Scripture on the Antithesis
Scripture speaks of several antitheses; for example, that of Christ and Antichrist, that of the good angels and the fallen angels, that of believers and “principalities, powers, the rulers of the darkness of this world, spiritual wickedness in high places.” Ephesians 6:12
that of the church and the world, that of believers and non-believers that of regenerate men and unregenerate men. These antitheses are interrelated. In fact, they may be said to be so many facets of one grand antithesis. That truth should be borne in mind when an attempt is made to describe any one of them.
This essay will deal primarily with the antithesis of the regenerate and the unregenerate. In the light of Scripture, several of its characteristics will be named.
Central, not Peripheral
The Bible is the Word of God. It goes without saying that all that God says is true. It is no less obvious that all that he says is important. Yet not all things told us in the Bible are of equal importance. Some are stressed more strongly than are others. Some are supremely significant, others relatively less so. The teaching of the antithesis does not lie on the periphery of the Word of God, but is central to it. It is of the very warp and woof of Holy Writ.
At the dawn of human history, God put enmity between the serpent and the woman and between their seed, and he foretold that the woman’s seed would bruise the head of the serpent, whereas the serpent would bruise the heel of the woman’s seed (Genesis 3:15). That passage is correctly denominated the Protevangelium, the first proclamation of the gospel. It is also the first declaration of the antithesis. At the end of time, the Son of God will part men as under even as a shepherd divides the sheep from the goats, and with the sword of his mouth, he will divide the human race in two for the endless ages of eternity. Some will enter upon eternal life; others will depart into eternal punishment (Matthew 25:31-48). Between the aforenamed two events lies an un-intermittent conflict of the woman’s seed and that of the serpent. It is, indeed, the conflict of the ages. And it reached its climax in that event about which centers the whole of human history – the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.
Present day denials of the antithesis are numerous. Many substitute for it the deceptive dogma of the universal fatherhood of God and the universal brotherhood of man. We are witnessing a mighty resurgence of the ancient heresy of universal salvation. Preachers and professors of theology tell us that it is inconceivable that a God of love would sentence any human being to eternal hell. Such teaching is the direct result of rejection of the Bible as the infallible Word of God.
Inexpressibly sad to say, even in relatively conservative circles there are those who belittle the antithesis. They are wont to speak of it sneeringly. For that attitude there are but two possible explanations. It is rooted either in ignorance of Holy Scripture or in a tendency to slight Scripture. It could spring from both. He who takes the Bible seriously cannot help taking the antithesis seriously. Scripture teaches it unequivocally, and Scripture’s emphasis on it is truly tremendous.
Fact, not Duty
The Bible informs us that the antithesis of the regenerate and the unregenerate is a fact. To be sure, a duty is implicit in it; but it is not itself a duty. It is an inescapable fact.
That fact is God-appointed. When our earliest ancestors had yielded to the deceiver’s temptation, God did not command the woman, together with her seed, to be at enmity with Satan; he put enmity between them. Regeneration, by which the antithesis is brought about, is a divine work in which man is utterly passive. Nowhere does Scripture command dead sinners to bring themselves to life.
“Ye must be born again” (John 3:7) is an indicative, not an imperative. The apostolic exhortation, “Awake, thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead” (Ephesians 5:14) was addressed, not to dead sinners, but to sleeping Christians who once were darkness but now were light in the Lord (verse 8). They were commanded to arouse themselves from spiritual lethargy and to arise from among their spiritually dead pagan neighbours. Nor had they transformed themselves from darkness into light. God effected that change.
That the antithesis of the regenerate and the unregenerate is a God-appointed fact is the plain teaching of Scripture. Scripture is no less insistent that this fact entails a duty. The regenerates differ radically from the unregenerate. That being the case, they are in sacred duty bound to show it. The solemn admonition addressed to them, “Walk as children of light” (Ephesians 5:8), is predicated on the fact that they are light, not darkness. No demand could be more reasonable. God requires of his children that they manifest what they are, that they be true to their regenerated selves.
