God the Sculptor (Kuyper)

 As we well know, the Bible talks about God being a potter (Is. 64:8, Jer. 18:6, Rom. 9:21, etc.).  Abraham Kuyper built on this imagery in his devotional on Philippians 2:13: For it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure (NASB).  He started by saying this:

We ourselves will, not because of ourselves, but because God so worketh in us, that now we ourselves truly and actually will to do thus and not otherwise.

Kuyper later gave the illustration of God being the sculptor of his people and discussed it in terms of sanctification and a renewal of the image of God in us:

When God worketh in us he is the omnipresent One, who is both high in heaven and close at hand. Even “close at hand” is still too weak a statement, for God is in every one of us. There is no part in our being where God is not omnipresent. This is the case with all men. But when God deals with one of his children, this inward presence is much closer and more personal, for God dwells in such an one by his Holy Spirit, If we believe that the Holy Spirit is himself God, we understand that God himself tabernacles in his child, that he has his throne in the inmost recess of the child’s soul, and thus has fellowship with him, not from afar, but in the sanctuary of his own person. There God worketh upon us by day and by night, even when we are not conscious of it. He is our Sculptor, who carves in us the image of himself, and makes us more and more to resemble his own Being. Thus he transforms us, and also the willing in us. It is God who worketh in us, not only our emotions, but also our willing, by transforming “the self that wills.”

When we understand it this way, it is plain that there is a constant holy entering in of God’s will into our will, thanks to this purifying and refining and transposing of our inmost selves. This work goes on in us mostly unobserved and unperceived, so tenderly and gently does God’s hand direct the task. But not always just like this. Sometimes the sculptor must forcibly strike off a piece from the marble, so that it crashes and splinters as it falls. These are our times of violent inward struggles, when everything within us quakes with the reverberations of moral shocks. But whether it be gentle or whether it be violent, it is ever the process of sculpturing. And the sculptor works not after a model that stands before him, but is himself the model. He forms us after his own image.

 Kuyper, A. (1918). To Be Near unto God (pp. 168–169). Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans-Sevensma Co.

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

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All of Grace, From Beginning to the End (Kuyper)

 It is true that when God sovereignly changes our hearts and gives life to what is dead, we ourselves repent, believe, and begin to obey him (see Eph. 2:1-10).  We are passive in regeneration but are active in sanctification.  True faith always shows up in truly good works.  However, it’s all of grace.  Abraham Kuyper put it well in his book on the work of the Holy Spirit.  He noted that the regenerate Christian is not passive, but active in the Christian life.  Then Kuyper wrote this:

But it is not implied that the elect and regenerate sinner is now able to do anything without God; or that if God should cease working in him, conversion and sanctification would follow of themselves.  Both these representations are untrue, un-Reformed, and unchristian, because they detract from the work of the Holy Spirit in the elect.

No; all spiritual good is of grace to the end; grace not only in regeneration, but at every step of the way of life.  From the beginning to the end and throughout eternity the Holy Spirit is the Worker, of regeneration and conversion, of justification and every part of sanctification, of glorification, and of all the bliss of the redeemed.  Nothing may be subtracted from this.

Abraham Kuyper, The Work of the Holy Spirit, p. 339.

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

Sanctification: A Supernatural Work (Hodge)

Systematic Theology (3 vols.) Charles Hodge did a nice job explaining from Scripture how sanctification is a supernatural work of God.  Here’s an edited summary of his explanation:

That sanctification is a supernatural work…is proved:

  1. From the fact that it is constantly referred to God as its author (1 Thes. 5:23, Heb. 13:20-21, Titus 2:14, Eph. 5:25, etc.)….
  2. This reference of sanctification to God as its author is special.  “Every such prayer, every thanksgiving for grace imparted, every recognition of the Christian virtues as fruits of the Spirit, and gifts of God, are so many recognitions of the great truth that the restoration of man to the image of God is not a work of nature, either originated or carried on by the efficiency of second causes, but is truly and properly supernatural, as due to the immediate power of the Spirit producing effects for which second causes are inadequate.”
  3. We find in Scripture that the continuation of spiritual life in its activity and growth is attributed to God’s almighty power (Eph. 1:19, 3:7, 3:20)….
  4. “All that the Scriptures teach concerning the union between the believer and Christ, and of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, proves the supernatural character of our sanctification. Men do not make themselves holy; their holiness, and their growth in grace, are not due to their own fidelity, or firmness of purpose, or watchfulness and diligence, although all these are required, but to the divine influence by which they are rendered thus faithful, watchful, and diligent, and which produces in them the fruits of righteousness. Without me, saith our Lord, ye can do nothing. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine, no more can ye, except ye abide in me. The hand is not more dependent on the head for the continuance of its vitality, than is the believer on Christ for the continuance of spiritual life in the soul.”

The above edited summary is found in Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, vol. 3 (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997), 218.

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

That Rebel Self (Newton)

 John Newton knew what it meant to be a saint and a sinner at the same time.  Here’s part of a letter he wrote to a Christian friend in April 1776:

I do not ask you if you are always filled with sensible comfort; but do you find your spirit more bowed down at the feet and will of Jesus, so as to be willing to serve him for the sake of serving him, and to follow him, as we say, through thick and thin; to be willing to be anything or nothing, so that he may be glorified?

I could give you plenty of good advice upon this head [topic], but I am ashamed to do it, because I so poorly follow it myself.  I want to live with him by the day, to do all for him, to receive all from him, to possess all in him, to live all to him, to make him my hiding-place and my resting-place.  I want to deliver up that rebel Self to him in chains; but the rogue, like Proteus, puts on so many forms, that he slips through my fingers: but I think I know what I would do if I could fairly catch him.

