2340) Sermon at an Execution

Samson Occom  (1723-1792)

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By Robert J. Morgan in One Hundred Bible Verses That Made America, 2020, pages 56-58.

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     In 1723, a Native American boy was born in a wigwam in the village of Mohegan in Connecticut.  He was named Occom.  He later wrote, “My parents lived a wandering life, as did all the Indians at Mohegan.  They chiefly depended upon hunting, fishing, and fowling for their living.”

     Occom was a teenager at the time of the Great Awakening, and his heart was opened to the gospel.  He committed his life to Christ and sought to learn to read the Bible.  Hearing about a school (later named Dartmouth) started by Rev. Eleazer Wheelock, a Congregational pastor, Occom enrolled.  Wheelock taught the boy to read, mentored him, and prepared him to serve Christ.

     On August 29,1759, Samson Occom was ordained into the Presbyterian ministry.  He labored among Native Americans, and in 1765, at the suggestion of George Whitefield, sailed to England to raise money for a charity school.  John Hancock helped pay his fare.  Occom took England by storm, with large crowds gathering for his sermons.  Everyone, including the king, wanted to meet him.  Occom returned to America a celebrity.

     His best known moment came when a fellow Mohegan, Moses  Paul, asked Occom to preach his execution sermon.  Paul had been convicted of murder, and in those days it was customary to have a sermon before the hanging.  On September 2, 1771, a crowd gathered at the First Church of New Haven as Moses Paul was escorted by guards and Occom stood in the pulpit.  (Here are just a few lines of what was a very long sermon):

It is an unwelcome task for me to speak upon such an occasion, but since it is the desire of the poor man himself, who is to die a shameful death this day, in conscience I cannot deny him…  The sacred words I have chosen to speak from, upon this undesirable occasion, are found in Romans 6:23:  ‘For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.’  Death is called the king of terrors, and it ought to be the subject of every man and woman’s thoughts daily…  We all come to it, how soon we cannot tell…  Sin has made man proud though he has nothing to be proud of…  Sin is the cause of all the miseries that attend poor sinful man, which will finally bring him to death– death temporal and eternal…  But heaven and happiness is a free gift; it comes by favor…  this life is given in and through our Lord Jesus Christ.  It could not be given in any other way, but in and through our Lord Jesus Christ; Christ Himself is the gift…  O poor Moses, see what you have done!  And now repent, repent…  O fly, fly, to the blood of the Lamb of God for the pardon of all your aggravated sins…  O Moses!  This is good news for you on this last day of your life.  Here is a crucified Savior at hand for your sins…  O, poor Moses, now believe on the Lord Jesus Christ with all your heart, and you shall be saved eternally.

     The demand for copies of Samson Occom’s sermon resulted in it being printed, the first publication of a North American Indian in English.  It spread over the colonies, appearing in multiple editions, and became the unexpected means of bringing many to faith in Christ.

     To this day, debates rage about whether Moses Paul received a fair trial, but no one doubts the eloquence of Samson Occom.  He went on to publish many more sermons and hymns.  He was the country’s first Native American writer, preacher, and hymnist.  His text that day, Romans 6:23, was the core message of his life because it’s at the heart of the gospel message:  “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

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Romans 6:23  —  For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.  

Ezekiel 33:11  —  Say to them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live.  Turn!  Turn from your evil ways!  Why will you die, people of Israel?’

Luke 23:39-43  — (at another execution)  One of the criminals who hung there (on the cross) hurled insults at Jesus: “Aren’t you the Messiah?  Save yourself and us!”  But the other criminal rebuked him.  “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence?  We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve.  But this man has done nothing wrong.”  Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”  Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

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Jesus, remember me.

–Luke 23:42

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THE SERMON

Here is a longer version of the sermon that Samson Occom preached at the execution of Moses Paul.  Even this is not the entire sermon.  It is shortened by about twenty percent, but it is still almost 8,000 words long.  It is a good example of the preaching of the day– what we would now call ‘fire and brimstone.’  The style and tone may strike us as harsh, but there is nothing false in it, and it is not inconsistent with the whole judgment and Gospel message of the Bible.

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History of the Book 

A sermon, preached at the execution of Moses Paul, an Indian; who was executed at New-Haven, on September 2, 1772; for the murder of Mr. Moses Cook, late of Waterbury, on December 7, 1771.  Preached at the desire of said Paul by Samson Occom (from the published and widely distributed pamphlet).

The PREFACE.

The world is already full of books; and the people of God are abundantly furnished with excellent books upon divine subjects; and they have much, yea, enough and more than enough. And when I come to consider these things, I am ready to say with myself, “What folly and madness is it in me to suffer any thing of mine to appear in print, and to expose my ignorance to the world.”

It seems altogether unlikely that my performance will do any manner of service in the world, since the most excellent writings of worthy and learned men are disregarded. But there are two or three considerations that have induced me to be willing to allow my broken hints to appear in the world. One is, that the books that are in the world are written in very high and refined language, and the sermons that are delivered every Sabbath in general, are in a very high and lofty style, so that the common people understand but little of them. But I think they can’t help understanding my common, plain, every-day talk.  Little children may understand me; and poor Negroes fully understand my meaning, and it may be of service to them; and it may in a particular manner be serviceable to my poor kindred, the Indians.  Further, as it comes from an uncommon quarter, it may induce people to read it, because it is from an Indian.  Lastly, God works where and when he so chooses and by what instruments he sees fit, and he can and has used weak and unlikely instruments to bring about his great work.

INTRODUCTION

By the melancholy providence of God, and at the earnest desire and invitation of the poor condemned criminal, I am here before this great concourse of people at this time, to give the last discourse to the poor miserable object who is to be executed this day before your eyes, for the due reward of his folly and madness, and enormous wickedness. It is an unwelcome task to me to speak upon such an occasion; but since it is the desire of the poor man himself, who is to die a shameful death this day, in conscience I cannot deny him; I must endeavor to do the great work the dying man requests.

I conclude that this great concourse of people have come together to see the execution of justice upon this poor Indian; and I suppose the biggest part of you look upon yourselves as Christians, and as such I hope you will demean yourselves; and that you will have suitable commiseration towards this poor object.  Though you can’t in justice pray for his life to be continued in this world, yet you can pray earnestly for the salvation of his poor soul, consistently with the mind of God. Let this be therefore, the fervent exercise of our souls: for this is the last day we have to pray for him. As for you that don’t regard religion, it cannot be expected that you will put up one petition for this miserable creature: yet I would entreat you seriously to consider the frailty of corrupt nature, and behave yourselves as becomes rational creatures.

And in a word, let us all be suitably affected with the melancholy occasion of the day, knowing that we are all dying creatures, and accountable unto God. Though this poor condemned criminal will in a few minutes know more than all of us, either in unutterable joy, or in inconceivable woe, yet we shall certainly know as much as he, in a few days.

The sacred words that I have chosen to speak from upon this undesirable occasion, are found written in the epistle of St. Paul to the Romans 6:23: For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

DEATH is called the King of Terrors, and it ought to be the subject of every man and woman’s thoughts daily; because it is that unto which they are liable every moment of their lives: and therefore, it cannot be unseasonable to think, speak and hear of it at any time, and especially on this mournful occasion; for we must all come to it, how soon we cannot tell; whether we are prepared or not prepared, whether death is welcome or not welcome, we must feel the force of it: whether we concern ourselves with death or not, it will concern itself with us. Seeing that this is the case with every one of us, what manner of persons ought we to be in all holy conversation and godliness; how ought men to exert themselves in preparation for death continually; for they know not what a day or an hour may bring forth, with respect to them.

But, according to the appearance of mankind in general, death is the least thought of. They go on from day to day, as if they were to live here forever, as if this was the only life. They contrive, rack their inventions, disturb their rest, and even hazard their lives in all manner of dangers, both by sea and land; yea they leave no stone unturned that they may live in the world, and at the same time have little or no contrivance to die well: God and their souls are neglected, and heaven and eternal happiness are disregarded; Christ and his religion are despised—yet most of these very men intend to be happy when they come to die, not considering that there must be great preparation in order to die well. Yea there is none so fit to live as those that are fit to die; those that are not fit to die are not fit to live. Life & death are nearly connected; we generally own that it is a great and solemn thing to die. If this be true, then it is a great and solemn thing to live; for as we live, so we shall die. But I say again, how little do mankind realize these things? They are busy about the things of this world as if there was no death before them. Dr. Watts pictures them in one his poems:

See the vain race of mortals move

Like shadows o’er the plain,

They rage and strive, desire and love,

But all the noise is vain.

Some walk in honor’s gaudy show,

Some dig for golden ore,

They toil for heirs they know not who,

And soon are seen no more.

But on the other hand, life is the most precious thing and ought to be the most desired by all rational creatures. It ought to be prized above all things; yet there is nothing so abused and despised as life, and nothing so neglected: whereas eternal life is shamefully disregarded by men in general, and eternal death is chosen rather than life. This is the general complaint of the Bible from the beginning to the end. As long as Christ is neglected, life is refused, and as long as sin is cherished, death is chosen; and this seems to be the woeful case of mankind of all nations, according to their appearance in these days; for it is too plain to be denied, that vice and immorality, and floods of iniquity are abounding everywhere amongst all nations, and all orders and ranks of men, and in every sect of people. Yea, all nations, and from the highest to the lowest to practice sin and iniquity; and the pure religion of Jesus Christ is turned out of doors, and is dying without; or, in other words, the Lord Jesus Christ is turned out of doors by men in general, and even by his professed people. “He came to his own, and his own received him not.” But the devil is admitted, he has free access to the houses and hearts of the children of men: Thus life is refused and death is chosen. But in further speaking upon our text, I shall consider these two general propositions:

  1. That sin is the cause of all the miseries that befall the children of men, both as to their bodies and souls, for time and eternity.
  2. That eternal life and happiness is the free gift of God, throough Jesus Christ our Lord.

