If Only They Had Known

Two weeks past, we discussed the question: “If He is the Lord, then what does that require of us?” This week, in keeping with the theme “If…,” we examine: “If only they had known.” The question arises from the Apostle Paul’s explanation of his service to the Corinthian church (and indirectly to us and the world):

But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But, as it is written,

“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,

    nor the heart of man imagined,

what God has prepared for those who love him.”

1 Corinthians 2:7-9 English Standard Version (ESV)

Consider Jehan Cauvin’s dissection of Paul’s statement:

The wisdom of God in a mystery …The gospel so far transcends the [discernment] of human intellect, that to whatever height those who are accounted [people] of superior intellect may raise their view, they never can reach its elevated height, while, [simultaneously, these same people] despise [the gospel’s lack of attractiveness], as if it were prostrate at their feet. The consequence is, that the more proudly they [hold it in contempt,] the farther…they are removed [from the gospel] so…as to be prevented from even seeing it.

The gospel is revealed not to the wise of this age.

Which God hath ordained. …Having said that the gospel was a hidden thing, there was a danger lest believers should, on hearing this, be appalled by the difficulty, and retire in despair. Accordingly, he meets this danger, and declares that it had…been appointed to us, that we might enjoy it…

Instead, it was given to the lowly, so that no man may boast of his own abilities.

None of the princes of this world knew If you supply the words “by their own discernment,” the statement would [equally apply to] the generality of mankind. …[However, Paul charges princes with blindness and ignorance because] they alone appear in the view of the word clear-sighted and wise.

As any with any persons who hold honors, our first assumption should be their uprightness. Unless, of course, they prove you wrong.

For had they known The wisdom of God shone forth clearly in Christ, and yet there the princes did not perceive it; for those who took the lead in the crucifixion of Christ were on the one hand the chief men of the Jews, high in credit for holiness and wisdom; and on the other hand Pilate and the Roman empire. In this we have a most distinct proof of the utter blindness of all that are wise only according to the flesh.

Herod regarded the chief men and Pilate was a Friend of Caesar (amicus caesaris.)

…There are two kinds of ignorance. The one arises from inconsiderate zeal, not expressly rejecting what is good, but from having an impression that it is evil… Such was Paul before he was enlightened; for the reason why he hated Christ and was hostile to his doctrine was, that he was through ignorance hurried away with a preposterous zeal for the law.

Yet he was not devoid of hypocrisy, nor exempt from pride, so as to be free from blame in the sight of God, but those vices were so completely covered over with ignorance and blindness as not to be perceived or felt even by [Paul] himself.

Paul, in his ignorance, was granted mercy and unmerited favor to repent and preach the gospel.

The other kind of ignorance has more of the appearance of insanity and derangement, than of mere ignorance; for those that of their own accord rise up against God, are like persons in a frenzy, who, seeing, see not. (Matthew 13:13.)

…It is not to be wondered [at] if Paul declares that the princes of this world would not have crucified Christ, had they known the wisdom of God. For the Pharisees and Scribes did not know Christ’s doctrine to be true… [yet, wandered] on in their own darkness [to their destruction].

As Jesus said, when questioned by Pilate: “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. Therefore, he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin.” Pilate had previously identified Christ’s own nation and the chief priests as the culprits.

As it is written, “What eye hath not seen.” …The Prophet in [Isaiah 64:4] exclaims, that his acts of kindness to the [righteous] surpass the comprehension of human intellect. “But what has this to do,” someone will say, “with spiritual doctrine, and the promises of eternal life, as to which Paul is here arguing?”

I prefer…to understand [Paul] simply as referring to those gifts of God’s grace that are daily conferred upon believers. In these it becomes us always to observe their source, and not to confine our views to their present aspect. Now their source is that unmerited goodness of God, by which he has adopted us into the number of his sons.

He, therefore, who would estimate these things aright, will not contemplate them in their naked aspect, but will clothe them with God’s fatherly love, as with a robe, and will thus be led forward from temporal favors to eternal life

Therefore, believe that:

The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. Hebrews 4:12 (ESV)

And know Him.

