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The Greatest Commandment August 27, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 22:34-40.

Summary: In this passage, the Pharisees hear that Jesus has gagged the Sadducees; thus, they plot against Him.

Their plot is executed by a scribe who attempts to discredit Him, asking Him to identify the greatest commandment in the Mosaic law.

He responds by quoting from Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18; these commandments state that they should direct their love of will towards God and others – with their whole being. Indeed, the remainder of the Mosaic law is an explanation of these two commandments.

Thoughts: Here, Jesus states that love for God – and others – comprises the core of the Mosaic law. Ryle offers some insights on this point:

How simple are these two rules, and yet how comprehensive! How soon the words are repeated, and yet how much they contain! How humbling and condemning they are! How much they prove our daily need of mercy and the precious blood of atonement! It would be happy for the world if these rules were more known and more practiced.

When I meet someone for the first time, I (usually) attempt to connect with them. Sometimes they will respond positively to my overtures, and I find that I have little difficulty seeking their best interests. Sometimes, though, they will respond negatively to my overtures; in these instances, I find myself pondering the following questions:

  • how can I love others – especially Christians – who do not seek my best interests?
  • can I even think positively about others – especially Christians – who do not seek my best interests?
  • have I spoken or acted improperly?
  • could I modify my speech or deeds to make a better impression on others?

These are challenging questions, and I often find that I hold grudges against other believers who respond negatively to me. This highlights the depth of my sinfulness and my need for the Holy Spirit to continue working in me.

Ask, Seek, Knock January 13, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 7:7-12.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus exhorts His disciples to persist in asking God to meet their spiritual needs – enabling them to bear the fruits of the Spirit. The following analogy encapsulates His point: just as parents delight in meeting the physical needs of their children, so God delights in meeting the spiritual needs of His children. Moreover, as God continues to love them by meeting their spiritual needs, they will be empowered to respond by loving others.

Thoughts: This passage forces us to consider what we need as believers – since our needs often conflict with our desires. An additional complication stems from the fact that our desires may not be inherently sinful – yet our sanctification may not hinge on their fulfillment. In that case, we struggle with questions such as:

  • Is this desire consistent with God’s plan for my life?
  • Am I actually failing to glorify God by contemplating this desire?
  • What do I need in order to be sanctified?

These questions often lack simple answers – unless God chooses to clearly reveal His will to us. In light of this difficulty, how can we glorify God in the midst of our struggles? One thought is that at the end of each day, we can give thanks to Him for His grace to us. While we will always have unfulfilled desires in this life, we can always count our blessings – especially His gift of His Son, Jesus Christ.

Treasures in Heaven December 23, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 6:19-24.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus states that His disciples should not love earthly possessions. Instead, He exhorts them to love others. He illustrates this point with the following analogy: just as the physical body is driven by the eyes, the spiritual body is driven by ambition. Thus, His disciples are confronted by this question: will they serve God, or will they serve wealth?

Thoughts: This passage caused me to ponder the following questions concerning earthly possessions:

  • Should a believer continually donate to worthy causes?
  • Should a believer’s will stipulate that their assets be liquidated and the proceeds donated to worthy causes?
  • What is a proper standard of living for a believer?
  • Along these lines, should a believer own a vehicle?
  • On a similar note, should a believer own real estate?

These are challenging questions, and I do not claim to have a satisfactory answer to any of them. While we know that we should not love earthly possessions, we struggle to understand this command in a modern context.

Love for Enemies December 5, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 5:43-48.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus begins by presenting the Pharisees’ interpretation of Leviticus 19:18. He then contradicts that interpretation, asserting that believers should seek the best interests of their enemies. This stems from the fact that God seeks the best interests of all people; thus, believers should emulate Him through their words and deeds. He concludes by asking several questions that are designed to spur believers to display selfless love to their enemies.

Thoughts: This is a difficult passage, as I know that I harbor a grudge against several people. I do not merely view them as acquaintances – I strongly dislike them, as I believe that they have offended me. Thus, this passage confronts me with the following questions: do I have the strength to obey it by seeking their best interests? Instead of merely treating them politely if I happen to interact with them, can I actually care about them? Frankly speaking, I believe that I lack the strength at this point to overcome my negative perception of them by displaying selfless love to them. Thus, I need the Holy Spirit to transform me in this regard – enabling me to live as a genuine follower of Christ.

