"AS I SEE IT"
Volume 3, Number 9, September 2000
["As I See It" is a monthly electronic magazine compiled and edited by Doug Kutilek. Its purpose is to address important issues of the day and to draw attention to worthwhile Christian and other literature in order to aid believers in Jesus Christ, especially pastors, missionaries and Bible college and seminary students to more effectively study and teach the Word of God. The editor's perspective is that of an independent Baptist of fundamentalist theological persuasion.
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THE POISONOUS LUST FOR REVENGE
There is no attitude of heart that is more corrosive, more self-destructive than the lust for revenge against one's enemies, imagined or real. The yearning for revenge is a cancer that feeds on the soul until it has utterly consumed and destroyed it.
The philosophy of the world is filled with proverbs about and examples of revenge: "Don't get mad; get even," we are told, as the epitome of the world’s wisdom regarding the righting of wrongs. Or, “Always forgive your enemies, but never forget their names." This quote from John Kennedy, giving merest lip-service to the Divine command to forgive, is just revenge clothed in polyester.
The famous Appalachian feud between the Hatfields and the McCoys in the 1880s and 1890s began, by some accounts, over the disputed ownership of a pig; before the feud ended, some 17 people had been killed.
The recent wars in the Balkans involving the Serbs, Croats, Bosnians, Kosovars and others are but the latest manifestation of blood-feuds going back centuries. How many thousands more will die before the hot-blooded hatred has spent its fury?
Perhaps the most perceptive account in American literature of the evils of revenge is to be found in Herman Melville’s famous whaling novel, Moby Dick. Captain Ahab is a man obsessed. In a previous encounter with the white whale, he lost a leg, and since that dreadful day, the whole of his life has had but one focus: to hunt down and destroy at whatever cost in time, money and blood, that awful creature that caused him such harm. In chapter 36, after they have set sail, the captain finally reveals to the crew the purpose and design of their voyage—
“Aye, Starbuck; aye my hearties all round; it was Moby Dick that dismasted me; Moby Dick that brought me this dead stump I stand on now. Aye, aye,” he shouted with a terrific, loud animal sob, like that of a heart-stricken moose; “Aye, aye! It was that accursed white whale that razeed me; made a poor begging lubber of me for ever and a day!” Then tossing both arms, with measureless imprecations he shouted out: “Aye, aye! And I’ll chase him round Good Hope, and round the Horn, and round the Norway Maelstrom, and round perdition’s flames before I give him up. And this is what ye have shipped for, men! To chase that white whale on both sides of land, and over all sides of earth, till he spouts black blood and rolls fin out.”
Ahab’s obsession with revenge had blinded him to all reality; it had distorted his judgment and set him at odds with all sound sense. Starbuck, with a clearer eye, seeks to draw the Captain back to right reason: “I am game for his crooked jaw, and for the jaws of Death, too, Captain Ahab, if it fairly comes in the way of the business we follow; but I came here to hunt whales, not my commander’s vengeance. How many barrels [of whale oil] will thy vengeance yield thee even if thou gettest it, Captain Ahab?”
Of course, the Captain turned a deaf ear to Starbuck’s protestations and rushed headlong to feed his vengeance, and in the process, destroyed himself, his ship, and his entire crew, excepting only Ishmael. The last we see of Ahab, he is entangled in a rope, being dragged to a watery death behind his nemesis, the white whale, perishing forever as the victim of his own poisonous lust for revenge. And so it ever is.
Rare is the person who goes through life without being wronged--often seriously and outrageously wronged--by someone. Perhaps it is being cheated financially, lied about grievously, betrayed cruelly, or harmed physically. The most natural human impulse, when struck on the right cheek, is to strike back, harder, against the perpetrator. But the Bible is forever warning us against indulging the craving to pay back, with interest, those who have wronged us.
The Old Testament lex talionis (“law of retribution”), which prescribed “an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth” (Exodus 22:23-25, etc.), was not designed to promote revenge, but to strictly limit it. The natural impulse would be two eyes for an eye, two teeth for a tooth. In context, it is evident that this retribution to the wrong-doer is to be carried out by the judicial authority—the legal system—rather than the individual, who is expressly forbidden from exacting personal revenge: “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself,” (Leviticus 19:18). The latter part of that last-named verse is quoted nine times in the New Testament, more than any other single verse.
