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Posts Tagged ‘divine sovereignty’


The cycle of speeches between Job and his 3 friends has finished with Job’s final speech.  Their rather limited theological views couldn’t answer Job’s questions.  They ended up condemning Job.

There is one telling statement about Job in 32:1- “because he was righteous in his own eyes.”

Job shared their faulty theology.  Since he was certain he had not sinned, he thought he was suffering unjustly.  This book exists, in part, to let us know people suffer for a number of reasons, all under the soveriegnty of God.  It rebukes our presumption- but I get ahead of myself.

Elihu appears out of nowhere.  There is no prior indication that he was there.  And he isn’t mentioned at the end of the book either.  This has led some to speculate that Elihu is a later addition.  But the whole book is mysterious- suffering often doesn’t make sense.  So why should we expect the book to tie up all the loose ends.

Elihu’s contribution seems to be that suffering is a warning from God.  Job is being warned that he is in danger of departing from God.  He spends lots of time saying not much of anything.

Before we get to God’s response and the conclusion, I thought I should summarize the various reasons people suffer.  Some of those are found in this book, and some of them aren’t.  These are helpful to keep in mind when we suffer, and when people we counsel (formally or informally) are suffering.

  1. Our suffering is under the sovereignty of God.  This is the one consistent message of the book, and it is true.  Satan must seek God’s permission, and God held the Chaldeans and Sabeans at bay.
  2. Sometimes we suffer to test us.  This is why God permitted Job to suffer.  He knew Job would pass the test (as a result of sustaining grace), though Job didn’t always suffer well.
  3. (more…)

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Scottish pastor-theologian Eric Alexander has said this about Our Sovereign Saviour: The Essence of the Reformed Faith by Roger Nicole: “I could not speak too highly of this book.”  That is an apt summary of my sentiments as well.

All the more reason for me to wonder why this delightful little book is so unavailable.  It seems downright difficult to find in the places it should be easy to find.  Dr. Nicole is one of the pre-eminent theologians of the 20th century.  In the words of ‘King Arthur’, “You make me sad.”  But to the book!

In 184 pages Dr. Nicole summarizes and explains the distinctives of the Reformed Faith, and its implications on other doctrines.  Here is a chapter outline:

  1. The Meaning of the Trinity.  He establishes the 3 truths we hold in balance, and how the various heresies exalt one truth at the expense of the others.
  2. Soli Deo Gloria– or to God Alone be the glory.  This is a chapter on the glorious extent of God’s sovereignty, including individuals and the Church.
  3. Predestination and the Divine Decrees.  He explores what is meant, and not meant, by God’s sovereignty.  It does not mean we are puppets, for as the Westminster Confession notes, “nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures (III, 1).”  God ordains all things in keeping with our nature/character and how he plans to work to change our character.  He also briefly explains & critiques supralapsarianism and infralapsarianism.
  4. Calvinism: the Five Points.  He briefly explains the 5 main ideas of Calvinism, and dispells some common misunderstandings based on poor terminology.
  5. Particular Redemption.  He explains and defends the doctine of definite atonement, summarizing John Owen’s arguments from The Death of Death in the Death of Christ.
  6. The Doctrines of Grace in the Teachings of Jesus.  He shows that these are not doctrines of John Calvin, or Paul but taught by Jesus Himself, particularly in the Gospel According to John.
  7. Reconciliation and Propitiation.  He explores the use of these terms in Scripture and how they fit best with an understanding of definite atonement.
  8. Justification: Standing by God’s Grace.  He explores the 3 main illustrations of justification in Scripture to understand it fully.  In this chapter he mentions students who ‘made a virtue of being poorly attired’ hoping they learned to dress better before candidating for a position.  Sadly, I was one of these immature slobs who thought so little of themselves.
  9. Sanctification: Growing unto God.  He explains what it means negatively (mortification) and positively (vivefication).  Whereas justification is something done for us, sanctification is something done in us.
  10. Predestination and the Great Commission.  He shows, primarily through the example of William Carey, that election and evangelism are not at odds with one another if properly understood.  He defends the free offer of the gospel from misunderstandings.
  11. When God Calls.  Shows from God’s call of Paul and Barnabas that God is mission-minded in a way that ought to challenge us all to become engaged.  Without using the term, he builds a quick case for missional living.
  12. Freedom and Law.  He addresses the issue of what freedom really is, against some silly misconceptions, and how the Law fits into freedom.
  13. Prayer: the Prelude to Revival.  He addresses prayer as an established means for revival.  He also talks about some fundamentals of prayer in relation to sovereignty.
  14. The Final Judgment.  He defends the doctrine of the final judgment.

In these chapters you find typical Dr. Nicole.  Though humble and irenic, you find him quite knowledgable and more than capable of dispelling any misunderstandings or strawmen opposed against the truth.  He is brief, not laboring his points.  He uses illustrations from everyday life, and history.  I’m not sure if he’s ever seen a movie.  But this means that the book is not bound in time unnecessarily.  How I wish he wrote more!  This is a book that often moved me to prayer- gratitude and petition.  That is what good theology does.  This is a book that can encourage those who understand the distinctives of the Reformed Faith.  It is also a great, winsome book for those who do not yet understand and embrace them. 

