Despise – Part 1

He shouldn’t have said that… Doesn’t she know what she’s done… How dare the leadership make that decision without… Why won’t [fill in name] apologize for something clearly against… And we go on and on. Now, it could be that they’re plumb wrong. But, maybe those people know something we don’t? Perhaps, they’ve made their choices and are fulfilling their destinies. Any which way, we must always have before us this admonition, which starts out this way:

Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. Romans 14:10 English Standard Version (ESV)

Calvin counsels that we should exercise humility and forbearance:

But you, why do you, etc. …First, by the term brother, he checks this lust for judging; for since the Lord has established among us the right of a fraternal alliance, an equality ought to be preserved; everyone then who assumes the character of a judge acts [against reason].

Secondly, he calls us before the only true judge, from whom no one can take away his power, and whose tribunal none can escape. [In the same way that] it would be absurd among men for a criminal, who ought to occupy a humble place in the court, to ascend the tribunal of the judge; it is absurd for a Christian to take to himself the liberty of judging the conscience of his brother…

As we discussed in our last post, the visible church is populated by both wheat and chaff, between which, we cannot reliably discern except by their going out from us, therefore Calvin says:

As I live, etc. …The word of God has ever had its enemies, who have been perversely resisting it, and its despisers, who have ever treated it with ridicule, as though it were absurd and [mythological]. Even at this day there are many such, and ever will be.

It hence appears, that this prophecy is indeed begun to be fulfilled in this life, but is far from being completed, and will not be so until the day of the last resurrection shall shine forth, when Christ’s enemies shall be laid prostrate, that they may become his footstool. But this cannot be except the Lord shall ascend his tribunal: he has therefore suitably applied this testimony to the judgment-seat of Christ…

Finally, he calls to mind both scriptures: “Let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” and “It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand,” by his saying:

Every one of us, etc. This conclusion invites us to humility and lowliness of mind: and hence he immediately draws this inference, — that we are not to judge one another; for it is not lawful for us to usurp the office of judging, who must ourselves submit to be judged and to give an account.

From the various significations of the word to judge, he has aptly drawn two different meanings. In the first place, he forbids us to judge, that is, to condemn; in the second place, he bids us to judge, that is, to exercise judgment, so as not to give offense.

He indeed indirectly reproves those malignant censors, who employ all their acuteness in finding out something faulty in the life of their brethren: he therefore bids them to exercise wariness themselves; for by their neglect [of their obligations to serve God and fellow believers] they often precipitate, or drive their brethren against some stumbling block or another.

Therefore, let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother.The Last Judgment, Sistine Chapel, from 1536 to 1541, Michelangelo (1475-1564)

The Last Judgment, from 1536 to 1541, Michelangelo (1475-1564), In the Public Domain in the United States

Stealing Seeds

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 13:18-19 English Standard Version (ESV)

One of the leaders of the Protestant Reformation John Calvin, commented on the Lord’s words.

First, Calvin summarizes the entire passage:

…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…

This is one important reason, among many, why the gospel is preached every Lord’s Day.

To examine our question more deeply, Augustine helpfully explains the relation of the soils to the wheat and the tares:

…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…]

…We too indeed, if we finish our course, shall be equal to the angels of God; but now when we chafe against the wicked, we are as yet but men. And we ought now to give ear to the words, “Wherefore let him that thinks he stands, take heed lest he fall.”

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.

How, then, shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? Let us not trample underfoot the Son of God nor reject the Holy Spirit. Rather, believe on the Lord Jesus and be saved.

The Parable of the Sower – C. H. Spurgeon, YouTube, Condensed Sermon Text

Stand Before the Judgment Seat

Last week we considered our propensity to judge others, assigning to some honors and infamy to others, when we have no way to see the quality of their hearts and souls. And, if we could see them, we’d be either too indulgent or too harsh. This week we look at God’s rightful place as Judge. In his letter to the church at Rome, in the fourteenth chapter, the Apostle Paul asks:

Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; Romans 14:10 English Standard Version (ESV)

The obvious answer to his questions is: our sinfulness. Calvin analyzes these verses further:

But you, why do you, etc. …It is an unreasonable boldness in anyone to assume the power to judge his brother, since by taking such a liberty he robs Christ the Lord of the power which he alone has received from the Father.

…As…it would be absurd among men for a criminal, who ought to occupy a humble place in the court, to ascend the tribunal of the judge; so it is absurd for a Christian to take to himself the liberty of judging the conscience of his brother…

That certainly puts us in our place. But, to examine the matter at a deeper level, consider Paul’s initial question and response in this chapter:

Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. Romans 14:4 (ESV)

Calvin explains:

Who are you who judges, etc. …Now, though the power of judging as to the person, and also as to the deed, is taken from us, there is yet much difference between the two.

For we ought to leave the man, whatever he may be, to the judgment of God; but as to his deeds we may indeed form a decisive opinion, though not according to our own views, but according to the word of God; and the judgment, derived from his word, is neither human, nor another man’s judgment.

Paul then intended here to restrain us from presumption in judging; into which they fall, who dare to pronounce anything respecting the actions of men without the warrant of God’s word.

