Abraham Lincoln’s Memorandum Of August 23, 1864

Neal Pollard

Somehow, I was unaware of the existence of a document which Abraham Lincoln drafted and had endorsed by every member of his cabinet, though unseen by them, and which remained sealed until November 11, 1864. These were not only dark times for the nation, embroiled in civil war for over three years at that point, but gloomy for the war-weary north which could not end the conflict against the greatly outmanned but tactically superior south. Politicians and citizens were unhappy with the perceived lack of success and progress at such high cost—the death and disabling of so many of her sons in the prime of their lives.  Lincoln detected that popular sentiment was such that he would not be reelected. Thus, he drafted his memo, which read, 

This morning, as for some days past, it seems exceedingly probable the this
Administration will not be reelected. Then it will be my duty to so cooperate
with the President-elect as to save the Union between the election and the
inauguration: as he will have secured his election on such ground that he
cannot possibly save it afterward (Coolidge 139). 

Lincoln seemed to think that the north had had enough of this war and would rather sue for peace and allow our sea to shining sea to be two nations rather than continue with such devastating effects a war they could see no end to. He appears dedicated to whatever he could do to preserve unity.

Of course, several things changed the course of Lincoln’s fate in his bid for reelection that swept him decidedly into office for a second term. There was the north’s victorious show in The Battle of Atlanta, Fremont’s withdrawal from candidacy, the Democrats internal division between the Copperheads—eager to end the war now—and the War Democrats, and the fact that no electoral votes were counted from the Confederate States of America.  But, Lincoln could not see the future. He was preparing for what he saw as the worst.

There is a well-worn battle taking place in our world. It is not technically between two factions. It might be framed as Christianity versus other world religions. It could be cast as New Testament Christianity versus so many individual denominations. Yet, internally, there are multiple stressors to the biblical unity Christ prayed and died for, too (John 17:20-21). 

Christians are soldiers (Eph. 6:10ff), but our battle is not with flesh and blood (Eph. 6:12).  Our war and weapons are not “of the flesh” (2 Cor. 10:3-4). All the same, many have grown weary of fighting the good fight and not a few feel as though we are fighting in a losing cause. The restoration ideal of doing Bible things in Bible ways seems archaic and impossible to growing numbers of saints. Some fight with equal vigor to preserve traditions not rooted in Scripture, and unnecessarily harm the great cause. 

As we strive at all costs to be true to the pattern of New Testament Christianity, let us do so going to whatever lengths we can to maintain unity wherever possible. Not for a moment does that mean sacrificing truth or compromising even one “thus says the Lord.” But it does mean embracing a spirit of love and protectiveness for the precious Bride of Christ, the church. That involves loving and working with those who are the members of it. 

Ultimately, the Lord’s cause will prevail. His victory is as assured as every other divine promise. We must be striving on His side to share in that. For now, we cannot give up the fight! Let’s cooperate wherever and however we can, standing unitedly on the foundation of Christ and His will. The rest (which is most of it), we will leave to our Great Commander In Chief!

Works Cited:
Coolidge, Louis A. American Statesman Ulysses S. Grant (New York: Chelsea House, 1983).

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More Light Than Heat

Neal Pollard

In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Polonius counsels his daughter, Ophelia, about Hamlet’s vows of love, saying, “When the blood burns, how prodigal the soul lends the tongue vows. These blazes, daughter, giving more light than heat, extinct in both even in their promise as it is a-making, you must not take for fire” (Act 1, Scene 3). Her point is that passionate desire causes a man to profusely promise anything in order to get what he wants, but it may lack substance and trustworthiness. It appears more promising than it really is. We’ve likely all witnessed and experienced this. What good is a fire if it doesn’t produce heat?

When it comes to discussing religious matters, things can get pretty heated. Unfortunately, as the temperature rises, solid conclusions are elusive because there is much more emotion than illumination. Inasmuch as God’s Word is to be a light and lamp (Ps. 119:105), these are times where all are benefited by more light than heat. Too often, instead of proving or disproving something, we resort to personal attacks on the other person, assert a position appealing to a variety of alleged proofs or rationales without benefit of a singular Scripture, or we’ll abuse, distort, and contort a passage to say what it does not mean. As battle lines are drawn and trenches are dug, the two sides become wider and more intensely apart while the matter under discussion fades into the background. 

Because the New Testament repeatedly commands unity (Eph. 4:1ff; 1 Cor. 1:10-13), we must “pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another” (Rom. 14:19). Are there tangible actions we can take to pursue more light than heat in these matters that distress our unity?

