Friday, June 27, 2014

A Brief Survey of Ecclesiastes, Part 2

A Brief Survey of Ecclesiastes, Part 2

The canonicity of the book was, however, long doubtful (Yad. iii. 5; Meg. 7a), and was one of the matters on which the school of Shammai took a more stringent view than the school of Hillel.  It was finally settled "on the day whereon Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah was appointed head of the assembly."  Attempts were made to render it apocryphal on the ground of its not being inspired, or of its internal contradictions, or of a tendency that it displayed toward heresy — that is, Epicureanism.  But these objections were satisfactorily answered.  It was assumed that Solomon had taken the name "Qohelet," just as he had taken the name "Agur" (Prov. 30:1), as a collector; and probably the Septuagint rendering represents a theory that the name contained an allusion to I Kings 8:1 where Solomon is said to have gathered an assembly.  Along these same lines Rev. Scott wrote, “all of them [the “Epicurean-sounding” maxims] admit of a sound and useful interpretation, when accurately investigated, and when the general scope of the book is attended to.”[1]

There are no direct quotations of Ecclesiastes in the New Testament, however Matthew 23:23, R. V., "These ye ought to have done, and not to have left the other undone," seems clearly a reminiscence of Eccl. 7:18.  Holden gives a list from the German critic Carpzov of texts with more or less resemblance, but few of them carry any weight of parallelism or reference.

The “corrupt propensities,” as Bridges calls them, of the writer do not influence in deteriorating its real authority.  For this depends not upon the instrumentality employed but upon the dignity of its great author and the truthfulness of the testimony.  There is, for this reason, no ground to question that this book was given  - like every other part of Scripture – by inspiration of God.


The Book’s manifest purpose is to show that all is vanity unless one, “fears God, and keeps His commandments” (12:13).  The book is a record of Solomon’s desperate journey.  It was a maddening period in his adult life when life lost its luster.  He questions everything in life—values, God, ethics, etc.  He sought to live without God.  The goal of the journey is to show that you cannot live a significant, worthwhile, meaningful life without a personal relationship with God.  When you leave God out, life is a repetitious cycle of events, which neither possesses nor gives lasting value or satisfaction (1:2-11).  Solomon’s states clearly that significance in life can be found only in a trusting relationship with God:  Everything else is vanity.  If it is “under the sun” it will not satisfy because it is life apart from God.  Jesus asked, “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?  Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?”[2]  An adequate worldview must recognize that God is the highest value of all.  Life has a purpose and God will judge every deed.  Incidentally, this book is a testimony to the great doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saints.  Despite the depths of Solomon’s fall, he was not left by God to die in that state.  Rather, like all the elect he was recalled and died securely in the grace of God that elected him to salvation before the foundations of the earth. 


“Vanity of vanities, All is vanity” (1:2).  “Wine, women and song” is the experience of living on the edge of reality without God.  Understanding of life begins with a healthy fear of God.  Elohim is used forty times in this book.  He is the total sovereign provider over all His creation.  The Preacher repeatedly admonishes men to “fear God” (3:14; 5:6; 8:12; 12:13).  Ecclesiastes reports the results of a diligent quest for purpose, meaning and satisfaction in human life.  The Preacher poignantly sees the emptiness and futility of power, popularity, prestige and pleasure apart from God.  The word vanity appears 37 times to express the many things that cannot be understood about life.  When earthly goals and ambitions are pursued as ends in themselves, they lead to disappointment and frustration.  Life "under the sun" (used 29 times) seems to be filled with inequities, uncertainties, changes in fortune, and violations of justice.

Yet Ecclesiastes does not give an answer to atheism or skepticism; God is referred to throughout.  In fact, it claims that the search for man’s summum bonum must end in God.  Satisfaction in life can be found only by looking beyond this world.  Ecclesiastes gives an analysis of negative themes but it also develops the positive theme of overcoming the vanities of life by fearing a God who is good, just, and sovereign (Eccl. 12:13, 14).


Ecclesiastes belongs to the Hebrew Wisdom literature.  The Hebrew in Ecclesiastes is unique to any other Hebrew from any other period.  It has some Aramaic and Persian words.  Archer says, “The reason for the peculiar vocabulary, syntax, and style seems to be found in the literary genre to which Ecclesiastes belonged – the genre of the philosophical discourse. If this particular genre was first developed in Phoenicia, and if Solomon was well read in this whole area of wisdom literature (cf. 1 Kings 4:30-34), there is every reason to believe that he deliberately chose to write in the idiom and style that had already been established for that genre.”[3]  It seems reasonably obvious that we are dealing here with a conventional style peculiar to the particular genre to which Ecclesiastes belonged.   It so happens that in the case of the precise genre to which Ecclesiastes belongs, we have nothing else that has survived from Hebrew literature.  There are some remarkable similarities between some passages in Ecclesiastes and the corresponding sections in the Proverbs.  He writes as a philosopher, and a keen observer of world history, current events and personal experiences.

Christ in Ecclesiastes:

Ecclesiastes convincingly portrays the emptiness and perplexity of life without a relationship with the Lord.  Each person has eternity in his heart (Eccl. 3:11), and only Christ can provide ultimate satisfaction, joy and wisdom.  Man’s summum bonum is found in the "one Shepherd" (Eccl. 12:11) who offers abundant life (John 10:9, 10).   In a striking passage from his commentary on Ecclesiastes, Gregory of Nyssa sees Qohelet as a reference, or perhaps a type of Christ.  He writes: “We must first consider the inscription of this book: ‘The words of Ecclesiastes, son of David, king of Israel in Jerusalem.’ The law of Moses is read in every church along with the prophets, psalms, historical books and other Old and New Testament readings. How, then, does this special inscription enhance Ecclesiastes, and what are we to make of it? …Perhaps this inscription refers to the leader of the Church [ekklesia]. The true Ecclesiastes [Qoheleth, Christ] gathers into one assembly those persons who often have been scattered and frequently deceived. Who could he be except the true king of Israel to whom Nathaniel said, "You are the son of God and the king of Israel" (Jn 1.49)?  If these words pertain to the king of Israel, the Son of God, as the Gospel says, then he is called Ecclesiastes. We will not deviate from the inscription's meaning provided that we learn about him who firmly establishes the Church through the Gospel and to whom these words apply. "The words of Ecclesiastes, son of David" [1.1]: thus Matthew begins his gospel with the name David and calls him Lord.[4]


No better conclusion of the book can be given than Solomon’s own: The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person (12:13).  Everything apart from God is futile.  Augustine said, “Thou hast made us for Thyself and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee.”[5]  When a person begins to grow spiritually, he realizes that the former way of life and the worldview that results from it no longer suffices for the new manner of living that has come to be.  In other words, what we once valued is no longer deemed to be so valuable.  The book of Ecclesiastes clearly provides expression for such a recognition. 

Solomon explored every visible realm of stimulation in a carefully controlled environment and was still unsatisfied.  Only God satisfies our deepest needs in life.  Everything else is “vanity."

[1] Preface to Ecclesiastes
[2] Matthew 16:26, NASB 1995
[3] Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties
[4] Gregory of Nyssa, Commentary on Ecclesiastes
[5] Confessions 1.1

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

A Brief Survey of Ecclesiastes, Part 1

A Brief Survey of Ecclesiastes, Part 1 

The Book of Ecclesiastes has exercised the Church in no small degree.  Many learned men have not hesitated to list it among the most difficult books in the Canon.  Luther doubted whether any expositor up to his time had fully mastered it.  Gregory of Nyssa says, ”When [the book of] Proverbs has exercised our minds by its obscure words, wise sayings, riddles and various twists of words as contained in the Introduction, we find an ascent for those persons who have advanced to more perfect lessons with regard to this lofty, divinely inspired book.  If a toilsome, arduous meditation on Proverbs prepares us for these lessons, how much more laborious and difficult must it be to now examine such sublime matters proposed for our contemplation!”[i]

Gregory of Nyssa did not fail to consider the role Ecclesiastes would play in his scheme for the spiritual life. He saw it divided into three stages, an outline inherited from his illustrious predecessor, Origen of Alexandria: praktikh qeoria or "practical, applied" contemplation, yusikh qeoria or "physical" contemplation and qeologia or "theology" which pertains to God proper.  In Origen's scheme the book of Proverbs represents the first stage, the book of Ecclesiastes the second and the Song of Songs the third and final stage.  Gregory himself speaks of the three books of Solomon with reference to the three stages of spiritual growth at the beginning of his Commentary on the Song of Songs.

