Rev. David Holwick E Jesus and Other Faiths
First Baptist Church
Ledgewood, New Jersey
February 14, 2016
DOES GOD HELP THOSE WHO HELP THEMSELVES?
I. Open your Bibles to Hezekiah 3:16.
A. It is one of the most popular verses in the Bible.
1) If your neighbor just opened their Bible to look, invite
them to our Bibles studies on Monday, Tuesday & Thursday.
2) Of course, Hezekiah is not a book in the Bible (he is a
Hebrew king) and the saying alluded to in my sermon
title is not a verse in the Bible.
a) However, 81% of Americans think it is.
b) It didn't even originate with Benjamin Franklin.
3) 600 years before Christ, it appears in one of Aesop's fables.
a) "Hercules and the Wagoner"
A Wagoner was once driving a heavy load along a very
At last he came to a part of the road where the wheels
sank half-way into the mud, and the more the horses
pulled, the deeper sank the wheels.
So the Wagoner threw down his whip, and knelt down and
prayed to Hercules.
"O Hercules, help me in this my hour of distress,"
But Hercules appeared to him, and said:
"Tut, man, don't sprawl there.
Get up and put your shoulder to the wheel."
The gods help them that help themselves.
b) Notice the nice allusion to plural gods....
4) An English writer updated it to our version in the 1600s.
5) In the next century it was quoted by Benjamin Franklin in
his POOR RICHARD'S ALMANAC, which is why Americans know it.
B. It fits our character.
1) We are people of action.
a) 75% of teenagers think it is the central theme of the
2) We believe in personal responsibility.
a) Bill O'Reilly is a popular host on the Fox News Channel.
In January 2002, O'Reilly was interviewing the pastor
of the 5th Street Presbyterian Church in NYC.
The church has an active ministry to the homeless.
O'Reilly told the pastor, "Jesus would have demanded
that the homeless people shape themselves up or
else, because, we all know the passage 'The
Lord helps those who help themselves.'"
Mr. O'Reilly may be a Christian but he is no theologian.
Yet his attitude is shared by many.
People should pull themselves up.
They shouldn't rely on others for everything, and that
includes relying on God.
b) If something needs to be done, do it yourself!
C. It easily warps into heresy.
1) The mindset is a favorite with deists, those who limit
God to an inactive being who is way, way out there.
a) Benjamin Franklin was a deist, and many Americans
operate on the same principle.
b) God cannot - or will not - do anything, so you have to.
2) But God is not limited to what we do, or don't do.
II. There are areas where you cannot help yourself.
A. You cannot save yourself.
1) We cannot even seek God on our own.
a) Romans 3:10-18 gives a long litany of the rottenness
of people and includes these statements:
"There is no one righteous, not even one;
there is no one who understands,
no one who seeks God."
b) If everyone is so rotten, what chance do we have?
1> No chance at all - unless God helps you.
2> And that is what he promises to do.
2) God gives us salvation before we know we need it.
a) Romans 5:8 says,
"But God demonstrates his own love for us in this:
While we were still sinners, Christ died for us."
b) Michael Houdmann concludes:
"There is no part of salvation that we can initiate or
When it comes to salvation, we cannot help ourselves.
B. Humans have limitations.
1) We are thoroughly warped by sin, even when we are doing
the best we can.
2) We are always ignorant to some extent as well.
C. God's grace is unlimited.
1) God helps those who CANNOT help themselves.
2) This is what salvation is all about.
III. Is depending on God just magical thinking?
A. Many feel that religion is too pessimistic about humans.
1) We are not as limited as Christians claim.
2) With all our faults, we can still save ourselves.
a) As a matter of fact, we are the only ones who can.
b) They would say believing in an all-powerful God
is just a cop-out.
3) Humans have all we need to succeed.
B. Secular Humanism is an influential force in America.
1) It is not a denomination, but a mindset.
2) "Man is the Measure" is how it used to be put.
a) (Too sexist for today).
b) Famous drawing by Leonardo da Vinci: a man outstretched
inside a circle which is inside a square.
3) Humans don't need help, we need to take charge.
C. How it is expressed in our culture.
1) Don't pray.
a) No god is going to help you.
2) Don't hope.
a) Anything that happens will be by your own effort.
3) Don't be limited by outmoded morality.
a) It has never worked anyway.
4) Trust in science to come up with the answers.
a) Our understanding of the natural world is incomplete,
but we are learning more all the time.
b) The only thing that can sort it all out is our minds.
D. Humans can, and have, accomplished a lot.
1) Even Christians must acknowledge the benefits of advances
in science and medicine.
