Between Pearls And Privatization

One of the most pressing problems faced by Christians in the late-modern world is how to relate our profession and conduct of the Christian faith to a culture that seems increasingly hostile to Christian faith and practice. This is not a theoretical question. Under the Obama administration various governmental entities have become overtly hostile to Christian faith and practice. The IRS is now question churches about their prayers. Legitimate questions are being raised about how the IRS audits churches (see this also). Bakers and florists in Colorado, Oregon, and Washington State have been heavily fined for refusing to compromise their religious convictions by catering homosexual weddings. The city of Houston attempted to silence pastors who objected to their move to implement the LGBTQ bathroom agenda. The State of Iowa has what amounts to a metaphorical gun pointed at the metaphorical heads of churches in Iowa. This became evident when a pamphlet was publicized that required churches to open restrooms to so-called transgender persons. The brochure has since been revised but the potential legal threat remains in place. Such a list could go on. The HB has been documenting these challenges to religious freedom.

For Christians this is question of how to relate Christ and culture, or how to relate nature and grace. This is an ancient problem. The apostolic and early post-apostolic Christians faced this problem acutely. Our Lord commanded us to “render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s” (Matt 22:21). The assumption behind the our Lord’s teaching is, of course, that some things are legitimately Casesar’s and some things are not. Our Lord drew a line in the sand when he informed Pilate that his “kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). The apostles faced this problem acutely when they were commanded to stop preaching the gospel. The Apostle Peter spoke for all of us when he replied, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).

Throughout the history of the church there have been three general approaches to relating nature and grace:

  • Grace perfects nature per se (e.g., Aquinas)
  • Grace obliterates nature (e.g., Anabaptists)
  • Grace renews fallen nature (e.g., Calvin)

For Aquinas (c. 1224–74), nature, as nature, is inherently corrupt. It lacks divinity and that is what grace supplies. For the Anabaptists (c. 1520s), nature is inherently evil and needs to be wiped out by divinity. For the Reformed churches, however, nature was regarded as inherently good but human nature particularly is said to have been profoundly corrupted by the fall. Grace is said to renew fallen human nature. Since the late 19th and early 20th centuries, among Reformed Christians there has arisen an alternative approach to nature and grace that tends to reject the very distinction. Its corollary, the distinction between sacred and secular, has also come under suspicion as a remnant of medieval theology.

With the Fathers and against the Gnostics we should confess that nature was created good (Gen 1). With the Reformation we affirm that human nature was profoundly corrupted by the fall and that God not only graciously justifies sinners but by grace he also renews them. With the Reformation we should say that cosmic renewal awaits the consummation. According to the sola Scriptura principle we have a right to question the transformationalist approach to Christ and culture and I have done it here for instance.

Given those basics we should be wary about the rhetoric of cultural “transformation” in this life. Surely Christians are being transformed but, until the consummation, we live, under God’s sovereign providence, in two spheres: the sacred and the secular. Last week I suggested that the prayers and benedictions offered at the Republican convention provided us with an opportunity to reconsider the apparently widespread rejection of the distinction between the sacred and the secular. The “benediction” offered last night at the Democratic National Convention was equally problematic.

One critic of last week’s essay suggested that I was promoting “privatization” of Christianity. Nothing could be farther from the truth. I have vigorously defended the existence of a Christian worldview (Weltanschauung) here (2008), here (2013), here (2014), here (2014) and rejected the privatization of Christian faith and practice. Some have defined privatizing such that anyone who criticizes the transformational project is ipso facto guilty of privatizing. A good example of genuine privatizing is the attempt by the California SB1146, which requires Christian colleges to toe the new orthodoxy on homosexual marriage—remember it was only 8 years ago that Barack Obama himself said that he could not support same-sex marriage because of his Christian convictions. Eight years later, California’s legislators seek to make it a crime for Christian colleges to agree with Obama. They do so on the assumption that Christianity (or religion) generally is only what transpires within the walls of a church (or mosque or synagogue), that it does not influence (or even control) how believers lives their daily lives. It is a matter of Christian liberty where a Christian business person wishes to cater a homosexual wedding. A Christian may well conclude that the moral law forbids them from cooperating in such a union. The state ought not to coerce people to act against conscience. The State of California has no moral right to punish Christians for applying their faith to their daily lives.

As Rich Little (imitating Nixon) used to say: Let me make this perfectly clear: the Christian faith cannot be privatized. We have been graciously (freely) saved, through faith alone in order that we might be graciously, progressively sanctified and we are being sanctified that we might live out our Christian faith through the week. The daily Christian life is not worship proper—thus it is not helpful to say “all of life is worship” because that tends to the confusion of the true nature of public worship—but everything need not be worship to be under the general, sovereign providence of God and under his moral law.

