Arminianism and the Stage Coach Guard (Toplady)

The Works of Augustus M. Toplady (6 vols.)Here’s a helpful illustration on the perseverance of the saints by Augustus Toplady:

Arminianism represents God’s Spirit, as if he acted like the guard of a stage-coach, who sees the passengers safe out of town for a few miles; and then, making his bow, turns back, and leaves them to pursue the rest of the journey by themselves. But divine grace does not thus deal by God’s travellers. It accompanies them to their journey’s end, and without fail. So that the meanest pilgrim to Zion may shout, with David, in full certainty of faith, “Surely, goodness and mercy shall follow me all my days, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord for ever”. Therefore, for preserving grace, “Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but to thy name give the glory,” for thy loving mercy, and for thy truth’s sake.

After God has led his people through the wilderness of life, and brought them to the edge of that river which lies between them and the heavenly Canaan, will he suspend his care of them, in that time of deepest need? No, blessed be his name! On the contrary, he always – safely, and, generally, comfortably – escorts them over to the other side; to that good land which is very far off, to that goodly mountain, and Lebanon.

Augustus M. Toplady, The Works of Augustus M. Toplady, vol. 3 (London: Richard Baynes, 1825), 186.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI

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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

The Rewards of Heaven (Hodge)

Below is a helpful way to talk about justification through faith alone, by grace alone, in Christ alone and the rewards of heaven promised in Scripture (Mt. 6:4, Mk. 9:41, 1 Cor. 3:14, etc.).  They are not contradictory!  I appreciate the emphasis on grace and Christ’s work:

…Although Protestants deny the merit of good works, and teach that salvation is entirely gratuitous, that the remission of sins, adoption into the family of God, and the gift of the Holy Spirit are granted to the believer, as well as admission into heaven, solely on the ground of the merits of the Lord Jesus Christ; they nevertheless teach that God does reward his people for their works. Having graciously promised for Christ’s sake to overlook the imperfection of their best services, they have the assurance founded on that promise that he who gives to a disciple even a cup of cold water in the name of a disciple, shall in no wise lose his reward. The Scriptures also teach that the happiness or blessedness of believers in a future life will be greater or less in proportion to their devotion to the service of Christ in this life. Those who love little, do little; and those who do little, enjoy less. What a man sows that shall he also reap. As the rewards of heaven are given on the ground of the merits of Christ, and as He has a right to do what He will with his own, there would be no injustice were the thief saved on the cross as highly exalted as the Apostle Paul. But the general drift of Scripture is in favor of the doctrine that a man shall reap what he sows; that God will reward every one according to, although not on account of his works. (Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, vol. 3, pages 244-5)

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

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

 

 

 

The Church Here and There (Turretin)

In Reformed theology there are various ways to describe Christ’s church.  One of the descriptions is to distinguish between the church militant and the church triumphant.  This is not to say there are two churches.  It is simply a way to explain the state or degree of Christ’s church.  Christ’s church exists in a twofold state: on earth, and in heaven.  Some of his people have died and gone to be with him; others of us are still battling sin and evil here on earth.  The church in heaven is at rest, the church on earth is in a struggle.  Again, this is not to divide Christ’s church, it is just a way of explaining Christ’s one church here (on earth) and the church there (in heaven).  Francis Turretin’s comments on this topic are excellent (I’ve edited them for ease of reading):

Here we walk by faith, not by sight;
while there, faith being changed into sight, place will be given for sight alone.
Here hope sustains;
there fruition will satisfy us.
Here the word and sacrament are the mirrors in which God presents himself for contemplation and the means by which he draws near to us;
there we will behold God face to face without a veil or means and intimately enjoy him.

Here is the place of groans and sighs, of the cross and trials because we live in a vale of tears where we are continually attacked by enemies and pressed by innumerable evils;
there, however, is the place of joys and exultation because, being delivered from all evils, there will be nothing which can bring weariness or grief to us, nothing, on the other hand, which will not contribute to our solid and constant gladness.

