Fairer Still Is the Maker of Heaven (Augustine)

Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers 1.8: Saint Augustin: Expositions on the Book of Psalms Many of us are familiar with the biblical truth that God is good, or benevolent, to all.  “He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Mt. 5:45 NASB).  “The Lord is good to all, and His mercies are over all His works” (Ps. 145:9 NASB).  In his comments on Psalm 86 Augustine reflected on this truth and used it to remind Christians of the greater gift of God to his people:

Think, brethren, and reflect what good things God giveth unto sinners: and learn hence what He keepeth for His own servants. To sinners who blaspheme Him every day He giveth the sky and the earth, He giveth springs, fruits, health, children, wealth, abundance: all these good things none giveth but God.

He who giveth such things to sinners, what thinkest thou He keeps for His faithful ones? Is this to be believed of Him, that He who giveth such things to the bad, keepeth nothing for the good? Nay verily He doth keep, not earth, but heaven for them. Too common a thing perhaps I say when I say heaven; Himself rather, who made the heaven. Fair is heaven, but fairer is the Maker of heaven

The above quote is found in Augustine of Hippo,  vol. 8, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1888), 412.

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

Love Rightly Ordered (Augustine)

When Augustine was commenting on how the “sons of God saw that the daughters of humans were beautiful” and married them (Gen. 6:2 NIV), he made a brilliant observation on God-given beauty and love rightly ordered:

And thus beauty, which is indeed God’s handiwork, but only a temporal, carnal, and lower kind of good, is not fitly loved in preference to God, the eternal, spiritual, and unchangeable Good. When the miser prefers his gold to justice, it is through no fault of the gold, but of the man; and so with every created thing. For though it be good, it may be loved with an evil as well as with a good love: it is loved rightly when it is loved ordinately; evilly, when inordinately,

Augustine goes on to quote a poem/hymn, which he himself probably wrote:

It is this which some one has briefly said in these verses in praise of the Creator:

These are Thine, they are good,
because Thou art good who didst create them.
There is in them nothing of ours,
unless the sin we commit when we forget the order of things,
and instead of Thee love that which Thou hast made.”

We might say this is also an exposition of the Bible’s teaching that we should love God first and foremost (Mt. 22:37).  Here’s one more paragraph from Augustine after his poem/hymn:

But if the Creator is truly loved, that is, if He Himself is loved and not another thing in His stead, He cannot be evilly loved; for love itself is to be ordinately loved, because we do well to love that which, when we love it, makes us live well and virtuously. So that it seems to me that it is a brief but true definition of virtue to say, it is the order of love; and on this account, in the Canticles, the bride of Christ, the city of God, sings, “Order love within me.”

There’s something to read again and think about: virtue is the right order of love.

These quotes are found in Augustine’s City of God, XV.22.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

“The Majesty of the Lover” (Turretin)

Institutes of Elenctic Theology, Volume 1 In studying for a sermon on God’s love, I found these four excellent points in Francis Turretin’s Institutes – points which I had highlighted around 10 years ago.  This is why I highlight in my books!

These four things in the highest manner commend the love of God towards us:

(1) the majesty of the Lover;
(2) the poverty and unworthiness of the loved;
(3) the worth of Him in whom we are loved;
(4) the multitude and excellence of the gifts which flow out from that love to us.

Turretin then explains each of these four points:

(a) God loves us; He who, constituted in the highest pre-eminence and happiness, does not need us and is not bound to love us; indeed can most justly hate and destroy us if He so willed.
(b) Men are beloved, not only as empty and weak creatures, but as sinners and guilty, rebellious servants, who so far from deserving it, are on the other hand most worthy of hatred and punishment.
(c) He in whom they are beloved is Christ (Eph. 1:5-6), the delight of his heavenly Father and the “express image of his person” (Heb. 1:3), than whom He could give nothing more excellent, nothing dearer, even if He had given the whole universe.
(d) The effects of His love are both many in number and great in value – that is, all the benefits by which salvation is begun in this life and perfected in the other.  Also, what is the crown and sum of all the blessings, the gift of God himself, who imparts himself to us as an object of fruition both in grace and in glory.

You’ll find this paragraph (which I’ve edited slightly) in volume one of Turretin’s Institutes, page 242. 

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

God’s Wrath, God’s Love, and the Cross (Carson)

Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God God’s love and his wrath are on display throughout the Bible.  I realize “the wrath of God” sounds harsh in many people’s ears, but it clearly is a teaching of the Bible.  It’s a teaching that has to do with the perfect justice of God.  Here’s how Don Carson well explained the love and wrath of God:

“The reality is that the Old Testament displays the grace and love of God in experience and types, and these realities become all the clearer in new covenant writings.  Similarly, the Old Testament displays the righteous wrath of God in experience and types, and these realities become all the clearer in the new covenant writings.  In other words, both God’s love and God’s wrath are ratcheted up in the move from the old covenant to the new, from the Old Testament to the New.  These themes barrel along through redemptive history, unresolved, until they come to a resounding climax – in the cross.

Do you wish to see God’s love?  Look at the cross.

Do you wish to see God’s wrath?  Look at the cross.

Hymn writers have sometimes captured this best,  In Wales Christians sing a nineteenth-century hymn by William Rees:

Here is love, vast as the ocean,
Loving-kindness as the flood,
When the Prince of Life, our Ransom,
Shed for us His precious blood.
Who His love will not remember?
Who can cease to sing His praise?
He can never be forgotten,
Throughout heav’n’s eternal days.

On the mount of crucifixion,
Fountains opened deep and wide;
Through the floodgates of God’s mercy
Flowed a vast and gracious tide.
Grace and love, like mighty rivers,
Poured incessant from above,
And heav’n’s peace and perfect justice
Kissed a guilty world in love.

