Stealing Seeds

Have you ever wondered whether that neighbor, coworker, or friend ever reconsidered their decision to reject the gospel? I’m not speaking of the ones who threw you out of their houses, fired you, or never spoke to you again; but those who, after some consideration, said no, not yet, or “I still have time.” Maybe they even attend church with you. Turns out, the Lord Jesus addressed this very issue when He walked among us two thousand years ago:

“Hear then the parable of the sower: When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. Matthew 13:18-19 English Standard Version (ESV)

One of the leaders of the Protestant Reformation John Calvin, commented on the Lord’s words.

First, Calvin summarizes the entire passage:

…The doctrine of the Gospel, when it is scattered like seed, is not everywhere fruitful; because it does not always meet with a fertile and well cultivated soil. He enumerates four kinds of hearers: the first of which do not receive the seed; the second appear, indeed, to receive it, but in such a manner that it does not take deep root; in the third, the [seed] is choked; and so there remains a fourth part, which produces fruit.

…Where the word is sown, the produce of faith is not always alike, but is sometimes more abundant, and at other times [scantier]. …In many persons, the seed of life is lost [due to] various [failings, as result] of which it is either destroyed immediately, or it withers, or it gradually degenerates.

Then, he points out that the soils do not include those he terms: “the despisers:”

…We ought to bear in mind, that he makes no mention of despisers who openly reject the word of God, but describes those only in whom there is some appearance of docility. But if the greater part of such men perish, what shall become of the rest of the world, by whom the doctrine of salvation is openly rejected?

Next, Calvin delves into each verse. He starts with those “unprepared:”

When any one hears the word of the kingdom, and understands it not. …The barren and uncultivated, who do not receive the seed within, because there is no preparation in their hearts. Such persons he compares to a stiff and dry soil, like what we find on a public road, which is trodden down, and becomes hard, like a pavement.

He comments in his time, as it is now, how many hear and fall away:

I wish that we had not occasion to see so many of this class at the present day, who come forward to hear, but remain in a state of [disbelief], and acquire no [desire] for the word, and in the end, differ little from blocks or stones. Need we wonder that they utterly vanish away?

Calvin, then, finds it logically necessary to defend the seed’s integrity in the face of such rejection; not that the seed is lacking, but the soil that receives it:

That which was sown in their heart. …The wickedness and depravity of men does not make the word to lose its own nature, or to cease to have the character of seed. …We may not suppose the favors of God to cease to be what they are, though the good effect of them does not reach us.

With respect to God, the word is sown in the hearts, but it is [not] true that the hearts of all receive with meekness what is planted in them, as James (1:21) exhorts us to receive the word. So then, the Gospel is always a fruitful seed as to its power, but not as to its produce.

And, finally, in answer to our question that we first posed:

Luke adds, that the devil takes away the seed out of their heart, that they may not believe and be saved Hence we infer that, as hungry birds are wont to do at the time of sowing, this enemy of our salvation, as soon as the doctrine is delivered, watches and rushes forth to seize it, before it acquires moisture and springs up…

This is one important reason, among many, why the gospel is preached every Lord’s Day.

To examine our question more deeply, Augustine helpfully explains the relation of the soils to the wheat and the tares:

…You know that those three places…where the seed did not grow, “the way side,” “the stony ground,” and “the thorny places,” are the same as [“the tares sown among the wheat.”] They received only a different name under a different [likeness.]

He, then, assures his hearers (this was a sermon) that though they and those described in the parable might desire that all the ungodly be separated from their congregations, they were not infallible and therefore not equipped for the task:

…O you Christians, whose lives are good, you sigh and groan as being few among many, few among very many. The winter will pass away, the summer will come; lo! the harvest will soon be here. The angels will come who [are able to] make the separation [between the wheat and the tares, without mistake…]

…We too indeed, if we finish our course, shall be equal to the angels of God; but now when we chafe against the wicked, we are as yet but men. And we ought now to give ear to the words, “Wherefore let him that thinks he stands, take heed lest he fall.”

Next, Augustine exposes what is evident in all the churches, and yet, by our words and actions, we deny it:

…I tell you a truth, my Beloved, even in [the church leadership] there is both wheat, and tares, and among the [laypeople] there is wheat, and tares. Let the good tolerate the bad; let the bad change themselves, and imitate the good.

