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

A New Prophet like Moses

“The end is near, the end is near!” We all associate this trope with crackpots and lunatics. Especially street corner prophets wearing sandwich boards. However, they are right in a sense. Around 150,000 people die every day, worldwide. Their ends are no longer near but already past.

We have to be wary of a prophet and his message. Thus Moses pointed us to the Prophet we should all listen to:

“The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen…and whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him. Deuteronomy 18:15, 19 English Standard Version (ESV)

John Calvin has quite a bit to say about these verses:

The Lord thy God will raise up …But if He had referred them to Christ alone, the objection would naturally arise that it was hard for them to have neither Prophets nor revelations for two thousand years. Nor is there any strength in those two arguments on which some insist, that the Prophet, of whom Moses bears witness, must be more excellent than him who proclaimed him; and that the eulogium that he should be “like unto” Moses could not be applied to the ancient Prophets, since it is said elsewhere that “there arose not a Prophet since like unto” him. (Deuteronomy 34:10)…

…Yet Peter aptly and elegantly accommodates this testimony to Christ, (Acts 3:22) not to the exclusion of others of God’s servants, but in order to warn the Jews that in rejecting Christ they are at the same time refusing this inestimable benefit of God; for the gift of prophecy had so flourished among His ancient people, and teachers had so been constantly appointed to succeed each other, that nevertheless there should be some interruption before the coming of Christ.

Hence, in that sad dispersion which followed the return from the Babylonian captivity, the faithful complain in Psalm 74:9, “We see not our signs; there is no more any prophet.” On this account Malachi exhorts the people to remember the Law given in Horeb; and immediately after adds, “Behold I send you Elijah the prophet,” etc., (Malachi 4:4, 5) as much as to say, that the time was at hand in which a more perfect doctrine should be manifested, and a fuller light should shine. For the Apostle says truly, that:

“God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spoke unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son,” (Hebrews 1:1, 2)

And, in fact, by the appearing of the doctrine of the Gospel, the course of the prophetic doctrine was completed; because God thus fully exhibited what was promised by the latter.

And this was so generally understood that even the Samaritan woman said that Messiah was coming, who would tell all things. (John 4:25) To this, then, what I have lately quoted as to the transition from the Law and the Prophets to the Gospel refers; and hence it is made out, that this passage was most appropriately expounded by Peter as relating to Christ; for unless the Jews chose to accuse God of falsehood, it was incumbent upon them to look to Christ, at whose hand was promised both the confirmation of doctrine and the restoration of all things.

They had been for a long time destitute of Prophets, of whom Moses had testified that they should never be wanting to them, and whom he had promised as the lawful ministers for retaining the people in allegiance, so that they should not turn aside to superstitions; they had, therefore, either no religion, or else that greatest of Teachers was to be expected, who in his own person would present the perfection of the prophetic office…

…But with regard to the comparison which Moses makes between himself and other prophets, its effect is to raise their teaching in men’s estimation. They had been long accustomed to this mode of instruction, viz., to hear God speaking to them by the mouth of a man; and the authority of Moses was so fully established, that they were firmly persuaded that they were under the divine government, and that all things necessary to salvation were revealed to them.

And, as recorded in John’s Gospel, chapter 5, verses: 39-40 and 46-47, the Lord Jesus Christ Himself says:

“You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life…For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?” John 5:39-40, 46-47 (ESV)

Please, believe Him.

Brazen Serpent

[The Brazen Serpent], Mount Nebo, Jordan (2001), Jerzy Strzelecki, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

God Is Testing Us

If you’ve attended some North American churches, you’ve experienced the winds of doctrine. If you’ve read, listened to, or watched the news, you know the alarm that current events bring. Some of the aforementioned offer other gods to serve. To these things, the word of God says:

“If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or wonder that he tells you comes to pass, and if he says, ‘Let us go after other gods,’ which you have not known, ‘and let us serve them,’ you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams. For the Lord your God is testing you, to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. You shall walk after the Lord your God and fear him and keep his commandments and obey his voice, and you shall serve him and hold fast to him. Deuteronomy 13:1-4 English Standard Version (ESV)

John Calvin has a lot to say about verse three:

For the Lord your God [tests] you. …He [God] designedly brings the truly pious to the test, in order to distinguish them from the hypocrites; and this takes place, when they constantly persevere in the true faith against the assaults of their temptations, and do not fall from their standing. The Apostle declares the same thing also with regard to heresies, which…must needs arise in the Church, “that they which are approved may be made manifest.” (1 Corinthians 11:19).

Wherefore we must not be impatient, nor murmur against God, if He chooses that the firmness of our faith, which is more precious than silver or gold, should be tried in the fiery furnace; but it behooves us humbly to acquiesce in His justice and wisdom.

