Fear of Death

Lifelong slavery, whether it is political, economic, or social is unjust and oppressive. Walter E. William’s, in his foreword to Friedrich Hayek’s Road to Serfdom, the condensed version, defines slavery as: the forcible use of one person to serve the purposes of another. Humans worldwide have fought over the centuries for freedom from this recurring scourge.

However, though they might gain release from earthly masters, all are still subject to one final master: death. The author of the Letter to the Hebrews, speaking about Christ, those in the church, and those outside, wrote:

Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. Hebrews 2:14-15 English Standard Version (ESV)

Clearly, scripture acknowledges this slavery which still oppresses us no matter how free we might think we are apart from Christ. In his exposition of the passage from the Letter to the Hebrews, Calvin says:

Forasmuch then as the children, etc., or, since then the children, etc. …[This] passage deserves special notice, for it not only confirms the reality of the human nature of Christ, but also shows the benefit which [therefore] flows to us. “The Son of God,” he says, “became man, that he might partake of the same condition and nature with us.” What could be said more [suited] to confirm our faith?

Here [is] his infinite love towards us…; but its [overabundance is seen] in this — that he put on our nature that he might thus make himself capable of dying, for as God he could not undergo death.

And though he refers but briefly to the benefits of his death, yet there is in this brevity of words a singularly striking and powerful representation, and that is, that he has so delivered us from the tyranny of the devil, that we are rendered safe, and that he has so redeemed us from death, that it is no longer to be dreaded…

And deliver them who, etc. This passage expresses in a striking manner how miserable is the life of those who fear death, as they must feel it to be dreadful, because they look on it apart from Christ; for then nothing but a curse appears in it: for [where does] death [come] but from God’s wrath against sin?

Hence is that bondage throughout life, even perpetual anxiety, by which unhappy souls are tormented; for through a consciousness of sin, the judgment of God is ever presented to [those persons’] view.

From this fear Christ has delivered us, who, by undergoing our curse, has taken away what is dreadful in death. For though we are not now freed from death, yet in life and in death we have peace and safety, when we have Christ going before us.

But if any one cannot pacify his mind by disregarding death, let him know that he has [little understanding of what] faith [in] Christ [means]; for [since] extreme fear is [due] to ignorance [of] the grace of Christ, so it is a certain evidence of unbelief.

Death here does not only mean the separation of the soul from the body, but also [eternal] punishment which is inflicted on us by an angry God…; for where there is guilt before God, there immediately hell shows itself.

Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, before it’s too late.

P.O.D. – Southtown (Video shot to LP Version), YouTube, Atlantic Records, Lyrics

Is the Race to the Swift?

Why do things turn out the way they do? Yesterday you were winning; you finished everything you started. Everyone cooperated. Things fell into place. Today, not so much. And it started with that fellow who cut in front of you. Of what could this be a sign? Returning to our disgruntled king this week, he says:

Again, I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to those with knowledge, but time and chance happen to them all. Ecclesiastes 9:11 English Standard Version (ESV)

Matthew Henry gives us insight into the meaning of what King Solomon, also known as “the preacher,” offers us. First, Henry puts the verse in context of what preceded it:

The preacher here, for a further proof of the vanity of the world, and to convince us that all our works are in the hand of God, and not in our own hand, shows the uncertainty and contingency of future events, and how often they contradict the prospects we have of them.

He had exhorted us (v. 10) to do what we have to do with all our might; but here he reminds us that, when we have done all, we must leave the issue with God, and not be confident of the success.

Note that the first lesson of such an outcome at odds with our expectation is to rely on God. Henry drives home this point with:

We are often disappointed of the good we had great hopes of, v. 11. Solomon [had observed] that events, both in public and private affairs, do not always agree even with the most rational prospects and probabilities…

The [outcome] of affairs is often unaccountably [counter] to everyone’s expectation, that the highest may not presume, nor the lowest despair, but all may live in a humble dependence upon God, from whom every man’s judgment proceeds…

So, God deals equanimously with us all. Then Henry clarifies the meaning of “time and chance” in the context of the scriptures:

He resolves all these disappointments into an over-ruling power and providence, the disposals of which to us seem casual, and we call them chance; but really, they are according to the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, here called time, in the language of this book, Ecclesiastes 3:1; Psalm 31:15. Time and chance happen to them all.

