Beware of despising one of these little ones – As pride is the mother of disdain, and as contempt hardens men in giving offense, our Lord, for the purpose of applying an appropriate remedy for curing this disease, forbids his disciples to despise the little ones.
And certainly, as we have already hinted, no man who has a proper care for his brethren will ever allow himself, on light grounds, to give them offense. This conclusion of our Lord’s discourse has the same tendency as the commencement of it, to remind us that we ought to [compete] with each other who shall be most submissive and modest; for God embraces with wonderful love the little ones.
He goes on to explain the untenable position despisers put themselves in:
It would be strange indeed that a mortal man should despise, or treat as of no account, those whom God holds in such high esteem. He proves this love from the fact, that angels, who are ministers of their salvation, enjoy intimately the presence of God.
Yet I do not think that he intended merely to show what honor God confers on them by appointing angels to be their guardians, but likewise to threaten those who despise them; as if he had said, that it is no light matter to despise those who have angels for their companions and friends, to take vengeance in their behalf. We ought therefore to beware of despising their salvation, which even angels have been commissioned to advance.
And, in order to encourage the Church and thwart theological errors that are as common now as then, Calvin says:
The interpretation given to this passage by some commentators, as if God assigned to each believer his own angel, does not rest on solid grounds.
For the words of Christ do not mean that a single angel is continually occupied with this or the other person; and such an idea is inconsistent with the whole doctrine of Scripture, which declares that the angels encamp around (Psalm 34:7) the godly, and that not one angel only, but many, have been commissioned to guard every one of the faithful.
Away, then, with the fanciful notion of a good and evil angel, and let us rest satisfied with holding that the care of the whole Church is committed to angels, to assist each member as his necessities shall require.
Finally, he clarifies our relationship to the angels of God:
It will perhaps be asked, Do the angels occupy a station inferior to ours, because they have been appointed to be our ministers? I reply, though by nature they take rank above us, this does not prevent them from rendering service to God in dispensing the favor which he freely bestows upon us. For this reason, they are called our angels, because their labors are bestowed on us.
Let us always follow His command to: “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven,” and beware, for: “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.” And finally, to those who esteem the Church lightly, scripture declares that the angels encamp around (Psalm 34:7) the godly who are in Christ Jesus.
The Guardian Angel, 1656, Pietro da Cortona (1596-1669), In the Public Domain in the United States
Have you ever wondered whether that neighbor, coworker, or friend ever reconsidered their decision to reject the gospel? I’m not speaking of the ones who threw you out of their houses, fired you, or never spoke to you again; but those who, after some consideration, said no, not yet, or “I still have time.” Maybe they even attend church with you. Turns out, the Lord Jesus addressed this very issue when He walked among us two thousand years ago:
“Hear then the parable of the sower: When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. Matthew 13:18-19English Standard Version (ESV)
…The doctrine of the Gospel, when it is scattered like seed, is not everywhere fruitful; because it does not always meet with a fertile and well cultivated soil. He enumerates four kinds of hearers: the first of which do not receive the seed; the second appear, indeed, to receive it, but in such a manner that it does not take deep root; in the third, the [seed] is choked; and so there remains a fourth part, which produces fruit.
…Where the word is sown, the produce of faith is not always alike, but is sometimes more abundant, and at other times [scantier]. …In many persons, the seed of life is lost [due to] various [failings, as result] of which it is either destroyed immediately, or it withers, or it gradually degenerates.
Then, he points out that the soils do not include those he terms: “the despisers:”
…We ought to bear in mind, that he makes no mention of despisers who openly reject the word of God, but describes those only in whom there is some appearance of docility. But if the greater part of such men perish, what shall become of the rest of the world, by whom the doctrine of salvation is openly rejected?
Next, Calvin delves into each verse. He starts with those “unprepared:”
When any one hears the word of the kingdom, and understands it not. …The barren and uncultivated, who do not receive the seed within, because there is no preparation in their hearts. Such persons he compares to a stiff and dry soil, like what we find on a public road, which is trodden down, and becomes hard, like a pavement.
He comments in his time, as it is now, how many hear and fall away:
I wish that we had not occasion to see so many of this class at the present day, who come forward to hear, but remain in a state of [disbelief], and acquire no [desire] for the word, and in the end, differ little from blocks or stones. Need we wonder that they utterly vanish away?
