Christianity 201

September 17, 2018

“You Are Not Far From the Kingdom of God”

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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NIV Mark 12.28 One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”

29 “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

32 “Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. 33 To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

34 When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions.

Today, something completely different: I’ve copied and paraphrased and updated notes on the passage from Alexander MacLaren’s Exposition of Holy Scripture as found at this website. I’ve tried to make minimal changes in the flow (except where noted) except for changes in vocabulary, formatting and paragraphing.

Not Far and Not In

This is a special case of a man who appears to have fully discerned the spirituality and inwardness of law, and to have felt that the one bond between God and man was love. He needed only to have followed out the former thought to have been smitten by the conviction of his own sinfulness, and to have reflected on the latter to have discovered that he needed some one who could certify and commend God’s love to him, and thereby to kindle his to God. Christ recognizes such beginnings and encourages him to persevere: but warns him against the danger of supposing himself in the kingdom, and against the prolongation of what is only good as a transition state.

This Scribe in this story is an interesting study as being one who recognized the Law in its spiritual meaning, in opposition to forms and ceremonies. His intellectual convictions needed to be led on from recognition of the spirituality of the Law to recognition of his own failures. ‘By law is the knowledge of sin.’ His intellectual convictions needed to pass over into and influence his heart and life. He recognized true piety, and was earnestly striving after it, but entrance into the kingdom is by faith in the Saviour, who is ‘the Way.’ So Jesus’ praise of him is but measured. For in him there was separation between knowing and doing.

I. Who are near?

Christ’s kingdom is near us all, whether we are heathen, infidel, profligate or not.

Here is a distinct recognition of two things to keep in mind:

  1. The varying degrees of proximity to the Kingdom found in different people, and
  2. The place or standard where you draw the line between those in the Kingdom and those outside it.

This Scribe was near, and yet not in, the kingdom, because, like so many in all ages, he had an intellectual hold of principles which he had never followed out to their intellectual issues, nor ever enthroned as, in their practical issues, the guides of his life.

How constantly we find characters of similar incompleteness among ourselves!

How many of us have true thoughts concerning God’s law and what it requires, which ought, in all reason, to have brought us to the consciousness of our own sin, and yet are untouched by one pang of penitence!

How many of us have lying in our heads, like disused furniture in a lumber-room, what we suppose to be personal beliefs, which only need to be followed out to their conclusion to refurnish with a new equipment the whole of our religious thinking!

How few of us do really take pains to bring our beliefs into clear sunlight, and to follow them wherever they lead us! There is no error more common, and no greater foe, than the hazy, lazy half-belief, of which the individual neither knows the basics nor perceives the intellectual or  practical issues.

There are multitudes who have, or have had, convictions of which the only rational outcome is practical surrender to Jesus Christ by faith and love. Such persons abound in Christian congregations and in Christian homes. They are on the verge of ‘the great surrender,’ but they do not go beyond the verge, and so they perpetrate ‘the great refusal.’ And to all such the word of our text should sound as a warning note, which has also hope in its bone. ‘Not far from’ is still ‘outside.’

II. Why they are only near.

The reason is not because of anything apart from themselves. The Christian gospel offers immediate entrance into the Kingdom, and all the gifts which its King can bestow, to all and every one who will. So that the sole cause of any man’s non-entrance lies with himself.

We have spoken of failure to follow out truths partially grasped, and that constitutes a reason which affects the intellect mainly, and plays its part in keeping men out of the Kingdom.

[This is my own addition: A vaccination is a very small dose of the disease it is intended to prevent. Many people have had just enough church, just enough preaching, or just enough religion that they have become immune to the real thing. Or to change up the analogy, they’ve stuck their big toe into the water and decided they’ve had enough of swimming.]

But there are other, perhaps more common, reasons, which intervene to prevent convictions being followed out into their properly consequent acts.

The two most familiar and fatal of these are:-

  1. Procrastination.
  2. Lingering love of the world.

III. Such people cannot continue near.

The state is necessarily transitional.

[This is my own addition] Some people are just sitting on the fence. But there’s not such thing as totally perfect balance there. You’re leaning ever so slightly one way or the other. And when the ground shakes, or the fence weakens,  you’ll fall in the direction you’re leaning. Which might be either:

  • Continuing on toward the Kingdom
  • Moving further away from the Kingdom

Christ warns here, and would stimulate to action — the need to do something — because

  1. Convictions not acted on simply die
  2. Truths not followed out simply fade
  3. Impressions resisted are difficult to be formed again
  4. Barriers and obstacles increase with time
  5. The habit of lingering, procrastinating, or being undecided strengthens over time.

