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Bought With a Price

Bought With a Price

Bought With A Price

Ye are bought with a price.  1 Corinthians 6:20.

Dr. Joseph Barber Lightfoot, Lord Bishop of Durham
Great S. Mary’s Church, 1st Sunday in Lent, 1879.

The words which I desire to consider with you this evening occur twice in the same Epistle. The connexion in the two passages is somewhat different; but the leading idea is the same in both. We have a Master, an Owner, Who has a paramount, absolute, inalienable property in us. We are His slaves, His chattels, His implements. All other rights over us are renounced, are absorbed, are annulled in His rights. He has acquired us by virtue of purchase.

In the first passage S. Paul is denouncing sins of the flesh. In his eyes these sins are something more than sins. They are flagrant anomalies; they are monstrous wrongs. There is a direct contradiction in terms, a flat denial of the first principles of justice, in the commission of them. God has set His stamp upon us. He impressed us with His image in our first creation. He re-stamped the same image upon us when He formed us anew in Christ. Thus we are doubly His. ‘Here is God enthroned in the sanctuary of your bodies. But you—you ignore the august Presence, you profane the Eternal Majesty; you pollute, you dishonour, you defy, with shameless sacrilege, the ineffable glory, the Lord seated on His throne, high and lifted up, His train filling the whole temple of your being, as if He were some vile and worthless thing.’ And then the Apostle suddenly changes his image: ‘You are slaves—you are live chattels—nothing more. You have renounced all rights over yourselves. You are not your own; you were bought with a price. God in Christ is your Master. He demands your life, your soul, your all.’

In the second passage the Apostle is discussing a wholly different subject. He desires to set the existing arrangements of society in their proper relation to the Gospel. From this point of view the most perplexing problems were suggested by the deeply-rooted institution of slavery. What would come of this institution, when transplanted into the Church of Christ? How would the relations of master and slave be modified by this transference? The Apostle declines to discuss the matter in detail. Before the eternal verities of the Gospel, the conventional arrangements of society pale into insignificance. Freedom and slavery are endowed with a higher meaning. The slave is no more a slave, for he is set free in Christ. The free man is no more free, for he is enslaved to Christ. Yes, enslaved to Christ, because purchased by Christ. In outward matters the old forms of bondage to man may remain for a time, till they melt away before the broadening dawn of a higher principle. But the allegiance of the heart, of the soul, of the life, henceforth is due to no man, but to Christ alone. ‘Ye were bought with a price; be not ye slaves to men.’

Not slaves to self, not slaves to men—this is the twofold lesson which we gather from the passages considered side by side. The ownership of self is done away. The lordship of our fellow-men is no more. One slavery alone remains, the most abject, most absolute, of all slaveries. We are the slaves of Christ.

The most abject slavery, and yet the most perfect freedom. This is the glorious paradox of the Gospel. We are free, because we are slaves. We are most free then, when our slavery is most complete. Our servitude is itself our franchise. Our purchase-money is our ransom also.

I ask you all—I ask you young men especially—to lay this truth to heart to-night. Of all pitiable sights in this wide world I know none sadder than the spectacle of a young man drifting into an aimless, purposeless, soulless existence—soulless and purposeless, I mean, as regards any higher consideration than the mere wants and associations and interests of the moment, the mean routine of this mundane life. He does not stop to ask himself, Whence came I? Whither go I? Whose am I? Or, if he asks the question, he lacks the patience or the firmness to wait for an answer. And so he drifts—drifts into worldliness, drifts into unbelief, drifts into positive sin. Without a helm, without a compass, without sun or star in the heavens to guide him, he is swept onward whithersoever the tide of opinion, or the current of temptation, or the wind of circumstance may carry him, till at length he finds himself far away from the haven of God, and return is well-nigh hopeless. So he tosses about on the barren ocean for a while, and then he sinks into the abyss of darkness and despair. He has had no ideal in life.

Believe it, if you would rescue your lives—you and you—from this cruel shipwreck before it is too late, you must put the question definitely to yourselves, and you must be prepared to abide by the answer: ‘What shall be the principle of my conduct? What shall be the goal of my life? What in short is my ideal, which shall animate, shall inspire, shall guide, my every act and my every word?’

Such an ideal is supplied you by the language of the text. It speaks of an absolute allegiance, a self-abandoning submission, an unswerving loyalty to One Who by an unquestioned title is your Lord and Master. It bids you find your truest freedom in your strictest servitude. It supplies you with a reason which is at once the seal of duty and the spring of affection. You were bought—bought at the heaviest price which God Himself might pay. You were purchased into servitude, but you were ransomed into liberty. You are no longer the slaves of self, because you are no longer the masters of self.

