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

One Man

Depending on your theology, you believe something about the Book of Revelation. No matter what you believe, there is one Man who knows the truth; the one Man who is the truth:

…God our Savior…desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time. 1 Timothy 2:3-6 English Standard Version (ESV)

Furthermore, the Lord Jesus Christ knows His Father’s plans and is coming back soon.

I know of no starker rendering of His urgent warning to us all:

False messiahs and false prophets will come and do great miracles and wonders, trying to fool the people God has chosen, if that is possible. Now I have warned you about this before it happens.

“Someone might tell you, ‘The Messiah is there in the desert!’ But don’t go into the desert to look for him. Someone else might say, ‘There is the Messiah in that room!’

But don’t believe it. When the Son of Man comes, everyone will see him. It will be like lightning flashing in the sky that can be seen everywhere. It’s like looking for a dead body: You will find it where the vultures are gathering above.

Matthew 24:24-28 Easy-to-Read Version (ERV)

We know our Redeemer has come to earth in the flesh to suffer, die, and rise again. Don’t be misled. Be ready. Believe Him. Hear Him and obey.

Children Of Time, The Choir, YouTube, The Choir Videos, Lyrics

Cords of Kindness

Do you respond quicker to threats and oppression or to gentleness and mercy? It’s not an easy question to answer. Though we might prefer gentleness, threats often stir up a faster response. Though this is the case, God chooses to be merciful to His people. He said, through His prophet, Hosea:

I led them with cords of kindness [or humaneness],

    with the bands of love,

and I became to them as one who eases the yoke on their jaws,

    and I bent down to them and fed them.

Hosea 11:4 English Standard Version (ESV)

The preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon spoke about this verse to his congregation more than once. He explains the first half of Hosea 11:4 this way:

GOD, by the mouth of His Prophet, is here [taking issue] with His people for their ungrateful rebellion against Him. He had not treated them in a harsh, tyrannical, overbearing manner, else there might have been some excuse for their revolt. But His rule had always been gentle, tender, and full of pity.

Therefore, for them to disobey Him was the very height of wanton wickedness. The Lord had never made His people to suffer hard bondage in mortar and in brick as Pharaoh did, yet we do not find that they raised an insurrection against the Egyptian tyrant. They gave their backs to the burdens, and they bore the lash of the taskmaster without turning upon the hands which oppressed them.

But when the Lord was gracious to them and delivered them out of the house of bondage, they murmured in the wilderness, and were justly called by Moses, “rebels.” They had no such burdens to bear under the government of God as those which loaded the nations under their kings, and yet they willfully determined to have a king for themselves.

No taxes were squeezed from them, no servile service was demanded at their hands. Their thank offerings and sacrifices were not ordained upon a scale of oppression. Their liberty was all but boundless—their lives were spent in peace and happiness, every man under his own vine and fig tree—none making them afraid…

The whole dealings of Jehovah with His people Israel were full of matchless tenderness. As a nursing mother with her child, so did God deal gently with His people. Yet, hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth! The Lord has nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against Him. Did a nation ever cast away her gods, even though they were not gods? Were not the heathen faithful to their idols? But Israel was bent on backsliding—her heart was set upon idolatry, and the God of her fathers was disregarded.

Jehovah was despised, and His gentle reign and government she set herself to destroy. This was the complaint against Israel of old. As in water face answers to face, so the heart of man to man. As men were in days of [old], so are they now.

God has dealt with us who are His people in an [exemplary] way of loving kindness and tender mercy, and I fear that to a great extent the recompense we have rendered to Him has been very much like the ungrateful return which He received from the seed of Jacob of old…

Thus, Spurgeon, through example, illustrated the truth of the following:

Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did…Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. Therefore, let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. 1 Corinthians 10:6, 11-12 (ESV)

Spurgeon, the pastor that he was, then unfolded the example for his congregants and for us today:

This morning I shall ask you to think of the tender dealings of God with you, my Brothers and Sisters, that you may not be as Israel was. But that feeling the power of the Divine gentleness, you may serve your God with a perfect heart, and walk before Him as those should who have partaken of such benefits…

As for the Christian, other and higher considerations rule him. He is drawn by the cords of a man and by the bands of love. Further, you will see the gentleness of the way in which God calls His people to duty in the fact that He is pleased to accept their service even when it is, in itself, far from being at all worthy of His smile.

