Gospel Arrows: Three Sharpening Hints

2019-09-21T11:43:24-05:00 September 23rd, 2019|

Remember John R. de Witt’s comment regarding Calvin’s sermons, “The feature that struck me most powerfully is just their immediacy” (John Calvin’s Sermons on Genesis, Chapters 1-11, xvii). Here are three hints to help achieve this immediacy and sharpen your gospel arrows, whether teaching a class or preaching a sermon. First, use the present tense when describing or speaking about past events. In doing so, you bring past events into the present. Using the present tense in this way is more direct. It is more forceful.

Second, use active voice rather than passive voice. Speak about what characters do rather than about what is done to them. Using active voice rather than passive voice is more direct and more forceful. For example, you might say, “When Jesus had been arrested He was led away to the chief priests by the temple guards.” Present tense and active voice are more direct. “The temple guards arrest Jesus and lead Him away to the chief priests.”

Consider the story of Jesus healing the paralytic. You might tell the story using the past tense. After all, the incident took place centuries ago. You might also frequently use passive voice. The story might sound like the following.

When the ministry of Jesus was begun, towns and villages in Galilee were visited by Him. He preached in local synagogues. Demons were cast out by Him. When He returned to Capernaum, a host of people were gathered at His home. There was standing room only. A paralytic was carried on a pallet to His rooftop by four men. Desperately, the men removed part of the roof. They lowered the paralytic right in from of Jesus. When Jesus saw their faith He declared, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” This statement caused no small uproar. But Jesus proved His authority to forgive sins. He turned to the paralytic, “I say to you, get up, pick up your pallet and go home.” The man stood upright. He picked up his pallet. And the astonished crowd was parted as the paralytic passed through.

Now, rehearse the same story with present tense and active voice, which are more direct, more forceful, and less wordy. Read it aloud.

When Jesus begins his ministry, he visits the towns and villages of Galilee. He preaches in local synagogues. He casts out demons. When He returns to Capernaum, a host of people gather at His home. There is standing room only. Four men carry a paralytic on a pallet to His rooftop. Desperately, they remove part of the roof. And they lower the paralytic right in front of Jesus. When Jesus sees their faith, He causes no small uproar by declaring, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” But Jesus also proves His authority to forgive sins. He turns to the paralytic, “I say to you, get up, pick up your pallet and go home.” The man stands, picks up his pallet, and passes through the astonished gathering.

Third, use the second person, “you,” in approaching the congregation rather than always using “we.” In teaching at Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary, one of my homiletics students who was supplying a pulpit determined to follow my suggestion. He came back to class and reported, “I am amazed at the difference it made to speak directly to the congregation using the second person. I was much more connected to the people. The people were much more responsive to me.” The rationale for using “we” is that the teacher or preacher includes himself in the exhortations. You achieve the same purpose by using the second person and on occasion adding, “This exhortation applies both to you and me.”

These three hints are simple. Use present tense and active voice as much as possible. Use the second person where you are able. Try them; you will like them. They will help sharpen your gospel arrows and make them more direct and forceful.

Denny Prutow

Gospel Arrows: Actions Speak Louder

2019-09-13T13:39:38-05:00 September 16th, 2019|

We take it for granted, “Actions speak louder than words.” This aphorism is true in public speaking too. That is, what we do while we are speaking is as important as the actual words we say, perhaps even more important . The force and impact of pointed gospel arrows greatly depend upon non-verbal communication as well as verbal. A message on the joy of the Lord will not be received well if read in a monotone with little eye contact and gloomy facial expression. You can picture it; the body language of the teacher or preacher undermines the content of the gospel message.

Another similar scene is often repeated. The teacher or preacher stands before the class or congregation and announces, “I have a very important and consequential teaching for you this morning.” While making the announcement, he assumes a nonchalant casual relaxed posture rocking back on his heels with both hands in his pant pockets. What the class or congregation sees immediately undercuts the content of the announcement. Actions speak louder than words. The non-verbal body language wins out.

