He Inclines Their Wills (Augustine)

Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers 1.5: Saint Augustin: Anti-Pelagian Writings In 1 Kings 12 Solomon’s son Rehoboam had just become Israel’s new king.  Israel begged him to lighten the yoke of hard service.  To make a longer story short, Rehoboam flatly refused and told them that he’d instead add to the hard service (1 Ki 12:11, 14).  Scripture gives us this insight in the middle of the story: So the king did not listen to the people; for it was a turn of events from the Lord, that He might establish His word, which the Lord spoke through Ahijah the Shilonite to Jeroboam the son of Nebat. (1 Ki 12:15 NASB).

While reflecting on this passage and others like it, Augustine (d. 430) wrote some helpful comments concerning God’s sovereign will, man’s actions, and divine grace:

Who can help trembling at those judgments of God by which He does in the hearts of even wicked men whatsoever He wills, at the same time rendering to them according to their deeds? Rehoboam, the son of Solomon, rejected the salutary counsel of the old men, not to deal harshly with the people, and preferred listening to the words of the young men of his own age, by returning a rough answer to those to whom he should have spoken gently. Now whence arose such conduct, except from his own will? Upon this, however, the ten tribes of Israel revolted from him, and chose for themselves another king, even Jeroboam, that the will of God in His anger might be accomplished which He had predicted would come to pass. For what says the Scripture? “The king hearkened not unto the people; for the turning was from the Lord, that He might perform His saying, which the Lord spake to Ahijah the Shilonite concerning Jeroboam the son of Nebat.” All this, indeed, was done by the will of man, although the turning was from the Lord.

Read the books of the Chronicles, and you will find the following passage in the second book: “Moreover, the Lord stirred up against Jehoram the spirit of the Philistines, and of the Arabians, that were neighbours to the Ethiopians; and they came up to the land of Judah, and ravaged it, and carried away all the substance which was found in the king’s house.” Here it is shown that God stirs up enemies to devastate the countries which He adjudges deserving of such chastisement. Still, did these Philistines and Arabians invade the land of Judah to waste it with no will of their own? Or were their movements so directed by their own will that the Scripture lies which tells us that “the Lord stirred up their spirit” to do all this? Both statements to be sure are true, because they both came by their own will, and yet the Lord stirred up their spirit; and this may also with equal truth be stated the other way: The Lord both stirred up their spirit, and yet they came of their own will. For the Almighty sets in motion even in the innermost hearts of men the movement of their will, so that He does through their agency whatsoever He wishes to perform through them, even He who knows not how to will anything in unrighteousness. 

After listing other similar passages in Scripture, Augustine comments again:

From these statements of the inspired word, and from similar passages which it would take too long to quote in full, it is, I think, sufficiently clear that God works in the hearts of men to incline their wills whithersoever He wills, whether to good deeds according to His mercy, or to evil after their own deserts; His own judgment being sometimes manifest, sometimes secret, but always righteous. This ought to be the fixed and immoveable conviction of your heart, that there is no unrighteousness with God. Therefore, whenever you read in the Scriptures of Truth, that men are led aside, or that their hearts are blunted and hardened by God, never doubt that some ill deserts of their own have first occurred, so that they justly suffer these things. Thus you will not run counter to that proverb of Solomon: “The foolishness of a man perverteth his ways, yet he blameth God in his heart.” Grace, however, is not bestowed according to men’s deserts; otherwise grace would be no longer grace.9 For grace is so designated because it is given gratuitously.

 Augustine of Hippo, “A Treatise on Grace and Free Will,” in Saint Augustin: Anti-Pelagian Writings, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. Peter Holmes, vol. 5, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1887), 462-3.

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

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The Faltering Christian Making it Home (Goodwin)

The Works of Thomas Goodwin, vol. 5 God’s promise to perfect his children even extends to Christians who are backsliding or languishing in the faith.  Even in them God will restore and revive the principles of spiritual life.  This is proved by comparing Hebrews 13:20-21 with 1 Peter 5:10.  Thomas Goodwin (d. 1680) argued this truth of perseverance/preservation well in chapter 13 of his book called A Discourse of Election.  Here’s part of it that I found especially comforting:

And as for my text (Heb. 13:20-21), if you observe the ground of the promise of preservation there, it is not founded upon men’s having continued in an exact walking, in every good work all along from their calling, without any falterings or interruption…to be sure there is no mention of that, but it is founded upon this, that the God of all grace having effectually called them, he will see to it to perfect that work in them in the end, and to the end, and so to bring them back from their wanderings, and strayings aside if they fall out, and to take care not to allow them so far to stray as not to be rescued.

Goodwin was of course talking about the perseverance of the saints here.  He then gave the illustration of a sailor making his final destination even though he had been blown off course from time to time:

So as prove the case, what it may fall out to be in some of these called — and there is not a greater variation and deviation from the north point in the compass, in the several latitudes those that sail run through, than there falls out in variety of cases to these, that yet are a-carrying on to heaven, and will certainly be brought thither — over and besides their driving up and down through several winds of temptations, that like gusts come upon them; whilst vet, take the general steerage of their course, and it is to their desired haven.