Here are a few choice quotes:

“Thus, the sovereignty of God immediately crushes man as sinner into the very just of the ground, for he is unable to rise in God’s presence but must be the object of his fearful condemnation. … When we talk about the sovereignty of God we emphasize the sovereignty of God the Holy Spirit who works in the lives of men and does not await some consent that would be coming fron unregenerate sinners but who himself transforms at the very depths of their personality lives that are disrupted, distorted and destroyed by sin.”

“There is no circumstance of life that should be totally disconcerting, because God has ordained it and is at the back of it.  His loving and gracious purpose is fulfilled even in the events which may appear quite contrary to our wishes.”

“The grace of God does not function against our wills but is rather a grace which subdues the resistance of our wills.  God the Holy Spirit is able to accomplish this.”

“Authentic Calvinism has always confessed particular redemption and at the same time insisted on the universal offer of the gospel.”

“God cannot punish a sin twice.  He cannot punish it once in the person of the Redeemer and then punish it again later in the person of the perpetrator.”

“The Lord Jesus is the Good Shepherd.  He is not going to allow his sheep to wander away.  That, in fact, is expressly stated.  He gives them eternal life.  They shall never perish.”

“It is only when we consider how grievous a thing sin is and how greatly displeased God is with it, that we are in a position to understand what it means to be reconciled to him.”

“The very fact that you know this person- the very fact that you are in contact with this person, the very fact that there is a burden upon your heart for this person- ought to be an indication that quite possibly, even probably, he or she has been picked by God.”

“There is no Christian who can say, ‘I am not a missionary.’  There are places that you can reach that nobody else can reach.  There  are people for whom you can work that nobody else can invite in the same way in God’s name.  We have a task to accomplish.”

“What people fail to understand is that the spiritual laws that God has established are equally binding. … They think they can violate the moral laws that God has established at the root of the universe and not bear the consequences. … To disregard the laws of God is not to achieve freedom; it is to sink into futility.  It is to break oneself against the structure of the world in which we live.”

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I spent the last few days reading Spurgeon v. Hyper-Calvinism: The Battle for Gospel Preaching by Iain Murray.  It was well worth the $4.72 I paid for this book at WTS Books.  It was yet another solid read by Iain Murray.  He’s done us a great service again, though this book is quite short (under 160 pages).

Why might someone want to read this book?  Well, for a few reasons.  One the one hand it can be used to refute Arminians who think that Calvinism itself hinders evangelism.  It shows this by putting forth Spurgeon as a very evangelistic, historical Calvinist.  It shows that Hyper-Calvinism (which does hinder evangelism) is a deviation which should not be confused with the real thing (all those people in the SBC who are afraid of Calvinism should read this).

With the resurgence of Calvinism among young church leaders, we may see a resurgence of Hyper-Calvinism as well.  It was this that led Murray to write the book in the 1990s.  I have only met a few Hyper-Calvinists by doctrine.  However, sometimes we can inadvertantly be Hyper-Calvinists in practice.  I felt that conviction as I read the book.  I have not been as zealous in pleading with people as perhaps I should have been.

Murray begins with a very brief historical sketch of Charles Haddon Spurgeon to set the stage.  He began his ministry at a time when Arminianism was beginning to spread among English Baptists, and part of the reason was that Hyper-Calvinism had infected many of the English Baptist congregations.  The two controversies of Spurgeon’s early ministry were against these to sub-biblical theologies.  By and large they attacked him, though he recognized some indiscretion on his part as he looked back in latter years.

Murray turns to the Combatants and the Cause of the Controversy.  It began in earnest when a well-meaning publisher wanted to show other Hyper-Calvinists that Spurgeon was a man whose ministry they could welcome, even if he wasn’t “fully onboard”.  This draw the ire of the leading Hyper-Calvinists who began exchanging letters to the editors and articles on the matter with some who defended Spurgeon.  Spurgeon himself never entered the fray via the periodicals.  Most of his responses were in the form of instructing his people from the pulpit.

Murray then moves into The Case Against Spurgeon.  They claimed he was touched by an Arminian spirit (attitude, not a ghost or something).  But many of their arguments had a problem- they were refuted by numerous honored Puritan pastor-theologians like Richard Sibbes, John Owen, Thomas Boston and the other Marrow Men.  They argued that non-elect people could not be told to repent and believe since they were unable to do so.  They called the practice of so doing “duty-faith”, quite derisively to make it sound like a work.  The Hyper-Calvinists fell into the same trap as the Arminians, though it took them in a different direction.  For God to command something of people implied they had the ability to fulfill the command.  Arminians accepted this, and believed all people had the ability, not just the duty, to repent and believe.  Hyper-Calvinists, believing non-elect people lacked the ability, also lacked the duty.  In this they were trying to be logically consistent.

The problem is that duty is not connected to ability.  God’s commands are reflective of His nature, not our ability.  As such they reflect our responsibility, what we are to do.  All people are commanded to obey God in all things, though only regenerate people have the ability to actually do that.

Murray turns to Spurgeon’s Fourfold Appeal to Scripture.  As noted above, most of this is culled from his sermons.

(more…)

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