One of my abiding concerns about the transformationalist models with which I am familiar is that they seem unintentionally to take us back to the Thomist model of grace perfecting nature, i.e., speaking of “Christian math” implicitly denies goodness of creation by suggesting that plumbing, or math, or any second order operation, unless transformed by grace, is inherently corrupt. Again, I should like to see a clear, compelling case from Scripture or confession for such a notion. The broad (and arguably) lose use of the verb “to redeem” is unhelpful. Christ redeemed sinners at Calvary. I doubt that it is proper to speak about Christians “redeeming” any second-order operation. Instead of speaking of transforming and redeeming cultural pursuits, why do not speak of the Christian vocation of serving God and neighbor in our daily work? Instead of “Christian plumbing,” why not exhort Christians to fulfill their daily vocation to the glory of God and the well being of their neighbor. This would save us endless, and as far as I can tell, fruitless wrangling about exactly what is distinctively Christian about “Christian math” or “Christian plumbing.”

Over against transformationalism, I am arguing that we need to recover the older Reformed conviction that there is a distinction between the sacred and the secular. Calvin used these categories without embarrassment. The common is not “neutral” and the secular is not dirty. We recognize this very distinction every time we administer holy communion. Reformed liturgical forms regularly speak about setting about common (secular) bread for a sacred use. That language only makes sense in light of a distinction between the sacred and the secular. Belgic Confession Art. 35 makes this very distinction:

…the one is physical and temporal—they have it from the moment of their first birth, and it is common to all. The other is spiritual and heavenly, and is given them in their second birth…Thus, to support the physical and earthly life God has prescribed for us an appropriate earthly and material bread, which is as common to all as life itself also is. But to maintain the spiritual and heavenly life that belongs to believers he has sent a living bread that came down from heaven: namely Jesus Christ, who nourishes and maintains the spiritual life of believers when eaten—that is, when appropriated and received spiritually by faith.

Our English word secular comes from the Latin saeculum which stands for “world.” We might distinguish between secular and secularist. It is one thing to recognize a distinction between a good secular vocation (e.g., plumbing) and a sacred ecclesiastical vocation to pastoral ministry. A secularist, however, seems to want to insist that we live in a closed universe and that nothing is sacred. The transformationalist seems to want to make everything sacred and the secularist seems to want to deny the sacred universally but the historic Christian position is distinct from both.

Our Lord instructed us not to cast our pearls before swine (Matt 7:6). He was invoking the Mosaic (Old Covenant) restrictions against pork, which made pigs ceremonially or ritually unclean. Whatever else this teaching means to it certainly means that there are times when Christian truth is to be withheld from those who are metaphorically pigs or dogs. There are times when it is not appropriate to speak the truth of the kingdom. In his comment on this passage Calvin exhorted his readers strongly not to use this verse as a justification not to preach the gospel to sinners. He urged his readers to preach the gospel indiscriminately but to recognize that there are times and places in which it is wise to hold our counsel. Is withholding pearls and from pigs a form of privatization? I think not. So it is with prayers at city council meetings or political conventions. Christians ought to serve in those places and they ought to do so according to their conscience formed by God’s immutable moral law but in a way that is appropriate to each sphere of responsibility. If that be privatization, then let us have more of it but such is a truly tendentious definition of private.

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  1. Dr. Clark,

    “The broad (and arguably) lose use of the verb “to redeem” is unhelpful. Christ redeemed sinners at Calvary. I doubt that it is proper to speak about Christians “redeeming” any second-order operation.”

    I share your concern over an indiscriminate usage of the word in this way. However, what do we make of the phrase “redeeming the time” (Eph. 5:16; Col. 4:5)? My understanding is that Paul is quite clear, in context, that the redeeming has nothing to do with the sort of redeeming that Christ has done on our behalf – whereas, today, people speak of “redeeming” this or that in a very vague way. This could very easily sound to someone as if the redeeming done is essentially of the same nature, purpose, importance, etc.

    However, I don’t anticipate that this alone would be sufficient to convince people who really like to apply the term in such a manner. Any thoughts? Thank you.

  2. Josh,

    To redeem (ἐξαγοράζω) means “to buy back.” That’s what I understand Paul to mean. The ESV translates it as “making the best us of” which seems apt in this case.

    That’s not really what transformationalists mean by “redeeming plumbing” is it? They seem to suggest that secular vocations are inherently not what they should be. It’s not clear. It would help me if they would engage the broader Christian and especially the classical Reformed tradition more directly.

