Evil Continually

Are we good at heart or inherently evil? The former is a presupposition of progressives and the latter of conservatives. We believe neither political view is wholly accurate in their assessments and correctives. Even though it seems up for debate, humans’ moral state was once demonstrated in no uncertain terms. This judgment was not given lightly; nor was the punishment administered capriciously. We, as a species, were indicted and found guilty:

The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. Genesis 6:5-6 English Standard Version (ESV)

And a grave judgment followed.

John Calvin analyzes these verses starting with God’s judicious consideration of our punishment:

And God saw that the wickedness of man was great. Moses [makes the argument] that God was neither too harsh, nor [abrupt] in exacting punishment from the wicked men of the world. And he introduces God as speaking after the manner of men, by a figure [of speech] which ascribes human affections to God; because he could not otherwise express…that God was not [persuaded] hastily, or for a [minor] cause, to destroy the world.

…By the word saw, [Moses] indicates long continued patience; as if he would say, that God had not proclaimed his sentence to destroy men, until after having well observed, and long considered, their case, he saw them to be past recovery.

Calvin then points out that our iniquity was worldwide and total:

Their wickedness was great in the earth He might have pardoned sins of a less aggravated character: if in one part only of the world impiety had reigned, other regions might have remained free from punishment. But now, when iniquity had reached its highest point, and so pervaded the whole earth, that integrity possessed no longer a single corner; it follows, that the time for punishment is more than fully arrived…[The earth and all it contained] was not overwhelmed with a deluge of waters [until] it had first been [fully]immersed in the pollution of wickedness.

He compares the depth of our sin with the severity of due punishment:

Every imagination of the thoughts of his heart. Moses has traced the cause of the deluge to external acts of iniquity, he now ascends higher, and declares that men were not only perverse by habit, and by the custom of evil living; but that wickedness was too deeply seated in their hearts, to leave any hope of repentance. He certainly could not have more forcibly asserted that the depravity was such as no moderate remedy might cure…

Calvin emphasizes that, although Moses spoke of God’s condemnation of pre-flood humanity, those after the flood and up until our day, justly, fall under the same indictment:

Continually. …The world had then become so hardened in its wickedness, and was so far from any amendment, or from entertaining any feeling of penitence, that it grew worse and worse as time advanced…It was not the folly of a few days, but the inveterate depravity which the children, having received, as by hereditary right, transmitted from their parents to their descendants.

Nevertheless, though Moses here speaks of the wickedness which at that time prevailed in the world, the general doctrine is properly and consistently…[extended] to the whole human race. So, when David says,

They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt;

    there is none who does good,

    not even one;

For there is no truth in their mouth;

    their inmost self is destruction;

their throat is an open grave;

    they flatter with their tongue.

Psalm 14:3; 5:9 English Standard Version (ESV)

he deplores, truly, the impiety of his own age.

…[And the Apostle] Paul does not [hesitate] to extend it to all men of every age (Romans 3:12) and with justice; for it is not a mere complaint concerning a few men, but a description of the human mind when left to itself, destitute of the Spirit of God.

It is therefore very proper that the obstinacy of the men, who had greatly abused the goodness of God should be condemned in these words; yet, at the same time, the true nature of man, when deprived of the grace of the Spirit, is clearly exhibited.

Finally, Calvin explains God’s grieved motivation behind our indictment and punishment:

And it repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth The repentance which is here ascribed to God does not properly belong to him, but has reference to our understanding of him. For since we cannot comprehend him as he is, it is necessary that, for our sakes God should, [via figures of speech, transfer to himself what is peculiar to human nature (i.e., ἀνθρωποπάθεια, or anthrōpopátheia: the actions of men attributed to God)]…

[So, the] Spirit accommodates himself to our capacity…to teach us, that from the time when man [became] so greatly corrupted [by his sin], God [no longer reckoned] him among his creatures; as if [God had said], ‘This is not my workmanship; this is not that man who was formed in my image, and whom I had adorned with such excellent gifts: I do not [condescend] now to acknowledge this degenerate and defiled creature as mine.’

Unless we wish to provoke God, and to put him to grief, let us learn to abhor and to flee from sin…

Commenting on the flood judgment and the one yet to come, the Apostle Peter says:

[Scoffers] will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.”

For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished.

But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.

2 Peter 3:4-7 (ESV)

Therefore, call upon the Lord while He is near. Believe in Him while it is still called today.

The Deluge - John Martin

The Deluge, 1834, John Martin (1789–1854), In the Public Domain in the United States

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

Meant Evil?

