Fear of Death

Lifelong slavery, whether it is political, economic, or social is unjust and oppressive. Walter E. William’s, in his foreword to Friedrich Hayek’s Road to Serfdom, the condensed version, defines slavery as: the forcible use of one person to serve the purposes of another. Humans worldwide have fought over the centuries for freedom from this recurring scourge.

However, though they might gain release from earthly masters, all are still subject to one final master: death. The author of the Letter to the Hebrews, speaking about Christ, those in the church, and those outside, wrote:

Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. Hebrews 2:14-15 English Standard Version (ESV)

Clearly, scripture acknowledges this slavery which still oppresses us no matter how free we might think we are apart from Christ. In his exposition of the passage from the Letter to the Hebrews, Calvin says:

Forasmuch then as the children, etc., or, since then the children, etc. …[This] passage deserves special notice, for it not only confirms the reality of the human nature of Christ, but also shows the benefit which [therefore] flows to us. “The Son of God,” he says, “became man, that he might partake of the same condition and nature with us.” What could be said more [suited] to confirm our faith?

Here [is] his infinite love towards us…; but its [overabundance is seen] in this — that he put on our nature that he might thus make himself capable of dying, for as God he could not undergo death.

And though he refers but briefly to the benefits of his death, yet there is in this brevity of words a singularly striking and powerful representation, and that is, that he has so delivered us from the tyranny of the devil, that we are rendered safe, and that he has so redeemed us from death, that it is no longer to be dreaded…

And deliver them who, etc. This passage expresses in a striking manner how miserable is the life of those who fear death, as they must feel it to be dreadful, because they look on it apart from Christ; for then nothing but a curse appears in it: for [where does] death [come] but from God’s wrath against sin?

Hence is that bondage throughout life, even perpetual anxiety, by which unhappy souls are tormented; for through a consciousness of sin, the judgment of God is ever presented to [those persons’] view.

From this fear Christ has delivered us, who, by undergoing our curse, has taken away what is dreadful in death. For though we are not now freed from death, yet in life and in death we have peace and safety, when we have Christ going before us.

But if any one cannot pacify his mind by disregarding death, let him know that he has [little understanding of what] faith [in] Christ [means]; for [since] extreme fear is [due] to ignorance [of] the grace of Christ, so it is a certain evidence of unbelief.

Death here does not only mean the separation of the soul from the body, but also [eternal] punishment which is inflicted on us by an angry God…; for where there is guilt before God, there immediately hell shows itself.

Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, before it’s too late.

P.O.D. – Southtown (Video shot to LP Version), YouTube, Atlantic Records, Lyrics

The End of the World

It was trending on Twitter so it must be true:

Any number of apocalyptic events are predicted for various and sundry reasons and pretexts. There’s the: “sky is falling” crowd. And there’s always this fictional portrayal of nuclear holocaust and its real world counterpart. Even the super-rich are preparing for doomsday.

But we have it on reliable authority—not that anyone believes in authorities anymore—that the world will end, and no one will notice until it does:

“But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Matthew 24:36-39 English Standard Version (ESV)

Calvin, as usual, has a lot to say about these verses. However, let’s key in on what he says about verses 37 through 39 to understand why everyone will be so unaware.

But as the days of Noah were. …When he says that men were giving their whole attention to eating, drinking, marriage, and other worldly employments, at the time when God destroyed the whole world by a deluge, and Sodom by thunder; these words mean that they were as fully occupied with the conveniences and enjoyments of the present life, as if there had been no reason to dread any change.

…Promising to themselves that the condition in which they then were would remain unchanged, they did not [hesitate] to follow without concern their ordinary pursuits. And, …it would not have been improper, or worthy of condemnation, to make provision for their wants, if they had not, with gross stupidity, opposed the judgment of God, and rushed, with closed eyes, to unbridled iniquity, as if there had been no Judge in heaven.

Let us, therefore, not scoff as some do, but acknowledge the Lord who surely brings judgment. And those who mock the coming judgment do so because:

And knew not until the deluge came. The source and cause of their ignorance was, that unbelief had blinded their minds; as, on the other hand, we are informed by the Apostle, that Noah beheld at a distance, by the eyes of faith, the vengeance of God which was still concealed, so as to entertain an early dread of it, (Hebrews 11:7.)

…But it must be observed that the reprobate, at that time, were hardened in their wickedness, because the Lord did not show his grace to any but his servants, by giving them a [beneficial] warning to beware in proper time.

Not that information of the future deluge was altogether withheld from the inhabitants of the world—before whose eyes Noah, in building the ark for more than a hundred years, presented a warning of the approaching calamity—but because one man was specially warned, by divine revelation, of the future destruction of the whole world, and raised up to cherish the hope of salvation.