    It’s true that the language of “redeeming” can be used metaphorically but it’s also true that Paul isn’t saying by it what our transformationalist friends are saying by it.

  3. Thank you for this whole rich complex of hyperlinked OPs. A blog about it alone would be very worthwhile.

    I would be much obliged to you for the favor of a Reformed comment on this view of states:

    (a) Caesar is a creature.
    (b) Caesar seeks more power as that is his created nature.
    (c) In so doing, he institutes order as he understands it.
    (d) Insofar as it secures that order and his power, he may from time to time prefer peace to violence and justice to partiality.
    (e) However wisdom in the doing of (b), (c), and (d) is not a property of his created nature, so that he often promotes power grabs, mistaken order, shallow peace, merely procedural justice, partial adjudications, etc.
    (f) As a community of wisdom, the Church is engaged in a more or less endless conversation with Caesar about the wisdom of the ways in which he pursues power.
    (g) Alas, it is not in Caesar’s nature to understand the conversation.

    • Bowman,

      I don’t doubt (a), (b), (c), or (d).

      I have doubts about (e), however. As I understand wisdom, some version of it, sufficient for civil order, is accessible to creatures, even to pagans. We should distinguish between true, saving wisdom, however, and common wisdom. I agree, however, that civil rulers do often commit the errors you list. I’m not sure what “shallow” peace is. My eschatology tells me that (depending upon what is meant) might be the only sort of civil peace possible before the consummation. By “partial” adjudications, do you mean unjust or incomplete?

      The church is a community of wisdom but it is not convened as a community of civil or common wisdom but of saving wisdom. The church as a congregation is not commissioned to instruct the magistrate. Westminster Confession 31.4 says:

      4. Synods and councils are to handle, or conclude nothing, but that which is ecclesiastical: and are not to intermeddle with civil affairs which concern the commonwealth, unless by way of humble petition in cases extraordinary; or, by way of advice, for satisfaction of conscience, if they be thereunto required by the civil magistrate.

      When the magistrate interferes with the ministry of the church we may and should humbly petition him to stop otherwise the church as church (as institution) should mind her spiritual business. Christians as citizens, of course, are free and ought to form organizations to petition the government, to run for office, to lobby, and generally to exercise their civil liberties.

      (g) May or may not be true in any given case. Calvin petitioned Francis at length, in his Institutes and the Fathers addressed pagan magistrates (e.g., Justin called for a public investigation of the Christians because he was confident that the would be found innocent of the allegations made against them). The Apostle Paul addressed magistrates. It is up the Spirit of God to do as he will. It is our duty to speak graciously and to leave the results to the Spirit.

  4. Whatever else this teaching means to it certainly means that there are times when Christian truth is to be withheld

    ie if someone isn’t open to listen to you, there’s no reason to continue speaking.

    There are some holy enjoyments, some gracious experiences, some deep doctrines of the Word of God, which it would be out of place to speak of before certain profane and unclean persons. They would only make a jest of them; perhaps they might persecute you on account of them. No; holy things are for holy men.; and as of old the crier in the Grecian temple was wont to say, before the mysteries were performed, “Far hence, ye profane” so sometimes, before we enter into the innermost circle of Christian converse, it would be well for us to notice who is listening. Spurgeon

