A lecture from February 8, 2015
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?
Paul has developed the doctrine that (1) human beings are accountable to God; (2) that humans beings are rebellion against God, and that no good acts can atone for the rebellion; (3) but God has graciously made provision for our reconciliation by giving Christ in our place:
Romans 5:8–11 (ESV)
8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. 11 More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
This then leads to a possible conclusion: If God gets glory by graciously forgiving me of my sin, then would it not make sense to continue sinning so that God can continue to forgive with the result that he will bestow more grace and thus get more glory?
Paul answers the question with the Greek words, “μὴ γένοιτο”. It is difficult to get exactly the correct tone and translation: This is something that could not possibly be true, it is not a possible state of affairs — maybe better: “How irrational!” (I recall reading a book about the translation of the Bible. The author tells a story about translating this passage in a class in Britain. One student “adventurously” translated it, “not bloody likely” — which some of the feel.
Now Paul will provide a number of arguments for why sin is not a possible response to grace. But I want to draw out the sheer irrationality of that question. Sin from grace is reckless, thankless, evil, spiteful, a denial of forgiveness in the first place, illogical, unnecessary — but it is sheer irrationality at heart.
There is a passage in Bunyan’s Holy War which shows the irrationality of sin from grace. We come to a portion of the story where the Prince has retaken the Town of Mansoul, that had been in rebellion and under the sway of Diabolus. The rebel leaders are captured and brought to the Prince:
And thus was the manner of their going down. Captain Boanerges went with a guard before them, and Captain Conviction came behind, and the prisoners went down bound in chains in the midst; so, I say, the prisoners went in the midst, and the guard went with flying colours behind and before, but the prisoners went with drooping spirits. Or, more particularly, thus: The prisoners went down all in mourning; they put ropes upon themselves; they went on smiting themselves on the breasts, but durst not lift up their eyes to heaven. Thus they went out at the gate of Mansoul, till they came into the midst of the Prince’s army, the sight and glory of which did greatly heighten their affliction. Nor could they now longer forbear, but cry out aloud, O unhappy men! O wretched men of Mansoul! Their chains still mixing their dolorous notes with the cries of the prisoners, made noise more lamentable. f199 So, when they were come to the door of the Prince’s pavilion, they cast themselves prostrate upon the place. Then one went in and told his Lord that the prisoners were come down. The Prince then ascended a throne of state, and sent for the prisoners in; who when they came, did tremble before him, also they covered their faces with shame. Now as they drew near to the place where he sat, they threw themselves down before him.
When questioned, they admit their guilt, their inability to make restitution and the fact they deserve death. Then something wonderful happens:
Then the Prince called for the prisoners to come and to stand again before him, and they came and stood trembling. And he said unto them, The sins, trespasses, iniquities, that you, with the whole town of Mansoul, have from time to time committed against my Father and me, I have power and commandment from my Father to forgive to the town of Mansoul; and do forgive you accordingly. And having so said, he gave them written in parchment, and sealed with seven seals, a large and general pardon, commanding both my Lord Mayor, my Lord Will-be-will, and Mr. Recorder, to proclaim, and cause it to be proclaimed to-morrow by that the sun is up, throughout the whole town of Mansoul.
But forgiveness was not the end of the Prince’s pardon:
Moreover, the Prince stripped the prisoners of their mourning weeds, and gave them ‘beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, and the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness’ (Isa. 61: 3) Then he gave to each of the three, jewels of gold, and precious stones, and took away their ropes, and put chains of gold about their necks, and ear-rings in their ears. Now the prisoners, when they did hear the gracious words of Prince Emmanuel, and had beheld all that was done unto them, fainted almost quite away; for the grace, the benefit, the pardon, was sudden, glorious, and so big, that they were not able, without staggering, to stand up under it.
Having received grace, pardon, restoration and elevation from their Prince — against whom they willfully and shamefully rebelled — would it not be complete madness to think that further rebellion would be fitting? Rebellion after restoration would be the act of a madman.
If you were to receive a priceless gemstone and then were to take it and fling it into the ocean, you would accounted insane. It would be irrational to destroy great wealth. How much more irrational would it be for the forgiven prisoners to rush back into town and burn it down. Sin is irrational in at all times. It thrice irrational to rebel against grace.
Soon the pilgrims came to the place where Little-Faith was robbed. There stood a man with his sword drawn and his face all bloody, who said to them, “I am a pilgrim. My name is Valiant-for-truth. I was ambushed here by three men, who came out of the bushes there with long knives.
