Vessels of Wrath

I was taken aback, a while ago, by a statement I read in G. K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy to the effect that, in his opinion, Calvinism gave rise to the deterministic worldview of the atheists of his century. Here’s a particularly striking quote:

The modern world is not evil; in some ways, the modern world is far too good. It is full of wild and wasted virtues. When a religious scheme is shattered (as Christianity was shattered at the Reformation), it is not merely the vices that are let loose. The vices are, indeed, let loose, and they wander and do damage. But the virtues are let loose also; and the virtues wander more wildly, and the virtues do more terrible damage.

The modern world is full of the old Christian virtues gone mad. The virtues have gone mad because they have been isolated from each other and are wandering alone. Thus, some scientists care for truth; and their truth is pitiless. Thus, some humanitarians only care for pity; and their pity (I am sorry to say) is often untruthful…

There is no doubt of Chesterton’s superb erudition. However, his assignment of blame leaves me in a quandary. Was he blaming the Magisterial Reformation for the Radical one? Was he arguing for and against himself all at once?

In answer, what leapt to mind were several fundamental doctrines that even Calvin’s critics concede he held in common with Augustine. The first, in what may become a series of refutations, follows from the following two passages of scripture:

Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory. Romans 9:21-23 English Standard Version (ESV)


For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all.

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!

“For who has known the mind of the Lord,

or who has been his counselor?”

“Or who has given a gift to him

that he might be repaid?”

Romans 11:32-35 (ESV)

We examine what Calvin and Augustine said about these passages. Forgive us if the comparison (for, I believe, there is no contrast) is long-winded. However, if you choose to skim the arguments, please take time to read the two paragraph conclusion at this post’s end.

Calvin says about Romans 9:

Has not the worker of the clay? etc. The reason why what is formed ought not to contend with its former, is, that the former does nothing but what he has a right to do. By the word power, he means not that the maker has strength to do according to his will, but that this privilege rightly and justly belongs to him. For he intends not to claim for God any arbitrary power but what ought to be justly ascribed to him.

And further, bear this in mind, — that as the potter takes away nothing from the clay, whatever form he may give it; so, God takes away nothing from man, in whatever condition he may create him. Only this is to be remembered, that God is deprived of a portion of his honor, except such an authority over men be conceded to him as to constitute him the arbitrator of life and death.

Still more so:

And what, etc. A second answer, by which [Paul] briefly shows, that though the counsel of God is in fact incomprehensible, yet his unblameable justice shines forth no less in the perdition of the reprobate than in the salvation of the elect.

He does not indeed give a reason for divine election, so as to assign a cause why this man is chosen and that man rejected; for it was not [proper] that the things contained in the secret counsel of God should be subjected to the judgment of men; and, besides, this mystery is inexplicable. He therefore keeps us from curiously examining those things which exceed human comprehension. He yet shows, that as far as God’s predestination manifests itself, it appears perfectly just.

…If we wish fully to understand Paul, almost every word must be examined. He then argues thus, — There are vessels prepared for destruction, that is, given up and appointed to destruction: they are also vessels of wrath, that is, made and formed for this end, that they may be examples of God’s vengeance and displeasure.

If the Lord bears patiently for a time with these, not destroying them at the first moment, but deferring the judgment prepared for them, and this in order to set forth the decisions of his severity, that others may be terrified by so dreadful examples, and also to make known his power, to exhibit which he makes them in various ways to serve; and, further, that the amplitude of his mercy towards the elect may hence be more fully known and more brightly shine forth; — what is there worthy of being [reprimanded] in this dispensation?

But that he is silent as to the reason, why they are vessels appointed to destruction, is no matter of wonder. He indeed takes it as granted, according to what has been already said, that the reason is hid in the secret and inexplorable counsel of God; whose justice it behooves us rather to adore than to scrutinize.

And he has mentioned vessels, as commonly signifying instruments; for whatever is done by all creatures, is, as it were, the ministration of divine power. For the best reason then are we, the faithful, called the vessels of mercy, whom the Lord uses as instruments for the manifestation of his mercy; and the reprobate are the vessels of wrath, because they serve to show forth the judgments of God.

