Despise – Part 1

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

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

Calvin counsels that we should exercise humility and forbearance:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If

Two weeks ago we discussed ‘casting doubt.’ Two of the questions we looked at began: “If you are the Son of God…” This week, I’d like us to consider a similar question: “If He is the Lord, then what does that require of us?” Last week’s questions, spoken by the Lord Jesus’s adversaries, insinuated He was not who He said He was. This week’s question assumes He is who He says He is.

Let’s consider, then, what sort of people should we be? In the context of Christ’s return, the Apostle Peter says:

What sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God. 2 Peter 3:11b – 12a English Standard Version (ESV)

Charles Haddon Spurgeon preached a sermon called “The World On Fire” based on these verses almost a century and a half ago. The second half of his sermon discusses how we ought to live. He starts by comparing us to Noah:

…Our position as Christians is, at this moment, like that of Noah before the destruction of the world by water. What manner of person ought Noah to have been? He said to himself, “This fair and beautiful world in which I dwell will soon be covered with the ooze and slime of a tremendous deluge.”

He looked upon his fellow men and he thought and said of them, “Except these men fly to the ark and are sheltered with me, they will, every one of them, be drowned.” He saw them marrying and given in marriage, feasting and trifling at the very hour when the flood came and he felt that if they would believe as he did they would find something other to do than to be engrossed in carnal pleasures.

When he saw them heaping up money he would almost laugh yet weep to think that they should hoard up gold to be submerged with themselves in the general flood. When men added to their estates acre after acre, I have no doubt the Patriarch said to himself, “The flood will sweep away all these landmarks and as it carries away the owner so will it destroy all vestige of his barn and his farm and his fields.”

Spurgeon then helps us walk in Noah’s shoes, so to speak, and think along with him:

I should suppose such a man, daily expecting the rain to descend and the flood to burst up from beneath, would lead a life very free from worldliness, a life the very reverse of the rest of his fellow men. They would reckon him to be very eccentric. They would be unable to understand him. And, indeed, his conduct would be such that no one could understand it except upon the theory that he believed in the destruction of all around him.

He then draws conclusions for us from Noah’s life:

Now our life ought to be like that of Noah. Look around on the beauties of Nature and when you enjoy them, say to yourself, “All these are to be dissolved and to melt with fervent heat.” Look up into the clear blue and think that yonder sky, itself, shall shrivel like a scroll and be rolled up like a garment that has seen its better days and must be put aside.

Look on your fellow men, your own children and your household, and those you pass in the street or meet with in transacting business, and say, “Alas, alas, unless these men, women and children fly to Jesus and are saved in Him, they will be destroyed with the earth on which they dwell, for the day of the Lord is surely coming and judgment awaits the ungodly.”

This should make us act in a spirit the opposite of those who now say, “Go, let us buy and sell and get gain. Let us heap together treasure. Let us live for this world. Let us eat and drink, and be merry.” They are of the earth, therefore is their conduct and conversation earthy. They build here, on this quicksand, and after their own sort they find a pleasure therein—but you whose eyes have been opened know better—and you, therefore build upon the Rock.

Then Spurgeon exhorts us to take God’s perspective:

You understand that the things which are seen are but a dream, that the things unseen are, alone, substantial. Therefore, set loose by all things below the moon and clutch as with the grasp of a dying man the things immortal and eternal which your God has revealed to you!

And he reminds us what we will face as the consequences of our actions:

Such conduct will separate you from your fellow men, as there is down deep in your heart an [goal] different from theirs. And as you set a different estimate on all things, your conduct will be wide apart from theirs. Being swayed by different motives, your life will diverge from theirs and they will misunderstand you. And while trying to find motives for you, as they do not know the true motive, they will ascribe ill motives to you.

But, so it must be. You must come out from among them, be separate and touch not the unclean thing. And the fact that all these things are to be dissolved should make it easy for you to do so, no, natural for you to do so, as it must have made it both easy and natural to the Patriarch Noah.

Spurgeon then examines the worldly man’s perspective:

…The sinner finds a reason for sin when he says, “God is not here. Everything goes on in the ordinary way.  God does not care what men do.”

“No,” says the Apostle, “He is not away, He is here, holding back the fire. He is reserving this world a little while, but by-and-by He will let the fires loose and the world will be destroyed. He is not far off. He is even at the door.”

Considering all that preceded, he calls us to examine ourselves and pray:

Am I ready to be caught away to be with my Lord in the air? Or shall I be left to perish amidst the conflagration? How ought I to live! How ought I to stand, as it were, on tiptoe, ready when He shall call me, to be away up into the Glory, far off from this perishing world!

