Tuesday, April 30, 2013

For Grace, A Verse


I shall for grace compose a verse.
For, I am, in second chances, first.
There is no reason in me for Love Divine:
Love is the source; Love the design.
Love is the reason for love dispersed;
love comes to the best, as to the worst
as a gift, by Free Grace signed.
I shall for grace compose a verse.

And when the rain shall call
on a day lacking an umbrella,
and lacking sore in shelter
 I will not be appalled,
nor curse the rain for The Fall,
but I shall praise My All, in all.
And, I shall dance,
to the love lay of the parched land.
For, the soil dost not disdain
the visits of the rain,
but ever greets her, with sweet refrain,
and heart in hand.

With heart in hand,
so shall I stand.
I am, in second chances, first.
I shall for grace compose a verse.

Monday, April 29, 2013

New Wine


When I think of this blank paper,
I think of only of what will be written later,
and I am filled with serene surprise.
This paper, though blank, is full in my eyes.
There is so much to space to fill,
and by God’s grace, this white blank will
be consumed with Christmas expectation,
and one day be black and red, lying in prostration
before my little pen and my ready fingers.

And I will be a Shepherd like Israel’s singer.
And I will be the Psalmist, and I will sin confess,
and then praise, and my God bless –
because isn’t confession another praise?
And isn’t praise another confession: a lay
to the Almighty who rejoices in grapes, love,
and bread as if sacramentally endued from above
with wondrous meaning because they flow
from the hand of one Who is, Who was, Who knows?

I write on this page with purple grape delight
because in my heart there is fruit of the vine;
my words, black in color, shall rise up to fight
because He who makes well will make a new wine. 

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

God Forsakers; God-Forsaken

The difference between you and God is that God doesn't think He's you.
― Anne Lamott

It is to idols that men turned (and turn) for quick and literal answers.
― J.R.R. Tolkien

2 Kings narrates the failure of the kings Israel to be true kings, and how God, seemingly distant, was yet still present through HIS WORD of judgment (i.e. Elisha).

This is all is the outworking of 1) Israel’s idolatry, and 2) God’s judgment.

God-forsakers are God-Forsaken.

I. God-Forsakers

The King, and yet coming King, the Lord Jesus Christ, only and ultimately fulfills the office of JUST King (Is. 9.7). Another way to say this: only God can (and ultimately He does) rightly fill the office of JUST King. He is The True King; true = authentic, real – all others are imposters, and phonies.

If this is so, then why does Israel ask for a king (1 Sam 8.4-5)? What reason do they have to be discontent under God's kingship?

Still, they ask for a king. Is this a good thing? They ask for a king as an act of idolatry; really, as proof of Idolatry; this is not a good thing.

Demanding a king “like the nations” was an idolatrous urge: an outright rejection of God’s Kingship. It was asking for a God-replacement. It was forsaking God. It was, actually, a sign they had already forsaken God.

1 Sam 8:4-5, “Then all the elders of Israel gathered themselves together, and came to Samuel unto Ramah, And said to him, Behold, you are old, and your sons walk not in your ways: now make us a king to judge us like all the nations.”

1 Sam 8:7, “And the LORD said unto Samuel, listen to the voice of the people in all that they say to you: for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them.”

Hosea 8.4, “They made kings, but not through me. They set up princes, but I knew it not.”

Idolatry happens when a person/people puts something in God's place. It happens when we make anything but God "king." To be a king is to rule; idolatry happens when we trade God's rule for some other rule: when we let something/someone besides God make decisions for us. The fact that the people asked for a king shows that they had, already, displaced God in their hearts: they had already rejected God as King.
For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves,  because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen (Romans 1.21-24).
II. God-Replacement

Whenever we displace God, we go running for something to replace him. Repentance is turning from idols to God; sin is turning from God to idols. The turning from and to is really one motion. I have often noted that men/women who despises their marriage will actively seek out an adulterous relationship. The adulterous relationship is the turning to; the dissatisfaction with their marriage is turning from. It is one motion, with two distinct parts: and so it is with idolatry. We turn from God and turn to idols, like a dancer spinning on a musical note: in this case, the note is a minor key of tragedy.

We have a God shaped hole in our hearts; it must be filled: if not by the true God, then by a false one. The people would never have sought a king on earth if they had not first forsaken the King of Heaven.

Israel expected from a king what could only be found in the KING. Or, they settled for a king over the KING. They forsook God as king and carved for themselves a silly replica (Jer. 2.13; Romans 1.21). They became political idolaters, and traded the glory of the immortal God for a mere man (Romans 1.23). Many assume that Romans 1:18-32 is a description (Idolatry Descending Down To Depravity), not of Israel, but the pagan world; it is also a description of Israel in that Israel wanted to be "like the nations." They grew evermore to resemble the god-less pagan world first in idolatry, then in depravity (See Below, Comparative Outline).

Soon after President Obama's election to his first term I heard a brave African-America pastor say to a crowd of mostly African-American men, "Obama can't save you. He can't even save himself."

This is the lesson of the failure of Israel's (mostly idolatrous, immoral, and ineffectual) kings: they couldn't save us; they couldn't even save themselves.

III. Self-Forsaken

Turning from God leads to disintegration of self. Turning from God is striking out into the universe to be something we are not: equivalent to a child pretending to be a soldier. We were not made, by nature, to be gods, or to sin: sin is anti-nature. It is anti-creation. It is anti-self. This is seen, in our present age, by the refusal of men to be men, and women to be women. Gender distinction has broken down in favor of "defining ourselves." There is only one problem with defining ourselves: we have already been defined by our creator. Suppose you made a book shelf; suppose that book shelf could speak, and one day rose up and demanded to be an automobile. Humanity can speak, and we have rose up and denied our own humanity, and demanded to be little gods. In so doing, we have lost ourselves.

In mad rush into idolatry, Israel reached just such a place. They ceased to be who they were; they became so much less than they were created individually, and organized nationally, to be. Israel was supposed to be a holy nation, distinct from other nations (1 Chr 17.21). In desiring to be “like the nations” they are taking a crucial step further away from God – and losing their identity as the distinct (i.e. unlike the nations) people of THE king, and ultimately becoming just like the nations in first idolatry, then practice, and finally, judgment.
1 Kings 14:24, “and there were also male cult prostitutes in the land. They did according to all the abominations of the nations that the Lord drove out before the people of Israel.”

2 Kings 16:3, “but he walked in the way of the kings of Israel. He even burned his son as an offering, according to the despicable practices of the nations whom the Lord drove out before the people of Israel.”

2 Kings 17:8, “and walked in the customs of the nations whom the Lord drove out before the people of Israel, and in the customs that the kings of Israel had practiced.

2 Kings 17:11: …and there they made offerings on all the high places, as the nations did whom the Lord carried away before them. And they did wicked things, provoking the Lord to anger…

2 Kings 17:15: They despised his statutes and his covenant that he made with their fathers and the warnings that he gave them. They went after false idols and became false, and they followed the nations that were around them, concerning whom the Lord had commanded them that they should not do like them.”

2 Kings 17:33: So they feared the Lord but also served their own gods, after the manner of the nations from among whom they had been carried away.

2 Kings 17.7: “And this occurred (the judgment of exile) because the people of Israel had sinned against the Lord their God, who had brought them up out of the land of Egypt from under the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and had feared other gods…”

2 Kings 17:12: and they served idols, of which the Lord had said to them, “You shall not do this.” 
2 Kings 17:14: But they would not listen, but were stubborn, as their fathers had been, who did not believe in the Lord their God.

2 Kings 17:25: And at the beginning of their dwelling there, they did not fear the Lord. Therefore the Lord sent lions among them, which killed some of them. 
2 Kings 17:35: The Lord made a covenant with them and commanded them, “You shall not fear other gods or bow yourselves to them or serve them or sacrifice to them,

IV. Your Will Be Done

Someone may reply, “But didn’t Deuteronomy foresee a kingship, legislate it, and approve of it?”

Dueteronomy did forsee a kingship; it did legislate it. It did not approve it. Deuteronomy is specific in the duties of a true king, but ambivalent about the prospect (Dt. 17.14-20). The desire for a king will arise from the people, not God (17.14), and will have twisted connotations, “like all the nations that are around me (17.14).” Deuteronomy legislates this idolatrous urge, but in light of the context, this legislation seems to be a concession to hardness of heart (similar to divorce laws, Mt. 19.8). 

We are reminded: the worst thing God can say to us is: "Your will be done." As my campus minister used to say, "The worst thing God can do is let us go." He the illustration of a naive dog on a leash. The dog is by a dangerous roadway, but is pulling at the leash: demanding to have his way so he can run out into traffic and chase cars (i.e. get run over). The worst thing the dog's master can do is let the leash go.

