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(31 posts)

Saul took his sword and fell on it.

Friday··2007·05·04 · 3 Comments
From my Scripture reading this morning: Now the Philistines fought against Israel; and the men of Israel fled before the Philistines and fell slain on Mount Gilboa. 2 The Philistines closely pursued Saul and his sons, and the Philistines struck down Jonathan, Abinadab and Malchi-shua, the sons of Saul. 3 The battle became heavy against Saul, and the archers overtook him; and he was wounded by the archers. 4 Then Saul said to his armor bearer, “Draw your sword and thrust me through with it, otherwise these uncircumcised will come and abuse me.” But his armor bearer would not, for he was greatly afraid. Therefore Saul took his sword and fell on it. 5 When his armor bearer saw that Saul was dead, he likewise fell on his sword and died. 6 Thus Saul died with his three sons, and all those of his house died together. 7 When all the men of Israel who were in the valley saw that they had fled, and that Saul and his sons were dead, they forsook their cities and fled; and the Philistines came and lived in them. 8 It came about the next day, when the Philistines came to strip the slain, that they found Saul and his sons fallen on Mount Gilboa. 9 So they stripped him and took his head an d his armor and sent messengers around the land of the Philistines to carry the good news to their idols and to the people. 10 They put his armor in the house of their gods and fastened his head in the house of Dagon. 11 When all Jabesh-gilead heard all that the Philistines had done to Saul, 12 all the valiant men arose and took away the body of Saul and the bodies of his sons and brought them to Jabesh, and they buried their bones under the oak in Jabesh, and fasted seven days. 13 So Saul died for his trespass which he committed against the Lord, because of the word of the Lord which he did not keep; and also because he asked counsel of a medium, making inquiry of it, 14 and did not inquire of the Lord. Therefore He killed him and turned the kingdom to David the son of Jesse. —1 Chronicles 10 Saul turned from God to a medium, and it cost him his kingdom, his life, and the lives of his sons. That is one of the lessons of this chapter, and probably the one that stands out to most readers. But there is another lesson in this account that is more easily overlooked. It is found in two facts: Saul took his own life. Of his own free choice, he fell on his sword, intentionally killing himself (v. 4).God took Saul’s life. As judgment for his disobedience and idolatry, God killed Saul (v. 13–14). Are these facts contradictory? Not at all. They only demonstrate that God exercises his sovereignty over the actions and wills of men.

Book Review: The Grand Weaver

After receiving several books for review purposes, I have learned a couple of things. First, I would rather choose my own books. Second, I don’t like reading books for the purpose of reviewing them. I would rather read for my own education and edification. With that said, I hope you’ll understand if this is not a particularly well-written review. It is, after all, my first book review, as well. The Grand Weaver: How God Shapes Us through the Events of Our Lives is the first book I have read by Ravi Zacharias. I had, of course, heard of him as an author, apologist, and conference speaker. By all reliable accounts, he is fairly sound theologically and well spoken of by others whose work I do know and respect, so my expectations going into this book were high. Perhaps those high expectations colored my thinking as I read and made me too susceptible to disappointment, and disappointed I was. I want to state clearly that this is not a bad book. It simply did not, in my opinion, demonstrate biblically “how God shapes us through the events of our lives.” Throughout the book, especially in the first half, Dr. Zacharias depends on anecdotes that illustrate the providential hand of God in directing our lives. These stories, for the most part, serve that purpose well, although, at times, I wondered if Zacharias was not leaning a bit too far toward the mystical. Too little was added by the author, however, to draw that conclusion—and that is a major complaint I have about this book. Have you ever had a conversation with someone who drops the ends of sentences and, with a meaningful look, expects you to get it? That’s how I felt reading this book. Zacharias would almost make his point, and then offer an anecdote, poem, or quatation intended to convey the message. It was like . . . you know? The second half of the book contains two chapters that are really quite good and could easily stand alone, Your Will Matters and Your Worship Matters. The following quotation from the latter is the kind of solid, straight-forward writing that is lacking elsewhere in the book: Teaching must become the center of worship again, and the ideas that shape our expressions must be biblically induced and shaped. I am not for a moment suggesting that right teaching will guarantee a throbbing, lively church. It may not. But I am suggesting that displaced and misplaced teaching will guarantee a heretical church. The message of the book is that God is directing the circumstances and events of your life to make you who he wants you to be, and that you will never see this until you begin to look at your life from his perspective. And that’s an important message. It is a message that is conveyed, after a fashion, through the stories in this book. I only wish it had been conveyed more through biblical exposition. You may enjoy the style of this book. I didn’t. If you are easily moved by poignant stories and you think anecdotes prove anything, this book is for you. If you are a pastor looking for fresh illustrations to spice up your dull sermons (because those provided in the Bible aren’t interesting enough), this book might be for you. However, if you are looking for a biblical exposition of the sovereignty and providence of God, this is not that book.

“None can drive him from his work”

And now, Christian, may be their confidence, together with the distracted state of Christ’s affairs in the work, may discompose thy spirit, concerning the issue of these rolling providences that are over our heads; but be still, poor heart, and know that the contest is not between the church and Satan, but between Christ and him. These are the two champions. Stand now, O ye army of saints, still, by faith, to see the all-wise God wrestle with a subtle devil. If you live not to see the period of these great confusions, yet generations after you shall behold the Almighty smite off this Goliath’s head with his own sword, and take this cunning hunter in the toil of his own policies; that faith which ascribes greatness and wisdom to God, will shrink up Satan’s subtlety into a nigrum nihil—a thing of nothing. Unbelief fears Satan as a lion, faith treads on him as a worm. Behold therefore thy God at work, and promise thyself that what he is about, will be an excellent piece. None can drive him from his work. —William Gurnall, The Christian in Complete Armour (Banner of Truth Trust, 2002), 1:110.

God Ordains the Means

Richard Phillips explains why Calvinism is not an impediment to evangelism: [D]ivine sovereignty does not stand against evangelism because God ordains not only the ends but also the means. He predestines some to be saved and commands us to preach to that end. If we do not preach and teach the gospel, then none will be saved. But God has ordained that some will be redeemed; He has chosen His people to be saved. So he has also ordained that we should preach and share the gospel, and therefore we will, exercising our human responsibility in accordance with His sovereign purpose. God commands all who are His to engage in evangelism; it is part of our obedience to Him. Packer explains: “We are not all called to be preachers; we are not all given equal opportunities or comparable abilities for personal dealing with men and women who need Christ. But we all have some evangelistic responsibility that we cannot shirk without failing in love both to our God and neighbor.” —Richard D. Phillips, Jesus the Evangelist (Reformation Trust Publishing, 2007), 171.

No Grace without Sovereignty

There can be no grace where there is no sovereignty. Deny God’s right to choose whom he will and you deny his right to save whom he will. Deny his right to save whom he will, and you deny that salvation is of grace. If salvation is made to hinge upon any desert or fitness in man, seen or foreseen, grace is at an end. . . . Men may call these speculations. They may condemn them as unprofitable. To the law and to the testimony! Of such speculations, the Bible is full. There man is a helpless worm, and salvation from first to last, is of the Lord. God’s will, and not man’s, is the law of the universe. If we are to maintain the gospel—if we are to hold fast to grace—if we are to preserve Jehovah’s honor—we must grasp these truths with no feeble hand. For if there be no such being as a Supreme, pre-determining Jehovah, then the universe will soon be chaos: and if there be no such thing as free electing love, every minister of Christ may close his lips, and every sinner upon earth sit down in mute despair. —Horatius Bonar, Christ Is All, ed. Darrin R. Brooker & Michael Haykin (Reformation Heritage Books, 2007), 83–84.