D. A. Carson, The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God, p 70-71.

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

With the Strength God Gives You (Or: Nothing Depends on Your Weakness)

Faith and LifeWith the strength God gives you, be ready to suffer with me for the sake of the Good News” (2 Tim. 1:8b NLT).  Paul wrote these words to Timothy to encourage him to press on in his Christian calling despite suffering and hardship.  B. B. Warfield has some great words on Paul’s encouragement to Timothy in 2 Tim. 1:8-10:

“…We shall certainly take notice that he [Paul] places beneath Timothy the eternal arms of God Almighty.  He lifts the eyes of Timothy from himself to God, and says to him in effect, There, there is your strength.”

“And observe the pains Paul is at to impress on Timothy that the relation in which he stands to this God, by virtue of which God becomes his strength, is not, in any sense – not in the remotest degree, not in the smallest particular – dependent on Timothy himself, or anything that he has done, is doing, or can do.  He would withdraw Timothy utterly from the least infusion of dependence on self and cast him wholly on his dependence to God, that he may realize that his weakness is not in question, but the whole strength of God is behind him to uphold him and bear him safely through.”

“…What Paul is doing is so completely to take away Timothy’s consideration of himself in this whole matter of the Gospel that he will trust exclusively in God and feel that, therefore, there can be no failure – just because it is God alone and not he himself on whom the performance rests.”

“[It was as if Paul was saying to Timothy,] do you not remember how you were brought into relations with this God?  Was it of yourself that you were called with this holy calling?  Nay, no works of your own entered in.  It was of his own purpose that he called you; the grace that has come to you was given you from all eternity.  What has come to you in time is only the manifestation of what was eternally done.  It is this Almighty God who is using you as his instrument and organ.  Nothing depends on your weakness; all hangs on his strength.  Take courage and go onward.”

B. B. Warfied, Faith and Life, p. 407-8.

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

 

When Darkness Hides His Face

calvincommentaries Sometimes life for the Christian is just plain hard.  We’re not exempt from the effects of Adam’s sin, so we face debilitating illnesses, allergies that nearly cripple us, mental anguish that makes for dark days, and other people often are like thorns in our flesh.  Sometimes we still wander and stumble into sin.  Following Jesus doesn’t mean life will be painless and easy!  I know a contemporary version of the hymn My Hope Is Built on Nothing Less says “When darkness seems to hide His face;” however, I think the original is more accurate: “When darkness veils His lovely face.”  It reminds me of Cowper’s great hymn, God Moves in a Mysterious Way, which says,

“Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust him for his grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.”

This also makes me think of the criminal on the cross, who truly repented and made the good confession.  He was loved by Christ, promised heaven, but his pain and torture didn’t immediately end.  He still suffered terribly as a convicted criminal.  Calvin comments well on this:

What is promised to the robber does not alleviate his present sufferings, nor make any abatement of his bodily punishment. This reminds us that we ought not to judge of the grace of God by the perception of the flesh; for it will often happen that those to whom God is reconciled are permitted by him to be severely afflicted. So then, if we are dreadfully tormented in body, we ought to be on our guard lest the severity of pain hinder us from tasting the goodness of God; but, on the contrary, all our afflictions ought to be mitigated and soothed by this single consolation, that as soon as God has received us into his favor, all the afflictions which we endure are aids to our salvation. This will cause our faith not only to rise victorious over all our distresses, but to enjoy calm repose amidst the endurance of sufferings. (John Calvin and William Pringle, Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists Matthew, Mark, and Luke, vol. 3 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 314.)

Dear Christian, if you’re suffering, facing affliction, or if your cross has recently been very hard to bear, don’t take it as a sign that God is angry with you, has stopped loving you, or has forgotten about you.  By God’s grace, our suffering is productive (Rom 5:3-4).  Our feelings are not a reliable guide in the Christian life; God’s gracious promises are.  “Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, but trust him for his grace!”

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church
Hammond, WI, 54015

Is Allah Loving?

I’ve mentioned Nabeel Qureshi’s other two excellent books on this blog before (here and here).  Qureshi’s third book, No God but One hits the shelves in two weeks.  I’m reading a copy to review, and I must say I’m enjoying it.  In one part of the book, Qureshi compares the Quran’s description of Allah’s relationship to people with the Bible’s description of God’s relationship to people. He notes that none of Allah’s 99 names indicate intimacy with people.  Allah is called “the Friendly,” but that is more emotional than relational.  Qureshi notes,

“Truly, nothing else in the Quran appears to indicate that Allah wants a relationship with humans.  This is especially true of a father-child relationship, as the Quran specifically denies that Allah is a father (112.3), and in 5.28 it rebukes the idea of God’s spiritual fatherhood: ‘The Jews and Christians say, “We are the children of Allah and His beloved.”  Say (in response), “Then why does He punish you for your sins?” Rather, you are human beings from among those He has created.'”

“This verse is telling.  When Jews and Christians suggest that they are children of God, the Quran says to castigate them and inform them that they are nothing but His creatures, as are all humans.  We must also note that this verse actually does use the primary and best word for ‘love’ in Arabic, habb, but it uses it to explicitly deny that people are God’s beloved.  This may come as a shock to Muslims who grew up as I did, being taught that Allah loves us.  It is a common teaching among Muslims, but it is not the teaching of the Quran.”

“…Allah intends man to pursue the relationship of a servant to his master, but not the relationship of a child with his father.  Nothing in the Quran suggests that Allah desires intimacy with humanity.  We are not His beloved – just one of His creatures.”

This brief excerpt comes from pages 64-65 of Nabeel Qureshi’s forthcoming book, No God But One (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016).

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI