Posted by: Moses | June 30, 2010

Deadly Sins and Confident Prayers: Part 4 of 4

Conclusions on 1 John 5:14-17
Unpardonable sins are everywhere. Any sin apart from grace is an unpardonable sin. Any sin that an unbeliever commits is an unpardonable sin unless that person repents and believes. All unrighteousness is sin, and apart from Christ, all sin leads to death. John pulls no punches. Sin leads to death, either the individual’s or Christ’s on the cross. One cannot escape this truth by denying or downplaying it but only by trusting that God can cleanse from it (1 Jn 1:5-10). Christ’s propitiation is the only solution to the tension between the need for purity before God and the need for honesty and confession of our continued sin before God. That foundation is absolutely sure in Christ (5:18).

This confidence provides the grounds for the extraordinary faith that John enjoins upon his hearers in 5:14-15. However, such faith cannot exist genuinely where Christ’s propitiation does not underlie it. In fact, to request forgiveness apart from faith seems tantamount to blasphemy toward God’s designs. Jamieson says,

To “request” for a sin unto death . . . would savor of presumption; prescribing to God in a matter which lies out of the bounds of our brotherly yearning (because one sinning unto death would thereby be demonstrated not to be, nor ever to have been, truly a brother, 1 John 2:19), how He shall inflict and withhold His righteous judgments. Jesus Himself intercedes, not for the world which hardens itself in unbelief, but for those given to Him out of the world.

Can we presume to be more merciful than God and His plan for redemptive history? No. Candlish warns us not “to overstep the limits of warrantable confidence so as to ask that life may be given to him, on any terms . . . Thus your prayer for your sinning brother may slide insensibly into an apologetic pleading for indulgence to his sin.” However, into these truths of God’s rightful election, we must factor in human finiteness as well. We should question whether we could ever truly write off someone as destined for eternal death. To presume to know for certain the eternal state of someone else smacks of the same presumption toward God’s election. Perhaps this difficulty explains a bit of why John has no definitive comment on the matter! A command in either direction could draw his hearers into an arrogant understanding of their role in the salvation of others. A command to pray for the unbelieving and apostate would communicate that a believer’s prayer automatically yielded salvation to the unbeliever according to the ground of vv. 14-15. Yet to command them not to pray for mercy for those who seem most likely to be going toward death seems the epitome of hatred. Calvin says that “we ought not rashly to conclude that any one has brought on himself the judgment of eternal death; on the contrary, love should dispose us to hope well. But if the impiety of some appear . . . hopeless . . . we ought not to contend with the just judgment of God.”

However, perhaps there is a way to leave election squarely in God’s hands, but still be logically enjoined to pray “for all men” as in 1 Tim 2:1. Law sees not praying for those who may be sinning unto death in unbelief as “unwittingly the most repugnant to Christian feeling . . . All [John] commits himself to is that for those who thus sin, Christian prayer cannot have that ‘boldness which is its prerogative elsewhere.’” Thus Jamieson can conclude that “If we pray for the impenitent, it must be with humble reference of the matter to God’s will, not with the intercessory request which we should offer for a brother when erring.” It seems that perhaps in prayers for the unbelieving in general or the apostate in particular we should be very careful to align our hearts with God’s will that He be the determining factor in salvation. Aquinas admonishes to recognize the truth that “we ought to pray even for sinners, that they may be converted . . . Yet those who pray are heard not for all sinners but for some: since they are heard for the predestined, but not for those who are foreknown to death.” However, Aquinas also concludes that we are not to judge whether a man thus merits prayer “because we cannot distinguish the predestined from the reprobate, as Augustine says (De Correp. et Grat. xv), so too no man should be denied the help of prayer.” We should pray for all, in full confidence that God will bring the elect to forgiveness through normal means, and in hope that perhaps God may bring even the seemingly apostate to repentance (2 Tim 2:24-26). When in doubt, pray.


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