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My Mom has found some excellent reading material for children (and their parents) to celebrate the upcoming Easter holiday. She’s written helpful reviews of 3 great books written with children in mind. I’m happy to re-post this review on my blog.

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Dear friends, are you looking for some good books to read with children during the Easter season? If so, I recommend the these three books.


Long, Long Ago in Jerusalem:
The Life and Resurrection of Jesus

This biblical story told by Carine MacKenzie begins Long, Long Ago in Jerusalemwith the crowds welcoming Jesus into Jerusalem the week before his crucifixion. There is a separate page of text and illustration for each event. The story concludes with the ascension of Jesus and the promise that, just as Jesus was taken up to heaven, he would return some day.

 

The book is suitable for use by someone retelling the story in their own words and using the book for illustrations. The text in the book is referenced to the biblical passages, which are reprinted in this 48 page book. The story is told simply without added detail and the illustrations are very well done. It is recommended for 5 – 6 years olds as “read to me” and for 7 and older for “read myself.” Published by Christian Focus Publications; http://www.christianfocus.com


He is Alive

Beautifully illustrated with large, colorful pictures, 51NTjqtShxL[1]this retelling of the Easter story begins with Jesus’ raising Lazarus from the dead. It does this to introduce those who would plot to kill Jesus. The next scene is of the joyous crowds praising Jesus and waving palm branches. Each scene has it’s own page, illustration, and title.

 

There is more descriptive text in this book than in Long, Long Ago, but it is a faithful retelling, though without scripture references. Recommended for ages 4 and older. Written by Helen Haidle, Zonderkidz, 40 pages.

 

Journey to the Cross:
The Complete Easter Story for Young Readers

This book features all the events of the last week of Jesus’ life Journey-to-the-Cross-The-Complete-Easter-Story-for-Young-Readers[1]and resurrection in chronological order. It is broken down into short chapters of about two pages each, concluding with Pentecost. Each chapter contains one or more illustrations plus helpful definitions and explanations of key theme and historical information referenced in the chapter, questions for discussion, a Scripture memory verse, and personal application. There is also a dictionary at the end of the book. Scripture is referenced throughout the book.

 

This is an excellent book for helping younger elementary children understand Easter, would be suitable for second graders to read on their own, and is worth the read for adults. While all three books are written for children, Journey to the Cross is interesting for anyone! Written by Helen Haidle, Zonderkidz, 256 pages.

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ge-truth.jpg“Heretics are rarely excommunicated these days. Instead, they go on book tours.”

 

That is an excerpt from Mohler’s latest blog dealing with Bishop John Shelby Spong. Spong has recently flown to Australia only to be denied access to the pulpits under the authority of Archbishop Peter Jensen, who oversees the Sydney diocese! Sadly, Australia’s Anglican Primate Phillip Aspinall of Brisbane has invited him to speak two sermons in Brisbane’s St John’s Cathedral.

 

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Spong and his venom-laced bile, go here, here, and here. I encourage you to read through a few of the articles you may find. In my opinion, Spong is one of the first architects of many of the foundational rhetorical tricks one finds in emerging circles. He manages to question central Christian doctrines by means of ad hominum attacks on Sola Scriptura, Sola Christo “conservative” Christians (such as myself) who have allegedly ruined Christianity.

Nowadays, Rob “discovering the Bible as a human product” Bell, N.T. “the ultimate enemy, death itself” Wright, and Brian “disagreeing agreeably (about sin)” Mclaren have managed to position themselves much more successfully within Evangelical circles, while making similar and, perhaps, more subtle distortions of Scripture. These men often take the clearest possible statements from the Bible and convolute them, all the while making you feel guilty because it seemed pretty simple to you when you first read it.

It’s not that all Scripture can be understood simplistically; it’s that the basic truths of Scripture are clear merely by reading it and understanding it within its own context. You don’t have to have to be a scholar of Jewish culture, church history, or postmodernism in order to know the most important things in this life: you just need to see, “that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence.” (2 Peter 1:3) If you want to learn that, be a humble student of the Word of God.