My soul is like a besieged city: a legion of enemies without the gates, and a nest of restless traitors within that hold a correspondence with them without – so that I am deceived and counteracted continually… Indeed it is a miracle that I still hold out.  I trust, however, I shall be supported to the end, and that my Lord will at length raise the siege, and cause me to shout deliverance and victory.

John Newton, Wise Counsel, p. 87-88.

Shane Lems

Affliction, Purpose, and Mercy (Bruce)

 I’m enjoying this book of Robert Bruce’s sermons on Isaiah 38 (Hezekiah’s sickness and recovery).  In his first sermon, Bruce explained how the suffering of God’s people is not exactly the same as the suffering of those who are not God’s people.  Here’s what he wrote:

[Hezekiah’s story] teaches us not to measure the favor or displeasure of God by any external event here on earth.  For if we consider some visitation of God upon his child, if we dwell on the nature of the plague or affliction, both its quality and quantity, if we look to the lengthy duration of the plague, in the opinion of onlookers and of the person who is afflicted, after some time he will begin to think he is in a worse case than any of the reprobate.

But however it may be regarded in the heart and judgment of man, it is far otherwise in the judgment and heart of God.  For hidden in the heart of God concerning those who are his children is one purpose, but a very different purpose concerning the reprobate.  I will explain: when the affliction is common to us and to them, the cause for the affliction is by no means the same, neither is God’s purpose the same.  As to the godly, our affliction flows from the favor, love, and mercy of God in Christ Jesus and is directed towards our great profit and advantage, that is, that we being corrected here may not perish in eternity along with the wicked of this world.

On the other hand, the affliction visited on the reprobate flows from the burning wrath and indignation of God, as from the righteous judge; for he is initiating the punishment in this life that will continue for all eternity.

Therefore, as affliction to the ungodly is the harbinger of divine judgment, for those who love him it is a merciful correction.

Robert Bruce, The Way to True Peace and Rest, p.3-4.

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

Suffering and One Foot In Front of the Other

 For those of you who know what it means to go through a very hard trial, you probably understand sayings like this: “One day at a time,” and “I’m just putting one foot in front of the other.”  Trials and suffering are the mud and muck of life that slow you down, trip you up, and clog up your daily activities.  Everything slows down and you just have to focus on taking one more step ahead.

Maybe you could set a state record for hospital visits in one month; maybe you have a pounding headache from trying to sort out medical bills, or maybe you’re praying that God would keep your husband’s suffering down (if it’s His will).  Perhaps you’re dreading the next IV or worrying that your recent blood test will have bad results.  Sometimes you’re simply praying for a few hours of sleep and relief.  It’s just one day at a time!  I like how Tim Keller speaks of walking with God through trials:

“Walking with God through suffering means treating God as God and as there, as present.  Walking is something non-dramatic, rhythmic – it consists of steady, repeated actions you can keep up in a sustained way for a long time.  God did not tell Abraham in Genesis 17:1 to ‘somersault before me’ or even ‘run before me’ because no one can keep such behavior up day in and day out.  There are many people who think of spiritual growth as something like high diving.  They say, ‘I am going to give my life to the Lord! I am going to change all these terrible habits, and I am really going to transform! Give me another six months, and I am going to be a new man or new woman.’ That is not what a walk is.  A walk is day in and day out obeying, talking to Christian friends, and going to corporate worship, committing yourself to and fully participating in the life of the church.  It is rhythmic, on and on and on.  To walk with God is a metaphor that symbolizes slow and steady progress.

…Walking with God through suffering means that, in general, you will not experience some kind of instant deliverance from your questions, your sorrow, your fears.  There can be, as we shall see, times in which you receive a surprising, in explicable ‘peace that passes understanding.’  There will be days in which some new insight comes to you like a ray of light in a dark room.  There will certainly be progress – that is part of the metaphor of walking – but in general it will be slow and steady progress that comes only if you stick to the regular, daily activities of the walking itself.  ‘The path of the righteous is like the [earliest] morning sun, shining ever brighter till the light of full day’ (Prov. 4:18).

Timothy Keller, Walking with God through Pain and Suffering, p. 236-7.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

Not Trusting My Own Merits (Calvin)

Tracts and Treatises of John Calvin (8 vols.)  Those whom God justifies he also sanctifies.  These two truths are twin truths.  Where one is the other will also be.  We don’t want to separate justification and sanctification.  On the other hand, we don’t want to mix them together.  We need to make a proper biblical distinction between the two or we mess up the gospel of grace.  John Calvin understood this and explained it well more than a few times.  Here’s one instance from his tract called “On the True Method of Giving Peace to Christendom and Reforming the Church.”  (Note that “regeneration” in this context is broadly defined and means renewal and sanctification.)

Let the children of God consider that regeneration is necessary to them, but that, nevertheless, their full righteousness consists in Christ:

—let them understand that they have been ordained and created unto holiness of life and the study of good works, but that, nevertheless, they must recline on the merits of Christ with their whole soul;

—let them enjoy the righteousness of life which has been bestowed upon them, still, however, distrusting it so as not to bring before the tribunal of God any other trust than trust in the obedience of Christ.

 John Calvin and Henry Beveridge, Tracts Relating to the Reformation, vol. 3 (Edinburgh: Calvin Translation Society, 1851), 246.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015