Cooking for God in Heaven (Luther)

  “What does it mean to serve God?” Luther asked in a sermon on Matthew 6:24-34.  He answered his own question echoing Scripture: it means listening to Christ, accepting the gospel, and obeying God.  If we are not obeying God we are not serving him no matter how religious or spiritual our lives may look. In fact, we can serve God in whatever calling he’s called us to do.  We don’t necessarily have to go into some ministry or travel far to serve him.  Here’s Luther:

In every way, therefore, it is serving God when one does what God has commanded, and does not do what God has forbidden.  

When a preacher preaches God’s Word, baptizes, administers the sacrament, exhorts, rebukes, warns the secure, comforts the timid and distressed, in this way he is serving not only men but God, who has ordained and commanded these things; and there is joy in doing them, knowing of a certainty that it is God’s will and command.

In the same way, a poor servant girl has joy in her heart and can say, My job is to cook, make the bed, and clean the house; who has commanded me to do these things? My master and mistress have commanded me to do them.  Who has given them such authority over me? God has ordained this. Ah, then it must be true that I am serving not only them but also God in heaven and that God has pleasure in this. How, indeed could I be more blest? It is tantamount to cooking for God in heaven.

Martin Luther, Complete Sermons of Martin Luther, 7.10-11.

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

God Has Called You: On Effectual Calling (Murray)

Scripture teaches that a person dead in sin will remain dead in sin unless God graciously gives him or her new life in Christ (Eph. 2:5).  In theological terms, we say God effectually calls his elect and regenerates them by the power of his Spirit and word.  God is the author of this gracious, sovereign, effectual call.  John Murray explains it well:

“‘God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Cor. 1:9).  ‘…[God] …called us with a holy calling’ (2 Tim. 1:8-9).  In this respect calling is an act of God’s grace and power just as regeneration, justification, and adoption are.  We do not call ourselves, we do not set ourselves apart by sovereign volition any more than we regenerate, justify, or adopt ourselves.  Calling is an act of God and of God alone.  This fact should make us keenly aware how dependent are upon the sovereign grace of God in the application of redemption.  If calling is the initial step in our becoming actual partakers of salvation, the fact that God is its author forcefully reminds us that the pure sovereignty of God’s work of salvation is not suspended at the point of application any more than at the point of design and objective accomplishment.  We may not like this doctrine.  But, if so, it is because we are averse to the grace of God and wish to arrogate to ourselves the prerogative that belongs to God.  And we know where that disposition had its origin.”

John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, p. 110.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

Before You Sought Him (Bernard)

It’s not for nothing that in his Institutes John Calvin cited Bernard of Clairvaux (d. 1153) more than a few times.  The doctrines of grace were not absent in the Medieval era!  One very bright spot of Bernard’s writings is “Sermon 84” on the Song of Songs.  This sermon is on Songs 3:1: “On my bed night after night I sought him whom my soul loves” (NASB).  In it Bernard talks about seeking and finding the Lord.  He starts like this:

“It is a great good to seek God; I think nothing comes before it among the good things the soul may enjoy. It is the first of its gifts and its ultimate goal.”

Bernard then explains that the soul seeking God finds unending joy in abundance.  It’s not like joy and desire are gone once a person finds God.  But there’s more to it.

“Now see why I have said this as a preliminary. It is so that every soul among you which is seeking God will know that He has gone before and sought you before you sought Him. Otherwise you may turn a great good into a great evil for yourself. For from great goods can arise evils no less great, when we treat as our own the good things God gives and act as though they were not gifts, not giving God the glory (Lk 17:18).”

In other words, Bernard says it is important to realize that God seeks us before we seek him.  If we don’t understand this, we’ll rob God of his glory:

“If someone says, “Perish the thought, I know that it is by the grace of God that I am as I am” (1 Cor 15:10), yet is eager to take even the smallest credit for the grace he has received, surely he is a robber and a thief (Jn 10:1)? Let such a man hear this, “Out of your own mouth I judge you, wicked servant” (Lk 19:22). What is more wicked than for a slave to usurp his master’s glory?”

Instead, Bernard wrote, ‘The soul seeks the Word, but she has first been sought by the Word.”  And where does the soul get the will to seek?  “From the visitation of the Word, who has already sought her.”

“That seeking has not been in vain, because it has made the will active, without which there can be no return [to God]. …’Seek your servant’ [the Psalmist] says [Ps. 119:176], so that he who has been given the will may also give the power to act…”

Here’s the heart of it – which sounds like Augustine (“I would not have sought You unless You had first sought me”).

