Against You Only

The great King of Israel, David, committed adultery with another man’s wife. To hide his sin, he had her husband killed. Problem solved? Not in the least. After the prophet Nathan confronts him with the severity of his deed, David admits to his sin. His full confession is recorded in Psalm 51. The verse that concerns us in this post is:

Against you, you only, have I sinned

    and done what is evil in your sight,

so that you may be justified in your words

    and blameless in your judgment.

Psalm 51:4 English Standard Version (ESV)

Speaking of David’s confession, John Calvin says:

Against You only…I conceive his meaning to be, that though all the world should pardon him, he felt that God was the Judge with whom he had to do, that conscience hailed him to his bar, and that the voice of man could administer no relief to him, however much he might be disposed to forgive, or to excuse, or to flatter. His eyes and his whole soul were directed to God, regardless of what man might think or say concerning him.

…There is every reason to believe that David, in order to prevent his mind from being soothed into a false peace by the flatteries of his court, realized the judgment of God upon his offense, and felt that this was in itself an intolerable burden, even supposing that he should escape all trouble from the hands of his fellow-creatures.

On the import of the second couplet, Calvin says:

So that You may be justified…Any doubt upon the meaning of the words, however, is completely removed by the connection in which they are cited in Paul’s Epistle to the Romans,

“For what if some did not believe? Shall God be unjust? God forbid: yea, let God be true, but every man a liar; as it is written, ‘That thou may be justified in thy sayings, and might overcome when thou art judged.’” — Romans 3:3, 4

Here the words before us are quoted in proof of the doctrine that God’s righteousness is apparent even in the sins of men, and his truth in their falsehood.

To have a clear apprehension of their meaning, it is necessary that we reflect upon the covenant which God had made with David. The salvation of the whole world having been in a certain sense deposited with him by this covenant, the enemies of religion might take occasion to exclaim upon his fall, “Here is the pillar of the Church gone, and what is now to become of the miserable remnant whose hopes rested upon his holiness?”

…Aware that such attempts might be made to impugn the righteousness of God, David takes this opportunity of justifying [God’s righteousness], and charging himself with the whole guilt of the transaction. He declares that God was justified…should he have spoken the sentence of condemnation against him for his sin, as [God] might have done but for his gratuitous mercy.

Of course, the knowledge that our sin offends God most should not excuse us from seeking our brother’s or sister’s forgiveness. However, we should fear all the more, having been forgiven by others, that we did sin against Him who purchased us at great cost to Himself.

Ligonier Generic Background - David and Bathsheba

Life of David, Lecture 13 – David and Bathsheba, R. C. Sproul, Ligonier Ministries

Where Are You?

On at least two recorded occasions, God has called out, “Where are you?” or words to that effect. The first call was in the garden of Eden at the beginning of creation:

And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.

But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?”

Genesis 3:8-11 English Standard Version (ESV)

God created Man: Adam and Eve, gave them dominion over the earth, commanded them to obey one constraint, and placed them in the garden He created to tend it. Within a short time, by the will of God, their obedience to His one command was tested. They failed that test, and hid themselves because of their shame.

John Calvin comments on this crucial drama. First, he explains the nature of Adam’s and Eve’s fall:

Eve erred in not regulating the measure of her knowledge by the will of God…whereas the principal point of wisdom is a well-regulated sobriety in obedience to God.

…For the sake of complying with the wishes of his wife [and] being drawn by her into fatal ambition…[Adam] gave greater credit to the flatteries of the devil than to the sacred word of God.

God…manifest[s] himself to men…through the word, so…his majesty [is] maintained [and he is properly worshipped by us only] while we obey his word. Therefore, unbelief was the root of defection.

…They had been made in the likeness of God; but [they unlawfully aspired to] equality [with God by knowing good and evil].

As to the consequences of our ancestors’ fall, Calvin says:

…We are despoiled of the excellent gifts of the Holy Spirit, of the light of reason, of justice, and of rectitude, and are prone to every evil; that we are also lost and condemned, and subjected to death, is both our hereditary condition, and, at the same time, a just punishment which God, in the person of Adam, has indicted on the human race…From the time in which we were corrupted in Adam, we do not bear the punishment of another’s offense, but are guilty by our own fault.

Expounding on God’s confrontation of Adam and Eve in the garden, Genesis 3:8-11, Calvin says:

They had been already smitten by the voice of God, but they lay confounded under the trees…God now approaches nearer, and from the tangled thicket of trees draws him, however unwilling and resisting, forth into the midst…

Although this seems to be the confession of a dejected and humbled man, it will nevertheless soon appear that he was not yet properly subdued, nor led to repentance. He imputes his fear to the voice of God, and to his own nakedness…he fails to recognize the cause of shame in his sin; he, therefore, shows that he does not yet so feel his punishment, as to confess his fault.

