"The most casual reader of the Scriptures must realize that the absolute Sovereignty of God is everywhere assumed and in many places definitely stated" (Ex.9:16; Dan.2:19-22; Rom.9:14-24);...
Let us look at the subject we are to consider. The first is "The Sovereignty of God and Human Free Will." Let us take one at a time. Who knows any passage of Scripture which deals with "The Sovereignty of God?" Someone says, the ninth of Romans. Does the word sovereignty occur there? No, Romans nine does not speak of sovereignty at all. Later we will see what it does speak about. The fact is that the Authorized Version does not use this word in the so-called New Testament, and those who use it in Bible study should not make it a subject of perplexity, since it does not exist. But the thought is there, so we will not quibble about the word. Ruling powers on earth and in heaven are called sovereignties. In referring to time, the same word is translated beginning. In Luke 20:20 we read of the sovereignty (AV, power) of the governor, Herod. The Greek root is arch, as in arch-bishop, etc. The chief governmental authorities in general are called "sovereignties" in Romans 8:38 (principalities), Colossians 1:16 (principalities), 2:15 (principalities), some on earth, Titus 3:1 (principalities), others among the celestials, Ephesians 3:10 (principalities), 6:12 (principalities), Hebrews 1:10 (beginning). Some seemed to have sinned (Jude 6). Our Lord, Jesus Christ, the Son of God's love, is the great Sovereign (Col. 1:18, beginning) of the universe. He is over every other sovereignty (Eph. 1:21, principality). He is the Head of every sovereignty (Col. 2:10, principality). At the consummation, all sovereignty is to be abolished (1 Cor. 15:24, rule). This list follows the Greek original, not any translation, for the root arch is in each reference given. It would make a fine Bible study by itself. But the use of the Authorized Version is perplexing, because it translates this selfsame word in a number of ways, and its principal rendering is outdated, for a principality is a very small power now, whereas it was a principal power, I suppose, when the Authorized Version was translated.
We have a perfect right, then, to speak about the sovereignty of Herod, or of men, or of messengers (so called "angels"), or of Christ. But where is there a passage dealing with "the sovereignty of God?" Why, it ought to be perplexing! Did you ever look in the dictionary for the word etaoin? It once was frequently seen in newspapers. I have known people who were perplexed about it. So I explained to them that a Linotype operator, when he had made a mistake and wanted to fill out his line with anything, simply wiped his hand down the keyboard, and as the letters etaoin come under one another, he usually produced this monstrosity. Then some one failed to take it out before printing. So this puzzle was solved. No use looking for etaoin in the dictionary, for there is no such word. No use looking for "the sovereignty of God" in the Scriptures. There is no such thought.
But, I hear some one say, "Don't you believe in the sovereignty of God?" Ah! A heresy hunter! We will need to be careful! I have often been accused of going too far in my belief as to the sovereignty of God, but no one who has read my writings has ever accused me of not believing it. And yet I do not believe it! [No one is given the right to quote this sentence without also quoting this whole paragraph]. Suppose I did believe "it." Whom would I believe? Faith comes by hearing and hearing only through a declaration of God. But God has never spoken of His "sovereignty". It is impossible to believe Him in regard to a matter of which He has not spoken. If I "believe" it, I must believe some man who propounds it as an article of faith beside (or shall we say above?) the Scriptures. Perplexing? It ought to be perplexing! It is insoluble. But when we find that it has no place in God's vocabulary we at least know why it is perplexing. We are astray. Let us get back to God's Word.
Before going further, let me give you the open sesame to most of the perplexing things in the Bible. Always ask yourself whom do I believe? Not what! Almost everybody in Christendom "believes" the Bible. But very few believe God. We may "draw from Scripture" ever so many doctrines like this one, and believe them, but that is not believing God! In order to believe Him we must first listen to what He has to say. Never, never, I beg of you, take a human formula, and try to shore it up with passages of Scripture. Begin with God's Word. Then you will not need to pick out one irrelevant passage here and a similar one there in order to "prove" it. Every word of God is its own proof, and needs no props. Man's words, however, need "proof texts," but, alas, even when "proven" they still perplex!
The proof texts which do not "definitely state" the "absolute sovereignty of God" are given as Exodus 9:16; Daniel 2:19-22; Romans 9:14-24. Let us consider them. After this long sermon on accuracy I hope the indulgent reader will forgive me if I refer only to my own renderings. Otherwise I would annoy you by continually saying "This translation is not right." Exodus 9:16 reads: "Howbeit, for the sake of this have I caused you to stand, in order to show you My vigor, and that My name may be rehearsed in all the earth." As this is involved in Romans nine, we will leave it till later. But here we have an exhibition, not of God in government, as a Sovereign, but as revealing His vigor in judgment.
