On the Surface – Part I

The Lord spoke to His bondservant Samuel, asking him how long he would grieve for Israel’s first king, now that He had rejected him? God commanded His prophet to anoint a new king from the house of Jesse. As he was considering each of Jesse’s sons in turn, God said to Samuel:

“Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7 English Standard Version (ESV)

The Puritan Preacher and Theologian, Jonathan Edwards, famous for sermons such as: “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” and “The Thorns that Choke the Word,” wrote about this passage:

The true saints have not such a spirit of discerning that they can…determine [with certainty] who are godly, and who are not. For though they know experimentally what true religion is, in the internal exercises of it; yet these are what they can neither feel, nor see, in the heart of another. There is nothing in others, that comes within their view, but outward manifestations and appearances; but the Scripture plainly intimates, that this way of judging what is in men by outward appearances, is at best uncertain, and liable to deceit…

In his commentary, Edwards counsels us to treat all in the visible church charitably:

When there are many probable appearances of piety in others, it is the duty of the saints to receive them cordially into their charity, and to love them and rejoice in them, as their brethren in Christ Jesus. But yet the best of men may be, when the appearances seem to them exceeding fair and bright, as entirely to gain their charity, and conquer their hearts.

Yet, we will see some, who first profess and evidence godliness, fall away from the church:

It has been common thing in the church of God, for such bright professors, that are received as eminent saints, among the saints, to fall away and come to nothing…There may be all these things [i.e., evidences of piety], and yet there be nothing more than the common influences of the Spirit of God, joined with the delusions of Satan, and the wicked and deceitful heart…

He then reminds us of the warning Christ delivered using wheat and tares for His illustration:

In the parable of the wheat and tares, it is said, Matt. 13:26, “When the blade was sprung up, and brought forth fruit, then appeared the tares also.” As though the tares were not discerned, nor distinguishable from the wheat, until then, as Mr. Flavel observes, who mentions it as an observation of Jerome’s, that “wheat and tares are so much alike, until the blade of the wheat comes to bring forth the ear, that it is next to impossible to distinguish them.”

And then Mr. Flavel adds, “How difficult so ever it be to discern the difference between wheat and tares; yet doubtless the eye of sense can much easier discriminate them, than the quickest and piercing eye of man can discern the difference between special and common grace.

For all saving graces in the saints, have their counterfeits in hypocrites; there are similar works in those, which a spiritual and very judicious eye may easily mistake for the saving and genuine effects of a sanctifying spirit.”

Finally, Edwards drives home the message again:

This notion, of certainly discerning another’s state [by surface appearances] is not only not founded on reason or Scripture, but it is anti-scriptural, it is against the rules of Scripture; which say not a word of any such way of judging the state of others as this, but direct us to judge chiefly by the fruits that are seen in them.

***

Having been a member of several churches, some of which have disbanded, I can say from experience that it belongs to God alone to determine the state of other’s souls:

Therefore, do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God. 1 Corinthians 4:5 (ESV)

And it is also certain: “you will recognize them by their fruit,” and those fruit of the spirit to look for are: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. As the Apostle Peter reminded us:

If these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Peter 1:8 (ESV)

Wheat_and_tares_0708_(513649608)

Wheat and Tares, Nazareth Village, James Emery, 1 May 2007, used under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Make Friends

The following saying has always held mystery for me. Parts of it make sense. It’s the idea of ‘casting your bread upon the waters.’ However, some of it almost sounds like buying your way to heaven.

And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings. Luke 16:9 English Standard Version (ESV)

The theologian, John Calvin, dismisses the notion of a ‘pay to play’ entry into heaven. Instead, he says:

Make to yourselves friends. Christ…teaches us that by acts of charity we obtain favor with God, who has promised, that to the merciful he will show himself merciful, (Psalm 18:25.)…

The Lord looks not to the persons, but to the work itself, so that our liberality, though it may happen to be exercised towards ungrateful men, will be of [benefit] to us in the sight of God. […The depravity of men does not prevent the Lord from placing on his records all that we have expended on the poor.]

…Our kindness to the poor will be a seasonable relief to us; for whatever any man may have generously bestowed on his neighbors the Lord acknowledges as if it had been done to himself.

Calvin’s explanation makes me reconsider the make-up of my own giving.

To the parts I did understand, Calvin says:

When you fail. By this word he expresses [our] time of death, and reminds us that the time of our administration [of riches] will be short, lest the confident expectation of a longer…life should make us take a firmer grasp. …Many squander what they have on superfluities; while others…deprive both themselves and others of the benefit…

Of the mammon of unrighteousness. By giving this name to riches…Christ justly represents them as worthy of our suspicion; just as on another occasion he called them thorns, (Matthew 13:7, 22.)

[…Christ intends, by way of an unstated contrast,] that riches, which otherwise, in consequence of wicked abuse, polluted their possessors, and are almost in every [case] allurements of sin, ought to be directed to a contrary object, to be the means of procuring favor for us. [This is] a warning given to believers to keep themselves free from unrighteousness.

Key to the right use of riches, then, is to neither squander nor hoard; using it not as an occasion for sin but, instead, for righteousness.

Clarifying what our attitude should be when giving, the Apostle Paul cautions:

The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 2 Corinthians 9:6-7 (ESV)

And we do well to remember that time really is money when it comes to charity:

You shall not see your brother’s donkey or his ox fallen down by the way and ignore them. You shall help him to lift them up again. Deuteronomy 22:4 (ESV)

Deeds of Christian Charity

Deeds of Christian Charity, 1575, Pieter Aertsen (circa 1508–1575), in the public domain in the United States

Can I be Certain of You?

In his comments on Philippians, chapter 1, verse 6:

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. Philippians 1:6 English Standard Version (ESV)

John Calvin says:

It is asked, however, whether anyone can be certain as to the salvation of others, for Paul here is not speaking of himself but of the Philippians. I answer, that the assurance which an individual has respecting his own salvation, is very different from what he has as to that of another. For the Spirit of God is a witness to me of my calling, as he is to each of the elect. As to others, we have no testimony, except from the outward efficacy of the Spirit; that is, in so far as the grace of God shews itself in them, so that we come to know it.

There is, therefore, a great difference, because the assurance of faith remains inwardly shut up, and does not extend itself to others. But wherever we see any such tokens of Divine election as can be perceived by us, we ought immediately to be stirred up to entertain good hope, both in order that we may not be envious towards our neighbors, and withhold from them an equitable and kind judgment of charity; and also, that we may be grateful to God. This, however, is a general rule both as to ourselves and as to others — that, distrusting our own strength, we depend entirely upon God alone [emphasis mine].

And what can we look for as tokens of Divine election? Scripture says we are to be clothed in His righteousness, in word and deed:

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Colossians 3:12-13 (ESV)

Look for these things in yourselves first and then in others.

Tamme-Lauri oak. The oldest tree in Estonia

Tamme-Lauri oak. The oldest tree in Estonia, 3 September 2013, Abrget47j, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported