On the Surface – Part I

The Lord spoke to His bondservant Samuel, asking him how long he would grieve for Israel’s first king, now that He had rejected him? God commanded His prophet to anoint a new king from the house of Jesse. As he was considering each of Jesse’s sons in turn, God said to Samuel:

“Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7 English Standard Version (ESV)

The Puritan Preacher and Theologian, Jonathan Edwards, famous for sermons such as: “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” and “The Thorns that Choke the Word,” wrote about this passage:

The true saints have not such a spirit of discerning that they can…determine [with certainty] who are godly, and who are not. For though they know experimentally what true religion is, in the internal exercises of it; yet these are what they can neither feel, nor see, in the heart of another. There is nothing in others, that comes within their view, but outward manifestations and appearances; but the Scripture plainly intimates, that this way of judging what is in men by outward appearances, is at best uncertain, and liable to deceit…

In his commentary, Edwards counsels us to treat all in the visible church charitably:

When there are many probable appearances of piety in others, it is the duty of the saints to receive them cordially into their charity, and to love them and rejoice in them, as their brethren in Christ Jesus. But yet the best of men may be, when the appearances seem to them exceeding fair and bright, as entirely to gain their charity, and conquer their hearts.

Yet, we will see some, who first profess and evidence godliness, fall away from the church:

It has been common thing in the church of God, for such bright professors, that are received as eminent saints, among the saints, to fall away and come to nothing…There may be all these things [i.e., evidences of piety], and yet there be nothing more than the common influences of the Spirit of God, joined with the delusions of Satan, and the wicked and deceitful heart…

He then reminds us of the warning Christ delivered using wheat and tares for His illustration:

In the parable of the wheat and tares, it is said, Matt. 13:26, “When the blade was sprung up, and brought forth fruit, then appeared the tares also.” As though the tares were not discerned, nor distinguishable from the wheat, until then, as Mr. Flavel observes, who mentions it as an observation of Jerome’s, that “wheat and tares are so much alike, until the blade of the wheat comes to bring forth the ear, that it is next to impossible to distinguish them.”

And then Mr. Flavel adds, “How difficult so ever it be to discern the difference between wheat and tares; yet doubtless the eye of sense can much easier discriminate them, than the quickest and piercing eye of man can discern the difference between special and common grace.

For all saving graces in the saints, have their counterfeits in hypocrites; there are similar works in those, which a spiritual and very judicious eye may easily mistake for the saving and genuine effects of a sanctifying spirit.”

Finally, Edwards drives home the message again:

This notion, of certainly discerning another’s state [by surface appearances] is not only not founded on reason or Scripture, but it is anti-scriptural, it is against the rules of Scripture; which say not a word of any such way of judging the state of others as this, but direct us to judge chiefly by the fruits that are seen in them.

***

Having been a member of several churches, some of which have disbanded, I can say from experience that it belongs to God alone to determine the state of other’s souls:

Therefore, do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God. 1 Corinthians 4:5 (ESV)

And it is also certain: “you will recognize them by their fruit,” and those fruit of the spirit to look for are: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. As the Apostle Peter reminded us:

If these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Peter 1:8 (ESV)

Wheat_and_tares_0708_(513649608)

Wheat and Tares, Nazareth Village, James Emery, 1 May 2007, used under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

The Sky Is Falling

No, really, it is. And the bottom is dropping out too. At least that’s what Margaret Atwood says.

In her article for Medium: “It’s Not Climate Change; It’s Everything Change,” Atwood describes three possible outcomes for mankind’s response to climate change. The following is an excerpt from picture 2, her most dismal:

…It will quickly become apparent that the present world population of six and a half billion people is not only dependent on oil, but was created by it: humanity has expanded to fill the space made possible to it by oil, and without that oil it would shrink with astounding rapidity. As for the costs to “the economy,” there won’t be any “economy.” Money will vanish: the only items of exchange will be food, water, and most likely — before everyone topples over — sex…

Contrary to Atwood’s views, we’ve urged responsible action to avert disaster:

…We should reconsider our approaches [toward climate change] for the sake of the next generation…

We’ve got to stop trying to oppress and coerce one another because we think we know what’s best for everyone else. Change over time is possible if we’re willing to cast off the hard sell, and adapt.