A sovereign Providence breaks men’s measures, and blasts their hopes, and teaches them that the way of man is not in himself, but subject to the divine will. We must use means, but not trust [in] them; if we succeed, we must give God the praise (Psalm 44:3); if we [are thwarted], we must acquiesce in his will and take our lot.

This gives us a different perspective on causality and human agency. Finally, such turns of events should not, ultimately, catch us off guard:

We are often surprised with the evils we were in little fear of (v. 12): Man knows not his time, the time of his calamity, his fall, his death, which, in scripture, is called our day and our hour.

…It is not for us to know the times, no, not our own time, when or how we shall die. God has, in wisdom, kept us in the dark, that we may be always ready.

…Men often find their [trouble] where they sought their blessing, and catch their death where they thought to find a prize. Let us therefore never be [falsely] secure, but always ready for changes, that, though they may be sudden, they may be no surprise or terror to us.

Our end is always approaching. Our Judge is at the door, knocking. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ so you too can say: “Our salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed.”

Nobody Gets a Smooth Ride, The Choir, Lyrics, More Choir Videos

Marking Time

Sometimes I feel like I’m just marking time. Do you ever? Soldiers do it purposefully, marching in-place. But that’s not what I’m experiencing. Others suspend progress, waiting in readiness. Nope, that’s not it. I find that I’m operating in an apathetic and ineffective manner. A wise, if disillusioned, king once said:

Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with [all] your might, for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in [the grave], to which you are going. Ecclesiastes 9:10 English Standard Version (ESV)

Solomon’s disillusionment jumps out at us, yet his admonition to do whatever your hand finds to do with all your might still stands. However, maybe we should reconsider; is his insistence on our approaching death cynicism or is it realism?

Charles Haddon Spurgeon gave an impassioned sermon on this verse. Spurgeon first tackles the question of why we, who profess Christ as Lord, remain here on earth at all:

…Why is the army of the living God still on the battle field? One charge might give them the victory. Why are God’s ships still at sea? One breath of his wind might waft them to the haven.

…The answer is; they are here that they may glorify God, and that they may bring others to know his love. We are not here in vain, dear brethren. We are here on earth like sowers scattering good seed; like ploughmen ploughing up the fallow ground. We are here as heralds, telling to sinners around

“What a dear Savior we have found,”

and heralding the coming of our Master. We are here as the salt to preserve a world, which else would become putrid and destroyed. We are here as the very pillars of this world’s happiness: for when God shall take away his saints, the universal moral fabric “shall tumble to its fall; and great shall be the crash, when the righteous shall be removed, and the foundations shall be shaken.”

He then observes we have a definite purpose:

Taking it as granted that the people of God are here to do something to bless their fellow-men, our text comes in very pertinently as the rule of our life. May God help us to practice it by giving us much of his powerful Spirit. “Whatsoever thy hand finds to do, do it with thy might.”

This is what thou art here for. Thou art here for a certain purpose. That purpose will soon be ended, and whether it be accomplished or unaccomplished, there shall never be a second opportunity for attempting it, “for there is no work, nor device nor knowledge, nor wisdom in the grave, wither hither thou go.”

Since we are here for a purpose, he dissects the implications. First, do what is near at hand:

…Here we will observe, first, that this refers us to the works that are near at hand. You are not called upon today, the most of you, to do works which your eye sees far away in [India] or China. The most of you are called especially to do the work which is near at hand. People are always desiring to be doing something miles off; if they could but be somewhere else what wonders they would accomplish!

Then, do that which is possible:

…Again, “whatsoever thy hand finds to do,” refers to works that are possible. There are many things which our heart finds to do that we never shall do. It is well [that] it is in our heart; God accepts the will for the deed.

But if we would be eminently useful, we must not be content with forming schemes in our heart, and talking of them with our lips. We must [create] tangible schemes that we can really manage, ideas that we can really carry out; and, [in that way,] we shall fulfill the exhortation of Solomon, “Whatsoever thy hand finds to do, do it.”