It makes us look upon all these things in a different light and upon eternal things with a more fixed eye—and a sterner resolve to live unto God. Observe, if sin, even on the inanimate world, needs such a purging by fire as this—if the fact that sin committed here makes it necessary that God should burn it all up—what a horrid thing sin must be!

O to be purged from it! Refining fire, go through my heart! Spirit of the living God, sweep with all Your mighty burnings through and through my body, soul and spirit till You have purged me of every tendency to sin.

Finally, Spurgeon calls those outside the commonwealth to enter by the narrow way:

…Will you not have Christ? Will you not have a Savior? For if you will not, there remains for you only a fearful looking for judgment and of fiery indignation! Tempt not the anger of God! Yield to His mercy now! Believe in His dear Son. I pray that you may this day be saved and God be glorified in your salvation. Amen.

And, thus, let it be.

The World On Fire – Charles Spurgeon Sermon, YouTube, Published March 4, 2017, Christian Praise and Worship in Songs, Sermons, and Audio Books

Where is the Promise of His Coming?

Haters gonna hate; a phrase with uncertain origins which has come to mean: ‘ignore the hater.’ A ‘hater’ is a person who despises an individual or a group and seeks to diminish their reputation. This is the kind of thing we’ve come to expect a scoffer to do. And these are the ones the Apostle Peter meant when he wrote:

[Scoffers] will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.”

For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished.

But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.

2 Peter 3:4-7 English Standard Version (ESV)

By implication, Peter is saying that those scoffers will reap for themselves the outcome of the doubt that they’ve sown.

John Calvin comments first on the consequences of the scoffers’ derisive taunt in verse 4:

Where is the promise. It was a dangerous [scorn] when they insinuated a doubt as to the last resurrection; for when that is taken away, there is no gospel any longer, the power of Christ is brought to nothing, the whole of religion is gone. Then Satan aims directly at the throat of the Church, when he destroys faith in the coming of Christ.

For why did Christ die and rise again, except that he may sometime gather to himself the redeemed from death, and give them eternal life? All religion is wholly subverted, [unless] faith in the resurrection remains firm and immovable. Hence, on this point Satan assails us most fiercely.

Calvin then analyzes the nature of the taunt:

But let us notice what the [expression of contempt] was. They set the regular course of nature, such as it seems to have been from the beginning, in opposition to the promise of God, as though these things were contrary, or did not harmonize together.

Though the faith of the fathers, they said, was the same, yet no change has taken place since their death, and it is known that many ages have passed away. Hence, they concluded that what was said of the destruction of the world was a fable; because, they conjectured, that as [the world] had lasted so long, it would be perpetual.

Next, he shows how Peter refutes the derision:

For this they willingly are ignorant of. By [a single] argument…[Peter disproves] the [scorn] of the ungodly, even by this, that the world once perished by a deluge of waters, when yet it consisted of waters. (Genesis 1:2.) And as the history of this was well known, he says that they willingly, or of their own accord, erred.

For they who infer the perpetuity of the world from its present state, [intentionally] close their eyes, so as not to see so clear a judgment of God. The world no doubt had its origin from waters, for Moses calls the chaos from which the earth emerged, waters; and further, it was sustained by waters; it yet pleased the Lord to use waters for the purpose of destroying it.

It hence appears that the power of nature is not sufficient to sustain and preserve the world, but that on the contrary it contains the very element of its own ruin, whenever it may please God to destroy it.

Calvin then reminds us that the sovereign God does as He pleases with His creation for His good purposes:

For it ought always to be borne in mind, that the world stands through no other power than that of God’s word, and that therefore inferior or secondary causes derive their power [from him], and produce different effects as they are directed.

Thus through water the world stood, but water could have done nothing of itself, but on the contrary obeyed God’s word as an inferior agent or element. As soon then as it pleased God to destroy the earth, the same water obeyed in becoming a ruinous inundation.

We now see how egregiously they err, who stop at naked elements, as though there was perpetuity in them, and their nature were not changeable according to the bidding of God.

By these few words the petulance of those is abundantly refuted, who arm themselves with physical reasons to fight against God. For the history of the deluge is an abundantly sufficient witness that the whole order of nature is governed by the sole power of God. (Genesis 7:17.)…

In this way, Calvin shows that the world’s current state, stable as it appears, is not normative of its past states. He then concludes:

But the heavens and the earth which are now. [Peter] does not infer this [i.e., the world’s future destruction by means of fire] as the consequence; for his purpose was no other than to dissipate the craftiness of scoffers respecting the perpetual state of nature.

And we see many such, [today,] who, being [somewhat] imbued with the rudiments of philosophy, only hunt after profane speculations, in order that they may pass themselves off as great philosophers.