    olent rapacity, Psalms 22:16 and their beastly vices, Deuteronomy 23:18.
    It has happened to them according to the true proverb, “A DOG RETURNS TO ITS OWN VOMIT,” and, “A sow, after washing, returns to wallowing in the mire.” (see notes on 2Peter 2:22)
    Outside are the dogs and the sorcerers and the immoral persons and the murderers and the idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices lying. (Revelation 22:15-note)
    Paul used the term “dogs” in his letter to Philippi warning the converts to…
    Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the false circumcision (see notes Philippians 3:2)
    The Jews used “dog” as a derogatory term referring to Gentiles in general. In Philippi, Paul turned the tables so to speak and actually referred to Jews (probably Judaizers) who professed to believe in Christ but depended upon keeping the Law and the rituals of Judaism in order to “merit” salvation. Thus in this sense Paul uses “Dogs” to refer to false teachers.
    Barclay has a helpful note on dogs
    With us the dog is a well-loved animal, but it was not so in the East in the time of Jesus. The dogs were the pariah dogs, roaming the streets, sometimes in packs, hunting amidst the garbage dumps and snapping and snarling at all whom they met. J. B. Lightfoot speaks of
    “&the dogs which prowl about eastern cities, without a home and without an owner, feeding on the refuse and filth of the streets, quarrelling among themselves, and attacking the passer-by.&”
    In the Bible the dog always stands for that than which nothing can be lower. When Saul is seeking to take his life, David’s demand is: “&After whom do you pursue? After a dead dog! after a flea!&” (&1Sa 24:14&, cf. &2Ki 8:13&; &Ps 22:16&, &20&). In the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, part of the torture of Lazarus is that the street dogs annoy him by licking his sores (&Luke 16:21&). In Deuteronomy the Law brings together the price of a dog and the hire of a whore, and declares that neither must be offered to God (&Deut 23:18&). In Revelation the word dog stands for those who are so impure that they are debarred from the Holy City (&Rev 22:15-note&). That which is holy must never be given to dogs (&Mt 7:6&). It is the same in Greek thought; the dog stands for everything that is shamelessly unclean. It was by this name that the Jews called the Gentiles. There is a Rabbinic saying, “&The nations of the world are like dogs.&” So this is Paul’s answer to the Jewish teachers. He says to them, “&In your proud self-righteousness, you call other men dogs; but it is you who are dogs, because you shamelessly pervert the gospel of Jesus Christ.&” He takes the very name the Jewish teachers would have applied to the impure and to the Gentiles and flings it back at themselves. A man must always have a care that he is not himself guilty of the sins of which he accuses others. (Barclay, W: The Letters to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians. The New Daily Study Bible Series, Rev. ed. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press. John Knox Press)
    Dogs and swine (5519) describe profane people who treat spiritual matters with contempt. They are unbelievers who are enemies of the gospel and are people to avoid. This verse does not mean that the blessings of the gospel are not to be offered to the Gentiles (remembering that Jews in Jesus’ day frequently referred to Gentiles as “dogs”), but rather that precious spiritual truths should not be pressed upon those who are either unready or unwilling to accept or appreciate their value. The verse continues logically in the train of thought developed in the sayings which immediately precede it. While judging others is not the prerogative of man, there are, nonetheless, those whose uncleanness and violence prevent the sharing of the most noble truths of the Christian faith.
    Brothers (referred to in Mt 7:3-5) and “dogs” or “swine” must not be treated alike. Believers must discriminate carefully, clearly indicating that Jesus’ command to stop judging in Matthew 7:1 was not meant to exclude discerning judgment, but only condemnatory, critical judgment.
    Swine are just as contemptible and filthy as dogs. The OT mentions swine among the unclean animals (Lev. 11:7; Deut. 14:8) and the eating of swine flesh is an abomination in (Isa. 65:4; 66:3, 17) Swine are not only unclean animals but can be vicious and are capable of savage attacks against people. The wild boar of the wood was frequently met with in the woody parts of Palestine, especially in Mount Tabor. In Psalm 80:13 the powers that destroyed the Jewish nation are compared to wild boars and wild beasts of the field.