If any should still object, that, since the weakness of mankind is only too notorious, God deals with them somewhat unkindly when He subjects them to these dangerous temptations, an answer may be readily given. I acknowledge indeed that, since our carnal sense is tender, this may seem hard, and inconsistent with the fatherly kindness of God; for, surely, when a miracle presents itself before our eyes, it is difficult not to submit to it.

But, since the temptation injures none but those whose impiety, which it lays bare, was already convicted and condemned, while the sincere worshippers of God are preserved free from injury, how unjust would it be to take away from God this liberty of plucking the mask from treachery and deceit?

Whosoever loves God with a pure heart is armed with the invincible power of the Divine Spirit, that he should not be ensnared by falsehoods; God thus rewards true and not fictitious piety, so that whosoever are of a true heart, should be protected by his faithful guardianship, and never feel the deadly wound.

Meanwhile, why should He not devote to just destruction those who willfully desire to perish? Nor need we be surprised at what He elsewhere declares, that it is He who deceives false prophets, that by them he may inflict just vengeance on the reprobate, who eagerly go in search of their destructive deceits.

Since, then, all the good are sure to overcome, so that the wiles of Satan are to them nothing but the exercises of their virtue; why should God be blamed, because the malice of Satan and of the wicked prepares for them [i.e., the good] the grounds of their victory and triumph?

Only let us cleave to this axiom, that all, who heartily love and reverence God, will always be sure and safe under the protection of God. It is true, I confess, that integrity of heart is a peculiar gift of God and the fruit of His secret election; but, since their own consciences reproach the reprobate with their contempt of God, their hypocrisy, pride, or depravity, the blame of the iniquity that dwells in them is unjustly laid upon God.

This, then, is sufficient to refute all carnal and perverse reasoning and blasphemies, viz., that whosoever are right in heart are guarded by the aid of the Spirit from the poisonous influence of Satan, and that no one perishes against his will.

And thus we come to the conclusion, that all who, having once seemed to embrace the doctrines of salvation, afterwards reject and deny them, had never possessed anything more than the disguise of a false profession, because, if they sincerely loved God, they would remain firm in heart in the midst of all things tending to disturb them.

It will indeed sometimes happen that the pious also will fall into errors, and will be seduced by the wicked; but it will only be in some respects and for a time; so that they never fall from the foundation, and presently recover themselves, [reformed].

And then, it must also be observed, they pay the penalty of their negligence, or instability, because they have not been sufficiently attentive to God’s Word, or have not sufficiently devoted themselves to religious pursuits.

Hence we further gather, that while many turn away professedly from the doctrines of religion, on the ground of their seeing so many contentions and disputes to distract them, it is a mere vain excuse to cover their profane neglect or hatred of God.

It is true that there are great discrepancies of opinion, and very warm contentions; but whosoever in a teachable and gentle spirit shall seek after truth, and shall give himself over and submit himself as the disciple of God, he will never be without the spirit of judgment and discretion.

But, since some listen disdainfully, some supremely despise it, some wish that God’s Word were altogether destroyed, others think lightly of it, the saying of the Prophet holds good, “that that die, let it die;” (Zechariah 11:9) and what Paul after him declares, “But if any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant.” (1 Corinthians 14:38).

Since it has always been the case that God’s truth was never hidden from anybody, except him whose mind the God of this world has blinded. (2 Corinthians 4:4). And this especially takes place when light has shone from heaven, which suffers none to go astray but those who shut their eyes.

The remedy, therefore, is immediately subjoined, “Ye shall walk after the Lord your God;” as if Moses had said, it was sufficient for their preservation, that they had God to guide them in the right way, who had already prevented them by His gratuitous bounty.

But, since numbers respond not to God’s call, and regard Him not when He points out the way to them, the words “and fear him” are added; because “the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom.” (Psalm 111:10).

Finally, Moses again inculcates that, if men are only resolved to obey God, they will be sufficiently taught by His voice what they ought to do. By the word “cleave,” perseverance is denoted, and he indirectly reproves the instability of those who forsake and forget God, and go astray after empty imaginations.

As Moses exhorts us in Deuteronomy 13:4:

“You shall walk after the Lord your God and fear him and keep his commandments and obey his voice, and you shall serve him and hold fast to him.”

So, along with Mary, speaking of her son, the Lord Jesus Christ, I say: “Do whatever he tells you.”

Marriage at Cana, (1561), Jacopo Tintoretto (1518–1594)

Marriage at Cana, (1561), Jacopo Tintoretto (1518–1594), public domain in the United States