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Abraham Kuyper – Particular, Covenant, and Common Grace

8 Jun

1837-1920. Dutch pastor, theologian, politician, and Prime Minister of the Netherlands.

Particular grace deals with the individual, the person to be saved, with the individual entering glory. And with this individual, as child of God, we cannot wrap the golden chain of redemption around his soul unless that golden chain descends from personal, sovereign election.

For that reason, the almighty sovereignty of God, who elects whom he will and rejects those to whom he does not show mercy, remains the heart of the church, the cor ecclesiae, which the Reformed churches must hold firmly until the return of the Lord. The consequence of forsaking this truth would be their vanishing from the earth, even prior to the Maranatha. This doctrine is and remains, therefore, the heart of our confession. This is the testimony that, on the authority of God’s Word, sealed by our personal experience, we shout aloud for all to hear: grace is particular.

Nevertheless, that same child of God is something other than an isolated individual limited to himself. This individual is also part of a community, member of a body, participant in a group identity, enclosed within an organism. The doctrine of the covenant emphasizes and does justice to this truth.

Without the doctrine of the covenant, the doctrine of election is mutilated, and the frightening lack of the assurance of faith is the valid punishment resulting from this mutilation of the truth. If separated from the confession of the covenant, election in isolation attempts to take hold of the Holy Spirit without honoring God the Son. The Third Person in the Trinity does not allow that violation of the honor of the Second Person. Christ himself testified that the Holy Spirit “will take what is mine and declare it to you” [John 16:14]. Anyone who presumes to trample upon this divine ordinance will not escape the severe anguish with which this unshakeable ordinance wreaks its misery of soul.

Therefore, in Holy Scripture this sovereign, personal election never appears in any other manner but within the context of covenant grace. The individual, this single soul, must experience being incorporated into the community of the saints. We are elected personally, but together we are branches of the one Vine, members of the same body. For that reason, the confession of particular, personal grace is untrue and unscriptural unless it arises within the context of the covenant.

However, this is not the end of the matter.

The divine covenant in the Mediator in turn has its background in the work of original creation, in the existence of the world, and in the life of our human race. As individuals God’s children belong to the community of the saints. But that community of saints also consists of the children of men, born of a woman by the will of man. Consequently they are interwoven and interconnected with all of human living that originated in paradise and continues in its misshapen form even after humanity’s fall from God.

Neither our election nor our attachment to the community of saints negates our common humanity, nor removes our participation in the life of family, homeland, or world.

Therefore, we need to consider not two, but three aspects: first, our personal life; second, our incorporation into the body of Christ; and third, our existence as human beings (that is, our origin by human birth, our membership in the human race).

~Abraham Kuyper~

Common Grace, Volume 1: God’s Gifts for a Fallen World: The Historical Section. Edited by Jordan J. Ballor, Melvin Flikkema, and Stephen J. Grail. Translated by Nelson D. Kloosterman and Ed M. van der Maas. Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press; Acton Institute, 2015), 2-3.

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John Calvin – The Medicine Doesn’t Feed The Disease

16 Apr


What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? – Romans 6:1-2

Paul proceeds carefully to disprove the propounded slander. He, however, first rejects it by an indignant negative, in order to impress it on the minds of his readers, that nothing can be more inconsistent than that the grace of Christ, the repairer of our righteousness, should nourish our vices.

Who have died to sin, &c. An argument derived from what is of an opposite character. “He who sins certainly lives to sin; we have died to sin through the grace of Christ; then it is false, that what abolishes sin gives vigour to it.” The state of the case is really this,—that the faithful are never reconciled to God without the gift of regeneration; nay, we are for this end justified,—that we may afterwards serve God in holiness of life. Christ indeed does not cleanse us by his blood, nor render God propitious to us by his expiation, in any other way than by making us partakers of his Spirit, who renews us to a holy life. It would then be a most strange inversion of the work of God were sin to gather strength on account of the grace which is offered to us in Christ; for medicine is not a feeder of the disease, which it destroys.

~John Calvin~

Commentary on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 218–219.

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John Calvin – Conviction of Scripture’s Superiority

28 Mar

1. Scripture is superior to all human wisdom
Unless this certainty, higher and stronger than any human judgment, be present, it will be vain to fortify the authority of Scripture by arguments, to establish it by common agreement of the church, or to confirm it with other helps. For unless this foundation is laid, its authority will always remain in doubt. Conversely, once we have embraced it devoutly as its dignity deserves, and have recognized it to be above the common sort of things, those arguments—not strong enough before to engraft and fix the certainty of Scripture in our minds—become very useful aids. What wonderful confirmation ensues when, with keener study, we ponder the economy of the divine wisdom, so well ordered and disposed; the completely heavenly character of its doctrine, savoring of nothing earthly; the beautiful agreement of all the parts with one another—as well as such other qualities as can gain majesty for the writings.

