One of the great challenges in Scripture is the challenge of rightly handling the blessings of God. The Giver gives His gifts, and the recipients receive them gratefully. But it is not long before what was initially accepted as sheer grace grows slowly into what is falsely assumed to be an entitlement. This is just the way things are. We take grace for granted, and so it is that this grace corrodes slowly into something else. And as we look over the scope and sweep of Scripture, we can see that this is an error we can fall into for two cents.
As Cotton Mather once put it, “Faithfulness begat prosperity, and the daughter devoured the mother.” Or as Scripture states it, “Jeshurun waxed fat and kicked.” And so remember, as we consider these things, that there is more than one kind of wealth—there is spiritual wealth also. And the same kind of things can happen in that realm as well.
“When thou hast eaten and art full, then thou shalt bless the Lord thy God for the good land which he hath given thee. Beware that thou forget not the Lord thy God, in not keeping his commandments, and his judgments, and his statutes, which I command thee this day: Lest when thou hast eaten and art full, and hast built goodly houses, and dwelt therein; And when thy herds and thy flocks multiply, and thy silver and thy gold is multiplied, and all that thou hast is multiplied; Then thine heart be lifted up, and thou forget the Lord thy God, which brought thee forth out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage; Who led thee through that great and terrible wilderness, wherein were fiery serpents, and scorpions, and drought, where there was no water; who brought thee forth water out of the rock of flint; Who fed thee in the wilderness with manna, which thy fathers knew not, that he might humble thee, and that he might prove thee, to do thee good at thy latter end; And thou say in thine heart, My power and the might of mine hand hath gotten me this wealth. But thou shalt remember the Lord thy God: for it is he that giveth thee power to get wealth, that he may establish his covenant which he sware unto thy fathers, as it is this day” (Deut. 8:10–18).
Summary of the Text:
When we have eaten and are full, the initial response is good (v. 10). That is the response of blessing the Lord on account of His kindness to us. But then the warning is given—beware that you do not forget the Lord (v. 11). This forgetfulness is defined as forgetting His Word, in not keeping His commandments, judgments and statutes (v. 11).
When things go well for a time, it is then that the heart is lifted up. It is then that the heart gets fat and sassy (vv. 12-14). The first thing they forgot was the law of God. The second thing they forgot, as listed here, would be all the deliverances of God (vv. 14-16). They forgot the word of God, and they forgot the interventions of God. So instead of seeing the blessings as a gift from the hand of God, the recipient starts to think that it all came from his own hand (v. 17). But God is the one who enables us to do anything. He enables us to accumulate the goods that establish His covenant (v. 18), but we see from the preceding that these goods also provide the temptation to veer away from His covenant.
We should remember all of this with particular application to the doctrines of grace that we have been considering. In all of church history, the Puritan and Reformed stream of the Christian Church has received, in wonderful ways, the Deuteronomic blessings that Scripture promises—pressed down, shaken, and running over. And the Reformed, and those with a Calvinistic heritage, have also been most prone to the sin warned against here. If you were to get out a map of the world, and identify all the nations that had a significant Calvinist heritage, you would also have identified something else. You would be looking at a map of the First World. You would be looking at the nations that were rich. You would be looking at the nations who thought that by their own hands they had gotten this wealth. You would be looking at the secular West. You would be looking at the land of forgetfulness.
This is a covenantal sin, and I am afraid that the Protestant West has been guilty, guilty, guilty. “How have we forgotten?” someone might say. “We don’t know what you are even talking about.” We defend ourselves against the charge of having forgotten His great grace to us by maintaining that we don’t remember anything about it. Some defense.
The Ultimate Oxymoron:
How does this slow slide into ingratitude begin? When your goods are multiplied, when your stuff is abundant, then it is easy for your heart to be lifted up. And when your heart is lifted up, you become the ultimate oxymoron—the proud Calvinist, proud of the fact that he understands so well that we can take pride in nothing.
Remember the proud Pharisee in the Temple, the one who went home unjustified. And what did he say that resulted in him going home unjustified? What he said was actually one of the five solas — “I thank thee, God, that I am not like other men” (Luke 18:11).
“But what do you have that you did not receive as a gift? And if as a gift, then why do you boast as though it were not” (1 Cor. 4:7)?
Remembering the Contrast:
“But Jeshurun waxed fat, and kicked: Thou art waxen fat, thou art grown thick, thou art covered with fatness; Then he forsook God which made him, and lightly esteemed the Rock of his salvation” (Deut. 32:13–15). But the contrast that Scripture sets before us, over against waxing fat and kicking, is not waxing skinny and just sitting there. No, not at all. “Because thou servedst not the Lord thy God with joyfulness, and with gladness of heart, for the abundance of all things;” (Deut. 28:47). The great contrast here is between those who possess and forget and those who possess and remember.
Dance With the One What Brung Ya
As we consider the various movements and revivals and stirrings that have characterized church history, one of the most notable things about them concerns the men who were instrumental in bringing these things about. I would lay long odds against any of them—I am talking about men like Wycliff, Calvin, Luther, Tyndale, Knox, et al.—being able to land a job in any of the institutions named after them. What is this pattern? Why does it happen this way?
“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous, And say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets. Wherefore ye be witnesses unto yourselves, that ye are the children of them which killed the prophets. Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers.” (Matt. 23:29–32).
Whenever a ministry starts, the visionary has a world to gain, and he somehow sees the world to be obtained. There are many who catch the vision, and who are inspired to come with him. But there are others who join up because they have nothing better to do, and nothing really to lose. David was walking by faith, but some of the outcasts who joined him at the Cave of Adullam were muttering about other issues (1 Sam. 22:2). Some were loyal to David for all the right reasons. Some had just maxed out a bunch of credit cards.
Now when there starts to be some measure of success, when they are finally getting somewhere, those who had nothing to lose . . . now have something to lose. They have built up a cozy respectability for themselves, and no need to go rocking the boat, sonny. Consider what happened to the apostle Paul, on more than one occasion (2 Tim. 1:15; 2 Tim. 4:10; Phil. 1:13–17). Paul had created a movement, with opportunities and jobs, and he was now continuing to behave in exactly the same way he always had, which threatened to upset the security of their opportunities and jobs. And so they ditched.
The Radical Warning:
And here we come to the point, the warning that lies at the root. The greatest adversary of Calvinism is not Arminianism. The great adversary of Calvinism is Mammon, but it is important not to misunderstand at this point. It has to be said that the Calvinist work ethic (directly related to all the things we have been considering in this series) has been one of the greatest engines for the production of Mammon that the world has ever seen. Calvinists work hard because they know that God is sovereign over every aspect of human life, and they work hard in the presence of the Lord. They know that the promises attached to the Deuteronomic blessings are not promises that have somehow expired. But neither have the warnings expired. And so it has come to pass that nations with a Calvinistic heritage have produced mountains of Mammon. This is not a bad thing. The bad thing is what often happens next.
Now if, when your GDP has multiplied in stupefying ways, when the economy is growing at an astounding 4%, and you choose that moment to embrace the demands of secularism, then it is time for the faithful to say farewell to Demas, who has chosen poorly. We must not go along with any of this foolishness—the invisible hand that Adam Smith postulated is actually the hand of the Lord Jesus.
As so the choice is what it has always been—Christ and His gifts, or chasing what you falsely assume to be Christless gifts, into the wilderness.
“And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ. But with many of them God was not well pleased: for they were overthrown in the wilderness” (1 Cor. 10:4–5).