Tuesday, December 30, 2014

A MAN CHRIST TOUCHED

In my thirty-eight plus years of ministry, I have received many compliments on my sermons – some sincere, and some, well . . .  But the compliment that means the most to me came from a fellow missionary after I had preached at a missions conference.  The missionary said, “You remind me of a professor I had at San Francisco (San Francisco Baptist Seminary).”  I knew immediately who he meant because that same professor later took a position at Detroit Baptist Seminary teaching homiletics, practical theology, and church history.  It was there that I had the privilege of sitting at his feet: That professor was Eugene J. Petersen.
 Dr. Petersen was an inspiring teacher, but it was --and is -- his example more than his instruction that has had the greatest impact on my preaching.  Through my admiration for the man, his preaching style has rubbed off.  I'm not nearly the preacher Eugene Petersen is, but I'm moved that someone thought I sounded like him.
            Dr. Petersen, who is now 92, was born in southwestern Iowa to Danish immigrant parents. He was raised in Harlan, Iowa, and studied at the University of Minneapolis, the LeHavre School of Education in France, and Fuller Theological Seminary.  He received his Doctor of Ministry degree in homiletics from Fuller.
            As a young man, called to preach the Gospel, Eugene found himself caught up in World War II. He preached his first sermon in 1943 shortly before shipping out to France.  He fought in eastern France where, according to Paul Fussell, the average life expectancy of an infantryman in the front lines was 17 days.[1]  But Christ had his hand upon Eugene J. Petersen.
            After the war, Eugene continued his studies and his preaching, pastoring churches in Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota, California, and Michigan.  He also taught seminary for 30 years in San Francisco and Detroit.
            My favorite sermon by Dr. Petersen is curiously titled, "Christ Honors A Donkey."  It touches me because Dr. Petersen encourages guys like me that Christ uses the ordinary, the less than ordinary, and those who make mistakes.  The repeated theme in that sermon never fails to touch my heart and lift my spirit: “Whatever Christ touches, He dignifies.”  Christ touched Eugene Petersen and dignified his long, productive ministry. 




[1] See The Boys' Crusade and Wartime by Paul Fussell. The horrific battle endured by Petersen’s 275th Infantry Regiment, 70th Division, is recounted in a book co-authored by Eugene J. Petersen, titled Ordeal in the Vosges.

Friday, December 5, 2014

ANGELS BY NAME

Angels appear throughout the pages of Scripture, interacting with people on behalf of God.  It may come as a surprise to some that no heavenly angel is actually named before the Book of Daniel, and only two are named in all of Scripture!  Some facts of Scripture stand out because of their frequent mention, while others stand out even more because of the rarity of their occurrence.  The two angels mentioned by name certainly catch our attention.

The Angel Gabriel
The first angel to be mentioned by name in Scripture is Gabriel.  The name means “mighty man of God.”[i] Gabriel seems to be God’s messenger to impart understanding of what God has revealed or is about to reveal.  To Daniel, Gabriel interprets the dreams God had given the prophet.

And I heard the voice of a man between the banks of Ulai, and he called out and said, "Gabriel, give this man an understanding of the vision." (Daniel 8:16)

. . . while I was still speaking in prayer, then the man Gabriel, whom I had seen in the vision previously, came to me in my extreme weariness about the time of the evening offering. He gave me instruction and talked with me and said, "O Daniel, I have now come forth to give you insight with understanding.” (Daniel 9:21-22)

Gabriel disappears from the divine record until he returns in the Gospel of Luke.  From Luke we learn more about this blessed messenger of God.  Gabriel appears first to the aged priest Zacharias to announce that his wife, Elizabeth, would conceive and bear a child who would become a mighty prophet and prepare the way for Messiah.  The prophet’s name would be John, and he would be known as John the Baptist because of his ministry of baptizing repentant sinners.

The angel answered and said to him, "I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. (Luke 1:19)

Six months later, God sends Gabriel on an even greater mission: To announce the conception and birth of Jesus, the Son of God, to the Virgin Mary!

Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin's name was Mary. And coming in, he said to her, "Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you." But she was very perplexed at this statement, and kept pondering what kind of salutation this was. The angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. "He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end." Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I am a virgin?" The angel answered and said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God. (Luke 1:26-35)

Later, when Mary’s fiancĂ© Joseph discovered that she was pregnant and quite naturally assumed the worst, an angel appeared to him in a dream, explaining the holy and divine nature of Mary’s conception and of the child she was carrying (Matt. 1:20).  Yet the name of that angel is not given in Matthew.  To Mary, Gabriel appeared in person; to Joseph, some angel, perhaps Gabriel, appeared in a dream.  Still, Joseph believed that God had sent that message through the angel in his dream, and he took Mary to be his wife.

The Angel Michael
Michael, whose name means, “Who is like God?” is a very different angel from Gabriel.  Michael holds a high rank in the heavenly realm, and he is more of a warrior.  In Daniel, Michael is called, “one of the chief princes” (10:13), “your prince,” that is, of Israel (10:21), and “the great prince who stands guard over the sons of your people” (12:1).  In Jude 1:9 he is called, “the archangel.” Michael is the champion on the side of other holy angels who do battle against demonic forces (Dan. 10:21).

In keeping with his role as a champion and warrior, Michael appears in the New Testament standing up against Satan himself and later waging a victorious war against him:

But Michael the archangel, when he disputed with the devil and argued about the body of Moses, did not dare pronounce against him a railing judgment, but said, "The Lord rebuke you!"  (Jude 1:9)

And there was war in heaven, Michael and his angels waging war with the dragon. The dragon and his angels waged war, and they were not strong enough, and there was no longer a place found for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. (Rev. 12:7-9)

While the name Gabriel in the Bible is given only to the angel, the name Michael was given to ten ordinary men in the Old Testament.  Jewish traditions concerning the Archangel Michael go far back in Israelite history. 

It is appropriate that the only two angels to be named in the Bible figure prominently in the life and work of Jesus, the Messiah: Gabriel at the annunciation of Jesus’ birth, and Michael at Christ’s final victory over the devil.

We must always guard against any semblance of worshiping angels.  But we should thank God that He has provided these heavenly beings to be “ministering spirits, sent out to render service for the sake of those who will inherit salvation” (Hebrews 1:14).





[i] The Hebrew word geber has the idea of being valiant or mighty. The name Gabriel is a combination of geber (mighty or valiant) + el (God).

Monday, October 13, 2014

THE FOUNTAIN OF LIVING WATERS OR BROKEN CISTERNS?

In reading again the Prophet Jeremiah, I was particularly struck by 2:12-13:

Be appalled, O heavens, at this, and shudder, be very desolate," declares the LORD.  For My people have committed two evils: They have forsaken Me, The fountain of living waters, to hew for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns that can hold no water. (NASB)

God calls upon the very heavens to be appalled at what His people, Israel and Judah, have done. What sort of sin could elicit such outrage?  They have forsaken God Himself.  But more than that, they have substituted something for God that they imagined would satisfy them in a similar way. The imagery is water, one of the most basic necessities of earthly existence.  Of course, God is not talking about physical water in this passage: but the image of what water does -- refreshes, replenishes, cleanses -- is applied to the spiritual life.  God's Old Covenant people had forsaken the LORD Himself, the fountain of living water -- that is, a virtual artesian well of spiritual refreshment, replenishment, and blessing -- in favor of man-made "cisterns," religious rituals and activities that could not really hold spiritual blessings.

The church today, especially in America, is doing the same thing.  Professing Christians -- I say "professing" because one cannot be certain whether these types are truly born of God -- are seeking to satisfy their spiritual thirst by hewing out three types of leaky cisterns.

