Hardly To Be Discerned

“Good and evil grow up together in the field of this world almost inseparably, and the knowledge of good is so involved and interwoven with the knowledge of evil, and in so many cunning resemblances hardly to be discerned, that those confused seeds which were imposed upon Psyche as an incessant labor to cull out and sort asunder were not more intermixed.” – John Milton, Areopagitica, 1644

“Confused Seeds” Explained March 16, 2008

The phrase “confused seeds” comes from a John Milton quotation that I used to have at the top of this blog’s home page. It reads thus: “Good and evil grow up together in the field of this world almost inseparably, and the knowledge of good is so involved and interwoven with the knowledge of evil, and in so many cunning resemblances hardly to be discerned, that those confused seeds which were imposed upon Psyche as an incessant labor to cull out and sort asunder were not more intermixed.”
This page explains how the work of John Milton, in submission to the authority of God-breathed Scripture, has informed my passion for the Christian life.

The following contains several references to Dr. Grant Horner’s TMC Chapel message entitled “Biblical Discernment”; I have made an effort to mark direct quotes from that and  other sources appropriately. The full audio of that message can be heard here: http://www2.masters.edu/pulpit/files/2003/Fall-’03/20030915-GrantHorner-mp3

  • Hebrews 5:12-14 says:
“For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern good and evil.”  (NKJV, emphasis added)
  • In 1644, English puritan & poet John Milton wrote a speech to be delivered before Parliament, called Areopagitica. The speech was never delivered but it was later published.  In it he said: “Good and evil we know in the field of this world grow up together almost inseparably, and the knowledge of good is so involved and interwoven with the knowledge of evil, and in so many cunning resemblances, hardly to be discerned, that those confused seeds which were imposed upon Psyche as an incessant labor to cull out and sort asunder were not more intermixed. For it was from out the rind of one apple tasted that the knowledge of good and evil, like two twins cleaving together, leaped forth into this world.”
  • There are key similarities between this and the Hebrews passage.  Milton was a 17th century Puritan intellectual and poet who longed to see followers of Christ do just that: “have their senses exercised to discern good and evil”.  He challenged Christians to study and understand the world, not only so as to be effective ministers and witnesses, but to be more obedient! He knew that the discernment of good and evil is the most important skill a believer should develop…per Hebrews 5.  By no accident, even the structure of that paragraph reiterates Milton’s point. He uses a pagan mythological reference (to the eternal punishment to which Psyche was condemned for falling in love with Cupid — every time she finished separating a pile of black and white seeds into two piles Cyclone would come blow them back together) enclosed between two Biblical references (the parable of the wheat and the tares, and the account of the birth of Jacob and Esau).
  • Skill in discernment leads to better obedience. Is not obedience the only purpose of a Christian? Every possible way we could bring glory to the Lord comes down to being obedient. But good and evil are devilishly intertwined throughout the world in which God left us. Only when we carefully “scout into the regions of falsity” (Areopagitica) with minds saturated in Scripture can we hope to tell the one from the other. Few issues we encounter are black and white. Hence Milton’s reference to Psyche’s pile of black and white seeds. What does a pile of such seeds look like from a distance? Gray. The challenge is to steep our minds in wisdom, and approach close enough to make the distinction.
  • Opportunity to exercise discernment is everywhere.  The purpose of knowledge is conduct, therefore let us be first students of Scripture, and then students of our world. Though saved out of this world, we were left in it, and we have a very large amount of information to process every day.
  • The goal of such a skill is not to become uber-educated sanctified know-it-alls. That can be the temptation. Instead, it is to be able to digest the “solid food” of the Word and use that food to feed wisdom, and the correct understanding of the rhetoric, art, and people we encounter.
  • We will never be perfect. But God calls us to be discerning. Not to hide from the world, but to be in it, in an understanding way. To know better how to obey Him in each choice of life. It will be HARD. It will be dusty and sweaty and uncomfortable, but we are commanded to run the race! And to run it with endurance. We will inevitably acquire some of that dust–the error our sinful hearts and minds will accumulate in the process. But like Apoxyomenos, the Greek sculpture of the runner who stands at the finish line scraping layers of dust from his skin, we must use the two-edged truth of the Word to identify and separate that error from truth, and remove it.
  • Interaction with the world does not condemn us to corruption by it. Corruption already exists in our own hearts, the true home of all our temptations. However, the image of God still remains in us! The Spirit gives understanding to the diligent; so we must take everything we see and we compare it to Scripture, exalting what is good and rejecting what is evil. This will be much more difficult if the Word is not already tightly woven through your mind. Know your Bible.
  • Milton also wrote in Areopagitica, “I cannot praise a fugitive and cloistered virtue, unexercised and unbreathed, that never sallies out and sees her adversary, but slinks out of the race where that immortal garland is to be run for, not without dust and heat.”
Christians can be “unafraid to encounter error because they have the truth!” (Horner)
Christ commanded us to be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves”. Many Christians are quite handy at ignoring the first half of that command.
 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s