“For there stood by me this night the angel of God.” Acts 27:23
Tempest and long darkness, coupled with imminent risk of shipwreck, had brought the crew of the vessel into a sad case; one man alone among them remained perfectly calm, and by his word the rest were reassured. Paul was the only man who had heart enough to say, “Sirs, be of good cheer.” There were veteran Roman legionaries on board, and brave old mariners, and yet their poor Jewish prisoner had more spirit than they all. He had a secret Friend who kept his courage up. The Lord Jesus despatched a heavenly messenger to whisper words of consolation in the ear of his faithful servant, therefore he wore a shining countenance and spake like a man at ease.
If we fear the Lord, we may look for timely interpositions when our case is at its worst. Angels are not kept from us by storms, or hindered by darkness. Seraphs think it no humiliation to visit the poorest of the heavenly family. If angel’s visits are few and far between at ordinary times, they shall be frequent in our nights of tempest and tossing. Friends may drop from us when we are under pressure, but our intercourse with the inhabitants of the angelic world shall be more abundant; and in the strength of love-words, brought to us from the throne by the way of Jacob’s ladder, we shall be strong to do exploits. Dear reader, is this an hour of distress with you? then ask for peculiar help. Jesus is the angel of the covenant, and if his presence be now earnestly sought, it will not be denied. What that presence brings in heart-cheer those remember who, like Paul, have had the angel of God standing by them in a night of storm, when anchors would no longer hold, and rocks were nigh.
“O angel of my God, be near,
Amid the darkness hush my fear;
Loud roars the wild tempestuous sea,
Thy presence, Lord, shall comfort me.”
“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel-- not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.” – Gal 1:6-9
Strong words, aren’t they? The Apostle Paul was astonished to see believers in Galatia turning to a ‘different gospel’. What did he mean? Well, he defined it for us twice:
“. . .a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you.”
“. . .a gospel contrary to the one you received.”
Two definitions, one gospel. A different gospel is that which is contrary to the gospel Paul preached and the same one they received. All we need to do is find out what that gospel was – not at all a difficult task.
We are told in the New Testament, from the lips of Paul himself, that only preached Christ, and Christ crucified (1 Cor 2:2).Te clearest definition of the gospel ‘preached’ and ‘received’ is in 1 Cor 15: 1-4
“Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you--unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures. . .”
This is this is the gospel message that is the power of God for salvation of which Paul was not ashamed (Acts 1:1), and therefore the gospel message we should offer those who know not Christ as Lord and Savior. We are not prohibited from also speaking of the many blessings God offers His children, but the gospel Paul preached and that must be received for salvation is to be paramount.
In our zeal to see ‘decisions for Christ’ we tend to offer the blessings and benefits of being a Christ follower as either primary reasons for trusting in Christ, or secondary reasons to counter the harshness of the matter of sin, judgment, and the wrath of God against all sin (if we mention the ‘bad news’ at all). When we do that, do we honor God, His Son, and the message of the gospel?
The Apostle Paul answers that for us:
“But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.” – Gal 1:6-9
I don’t know about you, but I need to ask myself “Self, what gospel are you preaching?”
The hill of comfort is the hill of Calvary; the house of consolation is built with the wood of the cross; the temple of heavenly blessing is founded upon the riven rock-riven by the spear which pierced his side. No scene in sacred history ever gladdens the soul like Calvary’s tragedy.
“Is it not strange, the darkest hour
That ever dawned on sinful earth,
Should touch the heart with softer power,
For comfort, than an angel’s mirth?
That to the Cross the mourner’s eye should turn,
Sooner than where the stars of Bethlehem burn?”
Light springs from the midday-midnight of Golgotha, and every herb of the field blooms sweetly beneath the shadow of the once accursed tree. In that place of thirst, grace hath dug a fountain which ever gusheth with waters pure as crystal, each drop capable of alleviating the woes of mankind. You who have had your seasons of conflict, will confess that it was not at Olivet that you ever found comfort, not on the hill of Sinai, nor on Tabor; but Gethsemane, Gabbatha, and Golgotha have been a means of comfort to you. The bitter herbs of Gethsemane have often taken away the bitters of your life; the scourge of Gabbatha has often scourged away your cares, and the groans of Calvary yields us comfort rare and rich. We never should have known Christ’s love in all its heights and depths if he had not died; nor could we guess the Father’s deep affection if he had not given his Son to die. The common mercies we enjoy all sing of love, just as the sea-shell, when we put it to our ears, whispers of the deep sea whence it came; but if we desire to hear the ocean itself, we must not look at every-day blessings, but at the transactions of the crucifixion. He who would know love, let him retire to Calvary and see the Man of sorrows die. (Charles Spurgeon, Morning and Evening)
"And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake. For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." - 2 Cor 4:3-6
There are a couple of important 'keys' to effective evangelism in those passages.
The first one has to do with 'knowing your audience'. For anyone accustomed to teaching/speaking this is an essential ingredient for being effective. In these passages we are told by the Apostle that our 'audience' contains unbelievers with 'blind' minds, and can't see!
Why in the world would we want to deliver a message to a blind audience? That makes no sense!
What did Paul do? If we have read our Bibles, we find that Paul preached, everywhere he went, a simple gospel that Christ died for sins, knowing that he was speaking to a blind audience! At the same time, Paul knew that there would be those who would repent and believe the gospel he preached. How did he know that?
That's the other key to effective evangelism in the above verses. For Paul, God would open blind eyes as he preached the gospel and souls would be saved. Lydia in Acts 16 is a great example of the principle.
The summary of evangelism is this:
We faithfully preach Christ;
God opens blind eyes;
God-opened blind eyes, deaf ears, and softened hearts respond;
. . .and the Church of Christ is built.
When I look back upon the pages of my life, I see a long road traveled with many paths crossing my own. The part that perplexes me the most is the length of time before I could see the light of God's only Son. Was it that my mind was unable to comprehend? Most assuredly. But why did there come a time when I could understand and not a second before? The best answer is that the day of my salvation brought glory to Him whose blood was shed to make it possible. If our deliverance were easy we would be saved from the womb. However, it is the Lord who decides the day of salvation for each soul for whom He bled and died. How could I consider a righteous thought when my mind was darkened by a life of sin? Only arrogance would conclude that somewhere in my being there lived the power and means to extricate myself from this fallen estate. How glorious the deliverance on the day when it is first enjoyed! How much more meaningful is it to be savored for all eternity because of the path that must be traveled in order for its discovery to come to fruition.
“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience-- among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ--by grace you have been saved-- and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”
In a day when there are so many false gospels permeating the airwaves, it is important to continually be aware of what “true” looks like! Here we have the description by the most gifted theologian and philosopher ever to set foot on this continent. (Editor)
When we look at anything that is happening in the religious world, and need to pass judgment, the first question we must ask is “Are these people coming to love, honor, and esteem the real Lord Jesus more than ever?” If people are being convinced of their need of Christ and led to Him; if their belief that Christ appeared in history is strengthened; if they are more convinced than ever that He is the Son of God sent to save sinners; if they acknowledge that He is the only Savior and they need Him desperately; if they appreciate Him more than they did, and love Him too, then we may be quite sure that it is the Holy Spirit who is at work!
I intend to show how we may definitely conclude that God is at work. I want to show the signs which Scripture says are clear evidence that God is at work. We will then be able to use these signs to judge any work without fear of being misled.
I propose to look only at those signs given in 1 John 4. That is because this chapter deals with this question plainly and more completely than any other part of the Bible. So let us look at the signs in the order they are given in the chapter.
1. When esteem for the true Jesus is raised
If a person’s esteem of the true Jesus is raised, it is a sure sign that the Spirit of God is at work. By the true Jesus, I mean this: that Jesus was born of a virgin and crucified outside the gates of Jerusalem; that He is the Son of God and the Savior of men as the gospel declares.
This sign is given by the apostle in 1 John 4:2-3:
“This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God.”
This implies acknowledging more than that there was such a person as Jesus who appeared in Palestine and did those things that the Bible says. It implies acknowledging that He was the Christ, the Son of God, chosen to be Lord and Savior.
This word, “acknowledge” is important. In the New Testament it means much more than merely admitting. It implies knowing something and being willing to declare it in praise and love. For example, Matthew 10:32 says,
“Whoever acknowledges Me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven.”