The first type of leaky cistern is formality. This is the easiest, though it does intrude into some time the "worshipers" would like to devote to other interests.  Still, it is not difficult to participate in formal services, repeat formulas of faith, sing hymns, partake of sacraments, and go one's way. This may temporarily and superficially assuage one's spiritual thirst, but the leaky cistern soon runs dry.  The drought of real spiritual replenishment soon becomes evident.  The person's life is not changed, and everyone around that person feels the effects of the emptiness, the dryness, within.  The character of the formalist is no different from the non-believers around him. In John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress, the man named Formalist is one who limbs over the wall of salvation, rather than entering by the strait gate and narrow way that leads to the Cross.  Formalist and his companion Hypocrisy inform the pilgrim Christian that they "were born in the land of Vain-glory, and are going for praise to Mt. Sion."  They explained that to go by way of the gate was too far out of their way, and their habit was to "make a short cut of it."  Reader, there is no "short-cut" to salvation and to nourishment and growth in the Christian life!

The second type of leaky cistern is legalism.  This is in some ways very much like formality, but it takes more effort and extends beyond the walls of the church.  While formality be based more on laziness, legalism is firmly rooted in pride. The legalist seeks to be justified and sanctified through his own supposedly righteous deeds, especially religious deeds, like tithing and charitable acts.  No heresy is so strenuously condemned in the New Testament as legalism, chiefly because it strikes at the heart of the Gospel: The sacrifice of Christ on the cross for our sins!  If we can be justified by our own works, the shed blood of Christ was in vain.  If we can be sanctified (made more holy) by our own fleshly efforts, then the power and ministry of the Holy Spirit is unnecessary.  Paul made both aspects clear to the Galatian Christians who were falling under the spell of legalists:

O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?  Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?  Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain?  Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith—  just as Abraham "believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness"? Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham.  (Galatians 3:1-7 ESV) 

It is by faith in the finished work of Christ alone that one is found justified in the sight of God.  And it is the fellowship with Christ through the ministry of the Holy Spirit, again by faith, that we grow in the likeness of Christ.  Good works are the fruit of that relationship, not the root of it.  Paul wrote to the Ephesian church:

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.  (Ephesians 2:8-10 ESV)

The last leaky cistern is emotionalism.  This type of cistern is the most popular today.  Cisterns are being hewed out all over the world in an attempt to hold the water of emotional religious experience.  Professing Christians, instead of seeking a daily fellowship with Christ through faith and obedience to His Word, are seeking an emotional high, a physical sensation or audible revelation that will assure them that God is pleased with them.  A dream is of more import to these Christians than the clear revelation of God in the Bible.  These folks need to understand the finality of God's revelation in His Son, whom to know is life eternal (John 17:3).  The writer of Hebrews makes it beautifully clear:

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.  (Hebrews 1:1-2  ESV emphasis added)

Only a personal intimate relationship with Jesus Christ, a walking, talking, loving relationship, will ever satisfy the spiritual thirst that God has put into the heart of every human being. Only sin will keep us from the fountain, the spring of living water.  Why drink from the leaky cisterns of formality, legalism, and emotionalism, when Christ offers you a never-ending stream of living water?

The Samaritan woman said to him, "How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?" (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, "If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, 'Give me a drink,' you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water." The woman said to him, "Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock." Jesus said to her, "Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life."  (John 4:9-14 ESV)

Have you repented of you sins and received Jesus as Savior and Lord?  If so, are you cultivating your relationship with Him?  Or are you drinking from leaky cisterns?





Monday, September 29, 2014

Abel Bingham, The Soldier

In the spring of 1814, the war between the young United States of America and Great Britain was reaching a climax.  The now celebrated Battle of New Orleans (December 23, 1814 – January 8, 1815) would turn out to be anti-climactic.  Both sides knew the war was nearly over and they were fighting mostly for advantage in negotiations.  For instance, where would the border be drawn between Canada and the United States?  Who would get Lake Champlain, and who would control the Great Lakes?  Those questions made the Battle of Plattsburg, New York, of critical importance.

In the spring of 1813, Abel Bingham and his wife Hannah Olmstead Bingham sold their farm in Jay, New York, with the intention of joining Hannah’s father and other friends who had moved to Caledonia.  But Bingham’s militia company was called up for duty in Plattsburg.  Bingham was an orderly sergeant at the time, and though some militiamen in Bingham’s company paid the allowable bounty for being excused from service, Abel Bingham said, “I will go.” According to his daughter’s memoir, Bingham “wrote his friends at Caledonia that he must first serve his country before he could join them in their new and pleasant home.”  Though the tour of duty was supposed to be for three months, Bingham did not return home for a year and a half, and at one point his wife was convinced that he would not return home alive at all.