Concluding Exhortations June 13, 2015

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Here are my thoughts on Hebrews 13.

Summary: The author begins by exhorting his readers to continue seeking the best interests of their fellow believers. In particular, they should:

  • honor and have regard for strangers
  • care for, be compassionate toward and visit Christ’s prisoners.

The author then exhorts his readers to:

  • not defile the honorable state of marriage
  • be without covetousness; to support this point, he quotes from Deuteronomy 31:6, where God assures them of His presence and His help, and so they can respond as the psalmist does in Psalm 118:6-7, where the person and work of God is contrasted with the person and work of man
  • remember all who had spoken or preached the Word of God to them and follow their example.

They should be encouraged in heeding his exhortations by the fact that Christ does not change.

Now the author reminds his readers that grace is the only way for one to become spiritually strong; this cannot occur by foods. Indeed, true believers have Christ alone and His sacrifice as their altar; in contrast, those who are ministering at the temple cannot participate in this altar.

The author then asserts that Christ:

  • left the city and church-state of the Jews
  • put an end to all sacrificing in the city and temple as far as that would be accepted by God
  • declared that His sacrifice and its attendant benefits were extended to the whole world
  • declared that His death and suffering were a punishment for sin.

Thus, the author exhorts his readers to relinquish all the privileges of the city and church-state of the Jews for the sake of Christ. Indeed, the city and church-state of the Jews does not endure forever; in contrast, the heavenly state of rest and glory does endure forever, and they anticipate it.

Now the author exhorts his readers to:

  • be grateful for Christ and having grace through Him – as the appointed seasons require; this entails acknowledging the love of God in the redemption of the church in Christ
  • have a gracious propensity and readiness to do good to everyone; moreover, they should embrace all occasions and opportunities to show loving-kindness on the earth.

The author also exhorts his readers to obey all who had spoken or preached the Word of God to them; indeed, these pastors exhibit watchfulness with the greatest care and diligence, since Christ has entrusted them with their souls. Obedience to their pastors would allow them to go on to maturity – and so their pastors would thank Christ for the work of His spirit and grace among them. In contrast, disobedience would allow them to fall into sinful ways – and so their pastors would mourn with grief and sorrow.

Now the author requests prayer from his readers. In particular, he asks them to pray that he would be able to come to them again.

The author then prays for his readers; he prays that God – who raised Christ as the king, priest and prophet of the church from the dead – would make them fit and able for every good deed.

The author tells his readers to bear with the truth and teaching of the Gospel that he has applied for building them up; this stems from the fact that he has given them a compressed summary of the teaching of the law and the Gospel. He tells them the good news of Timothy’s release, and he encourages them to convey his kindness and affection to their pastors; indeed, the believers in Italy have conveyed their kindness and affection to them. The author concludes by praying that the whole goodwill of God through Jesus Christ and all of its attendant blessings would be with them.

Thoughts: In verse 13, the author exhorts his readers to relinquish the Old Testament covenant and embrace the New Testament covenant. Owen offers some insights on this point:

The main point the apostle makes here is that a moral and religious purpose is served by going from this camp. These Hebrews valued nothing so highly as their moral and religious life and their citizenship in Israel. They could not understand how all the glorious privileges given of old to that church and people should stop so that they had to forsake them…All the privileges and advantages, whatever they were, were to be renounced. Anything that was inconsistent with having Christ and participating in him must be forsaken.

While most modern-day believers are not of Jewish descent – and so we do not connect with the primary application of this letter – we can still learn from the secondary application of this letter. In particular, believers occasionally fall into the trap of placing their ultimate worth in external things, including:

  • their nationality – especially when their country of origin plays a prominent role in global affairs
  • their ethnicity – especially when they attend a church that is dominated by members of their ethnic group
  • their income and level of education.

We must remember to constantly return to Christ and find our ultimate identity in Him. In this way we will learn to lose our temporal lives and gain our eternal lives.

