Why We Use Block Quotes

We’ve explained before how and why we use brackets [ ] and ellipses for clarity and concision. This week, we explain why we use block quotes so extensively in our posts.

First, links (i.e., hyperlinks,) to articles, editorials, and posts from which block quotes are taken, serve as footnote references to those sources. We rely on fair use, permissions granted, and works deemed in the public domain. Links in our posts, which are unrelated to block quotes, serve to develop the linked words, phrases, or sentences. These latter links are often crucial and expand upon and/or substantiate the thoughts expressed in the post. We try to ensure that all links open in separate tabs or windows (depending on your browser’s or reader’s properties.)

Next, delving into our motivation behind our heavy block quote usage, the glory of human beings is defined as:

…A number of external manifestations and conditions, aspects of internal character, and the inherent condition of human nature. As applied to external manifestations and conditions of human beings, glory may refer to position, possessions, strength, or length of life…

We view the written expression of exquisite thoughts as one of those possessions.

That said, we could digest and regurgitate another’s thoughts, representing their insights as our own; but that, of course, is stealing the glory due others (and ultimately, that of our God, from and to Whom are all things.) It is necessary to give credit where credit is due.

Also, our intent is to call attention to otherwise neglected or obscure thoughts; not so because they have no merit, but because our modern times trade in the facile and trending rather than investing in the deep and time-tested.

You might venture to think that we are just lazy. To this, I must say, you might be right.

Ultimately, however, we are called to humility:

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Philippians 2:3-4 English Standard Version (ESV)

The authors of what we block quote are more significant than ourselves. They thought and wrote these things first (and, usually, with more eloquence than we can muster.) Though we might stand on the shoulders of giants, let us acknowledge them as such.

Calvin, our go-to commentator for all things biblical (except the Books of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Revelation, and a few others, regretfully,) says about these verses in Philippians:

Nothing through strife or vain-glory. …We avoid strife by deliberating and acting peacefully, especially if we are not actuated by ambition. For ambition is a means of fanning all strife. Vain-glory means any glorying in the flesh; for what ground of glorying have men in themselves that is not vanity?

But by humility. For both diseases [(i.e., strife and vain-glory,) Paul] brings forward one remedy — humility, and with good reason, for it is the mother of moderation, the effect of which is that, yielding up our own right, we give the preference to others, and are not easily thrown into agitation. He gives a definition of true humility — when everyone esteems himself less than others. Now, if anything in our whole life is difficult, this above everything else is so.

Hence it is not to be wondered if humility is so rare a virtue. For, as one says, “Everyone has in himself the mind of a king, by claiming everything for himself.” See! here is pride. Afterwards from a foolish admiration of ourselves arises contempt of the brethren. And, so far are we from what Paul here enjoins, that one can hardly endure that others should be on a level with him, for there is no one that is not eager to have superiority. [emphasis added]

Yet, Calvin, modest as he was, poses a question we might dare to ask for ourselves:

…How it is possible that one who is in reality distinguished above others can reckon those to be superior to him who he knows are greatly beneath him? I answer, that this altogether depends on a right estimate of God’s gifts, and our own infirmities.

For however any one may be distinguished by illustrious endowments, he ought to consider with [regard to] himself that they have not been conferred upon him that he might be self-complacent, that he might exalt himself, or even that he might hold himself in esteem.

Let him, instead of this, employ himself in correcting and detecting his faults, and he will have abundant occasion for humility. In others, on the other hand, he will regard with honor whatever there is of excellences, and will by means of love bury their faults.

The man who will observe this rule, will feel no difficulty in preferring others before himself. And this, too, Paul meant when he added, that they ought not to have everyone a regard to themselves, but to their neighbors, or that they ought not to be devoted to themselves.

Hence it is quite possible that a pious man, even though he should be aware that he is superior, may nevertheless hold others in greater esteem.

So then, let this proverb be true of us all:

Remove far from me falsehood and lying;

    give me neither poverty nor riches;

    feed me with the food that is needful for me,

lest I be full and deny you

    and say, “Who is the Lord?”

or lest I be poor and steal

    and profane the name of my God.

Proverbs 30:8-9 (ESV)

As our Lord said: “Many who are first will be last, and the last first.” And “Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Modern Romans, YouTube, The Call – Topic, Lyrics

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

Comity — Raising American Political Discussion

Left or Right, Conservative, Libertarian, Progressive, or Liberal, I challenge you to honestly disagree with the sentiments expressed in this speech and the follow-on question and answer session by House Speaker Paul Ryan.

