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The Living God

The Living God

From chapter 39 of Particular Grace: A Defense of God's Sovereignty in Salvation by Abraham Kuyper (translated and edited by Marvin Kamps), pages 336-342.

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Our God is not a clock that merely runs mechanically, but a living, thinking, desiring being, who accomplishes his will through speaking. Likewise, man is not a block or a stone or an animal or a machine that can be worked with silently, but a being with a consciousness upon whom an effect must be wrought in a way ordinary among men. It is the nature of the case that the Lord God has decreed to accomplish his will in humanity precisely through the preaching of his Word.

However, much more needs to be said about this very earnest objection, even though it has been derived in error from Scripture. In the statement “If everything is determined beforehand, to what purpose do we warn one another?” there is really concealed the much more serious objection: “Let the elect then live as wickedly as he wants: he will still go to heaven anyway. And let the reprobate be an angelic man, and let him movingly implore God for grace: such an unfortunate man is never going to make it anyway!” In regard to that abominable, dreadful indictment against the triune God’s work of election, we must, for the maintaining of God’s honor, make another explanation to settle the matter.

Let it be stated emphatically that simply not one word of this entire objection, presented so movingly, is true. It is not as if there were multitudes of troubled people who are imploring God for grace and that God leaves them in their misery. We all agree that clamor and abundance of words settle nothing; what matters is sincerity. This one thing is sure: not one— whoever he may be and wherever in all the world he may live— who in heartfelt sincerity has called out for reconciliation and peace has gone unheard by God. That may be said on the basis of God’s own Word; it is derived from his own explicit promises, and we know that he does not forsake his pledge. The error of our antagonists is merely that they imagine that anyone, whoever he may be, would one day come to such a sincere sorrow by his own efforts and without God’s help. If that were possible, if that were conceivable, then indeed there would be no room for election. However, if the sacred Scriptures plainly teach that the imagination of the flesh is enmity against God “for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be” (Rom. 8:7), then all should agree that the brethren who come with this contrived objection bring again to active fermentation the ancient Pelagian leaven, teaching that the sinner is able to come to a sincere sorrow before God at any time without God’s activity in the renewing of life.

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There is something else involved in the argument that has been coupled to this objection: that an elect, even though he lives wickedly all his life, will nonetheless certainly make it. Something else is involved, we say, because as has been stated, that objection is the most ungodly accusation against God’s sacred holiness that can be imagined. But there is indeed “something” involved in it, and that something consists in this: that faith does not, in fact, suddenly turn sinners into a group of outward conformists. A child of God is entirely different from an individual who is an outward conformist, who cares only about precision of external modesty, about squeezing into a straitjacket of human precepts, and about appearances. This is why self-exaltation— on the basis of the appearance of virtue for reward— usually keeps pace with the development of these people who wrap themselves in virtue. It is completely true, of course, that the Lord God preferably does not fill the heaven of his glory with actors like that. With God, not the proud but only the humble find grace. It is also true that the Lord God not infrequently permits one to slip into sin for the purpose of breaking and shattering a heart too greatly swollen with pride, even as this is demonstrated on the pages of Scripture by all the saints of the Bible.

Here is the great difference by which one is able to distinguish the fallen children of God from the antinomians. In response to the question “Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?” a child of God will always and immediately declare with the profoundest indignation, “God forbid,” which is what Paul taught us. And if he occasionally fell because of weakness, he immediately afterwards, in bitter sorrow and meekness of soul, will lament his inexpressible guilt before God and men. In reverse, the devilish—and yes, we repeat that word, because this shameful striving is devilish—the devilish antinomians lust for it and take pleasure in it, speaking of that sinful deed as a mere trifle and as an inevitable thing. Still worse, after having sinned, they manifest acrimony and boldness instead of penitence and self-mortification and sorrow.[1]

With a clear conscience, we dare to examine this extremely sensitive objection from our own viewpoint. Besides, one can see that we are not for a moment embarrassed to expose the shamefulness that gave rise to this dreadful objection.

A child of God and an antinomian are immediately recognizable by their speech. Instead of indicting God’s work of election because of the antinomians, it would be more appropriate for us to cleanse our own hearts of the leaven of antinomianism with greater seriousness, and to earnestly warn our brethren whom we see going astray in that way.

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Our fathers were apt, if it were required, to respond to this objection as follows:

“Pray tell,” they would either say or write, “do you seriously believe that the certainty of election would make one reckless in regard to virtue and careless in behavior? Take a look at the prophets and apostles of the Lord in the days of the Old and New Testaments. According to your own testimony, they were certain of their salvation and sure of their blessedness, and repeatedly the echo arising from their writings speaks to you about the blessed comfort they derived from the certainty of that salvation. May we ask, Were those prophets such scums of humanity? Were those apostles justly contemptible in the eyes of all around? If that is not true; if, on the contrary, these men who were certain of their salvation and testified themselves that they could not lose it, were nevertheless shining lights for their contemporaries, do you not see for yourself how your entire indictment is groundless?”

