Don’t Judge a Book By Its Cover

“Let us not tempt God and, wearying Him with our depravity, provoke Him against ourselves.  This is usual with many who covenant with God only under certain conditions, and, as if He were the servant of their own appetites, bind Him to laws of their own stipulation.  If He does not obey them at once, they become indignant, grumble, protest, murmur, and rage at Him. 

“To such, therefore, He often grants in wrath and fury what in mercy He denies to others to whom He is favorable.  The children of Israel supply proof of this, for whom it would have been much better not to be heard by the Lord than to swallow His wrath with their meat [Num.11:18,33].” –John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (1559)

How often have we looked, as the Psalmist did, at the prosperity of the wicked and the want of the godly and wondered at such things?  If you are like me, we usually answer such dilemmas with the truth that all will be made right at the final judgment.  And to that I say a hardy “Yes” and “Amen!”  But it is also true that God’s ways are often mysterious to us and foolish to the watching world.  Our all-wise Father may withhold a good thing from one of His children when they ask for it, and that denial will be the most merciful, kind thing that He could do for us.  At the same time, God may pour out an abundance of wealth, fame, success, happiness, etc. to those who seek such things with selfish hearts and wicked lips, and those good things will become to them the most horrible burden and judgment.  The honey in their mouth becomes a cruel bitterness in their stomach.

Therefore, while I think it is generally true that with gospel obedience and gospel love come blessings and prosperity in this world, we must be careful not to use such things as a litmus test of whether an individual or church or culture is under the favor and blessing of God.  And while it is also generally true that those who live in sin and disobedience reap what they sow in this life as well as the next, we also must be careful not to pass judgment on those who seem to encounter obstacles and difficulty at every turn.

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