A very large sign of impending destruction was plain to see; yet, they did not heed the warning. Therefore, we should listen to the One who calls from heaven. Even in Calvin’s day, five hundred years ago, many had heard, but few believed:

Though the report of the last judgment is now widely circulated, and though there are a few persons who have been taught by God to perceive that Christ will come as a Judge in due time, yet it is proper that those persons should be aroused by this extraordinary kindness of God, and that their senses should be sharpened, lest they give themselves up to the indifference which so generally prevails.

For Peter compares the ark of Noah with our baptism on this [basis], that a small company of men, separated from the multitude, is saved amidst the waters, (1 Peter 3:20, 21.) To this small number, therefore, our minds must be directed, if we desire to escape in safety.

To Calvin’s statement about baptism, we should add:

For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 (ESV)

Let us, then, hear and obey the gospel. No amount of treading water will help this time (and it didn’t help then); the present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire. And our individual ends draw near every day.

Dr. R.C. Sproul – “Crisis In Eschatology,” May 2, 2015,

Video Series

Other Resources:

The Day of the Lord” – Mark Dever

Signs of the End” – Alistair Begg

The Coming of the Son of Man” – Alistair Begg

Matthew Henry’s Commentary on Matthew 24

Alexander MacLaren’s Expositions of Luke 21:20–36

“Oklahoma,” The Call, Written by Michael Been

Sin, Righteousness, and Judgment

Current opinion holds that we are good people who do bad things. But opinion isn’t fact; and fact isn’t opinion. Someone, Who knew the facts, spoke about the Third Person of God this way:

And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. John 16:8-11 English Standard Version (ESV)

There’s a lot of truth packed in these verses of scripture. Although Matthew Henry, Charles Spurgeon, and John Calvin all commented or preached on this text, we turn to a heartfelt sermon by George Whitfield, Anglican minister, preacher of Calvinist Methodism, and revivalist preacher in the USA circa 1740s. Speaking of sin, righteousness, and judgment, Whitefield said:

…First, …The Comforter, when he comes effectually to work upon a sinner, not only convinces him of the sin of his nature, the sin of his life, [and] of the sin of his duties…

But there is a fourth sin, of which the Comforter, when he comes, convinces the soul, and which alone (it is very remarkable) our Lord mentions, as though it was the only sin worth mentioning; for indeed it is the root of all other sins whatsoever: it is the reigning as well as the damning sin of the world. And what now do you imagine that sin may be? It is that cursed sin, that root of all other evils, I mean the sin of unbelief. Says our Lord, verse 9. “Of sin, because they believe not on me.”

…Perhaps you may think you believe, because you repeat the Creed, or subscribe to a Confession of Faith; because you go to church or meeting, receive the sacrament, and are taken into full communion. These are blessed privileges; but all this may be done, without our being true believers.

…Ask yourselves, therefore, whether or not the Holy [Spirit] ever powerfully convinced you of the sin of unbelief? …Were you ever made to cry out, “Lord, give me faith; Lord, give me to believe on thee; O that I had faith! O that I could believe!” If you never were thus distressed, at least, if you never saw and felt that you had no faith, it is a certain sign that the Holy [Spirit], the Comforter, never came into and worked savingly upon your souls.

…We have seen how the Holy [Spirit] convinces the sinner of the sin of his nature, life, duties, and of the sin of unbelief; and what then must the poor creature do? He must, he must inevitably despair, if there be no hope but in himself…

Whitefield continues:

Secondly, what is the righteousness, of which the Comforter convinces the world?

…O the righteousness of Christ! It so comforts my soul, that I must be excused if I mention it in almost all my discourses. I would not, if I could help it, have one sermon without it. Whatever infidels may object, or Arminians sophistically argue against an imputed righteousness; yet whoever know themselves and God, must acknowledge, that “Jesus Christ is the end of the law for righteousness, (and perfect justification in the sight of God) to everyone that believes,” and that we are to be made the righteousness of God in him.

This, and this only, a poor sinner can lay hold of, as a sure anchor of his hope. Whatever other scheme of salvation men may lay, I acknowledge I can see no other foundation whereon to build my hopes of salvation, but on the rock of Christ’s personal righteousness, imputed to my soul.

…When therefore the Spirit has hunted the sinner out of all his false rests and hiding-places, taken off the pitiful fig-leaves of his own works, and driven him out of the trees of the garden (his outward reformations) and places him naked before the bar of a sovereign, holy, just, and sin-avenging God; then, then it is, when the soul, having the sentence of death within itself because of unbelief, has a sweet display of Christ’s righteousness made to it by the Holy Spirit of God. Here it is, that he begins more immediately to act in the quality of a Comforter, and convinces the soul so powerfully of the reality and all-sufficiency of Christ’s righteousness, that the soul is immediately set a hungering and thirsting after it.