Next Goodwin mentioned how the sovereign grace of God is behind the perseverance of the saints:

And the ground of that foundation (perseverance/preservation), namely, that they have been called, lies yet deeper, even in the heart of God that calleth (as Rom. 9, the apostle states it), even in this, ‘The God of all grace, who hath called;’ and the strength of it lies in this: that the same grace that God put forth in calling them – when they were utterly void of all good works at first, and destitute of the principles thereof, ‘dead in sins and trespasses,’ – hath engaged itself to perfect it (and will do it, as the promise is, 1 Thes. 5:24, ‘Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it’) he retaining the same grace in his heart towards them….

Thomas Goodwin, The Works of Thomas Goodwin, vol. 9 (Edinburgh: James Nichol, 1864), 389–390.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

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

Inquiring after the Weeds (Owen)

The Works of John Owen (24 vols.) I appreciate this section in John Owen’s “Of The Mortification of Sin in Believers”:

There are two things that are suited to humble the souls of men, and they are, first, a due consideration of God, and then of themselves; of God, in his greatness, glory, holiness, power, majesty, and authority; of ourselves, in our mean, abject, and sinful condition. Now, of all things in our condition, there is nothing so suited unto this end and purpose as that which lies before us; namely, the vile remainders of enmity against God which are yet in our hearts and natures.

And it is no small evidence of a gracious soul when it is willing to search itself in this matter, and to be helped therein from a word of truth; when it is willing that the word should dive into the secret parts of the heart, and rip open whatever of evil and corruption lies therein. The prophet says of Ephraim, Hos. 10:11, “He loved to tread out the corn” he loved to work when he might eat, to have always the corn before him: but God, says he, would “cause him to plough;” a labor no less needful, though at present not so delightful. Most men love to hear of the doctrine of grace, of the pardon of sin, of free love, and suppose they find food therein; however, it is evident that they grow and thrive in the life and notion of them. But to be breaking up the fallow ground of their hearts, to be inquiring after the weeds and briers that grow in them, they delight not so much, though this be no less necessary than the other.

This path is not so beaten as that of grace, nor so trod in, though it be the only way to come to a true knowledge of grace itself. It may be some, who are wise and grown in other truths, may yet be so little skilled in searching their own hearts, that they may be slow in the perception and understanding of these things. But this sloth and neglect is to be shaken off, if we have any regard unto our own souls

 Owen, J. (n.d.). The works of John Owen. (W. H. Goold, Ed.) (Vol. 6, pp. 200–201). Edinburgh: T&T Clark.

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

The “Old Filth” of Legalism (Fisher)

 Legalism is one of those things that keeps creeping up in the Christian life and in the Christian church.  For example, some people say that there’s a final justification which depends upon our works.  Others talk about justification by faith alone, but then go on to define faith as faithfulness.  Still others have rules for the Christian life or church that aren’t taught in Scripture, such as which Bible translation to use, how to dress for worship, which type of schooling is best for children, and so forth.  This error of legalism is nothing new, of course.  The church has been dealing with it a long time.  One good example is found in Edward Fisher’s Marrow of Modern Divinity, where by way of dialogue he explains legalism and refutes it with Scripture and an emphasis on the gospel of grace.

In one section of The Marrow called “The Natural Bias Towards the Covenant of Works,” Fisher explains how people in general think according to the covenant of works.  That is, people generally believe that God is the great Master of heaven, and man is the servant that must work to receive wages.

“…It is the general opinion of men’s reason throughout the whole world, that righteousness is gotten by the works of the law; and the reason is, because the covenant was engendered in the  minds of men in the very creation, so that man naturally can judge no otherwise of the law than as a covenant of works, which was given to make righteous, and to give life and salvation.”

Fisher then writes, quoting Luther, that this view of the law and obedience

‘is so deeply rooted in man’s reason, and all mankind so wrapped in it, that they can hardly get out; yea, I myself,’ says he, ‘have now preached the gospel nearly twenty years, and have been exercised in the same daily, by reading and writing, so that I may well seem to be rid of this wicked opinion; yet, notwithstanding, I now and then feel this old filth cleave to my heart, whereby it cometh to pass that I would willingly have so to do with God, that I would bring something with myself, because of which he should give me his grace.’

In other words, even Luther struggled with the “old filth” of legalism, the idea that we can earn God’s favor by obedience.  Later Fisher writes this:

…It is to be feared that there be divers [many] who in words are able to distinguish between the law and the gospel, and in their judgments hold and maintain, that man is justified by faith without the works of the law; and yet in effect and practice, that is to say, in heart and conscience, do otherwise.  And there is some touch of this in us all; otherwise we should not be so up and down in our comforts and believing as we are still, and cast down with every weakness as we are.

What is the antidote or medicine for the “old filth” of legalism?  A constant and continual emphasis on the great truths of Scripture: we’re justified by grace alone, through faith alone (apart from all of our works), in Christ alone! We need to let these gospel truths saturate our hearts and minds – in doing so, we’ll be able to better fight legalism and it’s effects.