Friday Freebee

Friday··2008·08·01 · 10 Comments
Watch this video of James White refuting Norman Geisler, especially if you are an Arminian (or one of those mythical “neither Calvinist nor Arminian” creatures). The first person to point out the glaring inconsistency—on Dr. White’s part, not Geisler’s—will receive a free copy of The Potter’s Freedom, compliments of the Thirsty Theologian.

Lord’s Day 38, 2008

I reioyced, when they sayd to me, We wil go into the house of the Lord. (Psalme 122:1) PETITIONARY HYMNS POEM IX. On War Augustus Toplady (1740–1778) Great God, whom heav’n, and earth, and sea With all their countless hosts, obey, Upheld by whom the nations stand, And empires fall at thy command: Beneath thy long suspended ire Let papal Antichrist expire; Thy knowledge spread from sea to sea, ’Till every nation bows to thee.Then shew thyself the prince of peace, Make every hostile efforts cease: All with thy sacred love inspire, And burn their chariots in the fire.In sunder break each warlike spear; Let all the Saviour’s liv’ry wear; The universal Sabbath prove, The utmost rest of Christian love!The world shall then no discord know, But hand in hand to Canaan go, Jesus, the peaceful king, adore, And learn the art of war no more. —The Complete Works of Augustus Toplady (Sprinkle Publications, 1987). Psalme 150 (Geneva Bible) 1 Praise ye the Lord. Praise ye God in his Sanctuarie: prayse ye him in the firmament of his power. 2 Prayse ye him in his mightie Actes: prayse ye him according to his excellent greatnesse. 3 Prayse ye him in the sounde of the trumpet: prayse yee him vpon the viole and the harpe. 4 Prayse ye him with timbrell and flute: praise ye him with virginales and organs. 5 Prayse ye him with sounding cymbales: prayse ye him with high sounding cymbales. 6 Let euery thing that hath breath prayse the Lord. Prayse ye the Lord. Grace be with you, and Peace from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

How Will You Glorify God?

Monday··2008·09·22 · 1 Comments
I recently had rather odd dream. I was a kid again, and back at a Bible camp. At this camp, we were singing a number of the “7-eleven” songs that were popular twenty-plus years ago. The final song in my dream was Lord, Be Glorified. In my life, Lord, be glorified, be glorified In my life, Lord, be glorified today. If you’ve sung this chorus, you know it can be strung out indefinitely by substituting any number of things for “my life.” In my dream, we were doing just that, but with even more absurd, mind-numbing repetition than ever in reality. “In my ____, Lord, be glorified, . . . Fill in the blank with any noun you can think of, and we sang it. I was glad to wake up. Trivializing repetition aside, it is, of course, good and right to pray that God will be glorified through us. This ought to be our chief motive in everything. But what came to mind was the fact that we ought not pray that God will be glorified through us as if it is possible that he might not. I think many, if not most, Christians believe that it is possible to live a life that does not glorify God; but that is just not true. The truth is that God will be glorified through every one of us. He has been glorified through the lives of faithful saints throughout time, from the beginning of creation to this present day. But he has also been glorified through the failures of those saints, and even through the most heinous sins of history’s most notorious villains. God was glorified in Genesis 6, not only through Noah, who “found grace in the eyes of the Lord,” but through the “wickedness of man” which he judged in the flood. God was glorified not only through Isaac, but through Ishmael also. He was glorified through Joseph’s brothers, who sold him into slavery. He was glorified through Joseph as Joseph was faithful and righteous and, by his God-given wisdom, saved a nation. He was glorified through Pharaoh as Pharaoh enslaved God’s people, and was then judged for it. And as Israel wandered away from God, God was glorified as he repeatedly punished them and extended his grace to them. God was glorified through Christ and the apostles, and Mary, Martha, and Lazarus; but he was also glorified through Caiaphas, Judas, and Pilate. In short, God will be glorified through us, one way or another, either as his grace is displayed in our lives, or his judgment is meted out to us. His grace may come to us in the form of discipline, as well as obvious blessing. His judgment on the wicked may be seen here, as with the Genesis flood, or it may not be seen until the final judgment; but it will be seen by all, and God will be glorified. He will be glorified through every act of every one of his creatures. The question is not, will God be glorified through me, but how will he be glorified through me?

Five Truths about God

J I. Packer lists “five basic truths, five foundational principles” that will form the foundation of his study of God. 1. God has spoken to man, and the Bible is his Word, given to us to make us wise unto salvation. 2. God is Lord and King over this world; he rules all things for his own glory, displaying his perfections in all that he does, in order that men and angels may worship and adore him. 3. God is Savior, active in sovereign love through the Lord Jesus Christ to rescue believers from the guilt and power of sin, to adopt them as his children and to bless them accordingly. 4. God is triune; there are within the Godhead three persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; and the work of salvation is one in which all three act together, the Father purposing redemption, the Son securing it and the Spirit applying it. 5. Godliness means responding to God’s revelation in trust and obedience, faith and worship, prayer and praise, submission and service. Life must be seen and lived in the light of God’s Word. This, and nothing else, is true religion. —J. I. Packer, Knowing God (InterVarstity Press, 1993), 20.

Evidence of Knowing God (2)

Continuing on the “Evidence of Knowing God,” and drawing from in the book of Daniel, J. I. Packer highlights the great thoughts Daniel had of God. 2. Those who know God have great thoughts of God. . . . there is, perhaps, no more vivid or sustained presentation of the many sided reality of God’s sovereignty in the whole Bible [than Daniel]. In the face of the might and splendor of the Babylonian empire which had swallowed up Palestine and the prospect of further great world empires to follow, dwarfing Israel by every standard of human calculation, the book as a whole forms a dramatic reminder that the God of Israel is King of kings and Lord of lords, “that Heaven rules” (4:26), that God’s hand is on history at every point, that history, indeed, is no more than “his story,” the unfolding of his eternal plan, and that the kingdom which will triumph in the end is God’s. The central truth which Daniel taught Nebuchadnezzar in chapters 2 and 4, and of which he reminded Belshazzar in chapter 5 (vv. 18–23), and which Nebuchadnezzar acknowledged in chapter 6 (vv. 25–27), and which was the basis of Daniel’s prayers in chapters 1 and 6, and of his friends” confidence in defying authority in chapter 3, and which formed the staple substance of all the disclosures which God made to Daniel in chapters 2, 4, 7, 8, 10, and 11–12, is the truth that “the Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms and his foreknowledge is foreordination; he, therefore, will have the last word, both in world history and in the destiny of every man; his kingdom and righteousness will triumph in the end, for neither men nor angels shall be able to thwart him. These were the thoughts of God which filled Daniel’s mind, as witness his prayers (always the best evidence for a man’s view of God): “Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever; wisdom and power are his. He changes times and season’s; he sets up kings and deposes them. He gives wisdom. He knows what lies in darkness, and light dwells with him” (2:20–22) “O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with all who love him and obey his commands. . . . Lord, you are righteous. . . . The Lord our God is merciful and forgiving. . . . The Lord our God is righteous in everything he does” (9:4, 7, 9, 14). Is this how we think of God? Is this the view of God which our own praying expresses? Does this tremendous sense of his holy majesty, his moral perfection and his gracious faithfulness keep us humble and dependent, awed and obedient, as it did Daniel? By this test, too, we may measure how much, or how little, we know God. —J. I. Packer, Knowing God (InterVarsity Press, 1993), 29–30.