In 1 Samuel 8:7, God lets go the leash of grace that restrains the people from doing what they want to do: "Listen to the voice of the people," he tells Samuel.

"Listen to" in the OT means, "Obey." It means, "Your will be done."

This is the opposite of the prayer Jesus taught us, "Your will be done," i.e. "I want to listen to, and obey, your voice, O God, not my own. I want my will to be bent to your will."

In 1 Samuel 8:7, the people pray for their will to be done, and God answers their prayer.

From Jonathan Edwards, The Dreadful Silence of The Lord (Jeremiah 44:26):

(God warns) hat he would wholly give ‘em up to (idolatry), so that the name of the true God should not so much as be mentioned. Now they worshiped the true God in part; though they burnt incense to the queen of heaven, yet the pretend some respect to the true God of Israel. But God threatens that they shall be wholly left to their idolatry, so as not so much as to have any face or appearance of the worship of the true God among them... And this is the reason that God threatens as he doth in the text, that he will finally give them to the wickedness they were so obstinate in, after so many awful judgments. This was the last judgment and the greatest judgment that was brought upon them. They are resolved that they would worship idols, and God is resolved that they shall, too... they vowed to perform their vows, and God swore that they should.
Tis meant that God doth utterly leave and suffer them to go on in sin without restraint. He used means to bring them to forsake their sins, till at length he gives ‘em up to sin. He withholds those influences without which they never will forsake their sins. He withholds restraints. He withholds convictions. He withholds those motions of spirit that shall cause consciences to resists and oppose ‘em in their course of sin, and restrain ‘em from ‘em. He gives ‘em up to such a hard heart, such a fixed stupidity and senselessness, that never anything shall have any effect upon them to cause them to forsake their sins till their dying day... He gives them up to a foolish, deluded, self-flattering spirit to presume upon mercy; to flatter themselves with hopes of time enough hereafter, with vain presumption of long life... God ceases to take care to preserve them from the snares of the world; but leaves them to be in such circumstances as will be most prejudicial to their souls, and such as have a tendency to harden in sin, and cause them to go on in it... if others are concerned about them, and take pains to make them see the evil of their sins... all is in vain. God prospers no endeavors that are used...

IV. God-Forsaken

Read 2 Kings; God's absence is present; His silence is loud. Gone are the days of His Closeness; His mighty deeds; His Immediacy. Commentators marvel at how few times The Lord is directly mentioned in 2 Kings.

The question of 2 Kings 2:14 is the question, and the answer, of the whole book, "Where now is the Lord, God of Elijah?"* 2 Kings demonstrates the presence of God in an unfamiliar (new) and unfamiliar (lacking intimacy) way: His Presence of Absence (Judgment): his Silence of Speaking.

In 2 Kings God may seem absent; he may seem distant – in fact, he has been culpably distanced by His people in that they appointed a king in the place the KING. One way to distance God is to appoint a god-substitute. We marvel at Israel, but we do it all the time: we put things of this earth in the place of Heaven; we seek on earth what can only be found in Heaven; we seek from men what can only be found in God.

God-forsakers are justly God-forsaken. Thus, 1 and 2 Kings is a tragic tale of the spiral downward, away from God, and into just judgment (Exile). 1 and 2 Kings details what happens to a people who forsake God. They are given over, first, to the oppression of idolatry – a heavy and burdensome oppression they chose for themselves (1 Kgs. 4.7, 22ff: where Solomon’s provision are detailed). They find out the hard way that their kings are not anything like THE KING. False kings take; they suck the life from a person/people; The True King gives. In addition, The True King is all-powerful, and able to help in the day of calamity; false kings are impotent.

Thus, in 2 Kgs. 6.24ff, the king of Israel is powerless and overwhelmed. He is not a crusader for justice, but a passive observer of evil. Even the ideal idol, Solomon, fails them (1 Kings 11.1-4: Solomon descends into grievous idolatry; this is ironic: the idol is himself an idolater who has broken with the basic laws which apply to being God’s kind of king, i.e. horses and wives: cf. Dt. 17.16-17 with 1 Kgs 4.26, 10.28, and 1 Kgs 11.1-4).

Over time, Israel’s idols are multiplied (1 Kgs 16.13; 2 Kgs 17.7, 15; 21.10, 11; 21.21), and their oppressions and judgments grow more grievous.

So, in 2 Kings God does seem distant. Yet, this seeming distance is His people’s own doing, and is not the ultimate reality; rather, God is present, administering justice BY HIS WORD, in the practical presence of His prophet. The rebellious action of choosing a king over THE KING does not mean THE KING utterly withdraws, but rather that He is culpably obscured (Romans 1.18, “suppress the knowledge of God”); and, He continues to make HIS presence known in subtle ways BY HIS WORD, even though – at this point this – this is mostly a WORD of judgment. The presence of God is not the familiar fatherly presence Israel had earlier known. It is the wrathful and prescient presence of a judge. It is, at the same time, the withdrawal of kindly familiarity, and drawing near of wrathful retribution.


What application does this have for us? We ought to beware of putting our ultimate confidence in rulers (Ps. 146.3; Ps. 62.9). We not above this temptation. The idolatry of choosing a human leader as a God-replacement is repeated every time we evangelicals in America look to a President to “save” us, and bring perfect justice. Every time we elect a President in America, I tremble: both liberals and conservatives (if their candidate wins) will celebrate like the Messiah just came back. This shows that we have already forsaken God in our hearts, a long time ago; why else would we place such hope in mere men? Why else would we celebrate their ascendancy with what can only be called worship? This is idolatry. These men can't save us; they can't even save themselves.


From Jonathan Edwards, The Dreadful Silence of The Lord:

Conscience In The New Testament


“A bad conscience is the mother of all heresies(false teaching)” – Calvin.

What follows is is a summary of the teaching of the New Testament on the subject of conscience along with commentary on specific passages, and resources.

Conscience: An Overview

conscience (gk. = suneidaesis): significant history and wide usage among Greeks (technical term in Stoicism), but seems to play lesser role in revelation of OT (perhaps because the ‘bar’ of conscience is God’s revealed will in 10 Comm’s and Law???). See Towner comment on 1 Tim. 1.4 where he makes similar remark, but, perhaps, doesn’t give full weight to presence of ‘conscience’ in OT (cf. Psalm 51: desire for cleansing and 1 Samuel 25.31).

Our English word = conscience = con (together with) science (knowledge).

Conscience = Used 14 x in Paul (with majority of uses in Corinthians correspondence: 8x in 1 Corinthians, 3x in 2 Corinthians). Romans 2.15 shows how conscience functions among gentiles without law as enough to condemn, but not enough to save. Paul was sensitive to conscience in his own life/ministry (Acts 23.1, 2 Timothy 1.7, Romans 9.1). Christians are to keep a clear conscience vis a vis pagan slanders on their character so that pagan slander becomes groundless, and source of shame (1 Peter 3.16). As 1 Corinthians 8 and Romans 14 show, it is possible to have an oversensitive conscience. A clear conscience can only be achieve FIRST by the cleansing of the blood of Christ (Hebrews).

Conscience: Defined

Conscience = our internal court (a judge) which bears witness to the rightness of wrongness of our actions, a preview of the judgment day; a sign that God’s law is written within us (Romans 2:15, 9:1). We are to act in line with our own conscience – not slavishly submit to the conscience of others – while still respecting the conscience of the weaker brother and striving not to cause them to stumble (stumble = trip over their conscience and defile it) (1 Cor. 10:29). The will of God revealed (in his word and in nature) is the rule of conscience; we have no right to bind other men’s consciences (Romans 14); nor do we have a right to try and make men go against their conscience: i.e. to act in a way they think displeases God (even if it is not against his revealed will – we mustn’t run roughshod over other’s consciences). Love, the great command, and summary of the law comes from a pure heart, good conscience, sincere faith (1 Timothy 1:5).

Eckstein, “Conscience is a neutral judge of behavior, according to a norm, that brings judgment either positive or negative to awareness of an individual, by criticism or affirmation.”

Moo, comment on Romans 9:1 (556), ““Conscience” in Paul is an inborn faculty that monitors a person’s conformity to moral standards.”

conscience = self-judgment (in our secret thoughts) which has a premonition of a final judgment -- where we either excuse or condemn our own actions.

Paraphrase of Towner on 1 Timothy 1.5, A good conscience is the organ of decision that enable one to move from the right norm to the right behavior.