There is much foolish talk in these days about the relations of opinion to practice. It is not uncommonly assumed, even when it is not directly stated, that a man’s beliefs are not of any particular moment, provided that his conduct is right. The underlying assumption is that beliefs exercise little or no influence on conduct. But does not all history, does not all human experience, give the lie to this assumption? Ideas have ever been the most potent engines in social and moral change. They have upset the thrones of kings, and they have reversed the destinies of nations. See what miracles have been wrought in our own time by the idea of national unity. Remember again what convulsions and upheavals of society were caused in the age of our fathers, and threaten again to be brought about in the age of our sons, by the idea of the equality and brotherhood of mankind. And as with nations and peoples, so also with the individual man. An ideal of life, firmly grasped, is an untold power for good or for evil. An ideal is a sort of prophecy, which works its own fulfilment; it haunts the dreams, and it inspires the waking hours. To keep a definite goal in view and to press ever forward towards it—to know what you desire to attain, and to strain every nerve for its attainment—this it is which will give a distinctness, a force, a savour to your conduct—a savour of life unto life, if the ideal be well chosen, but a savour of death unto death, if it be some unworthy aim, such as riches or ambition or pleasure or worldly success in any of its manifold forms.

The ideal, which the text presents to you, is the most potent of all ideals. Its potency consists in this, that it appeals, not only to our truest moral instincts, our aspirations after righteousness and holiness, but also to our deepest affections, our gratitude, our devotion, our filial love; and thus it grasps the whole man. The centre of this appeal is the Cross of Christ.

The Cross of Christ. To S. Paul Christ crucified was the lesson of all lessons; it gathered and absorbed into itself all other truths; it was the power and it was the wisdom of God. But we—we have stultified its wisdom, and we have enfeebled its power, by our too officious comments. Theologians and preachers have darkened, where they desired to make light. The simplicity of the Scriptures has been overlaid by technical terms; the metaphors of the Scriptures have been overstrained by subtle definitions. Redemption, atonement, imputation, satisfaction, vicarious punishment—what storms have not raged, and what clouds have not gathered, over these terms; till the very heavens have been shrouded in gloom, and where men looked for illumination, they have found only darkness over head and only confusion under foot. But ever and again to simple faith and to loving hearts the Cross of Christ has spoken with an awe and a pathos, which has taken them captive wholly. They were bought with a price. They cannot resist the appeal. They cannot deny the inference. They are no more their own.

‘Bought with a price.’ In these few words the lesson of the Cross is summed up. Whatever else it may be, it is the supreme manifestation of God’s love. The greatness of the love is measured by the greatness of the price paid; and the greatness of the price paid defies all words and transcends all thought. When we try to realise it we are overwhelmed with the mystery, and we veil our faces in awe. We summon to our aid such human analogies as experience suggests or as history and fable record. The devotion of the friend risking his life to save another life as dear to him as his own—the bravery of the captain and the crew sinking calmly and resolutely into their watery grave, without a shudder, without a regret, disdaining to survive while one weak woman or one feeble child is left in peril—the heroism of the patriot hostage condemning himself to a certain and cruel death, rather than forfeit his honour on the one hand or consent to terms disastrous to his country’s welfare on the other—all these have the highest value as examples of human courage and self-devotion. But how little after all does any such sacrifice help us to realise the magnitude of the Great Sacrifice. The analogy fails just there, where we look for its aid. It is the infinity of the price paid for our redemption, which is its essential characteristic. It is the fact that God gave not a life like our lives, not a weak, erring, sin-stricken, sorrow-laden victim like ourselves, but gave His only-begotten Son, gave His Eternal Word, to become flesh, to work and to suffer, to live and to die, for our sakes. It is the fact that the Glory of the Invisible God condescended to visit this earth; to hunger and thirst, to be despised, to be buffeted, to be racked and mangled on the Cross. The sacrifice is unique, because the Person is unique. Herein was love—not that we loved Him—did we not spurn Him, did we not hate Him, did we not defy Him?—but that He loved us. While we were yet sinners, while we were yet rebels and blasphemers, Christ died for us; and by that death God commends His love towards us—commends it, so that henceforth no shadow of doubt or misgiving can rest upon it.

Do we marvel any longer that S. Paul determined to know nothing among his converts but Christ crucified; that to him it embodied all the lessons, and concentrated all the sanctions, of the moral and spiritual life; that this weak and foolish thing stood out before his eyes as the very power and the very wisdom of God? In this one transcendent manifestation of God’s purpose righteousness was vindicated, and love was assured, and ownership was sealed, and obedience was made absolute.

In the Cross of Christ righteousness was vindicated. At length sin appeared in all its heinousness. The greatness of the sacrifice was a mirror of the greatness of the sin. We are so constituted that we do not easily realise the magnitude of our wrongdoings, except by their consequences. I find that by my carelessness I have imperilled the life of another; and then my carelessness ceases to be a trivial fault. I am made conscious that by my selfishness I have deeply wounded the affections of another, and then my selfishness becomes hideous in my eyes. So it is here on a grander scale. Try to realise the significance of this death—its magnitude, its condescension, its goodness. And when you have realised it, go and sin, if you dare.

