Despise – Part 1

He shouldn’t have said that… Doesn’t she know what she’s done… How dare the leadership make that decision without… Why won’t [fill in name] apologize for something clearly against… And we go on and on. Now, it could be that they’re plumb wrong. But, maybe those people know something we don’t? Perhaps, they’ve made their choices and are fulfilling their destinies. Any which way, we must always have before us this admonition, which starts out this way:

Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. Romans 14:10 English Standard Version (ESV)

Calvin counsels that we should exercise humility and forbearance:

But you, why do you, etc. …First, by the term brother, he checks this lust for judging; for since the Lord has established among us the right of a fraternal alliance, an equality ought to be preserved; everyone then who assumes the character of a judge acts [against reason].

Secondly, he calls us before the only true judge, from whom no one can take away his power, and whose tribunal none can escape. [In the same way that] it would be absurd among men for a criminal, who ought to occupy a humble place in the court, to ascend the tribunal of the judge; it is absurd for a Christian to take to himself the liberty of judging the conscience of his brother…

As we discussed in our last post, the visible church is populated by both wheat and chaff, between which, we cannot reliably discern except by their going out from us, therefore Calvin says:

As I live, etc. …The word of God has ever had its enemies, who have been perversely resisting it, and its despisers, who have ever treated it with ridicule, as though it were absurd and [mythological]. Even at this day there are many such, and ever will be.

It hence appears, that this prophecy is indeed begun to be fulfilled in this life, but is far from being completed, and will not be so until the day of the last resurrection shall shine forth, when Christ’s enemies shall be laid prostrate, that they may become his footstool. But this cannot be except the Lord shall ascend his tribunal: he has therefore suitably applied this testimony to the judgment-seat of Christ…

Finally, he calls to mind both scriptures: “Let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” and “It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand,” by his saying:

Every one of us, etc. This conclusion invites us to humility and lowliness of mind: and hence he immediately draws this inference, — that we are not to judge one another; for it is not lawful for us to usurp the office of judging, who must ourselves submit to be judged and to give an account.

From the various significations of the word to judge, he has aptly drawn two different meanings. In the first place, he forbids us to judge, that is, to condemn; in the second place, he bids us to judge, that is, to exercise judgment, so as not to give offense.

He indeed indirectly reproves those malignant censors, who employ all their acuteness in finding out something faulty in the life of their brethren: he therefore bids them to exercise wariness themselves; for by their neglect [of their obligations to serve God and fellow believers] they often precipitate, or drive their brethren against some stumbling block or another.

Therefore, let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother.The Last Judgment, Sistine Chapel, from 1536 to 1541, Michelangelo (1475-1564)

The Last Judgment, from 1536 to 1541, Michelangelo (1475-1564), In the Public Domain in the United States

Stealing Seeds

Have you ever wondered whether that neighbor, coworker, or friend ever reconsidered their decision to reject the gospel? I’m not speaking of the ones who threw you out of their houses, fired you, or never spoke to you again; but those who, after some consideration, said no, not yet, or “I still have time.” Maybe they even attend church with you. Turns out, the Lord Jesus addressed this very issue when He walked among us two thousand years ago:

“Hear then the parable of the sower: When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. Matthew 13:18-19 English Standard Version (ESV)

One of the leaders of the Protestant Reformation John Calvin, commented on the Lord’s words.

First, Calvin summarizes the entire passage:

…The doctrine of the Gospel, when it is scattered like seed, is not everywhere fruitful; because it does not always meet with a fertile and well cultivated soil. He enumerates four kinds of hearers: the first of which do not receive the seed; the second appear, indeed, to receive it, but in such a manner that it does not take deep root; in the third, the [seed] is choked; and so there remains a fourth part, which produces fruit.

…Where the word is sown, the produce of faith is not always alike, but is sometimes more abundant, and at other times [scantier]. …In many persons, the seed of life is lost [due to] various [failings, as result] of which it is either destroyed immediately, or it withers, or it gradually degenerates.

