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Union and Communion with Christ
III. THE SAVOUR OF CHRIST’S PERSON AND OFFERING, THE SOLE CAUSE OF THE CHURCH’S ACCEPTANCE BEFORE GOD.
“I will accept you with your sweet savour, when I bring you out from the people, and gather you out of the countries wherein ye have been scattered; and I will be sanctified in you before the heathen. And ye shall know that I and the Lord.” Ezekiel 20:41-42
That was a very interesting moment with the church, and grace was in lively exercise, when looking to her Lord with holy rapture and delight, she sung her love song to his glory, and cried out: “Because of the savour of thy good ointments, thy Name is as ointment poured forth,” (Song 1:3). Thy Name, that is the Person of our most glorious Christ; and his good ointments, all that belongs to Him, in which the church is interested, and with which he hath perfumed all heaven with his blood and righteousness. He himself, being the one glorious object of all faith; and his finished salvation, the subject of all joy.
I know not whether, under divine teaching, you have entered into the spiritual apprehension of these things. But very sure I am that the spiritual church of our most glorious Christ can find nothing else to live upon. This is the only life of the soul. Here is the very marrow of the feast, which the Lord promised to his people in the holy mountain. Here alone is the true wine of the gospel, (Isa. 25:6). And hence it is, that while to a carnal eye, neither the Person of Christ, nor the salvation by Christ, have any charms to attract attention; to the redeemed and regenerated child of God, he himself is “the altogether lovely, and the chiefest among ten thousand;” and his redemption, the everlasting joy of the soul. In the contemplation of the infinite greatness and almightiness of his Person, blended with the infinite fulness and suitability of his work; what Christ is to her, and what he hath done for her; yea, what he is still doing for her, and will continue to do, to all eternity; the church never ceaseth her love song, but continues every day, and all the day, to chaunt it, through the whole wilderness state, and in the words of the prophet to say: “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord: my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation: he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness; as a bridegroom decketh himself with ornaments; and as a bride adorneth herself with her jewels,” (Isa. 61:10).
And all this is heightened in the consideration of the peerless grace manifested to the church, in the contrast to his unequalled glory, and her debased circumstances. For never surely can there be anything more disproportioned than the infinite holiness of Christ, and the fallen state of man. And that Christ should so love his church, as to give himself for her, is a marvelous love, passing knowledge. Moreover, his love is the sole cause of ours. For if we love him, it is because he first loved us,” (1 John 4:19). And had he not, by the sovereignty of his power, subdued the natural enmity of our heart, induced by the fall, and not only loved us, but inclined our hearts to love him; never should we have loved him to all eternity. Put your hand upon a stonewall, or a marble chimney-piece, is it warm? Nay then, if it be, you must know that somewhat different from its own nature hath warmed it; for it is the very nature of stones to be cold. And such is the heart of every son and daughter of Adam by the fall, cold to the love of God by nature, and impossible to be warmed but by the sovereignty of grace.
And it is this rich, full, and free grace, which makes all the difference between “the righteous and the wicked; between him who serveth God, and him who serveth him not.” All men that hear, or read their Bibles, hear or read alike of the love of God. And thousands there are that hear, or read, or do both, concerning that love of God, from one Lord’s day to another, know nothing more of it than by this outward ministry. But the redeemed and regenerated church of our most glorious Christ, not only hear, or read, but understand; not only know by reason the truth of God, but by revelation; not simply consent with head knowledge, but by heart influence, to the glorious things contained in salvation; and have, and do, “set to their seal that God is true.” Put the richest feast before a man without appetite, and what benefit can be derived from the mere sight? Spread the supper of the Lord before the unawakened sinner, dead in trespasses and sins, and what spiritual enjoyment can he derive from it? There must be a relish, a life in the soul, to the spiritual apprehension of spiritual objects. Hence the Holy Ghost taught the church by Paul, that the love of God is not only preached, or heard, but “shed abroad in the heart.” We then not only read, but taste, that the Lord is gracious. We not only are come to the blood of sprinkling, but we know it, and feel the blessed properties of it, as speaking blood; for it speaketh peace to the conscience in Jesus Christ. You see, therefore, on what ground the church stood, when she expressed her delight in her Lord’s person; and felt a fragrance in his love, “as ointment poured forth.” And it is to the same savor the words I have just read to you have respect, when the Lord promised” to accept his people, and when he hath accomplished those purposes concerning them, which are enumerated in the text: “I will accept you with your sweet savor, when I bring you out from the people; and gather you out of the countries, “whither you have been scattered: and I will be sanctified in you before the Heathen: and ye shall know that I am the Lord.”