Spiritual, not Spatial
That the contrast of the regenerate and the unregenerate is spiritual is self-evident. On the one hand are those who are spiritually alive, on the other those who are spiritually dead (Ephesians 2:1).
Strange, and exceedingly sad to say, throughout history God’s people have times without number committed the fallacy of externalizing the antithesis. They have regarded it as spatial rather than spiritual.
No doubt, the most heinous sin of ancient Israel was idolatry, worship of the false gods of the neighbouring peoples. It constituted a brazen denial of the antithesis. Another of its sins hardly less heinous was formalism. God complained:
This people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me.Isaiah 29:13
And by the mouth of his prophet God uttered the scathing denunciation: “To what abomination unto me” (Isaiah 1:11-13). Formalism externalizes the antithesis. A purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me. I am full of the burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks or of lambs, or of goats. When ye come to appear before me, who hath required this at your hand, to tread my courts? Bring no more vain oblations; incense is and to externalize the spiritual is to deny it.
The Pharisees of Jesus’ day perverted the antithesis by making it spatial. The hermits and stylites of early Christianity tended to do likewise. So did the monks and nuns of the Middle Ages. So did the extreme Anabaptists of the Reformation age. So do the Amish of today. And so do all who deem world flight to be the essence of Christian living.
True, the antithesis has spatial implications. Christian parents will instruct their children to shun evil companions. In the line of duty, adult Christians are bound to face many temptations, but to expose oneself needlessly to temptation is to tempt God. Matrimony has a spatial as well as a spiritual aspect, and Scripture forbids the marriage of a believer to an unbeliever. No Christian may hold membership in an organization which by its constitution or persistent practices defies the law of God and in which he is forbidden to witness to the lordship of Christ. The Psalmist pronounced:
blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.Psalm 1:1
However, the Saviour prayed for his own, not that they would be taken out of the world, but that they would be kept from the evil one (John 17: 15); and the apostle Paul advised the saints in Corinth not to break off all association with the fornicators, the covetous, the extortionists, and the idolaters of the wand, for in that case they would have to go out of the world (I Corinthians 5: 9, 10).
He who externalizes the antithesis is sure to fall into a heinous sin of omission. Without contact with the world, one cannot perform his duty as the salt of the earth and the light of the world (Matthew 5:13, 14). He is also in imminent peril of yielding to a no less heinous sin of commission. Losing sight of the spiritual character of the antithesis can hardly result in anything but unspiritual living.
It is not unusual for a recluse to become a profligate. The externalization of the antithesis is a mark of sanctimony, not of sanctity.
Absolute, not Elative
The antithesis under discussion has been described accurately as radical. The difference between the regenerate and the unregenerate is not something shallow or superficial. Contrariwise, it concerns that which is deepest in man, his inmost being, the basic disposition of his soul – what the Bible calls his heart. In regeneration, the sinner receives a new heart. The unregenerate have “hearts of stone,” the regenerate “hearts of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:20).
Prominent theologians have not hesitated to describe the antithesis as absolute. That is strong language; in the estimation of some, too strong. It has been argued that the contrast between the regenerate and the unregenerate is less than absolute because they have certain things in common; for instance the quality of humanness. That they have humanness in common cannot be denied. Man alone of all earthly creatures was made in the image of God. That image constitutes him a human being. Now, in the fall it was not entirely lost. Vestiges of it remain in the most perverse of men. However, the absolute character of the antithesis is not thus ruled out. If the regenerate and the unregenerate had nothing whatever in common, they would not even be comparable; and it hardly makes sense to speak of the antithesis of in comparables. Even Christ and Antichrist have something in common. Beyond all reasonable doubt, the Antichrist, who is to appear toward the end of time, will be a human person. Scripture speaks of him as “that man of sin” and “the son of perdition” (II Thessalonians 2:3). Christ, too, even the ascended Christ, has a human nature. Christ and Antichrist, then, have humanness in common. But who will deny that the antithesis of the two is absolute? Nor may it be overlooked that the difference between the image of God as it remains in all men and the image of God as it is restored in the regenerate is not merely quantitative but decidedly qualitative.