That he might also make known the riches of his glory, etc. …It is the second reason which manifests the glory of God in the destruction of the reprobate, because the greatness of divine mercy towards the elect is hereby more clearly made known; for how do they differ from them except that they are delivered by the Lord from the same gulf of destruction? and this by no merit of their own, but through his gratuitous kindness. It cannot then be but that the infinite mercy of God towards the elect must appear increasingly worthy of praise, when we see how miserable are all they who escape not his wrath.

…Though in the second clause he asserts more expressly that it is God who prepares the elect for glory, as he had simply said before that the reprobate are vessels prepared for destruction; there is yet no doubt but that the preparation of both is connected with the secret counsel of God. Paul might have otherwise said, that the reprobate give up or cast themselves into destruction; but he intimates here, that before they are born they are destined to their lot.

Concerning Romans 11, Calvin remarks:

For God has shut up, etc. A remarkable conclusion, by which he shows that there is no reason why they who have a hope of salvation should despair of others; for whatever they may now be, they have been like all the rest. If they have emerged from unbelief through God’s mercy alone, they ought to leave place for it as to others also. For he makes the Jews equal in guilt with the Gentiles, that both might understand that the avenue to salvation is no less open to others than to them. For it is the mercy of God alone which saves; and this offers itself to both.

This sentence then corresponds with the testimony of Hosea, which he had before quoted, “I will call those my people who were not my people.” But he does not mean, that God so blinds all men that their unbelief is to be imputed to him; but that he has so arranged by his providence, that all should be guilty of unbelief, in order that he might have them subject to his judgment, and for this end, — that all merits being buried, salvation might proceed from his goodness alone.

Paul then intends here to teach two things — that there is nothing in any man why he should be preferred to others, apart from the mere favor of God; and that God in the dispensation of his grace, is under no restraint that he should not grant it to whom he pleases. There is an emphasis in the word mercy; for it intimates that God is bound to none, and that he therefore saves all freely, for they are all equally lost.

But extremely gross is their folly who hence conclude that all shall be saved; for Paul simply means that both Jews and Gentiles do not otherwise obtain salvation than through the mercy of God, and thus he leaves to none any reason for complaint. It is indeed true that this mercy is without any difference offered to all, but everyone must seek it by faith.

And, finally:

Oh! the depth, etc. …Whenever then we enter on a discourse respecting the eternal counsels of God, let a bridle be always set on our thoughts and tongue, so that after having spoken soberly and within the limits of God’s word, our reasoning may at last end in admiration. Nor ought we to be ashamed, that if we are not wiser than [Paul], who, having been taken into the third heaven, saw mysteries to man ineffable, and who yet could find in this instance no other end designed but that he should thus humble himself…

How incomprehensible, etc. …Let us then learn to make no [searches regarding] the Lord, except as far as he has revealed himself in the Scriptures; for otherwise we shall enter a labyrinth, from which the retreat is not easy. It must however be noticed, that he speaks not here of all God’s mysteries, but of those which are hid with God himself, and ought to be only admired and adored by us.

Who has known the mind of the Lord? He begins here to extend as it were his hand to restrain the audacity of men, lest they should clamor against God’s judgments, and this he does by stating two reasons: the first is, that all mortals are too blind to take a view of God’s predestination by their own understanding, and to reason on a thing unknown is presumptuous and absurd; the other is, that we can have no cause of complaint against God, since no mortal can boast that God is a debtor to him; but that, on the contrary, all are under obligations to him for his bounty.

Within this limit then let everyone remember to keep his own mind, lest he be carried beyond God’s oracles in investigating predestination, since we hear that man can distinguish nothing in this case, any more than a blind man in darkness.

This caution, however, is not to be so applied as to weaken the certainty of faith, which proceeds not from the acumen of the human mind, but solely from the illumination of the Spirit; for Paul himself in another place, after having testified that all the mysteries of God far exceed the comprehension of our minds, immediately subjoins that the faithful understand the mind of the Lord, because they have not received the spirit of this world, but the Spirit which has been given them by God, by whom they are instructed as to his goodness, which otherwise would be incomprehensible to them.

As then we cannot by our own faculties examine the secrets of God, so we are admitted into a certain and clear knowledge of them by the grace of the Holy Spirit: and if we ought to follow the guidance of the Spirit, [then,] where he leaves us, there we ought to stop and as it were to fix our standing. If anyone will seek to know more than what God has revealed, he shall be overwhelmed with the immeasurable brightness of inaccessible light.

