**]Table of Contents[
FOREWORDS TO THE
FIRST FOUR EDITIONS
Foreword to the FIRST Edition]
In the following pages an attempt has been made to examine anew in the light of God’s Word, some of the profoundest questions which can engage the human mind. Others have grappled with these mighty problems in days gone by, and from their labors we are the gainers. While making no claim for originality, the writer, nevertheless, has endeavored to examine and deal with his subject from an entirely independent viewpoint. We have studied diligently the writings of such men as Augustine and Aquinas, Calvin and Melancthon, Jonathan Edwards and Ralph Erskine, Andrew Fuller and Robert Haldane. And sad it is to think that these eminent and honored names are almost entirely unknown to the present generation. Though, of course, we do not endorse all their conclusions, yet we gladly acknowledge our deep indebtedness to their works. We have purposely refrained from quoting freely from these deeply taught theologians, because we desired that the faith of our readers should stand not in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God. For this reason we have quoted freely from the Scriptures and have sought to furnish proof-texts for every statement we have advanced.
It would be foolish for us to expect that this work will meet with general approval. The trend of modern theology—if theology it can be called—is ever toward the deification of the creature rather than the glorification of the Creator, and the leaven of present-day Rationalism is rapidly permeating the whole of Christendom. The malevolent effects of Darwinianism are more far reaching than most are aware. Many of those among our religious leaders who are still regarded as orthodox would, we fear, be found to be very heterodox if they were weighed in the balances of the Sanctuary. Even those who are clear, intellectually, upon other truth, are rarely sound in doctrine. Few, very few, today, really believe in the complete ruin and total depravity of man. Those who speak of man’s “free will,” and insist upon his inherent power to either accept or reject the Savior, do but voice their ignorance of the real condition of Adam’s fallen children. And if there are few who believe that, so far as he is concerned, the condition of the sinner is entirely hopeless, there are fewer still who really believe in the absolute Sovereignty of God.
In addition to the widespread effects of unscriptural teaching, we also have to reckon with the deplorable superficiality of the present generation. To announce that a certain book is a treatise on doctrine, is quite sufficient to prejudice against it the great bulk of church-members and most of our preachers as well. The craving today is for something light and spicy, and few have patience, still less desire, to examine carefully that which would make a demand both upon their hearts and their mental powers. We remember, also, how that it is becoming increasingly difficult in these strenuous days for those who are desirous of studying the deeper things of God—to find the time which such study requires. Yet, it is still true that “Where there’s a will, there’s a way,” and in spite of the discouraging features referred to, we believe there is even now a godly remnant who will take pleasure in giving this little work a careful consideration, and such will, we trust, find in it “Meat in due season.”
We do not forget the words of one long since passed away, namely, that “Denunciation is the last resort of a defeated opponent.” To dismiss this book with the contemptuous epithet, “Hyper-Calvinism”! will not be worthy of notice. For controversy we have no taste, and we shall not accept any challenge to enter the lists against those who might desire to debate the truths discussed in these pages. So far as our personal reputation is concerned, that we leave our Lord to take care of, and unto Him we would now commit this volume and whatever fruit it may bear, asking Him to use it for the enlightening of His own dear people (insofar as it is in accord with His Holy Word) and to pardon the writer for and preserve the reader from the injurious effects of any false teaching that may have crept into it. If the joy and comfort which have come to the author while penning these pages are shared by those who may scan them—then we shall be devoutly thankful to the One whose grace alone enables us to discern spiritual things.
Arthur Pink, June 1918
Foreword to the SECOND Edition
It is now two years since the first edition of this work was presented to the Christian public. Its reception has been far more favorable than the author had expected. Many have notified him of the help and blessing received from a perusal of his attempts to expound what is admittedly a difficult subject. For every word of appreciation, we return hearty thanks to Him in Whose light, we alone “see light.” A few have condemned the book in unqualified terms, and these we commend to God and to the Word of His grace, remembering that it is written, “a man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven” (John 3:27). Others have sent us friendly criticisms and these have been weighed carefully, and we trust that, in consequence, this revised edition will be unto those who are members of the household of faith more profitable than the former one.
