God the Sculptor (Kuyper)

 As we well know, the Bible talks about God being a potter (Is. 64:8, Jer. 18:6, Rom. 9:21, etc.).  Abraham Kuyper built on this imagery in his devotional on Philippians 2:13: For it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure (NASB).  He started by saying this:

We ourselves will, not because of ourselves, but because God so worketh in us, that now we ourselves truly and actually will to do thus and not otherwise.

Kuyper later gave the illustration of God being the sculptor of his people and discussed it in terms of sanctification and a renewal of the image of God in us:

When God worketh in us he is the omnipresent One, who is both high in heaven and close at hand. Even “close at hand” is still too weak a statement, for God is in every one of us. There is no part in our being where God is not omnipresent. This is the case with all men. But when God deals with one of his children, this inward presence is much closer and more personal, for God dwells in such an one by his Holy Spirit, If we believe that the Holy Spirit is himself God, we understand that God himself tabernacles in his child, that he has his throne in the inmost recess of the child’s soul, and thus has fellowship with him, not from afar, but in the sanctuary of his own person. There God worketh upon us by day and by night, even when we are not conscious of it. He is our Sculptor, who carves in us the image of himself, and makes us more and more to resemble his own Being. Thus he transforms us, and also the willing in us. It is God who worketh in us, not only our emotions, but also our willing, by transforming “the self that wills.”

When we understand it this way, it is plain that there is a constant holy entering in of God’s will into our will, thanks to this purifying and refining and transposing of our inmost selves. This work goes on in us mostly unobserved and unperceived, so tenderly and gently does God’s hand direct the task. But not always just like this. Sometimes the sculptor must forcibly strike off a piece from the marble, so that it crashes and splinters as it falls. These are our times of violent inward struggles, when everything within us quakes with the reverberations of moral shocks. But whether it be gentle or whether it be violent, it is ever the process of sculpturing. And the sculptor works not after a model that stands before him, but is himself the model. He forms us after his own image.

 Kuyper, A. (1918). To Be Near unto God (pp. 168–169). Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans-Sevensma Co.

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

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High-minded Self-sufficiency (Kuyper)

 Here’s another great excerpt from Abraham Kuyper’s devotional, To Be Near Unto God:

High-minded self-sufficiency is the canker which gnaws at the root of all religion. It is the futile dream of a little, insignificant world, of which self is the great center, whose mind understands everything, whose will controls everything, whose money can buy everything, and whose power carries everything before it. This makes self a miniature god in a little temple. In this sinful isolation one is, of necessity, icy cold, frozen away from the living God and unfit to dwell under the shadow of his wings.

If in all honesty we can say: Such is not my case, because I feel my dependence, my lack of strength and my utter helplessness, then that we might have fellowship with God, we must unlearn our sinful leaning on people. We need not necessarily cut ourselves loose from every one. Far from it. The faith of another strengthens ours. The courage of another shames us out of cowardice. The example set by another can double our strength. We are disposed to society both in matters of life and belief. But we must give up all sinful dependence upon others. Dependence that takes a man for more than an instrument appointed of God for our help, as long as he allows it, is sinful. We must not build on man, in order when human help fails to turn to the Divine. Our help must always be from God, whether power to save springs from ourselves or comes to us from without. Even in this way, that when at length all human help fails, nothing is lost. For the unchangeable God always remains the same.

 Kuyper, A. (1918). To Be Near unto God (pp. 78–79). Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans-Sevensma Co.

