Thursday, October 29, 2009



On August 21, 2005, I received a call from Simion’s wife, Maria, that he had gone home to be with the Lord early that morning. He had been ill for some time with many physical maladies. Yet, when I was told of his passing, I found it hard to think of him as “dead”.

A few days later on August 27, 2005, I realized again why I thought of him as very much alive. The service was hardly a “funeral” service, but a home going celebration for a dear man of God!

The service reminded much of services I had been in, and even preached in,when in 1985 I visited several cities in Simion’s native Romania. The country at that time was still in the iron grip of Nicolae Ceausescu and the Romanian Communist party. They made it very difficult for the Christians there. There was much persecution, yet when I met them, they were some of the happiest people I had ever been with. In the services there was much singing and worship of the Lord. Most of the services that I was in lasted no less than 3 hours! It was almost easy to preach in such an atmosphere of joy, and I did.

One Sunday, with the very able translation of Simion’s son, Doru Motz, I preached 3 times, and a number of times during the week. These times of joy and fellowship they had so often I am sure sustained these persecuted Christians during the hard times.

Also, I have worshiped in some Romanian congregations in Florida and Georgia with Simion, and I knew that here in the states they carry the same joy in their worship services, so I was not at all surprised at how Simion’s home going service went.

There were at least seven “sermons”, if you count the vigorous testimonies of a couple of his close brethren. There were some of those who had been in prison with Simion in Romania, some who knew him in the church there, and some, like me, who knew him after he came to America.

Yes, I was even recruited to testify and preach a little. I was reluctant to stand before a congregation just then, for I was having extensive dental work done, and several teeth were missing until I got an upper plate. But it did me no good to beg off! I was compelled by several of his relatives there, since I had been close to Simion, and traveled extensively with him when we were with Pastor Haralan Popov’s ministry ECL/Door of Hope. After that, I worked with him in the mission which Simion founded, Suffering Church Ministries.

Once I was at the podium, and began to read scripture, and reflect and preach again, I was caught up in the joy and would not have cared if I had no teeth at all! Maybe it was again the excellent translation of the able English scholar, Doru Motz, who is also an able preacher, and preached his own message there also.

Most everything was in Romanian, that beautiful Latin tongue. There were wonderful songs, familiar hymns, and though sung in Romanian, I could join in to some degree, and was very refreshed. As all this was going on, I remembered the wonderful times when Simion and I would be in a meeting, and he would sing. Often he sang How Great Thou Art in English and Romanian. I was also reflecting how much he must be enjoying this meeting. It had about everything he loved in a meeting; scriptures, songs, prayers, testimonies and preaching.

Of course, now I know he suffers no more, and he, Bro Haralan Popov, Bro.Richard Wurmbrand, Bro Georgi Vins, Bro Peter Dyneka, Bro Ivan Moiseyev, and many others including my son, Chuck Woodruff are rejoicing around the throne.

Simion always longed for that "city whose builder and maker is God." In travel together, living in close quarters in homes and hotel rooms, you can learn so much about a person. Simion is the genuine article, a real saint of God. We had so many good times of fellowship together which I would like to relate to you. Perhaps I will in future articles.

For now, suffice it to say that the service in the chapel was not the last of it! At the graveside there were at least two more songs, three short eulogies and several prayers! Yes, for a spoiled American such as I, it was a bit tiring, but even there with a total of four and ½ hours of service, I can say “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice” (Philippians 4:4).

I do not remember what Simion’s favorite verse was, but one that will always remind me of him is “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Philippians 4:13.

He was a man not afraid to share with his brethren. The mission he founded never got very large, but he made sacrifices, and did more than many with a lot more money have done. I will never forget him, and in future days may share with you some of our moments together, if you will let me. (This is the end of part one, originally published October 27, 2005 A.D..)


During Simion’s funeral in Buford, Georgia, one of the memories I reflected on was how I met him. I was working with ECL/Door of Hope as U.S. Field Director. In 1978 I was in the home office in Glendale, CA working on some projects including scheduling meetings in churches, as I often did. I had frequently met Christians from the USSR and Eastern Europe in my work with the mission. I organized a number of church meetings for Pastor Haralan Popov from Bulgaria, the founder and president of the mission. In my work, I also was involved preaching and sharing the Bible distribution work in numerous churches.

In the office at that time was Dorin Motz from Romania. I met him for the first time then. Doru (his nickname by which everyone called him), along with his wife, Maria, and their two children, David and Esther, immigrated to the USA in August 1977. They started out in the Fort Lauderdale area, later locating in Portland, Oregon. Doru was doing some translation for the mission, which, as I stated before, he is well qualified to do. I can’t remember if his wife had delivered their third child yet when we met, but it was right around the time of his son Joseph’s birth when I was in the Glendale office in February 1978.