One word of explanation seems to be called for. A number of respected brethren in Christ feel that our treatment of the Sovereignty of God was too extreme and one-sided. It has been pointed out that a fundamental requirement in expounding the Word of God is the need of preserving the balance of Truth. With this we are in hearty accord. Two things are beyond dispute:
1. God is sovereign, and
2. man is a responsible creature.
But in this book, we are treating of the Sovereignty of God, and while the responsibility of man is readily owned, yet, we do not pause on every page to insist on it; instead, we have sought to stress that side of the Truth which in these days is almost universally neglected. Probably 95 percent of the religious literature of the day is devoted to a setting forth of the duties and obligations of men. The fact is that those who undertake to expound the responsibility of man are the very ones who have lost ‘the balance of Truth’ by ignoring, very largely, the Sovereignty of God. It is perfectly right to insist on the responsibility of man, but what of God? Has He no claims, no rights! A hundred such works as this are needed, ten thousand sermons would have to be preached throughout the land on this subject, if the ‘balance of Truth’ is to be regained. The ‘balance of Truth’ has been lost, lost through a disproportionate emphasis being thrown on the human side, to the minimizing, if not the exclusion, of the Divine side. We grant that this book is one-sided, for it only pretends to deal with one side of the Truth, and that is, the neglected side, the Divine side.
Furthermore, the question might be raised: Which is the more to be deplored—an over emphasizing of the human side—and an insufficient emphasis on the Divine side? Or, an over emphasizing of the Divine side—and an insufficient emphasis on the human side? Surely, if we err at all, it is on the right side. Surely, there is far more danger of making too much of man—and too little of God; than there is of making too much of God—and too little of man. Yes, the question might well be asked, Can we press God’s claims too far? Can we be too extreme in insisting upon the absoluteness and universality of the Sovereignty of God?
It is with profound thankfulness to God that, after a further two years diligent study of Holy Writ, with the earnest desire to discover what almighty God has been pleased to reveal to His children on this subject, we are able to testify that we see no reason for making any retractions from what we wrote before, and while we have re-arranged the material of this work, the substance and doctrine of it remains unchanged. May the One Who condescended to bless the first edition of this work be pleased to own even more widely this revision.
Arthur Pink, 1921
Foreword to the THIRD Edition
That a third edition of this work is now called for, is a cause of fervent praise to God. As the darkness deepens and the pretensions of men are taking on an ever-increasing blatancy, the need becomes greater for the claims of God to be emphasized. As the twentieth century Babel of religious tongues is bewildering so many, the duty of God’s servants to point to the one sure anchorage for the heart, is the more apparent. Nothing is so tranquilizing and so stabilizing, as the assurance that the Lord Himself is on the Throne of the universe, “working all things after the counsel of His own will!”
The Holy Spirit has told us that there are in the Scriptures “some things hard to be understood”, but mark it is “hard” not “impossible”! A patient waiting on the Lord, a diligent comparison of scripture with scripture, often issues in a fuller apprehension of that which before was obscure to us. During the last ten years it has pleased God to grant us further light on certain parts of His Word, and this we have sought to use in improving our expositions of different passages. But it is with sincere thanksgiving that we find it unnecessary to either change or modify any doctrine contained in the former editions. Yes, as time goes by, we realize (by Divine grace) with ever-increasing force, the truth, the importance, and the value of the Sovereignty of God as it pertains to every branch of our lives.
Our hearts have been made to rejoice again and again by unsolicited letters which have come to hand from every quarter of the earth, telling of help and blessing received from the former editions of this work. One Christian friend was so stirred by reading it and so impressed by its testimony, that a check was sent to be used in sending free copies to missionaries in fifty foreign countries, “that its glorious message may encircle the globe”; numbers of whom have written us to say how much they have been strengthened in their fight with the powers of darkness. To God alone belongs all the glory. May He deign to use this third edition to the honor of His own great Name, and to the feeding of His scattered and starved sheep.