Deal bountifully with Your servant, that I may live and keep Your word.
Open my eyes, that I may behold wonderful things from Your law.
I am a stranger in the earth; do not hide Your commandments from me.
My soul is crushed with longing after Your ordinances at all times.
You rebuke the arrogant, the cursed, who wander from Your commandments.
Take away reproach and contempt from me, for I observe Your testimonies.
Even though princes sit and talk against me, Your servant meditates on Your statutes.
Your testimonies also are my delight; they are my counselors.

Psalm 119:17-24

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Words for the Sufferer

Jesus, the Good ShephardIn America, we seldom struggle as much the apostle Paul or anyone else in the New Testament. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t struggles for the believer in America. After all, we are not commanded to live in any geographical area, but rather to honor God regardless of our environment. It is the intensity of this relationship with God that will bring about our suffering in any circumstance.

Additionally, the trials of a believer are not exclusive to his or her interaction with the outside, unbelieving world. It seems Paul is more concerned with solving problems within the church than offense it experiences from the outside world. Paul himself wrote of the abandonment he experienced from people whom he thought of as his spiritual family:

“…for Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world, and has departed for Thessolonica – Crescens for Galatia, Titus for Dalmatia. Only Luke is with me.”

“…Alexander the coppersmith did me much harm.”

“…At my first defense no one stood with me, but all forsook me.” (NKJV)
2 Timothy 4:9-16

Confronted with abandonment from many of his supposed spiritual allies, did Paul press on alone? It would seem to be the burden of the Christian to be in that position from time to time doesn’t it? Paul corrects our view of such matters:

But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me, so that the message might fully be preached through me, and that all the Gentiles might hear. Also I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion. And the Lord will deliver me from every evil work and preserve me for his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen! 2 Timothy 4:17-18

Paul would not have us believe he was the only one whom God would preserve in such a way. In Romans 8, he emphatically proclaims,

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written: For your sake we are killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

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What’s interesting to me in those passages is that Paul specifically names Christ as the member of the trinity who ministers to us amidst tribulation. Were I left to my own logic, I’d think the Holy Spirit, who indwells us and seals us for everlasting salvation, would be the one who lovingly stands with us. But I’ve forgotten that Christ is our high priest (Hebrews 4:14), who “was in all points tempted as we are, yet was without sin.” The writer of Hebrews goes on to say,

Therefore he is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. (7:25)

Over and over again in the NT, we see that our companion, our constant source of sympathy, our ultimate provider of salvation, is Christ. He is actively involved in our lives amidst suffering. I hasten to say that every moment we doubt God’s provision in hard times is a moment in which we shame our Savior.

Blessed by the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ. 2 Corinthians 1:3-5

If you are in a trial, or you sense one is on the horizon, though you may not see him, feel him, or hear him, recognize that Jesus stands with you, strengthens you, makes intercession for you, and consoles you. Through him you will overcome.

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The Concert of Prayer

481px-sassoferrato_-_jungfrun_i_bon.jpgEvery first Sunday of the month, my church gathers in the evening for the “Concert of Prayer”. Instead of a sermon we all cluster together in 4-5 groups of 12 to pray for the various needs and praises we have. Topics include organizations and missionaries we support, government leaders, needs within the local church… and just about anything else you care to share in the group you’re in.

A couple months ago, our pastor lamented how few people in our church show up for the Concert of Prayer. He said the only reason people most people didn’t have time for it was because they didn’t make time for it. He said that principle of having time by making time applied to many things we put off in order to do something else.

This message was a kick in the pants for me. Time and time again, I have filled out my availability sheet at work in such a way that virtually guaranteed my working until 7pm on Sundays (the evening service starts at 6). If I had a girlfriend who wanted to hang out at 6 on Sunday evenings, you can be sure I wouldn’t have used that availability agreement as an excuse. I’d just change it.

So I did, a few weeks ago.

Although I’ve been to the Concert of Prayer before, the one we had tonight was the most powerful one I’ve ever attended. There are a few reasons for this:

1) It was the first time I specifically made time to do it, not just because I had the day off.

2) The Lord has done a lot to prepare my heart for it in the last few days.