~John Calvin~

Institutes of the Christian Religion, Volumes 1 & 2, ed. John T. McNeill, trans. Ford Lewis Battles, The Library of Christian Classics (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011) Vol. 1.8.1. p. 81-82.

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Herman Bavinck – The Comfort In Election

1 Mar

1854-1921. Dutch Reformed Theologian and Churchman. Professor at Free University in Amsterdam.

Both for unbelievers and believers, the doctrine of election is a source of inexpressibly great comfort. If it were based on justice and merit, all would be lost. But now that election operates according to grace, there is hope even for the most wretched. If work and reward were the standard of admission into the kingdom of heaven, its gates would be opened for no one. Or if Pelagius’s doctrine were the standard, and the virtuous were chosen because of their virtue, and Pharisees because of their righteousness, wretched publicans would be shut out. Pelagianism has no pity. But to believe in and to confess election is to recognize even the most unworthy and degraded human being as a creature of God and an object of his eternal love. The purpose of election is not—as it is so often proclaimed—to turn off the many but to invite all to participate in the riches of God’s grace in Christ. No one has a right to believe that he or she is a reprobate, for everyone is sincerely and urgently called to believe in Christ with a view to salvation. No one can actually believe it, for one’s own life and all that makes it enjoyable is proof that God takes no delight in his death. No one really believes it, for that would be hell on earth. But election is a source of comfort and strength, of submissiveness and humility, of confidence and resolution. The salvation of human beings is firmly established in the gracious and omnipotent good pleasure of God.

~Herman Bavinck~

Reformed Dogmatics Vol. 2: God and Creation John Bolt and John Vriend (Grand Rapids, MI; Baker Academic; 2004) p. 402.

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John Calvin – When The Fewness of Believers Disturbs You

28 Jan

If God has willed this treasure of understanding to be hidden from his children, it is no wonder or absurdity that the multitude of men are so ignorant and stupid! Among the “multitude” I include even certain distinguished folk, until they become engrafted into the body of the church. Besides, Isaiah, warning that the prophetic teaching would be beyond belief, not only to foreigners but also to the Jews who wanted to be reckoned as members of the Lord’s household, at the same time adds the reason: “The arm of God will not be revealed” to all [Isa. 53:1 p.]. Whenever, then, the fewness of believers disturbs us, let the converse come to mind, that only those to whom it is given can comprehend the mysteries of God [cf. Matt. 13:11].

~John Calvin~

Institutes of the Christian Religion, Volumes 1 & 2, ed. John T. McNeill, trans. Ford Lewis Battles, The Library of Christian Classics (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011) Vol. 1.7.5. p. 81.

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Herman Bavinck – Questions That Distinguish Reformed Theology

24 Apr

To distinguish is to learn. In the discussion of the doctrine of immediate regeneration it is of highest importance to take this seriously to heart. To neglect this entangles one in various difficulties and brings others into confusion, rather than clarifying their insight.

In connection with this doctrine, three questions need to be kept distinct.

First, in what manner does the Holy Spirit work within the human heart? Does He remain outside at a distance, and does He work in the human heart merely along those ordinary pathways to which we are bound in our interaction with other people, along the paths of understanding and volition, by word and example? Or does the Holy Spirit descend into the human heart such that nothing stands between Him and the inner being of the human person, and does He work within a person directly and irresistibly?

From this first question a second is to be distinguished. If the latter is the case, namely, if the Holy Spirit is present within a person immediately and performs His work directly, does not this direct operation exclude the use of means? If the operation of the Holy Spirit within the heart is immediate, does that not entail the claim that the use of means is superfluous, unprofitable, yes, even mistaken and detrimental?

Finally, a third question arises: If the immediate operation of the Holy Spirit in the human heart does not make the use of means superfluous or detrimental, how must we conceive of the connection that exists between the immediate operation of the Spirit and the function of the means?

The answer to the first question draws the boundary between those who confess sovereign grace and those who defend free will. The answer to the second question distinguishes those who maintain the power of the means of grace, from all so-called enthusiasts who consider the means of grace superfluous or denigrate them to empty signs. And the answer to the third question distinguishes between the Reformed on the one hand, and on the other hand the Roman Catholics, Lutherans, and others who restrict grace to, and confine it within, the means of Word or sacrament. The combination of the threefold answer assures the confessors of the Reformed religion a unique, distinct place among the churches of Christendom.