An interesting aspect of Owen’s commentary is his conclusion that Paul is the anonymous author of this letter. Of course, the authorship of this letter is still an open question, and so I am certainly curious as to how Owen arrived at his conclusion. Was he influenced by verse 23, where the author refers to Timothy? Was he influenced by verse 24, where the author refers to believers in Italy (since we know that Paul served two prison terms in Rome)? If Paul is the anonymous author of this letter, then this would have to be reconciled with the fact – as presented in verse 19 – that the author previously spent time with the Hebrews. Now I think that the name of the author did appear at the beginning of the original letter, yet that part of the letter was subsequently lost to posterity. I certainly hope to meet the author of this letter in the next life…

Now that I have completed my stroll through Hebrews, I am reminded of the major theme of this letter: Christ and the covenant that He has sealed are superior to all other things; thus, we must respond to Him with faith and obedience. While this experience has not made the task of responding to the Gospel message with faith and obedience significantly easier, I would say that I have been spurred to renew my daily focus on Christ in the midst of this rapidly changing world. This stroll has both reminded me of the dangers of seeking temporal pleasures – thereby “sinking into the world” – and encouraged me to “rise above the world” on a daily basis. I also hope to be able to spur other believers on in their quest to “rise above the world” on a daily basis; perhaps these blog posts will be an encouragement to them in this regard.

Living for God June 17, 2014

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Here are my thoughts on 1 Peter 4:1-11.

Summary: Peter begins by telling his readers that since Christ suffered in their place, they must conform to Him by suffering in their bodies – ceasing from sin. Instead of walking in the ways of impiety, they are living sacrifices entirely offered up to God. Before their conversion, they had conformed to the world by walking in the ways of impiety. Now that they have been saved, they do not pour out their affections on ruinous vanities – and so unbelievers revile them. Yet at the supreme and final judgment, God will call these unbelievers to account for their insults. He also encourages them by reminding them that all deceased believers:

  • were converted at some point
  • ceased from sin after their conversion while enduring the insults of unbelievers
  • are now united to Christ.

Peter then reminds his readers that the supreme and final judgment will soon occur; thus, they should be sober and watchful – enabling them to pray in an acceptable way. Moreover, each of them must:

  • follow their primary duty of strongly seeking the good of others – enabling them to forgive their mutual failings
  • supply the needs of others based on the previous exhortation
  • use their endowments to seek the good of others, as God has given believers a variety of endowments.

Peter concludes with the following exhortations:

  • those who preach the Gospel message must speak wisely and in a holy way
  • deacons must depend on God’s strength when performing their duties

and so their service will be for God’s glory – spurring him to add a doxology to his exhortations.

Thoughts: In verse 9, Peter exhorts his readers to show kindness to fellow peripatetic Christians. Leighton offers some insights on this point:

One practical way to supply the necessities of our brothers is to cut back on our own excesses. Turn the stream into that channel where it will refresh your brothers and enrich yourself, and let it not run into the Dead Sea. Your vain excessive entertainments, your gaudy variety of clothing, these you do not question, for you think they are yours…You are a steward of all your possessions. If you do not share them, you are committing robbery. You are robbing your poor brothers who lack the necessities of life while you lavish on yourself what you do not need.

A quick scan of my e-mail inbox reveals that various entities tug at my purse strings. For example, an online retailer recommends that I purchase a book from their enormous inventory. Also, an airline encourages me to purchase a round-trip fare for a weekend getaway (along with renting a car and booking a hotel, if possible). In addition, my alma mater exhorts me to make a financial gift that will enable a current (or future) student to earn a life-changing diploma. Given all of these demands on my resources, how can I use my money wisely for the kingdom of God? I believe that it is important for Christians to formulate a financial plan so that they can give with a good conscience. This plan should be guided by the following compatible principles:

  • Christians do not need to sell all of their possessions
  • Christians should not be enslaved to their possessions.

In verse 11, Peter exhorts ministers of the Gospel message to preach with great caution. Leighton offers some thoughts on this point:

The Word is to be spoken wisely. By this I mean, it is to be delivered seriously and decently. Flippant remarks and unseemly gestures are to be avoided. You should speak with authority and mildness. Who is sufficient for such things?