During the campaign in New York, Bingham’s company made several incursions into Canada, engaging the British and taking prisoners near Lake Champlain.  In the spring of 1814, Bingham was promoted to lieutenant, and when the company captain was granted leave, Bingham assumed command.  In early September, 1814, the British launched an infantry assault on the American positions across the Saranac River near Plattsburg.  On September 11, the naval assault began, and in a fierce two-hour naval battle, the American fleet forced the British to strike their colors, thereby cutting off all support to the British ground troops.  General George PrĂ©vost, seeing that any further military action would be useless, ordered a British bugler to sound retreat.  But the 76th Regiment of Foot, which had been diverted from the main assault force by a fierce skirmish with the New York militia, did not hear the retreat signal.  The regiment was surrounded and captured by the militia, one detachment of which was commanded by Lieutenant Abel Bingham.

During the battle Bingham was struck in the forehead by a British musket ball and fell bleeding on the field of battle.  As his apparently lifeless body was being carried off the field, a militiaman cried out, “Lieutenant Bingham has been killed!” News of his death spread through the ranks before his real condition could be confirmed. Although the ball had fractured his skull, Bingham showed signs of life and was carried to a nearby farmhouse where his wound was dressed.  Soon after regaining consciousness, Bingham returned to the battle!
  
Hannah, still living in Jay, was near enough to the battle to hear the rumble of cannon shot, so news of her husband’s death arrived quickly.  She had hardly begun to grieve when to her joyous shock and elation, Abel showed up at the door!

Abel Bingham was a good story-teller, which undoubtedly contributed to his later success as a missionary.  In recounting his near-death experience in the Battle of Plattsburg, he mesmerized audiences to the point that some forgot who was telling the story. On one occasion, when he got to his vivid description of the ball striking his head, one spell-bound listener exclaimed, “Did it kill you?”  General Winfield Scott, upon hearing the account on another occasion, remarked, “Well, Mr. Bingham, you had your face the right way.”

The American victories at Plattsburg and Baltimore secured American rights to Lake Champlain and guaranteed shared access to the Great Lakes in the Treaty of Ghent, signed December 24, 1814.


Abel Bingham’s heroism at the Battle of Plattsburg would display itself in the years ahead as he followed in the footsteps of pioneer missionaries Adoniram and Ann Judson in taking the Good News of Jesus Christ to fields of spiritual battle.

Copyright 2014 by Thomas L. Jones

Friday, May 9, 2014

HONOR YOUR FATHER AND YOUR MOTHER: THE KEY TO SPIRITUAL WELL-BEING

The Ten Commandments were given to Moses on two tablets of stone, written by the Hand of God.  Whether the commandments were divided into five on one tablet and five on the other, we are not told, but it is clear that the first four deal with the relationship of God’s covenant people with Himself, and the last five with their relationship with their fellow man.  What about the Fifth Commandment?  There is good reason to believe that this commandment belongs with the first five: Honoring father and mother is linked with honoring God.  Leviticus 19:3 makes the connection clear:

Every one of you shall reverence his mother and his father, and you shall keep My sabbaths; I am the LORD your God.

It is striking here that reverence for one’s mother is mentioned first.  And the word translated ‘reverence’ is the same Hebrew word found in verse 14 and applied to God: “... but you shall revere (reverence) your God; I am the LORD.” Commentator C. F. Keil in commenting on Exodus 20:12 also makes the connection:

The Fifth Word, “Honour thy father and thy mother,” does not refer to fellow-men, but to “those who are the representatives of God. Therefore, as God is to be served with honour and fear, His representatives are to be so too” (Luther). This is placed beyond all doubt by Leviticus19:3, where reverence towards parents is placed on an equality with the observance of the Sabbath . . .