    Wild Boars
    Can Tear you to Pieces!
    The phrase “what is holy” or set apart from the common and profane and consecrated to God is used synonymously with “pearls”.
    Pearls (3135) (margaritēs) were usually regarded as precious stones in Jesus’ day. Pearls are found in the Red Sea, the Persian Gulf, and the Indian Ocean and were brought into the western culture through Alexander the Great’s conquests. Pearls were priced way beyond the purchasing power of the average person and in order to obtain a pearl of great value a merchant might have to sell all his possessions (cf Mt 13:46)
    Margaritēs is used by Jesus as a figure of speech for what is of supreme worth. The Jews used “margaritēs” to refer to a valuable saying. Jesus is saying that whatever is very precious in the spiritual realm should be treated with reverence and not entrusted to those who, because of their utterly wicked, vicious, and despicable nature, are like dogs and hogs.
    Trample (2662 (katapateo from katá = intensifies meaning + patéo = tread, trample, fig to treat contemptuously) means to step down forcibly upon often with the implication of seeking to destroy or ruin. The idea is to spurn, to reject with disdain, treat contemptuously, treat with rudeness and insult or thoroughly despise someone or something. Jesus pictures hogs trampling the pearls with their feet, thus treating them with utter disdain.
    In Matthew Jesus returns to Nazareth, His home town, and we read that
    they took offense (verb skandalizo – see in depth study of noun, skandalon) at Him. But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his home town, and in his own household.” And He did not do many miracles there because of their unbelief. (Mt 13:57-58)
    So here we see Jesus practicing the same principle He is laying down for His disciples to practice.
    D A Carson comments that…
    The pigs trample the pearls under foot (perhaps out of animal disappointment that they are not morsels of food), and the dogs are so disgusted with “what is sacred” that they turn on the giver. Gaebelein, F, Editor: Expositor’s Bible Commentary 6-Volume New Testament. Zondervan Publishing)
    Spurgeon comments that…
    It is a pity to talk about some of the secrete of our holy faith in any and every company. It would be almost, profane to speak of them in the company of profane men. We know that they would not. understand us; they would find occasion for jest and ridicule, and therefore our own reverence for holy things must cause us to lay a finger on our lips when we are in the presence of profane persons. Do not let us, however, carry out one precept to the exclusion of others. There are dogs that eat of the crumbs that fall from the master’s table. Drop them a crumb. And there are even swine that may yet be trans. learned; to whom the sight of a pearl might give some inkling of a better condition of heart. Cast not the pearls before them, but you may show them to them sometimes when they are in as good a state of mind as they are likely to be in. It is ours to preach the gospel to every creature; that is a precept of Christ, and yet all creatures are not always in the condition to hear the gospel. We must choose our time. Yet even this I would not push too far. We are to preach the gospel in season and out of season. Oh! that we may be able to follow precepts as far as they are meant to go, and no further.
    Turn (4762) (strepho from trope = a turn or revolution) means to twist, turn quite around or reverse.
    Tear (4486) (rhegnumi) means to break in pieces, disrupt or lacerate as dogs would do.
    Clearly to be an undiscerning simpleton (as might occur in one who took the meaning of “do not judge” to an extreme interpretation which Jesus did not intend) can place one in a dangerous position (cf “trample”, “tear to pieces”!)
    Paul gives us an example of a vicious opponent of the gospel warning Timothy to beware of…
    Alexander the coppersmith did me much harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds. Be on guard against him yourself, for he vigorously opposed our teaching. (notes 2 Timothy 4:14-15)
    The French philosopher Voltaire would certainly fit the picture of a spiritual “dog and a hog”, who violently opposed God, His Holy Word and His precious Son. How tragic that one of the most fertile and talented minds of his time (which parenthetically bears witness to the common grace and longsuffering of our great Father), was such a vicious opponent of truth, using his pen to retard and demolish Christianity as much as humanly possible. Once speaking about our Lord Jesus Christ, Voltaire uttered the unspeakable words “Curse the wretch!” Voltaire was so self deceived and arrogant that he once boasted that within
    “twenty years Christianity will be no more. My single hand shall destroy the edifice it took twelve apostles to rear.”
    God however is not mocked beloved (see Galatians ) and so not surprisingly shortly after Voltaire’s death the very house in which he printed his vicious anti-Christian literature became the home of the Geneva Bible Society! A nurse who attended Voltaire at the time of his horrible death vowed “For all the wealth in Europe I would not see another infidel die.” Voltaire’s’ physician, Trochim, also attended the infidel up to the time of his last breath, and is quoted as hearing Voltaire’s last desperate (rightly so) cry
    “I am abandoned by God and man! I will give you half of what I am worth if you will give me six months’ life. Then I shall go to hell; and you will go with me. O Christ! O Jesus Christ!”
    Voltaire is the epitome of the type of individual citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven must refrain from sharing the precious and holy truths of God.
    We are not to continue to present the gospel to those who repeatedly mock, scorn and deride it. To be sure, this determination sometimes is obvious as in the case of rank infidels but in other situations requires God’s wisdom (see role of prayer in Matthew 7:7-8) and Spirit controlled guidance. There is a limit Jesus says and when that time arrives, it is high time for the ambassador of Christ to depart company.