Calvin, then, finds it logically necessary to defend the seed’s integrity in the face of such rejection; not that the seed is lacking, but the soil that receives it:
That which was sown in their heart. …The wickedness and depravity of men does not make the word to lose its own nature, or to cease to have the character of seed. …We may not suppose the favors of God to cease to be what they are, though the good effect of them does not reach us.
With respect to God, the word is sown in the hearts, but it is [not] true that the hearts of all receive with meekness what is planted in them, as James (1:21) exhorts us to receive the word. So then, the Gospel is always a fruitful seed as to its power, but not as to its produce.
And, finally, in answer to our question that we first posed:
Luke adds, that the devil takes away the seed out of their heart, that they may not believe and be saved Hence we infer that, as hungry birds are wont to do at the time of sowing, this enemy of our salvation, as soon as the doctrine is delivered, watches and rushes forth to seize it, before it acquires moisture and springs up…
…You know that those three places…where the seed did not grow, “the way side,” “the stony ground,” and “the thorny places,” are the same as [“the tares sown among the wheat.”] They received only a different name under a different [likeness.]
He, then, assures his hearers (this was a sermon) that though they and those described in the parable might desire that all the ungodly be separated from their congregations, they were not infallible and therefore not equipped for the task:
…O you Christians, whose lives are good, you sigh and groan as being few among many, few among very many. The winter will pass away, the summer will come; lo! the harvest will soon be here. The angels will come who [are able to] make the separation [between the wheat and the tares, without mistake…]
Next, Augustine exposes what is evident in all the churches, and yet, by our words and actions, we deny it:
…I tell you a truth, my Beloved, even in [the church leadership] there is both wheat, and tares, and among the [laypeople] there is wheat, and tares. Let the good tolerate the bad; let the bad change themselves, and imitate the good.
Finally, he follows through in his exhortation to his congregation and to us:
Let us all, if it may be so, attain to God; let us all through His mercy escape the evil of this world. Let us seek after good days, for we are now in evil days; but in the evil days let us not blaspheme, that so we may be able to arrive at the good days.
Two weeks ago, we discussed: “Where is the promise of His coming?” We covered the first few verses of the third chapter of the Apostle Peter’s second letter (2 Peter 3:4-7.) Today, we go on to 2 Peter 3:9-13 and consider the theme: “The Lord is not slow.”
The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.
But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.
Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn!
But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.
But the Lord is not slack, or, delays not. …[Peter says, as a check on us,] that the Lord defers his coming that he might invite all mankind to repentance. For our minds are always [immoderate], and a doubt often creeps in, why he does not come sooner…
Calvin then dissects what has become a contentious point for many concerning Calvinism. Dare we say that Calvin was not a hyper-Calvinist?
Not willing that any should perish. So wonderful is his love towards mankind, that he would have them all to be saved, and [he stands ready] to bestow salvation on the lost. But, [notice the order,] that God is ready to receive all to repentance, so that none may perish; for in these words the way and manner of obtaining salvation is [identified (i.e., repentance.)] Every one of us, therefore, who [desires] salvation, must…enter in by this way.
So, as Spurgeon would later say: “That God predestines, and that man is responsible, are two things that few can see. They are believed to be inconsistent and contradictory; but they are not.”
Next, Calvin explains the purpose in Peter’s reassurance of His coming:
But the day of the Lord will come. This has been added, that the faithful might be always watching, and not promise tomorrow to themselves. For we all labor under two very different evils — too much haste, and slothfulness. We are seized with impatience for the day of Christ already expected; [yet,] at the same time, we securely regard it as afar off…[From what cause] is it that flesh indulges itself except that there is no thought of the near coming of Christ?
Further, he shows that these verses are meant to exhort us to godly living:
What afterwards follows, respecting the burning of heaven and earth, requires no long explanation, if indeed we duly consider what is intended. For it was not [Peter’s] purpose to speak [sophisticatedly] of fire and storm, and other things, but only that he might introduce an exhortation, which he immediately adds, even that we ought to strive after newness of life…
And finally, Calvin makes the exhortation clear:
Looking for and hasting unto, or, waiting for by hastening; …We must always take heed lest the security of the flesh should creep in; we ought, therefore, strenuously to labor in good works, and run quickly in the race of our calling…
Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than [or, beyond] all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. Ephesians 3:20-21English Standard Version (ESV)
In our text we have adoration, not prayer, …not even so much the act of praise… [Whereas] praise is a river flowing on joyously in its own channel, banked up on either side that it may run towards its one object. …Adoration is the same river overflowing all banks, flooding the soul and covering the entire nature with its great waters—and these not so much moving and stirring as standing still in profound repose, mirroring the Glory which shines down upon it—like a summer’s sun upon a sea of glass!