There is a primary and simple lesson here. We need to learn to speak with our whole body. If you put yourself into a gospel message, it ought to show. It ought to show in the stance you take before a class or congregation. It ought to show in the tone and volume of your voice. It ought to show in your facial expression. It ought to show in the movement of your arms and the gestures of your hands. Each of these actions carries a language of its own.

For example, when inviting folks to come to Christ, you don’t point at them with an accusing index finger. Rather, you invite the people to come with outstretched arms and open hands, palms up, using a beckoning motion. Volume is important. There are times to raise volume. But take care. Volume alone can be interpreted by people as shouting at them. Issue the invitation with a soft voice. Again, speak using your whole body. Lean into the class or congregation. Reach for the people. In using your voice, breath deeply. Speak from the gut rather than from the throat or head. The more air you push, the greater your projection will be, even with a soft voice. At the same time, scan the class or congregation. Draw people in by briefly making eye contact with them. However, don’t make people uncomfortable by maintaining eye contact for too long.

All of the above presupposes a solid stance behind the podium. Take this stance with feet spread shoulder-width leaning forward slightly on your toes giving you the ability to easily move and use your body as you speak. Rather than leaning on or grasping the podium, stand back slightly to give yourself room to move.

In light of the above comments, listen to Isaiah 55:1. Isaiah has already presented redemption and its blessings in chapters 53-54. Now, on God’s behalf, he issues an invitation. “Ho! Every one who thirsts, come to the waters; And you who have no money come, buy and eat. Come, buy wine and milk Without money and without cost.” E. J. Young, “The introductory particle (hoi) is mainly an attention-getting device” (The Book of Isaiah, 3:374). So much for not using such rhetorical devices in gospel preaching. Several metaphors signify gospel blessing, water, wine, and milk. Grace is emphasized in the words “without money, without cost.” Although there is a series of imperatives, this series amounts to a plea. The rhetorical question of verse 2 emphasizes this fact. “Why do you spend money for what is not bread, And your wages for what does not satisfy?”

Now, listen to the prophet’s compassionate call to the people. Watch him make this call with heartfelt urgency. Three times he issues the invitation. “Come, come, come!” Then, throwing his hands in the air, with a questioning look and a shake of his head in quandary, he asks, “Why do you spend money for what is not bread?” Why? Words in context carry cognitive baggage and emotional weight. They have an evocative force. You cannot read Christ’s quotation of Psalm 22:1 and not realize this is the case, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” So it is with Isaiah’s gospel invitation.

Body language and non-verbal communication play a natural role in effective gospel proclamation. The presentation of God’s truth derived from a Scripture text does not stand alone. It is adorned with body language and non-verbals, which either helps or hinders the message. Gospel arrows, sharpened to penetrate the heart, incorporate appropriate body-language and non-verbals. Sharpen your gospel arrows and employ this truth.

Denny Prutow

Gospel Arrow Force and Vehemence

2019-09-06T13:35:47-05:00 September 9th, 2019|

A folded paper airplane hits a tree trunk, bounces back, and falls to the ground. By contrast, a sharp pointed arrow has penetrating power. In teaching and preaching, it is this “penetrating quality” that makes a gospel message effective (W.G.T. Shedd, Homiletics, 84). On one hand, we rightly understand that the truth of Scripture has its own force. At the same time, to maintain this penetrating force, how the teacher or preacher presents this truth must be complementary and supportive.

A student preacher was known for his infectious smile. While speaking on the subject of fear in the face of God’s unspeakable judgment, his countenance was aglow with that same smile. The force of the student’s message was overshadowed by his joyous expression. Force in teaching and preaching is wrapped up in both the person and what he has to say.

We draw back. We must not embellish our teaching and preaching with so-called “rhetorical devices.” We must depend upon the work of the Holy Spirit. He causes the infallible word to penetrate the heart. True indeed. But the teacher or preacher is an active instrument and participant in this process.

