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A Spurgeon Christmas Sermon: Mary’s Song

December 23, 2014 1 comment

It’s that time of year again, to highlight one of Charles Spurgeon’s Christmas sermons. Click here to see all of the previous Spurgeon Christmas sermon specials.  For this year, one delivered 150 years ago this Christmas day: December 25, 1864 – Mary’s Song.

Mary had much to give thanks for and to praise God for, and Spurgeon notes several aspects of Mary’s faith, for us to follow as an example. In Mary’s Magnificat we find true joy, a personal Savior, great faith, humility, confidence and familiarity – as well as the great Covenant of Grace.

True Joy

Mary’s heart was merry within her; but here was the mark of her joy—it was all holy merriment, it was every drop of it sacred mirth. It was not such merriment as worldlings will revel in today and tomorrow, but such merriment as the angels have around the Throne of God, where they sing, “Glory to God in the highest,” while we sing, “On earth peace, goodwill towards men.” Such merry hearts have a continual feast.

A Personal Savior

Her peculiar delight was not that there was a Savior to be born, but that He was to be born of her! Blessed among women was she, and highly favored of the Lord; but we can enjoy the same favor; no, we must enjoy it, or the coming of a Savior will be of no benefit to us. … The Savior was peculiarly, and in a special sense, hers. She sung no “Christ for all,” but “Christ for me,” as her glad subject!

Great Faith

As yet there was no Savior born, nor, as far as we can judge had the Virgin any evidence such as carnal sense required to make her believe that a Savior would be born of her. How can this thing be, was a question which might very naturally have suspended her song until it received an answer convincing to flesh and blood; but no such answer had been given. She knew that with God all things are possible, she had His promise delivered by an angel, and this was enough for her; on the strength of the Word which came forth from God, her heart leaped with pleasure and her tongue glorified His name.

When I consider what it is which she believed, and how unhesitatingly she received the Word, I am ready to give her, as a woman, a place almost as high as that which Abraham occupied as a man! And if I dare not call her the mother of the faithful, at least let her have due honor as one of the most excellent of the mothers in Israel. The benediction of Elizabeth, Mary right well deserved, “Blessed is she who believes.”

Humility

Her lowliness does not make her stay her song. No, it imports a sweeter note into it—“For He has regarded the low estate of His handmaiden.” Beloved Friend, you are feeling more intensely than ever the depth of your natural depravity; you are humbled under a sense of your many failings; you are so dead and earth-bound even in this House of Prayer, that you cannot rise to God. You are heavy and sad, even while our Christmas carols have been ringing in your ears; you feel yourself to be today so useless to the Church of God, so insignificant, so utterly unworthy, that your unbelief whispers, “Surely, surely, you have nothing for which to sing.” Come, my Brother, come my Sister, imitate this blessed Virgin of Nazareth, and turn that very lowliness and meanness which you so painfully feel, into another reason for unceasing praise!

Confidence

She sings confidently . She does not pause while she questions herself, “Have I any right to sing?” but no, “My soul does magnify the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. For He has regarded the low estate of His handmaiden.” “IF” is a sad enemy to all Christian happiness; “but,” “perhaps,” “doubt,” “surmise,” “suspicion,” these are a race of highwaymen who waylay poor timid pilgrims, and steal their spending money. Harps soon get out of tune, and when the wind blows from the doubting quarter, the strings snap by the wholesale. If the angels of Heaven could have a doubt, it would turn Heaven into Hell. “If you are the Son of God,” was the dastardly weapon wielded by the old enemy against our Lord in the wilderness. Our great foe knows well what weapon is the most dangerous. . . . You think that it is a sign of Divine Grace to have doubts, whereas it is a sign of infirmity. It does not prove that you have no Grace when you doubt God’s promise, but it does prove that you need more—for if you had more Grace, you would take God’s Word as He gives it, and it would be said of you as of Abraham, that, “he staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief, being fully persuaded that what He had promised He was able also to perform.” God help you to shake off your doubts.

Familiarity

She sings with great familiarity, “My soul does magnify the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. For He who is mighty has done to me great things; and holy is His name.” It is the song of one who draws very near to her God in loving intimacy. . . . For my own part I want a form of worship in which I may draw near to my God, and come even to His feet, spreading my case before Him, and ordering my cause with arguments—talking with Him as a friend talks with his friend, or a child with its father—otherwise the worship is of little worth to me. Our Episcopalian friends, when they come here, are naturally struck with our service as being irreverent because it is so much more familiar and bold than theirs. Let us carefully guard against really deserving such a criticism, and then we need not fear it; for a renewed soul yearns after that very communion which the formalist calls irreverent. To talk with God as my Father—to deal with Him as with one whose promises are true to me, and to whom I, a sinner washed in blood, and clothed in the perfect Righteousness of Christ, may come with boldness, not standing afar off—I say this is a thing which the outer-court worshipper cannot understand.