In speaking to the first proposition I shall first consider the nature of sin; and secondly shall consider the consequences of sin, or the wages of sin, which is death.

First then, we are to describe the nature of sin.

Sin is the transgression of the law; this is the scripture definition of sin. Now the law of God being holy, just and good; sin must be altogether unholy, unjust and evil. If I was define sin, I should call it a contrariety to GOD; and as such must be the vilest thing in the world; it is full of all evil; it is the evil of evils; in which dwells no good thing; and is most destructive to God’s creation, where ever it takes effect. It was sin that transformed the very angels in heaven, into devils; and it was sin that caused hell to be made. If it had not been for sin, there never would have been such a thing as hell, death, or misery.

Sin is full of deadly poison; it is full of malignity and hatred against God, against all his divine perfections and attributes, against his wisdom, against his power, against his holiness and goodness against his mercy and justice, against his written law and gospel; yea, against his very being and existence.

When Christ the Son of the Most High, came down from the glorious world above, into this wretched world of sin and sorrow, to seek and to save that which was lost, sin, or sinners rose up against him, as soon as he entered our world, and pursued him with hellish malice, night and day, for above thirty years together, till they killed him.

  1. I shall endeavor to shew the sad consequences or effects of sin upon the children of men.

Sin has poisoned them, and made them distracted or fools. The Psalmist says, ‘The fool hath said in his heart, there is no God.’ And Solomon, throughout his Proverbs, calls ungodly sinners fools; and their sin he calls their folly, and foolishness.  And according to the prophet Isaiah: “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil, that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter.” And Christ Jesus said in John 3:19- 20: “And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that doth evil hated the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.” Sin has stupefied mankind, they are now ignorant of God their maker; neither do they enquire after him. And they are ignorant of themselves, they know not what is good for them, neither do they understand their danger; and they have no fear of God before their eyes.

Further, sin has blinded their eyes, so that they can’t discern spiritual things; neither do they see the way that they should go, and they are deaf so that they cannot hear the joyful sound of the gospel that brings glad tidings of peace and pardon to sinners of mankind. Not only so, but sin has made man proud, though he has nothing to be proud of; for he has lost all his excellency, his beauty and happiness; he is a bankrupt, and is excommunicated from God; he was turned out of paradise by God himself, and become a vagabond in God’s world, and as such he has no right nor title to the least crumb of mercy in the world: yet he is proud, he is haughty, and exalts himself above God, though he is wretched and miserable, and poor, and blind and naked. He glories in his shame. Sin has made him beastly and devilish; yea he is sunk beneath the beasts, and is worse than the ravenous beasts of the wilderness. He is become ill-natured, cruel and murderous; he is contentious and quarrelsome. I said he is worse than the ravenous beasts, for wolves and bears don’t devour their own kind, but man does.

Sin has made men dishonest and deceitful, so that he goes about cheating and defrauding and deceiving his fellow men in the world: yea, he is become a cheat himself, he goes about in a vain show; we don’t know where to find man. Sometimes we find as an angel of God; and at other times we find as a devil, even one and the same man. Sin has made man a liar even from the womb; so that there is no believing nor trusting him.  He had a pure and holy language in his innocence, to adore and praise God his maker.  He now curses, swears, and profanes the holy name of God, and curses and damns his fellow-creatures. In a word, man is a most unruly and ungovernable creature, and is harder to tame than any of God’s creatures in this world. In short, man is worse than all creatures in this lower world in his propensity is to evil.

We have given some few hints of the nature of sin, and the effects of sin on mankind.  We shall in the next place consider the wages or the reward of sin, which is death.  Sin is the cause of all the miseries that attend poor sinful man, which will finally bring him to death, temporal and eternal. I shall first consider his temporal death.

His temporal death then begins as soon as he is born. Though it seems to us that he is just beginning to live, yet in fact he is just entered into a state of death.  From the beginning man is surrounded with ten thousand instruments of death, and is liable to death every moment of his life; a thousand diseases await him on every side continually; the sentence of death is past upon them as soon as they are born: yea they are struck with death as soon as they breathe. And it seems all the enjoyments of men in this world are also poisoned with sin: for GOD said to Adam after he had sinned, “Cursed is the ground for thy sake, in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life.” Thus death and destruction is in all the enjoyments of men in this life, every enjoyment in this world is liable to misfortune in a thousand ways, both by sea and land.

The fruits of the earth are liable to many judgments. And the dearest and nearest enjoyments of men are generally balanced with equal sorrow and grief. A man and his wife who have lived together in happiness for many years; that have comforted each other in various changes of life, must at last be separated; one or the other must be taken away first by death, and then the poor survivor is drowned in tears, in sorrow, mourning and grief. And when a dear child or children are taken away by death the bereaved parents are bowed down with sorrow and deep mourning.   And so when tender parents are taken away by death, the children are left comfortless.  All this is the sad effect of sin.  These are the wages of sin.

And secondly, we are to consider man’s spiritual death, while he is here in this world. We find it thus written in the word of God. ‘And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, of every tree of the garden thou may freely eat: but of the tree of the knowledge, of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it, for in the day that thou eat thereof thou shalt surely die.’ And yet he did eat of it, and so he and all his posterity, are but dead men. And St. Paul to the Ephesians said, ‘You hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins. All those who are in their sins, are dead in sins; yea, in trespasses and sins; which may signify all sorts of sins, habitual and actual; sins of heart and life. Sin is the death of the soul. Wherever that prevails, there is a privation of all spiritual life. Sinners are dead in state, being destitute of the principles and powers of spiritual life; and cut off from God, the fountain of life.

Let us consider further. God is a living God, he is all life, the fountain of life; and a sinner is a dead soul; there is nothing but death in him.  As sinners are dead to God, as such, they have no delight in God, and godliness; they have no taste for the religion of Jesus Christ; they have no pleasure in the holy exercises of religion. Prayer is no pleasant work with them; or if they have any pleasure in it, it is not out of love to God, but out of self-love.  Indeed they are dead to all the duties that God requires of them; they are dead to the Holy Bible; to all the laws, commands, and precepts thereof; and to the ordinances of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. When they read the book of God, it is like an old almanac to them, a dead book. But it is because they are dead, and as such, all their services are against God, even their best services are an abomination unto God; yea, a sinner is so dead in sin, that the threatenings of God don’t move them. All the curses in the bible, they are cursing them to their faces, and to their very eyes; yet they are unconcerned, and go on in sin without fear. And lastly here, sin has so stupefied the sinner that he will not believe his own senses; he won’t believe his own eyes, nor his own ears; he reads the book of God, but he does not believe what he reads. And he hears of God, and heaven, and eternal happiness, and of hell and eternal misery; but he believes none of these things; he goes on, as if there were no God, nor heaven and happiness; neither has he any fear of hell and eternal torments.  He sees his fellow men dropping away daily on every side, yet he goes on carelessly in sin, as if he never was to die. And if he at any time thinks of dying, he hardly believes his own thoughts. Death is at great distance, so far off, that he don’t concern himself about it, so as to prepare for it. God mournfully complains of his people, that they don’t consider; ‘O that they were wise, that they understood this, that they would consider their latter end.’

The next thing I shall consider, is the actual death of the body, or separation between soul and body. At the cessation of natural life, there is an end of all the enjoyments of this life; there is no more joy nor sorrow; no more hope nor fear, as to the body; no more contrivance and carrying on any business; no more merchandizing and trading; no more farming; no more buying and selling; no more building of any kind, no more contrivance at all to live in the world; no more flatteries nor frowns from the world; no more honor nor reproach; no more praise; no more good report, nor evil report; no more learning of any trades, arts or sciences in the world; no more sinful pleasures, they are all at an end; recreations, visiting, tavern haunting, music and dancing, chambering and carousing, playing at dice and cards, or any game whatsoever; cursing and swearing, and profaning the holy name of God, drunkenness, fighting, debauchery, lying and cheating, in this world, must cease forever. Not only so, but they must bid an eternal farewell to all the world; bid farewell to all their beloved sins and pleasures; and the places and possessions, that knew them once, shall know them no more forever. And further, they must bid adieu to all sacred and divine things. They are obliged to leave the Bible, and all the ordinances thereof; and to bid farewell to all opportunities to worship; yea, an eternal farewell to all mercy, and all hope; an eternal farewell to God the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, and adieu to heaven and all happiness, to saints and all the inhabitants of the upper world.