Our fathers also pointed to Augustine. They did it in the following manner. For many years Augustine did not believe in God’s decree of election, but he did believe, in fact, in his own free will. And all those years Augustine was an abominable sinner— until the Lord God finally laid hold of him and took hold of him in such a manner that Augustine became the great interpreter of the plan of grace, the powerful preacher of election, and more than anyone he vigorously promoted the truth that the believer cannot fall from grace. And yet, from the time he began to preach that truth, and subsequently, the old sinner in Augustine was securely bound and laid in chains, and the glory of Jehovah shone brilliantly in this saint.

Continuing on this historical path, our fathers came to Calvin, to the martyrs, to all our godly theologians from ancient times who edified and built the church on the basis of God’s sovereign good pleasure. All of these men very emphatically taught particular grace. Our fathers asked, then, in regard to each one, one by one, whether they had not at the same time edified God’s church through their godly walk and whether the fruit of the Spirit had not been plucked from the manifestations of their lives.

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Moreover, one should especially keep the following clearly in mind: that it is the Lord God who moves people to faith. Therefore, these men were not some kind of mutilated beings with split personalities from whom was first removed the processes of their human faculties or powers of will. No, they were real people, each with a will.

In connection with the work of salvation, it is not God’s purpose to clip and to paralyze a powerful will and from then on to trifle with this being without a will as a child plays with a ball. On the contrary, when God finds a person who is weak and without a will, incapable of any good and powerless to accomplish any inspiring act, then the Lord God begins to electrify and inspire the will in the heart of precisely that person whose will had become sick, powerless, and spineless, and God makes in him a real will. When in this way the living faculty to will again awakens in that dead will, the Lord God now in fluences his creature by his Holy Spirit so that he inclines and subdues the man whose will it is, so that he finally, with all the energy and inspiration of his will, turns his back on sin, the world, and the devil and yields himself to the Lord.

The presentation that characterizes conversion as an emasculation and a mutilation of the will should be driven out of the church. In the fellowship of God’s children, we may not rest until the preaching of the pure truth penetrates again in such a way that we are delivered from the mystical enthusiasm of sickly emotions, and we can stand in his courts again as men, as persons, as heroes inspired by God.

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In ourselves we are weak, nothing, less than nothing, by nature sold under sin. However, the “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” must become again the shibboleth in Jesus’ church.

Let us not forget that especially the moral life, the sense of guilt, the feeling of responsibility, may never be undermined or weakened, but must continually be powerfully and emphatically set on the foreground. Preachers or lay speakers who, week in and week out, talk about the good and marvelous things of the counsel of God, but who lack the courage, also week in week out, to as decisively testify against the evil and shameful things of man’s counsel, would do well to contemplate earnestly sometime to what extent they are departing from, yes, are going contrary to the rule of God’s sacred Word.

That Word sets these concepts— God’s irresistible grace and our personal responsibility— unreconciled next to and in contrast to one another. And as often as we would go into the aspects of these secrets, and alternately would delve into the depths for the cause of sin, or would search on high for the ground of election, it would always end finally in our own acknowledgment of our inability to understand, to perceive, and to grasp these two together in one idea. We would acknowledge that we would only be able to fathom this unity if our understanding were itself like the wisdom of the living God.

Now that you do not have this understanding, if you want to act as if you do have it, you would begin to sin the sin of Satan, and you would set your heart in the place of God’s heart, and you would set yourself in God’s chair.

But if you perceive the dreadful sinfulness of such a design, and if you retreat from that and cease such a presumptuous effort, you can no longer be satisfied with preaching half a truth by either continuing to delve only into the depths of your own responsibility or hovering exclusively about in the exalted heights of election.

Behold, a ladder has been put in position, the bottom of which touches the earth and the top of which reaches the heavens; in this way both are united. That ladder is God’s Word, and that Word instructs us that we should abandon all of our own discoveries and self-conceited opinions, and that we should wisely, moderately, and reverently turn again to the rule of God’s will in these sacred matters. The Word teaches us that we should bring both truths lovingly to God’s congregation, both in an equally animated manner, and both with equal earnestness since his is the counsel and the good pleasure, and since only his sovereign counsel shall stand. On the other hand, the Bible teaches us that every man is before God worthy of condemnation, and therefore is responsible; that no one ever went, or now goes, or will go lost except through his own actual guilt.

[1] The antinomian misuses the truth of justification by faith alone. He fails or refuses to see that justification is the ground of our sanctification and that justification will and must evidence itself in sanctification of life in gratitude to God for the forgiveness of sins. Compare this with Lord’s Day 24 of the Heidelberg Catechism. [Footnote by the translator and editor, Marvin Kamps]

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