Daniel 2:19-22 reads as follows:
"Then, in a vision of the night, the secret is revealed to Daniel. Then Daniel blesses the God of heaven. Daniel answers and says, `Blessed be the name of God from the eon and until the eon, for wisdom and might are His. And He alters the eras and the stated times, causing kings to pass away and setting up kings, granting wisdom to the wise, and knowledge to those who know understanding. He reveals the deep and the concealed. He knows what is in the darkness, and with Him light solves.'"
This passage deals with the details of what is really intended by "divine sovereignty," so is well worth consideration in this connection. "Times and seasons" seem to be utterly unbridled. Who knows what the situation will be in Europe tomorrow? Who is back of all this? Is it blind chance? No. He alters them! It is all under perfect control. Who removes kings and sets them up? The people? No. The League? No. Assassins? No. It all seems so haphazard, so uncontrolled, so insane. But one day all will see that the disorder was methodical and that God is holding tight the reins as He rides the fearful storm.
Now we come to the real heart of the matter. It is set forth in Romans 9:14-24:
"What, then, shall we assert? Not that there is injustice with God! May it not come to that! For to Moses He is saying, `I shall be merciful to whomever I may be merciful, and I shall be pitying whomever I may be pitying.' Consequently, then, it is not of him who is willing, nor yet of him who is racing, but of God, the Merciful. For the scripture is saying to Pharaoh that for this selfsame thing I rouse you up, that so I should be displaying My power in you, and so My name should be published in the entire earth. Consequently, then, to whom He is willing He is merciful, yet whom He is willing, He is hardening.
"You will be protesting to me, then, `Why, then, is He still blaming? for has anyone withstood His intention?' O man! who are you, to be sure, who are answering again to God? That which to molded will not protest to the molder, `Why do you make me thus?' Or has not the potter the right over the clay, out of the same kneading to make one vessel, indeed, for honor, and one for dishonor? Now if God, wanting to display His indignation and to make His power known, carries on, with much patience, the vessels of indignation adapted for destruction, it is that He should also be making known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He makes ready before for glory -- us, whom He calls also, not only out of the Jews, but out of the nations also."
As a full discussion of this appears in our detailed study of the book of Romans, I will not attempt an exposition, but only point out what is actually said of God, in place of the perplexing "sovereignty." First, God is not unjust (14). Nevertheless He is free to show mercy and pity where He does so (15). Men may will, and they may race, but this does not alter God's merciful designs (16). Pharaoh is given as an example to show that God uses men to display Himself. Their rousing and their hardening does not originate or end with them, but serves His purpose (17,18). Even if a man did this, he could not be blamed by his fellow creatures for any wrong. But God is not a man. The relation between Him and His creatures is like that between a potter and his clay. The potter must make two classes of vessels, because his customers demand them. He must make some for ignoble uses as well as others for honorable service. God has a purpose, an intention. He wants to reveal Himself. He is love. This can only be seen by contrast. So He wants to display His indignation and make His power known. God made humanity of the soil of the ground. That is all that we are. Clay. And God has a perfect right to use me in any way He wishes. Nay, now that I know Him, I exult that I have no hand in the matter. I would certainly make a miserable mess of it.
In Jerusalem, at the Syrian Orphanage, I watched a potter at his wheel and admired his skill. I could never have turned such a perfect little jar as he made, so I did not try. Then, all at once, he crushed the lovely little thing into an ugly mass of clay again. I was going to protest, but then I thought of this passage, "Has not the potter the right..?" The clay was not mine. The skill was not mine. He had accomplished his purpose. He merely wanted to display his deftness, not to make a jar. God wishes to make known the riches of His glory (23), and I am glad to be a helpless instrument in His hands, so that He may display His heart.
|The Process is |
Not the Result
Ah, you say, that is all very well, but that is not where the perplexity comes in. What about the vessels of indignation adapted for destruction, like Pharaoh? Has He a right to torment them eternally or to annihilate them, as some say? There it is again! The perplexity is not there! Nothing is said in the ninth of Romans as to the "destiny" of God's instruments. Their final welfare is not in question. The subject is the process of God's self-revelation, not the result. That is revealed elsewhere. In fact that has already been settled long before we get to the ninth of Romans. The fifth chapter, eighteenth and nineteenth verses, clearly shows that the lives of all mankind will be justified, and the many (in contrast to the One) shall be constituted just.
