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Bible ancient-futurenetThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Matthew 21:12-13

Jesus Cleanses the Temple

12 And Jesus entered the temple[a] and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. 13 He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers.”

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We are now reading about the events of Jesus’s final Passover, which many Christians commemorate during Holy Week.

Matthew 21:1-11 records His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, which we remember as Palm Sunday. It is important to remember that the crowds hailed him as a temporal king, not the spiritual Messiah.

Once in Jerusalem, Jesus went to the temple, which, being Passover, was teeming with faithful Jews anxious to offer the proper animal sacrifice.

My past posts have discussed the temple in more detail. The history of the temples is detailed here and here. The structure of the temple of Jesus’s era, the one that the Romans destroyed in 70 AD, is here.

That last post is well worth reading before contemplating today’s verses as it also includes how suitable home bred animals were often rejected and the faithful were forced to buy their sacrifices from the temple.

Then there was the question of temple tax, due during this time. The Jews had to pay it with a special coin in order to be allowed into the Temple during Passover. The moneychangers would charge an exhorbitant rate to exchange everyday money for this coin.

There was a real racket going on. No wonder Jesus was filled with righteous anger.

Some readers might be confused about this cleansing of the temple. After all, isn’t it recorded early on in John’s Gospel? John 2:13-17 says:

Jesus Cleanses the Temple

13 The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. 15 And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. 16 And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”

That cleansing was at the beginning of Jesus’s ministry. John MacArthur explains:

So, when He started His ministry, He started it at the temple and when He ends it, He ends it at the temple.

These two cleansings bookend His earthly ministry.

They are important in that, through them, He establishes his Messianic credentials. He is cleaning His Father’s house (verse 12).

In some manuscripts, such as the King James Version, verse 12 begins (emphases mine):

And Jesus went into the temple of God

Jesus drove out these crooked, greedy men. He overturned the tables of the moneychangers and the seats of those selling pigeons. Pigeons were the poor man’s sacrifice. The impoverished faithful were charged exhorbitant prices.

One can imagine the scene. Carefully counted coins scattered everywhere. Pigeons flew away, perhaps not to be seen again.

All this had the permission of the high priest, Annas. He and the other priests were in on the racket. MacArthur explains:

Annas being the high priest, a corrupt and vile man who saw the temple as a way to get power and wealth…had a great idea. He and his priests sold concessions. In other words, you could buy space in the Court of the Gentiles. And there you could come and sell sheep, lambs, doves, pigeons, make money exchanges, sell oil, wine, salt and other requisites that go along with sacrifices.

And you paid dearly for those concessions because here’s how the system worked. Every offering had to be approved by the priests, right? When you finally got into the Court of the Israelites and you brought what you were going to give, it had to be approved. And maybe they had approving stations even before you got that far in. But the priests had to say your sacrifice is okay, and the odds were that if you bought it outside the temple, it was not going to be approved. If you had raised a lamb way out where you lived and brought that little lamb in to be offered, they’d say that lamb is not acceptable, you must have a lamb purchased in the Court of the Gentiles. Go see So-and-so. And so you’d go to buy a lamb from him, only according to Edersheim, the great Jewish historian, you would pay ten times the value of that lamb. So you were extorted, you were fleeced to reverse the picture a little. You were taken by robbers.

Poor people, according to Levitical law, didn’t have to bring a lamb because they couldn’t afford lamb, so they were allowed to have a dove or a pigeon in the place of a lamb. And most historians feel that in today’s currency, a couple of birds might be worth a nickel or a dime. But you would have paid four or five dollars for them there. And if you wanted to exchange your money because you had to have exactly a half shekel so you had to have the right change, and if you came from a foreign country with foreign currency and it had to be changed, you would pay twenty-five percent fee just to make small change.

It is easy for us to say that all this was Jewish practice, nothing to do with us. However, the accounts of these cleansings are warnings about similar corruption in the Church. In pre-Reformation times, this would have meant the selling of indulgences for notional penance for sin or entry into heaven:

In 1392, more than a century before Martin Luther published the 95 Theses, Pope Boniface IX wrote to the Bishop of Ferrara condemning the practice of certain members of religious orders who falsely claimed that they were authorized by the pope to forgive all sorts of sins, and obtained money from the simple-minded faithful by promising them perpetual happiness in this world and eternal glory in the next.[50]

Some of these indulgences were a mandatory purchase and, as with the pigeons of the poor, expensive. The seller — the pardoner — pocketed a percentage of the money and the rest filtered its way to clerics and local rulers. Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales has ‘The Pardoner’s Tale’, featuring a typical story of the Middle Ages:

The Pardoner says to the pilgrims that by these tricks he has acquired a considerable sum of money. He goes on to relate how he stands like a clergy at the pulpit, and preaches against avarice but to gain the congregation’s money; he doesn’t care for the correction of sin or for their souls.[7] Against anyone that offends either him or other pardoners, he will “stynge hym with my tonge smerte”. Although he is guilty of avarice himself, he reiterates that his theme is always Radix malorum … and that he can nonetheless preach so that others turn away from the vice and repent—though his “principal entente” is for personal gain. The Pardoner explains that he then offers many anecdotes to the “lewed [ignorant, unlearned] people”.[8] He scorns the thought of living in poverty while he preaches; he desires “moneie, wolle [wool], chese, and whete”[9] and doesn’t care whether it were from the poorest widow in the village, even should her children starve for famine.

Some indulgences purchased an exemption from spiritual disciplines:

The “Butter Tower” of Rouen Cathedral earned its nickname because the money to build it was raised by the sale of indulgences allowing the use of butter during Lent.[51]

Similar things go on today with televangelists or independent pastors urging their flocks to give generously because, without them, the ministry cannot exist. Then one sees the money going towards lavish mansions, limousines and clothes for the preacher!

Matthew records that Jesus cited Isaiah 56:7 after cleansing the temple (verse 13):

these I will bring to my holy mountain,
    and make them joyful in my house of prayer;
their burnt offerings and their sacrifices
    will be accepted on my altar;
for my house shall be called a house of prayer
    for all peoples.”

Matthew Henry tells us:

Tradition says, that his face shone, and beams of light darted from his blessed eyes, which astonished these market-people, and compelled them to yield to his command …

This would indicate the fulfilment of Old Testament Scripture:

if so, the scripture was fulfilled, Proverbs 20:8, A King that sitteth in the throne of judgment scattereth away all evil with his eyes. He overthrew the tables of the money-changers he did not take the money to himself, but scattered it, threw it to the ground, the fittest place for it. The Jews, in Esther’s time, on the spoil laid not their hand, Esther 9:10.

MacArthur gives us examples from the Old Testament showing the sanctity of the temple, as holy a place as we consider church:

I’m reminded of 1 Samuel 1, Hannah, she went to the temple and Eli the priest sat on a seat by the post of the temple of the Lord. She went there to seek God. She was in bitterness of soul. She prayed to the Lord, she wept bitterly. She vowed a vow. Now that’s what the temple was for. It was for a person to go and find some quiet, the court was where a Jew or a Gentile could go and seek God, a place of silence, a place of meditation, a place to vow a vow to God. And she was there, you remember, and Eli saw her lips moving and she found there the face of God that she sought. God wonderfully heard her prayer and gave her a child.

And you remember when the temple was dedicated in 1 Kings chapter 8 verses 29 and 30 and Solomon offered his prayer to God. And he said, “I pray to God that this place may be a place where Your people can come and confess and find forgiveness, a place of quiet, a place of confession.” And I’m reminded, too, of the psalmist in Psalm 27 who identifies the usefulness of the temple with these words, “One thing have I desired of the Lord, that that will I seek after, that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life to behold the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in His temple.” It’s a place where we can see the beauty of the Lord and worship and where we can beseech Him, inquiring of Him there in His holy place. And they had turned it into a crooked bank, a stockyard, a thoroughfare…blasphemous.

