God Never Seeks in Vain (Toplady)

The Works of Augustus M. Toplady, vol. 5

In Luke 15 Jesus gave a parable about a shepherd that lost one of his one hundred sheep. He asked, “Which one of you, if he has a hundred sheep and loses one of them, would not leave the ninety-nine in the open pasture and go look for the one that is lost until he finds it?” (Lk 15:4 NET). Among other things, this parable reminds us of how the Lord seeks and saves the lost. Here’s how Augustus Toplady explained it in a sermon on Luke 15:7:

Christ is a faithful and watchful shepherd. He will not suffer [allow] so much as one of his sheep to be finally lost. If an individual saint wanders from the fold, Christ goes after that soul; and never ceases from his labor of love, until that soul is found. If you or I happen to lose anything on which we set a value; we may find it, or we may not: our search may issue in the recovery of the lost object, and it may all prove fruitless and unsuccessful. Herein is a very wide difference between God’s seeking, and man’s seeking. God never seeks in vain. An earthly shepherd may lose many a sheep, and lose them beyond retrieval. But Christ never lost a sheep, which he did not seek; and never sought a sheep, which he did not find.

[The emphasis above is mine. The (sheepish) humor below is Toplady’s:]

And, when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders rejoicing. He does not suspend the return of the sheep, on the sheep’s own free-will, (which would he very sheepish policy indeed); nor stand expostulating, and giving the sheep, what Arminianism would call, “a gentle pull” by the fleece: but actually lays hold on the wanderer; takes it up in his arms; layeth it upon his shoulders, by main strength; nor lets it go, until he has actually and finally brought it home. 

 Augustus M. Toplady, The Works of Augustus M. Toplady, vol. 3 (London: Richard Baynes, 1825), 240–241.

Shane Lems
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

The Lord Opened Her Heart (Acts 16:14)

One of the places in Scripture that teaches effectual calling (irresistible grace) and the sovereignty of God in regeneration is Acts 16:14, where Luke writes this about Lydia: “The Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul (NASB).”  I appreciate Richard Sibbes’ comments on this text:

“…As our hearts are shut and closed up naturally, so God, and God alone, opens the heart, by his Spirit in the use of the means. God opened Lydia’s heart.

God hath many keys. He hath the key of heaven to command the rain to come down. He hath the key of the womb; the key of hell and the grave; and the key of the heart especially. ‘He opens, and no man shuts; and shuts and no man opens’ (Rev. 3:7). He hath the key of the heart to open the understanding, the memory, the will, and affections. God, and God only, hath the key of the heart to open that. It is his prerogative. He made the heart, and he only hath to do with the heart. He can unmake it, and make it new again, as those that make locks can do. And if the heart be in ill temper, he can take it in pieces, and bring it to nothing as it were, as it must be before conversion; and he can make it a new heart again.

It is God that opens the heart, and God only. All the angels in heaven cannot give one grace, not the least grace. Grace comes merely (only) from God. It is merely (only) from God. All the creatures in the world cannot open the heart, but God only by his Holy Spirit. For nature cannot do above its sphere, as we say, above its own power. Natural things can do but natural things. For nature to raise itself up to believe heavenly things, it cannot be. Therefore as you see vapors go as high as the sun draws them up, and no higher, so the soul of man is lift up to heavenly things by the power of God’s Spirit. God draws us and then we follow. God, I say, only openeth the heart.

Richard Sibbes, The Complete Works of Richard Sibbes, ed. Alexander Balloch Grosart, vol. 6 (Edinburgh; London; Dublin: James Nichol; James Nisbet and Co.; W. Robertson, 1863), 523–524.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church
Hammond, WI

Regeneration: Irresistible and Inadmissible

Product Details Peter Van Mastricht (d. 1706) was an outstanding Dutch Reformed scholastic, theologian, and professor in Holland during the late 17th century.  His greatest work was Theologia Theoretico-Practica, which was essentially a systematic theology for the mind and heart.  Here’s one section of that work, which specifically has to do with regeneration.  I realize the language is a bit bulky, but if you read carefully you’ll realize Mastricht is speaking about God’s sovereign grace in giving new life to dead sinners – and keeping them in that new life.