John R. de Witt introduces John Calvin’s Sermons on Genesis, Chapters 1-11.

The feature that struck me most powerfully is just their immediacy. As I have read them, it has quite often seemed as though I were sitting with the congregation in Geneva and listening to Calvin himself as he opened up the passage on which he was preaching and then carefully, deliberately, and sometimes with painful specificity applied its teaching to those who heard him (xvii).

Calvin makes the message of Scripture personal. He brings it home and pierces the heart. For example, when speaking of Noah, a preacher of righteousness (2 Peter 2:5), becoming drunk with wine (Genesis 9:21), Calvin warns his congregation not to use the occasional stumbling of those who teach as an excuse to ignore the exhortations of Scripture. “We must not use the occasion to say, ‘That fellow is not better than I am. And yet he is preaching to others! Why does he not first look at himself?’” (ibid., 790).

Surely statements like this one are made with pointedness and force. In fact, as T.H.L. Parker puts it in Calvin’s Preaching and quoting that great preacher, “The pastor must use vehemence and vivacité, ‘to give vigor and power to the Word of God’” (14). And before downplaying the use of so-called rhetorical devices, note Calvin’s use of dialog and the rhetorical question in this short quotation.

Penetrating power and force is essential in launching gospel arrows. “We need to be pierced. The preacher has to use vehemence, so that we may know that this is not a game” (Parker, 12).

Denny Prutow

Labor Day: God and Faith and Work

2019-08-30T17:00:47-05:00 September 2nd, 2019|

Labor Day is a good time to talk about work. God commands work. God said to Adam and Eve, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Gen. 1:28). In other words, build a culture and society in the world glorifying to Me. Building a God-glorifying culture requires work. The Eighth Commandments says, “You shall not steal” (Exod. 20:15). Putting it positively, “You shall work!” And the New Testament says, “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Tim. 5:8). God requires work.

But when we start putting God and work together, we can start patting ourselves on the back and think that since we are obeying God and doing our work, God is indebted to us. We think, wrongly, that God owes us. God may ask us, “Why should I let you into My heaven?” The most popular answer to this question is, “Well, I’m not so bad.” In other words, “I’ve done all my work faithfully and lived up to your expectations, God. So, of course, you should let me into your heaven. I’ve earned it.” Here is the big misconception. Simply doing our duty does not get us extra points in the ledger of life.

Enter faith. We have access to heaven through faith in Jesus Christ. We have right standing before God through faith in Jesus Christ. We are justified by grace through faith not on the basis of how well we have accomplished our work or conducted our lives. So where does doing our duty and accomplishing our work enter the picture?

James says, “So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (Jas. 2:17). Dead faith is not very helpful. James also says, “You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone” (Jas. 2:24). Wait a minute! You just said that we are not justified on the basis of how well we conduct our lives. Correct. James 2:24 should be read as follows: “You see that a person is vindicated by works and not by faith alone.” That is, how you live outwardly displays the character of your faith. Dead faith has no accompanying works. Living faith is accompanied by a life that validates your faith. The proper formula is Faith leads to Justification Plus Works. Faith > Justification + Works.

Yes, the Bible connects God, our work, and our faith. On Labor Day, and on every other day of the year, it is good to remember how the Bible makes this connection. Faith > Justification + Works.

Denny Prutow

Pointed Gospel Arrows, Pointed Applications

2019-08-24T08:10:08-05:00 August 26th, 2019|

Sharp, pointed, penetrating gospel arrows set forth the truth of God by the power of God. Expository preaching and teaching, gospel lessons and preaching demand explanation of biblical texts. “Without explanation it is not expository” (T.H.L. Parker, Calvin’s Preaching, 79). But thorough explanations are not enough. Regurgitating commentaries to fill minds is counter-productive. Biblically, the heart, the core of the whole inner person, consists of the mind, emotions, and will.