The 19th century Methodist theologian Adam Clarke commented on this commandment:

There is a degree of affectionate respect which is owing to parents, that no person else can properly claim. For a considerable time parents stand as it were in the place of God to their children, and therefore rebellion against their lawful commands has been considered as rebellion against God. This precept therefore prohibits, not only all injurious acts, irreverent and unkind speeches to parents, but enjoins all necessary acts of kindness, filial respect, and obedience. We can scarcely suppose that a man honors his parents who, when they fall weak, blind, or sick, does not exert himself to the uttermost in their support.

The reiteration of the Fifth Commandment in Deuteronomy 5:16 adds an important phrase: “that it may go well with you . . .” The Apostle Paul quotes Deuteronomy in pointing out that this is the first commandment that carries a promise (Ephesians 6:1-3). 


The first key to true well-being is to honor the Lord God, and the second is like it:  “Honor your father and your mother.”

Saturday, May 3, 2014

A GODLY WIFE AND MOTHER

As Mother’s Day approaches, I am grateful for my godly wife who always put my spiritual health ahead of all else.  When I have been wrong, she has applied God’s Word to my heart, and by His grace – through her loving encouragement – I have acknowledged by sin and asked forgiveness from any and all involved.  That’s what a truly loving spouse does. 

I remember one particularly difficult time when my wife’s counsel restored my relationship with my father and brought a reconciliation that endured until his passing.  My father lived with a great deal of pent up anger, and it would erupt from time to time against those he loved the most.  One incident provoked an equal outburst from me, and I felt completely justified in what I said.  But my godly wife, however, wouldn’t buy my excuses, nor would she allow me to flout God’s holy Commandment: “Honor thy father and thy mother.”  I knew she was right.  I went to my father said, “Dad, God has convicted me that I have not been respectful to you as my father.  And I want to ask your forgiveness.”  My dad broke out in tears of joy.  He hugged me and sobbed on my shoulder. Then I told each of my children that I had been disrespectful to my father and I had asked his forgiveness.  I shared also what joy that confession had brought him.

Dad made progress in his spiritual life after that, and it all began with my wife’s insistence that I obey God and honor my father.  Solomon wrote: 

“An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels. The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain. She does him good, and not harm, all the days of her life.”  (Proverbs 31:10-12)


My wife is an “excellent” wife, and an excellent mother!

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Distinguishing Traits of Christian Character

Back in 1982, a very dear Christian friend gave me a copy of Gardiner Spring's book, Distinguishing Traits of Christian Character.

I have returned to in many times over the decades, always with new blessing and insight.  Gardiner Spring was a close friend and classmate of Adoniram Judson, the latter of whom would become America's first foreign missionary, who along with his wife Ann Hasseltine Judson departed for Burma in 1812.  Gardiner Spring's father, Dr. Samuel Spring, was one of New England's prominent conservative ministers and a vigorous champion of foreign missions.  Gardiner Spring became the distinguished pastor of Brick Presbyterian Church in New York City where he ministered for over fifty-five years.

Judging from Dr. Gardiner Spring's little book, there were many more professing Christians than possessing Christians even one hundred-eighty-five years ago, and the problem is much more evident today.  Many people profess salvation and believe they are on their way to heaven, yet they show few if any distinguishing marks of a biblical, born-again Christian.  The chapter titles from Spring's book challenge professing believers:  Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!  (2 Corinthians 13:5)

Here is the table of contents organized in outline form.  I highly recommend this little book, which is available from Amazon.

I.  TRAITS THAT NEITHER PROVE NOR DISPROVE THE PRESENCE OF GRACE IN THE SOUL
  1. Visible Morality
  2. Speculative Knowledge
  3. Form of Religion
  4. Eminent Gifts
  5. Conviction for Sin
  6. Strong Assurance
  7. Time of Your Supposed Conversion
II.  TRAITS THAT PROVE THE EXISTENCE OF GRACE IN THE SOUL
  1. Love to God
  2. Repentance for Sin
  3. Faith in Christ
  4. Evangelical Humility
  5. Self-Denial
  6. Devotion to Divine Honor and Glory of God
  7. The Spirit of Prayer
  8. Brotherly Love
  9. Separation from the World
  10. Growth in Grace
  11. Practical Obedience
These chapters are richly supported by Scripture in Spring's book.  Oh, how this dark world needs genuine Christians!  And churches need to be purified! May God send revival!


