By Faith

Sometimes appearances deceive us. Or could it be that they almost always do? As I grow older, I’m not sure. Take, for instance, this vignette from the first book of the Bible:

In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell. Genesis 4:3-5 English Standard Version (ESV)

John Calvin has much to say about this situation. It is clearly very important.

If we look only at the externals, we might ask: “Why did God accept one, but not the other? Was it the type of sacrifice each offered?” One, an animal sacrifice, reminiscent of the animals slain when God made garments of skins for Adam and Eve. The other, a grain offering, which was someday to symbolize the food offering described in Leviticus. “Was the grain not prepared correctly or, perhaps, not the first of the crop?”

Our best answer always results when scripture explains scripture. In the Letter to the Hebrews, the writer says:

By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks. Hebrews 11:4 (ESV)

Calvin succinctly expounds on this point:

By faith Abel offered, etc. The Apostle’s object in this chapter is to show, that however excellent were the works of the saints, it was from faith they derived their value, their worthiness, and all their excellences; and hence follows what he has already intimated, that the fathers pleased God by faith alone.

Now he commends faith here on two accounts, — it renders obedience to God, for it attempts and undertakes nothing, but what is according to the rule of God’s word, — and it relies on God’s promises, and thus it gains the value and worth which belongs to works from his grace alone. Hence, wherever the word faith is found in this chapter, we must bear in mind, that the Apostle speaks of it, in order that the Jews might regard no other rule than God’s word, and might also depend alone on his promises.

Then, more specifically to the Genesis passage, he says:

…Abel’s sacrifice was for no other reason preferable to that of his brother, except that it was sanctified by faith: for surely the fat of brute animals did not smell so sweetly, that it could, by its odor, pacify God. The Scripture indeed shows plainly, why God accepted his sacrifice, for Moses’s words are these, “God had respect to Abel, and to his gifts.” It is hence obvious to conclude, that his sacrifice was accepted, because he himself was graciously accepted. But how did he obtain this favor, except that his heart was purified by faith.

Going on, Calvin explains what the writer meant:

God testifying, etc. He confirms what I have already stated, that no works, coming from us can please God, until we ourselves are received into favor, or to speak more briefly, that no works are deemed just before God, but those of a just man: for he reasons thus, — God bore a testimony to Abel’s gifts; then he had obtained the praise of being just before God.

Next, he addresses the issue of external appearances:

This doctrine is useful, and ought especially to be noticed, as we are not easily convinced of its truth; for when in any work, anything splendid appears, we are immediately rapt in admiration, and we think that it cannot possibly be disapproved of by God: but God, who regards only the inward purity of the heart, heeds not the outward masks of works. Let us then learn, that no right or good work can proceed from us, until we are justified before God.

And, Calvin concludes:

By it he being dead, etc. To faith he also ascribes this, — that God testified that Abel was no less the object of his care after his death, than during his life: for when he says, that though dead, he still speaks, he means, as Moses tells us, that God was moved by his violent death to take vengeance. When, therefore, Abel or his blood is said to speak, the words are to be understood figuratively. It was yet a singular evidence of God’s love towards him, that he had a care for him when he was dead; and it hence appears, that he was one of God’s saints, whose death is precious to him.

So, as it says in First Samuel, “The Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” Like Abel, let us believe Him with our whole heart.

It’s Not the Doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone that Saves—It’s Christ Who Saves, YouTube, Ligonier Ministries, Published on Apr 19, 2017, Longer Teaching on the Same Subject, and Longer Still

A New Prophet like Moses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Please, believe Him.

Brazen Serpent

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

Restore to Repentance?

Having been in the church a while, I’ve seen and heard things. This verse has always troubled me:

For it is impossible,

in the case of those:

who have once been enlightened,

who have tasted the heavenly gift,

and have shared in the Holy Spirit,

and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come,

and then have fallen away,

to restore them again to repentance,

since they are:

crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm

and holding him up to contempt.

