On the Surface – Part III

This is the third post on the topic of outward appearances versus heart attitudes. Our first post reviewed Jonathan Edward’s thoughts on wheat and tares in the church. A second post explored Abel’s obedience and Cain’s disobedience to God. This post examines our relationship to God the Father. The apostle Peter warns us:

If you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile. 1 Peter 1:17 English Standard version (ESV)

Calvin comments:

And if you call on the Father …From the character of the Father himself, [the apostle Peter] shows what sort of obedience ought to be rendered. [God] judges, he says, without looking on the person, that is, no outward mask is of any account with him, as the case is with men, but he sees the heart, (1 Samuel 16:7) and his eyes look on faithfulness. (Jeremiah 5:3) This also is what Paul means when he says that God’s judgment is according to truth, (Romans 2:2) for he there inveighs against hypocrites, who think that they deceive God by a vain pretense.

The meaning is, that we by no means discharge our duty towards God, when we obey him only in appearance; for he is not a mortal man, whom the outward appearance pleases, but he reads what we are inwardly in our hearts. He not only prescribes laws for our feet and hands, but he also requires what is just and right as to the mind and spirit.

A person might hide their defection from all others, but not from Him. Calvin then shows how Peter presses home the lesson:

According to every man’s work He does not refer to merit or to reward; for Peter does not speak here of the merits of works, nor of the cause of salvation, but he only reminds us, that there will be no looking to the person before the tribunal of God, but that what will be regarded will be the real sincerity of the heart…

The fear that is mentioned, stands opposed to heedless security, such as is wont to creep in, when there is a hope of deceiving with impunity. For, as God’s eyes are such that they penetrate into the hidden recesses of the heart, we ought to walk with him carefully and not negligently.

He calls the present life a sojourning [i.e., time of your exile], not in the sense in which he called the Jews to whom he was writing sojourners, at the beginning of the Epistle, but because all the godly are in this world pilgrims. (Hebrews 11:13,38)

This world is not our home. We all travel to one destination or the other. Therefore, seek the Lord while he may be found.

R.C. Sproul – Fear and Trembling – Fear and Trembling, JvDaP

On the Surface – Part I

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finally, Edwards drives home the message again:

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

***

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

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

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

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

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