Prayer Leads to Holiness — E. M. Bounds (1835-1913)

prayer2E. M. Bounds was an attorney who sensed God calling him to ministry after only three years in the legal practice. Consequently, he served as a Confederate chaplain during the American Civil War and a pastor at churches across the South before settling in Washington, Georgia, for a fruitful writing ministry. His works on prayer have become legendary for their spiritual insight.

This passage is drawn from his 1906 book Power through Prayer. It explains that a holy Church and an effective ministry depend on prayer.

A holy life would not be so rare or so difficult a thing if our devotions were not so short and hurried. A Christly temper in its sweet and passionless fragrance would not be so alien and hopeless a heritage if our closet [prayer room]1 stay were lengthened and intensified. We live shabbily because we pray meanly. Plenty of time to feast in our closets will bring marrow and fatness to our lives. Our ability to stay with God in our closet measures our ability to stay with God out of the closet …

There are plenty of preachers who will preach and deliver great and eloquent addresses on the need of revival and the spread of the kingdom of God, but not many there are who will do that without which all preaching and organizing are worse than vain—pray. It is out of date, almost a lost art, and the greatest benefactor this age could have is the man who will bring the preachers and the Church back to prayer.2

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Endnotes

1 Matthew 6:6

2 E. M. Bounds, Power through Prayer (1906), available at Christian Classics Ethereal Library Website, http://www.ccel.org/ccel/bounds/power.XIX.html (accessed December 11, 2014).


Must I Be Compassionate?

2 And behold, a leper came to him and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” 3 And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. 4 And Jesus said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a proof to them.”

Matthew 8:2-4 (ESV)

In 1890 Robert Louis Stevenson visited Molokai, Hawaii, home to a leper colony. Though sick with tuberculosis, he found enough strength to play with the kids and to observe the nuns who cared for them. When Stevenson left, he gave them the following poem. Evidently, he was moved both by the lepers’ perseverance and the caretakers’ compassion:

orphansTo see the infinite pity of this place,
The mangled limb, the devastated face,
The innocent sufferers smiling at the rod,
A fool were tempted to deny his God.

He sees, and shrinks; but if he look again,
Lo, beauty springing from the breast of pain!
He marks the sisters on the painful shores,
And even a fool is silent and adores.1

Today, leprosy usually refers to Hansen’s Disease, the ailment described by Stevenson. The leprosy referred to in Scripture is actually a broader term for a number of disfiguring skin diseases. Most importantly, according to the Mosaic Law, it contaminated the victim and barred him from community life: “He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease. He is unclean. He shall live alone. His dwelling shall be outside the camp” (Lev. 13:46).

Burdened by physical and emotional strain, the leper became a walking parable of unholiness, a picture for the entire community of separation between God and man. However, this particular leper had heard of Jesus. Word spread that crowds had “brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases” (Matt. 4:24) and surely filled the leper with hope. Confronting Jesus, humbled by his need, still cautious, the leper asked, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” Clearly, the leper did not doubt Jesus could heal, but would He? Jesus would, and did. The Law told the leper to remain outside the camp, untouched, but Jesus touched the leper and made him clean. Jesus reversed the fortunes of an outcast. Indeed, Christians follow a compassionate Savior.

Until Christ returns to end the suffering of His people, to fully and finally set all wrongs right, it is incumbent upon believers to emulate their Master and exercise compassion themselves. The modern Western Church knows what it means to be comfortable but it knows little of the shocking compassion exercised by Christians of the past who reached out toward those whom society refused to touch. In the second century it meant adopting babies who might otherwise have been left outside to die. In the eighteenth century it meant taking a prophetic stance against the slave trade. In the nineteenth century, Christians took the lead in caring for those who were then called the deaf and dumb.

What about today? Who are society’s imperiled ones in the twenty-first century? Perhaps it is the older child in need of adoption; the elderly, abandoned in a nursing home, in need of companionship; the neighbor, suffering from HIV, in need of a touch; the out-of-work alcoholic in need of counsel; the wheelchair-bound teenager, in need of encouragement. Whoever it is, if Christianity means anything, by God’s grace, surely believers ought to resemble their Savior, whose compassion was deep, rich, and, ultimately, costly.