Towner, on 1 Timothy 1.5, “For Paul and for us, the conscience is that part or faculty of the mind that gives awareness of the standing of one's conduct as measured against an accepted standard.”

Towner on 1 Timothy 1.5, NICNT, pg. 117, “Consciousness (or lack thereof) of having committed a wrong... conscious is neutral outside the pastorals... a control for behavior by bringing an assessment of behavior to consciousness on the basis of a known norm.” 

Conscience and The Faith (THE Faith = Definite Truth Delivered By God in Christ)

Towner on relationship to THE faith, in pastorals, comment on 1 Tim. 1.5, Conscience is related to conformity and reception of THE faith, the apostolic gospel (cf. 1 Tim. 4.3, Titus 1.15, 1 Tim. 4.1, Titus 1.14 where THE faith has been abandoned): “Thus, Paul argues, rejection of faith rendered conscience bad, seared, that is ineffective....Paul regards the condition of the human conscience as ultimately affected positively by adherence to the apostolic gospel or rendered ineffective by rejection of it. And following from this, the false teacher’s rejection of the gospel makes moral goodness unattainable... Consequently, Paul regards an effectively functioning conscience to be intrinsic to the process that is to lead from teaching to the goal of love.” The chief fruit of is seen in behavior that runs counter to godliness, “The rejection of the faith destroys the capacity of the conscience to make reliable decisions.”

“... the conscience of a good man bears witness for him, and is a co-witness with the Holy Ghost, to which he can appeal, as the apostle did (Romans 9:1)."

Consciences, significantly, does NOT provide, 1) Source of power for right behavior, 2) The source of behavior in and of itself—i.e. the norm is from ‘outside,’ God’s law written on the heart, or God’s law known through revelation.

See C.A. Pierce, “Conscience in The New Testament,” (SBT 15) (London, 1955). 

Different Types of Conscience 

1. Grieved, Bad conscious (1 Sam 25:31)

Looks back with remorse, painful internal barbs of doubt, regret, fear. A bad preview of the judgment day.

Did they get you to trade... a walk on part in the war... Franklin, “A good conscience is like Christmas year round (get exact quote!).”

2. Seared (1 Tim. 4.2)

So often sinned against light that they lose the ability to determine right from wrong; their conscience is dead, and lifeless, so weaken from continual abuse they can not longer put up a fight.

3. Weak (1 Cor. 8, etc)

A conscience that is too touchy, which avoids things which are allowed, which is timid and unsure; hyper sensitive; can be given to the sin of judging those who do not conform to legalistic rules (Romans 14); this comes from a lack of knowledge – a lack of sound instruction -- about goodness of God’s world, and abrogation of OT ceremonial law, and a lack of surety in the free grace of God (1 Cor. 8, Romans 14, 1 Timothy 4:1ff). Note, if anyone goes against a weak conscious because another flaunts their freedom, they are sinning, and could lead themselves into serious destruction (‘perish,’ Romans 14). A Christian should always act in faith (Romans 14: anything that does not come from faith...). A person is freed from a weak conscience by further instruction in God’s word about, 1) The goodness of creation (1 Timothy 4:1-3), 2) Justification by grace, grace alone (Romans 14).

4. Defiled

related to # 3; a weak conscience made uneasy/filthy because of practicing Christian freedom (1 Cor. 8:7).

5. Corrupt

Titus 1.15, “even their mind and conscience is corrupt.”

6. Good

No internal pangs of grief and regret, good preview of the judgment day. Free, clear, and peaceful when considering past manner of life (Acts 23:1, 1 Timothy 1.5)

7. Clear

Very similar to # 3. No ‘blood’ on this conscience; no spots, no dirt. Relates to conduct before both God and Men (Acts 24:16). See also 1 Timothy 3:9, 2 Timothy 1:3. (cf. Acts 20: I am innocent of the blood of all men). See quote from “Friday night lights,” like being totally free and totally clean in regards to maximum effort.

8. Cleansed

This can only be accomplished effectively by the blood of Christ (Hebrews 9:14, 10:22). 


I. Romans 2:15

“Their conscience bearing witness... accusing, even excusing...”

From Douglass Moo, Comment, 151, “Paul continues to speak of those Gentiles who manifest in their behavior an innate awareness of God’s moral demands. In contrast to the often positive use of “unwritten law” among the Greeks, Paul follows Jewish writers in using the concept negatively: knowledge of God’s moral demands among the Gentiles simply demonstrates their guilt... (written on their hearts reminiscent of new covenant prophecy (Jer. 31:31-34)) BUT, “ Jeremiah speaks about the law’s being written on the heart and the complete knowledge of God that will result from it. Paul, however, makes reference to the “works of the law” being written on the heart and makes clear that this process still leaves the issue of the final judgment in doubt (vv.15b-16). As Luther puts it, “the knowledge of the work is written, that is, the law that is written in letters concerning the works that have to he done, but not the grace to fulfill this law.”

As Calvin says, “Enough to condemn, but not enough to save.”

Moo, cont., “The word conscience comes from the Greek rather than the Biblical world. The word had and important technical role in Stoic philosophy... The conscience could be the source of moral norms (as in our popular use of the term), but it is usually viewed as a reflective mechanism by which people can measure their conformity to a norm. If, then, the law is that norm, the conscience of individual Gentiles reveals within each of them the extent to which that norm is being followed. Paul uses “bear witness” (gk. = summartureo) of this process, and the meaning of “conscience” would imply that this “witness” is first of all to them individual themselves. In the light of v. 16, however, there may be a secondary reference to a witness before the heavenly judgment seat... “accusing and excusing”... the witness of the conscience consists in the mixed verdict of one’s thoughts. The debate among the thoughts goes on constantly, but its ultimate significance will be revealed in the last judgment, as v. 16 shows. The excusing and accusing testimony of the thoughts within each person’s conscience portends the verdict of the one who will bring every thought to light.

Bengel on ‘even excusing (v. 15),’ “The concessive particle, even, shows that the thoughts have far more to accuse, than defend, and the defense itself... does not extend to the whole, but only to a part of the conduct, and this very part in turn proves us to be debtors to the whole...”

II. Romans 9:1

“I am speaking the truth in Christ, I am not lying, as my conscience bears witness to me through the Holy Spirit.”

Note: repetition of “bear witness” them from 2:15.

from Moo, Comment on 9:1: “(context for this verse is) ...the great majority of the Jewish people have not responded in faith to the gospel... it is Paul’s task to show that (Israel’s unbelief has not ruptured the continuous course of salvation history...)... Paul draws attention to what he is about to say by forcefully proclaiming his sincerity. He emphasizes the point by putting it positively – “I am speaking the truth” – and negatively – “I am not lying” (the lack of conjunction to connect these clauses lends Paul’s assertions a “solemn emphasis (Dunn, cf. 1 Tim. 2.7 for similar sequence)... “Conscience” in Paul is an inborn faculty that monitors a person’s conformity to moral standards... Paul assures the Romans that he has a good, or “clear,” conscience about the truthfulness of what he is about to tell them...”

1 Timothy 1.5

Towner IVP Comment on 1.5:

But there is more than an impersonal interest in preserving correct doctrine in all of this. For the goal of this admonition is love, flowing out of a cleansed heart, a good conscience and a genuine faith. Faith and love in the Pastorals and throughout Paul's letters signify a correct and personal knowledge of and belief in God, and its proper, active outworking in the life of the believer (see notes on 2:15). Pure heart and good conscience are technical terms in the Pastorals. The heart was regarded as the inward part of the person and the center of one's spiritual and thought life. The total inner life of the believer, cleansed from sin, could be depicted with the term pure heart. For Paul and for us, the conscience is that part or faculty of the mind that gives awareness of the standing of one's conduct as measured against an accepted standard.

But we who are modern Westerners should not read into Paul's term all of our understanding. The concept of individuality bred into us in the West was foreign to Paul's culture. Conscience tends to function individualistically in us to produce feelings of guilt. For Paul and the ancient Mediterranean culture in general, conscience was the internal judgment of one's actions by that one's group--"pain one feels because others consider one's actions inappropriate and dishonorable" (Malina 1981:70). Honor and shame, rather than guilt, were the operative feelings. Therefore, Paul's readers would perceive the conscience as sending internal signals evaluating the rightness or wrongness of behavior (past, present or future) as a member of a group. We, on the other hand, view the conscience as concerned with right and wrong on an individual basis, not necessarily taking into account what others think and expect about us.

1 Timothy 1:18-20

IVP Comment on 1 Timothy 1.18-20:

Paul clearly does recognize the dangers involved. For this reason he qualifies the command of verse 18 by referring, without a break in the sentence, to the believer's personal spiritual condition in verse 19.

