The Liberality of God and the Thanklessness of Men

“For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused,
if it be received with thanksgiving: For it is sanctified
by the word of God and prayer.” 
1 Timothy 4:4&5

Men take liberty (which is not theirs to take) and give liberty (which is not theirs to give). Yet they rarely consider what the source of liberty is and what true liberty consists of.

Indeed, true liberty has nothing to do with the “commandments of men” (Matthew 15:9). Rather, true liberty comes from God as it is His authority alone to establish its boundaries and punish its transgressors (James 1:25; 2:12). Thus the liberty of God is not a license for men to do as they please.

But neither is the liberty of God something that He has merely created for men, like one who puts a helpless animal in a cage for its own protection. Rather it is best to see it as something that proceeds from God Himself – it is an extension of His own character: that is His fatherly disposition towards man.

We see this in the original creation of man. Scripture tells us that Adam was the “son of God” (Luke 3:38). Indeed, Adam was made in God’s image and made by His own special, creative act.

And though today we are alienated from God by our sin and misery, nevertheless we are His ‘children’ since the image of God, however imperceptible, is yet stamped upon us (Genesis 9:6; James 3:9). [1] Paul tells the heathen philosophers of his day that they too are God’s “offspring” (Acts 17:29). In this man earned nothing from God nor was rewarded according to merit. God did this of His own accord.

But do we see this goodness of God towards man today? In a sermon on Titus 1:15-16, John Calvin speaks of the liberality of God towards men in the provision of even something as common and simple as food:

God hath filled the world with such abundance that we may marvel to see what a fatherly care He hath over us: for to what end or purpose are all the riches here on earth, only to show how liberal He is toward man!

What is the purpose of fruit, meat, grains, water, and all manner of goodness? Even gold, silver, and aluminum? Wood, coal and gas? Did it all come about through blind purpose and chance? Do we just happen to live on a world that happens to possess all the faculties for the genesis of life and its ceaseless maintenance? Even to the point that we have more than we need and even that which is not necessary to sustain our life? Indeed, how many of us could live on far less and yet have much more than that? [2]

The Apostle Paul says in our text that no creature is to be refused “if it be received with thanksgiving.” All good in this life must be taken with praise and honour to God from men. So then, where is man’s thankful response? Calvin goes on to comment in his sermon:

If we know not that He is our Father, and acteth the part of a nurse toward us, if we receive not at His hand that which He giveth us, insomuch that when we eat, we are convinced that it is God that nourisheth us, He cannot be glorified as He deserveth; neither can we eat one morsel of bread without committing sacrilege; for which we must give an account.

So many of us commit this sacrilege against our Creator and we don’t even realize it. How often do we fail to thank God for daily bread? For peace and security in our nation? For His goodness extended to us day after day? Even professing believers, who have much to say about the sin of our time, have to remember that one of the greatest crimes against God is a steadfast refusal to recognize His fatherly kindness to us. The Apostle Paul condemns this terrible vice when he says:

“when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.”  Romans 1:21 (emphasis mine)

Now it is sometimes objected that God’s goodness should be contested insofar as even from the very beginning He placed a hedge around man. After all He said: “But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” (Genesis 2:17). Men ask: why did God limit His liberality? Why did He say one tree, amongst all others, could not be eaten of? Why is God so stingy, so exacting, and so strict?

Yes, one tree. But only one tree! He could have said: one hundred only or, in the reverse, allowed man to eat of one tree only. But He gave them all, one excepted. So why this doubt, why so vexed about His choice & His will when He shows us His beneficence in giving us the entire earth as our possession? (Genesis 1:28ff & Psalm 115:16)

Furthermore, why do we contest that what is God’s is His to do with as He pleases? Wasn’t it God’s world? He made it; it is His possession (Psalm 24:1-2). He owns it all, yes even us. Yet, incredibly, fallen man blames God for encroaching on what he perceives to be his own territory. Sinful man shows his rebellion when he wants to dictate to God what is his and what he may do with it. Instead of embracing God’s liberality, men reject it for their own. The results are disastrous and are set before our very eyes as a play on the world’s stage in its entire history.

How then do we proceed to turn back this great evil? We can redeem the time (Ephesians 5:16) by walking in faith and sharing with those who are in need. We can, as Paul says, sanctify our daily provision through prayer and the word and thus testify of God’s for His gifts to men in our public and family worship (Psalm 104:13-15).

In particular we can receive the gift of the Word and sacrament from His hand as tokens of the risen Christ who laid down His life for His sheep. Thus, even as we trust in God for the provision of our daily bread, we are led to long for the eternal food which only Christ can give. And the glorious promise is that, some day, when heaven and earth have been purified, and when the kingdom has come in its fullness, we shall sit down at the table of the Lord with believers of all ages. May that spur us on to greater love of God and to tell others, who are outside the kingdom, about the great liberality of God, and His offer of salvation, that they too may come and partake of Christ.

“Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth
unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you:
for him hath God the Father sealed.” John 6:27

1. This ‘general’ or creational sonship is not to be confused with the grace of adoption by which sinners are brought into God’s family through Christ’s redemptive work. WCF 12.1 “All those that are justified, God vouchsafeth, in and for His only Son Jesus Christ, to make partakers of the grace of adoption: by which they are taken into the number, and enjoy the liberties and privileges of the children of God, have His name put upon them, receive the spirit of adoption, have access to the throne of grace with boldness, are enabled to cry, Abba, Father, are pitied, protected, provided for, and chastened by Him as by a father; yet never cast off, but sealed to the day of redemption, and inherit the promises, as heirs of everlasting salvation.”
2. Skeptics might immediately point to famine and the like as proof of the contrary but we cannot deny that the world is full of resources for our use and pleasure. Even in many places where there is a lack of food or water it is often due to man’s mismanagement of resources especially due to hoarding, war and other miseries we bring upon ourselves.

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