Attack on Genesis

How can something come from nothing? That’s what a recent cosmology theory purports to explain. The scriptures present a different story:

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. Genesis 1:1 English Standard Version (ESV)

And this explanation isn’t confined to the first three chapters of Genesis but is found throughout the scriptures. If it is false, then all of scripture can be reckoned as false as well. And there are significant consequences if the scriptures aren’t true.

In an October 10, 2012 Ligonier blog post titled: “In the Beginning God,” which is an excerpt taken from the book God’s Love, R. C. Sproul discusses the Genesis account:

When Genesis speaks of a beginning, it is referring to the advent of the universe in time and space. It is not positing a beginning to God but a beginning to the creative work of God…Genesis merely asserts that the universe had a beginning…We declare with Scripture that God is eternal…Does His eternality mean that He is somehow outside of time, that He is timeless? Or does His eternality mean that He exists in an endless dimension of time?

[Whichever way] we answer this question; we conclude that God Himself never had a beginning. He exists infinitely with respect to space and eternally with respect to time. His existence has neither a starting point nor an ending point. The dimensions of His existence are from everlasting to everlasting. This means that He always has been and always will be.

Sproul then touches on a topic we covered last week:

Because God Himself had no beginning, He was already there in the beginning. He antedates the created order. When we affirm that God is eternal, we are also saying that He possesses the attribute of aseity, or self-existence. This means that God eternally has existed of Himself and in Himself. He is not a contingent being. He did not derive from some other source. He is not dependent on any power outside Himself to exist…He is not an effect of some antecedent cause. In a word, He is not a creature. No creature has the power of being in and of itself. All creatures are contingent, derived, and dependent. This is the essence of their creatureliness.

And, as we discussed last week, all that we perceive in the world would not exist without their First Cause, God All Mighty. Sproul examines this consequence as he concludes:

Thinkers hostile to theism have sought every means imaginable to provide a rational alternative to the notion of an eternal, self-existent deity. Some have argued for an eternal universe, though with great difficulty. Usually the temporal beginning of the universe is granted, but with a reluctance to assign its cause to an eternal, self-existent being.

The usual alternative is some sort of self-creation, which, in whatever form it takes, falls into irrationality and absurdity. To assert the self-creation of anything is to leap into the abyss of the absurd because for something to create itself, it would have had to exist before it existed to do the job. It would have had to be and not be at the same time and in the same relationship.

…If there ever was a time when absolutely nothing existed, all there could possibly be now is nothing. Even that statement is problematic because there can never be nothing; if nothing ever was, then it would be something and not nothing.

The attack upon the Genesis account doesn’t stop at nothing, though. There is too much at stake. Another avenue is the reconciliation of the apparent age of the universe with the days of creation described in Genesis’s first two chapters. The church has been on the ropes over this one for decades if not longer.

CMB Timeline

Timeline of the Universe, circa 2006, NASA/WMAP Science Team, in the public domain in the United States

We’ve previously examined why the earth appears so old. Dorothy Leigh Sayers, in her book Letters to a Diminished Church: Passionate Arguments for the Relevance of Christian Doctrine, offers an intriguing explanation for Genesis, chapters 1-3:

…God had, at some moment or other, created the universe complete with all the vestiges of an imaginary past…Extravagant…if one thinks of God as a [scientist]…but, if one thinks of Him as working in the same sort of way as a creative artist, then [it seems] the most natural thing in the world.

Albert Mohler, in his sermon: “Why Does the Universe Look So Old?” says, “because the Creator made it whole,” that is, fully developed, and it “bares testimony to the effects of sin and testimony to the judgment of God.” This last point merits development.

Usually, some will object, how can fossils have been created in the first six days, which God pronounced very good, since these fossils represent the deaths of many creatures? The answer is that death entered through the curse (Genesis 3; Romans 5:12) sometime after the seventh day, a day of rest. Further, the Apostle Paul comments on Genesis 3 when he says:

For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. Romans 8:19-21 (ESV)

Clearly, God’s curse on humanity materially affected all creation, including the earth itself, with corruption. For self-consistency, that corruption naturally must include dead creatures.

Therefore, if the Genesis account is true, how should we then respond?

