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