What is chilling is Jesus’s comparison of these money-men, priests included, to robbers hiding in a cave awaiting their prey. What a transformation of evil to God’s holy place on earth:

And He says to them in verse 13, “But you have made it a den of thieves,” or a cave of robbers. And that’s another Old Testament quote from Jeremiah 7:11. You have made it…and He borrows the phrase from Jeremiah…a cave of robbers, where robbers hole up. Instead of being a place for true worshipers, it’s a place where people can rob and be protected in doing it. You have made it a cave of robbers. They can come here and they’re safe. Robbers used to hide in the caves. Jeremiah alludes to that in chapter 7 verses 4 to 11 where the robbers were hiding in the caves. And they were safe there, out of the way, unfound, secure. And he says you’ve provided a cave for robbers to hide in in the temple of God. And they can do their robbery right in the place they’re hiding. Such protection of extortioners is blasphemous. Yahweh’s house, God’s house to be a temple to worship and pray and commune with Him, what a prostitution you’ve made of this.

The parallel accounts are Luke 19:45-46, which I covered in November 2014, and Mark 11:15-19, which is in the three-year Lectionary for public worship. Mark’s is fuller than the other two accounts, because of these two verses:

18 And the chief priests and the scribes heard it and were seeking a way to destroy him, for they feared him, because all the crowd was astonished at his teaching. 19 And when evening came they[b] went out of the city.

Henry concludes with these words of wisdom:

When dissembled piety is made the cloak and cover of iniquity, it may be said that the house of prayer is become a den of thieves, in which they lurk, and shelter themselves. Markets are too often dens of thieves, so many are the corrupt and cheating practices in buying and selling but markets in the temple are certainly so, for they rob God of his honour, the worst of thieves, Malachi 3:8. The priests lived, and lived plentifully, upon the altar but, not content with that, they found other ways and means to squeeze money out of the people and therefore Christ here calls them thieves, for they exacted that which did not belong to them.

For us, church should also be a holy place where we can communicate with God, perhaps publicly, perhaps privately. It is not a place for running around, distracting others or engaging in ordinary activity, such as checking one’s phone messages or texting (unless it’s an emergency).

Many today — including clergy — say that church is people, not a building. We see from Holy Scripture that this is not the case. A bit more consideration and reverence on our part would not go amiss.

Those of us over a certain age were told from childhood that church is God’s house. May we be ever mindful of it.

Next time: Matthew 21:14-17

Bible readingThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Matthew 20:29-34

Jesus Heals Two Blind Men

29 And as they went out of Jericho, a great crowd followed him. 30 And behold, there were two blind men sitting by the roadside, and when they heard that Jesus was passing by, they cried out, “Lord,[a] have mercy on us, Son of David!” 31 The crowd rebuked them, telling them to be silent, but they cried out all the more, “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!” 32 And stopping, Jesus called them and said, “What do you want me to do for you?” 33 They said to him, “Lord, let our eyes be opened.” 34 And Jesus in pity touched their eyes, and immediately they recovered their sight and followed him.

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The New Testament has two other versions of this healing miracle.

I wrote about Luke’s account — Luke 18:35-43 — in 2014. Luke wrote about one blind man. Mark’s version — Mark 10:46-52 — also features one blind man and names him as Bartimaeus (‘bar’, son, of Timaeus). Mark’s version is in the three-year Lectionary, possibly because it is the most descriptive account. I have highlighted the differences between his and Matthew’s account below:

Jesus Heals Blind Bartimaeus

46 And they came to Jericho. And as he was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a great crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the roadside. 47 And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 48 And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 49 And Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart. Get up; he is calling you.” 50 And throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. 51 And Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” And the blind man said to him, “Rabbi, let me recover my sight.” 52 And Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him on the way.

Should we be concerned that Matthew mentions two blind men and the other accounts only two? John MacArthur explains that people of the time would have known Bartimaeus (emphases mine):

Luke only discusses one of the two, the more prominent one. But never says there was only one. And Mark goes a step further, he only discusses one of the two and he gives us his name. His name is Bartimaeus, son of Timaeus. Now I suppose we could wonder why he bothers to name him. Matthew just wants us to see the majesty of Christ. Luke emphasizes the same, but Mark touches the real human cord by naming this man. And I think it perhaps is because he was well-known. Oh, not then but later. So that when Mark pens the gospel and the letters are written to the church to read about the account of the life of our Lord, when they can sit down and read this, they’ll have there the story of the conversion of one who by now they greatly love. It’s as if Mark is saying, “And you know who one of those guys was? It was none other than your friend, Bartimaeus.” And so he picks up a little of history…of the history of one of the beloved brothers in the church by the time the gospel would be read by some.

It’s not unusual, by the way, for one gospel writer to mention two and the others to focus on one. You’ll find the same thing in the maniac across the Sea of Galilee at Gerasa [Gadarene Swine] where some writers note two and some concentrate on the healing of one.

Something else we need to keep in mind is that two things happened — one before and one after — this miracle took place.

Beforehand, Jesus made a brief trip to Bethany to resurrect Mary and Martha’s brother Lazarus from the dead. John’s Gospel is the only one with that account: John 11:38-44. That took place shortly before His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, which we remember on Palm Sunday. The Greek Orthodox celebrate it as a feast, Lazarus Saturday.

After raising Lazarus from the dead, the Jewish leaders were so incensed that they decided that Jesus must die (John 11:45-53). Meanwhile, people ran hither and yon from Bethany, Lazarus’s town, to spread the word far and wide about his resurrection.

Jesus left Lazarus and his sisters to put time and space between Him and the Jewish leaders. He came to the place where the blind beggars were. MacArthur surmises that word of Lazarus had already reached the people there:

Bethany was the town between Jericho and Jerusalem, just up the hill … They would have known who they were. And, of course, the whole city was in an uproar when He raised him from the dead. And His enemies pursued Him that He had to go back on the other side of the Jordan for a while for safety’s sake. At least He had to retreat away. And so they knew. He had practically banished disease from Palestine and so everybody knew who He was. They were all there.

The second event followed the healing of the blind men. Afterwards, Jesus continued on His way with another stop in Jericho. MacArthur explains the different Jerichos:

… in Jesus’ time, there was the Old Testament Jericho which was ruins. And then a little south of that, right against it really, was the New Testament Jericho that flourished at this time. And it was a beautiful place, still is. It has its own unique beauty.

It was in the New Testament Jericho that the much despised and physically short Zacchaeus encountered Jesus. He could not see Him, so, in order to do so, clambered up a tree. Luke 19:1-9 has the only mention of this man. What a moving account Luke gives us:

19 He entered Jericho and was passing through. And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich. And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small in stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully. And when they saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

I have always loved that story — since I was six years old, in fact. It just shows Jesus’s generous love and merciful way of looking at people. He did not judge, as our fellow men and women do — as those who knew Zacchaeus did. Jesus came to save, not to condemn, if He could help it.

Now onto today’s reading from Matthew. In verse 29, Jesus was passing from old Jericho — remember the walls of Jericho falling down with Rahab‘s help? Matthew 1 lists Rahab — the woman of ill repute — as one of Jesus’s ancestors. Self-righteous churchgoers should recall Matthew 1:5:

and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse,

For this reason, MacArthur says that Jericho:

was also a place that must have literally exploded on the minds of Jesus…on the mind of Jesus with memory because He would no doubt remember a very special woman from that city by the name of Rahab who was a prostitute but who hid the spies, you remember, who came to spy out the land. And as a result in the grace of God she was given a place in Messianic genealogy and you find her listed as an ancestor of the Messiah Himself in Matthew chapter 1.

