version. The thoughts of God are his purposes. So here: “For I — I know the very purposes which I am purposing respecting you, saith Jehovah, — purposes of peace and not for evil, to restore you to this place.” God, in saying, “to this place,” represented himself as dwelling at Jerusalem, in the temple, where he had promised his presence.  In mentioning purposes and not purpose, the intention probably was to shew its firmness and certainty.

God will perform His good word to the humblest spirit that has sought and found rest at the foot of the cross. Paul says in Philippians 1:6, “Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.” None shall be lost who come to Jesus. “Wherein God, willing more abundantly to shew unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath: That by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us: Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and stedfast, and which entereth into that within the veil; Whither the forerunner is for us entered, even Jesus, made an high priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec” (Hebrews 6:17-20).  Speaking on this, Calvin wrote:

The certainty of salvation is then a necessary thing; for he who forbids to swear without reason has been pleased to swear for the sake of rendering it certain. And we may hence also conclude what great account he makes of our salvation; for in order to secure it, he not only pardons our unbelief, but giving up as it were his own right, and yielding to us far more than what we could claim, he kindly provides a remedy for it.

But you say, “My sin; it is my sin that will be my ruin!” No sin will be our ruin which leads us to Christ for salvation. It is His own language. “I, even I, am He,” and “Come now, and let us reason.” “I know the thoughts—thoughts of peace.” God often thinks thoughts of peace, when we suppose He thinks thoughts of evil. He occupies Himself in merciful thoughts concerning our spiritual peace of mind now and our eternal peace hereafter.  We must believe this promise of God, if we are to have any comfort from it. Zinzendorf is right, when he said,

The waiting of the righteous has always something to depend upon, namely, the promise, and it is a duty to God to believe the promises, but an insult and dishonor to the name of the Lord when no faith is put in them. Is it not enough that ye injure men, will ye also insult the Lord my God? (Isa. 7:13).

Having considered the certainty of His threats and His gracious purpose for His people, let us also consider,

The certain Effect of sanctified afflictions (Jer. 29:12).

God does not chasten without purpose. A. W. Pink correctly observed, “Chastisement is designed for our good, to promote our highest interests. Look beyond the rod to the All-wise hand that wields it!” Notice this in our text: “Then shall ye call and go and pray, and I will hearken.”   It is blessing to know that even my afflictions is from the Lord who will use them.  I can heartily agree with Spurgeon, even I am sure that you do, when he says,

There is no attribute of God more comforting to His children than the doctrine of Divine Sovereignty. Under the most adverse circumstances, in the most severe troubles, they believe that Sovereignty hath ordained their afflictions, that Sovereignty overrules them, and that Sovereignty will sanctify them all.

We cannot have a better proof of sanctified afflictions than when a spirit of prayer is poured out—when we are brought to our knees—taught the futility of broken dependencies—taught to find our happiness and all in God. Distrust of ourselves—dependence on Christ—confidence in God—humility in His presence—submission to His will—and a delight in communion with Him—these mark growth in grace.

I am sure that most, if not all of us, remember the words of David, when he said in Psalm 119:67:  “Before I was afflicted I went astray: but now have I kept thy word.” The early American poetess Anne Bradstreet said, “Iron till it be thoroughly heated is incapable to be wrought; so God sees good to cast some men into the furnace of affliction, and then beats them on His anvil into what frame He desires.”  “By affliction God separates the sin which he hates from the soul which he loves,” notes John Mason. William Garrett Lewis gives us the eternal view, when he preached the following in a sermon:

From the countless throng before the throne of God and the Lamb, we may yet hear the words of the Psalmist, “Before I was afflicted I went astray: but now have I kept thy word.” There is many an one who will say, “Behold, happy is the man whom God correcteth” (John 5:17). One would tell you that his worldly undoing was the making of his heavenly prospects; and another that the loss of all things was the gain of All in All. There are multitudes whom God has afflicted with natural blindness that they might gain spiritual sight; and those who under bodily infirmities and diseases of divers sorts have pined and wasted away this earthly life, gladly laying hold on glory, honour, and immortality instead.

Lastly, let us also consider,

The certain acceptance of fervent prayer (Jer. 29:13).

All of this should lead us to call upon the Lord. As we do, we must see that that Lord would have us to do it with faith. “Seek and find Me . . .   whole heart” (Jer. 29:13). There is a certainty that is underscored here, if they condition is met. It was foretold by Moses in Deuteronomy 4, long before this statement to Jeremiah:

But if from thence thou shalt seek the LORD thy God, thou shalt find him, if thou seek him with all thy heart and with all thy soul. When thou art in tribulation, and all these things are come upon thee, even in the latter days, if thou turn to the LORD thy God, and shalt be obedient unto his voice;  (For the LORD thy God is a merciful God;) he will not forsake thee, neither destroy thee, nor forget the covenant of thy fathers which he sware unto them.