People may praise their own false Christ while having no respect at all for the true, historical Jesus. Indeed, they are led away from Him. But no spirit can give testimony to the true Jesus, or lead men to Him, except the Spirit of God.
Why is this the case? It is because the devil has a bitter and unchanging hatred for the real Jesus, especially as Savior. He passionately hates the story and the doctrine of redemption. Satan would never work in men to produce honorable thoughts of Jesus, nor cause them to value His commands. The Spirit that turns men’s hearts to Christ is not the spirit of the serpent that has such an unchanging hatred toward Him.
2. When Satan’s kingdom is attacked
The Spirit of God must be at work if the interests of Satan’s kingdom are opposed. This is a sure sign. Satan’s kingdom encourages sin and encourages men to cherish worldly lusts. The Holy Spirit does not.
This sign is given in 1 John 4:4-5:
“You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them.”
The apostle is here comparing those who are influenced by two opposite kinds of spirits. One spirit is true, and the other is false.
John shows the difference like this: one spirit is from God and so overcomes the spirit of the world. The other spirit speaks about and relishes the things of the world. Here, the spirit of the devil is called “the one who is in the world.” This is the difference between Christ and the devil. Christ says, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36), but Satan is called “the god of this age” (2 Corinthians 4:4).
We know what the apostle means by the world or the things that are of the world from his own words in 1 John 2:15-16:
“Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world, the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does, comes not from the Father but from the world.”
Clearly, he means everything to do with sin and includes all men’s corruptions and lusts, everything they look to for satisfaction.
So, from what the apostle says here, we may safely conclude that if a people: have their love of ordinary, worldly pleasure, profits, and honors lowered; are weaned from eagerly chasing such things; have a deep concern about eternity and the eternal happiness that comes through the gospel; earnestly begin to seek God’s kingdom and righteousness; and are convicted of the ugliness and guilt of sin, as well as the misery to which it leads, then the Spirit of God must be at work.
We cannot believe that Satan would convict men of sin and awaken the conscience. The conscience is God’s representative in the soul. It can do Satan no good to make its light shine brighter. It is always in his interest to keep the conscience quiet and asleep. When conscience is awake, everything that Satan wants to accomplish is hindered.
When he is out to lead men further into sin, would the devil first open their eyes to see its ugliness? Would he make them afraid of sin? Would he make them mourn over past sins? Would he show them that they need to be delivered from sin's guilt? Would he make them more careful about everything they do, to ensure there is no sin in it? Would the devil lead them to avoid future sins and make them more careful to avoid his own temptations? If a man thinks the devil acts like this, I wonder what he uses for brains!
But some may argue that the devil may even awaken a man’s conscience in order to deceive him, that is, to make him think he has been saved while he is still in his sin. To argue like this is futile. It is to argue that Christ was making a mistake when He told the Pharisees that Satan would not cast out Satan (Matthew 12:25-26). Remember, the Pharisees believed that the spirit at work in Christ’s ministry was the devil.
A man with an awakened conscience is the hardest man in the world to fool! The more awake a sinner’s conscience is, the harder it is to quiet it down until it is really delivered from sin. The more a conscience is aware of the greatness of man’s guilt, the less likely he is to be satisfied with his own righteousness. Once a man is thoroughly frightened by a sight of his own danger, he will not believe himself truly safe without good grounds. Awakening a conscience in this way is not likely to confirm a man in his sin. On the contrary, it is likely to lead to sin and Satan being driven out.
So, whenever we see people made aware of: the ugliness of sin; God’s anger against sin; their own natural lostness because of sin; their own need of eternal salvation; their need of God’s mercy and help; and their need to do what God has commanded in seeking salvation, we may certainly conclude that it is the Spirit of God at work!
Yes, even if their bodies are affected and they cry out or scream or faint. Yes, even if they go into fits or are affected in other dramatic ways. Those things do not count at all.
3. When people come to love the Scriptures more
When men are persuaded to love the holy Scriptures more, and to trust their truth and divine origin more, it is certainly the Spirit of God at work. This is the sign the apostle gives us in 1 John 4:6:
“We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood.”
