“I know well that many do not believe what I am saying, because they think there is an immense quantity of deathbed repentance. They flatter themselves that multitudes who do not live religious lives will yet die religious deaths. They take comfort in the thought that vast numbers of persons turn to God in their last illness and are saved at the eleventh hour. I will only remind such persons that all the experience of ministers is utterly against the theory. People generally die just as they have lived. True repentance is never too late:-but repentance deferred to the last hours of life is seldom true.” —J.C. Ryle, Old Path
“Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.”—John 7:24
Many have submitted that Matthew 7:1 has usurped John 3:16 as the most known and quoted verse of the Bible. “Judge not that you be not judged.” The irony is, the verse is quoted in bad judgment. Jesus there was a warning against hypocritical judgment. Any other use of the text is a misjudgment.
“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye,” (Mathew 7:1–5).
Jesus doesn’t recommend altogether ignoring the speck in your brother’s eye, but a hypocritical judgment thereof. Further, Jesus follows that admonition with a judgment-necessitating command: “Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you,” (Matthew 7:6). Jesus is not anti-judgment. Judgment is inevitable.
While we shouldn’t presume to act as a god, standing in judgment, dealing out condemnation where we are given no authority, we must recognize that a creaturely discernment kind of judgment is necessary on a variety of levels every day. Try drinking milk from this point forward without ever making judgment beforehand. If you don’t judge it before you drink, I’m certain you will once it is in your mouth. Judgment is inevitable. Sour milk is bad.
In this text, Jesus calls for the crowds, and us along with them, to make right judgment. Astonishingly, He calls for us to make a right judgment about Him. This is not to say that we are the judge of Jesus. It is to say that in the courtroom of our soul we do make a judgment, a determination. You discern and decide. Discern rightly. Judge rightly.
If you judge rightly you will realize this: you don’t stand over Jesus to condemn Him; you stand under Jesus as one condemned. Right judgment about Jesus comes to this conclusion: He is the eternally begotten Son of God, the Christ who took on flesh, who was crucified for sinners, who rose conquering death, who is seated in the heavens at the right hand of the Father, and who will come again to judge the living and the dead.
How do we make right judgment? We must not judge according to appearances (7:24). We are short-sighted. We cannot trust our perception. We need the testimony of another. We need the testimony of an authority. The greatest judgment we will every make must be determined by the greatest authority. Because we are making judgment about the ultimate authority, we need the testimony of none other than that ultimate authority. Our triune God has born witness to Himself. Do not trust your perception. Receive His revelation.
Judge wrongly who Christ is, and you will be truly judged. Judge rightly who Christ is and you will never face judgment, for Christ has born it in your stead.
“For twenty-three years, from the thirteenth year of Josiah the son of Amon, king of Judah, to this day, the word of the LORD has come to me, and I have spoken persistently to you, but you have not listened.
Then after seventy years are completed, I will punish the king of Babylon and that nation, the land of the Chaldeans, for their iniquity, declares the LORD, making the land an everlasting waste.
Thus the LORD, the God of Israel, said to me: “Take from my hand this cup of the wine of wrath, and make all the nations to whom I send you drink it.”
—Jeremiah 25:3, 12, 15
Jeremiah 25 is a stout drink. It’s all judgment, 200 proof. Or perhaps we should say it’s 99.9% judgment. There is a hint of grace, but it’s easy to miss because it is disguised as judgment. That grace can dress as judgment should come as no surprise. The protoevangelion, that is, the first preaching of the gospel, was good news in just this way. Genesis 3:14–19 is all judgment but nestled in the judgment of the serpent is the implicit hope and salvation of man. “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:15). That word of judgment was grace. Here, the disguise is simply harder to see through.
We shouldn’t miss the implicit salvation for the explicit judgement, for when salvation comes, it is certain to be salvation by judgment. What is subtle here is lurid in Jeremiah 29:10, “For thus says the LORD: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place.” However God saves, know that it cannot be in any way that compromises justice or righteousness.
The judgment of God is inescapable and inevitable. Judgment will fall and it will fall on every sin. Every injustice, every iniquity, every idolatry will be judged. You see this in how Babylon is used by God for judgment, and then judged herself. God’s judgment cannot be evaded. His righteousness cannot be compromised.
We have no hope that our sins might be swept under the rug. We, like Judah and the nations, have not listened. For this reason the wrath of God is revealed against us (Romans 1:18ff). We deserve to drink from the cup of the wine of God’s wrath and nothing more. Our only hope is that God would somehow act so that judgment would fall on our sins and yet not fall on us sinners.
