The Means and Ends Cooperate (Bavinck)

Here’s a deep theological thought for the day, a truth that magnifies the sovereignty of God: “With God, means and ends always cooperate.”  Herman Bavinck wrote those words, followed by these statements which highlight God’s sovereign decree:

“In his decree the causes and the consequences, the pathways and outcomes are established in indissoluble connection with each other.  His decree is no loose assembly of various incidental phenomena that exist on their own, but consist of a complex of decisions intimately related, forming an unbreakable whole and a system of divine ideas, one single arrangement of everything that will exist or occur within time.

God executes this decree within time.  Therefore everything that happens within time is mutually related in the same unbreakable way as the ideas and decisions within God’s eternal decree are related.  Therefore we human beings are bound to means; anyone pursuing a goal must travel the path leading toward that goal.  …The Lord holds himself to the means which he established in his counsel for attaining his ends.  Predestination embraces not only the eternal state of rational creatures, but also the determination of the means and paths leading to that eternal state.”

For the biblical background of these statements, see Isaiah 40-46 and Ephesians 1, among other texts.  And if you’re interested in the larger context of the quote, you can find it in Saved by Grace, page 133.

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

Advertisements

All Things for Good: Other People’s Sins? (Watson)

 Sin, of course, is not a good thing.  Sin is evil; sin is lawlessness.  However, in God’s sovereignty, he can use sin for the benefit of his people.  Paul said it very clearly: All things work together for the good of those who love God (Rom. 8:28).  “All things” includes those instances when people sin and hurt us in doing so.  In “All Things for Good,” Thomas Watson listed several ways how the sins of others work for our good.  Here’s one of them worth contemplating:

“The sins of others work for good, as they are glasses [mirrors] in which we may see our own hearts.  Behold a picture of our hearts.  Such should we be, if God did leave us.  What is in other men’s practice is in our nature.  Sin in the wicked is like fire on a beacon that flames and blazes forth; sin in the godly is like fire in the embers.

Christian, though you do not break forth into a flame of scandal, yet you have no cause to boast, for there is much sin raked up in the embers of your nature.  You have the root of bitterness in you, and you would bear as hellish fruit as any, if God did not either curb you by His power, or change you by His grace.”

That’s a very insightful Christian thought!  When someone else sins, rather than bragging that I’m better, I remember that I too am sinful and if it weren’t for God’s grace and power, I too would act out in all sorts of evil ways.  So the sins of others should not make me proud, but humble.  It will still hurt when people are sinfully cruel to us, but as Christians we can be confident that God will use it for our good.

The above quote is found on page 47 of All Things for Good.

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

When the Church Becomes Worldly (Guinness)

 Here’s a helpful commentary by Os Guinness on worldliness in the church:

It would be idle to speculate what terrible new order today’s trendy clerics and faithless Christian activists are greasing the slipway for.  But we need not wait for the outcome.  The truth is that the greatest enemy of the Western church is not the state or any ideology such as atheism, but the world and the spirit of the age.  Anything less than a full-blooded expression of the Christian faith ahs no chance of standing firm against the assaults and seductions of the advanced modern world.

So when the church becomes worldly, she betrays her Lord, and she also fails to live up to her calling to be dangerously different and thus to provide deliverance from the world by a power that is not of the world.  When ‘saving us from ourselves’ has become the widespread problem of the advanced modern world, the worldly church has no supernatural salvation to offer and stands in shame and as desperately needing saving herself.

But that is not the end of it.  The worldly church is not only corrupt but cowardly, for much contemporary worldliness is a voluntary capitulation to the spirit and system of the age.  There are times when the powers of the age openly seek to seduce the church or brutally subjugate her to their own purposes.  That can be bad enough, as witnessed by the widespread compromise of Russian Orthodoxy under Stalin or Lutheranism under Hitler. But the contemporary worldliness of parts of the Western church, as exemplified differently by the extremes of either the Episcopal Church in America or the emergent Evangelicals, is in one sense worse.