And don’t shirk doing that which others consider menial:

…We all have a preference to do those duties which we regard as being honorable, as coming strictly within the range of our own office, those which probably will be rewarded with the praise of men.

But if there is any duty that shall never be heard of till the day of judgment, if there is any work that never shall be seen until the blaze of the last day shall manifest it to a blind world, then we generally [slight] such a duty and seek another.

Oh, if [we] did but understand the true majesty of humility, and how great a thing it is for a Christian to do little things, to bow himself and to stoop, we should rather envy the meanest of the flock than the greatest, and each of us try to wash the saint’s feet and perform the most menial service for the Master…

Spurgeon then turns to our methods, how we are to do it. First, do not procrastinate:

Put it not off one hour. Do it! Procrastinate not a day. “Procrastination is the thief of time.” Let him not steal thy time. Do it, at once. Serve thy God now; for now is all the time thou canst reckon on.

Then, do it with all your might:

…But where is the might of a Christian? Let us not forget that the might of a Christian is not in himself, for he is perfect in his weakness. His might lies in the Lord of Hosts. It will be well for us if all we attempt to do is done in God’s strength, or else it will not be done with might: it will be feebly and badly done.

Whenever we attempt to [offer the Gospel] in the winning of souls, let us first begin with prayer. Let us seek his help. Let us go on with prayer mixed with faith; and when we have concluded the work, let us commend it again to God with renewed faith and fresh prayer. What we do thus will be well done, and will not fail in its effect.

But what we do merely with creature-strength, with the mere influence of carnal zeal, will come to nothing at all. “Whatsoever thy hand finds to do,” do it with that real might which God hath promised them that ask it, with that real wisdom which he gives liberally, which he bestows on all who seek it meekly and reverently at his feet.

His third consideration is on why we should do it with all our might:

…[Because] death is near and when death comes there will be an end to all our serving God on earth, an end to our preaching, an end to our praying, an end to our doing [anything] for God’s glory among the perishing souls of men. If we all lived in the light of our funerals how well should we live.

…If we build not now, the fabric can never be built. If now we spin not, the garment will never be woven. Work while you live, and live while you work; and God grant to each of us that we may discharge in this life all the desires of our hearts, in magnifying God and bringing sinners to the cross.

Lastly, Spurgeon closes with a reflection on his own work and ours:

…Though from this day forward I should preach every hour in the day, though I could spend myself and be spent; though night should know no rest and day should never cease from toil, and year should succeed to year till this hair was hoary and this frame exhausted, when I come to render up my account He might say, “Well done.”

But I should not feel it was so, but should rather say, “I am still an unprofitable servant; I have not done that which it was even my bare duty to do much less have I done all to show the love I owe.” Now will you think what you have done, dear brother and sister, and surely your account must fall short equally with mine.

Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved, for he that believes and is baptized shall be saved, and he that believes not shall be damned.”

At this time of year, having just lost a dear friend too early, I purpose to do those possible things near at hand with no consideration for recognition. And I purpose to do them without delay, in His strength, and to His glory.

And you?

Future of Forestry – Silent Night (LIVE – San Diego), YouTube, Published Dec. 20, 2016, Future of Forestry

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

Two Natures – Distinct Yet United

Last week I reported on “Christ’s Human Nature.” There, the fourth point of John Flavel’s sermon: “Of Christ’s wonderful Person,” on John 1:14, in his book: Fountain of Life Opened Up, caught my attention:

Fourthly, [Christ’s] human nature is so united with the divine, as that each nature still retains its own essential properties distinct… The divine and human are not confounded; but a line of distinction runs betwixt them still in this wonderful person…

If you have the time and patience, I urge you to read his entire sermon. He offers sound doctrine on Christ’s human nature.