In the New Testament, Jesus addressed the matter of personal revenge in the Sermon on the Mount, forcefully commanding against the exaction of personal revenge. “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.” (Matthew 5:38-42)
Paul, a man often and severely wronged by both Jews and Gentiles, likewise instructs us regarding the desire to pay back in full our adversaries—“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. . . . Do not repay anyone evil for evil. . . . Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord. On the contrary: ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:14, 17a, 19-21).
Peter also teaches us the Biblical attitude toward revenge, by appealing to the example of Christ: “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. ‘He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.’ When they hurled insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.” (I Peter 2:21-23).
Let us be ever on our guard against the evil lust for revenge. It is a deadly poison, a fatal toxin. We have been taught—and shown by example—that we who follow Christ must behave otherwise.
FIRST-HAND IMPRESSIONS OF JOHN CALVIN
In my almost thirty years in the ministry, half spent in theological classrooms, I have frequently heard the name John Calvin bandied about. Some openly avowed themselves partisans to his system of Bible interpretation, particularly the famous "five points." Others plainly disavowed his theology, and some even railed against Calvin as though he were the enemy of all truth and practically the devil incarnate. One zealot even affirmed that he wished that Calvin had never been born.
In all of this, I always strongly suspected that most of those in both camps were merely mouthing second- or third-hand opinions of Calvin with no direct and immediate knowledge of the Reformer, his life or his writings (most Christians, and most preachers, are very lazy readers who neglect their studies, being pre-occupied with who-knows-what-else). They were, in essence, either embracing or rejecting a caricature of the man. I soon learned to answer queries: "Are you a Calvinist?" by stating, honestly, "I don't know; I've never read any of Calvin's stuff, so I couldn't say one way or the other."
I had a long-standing desire to read an extended portion of Calvin's writings, just so that I could form an independent opinion of the man and his work. Of course, the first question is: where do I begin? His literary remains are vast: more than 40 thick volumes of commentaries on most of the Bible (available in a Baker reprint bound in 22 volumes), some 3,000 published sermons (almost equaling Spurgeon in that regard), plus his famous Institutes of the Christian Religion, which is more or less a systematic theology, besides a variety of shorter tractates. I acquired the Institutes sometime early in the 1980s, and bought a virtually-new set of the commentaries in the Baker reprint for the amazing price of just $50, cash, in 1982. And while I did occasionally consult the commentary on selected texts (and discovered that on the interpretation of at least two disputed passages, I was in agreement with Calvin--passages where he is at odds with most self-styled Calvinists; more on this later), I made no thorough or concerted study of his writings. I was really wanting to read a good biography of Calvin first.
And just here was a problem. All of the in-print biographies of Calvin I came across seemed on examination (and I say "seemed" because I never mustered the courage to read one of them) to be heavily doctrinaire, and blindly partisan, without the balance necessary to give an honest and accurate analysis. So, for several years I continued my quest for just the right biography, ignorant that I already had in my library just what I was looking for.
In the Fall of 1986, I for some now forgotten reason, took up volume VIII of Philip Schaff's History of the Christian Church, which carries the sub-title, The Swiss Reformation. And there I discovered that Schaff had devoted some 550 pages of this book to the life and labors of Calvin. Here was a very full, sympathetic (Schaff was in the Reformed camp and a native Swiss) though not uncritical treatment, to say nothing of the typical Schaffian scholarly thoroughness. There were indeed some rather absurd remarks here and there, and some opinions that I found fault with (particularly regarding matters of church and state and persecution of dissent), but on the whole, this proved a first-rate biography of Calvin, and I recommend it yet as the place to begin learning about him. (By the way, that volume also has valuable biographies of Zwingli and Beza as well).