Finally, he follows through in his exhortation to his congregation and to us:

Let us all, if it may be so, attain to God; let us all through His mercy escape the evil of this world. Let us seek after good days, for we are now in evil days; but in the evil days let us not blaspheme, that so we may be able to arrive at the good days.

How, then, shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? Let us not trample underfoot the Son of God nor reject the Holy Spirit. Rather, believe on the Lord Jesus and be saved.

The Parable of the Sower – C. H. Spurgeon, YouTube, Condensed Sermon Text

Measures

What measures do you use with others? Are you gracious, holding your tongue when wronged? Are you generous and sincere when praising others? Or merciful and gentle when correcting another’s sin? This multifaceted word, measure, can mean an amount, a planned action, or a standard of comparison.

During His Sermon on the Mount, while declaring the characteristics, principles, and consequences of God’s kingdom, Christ said:

“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.” Matthew 7:1-2 English Standard Version (ESV)

And, again, as reported by Luke:

“Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” Luke 6:37-38 (ESV)

And, warning His disciples after explaining a parable about entering the kingdom of God:

…He said to them, “Pay attention to what you hear: with the measure you use, it will be measured to you, and still more will be added to you. For to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.” Mark 4:24-25 (ESV)

I must admit, the passage in Luke is a favorite of mine. Who wouldn’t want overflowing returns of like kind for your deeds? That is, of course, if those deeds were gracious, generous, sincere, merciful, and gentile.

John Calvin explains these synoptic gospel passages:

Matthew 7:1. Judge not These words of Christ do not contain an absolute prohibition from judging, but are intended to cure a disease, which appears to be natural to us all. We see how all flatter themselves, and every man passes a severe censure on others. This vice is attended by some strange enjoyment: for there is hardly any person who is not tickled with the desire of inquiring into other people’s faults.

[Everyone] acknowledges…that it is an intolerable evil, that those who [fail to notice] their own vices are so [habitually] against their brethren. The Heathens, too, in ancient times, condemned it in many proverbs. Yet it has existed in all ages, and exists, too, in the present day. [Indeed], it is accompanied by another and a worse plague: for the greater part of men think that, when they condemn others, they acquire a greater liberty of sinning.

This depraved eagerness for biting, censuring, and slandering, is restrained by Christ, when he says, Judge not. It is not necessary that believers should become blind, and perceive nothing, but only that they should refrain from an undue eagerness to judge: for otherwise the proper bounds of rigor will be exceeded by every man who desires to pass sentence on his brethren.

…To judge, therefore, means here, to be influenced by curiosity in inquiring into the actions of others. This disease, in the first place, draws continually along with it the injustice of condemning any trivial fault, as if it had been a very heinous crime; and next breaks out into the insolent presumption of looking disdainfully at every action, and passing an unfavorable judgment on it, even when it might be viewed in a good light.

Delving deeper into the nature of unrighteous judgment, he says:

We now see, that the design of Christ was to guard us against indulging excessive eagerness, or [ready irritation], or [intense hatred], or even curiosity, in judging our neighbors. He who judges according to the word and law of the Lord, and forms his judgment by the rule of charity, always begins with subjecting himself to examination, and preserves a proper medium and order in his judgments.

Hence it is evident, that this passage is altogether misapplied by those persons who would desire to make that moderation, which Christ recommends, a pretense for setting aside all distinction between good and evil.

We are not only permitted, but are even bound, to condemn all sins; unless we choose to rebel against God himself, — [going so far as] to repeal his laws, to reverse his decisions, and to overturn his judgment-seat.

It is his will that we should proclaim the sentence which he pronounces on the actions of men: only we must preserve such modesty towards each other, as to make it manifest that he is the only Lawgiver and Judge, (Isaiah 33:22.)

Then Calvin characterizes the punishment due these censorious judges:

That you may not be judged He [announces] a punishment against those severe judges, who take so much delight in sifting the faults of others. They will not be treated by others with greater kindness, but will experience, in their turn, the same severity which they had exercised towards others. As nothing is dearer or more valuable to us than our reputation, so nothing is more bitter than to be condemned, or to be exposed to the reproaches and infamy of men.

