DEFENDING GOD’S RIGHTS (PART II)

INTRODUCTION: There are really only two religions in the world. One is God-centered and the other is man-centered (and, of course, this has developed into what we know today as the various world religions). The two contradictory propositions you will surely die and You will not surely die (Gen. 3:3,4) imply two entirely different and incompatible ways of looking at reality. The God-centered perspective implies God’s sovereign control while the man-centered perspective implies that human beings determine reality and control their own destiny.

Spurgeon, with his knack for capturing the essence of the matter, summed up the difference with this expression. God saves sinners. “You will perceive, I think, in these words, that the divine plan of salvation is very clearly laid down. It begins, you see, in the will and pleasure of God: When it pleased God. The foundation of salvation is not laid in the will of man.  It does not begin with man’s obedience, and then proceed onward to the purpose of God; but here is its commencement, here the fountain-head from which the living waters flow: It pleased God”.  God, sovereign in eternity, wills or decrees (that is, he plans, intends, decides and foreordains) to save some of those who are to be enslaved by sin through the fall of Adam. This means that it is God who initiates the program and the process of salvation, rather than the sinner. Salvation is therefore by grace alone, since the sinner, being finite, does not have the ontological standpoint in eternity even to plan saving acts, let alone the sovereign power to effect them. On his own divine initiative from eternity, God interferes in history to initiate and consummate all that is necessary to save rebel souls.

Salvation is a gift, and the sinner contributes nothing but the empty hand that reaches out to receive it.  Even this simple act of faith itself is by divine initiation, not by autonomous self-generation. Saving faith is itself a gift, not a natural capacity by which we simply decide to focus on Christ as an object of trust like we do with other objects (e.g., a chair, our parents, the telephone). From the first feeble stirrings of a desire to know God in some vague sense, through all the steps necessary to link a soul savingly to God through Christ, and all the way to our final glorification in the presence of the Father, “all is of grace.” “Salvation is of the Lord!” (John 2:9). God saves. God does not merely do enough to make salvation possible, leaving it to us to work our way up, to “merit the merits of Christ,” to do our part to make the merely possible become the actual.  Every link in the chain of redemption is forged on God’s anvil from start to finish. Even God cannot achieve an end without a means. In order to secure the predestined end, he foreordains each step and causal link, sovereignly acting to see that each cause and effect occurs. 

The biblical concept of the sovereignty of God is not simply a theological issue that is subject to debate among well-meaning Christians who happen to be Arminians or Calvinists. The doctrine of God’s sovereignty is absolutely crucial to everything Christians believe about God. Jonathan Edwards (1705-1758), who Perry Miller, professor of American Literature at Harvard, called “The greatest philosopher-theologian yet to grace the American scene,”  when he was in his late twenties looked back to the time when he came to embrace the doctrine of God’s sovereignty and wrote, “From my childhood up, my mind had been full of objection against the doctrine of God’s sovereignty, in choosing whom he would to eternal life, and rejecting whom he pleased; leaving them eternally to perish, and be everlastingly tormented in hell. It used to appear like a horrible doctrine to me. But I remember the time very well, when I seemed to be convinced, and fully satisfied, as to this sovereignty of God, and his justice in thus eternally disposing of men, according to his sovereign pleasure. But never could give an account, how, or by what means, I was thus convinced, not in the least imagining at the time, nor a long time after, that there was any extraordinary influence of God’s Spirit in it; but only that now I saw further, and my reason apprehended the justice and reasonableness of it. However, my mind rested in it; and it put an end to all those cavils and objections. And there has been a wonderful alteration in my mind, in respect to the doctrine of God’s sovereignty, from that day to this; so that I scarce ever have found so much as the rising of an objection against it, in the most absolute sense, in God’s shewing mercy to whom he will shew mercy, and hardening whom he will.  God’s absolute sovereignty and justice, with respect to salvation and damnation, is what my mind seems to rest assured of, as much as of any thing that I see with my eyes; at least it is so at times. But I have often, since that first conviction, had quite another kind of sense of God’s sovereignty than I had then. I have often since had not only a conviction, but a delightful conviction. The doctrine has very often appeared exceeding pleasant, bright, and sweet. Absolute sovereignty is what I love to ascribe to God. But my first conviction was not so.” 