If you will open your Bibles at this chapter from whence these words are taken, you will perceive how very graciously they are introduced by the Holy Ghost. The Lord the Spirit had been speaking, in the former part, of his Israel, in a way of reproof, for their backsliding and departure from the Lord. And here, towards the close, the Lord points out how his grace would be manifested towards them, in their recovery, in the latter day dispensation. Looking forward to the times of the gospel, (for Ezekiel’s prophecy evidently had special reference to that period) the Lord draws the very outlines of redemption, and marks the more prominent features of it, one by one. In the verse preceding, the Lord thus speaks: “For in mine holy mountain, in the mountain of the height of Israel, saith the Lord God, there shall all the house of Israel, all of them in the laud serve me; there will I accept them, and there Will I require your offerings, and the first fruits of your, oblations, with all your holy things.” Had we any doubt on our minds, in relation to what the Lord God referred, when speaking of this his holy mountain itself, or when the time should be for its establishment, the prophets Isaiah and Micah would at once explain. Both express the glorious truth in the same words. “And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills: and all nations shall flow unto it. And many people shall go, and say: Come ye and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob: and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem,” (Isa. 2:2-3; Micah 4:1-2.) Here is the delineation of the glorious gospel of the ever-blessed God! And the verse which follows of the text explains how the Lord will accept his people. “I will accept you with your sweet savour.” Jehovah the Lord God, in his Trinity of Persons, is thus engaged in covenant agreement to accept them. And this acceptation is in their sweet savor; namely, in the Person of Christ, and in the infinite merits of the blood-shedding and righteousness of Christ. The next point is, when they shall be accepted. And this, the Lord God himself declares; namely, “When I bring you out from the people, and gather you out of the countries whither you have been scattered.” That is, (speaking in gospel language), when the Lord, the Holy Ghost, shall have “reproved them of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment!” (John 16:8). And this was the third great promise of our Magna Charta in the Bible. The first, Genesis 3:15. The second, Genesis 22:18. And the third, Genesis 49:10. Compare it with Ephesians 1:10. Hence the Lord by the prophet, Jeremiah 31:10-14.
But we must not stop here. The gracious promise is extended further. “And I will be sanctified in you before the Heathen.” This is among the triumphs of Jehovah, in his Trinity of Persons, when the church is finally, fully, and completely, brought home in our most glorious Christ. When “all things shall be put under his feet.” And when the Lord shall “gather out of his kingdom all things that offend,” (Matt. 13:41). So that the enemies of our Lord shall be destroyed, and his saints made everlastingly blessed in him. To this amount are the words by the prophet: “The Gentiles shall see thy righteousness, and all kings thy glory. And thou shalt be called by a new name, which the mouth of the Lord shall, name. Thou shalt also be a crown of glory in the hand of the Lord, and for a royal diadem in the hand of thy God. Thou shalt no more be termed forsaken; neither shall thy land any more be termed Desolate; but thou shalt be called Heph-zibah, (that is, my Delight), and thy land, Be-u-lah, (that is, married), for the Lord delighteth in thee, and thy land shall be married,” (Isa. 62:2-4). And lastly, to crown all, and which is the very coronet of the church, as she is in the Lord; those blessed promises are closed in, with this most delightful assurance: “And ye shall know that I am the Lord.” This was to be the distinguishing character of the latter day glory to the church. (See Jer. 31:31 with Heb. 8:11, &c.) For the blessedness, and happiness, and everlasting safety of the church, do not consist in gifts, and graces, but in the knowledge of, and communion with, the Lord himself. Not in what the Lord doth for his people, but what He is, to his people. Not in their attainments by Him, but their union with Him. And do not fail to observe one thing more, from the whole; namely, that the Lord undertakes for the whole, and the church is altogether passive while receiving those acts of grace. “I will accept you; I will bring you out; and I will gather you from all places where you have been scattered: I will be sanctified in you, before the Heathen; and ye shall know that I am the Lord.” Here is nothing of man; it is all of God.