Then, he points out that the soils do not include those he terms: “the despisers:”

…We ought to bear in mind, that he makes no mention of despisers who openly reject the word of God, but describes those only in whom there is some appearance of docility. But if the greater part of such men perish, what shall become of the rest of the world, by whom the doctrine of salvation is openly rejected?

Next, Calvin delves into each verse. He starts with those “unprepared:”

When any one hears the word of the kingdom, and understands it not. …The barren and uncultivated, who do not receive the seed within, because there is no preparation in their hearts. Such persons he compares to a stiff and dry soil, like what we find on a public road, which is trodden down, and becomes hard, like a pavement.

He comments in his time, as it is now, how many hear and fall away:

I wish that we had not occasion to see so many of this class at the present day, who come forward to hear, but remain in a state of [disbelief], and acquire no [desire] for the word, and in the end, differ little from blocks or stones. Need we wonder that they utterly vanish away?

Calvin, then, finds it logically necessary to defend the seed’s integrity in the face of such rejection; not that the seed is lacking, but the soil that receives it:

That which was sown in their heart. …The wickedness and depravity of men does not make the word to lose its own nature, or to cease to have the character of seed. …We may not suppose the favors of God to cease to be what they are, though the good effect of them does not reach us.

With respect to God, the word is sown in the hearts, but it is [not] true that the hearts of all receive with meekness what is planted in them, as James (1:21) exhorts us to receive the word. So then, the Gospel is always a fruitful seed as to its power, but not as to its produce.

And, finally, in answer to our question that we first posed:

Luke adds, that the devil takes away the seed out of their heart, that they may not believe and be saved Hence we infer that, as hungry birds are wont to do at the time of sowing, this enemy of our salvation, as soon as the doctrine is delivered, watches and rushes forth to seize it, before it acquires moisture and springs up…

This is one important reason, among many, why the gospel is preached every Lord’s Day.

To examine our question more deeply, Augustine helpfully explains the relation of the soils to the wheat and the tares:

…You know that those three places…where the seed did not grow, “the way side,” “the stony ground,” and “the thorny places,” are the same as [“the tares sown among the wheat.”] They received only a different name under a different [likeness.]

He, then, assures his hearers (this was a sermon) that though they and those described in the parable might desire that all the ungodly be separated from their congregations, they were not infallible and therefore not equipped for the task:

…O you Christians, whose lives are good, you sigh and groan as being few among many, few among very many. The winter will pass away, the summer will come; lo! the harvest will soon be here. The angels will come who [are able to] make the separation [between the wheat and the tares, without mistake…]

…We too indeed, if we finish our course, shall be equal to the angels of God; but now when we chafe against the wicked, we are as yet but men. And we ought now to give ear to the words, “Wherefore let him that thinks he stands, take heed lest he fall.”

Next, Augustine exposes what is evident in all the churches, and yet, by our words and actions, we deny it:

…I tell you a truth, my Beloved, even in [the church leadership] there is both wheat, and tares, and among the [laypeople] there is wheat, and tares. Let the good tolerate the bad; let the bad change themselves, and imitate the good.

Finally, he follows through in his exhortation to his congregation and to us:

Let us all, if it may be so, attain to God; let us all through His mercy escape the evil of this world. Let us seek after good days, for we are now in evil days; but in the evil days let us not blaspheme, that so we may be able to arrive at the good days.

How, then, shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? Let us not trample underfoot the Son of God nor reject the Holy Spirit. Rather, believe on the Lord Jesus and be saved.

The Parable of the Sower – C. H. Spurgeon, YouTube, Condensed Sermon Text

Casting Doubt

The noun ‘doubt’ means:

A feeling of uncertainty or lack of conviction.

