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  • Samuel at Gilgal

    This year I will be sharing brief excerpts from the articles, sermons, and books I am currently reading. My posts will not follow a regular schedule but will be published as I find well-written thoughts that should be of interest to maturing Christian readers. Whenever possible, I encourage you to go to the source and read the complete work of the author.

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Fallen Saints?

In the following article, John Calvin is not talking about saved Christians losing their salvation. He reminds us here that there are “cultural” or false Christians who have attached themselves to the church of Christ, but who have truly never been saved. Calvin writes that they may even aspire to leadership in the church:

But shun profane and vain babblings; for they will increase unto more ungodliness. And their word will eat as doth a canker: of whom is Hymeneus and Philetus; Who concerning the truth have erred, saying that the resurrection is past already; and overthrow the faith of some. (2 Timothy 2:16-18)

After St. Paul hath named these two individuals [Hymeneus and Philetus], he informs us that they turned away from the faith, insomuch that they said the resurrection was passed. So we see their fall was horrible. Hymeneus and Philetus were not obscure men; for St. Paul makes mention of them, although they were afar off, Timothy being at this time in Ephesus. It is therefore evident that they were famous men. They had been for some time in great reputation, as chief pillars in the church. But we see how far they fell; even to renounce everlasting salvation which was purchased for us by our Lord Jesus Christ. If we look not for the resurrection, of what use is it for us to teach that there is a redeemer who hath saved us from the slavery of death? Of what use will the death and passion of our Lord Jesus Christ be to us, unless we wait for the fruit that is promised us in the latter day, at His coming?

Notwithstanding these men had been for a season of the number of the faithful, yet they fell, as it were, into the bottomless gulf of hell. Thus God declared His vengeance toward them that abuse His gospel. It seems that these men were drunken with foolish ambition: they sought nothing but renown; they disguised the simplicity of the Word of God, and endeavored to show themselves greater than others. But God esteems His Word far higher than He doth man; for if men cast it down and make a mock of it, He will not hold them guiltless. Thus we see that those who were like angels have become very devils: they are blinded, and yet they would become great doctors.

The ability of these persons, of whom St. Paul speaks, were not of the common sort; they were not idiots, but of high standing in all the churches: and yet they are fallen into such blindness that they deny the resurrection of the dead: that is, they renounce the chief article of our religion and deprive themselves of all hope of salvation. How is this possible? It seems strange that men who were able to teach others should come to such gross and beastly ignorance. Thus we see how God revengeth scoffers and scorners that abuse His Word. It cannot be but He must cast them off into a state of reprobation; that they may never be able to discern any more, and become utterly void of all reason.

Therefore, if at this day, we see men become beastly, after having known the truth of God, and become void of reason, we must know that God will thereby magnify His Word, and cause us to feel the majesty thereof. And why so? Because He punished the contempt of it by giving such persons to the devil, and giving him full liberty over them. Therefore we must not be offended when we see those who have tasted the gospel, revolt from the obedience of God; but let it rather be a confirmation of our faith: for God shows us plainly that His Word is of such importance that He cannot in any wise have men abuse it, nor take it in vain, neither disguise or profane it.

We must learn to take heed, and walk fearfully and carefully. Let us view these things as a looking-glass set before our eyes, that we may see those who seemed to be passing for good Christians, fallen; having in themselves nothing but wickedness, using detestable speeches, having nothing but filthiness in all their lives. Seeing God hath placed these things before us, let us take warning thereby, and awake and walk in the simplicity of the gospel that we may not become a prey to Satan. (“Pure Preaching of the Word”)

The Lord Would Have the Wicked Made Known

Take heed, and walk fearfully and carefully. Let us view the truth through a magnifying-glass set before our eyes. Look at those who seemed to be passing for good Christians and yet, they are fallen; having in themselves nothing but wickedness. Read closely the following words of John Calvin:

But shun profane and vain babblings; for they will increase unto more ungodliness. And their word will eat as doth a canker: of whom is Hymeneus and Philetus; who concerning the truth have erred, saying that the resurrection is past already; and overthrow the faith of some. (2 Timothy 2:16-18)

Satan cometh with his poison and plagues, that he may destroy all. We see the flock of God troubled and tormented with ravenous wolves that devour and destroy whatsoever they can. Must we be moved with mercy towards a wolf: and in the mean time let the poor sheep and lambs of which our Lord hath such a special care, let them. I say, perish? When we see any wicked man troubling the church? Either by offences or false doctrine, we must prevent him as much as lieth in our power: we must warn the simple, that they be not misled and carried away; this I say, is our duty.

The Lord would have the wicked made known that the world may discern them that their ungodliness may be made manifest to all. St. Paul speaketh of some who are busy bodies, idlers &c.: these must be pointed out likewise, that they may be shunned. What must be done to those who have the sword in hand; who have become very devils; who can in no wise live in peace and concord, but thrust themselves forward to bring all to naught? When we see them thus, must we hold our peace? Let us learn to know them that trouble the church of God, and keep them back, and endeavor to prevent them from doing injury. Hereby we see how few there are that have a zeal for God’s church.

We speak not only of open enemies … but we see others that seek to turn us away from the simplicity of the gospel: they endeavor to bring all things into disorder; they sow tares, that they may bring this doctrine into hatred, and cause men to be grieved with it; others would have a licentious liberty to do what wickedness they choose, and thus throw off the yoke of our Lord Jesus Christ. . . .