What I further propose, in the prosecution of this subject, as the Lord shall be pleased to enable me, and with a special eye to the holy Supper of the Lord, in which the acceptation of the church can only be in Christ, and in the sweet savor of finished salvation; is, to view the bottom and foundation, where the Lord hath himself bottomed everything pertaining to the church; namely, in the joint love, and grace, and favor of Jehovah, in his trinity of persons, manifested to the church in our most glorious Christ. It is the Lord God that is said to accept the church in her sweet savor. I shall then, secondly, enter somewhat more largely into the vast and interesting subject of the church’s sole acceptance in Christ, as relating first to his person, and then to his work; in which, if the Lord be our teacher, (which I most humbly implore,) I venture to hope, that our Sacramental Meditation now, and our drawing to the Lord at his table then, when the ordinance is set forth, may be accompanied with so much savor from the Lord, as may give a spiritual refreshment to our spiritual apprehensions, that, like the church of old, the Lord Jesus may be fragrant to our souls, as “the ointment poured forth.”
But before I enter upon it, let me particularly request of you to keep in remembrance, as we go along, what I have briefly hinted to you before; namely, that in this great and sovereign act of grace, it is all grace; nothing in man, either before or after; either in labor, or in attainments, which can contribute an atom towards it. The church in every individual member, is wholly and altogether passive in it And what is more, the church is all alike equally passive, and equally incapable, to any one act of spiritual life, until quickened of the Lord. So that babes, little children, young men, or fathers in the church, are all in the, same circumstances. Hence, if there be any who feel a longing to be accepted in the sweet savor of the Lord Jesus Christ, and his complete salvation, there is no preparation on your part that can render one more suited than another. All are alike receivers only; for it is expressly said, that “of his fulness do all we receive, and grace for grace,” (John 1:16). This is a very sweet consideration to be kept in view, while attending the means of grace. The first breathings of spiritual life in grace, as the first breathings of a child in nature, both are equally of the Lord.
And let me add a short observation more. To such, as the Lord in times past, hath called from nature to grace; every subsequent act in the going forth of spiritual life, upon the person of our most glorious Christ, or in faith in his finished salvation; as the whole flows from the same source in the Lord, so all are but the fruits and effects of the life of God in the soul. We see spiritually, we feel spiritually, and we enjoy spiritually, the blessed consequences of the renewed life; but all these are but actions, derived from that life, as so many effects from the cause, and not the cause itself. When we are taught that our Lord God accepts us in our sweet savor, because we are in Christ, and accepted in Christ; though we receive faith to rejoice in this, and have the savor of it like ointment poured forth; yet it is in what Christ is, and not what we feel, that our joy is found. Similar to effects in nature. When at any time our natural senses are regaled with the fragrance of flowers, after the sun hath shone upon them and melted their finer odors, and the air is impregnated with their sweet perfume, our senses are not the cause, but simply receivers of the effect; for the whole, in the operations of nature, as in grace, is from the Lord. I know what it is to enjoy these things, through mercy, and am very earnest that the Lord’s people should enjoy them too. But I would caution them, as I desire grace for caution in myself, never to substitute ejects for the cause; or lose sight of the one, in the possession of the other. Spiritual apprehensions of our most glorious Christ himself, and a scriptural knowledge formed in the mind by the Lord himself, of our acceptance in his Person, and his sweet savor, is infinitely preferable to all of what we feel. For the former of these is one fixed and certain thing; the latter will necessarily vary, and be more or less, as our faith is stronger or weaker. The Lord give to his people present, such a spiritual apprehension of our most glorious Christ, that the word of his grace, in this blessed scripture, may bring with it a clear demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that the Lord God hath “accepted us with our sweet savour.”