Evidence of Knowing God (4)

One of the greatest blessings of knowing God is the peace and contentment that comes from knowing that God is sovereign, and that he holds us in his hands in all circumstances. Packer writes, 4. Those who know God have great contentment in God. There is no peace like the peace of those whose minds are possessed with full assurance that they have known God, and God has know them, and that this relationship guarantees God’s favor to them in life, through death and on for ever. This is the peace of which Paul speaks in Romans 5:1—“since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ”—and whose substance he analyzes in full in Romans 8. “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. . . . The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children . . . heirs of God. . . . We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him. . . . Those he justified, he also glorified. . . . If God is for us, who can be against us? . . . Who will bring any charge against those who God has chosen? . . . Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? . . . I am convince that neither death nor life . . . neither the present nor the future . . . will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus or Lord” (vv. 1, 16–17, 28, 30, 31, 33, 35, 38–39). This is the peace which Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego know; hence the contentment with which they stood their ground in face of Nebuchadnezzar’s ultimatum (Dan 3:15): “If you do not worship [the image], you will be thrown immediately into the blazing furnace. Then what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?” Their reply (3:16–18) is classic “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter.” (No panic!) “If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king.” (Courteous, but unanswerable—they knew their God!) “But even if he does not”—if no deliverance comes—“we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods.” (It doesn’t matter! It makes no difference! Live or die, they are content.) Lord, it belongs not to my care Whether I die or live; To love and serve Thee is my share, And this Thy grace must give. If life be long, I will be glad, That I may long obey; If short—then why should I be sad To soar to endless day? The comprehensiveness of our contentment is another measure whereby we may judge whether we really know God. —J. I. Packer, Knowing God (InterVarsity Press, 1993), 31–32.

A Biblical View of Grace

Grace is a word we hear often in the church, as well we ought. Sadly, it is a word that is not as commonly understood as spoken. J. I. Packer points out that many who speak the word have actually put their faith in something else. “What is it,” he asks, “that hinders so many who profess to believe in grace from really doing so?” The answer, he says, is that they have a basic misunderstanding of the relation between themselves and God. At the root of this is a failure to grasp “four crucial truths . . . which the doctrine of grace presupposes.” 1. The moral ill-desert of man. Modern men and women, conscious of their tremendous scientific achievements in recent years, naturally incline to a high opinion of themselves. They view material wealth as in any case more important than moral character, and in the moral realm they are resolutely kind to themselves, treating small virtues as compensating for great vices and refusing to take seriously the idea that, morally speaking, there is anything much wrong with them. . . . The thought of themselves as creatures fallen from God’s image, rebels against God’s rule, guilty and unclean in God’s sight, fit only for God’s condemnation, never enters their heads. 2. The retributive justice of God. The way of modern men and women is to turn a blind eye to all wrongdoing as long as they safely can. They tolerate it in others, feeling that there, but for the accident of circumstances, go they themselves. . . . The accepted maxim seems to be that as long as evil can be ignored, it should be; one should punish only as a last resort . . . In our pagan way, we take it for granted that God feels as we do. The idea that retribution might be the moral law of God’s world and an expression of his holy character seems to us quite fantastic. Those who uphold it find themselves accused of projecting onto God their own pathological impulses of rage and vindictiveness. Yet the Bible insists throughout that this world which God in his goodness has made is a moral world, one in which retribution is as basic a fact as breathing. . . . 3. The spiritual impotence of man. Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People has been almost a modern Bible. A whole technique of business relations has been built up in recent years on the principle of putting the other person in a position where he cannot decently say no. This has confirmed modern men and women in the faith which has animated pagan religion ever since there was such a thing—namely, the belief that we can repair our own relationship with God by putting God in position where he cannot say no anymore. Ancient pagans thought to do this by multiplying gifts and sacrifices; modern pagans seek to do it by churchmanship and morality. . . . but the Bible position is as stated by Toplady: Not the labours of my hand Can fulfill Thy law’s demands. Could my zeal no respite know, Could my tears for ever flow, All for sin could not atone —leading to the admission of one’s own helplessness and to the conclusion: Thou must save, and Thou alone. . . . 4. The sovereign freedom of God. Ancient paganism thought of each god as bound to his worshipers by bonds of self-interest, because he depended on their service and gifts for his welfare. Modern paganism has at the back of its mind a similar feeling that God is somehow obliged to love and help us, little though we deserve it. . . . But this feeling is not well founded. The God of the Bible does not depend on his human creatures for his well-being (see Ps 50:8–13; Acts 17:25), nor, now that we have sinned, is he bound to show us favor. We can only claim from him justice—and justice, for us, means certain condemnation. God does not owe it to anyone to stop justice taking its course. He is not obliged to pity and pardon; if he does so it is an act done, as we say, “of his own free will,” and nobody forces his hand. “It does not depend on man’s will or effort, but on God’s mercy” (Rom 9:16 NEB) Grace is free, in the sense of being self-originated and of proceeding from One who was free not to be gracious. Only when it is seen that what decides each individual’s destiny is whether or not God resolves to save him from his sins, and that this is a decision which God need not make in any single case, can one begin to grasp the biblical view of grace. —J. I. Packer, Knowing God (InterVarsity Press, 1993), 128–132.

Hymns of My Youth II: I Sing the Mighty Power

Isaac Watts’ original title for this hymn, published in Divine and Moral Songs for Children, is Praise for Creation and Providence. I Sing the Mighty Power of God I sing the mighty pow’r of God That made the mountains rise, That spread the flowing seas abroad And built the lofty skies. I sing the wisdom that ordained The sun to rule the day; The moon shines full at his command, And all the stars obey. I sing the goodness of the Lord That filled the earth with food; He formed the creatures with his word, And then pronounced them good. Lord, how thy wonders are displayed Where’er I turn mine eye: If I survey the ground I tread, Or gaze upon the sky! There’s not a plant or flow’r below But makes thy glories known; And clouds arise and tempests blow By order from thy throne; While all that borrows light from Thee Is ever in Thy care, And ev’rywhere that man can be, Thou, God, art present there. —Great Hymns of the Faith (Zondervan, 1968).

Hymns of My Youth II: I Heard the Bells

This hymn may raise eyebrows as a Christmas hymn, having no reference to Christ, and probably being acceptable to anyone with a vague belief in a benevolent god. Still, to those of us who know the one true God of the Bible, it speaks of the eschatological hope that belongs to us alone. My hymnal has the verses of this hymn rearranged, as in the recording below. I thought it best to present them in their original order. I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day I heard the bells on Christmas day Their old familiar carols play, And wild and sweet the words repeat Of peace on earth, good will to men. And thought how, as the day had come, The belfries of all Christendom Had rolled along th’unbroken song Of peace on earth, good will to men. Till ringing, singing on its way The world revolved from night to day, A voice, a chime, a chant sublime Of peace on earth, good will to men. And in despair I bowed my head “There is no peace on earth,” I said, “For hate is strong and mocks the song Of peace on earth, good will to men.” Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: “God is not dead, nor doth He sleep; The wrong shall fail, the right prevail With peace on earth, good will to men.” —Great Hymns of the Faith (Zondervan, 1968). Additional information from This hymn was written during the American civil war, as reflected by the sense of despair in the next to last stanza. Stanzas 4–5 speak of the battle, and are usually omitted from hymnals: Then from each black, accursed mouth The cannon thundered in the South, And with the sound the carols drowned Of peace on earth, good will to men. It was as if an earthquake rent The hearth-stones of a continent, And made forlorn, the households born Of peace on earth, good will to men.

