On the Surface – Part III

This is the third post on the topic of outward appearances versus heart attitudes. Our first post reviewed Jonathan Edward’s thoughts on wheat and tares in the church. A second post explored Abel’s obedience and Cain’s disobedience to God. This post examines our relationship to God the Father. The apostle Peter warns us:

If you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile. 1 Peter 1:17 English Standard version (ESV)

Calvin comments:

And if you call on the Father …From the character of the Father himself, [the apostle Peter] shows what sort of obedience ought to be rendered. [God] judges, he says, without looking on the person, that is, no outward mask is of any account with him, as the case is with men, but he sees the heart, (1 Samuel 16:7) and his eyes look on faithfulness. (Jeremiah 5:3) This also is what Paul means when he says that God’s judgment is according to truth, (Romans 2:2) for he there inveighs against hypocrites, who think that they deceive God by a vain pretense.

The meaning is, that we by no means discharge our duty towards God, when we obey him only in appearance; for he is not a mortal man, whom the outward appearance pleases, but he reads what we are inwardly in our hearts. He not only prescribes laws for our feet and hands, but he also requires what is just and right as to the mind and spirit.

A person might hide their defection from all others, but not from Him. Calvin then shows how Peter presses home the lesson:

According to every man’s work He does not refer to merit or to reward; for Peter does not speak here of the merits of works, nor of the cause of salvation, but he only reminds us, that there will be no looking to the person before the tribunal of God, but that what will be regarded will be the real sincerity of the heart…

The fear that is mentioned, stands opposed to heedless security, such as is wont to creep in, when there is a hope of deceiving with impunity. For, as God’s eyes are such that they penetrate into the hidden recesses of the heart, we ought to walk with him carefully and not negligently.

He calls the present life a sojourning [i.e., time of your exile], not in the sense in which he called the Jews to whom he was writing sojourners, at the beginning of the Epistle, but because all the godly are in this world pilgrims. (Hebrews 11:13,38)

This world is not our home. We all travel to one destination or the other. Therefore, seek the Lord while he may be found.

R.C. Sproul – Fear and Trembling – Fear and Trembling, JvDaP

On the Surface – Part II

Earlier this year, when discussing the topic of envy, we considered the brothers, Cain and Abel. Let’s see what else we can learn from both their lives and Abel’s death:

And Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering. Genesis 4:4 English Standard Version (ESV)

John Calvin analyzes this situation:

And the Lord had respect unto Abel, etc. …Notice the order Moses [observes]; for he does not simply state that the worship which Abel had paid was pleasing to God, but he begins with the person of the offeror; by which he signifies, that God will regard no works with favor except those the doer of which is already previously accepted and approved by him.

And no wonder; for man sees things which are apparent, but God looks into the heart, (1 Samuel 16:7) therefore, he estimates works no otherwise than as they proceed from the fountain of the heart.

Whence also it [follows], that he not only rejects but abhors the sacrifices of the wicked, however splendid they may appear in the eyes of men. For if he, who is polluted in his soul, by his mere touch contaminates, with his own impurities, things otherwise pure and clean, how can that but be impure which proceeds from himself?

…Now seeing that in another place, the Spirit testifies, by the mouth of Peter, that ‘hearts are purified by faith,’ (Acts 15:9) and seeing that the purity of the holy patriarchs was of the very same kind, the apostle does not in vain infer, that the offering of Abel was, by faith, more excellent than that of Cain.

Calvin then draws two conclusions with consequences. The first conclusion and consequence are:

Therefore, in the first place, we must hold, that all works done before faith, whatever splendor of righteousness may appear in them, were nothing but mere sins, being defiled from their roots, and were offensive to the Lord, whom nothing can please without inward purity of heart.

I wish they who imagine that men, by their own motion of freewill, are rendered [fit] to receive the grace of God, would reflect on this. Certainly, no controversy would then remain on the question, whether God justifies men gratuitously, and that by faith? For this must be received as a settled point, that, in the judgment of God, no respect is had to works until man is received into [his] favor.

And the second conclusion is harder still:

…Since the whole human race is hateful to God, there is no other way of reconciliation to divine favor than through faith. Moreover, since faith is a gratuitous gift of God, and a special illumination of the Spirit, then it is easy to infer, that we are [enabled to life] by his mere grace, just as if he had raised us from the dead.

In which sense also Peter says, that it is God who purifies the hearts by faith. For there would be no agreement of the fact with the statement, unless God had so formed faith in the hearts of men that it might be truly deemed his gift…

Calvin’s observations remind us of the apostle Paul’s words in his letter to the Ephesian church:

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:8-10 (ESV)

By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice and through his faith, though he died, he still speaks. Receive from the Lord Jesus Christ a new heart. May He renew a right spirit within you.

Andrew MurrayFaith – Abel – The Sacrifice Of Faith – The Holiest of All (99 of 130), Christian Praise and Worship in Songs, Sermons, and Audio Books