Saturday, April 12, 2014

THE PRAYER MEETING THAT SHOOK AMERICA



The summer of 1857 had been frustrating for businessman and lay missionary Jeremiah C. Lanphier.  Business itself had been good, but week after week he had knocked on doors in lower Manhattan, inviting people to worship services at the Dutch Reformed Church at Fulton and Williams Streets with little success.  The church had fallen on hard times. Old families had moved away and the neighborhood had become a business district, populated by transient laborers and recent immigrants.
            But the bigger problem was prosperity.  The young nation was in its Golden Age. Railroads and steamship lines had expanded trade and facilitated the great westward movement. New cities were springing up and states were being added.  The telegraph speeded communication, and gold was discovered in California!
            The boom was on!
            But the increase in gain brought a decrease in godliness.  Church attendance was pitiful. The new materialism was also having political repercussions as the cloud of civil war hung over the land.
            Lanphier knew that the only hope for the nation was a spiritual awakening.  But how could he get the message of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ to a money‑mad nation? Lanphier took his frustrations to the Lord in prayer.
            Later, while making his rounds of visitation, the answer came to him.  Businessmen might be interested in a noonday prayer meeting once a week.  Excited, Lanphier passed out handbills and put up placards announcing the first noonday prayer meeting for Wednesday, September 23, 1857.  Five businessmen and the pastor showed up.  The meeting seemed in no way extraordinary.  But unknown to Lanphier, God was about to do something that very week that would bring the nation to its knees.
            On September 25, the Bank of Philadelphia failed.  Twenty men came to the next prayer meeting.  The third week there were forty, and Lanphier decided to hold daily meetings in a larger room.  On Wednesday, October 14, the nation was struck by the worst financial disaster in its history.  Fortunes evaporated, banks closed, railroad companies went bankrupt, unemployment soared, and families faced hunger.
            In a short time, the Fulton Street prayer meeting had taken over the whole church building, drawing crowds of more than 1,000 people.  People from all walks of life attended: “leading capitalists, prominent lawyers and judges, eminent physicians, merchants, bankers, mechanics (and) tradesmen.”  Shop keepers hung signs on their doors at noon: “Closed—Be back after prayer meeting.”  Police and Fire stations provided space for meetings, as did Burton’s Theater and the New York City Music Hall.
            Because of the large numbers at the meetings, rules were drawn up and posted:
Brethren are earnestly requested to adhere to the five‑minute rule:  Prayers and exhortations not to exceed five minutes in order to give all an opportunity.
            Prayer meetings spread throughout New York and Canada.  A revival broke out in Hamilton, Ontario, and a New York newspaper reported that over 300 people were converted within a few days.
            By January, 1858, there were at least twenty daily meetings in New York City, drawing as many as 10,000 people in total.  Newspaper reporters were sent to cover the meetings, and “The Progress of the Revival” became a regular headline.  Stories of human drama abounded.
            A man bent on killing his wife and himself wandered into the Fulton Street meeting and listened to a fervent exhortation urging repentance.  Suddenly, the desperate man cried out, “Oh! What shall I do to be saved?”  Then another man stood with tears streaming down his cheeks and asked the people to sing “Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me.”  By the end of the meeting, both men had put their trust in Christ.
            Noted prize fighter Earl “Awful” Gardiner was converted at another meeting.  He then visited Sing Sing Prison to give his testimony to some old friends there.  As a result, Jerry McAuley, a notorious river pirate, was converted.  McAuley later founded the Water Street Mission, one of the nation’s first rescue missions.  The spiritual movement not only reached the lowest of society, but the highest.  President James Buchanan began attending meetings in Bedford Springs, Pennsylvania, and showed great interest in the progress of the revival.
            In a Midwestern church, twenty-five women began meeting once a week to pray for their unconverted husbands.  Later, the pastor traveled to the Fulton Street meeting to testify that the last of the twenty-five husbands had repented, trusted Christ, and joined the church.           
At a special meeting in Kalamazoo, Michigan, a prayer request was read to the group:
“A praying wife requests the prayers of this meeting for her unconverted husband that he may be converted and made a humble disciple of the Lord Jesus.”  A stout, burly man arose.  “I am that man,” he confessed.  “I have a pious, praying wife.  This request is for me.  I want you to pray for me.” As soon as he sat down, another man got up. “I am that man,” he said.  “I have a praying wife. She prays for me, and now she has asked you to pray for me.  I am sure that I am that man, and I want you to pray for me.”  As many as five men stood up claiming to be that husband in need of prayer.
            Prayer requests flooded in by telegraph and mail from all over North America and even Europe.  No request was refused.  Letters told of many specific answers to prayer.  A Chicago newspaper summed up the results of the revival in that city:
So far as the effects of the present religious movement are concerned, they are apparent to all. They are to be seen in every walk of life, to be felt in every phase of society.  The merchant, the farmer, the mechanic—all who have been within their influence—have been excited to better things, to a more orderly and honest way of life.  All have been more or less influenced by this excitement.
            It has been estimated that no fewer than 300,000 and perhaps as many as one million people were converted to Jesus Christ through the influence of the Fulton Street Prayer Meeting Revival.  And the greatest impact was made in one year!
            The repercussions, however, were felt for years after.  While the revival did not stop the Civil War, neither did the Civil War stop the revival.  The Confederate Army Revival saw 150,000 conversions, and by the end of the war Confederate soldiers professing faith in Christ made up one third of the army.
            The effects of the revival were also felt across the Atlantic in the “awakening” which swept the British Isles.
            The slow, frustrating labors of Jeremiah Calvin Lanphier had culminated in the most intense, fast‑spreading revival in our nation’s history. It was also the last great national revival in the United States.  Could it happen again?  Could our present economic distress be the avenue to spiritual renewal?  Should we not be praying?
End