Isaiah’s Vision of Sovereignty

If the apostle Paul is the New Testament figure most associated with the teaching of God’s sovereignty,” writes Richard Phillips, “his Old Testament counterpart is surely Isaiah.” Both men learned of God’s sovereignty in the most dramatic way: in person. The prophecy of Isaiah contains some of the boldest proclamations of God’s sovereignty in Scripture. In chapter 45, he compares God’s relationship with mankind to that of a potter and his clay, making of His creation whatever He will. In chapter 46, Isaiah points out the utter sovereignty of God’s will: “For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose’” (Isa. 46:9–10). In chapter 59, Isaiah speaks of God’s sovereignty in terms of the long arm of the Lord, by which He is able to will the salvation of His people anywhere: “His own arm brought him salvation, and his righteousness upheld him” (Isa. 59:16). Isaiah’s message about divine sovereignty wouldn’t have been any more popular in his time than it is in many circles today. But where did Isaiah get this radical conception of God? Was Isaiah under the influence of eighteenth-century Enlightenment thinking (as is often said of those who espouse his teaching today)? Was Isaiah a closet rationalist, under the influence of Plato and Aristotle, so that he can be written off as a prophet of the Greek philosophers rather than of Israel’s God? These can hardly be the case, given that Isaiah wrote in the late eighth and early seventh centuries BC. So where did Isaiah gain these peculiar views in which God is truly God? The answer is that Isaiah learned of God’s sovereignty through his personal experience of the Lord. And he wasn’t the only one. Paul got his view of a sovereign Christ on the Damascus Road, Jonah attained his “Calvinism” in the belly of the whale, and Habakkuk gained his grasp of God’s sovereignty in his watchtower. In other words, Isaiah—like the other prophets and the apostles, who worshiped God’s sovereign glory—gained his doctrine from the Lord Himself. —Richard D. Phillips, What’s So Great about the Doctrines of Grace? (Reformation Trust, 2008), 3–4.

Holy Boldness

Standing against popular sentiment, or against powerful people, and saying the hard things that need to be said, requires courage. That courage comes from knowing that God holds all things in his hand, and nothing happens outside his plan. A consciousness of God’s sovereignty bestows in us a holy boldness before the world and its powers. This is what made Isaiah useful: he could proclaim the Word of the Lord, even the word of judgment, to a decadent and dangerous generation. “Ah, sinful nation,” he accused in the opening chapter, “a people laden with iniquity, offspring of evildoers, children who deal corruptly! They have forsaken the Lord, they have despised the Holy One of Israel, they are utterly estranged” (Isa. 1:4). I realize that this kind of talk may not fill a stadium today. It may not place a congregation on the roster of church-growth success stories. But the willingness to speak the truth of God, preaching God’s judgment to a generation as depraved as ours, is a sure sign that the speaker has beheld the sovereignty of God. The great Scottish Reformer, John Knox, was another prophetic figure who was famous for his brave confrontations with the Catholic Mary, Queen of Scots. Once Knox was asked how he could defy the queen’s religious views so audaciously, given that she was the sovereign of the land. Knox famously replied, “When you have just spent time on your knees before the King of Kings, you do not find the Queen of Scotland to be so frightening.” Awareness of the sovereignty of God, especially as it brings us to our knees in supplication before His throne of grace, gives us the holy boldness so desperately needed in our time. —Richard D. Phillips, What’s So Great about the Doctrines of Grace? (Reformation Trust, 2008), 14–15.

Is God Unjust?

And not only this, but there was Rebekah also, when she had conceived twins by one man, our father Isaac; for though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God’s purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls, it was said to her, “The older will serve the younger.” Just as it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” —Romans 9:10–13 Anticipating objections, the very next verse of Romans 9 says, “What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be!” But objections come anyway, as men are determined to impose their sense of justice upon God, declaring with authority what God would and wouldn’t do. “That’s not fair!” is presumed to pass as a theological argument. But God will speak for himself. Reformed Christians affirm that God elects some to salvation “unconditionally,” but this does not mean that He does so arbitrarily. Paul addresses this while confronting the very objection that predestination is unfair: “What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part?” Whenever we find that an objection we are raising is confronted directly in the Bible, we should be careful to heed the answer. Paul says, “By no means!” (Rom. 9:14). Paul’s answer to the question of fairness in unconditional election is important. Essentially, he replies, “Did you say justice?” If justice is what we want—if we want to be treated fairly by God—then the result will be the damnation of us all. No one who wants things to be fair with God can ever hope for heaven, for the simple reason that fairness demands that all sinners be damned. No, says Paul, when it comes to predestination—or salvation in general—the right category is mercy. And mercy, by definition, is sovereignly granted. It cannot be earned. It never is a matter of fairness, but always is a gift of grace. Paul elaborates in Romans 9:15–16: “For he says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.’ So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.” This makes the essential point that when the Bible speaks of God’s predestination, or unconditional election, it is always joined to His mercy. Why is that? Paul’s illustration from the life of Moses makes it clear. God’s statement, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy,” was made after the Israelites had soiled themselves with the golden calf while Moses was receiving the law on Mount Sinai. They all were under judgment. But in this hopeless situation, God told Moses that He would choose some to be objects of His mercy. This is exactly how it is with the entire human race. The Reformed doctrine of predestination does not teach that God looked down on a neutral mass of humanity and decided to send some to heaven and others to hell. God was not sitting in eternity with a pile of daisies, picking petals and musing, “I love him, I love him not!” Rather, God looked down from on high on humanity wholly lost in sin. When God predestined to salvation, He predestined sinners who were bound for judgment and were utterly opposed to His will. Donald Grey Barnhouse therefore states: “If we may say so, the doctrine of election was God’s secret weapon which made it possible for some men to be saved. If He had not retreated into His sovereignty . . . there would have been nothing but a curse and no one would have been saved.” —Richard D. Phillips, What’s So Great about the Doctrines of Grace? (Reformation Trust, 2008), 38–40.

In Preparation for the Lord’s Day: Sing Praise to God

Sing Praise to God Who Reigns Above Ascribe greatness to our God! Deut. 32:3 Sing praise to God Who reigns above, The God of all creation, The God of pow’r, the God of love, The God of our salvation. With healing balm my soul He fills, And every faithless murmur stills: To God all praise and glory! What God’s almighty pow’r hath made His gracious mercy keepeth, By morning glow or evening shade His watchful eye ne’er sleepeth; Within the kingdom of His might, Lo! all is just and all is right: To God all praise and glory! The Lord is never far away, But through all grief distressing, An ever present help and stay, Our peace and joy and blessing. As with a mother’s tender hand, He leads His own, His chosen band: To God all praise and glory! Thus all my toilsome way along I sing aloud His praises, That men may hear the grateful song My voice unwearied raises. Be joyful in the Lord, my heart! Both soul and body bear your part: To God all praise and glory! —The Hymnal for Worship & Celebration (Word Music).