The qualifying phrase, holding on to faith and a good conscience, considers the spiritual life from two perspectives. Faith here means a correct knowledge of God and Christ (or the gospel). Good conscience is that inner faculty that causes faith to issue in godly conduct (1:5). According to Paul, the purity of one's faith is directly related to the effectiveness of one's conscience (4:1-2). The concern here is that while opposing the false teachers and their subtle doctrines Timothy could, if inattentive or unprepared, suffer a severe blow to his faith. It is like the doctor who risks infection while attempting to treat a sick person. But in the Christian's case, one has to remember that the enemy is Satan (compare 4:1; 2 Corinthians 11:1-15), and his powers of deception and persuasion are not to be taken lightly or ignored.

Some Christians in Ephesus--Paul singles out two leaders, Hymenaeus and Alexander (v. 20)--made this mistake (and Paul's language, rejected and blaspheme, suggests that it was a conscious one), with devastating results to their relationship with God. Shipwrecked raises images in the mind of "destruction," not "setback." Furthermore, the disciplinary measures taken are severe. Handed over to Satan refers to excommunication from the church back into Satan's realm.

1 Timothy 4.1-5

From IVP Comment on 1 Timothy 4.1-5:

First, as noted previously (1:5), Paul makes a connection between adherence to the faith and the "good conscience." Here, the reverse operation is seen: rejection of the faith leaves the conscience seared as with a hot iron. Behind this image is the practice of branding slaves with a hot iron. Rejection of the faith enslaves one to sin and falsehood, by hobbling the faculty of discernment and making it an ineffective guide to right and wrong.

Second, just as the "good conscience" is related to Christian conduct, here the "seared" conscience issues in perverted conduct (v. 3). For Paul the conscience is the faculty of decision. It enables the believer to proceed from the faith, the vertical dimension of belief and knowledge, to the corresponding horizontal activity of godly behavior (see on 1:5). The false teachers had lost the ability to make such decisions effectively--since their concept of the faith was distorted, their ideas about godly living were equally distorted.

The signal Paul sends is clear. If genuine Christian conduct flows from a vital relationship with Christ, then an imitation that is fanatically forced on others is at best human in origin, at worst demonic. Observable conduct may not be the litmus test of orthodoxy or salvation, but negative results here ought to raise questions, whether one is examining one's own faith (2 Corinthians 13:5) or the claims of a "Christian" movement (Gal 5:6).

2 Timothy 1:7

I thank God whom I serve, as did my ancestors, with a clear conscience, as I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day.

1 Peter 3:16

“...keeping a clear conscience so that those reviling your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed with respect to your being slandered.”

Peter H. Davids, Comment on 1 Peter 3.16, “...Christians need to keep a clear conscience” that will result in “good conduct in Christ.” Unlike its use in 2.19, “conscience” appears with its normal NT meaning of consciousness that their behavior has been moral (Acts 23.1, Romans 2.15, 9.1, 2 Cor. 1.12, 5.11; 1 Tim. 1.5, 19, 3.9; Heb. 13.18). It is no persecution for Christ if the Christian has broken some civil law or rule of God and so deserves the criticism received, but if the conscience is clear one can stand confidently before God and indeed only good behavior (such as Peter has encouraged in 2:11-3:7) will be there to slander.”... (persecutors) will be ashamed when others look at the actual behavior of the Christians and realize how groundless their rumors are. But, on the other hand, Peter’s stress on the coming judgment of Christ means that his primary focus is surely on their shame when they must give an account of their behavior before a Judge who knows the full truth. Here is the ultimate security for a Christian.”

A friend, when under pressure from cruel men about what he did in ministry, “God knows what I do.”


But conscience itself tells us that morality is essentially a matter, not of taste, but of truth; not of feeling, in the first instance, but of judgment, based on principles which are in themselves universally valid, and claim everyone's assent.

Traditionally, and surely correctly, conscience has been held to involve two faculties, ability first to 'see' general moral truths and second to apply them to particular cases. Aquinas called the first capacity synderesis and kept conscientia for the second; Peter Martyr the reformer, followed by many seventeenth-century writers, spoke of theoretical and practical understanding, different words for the same distinction. It was unquestioned among both Protestants and Roman Catholics till this century that the workings of conscience take the form of practical syllogisms, e.g. 'Stealing is wrong; taking the umbrella would be stealing; therefore taking the umbrella would be wrong', or 'Bank robbers deserve punishment; I robbed a bank; therefore I deserve punishment'; and, despite some latter-day hesitations based on doubt as to whether God really reveals universally binding moral truths, the historic doctrine seems true, as anyone who checks his own moral reasoning will soon see. Though conscience pronounces on particular actions and cases, it does so on the basis of general principles, which, though not always explicit in the initial pronouncement, will be explicitly cited in justification if the pronouncement is at any stage questioned. And if no such universal principle could be produced to justify a particular pronouncement, the right conclusion would be that here is no genuine deliverance of conscience at all, but a neurotic symptom (guilt, or an obsession, in the psychiatrist's sense of those words) masquerading as the voice of conscience, and needing to be relieved and dispelled, if possible, by professional therapy.

John Gill on Different Types of Conscience

1. Bad Consciense

1. Blind: Gill: Evil conscience is blind and ignorant, arising from an understanding darkened and alienated from the life of God, through ignorance; when in some it comes to that pass, as to have lost the distinction between good and evil, and between darkness and light

2. Dull: A dull, heavy, stupid conscience, which is no more affected than a man that is asleep; and though in danger, as a man asleep in the

3. Impure: Gill: An impure one, as the conscience of every unregenerate man is; "unto them that are defiled and unbelieving, is nothing pure; but even their mind and conscience is defiled", #Tit 1:15 and so the conscience of a weak brother may be defiled through the imprudent use of a liberty, by a stronger one, #1Co 8:7.

4. Seared: one cauterized, seared, as it were, with a red hot iron, #1Ti 4:2 and so becomes insensible of sin and danger, and past feeling any remorse for sin; it is without any consciousness of it, and repentance for it, #Jer 8:6.

II. Good Conscience.

There may be in unregenerate men, so the apostle Paul, before his conversion, "lived in all good conscience", #Ac 23:1 though a blasphemer and a persecutor.

1. Gill: A weak conscience; which arises from weakness of faith about things lawful and pure, #Ro 14:1,14 1Co 8:7 which is soon and easily disquieted, grieved, and troubled, at seeing others do that which it doth not approve of #Ro 14:15 and which at once judges and condemns another man's liberty, #Ro 14:3 1Co 10:29 or which, by the example of others, is easily drawn to the doing of that by which it is defiled, wounded, and destroyed, as to its peace and comfort, #1Co 8:7,9-12.

2. There is a conscience enlightened and awakened with a sense of sin and danger; which, though for the present distressing, issues well; as in the three thousand pricked in their hearts, who said to the apostles, "Men and brethren, what shall we do?" and in the jailor, who came trembling before Paul and Silas, and said, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?"

3. A tender one; as in Joseph, who said to his mistress, tempting him, "How can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God

4. Careful: such as the apostle Paul was studiously concerned to exercise, #Ac 24:16 careful not to offend, by sinning against God, and to give no offence to Jew nor Gentile, nor to the church of God.

5. Pure (1Ti 3:9, 2Ti 1:3). Conscience is defiled with sin, as all the powers and faculties of the soul are: a pure or purified conscience, is a conscience purged from the dead works of sin by the blood of Christ (Heb 9:14, 10:22).

III. The effects of a good and pure conscience...

1. Freedom from the guilt of sin.

Gill: the guilt of sins being removed by the blood of Christ, their consciences do not condemn them for sins that have been committed by them, and from which they are purged, #Heb 10:1,2.

2. Peace of soul and tranquillity of mind. Gill: “One that is justified by faith in the blood and righteousness of Christ, has peace with God, and peace in himself; the effect of this is, "quietness and assurance for ever".

3. Joy (2Co 1:12) as an evil conscience troubles and distresses, and gives sorrow; a good conscience exhilarates, and makes joyful and cheerful

4. Boldness "confidence towards God" (1 J. 3:21) as well as towards men


1. The Conscience of Martin Luther

Luther: If you can’t convince me by the word of God... it is neither right nor safe to go against conscience.

2. The Conscience of Jonathon Edwards

Edwards: Resolved, never to do any thing of which I so much question the lawfulness of, as that I intend, at the same time, to consider and examine afterwards, whether it be lawful or not; unless I as much question the lawfulness of the omission

Edwards: Resolved, whenever I so much question whether I have done my duty, as that my quiet and calm is thereby disturbed, to set it down, and also how the question was resolved.