    And so we see Jesus instructing His disciples…
    “And into whatever city or village you enter, inquire who is worthy in it; and abide there until you go away. And as you enter the house, give it your greeting. And if the house is worthy, let your greeting of peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your greeting of peace return to you. And whoever does not receive you, nor heed your words, as you go out of that house or that city, shake off the dust of your feet. Truly I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment, than for that city.” (Matthew 10:11-15)
    In the same way Jesus pronounced judgment on the Galilean towns which for the most part rejected the light of His presence and His gospel..
    Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles had occurred in Tyre and Sidon which occurred in you, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. Nevertheless I say to you, it shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment, than for you. And you, Capernaum, will not be exalted to heaven, will you? You shall descend to Hades; for if the miracles had occurred in Sodom which occurred in you, it would have remained to this day. (Mt 11:21-23)
    And we see Paul’s reaction to the rejection of the Gospel by the Jews of Corinth…
    After these things he left Athens and went to Corinth. And he found a certain Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, having recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome. He came to them, and because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them and they were working; for by trade they were tent-makers. And he was reasoning in the synagogue every Sabbath and trying to persuade Jews and Greeks. But when Silas and Timothy came down from Macedonia, Paul began devoting himself completely to the word, solemnly testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ. And when they resisted and blasphemed, he shook out his garments and said to them, “Your blood be upon your own heads! I am clean. From now on I shall go to the Gentiles. (Acts 18:1-6, see also Acts 13:44-51, 28:17-28; Ro 16:17-18).
    Writing to Titus on the Isle of Crete Paul instructed him…
    Reject a factious (divisive, one who causes division) man after a first and second warning, knowing that such a man is perverted and is sinning, being self-condemned. (Titus 3:10-11)
    Herod Antipas was a dog…swine, who heard John gladly, Mark recording…
    for Herod was afraid of John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and kept him safe. And when he heard him, he was very perplexed; but he used to enjoy listening to him. Mark 6:20)
    This same Herod turned on John the Baptist and had him beheaded him (see Mt 14:1-12; Mk 6:14-28; Lu 9:7-9). Later, Jesus Christ refused to give what was holy to Herod…
    Now Herod was very glad when he saw Jesus; for he had wanted to see Him for a long time, because he had been hearing about Him and was hoping to see some sign performed by Him. And he questioned Him at some length; but He answered him nothing. (Luke 23:8-9)
    And after Jesus rose from the dead He showed Himself to no one who was not a believer.
    In the parable of The Barren Fig Tree Jesus explained that God was patience, but His patience was not endless…
    And He began telling this parable: “A certain man had a fig tree which had been planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it, and did not find any. And he said to the vineyard-keeper, ‘Behold, for three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree without finding any. Cut it down! Why does it even use up the ground?’ And he answered and said to him, ‘Let it alone, sir, for this year too, until I dig around it and put in fertilizer; and if it bears fruit next year, fine; but if not, cut it down.'” (Luke 13:6-9)
    Solomon presents a similar principle regarding bestowal of “holy things” on dogs and hogs…
    A man who hardens his neck after much reproof will suddenly be broken beyond remedy. (Proverbs 29:1)
    Do not reprove a scoffer, lest he hate you (don’t bother rebuking mockers; they will only hate you), Reprove a wise man, and he will love you. (Proverbs 9:8)
    Jesus’ teaching is in fact imminently logical for if we were to remain in the company of those who constantly ridicule the small gate and narrow way of the Gospel, we would by default, fail to enter other “fields” which Jesus described in other passages declaring…
    The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. (Mt 9:37)
    Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes, and look on the fields, that they are white for harvest. (John 4:35)
    Hendriksen writes that…
    The suggestion may be correct&& that, since pearls resemble peas or acorns, these hogs, having greedily tasted a few and having discovered that they can do nothing with them, in anger trample the pearls underfoot and turn and tear to pieces those who had flung such non-edibles in front of them. (Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. Exposition of the Gospel According to Matthew Grand Rapids: Baker Book House)
    J Vernon McGee tells the following story…
    I remember a Tennessee legislator friend of mine who was a heavy drinker. He was wonderfully converted and is a choice servant of God today. The other members of the legislature knew how he drank. Then they heard he “got religion,” as they called it. One day this fellow took his seat in the legislature, and his fellow-members looked him over. Finally, someone rose, addressed the chairman of the meeting and said, “I make a motion that we hear a sermon from Deacon So-and-So.” Everyone laughed. But my friend was equal to the occasion. He got to his feet and said, “I’m sorry, I do not have anything to say. My Lord told me not to cast my pearls before swine.” He sat down, and they never ridiculed him anymore. (McGee, J V: Thru the Bible Commentary: Nashville: Thomas Nelson)
    Charles Simeon…