I have discovered that during small group meetings, I have a tendency to say the first thing that comes to mind without considering its impact on the other attendees. Interestingly, another attendee has consistently challenged me when I have made unprofitable comments. While I still struggle to accept his criticisms, I have come to see that his primary concern is the spiritual welfare of our small group. This has spurred me to focus on presenting thoughts that can help the other attendees grow closer to God and to each other. Indeed, I have improved in terms of actually thinking through the implications of a particular statement or question before I verbalize it during our meetings. Perhaps this is God’s way of enabling me to tame my tongue, though I certainly have a long way to go in this regard.

Sprinting Through the Book of Second John March 16, 2014

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I recently read through the Second Epistle of John with the aid of a commentary by Matthew Henry. My aim in this endeavor was to comprehend this epistle as a whole and compare it with 1 John.

On a related note, “sprinting” appears in the title of this post as this epistle consists of a single section in the NIV translation; thus, this journey will be more of a sprint than a leisurely stroll.

Here are my thoughts on 2 John.

Summary: John begins by introducing himself as one who is old in holy service; he then greets a noble Christian and her family, whom he sincerely loves. Indeed, all of their Christian acquaintances sincerely love them, as she practices true religion. He pronounces the following apostolic benediction over them: that they would receive divine favor, forgiveness and tranquility of spirit from God – the fountain of blessedness – and His Son – the Author and Communicator of these blessings. These blessings will continually preserve true faith and love in them.

John then tells the noble Christian that he is joyful because some of her children are also practicing true religion. Now he requests that she and her family continue to practice Christian sacred love, as this is a divine command that is as old as natural religion. Christian sacred love entails urging others to walk in holiness.

Now John makes this request as there are seducers who make at least one error concerning the person of the Lord Jesus – deluding souls and opposing the name of the Lord Christ. Thus, the noble Christian and her family must not allow these seducers to cause them to lose any part of that glory that they currently stand to gain. He illustrates the importance of his request by stating those who revolt against the Gospel message have departed from God, while those who retain the Gospel message are united to God. Thus, they should neither hospitably entertain any of these seducers who may travel to their house nor recommend their work to God for His blessing. If they support these seducers in any way, then they will share in their iniquities.

John notes that there are some things that he wants to tell them in person, as their communion will produce mutual joy.

John concludes by stating that their near relatives also extend pious overtures to them.

Thoughts: John writes this letter to a female Christian and her family. Henry offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary:

Here we find a canonical letter written, principally, not only to a single person, but to someone of the softer sort (the chosen lady). And why not to one of that gender? Regarding the privilege and dignity of the Gospel and redemption, “there is neither…male nor female”; they are “one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). Our Lord himself neglected his own meal in order to commune with the woman of Samaria, to show her the fountain of life; and when he was dying on the cross, he chose to leave his blessed mother to the care of the disciple whom he loved and thereby instructed him to respect female disciples in the future.

Henry later notes that this woman and her family were eminent and pious. That is neat, and I am definitely looking forward to meeting them in the next life and learning more about them. Where did they live, and why were they eminent? Did this woman inherit a large sum of money, or did she build her fortune? How did she and her family come to hear and accept the Gospel message? How did their piety influence their handling of their eminence? Did they have any enemies, and if so, how did they treat them? While this short letter does not provide many details in this regard, it does whet my appetite for the time when I will meet them.

In verses 10 and 11, John states that believers should not offer any support to false teachers. Henry offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary:

Bad work should not be consecrated or recommended to God for a blessing. God will never be a patron of falsehood, seduction, and sin. We ought to bid Godspeed to evangelical ministering, but regarding the propagation of fatal error, if we cannot prevent it, we must not countenance it.

I thought about how believers support both short-term and long-term missionaries with prayers, donations and letters. Since we are not physically present when missionaries are carrying out their duties, in some sense we trust that God is actually working through them to spread the Gospel message. Now if it turns out that they are actually false teachers, how will God view our support of them before we learned that shocking news? What if we never learn that they are false teachers? Now I think we can assume that most, if not all, missionaries make a concerted effort to honor God in their daily lives, and so most believers will never need to address this hypothetical situation.

