He Inclines Their Wills (Augustine)

Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers 1.5: Saint Augustin: Anti-Pelagian Writings In 1 Kings 12 Solomon’s son Rehoboam had just become Israel’s new king.  Israel begged him to lighten the yoke of hard service.  To make a longer story short, Rehoboam flatly refused and told them that he’d instead add to the hard service (1 Ki 12:11, 14).  Scripture gives us this insight in the middle of the story: So the king did not listen to the people; for it was a turn of events from the Lord, that He might establish His word, which the Lord spoke through Ahijah the Shilonite to Jeroboam the son of Nebat. (1 Ki 12:15 NASB).

While reflecting on this passage and others like it, Augustine (d. 430) wrote some helpful comments concerning God’s sovereign will, man’s actions, and divine grace:

Who can help trembling at those judgments of God by which He does in the hearts of even wicked men whatsoever He wills, at the same time rendering to them according to their deeds? Rehoboam, the son of Solomon, rejected the salutary counsel of the old men, not to deal harshly with the people, and preferred listening to the words of the young men of his own age, by returning a rough answer to those to whom he should have spoken gently. Now whence arose such conduct, except from his own will? Upon this, however, the ten tribes of Israel revolted from him, and chose for themselves another king, even Jeroboam, that the will of God in His anger might be accomplished which He had predicted would come to pass. For what says the Scripture? “The king hearkened not unto the people; for the turning was from the Lord, that He might perform His saying, which the Lord spake to Ahijah the Shilonite concerning Jeroboam the son of Nebat.” All this, indeed, was done by the will of man, although the turning was from the Lord.

Read the books of the Chronicles, and you will find the following passage in the second book: “Moreover, the Lord stirred up against Jehoram the spirit of the Philistines, and of the Arabians, that were neighbours to the Ethiopians; and they came up to the land of Judah, and ravaged it, and carried away all the substance which was found in the king’s house.” Here it is shown that God stirs up enemies to devastate the countries which He adjudges deserving of such chastisement. Still, did these Philistines and Arabians invade the land of Judah to waste it with no will of their own? Or were their movements so directed by their own will that the Scripture lies which tells us that “the Lord stirred up their spirit” to do all this? Both statements to be sure are true, because they both came by their own will, and yet the Lord stirred up their spirit; and this may also with equal truth be stated the other way: The Lord both stirred up their spirit, and yet they came of their own will. For the Almighty sets in motion even in the innermost hearts of men the movement of their will, so that He does through their agency whatsoever He wishes to perform through them, even He who knows not how to will anything in unrighteousness. 

After listing other similar passages in Scripture, Augustine comments again:

From these statements of the inspired word, and from similar passages which it would take too long to quote in full, it is, I think, sufficiently clear that God works in the hearts of men to incline their wills whithersoever He wills, whether to good deeds according to His mercy, or to evil after their own deserts; His own judgment being sometimes manifest, sometimes secret, but always righteous. This ought to be the fixed and immoveable conviction of your heart, that there is no unrighteousness with God. Therefore, whenever you read in the Scriptures of Truth, that men are led aside, or that their hearts are blunted and hardened by God, never doubt that some ill deserts of their own have first occurred, so that they justly suffer these things. Thus you will not run counter to that proverb of Solomon: “The foolishness of a man perverteth his ways, yet he blameth God in his heart.” Grace, however, is not bestowed according to men’s deserts; otherwise grace would be no longer grace.9 For grace is so designated because it is given gratuitously.

 Augustine of Hippo, “A Treatise on Grace and Free Will,” in Saint Augustin: Anti-Pelagian Writings, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. Peter Holmes, vol. 5, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1887), 462-3.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

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Following in Eve’s Relativist Footsteps (Hatton)

 I’ve been studying up on image and identity in preparation for a sermon series on these topics.  Since our culture has a pragmatic feelings-based view of image and identity, I thought it would be good to talk about what Scripture says about these things.  One book I’m reading is called Face Time by Kristen Hatten.  It is a book aimed more at young women – specifically teens who are struggling with who they are.  But Hatten’s insights are helpful for any Christian thinking about their image and identity as followers of Jesus.  The book has two main parts: 1) Your True Identity, and 2) Facing False Identities. It’s not a long book (130 pages), and it’s not difficult to read, but it is full of Christian wisdom on image and identity.

