Casting Doubt

The noun ‘doubt’ means:

A feeling of uncertainty or lack of conviction.

“some doubt has been cast upon the authenticity of this account”

synonyms: uncertainty, unsureness, indecision, hesitation, dubiousness, suspicion, confusion

antonyms: certainty, confidence, conviction, trust

Two world-historical persons faced life threatening doubt in their lifetimes. One chose poorly which resulted in death for himself, his wife, and all his children and the Other chose well which resulted in everlasting life for those who are His. These are their stories.

The first story starts and ends in a garden:

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made.

He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’”

Genesis 3:1-3 English Standard Version (ESV)

To this, the commentator, John Calvin, said:

Yea, has God said? …More correct is the [translation…] ‘Can it be, that God should forbid the eating of any tree whatever?’ …because there is greater probability that Satan, in order to deceive more covertly, would gradually proceed with cautious prevarications to lead the woman to a contempt of the divine precept.

…Under the pretext of inquiring into the cause, [Satan] indirectly weakens [Adam’s and Eve’s] confidence in [God’s] word. …I have no doubt that the serpent urges the woman to seek out the cause, since otherwise he would not have been able to draw away her mind from God.

Very dangerous is the temptation, when it is suggested to us, that God is not to be obeyed except so far as the reason of his command is apparent. The true rule of obedience is, that we, being content with a bare command, should persuade ourselves that whatever he enjoins is just and right.

But whosoever desires to be wise beyond measure, him will Satan, seeing he has cast off all reverence for God, immediately precipitate into open rebellion…Satan…wished to inject into the woman a doubt which might induce her to believe [what God had said] not to be the word of God…

The second story starts in a wilderness and ends on a site of execution:

[Jesus…was led by the Spirit in the wilderness] for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing during those days. And when they were ended, he was hungry. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” And Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone.’” Luke 4:2-4 (ESV)

and

After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written,

“‘Man shall not live by bread alone,

    but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Matthew 4:2-4 (ESV)

To this temptation, Calvin said:

Christ’s reply…is appropriate: “Man shall not live by bread alone.” […It is as if He said:] “You advise me to contrive some remedy, for obtaining relief in a different manner from what God permits. This would be to distrust God; and I have no reason to expect that he will support me in a different manner from what he has promised in his word. You, Satan, represent his favor as confined to bread: but Himself declares, that, though every kind of food were wanting, his blessing alone is sufficient for our nourishment.”

Such was the kind of temptation which Satan employed, the same kind with which he assails us daily. The Son of God did not choose to undertake any contest of an unusual description, but to sustain assaults in common with us, that we might be furnished with the same armor, and might entertain no doubt as to achieving the victory…

Next, he unravels the often-unacknowledged truth of our daily sustenance:

The word does not mean doctrine, but the purpose which God has made known, with regard to preserving the order of nature and the lives of his creatures. Having created men, he does not cease to care for them: but, as “he breathed into their nostrils the breath of life,” (Genesis 2:7,) so he constantly preserves the life which he has bestowed.

In like manner, the Apostle says, that he “upholds all things by his powerful word,” (Hebrews 1:3😉 that is, the whole world is preserved, and every part of it keeps its place, by the will and decree of Him, whose power, above and below, is everywhere diffused. Though we live on bread, we must not ascribe the support of life to the power of bread, but to the secret kindness, by which God imparts to bread the quality of nourishing our bodies.

Hence, also, follows another statement: by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God shall men live. God, who now employs bread for our support, will enable us, whenever he pleases, to live by other means…

Finally, Calvin sums up this lesson as:

The precise object of Christ’s reply is this: We ought to trust in God for food, and for the other necessaries of the present life, in such a manner, that none of us may overleap the boundaries which he has prescribed.

But if Christ did not consider himself to be at liberty to change stones into bread, without the command of God, much less is it lawful for us to procure food by fraud, or robbery, or violence, or murder.

And this second story ends outside Jerusalem:

Those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” Matthew 27:39-40 (ESV)

About these verses, Calvin discusses the question:

If thou art the Son of God. Wicked men demand from Christ such a proof of His power that, by proving himself to be the Son of God, he may cease to be the Son of God. He had clothed himself with human flesh, and had descended into the world, on this condition, that, by the sacrifice of his death, he might reconcile men to God the Father.

So then, in order to prove himself to be the Son of God, it was necessary that he should hang on the cross. [Yet,] those wicked men [argued] that the Redeemer will not be recognized as the Son of God, unless he come down from the cross, [disobeying] the command of his Father, and, leaving incomplete the expiation of sins, [thus] divesting himself of the office which God had assigned to him.