MacArthur also tells us that Jericho was a warm, fertile place when the surrounding area was wintry. Herod had a home there, where he retreated in cold weather:

It was known as the city of palms. And if you want to understand the geography of the land of Palestine, you’ll be interested to note that it is almost an absolute identical copy of southern California, both in terms of geography and climate. For it has a seacoast, a beautiful gorgeous beach on the Mediterranean. And then there is a lovely valley known as the Sharon Valley. And then the mountains rise up, we know them as the Carmel Mountain Range. And at the southern end is this massive plateau of Jerusalem. And from there descends straight down to the desert. It’s almost a parallel. The only difference would be that where as Los Angeles is in a basin, Jerusalem is on a plateau. But it’s much like our area. From the seacoast it rises to the mountains and then descends to the desert.

And Jericho was a lovely place in the winter, even in the spring. Because the crops all came in early in Jericho. Mark tells us it was not yet fig picking time in Jerusalem, but it would have been in Jericho because of the warmth. There were citrus trees everywhere because, you see, Jericho is endlessly fed by some beautiful springs, one of which I have myself had a drink out of, lovely water, pure and clear and that water was channeled by irrigation all through that area around Jericho so that it flourished. And there were palm trees everywhere and citrus trees and then this balsam bush which had some multiple uses that was growing there. And so it would have been a very lovely place.

Because of Lazarus’s resurrection, a great crowd was following Jesus to Jericho. However, they were not disciples or about to become believers. Matthew Henry reminds us that very few loved our Lord:

This multitude that followed him for loaves, and some for love, some for curiosity, and some in expectation of his temporal reign …

The two blind men could discern that Jesus was about to pass by (verse 30). They sat by the roadside, away from the city gates, which was — and remains — the traditional place for beggars and the infirm to place themselves during the day.

They cried out to him, addressing him as ‘Lord’ and ‘Son of David’. MacArthur tells us:

The word “cry” here is krazo, it means to scream. It’s used in the New Testament of the screechings and screamings of demon possessed people, Mark 5 … And the idea of the form of the text here is there was a constant screaming. I mean, they were yelling at the top of their voice, “Have mercy on us,” a cry of anguish and a cry of desperation, cry of pain. I mean, they know that if Jesus gets out of the hearing of their voices, that they’re doomed to blindness the rest of their life. They know this is the only one who can do this. And the desperation is powerful, the drama. You can imagine the shrieking and screaming of two men who know they’ve got one moment in time or the rest of their life they are to be blind stones. And they scream in almost a frenzy. And they say, “Have mercy on us.”

Of course, the crowd — much like supercilious and self-righteous people today — told them to be quiet (verse 31). The unspoken subtext here is that the Master could not be bothered with the likes of lowly, infirm nothings like them.

Fortunately, the men continued crying out, once again calling ‘Lord’ and ‘Son of David’. Henry explains that the Holy Spirit was working through them:

Surely it was by the Holy Ghost that they called Christ Lord, 1 Corinthians 12:3.

Jesus stopped and called to them, asking what they wanted (verse 32). He knew what they wanted, but Henry gives us this analysis:

Note, It is the will of God that we should in every thing make our requests known to him by prayer and supplication not to inform or move him, but to qualify ourselves for the mercy. The waterman in the boat, who with his hook takes hold of the shore, does not thereby pull the shore to the boat, but the boat to the shore. So in prayer we do not draw the mercy to ourselves, but ourselves to the mercy.

They asked Him to open their eyes (verse 33). It is an interesting use of words which implies not only physical sight but, whether they realised it or not, spiritual sight.

In ‘pity’, in mercy, Jesus touched their eyes (verse 34). They were able to see ‘immediately’. Just as important, and moreso for the sake of their souls, they ‘followed him’ and became disciples.

Therefore, Jesus gave them not only their physical sight but their spiritual sight.

MacArthur says that Jericho attracted many blind people from other regions because the balsam bush that grew so abundantly there was said to have balm beneficial to eyesight. Some people’s eyesight improved when applying it.

There were many blind people in that era. Sand blinded some, resulting in scratched corneas. Others were unable to eat a healthy diet because of poverty. Others were born blind, sometimes because their mothers had gonorrhoea, which was prevalent.

In this case, MacArthur tells us:

Interesting that the Greek verb here is anablepo, blepo, to see, ana, to see again which is to say that perhaps their blindness had occurred in life, not in birth. And so they were made to see again. And I’ve always felt that those who have lost their sight have a greater pain to bear than those who were born blind and do not know what they’ve missed. And so He restores to them their sight again out of compassion, touching and speaking.

Of their becoming disciples, Henry explains:

Note, None follow Christ blindfold. He first by his grace opens men’s eyes, and so draws their hearts after him. They followed Christ, as his disciples, to learn of him, and as his witnesses, eye-witnesses, to bear their testimony to him and to his power and goodness. The best evidence of spiritual illumination is a constant inseparable adherence to Jesus Christ as our Lord and Leader.

We can better understand now why Mark referred to ‘blind Bartimaeus’, who, by then was well known. His must have been a powerful testimony for those alive at the time. It should be equally so for us today.

Jesus went on to Jerusalem immediately afterwards for His triumphal entry, which is where Matthew 21 begins.

Next time: Matthew 21:12-13

Wedding bands ehowcomMy beloved better half and I are celebrating our Silver Wedding Anniversary.

It is amazing that we have shared nearly half our lives together in holy matrimony.

Neither of us has ever been bored in each other’s company.

We also found marriage vows to be very true indeed in stating the future.

That said, adversity has brought us just as close together as have our happiest experiences.

We were best friends before we married and we remain best friends today.

The vows

We specifically requested the 1662 Book of Common Prayer version, which our celebrant was reluctant to say, however, we pressed on and won.

Feel free to read the prayers in full. For now, here are the salient points (emphases mine):

At the day and time appointed for solemnization of Matrimony, the persons to be married shall come into the body of the Church with their friends and neighbours: and there standing together, the Man on the right hand, and the Woman on the left, the Priest shall say,
DEARLY beloved, we are gathered together here in the sight of God, and in the face of this congregation, to join together this Man and this Woman in holy Matrimony; which is an honourable estate, instituted of God in the time of man’s innocency, signifying unto us the mystical union that is betwixt Christ and his Church; which holy estate Christ adorned and beautified with his presence, and first miracle that he wrought, in Cana of Galilee; and is commended of Saint Paul to be honourable among all men: and therefore is not by any to be enterprised, nor taken in hand, unadvisedly, lightly, or wantonly, to satisfy men’s carnal lusts and appetites, like brute beasts that have no understanding; but reverently, discreetly, advisedly, soberly, and in the fear of God; duly considering the causes for which Matrimony was ordained.
      First, It was ordained for the procreation of children, to be brought up in the fear and nurture of the Lord, and to the praise of his holy Name.
      Secondly, It was ordained for a remedy against sin, and to avoid fornication; that such persons as have not the gift of continency might marry, and keep themselves undefiled members of Christ’s body.
      Thirdly, It was ordained for the mutual society, help, and comfort, that the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity. Into which holy estate these two persons present come now to be joined. Therefore if any man can shew any just cause, why they may not lawfully be joined together, let him now speak, or else hereafter for ever hold his peace.

If no impediment be alleged, then shall the Curate say unto the Man,

N. WILT thou have this woman to thy wedded wife, to live together after God’s ordinance in the holy estate of Matrimony? Wilt thou love her, comfort her, honour, and keep her in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all other, keep thee only unto her, so long as ye both shall live?

The Man shall answer, I will.Then shall the Priest say unto the Woman,

N. WILT thou have this man to thy wedded husband, to live together after God’s ordinance in the holy estate of Matrimony? Wilt thou obey him, and serve him, love, honour, and keep him in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all other, keep thee only unto him, so long as ye both shall live?

The Woman shall answer, I will.

Then the Man leaving the Ring upon the fourth finger of the Woman’s left hand, they shall both kneel down; and the Minister shall say,

Let us pray.