After all, the antithesis of the regenerate and the unregenerate is that of life and death. To be sure, it is not the antithesis of physical life and physical death. All men, with such rare exceptions as Enoch and Elijah and the less rare exception of those who remain alive at Christ’s second coming, must experience the separation of body and soul. Nor is it for the present the antithesis of eternal life and eternal death. The regenerate do indeed possess eternal life even now, but the unregenerate will not be swallowed up by eternal death until the Day of Judgment, and in the meantime the living unregenerate may yet by the grace of God be born again. But the antithesis is that of spiritual life and spiritual death. The unregenerate is not as sound as Pelagianism asserts him to be. He is not somewhat ill, as Semi-Pelaglanism teaches. Nor yet is he sick well-nigh unto death, as Armenianism would have us believe. He is “dead” (Ephesians 2:1). That is the essence of the Reformed doctrine of total depravity. And the regenerate is “alive” (Ephesians 2:1). Certainly, there are degrees of sanctification and no saint is fully sanctified in this life. It may even be granted that the term regeneration can be used in the broad sense of sanctification. Then there are degrees of regeneration. But there are no degrees of regeneration in the sense of the instantaneous working of the Holy Spirit by which he makes the heretofore dead sinner alive. One is either dead or alive. There is no intermediate condition, no middle ground. It follows that the antithesis is truly absolute.
Pervasive, not Partial
Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? and what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what portion hath he that believeth with an infidel? and what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? For ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord; and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.II Corinthians 6:14-18
Obviously, those verses of Scripture have a most direct bearing on the antithesis. But they are often misunderstood. They are said to condemn mixed marriages. Yet there is no such reference in the context. At most, the condemnation of mixed marriages is implicit in this passage. It is said to rule out practically all association of believers with unbelievers. But that would amount to a contradiction of I Corinthians 5:9, 10. It is said to forbid believers to hold membership in the same organization with unbelievers. But Abraham, the father of believers, entered into a defensive league with Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre, heathen Palestinian chieftains; and Scripture does not breathe an inkling of disapproval of that alliance. The meaning of II Corinthians 6:14-18 is most specific. There were in the church at Corinth those who had not broken completely with paganism. In uncompromising language, Paul enjoined these to practice complete separation from pagan worship.
Christianity is the one and only true religion. All other religions, regardless of elements of truth contained in them, are false. Exclusiveness is of the essence of Christianity. The God of the Bible is God alone (Psalm 86:10). All other gods are idols. And the Christ of Scripture is the only Saviour. No man can come to the Father but by him (John 14:8), and his name is the only one under heaven given among men by which they must be saved (Acts 4:12). Therefore Christians are unqualifiedly forbidden to participate in the worship of another religion, whether paganism, Mohammedanism, Judaism, or modernism.
Room is left for numerous contacts of the regenerate with the unregenerate, for various associations, and for much co-operation.
Does it follow that there are areas in the lives of the regenerate and the unregenerate in which the antithesis does not come to expression? That question is as important as it is pertinent. And the answer to it is an emphatic No. According to Scripture, the antithesis is pervasive.
Two men – one regenerate, the other unregenerate – sit at one board. They eat of the same food and drink of the same beverage. Are they doing identical things? God forbid! In principle the former does his eating and drinking, as, indeed, all that he does, to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31). The latter does nothing of the kind.
The same two men attend one church. They sit in the same pew. They sing the same songs. They contribute to the same offering.
They listen to the same sermon. Are they doing the same thing? Far from it. The regenerate person is worshipping God, however imperfectly. The other is merely going through the form of worship.