3) I was exceedingly blessed not only by the chance to express my heart to God, but to hear the impassioned prayers of other pray-ers from my church.

Without a doubt, praying in a group like that is a stretch for me. Getting into a group of people who are mostly older than you, knowing you’re going to prayer for 20-25 minutes (I’m estimating) may seem relatively safe, but the expectation leading up to it feels a lot like getting ready to jump off the diving board for the first time. But I realized that it wasn’t just another “spiritual discipline” I had to prepare for. Right before we started, I remembered that prayer is God’s gift for us to express ourselves to Him, and that being anxious about praying is an absurd emotional state. So I just cooled my jets a bit.

Honestly, I don’t have the same grip on church needs that most of the older members of the church have. So, instead of trying to sound like I had a deep-seated prayer life for the hurting and needing members of the church (I don’t, I confess), I simply started by asking God that, for everything we pray for, we are thankful he answers our prayers according to his sovereign will…and that since he’s a loving and just God, we can fully trust him.

Now, at this point, I have to say, I usually expect people to pray opposite what I pray for. That is, if I point out one aspect of Christian thought, I expect the next pray-er to counterbalance my prayers. It goes like this,

Prayer 1: “Father, thank you so much that you have given us brothers and sisters with whom we can have fellowship. It is a blessing to be able to gather together freely in a country where we are not persecuted.”

Prayer 2 (The Counterbalance): “And Lord, should we lose that freedom one day, we ask that you keep us faithful, since we know we should expect persecution from the world when we truly exalt you above all else.”

I don’t like it at all when that happens to me, because I feel like my prayers need no counterbalance. Isn’t it a subtle way of correcting someone for not having a theologically complete prayer? But much to my surprise, all the rest of the people praying actually went further in their focus and reliance on God’s sovereign will. I felt like the little push I made to focus on that in the beginning was given more and more momentum. It was such an encouraging moment to listen to godly men and women who passionately and (much more) lovingly (than I) petitioned God according to his all-knowing, all-powerful will.

When you go to a church for a while, you start to develop ideas about the spiritual lives of those around you…at least that’s true for me. And, rightly or wrongly, you begin to imagine some people to be quite a bit more God-focused than others. Needless to say, your prejudices may be correct from time to time, but quite often they are mistaken. As I listened to the prayers of the others in my group, I was unexpectedly blessed by someone I had made wrong assumptions about. This was good because it helped me realize that a) I’m too cynical about many strong Christians and b) there are people who love me much more than I know or am willing to notice.

I was humbled especially by a man who probably ended up praying for my father’s salvation for a good 2 minutes in the course of his requests to God. It felt really awkward to hear someone else express such a profound desire for the salvation of someone they don’t know, but in a way more passionate and deliberate than my own prayers for him. No condescension, no speculation or undue expectation; but simply a sincere, well-intentioned, Christ-like plea for someone to know Him who does not at this point, someone who is most dear to my heart.

There is more I could say, but, for the sake of brevity, I will end here. I want to encourage you in 2 ways, though: 1) make time for your church’s non-Sunday-morning events and times of fellowship, and 2) engage regularly in focused, intentional prayer with other brothers and sisters in your church. God will bless you, and he himself is always blessed by our reliance on him.

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Mohler

I’m regularly refreshed by Dr. Al Mohler’s blog… and today was no exception. His post deals with the question “What would Luther do?” regarding the issue of homosexuality today. The author he cites, Mary Zeiss Stange, makes the claim

“But would the man whose break from Roman Catholicism involved a revolutionary rethinking of the role of sexuality in human relationships take such a negative view of homosexuality today? Most probably, given the way his theological mind worked, he would not.”

I love how Mohler addresses Stange’s claim in this article. I also appreciated reading this little nugget from Luther,

“Is it not certain that he who does not or will not believe one article correctly (after he has been taught and admonished) does not believe any sincerely and with the right faith? And whoever is so bold that he ventures to accuse God of fraud and deception in a single word and does so willfully again and again after he has been warned and instructed once or twice will likewise certainly venture to accuse God of fraud and deception in all of His words. Therefore it is true, absolutely and without exception, that everything is believed or nothing is believed. The Holy Spirit does not suffer Himself to be separated and divided so that He should teach and cause to be believed one doctrine rightly and another falsely.”

