Casting Doubt

The noun ‘doubt’ means:

A feeling of uncertainty or lack of conviction.

“some doubt has been cast upon the authenticity of this account”

synonyms: uncertainty, unsureness, indecision, hesitation, dubiousness, suspicion, confusion

antonyms: certainty, confidence, conviction, trust

Two world-historical persons faced life threatening doubt in their lifetimes. One chose poorly which resulted in death for himself, his wife, and all his children and the Other chose well which resulted in everlasting life for those who are His. These are their stories.

The first story starts and ends in a garden:

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made.

He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’”

Genesis 3:1-3 English Standard Version (ESV)

To this, the commentator, John Calvin, said:

Yea, has God said? …More correct is the [translation…] ‘Can it be, that God should forbid the eating of any tree whatever?’ …because there is greater probability that Satan, in order to deceive more covertly, would gradually proceed with cautious prevarications to lead the woman to a contempt of the divine precept.

…Under the pretext of inquiring into the cause, [Satan] indirectly weakens [Adam’s and Eve’s] confidence in [God’s] word. …I have no doubt that the serpent urges the woman to seek out the cause, since otherwise he would not have been able to draw away her mind from God.

Very dangerous is the temptation, when it is suggested to us, that God is not to be obeyed except so far as the reason of his command is apparent. The true rule of obedience is, that we, being content with a bare command, should persuade ourselves that whatever he enjoins is just and right.

But whosoever desires to be wise beyond measure, him will Satan, seeing he has cast off all reverence for God, immediately precipitate into open rebellion…Satan…wished to inject into the woman a doubt which might induce her to believe [what God had said] not to be the word of God…

The second story starts in a wilderness and ends on a site of execution:

[Jesus…was led by the Spirit in the wilderness] for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing during those days. And when they were ended, he was hungry. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” And Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone.’” Luke 4:2-4 (ESV)

and

After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written,

“‘Man shall not live by bread alone,

    but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Matthew 4:2-4 (ESV)

To this temptation, Calvin said:

Christ’s reply…is appropriate: “Man shall not live by bread alone.” […It is as if He said:] “You advise me to contrive some remedy, for obtaining relief in a different manner from what God permits. This would be to distrust God; and I have no reason to expect that he will support me in a different manner from what he has promised in his word. You, Satan, represent his favor as confined to bread: but Himself declares, that, though every kind of food were wanting, his blessing alone is sufficient for our nourishment.”

Such was the kind of temptation which Satan employed, the same kind with which he assails us daily. The Son of God did not choose to undertake any contest of an unusual description, but to sustain assaults in common with us, that we might be furnished with the same armor, and might entertain no doubt as to achieving the victory…

Next, he unravels the often-unacknowledged truth of our daily sustenance:

The word does not mean doctrine, but the purpose which God has made known, with regard to preserving the order of nature and the lives of his creatures. Having created men, he does not cease to care for them: but, as “he breathed into their nostrils the breath of life,” (Genesis 2:7,) so he constantly preserves the life which he has bestowed.

In like manner, the Apostle says, that he “upholds all things by his powerful word,” (Hebrews 1:3😉 that is, the whole world is preserved, and every part of it keeps its place, by the will and decree of Him, whose power, above and below, is everywhere diffused. Though we live on bread, we must not ascribe the support of life to the power of bread, but to the secret kindness, by which God imparts to bread the quality of nourishing our bodies.

Hence, also, follows another statement: by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God shall men live. God, who now employs bread for our support, will enable us, whenever he pleases, to live by other means…

Finally, Calvin sums up this lesson as:

The precise object of Christ’s reply is this: We ought to trust in God for food, and for the other necessaries of the present life, in such a manner, that none of us may overleap the boundaries which he has prescribed.

But if Christ did not consider himself to be at liberty to change stones into bread, without the command of God, much less is it lawful for us to procure food by fraud, or robbery, or violence, or murder.

And this second story ends outside Jerusalem:

Those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” Matthew 27:39-40 (ESV)

About these verses, Calvin discusses the question:

If thou art the Son of God. Wicked men demand from Christ such a proof of His power that, by proving himself to be the Son of God, he may cease to be the Son of God. He had clothed himself with human flesh, and had descended into the world, on this condition, that, by the sacrifice of his death, he might reconcile men to God the Father.