In the Cross of Christ love—God’s love—was assured. When we look out into the world, we see not a little which perplexes and distresses. Sorrow and suffering, error, ignorance, anarchy, decay, death; these are the characters written across the face of nature. Men will not suffer us to slur over the legend of this handwriting, if we would. They point to the profusion of waste in nature, the many thousands of seeds that decay and perish for the one that germinates and blossoms and bears fruit. They bid us look at the pitiless cruelty of nature, creature preying upon creature, life sustained by the destruction of life, the whole face of the universe crimson with carnage. They bid us reflect on the many myriads of human beings who are born into this world and live and toil and die, without a joy, without a hope, without one ray of light from a higher world. And, having paraded before our eyes these trophies of imperfection, and worse than imperfection, they ask with a scornful triumph where is the providence of God, where is the Fatherly goodness on which we rely? Nay, we cannot deny the filial instincts which He has implanted in us, if we would. This is our answer to our gainsayers. But we—we have a further assurance in ourselves which silences all misgivings. The Cross of Christ rises as a glory before us, carrying the eye upward from earth to heaven, stretching right and left across the field of view, and embracing the universe in its arms. It tells of a love transcending all love. What room is there for doubt now? God is with us, and who then can be against us? ‘He that spared not His own Son … shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?’

In the Cross of Christ ownership was confirmed. By all the ties of duty and of love we are henceforth His. No one else has a right to command us. Least of all have we a right to command ourselves. The purchase-money has been paid; and we are delivered over, bound hand and foot to do His pleasure. To hear some men talk, one would suppose that the Cross was a clever expedient for securing the favour of God without requiring the obedience of man. They lay much stress on the one statement, ‘Ye were bought with a price;’ they altogether overlook the other, which is its practical corollary, ‘Ye are not your own.’ They forget that, if we were purchased into freedom, we were purchased into slavery also. And so by the violence of a spurious theology, faith and conduct, religion and morality, have been divorced; that which God joined together man has dared to put asunder; the moral sense has been outraged by the severance; and the Cross of Christ needlessly made a scandal to many. What, think you, would S. Paul have said to this interpretation of his doctrine—S. Paul, to whom faith in the Cross of Christ meant the recognition of His sole ownership, meant entire submission, obedience, slavery to Him, meant the subjection of every thought and word and deed to His will?

And so lastly; by the Cross of Christ obedience is made absolute. How can it be otherwise? Master this amazing lesson of Divine love, and you cannot resist the consequence. Your own love must be the response to His love; and with your love your unquestioning loyalty and submission. There is that in your very nature which obliges you to obey, if you will only listen. Once again, let us summon to our aid the poor and weak analogies of human love. Have you never felt, or (if you have not felt) can you not imagine, the keen pain, which the sense of past ingratitude—unconscious at the time—will inflict, when long after it is brought home to the heart? A mother, we will say, has lavished on you all the wealth of her deep affection; you have accepted her solicitude as a matter of course; you have not been a disobedient son, as the world reckons disobedience; but you were wayward and thoughtless; you requited her attention with indifference; you almost resented her care at times, as if it were an undue interference with your freedom. And then death came. And some chance letter perhaps, found among her papers, revealed to you for the first time the riches of her love which you had slighted or spurned; and you are crushed with shame. No condemnation is too strong for your meanness, and no contrition is too deep for your remorse. Your ingratitude haunts you as a spectre, which you cannot lay. Death has robbed you of the power of making amends; and you are left alone with your baseness. And yet what is there in the tenderest mother’s love comparable to the infinite love of Him Who became man for you, Who toiled and suffered and died for you?

This then is the ideal which the Gospel offers for acceptance to you young men to-day—this absolute subjection and loyalty to the Master Who bought you. Welcome it now, before the inevitable years have pressed down the yoke of habit upon your necks. Welcome it now, while you can offer to Him the enthusiasm and the glory of a fresh and lifelong service. Do not think to put Him off to a more convenient season, purposing some time or other—you know not when and you know not how—to satisfy Him with the dregs of a wasted life. Each year, each month, will add pain to the effort. Lose your souls forthwith, that you may win them. Be slaves this very day, that you may be free.

Be slaves, and accept frankly the consequences of your slavery. To you, as to the chief Apostle of old, the mandate has gone forth, ‘Follow thou Me.’ Whither He may lead you, you cannot tell, and you must not too curiously enquire. It may be that in the years to come He has in reserve for you also some signal destiny, some work of unwonted responsibility, or some career of exceptional toil and pain, some cross or other, from which you would shrink with a shudder, if you could foresee it now. You are young yet. To-day and to-morrow you may gird yourselves, and walk whithersoever you will, roaming at large through the pleasant fields of life, and culling freely the joyful associations and interests of the passing hour. But the third day the grip of a Divine necessity will fasten upon you. Another will gird you and carry you whither you would not—far away from the home that you have cherished, from the friends that you have loved, from the work that has been a pleasure to you. Your ideal of life is shattered in a moment. Your hopes and projects for the future crumble into dust at the touch of God. Nay, do not repine. Follow Him cheerfully, whithersoever He may take you. Your cross will be your consolation; your trial will be your glory. The Lord is your shepherd; therefore shall you lack nothing. He shall lead you forth by the waters of comfort. Though you walk through the valley of the shadow of death, you will fear no evil; for He is with you; His rod and His staff shall comfort you.