Here’s one section about Eve’s sin that I highlighted and underlined:

…Adam and Eve had no reason to doubt God’s love, loyalty, and promise to bless them.  He literally had just given them the world!  This is why their response [to Satan’s temptation] is so astonishing.  Instead of responding in shock to Satan’s attack on God’s authority, word, and character, the words of the serpent opened Eve’s eyes to a new version of reality.  At that moment, what Eve perceived to be true held more weight than the truth and authority of God’s word and all that he had done for them and given them.  The once-forbidden tree she now aw as good and she defiantly ate from it.

We might say that Eve is the first relativist; she sees herself as the ultimate judge of reality and truth.  She may be the first relativist, but she’s certainly not the last.  Don’t we often do the same thing?  We decide what’s true based on what we think, not on what God’s Word says to be true.  Even if what we see is nothing more than a filtered Instagram picture, it can carry more weight in determining how we view ourselves than what God says about who we are.

Again, teenage girls aren’t the only ones who are relativists like Eve!  All of us think like this from time to time and we all need this helpful reminder to trust God’s Word and his gospel more than our perceptions, thoughts, and feelings.

Kristen Hatton, Face Time, Greensboro: New Growth Press, 2017, p.16-17.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

Ongoing Inspirations from the Holy Spirit? (Van Mastricht)

 In the years following the Protestant Reformation there were groups who believed that God was still speaking directly and immediately to them.  thought that this inner word from God was equal to or sometimes even above Scripture, so they would follow and submit to the inner word.  Luther and Calvin, along with other Reformers, were very critical of these enthusiasts.  In fact, historical Reformed theology has always been critical of such claims and movements.  One example is Petrus Van Mastricht (d. 1706) who gave a helpful summary of the enthusiast position and a biblical refutation of it:

…We [the Reformed] dispute whether believers now, after the canon has been sealed, possess enthusiasms, or inspirations, of the Holy Spirit.  These inspirations are to them [the enthusiasts] the most certain word of God, to which one must submit just as much, if not in fact more, than to the Scriptures. …Indeed, they acknowledge that Scripture is the Word of God, but it is not to be understood except according to the breathings or the inspirations of their Spirit, a certain sort of internal word, as it were.

The Reformed acknowledge that in the patriarchs, prophets, and apostles, there were true enthusiasms, and that in all ordinary believers there are indeed operations of the Holy Spirit that illuminate, convert, and sanctify, but there are no enthusiasms, no inspirations, in the sense of the infallible direction of the Holy Spirit, [infallible direction] which has now been removed from all men.  This heresy is refuted by a destruction of this twofold false hypothesis:

First, they claim that Scripture is not a complete and sufficient rule of faith and morals in itself.  For if Scripture’s sufficiency stands enthusiasm falls on its own.  Now, its sufficiency stands by those things that we have said in favor of the perfection of Scripture in section 19 above….

Second, they claim that even now enthusiasms are infallible revelations of the Spirit are given, which are different from the scriptural enthusiasms, and with the help of which the Scriptures must be interpreted. However, the sacred page does not know of such revelations; indeed, it even rejects them, since it is perfect, and sufficient of itself in every respect; and it pronounces that they are joined with the most pressing danger of seduction (2 Cor. 11:14; 2 Thes. 2:2; 1 John 4:1-2).

…[Indeed,] there are passages that speak of revelation and of the illumination of the Holy Spirit. I respond that those passages are not speaking about the kind of enthusiasms that direct [us] infallibly and that reveal other objects to us, different from those things (indeed, even contrary to those things) that Scripture holds, but rather, those that bring light to the intellect, so that we might be able to discern and distinguish the things revealed in the Scriptures (Eph. 1:17-18).