  • Genuinely listen. That doesn’t mean merely hear what the other is saying, but listen open-mindedly, seeking to understand what the other person is saying. Don’t presuppose or listen with prejudice. Truly, “He who gives an answer before he hears, It is folly and shame to him” (Prov. 18:13). 
  • Genuinely love. Love for God should be preeminent, but such love is not in opposition to brotherly love. In fact, they are intrinsically bound together (1 Jn. 4:20-21). While love does not mean compromising truth, it will prompt us to do what love requires (cf. 1 Cor. 13:4-8)—be patient, be kind, act becomingly, don’t be provoked, etc. 
  • Genuinely learn. Do we really know their view or merely think we do? This requires great self-examination and disciplined introspection. If we champion a position and have argued the matter before, we may think our fellow disputant believes what he or she does not actually believe. Preconceptions eclipse thoughtful interaction. We should ever be students, making sure we’ve not missed it. 
  • Genuinely long. Peace and unity will sometimes be impossible, but we shouldn’t let that be because we didn’t sincerely seek it. By lovingly seeing the other person as an eternal soul for whom Christ died (as well as any and all who would be influenced by the other person), surely we will strive to gently, civilly, and earnestly discuss the matter (cf. 2 Tim. 2:24-26). 

We live in divisive times. They are carnal times, full of “bitterness and wrath and clamor and slander…with all malice” (Eph. 4:31). We must remember that the “anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God” (Jas. 1:20). What does? God’s Word (Jas. 1:18-25)! Too often, we’ll be locked in matters of truth and error and must uphold truth. But let’s be so careful to discern when that’s the case and always speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15). Such will produce light rather than heat!

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TRY THE CONTEXT!

Neal Pollard

“Big dummy!” That can be a derogatory statement or the description of a large mannequin. Context makes all the difference! So it is with matters of infinitely greater significance. So much religious error exists because of a failure to consider the context of biblical passages.

Our friends in religion who believe that Jesus is a created being rather than one of the three everlasting personalities of the Godhead defend their view with passages such as Colossians 1:15, which says, “He is the firstborn of all creation.” A further study of the use of the word “firstborn” shows that it is used literally (Heb. 11:28) and figuratively (Heb. 12:23) in the New Testament. Context determines the difference. What is it in Colossians 1:15? The context says that Jesus made everything that was made (16-17). Did He make Himself? No, He cannot both be literally, physically born and be the One who created “all things.” Logically, Paul is speaking in a figurative sense, that in His human nature Jesus is “at the head of His class.” He is first in order, preeminent among men (18). As a human, He is above us and first among all of us.

Others of our friends teach salvation by faith only. They appeal to a couple of passages to assert this idea. One passage is Acts 16:31, where the Philippian jailer is told, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” This is given as proof positive that salvation comes at the point of faith. Another text cited, the “golden text of the Bible,” says, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16). This statement is made as part of a conversation Jesus is having with Nicodemus.

In the case of the jailer, who saw the miraculous power of God in opening the jail doors and who asked what he must do to be saved, he is told to believe in Jesus. It is noteworthy to ask, “How much would the average Philippian jailer know about Jesus?” Thus, Luke adds the important detail that before we read of the man’s response, “They spoke the word of the Lord to him” (31). His response is found in verse 32, where he washes Paul and Silas’ wounds and is immediately baptized. This accords with the broader context of Acts, where believers are told to repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of their sins (2:38; 22:16).

In the case of Nicodemus’ instruction, Jesus’ makes the statement of John 3:16 in a certain context, too, a context that included talk of water (3:5) and an illustration from the book of Numbers. That illustration is very noteworthy for showing that more than belief is necessary for salvation. It concerns the serpents God sent upon the murmuring and complaining Israelites. Numbers 21:9 says, “So Moses made a bronze serpent, and put it on a pole; and so it was, if a serpent had bitten anyone, when he looked at the bronze serpent, he lived.” How did salvation come, simply by believing in God’s plan or by believing AND looking? Likewise, the broader context of scripture shows faith and works joined together. Israel did not earn the saving of their lives by looking any more than we earn salvation from sin by believing and being baptized. Yet, God makes it as essential to obey today as He did during the wilderness wandering. Context bears this out.

Let us never be “scripture isolationists,” those who peel a verse away from its context or who rest our confidence in doctrines that have been thus constructed. God saw to it that we would have His word and will preserved. How wise of us to make sure we properly study it in context!

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The Courage To Try

Neal Pollard

About nine months ago, a man walked into our building a day after being immersed into Christ. He had been searching diligently for the truth, a man whose hunger for the Bible caused him to study his Bible for hours every day (including on audio at his job as a metal fabricator). He continues those habits today.