But it now appears quite evident from what has been said, that there is nothing unreasonable in the declaration made by the Lord, that the heaven and the earth shall hereafter be consumed by fire, because the reason for the fire is the same as that for the water [i.e., to obey God’s will in judgment…]

Isn’t it common experience to expect everything to carry on as it always has? We perform our chores, drive to and from work, prepare and eat our meals, sleep and then awake. But then, suddenly, a love one is injured or dies. We lose our job, our car, or our home. Our spouse walks out, our friends give up on us, or we pick up and move away.

It’s wise to realize beforehand that all things obey the Lord’s word. Whatever change may take place, we should rely on our God, even as the prophet Habakkuk did:

Though the fig tree should not blossom,

    nor fruit be on the vines,

the produce of the olive fail

    and the fields yield no food,

the flock be cut off from the fold

    and there be no herd in the stalls,

yet I will rejoice in the Lord;

    I will take joy in the God of my salvation.

God, the Lord, is my strength;

    he makes my feet like the deer’s;

    he makes me tread on my high places.

Habakkuk 3:17-19 (ESV)

Habakkuk awaited a Chaldean invasion, but we await a Savior.

2 Peter 3:1-7 sermon by Dr. Bob Utley, YouTube, Free Bible Commentary

Evil Continually

Are we good at heart or inherently evil? The former is a presupposition of progressives and the latter of conservatives. We believe neither political view is wholly accurate in their assessments and correctives. Even though it seems up for debate, humans’ moral state was once demonstrated in no uncertain terms. This judgment was not given lightly; nor was the punishment administered capriciously. We, as a species, were indicted and found guilty:

The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. Genesis 6:5-6 English Standard Version (ESV)

And a grave judgment followed.

John Calvin analyzes these verses starting with God’s judicious consideration of our punishment:

And God saw that the wickedness of man was great. Moses [makes the argument] that God was neither too harsh, nor [abrupt] in exacting punishment from the wicked men of the world. And he introduces God as speaking after the manner of men, by a figure [of speech] which ascribes human affections to God; because he could not otherwise express…that God was not [persuaded] hastily, or for a [minor] cause, to destroy the world.

…By the word saw, [Moses] indicates long continued patience; as if he would say, that God had not proclaimed his sentence to destroy men, until after having well observed, and long considered, their case, he saw them to be past recovery.

Calvin then points out that our iniquity was worldwide and total:

Their wickedness was great in the earth He might have pardoned sins of a less aggravated character: if in one part only of the world impiety had reigned, other regions might have remained free from punishment. But now, when iniquity had reached its highest point, and so pervaded the whole earth, that integrity possessed no longer a single corner; it follows, that the time for punishment is more than fully arrived…[The earth and all it contained] was not overwhelmed with a deluge of waters [until] it had first been [fully]immersed in the pollution of wickedness.

He compares the depth of our sin with the severity of due punishment:

Every imagination of the thoughts of his heart. Moses has traced the cause of the deluge to external acts of iniquity, he now ascends higher, and declares that men were not only perverse by habit, and by the custom of evil living; but that wickedness was too deeply seated in their hearts, to leave any hope of repentance. He certainly could not have more forcibly asserted that the depravity was such as no moderate remedy might cure…

Calvin emphasizes that, although Moses spoke of God’s condemnation of pre-flood humanity, those after the flood and up until our day, justly, fall under the same indictment:

Continually. …The world had then become so hardened in its wickedness, and was so far from any amendment, or from entertaining any feeling of penitence, that it grew worse and worse as time advanced…It was not the folly of a few days, but the inveterate depravity which the children, having received, as by hereditary right, transmitted from their parents to their descendants.

Nevertheless, though Moses here speaks of the wickedness which at that time prevailed in the world, the general doctrine is properly and consistently…[extended] to the whole human race. So, when David says,

They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt;

    there is none who does good,

    not even one;

For there is no truth in their mouth;

    their inmost self is destruction;

their throat is an open grave;

    they flatter with their tongue.

Psalm 14:3; 5:9 English Standard Version (ESV)

he deplores, truly, the impiety of his own age.

…[And the Apostle] Paul does not [hesitate] to extend it to all men of every age (Romans 3:12) and with justice; for it is not a mere complaint concerning a few men, but a description of the human mind when left to itself, destitute of the Spirit of God.

It is therefore very proper that the obstinacy of the men, who had greatly abused the goodness of God should be condemned in these words; yet, at the same time, the true nature of man, when deprived of the grace of the Spirit, is clearly exhibited.