And finally, a wonderful theological reference point, The Covenant:

She does not finish her song till she has reached the Covenant. When you mount as high as Election, tarry on its sister mount, the Covenant of Grace. In the last verse of her song, she sings, “As He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed forever.” To her, that was the Covenant; to us who have clearer light, the ancient Covenant made in the council chamber of Eternity is the subject of the greatest delight. The Covenant with Abraham was in its best sense only a minor copy of that gracious Covenant made with Jesus, the Everlasting Father of the Faithful, before the blue heavens were stretched abroad. Covenant engagements are the softest pillows for an aching head; Covenant engagements with the Surety, Christ Jesus, are the best props for a trembling spirit!—

“His oath, His Covenant, His blood, Support me in the raging flood.

When every earthly prop gives way, This still is all my strength and stay.”

If Christ did swear to bring me to Glory, and if the Father swore that He would give me to the Son to be a part of the infinite reward for the travail of His soul, then, my Soul, till God Himself shall be unfaithful, till Christ shall cease to be the Truth, till God’s Eternal Council shall become a lie, and the red roll of His Election shall be consumed with fire, you are safe!

A very Merry Christmas to all of this blog’s readers!

The Millennial Psalms (Andrew Bonar)

December 16, 2014 Leave a comment

At a local church doing a series through the Psalms, for Psalm 150 the preacher casually remarked that this psalm has association with postmillennialism — though without further explanation.

It is true that quite a few psalms – and the 150th could be included as well – describe the millennial age, a time of nations rejoicing and praising the Lord and the Lord reigning (and a reign that is more than the present age “universal kingdom” overall sovereignty). Yet the descriptions of the millennial age say nothing regarding the “timing” of this millennial age related to Christ’s return – other than against the a-millennial idea which denies any millennial age other than our current age. Therefore such psalms could be understood as describing a future kingdom / millennial age – an idea that fits with both premillennialism and postmillennialism, since both views at least recognize a future state unlike the present one.

A book on my list to read is classic premillennialist Andrew Bonar’s “Christ and His Church in the Book of Psalms” (available here), a much more thorough look at each of the Psalms.  I have heard good things about Andrew Bonar’s work, as well as Charles Spurgeon’s much lengthier “Treasury of David,” and look forward to reading through Bonar’s book.  Meanwhile, searching through the Google play edition reveals the following interesting commentary on several of the Psalms, concerning the future millennial age:

Psalm 22

The essence of the feast is indicated at verse 28, as consisting in knowing and feeding upon Him who is our Paschal Lamb ; even as in Isaiah xxv. 8, the feast of fat things is Christ Himself, seen and known, eye to eye. The people of that millennial time are ” the seed” of ver. 30. If men do not at present serve Him, yet their seed shall- — there is a generation to rise who shall so do.”

 

Psalm 45

This tells of the Glorified Church, the Lamb’s Wife; ruling over a subdued world, in the millennial days. “Tyre” is taken as a sample of Gentile nations, and is elsewhere referred to as acting a part in these happy times. … The Glorified Church, reigning with Christ, is to see her prayers answered and her labours crowned, in the blessings which shall be poured on Earth in those glad millennial days.

 

Psalm 85

The time of millennial blessedness has come. The time for displaying grace to the full has come. Jew and Gentile shall meet, like David and Araunah, at the altar on Moriah.

 

Psalm 102

For now his saints enter on the possession of Earth, and the millennial race of Israelites inherit their Land, reigned over by the Lord and his glorified saints. And thus we understand this Psalm, beginning in woe, ending in gladness.

 

Psalm 144

he does not fail also to lead him forward to a future day, when earth shall witness its millennial scenes, among which not the least wonderful and refreshing shall be Israel in all the restored plenty of his last times, with the favour of Jehovah over all. In all this, David was the type of Christ.