O ETERNAL God, Creator and Preserver of all mankind, Giver of all spiritual grace, the Author of everlasting life: Send thy blessing upon these thy servants, this man and this woman, whom we bless in thy Name; that, as Isaac and Rebecca lived faithfully together, so these persons may surely perform and keep the vow and covenant betwixt them made, (whereof this Ring given and received is a token and pledge,) and may ever remain in perfect love and peace together, and live according to thy laws; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Then shall the Priest join their right hands together, and say,

Those whom God hath joined together let no man put asunder.

Then shall the Minister speak unto the people.

FORASMUCH as N. and N. have consented together in holy wedlock, and have witnessed the same before God and this company, and thereto have given and pledged their troth either to other, and have declared the same by giving and receiving of a Ring, and by joining of hands; I pronounce that they be Man and Wife together, In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

And the Minister shall add this Blessing.

GOD the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Ghost, bless, preserve, and keep you; the Lord mercifully with his favour look upon you; and so fill you with all spiritual benediction and grace, that ye may so live together in this life, that in the world to come ye may have life everlasting. Amen.

Life together

One of the things that surprised us most about married life is the sudden rapidity of adverse events, whether those related to our jobs, family or health.

We could be fine one day and plunged into emergency mode the next.

This is why it is important to marry your best friend.

I personally know of a few instances where a husband couldn’t cope with an in-law’s illness or he didn’t want to be a father once his children became teenagers. Divorce ensued.

Marriage is more than hot sex on demand.

It is a solemn contract to be honoured every day and in ways one does not expect, some of which might be quite unpleasant.

‘Sickness’ refers not only to eventualities with husband or wife but also their respective families.

Engaged couples should be aware of that beforehand. Married couples would do well in making sure their children are aware of it.

I am reminded of the words to Fiddler on the Roof‘s ‘L’Chaim’:

One day it’s honey and raisin cake, next day a stomach ache

Regardless:

Drink l’Chaim, to Life!

Sanctity of marriage

One of the terms I heard most frequently during my years at Catholic school was ‘the sanctity of marriage’, which no priest, nun or lay teacher ever explained. Nor did my parents.

It’s a bit difficult hearing that expression as a teenager in full hormonal explosion as you make the rounds of older cousins’ weddings to tall, beautiful blondes. It was hard not to look at them in awe and think, ‘Lucky guy!’

Yet, three of those marriages failed. One cousin, twice affected, never remarried and returned to the Church. The other remarried and has enjoyed two decades of happiness to another beautiful woman.

Couples who have been married for a long time never discuss the nuts and bolts of the sanctity of marriage. It’s time they did. I did not understand the full import until several weeks ago when I read a sermon by John MacArthur. I summarised it in July and included the link to what he had to say in full.

This is what struck me the most:

And then finally, marriage is picture.  It’s picture and what is it picture of?  It is picture of Christ and his what?  Church.  Ephesians 5, it is a graphic demonstration in the face of the world that God loves and has an ongoing unending relationship with the bride whom he loves.  And for whom he lives and dies and I dare say that the whole metaphor of marriage of a symbol of Christ and his church has lost its punch because the church is so rife with divorce and fouled up marriages. 

For those who prefer a secular explanation, he has this:

Some psychologists did a study and came up with a theory that you are what you are because you are adjusting to the most important person in your life.  Whoever the most important person is in your life, that’s the person you are trying to please

Both of those explain the sanctity of marriage on a temporal and a heavenly level.

I wish all my married readers many additional years of happiness together.

I also hope that my single readers pray — and wait — for the man or woman of their dreams who will love and cherish them not only on their wedding day but until death do them part.

J Vernon McGee (1904-1988) was a pastor, author and radio show host.

He received his Bachelors in Theology from Columbia Theological Seminary and went on to earn a Masters and a Doctorate from Dallas Theological Seminary.

He was ordained into the Presbyterian Church in the United States (PCUS), which eventually merged with the United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America to form the present day PCUSA in 1983.

McGee served at four PCUS churches in the southern United States before he and his family moved to Pasadena, California, where he took a position at the Lincoln Avenue Presbyterian Church.

In 1949, he was appointed pastor of the Church of the Open Door in Los Angeles, California. There he became an independent Evangelical pastor.

The church is now in Glendale, California because of earthquake damage to the original building, which had to be razed. The Church of the Open Door is best known for its ‘Jesus Saves’ neon sign which is now on top of the Ace Hotel in Los Angeles.

McGee retired from the Church of the Open Door in 1970. In 1967, he had begun a radio programme called Thru the Bible. After retirement, he continued the broadcasts, which cover every book of the Bible.

He was also a well known public speaker. During that time, McGee was suffering from cancer. That said, his death in 1988 was brought on by a heart problem, thought to have been resolved in 1965.

Today, his ministry continues and broadcasts of Thru the Bible can be heard around the world in more than 100 languages. In North America, over 800 radio stations broadcast it and, elsewhere, one can enjoy the programme via radio, shortwave, and the Thru the Bible ministries website.

Without further ado, let us move on to McGee’s application of Matthew 7:6 in real life.

Here is the verse (ESV):

Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.

Some may find the KJV more familiar:

Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.

Now for McKee’s anecdote. This is helpful for reprobates who have turned their lives around with the help of divine grace and the Holy Spirit. Their problem comes from mockers who remember their past (emphasis mine):

I remember a Tennessee legislator friend of mine who was a heavy drinker. He was wonderfully converted and is a choice servant of God today. The other members of the legislature knew how he drank. Then they heard he “got religion,” as they called it. One day this fellow took his seat in the legislature, and his fellow-members looked him over. Finally, someone rose, addressed the chairman of the meeting and said, “I make a motion that we hear a sermon from Deacon So-and-So.” Everyone laughed. But my friend was equal to the occasion. He got to his feet and said, “I’m sorry, I do not have anything to say. My Lord told me not to cast my pearls before swine.” He sat down, and they never ridiculed him anymore. (McGee, J V: Thru the Bible Commentary:  Nashville: Thomas Nelson)

A good answer to remember should the occasion arise!

Bible evangewomanblogspotcomThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Matthew 20:17-19

Jesus Foretells His Death a Third Time

17 And as Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside, and on the way he said to them, 18 “See, we are going up to Jerusalem. And the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death 19 and deliver him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day.”

——————————————————————————

The two previous accounts in Matthew are are Matthew 16:21-23 and Matthew 17:22-23.

However, Jesus also alluded to His suffering more subtly in Matthew 17:10-13, after the Transfiguration.

The direct parallel verse for today’s reading is Mark 10:32-34, about which I wrote in 2012.

Jesus had now finished His ministry in Perea (Matthew 19:1-Matthew 20:16). He and the Twelve were on their way up to Jerusalem (verse 17). John MacArthur explains the course of His ministry (emphases mine):

It takes us back to Luke 9:51 where the text says, “And He set His face to go to Jerusalem.” He was resolute in that commitment. He had while in the northern area of Galilee, finished His Galilean ministry, crossed the Jordan at a northern point, come to the east of the Jordan known as the Beyond called Peraea and He had been in Peraea coming south down the backside of the Jordan. Chapter 19 in the early part of 20 give us incidents in that ministry. Now He crosses the Jordan again, coming toward Jerusalem. He will go through Jericho. Chapter 20 verse 29 has Him departing from Jericho. So He crosses about Jericho, comes to Jericho and starts the long ascent to Jerusalem. It’s only a matter of days really now until He faces the passion, the death and the resurrection.

And you’ll notice it says, “going up to Jerusalem.” They must have been already in motion that way. Already on the move. And when you go up, you really go up. Jericho is about a thousand feet below sea level, Jerusalem is over 5,000 above and as the crow flies, they’re fifteen miles apart. So that’s a very steep ascent.