Arthur Pink, 1929
Foreword to the FOURTH Edition
It is with profound praise to God “most high” that another edition of this valuable and helpful book is now called for. Though its teaching runs directly counter to much that is being promulgated on every hand today, yet we are happy to be able to say that its circulation is increasing to the strengthening of the faith, comfort and hope of an increasing number of God’s elect. We commit this new edition to Him whom we “delight to honor,” praying that He may be pleased to bless its circulation to the enlightening of many more of His own, to the “praise of the glory of His grace,” and a clearer apprehension of the majesty of God and His Sovereign mercy.
I. C. Herendeen, 1949
Who is regulating affairs on this earth today—God, or the Devil? That God reigns supreme in Heaven, is generally conceded; but that He reigns supreme over this earth, is almost universally denied—if not directly, then indirectly. More and more are men in their philosophizing and theorizing, relegating God to the background. Take the material realm. Not only is it denied that God created everything, by personal and direct action, but few believe that He has any immediate concern in regulating the works of His own hands. Everything is supposed to be ordered according to the (impersonal and abstract) “laws of Nature”. Thus is the Creator banished from His own creation! Therefore we need not be surprised that men, in their degrading conceptions, exclude Him from the realm of human affairs. Throughout Christendom, with an almost negligible exception, the theory is held that man is “a free agent”, and therefore, man is the master of his fortunes and the determiner of his destiny. That Satan is to be blamed for much of the evil which is in the world, is freely affirmed by those who, though having so much to say about “the responsibility of man”, often deny their own responsibility, by attributing to the Devil what, in fact, proceeds from their own evil hearts! (Mark 7 :21-23).
But who is regulating affairs on this earth today—God, or the Devil? Attempt to take a serious and comprehensive view of the world. What a scene of confusion and chaos confronts us on every side! Sin is rampant; lawlessness abounds; evil men and seducers are waxing “worse and worse” (2 Timothy 3:13). Today, everything appears to be out of joint. Thrones are creaking and tottering, ancient dynasties are being overturned, democracies are revolting, civilization is a demonstrated failure; half of Christendom was but recently locked-together in a death grapple; and now that the titanic conflict is over, instead of the world having been made “safe for democracy”, we have discovered that democracy is very unsafe for the world. Unrest, discontent, and lawlessness are rife everywhere, and none can say how soon another great war will be set in motion. Statesmen are perplexed and staggered. “The courage of many people is faltering because of the fearful fate they see coming upon the earth” (Luke 21:26). Do these things look as though God had full control?
But let us confine our attention to the religious realm. After nineteen centuries of Gospel preaching, Christ is still “despised and rejected by men”. Worse still, He (the Christ of Scripture) is proclaimed and magnified by very few. In the majority of modern pulpits He is dishonored and disowned. Despite frantic efforts to attract the crowds, the majority of the churches are being emptied, rather than filled. And what of the great masses of non-church goers? In the light of Scripture we are compelled to believe that the “many” are on the Broad Road that leads to destruction, and that only “few” are on the Narrow Way that leads unto life. Many are declaring that Christianity is a failure, and despair is settling on many faces. Many of the Lord’s own people are bewildered, and their faith is being severely tried. And what of God? Does He see and hear? Is He impotent or indifferent? A number of those who are regarded as leaders of Christian-thought told us that, God could not help the coming of the late awful War, and that He was unable to bring about its termination. It was said, and said openly, that conditions were beyond God’s control. Do these things look as though God were ruling the world?
Who is regulating affairs on this earth today—God, or the Devil? What impression is made upon the minds of those men of the world who, occasionally, attend a Gospel service? What are the conceptions formed by those who hear even those preachers who are counted as “orthodox”? Is it not that a disappointed God is the One whom Christians believe in? From what is heard from the average evangelist today, is not any serious hearer obliged to conclude that he professes to represent a God who is filled with benevolent intentions, yet unable to carry them out; that He is earnestly desirous of blessing men, but that they will not let Him? Then, must not the average hearer draw the inference that the Devil has gained the upper hand, and that God is to be pitied rather than blamed?