On the other hand, the poor departed soul must take up its lodging in sorrow, woe and misery, in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, where the worm dies not, and the fire is not quenched; where a multitude of frightful deformed devils dwell; where darkness, horror and despair reigns, where hope never comes, and where poor guilty naked souls will be tormented with exquisite torments, even the wrath of the Almighty poured out-upon their damned souls; the smoke of their torments ascending up forever and ever; their mouths and nostrils streaming forth with living fire; and hellish groans, howlings, cries and shrieks all round them, and merciless devils upbraiding them for their folly and madness, and tormenting them incessantly.  And there they must endure the most unsatiable, fruitless desire, and the most overwhelming shame and confusion, and the most horrible fear, and the most doleful sorrow, and the most racking despair. When they cast their flaming eyes to heaven, they behold an angry and frowning God, whose eyes are as a flaming fire, and they are struck with ten thousand darts of pain; and the sight of the happiness of the saints above, adds to their pains and aggravates their misery. And when they reflect upon their past folly and madness in neglecting the great salvation in their day, it will pierce them with ten thousand inconceivable torments; it will as it were enkindle their hell afresh; and it will cause them to curse themselves bitterly, and curse the day in which they were born. This is what is called the second death, and it is the last death, and an eternal death to a guilty soul.

And O eternity, eternity, eternity! Who can measure it? Who can count the years thereof? Arithmetic must fail, the thoughts of men and angels are drowned in it; how shall we describe eternity? To what shall we compare it? Were it possible to employ a fly to carry off this globe by the small particles thereof, and to carry them to such a distance that it should return once in ten thousand years for another particle, and so continue till it has carried off all this globe, and framed them together in some unknown space, till it has made just such a world as this is: after all eternity would remain the same unexhausted duration. This must be the unavoidable portion of all impenitent sinners, let them be who they will, great or small, honorable or ignoble, rich or poor, bond or free. Negroes, Indians, English, or of whatsoever nations, all that die in their sins, must go to hell together, for the wages of sin is death.

The next thing that I was to consider is this:  That eternal life and happiness is the free gift of God, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Under this proposition I shall endeavor to shew what this life and happiness is.

The life that is mentioned in our text is a spiritual life: it is the life of the soul, a restoration of soul from sin, to holiness, from darkness to light, a translation from the kingdom and dominion of Satan, to the kingdom of God’s grace. In other words, it is being restored to the image of God, and delivered from the image of Satan. And this life consists of the union of the soul to God; a real participation of the divine nature, or in the apostle’s words, it is Christ formed within us; I live, says he, yet not I, but Christ lives in me. And the apostle John said, God is love, and he that dwelleth in love, dwelleth in God, and God in him. This is the life of the soul. It is called emphatically life, because it is a life that shall never have a period, a stable, permanent, and unchangeable life, called in the scriptures, everlasting life, or life eternal. And the happiness of this life consists in communion with God, or in the spiritual enjoyment of God. As much as a soul enjoys of God in this life, just so much of life and happiness he enjoys or possesses; yea, just so much of heaven he enjoys. A true Christian, desires no other heaven, but the enjoyment of God, a full and perfect enjoyment of God, is a full and perfect heaven and happiness to a gracious soul.  So alive is he now to God, that it is his meat and drink to do the will of his heavenly Father. It is his delight, his happiness and pleasure to serve God. He does not drag himself to his duties now, but he does them out of choice, and with alacrity of soul. Yea, so alive is he to God, that he gives up himself and all that he has entirely to God, to be for him and none other; his whole aim is to glorify God in all things, whether by life or death, all the same to him.

Thus it was with Daniel and Paul; they went through fire and water, as the common saying is, because they had eternal life in their souls in eminent manner; and they regarded not this life, for the cause and glory of God. And thus it has been in all ages with true Christians. Many of the fore-fathers of the English in this country, had this life, and are gone the same way, that the holy prophets and apostles went. Many of them went through all manner of sufferings for God; and a great number of them are gone home to heaven, in chariots of fire. I have seen the place in London, called Smithfield, where numbers were burnt to death for the religion of Jesus Christ. And there is the same life in true Christians now in these days; and if there should persecutions arise in our day, I verily believe, true Christians would suffer with the same spirit and temper of mind, as those did, who suffered in days past.  This is the life which our text speaks of.

We proceed in the next place to shew, that this life, which we have described, is the free gift of God, thro’ Jesus Christ our Lord.

Heaven and happiness is a free gift; and all merit is excluded: and especially if we consider that we are fallen sinful creatures, and there is nothing in us that can recommend us to the favor of God; and we can do nothing that is agreeable and acceptable to God; and the mercies we enjoy in this life are altogether from the pure mercy of God; we are unequal to them. We have nothing to give unto God, if we give all the service that we are capable of, we should give him nothing but what was his own, and when we give up ourselves unto God, both soul and body, we give him nothing; for we were his before.  If we are thus unequal and unworthy of the least mercy in this life, how much more are we unworthy of eternal life? Yet God can find it in his heart to give it. And it is altogether unmerited; it is a free gift; it is altogether of God’s sovereign good pleasure to give it. It is of free grace and sovereign mercy, and from the unbounded goodness of God. And it is said that this life is given in and through the Lord Jesus Christ. It could not be given in any other way, but in and through the death and sufferings of the Lord Jesus Christ; Christ himself is the gift, and he is the Christian’s life. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” The word says further, “For by grace ye are saved, thro’ faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.”

I have now gone through what I proposed from my text. And I shall now make some application of the whole.

First to the criminal in particular; and then to the rest in general.

My poor unhappy brother Moses:

As it was your own desire that I should preach to you this last discourse, so I shall speak plainly to you. You are the bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh. You are an Indian, a despised creature; but you have despised yourself; yea you have despised God even more; you have trodden under foot his authority; you have despised his commands and precepts: and now, as God says, be sure your sins will find you out. And now, poor Moses, your sins have found you out, and they have overtaken you this day; the day of your death is now come; the king of terrors is at hand; you have but a very few moments to breathe in this world.  The just laws of man, and the holy law of Jehovah, call aloud for the destruction of your mortal life; God says, “Whosoever sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed.” This is the ancient decree of heaven, and it is to be executed by man; nor have you the least gleam of hope of escape, for the unalterable sentence is past; the terrible day of execution is come; the unwelcome guard is about you; and the fatal instruments of death are now made ready; your coffin and your grave, your last lodging, are open ready to receive you.

Alas! poor Moses, now you know, by sad woeful experience, the living truth of our text, that the wages of sin is death. You have been already dead; yea twice dead: by nature spiritually dead. And since the awful sentence of death has been past upon you, you have been dead to all the pleasures of this life; and all the pleasures have been dead to you: And death, which is the wages of sin, is standing even on this side of your grave ready to put a final period to your mortal life; and just beyond the grave, eternal death awaits your poor soul, and the devils are ready to drag your miserable soul down to their bottomless den, where everlasting woe and horror reigns; the place is filled with doleful shrieks, howls and groans of the damned. Oh! to what a miserable, forlorn, and wretched condition have your extravagant folly and wickedness brought you, if you die in your sins. And O! what manner of repentance ought you to manifest! How ought your heart to bleed for what you have done! How ought you to prostrate your soul before a bleeding God! And under self-condemnation, cry out, ‘Ah Lord, ah Lord, what have I done!’ Whatever partiality, injustice and error there may be among the judges of the earth, remember that you have deserved a thousand deaths, and a thousand hells, by reason of your sins, at the hands of a holy God. Should God come out against you in strict justice, what could you say for yourself? for you have been brought up under the bright sun-shine, and plain, and loud sound of the gospel; and you have had a good education; you can read and write well; and God has given you a good natural understanding: and therefore your sins are so much more aggravated. You have not sinned in such an ignorant manner as others have done; but you have sinned with both your eyes open as it were, under the light, even the glorious light of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.  You have sinned against the light of your own conscience, against your knowledge and understanding; you have sinned against the pure and holy laws of God, and the just laws of men; you have sinned against heaven and earth; you have sinned against all the mercies and goodness of God; you have sinned against the blood of Christ, which is the blood of the everlasting covenant.

O poor Moses, see what you have done! Now repent, repent, I say again repent; see how the blood you shed cries against you, and the Avenger of Blood is at your heels. O fly, fly to the Blood of the Lamb of God for the pardon of all your aggravated sins.

But let us now turn to a more pleasant theme.  Though you have been a great sinner; yet hark and hear the joyful sound from heaven, even from the King of kings; that the gift of God is eternal life, through Jesus Christ our Lord. It is a free gift, and offered to the greatest sinners, and upon their true repentance towards God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, they shall be welcome to the life, which we have spoken of; it is offered upon free terms. He that hath no money may come; he that hath no righteousness, no goodness, may come; the call is to poor undone sinners; the call is not to the righteous, but sinners, calling them to repentance. Hear the voice of the Son of the most high God, Come unto me, all yea that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. This is a call, a gracious call to you, poor Moses, under your present burdens and distresses. And Christ alone has a right to call sinners to himself. If it were possible for you to apply to all God’s creatures, they would with one voice tell you, that it was not in them to help you. Go to all the means of grace, they would prove miserable helps, without Christ himself. Yea, apply to all the ministers of the gospel in the world, they would all say, that it was not in them, but would only prove as indexes, to point out to you, the Lord Jesus Christ, the only savior of sinners of mankind.  You see, poor Moses, that there is none in heaven, or on the earth, that can help you, but Christ; he alone has power to save, and to give life.—God the eternal hath appointed him, chose him, authorized, and fully commissioned him to save sinners. He came down from heaven, into this lower world, and became as one of us, and stood in our room.  As he became sin for us, he was a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; all our stripes were laid upon him; yea, he was finally condemned, because we were under condemnation; and at last was executed and put to death, for our sins; was lifted up between the heaven and the earth, and was crucified on the accursed tree; his blessed hands and feet were fastened there;—there he died a shameful and ignominious death and finished the great work of our redemption.