The same two men are members of one political party and on Election Day, they cast their ballots for the same candidates. Is the antithesis out of the picture? Not at all. One is motivated by the fear of God, the other is not.
The same two men perform seemingly identical works of charity. Is the antithesis inoperative? No verily. The unregenerate person may well be doing that which the Word of God calls “good.” It is altogether possible that he is manifesting “love” for his neighbour. Did not Jesus teach that even sinners love those that love them and do good to those that do good to them (Luke 6:32,33)? But he is doing only what has come to be denominated civic good. He is incapable of performing spiritual good, which the Heidelberg Catechism aptly defines as works “which are done from true faith, according to the law of God and to his glory.” Lord’s Day XXXIII, Answer 91
He is not motivated by love for God. And because his love for his neighbour does not spring from love for God it does not meet the demand of God’s law. The regenerate person, on the other hand, is prompted by faith in God and love for God. In consequence he performs spiritual good. It differs qualitatively from the good done by his unregenerate fellow.
The same two men sin, for “there is no man that sinneth not” (I Kings 8:46) and the best of God’s children offend in many things (James 3:2). Surely, at this point the antithesis would seem to be inactive. The truth of the matter is that even here it asserts itself vigorously. Whatever sin he may commit, the regenerate person always sins against his will. He and he alone, can say with Paul:
The good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin which dwelleth in me.Romans 7:19, 20
Even the sinning of the regenerate man differs essentially from that of the unregenerate man.
How can the antithesis help being pervasive? As has been said, it is radical. It is a matter of the heart. The unregenerate are controlled in all that they do by “hearts of stone.” The regenerates are dominated in all that they do by “hearts of flesh.” And from the heart are “the issues of life” (Proverbs 4:2.3). A man’s heart is what he is. And as a man is, so he thinks and feels and wills. What he is affects every function of his soul.
If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.II Corinthians 5:17
The old, the pre-Christian nature and life, the pre-Christian spiritual constitution of man, is passed away; behold the whole – the whole state of man’s personal life – has become new.
Active, not Passive
An antithesis may be passive. The peaceful co-existence of white and black is altogether possible. But such is not the antithesis under consideration. It resembles the antithesis of light and darkness. They are at odds with each other. Darkness would drive out light; light would dispel darkness. Scripture tells us that the regenerate and the unregenerate are at “enmity” with each other (Genesis 3:15). In short, this antithesis is active.
That the unregenerate are active in their opposition to the regenerate is a frequent and emphatic teaching of Holy Writ. Throughout history, the serpent and his seed have been bruising the heel of the woman’s seed. Cain killed Abel. The Egyptians cruelly oppressed God’s covenant people. The heathen nations were bent on destroying Israel. That activity reached its climax when the world, a worldly church included, crucified the Christ. But the world’s hatred was not burned out on that occasion. Christ’s disciples have experienced it throughout the ages. Said Jesus:
If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you. Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me they will also persecute you.John 15:19, 20
The attitude of the regenerate to the unregenerate is quite different from that of the unregenerate to the regenerate. The unregenerate hate the regenerate, the regenerate loves the unregenerate. That difference is a striking manifestation of the antithesis. As God loves his enemies, so God’s children love their enemies, albeit imperfectly (Matthew 5:43-48). They pray for their persecutors as Jesus prayed for those who were nailing him to the cross (Luke 3:34) and as Stephen prayed for those who were stoning him to death (Acts 7:60). And by proclaiming to them the gospel of the grace of God they seek to persuade them to believe on the Savior. In Christ’s stead they pray them to be reconciled to God (II Corinthian 5:20).
