From the moment of his creation man had a calling.
In Genesis 2:15 we read, “And the Lord God took the man, and put him in the garden to dress it and keep it.” Whatever that work in that day consisted in and required, it was man’s calling before God. From that moment onward he was God’s steward. God placed certain creatures in his hand, under his control and wherewith he could serve. God gave him tools and means wherewith to serve. And only today do we see how complex and manifold those means and tools are. Adam had the garden to dress and keep; we have a whole world of goods and creatures. Our reach is so much greater than Adam’s. Our earth is bigger than his small garden before his fall, and the expanse of the land of Eden after that fall. Today a man flies in less than a day from continent to continent. He reaches out and touches the moon and distant planets. This he does not do with his hand in the literal sense. But he is able to hold in his hand the close-up pictures he has taken of these heavenly bodies. He has reached them with his eye to see their detail as Adam could never see it. He has touched many creatures in between as he rockets through space at speeds unbelievable to Adam and to the whole human race only a few hundred years ago. He digs down into the bowels of the earth to a depth that man found impossible in centuries gone by. He has explored the depth of the sea and seen creatures that Solomon in all his wisdom never knew existed. He has gotten possession of and placed his name upon objects and creatures that the patriarchs never dreamed would exist.
But two truths lie behind this whole experience of man and must be borne in mind by him. The first is that “The earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof, the world, and they that dwell therein.” Psalm 24:1. The cattle on a thousand hills, the hills on which they graze, each blade of grass growing upon those hills, the men who tend the cattle and the sun that shines upon them, all are God’s in the absolute sense of the word. Man possesses goods relatively. The one man owns that to which his neighbor has no right; but he owns it only as God’s steward and for a few brief years. He owns what he has in relation to his fellowmen. In relation to God he has only received some tools, some means wherewith he is to serve His Creator.
Man was created as the most unique among all of God’s earthly creatures. He was created so that spiritually he faced God and physically he faced this earth with all that which it contains. He was created with a spiritual side to his soul that knew God, loved Him, recognized Him as his master and himself as the friend-servant. And he likewise had a physical side to his soul whereby he could work with that w earthly creation in God’s service and then render Him praise and thanksgiving. With his hand he could keep and dress the garden, but then with his lips and soul he cried out, “O God, How great Thou art!” He could reach out and eat the fruit of the ground and of the trees and herbs as a purely physical act; but then his soul would respond, and he would look away from the earth unto the Creator thereof and sing, “O God, How good Thou art!” Through man the lifeless rocks, the speechless beasts, the irrational creature all came before God’s face in praise and adoration. They did this through Adam’s soul. Through Adam in his state of righteousness all creation came to God and said, “Thank you, Lord.” Picture in your mind a triangle with its base, downward and its apex pointing up to heaven, and then you have a figure of Adam, the king of all that earthly creation in his state of righteousness. At the base in all its broadest extent Adam touched the earthly creation; but through his soul it all pointed upward to his Maker, the God of heaven and of earth.
All this ceased when Adam became a rebel against the living God and the point of that triangle became turned downward and inward. He became a self-seeker, a selfish, greedy, covetous rebel. And he became a thief. For he still stood on God’s earth and increasingly began to reach out to the extent of that earth until he has today, as we pointed out, reached it almost as far as he can go. But he no longer goes to God with that creation even though it everlastingly remains God’s in the most absolute sense. Paul writes in Romans 3:23 that “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” ‘And one of the most frequently used words in Scripture for sin means “to miss the mark.” Man is not even aiming in the general direction. The apex of that triangle, we said, is now pointed downward and inward towards the flesh of man himself. He does not come anywhere near the glory of God but goes in the opposite direction of the glory of self. And it is not merely a matter of “losing the game” when he does not hit the target. It is far more serious, for he goes “on strike” against the living God! He sits in God’s factory and uses his raw material, machines and tools, and then sells the goods, pockets the money and goes home with it! He takes over God’s creation, and then he says, “There is no God; all this is mine to do with as my flesh pleases.” He may be “cultured and civilized.” He may profess even to be a Christian. His name may be inscribed in the books of a church here below. He may even be a regenerated child of God. But whenever he uses any of the goods of this earth for himself and does not render the due praise and thanks to God, by his actions he does say, “There is no God; all this is mine to do with as I please.”