Forgive me if I give a few practical hints at this point. Never, never, read into a passage what is not there. Always seek to settle the scope of a section before applying it. Very few Scriptures deal with God's ultimate, the end He has in view. Almost all deal with the way to that end. And yet almost everyone takes the way for the end! This is one of the most prolific causes of perplexity. It is really very silly, just as if a passenger crossing the Atlantic from America to England should seek to explain that the ground in England is so unsteady because the waves in mid-ocean shake the ship! So students are perplexed about God's dealings with His creatures because they have a hallucination that it will always be so.
"...at the same time, the existence of man's power of choice is equally clear both from Scripture (Deut.30:19; Josh.24:15; Matt. 23:37; Luke 10:42) and from experience, and in the absence of fuller knowledge it will be well to accept these apparently irreconcilable truths by faith and wait for the clearer light which is to be ours one day (1 Cor.13:12).
Some of us have waited for clearer light, and it has come! But it has not come by reconciling the "truth" of man's free will with the sovereignty of God. If Scripture does not speak of God's sovereignty, much less does it mention man's free-will. It never will be reconciled with any truth, because it is false. God alone has a will that is free. It is an attribute of the Deity, and can never be true of any creature. The most perfect and holy will in all the universe bowed itself to God's will. "Not My will, but Thine" was His prayer (Luke 22:42). Of the saints it is said, "it is God Who is operating in you to be willing as well as to be working..." (Phil.2:13). We have already seen, in Romans nine, where the other side of this matter is discussed, that God's mercy and pity is not for him who is willing (9:16).
But, you say, Christ was willing, and the saints are willing. How about those who are not willing -- why are they stubborn? Why was Israel stubborn toward God? Did they originate this stubbornness? Nobody really knows the answer to such a question except one who can read men's hearts, and God alone, and His Christ, can do that. God gives us the reason, in summing up this whole subject. "God locks all up together in stubbornness, that He should be merciful to all" (Rom.11:32). In other words, man's "free will," better called stubbornness, is one of God's means of preparing man for His mercy. If some people never were stubborn toward God, it might be used as an argument against God's so-called "sovereignty," for He has decreed that all shall be stubborn and oppose Him. And why has He done it? In order to damn them? No! Never! But that He shall be merciful to all!
But let us consider the passages proposed to "prove" human free-will. First we have the words of Moses to Israel (Deut.30:19):
"I call to testify against you today the heavens and the earth. Life and death do I put before you, the blessing and the slighting. And you choose in life that you may live, you and your seed."
|Israel Chose Jehovah |
with their Lips
yet they Rejected Him
in their Hearts
We have all made the false inference that, when God gave Israel the law, He expected them to keep it. On the contrary, He intended them to break it, for by the law is the recognition of sin (Rom. 3:20). So we are tempted to think that, if God puts before men a choice, they must be free to accept or reject. We simply cannot realize that He is God, and He wishes to bless men, not by choosing right, but by choosing wrong. In this case there cannot be the slightest question that the choice was not free, for the previous verses (Deut.30:17,18), distinctly state that they would choose wrong in their hearts, no matter how they talked with their lips.
The same thought is emphasized in the next citation (Joshua 24:15):
"And should it be evil in your eyes to serve Jehovah, choose for yourselves today whom you will serve."
But we must not take a single verse without its context. Of course the people chose to serve Jehovah -- with their lips. Joshua knew their hearts, so he said to them, "You cannot serve Jehovah ..." (19). Then, later, "You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen for yourselves Jehovah, to serve Him" (22). Here we have the man of God who tells them plainly that they will not do what they "choose." The people, in ignorance of their own hearts, think they "choose." As a matter of fact everyone seeks to deceive himself by "choosing" what is contrary to his real heart, in order to cloak its evil with a religious robe. Here, as elsewhere, God is locking them up to stubbornness, as the events so sadly proved.
It is astonishing how illogical we are in dealing with God's Word. Our Lord said to Jerusalem, "How many times I want to be assembling your children in the manner a hen is assembling a brood under her wings, and you will not!" There is no intimation here that the will of Jerusalem was free, as is so confidently inferred. On the contrary, for a long time our Lord Himself had been speaking to them in parables, lest at some time He should be healing them (Matt. 13:13-15). He acclaimed His Father, as He had hid these things from the wise and prudent, because it was the Father's delight so to do (Matt. 11:25,26). And a large proportion of the wise and intelligent ones were in Jerusalem. Of course they will not. But this is not because their will is free, but, on the contrary, God had hid the truth from them and had locked them up in stubbornness.