Doru was troubled about a matter which he shared with me. It seems his father and mother, Simion and Maria Motz, along with two sons, Daniel and Eugene, and daughter, Nicole, were allowed to leave Romania after much effort and were in a refugee camp in Rome, Italy attempting to get permission to immigrate to America as refugees. Red tape was delaying them in Italy, but at least they were out of Communist Romania. This would have never been possible a few years earlier, because Simion had been sentenced to 17 years in prison in Romania. It was because of the relaxing international situation that Simion only served around 1/3 of that terrible sentence, as he explained in his autobiography (On the Way of the Cross in the King’s Service).

Doru asked me if I knew any Christians in government, or someone who might be willing to help speed the process. I immediately thought of former Arizona congressman John Conlan, whom I had met briefly the year before. He and Bill Bright had started an organization to educate America regarding her Christian heritage. I just knew he would help if he could. He was no longer a congressman, but still had a lot of influence. I tried to telephone him in Arizona, but couldn’t get him. We were a little unsure of the next move, but we prayed.

Just after that, something marvelous, even miraculous, happened. Ron Hallornan, the producer that organized radio broadcasts for Pastor Haralan Popov, came into the office. He didn’t know anything about what we were doing. He picked up the phone and called somebody. He used our office phone. (Remember there weren’t cell phones in those days). We couldn’t help but overhear him; he wasn’t trying to be secretive about his call. I heard him tell someone in the office he was calling a person at the National Religious Broadcasters Convention in Washington, DC. I was utterly amazed when he asked for---- JOHN CONLAN! I nearly jumped out of my seat! I wanted to be patient while Ron talked to the congressman. I lasted about a minute! I was afraid Ron might hang up so I rudely interrupted him to say. “Ron, this is very important! I must talk to Mr. Conlan when you finish. Please, put me on with him before you hang up. I apologize for cutting in while you are trying to talk, but this is urgent! Thanks.” I know he must have thought “Charles has lost his mind!”

Well, he did put him on and I was able to explain the plight to John. He assured me that he would do what he could, even though he was out of Washington now. But he was in Washington at that moment and I’m sure he made some contacts regarding these persecuted Christians. Doru and I gave thanks to God for His blessing!

I don’t know how instrumental John Conlan was in getting them out of Rome, but less than a month later on March 1, 1978, the Motz family arrived in Los Angeles. I did not get to greet them at the airport, but sometime later that year I met Simion, and it was a joy to see the photos made of these refugees at Los Angeles Airport. In the words of our Lord “Ask and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you;” Matthew 7:7

Simion and family got an apartment in Glendale and he began doing accounting at the mission. I visited their home there, after meeting Simion at the ECL office that year, A little later he flew to Atlanta to begin a southern itinerary which I had arranged for him. It was a busy year for me. For example, in September 1978 I went to Russia.I could dig and get exact dates of exactly when I first met Simion, but I am not trying to write a book, just some remembrances! When I did meet him, I suppose because of the immigration miracle, I felt I had known him for a long time.

The thing I remember most is this; when I was asked to organize some meetings for him, I was told he spoke English. When I was first with him he told me he learned English by reading language books and listening to radio a little. He did not have the formal training of his son Doru. It turned out, though he spoke English pretty well; his pronunciations were sometimes off quite a bit. I was worried that Americans wouldn’t understand him. Most did, but his English got better with my help! For instance I noticed he said “blued” for our English word--blood. I helped him get that right along with correcting his pronouncing of soup as “soap” He never got angry about it. He even asked for my help. I would write down mispronounced words and go over them with him after each service. We got a good laugh when I told him “Simion, the only problem with me as your English teacher, you will speak with a southern accent!"

I need not have worried though about Christians receiving him. “They were not able to resist the wisdom and the spirit by which he spake” (Acts 6:10). Mostly they loved him, because they realized he loved Jesus Christ and longed to see Him. One memorable example comes to mind. We were in a church in the mountains of northern Georgia. An elderly lady came to me after the service and spoke to me in words, that I, as a city boy from Atlanta, barely understood without getting her to repeat her words. Here’s what she said, “You know, I couldn’t understand hardly a word he said, but I know it was good because I felt the Holy Ghost so strong when he spoke”. So with God’s help he overcame language barriers all the time. That was my friend, Simion!