To you more especially, the younger members of the University, my present and former pupils, my best and truest teachers, I would say a word in return for the many lessons which I have learnt from you. To one, for whom the old things of Academic life are now passing for ever away, the predominant thought must be the inestimable privilege which you and he alike have so bountifully enjoyed, and (it may be) so lightly esteemed. Believe it, you have opportunities here for the development of the higher life, which to many of you can never return again. In the ennobling memories and the invigorating studies of the place, in the large opportunities of privacy for meditation and prayer, in the counsel and support of generous and enthusiastic friendships, in the invaluable discipline of early morning Chapel, bracing body and soul alike for the work and the temptations of the day, in the frequent Communions recalling you in the spirit to the immediate presence of your Lord, in these and divers ways, you have a combination of advantages which no other time or condition of life will supply. Here, if anywhere, you may stamp the true ideal on your life. Here, if anywhere, you may rivet on your necks the yoke which is easy, and lift on your shoulders the burden which is light.

And to you, my older friends, my contemporaries, to whom I owe more than can ever be repaid, what shall I say? Forgive me, if I seem to be condemning you, when indeed I am only condemning myself. But now that the associations of this place are fast fading into a memory for me, I can only dwell with a sad regret on the great opportunities which it affords of influence for good—opportunities neglected at the time, only because they were not realised. How little would it have cost to overcome the indolence and shake off the reserve, to express the sympathy which was felt, to put in words the deeper thoughts which seethed in the heart but never rose to the lips! The value which younger men attach to such sympathy is altogether unsuspected at the time. The discovery comes too late—comes through the gratitude expressed for trifling inexpensive words and acts long since forgotten; and, when it comes, it overwhelms with shame.

But to young and old alike my word of farewell, if such it should be, from this pulpit is one and the same. Remember that you were bought with a price. Remember that henceforth you are not your own. Remember to be slaves now, that you may be free for evermore.

Lightfoot, J. B. (1890). Cambridge Sermons. London; New York: MacMillan and Co. (Public Domain)

Esau

Esau

Esau

And when Esau heard the words of his father, he cried with a great and exceeding bitter cry, and said unto his father, Bless me, even me also, O my father.  Genesis 27:34.

Trinity College Chapel, 24th Sunday after Trinity, 1861.

It is to be feared that even those who are most ready to confess that all Holy Scripture was written for our learning, do yet practically derive very little instruction from large portions of the Old Testament History. There are certain broad features indeed which we can scarcely mistake. When the flagrant sinner is struck down by divine vengeance in the midst of his crimes, or when blessings are showered on the faithful servant of God, the lesson is too plain to escape us. The history of David or of Ahab cannot be misread. But there are other parts of Holy Scripture which appear to us very perplexing and unintelligible, which we are disposed perhaps to give up in despair. We cannot understand for instance why in certain cases grave sins are dealt with so lightly, or slight offences visited with so heavy a punishment. We feel that our measure of right and wrong would have been very different; that we should have established another law of retribution. There are many reasons for this. It arises in part no doubt because we are judging of past ages by the conventional standard of good and evil in our own, and are therefore unwilling to view some of the more current and respectable sins in their true light. But it is still more due to the circumstance, that the point which decides the true character of the action frequently does not lie on the surface of the narrative, and that it requires more pains perhaps than we are disposed to give, in order to appreciate its moral significance. And yet it is just those lessons requiring the most study to master which are the most valuable, when once learnt. For they not only give us the broad features of God’s dealings with His creatures. They bring out the finer lines in the portraiture of good and evil. They develope the faint shadows of the picture. They discriminate between the real and the seeming. And thus they bring home to us our true position in the sight of God. They pluck off the mask, which we have worn to ourselves as well as to others. They penetrate the inmost depths of our spirit. And thus ‘the word of God is’ indeed ‘quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword,’ a very ‘discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.’

And it happens very frequently in such cases—where the lesson conveyed does not appear at once on the face of the narrative, and where consequently there is a danger of our passing it over in a careless reading—that our attention is arrested by some casual but pointed allusion to it in the writings of an Apostle or Evangelist, or in the words of our Blessed Lord Himself. And thus the light of the New Testament is shed upon the Old. The narrative assumes a new aspect. We at length recognise its importance. We are led to study it afresh, and each time we read it we are more fully impressed with the depth of the lesson it conveys.