The above quotes are found on pages 105-106 of Fisher’s Marrow.

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

Grace, Gentiles, and the OT (Davis)

 God’s plan of salvation always included both Jews and Gentiles.  Including the Gentiles as recipients of grace was not God’s plan B, but part of his original plan.  This is clearly seen already in the Old Testament.  Dale Ralph Davis has a helpful commentary on 1 Kings 17:8-12 that talks about God’s grace shown to a foreigner.  Specifically, this is the story where Elijah goes to the widow in Zarephath during the famine brought on by Ahab’s idolatry.

Let us look more closely at this widow. What really fascinates us is her mailing address: ‘Rise, go to Zarephath which belongs to Sidon’ (v. 9). Zarephath stood about eight miles south of Sidon and thirteen miles north of Tyre (and about 80 miles north of Samaria), in the domain of Jezebel’s daddy Ethbaal (16:31). So Elijah is headed for Baalsville in Gentileland. Here one of Baal’s subjects will trust in Yahweh’s word (vv. 14, 15) and will find that Yahweh daily sustains her (v. 16), though Baal had left her in the pit of hopelessness and on the verge of death (v. 12). Yahweh will press her into his service for the benefit of his prophet and yet in the process give her far more than he demands of her. Here is a gentile widow awash in the wideness of God’s mercy; here is grace that moves beyond the boundaries of the covenant people and embraces one of Baal’s most hopeless pawns. We know her address but not her name, and yet this nameless widow joins the likes of Melchizedek (Gen. 14), Jethro (Exod. 18), Rahab (Josh. 2, 6), Ruth, Naaman (2 Kings 5), and Ebedmelech (Jer. 38) as one of those standing within the circle of Yahweh’s grace long before the glad day when Peter preached Jesus in Cornelius’ house and the Holy Spirit fell upon all the riff-raff (Acts 10–11). What happens in the street and house in Zarephath in 1 Kings 17 is but a foregleam of that day when God would grant ‘even to the gentiles repentance that leads to life’ (Acts 11:18).

 Davis, D. R. (2002). 1 Kings: The Wisdom and the Folly (pp. 211–212). Great Britain: Christian Focus Publications.

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

Am I A Christian? Doubts and Grace (Brooks)

 One normal but difficult part of the Christian life is when doubts arise and a person wonders whether he or she is truly a Christian.  When Christians struggle with sin, lack strong feelings for the things of God, or find it difficult to pray and read Scripture, doubts creep up.  “Am I really a Christian?”  There are many good biblical themes to discuss at this point, but one of them I’d like to bring up for now is a wise word from Thomas Brooks about God’s work of grace in the hearts of his people.  Brooks’ argument in the following selection basically goes like this: “If a person has even the smallest work of grace in his or her heart, he or she is most definitely a Christian.”  Here’s how Brooks put it (I edited it slightly to make it easier to read):

Consider that the least degree of grace—if it is true grace—is sufficient to salvation; for the promises of life and glory, of forgiveness and salvation, of everlasting happiness and blessedness, are not made to high degrees of grace—but to the reality and truth of grace in the heart.  The promises are not made to faith in a person’s triumph—but to faith in God’s truth. Therefore the sense and evidence of the least grace, yes, of the least degree of the least grace, may afford some measure of assurance. Grace is the fruit of the Spirit, Gal. 5:22. And the tree is known by his fruit, Mat. 12:33; Mark 16:16; John 3:16, 36; Mat. 5:1; John 6:40.

I do not say that weak grace will afford a strong assurance, or a full assurance, for strong assurance rather arises from strength of grace than from truth of grace in the heart—but I do say, weak grace may give some assurance.  An eminent minister, who was a famous instrument of converting many to God, was accustomed to say, that for his own part, he had no other evidence in himself of being in the state of grace, than that he was sensible of his spiritual deadness!  Oh, that all weak Christians would seriously lay this to heart, for it may serve to relieve them against many fears, doubts, discouragements, and jealousies, which do much disturb the peace and comfort of their precious souls.

Though the least measures of grace cannot satisfy a sincere Christian—yet they ought to quiet his conscience, and cheer his heart, and confirm his judgment of his saving interest in Christ. The least measure of grace is like a diamond, very little in bulk—but of high price and mighty value.  Therefore we are to improve it for our comfort and encouragement. A goldsmith makes reckoning of the least filings of gold, and so should we of the least measures of grace in our hearts. A man may read the king’s image upon a silver penny, as well as upon a larger piece of coin. The least grain of grace bears the image of God upon it; and why then should it not evidence the goodness and happiness of a Christian’s estate? Slight not the lowest evidences of grace!

Again, and in other words, just like a tiny faith is true and saving faith, so a “small” work of grace in the heart is true grace, and proof that a person is a Christian.

You can find the above section in its entirety here: Thomas Brooks, A Cabinet of Jewels, chapter I.VI.  It’s also found in volume three of Brooks’ Works (p. 259-60).

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015