In Gregory and Origen’s system, the purpose of Proverbs is to teach; Ecclesiastes preaches.  The philosophy of the Song of Songs transcends both by its loftier doctrine.   For Gregory of Nyssa Proverbs is the first way, Ecclesiastes is the second and the Song of Songs is the third.  In Gregory’s view we see a need to be instructed in spiritual things before advancing to a realization that our former perceptions were subject to vanity.

These views may be a bit overly philosophical yet they do point to an interesting fact about the actual location of Ecclesiastes in the Canon.  It is just before the Song of Songs and just after Proverbs.  When one has fully realized and felt the futility of life apart from God, only then can his soul truly appreciate the splendor of the Heavenly Bridegroom.


The Book of Ecclesiastes gets its title from the first words of the book: “The words of Qohelet (ko-heh-let), the Son of David, King in Jerusalem” (1:1).  The name "Ecclesiastes"—literally, "Member of an Assembly," often thought to mean (after Jerome) "Preacher"—is the Septuagint rendering of the Hebrew "Qohelet," apparently as an intensive formation from the root "qahal," with which such forms as the Arabic "rawiyyah" (professional reciter) have been compared. The Hebrew word is given by the author of the book as his name, sometimes with the article (12: 8, and probably 6: 27), but ordinarily without it: similar license is allowed in Arabic in the case of some common nouns used as proper names. The Greek title is derived from the term ekklesiastes, which is a good translation meaning “preacher,” and is derived from ekklesia, meaning “assembly.” The Greek is Latinized into Ecclesiastes.


The author of Ecclesiastes can be none other than King Solomon the son of David.  His name is nowhere mentioned in the book, however references in Ecclesiastes clearly suggest his authorship. The Jews considered Ecclesiastes to be Solomonic and inspired. The early Christian church also approved it. The author identifies himself as Davis’s son who was a king over Israel in Jerusalem (1:1). The book is consistent with the historic accounts of Solomon (1 Kings 1-11), and he has the qualities that would make him David’s son (1:16; 2:4-9).  Some critics of note, such as Grotius, Dathè and others have rejected the Solomonic authorship on the grounds of supposed differences in style and the use of a few words of a supposed later origin.  These arguments, however, amount to theoretical doubts or plausibilities.  They in fact, involve a supposition utterly unworthy of Inspiration, viz., that some unknown author has palmed upon the Church in the Sacred Canon his own thoughts and words under the deceptive cover of the name of, “the son of David – King in Jerusalem.”  Gleason Archer writes, “Most modern scholars admit that the purported author of Ecclesiastes is Solomon; but they maintain that this was simply a literary device employed by a later author, now unknown to us, who wished to teach the ultimate futility of a materialistic worldview. If this could be accepted as valid, it would certainly put in question almost every other affirmation of authorship to be found in any other book of the Bible. Some later, unknown author might equally well have pretended to be Isaiah, Jeremiah, Hosea, or the apostle Paul, simply as "a literary device to express his own views." If it were any other book than the Bible, this would have to be classified as forgery, a mere product of deception, which would render the actual author of such a spurious work liable to damages in a court of law. It is more than doubtful that a Bible that holds to such high standards of integrity and honesty and that was certified by the Lord Jesus and His apostles as being the infallible Word of God could be composed of spurious work by authors who paraded under assumed names.”[ii]

Therefore, there is no conclusive evidence against king Solomon as the author.  There are two lines of evidence in favor of the Solomonic authorship: External evidence and internal.

As for the external evidence we have the Jewish Talmuds (the authoritative body of Jewish tradition comprising the Mishnah and Gemara), which attributes the book to Solomon but suggests that Hezekiah’s scribes may have edited the text (see Prov. 25:1).  Solomonic authorship of Ecclesiastes is the standard Christian position, although some scholars, along with the Talmud, believe the work was later edited during the time of Hezekiah or possibly Ezra.

The internal evidence is quite conclusive.  The author calls himself, "the son of David, king in Jerusalem" (Eccl. 1:1).  A later reference rules out any other offspring of David as a possible candidate, since Solomon was the only son of David to be king of Israel in Jerusalem (1:12).  After Solomon’s death the kingdom was divided and all David’s descendants that ruled in Jerusalem reigned only over the southern kingdom of Judah.  Solomon was the best-qualified Davidic descendant for the quest in this book.  He was the wisest man who ever taught in Jerusalem (see Eccl. 1:16; I Kings 4:29-30).  The descriptions of Qohelet’s exploration of pleasure (Eccl. 2:1-3), impressive accomplishments (Eccl. 2:4-6) and unparalleled wealth (Eccl. 2:7-10) were fulfilled only by King Solomon.  The proverbs in this book are similar to those in the Book of Proverbs (e.g. Eccl. 7:10).  According to Ecclesiastes 12:9, Qohelet collected and arranged many proverbs, perhaps referring to the two Solomonic collections in Proverbs.  Furthermore, the unity of authorship of Ecclesiastes is supported by the seven references to Qohelet.