So then, in order to prove himself to be the Son of God, it was necessary that he should hang on the cross. [Yet,] those wicked men [argued] that the Redeemer will not be recognized as the Son of God, unless he come down from the cross, [disobeying] the command of his Father, and, leaving incomplete the expiation of sins, [thus] divesting himself of the office which God had assigned to him.

But let us learn from [their evil witness] to confirm our faith by considering that the Son of God determined to remain nailed to the cross for the sake of our salvation, until he had endured most cruel torments of the flesh, and dreadful anguish of soul, and even death itself.

And lest we should come to tempt God in a manner similar to that in which those men tempted him, let us allow God to conceal his power, whenever it pleases Him to do so, that he may afterwards display it at his pleasure at the proper time and place.

And so God deigned to show us favor by resisting the temptation and triumphing over death.

On the same topic, the preacher, Charles Spurgeon, offers solace and encouragement in the face of many such ‘ifs’ that cast doubt.

Therefore, no longer doubt, but believe in Him.

R.C. Sproul: Christ Crucified, YouTube, Ligonier Ministries

The Lord is Not Slow

Two weeks ago, we discussed: “Where is the promise of His coming?” We covered the first few verses of the third chapter of the Apostle Peter’s second letter (2 Peter 3:4-7.) Today, we go on to 2 Peter 3:9-13 and consider the theme: “The Lord is not slow.”

The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.

Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn!

But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.

2 Peter 3:9-13 English Standard Version (ESV)

The theologian John Calvin starts his exposition of this passage with a summary:

But the Lord is not slack, or, delays not. …[Peter says, as a check on us,] that the Lord defers his coming that he might invite all mankind to repentance. For our minds are always [immoderate], and a doubt often creeps in, why he does not come sooner…

Calvin then dissects what has become a contentious point for many concerning Calvinism. Dare we say that Calvin was not a hyper-Calvinist?

Not willing that any should perish. So wonderful is his love towards mankind, that he would have them all to be saved, and [he stands ready] to bestow salvation on the lost. But, [notice the order,] that God is ready to receive all to repentance, so that none may perish; for in these words the way and manner of obtaining salvation is [identified (i.e., repentance.)] Every one of us, therefore, who [desires] salvation, must…enter in by this way.

But, [one can ask], If God wishes none to perish, why is it that so many do perish? To this my answer is, that no mention is here made of the hidden purpose of God, according to which the reprobate are doomed to their own ruin, but only of his will as made known to us in the gospel. For God there stretches forth his hand without a difference to all, but lays hold only of those, to lead them to himself, whom he has chosen before the foundation of the world

So, as Spurgeon would later say: “That God predestines, and that man is responsible, are two things that few can see. They are believed to be inconsistent and contradictory; but they are not.”

Next, Calvin explains the purpose in Peter’s reassurance of His coming:

But the day of the Lord will come. This has been added, that the faithful might be always watching, and not promise tomorrow to themselves. For we all labor under two very different evils — too much haste, and slothfulness. We are seized with impatience for the day of Christ already expected; [yet,] at the same time, we securely regard it as afar off…[From what cause] is it that flesh indulges itself except that there is no thought of the near coming of Christ?

Further, he shows that these verses are meant to exhort us to godly living:

What afterwards follows, respecting the burning of heaven and earth, requires no long explanation, if indeed we duly consider what is intended. For it was not [Peter’s] purpose to speak [sophisticatedly] of fire and storm, and other things, but only that he might introduce an exhortation, which he immediately adds, even that we ought to strive after newness of life…

And finally, Calvin makes the exhortation clear:

Looking for and hasting unto, or, waiting for by hastening; …We must always take heed lest the security of the flesh should creep in; we ought, therefore, strenuously to labor in good works, and run quickly in the race of our calling…

Let us, therefore, not be unfaithful because of His delay but be ready for action like those waiting for a savior from heaven.

R.C. Sproul looks at 2 Peter 3:9, YouTube

Where is the Promise of His Coming?

Haters gonna hate; a phrase with uncertain origins which has come to mean: ‘ignore the hater.’ A ‘hater’ is a person who despises an individual or a group and seeks to diminish their reputation. This is the kind of thing we’ve come to expect a scoffer to do. And these are the ones the Apostle Peter meant when he wrote:

[Scoffers] will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.”

For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished.

But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.

2 Peter 3:4-7 English Standard Version (ESV)

By implication, Peter is saying that those scoffers will reap for themselves the outcome of the doubt that they’ve sown.