A man whose life is as interesting as his name–Roberto Yrey–has been a blessing to us at Bear Valley.  One of the reasons I’ve grown to love him so much was on full display last night. Each Wednesday, a different man delivers a 90-second devotional talk. Last night, Roberto spoke. Don’t misunderstand. He writes devotions, short sermons, and articles all the time in order to articulate his understanding of a Bible chapter or topic he has been studying. He changed his mind multiple times before settling on the one he delivered last night. If you were there, you know that Roberto was nervous. He has told several of us how difficult public speaking is for him. His only previous public speaking opportunity was a Scripture reading during a devotional back during the holidays.

What he chose to speak about last night so aptly reveals a mindset that makes him so endearing. His message was that you don’t have to know everything to study with someone. Don’t be afraid to tell someone, “I don’t know.” It’s OK if you don’t know or understand everything. He encouraged us, “Say, I don’t know but let me ask someone who might know. Or let’s fellowship and find the answer.”  But his message was to not let the fear of not knowing keep you from talking to someone about the Bible.

I admire the fact that Roberto had the courage, as a babe in Christ, to speak to a room full of people some of whom have been preachers and teachers for decades, teachers in our Bible school for many years, and are mature, seasoned Christians. But I admire him even more for practicing what he was preaching. In our midst last night were two visitors–Estevan (there for the first time) and Sean (who’s become a regular attender with Roberto for several months). He had the courage to invite them. Today, we baptized Sean into Christ for the forgiveness of his sins. A young Christian has already brought a friend to Jesus. All it took was the courage to try, to do what anyone can do who is moved by simple, trusting faith to just do what God has told us to do. I don’t know about you, but Roberto’s example helps me have the courage to try harder!

 

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(L) Sean being baptized today by Allen Javellana, who studied with him. (R) Roberto preaching at Bear Valley last night.

Misusing The Bible

Neal Pollard

Ashley Despain now holds a dubious, ignominious distinction. Visiting an inmate in a Nevada, Missouri, jail, Ashley tried to sneak him marijuana and methamphetamines by sticking them into the binding of the Bible. Officials say they have seen many ways used to smuggle drugs to prisoners, but it’s the first time the Bible was the means chosen (via http://fox2now.com/2018/03/29/).

File that under “truth is stranger than fiction.” As incredible (and audacious) as that sounds, Ashley was not the first to misuse the Bible. How many have tried to use the Bible as a means of enriching themselves? Peter speaks of false teachers who exploit listeners with false words because of the teachers’ greed (“make merchandise of,” KJV, 2 Pet. 2:3). How many have tried to use the Bible as a means of defending personal sin or a sinful lifestyle? How many have tried to use the Bible as a billy club to pound their own hobbies, convictions, and opinions over the heads of others? How many have tried to use the Bible to peddle some false doctrine? Peter experienced that, too (2 Pet. 3:16). How many have tried to use the Bible to manipulate others into doing things they themselves aren’t doing? Jesus warned against that very thing (Mat. 23:4). How many have tried to use the Bible to tempt others into disobeying God? That’s literally a Satanic trick (cf. Mat. 4:6).

James warns potential teachers to be careful, examining themselves in light of the judgment (3:1). This is not meant to scare potential Bible teachers away, but instead should help us consider carefully how we use the Bible. Paul mentions some that misused the Bible, even if what they said was true. From prison, he writes, “ Some, to be sure, are preaching Christ even from envy and strife, but some also from good will; the latter do it out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel; the former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition rather than from pure motives, thinking to cause me distress in my imprisonment” (Phil. 1:15-17).

Like Paul, we have a stewardship (1 Cor. 9:17; Eph. 3:1-2). Let’s be faithful stewards! None of us will probably try to smuggle drugs with a Bible. But, in every sense, let’s be sure to be “accurately handling” it (2 Tim. 2:15)!

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HOW IS TRUTH DETERMINED?

Neal Pollard

Recently, I received some feedback on a recent article (Truth Is Truth, No Matter Who Disagrees With It). Negative feedback is not rare, but expected when we put ideas down on paper (or on electronic media like blogs). This feedback was not personal, nor unkind. Yet, it reflects the thinking of so many who shun the idea of absolute, objective truth. Consider the major arguments made by the one who wrote:

—No matter what you believe, the majority disagrees with you.
—You are no smarter or more sincere than those who disagree with you.
—Everyone is certain their religion is right, but this is a function of the brain and proof of nothing
—Conflicting views within the “Restoration Movement” shows the fallacy of being certain about truth
—Certainty is dangerous because it does not allow for change

The last three arguments seem more of a confrontation of certainty than arguments against truth, but consider each of these individually.

