Do Justly

The ends don’t justify the means any time. The news brings more tales of injustice to our doorsteps every day. The Middle East, the regulatory explosion, crime in the inner cities… So much that we forget what it is we’re here to do. To this point, 27 centuries ago, the prophet Micah spoke the word of the Lord:

“With what shall I come before the Lord,

and bow myself before God on high?

…He has told you, O man, what is good;

and what does the Lord require of you

but to do justice, and to love kindness,

and to walk humbly with your God?

Micah 6:6-8 English Standard Version (ESV)

The following discussion comes from Calvin’s Commentaries – General Introduction, in a section collecting together his comments on the topic: Ethics and the Common Life. First, Calvin summarizes the prophet’s argument at a high level:

Now the prophet assumes the people’s role and asks what it is that he ought to do. But, [in his role as the prophet,] he answers the question by citing the law, and so deprives [the people] of the excuse of ignorance. …He does [this] in the hope that they may be induced to confess their guilt.

Delving deeper into the passage, Calvin says:

…Now let us consider the prophet’s counsel. When he begins, “With what shall I come before God?” we are to understand that God has come down as if to meet men in a court of law. When men go to law with one another, there is no good cause which the other side cannot obscure with caviling and technicalities. But the prophet shows that when God himself brings them to trial, their evasions only make them ludicrous…

Then, arguing from our common experience, he says:

…In our own day we know well enough, and if our eyes are open, common experience shows us clearly that the wicked, who have no real and sincere relation to God, exhibit great anxiety and pretend to be wholly intent upon worshiping God correctly.

But, [instead,] they run off in all directions and seek innumerable [indirect routes], to avoid being forced to present themselves before God. Now we see how such pretense can be exposed; God has already shown in his law what he approves and what he demands of men.

Calvin then explains the importance of God’s requirements:

…Now when the prophet says do justly, seek mercy (or kindness) and walk humbly before God, it is clear enough that the first two points refer to the second table of the Law… Nor is it strange that he begins with the duties of love of neighbor.

For although the worship of God has precedence and ought rightly to come first, yet justice which is practiced among men is the true evidence of devotion to God. The prophet therefore names here justice and compassion, not because God omits the first essential of religion, his worship, but because he is here defining true religion by its manifestations.

Finally, he explains the consequence of those requirements:

…It is worth noting that he says, to walk with God, men must be humble. Here he condemns all pride, all confidence in the flesh. For whoever claims anything at all for himself [turns his back on God.] The true way to walk with God is to surrender ourselves wholly, making ourselves as nothing. The beginning of worshiping God and glorifying him is to think humbly and modestly of ourselves.

With that, we double back to our subjects from a few weeks ago. We must labor with His might and must accept the outcomes He’s ordained. The way of man is not in himself.

The ChoirMercy Will Prevail, YouTube, Sept. 17, 2016, thechoirvideos

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