And yet it is by our own fault that we draw upon ourselves that very thing which our nature so strongly detests, for which of us is there, who does not examine too severely the actions of others; who does not manifest undue rage against slight offenses; or who does not [testily] censure what was in itself indifferent?

And what is this but deliberately to provoke God, as our avenger, to treat us in the same manner. Now, though it is a just judgment of God, that those who have judged others should be punished in their turn, yet the Lord executes this punishment by the instrumentality of men.

Chrysostom and others limit this statement to the present life: but that is a forced interpretation. Isaiah threatens (33:1) that those who have spoiled others shall be spoiled. In like manner, our Lord means, that there will be no want of executioners to punish the injustice and slander of men with equal bitterness or severity. And if men shall fail to receive punishment in this world, those who have shown undue eagerness in condemning their brethren will not escape the judgment of God.

And, finally, Calvin addresses the question of just recompense:

Luke 6:37, 38. Forgive, and it shall be forgiven to you. Give, and it shall be given to you. This promise, which is added by Luke, means, that the Lord will cause him, who is indulgent, kind, and just to his brethren, to experience the same gentleness from others, and to be treated by them in a generous and friendly manner.

Yet it frequently happens, that the children of God receive the very worst reward, and are oppressed by many unjust slanders; and that, to when they have injured no man’s reputation, and even spared the faults of brethren. But this is not inconsistent with what Christ says: for we know, that the promises which relate to the present life do not always hold, and are not without exceptions.

Besides, though the Lord permits his people, when innocent, to be unjustly oppressed and almost overwhelmed, he fulfills what he says in another place, that “their uprightness shall break forth as the morning,” (Isaiah 58:8.) In this way, his blessing always rises above all unjust slanders. He subjects believers to unjust reproaches, that he may humble them, and that he may at length maintain the goodness of their cause.

It ought also to be taken into the account, that believers themselves, though they endeavor to act justly towards their brethren, are sometimes carried away by excessive severity against brethren, who were either innocent, or not so greatly to be blamed, and thus, by their own fault, provoke against themselves a similar judgment.

If they do not receive good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over, though this is chargeable on the ingratitude of the world, yet they ought to acknowledge that it was partly deserved: for there is no man who is so kind and indulgent as he ought to be towards his brethren.

Augustine summarized these verses’ essence this way:

…Is it the case, then, that if we shall judge anything with a rash judgment, God will also judge rashly with respect to us?

…By no means does God either judge rashly, or recompense to anyone with an unjust measure; but it is so expressed: …that very same rashness [by which] you punish another must necessarily punish yourself.

…[As an example,] what else is meant by the statement, “For all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword,” but that the soul dies by that very sin, whatever it may be, which it has committed?

Please, if the Spirit impresses these verses on you, as He does on me, take them to heart and change your measures.

Richter: On The Nature Of Daylight, YouTube, Versions available on Amazon: Quintet and Orchestra

Sin, Righteousness, and Judgment

Current opinion holds that we are good people who do bad things. But opinion isn’t fact; and fact isn’t opinion. Someone, Who knew the facts, spoke about the Third Person of God this way:

And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. John 16:8-11 English Standard Version (ESV)

There’s a lot of truth packed in these verses of scripture. Although Matthew Henry, Charles Spurgeon, and John Calvin all commented or preached on this text, we turn to a heartfelt sermon by George Whitfield, Anglican minister, preacher of Calvinist Methodism, and revivalist preacher in the USA circa 1740s. Speaking of sin, righteousness, and judgment, Whitefield said:

…First, …The Comforter, when he comes effectually to work upon a sinner, not only convinces him of the sin of his nature, the sin of his life, [and] of the sin of his duties…

But there is a fourth sin, of which the Comforter, when he comes, convinces the soul, and which alone (it is very remarkable) our Lord mentions, as though it was the only sin worth mentioning; for indeed it is the root of all other sins whatsoever: it is the reigning as well as the damning sin of the world. And what now do you imagine that sin may be? It is that cursed sin, that root of all other evils, I mean the sin of unbelief. Says our Lord, verse 9. “Of sin, because they believe not on me.”