I begin, as I proposed, first, to view the bottom and foundation of all our mercies, where the Lord himself hath bottomed them, in the everlasting love of God, in his trinity of persons, to the whole election of grace, in the Lord Jesus Christ. And I do this the rather, because it is, of all others, among the sacred truths of our most holy faith, the one, the very one, we are for the most part apt to overlook or forget. And yet there is not a day, no, nor sometimes an hour of the day, but what the Lord gives occasion to magnify the riches of his grace herein. Every revelation made in the renewings of the Holy Ghost, teems with this blessing; in the love of God the Father, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the communion of the Spirit. And I beg to repeat, what I have often said before, and which never can be too often repeated, namely, that where the whole Three Persons in the Godhead are not equally honored, loved, and adored, as the joint cause of all our mercies, resulting from the unity of the divine essence, it must be, because the operations of each, in the work of grace, either are not known, or are not, as they ought to be, properly regarded. For am I baptized in the joint name of the Holy Three in One? Am I blessed in the joint love of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost? And is the regenerated and sanctified church considered as having fellowship daily, and sometimes hourly, with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ, through the Spirit? And must not these personal and distinct acts of grace endear to the heart, in equal regard, the glorious Jehovah in his trinity of persons? Oh! what a blessedness it is in the soul, when, from the sovereign work of the Holy Ghost, whose gracious work is communion; that our hearts are directed into a spiritual apprehension and enjoyment of “the love of God the Father, and into the patient Waiting for Christ,” (2 Thess. 3:5).
And it should never for a moment be overlooked, or lost sight of, that these gracious and distinct acts are only known and enjoyed, as we know them in the person of, and through our union and relation to, our most glorious Christ. The grace, mercy, and love of the Father to our persons, is, as we are in Christ. For it is by the spiritual and scriptural apprehension which we have of our most glorious Christ, that we can have any knowledge of, or communion with the holy Persons in the Godhead, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. And it is the several and distinct acts of the Holy Three in One, as acts, which nothing but divine power could order, or divine power could execute, which bring home to the soul testimonies of this grand bottom of our most holy faith, and necessarily prove, “that there are Three which bear record in heaven; the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these Three are One,” (1 John 5:7).
But from this foundation, I now proceed to the superstructure, which was the second branch of the subject which I proposed, and which is the leading feature of my text, namely, of the acceptance of the Church solely in Christ: first, in relation to his Person, and then to his work in the finished salvation which he hath wrought out for all his people; the savor of which hath endeared the church to all the Godhead, and made her lovely in the loveliness which the Lord hath put upon her.
In relation to Christ’s person as Christ, it is always blessed to have in view that this began before all worlds, and will continue when there shall be no worlds. For when our glorious Head, as Head of his body the church, was set up from everlasting, the church was then chosen in him, (Eph. 1:4). Very beautifully, as well as blessedly, our most glorious Christ takes notice of this himself in his well-known character of Wisdom. For speaking of the ancient settlements of eternity, in reference to his church, he saith “The Lord possessed me in the beginning of his way before his works of old! I was set up from everlasting; from the beginning, or ever the earth was. Then was I by him, as one brought up with him; and I was daily his delight, rejoicing always before him: rejoicing in the habitable part of his earth, and my delights were with the sons of men,” (Prov. 8:22, &c.). And when we come down to the time-state of the church, and after, the fall, it is blessed to observe, that our recovery sprang from our connection with him. He redeemed his church, because she was his church. And indeed in every relationship the right of redemption was his, (Lev. 25:25). And so infinitely grand and momentous was the glorious work, that the, Holy Ghost graciously appointed the several ordinances and typical representations, all along, from the very first sacrifice in the garden of Eden, until the Lord Jesus Christ finished redemption by, the sacrifice of himself, to set it forth. A few of the more prominent, in direct allusion to the sweet savor the Lord mentions in the text, will he enough in proof.