W. Robert Godfrey: God’s Design for Creation, YouTube, Mar 2, 2016 , Ligonier Ministries

In Whom We Have Our Being – Part 1

We’ve discussed Oprah’s favorite verse before. Let’s look at this verse again. In context, we read:

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)

From the website footnotes, the first quote is probably from Epimenides of Crete; the second quote is likely from Aratus’s poem “Phainomena.” To verses 27 and 28, Calvin says how conciliatory God is to us; He makes Himself findable:

That they might seek God. …It is man’s duty to seek God…God himself comes forth to meet us, and shows himself by such manifest tokens, that we can have no excuse for our ignorance.

Not only are the tokens He offers in the creation that surrounds us, but in the creation inside us:

Though he be not far from every one of us. …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 [manner], that our [insensibleness] is [grotesque], in that in feeling him we feel him not…

Those apart from Christ are alienated, dead in trespasses and sins with no hope in the world. Yet, concerning even these (as we once were), Calvin says:

For in him. …God preserves, by the wonderful power and inspiration of his Spirit, those things which he has created [out] of nothing… [God did not create the world and afterward depart from his work; but the world continues to stand by his power moment by moment. The Creator of the world is its ever present governor.]

Paul said that [humans] need not seek far for God, whom they have [acting] within them [under his governance] …We have not only no life [except] in God, but [no] moving; [indeed, not even existence,] which is [lower in rank] to both [living and movement].

I say that life has the pre-eminence in men, because they have not only sense and motion as brute beasts have, but they [are endowed] with reason and understanding…So in John, when [he mentions the] creation of all things, [he adds separately and] not without cause, that life was the light of men, (John 1:4.)

…All those who [do not] know God [are ignorant that] they have God present with them not only in the excellent gifts of the mind, but in their very essence. [Since] it belongs to God alone to be [(i.e., He is the I am)], all other things have their being in him.

So, the self-existent God gives us physical life for one purpose: to know Him. He upholds the being of all things, including our own, by His power. We should, therefore, acknowledge Him. However, unless we receive by faith His justification of us by His unmerited favor, we are dead to Him.

Not only does His animating power envelop us, but our evil deeds surround us too; and He sees them all:

But they do not consider

    that I remember all their evil.

Now their deeds surround them;

    they are before my face.

Hosea 7:2 (ESV)

I urge you, then, to believe that His sacrifice of Himself for our sins declares you righteous. Then, you, along with the psalmist, can say with joy:

Even before a word is on my tongue,

    behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.

You hem me in, behind and before,

    and lay your hand upon me.

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;

    it is high; I cannot attain it.

Psalm 139:4-6 (ESV)

We’ll examine the entire context (Acts 17:26-29) next week.

Watch a Breathtaking Time-Lapse of Grand Teton National Park, Aug 27, 2016, YouTube, National Geographic

God or Money, Again

Previously, we concluded that you have to serve somebody. Today we return to this ever-present fork in the road of life:

“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money [i.e., possessions].” Matthew 6:24 English Standard Version (ESV)

In the Apostle Matthew’s account above, Christ addresses His disciples. In Luke’s account (Luke 16:13), though Christ is still addressing His disciples, we find out that the Pharisees were also listening and were having none of what He was saying. They ridiculed Him because, as the next passage says, they were greedy.

Is this why we can’t have nice things? Or is it a question of nice things not having us? The preacher John Chrysostom spoke to this very point approximately sixteen hundred years ago:

Ye cannot serve God and mammon. Let us shudder to think what [our sin requires] Christ to say [to shake us loose]; [to put] the name of God with that of gold. But if [His exclamation is] shocking, our preferring the tyranny of gold to the fear of God, [borne out by] our deeds, is much more shocking.

“What then? [Wasn’t serving both] possible among the ancients?” By no means. “How then,” says one, “did Abraham [or] Job obtain a good report?” …Job was rich, but he [did not] serve [wealth. Instead, he] possessed it and ruled over it, and [he] was [its] master [and] not [its] slave.

Therefore [Job] so possessed all those things, as if he had been the steward of another man’s goods; not only not extorting from others, but even giving up his own [goods] to them that were in need.

And what is more, when he had them they were no joy to him: so, he also declared, saying, “If I did so much as rejoice when my wealth waxed great:” wherefore neither did he grieve when it was gone.

Having given the example of godly Job as wealth’s master and not its slave, Chrysostom turns to the condition of his hearers and of us:

But they that are rich are not now such as [Job] was, but are rather in a worse condition than any slave, paying as it were tribute to some grievous tyrant. Because their mind, occupied by the love of money, is as a kind of citadel, [from which it] sends out…its commands full of all iniquity, and there is none to disobey.