Comity is defined as:

Com·i·ty [ˈkämədē] NOUN

  1. Courtesy and considerate behavior toward others.
  2. An association of nations for their mutual benefit.

With all the hoopla, rancor, fear-mongering, and winner-take-all declarations this election season, Ryan’s candor and humility are refreshing.

Some key quotes culled by WSJ’s Kristina Peterson from House Speaker Paul Ryan’s presentation are:

“We think of [politics] in terms of this vote or that election. But it can be so much more than that. Politics can be a battle of ideas, not insults.”

“If someone has a bad idea, we don’t think they’re a bad person. We just think they have a bad idea.”

“Our political discourse—both the kind we see on TV and the kind we experience among each other—did not used to be this bad and it does not have to be this way.”

Please listen to the 36-minute video.

The State of American Politics, Speaker Paul Ryan

Honoring Our Feet

Peculiar topic, no? Have you ever thought of someone’s opinions as second-rate and subtly (or so you thought) told them so? Have you been slighted or brushed off for some unfathomable reason, only later putting two and two together? Though we expect this treatment in the world, we shouldn’t expect it in the church. However, it’s there and He doesn’t like it. Through the Apostle Paul, He says:

The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.”

On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require.

But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.

1 Corinthians 12:21-26 English Standard Version (ESV)

There is a lot in this admonition. First, let us consider the key word: honor. We know honor more sharply by what it is not:

dis·hon·or [disˈänər]

VERB

bring shame or disgrace on:

“the politician dishonors her good campaign by resorting to sniping.”

synonyms: disgrace, shame, discredit, bring into disrepute, humiliate, degrade, debase, lower, cheapen, drag down, drag through the mud, blacken the name of, give a bad name to, sully, stain, taint, besmirch, smear, mar, blot, stigmatize

antonym: honor, respect

The reformer, John Calvin, had some pointed things to say about these verses:

Hitherto [Paul exhorted] the less honorable members to…not envy the more distinguished members. Now, he [directs the] honorable members not to despise the inferior members, [with whom] they cannot dispense.

The dishonor of one member [results in] the common disgrace of the whole body, as appears from the care that we take to cover the parts that are less honorable…The body is not merely shattered, and the order of nature perverted, but the authority of God is openly [treated as of no importance] whenever anyone assumes more than belongs to him.

There is no room for envy or contempt. To be honored [means] to be in prosperity and happiness. Nothing, however, is better [suited] to promote harmony than…when everyone feels that he is proportionally enriched by the prosperity of others and impoverished by their penury.

Further, the Apostle Paul instructs us to listen to the Spirit’s guidance and refrain from looking down on our brothers and sisters:

If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. Galatians 5:25-26 (ESV)

To this, Calvin says:

Among Christians, whoever [desires their own] glory departs from true glory, and therefore is justly charged with idle and foolish ambition. It is not lawful for us to glory but in God alone. Every other kind of glorying is pure vanity.

Mutual provocations and envying are the daughters of ambition. He who aspires to the highest rank must of necessity envy all others, and disrespectful, biting, stinging language is the unavoidable consequence.

So we see the origin of this form of strife: vaunted ambition. He who wants to be first, will be last.

But Paul’s admonitions about honor are not all negative. In the Letter to the Romans, he says:

Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. Romans 12:10, 17 (ESV)

In these verses, Calvin catches several subtleties we often miss:

Everyone is to give honor to his brethren and not to himself; for there is no poison more effectual in alienating the minds of men than the thought, that one is despised.

As there is nothing more opposed to brotherly concord than contempt, arising from haughtiness, when each one, neglecting others, advances himself; so the best fomenter of love is humility, when everyone honors others.

We render evil for evil sometimes…when we treat unkindly those who do us no good…When any one denies help to us when we need it, we…do not help him in time of need, any more than he assisted us.

We ought to diligently labor, that all may be edified by our honest dealings. For as purity of conscience is necessary for us before God, so uprightness of character before men is not to be neglected.

When we are [called] to prepare good things before men, …[it] is not that men may admire and praise us but that their minds being elevated to God, they may give praise to him, that by our example they may be stirred up to practice righteousness.

And so, we must “honor our feet,” that is, give sincere respect and due care to those who we consider less capable in word, thought, and deed, for the sake of the unity of His body, the church. Each of us contributes what we’ve been given, if we’re following the Spirit’s leading. To God, alone, be the glory.

U-MV021 – Sam Phillips – I Need Love, posted on YouTube by mypartofthething, lyrics

Confess Your Sins

It’s frightening to admit our sins to God and man. But they see them whether we confess or not. Our audacity, dignity, authenticity, or autonomy may stand in the way. Let’s not let them.

Confess your sinfulness to God to receive His forgiveness and cleansing. As the Apostle Paul says:

“Nothing good dwells in me.”