First published in Conquest, January 13, 1987  Copyright Thomas L. Jones 1987

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Ark of the New Covenant



God delivered the Ten Commandments twice.  The manner in which God dispensed His law each time was dramatically different, and the difference illuminates God’s entire plan of salvation through His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.

God first pronounced His Ten Commandments aloud from Mt. Sinai in the hearing of the entire congregation of Israel before calling Moses up to the mountain to receive the two tablets engraved by God Himself (Exodus 19:9; 20:1; Deuteronomy 5:4, 23).  Although the people promised obedience to all that the LORD had said (Exodus 19:8; 24:3, 7; Deuteronomy 5:27), the sound of the LORD’s voice pronouncing the Ten Commandments, accompanied by thunder, lightning, and loud trumpet sounds, terrified them into requesting that Moses convey the LORD’s words to them and that the LORD no longer speak the them directly, “lest we die” (Exodus 20:19; Deuteronomy 5:23-27; compare Hebrews 12:18-21). 

Then Moses went up high into Mt. Sinai (also called Horeb) to receive the tablets, tablets sculpted by God and engraved by God.  But before Moses could return with these sacred tablets, the people had already spurned God’s spoken words, giving themselves over to idolatrous revelry in worship of a golden calf!  God sent Moses back down to witness and deal with their apostasy, and when Moses saw and heard what was happening, he smashed the tablets at the foot of the mountain!  The Law of God was given to Israel, the Israelites vowed to obey it, the Israelites promptly broke it.  This dramatically pictures the inability of fallen humans to keep God’s law through fleshly effort, regardless of good intentions.  The Law of God was shattered – totally!  The physical destruction of the tablets dramatized the fact.  Undoubtedly the Israelites violated several of the Ten Commandments in the course of their revelry, but it was only necessary to break one to be guilty of all: the Law of God is an organic whole.  As James would explain many centuries later: “For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all” (James 2:10).   And they certainly broke the most important commandment: “You shall have no other gods before Me.”

Israel’s failure in keeping God’s Ten Commandments set the stage for the second giving of the Law. God’s second giving of the Ten Commandments foreshadowed the covenant of grace.  This time there was no thunderous pronouncement from the mountain.  God agreed that the people had spoken well when they asked that God not speak to them directly (Deuteronomy 5:28), so he gave his Law and all His ordinances through Moses from then on.  The beauty of the second administration of the Law is in the details.