[Therefore, do not be too clever.] …For God has declared and pronounced, [once for all, that] it [is]…impossible [to serve God and wealth]. [Do not say], then, “it is possible.” Why, when the one master is commanding you to [plunder] by violence, the other to strip yourself of your possessions; the one to [commit fornication], the other to [be chaste]; the one to be drunken and luxurious, the other to keep the belly in subjection; the one again to despise the things that are [as insufficient], the other to be riveted to the present [in contentment]; the one to admire marbles, and walls, and roofs, the other to [despise] these, but to honor self-restraint: how is it possible that these should agree?

Now [God] calls [wealth] here “a master,” not because of its own nature, but on account of the wretchedness of them that bow themselves beneath it. So also He calls “the belly a god,” not from the dignity of such a mistress, but from the wretchedness of them that are enslaved: it [is] a thing worse than any punishment, and enough, before the punishment, [by] way of vengeance on him who is involved in it.

For what condemned criminals can be so wretched, as they who having God for their Lord, do from that mild rule desert to this grievous tyranny, and this when their act [of desertion and enslavement] brings so much harm [here and now]? For indeed their loss by so doing is unspeakable: there are [judicial actions], and [oppressions], and strife, and toil, and a blinding of the soul; and what is more grievous than all, one falls away from [being God’s servant,] the highest of blessings…

Thus, we are called to make a choice; a different choice than the one Cain made:

The Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it.” Genesis 4:6-7 (ESV)

Choose God’s way.

The More You Serve, The More You Earn – Dave Ramsey Rant, The Dave Ramsey Show

Measures

What measures do you use with others? Are you gracious, holding your tongue when wronged? Are you generous and sincere when praising others? Or merciful and gentle when correcting another’s sin? This multifaceted word, measure, can mean an amount, a planned action, or a standard of comparison.

During His Sermon on the Mount, while declaring the characteristics, principles, and consequences of God’s kingdom, Christ said:

“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.” Matthew 7:1-2 English Standard Version (ESV)

And, again, as reported by Luke:

“Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” Luke 6:37-38 (ESV)

And, warning His disciples after explaining a parable about entering the kingdom of God:

…He said to them, “Pay attention to what you hear: with the measure you use, it will be measured to you, and still more will be added to you. For to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.” Mark 4:24-25 (ESV)

I must admit, the passage in Luke is a favorite of mine. Who wouldn’t want overflowing returns of like kind for your deeds? That is, of course, if those deeds were gracious, generous, sincere, merciful, and gentile.

John Calvin explains these synoptic gospel passages:

Matthew 7:1. Judge not These words of Christ do not contain an absolute prohibition from judging, but are intended to cure a disease, which appears to be natural to us all. We see how all flatter themselves, and every man passes a severe censure on others. This vice is attended by some strange enjoyment: for there is hardly any person who is not tickled with the desire of inquiring into other people’s faults.

[Everyone] acknowledges…that it is an intolerable evil, that those who [fail to notice] their own vices are so [habitually] against their brethren. The Heathens, too, in ancient times, condemned it in many proverbs. Yet it has existed in all ages, and exists, too, in the present day. [Indeed], it is accompanied by another and a worse plague: for the greater part of men think that, when they condemn others, they acquire a greater liberty of sinning.

This depraved eagerness for biting, censuring, and slandering, is restrained by Christ, when he says, Judge not. It is not necessary that believers should become blind, and perceive nothing, but only that they should refrain from an undue eagerness to judge: for otherwise the proper bounds of rigor will be exceeded by every man who desires to pass sentence on his brethren.

…To judge, therefore, means here, to be influenced by curiosity in inquiring into the actions of others. This disease, in the first place, draws continually along with it the injustice of condemning any trivial fault, as if it had been a very heinous crime; and next breaks out into the insolent presumption of looking disdainfully at every action, and passing an unfavorable judgment on it, even when it might be viewed in a good light.

Delving deeper into the nature of unrighteous judgment, he says:

We now see, that the design of Christ was to guard us against indulging excessive eagerness, or [ready irritation], or [intense hatred], or even curiosity, in judging our neighbors. He who judges according to the word and law of the Lord, and forms his judgment by the rule of charity, always begins with subjecting himself to examination, and preserves a proper medium and order in his judgments.