The Grecisms supposed to be found in the book are all imaginary (for instance,  has no connection with fqe1gma.  The phrase "under the sun," which occurs so frequently, is also found in the Eshmunazar and Tabnith inscriptions, not later than 300 B.C., as the equivalent of "on earth"), and the suppositions as to borrowings from Greek philosophy which some have professed to detect are all fallacious.[iii]


The date is probably around 940-935 B.C., which would be consistent with Solomon as the author (970-931 B.C.).  All the best commentators are agreed that Solomon wrote this book toward the end of his life after his apostasy.  Bishop Reynolds says, “He seemeth to have written it in his old age, when he took a more serious view of his past life – the honour, pleasure, wealth, and wisdom he had so abundantly enjoyed – the errors and miscarriages he had fallen into – the large experience, and many observations he had made of things natural, moral domestical, sensual, Divine – the curious and critical inquiry he had made after true happiness, and what contributions all things under the sun could afford thereunto.”[iv]

All the internal evidence confirms this date.  It could not have been composed before his fall, i.e., before the awful state of madness he so graphically describes.  Neither could he have written it during the time since it is obviously a record of the past viewed in repentance.  We are left with no option but the later date.

The book was plainly written in a spirit of genuine penitence for the sins he had fallen into.  “He writeth in such sort, as if he had learned the doctrine of the vanity of earthly things by very great experience and long use.”[v]  The circumstances remind us of his father’s example – writing a psalm (Ps.51), however, he produces an entire book as a solemn testimony to the Church of his godly repentance.  “After his great fall Solomon recovereth himself again by repentance, and writeth his Book of Ecclesiastes, as his peculiar dirge for that his folly.”[vi]  Witsius speaks of this book “as written in his old age, when led, under the influence of the Divine Spirit, to repent of his past life.”[vii]  All the Patristic commentators agree with this view.

[i] Gregory of Nyssa, Commentary on Ecclesiastes
[ii] Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties
[iii] See Ad. Lods; "L'Ecclésiaste et la Philosophie Grecque," 1890
[iv] Annotations on Ecclesiastes – Works, vol. Iv.
[v] Lightfoot, Works, vol. i
[vi] Ibid.
[vii] Misc. Sacra, vol. ii. Exercit. vi.1

Friday, June 13, 2014

A Brief Survey of 1 Peter, Part 2

A Brief Survey of 1 Peter, Part 2
Theological Issues:
The main purpose of this letter is to strengthen these saints, who were weary from violent persecution.  Peter uses the certainty of the saints’ perseverance to encourage them amidst fierce opposition.  Though their earthly state was unsure, their heavenly state was guaranteed.  Peter’s line of reasoning runs: Elect,[1] Regenerated,[2] Preserved.[3]  He then gives Christ’s example of patient suffering.[4]  Nothing can encourage us like certainty.  Complete assurance of salvation is the greatest antidote against weakness and the temptation to surrender amidst trials and tribulations.  This is surely one of the great weaknesses of the Arminian scheme.  How can we appreciate the inheritance which is “reserved” for us in heaven when there is no certainty that we will even get there?

To further refute the Arminian error, Peter next argues that knowledge of our perseverance tends to holiness.  It is frequently alleged by Arminians that the doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saints tends to spiritual indifference, sloth and sin.  This is because they assume that if a person knows with absolute certainty that nothing he can ever do will remove him from Christ’s hand,[5] they will indulge in all manner of iniquity.  In other words, they will make grace a license for sin.  Scripture repeatedly denies such reasoning.  How can we who are dead to sin still live in it?[6]  In fact Jude tells us that those who use grace as a license for sin are “ordained[7]” to perdition (another doctrine Arminians dislike).  After reminding his readers of their spiritual privileges, Peter stirs them to holiness.  From verses 13 to 25 of Chapter 1, Peter gives us twelve exhortations to holiness.  They are:
  1. Draw up our affections from things below.[8]
  2. Keep free of the slavery of our former lusts.[9]
  3. Walk agreeably to our holy calling.[10]
  4. There is to be conformity between God and His children.[11]
  5. God is an impartial Judge.[12]
  6. We are pilgrims, sojourners on earth.[13]
  7. Our redemption was costly.[14]
  8. Christ is the eternal Mediator.[15]
  9. Christ was exalted and glorified as our Guarantor.[16]
  10. We should consider our past progress.[17]
  11. We should be mindful of our spiritual origin (incorruptible seed).[18]
  12. We must remember the excellence of our spiritual estate.[19]

