The Absolute Sovereignty and Supremacy of God (Hodge)

The Works of Charles Hodge (29 vols.) Charles Hodge left behind several hand written sermons he gave on various passages from Romans.  They are quite good to say the least!  I just finished his sermon called “Glory of Salvation” based on Romans 11:33-36.  At one point in the sermon he says that these words of Paul have to do with the “absolute supremacy and sovereignty” of God”:

“The truth here contemplated is presented under two aspects. 1) God is absolutely independent of his creatures and 2) We can in no way place God under any obligation to us. When it is said that God is independent of his creatures, it is not meant merely that they are not necessary to his perfection or happiness but that in his knowledge, determinations and acts, he needs no counsellor and receives no aid. He does not derive knowledge from his creatures, He does not know things because they are, but they are, because he knows and determines them to be. His determinations also are not suspended on the acts of his creatures, but the acts of the creature on his determinations for he foreordains whatsoever comes to pass. This is only saying that the concatenation [interconnection] of events is not determined by fate, nor by blind unconscious nature, nor by chance, nor by the finite knowledge and wayward will of man, but by the infinite intelligence, wisdom goodness and power of God. He governs all his creatures and all their actions in a way consistent at once with their nature and his own perfections.

And finally, he is independent of his creatures because the ultimate ground or reason of all his acts is in himself and not in them. The final ground of all he does is the good pleasure of his will, that will however, is the sum of all wisdom and excellence. In saying, therefore, that the grounds of God’s acts are in himself and not in the creature, we only say they are determined by infinite wisdom and goodness.

And when, in reference to the other aspect of the truth here contemplated, we say that men can place God under no obligation, it is not meant merely that they owe their existence and all their powers to Him, but that they can merit nothing, and of themselves do nothing that places God under any obligation to grant them his favour. It is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy.

 Charles Hodge, “Glory of Salvation,” in Select Sermons of Charles Hodge (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2015).

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

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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

The Means and Ends Cooperate (Bavinck)

Here’s a deep theological thought for the day, a truth that magnifies the sovereignty of God: “With God, means and ends always cooperate.”  Herman Bavinck wrote those words, followed by these statements which highlight God’s sovereign decree:

“In his decree the causes and the consequences, the pathways and outcomes are established in indissoluble connection with each other.  His decree is no loose assembly of various incidental phenomena that exist on their own, but consist of a complex of decisions intimately related, forming an unbreakable whole and a system of divine ideas, one single arrangement of everything that will exist or occur within time.

God executes this decree within time.  Therefore everything that happens within time is mutually related in the same unbreakable way as the ideas and decisions within God’s eternal decree are related.  Therefore we human beings are bound to means; anyone pursuing a goal must travel the path leading toward that goal.  …The Lord holds himself to the means which he established in his counsel for attaining his ends.  Predestination embraces not only the eternal state of rational creatures, but also the determination of the means and paths leading to that eternal state.”

For the biblical background of these statements, see Isaiah 40-46 and Ephesians 1, among other texts.  And if you’re interested in the larger context of the quote, you can find it in Saved by Grace, page 133.

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

All Things for Good: Other People’s Sins? (Watson)

 Sin, of course, is not a good thing.  Sin is evil; sin is lawlessness.  However, in God’s sovereignty, he can use sin for the benefit of his people.  Paul said it very clearly: All things work together for the good of those who love God (Rom. 8:28).  “All things” includes those instances when people sin and hurt us in doing so.  In “All Things for Good,” Thomas Watson listed several ways how the sins of others work for our good.  Here’s one of them worth contemplating:

“The sins of others work for good, as they are glasses [mirrors] in which we may see our own hearts.  Behold a picture of our hearts.  Such should we be, if God did leave us.  What is in other men’s practice is in our nature.  Sin in the wicked is like fire on a beacon that flames and blazes forth; sin in the godly is like fire in the embers.

Christian, though you do not break forth into a flame of scandal, yet you have no cause to boast, for there is much sin raked up in the embers of your nature.  You have the root of bitterness in you, and you would bear as hellish fruit as any, if God did not either curb you by His power, or change you by His grace.”

That’s a very insightful Christian thought!  When someone else sins, rather than bragging that I’m better, I remember that I too am sinful and if it weren’t for God’s grace and power, I too would act out in all sorts of evil ways.  So the sins of others should not make me proud, but humble.  It will still hurt when people are sinfully cruel to us, but as Christians we can be confident that God will use it for our good.

The above quote is found on page 47 of All Things for Good.

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

The “Admirable Method” of God’s Providence (Calvin)

Tracts and Treatises of John Calvin (8 vols.) Around 1560 John Calvin wrote “A Brief Confession of Faith” which was probably meant to be a shorter version of his larger confession for French Reformed churches.  Like other Protestant confessions of faith, it gives a good summary of the main teachings of Scripture – summaries which date back to the Nicene and Apostles’ creeds.  Below I’ve posted a paragraph on providence from “A Brief Confession of Faith.”  God’s sovereign providence is a comforting reality for the Christian.  As we face trials and hardships in life, we pray for submission to the good providence of our good God:

I confess that God once created the world to be its perpetual Governor, but in such manner that nothing can be done or happen without his counsel and providence. And though Satan and the reprobate plot the confusion of all things, and even believers themselves pervert right order by their sins, yet I acknowledge that the Lord, as the Sovereign Prince and ruler of all, brings good out of evil; in short, [he] directs all things as by a kind of secret reins, and overrules them by a certain admirable method, which it becomes us to adore with all submissiveness of mind, since we cannot embrace it in thought.