O my Brethren, if you and I had to be saved or to be preserved in spiritual life by our doings, then nothing but perfection in service could answer our turn. And every time we felt that what we had done was marred and imperfect we should be full of despair.

But now we know that we are already saved, and are forever safe, since nothing remains unfinished in [Christ’s] work which justifies us. We bring to the Lord the loving offerings of our hearts, and if they are imperfect we water with our tears those imperfections.

We know that He reads our hearts and takes our works not for what they are in themselves but for what they are in Christ. He knows what we would make them if we could. He accepts them as if they were what we mean them to be. He takes the will for the deed often, and He takes the half deed often for the whole.

And when Justice would condemn the action as sinful, for it is so imperfect, the mercy of our Father accepts the action in the Beloved, because He knows what we meant it to be. And though our fault has marred it, yet He knows how our hearts sought to honor Him.

Oh, it is such a blessed thing to remember that though the Law cannot accept anything but what is perfect, yet God, in the Gospel, as we come to Him as saved souls, accepts our imperfect things!

Why, there is our love! How cold it often is, and yet Jesus Christ takes pleasure in our love! Then, again, our faith, I must almost call it unbelief, it is often so weak—and yet though it is as a grain of mustard seed, Jesus accepts it, and works wonders by it.

As for our poor prayers, often so broken with so many distracted thoughts in them, and so poverty-stricken in importunity and earnestness, yet our dear Lord takes them, washes them in His blood, adds His own merit to them, and they come up as a sweet savor before [God] Most High.

It is delightfully encouraging to know that in our sincere but feeble service the Scripture is fulfilled—“a bruised reed shall He not break, and a smoking flax will He not quench.” Even our green ears of corn may be laid on the altar. If we cannot bring a lamb, our turtle doves and two young pigeons shall be received

Yes, blessed be God, all true fruit of Grace comes from Him. Is not this a charmingly powerful motive to service? Though it is so different from the reasons which drag on the sons of men, do we not feel it to be mightily operative? The Lord will help us in the service, and render unto man according to his work. He has said, “Fear you not. For I am with you: be not dismayed. For I am your God: I will strengthen you; yes, I will help you; yes, I will uphold you with the right hand of My righteousness.”

Having shown us that God deals gently and mercifully with us as we seek to serve Him, he presents how our actions should mirror His among ourselves:

…But Gospel motives to God’s people are as nails fastened in a sure place. They are suitable, and therefore effectual. You could not hope to govern the nation by the same ruler and methods with which, as a father, you order your family. In your family, it may be there is not even a rod, certainly there is no [police officer], no prison, no [judge that passes death sentences].

Children are ruled by a father on a scheme essentially different from the rule of magistrates and kings. There are maxims of courts of legislature which would never be tolerated in the home of love. Just so, within the family of God there are no penal inflictions, no words of threat such as must be employed by the great King when He deals with the mass of His rebellious subjects.

You are not under the Law, else there would be judgment and curses for you. You are under Grace, and now the motives by which you are to be moved are such as might not affect others, but which, since you are renewed in the spirit of your mind, most powerfully affect you.

It is a great thing for a man to feel that God does not now appeal to him as He would to an ordinary person, but that having given him a new nature, He addresses him on higher grounds.

“I beseech you therefore, Brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be you transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God.”

…The really saved soul, overwhelmed with gratitude, exclaims, “My God, my Father, I cannot sin, I must live as You would have me, I must serve You. Such love as this touches my heart, it stirs everything that is noble that You have implanted in me. Tell me what Your will is, and whether I have to bear it or to do it, I will delight in it if You will give me all-sufficient Grace.”

Yes, the Lord always appeals to the higher points in the Christian’s constitution, and thus He draws us with the cords of a man, with bands of love…

Finally, Spurgeon sums up the meaning of God’s words communicated through the prophet Hosea.

Thus I have, without dwelling on the mere words, given you the sense of the first clause of the text, “I drew them with cords of a man, with bands of love.”

