Theme registry rebuild completed. Turn off this feature for production websites.
David Garner's picture

David B. Garner is Associate Professor of Systematic Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary and Pastor of Teaching at Proclamation Presbyterian Church (Bryn Mawr, PA). Pastor, professor, and author, he has also served as a missionary, ministering in Europe and Central and Southeast Asia. From 2003-2007, he served as Director for TE3 (Theological Education for Eastern Europe), a regional theological training ministry based in Sofia, Bulgaria.

Column: Sine Qua Non by David Garner


March 11, 2014 •

“Wonderful are your works and my soul knows it very well.” (Ps 139:14b, ESV)

One chief evidence of gospel grace in the life of the believer is wonder. The Lord God himself and his care for us should dumbfound us. Any attention to them catapults the soul into an orbit of awe. The fact is, the more we consider creation and redemption, the more we discover that we simply cannot take it all in. Contemplation of God, his Word, and his works cause the soul nearly to burst.

Life is filled with divine reminders. A glorious sunset. A tender word from a compassionate friend. A performance of Bach’s Chaconne from the bow of Joshua Bell. Another day. Another meal. Another breath. These should all propel the heart God-ward.

As David writes in Psalm 139, meditation on our exquisite creation further boggles the mind. We are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14) actually by God himself; “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb” (Psalm 139:13, emphasis added).

Note well, our creation by the God of heaven is personal and intentional. We are truly precious. We matter because we matter to him. If you think such thoughts only a distant dream, David sets the record straight: “I awake, and I am still with you” (Psalm 139:18).

But there is more, much more. As if the creation’s splendor were not enough to engulf our souls in gratitude, Scripture tells the divine story of grace, of the Creator God who is also the Redeemer of his people. God forgives; he sweeps away our sin as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12). Seeing our desperate plight, he relocates us, transferring us from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of his beloved Son (Colossians 1:13). We are no longer objects of his wrath, but his children by his grace in his Son (Ephesians 2:1-10).

Psalm 139 drips with this rich gospel amazement! Writing as one loved stubbornly by the covenant Lord himself, David revels and rejoices. The preciousness of the personal, redeeming pursuit of God leaves him amazed. C. S. Lewis’ image, the “hound of heaven,” does not properly convey the character of this divine pursuit. Unlike a hunting dog that relentlessly pursues his prey, God chases us for a Fatherly embrace – gentle, strong, forgiving, gracious, and permanently redeeming. We who were stubborn rebels become his blessed children (1 John 1:1-3)!

What astonishes David is that the Lord has done this for him. The ancient king of Israel offers no arms’ length musing. Redemptive grace from the personal God pursued him personally. And the point here is this: redemptive grace from the personal God pursues us personally.

Personal creation. Personal forgiveness. All by the personal Creator and Redeemer. It all simply should stun us and stir our souls.

With the symphony of grace filling his soul in like fashion, the Apostle Paul urges the believers in Ephesus to muse and marvel over our stunning redemption in Jesus Christ, calling us to know what is unknowable, to embrace that which is larger than life itself, to celebrate divine grace.

The Apostle offers a prayer that only the Spirit of God can answer: “… that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:17-19). Living grounded in the inexhaustible scope of God’s love, knowing this love that exceeds human knowledge, and being filled to the brim “with all the fullness of God”: these are the gifts of God to his redeemed children for here and now.

David and Paul know full well that we cannot on our own apprehend these infinite reaches of God’s love expressed for us in Christ. But they also claim the powerful presence of the Spirit of Christ (Psalm 139:7), who is the “Spirit of wisdom and of revelation” (Ephesians 1:17). This Spirit shows us what we cannot see, reveals to us what we cannot know, and exposes us to the boundless love of God in Jesus Christ. God’s tender and personal, gospel mercies free us from the lies, lures, lusts and limits of this age.

So here we have it. We are created in God’s image – specially, precisely, fearfully. Having fallen into sin willfully and gleefully, believers in Christ Jesus find ourselves still in the eye of the Creator God, but not as objects of rejection and judgment. Rather, by his mercy toward us, we are adopted children of God – gripped by God’s loving and gracious hand, destined for untold glory untold.

To know this God of grace is to marvel. To know his love is to wonder. “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it” (Psalm 139:6). No we cannot attain it. But by the Spirit of Christ, we do taste and see God’s breathtaking goodness. We enter a sphere of love which exceeds the limits of human knowledge; God’s redemptive love in Christ completely satisfies and completely overwhelms.

David and Paul have heard and listened. They soaked in the symphonies of God’s grace and were catapulted into the sweet orbit of his redemptive grace. They call you to join them.

You too can know this unknowable grace and love of God. Your soul can know it very well. Meditate and wonder, O child of God.

The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals is member supported and operates only by your faithful support. Thank you.