Calvin, J., & Beveridge, H. (1849). Tracts Relating to the Reformation (Vol. 2, pp. 130–131). Edinburgh: Calvin Translation Society.

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

The “Unspeakable Consolation” of Providence

One of the great things about the Christian faith is the deep comfort it brings to the weary heart – specifically I’m thinking of God’s sovereign providence.  Scripture abounds with teaching that our Triune God is in complete control of all things for the good of his people (e.g. Lk 21:18, Rom. 8:28, 1 Cor. 15:27, 2 Cor. 9:8, etc). Here are a few comforting quotes on providence from some Reformation confessions and teachers:

 “This doctrine affords us unspeakable consolation, since we are taught thereby that nothing can befall us by chance, but by the direction of our most gracious and heavenly Father.” Belgic Confession of Faith XIII.

 “As the providence of God doth, in general, reach to all creatures; so after a special manner it taketh care of his church, and disposeth all things to the good thereof.”  Westminster Confession of Faith 5.7.

 “Knowledge of this doctrine…is the beginning of true happiness.”  Caspar Olevian in A Firm Foundation.

 “Our faith does not look to those means which God uses [in providence], nor does it depend on them, but rather to God who alone can relieve all our necessities, either with or without means as it appears good to him.”  William Ames in The Marrow of Theology.

 “God by his providence preserves his church in the midst of enemies; a spark kept alive in the ocean, or a flock of sheep among wolves.”  Thomas Watson in A Body of Divinity.

“It is above all by faith in Christ that believers are enabled – in spite of all the riddles that perplex them – to cling to the conviction that the God who rules the world is the same loving and compassionate Father who in Christ forgave them all their sins, accepted them as his children, and will bequeath to them eternal salvation. … Although the riddles are not resolved, faith in God’s fatherly hand always again arises from the depths and even enables us to boast in afflictions.”  Herman Bavinck in Reformed Dogmatics II.

 “Now to understand in a spiritual way the universality of providence in every particular happening from morning to night every day, that there is nothing that befalls you but there is a hand of God in it – this is from God, and is a great help to contentment.”  Jeremiah Burroughs, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment.

 “From this contemplation of God’s providence, there ought to arise in the hearts of believers an earnest desire of patience and humility in adversity by the example of Christ, of Joseph, of Job, that in all things which happen somewhat harshly to us we may acquiesce without a murmur in the will and providence of God.”  Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, I.

(This is a re-post from August, 2010).

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

Providence and Confession of Faith (Bavinck)

 The truth of God’s providence is a source of great comfort in the Christian life.  We believe from Scripture that God is sovereign over all things, from the stars in the skies to the cattle on a thousand hills to the birds in the trees to the hairs on our heads.  Nothing happens by chance, but according to his divine providence (cf. Ps 93:1, 104:19-20, 148:8, 1 Cor. 15:24, Rev. 12:10, etc. etc.).  Herman Bavinck explained this comfort well in the closing statements of his discussion on God’s providence.  Note at the end how Bavinck alludes to the Heidelberg Catechism’s great summary of providence in Lord’s Day 10:

In this consoling fashion Scripture deals with the providence of God. Plenty of riddles remain, both in the life of individuals and in the history of the world and humankind…. But God lets the light of his Word shine over all these enigmas and mysteries, not to solve them, but that “by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Rom. 15:4).

The doctrine of providence is not a philosophical system but a confession of faith, the confession that, notwithstanding appearances, neither Satan nor a human being nor any other creature, but God and he alone—by his almighty and everywhere present power—preserves and governs all things. Such a confession can save us both from a superficial optimism that denies the riddles of life, and from a presumptuous pessimism that despairs of this world and human destiny.

For the providence of God encompasses all things, not only the good but also sin and suffering, sorrow and death. For if these realities were removed from God’s guidance, then what in the world would there be left for him to rule? God’s providence is manifest not only, nor primarily, in the extraordinary events of life and in miracles but equally as much in the stable order of nature and the ordinary occurrences of daily life. What an impoverished faith it would be if it saw God’s hand and counsel from afar in a few momentous events but did not discern it in a person’s own life and lot? It leads all these things toward their final goal, not against but agreeably to their nature, not apart from but through the regular means; for what power would there be in a faith that recommended stoical indifference or fatalistic acquiescence as true godliness?

But so, as the almighty and everywhere present power of God, it makes us grateful when things go well and patient when things go against us, prompts us to rest with childlike submission in the guidance of the Lord and at the same time arouses us from our inertia to the highest levels of activity. In all circumstances of life, it gives us good confidence in our faithful God and Father that he will provide whatever we need for body and soul and that he will turn to our good whatever adversity he sends us in this sad world, since he is able to do this as almighty God and desires to do this as a faithful Father.

 Herman Bavinck, John Bolt, and John Vriend, Reformed Dogmatics: God and Creation, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2004), 618–619.

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