Now we are reminded that Mary "chooses that good part which shall not be wrested from her" (Luke 10:42). Our Lord said to His apostles, "You do not choose Me, but I choose you..." (John 15:16). How many of us would care to maintain that Peter did not choose Christ? Of course Paul's case was different, but is it not considered vital to evangelical truth to maintain that the apostles, and all disciples, deliberately chose the Saviour? So, of course, it seemed to them, and so it seems to us. So the matter really comes down to the same issue, God or man? Who did the choosing? But, proud and independent as our hearts are, we are at a grave disadvantage in competition with God. For instance, He chose us in Christ before the disruption of the world (Eph.1:4). We were hardly old enough to choose at that time! He was ahead of us! Let us then put it this way: All whom He chooses choose Him. All whom He does not choose, do not choose Him. If this is the sort of choice which is wanted, all are welcome to it. It looks very much like a cipher lacking the rim around it.
|Minority is Past, |
Maturity has Come
And Mary? If she were living today I would simply say that God was operating in her to will and to choose. We may rest assured that she, and all who, like her, sit at His feet, are glad to hear such words from His lips, for we have been constrained to choose a good part by His choice of us, and by the attractive powers of His words. Such a choice is only the reaction to His grace. We shudder at the thought of any virtue in us which has not its source and energy in Him. There is absolutely no conflict between God's choice of us and our choice of Him, for ours is but the fruit of His, without which it could have had no existence.
All of this agrees perfectly with the next passage which is produced in order to show that it is not our privilege to see clearly now, but that we must wait for clearer light. The apostle Paul says: "When I was a minor, I talked as a minor, I had a minor's disposition, I took account of things as a minor. Yet, when I have become a man, I have discarded that which is a minor's. For, at present, we are observing by means of a mirror, in an enigma, yet then, face to face. At present I know out of an installment, yet then I shall recognize as I am recognized also. Yet now are remaining faith, expectancy, love -- these three..." (1 Cor. 13:11-13).
NOT MINORS BUT MATURE
But this passage only makes us more perplexed, for Paul, at a later period, declares just the opposite! He says to the Ephesians, "that we should by no means still be minors, surging hither and thither and being carried about by every wind of teaching perplexed!" (4:14).
With this agrees his exhortation to the Colossians: "admonishing every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, in order that we should present every man mature in Christ Jesus..." (Col.1:28). So we are not to be minors, but mature!
NOT OUT OF AN INSTALLMENT
In the very same connection, in Col.1:25, the apostle speaks of a special grace granted to him, "to complete the Word of God." In Corinthians knowledge came from installments. Some had not yet been written. More especially the crowning revelations of Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians (which are the completing installments) had not been given. It was like a serial story in which the solution of the plot is held off to the last. If you were reading one and I should ask you how it comes out you might say, "It is still an enigma to me. The last installments have not yet come." That's the way it was in Corinth.
But, if I should meet you a few weeks later with the same question, you might say, "It was completed. The enigma is solved." So it was in Colosse. At what time do you live, before Corinthians or after Colossians? Paul's word, "at present" (1 Cor.13:12) is a special term, in contrast to the past and future, and cannot be applied to a time nearly twenty centuries later.
So you see that we have no right to excuse our lack of light by quoting this passage in Corinthians. Ephesians and Colossians have brought in the period when we may see face to face. No longer minors, but mature! No enigmas or perplexities are allowable now. They have been solved for us by later revelations.
"With regard to the matter of man's salvation, it is not the teaching of Scripture that God decrees the salvation of one and the destruction of another; salvation is always described as a free gift, dependent upon the willing faith of the recipient" (John 1:12; Rom. 4:5; Eph. 2:8,9);...
James seems not to have known the "teaching of Scripture" when he wrote "there is one Lawgiver and Judge, Who is able to save and to destroy" (James 4:12). I do not think we need to be concerned whether He stops to issue a decree each time. Have I called attention to the great importance of always consulting the proper Scripture in solving perplexing problems? In everyday life we are much wiser than we are in dealing with the Scriptures. If we are ill we do not hurry to a lawyer. If we need legal advice we do not visit the dentist. But in our scriptural consultations we grope in the dark. The particular passage which ends all perplexity here is this: "to whom He is willing, He is merciful, yet whom He is willing, He is hardening" (Rom.9:18). This is the passage which should be used to prove the opposite, that God does decree the salvation of one and the destruction of another.