Edwards: Resolved, whenever my feelings begin to appear in the least out of order, when I am conscious of the least uneasiness within, or the least irregularity without, I will then subject myself to the strictest examination.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

What About Those Who Never Heard The Gospel?


"What about those who never heard the gospel? Why didn't God bring the gospel to certain people/ages?"

There is no good answer to this question; it is a bad question. It's like asking, "Why is 1+1 equal to 75?"

A good question is, "Why did God bring the gospel to any people/age?" An even better question, from the sincere Christian, "Why did God bring the gospel to such a wretch as me?"

Still, we encounter this question repeatedly, "Why didn't God bring the gospel to certain people/ages?"  and we need to consider it.

So, why is it a bad question? It is a bad question because it arises from several false presuppositions about God/Man/Salvation/Ourselves.

In addressing this question, it is folly to try and answer it on the terms it is presented. The truth must be presented on its own terms. So, we need to get behind the question, and address the ideas being taken for granted by the asker. We need to address the false presuppositions: the premises at the root of the question.

So, what are the false premises in, "Why didn't God bring the gospel to certain people/ages?"

At least 6:

1) Misconceptions regarding salvation.
2) Misconceptions regarding knowledge of salvation.
3) Humanism.
4) Judging God.
5) Doubting God's Goodness
6) Vain Curiosity.

In addressing these premises, we will have to contradict several ideas that are almost universally accepted. I warn you, up front, the following will humble you. Or else, make you furious. In dismantling human merit, and exalting God, I will surely annoy and aggravate quite a few.

False Premise I. A Misconception Regarding Salvation

Why is it people have such a hard time with "those who didn’t have a chance" to be saved? Why? Because men, especially worldly men, think everyone deserves a chance to be saved. Not so. What we all naturally deserve is eternal condemnation.

"Why didn't native Americans in 1400 have a chance to be saved?"

The presupposition behind this question is: Men deserve to be saved from God's wrath, or at least, to have the opportunity to be saved. This is a serious misconception regarding salvation.

The very nature of salvation is that it is not by works, but by God's sweet grace, and that we do not do a single thing to deserve it. It comes from God's love, and issues forth in mercy to the undeserving. If men deserved to be saved, they would not need to be saved. If man could climb to heaven, naturally, by his own merit, there would be no need for God to reach down and pluck him out of hell.

Instead of asking, "Why not them," we should be asking, "Why anyone? Especially, (If we are Christians), why US?" In fact, it is a marvel that anyone in any age is the recipient of the glorious gospel. After the rebellion of our first father, God might justly have left the world in awful darkness, accruing, age by darker age, guilt and condemnation, until the day when he visited the earth in just retribution, and delivered every last man and woman into eternal hell. Had God only acted in strict justice toward man, this would have been the course of human history. The fact that he did otherwise is a testament to his mercy and grace.

Read the following words from Spurgeon's Free Grace with care:
Though there is no righteousness in any man, yet in every man there is a proneness to truth in some fancied merit. Strange that it should be so, but the most reprobate characters have yet some virtue as they imagine, upon which they rely. You will find the most abandoned drunkard pride himself that he is not a swearer. You will find the blaspheming drunkard pride himself that at least he is honest. You will find men with no other virtue in the world, exalt what they imagine to be a virtue—the fact that they do not profess to have any; and they think themselves to be extremely excellent, because they have honesty or rather impudence enough to confess that they are utterly vile. Somehow the human mind clings to human merit; it always will hold to it, and when you take away everything upon which you think it could rely, in less than a moment it fashions some other ground for confidence out of itself. Human nature with regard to its own merit, is like the spider, it bears its support in its own bowels, and it seems as if it would keep spinning on to all eternity. You may brush down one web, but it soon forms another, you may take the thread from one place, and you will find it clinging to your finger, and when you seek to brush it down with one hand you find it clinging to the other. It is hard to get rid of; it is ever ready to spin its web and bind itself to some false ground of trust. It is against all human merit that I am this morning going to speak, and I feel that I shall offend a great many people here. I am about to preach a doctrine that is gall and vinegar to flesh and blood, one that will make righteous moralists gnash their teeth, and make others go away and declare that I am an Antinomian, and perhaps scarcely fit to live. However, that consequence is one which I shall not greatly deplore, if connected with it there should be in other hearts a yielding to this glorious truth, and a giving up to the power and grace of God, who will never save us, unless we are prepared to let Him have all the glory.

False Premise II. A Misconception Regarding The Knowledge of Salvation

OK, someone may answer, they didn't deserve to be saved, but shouldn't they at least have heard the gospel, so they might have the necessary knowledge to be saved?

This question still assumes that men deserve something other than wrath. It still assumes that God is our debtor. In this case, men deserve KNOWLEDGE.

I repeat, from above, only slightly altered: Why is it people have such a hard time with "those who didn’t have access to knowledge of salvation" in various places/ages? Why? Because men, especially worldly men, believe everyone deserves knowledge of the gospel. Not so. What we all naturally deserve is eternal condemnation.

Knowledge is also a gift of God; the knowledge of salvation is part of the gift of salvation. Its not that we all deserve the knowledge, and then some of us are given grace to apply the knowledge. No. We don't deserve any part of salvation. Every single part of it, from start to finish, is of grace, and grace alone.

Knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom are given to whom God chooses, when God chooses, out of sheer grace.

Lk. 10.23-24, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see. For I tell you that many prophets and kings wanted to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.”

Mt. 11.25-27, “You have hidden these things from the wise and learned, but revealed them to little children...such was your good pleasure... those to whom the son chooses to reveal him.”

Mt. 13.11, “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them.”

False Premise III. Humanism

"What about those poor people who never heard the gospel?"

There is an implicit humanism, and man-centered bias, to the question. As if, the happiness of men were the central concern of God. As if, man were the measure of all things.

The central concern of God is, rather, his own glory. Men naturally think that God is like them, man-centered, concerned 24/7 with satisfying the whims of the selfish human self. God is not like us. God is just. This mean that he must do justice to himself: he is, in truth, the center of the universe. It is unjust for anyone not to give all glory to God because all glory is due to God. So, when God makes his own glory his chief end in all he does, he is being absolutely just. In making the happiness of man the chief end of all things, or our primary concern, we are being unjust. This is a travesty, a crime against the warp and woof or reality. This is an impoverished way of thinking.

False Premise IV. Judging God

"How could God not give ... them a chance?"

Phrased like this, the question betrays an attempt to play God: even, an attempt to judge God; even, a slander on the character of God. Such a question implies that God is less than just in his ruling of his universe. As if, we could stand over God and condemn his actions. As if, we could question and impugn God's character, or his workings in history.

God does whatever God wants to do, and his character is unquestionable. God, as God, is free and rules all things as he desires. This includes when/whom he chooses to save. Now, nothing could be more repugnant to the mind of rebellious man. Why? Because we want to be God. And, because we want to be God, we are wont to slander the character of God. To say, in effect, I'm a better god than God. B.B. Warfield described our disagreeable disposition toward God:
(We have an) unwillingness to acknowledge ourselves to be wholly at the disposal of another. We wish to be at our own disposal. We wish "to belong to ourselves," and we resent belonging, especially belonging absolutely, to anybody else, even if that anybody else be God...We will not be controlled. Or, rather, to speak more accurately, we will not admit that we are controlled.
Because we resent the rule of God, we malign his character. We should remember: God is not answerable to us, or to any human being. We are answerable to him.

It is not, as some say, always wrong to question God. When it comes to wisdom, we should search God; when it comes to character, God should search us. It is one thing to ask questions of God: to go to him with our questions, humbly, with open hands, bowing before him, in search of true wisdom. It is another thing to question God: to demand he answer to us; to go to him proudly, with fists clinched, and question his Good, Just, Wise, Holy, Loving character. We are the ones who are full of impurity; there is not the slightest shadow in the character of God.

"How could God...?! If there really is a God... why does God... why doesn't God... ?!"

Such statements  they are more statements than sincere questions  are a slander on the character of God.

Paul deals with this inclination to judge God, and question his character, in Romans 9:18-21.
So then God has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?
I include here something I've included in a couple of other places on this blog, but something relevant to this topic.

In saying God gives the Christian salvation by grace, as a gift, we are saying: GOD FREELY GIVES SALVATION. "Freely" has 2 important, and connected, senses:

1) God is free in all He does – He does according to His good pleasure (Mt. 11.26), according to the counsel of His own will (Eph. 1.3ff), according to His own purpose (Romans 8.28ff), He has mercy on whoever pleases (Romans 9.18), he has mercy on whoever he chooses (Mt. 11.27). God’s sovereign hand is not forced from outside Himself. In short, God does as He pleases, when He pleases, and shows mercy to whom He pleases (i.e. wills, desires, chooses), when He wants, and how He wants.

