So God

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We come now to the penultimate chapter of Dr. Kerr’s book PRESBYTERIANISM FOR THE PEOPLE. Feel free to offer comments on where we might go next on our Saturday journeys, but keep in mind that short treatments like these are difficult to find, especially when written by Presbyterians!

[penultimate—that’s Greek for “next to the last”]

 

CHAPTER II.

PECULIARITIES OF CALVINISM.

The distinctive features of this system of theology are three—viz.:

(1)        The supremacy of God in all things;

(2)        The total depravity of man ;

(3)        God’s election of the saved.

While this system exalts God, it humbles man. It has been the object of many fierce attacks. It has never been popular with the world, yet it has inspired the grandest struggles ever made for the truth and for human liberty. Strong doctrine is required to make strong characters, and strong characters are necessary in the great warfare against sin. What would the Reformation have been without Calvin in Switzerland and Knox in Scotland ? In contending for the doctrines called Calvinistic they worked out the conditions of a civilization grander than any other the world has seen. These doctrines have been called hard, but God made them, and for the salvation of men. We must be brought to feel a sense of our own helplessness; man’s proud spirit must be humbled, and then he is ready to cry out for mercy. The tendency of Calvinistic theology is also to promote the comfort of Christians. When Christians plant their feet upon God’s eternal decree, they may set the world, the flesh and the devil at defiance.

ELECTION AND FREE AGENCY.

Presbyterians also believe in the freedom of man. We are often treated as if we did not; we are accused of teaching that a man can and must do nothing for his salvation. We are called fatalists. But we do believe in the freedom of man; we preach it; it underlies every proclamation of pardon; it is embodied in every invitation of mercy. How man can be free and God supreme is a question which perhaps Michael could not answer; certainly we cannot. We are not bound to answer it. Our duty is to accept all that God reveals, and to trust him for what is not revealed. He has revealed both these doctrines, but not the reconciliation of them. Our ignorance is the cause of the difficulty. “We know in part ” (1 Cor. xiii. 9).

An illustration may help us to understand, not the difficulty, but where it lies—in our ignorance.

Six hundred and forty years before Christ, Thales discovered that the world was round. He is said to have been at that time the only man who knew this great fact. Suppose he had declared to the people, who were in ignorance, “ I can travel eastward, never turning to the right or left, and, keeping straight on, come back to the point from which I set out.” He might have gone farther and said, “By traveling westward I can return to this place without changing my course.” The people would have answered, “Thales, it is absurd! Your two statements contradict each other; they cannot be reconciled, and we will not believe them.” They supposed the world was flat, and in their ignorance it was indeed impossible for them to understand the two statements of Thales; but they were true, nevertheless. The truth of a thing does not depend upon our ability to comprehend it. If Thales had gone on and told them that the world was round, the difficulty would have vanished at once. Before, they “knew in part.” But Thales’s children would have believed him without explanation, because he was their father. So God’s children must believe him, even when they cannot understand.

The Primitive Baptists reject free agency because they cannot reconcile it with election. Some

Arminians reject election because they cannot reconcile it with free agency. But Presbyterians hold both doctrines, confessing their inability to reconcile them because of the finiteness of human comprehension, yet declaring that it is enough for them to know that both doctrines are taught in God’s word. These doctrines, however difficult, are held by four-fifths of the whole Protestant world. Why? Because “THUS SAITH THE LORD.”

“Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, shall in no wise enter therein.” (Luke xviii. 17).

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A Children’s Sermon

This Lord’s Day, our sermon is from the Rev. William Swan Plumer [1802-1880], a noted Southern Presbyterian pastor, scholar, and prolific author. And to do something a bit different, this sermon is taken from Plumer’s work, Short Sermons to Little Children (Philadelphia: American Sunday-School Union, 1848). Perhaps you will want to share this sermon today with your own children or grandchildren. It is full of great and good theology.

We All Belong to God.
Ye are not your own.—1 Cor. vi. 19.

A little boy found a knife, and the first thing he said, was, “It is very handsome.” He looked at it a little while, and then said: “It is not mine. I should love to have a knife, but I wish the owner of this knife had it.” So he asked all the boys that he met, the question: “Whose knife is this?” At last he found the owner, and gave it to him. One boy said, “If I should find a knife, I should keep it, and not tell any one.” But it would have been mean, and wicked too, to keep that which was not his own. It would have been a kind of stealing. The commandment says, “Thou shalt not steal.” When he had found the owner, and given up the knife, he felt that he had done right. We ought all to give to every one what is his own.

Now you do not belong to yourselves, nor to any man. You belong to God alone. Both your soul and body are His. I will prove it.

