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Grace Conferred (7): God's Promised Blessing

Grace Conferred (7): God's Promised Blessing

Following is the final part in the series "Grace Conferred by Means of Admonitions" by Martyn McGeown. Read Part Six here, or read the whole series over again with Part One here.


“For grace is conferred by means of admonitions; and the more readily we perform our duty, the more eminent usually is this blessing of God working in us, and the more directly is His work advanced” (Canons 3-4.17).

In the final section of Canons 3-4.17 our Reformed fathers describe the relationship between our activity and God’s blessing. “The more readily (Latin: promptius) we perform (Latin: facimus—we do) our duty” (Latin: officium nostrum). The duty that the Canons have in mind is the duty of preaching and the duty of listening and taking heed to the gospel with its admonitions (and never forget that the preaching comes also to the preacher; he not only preaches to the congregation, but he also preaches to himself).

The word duty (officium) could be translated as office, but its meaning is wider than that. It means duty, obligation, service, and office. Evidently, its meaning is more than passively listening to someone preach. Of course, we should never passively listen, but actively listen. We should seek in our listening to understand, to take heed, and to obey. We should not come to the preaching merely to absorb information, but to be edified, exhorted, comforted, and even motivated to obey.

The word officium appears elsewhere in the Canons, in Canons 5.R.2 where the Arminians are condemned for teaching conditional perseverance: “Who teach that God does indeed provide the believer with sufficient powers to persevere, and is ever ready to preserve these in him, if he will do his duty” (Latin: si officium facint). The word officium cannot be restricted to the special office of preacher because the Arminians had in mind all believers: the perseverance of all believers, said the Arminians, depends on their doing their duty; therefore, duty, not office, is the better translation.

What, then, is the relationship between God’s operation in us and our performing of our duty? “The more readily we perform our duty, the more eminent usually is this blessing of God working in us.” That does not mean, of course, that our performance comes first, while God operates in second place behind us bringing up the rear. Nor does it mean that God’s operation depends on our performance of duty, as if God waited for us to act before he acted. The Bible never teaches that and the Canons, faithful to Scripture, do not teach that either. Instead, the Canons ascribe the full glory to God alone: “to whom alone,” we read, “all the glory, both of means and their saving fruit and efficacy, is forever due.” God works in us both to will and to do of his good pleasure, the apostle instructs us in Philippians 2:13. God works in us, and we will. God creates in us holy desires and longings, contrary to the evil lusts that reside in our flesh, which lusts we are commanded not to obey (Rom. 6:12), which lusts we are commanded to mortify (Rom. 8:13). God does not mortify the lusts: we do “through the Spirit.” God works in us, and we do. God causes us to bring forth the fruits of good actions, which, although they are never perfect works in this life, are genuinely good and pleasing in God’s sight.

It is not this: God works in us and God wills; or God works in us and God works, but this: God works in us and we will; God works in us and we do.

Thus God is first in our willing and doing, and as a result we work out our own salvation in fear and trembling to the glory of his name (Phil. 2:12).

In other words, the relationship is not this: “God will work if we are willing to work first” or “God will work if we come halfway.” That is synergism, which is the teaching that salvation is a cooperative effort between us and God which depends on the operation of our freewill. Synergism is the teaching that God works with us and that we work with God.

But the relationship is also not this: “Do nothing, be passive, be inactive, and wait until God moves you like a bump on a log to will and to do.” That is passivity, the teaching that we are not active in our salvation but that God works in us and through us by his Holy Spirit. Extreme passivity leads to the idea that we do not believe—God does; we do not repent—God does; we do not do good works—God does. Then we say, “I do not need to do anything: if God wants me to desire the good, he will work that in me; if God wants me to do the good, he will work that in me. In the meantime, I will do what I want to do, which is nothing, or worse, which is sin.”

On the contrary, say the Canons, do your duty. And as you do your duty, be encouraged by God’s promise: the more readily you perform your duty (which is the fruit of God’s grace operating in you already), the more eminent usually is God’s blessing working in you by the power of the Holy Spirit. God does not reward idleness or passivity, but diligent attendance to duty. If that sounds conditional, your quarrel is with the Canons.

There is a most intimate and proportionate relation between the diligence of the church and the people of God in regard to the means of grace and the measure of blessing of God working in us. This is well to remember. The means of grace must be diligently used in the church. And God’s people will surely manifest this diligence also (Homer C. Hoeksema, Voice of Our Fathers [Grand Rapids, MI: RFPA, 1980], 565-566).

Come to the preaching; hear the preaching; believe the preaching; obey the preaching. Insist that the preaching includes admonitions and even warnings and threatenings. Grace is conferred by means of admonitions. God blesses us in the way of our diligence, not in the way of passivity, idleness, and neglect. That is the teaching of Canons 3-4.17. Let us hold fast that no man take our crown.

Interested in Voice of Our Fathers quoted above? The RFPA is considering a limited reprint of this volume in 2024! Join our email list to stay up-to-date on sales, announcements of reprints and new releases, and new blog series.
Thank you for reading the blog series "Grace Conferred by Means of Admonitions"! Stay tuned next week for a new series on prayer by Ten Commandments for Children author, Ron Cammenga, or read more from Martyn McGeown on grace in his RFPA publication Grace and Assurance.

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