Jesus explained what would happen in Jerusalem (verses 18, 19). He would face the chief priests and scribes who would condemn Him to death. As Jews were forbidden from carrying out the sentence under Roman rule, the Gentiles would scourge Him and crucify Him.

Note how Jesus ended by saying that He would ‘be raised’ on the third day. It is a way of saying, ‘Fear not. Although my suffering and death will be such as you have never seen, I will rise again in glory’.

He told them this on the way to Jerusalem out of earshot of others because of the charged atmosphere. Matthew Henry’s commentary has this analysis:

It was not fit to be spoken publicly as yet, 1. Because many that were cool toward him, would hereby have been driven to turn their backs upon him[;] the scandal of the cross would have frightened them from following him any longer. 2. Because many that were hot for him, would hereby be driven to take up arms in his defense, and it might have occasioned an uproar among the people (Matthew 26:5), which would have been laid to his charge, if he had told them of it publicly before: and, besides that such methods are utterly disagreeable to the genius of his kingdom, which is not of this world, he never countenanced any thing which had a tendency to prevent his sufferings.

MacArthur directs us to the aforementioned account in Mark 10:32, which tells us that:

the disciples were–and he uses two words–amazed and afraid. They were amazed and afraid. And the reason for this is because they knew the hostility of the Jerusalem aristocracy. They knew that both the chief priests and the scribes were definitely enemies of Christ. They had enough experience to know that. They had already run into conflict with these people, the Pharisees namely, on several occasions. And they really couldn’t see any point in going right into Jerusalem. They also knew that that’s where the Roman seat was. Maybe they felt that if you’re going to pull off a revolution, it ought to start up in Galilee and become sort of an ascending sort of accumulative grass roots revolution. You don’t just walk a motley group of thirteen people into the city of Jerusalem and take over. And so they were somewhat confused. And I think really, in the negative side, they had…many of them had sort of given up on the Kingdom concept in its immediacy, at least emotionally if not intellectually. And all they could see was we’re going to go right in there and die. In fact, in John 11:16, when Jesus said we’re going to go to Jerusalem or to Bethany which is right in that proximity, Thomas who is called Didymus said, “We’ll all go with You and die, too.” Very pessimistic.

Yet what happened next?

In both Mark’s and Matthew’s accounts the next event was the request for the ‘sons of Zebedee’ — James and John — to sit closest to our Lord in His kingdom!

Mark records that James and John requested this themselves:

35 And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” 36 And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” 37 And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.”

Matthew states that their mother asked on their behalf:

20 Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came up to him with her sons, and kneeling before him she asked him for something. 21 And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.”

It’s amazing. Here Jesus was describing the world-changing events to come in Jerusalem and James and John were preoccupied with sitting closest to Him in the kingdom to come.

It all seems rather arrogant, especially as Jesus admired both of them very much. Henry’s analysis surmises that for them, this followed a certain flawed logic:

It was a great degree of faith, that they were confident of his kingdom, though now he appeared in meanness but a great degree of ignorance, that they still expected a temporal kingdom, with worldly pomp and power, when Christ had so often told them of sufferings and self-denial. In this they expected to be grandees. They ask not for employment in this kingdom, but for honour only and no place would serve them in this imaginary kingdom, but the highest, next to Christ, and above every body else. It is probable that the last word in Christ’s foregoing discourse gave occasion to this request, that the third day he should rise again. They concluded that his resurrection would be his entrance upon his kingdom, and therefore were resolved to put in betimes for the best place nor would they lose it for want of speaking early. What Christ said to comfort them, they thus abused, and were puffed up with. Some cannot bear comforts, but they turn them to a wrong purpose as sweetmeats in a foul stomach produce bile.

As far as the mother is concerned, she might have felt that, because of her relationship to Mary, the request was justified:

The mother of James and John was Salome, as appears by comparing Matthew 27:61; Mark 15:40. Some think she was daughter of Cleophas or Alpheus, and sister or cousin german to Mary the mother of our Lord. She was one of those women that attended Christ, and ministered to him and they thought she had such an interest in him, that he could deny her nothing, and therefore they made her their advocate. Thus when Adonijah had reasonable request to make to Solomon, he put Bathsheba on to speak for him. It was their mother’s weakness thus to become that tool of their ambition, which she should have given a check to. Those that are wise and good, would not be seen in an ill-favoured thing. In gracious requests, we should learn this wisdom, to desire the prayers of those that have an interest at the throne of grace we should beg of our praying friends to pray for us, and reckon it a real kindness.

This request takes us back to the Apostles squabbling over which of them was the greatest (Matthew 18:1-4). Students of the Gospel know that the topic also came up again before the Last Supper!

Going back to this episode, however, Jesus did not answer their mother but answered James and John directly. He warned them that they did not know what they were talking about:

22 Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” They said to him, “We are able.”

They had no idea.

Not surprisingly:

24 And when the ten heard it, they were indignant at the two brothers.

With some justification.

Jesus told them to put away such thoughts and behaviour:

25 But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 26 It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant,[c] 27 and whoever would be first among you must be your slave,[d] 28 even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

It is sad that the Apostles did not enquire about Jesus’s upcoming suffering and death. They could have asked if they could help alleviate it or for advice on what they could do for their Master.

Instead, their minds were full of prideful things. Let us guard against this in our own lives.

Next time: Matthew 20:29-34

Charles Haddon Spurgeon by Alexander Melville.jpgContinuing an occasional series on quotes from the Reformed Baptist preacher, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, today’s post concerns his insights on Matthew 7:6.

Previous entries on Spurgeon’s sayings include ambition, eternity and unity, growing old as well as reconciliation and strained relationships.

Spurgeon would have used the King James Version of Matthew 7:6:

Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.

The ESV has this version:

Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.

Precept Austin has put together a helpful set of commentary and translation on Matthew 7:6. Spurgeon’s thoughts — as well as Charles Simeon’s — are there. I covered Simeon’s on Tuesday of this week. Both agree that there is a time and a place for a certain manner and depth of preaching.

Spurgeon advised (emphases mine):

There are some holy enjoyments, some gracious experiences, some deep doctrines of the Word of God, which it would be out of place to speak of before certain profane and unclean persons. They would only make a jest of them; perhaps they might persecute you on account of them. No; holy things are for holy men; and as of old the crier in the Grecian temple was wont to say, before the mysteries were performed, “Far hence, ye profane!” so sometimes, before we enter into the innermost circle of Christian converse, it would be well for us to notice who is listening.

——————–

Zeal should always be tempered by prudence. There are times when it would be treason to truth to introduce it as a topic of conversation,-when men are in such a frame of mind that they will be sure rather to cavil at it than to believe it. Not only speak thou well, but speak thou at the right time, for silence is sometimes golden. See that thou hast thy measure of golden silence as well as of silver speech.

——————–

When men are evidently unable to perceive the purity of a great truth, do not set it before them. They are like mere dogs, and if you set holy things before them they will be provoked to “turn again and rend you”: holy things are not for the profane. “Without are dogs”: they must not be allowed to enter the holy place. When you are in the midst of the vicious, who are like “swine,” do not bring forth the precious mysteries of the faith, for they will despise them, and “trample them under their feet” in the mire. You are not needlessly to provoke attack upon yourself, or upon the higher truths of the gospel. You are not to judge, but you are not to act without judgement. Count not men to be dogs or swine; but when they avow themselves to be such, or by their conduct act as if they were such, do not put occasions in their way for displaying their evil character. Saints are not to be simpletons; they are not to be judges, but, also, they are not to be fools.

Great King, how much wisdom thy precepts require! I need thee, not only to open my mouth, but also at times to keep it shut.

