Factions

Psalm 133 says how good it is for brothers and sisters to live in unity. And we know we desire such unity in our churches. However, we don’t often experience it. What’s wrong? Why can’t we all get along? The apostle Paul addressed such a situation in the early church at Corinth:

…In the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. 1 Corinthians 11:18-19 English Standard Version (ESV)

There must be factions? What is Paul saying here? John Calvin dissects these verses:

When ye come together in the Church, I hear there are divisions …It is…a reproof of a general kind — that they were not of one accord as [is fitting for] Christians, but everyone was so much taken up with [their] own interests, that [they were] not prepared to accommodate [themselves] to others.

Hence arose that abuse, as to which we shall see in a little — hence sprung ambition and pride, so that everyone exalted [themselves] and despised others — hence sprung carelessness as to edification — hence sprung profanation of the gifts of God.

Sounds unfortunately familiar. Calvin points out that Paul realizes not all are involved but the complaint isn’t groundless:

{Paul] says that he partly believes it, that they might not think that he charged them all with this heinous crime, and might accordingly complain, that they were groundlessly accused. In the meantime, however, he intimates that this had been brought to him not by mere vague rumor, but by credible information, such as he could not altogether discredit.

Calvin then defines heresies and schisms:

For there must be also heresies …Heresy…consists in disagreement as to doctrine, and schism, on the contrary, in alienation of affection, as when anyone withdrew from the Church from envy, or from dislike of the pastors, or from ill nature.

It is true, that the Church cannot but be torn asunder by false doctrine, and thus heresy is the root and origin of schism, and it is also true that envy or pride is the mother of almost all heresies, but at the same time it is of advantage to distinguish in this way between these two terms…

Calvin consoles those who do not participate in these divisions:

“So far, says he, should we be from being troubled, or cast down, when we do not see complete unity in the Church, but on the contrary some threatenings of separation from want of proper agreement, that even if sects should start up, we ought to remain firm and constant.

For in this way hypocrites are detected — in this way, on the other hand, the sincerity of believers is tried. For as this gives occasion for discovering the fickleness of those who were not rooted in the Lord’s Word, and the wickedness of those who had [feigned] the appearance of good men, so the good afford a more signal manifestation of their constancy and sincerity.”

Finally, Calvin says something shocking: disunity is providential. How can that be? He says:

But observe what Paul says — there must be, for he [suggests] by this expression, that this state of matters does not happen by chance, but by the sure providence of God, because he has it in view to try his people, as gold in the furnace, and if it is agreeable to the mind of God, it is, consequently, expedient…We know, also, that the Lord, by his admirable wisdom, turns Satan’s deadly machinations so as to promote the salvation of believers.

Hence comes that design of which he speaks — that the good may shine forth more conspicuously; for we ought not to ascribe this advantage to heresies, which, being evil, can produce nothing but what is evil, but to God, who, by his infinite goodness, changes the nature of things, so that those things are salutary to the elect, which Satan had contrived for their ruin.

So God uses the works of Satan and his followers for our good, to refine us and to prove our salvation. As a result of this, we ought to remain firm and constant obeying God’s word in the face of disunity.

Denomination Blues” (Washington Phillips) by The 77’s Unplugged (Michael Roe & David Leonhardt), YouTube, Alternative Rendition, lyrics, history

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