Hence it is evident, that this passage is altogether misapplied by those persons who would desire to make that moderation, which Christ recommends, a pretense for setting aside all distinction between good and evil.

We are not only permitted, but are even bound, to condemn all sins; unless we choose to rebel against God himself, — [going so far as] to repeal his laws, to reverse his decisions, and to overturn his judgment-seat.

It is his will that we should proclaim the sentence which he pronounces on the actions of men: only we must preserve such modesty towards each other, as to make it manifest that he is the only Lawgiver and Judge, (Isaiah 33:22.)

Then Calvin characterizes the punishment due these censorious judges:

That you may not be judged He [announces] a punishment against those severe judges, who take so much delight in sifting the faults of others. They will not be treated by others with greater kindness, but will experience, in their turn, the same severity which they had exercised towards others. As nothing is dearer or more valuable to us than our reputation, so nothing is more bitter than to be condemned, or to be exposed to the reproaches and infamy of men.

And yet it is by our own fault that we draw upon ourselves that very thing which our nature so strongly detests, for which of us is there, who does not examine too severely the actions of others; who does not manifest undue rage against slight offenses; or who does not [testily] censure what was in itself indifferent?

And what is this but deliberately to provoke God, as our avenger, to treat us in the same manner. Now, though it is a just judgment of God, that those who have judged others should be punished in their turn, yet the Lord executes this punishment by the instrumentality of men.

Chrysostom and others limit this statement to the present life: but that is a forced interpretation. Isaiah threatens (33:1) that those who have spoiled others shall be spoiled. In like manner, our Lord means, that there will be no want of executioners to punish the injustice and slander of men with equal bitterness or severity. And if men shall fail to receive punishment in this world, those who have shown undue eagerness in condemning their brethren will not escape the judgment of God.

And, finally, Calvin addresses the question of just recompense:

Luke 6:37, 38. Forgive, and it shall be forgiven to you. Give, and it shall be given to you. This promise, which is added by Luke, means, that the Lord will cause him, who is indulgent, kind, and just to his brethren, to experience the same gentleness from others, and to be treated by them in a generous and friendly manner.

Yet it frequently happens, that the children of God receive the very worst reward, and are oppressed by many unjust slanders; and that, to when they have injured no man’s reputation, and even spared the faults of brethren. But this is not inconsistent with what Christ says: for we know, that the promises which relate to the present life do not always hold, and are not without exceptions.

Besides, though the Lord permits his people, when innocent, to be unjustly oppressed and almost overwhelmed, he fulfills what he says in another place, that “their uprightness shall break forth as the morning,” (Isaiah 58:8.) In this way, his blessing always rises above all unjust slanders. He subjects believers to unjust reproaches, that he may humble them, and that he may at length maintain the goodness of their cause.

It ought also to be taken into the account, that believers themselves, though they endeavor to act justly towards their brethren, are sometimes carried away by excessive severity against brethren, who were either innocent, or not so greatly to be blamed, and thus, by their own fault, provoke against themselves a similar judgment.

If they do not receive good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over, though this is chargeable on the ingratitude of the world, yet they ought to acknowledge that it was partly deserved: for there is no man who is so kind and indulgent as he ought to be towards his brethren.

Augustine summarized these verses’ essence this way:

…Is it the case, then, that if we shall judge anything with a rash judgment, God will also judge rashly with respect to us?

…By no means does God either judge rashly, or recompense to anyone with an unjust measure; but it is so expressed: …that very same rashness [by which] you punish another must necessarily punish yourself.

…[As an example,] what else is meant by the statement, “For all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword,” but that the soul dies by that very sin, whatever it may be, which it has committed?

Please, if the Spirit impresses these verses on you, as He does on me, take them to heart and change your measures.