Does the inevitability of disagreement nullify the idea of absolute truth? If someone argues our answer that two plus two equals four, and were able to get a majority to side with them that the answer is five, does that nullify the truth of what two plus two equals?

If a person with demonstrable intellectual capacity and apparent sincerity nonetheless avers that two plus two equals five, do we rewrite the laws of addition and reprint the textbooks? If not, why not? Is it not because we can take two of something, add it to two more of the same something, like integers or apples or books, and find the inescapable, universal truth that now there are four?

Can any religion be certain that they are right, but be wrong? Universalists believe everyone will ultimately be saved. Those who believe that murdering those they deem “infidels” pleases their God and they teach others that this is truth. Cults often dub their leaders the Messiah. On what basis would we object or oppose any religious tenet, like these, without an objective standard of truth?

Does the imperfection of people in applying revealed truth impugn the reality of absolute truth? It will never be suggested that anyone is perfectly interpreting or applying the perfect standard of truth, including those trying to restore New Testament Christianity (which, incidentally, implies belief in a perfect, objective standard of truth). But, does that mean restoration can or should be rejected for ideas which clearly contradict what the New Testament says (i.e., “sinner’s prayer’ versus how the New Testament teaches people were saved)?

If there is a conflict between the certainty of New Testament teaching and the desire for change, which is to be preferred and chosen? The religious world has changed a myriad of things that the New Testament explicitly teaches must be done or taught a certain way. Isn’t it a faulty premise to choose change proposed by men, when it assaults a certainty revealed by God?

That there is religious confusion and division is indisputable. It is disheartening. The Bible warns that articulate, polished religious leaders would teach things contrary to the revealed truth of the New Testament (Gal. 1:6-9; 2 John 9-11; Rev. 22:18-19). Let us never put confidence in man, but let us ever put confidence in the truth of Scripture.

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“Vain Jangling”

Neal Pollard

The English language has done some changing in the 400-plus years since the King James Version was made available. Within its pages, you’ll find phrases like “straitened in your own bowels” (2 Cor. 6:12), “superfluity of naughtiness” (Jas. 1:21), “bloody flux” (Acts 28:8), “filthy lucre” (Ti. 1:7), and “the thick bosses of his bucklers” (Job 15:26). There is a beauty and picturesqueness to the Elizabethan English, though. One example of this is in 1 Timothy 1:6, which warns against “vain jangling.” To me, that’s a vivid way of translating a compound Greek word translated elsewhere as “fruitless discussions” (NASB), “idle talk” (NKJV), “vain discussion” (ESV), “meaningless talk” (NIV), and “empty talk” (MEV). Have you ever heard anyone jangling keys or coins in their pockets? It’s usually a nervous tic and mindless habit, but it can loud and annoying. In the 17th Century, the word meant to “talk excessively or  noisily, squabbling” (Apple Dictionary, 2.2.2).

In context, Paul gives the culprits, the creed, the consequence, the contrast, and the cause of this “vain jangling.” The culprits are “certain men” (1:3) or “some men” (1:6). Their creed is “strange doctrines” (1:3), “myths and endless genealogies” (1:4), and this “fruitless discussion” (vain jangling). The consequences are dire, as such will “give rise to mere speculation” (1:4). The contrasts are “the administration of God which is by faith” (1:4) and “instruction (in) love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1:5). The cause is revealed in verse 7, that “they want to be teachers of the Law, even though they do not understand either what they are saying or the matters about which they make confident assertions.” Paul had a particular circumstance in mind, but is there an application to us today?

In 2018, there are numerous platforms and avenues to communicate. It can be easy to forget that James’ warnings about the tongue are not limited to words which are audibly heard, but whatever we speak. I need to be cautious about being a religious noisemaker, banging and clanging with reckless abandon. My words have meaning, and they hold the power of spiritual life or death within them (Prov. 18:21). Thus, great restraint, copious forethought, and thoughtful execution ought to permeate my speech, wherever it is “heard.” Otherwise, I may simply be declaring my thoughtless ignorance, both uninvited and unwelcome, and come off sounding like three dollars of pennies churning in the pocket of a champion fidgeter.

Paul speaks of Christians as “ambassadors” for Christ (2 Cor. 5:20). We must represent Him righteously and accurately. We may be the first and only megaphone through which Christ is proclaimed, so let us speak accordingly. Let’s make Him proud, for His message is “words of sober truth” (Acts 26:25), not vain jangling.