I begin with that, which is the first recorded in scripture with an eye to Christ; namely, the offering made by Abel. It is said of this man, that “he brought of the firstlings of his flock; and of the fat thereof. And the Lord had respect to Abel and to his offering.” And this is said, in express distinction from that of the offering of Cain; “to whom the Lord had not respect,” (Gen. 4:4-5). But the Holy Ghost hath graciously explained the cause. “By faith (it is said, Heb. 11:4). Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts.” What faith? Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Abel knew himself to be a sinner; and as such, had an eye to Christ the promised seed, (Gen. 3:15). Cain knew it not. He acknowledged it not. He made an offering therefore, but not in sacrifice. “He brought of the fruit of the ground,” acknowledging thereby God’s right as Creator; but not as Redeemer. Hence, the different acceptance by the Lord. So that here we behold the opening of that blissful subject, which the Lord alluded to in the text: “I will accept you with your sweet savour.” Abel offering by faith in Christ had the sweet savour of Christ. Hence the Lord had respect first to Abel’s person, and then to his offering; both being perfumed with the blood of Christ, “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.” (Rev. 13:8). And hence it was then, as it is now: “To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the Beloved,” (Eph. 1:6).
Let us pass on to another striking memorial, to the same amount, in the instance of the offering of Noah. For as Abel’s was the first we read of in the old world; so this of Noah’s was the first in the new. And thus we read concerning it, when Noah came forth from the ark: “Noah builded an altar unto the Lord; and took of every clean beast, and of every clean fowl, and offered burnt offerings on the altar. And the Lord smelled a sweet savour; or, (as the margin adds) a savour of rest” The same as in the margin to the scripture of the text, (Compare Gen. 8:20-21, with it). Evidently here again, the sweet savour was the person and offering of Christ, to which Noah had respect, and in which the Lord accepted both Noah’s person and his burnt offering. And “Christ is the rest wherewith the Lord causeth the weary to rest; and he is the refreshing,” (Isa. 28:12). Hence the Psalmist saith, “Return unto thy rest, O my soul; for the Lord hath dealt bountifully with thee,” (Ps. 116:7). And hence also the Lord Jesus himself allures “the weary, and the heavy laden, to come unto him, that they may find (in him) rest unto their souls,” (Matt. 11:28, &c.). And the same runs like a golden thread through all the church, both of the old Testament and of the new, down to the gospel days; where we find the Holy Ghost by Paul, thus speaking to the Lord’s people: “Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children; and walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet smelling savour,” (Eph. 5:1-2). Here, indeed, is the sum and substance of all that went before. For if the shadow of the thing came up before God, with such acceptance, what must have been, and now is, and everlastingly will be, the substance, even the glorious Person, and the sweet smelling savour of the blood-shedding and righteousness of our most glorious Christ, in whom alone the church finds acceptance with God?
But we must not stop here: for God the Holy Ghost, in glorifying the Lord Jesus Christ, was graciously pleased to add one striking representation more of the infinite importance of his Almighty Person and Offering, in becoming the sweet savour to his people, both to themselves, and in all their approaches before God. In the close of the canon of scripture, as if to leave the full impression of it on the church, John was favored with a vision of our most glorious Christ, in this his high priestly office. “And another angel came, and stood at the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given unto him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar, which was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God out of the angel’s hand,” (Rev. 8:3-4). I need not offer a word by way of explanation to show who this angel was; for none but Christ himself, the Angel of the Covenant, could act in this divine character of the church’s Priest and Mediator. The whole dispensation of the old Testament shadowed him forth, even down to new Testament days, when Zacharias ministered at the altar of incense, (Luke 1:9-11). We find Aaron in the same ministry, as typical of Christ, engaged continually, (See Lev. 16:12; Num. 16:46). And, indeed, the whole tenor of scripture bears one complete correspondence to the same. Very sweetly and graciously doth the whole confirm what the Lord hath said, in the words of the text; “I will accept you in your sweet savour.” But for this acceptation in our most glorious Christ, the Beloved, not only our offerings must and would be rejected, but our very persons found unsavory before God. Yea, the jealousy of an holy God, who is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity, would break forth upon us with devouring flames, as upon Nadab and Abihu, when offering “strange fire before the Lord,” (Lev. 10:1-2). Hence it will follow, that but for thus being accepted in the sweet savor of Christ, in our holiest moments, when on our knees before God, we might be struck dead. In the Lord’s house, or at the Lord’s table our prayer sins, our ordinance sins, our sacramental sins, can have no acceptance before God, unless the Lord Jesus Christ hath taken away the iniquity of them. His glorious person is the sole cause of favor; his righteousness, whom God hath set forth a propitiation. It is by his blood we have boldness to enter into the holiest. And all the access here in grace, and hereafter in glory, is in him. Hence the church is said “‘to have washed their robes, (not their sins only, but their robes, that is, their best things) and made them white in the blood of the Lamb,” (Rev. 7:14).