O Moses! this is good news to you, in this last day of your life; here is a crucified Savior at hand for your sins; his blessed hands are out-stretched, all in a gore of blood for you. This is the only Savior, an almighty Savior, just such as you stand in infinite and perishing need of. O, poor Moses! hear the dying prayer of a gracious Savior on the accursed tree, ‘Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.’ This was a prayer for his enemies and murderers; and it is for you, if you would only repent and believe in him. O why will you die eternally, poor Moses, since Christ has died for sinners? Why will you go to hell from beneath the bleeding Savior as it were? This is the day of your execution, it is the accepted time, it is the day of salvation if you will now believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. Must Christ follow you into the prison by his servants, and there entreat you to accept of eternal life, and will you refuse it?  Shall you regard him not? O, poor Moses, now believe on the Lord Jesus Christ with all your heart, and thou shalt be saved eternally.  Come just as you are, with all your sins and abominations, with all your filthiness, with all your blood-guiltiness, with all your condemnation, and lay hold of the hope set before you this day. This is the last day of salvation with your soul; you will be beyond the bounds of mercy in a few minutes more. O, what a joyful day would it be if you would now openly believe in and receive the Lord Jesus Christ; it would be the beginning of heavenly days; instead of a melancholy day.  All sorrow and fear will forever fly away, and tears be wiped from your face; and there shall you forever admire the astonishing and amazing and infinite mercy of God in Christ Jesus, in pardoning such a monstrous sinner as you have been; there you will claim the highest note of praise, for the riches of free grace in Christ Jesus. But if you will not accept of a Savior so freely offered to you in this last day of your life, you must this very day bid farewell to God, to heaven and all the saints and angels that are there, and you must bid all the saints in this lower world an eternal farewell, and even the whole world. And so I must leave you in the hands of God.

Now, to all:

We may plainly see, from what we have heard, and from the miserable object before us, into what a doleful condition sin has brought mankind, even into a state of death and misery. We are by nature as certainly under sentence of death from God, as this miserable man is, by the just determination of man; and we are all dying creatures, and we are, or ought to be, sensible of it; and this is the dreadful fruit of sin. O! let us then fly from all appearance of sin; let us fight against it with all our might; let us repent and turn to our God, and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, that we may live forever; let us all prepare for death, for we know not how soon, nor how suddenly we may be called out of the world.

I shall now address myself particularly to the Indians, my brethren and kindred according to the flesh.  My poor kindred;

You see the woeful consequences of sin, by seeing this our poor miserable country-man now before us, who is to die this day for his sins and great wickedness. And it was the sin of drunkenness that has brought this destruction and untimely death upon him. There is a dreadful woe denounced from the Almighty against drunkards, and it is this sin, this abominable, this beastly and accursed sin of drunkenness, that has stripped us of every desirable comfort in this life; by this we are poor, miserable and wretched; by this sin we have no name nor credit in the world among polite nations; for this sin we are despised in the world, and it is all right and just, for we despise ourselves more; and if we don’t regard ourselves, who will regard us? And it is for our sins, and especially for that accursed, that most devilish sin of drunkenness that we suffer every day. For the love of strong drink we spend all that we have, and everything we can get. By this sin we can’t have comfortable houses, nor any thing comfortable in our houses; neither food nor raiment, nor decent utensils. We are obliged to put up any sort of shelter just to screen us from the severity of the weather; and we go about with very mean, ragged and dirty clothes, almost naked. And we are half starved, for most of the time obliged to pick up anything to eat. And our poor children are suffering every day for want of the necessaries of life; they are very often crying for want of food, and we have nothing to give them; and in the cold weather they are shivering and crying, being pinched with cold. All this is for the love of strong drink. And this is not all the misery and evil we bring on ourselves in this world; but when we are intoxicated with strong drink, we drown our rational powers, by which we are distinguished from the brutal creation; we unman ourselves, and bring ourselves not only level with the beasts of the field, but seven degrees beneath them; yea we bring ourselves level with the devils; I don’t know but we make ourselves worse than the devils, for I never heard of drunken devils.

My poor kindred, do consider what a dreadful abominable sin drunkenness is. God made us men, and we choose to be beasts and devils; God made us rational creatures, and we choose to be fools. Do consider further, and behold a drunkard, and see how he looks, when he has drowned as reason; how deformed and shameful does he appear? He disfigures every part of him, both soul and body, which was made after the image of God. If he attempts to speak he cannot bring out his words distinct, so as to be understood; if he walks he reals and staggers to and fro, and tumbles down. And see how he behaves, he is now laughing, and then he is crying; he is singing and the next minute he is mourning; and is all love to everyone, and then he is raging, and fighting all before him, even the nearest and the dearest relations and friends: Yea nothing is too bad for a drunken man to do.

Further, when a person is drunk, he is just good for nothing in the world; he is of no service to himself, to his family, to his neighbors, or his country; and how much more unfit is he in serve God: yet he is just fit for the service of the devil.

Again, a man in drunkenness is in all manner of danger he may be killed by his fellow-men, by wild beasts; he may fall into the fire, into the water, or into a ditch; or he may fall down as he walks along, and break his bones or his neck; he may cut himself with tools.  Further, if he has any money or anything valuable, he may lose it all, or may be robbed, or he may make a foolish bargain, and be cheated out of all he has.

I believe you know the truth of what I have just now said, many of you, by sad experience; yet you will go on still in your drunkenness. Though you have been cheated over and over again, and you have lost your substance by drunkenness, yet you will venture to go on in this most destructive sin. O fools when will ye be wise? We all know the truth of what I have been saying, by what we have seen and heard of drunken deaths. How many have been d drowned in our rivers, and how many frozen to death in the winter seasons! Yet drunkards go on without fear and consideration: alas, alas! What will become of all such drunkards? Without doubt they must all go to hell, except they truly repent and turn to God. Drunkenness is so common amongst us, that even our young men and young women are not ashamed to get drunk. Our young men will get drunk as readily as they will eat when they are hungry.

And to conclude, consider my poor kindred, you that are drunkards, into what a miserable condition you have brought yourselves. There is a dreadful woe thundering against you every day, and the Lord says, “That drunk shall not inherit the kingdom of God.”

And now let me exhort you all to break off from your drunkenness, by a gospel repentance, and believe on the Lord Jesus and you shall be saved. Take warning by this doleful sight before us, and by all the dreadful judgments that have befallen poor drunkards. O let us all reform our lives, and live as becomes dying creatures, in time to come. Let us be persuaded that we are accountable creatures to God, and we must be called to an account in a few days. You that have been careless all your days, now awake to righteousness, and be concerned for your poor and never dying soul. Fight against all sins, and especially the sin that easily besets you, and behave in time to come as becomes rational creatures.

And above all things, receive and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall have eternal life; and when you come today your souls will be received into heaven, there to be with the Lord Jesus in eternal happiness, with all the saints in glory; which, God of his infinite mercy grant, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  AMEN.

2339) “This is Why Jesus Had to Die”

The Humbling of a Proud Hindu

“The Humbling of a Proud Hindu:  How God got my attention when I thought I was too good for grace.”

By Kamesh Sankaran, at http://www.christiainitytoday.com , May 18, 2020.  Sankaran teaches engineering and physics at Whitworth University.

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     In the Gospel of John, Jesus speaks to the Jewish leader Nicodemus, who was curious but also confused about the notion of being born again.  In the course of explaining the difference between birth through ordinary means and birth through the Holy Spirit, Jesus tells Nicodemus, “The wind blows wherever it pleases.  You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going.  So it is with everyone born of the Spirit” (John 3:8).

These words capture something of my own experience of new birth.  At the time I came to faith, I was a PhD student in aerospace engineering at Princeton—the sort of person, in other words, who ought to have known about things like the source and consequences of airflow.  Even so, I was utterly perplexed by what had happened.  Like Nicodemus, the source and consequences of being born again were beyond my comprehension.

     Looking back at the events in my life—more than 20 years after my conversion—I can see with greater clarity how God was working behind the scenes.  My struggle against him, fueled by ignorance and pride, was utterly futile.

     I grew up in southern India in a small city.  My brothers and I were first-generation high school graduates, so the fact that I ended up working toward a NASA-funded PhD in advanced space propulsion at Princeton is nothing less than a miracle.  And, like many miracles recorded in Scripture, it had a deeper purpose: to draw me to Christ.

     My hometown is prominent in Hinduism because of its historic temples and a renowned monastery.  Hinduism is in the soil, water, and air.  I grew up in a devout Hindu family that was in the highest echelons of religious leadership.  My commitment to Hinduism grew deeper when I left home at age 11 to study at a boarding school run by a prominent religious leader, where I excelled beyond the expectations of my family and my teachers.  Paul’s testimony, in Galatians 1, of “advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people” (v. 14), applied just as well to my progress in Hinduism.  Many years later, I would become a leader in the Hindu Students Association at Princeton.

     Before arriving there, I had been exposed to Christianity through friends, the prominence of Catholic colleges in India, and Christian movies released in the US.  I was also intellectually curious about various world religions.  I remember seeing the icons and statues in Orthodox and Catholic churches and thinking them to be similar to the gods I worshiped.  I did not consider Christianity to be fundamentally different from Hinduism, but merely an appropriate religion for a different society.