Richter: On The Nature Of Daylight, YouTube, Versions available on Amazon: Quintet and Orchestra

Sin, Righteousness, and Judgment

Current opinion holds that we are good people who do bad things. But opinion isn’t fact; and fact isn’t opinion. Someone, Who knew the facts, spoke about the Third Person of God this way:

And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. John 16:8-11 English Standard Version (ESV)

There’s a lot of truth packed in these verses of scripture. Although Matthew Henry, Charles Spurgeon, and John Calvin all commented or preached on this text, we turn to a heartfelt sermon by George Whitfield, Anglican minister, preacher of Calvinist Methodism, and revivalist preacher in the USA circa 1740s. Speaking of sin, righteousness, and judgment, Whitefield said:

…First, …The Comforter, when he comes effectually to work upon a sinner, not only convinces him of the sin of his nature, the sin of his life, [and] of the sin of his duties…

But there is a fourth sin, of which the Comforter, when he comes, convinces the soul, and which alone (it is very remarkable) our Lord mentions, as though it was the only sin worth mentioning; for indeed it is the root of all other sins whatsoever: it is the reigning as well as the damning sin of the world. And what now do you imagine that sin may be? It is that cursed sin, that root of all other evils, I mean the sin of unbelief. Says our Lord, verse 9. “Of sin, because they believe not on me.”

…Perhaps you may think you believe, because you repeat the Creed, or subscribe to a Confession of Faith; because you go to church or meeting, receive the sacrament, and are taken into full communion. These are blessed privileges; but all this may be done, without our being true believers.

…Ask yourselves, therefore, whether or not the Holy [Spirit] ever powerfully convinced you of the sin of unbelief? …Were you ever made to cry out, “Lord, give me faith; Lord, give me to believe on thee; O that I had faith! O that I could believe!” If you never were thus distressed, at least, if you never saw and felt that you had no faith, it is a certain sign that the Holy [Spirit], the Comforter, never came into and worked savingly upon your souls.

…We have seen how the Holy [Spirit] convinces the sinner of the sin of his nature, life, duties, and of the sin of unbelief; and what then must the poor creature do? He must, he must inevitably despair, if there be no hope but in himself…

Whitefield continues:

Secondly, what is the righteousness, of which the Comforter convinces the world?

…O the righteousness of Christ! It so comforts my soul, that I must be excused if I mention it in almost all my discourses. I would not, if I could help it, have one sermon without it. Whatever infidels may object, or Arminians sophistically argue against an imputed righteousness; yet whoever know themselves and God, must acknowledge, that “Jesus Christ is the end of the law for righteousness, (and perfect justification in the sight of God) to everyone that believes,” and that we are to be made the righteousness of God in him.

This, and this only, a poor sinner can lay hold of, as a sure anchor of his hope. Whatever other scheme of salvation men may lay, I acknowledge I can see no other foundation whereon to build my hopes of salvation, but on the rock of Christ’s personal righteousness, imputed to my soul.

…When therefore the Spirit has hunted the sinner out of all his false rests and hiding-places, taken off the pitiful fig-leaves of his own works, and driven him out of the trees of the garden (his outward reformations) and places him naked before the bar of a sovereign, holy, just, and sin-avenging God; then, then it is, when the soul, having the sentence of death within itself because of unbelief, has a sweet display of Christ’s righteousness made to it by the Holy Spirit of God. Here it is, that he begins more immediately to act in the quality of a Comforter, and convinces the soul so powerfully of the reality and all-sufficiency of Christ’s righteousness, that the soul is immediately set a hungering and thirsting after it.

Now the sinner begins to see, that though he has destroyed himself, yet in Christ is his help; that, though he has no righteousness of his own to recommend him, there is a fullness of grace, a fullness of truth, a fullness of righteousness in the dear Lord Jesus, which, if once imputed to him, will make him happy for ever and ever.

…If you were never thus convinced of Christ’s righteousness in your own souls, though you may believe it doctrinally, it will avail you nothing; if the Comforter never came savingly into your souls, then you are comfortless indeed…

Whitefield then proceeds:

Thirdly, …the Comforter, when he comes, convinces the soul of judgment.

“Of judgment (says our Lord) because the Prince of this world is judged;” the soul, being enabled to lay hold on Christ’s perfect righteousness by a lively faith, has a conviction wrought in it by the Holy Spirit, that the Prince of this world is judged. The soul being now justified by faith, has peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, and can triumphantly say, “It is Christ that justifies me, who is he that condemns me?”

The strong man armed is now cast out; my soul is in a true peace; the Prince of this world will come and accuse, but he has now no share in me: the blessed Spirit which I have received, and whereby I am enabled to apply Christ’s righteousness to my poor soul, powerfully convinces me of this: why should I fear? Or of what shall I be afraid, since God’s Spirit witnesses with my spirit, that I am a child of God…

But, if we do not find ourselves thus convinced, Whitefield appeals to us once more to be reconciled to Christ:

Though of myself I can do nothing, and you can no more by your own power come to and believe on Christ, than Lazarus could come forth from the grave; yet who knows but God may beget some of you again to a lively hope by this foolishness of preaching, and that you may be some of that world, which the Comforter is to convince of sin, or righteousness, and of judgment?