One of them said, “Halt! We have a question to ask you.” I said, “Well, what is it?” He said, “Will you go with us, or turn and go back where you came from, or die on the spot?”
I answered: “I have been a follower of Jesus Christ for many years, and I cannot now turn back. Where I came from is not where the Lord wants me to be. And you should know that one who has been a follower of Christ for many years would never join a band of thieves. As for the dying on the spot, that remains to be seen. If you undertake to make me choose one of your courses, you do it at your peril. I have considerable strength. I love my life and the pilgrim way, and I will not give them up easily. The Lord put me in this way, and I intend to stay with it to the end.”
Then these three, – Wildhead, Inconsiderate, and Pragmatic – came upon me with their knives. I drew my sword and fought them all. We fought for more than three hours, and they have left some of their marks of valor upon me, as you see, and they also carried away some of mine. After they saw they would not take my life immediately, they broke and ran. They must have heard you coming, for they ran just before I saw you.
Greatheart was amazed and said, “But you fought great odds – three against one.”
“Yes,” said Valiant, “but what does a person care when he knows he has the truth on his side? As one has said, “Though a host should encamp against me, my heart shall not fear.” I have read in some record that one man has fought an army, and that one Samson slew a thousand men with the jawbone of an ass.
Greatheart asked, “Why did you not cry out for help?”
“So I did—to my King,” said Valiant, “who I knew could hear me, and He provided invisible help which was sufficient.”
“You have certainly behaved very worthily” replied Greatheart, ‘What kind of sword do you have?”
It is a two-edged sword that cuts both ways. A soldier need not fear if he has this and knows how to use it.
Its edge will never blunt, and it will cut flesh and bones, and soul and spirit.
“But you fought a long time; it is a wonder you did not grow weary,” said Greatheart.
“I did,” said Valiant, “but I waited on the Lord and he renewed my strength, and I fought until the blood dripped from my face and fingers. I fought with all my strength and courage.”
Then Greatheart said, “You certainly did well. You have resisted unto blood, striving against sin. You shall abide with us, and be one of us. We will be your true companions.”
Then they took him, washed his wounds, and gave him something to eat; and they all went on together. Mr. Greatheart liked Valiant-for-Truth very much and began to ask him about his past and his hope for the future. He found him true in every respect.
Pilgrim’s Progress, Part 2
Pilgrim’s Progress, Study Guide 9:
Christian at Doubting Castle
￼I saw then that they went on their way to a pleasant river, which David the king called “the river of God” (Psa. 65: 9.); but John “the river of the water of life.” (Rev. 22: 1, 2. Ezekiel 47.)
Now, their way lay just upon the bank of this river; here, therefore, Christian and his companion walked with great delight; they drank also of the water of the river, which was pleasant and enlivening to their weary spirits: besides, on the banks of this river, on either side, were green trees, with all manner of fruit; and the leaves they eat to prevent surfeits, and other diseases that are incident to those that heat their blood by travel.
On either side of the river was also a meadow, curiously beautified with lilies, and it was green all the year long. In this meadow they lay down and slept; for here they might lie down safely. (Psalm 23 Isa. 35: 8.) When they awoke, they gathered again of the fruit of the trees, and drank again of the water of the river, and then lay down again to sleep. Thus they did several days and nights. Then they sang,
Behold ye how these crystal streams do glide,
To comfort pilgrims, by the highway side!
The meadows green, besides their fragrant smell,
Yield dainties for them! and he who can tell
What pleasant fruit, yea, leaves, these trees do yield,
Will soon sell all, that he may buy this field.
So, when they were disposed to go on, (for they were not as yet at their journey’s end,) they ate and drank, and departed.
- Consider the river:
The previous post in this series may be found here: https://memoirandremains.wordpress.com/2015/04/23/pilgrims-progress-study-7-vanity-fair/
Christian and By-Ends
- Why do you think Christian and Hopeful immediately meet By-ends and his friends, after leaving Vanity Fair? How do these people differ from, and how are they the same as the people of Vanity Fair?
- Why is Mr. By-ends rich?
- When is By-ends willing to be religious? (Btw, for Bunyan “religion” has no bad overtones. He simply means being a Christian.)