Here’s why this quote matters to me:

Mohler’s article is dealing with a non-Christian professor who has decided that Luther would adapt with the times. But there are people who make a very strong claim to be devout Christians who say the same thing (especially in the Emergent crowd)! I was in a discussion last week with someone who very much seems to be a Christian who made the exact same argument about Paul and Luther that Professor Stange makes,

“Like his role model Paul, Luther was a product of the social prejudices of his time and culture…”

Thus, when our culture has “evolved” to a higher level, our interpretation of God’s word must reflect this evolution. Ultimately, though, such a mentality adds nothing to an accurate interpretation of God’s word. For if the text we affirm to be God’s word cannot speak clearly against mere social prejudice in Paul’s time, who are we to make it into a document that does so in our era?

On the contrary, in Paul’s day, just as in ours, there were people who believed the Bible to be God’s word (both orthodox Jews and Jewish believers in Jesus) who avoided homosexuality since it is directly against God’s command, and men who, like Nero, “burned in their desire toward one another” (Rom 1:27). Paul is not merely encouraging people to live godly lives, while slightly biased in a certain way based on his culture; rather he is speaking authoritatively and precisely as he isolates homosexuality as a sin (Romans 1:24-27; 1 Cor. 6:9-10; Titus 1:8-11).

All that to say, I encourage you to read Mohler’s post.

“I see there is danger of my being drawn into transgression by the power of such temptations, as the fear of seeming uncivil, and of offending friends. Watch against it. — I might still help myself, and yet not hurt myself, by going, with greater expedition, from one thing to another, without being quite so nice.”

~Jonathan Edwards

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The Past Week

A while ago, I remember hearing the phrase, “If the devil can’t make you sin, he’ll make you busy.” Were it not for my acute awareness of my own sin, I’d say that phrase has applied to me as of late. From what I know from Scripture and my own heart, I would say it this way: When you pursue God regularly, seeking him above all else, he will use you more than you expect.

This last week, I taught the Bible each day from Sunday through Friday. In case you’ve wondered why I haven’t posted lately, that’s the main reason. All my focus has been on creating interesting lessons on rather large portions of Scripture (anywhere between 2 and 7 verses) which last between 30 and 40 minutes. It was grueling, to say the least.

The first lesson was on the “College Question”, for my JH/HS group. I did my best to make my presentation palatable for the incoming 7th graders, and challenging to the 11th and 12th graders. First, I went through the Bible to gain its principles about education. Next, I explained 3 different types of colleges which I am familiar with, from a spiritual perspective: Conservative Christian, Broad Christian, and Liberal Secular schools. Perhaps I’ll elaborate in a future blog on what exactly those mean to me. Finally, I gave some personal advice on the priorities all students should have after they graduate, regardless of what type of education they may (or may not) pursue.398px-family-bible.jpg

The second lesson was for the first day of 5th and 6th grade VBS. The VBS curriculum had prescribed that the lesson deal with Exodus 1-2, honing in on the story of Moses’ mother. That was the inspiration for my last posting on this blog. I expanded the ideas in that blog and then turned it into a PowerPoint presentation presentation. One of my “catches” in the lesson was the idea of a “princess”. Pop culture has glorified the idea of princesses; but one of the things I pointed out was how rarely princesses ever actually do anything. The story of Jochebed, Moses’ mother benefits from this reality: Pharoah’s daughter chooses not to raise Moses, and pays Jochebed to do it instead! A friend of mine who was volunteering that day later told me of how all the girls in her group connected to this message.

The second day of VBS, I taught on the story of Esther and Mordecai, chapters 2-8. Until I went to Israel in the Spring of 2003, I had never (to my memory) had a thorough lesson on the book. To my surprise, most of the students in my age-bracket had a fairly good grasp of the book already. One of the most encouraging things about this lesson was that, on Friday, when the 6th grade boys group I sat in on had their question and answer time after my lesson, several of the boys had such a clear picture of Esther that they felt they could relate with her more than any other character throughout the week. They had a deep admiration for her tact and faithfulness as she approached the King on behalf of her people.