But does not everything seem to show that the Devil has far more to do with the affairs of earth, than God has? Ah, it all depends upon whether we are walking by faith, or walking by sight. Are your thoughts, my reader, concerning this world and God’s relation to it, based upon what you see? Face this question seriously and honestly. And if you are a Christian, you will, most probably, have cause to bow your head with shame and sorrow, and to acknowledge that it is so. Alas, in reality, we walk very little “by faith”. But what does “walking by faith” signify? It means that our thoughts are formed, our actions regulated, our lives molded by the Holy Scriptures, for, “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God” (Romans 10:17). It is from the Word of Truth, and that alone—that we can learn what is God’s relation to this world.
Who is regulating affairs on this earth today—God, or the Devil? What do the Scriptures say? Before we consider the direct reply to this query, let it be said that, the Scriptures predicted just what we now see and hear. The prophecy of Jude is in course of fulfillment. It would lead us too far astray from our present inquiry to fully amplify this assertion, but what we have particularly in mind is a sentence in verse 8—“Likewise also these dreamers defile the flesh, despise dominion and speak evil of dignities.” Yes, they “speak evil” of the Supreme Dignity, the “Only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords.”
Ours is peculiarly an age of irreverence, and as the consequence, the spirit of lawlessness, which brooks no restraint and which is desirous of casting off everything which interferes with the free course of self-will, is rapidly engulfing the earth like some giant tidal wave. The members of the rising generation are the most flagrant offenders, and in the decay and disappearing of parental authority we have the certain precursor of the abolition of civic authority. Therefore, in view of the growing disrespect for human law and the refusal to “render honor to whom honor is due,” we need not be surprised that the recognition of the majesty, the authority, the sovereignty of the Almighty Law-giver, should recede more and more into the background, and that the masses have less and less patience with those who insist upon them. Conditions will not improve; instead, the more sure Word of Prophecy makes known to us that they will grow worse and worse. Nor do we expect to be able to stem the tide—it has already risen much too high for that. All we can now hope to do is warn our fellow-saints against the spirit of the age, and thus seek to counteract its baneful influence upon them.
Who is regulating affairs on this earth today—God, or the Devil? What do the Scriptures say? If we believe their plain and positive declarations, no room is left for uncertainty. They affirm, again and again, that God is on the throne of His universe; that the scepter is in His hands; that He is directing all things “after the counsel of His own will”. They affirm, not only that God created all things, but also that God is ruling and reigning over all the works of His hands. They affirm that God is the “Almighty”, that His will is irreversible, that He is absolute sovereign in every realm of all His vast dominions. And surely it must be so. Only two alternatives are possible: God must either rule—or be ruled; God must either sway—or be swayed; God must either accomplish His own will—or be thwarted by His creatures. Accepting the fact that He is the “Most High God”, the only Potentate and King of kings, vested with perfect wisdom and illimitable power—the conclusion is irresistible, that He must be God in fact—as well as in name!
It is in view of what we have briefly referred to above, that we say, present-day conditions call loudly for a new examination and new presentation of God’s omnipotency, God’s sufficiency, God’s sovereignty. From every pulpit in the land it needs to be thundered forth—that God still lives, that God still observes, that God still reigns! Faith is now in the crucible, it is being tested by fire, and there is no fixed and sufficient resting-place for the heart and mind, but in the Throne of God. What is needed now, as never before, is a full, positive, constructive setting forth of the Godhood of God. Drastic diseases call for drastic remedies. People are weary of platitudes and mere generalizations—the call is for something definite and specific. Sweet syrup may serve for peevish children, but an iron tonic is better suited for adults, and we know of nothing which is more calculated to infuse spiritual vigor into our souls, than a scriptural apprehension of the full character of God. It is written, “The people who know their God shall be strong and do exploits!” (Daniel 11:32).