This is a hard saying, I grant you. Probably you don't believe it. Possibly you won't! Let me express my sympathy. I know how you feel. But I am sure that you would like to. Then put some sort of a book mark in your Bible so that it always opens at this passage, and mark it so your eye will never miss it. One plan I used with success was to write a text that I wished to burn into my consciousness on the front of an envelope, lift up the tab, and paste it on the wall of my bedroom. But I dare not advise others to damage the walls in this way! If this text ever grips you, you will think, "Now I have a real God, not an India rubber idol that I could alter to suit my own heart." Consult other texts on this line. There are many that show that God creates evil and darkness (Isa.45:7), although the translators have done as much as they dared in order to obscure the fact.
As we are seeking to solve perplexities, I am sure you will pardon me if I deal with the evidence after the manner of detectives, and, like Sherlock Holmes, look at it all through a large lens. Here we have a statement as to salvation, yet the first two passages do not deal with this theme. We cannot solve perplexities that way. John 1:12 tells us that the Messiah came to His own and His own people, Israel, accepted Him not. Yet whoever (of these people, Israel) "obtained Him, to these He gives the right to become children of God, to those who are believing into, His name, who were begotten, not of bloods, neither of the will of the flesh, neither of the will of man, but of God." I think you will agree with me that everything that is said about the Jews today can hardly be applied indiscriminately to every other race, whether of Japhet or Ham, or even Shem. Why then take a passage which clearly refers to Israel and apply it to all? This is sure to increase our perplexity. A Scripture dealing with the entrance of believing Israelites into the family of God is not likely to be helpful in seeking to unravel the problem of man's salvation, for there Israel is often in contrast to the rest of mankind.
JUSTIFICATION BY FAITH
"Now to him who is working, wages are not reckoned as a favor, but as a debt. Yet to him who is not working, yet is believing on Him Who is justifying the irreverent, his faith is reckoned for righteousness" (Rom.4:4,5). This is a magnificent passage, and much nearer the mark, for it deals with all mankind and brings in faith. But why call it "willing faith?" Unwilling faith is not genuine, and does not deserve recognition.
SALVATION A "FREE GIFT"
|God Knows Before |
what He will Do
"For you have been saved through faith for grace, and this is naught of yours: it is God's oblation, not of works, lest anyone should be boasting. For we are His achievement, being created in Christ Jesus..." (Eph.2:8-10). I revel in this passage, and would like to share a little of its preciousness with you. Note the difference in this rendering. Of course we have been saved by grace. That is the teaching of Romans. Here we have something much more precious. This kind of salvation -- no works, only faith -- calls for further grace. This salvation is naught of ours. It is God's gift to win our favor! We are His achievement! We are created! All this negatives the idea that God does not decree "the salvation of one..." It is all of God, from commencement to consummation, just as much as was His creation of the heavens and the earth, or of Adam, in the beginning.
"...God's foreknowledge is an essential attribute of the Deity and means what it says; it must not be interpreted as denoting an arbitrary exercise of power, indeed, God is depicted as desiring the salvation of all men (1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Pet. 3:9) and actually being hindered in His designs of blessing by human unbelief (Matt.13:58; 1 Tim.4:10); those who reject do so of their own free-will and thereby prove themselves unworthy of everlasting life (Acts 13:46).
It seems to me that we will all agree with the refreshing statement that foreknowledge "means what it says." I would only widen it to include every word in the Scriptures. Why should this be an exception? Foreknowledge is not the exercise of power at all. It is mentioned only twice in Holy Writ (Acts 2:23; 1 Peter 1:2). The former passage reads, "this One, given up by the specific counsel and foreknowledge of God, you, gibbeting with lawless hands, assassinate..." (Acts 2:23). The perplexing point seems to be, how did God know this before? Even the perpetrators themselves did not know. Is it not solved for us in another passage to the same intent, spoken a few days later? "And now, brethren, I am aware that you commit it in ignorance, even as your chiefs also. Yet what God announces before through the mouth of all the prophets -- the sufferings of His Christ -- He thus fulfills." Who fulfills it? The Jews? No! God. He knows before what He is going to do, and what He will make others do.
|The Salvation of All |
"Who will have all men to be saved," says the Authorized Version (1 Tim.2:4). Let me call your attention to a remarkable phenomenon. Those who usually resent any change of the venerable version to which they are accustomed, almost invariably change the word will in this passage to desire. Keep watching and you will see this done frequently. I also am eager to correct anything that is wrong in any version. But, in this case, why change the Authorized Version when it is right? It is the regular word for will, and not the word for desire. Perhaps the answer lies in a similar statement, that men do not desire all men to be saved! The very thought that all men may be saved is far more disturbing to many than the idea of eternal torment. How terrible! Just imagine, everyone made alive (1 Cor.15:22), justified (Rom. 5:18), reconciled (Col.1:20), saved! How could you bear it? Isn't it awful? I know of nothing which more vividly brings out the evil of the human heart than this fiendish desire to see one's fellowmen in endless misery and woe.