Since then, I have not lost my interest in reading extensively in Calvin, though circumstances and reading inclinations led me in other paths, with only occasional consultations of his remarks on selected Bible passages. Until this year. I finally decided to buckle down and read through one of his commentaries. I chose his commentary on a harmony of the first three Gospels (which actually is in three volumes and more than 1,300 pages; I read through the first of these volumes). My choice was guided by several considerations: first, reading straight through a commentary--any commentary--can be a tedious business, though commentaries on the narrative portions of Scripture--including the Gospels--are usually an easier read.
Second, nothing in Scripture is of greater interest to me than the life and teachings of Jesus (and why is this subject so badly neglected by many preachers today?). I have affirmed more than once that to me, heaven on earth would be to be assigned to teach over a two-year period straight through the life of Christ to a class of interested students, using Robertson's Harmony of the Gospels, and Edersheim's Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah as texts, and upon completion, go back and start all over again with another class.
Third, Calvin's commentary on the Synoptic Gospels was one of his last writings, being published originally in 1563 (Calvin died the next year at 54). Here, surely, would be his ripest, most considered opinions and views, and I could thereby get it "straight from the horse's mouth." My reading of the 477 pages extended over a period of four months (yes, sometimes I did set it aside for a time because it became tedious). I was on the whole pleasantly surprised by what I discovered.
I had expected Calvin to be very analytical, technical, dogmatic, presuppositionally-driven, austere and cold. He was none of these things. There was much less of Calvinistic jargon than is found in a typical "Calvinist" commentary, being virtually limited to the use of the phrase "His people" as a term for "the elect" (though on Matthew 1:21, Calvin--contrary to almost all "Calvinists"--understood the "his people" whom Jesus would "save from their sins," to be the Jewish nation, not the elect, though of course this blessing of salvation was later extended to include the Gentiles. On this verse, I am a genuine "Calvinist," agreeing as I do with his interpretation). Some of Calvin's comments on the extent of the atonement sound like what some would denounce as "raving Arminianism." I quote some of these below.
Calvin regularly makes a practical application of the text, applications that are usually quite appropriate, and are sometimes exceptionally so.
He sometimes notes the original Greek, mentions the Vulgate translation and the revision of it by Erasmus, and variant readings in manuscripts as compiled by Stephanus. He occasionally quotes from or refers to the interpretation of one or another of the church fathers, and displays a knowledge of classical Greek and Latin authors, as well as of Josephus and Philo. Since this commentary was delivered as lectures to students (and taken down short-hand), he frequently notes principles of Bible interpretation applicable to the text at hand.
He commonly notes in passing Roman Catholic misinterpretations of Scripture or notes how Catholic practices or doctrines are at loggerheads with the plain teaching of Scripture (I counted more than 20 such instances, which would be of considerable value to the student of the Reformation era).
Throughout, Calvin defends the integrity and accuracy of the Scriptures. He defends apostolic modifications and use of Old Testament quotations, and defends the Scriptures as internally self-consistent and non-contradictory.
I found myself in harmony with many of Calvin's conclusions, among them: John's baptism was Christian baptism; the era of law ended with John (not at the cross or Pentecost); the star of Bethlehem was certainly a supernatural phenomenon having no possible naturalistic explanation; dogmatism on doubtful points is unwarranted; the "kingdom of God" announced by John and Jesus is God's internal rule over the hearts of believers.
Upon completion of this volume, I understood precisely what Spurgeon meant in his sermon at the opening of the Metropolitan Tabernacle in 1861--"I am never ashamed to avow myself a Calvinist, although I claim to be rather a Calvinist according to Calvin, than after the modern debased fashion" (Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, 1861, p. 169). I dare say, that if many self-styled modern Calvinists would read Calvin on the Synoptics, they would be astonished, "Is this what Calvin really believed? That's not what us Calvinists believe!"
I shall continue with interest to read Calvin's expositions.