The previous post in this series may be found here: https://memoirandremains.wordpress.com/2015/04/16/pilgrims-progress-study-guide-six-the-valley-of-the-shadow-of-death/
Christian at Vanity Fair
The Meeting With Evangelist
- After they greet one-another, what do the three discuss?
- Evangelist’s conversation is filled with many allusions and references to Scripture:
- What does he mean, run to obtain the incorruptible crown? 1 Corinthians 9:24-27. How do we, as a matter of practice, maintain a conscious awareness that we are running a race and seeking a reward at the end?
- What is the reference to “hold fast to what you have?” Revelation 3:7-13.
- What is “resisted unto blood”? Hebrews 12:4.
- The heart is deceitful. Jeremiah 17:9
- Face like flint. Luke 9:51
The prior post in this series may be found here: https://memoirandremains.wordpress.com/2015/03/11/pilgrims-progress-study-guide-5/
Christian in the Valley of the Shadow of Death:
- Why does Christian go through the Valley of the Shadow of Death?
- This letter from Samuel Rutherford helps us understand this passage:
WELL-BELOVED AND DEAR SISTER IN CHRIST,—I could not get an answer written to your letter till now, in respect of my wife’s disease; and she is yet mightily pained. I hope that all shall end in God’s mercy. I know that an afflicted life looks very like the way that leads to the kingdom; for the Apostle hath drawn the line and the King’s market-way, “through much tribulation, to the kingdom” (Acts 14:22; 1 Thess. 3:4). The Lord grant us the whole armour of God.
….all God’s plants, set by His own hand, thrive well; and if the work be of God, He can make a stepping-stone of the devil himself for setting forward the work.
For yourself, I would advise you to ask of God a submissive heart. Your reward shall be with the Lord, although the people be not gathered (as the prophet speaks); and suppose the word do not prosper, God shall account you “a repairer of the breaches.”
And take Christ caution, ye shall not lose your reward. Hold your grip fast. If ye knew the mind of the glorified in heaven, they think heaven come to their hand at an easy market, when they have got it for threescore or fourscore years wrestling with God. When ye are come thither, ye shall think, “All I did, in respect of my rich reward, now enjoyed of free grace, was too little.” Now then, for the love of the Prince of your salvation, who is standing at the end of your way, holding up in His hand the prize and the garland to the race-runners, Forward, forward; faint not.
Take as many to heaven with you as ye are able to draw. The more ye draw with you, ye shall be the welcomer yourself. Be no niggard or sparing churl of the grace of God; and employ all your endeavours for establishing an honest ministry in your town, now when ye have so few to speak a good word for you. I have many a grieved heart daily in my calling. I would be undone, if I had not access to the King’s chamber of presence, to show Him all the business.
The devil rages, and is mad to see the water drawn from his own mill; but would to God we could be the Lord’s instruments to build the Son of God’s house….
Samuel Rutherford and Andrew A. Bonar, Letters of Samuel Rutherford: With a Sketch of His Life and Biographical Notices of His Correspondents (Edinburgh; London: Oliphant, Anderson & Ferrier, 1891), 50–51.
Commenting on Malachi 3:16-17, particularly the clause, “Then they that feared the LORD spake often to on another”, Thomas Watson wrote:
The profaneness of the times should not slacked but heighten our zeal. The looser others are, the stricter we should be….The more outrageous others are in sin, the more courageous we shoud be for truth. (The Great Gain of Godliness)
But why should we be so? Watson gives two reasons:
1. Because of the divine injunction….AS God’s Word is our rule, so his will is our warrant.
To be holiest in evil times is an indication of the truth of grace.
It is easy for the rich and happy to believe that they have divine approval. What better assurance could they have than the pleasure and power in which they stand? In these secure ones the nation felt itself not only prosperous but divinely favored. Since they are conscious of representing the country, interference with them and their pursuits would be interfering with the country’s welfare. To disturb their order is to disturb the social order. To criticize their religion is to prove oneself a heretic and a blasphemer. God is on the side of those in power (they think), and so to the security of financial and political position the leading people of Amos’ day added the comforting conviction that they were Jehovah’s chosen people—chosen to be thus superior and secure.
Amos, Prophet of a New Order, Lindsay B. Longacre, 1921. This sort of “belief” is precisely that held by Mr. By-Ends in Pilgrim’s Progress:
This town of Fair-speech, said Christian, I have heard of; and, as I remember, they say it’s a wealthy place.
By-ends. Yes, I will assure you that it is, and I have very many rich kindred there.
