Surrendered Lives

In sermon preparation, there is so much material that never makes it into the message – there’s just not enough time. Often, I simply get the edification that comes from studying the scriptures so deeply, but that’s as far as it goes. Other times, it’s just too good not to share and it winds up here, on my blog.

As I’ve was studying Philippians 1:19-20 I came across the following from James M. Boice that I had to share:

If the Lord Jesus Christ is to be magnified in our bodies, our bodies must be surrendered to him… This means that the kind of life the Bible advocates is impossible for the non-Christian; it is impossible for the one who has failed to come to God solely on the merits of Christ and His atoning death on Calvary. Nothing in the unsaved man can satisfy God in the slightest degree. All acts of human sacrifice apart from Christ, all acts of self denial apart from Christ, all acts of penance apart from Christ – all these are acts of human righteousness. And God call such acts filthy rags when measured by the standards of His holiness. It is only after a man has come to Christ, accepted Him as Savior, and committed himself to Christ irrevocably, that God moves him to make that sacrifice of his body through which Jesus Christ is magnified. Have you done this? Have you made this first and great commitment? If not, you need to. For all other steps in the Christian life flow from it.

Then, too, we must surrender our bodies to the Lord to use as He determines. Merely to see this truth is not sufficient; it must also be practiced. You must practice yielding your body to Christ. You must practice living to His glory as He gives you grace to do so. You must wake with the name of Jesus on your lips and commit the day to Him. You must surrender your thoughts to Him at breakfast. You must yield yourself to Him for guiding what you say when you enter the office or the factory, or when you begin to go about your household chores. You must ask Him to take control of your eyes, that they might be given to His service. You must give Him your tongue. Moreover, you must do so each moment as each is yielded to His direction.

In such a way Jesus Christ will be truly magnified in you, and you will be more and more able to say: It is “my earnest expectation and my hope, that in nothing shall I be ashamed, but that with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ shall be magnified in my body.”

Boice, J.M., Philippians: An Expositional Commentary. (Grand Rapids; Zondervan Pub, 1971) pg 84.
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No, Virginia, all dogs don’t go to Heaven!

I was asked a while ago if our pets will go to heaven. I’ve been IMG_0866asked this before, and every time I try to give an answer I always get some pushback from parents who have been telling their children that their beloved pet will be waiting for them in heaven, and they are very upset that I would suggest otherwise. It’s as if the “All Dogs Go to Heaven” line is the untouchable doctrine of our squishy theology – right there next to Santa Clause and the Easter Bunny.

We are living in a generation that has rejected the Authority of Scripture; treats our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ as though He were that really good friend you only call when things get really tough because He’s always there to bail you out; and the Church is nothing more than a social club that would have a whole lot more people there if they could finally get the music right and make the preacher stay under 15 minutes.  I guess it should not surprise me then when I face an uproar because I had the audacity to tell someone that while our pets are wonderful gifts from God, we have no assurance that we will meet a resurrected Fluffy when we enter into paradise.

Was Fido created in God’s image and called into fellowship with his Lord? Did he fall from grace in sin? Did Christ come to bear the guilt and wrath for his sin? Was Fido’s righteousness found in the righteousness of Christ, evidenced by faith and the fruit of the Spirit?

What about the inherent “Petism” that is revealed here? Am I the only one whose noticed this? Sure, we tell out children that our dogs and cats will be waiting for us in heaven, and maybe when we flush the goldfish we are sending him to paradise via a Potter-esque means – but what about the Cows, the Hogs, the Chickens, and even the Rats, Bats, and Snakes.  If all dogs go to heaven, then what about the other animals?

It never fails to amaze me how little we turn to scripture for the answers we need for eternity.  I should be used to this by now.  Already Christians act as though the 4th Commandment (Honor the Sabbath and keep it holy) didn’t exist; we are silent on the issue of the sanctity of life (how is abortion not a violation of the 6th commandment); the Church has acquiesced on the teaching of sexual purity and honoring marriage (thou shall not commit adultery!)… and I could go on. I suppose that when it comes to our understanding of Heaven then, I should expect an “whatever-makes-you-happy-and-helps-you-sleep-at-night” attitude.