    Matt. 7:6

    IN the holy Scriptures there are not only such directions as are necessary for the saving of the soul, but such also as are of a prudential nature, calculated for the rectifying of our judgment, and the regulating of our conduct, in less important matters. A pious person would obtain salvation, though he should not be discreet in his mode of communicating instruction or reproof to others. But it is desirable that “the man of God should be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works:” and therefore he should attend as well to those admonitions which are of secondary importance, as to those which relate to the fundamental points of faith or practice. The words before us are connected with the prohibition respecting the judging of others. To judge others uncharitably will expose us to similar treatment from them, as well as to the displeasure of Almighty God. Before we presume to judge others at all, we ought to be diligent in searching out and amending our own faults; without which we are but ill qualified to reprove the faults of others. We ought also to consider the state of the person whom we undertake to reprove: for if he be hardened in his wickedness, and disposed to resent our well-meant endeavours, it will be more prudent to let him alone, and to wait for some season when we may speak to him with a better prospect of success. Such is the import of the caution in our text; from whence we may observe,

    I. That religious instruction is often most unworthily received—

    The value of religious instruction is but little known—

    [Education in general is esteemed one of the greatest blessings we can enjoy; nor is any sacrifice, whether of time or money, deemed too great for the obtaining of the benefits arising from it. A richly-furnished mind, a cultivated taste, a polished manner, are distinctions which the richer part of the community particularly affect: and they are most envied who possess in the highest measure such accomplishments. But divine knowledge is considered as of little worth: though it would enrich the soul beyond all conception, and adorn it with all the most amiable graces, and is therefore most fully characterized by the name of “pearls,” yet has it no beauty, no excellency, in the eyes of carnal men: the generality are as insensible of its value as swine are of the value of pearls, which they would “trample under their feet” as mire and dirt. Of this however we may be assured, that instruction, even though it be in a way of reproof, lays us under the deepest obligation to him who gives it&&.]

    Many, instead of being pleased, are only irritated and offended at it—

    [Nothing under heaven has ever given more offence than this. Men may utter lewdness and blasphemy, and create but little disgust: but let them bear their testimony against sin, or proclaim the unsearchable riches of Christ, and instantly an indignation is excited in every bosom. In the house of God indeed a certain licence is allowed, provided the preacher be not too faithful: but in a private company the mention of such things is considered as a death-blow to social comfort, and is reprobated as an insufferable nuisance. Even in the public ministry those who “labour with fidelity in the word and doctrine” are not unfrequently treated with every species of indignity. No name is too odious for them to bear, no opposition too violent to be raised against them.

    It is supposed indeed by some, that the offence excited by ministers arises from the erroneousness of their statements, or the injudiciousness of their manner. But what then shall we say to the treatment which Christ and his Apostles met with? Did our blessed Lord want any qualification that could recommend his doctrine? Did he not exhibit “the meekness of wisdom,” and “speak as never man spake?” And was not Paul guided and instructed by God himself in his ministrations? Yet were both he and his Divine Master represented as babblers and deceivers; and one cry was raised against them both, “Away with them; it is not fit that they should live.”

    Nor is it more against the doctrines of Christianity that this prejudice exists, than it does against its practice. The doctrine of “Christ crucified is still to some a stumbling-block, and to others foolishness:” and the same anger that rankled in the bosoms of Herod and Herodias against John, who condemned their incestuous connexion, is called forth at this time against any one who shall condemn the customs of the world&&. Our Lord’s words may still be used by all his faithful followers, “The world hateth me, because I testify of it that the works thereof are evil&&.” Doubtless the inveteracy of wicked men will shew itself in different ways and different degrees, according to the different circumstances under which it is called forth: but no times or circumstances have ever superseded the necessity of attending to the caution in the text: there ever have been multitudes who would take offence at the kindest efforts for their welfare&&, and, like ferocious “dogs, would turn again and rend you.” Reprove iniquity, and you will still be deemed “the troublers of Israel;” and those who are reproved will say of you, “I hate Micaiah, for he doth not speak good of me, but evil.”]

    From this aversion which men feel to religious instruction, it appears,

    II. That great caution is to be used in administering it—

    The direction in our text was given to the whole multitude of those who heard our Lord’s discourse; and therefore may be considered as applicable,

    1. To ministers—

    [Though it is not to be confined to them, it does not exclude them. Doubtless where numbers of persons are assembled to hear the word of God, it is not possible to suit oneself to the disposition and taste of every individual. The rule which God himself has laid down must in such cases be followed: “He that hath my word, let him speak my word faithfully&&.” A minister must “warn men, whether they will hear, or whether they will forbear:” he must “commend himself to every man’s conscience in the sight of God,” “keeping back nothing that is profitable unto them,” but “declaring unto them the whole counsel of God.” Still, however, the caution in the text is necessary for him. He should consider the state of his hearers, and should adapt his discourses to their necessities. Our blessed Lord, knowing how full of prejudice the Jews were, “spake the word to them in parables, as they were able to hear it.” In like manner, though we must not seek the applause of man, (for “if we please men, we cannot he the servants of Jesus Christ;”) yet we should endeavour to “please all men for their good to edification:” we should argue with them on principles which they acknowledge; we should be content to give “milk to babes,” and to reserve the “strong meat” for such as are able to digest it. We should pay attention to every thing that may lessen prejudice and conciliate regard: and, though we must not affect “the wisdom of words, which would only make void the cross of Christ,” we should “search out acceptable words,” and be especially careful to “speak the truth in love.” Our great object should be not to “deliver our own souls,” (though doubtless we must be careful to do that,) but principally to “win the souls” of others.]