Adoration is not seeking the Divine Presence, but conscious of it to an unutterable degree and, therefore, full of awe and peace… It is the eloquent silence of a soul that is too full for language. Adoration is to prostrate yourself in the dust in humility and yet to soar aloft in sublime thought—to sink into nothing and yet to be so enlarged as to be filled with all the fullness of God! It is to have no thought and yet to be all thought—to lose yourself in God—this is adoration.
Spurgeon closed his introduction by urging what he hoped would result from the rest of the sermon.
[Adoration] should be the frequent state of the renewed mind. We ought to set apart far longer time for this sacred engagement… In that spirit, I desire to approach the text and I ask you to turn your eyes away from all else to HIM, even to the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb.
Next, he walked through the text expositing on the words: “ask,” “think,” “all,” “we,” and “abundantly.” Spurgeon spent the most time on the word “ask:”
[Paul] declares that the Divine ability to bless is above what we ask…
The blessings sought and obtained have assuredly been neither few nor small. Some of us would almost seem to have tried the limit of prayer in the matters for which we have cried unto the Lord. …Our prayer at its best and boldest has many a boundary. It is limited often by our sense of need. [But] we scarcely know what we need! …We mistake our condition. We know not how deep and numerous our needs are.
Our soul’s hunger is not keen enough—sin has taken the edge from our spiritual appetites and, therefore, we limit and cramp our prayers. But, blessed be God, He is not limited by our sense of need! …God is able to go beyond our absolute needs and He has often already done so. He has given to His redeemed more than, as creatures, they absolutely require to make them happy and blessed!
Having identified our sin as blunting our ability to ask (i.e., pray,) he then examined our limited desire and trust:
Our prayer is also limited by our desire. Of course, a man does not pray any further than his desires go—and our desires are not always as much awake as they should be. We are sometimes very cold and slow in desiring good things…
Alas, like the foolish king of Israel, we shoot but two or three arrows when we ought to have emptied out our quiver! …But, blessed be God, He is not limited by our desires! He is able to bless us beyond what our souls have yet learned to wish for! …We cannot believe God to be so good as to give us such unspeakable blessings and so we fail. How much we lose thereby I scarcely dare pause to consider! Our unbelief is a great impoverishment to us.
…No man ever believed God as much as he might believe, nor trusted His promise so implicitly as he might do, or put so large a construction upon the Divine Word as it would bear. O Brothers and Sisters, we have to thank God that He is not bounded by our narrow faith, but even goes beyond what we believe concerning Him!
Finally, with regard to prayer, Spurgeon discussed our limited understanding:
How often, too, we are limited in prayer by our lack of comprehension—we do not understand what God means…God condescends to use human language and to us the words mean silver, but He uses them in a golden sense. He never means less than He says, but He always means far more than we think He says. …His power to bless us is not bounded by our power to understand the blessing!
Grace is not measured to us according to our capacity to receive, but according to His efficacy to bestow! He can enlarge us, my Brethren! …Prayer is an exercise in which our minds ought to be expanded and our hearts enlarged! …Our boldest prayer is not the boundary of what He is able to bestow! …Pray as you will till the keys of Heaven seem to swing at your side and yet you can never outrun that Omnipotence to bless which dwells in the Lord God Almighty!
Then, he turned to the word “think:”
The Apostle then goes on to say that the ability of God to bless is above what we think…
Now, I need to call your attention, in this passage, to every word of it, for every word is emphatic. “He is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think.” Not above some things that we ask, but, “ALL.” Not above some of our dimmer conceptions, our lower thoughts, but above “ALL” that we think! Now just put together all that you have ever asked for. Heap it up and then pile upon the top all that you have ever thought of concerning the riches of Divine Grace. What a mountain!