As Jesus said, ‘You will know them by their fruit.’  Just wait long enough for their ideas to ripen, and in case after case it turns out that the much-trumpeted ‘new kind of Christianity for a new world’ turns out to be the old kind of compromise and heresy.  Such worldliness is inexcusable because it is self-chosen, naively and brethlessly self-chosen, and in many cases foolish beyond all comprehension.

From Renaissance, p. 119

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54002

Loving Other Saints Who Are Sinners (Watson)

 Christians mess up and make mistakes.  Followers of Jesus sin and don’t always act in a kind and loving way.  Sometimes Christians are even difficult to love!  However, we as God’s people are called to love each other with a fervent and forgiving love (Col. 3:12-14).  Whether in a marriage or between family and friends, Christians must love each other.  I like how Thomas Watson talked about this on page 82 of All Things for Good:

We love a saint, though he has many personal failings.  There is no perfection here.  In some, rash anger prevails; in some, inconstancy; in some, too much love of the world.  A saint in this life is like gold in the ore, much dross of infirmity cleaves to him, yet we love him for the grace that is in him.

A saint is like a fair face with a scar; we love the beautiful face of holiness, though there be a scar in it.  The best emerald has its blemishes, the brightest stars have their twinklings, and the best of the saints have their failings.  You that cannot love one another because of his infirmities, how would you have God love you?

Thomas Watson, All Things for Good, p. 82.

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

The Art of Faith; or A Holy Defiance (Sibbes)

The Works of Richard Sibbes (7 vols.) Psalm 27:1 says this: “The Lord is my light and my salvation; Whom shall I fear? The Lord is the defense of my life; Whom shall I dread?” (NASB).  Richard Sibbes preached an outstanding sermon on this text around 1630.  Sibbes noted that in the first part of this Psalm, David explained his comfort, his courage, and his care.  Here’s part of what Sibbes wrote on David’s comfort:

His comfort. It was altogether in the Lord, whom he sets out in all the beauties and excellency of speech he can. He propounds the Lord to himself in borrowed terms. ‘The Lord is my light and my salvation, the strength of my life’ (Ps. 27:1). So he fetcheth comfort from God, the spring of comfort, ‘the Father of all comfort’ (2 Cor. 1:4). He labors to present God to him in the sweetest manner that may be. He opposeth him to every difficulty and distress. In darkness, he is ‘my light;’ in danger, he is ‘my salvation;’ in weakness, he is ‘my strength;’ in all my afflictions and straits, he is the ‘strength of my life.’

Here is the art of faith in all perplexities whatsoever, to be able to set somewhat [something] in God against every malady in ourselves. And this is not simply set out, but likewise with a holy defiance. ‘The Lord is my light and salvation; whom shall I fear?’ Ps. 27:1. It is a question proceeding from a holy defiance, and daring of all other things. ‘The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?’ That is one branch of his comfort.

In other words, the art of faith is to take an attribute or characteristic of God and put it against troubles, calamities, or difficulties that arise in our lives.  It means to do so in the way of holy defiance, knowing that (for example) if God is for us, who can be against us?  What can separate us from his love?  Faith trusts in God and finds comfort in his attributes.

 Sibbes, Richard. The Complete Works of Richard Sibbes. Ed. Alexander Balloch Grosart. Vol. 2. Edinburgh; London; Dublin: James Nichol; James Nisbet And Co.; W. Robertson, 1862. Print.