But let us learn from [their evil witness] to confirm our faith by considering that the Son of God determined to remain nailed to the cross for the sake of our salvation, until he had endured most cruel torments of the flesh, and dreadful anguish of soul, and even death itself.

And lest we should come to tempt God in a manner similar to that in which those men tempted him, let us allow God to conceal his power, whenever it pleases Him to do so, that he may afterwards display it at his pleasure at the proper time and place.

And so God deigned to show us favor by resisting the temptation and triumphing over death.

On the same topic, the preacher, Charles Spurgeon, offers solace and encouragement in the face of many such ‘ifs’ that cast doubt.

Therefore, no longer doubt, but believe in Him.

R.C. Sproul: Christ Crucified, YouTube, Ligonier Ministries

Jumping to Conclusions

It seems to be the season for jumping to conclusions. Whether from anxiety over the Republic’s election choices, our ongoing family squabbles at Thanksgiving and Christmas time, or as a result of offenses done toward us in the course of our days here on earth. The Apostle James speaks to that last issue; at least according to some commentators:

Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger. James 1:19 English Standard Version (ESV)

Matthew Henry, a Presbyterian minister, gives us three possible understandings of this verse. He considers the third one most likely. All of them have to do with restraining our passions, or, as we say today: “holding our tongue,” “holding fire,” or “cooling off.” First, he explains by what means we should restrain our passions:

This lesson we should learn under afflictions; and this we shall learn if we are indeed begotten again by the word of truth. For thus the connection stands—An angry and hasty spirit is soon provoked to ill things by afflictions, and errors and ill opinions become prevalent through the workings of our own vile and vain affections; but the renewing grace of God and the word of the gospel teach us to subdue these: Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath, v. 19.

Henry then offers that this verse may refer to verse 18 immediately preceding that concerns God’s word:

…So, we may observe, it is our duty rather to hear God’s word, and apply our minds to understand it, than to speak according to our own fancies or the opinions of men, and to run into heat and passion thereupon. Let not such errors [(i.e., substituting conjectures and opinions for truth)]…ever be hastily, much less angrily, mentioned by you; but be ready to hear and consider what God’s word teaches in all such cases.

Or, verse 19 may refer to the verses at the chapter’s beginning:

This may be applied to the afflictions and temptations spoken of in the beginning of the chapter. And then we may observe, it is our duty rather to hear how God explains his providences, and what he designs by them, than to say as David did in his haste, “I am cut off;” or as Jonah did in his passion, “I do well to be angry.” Instead of censuring God under our trials, let us open our ears and hearts to hear what he will say to us.

Or, finally, Henry suggests this understanding most confidently:

This may be understood as referring to the disputes and differences that Christians, in those times of trial, were running into among themselves: and so, this part of the chapter may be considered without any connection with what goes before. Here we may observe that, whenever matters of difference arise among Christians, each side should be willing to hear the other.

People are often stiff in their own opinions because they are not willing to hear what others have to offer against them: whereas we should be swift to hear reason and truth on all sides, and be slow to speak anything that should prevent this: and, when we do speak, there should be nothing of wrath; for a soft answer turns away wrath.

As this epistle is designed to correct a variety of disorders that existed among Christians, these words, swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath, may be very well interpreted according to this last explication. And we may further observe from them that, if men would govern their tongues, they must govern their passions. When Moses’s spirit was provoked, he spoke unadvisedly with his lips. If we would be slow to speak, we must be slow to wrath.

In this holiday season, may we join with Moses, as he was during his better days, and be men and women of meek spirits. Hope well of others, for we are not acquitted and we, too, shall stand before the Judge.

Freedom from Want - NARA

Freedom from Want, Norman Rockwell (1894–1978), Office for Emergency Management. Office of War Information. Domestic Operations Branch. Bureau of Special Services. (03/09/1943 – 09/15/1945), Public Domain

Faith Fail?

This was a critical time in the Lord Jesus Christ’s service to humankind. The ruling leadership was plotting his murder with one of His inner circle of disciples, Judas. Jesus had sent Peter and John ahead to prepare for a significant religious dinner celebration.

Then, at that dinner, while instructing His disciples of His impending death and resurrection, a controversy over who was the greatest disciple broke out. After Jesus taught them the meaning of humility and about their future roles as his disciples, He tells Peter how he will betray Him:

“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” Peter said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.” Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me.” Luke 22:31–34 English Standard Version (ESV)

Calvin explains:

…When Christ formerly promised to his disciples the spirit of unshaken fortitude, he referred to a new state of things which followed the resurrection; and, therefore, as they were not yet [endowed] with heavenly power, Peter, forming confident expectations from himself, goes beyond the limits of faith.