Here’s the principle we have to come to terms with if we are going to profess to be Bible-Believing Christians: Anything beyond what scripture teaches is pure speculation. God’s Word is inspired and authoritative, it is our only rule of life and faith.  When we sit down to teach our children the matters of faith, it isn’t up to us to “make it up as we go along.” You can’t just repeat some explanation you heard on your favorite TV show, or say whatever you think will make them happy.  We turn to the word of God, and we pass that faith from generation to generation.

But it’s not as if we are without a witness; Scripture does tell us what we need to know.  Heaven is the place where those who have been redeemed in Christ finally come to rest in His glory (Hebrews 4:9), where we enter into the eternal joy of our heavenly Father (Matthew 25:21). Only those who have been redeemed by the atoning sacrifice of Christ, only those who have been covered in the righteousness of Christ by faith in Him will know the blessed delight of eternal life (John 3:16), and Christ is the only way unto our Heavenly home (John 14:1-7).  This is not exhaustive, but it is a start.

This is not to say that animals will not be present in the new Heaven and new Earth.  The wonder and diversity of creation will not cease to exist in God’s Kingdom, but it will be set right and released from the curse. Still, that which separates mankind from the rest of the created order is that man was created in the image of God, created with a spirit that is designed for eternity. In the resurrection, the faithful are promised a new body, it too fitted for eternity, so that we shall be with the Lord forever.

So many want to find comfort in the fact that their beloved pet has gone to heaven, but there is no biblical warrant for such a doctrine. Some have even said that heaven would be incomplete without their pet there – that they could not find happiness there without their animal.  If your hope for heaven is in anything other than finally being in the presence of the resplendent glory of God Almighty, that is idolatry, and I urge you to allow the word of God to teach and guide you. John Piper once noted on this very question, “It is spiritually perilous to cultivate a love for an animal that has such a prominent place in your heart that you think that you need him for eternity.”

SDG

Addendum

My thanks to my friend Magrey DeVega, who has an abundance of creativity (and apparently free time), the artist responsible for the included image.

Here is a link to the interview with John Piper:

http://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/do-pets-go-to-heaven

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One Thing

“One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after:
that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple.”

(Psalm 27:4)

In case you haven’t noticed, I have taken a bit of a hiatus from this Midweek Message. I guess it has been over a month since I last posted a message.  As you may already know, there’s been a lot going on in my life: a transfer to a new denomination (from the PCUSA to PCA), finishing one pastoral call and beginning another, selling and buying a home, helping shepherd my family through the emotional roller coaster of moving, and – oh yeah – leading the church through the observance of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday. I didn’t intend to take four weeks off from writing this post, it just got lost in the shuffle.

It feels a little odd here in the office this week, my books are all packed, the desk is cleared off, and there only a couple days remaining before I will have officially left the PCUCA for a new call. What then do I say?

I want to say that I have been truly blessed to serve as the pastor of Memorial Presbyterian Church in Cherokee.  Over the past 9 years, this congregation has walked along side of me, helping me to become a better pastor, a more effective communicator (the last few weeks notwithstanding), and showing tremendous patience and love along the way. You have heard some sermons that would have been better had they never been preached, some prayers that went a little too long, and some jokes that forgot to be funny. My hope and prayer is that you were ultimately blessed by faithful preaching and teaching, that you will remember my time here as one of encouragement and growth, and that God would be pleased in His Church.

There is one last thing I want to leave you with.  For some reason, as I write this, I keep hearing Jack Palance as Curly saying – “Just One Thing!”

one thing

Well… in the movie, Curly tells Mitch that everyone has to figure out what that “one thing” is for themselves.  I get that, but if we take that to its logical end, we end up with chaos as everyone pursues that thing that makes them happy regardless of what that means to anyone else.