Evangelism and ‘Revival’: God’s Divine Purpose

December 10, 2014 4 comments

From my recent readings, including George Mueller and the recent newsletter of the SGAT (Sovereign Grace Advent Testimony), comes a point often overlooked in our day, regarding God’s purpose in evangelism and missionary work. There is a difference between the salvation of individuals and “praying for revival,” and we understand this issue based on our interpretation of scripture including overall eschatology and the prophetic word.

George Mueller’s autobiography notes his establishment of the “Scriptural Knowledge Institute” in the early 1830s. He provided several scriptural-based reasons for this decision, to establish this new organization instead of working with existing missionary organizations. The first reason involved scriptural understanding of God’s purposes, as Mueller noted that the other missionary organizations referenced scriptures such as Habakkuk 2:14 and Isaiah 11:9 in support of their idea that the whole world will eventually be converted to Christianity. As Mueller well observed:

These passages have no reference to the present dispensation but to the one which will begin when the Lord returns.  In the present time, things will not become spiritually better, but worse.  Only people gathered out from among the Gentiles for the Lord will be converted. (Ref. Matt. 13:24-30, 36-43; 2 Tim. 3:1-13; Acts 15:14.) A hearty desire and earnest prayer for the conversion of sinners is quite scriptural. But it is unscriptural to expect the conversion of the whole world.

From the latest issue (Jan-Mar 2015) of the Sovereign Grace Advent Testimony newsletter, “Watching and Waiting” comes an article on a similar topic: “Did Noah Pray for Revival?” A look at several scriptures, including the time of Noah as well as Jeremiah’s day, shows indeed that it is not (always, or even usually)  God’s purpose to bring revival and save the majority of people at any given point in time. Select individuals were saved even in times of judgment, such as wicked King Manasseh (2 Chron. 33:12-20) and King Josiah, yet the nation as a whole faced judgment. There was undoubtedly a great measure of blessing, of revival and reformation, but the judgment brought on by the wickedness of Manasseh and his generation remained and was still going to be judged after the death of Josiah. The scriptures tell us similar for the future, of ever increasing apostasy within the church.

I was made to think of Noah and his circumstances as I listened to a Christian friend pray for the United Kingdom that God would send a mighty revival that would turn the whole land back to Him. Thinking upon this request, I pondered the fact that we are surrounded by an ever-increasing tide of apostasy. What are called the ‘main’ churches have abandoned all semblance to Bible religion and have embraced wicked doctrines to a degree never before witnessed in the history of Christendom. Furthermore, the remnant of true believers has never been smaller or weaker. This being so, it does seem likely that we cannot be far removed from the days of that last generation and the manifestation of the antichrist and the Savior’s return to earth to destroy him and establish His own Millennial Kingdom. That raises the question then: Is it the will of God for God’s people in the close of this age to pray for revival?

These facts serve to bring home to us that it is so necessary for God’s people to rightly divide the Word of God and so understand the signs of the times in which we live. It is through God’s Word that the final generation of believers in this age will know of the approach of the end and what it is we should be praying for and expecting the Lord to do. It is only by studying the prophetic scriptures and being informed of God’s will that we will be saved from praying and hoping vainly for revival when it is clearly the purpose and mind of God to bring down man’s rebellion and apostasy by judgment.

Classic Premillennial Views: Ezekiel’s Temple (Nathaniel West)

December 2, 2014 1 comment

Occasionally the question comes up, what does historic premillennialism believe regarding Ezekiel’s Temple and the Sacrifices? It must first be noted that this is really a secondary issue, not an essential of any form of premillennialism – and further, that even dispensationalists have differing views. H.A. Ironside and a few others have taken the Scofield Bible’s “secondary” explanation of a literal temple with symbolic language for the sacrifices.  Another good, basic reference is an article regarding Charles Spurgeon’s eschatology, which notes Spurgeon’s speculation regarding the future millennial temple:

  1. During the millennial kingdom there may be a temple or “Christian Structure” built on the Temple Mount for worship of God.
  2. During the millennium there may be some forms of Old Testament ceremonial adherence (Sabbaths, News Moon, etc.), but that those forms will be modified to be appropriate for the church.

Nathaniel West’s classic work “The Thousand Year Reign of Christ” (1899) supplemental material includes a full essay, “The 1000 years in Ezekiel,” on the question of where Ezekiel 40-48 fit within the premillennial timeline. After establishing that this temple exists during the 1000 year intermediate state — and not any time in the past, and also not as something purely idealistic (with no reference to any time, and not during the Eternal State – Nathaniel West shares some interesting points regarding the idea of the temple itself as well as its “bloody sacrifices,” including how the text can be understood to follow the literal hermeneutic and as typical language, in a way that does not violate the principle of literal language yet not contradicting other biblical teachings that conflict with “bloody sacrifices.”

