To Forbear or Not to Forbear?

That is today’s question… While investigating last week’s issue of “jumping to conclusions,” we ran across a convicting passage in Calvin’s commentary on this all too familiar verse:

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.” Matthew 18:15 English Standard Version (ESV)

We’ve covered the mechanics of the confrontation–repentance–reconciliation process in “I’m Sorry, Please Forgive Me.” However, Calvin points out that there is a step prior to confrontation in which many of us fail.

But if thy brother shall sin against thee. [Since the Lord had broached the topic of] bearing the infirmities of [brothers and sisters], he now shows more clearly in what manner, and for what purpose, and to what extent, we ought to bear with them. [Without such guidance in the] way of avoiding offenses, every man [is abandoned to] winking at the faults of others, and thus what is evil would be encouraged by forbearance.

I find myself caught in this trap at times: not wishing to offend but knowing that the other is at fault to their own harm (as well as mine.)

Christ therefore prescribes a middle course, which does not give too great offense to the weak, and yet is adapted to cure their diseases; for that severity, which is employed as a medicine, is profitable and worthy of praise.

Having taken on our humanity, our Lord knows our own infirmities in these matters and provides a solution:

In short, Christ enjoins his disciples to forgive one another, but to do so in such a manner as to endeavor to correct their faults. It is necessary that this be wisely observed; for nothing is more difficult than to exercise forbearance towards men, and, at the same time, not to neglect the freedom necessary in reproving them.

Therefore, we see that we have an obligation to confront our brothers or sisters for their good.

Almost all lean to the one side or to the other, either to deceive themselves mutually by deadly flatteries, or to pursue with excessive bitterness those whom they ought to cure. But Christ recommends to his disciples a mutual love, which is widely distant from flattery; only he enjoins them to season their admonitions with moderation, lest, by excessive severity and harshness, they discourage the weak.

As we said last week, we have a duty to hope well of others, for we are not acquitted and shall stand before the Judge. And, yet, we must hold one another accountable for our mutual well-being, neither deceptively flattering nor harshly rebuking one another. Rather, Christ recommends to his disciples a mutual love: moderate admonition, that cures our diseases.

1280px-frederic_leighton_-_the_reconciliation_of_the_montagues_and_the_capulets_over_the_dead_bodies_of_romeo_and_juliet_auto_adjust

The Reconciliation of the Montagues and the Capulets, 1854, Fredric Leighton (1830–1896), in the public domain in the United States

Why Do You Look at Me That Way?

Don’t you hate it when your significant other gives you that look? You know what they mean. Maybe what you’re doing is something they warned you off months ago and there you are doing it again. They told you about how it hurt them when you did it. You even had words over it. May be you told them you’d never do it again.

The Apostle Peter had a similar experience but the stakes were much higher. Warned by Christ that the devil sought to have him and sift him like wheat, Peter said he’d follow Him to prison and death, if necessary. Then the Lord told Peter he’d deny Him three times.

He followed the Lord into the High priest’s courtyard after His arrest. There, Peter was confronted by three people about his association with Jesus the Galilean. He denied Him each time. The final encounter went like this:

And after an interval of about an hour still another insisted, saying, “Certainly this man also was with him, for he too is a Galilean.” But Peter said, “Man, I do not know what you are talking about.” And immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed.

And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.

Luke 22:59-62 English Standard Version (ESV)

All four Gospel accounts report Peter’s denial.

The pastor and preacher, John Calvin, draws insight from Peter’s denial and repentance.

And Peter remembered the word of Jesus. …Which of us does not pass by with indifference and with deaf ears…[to] even the voice of God, which is heard clearly and distinctly in the doctrine of the Law and of the Gospel? Nor is it for a single day only that our minds are held by such brutal [senselessness], but it is perpetual until he who alone turns the hearts of men [condescends] to look upon us.

…Observe, however, that this was no ordinary look, for he had formerly looked at Judas who, after all, became no better by it. But in looking at Peter, he added to his eyes the secret efficacy of the Spirit, and thus by the rays of his grace, penetrated into his heart…Therefore know, that whenever anyone has fallen, his repentance will never begin, until the Lord has looked at him.

As Calvin says, this was no ordinary look that Christ gave Peter but one leading to repentance.

And he went out and wept bitterly. It is probable that Peter went out [to weep] through fear [and weakness] …We infer that he did not deserve pardon by satisfaction, but that he obtained it by the fatherly kindness of God…By this example, …we ought to [have] confident hope [that] God does not despise even weak repentance, provided that it be sincere.

…For we see many who shed tears purposely, so long as they are beheld by others, but who have no sooner retired than they have dry eyes. …Tears, which do not flow on account of the judgment of God, are often drawn forth by ambition and hypocrisy.