Good illustrative material can evoke proper emotions. Good illustrative material sheds light on the truth and tends to pin truth to the heart. How a person feels about the truth will determine what actions follow. At the same time, we shun emotionalism, the manipulation of human emotions to gain an advantage. Review my previous lesson, Gospel Arrow Emotion and Illustration.

Finally, to penetrate the heart, gospel lessons and sermons must strategically apply God’s truth. Again, T.H.L. Parker, “Expository preaching consists in the explanation and application of a passage of Scripture. Without explanation it is not expository; without application it is not preaching” (ibid.).

Calvin displays this general procedure of explanation, illustration, application. Preaching from 1 Timothy 2:6, “who gave himself a ransom for all, to which witness was borne at the proper time” (Calvin’s translation, Sermons on 1 Timothy, 217), Calvin puts special emphasis on the word witness and first offers some explanation.

Notice, then, that when the gospel is said to bear witness it is so that we might have greater assurance, knowing that our Lord means us never to doubt his goodness . . . God, therefore, testifies to his goodness whenever the gospel is preached to us. For the rest, for although those who speak to us are mortal men, we should not regard them merely as men but should think of the pace to which God has raised them: he has made them his witnesses.

The great preacher then offers a brief illustration to shed light on the truth to pin the truth to our hearts.

When a man is sworn as a notary, the official documents he receives are held to be true and genuine. So that if magistrates who have but a small spark of God’s authority enjoy this privilege, and if this is allowed in civil administration, when God sends us men as his witnesses, is it mere creatures we offend when we refuse the message which they bring? Do we not see that we are doing dreadful injury to God?

But explanation embellished with illustration is insufficient to bring the truth home to the heart. There must be application. Without application, there is no real preaching. So Calvin adds an injunction to his explanation and illustration.

Let us determine, then, to give him greater obedience than we have done so far, and to treasure the teaching of the gospel, referred to here by the word ‘witness.’ May it mean more to us than it has in the past! (Quotes found on page 229).

This application is brief. It is pointed. It comes during the course of the sermon. Calvin is not concluding his message. Yet, he drives home his reason for highlighting the term ‘witness.’ At the same time, he does so with force and urgency. More on this latter point next time. Sharp and pointed gospel arrows set forth the truth of God with applications that penetrate the heart.

Denny Prutow

Gospel Arrow Emotion and Illustration

2019-08-16T10:42:41-05:00 August 19th, 2019|

When pointed and sharp gospel arrows strike a human heart, the impact is felt. In fact, the impact must be felt. The Westminster Divines tell us that those who preach and teach must set forth the truth so that those listening “feel the word of God to be quick and powerful” (‘On the Preaching of the Word’). After all, in Scripture, the heart involves not only the mind but also the emotions and will. And how a person feels about something often determines the actions they take.

Yes, entrance to the heart is through the gateway of the mind, but emotions play a vital role in accepting and acting on the truth. Although explanations and instruction begin with truth stated in the form of propositions, illustrations illumine and make the truth clear and plain. Part of the way illustrations bring clarity is by addressing the emotions. As Brian Chapell puts it, “Listeners who experience concepts, even vicariously, actually know more than those who must consider words and ideas in the abstract” (Using Illustration to Preach with Power, 39).

Illustrations have the effect of actual touch. They add to the plainness and force of a teaching or message. As a result, “the mind of the hearer experiences the sensation of being touched; and this sensation is always impressive, for a man starts when he is touched” (W.G.T. Shedd, Homiletics and Pastoral Theology, 64). Calvin often speaks of our need to be “touched deeply” by the spoken word (Sermons on Genesis, Chapters 1-11, 607).

This sense of being touched and being aroused is a product of evocative language and well-formed illustrations. When Spurgeon speaks about how close death is to the sinner, he uses a powerful image, which evokes an emotional response. “Death is riding! Here his horse comes—I hear his snortings, I feel his hot breath—he comes! And thou must die!” (Jay Adams, Sense Appeal in the Sermons of Charles Haddon Spurgeon, 10-11).