IV. Unless you are in, you are finally shut out.

You’ve heard of ‘Cities of refuge.’ It was of no avail to have been near. One needed to stive to enter in.

If you know someone who is in this in-between, transitional stage; appeal to them to cross the line of faith.

June 2, 2012

A Dose of Spurgeon

Each week Phil Johnson at the blog Pyromaniacs (aka Team Pyro) posts a “weekly dose” of writing from Charles Spurgeon. (This is not the first time we’ve “borrowed” one from Team Pyro.) Here are a couple of recent ones: The first is a response to the Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation, the second one deals with people who still feel the stains of sin and feel they haven’t repented enough or are not penitent enough.  Some of you may want to bookmark Team Pyro and make it part of your regular reading.

The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from The Spurgeon Archive. The following excerpt is from “The Real Presence, the Great Want of the Church,” a sermon preached Sunday morning, 11 February 1872 at the Met Tab in London.

IS IT NECESSARY to say that the Lord Jesus Christ is no longer corporeally present in his church? It ought not to be needful to assert so evident a truth; and yet it is important to do so, since there are some who teach that in what they are pleased to call “the Holy Sacrament,” Christ is actually present in his flesh and blood.

Such persons unwittingly deny the real humanity of our Lord Jesus Christ, for if he has indeed assumed our humanity, and is in all points made like unto his brethren, his flesh and blood cannot be in two places at one time. Our bodily humanity could not be present in more places than one at one time, and if Christ’s humanity be like ours it cannot be in an unlimited number of places at once; in fact, it can only be in one place. Where that place is we know from Scripture, for he sitteth at the right hand of God, expecting till his enemies be made his footstool.

Unless you are to suppose that the humanity of Christ is something altogether different from ours, it cannot be here and there and everywhere; but to suppose that it is a different humanity from ours is to deny that he is Incarnate in our nature. Our Lord Jesus told his disciples that he would go away, and he has gone away. He ascended into heaven, bearing humanity up to the throne of God.

“He is not here, for he is risen.”

~Charles Haddon Spurgeon


The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from The Spurgeon Archive. The following excerpt is from “Repentance unto Life,” one of Spurgeon’s earliest sermons, preached on Sunday morning, 23 September 1855, at New Park Street Chapel, Southwark.

ANOTHER MISTAKE many poor people make when they are thinking about salvation . . . is that they cannot repent enough; they imagine that were they to repent up to a certain degree, they would be saved.

“Oh, sir!” some of you will say, “I have not penitence enough.”

Beloved, let me tell you that there is not any eminent degree of “repentance” which is necessary to salvation. You know there are degrees of faith, and yet the least faith saves; so there are degrees of repentance, and the least repentance will save the soul if it is sincere.

The Bible says, “He that believeth shall be saved,” and when it says that, it includes the very smallest degree of faith. So when it says, “Repent and be saved,” it includes the man who has the lowest degree of real repentance.

Repentance, moreover, is never perfect in any man in this mortal state. We never get perfect faith so as to be entirely free from doubting; and we never get repentance which is free from some hardness of heart. The most sincere penitent that you know will feel himself to be partially impenitent.

Repentance is also a continual life-long act. It will grow continually. I believe a Christian on his death-bed will more bitterly repent than ever he did before. It is a thing to be done all your life long. Sinning and repenting—sinning and repenting, make up a Christian’s life. Repenting and believing in Jesus—repenting and believing in Jesus, make up the consummation of his happiness. You must not expect that you will be perfect in “repentance” before you are saved. No Christian can be perfect.

“Repentance” is a grace. Some people preach it as a condition of salvation. Condition of nonsense! There are no conditions of salvation. God gives the salvation himself; and he only gives it to those to whom he will. He says, “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy.” If, then, God has given you the least repentance, if it be sincere repentance, praise him for it, and expect that repentance will grow deeper and deeper as you go further on.

Then this remark I think, ought to be applied to all Christians. Christian men and women, you feel that you have not deep enough repentance. You feel that you have not faith large enough. What are you to do? Ask for an increase of faith, and it will grow. So with repentance.

~Charles Haddon Spurgeon

January 13, 2012

Psalm 6: I Drench My Couch with My Weeping.

Two days ago I shared a passage from The Jesus Way by Eugene Peterson.  For those of you who know Peterson’s Bible translation, The Message, I hope this leaves you wanting to read some of his other writing.