    2. To Christians in general—

    [As “men do not light a candle, to put it under a bed or under a bushel, but to give light to those who are in the house,” so God, when he illuminates any soul, expects that the light he has imparted should be diffused for the good of others. But in endeavouring to instruct others, we should consider the tune, the manner, the measure of instruction, that will be most likely to ensure success. In particular, we should not press matters when our exhortations are contemned as foolish, or resented as injurious. Not that our concern should be about ourselves, as though we feared either the contempt of men, or their resentment; but we should be afraid of hardening them, and thereby increasing their guilt and condemnation. As to ourselves, we should gladly “suffer all things for the elect’s sake:” but for them we should “weep, as it were, in secret places&&,” and “gladly spend and be spent for them, though the more abundantly we love them the less we be loved.” If, indeed, after all our labour, we find that our efforts are only rejected by them with disdain, we may then with propriety leave them to themselves, and, like the Apostles, bestow our attention on more hopeful subjects&&. As the priests imparted of the holy food to every member of their families, but gave none of it to dogs, so may you give your holy things to others, and withhold it from those who have shewn themselves so unworthy of it.]

    We will now apply the subject,

    1. To those who are strangers to the truth—

    [From the indifference which is usually shewn to divine things, it is evident that the value of religious knowledge is but little known. If we could inform persons how to restore their health, or how to recover an estate, or how to obtain any great temporal benefit, they would hear us gladly, and follow our advice with thankfulness; but when we speak of spiritual benefits, they have no ears to hear, no hearts to understand: they are ready to say to us, as the demoniac to Christ, “Art thou come to torment us before our time?” But let it not be so with you. Think in what light God represents such conduct&& — — — what regret you will hereafter feel&& — — — and what augmented punishment you will endure&& — — — And may God “open your hearts, that you may attend to the things” that belong unto your peace, before they be for ever hid from your eyes!]

    2. To those who know it—

    [Whilst we exhort you to be cautious in admonishing others, we would caution you also against being soon discouraged. Think not every one assimilated to dogs or swine because he resists the truth for a season; but give “line upon line, and precept upon precept,” and “instruct in meekness them that oppose themselves, if God peradventure will give them repentance, and that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, by whom they have been led captive at his will.”

    And whilst you take upon you to admonish others, be willing to receive admonition also yourselves. It is not every religious professor that is so open to conviction as he ought to be&&, and that will receive reproof like David, esteeming it as “an excellent oil, that shall not break his head&&. Watch over your own spirit, therefore, and exemplify in yourselves the conduct you require in others.]

  5. oops sorry …just:

    Whatever else this teaching means to it certainly means that there are times when Christian truth is to be withheld

    ie if someone isn’t open to listen to you, there’s no reason to continue speaking.

    There are some holy enjoyments, some gracious experiences, some deep doctrines of the Word of God, which it would be out of place to speak of before certain profane and unclean persons. They would only make a jest of them; perhaps they might persecute you on account of them. No; holy things are for holy men.; and as of old the crier in the Grecian temple was wont to say, before the mysteries were performed, “Far hence, ye profane” so sometimes, before we enter into the innermost circle of Christian converse, it would be well for us to notice who is listening. Spurgeon

  6. But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.

  7. “As I understand wisdom, some version of it, sufficient for civil order, is accessible to creatures, even to pagans.”

    Yes, although cognition sufficient to avoid anarchy can be foolish about a great many other things.

    “We should distinguish between true, saving wisdom, however, and common wisdom… The church is a community of wisdom but it is not convened as a community of civil or common wisdom but of saving wisdom.”

    This is the puzzle. Should a church with saving wisdom be presumed to lack civil or common wisdom? Or having both saving and common wisdom, is it obliged to compartmentalize its mind so that some kind of wisdom can be reserved to the state?

    Sanctification and vocation in Christ seem to be part of salvation. They may not ensure sound field-specific knowledge of policy consequences (eg the paradox of thrift, nuclear strategy, treatments for mental illness, paradigms of pedagogy, regimes of punishment, causes of rising average temperatures, etc). In fact, when I hear eminent Christian men mistaking the probable consequences of what seem to them to be very moral policies, I begin to suspect that only amoral rascals can see mere causation without prejudice. But not all policy decisions turn on accurate knowledge of efficient causation.

    Sanctification and vocation do seem to entail less distorted insight into such non-consequences as the true condition and shape of human life? And shouldn’t the implications of that insight be at least offered to those who make policy (eg with respect to the poor, slavery and child labor, eugenics, euthanasia, sexual minorities, etc)?

    As we hear more about the Benedict Option (or if you prefer, the Diognetus Option), we need clarity, both about the claims being made for the wisdom of “churches” or “gospel people,” and about the fallibility of even a state we like.

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