Without a doubt, a world-crisis is at hand, and everywhere men are alarmed. But God is not! He is never taken by surprise. It is no unexpected emergency which now confronts Him, for He is the One who “works all things after the counsel of His own will” (Ephesians 1:11). Hence, though the world is panic-stricken, the word to the believer is, “Fear not!” “All things” are subject to His immediate control. “All things” are moving in accord with His eternal purpose, and therefore, “all things” are “working together for good, to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” It must be so, for “of Him, and through Him, and to Him—are all things” (Romans 11:36). Yet how little is this realized today even by the people of God! Many suppose that He is little more than a far-distant Spectator, taking no immediate hand in the affairs of earth.
It is true that man has a will, but so also has God. It is true that man is endowed with power, but God is all-powerful. It is true that, speaking generally, the material world is regulated by law, but behind that law is the law-Giver and law-Administrator. Man is but the creature. God is the Creator, and endless ages before man first saw the light “the mighty God” (Isaiah 9:6) existed, and before the world was founded, made His plans; and being infinite in power and man only finite, His purpose and plan cannot be withstood or thwarted by the creatures of His own hands.
We readily acknowledge that life is a profound problem, and that we are surrounded by mystery on every side; but we are not like the beasts of the field—ignorant of their origin, and unconscious of what is before them. No! “We have also a more sure Word of Prophecy”, of which it is said you do well that you “take heed, as unto a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns, and the day star arises in your hearts” (2 Pet. 1:19). And it is to this Word of Prophecy, we indeed do well to “take heed,” to that Word which had not its origin in the mind of man—but in the Mind of God, for, “no prophecy came not at any time by the will of man: but holy men of God spoke moved by the Holy Spirit.” We say again, it is to this “Word” we do well to take heed.
As we turn to this Word and are instructed there, we discover a fundamental principle which must be applied to every problem: Instead of beginning with man and his world—and working back to God; we must begin with God—and work down to man. “In the beginning God!” Apply this principle to the present situation. Begin with the world as it is today, and try and work back to God, and everything will seem to show that God has no connection with the world at all. But begin with God and work down to the world—and light, much light, is cast on the problem. Because God is holy—His anger burns against sin. Because God is righteous—His judgments fall upon those who rebel against Him. Because God is faithful—the solemn threatenings of His Word are fulfilled. Because God is omnipotent—none can successfully resist Him, still less overthrow His counsel. Because God is omniscient—no problem can master Him and no difficulty baffle His wisdom. It is just because God is who He is, and what He is—that we are now beholding on earth, the beginning of His out-poured judgments! In view of His inflexible justice and immaculate holiness—we could not expect anything other than what is now spread before our eyes.
But let it be said very emphatically, that the heart can only rest upon and enjoy the blessed truth of the absolute sovereignty of God as faith is in exercise. Faith is ever occupied with God. That is the character of true faith—that is what differentiates it from intellectual theology. Faith endures “as seeing Him who is invisible.” (Hebrews 11:27) Faith endures the disappointments, the hardships, and the heart-aches of life, by recognizing that all comes from the hand of Him who is too wise to err—and too loving to be unkind. But so long as we are occupied with any other object than God Himself, there will be neither rest for the heart nor peace for the mind. But when we receive all that enters our lives as from His hand, then, no matter what may be our circumstances or surroundings—whether in a hovel, a prison-dungeon, or a martyr’s stake—we shall be enabled to say, “The lines have fallen unto me in pleasant places” (Psalm 16:6). But that is the language of faith, not of sight or of sense.