The third day, I taught on Daniel 1. With all the other lessons, I felt a lot of pressure to accurately and thoroughly summarize a rather large text; with this lesson, I wondered how I could make it through 3o minutes on one chapter and still hold their interest. Instead of just focusing on the sequence of events, I decided to frame the story in a slightly unconventional way. Taking all the little details Daniel gives us about the King’s court, I characterized the story as a sort of battle between Daniel and his friends, and the “Babylonian Hogwarts”, which represented the magicians and advisers to King Nebuchadnezzar. Hogwarts is the academy which Harry Potter attends in order to hone his magical powers. I felt it was an apt comparison to show how God uses people for his (often profoundly miraculous) purposes, in spite of many humans who attempt to conjure up their own sorcery. It worked!

The fourth day of VBS was by far the most challenging, and the most rewarding. I was asked to speak on perhaps one of the most uncommon, yet powerful accounts of the Old Testament: the story of Jeremiah and his ministry to kings Jehoiakim and Zedekiah, as given in Jeremiah 36-39. As I prepared this lesson, I was abundantly grateful to God for guiding me to read a book which gives a complete harmony of all the Old Testament books which relate to the Kings of Israel and Judah. I’ve just finished it a few weeks ago, and it gave me a great background in how to understand kingly behavior in the Israelite theocracy. Moreover, the study we had uncovered to all of us how difficult it can be to stand up for God and his word, but how God will always shower those people with blessing who have the boldness to speak up. I closed the message with a short presentation on an ancient clay seal which had the name of Jeremiah’s scribe, Baruch the son of Neriah, and how this archaeological find gives clear scientific support to the Biblical account. After explaining this, I asked them to raise their hands if they thought this was cool…those adolescent arms stretched passionately in the air gave me so much joy.

The final lesson took a step back about 800 years, to 1445 BC, when Israel had just made it to Canaan, and sent spies in to evaluate the land (Numbers 13-14). The theme for this lesson was fear vs. courage. I discussed with the students a bit about the idea of group projects and asked if they liked them? The answers they gave led so well into the lesson, most of them didn’t look forward to group projects in school because “I have to do all the work”, “Other people lose focus”, and “Sometimes there’s too much disagreement”. As we studied how 10 of the spies reacted cowardly to the prospect of invading Canaan, two of the spies, Caleb and Joshua, were disregarded by the rest of the group, as they pronounced the land fit for their capture as they trusted in God’s protection.

As I gave these lessons, I realized something: these kids were the most ideal audience I could ever ask for, as a teacher. Most of them have been uncommonly blessed by a great Children’s Sunday School program at my old church, as well as sincerely devout parents who also teach them God’s word at home. They were attentive, engaged, and energetic throughout the week. I was personally humbled, scholastically impressed, and spiritually edified as I studied various portions of the Old Testament with them.

Perhaps one of the most interesting parts of the week was on Tuesday. After my lesson, a volunteer came up to me and told me how some of the girls in her group were having a hard time understanding how God’s faithfulness to Israelites related to us, since we aren’t Israelites. That day, I had mentioned how God was faithful to Mordecai, Esther, and Paul, all Benjamites. I had made a brief foray into the book of Romans when Paul elaborates on God’s continued faithfulness to Israel in chapter 11. These girls had paid such dear attention to this, they desired more explanation about how God includes us, the Gentiles who believe in Christ, into this blessing.260px-star_of_davidsvg.png

What a great question!