     On the other hand, I harbored a deep disdain for Christian cultural and moral values, as they were represented by Western culture.  Like most Hindus today, I thought they were a form of debauchery.  Compared to the teachings of Hinduism, they seemed intolerably lax.  In my mind, then, Jesus could qualify as one among many in the pantheon of gods, but nothing more.  My commitment to Hinduism also included a strong nationalist element, and this resulted in a deep mistrust and antipathy toward religious conversion—especially conversion to Christianity.

     Despite this, God was crucially at work, preparing me to receive Christ through my friendship with a fellow PhD student.  As I worked alongside him for more than twelve hours a day, I respected him as a colleague, and eventually I became close friends with him and his family.  On a few occasions, the Cross of Christ came up in casual conversation.  Sensing that I was missing something, my friend explained that Jesus Christ died bearing our sins to reconcile us to God.

     This was something I had never heard before.  And it offended me! I was a deeply religious person, someone diligently striving to be good.  How could my friend think that anyone, much less someone like me, was a sinner in need of salvation?  Yes, I had problems, but wasn’t I capable of fixing them myself?  Why would I need Jesus to bear my sins?

Out of respect for a friend and fellow researcher, I asked him to provide evidence for his explanation of the Cross.  He readily encouraged me to read Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis, an author I recognized from his other popular works.  But I quickly realized that I needed to go directly to the primary source, so I asked my friend to buy me a Bible.

     Over the next few months, other stories from the Bible came up in our conversations.  The parable of the Prodigal Son did not sit right with me, in part because God was not supposed to be like the forgiving and ‘lax’ father in that story.  He was supposed to reward good moral conduct, not irresponsible rebellion.  In reality, I identified more closely with the other son, who did not seem to need grace.  The parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector (Luke 18:9–14) also blew the fuse of my understanding of God.  How could a man who defrauded his own people by conspiring with foreign occupiers have a better outcome before God than a religious leader who followed all the rules?  I had to get to the bottom of this Christian “thing.”

     Along with my intellectual quest, God was showing me the futility of my resistance.  In a brief but decisive period, God exposed my false sense of self-sufficiency, which I had based on financial prosperity, academic success, and a strong relationship with my family.  In short order, I experienced unexpected and unexplainable failures in each of these areas—financial, academic, and relational.  The blows came from different directions, but their cumulative effect was devastating.  By removing the frail crutches on which my life was built, God exposed the reality of my profound weakness—especially my utter inability to fix the brokenness in my relationships.  I was in more pain than I had imagined possible, and I was devoid of the props on which I was accustomed to resting.

     Knowing no other way out, I decided to end my own life.  In the midst of this darkness, a voice within me spoke: “This is why Jesus had to die for you.”  It came from nowhere, but at that moment my brokenness pointed to a greater brokenness in my relationship with God.  I had nothing to lose, so I decided to ask my friend if I could attend church with him.  My call came on a Sunday morning, just as he and his family were leaving the house to attend worship.  That morning I heard the gospel, and I responded with a broken and open heart.

     My experience of becoming a Christian wasn’t like flipping a switch.  Believing the gospel didn’t automatically lead me to conformity to Jesus Christ or produce the immediate fruit of righteousness in me.  While I desperately desired the gift of forgiveness, I was reluctant to change anything else about my life or worldview.  Given the enormous differences between Christianity and my earlier Hindu beliefs, my new life had to be nurtured before spiritual growth could occur.

     Intellectually, I wrestled with three fundamental questions: Who is God?  Who am I?  What is my relationship with God?  The more I pondered these questions, the clearer it became that the answers offered by Hinduism and Christianity are utterly incompatible.  I had to reject the former to receive the latter.  Functionally, I had to rethink all of life from a clean slate because I simply did not have a framework or vocabulary to make sense of my new identity.

Paul needed an Ananias to spark his conversion, but he also needed a Barnabas to accompany him in his new journey of faith.  God similarly ordained the support I needed to grow as a disciple.  While Hinduism ties one’s religious standing to one’s birth status, Christianity teaches that the ground is level at the foot of the cross.  My new Christian community cared not about my first birth but about my new birth: my confession of faith, my commitment to fellowship, and my desire to live wholly for Christ.

     Every genuine Christian conversion is a miracle—a transition from spiritual death to eternal life, from enmity with God to adoption into his family.  Yet God seems to take special delight in seemingly impossible cases—like Paul, a former persecutor—so that the riches of his grace might shine all the brighter.  When I consider the chasm between my old outlook on life and my new life in Christ, I can only marvel at God’s work of redemption—and fall down at his feet in praise.

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Romans 3:23-4  —  All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

I Corinthians 15:3  —  What I received I passed on to you as of first importance:  that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures.

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Jesus, I believe you died and rose again for me.  Please forgive all my sins.  I want to be saved.  Jesus, come into my heart today.  Amen.

2338) He Said What? (part two of two)

     (…continued)  We are talking about God and eternity, so it should not surprise us that there are things we don’t understand YET.   From the very earliest times, Christian theologians have talked about the ‘mysteries of the faith.’  They had a lot to say about that because the New Testament itself speaks of such mysteries.   Our word ‘mystery’ comes directly from a similar Greek word, mysterion, which appears 27 times in the New Testament.  In Biblical Greek it refers to “that which awaits disclosure or interpretation.”  These ‘mysteries of the faith,’ says the church, are things which cannot be known until they are explained to us by God.  I am willing to wait for that.

     There are some things we can say.  First of all, Christians are not cannibals.  Talk of eating flesh and drinking blood is a symbolic reminder of how Christ died in the flesh for us and shed his blood for us.  The bread and wine are more than that, yes, but they are not literal flesh and blood.  Also, this is a symbol that was more understandable in a culture that still offered bloody animal sacrifices.  And, the more striking and outrageous a symbol is, the more readily it is remembered.  And it is also the nature of symbols that they require some explanation, so you aren’t going to fully understand it the first time you see it or hear about it.  One could give an entire sermon on symbols and how they work.  Indeed, whole books have been written about the use of symbolism.  All that would be a part of understanding these words of Jesus.  Even then we still might, like those in John 6, find this to be a difficult teaching.  But this meditation is not about all of that.  Rather, I am simply trying to do what Peter did, setting aside some problems with the details, in order to stay focused on the primary message.

     This is illustrated in an old story.  You may have heard it before.  I’ve seen it in many books, some from as far back as 150 years ago.  It is an illustration that I have found helpful in my own approach to the faith.

     Two men are sitting next to each other in a train.  One is reading his Bible, the other is eating a fish dinner.  The man eating the fish said to the man reading the Bible, “Have you read that whole book?”

     “Yes I have,” said the man with the Bible.

     “Do you believe it all?” was the next question.

     “Yes I do,” said the man with the Bible.

     “But do you even understand it all?” asked the questioner.

     “No, I sure don’t,” said the Bible reader.

     “Well,” said the man eating his dinner.  “What do you do about those parts you don’t understand?”

     “Well,” said the man reading the Bible, “I do what you are doing as you eat that fish.  I have noticed that when you come across a bone, you set it aside, and get on with eating the good meat of the fish.  You don’t insist on choking on the bones, do you?  And I don’t choke on those parts of the Bible I don’t understand.  Rather, I set those parts aside, at least for the time being, and I go on and learn from and obey those parts that are clear to me and that I do understand.”

     I have come to believe in the truth of the Bible and the truth of Jesus as Lord and Savior.  I know of nothing else like it in all the world.  So when I come across something that I don’t understand I, like Peter, am staying with the One who has the words of eternal life, even if I do not yet fully comprehend all he says.

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Isaiah 55:8-9  —  “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord.  “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

John 6:66-68  —  From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.  “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.  Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.”

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PRAYER BEFORE RECEIVING HOLY COMMUNION:

I believe, O Lord, and I confess that Thou art truly the Christ, the Son of the Living God, Who came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am first.  I believe also that this is truly Thine own pure Body, and that this is truly Thine own precious Blood.  Therefore I pray Thee: have mercy upon me and forgive my transgressions both voluntary and involuntary, of word and of deed, of knowledge and of ignorance.  And make me worthy to partake without condemnation of Thy most pure Mysteries, for the remission of my sins, and unto life everlasting…

Like the thief I confess Thee: Remember me, O Lord, in Thy Kingdom.

May the communion of Thy Holy Mysteries be… to the healing of soul and body.  Amen.

–Orthodox Church in America website (www.oca.org)

2337) He Said What? (part one of two)

     Jesus says in John 6:53-54, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.  Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.”  He said what?  Eating flesh and drinking blood?  That sounds so strange, even to those of who have been around the church for a while and know that Jesus is talking about Holy Communion.  To someone who is not familiar with the language of the church, these verses are absurd.

     This statement caused a scandal even when Jesus first said it.  Verse 60 says that many people responded by saying, “This is a hard teaching; who can accept it?”  In verse 66 we are told that many people turned back and no longer followed Jesus.

     A few years later, when the early church was being persecuted, one of the charges made against the believers was that they were cannibals.  This was because informers who had infiltrated the worship services, heard the leaders speaking about eating and drinking someone’s body and blood.  The first thing we have to do when we look at a reading like this is honestly acknowledge how bizarre it sounds.

     But then the second thing we will want to do with a text like this, is, read it all the way through to the end, and see if that helps.  I think it does.  First, there is this difficult conversation and we are told that many people turn away from Jesus.  Then, in verse 67 Jesus turned to the twelve disciples and said, “You don’t want to leave too, do you?”  Peter, speaking for the group replied, “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.”