Finally, Calvin explains God’s grieved motivation behind our indictment and punishment:

And it repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth The repentance which is here ascribed to God does not properly belong to him, but has reference to our understanding of him. For since we cannot comprehend him as he is, it is necessary that, for our sakes God should, [via figures of speech, transfer to himself what is peculiar to human nature (i.e., ἀνθρωποπάθεια, or anthrōpopátheia: the actions of men attributed to God)]…

[So, the] Spirit accommodates himself to our capacity…to teach us, that from the time when man [became] so greatly corrupted [by his sin], God [no longer reckoned] him among his creatures; as if [God had said], ‘This is not my workmanship; this is not that man who was formed in my image, and whom I had adorned with such excellent gifts: I do not [condescend] now to acknowledge this degenerate and defiled creature as mine.’

Unless we wish to provoke God, and to put him to grief, let us learn to abhor and to flee from sin…

Commenting on the flood judgment and the one yet to come, the Apostle Peter says:

[Scoffers] will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.”

For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished.

But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.

2 Peter 3:4-7 (ESV)

Therefore, call upon the Lord while He is near. Believe in Him while it is still called today.

The Deluge - John Martin

The Deluge, 1834, John Martin (1789–1854), In the Public Domain in the United States

Attack on Genesis

How can something come from nothing? That’s what a recent cosmology theory purports to explain. The scriptures present a different story:

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. Genesis 1:1 English Standard Version (ESV)

And this explanation isn’t confined to the first three chapters of Genesis but is found throughout the scriptures. If it is false, then all of scripture can be reckoned as false as well. And there are significant consequences if the scriptures aren’t true.

In an October 10, 2012 Ligonier blog post titled: “In the Beginning God,” which is an excerpt taken from the book God’s Love, R. C. Sproul discusses the Genesis account:

When Genesis speaks of a beginning, it is referring to the advent of the universe in time and space. It is not positing a beginning to God but a beginning to the creative work of God…Genesis merely asserts that the universe had a beginning…We declare with Scripture that God is eternal…Does His eternality mean that He is somehow outside of time, that He is timeless? Or does His eternality mean that He exists in an endless dimension of time?

[Whichever way] we answer this question; we conclude that God Himself never had a beginning. He exists infinitely with respect to space and eternally with respect to time. His existence has neither a starting point nor an ending point. The dimensions of His existence are from everlasting to everlasting. This means that He always has been and always will be.

Sproul then touches on a topic we covered last week:

Because God Himself had no beginning, He was already there in the beginning. He antedates the created order. When we affirm that God is eternal, we are also saying that He possesses the attribute of aseity, or self-existence. This means that God eternally has existed of Himself and in Himself. He is not a contingent being. He did not derive from some other source. He is not dependent on any power outside Himself to exist…He is not an effect of some antecedent cause. In a word, He is not a creature. No creature has the power of being in and of itself. All creatures are contingent, derived, and dependent. This is the essence of their creatureliness.

And, as we discussed last week, all that we perceive in the world would not exist without their First Cause, God All Mighty. Sproul examines this consequence as he concludes:

Thinkers hostile to theism have sought every means imaginable to provide a rational alternative to the notion of an eternal, self-existent deity. Some have argued for an eternal universe, though with great difficulty. Usually the temporal beginning of the universe is granted, but with a reluctance to assign its cause to an eternal, self-existent being.

The usual alternative is some sort of self-creation, which, in whatever form it takes, falls into irrationality and absurdity. To assert the self-creation of anything is to leap into the abyss of the absurd because for something to create itself, it would have had to exist before it existed to do the job. It would have had to be and not be at the same time and in the same relationship.

…If there ever was a time when absolutely nothing existed, all there could possibly be now is nothing. Even that statement is problematic because there can never be nothing; if nothing ever was, then it would be something and not nothing.

The attack upon the Genesis account doesn’t stop at nothing, though. There is too much at stake. Another avenue is the reconciliation of the apparent age of the universe with the days of creation described in Genesis’s first two chapters. The church has been on the ropes over this one for decades if not longer.

CMB Timeline

Timeline of the Universe, circa 2006, NASA/WMAP Science Team, in the public domain in the United States

We’ve previously examined why the earth appears so old. Dorothy Leigh Sayers, in her book Letters to a Diminished Church: Passionate Arguments for the Relevance of Christian Doctrine, offers an intriguing explanation for Genesis, chapters 1-3:

…God had, at some moment or other, created the universe complete with all the vestiges of an imaginary past…Extravagant…if one thinks of God as a [scientist]…but, if one thinks of Him as working in the same sort of way as a creative artist, then [it seems] the most natural thing in the world.

Albert Mohler, in his sermon: “Why Does the Universe Look So Old?” says, “because the Creator made it whole,” that is, fully developed, and it “bares testimony to the effects of sin and testimony to the judgment of God.” This last point merits development.

