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

On the Surface – Part I

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finally, Edwards drives home the message again:

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

***

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

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

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

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

Wheat_and_tares_0708_(513649608)

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

Uncertain Footing

We go about our business without a care for the ground beneath us. However, can we be sure our foot will not slip? Losing what we think is firm footing can occur suddenly and without warning. Some causes are of this earth and some are not. All are common to the human condition.

One way we lose our footing is due to sinkholes. These occur because water erodes underground supports via either natural or manmade processes.

A Sinkhole in a Northeastern Chinese City Swallowed Five People [Required Hospitalization], CCTV, published on Aug 27, 2015

The United States Geological Survey (USGS) cites a shocking statistic. Between 35 to 40 percent of the US is susceptible to sinkholes. These occur in two rock types: evaporites (salt, gypsum, and anhydrite) and carbonates (limestone and dolomite). Many formations, but not all, occur at deep depths.

http://water.usgs.gov/edu/sinkholes.html

USGS Sinkhole Susceptibility Map

Commonly, water erosion in these areas results in underground caverns which can lead to ground subsidence. However, sometimes the cavern erodes so extensively that the ceiling collapses and a sinkhole results. Such things are common in Florida and Louisiana.

8/21/13 Slough in, Assumption Parish, Louisiana

As frightening as these may be, we find ourselves in a much worse situation: at any moment we can plunge into Hell.

Only God’s patient endurance gives any of us more time on this earth. He is in the right concerning this because He gives us existence. And He calls us wicked because we continually disobey Him.

A famous (some say infamous) American preacher, Jonathan Edwards, delivered one of many sermons to his congregation called “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” Maybe you studied it in high school or college.

The sermon’s premise is summed up by Edwards’s statement:

“There is nothing that keeps wicked men at any one moment out of hell, but the mere pleasure of God.”

Of Edwards’s ten considerations, these three bring home our predicament:

2.  The Wicked deserve to be cast into hell. Divine justice does not prevent God from destroying the Wicked at any moment.

6.  If it were not for God’s restraints, there are, in the souls of wicked men, hellish principles reigning which, presently, would kindle and flame out into hellfire.

10.  God has never promised to save us from Hell, except for those contained in Christ through the covenant of Grace.

Just as his congregants cried out, we must say:

“What shall I do to be saved?”

And as Paul and Silas answered the Jailer:

Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household

Only then will we have sure footing.

Sinners In The Hands Of An Angry God,” sermon reenacted by Ralph Green, October 30, 2012, Cloverhill4’s channel