We got along well. As I said when you travel with someone and room with them many days, there are little things that may annoy. Romanians are Latin, often considered hot tempered. He had mostly a gentle temperament even if we disagreed on a point. Once or twice I wanted the room to have more A/C than he did. I would turn it down and he would scold me a little. He would say “I cannot suffer this 'wind' on my back each night that you enjoy so much.” He taught me a little Romanian too. I now know that a “machina” is a car. “lubinetza” is watermelon. “clititas” are pancakes. His English was much better than my Romanian!

Another incident was in Florida around 1980. I was driving a car that Chuck Redding, a Christian mechanic friend in St Petersburg, was trying to keep repaired for me. It was getting a few miles on it. Anyway going from Lake Wales to Fort Pierce on a very hot Florida day, the A/C went out. Simion didn’t understand and thought I had shut it off deliberately. He complained I was trying to burn him up! It was hot! We both were sweating profusely. He finally understood that it was mechanical. We certainly welcomed a wonderful rain shower we came into. And this was a case where he learned to appreciate the “wind” in our motel room.

Simion loved the word of God. I believe his most favorite teachings were “knowing, brethren, your election of God” 1 Thessalonians 1:4. He knew he was God’s and that it was originally God’s choice, not his. He told often of God convicting him when in college and overwhelming him with truth. He would say “God stopped me in the night".At that time he had thought he was already saved. We spoke of this truth often. We did not agree on all the smallest details of doctrine, but agreed that “Salvation is of the Lord” (Jonah 2:9), and that the “whosoever wills” that come to Christ are His chosen enabled by His Spirit to come to Him.

Also, He longed for the coming of Christ with all his heart. If he could speak to us all today, I believe he would say: “Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto Him, that ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand. Let no man deceive you by any means, for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God. Remember ye not, that, when I was yet with you I told you these things?” 2 Thessalonians 2:1-5 KJV.

(The end of part two, originally published November 18, 2005 A.D... Part three can be found, along with a photo of Simion Motz at our cyberphotos blog).

Friday, October 23, 2009


I was reading these small pieces that I published in 2006, and I thought I would share with you. Hope you find something interesting. If you would like to be on my email list, send me your email address at

John Newton’s autobiography introduced me to a new word: concatenation. It means a series of events (providentially) linked together. “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). (from Out of the Depths, Moody Press, Chicago, 1972 A.D. edition. The 2003 Kregel edition is revised and may not even have this word). Anyway, it is recommended reading in either edition.

God found John Newton in a strange place, as we have pointed out before. A slave trader and blasphemer saved by grace. As Arthur W. Pink said: The high favorites of Heaven are sometimes to be located in queer and unexpected places. Joseph in prison, the descendants of Abraham laboring in the brick-kilns of Egypt, Daniel in the lions’ den, Jonah in the great fish’s belly, Paul clinging to a spar in the sea, forcibly illustrate this principle. Then let us not murmur because we do not now live in as fine a house as do some of the ungodly; our 'mansions' are in Heaven!” (The Life of David, Reiner Publications, Swengel, PA,1969 A.D. edition, page 79). (emphasis his).

David was a type of Christ in many ways including:

David was a prophet as well as a king; so was our Lord.

David was anointed about the 30th year of his life; so Christ, the son of David, was baptized and anointed at 30.

David in his wars had many poor men follow him such as were in debt; so Jesus Christ had many poor men who followed Him, and became His disciples, who were heavy laden under the burden of sin, called a debt.

(Adapted from Preaching From Types and Metaphors by Benjamin Keach, Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, MI, 1972 A.D. edition. Benjamin Keach was a Baptist Preacher in London who lived from 1640- 1704.This work was originally called Tropologia).

“The devil directs his fiercest batteries against those doctrines in the word, and those graces in the heart, which most exalt God, debase man, and bring men to their lowest subjection to their creator. Such is the doctrine and grace of justifying faith.” (Stephen Charnock (1628-1680), The Existence and Attributes of God, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, MI ,1971 A.D. edition, page 106). Read some of his works- free. Click on link:

I know I am often looking at the writings of theologians of long ago, but I think it is so necessary in this day of apostasy. If you go into the average Christian bookstore, you will find so little of these classic books of yesteryear. You find a few I know, among so much lightweight, shallow reading. The most popular books in these stores are novels. Then there are the endless trinkets. I ask the clerks sometimes “Why don’t you carry Pink’s books, Spurgeon’s books, J.C. Ryle’s books, Lloyd-Jones’ books, or even R.C. Sproul’s books?” The usual answer, “We can order them, but most people don’t buy them.” That is sad, because if you are going to read anything besides your Bible, it ought to be, at least some of these classics.