But we must bear in mind the distinction, which I have before mentioned, between the secret counsel of God, and his will made known in Scripture; for though the whole doctrine of Scripture surpasses in its height the mind of man, yet an access to it is not closed against the faithful, who reverently and soberly follow the Spirit as their guide; but the case is different with regard to his hidden counsel, the depth and height of which cannot by any investigation be reached.

Who has first given to him, etc. Another reason, by which God’s righteousness is most effectually defended against all the accusations of the ungodly: for if no one retains him bound to himself by his own merits, no one can justly [disagree] with him for not having received his reward; as he, who would constrain another to do him good, must necessarily adduce those deeds by which he has deserved a reward.

The import then of Paul’s words is this — “God cannot be charged with unrighteousness, except it can be proved, that he renders not to everyone his due: but it is evident, that no one is deprived by him of his right, since he is under obligation to none; for who can boast of anything of his own, by which he has deserved his favor?”

Now this is a remarkable passage; for we are here taught, that it is not in our power to constrain God by our good works to bestow salvation on us, but that he anticipates the undeserving by his gratuitous goodness.

But if we desire to make an honest examination, we shall not only find, that God is in no way a debtor to us, but that we are all subject to his judgment, — that we not only deserve no [outlay], but that we are worthy of eternal death.

And Paul not only concludes, that God owes us nothing, on account of our corrupt and sinful nature; but he denies, that [even] if man were perfect, he could bring anything before God, by which he could gain his favor; for as soon as he begins to exist, he is already by the right of creation so much indebted to his Maker, that he has nothing of his own.

In vain then shall we try to take from him his own right, that he should not, as he pleases, freely determine respecting his own creatures, as though there was mutual debt and credit.


Augustine, unlike Calvin, tends to use scripture to explain scripture as much as possible in his commentaries. In Chapter 15 of his Anti-Pelagian Writings, titled: “The Apostle Meets the Question by Leaving It Unsolved,” he says:

Since, in the case of those two twins (Romans 9:10-13,) we have without a doubt one and the same case, the difficulty of the question why the one died in one way, and the other in another, is solved by the apostle [Paul] as it were by not solving it; for, when he had proposed something of the same kind about two twins, seeing that it was said (not of works, since they had not as yet done anything either of good or of evil, but of Him that calls), “The older shall serve the younger,” and, “Jacob have I loved, and Esau have I hated;” and he had prolonged the horror of this deep thing even to the point of saying, “Therefore has He mercy on whom He will, and whom He will He hardens.”

[Paul] perceived at once what the trouble was, and opposed to himself the words of a gainsayer which he was to check by apostolical authority. For he says, “You say, then, unto me, “Why does He yet find fault? For who has resisted His will?” And to him who says this he answered, “O man, who art you that replies against God? Does the thing formed say to him that formed it, “Why have you made me thus?” Has not the potter power of the clay of the same lump to make one vessel unto honor and another unto dishonor?”

Then, following on, he opened up this great and hidden secret as far as he judged it fit that it should be disclosed to men, saying, “But if God, willing to show His wrath and to demonstrate His power, endured in much patience the vessels of wrath fitted for destruction, even that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy which He has prepared for glory.”

This is not only the assistance, but, moreover, the proof of God’s grace—the assistance, namely, in the vessels of mercy, but the proof in the vessels of wrath; for in these He shows His anger and makes known His power, because His goodness is so mighty that He even uses the evil well; and in those He makes known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, because what the justice of a punisher requires from the vessels of wrath, the grace of the Deliverer remits to the vessels of mercy.

Nor would the kindness which is bestowed on some freely appear, unless to other equally guilty and from the same mass God showed what was [truly] due to both, and condemned them with a righteous judgment.

For who makes you to differ?” says the same apostle to a man as it were boasting concerning himself and his own benefits. “For who makes you to differ” from the vessels of wrath; of course, from the mass of perdition which has sent all by one into damnation?

“Who makes you to differ?” And, as if he had answered, “My faith makes me to differ, —my purpose, my merit,”— he says, “For what have you which you have not received? But if you have received it, why do you boast as if you received it not?”—that is, as if that by which you are made to differ were of your own.