Poor Christless souls! Do you know what a condition you are in? Why, you are lying in the wicked one, the devil; he rules in you, he walks and dwells in you, unless you dwell in Christ, and the Comforter is come into your hearts. And will you contentedly lie in that wicked one that devil? What wages will he give you? Eternal death.

O that you would come to Christ! The free gift of God through him is eternal life. He will accept of you even now, if you will believe in him. The Comforter may yet come into your hearts, even yours…

***

In conclusion, we briefly quote Augustine on these same verses:

Let men, therefore, believe in Christ, that they be not convicted of the sin of their own unbelief, whereby all sins are retained;

let them make their way into the number of believers, that they be not convicted of the righteousness of those, whom, as justified, they fail to imitate;

let them beware of that future judgment, that they be not judged with the prince of the world, whom, judged as he is, they continue to imitate.

For the unbending pride of mortals can have no thought of being spared itself, as it is thus called to think with terror of the punishment that overtook the pride of angels.

Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God – Classic Sermon by Jonathan Edwards – Christian Praise and Worship in Songs, Sermons, and Audio Books, Sermon Text

Two Natures – Distinct Yet United

Last week I reported on “Christ’s Human Nature.” There, the fourth point of John Flavel’s sermon: “Of Christ’s wonderful Person,” on John 1:14, in his book: Fountain of Life Opened Up, caught my attention:

Fourthly, [Christ’s] human nature is so united with the divine, as that each nature still retains its own essential properties distinct… The divine and human are not confounded; but a line of distinction runs betwixt them still in this wonderful person…

If you have the time and patience, I urge you to read his entire sermon. He offers sound doctrine on Christ’s human nature.

Flavel’s point got me wondering. Was the distinction and union obvious in scripture, would it prove Flavel’s points, and did John Calvin have insight that might help us to understand Christ better? What jumped to mind was the Lord’s struggle-in-prayer in the garden before He was betrayed as recounted in the synoptic gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke:

And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” Matthew 26:39 English Standard Version (ESV)

And

And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” Mark 14:36 (ESV)

And

Saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” Luke 22:42 (ESV)

Even though the wording is different in the three accounts, in each, He defers to His Father’s will rather than His own. Was this the quintessential example of the distinct natures united?

Calvin addresses many possible questions we (and others) might have when reading Christ’s entreaty of His Father. However, to achieve some semblance of brevity, we’ve assembled those answers that are most relevant to our questions:

My Father, if it be possible. …We must remember…that Christ [did not have] confused emotions, like those to which we are accustomed, to withdraw his mind from pure moderation; but, so far as the pure and innocent nature of man could admit, he was struck with fear and seized with anguish, so that, amidst the violent shocks of temptation, he vacillated—as it were—from one wish to another. This is the reason why, after having prayed to be freed from death, he immediately restrains himself, and, submitting to the authority of the Father, corrects and recalls that wish which had suddenly escaped him…

But yet not as I will, but as thou wilt. …What led him to pray to be delivered from [His own physical] death was the dread of a greater evil. When he saw the wrath of God exhibited to him, as he stood at the tribunal of God charged with the sins of the whole world, he unavoidably shrunk with horror from the deep abyss of death…When Christ was struck with horror at the divine curse, the feeling of the flesh affected him in such a manner, that faith still remained firm and unshaken. For such was the purity of his nature, that he felt, without being wounded by them, those temptations which pierce us with their stings.

…in Christ there was a remarkable example of adaptation between the two wills, the will of God and the will of man, so that they differed from each other without any conflict or opposition…for Christ, as he was God, willed nothing different from the Father; and therefore it follows, that his human soul had affections distinct from the secret purpose of God…Christ was under the necessity of holding his will captive, in order to subject it to the government of God, though it was properly regulated.

The lesson Calvin draws for us based on the various questions we’ve included and omitted is:

…In the present corruption of our nature it is impossible to find ardor of affections accompanied by moderation, such as existed in Christ; but we ought to give such honor to the Son of God, as not to judge of him by what we find in ourselves.