…God [states] that Adam was admonished [prior to his disobedience]; and that he fell from no other cause than this, that he knowingly and voluntarily brought destruction upon himself.

Again, the atrocious nature of sin is marked in this transgression and rebellion; for, as nothing is more acceptable to God than obedience, so nothing is more intolerable than when men, having spurned his commandments, obey Satan and their own lust.

The second cry of “Where are you?” comes through other words from Christ on the Cross:

And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Matthew 27:46 (ESV)

Calvin dissects this passage with help of old testament witnesses to Christ’s sufferings:

…Not only did he [i.e., Christ] offer his body as the price of our reconciliation with God, but in his soul also he endured the punishments due to us; and thus he became, as Isaiah speaks, a man of sorrows, (Is. 53:3.)

…When this temptation [i.e., being forsaken of God] was presented to Christ, as if, having God opposed to him, he were already devoted to destruction, he was seized with horror…but by the amazing power of the Spirit he achieved the victory.

In short, during this fearful torture his faith remained uninjured, so that, while he complained of being forsaken, he still relied on the aid of God as at hand.

Thus we see two diametrically opposite outcomes to similar events. God called to the first Adam, “Where are you?” The last Adam called to God “Why have you forsaken me?” The first Adam forsook his obedience to God’s word in exchange for his own self-exaltation. The last Adam overcame the temptation to reject God’s plan through faith in His Father’s promises. The Apostle Paul summarizes it nicely:

Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. Romans 5:18-19 (ESV)

So, I must ask, where are you?

Ecce homo! (Behold the man!), by Antonio Ciseri, 1871

Pontius Pilate presenting a scourged Christ to the people, Ecce homo! (Behold the man!), (circa 1860–1880), by Antonio Ciseri (1821–1891), in the public domain in the United States

Judgment and Condemnation

I was speaking with someone at church a few weeks back and we both wondered what 2 Corinthians 5:10 meant:

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. 2 Corinthians 5:10 English Standard Version (ESV)

Are believers judged? Rather than guess, I offered to look into it. Here’s what I found Calvin had to say:

We must be manifested. Though this is common to all, yet all without distinction do not raise their views in such a way as to consider every moment, that they must appear before the judgment-seat of Christ…For then the books, which are now shut, will be opened (Daniel 7:10).

That every one may give account. As the passage relates to the recompensing of deeds, we must notice briefly, that, as evil deeds are punished by God, so also good deeds are rewarded, but for a different reason; for evil deeds are requited with the punishment that they deserve, but God in rewarding good deeds does not look to merit or worthiness.

For no work is so full and complete in all its parts as to be deservedly well-pleasing to him, and farther, there is no one whose works are in themselves well-pleasing to God, unless he render satisfaction to the whole law. Now no one is found to be thus perfect. Hence the only resource is in his accepting us through unmerited goodness, and justifying us, by not imputing to us our sins.

After he has received us into favor, he receives our works also by a gracious acceptance. It is on this that the reward hinges. There is, therefore, no inconsistency in saying, that he rewards good works, provided we understand that mankind, nevertheless, obtain eternal life gratuitously…

So, here, I think we have half the explanation. All humankind is judged for the good and bad that they’ve done in this life. Any good we can do is only good insofar as God does not count our sins against us. This is only possible through faith in Christ’s saving work on the cross. And that, too, is freely given by Him alone to those who do not merit it.

But what of the condemnation due for the bad that we do? The scriptures say:

Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. John 5:24 (ESV)

Calvin says about this verse:

He that heareth my word. Here is described the way and manner of honoring God, that no one may think that it consists solely in any outward performance, or in frivolous ceremonies. …But here Christ demands from us no other honor than to obey his Gospel…

Hath eternal life. By these words he likewise commends the fruit of obedience, that we may be more willing to render it…

And shall not come into condemnation. There is here an implied contrast between the guilt to which we are all naturally liable, and the unconditional acquittal which we obtain through Christ; for if all were not liable to condemnation, what purpose would it serve to free from it those who believe in Christ?

The meaning therefore is, that we are beyond the danger of death, because we are acquitted through the grace of Christ; and, therefore, though Christ sanctifies and regenerates us, by his Spirit, to newness of life, yet here he specially mentions the unconditional forgiveness of sins, in which alone the happiness of men consists. For then does a man begin to live when he has God reconciled to him; and how would God love us, if he did not pardon our sins?

…Though life be only begun in us, Christ declares that believers are so certain of obtaining it, that they ought not to fear death; and we need not wonder at this, since they are united to him who is the inexhaustible fountain of life.

But what shall we do with such confidence? I suggest, with Calvin, that we cast off fear and live a life worthy of our gracious God’s gift.

The Last Judgment, Martin, 1853

The Last Judgment, 1853, John Martin (1789-1854), Tate Britain, Public Domain in US