Whatever you read, we owe a great debt to Johann Gutenberg (1400-1468). He is credited with inventing movable type, and a printing press that made mass printing easier. His first project was printing a Latin Bible. He saw the significance of unlocking the Bible’s treasures for the common man. He said “Religious truth is captive in a small number of little manuscripts which guard the common treasures, instead of expanding them. Let us break the seal which binds these holy things; let us give wings to truth that it may fly with the Word, no longer prepared at vast expense, but multitudes everlastingly by a machine which never wearies, to every soul which enters life.” More on this fascinating man and his work at the British Library’s site:

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


The accounts of Christ’s crucifixion in the four gospels solve a number of theological problems if we will take care to study these narratives. All of the seven sayings of Christ on the cross are pregnant with teaching for us. For example, the saying of Christ “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, Why has thou forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46) immediately shows us three things.

1.Christ was the substitute for God-forsaken sinners. Remember God hates sin, and Jesus had become the bearer of our sins, so God turned his back on Him.

2. Christ as man could be separated from His Father. This was the cup He dreaded at Gethsemane.

3. Unless a sinner’s eyes are opened, he will not really see Christ as the saviour. Because He spoke in Aramaic, they thought He was calling for Elias (Elijah), and mocked and said, “Let us see whether Elijah will come and save Him” (Matthew 27:49).

There is much more in this saying, and all seven, but I want to focus on the fact that there were three crosses there. This is not unusual, for this was Rome’s most common way of execution. Literally thousands were crucified by them during the height of the Roman Empire. What was different here?

Jesus had been convicted in a mock trial. Pontus Pilate, who was good at mockery himself when meting out judgment, wrote a superscription in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, saying THIS IS JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS (1), and set it over Jesus’ head. This same Pilate was the one who had mingled some Galileans’ blood with their sacrifices (see Luke 13:1-3). Jesus had been whipped, accused falsely, interrogated, mocked, beaten with fists, forced to bear his cross most of the way on the Via Dolorosa, stripped of His garments, and nailed to the cross at Golgotha. All, more or less common with Roman capital punishment.

But, this man was different. He was crucified between two thieves. These two were very likely co-conspirators with Barabbas, the insurrectionist, murderer, and thief who was set free while Jesus was crucified. At first both these thieves were evidently mocking Him. After all, He was in the same state they were; about to die. He did not seem any different than other men, in spite of what they had heard. So when the chief priests and scribes mocked Him, they joined in. If mere preaching and teaching could save, all of them; thieves, priests and scribes, should have been converted. After all, they verified in there own words what they had seen and heard about Him. First- He saved others.

Second- He said He was a King.

Third-He trusted in God.

Fourth- He said I am the Son of God.

All He had to do was come down from the cross and they would believe Him, they declared. Mere preaching was not going to save them, they had to have a personal miracle. Well, God saves people His way, not theirs. Jesus could really win some souls here, all He had to do was step down to prove who He was. He didn’t, and they would not have believed anyway. Lost, blind, dead, corrupt sinners won’t suddenly change solely on what they hear and see. There must be an inner transformation(See Ephesians 2:1).

At first, “the thieves also, which were crucified with Him, cast the same in His teeth” (Matthew27:44). “And they that were crucified with Him reviled Him” (Mark 15:33b). But there was a change in one of them. Only Luke tells us: “And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on Him, saying, if thou be the Christ save thyself and us. But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Dost thou not fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly: for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this man hath done nothing amiss. And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day thou shalt be with me in paradise” ( Luke 23:39-43). Both originally reviled, one repented. (2) Why? Why only one? Why not both? Did the one have a spark of goodness in himself? Was it free will exercised by one, and not the other? Both their wills had evidently only brought them sin and now, execution. Free will was not going to get them down from the cross. One asked in unbelief ‘save thyself and us’. The other admitted he was a sinner, repented, and looked to Christ in faith. Did faith save him? A few minutes before he also was an unbeliever.

Now he exhibited faith in Christ. We are told “Faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the word of God. Here the Living Word, the Speech (3) that God had spoken to the world was right beside the repentant thief on the next cross. This thief, whose name we know not, was given repentance and faith. The gift of God. This was a sovereign choice of God first. Grace and faith are God’s gifts. The man did have to exercise faith, but he had none until graciously given it by Christ. The man had to repent, but he could not until he was by the grace of God led to repentance (see Romans 2:4).

Of himself this man was totally unable to do anything to save himself. He was condemned for his crimes, for all practical purposes, already dead, not capable of any action, but helplessly hanging there. He was made to see his utter destitute and hopeless state. In other words he was awakened (brought to spiritual life), so he could see his real need. Christ did this for him, and Christ was who he needed! No other could do this for him. A dying saviour saving a dying sinner! Christ must do this for each and every sinner who is saved, else they are forever lost! He took the place of this sinner, as he must take your place if you are saved. Has he done this for you, dear reader? Has He shown you, really revealed this to you, that He, Christ, is the only saviour of sinners? We are all sinners just as much in need, in just as desperate a situation as those two thieves. Which one will you be like?

What happened here that day knocks in the head several false teachings. Because the repentant thief’s time was at an end, he was saved, but there were several things he could not do.

First- he could not join a local church.

Second -he could not be baptized.

Third- he could not do good works.

Fourth- he could not witness or point others to Christ.

Normally, in time, each of these things are important, and would be done by a new convert. Christ’s New Testament church was ready to be established fully after his death, burial and resurrection. After Pentecost, the NT church would be shaped into one body, and as it expanded, into many local assemblies in diverse places. But this man could not join one; OT or NT. No matter, the Lord of the church was going to take him to be with Him. It was going to be today! No waiting for a thousand years. No waiting for resurrection day- but today!

He could not be baptized. Normally, to follow Christ, after being saved, is believer’s baptism, one of the two ordinances of Christ’s church, the other being the Lord’s Supper. These are very important, but proving here that baptism is not necessary for salvation, Christ took him to Paradise.

I remember seeing a TV program some years ago that featured a debate by some Baptist preachers, and some Campbellite preachers, often called Church of Christ. The Campbellites believe that baptism is absolutely necessary, and completes your salvation. In other words, to most of them, you cannot be saved without water baptism.

In the debate the Baptists pointed out the repentant thief to prove their case. One of the Church of Christ men stated that the thief was really the last to die under the old covenant, so that was why he did not need baptism. The Baptists who also held a distinction between old covenant and new (and there are some real distinctions admittedly), seemed to be defeated. The Campbellites were smiling, and just about to claim total victory for their erroneous baptismal regeneration doctrine, when something amazing happened. One of the Baptists, an Australian, I seem to recall, said the following. “ A covenant must be sealed with blood, and Hebrews says there must be the death of the testator. Correct?” (4) All agreed. He then quoted the following: “When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, He said, It is finished,: and He bowed His head, and gave up the ghost. Then the Jews therefore, because it was the preparation, that the bodies should not remain on the cross on the Sabbath day (for that Sabbath day was a high day),besought Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away. Then came the soldiers, and brake the legs of the first, and of the other which were crucified with him. But when they came to Jesus, and saw that He was dead already, they brake not His legs” ( John 19:30-33).

“Jesus died first, beginning the new covenant” said the Baptist preacher. “They did not have to break his legs to kill Him, He was already dead.” Of course, that closed the debate. Scripture was fulfilled here, and some “water ducks” were not quacking so loud!

Good works? The thief could do nothing. He was dying.

Witness? Well he did that. As William Cowper’s Hymn says so well:

“The dying thief rejoiced to see that fountain in his day.

And there may I though vile as he, wash all my sins away” (5)

The witness of this man by the reading and preaching of the gospel will continue forever. He was blessed to be with Jesus on the cross, and in paradise. Yes, if you are an unbeliever, he was, and is blessed, but you are cursed! If he was here right now, he would beckon you to believe on the now risen Christ. Have you? Do you? I pray that you will.


(1) This compilation is a blend of all four gospels from The Life of Christ in Stereo, Four Inspired Voices Testify As One by Johnston M. Cheney, Edited by Stanley A Ellisen, Western Baptist Seminary Press, Portland, OR, A.D.1969, page 199, sec 155. }.“ Slight differences in the accounts {originally} are due to the different languages of the inscription, one account based on one, the other on another.”

(2) Ibid, p. 200

(3) In the beginning was the Speech, and the Speech was with God, and the Speech was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made by Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made. (John 1:1-3- Calvin’s NT). As to the Evangelist calling the Son of God the speech, the simple reason appears to me to be, first, because He is the eternal Wisdom and Will of God; and, secondly, because He is the lively image of His purpose; for, as Speech is said to be among men the image of the mind,, so it is not inappropriate to apply this to God, and to say that He reveals Himself to us by His Speech.” Commentary on the Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to John by John Calvin. Originally written in A.D.1553, translated from Latin in A.D.1847 by William Pringle, this edition by Associated Publishers and Authors Edition, A.D.1970, Wilmington , DE

(4) “For this cause He is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance. For where a testament is, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator.” (Hebrews 9:15-16).