Thy Principle Business

Those of us who call ourselves Christians, do we know what we owe to God? Do we live as though we know? Hear the puritan George Swinnock, and meditate upon this: Is not the blessed God worthy of all thy service and honour? Doth he not deserve all thy love, and fear, and trust—all thy time, and strength, and wealth, and infinitely more? From whom came they but from him; and to whom should they be given but to him? Art thou not bound to him by millions of engagements? Art thou not the work of his hands? Dost thou not lie at his mercy every moment? Canst thou live, or move, or breathe without him? Can he not as easily sink thee with fury, as support thee with mercy, turn thee into hell, as warn thee of hell? Oh think of that place, ‘The God in whose hands is thy breath, thou hast not glorified,’ Dan. v. 23. Alas! alas! man, though thou makest no reckoning of pleasing God, but banishest him thy heart and house, as if his company were a burden, yet know that thy breath is in his hands continually; if he do but shut his hand, thine eyes will be no longer open, but thy mouth quickly stopped with earth. Ah, how soon can he take away that airy difference between sleep and death! He can wink thee into the other world, and look thee into the unquenchable lake: ‘By the breath of God they perish, and by the breath of his nostrils they are consumed,’ Job iv. 8. If thou dependedst altogether upon another man for thy livelihood, thou wouldst think he deserved thy service, and that it concerned thee to please him. Oh how highly doth it concern thee to worship and honour the almighty God, in whose hand is thy livelihood, life, and everlasting weal or woe! Ah, didst thou but know what perfections are in him, and how indispensably thy dependence is every minute upon him, thou wouldst wonder at thy folly and madness in slighting him, and make it thy principal business to glorify and enjoy him. —George Swinnock, The Christian Man’s Calling, Works of George Swinnock (Banner of Truth, 1992), 1:14–15.

In Preparation for the Lord’s Day: Praise to the Lord, the Almighty

Praise to the Lord, the Almighty . . . praise, exalt and honor the King of heaven . . . Daniel 4:37 Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of creation! O my soul, praise Him, for He is thy health and salvation! All ye who hear, now to His temple draw near; Join me in glad adoration. Praise to the Lord, who o’er all things so wondrously reigneth, Shelters thee under His wings, yea, so gently sustaineth! Hast thou not seen how all thy longings have been Granted in what He ordaineth? Praise to the Lord, who doth prosper thy work and defend thee; Surely His goodness and mercy here daily attend thee. Ponder anew what the Almighty can do, If with His love He befriend thee. Praise to the Lord, O let all that is in me adore Him! All that hath life and breath, come now with praises before Him. Let the Amen sound from His people again: Gladly for aye we adore Him. —The Hymnal for Worship & Celebration (Word Music).

In Preparation for the Lord’s Day: I Sing the Mighty Power of God

I Sing the Mighty Power of God The Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, Exodus 20:11I sing the mighty pow’r of God That made the mountains rise; That spread the flowing seas abroad, And built the lofty skies. I sing the wisdom that ordained The sun to rule the day; The moon shines full at his command, And all the stars obey. I sing the goodness of the Lord, That filled the earth with food; He formed the creatures with his word, And then pronounced them good. Lord, how thy wonders are displayed, Where’er I turn mine eye: If I survey the ground I tread, Or gaze upon the sky! There’s not a plant or flow’r below, But makes thy glories known; And clouds arise, and tempests blow, By order from thy throne; While all that borrows light from Thee Is ever in Thy care, And ev’rywhere that man can be, Thou, God, art present there. —The Hymnal for Worship & Celebration (Word Music).

The Potter’s Purpose for the Clay

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; —1 Peter 2:9 While Purpose-Driven® may be—we can hope—by now very well be passé, we can still find a purpose by looking to the word of God. The potter [Jeremiah 18:3] has a thought in his mind for the clay, and he alone can transfer that thought to the clay. The clay is necessarily ignorant of the thought in the potter’s mind, but can find that thought, and realize and manifest it by quiet submission to the hand of the potter. My brethren, when I pass from this great principle, which I confess taken alone fills me with fear, to notice that there is a purpose, my heart begins to find comfort. The potter, as the wheel revolves, is not dealing capriciously with the clay; his fingers are not working aimlessly. As I watch him in the beginning of the work I cannot see what he means, but he knows what he means, and as his hands rest upon the clay he is translating into the outward and manifest the thought of beauty and use which is in his own mind and heart. The clay gains in the potter; the potter gains in the clay. The clay is shapeless as clay, but the clay plus the potter becomes a thing of beauty and of use. The potter has in his mind a thought of beauty, which none but himself can see apart from the clay, but the potter plus the clay can express his thought so that others may see it. Here I think we touch one of the deepest mysteries of human life. Man is created that God may have a medium through which He can manifest the things in His own mind. Man is fashioned in His likeness, in His image, that those who cannot see the essential and eternal Spirit may yet see the things of the essential and eternal Spirit in man. How man has missed his mark, and yet by the redemption of Jesus Christ this great purpose is fulfilled. Paul declared: “We are His workmanship.” What Paul really writes is, “We are His poetry,” not that the Apostle meant we are His poetry, but His work of art, that through which He gives others to see the things of beauty resident in His own infinite mind. This same truth is expressed in Peter’s words: “Ye are an elect race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, that ye may shew forth the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” God gains in men that through which he can express his thought. But the other side is also true. See what the clay has gained. It was but a shapeless thing, lacking beauty, lacking expression of anything that has refinement in it, lacking utility; but it gains from the hand of the potter form and shape and usefulness. Man alone is as the clay, lacking beauty, lacking true utility, making a shipwreck of his own personality; but let man find God’s throne and yield to it, submit his whole life to the hand of the great Master Potter, and he finds to poor clay of his life made into something fair and beautiful and full of use to God and to man. You came into this house tonight saying, my life is purposeless. Give it to God, and it will be purposeful. You said, These years have gone from me, twenty, thirty, forty, and I have done nothing. Yield to God and the Potter’s hand will be upon you to mold and to make. It may be that the molding and making will not yet be recognized by your fellow men. That matters nothing. It may be that the molding and making will be that of a thing of use rather than beauty. It may be that He will mold you to some service that men count menial. There is no menial service which the King appoints. There must be yielding to the Potter, but then, oh, soul of mine, when thou art so yielded purpose is the story of thy life. —G. Campbell Morgan, The Westminster Pulpit (Sermon: The Potter’s Work on the Wheel) (Baker, 2006), 1:51–53.

The Testing of Our Faith

In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ; and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls. As to this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful searches and inquiries, seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow. It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves, but you, in these things which now have been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things into which angels long to look. —1 Peter 1:6–12 Unlike the vast majority of those reading this blog, and certainly unlike this writer, the Christians to whom Peter wrote did not have it easy. They suffered levels of persecution like we have seen in China, and are now seeing in Muslim nations. Yet, Peter writes, “In this [1 Peter 1:3–5] you greatly rejoice . . .” Sproul comments, In a real sense, their sufferings and afflictions were unjust—they were victims of persecution—but we have to see beyond the human dimension, the proximate cause of the suffering, and look to the remote or ultimate cause. These afflictions were sent upon the believers by God. God uses the iniquitous afflictions wrought by human hostility for the ultimate well-being of His children. In this text here we see a marvelous reaffirmation of the doctrine of the providence of God. The classic teaching of divine providence is found at the end of the book of Genesis. Joseph, who had been viciously betrayed by his brothers and sold into slavery, was held in prison for many years and separated from his family and homeland. . . . When Joseph was reunited with his brothers years later . . . [he] said, “As for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive” (Gen. 50:20). Their intentions were wicked, and they were responsible for that, but over and above their actions, God intended good. “All things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose,” Paul wrote (Rom. 8:28). God’s hand is in earthly trials that are unjustly foisted upon us by wicked people. The hand of God trumps the evil intent of those who wound us, and He uses, in His gracious providence, those various experiences of affliction and pain for His glory and for our ultimate edification. —R. C. Sproul, 1–2 Peter: Be All the More Diligent to Make Your Calling and Election Sure (Crossway, 2011), 35. Christians often try to exonerate God of responsibility for the bad things that happen to “good” people by saying they are the work of Satan, that God has nothing to do with them. However, this is not only an inadequate excuse for a sovereign God, it robs us of the hope we should find in suffering. [I]f God has nothing to do with death or our afflictions, we of all people are the most to be pitied. The comfort we receive from the Word of God is that God is involved with our sufferings even to the extent that He ordains them, but the purpose of that ordination is always good and righteous. —R. C. Sproul, Ibid. More often, Christians acknowledge God’s involvement in our suffering, but only to the extent that he “permits” it. Sproul replies, [W]hatever God permits, He must choose to permit, and what He chooses to permit, He thereby ordains. That should not discourage us but encourage us, so that when we are falsely accused, slandered, or have our reputation injured, we can get on our knees and say, “God, please, vindicate me against these wicked people.” We can ask for vindication. At the same time, we have to ask Him, “What did you have in mind in this trouble?” Even though we suffer unjustly at the hands of men, we never suffer unjustly at the hands of God. —R. C. Sproul, Ibid, 36. And this is the purpose: So, Peter says, we are grieved by the trials that come upon us, but in the midst of them we can rejoice exceedingly, not only because of the inheritance laid up for us but also because we can be sure that through these trials, the genuineness of our faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ. —R. C. Sproul, Ibid.