“some doubt has been cast upon the authenticity of this account”

synonyms: uncertainty, unsureness, indecision, hesitation, dubiousness, suspicion, confusion

antonyms: certainty, confidence, conviction, trust

Two world-historical persons faced life threatening doubt in their lifetimes. One chose poorly which resulted in death for himself, his wife, and all his children and the Other chose well which resulted in everlasting life for those who are His. These are their stories.

The first story starts and ends in a garden:

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made.

He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’”

Genesis 3:1-3 English Standard Version (ESV)

To this, the commentator, John Calvin, said:

Yea, has God said? …More correct is the [translation…] ‘Can it be, that God should forbid the eating of any tree whatever?’ …because there is greater probability that Satan, in order to deceive more covertly, would gradually proceed with cautious prevarications to lead the woman to a contempt of the divine precept.

…Under the pretext of inquiring into the cause, [Satan] indirectly weakens [Adam’s and Eve’s] confidence in [God’s] word. …I have no doubt that the serpent urges the woman to seek out the cause, since otherwise he would not have been able to draw away her mind from God.

Very dangerous is the temptation, when it is suggested to us, that God is not to be obeyed except so far as the reason of his command is apparent. The true rule of obedience is, that we, being content with a bare command, should persuade ourselves that whatever he enjoins is just and right.

But whosoever desires to be wise beyond measure, him will Satan, seeing he has cast off all reverence for God, immediately precipitate into open rebellion…Satan…wished to inject into the woman a doubt which might induce her to believe [what God had said] not to be the word of God…

The second story starts in a wilderness and ends on a site of execution:

[Jesus…was led by the Spirit in the wilderness] for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing during those days. And when they were ended, he was hungry. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” And Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone.’” Luke 4:2-4 (ESV)

and

After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written,

“‘Man shall not live by bread alone,

    but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Matthew 4:2-4 (ESV)

To this temptation, Calvin said:

Christ’s reply…is appropriate: “Man shall not live by bread alone.” […It is as if He said:] “You advise me to contrive some remedy, for obtaining relief in a different manner from what God permits. This would be to distrust God; and I have no reason to expect that he will support me in a different manner from what he has promised in his word. You, Satan, represent his favor as confined to bread: but Himself declares, that, though every kind of food were wanting, his blessing alone is sufficient for our nourishment.”

Such was the kind of temptation which Satan employed, the same kind with which he assails us daily. The Son of God did not choose to undertake any contest of an unusual description, but to sustain assaults in common with us, that we might be furnished with the same armor, and might entertain no doubt as to achieving the victory…

Next, he unravels the often-unacknowledged truth of our daily sustenance:

The word does not mean doctrine, but the purpose which God has made known, with regard to preserving the order of nature and the lives of his creatures. Having created men, he does not cease to care for them: but, as “he breathed into their nostrils the breath of life,” (Genesis 2:7,) so he constantly preserves the life which he has bestowed.

In like manner, the Apostle says, that he “upholds all things by his powerful word,” (Hebrews 1:3😉 that is, the whole world is preserved, and every part of it keeps its place, by the will and decree of Him, whose power, above and below, is everywhere diffused. Though we live on bread, we must not ascribe the support of life to the power of bread, but to the secret kindness, by which God imparts to bread the quality of nourishing our bodies.

Hence, also, follows another statement: by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God shall men live. God, who now employs bread for our support, will enable us, whenever he pleases, to live by other means…

Finally, Calvin sums up this lesson as:

The precise object of Christ’s reply is this: We ought to trust in God for food, and for the other necessaries of the present life, in such a manner, that none of us may overleap the boundaries which he has prescribed.

But if Christ did not consider himself to be at liberty to change stones into bread, without the command of God, much less is it lawful for us to procure food by fraud, or robbery, or violence, or murder.

And this second story ends outside Jerusalem:

Those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” Matthew 27:39-40 (ESV)

About these verses, Calvin discusses the question:

If thou art the Son of God. Wicked men demand from Christ such a proof of His power that, by proving himself to be the Son of God, he may cease to be the Son of God. He had clothed himself with human flesh, and had descended into the world, on this condition, that, by the sacrifice of his death, he might reconcile men to God the Father.