In some sense, one can view this letter as a condensed version of 1 John. Here, John touches on some of the points that he hammered home in that letter:

  • having fellowship with God entails obeying his commands
  • the most important command entails seeking the good of others
  • one must discern truth from error – especially as it pertains to Jesus Christ.

I am certainly eager to sprint through 3 John at this point and compare/contrast it with this letter.

God’s Love and Ours March 1, 2014

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Here are my thoughts on 1 John 4:7-21.

Summary: John begins by exhorting his readers to exercise mutual love, as those who do not exercise mutual love lack the true knowledge of God. Indeed, the principal evidence of the free love of God is the fact that He exposed His only Son to death for the sake of believers. God freely loved believers; thus, He sent His only Son to reconcile them by His death. Since God freely loved believers, they should seek the good of others – proving that God remains in them.

John then states that the apostles recognized the glory of God in Christ, as God sent Him to reconcile believers. Thus, those who truly believe in Christ:

  • are united to God
  • will know His love toward them
  • necessarily seek the good of others.

John notes that God has abundantly poured out His love to believers, and so they resemble His image; thus, they can confidently go to His tribunal. Since believers are assured of God’s love toward them, they have a peaceful calmness – as fear stems from unbelief.

John then reiterates that since God freely loved believers, they should seek the good of others; indeed, anyone who claims to love Him while not seeking the good of others is a liar. John concludes by stating that God has previously commanded believers to seek the good of others.

Thoughts: In verse 10, John states that before we loved God, He loved us and sent Jesus Christ to expiate our sins. Calvin offers some head-scratching thoughts on this point:

But here there seems to be some inconsistency, for if God loved us before Christ offered himself to die for us, what need was there for another reconciliation? In this way the death of Christ may seem to be superfluous. To this I answer that when it says that Christ reconciled the Father to us, it refers to our apprehension, for as we are conscious of being guilty, we cannot conceive of God except as one displeased and angry with us, until Christ absolves us from guilt.

While it is true that at least some sinners are terrified of God’s wrath before their conversion, Calvin seems to present an unbalanced view of our relationship with God. In particular, I believe that while God did love believers before they loved Him, their sins were still odious in His sight. Any sin incites the wrath of God, as He is holy and cannot tolerate sin. Thus, He was “displeased and angry with” believers before their conversion, regardless of their conception of His wrath. Of course, my interpretation raises the following question: how can God be both loving and wrathful toward believers before their conversion? Perhaps we are called to remain in that tension – instead of following Calvin’s example by attempting to resolve it. Hopefully I am not misunderstanding Calvin on this point…

In verses 20 and 21, John states that anyone who claims to be a believer – yet does not seek the good of others – is a liar. I find this to be an extremely challenging point, since I know that I often entertain negative thoughts about others, including other Christians. When I read through Calvin’s commentary on these verses, I was hoping that he would:

  • allude to the difficulties that all believers face in terms of living up to this exhortation
  • state that those who strive to live up to this exhortation are truly believers.

Yet Calvin did not state anything along these lines; thus, I am faced with a very high bar, and I do wonder if I will be able to clear it. Hopefully this will spur me to pray more intensely for God’s strength to live up to this exhortation. I also sense that I should pray that God will allow me to capitalize on opportunities to seek the good of others in both big and small ways.

Love One Another February 20, 2014

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Here are my thoughts on 1 John 3:11-24.

Summary: John begins by telling his readers that his teaching regarding brotherly love should not have seemed new to them. He then cites the negative example of Cain to show that the world will hate them gratuitously; since Cain was ruled by impiety, he murdered his brother, Abel – who was ruled by piety. Now those who are endued with benevolence and humanity are blessed, while those who cherish hatred are miserable. Moreover, those who cherish hatred are murderers, and they are condemned before God.

John then cites the positive example of Christ to spur his readers to forget themselves and seek the good of others; He testified to the depth of His love for them by not sparing His own life. Thus, whenever they see an opportunity to help others, they should feel sympathy with them and help them – based on their love of God. He exhorts them to prove their love of God by their deeds.