This complete section (which I’ve edited slightly) can be found on pages 153-154 of Van Mastricht’s Theoretical-Practical Theology.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

The Center Point of Religious Life: Corporate Christian Worship (Bavinck)

 In Kampen on November 28, 1889, Herman Bavinck gave a lecture to seminary students at the theological school there.  The lecture was called “Eloquence” and it was all about Christian preaching.  Due to demand, Bavinck wrote this lecture out and it was later published.  Just recently it has been translated into English and made available in the book called Herman Bavinck on Preaching and Preachers (translated and edited by James Eglinton).  There are other selections in this book as well, such as an article by Bavinck called “The Sermon and the Service” and one of his few surviving written sermons called “The World-Conquering Power of Faith.”  Anyway, it’s an outstanding resource and I very much enjoyed it.  If you’re a preacher, I highly recommend it.  If you’re not, I’d say: get one for your pastor!  Below are a few paragraphs I underlined that I’d like to share.  It’s from the foreword to “Eloquence.”  (Note: the (brackets) are mine and are added for clarification.)

These new circumstances (e.g. secularization, a waning of the knowledge of the truth, ignorance of the Bible and catechism) place a costly obligation on the church and call its ministers to an ever more faithful care for the office entrusted to them, especially in the ministry of the word. In content and form, the church’s gatherings may not be inferior to the [secular] meetings that call to the people day and night.  The church’s gatherings are and, by virtue of the divine institution, must remain the center point of the religious life, the source of spiritual power, the inspiration for the work everyone is called to do, by the sweat of his brow, each weekday.

Whatever influence there may be from the word in print or spoken that reaches us from elsewhere, it cannot be compared with the blessing there is for heart and life, family and society, in the word spoken to us in the gatherings of the congregation.  Here alone do we find the ministry of God’s Word and the sealing of his covenant. Here, Christ himself lives in our midst and works by his spirit, here we taste the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, and the principle of eternal life. The Sabbath is the best of days; no other day is like it. And the church is the meeting of God with his people; no other gathering can take its place to compensate for its loss.

I agree!  These are helpful words for us to remember today since such a high view of corporate worship is not the norm.  May God give his all people this kind of outlook on weekly corporate worship and preaching.

Herman Bavinck, “Eloquence”, in Herman Bavinck on Preaching and Preachers (edited and translated by J. Eglinton), p. 18-19.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

Doctrine and Practice Walk Together (Van Mastricht)

 I recently got a copy of Petrus Van Mastricht’s newly translated Theoretical-Practical Theology: Prolegomena (vol. 1)I agree with Michael Horton: this is a remarkable gem!  Van Mastricht was a Dutch Reformed theologian who was quite influential in his day and beyond.  Not only is his work solidly theological and biblical, it is also very practical, as you can tell from the title.  It is true that sometimes Reformed theology is taught in a dry manner with little or no application.  However, I very much agree with those like Van Mastricht who say that theology is eminently practical and applicable.  Below are a few quotes of his that show how theology and practice go hand in hand.  It’s also worth mentioning that Van Mastricht often referred to Paul’s words to Titus in 1:1, where the apostle mentions the knowledge of the truth which is according to godliness (NASB). 

…Theology must be taught according to a certain method, and it must be the kind of method in which theory and practice always walk in step together.  In fact, they must walk together in such a way that theory precedes and practice follows in every one of theology’s articles. (p. 67)

We approve, out of all methods, the one that the apostle not only commends in this text to Timothy, when he wishes that theological matters first be taught and then admonished, that thereby practice be perpetually joined to theory, but also employs everywhere throughout his epistles, especially those he wrote to the Romans, Ephesians, Hebrews, and others. By this method, I say again, practice should be joined to theory, not only in the whole corpus of theology, in such a way that the first place is especially reserved for the things that must be believed and the second for the things that must be done, but also that in each member of theology, practice should walk in step with theory in a continuous agreement. (p. 69)

He [Paul] also commands that what can be taught should also be applied, adn that doctrine should be according to godliness, that is, theoretical-practical.  He prohibits Timothy from teaching in any other way. (p. 73)

Christian theology unites theory with practice, and is ‘a knowledge of truth that is according to godliness’ (Titus 1:1). (p. 79).