But if instead of bowing to the testimony of Holy Writ, if instead of walking by faith, we follow the evidence of our eyes, and reason therefrom—we shall fall into a quagmire of virtual atheism! Or, if we are regulated by the opinions and views of others, peace will be at an end. Granted that there is much in this world of sin and suffering, which appalls and saddens us; granted that there is much in the providential dealings of God which startles and staggers us; that is no reason why we should unite with the unbelieving worldling who says, “If I were God—I would not allow this or tolerate that” etc. Better far, in the presence of bewildering mystery, to say with one of old, “I was silent; I would not open my mouth, for You are the one who has done this!” (Psalm 39:9). Scripture tells us that God’s judgments are “unsearchable”, and His ways “past finding out” (Romans 11:33). It must be so—if faith is to be tested, confidence in His wisdom and righteousness strengthened, and submission to His holy will fostered.
Here is the fundamental difference between the man of faith—and the man of unbelief. The unbeliever is “of the world,” judges everything by worldly standards, views life from the standpoint of time and sense, and weighs everything in the balances of his own carnal making. But the man of faith brings in God, looks at everything from His standpoint, estimates values by spiritual standards, and views life in the light of eternity. Doing this, he receives whatever comes—as from the hand of God. Doing this, his heart is calm in the midst of the storm. Doing this, he rejoices in hope of the glory of God.
In these opening paragraphs we have indicated the lines of thought followed out in this book. Our first postulate is that because God is God—He does as He pleases, only as He pleases, always as He pleases; that His great concern is the accomplishment of His own pleasure and the promotion of His own glory; that He is the Supreme Being, and therefore Sovereign of the universe.
Starting with this postulate, we have contemplated the exercise of God’s Sovereignty, first in Creation; second in Governmental Administration over the works of His hands; third in the Salvation of His own elect; fourth in the Reprobation of the wicked; and fifth in Operation upon and within men. Next we have viewed the Sovereignty of God as it relates to the human will in particular and human Responsibility in general, and have sought to show what is the only befitting attitude for the creature to take in view of the majesty of the Creator. A separate chapter has been set apart for a consideration of some of the difficulties which are involved, and to answering the questions which are likely to be raised in the minds of our readers; while one chapter has been devoted to a more careful yet brief examination of God’s Sovereignty in relation to prayer.
Finally, we have sought to show that the Sovereignty of God is a truth revealed to us in Scripture for the comfort of our hearts, the strengthening of our souls, and the blessing of our lives. A due apprehension of God’s Sovereignty promotes the spirit of worship, provides an incentive to practical godliness, and inspires zeal in service. The doctrine of God’s Sovereignty is deeply humbling to the human heart, and in proportion to the degree that it brings man into the dust before his Maker—to that extent is God glorified.
We are well aware that what we have written is in open opposition to much of the teaching that is current both in religious literature and in the representative pulpits of the land. We freely grant, that the postulate of God’s Sovereignty with all its corollaries, is at direct variance with the opinions and thoughts of the natural man, but the truth is, we are quite unable to think upon these matters: we are incompetent for forming a proper estimate of God’s character and ways, and it is because of this that God has given us a revelation of His mind, and in that revelation He plainly declares, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8, 9). In view of this scripture, it is only to be expected that much of the contents of the Bible conflicts with the sentiments of the carnal mind, which is enmity against God. Our appeal then is not to the popular beliefs of the day, nor to the creeds of the churches, but to the Law and Testimony of Jehovah. All that we ask for is an impartial and attentive examination of what we have written, and that, made prayerfully in the light of the Lamp of Truth. May the reader heed the Divine admonition to “prove all things; hold fast that which is good” (1 Thess. 5:21).
GOD’S SOVEREIGNTY DEFINED
“Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the splendor and the majesty—for everything in the heavens and on earth belongs to You! Yours, O Lord, is the kingdom,
and You are exalted as head over all.”
1 Chronicles 29:11
The Sovereignty of God is an expression that once was generally understood. It was a phrase commonly used in religious literature. It was a theme frequently expounded in the pulpit. It was a truth which brought comfort to many hearts, and gave virility and stability to Christian character. But, today, to make mention of God’s sovereignty is, in many quarters, to speak in an unknown tongue! Were we to announce from the average pulpit that the subject of our discourse would be the sovereignty of God, it would sound very much as though we had borrowed a phrase from one of the dead languages. Alas! that it should be so. Alas! that the doctrine which is the key to history, the interpreter of Providence, the warp and woof of Scripture, and the foundation of Christian theology, should be so sadly neglected and so little understood.