Now John states that by seeking the good of others, his readers will show that the truth of God lives in them. On the other hand, those who cherish hatred can be divided into two groups:

  • those who are condemned by their own hearts
  • those who are judged by God, who judges more severely than their own hearts.

Yet those who seek the good of others can:

  • testify with their hearts that they are conscious of what is right and honest
  • pray to God because they sincerely worship Him.

Indeed, believers are commanded by God to:

  • embrace Christ as He is set forth in the Gospel message
  • seek the good of others.

John concludes by stating that those who keep these commands are united to God, because the Holy Spirit rules their lives.

Thoughts: In verse 12, John cites Cain as a negative example for his readers in terms of dealing with others. This reminds me that Jude also cites Cain as a negative example for his readers in his letter; also, the author of the letter to the Hebrews cites Cain as a negative example for his readers. Since Cain is apparently consistently condemned in the latter portion of the New Testament, his story would have been familiar to the readers of these letters. It is likely that first-century Christians regarded that story with a mixture of disgust and horror, since Cain committed the first recorded act of murder. Thus, they would have responded appropriately to the above-mentioned citations of Cain. On a related note, one could infer from these citations that Cain was not ultimately saved. It should be noted, though, that the Lord did protect Cain from harm in Genesis 4, so his ultimate destination remains a mystery…

In this passage, John exhorts his readers to seek the good of others. Calvin offers some insights on this point in his commentary on verse 17:

The fourth is that no act of kindness pleases God unless it is accompanied with sympathy. There are many apparently generous people who do not feel for the miseries of their brothers. But the apostle requires that we have pity, which happens when we feel sympathy with others in their distress just as if it were our own.

I found Calvin’s point to be challenging, as I can identify with the “apparently generous people” he mentions. I have participated in several service projects over the years, but I have rarely felt genuine sympathy with those who I have served on those occasions. Perhaps my background has influenced me in this regard; since I did not grow up in a disadvantaged situation, I have difficulty identifying with the struggles and problems of those who I am serving. I usually assume that their disadvantaged situations stem from their mistakes. Now if my background has influenced me in this regard, then the Holy Spirit will need to work in me so that I can feel genuine sympathy for those who I serve. This will require a great deal of prayer – especially on my part – and grace from God.

Strolling Through the Book of Jude January 1, 2014

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I’ve recently started reading through the Epistle of Jude with the aid of a commentary by Thomas Manton. I should note that I’ve previously read through Jude. As in my recent stroll through the book of Titus, I hope to comprehend Jude as a whole. In particular, I would like to compare Jude with the Pauline epistles.

I plan to blog about this experience as I read through both the epistle and Manton’s commentary. Each post will correspond to a specific section in the NIV translation.

For starters, here are my thoughts on Jude 1-2.

Summary: Jude begins by referring to himself as an apostle; he also refers to his relative, James. He greets the elect, who are:

  • sanctified by God the Father
  • preserved in that state by God the Son.

Jude concludes by praying that the elect would receive more and more of:

  • mercy from God
  • tranquility of mind arising from the sense of a definite relationship with God
  • a gracious and holy affection that the soul returns to God through His grace.

Thoughts: In verse 1, Jude notes that the elect are “kept by Jesus Christ.” Manton offers two thoughts on this point that are difficult to reconcile. First, we have:

Again, we do not say that a believer is so sure of his state of grace that he does not need to keep on being alert and watchful.

Then, we have:

It is not as if an elect person could be driven out of the state of grace, for he will be saved at the end. He cannot fall from grace and godliness unless his whole person consents to this. He may sin badly but will not fall away completely, nor finally.

The bulk of Manton’s notes on this verse emphasize the role of God in preserving the elect in their “state of grace,” and so I infer that Manton essentially hewed to Calvin’s view of salvation. Of course, Manton’s thoughts do not resolve the ancient debate between those who advocate free will and those who advocate pre-destination. Can a believer cease to be “alert and watchful,” and if so, what are the consequences? Can the “whole person” of an “elect person” consent to “fall from grace and godliness?” Since Manton states that this “will not” happen, why must a believer “need to keep on being alert and watchful?” Perhaps Manton believed that all believers who “sin badly” will receive fewer rewards in the next life than those believers who do not “sin badly,” though this is just a hunch.