SPURGEON'S OPINION OF CALVIN THE COMMENTATOR
"It would not be possible for me too earnestly to press upon you the importance of reading the expositions of that prince among men, JOHN CALVIN . . . . You will find forty-two or more goodly volumes worth their weight in gold. Of all commentators I believe John Calvin to be the most candid. In his expositions he is not always what moderns would call Calvinistic; that is to say, where Scripture maintains the doctrine of predestination and grace he flinches in no degree, but inasmuch as some Scriptures bear the impress of human free action and responsibility, he does not shun to expound their meaning in all fairness and integrity. He was no trimmer and pruner of texts. He gave their meaning as far as he knew it. His honest intention was to translate the Hebrew and the Greek originals as accurately as he possibly could, and then to give the meaning which would naturally be conveyed by such Greek and Hebrew words: he laboured, in fact, to declare, not his own mind upon the Spirit's words, but the mind of the Spirit as couched in those words." (Commenting and Commentaries, Banner of Truth Trust reprint, 1969, p. 4)
SOME QUOTES FROM Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists, Matthew, Mark, and Luke by John Calvin, vol. I (Baker Book House reprint, 1979).
"[Matthew] is a properly qualified and divinely appointed witness, who committed nothing to writing, but as the Holy Spirit directed him and guided his pen." (p. xxxviii)
"Accursed then be the peace and unity by which men agree among themselves apart from God." (p. 22)
"They take a narrow and disparaging view of the works of God, who believe that he will do no more than nature holds out to be probable, as if his hand were limited to our senses or confined to earthly means." (p. 24)
"The conjecture which some have drawn from these words [i.e., Luke 1:38], that [Mary, mother of Jesus] had formed a vow of perpetual virginity, is unfounded and altogether absurd. She would, in that case, have committed treachery by allowing herself to be united to a husband, and would have poured contempt on the holy covenant of marriage; which could not have been done without mockery of God." (p. 41)
"But it is idle, and unprofitable, and even dangerous, to argue what God can do, unless we also take into account what he resolves to do." (p. 45)
"Till God has been recognised as a Saviour, the minds of men are not free to indulge in true and full joy, but will remain in doubt and anxiety. It is God's fatherly kindness alone, and the salvation flowing from it, that fill the soul with joy." (p. 53)
"[W]hen [God] appears not to observe our cares and distresses, we are still under his eye. He may, indeed, hide himself, and remain silent; but when our patience has been subjected to the trial, he will aid us at the time which his own wisdom has selected. How slow or late soever his assistance may be thought to be, it is for our advantage that it is thus delayed." (p. 96)
"The dreams which men commonly have, arise either from the thoughts of the day, or from their natural temperament, or from bodily indisposition, or from similar causes; while the dreams which come from God are accompanied by the testimony of the Spirit, which puts beyond a doubt that it is God who speaks." (p. 97)
"Thus we see that the holy servants of God, even though they wander from their design, unconscious where they are going, still keep the right path, because God directs their steps." (p. 109)
". . .until men have peace with God, and are reconciled to him through the grace of Christ, all the joy that they experience is deceitful, and of short duration." (p. 115)
". . . the patience of the saints differs widely from stupidity." (p. 150)
"Prayers belong strictly to the worship of God. Fasting is a subordinate aid, which is pleasing to God no further than as it aids the earnestness and fervency of prayer." (p. 153)
[pp. 166-7 contain an excellent discussion, too long to reproduce here, of the hypostatic union--the combination of true Deity and perfect humanity in the one Person of Christ]
"Hence we infer, that the abrogation of the law, and the beginning of the Gospel, strictly speaking, took place when John began to preach." (p.174)
"That men may come forward, in a right manner, to be baptized, confession of sins is demanded from them: otherwise the whole performance would be nothing but an idle mockery"--and Calvin, perhaps realizing that he was accepting the argument of the anabaptists for refusing to baptize their infants, goes on to qualify his remark--"Let it be observed, that we are here speaking of adults, who ought not, we are aware, to be admitted indiscriminately into the Church, or introduced by Baptism into the body of Christ, till an examination has been previously made" (pp. 184-185)