Now the sinner begins to see, that though he has destroyed himself, yet in Christ is his help; that, though he has no righteousness of his own to recommend him, there is a fullness of grace, a fullness of truth, a fullness of righteousness in the dear Lord Jesus, which, if once imputed to him, will make him happy for ever and ever.

…If you were never thus convinced of Christ’s righteousness in your own souls, though you may believe it doctrinally, it will avail you nothing; if the Comforter never came savingly into your souls, then you are comfortless indeed…

Whitefield then proceeds:

Thirdly, …the Comforter, when he comes, convinces the soul of judgment.

“Of judgment (says our Lord) because the Prince of this world is judged;” the soul, being enabled to lay hold on Christ’s perfect righteousness by a lively faith, has a conviction wrought in it by the Holy Spirit, that the Prince of this world is judged. The soul being now justified by faith, has peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, and can triumphantly say, “It is Christ that justifies me, who is he that condemns me?”

The strong man armed is now cast out; my soul is in a true peace; the Prince of this world will come and accuse, but he has now no share in me: the blessed Spirit which I have received, and whereby I am enabled to apply Christ’s righteousness to my poor soul, powerfully convinces me of this: why should I fear? Or of what shall I be afraid, since God’s Spirit witnesses with my spirit, that I am a child of God…

But, if we do not find ourselves thus convinced, Whitefield appeals to us once more to be reconciled to Christ:

Though of myself I can do nothing, and you can no more by your own power come to and believe on Christ, than Lazarus could come forth from the grave; yet who knows but God may beget some of you again to a lively hope by this foolishness of preaching, and that you may be some of that world, which the Comforter is to convince of sin, or righteousness, and of judgment?

Poor Christless souls! Do you know what a condition you are in? Why, you are lying in the wicked one, the devil; he rules in you, he walks and dwells in you, unless you dwell in Christ, and the Comforter is come into your hearts. And will you contentedly lie in that wicked one that devil? What wages will he give you? Eternal death.

O that you would come to Christ! The free gift of God through him is eternal life. He will accept of you even now, if you will believe in him. The Comforter may yet come into your hearts, even yours…

***

In conclusion, we briefly quote Augustine on these same verses:

Let men, therefore, believe in Christ, that they be not convicted of the sin of their own unbelief, whereby all sins are retained;

let them make their way into the number of believers, that they be not convicted of the righteousness of those, whom, as justified, they fail to imitate;

let them beware of that future judgment, that they be not judged with the prince of the world, whom, judged as he is, they continue to imitate.

For the unbending pride of mortals can have no thought of being spared itself, as it is thus called to think with terror of the punishment that overtook the pride of angels.

Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God – Classic Sermon by Jonathan Edwards – Christian Praise and Worship in Songs, Sermons, and Audio Books, Sermon Text

All Israel Shall Be Saved

Much has been said recently about the reestablishment of Israel in the Middle East. Even Kim Riddlebarger’s A Case for Amillennialism, which we mentioned a few weeks ago, touches on the issue of national Israel. Some of what’s been said is divisive and some is not.

So let’s step back from the contemporary rhetoric and see what the Bible says. The Apostle Paul discussed Israel in his letter to the church in Rome. He described that nation’s relationship to God now that the gospel had been revealed. Paul made the following statement:

And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written,

“The Deliverer will come from Zion,

He will banish ungodliness from Jacob”;

Romans 11:26 English Standard Version (ESV)

What did he mean by ‘in this way?’ It seems that a lot of controversy surrounds this clause.

The exegete John Calvin said of the verse:

Many understand this of the Jewish people, as though Paul had said, that religion would again be restored among them as before [e.g., the sacrificial system].

But I extend the word Israel to all the people of God, according to this meaning:

“When the Gentiles shall come in, the Jews also shall return from their defection to the obedience of faith; and thus shall be completed the salvation of the whole Israel of God, which must be gathered from both; and yet in such a way that the Jews shall obtain the first place, being as it were the first-born in God’s family.”

Calvin didn’t make this assertion and others because of personal preference or animus, but based on the context of Paul’s statements in the chapter. Paul went on to say:

As regards the gospel, they [i.e., Israel] are enemies for your [i.e., the hearers of his letter] sake. But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.