——————–

It is a pity to talk about some of the secrets of our holy faith in any and every company. It would be almost, profane to speak of them in the company of profane men. We know that they would not understand us; they would find occasion for jest and ridicule, and therefore our own reverence for holy things must cause us to lay a finger on our lips when we are in the presence of profane persons. Do not let us, however, carry out one precept to the exclusion of others. There are dogs that eat of the crumbs that fall from the master’s table. Drop them a crumb. And there are even swine that may yet be learned; to whom the sight of a pearl might give some inkling of a better condition of heart. Cast not the pearls before them, but you may show them to them sometimes when they are in as good a state of mind as they are likely to be in. It is ours to preach the gospel to every creature; that is a precept of Christ, and yet all creatures are not always in the condition to hear the gospel. We must choose our time. Yet even this I would not push too far. We are to preach the gospel in season and out of season.

Oh! that we may be able to follow precepts as far as they are meant to go, and no further.

Spurgeon spoke to such a wide variety of people — not only in a church or at outdoor appearances, but also in small, conversational settings — that he would have been able to discern who could and could not receive Gospel truths and in what measure.

As with Simeon, he is advising us to assess our audience carefully, even among friends and family. It is important that we not open the Christian faith to ridicule or violence. Let us leave alone those who might react against our speech and wait for an opportune time, as God wills it to His divine purpose.

Next week I will feature an application of Matthew 7:6 in conversation. It’s a true story and one to keep in mind.

Monday’s postCharlesSimeon.jpg introduced the 18th and 19th century Anglican Charles Simeon.

Tuesday’s excerpted his commentary and advice on Matthew 7:6 — casting pearls before swine.

Today’s post provides more information about the ministry of this pioneer of Anglican ‘evangelicalism’, often criticised by his congregation and Cambridge University students, among whom he ministered.

In 1979, to mark the bicentenary of Simeon’s conversion at King’s College, Cambridge, the Revd Max Warren — formerly General Secretary of the Church Missionary Society and then a Residentiary Canon of Westminster Abbey — wrote a considered essay of this clergyman. Unfortunately, Warren died before he could read it to a group of Anglicans who were to draw conclusions about the lessons of Simeon’s ministry.

Warren’s great-grandfather knew Simeon. This ancestor wrote a memoir which included two letters Simeon had written to him. Warren’s great-grandmother, the man’s wife, kept a diary. She died in 1836, the same year Simeon left this mortal coil. Therefore, Simeon’s life and times no doubt touched him more personally than most.

The PDF of Warren’s paper is available here. A summary follows with page numbers cited.

We can learn much from the way Simeon ministered to people, not only in Cambridge but also around England.

Worldview

Charles Simeon’s worldview was shaped in part by the French Revolution. He was ordained by the time it took place between 1789 and 1795. He was concerned about possible similar threats to Britain, namely the establishment, including the established Church of England.

He was also a lifelong conservative in his thinking.

He would have been aware that, when he was converted in 1779, that 7,358 out of 11,194 Anglican parishes in England had no clergyman (p. 1).

The nature of conversion

For Simeon, conversion was connected with commitment.

He insisted that that commitment increase over time, particularly for himself but also for others.

He deeply believed that no one could truly be regemerated unless he were experiencing ‘brokenness of heart’ brought about by the profound realisation — ‘self-loathing and abhorrence’ — of one’s own wretched sinful nature.

Only then could the sorrowful — and repentant — convert begin to appreciate the work of sanctifying grace from the most holy God (p. 9).

Personal life

As I wrote on Monday, Simeon never married.

As he was ostracised for his enthusiastic, evangelical views and preaching, he was a lonely man for many years.

However, this solitude also made him more aware of what clergy faced when they were opposed. This is why he held ‘conversation parties’ with Cambridge students studying for ordination. He wanted them to know what and how to preach when. He also impressed upon these young men that the Bible was both an ‘establishing’ and a ‘converting’ book. Furthermore, they had to practise what they preached. They also had to understand that they were not doing the regenerative work upon their congregation, it was the Holy Spirit. (p. 5)

Even those who ended up not being ordained and who were assigned to far reaches of the British Empire benefited from Simeon’s advice on how to communicate with people. (p. 8)

Solitude also gave him the idea of including clergy wives in lectures for their husbands. (p. 6) The more they knew and understood their husbands’ work, the better they could discuss it with them and support them emotionally.

Holy Trinity Church, Cambridge

Simeon was the vicar of Holy Trinity Church in Cambridge for 54 years. That was his one and only assignment.

His outlook on ministry was to maintain a balance between being a pastor and an evangelist. He also held to Martin Luther’s dictum of knowing nothing but Jesus Christ and Him crucified. (p. 3)

Holy Trinity — then and now — was a congregation of students but also townspeople who will speak their minds about church. It was also — even in Warren’s time as its vicar — the largest in the Diocese of Ely. (p. 3)

In church

Holy Trinity might not have liked Simeon’s sermons and, when they weren’t angry with him, tune them out but they could not easily tune out the way he delivered the liturgy. He actually prayed — not read — the prayers from the Book of Common Prayer. This was new. Most clergy muttered the prayers.

Warren wrote that it was the actual praying of the liturgy which eventually won over his cantankerous and, sometimes violent, congregation. (p. 3)

Outside of church

Simeon also started informal groups, hosting them outside of church. He sometimes hired a room in another parish to accommodate them.

He did this so he could get to know his congregation and also so that they would not see him as being ‘ten feet above contradiction’.

He was also careful to assemble a group of 12 stewards who would manage the parish’s finances and assess the need for charity and relief.

He was a pioneer in involving laity. His Visiting Society volunteers paid visits on poorer townspeople, giving them spiritual instruction as well as food to eat.

He, too, was known for his visits to ill and dying parishoners.

He took the food donation idea further during the bread famine of 1788 and 1789, when he contributed a subscription so that bread could be fairly distributed to the poor in villages around Cambridge. He was known for making his rounds on horseback and stopping in at village bakeries. (p. 4)

Travel in England

Simeon made it his mission to travel to towns and cities around England to spread the Gospel.

If he was rejected by his own congregation, the rest of the country received him warmly. Remember that he had to get around by horse and carriage on long, bumpy rides. There was no railway network in place.

In 1798, he recorded that he gave 75 addresses between May 18 and August 19. He spoke to a total of 87,310 people.

The only other evangelist likely to have spoken to more on a tour was Dwight L Moody — 75 years later. (p. 11)

Overseas influence

Simeon was very concerned about the growth of the Anglican church in the Empire.

His missionary initiatives helped to expand the Church in India, New Zealand and Australia.

Conclusion

Charles Simeon was a man who bucked the trend in style and substance. Although discouraged and lonely, he pressed on with the Lord’s work. He encouraged seminarians and young clergymen to do so, too.

He pioneered the way for an evangelical strand in the Anglican Church. It still exists, but less so.

Perhaps it is time for Anglican clergy and seminaries to stop worrying about social justice and put more effort into winning souls for Christ and the life beyond.

CharlesSimeon.jpgYesterday’s post gave a potted biography of one of the first Anglican evangelicals, Charles Simeon (1759-1836).

(Image credit: Wikipedia)

It is useful in order to glean a better understanding of what he says of Matthew 7:6 (ESV):

“Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.

This is the King James Version:

Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.

Charles Simeon had a very difficult time as vicar of Holy Trinity Church, Cambridge. The congregation and students actively rejected and persecuted his piety and preaching for 12 years. Even after more than 50 years there, he still received a measure of opposition from the townspeople and some at the university. Yet, he died among faithful friends and left a deep spiritual legacy. His Simeon Trust is still active today.

As Simeon had such an awful time as vicar, he was careful to preach according to his audience. His essay, ‘Caution to Be Used in Reproving’ is on the second half of a very helpful page of insights on Matthew 7:6 at the Precept Austin site.

Although excerpts and a summary of Simeon’s essay follow, please take the time to read it in full. Emphases in bold are in the original; those in purple are mine.