Flavel’s point got me wondering. Was the distinction and union obvious in scripture, would it prove Flavel’s points, and did John Calvin have insight that might help us to understand Christ better? What jumped to mind was the Lord’s struggle-in-prayer in the garden before He was betrayed as recounted in the synoptic gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke:

And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” Matthew 26:39 English Standard Version (ESV)

And

And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” Mark 14:36 (ESV)

And

Saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” Luke 22:42 (ESV)

Even though the wording is different in the three accounts, in each, He defers to His Father’s will rather than His own. Was this the quintessential example of the distinct natures united?

Calvin addresses many possible questions we (and others) might have when reading Christ’s entreaty of His Father. However, to achieve some semblance of brevity, we’ve assembled those answers that are most relevant to our questions:

My Father, if it be possible. …We must remember…that Christ [did not have] confused emotions, like those to which we are accustomed, to withdraw his mind from pure moderation; but, so far as the pure and innocent nature of man could admit, he was struck with fear and seized with anguish, so that, amidst the violent shocks of temptation, he vacillated—as it were—from one wish to another. This is the reason why, after having prayed to be freed from death, he immediately restrains himself, and, submitting to the authority of the Father, corrects and recalls that wish which had suddenly escaped him…

But yet not as I will, but as thou wilt. …What led him to pray to be delivered from [His own physical] death was the dread of a greater evil. When he saw the wrath of God exhibited to him, as he stood at the tribunal of God charged with the sins of the whole world, he unavoidably shrunk with horror from the deep abyss of death…When Christ was struck with horror at the divine curse, the feeling of the flesh affected him in such a manner, that faith still remained firm and unshaken. For such was the purity of his nature, that he felt, without being wounded by them, those temptations which pierce us with their stings.

…in Christ there was a remarkable example of adaptation between the two wills, the will of God and the will of man, so that they differed from each other without any conflict or opposition…for Christ, as he was God, willed nothing different from the Father; and therefore it follows, that his human soul had affections distinct from the secret purpose of God…Christ was under the necessity of holding his will captive, in order to subject it to the government of God, though it was properly regulated.

The lesson Calvin draws for us based on the various questions we’ve included and omitted is:

…In the present corruption of our nature it is impossible to find ardor of affections accompanied by moderation, such as existed in Christ; but we ought to give such honor to the Son of God, as not to judge of him by what we find in ourselves.

In this light, his application is:

…How carefully ought we to repress the violence of our feelings, which are always inconsiderate, and rash, and full of rebellion? …We owe to God such obedience as to endure patiently that our wishes should not be granted; For the modesty of faith consists in permitting God to appoint differently from what we desire. Above all, when we have no certain and special promise, we ought to abide by this rule, not to ask anything but on the condition that God shall fulfill what he has decreed; which cannot be done, unless we give up our wishes to his disposal.

In his sermon, Flavel gives an excellent explanation of the differences between Christ and ourselves. Calvin drives home the point with how, given His example, we should endure our inevitable trials of faith. May the Lord Jesus Christ grant us obedience in these trials.

Garden of Gethsemane, Mount of Olives, Jerusalem

Garden of Gethsemane, Mount of Olives, Jerusalem, 16 November 2012, by Tango7174, used under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International, 3.0 Unported, 2.5 Generic, 2.0 Generic, and 1.0 Generic licenses

No Other Name

Jesus’ is one of the most recognized curse words the world over. Beyond this, there are many who profess that theirs is the right way to God. However, the Acts of the Apostles records Peter as saying:

This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” Acts 4:11-12 English Standard Version (ESV)

Oops, we all must be mistaken. According to the scriptures, there’s no alternative for: “This Jesus.” How did John Calvin understand the passage?

Neither is there salvation in any other. […Peter] meant to prick and sting the priests…as if he should say, that they are twice damned who did not only refuse the salvation offered them by God, but endeavored to bring the same to naught, and did take from all the people the fruit and use thereof.

…And although he seems to speak unto deaf men, yet does he preach of the grace of Christ, if [perhaps] some can [bear] to hear; if not, that they may at least be deprived of all excuse by this testimony.

Neither is there any other name …Salvation (says Peter) is in Christ alone, because God hath decreed that it should be so. For by ‘name’ he means the cause or means, as if he should have said, forasmuch as salvation is in God’s power only, he will not have the same to be common to us by any other means than if we ask it of Christ alone.