Usually, some will object, how can fossils have been created in the first six days, which God pronounced very good, since these fossils represent the deaths of many creatures? The answer is that death entered through the curse (Genesis 3; Romans 5:12) sometime after the seventh day, a day of rest. Further, the Apostle Paul comments on Genesis 3 when he says:

For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. Romans 8:19-21 (ESV)

Clearly, God’s curse on humanity materially affected all creation, including the earth itself, with corruption. For self-consistency, that corruption naturally must include dead creatures.

Therefore, if the Genesis account is true, how should we then respond?

W. Robert Godfrey: God’s Design for Creation, YouTube, Mar 2, 2016 , Ligonier Ministries

Measures

What measures do you use with others? Are you gracious, holding your tongue when wronged? Are you generous and sincere when praising others? Or merciful and gentle when correcting another’s sin? This multifaceted word, measure, can mean an amount, a planned action, or a standard of comparison.

During His Sermon on the Mount, while declaring the characteristics, principles, and consequences of God’s kingdom, Christ said:

“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.” Matthew 7:1-2 English Standard Version (ESV)

And, again, as reported by Luke:

“Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” Luke 6:37-38 (ESV)

And, warning His disciples after explaining a parable about entering the kingdom of God:

…He said to them, “Pay attention to what you hear: with the measure you use, it will be measured to you, and still more will be added to you. For to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.” Mark 4:24-25 (ESV)

I must admit, the passage in Luke is a favorite of mine. Who wouldn’t want overflowing returns of like kind for your deeds? That is, of course, if those deeds were gracious, generous, sincere, merciful, and gentile.

John Calvin explains these synoptic gospel passages:

Matthew 7:1. Judge not These words of Christ do not contain an absolute prohibition from judging, but are intended to cure a disease, which appears to be natural to us all. We see how all flatter themselves, and every man passes a severe censure on others. This vice is attended by some strange enjoyment: for there is hardly any person who is not tickled with the desire of inquiring into other people’s faults.

[Everyone] acknowledges…that it is an intolerable evil, that those who [fail to notice] their own vices are so [habitually] against their brethren. The Heathens, too, in ancient times, condemned it in many proverbs. Yet it has existed in all ages, and exists, too, in the present day. [Indeed], it is accompanied by another and a worse plague: for the greater part of men think that, when they condemn others, they acquire a greater liberty of sinning.

This depraved eagerness for biting, censuring, and slandering, is restrained by Christ, when he says, Judge not. It is not necessary that believers should become blind, and perceive nothing, but only that they should refrain from an undue eagerness to judge: for otherwise the proper bounds of rigor will be exceeded by every man who desires to pass sentence on his brethren.

…To judge, therefore, means here, to be influenced by curiosity in inquiring into the actions of others. This disease, in the first place, draws continually along with it the injustice of condemning any trivial fault, as if it had been a very heinous crime; and next breaks out into the insolent presumption of looking disdainfully at every action, and passing an unfavorable judgment on it, even when it might be viewed in a good light.

Delving deeper into the nature of unrighteous judgment, he says:

We now see, that the design of Christ was to guard us against indulging excessive eagerness, or [ready irritation], or [intense hatred], or even curiosity, in judging our neighbors. He who judges according to the word and law of the Lord, and forms his judgment by the rule of charity, always begins with subjecting himself to examination, and preserves a proper medium and order in his judgments.

Hence it is evident, that this passage is altogether misapplied by those persons who would desire to make that moderation, which Christ recommends, a pretense for setting aside all distinction between good and evil.

We are not only permitted, but are even bound, to condemn all sins; unless we choose to rebel against God himself, — [going so far as] to repeal his laws, to reverse his decisions, and to overturn his judgment-seat.

It is his will that we should proclaim the sentence which he pronounces on the actions of men: only we must preserve such modesty towards each other, as to make it manifest that he is the only Lawgiver and Judge, (Isaiah 33:22.)

Then Calvin characterizes the punishment due these censorious judges:

That you may not be judged He [announces] a punishment against those severe judges, who take so much delight in sifting the faults of others. They will not be treated by others with greater kindness, but will experience, in their turn, the same severity which they had exercised towards others. As nothing is dearer or more valuable to us than our reputation, so nothing is more bitter than to be condemned, or to be exposed to the reproaches and infamy of men.

And yet it is by our own fault that we draw upon ourselves that very thing which our nature so strongly detests, for which of us is there, who does not examine too severely the actions of others; who does not manifest undue rage against slight offenses; or who does not [testily] censure what was in itself indifferent?

And what is this but deliberately to provoke God, as our avenger, to treat us in the same manner. Now, though it is a just judgment of God, that those who have judged others should be punished in their turn, yet the Lord executes this punishment by the instrumentality of men.