While this is true of Israel, as the context reveals, it is also a general truth. We must believe that God is and that He is a rewarder of those that diligently seek Him.  Even more is this true of God’s people throughout any and every age. God has “never said to the seed of Jacob, seek ye me in vain” (Isaiah 45:19). On the contrary He will “hearken” to our cry with parental tenderness, He will disclose to the inquiring soul the riches of his grace, and “enable us to comprehend with all saints the height and depth of his love which passeth knowledge.”

But then we must pray in earnest and, “search for him with our whole heart” (Lev. 26:40-41, Deut. 4:29). It is not a mere listless petition that will prevail with Him; we may ask and not have, “if we thus ask amiss,” but importunate and believing prayer shall bring down every blessing which God himself is able to bestow.  And the very promise here should incite a confidence that God will hear us, even as Matthew Henry notes,

Promises are given, not to supersede, but to quicken and encourage prayer: and when deliverance is coming we must by prayer go forth to meet it. When Daniel understood that the 70 years were near expiring, then he set his face with more fervency than ever to seek the Lord, Dan. 9:2, 3.

Now, when is this true? It is true of forgiveness of sin, support in trouble, and deliverance. We must be earnest and fervent, or shall have but a cold answer. He that asks with a doubting mind and wavering lazy desire, begs for nothing but to be denied. But let us remember that God is wise in answering us. God gives His people what they ask, or better. We beg for removal of present sadness—but He gives that which makes us able to bear twenty sadnesses, a cheerful spirit, peaceful conscience, joy in God, the foretastes of eternal rejoicings in His kingdom. Remember how great a God you go to, how great a need you have, how great a thing you pray for.

Some are discouraged when they hear these words. They say, “How can I ever seek God with my whole heart! God wants perfection in this.”  But as Calvin said, “It is indeed certain that men never turn to God with their whole heart, nor is the whole heart ever so much engaged in prayer as it ought to be; but the Prophet sets the whole heart in opposition to a double heart. Perfection, then, is not what is to be understood here, which can never be found in men, but integrity or sincerity.”

How then shall we come? We come believing, not as a hypocrite. His people seek Him rightly, as Gill says, “when they seek him in Christ, who is the only way to the Father, under the guidance and influence of the blessed Spirit; in the exercise of faith upon him and his promises; with fervency of spirit and ardour of mind; with diligence and importunity; with earnest desires and strong affections; and, as follows, with all sincerity of soul.” And we have the confidence that we will be heard. He says to us, as He did to Israel,

As soon as thou callest on me, I will hear thee; before thou speakest, I will stretch forth my hand. (Isa. 58:9)

The Importance Of The Prayer-meeting By Lewis O. Thompson

The Importance Of The Prayer-meeting

By Lewis O. Thompson,

Pastor of Second Presbyterian Church, Peoria, Illinois

It is as important for the church in its collective capacity, to sustain the prayer-meeting, as it is for the individual believer to keep up his secret devotions. The Christian cannot grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ; in spirituality and in power, without daily communion with God in prayer. This is the experience of both laymen and preachers. “Whenever a Christian backslides,” says Spurgeon, “his wandering commences in his closet. I speak what I have felt. I have often gone back from God—never so as to fall finally, I know, but I have often lost that savor of His love which I once enjoyed. I have had to cry,

‘Those peaceful hours I once enjoyed,

How sweet their memory still!

But they have left an aching void,

The world can never fill.’

“I have gone up to God’s house to preach, without either fire or energy; I have read the Bible and there has been no light upon it; I have tried to have communion with God, but all has been a failure.

Shall I tell where that commenced? It commenced in my closet. I had ceased in a measure to pray.

Here I stand and do confess my faults; I do acknowledge that whenever I depart from God it is there it doth begin. O, Christians, would you be happy? Be much in prayer. Would you be victorious? Be much in prayer.

‘Restraining prayer, we cease to fight,
Prayer makes the Christian’s armor bright.’

“Mrs. Berry used to say, ‘I would not be hired out of my closet for a thousand worlds.’ Mr. Jay said, ‘If the twelve apostles were living near you, and you had access to them, if this intercourse drew you from the closet, they would prove a real injury to your souls.’ Prayer is the ship which bringeth home the richest freight. It is the soil which yields the most abundant harvest.”