…High as this pyramid of prayers and contemplations may be piled, God’s ability to bless is still higher. …He is able to do above all good things for us. O Lord, help us to understand all this! Give us faith to get a grip of this and then to magnify and adore You! Alas, our adoration can never be proportionate to Your goodness!
Then, he discussed the word “we:”
Now, dwell on another word, “He is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think.” The “we” refers to the Apostles as well as to ourselves. …Paul, in that “we,” may be viewed as including the Apostles— “we,” the [twelve] who have come nearest to Jesus and have been personally taught how to pray by Him—we who have seen Him face to face and upon whom His Spirit specially rests.
“He is able to do exceedingly abundantly above what ‘we’ ask”! The Apostles were Inspired. The Spirit of God was in them to an unusual degree. Their thoughts were larger than ours, but, says Paul, He is able to do above what we think, even we, His Apostles, the best, the most holy, the most spiritual of Christian men!
Finally, Spurgeon closed this part of his sermon with the word “abundantly,” from which this post derives its title:
…Now, notice the Apostle’s use of the word, “abundantly.” He says, not only that God is able to do above what we ask or think, but “abundantly.” We might say of a man, “He has given much, but he has still something left.” That expression would fall sadly short if applied to the Most High! He has not only something left, but all abundance left! We have already understood but a part of His ways. We have been able to comprehend the mere remnant of His glorious Grace.
The reserve of goodness, the things which God has prepared for them that love Him far exceed our thoughts. Our Apostle, not content with the use of the word “abundantly,” adds another word, and says, “exceedingly abundantly.” …No language was powerful enough for the Apostle—I mean for the Holy Spirit speaking through the Apostle—for very often Paul [must] coin words and phrases to show forth his meaning and here is one—”He is able to do exceedingly abundantly”—so abundantly that it exceeds measure and description!
As an example of God’s abundance, in a passage transposed from earlier in the sermon, Spurgeon said:
[We might have been restored to the full stature of unfallen manhood and in consequence have been as Adam was before his sin, but, wonder of wonders, the Lord has done more, for He has made us His children and His heirs, heirs of God, joint heirs of Jesus Christ!
This is not the supply of necessity—it is the bestowal of honor, dignity and exceedingly great glory! And now, although our needs are, in themselves, very terrible and far greater than can be supplied by anything short of all-sufficiency, yet God is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we actually need!
He will not treat us as men treat a pensioner, to whom they allot barely enough to live upon and count themselves generous for doing so. He will treat us as kings and princes and do exceedingly abundantly above all that we need! Thus does He leave our prayers far behind, outstripping both our sense of need and the need itself.]
Returning to his overarching theme of adoration, he said:
…Now to help you to adore the Lord—for that is my one objective this morning—think how blessed you are in having such an all-sufficient God! It is always pleasant to take out of a great heap and to know that what you receive does not deprive others of their share…
Thus we see that there need be no limit to our prayers. You need never rise from your knees and say, “Perhaps I was presumptuous. Perhaps I have asked more than God will give?” Down on your knees, Brother, Sister, and ask God to forgive you for dishonoring Him by harboring such a thought! He is able to give exceedingly abundantly above what you ask. …If He was able to do exceedingly abundantly in the Apostle’s time, He is quite as able, still, and we may come to Him without fear.
Applying all that he said previously, Spurgeon said:
Now, I see, also, that if my case is very special, still I need not tremble or stand in dread of need. What if I require superabundant Grace? I may have it! …What comfort this should afford even to poor sinners who are far away from God. He is able to give you great forgiveness for the greatest possible sin! Sins that you have not yet thought of, He can pardon! Do but come to God in Christ Jesus and you shall find Him able to save to the uttermost.
…We know that God can give us more than we ask or think, for He has given us more than we have asked or thought. Our regeneration came to us before prayer, for prayer was the first sign of the new birth already given. To pray for life is not a faculty of the dead — but regeneration puts into us the living desire and the spiritual longing. The first principle of life imparted makes us long after more life.
…Moreover, where prayer has been offered, our heavenly Father has gone far beyond what we have asked or thought. I said unto the Lord, in the anguish of my soul, that if He would forgive my sins I would be content to be the meanest servant in His house and would gladly lie in prison all my life, and live on bread and water.