(5) William Cowper , A.D. 1772 ,see web page for his story.

There is one case of death-bed repentance recorded, that of the penitent thief, that none should despair; and only one, that none should presume. --Augustine ( A.D.354-430)

Probably 80 years ago, In “Seven Sayings of the Saviour on the Cross”

Arthur W. Pink said the following:

Salvation by grace - sovereign, irresistible, free grace - is illustrated in the New Testament by example as well as precept. Perhaps the two most striking cases of all are those of Saul of Tarsus and the Dying Robber. And the case of the latter is even more noteworthy than the former. In the case of Saul, who afterwards became Paul the apostle to the Gentiles, there was an exemplary moral character to begin with. Writing years afterwards of his condition before his conversion, the apostle declared that as touching the righteousness of the law he was "blameless" (Phil. 3:6). He was a "Pharisee of the Pharisees": punctilious in his habits, correct in his deportment. Morally, his character was flawless. After his conversion his life was one of gospel-righteousness. Constrained by the love of Christ he spent himself in preaching the gospel to sinners and in labouring to buildup the saints. Doubtless our readers will agree with us when we say that probably Paul came nearest to attaining the ideals of the Christian life, and that he followed after his Master more closely than any other saint has since.

But with the saved thief it was far otherwise. He had no moral life before his conversion and no life of active service after it. Before his conversion he respected neither the law of God nor the law of man. After his conversion he died without having opportunity to engage in the service of Christ. I would emphasize this, because these are the two things which are regarded by so many as contributing factors to our salvation. It is supposed that we must first fit ourselves by developing a noble character before God will receive us as his sons; and that after he has received us, tentatively, we are merely placed on probation, and that unless we now bring forth a certain quality and quantity of good works we shall "fall from grace and be lost". But the dying thief had no good works either before or after conversion. Hence we are shut up to the conclusion that if saved at all he was certainly saved by sovereign grace.

The salvation of the dying thief also disposes of another prop which the legality of the carnal mind interposes to rob God of the glory due unto his grace. Instead of attributing the salvation of lost sinners to the matchless grace of God, many professing Christians seek to account for them by human influences, instrumentalities and circumstances. Either the preacher or providential and propitious circumstances or the prayers of believers, are looked to as the main cause. Let us not be misunderstood here. It is true that often God is pleased to use means in the conversion of sinners; that frequently he condescends to bless our prayers and efforts to point sinners to Christ; that many times he causes his providences to awaken and arouse the ungodly to a realization of their state. But God is not shut up to these things. He is not limited to human instrumentalities. His grace is all powerful, and when he pleases, that grace is able to save in spite of the lack of human instrumentalities, and in the face of unfavorable circumstances. So it was in the case of the saved thief. (Read the entire chapter at site below).

Friday, October 02, 2009



In Holy Scripture, credit is given where credit is due. There is a prominent person in Jewish history, a doctor of the law named Gamaliel, who shows up in the New Testament. His name means God is my reward. His fame lives today among the Jews (especially the Orthodox), because he, the grandson of the famous Hillel, was named a Rabban, which is a rabbinic title given to the Nasi (head), of the Sanhedrin. In the Jewish religion, this is a high honor. (1) We Christians are compelled to honor him for several reasons also. He was a Pharisee of the Pharisees, like Saul of Tarsus, before Saul became Paul the apostle. As a matter of fact Gamaliel was Paul’s teacher in the law. In Acts 22:3 Paul says: “I am verily a man which am a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, yet brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, and taught in the perfect manner of the law of the fathers, and was zealous toward God, as ye all are this day.”

God had just brought about an amazing miracle in the lives of the apostles of Christ which had the Jewish high priests, and rulers beside themselves. They were coming to the conclusion that the only remedy was to kill the apostles, as Jesus Christ was killed. Their major problem was that Jesus didn’t stay dead, and the apostles didn’t stay in the common prison! Allow me to summarize what happened in Acts chapter five without reading the entire chapter, up to verse 20.

  1. Ananias and Sapphira had been killed by the Lord in a spectacular way for lying to the Holy Ghost (verses1-10).

  1. “Great fear came upon all the church, and upon as many as heard these things” (Acts 5:11).

  1. Many signs and wonders were done by the apostles. (See Acts 5:12-13).

  1. “And believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women” (Acts 5:14).

