As mentioned before, “The Complete Works of Thomas Boston” were compiled long after his death. The editor of this extensive collection did a wonderful job of arranging the various writings not in chronological order but by the subject matter. Though I have used these works for personal devotion for quite some time, my reflective writing on them is a relatively new endeavor. However, in God’s good providence, the particular topic of this post fits nicely with my intentions for my blog. I desire that the reader can use my efforts as a means inspiring meditation to assist in the struggle of living a life of faith and perseverance.
Religion today, partly due to a dispensational influence, tends to devalue the shadowy accounts of the life of the Church in Old Testament Israel. Yes, we do still use the Pslams and Proverbs for guidance, and tell the stories of historical events to Sunday School classes, but the actual ways of the old Church, the Jewish Church, seem to have been discarded like bath water. The “New Testament Church” devalues what God places high value in. The Gospels and the Apostolic correspondence has taken the forefront in biblical teaching, and has been interpreted to negate the importance or even validity of the pre-incarnation word of Christ. In his work, “A Meditation on the Day of Expiation (Atonement) and the Feast of Tabernacles,” Boston uses two Jewish religious observances as examples for us. Though no longer a legal requirement of the Church (Col. 2:16-17), they are still helpful for our spiritual benefit and appropriate for meditation.
God prescribed a very specific religious calendar for the Church in the time of Israel’s national formation. Exodus and Leviticus give detailed accounts of how God wanted the Church to practice religion. This practice was so specific that any deviation from the liturgy was a direct act of defiance. In Leviticus 10 we read of the story of Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron and priests of Israel. If you have never read this story, I encourage you to do so and to take heed to the sobering message therein. Though their intentions my have been honorable and meant for the improvement of the worship service, they only angered God. The use of a means of worship not prescribed by Him was not acceptable. In respone God burned them to death.
God has been merciful in relieving us of the legal requirement of these specific observances. At the same time God has not given us free reign to worship as we please. During the rise of the Roman Catholic church apparently they paid no heed to Nadab and Abihu. Like a reincarnation, the church began to invent new and innovative ways to worship God. A new religious calendar was instituted without any biblical warrant. Rites, ceremonies, and holidays, all with mystical undertones, mirrored the “strange fire” that ended so perilously for Aaron’s sons. Sadly, the Protestant Church today seems to follow blindly what our forefathers suffered and died to protect against. They saw the need to break away from the unrighteous practices of the Pope and to purify the Church.
Do you know why you worship the way you do? For our purposes here, let us consider our Church calendar. God ordered the Jewish calendar. Who ordered yours? Do you know how or when Christmas, Easter, or Lent came to be events in the Church? Remember, I vowed not to be an antagonist with this forum. So I must stop here. (Just saying!)
Though God may not set anyone on fire for worshipping him in an unauthorized manner, like while you light the Christmas tree or the Advent candle, he has been fairly clear on the subject of worshipping him like the pagans worship their Gods(Deut. 12). That being said, God has given us more than enough examples of how he likes to be worshipped. We do not need to invent more. I can assure you that, considering the busy pace of life today, you could not fit into your church calendar all means of worship God has already invented. I am not saying you should build an alter and sacrifice livestock. God has already abolished that. What I am saying is just look at two observances and use them for your own benefit.
First is the Jewish observance of the Day of Atonement. As I mentioned earlier, the Old Testament is a run up to or shadow of the New Testament. The Israelites looked forward to the revelation of the Messiah and his atoning sacrifice for them. Their repeated deliverance from sin, rebellion, captivity and oppression were fore telling Christ. The Day of atonement was no celebration, at least from our perspective. It was a time for self and national examination. Mourning for sin, sacrifices, fasting and self denial were part of the day. Though the efforts of the participants never actually atoned for their transgressions, they did serve a great purpose. They were moved to adore their Savior, and to look longingly for His coming. They knew their works could not save them. Only Christ could recompense for their failings.
You do not have to schedule a specific day to still benefit from the observance. You have the latitude to use the theme of the observance by merely meditating on your own need for atonement, your own need for a savior. Blessed are those who mourn because of their sin. Take time to reflect on your sin. I had a Pastor once who strongly believed in practicing days of fasting and prayer. He was truly convinced that this was still a very appropriate practice for the Church. I did not disagree, I just wasn’t able or maybe willing to do it. However, if you have an inclination to try I would encourage you to. God did not make arbitrary suggestions. He has purpose for all he ordains. Every day could be a day of atonement, where we use even the smallest events in our lives to recalibrate our focus.
Along with Day of Atonement, God instituted the Feast of Tabernacles. When the Israelites were wandering in the wilderness, without cities, homes or shelter, God still provided. The feast was a celebration of that provision. The people were instructed to build shelters out of tree branches for dwelling in seven days. This was not an exercise of self denial. Rather, it was part of a festival of renewal. A revival of the awareness of God’s promised deliverance from the wilderness to a permanent home. Not a home made with hands, but rather the eternal home with God, Heaven. He would ultimately deliver them from being strangers and exiles in a foreign land. Most importantly, he would deliver them from the need for a Day of Atonement. Maybe if you camped out under your Christmas tree you might could justify the religious use of it. (Food for thought?) You don’t have to physically perform these celebratory acts, such as building a wigwam. What I mean is to build the concept. Use the principle for your practice. Every Lord’s Day could be your Feast of Tabernacles.
For practical application of Boston’s two examples of meditational observances, never take one without the other. Whenever you meditate on your sin follow up with the acknowledgement of your deliverance. Martin Luther, while in his days as a monk, was known for meditating long on his sin and unworthiness. So much so, that he practiced harsh self denial and brutal self inflicted punishment. He saw no way for his deliverance but to experience suffering to earn God’s pleasure. This one sided view of God created a tragic existence. When the Holy Spirit applied the Word to his mind and soul a wonderful revelation and transformation overcame him. Now when mourned for sin he could rejoice in deliverance.
Whether you only have a few moments to reflect or can immerse yourself in devotion, use the situation you are in to apply the principles of these two and other Old Testament religious observances. Be deliberate in your Christian walk. I do not mean rigorous. Allow flexibility, but not to the point of innovation. There is nothing new under the sun. Use what God has given us.