…And if…this doctrine were deeply imprinted in the minds of all men, then…so many controversies concerning the causes of salvation [would] be soon at an end, with [which] the Church is so much troubled.

Calvin, in his exposition clearly states the import of ‘this Jesus’ for us who have believed:

…Christ took upon him our flesh once…that he might be a continual pledge of our adoption. He has reconciled the Father to us forever by the sacrifice of his death: by his resurrection he has purchased for us eternal life. And he is present with us now also, that he may make us partakers of the fruit of eternal redemption.

And, those of you who have no assurance of Christ’s pledge to you, I urge you to consider:

“The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, 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 10:8-10 (ESV)

Opponents: Objections and Judgment – Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones Sermon, posted by Christian Praise and Worship in Songs, Sermons, and Audio Books

Get Behind Me

No one likes a stern rebuke for something they’ve done wrong. Perhaps our father, a coworker, or our boss reprimanded us. Rejecting correction from the former could have led to punishment if we weren’t repentant (and sometimes even then.) Rejecting the same from the latter could lead to job termination. Often, however, chastisement brings with it wisdom.

But, what if the one you’ve offended has a world-changing responsibility to carry out? Performing that responsibility will affect untold millions upon millions of lives for all time and eternity and you’re opposing them. After Christ described to His Disciples the manner of His death and resurrection:

…Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” Matthew 16:22-23 English Standard Version (ESV)

Clearly, what Christ earlier described and then later endured was in all of our interests and for our benefit. That Peter opposed it showed earthly sentiment. Christ used the opportunity to correct, not only Peter, but, the rest of the disciples and us:

But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” Mark 8:33 (ESV)

How should we understand what Peter did and the nature of Christ’s rebuke? John Calvin says:

And Peter, taking him aside, began to rebuke him. It is a proof of the excessive zeal of Peter, that he reproves his Master…It was highly presumptuous of Peter to advise our Lord to spare himself, as if he had been deficient in prudence or self-command. But so completely are men hurried on and driven headlong by inconsiderate zeal, that they do not hesitate to pass judgment on God himself, according to their own fancy.

…In the person of one man [Christ] intended to restrain all from gratifying their own passions. …It is on this account that Christ reproves it so sharply, and bruises it, as it were, with an iron hammer, to teach us that it is only from the word of God that we ought to be wise.

Get thee behind me, Satan. …Luke (4:8) informs us that our Lord used those very words in repelling the attacks of Satan, and the verb…signifies to withdraw. Christ therefore throws his disciple to a distance from him, because, in his inconsiderate zeal, he acted the part of Satan; for he does not simply call him adversary, but gives him the name of the devil, as an expression of the greatest abhorrence.

Thou art an offense to me; for you relish not those things which are of God, but those which are of men. Peter was an offense to Christ, so long as he opposed his calling; for, when Peter attempted to stop the course of his Master, [he would have] deprived himself and all mankind of eternal salvation.

This single word, therefore, shows with what care we ought to avoid everything that withdraws us from obedience to God…Lest we and our intentions should be sent away by our heavenly Judge to the devil, let us learn not to be too much attached to our own views, but submissively to embrace whatever the Lord approves.

…And with regard to ourselves, if we do not, of our own accord, resolve to shut ourselves out from the way of salvation by deadly obstacles, let us not desire to be wise in any other manner than from the mouth of God.

That day, Peter clearly learned the truth of Proverbs 3:5–8 the hard way.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,

    and do not lean on your own understanding.

In all your ways acknowledge him,

    and he will make straight your paths.

Be not wise in your own eyes;

    fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.

It will be healing to your flesh

    and refreshment to your bones.

Proverbs 3:5-8 (ESV)

Let us take his lesson to heart and not repeat his mistake.

Get Thee Behind Me - Tissot

Get Thee Behind Me, Satan, (between 1886 and 1894), James Tissot (1836–1902), public domain in the United States

Fear No Man

Many of us have feared someone. Bullies, from school, work, next door, or the national stage, come to mind. In an effort to blend in or hide, we change what we say, what we think, and what we do. Perhaps, if you are a Christian, you betray your witness of Him. Not everyone who inspires fear is a mere bully, though. Some are sociopaths. These can turn your world upside down or worse.