And yet, who is there among us that setteth himself against these things? Who is there that saith, let us beware and be watchful? On the contrary, those that ought to reprove such wickedness sharply not only wink at it, and let it pass, but they favor it, and give it their support. We see the wickedness that overspreads the land; we see those that endeavor to pervert and bring to naught our salvation, and bring the church of God into doubt; and shall we dissemble, and make as though we saw none of these things? We may boast as much as we please about being Christians, yet there are more devils among us than Christians, if we countenance such things.

Therefore, let us look well to the doctrine which is here given us; and if we see wicked persons trying to infect the church of God, to darken good doctrine, or destroy it, let us endeavor to bring their works to light, that every one may behold them, and thereby be enabled to shun them. If we attend not to these things, we are traitors to God, and have no zeal for His honor, nor for the salvation of the church. (“Pure Preaching of the Word”)

The Wicked Herb

How should we respond to the teaching of false doctrine in the church? John Calvin answers this question below:

But shun profane and vain babblings; for they will increase unto more ungodliness. And their word will eat as doth a canker: of whom is Hymeneus and Philetus; who concerning the truth have erred, saying that the resurrection is past already; and overthrow the faith of some. (2 Timothy 2:16-18)

If we have a desire to obey our God as we ought, we must practice that which is commanded us, and pray Him to cleanse the church from . . . the devil’s instruments. This might be applied to all corruptions and stumbling-blocks invented by the devil; but it is here spoken of concerning the doctrine whereby we are quickened, which is the true food of the soul.

Now let us come to that part of the subject, in which St. Paul informs us who are of this number. He saith, “Of whom is Hymeneus, and Philetus; who concerning the truth have erred, saying that the resurrection is past already: and overthrow the faith of some.” When he names Hymeneus and Philetus, he showeth that we must not spare them, who, like scabby sheep, may infect the flock, but we must rather tell every one, what kind of men they are, that they may beware of them. Are we not traitors to our neighbors when we see them in danger of being turned from God, and do not inform them of it? A wicked man that goeth about to establish perverse doctrine, and cause offences in the church, what is he but an impostor? If I dissemble when I see him, is it not as though I should see my neighbor in danger, and would not bid him beware?

If the life of the body ought to be so precious to us that we would do all in our power to preserve it, of how much more importance is the life of the soul! Those who endeavor to turn every thing upside down will come and sow their false doctrine among the people, in order to draw them into a contempt of God. These barking dogs, these vile goats, these ravenous wolves, are they that have erred, and endeavored to overthrow the faith of the church: and yet we suffer them. Men will frequently say, must we be at defiance with them? Must we cast them off that they may fall into despair? This is said by those who think we ought to use gentleness; but what mercy is it to spare one man, and in the mean time to cast away a thousand souls, rather than warn them? We must not suffer wicked herbs to grow among us – lest they should get the upper hand, and choke whatsoever good seed there be, or utterly destroy it. (“Pure Preaching of the Word”)

Do Not Turn Aside from Pure Doctrine

There are many cultural Christians who eagerly seek to have ego boosting trash taught to them; they want the Word of God to be pleasant to listen to. Therefore, they seek ineffective and unbeneficial false teaching. According to John Calvin:

But shun profane and vain babblings; for they will increase unto more ungodliness. And their word will eat as doth a canker: of whom is Hymeneus and Philetus; Who concerning the truth have erred, saying that the resurrection is past already; and overthrow the faith of some. (2 Timothy 2:16-18)

[A particular] doctrine may not seem bad to us at the first view, yet notwithstanding, if it has not a tendency to lead us to God, and strengthen us in His service, to confirm us in the faith and hope that is given us of everlasting life, it will deceive us in the end; and prove to be but a mixture which serveth no purpose, except to take away the good which we had received before.

To be short, those that have not this in view, to draw the world to God, and build up the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ, that He may rule among us, mar all. All the labor and pains they take but increases their wickedness; and if they be suffered to go on in this way, a gate is set open to Satan, whereby he may bring to naught whatsoever is of God. Although this is not done at the first blow, yet we see the end is such. To express this better, St. Paul adds, “Their word will eat as doth a canker.”

The word “eat,” mentioned here, is not commonly understood; it is what the surgeons call, an eating sore, and what is also called, St. Anthony’s fire: that is to say, when there is such an inflammation in any part of the body, that the sore eateth not only the flesh and sinews, but the bones also. In short, it is a fire that devoureth all: the hand will cause the arm to be lost, and the foot the leg, unless at the beginning, the part that is affected be cut off; thus the man is in danger of losing his members, unless there be fit remedies provided for it; in this case we should spare no pains, but cut off the part affected, that the rest be not utterly destroyed.

Thus we view it here spiritually: for St. Paul showeth us that although we may have been well instructed in wholesome doctrine, all will be marred, if we give place to these unprofitable questions, and only endeavor to please the hearers, and feed their desires. Seeing we understand what St. Paul’s meaning is, let us endeavor to put this exhortation into practice. When we see men go about, endeavoring to turn us aside from the true doctrine, let us shun them, and shut the gate against them. Unless we take it in hand at the first start, and entirely cut it off, it may be as difficult to control as the disease of which we have spoken.

Therefore, let us not be sleeping; for this is a matter of importance; it will prove a deadly disease, unless it be seen to in time. If this exhortation had been observed, things would be in a better condition at the present day in Christendom. (“Pure Preaching of the Word”)

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