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

Salvation

There is much confusion about this concept nowadays. There needn’t be. Scripture is clear:

“And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” Acts 4:12 English Standard Version (ESV)

Calvin says:

Neither is there salvation in any other. …And assuredly Christ had showed this one token of his grace, to the end [that] he might be known to be the only author of life. We must consider this in all the benefits of God, to wit, that he is the fountain of salvation. And he meant to prick and sting the priests with this sentence, when as he says that there is salvation in none other save only in Christ, whom they went about to put quite out of remembrance.

As if he should say, that they are twice damned who did not only refuse the salvation offered them by God, but endeavor to bring the same to naught, and did take from all the people the fruit and use thereof. Although he seems to speak unto deaf men, yet he preaches of the grace of Christ, if [perhaps] some can abide to hear; [and] if not, that they may at least be deprived of all excuse by this testimony.

Neither is there any other name…Salvation (says he) is in Christ alone, because God has decreed that it should be so. For by name he means the cause or means, as if he should have said, forasmuch as salvation is in God’s power only, he will not have the same to be common to us by any other means than if we ask it of Christ alone.

Whereas he says under heaven…I do rather think that this was added, because men cannot ascend into heaven, that they may come unto God. Therefore, seeing we are so far from the kingdom of God, it is needful that God does not only invite us unto himself, but that reaching out his hand he offer salvation unto us, that we may enjoy the same.

Peter teaches in this [passage], that he has done that in Christ, because he came down into the earth for this cause, that he might bring salvation with him. Neither is that contrary to this doctrine, that Christ is ascended above all heavens, (Ephesians 4:10). For he took upon him our flesh once for this cause, that he might be a continual pledge of our adoption. He has reconciled the Father to us forever by the sacrifice of his death: by his resurrection he has purchased for us eternal life.

And he is present with us now also, that he may make us partakers of the fruit of eternal redemption; but the revealing of salvation is handled in this [passage], and we know that the same was so revealed in Christ, that we need not any longer to say, “Who shall ascend into heaven?” (Romans 10:6).

And if this doctrine were deeply imprinted in the minds of all men, then should so many controversies concerning the causes of salvation be soon at an end, wherewith the Church is so much troubled…

The Visual Bible – Acts Chapter 4

No Rest

We are now planning Mandated Memoranda Publishing’s next novel: Who Shall Be God. We have characters, certain scenes, and even a cover image in mind already. We’re investigating background materials for the theme of the novel. Since it deals with political conflict reflected through two families, we’re reading The Fourth Revolution by John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge and Alien Powers by Kenneth Minogue. However, we always have a biblical theme in mind too.

The scripture: Isaiah 57 jumped out at us based on our reading of The Art of Dramatic Writing by L. Egri. Here are the pertinent parts:

The righteous man perishes,

    and no one lays it to heart;

devout men are taken away,

    while no one understands.

For the righteous man is taken away from calamity;

    he enters into peace;

they rest in their beds

    who walk in their uprightness.

Isaiah 57:1-2 English Standard Version (ESV)

But the wicked are like the tossing sea;

    for it cannot be quiet,

    and its waters toss up mire and dirt.

There is no peace,” says my God, “for the wicked.”

Isaiah 57:20-21 (ESV)

We commonly know the last verse (repeated elsewhere in Isaiah 48:22, 57:20, 57:21) as the phrase:

“No rest for the wicked [or weary]”.

As we always do, let’s consult Calvin to get his take on Isaiah’s verses:

The righteous man hath perished…And no man layeth it to heart. …The Lord holds out as a mirror this event of his providence, more remarkable than all others, that he takes away good and worthy men out of this life, when he determines to chastise his people severely. But no man considers it, or reflects that it is a token of approaching destruction, that God gathers them, and places them in safety from being distressed by prevailing afflictions.

…The general meaning is, that wicked men grievously deceive themselves by supposing that there is no greater happiness than to have life continued to a great age, and by thus pluming themselves on their superiority to the servants of God, who die early. Being attached to the world, they likewise harden themselves by this pretense that, by nothing else than a manifestation of God’s favor towards them, while others die, they continue to be safe and sound…

Men of mercy are gathered. …But, since God, in many passages of Scripture, represents gentleness and kindness as a distinguishing mark of his children, this may be, as I have said, a definition of true righteousness.

Hence we see that the Lord, at that time, gathered many good men, whose death portended some dreadful calamity, and yet that the Jews [the Prophet’s proximate audience] paid no regard to such forewarnings, and even proceeded to more daring lengths of wickedness; for they thought that all went well with them, when they were the survivors of many excellent men.

Peace shall come. The Prophet describes what shall be the condition of believers in death; for the wicked, who think that there is no life but the present, imagine that good men have perished; because in death they see nothing but ruin. For this reason he says that “Peace shall come,” which is more desirable than a thousand lives full of trouble; as if he compared them to discharged soldiers, who are and allowed to enjoy case and quietness.

They shall rest in their beds. He adds the metaphor of sleep, in order to show that they shall be absolutely free from all the uneasiness of cares, just as if they were safely pleasantly asleep “on their beds.”

Whosoever walketh before him. …as if he had said, “Whosoever walketh before God shall enjoy peace.” Thus, when righteous men die, and their various labors are finished, and their course is ended, they are called to peace and repose. They “rest in their beds,” because they do not yet enjoy perfect blessedness and glory; but they wail; for the last day of the resurrection, when everything shall be perfectly restored; and that, I think, is what Isaiah meant.