If I have succeeded, through divine teaching, to set this subject forth upon true scriptural authority, and have shown how the acceptance of the Lord’s people is in their sweet savor as they are in Christ, it will follow, by the plainest of all possible conclusions, that our knowledge of the Lord must be the immediate result of our knowledge of our acceptance in Christ. There can be no knowledge of God in his trinity of persons, but as God is known in Christ. The Father’s love to the church in Christ; his choice of the church in Christ; his acceptance of the church in Christ and his adoption of the church in Christ; all these, and every other act of divine favor and delight in the church, is only as the objects of divine love are in Christ. For the Lord’s testimony is said to be “to the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein we are accepted in the beloved,” (Eph. 1:6).
The result of the whole, then, will be this: that there can be no possibility of drawing nigh to God but in the person and blood-shedding of our most glorious Christ. He is the only propitiation; the only sweet savor of acceptance. He hath alone wrought it, alone accomplished it. Salvation is in him; salvation is in no other: “neither is there any other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved,” (Acts 4:12.) And what endears it yet more to the awakened and regenerated child of God is this; namely, that the whole Persons in the Godhead have all alike concurred, and do concur, to confirm it in the heart, and understanding, and consciences of the people. Sin being an infinite evil in its very nature, because it is committed against an infinite God; none but an infinite being could make satisfaction for. Neither after the satisfaction made by the Son, could the apprehension be received into the soul, but by the revelation of it by an infinite person. Hence the whole persons in the Godhead are equally engaged in the mysterious and wonderful design, and become equally entitled to the joint adoration, love, and praise of all that are made the happy, partakers of this unspeakable gift, in grace here, and glory hereafter.
Shall I then, in conclusion, beg the Lord’s people which hear me, in all their approaches to the throne, and especially in their intended approaches to the Lord’s table at this time, to have this always in view. The Lord saith, “I will accept you with your sweet savour.” Without this there is no acceptance. What the Lord said under the old Testament dispensation is not altered a tittle under the new. It was not the mere oblation made to the Lord, in which the church was accepted; but “the offering without leaven.” Neither was it “the burning it on the altar, that made the sweet savour,” for this was forbidden. But it was “the offering seasoned with salt.” This was that which sanctified, and which gave a savour to all. Hence the command, “with all thine offerings thou shalt offer salt,” (Lev. 2:11-13). And what a beautiful and lively representation of the Lord Jesus Christ! What could more strikingly set forth both the person and the finished salvation of Christ? He, and he alone, is the “salt of the covenant.” For as there is nothing savory in meat without salt; so there can be nothing savory, or acceptable before God, but as it is in Christ. And what endears it yet more, it is expressly called “the salt of the covenant: “for Christ himself is the covenant of the people, (Isa. 49:8). And as salt is the cause of preserving from putrefaction; so Christ, the salt of the everlasting covenant, is the sole preservative from everlasting corruption; the awful consequence of sin, death, judgment, and eternity. Well might our dear Lord say, “Have salt in yourselves; and have peace one with another!” (Mark 9:50). The Lord give a blessing to his holy word, that we may bless God, “who always causeth us to triumph in Christ, and maketh manifest the savor of his knowledge by his word;” and our promising God be known and felt in the hearts of his people, as our performing God, when he saith, “I will accept you with your sweet savour.
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