5. Many were healed as they gathered around the temple, some evidently by the mere shadow of the apostle Peter passing by. Our Lord had said His disciples would do greater works than even He did, and here it was happening. (See John 14:12).

  1. A multitude came from nearby towns and cities that were sick or demon possessed, and they were all healed. (See Acts 5:16).

You can see where this is going, can you not? The rulers of the Jews were already angry, upset and out for blood, and these miracles brought this response: “Then the high priest rose up, and all they that were with him, (which is of the sect of the Sadducees), and were filled with indignation” (Acts 5:17).

We can only imagine the turmoil. They thought putting Jesus and Stephen to death was going to solve their problems of this “new religion”, but now things were many times worse for the Jewish leaders. Multitudes of their own people, over which they formerly had religious control, were being converted, healed and listening to these “raving maniacs” preaching that Jesus was alive. So :“( they) laid their hands on the apostles and put them in the common prison. But the angel of the Lord by night opened the prison doors,

and brought them forth and said, Go, stand and speak in the temple to the people all the words of this life” (Acts 5:19-20). (Life= the Greek word zoe here as the faith, i.e., spiritual life)(2).

When released early the next morning, the apostles did as the angel told them. While they were teaching in the temple, the high priest sent for them, thinking they were still in jail. He was gathering the council of the Sanhedrin together, and all the senate of the children of Israel. This was the highest authority they had under the Romans, and I am sure they thought since Pontius Pilate acquiesced so easily in the death of Christ, they would be allowed to do as they wished with Christ’s followers.

The high priest was told: “The prison truly found we shut with all safety, and the keepers standing without before the doors: but when we opened, we found no man within” (Acts 5: 23). Now the problems for the Jewish leaders were at “flood stage level. They knew their power was being undermined by something they didn’t understand. Soldiers were sent to retrieve the apostles (without harm, because they feared the people), and bring them before the council.

Then –“The high priest asked them, Saying, Did we not straitly command you that ye should not teach in this name? (Jesus) And behold you have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us. Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, we ought to obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew, and hanged on a tree. Him hath God exalted with His right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. And we are His witnesses of these things; and so is also the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey Him” (Acts 5: 27-32).

This is another powerful witness by Simon Peter with the other apostles firmly standing with him. All the more remarkable considering those whom they addressed had the power to put them to death! So bold is Peter here, as he was on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2), it is hard to believe this was the same disciple that denied Christ three times! He was a changed, Spirit filled man. I love to teach and preach from these verses, and hope to again, but I must move on. You really must read this wonderful chapter of Acts for yourself.

We are now beginning to look at the passages that contain the message I want to convey to you. “When they heard that (Peter’s reply), they were cut to the heart, and took counsel to slay them. Then stood up one in the council, a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a doctor of the law, had in reputation among all the people, and commanded to put the apostles forth a little space; And said unto them, Ye men of Israel, take heed to yourselves what ye intend to do as touching these men. For before these days rose up Theudas, boasting himself to be somebody; to whom a number of men, about four hundred, joined themselves: who was slain; and all, as many as obeyed him, were scattered, and brought to nought” (Acts 5:33-36).

Let us look a minute at this event. I already told you that Gamaliel was probably the most powerful Jew in all of occupied Israel. Now he gave a command to hold back, wisely reminding them of one named Theudas, who didn’t last. Several things about Theudas:

1. He thought he was somebody, and boasted so. He had no lack of “self esteem”, as so many who exalt themselves. Remember when Jesse Jackson was telling his followers to say aloud “I am somebody”? Scripture teaches the opposite. “What is man that Thou art mindful of him? And the son of man that Thou visitest him?” (Psalm 8:4) We are all nobody until God makes somebody out of us.

2. He had four hundred followers, not a small number in those days. We understand from history he had them deceived, much like the more recent Jim Jones, or David Khoresh. This man, Theudas, wound up coming to a bad end. He was slain. His followers were scattered. His whole movement was brought to nought (nothing). You can’t get much lower than that!

Then Gamaliel goes on: “After this man rose up Judas of Galilee in the days of the taxing, and drew away much people after him: he also perished; and all, even as many as obeyed him, were dispersed” (Acts 5:37). Gamaliel points out these two men among many in history who were false Messiahs with many followers. Of Judas of Galilee we know:

1. He rose up in the taxing, around the time of Jesus’ birth.

2. He was against the government of Rome and tried to organize a revolt.

3. He had many followers. The Jews hated the Roman rule and wanted to break the yoke. Many of them believed that the Messiah would be a warrior to bring them to victory. That is one of the reasons many of them rejected Christ.