The use of dialog along with imagery helps drive the truth home to the heart. Here is a sample from Calvin. He is preaching on Acts 2:40, “And with many other words he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, saying, ‘Be saved from this perverse generation!’.” Notice how Calvin combines dialog with strong images.

Suppose I see a man so near a precipice that if he takes but one or two more steps he will fall into it and be killed. Will it be enough if I but say to him, ‘Watch where you are going’? Not at all! But I must shout: ‘Hey! Don’t take another step! Stop where you are or you’ll break your neck!’ That is exactly what we must do, for we see many on the verge of stumbling fatally. If we leave them alone without a word of caution, we betray God and you as well. When we see that some are given to adulteries and excesses, and others to usuries, strong-arm tactics, and so many other wicked deeds, we have to shout, ‘Hey! Not another step! You are nearing the pit of hell! If you fall in, you will never get out and, count on it; you will be in unending torment!’ Such is the responsibility we receive from our Lord Jesus Christ and learn from his word. So must we fulfill it (Sermons on the Acts of the Apostles, Chapers 1-7, 52-53).

To sharpen your gospel arrows, incorporate language that evokes emotions, use powerful images, and include dialog. The effect will be profound. In teaching or preaching, the truth is imbedded in the heart by the judicious use of illustrative material.

Denny Prutow

Sharpen Your Gospel Arrows

2019-08-09T13:52:38-05:00 August 12th, 2019|

A solid gospel message is a gospel arrow. See my explanation of Psalm 45:5, “Your arrows are sharp; The peoples fall under You; Your arrows are in the heart of the King’s enemies.” Click here. If a gospel arrow accomplishes its task, it follows a straight path to the intended target. Again, the target of a gospel message is the sinful human heart. More on this point in another lesson. The straight path is the outline, the roadmap, taking the message to the heart.

There are many approaches to laying out the roadmap in a gospel message. An outline is a roadmap. The analogy of a roadmap, strongly suggests sequential outlines as the best approach. As indicated in my previous post, “The Mechanics of Gospel Archery,” click here, the gospel arrow analogy points to the sequential outline. Along this line, W.G.T. Shedd reminds us “that sermons are more defective in respect to unity of structure, and a constant progress towards a single end, than in any other respect” (Homiletics and Pastoral Theology, 147).

In other words, a gospel message should display progress and movement toward its main point. Those listening to the message ought to sense this movement and be led to embracing the main point. There is a philosophy of ministry here. The speaker or preacher is a shepherd. Armed with well-formed gospel arrow, he leads those listening into the truth.

Gospel arrows, gospel messages, may take different forms. Here, I contrast two forms, which I call the Cluster and the Sequence. In the Cluster, the several points of the message all point to the main point, provided there is the main point. The several points form a cluster around the main point. See the diagram. This structure virtually prohibits movement or progress toward the single end designated in the main point of the message. Why?Everything points back to this main point.In developing a Sequence, each individual point in the message leads to the next point in a logical progression. Movement or progress is built into the structure of the message. The sequence of points leads to the main point. See the diagram. The Cluster approach tends to blunt a gospel arrow. A solid Sequence, laying out an orderly succession, ending in the main point of the message, sharpens a gospel arrow

Here is a simple sequential outline on 1 Timothy 1:5, “But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.”

Main Point of Message: Trust Christ to work biblical love in you through our teaching and preaching. Here is a possible sequential outline

1. Paul gives you instruction for life in the church.

2. The instruction you receive each week as you gather together comes from the Bible.

3. God has a goal for this biblical instruction; it’s not just getting through the lesson.

4. God’s goal is to produce love in you as He defines it and describes it in the Bible.

5. God reaches His goal by giving you pure hearts, good consciences, and unhypocritical faith.

6. Trust Christ to work biblical love in you through our weekly teaching and preaching.

Consider sharpening your gospel arrows by using sequential outlines in your presentations.