In the first part of Chapter 2, Peter exhorts us to read the Scriptures.  He calls them sincere milk.  The Greek word is “guileless."[20]  The article, "the," implies that besides the well-known pure milk, the Gospel, there is no other pure, unadulterated doctrine.    To this end, Peter gives us several motives to a hearty reception and study of the sacred Scriptures.

*      It is sincere milk.
*      It is full of spiritual reason.
*      It is the principal means of all progress and growth in grace.
*      It will prove the reality of any experience of God’s graciousness.
*      We can daily settle with Christ.

All of the above considerations lead us to a doctrine rarely mentioned in evangelical circles today: mortification, by which word we mean the putting to death of the misdeeds of the old sin nature[21] – the old man.[22]  When a man is justified, he must them walk in the newness of life[23] and deny himself,[24] putting to death, little by little, the innate tendencies of the old man, because all things have become new.[25] Mortification differs from Sanctification in this point: We are sanctified by God’s Spirit as we mortify the deeds of the flesh.

It is seldom insisted upon today, nay, it is seldom even mentioned that there exists a struggle between the new and the old in every believer.  This struggle accounts for much of the Romans 7-like tension true believers feel.  Alexander Nisbet puts it quite beautifully when he says in his Scottish manner, “There remains in the children of the Lord not only after their regeneration, but even after some progress in mortification, many strong corruptions and filthy frames of spirit which are left to humble them, Rom. 7:24, and to stir them up to earnest employment of Jesus Christ, both for mercy and power to subdue them, 2 Cor. 12:8; for upon those whim the Apostle supposed to be not only born again (1:23), but to have attained to good degree of mortification (1:22), he here presses that they should lay aside malice, and guile and hypocrisy.”[26]

Assurance of our perseverance leads to mortification and sanctification, not to licentiousness.  It is slander to say that the doctrines of grace lead to sin.  

Peter goes on from these theological considerations to press how to apply these truths practically to all of our affairs: domestic, work-related, or otherwise.  And then, as if he had not been emphatic enough, in Chapter 4, he comes back to the subject of Mortification.

He finishes the letter with reminiscences of his dialogue with the risen Christ in John 21.[27]  The wording of 5:5 suggests that Peter was familiar with James’ letter.[28]  This is an extra proof that there is no conflict between the theology of James and Paul.  Peter cites James and in the same letter confirms the doctrine of Paul.

In summary, the Epistle is a very good reminder of the certainty of our salvation and that a consideration of such privilege should stir us up to holy living and patient suffering.

[1] 1:2
[2] 1:3
[3] 1:4 - 9
[4] 1:10 - 12
[5] John 10:28
[6] Romans 6:1, 2
[7] Jude 4
[8] 1:13
[9] 1:14
[10] 1:15
[11] 1:16
[12] 1:17
[13] 1:17
[14] 1:18
[15] 1:20
[16] 1:21
[17] 1:22
[18] 1:23
[19] 1:24 - 25
[20] cf. 2:1 – “Laying aside all guile…”
[21] Romans 8:13, Colossians 3:5
[22] Romans 6:6, Ephesians 4:2, Colossians 3:9
[23] Romans 6:4
[24] Matthew 16:24
[25] 2 Corinthians 5:17
[26] Alexander Nisbet, Commentary on 1 and 2 Peter
[27] Compare 5:2 with John 21:16
[28] cf. James 4:6

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

A Brief Survey of 1 Peter, Part 1

 A Short Survey of 1 Peter, Part 1

The author is the Apostle Peter.  There has never been any controversy or doubt concerning the Petrine authorship of this Epistle.  The Epistle of Clement of Rome (fl. 95 AD) contains six allusions and quotations.  Polycarp, a contemporary and associate of John, gives ten allusions or citations.  The letters of Ignatius of Antioch contain five.  And Irenaeus’ (120 – 202) works contain fifteen citations.[i]  If any controversy has been broached, it is concerning Peter’s second Epistle, which some questioned in the Ante-Nicene era.  The diction of this Epistle and of his speeches in Acts is very similar: an unplanned coincidence, and so a mark of authenticity[ii]