For just as you were at one time disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their disobedience, so they too have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may now receive mercy. For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all. Romans 11:28-32 (ESV)

To this, Calvin commented:

[Paul] shows that the worst thing in the Jews ought not to subject them to the contempt of the Gentiles. Their chief crime was unbelief: but Paul teaches us, that they were thus blinded for a time by God’s providence, that a way to the gospel might be made for the Gentiles;

Paul then intends here to teach two things — that there is nothing in any man why he should be preferred to others, apart from the mere favor of God; and that God in the dispensation of his grace, is under no restraint that he should not grant it to whom he pleases.

There is an emphasis in the word mercy; for it intimates that God is bound to none, and that he therefore saves all freely, for they are all equally lost.

…Paul simply means that both Jews and Gentiles do not otherwise obtain salvation than through the mercy of God, and thus he leaves to none any reason for complaint. It is indeed true that this mercy is without any difference offered to all, but everyone must seek it by faith.

And thus ‘in this way’: All Israel Shall Be Saved.

Valley of Jezreel

The view from Megiddo, northeast across the Jezreel Valley in Israel to Mount Tabor, 9 November 2005, by Joe Freeman, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic

I Desire Mercy, and Not Sacrifice

The Lord Jesus Christ referred to this scripture twice as recorded in the gospels.

On the first occasion, His message seems to be: associate with the sin sick to bring them healing and exhort those, who consider themselves well and in no need of a doctor, that they need healing, too.

And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”  But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” Matthew 9:10-13 English Standard Version (ESV)

On the second occasion, He urged those who considered themselves righteous to obey the substance and not just the form of God’s commandments.

Or have you not read in the Law how on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless? I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.” Matthew 12:5-8 (ESV)

Clearly, these folks thought themselves better than those around them.

But to what scripture (because the New Testament was not yet written) was the Lord referring? He quoted Hosea 6:6, but verses six and seven complete a thought.

For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.

But like Adam they transgressed the covenant; there they dealt faithlessly with me.

Hosea 6:6-7 (ESV)

Textual notes indicate the term steadfast love is rendered mercy in the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Old Testament).

John Calvin comments on verse six:

It is a remarkable passage; the Son of God has twice quoted it. The Pharisees reproached him for his intercourse with men of bad and abandoned life, and he said to them in Matthew 9, ‘Mercy I desire, and not sacrifice.’ He shows, by this defense, that God is not worshipped by external ceremonies, but when men forgive and bear with one another, and are not above measure rigid. [emphasis added]

Again, in the Matthew 12, when the Pharisees blamed the disciples for gathering ears of corn, he said ‘But rather go and learn what this is, Mercy I desire, and not sacrifice.’ Inasmuch as they were so severe against his disciples, Christ shows that those who make holiness to consist in ceremonies are foolish worshipers of God; and that they also blamed their brethren without a cause, and made a crime of what was not in itself sinful, and what could be easily defended by any wise and calm expounder.

Calvin adds concerning verse seven:

God then subjoins a complaint, — But they like men have transgressed the covenant; there have they dealt treacherously against me. Here God shows that the Israelites boasted in vain of their sacrifices and of all the pomps of their external worship, for God did not regard these external things, but only wished to exercise the faithful in spiritual worship.

Then the import of the whole is this, “My design was, when I appointed the sacrifices and the whole legal worship, to lead you so to myself, that there might be nothing carnal or earthly in your sacrificing; but ye have corrupted the whole law; you have been perverse interpreters; for sacrifices have been nothing else among you but mockery as if it were a satisfaction to me to have an ox or a ram killed. You have then transgressed my covenant; and it is nothing that the people say to me, that they have diligently performed the outward ceremonies, for such a worship is not in the least valued by me.”

We can (and must) replace Calvin’s reference to ‘Israelites who boast in vain’ with the ‘unbelieving church of that age,’ for such they were. And we have these same with us today. It’s not as if they are unaware of the substance of proper worship, it’s just less costly (in the here and now) to practice merely the form of it.

At least two of these folks asked the Lord, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” He answered:

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”

On another occasion He asked one of these folks how they understood the scriptures in a nutshell and they gave the same answer. To this one, the Lord said, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”

But, as we are prone to do, let us not go beyond what the scriptures say. The best example that comes to mind of mercy correctly applied is that demonstrated by the Lord.

The Woman taken in Adultery.  1644, Rembrandt (1606 – 1669), Public Domain

The Woman taken in Adultery. 1644, Rembrandt (1606 – 1669), Public Domain

Here’s the entire story from the source:

Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them.  The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him.

Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground.  And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.”  And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground.  

But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him.  Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”  She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”

So there we have it. When someone is repentant from the heart (and surely she was), the Lord says:

“Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”

Go and do likewise.