So then, in order to prove himself to be the Son of God, it was necessary that he should hang on the cross. [Yet,] those wicked men [argued] that the Redeemer will not be recognized as the Son of God, unless he come down from the cross, [disobeying] the command of his Father, and, leaving incomplete the expiation of sins, [thus] divesting himself of the office which God had assigned to him.

But let us learn from [their evil witness] to confirm our faith by considering that the Son of God determined to remain nailed to the cross for the sake of our salvation, until he had endured most cruel torments of the flesh, and dreadful anguish of soul, and even death itself.

And lest we should come to tempt God in a manner similar to that in which those men tempted him, let us allow God to conceal his power, whenever it pleases Him to do so, that he may afterwards display it at his pleasure at the proper time and place.

And so God deigned to show us favor by resisting the temptation and triumphing over death.

On the same topic, the preacher, Charles Spurgeon, offers solace and encouragement in the face of many such ‘ifs’ that cast doubt.

Therefore, no longer doubt, but believe in Him.

R.C. Sproul: Christ Crucified, YouTube, 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

Deluding Influence

Delusion is defined as:

De·lu·sion /dəˈlo͞oZHən/ noun: delusion; plural noun: delusions

An idiosyncratic belief or impression that is firmly maintained despite being contradicted by what is generally accepted as reality or rational argument, typically a symptom of mental disorder.

“The delusion of being watched.”

“Was her belief in his fidelity just a delusion?”

The action of deluding someone or the state of being deluded.

“What a capacity television has for delusion.”

And, perhaps more directly:

De·lude /dəˈlo͞od/ verb: delude; 3rd person present: deludes; past tense and past participle: deluded; gerund or present participle: deluding

Impose a misleading belief upon (someone); deceive; fool.

“Too many theorists have deluded the public.”

In the second letter to the Thessalonians, the Apostle Paul speaks of deluding influences and the man of lawlessness:

Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come.

Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God.

Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things? And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming.

The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness [emphasis added].

2 Thessalonians 2:1-12 English Standard Version (ESV)

Calvin has much to say about these verses: 1–2, 3–4, 5–8, and 9–12. We’ll concentrate on what he said about verses 11 and 12:

Verse 11 – The working of delusion. He means that errors will not merely have a place, but [that] the wicked will be blinded, so…they will rush forward to ruin without consideration.

For as God enlightens us inwardly by his Spirit, that his doctrine may be efficacious in us, and opens our eyes and hearts, that it may make its way thither, so by a righteous judgment he delivers over to a reprobate mind (Romans 1:28) those whom he has appointed to destruction, that with closed eyes and a senseless mind, they may, as if bewitched, deliver themselves over to Satan and his ministers to be deceived…

Verse 12 – That all may be condemned. That is, that they may receive the punishment due to their impiety. Thus, those that perish have no just ground to expostulate with God, inasmuch as they have obtained what they sought.

For we must keep in view what is stated in Deuteronomy 13:3, that the hearts of men are subjected to trial, when false doctrines come abroad, inasmuch as they [the false doctrines] have no power except among those who do not love God with a sincere heart. Let those, then, who take pleasure in unrighteousness, reap the fruit of it.

When he says all, he means that contempt of God finds no excuse in the great crowd and multitude of those who refuse to obey the gospel, for God is the Judge of the whole world, so that he will inflict punishment upon a hundred thousand, no less than upon one individual.

The participle εὐδοκήσαντες (taking pleasure) means (so to speak) a voluntary inclination to evil, for in this way every excuse is cut off from the ungrateful, when they take so much pleasure in unrighteousness, as to prefer it to the righteousness of God.

For by what violence will they say that they have been impelled to alienate themselves by a mad revolt from God, towards whom they were led by the guidance of nature? It is at least manifest that they willingly and knowingly lent an ear to falsehoods.