 

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Endnotes

1 Cited in John Farrow, Damien the Leper (New York: Sheed & Ward, 1937), 206.


Learning Is a Spiritual Call — Cornelius Plantinga, Jr. (1946 – )

theologybookOne of the great legacies of the Reformed tradition is an emphasis on worldview thinking. Every area of life is to be brought under the lordship of Christ, and every legitimate discipline may be used as a means of worshipping God with one’s heart, soul, mind, and strength.

In a recent volume, Cornelius Plantinga, Jr., President of Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan, reminds Christians that life-long learning is a spiritual vocation.

Thoughtful Christians know that if they obey the Bible’s great commandment to love God with our whole mind, as well as with everything else, then we will study the splendor of God’s creation in the hope of grasping part of the ingenuity and grace that form it. One way to love God is to know and love God’s work. Learning is therefore a spiritual calling; properly done, it attaches us to God. In addition, the learned person has, so to speak, more to be Christian with. The person who studies chemistry, for example, can enter into God’s enthusiasm for the dynamic possibilities of material reality. The student who examines one of the great movements of history has moved into a position to praise the goodness of God, or to lament the mystery of evil, or to explore the places where these things intertwine. Further, from persistent study of history a student may develop good judgment, a feature of wisdom that helps us lead a faithful human life in the midst of a confusing world. And, of course, chemistry and history are only two examples from the wide menu of good things to learn.1

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Endnotes

1 Cornelius Plantinga, Jr. Engaging God’s World: A Christian Vision of Faith, Learning, and Living (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 2002), xi.

What Does the Bible Say about Murmuring?

Recently, I reread the book of Numbers, but this time in one sitting. What struck me the most was its talk of murmuring, and I started to look for other occurrences of that practice in the Bible. Sure enough, I found them elsewhere in Old Testament Law, Prophets, and Writings, as well the New Testament Gospels and Epistles. Some translate the Hebrew and Greek words as “complaining” or “grumbling,” but the phenomenon is essentially the same.1

thoughtsSo what are we to make of murmuring? Is it good or bad? Well, in the biblical context, it depends. In Exodus 16, we read that the children of Israel were expressing displeasure at their desert diet, comparing it unfavorably with what they had in Egypt. In response, God didn’t destroy them for their ingratitude. Rather, in verse 12, He told Moses, “I have heard the grumbling (telenoth) of the people of Israel. Say to them, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall be filled with bread. Then you shall know that I am the Lord your God.’” Instead of punishing them, He gave them manna and quail. Granted, He wasn’t pleased with their subsequent mishandling of the bounty, but at least His initial response was accommodating.

Sometimes, murmuring is a wakeup call for church leaders. We read in Acts 6:1 that, as the young church was growing, “a complaint (goggusmos) by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution.” In response the Twelve chose seven men, including Stephen, to tend to this problem, and the results were great.

Still, the overwhelming witness of Scripture is that murmuring is toxic and seditious. Numbers 14 is a particularly pointed example. After the people balked at entering the Promised Land, despite the positive report of Joshua and Caleb, the Lord brought down the hammer of judgment. He asked Moses and Aaron rhetorically, “How long shall I bear with this evil congregation, which murmur against me? I have heard the murmurings of the children of Israel, which they murmur against me.” And then He instructed them to tell the people, “Your carcasses shall fall in this wilderness; and all that were numbered of you, according to your whole number, from twenty years old and upward which have murmured against me.”

So while there is a place to express dissatisfaction with church affairs, murmurers must be very careful that their dissent is holy and not merely peevish. Furthermore, they should ask themselves whether their complaints are cowardly and gossipy, fomenting insurrection without respectful, face-to-face expression of concern to the allegedly offending party. To express such unholy dissent is to join the rogues’ gallery of murmuring Pharisees in Luke 15 and 19, or the Philippians to whom Paul had to write, in Philippians 2:14, “Do all things without grumbling . . .”

When we think of grave sins, our minds more readily turn to murder, larceny, adultery, and such, but we mustn’t miss the offense in murmuring. Grumbling may have a righteous source, as when a pastor doesn’t do much or when what he does is unscriptural, including his preaching. But there are honorable ways to deal with frustration (see Matthew 18), and when we initiate or join in a chorus of unhappy talk, we likely displease the Lord.

 

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Endnotes:

1 The word in Numbers appears as “murmur” in the KJV and RSV, as “grumble” in the NIV and ESV, and as “complain” in the HCSB and GNT.