No, there is “One Thing” that is the greatest thing for each and every one of us, the “One Thing” we must pursue, the “One Thing” we must know.  This “One Thing” is the source of our greatest joy and happiness, the foundation of our peace and security.  This “One Thing” brings meaning to life, hope in the midst of despair, comfort in times of trouble.  This “One Thing” is the same “One Thing” for you and for me, and has been the “One and Only Thing” yesterday, today, and forever.  Have I given it away?

Here’s the One Thing – “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead… as preached in my gospel” (2 Tim 2:8). I hope that in time I will be remembered at Memorial Presbyterian as a good preacher and pastor and a loving and devoted father. I hope that my activity in the Cherokee Community Theater will be remembered well. I would like to think that I have made a lasting impression here, and that I will be remembered after I am gone.

More than all of that, though, I hope and pray that you will remember Christ, our risen Lord. I have labored to make Him known, to proclaim His Gospel, to make His grace and mercy known, to magnify His goodness, to draw all people to Him. Even if I am forgotten, even if my exploits and endeavors fade into oblivion, remember Jesus Christ.

Remember Christ.  When discouraged because life is difficult and the burden is heavy: remember Christ whose “yoke is easy, and whose burden is light.” When pressured to compromise on your faith and your values in order to fit in with the world: remember Christ who has come to “bring salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives” as we await His appearing (Titus 2:11-13). When you stand for your faith and feel alone in this world: remember Christ, who has promised that He would be with us, even to the end of the age (Matthew 28:18-20).

I am truly grateful for the time that I have had at Memorial Presbyterian as your pastor. I pray that God will continue to strengthen and encourage this congregation. And I hope and pray that in everything you will continue to hold fast to this One Thing – Remember Jesus Christ, Risen from the Dead!

SDG

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The Anxiety of Spiritual Forgetfulness

Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear?
And do you not remember?

(Mark 8:18)

Why do we get so anxious about things?

Seriously, we stress, we panic, we fuss, we fret, over everything. We act as though the rising of the sun and the setting of the same depend upon our ability to get things done in a timely and orderly manner. When one thing starts to get out of our grasp, we freak out like the world is going to end. (And by “we,” I mean ME.) The Psalmist said it this way, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me” (Psalm 43:5).

I think the reason why we get this way, the reason I get this way, is forgetfulness.  It’s not that I forget that there is a God, I just forget that God’s promises, God’s power, God’s grace applies to every situation.  The rest of that verse from the Psalms says, “Why are you cast down… Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.”  Being reminded of God’s salvation, of our hope in Him – there is no better cure for anxiety, stress, and panic.  “Be still and know that I am God” – that’s what God says to the panicky, the anxious, the worried.  Perhaps today we could write it:

Keep Calm
Carry On
God’s in Control

We need to be reminded of this. Frequently.

Let me illustrate this briefly.  As you all know I have accepted a new pastoral call, and will be moving to South Dakota soon.  Knowing that selling a house in a small town can sometimes take months, we put our house on the market in mid-February, hoping that we’d be able to sell it just before we needed to move.

We just sold our house in 1 week. We put a sign in the yard on a Monday, by Sunday we had a contract. We live in a small community in NW Iowa, so selling a house that quickly and for the price we wanted is pretty much unheard of, one might say, miraculous.  We were ecstatic.

But how did I respond?  I immediately began to worry that I wouldn’t be able to find a house to move into in our new community.  The market there doesn’t have too many listings, especially for a family of 6, within our price range.  I panicked.  What if we don’t find a house? How far will I have to commute? Will my family be homeless?

Wow!  Didn’t God just do something amazing? Did He not just show us His mighty hand? Won’t God, cannot God, do it again?

The Good News is, I’m not alone in this spiritual forgetfulness.

The Israelites, less than a week after walking through the Red Sea, complained that they couldn’t find water, and worried that God would let them die (Ex. 15:22-25).  Elijah, having just conquered 450 prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel, immediately ran into the wilderness and asked to die when Jezebel threatened to kill him (1 Kings 18-19). The disciples, having just witnessed Christ feeding 4000 people, started arguing amongst themselves because they forgot to bring along any bread (Mark 8:14-21).  They were in the boat with the One who had just fed 4,000 people; and yet they were worried because they forgot to bring along any bread!