Chrysostom and others limit this statement to the present life: but that is a forced interpretation. Isaiah threatens (33:1) that those who have spoiled others shall be spoiled. In like manner, our Lord means, that there will be no want of executioners to punish the injustice and slander of men with equal bitterness or severity. And if men shall fail to receive punishment in this world, those who have shown undue eagerness in condemning their brethren will not escape the judgment of God.

And, finally, Calvin addresses the question of just recompense:

Luke 6:37, 38. Forgive, and it shall be forgiven to you. Give, and it shall be given to you. This promise, which is added by Luke, means, that the Lord will cause him, who is indulgent, kind, and just to his brethren, to experience the same gentleness from others, and to be treated by them in a generous and friendly manner.

Yet it frequently happens, that the children of God receive the very worst reward, and are oppressed by many unjust slanders; and that, to when they have injured no man’s reputation, and even spared the faults of brethren. But this is not inconsistent with what Christ says: for we know, that the promises which relate to the present life do not always hold, and are not without exceptions.

Besides, though the Lord permits his people, when innocent, to be unjustly oppressed and almost overwhelmed, he fulfills what he says in another place, that “their uprightness shall break forth as the morning,” (Isaiah 58:8.) In this way, his blessing always rises above all unjust slanders. He subjects believers to unjust reproaches, that he may humble them, and that he may at length maintain the goodness of their cause.

It ought also to be taken into the account, that believers themselves, though they endeavor to act justly towards their brethren, are sometimes carried away by excessive severity against brethren, who were either innocent, or not so greatly to be blamed, and thus, by their own fault, provoke against themselves a similar judgment.

If they do not receive good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over, though this is chargeable on the ingratitude of the world, yet they ought to acknowledge that it was partly deserved: for there is no man who is so kind and indulgent as he ought to be towards his brethren.

Augustine summarized these verses’ essence this way:

…Is it the case, then, that if we shall judge anything with a rash judgment, God will also judge rashly with respect to us?

…By no means does God either judge rashly, or recompense to anyone with an unjust measure; but it is so expressed: …that very same rashness [by which] you punish another must necessarily punish yourself.

…[As an example,] what else is meant by the statement, “For all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword,” but that the soul dies by that very sin, whatever it may be, which it has committed?

Please, if the Spirit impresses these verses on you, as He does on me, take them to heart and change your measures.

Richter: On The Nature Of Daylight, YouTube, Versions available on Amazon: Quintet and Orchestra

Stand Before the Judgment Seat

Last week we considered our propensity to judge others, assigning to some honors and infamy to others, when we have no way to see the quality of their hearts and souls. And, if we could see them, we’d be either too indulgent or too harsh. This week we look at God’s rightful place as Judge. In his letter to the church at Rome, in the fourteenth chapter, the Apostle Paul asks:

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

The obvious answer to his questions is: our sinfulness. Calvin analyzes these verses further:

But you, why do you, etc. …It is an unreasonable boldness in anyone to assume the power to judge his brother, since by taking such a liberty he robs Christ the Lord of the power which he alone has received from the Father.

…As…it would be absurd among men for a criminal, who ought to occupy a humble place in the court, to ascend the tribunal of the judge; so it is absurd for a Christian to take to himself the liberty of judging the conscience of his brother…

That certainly puts us in our place. But, to examine the matter at a deeper level, consider Paul’s initial question and response in this chapter:

Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. Romans 14:4 (ESV)

Calvin explains:

Who are you who judges, etc. …Now, though the power of judging as to the person, and also as to the deed, is taken from us, there is yet much difference between the two.

For we ought to leave the man, whatever he may be, to the judgment of God; but as to his deeds we may indeed form a decisive opinion, though not according to our own views, but according to the word of God; and the judgment, derived from his word, is neither human, nor another man’s judgment.

Paul then intended here to restrain us from presumption in judging; into which they fall, who dare to pronounce anything respecting the actions of men without the warrant of God’s word.

These are the same principles Paul proclaimed to the Corinthian church. However, lest we think our lot is hopeless, consider the second half of the verse to which Calvin says:

To his own Lord he stands or falls, etc. As though he said, — “It belongs rightly to the Lord, either to disapprove, or to accept what his servant does: hence he robs the Lord, who attempts to take to himself this authority.”

And he adds, he shall indeed stand: and by so saying, he not only bids us to abstain from condemning, but also exhorts us to mercy and kindness, so as ever to hope well of him, in whom we perceive anything of God; inasmuch as the Lord has given us a hope, that he will fully confirm, and lead to perfection, those in whom he has begun the work of grace…as he also teaches us in another place,

“He who began in you a good work, will perform it to the end.” (Philippians 1:6.)