After a section on the life of David which deals with the narrative of David’s story, Peterson moves on to deal with the prayers of David, particularly the penitential Psalms, beginning with Psalm 6.

(NLT) Psalm 6:1 O LORD, don’t rebuke me in your anger
      or discipline me in your rage.
 2 Have compassion on me, LORD, for I am weak.
      Heal me, LORD, for my bones are in agony.
 3 I am sick at heart.
      How long, O LORD, until you restore me?

 4 Return, O LORD, and rescue me.
      Save me because of your unfailing love.
 5 For the dead do not remember you.
      Who can praise you from the grave?

 6 I am worn out from sobbing.
      All night I flood my bed with weeping,
      drenching it with my tears.
 7 My vision is blurred by grief;
      my eyes are worn out because of all my enemies.

 8 Go away, all you who do evil,
      for the LORD has heard my weeping.
 9 The LORD has heard my plea;
      the LORD will answer my prayer.
 10 May all my enemies be disgraced and terrified.
      May they suddenly turn back in shame.

The trouble that we are born into “as sparks fly upward: (Job 5:7) provides the content to this first penitential prayer.  We are not told what the trouble is:

  • God’s anger provoked by sin (v.1)?
  • Sickness? (Healing is mentioned in vv. 2-3.)
  • Persecution? (Foes, workers of evil and enemies are referred to in vv. 7-8, 10.)

Probably all of these, but more.  The sin in the world breaks out in troubles all over the place.  Every once in a while one of the the troubles triggers an avalanche of dismay and sorrow that simply overcomes us.  There are times when an accumulated sense of the sheer mass of trouble in the world just knocks the wind out of us, knocks the prayer out of us –

  • all the sin,
  • all the sickness,
  • all the meanness:
  • damaged lives,
  • broken hearts,
  • child abuse,
  • raped women,
  • rampant hunger,
  • torture,
  • the grinding poverty of the poor,
  • the unchecked greed of the rich,
  • desecrating violations of our land and water and air,
  • brutal arrogance in high places.

Details pile up.  There is a lot wrong with the world.  We have moments when the apocalyptic brutality and blasphemy loose in the world tramples our life to the ground (Ps. 7:5).  Those moments are compounded when we realize that some of the wrong is in us – we are not just observers of it, we are part of it.  Sin is not a Them thing; it is also Us.  When the two moments come together – the Them wrongs and the Us wrongs – the hurt and hate, the guilt and sin catalyze an enormous sorrow.  We find ourselves in the middle of Psalm 6 weeping our prayer:

I am weary with my moaning;
every night I flood my bed with tears;
I drench my couch with my weeping.
My eyes waste away because of grief,
they grow weak because of all my foes. (Ps. 6:6-7)

The language is extravagant – crying every night and waking up with pillow and mattress tear-soaked.  But is it exaggerated?  Maybe not.  Not at least if this prayer comes out of a heart that is in touch with the catastrophic dimensions of sin and all the tears of despair and (sometimes) repentance that flow night and day, year after year pooling into a great salt sea of sorrow:

  • the tears of the lonely,
  • the tears of Rachel weeping for her children,
  • the tears of Paltiel weeping for Michal,
  • the tears of David weeping over Absalom,
  • the tears of Peter weeping outside the court of Caiaphas,
  • the tears of the women on the Via Dolorosa,
  • the tears of Jesus – weeping over Lazarus,
  • Jesus – weeping over Jerusalem,
  • Jesus – weeping in Gethsemane.

Tears, Tears, Tears.  We find ourselves swimming in a sea of tears.  **

The way of imperfection takes us through slums and suburbs, across battlefields and into refugee camps, to hospitals and homeless shelters.  We find common ground with the addicts and the abused, the victims and victimizers, the down and out and the up and out.  On the way of imperfection we find ourselves following Jesus to the well in Samaria, the sycamore tree in Jericho, the pool of Siloam, the cross on Golgotha where “Christ is in agony to the end of the world.” ***

There is much laughter and singing and dancing on this way, palm branches and hosannas.  But there are also tears and laments, rivers of them, every tear a prayer and not one unnoticed – “my tears in your bottle!” (Ps. 56:8).

~Eugene Peterson, The Jesus Way pp 93-4

** The verb translated “flood” is litteraly “I swim…”  We can translate, “I swim in a river of tears.”  See Isaiah 25:11 and Ezekiel 47:5.  Charles Briggs, The Book of Psalms (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1952), vol. 1, p.50.

***Blaise Pascal, Pensees (New York: Random House, 1941), #552, p. 176.