The Sovereignty of God. What do we mean by this expression? We mean the supremacy of God, the kingship of God, the godhood of God. To say that God is sovereign—is to declare that God is God. To say that God is sovereign—is to declare that “He does as He pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back His hand or question Him.” (Daniel 4:35). To say that God is sovereign—is to declare that He is the Almighty, the Possessor of all power in heaven and earth, so that none can defeat His counsels, thwart His purpose, or resist His will (Psalm 115:3). To say that God is sovereign is to declare that He is “the Governor among the nations” (Psalm 22:28), setting up kingdoms, overthrowing empires, and determining the course of dynasties as best pleases Him. To say that God is sovereign is to declare that He is the “Only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords” (1 Timothy 6:15). Such is the God of the Bible.
How different is the God of the Bible—from the god of modern Christendom! The conception of Deity which prevails most widely today, even among those who profess to give heed to the Scriptures, is a miserable caricature, a blasphemous travesty of the Truth! The god of our modern world, is a helpless, effeminate being who commands the respect of no really thoughtful man. The god of the popular mind, is the creation of a mushy sentimentality. The god of many a present-day pulpit, is an object of pity rather than of awe-inspiring reverence!
To say that God the Father has purposed the salvation of all mankind, that God the Son died with the express intention of saving the whole human race, and that God the Holy Spirit is now seeking to win the world to Christ; when, as a matter of common observation, it is apparent that the great majority of our fellow-men are dying in sin, and passing into a hopeless eternity — is to say that God the Father is disappointed, that God the Son is dissatisfied, and that God the Holy Spirit is defeated. We have stated the issue boldly, but there is no escaping the conclusion. To argue that God is “trying His best” to save all mankind, but that the majority of men will not let Him save them, is to insist that the will of the Creator is impotent, and that the will of the creature is omnipotent. To throw the blame, as many do, upon the Devil, does not remove the difficulty, for if Satan is defeating the purpose of God—then Satan is Almighty, and God is no longer the Supreme Being.
To declare that the Creator’s original plan has been frustrated by sin, is to dethrone God. To suggest that God was taken by surprise in Eden and that He is now attempting to remedy an unforeseen calamity, is to degrade the Most High God to the level of a finite, erring mortal. To argue that man is a free moral agent and the determiner of his own destiny, and that therefore he has the power to checkmate his Maker, is to strip God of the attribute of Omnipotence. To say that the creature has burst the bounds assigned by his Creator, and that God is now practically a helpless Spectator before the sin and suffering entailed by Adam’s fall, is to repudiate the express declaration of Holy Writ, namely, “Surely your wrath against men brings you praise” (Psalm 76:10). In a word, to deny the sovereignty of God is to enter upon a path which, if followed to its logical terminus, is to arrive at blank atheism!
The sovereignty of the God of Scripture—is absolute, irresistible and infinite! When we say that God is sovereign—we affirm His right to govern the universe, which He has made for His own glory, just as He pleases. We affirm that His right is the right of the Potter over the clay, that is, that He may mold that clay into whatever form He chooses, fashioning out of the same lump—one vessel unto honor and another unto dishonor. We affirm that He is under no rule or law outside of His own will and nature, that God is a law unto Himself, and that He is under no obligation to give an account of His matters to any.
Sovereignty characterizes the whole Being of God. He is sovereign in all His ATTRIBUTES.
He is sovereign in the exercise of His POWER. His power is exercised as He wills, when He wills, where He wills. This fact is evidenced on every page of Scripture. For a long season that power appears to be dormant—and then it is put forth in irresistible might. Pharaoh dared to hinder Israel from going forth to worship Jehovah in the wilderness—what happened? God exercised His power, His people were delivered and their cruel task-masters were slain.
