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The Theology of Riots: Part II

A Sermon on Proverbs 1:20-33

Preached on June 21, 2020 

At Five Solas Church (OPC)

By the Rev. Christian McShaffrey

Review: In my previous sermon on Proverbs 1:1-19, I set forth the proposition that riots occur where the fear of God is absent. As we now turn our attention to vv. 20-33, we see this: where the fear of God is absent, the judgement of God falls.

In this text, all the greedy thieves and murders that were previously unmasked (vv. 1-19) are forced to eat of the fruit of their own way. We call this Lex Talionis (literally, the “law of retribution”). It is first revealed as law in the Pentateuch: Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot and it is also affirmed in the New Testament. More than that, it is illustrated there in a way that all can understand. Galatians 6:7, Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.

God has not only revealed the law of Lex Talionis in scripture, but he has also woven it into the very fabric of the cosmos. There is simply no escaping it. We reap what we sow and that applies just as much to families, churches, communities, city-states, and nations as it does to individuals.

The individuals who have been rioting in the streets are sowing the seeds of their own destruction. The mayors who allow it, are sowing the seeds of their cities’ destruction. The governors who allow it, are sowing the seeds of their states’ destruction. And yes, the president who allows it (who would rather send out Tweets than take up the sword which God entrusted into his hands to be a terror to the evil) is sowing the seeds of his nation’s destruction.

Every civilization reaps what it sows, so as citizens of this land, it behooves us to ponder this vital question: what shall we do as citizens who are also saints? What shall we do as God’s people? With God’s help, I will show you three things that we can, and should do, from these verses.

1st Call Sinners to Repent – No one seems to be doing that right now. Everyone wants to understand, to empathize, to apologize, to prove themselves an “ally” by bending the knee; but this is not our calling. It is neither evangelical nor wise, for what does wisdom say? What does she cry in the streets? vs. 22, How long, ye simple ones, will ye love simplicity? and the scorners delight in their scorning, and fools hate knowledge?

O, what a great mercy this is; that the God of justice would restrain his hand from immediate judgement and allow opportunity for repentance! These sinners have spent too much time (some undoubtedly, their entire lifetime) as simpletons and scorners, loving folly and hating knowledge; yet God still calls to them (even as they are running amok in the streets and in the chief place of concourse) saying, STOP!

It is always a great mercy when the voice of God interrupts sinners in their sin. It is even a greater mercy that he does this in so many ways. The word wisdom here is actually plural in the original Hebrew text. It reads, wisdoms, which reminds us that God does indeed call to sinners in a variety of ways. Let me name a few.

CREATION – Again, God has built the sowing-and-reaping principle into nature itself. It is Natural Law. You can watch it at work in your own garden and you can also watch it work in the city streets. Men reap what they sow.

PROVIDENCE – Remember how Jesus interpreted those calamities that occurred in Galilee and Siloam (cf., Luke 13). He saw them as a universal invitation to repent. He said, Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.

CONSCIENCE – The spirit of a man is the candle of the Lord (Prov. 20:27). There is indeed a light, a still small voice, called conscience and while it is not very loud, it is constant; whispering to sinners both small and great, How long, ye simple ones… how long?

CIVIL OFFICERS – They too are a call of wisdom from God, for they are sent by him to restrain wickedness in this world. That is why the apostle Peter could write, Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake (1 Peter 2:13).

SCRIPTURE – This, of course, is the clearest voice of heavenly wisdom. The Law, the Prophets, the Writings, the Gospels, the Epistles, the Apocalypse (even the accurate preaching of these sacred writings) constitute the very voice of God.

CHRIST HIMSELF – He is personified in the Proverbs as wisdom incarnate because, ultimately, it is he, as the eternal Logos, who speaks through all these things and as the culmination of all these things. Yes, God hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son.

God calls to sinners in a variety of ways and his call is this (vs. 23): Turn you at my reproof. Turn from your sin, and unto Christ! This is the call to repentance and as a gospel-call, it also comes with a promise: behold, I will pour out my spirit unto you, I will make known my words unto you. That, of course, is the promise of regeneration, illumination, and sanctification.

This is what the church should be saying right now to those who play the fool in the openings of the gates. Repent! Turn! Listen and live! That is our message to the world and we need to keep it central. I would also add that we need to keep it real (i.e., realistic), for while our message will undoubtedly save a few souls, it will not necessarily fix the mess we have made of Western civilization. Therefore, I add my next point.