In this light, his application is:

…How carefully ought we to repress the violence of our feelings, which are always inconsiderate, and rash, and full of rebellion? …We owe to God such obedience as to endure patiently that our wishes should not be granted; For the modesty of faith consists in permitting God to appoint differently from what we desire. Above all, when we have no certain and special promise, we ought to abide by this rule, not to ask anything but on the condition that God shall fulfill what he has decreed; which cannot be done, unless we give up our wishes to his disposal.

In his sermon, Flavel gives an excellent explanation of the differences between Christ and ourselves. Calvin drives home the point with how, given His example, we should endure our inevitable trials of faith. May the Lord Jesus Christ grant us obedience in these trials.

Garden of Gethsemane, Mount of Olives, Jerusalem

Garden of Gethsemane, Mount of Olives, Jerusalem, 16 November 2012, by Tango7174, used under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International, 3.0 Unported, 2.5 Generic, 2.0 Generic, and 1.0 Generic licenses

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

Angry Friends

We all want friends we can rely upon. We want friends we can confide in, freely discuss things of importance, and shoot the breeze with. That’s why it’s so disappointing to have angry friends:

Make no friendship with a man given to anger,

    nor go with a wrathful man,

lest you learn his ways

    and entangle yourself in a snare.

Proverbs 22:24-25 English Standard Version (ESV)

Our usual source for commentary, John Calvin, did not comment on the book of Proverbs. We therefore go to Matthew Henry. Wikipedia claims he is best known for this quote from his commentary on Genesis, Chapter 2:

The woman was made of a rib out of the side of Adam; not made out of his head to rule over him, nor out of his feet to be trampled upon by him, but out of his side to be equal with him, under his arm to be protected, and near his heart to be beloved.

To the verses in Proverbs, Henry says:

Make no friendship …It is the law of friendship that we accommodate ourselves to our friends and be ready to serve them, and therefore we ought to be wise and wary in the choice of a friend, that we come not under the sacred tie to any one whom it would be our folly to accommodate ourselves to. Though we must be civil to all, yet we must be careful whom we lay in our bosoms and contract a familiarity with.

Clearly, Henry holds friendship is high regard. This is no mere acquaintance nor a casual buddy he speaks about. This is someone we’d make a commitment to as a confidant with whom we could be at ease. Henry goes on to describe one, among many, he says, who we should avoid:

…A man who is easily provoked, touchy, and apt to resent affronts, who, when he is in a passion, cares not what he says or does, but grows outrageous, such a one is not fit to be made a friend or companion, for he will be [frequently] angry with us and that will be our trouble, and he will expect that we should, like him, be angry with others, and that will be our sin.

Then, Henry tells us why we should avoid such would-be compatriots:

Lest thou learn Good cause given for this caution: Lest thou learn his way. Those we go with we are apt to grow like.

Our corrupt hearts have so much tinder in them that it is dangerous conversing with those that throw about the sparks of their passion. We shall thereby get a snare to our souls, for a disposition to anger is a great snare to any man, and an occasion of much sin.

He does not say, “Lest thou have ill language given thee or get a broken head,” but, which is must worse, “Lest thou imitate him, to humor him, and so contract an ill habit.”

Don’t get ensnared or shorn by those with whom you are familiar. Take Proverbs 22:24-25 to heart and act upon it. Remember, there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.

Delilah's Betrayal

Delilah’s Betrayal and Samson’s Imprisonment by the Philistines, Circa 1580, Joos van Winghe (1544 – 1603), in the public domain in the United States

Make Friends

The following saying has always held mystery for me. Parts of it make sense. It’s the idea of ‘casting your bread upon the waters.’ However, some of it almost sounds like buying your way to heaven.

And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings. Luke 16:9 English Standard Version (ESV)

The theologian, John Calvin, dismisses the notion of a ‘pay to play’ entry into heaven. Instead, he says:

Make to yourselves friends. Christ…teaches us that by acts of charity we obtain favor with God, who has promised, that to the merciful he will show himself merciful, (Psalm 18:25.)…

The Lord looks not to the persons, but to the work itself, so that our liberality, though it may happen to be exercised towards ungrateful men, will be of [benefit] to us in the sight of God. […The depravity of men does not prevent the Lord from placing on his records all that we have expended on the poor.]

…Our kindness to the poor will be a seasonable relief to us; for whatever any man may have generously bestowed on his neighbors the Lord acknowledges as if it had been done to himself.