 2) God’s mercy is due to nothing in us; it is a gift, gratis, undeserved, unearned, unmerited, unbought, unsought. God owes no man anything but wrath. There is no reason in the creature, even in the best of men, for the love of God. We come to God as beggars, never as creditors. God stands toward us as benefactor, never as debtor.

False Premise V. Doubting God's Goodness

In IV above, we addressed the tendency to judge God and malign his character. This is, indeed, often at back of the question, "Why didn't God save ..." This casts God as mean-spirited, distant, cruel, uncaring, unkind, unconcerned with his world. This is slander; the opposite is the case.

Let's open our eyes to the truth: God is good. Far from being miserly or severe, God has a large and loving heart. He sent his Son, and in so doing announced, "Goodwill toward man (Luke 2.14)." God has a good will toward man, a kindly disposition, that caused him to bring peace to war-torn earth. If being faithful to the scripture, we should even say God is friendly: friendly even to those who have formerly lived in scandalous rebellion against him. It was said of Jesus, "He is the friend of sinners (Mt. 11.19)."

God is generous and beneficent to a world at war with him, and this generosity has extended to every man in every age. God is good; he has a large and loving heart; he is not miserly, or mean, malicious, or cruel. And, God is not just one good thing among other good things. He is the source of all good.
R.M. McCheyne: All the joys in the world are but beams from that uncreated light which is God; but separate a man from God, and all becomes dark. God is the fountain of all joy—separate a man from God finally, and nothing can give him joy.
God is pouring goodness like a flood on our world. I mean, look around you: did you invent this world? Did you make anything out of nothing? You live and play rent free in God's wonder world. God is good; we just don't notice it. Deserve? God causes the sun to shine on the world day after day: a world which is filled with men and women who despise him, and never once stop to thank him. He gives food, and joy, and friends, and family, and countless other good things to a mankind in rebellion against him. Stop and think: when is the last time you did something kind to someone who hates you?

False Premise VI. Personal Disregard

"What about those people?"

Sometimes, the question arises from vain curiosity. When this is so, it comes from person gazing out over history with a god-like preoccupation for the particulars of the human drama. In other words, such a person is concerned about the salvation of everyone but themselves.

"What about those people?"

What about them? They must stand before God as individuals accountable for their own lives on the judgment day. You and I must stand before God as well, and we won't give an account for their lives, but for our own. On the judgment day, the object of greatest import for us will be our own salvation, not the salvation of tribesmen in 1544. When John became nosy about the fate of Peter, Jesus rebuked him bluntly, "If it's my will that he remains until I return, what does that concern you? You follow me (John 21.18-21)."

In words other, "You need to worry about you. I will rule the universe according to my prerogative and will. That's my business. Your business is following me. Keep to your business. Focus on what is truly important in your life: YOUR life."

So, when someone says, "What about those people..." it may be they are focusing on something that is not their concern. They are indeed playing God, and being a busy body in the universe. The real and important question for each of us is NOT, "What about them?" But, "What about me?" We have compassion on the souls of tribes people in distant lands with whom we've never spoken a word? Yet, we don't have compassion on our own souls and earnestly seek salvation? Something is disordered about such priorities.

Jesus was once asked, "Are few people going to be saved."

He responded, not by giving a straight up answer, but rather a command, "Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to (Luke 13:24)."

Jesus is warning against 1) Vain preoccupation with the salvation of others to the 2) Neglect and disregard for our own salvation.

1) Vain Preoccupation about the salvation of others. 

We can spend our lives doing population studies of heaven. What about those people? Who is saved? Who is really really saved? Are they real Christians? Are the Greek philosophers going to be in Heaven?

John Calvin warned against this in his comments on Luke 13:24: 
...these words were intended to withdraw his people from a foolish curiosity, by which many are retarded and involved, when they look around to see if any companions are joining them, as if they were unwilling to be saved but in a crowd. When he bids them strive, or labor, he conveys the information, that it is impossible to obtain eternal life without great and appalling difficulties. Let believers, therefore, give their earnest attention to this object, instead of indulging in excessive curiosity about the vast number of those who are going astray. 
2) Neglect and disregard for our own salvation. 

Our own salvation! The salvation of our precious everlasting souls. This is something of eternal moment: something that truly concerns us, and something that should concern us, truly. 

"Make every effort," Jesus says. He calls us to focus with laser like precision on the salvation, first of all, of our own souls. We don't have time to worry about tribesmen in 1544; this calls forth every ounce of energy we have.
Heart-work is hard work indeed. To shuffle over religious duties with a loose and careless spirit, will cost no great difficulties; but to set yourself before the Lord, and to tie up your loose and vain thoughts to a constant and serious attendance upon him: this will cost you something (John Flavel).
God has given us means to attend to, and we should give our all in attendance on these means:
"Make every effort" teaches that a man must use means diligently, if he would have his soul saved. There are means which God has appointed to help man in his efforts to approach Him. There are ways in which a man must walk, if he desires to be found by Christ. Public Worship, reading the Bible, hearing the Gospel preached--these are the kind of things to which I refer. They lie, as it were, in the middle, between man and God. Doubtless no one can change his own heart, or wipe away one of his sins, or make himself in the least degree acceptable to God; but I do say that if man could do nothing but sit still, Christ would never have said "Make every effort." 
-J.C. Ryle, Self-Exertion.
So, what should our chief concern be? Looking to the good of our own souls, not meddling in the prerogatives of God. J.C. Ryle further commented on Luke 13:24:
It teaches unmistakably that mighty truth, our own personal responsibility for the salvation of our souls. It shows the immense danger of putting off the great business of Christianity, as so many unhappily do...Make every effort" teaches that man is a free agent, and will be dealt with by God as a responsible being. The Lord Jesus does not tell us to wait, and wish, and feel, and hope, and desire. He says, "Make every effort." I call that worthless religion which teaches people to be content with saying, "We can do nothing ourselves," and makes them continue in sin. It is as bad as teaching people that it is not their fault if they are not converted, and that God only is to blame if they are not saved. I find no such theology in the New Testament. I hear Jesus saying to sinners, "Come--repent--believe--labor-ask--knock." I see plainly that our salvation, from first to last, is entirely "of God;" but I see with no less clarity that our ruin, if lost, is wholly and entirely of ourselves. I maintain that sinners are always addressed as accountable and responsible; and I see no better proof of this than what is contained in the words "Make every effort."... Make every effort" teaches that laziness towards Christianity is a great sin. It is not merely a misfortune, as some fancy--a thing for which people are to be pitied, and a matter for regret. It is something far more than this. It is a breach of a clear commandment... He knows full well, that so long as you do not "make every effort," you must come at last to the place where the destroying maggot never dies, and the fire that is never quenched. Be careful that you do not come to this end. I repeat it, "you have only to do nothing, and you will be lost."
And here is Edwards in The Character of Paul, An Example For Christians:
(Paul) was not careless and indifferent in this matter; but the kingdom of heaven suffered violence from him. He did not halt between two opinions, or seek with a wavering, unsteady mind, but with the most full determination and strong resolution. He resolved, if it could by any means be possible, that he would attain to the resurrection of the dead. He does not say that he was determined to attain it, if he could, by means that were not very costly or difficult, or by laboring for it a little time, or only now and them, or without any great degree of suffering, or without great loss in his temporal interest. But if by any means he could do it, he would, let the means be easy or difficult... he apostle, as eminent as he was, did not say within himself, “I am converted, and so am sure of salvation. Christ has promised it me. Why need I labor any more to secure it? Yea, I am not only converted, but I have obtained great degrees of grace.” But still he is violent after salvation. He did not keep looking back on the extraordinary discoveries he enjoyed at his first conversion, and the past great experience he had had from time to time... The apostle knew that though he was converted, yet there remained a great work that he must do... The apostle’s hope was not of a nature to make him slothful. It had a contrary effect. The assurance he had of victory, together with the necessity there was of fighting, engaged him to fight not as one that beat the air, but as one that wrestled with principalities and powers. 
"What about those people?" If this arises from flippant curiosity  that is, unless this involves your endeavor to bring the gospel to a group  this is not your concern. You, follow Christ, and make every effort to enter by the narrow door.


In 1735, John Wesley sailed to America to be a missionary in Georgia. On the way, he was amazed by the sublime calm of Moravian Christians in facing death. It seemed they knew something, or Someone, he didn't know.

