Don’t Forget about Satan! (Kuyper)

Abraham Kuyper, “To Be Near Unto God”

For various reasons, sometimes Christians forget that Satan and his demonic horde really exist.  We know the stories in the Gospels where Jesus sent the demons running, but we sometimes forget the fact that Satan really prowls around like a roaring lion seeking to devour us (1 Pet 5:8).  We know that the NT epistles tell us to watch out for Satan’s schemes and attacks, but it’s not always on our minds (Eph 6:11, 2 Cor 2:11, etc.).  No doubt Satan loves it when Christians forget about him and his demonic ways.  I appreciate how Abraham Kuyper put it:

It should be carefully observed, that like a thief, Satan is most pleased when his presence and his work are not noticed. In circles where his existence is denied or ridiculed, his hands are altogether free to murder souls according to his liking. But that he can be so strangely forgotten by those who are more inclined to believe the Gospel, offers him the finest chances to poison souls. We may be sure that in all this denial and in all this forgetting of the actual existence of Satan, a trick of Satan himself operates. When the mighty spirit of Christ moved the waves of the sea of life in Palestine, Satan did not succeed with this for a moment, and Jesus compelled him to show himself. But now he succeeds in keeping himself in hiding, and unseen and unnoticed, from the ambush, to inwork his character, and consequently with better effect.

Abraham Kuyper, To Be Near unto God (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans-Sevensma Co., 1918), 553.

Satan is crafty in his evil and even disguises himself as an angel of light (2 Cor 11:4).  This isn’t to say that Satan is behind every door and every bad thing that happens, but it is to say he’s real, he’s on the prowl, and he’s trying his demonic best to wreck the peace and purity of the Church and the life of the Christian. Be on your guard, brother or sister!

Thankfully, Christ is on the throne and not even Satan and the hordes of hell can separate us from our Lord (John 10:28).  Satanic attacks may be real and fierce, but just as Jesus prayed for Peter, he’s praying for his people today, that their faith will not fail (Lk 22:32).  In Christ, and clothed with the armor of God, we can do all things through his strength – including resisting the devil or fleeing from him (depending on the circumstance).  The victory belongs to the Lord – and those who are in Him!

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

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More than Conquerors? (Carson)

D.A. Carson “Love of God” Collection (3 vols.)What does it mean in Romans 8:37 when Paul says that followers of Christ are “more than conquerors” (ESV) or “have complete victory” (NET)?  D. A. Carson gives some good answers to this question based on the context of Romans 8:

First, the “us” to whom the apostle refers includes all Christians. All Christians are the ones whom God has foreknown, “predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son,” called, justified, glorified (8:29–30). The people referred to are not the elite of the elect; they are ordinary Christians, all genuine Christians.

Second, the actual evidence that they are “more than conquerors” is that they persevere regardless of all opposition. That opposition may take the form of horrible persecution, of the kind that Scripture describes (8:35–38). It may be some other hardship, all the way to famine. The glories of life will not finally seduce them; the terrors of death will not finally sway them; neither the pressures of the present nor the frustrations of the future will destroy them (8:38). Neither human powers nor anything else in all creation, not even all the powers of hell unleashed, can “separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (8:39).

Third, as the last sentence already makes clear, that from which Christians cannot be finally separated is the “love of Christ” (8:35) or the love of God in Christ (8:39). At one level, of course, that is simply saying that no power can stop Christians from being Christians. That is why we are “more than conquerors.” But that point could have been made a lot of different ways. To make it this way, with an emphasis on the love of Christ as that from which we cannot be separated, reminds us of the sheer glory and pleasure that is ours, both now and in eternity, to be in such a relationship. We are not simply acquitted; we are loved. We are loved not simply by a peer, but by God himself. Nor is this a reference to the general love that God has for his entire creation. What is at stake here is that special love that attaches to “all who have been called according to his purpose” (8:28).

Fourth, the guarantee that we shall prevail and persevere, and prove to be “more than conquerors” in this sense, is nothing other than the sovereign purposes of God (8:29–30), manifest in the death of his Son on our behalf (8:31–35). “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (8:32). No greater security is imaginable.

 D. A. Carson, For the Love of God: A Daily Companion for Discovering the Riches of God’s Word., vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1998).

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

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

Gospel Promises and Perseverance (Owen)

The Works of John Owen, Vol. 11: Continuing in the Faith One of John Owen’s many volumes is called “The Doctrine of the Saints’ Perseverance Explained and Confirmed.”  As you might guess, it’s a great exposition of the “P” In “TULIP.”  I haven’t read it all yet, but so far it’s been very helpful and edifying.  Below is one section I ran across this morning.  It’s about gospel promises which are one more assurance that God will preserve his people.  Note how Owen distinguishes between law (covenant of works) and gospel (covenant of grace):

Gospel promises, then, are: 1. The free and gracious dispensations, and, 2. discoveries of God’s good-will and love, to, 3. sinners, 4. through Christ, 5. in a covenant of grace; 6. wherein, upon his truth and faithfulness, he engageth himself to be their God, to give his Son unto them and for them, and his Holy Spirit to abide with them, with all things that are either required in them or are necessary for them to make them accepted before him, and to bring them to an enjoyment of him.

I call them gospel promises, not as though they were only contained in the books of the New Testament, or given only by Christ after his coming in the flesh, [for they were given from the beginning of the world, or first entrance of sin, and the Lord made plentiful provision of them and by them for his people under the old testament,] but only to distinguish them from the promises of the law, which hold out a word of truth and faithfulness, engaged for a reward of life to them that yield obedience thereunto (there being an indissolvable connection between entering into life and keeping the commandments), and so to manifest that they all belong to the gospel properly so-called, or the tidings of that peace for sinners which was wrought out and manifested by Jesus Christ (Gal 3:12, Luke 2:10, Eph. 2:15, Is. 52:7).