The impelling, urging powers that lead Christians on to consecration and holiness are never those which befit slaves or carnal minds.

They are such as are worthy of the dignity of the sons of God, and they are full of tenderness, and kindness, and love. For the gentleness of God is great towards His people.

Therefore, let us act accordingly.

Sam Phillips — I Need Love (with The Section Quartet), YouTube, Lyrics

The End of the World

It was trending on Twitter so it must be true:

Any number of apocalyptic events are predicted for various and sundry reasons and pretexts. There’s the: “sky is falling” crowd. And there’s always this fictional portrayal of nuclear holocaust and its real world counterpart. Even the super-rich are preparing for doomsday.

But we have it on reliable authority—not that anyone believes in authorities anymore—that the world will end, and no one will notice until it does:

“But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Matthew 24:36-39 English Standard Version (ESV)

Calvin, as usual, has a lot to say about these verses. However, let’s key in on what he says about verses 37 through 39 to understand why everyone will be so unaware.

But as the days of Noah were. …When he says that men were giving their whole attention to eating, drinking, marriage, and other worldly employments, at the time when God destroyed the whole world by a deluge, and Sodom by thunder; these words mean that they were as fully occupied with the conveniences and enjoyments of the present life, as if there had been no reason to dread any change.

…Promising to themselves that the condition in which they then were would remain unchanged, they did not [hesitate] to follow without concern their ordinary pursuits. And, …it would not have been improper, or worthy of condemnation, to make provision for their wants, if they had not, with gross stupidity, opposed the judgment of God, and rushed, with closed eyes, to unbridled iniquity, as if there had been no Judge in heaven.

Let us, therefore, not scoff as some do, but acknowledge the Lord who surely brings judgment. And those who mock the coming judgment do so because:

And knew not until the deluge came. The source and cause of their ignorance was, that unbelief had blinded their minds; as, on the other hand, we are informed by the Apostle, that Noah beheld at a distance, by the eyes of faith, the vengeance of God which was still concealed, so as to entertain an early dread of it, (Hebrews 11:7.)

…But it must be observed that the reprobate, at that time, were hardened in their wickedness, because the Lord did not show his grace to any but his servants, by giving them a [beneficial] warning to beware in proper time.

Not that information of the future deluge was altogether withheld from the inhabitants of the world—before whose eyes Noah, in building the ark for more than a hundred years, presented a warning of the approaching calamity—but because one man was specially warned, by divine revelation, of the future destruction of the whole world, and raised up to cherish the hope of salvation.

A very large sign of impending destruction was plain to see; yet, they did not heed the warning. Therefore, we should listen to the One who calls from heaven. Even in Calvin’s day, five hundred years ago, many had heard, but few believed:

Though the report of the last judgment is now widely circulated, and though there are a few persons who have been taught by God to perceive that Christ will come as a Judge in due time, yet it is proper that those persons should be aroused by this extraordinary kindness of God, and that their senses should be sharpened, lest they give themselves up to the indifference which so generally prevails.

For Peter compares the ark of Noah with our baptism on this [basis], that a small company of men, separated from the multitude, is saved amidst the waters, (1 Peter 3:20, 21.) To this small number, therefore, our minds must be directed, if we desire to escape in safety.

To Calvin’s statement about baptism, we should add:

For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 (ESV)

Let us, then, hear and obey the gospel. No amount of treading water will help this time (and it didn’t help then); the present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire. And our individual ends draw near every day.

Dr. R.C. Sproul – “Crisis In Eschatology,” May 2, 2015,

Video Series

Other Resources:

The Day of the Lord” – Mark Dever

Signs of the End” – Alistair Begg

The Coming of the Son of Man” – Alistair Begg

Matthew Henry’s Commentary on Matthew 24

Alexander MacLaren’s Expositions of Luke 21:20–36

“Oklahoma,” The Call, Written by Michael Been

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

Not of Us

Last week we discussed disunity in the churches. We discovered that God providentially uses church disunity for our good, to refine us and to prove our salvation. The subject we consider today is often the result of disunity:

They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us. 1 John 2:19 English Standard Version (ESV)

This is a solemn verse that should cause us to revere the Lord Jesus Christ. The preacher John Calvin doesn’t mince words when discussing this verse’s import:

They went out from us …The Church is always exposed to this evil; so that it is constrained to bear with many hypocrites who, [in reality], know not Christ, however much they may [verbally] profess his name.