Calvin’s explanation makes me reconsider the make-up of my own giving.

To the parts I did understand, Calvin says:

When you fail. By this word he expresses [our] time of death, and reminds us that the time of our administration [of riches] will be short, lest the confident expectation of a longer…life should make us take a firmer grasp. …Many squander what they have on superfluities; while others…deprive both themselves and others of the benefit…

Of the mammon of unrighteousness. By giving this name to riches…Christ justly represents them as worthy of our suspicion; just as on another occasion he called them thorns, (Matthew 13:7, 22.)

[…Christ intends, by way of an unstated contrast,] that riches, which otherwise, in consequence of wicked abuse, polluted their possessors, and are almost in every [case] allurements of sin, ought to be directed to a contrary object, to be the means of procuring favor for us. [This is] a warning given to believers to keep themselves free from unrighteousness.

Key to the right use of riches, then, is to neither squander nor hoard; using it not as an occasion for sin but, instead, for righteousness.

Clarifying what our attitude should be when giving, the Apostle Paul cautions:

The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 2 Corinthians 9:6-7 (ESV)

And we do well to remember that time really is money when it comes to charity:

You shall not see your brother’s donkey or his ox fallen down by the way and ignore them. You shall help him to lift them up again. Deuteronomy 22:4 (ESV)

Deeds of Christian Charity

Deeds of Christian Charity, 1575, Pieter Aertsen (circa 1508–1575), in the public domain in the United States

God or Money?

Which will it be, God or money? The God spoken about in this context is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; one God in three persons. Money, or mammon, on the other hand, is any earthly means of exchange or gain (i.e., possessions).

While speaking with His disciples, the Lord Jesus Christ was overheard by the religious rulers of the day. They scoffed at what He said to His disciples:

“No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” Luke 16:13 English Standard Version (ESV)

Christ then turned to these rulers and addressed how their heart attitudes kept them out of His Kingdom.

Christ spoke the same words to a different audience who listened intently to His Sermon on the Mount. He spoke about the heart attitude that His disciples and the crowds that followed Him should possess in the Kingdom of God. As part of that sermon, Christ said:

“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” Matthew 6:24 (ESV)

Although the disciples were common to both groups, many in the first audience sneered at what He said and in the second, they hung on His every word.

John Calvin commented on this two-thousand-year-old chronicle over five hundred years ago:

No man can serve two masters. …[Christ] had formerly said, that the heart of man is bound and fixed upon its treasure; and he now gives warning, that the hearts of those who are devoted to riches are alienated from the Lord.

For the greater part of men are [inclined] to flatter themselves with a deceitful pretense, when they imagine, that it is possible for them to be divided between God and their own lusts. Christ affirms that it is impossible for any man to obey God, and, at the same time, to obey his own flesh…

We commonly call this a ‘divided heart.’ Calvin goes on:

True, it is not impossible that those who are rich shall serve God; but whoever gives himself up as a slave to riches must abandon the service of God: for covetousness makes us the slaves of the devil…

So it isn’t the riches themselves, so much as setting our hearts on those riches to the partial (or total) exclusion of Him. Calvin then extends this principle to all our vices.

…As God pronounces everywhere such commendations of sincerity, and hates a double heart, (1 Chronicles 12:33; Psalm 12:2); all are deceived, who imagine that he will be satisfied with the half of their heart…

The covetous, the voluptuaries, the gluttons, the unchaste, the cruel, all in their turn offer the same apology for themselves: as if it were possible for those to be partly employed in serving God, who are openly carrying on war against him.

But wait, we are beset with sins that, the scriptures say, so easily entangle us. Are we double minded and in danger of hell fire? To this, Calvin, the shepherd, says:

It is, no doubt, true, that believers themselves are never so perfectly devoted to obedience to God, as not to be withdrawn from it by the sinful desires of the flesh.

But as they groan under this wretched bondage, and are dissatisfied with themselves, and give nothing more than an unwilling and reluctant service to the flesh, they are not said to serve two masters: for their desires and exertions are approved by the Lord, as if they rendered to him a perfect obedience.

But this passage [Luke 16:13] reproves the hypocrisy of those who flatter themselves in their vices, as if they could reconcile light and darkness.

So there we have it. The question now becomes: “Do I serve the devil or do I serve the Lord.” For, we all have to serve somebody.

Serve Somebody, Johnny Q. Public, Lyrics by Bob Dylan