After these paragraphs Owen goes on to expound on his definition (the opening numbered sentence above) in some detail. If you have access to this, I’d recommend it.  It’ll give you confidence in the promises of God and joy in his preserving grace!

The above quote is found in: Owen, J. (n.d.). The works of John Owen. (W. H. Goold, Ed.) (Vol. 11, p. 227). Edinburgh: T&T Clark.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Will the Lord Leave Him? (Bunyan)

Saved by Grace Most readers of this blog are familiar with these phrases: “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it; prone to leave the God I love.”  As a Christian, if you truly know your own heart, you know the reality of these words.  You know that things in this world have a strong pull and sometimes they draw you away from Jesus and you don’t act or look much like a Christian during those times.  We have to remember that this happens to other Christians too.  Other true followers of Jesus are prone to wander.  I’m not saying this to point fingers.  I’m saying this so we don’t harshly judge other Christians and quickly look down on them when they wander.  I’m saying this so we can show love, patience, and care for brothers and sisters who are currently wandering.

Thankfully Jesus’ grip on us is stronger than our grip on him.  Though we are prone to leave the God we love, he is not prone to leave the people he loves.  Here’s how John Bunyan talked about wandering (or backsliding):

…Perhaps the soul grows cold again, it also forgets this grace received, and waxeth carnal, begins again to itch after the world, loseth the life and savor of heavenly things, grieves the Spirit of God, woefully backslides, casteth off private duties quite, or else retains only the formality of them, is a reproach to religion, grieves the hearts of them that are awake, and tender of God’s name, etc.

But what will God do now? Will he take this advantage to destroy the sinner?
No.
Will he let him alone in his apostasy?
No. Will he leave him to recover himself by the strength of his now languishing graces?
No.
What then?
Why, he will seek this man out till he finds him, and bring him home to himself again: “For thus saith the Lord God, Behold, I, even I, will both search my sheep, and seek them out. As a shepherd seeketh out his flock in the day that he is among the sheep that are scattered; so will I seek out my sheep, and will deliver them out of all places where they have been scattered.—I will seek that which was lost, and bring again that which was driven away, and will bind up that which was broken, and will strengthen that which was sick” (Eze 34:11, 16).

Later Bunyan talks about a child of God who wanders more than a few times:

“My people,” says God, “are bent to backsliding from me.” How many times did David backslide; yea, Jehoshaphat and Peter! (2 Sam 11, 24; 2 Chron 19:1–3; 20:1–5; Matt 26:69–71; Gal 2:11–13). As also in Jeremiah it is said, “But thou hast played the harlot with many lovers, yet return unto me, saith the Lord.” Here is grace! So many time as the soul backslides, so many times God brings him again—I mean, the soul that must be saved by grace-he renews his pardons, and multiplies them. “Behold, God does all these oftentimes with men, to bring back his soul from the pit, that he may be enlightened with the light of life” (Job 33:29-30 [NASB]).

I am prone to wander.  I know my sinful heart.  You also are prone to wander.  We should be patient and loving towards one another and other brothers and sisters in Christ.  And, as Bunyan pointed out from Scripture, the truth of the matter is that God will not leave us when we wander; he will bring us back again and again and again.  Since God never gives up on his people, neither should we.

 Bunyan, J. (2006). Saved by Grace (Vol. 1, p. 353). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

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

The Whole Chain Holdeth (Sibbes)

The unbreakable, unchanging love of God for his children is one of the most comforting truths in Christianity.  God’s love for us in Christ is a free love.  This means it is not dependent upon something in us or something we have done or left undone.  He knew we were ungodly sinners, yet he loved us and gave his Son to die for us (cf. Rom. 5:8).  He loves his people with an everlasting love (Jer. 31:3).  When we stumble and fall, his grip of love does not waver. His love for us is firm and constant. Richard Sibbes explained the comforting aspect of God’s love very well in A Heavenly Conference.  Here’s an excerpt; notice how the love of the Lord is very much related to the perseverance of the saints:

Beloved, let us not lose the comfort of the constancy and immutability of Christ’s love. Let us conceive that all the sweet links of salvation are held on God’s part strong, not on ours; the firmness is on God’s part, not on ours. Election is firm on God’s part, not on ours. We choose indeed as he chooseth us, but the firmness is of his choosing; so he calleth us, we answer, but the firmness is of his action. He justifieth; we are made righteous, but the firmness is of his imputation. Will he forgive sins today, and bring us into court and damn us tomorrow? No. The firmness is of his action. We are ready to run into new debts every day, but whom he justifieth he will glorify. The whole chain so holdeth, that all the creatures in heaven and earth cannot break a link of it. Whom he calleth he will justify and glorify. Therefore never doubt of continuance, for it holds firm on God’s part, not thine.

God embraceth us in the arms of his everlasting love, not that we embraced him first. When the child falleth not, it is from the mother’s holding the child, and not from the child’s holding the mother. So it is God’s holding of us, knowing of us, embracing of us, and justifying of us that maketh the state firm, and not ours; for ours is but a reflection and result of his, which is unvariable. The sight of the sun varieth, but the sun in the firmament keepeth always his constant course. So God’s love is as the sun, invariable, and forever the same.

Richard Sibbes, A Heavenly Conference, p. 53-54.

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

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