~Herman Bavinck~

Saved by Grace (Grand Rapids, Michigan; Reformation Heritage; 2008) p. 9-10.

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Geerhardus Vos – Election and God’s Affectionate Foreknowledge

23 Mar

Hosea, on the supposition that marriage and berith with Jehovah are to him identical, is the chief source of our information in regard to the nature of the union. We learn from him:

[1] The union originated on the part of Jehovah

Not Israel offered herself to Him, He sought out Israel. Theologically speaking, we would say that the berith had its source in the divine election. Election is spoken of by Isaiah [14.1; 43.20; 49.7]. With Amos and Hosea, however, a more characteristic and intimate term is chose to convey somewhat of the religious depths and value of this idea. This term yada’, ‘to know’, not in the intellectual sense of ‘to be informed about’, but in the pregnant, affectional sense of ‘to take loving knowledge of’ [Hos. 13.5; Amos 3.2]. This act is not yet represented as an eternal act on the part of Jehovah; in keeping with their standpoint in the midst of history, the prophets think of it as something emerging in time. The New Testament makes out of this ‘knowing’ a ‘fore-knowing’. But this is simply putting the act back into eternity. To cut it loose from its Old Testament antecedents and to intellectualize it in the interest of a Pelgianizing theology is an utterly unhistorical proceeding. The ‘pro’ in the Greek rendering does not serve to give God His standpoint in time, from which He then is able to look forward and base His decision on what the creature is foreseen to be about to do at a certain point in time; it serves the precisely opposite purpose of giving God His standpoint before, that is to say, in Old Testament language, above time.

~Geerhardus Vos~

Biblical Theology (Edinburgh, Scotland; Banner of Truth, 1975), 260.

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J.C. Ryle – God’s Elect Are Safe

16 Mar

Those whom God has chosen to salvation by Christ, are those whom God specially loves in this world. They are the jewels among mankind. He cares more for them than for kings on their thrones, if kings are not converted. He hears their prayers. He orders all the events of nations and the issues of wars for their good, and their sanctification. He keeps them by His Spirit. He allows neither man nor devil to pluck them out of His hand. Whatever tribulation comes on the world, God’s elect are safe. May we never rest until we know that we are of this blessed number! There breathes not the man or woman who can prove that he is not one. The promises of the Gospel are open to all. May we give diligence to make our calling and election sure! God’s elect are a people who cry unto Him night and day. When Paul saw the faith, and hope, and love of the Thessalonians, then he knew “their election of God.” (1 Thess. 1:4; Luke 18:7.)

~J.C. Ryle~

Expository Thoughts on the Gospels – Matthew (Edinburgh, Scotland; Banner of Truth; 1992) Commenting on Matthew 24:15-28. p. 320

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Martyn Lloyd-Jones – The God Who Seeks Us

17 Jan

There are some people who seem to think that the message of the Bible is one which tells us what we have to do in order to please this God whom we have offended. That again is quite wrong. The Bible tells us about what God has done in order to reconcile us to Himself. I want to put that very strongly. Not only is God not unwilling to receive us, it is He who goes out of His way to seek us. So if we want to grasp the biblical doctrine of redemption we must once and for ever get rid of that notion which has been instilled into the human mind and heart by the devil, who is God’s adversary and our adversary, and who tries to make us believe that God is against us. But the Bible’s message is that `God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son. . .’ (John 3:16).

~Martyn Lloyd-Jones~

The Great Doctrines of the Bible (Wheaton, IL; Crossway Books; 2003) Chapter 19: Redemption: The Eternal Plan of God

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George Whitefield – Free Will and Obedience

30 Mar

The doctrines of our election, and free justification in Christ Jesus are daily more and more pressed upon my heart. They fill my soul with a holy fire and afford me great confidence in God my Saviour.

I hope we shall catch fire from each other, and that there will be a holy emulation amongst us, who shall most debase man and exalt the Lord Jesus. Nothing but the doctrines of the Reformation can do this. All others leave free will in man and make him, in part at least, a Saviour to himself. . . .

I know Christ is all in all. Man is nothing: he hath a free will to go to hell, but none to go to heaven, till God worketh in him to will and to do of His good pleasure.

Oh the excellency of the doctrine of election and of the saints’ final perseverance!

I am persuaded, till a man comes to believe and feel these important truths, he cannot come out of himself, but when convinced of these, and assured of their application to his own heart, he then walks by faith indeed! Love, not fear, constrains him to obedience.

~George Whitefield~

George Whitefield: The Life and Times of the Great Evangelist of the 18th Century Revival Vol. 1 (Edinburgh, Scotland; Banner of Truth Trust; 1970) p. 407.

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HT: Dane Ortlund