     Peter’s reply gives us the key to reading this strange text, and it can help us with those many other difficult verses in the Bible.

     Think about this from Peter’s perspective.  In this same chapter six the disciples saw Jesus feed five thousand hungry people with one boy’s lunch, and they saw Jesus walk on water.  In other chapters, they saw Jesus heal the sick and the lame, give sight to the blind, restore hearing to the deaf, calm a storm at sea with a verbal command, and even raise the dead.  Jesus had earned a great deal of credibility with these men.  Now they heard him say something very strange and they probably were just as puzzled as the rest of the crowd.  But they were remembering everything else Jesus said and did, so they were not about to leave.  

     However, notice Peter did not say, “Oh no, Jesus, why should we leave?  We get it.  Eating flesh and drinking blood?– no problem there for us.”  Peter did not say that, and I am sure the twelve disciples were also scratching their heads in bewilderment.   Peter did not say, “No problem,” but said, “Where else are we going to go, Jesus?  You (and you alone) have the words of eternal life.”

     Eternal life.  Where else indeed would we go for that?  It is not like Peter could say, “You are getting a little weird on us Jesus, so we are going to go find someone else that can raise the dead and promise us eternal life.”  There weren’t any other offers on the table.  There wasn’t then, and there isn’t now.

     Peter’s words have taught me how to respond to these difficult words and others like them in the Bible.  I will not attempt to sugar-coat any of this by searching the web for some lame explanation.  I must acknowledge that there is much in the Bible that is still strange to me, even after all these years of reading it.

     But first I must ask who am I to decide what makes sense and what sounds strange?  It is not for me to stand in judgement over God’s Word.  For many good reasons I, like the disciples, have come to believe that Jesus Christ is God in the flesh, who visited this earth to die on the cross to save me from my sins, and then rose from the dead to offer me eternal life, and that there has never been anyone else like him.  So when I come across something I do not understand, I am not going to walk away from Jesus.  But I will acknowledge that I don’t understand it YET, and maybe never will in this life.  But I am not going anywhere else, because there is nowhere else to go. 

     “Lord, to whom shall we go,” said Peter, “You have the words of eternal life.”  (continued…)

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John 6:66-68  —  From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.  “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.  Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.

Acts 4:10-12  —  Peter said, “Know this, you and all the people of Israel:  It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed.  Jesus is ‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone.’  Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”

John 14:  —  Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.”

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Eternal God, your wisdom is greater than our minds can attain, and your truth shows up our learning.  To those who study, give curiosity, imagination, and patience enough to wait and work for insight.  Help us to doubt with courage, but to hold all our doubts in the larger faith of Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

–Presbyterian Book of Common Worship, 1993

2336) Praying to Die

From a Funeral Sermon

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      Many people have asked me if it is wrong to ask God to let them die.  Others, like Albert, did not feel the need to ask for my opinion.  But Albert has been praying for the last several months for death to come.  He has been saying, in so many words, “Lord, I’m ready anytime you are.”   Albert has been waiting for this day.  He has said so many times.

     What should we say about that?  Is wrong to want to die so much that you pray for it?  Shouldn’t we want to hang on to life no matter what?  

     The answer to this question has two parts.  First of all yes, of course it’s okay.  You can say anything you want to God in prayer.  He invites us to come to Him with all our desires, needs, thoughts and emotions, right or wrong.  Your Heavenly Father wants to hear from you whatever you want to tell him; just like earthly parents want their children to feel comfortable coming to them with anything that is on their mind.  God, like a good father or mother, will sort through our many requests, and then, in His infinite wisdom will decide what is best for us and when, and He will answer our prayers as He sees fit.  So yes, we can bring to God whatever is on our mind; but then it is for you to trust in Him and leave it in His hands, praying as we do in the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy will be done.”

     But on a deeper level we must ask if that a good and proper prayer.  Should we pray for the end of our life?  Well, that depends on who you are and where you are at in your life and why you want to die.  If you are 25 years old and going through some temporary bad times and just sick of it all, well than no, you should not be praying for your life to end.  You should be praying for a way out of your troubles and for the Lord to give you the strength to bear them until you do see your way through.

     But if, like Albert, you are 79 years old and you are used to being active and working and now you aren’t; and if you can’t sleep at night and can’t stay awake during the day; and if you have a half a dozen serious health problems that are combining to make you miserable most of the time, and you are unable to find help or relief; and not only that, but, if you believe like Albert did, that Jesus has gone on ahead to prepare another place for you; well then there is nothing at all wrong with saying, as Albert did many times on days when he was not well, “You can take me home anytime Lord, I am ready.”  Even then we must leave such matters in God’s hands.  If God thinks there is a reason for us to stay here longer, that is up to Him and we have to stay.  But there is nothing wrong with praying, “Lord, I’m ready.’

     There is a good Biblical example of just such a prayer by another good man.  It is in Luke chapter two, right after the Christmas story.  When the baby Jesus was eight days old, Mary and Joseph took him into the temple for the customary presentation before the Lord:

Now there was an old man living in Jerusalem named Simeon, who was righteous and devout.  He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him.  It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.  Moved by the Spirit, he went into the Temple courts.  When the parents brought in the child Jesus, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God saying, “Lord, now you may let your servant depart in peace, according to your Word, for my eyes have seen your salvation which you have prepared in the sight of all people.”  (Luke 2:25-31)

     Or in other words, “Take me now, Lord, I am ready.”  Simeon lived to see the fulfillment of God’s promise and now the old man was ready to die.  In fact, it was his prayer.  In the great old words of the King James Version he prays, “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace.”  

     That is a good prayer.  Remember it.  You too may want to use it sometime.  When the time is right, it is a wonderful prayer.  It is right out of the Bible.  Albert’s words might have been a bit different, but his wishes were the same as old Simeon’s; and there’s nothing wrong with that.  In fact, it is a great blessing to be ready and willing to go when the Lord is ready to call you.  Just about every week for 79 years Albert was here, in this sanctuary, for the Sunday morning meeting with the Lord.  He wasn’t afraid this week to face death and meet Jesus in person.  He was praying for it.

     We all know that we are not permanent residents on this little planet.  We may be called to leave this world and this life at any time, and we might not want to go.  I, for one, am in no hurry; not at this point in my life.  That is also good and right.  When we are healthy and feel good, and we’ve worked hard to get our lives in order, and we are enjoying our family and friends, then we might want to pray, “Lord, don’t take me now; I want to stay a while.  I like it here.”  And that’s a good prayer, too.  It can be said in gratitude for the goodness of God’s gift of life and this good earth that God has given us right here, right now.  But we need to remember that we must not hold on too tightly.  Whether we are praying to go on to our heavenly home, or to stay here in this home, we must always be willing to add the same petition, “Thy will be done, O Lord.”

     As we all know, the golden years of retirement are not always golden.  The problems of old age and poor health can take all the pleasure out of living.  But even these problems can serve God’s purposes, reminding us that this earth is not our home.  Our aches and pains and other miseries can begin to pry our fingers away from the all too tight grip we may have on this life.  Poor health can make us begin to look forward to that other home, which the Lord has gone on ahead to prepare for us.  And in that place, as the Bible says, there will be no more illness, aches or pains; no more death or funerals; and no more tears or grieving.

     This earthly home can be a pretty good place much of the time.  Albert had many good years here of health and strength, a loving family, and lots of friends.  There were many good years of farming and trucking, of being married and raising a family, of fishing with the grandchildren, playing cards with friends, going to old-time dances, 4th of July picnics, and church potlucks.  God certainly does give us a bounty of blessings here.  This earth He has created is a wonderful place to be much of the time.  But not all the time, and sometimes the troubles can overwhelm us.  Someday we, like Albert, will be completely overwhelmed and we will die.  We will be forced to leave this good home, ready or not.   

     Even though this world can be a pretty good place much of the time, we have a promise from Jesus that he will take us to a place that is even better.  Jesus gave the disciples that promise in John chapter 14, where he said:  “Do not let your hearts be troubled.  Trust in God, trust also in me.  In my Father’s house are many rooms, and I am going there to prepare a place for you.  I will come back and take you to be with me, so that you also may be where I am.  I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me.”

     Believe in Jesus and you will be all right, now and forever.

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Ecclesiastes 12:1  —  Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say, “I find no pleasure in them.”

Luke 2:29  —  Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word.

 Philippians 1:21  —  For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.

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And you most kind and gentle death,
Waiting to hush our final breath,
O praise Him! Alleluia!
You lead to heaven the child of God,
Where Christ our Lord the way has trod.

O praise Him! O praise Him!
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

All Creatures of Our God and King, verse six, St Francis  (1181-1226)

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O Lord, support us all the day long, until the shadows lengthen ...

2335) According to Chesterton

Gilbert Keith Chesterton (1874-1936) was an English journalist and author.  He wrote over 100 books and over 4000 newspaper columns and articles.  He was an adult convert to Christianity, a member of the Roman Catholic Church, and an ardent defender of the faith.  For more about Chesterton go to:  http://www.chesterton.org

gk chesterton, quotes, sayings, right, wrong, wisdom

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To have a right to do something is not at all the same as to be right in doing it.

 Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors.  It is the democracy of the dead.  Tradition refuses to submit to that arrogant oligarchy who merely happen to be walking about. 

