God and Country

From the title, you might think this post is entirely about politics. It could have been, but instead, we examine human responsibility in light of God’s sovereign providence. Though, by the end of this post, you might concede that the principles we will discover are applicable to today’s political process and the restoration of our Republic.

The scripture that starkly portrays this seeming dichotomy between God and Man is found in the second book of Samuel the prophet (sometimes referred to as Two Samuel.) Preparing to battle the Ammonites and Syrians, Joab, commander of David’s armies, exhorts Abishai, his brother, to:

Be of good courage, and let us be courageous for our people, and for the cities of our God, and may the Lord do what seems good to him.” 2 Samuel 10:12 English Standard Version (ESV)

John Calvin discussed this verse in The Institutes of the Christian Religion. As prelude, he sets out the following principles for one who would know and do God’s will. First God’s provision for us often comes through human hands:

…He [or she] will revere and extol God as the principal author [of the blessings which he receives], but will also honor men as his ministers, and perceive…that by the will of God he is under obligation to those, by whose hand God has been pleased to show him kindness.

The one who fears God will:

Believe that [any loss sustained through negligence or imprudence] was the Lord’s will it should so be, but, at the same time, he will impute it to himself.

Furthermore:

…In the case of theft or murder, fraud and preconceived malice, […he] will distinctly recognize the justice of God, and the iniquity of man, as each is separately manifested.

Therefore, this one:

…Will not…be remiss in taking measures, or slow in employing the help of those whom he sees possessed of the means of assisting him. …As hands offered him by the Lord, he will avail himself of [all the aids which the creatures can lend him] as the legitimate instruments of Divine Providence.

Yet, undeterred by uncertainty or overconfidence:

And as he is uncertain what the result of any business in which he engages is to be (save that he knows, that in all things the Lord will provide for his good), he will zealously aim at what he deems for the best, so far as his abilities enable him.

However, his confidence in external aid will not be such that the presence of it will make him feel secure, the absence of it fill him with dismay, as if he were destitute.

Calvin, having laid out these principles, says:

Thus Joab, while he acknowledges that the issue of the battle is entirely in the hand of God, does not therefore become inactive, but strenuously proceeds with what belongs to his proper calling, “Be of good courage,” says he, “and let us play the men for our people, and for the cities of our God; and the Lord do that which seems him good,” (2 Sam. 10:12).

The same conviction keeping us free from rashness and false confidence, will stimulate us to constant prayer, while at the same time filling our minds with good hope, it will enable us to feel secure, and bid defiance to all the dangers by which we are surrounded.

***

Some voters this election season have been thinking:

“…[I have] nothing to lose,” but most of us have something to lose.”

I feel we’re in danger of throwing our Republic to the wind. Another commentator has said:

Now we are at the start of an electoral season that Americans say is of the utmost importance even as they make the most flippant choice of front-runners…

Sober up, America. We’re a republic only for as long as we can keep it.

You might say, “we trust in God; He will bring about a good result.” But, I urge us to trust “the Lord to do what seems good to Him” and be courageous for our people: pray, vote, donate, and campaign.

Speaker Ryan at National Prayer Breakfast: ‘Prayer Should Always Come First,’ Speaker Paul Ryan, Published Feb 4, 2016

There, But for God’s Grace and Mercy Through His Providence, Go I

John Calvin

John Calvin (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Why are we shocked when things like this, this, or this happen?

These sensational stories are tragic, no doubt. Scary, even. But we seem to think we’d never do or even be capable of such heinous acts. Then we bolt our door against our neighbor (rightly or wrongly, I can’t say; that’s up to you). Some believe we’re naturally moral. Still others say: red in tooth and claw.

The scriptures conclude we all fall short of God’s glory. But isn’t this an overstatement of our condition? Aren’t we really good, but just misguided, unmotivated, or low informational?

Paul, in the letter to the Romans, elaborates on what he concludes in case we were unsure:

11 no one understands;
no one seeks for God.
12  All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good,
not even one.”
13 “Their throat is an open grave;
they use their tongues to deceive.”
“The venom of asps is under their lips.”
14 “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”
15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood;
16   in their paths are ruin and misery,
17    and the way of peace they have not known.”
18   “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

So, we have no excuse to be shocked at these sensational stories. This is the condition of man. However, if this is so, why then do we not claw and bite until we are no more?

John Calvin, a theologian not often cited now–a–days, suggests in the Institutes of the Christian Religion, book 1, chapter 17, and paragraph 11:

…How comes it, I ask, that their confidence never fails, but just that while the world apparently revolves at random, they know that God is everywhere at work, and feel assured that his work will be their safety? When assailed by the devil and wicked men, were they not confirmed by remembering and meditating on Providence, they should, of necessity, forthwith despond. But when they call to mind that the devil, and the whole train of the ungodly, are, in all directions, held in by the hand of God as with a bridle, so that they can neither conceive any mischief, nor plan what they have conceived, nor how much so ever they may have planned, move a single finger to perpetrate, unless in so far as he permits, nay, unless in so far as he commands; that they are not only bound by his fetters, but are even forced to do him service,—when the godly think of all these things they have ample sources of consolation. For, as it belongs to the lord to arm the fury of such foes and turn and destine it at pleasure, so it is his also to determine the measure and the end, so as to prevent them from breaking loose and wantoning as they list…

So God not only constrains the evildoer but commands him to do His bidding, yet without complicity or taint thrown back upon Him. But why, if we’re this way, are we guilty at all?

Calvin says in the Institutes of the Christian Religion, book 1, chapter 17, and paragraph 5:

… As all contingencies whatsoever depend on it, therefore, neither thefts nor adulteries, nor murders, are perpetrated without an interposition of the divine will. Why, then, they ask, should the thief be punished for robbing him whom the Lord chose to chastise with poverty? Why should the murderer be punished for slaying him whose life the Lord had terminated? If all such persons serve the will of God, why should they be punished?

I deny that they serve the will of God. For we cannot say that he who is carried away by a wicked mind performs service on the order of God, when he is only following his own malignant desires. He obeys God, who, being instructed in his will, hastens in the direction in which God calls him.

But how are we so instructed unless by his word? The will declared by his word is, therefore, that which we must keep in view in acting, God requires of us nothing but what he enjoins. If we design anything contrary to his precept, it is not obedience, but contumacy and transgression. But if he did not will it, we could not do it. I admit this.

But do we act wickedly for the purpose of yielding obedience to him? This, assuredly, he does not command. Nay, rather we rush on, not thinking of what he wishes, but so inflamed by our own passionate lust, that, with destined purpose, we strive against him. And in this way, while acting wickedly, we serve his righteous ordination, since in his boundless wisdom he well knows how to use bad instruments for good purposes.

And see how absurd this mode of arguing is. They will have it that crimes ought not to be punished in their authors, because they are not committed without the dispensation of God. I concede more—that thieves and murderers, and other evil-doers, are instruments of Divine Providence, being employed by the Lord himself to execute the Judgments which he has resolved to inflict.

But I deny that this forms any excuse for their misdeeds. For how? Will they implicate God in the same iniquity with themselves, or will they cloak their depravity by his righteousness? They cannot exculpate themselves, for their own conscience condemns them: they cannot charge God, since they perceive the whole wickedness in themselves, and nothing in Him save the legitimate use of their wickedness

So, it is apparent that Romans 3 is true and we are not only held back from what we could do but others are employed to execute God’s judgments and, yet, are solely guilty of their transgression.

I see the tendency to do wrong in myself all the time. Do you? The only remedy is falling at the feet of the Lord Jesus Christ in surrender because he says: Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.