The instances of Balaam and of Esau both illustrate the truth of what I have been saying. They are in many respects parallel. The difficulty is much the same in either case. We are at a loss to account for the extreme severity, as we are disposed to regard it, with which the offender is treated in the sacred narrative. Both alike are referred to in the New Testament. ‘The way of Balaam the son of Bosor’ is a by-word for disobedience and ungodliness. The ‘profane’ Esau, ‘who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright’, is the very picture and type of the hopelessly and irrevocably fallen.

Yet this is certainly not the estimate we should have formed by ourselves. Our first impression of Balaam is of one, who—if he fell short of the highest perfection, if his duty to God was not all in all to him—yet at all events cannot be said to have gone very far wrong. We read of his consulting God in all he does. We find him acting as God commands him to act. We marvel at his subsequent history, and we are perplexed at the language which Scripture holds regarding him. So again with Esau. We have a sort of feeling that he too, like Balaam, is somewhat hardly dealt with. We are not sure that we should have given the preference to his brother Jacob—nay, we more than suspect that we should have reversed the judgment: that, instead of depriving him of the blessing, we should even have restored him the birthright. We have a lurking regard for his rough, impetuous, simple character, for his undesigning and generous spirit. The treachery which is practised upon him, and the success which attends his brother’s plots, enlist our sympathies in his favour. It is only when we have examined the narratives more closely, giving them more thought and trying to divest ourselves of our prejudices, that we see their history in its true light. Then at length we acknowledge the justice of God’s rebuke of Balaam; and we cease to marvel at his fall, because we can now see that, when he acted aright, he acted from fear and not from love. Then at length we discover the superiority of Jacob; and we wonder no more that Esau was deprived of the blessing and rejected as a profane person: for we see that Jacob—though amidst many imperfections, despite many grievous sins—did place his reliance on God; did look to Him, as the Giver of all good things; did live for more than the passing moment. In short Jacob was spiritually minded; while Esau—with much in him to like, and something to admire—was careless and indifferent to all higher things, influenced only by passing impulses and momentary impressions, without foresight, without reflection, the type of that hopeless class of men, whose maxim is, ‘Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die’.

To this latter narrative, the history of Esau, I will ask your attention for a few moments this morning. I know of no sadder story. I can imagine none. If the character of Esau had been less attractive, his fall would have excited less pity. If his prospects had not been so brilliant, his fate would have been less terrible. But it is the combination of these two circumstances in the narrative—the ruin of a character which we are disposed to admire, and the unspeakable value of the birthright and the blessing which he recklessly threw away—that gives the interest to the story, and rivets our attention to the lesson which it contains. The destruction of so many bright hopes, the dissipation of so many glorious visions, the hopeless and irrevocable ruin of one so simple and honest and open-hearted—what can be more touching than this? And hence it is that we seem to hear ringing sharply above the most piercing shrieks of pain, and the loudest wailings of grief, that one exceeding bitter cry, uttered in the agony of despair, ‘Bless me, even me also, O my father.’

And perhaps it may be that the narrative comes home with peculiar force to ourselves, that we are conscious of some crisis in our own lives, or recall some incident in the career of others whom we have known and loved, which reminds us only too painfully of the fate of Esau, and gives point to the lesson. Is it so with any of us? May it not be so in some degree or other with most or all of us? Or is it a mere form that we bewail our manifold sins and wickednesses; that we confess the remembrance of them to be grievous unto us, the burden intolerable? Have we not each our special temptation, our besetting sin? And it may be that at one time or other this has culminated in some act, more heinous than we had supposed possible—some breach of the law of love, or of truth, or of purity, according to our special temptation—one act which has seemed to shut us out from the presence of God, and to leave us to darkness and despair. And then at length we have learnt in our bitter anguish to measure the exceeding great value of that heavenly birthright, which as sons of God we have inherited only to spurn and to set at naught, and—in remorse, if not in penitence—have striven by the importunity of our cries to arrest the blessing, ere it has passed away from us for ever.

I need scarcely dwell on the character of Esau, as it is painted in the sacred narrative. Making allowance for the rude habits of the patriarchal age, he is not essentially different in character from a very large number among ourselves. He has just the same virtues, and just the same faults. He is the father’s favourite son. He is born to great hopes. He has brilliant prospects before him. His career is in his own hands. His lot may well be envied by others. But all is thrown away upon him. He is reckless of his opportunities. He is insensible to his blessings. He loses everything by one desperate act of folly. He finds out too late the value of what he has lost. He would give anything to recover it, when recovering it is hopeless. And yet his character is far from utterly vicious. Of such a man we might say, that he is no one’s enemy but his own. If his bad passions are strong, his impulses for good are strong also. If he is reckless and undisciplined, he is simple and honest and open-hearted. He is in short not so very much worse—perhaps not at all worse—than a great number, who are admired and loved among ourselves, and whose manifest faults are forgiven for the sake of many rough virtues and generous affections.