I think that this is the fundamental reason why we stress, fret, and worry. We forget what God has done. We think that our problems are greater that God’s vision, our troubles are too much for Him to bear. We worry that God might just not be watching, might just not be able…

Oh weary heart, full of care, has God not shown His grace to be sufficient to meet your every need?  Has God not proven His faithfulness, time and again?  Has God not promised that “though weeping may tarry for the night, joy comes with the morning” (Psalm 30:5)? Has God not promised to be your salvation, and that for those who love God all things work together for good (Rom. 8:28).

We need to remember, we need to be reminded, we need to keep this before us at all times.  Maybe that’s why Paul, in his encouragement to Timothy said, “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead” (2 Tim 2:8). We need to constantly remember that He is risen, He is alive, He rules and reigns over us and for us, He holds all things in His hands.  All our anxious cares subside in the strength of His everlasting arms.

Why are you anxious, oh my soul? Why so disturbed? Hope in God, for He is your salvation.  He is your God!

Soli Deo Gloria

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Jesus Did Not Come to Make you Nice

“And Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty
will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven.

(Matthew 19:23)

Do you need Jesus?

I mean that seriously.  Do you need Him for your salvation, or is having Jesus in your life a “Value Added Product”?  Many of us were already pretty nice by the world’s standards, how has Jesus changed you?

Today I wanted to share an excerpt from C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity:

If you have sound nerves and intelligence and health and popularity and a good upbringing, you are likely to be quite satisfied with your character as it is… Everyone says you are a nice chap and (between ourselves) you agree with them.  You are quite likely to believe that all this niceness is your own doing: and you may easily not feel the need for any better kind of goodness. Often people who have all these natural kinds of goodness cannot be brought to recognize their need for Christ at all until, one day, the natural goodness lets them down and the self-satisfaction is shattered. In other words, it is hard for those who are “rich” in this sense to enter the Kingdom…

If you are a nice person – if virtue comes easy to you – beware! Much is expected from those to whom much is given. If you mistake for your own merits what are really God’s gifts to you through nature, and if you are contented with simply being nice, you are still a rebel: and all those gifts will only make your fall more terrible, your corruption more complicated, your bad example more disastrous. The Devil was an archangel once; his natural gifts were as far above yours as yours are above those of a chimpanzee.

But if you are a poor creature – poisoned by a wretched upbringing in some house full of vulgar jealousies and senseless quarrels, nagged day in and day out by an inferiority complex that makes you snap at your best friends  – do not despair. He knows all about it. You are one of the poor whom He blessed. He knows what a wretched machine you are trying to drive. Keep on. Do what you can. One day He will fling it on the scrap-heap and give you a new one. And then you may astonish us all – not least yourself: for you have learned your driving in a hard school.

“Niceness” – wholesome, integrated personality – is an excellent thing. We must try by every medical, educational, economic and political mean in our power, to produce a world where as many people as possible grow up “nice”; just as we may try to produce a world where all have plenty to eat. But we must not suppose that even if we succeeded in making everyone nice we should have saved their souls. A world of nice people, content in their own niceness, looking no further, turned away from God, would be just as desperately in need of salvation as a miserable world – and might even be more difficult to save.

For mere improvement is not redemption, though redemption always improves people even here and now and will, in the end, improve them to a degree we cannot yet imagine. God became man to turn creatures into sons: not simply to produce better men of the old kind but to produce a new kind of man. It is not like teaching a horse to jump better and better but like turning a horse into a winged creature.

SDG

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Broken People Do Broken Things

“In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
John 16:33

“Broken people do broken things.”

I first heard this nugget of wisdom form a funeral home director.  He and I were riding in the hearse to a graveside service after having left the funeral home and a family that was fighting with each other.  I don’t remember why they were fighting (probably something to do with inheritance), but I was visibly shaken and the director could tell.  I remember asking why they couldn’t get past their difference for at least an hour and be civil with one another during the service, and that’s when he said it, “Broken people do broken things.”