2nd Brace Yourselves for Judgement – The sinners to whom wisdom crieth in vv. 22-23 are just that: sin-ners (as in, plural). Whenever you read the pronouns ye, you, your in the KJV it indicates more than one person, so keep that in mind as we now consider vv. 24-26, Because I have called, and ye refused; I have stretched out my hand, and no man regarded; But ye have set at nought all my counsel, and would none of my reproof: I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your fear cometh. God’s just judgement was coming like a whirlwind, a storm, a hurricane and when it finally arrived, many would find themselves in distress and anguish (vs. 27).

I make specific mention of the plural pronouns in this passage, because it reminds us of an important biblical doctrine that is unfortunately denied by many Christians in our modern day, namely, that God’s judgement falls not only upon individuals, but also upon groups of people.

No honest Bible reader can deny this. In the Old Testament, God threatened judgement upon entire nations: Israel, Judah, Moab, Assyria, Edom, etc. God ordained them as nations, so he also reserves the right to judge them as nations. The same divine prerogative is affirmed in the New Testament by our Lord Jesus Christ who plainly spoke of God’s judgement falling upon entire cities such as Sodom, Gomorrah, Capernaum, and even Jerusalem.

Further, let it also be acknowledged that these judgements are not always reserved for the last day. There are also corporate temporal judgements which fall upon cities and nations. That is why I say, brace yourselves.

Query: “But why Pastor? We’re not doing anything wrong. We agreed with the substance of last week’s sermon and will not walk in the way with the wicked.” Good, but do you not think that there were at least a few godly individuals in Israel when it was carried away captive by the Assyrians? Do you not think that there were also a few godly individuals in Judah when it was carried away into Babylon? We know there were from Psalm 137; for they wept as they remembered Zion and they also rested in God’s law of Lex Talionis (cf., Ps. 137:8-9).

Assuming that some may yet be unconvinced of this doctrine, let me add one more infallible proof from the New Testament. As our Good Shepherd predicted the end-time deceptions, the wars and rumors of wars, the famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, the false prophets, and those days wherein iniquity shall abound; did he not assume that some of his sheep would be stuck right in the middle of it? He did. That is why he added this assurance: he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved, and, for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened. (Matt. 24:13,22)

My main purpose in reviewing all of this is to establish (or perhaps re-establish) the theological and historical fact that when God’s corporate temporal judgements fall, innocent saints sometimes feel the heat. I remind you of that today because I perceive that our land is presently under God’s judgment and I might even predict that things will only get worse.

Illustration – I recently read an article written by a police commander who has decided to leave the force. He gave no inclination that he is a man of faith, but as Jesus pointed out, sometimes the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light. Quote: “If you think Minneapolis will never turn into Mogadishu – it’s coming. And when it does, remember what your complicity did. This is the America that you made.” The officer wrote this not to rioters, but to all the law-abiding citizens who allow their cities to get to the point of no return.

I hope that he is wrong, because I have friends in that city, but some of you probably had friends who lived in Detroit back in 1967. Godly friends. Brothers and sisters in Christ who feared God, but who nevertheless watched their city burn and probably felt at least some of the heat thereof. I would hazard to guess that they no longer live in Detroit, because even to this very day, it has never fully recovered. Why not? Back to the text at hand:

When God decides to let the wicked eat of the fruit of their own way, it is too late for repentance (as vs. 28 so clearly confirms), Then shall they call upon me, but I will not answer; they shall seek me early, but they shall not find me. To those who wonder, “How is that just?” I would point you to the answer that is offered in vs. 29, Because they hated knowledge, and did not choose the fear of the Lord while there was yet time (i.e., while wisdom was yet calling).

My friends and fellow-citizens, the dark clouds of God’s frowning providence have been rolling in over our land slowly-but-surely over the past fifty years and I sometimes fear it is too late for repentance. Therefore, I do suggest that you all brace yourselves. However, and having said that, I cannot and will not end the sermon there because this chapter does not end there. It ends on a note of hope. It ends with a promise. It ends with an invitation and so I offer one more point.

3rd Trust Quietly in the Lord – That is my encouragement to you and it is an encouragement that comes right from God’s infallible word (vs. 33), But whoso hearkeneth unto me shall dwell safely, and shall be quiet from fear of evil.

Listen, this world is not our home. If recent events have not convinced you of that, then I dare say, nothing ever will. This world is not our home, for our conversation [our citizenship even] is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ. That is Philippians 3:20 and it affirms our chief identity, our strong security, and our lively hope as Christians; even as we are daily surrounded by enemies of the cross of Christ; whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things. (cf., Phil. 3:18-19).