God’s True and Complete Revelation (1 Corinthians 2:6-16), YouTube, Grace to You

Cords of Kindness

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

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

    with the bands of love,

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

    and I bent down to them and fed them.

Hosea 11:4 English Standard Version (ESV)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Therefore, let us act accordingly.

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

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

Sabbath for Man

The Lord Jesus Christ opposed Israel’s religious rulers over legalistic practices that they thought commended them to God and kept them in power. These rulers had condemned His disciples for picking and eating grain on the Sabbath. Near the end of this confrontation, He said:

…If you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. Matthew 12:7 English Standard Version (ESV)

And in a separate report of the event:

…He said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.” Mark 2:27-28 (ESV)

The Gospels go on to describe how the Lord healed a man on the Sabbath. Rather than repent and believe in God, Israel’s rulers viewed these presumed violations as a pretext to kill the Savior.

The Reformation leader, John Calvin, had insight into the texts:

But if you knew …Christ conveys an indirect reproof to the [religious rulers] for not considering why ceremonies were appointed, and to what object they are directed. …God declares…that he sets a higher value on mercy than on sacrifice, employing the word mercy…for [services] of kindness [and] sacrifices [as] the outward service of the Law…

…Though piety is justly reckoned to be as much superior to charity as God is higher than men, yet believers, by practicing justice towards each other, prove that their service [for] God is sincere. It is not without reason that this subject is brought [to] the notice of hypocrites, who imitate piety by outward signs, and yet pervert it by confining their laborious efforts to the carnal worship alone…

Those trying to trap and kill the Lord and thereby save themselves and their power missed His offer of mercy. They missed that:

The Sabbath was made for man. …Those persons judge amiss who turn [the Sabbath into] man’s destruction…which God appointed for his benefit. …Is not this a foolish attempt to overturn the purpose of God, when they demand to the injury of men that observation of the Sabbath which he intended to be advantageous?

But they are mistaken, I think, who suppose that in this passage the Sabbath is entirely abolished; for Christ simply informs us what is the proper use of it. Though he asserted, a little before, that he is Lord of the Sabbath, yet the full time for its abolition was not yet come, because the veil of the temple was not yet rent, (Matthew 27:51.)

Calvin then analyses the sanction with which Christ acted:

For the Son of man is Lord even of the Sabbath. …He declares that he has received authority to exempt his followers from the necessity of observing the Sabbath. The Son of man, (he says,) in the exercise of his authority, can relax the Sabbath in the same manner as other legal ceremonies. And certainly out of Christ the bondage of the Law is wretched, from which he alone delivers those on whom he bestows the free Spirit of adoption, (Romans 8:15.)

The rulers meant to sacrifice the Lord of Sabbath in order to keep their lives; Christ meant mercy in giving up His.

***

Lest we be carried away with the thought that Calvin advocated doing away with Sabbath observance, Calvin sums up his understanding of the Sabbath from the scriptures in his Institutes of the Christian Religion:

…First, that during our whole lives we may aim at a constant rest from our own works, in order that the Lord may work in us by his Spirit; secondly that every individual, as he has opportunity, may diligently exercise himself in private, in pious meditation on the works of God, and, at the same time, that all may observe the legitimate order appointed by the Church, for the hearing of the word, the administration of the sacraments, and public prayer: And, thirdly, that we may avoid oppressing those who are subject to us.

And contemporary theologian R. C. Sproul continues the debate on the topic of Sabbath keeping as do others here, here, here, and here. In any case, we would do well to strictly adhere to that severe admonition:

Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Colossians 3:17 (ESV)

Jesus As Lord of the Sabbath – A sermon from Dr. R.C. Sproul

And

Jesus Is Lord of the Sabbath – A sermon from Dr. R.C. Sproul

Let Us Reason Together

Last week, we discussed story writing in a review of the book: Writing for Story: Craft Secrets of Dramatic Nonfiction by Jon Franklin. There, we covered the topic of narrative transition. One transition technique is stream of consciousness that joins two disparate ideas that have no clear logical connection by using an emotional one instead. What came to mind was Isaiah’s pronouncement of the Lord’s grace and mercy:

“Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord:

though your sins are like scarlet,

    they shall be as white as snow;

though they are red like crimson,

    they shall become like wool.