Since God created all in the Son of His love (Col. 1:16), of course He "desires the salvation of all men." And so does everyone else who has a measure of His spirit which is not quenched by the false spirits which have taken control of Christendom, and even of those who profess an ardent love for the Bible. I am not ashamed to confess that, since I have tasted the deliciousness of God's grace, I wish to share it with everyone -- even my worst enemies and those who have treated me most shamefully. While I am confessing I may as well add that I would probably be foolish enough to wish that unbelievers could escape the severe judgment that awaits them, though, the more I learn of God, the more I acquiesce in His just judgments, and see in them evidences of His underlying love, for they are for the welfare of His creatures, and, in the end, will bring them blessing.
|God is Able |
All His Will
A straw shows which way the wind blows. Whenever anyone unconsciously alters the word will to desire in this passage we may be sure that he wishes to help God out of a dilemma, for a God Who wills the salvation of all and is unable to carry out His will, is not really worthy of respect. Just think! They would tell us that man's will is "free," and, in the matter of salvation, he can carry it out if he won't have it. But God's will is only a desire, and He can't carry it out! Suppose we grant it for a few minutes. Is the case any better? What kind of a deity is it who desires something and is forced to forgo it? And this by the creatures of his own hand! We cannot force ourselves to honor such a deity, much less worship him. Those who change will to desire are well meaning, but, without desiring it, they are sapping the foundations of all true reverence for the Deity, and are putting a lighted match to the pages of the Bible which may flare up and turn the whole to ashes.
I beg of you, and I plead with you, do not alter a word in God's book unless it is to conform it to the inspired original. It may seem ever so harmless (such as changing will to desire), nevertheless it has in it the seed of the apostasy. It is treason against the Highest to tamper with His words. As a translator, the thought that, in my ignorance and weakness, I may unconsciously be guilty of such a sin would be an unbearable burden if I were not aware that God looks on the heart, not the hand, and His grace superabounds. God is operating the universe in accord with the counsel of His will (Eph.1:11), and it is His will that all men be saved. In both cases the word is will in the Greek. Whatever it means, it is the same. And no real reasoning will ever be able to destroy the fact that it is God's will to save all and that He will carry out His will. God is not a man, that His will can be thwarted.
GOD HINDERED BY MAN'S UNBELIEF
|He Hides His |
Truth from Men
I must ask you to bear with me if I seem immoderate in my zeal for God and intemperate in my denunciation of that which, in my estimation, sullies His honor. I cannot help feeling very deeply on such a subject. And I would be ashamed if it were not so. For instance, if it were not that I feared to offend, I would call the following statement blasphemy: "God is depicted as... actually being hindered in His designs of blessing by human unbelief." Those who say such things do not mean to slander God, yet they do no less. This is what is referred to in Romans 1:21. "Because, knowing God, they do not glorify or thank Him as God, but were made vain in their reasonings..." Even the stubborn man of Romans nine did not sink so low as this, for he says, "has anyone withstood His intention?" No one can hinder God. This is so fundamental that it should not need proof. Even Nebuchadnezzar was taught the great truth that "none can stay His hand, or say to Him, `What doest Thou?'"
Let us look at the reasoning which has led to such an Unwholesome heresy. "And He does not many powerful deeds there because of their unbelief" (Matt.13:58). And why did they not believe? Because God could not make them do so? On the contrary. It was because
"God gives them a spirit of stupor,
Eyes not to be observing,
And ears not to be hearing,
Till this very day" (Rom.11:8).
Surely the thirteenth of Matthew is the last place to find evidence for such a God-destroying doctrine. See verses 11, "to those it has not been given," 15, "the heart of this people is made stout...lest..." Our Lord had no such idea, for, only a short time before, He had acclaimed God because He had hid these things from the people (Matt.11:25).
You will pardon me, if I say that I have no use for a god who can't. I myself am competent to fail, and I need One Who is able. And my God can. Nothing, no one can hinder Him. A god who can't is no God at all. He is a false deity. His altars ought to be demolished and his priests slain.
