Since the turn of the New Year, our family decided to work our way together through the ESV Study Bible reading plan. Each night, we stop what we’re doing for a good half hour or so, and take turns reading aloud each of the four sections of Scripture, as divided up in the plan. A few days ago, we finished the book of 1 Chronicles, and this prayer of David’s caught my attention:
Therefore David blessed the LORD in the presence of all the assembly. And David said: “Blessed are you, O LORD, the God of Israel our father, forever and ever. Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O LORD, and you are exalted as head above all. Both riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might, and in your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all. And now we thank you, our God, and praise your glorious name.
“But who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able thus to offer willingly? For all things come from you, and of your own have we given you. For we are strangers before you and sojourners, as all our fathers were. Our days on the earth are like a shadow, and there is no abiding. O LORD our God, all this abundance that we have provided for building you a house for your holy name comes from your hand and is all your own. I know, my God, that you test the heart and have pleasure in uprightness. In the uprightness of my heart I have freely offered all these things, and now I have seen your people, who are present here, offering freely and joyously to you. O LORD, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, our fathers, keep forever such purposes and thoughts in the hearts of your people, and direct their hearts toward you. Grant to Solomon my son a whole heart that he may keep your commandments, your testimonies, and your statutes, performing all, and that he may build the palace for which I have made provision.”(1 Chronicles 29:10-19 ESV, emphasis mine)
When reading through the passage above, I had to chuckle a little, as I was reminded of this passage from Charles Spurgeon’s sermon, “Free Will—A Slave.”
Your fallen nature was put out of order; your will, amongst other things, has clean gone astray from God. But I tell you what will be the best proof of that; it is the great fact that you never did meet a Christian in your life who ever said he came to Christ without Christ coming to him. You have heard a great many Arminian sermons, I dare say; but you never heard an Arminian prayer—for the saints in prayer appear as one in word, and deed and mind. An Arminian on his knees would pray desperately like a Calvinist. He cannot pray about free-will: there is no room for it. Fancy him praying, “Lord,I thank thee I am not like those poor presumptuous Calvinists. Lord, I was born with a glorious free-will; I was born with power by which I can turn to thee of myself; I have improved my grace. If everybody had done the same with their grace that I have, they might all have been saved. Lord, I know thou dost not make us willing if we are not willing ourselves. Thou givest grace to everybody; some do not improve it, but I do. There are many that will go to hell as much bought with the blood of Christ as I was; they had as much of the Holy Ghost given to them; they had as good a chance, and were as much blessed as I am. It was not thy grace that made us to differ; I know it did a great deal, still I turned the point; I made use of what was given me, and others did not—that is the difference between me and them.” That is a prayer for the devil, for nobody else would offer such a prayer as that. Ah! when they are preaching and talking very slowly, there may be wrong doctrine; but when they come to pray, the true thing slips out; they cannot help it. If a man talks very slowly, he may speak in a fine manner; but when he comes to talk fast, the old brogue of his country, where he was born, slips out. I ask you again, did you ever meet a Christian man who said, “I came to Christ without the power of the Spirit?” If you ever did meet such a man, you need have no hesitation in saying, “My dear sir, I quite believe it—and I believe you went away again without the power of the Spirit, and that you know nothing about the matter, and are in the gall of bitterness and the bond of iniquity.” Do I hear one Christian man saying, “I sought Jesus before he sought me; I went to the Spirit, and the Spirit did not come to me”? No, beloved; we are obliged, each one of us, to put our hands to our hearts and say—
“Grace taught my soul to pray,
And made my eyes to o’erflow;
‘Twas grace that kept me to this day,
And will not let me go.”
Is there one here—a solitary one—man or woman, young or old, who can say, “I sought God before he sought me?” No; even you who are a little Arminian, will sing—
“O yes! I do love Jesus—
Because he first loved me.”
So you see, that in attributing to the LORD himself all that David and the people freely and willingly did, David betrays a theology that is not unlike that theology which has been derived from Scripture from the earliest days of the church, against which the ungrateful and self-sufficient regularly hurl accusations. Augustine’s prayerful confession of God’s absolute sovereignty and grace to empower the believer’s very obedience provoked Pelagius to twist Scripture to his own destruction in order to make man the source of his own salvation; Calvin’s systematization of this Biblical and Augustinian faith entrusted to him by his fathers in the faith provoked, after his death, a Dutch Reformed theologian named Jakob Hermanszoon, that is, Jacob Arminius (in Latin), to, if not distort the Word as devastatingly as Pelagius had before him, so distort the doctrines of grace that his followers would later remonstrate against them, creating the need for the Synod of Dort, which produced the world famous Canons of Dort (find them at my Creeds, etc. page) which serve as the source and inspiration of the infamous, yet Biblical acronym, TULIP. Even Great Awakening revivalist, George Whitefield endured the fiery darts of his beloved friend and fellow revivalist, John Wesley. How gracious is the Lord, who generously grants salvation to even those who do not properly recognize his absolute sovereignty, suffering the remaining sin within them which persists in grasping for some way to have a hand in his own eternal salvation.
Praise the Lord that King David’s eyes were clear in this regard as he lead the people of Israel in freely and willingly making generous donations toward the planned building of the temple in Jerusalem, which was entrusted to David’s son, Solomon. King David’s public confession of their unworthiness to even do so at all, and acknowledgement of the LORD’s gracious provision of the very materials which they would freely and willingly offer, contrasts sharply with the self-congratulatory words of that proto-Pelagian king, Nebuchadnezzar, who would one day take David’s kingdom into the original Babylonian captivity (see Daniel 4:28-33).
How beautiful is the corporate confession of the Reformed in this regard! In the words of the Belgic Confession (also linked to from the Creeds, etc. page), the Reformed confess the teaching of the Scriptures that “’A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven(John 3:27’” and so confess:
Therefore we reject everything taught to the contrary concerning man’s free will, since man is nothing but the slave of sin and cannot do a thing unless it is “given him from heaven.”
For who can boast of being able to do anything good by himself, since Christ says, “No one can come to me unless my Father who sent me draws him”? (John 6:44)
Who can glory in his own will when he understands that “the mind of the flesh is enmity against God”? (Romans 8:7) Who can speak of his own knowledge in view of the fact that “the natural man does not understand the things of the Spirit of God”? (1 Cor. 2:14)
In short, who can produce a single thought, since he knows that we are “not able to think a thing” about ourselves, by ourselves, but that “our ability is from God”? (2 Corinthians 3:5)
And therefore, what the apostle says ought rightly to stand fixed and firm: “God works within us both to will and to do according to his good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:13)
For there is no understanding nor will conforming to God’s understanding and will apart from Christ’s involvement, as he teaches us when he says, “Without me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)
In this way it is clear that the content of King David’s “Calvinist” prayer demonstrates how consistent with Scripture is the Reformed confession of faith.