The cup of God’s wrath is a common metaphor. In Isaiah 51 Yahweh promises grace to His people by judgment saying, “Thus says your Lord, the LORD, your God who pleads the cause of his people: ‘Behold, I have taken from your hand the cup of staggering; the bowl of my wrath you shall drink no more; and I will put it into the hand of your tormentors…” (Isaiah 51:22–23a). Again, salvation for Judah comes by judgment. But still, how can the cup be taken from us?
We find the answer in a garden where the only servant of Yahweh to ever listen perfectly and deserve no judgment prayed, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39). Jesus took the cup of the wine of God’s wrath, not because He failed to listen, but for our failing to listen. He drained it; finishing it off down to the bitter dregs, bearing the judgment of His people. Again, when salvation comes, it comes by judgment. We are saved because our sins were judged on another standing in our place.
Because judgment fell on the Just one, for the sins of the unjust, there is now no condemnation for those who are in union with Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1). Saints, judgment has already fallen on this earth for our sins, but praise be to God, it wasn’t we who drank of that cup of the wine of wrath. It was drained for us by the Son of God, our Lord Jesus Christ. Because He drained of the cup of the wine of wrath, we now raise the cup of salvation given to us by the exalted Christ.
I know, O LORD, that the way of man is not in himself,
that it is not in man who walks to direct his steps.
Correct me, O LORD, but in justice;
not in your anger, lest you bring me to nothing.
Pour out your wrath on the nations that know you not,
and on the peoples that call not on your name,
for they have devoured Jacob;
they have devoured him and consumed him,
and have laid waste his habitation.
The section of Jeremiah running from 8:4–10:25 concludes with a humble petition from Jeremiah wherein he pleads that the Lord have mercy in judgment by judgement. He doesn’t plead to be exempt from correction, but that the correction be according to covenant justice, and not in His anger. He asks that God’s wrath not be aimed at Israel, but at the nations who do not know God.
So it is that this section ends with questions but no answers. Does Yahweh hear this cry? The answer to each petition is found to be emphasized by two following sections in Jeremiah.
Concerning Jeremiah’s plea for correction, unmixed with anger, we go to the section running from chapters 30–33 known as “The Book of Consolation.” Of course, we could look at those famous passages therein concerning the new covenant as the answer to Jeremiah’s petitions, and they are, but there is an earlier portion of the Book of Consolation that is especially pertinent.
“Then fear not, O Jacob my servant, declares the LORD, nor be dismayed, O Israel; for behold, I will save you from far away, and your offspring from the land of their captivity. Jacob shall return and have quiet and ease, and none shall make him afraid. For I am with you to save you, declares the LORD; I will make a full end of all the nations among whom I scattered you, but of you I will not make a full end. I will discipline you in just measure, and I will by no means leave you unpunished. For thus says the LORD: Your hurt is incurable, and your wound is grievous. There is none to uphold your cause, no medicine for your wound, no healing for you. All your lovers have forgotten you; they care nothing for you; for I have dealt you the blow of an enemy, the punishment of a merciless foe, because your guilt is great, because your sins are flagrant. Why do you cry out over your hurt? Your pain is incurable. Because your guilt is great, because your sins are flagrant, I have done these things to you. Therefore all who devour you shall be devoured, and all your foes, every one of them, shall go into captivity; those who plunder you shall be plundered, and all who prey on you I will make a prey. For I will restore health to you, and your wounds I will heal, declares the LORD, because they have called you an outcast: ‘It is Zion, for whom no one cares!’ ” (Jeremiah 30:10–17, emphasis mine).
Jeremiah’s petition is born out of his lament that his wound is grievous (10:19). When Jeremiah laments there, he is speaking as and for the people. In chapter 30 God promises that this wound will be healed and that He will not make and end of them but of the nations.
This passage alone is sufficient to answer both of Jeremiah’s petitions, but there is a whole section that speaks to the second petition just as there is a whole section that speaks to the first. Beginning in chapter 46 and running to the end is a section known as the “Oracle Against the Nations.” In Jeremiah 51:5 we’re given a reason for the destruction of Babylon: “For Israel and Judah have not been forsaken by their God, the LORD of hosts, but the land of the Chaldeans is full of guilt against the Holy One of Israel.” Israel is not forsaken. Babylon will be judged.
But how can these things be? Jeremiah 30:10–17 was prefaced in this way:
“And it shall come to pass in that day, declares the LORD of hosts, that I will break his yoke from off your neck, and I will burst your bonds, and foreigners shall no more make a servant of him. But they shall serve the LORD their God and David their king, whom I will raise up for them.”