This is not the entire picture. The regenerate also opposes the unregenerate. They condemn their evil works. They denounce their proud words. They would thwart their wicked designs. And, paradoxical as it may be, when the unregenerate blatantly defy the Most High and brazenly give vent to their hatred of him, the regenerate are constrained by their very love for God to exclaim:
Do not I hate them. O Lord, that hate thee? and am I not grieved with those that rise up against thee? I hate them with perfect hatred: I count them mine enemies.Psalm 139:21, 22
And that note is heard not merely in a few so-called imprecatory Psalms, but it sounds forth clearly throughout the Book of Psalms, in the woes pronounced by the Son of God, in the anathemas of inspired Paul, and in the loud cry of the souls of them that were slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held, issuing from under the altar in heaven:
How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth.Revelation 6:9,10
Conquest, not Flight
The antithesis is spiritual, not spatial. For that reason world, flight must be condemned. There is another reason. The antithesis must issue, and will, in conquest of the world, and flight can hardly result in conquest.
Two stories from Greek mythology illustrate rather well the difference between world flight and world conquest. A certain island was inhabited by Sirens, creatures that were half woman and half bird. So alluring was their song that any mariners who came within hearing distance were irresistibly drawn to the island. But no sooner did they set foot on shore than the Sirens would tear them in pieces and devour them. Odysseus’ ship was about to enter the danger zone. Aware of the peril besetting him and his crew, he stopped their ears with wax and had them bind him firmly to the mast with strict orders to pay no heed to his pleading for release. Those measures resembled world flight. Orpheus and his Argonauts, too, neared the island of the Sirens, and he was aware of imminent peril. But he took an altogether different measure to insure the safety of his men and himself. Playing on his lyre, he made music of such superior charm that none gave the slightest heed to the song of the Sirens. That resembled world conquest.
Let not God’s people think that they have discharged their duty when they have stopped their ears to the temptations of the world. What they must do is to drown out the voice of the tempter by singing the songs of Zion. In other words, they must crowd out evil from their lives by the doing of good. And, to go far beyond our illustration, they must declare the gospel of the grace of God to the far corners of the earth in order that sinners from every kindred and tongue and people and nation may be won for Christ and brought into the fold of his church. That is a most important aspect of world conquest. Yet it is not the whole of it.
The apostle John said:
This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.I John 5:4
The eleventh chapter of Hebrews presets a long list of such as overcame the world by faith. Those overcame whom through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of aliens (verses 33, 34). But unbelievable though it may seem, they also overcame who were tortured, not accepting deliverance, had trial of cruel mocking and scourging, yea, of bonds and imprisonment, were stoned, were sawn asunder, were slain with the sword, and wandered in deserts and in mountains, in dens and caves of the earth (verses 35-38). For in all these things they were more than conquerors through him that loved them (Romans 8:37).
An amazing teaching of Scripture is that believers are owners of all things. Paul wrote to the Christians in wealthy Corinth:
Whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come: all are yours.I Corinthians 3:22
In “all” the products of the common grace of God are in chided; for example, Greek art, Roman law, the learning of the ancient world, English literature, Modern science. To be sure, believers are warned not to use the world to the full because its fashion passes away (I Corinthians7:31 ASV). Yet it belongs to the regenerate in a sense in which it does not belong to the unregenerate. This is their Father’s world and therefore theirs. They are to use radio, television, aeronautics, atomic energy, and countless other things to the glory of God and his Christ. That, too, is a phase of world conquest.
God gave Christ to the church that he might be head over the church, to be sure, but also over all things (Ephesians 1:22). The kingship of Christ over all things must be proclaimed by the church. It must demand of men everywhere that they acknowledge Christ as king over every domain of life. The regenerate must declare a Christian view of the whole of life and all of the world. They must insist on Christian education, Christian Science, Christian art, Christian culture, Christian relations between labour and industry, Christian politics, Christian internationalism, a Christian society as well as a Christian church.
And whether today and tomorrow men hear or forbear, one day all things will be subdued unto the Christ (1 Corinthians 15:27); at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth. and things under the earth; and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (Philippians 2:10, 11); great voices in heaven will sing:
The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever.Revelations 11:15