"Most certainly, if you compare the Pope, and his abominable clergy, with the Pharisees and Sadducees, the mildest possible way of dealing with them will be, to throw them all into one bundle. Those whose ears are so delicate, that they cannot endure to have any bitter thing said against the Pope, must argue, not with us, but with the Spirit of God." (p. 188)
"For a good part of men, in order to escape the wrath of God, withdraw themselves from his guidance and authority. But all that the sinner gains by fleeing from God, is to provoke more and more the wrath of God against him." (p. 189)
". . .the repentance, which is attested by words, is of no value, unless it be proved by the conduct: for it is too important a matter to be estimated lightly, or at random." (p. 189)
". . . the world is always desirous to acquit itself of its duty to God by performing ceremonies; and there is nothing to which we are more prone, than to offer to God pretended worship, whenever he calls us to repentance." (p. 192)
"It ought not to have any weight with us, that an opinion has long and extensively prevailed, that John's baptism differs from ours. We must learn to form our judgment from the matter as it stands, and not from the mistaken opinions of men." (p. 197)
". . . let us learn that the temptations which befall us are not accidental, or regulated by the will of Satan, without God's permission; but that the Spirit of God presides over our contests as an exercise of our faith." (p. 210)
"For the more that we are exercised in spiritual combats, God allows us to be the more violently attacked. Wherefore let us learn, never to become weary, till, having finished the whole course of our war, we have reached the end." (p. 211, n. 1)
". . . Papists, as if they had made a bargain with Satan, cruelly give up souls to be destroyed by him at his pleasure, when they wickedly withhold the Scripture from the people of God, and thus deprive them of their arms, by which alone their safety could be preserved." (p. 214)
". . . we cannot rely on [God's] promises, without obeying his commandments." (p. 219)
". . . by the preaching of the Gospel the kingdom of God is set up and established among men, and that in no other way does God reign among men." (pp. 225-226)
"When God commanded his people to abstain from working on [the Sabbath] day, it was not that they might give themselves up to indolent repose, but, on the contrary, that they might exercise themselves in meditating on his works." (p. 227)
". . . the corruptions of the Papal Hierarchy, in our time, are more shocking and detestable than those which existed among the Jews under the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas. For the reading of Scripture, which was then in use, has not only grown obsolete under the Pope, but is driven from the churches by fire and sword; with this exception, that such portions of it, as they think proper, are chanted by them in an unknown tongue." (p. 227)
". . . those, who are sent by God to preach the Gospel, are previously furnished with necessary gifts, to qualify them for so important an office. It is, therefore, very ridiculous that, under the pretense of a divine calling, men totally unfit for discharging the office should take upon themselves the name of pastors. We have an instance of this in the Papacy, where mitred bishops, who are more ignorant than as many asses, proudly and openly vaunt, that they are Christ's Vicars, and the only lawful prelates of the Church." (p. 229)
"This example teaches us that, though our adversaries may prevail so far, that our life may seem to be placed at their disposal, yet that the power of God will always be victorious to preserve us, so long as he shall be pleased to keep us in the world, either by tying their hands, or by blinding their eyes, or by stupifying their minds and hearts." (p. 235)
". . . no fixed and distinct order of dates was observed by the Evangelists in composing their narratives." (p. 239)
"Again, though [Christ] chose unlearned and ignorant persons, he did not leave them in that condition; . . . . When our Lord chose persons of this description it was not because he preferred ignorance to learning: as some fanatics do, who are delighted with their own ignorance, and fancy that, in proportion as they hate literature, they approach the nearer to the apostles" (p. 243)
"We must first attend to the definition of the kingdom of God. He is said to reign among men, when they voluntarily devote and submit themselves to be governed by him, placing their flesh under the yoke, and renouncing their desires." (p. 319)
"Nothing is better adapted to excite us to prayer than a full conviction that we shall be heard." (p. 351)
"Let us remember, however, that all doctrines must be brought to the Word of God as the standard, and that, in judging of false prophets, the rule of faith holds the chief place." (p. 365)
". . . men ought not to expect more than God promises." (p. 373)