These are the same principles Paul proclaimed to the Corinthian church. However, lest we think our lot is hopeless, consider the second half of the verse to which Calvin says:

To his own Lord he stands or falls, etc. As though he said, — “It belongs rightly to the Lord, either to disapprove, or to accept what his servant does: hence he robs the Lord, who attempts to take to himself this authority.”

And he adds, he shall indeed stand: and by so saying, he not only bids us to abstain from condemning, but also exhorts us to mercy and kindness, so as ever to hope well of him, in whom we perceive anything of God; inasmuch as the Lord has given us a hope, that he will fully confirm, and lead to perfection, those in whom he has begun the work of grace…as he also teaches us in another place,

“He who began in you a good work, will perform it to the end.” (Philippians 1:6.)

So, the trade is equitable with regard to persons. We relinquish tribunal powers over others of whom we disapprove because they do not meet our personal standards. Rather, we are to judge others’ actions only according to His word. And God promises to complete the work He set out to do, in those others for whom we should hope well and, most importantly, in ourselves with whom we should be disappointed until His work is through.

77’s-Live Warehouse 1989: “Can’t Get Over It,” “Frames Without Photographs,” YouTube, 77’s

Legalistic?

I’ve heard it said that those who profess Christ shouldn’t try to put off the old self and put on the new self, to pursue sanctification, or intentionally obey the word of God.

Paul, in his letter to the Philippian church says:

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. Philippians 2:12-13 English Standard Version (ESV)

Some would have you believe that Paul must have been mistaken. John Calvin comments on these verses:

It is God that worketh. This is the true engine for bringing down all haughtiness — this the sword for putting an end to all pride, when we are taught that we are utterly nothing, and can do nothing, except through the grace of God alone. I mean supernatural grace, which comes forth from the spirit of regeneration.

…There are, in any action, two principal departments — the inclination, and the power to carry it into effect. Both of these he ascribes wholly to God; what more remains to us as a ground of glorying?

Nor is there any reason to doubt that this division has the same force as if Paul had expressed the whole in a single word; for the inclination is the groundwork; the accomplishment of it is the summit of the building brought to a completion. …For he does not say that our hearts are simply turned or stirred up, or that the infirmity of a good will is helped, but that a good inclination is wholly the work of God.

…For we acknowledge that we have from nature an inclination, but as it is depraved through the corruption of sin, it begins to be good only when it has been renewed by God. Nor do we say that a man does anything good without willing it, but that it is only when his inclination is regulated by the Spirit of God.

Hence, in so far as concerns this department, we see that the entire praise is ascribed to God, and that what sophists teach us is frivolous — that grace is offered to us, and placed, as it were, in the midst of us, that we may embrace it if we choose; for if God did not work in us efficaciously, he could not be said to produce in us a good inclination.

As to the second department, we must entertain the same view. “God,” says he, “is ̔Ο ἐνεργῶν το ἐνεργεῖν he that worketh in us to do.” He brings, therefore, to perfection those pious dispositions which he has implanted in us, that they may not be unproductive, as he promises by Ezekiel, —

I will cause them to walk in my commandments.” (Ezekiel 11:20)

From this we infer that perseverance, also, is his free gift.

According to his good pleasure. …For Paul has it in view to ascribe everything to God, and to take everything from us. Accordingly, not satisfied with having assigned to God the production both of willing and of doing aright, he ascribes both to his unmerited mercy. By this means he shuts out the contrivance of the sophists as to subsequent grace, which they imagine to be the reward of merit. Hence he teaches, that the whole course of our life, if we live aright, is regulated by God, and that, too, from his unmerited goodness.

With fear and trembling. From this Paul deduces an exhortation — that they must with fear work out their own salvation. He conjoins, as he is accustomed, fear and trembling, for the sake of greater intensity, to denote — serious and anxious fear. He, accordingly, represses drowsiness as well as confidence…

The inference, also, is to be carefully observed: “You have,” says he, “all things from God; therefore be solicitous and humble.” For there is nothing that ought to train us more to modesty and fear, than our being taught, that it is by the grace of God alone that we stand, and will instantly fall down, if he even in the slightest degree withdraw his hand. Confidence in ourselves produces carelessness and arrogance.

…For distrust of ourselves leads us to lean more confidently upon the mercy of God. And this is what Paul’s words import, for he requires nothing from the Philippians, but that they submit themselves to God with true self-renunciation.

Work out your own salvation. …Salvation is taken to mean the entire course of our calling, and that this term includes all things, by which God accomplishes that perfection, to which he has predestinated us by his gracious choice. This no one will deny…

We are said to perfect it, when, under the regulation of the Spirit, we aspire after a life of blessedness. It is God that calls us, and offers to us salvation; it is our part to embrace by faith what he gives, and by obedience act suitably to his calling; but we have neither from ourselves. Hence we act only when he has prepared us for acting.

Addressing the whole issue, James wrote ironically:

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

Know this then, that faith without works is dead.

Papyrus 54: James 2:16-18

Papyrus 54: James 2:16-18, 6th century, Public Domain in US