I. He made you. A boy went out and got a piece of wood, and made a bow and arrow. Now, it was his, because he made it. It would have been wrong for any other boy to have taken it, and carried it away. He, who made it, had a clear right to it, because he had made it. So God made your soul and your body. No one else made you. “He that built (or made) all things is God.” “The sea is His, and He made it, and His hands formed the dry land.” (Ps. 95:5) Thereforem, the sea and the dry land belong to God. If, when a boy or a man makes a thing, it is his, why, when God makes a thing, should it not be His also? We have belonged to God ever since we were born, and we shall be bound to love Him, and serve Him to all eternity.

II. God, as our king, has a right to us. He is strong, and wise, and good. He can rule us, and guide us, and help us. He is just such a king as we all need over us. “For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods.” Men sometimes try to rule over us, when they have no right to do it. But God has all right. He is so strong, that He can do any thing. He is so good, that He cannot be unkind. There is none like Him. It is better for us to belong to God, than to belong to ourselves, or to any one else. If God were to give us up, and never again to claim us as His own, it would be the worst thing in the world for us.

III. God has kept you, and blessed you all your days. He has been a friend and a father to you. He has heaped many blessings upon you. He has given you life, and food, and raiment, and friends, and books, and teachers, and all the health and joy you have had. None has been so kind to you as God. None could have done so much for you as God has done. It must be very wicked to claim to be your own, when you belong to God. He says, “Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth : for the LORD has spoken ; I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against Me. The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master’s crib : but Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider.” (Isaiah 1:2-3) If the ox knows his owner, you ought to know your owner. If the ass knows his master’s crib, you ought to know the hand that feeds you. Again, God says, “A son honoureth his father, and a servant his master; if then I be a father, where is mine honour? And if I be a master, where is my fear?”

IV. All of you who have, or have had a pious father or mother, belong to God by their vows. Every Christian, who has children, loves to give them and all he has to God, and he begs God to take them. He is not more afraid of any thing than of having God reject his gifts. And if your parents were not pious, they ought to have been, and they ought to have given you to God. Samuel’s mother gave him to God. Your parents had a right to give you to God. They were bound to give you to Him. What sort of a Christian would that be, who would say, “Lord, I give Thee my soul and my body, but I will not give Thee my time, nor my money, nor my children?” You belong to God, every one of you.

V. Jesus Christ has a right to you, because He died for sinners. It was great love in Christ to come, and suffer, and die  for so vile creatures as we all are. Every one, who shall ever be saved, has been bought with a price far above his value. Peter says, “Ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold; ….but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a Lamb without blemish, and without spot.” (1 Peter 1:18-19) If you will not yield yourselves to God out of love to Christ, I cannot say less than that your hearts are very wicked.

REMARKS
1. God asserts and always will assert His right to you and to all men. He says, “All souls are mine.” (Ezekiel 18:4). He says, “The world is mine, and the fulness thereof.” (Psalm 50:12).
2. God will enforce His right to you, and to all men. He says He is “A jealous God.” That is, He is jealous of His own rights. He says again, “My glory will I not give to another.” And again, “The soul that sinneth, it shall die.”
3. It is very wicked not to give God His own. Sin is robbery. “Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me.” (Malachi 3:8). If it is wrong to take a bow and arrow from the boy, to whom they belong, it must be very wrong indeed not to give ourselves to God; for we all belong to Him.
4. All who have given their hearts and themselves to God have done right. They have done their duty; but they have done no more than their duty. It would have been a great sin to have done less. O that you would give your hearts to Him. It would be the very best thing you ever did. You would be glad of it, not only as long as you live, but for ever and ever. Will you give Him your heart? Say,—will you?

LET US PRAY.
O Lord, we are not our own. Our hands, and feet, and head, and heart, and soul, and mind, and strength, and time, and body, and all belong to Thee. Though we have sinned, do Thou take us, just as we are, and make us Thine by divine grace. Adopt us as Thy children. Let us never go astray from Thee. Teach us to keep Thy word, and find delight in serving Thee. Apply to us the precious blood of Christ, and be our God, and Father, and friend for ever, for Christ’s sake. Amen.

Words to Live By:
Matthew 22:16-22 (KJV)
16 And they sent out unto him their disciples with the Herodians, saying, Master, we know that thou art true, and teachest the way of God in truth, neither carest thou for any man: for thou regardest not the person of men.
17 Tell us therefore, What thinkest thou? Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar, or not?
18 But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, Why tempt ye me, ye hypocrites?
19 Shew me the tribute money. And they brought unto him a penny.
20 And he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription?
21 They say unto him, Caesar’s. Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.
22 When they had heard these words, they marvelled, and left him, and went their way.

Genesis 1:27 (ESV)
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; rmale and female he created them.

For Further Study:
In addition to a number of books on particularly difficult theological subjects, William Swan Plumer also wrote at least three books addressed to children:
1. Short Sermons to Little Children (1848).
2. Plain Thoughts about Great and Good Things for Little Boys and Girls (1849)
3. Words of Truth and Love (1867)

For a great deal more information on Dr. Plumer and his writings, click here.

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