Hebrews 6:4-6 English Standard Version (ESV) emphasis mine

I had once presented the gospel to a fellow who said to me that he knew he was not redeemable because of these verses. Ignorant as I was at the time, I tried to convince him that there was always hope while he yet lived. He, a non-believer, quoted these verses to me, thanked me for my concern, and wandered away. I never saw him again.

John Calvin comments:

Let us then know, that the Gospel cannot be otherwise rightly known than by the illumination of the Spirit, and that being thus drawn away from the world, we are raised up to heaven, and that knowing the goodness of God we rely on his word.

But here arises a new question, how can it be that he who has once made such a progress should afterwards fall away? For God, it may be said, calls none effectually but the elect, and Paul testifies that they are really his sons who are led by his Spirit, (Romans 8:14) and he teaches us, that it is a sure pledge of adoption when Christ makes us partakers of his Spirit. The elect are also beyond the danger of finally falling away; for the Father who gave them to be preserved by Christ his Son is greater than all, and Christ promises to watch over them all so that none may perish.

To all this I answer, That God indeed favors none but the elect alone with the Spirit of regeneration, and that by this they are distinguished from the reprobate; for they are renewed after his image and receive the earnest of the Spirit in hope of the future inheritance, and by the same Spirit the Gospel is sealed in their hearts.

But I cannot admit that all this is any reason why he should not grant the reprobate also some taste of his grace, why he should not irradiate their minds with some sparks of his light, why he should not give them some perception of his goodness, and in some sort engrave his word on their hearts.

Otherwise, where would be the temporal faith mentioned by Mark 4:17? There is therefore some knowledge even in the reprobate, which afterwards vanishes away, either because it did not strike roots sufficiently deep, or because it withers, being choked up.

And by this bridle the Lord keeps us in fear and humility; and we certainly see how prone human nature is otherwise to security and foolish confidence. At the same time our solicitude ought to be such as not to disturb the peace of conscience. For the Lord strengthens faith in us, while he subdues our flesh: and hence he would have faith to remain and rest tranquilly as in a safe haven; but he exercises the flesh with various conflicts, that it may not grow wanton through idleness.

So the bitter admonition in these verses serves us well: to keep us striving for holiness, humility, and obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ in all we think, say, and do.

Fallen Angels in Hell

Fallen Angels in Hell, circa 1841, John Martin, 1789 – 1854, Public Domain in US

Holy as I Am Holy?

The Apostle Peter wrote in his first letter:

As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” 1 Peter 1:14-16 English Standard Version (ESV)

John Calvin comments on these verses:

He who hath called you is holy – He reasons from the end for which we are called. God sets us apart as a peculiar people for himself; then we ought to be free from all pollutions

Calvin, stating the obvious, that we are not capable of being like God in holiness, nevertheless, points out:

…We ought daily to strive more and more. And we ought to remember that we are not only told what our duty is, but that God also adds, “I am he who sanctify you.”

The Calvin presses the point further:

It is added: in all manner of conversation, or, in your whole conduct. There is then no part of our life which is not to be redolent with this good odour of holiness…

You may currently stink at holy conduct. However, if you are in Christ and He is in you, then you must make great efforts to achieve or obtain it:

Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. Hebrews 12:14 (ESV)

To this verse, Calvin comments with regard to those who profess Christ as Lord:

Follow peace, etc. – Men are so born that they all seem to shun peace; for all study their own interest, seek their own ways, and care not to accommodate themselves to the ways of others. Unless then we strenuously labor to follow peace, we shall never retain it; for many things will happen daily affording occasion for discords…

And, with regard to those outside of Christ, Calvin says:

As however peace cannot be maintained with the ungodly except on the condition of approving of their vices and wickedness, the Apostle immediately adds, that holiness is to be followed together with peace; as though he commended peace to us with this exception, that the friendship of the wicked is not to be allowed to defile or pollute us; for holiness has an especial regard to God…

Finally, Calvin adds:

He declares, that without holiness no man shall see the Lord; for with no other eyes shall we see God than those which have been renewed after his image.

As scripture teaches, we know everyone born from above practices right behavior.

Last Judgment

Last Judgment, 1537 – 1541, Michelangelo and assistants, the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican, PD-Art-US