…This claims our attention, that every man, remembering his own weakness, may earnestly resort to the assistance of the Holy Spirit [through prayer]; and next, that no man may venture to take more upon himself than what the Lord promises. [Thus,] Paul…enjoins us to:

…Work out our salvation with fear and trembling, because it is God that works in us to will and perform, (Philippians 2:12 – 13.)

…Therefore, whenever any temptation is presented to us, let us first remember our weakness, that, being entirely thrown down, we may learn to seek elsewhere [i.e., from God] what we need [i.e., His mercy and grace]; and, next, let us remember the grace which is promised, that it may free us from doubt.

So, we must rely on Christ and not on our own strength. However, this is not the end of the matter. Christ, through His servant Paul, challenges us:

Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? — unless indeed you fail to meet the test! 2 Corinthians 13:5 (ESV)

And Calvin says:

…But what does Paul say here? He declares, that all are reprobates, who doubt whether they profess Christ and are a part of His body. Let us, therefore, reckon…right faith [is that] which leads us to [rest] in safety in the favor of God, with no wavering opinion, but with a firm and steadfast assurance.

They admonish us because God supplies saving faith; it is not our own doing:

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:8-10 (ESV)

Yet, facing ourselves more deeply, let us not forget the parable of the soils. As Christ explains:

Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved.

And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away.

And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature.

As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.

Luke 8:11-15 (ESV)

Let us therefore exercise patience in our calling because He cannot fail; though we may:

My flesh and my heart may fail,

   but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

Psalm 73:26 (ESV)

To this, Calvin reveals:

…There is here a contrast between the failing which David felt in himself and the strength with which he was divinely supplied; as if he had said, “Separated from God I am nothing, and all that I attempt to do ends in nothing; but when I come to him, I find an abundant supply of strength.”

It is highly necessary for us to consider what we are without God; for no man will cast himself wholly upon God, but he…who despairs of the sufficiency of his own powers. We will seek nothing from God but what we are conscious of [lacking] in ourselves.

Then, let us cast ourselves wholly upon Him that our faith may not fail.

The Denial of Saint Peter - Carravagio (1610)

The Denial of Saint Peter, circa 1610, by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571 – 1610), public domain in the United States

Where Are You?

On at least two recorded occasions, God has called out, “Where are you?” or words to that effect. The first call was in the garden of Eden at the beginning of creation:

And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.

But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?”

Genesis 3:8-11 English Standard Version (ESV)

God created Man: Adam and Eve, gave them dominion over the earth, commanded them to obey one constraint, and placed them in the garden He created to tend it. Within a short time, by the will of God, their obedience to His one command was tested. They failed that test, and hid themselves because of their shame.

John Calvin comments on this crucial drama. First, he explains the nature of Adam’s and Eve’s fall:

Eve erred in not regulating the measure of her knowledge by the will of God…whereas the principal point of wisdom is a well-regulated sobriety in obedience to God.

…For the sake of complying with the wishes of his wife [and] being drawn by her into fatal ambition…[Adam] gave greater credit to the flatteries of the devil than to the sacred word of God.

God…manifest[s] himself to men…through the word, so…his majesty [is] maintained [and he is properly worshipped by us only] while we obey his word. Therefore, unbelief was the root of defection.

…They had been made in the likeness of God; but [they unlawfully aspired to] equality [with God by knowing good and evil].

As to the consequences of our ancestors’ fall, Calvin says:

…We are despoiled of the excellent gifts of the Holy Spirit, of the light of reason, of justice, and of rectitude, and are prone to every evil; that we are also lost and condemned, and subjected to death, is both our hereditary condition, and, at the same time, a just punishment which God, in the person of Adam, has indicted on the human race…From the time in which we were corrupted in Adam, we do not bear the punishment of another’s offense, but are guilty by our own fault.

Expounding on God’s confrontation of Adam and Eve in the garden, Genesis 3:8-11, Calvin says:

They had been already smitten by the voice of God, but they lay confounded under the trees…God now approaches nearer, and from the tangled thicket of trees draws him, however unwilling and resisting, forth into the midst…

Although this seems to be the confession of a dejected and humbled man, it will nevertheless soon appear that he was not yet properly subdued, nor led to repentance. He imputes his fear to the voice of God, and to his own nakedness…he fails to recognize the cause of shame in his sin; he, therefore, shows that he does not yet so feel his punishment, as to confess his fault.

