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Mohler: God’s sovereignty & human responsibility true

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–The sovereignty of God in the act of salvation and the responsibility of human beings “to hear and to heed” are parallel truths, R. Albert Mohler Jr. preached Feb. 4 at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Speaking at the spring convocation, the first chapel service of the Louisville, Ky., seminary’s new semester, Mohler spoke from Matthew 13:1﷓23, a passage known as the “Parable of the Sower” or “Parable of the Soils.”

Taking Jesus’ statement in verse 9, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear,” as his sermon title, Mohler noted a prominent Christian leader had recently asserted, “… this generation is growing increasingly deaf spiritually.”

Although some people are growing spiritually deaf, Mohler asserted, “We are born spiritually deaf and spiritually blind.”

Noting that the Matthew passage has three “movements” in which Jesus tells the parable to a multitude of people, explains the use of the parable to his disciples and then interprets the story for the twelve, Mohler said the significant transition in the passage occurs between verses 9 and 10 when the account “shifts from a public conversation with the multitude to a very private conversation with the disciples.”

Like wives who ask about their husband’s manner of dress — “You’re not really going to wear that tie with that shirt, are you?” — and parents who question their daughter’s choice of a prospective date — “You really don’t think I’m going to let you go out with him, do you?” — Mohler said the disciples’ question in verse 10, “Why speakest thou unto them in parables?” was not really a question.

The disciples believed that Jesus missed an opportunity to capture a throng of followers by declaring he was the Messiah, Mohler said, but instead had thought Jesus told “a farm story.”

Jesus’ response to the disciples’ query in verse 11, “Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given,” provides one of the “hard sayings” of the passage, Mohler said.

“It’s hard on the ears to hear it. It speaks so clearly of the sovereignty of God,” Mohler said, noting Jesus’ response “comes to us as both judgment and grace. Grace on those who hear and judgment on those who hear not. Grace on those to whom it has been granted and judgment upon those to whom it has not been granted.

“Clearly the passage underscores the sovereignty of God in the ear and in the heart, as in all places,” Mohler continued. “And it underscores the sovereignty of God in a way that runs counter to our modern thoughts, counter indeed to the grain of our own heart and our own expectation. But after all, God is God and we are not. And this verse says straightforwardly in a way that cannot be evaded, ‘to you it has been granted to know the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been granted.'”

The distinguishing spiritual characteristic between the multitude and the disciples was the work of the Holy Spirit, Mohler said.

“It is because (the disciples) were dependent upon revelation, upon illumination, upon the quickening of the Holy Spirit and the regeneration which only God can affect in the human heart,” Mohler said. “They were dependent upon the work of the Holy Spirit. To them it had been granted. It is not so much that they have grasped it, because they have not, nor have we the intellect to grasp it. It is because it has been granted to them to know.”

Mohler quoted Martin Luther as saying, “… man left to himself sees, but does not perceive and hears, but does not understand.”

The difficult declaration concerning God’s sovereignty, Mohler said, is followed by another “hard saying” in verse 12: “For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath.” This verse “speaks to the parallel truth of our responsibility to hear and to heed,” Mohler said.

Calling the verse “a critical principle of the Christian life,” Mohler said, “Those who receive the word and heed the word and apply the word and follow the word receive evermore knowledge of the word, are grounded evermore firmly in the word, are evermore shaped by the word, are evermore faithful followers of the word.”

Mohler quoted Charles Spurgeon, the 19th-century English Baptist preacher who said, “Those who do little with little will have even less until they have nothing at all. Those who do much with much will receive even more until they have an abundance.”

Those who hear the word and follow Christ as well as those who do not follow are both fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah which Jesus quoted in the Matthew passage, Mohler said.

After reviewing Jesus’ interpretation of the parable, Mohler said the “unspeakable blessing of theological study” and the “stewardship of revealed truth” were particular applications of the passage for the Southern Seminary community.

“If we really understood what was going on in worship, those who come with frilly hats would instead come with combat helmets. For after all, we’re coming into the presence of Jehovah, the one true God,” Mohler said, paraphrasing the poet Annie Dillard.

“And I fear sometimes in the same way in theological study we grow too familiar, we grow too comfortable. We do not recognize that in a real sense that it is combat boots and combat helmets we should wear. For we are dealing with issues of such ultimate and eternal importance, we’re dealing with the revealed truths of a holy God,” Mohler declared.

As stewards of the learning received, seminarians must incorporate the revealed truth “into our lives and into our ministries,” Mohler said.

“Our goal is not theology for the sake of theology. Nor is it knowledge for the sake of knowledge. Or exegesis for the sake of exegesis. Research for the sake of research. Nor even teaching for the sake of teaching,” Mohler asserted.

“Our goal is knowledge, learning, application and teaching, in the words of the apostle Paul, ‘For the equipping of the saints, for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and the knowledge of the son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.”

    About the Author

  • James A. Smith Sr.