Confess your sins to one another to receive their forgiveness and restore the broken relationship. The relationship is broken whether we believe it is or not.

It takes humility on our part. Humbling ourselves may go against our personality. However, something I observed early on is that personality strengths can often be weaknesses as well. Paul valued his weaknesses, for when he was weak he was strong.

Confessing our sins, one to another, is another way to express our gratitude towards God.

Showing kindness in this way toward others is a fulfillment of the whole Law.

Romeo and Juliet

The Reconciliation of the Montagues and the Capulets over the Dead Bodies of Romeo and Juliet, circa 1850, Frederic Leighton (1830–1896), in the public domain in the US

I’m Sorry, Please Forgive Me

How often do we say: “I’m sorry; please forgive me?” Rarely, is my guess, based on how often I hear it. I suspect that no longer seeking forgiveness is the result of permissiveness seeping into what used to be common practice almost everywhere. That’s not to say that these words aren’t still necessary for good relations with others.

Most of us know that my standard is the scriptures, and specifically, in this case, the Gospels. Here, we see how the Lord’s disciples tried to evade this very burden; but He didn’t let them do it:

Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.” Matthew 18:21-22 English Standard Version (ESV)

And

“Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” And the Lord said, “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.” Luke 17:3-6 (ESV)

We’re all prone to doubt others’ motives when they keep repeating the same offenses and “seeking forgiveness” time and again. We’re not to be punching bags, after all. However, the Gospel of Matthew lays out a clear process of reconciliation for us to follow:

“So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go.

First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” Matthew 5:23-24 (ESV)

And

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.

But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses.

If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” Matthew 18:15-17 (ESV)

So, if they refuse to listen to the church and continue to persist in their sin then, as the Apostle Paul states, do not associate with them:

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world.

But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one.

For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.” 1 Corinthians 5:9-13 (ESV)

Until, perhaps, the Lord may grant them repentance, or even salvation, if that’s what’s lacking.

Now such a reconciliation process should not be an occasion for gloating; rather, it should give us pause to reflect on our own behavior. We should be humble toward one another:

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Ephesians 4:1-3 (ESV)

And this sacrificial love (i.e., agape) is, for the professing church, the mark by which we are to be known:

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:34-35 (ESV)

We have to remember right relationships require humility and not anger:

Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. James 1:19-21 (ESV)

To do this, we must exercise self-control:

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, Titus 2:11-12 (ESV)

We must make our actions agree with the words we profess:

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)

So, then, let us press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call in Christ Jesus.

Prodigal Son, Rembrandt

The Return of the Prodigal Son, circa 1668, Rembrandt (1606–1669), Public Domain in the US

The Upper Hand – Bernhardt Writer

Some people always have to have the upper hand. My father was one of those people. He would do whatever it took to gain an advantage over those he met. He would be proper, humble, a terror, or a fool if it would give him power and control over others. Fundamentally, he both disrespected and feared them at the same time. He was an expert at what he did and I was a rebellious teen who rejected his ways (by God’s grace).

Such recollections remind me of the scripture:

And in his teaching he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes and like greetings in the marketplaces and have the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.” Mark 12:38-40 English Standard Version (ESV)

These prominent men displayed unwarranted pride and feigned humility as a cover for their real motive: greed. Further, we have:

But understand this: that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. 2 Timothy 3:1-5 (ESV)

My father was such a one. He said he took communion because he was merely hungry:

But they will not get very far, for their folly will be plain to all… 2 Timothy 3:9 (ESV)

It saddens me, even today, that he did not repent while he had the chance. But such things should not characterize our behavior:

But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. 1 Peter 4:15 (ESV)

In a note to this verse, the New American Standard translation renders meddler literally as: one who oversees others’ affairs. NAS adds troublesome to modify the noun in case we would misinterpret it. It’s the attitude, so prevalent today, of: “I know better than you,” put into action.

This should not be our way. Instead:

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. 1 John 2:15-17 (ESV)

Even further:

When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them. John 13:12-17 (ESV) [emphasis added]

I’ve always heard the Lord Jesus’s statement in John 13:8:

“If I do not wash you, you have no share with me,”

as a rebuke to Peter’s:

“You shall never wash my feet.”

But what if it were a plea?

Listening to good doctrine (as important as we think that is) is not enough to soften our hard hearts toward others. Or as one of our poets wrote: “I need love…to melt the frozen sea inside me.”

‘I Need Love’ by Sam Phillips – performed by Sixpence None the Richer (with lyrics)

But, exhibiting genuine humility in all circumstances that proceeds from a changed, crushed, and submissive heart may just be our duty.

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

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