After arriving, a Moravian pastor named Spangenberg cornered him, "Have you the witness within yourself?"

He continued, "Does the Spirit of God witness with your spirit that you are a child of God?"
Wesley was speechless.

"Do you know Jesus Christ?" the pastor demanded.

Wesley answered, "I know he is the Savior of the world."

"True," the pastor replied, "but do you know he has saved you?"

The Mercy of God


Thomas Watson on The Mercy of God
from the Devotional, Glorifying God [1]  


Definition of God's Mercy: 

God’s mercy is his natural willingness to pity and comfort those who suffer which rises out of his love, without respect to their unworthiness, and only with respect to Christ's worthiness.

When a man in distress cries for pity, what more suitable plea can be urged than the extremity of his case?–And God allows such a plea as this: for he is moved to mercy towards us by nothing in us but the miserableness of our case. He doth not pity sinners because they are worthy, but because they need his pity...All their hope of mercy must be from the consideration of what he is, what he hath done, and what he hath suffered; and that there is no other name given under heaven, among men, whereby we can be saved, but that of Christ; that he is the Son of God, and the Saviour of the world; that his blood cleanses from all sin, and that he is so worthy, that all sinners who are in him may well be pardoned and accepted.–It is impossible that any should come to God for mercy, and at the same time have no hope of mercy. Their coming to God for it, implies that they have some hope of obtaining, otherwise they would not think it worth the while to come. But they that come in a right manner have all their hope through Christ, or from the consideration of his redemption, and the sufficiency of it. –If persons thus come to God for mercy, the greatness of their sins will be no impediment to pardon. Let their sins be ever so many, and great, and aggravated, it will not make God in the least degree more backward to pardon them... When God accepts of young persons, it is not for the sake of the service which they are like to do him afterwards, or because youth is better worth accepting than old age. You seem entirely to mistake the matter, in thinking that God will not accept of you because you are old; as though he readily accepted of persons in their youth, because their youth is better worth his acceptance; whereas it is only for the sake of Jesus Christ, that God is willing to accept of any. You say, your life is almost spent, and you are afraid that the best time for serving God is past; and that therefore God will not now accept of you; as if it were for the sake of the service which persons are like to do him, after they are converted, that he accepts of them. But a self-righteous spirit is at the bottom of such objections. Men cannot get off from the notion, that it is for some goodness or service of their own, either done or expected to be done, that God accepts of persons, and receives them into favour.–Indeed they who deny God their youth, the best part of their lives, and spend it in the service of Satan, dreadfully sin and provoke God; and he very often leaves them to hardness of heart when they are grown old. But if they are willing to accept of Christ when old, he is as ready to receive them as any others; for in that matter God hath respect only to Christ and his worthiness (From Jonathan Edwards's Sermon, Pardon For The Greatest Sinners).

Ephesians 2:4: "God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us..."

The ground and source of all mercy = love. The more one loves, the more mercy one can show. If we ask, "Why does God show mercy?" Answer: Because he loves his people. If we ask: Why does God love his people? Answer: Because God loves his people. Deuteronomy 7.7-9:
The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your ancestors that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments.
If we ask, "Why does God loves his people." Answer: Because God loves his people.
From Charles Spurgeon, Grace Abounding,
Such is the grace of God. It does not visit us because we ask it, much less, because we deserve it; but as God wills it, and the bottles of heaven are unstopped, so God wills it, and grace descends. No matter how vile, and black, and foul, and godless, men may be, he will have mercy on whom he will have mercy, and that free, rich, overflowing goodness of his can make the very worst and least deserving the objects of his best and choicest love... There is no reason for God's love in any man, if there is none in you, you are not worse off than the best of men, for there is none in them; the grace and love of God can come as freely to you as they can to those that have long been seeking them, for "I am found of them that sought me not."
I. Our Need For Mercy

What shall we do to (have a share in) in God’s mercy? Be sensible of your wants.[2] See how much you stand in need of pardoning, saving mercy.[3] See yourselves as orphans. God bestows the charity of mercy only on such as are destitute. Be emptied of all opinion of self-worthiness. God pours the golden oil of mercy into empty vessels[4] ... To have health is a mercy, but to have Christ and salvation is a greater mercy.[5] [6]

II. God is Merciful 

Mercy is an attribute of God, both the result and effect of God’s goodness... God is essentially good in Himself and relatively good to us. They are both put together in, “You are good, and do good (Ps. 119.68).”[7]

(God’s mercy is his) inherent propensity to pity and comfort those who suffer. Scriptures great design is to represent God as merciful. This is a loadstone to draw sinners to Him (Ps. 108.4).[8]

Mercy sets God’s power on work to help us...[9]

All the mercy in the creature is derived from God, and is only a drop in the ocean (compared to God’s mercy)...[10] If God has put any kindness into the creature, how much kindness is in Him who is the Father of mercy![11]

Even the worst people taste God’s mercy; even though they fight against it. [12] [13]

One act of mercy engages God to another. Men argue thus: “I have shown you kindness already. Therefore trouble me no more.” But because God has shown mercy, He is more ready still to show mercy. His mercy in election makes Him justify, adopt, glorify. One act of mercy engages God to more (just as a) parent’s love to his child makes him always giving.[14]

III. God’s Willingness to Show Mercy 

God counts it His glory to scatter pardons; He is desirous that sinners should touch the golden scepter of His mercy and live. The willingness to show mercy appears by entreating sinners to come and take hold on His mercy, “Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life (Rev. 22.17; cf. Mt. 11.28-30).” Mercy woos sinners; it even kneels down to them. It was strange for a prince to entreat a condemned man to accept pardon. God says, “Poor sinner, let Me love thee. Be willing to let Me save thee.”[15]

God’s willingness to show mercy appears by His joyfulness when sinners take hold on His mercy (Lk. 15.3-9, “...joyfully puts it on his shoulders... rejoice with me... more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents... rejoice with me”). God’s goodness is that he rejoices at the salvation of sinners, and is glad when His mercy is accepted. God rejoices when a poor sinner comes in and takes hold of His mercy.[16]

IV. God’s Mercy Comes Through Christ Alone 

... and all the mercy comes through Christ... carry the Lamb Christ in your arms, go in His name, present His merits. Say, “Lord! Here is Christ’s blood, which is the price of my pardon. Lord! Show me mercy, because Christ has purchased it.” [17] [18]

V. God’s Mercy is Free 

The spring of mercy which God shows, is free and spontaneous.[19] To set up merit, is to destroy mercy; nothing can deserve mercy or force it.[20] Nothing can deserve mercy (because we are polluted in our blood), nor force it. We may force God to punish us, but not to love us. Every link in the cahing of salvation is wrought and interwoven with free grace. Election is free (Eph. 1.4-5). Justification is free (Romans 3.24) Salvation is free (Titus 3.5). Say not then, “I am unworthy,” for mercy is free. If God should show mercy to such only as are worthy, He would show none at all[21] ... As God’s mercy makes the saints happy, so it should make them humble.[22] Mercy is not the fruit of our goodness, but the fruit of God’s goodness. Mercy is a charity that God bestows. They have no cause to be proud who live upon the charity of God’s mercy... all my righteousness is the effect of God’s mercy.[23] Therefore, I will be humble and will not lift up my head. [24] [25]

VI. God’s Mercy Is Eternal 
God’s mercy is eternal (Ps. 103.17; Psalm 100.5). “His mercy endures forever,” is repeated 26 times in Psalm 136... God’s anger to His children lasts but awhile, but His mercy is everlasting. As long as He is God, He will be showing mercy. As His mercy is overflowing, so it is forever flowing.[26]

VII. The Kinds of Mercy

There are several kinds of mercy:
preventing mercy,
sparing mercy,
guiding mercy,
accepting mercy,
healing mercy (Phil. 2.27),
quickening mercy,
supporting mercy,
forgiving mercy,
correcting mercy,
comforting mercy,
delivering mercy,
and crowning mercy.[27]
(On Sparing Mercy) Mercy stays the speedy execution of God’s patience. Sinners continually provoke God and make, “the fury come up in his face (Ez. 38.18).” Whence does God not presently arrest and condemn them? It is not that God cannot do it, for He is armed with omnipotence, but it is from His mercy. Mercy provides a reprieve for the sinner, and stops the speedy process of justice. God would, by His goodness, lead sinners to repentance.[28]

VIII. Faith And Mercy 

Nothing prejudices us but unbelief. Unbelief stops the current of God’s mercy from running, shuts God’s bowels, closes the cavity of Christ’s wounds, so no healing virture will come out.[29] As far as the heavens are above the earth, so far is God’s mercy above our sins[30]... Go with confidence in this mercy, as when one goes to a fire, not doubtingly, saying, “Perhaps it will warm me, perhaps not.” God’s mercy is plenteous.[31]

IX. Pray For Mercy 

Go to God for mercy: “Have mercy upon me, O God (Psalm 51.1)!” Put me not off with the common mercy that reprobates may have. Give me not only acorns, but pearls. Give me not only mercy to feed and clothe me, but mercy to save me; Give me the cream of thy mercies.[32] Lord!... Give me such mercy as speaks Thy electing love to my soul. Oh, pray for mercy! Prayer is the key that opens treasures of mercy, and all the mercy comes through Christ... carry the Lamb Christ in your arms, go in His name, present His merits. Say, “Lord! Here is Christ’s blood, which is the price of my pardon. Lord! Show me mercy, because Christ has purchased it.”...[33]

X. Mercy and Love to God 

God’s justice may make us fear Him; His mercy makes us love Him. If mercy will not produce love, what will? We are to love God for giving us our food, much more for giving us grace; for sparing mercy, much more for saving mercy. Sure that heart is made of marble which the mercy of God will not dissolve in love. “I would hate my own soul,” says Augustine, “if I did not finding it loving God.”