The answer will be made clear in the King God raises up whom they will serve. How can Judah be healed from so grievous a wound? The answer is that their King will be wounded for her.
“Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:4–6).
Jeremiah cried out “For the wound of the daughter of my people is my heart wounded” (Jeremiah 8:21). Our Lord cried out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). Jeremiah suffered with his people; Christ suffered for his people. Know that He too prays for His people, pleading all that He is, and be certain that His prayers are heard.
“Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.” —Galatians 6:7–8
One of humanity’s highest sins is that of being a ridiculous farmer. The principle of sowing and reaping was sown in to the soil of creation at creation. It cannot be undone.
“And God said ‘Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, on the earth.’ And it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind. And God saw that it was good” (Genesis 1:11–12).
You cannot sow peppers and reap watermelons. We try to mock God, but the joke ends up on us. But are we really so foolish? Yes! Men think you can plant a monkey and reap a man. Men think that if you sow a boy in just the right soil you can grow a woman. God is not mocked. It is man who looks ridiculous. A straight face doesn’t alter who the joke is on.
You cannot sow sin and reap life. God told Adam that in the day he ate of the forbidden tree he would surely die. We’ve been trying to eat what is forbidden ever since, expecting health and happiness. All sin is an attempted mockery of God. Ralph Venning quotes John Bunyan on this point before adding his own riff.
“In short, sin is the dare of God’s justice, the rape of his mercy, the jeer of his patience, the slight of his power, the contempt of his love, as one writer prettily expresses this ugly thing. We may go on and say, it is the upbraiding of his providence (Psalm 50), the scoff of his promise (2 Peter 3:3-4), the reproach of his wisdom (Isaiah 29:16). And as is said of the Man of Sin (i.e. who is made up of sin) it opposes and exalts itself above all that is called God (and above all that God is called), so that it as God sitteth in the temple of God, showing itself as if it were God (2 Thessalonians 2. 4).”
Churches are full of such attempted mockery because they are full of sin yet full of promises of “Peace! Peace!” when there is no peace. The punchline will one day come, “Depart from me, I never knew you.” The seed packet may say “church,” but it is not God’s Word that is being sown. The tares may look like the wheat early on, but the proof is in the fruit; and though their beginnings look similar, their ends couldn’t be more different.
If all you sow are seeds of sin in the field of the flesh, don’t expect to partake of the inheritance of the saints growing in the fertile soil of the new earth where the weeds of sin are no more.
O LORD, in your strength the king rejoices, and in your salvation how greatly he exults!
…For you make him most blessed forever; you make him glad with the joy of your presence. —Psalm 21:1, 6
In this psalm, the people of God rejoice in their king’s rejoicing. The people are rejoicing, but they are not singing about their joy, and yet it is their joy. The salvation the king exults in is their salvation. His joy is their joy. When David is saved, the kingdom is saved.
As this is fulfilled in Christ, it speaks to the joy that was set before Christ, for which He endured the cross (Hebrews 12:2). This is not simply the eternal and infinite joy that the Son has always had in the Father. This is the joy which follows the Son’s salvation, meaning the deliverance from and destruction of His enemies (Psalm 21:8–13). This the the joy that falls on the incarnate Christ, our King, who acts as our covenant head. When He is “anointed… with the oil of gladness beyond [his] companions,” that oil covers His people who are in union with Him in the Spirit. His salvation is our salvation. His joy is our joy.
In John 17:13 Jesus prays that His joy might be filled in us (cf. John 15:11). Is there any joy like this? Spurgeon comments, “The rejoicing of our risen Lord must, like his agony, be unutterable. If the mountains of his joy rise in proportion to the depth of the valleys of his grief, then his sacred bliss is high as the seventh heaven.” Here we see the highest joy, the infinite God delighting in what is infinitely delightful. But again, we are not seeing the Triune God’s joy as it has always existed, but as it is in the redemption of man. This is no self-contained joy. This is a joy we are invited into.
Jonah comes to a jarring end with pagans repenting and the prophet rebuked. A litany of three questions leaves us hanging in suspense.
“Do you do well to be angry?”
“Do you do well to be angry for the plant?”
“Should I not pity Nineveh…?”
Like Job, Jonah is brought into God’s court. Unfortunately, Jonah neither speaks nor keeps silent with the wisdom of Job. Unlike the book of Job, no pleasant resolution follows the court scene. Instead, we are left with Jonah to wrestle with these questions. If we don’t, I’m afraid we miss the message of this little book.