Though the Hebrew words for such crankiness (lun, telenoth, ragan) sound a little punchy, the English word “murmur” builds on the sound of a chorus of discontented voices, the sort you hear in a movie when some disturbing news hits the crowd and they turn to each other expressing dismay in a torrent of indistinct utterances.

The NT Greek word which translates as “murmur” (and “complain” and “grumble”) also partakes of onomatopoeia, pronunciation mirroring the real thing (as in “boom” and “crackle”). It’s gogguzo, reflecting the hurly-burly of contentious conversation or the surge of unhappy chatter in a gaggle of observers (the word “gaggle” going back to the noise a “herd/flock” of geese makes).


New Look for BibleMesh.com

BibleMesh.URL.TagHAMILTON, Bermuda—New course offerings in conjunction with content partners Bethlehem College & Seminary and the Porterbrook Network are among the features of BibleMesh’s newly redesigned website.

Launched Sept. 24, the website also includes available scholarships for BibleMesh’s Biblical Languages Courses and new BibleMesh Biblical Theology Courses. Among the course instructors are New York pastor Tim Keller and Desiring God Ministries founder John Piper.

“We’re pleased to introduce our updated look and highlight our ministry partners on this website,” publisher Emmanuel Kampouris said. “The success of our biblical language courses has also made it possible to offer partial scholarships for our Hebrew and Greek reading level courses in conjunction with this redesign.”

In all, BibleMesh.com features more than 40 courses on topics ranging from Greek and Hebrew to missional living and biblical theology. The courses are searchable based on category, partner institution and learning level.

In addition to highlighting content partners, BibleMesh.com provides information on four other partnerships: Knox Theological Seminary in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; Union University in Jackson, Tenn.; Tyndale House in Cambridge, England; and the Home for Bible Translators & Scholars in Jerusalem.

Kampouris explained that BibleMesh’s tagline “trusted theological education” reflects its commitment to “partner with universities and organizations who exhibit high academic standards and are committed to the historic Christian faith.”

BibleMesh courses in development include additional levels of language learning and public square courses that apply the Bible to cultural issues.

For additional information, visit www.BibleMesh.com and email us by clicking on “Contact.”

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True Love for the Child’s Soul—J. C. Ryle

JCRylePhoto[1]Bishop of Liverpool and Victorian evangelical leader, J. C. Ryle (1816-1900) was well known throughout the 20th century for his writing on spiritual and practical issues. His great aim was to encourage serious Christian living, which included responsible child raising.

Ryle maintained that those who love children wisely will not be satisfied with the world’s curriculum. Earthly custom, fashion, and indulgence do not address the greatest of the child’s concerns, eternal life in Christ. To focus on earthly matters to the neglect of spiritual instruction is a form of cruelty.

It is a subject that concerns almost all. There is hardly a household that it does not touch. Parents, nurses, teachers, godfathers, godmothers, uncles, aunts, brothers, sisters,—all have an interest in it. Few can be found, I think, who might not influence some parent in the management of his family, or affect the training of some child by suggestion or advice. All of us, I suspect, can do something here, either directly or indirectly, and I wish to stir up all to bear this in remembrance. . .1

Soul love is the soul of all love. To pet and pamper and indulge your child, as if this world was all he had to look forward to, and this life the only season for happiness—to do this is not true love, but cruelty. It is treating him like some beast of the earth, which has but only one world to look to, and nothing after death. It is hiding from him that grand truth, which he ought to be made to learn from his very infancy,—that the chief end of his life is the salvation of his soul.

A true Christian must be no slave to fashion, if he would train his child for heaven. He must not be content to do things merely because they are the custom of the world; to teach them and instruct them in certain ways, merely because it is the usual; to allow them to read books of a questionable sort, merely because everybody else reads them; to let them form habits of a doubtful tendency, merely because they are the habits of the day. He must train with an eye to his children’s souls. He must not be ashamed to hear his training called singular and strange. What if it is? The time is short,—the fashion of this world passeth away. He that has trained his children for heaven, rather than for the earth,—for God, rather than for man,—he is the parent that will be called wise at last.2

 

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Endnotes

1 J. C. Ryle, “The Duties of Parents,” in The Upper Room (1888; reprint, London: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1990), 283.

2 Ibid., 290.