John Calvin comments first on the consequences of the scoffers’ derisive taunt in verse 4:

Where is the promise. It was a dangerous [scorn] when they insinuated a doubt as to the last resurrection; for when that is taken away, there is no gospel any longer, the power of Christ is brought to nothing, the whole of religion is gone. Then Satan aims directly at the throat of the Church, when he destroys faith in the coming of Christ.

For why did Christ die and rise again, except that he may sometime gather to himself the redeemed from death, and give them eternal life? All religion is wholly subverted, [unless] faith in the resurrection remains firm and immovable. Hence, on this point Satan assails us most fiercely.

Calvin then analyzes the nature of the taunt:

But let us notice what the [expression of contempt] was. They set the regular course of nature, such as it seems to have been from the beginning, in opposition to the promise of God, as though these things were contrary, or did not harmonize together.

Though the faith of the fathers, they said, was the same, yet no change has taken place since their death, and it is known that many ages have passed away. Hence, they concluded that what was said of the destruction of the world was a fable; because, they conjectured, that as [the world] had lasted so long, it would be perpetual.

Next, he shows how Peter refutes the derision:

For this they willingly are ignorant of. By [a single] argument…[Peter disproves] the [scorn] of the ungodly, even by this, that the world once perished by a deluge of waters, when yet it consisted of waters. (Genesis 1:2.) And as the history of this was well known, he says that they willingly, or of their own accord, erred.

For they who infer the perpetuity of the world from its present state, [intentionally] close their eyes, so as not to see so clear a judgment of God. The world no doubt had its origin from waters, for Moses calls the chaos from which the earth emerged, waters; and further, it was sustained by waters; it yet pleased the Lord to use waters for the purpose of destroying it.

It hence appears that the power of nature is not sufficient to sustain and preserve the world, but that on the contrary it contains the very element of its own ruin, whenever it may please God to destroy it.

Calvin then reminds us that the sovereign God does as He pleases with His creation for His good purposes:

For it ought always to be borne in mind, that the world stands through no other power than that of God’s word, and that therefore inferior or secondary causes derive their power [from him], and produce different effects as they are directed.

Thus through water the world stood, but water could have done nothing of itself, but on the contrary obeyed God’s word as an inferior agent or element. As soon then as it pleased God to destroy the earth, the same water obeyed in becoming a ruinous inundation.

We now see how egregiously they err, who stop at naked elements, as though there was perpetuity in them, and their nature were not changeable according to the bidding of God.

By these few words the petulance of those is abundantly refuted, who arm themselves with physical reasons to fight against God. For the history of the deluge is an abundantly sufficient witness that the whole order of nature is governed by the sole power of God. (Genesis 7:17.)…

In this way, Calvin shows that the world’s current state, stable as it appears, is not normative of its past states. He then concludes:

But the heavens and the earth which are now. [Peter] does not infer this [i.e., the world’s future destruction by means of fire] as the consequence; for his purpose was no other than to dissipate the craftiness of scoffers respecting the perpetual state of nature.

And we see many such, [today,] who, being [somewhat] imbued with the rudiments of philosophy, only hunt after profane speculations, in order that they may pass themselves off as great philosophers.

But it now appears quite evident from what has been said, that there is nothing unreasonable in the declaration made by the Lord, that the heaven and the earth shall hereafter be consumed by fire, because the reason for the fire is the same as that for the water [i.e., to obey God’s will in judgment…]

Isn’t it common experience to expect everything to carry on as it always has? We perform our chores, drive to and from work, prepare and eat our meals, sleep and then awake. But then, suddenly, a love one is injured or dies. We lose our job, our car, or our home. Our spouse walks out, our friends give up on us, or we pick up and move away.

It’s wise to realize beforehand that all things obey the Lord’s word. Whatever change may take place, we should rely on our God, even as the prophet Habakkuk did:

Though the fig tree should not blossom,

    nor fruit be on the vines,

the produce of the olive fail

    and the fields yield no food,

the flock be cut off from the fold

    and there be no herd in the stalls,

yet I will rejoice in the Lord;

    I will take joy in the God of my salvation.

God, the Lord, is my strength;

    he makes my feet like the deer’s;

    he makes me tread on my high places.

Habakkuk 3:17-19 (ESV)

Habakkuk awaited a Chaldean invasion, but we await a Savior.

2 Peter 3:1-7 sermon by Dr. Bob Utley, YouTube, Free Bible Commentary