Nor can churches enjoy any great measure of success in saving souls, unless they are praying churches. Praying churches will be revival churches—such will grow and prosper spiritually and temporally. Would you have a successful church; go and get them to pray; go and get them to cultivate the “power of the knees,” not only in their closets, but in their prayer-meetings. “Sirs;” says Spurgeon, “I have no opinion of the churches of the present day that do not pray. I go from chapel to chapel in this metropolis, and I see pretty good congregations: but I go to their prayer-meetings on a week evening, and I see a dozen persons. Can God bless us, can He pour out His Spirit upon us, while such things as these exist? He could, but it would not be according to the order of His dispensations, for He says, ‘When Zion travails she brings forth children.’ Go to your churches and chapels with this thought, that you want more prayer. Go home and say to your minister, ‘Sir, we must have more prayer.’ We must have an outpouring of real devotion, or else what is to become of many of our churches? O! may God awaken us all, and stir us up to pray, for when we pray we shall be victorious. I should like to take you this morning as Samson did the foxes, tie the firebrands of prayer to you, and send you in among the shocks of corn till you burn the whole up. I should like to make a conflagration by my words, and set all the churches on fire, till the whole has smoked like a sacrifice up to God’s throne.”

And the reason of this is evident. The Spirit is present with the believer as an unseen presence; “for He dwelleth with you and shall be in you.” The Spirit is given by measure to the believer according to the extent that the manifestation of His presence and power has been sought in prayer. To the Son God gave not His Spirit by measure, but the Spirit abode with Him in His infinite fulness. With men, however, He dwells to the extent of their earnest seeking and finite capacity. As the Holy Spirit is already with the believer, His presence with an assembly or a prayer-meeting must mean that each one receives a larger portion of the Spirit, so that His presence is with power and demonstration. Beneath this divine outpouring all hearts melt, and they feel, with Jacob of old, “How dreadful is this place! this is none other but the house of God, and this the gate of heaven.” It was after the apostles had continued with one accord in- prayer and supplication, that the day of Pentecost came with open manifestations of the Spirit’s presence and power. The Spirit is poured out upon the assembly either visibly as at Pentecost (Acts 2: 33), or manifestly and feelingly as at a subsequent time, when “the disciples had prayed, the place was shaken where they were, and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the Word of God with boldness” (Acts 4:30).

We have all doubtless attended meetings where we felt the Spirit to be present with power and demonstration, that is, when He was poured out upon the assembly in their collective capacity, and in answer to prayer (Luke 11:9-13), was present to convict, convert and regenerate. In the revival meetings held here last year, Major Whittle related an incident to illustrate this, which he had gathered from reliable sources in Kentucky. He was told that Tom Marshall, when a student at college, was present at a revival meeting, but at a certain stage got up and hastily left the room; for he felt, as he afterwards confessed, that he could not much longer have held out against the influence of the meeting. He was unwilling to give his heart to Christ, for he seemed convinced if he became a Christian, it would become his duty to relinquish his cherished profession, and become a preacher of the Gospel. Now where the church, through lack of prayer and consecration, is cold or lukewarm, or formal and indifferent, one is not oppressed and burdened with such convictions of duty, the Holy Spirit is not poured out upon them, and there is no increased manifestation of His presence and power. Piety will rise no higher in the church than it rises in the prayer-meeting. “I would not unite with a certain church,” said a certain man, “because 1 know its members.”

Nor can the importance of the prayer-meeting to the church and the community at large be over-estimated. Heat up the prayer-meeting, and the fires of secret devotion will burn more brightly. Heat up the prayer-meeting and you will heat up the pulpit. Ministers will preach with power when they have a praying church. “O!” said Spurgeon, “had you seen an apostolic church, what a different thing it would appear to one of our churches! as different, I had almost said, as light from darkness; as different as the shallow brook that is dried by summer is from the mighty rolling river, ever full, ever deep and clear, and ever rushing into the sea. Now, where is our prayerfulness compared with theirs; I trust that we know something of the power of prayer here, but I do not think we pray as they did! They broke bread from house to house, and did eat their meat with singleness of heart, giving glory to God. There was not a member of the church, as a rule, who was half-hearted; they gave their souls wholly to God; and, when Ananias and Sapphira divided the price, they were smitten with death for their sin. O! if we prayed as deeply and as earnestly as they did, we should have as much success. Any measure of success we may have had here has been entirely owing, under God, to your prayers; and wherever I have gone, I have boasted that I have a praying people. Let other ministers have as prayerful a people; let missionaries have as many prayers from the Church; and, all things being equal, God will bless them, and there will be greater prosperity than [without the prayer-meeting].