But, is weeping requisite in true repentance? …Believers often with dry eyes groan before the Lord without hypocrisy, and confess their fault to obtain pardon; but in more aggravated offenses they must be in no ordinary degree [thoughtless] and hardened, whose hearts are not pained by grief and sorrow, and who do not feel ashamed even so far as to shed tears…

Though tears should flow at our grieving the Lord with our sin, He is gracious to forgive us in light of even the weakest repentance if it proceeds from a sincere heart. My wish is for His look to drive me to repentance as often as I need. Is that yours?

Peter's Denial - Rembrandt

St. Peter’s Denial, Rembrandt (1606–1669), public domain in the United States

Pray for Magistrates

In this election season, we should ask that God work in our leaders such that our lives might be peaceful, quiet, godly, and dignified and that the gospel message would be unhindered. From the look of things, diligence in this effort will become more urgent in the years to come. Many are regularly requesting of Him for our leaders’ good but more of us need to become consistent in obeying the command:

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 1 Timothy 2:1-4 English Standard Version (ESV)

The reformer, John Calvin, examined the implications of these verses in detail. First, God appoints civil rulers to administer His justice:

The apostle…expressly enjoins Christians to pray for [their civil rulers]…seeing that God appointed magistrates and princes for the preservation of mankind.

However much they fall short of the divine appointment, still we must not on that account cease to love what belongs to God, and to desire that it may remain in force.

[For this] reason, believers, in whatever country they live, must not only obey the laws and the government of magistrates, but likewise in their prayers supplicate God for their salvation. Jeremiah said to the Israelites,

“Pray for the peace of Babylon, for in their peace you shall have peace.” (Jeremiah 29:7.)

The universal doctrine is this, that we should desire the continuance and peaceful condition of those governments which have been appointed by God.

Second, God restrains evil, protects His church, and upholds society through His appointed government:

…[The Apostle Paul]…enumerates the fruits which are yielded to us by a well-regulated government. The first is a peaceful life; for magistrates are armed with the sword, in order to keep us in peace. If they did not restrain the hardihood of wicked men, every place would be full of robberies and murders…

The second fruit is the preservation of godliness, that is, when magistrates give themselves to promote religion, to maintain the worship of God, and to take care that sacred ordinances be observed with due reverence.

The third fruit is the care of public decency; for it is also the business of magistrates to prevent men from abandoning themselves to brutal filthiness or [villainous] conduct, but, on the contrary, to promote decency and moderation.

And without His appointed government, we descend into barbarism:

If these three things are taken away, what will be the condition of human life? If, therefore, we are at all moved by solicitude about the peace of society, or godliness, or decency, let us remember that we ought also to be solicitous about those through whose agency we obtain such distinguished benefits.

Hence we conclude, that fanatics, who wish to have magistrates taken away, are destitute of all humanity, and breathe nothing but cruel barbarism…

Calvin then raises the obvious question that is so pertinent for our times:

“…Ought we to pray for kings, from whom we obtain none of these advantages?” I answer, the object of our prayer is, that, guided by the Spirit of God, they may begin to impart to us those benefits of which they formerly deprived us.

It is our duty, therefore, not only to pray for those who are already worthy, but we must pray to God that he may make bad men good.

To emphasize the point that we should pray that these bad persons be made good, Calvin draws a severe analogy:

We must always hold by this principle, that magistrates were appointed by God for the protection of religion, as well as of the peace and decency of society, in exactly the same manner that the earth is appointed to produce food.

Accordingly, in like manner as, when we pray to God for our daily bread, we ask him to make the earth fertile by his blessing; so in those benefits of which we have already spoken, we ought to consider the ordinary means which he has appointed by his providence for bestowing them.

[Then,] if we are deprived of those benefits [that] the…magistrates [should provide], that is through our own fault. It is the wrath of God that renders magistrates useless to us, in the same manner that it renders the earth barren; and, therefore, we ought to pray for the removal of those chastisements which have been brought upon us by our sins.

So, magistrates’ failure is God’s wrath on us who have sinned by not relying on Him alone for good governance; a severe chastisement, indeed. Are we in the situation Daniel found himself and his people in Babylon?

However, Calvin states, our sin does not absolve these magistrates of their responsibilities before God to carry out their appointed administration:

On the other hand, princes, and all who hold the office of magistracy, are here reminded of their duty. It is not enough, if, by giving to everyone what is due, they restrain all acts of violence, and maintain peace; but they must likewise endeavor to promote religion, and to regulate morals by wholesome discipline.

The exhortation of David (Psalm 2:12) to “kiss the Son,” and the prophecy of Isaiah, that they shall be nursing — fathers of the Church, (Isaiah 49:23,) are not without meaning; and, therefore, they have no right to flatter themselves, if they neglect to lend their assistance to maintain the worship of God.

The earth seems barren, and repentance is called for. If we ask Him for daily bread, should we not fervently ask for rulers made just? Whatever political view you may hold, we all, in obedience to God, must implore Him for our leaders good that “we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.”