By saying, they went out from us, [the Apostle John] means that they had previously occupied a place in the Church, and were counted among the number of the godly. [John], however, denies that they were of them, though they had assumed the name of believers, [in the same way] as chaff…mixed with wheat on the same floor cannot yet be deemed wheat.

Calvin analyzes those who profess the gospel:

For if they had been of us …Here [is] a difficulty, for it happens that many who seemed to have embraced Christ, often fall away.

To this I answer, that there are three sorts of those who profess the Gospel; there are those who feign piety, while a bad conscience reproves them within; the hypocrisy of others is more deceptive, who not only seek to disguise themselves before men, but also dazzle their own eyes, so that they seem to themselves to worship God aright; the third are those who have the living root of faith, and carry a testimony of their own adoption firmly fixed in their hearts.

The two first have no stability; of the last John speaks, when he says, that it is impossible that they should be separated from the Church, for the seal which God’s Spirit engraves on their hearts cannot be obliterated; the incorruptible seed, which has struck roots, cannot be pulled up or destroyed (2 Timothy 2:19.)

[The Apostle John], in short, means that they who fall away had never been thoroughly imbued with the knowledge of Christ, but had only a light and a transient taste of it.

Finally, Calvin states the blunt truth of the verse:

That they might be made manifest [John] shows that trials [are] useful and necessary for the Church. It hence follows, on the other hand, that there is no just cause for [upset]. Since the Church is like a threshing-floor, the chaff must be blown away [so] that the pure wheat may remain. This is what God does, when he casts out hypocrites from the Church, for he then cleanses it from refuse and filth.

Again, this makes me want to cling to God all-the-more. Each of us should make every effort to obey Him and He will bring it to pass.

Keith Green – “The Sheep And The Goats” (live), YouTube, Lyrics, Key Verse

Seasoned with Salt

You have friends. They don’t profess Christ as their savior. Do you take them aside, present the gospel in stark terms, and drop them if they don’t repent? That’s not what the Lord does, is it? The Apostle Paul gives us instruction:

Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person. Colossians 4:5-6 English Standard Version (ESV)

How should we put this advice into practice? Here’s what Calvin says:

Walk wisely. [Paul] mentions those that are without, in contrast with those that are of the household of faith. (Galatians 6:10.) For the Church is like a city of which all believers are the inhabitants, connected with each other by a mutual relationship, while unbelievers are strangers.

But why would he have regard [given to unbelievers], rather than to believers? There are three reasons: first,

lest any stumbling block be put in the way of the blind, (Leviticus 19:14,)

for nothing is more [likely] to occur, than that unbelievers are driven from bad-to-worse through our imprudence, and their minds are wounded, so that they hold religion more and more in abhorrence.

Secondly, it is lest any occasion may be given for detracting from the honor of the gospel, and thus the name of Christ be exposed to derision, persons be rendered more hostile, and disturbances and persecutions be stirred up.

Lastly, it is, lest, while we are mingled together, in partaking of food, and on other occasions, we be defiled by their pollutions, and by little and little become profane.

To the same effect, also, is what follows, redeeming the time, that is, because [interaction] with them is dangerous. For in Ephesians 5:16, he assigns the reason, because the days are evil. “Amidst so great a corruption as prevails in the world we must seize opportunities of doing good, and we must struggle against impediments…”

Therefore, walking wisely, we should not put stumbling blocks in our friend’s path, not dishonor the gospel, and not become profane, ourselves. Instead, we should use those opportunities we’ve been given to honor the name of Christ. But Calvin goes further:

Your speech. He requires suavity of speech, such as may allure the hearers by its profitableness, for he does not merely condemn communications that are openly wicked or impious, but also such as are worthless and idle. Hence he would have them seasoned with salt.

Profane men have their seasonings of discourse, but he does not speak of them; nay more, as witticisms are insinuating, and for the most part procure favor, he indirectly prohibits believers from the practice and familiar use of them. For he reckons as tasteless everything that does not edify. The term grace is employed in the same sense, so as to be opposed to talkativeness, taunts, and all sorts of trifles which are either injurious or vain.