There is a sense in which you need to get angry to understand the message of Jonah. The central message of this book is found near the center, at the end of chapter two where Jonah exclaims, “Salvation is of the LORD!” How could we get mad at a message like that? Paul anticipates that we might.
“What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.’ So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, ‘For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.’ So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills. You will say to me then, ‘Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?’ But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, ‘Why have you made me like this?’ Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?” (Romans 9:14–24 ESV)
A good sign that you understand Romans 9, and Jonah also, is if they’ve ever made you angry. Do they give rise to an initial objection? That so many interpretations of Romans 9 don’t hit the mark is evident in that they make no one mad. Often, the best indicator that you’ve understood God’s salvation isn’t that you now rejoice in it, but that at some point it has made you furious. Have you never felt what Paul calls the “offense of the cross?”
Perhaps the reason you’re so comfortable with God’s grace is that it makes sense to you. You live in Jerusalem where God’s grace makes sense. You live among the pretty people. Of course God loves you so. Have you never stepped outside of your bubble of bliss to see the Savior’s sovereign salvation of sinners? Here is where the rub lies. He is sovereign. We are sinners. Yahweh is free to have mercy on whom He will.
Just how free do you believe God’s grace to be? When all is done, what separates you from your neighbor in hell? “I believed,” you reply. Yes, but why did you believe? Is the answer found in you or in God? Salvation is not of you. Not even a little. You do not make the difference. Salvation is of Yahweh. Every bit of it. Soli Deo Gloria. Glory to God alone.
Jonah ends with Jonah’s silence, and yet the book screams. We are brought to exclaim, “No! Jonah does not do well to be angry. He deserves to die. And yet, Yahweh, gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, allows him to live. In doing so, He is free to have mercy on whom He will.”
If you read this book closely, I believe you’ll see that Jonah came to sing after the appointed plant, worm, and wind, just as he sang after the appointed fish. Chapter two is not a record of Jonah’s prayer, but an account of his praying. The narrator is no longer unfolding the events for us as they came, rather, Jonah’s poetic recollection of his praying is inserted. I don’t believe Jonah took time to pen poetry after being spewed out by the fish before heading to Nineveh. I believe Jonah 2:1–9 were written sometime after God’s final question was put to him. In this way, Jonah does answer God’s questions. He answers with a prayer of repentance and faith and praise exclaiming again, “Salvation belongs to Yahweh!”
Jonathan Edwards too was once troubled by the Savior’s sovereign salvation of sinners. He wrote:
“From my childhood up, my mind had been full of objections against the doctrine of God’s sovereignty, in choosing whom he would to eternal life, and rejecting whom he pleased; leaving them eternally to perish, and be everlastingly tormented in hell. It used to appear like a horrible doctrine to me. But I remember the time very well, when I seemed to be convinced, and fully satisfied, as to this sovereignty of God, and his justice in thus eternally disposing of men, according to his sovereign pleasure. But I never could give an account how, or by what means, I was thus convinced, not in the least imagining at the time, nor a long time after, that there was any extraordinary influence of God’s Spirit in it; but only that now I saw further, and my reason apprehended the justice and reasonableness of it. However, my mind rested in it; and it put an end to all those cavils and objections. And there has been a wonderful alteration in my mind, with respect to the doctrine of God’s sovereignty, from that day to this; so that I scarce ever have found so much as the rising of an objection against it, in the most absolute sense, in God showing mercy to whom he will show mercy, and hardening whom he will. God’s absolute sovereignty and justice, with respect to salvation and damnation, is what my mind seems to rest assured of, as much as of any thing that I see with my eyes; at least it is so at times. But I have often, since that first conviction, had quite another kind of sense of God’s sovereignty that I had then. I have often since had not only a conviction, but a delightful conviction. The doctrine has very often appeared exceeding pleasant, bright, and sweet. Absolute sovereignty is what I love to ascribe to God. But my first conviction was not so.”
Like Jonah, the sweetness of Savior’s sovereign salvation of sinners may not be the saint’s first conviction, but it is sure to be their last.
Salvation is of YHWH!
“But what we are insisting upon is that when faith is present it is because there has been a judgment of the mind that the evidence is sufficient, whether made consciously or unconsciously, hastily or slowly, whether it is justified or unjustified. Faith is a state of mind induced by what is considered to be evidence, presented to the understanding and evaluated by the judgment as sufficient.