John Piper makes this observation. “As Edwards beheld God, and stood entranced by His absolute sovereignty, he didn’t see this reality in isolation. It was part of God’s glory. It was sweet to Edwards because it was a great and vital part of an infinitely glorious Person whom he loved with tremendous passion.”  Edwards in his A Treatise Concerning Religion picks up on the answer to the first question in The Westminster Shorter Catechism (What is the chief end of man? To glorify God and enjoy Him forever) by elaboration on our duty to delight in God’s glory; Edwards’ point is quite simple: We glorify God by enjoying Him. Delight is, according to Edwards, an affection, (or emotion). What does it mean to delight in God?

I.          HATRED FOR SIN

Thomas Manton wrote, “Never count yourselves to have profited in anything till your hearts are awakened into a further hatred of sin. Christians!  They are but notions; it is not saving knowledge unless it be in order to practice; men have no understanding that have not this active and rooted enmity against sin: Ps. cxi. 10 ‘A good understanding have all that they do his commandments; they that hate sin more, and are more weary of corruption. He is made wiser by the word that is made better by it. It is not the talker against, but the hater of iniquity that is the wise man.

If wisdom enters upon the heart, and breaks out in our practice by that is our thriving in knowledge to be measured: 1 John 2:3, ‘Hereby we know that we know him, if we keep his commandments.’” 

II.         FEAR OF DISPLEASING GOD

“To live in the fear of God,” said John Howe, “is not without its pleasure; it composes the soul, expels the vanity which is not without vexation, represses exorbitant motions, checks unruly passions, keeps all within in a pleasant, peaceful calm, is “health to the navel, and marrow to the bones.””  We are told in Job 28:28 “The Fear of the Lord-that is wisdom, and to shun evil is understanding.” Psalm 34:11-14 reads, “Come, my children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord. Whoever of you loves life and desires to see many good days, keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking lies. Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.”

III.        HOPE IN THE PROMISES OF GOD

Thomas Brooks, in his quaint way of putting things, wrote, “That hope that accompanies salvation, that borders upon salvation, is grounded upon the firmest foundations, to wit, the promises of God, Prov. 10:28, as hath been fully shewed before; and it is built upon the free grace of God, 1 Peter 1:13. It is built upon the infinite and glorious power of God, Rom. 4:21. It is built upon the truth and faithfulness of God, 2 Tim. 2:13. These precious and glorious foundations do bear up the hopes of the saints, as the three pillars bore up the hangings in the tabernacle. A believer’s hope is founded upon the love of Christ, the blood of Christ, the righteousness of Christ, the satisfaction of Christ, and the intercession of Christ, but the hopes of hypocrites and wicked men, are always built upon weak, slender, and sandy foundations.” 

IV.       CONTENTMENT IN GOD’S FELLOWSHIP

The Puritans spoke of fellowship in terms of communion-and primarily this was seen in contemplation of God’s attributes and works. The Psalmist declares, “I will meditate on all your works and consider all your mighty deeds” (77:12 comp. Also Ps. 8:12). Listen to this exhortation by David Clarkson, “Entertain frequent and delightful thoughts of God. Such will present us to God, and make him present with us. While they are in our minds, he is in our hearts; and there we enjoy him, and converse with him, in a way most suitable to spirits. Communion amongst men is maintained by conference; that with God principally by meditation. This is the character of the wicked, those who are at the greatest distance from God, God is not in all their thoughts; he is not in all their thoughts, or to little purpose. But those who have fellowship with him, he must be in all their thoughts; all their thoughts must be of God. Even when their thoughts are employed about lower objects, they then think of him; because their thoughts of other things have always a tendency to him; he must be your meditation day and night, last and first thoughts.”