Nor do I think that the guilt of Esau will seem so much deeper in comparison with that which we may incur, when we consider the nature of the privilege which he despised, of the blessing which he threw away. True it is that the promise which pertained to Esau—the promise given to Abraham and renewed to Isaac—was something more than the possession of lands and flocks and houses; that his birthright implied more than mere rank or wealth or earthly power. He knew that by virtue of his birthright he was destined to be the father of the chosen seed; that in him all the families of the earth should be blessed; that from his race as concerning the flesh Christ was to come, the Redeemer of the whole world. This he knew, or might have known. This inheritance he bartered for a morsel of meat. For this he is condemned and branded as a profane person.

It was no common offence then of which Esau was guilty. It was perhaps as great an offence as in his position he could have committed. Yet it is not greater than that which we shall commit, if like him we despise our birthright. For have we not an inheritance more precious still—we who are heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ—a name more glorious than his, for it is a name better than of sons and of daughters? If he might have been the father of Messiah’s race, how much greater is our privilege, to whom is accorded a far more intimate, because a spiritual, relationship? ‘Whosoever shall do the will of My Father Which is in heaven, the same is My brother and sister and mother.’ Are we tempted for some worldly consideration, for some momentary advantage, for wealth or popularity or fame or ease or pleasure, to barter away this brilliant inheritance? Is not the price we give as ruinous, the exchange we get as worthless, as it was with Esau?

There are two circumstances however in the story of Esau, which it may be well to dwell on more at length: for from these we may derive the most valuable lesson. Yet at first sight they only perplex us. They seem not only to palliate the guilt, but almost to obliterate the offence. They lead us to look upon him as the victim rather than the culprit, as sinned against rather than sinning. The first of these is the circumstance that he is surprised into selling his birthright. It is a momentary, unpremeditated act; he falls into a snare laid for him; we feel disposed therefore not to judge him too harshly: we cannot regard his offence as very heinous. In the second place, though the loss of the birthright was certainly his own act, whatever excuse we may make for it, yet he was deprived of the blessing by no fault of his. By no reasonable foresight could he have prevented it. He made some efforts at least to obtain that blessing. He did not throw it away. He was robbed of it. Surely this can not be laid to his charge. Of this at least he is innocent.

In considering the first of these points, let us ask ourselves what is meant by being surprised into such and such a sinful act—what leads to it, what state of mind it supposes, how it comes about? In a certain sense indeed Esau is surprised into selling his birthright. He returns from the field hungry and faint. He asks for food. His brother will not give it him except at the price of his birthright. He yields. ‘Behold,’ he says, ‘I am at the point to die: and what profit shall this birthright do to me?’ But is this yielding an isolated act? Does it not show a defective character? Does it not betoken a certain spiritual depravity, a low, worldly view of his position? He ‘despised his birthright,’ We are told, and therefore he is branded as ‘a profane person.’

For indeed surprise would be utterly powerless, unless the character were previously undermined. And so it is no excuse for a sinful act; it is scarcely in any degree a palliation. It is rather a revelation of secret depravity in a man, hidden successfully from his neighbours, ignored by, but not unknown to, himself. After the flagrant deed is committed, others may be at a loss to account for it. It is unexplained to them by anything in his previous career. But to himself it is clear enough. To him it is not an isolated act, but one link in a long chain of evil. He has been aware all along that he was sinking into sin. He has thrust away the troublesome thought, but he has been aware of it. He has taken no measure, it may be, of the growth of his guilt. It has ripened into grievous sin unnoticed. In no other sense can it have been a surprise to him. For all the while the seed was there, and had taken root, and the noxious plant was growing; and he knew it, and he hid it from others, and he would not confess it perhaps even to himself.

Is it an act of sensuality into which he has been betrayed? One act perhaps, which has poisoned the fountains of his spiritual life, which has bound his outward existence with heavy chains which he cannot shake off. The temptation took him unawares, we say. He was startled into sin. But is this the whole account of the matter? Is it natural, is it reasonable, that this should be so? Who shall dare to trace the secret history of that man’s soul, to lay open the hidden springs of his guilt? Who shall venture to say what forbidden thoughts he has admitted, perhaps welcomed, how recklessly he has lingered on the border line of good and evil, how longingly he has hovered about the accursed thing, before he dared to touch it?