And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for
“‘In him we live and move and have our being’;
as even some of your own poets have said,
“‘For we are indeed his offspring.’
Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. Acts 17:26-29 English Standard Version (ESV)
Calvin has much to say about verses 26 through 29. Here’s a condensation (if you can believe it!) He starts by saying that those, meant to know the One God, splintered from one another and created gods in their own likeness:
And he has made of one blood. …Paul [appeals to] the nature of God that men must be very careful to know God, because they [are] created for the same end, and born for that purpose; for [God] briefly assigns to them this cause of life: to seek God.
…In sum, he meant to teach that the order of nature was broken, when religion was pulled in pieces among them, and that this diversity, which is among them, is a testimony that godliness is quite overthrown, because they are fallen away from God the Father of all, upon whom all kindred depends.
Calvin states that, despite their rebellion, God still provides light and life for His creation according to His will:
To dwell upon the face of the earth. …[Paul] says not that the times were only foreseen [by God], but that they were appointed and set in such order as pleased him best. And when [Paul says] God had appointed from the beginning those things which he had ordained before, [he means] that [God] executes by the power of his Spirit those things which he has decreed in his counsel…
…For though men, by raging upon earth, …seem to assault heaven, that they may overthrow God’s providence, yet they are enforced, whether they will [to do so] or not, rather to establish the same. Therefore, let us know that the world is so turned over [in] diverse tumults, [through and by which] God…brings all things to the end which he has appointed.
This last paragraph has bearing for every age, and particularly for our own. This calls for patientendurance.
Then, Calvin points out the goodness of God and the unreasonableness of mans’ position:
That they might seek God. …Surely, nothing is more absurd, than that men should be ignorant of their Author, who are [endowed] with understanding principally [to seek God].
And we must especially note the goodness of God, in that he does so familiarly insinuate himself, that even the blind may grope after him. For which cause the blindness of men is more shameful and intolerable, who, in so [obvious] and [palpable a display], are touched with no feeling of God’s presence.
…Though they shut their eyes, yet may they grope after him…Their ignorance and [lack of understanding] is mixed with such [contrariness], that being void of right judgment, they pass over without [discerning] all such signs of God’s glory as appear manifestly both in heaven and earth…(Romans 1:20.)
Further, Calvin calls out man’s indifference as monstrous, in light of God’s availability to us:
Though he be not far from every one of us. [So he might discuss] the [contrariness] of men [further], [Paul] says that God is not to be sought through many [twists and turns], neither need we make any long journey to find him; because every man shall find him in himself, if…he will take any heed. By which experience we are convicted that our dullness is not without fault, which we [inherited from] Adam.
For though no corner of the world [is] void of the testimony of God’s glory, yet we need not go [outside] ourselves to lay hold upon him. For he affects and moves every one of us inwardly with his power in such [a way], that our [insensibility] is [grotesque], in that in feeling him we feel him not…
While correctly emphasizing God’s separateness from creation, Calvin dissects how it is that we dwell in Him:
For in him. …God himself separates himself from all creatures by this word Jehovah, that we may know that, in speaking properly, he is alone, and that we have our being in him, inasmuch as by his Spirit he keeps us in life, and upholds us…
…All those who know not God know not [that] they have God present with them not only in the excellent gifts of the mind, but in their very essence [or that, since] it belongs to God alone to be [(i.e., I Am)], all other things [including we ourselves] have their being in him.
…God did not create the world [and] afterward depart from his work; but [the world, which He created from nothing,] stands by his power [moment-by-moment], and that the same God is the governor thereof who was the Creator. We must well think upon this continual comforting and strengthening, that we may remember God every minute.
Carefully, Calvin delineates in what way all men may be considered sons:
Certain of your poets. …Paul [cites a confession of that knowledge which is naturally engraven in men’s minds], though it were corrupt with men’s fables, that men are the [creation] of God…This is that which the Scripture teaches, that we are created after the image and similitude of God, (Genesis 1:27.)
The same Scripture teaches…that we [are] made the sons of God by faith and free adoption when we are engrafted into the body of Christ, and being regenerate by the Spirit, we begin to be new creatures, (Galatians 3:26.)…
…[Because the image of God is almost blotted out in men,] this name, [Sons], is [rightly] restrained to the faithful, who having the Spirit of adoption given them, resemble their heavenly Father in the light of reason, in righteousness, and [in] holiness.