…Perhaps you may think you believe, because you repeat the Creed, or subscribe to a Confession of Faith; because you go to church or meeting, receive the sacrament, and are taken into full communion. These are blessed privileges; but all this may be done, without our being true believers.

…Ask yourselves, therefore, whether or not the Holy [Spirit] ever powerfully convinced you of the sin of unbelief? …Were you ever made to cry out, “Lord, give me faith; Lord, give me to believe on thee; O that I had faith! O that I could believe!” If you never were thus distressed, at least, if you never saw and felt that you had no faith, it is a certain sign that the Holy [Spirit], the Comforter, never came into and worked savingly upon your souls.

…We have seen how the Holy [Spirit] convinces the sinner of the sin of his nature, life, duties, and of the sin of unbelief; and what then must the poor creature do? He must, he must inevitably despair, if there be no hope but in himself…

Whitefield continues:

Secondly, what is the righteousness, of which the Comforter convinces the world?

…O the righteousness of Christ! It so comforts my soul, that I must be excused if I mention it in almost all my discourses. I would not, if I could help it, have one sermon without it. Whatever infidels may object, or Arminians sophistically argue against an imputed righteousness; yet whoever know themselves and God, must acknowledge, that “Jesus Christ is the end of the law for righteousness, (and perfect justification in the sight of God) to everyone that believes,” and that we are to be made the righteousness of God in him.

This, and this only, a poor sinner can lay hold of, as a sure anchor of his hope. Whatever other scheme of salvation men may lay, I acknowledge I can see no other foundation whereon to build my hopes of salvation, but on the rock of Christ’s personal righteousness, imputed to my soul.

…When therefore the Spirit has hunted the sinner out of all his false rests and hiding-places, taken off the pitiful fig-leaves of his own works, and driven him out of the trees of the garden (his outward reformations) and places him naked before the bar of a sovereign, holy, just, and sin-avenging God; then, then it is, when the soul, having the sentence of death within itself because of unbelief, has a sweet display of Christ’s righteousness made to it by the Holy Spirit of God. Here it is, that he begins more immediately to act in the quality of a Comforter, and convinces the soul so powerfully of the reality and all-sufficiency of Christ’s righteousness, that the soul is immediately set a hungering and thirsting after it.

Now the sinner begins to see, that though he has destroyed himself, yet in Christ is his help; that, though he has no righteousness of his own to recommend him, there is a fullness of grace, a fullness of truth, a fullness of righteousness in the dear Lord Jesus, which, if once imputed to him, will make him happy for ever and ever.

…If you were never thus convinced of Christ’s righteousness in your own souls, though you may believe it doctrinally, it will avail you nothing; if the Comforter never came savingly into your souls, then you are comfortless indeed…

Whitefield then proceeds:

Thirdly, …the Comforter, when he comes, convinces the soul of judgment.

“Of judgment (says our Lord) because the Prince of this world is judged;” the soul, being enabled to lay hold on Christ’s perfect righteousness by a lively faith, has a conviction wrought in it by the Holy Spirit, that the Prince of this world is judged. The soul being now justified by faith, has peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, and can triumphantly say, “It is Christ that justifies me, who is he that condemns me?”

The strong man armed is now cast out; my soul is in a true peace; the Prince of this world will come and accuse, but he has now no share in me: the blessed Spirit which I have received, and whereby I am enabled to apply Christ’s righteousness to my poor soul, powerfully convinces me of this: why should I fear? Or of what shall I be afraid, since God’s Spirit witnesses with my spirit, that I am a child of God…

But, if we do not find ourselves thus convinced, Whitefield appeals to us once more to be reconciled to Christ:

Though of myself I can do nothing, and you can no more by your own power come to and believe on Christ, than Lazarus could come forth from the grave; yet who knows but God may beget some of you again to a lively hope by this foolishness of preaching, and that you may be some of that world, which the Comforter is to convince of sin, or righteousness, and of judgment?

Poor Christless souls! Do you know what a condition you are in? Why, you are lying in the wicked one, the devil; he rules in you, he walks and dwells in you, unless you dwell in Christ, and the Comforter is come into your hearts. And will you contentedly lie in that wicked one that devil? What wages will he give you? Eternal death.