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

Thick Monastery Walls (Kuyper)

 Sometimes Christians think retreating from the world will benefit their spiritual life.  They believe that withdrawing from the world will help them get closer to God.  This is most obviously seen in the monastic movement that dates back to the early church.  There are several biblical reasons why the monastic impulse is not a good one: withdrawing from the world makes it difficult for a Christian to be salt and light, withdrawing from the world also makes it difficult for a Christian to love his neighbor (including his enemy!), and it is the opposite of being evangelistic and missionary-minded.  Abraham Kuyper also noted well that wherever we go, we take our sinful hearts:

The world ruthlessly crosses our efforts [to draw near to God]…. Though it was not right, and never can be, we understand what went on in the heart of those who sought escape from the world, in cell or hermitage, for the sake of unbroken fellowship with God. It might have been efficacious, if in withdrawing from the world they had been able to leave the world behind. But we carry it in our heart. Wherever we go it goes with us. There are no monastic walls so thick, or places in forests so distant, but Satan has means to reach them. To shut oneself out from the world moreover, for the sake of a closer walk with God, is to seek on earth what can only be our portion in heaven. We may escape many things in doing it. The eye may no more see much vanity. But existence becomes abnormal. Life becomes narrow. Human nature is reduced to small dimensions. There is no imperative task on hand, no calling in life, no exertion of all one’s powers. Conflict is avoided. Victory tarries….

Kuyper, A. (1918). To Be Near unto God (pp. 3–4). Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans-Sevensma Co.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

All of Grace, From Beginning to the End (Kuyper)

 It is true that when God sovereignly changes our hearts and gives life to what is dead, we ourselves repent, believe, and begin to obey him (see Eph. 2:1-10).  We are passive in regeneration but are active in sanctification.  True faith always shows up in truly good works.  However, it’s all of grace.  Abraham Kuyper put it well in his book on the work of the Holy Spirit.  He noted that the regenerate Christian is not passive, but active in the Christian life.  Then Kuyper wrote this:

But it is not implied that the elect and regenerate sinner is now able to do anything without God; or that if God should cease working in him, conversion and sanctification would follow of themselves.  Both these representations are untrue, un-Reformed, and unchristian, because they detract from the work of the Holy Spirit in the elect.

No; all spiritual good is of grace to the end; grace not only in regeneration, but at every step of the way of life.  From the beginning to the end and throughout eternity the Holy Spirit is the Worker, of regeneration and conversion, of justification and every part of sanctification, of glorification, and of all the bliss of the redeemed.  Nothing may be subtracted from this.

Abraham Kuyper, The Work of the Holy Spirit, p. 339.

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

To Christians Who Suffer

Some Christians suffer more than others.  God, in his mysterious sovereignty, has given some of his children a more difficult lot and heavier load than others.  Depression, chronic illness, handicaps, intense family conflict, mental illness, and other trials are the hard lot of some Christians.

Abraham Kuyper reminds us that St. Paul had a very difficult lot as well.  The apostle called it a “thorn in the flesh” (2 Cor 12:7).  Kuyper says it was a trial that felt “as though a demon assaulted [Paul] and beat him with fists.” The thorn was given to Paul so that he might stay humble and also experience the sweetness of God’s grace.  Kuyper notes that Christians who suffer should remember from Paul’s experience that God’s fatherly plan for us in suffering is a gracious one.  This way we won’t despair when our prayers for relief are not answered in the affirmative.

Kuyper also writes that sometimes suffering is long, intense, and doesn’t let up.  It seems like suffering is our permanent state of existence.  To the sufferer,

“Every morning the affliction is new, and every evening he pours out again his complaint before his God.  Ineradicably the sense that we were not created to suffer continues to struggle against the pain that restlessly accompanies him upon his pathway through life.”

Often what happens at this point is that the sufferer looks around at others who are happy and healthy.  Then who can stop this “sad complaint” from arising: “O, My God, why am I not as they?”  On top of this Satan comes and tempts the sufferer to grumble: “If you are a child of God, where is your heavenly Father to help you?”  Satan mocks: “Where is your God?”  The suffering continues, and some believers at this point seriously backslide in the faith.

But Kuyper said it can be otherwise.  Sometimes the suffering child of God realizes that the Lord can use the suffering to “reveal in him the majesty of His grace.”  Prayers for deliverance continue, but the soul becomes convinced “that in such suffering God intends something different with us.”

“That such suffering does not come upon us by chance, but comes to us from Him, and that He chose us to bear this suffering, that in this our suffering it might become evident, even with suffering most prolonged and bitter, what sacred medicine of soul grace is.”