So the next day, after my lesson on Daniel, I took a few minutes to channel the apostle Paul’s explanation of how the Gentiles are branches of a wild olive tree whom Paul says (in Romans 11) is “grafted in” to the cultivated olive tree, Israel, through faith in Christ. I tried not to get too in-depth addressing covenental ideas vs. dispensational ones (especially in a Presbyterian church), but I appreciated this passage so much:

“For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery
so that you will not be wise in your own estimation
that a partial hardening has happened to Israel
until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in;
and so all Israel will be saved; just as it is written,

‘The Deliverer will come from Zion
He will remove ungodliness from Jacob.
This is my covenant with them,
When I take away their sins'”

Romans 11:25-27

The topics we learned about were so far beyond what adults expect 5th or 6th graders to understand (except many of these children’s parents), so it was all the more gratifying to see the ability of children, through the Holy Spirit, to see the inherent value of studying, treasuring, and living by God’s word. I tell you a few of those boys are going to become Jeremiahs, some of those girls will grow into Jochebeds.

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minute-with-henry.jpg
This selection comes from a sermon of Scougal’s sermon entitled “That There are But a Small Number Saved”, based on the text from Luke 13:23,

“Then said one unto him,

“Lord, are the few that be saved?”

 

 

In this selection, we find Scougal proposing a theology that bears a sharp contrast the the inclusivism of the Anglican church of his day, as well as that of many Christian churches in America today. Consider this interview between Larry King and Joel Osteen:

KING: What if you’re Jewish or Muslim, you don’t accept Christ at all?

OSTEEN: You know, I’m very careful about saying who would and wouldn’t go to heaven. I don’t know …

KING: If you believe you have to believe in Christ? They’re wrong, aren’t they?

OSTEEN: Well, I don’t know if I believe they’re wrong. I believe here’s what the Bible teaches and from the Christian faith this is what I believe. But I just think that only God with judge a person’s heart. I spent a lot of time in India with my father. I don’t know all about their religion. But I know they love God. And I don’t know. I’ve seen their sincerity. So I don’t know. I know for me, and what the Bible teaches, I want to have a relationship with Jesus.

When King pushes Osteen for a direct response to the question, “What if people don’t accept Christ?” Osteen repeats, “I don’t know,” several times. He doesn’t want to make a distinction between those who believe in Christ and those who don’t. He wants to make the way to heaven seem as open and available as possible. As we see in Luke 13:23 and in Scougal’s sermon, this is not only a flawed position; it is lethally dangerous.

Amongst all the stratagems whereby the great Enemy of mankind contrives their ruin, few are more unhappily successful than the fond persuasion he has filled them with, that heaven and everlasting happiness are easily attainable. What one says of wisdom, we may, with little alteration, apply unto this purpose: ‘That many might have reached heaven, if they had not been so confident of it.’

The doors of the Christian Church are now very wide, and men have access unto them upon easy terms; nay, this privilege descends unto men by their birth, and they are reckoned among Christians before they come well to know what it means. The ordinances of our religion are common to all, save those whom gross ignorance or notorious crimes exclude; there are no markers on the foreheads of men whereby we can judge of their future; they die, and are laid in their graves, and none cometh back to tell us how it fareth with them, and we desire to think the best of every particular person.

But whatever charity be in this, there is little prudence in the inference that many draw from it, who think they may live as their neighbors do, and die as happily as they, and since the greatest part of men are such as themselves, heaven must be a very empty place if all of them be debarred. Thus perhaps you have seen a flock of sheep upon a bridge, and the first leapeth over, and the rest not knowing what is become of those that went before, all of them follow their companions into that hazard of ruin. Interest and self-love so strongly blind the minds of men, that they can hardly be put from the belief of that which they would fain have true.

Hence it is that, notwithstanding all we are told to the contrary, the opinion of the broadness of the way that leads to heaven, is still the most epidemic, and I think the most dangerous heresy. Many are so ignorant as to avow it, and the strange security of more knowing persons as loudly proclaim it.

I know he undertakes an unwelcome errand, who goes about to dispossess the minds of men of such a pleasant and flattering error; but what shall we do? Shall we suffer them to sleep on and take their rest, until the everlasting flames a wake them? Shall we draw their blood on our heads, and involve ourselves in their ruin, by neglecting to advertise them of their hazard?

No, my friends; duty doth oblige us, and the Holy Scriptures will warrant us to assure you, that there are very, “few that shall be saved”; that “the whole world lieth in wickedness” (1); and that they are a “little flock” to whom the Father will give the kingdom .”(2)

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