O that you would come to Christ! The free gift of God through him is eternal life. He will accept of you even now, if you will believe in him. The Comforter may yet come into your hearts, even yours…

***

In conclusion, we briefly quote Augustine on these same verses:

Let men, therefore, believe in Christ, that they be not convicted of the sin of their own unbelief, whereby all sins are retained;

let them make their way into the number of believers, that they be not convicted of the righteousness of those, whom, as justified, they fail to imitate;

let them beware of that future judgment, that they be not judged with the prince of the world, whom, judged as he is, they continue to imitate.

For the unbending pride of mortals can have no thought of being spared itself, as it is thus called to think with terror of the punishment that overtook the pride of angels.

Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God – Classic Sermon by Jonathan Edwards – Christian Praise and Worship in Songs, Sermons, and Audio Books, Sermon Text

What Shall I Do to be Saved?

Where were you when that dumpster exploded on Saturday, the 17th of September, 2016, at about 8:30 PM, between 6th and 7th Avenues on 23rd Street in Manhattan? Witnesses reported an event that shook buildings around the epicenter. Windows were blown out, and those on the street were injured. It didn’t look like terrorism initially (it was,) but the neighborhood was shaken up.

Something similar happened in first century Philippi, in Eastern Macedonia and Thrace, Greece. This time it was an earthquake that shook up the neighborhood. Doors to cells in the local prison were opened, and the jailer, no doubt shaken from sleep, supposed his life was forfeit because his charges had escaped. One of the prisoners, the Apostle Paul, called to the jailer not to harm himself; they were all still there. The jailer, trembling with fear, rushed to Paul and his companion, Silas, and:

…He brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” Acts 16:30 English Standard Version (ESV)

Paul and Silas “spoke the word” to the jailer and his household. As a result, he and his household all believed in God. John Calvin comments on this verse here.

This same Apostle Paul concisely addressed the nature of this belief:

…If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. Romans 10:9-10 (ESV)

But, how are we to believe this? Is it by strength of will or a leap into the dark? Stepping back a bit, Calvin says we must first have faith to believe. What, then, is the nature of this faith? To this, the author of the letter to the Hebrews says:

…Without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. Hebrews 11:6 (ESV)

Calvin explains the second clause of this verse this way:

…We ought to be fully persuaded that God is not sought in vain; and this persuasion includes the hope of salvation and eternal life.

And, it behooves us to recognize that God freely grants us this faith by His unmerited favor (i.e., grace) so that we might believe in Him:

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. Ephesians 2:8-9 (ESV)

Probing further, this belief was encapsulated in the Apostle’s Creed (as early as 180 AD):

  1. I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth:
  2. And in Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, our Lord:
  3. Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary:
  4. Suffered under Pontius Pilate; was crucified, dead and buried: He descended into hell:
  5. The third day he rose again from the dead:
  6. He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty:
  7. From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead:
  8. I believe in the Holy Ghost:
  9. I believe in the holy catholic church: the communion of saints:
  10. The forgiveness of sins:
  11. The resurrection of the body:
  12. And the life everlasting. Amen.

After controversies over God’s nature, a creedal statement, attributed to Athanasius of Alexandria and rooted in Augustine’s On the Trinity (415 AD), was formulated that encompassed right belief on the matter. The gist of the Athanasian creed is:

  • Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the catholic [i.e., all-embracing or universal] faith;
  • And the catholic faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity;
  • Furthermore, it is necessary to everlasting salvation that he also believe rightly the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The Nicene creed (381 AD) appears to combine significant elements of the prior two creeds:

I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.

Who, for us men for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.

And I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life; who proceeds from the Father [and the Son]; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets.

And I believe one holy catholic and apostolic Church. I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; and I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen

These and other historical creeds have been systematized in the Westminster Confession of Faith. Many scripture truths are condensed in the Westminster Larger and Shorter Catechisms.

I heartily encourage that you study these Westminster documents as you diligently read the Scriptures which, as the Apostle James admonishes, are able to save your soul.

So, if you have believed in His name; be certain that it has been granted to you and:

…If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 2 Corinthians 5:17 (ESV)

Now, we embark together to follow our Savior.

Stephen Nichols: East of Eden: Our Need for a Savior, Reformation Bible College