Some robust natural theology, courtesy of the redoubtable Mr. Sherlock Holmes (from The Naval Treaty, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle).

* * * *

“What a lovely thing a rose is!”

He walked past the couch to the open window and held up the drooping stalk of a moss-rose, looking down at the dainty blend of crimson and green. It was a new phase of his character to me, for I had never before seen him show any keen interest in natural objects.

“There is nothing in which deduction is so necessary as religion,” said he, leaning with his back against the shutters. “It can be built up as an exact science by the reasoner. Our highest assurance of the goodness of Providence seems to me to rest in the flowers. All other things, our powers, our desires, our food, are all really necessary for our existence in the first instance. But this rose is an extra. Its smell and its color are an embellishment of life, not a condition of it. It is only goodness which gives extras, and so I say again that we have much to hope from the flowers.”

“Find the door of your heart, you will discover it is the door of the kingdom of God.”

-John Chrysostom (c. 349-407)

images“Before I descend to a more particular consideration of that divine life wherein true religion doth consist, it will perhaps be fit to speak a little of that natural or animal life which prevails in those who are strangers to the other: and by this I understand nothing else, but our inclination and propension towards those things which are pleasing and acceptable to nature; or self-love issuing forth and spreading itself into as many branches as men have several appetites and inclinations. The root and foundation of the animal life, I reckon to be sense, taking it largely, as it is opposed unto faith, and importeth our perception and sensation of those things that are either grateful or troublesome to us. Now these animal affections, considered in themselves, and as they are implanted in us by nature, are not vicious or blameable; nay, they are instances of the wisdom of the Creator, furnishing his creatures with such appetites as tend to the preservation and welfare of their lives. These are instead of a law unto the brute beasts, whereby they are directed towards the ends for which they were made: but man being made for higher purposes, and to be guided by more excellent laws, becomes guilty and criminal when he is so far transported by the inclinations of this lower life as to violate his duty, or neglect the higher and more noble designs of his creation. Our natural affections are not wholly to be extirpated and destroyed, but only to be moderated and overruled by superior and more excellent principle. In a word, the difference betwixt a religious and wicked man is, that in the one divine life bears sway, in the other the animal life doth prevail.”

-Henry Scougal (1650-1678)

A sculptor sits down on his stool, his sleeves rolled up. He reaches out and lays hold of the clay – cold, passive, and formless. On the wheel, he spins and shapes the clay, fashioning it into that which is before his mind’s eye. He is in total control, the master of his art. He is the lord of the clay, and the product is wholly his.

All human sculptors are but a hazy image, a shadow of God. He is the Prime Sculptor, making the worlds, shaping them into the pattern and use for which He has predetermined them. Scripture confirms what nature teaches. God is Sovereign, performing His absolute will.

This extends not only to lifeless earth or to the animal kingdom, for God is also Sculptor of man. He has a predetermined purpose for him, a purpose as it pleases Him. Now, looking at the wreckage of human history,  it may seem as though God’s purpose has failed. Satan hijacked the man-project, and Adam and Eve were ruined. True enough. But God’s will cannot in the end be thwarted. If it can, we demote God. Shorn of omnipotence, He lives not as the Shaper, but as the shaped.  But God is God!  And “He has done whatever pleased Him.”

Adam and Eve, complicit with the Devil, abused their free will – and we in them. Further, we have as their offspring followed suit. But this did not catch God off-guard. God had already from eternity past determined that man should fall into sin and misery, and even this would fulfill His purpose. “Known unto God are all his works from the foundation of the world.”

And from before all time, God chose from the clay of mankind a number of men and women as yet unborn and non-existent. He determined to fashion them and not others into vessels on which He would lavish mercy and eternal glory. Then God also sovereignly chose that the rest of mankind should be designed for eternal ruin for their eventual sins. Everlasting life and everlasting death – these the Bible presents to us as the two unseen destinies for which this world is but a brief preparation. Some will go to heaven, while others will be plunged into hell. And why? Because God is the Master Sculptor. He is the Determiner of everything. Or, in short, because God is God. “He hath made all things for himself, yea, even the wicked for the day of judgment.”

This rubs sinful men the wrong way. Paul, anticipating this objection, wrote,

“Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour? What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction: and that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory, Even us, whom he hath called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles” (Rom. 9:20-24).