We must add one other characteristic, and go one step further in our analysis of the phrase we have used, ‘a state of mind induced by evidence’. Faith is forced consent. That is to say, when evidence is judged by the mind to be sufficient, the state of mind we call ‘faith’ is the inevitable precipitate. It is not something we can resist or in respect of which we may suspend judgment. In such a case faith is compelled, it is demanded, it is commanded. For whenever the reasons are apprehended or judged sufficient, will we, nill we, faith or belief is induced. Will to the contrary, desire to the contrary, overwhelming interest to the contrary, cannot make us believe the opposite of our judgment with respect to the evidence.” —John Murray, “Faith”
Then Moses and the people of Israel sang…
I will sing to the LORD, for…
God saves, Israel sings, this is the story of salvation.
God saves, we sing, this is the Christian faith. Certainly there are some vital qualifying adjectives, but nonetheless, this is the essence of our faith. The Christian faith is not we sing, then God saves. We see this in other religions. God is not looking down from heaven on our show responding, “Great performance! Now here’s some salvation. Keep up the good work.” In false religions, and false Christianity, worship isn’t a response, but an attempt to elicit one. Mantra and chants are a performance hoping to get a hand from God. True worship is a response because God has given a hand. Not a helping hand, but a nail scared hand that saved us when we were dead, in bondage, and without strength.
The LORD is my strength and my song,
and he has become my salvation;
this is my God, and I will praise him,
my father’s God, and I will exalt him.
If Jesus isn’t your song, you don’t know His salvation. The saved, the rescued, the pardoned, the forgiven, the redeemed, the ransomed, the delivered, the justified, and the reconciled SING!
Some folks, of the highly educated sort, think this song is odd in its placement. This is ridiculous on a number of levels. Where else would you put it? Would you like Moses to insert it following the instructions for the golden lampstand? Further, such persons reveal they not only know little of salvation, they know little of life.
“It’s not natural for this song to be here.”
“Have you ever eaten an exquisite steak?”
“I don’t follow.”
When you experience something good you want to praise it. Lewis observed, “I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation.” Praise is a response to the praiseworthy. Songs of praise are a response to the exceptionally praiseworthy. Israel had reason to sing. She had to sing. We have reason all the more. The “then,” “for,” and “because” of our singing have been more fully revealed. Because of the incarnation, the perfection, the death, the resurrection, the ascension, the session, and the promised return of Christ, let us sing. Because of the redemption, ransom, salvation, propitiation, regeneration, reconciliation, justification, adoption, sanctification, and glorification we have in Christ, let us sing.
The history of salvation is sometimes described as a drama—the drama of redemption. However, this drama is actually a musical. It is impossible even to conceive of Biblical Christianity without songs of praise. —Phil Ryken
“Thus says Yahweh…,” so chapter six of Exodus begins; by the end, everyone doubts this. There are several conversations in chapter 6: Moses and Aaron speak to Pharaoh (vv. 1–5), Pharaoh speaks to the taskmasters and foremen (vv. 6–9), the taskmasters and foremen speak to Israel (vv. 10–14), the foremen speak to Pharaoh (vv. 15–18), the foremen speak to Moses and Aaron (vv. 19–21), Moses speaks to Yahweh (vv. 22–23). Everyone is talking, no one is listening—to God. Yahweh speaks, men ignore; well, at least, they try. By the end of the book, no one will doubt Yahweh has spoken; well, at least for a while.
Pharaoh’s refusal cannot silence Yahweh’s word’s of judgment. Israel’s grumbling cannot hush Yahweh’s words of grace. Thus says Yahweh. YHWH has spoken. It will be done. “Who is Yahweh?” Pharaoh asks. He will receive an education. Israel has not listened, but God still hears His prophet intercede for His people. He hears Moses’ prayers (Exodus 5:22–6:1ff), He hears His people’s groaning (Exodus 6:5). Pharaoh has not listened to Yahweh, nor does he hear the Hebrew’s cries (Exodus 5:15–19), but God has spoken and God listens.
“Thus says Yahweh,” those words will not fall flat. They may fall as quiet snowflake, but it is the snowflake that starts the avalanche. Yahweh’s words don’t dissipate, they swell. His voice does’t just carry, it’s self-amplifying. They are words so loud they will make the hearing deaf and the deaf hearing.
Yahweh has spoken words of judgement and grace. There’s a lot of talk, and little listening. Yahweh speaks, men ignore, or so they try. By the end of the book, when the author has finished speaking the tale of this age, when His words have swelled to the point that a new heaven and a new earth are on the verge of being, no one will doubt “thus says Yahweh.” On that day, no one will doubt the words of the One whose word holds them together. If He didn’t speak they would not be; recognizing this, all heads will be bowed, with mouths silent and ears attentive, to His words of judgment and grace. Thus says Yahweh.