But none of this is new. Throughout history and in all lands, God has given over the disobedient.

Roughly seven hundred years before Christ and more than a century and a half before their decreed release by Cyrus the Great, the prophet Isaiah encouraged the future Babylonian exiles to flee from there and, by faith, return to the Promised Land. Speaking of their spiritual blindness, he says to them:

They know not, nor do they discern, for he has shut their eyes, so that they cannot see, and their hearts, so that they cannot understand. Isaiah 44:18 (ESV)

Speaking to His disciples about the crowds gathered by the Sea of Galilee to hear Him, the Lord Jesus Christ cites Isaiah (Is. 6:9–10):

And he said to them, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, so that

“they may indeed see but not perceive,

    and may indeed hear but not understand,

lest they should turn and be forgiven.”

Mark 4:11-12 (ESV)

Later, during Lord’s entry into Jerusalem prior to the Passover, John recounts what Isaiah said about God’s hardening of hearts as a commentary on those who did not believe in the Lord:

“He has blinded their eyes

    and hardened their heart,

lest they see with their eyes,

    and understand with their heart, and turn,

    and I would heal them.”

John 12:40 (ESV)

Later still, Paul, in his letter to the church in Rome says:

So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills. Romans 9:18 (ESV)

This is a clear expression of God’s sovereign kindness and severity.

And yet, He sets Eternity in the heart:

He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. Ecclesiastes 3:11 (ESV)

Truly, His ways are past finding out:

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! Romans 11:33 (ESV)

Even though we deserve ruthlessness, He Himself seeks to persuade us with rational arguments:

“Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord:

Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow;

Though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.

If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land;

But if you refuse and rebel,you shall be eaten by the sword;

For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

Isaiah 1:18–20 (ESV)

Then, of course, He speaks to us of an unmerited gift:

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Matthew 11:28-29 (ESV)

With Paul (and Isaiah), I say to you: sleeper, awake!

Fall of Rebel Angels - Brueghel

The Fall of the Rebel Angels (1562), Pieter Brueghel the Elder (1526/1530–1569), PD in US

Legalistic?

I’ve heard it said that those who profess Christ shouldn’t try to put off the old self and put on the new self, to pursue sanctification, or intentionally obey the word of God.

Paul, in his letter to the Philippian church says:

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. Philippians 2:12-13 English Standard Version (ESV)

Some would have you believe that Paul must have been mistaken. John Calvin comments on these verses:

It is God that worketh. This is the true engine for bringing down all haughtiness — this the sword for putting an end to all pride, when we are taught that we are utterly nothing, and can do nothing, except through the grace of God alone. I mean supernatural grace, which comes forth from the spirit of regeneration.

…There are, in any action, two principal departments — the inclination, and the power to carry it into effect. Both of these he ascribes wholly to God; what more remains to us as a ground of glorying?

Nor is there any reason to doubt that this division has the same force as if Paul had expressed the whole in a single word; for the inclination is the groundwork; the accomplishment of it is the summit of the building brought to a completion. …For he does not say that our hearts are simply turned or stirred up, or that the infirmity of a good will is helped, but that a good inclination is wholly the work of God.

…For we acknowledge that we have from nature an inclination, but as it is depraved through the corruption of sin, it begins to be good only when it has been renewed by God. Nor do we say that a man does anything good without willing it, but that it is only when his inclination is regulated by the Spirit of God.

Hence, in so far as concerns this department, we see that the entire praise is ascribed to God, and that what sophists teach us is frivolous — that grace is offered to us, and placed, as it were, in the midst of us, that we may embrace it if we choose; for if God did not work in us efficaciously, he could not be said to produce in us a good inclination.