“And if the eye might but open to this, O, then each day brings experience of new grace; till finally the spirit made willing in us begins to cooperate with grace, to triumph over this suffering and to show Satan and the world, that the happiness God’s child enjoys, is too rich and too abounding to be shadowed even by severest suffering.”

“And so at times sufferers have been seen, who were so gloriously disciplined by grace and in grace, that at the last it seemed, as though they had become insensible to their trouble, yea, that they took pleasure in it, with a heavenly smile upon their face to mock their suffering.”

If you are suffering, I pray God gives you the eyes of faith to see that his grace is sufficient for you in your weakness even right now.  As Paul said in his trial, “When I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:10).  Suffering is so hard; it is a heavy, heavy burden.  But God’s grace lightens the load, shines light on the path, and makes it possibly for us to joyfully make it through suffering.  And remember, your trial will not last.  When Jesus returns, he’ll renew your body and you will no longer have any pain, sorrow, trials, or tears (Phil. 3:21; Rev. 21:4).

The above quotes and thoughts are found in Abraham Kuyper’s 23rd meditation of In the Shadow of Death (Eerdmans: Grand Rapids, 1929).

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

 

 

 

Every Real Martyr A Conqueror

One of the many volumes Abraham Kuyper wrote is called His Decease At Jerusalem.  It’s an excellent collection of devotional essays on Christ’s passion and death.  This morning I ran across the following paragraphs, in which Kuyper discussed the fact that Jesus’ followers slept while he labored in prayer concerning his upcoming suffering:

“Seeing them asleep, did He not realize that from that very moment He would be treading the wine-press all alone?  Not for a single hour could He draw encouragement or strength from His followers.”

Kuyper extends the thought:

You see how this is so when the Scriptures talk of Stephen, the first Christian martyr.  Without so much as one word of complaint, he received the rough-hewn stones that are hurled at him, with a bearing of unswerving faith.  But by what power did Stephen, and every other martyr after him, triumph?  Is it not by the  power and grace Jesus poured into their souls?  Every martyr dies with Jesus back of him, with Jesus by the side of him, with Jesus to strengthen and reassure.  In fact, it is not the martyr who triumphs, but Jesus in the martyr conquers.

All this is different with your Savior.  When He faced Calvary He stood alone to face the unbroken power of the curse of sin and Satan.  He had not Savior to shield Him, no Savior to draw nigh and comfort in the trying hour.  He was Himself the Savior!

Others triumphed by looking back to the Cross; but He must mount that Cross to bear in His own body the sin of all the world.  He was not a martyr, but the victory He won at Golgotha makes every real martyr a conqueror.

Abraham Kuyper, His Decease At Jerusalem (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1945), p. 30.

shane lems

If He Is Pleased To Give Them A Reward

The Work of the Holy Spirit I thought this was a decent illustration on the topic of grace, sanctification, good works, and reward.

“An awkward schoolboy has to make a speech before a strange audience. It is a difficult task, and he does not even know how to begin. All his own efforts are useless. Then his father calls him and says: ‘If you commit this little speech which I have prepared, and recite it without missing a word, it will be a success.’ And the boy obeys. There is nothing of himself — it is all his father’s work; he merely believes that what his father has prepared for him is good. And in this confidence he goes before the strange audience, delivers his father’s composition, and succeeds. However, the writing of the speech did not end the matter, and it could not be ended until the boy had done his part. When God has prepared the good work for us, the matter is not ended until we do what God has prepared for us.”

“Coming home the boy does not proudly ask a reward, but with gratitude he embraces his father for his love and faithfulness. Having obtained success, God’s children are profoundly thankful for their Father’s excellent help; and they acknowledge that they owe it all to Him. And if He is pleased to give them a reward, it is not because they have deserved it; for if it were a question of desert, the children would have to give everything to the Father! But it is merely a reward of love for the future support of their faith.”

Abraham Kuyper, The Work of the Holy Spirit (New York: Funk & Wagnalls, 1900), 501.

shane lems