This letter was composed circa 63 A.D.  It was probably written towards the end of Paul’s first imprisonment in Rome.  There are reasons for thinking that Peter had seen Paul’s Ephesian letter, hence this letter was written as late as 63.  “Mark is mentioned as with Peter in Babylon.  This must have been after Col 4:10 (A.D. 61-63), when Mark was with Paul at Rome, but intending to go to Asia Minor.”[iii]

Place of Writing:
It seems most likely that the place of writing was Babylon on the Euphrates.[iv]  Commentators have frequently take Babylon as a symbolic reference to Rome.  But it is unlikely that in the middle of writing a very plain and matter-of-fact letter, he would inexplicably change milieus to a mystical prophetic style.  Josephus states that there was a great multitude of Jews in Chaldean Babylon.[v]  It was probable, at least that the apostle of the circumcision[vi] would visit them. 

Since no doubt exists concerning the authorship, there is no reason either to question the book’s canonicity.

The letter is addressed to Diaspora.  They were Jewish believers, over whom Peter had a special charge.[vii]  Peter labels these people Elect.


*      1:1 - 2             Introduction
*      1:3 - 12           A Reminder of God’s Salvation
*      1:13 – 2:10    Exhortations to Holy Living
*      2:11 – 4:19    The Christian’s Responsibility in Suffering
*      5:1 – 11          Christian Humility and Service

[i] Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 1
[ii] Compare 1Pe 2:7 with Ac 4:11; 1Pe 1:12 with Ac 5:32; 1Pe 2:24 with Ac 5:30; 10:39; 1Pe 5:1 with Ac 2:32; 3:15; 1Pe 1:10 with Ac 3:18; 10:43; 1Pe 1:21 with Ac 3:15; 10:40; 1Pe 4:5 with Ac 10:42; 1Pe 2:24 with Ac 3:19, 26.
[iii] B.W. Johnson, The People’s New Testament (Introduction to 1 Peter)
[iv] 1 Peter 5:13
[v] Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 15.2.2; 3.1
[vi] Galatians 2:7, 8
[vii] Galatians 2:8

Saturday, June 7, 2014

The Doctrine of Sin, Part 2

In the previous post, we discussed what Scripture says about the Nature of Sin, and our being in a state of sin.  

Having said all of this, we come to the burning question: From whence do we derive our knowledge of sin? How do we know how sin is defined, and, more importantly, how do we know that we are sinful? These are questions of unfathomable importance, and being some of the most important questions we could ever ask, we are quite likely to undervalue both the question and the answer – a result of our sinful nature.

The first way most of us have ever had any knowledge, or at least, sense of sin, is by our conscience. Scripture certainly acknowledges the conscience as a feature of our constitution as humans. But we cannot stress enough that because of sin, our consciences are anything but reliable. Moreover, we can quite simply kill our conscience by ignoring its warnings through repeated exposure to sin, or by creating a rationalization which justifies to our corrupt minds, the act we wish to commit. This explains the horrors of the Holocaust, as well as the societal evils of abortion and sodomy. Our natures are so sinful, that the least justification will do. In fact, in most cases, we don’t even need a justification, per se. We simply need to be distracted with shiny objects. I inadvertently caught a few moments of a home renovation show the other day. The “couple” who wanted work done on their house was homosexual. There is no question, but that there is an agenda represented in that fact. There is no doubt in my mind that someone wishes to promote the homosexual agenda by making them seem as normal as possible: They have the same frustrations we have with small kitchens and not enough storage space. Normalizing that which God has defined as sin only changes its intrinsic sinfulness in the minds of those who wish to live in rebellion against God. But this shows us the inherent weakness of the conscience. I can ignore it, or reprogram it and it will eventually shut up.

The ultimate and only reliable way to gain a knowledge of sin is by the Law of God. I have listed here what are commonly referred to as the “Three Uses of the Law.”

  • First, there is the ‘pedagogical use’ of the Law. Scripture speaks of God’s Law as a schoolmaster leading us to Christ. Anyone who looks at the Law and says, “I can do this,” either has no concept of his own sinfulness, or is, in the words of Buddy Guy, “stone crazy.” The purpose for which God gave His law was to show us our absolute inability to conform to His holy will, thus driving us to seek the provisions for mercy and righteousness which He has supplied in the mediatorial work of His Son.