“I have sought,” she says, “him whom my soul loves” (Sg 3:1). This is what the kindness of Him who goes before you urges you to do, He who both sought you first and loved you first (1 Jn 4:10). You would not be seeking Him or loving Him unless you had first been sought and loved. You have been forestalled not only in one blessing (Gn 27:28) but in two, in love and in seeking. The love is the cause of the seeking, and the seeking is the fruit of the love; and it is its guarantee. You are loved, so that you may not think that you are sought so as to be punished; you are sought, so that you may not complain that you are loved in vain. Both these sweet gifts of love make you bold and drive diffidence away, and they persuade you to return and move you to loving response. Hence comes the zeal, the ardor to seek him whom your soul loves, for you cannot seek unless you are sought and now that you are sought you cannot fail to seek.”

I know it’s a rich paragraph; you may have to read it again!  Basically, Bernard is highlighting the divine initiative and priority of the sovereign grace of God.  He loved and chose us before we loved and chose him.  And no one can come to Christ unless God sovereignly draws him (John 6:44). But, as Bernard said (echoing Scripture’s teaching), “now that you are sought, you cannot fail to seek!”

The above quotes are found in Bernard of Clairvaux, Bernard of Clairvaux: Selected Works, ed. John Farina, trans. G. R. Evans, The Classics of Western Spirituality (New York; Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1987).

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI

Christ Calls First (Effectual Calling)

Christopher Love (d. 1651), a Welsh Presbyterian pastor, wrote an excellent book on effectual calling and election.  His main text was 2 Peter 1:10 (Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble. NASB).  In one section of this book, he talks about the comforts of effectual calling:

Jesus effectually calls a poor sinner before that sinner looks unto Jesus.  Should God require heaven upon the condition that you who had been first in the transgression should be first in seeking reconciliation, we would never have the enmity between God and us ended.  But behold, here is mercy and here is a ground of comfort, that though we are first in that transgression, Christ is the first in suing out reconciliation.  Jesus effectually calls poor sinners before they either call or look unto him at all (Is. 65:1).

Here you see, that Jesus goes out first to call you before you go out to call him.  And oh, what comfort this is!  Christ does not stay away until you call out to him; but he looks upon you before you look upon him.

We read that Matthew the publican was looking after his money, and, at that time, Jesus was looking after Matthew’s soul.  We read this of the disciples: while they were fixing their nets and looking after their fish, Jesus took the occasion with the hook of the gospel to catch them.  We read that Paul, while he was breathing out persecution against the church and raging with anger against the saints, was called to be a saint.

So this is very comforting.  God first looks after a sinner in his effectual calling before a sinner looks after Christ.  God first looks upon you, enlightens you by a sermon, and seizes your conscience by a command before you look unto him.

Or, in the sweet words of two great hymns:

I sought the Lord, and afterward I knew;
He moved my soul to seek him seeking me;
It was not I that found O Savior true; no I was found of thee.

and

Tis not that I did choose the, for Lord that could not be;
This heart would still refuse thee, hadst though not chosen me!

(The above quotes by Christopher Love are – slightly edited – found in Effectual Calling and Election, chapter 4.)

shane lems
hammond, WI

He Left All (?) To Follow Jesus

Chorus of Voices: The Reception History of the Parables In chapter 5:27-29 Luke records the story of Jesus calling Levi (Matthew) away from his tax booth. Levi answers the call by standing up, leaving everything, and following Jesus.  What does it mean to “leave everything?”  We may have heard guilt-trip type sermons on this before, always making us think we haven’t really “left all.”  However, in the story, Luke tells us that after being called, Levi went home and threw a huge (and no doubt expensive!) party for a bunch of people (Jesus included).  So what does it mean that Levi “left everything” if he still had a good size home and enough money to host a large feast?  I appreciate Calvin’s words on this:

Luke 5:29. “And Levi made him a great banquet.” This appears to be at variance with what Luke relates, that he “left all”: but the solution is easy. Matthew [Levi] disregarded every hindrance, and gave up himself entirely to Christ, but yet did not abandon the charge of his own domestic affairs.

When Paul, referring to the example of soldiers, exhorts the ministers of the word to be free and disentangled from every hindrance, and to devote their labours to the church, he says: “No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of life, that he may please the commander” (2 Tim. 2:4.) He certainly does not mean, that those who enroll themselves in the military profession divorce their wives, forsake their children, and entirely desert their homes; but that they quit their homes for a time, and leave behind them every care, that they may be wholly employed in war. In the same manner, nothing kept Matthew [Levi] from following where Christ called; and yet he freely used both his house and his property, as far as the nature of his calling allowed.

Calvin, J., & Pringle, W. (2010). Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists Matthew, Mark, and Luke (Vol. 1, pp. 399–400). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

shane lems