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Truth Is Truth, No Matter WHO Disagrees With It

Neal Pollard

Today, one of the most famous preachers of modern times died just short of his 100th birthday. Not only did he achieve longevity, his name was almost synonymous with American religion in the 20th Century. He reached hundreds of millions of people through live crusades, radio, and television. He was regularly listed as one of the “Ten Most Admired Men in the World.” His website claimed that he preached to more people in live audiences than anyone else in history (info via FoxNews.com).  His influence on society is unmistakeable.

However, this much loved and now much lamented man used the weight of his name and influence to oppose something which Scripture seems very clearly to teach. In the answer section of his website, he addresses the question, “Is baptism necessary for salvation?” While answering that he believed it to be important and that he had done it himself, he also said, “If baptism were a requirement for salvation, we would certainly say that.” His answer makes clear that one becomes a saved convert before baptism, the thief on the cross being used as proof of that claim. Many of those who left comments under his answer shows how deeply influential and popular his teaching on this was.

I believe in the vitality of the saying, “It’s never a matter of ‘who’s right,’ but ‘what’s right.’” Something is never right because I say it, some other preacher, or even the most famous preacher of the 20th Century says it. Something is right because Jesus and His apostles and prophets said it. Here is what they said:

  • “He that believes and is baptized shall be saved” (Jesus)
  • “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins” (Peter)
  • “Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name” (Ananias)
  • “Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life” (Paul)
  • “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (Paul)
  • “ Corresponding to that (Noah and family brought safely through the water, 20, NP), baptism now saves you—not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience—through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (Peter)

I feel the loss of this renowned preacher is sad and tragic.  I appreciate his vast influence and the way he tried to use that for good in so many regards. Yet, if the Bereans found it necessary to compare the great apostle Paul’s preaching and teaching with Scripture, any of us who preach and teach today should want people to do the same. That’s the only way we will be able to determine what’s right!

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Deathbed Repentance?

Neal Pollard

“From the stirrups to the ground,
Mercy I asked for, mercy I found”
That is a distorted view of grace,
Which seeks God only in death’s face.

It cheapens that which cost Him much,
To use Him only as a deathbed crutch.
Unlike the seeker at his eleventh hour,
Who sincerely reaches for His saving power,

The hardened sinner who in last resort
Hedges his bets for some eternal life support.
So many never reach a deathbed sound in mind,
Or care for His will ’til their death warrant’s signed.

While God is long-suffering, wanting all to be saved,
The majority spend their lives to sin’s power enslaved
They only think heaven when earth’s living is through,
But an afterthought gesture will just not do.

Scripture says “come now,” not “wait til tomorrow,”
So many delayed to their own regret and sorrow.
Instead of relegating God to a last-ditch recourse,
Submit to Him now, you He’ll publicly endorse.

Deathbed repentance is not found in His Word,
No matter what men from their wisdom you’ve heard.
Obey from the heart what His doctrine requires,
Let His word be your truth, let all others be liars.

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It’s Great To Be A Preacher!

Neal Pollard

Preachers have:

  • The greatest message to communicate (Rom. 1:16). It is infinitely better and more important than that shared by broadcasters, news anchors, and sports analysts (cf. 1 Cor. 1:18).
  • The greatest “boss” to please (Eph. 6:6-7). I have known and worked with so many great elders. I understand that they “hired” me and can “fire” me. Ultimately, though, I work for God–no greater One for whom a man could work!
  • The greatest mission to fulfill (Mat. 28:18; Mk. 16:15; Lk. 24:46). Doctors save bodies, firemen save lives and property, and accountants save money. Preachers save souls!
  • The greatest people on earth to serve (Eph. 3:21). The church certainly has its problems and members who hurt the cause. Yet, so many are wonderful, encouraging, and supportive! They love the Bible.
  • The greatest colleagues in the world (Ph. 1:15-17). True, some are sore tails, jacklegs, unethical, theologically radical, and theologically liberal. However, the “average” preacher (far from that) is worthy of hero-status! Remember Romans 10:15.
  • The greatest opportunities in the world (cf. Gal. 6:10). You never know what the new day will bring! Preachers get to study the Bible several hours each day, visit with Christians, set up and teach Bible studies, do mission work, preach gospel meetings and lectureships, and just have the privilege of preaching and teaching week after week!
  • The greatest retirement plan possible! It includes a crown of life (Rev. 2:10), a heavenly home (Heb. 11:16), and souls won to Christ “to their account” (1 Cor. 3:12ff).
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A few of my favorite preachers (and a couple of their ladies)