First, there had to be new tablets, and this time God would not supply them.  Moses was instructed to “cut out for yourself two stone tablets like the former ones.”  Upon them God would “write on the tablets the words that were on the former tablets which you shattered.” (Exodus 34:1, 4)  Why did Moses have to cut out the tablets?  The obvious implication is that since Moses shattered them, Moses must restore them.  But isn't there more to it than that?  Moses was not rebuked by the LORD for shattering the tablets; the act was the suitable consequence of the people’s apostasy.  They no longer deserved God’s Law.  And God was still working through Moses and honoring him, even granting him a reflected glory that caused fear even in Aaron (Exodus 34:29-30).  John Gill observes that the new tables hewn by Moses but written on by God would establish Moses as the mediator of the covenant, and as mediator, he was a type of the Messiah.  (Compare Deuteronomy 18:15)  The Book of Hebrews, the best commentary on the spiritual meaning of the Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament), states that Jesus is “the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted on better promises,” a “new covenant” through Christ’s shed blood. (Hebrews 8:6; 9:15; 12:24). 

As mediator of the Old Covenant, Moses was also the intercessor for the people.  After smashing the tablets, dramatizing the enormity of their sin, Moses interceded with God on their behalf when the LORD threatened to destroy them and make a great nation of Moses (thus testing and demonstrating Moses’ humility and love for the people).  (See Exodus 32:7-14; Deuteronomy 9:12-29)  Moses was even willing for God to blot him out of His book and let Israel live (Exodus 32:32)  That which Moses pictured, Jesus Christ fulfilled perfectly.  Jesus is now our Intercessor with the Father, interceding on our behalf on the basis of his own sacrifice for our sins. (Romans 8:34; 1 John 2:1-2)  Jesus Christ, the Son of God, could and did die for our sins and rise again for our justification (Romans 4:25), and he “always lives to make intercession” for us. (Hebrews 7:25)

The second and most important feature of this second giving of the Ten Commandments was its disposition:

At that time the LORD said to me, “Cut out for yourself two tablets of stone like the former ones, and come up to Me on the mountain, and make an ark of wood for yourself.  I will write on the tablets the words that were on the former tablets which you shattered, and you shall put them in the ark.” (Deuteronomy 10:1-2, italics added; compare Exodus 40:20)

The Ark of the Covenant represented Christ.  Its wooden construction pictured his humanity, its gilding pictured his deity, and the mercy seat represented His redemptive mission.  The cherubim with their wings arched over the mercy seat pictured the angelic beings who worship Him continually.  (Exodus 37:1-9)  Meditate on this: the new tablets of the Law were placed inside the Ark! Only Jesus Christ could and did fulfill God’s holy Law, and then He took our sins upon Himself, paying the full penalty for all who believe.  In Christ, we have a right standing before God; we are both forgiven and declared righteous in Him!  What’s more, we are given new life and the power of the Holy Spirit in order that we might fulfill God’s righteousness.  

For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.  (Rom 8:3-4)

When Jesus died on the cross, the veil in the temple that separated the Most Holy Place and the Ark of the Covenant from all but the high priest, was torn from top to bottom.  (Matthew 27:51) God’s message is clear to all who have spiritual eyes: the way to Christ – the “Ark of the New Covenant” – is open to all.  His mercy is extended to all who receive Him!

And as for the mountain, there’s Good News about that too!

For you have not come to the mountain that may be touched and that burned with fire, and to blackness and darkness and tempest, and the sound of a trumpet and the voice of words, so that those who heard it begged that the word should not be spoken to them anymore. (For they could not endure what was commanded: "And if so much as a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned or shot with an arrow." And so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, "I am exceedingly afraid and trembling.")  But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel.  (Hebrews 12:18-24 NKJV)

(For further study of the symbolism of the tabernacle and the Old Testament sacrifices, see the following commentaries:Lectures on the Tabernacle by Samuel Ridout and A Commentary on The Book of Leviticus by Andrew Bonar.