Finally, Calvin shows us men’s folly in depicting God with man-made images.
Therefore, seeing that. …God cannot be figured or resembled by any graven image forasmuch as he would have his image [existing] in us. For the soul wherein the image of God is properly engraven cannot be painted; therefore, it is a thing more absurd to go about to paint God…
…Paul…inveighs against the common superstition of all the Gentiles, because they would worship God under bodily shapes…God is falsely and wickedly transfigured, and that his truth is turned into a lie [as] often as his Majesty is represented by any visible shape… (Romans 1:23.)
…But seeing that God far surpasses the capacity of our mind, whosoever attempts with his mind to comprehend him, [that person] deforms and disfigures his glory with a wicked and false imagination. Wherefore, it is wickedness to imagine anything of him according to our own sense.
God reaches out to us who are alienated from Him. Though we try to throw off His governance, yet He still rules. Created to know Him, we do not acknowledge His presence in heaven, earth, and even ourselves. His animating power gives us existence and life. We are wayward children; His image, engraven in our souls, is gravely marred, yet He still freely offers faith to us so we might become His sons and daughters. I urge you, if you haven’t yet, believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved.
“But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Matthew 24:36-39English Standard Version (ESV)
Calvin, as usual, has a lot to say about these verses. However, let’s key in on what he says about verses 37 through 39 to understand why everyone will be so unaware.
But as the days of Noah were. …When he says that men were giving their whole attention to eating, drinking, marriage, and other worldly employments, at the time when God destroyed the whole world by a deluge, and Sodom by thunder; these words mean that they were as fully occupied with the conveniences and enjoyments of the present life, as if there had been no reason to dread any change.
…Promising to themselves that the condition in which they then were would remain unchanged, they did not [hesitate] to follow without concern their ordinary pursuits. And, …it would not have been improper, or worthy of condemnation, to make provision for their wants, if they had not, with gross stupidity, opposed the judgment of God, and rushed, with closed eyes, to unbridled iniquity, as if there had been no Judge in heaven.
Let us, therefore, not scoff as some do, but acknowledge the Lord who surely brings judgment. And those who mock the coming judgment do so because:
And knew not until the deluge came. The source and cause of their ignorance was, that unbelief had blinded their minds; as, on the other hand, we are informed by the Apostle, that Noah beheld at a distance, by the eyes of faith, the vengeance of God which was still concealed, so as to entertain an early dread of it, (Hebrews 11:7.)
…But it must be observed that the reprobate, at that time, were hardened in their wickedness, because the Lord did not show his grace to any but his servants, by giving them a [beneficial] warning to beware in proper time.
Not that information of the future deluge was altogether withheld from the inhabitants of the world—before whose eyes Noah, in building the ark for more than a hundred years, presented a warning of the approaching calamity—but because one man was specially warned, by divine revelation, of the future destruction of the whole world, and raised up to cherish the hope of salvation.
A very large sign of impending destruction was plain to see; yet, they did not heed the warning. Therefore, we should listen to the One who calls from heaven. Even in Calvin’s day, five hundred years ago, many had heard, but few believed:
Though the report of the last judgment is now widely circulated, and though there are a few persons who have been taught by God to perceive that Christ will come as a Judge in due time, yet it is proper that those persons should be aroused by this extraordinary kindness of God, and that their senses should be sharpened, lest they give themselves up to the indifference which so generally prevails.
For Peter compares the ark of Noah with our baptism on this [basis], that a small company of men, separated from the multitude, is saved amidst the waters, (1 Peter 3:20, 21.) To this small number, therefore, our minds must be directed, if we desire to escape in safety.
To Calvin’s statement about baptism, we should add:
For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 (ESV)
Last week we discussed disunity in the churches. We discovered that God providentially uses church disunity for our good, to refine us and to prove our salvation. The subject we consider today is often the result of disunity:
They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us. 1 John 2:19English Standard Version (ESV)
This is a solemn verse that should cause us to revere the Lord Jesus Christ. The preacher John Calvin doesn’t mince words when discussing this verse’s import:
They went out from us …The Church is always exposed to this evil; so that it is constrained to bear with many hypocrites who, [in reality], know not Christ, however much they may [verbally] profess his name.