Isaiah 1:18 English Standard Version (ESV)

How a declaration of Israel’s defection from obeying the Lord and His unmerited offer to wipe away those sins is connected by logical reasoning escapes me. Clearly, it is meant to reach the heart. Let’s see what Calvin offers on this verse:

…The charges which he makes against them [i.e., disobedient Israel] are not brought forward or maintained without strong necessity. For hypocrites are [inclined] to find fault with God, as if he were too severe, and could not be at all appeased.

They go still farther, and discover this excuse for their obstinacy, that it is in vain for them to attempt to return to a state of favor with God. If every other expedient fail, still they fly to this, that it is not proper to make such rigid demands on them, and that even the very best of men have something that needs to be forgiven…

Hence we obtain a declaration in the highest degree consolatory, that God does not contend with us as if he wished to pursue our offenses to the utmost. For if we sincerely turn to him, he will immediately return to favor with us, and will blot out all remembrance of our sins, and will not demand an account of them.

For he is not like men who, even for a slight and inconsiderable offense, often refuse to be reconciled. Nay, so far is he from giving us reason to complain of his excessive severity, that he is ready to cleanse us, and to make us as white as snow.

He is satisfied with cleanness of heart, and if, notwithstanding of this cleanness of heart, there be any offense, he forgives it, and acquits those who have provoked him.

Amazingly, we, in this Post-Christian nation, are offered the same choice:

But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. Romans 10:8-10 (ESV)

I urge you, listen to your heart and receive His gracious gift of mercy.

R.C. Sproul: Post-Christian Christianity, Ligonier Ministries

Against You Only

The great King of Israel, David, committed adultery with another man’s wife. To hide his sin, he had her husband killed. Problem solved? Not in the least. After the prophet Nathan confronts him with the severity of his deed, David admits to his sin. His full confession is recorded in Psalm 51. The verse that concerns us in this post is:

Against you, you only, have I sinned

    and done what is evil in your sight,

so that you may be justified in your words

    and blameless in your judgment.

Psalm 51:4 English Standard Version (ESV)

Speaking of David’s confession, John Calvin says:

Against You only…I conceive his meaning to be, that though all the world should pardon him, he felt that God was the Judge with whom he had to do, that conscience hailed him to his bar, and that the voice of man could administer no relief to him, however much he might be disposed to forgive, or to excuse, or to flatter. His eyes and his whole soul were directed to God, regardless of what man might think or say concerning him.

…There is every reason to believe that David, in order to prevent his mind from being soothed into a false peace by the flatteries of his court, realized the judgment of God upon his offense, and felt that this was in itself an intolerable burden, even supposing that he should escape all trouble from the hands of his fellow-creatures.

On the import of the second couplet, Calvin says:

So that You may be justified…Any doubt upon the meaning of the words, however, is completely removed by the connection in which they are cited in Paul’s Epistle to the Romans,

“For what if some did not believe? Shall God be unjust? God forbid: yea, let God be true, but every man a liar; as it is written, ‘That thou may be justified in thy sayings, and might overcome when thou art judged.’” — Romans 3:3, 4

Here the words before us are quoted in proof of the doctrine that God’s righteousness is apparent even in the sins of men, and his truth in their falsehood.

To have a clear apprehension of their meaning, it is necessary that we reflect upon the covenant which God had made with David. The salvation of the whole world having been in a certain sense deposited with him by this covenant, the enemies of religion might take occasion to exclaim upon his fall, “Here is the pillar of the Church gone, and what is now to become of the miserable remnant whose hopes rested upon his holiness?”

…Aware that such attempts might be made to impugn the righteousness of God, David takes this opportunity of justifying [God’s righteousness], and charging himself with the whole guilt of the transaction. He declares that God was justified…should he have spoken the sentence of condemnation against him for his sin, as [God] might have done but for his gratuitous mercy.

Of course, the knowledge that our sin offends God most should not excuse us from seeking our brother’s or sister’s forgiveness. However, we should fear all the more, having been forgiven by others, that we did sin against Him who purchased us at great cost to Himself.