Unconditional Election in Scripture

As we have seen. all of mankind is born dead in sin (Romans 5:12). Sinful human beings are both unwilling and unable to believe and follow Christ. This is not merely due to ambivalence; we are, by nature “hostile toward God” (Romans 8:7). “It is in this context that the Bible sets forth the doctrine of election.” God would have been perfectly just to leave it at that—he is in no way obligated to show mercy to anyone—but he did not. According to his eternal purpose, he chose a people for himself and foreordained their salvation. This choosing took place “before the foundation of the world.” just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. —Ephesians 1:4 But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth. —2 Thessalonians 2:13 who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity —2 Timothy 1:9 Contrary to Arminian dogma, God’s choice was not based on his foreknowledge of our response to the gospel (an explanation of “foreknew” in Romans 8:29 will be forthcoming in a future post). for though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God’s purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls, it was said to her, “The older will serve the younger.” Just as it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” Romans 9:11–13 Lest we be tempted to protest the injustice of such an apparently arbitrary choice, What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be! For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy. . . . You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?” On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you make me like this,” will it? Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use? —Romans 9:14–16, 19–21 God’s choice is not unjust, nor is it arbitrary. He has a purpose: For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I raised you up, to demonstrate My power in you, and that My name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth.” So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires. . . . What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory, even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles. —Romans 9:17–18, 22–24 Election is part of salvation, but it is not, by itself, salvation. The elect surely will be saved, but until the moment of rebirth (John 3:3), they are not yet “in Christ.” As Paul indicates in the following verse, all are not saved simultaneously, though they were so chosen “before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4). Greet Andronicus and Junias, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners, who are outstanding among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me. —Romans 16:7 Election was based solely on the sovereign choice of God, but sovereign election is only a part of the theme of God’s sovereignty over all creation. Remember the former things long past, For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me, Declaring the end from the beginning, And from ancient times things which have not been done, Saying, “My purpose will be established, And I will accomplish all My good pleasure”; Calling a bird of prey from the east, The man of My purpose from a far country. Truly I have spoken; truly I will bring it to pass. I have planned it, surely I will do it. —Isaiah 46:9–11 This post is a brief summary of The Five Points of Calvinism: Defined, Defended, and Documented, 2nd ed. (P&R, 2004), 27–39.

All Things Foreordained

The Westminster Confession states that “God, from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass” (WCF 3.1; Cf. WLC 12, WSC 7). This is at odds with what is commonly believed, that is, that Satan is a free agent, working evil in the world, and that God is left to react to his attacks, protecting us from evil, and/or using it for our good. But God is more ahead of the game than that. God does not merely use evil after-the-fact; it is a part of his eternal plan (Genesis 50:20). As for the discord and strife that we say exists between Satan and God, we ought to accept as a fixed certainty the fact that he can do nothing unless God wills and assents to it. For we read in the history of Job that he presented himself before God to receive his commands [Job 1:6; 2:1], and did not dare undertake any evil act without first having obtained permission [chs. 1:12; 2:6]. Thus, also, when Ahab was to be deceived, Satan took upon himself to become a spirit of falsehood in the mouths of all the prophets; and commissioned by God, he carried out his task [I Kings 22:20–22]. For this reason, too, the spirit of the Lord that troubled Saul is called “evil” because the sins of the impious king were punished by it as by a lash [I Sam. 16:14; 18:10]. And elsewhere it is written that the plagues were inflicted upon the Egyptians by God “through evil angels” [Ps. 78:49]. According to these particular examples Paul generally testifies that the blinding of unbelievers is God’s work [II Thess. 2:11], although he had before called it the activity of Satan [II Thess. 2:9; cf. II Cor. 4:4; Eph. 2:2]. Therefore Satan is clearly under God’s power, and is so ruled by his bidding as to be compelled to render him service. Indeed, when we say that Satan resists God, and that Satan’s works disagree with Gods works, we at the same time assert that this resistance and this opposition are dependent upon God’s sufferance. I am not now speaking of Satan’s will, nor even of his effort, but only of his effect. For inasmuch as the devil is by nature wicked, he is not at all inclined to obedience to the divine will, but utterly intent upon contumacy and rebellion. From himself and his own wickedness, therefore, arises his passionate and deliberate opposition to God. By this wickedness he is urged on to attempt courses of action which he believes to be most hostile to God. But because with the bridle of his power God holds him bound and restrained, he carries out only those things which have been divinely permitted to him; and so he obeys his Creator, whether he will or not, because he is compelled to yield him service wherever God impels him. —John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Westminster John Knox Press, 1960), 1.14.17.

No Idle Observer

At the outset, then, let my readers grasp that providence means not that by which God idly observes from heaven what takes place on earth, but that by which, as keeper of the keys, he governs all events. Thus it pertains no less to his hands than to his eyes. And indeed, when Abraham said to his son, “God will provide” [Gen. 22:8], he meant not only to assert God’s foreknowledge of a future event, but to cast the care of a matter unknown to him upon the will of Him who is wont to give a way out of things perplexed and confused. Whence it follows that providence is lodged in the act; for many babble too ignorantly of bare foreknowledge. Not so crass is the error of those who attribute a governance to God, but of a confused and mixed sort, as I have said, namely, one that by a general motion revolves and drives the system of the universe, with its several parts, but which does not specifically direct the action of individual creatures. Yet this error, also, is not tolerable; for by this providence which they call universal, they teach that nothing hinders all creatures from being contingently moved, or man from turning himself hither and thither by the free choice of his will. And they so apportion things between God and man that God by His power inspires in man a movement by which he can act in accordance with the nature implanted in him, but He regulates His own actions by the plan of His will. Briefly, they mean that the universe, men’s affairs, and men themselves are governed by God’s might but not by His determination. . . . As if the dumb creatures themselves do not sufficiently cry out against such patent madness! For now I propose to refute the opinion (which almost universally obtains) that concedes to God some kind of blind and ambiguous motion, while taking from him the chief thing: that he directs everything by his incomprehensible wisdom and disposes it to his own end, and so in name only, not in fact, it makes God the Ruler of the universe because it deprives him of his control. What, I pray you, is it to have control but so to be in authority that you rule in a determined order those things over which you are placed? Yet I do not wholly repudiate what is said concerning universal providence, provided they in turn grant me that the universe is ruled by God, not only because he watches over the order of nature set by himself, but because he exercises especial care over each of his works. It is, indeed, true that the several kinds of things are moved by a secret impulse of nature, as if they obeyed God’s eternal command, and what God has once determined flows on by itself. At this point we may refer to Christ’s statement that from the very beginning he and the Father were always at work [John 5:17]; and to Paul’s teaching that “in him we live, move, and have our being” [Acts 17:28]; also, what the author of The Letter to the Hebrews says, meaning to prove the divinity of Christ, that all things are sustained by his mighty command [Heb. 1:3]. . . . God so attends to the regulation of individual events, and they all so proceed from his set plan, that nothing takes place by chance. —John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Westminster John Knox Press, 1960), 1.16.4.