As to the second department, we must entertain the same view. “God,” says he, “is ̔Ο ἐνεργῶν το ἐνεργεῖν he that worketh in us to do.” He brings, therefore, to perfection those pious dispositions which he has implanted in us, that they may not be unproductive, as he promises by Ezekiel, —

I will cause them to walk in my commandments.” (Ezekiel 11:20)

From this we infer that perseverance, also, is his free gift.

According to his good pleasure. …For Paul has it in view to ascribe everything to God, and to take everything from us. Accordingly, not satisfied with having assigned to God the production both of willing and of doing aright, he ascribes both to his unmerited mercy. By this means he shuts out the contrivance of the sophists as to subsequent grace, which they imagine to be the reward of merit. Hence he teaches, that the whole course of our life, if we live aright, is regulated by God, and that, too, from his unmerited goodness.

With fear and trembling. From this Paul deduces an exhortation — that they must with fear work out their own salvation. He conjoins, as he is accustomed, fear and trembling, for the sake of greater intensity, to denote — serious and anxious fear. He, accordingly, represses drowsiness as well as confidence…

The inference, also, is to be carefully observed: “You have,” says he, “all things from God; therefore be solicitous and humble.” For there is nothing that ought to train us more to modesty and fear, than our being taught, that it is by the grace of God alone that we stand, and will instantly fall down, if he even in the slightest degree withdraw his hand. Confidence in ourselves produces carelessness and arrogance.

…For distrust of ourselves leads us to lean more confidently upon the mercy of God. And this is what Paul’s words import, for he requires nothing from the Philippians, but that they submit themselves to God with true self-renunciation.

Work out your own salvation. …Salvation is taken to mean the entire course of our calling, and that this term includes all things, by which God accomplishes that perfection, to which he has predestinated us by his gracious choice. This no one will deny…

We are said to perfect it, when, under the regulation of the Spirit, we aspire after a life of blessedness. It is God that calls us, and offers to us salvation; it is our part to embrace by faith what he gives, and by obedience act suitably to his calling; but we have neither from ourselves. Hence we act only when he has prepared us for acting.

Addressing the whole issue, James wrote ironically:

But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. James 2:18 (ESV)

Know this then, that faith without works is dead.

Papyrus 54: James 2:16-18

Papyrus 54: James 2:16-18, 6th century, Public Domain in US

The Sower

The first 23 verses of the Book of Matthew, chapter 13, record the Lord Jesus’s parable of the sower, His reasoning behind speaking in parables, and His explanation of the sower parable. This is His explanation:

“Hear then the parable of the sower:

When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path.

As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away.

As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.

As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”

Matthew 13:18-23 English Standard Version (ESV)

John Calvin comments on the parable as a whole:

…He only intended to warn us, that, in many persons, the seed of life is lost on account of various defects, in consequence of which it is either destroyed immediately, or it withers, or it gradually degenerates.

That we may derive the greater advantage from this warning, we ought to bear in mind, that he makes no mention of despisers who openly reject the word of God, but describes those only in whom there is some appearance of docility.

But if the greater part of such men perishes, what shall become of the rest of the world, by whom the doctrine of salvation is openly rejected?

And relative to the good soil:

But he that received the seed into a good soil… None are compared by Christ to a good and fertile soil, but those in whom the word of God not only strikes its roots deep and solid, but overcomes every obstacle that would prevent it from yielding fruit.

Is it objected that it is impossible to find anyone who is pure and free from thorns? It is easy to reply, that Christ does not now speak of the perfection of faith, but only points out those in whom the word of God yields fruit. Though the produce may not be great, yet everyone who does not fall off from the sincere worship of God is reckoned a good and fertile soil

Hence too we learn that we have no right to despise those who occupy a lower degree of excellence; for the master of the house himself, though he gives to one the preference above another on account of more abundant produce, yet bestows the general designation, good, even on inferior soils…

Therefore, please:

…Put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. James 1:21 (ESV)

The Sower - Tissot

The Sower, 1886 – 1894, James Tissot, Brooklyn Museum, PD-Art-US