Perhaps you’ve read it? A story of treachery and redemption that unfolds at the end of the Book of Genesis (chapters 37, 39 – 50.) Jacob’s son Joseph is sold to traders by his brothers and winds up in Egypt as a slave. Through God’s providence, Joseph is promoted to ruler second only to Pharaoh. During a devastating Near East famine, Joseph is instrumental in feeding the civilizations in and around Egypt at the time. Providentially, one of those civilizations, in embryonic form, consisted of his brothers. Joseph, humbled by his God and Savior, offers mercy to them:

But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them. Genesis 50:19-21 English Standard Version (ESV)

The reformation preacher and teacher, John Calvin draws out three points from the passage. First, Calvin cautions us to follow Joseph’s example by restraining our passions in light of God’s providence in and through our circumstances:

Am I in the place of God? …Joseph considers the design of divine providence [and] restrains his feelings as with a bridle, lest they should carry him to excess…When, therefore, the desire of revenge urges us, let all our feelings be subjected to the same authority. […If we let] this thought take full possession of our minds, there is no ardor, however furious, which it will not suffice to mitigate.

It is to our advantage to deal with men of moderation, who set God before them as their leader, and who not only submit to His will, but also cheerfully obey Him. For if anyone is impotently carried away by the lust of the flesh, we must fear a thousand deaths from him, unless God should forcibly break his fury.

Calvin explains that, under God’s sovereignty, the brothers were fully guilty of their evil deeds and Joseph owed all honor to God for his good deeds.

You thought evil against me. …The selling of Joseph was a crime detestable for its cruelty and [faithlessness]; yet he was not sold except by the decree of heaven.

…Nothing is done without [God’s] will; because He both governs the counsels of men ([swaying] their wills and [turning] their efforts at his pleasure) and regulates all events: but if men undertake anything right and just, He so actuates and moves them inwardly by his Spirit, that whatever is good in them, may justly be said to be received from Him.

But if Satan and ungodly men rage, He acts by their hands in such an inexpressible manner, that the wickedness of the deed belongs to them, and the blame of it is imputed to them. For they are not induced to sin, as the faithful are to act aright, by the impulse of the Spirit, but they are the authors of their own evil, and follow Satan as their leader.

And finally, true repentance and reconciliation are evidenced by kind acts toward the one or ones forgiven:

I will nourish you. It was a [mark] of a solid and unfeigned reconciliation, not only to abstain from malice and injury, but also to “overcome evil with good,” as Paul teaches (Romans 12:21.)

He who fails in his duty, when he possesses the power of giving help, and when the occasion demands his assistance, shows, by this [failure], that he is not forgetful of injury.

Therefore, we shall prove our minds to be free from malevolence, when we [do] kindness [to] those enemies by whom we have been ill-treated.

In light of God’s providence, let us then practice forgiveness and reconciliation by doing good to those who have trespassed against us that we’ve forgiven.

An image of Psalm 23 (KJV), frontispiece to the 1880 omnibus printing of The Sunday at Home

An image of Psalm 23 (KJV), frontispiece to the 1880 omnibus printing of The Sunday at Home: A Family Magazine for Sabbath Reading, [collected volume], London, Religious Tract Society, Public Domain in the United States

Holy as I Am Holy?

The Apostle Peter wrote in his first letter:

As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” 1 Peter 1:14-16 English Standard Version (ESV)

John Calvin comments on these verses:

He who hath called you is holy – He reasons from the end for which we are called. God sets us apart as a peculiar people for himself; then we ought to be free from all pollutions

Calvin, stating the obvious, that we are not capable of being like God in holiness, nevertheless, points out:

…We ought daily to strive more and more. And we ought to remember that we are not only told what our duty is, but that God also adds, “I am he who sanctify you.”

The Calvin presses the point further:

It is added: in all manner of conversation, or, in your whole conduct. There is then no part of our life which is not to be redolent with this good odour of holiness…

You may currently stink at holy conduct. However, if you are in Christ and He is in you, then you must make great efforts to achieve or obtain it:

Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. Hebrews 12:14 (ESV)

To this verse, Calvin comments with regard to those who profess Christ as Lord:

Follow peace, etc. – Men are so born that they all seem to shun peace; for all study their own interest, seek their own ways, and care not to accommodate themselves to the ways of others. Unless then we strenuously labor to follow peace, we shall never retain it; for many things will happen daily affording occasion for discords…

And, with regard to those outside of Christ, Calvin says:

As however peace cannot be maintained with the ungodly except on the condition of approving of their vices and wickedness, the Apostle immediately adds, that holiness is to be followed together with peace; as though he commended peace to us with this exception, that the friendship of the wicked is not to be allowed to defile or pollute us; for holiness has an especial regard to God…

Finally, Calvin adds:

He declares, that without holiness no man shall see the Lord; for with no other eyes shall we see God than those which have been renewed after his image.

As scripture teaches, we know everyone born from above practices right behavior.

Last Judgment

Last Judgment, 1537 – 1541, Michelangelo and assistants, the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican, PD-Art-US