  • Secondly, there is the ‘civil use’ of the Law wherein we acknowledge that only in conformity to God’s holy law can evil be restrained. Now, we must not confuse ourselves and imagine that an enforcement of “Christian values” somehow saves society and makes people Christian, but it does make the world a safer place to live than it would be it we jettisoned every restraint God’s word puts on human evil.

  • Thirdly, there is what we might call the ‘moral use’ or ‘normative use.’ By this we mean that we view God’s law as the standard of living to which He calls us as those who are in covenant with Him. This is the standard for what can be defined as “holy living.” Again, we must be careful not to run into self-righteousness. The only safeguard against self-righteousness is an adequate view of our own, personal sinfulness. You will never be grateful for the gracious provisions of the Atonement if you don’t see or you lose sight of what you needed atoning for. Let the fact that Scripture (God’s word to His people) contains warnings against the grossest iniquity imaginable be a reminder to you that God is aware that that you are personally capable of those sins: That’s why you needed the warning.

We now need to ask a question: How does the Law work? As Romans 7 describes it, it does three things: It tells us what Sin is. It says, “Don’t do that,” which only makes us want to do what it forbade, and then it condemns us for having done it.

This leads to a consideration of the Deceitfulness of Sin.

One of the reasons why we minimize sin is because so much of the sin which we individually commit is perfectly suited to our own temperament. James 1:14 points this out. No one is going to be tempted by something he/she finds repulsive.

Another reason that sin is so deceptive is its noetic effects. By “noetic” I mean ‘of or relating to mental activity or the intellect.’ Sin has corrupted our minds to such a degree that they are utterly unable to form a correct view of anything apart from the direction of God’s Word. This has huge implications for us as Christians when it comes to our assessments of disciplines such as science, politics, justice, morality, and indeed, any and all fields of human knowledge. We must always take into account the noetic effects of sin. No study of human nature can be theologically accurate if it fails to take sin and its effects into account.

Furthermore, we must constantly remind ourselves that “objectivity” is a myth. There is no such thing as a completely objective observer. We approach everything we do with presuppositions and these presuppositions are sinful in their very core because we are sinful in our very core. This has profound effects on how we think about everything, or at least it should.

Let me illustrate: There is a qualitative difference between someone who was born blind and someone who lost their sight, at say, the age of 10. The person who lost their sight of the age of 10 will still retain many visual memories. Although they will no longer be able to see a sunset, a forest or a prairie, they will still be able to remember or imagine what one looks like – provided they had seen one before. The person who was born blind however, will not only have no visual memories of anything, they will not be able to form any visual mental images of anything. You will not be able to explain color, shade, proportion, or any other visual data which must be seen to be understood, because this person possesses neither the organ of sight, nor the capacity to process this data. This hypothetical person who was born blind may be able to amass a great deal of theoretical knowledge about the world around him through assiduous study. Notwithstanding, he will still have not seen the world in which he lives and will not be the best source of information – for that reason.

This is an accurate, albeit grossly inadequate description of the case of mankind due to sin. Because of sin’s damaging effects on the mind, the unregenerate, being as Scripture says “blind,” “having their understanding darkened,” “alienated from the life of God,” they have never rightly seen the world in which they live. And this is where the analogy of the person who was born blind falls short. The one fact which gives meaning to everything, which explains the existence of everything, and against which everything must be understood, i.e., the existence of God – this is the one thing our sinful nature obscures. And therefore it is not an overstatement to say that the unregenerate person has never seen the world rightly. He will never be capable or desirous of doing so. This is why I said earlier that this should have a profound effect on the way we think.

“Grant, Almighty God, that as the corruption of our flesh ever leads us to pride and vain confidence, we may be illuminated by thy word, so as to understand how great and how grievous is our poverty, and be thus taught wholly to deny ourselves, and so to present ourselves naked before thee, that we may not hope for righteousness or for salvation from any other source than from thy mercy alone, nor seek any rest but only in Christ; and may we cleave to  thee by the sacred and inviolable bond of faith, that we may boldly despise all those empty boastings by which the ungodly exult over us, and that we may also so cast ourselves down in true humility, that thereby we may be carried upward above all heavens, and become partakers of that eternal life which thine only begotten Son has purchased for us by his own blood. Amen.”  – John Calvin, Prayer on Habakkuk 2:4

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