So, we should speak to others with courtesy, consideration, and tact.

That ye may know how. The man who has accustomed himself to caution in his communications will not fall into many absurdities, into which talkative and prating persons fall into from time to time, but, by constant practice, will acquire for himself expertness in making proper and suitable replies…

Nor does [Paul] merely say what, but also how, and not to all indiscriminately, but to everyone. For this is not the least important part of prudence — to have due regard to individuals.

Our conversations with friends should enlighten their (and our) morals and understanding. We should practice proper and suitable replies to each one who asks for a reason for the hope we have. We would do well to imitate Christ’s discussion with the woman at the well.

Two People Talking

Two People Talking, 23 August 2012, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a work of the U.S. Federal Government in the public domain.

Scripture, Christ, Grace, Faith, and Glory to God Alone

Church Reformers, such as Martin Luther, restored gospel preaching to the church in the sixteenth century. A motto for their cause is:

God declares sinners to be righteous because of Christ alone, by grace alone, through faith alone.

At the end of the twentieth century, members of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, composed “The Cambridge Declaration” to reaffirm Reformation truths and refute contemporary errors that have infiltrated the church. The following condensation is adapted from: “The Cambridge Declaration”:

Thesis One: Sola Scriptura [Scripture Alone]

  • We reaffirm the inerrant Scripture to be the sole source of written divine revelation, which alone can bind the conscience. The Bible alone teaches all that is necessary for our salvation from sin and is the standard by which all Christian behavior must be measured.
  • We deny that any creed, council, or individual may bind a Christian’s conscience, that the Holy Spirit speaks independently of or contrary to what is set forth in the Bible, or that personal spiritual experience can ever be a vehicle of revelation.

Thesis Two: Solus Christus [Christ Alone]

  • We reaffirm that our salvation is accomplished by the mediatorial work of the historical Christ alone. His sinless life and substitutionary atonement alone are sufficient for our justification and reconciliation to the Father.
  • We deny that the gospel is preached if Christ’s substitutionary work is not declared and faith in Christ and his work is not solicited.

Thesis Three: Sola Gratia [Grace Alone]

  • We reaffirm that in salvation we are rescued from God’s wrath by his grace alone. It is the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit that brings us to Christ by releasing us from our bondage to sin and raising us from spiritual death to spiritual life.
  • We deny that salvation is in any sense a human work. Human methods, techniques or strategies by themselves cannot accomplish this transformation. Faith is not produced by our unregenerated human nature.

Thesis Four: Sola Fide [Faith Alone]

  • We reaffirm that justification is by grace alone through faith alone because of Christ alone. In justification Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us as the only possible satisfaction of God’s perfect justice.
  • We deny that justification rests on any merit to be found in us, or upon the grounds of an infusion of Christ’s righteousness in us, or that an institution claiming to be a church that denies or condemns sola fide can be recognized as a legitimate church.

Thesis Five: Soli Deo Gloria [Glory to God Alone]

  • We reaffirm that because salvation is of God and has been accomplished by God, it is for God’s glory and that we must glorify him always. We must live our entire lives before the face of God, under the authority of God and for his glory alone.
  • We deny that we can properly glorify God if our worship is confused with entertainment, if we neglect either Law or Gospel in our preaching, or if self-improvement, self-esteem, or self-fulfillment are allowed to become alternatives to the gospel.

The website, Reformation Theology, posted a summary explanation of the five solas from: Whatever Happened to the Gospel of Grace? by James Montgomery Boice, (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2001), We excerpt their summary here:

Scripture alone. When the Reformers used the words sola Scriptura they were expressing their concern for the Bible’s authority, and what they meant is that the Bible alone is our ultimate authority, not the pope, not the church, not the traditions of the church or church councils, still less personal intimations or subjective feelings, but Scripture only…If any…authorities depart from Bible teaching, they are to be judged by the Bible and rejected.