"Is it not very evident that we set a higher value on the shadowy life of the body than on the eternal condition of the soul; or rather, that the heavenly kingdom of God is of no estimation with us, in comparison of the fleeting and vanishing shadow of the present life?" (p. 462)
"There is no believer whom the Son of God does not require to be his witness." (p. 467)
"In vain do persons who are delighted with an easy, indolent life, and with exemption from the cross, undertake a profession of Christianity." (p. 475)
QUOTES FROM CALVIN PARTICULARLY RELATING TO THE ATONEMENT
"God offers his benefits indiscriminately to all, and faith opens its bosom to receive them; while unbelief allows them to pass away, so as not to reach us." (p. 51)
"For it would be of no advantage to us, that Christ was given by the Father as 'the author of eternal salvation,' (Heb. 5:9) unless he had been given indiscriminately to all. . . .Let us know, therefore, that to the whole human race there has been manifested and exhibited salvation through Christ. . . ." (p. 85)
"By Christ's people [Matt. 1:21] the angel unquestionably means the Jews, to whom he was appointed as Head and King; but as the Gentiles were shortly afterwards to be ingrafted into the stock of Abraham (Rom. 11:17) this promise of salvation is extended indiscriminately to all who are incorporated by faith in the 'one body' (I Cor. 12:20) of the Church." (p. 99)
"In a word, to do and accomplish all things requisite for the salvation of the human race." (p. 106, n. 1)
"Now let it be understood, that this joy [Luke 2:10] was common to all people, because it was indiscriminately offered to all. For God had promised Christ, not to one person or to another, but to the whole seed of Abraham. If the Jews were deprived, for the most part, of the joy that was offered them, it arose from their unbelief; just as, at the present day, God invites all indiscriminately to salvation through the Gospel, but the ingratitude of the world is the reason why this grace, which is equally offered to all, is enjoyed by few. Although this joy is confined to a few persons, yet, with respect to God, it is said to be common. When the angel says that this joy shall be to all the people, he speaks of the chosen people only; but now that 'the middle wall of partition' (Eph. 2:14) has been thrown down, the same passage has reference to the whole human race." (pp. 115-116)
". . . since the Lord is the Redeemer of all the world at large, . . . ." (p. 140, n. 1)
"The preference given to Israel above the Gentiles is that all without distinction may obtain salvation in Christ." (p. 145)
"Those who voluntarily deprive themselves of the salvation which God has offered them, perish twice." (p. 149)
"God sometimes invites us to repentance, when nothing more is meant, than that we ought to change our life for the better. He afterwards shows, that conversion and 'newness of life' (Rom. 6:4) are the gift of God. This is intended to inform us that not only is our duty enjoined on us, but the grace and power of obedience are, at the same time, offered. If we understand in this way the preaching of John about repentance, the meaning will be: 'The Lord commands you to turn to himself; but as you cannot accomplish this by your own endeavors, he promises the Spirit of regeneration, and therefore you must receive this grace by faith.' " (p. 225)
". . . they voluntarily refuse to render to the heavenly doctrine of Christ the honour which it deserves." (p. 231)
". . . the unbelief of men presents an obstruction to God, and hinders him from working, as might be desired, for their salvation . . . . Not that it is in the power of men to bind the hands of God, but that he withholds the advantage of his works from those who are rendered unworthy of them by their infidelity." (p. 232)
"As the ministers of the Gospel, and those who are called to the office of teaching, cannot distinguish between the children of God and swine, it is their duty to present the doctrine of salvation indiscriminately to all." (p. 349)
"We now perceive [Christ's] design, which was, to warn the Jews not to allow themselves to lose, by their own neglect, the salvation which it is in their power to obtain." (p. 360)
"Though he addresses these words [i.e., 'Go away, and as thou believest, so may it be to thee.'] to the centurion, there can be no doubt that, in his person, he invites us all to strong hope." (p. 384)
". . . the righteousness which [Christ] offers indiscriminately to all the ungodly, the life which he offers to the dead, and the salvation which he offers to the lost." (p. 403)
"They chose rather to be deprived of the salvation which is offered to them, than to endure any longer the presence of Christ." (p. 434)
"In the person of one man Christ has exhibited to us a proof of his grace, which is extended to all mankind." (p. 436)