But climate change isn’t humanity’s most pressing problem. Nor is it our biggest problem, yours and mine, individually.

In John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion, chapter 17: “Use to be Made of the Doctrine of Providence,” he portrays the predicament of man living apart from God’s care under the dominion of chance:

Innumerable are the ills which beset human life, and present death in as many different forms. Not to go beyond ourselves, since the body is a receptacle, nay the nurse, of a thousand diseases, a man cannot move without carrying along with him many forms of destruction. His life is in a manner interwoven with death.

For what else can be said where heat and cold bring equal danger? Then, in what direction so ever you turn, all surrounding objects not only may do harm, but almost openly threaten and seem to present immediate death.

After giving many particulars through which we are exposed to harm, he says:

Amid these perils, must not man be very miserable, as one who, more dead than alive, with difficulty draws an anxious and feeble breath, just as if a drawn sword were constantly suspended over his neck?

It may be said that these things happen seldom, at least not always, or to all, certainly never all at once. I admit it; but since we are reminded by the example of others, that they may also happen to us, and that our life is not an exception any more than theirs, it is impossible not to fear and dread as if they were to befall us…

But, it is not so for the one who casts his lot with the Lord Jesus Christ, Calvin says:

…But when once the light of Divine Providence has illumined the believer’s soul, he is relieved and set free, not only from the extreme fear and anxiety which formerly oppressed him, but from all care. For as he justly shudders at the idea of chance, so he can confidently commit himself to God [Who actively protects him]…

The great American preacher, Jonathan Edwards, said that there is no security apart from Christ’s redeeming sacrifice. He said:

“There is nothing that keeps wicked men at any one moment out of hell, but the mere pleasure of God.”

Therefore, if you have not already, I urge you:

“Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”

Sinners In The Hands Of An Angry God,” sermon reenacted by Ralph Green, October 30, 2012, Cloverhill4’s channel

Uncertain Footing

We go about our business without a care for the ground beneath us. However, can we be sure our foot will not slip? Losing what we think is firm footing can occur suddenly and without warning. Some causes are of this earth and some are not. All are common to the human condition.

One way we lose our footing is due to sinkholes. These occur because water erodes underground supports via either natural or manmade processes.

A Sinkhole in a Northeastern Chinese City Swallowed Five People [Required Hospitalization], CCTV, published on Aug 27, 2015

The United States Geological Survey (USGS) cites a shocking statistic. Between 35 to 40 percent of the US is susceptible to sinkholes. These occur in two rock types: evaporites (salt, gypsum, and anhydrite) and carbonates (limestone and dolomite). Many formations, but not all, occur at deep depths.

http://water.usgs.gov/edu/sinkholes.html

USGS Sinkhole Susceptibility Map

Commonly, water erosion in these areas results in underground caverns which can lead to ground subsidence. However, sometimes the cavern erodes so extensively that the ceiling collapses and a sinkhole results. Such things are common in Florida and Louisiana.

8/21/13 Slough in, Assumption Parish, Louisiana

As frightening as these may be, we find ourselves in a much worse situation: at any moment we can plunge into Hell.

Only God’s patient endurance gives any of us more time on this earth. He is in the right concerning this because He gives us existence. And He calls us wicked because we continually disobey Him.

A famous (some say infamous) American preacher, Jonathan Edwards, delivered one of many sermons to his congregation called “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” Maybe you studied it in high school or college.

The sermon’s premise is summed up by Edwards’s statement:

“There is nothing that keeps wicked men at any one moment out of hell, but the mere pleasure of God.”

Of Edwards’s ten considerations, these three bring home our predicament:

2.  The Wicked deserve to be cast into hell. Divine justice does not prevent God from destroying the Wicked at any moment.

6.  If it were not for God’s restraints, there are, in the souls of wicked men, hellish principles reigning which, presently, would kindle and flame out into hellfire.

10.  God has never promised to save us from Hell, except for those contained in Christ through the covenant of Grace.

Just as his congregants cried out, we must say:

“What shall I do to be saved?”

And as Paul and Silas answered the Jailer:

Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household

Only then will we have sure footing.

Sinners In The Hands Of An Angry God,” sermon reenacted by Ralph Green, October 30, 2012, Cloverhill4’s channel