Denny Prutow

The Mechanics of Gospel Archery

2019-07-31T07:57:57-05:00 August 5th, 2019|

The mechanics of archery sets forth a precise sequence of steps to launch an arrow to a target. If the target is at some distance, one must aim high so that the arrow follows a precise arc in order to reach and hit the target. Without following the sequence of steps the mechanics of archery describes, failure is almost certain.

A gospel message should be constructed as a gospel arrow fired at the human heart. Further, gospel archery mechanics outlines a precise sequence of steps for launching gospel arrows into human hearts. As a result, gospel arrows follow a precise path involving a specific sequence of actions from preacher or evangelist to human hearts.

As noted in the previous post (click here), a gospel message “should be a discourse that exhibits singleness of aim, and converging progress towards an outward practical end” (W.G.T. Shedd, Homiletics and Pastoral Theology, 146). That is, a gospel message should be constructed as a gospel arrow. Following the archery analogy, we should think sequence. Shedd offers the critique “that sermons are more defective in respect to unity of structure, and a constant progress towards a single end, than in any other respect” (Ibid., 147).

Unity of structure depends upon having a single aim, one objective, or main point. Constant progress toward this single end requires a sequence of thought. In other words, a gospel message constructed as a gospel arrow leads us to the idea of a sequential outline. When Haddon Robinson introduced the concept of a sequential outline at a preaching conference at RPTS in May of 1991, he urged those of us attending to give it a try. Once back in my home congregation, I determined to follow Haddon Robinson’s advice. The response of the congregation was positive. Sermons became more like gospel arrows. Impact seemed to improve.

Are there other methodologies? Yes! Is God pleased to use other methodologies and bring about conversions and positive fruit? Yes, indeed. I myself used a far different approach for quite a number of years. But an important question remains. Do we want to improve and advance in the skill of preaching and evangelism? If there is a process, an approach, a methodology that takes us forward in the great work of evangelism and preaching, shouldn’t we give it some consideration? Shouldn’t we do our best in the work of gospel proclamation?

Gospel messages should be constructed as gospel arrows. As Haddon Robinson puts it, “A sermon should be a bullet, not buckshot” (Biblical Preaching, 35). A sequential outline aims the bullet, aims the gospel arrow, at the heart. Following through on this sequence means hitting the target. And by the grace of God, the result is death to the old man and new life in Christ.

Denny Prutow

Gospel Arrows

2019-07-28T10:02:40-05:00 July 29th, 2019|

“Your arrows are sharp in the heart of the king’s enemies; the peoples fall under you. (Ps. 45:5). There is little doubt that Psalm 45:5 speaks of Jesus Christ, His enemies, and the weapons of His warfare. Hebrews 1:8 quotes the very next verse, Psalm 45:6, with reference to Christ. “Of the Son he says, ‘Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom.’”

In this present day, the enemies of King Jesus are all those who stand opposed to Him and to His gospel. At the same time, His chief weapon is the gospel wielded by His servants, faithful preachers, and evangelists. As instruments of grace, these servants aim His gospel arrows at the hearts of men and women, young people and children. The heart is the center and core of the whole inner person, the mind and emotions and will. Change occurs with the penetrations of gospel arrows. In the end, it is Jesus Christ who launches these arrows and brings about this change of heart.

The comparison of gospel messages to arrows has a point. Pun intended. A gospel message meant to stick in the heart is not like a basket full of fruit tossed out to the congregation for the people to grab what they need. A gospel message meant to stick in the heart is not like clumps of clay thrown at a wall to see what will stick. A gospel message meant to stick in the heart is a gospel arrow designed for this purpose.