The other passage produced is 1 Timothy 4:10: "For for this are we toiling and being reproached, that we rely on the living God, Who is the Saviour of all mankind, especially of believers." Have you ever seen worse reasoning than this? Here we are told that God is the Saviour of all mankind. And this is supposed to prove that He is not! Believers have a special salvation, called eonian" in the original. Unbelievers do not have any part in this. Unbelievers are not saved until long after believers. Therefore they hinder God! The very opposite is the truth! God hinders them! It is God Who locks them up to stubbornness, not to damn them, but to have mercy on them at the last. I would like to write Romans 11:32 on the heart and forehead of everyone who studies or instructs others in the Word of God. Do you suppose, if a group of young men were to wear it on their foreheads, that they would be allowed to enter any evangelical meeting? Is it a crime to introduce this Scripture into a Bible reading? How long is it since you saw it printed in large letters on the front page of any orthodox magazine anywhere?
UNWORTHY OF EVERLASTING LIFE
All through the story of Israel's apostasy we can find passages which, on the surface, superficially read, seem to show that they rejected the Messiah of their own free will. But these passages are explained to us. Why reject the explanation? The key to all lies in the sixth chapter of Isaiah. Now if they thrust away the word of God and judge themselves unworthy of eonian life (Acts 13:46), they did this because it was written, not of their own free will. They had no will, certainly not a free one, more than seven hundred years before they were born, when their coarse was foretold.
|The Elect are |
"It is instructive to note that wherever the word `predestinate' (Gk. Proorizo) occurs in connection with human beings it is always an appointment to blessing (Rom. 8:29,30; 1 Cor. 2:7; Eph. 1:5,11); it was Christ Who was predestined to suffer and die for the salvation of mankind" (Acts 4:28).
Good! The following are the occurrences of this Greek word as in the CONCORDANT VERSION, with the Authorized Version rendering in brackets added:
|Acts ||4:28 || to do whatever Thy hand and Thy counsel designates beforehand [determined before] to occur |
|Rom. ||8:29 || whom He foreknew, He designates beforehand [did predestinate] also to be conformed to the image of His Son |
| ||30 || whom He designates beforehand [did predestinate], these He calls also |
|1 Cor. ||2: 7 || God's wisdom...which God designates before [ordained before] the eons for our glory |
|Eph. ||1: 5 || in love designating us beforehand [having predestinated] for the place of a son for Him |
| ||11 || being designated beforehand -- [predestinated] according to the purpose of the One Who is operating the universe in accord with the counsel of His will |
It is a pleasure to find ourselves in accord with the leaflet on this point, and it is remarkable that this truth does not perplex, although I fear that it is intended to do so. God does not busy Himself as much about the lost as about the saved. He does not reveal nearly as much about His thoughts regarding them as He does about the special ones whom He has chosen.
The fact is that God has chosen Christ to be a blessing to all creation. He has chosen Israel to be a blessing to all other nations. He has chosen the present ecclesia, or "church," in order to bless the celestial creatures. His elect are always selected, not for their own blessing, but for the blessing of others. But this does by no means prove that the others will not be blessed. In fact, it proves the very opposite. Certain special things and persons are said to have been "designated beforehand." It is a great honor to be included in this special mention. But to reason from this that nothing else (especially His judgments) and no one else (especially the lost) were in His early counsels, and that they act contrary to them, is sheer unbelief, for other passages of Scripture, which deal with their fate, deny it.
|Let Us Invite |
Christ to Come
"The position has well been described as that of a man seeking to enter the door of salvation; as he steps trembling up to the portal he sees inscribed over it the words, `Let him that heareth say, Come' (Rev.22:17), but when he has entered and trustfully looks back, he sees written on the inner side `Elect according to the foreknowledge of God' (1 Peter 1:2), and that which was a stumbling block to his intellect becomes a rock of assurance to his heart" (cf John 6:37).
A door is one of the most revealing figures of speech used in the Scriptures. We are told of the door of faith by which the nations may enter God's house (Acts 14:27), of Paul's door of the word (Col.4:3), so that it might find entrance, of the door of the sheepfold, our Lord Himself, with reference to Israel, the flock of Jehovah (John 10:7). Perhaps this is "the door of salvation" referred to above. This was once perplexing to me. I thought that, once inside this door, I would never go out again. Yet our Lord said, "If anyone should be entering through Me, he shall be saved, and will be entering and coming out and will be finding pasture." You see, a figure must be kept within the frame of its context. The sheep needed this salvation at night. In the daytime the Shepherd Himself will look after them. It is a picture of Israel in the dark night, and in the future day of Jehovah.