Shane Lems

The Sanctity of the Moral Law (or: Constrained to Come to Calvary) (Murray)

Murray vol 1 In 1935, at Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, PA, John Murray gave an address called, “The Sanctity of the Moral Law.”  (“Sanctity” in this context means holiness or sacredness.)  In this address Murray  talked about the moral law which is summarized in the Ten Commandments.  Murray’s lecture is a very helpful discussion of the moral law and its importance for Christians.  I appreciate how he ended this address:

“As we recognize the awful sanctity that surrounds the law, we shall certainly be crushed with a sense of our own hell-deserving guilt and hopeless inability.  We shall certainly be constrained to cry out, ‘Woe is me for I am undone.’  ‘Surely I am more stupid than any man, and I have not the understanding of a man’ (Is. 6:5; Prov. 30:2).  But in that condition there falls upon our ears and into our hearts the sweet news of the gospel, the gospel of a crucified and risen Redeemer and Lord.  “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us’ (Gal. 3:13).  We shall be constrained to come to Calvary.

But when we come to Calvary for the expiation of our guilt and the remission of our sin, it is not to diminish our esteem of that law nor relax our sense of its awful sanctity and binding authority.  Oh no!  …When we are possessed by the sense of the authority and sanctity of the moral law, we must come to Calvary if any true and living hope is to be engendered within us.  But when we rise from our prostration before the Cross, it is not to find the moral law abrogated, but to find it by the grace of God wrought into the very fiber of the new life in Christ Jesus.

If the Cross of Christ does not fulfill in us the passion of righteousness, we have misinterpreted the whole scheme of divine redemption.  ‘For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God, sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh’ (Rom. 8:3).  Is it that the moral law might cease to bind and regulate?  Oh no! But ‘that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.’

John Murray, Collected Writings vol. 1, p. 203-204.

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

Do Not Forget Le Chambon (Guinness/Hallie)

 I’ve been impressed with Os Guinness’ book – more of a study guide – called When No One Sees: The Importance of Character in an Age of Image.  It’s basically a study guide on character: the importance of character, character in the crucible, cultural erosion of character, spiritual foundations for strong character, and heroes of character.  In this book, Guinness selected various authors and historical figures to help make his point about character.  These characters include James Madison, Winston Churchill, Plato, Augustine, Martin Luther, Sir Thomas More, and so forth.

In the section on “Heroes of Character,” Guinness notes how celebrities are NOT heroes, and he mentions that true heroes are those who teach us about true character.  One example Guinness gives is the story of the people of Le Chambon, France, during World War II.  These brave people protected more than five thousand Jewish children from certain death in the concentration camps.  Guinness notes, “They were Huguenots, fired by their faith and three hundred years of persecution following the Edict of Nantes.”  In fact, a dozen students in one of the schools there (some who would later become theologians) wrote a letter to a local French leader.  Here’s the letter:

Mr. Minister, we have learned of the frightening scenes which took place three weeks ago in Paris, where the French police, on orders of the occupying power, arrested in their homes all the Jewish families in Paris to hold them in the Vel d’Hiv. The fathers were torn from their families and sent to Germany. The children torn from their mothers, who underwent the same fate as their husbands.  Knowing by experience that the decrees of the occupying power are, with brief delay, imposed on Unoccupied France, where they are presented as spontaneous decisions of the head of the French Government, we are afraid that the measures of deportation of the Jews will soon be applied in the southern zone.

We feel obliged to tell you that there are among us a certain number of Jews. But, we make no distinction between Jews and non-Jews. It is contrary to the Gospel teaching.

If our comrades, whose only fault is to be born in another religion, received the order to let themselves be deported, or even examined, they would disobey the order received, and we would try to hide them as best we could.

Philip Hallie, who wrote about this event in his book, Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed, reflected on this letter:

“Black and white.  The maneuvering between the two obligations to be ‘subject to the governing authorities’ and to ‘love your neighbor as yourself’ was past.  The moment had come for the people of Le Chambon to pass their ethical judgment publicly, unequivocally, but without hatred or violence.”

This is indeed a wonderful and inspiring story of courage, faith, and character!  It’s a great read.

The above quotes are found in Os Guinness, When No One Sees, p. 270-272.  As a side, at the time of this blog post there are several very inexpensive used copies of this book on Amazon.  It’s worth the money for sure!

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015