If God is abolished from the land, the government will become the god. (paraphrased)

When you break the big laws, you do not get freedom; you do not even get anarchy.  You get the small laws.

Self-denial is the test and definition of self-government.

I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.

We are learning to do a great many clever things…   The next great task will be to learn not to do them.

The first two facts which a healthy boy or girl feel about sex are these:  first that it is beautiful and then that it is dangerous.

The Bible tells us to love our neighbors, and also to love our enemies; probably because they are generally the same people.

There are some desires that are not desirable.

In the struggle for existence, it is only on those who hang on for ten minutes after all is hopeless, that hope begins to dawn.

If there were no God, there would be no atheists.

The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.

The test of all happiness is gratitude.

Fallacies do not cease to be fallacies because they become fashions.

It has been often said, very truly, that religion is the thing that makes the ordinary man feel extraordinary; it is an equally important truth that religion is the thing that makes the extraordinary man feel ordinary.

The riddles of God are more satisfying than the solutions of man.

The truth is, of course, that the brevity of the Ten Commandments is an evidence, not of the gloom and narrowness of a religion, but, on the contrary, of its liberality and humanity.  It is shorter to state the things forbidden than the things permitted: precisely because most things are permitted, and only a few things are forbidden.

These are the days when the Christian is expected to praise every creed except his own.

Civilization has run on ahead of the soul of man, and is producing faster than he can think and give thanks.

Great truths can only be forgotten and can never be falsified.

Most modern freedom is at root fear. It is not so much that we are too bold to endure rules;  it is rather that we are too timid to endure responsibilities.

What we call freedom is often simply the free choice of the soul between one set of limitations and another.

Merely having an open mind is nothing; the object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid.
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Psalm 119:33-34  —  Teach me, O LORD, to follow your decrees; then I will keep them to the end.   Give me understanding, and I will keep your law and obey it with all my heart. 

Proverbs 23:12  —  Apply your heart to instruction and your ears to words of knowledge.

Philippians 3:12b-14  —  …I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.   Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it.   But one thing I do:  Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

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Almighty God, we pray that you give us clean hands, clean words, and clean thoughts.  Help us to stand for the difficult right against the easy wrong.  Save us from habits that harm.  Teach us to work as hard and play as fair in your sight alone as if the whole world were looking on.  Forgive us when we are unkind, and help us forgive those who are unkind to us.  Keep us ready to help others even though it be at some cost to ourselves, and send us chances to do good every day, so that in so doing we may grow more like your dear Son.  In his name we pray.  Amen.
–United Lutheran Church Hymnal, 1917

2334) Are We Listening?

Listening and obeying | philmoser

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By Mark D. Tranvik, professor of Reformation History and Theology at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota.

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     In the Christian faith times of crisis are also understood as opportunities to reflect on what God might be saying.  So, in the midst of a pandemic, how might God be seeking to get our attention?  I am going to point to three things:

     First, the pandemic is an opportunity to reevaluate what is truly important.  People of faith confess regularly that they fail to honor God and instead invest inordinate value and loyalty in some earthly thing.  The old-fashioned word for this is idolatry.

     Think of all the ways our idols have been revealed in the past few months.  For example, I love to watch sports on television, curled up on the couch before a large and well-defined screen.  That’s gone, and I wonder if it is all bad.  There is more time for my family and community.  Some great books are now getting my attention.  Walks with my wife are more frequent.  Or consider how many of us were getting accustomed to long-distance travel.  Now we are getting to know our own towns and local communities better.

     It’s not that I want a world without sports and travel, but we might ask ourselves if they had become selfish preoccupations, obscuring neighbors and others in need.

     Second, the virus unmasks the great myth of self-sufficiency.  People of faith should know that the community is prior to the individual.  We Americans love to celebrate all things centered on the self.  But let’s face it:  About the only thing we truly do alone is die.

     The stories of courage and self-sacrifice coming from our hospitals and nursing homes are reminders of our dependence on a host of people and institutions.  The long car lines outside food shelves point to the many in our midst who are perilously close to poverty.  And consider our basic need to trust others to wear masks, wash hands and keep a distance in order to prevent the virus from spreading. 

   Seldom has it been more evident that our own well-being rests in the hands of others and that many in our midst are hurting.

     Third, the pandemic calls into question something I would term “nature mysticism.”  People of faith are wary of confusing creation with the Creator.  In our day there seems to be an increasing tendency to turn to the natural world for meaning and purpose in life.  Often this grows sentimental, as the phrase “nature bathing” suggests.  The earth becomes the cleansing source of life itself, possessing the power and strength to make us “whole.”

     Now, I enjoy the outdoors as much as anyone and long for the days when campgrounds and parks are fully open.  But the pandemic reveals what we all intuitively know:  Nature has its shadow side.  The deadly virus is nature at its darkest.  The message here is that nature needs to be cared for and respected.  It is a source of awe and beauty.  But it isn’t God.

     C.S. Lewis once said that pain and suffering are God’s megaphone to a deaf world.  If he is right, then God has not been silent during the pandemic.  Pain and suffering also raise huge questions, of course, about God’s justice.  That’s fair, and faith can provide insights on that as well.

     But my primary concern here is to deflect some attention away from the fringe response to the virus and point instead to the ways God might be interrupting our lives and asking us to stop and think.  I believe God is speaking.

     Are we listening?

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Deuteronomy 8:2-3  —  Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands.  He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.

Zechariah 7:13  —  “When I called, they did not listen; so when they called, I would not listen,” says the Lord Almighty.

Psalm 119:66-68  —  Teach me knowledge and good judgment, for I trust your commands.  Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey your word.  You are good, and what you do is good; teach me your decrees.

John 16:33  —  (Jesus said), “ I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace.  In the world you will have tribulation.  But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

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Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.

–I Samuel 3:9

2333) The Concoction

Asa Griggs Candler - Wikipedia

Asa Griggs Candler  (1851-1929)

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By Robert J. Morgan in One Hundred Bible Verses That Made America, 2020, pages 249-251.

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I Thessalonians 1:5a  —  Our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit, and with deep conviction. 

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     Atlanta businessman Asa Candler once wrote his son a letter expressing his philosophy of life and paraphrasing 1 Thessalonians 1:5:  “My boy, you cannot know how anxious I am about you.  I do so greatly desire your success. . . Don’t be religious in word only, but in your life.  Let your life constantly exhibit Christ.  We live for Him.”‘

     Here Candler was quoting a favorite verse about the practicality of a biblical faith.  The apostle Paul was telling the disciples in Thessalonica that the gospel isn’t simply a matter of words.  It must show up in our life and affect all our deeds through the power of the Holy Spirit.

     Candler knew what he was talking about.  He had always been a person of deeds.  Born in the hills of northwest Georgia, he had trapped animals and sold furs to make money as a child.  He badly wanted a good education, but with ten brothers and sisters, only one would have the funds for college—Candler’s brother Warren, who was studying for the ministry.

     While Candler had aspired to be a physician, with little education he did the next best thing.  He moved to Atlanta, which was rising from the ruins of the Civil War, and he opened a drugstore.  In those days, drugstores featured their own concoctions of roots, herbs, elixirs, and tonics.  Another nearby druggist, John Pemberton, had developed a medicinal drink to help relieve the pain he suffered from wounds incurred in the Civil War.  Knowing he was dying, Pemberton sold the formula and it ended up in the hands of Candler, who began manufacturing and selling it from his drugstore.

     He was a natural business leader.  His stores and enterprises flourished, and he viewed his wealth as a stewardship from God to be used for the kingdom.  With his brother’s advice, Candler supported many evangelical Methodist causes.  He started a college in Havana to provide a biblical education for Cuban students.  He served as vice president of the American Bible Society.  He provided the funds to establish Wesley Memorial Hospital (today Emory University Hospital) in Atlanta.

     Until Candler’s time, the leading Methodist university in the South was Vanderbilt, but the school had strayed from its evangelical beliefs and no longer wanted church oversight.  On July 16, 1914, Candler wrote what is now called the “million dollar letter” to his brother Warren, offering a million dollars to establish a Methodist school in Atlanta—Emory University.

     Candler believed that “education without a strong Christian influence would lead to a population of an educated elite with no moral foundation.  A person unable to distinguish between right and wrong has as little value to their community as those who could neither read nor write.”‘  Candler wrote:

In my opinion, the education which sharpens and strengthens the mental faculties without at the same time invigorating the moral powers and inspiring the religious life is a curse rather than a blessing. . . .  I am profoundly impressed that what our country needs is not more secularized education, but more of the education that is fundamentally and intentionally religious. . . .  The Church of God is an enduring institution; it will live when individuals and secular corporations have perished….  I rejoice in the work of all the denominations who love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity and seek to do good to all people….  I see no reason to hesitate to trust money to that church to which I look for spiritual guidance, and to that church at whose altars I receive the Christian Gospel… . The work of higher education is not going to be surrendered to secularism.

     In 1916, Candler retired from his business to serve as mayor of Atlanta, where he balanced the city’s budget and coordinated the reconstruction efforts following the Atlanta fire of 1917.  But his wife of forty years, Lucy, was ill, dying of breast cancer.  Candler left office to care for her.  After she died, he was bereft, and his final years were lonely.

     Asa Candler has gone down in history primarily for the drugstore concoction he purchased and popularized, which produced millions of dollars for the expansion of the work of the Methodists and the ministry—a drink called Coca-Cola.