Ligonier Generic Background - David and Bathsheba

Life of David, Lecture 13 – David and Bathsheba, R. C. Sproul, Ligonier Ministries

Fear and Trembling

The Christian life is often criticized. Sometimes for right reasons and sometimes not. When it’s maligned, the Christian life is mischaracterized as an exercise in self-effort leading to self-aggrandizement. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, we can’t live this life acceptably apart from total reliance on our Lord and Savior.

The Apostle Paul declared this doctrine in his letter to the Philippian church:

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)

For months, we’ve consistently appealed to John Calvin’s scripture commentary. His unique idiom is sometimes difficult to render, and even harder to untangle, in the English language. We’ve tried to simplify his compressed and iterative text by rephrasing or reordering his words. We indicate these modifications with ellipses and square brackets. Let’s examine his exposition of this doctrine. First, Calvin contrasts those who apply this principle with those who do not:

…[One makes] progress in the knowledge of both the grace of God and [their] own weakness [when, awakened from negligence, they] diligently seek God’s help; while those that are puffed up with confidence in their own strength, must necessarily be at the same time in a state of intoxicated security.

He differentiates between two types of fear, only one of which leads to a good outcome:

…There are two kinds of fear; the one produces anxiety along with humility; the other hesitation. The former is opposed to fleshly confidence, negligence, [and] arrogance; the latter [is opposed] to assurance of faith.

…For distrust of ourselves leads us to lean more confidently upon the mercy [and grace] of God [alone]. And this is what Paul [implies], for he requires nothing from the Philippians, but that they submit themselves to God with true self-renunciation.

It’s somewhat startling to read this view from the namesake of Calvinism. Further, from the scriptures, Calvin shows us that starting and continuing in self-renunciation is supplied by God:

…For [Paul] 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…as he promises by Ezekiel, —

“I will cause them to walk in my commandments.” (Ezekiel 36:26-27)

From this we infer that perseverance, also, is his free gift.

Summarizing the doctrine, Calvin writes:

Hence [Paul] teaches, that the whole course of our life, if we live aright, is regulated by God, and that, too, from his unmerited goodness.

Therefore, let us acknowledge that we are His workmanship by walking in the works He created for us to do.

R.C. Sproul – Fear and Trembling – Fear and Trembling Series, Uploaded to YouTube on Apr 1, 2011

Meant Evil?

Perhaps you’ve read it? A story of treachery and redemption that unfolds at the end of the Book of Genesis (chapters 37, 39 – 50.) Jacob’s son Joseph is sold to traders by his brothers and winds up in Egypt as a slave. Through God’s providence, Joseph is promoted to ruler second only to Pharaoh. During a devastating Near East famine, Joseph is instrumental in feeding the civilizations in and around Egypt at the time. Providentially, one of those civilizations, in embryonic form, consisted of his brothers. Joseph, humbled by his God and Savior, offers mercy to them:

But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them. Genesis 50:19-21 English Standard Version (ESV)

The reformation preacher and teacher, John Calvin draws out three points from the passage. First, Calvin cautions us to follow Joseph’s example by restraining our passions in light of God’s providence in and through our circumstances:

Am I in the place of God? …Joseph considers the design of divine providence [and] restrains his feelings as with a bridle, lest they should carry him to excess…When, therefore, the desire of revenge urges us, let all our feelings be subjected to the same authority. […If we let] this thought take full possession of our minds, there is no ardor, however furious, which it will not suffice to mitigate.

It is to our advantage to deal with men of moderation, who set God before them as their leader, and who not only submit to His will, but also cheerfully obey Him. For if anyone is impotently carried away by the lust of the flesh, we must fear a thousand deaths from him, unless God should forcibly break his fury.

Calvin explains that, under God’s sovereignty, the brothers were fully guilty of their evil deeds and Joseph owed all honor to God for his good deeds.

You thought evil against me. …The selling of Joseph was a crime detestable for its cruelty and [faithlessness]; yet he was not sold except by the decree of heaven.

…Nothing is done without [God’s] will; because He both governs the counsels of men ([swaying] their wills and [turning] their efforts at his pleasure) and regulates all events: but if men undertake anything right and just, He so actuates and moves them inwardly by his Spirit, that whatever is good in them, may justly be said to be received from Him.

But if Satan and ungodly men rage, He acts by their hands in such an inexpressible manner, that the wickedness of the deed belongs to them, and the blame of it is imputed to them. For they are not induced to sin, as the faithful are to act aright, by the impulse of the Spirit, but they are the authors of their own evil, and follow Satan as their leader.

And finally, true repentance and reconciliation are evidenced by kind acts toward the one or ones forgiven:

I will nourish you. It was a [mark] of a solid and unfeigned reconciliation, not only to abstain from malice and injury, but also to “overcome evil with good,” as Paul teaches (Romans 12:21.)

He who fails in his duty, when he possesses the power of giving help, and when the occasion demands his assistance, shows, by this [failure], that he is not forgetful of injury.

Therefore, we shall prove our minds to be free from malevolence, when we [do] kindness [to] those enemies by whom we have been ill-treated.

In light of God’s providence, let us then practice forgiveness and reconciliation by doing good to those who have trespassed against us that we’ve forgiven.

An image of Psalm 23 (KJV), frontispiece to the 1880 omnibus printing of The Sunday at Home

An image of Psalm 23 (KJV), frontispiece to the 1880 omnibus printing of The Sunday at Home: A Family Magazine for Sabbath Reading, [collected volume], London, Religious Tract Society, Public Domain in the United States

Not Your Own

We often hear that faith must be personal. “My faith,” they say. People might tell us they’ve persevered through trials due to their faith. Were it to have failed, they would’ve been lost. But they had enough. At least that’s what they say. I don’t know about you, but I get the impression that they think this faith is their own, as if they produced it. As if it were due to strength of character or moral upbringing.

On the contrary, though we must hold faith individually:

And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness. Romans 4:5 English Standard Version (ESV)

It is not our faith, it is a gift of God so that we might not boast about ourselves.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:8-10 (ESV)

John Calvin comments on this verse:

For by grace are you saved. …God declares, that he owes us nothing; so that salvation is not a reward or recompense, but unmixed grace. The next question is, in what way do men receive that salvation which is offered to them by the hand of God? The answer is, by faith; and hence he concludes that nothing connected with it is our own…

Not of works. …Many persons restrict the word ‘gift’ to faith alone. But Paul is only repeating in other words the former sentiment. His meaning is, not that faith [only] is the gift of God, but that salvation [entirely] is given to us by God…

For we are his work. …The apostle affirms that we are God’s work, and that everything good in us is his creation; by which he means that the whole man is formed by his hand to be good. It is not the mere power of choosing aright, or some indescribable kind of preparation, or even assistance, but the right will itself, which is his workmanship; otherwise Paul’s argument would have no force.

Created to good works. …[Paul] says, that, before we were born, the good works were prepared by God; meaning, that in our own strength we are not able to lead a holy life, but only so far as we are formed and adapted by the hand of God. Now, if the grace of God came before our performances, all ground of boasting has been taken away…

To reiterate, faith is not a result of human will:

For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy Romans 9:15-16 (ESV)

To this, Calvin comments:

It is not then of him who wills, etc. …That none of you may think that they who are elected are elected because they are deserving, or because they had in any way procured for themselves the favor of God, or, in short, because they had in them a particle of worthiness by which God might be moved, take simply this view of the matter, that it is neither by our will nor efforts…that we are counted among the elect, but that it wholly depends on the divine goodness, which of itself chooses those who neither will, nor strive, nor even think of such a thing… [Emphasis mine]

Therefore faith is not subjective. It is not of ourselves so that we may not boast. Just like the scriptures, faith is not a matter of one’s own opinion.

***

Now, if we accept that faith is not of ourselves, we who profess faith must also realize that we, ourselves, are not our own, either.

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 (ESV)

77s – The 77’s – Bottom Line,   Uploaded to YouTube on Apr 6, 2008, posted by Neamberthal, Lyrics