You see, then, the first theft of Adam and Eve was not that they robbed the neighbor of any of his goods. They had no neighbor yet. We may say, perhaps, that Eve through her temptation robbed Adam of his righteousness and thus of his life. But even then her first deed was to rob, God of His glory, to come short of it, to miss the mark that He had placed before her when He created her. And that was a serious thing! For that was everything!
What can we give to God other than praise and thanksgiving? Since those cattle on a thousand hills are His; since we with all of our possessions also are His; and since we cannot do anything without the breath of life and heart beat which He gives us; what is there to bring to Him that He does not already possess? What goods can we bestow upon Him? How can we ever enrich Him and add to His wealth? And, by the way, did you ever hear of anyone making God the beneficiary in his last will and testament? Not that He wants that. He does not. And it cannot be done anyway. But no man ever thinks of doing that. God wants it during your life and not after you have given your last breath of life. God wants it in the form of praise and thanksgiving. Listen to what He says Himself in Psalm 50:7-15, “Hear, O my people, and I will speak, O Israel and I will testify against thee. I am God even thy God. I will not reprove thee for thy sacrifices or thy burnt offerings, to have been continually before me. I will take no bullock out of thine house, nor he goats out of thy folds. For every beast of the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills. I know all the fowls of the mountain: and the wild beasts of the field are mine. If I were hungry, I would not tell thee: for the world is mine, and the fulness thereof. Will I eat the flesh of bulls, or drink the blood of goats? Offer unto God thanksgiving: and pay thy vows unto the most High: And call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me.”
Indeed, Offer unto God thanksgiving and glorify Him! That is your calling. And if you do not, you rob Him of that which rightfully is His. And because it is His, He is going to get it. Because all things are in the absolute sense of the word His, He is going to take them all back in the fire of the judgment day. And He will still get Himself that praise and glory through the salvation of His people in Christ and through the everlasting desolation of the other thieves in the torment of hell. The one thief on the cross goes by Christ’s cross into a perfect life of praising and glorifying God for salvation and a new creation. The other thief from his cross goes into terror where he will confess the glory of a righteous and sovereign God. His knee will bow. His tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God. He will say in hell that God is great and that God is good, even in and because of this terrible punishment.
But, again, Offer to God thanksgiving and render Him praise, That is your calling. That is what salvation enables us to do once again, Peter calls us a royal priesthood that has been called out of darkness in order that we should show forth God’s praises. I Peter 2:9. We are, first of all (and such we were in the beginning) the blessed givers who give praise and thanksgiving to God; who give Him service and render Him the honour of being GOD! These we can give to Him because He has given them to us. We can take the cup of salvation which He gave, and we can come with the contents of that cup which He has filled, and render thanksgiving and praise to the most High. It is quite obvious, is it not, that we cannot give thanks unless we are thankful. There is no thanksgiving when one is not thank-fill. The heart full of thanks, the heart filled with gratitude by God, can give it back to Him. Even as the river and brook must continue to receive and be filled in order to give water to the sea or ocean, so God fills our cup; and we by that power and gift, with the point of the triangle lifted again on high to Him, give praise as we are given grace. We receive a new man in Christ who once again faces God spiritually in his soul. Once again through the mind and heart and by the tongue of the regenerated man the whole earthly creation in. its much wider extent and multiplicity of creatures in their complex forms comes in a steady stream of praise and thanksgiving and glory to God, being dedicated to His service.
When this is the case, there will be the faithful labor so that we “may also relieve the poor,” as the Heidelberg Catechism points out in its explanation of the meaning of the eighth commandment. Where this is not the case, there will be nothing but stealing away from the neighbor—be he rich or poor—the tools which God has given him for his stewardship. Either we are faithful stewards ourselves with all that God gives us, or we are going to try to prevent others from being steward by stealing their goods. In His fear we face God spiritually; and it has a tremendous effect upon our whole attitude towards the man God brings across our path. In His fear we give to him rather than take away from him, because we would be the blessed givers who render unto God the praise and glory and thanksgiving due to His Holy Name.