Indeed, the study of theology, to the extent that it is true theology, is not sufficient, unless… it is earnestly devoted to practical theology and to practice. (p. 95)

In fact, here’s how Van Mastrich defines Christian theology:

…Christian theology is best defined as the doctrine of living for God through Christ. (p. 66)

Petrus Van Mastricht, Theoretical-Practical Theology, vol 1: Prolegomena.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WIm 54015

He Submitted Himself to the Covenant of Works (Bavinck)

 Romans 5 is a great passage in Scripture that compares and contrasts Adam and Christ.  Paul uses legal and covenantal language to explain how Adam was a type of Christ.  For example, here’s verse 19: For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous (NIV).  I appreciate how Herman Bavinck commented on these great truths:

…While it is certainly true that as a human and with reference to himself Christ was subject to the law, it must be emphasized that his incarnation and being human occurred not for himself but for us. Christ never was, and may never be regarded as, a private person, an individual alongside and on the same level as other individuals. He was from the very beginning a public person, the second Adam, the guarantor and head of the elect. As Adam sinned for himself and by this act imposed guilt and death on all those he represented, so Christ, by his righteousness and obedience, acquired forgiveness and life for all his own. Even more, as a human being Christ was certainly subject to the law of God as the rule of life; even believers are never exempted from the law in that sense. But Christ related himself to the law in still a very different way, namely, as the law of the covenant of works. Adam was not only obligated to keep the law but was confronted in the covenant of works with that law as the way to eternal life, a life he did not yet possess. But Christ, in virtue of his union with the divine nature, already had this eternal and blessed life. This life he voluntarily relinquished. He submitted himself to the law of the covenant of works as the way to eternal life for himself and his own.

The obedience that Christ accorded to the law, therefore, was totally voluntary. Not his death alone, as Anselm said, but his entire life was an act of self-denial, a self-offering presented by him as head in the place of his own.

 Herman Bavinck, John Bolt, and John Vriend, Reformed Dogmatics: Sin and Salvation in Christ, vol. 3 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006), 379.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

The Denial of All Our Own Righteousness (Witsius)

Conciliatory or Irenical Animadversions on the Controversies Agitated in Britain In his book on the controversies surrounding law, gospel, and grace in England around the year 1700, Herman Witsius (d. 1708) gave an excellent defense of justification by faith alone in Christ alone, based on God’s grace alone.  At one point he talked about the errors of legalism, the Judaizers, and non-Christian views.  Following those paragraphs, he wrote this:

All these errors together, Paul impugns and confutes: proving, at large, that there is none, neither Gentile, nor Jew, who by any work done, either according to the law of nature, or the law of Moses, or devised by men themselves, can acquire, either in whole or in part, an immunity from punishment, and a right to life and salvation: but that with the denial of all our own righteousness, all these things must be sought in Christ alone, to whom we are not united but by faith.

He then noted the righteousness of God as Paul talked about it in Romans 1:16-17.  Here are  his comments:

Now this righteousness is from faith. It is revealed, offered, and conveyed by the gospel, as the hand of God exhibiting it: it is accepted by faith, as the hand of the soul apprehending it. Further, it is so from faith, that it is also to faith. It is from faith, whereby I believe the testimony of God the Father concerning his Son, and the life which is in him; whereby I draw near unto him, that I may claim the right of the sons of God; whereby, I flee to him as the strong-hold of my salvation; whereby, in summary, I receive him to be my Savior.

But why was it necessary that the righteousness which is from faith should be revealed by the gospel? For this reason, because neither Gentiles nor Jews have any righteousness of their own, by which they can obtain expiation of sins and a title to life.   …Further, this righteousness is not placed in the observation of the duties prescribed by the gospel, as if that were not obtained by it, …for we are said to be justified freely, without any cause of justification being in us.   But it is placed in the grace of God, and in the redemption which is in Christ, whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation, through faith in his blood. In fine, all things tend to this, that the glory of our salvation should be wholly transferred to God and Christ, and our boasting entirely banished.

 Herman Witsius, Conciliatory or Irenical Animadversions on the Controversies Agitated in Britain, trans. Thomas Bell (Glasgow: W. Lang, 1807), 82.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015