The second half of the introduction discusses judging others rightly, considering their state of mind, and ensuring we do so with a pure heart:

To judge others uncharitably will expose us to similar treatment from them, as well as to the displeasure of Almighty God. Before we presume to judge others at all, we ought to be diligent in searching out and amending our own faults; without which we are but ill qualified to reprove the faults of others. We ought also to consider the state of the person whom we undertake to reprove: for if he be hardened in his wickedness, and disposed to resent our well-meant endeavours, it will be more prudent to let him alone, and to wait for some season when we may speak to him with a better prospect of success. Such is the import of the caution in our text; from whence we may observe,

I. That religious instruction is often most unworthily received—

The value of religious instruction is but little known—

[… A richly-furnished mind, a cultivated taste, a polished manner, are distinctions which the richer part of the community particularly affect: and they are most envied who possess in the highest measure such accomplishments. But divine knowledge is considered as of little worth: though it would enrich the soul beyond all conception, and adorn it with all the most amiable graces, and is therefore most fully characterized by the name of “pearls,” yet has it no beauty, no excellency, in the eyes of carnal men: the generality are as insensible of its value as swine are of the value of pearls, which they would “trample under their feet” as mire and dirt …]

Many, instead of being pleased, are only irritated and offended at it—

[Nothing under heaven has ever given more offence than this. Men may utter lewdness and blasphemy, and create but little disgust: but let them bear their testimony against sin, or proclaim the unsearchable riches of Christ, and instantly an indignation is excited in every bosom. In the house of God indeed a certain licence is allowed, provided the preacher be not too faithful: but in a private company the mention of such things is considered as a death-blow to social comfort, and is reprobated as an insufferable nuisance. Even in the public ministry those who “labour with fidelity in the word and doctrine” are not unfrequently treated with every species of indignity. No name is too odious for them to bear, no opposition too violent to be raised against them …

The essay goes on to explore various examples from the Bible, especially involving our Lord and later St Paul who suffered from rejection of their teachings, concluding:

there ever have been multitudes who would take offence at the kindest efforts for their welfare, and, like ferocious “dogs, would turn again and rend you.” Reprove iniquity, and you will still be deemed “the troublers of Israel;” and those who are reproved will say of you, “I hate Micaiah, for he doth not speak good of me, but evil.”]

From this aversion which men feel to religious instruction, it appears,

II. That great caution is to be used in administering it—

The direction in our text was given to the whole multitude of those who heard our Lord’s discourse; and therefore may be considered as applicable,

1. To ministers—

[Though it is not to be confined to them, it does not exclude them. Doubtless where numbers of persons are assembled to hear the word of God, it is not possible to suit oneself to the disposition and taste of every individual … He should consider the state of his hearers, and should adapt his discourses to their necessities … we should be content to give “milk to babes,” and to reserve the “strong meat” for such as are able to digest it … we should “search out acceptable words,” and be especially careful to “speak the truth in love.” Our great object should be not to “deliver our own souls,” (though doubtless we must be careful to do that,) but principally to “win the souls” of others.]

2. To Christians in general—

[… in endeavouring to instruct others, we should consider the tune, the manner, the measure of instruction, that will be most likely to ensure success. In particular, we should not press matters when our exhortations are contemned as foolish, or resented as injurious. Not that our concern should be about ourselves, as though we feared either the contempt of men, or their resentment; but we should be afraid of hardening them, and thereby increasing their guilt and condemnation … If, indeed, after all our labour, we find that our efforts are only rejected by them with disdain, we may then with propriety leave them to themselves, and, like the Apostles, bestow our attention on more hopeful subjects. As the priests imparted of the holy food to every member of their families, but gave none of it to dogs, so may you give your holy things to others, and withhold it from those who have shewn themselves so unworthy of it.]

We will now apply the subject,

1. To those who are strangers to the truth—

[From the indifference which is usually shewn to divine things, it is evident that the value of religious knowledge is but little known. If we could inform persons how to restore their health, or how to recover an estate, or how to obtain any great temporal benefit, they would hear us gladly, and follow our advice with thankfulness; but when we speak of spiritual benefits, they have no ears to hear, no hearts to understand: they are ready to say to us, as the demoniac to Christ, “Art thou come to torment us before our time?” …]

2. To those who know it—

[Whilst we exhort you to be cautious in admonishing others, we would caution you also against being soon discouraged. Think not every one assimilated to dogs or swine because he resists the truth for a season; … if God peradventure will give them repentance, and that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, by whom they have been led captive at his will.”

And whilst you take upon you to admonish others, be willing to receive admonition also yourselves … Watch over your own spirit, therefore, and exemplify in yourselves the conduct you require in others.]

This is such a great essay with so much truth. Although Simeon intended it for clergy and seminarians, Christian bloggers can also glean much wisdom from it.

Tomorrow: more on Charles Simeon

CharlesSimeon.jpgYesterday’s post concerned separating the sacred from the secular in light of Matthew 7:6, casting pearls before swine.

Tomorrow’s post will look at Charles Simeon’s exposition of that verse.

(Image credit: Wikipedia)

However, it will have more meaning if we find out who this English clergyman was.

Simeon was born in 1759 into an aristocratic family in Reading, Berkshire, in the Home Counties. At that time, London was probably several hours away by carriage. Today, it takes under an hour to reach Reading by train.

The Simeons were Anglicans but of the modernised Church of England in the decades that followed the non-violent Glorious Revolution of 1688. Clergy were no longer firebrands, perhaps necessary to avoid the impression that they wanted to continue religious persecution that had reigned in previous centuries. Moderation was the order of the day in pulpit preaching and spiritual guidance.

Simeon went to Eton, not far from Reading. In his spare time, he absorbed himself in sport, horses and fashion, typical for a young man of means.

In 1779, he went up to Cambridge to study at King’s College. As was the rule in nearly all the established denominations, receiving Communion was mandatory on Easter Day in order for churchgoers to remain in good standing. Cambridge and Oxford stipulated that students — all men at that time — had to receive Communion at least three times before they were able to graduate. Easter Sunday was likewise mandatory. We can see that Communion was still an infrequent practice, not as it is today.

When Simeon arrived at King’s College in January, he was told he would have to receive Communion within three weeks’ time. Most students of that era did not care. They went and received the Sacrament as if it were fulfilling a requirement, not as a means of grace.

Simeon, on the other hand, felt he had to prepare for receiving the Sacrament. He considered himself unfit:

Satan himself was as fit to attend [the sacrament] as I.

And:

Without a moment’s loss of time, I bought the old Whole Duty of Man, (the only religious book that I had ever heard of) and began to read it with great diligence; at the same time calling my ways to remembrance, and crying to God for mercy; and so earnest was I in these exercises, that within the three weeks I made myself quite ill with reading, fasting, and prayer…

After that Communion service, Simeon still felt unfit to receive the Sacrament and set about preparing for Easter Sunday. He read more books in tandem with studying the Bible. By the middle of Holy Week, divine grace and the Holy Spirit enabled him to understand Christ’s propitiatory sacrifice and the need for repentance. An insatiable hope welled up in him. He devoted four hours daily to prayer, rising at 4 a.m. to meet this commitment.

This was highly unusual in Anglicans of the time. Members and clergy of the Church of England were suspicious of the enthusiasm of the Wesley brothers’ missions, which led to the subsequent formation of the Methodist Church, and the Great Awakening which peaked in 1740. Even before Simeon went up to Cambridge, one professor complained of:

certain Enthusiasts in that Society, who talked of regeneration, inspiration, and drawing nigh unto God.

Simeon decided to read Theology at King’s College. He was made a fellow of College and was ordained in 1782, aged 23. Meanwhile, his brothers, John and Edward, entered law (later politics) and finance, respectively.