Or again, is it a palpable breach of truth or honesty? He has committed some act of fraud or treachery, which has destroyed his good name for ever. How came this to pass? Were there no antecedents in his career which led naturally to that result? Had he not contracted a habit, for instance, of saying less or more than he meant, of expressing an enthusiasm or an interest which he did not feel, of paring down the truth to fit it into some conventional mould, of suppressing a little here or exaggerating a little there? Or if he fell, not from moral cowardice or from the desire to please, but from greed of gain, were there not here also insidious influences at work? There are many cases, where the question of right is doubtful. These he has decided in his own favour. There are others, where, if he investigated, he might find that he was defrauding his neighbour. These he will not enquire into. He will not be dishonest knowingly, but he will take no pains to find whether he is so or not. These are the beginnings of his guilt. By these a fraudulent habit is created. By degrees he goes on from bad to worse. He avails himself of his superior cunning; he defrauds his neighbour in little things where he is sure of escaping observation. By this time he has ceased to respect honesty as a thing to be prized in itself. To him it is so much capital to trade upon—and for this purpose the semblance is as good as the reality. Hitherto he has preserved his reputation before the world. But at length he is surprised, as we say, into some flagrant act of dishonesty. Society lays him under a ban. His character is irrecoverably lost.

And so it was with Esau. It was not that one act of selling his birthright which constituted his guilt. That was but the revelation of his true character, the summing up, as it were, of his depravity.

But fearful as is the lesson which this incident suggests, it is not half so fearful as that which we derive from his subsequent fate. He bartered away his birthright, but how was it with the blessing? It was by no act of his own that he lost this. There is nothing in the narrative which leads us to such a supposition. There was no unholy traffic here, no profane contempt here. He did not drive the blessing away. It went in spite of him. The key to this difficulty is found in the allusion in the Epistle to the Hebrews. The loss of the blessing is there represented as the inevitable consequence of the sale of his birthright. ‘Ye know that afterwards, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected.’ His fate up to a certain point was in his own hands. After that it was placed beyond his reach. So it was with Esau, and so it is always with the downward course of guilt. We may wade for a time amidst the shallows of sin, feeling our footing and heedless of danger. A single step more places us at the mercy of the waves, and we are swept away into the ocean of ruin. When we read of God’s hardening the sinner’s heart, we are perhaps startled at the phrase, yet there is no doubt that it represents a fearful moral truth. The sinner after a time ceases to be his own master. He has coiled a chain about him, which binds him hand and foot. He is dragged helplessly down. There is no more terrible passage in classical literature than that in which the Roman poet describes the guilty man trembling in his secret soul, as he sees himself falling, falling headlong, unheeded and unsuspected by those nearest to him. With a true moral insight he regards this state as the just retribution of offended heaven—the heaviest punishment which can be inflicted on the most heinous guilt. Such indeed it is. Translating it into the language of Scripture we should say, that God has hardened such a man’s heart. Surely we need not call to our aid the terrors of an unseen world—however true those terrors may be—to deter us from the path of guilt. The thought that our hearts also may be hardened, that we too may shut ourselves out from the presence of God, should be sufficient to check us in our downward career.

And even supposing this deadness should not pervade our whole spiritual being, may not the yielding to our special temptation, the indulgence in our favourite sin, stiffen and paralyse some limb or other of our moral frame? Do we not every now and then see an instance of this? We are brought in contact with some one, who, thoroughly conscientious in most things, keenly sensitive on many points of duty, is yet hardened in some one point of his moral constitution, seems dead to some moral virtue. Yet such cases are exceptional. It is the tendency of this paralysis to spread. It seizes on one limb first, but presently it extends to all. The moral frame, like the bodily, is compacted and knit together in a marvellous way. There is a wonderful sympathy between limb and limb. ‘Whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it.’

In what I have said, I have been speaking the language of warning, and not the language of despair. Despair is no word of the Christian’s vocabulary. So long as there is any heavenward aspiration, any loathing of sin, any yearning after better things, however slight, however feeble, there is still hope. Cherish these higher feelings. Quench not the Spirit, though it flicker faintly and lowly. From these few sparks a bright flame may be kindled, which shall cheer your heart, and throw a light upon your path, and guide you home to your heavenly rest.

Lightfoot, J. B. (1890). Cambridge Sermons. London; New York: MacMillan and Co. (Public Domain)

The Heart of the Gospel

The Heart of the Gospel

The Heart of the Gospel:  Sin And Repentance


SGM Dan Cartwright, USA (Ret)
Chairman, Board of Directors

Te Apostle Paul had some harsh words to the church in Galatia for those who would turn away from the Gospel of grace and return to trusting in human works for salvation:

But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. (Galatians 1:8-9 ESV)

Paul clearly defined the message of the gospel to the church in Corinth with these words:

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.  For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, (1 Corinthians 15:1-4 ESV)

Long before Paul was converted and began to preach the gospel and establish churches, John the Baptist laid the groundwork for the coming of Christ:

In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 3:1-2 ESV)

Jesus began his earthly ministry with these words:

From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 4:17 ESV)

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:14-15 ESV)

When Jesus appeared to His disciples after the resurrection, he commissioned them with these words:

Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” (Luke 24:45-47 ESV)

Well, so what?

Here's “what”:

Who am I, who are we, who name the Name of Christ, to change the message, or omit what Scripture tells us is the core and heart of the gospel message? How dare we presume that a “changed life” is the Gospel?