I must confess that I am perplexed by the figure used in the leaflet. Our Lord sends His messengers to testify the thing written in the last book of the Bible. At the close those who hear these things are exhorted to say "Come." It is difficult for me to conceive that anyone, after reading this book, would call for the coming of anyone except our Lord Himself, the Root and Offspring of David, the resplendent Morning Star, Who will right all wrongs, and reign in righteousness (Rev.22:17). Does not this seem to be confirmed by what follows? "He Who is testifying these things is saying, `Yea, I am coming swiftly.'" And then the hearers obey and say, "Amen! Be coming, Lord Jesus!" (Rev.22:20).
|Certainty alone |
But I may be wrong. There is also, the invitation to him who is thirsting. But still, were I a sinner, I would be perplexed, if I saw a portal with the words, "Let him that heareth say, Come." Why should I say that? Who is to come? Would it not be better if I should enter, before saying aught? It is perplexing, but, as it is not a part of the Scriptures, we need not unravel it now.
Salvation and election are exceedingly important transactions, and should receive far more care than a business deal. If a piece of property is transferred, the title is examined by experts, and the least flaw may involve millions in money. I know this from tragic experience. I once was comparatively wealthy. My main income depended on certain grazing lands. The title to these had passed through the examiner's office five times in the past, every time it changed owners. Yet some clever lawyer discovered that no record could be produced for a final payment in a transaction previous to these and the whole was lost, and my fortune took to itself wings and flew away. So you will pardon me if I am a bit exacting -- overanxious, if you please -- about the title to anything which I possess -- or think I own.
I am quite sure all will agree with me that the title to our salvation should be clear. And we will not be impatient if the title examiner is a bit crabbed. He is paid to find flaws. That is what he is for. Now, we are told that the inside of the door of salvation has this inscription, "Elect according to the foreknowledge of God." Among the first words in any title are the names of the contracting parties. In this excerpt we have the name of the party of the first part. Who is the party of the second part, the beneficiary? "Why," you exclaim, "I am, of course! Every, body who is saved is included in the party of the second part." Have you any documentary, well attested evidence? This way of taking things for granted is a most dangerous and disastrous policy. It is sheer foolhardiness to base your salvation on your own imagination. Many a man has landed in jail because he considered he had a right to whatever he chose to appropriate.
is for Us
Let us read the document carefully. "Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the chosen expatriates of the dispersion of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, the province of Asia, and Bithynia, according to the foreknowledge of God..." (1 Peter 1:1). So the party of the second part is specifically mentioned. Let us ask ourselves, are we expatriates? Do we belong in Judea, and now find ourselves outside the land of our fathers? Hardly. Do we live in Asia Minor? No. I went through there once, but can hardly claim any legal rights on that account. I think that not one of us can claim this letter. It is not addressed to us.
There is only one possibility. These people are all dead. Their legal rights have passed on to others. Can we establish any claim on the ground of relation or descent? Paul writes to the nations (or, as we say, gentiles). No one will dispute our title to this name. But every point in Peter's epistle goes to show that those to whom he is writing are not gentiles. He speaks of them as "a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, an appropriated people" which is "among the nations" (1 Peter 2:9-12). I fear that no title guaranty company will take the risk of insuring to us the possession of the values in this epistle. If we appropriate it we are liable to prosecution for theft. It belongs to the nation through whom God will yet bless all the nations of the earth. It is not ours.
|We Rob Ourselves |
when Robbing Others
And why should we commit the crime of larceny when we are so rich on our own account? Are we kleptomaniacs, people who have a passion for appropriating what is not theirs? Look at this: "He chooses us in Him before the disruption of the world" (Eph. 1:4). This has precedence over the passage in Peter. It is for all"who believe in Christ Jesus." It is ours. Read the whole of the first chapter of Ephesians, and see that God, in love, has designated us beforehand to be a son of His. We are graced in the Beloved, in Whom we have deliverance according to the riches of His grace. Once you take possession of the superexcess of wealth which is yours, as shown in this chapter, you will be ashamed to rob Israel of their less glorious, less exalted place. To be sure its first application is to Paul and those Israelites who went with him, but the thirteenth verse of the first chapter of Ephesians is the codicil which puts us into possession of it all.
Next: The Deity and Personality of the Holy Spirit.