XI. Imitate God's Mercy

We are to imitate God in showing mercy. As God is the Father of mercy, show yourselves to be His children by being like Him. Ambrose says, “The sum and definition of religion is, be rich in works of mercy, be helpful to the bodies and souls of others. Scatter your golden seeds; let the lamp of your profession be filled with the oil of charity. Be merciful in giving and forgiving (To enemies: Lk. 6.36; To fellow christians: Eph. 4.32-5.2).”[34] [35]

XII. Abusing God’s Mercy 

Take heed of abusing the mercy of God.[36] Suck not poison out of the sweet flower of God’s mercy. Think not that because God is merciful, you may go on in sin; this is to make mercy your enemy... To sin because mercy abounds is the devil’s logic.[37] He who sins because of God’s mercy is like one who wounds his head because he has a bandage... Mercy is not for them who sin and fear not, but for them who fear and sin not. God’s mercy is a holy mercy; where it pardons, it heals.[38] 


[1] The content is excerpted from Thomas Watson, Glorifying God: A Yearlong Collection of Classical Devotional Writings, June 7-17. See dates in footnotes for references to Watson. I have also added some scripture references, excerpts from others, and my own comments.

[2] What we need is NEED.

[3] “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven (Matt. 5.3);” / “You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked (Rev. 3.17).”

[4] Watson, June 15.

[5] Watson, June 9.

[6] We should be thankful and humbled by all mercies – what do we have that we have not received freely from God (1 Tim. 6.17; 1 Cor. 4.7). All mercies are good. Yet, some are better, and some are best. We should, thus, rejoice more when we have hope in sure heavenly treasure than when we have hope in uncertain earthly treasure (1 Timothy 6.17; Lk. 12.16-21; 6.3-4, 19-21), more, over a good name with God than a good name with men (Mt. 5.11-12). And, we should not rejoice even when we have great spiritual power, but should rather rejoice that our names are written in heaven (Lk. 10.20).

[7] Watson, June 7.

[8] Watson, June 7.

[9] Watson, June 8.

[10] If men, who are evil, have the capacity for mercy – how much more the God of all mercy (Lk. 11.13)!?

[11] Watson, June 10.

[12] Mt. 5.45, “(God) causes His sun to shine on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous (cf. Psalm 145.9).”

[13] Waston, June 9.

[14] God’s chesed (translated: steadfast love, loyal love, lovingkindness, etc.) in the OT describes His faithfulness to persevere with His people in love (Ex. 34.6-7). Thus, God’s love is a merciful love: “If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny himself (2 Timothy 2.13).”

[15] Watson. June 13.

[16] Watson, June 13.

[17] Watson, June 15.

[18] Jonathon Edwards, Pardon for The Chief of Sinners, “It is only for the sake of Jesus Christ, that God is willing to accept any person...it has nothing to do with anything we bring, or any goodness we have. You say, your life is almost spent, and you are afraid that the best time for serving God is past; and that therefore God will not now accept now you- because you are coming to him late in life; what you are really saying is that God accepts persons because of the service they are willing to do him. But a self-righteous spirit is at the bottom of such objections. Men cannot get away from the notion that God welcomes persons and receives them into his favor for some goodness or service of their own, either that they do, or that God expects them to do later—Indeed they who deny God their youth, the best part of their lives, and spend it in the service of Satan, dreadfully sin and provoke God; and he very often leaves them to hardness of heart when they are grown old. But if they are willing to come to Christ when old, he is as ready to receive them as any others; because in the matter of receiving sinners God has respect only to Christ and his worthiness.”

[19] Charles Spurgeon, Grace Abounding, “Such is the grace of God. It does not visit us because we ask it, much less, because we deserve it; but as God wills it, and the bottles of heaven are unstopped, so God wills it, and grace descends. No matter how vile, and black, and foul, and godless, men may be, he will have mercy on whom he will have mercy, and that free, rich, overflowing goodness of his can make the very worst and least deserving the objects of his best and choicest love... There is no reason for God's love in any man, if there is none in you, you are not worse off than the best of men, for there is none in them; the grace and love of God can come as freely to you as they can to those that have long been seeking them, for "I am found of them that sought me not."... "

[20] Thomas Watson, Body of Divinity, section on Mercy.

[21] Watson, June 11.

[22] R.M. McCheyne, “Ah, my friends this is a humbling doctrine. There is no difference between us and the children of wrath; some of us were more wicked than they, yet God set his love upon us. If there are any here that believe they have been chosen because they were better than others, you are grossly mistaken (cf. Eph. 2.3).”

[23] We are by nature sinners (Ps. 51.3), and so, by nature children of wrath (Eph. 2.3). Nature makes us proud sinners. Grace makes us humble saints – humble and holy, and humble when holy (cf. John Calvin, Puritan Papers, “Nature made him proud...”).

[24] See Whitfield on ‘true humility of mind,’ in Banner of Truth, vol. 1.

[25] God gives freely: this has 2 important, and connected, senses, 1) God is free in all He does – He does according to His good pleasure (Mt. 11.26), according to the counsel of His own will (Eph. 1.3ff), according to His own purpose (Romans 8.28ff), He has mercy on whoever he wants (Romans 9), he has mercy on whoever he chooses (Mt. 11.27). God’s sovereign hand is not forced from outside Himself. In short, God does as He pleases, when He pleases, and shows mercy to whom He pleases (i.e. wills, desires, chooses), when He wants, and how He wants. 2) God’s love is due to nothing in us; it is a gift, gratis, undeserved, unearned, unmerited, unbought, unsought. God owes no man anything but wrath. There is no reason in the creature, even in the best of men, for the love of God. We come to God as beggars, never as creditors. God stands toward us as benefactor, never as debtor.

[26] Watson, June 12.

[27] Watson, June 11.

[28] The merciful patience of God in not immediately sending just wrath is described as His longsuffering (Ex. 34.6), His kindness, tolerance, and patience (Romans 2.4), and his unlimited patience (1 Timothy 1.16). God’s withholding wrath is the combination of his patience and grace – patience in that he waits long; grace in that he does not give what we deserve. Thus, if God withholds His wrath, even for a moment, it is mercy. It is a postponement of just sentencing. Why does God demonstrate such tolerant patience? Because he would draw sinners kindly to repentance (Romans 2.4), and he would not break the bruised reed – i.e., He nurtures and waits out even the least gleam of hope in sinful men (see my sermon notes on that text).

[29] The problem is not God’s power or God’s willingness. The problem is sinful unbelief. “(Jesus) could not do many miracles there because of their unbelief.”

[30] Watson, June 13.

[31] Watson, June 12.

[32] It is not the case that ‘we have not because God has not.’ Or, that we have not because God is unwilling to give. We have not because we ask not (Mt. 7.7-8; James 1.5).

[33] Watson, June 15.

[34] Watson, June 17.

[35] Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy (Mt. 5.7). Knowing God’s mercy makes us merciful toward others. Mercy shown is evidence of mercy received, evidence of saving faith, and evidence that comforts us for the judgment day when all men will receive either mercy or justice. Also, mercy shown is evidence of mercy TO BE received on the judgment day. Mercy is a mark of “making our calling and election sure.” The best indication of mercy from God on that day, is mercy from us on this day.

[36] Romans 2.3-4; see Charles Hodge, Commentary on Romans, 2.3-4.

[37] Romans 3.8, 6.1-2.

[38] Watson, June 14.