2) My grandfather saw the beginnings of electricity and
a) He was born before the Wright brothers' first flight,
and lived to see humans step on the Moon.
b) He was born on a farm with kerosene lanterns and
lived to see nuclear power.
c) When he was born in 1900, life expectancy was 46.
d) When he died in 1983, life expectancy was 71.
1> Today it is 76. (even better for women)
E. The Bible is aware of this attitude.
1) Even in ancient times, people asked, "Where is God?"
a) It doesn't mean they were looking for him, but they
they felt no need to acknowledge him."
b) Plenty of people, especially kings, thought they
were equal to any god.
Consider how the prophet Isaiah assessed the mighty
king of Assyria:
"I will punish the king of Assyria for the willful
pride of his heart and the haughty look in his eyes.
For he says: 'By the strength of my hand I have done
this, and by my wisdom, because I have understanding.'"
2) The writers of the Bible don't buy it.
a) Proverbs 28:26 -
"He who trusts in himself is a fool..."
b) Jeremiah 17:5
"This is what the LORD says: 'Cursed is the one who
trusts in man, who depends on flesh for his strength
and whose heart turns away from the LORD."
Now go down to verse 7:
"But blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose
confidence is in him."
3) People, including you, will always fall short.
a) Only God is powerful enough to not let you down.
IV. The saying is good theology - for the saved.
A. The Bible encourages us to work hard.
1) God gives you abilities, and expects you to use them.
2) Being a lazy slob is condemned.
"A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of
the hands to rest--
and poverty will come on you like a bandit and
scarcity like an armed man."
"He who works his land will have abundant food, but he
who chases fantasies lacks judgment."
"The sluggard craves and gets nothing, but the desires
of the diligent are fully satisfied."
3) Your efforts should not be for selfish ends, but for others.
1 Timothy 5:8 says,
"If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and
especially for his immediate family, he has denied the
faith and is worse than an unbeliever."
This is the verse that Bill O'Reilly should have quoted.
4) Colossians 3:23 gives a good summary of the right attitude:
"Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as
working for the Lord, not for men."
B. You are not omnipotent, but you can act.
1) The Bible calls upon people to believe, to repent, to obey.
2) All of these are human efforts.
3) Obeying God produces fruit - good things.
V. So is it up to you or up to God?
A. Put them both together.
1) Pray as if it all depends on God.
2) Work as if it all depends on you.
a) If your finances are tight, pray about it - then try
to find a better job.
b) If your kids are rotten, give it to God - then read
some books on effective Christian parenting.
c) Do what you can do, but don't put your faith in yourself.
B. Don't leave God to the last minute.
Benjamin Franklin could see the value in religion when it came
to morals, but didn't spend much time thinking about it.
He had doubts about the divinity of Jesus and many teachings
of the Bible.
But for 30 years he was a very close friend to one of the most
famous preachers in America at that time - George Whitefield.
Whitefield could preach to 25,000 people and be understood,
with no electrical amplification.
Franklin actually did an experiment and found it plausible.
Whitefield is credited with sparking the first national revival
in America, the First Great Awakening.
Whitefield also preached on a more personal level - he
witnessed to Franklin.
Late in life, Franklin said Whitefield "used to pray for my
conversion, but never had the satisfaction of believing
that his prayers were heard.
Ours was a mere civil friendship."
When Franklin was on his deathbed the president of Yale
University wrote and asked him his views on religion.
Franklin told him he thought it was useless to bother with it
at that point, since he would soon know whether it was true
I guess he was right about the last part - death showed him the
truth about God.
But at that point it was too late for him to do anything about
It is not too late for you.
If there is one thing for you to do, it is to call upon God
to save you.
Do it now.
SOURCES FOR ILLUSTRATIONS USED IN THIS SERMON:
#22725 “Ben Franklin Meets George Whitefield,” Nathan Lewis, Evergreen
Explorer, Presbyterian Church of Beaverton, Oregon;
October 1, 1997; <link>.
#65046 “Does God Help Those Who Help Themselves?” S. Michael Houdmann,
#65050 “God Helps Those Who Help Themselves,” sermon by Rev. David Dykes,
Green Acres Baptist Church; Tyler, Texas; August 1, 2003,
#65051 “The Lie That God Helps Those Who Help Themselves,” sermon by
Rev. Dr. Erwin W. Lutzer, The Moody Church of Chicago,
Illinois, December 5, 1999; <link>.
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Copyright © 2017 by Rev. David Holwick
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