…God [states] that Adam was admonished [prior to his disobedience]; and that he fell from no other cause than this, that he knowingly and voluntarily brought destruction upon himself.

Again, the atrocious nature of sin is marked in this transgression and rebellion; for, as nothing is more acceptable to God than obedience, so nothing is more intolerable than when men, having spurned his commandments, obey Satan and their own lust.

The second cry of “Where are you?” comes through other words from Christ on the Cross:

And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Matthew 27:46 (ESV)

Calvin dissects this passage with help of old testament witnesses to Christ’s sufferings:

…Not only did he [i.e., Christ] offer his body as the price of our reconciliation with God, but in his soul also he endured the punishments due to us; and thus he became, as Isaiah speaks, a man of sorrows, (Is. 53:3.)

…When this temptation [i.e., being forsaken of God] was presented to Christ, as if, having God opposed to him, he were already devoted to destruction, he was seized with horror…but by the amazing power of the Spirit he achieved the victory.

In short, during this fearful torture his faith remained uninjured, so that, while he complained of being forsaken, he still relied on the aid of God as at hand.

Thus we see two diametrically opposite outcomes to similar events. God called to the first Adam, “Where are you?” The last Adam called to God “Why have you forsaken me?” The first Adam forsook his obedience to God’s word in exchange for his own self-exaltation. The last Adam overcame the temptation to reject God’s plan through faith in His Father’s promises. The Apostle Paul summarizes it nicely:

Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. Romans 5:18-19 (ESV)

So, I must ask, where are you?

Ecce homo! (Behold the man!), by Antonio Ciseri, 1871

Pontius Pilate presenting a scourged Christ to the people, Ecce homo! (Behold the man!), (circa 1860–1880), by Antonio Ciseri (1821–1891), in the public domain in the United States

Resistance Isn’t Futile

The author of the book to the Hebrews, in chapter 12, verses 4-6 says:

In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?

“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,

    nor be weary when reproved by him.

For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,

    and chastises every son whom he receives.”

Hebrews 12:4-6 English Standard Version (ESV)

Do you say, as I do sometimes: “Why should I struggle against doing my own will and instead do His will?” Or do we see ourselves as better than this One?

And he came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed him. And when he came to the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.”

And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, saying, Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.”

And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.

And when he rose from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping for sorrow, and he said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation.”

Luke 22:39-46 (ESV)

Some manuscripts leave out the verses in the third paragraph.

So, with regard to the verse:

And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.

what does John Calvin comment?

Certainly those who imagine that the Son of God was exempt from human passions do not truly and sincerely acknowledge him to be a man…

…When Christ was distressed by grief and fear, he did not rise against God, but continued to be regulated by the true rule of moderation. We need not wonder that, since he was innocent and pure from every stain, the affections which flowed from him were pure and stainless… Christ, amidst fear and sadness, was weak without any taint of sin…

…He [Christ] had no horror at death…simply as a passage out of the world, but because he had before his eyes the dreadful tribunal of God, and the Judge himself armed with inconceivable vengeance; and because our sins, the load of which was laid upon him, pressed him down with their enormous weight. There is no reason to wonder, therefore, if the dreadful abyss of destruction tormented him grievously with fear and anguish.

…And, therefore, though he suffered death, yet since its pains were loosed—as Peter tells us, (Acts 2:24)—and he was victorious in the conflict, the Apostle justly says, that he was heard on account of his fear [Hebrews 5:7]. Here ignorant people rise up and exclaim, that it would have been unworthy of Christ to be afraid of being swallowed up by death.

But I should wish them to answer this question, What kind of fear do they suppose it to have been which drew from Christ drops of blood? (Luke 22:44). For that mortal sweat could only have proceeded from fearful and unusual horror. If any person, in the present day, were to sweat blood, and in such a quantity that the drops should fall to the ground, it would be reckoned an astonishing miracle…

If it be objected, that the fear which I am describing arises from unbelief, the answer is easy. 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.

And yet those persons, by representing him not to have felt temptations, foolishly imagine that he was victorious without fighting. And, indeed, we have no right to suppose that he used any hypocrisy, when he complained of a mortal sadness in his soul; nor do the Evangelists speak falsely, when they say that he was exceedingly sorrowful, and that he trembled.

In the face of deep fear and anguish, Christ prayed earnestly that His Father’s will be done and He opened the way of salvation to all who will be saved. No matter what anyone says, resistance is not futile.

Borg transmission from the movie Star Trek VIII First Contact – English version