Here will always be the place for prayers and wishes to avert the evils which threaten us and procure the blessings which are wanting;
but there in the absence of all evil and the presence of all good, there will be nothing anymore for us to fear, overcome or desire. There will be no need to weary God with prayers, the witnesses of our need, but praises giving glory to him for his manifold wisdom, invincible power, perfect justice, inexhaustible goodness and unspeakable mercy, and other wonderful attributes in which the works of nature and grace, in the world and in the church, in creation and in redemption, in the gathering, protecting, sanctifying and full glorification of his church he has exercised and will forever exercise.

Francis Turretin, Institutes, vol. 3, p. 634.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

That Your Joy May Be Complete (Anselm)

Here’s a great prayer from Anselm in his Proslogion, which he wrote in 1077-1078.

“I pray, O God, that I may know You and love You, so that I may rejoice in You.  And if I cannot do so fully in this life may I progress gradually until it comes to fullness.  Let the knowledge of You grow in me here, and there [in heaven] be made complete; let Your love grow in me here and there be made complete, so that here my joy may be great in hope, and there be complete in reality.  Lord, by Your Son You command, or rather, counsel us to ask and you promise that we shall receive so that our ‘joy may be complete’ [John 16:24].  I ask, Lord, as You counsel through our admirable counselor.  May I receive what You promise through Your truth so that my ‘joy may be complete’ [ibid.].  God of truth, I ask that I may receive so that my ‘joy may be complete’ [ibid.].  Until then let my mind meditate on it, let my tongue speak of it, let my heart love it, let my mouth preach it.  Let my soul hunger for it, let my flesh thirst for it, my whole being desire it, until I enter into the ‘joy of the Lord’ [Matt. 25:21], who is God, Three in One, ‘blessed forever.  Amen’ [Rom 9:5].”

This quote, and the entire Proslogion, is found in Anselm of Canterbury: The Major Works ed.  Brian Davies and G. R. Evans (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), among other places.

shane lems

Spiritual Doesn’t Always Mean Immaterial

 Quite often when we say or hear “spiritual” we might think of something invisible and immaterial (i.e. the ‘spiritual life’).  However, when it comes to the glory of the New Creation, the Kingdom of God in its fullness, the term “spiritual” doesn’t mean immaterial.  I like how Anthony Thiselton comments on Paul’s use of pneumatikos (spiritual) in 1 Cor. 15.44.  First, he gives his translation.

“It is sown an ordinary human body; it is raised a body constituted by the Spirit.  If there is a body for the human realm, there is also a body for the realm of the Spirit.”

Here are a few of his comments.

“The NRSV translation, ‘sown a physical body…raised a spiritual body…,’ is a misleading blunder in a version that is usually reliable and often excellent.  The contrast is not between physical and nonphysical.  The Greek word pneumatikos does not mean ‘composed of nonmaterial spirit.’  Paul uses the adjective in this epistle to denote that which reflects or instances the presence, power, and transforming activity of the Spirit.  The raised body is characterized by the uninterrupted, transforming power of the Holy Spirit of God.  It stands in contrast with the ordinary human body that has been open to the influence of the Holy Spirit, but in partial ways, still marred by human failure, fallibility, and self-interest.  The perfect openness to the Holy Spirit characteristic of the resurrection mode of being therefore brings together decay’s reversal, splendor, or ‘glory,’ power, and a mode of being constituted by the Spirit (vv. 42b-44).”

“Thus, similarly in v. 44b, such a ‘body’ or mode of being is one designed for the realm or sphere of the presence and resurrection action of the Holy Spirit, not merely for the realm of nonmaterial ‘spirit.'”

I haven’t read all of Thiselton’s Shorter Exegetical and Pastoral Commentary on 1 Corinthians, but the parts I have studied have been helpful.  I purchased this shorter one because it is a fraction of the cost of his work on 1 Cor. in the NIGTC series.  By the way, if you want to dig deeper into the above topic, you simply must read Geerhardus Vos’ essay called “The Eschatological Aspect of the Pauline Conception of the Spirit” in his Shorter Writings.  It may even be online somewhere.

shane lems