Therefore, He makes you to differ who bestows that whence you are made to differ, by removing the penalty that is due, by conferring the grace which is not due. He makes to differ, who, when the darkness was upon the face of the abyss, said, “Let there be light; and there was light, and divided” —that is, made to differ— “between the light and the darkness.”

For when there was only darkness, He did not find what He should make to differ; but by making the light, He made to differ; so that it may be said to the justified wicked, “For ye were sometime darkness, but now are you light in the Lord.” And, thus, he who glories must glory not in himself, but in the Lord. He makes to differ who—of those who are not yet born, and who have not yet done any good or evil, that His purpose, according to the election, might stand not of works, but of Himself that calls—said, “The older shall serve the younger,” and commending that very purpose afterwards by the mouth of the prophet, said, “Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.”

Because he said, “the election,” and in this, God does not find made by another what He may choose, but Himself makes what He may find; just as it is written of the remnant of Israel: “There is made a remnant by the election of grace; but if by grace, then it is no more of works, otherwise grace is no more grace.”

On which account you are certainly foolish who, when the Truth declares, “Not of works, but of Him that calls, it was said,” say that Jacob was loved on account of future works which God foreknew that he would do, and thus contradict the apostle when he says, “Not of works;” as if he could not have said, “Not of present, but of future works.” But he says, “Not of works,” that He might commend grace; “but if of grace, now is it no more of works, otherwise grace is no more grace.”

For grace, not due, but free, precedes, that by it good works may be done; but if good works should precede, grace should be repaid, as it were, to works, and thus grace should be no more grace.

Augustine goes on, in Chapter 29, titled: “It is an Inscrutable Mystery Why Some are Saved, and Others Not,” to say:

Now there is much significance in that He does not say, “The wrath of God shall come upon him,” but “abides on him.” For from this wrath (in which we are all involved under sin, and of which the apostle says, “For we too were once by nature the children of wrath, even as others”) nothing delivers us but the grace of God, through Jesus Christ our Lord. The reason why this grace comes upon one man and not on another may be hidden, but it cannot be unjust. For “is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid.”

But we must first bend our necks to the authority of the Holy Scriptures, in order that we may each arrive at knowledge and understanding through faith. For it is not said in vain, “Thy judgments are a great deep.” The profundity of this “deep” the apostle, as if with a feeling of dread, notices in that exclamation: “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God!”

He had indeed previously pointed out the meaning of this marvelous depth, when he said: “For God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that He might have mercy upon all.” Then struck, as it were, with a horrible fear of this deep: “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God! how unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been His counselor? or who hath first given to Him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again? For of Him, and through Him, and in Him, are all things: to whom be glory forever. Amen.”

How utterly insignificant, then, is our faculty for discussing the justice of God’s judgments, and for the consideration of His gratuitous grace, which, as men have no prevenient merits for deserving it, cannot be partial or unrighteous, and which does not disturb us when it is bestowed upon unworthy men, as much as when it is denied to those who are equally unworthy!

Augustine, through various works, explains: that it is justice that all are condemned but mercy that some are saved, the mystery of human will and God’s mercy, that man continues to be born under sin (An argumentation against Pelagius), that God is good in all he does, that God’s secret will and just choice follow from the scriptures, more on His own just and secret judgment, that God’s unmerited favor is bestowed through His secret providence,”, that those that learn, live, and that rebuke in love is necessary for correction; and, lastly, an exquisitely short and subtle commentary on so-called double predestination.

All of this exposition is encapsulated in Augustine’s Treatise on the Predestination of the Saints.


God, through the Apostle Paul in Romans 9 and Romans 11, declares that all stand justly condemned, and yet some are saved by God’s unmerited favor according to His secret will. And, as we’ve shown, both Calvin and Augustine concur with this doctrine.

Therefore, might we not conclude that Calvin was an Augustinian and Augustine a Calvinist, in as much as they are clearly in concordance with each other on these points in their explication of the God-breathed scriptures? What these labels have become over the centuries belies the integrity of these two great men toward the Lord’s Word.

With Or Without Reason, YouTube, The Call – Topic, Lyrics

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


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