So, the trade is equitable with regard to persons. We relinquish tribunal powers over others of whom we disapprove because they do not meet our personal standards. Rather, we are to judge others’ actions only according to His word. And God promises to complete the work He set out to do, in those others for whom we should hope well and, most importantly, in ourselves with whom we should be disappointed until His work is through.

77’s-Live Warehouse 1989: “Can’t Get Over It,” “Frames Without Photographs,” YouTube, 77’s

Not Acquitted

How often have we condemned others without cause based on their real or perceived deficiencies? Some in the world have lost their lives this way. However, in the church, we should be more prudent. The Apostle Paul addressed the Corinthian church, who had just such a problem, using himself as an example:

For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. 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 4:4-5 English Standard Version (ESV)

Theologian John Calvin, expounded on Paul’s remarks:

I am not conscious to myself of anything faulty. …Paul [confesses elsewhere that he]…felt sin dwelling in him…but as to his apostleship, (which is the subject that is here treated of,) he had conducted himself with so much integrity and fidelity, that his conscience did not accuse him as to anything…Yet he says that he is not thereby justified, that is, pure, and altogether free from guilt in the sight of God.

Why? Assuredly, because God sees much more distinctly than we; and hence, what appears to us cleanest, is filthy in his eyes…We think of ourselves too indulgently, but God is a judge of the utmost strictness. Hence the truth of what Solomon says —

“Every man’s ways appear right his own eyes, but the Lord ponders the hearts.” (Proverbs 21:2.)

…Accordingly…we must have recourse to the free promise of mercy, which is offered to us in Christ, that we may be fully assured that we are accounted righteous by God.

Calvin then points out the limitations of Paul’s example:

Therefore, judge nothing before the time From this conclusion it is manifest, that Paul did not mean to reprove every kind of judgment without exception, but only what is hasty and rash, without examination of the case…

Let us know, then, how much is allowed us, what is now within the sphere of our knowledge, and what is deferred until the day of Christ, and let us not attempt to go beyond these limits. For there are some things that are now seen openly, while there are others that lie buried in obscurity until the day of Christ.

Yet, because of man’s utter depravity, Calvin declares:

Who will bring to light. If this is affirmed truly and properly respecting the day of Christ, it follows that matters are never so well regulated in this world but that many things are involved in darkness; and that there is never so much light, but that many things remain in obscurity. I speak of the life of men, and their actions.

He explains in the second clause, what is the cause of the obscurity and confusion, so that all things are not now manifest. It is because there are [astonishing] recesses and deepest lurking-places in the hearts of men. Hence, until the thoughts of the hearts are brought to light, there will always be darkness.

And, finally, summing up, Calvin warns:

And then shall everyone have praise It is as though he had said, “You now, O Corinthians, as if you had the adjudging of the prizes, crown some, and send away others with disgrace, but this right and office belong exclusively to Christ. You do that before the time — before it has become manifest who is worthy to be crowned, but the Lord has appointed a day on which he will make it manifest.”

Therefore, we should not judge another’s honor; it is before the Lord that they stand, and He is able to make them stand. And we will all stand before Him one day.

Michael Roe performs “I Could Laugh” at Grace Church, Show Low, AZ – 4-7-2014 – with. Chris Taylor, YouTube, Lyrics

Sin, Righteousness, and Judgment

Current opinion holds that we are good people who do bad things. But opinion isn’t fact; and fact isn’t opinion. Someone, Who knew the facts, spoke about the Third Person of God this way:

And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. John 16:8-11 English Standard Version (ESV)

There’s a lot of truth packed in these verses of scripture. Although Matthew Henry, Charles Spurgeon, and John Calvin all commented or preached on this text, we turn to a heartfelt sermon by George Whitfield, Anglican minister, preacher of Calvinist Methodism, and revivalist preacher in the USA circa 1740s. Speaking of sin, righteousness, and judgment, Whitefield said:

…First, …The Comforter, when he comes effectually to work upon a sinner, not only convinces him of the sin of his nature, the sin of his life, [and] of the sin of his duties…

But there is a fourth sin, of which the Comforter, when he comes, convinces the soul, and which alone (it is very remarkable) our Lord mentions, as though it was the only sin worth mentioning; for indeed it is the root of all other sins whatsoever: it is the reigning as well as the damning sin of the world. And what now do you imagine that sin may be? It is that cursed sin, that root of all other evils, I mean the sin of unbelief. Says our Lord, verse 9. “Of sin, because they believe not on me.”

…Perhaps you may think you believe, because you repeat the Creed, or subscribe to a Confession of Faith; because you go to church or meeting, receive the sacrament, and are taken into full communion. These are blessed privileges; but all this may be done, without our being true believers.