Charles Simeon was an early ‘evangelical’ low church Anglican clergyman. It is important to be aware of the fact that he was not an independent Evangelical in the way we understand the term today. He was still part of the Church of England. In our time, N T Wright is another clergyman who fits the same description. He is not an independent Evangelical but an Anglican.

Simeon was assigned to Holy Trinity Church in Cambridge. His enthusiasm soon put him at odds with his churchwardens and church members. They had wanted another priest — their assistant curate Mr Hammond — and made that abundantly clear from the moment he arrived.

The congregation bristled at Simeon’s evangelical preaching. Some stopped attending Holy Trinity, leaving the church half empty on Sundays, alarming at the time. Simeon tendered his resignation to the Bishop of Peterborough, but he refused it.

The churchwardens tried desperately to stop Simeon. Simeon’s struggle continued for 12 years. The churchwardens and trustees locked the church to which he had no key. Once he had a key, they locked the box pews, so that anyone attending had to stand. Simeon rented chairs, but they were removed. Other men were brought in to give Sunday afternoon lectures, without Simeon’s permission. College students attended services only to attack him verbally when he was preaching. Some threw bricks through the church windows when he was preaching. On the streets of Cambridge, they harassed him with false rumours about his reputation.

The Simeon Trust site explains the situation:

like most church congregations at the time, they wanted a preacher who would entertain, instead of one who issued serious exhortations to repent and believe, as Simeon did.

Church at this time was a little different than today: the job of priest/curate/rector was often a patronage position, given as a political or social favor, and the churchwardens or vestry really controlled the church.

One day, a student from Clare College walked with Simeon for a quarter of an hour, which surprised him such that he recorded it in his journal.

Simeon carved a Gospel verse into the pulpit. It was visible only to him and subsequent preachers:

the words a group of Greeks spoke to Philip when he and the other disciples were with Christ in Jerusalem before His death:”Sir, we would see Jesus.” (John 12:21)

Amazingly, even though his time at Holy Trinity was dogged by trials, he stayed on for over 50 years.

Eventually, he began to gather his flock by persevering in his work. Those attending his services were not only members of his congregation but also students. He also introduced a Sunday evening service, unheard of at the time.

He also attracted Theology students, future pastors, by giving classes in constructing good sermons. He felt encouraged to do this once he read An Essay on the Composition of a Sermon by the French Reformed minister Jean Claude. His methods were the same as Claude’s.

Through those classes — ‘conversation parties’ — which he held at his home on Friday and Sunday evenings, a group of evangelical young men began to grow. They were known as ‘Simeonites’, or ‘Sims’.

By the time Simeon died, one-third of Anglican clergy active at the time, had studied under him.

Even then, Simeon still faced opposition. When he was 71 and someone asked how he persevered, he said:

My dear brother, we must not mind a little suffering for Christ’s sake. When I am getting through a hedge, if my head and shoulders are safely through, I can bear the pricking of my legs. Let us rejoice in the remembrance that our holy Head has surmounted all His suffering and triumphed over death. Let us follow Him patiently; we shall soon be partakers of His victory.

He preached his last sermon two weeks before his death on November 1836, aged 77. He never married. He had a brief, final conversation with friends at his bedside:

… he said, “Do you know the text that greatly comforts me just now?” Friends asked him which. He replied, “I find infinite consolation in the fact that in the beginning God created the heaven and the earth!” That surprised them until he explained, “Why, if, out of nothing God can bring all the wonder of the world, He may yet make something out of me!”

After he died, half of Cambridge University paid their respects to him.

Simeon left a considerable spiritual legacy. Would that we had one today in the Church of England.

He published the lessons from his ‘conversation parties’ and sermon outlines as Horae Homileticae to help future pastors with their preaching.

In 1827, a devout ‘Sim’, William Leeke, and his fellow students from Queen’s College established a Sunday School in Jesus Lane for the children living in the vicinity. On its first Sunday, 220 children showed up.

Another Sim, Henry Martyn, became a well known missionary and Bible translator.

Simeon helped to appoint evangelical chaplains to India, even when the East India Company forbade them.

In 1817, he received an inheritance with which he immediately created the Simeon Trust — which still exists today — which helps to purchase the right to appoint the priest-in-charge of certain Anglican parishes. St Peter’s in Colchester, Essex, is one of them. This was to do away with the patronage system:

Simeon realized that, while there was no shortage of solid Evangelical priests, the patronage system of parish appointments not only made it difficult for Evangelicals to secure parish appointments, but meant that continuity was not guaranteed: a congregation with a good preacher that left would not necessarily receive a good replacement.

Simeon helped to found the Church Missionary Society in 1799 and the London Society for Promoting Christianity Amongst the Jews (now known as the Church’s Ministry Among Jewish People or CMJ) in 1809.

Today, despite the opposition to Simeon when he was vicar there, Holy Trinity Church in Cambridge continues to be a beacon for Anglican evangelicalism.

The Simeon Trust no longer appears to be active in Britain. It is mainly in the United States these days with different locations overseas. It offers workshops throughout the year, which are hosted by Protestant churches of various denominations.

Tomorrow: Charles Simeon’s exposition of Matthew 7:6

R Scott ClarkReformed minister and professor Dr R Scott Clark of Westminster Seminary California is the author of several books on the Reformed Confessions. He also writes the ever-helpful Heidelblog.

On July 26, Dr Clark wrote ‘Between Pearls and Privatization’, a post about the confusion between making everything secular or everything sacred. Those who like to do the latter are known as transformationalists. Hence, we read or hear of ‘Christian math’ or ‘Christian plumbing’.

Of this, he rightly points out:

Instead of “Christian plumbing,” why not exhort Christians to fulfill their daily vocation to the glory of God and the well being of their neighbor. This would save us endless, and as far as I can tell, fruitless wrangling about exactly what is distinctively Christian about “Christian math” or “Christian plumbing.”

Clark appeals for a return to the 16th century perspective in such matters, as supported by John Calvin and the Belgic Confession (Article 35, in this case):

Over against transformationalism, I am arguing that we need to recover the older Reformed conviction that there is a distinction between the sacred and the secular. Calvin used these categories without embarrassment. The common is not “neutral” and the secular is not dirty. We recognize this very distinction every time we administer holy communion. Reformed liturgical forms regularly speak about setting about common (secular) bread for a sacred use.

Ultimately, neither the secularist nor the transformationalist is correct. Not everything is worldly. Not everything is holy. Clark explains (emphases mine):

Our English word secular comes from the Latin saeculum which stands for “world.” We might distinguish between secular and secularist. It is one thing to recognize a distinction between a good secular vocation (e.g., plumbing) and a sacred ecclesiastical vocation to pastoral ministry. A secularist, however, seems to want to insist that we live in a closed universe and that nothing is sacred. The transformationalist seems to want to make everything sacred and the secularist seems to want to deny the sacred universally but the historic Christian position is distinct from both.

Our Lord instructed us not to cast our pearls before swine (Matt 7:6). He was invoking the Mosaic (Old Covenant) restrictions against pork, which made pigs ceremonially or ritually unclean. Whatever else this teaching means to it certainly means that there are times when Christian truth is to be withheld from those who are metaphorically pigs or dogs. There are times when it is not appropriate to speak the truth of the kingdom. In his comment on this passage Calvin exhorted his readers strongly not to use this verse as a justification not to preach the gospel to sinners. He urged his readers to preach the gospel indiscriminately but to recognize that there are times and places in which it is wise to hold our counsel.

In other words, do what is appropriate in the situation, time and place.

A Heidelblog reader responded with a cut and paste of Precept Austin’s collection of commentary on Matthew 7:6, well worth reading for all clergy, Christian bloggers and those who lead groups or classes in churches.

Through that page I was introduced to an Anglican preacher with whom I was unfamiliar: Charles Simeon. More on him tomorrow and on Tuesday, pearls of his wisdom on what Matthew 7:6 means.

Tomorrow: Who was Charles Simeon?

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