By these comments, Calvin seems to echo Revelation 18:4.

Then I heard another voice from heaven saying,

“Come out of her, my people,

lest you take part in her sins,

lest you share in her plagues;”

Revelation 18:4 (ESV)

As for Isaiah’s second couplet, Calvin says:

But the wicked. …But because the reprobate make false pretensions to the name of God, and vainly glory in it, the Prophet shows that there is no reason why they should flatter themselves, or advance any claim, on the ground of this promise, since they can have no share in this peace. Nor will it avail them anything, that God, having compassion upon his people, receives them into favor, and commands peace to be proclaimed to them.

As the troubled sea. That metaphor of “the sea” is elegant and very well fitted to describe the uneasiness of the wicked; for of itself “the sea is troubled.” …Most appropriately, therefore, has the Prophet compared them to a stormy and troubled sea. Whoever then wishes to avoid these alarms and this frightful agony of heart, let him not reject that peace which the Lord offers to him. There can be no middle course between them; for, if you do not lay aside sinful desires and accept of this peace, you must unavoidably be miserably distressed and tormented.

There is no peace to the wicked. He confirms the preceding statement, namely, that in vain shall the reprobate endeavor to seek peace, for everywhere they will meet with war. It is God who threatens war, and therefore there can be no hope of “peace.” Wicked men would indeed wish to enjoy peace, and ardently long for it; for there is nothing which they more eagerly desire than to be at ease, and to lull their consciences, that they may freely take their pleasures and indulge in their vices.

They drive away all thoughts about the judgment of God, and endeavor to stupefy themselves and to repose in indolence, and think that these are the best ways and methods of obtaining peace. But they never shall enjoy it; for, until men have been reconciled to God, conscience will never cease to annoy and carry on war with them.

Saith my God. Thus he represents God as the only author of peace, that he may, by this dreadful threatening, tear from the Jews their dearest pleasures; and calls him “his God,” in opposition to the vain boasting of those who falsely boasted of his name; for they cannot acknowledge God, so long as they reject his Prophet and his doctrine. For this reason the Prophet boldly declares that he has received a command from God to declare perpetual war against them.

There is no rest for the wicked; no rest now or in eternity. Turn away from evil ways and do good.

Triumph of Death, 1562, Pieter Breughel the Elder

Triumph of Death, 1562, Pieter Breughel the Elder (1526/1530–1569), Museo del Prado, Madrid, Public Domain

Restore to Repentance?

Having been in the church a while, I’ve seen and heard things. This verse has always troubled me:

For it is impossible,

in the case of those:

who have once been enlightened,

who have tasted the heavenly gift,

and have shared in the Holy Spirit,

and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come,

and then have fallen away,

to restore them again to repentance,

since they are:

crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm

and holding him up to contempt.

Hebrews 6:4-6 English Standard Version (ESV) emphasis mine

I had once presented the gospel to a fellow who said to me that he knew he was not redeemable because of these verses. Ignorant as I was at the time, I tried to convince him that there was always hope while he yet lived. He, a non-believer, quoted these verses to me, thanked me for my concern, and wandered away. I never saw him again.

John Calvin comments:

Let us then know, that the Gospel cannot be otherwise rightly known than by the illumination of the Spirit, and that being thus drawn away from the world, we are raised up to heaven, and that knowing the goodness of God we rely on his word.

But here arises a new question, how can it be that he who has once made such a progress should afterwards fall away? For God, it may be said, calls none effectually but the elect, and Paul testifies that they are really his sons who are led by his Spirit, (Romans 8:14) and he teaches us, that it is a sure pledge of adoption when Christ makes us partakers of his Spirit. The elect are also beyond the danger of finally falling away; for the Father who gave them to be preserved by Christ his Son is greater than all, and Christ promises to watch over them all so that none may perish.

To all this I answer, That God indeed favors none but the elect alone with the Spirit of regeneration, and that by this they are distinguished from the reprobate; for they are renewed after his image and receive the earnest of the Spirit in hope of the future inheritance, and by the same Spirit the Gospel is sealed in their hearts.

But I cannot admit that all this is any reason why he should not grant the reprobate also some taste of his grace, why he should not irradiate their minds with some sparks of his light, why he should not give them some perception of his goodness, and in some sort engrave his word on their hearts.

Otherwise, where would be the temporal faith mentioned by Mark 4:17? There is therefore some knowledge even in the reprobate, which afterwards vanishes away, either because it did not strike roots sufficiently deep, or because it withers, being choked up.

And by this bridle the Lord keeps us in fear and humility; and we certainly see how prone human nature is otherwise to security and foolish confidence. At the same time our solicitude ought to be such as not to disturb the peace of conscience. For the Lord strengthens faith in us, while he subdues our flesh: and hence he would have faith to remain and rest tranquilly as in a safe haven; but he exercises the flesh with various conflicts, that it may not grow wanton through idleness.

So the bitter admonition in these verses serves us well: to keep us striving for holiness, humility, and obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ in all we think, say, and do.

Fallen Angels in Hell

Fallen Angels in Hell, circa 1841, John Martin, 1789 – 1854, Public Domain in US