When he says, “We are from God,” he means, “We are the apostles God has sent to teach the world His doctrines and commands.” This argument extends to all those God has appointed to deliver to His church its rules of faith and practice. That is to say, it covers all those apostles and prophets that God has inspired to write the Scriptures.
The devil would never try to produce such a respect for God’s Scriptures. A spirit of delusion will not persuade men to listen to God for direction. The devil does not say, as Abraham did,
“They have Moses and the prophets; let them listen to them” (Luke 16:29).
Nor will he say the words that came from heaven about Christ,
“Listen to him” (9:35).
Would the spirit of error, wanting to deceive men, turn them to God’s infallible Scriptures? Would he lead them to get to know those Scriptures well? Would the prince of darkness lead men to the light of the Sun in order to promote his kingdom of darkness? The devil has always shown how much he hates the Bible. He has always done all he can to put out its light and lead men away from it. He knows that this is the light that will overthrow his dark kingdom.
He has had much experience of the power of Scripture to defeat his purposes and thwart his designs. It is a constant plague to him. It is the main weapon that Michael uses in his war with Satan (Jude 9). It is the sword of the Spirit that pierces him and conquers him (Ephesians 6:17). It is the sharp sword that we read about that comes from the mouth of the One on the horse with which He smites His enemies (Revelation 19:15).
Every text of the Bible is a torment to the old serpent. He has felt its stinging smart thousands of times. He is therefore at war with the Bible and hates every word in it. We may be quite sure he will never try to persuade men to love it or value it.
It has often happened in history that many sects of enthusiasts have undervalued the written Word of God. They set up some other authority that is over the Scripture. That still happens today. But when men come to value the Scriptures more, not less, then the Spirit of God is certainly at work.
4. When men are led away from falsehood into truth
We may learn another way to judge between spirits from the names given to the two opposite spirits in 1 John 4:6. One is called “the Spirit of truth” and the other “the spirit of falsehood.” These words point to a vital difference between the Spirit of God and other spirits that may imitate His work.
If we see a spirit at work leading men into the truth, convincing them of things that are true, we may be sure it is the Holy Spirit. If people become more aware that there is a God, or that God is a great God who hates sin, or that their own lives are short and may end at any moment, or that there is another life and they have immortal souls, we may be sure it is the Holy Spirit at work. When men realize that they will have to give an account of themselves to God and that they are very sinful in nature and practice; when they understand that they are helpless in themselves; when, in short, they are brought to sound doctrine, then we may be sure that the Holy Spirit is at work in them.
It is the Holy Spirit who brings men into the light, not the spirit of darkness. Christ tells us that Satan is a liar and the father of lies. His kingdom is a kingdom of darkness. Satan’s kingdom is upheld only by darkness and error. Scripture speaks of the reign and dominion of darkness (Luke 22:53; Colossians 1:13). The demons are called the rulers of the darkness of this world. It is only God who brings us to the light of truth and removes our darkness.
5. When there is an increase in love to God and man
When people begin to love God and man with a genuine love, we may be sure that the Holy Spirit is at work. This is what the apostle says in 1 John 4:7:
“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.”
John is still speaking of two different sorts of people who are led by two opposite spirits and pointing out the contrast between them. Love is one way we may know which person has the true spirit. This is especially clear from 1 John 4:12-13:
“No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. We know that we live in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.”
Here the apostle speaks of love and the Holy Spirit almost as if they are the same thing! If God’s love dwells in us, then the Holy Spirit dwells in us. The same point is made in 1 John 3:22-23 and 4:16.
Love is the last sign the apostle gives us of the true Spirit’s work, and it seems to be the most important. He pays more attention to this than to all the rest. He tells us that love for God and love for our fellow men are both important. He writes of love for our fellow men in 1 John 4:7, 11, and 12, and of love for God in 1 John 4:17-19. Then in 1 John 4:20-21, he speaks of both together because he wants us to understand that love for men springs from love to God.
So if people have great thoughts of God and His glory, the Holy Spirit must be at work. If they understand (to some degree) the greatness of Jesus Christ so that they delight in Him, the Holy Spirit must be at work. Jesus becomes very precious to them and their hearts are overwhelmed by the wonderful and free love of God, who gave His only Son to die for them. Surely this must be the Spirit of God at work!