The collected proverbs of scripture are not just fortune cookie prescriptions for our amusement, but hard truths leading to life. Concerning bullies and sociopaths, it says:

The fear of man lays a snare,

    but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe.

Proverbs 29:25 English Standard Version (ESV)

That seems unlikely. How does belief in a Deity provide safety from what may become for us trials that lead to certain death? For that answer, let us look to the source of wisdom, the Lord Jesus Christ:

And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Matthew 10:28 (ESV)

And again:

“I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him! Luke 12:4-5 (ESV)

Calvin’s analysis of these passages and their contexts is enlightening:

…Our Lord’s discourse consists of two parts. First, in order to instruct us to bear with composure the loss of the bodily life, he bids us contemplate both eternal life and eternal death, and then arrives gradually at this [second] point, that the protection of our life is in the hand of God.

…Now the proud imaginations of wicked men, as if the life of the godly were placed at their disposal, is utterly unfounded: for God keeps them within limits, and restrains, whenever it pleases him, the cruelty and violence of their attacks. And yet they are said to have power to kill by his permission, for he often permits them to indulge their cruel rage.

…These words of Christ ought therefore to be explained in this manner: “Acknowledge that you have received immortal souls, which are subject to the disposal of God alone, and do not come into the power of men.” The consequence will be, that no terrors or alarms which men may employ will shake your faith. “For how comes it that the dread of men prevails in the struggle, but because the body is preferred to the soul, and immortality is less valued than a perishing life?”

The calculus we fear to face is that this life is not meant for pleasures but for testing. When all is said and done, death overtakes us all. Bullies and sociopaths can take no more from us than this earthly existence. If our lives are hidden with Christ, then we will appear with Him. Even now He walks with us. Fear Him.

The Seventy SevensYou Don’t Scare MeAll Fall Down (1984), Lyrics

Live Blues Version (1990)

Faith Fail?

This was a critical time in the Lord Jesus Christ’s service to humankind. The ruling leadership was plotting his murder with one of His inner circle of disciples, Judas. Jesus had sent Peter and John ahead to prepare for a significant religious dinner celebration.

Then, at that dinner, while instructing His disciples of His impending death and resurrection, a controversy over who was the greatest disciple broke out. After Jesus taught them the meaning of humility and about their future roles as his disciples, He tells Peter how he will betray Him:

“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” Peter said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.” Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me.” Luke 22:31–34 English Standard Version (ESV)

Calvin explains:

…When Christ formerly promised to his disciples the spirit of unshaken fortitude, he referred to a new state of things which followed the resurrection; and, therefore, as they were not yet [endowed] with heavenly power, Peter, forming confident expectations from himself, goes beyond the limits of faith.

…This claims our attention, that every man, remembering his own weakness, may earnestly resort to the assistance of the Holy Spirit [through prayer]; and next, that no man may venture to take more upon himself than what the Lord promises. [Thus,] Paul…enjoins us to:

…Work out our salvation with fear and trembling, because it is God that works in us to will and perform, (Philippians 2:12 – 13.)

…Therefore, whenever any temptation is presented to us, let us first remember our weakness, that, being entirely thrown down, we may learn to seek elsewhere [i.e., from God] what we need [i.e., His mercy and grace]; and, next, let us remember the grace which is promised, that it may free us from doubt.

So, we must rely on Christ and not on our own strength. However, this is not the end of the matter. Christ, through His servant Paul, challenges us:

Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? — unless indeed you fail to meet the test! 2 Corinthians 13:5 (ESV)

And Calvin says:

…But what does Paul say here? He declares, that all are reprobates, who doubt whether they profess Christ and are a part of His body. Let us, therefore, reckon…right faith [is that] which leads us to [rest] in safety in the favor of God, with no wavering opinion, but with a firm and steadfast assurance.