By saying, they went out from us, [the Apostle John] means that they had previously occupied a place in the Church, and were counted among the number of the godly. [John], however, denies that they were of them, though they had assumed the name of believers, [in the same way] as chaff…mixed with wheat on the same floor cannot yet be deemed wheat.
Calvin analyzes those who profess the gospel:
For if they had been of us …Here [is] a difficulty, for it happens that many who seemed to have embraced Christ, often fall away.
To this I answer, that there are three sorts of those who profess the Gospel; there are those who feign piety, while a bad conscience reproves them within; the hypocrisy of others is more deceptive, who not only seek to disguise themselves before men, but also dazzle their own eyes, so that they seem to themselves to worship God aright; the third are those who have the living root of faith, and carry a testimony of their own adoption firmly fixed in their hearts.
The two first have no stability; of the last John speaks, when he says, that it is impossible that they should be separated from the Church, for the seal which God’s Spirit engraves on their hearts cannot be obliterated; the incorruptible seed, which has struck roots, cannot be pulled up or destroyed (2 Timothy 2:19.)
[The Apostle John], in short, means that they who fall away had never been thoroughly imbued with the knowledge of Christ, but had only a light and a transient taste of it.
Finally, Calvin states the blunt truth of the verse:
That they might be made manifest [John] shows that trials [are] useful and necessary for the Church. It hence follows, on the other hand, that there is no just cause for [upset]. Since the Church is like a threshing-floor, the chaff must be blown away [so] that the pure wheat may remain. This is what God does, when he casts out hypocrites from the Church, for he then cleanses it from refuse and filth.
Where were you when that dumpster exploded on Saturday, the 17th of September, 2016, at about 8:30 PM, between 6th and 7th Avenues on 23rd Street in Manhattan? Witnesses reported an event that shook buildings around the epicenter. Windows were blown out, and those on the street were injured. It didn’t look like terrorism initially (it was,) but the neighborhood was shaken up.
Something similar happened in first century Philippi, in Eastern Macedonia and Thrace, Greece. This time it was an earthquake that shook up the neighborhood. Doors to cells in the local prison were opened, and the jailer, no doubt shaken from sleep, supposed his life was forfeit because his charges had escaped. One of the prisoners, the Apostle Paul, called to the jailer not to harm himself; they were all still there. The jailer, trembling with fear, rushed to Paul and his companion, Silas, and:
…He brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” Acts 16:30English Standard Version (ESV)
Paul and Silas “spoke the word” to the jailer and his household. As a result, he and his household all believed in God. John Calvin comments on this verse here.
This same Apostle Paul concisely addressed the nature of this belief:
…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 10:9-10(ESV)
But, how are we to believe this? Is it by strength of will or a leap into the dark? Stepping back a bit, Calvin says we must first have faith to believe. What, then, is the nature of this faith? To this, the author of the letter to the Hebrews says:
…Without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. Hebrews 11:6(ESV)
Calvin explains the second clause of this verse this way:
…We ought to be fully persuaded that God is not sought in vain; and this persuasion includes the hope of salvation and eternal life.
And, it behooves us to recognize that God freely grants us this faith by His unmerited favor (i.e., grace) so that we might believe in Him:
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. Ephesians 2:8-9(ESV)
I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth:
And in Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, our Lord:
Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary:
Suffered under Pontius Pilate; was crucified, dead and buried: He descended into hell:
The third day he rose again from the dead:
He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty:
From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead:
I believe in the Holy Ghost:
I believe in the holy catholic church: the communion of saints:
The forgiveness of sins:
The resurrection of the body:
And the life everlasting. Amen.
After controversies over God’s nature, a creedal statement, attributed to Athanasius of Alexandria and rooted in Augustine’s On the Trinity (415 AD), was formulated that encompassed right belief on the matter. The gist of the Athanasian creed is:
Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the catholic [i.e., all-embracing or universal] faith;
And the catholic faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity;
Furthermore, it is necessary to everlasting salvation that he also believe rightly the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The Nicene creed (381 AD) appears to combine significant elements of the prior two creeds:
I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.
Who, for us men for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.
And I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life; who proceeds from the Father [and the Son]; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets.
And I believe one holy catholic and apostolic Church. I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; and I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen
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)
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)
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.