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

The Church Is Greater Than The Pastor

Our Worship (Calvin Institute of Christian Worship Liturgical Studies) Although he lived and ministered in Holland almost 100 years ago, Abraham Kuyper could already see the celebrity pastor syndrome growing in the United States.  There are quite a few layers of wisdom in the following quote.  I especially like Kuyper’s dig at democratic/populist religious gatherings, his emphasis on church history, and his note that pastors are temporary servants of the church.  This is why, in Reformed church history, ministers were not typically called “founding pastors.”  A historic Reformed/Presbyterian view of the church (ecclesiology) and her pastors prevented the celebrity pastor mindset that is widespread today.   Here’s the quote.

“…All liturgy is predicated on the foundational notion that the church has authority over the minister and not the minister over the church.  [One who is simply] a speaker, an orator, a convener rents a room and directs his speech, his oration, or his meeting in whatever way he deems appropriate and expects his audience to acquiesce.  After all, whoever does not like it can stay away or leave.”

“But that is not the situation in the [historical] Reformed churches, nor, one might add, in most of the other assemblies of Christ’s church.”

“Only in America and in some of our own small independent churches is there such a free-reigning spirit.  It is quite common in America, especially in the larger cities, for a minister to start his own church, attract whoever will come, and maintain his church from the contributions that come in.  Such a church is thus literally an independent business run by the minister, without any confessional forms and without connections to other churches.  It is nothing other than a circle gathering around a talented speaker….”

“But in a genuine church it is quite different, that is, in the gathering of believers originating in a historical past that goes all the way back to Pentecost in Jerusalem.  Such a church is rooted in a past of eighteen centuries, in which a temporary minister serves for only a set number of years to accomplish his holy service, and then that same service continues under the ministry of his successor.  That means that it is not the minister who created the church, but that the church existed long before him.”

Abraham Kuyper, Our Worship (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009), 6-7.

shane lems

Kuyper: Worship Songs as an Artistic Exhibition?

It’s been awhile since Andrew or I pointed our readers to Abraham Kuyper, so I thought it would be good to do so once again.  The following quotes are found in chapter seven (“Congregational Song”) of Our Worship.  I’ve edited it for the purpose of this blog.

“We defend the use of hymns, but we should remember the following: 1) The spiritual depth of the psalms exceeds by far anything that afterward was composed as a church hymn and was sometimes claimed to be even more spiritual.  2) Whenever hymns came into the churches, they always seemed, first, to push back the psalms, and then to supplant them.  3) The psalms have always echoed the enduring, eternal keynote of the pious heart, while hymns usually had a temporary quality and were marked by what was popular at the moment.  4) In the struggle between hymn and psalm, all nominal members favored the hymns over the psalms while the truly pious members were much more inclined to use the psalms rather than hymns [Of course, we do not mean to say that everyone who favored hymns could no longer be called pious.  After all, who would want to exclude Luther?  Yet, it seems to us that the…points mentioned above do express what experience has shown us to be true.]”

“…During the Middle Ages abuse [of hymn singing] had become very real.  Choirs replaced congregational singing.  Men and women, boys and girls with the most beautiful voices were enticed to join these choirs, even though their moral reputation was often far from impeccable.  Also, the songs they sang often led much to be desired.  The sound, the tone of voice, and the artistic element became most important, and the content of the song of secondary importance.  Singing became an artistic exhibition and ceased to be an expression of thanksgiving and adoration of god by the believers.”

“…The [hymnal] ‘Evangelishe Gezangen’ (evangelical hymns) of 1807 …was written in a time of little poetic competence and of slackened religious interest.  When you compare the poetic and religious quality of that hymnal with our ‘Psalter,’ the former looks like child’s play.  Gilded tin and real gold have nothing in common.”

If I can interject here, I’d say that there is far too much ‘gilded tin’ in Christian worship today (though ‘gilded tin’ is probably too charitable a term for some P&W songs).  The best way to get rid of ‘gilded tin’ is to sing more Psalms.  On that note (pun intended), read the aforementioned chapter of this book: Our Worship by Abraham Kuyper.

shane lems

Yes, I Believe that Jesus is Lord…

 Around 100 years ago, Abraham Kuyper wrote a book for those wishing to make public profession of faith in a Reformed church.  The book is called The Implications of Public ConfessionIn this short book, Kuyper discusses the relationship of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.  He also talks about children praying, believing, repenting, and confessing the doctrines of grace.  Kuyper mentions what confession is and what a confessing church sounds like in unison.  This is a book worth getting – I think there are a few used ones on Amazon for around $10.  Here’s one paragraph from the book that I appreciate.

“Your confession of your Savior and Lord before the congregation must include a confession of your personal wretchedness.  A confession which desires Jesus but which is not characterized by a profound conviction of personal sin and guilt is false.  Paul would call that a sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal.  Indeed, it would be a weak and flimsy confession.  That is self-evident.  Why a Redeemer if there be no need for redemption?  How yearn for a Savior except there be a consciousness  of the bonds of death?  And again, why should you seek the Physician if you do not sense that your soul is sick?”

“Yes, there should be a consciousness, a poignant, painful consciousness of personal sin and guilt.  That does not mean that you must have the full and profound consciousness of your depravity in the moment you say ‘yes’ before the congregation.  Those who profess the necessity of that, drift toward emotionalism and depart from the meaning of the Word of God.  But it is unequivocally true that he who confesses his Savior must confess his wretchedness also.  He must, to a degree and in a way appropriate to his age and experience, fully sense that he is lost, and that therefore he, together with all God’s children, is taking refuge under the Savior’s wings.”

Abraham Kuyper, The Implications of Public Confession, p. 28.

shane lems