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Amazon.com: Open Road Brands Coca-Cola Things Go Better with Coke ...

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A PARABLE ABOUT MAKING GOOD USE OF WHAT THE MASTER GIVES US:

Matthew 25:1a…14-21  —  (Jesus said), “The kingdom of heaven will be like… a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag,  each according to his ability.  Then he went on his journey.  The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more.  So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more.  But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.  After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them.  The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.’  His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant!  You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things.  Come and share your master’s happiness!…’”

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Lord Jesus, as we serve you, may we faithfully do all that you call us to do.  And after we have done what you commanded, may we have the wisdom and the faith to say what you have taught us to say:  ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’  Amen.  (See Luke 17:10)

2332) “The Sunday School is My Business”

42 Best P:E(OT)MM TOUR images | Tours, Philadelphia, Historic ...

John Wanamaker  (1838-1922)

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By Robert J. Morgan in One Hundred Bible Verses That Made America, 2020, pages 246-248.

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Matthew 6:33  —  (Jesus said), “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.”

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     As an adolescent, John Wanamaker took a large sheet of brown paper and wrote down all the things he wanted to be—a minister of the gospel, an architect, a merchant, a journalist, and a doctor.  It finally came down to merchant or minister; in a sense, Wanamaker became both.  For many years, Wanamaker ran the largest department store in the world and the biggest Sunday School in America.

     Born in 1838 in Philadelphia, Wanamaker grew up working in his father’s brickyard and was converted solidly to Christ at age eighteen.  At twenty, he took a job with the Young Men’s Christian Association for $1,000 a year, and within twelve months had increased the membership from fifty-seven to two thousand.  He also started a Sunday School in a downtrodden part of Philadelphia.  On the first Sunday he was run out of the building by a local gang.  The next week Wanamaker tried again, with volunteer firefighters standing guard.  On April 8, 1861, Wanamaker, twenty-two, resigned from the YMCA and opened his own store.  Four days later the Civil War began, but Wanamaker persevered and managed to keep his business going during the conflict

     In 1865, Wanamaker reorganized his Sunday School into a Presbyterian church, which, within five years, would accommodate three thousand people, making it one of the largest churches in the nation.  Its wide range of ministries included a soup kitchen, an employment service, a savings bank, a library, and a clothing dispensary for the needy.

     In 1875, Wanamaker purchased Philadelphia’s freight depot and turned it into an arena for evangelist D. L. Moody ‘s campaign, which lasted from November 21, 1875, to January 21, 1876.  The platform alone held a thousand people, with nearly nine thousand in the audience.  Over a million people attended during the campaign, with thousands coming to Christ as Savior.

     After the revival Wanamaker converted the freight depot into the largest store in the world:  the Grand Depot.  No one had ever seen anything like it—eleven acres of retail space, three thousand employees, electric lights, a ventilating system, elevators, the largest bookstore and piano dealership in America—and prayer services every day at noon.  He was very outspoken for Christ and sought to share the gospel at every opportunity.  As if he weren’t busy enough, he was appointed postmaster general of the United States in 1889.

     In 1901, Wanamaker opened a stunning new department store in Philadelphia, which was considered the most remarkable store on earth.  It featured a marble atrium with the largest pipe organ in the world and a crystal tea room seating fourteen hundred diners.  The store, dedicated by President William Howard Taft on December 3, 1911, boasted forty-six acres of retail space.

     Ever indefatigable, Wanamaker worked from seven in the morning until past midnight without showing signs of flagging, even into his seventies.  He was an advertising genius, and he had a knack for reaching the masses.  He exuded cheer.  During the bleak Christmas season of 1917, when America was engaged in the First World War, Wanamaker told his employees, “Try to keep the sunshine all around you, that the people may catch some of it and carry it home, and that the children there and the old people may have a better Christmas, because they have drawn some of the spirit of it from yourself.”

     When he passed away in 1922, at age eighty-four, he left $40 million to his heirs.  Over fifteen thousand people showed up for his funeral, with most of them standing in the snow—a testament to his lifelong impact.

     Someone once asked Wanamaker, “How do you get time to run a Sunday School with your four thousand scholars, in addition to the business of your stores, your work as Postmaster-General, and other obligations?”

     Instantly Wanamaker replied, “Why, the Sunday School is my business!  All other things are just things.  Forty-five years ago I decided that God’s promise was sure: ‘Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.'”‘

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Luke 4:8  —  Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’”

Matthew 6:24  —  (Jesus said), “No one can serve two masters.  Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other.  You cannot serve both God and money.”

Luke 12:48b  —  (Jesus said), “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”

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Almighty God, judge of us all, you have placed in our hands the wealth we call our own.  Give us such wisdom by your Spirit that our possessions may not be a curse in our lives, but an instrument for blessing, through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord.  Amen.    

Lutheran Book of Worship, 1978, Augsburg Publishing House.

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Click on the picture below for a song based on Matthew 6:33:

2331) Suffering Produces Hope (part two of two)

Alexander Schmorell - Schmorell also took part in producing the ...

Alexander Schmorell  (1917-1943)

In 2012 he was declared a saint by the Russian Orthodox Church, the church in which he was baptized as an infant when his German-Russian parents were living in Russia.

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     (continued…)  A powerful example of this is seen in two letters written during World War II.  Alexander Schmorell was a student at the University of Munich.  He joined the White Rose, a group of students that resisted the Hitler regime.  He was arrested, jailed, and sentenced to death.  This first letter was written to his parents in May of 1943 as he was awaiting an appeal of his sentence.  He wrote:

My Dear Parents:  There is nothing new here to report to you.  Everything is as it was.  But there are a few things that I still want to tell you, in order to ease your sorrow somewhat.  In case my plea for mercy is rejected, remember that death does not mean the end of all life; but actually, on the contrary, a birth, a passing over into a new life, a glorious and everlasting life.  Hence, death is not a fearful thing.  It is the separation that is hard, and heavy to bear.  But it becomes less hard and heavy to bear when we remain mindful that we are indeed not parting forever, but only for a time—as for a journey—in order afterward to meet again for ever and always in a life that is infinitely more beautiful than the present one, and that then there will be no end of our being together.  Remember all this and your burden will surely become lighter.

     That is the hope that Paul talks about which comes at the end of the progression in Romans 5; that progression that begins with trouble.  And that is when it all began for this young man also.  In this next letter, written five weeks later to his sister, Alexander describes how he did not always have this faith, and probably would not have arrived at it, had it not been for the trouble.  He wrote these words to his sister:

You have surely read the letters I have written to our parents, so you are fairly well posted.  You will perhaps be surprised when I tell, you that I am day by day becoming calmer inwardly, even joyous and glad, and that my mood is nearly always better than it used to be when I was free.  How does this happen?  I will tell you at once.  This whole terrible misfortune has been necessary to show me the right way, and therefore, it has actually not been a misfortune at all.  Above all, I am glad, and grateful to God for it, that it has been granted me to understand this sign from him, and thereby to find the right way.  For what did I know before of this faith, of true, deep faith, of truth, of the ultimate and only truth of God?  Very little.  But now I have progressed so far that I am happy and calm and confident even in my present situation, come what may.  This misfortune was necessary.  It opened my eyes—not only my eyes but the eyes of all those whom it has befallen, our family included.

     Five weeks later, this young man was executed.  But he knew that that was not the worst thing that could happen.  He knew that it would have been far ­worse if he had never come to faith in Jesus Christ, faith in that hope that “will not disappoint us.”  His life, brief as it was, followed the pattern of Romans 5.   The passage summarizes the last weeks of his life.

     Suffering doesn’t always lead to endurance, character and hope.  Sometimes it leads to rebellion and despair.  But we must remember that this whole section of Romans 5 begins with the words “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith.”  So it all has something to do with faith, a faith that simply keeps looking to Jesus, that keeps open the lines of communication with Jesus, and that trusts that all things will work together for the good of them that love God.  Still we will suffer, but then that suffering will lead us not away from God, but into a deeper hope in Him.

     Oftentimes, what people want most, turns out to be the curse that does them in.  Self-sufficiency and security is something we all want.  But if one could ever attain such a thing as perfect security, why would we ever look to God?  And when one no longer feels they need God, what good will it be to have a few short years of security before the darkness comes, as it always does?  Perhaps it is our troubles and disappointments that keep alive that faith God.  It all starts with trouble, says Paul.  It is trouble that keeps us coming back to God.

     Sometimes parents will say, “I just hope my children will be happy.”  Maybe Alexander Schmorell’s parents wished that for him.  But happiness is never the most important thing.  The most important thing is that we do not turn away from God.  As Christians, we have a larger perspective and a deeper hope.  We know that “what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (II Corinthians 4:18).

     One may face much suffering in an eighty year lifetime, and can be tempted to wonder about God’s goodness.  But it is not reasonable to judge God and his plan for the universe by the speck of time we spend on earth.  We must remember that larger perspective.  Would we complain if God allowed just one hour of suffering in an entire lifetime of comfort?  He does allow a lifetime of suffering, but that entire lifetime is a mere moment of eternity.

    Therefore, says Paul:

We can even boast of our afflictions, knowing that affliction produces endurance, and endurance, proven character, and proven character, hope, and this hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:3-5).

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Thank you, Lord, for any sadness you allow into our lives that will keep us close to you.  We pray that no happiness in this brief life will ever keep us attached to this world and apart from you and your eternal home.  May our suffering lead to the hope you give.  Amen.