“This is how God showed His love among us: He sent His one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we love God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins... And so we know and rely on the love God has for us... We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:9-10, 16, 19).
If a spirit makes us love God for these reasons, it must be the Spirit of God. If we delight to think about the attributes of God that the gospel and Christ reveal and we yearn to be made like Him, living in ways that please and honor Him, that must be the Spirit of God. When a spirit calms quarrels between men, promotes peace and goodwill, and desires the salvation of souls, this must be the Spirit of God. When men delight in the company of others who are obviously God’s children, and have all the love I have described, we have the highest possible evidence that it is the Holy Spirit who is at work.
The apostle Paul was a leader who never drifted from his mission. He was determined to leave his mark wherever he went. George Washington Carver wrote, "no individual has any right to come into the world and go out of it without leaving behind him distinct and legitimate reasons for having passed through it." In the Epistle to the Philippians, we see Paul determined to remain engaged with the propagation of the gospel. Even though he was incarcerated and literally chained to his keepers.
As we make our journey upon life's seas it is easy, in our high-tech world, to become distracted. If we for one moment take our eyes off of the goal we will surely drift away from our true direction. This certainly was the thought of the author in Hebrews 2:1 when he admonished us to "listen very carefully to the truth we have heard."
So we must listen very carefully to the truth we have heard, or we may drift away from it. Hebrews 2:1 NLT
The word used here in Hebrew for "listen carefully," "pay closer attention," or "give earnest heed" is prosecho which in a nautical sense means to set your course and follow it. The translators necessarily struggle to find the words to bring this from the original. The modern literal attempts this conveyance with "pay closer attention." The more time-honored versions render "give more earnest heed." Literally (when you add the word perissoterōs) to give heed more abundantly. If we look more closely at the word prosecho we see the idea of holding the mind or ear toward ("listen very carefully). In the nautical sense to "take up a heading towards" the truth we have heard. This is an inference to the discourse from the previous chapter where this truth is defined as that which was spoken by the Son who is infinitely superior to all of creation. His Gospel then should be given undivided attention. It is the hearers duty to listed carefully that the heading will steer clear the rocks and shoals of pernicious nature and instead chart a course toward the shores of good and profitable. If our attention be split then our observation of the Guidestar is made unsuitable for navigation and "our striving thus becomes losing."
Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing (A Mighty Fortress is Our God, Martin Luther)
Διὰ τοῦτο δεῖ περισσοτέρως ἡμὰς προσέχειν τοῖς ἀκουσθεῖσι, μή ποτε παραρυῶμεν.
G4337 προσέχω proséchō; pros: toward + echo: to have and hold, implying continued possession. To have in addition, to hold the mind or the ear toward someone, to pay attention. As a nautical term, it means to hold a ship in a direction, to sail towards.
This has to be contrasted with the word pararreo that means to drift away perhaps even imperceptibly. Why is this of importance. Since the beginning when our parents were deceived in the garden of Eden, the enemy of our soul had been using the same means to lead us toward destruction. You would think that after these many thousands of years we would wake up to the fact that we are repeatedly led astray by this spiritual slight of hand. But church history gives us the real outcome. We continue to be hoodwinked by the slow drifting away from the pure truth of the Gospel until half truths and counterfeit truths become our steady diet. With our course no longer Christward we set sail for perditions flame.
G3901 παραρρέω pararréō; contracted paararruṓ, fut. parareúsomai, from pará (G3844), by, past, beyond, and rhéō (G4483), to flow. To float by or drift past as a ship, or to flow past as a river. Figuratively to slip away, suggesting a gradual and almost unnoticed movement past a certain point. Of a person, to move stealthily as a thief. It is used figuratively of persons meaning to glide away, to swerve or deviate from something, such as the truth, law, precepts; equivalent to parapíptō (G3895), to fall aside. It occurs only in Hebrews 2:1 where it is used in an absolute sense "lest we drift away from that which we have heard" (a.t.), transgress.
The slow imperceptible slouching toward Gomorrah has been occurring in our nation since the quenching of the Great Awakening. With America's greatness now inversely proportional to the size of the national debt. Perhaps now we can see the importance of staying on mission!