I don’t think he meant it to excuse their behavior, but perhaps to change my perspective on the world.  The world is full of broken people.  Some have managed to put a good spin on their brokenness, their sins are the acceptable kind that are given a wink by society.  For others, their brokenness is clear for everyone to see, and often that brokenness is worn as a “red badge of courage.”

Hasn’t the brokenness of the world reared its ugly head this week?  Over the weekend we heard of ISIS having beheaded 21 Egyptian Christians , and this just after the news of the death of Kayla Mueller, the burning of the Jordanian pilot, their names added to a very long list of victims of horrible terror . (I read just this morning of another report that ISIS had burned to death another 45  people in an Iraqi town.) There was the shooting rampage in Denmark, the foiled terror plans in Canada, the murder of three students at the University of Connecticut.  Add to that the horrible news coming from Lennox, SD, where I’ll soon be moving, of a gunman who shot two people and then killed himself – all because of an argument over a delivery.

It’s all the kind of thing that makes you not want to get out of bed in the morning.

I make no effort to make sense of senseless violence. You cannot explain or rationalize brutality like this. Sometimes, all it feels you can do is throw up your hands, keep your head down, and resign yourself to the fact that “lost people do lost things.”

But that is not the Christian message.

I don’t purport to have all the answers regarding evil and it’s place in the world.  I must leave that discussion to better minds than mine.  But I do believe that our faith has something important to say in the midst of such atrocities.

First, we must realize that evil is real, and we live in a fallen world.  Since Adam’s fall, all the world has been subjected to futility, and creation itself awaits the revealing of the sons of God in which it too will be released from its bondage to corruption (see Romans 8).  Suffering and violence, natural disasters and wars, these are symptoms of a greater sickness, namely, we live in world that subjected to corruption because of man’s sin and rebellion from God.

Second, I believe Scripture teaches that God has a purpose in everything, including the evil we face in this life.  Often it is hard to see and difficult to understand – and we may never find in this life the ultimate meaning that is hidden in the heart of sorrow, disappointment, and grief.  But we remember the words of Joseph to his brothers, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (Gen 50:20).  Even more, we see God’s providence working even in the death of Jesus Christ, who was holy and without sin, the greatest tragedy ever committed on the face of the earth, and yet through His death and resurrection, we find the salvation of all who would call upon His name (Acts 3:13-16).

Finally, we must remember, evil does not have the last word.  Though their powers may flare and cause us to tremble, though

this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us,
we will not fear for, God hath willed his truth to triumph through us.
The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him;
his rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure;
one little word shall fell him.

We abound in hope, even in the face of evil, tragedy, and loss. We abound in hope because we know that because Christ has been raised in victory over death, those whose lives are hidden in Him have received that victory as well.  We know that no matter what we face, even if we are handed over for tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger or the sword, “we are more than conquerors through him who loved us…” and nothing “will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:31-39).

In John 16:33 Jesus says, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” Christ has overcome!  Therefore, in good times and in bad, let us look to Him that we may be “steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord [our] labor is not in vain” (1 Cor 15:58).

SDG

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Bemoaning Inconsistency

“Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.
For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.”
(Colossians 3:2–3)

Sometimes it is really amazing – and desperately heartbreaking – how people will justify sin and ungodliness and see no contradiction with their Christian testimony.

I may have matured (or devolved, whichever your perspective) from being a “snarky Presbyterian pastor” to a full-fledged irascible and peevish grump – and that’s something that I guess I’ll have to deal with – but seriously folks there are just certain things that as Christians we should know better.

Here’s my list of grievances for the week:

  • Christians and 50 Shades – Folks, the book and the movie are straight-up porn, there’s no way around it. The book (and I’ll admit I haven’t read it, nor do I intend to) glamorizes an unhinged sexual lifestyle that includes bondage, domination, sadism, and masochism. I hear women claim that it can spice up the romance with their husbands – but I wonder, is that what they want from them? If that’s the case, do they let their husbands subscribe to Hustler?