Following are some excerpts from this material, which is not available online, but only in existing used print copies.  (Note: emphasis is in the original text.)

It is enough, for our present purpose, to state where we fully believe these Chapters belong, and their connection with the “first resurrection,” even as (apostle) John has briefly stated the connection of the 1000 years, in the same way. …

The locus of the whole scene of the New Israel, in their New Land, redistributed and transfigured, their New Temple, New City, and New Cult, is between the Second Coming of Christ and the Last Judgment at the end of Ezekiel’s “Many Days,” 38:8, Isaiah’s “Multitude of Days” Isaiah 24:22, Hosea’s “Third Day” 6:2, and John’s “1000 years,” 20:1-7. That is the region where they belong. That bloody sacrifices seem a stumbling block, never can avail to dislodge the section from its place in prophecy or history. The picture is a picture of restored Israel from an Exile-point of view, when the Temple was destroyed, the City laid waste by the king of Babylon, Israel’s instituted worship wrecked, and the prophet-priest, Ezekiel, was moved by “the hand of God” to comfort the exiles of Gola!” (noted in the footnote, the prophecy in Ezekiel 40-48 was written in October 572 B.C.)

 

It covers, perspectively, the whole temporal future of the people, and bleeds the Restoration, the non-Restoration, the Abolition, the future Restitution, all in one. Isaiah had chiefly dwelt upon the prophetic side of the kingdom, in thrilling terms, Daniel dwells upon the kingly side and, to Ezekiel it is given to paint the priestly side of it. … And, as all the rest speak, so does he, in Old Testament terms, and paints in Old Testament colors, yet not without the most startling modifications of the Mosaic worship;–not legislating the “rudiments of the Pentateuchal priest-code,” but amending, abolishing, and adding to it, changing it,–a sign of fading, not advancing, Mosaism.

One thing we know, beyond dispute, viz., that “Israel” of the Millennial Age is a converted people, “serving God in newness of the Spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter.” How much of Ezekiel’s typical picture will fade in the fulfillment, how much brighten to intenser glory, we may not decide. Nor does this impinge on the doctrine of “exact accomplishment.” It neither asserts nor denies. It leaves to the future, problems the future only can solve. It refuses to reconcile apparent contradictions by the adoption of a principle of interpretation which, if logically carried out, would end in the denial of Christianity itself. It waits. The early Jewish Christians adhered to their Jewish rites long after their conversion on the day of Pentecost. They worshiped still in the Temple. At any rate, the future will bring the solution. … We can agree and with Kahle, feel sure, that “it is not for us to determine how much of these closing predictions of Ezekiel will be literally fulfilled, how much not, when Israel has turned to the Lord with all their heart.” We may not go to the length of Baumgarten and Hess who, perhaps, press the literal, in some respect, to the quick, but we may follow men of scholarship and greatness in the knowledge of God’s word, like Crusius, Delitzch, Nagelsbach, Hofmann, Neumann, and agree, even with Kuenen and Graf, in this, that “it is vain, either to idealize, or seek to spiritualize, the many of minute details of these Chapters.”

Further:

The relations described are too perfect to allow us to see in this picture a representation, beforehand, of the restored Church of Zerubbabel and Joshua, of Ezra and Nehemiah, such as was afterward related historically. Or, is it the consummated Jerusalem, the Eternal City of God? For this again, the relations are too limited, too specifically Jewish. And yet there are elements, even in the oracles of Ezekiel, that do not find expression in the architectural plan framed after the Mosaic pattern. The Temple is seen standing on a high mountain. This feature, and the Temple-River swelling as it goes, show that the whole is more than a new architectonic for the building of God’s house, or a new revision of the Law, or the Restoration of the State. It is a prophetic vision in which the Church of God and the Temple, are presented in glorified form. And yet the detailed descriptions are of such a kind, the walls, the chambers, and the doors, that they yield a real architectonic of which a plan may be drawn, complete as that of the temple of Herod or Solomon. The Mosaic cultus here, is typical prophecy.

and

Attempts have been made to crane up this picture, and its separate features, by artificial means, to the height of the New Testament revelation, by putting a spiritual meaning into everything, or an outward fulfilment has been claimed by which even the bloody sacrifices must be logically ascribed to converted Israel. Really neither the one nor the other view accords with New Testament teaching.