Christ alone. …The medieval church…added many human achievements to Christ’s work, so that it was no longer possible to say that salvation was entirely by Christ and his atonement…The Reformation motto solus Christus was formed to repudiate this error. It affirmed that salvation has been accomplished once for all by the mediatorial work of the historical Jesus Christ alone. His sinless life and substitutionary atonement alone are sufficient for our justification [i.e., being declared righteous]…

Grace alone. …God owes us nothing except just punishment for our many and very willful sins. Therefore, if he does save sinners, which he does in the case of some but not all, it is only because it pleases him to do it…By insisting on grace [i.e., unmerited favor] alone, the Reformers were denying that human methods, techniques, or strategies in themselves could ever bring anyone to faith. It is grace alone expressed through the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit that brings us to Christ, releasing us from our bondage to sin and raising us from death to spiritual life.

Faith alone. …Justification by faith alone [is] the article by which the church stands or falls, according to Martin Luther. The Reformers called justification by faith Christianity’s material principle, because it involves the very matter or substance of what a person must understand and believe to be saved…We may state the full doctrine as: Justification is the act of God by which he declares sinners to be righteous because of Christ alone, by grace alone, through faith alone.

Glory to God alone. Each of the great solas is summed up in the fifth Reformation motto: soli Deo gloria, meaning to God alone be the glory. It is what the apostle Paul expressed in Romans 11:36…It is because all things [truly] are from God, and to God, that we say, to God alone be the glory.

As Martin Luther yearned to understand the concept of the Righteousness of God, which is woven throughout the Book of Romans, God declared Luther, a sinner, to be righteous because of Christ alone, by grace alone, through faith alone.

Please consider Luther’s example and follow Christ.

The Five Solas of Reformation (Steven Lawson), YouTube, Feb 28, 2014, GoodTreeMinistries

Manifest

The word manifest is a terribly abused word (check YouTube, for instance.) It is also an interesting word:

man·i·fest [ˈmanəˌfest]

VERB

1.display or show (a quality or feeling) by one’s acts or appearance; demonstrate: “Ray manifested signs of severe depression”

synonyms: display · show · exhibit · demonstrate · betray · present · reveal · evince

antonyms: hide

* (be manifested in) be evidence of; prove:

“bad industrial relations are often manifested in disputes and strikes”

synonyms: be evidence of · be a sign of · indicate · show · attest to · reflect · bespeak · prove · establish · evidence · substantiate · corroborate · confirm · betoken

antonyms: mask

* (of an ailment) become apparent through the appearance of symptoms:

“a disorder that usually manifests in middle age”

* (of a ghost or spirit) appear:

“one deity manifested in the form of a bird”

ADJECTIVE

1.clear or obvious to the eye or mind: “the system’s manifest failings”

synonyms: obvious · clear · plain · apparent · evident · patent · palpable · distinct · definite · blatant · overt · glaring · barefaced · explicit · transparent · conspicuous · undisguised · unmistakable · noticeable · perceptible · visible · recognizable

antonyms: secret

So, when the Lord Jesus Christ speaks to His disciples and one of them questions Him:

Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, “Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?” Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me. John 14:21-24 English Standard Version (ESV)

It caused me to wonder what manifest meant in that context. Clearly, it means to give evidence. But, in general, it also means to become apparent or, more plainly, to appear. In what manner does Christ appear to those who love Him?

For answers to this question, let’s see what John Calvin says:

And I will manifest myself to him. …Christ’s meaning was, “I will grant to those who purely observe my doctrine, that they shall make progress from day to day in faith;” that is, “I will cause them to approach more nearly and more familiarly to me.”

And, therefore, He reveals Himself to us more and more as we obey His gospel.

Judas (not Iscariot) said to him. …By these words, Christ shows in what manner the Gospel is properly obeyed. It is, when our services and outward actions proceed from the love of Christ…

…A perfect love of him can nowhere be found in the world, because there is no man who keeps his commandments perfectly; yet God is pleased with the obedience of those who sincerely aim at this end.

Though we do not obey perfectly, if our actions proceed from our love of Christ alone, this pleases Him.

And we will come to him who loves me; that is, he will feel that the grace of God dwells in him, and will every day receive additions to the gifts of God. He therefore speaks…[of] those degrees of faith by which believers must continually advance, according to that saying,

To the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance. (Matthew 13:12.)