Just today I read an argument for the moral  equivalency between 50 Shades and the Song of Solomon in Scripture. Are we seriously to compare the literary values of the Song of Solomon – the love song between a husband and a wife of exclusive passion, pleasure, and purity in one another – with the aggressive erotic exploits of unmarried and uncommitted individuals? It would be one thing to hear this kind of equivocation from someone hostile to the Christian faith, but this was coming from a professed believer.  Sigh!

By the way – that noise you are hearing is me banging my head on the desk.

  • Take Me to Church – I will readily admit that my iTunes music library could use a going over. There are some songs which, carrying over from my teenage years, are fun to listen to, but I don’t think I’d want my kids to come up to me and recite the lyrics.

That being said, there is a video circulating of a Presbyterian pastor doing a cover of Hozier’s song “Take Me to Church.”  Just looking at the title, you might ask, Well, what’s so wrong with that?  Then you read the lyrics:

My lover’s got humour
She’s the giggle at a funeral
Knows everybody’s disapproval
I should’ve worshipped her sooner

My Church offers no absolutes
She tells me, ‘Worship in the bedroom.’
The only heaven I’ll be sent to
Is when I’m alone with you—

Take me to church
I’ll worship like a dog at the shrine of your lies
I’ll tell you my sins and you can sharpen your knife
Offer me that deathless death
Good God, let me give you my life

I heard this song on the radio once and knew it was not something I needed to hear again.  For a Pastor to express his enthusiasm, and even do a cover of a song that supplants the worship of God with the worship of sex is just mind-boggling.  What’s next?  Shall we reopen the office of Temple Prostitutes?  I can grant someone might hum along with the tune – it’s got a good beat and you can dance to it.  But once you’ve read the words, wouldn’t you think, especially as a pastor, that at some point you might stop and say, Maybe this isn’t consistent with the gospel that I’m preaching…  Then again, maybe it is.

  • Facebook Assassinations – I don’t really know how else to describe it.  It is sad when Christians go to social media (Facebook, Twitter) and openly berate, slander, and ridicule others. We mock and deride our president, our congressmen, or teachers or school administrators, our brothers and sisters in Christ without any thought or regard to how our words kill and destroy. “Christians” have launched campaigns to impugn and destroy the reputation of others, never knowing or attempting to understand all the facts, or to work toward reconciliation and restoration. It is an assassination attempt, for Jesus said, “I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother is liable to judgment.”

To paraphrase Darth Vader, “I find your lack of consistency disturbing.”

VaderAs Christians, we have by definition died to sin, and are alive in Christ.  We are, therefore, called to set our minds on things above, to set our minds on Christ.  The movies we watch, the songs we listen to, the way we speak to and treat one another – these are to be influenced by the fact that our lives are hidden in Christ.  We live because he lives in us. That’s not to say that the only book we can read is the Bible, but we should ensure that what we read uplifts and encourages our walk with Christ.  We don’t have to listen only to hymns and spiritual songs, but we must discern whether the music that we’re listening to is glorifying to God and promoting holiness?  To live consistent with our faith does not mean that we cannot be critical of those in authority over us, but it does mean that we will be prayerful, respectful, and ultimately, that we will “seek to outdo one another showing honor.”

If you know that your life is hidden in Christ, then you will set your mind on the things of Christ, and not on the things of this world.  The truth of your life in Christ will radically transform everything else you do.

So I guess I’ll end with, of all things, a quote from the Presbyterian Book of Order, which states:

That truth is in order to goodness; and the great touchstone of truth, its tendency to promote holiness, according to our Savior’s rule, “By their fruits ye shall know them.” And that no opinion can be either more pernicious or more absurd than that which brings truth and falsehood upon a level, and represents it as of no consequence what a man’s opinions are. On the contrary, we are persuaded that there is an inseparable connection between faith and practice, truth and duty. Otherwise, it would be of no consequence either to discover truth or to embrace it.

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