4. He also was killed and his movement was destroyed.

5. This Judas was not Iscariot

Then we come to the most remarkable statement from Gamaliel: “And now I say unto you, refrain from these men, and let them alone: for if this counsel or this work be of men, it will come to nought: But if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it: lest haply ye be found even to fight against God” (Acts 5:38-39). I say the statement is remarkable for several reasons:

First: I have to wonder why Gamaliel didn’t raise his voice this way when Jesus was given over to the Romans to be crucified. He is a leader of the Sanhedrin; he was involved in it all and could have stopped the crucifixion.

Second: Why didn’t he raise his voice about Stephen, who was killed a short time after this? I really don’t know how involved he was in the martyr’s death, but his disciple, Saul, was there holding the coats while Stephen was stoned (see Acts 7:58).

Third: “Honored as a great rabbi, Gamaliel cannot be accounted in any way as sympathetic with

the followers of Jesus.”(3) However, this is not historically the only viewpoint on Gamaliel. The Roman Catholics canonized him as a saint. The bible itself does not say he became a Christian, but

it is possible, just as Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathaea and other prominent Jews were converted. There is a paragraph on this point of view in the Wikipedia article previously cited (4).

Was it really all wisdom on Gamaliel’s part, or was there an ulterior motive? The rulers were divided between Sadducees (who do not believe in the resurrection, or angels, or miracles), and the Pharisees who do believe in these supernatural things. Remember Gamaliel was a Pharisee. This was perhaps a way to keep the Sadducees in check, since they were the ones clamoring the most for the apostles’ death.

William Arnot (1808-1875) gives us a perspective on this: “As the Sadducees gave their influence against the apostles because they preached through Jesus the resurrection of the dead, it was natural that the Pharisees should draw back when they discovered that by joining in the persecution they were in effect strengthening their rivals. Gamaliel, accustomed to lead his party, seems to have discovered as the case advanced that the Pharisees had glided unawares into a false position”. (5)

Whatever Gamaliel’s purpose was, he certainly was used as a vessel of God for His higher purpose. God may use anyone He chooses as it pleases Him. Over all else is the purpose of the Sovereign of Heaven,

who had more plans yet for these apostles. As has been well said by someone, “Man is invincible until God’s purpose has been fulfilled.”

Gamaliel’s position prevailed: “And to him they agreed: and when they had called the apostles and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus and let them go. And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name. And daily in the temple and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ” (Acts 5:40-42).Of course, these men empowered by the Holy Spirit were not going to go away, instead they rejoiced in their suffering for Christ, and continued to preach and teach in His name, even in the temple!

What Gamaliel was really seeing before his eyes that day was the church. Remember the church is not a building, but it is the Body of Christ. Peter and the apostles, and all true saints, are in the body, including us. Jesus had already declared in Matthew 16:18 “Upon this rock, I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Gamaliel was verifying it. History has verified it. You and I know there are problems in the churches today. There are schisms, divisions, strife. Many have departed from the faith and still call themselves true churches and true believers. I still say we need an awakening; a reviving, in the churches today. God always has a remnant. He will not be without a people; true believers who have been washed in the blood of Jesus Christ! Yes, there are faithful believers in this world today, and more are being added to the church even in our wicked day. The work has not been overthrown! Hallelujah, God is still on His Majestic throne of Glory. Christ is still saving sinners, and will be until the last trumpet sounds! We know little about persecution in America today, but the church began in persecution. The church always seems to grow stronger when there is persecution, so it may increase before He returns.

We might add that just like Theudas, Judas of Galilee, David Khoresh, Jim Jones, and the Clonaid flying saucer cult (which claimed to have cloned a human being); all these quacks and nuts came to nothing! Also, David Brown and his DaVinci Code, the Gospel of Judas book, and all the other silly lies men can tell, will come to nothing! But Christ, the Great Shepherd, and His sheep go on, and will never perish!


(1) From an article in Wikipedia quoting The Jewish Encyclopedia. Link: .

(2) Adapted from Vine’s Expository Dictionary of NT Words: MacDonald Publishers, McLean, VA, no print date; page 676.

(3) William J.Fallis, Studies in Acts; Broadman Press, Nashville, TN

Copyright 1949; page 36.

(4) See Wikipedia; op.cit. (use link)

(5) William Arnot, Studies in Acts; the Church in the Home; Kregel,

Grand Rapids, MI, 1978 edition, page129.

(The Wisdom of Gamaliel originally published: July 8, 2006. This is the revised edition).