…Ask yourselves, therefore, whether or not the Holy [Spirit] ever powerfully convinced you of the sin of unbelief? …Were you ever made to cry out, “Lord, give me faith; Lord, give me to believe on thee; O that I had faith! O that I could believe!” If you never were thus distressed, at least, if you never saw and felt that you had no faith, it is a certain sign that the Holy [Spirit], the Comforter, never came into and worked savingly upon your souls.

…We have seen how the Holy [Spirit] convinces the sinner of the sin of his nature, life, duties, and of the sin of unbelief; and what then must the poor creature do? He must, he must inevitably despair, if there be no hope but in himself…

Whitefield continues:

Secondly, what is the righteousness, of which the Comforter convinces the world?

…O the righteousness of Christ! It so comforts my soul, that I must be excused if I mention it in almost all my discourses. I would not, if I could help it, have one sermon without it. Whatever infidels may object, or Arminians sophistically argue against an imputed righteousness; yet whoever know themselves and God, must acknowledge, that “Jesus Christ is the end of the law for righteousness, (and perfect justification in the sight of God) to everyone that believes,” and that we are to be made the righteousness of God in him.

This, and this only, a poor sinner can lay hold of, as a sure anchor of his hope. Whatever other scheme of salvation men may lay, I acknowledge I can see no other foundation whereon to build my hopes of salvation, but on the rock of Christ’s personal righteousness, imputed to my soul.

…When therefore the Spirit has hunted the sinner out of all his false rests and hiding-places, taken off the pitiful fig-leaves of his own works, and driven him out of the trees of the garden (his outward reformations) and places him naked before the bar of a sovereign, holy, just, and sin-avenging God; then, then it is, when the soul, having the sentence of death within itself because of unbelief, has a sweet display of Christ’s righteousness made to it by the Holy Spirit of God. Here it is, that he begins more immediately to act in the quality of a Comforter, and convinces the soul so powerfully of the reality and all-sufficiency of Christ’s righteousness, that the soul is immediately set a hungering and thirsting after it.

Now the sinner begins to see, that though he has destroyed himself, yet in Christ is his help; that, though he has no righteousness of his own to recommend him, there is a fullness of grace, a fullness of truth, a fullness of righteousness in the dear Lord Jesus, which, if once imputed to him, will make him happy for ever and ever.

…If you were never thus convinced of Christ’s righteousness in your own souls, though you may believe it doctrinally, it will avail you nothing; if the Comforter never came savingly into your souls, then you are comfortless indeed…

Whitefield then proceeds:

Thirdly, …the Comforter, when he comes, convinces the soul of judgment.

“Of judgment (says our Lord) because the Prince of this world is judged;” the soul, being enabled to lay hold on Christ’s perfect righteousness by a lively faith, has a conviction wrought in it by the Holy Spirit, that the Prince of this world is judged. The soul being now justified by faith, has peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, and can triumphantly say, “It is Christ that justifies me, who is he that condemns me?”

The strong man armed is now cast out; my soul is in a true peace; the Prince of this world will come and accuse, but he has now no share in me: the blessed Spirit which I have received, and whereby I am enabled to apply Christ’s righteousness to my poor soul, powerfully convinces me of this: why should I fear? Or of what shall I be afraid, since God’s Spirit witnesses with my spirit, that I am a child of God…

But, if we do not find ourselves thus convinced, Whitefield appeals to us once more to be reconciled to Christ:

Though of myself I can do nothing, and you can no more by your own power come to and believe on Christ, than Lazarus could come forth from the grave; yet who knows but God may beget some of you again to a lively hope by this foolishness of preaching, and that you may be some of that world, which the Comforter is to convince of sin, or righteousness, and of judgment?

Poor Christless souls! Do you know what a condition you are in? Why, you are lying in the wicked one, the devil; he rules in you, he walks and dwells in you, unless you dwell in Christ, and the Comforter is come into your hearts. And will you contentedly lie in that wicked one that devil? What wages will he give you? Eternal death.

O that you would come to Christ! The free gift of God through him is eternal life. He will accept of you even now, if you will believe in him. The Comforter may yet come into your hearts, even yours…

***

In conclusion, we briefly quote Augustine on these same verses:

Let men, therefore, believe in Christ, that they be not convicted of the sin of their own unbelief, whereby all sins are retained;

let them make their way into the number of believers, that they be not convicted of the righteousness of those, whom, as justified, they fail to imitate;

let them beware of that future judgment, that they be not judged with the prince of the world, whom, judged as he is, they continue to imitate.

For the unbending pride of mortals can have no thought of being spared itself, as it is thus called to think with terror of the punishment that overtook the pride of angels.

Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God – Classic Sermon by Jonathan Edwards – Christian Praise and Worship in Songs, Sermons, and Audio Books, Sermon Text

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