They admonish us because God supplies saving faith; it is not our own doing:

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)

Yet, facing ourselves more deeply, let us not forget the parable of the soils. As Christ explains:

Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved.

And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away.

And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature.

As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.

Luke 8:11-15 (ESV)

Let us therefore exercise patience in our calling because He cannot fail; though we may:

My flesh and my heart may fail,

   but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

Psalm 73:26 (ESV)

To this, Calvin reveals:

…There is here a contrast between the failing which David felt in himself and the strength with which he was divinely supplied; as if he had said, “Separated from God I am nothing, and all that I attempt to do ends in nothing; but when I come to him, I find an abundant supply of strength.”

It is highly necessary for us to consider what we are without God; for no man will cast himself wholly upon God, but he…who despairs of the sufficiency of his own powers. We will seek nothing from God but what we are conscious of [lacking] in ourselves.

Then, let us cast ourselves wholly upon Him that our faith may not fail.

The Denial of Saint Peter - Carravagio (1610)

The Denial of Saint Peter, circa 1610, by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571 – 1610), public domain in the United States

Believe and Suffer

Some of us are bewildered when we face adversity, some expect it more often than it occurs, some chalk it up to mysterious forces, and some see it as highly probable at all times. What is certain in this life is that we will suffer at some time in our lives. For all of us, I wish it were as certain that we would all believe so as to be saved from the penalty that our sins deserve. The Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Philippi about believing and suffering:

Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that:

You are standing firm in one spirit

With one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and

Not frightened in anything by your opponents.

This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God.

For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.

Philippians 1:27-30 English Standard Version (ESV)

Paul says God has granted them to believe in Him. But also, in an act of His Sovereign will, to suffer. Not any kind of suffering, but that according to His will, “for His sake.”

The reformer and preacher, John Calvin, makes at least three points about these verses. First, our common struggle against our sin, the world, and the devil unites us. Even if we’re divided by our sins against one another, the struggle is so great against us that we will reconcile and contend for the faith together.

Striving together for the faith…is the strongest bond of concord, …for this has often been the occasion of reconciling even the greatest enemies.

…The Apostle’s meaning is this: “Let the faith of the gospel unite you together, more especially as that is a common armory against one and the same enemy.”

The wicked, too, conspire together for evil, but their agreement is accursed: let us, therefore, contend with one mind under the banner of faith.

These struggles, and our patient suffering, are ordained and given by God as a sign of our salvation to us and to the enemies of the faith. These are both a benefit for our increased devotion and an honor to participate in His sufferings.

To you, says he, it is given, not only to believe in Christ, but also to suffer for him. Hence even the sufferings themselves are evidences of the grace of God; and, since it is so, you have from this source a token of salvation. Oh, if this persuasion were effectually [woven into] our minds — that persecutions are to be reckoned among God’s benefits, what progress would be made in the doctrine of piety!

…It is the highest honor…conferred upon us by Divine grace, that we suffer for his name either reproach, or imprisonment, or miseries, or tortures, or even death, for in that case he adorns us with his marks of distinction. But [many would] rather [that] God [refrain from giving] gifts of that nature, than embrace with [readiness] the cross when it is presented to them. Alas, then, for our stupidity!

Finally, Calvin stresses that our struggle and godly resistance is analogous, though far lesser, to Christ’s struggle and godly resistance on the cross. Yet, both faith and endurance remain His unmerited gifts to us, evident in our inability to resist in our own strength.

[Paul] wisely conjoins faith with the cross by an inseparable connection, [so] that the Philippians may know that they have been called to the faith of Christ on this condition — that they endure persecutions on His account, as though he had said that their adoption can no more be separated from the cross, than Christ can be torn asunder from himself.

Here Paul clearly testifies, that faith, as well as [faithfulness] in enduring persecutions, is an unmerited gift of God. And certainly the knowledge of God is a wisdom that is too high for our attaining it by our own acuteness, and our weakness shows itself in daily instances in our own experience, when God withdraws his hand for a little while…

May God grant you to believe and suffer for His sake.

Suffering and the Sovereignty of God: An Interview with R.C. Sproul Jr., Ligonier Ministries