Chr. Pray, who are your kindred there, if a man may be so bold?
By-ends. Almost the whole town; but, in particular, my Lord Turn-about, my Lord Time-server, my Lord Fair-speech (from whose ancestors that town first took its name): also Mr. Smooth-man, Mr. Facing-both-ways, Mr. Any-thing; and the parson of our parish, Mr. Two-tongues, was my mother’s own brother, by father’s side; and to tell you the truth, I am become a gentleman of good quality; yet my great-grandfather was but a waterman, looking one way, and rowing another; and I got most of my estate by the same occupation.
Now such people are plainly not true pilgrims nor true believers. They hold only a pretense as long as it seems to serve their end. They could no not know what to do when Amos appeared:
Amos 6:4–7 (ESV)
4 “Woe to those who lie on beds of ivory
and stretch themselves out on their couches,
and eat lambs from the flock
and calves from the midst of the stall,
5 who sing idle songs to the sound of the harp
and like David invent for themselves instruments of music,
6 who drink wine in bowls
and anoint themselves with the finest oils,
but are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph!
7 Therefore they shall now be the first of those who go into exile,
and the revelry of those who stretch themselves out shall pass away.”
In Pilgrim’s Progress, Christian and Faithful come to Vanity Fair, where they are discovered, rejected, abused & tried. Faithful is even killed at the fair. The fair is to be a picture of the “world” and its rejection of those who seek another world to come.
Now, much of what passes for Christianity has grown well accustomed to this world (just take a look at the popular books and programs which claim the title “Christian” — as if Christ were interested in material personal ease as an end in itself. Satan offered him such things and Christ rejected it. Now, the average “Christian” would at best negotiate the deal before he dropped his knee to Satan).
Cheever, in his lectures on Pilgrim’s Progress, writes this bit of parody for the culture:
The town was much altered since Christian and Faithful passed through it, and principally for the reason that a great multitude of pilgrims who had set out on the pilgrimage had concluded, finding the air of the city much improved, and that, by reason of the increase of refinement and knowledge among the inhabitants, the city itself was very profitable and pleasant to dwell in, to remain there for an indefinite season, and many of them for the residue of their lives. This began by some of them being allured to take part in the purchase and sale of the merchandise of the place, till at length a great part of the business came to be transacted by those who at first came to the place in the character of strangers and travellers to the Celestial City. They formed partnership with the natives and original owners of Vanity Fair, so that now no small part of the French Row, the German Row, and especially the English Row, was carried on under the profession of those who had thus settled in the place as pilgrims.
In process of time they had also appointed as lord mayor of the place a professor of the religion of the pilgrims, my Lord Know-the-world, whose grand entertainments and dinners, together with courtly and affable manners, did much to render the name of the pilgrims respectable, and to put the whole place on good terms with them. Nay, it was a pleasant thing to the citizens, that they could have so many of the pilgrims to stay with them, still preserving the profession of their pilgrimage; insomuch that at length it became fashionable among many of the native inhabitants of the city to take the same name and profession, without having ever once set out on their travels towards the Celestial City.
There were also in various parts of the city places of worship erected, where the music was so fine, and the seats were so softly and beautifully prepared, and all the ceremonies were so pleasant, that most of the inhabitants attended. In some of these places I was told that great care was taken to smooth down the rough places in the gospel, and that no alarms were ever suffered to be
given to the consciences of the people who came there, and also that all those fiends, by which Christian had been so much vexed and alarmed, were considered as only imaginary beings, even Apollyon himself, and that the hell which had frightened so many pilgrims was regarded as a mere creation of the fancy.
Moreover, Mr. Legality, from the town of Carnal Policy, had established a colony in this place, and, by the aid of Mr. Worldly Wiseman, had gained no small number of the pilgrims who had concluded to settle in Vanity Fair. I also observed that the pilgrims had thrived greatly in their business, and that their houses were among the most tasteful and costly buildings in the better parts of the city. When they first began to stop in Vanity Fair, they were of very small means, and of an humble exterior; but by degrees they acquired property, and moved up into the more airy and fashionable parts of the place, where they thought it important to make the name and profession of pilgrim respectable in the eyes of the inhabitants. Some of them had great share in the various stocks in Vanity Pair, and were appointed directors and presidents of its banks, and had built themselves fine houses, and kept up large establishments, such as formerly none but the native men of Vanity Fair could build or reside in.