We can surely can clench our teeth, shake our fists, and protest all we want. But God is God. He does as it pleases Him. “Many are called, but few are chosen.” “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.” “Elect according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will .”

If you chafe at this, you do it at your peril. God’s will is irresistible. You can fault God, but God is faultless.  We all know that does not make us sin; no one does. But you fight God unforced; you walk down the broad path to destruction of your own free will.

But just as the sun softens some materials and hardens others, so God can take this solemn doctrine of predestination use it to bring about a very different response. The Master is ever at His workbench.  He uses various tools for his purpose. And even this tool, with its seemingly sharp, serrated edges, is at his disposal. Perhaps even now He is humbling you.  Perhaps now He is instilling fear and spiritual anxiety.  Perhaps until now you have never thought of your eternal destiny before, much less the horrifying prospect of hell.  But maybe now you are.  And now you must be saved.

Cry out to God.  Call upon His name.  And lay hold of that only name that He has given among men through which they may be saved, the name of Jesus Christ.

 

 

 

study-of-arms-and-hands“With our body we see, we speak, we walk, we descend, we climb, and so much more.  And in the Holy Scripture, all these functions, and so many more, are ascribed not only to our God, but they are ascribed in terms of the same senses and members of the body that we use for them. God also hears with his ear, sees with his eye, walks with his feet, strikes with his hand, saves with his arm, points with his finger, feels with his heart, moans in his inner parts, shows wrath in his face, and so much more. of all these expressions and manifestations of life in God, an imprint has been put in man, and this imprint expresses itself through the members and senses of the body. And for this reason it won’t do to say that our body as such has nothing to do with the image of God.”

-Abraham Kuyper, Common Grace, 1:187

“The last time I saw your father [Cotton Mather] was in the beginning of 1724, when I visited him after my first trip to Pennsylvania. He received me in his library, and on my taking leave showed me a shorter way out of the house through a narrow passage, which was crossed by a beam overhead. We were still talking as I withdrew, he accompanying me behind, and I turning partly towards him, when he said hastily, “Stoop, stoop!” I did not understand him, till I felt my head hit against the beam. He was a man that never missed any occasion of giving instruction, and upon this he said to me, “You are young, and have the world before you; STOOP as you go through it, and you will miss many hard thumps.” This advice, thus beat into my head, has frequently been of use to me; and I often think of it, when I see pride mortified, and misfortunes brought upon people by their carrying their heads too high….”

-Benjamin Franklin, in a letter to Samuel Mather, 1784

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Friend, Benjamin Franklin passes on good advice.  Yet sadly, from what I know if him, he did not stoop far enough.  We as sinners must stoop, indeed, bow down in the dust before God in Christ, begging for mercy. Only when we are hopelessly prostrate in the dust, looking for free and sovereign grace in the blood of Christ, can we be lifted up and spared for time and eternity.  So stoop, sinner, stoop!

662a7aecb7“. . . the return of Christ unto judgment is not an arbitrary addition that can be isolated from his preceding work and viewed by itself.  It is a necessary and indispensable component of that work.  It brings that work to completion and crowns it.  It is the last and highest step in the state of his exaltation.

“Because Christ is the savior of the world, he will someday return as its judge.  The crisis,  or judgment (krisis),  that he precipitated by his first coming he consummates at the second coming.  The Father gave him authority to execute judgment (krisin poeiein) because he is the Son of Man (John 5:27).  Eschatology, therefore, is rooted in Christology and is itself Christology, the teaching of the final, complete triumph of Christ and his kingdom over all his enemies.  In accord with Scripture, we can go back even further.  The Son is not only the mediator of reconciliation (mediator reconciliatonis) on account of sin, but even apart from sin he is the mediator of union (mediator unionis) between God and his creation.  He is not only the exemplary cause (causa exemplaris) but also the final cause (causa finalis) of creation.  In the Son the world  has its foundation and example, and therefore it has in him its goal as well.  It is created through him and for hims as well (Col. 1:16).  Because the creation is his work, it cannot and may not remain the booty of Satan.  The Son is the head, Lord, and heir of all things.  United in the Son, gathered under him as their  head, all creatures return to the Father, the fountain of all good.  The second coming is therefore required by his first coming.  It is implied in the first; in time, by inner necessity, it will proceed from the first; the second coming brings the first coming to its full effect and completion and was therefore comprehended in a single image with the first coming by Old Testament prophecy.”

– Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics (4:685).

Vision%20of%20St%20Bernard%20with%20Sts%20Benedict%20&%20John%20Evan%20Fra%20Bartolomeo“The tokens of the Passion we recognize as the fruitage of the ages of the past, appearing in the fullness of time during the reign of sin and death (Gal. 4.4). But it is the glory of the Resurrection, in the new springtime of regenerating grace, that the fresh flowers of the later age come forth, whose fruit shall be given without measure at the general resurrection, when time shall be no more. And so it is written, ‘The winter is past, the rain is over and gone, the flowers appear on the earth’ (Cant. 2.11 f); signifying that summer has come back with Him who dissolves icy death into the spring of a new life and says, ‘Behold, I make all things new’ (Rev. 21.5). His Body sown in the grave has blossomed in the Resurrection (I Cor. 15.42); and in like manner our valleys and fields which were barren or frozen, as if dead, glow with reviving life and warmth.”

-Bernard of Clairvaux (1090 – 1153)

 

Last Lord’s Day (Sunday), we considered the weighty saying of Christ, “The Son of man came not to serve, but to be served, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28).  Jesus was going to the cross, but sadly, his disciples detoured him with their foolish question.  Yet Jesus made this sad detour a boundless blessing for them and us, if we have ears to hear.

Listen – if even for a minute or two – to the message here.

 

There are many stories out there that challenge the dominant LGBTQ narrative, that those with Same-Sex Attraction (SSA) can in fact live within a full, complete, and joyful marriage to those of the opposite sex. Oh, and be a Christian too!  Doesn’t fairness require that their story be heard as well?

Listen to this piece from NPR (and kudos to them for demonstrating something of classic journalistic impartiality!).

And check out this too.

I hardly deny that many may suffer from SSA.  While I’ve never experienced it, I can empathize with those who do.  And in a sense, I can sympathize. There are many things that I am tempted to do that I simply don’t do.  If I acted on all my impulses and were thus “true to myself,” you would probably like me a lot less than you actually do.  (And if you don’t like me at all, well, you’d have even more compelling reasons!)  I’m afraid if I were true to myself, I wouldn’t have the lovely wife and beautiful children I do now. Every day I resist temptation, fighting against what some might call “natural” desires. But I distinguish between natural-good and natural-bad instincts. Eating food is a natural-good.  Being intimate with my wife is a natural-good. Yelling at my children when I am tired and haggard, however, is a natural-bad. It’s natural in the sense that it’s human, but human in the fallen sense.

And this leads us to yet another narrative that needs to be heard. The great ‘meta-narrative’ of the Bible. It is a story that explains exactly how this world ended up as a big, messy jumble of natural-good and natural-bad instincts. Here’s the basic plot: Creation – Fall – Redemption.  God created everything good, in proper harmony, with a perfect unity and complementing diversity. Mankind was at one with itself, at one with its environment, and above all, at one with its God. Mankind, though, transgressed, listening to the lies of the Tempter. And so our first parents fell into sin and misery, and we their offspring, fell in them. Inheriting their nature, we acted out the unnaturalness of our own sinful bent. We polluted the pristine waters of nature, we dirtied our souls!  But God, planning to redeem, made sure that man didn’t gaffe up everything. In His common grace, He hemmed in and restrained something of the natural-good, that it may continue until He sent His Son to fix the brokenness once and for all.  By the crucifixion, death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, God broke into this disordered world to get back what He made.

Conversion gives the believer a radical new start.  They are a new creation in Christ. Yet, Christians aren’t perfected; they walk to heaven with a limp.The old man has been dealt a mortal blow, but he is still striving to regain control. The Christian struggles with temptations every day.  Temptations that the world will call “natural.” But he knows, she feels that this needs major qualification. That “natural” was then, this is now. And the now is natural-good, and good getting better every day!

Augustine, the great catholic teacher of the Church, was quite the womanizer prior to his conversion.  I suppose he was being true to himself. But after his conversion, things had changed from the inside. One day, an old flame found him on the street, came up to him, embraced him and exclaimed, “O Augustine!  It’s me!” To which he replied, “Yes, but it’s not me!” The old Augustine was gone (though I doubt not the old man wanted to rekindle the former romance). But he had embraced his new nature, a nature not unnatural, not repressed, not denied, but reborn.