Brethren, as we see ourselves thus surrounded, as we feel the foundations crumble beneath our feet, as we watch the skies darken with rolling clouds of judgement, as we see unclean spirits like frogs come out of the mouth of the dragon, and out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet; we, as Christians, need to know at least two things. First, we need to know what we should do, and secondly, we need to know what God will do. Here it is in vs. 33, But whoso hearkeneth unto me shall dwell safely, and shall be quiet from fear of evil.

What should you, as a Christian, do in times like this? Listen to God. Hearken unto him. Read his word, meditate upon it day and night, hear good sermons, read sound books. Wherever you can hear the voice of your God, I say, hearken unto him. That is what we, as Christians, should be doing during these turbulent times.

Supplemental application – That having been said, I must also here make mention of the lost discipline of scriptural discernment, for not all who speak in the name of Christ speak according to Christ. Many false prophets are gone out into the world and many Christians are far too naive. They think that as long as someone went to the right seminary, or belongs to their denomination, or claims to be reformed, or even sprinkles a few puritan quotes into their prose, “Well, they must be with us!”

This is vain folly, my friends. It is a violation of apostolic law: Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God (1 John 4:1). We must do this, lest we be led astray and, in the end, perish with all the fools. Listen for God’s voice and listen with discernment. That is what we should do in times like this. Now, let me tell you what God will do. He will, as it here says, cause us to dwell safely and enable us to be quiet from fear of evil.

This promise will be finally and fully realized at Christ’s coming when the wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God (Psalm 9:17). In that glorious day, shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father (Matt 13:43) and enter that eternal estate of safety, quietness, and rest which is so well described by the prophet: they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree; and none shall make them afraid: for the mouth of the Lord of hosts hath spoken it. (Micah 4:4)

That is our ultimate hope as Christians. It is, of course, the hope of heaven. Rejoice in that hope today and while you are rejoicing, remember also this: that we are, right now, citizens of heaven.

What that means, practically speaking, is that we can begin today to enjoy all the benefits of redemption. O, there are so many benefits of which I might here speak (assurance of God’s love, peace of conscience, joy in the Holy Ghost, increase of grace, and perseverance therein to the end), but let me stay close to the text at hand.

Here is one present benefit that I think all of us need (and which this text provides): the ability to say, “I shall dwell safely, and shall be quiet from fear of evil.” Can you say that today? I can and let me tell you: it enables me to sleep like a baby every single night. I will both lay me down in peace, and sleep: for thou, Lord, only makest me dwell in safety. (Ps. 4:8)

Yes, even if I got fired for exposing modern bolshevism in my previous sermon, I shall dwell safely, and shall be quiet from fear of evil. Even if I got arrested for violating the hate speech laws that will soon to be introduced through legislation (or more likely through Supreme Court ruling), I shall dwell safely, and shall be quiet from fear of evil. Even if I got defrocked for violating all the unwritten Newspeak laws that are already being enforced in the land of Big Eva, I shall dwell safely, and shall be quiet from fear of evil.

Even if a mob assembled outside my home this very evening with black flags and rainbow flags flying, I shall dwell safely, and shall be quiet from fear of evil. No matter what happens to me, I shall dwell safely, and shall be quiet from fear of evil; because I believe the theology which has been revealed in the first chapter of the book of Proverbs. I believe, if you will, the Theology of Riots.

Bringing it all together now to close:  rioting occurs where the fear of God is absent. So, my son, if sinners entice thee, consent thou not. Christians do not agitate. Christians do not engage in disorderly conduct. Christians do not loot or lurk privily for the innocent without cause. They, rather, fear God. They refrain their feet from evil. They call the wicked to repent. They brace themselves to endure hardship as they quietly trust in the Lord. Do that. Do that as you watch the scorners agitate, as you watch the simpletons riot, as you watch the greedy loot, and as you watch the wicked shed innocent blood.

Beloved, as you behold the mayhem, know this: their destruction cometh as a whirlwind and there is no escape; for the God of Justice is just that, and he will judge the wicked. But whoso hearkeneth unto [him] shall dwell safely, and shall be quiet from fear of evil. The theology of riots, but also the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. Maranatha. Amen.

Christian McShaffrey is the Pastor of Five Solas Church (Reedsburg, WI) and also serves as the Stated Clerk of the Presbytery of the Midwest (Orthodox Presbyterian Church).

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