Fashioning these gospel arrows involves the KISS method, “Keep It Simple Stupid.” As the Heath brothers observe, “What we mean by simple is finding the core idea” (Made to Stick, 27). For biblical evangelists and preachers, this means finding the main idea of a biblical text. David Helm, chairman of the Simeon Trust, “which promotes practical instruction in preaching,” observes, “Biblical expositors don’t step into the pulpit to preach without first being able to articulate the theme of their text in one coherent sentence. The theme is the big idea or the dominant issue of the text” (Expositional Preaching, Back Cover and 99). Helm goes on to say, “A second practical step a biblical expositor can use to aid clarity is to state in a single sentence the biblical author’s aim for his audience from the text” (Ibid.).

A couple of my favorite quotes on preaching come from W.G.T. Shedd (1820-1894). A sermon, he says, “should be a discourse that exhibits singleness of aim, and converging progress towards an outward practical end” (Homiletics and Pastoral Theology, 146). How should a gospel message be constructed? A gospel message must be constructed as a gospel arrow. The preacher or evangelist “must aim to pervade it with but one leading idea, to employ but one doctrine, and to make it teach but one lesson” (ibid., 147).

Sitting at the table at a fund-raising banquet, a young couple thanked me for my preaching. “Our kids,” they said, “are able to tell us what the morning sermon was about when you preach.” They heard and retained the sermon’s main point. Sermons should be gospel arrows. A lady in a congregation I served told my wife, “I always have a point to ponder and apply during the week after Denny’s sermons.” Sermons should be gospel arrows.

Denny Prutow

Contradiction and Non-Contradiction

2019-07-20T10:27:49-05:00 July 22nd, 2019|

We often assume divine sovereignty and human freedom are irreconcilable. We presume they are contradictory. However, we do find them side by side in the Bible. The doctrines, therefore, cannot contradict each other.

A common article of proper thinking is the so-called law of non-contradiction. This principle comes out of God. It says, “A” cannot be “A” and “non-A” at the same time and in the same relationship. Take the Trinity for example. The Westminster Shorter Catechism asks: How many persons are there in the Godhead? Answer: There are three persons in the Godhead; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; and these three are one God, the same in substance, equal in power and glory. God is not three persons and one person at the same time. This would be a contradiction. God is not one substance and three substances at the same time. This would also be a contradiction. When we look at God in relation to the persons of the Godhead there are three persons. When we look at God with regard to the essence of His being, there is one God. The Trinity is not a contradiction.

The same thing applies to divine sovereignty and human freedom. Human beings cannot be free and not free at the same time and in the same relationship. This principle stands. With regard to the essence of our beings as creatures of God, we are not free. We are not autonomous. We are not our own rule-makers. There is a higher power over us, the sovereign God. Suddenly we introduce a new element. It is the element of rules or laws, the moral element. We are moral creatures. We are not computerized robots or programmed androids. We think; we make choices; we take actions hundreds of thousands of times each day. All of our choices are ultimately good or bad. It is good for us to get up in the morning, get dressed, eat breakfast and go to work. It is bad for us to get up and fail to dress before going to work.

We are free in the sense we make myriads of choices each day which affect our lives and the lives of others. At the same time, every decision we make is within the confines of the indisputable fact we are finite beings. We are moral beings and we are finite beings. These are two very different things. God is a moral being and an infinite being. We are like God in that we are moral beings. We are distinct from God in that we are finite beings. When we look at ourselves as moral beings and as finite beings we see ourselves and God from two quite different perspectives. We should also see divine sovereignty and human freedom are not contradictory.

All of this is a great comfort to me as a Christian. The Bible distinguishes between the law of God’s decrees and the law of God’s precepts. “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law” (Deuteronomy 29:29). The former relates to God’s infinite being. The latter relates to God’s moral being. We cannot violate, walk outside of, God’s plan, His decrees. We can and often do violate, walk outside of, God’s moral requirements, the Ten Commandments. When I sin, I seek God’s forgiveness for my moral failings. I can do so because I remain in the grip of God’s omnipotent hands. Divine sovereignty and human freedom kiss (Psalm 85:10).

Denny Prutow