In what sense regeneration is irresistible.

“We may hence determine that regeneration is irresistible, and in what sense this is to be understood.  For if you consider what the person who is to be regenerated is – a child of wrath who is dead in sin – he certainly has depravity enough to resist (Acts 7:51).  But if you consider that it is God who regenerates and quickens, the subject of regeneration can no more resist God than Lazarus of old could have resisted Christ when He raised him to a natural life (John 11:43-44).  Nor does he have a will to resist, for, by the spiritual life instantaneously produced, all inclinations or desire of resisting are suppressed or taken away (Ezekiel 36:25-27; Jeremiah 32:39-40; cf. Galatians 1:13, Acts 9:2-6; 22:5, etc.).”

In what sense regeneration is inadmissible.

“The grace of regeneration can never be lost, nor can the grounds upon which this inadmissibility is founded (1 John 3:9, Ezekiel 36:27, 11:19-20, Jeremiah 32:39-40).  In this, indeed, it differs from the first spiritual life effected in creation by the bestowing of original righteousness, through the loss of which, by sin, our first parents became spiritually dead (Ephesians 2:1, 5), since the spiritual life bestowed by regeneration is never entirely lost.  However, the unfailing permanence of this life is by no means ascribed to the firmness and constancy of the regenerate [person], or the strength and perfection of the spiritual life; for there is, and always dwells in the regenerate [person], so much corruption that they are as likely, by their own conduct, to destroy this life as our first parents were – and indeed more so because they, before the loss of their spiritual life, were perfectly righteous and holy (Ecclesiastes 7:29).  But the impossibility of losing the grace of regeneration depends first on the grace of election and of the divine purpose; hence the gifts and calling of God are without repentance (Romans 11:29, Matthew 24:22).  Second, it depends upon preserving grace (1 Peter 1:5; John 10:28-29).

Peter Van Mastricht, A Treatise on Regeneration (Morgan: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 2002), 29-30.

rev shane lems

Second Clement, Effectual Calling, and Regeneration

2 Clement is an early sermon or “word of exhortation” that was written around 100 AD (or possible around 130 AD).  It was written not by Clement, but by an anonymous presbyter.  Michael Holmes calls it “the oldest surviving complete Christian sermon outside the New Testament.”

The sermon opens with an exhortation to “think of Jesus Christ as we do of God.”  The preacher then states that since Christ has suffered so greatly for us to save us, we owe him our praise.  Here’s how he explains this salvation (in 1:7-8).

“Our minds were blinded, and we worshiped stones and wood and gold and silver and brass, things made by humans; indeed, our whole life was nothing but death.  So while we were thus wrapped in darkness and our vision was filled with this thick mist we recovered our sight, by his will laying aside the cloud wrapped around us.”

“For he had mercy upon us and in his compassion he saved us when we had no hope of salvation except that which comes from him, even though he had seen in us much deception and destruction.  For he called us (ekalesen) when we did not exist (ouk ontaj), and out of nothing (ek mh ontoj) willed us into being.”

These are great phrases that describe God’s sovereign grace in effectual calling and regeneration.  The Apostle put it this way: God…gives life to the dead and calls (kalountoj) into existence the things that do not exist (ta mh onta wj onta) (Rom 4.17).  Even when we were dead in our trespasses [he] made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved (Eph 2:5).

This passage from 2 Clement is a great reminder that the Protestant Reformers didn’t make up the doctrines of grace; they stood in line with the historic Christian church, and on the shoulders of the Apostle Paul.

The above quote from 2 Clement can be found in The Apostolic Fathers, 3rd edition, edited and translated by Michael W. Holmes.

rev shane lems