How dare we presume that making Jesus “attractive,” as the one who merely solves all of life's little problems, is spreading the gospel that saves a person from Hell?

How dare we presume that love, love, love, without including the issue of sin and repentance, IS even love at all?

Who am I if I presume any of the above?  Who am I if I don't hold as paramount, and address as of “first importance,” that Jesus died for our SIN, and if I don't speak of the need to REPENT from SIN?

I'll tell you who I am — I am a spiritual coward, a disgrace to evangelism, and a traitor to the One who saved me!

And at the end of the day, I am still a sinner — a sinner saved by the amazing grace of a sovereign God!

Debris Field

Debris Field

 But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ.  2 Corinthians 11:3

 Have you ever been driving at the posted speed limit on the freeway and all of a sudden a truck loses a retread tire, an unknown object appears in your lane, or something just causes you to have to swerve and unfortunately sometimes hit the object doing either minor or major damage to your vehicle.  It is one of the moments that if no one is take away by ambulance from injuries,  you just sigh.

There is the 'debris' of sin that can pop up and catch you unaware especially if you are 'asleep at the wheel' no pun intended.  An opportunity for a college student to make the wrong choice morally and succumb to sin.  Maybe it the temptation to cheat on something.  Perhaps breaking a rule at your office.  Threatening divorce to your spouse. Lying about something.  Many 'debris fields' are confronting Christians each and every day.

 To be able to avoid debris fields of sin in life stay in the word of God.  Today for instance is the 3rd of the month so try reading Psalm 3 and then Proverbs 3.  Pray for God to open his truths to you and transform your thinking.

 PRAYER:  I want to avoid debris fields of sin in my life.  Help me to run the other way when the opportunity to sin presents itself.  In Jesus' name. Amen.

Blow Up Your TV

Blow Up Your TV

Back in ancient times (BC — Before Computers) in a land far away in the midst of a horrible war, I was looking through the resident collection of albums (the round plastic platters with a hole in the middle) when I spied one by some guy named John Denver (released before he was famous).  There was a song on the album whose first line lyric caught my ear, “Blow up your TV, try to find Jesus on your own.”  I don’t remember much about the song itself but the lyric has remained with me all of these years.

Having reached the age where my children have become adults, I now look back on the earlier years and see that life had some spots that were a blur of activity.  Being involved, because of my children, in little league, Boy Scouts, soccer, Sunday School, youth group and also being a full-time sailor didn’t leave much time for anything else.  Life seemed pretty full.  There are indeed so many activities in our lives!   Yet how many are profitable?  How many are profitable for the kingdom?  How much time do I devote to those things that are important to my health and well being as a believer?  Sometimes I think that the world does a better job of conforming me into its mold than I do allowing the Holy Spirit to transform me by the renewing of my mind (Romans 12:2 paraphrase mine).  I think in my case that the blur of activity was motivated more by my flesh (not wanting my children to miss out) than by the Spirit (wanting to draw me into a closer walk with Him).  This doesn’t mean I couldn’t have done both.  It means that my attitude wasn’t right.


Bob Flynn, President/CEO

As I was meditating upon Hebrews, chapter twelve, I was struck by the idea of “throwing off everything that hinders.” (NIV)  As I looked up from my easy chair I found myself looking full on at one thing in particular that took up a great deal of my time, the huge one-eyed monster we call Television.  My heart was shaken at its foundations.  The Holy Spirit was showing me in a very clear way that I would rather spend time watching the political talk shows than with Him.  Busted!  So I got up out of my chair walked across the room and pulled the plug!  I would like to say that the angels of heaven broke out in song (However, what really broke out was beads of sweat upon my brow.  Several times that evening, as I was trying to read, I found my hand reaching for the ol’ remote control.  I thought to myself, how many other things are in my life that have become a hindrance to fellowship with the Father.  Am I really trying to work out my faith with “fear and trembling” or am I just busy?  C.S. Lewis, in “Mere Christianity,” mentions that
one of the “cardinal virtues” is temperance.  The first word that the dictionary (my copy was of course printed in the last century) uses to define this is moderation, “bringing within bounds, avoidance of excesses.”

If you find yourselves breathing hard at the end of the day, might I suggest in all humility (because I promise you that I am NOT the fount of all knowledge and wisdom) that you take stock of your activities and see if there isn’t some time that could be better used in your relationship with the Savior.  “Blow up your TV (hyperbole mine) and try to find Jesus on your own!”

“As for us, we have this large crowd of witnesses round us.  So then, let us rid ourselves of everything that gets in the way, and of the sin which holds on to us so tightly, and let us run with determination the race that lies before us.  Let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, on whom our faith depends from beginning to end.  He did not give up because of the cross!  On the contrary, because of the joy that was waiting for him, he thought nothing of the disgrace of dying on the cross, and he is now seated at the right-hand side of God’s throne.  Hebrews 12:1-2 TEV


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