“Man’s Steps Are from the Lord”

The pride of man rebels against the sovereignty of God over all creatures and events. Nevertheless, Scripture affirms the conclusion of the Westminster Confession that “God, from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass.” But because we know that the universe was established especially for the sake of mankind, we ought to look for this purpose in his governance also. The prophet Jeremiah exclaims, “I know, O Lord, that the way of man is not his own, nor is it given to man to direct his own steps” [Jer. 10:23]. Moreover, Solomon says, “Man’s steps are from the Lord [Prov. 20:24 p.] and how may man dispose his way?” [Prov. 16:9 p., cf. Vg.]. Let them now say that man is moved by God according to the inclination of his nature, but that he himself turns that motion whither he pleases. Nay, if that were truly said, the free choice of his ways would be in man’s control. Perhaps they will deny this because he can do nothing without God’s power. Yet they cannot really get by with that, since it is clear that the prophet and Solomon ascribe to God not only might but also choice and determination. Elsewhere Solomon elegantly rebukes this rashness of men, who set up for themselves a goal without regard to God, as if they were not led by his hand. “The disposition of the heart is man’s, but the preparation of the tongue is the Lord’s.” [Prov. 16:1, 9, conflated.] It is an absurd folly that miserable men take it upon themselves to act without God, when they cannot even speak except as he wills! Indeed, Scripture, to express more plainly that nothing at all in the world is undertaken without his determination, shows that things seemingly most fortuitous are subject to him. For what can you attribute more to chance than when a branch breaking off from a tree kills a passing traveler? But the Lord speaks far differently, acknowledging that he has delivered him to the hand of the slayer [Ex. 21:13]. Likewise, who does not attribute lots to the blindness of fortune? But the Lord does not allow this, claiming for himself the determining of them. He teaches that it is not by their own power that pebbles are cast into the lap and drawn out, but the one thing that could have been attributed to chance he testifies to come from himself [Prov.16:33]. In the same vein is that saying of Solomon, “The poor man and the usurer meet together; God illumines the eyes of both” [Prov. 29:13; cf. ch. 22:2]. He points out that, even though the rich are mingled with the poor in the world, while to each his condition is divinely assigned, God, who lights all men, is not at all blind. And so he urges the poor to patience; because those who are not content with their own lot try to shake off the burden laid upon them by God. Thus, also, another prophet rebukes the impious who ascribe to men’s toil, or to fortune, the fact that some lie in squalor and others rise up to honors. “For not from the east, nor from the west, nor from the wilderness comes lifting up; because God is judge, he humbles one and lifts up another.” [Ps. 75:6–7.] —John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Westminster John Knox Press, 1960), 1.16.6.

The Secret Things

God rules not only through his law, which is revealed to us, but also through providences which we can only see after the fact—or may never see at all. As his creatures, it is our place to accept his providential direction of our lives and circumstances with humility, reverence, awe, and adoration. Therefore no one will weigh God’s providence properly and profitably but him who considers that his business is with his Maker and the Framer of the universe, and with becoming humility submits himself to fear and reverence. Hence it happens that today so many dogs assail this doctrine with their venomous bitings, or at least with barking: for they wish nothing to be lawful for God beyond what their own reason prescribes for themselves. Also they rail at us with as much wantonness as they can; because we, not content with the precepts of the law, which comprise God’s will, say also that the universe is ruled by his secret plans. As if what we teach were a figment of our brain, and the Holy Spirit did not everywhere expressly declare the same thing and repeat it in innumerable forms of expression. . . . But if they do not admit that whatever happens in the universe is governed by God’s incomprehensible plans, let them answer to what end Scripture says that his judgments are a deep abyss [Ps. 36:6]. For since Moses proclaims that the will of God is to be sought not far off in the clouds or in abysses, because it has been set forth familiarly in the law [Deut. 30:11–14], it follows that he has another hidden will which may be compared to a deep abyss; concerning which Paul also says: “O depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and how inscrutable his ways! ‘For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?’” [Rom. 11:33–34; cf. Isa. 40:13–14]. And it is, indeed, true that in the law and the gospel are comprehended mysteries which tower far above the reach of our senses. But since God illumines the minds of his own with the spirit of discernment [Job 20:3 or Isa. 11:2] for the understanding of these mysteries which he has deigned to reveal by his Word, now no abyss is here; rather, a way in which we ought to walk in safety, and a lamp to guide our feet [Ps. 119:105, Vg.; 119:105, EV], the light of life [cf. John 1:4; 8:12], and the school of sure and clear truth. Yet his wonderful method of governing the universe is rightly called an abyss, because while it is hidden from us, we ought reverently to adore it. Moses has beautifully expressed both ideas in a few words: “The secret things,” he says, “belong to the Lord our God, but what is here written, to you and your children” [Deut. 29:29 p.]. For we see how he bids us not only direct our study to meditation upon the law, but to look up to God’s secret providence with awe. Also, in The Book of Job is set forth a declaration of such sublimity as to humble our minds. For after the author, in surveying above and below the frame of the universe, has magnificently discoursed concerning God’s works, he finally adds: “Behold! These are but the outskirts of his ways, and how small a thing is heard therein!” [Job 26:14]. In this way he distinguishes in another place between the wisdom that resides with God and the portion of wisdom God has prescribed for men. For when he has discoursed on the secrets of nature, he says that wisdom is known to God alone, but “eludes the eyes of all the living” [Job 28:21]. But he adds a little later that His wisdom has been published to be searched out, because it is said to man: “Behold, the fear of the Lord is wisdom” [Job 28:28]. To this point the saying of Augustine applies: “Because we do not know all the things which God in the best possible order does concerning us, we act solely in good will according to the law, but in other things we are acted upon according to the law, because his providence is an unchangeable law.” Therefore, since God assumes to himself the right (unknown to us) to rule the universe, let our law of soberness and moderation be to assent to his supreme authority, that his will may be for us the sole rule of righteousness, and the truly just cause of all things. Not, indeed, that absolute will of which the Sophists babble, by an impious and profane distinction separating his justice from his power—but providence, that determinative principle of all things, from which flows nothing but right, although the reasons have been hidden from us. —John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Westminster John Knox Press, 1960), 1.17.2.