The Weekly Republican Address: A Bold, Pro-Growth Agenda for 2016, Jan 16, 2016, Speaker Paul Ryan

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

I’m Sorry, Please Forgive Me

How often do we say: “I’m sorry; please forgive me?” Rarely, is my guess, based on how often I hear it. I suspect that no longer seeking forgiveness is the result of permissiveness seeping into what used to be common practice almost everywhere. That’s not to say that these words aren’t still necessary for good relations with others.

Most of us know that my standard is the scriptures, and specifically, in this case, the Gospels. Here, we see how the Lord’s disciples tried to evade this very burden; but He didn’t let them do it:

Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.” Matthew 18:21-22 English Standard Version (ESV)

And

“Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” And the Lord said, “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.” Luke 17:3-6 (ESV)

We’re all prone to doubt others’ motives when they keep repeating the same offenses and “seeking forgiveness” time and again. We’re not to be punching bags, after all. However, the Gospel of Matthew lays out a clear process of reconciliation for us to follow:

“So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go.

First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” Matthew 5:23-24 (ESV)

And

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.

But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses.

If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” Matthew 18:15-17 (ESV)

So, if they refuse to listen to the church and continue to persist in their sin then, as the Apostle Paul states, do not associate with them:

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world.

But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one.

For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.” 1 Corinthians 5:9-13 (ESV)

Until, perhaps, the Lord may grant them repentance, or even salvation, if that’s what’s lacking.

Now such a reconciliation process should not be an occasion for gloating; rather, it should give us pause to reflect on our own behavior. We should be humble toward one another:

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Ephesians 4:1-3 (ESV)

And this sacrificial love (i.e., agape) is, for the professing church, the mark by which we are to be known:

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:34-35 (ESV)

We have to remember right relationships require humility and not anger:

Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. James 1:19-21 (ESV)

To do this, we must exercise self-control:

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, Titus 2:11-12 (ESV)

We must make our actions agree with the words we profess:

But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. James 2:18 (ESV)

So, then, let us press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call in Christ Jesus.

Prodigal Son, Rembrandt

The Return of the Prodigal Son, circa 1668, Rembrandt (1606–1669), Public Domain in the US

Restore to Repentance?

Having been in the church a while, I’ve seen and heard things. This verse has always troubled me:

For it is impossible,

in the case of those:

who have once been enlightened,

who have tasted the heavenly gift,

and have shared in the Holy Spirit,

and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come,

and then have fallen away,

to restore them again to repentance,

since they are:

crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm

and holding him up to contempt.

Hebrews 6:4-6 English Standard Version (ESV) emphasis mine

I had once presented the gospel to a fellow who said to me that he knew he was not redeemable because of these verses. Ignorant as I was at the time, I tried to convince him that there was always hope while he yet lived. He, a non-believer, quoted these verses to me, thanked me for my concern, and wandered away. I never saw him again.

John Calvin comments:

Let us then know, that the Gospel cannot be otherwise rightly known than by the illumination of the Spirit, and that being thus drawn away from the world, we are raised up to heaven, and that knowing the goodness of God we rely on his word.

But here arises a new question, how can it be that he who has once made such a progress should afterwards fall away? For God, it may be said, calls none effectually but the elect, and Paul testifies that they are really his sons who are led by his Spirit, (Romans 8:14) and he teaches us, that it is a sure pledge of adoption when Christ makes us partakers of his Spirit. The elect are also beyond the danger of finally falling away; for the Father who gave them to be preserved by Christ his Son is greater than all, and Christ promises to watch over them all so that none may perish.

To all this I answer, That God indeed favors none but the elect alone with the Spirit of regeneration, and that by this they are distinguished from the reprobate; for they are renewed after his image and receive the earnest of the Spirit in hope of the future inheritance, and by the same Spirit the Gospel is sealed in their hearts.

But I cannot admit that all this is any reason why he should not grant the reprobate also some taste of his grace, why he should not irradiate their minds with some sparks of his light, why he should not give them some perception of his goodness, and in some sort engrave his word on their hearts.

Otherwise, where would be the temporal faith mentioned by Mark 4:17? There is therefore some knowledge even in the reprobate, which afterwards vanishes away, either because it did not strike roots sufficiently deep, or because it withers, being choked up.

And by this bridle the Lord keeps us in fear and humility; and we certainly see how prone human nature is otherwise to security and foolish confidence. At the same time our solicitude ought to be such as not to disturb the peace of conscience. For the Lord strengthens faith in us, while he subdues our flesh: and hence he would have faith to remain and rest tranquilly as in a safe haven; but he exercises the flesh with various conflicts, that it may not grow wanton through idleness.

So the bitter admonition in these verses serves us well: to keep us striving for holiness, humility, and obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ in all we think, say, and do.

Fallen Angels in Hell

Fallen Angels in Hell, circa 1841, John Martin, 1789 – 1854, Public Domain in US