V.        JOYOUS ATTITUDE TOWARDS GOD

Ezekiel Hopkins wisely noted, “It is a true saying, Res severa est verum gaudium: “True joy is a severe thing.” It is not so light and frothy, as to float upon the expression of the face. It lies deep and hidden, in the center of the soul; and fills it with calm thoughts, sedate affections, an uniform peace and tranquillity; and diffuses such a sweetness through all the powers of it, that a true Christian, who loves his God, loves all the powers of it, that a true Christian, who loves his God, loves likewise himself, and the entertainment that he finds at home in his own bosom. That ravishing joy so wholly possesseth him, that, if he seem less affected with the ludicrous follies of this world, it is but as grave and wise men are, not much pleased with the play-games of children, because they have nobler and more generous delights of their own. The mirth and jollity of light persons is too trivial, and their laughter itself too ridiculous, to recreate him: the soft and peaceful whispers of his dear conscience are a thousand times more diverting to him, than all the wit and merriment of those pleasant companions, whose whole life is but a jest and a tale.”

VI.       GRATITUDE THAT PROMPTS ZEAL

Our duty toward God springs from a proper sense of gratitude for God’s grace and mercy-not in the sense that we try to repay God but wholly out of gratitude for what He has done for us. We should never think that even our best efforts to serve God have the least bit of merit. “We are not to rest in graces or duties,” wrote Thomas Goodwin, “they all cannot satisfy our own consciences, much less God’s justice. If ‘righteousness could have come’ by these, then ‘Christ had died in vain,’ as Gal. 2:21. What a dishonour were it to Christ, that they should share any of the glory of his righteousness! Were any of your duties crucified for you? Graces and duties are the daughter of faith, the offspring of Christ; and they may in time of need indeed nourish their mother, but not at first beget her.”

Gratitude is, in many ways, the distinguishing mark of a Christian. As John Owen put it, “To those happy persons “whose sins are forgiven, and to whom God will not impute iniquity,” because he hath laid their transgressions upon Christ, the knowledge of this divine truth is as a spur to quicken them to the practice of every virtue and to sincere obedience; for in what high, yea, infinite honour and esteem must God be held by him who, having escaped from the snares of death and the destruction due to him, through his inexpressible mercy, that thoroughly weighed the nature of sin and the consequences of it, which we have mentioned before! For whosoever shall reflect with himself that such is the quality and nature of sin, and that it is so impiously inimical to God, that unless he could not pardon it or let it pass unpunished, will ever acknowledge himself indebted to eternal love for the remission of the least transgression, because in inexpressible grace and goodness it hath been forgiven. And hence, too, we may learn how much beyond all other objects of our affection we are bound to love with our heart and soul, and all that is within us, our dear and beloved Deliverer and most merciful Saviour, Jesus Christ, “who hath delivered us from the wrath to come.””

CONCLUSION: Delighting in God and all that He is characterized Jonathan Edwards and his fellow Puritans. “True religion,” he said, “in great parts, consists in holy affections-the Holy Scriptures everywhere place religion very much in the affection; such as fear, hope, love, hatred, desire, joy, sorrow, gratitude, compassion, and zeal…of true religion lies much in the affections, hence we may learn, what great cause we have to be ashamed and confounded before God, that we are no more affected with the great things of religion. It appears from what has been said, that this arises from our having so little true religion. God has given to mankind affections, for the same purpose as that for which he has given all the faculties and principles of the human soul, viz. That they might be subservient to man’s chief end, and the great business for which God has created him, that is, the business of religion.”  How should this manifest itself in our lives? “In an evangelical culture where man is big and God is small, it is imperative that the church capture a passion for the glory of God, or even better, be captured by that passion. To be consumed by God’s glory is crucial for two reasons. First, if God delights in His own glory, then He is pleased when others delight in it as well. Second, this God-centered focus brings life and vitality, direction and purpose, to the Christian’s life. This passion both begins and ends with worship. In the corporate gatherings of God’s people, the magnificance and majesty of God should be the focal point. In the singing, praying, and preaching, the glory of God should be exalted and praised. God must hold center stage in our worship services… This is why the Lord’s Day worship is so crucial in the Christian’s life. It is a time for refocusing and readjusting our attitudes and convictions as to what should hold supreme value in our lives.”

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