In summation, then, He grants us intimacy and new blessings each day as we obey Him.

Abraham and the Three Angels

Abraham und die drei Engel, Anonymous, 17th century, in the public domain in the United States

Confused Language

A recent Economist magazine review on Noam Chomsky’s work [paywall] comments:

Since he wrote “Syntactic Structures” in 1957, Mr. Chomsky has argued that human language is fundamentally different from any other kind of communication, that a “linguist from Mars” would agree that all human languages are variations on a single language, and that children’s incredibly quick and successful learning (despite often messy and inattentive parental input) points to an innate language faculty in the brain.

This view is remarkably accurate, especially considering the differences between Western and Eastern languages. The Economist review goes on to say that Chomsky and a computer scientist, Robert Berwick, claim to explain the evolution of human language in their new book titled: Why Only Us. Perhaps they’re wrong?

For a different perspective, it’s worthwhile reading the entire biblical account of this phenomenon.

Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. And as people migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. And they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.” And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.”

And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built. And the Lord said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.”

So the Lord dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. Therefore, its name was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth. And from there the Lord dispersed them over the face of all the earth.

Genesis 11:1-9 English Standard Version (ESV)

So the choice is stark. Either we have different languages because they “evolved” that way. Or we reaped what we sowed in trying to “make a name for ourselves.” And we did; just not a good name. Let’s see what Calvin has to say on this scripture passage.

And the Lord came down. …Moses…intimates that God, for a little while, seemed to take no notice of them… For [God] frequently bears with the wicked [such] that he not only suffers them to contrive many nefarious things, as if he were [unconcerned;] but even further[s] their impious and perverse designs with animating success, in order that he may at length cast them down to a lower depth.

Behold, the people is one. …God complains of a wickedness in men…to teach us [not that he is swayed by any passions, but] that he is not negligent of human affairs, and that, as he watches for the salvation of the faithful, so he is intent on observing the wickedness of the ungodly; as it is said in Psalm 34:16,

“The face of the Lord is against them that do evil, to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth.”

Go to, let us go down. …[God] declares that the work which they supposed could not be retarded, shall, without any difficulty, be destroyed…This example of Divine vengeance belongs to all ages: for men are always inflamed with the desire of daring to attempt what is unlawful. And this history shows that God will ever be averse to such counsels and designs; so that we here behold, depicted before our eyes what Solomon says:

‘There is no counsel, nor prudence, nor strength against the Lord,’ (Proverbs 21:30)

Unless the blessing of God be present, from which alone we may expect a prosperous issue, all that we attempt will necessarily perish.

So the Lord scattered them abroad. Men had already been spread abroad [by virtue of] the benediction and grace of God. But those whom the Lord had before distributed with honor in various abodes, he now ignominiously scatters[as] a violent rout, because the principal bond…between them was cut asunder.

Therefore, the name of it [is] called Babel. …What [did] they gain by their foolish ambition to acquire a name[?] They hoped that an everlasting memorial of their origin would be engraven on the tower… [However,] they [did] gain a name, but not each as they would have chosen: thus does God opprobriously cast down the pride of those who usurp to themselves honors to which they have no title.

However, Calvin points out God’s mercy and grace through all this:

Now, although the world bears this curse to the present day; yet, in the midst of punishment…the admirable goodness of God is rendered conspicuous, …because He has proclaimed one gospel, in all languages, through the whole world…

…They who before were miserably divided, have coalesced in the unity of the faith. In this sense Isaiah says, that the language of Canaan should be common to all under the reign of Christ, (Isaiah 19:18); because, although their language may differ in sound, they all speak the same thing, while they cry, “Abba, Father.”

***

What always stands out to me in this Genesis scripture account is the verse: “And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them.” This was God’s assessment of us when we had one language. With increasing consolidation around a few key languages and advances in CRISPR, AI, and nuclear annihilation, we may still do on a global scale what should have remained impossible for men to do.

Because of these things, but not only these, I urge you to embrace that other human impossibility:

It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” Mark 10:25-27 (ESV)

Please enter His kingdom, now.

Tower of Babel - Bruegel

The Tower of Babel, 1563, Pieter Brueghel the Elder (1526/1530–1569), public domain in the United States