Providence, for Better or Worse

Whether we prosper or suffer, it is all from the hand of God, who does all things for our good. [I]t is [God’s] care to govern all creatures for their own good and safety . . . Gratitude of mind for the favorable outcome of things, patience in adversity, and also incredible freedom from worry about the future all necessarily follow upon this knowledge. Therefore whatever shall happen prosperously and according to the desire of his heart, God’s servant will attribute wholly to God, whether he feels God’s beneficence through the ministry of men, or has been helped by inanimate creatures. For thus he will reason in his mind: surely it is the Lord who has inclined their hearts to me, who has so bound them to me that they should become the instruments of his kindness toward me. In abundance of fruits he will think: “It is the Lord who ‘hears’ the heaven, that the heaven may ‘hear’ the earth, that the earth also may ‘hear’ its offspring” [cf. Hos. 2:22–23, EV]. In other things he will not doubt that it is the Lord’s blessing alone by which all things prosper. Admonished by so many evidences, he will not continue to be ungrateful. If anything adverse happens, straightway he will raise up his heart here also unto God, whose hand can best impress patience and peaceful moderation of mind upon us. If Joseph had stopped to dwell upon his brothers’ treachery, he would never have been able to show a brotherly attitude toward them. But since he turned his thoughts to the Lord, forgetting the injustice, he inclined to gentleness and kindness, even to the point of comforting his brothers and saying: “It is not you who sold me into Egypt, but I was sent before you by God’s will, that I might save your life” [Gen. 45:5, 7–8 p.]. “Indeed you intended evil against me, but the Lord turned it into good.” [Gen. 50:20, cf. Vg.] If Job had turned his attention to the Chaldeans, by whom he was troubled, he would immediately have been aroused to revenge; but because he at once recognized it as the Lord’s work, he comforts himself with this most beautiful thought: “The Lord gave, the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” [Job 1:21]. Thus David, assailed with threats and stones by Shimei, if he had fixed his eyes upon the man, would have encouraged his men to repay the injury; but because he knows that Shimei does not act without the Lord’s prompting, he rather appeases them: “Let him alone,” he says, “because the Lord has ordered him to curse” [II Sam. 16:11]. By this same bridle he elsewhere curbs his inordinate sorrow: “I have kept silence and remained mute,” says he, “because thou hast done it, O Jehovah” [Ps. 39:9 p.]. If there is no more effective remedy for anger and impatience, he has surely benefited greatly who has so learned to meditate upon God’s providence that he can always recall his mind to this point: the Lord has willed it; therefore it must be borne, not only because one may not contend against it, but also because he wills nothing but what is just and expedient. To sum this up: when are unjustly wounded by men, let us overlook their wickedness (which would but worsen our pain and sharpen our minds to revenge), remember to mount up to God, and learn to believe for certain that whatever our enemy has wickedly committed against us was permitted and sent by God’s just dispensation. —John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Westminster John Knox Press, 1960), 1.17.7, 8.

By God’s Decree

The language of “permission” is often used in regard to the existence of evil in the world. Sinful acts are committed and, since it is unthinkable that God could have decreed them, he is said to have merely permitted them. However, that men can accomplish nothing except by God’s secret command, that they cannot by deliberating accomplish anything except what he has already decreed with himself and determines by his secret direction, is proved by innumerable and clear testimonies. What we have cited before from the psalm, that God does whatever he wills [Ps. 115:3], certainly pertains to all the actions of men. If, as is here said, God is the true Arbiter of wars and of peace, and this without any exception, who, then, will dare say that men are borne headlong by blind motion unbeknown to God or with his acquiescence? But particular examples will shed more light. From the first chapter of Job we know that Satan, no less than the angels who willingly obey, presents himself before God [Job 1:6; 2:1] to receive his commands. He does so, indeed, in a different way and with a different end; but he still cannot undertake anything unless God so wills. However, even though a bare permission to afflict the holy man seems then to be added, yet we gather that God was the author of that trial of which Satan and his wicked thieves were the ministers, because this statement is true: “The Lord gave, the Lord has taken away; as it has pleased God, so is it done” [Job 1:21, Vg. (p.)]. Satan desperately tries to drive the holy man insane; the Sabaeans cruelly and impiously pillage and make off with another’s possessions. Job recognizes that he was divinely stripped of all his property, and made a poor man, because it so pleased God. Therefore, whatever men or Satan himself may instigate, God nevertheless holds the key, so that he turns their efforts to carry out his judgments. God wills that the false King Ahab be deceived; the devil offers his services to this end; he is sent, with a definite command, to be a lying spirit in the mouth of all the prophets [I Kings 22:20, 22]. If the blinding and insanity of Ahab be God’s judgment, the figment of bare permission vanishes: because it would be ridiculous for the Judge only to permit what he wills to be done, and not also to decree it and to command its execution by his ministers. The Jews intended to destroy Christ; Pilate and his soldiers complied with their mad desire; yet in solemn prayer the disciples confess that all the impious ones had done nothing except what “the hand and plan” of God had decreed [Acts 4:28]. So Peter had already preached that “by the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, Christ had been given over” to be killed [Acts 2:23]. It is as if he were to say that God, to whom from the beginning nothing was hidden, wittingly and willingly determined what the Jews carried out. As he elsewhere states: “God, who has foretold through all his prophets that Christ is going to suffer, has thus fulfilled it” [Acts 3:18]. Absalom, polluting his father’s bed by an incestuous union, commits a detestable crime [II Sam. 16:22]; yet God declares this work to be his own; for the words are: “You did it secretly; but I will do this thing openly, and in broad daylight” [II Sam. 12:12 p.]. Jeremiah declared that every cruelty the Chaldeans exercised against Judah was God’s work [Jer. 1:15; 7:14; 50:25, and passim]. For this reason Nebuchadnezzar is called God’s servant [Jer. 25:9; cf. ch. 27:6]. God proclaims in many places that by his hissing [Isa. 7:18 or 5:26], by the sound of his trumpet [Hos. 8:1], by his authority and command, the impious are aroused to war [cf. Zeph. 2:1]. The Assyrian he calls the rod of his anger [Isa. 10:5 p.], and the ax that he wields with his hand [cf. Matt. 3:10]. The destruction of the Holy City and the ruin of the Temple he calls his own work [Isa. 28:21]. David, not murmuring against God, but recognizing him as the just judge, yet confesses that the curses of Shimei proceeded from His command [II Sam. 16:10]. “The Lord,” he says, “commanded him to curse.” [II Sam. 16:11.] We very often find in the Sacred History that whatever happens proceeds from the Lord, as for instance the defection of the ten tribes [I Kings 11:31], the death of Eli’s sons [I Sam. 2:34], and very many examples of this sort. Those who are moderately versed in the Scriptures see that for the sake of brevity I have put forward only a few of many testimonies. Yet from these it is more than evident that they babble and talk absurdly who, in place of God’s providence, substitute bare permission—as if God sat in a watchtower awaiting chance events, and his judgments thus depended upon human will. —John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Westminster John Knox Press, 1960), 1.18.1.

If God Knows Everything

There is something erroneous in the question, “If God knows everything, why pray?” The question assumes that prayer is one-dimensional and is defined simply as supplication or intercession. On the contrary, prayer is multidimensional. God’s sovereignty casts no shadow over the prayer of adoration. God’s foreknowledge or determinate counsel does not negate the prayer of praise. The only thing it should do is give us greater reason for expressing our adoration for who God is. If God knows what I’m going to say before I say it, His knowledge, rather than limiting my prayer, enhances the beauty of my praise. . . . In what way could God’s sovereignty negatively affect the prayer of contrition, of confession? Perhaps we could draw the conclusion that our sin is ultimately God’s responsibility and that our confession is an accusation of guilt against God Himself. Every true Christian knows that he cannot blame God for his sin. I may not understand the relationship between divine sovereignty and human responsibility, but I do realize that what stems from the wickedness of my own heart may not be assigned to the will of God. So we must pray because we are guilty, pleading the pardon of the Holy One whom we have offended. —R. C. Sproul, Does Prayer Change Things? (Tyndale, 2009), 9,&nnbsp;10.


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