But a little later, the Amalekites dared to attack these same Israelites in the wilderness, and what happened? Did God put forth His power on this occasion and display His hand as He did at the Red Sea? Were these enemies of His people promptly overthrown and destroyed? No! On the contrary, the Lord swore that He would “have war with Amalek from generation to generation” (Ex. 17:16).
Again, when Israel entered the land of Canaan, God’s power was signally displayed. The city of Jericho barred their progress—what happened? Israel did not draw a bow nor strike a blow—the Lord stretched forth His hand and the walls fell down flat! But the miracle was never repeated! No other city fell after this manner. Every other city had to be captured by the sword!
Many other instances might be adduced illustrating the sovereign exercise of God’s power. Take another example. God put forth His power—and David was delivered from Goliath, the giant. The mouths of the lions were closed and Daniel escaped unhurt. The three Hebrew children were cast into the burning fiery furnace and came forth unharmed and unscorched. But God’s power did not always interpose for the deliverance of His people, for we read: “Some were mocked, and their backs were cut open with whips. Others were chained in dungeons. Some died by stoning, and some were sawed in half; others were killed with the sword. Some went about in skins of sheep and goats, hungry and oppressed and mistreated.” (Hebrews 11:36, 37). But why? Why were not these men of faith delivered like the others? Or, why were not the others allowed to be killed like these? Why should God’s power interpose and rescue some—and not the others? Why allow Stephen to be stoned to death—and then deliver Peter from prison?
God is sovereign in the delegation of His power to others. Why did God endow Methuselah with a vitality which enabled him to outlive all his contemporaries? Why did God impart to Samson a physical strength which no other human has ever possessed? Again; it is written, “But you shall remember the Lord your God: for it is He who gives you power to get wealth” (Deut. 8:18), but God does not bestow this power on all alike. Why not? Why has He given such power to men like Morgan, Carnegie, Rockefeller? The answer to all of these questions, is, Because God is Sovereign, and being Sovereign He does as He pleases.
God is sovereign in the exercise of His MERCY. Necessarily so, for mercy is directed by the will of Him that shows mercy. Mercy is not a right to which man is entitled. Mercy is that adorable attribute of God, by which He pities and relieves the wretched. But under the righteous government of God, no one is wretched who does not deserve to be so. The objects of mercy, then, are those who are miserable, and all misery is the result of sin; hence the miserable are deserving of punishment, not mercy. To speak of deserving mercy is a contradiction of terms.
God bestows His mercies on whom He pleases—and withholds them, as seems good unto Himself. “Therefore God has mercy on whom He wants to have mercy; and He hardens whom He wants to harden!” Romans 9:18
A remarkable illustration of this fact is seen in the manner that God responded to the prayers of two men offered under very similar circumstances. Sentence of death was passed upon Moses for one act of disobedience, and he besought the Lord for a reprieve. But was his desire gratified? No! he told Israel, “The Lord was angry with me because of you, and he would not listen to me” (Deuteronomy 3:26).
Now mark the case of Hezekiah. “About that time Hezekiah became deathly ill, and the prophet Isaiah son of Amoz went to visit him. He gave the king this message: “This is what the Lord says: Set your affairs in order, for you are going to die. You will not recover from this illness.” When Hezekiah heard this, he turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord, “Remember, O Lord, how I have always tried to be faithful to you and do what is pleasing in your sight.” Then he broke down and wept bitterly. But before Isaiah had left the middle courtyard, this message came to him from the Lord: “Go back to Hezekiah, the leader of my people. Tell him, ‘This is what the Lord, the God of your ancestor David, says: I have heard your prayer and seen your tears. I will heal you, and three days from now you will get out of bed and go to the Temple of the Lord. I will add fifteen years to your life.’” (2 Kings 20:1-6).
Both of these men had the sentence of death in themselves, and both prayed earnestly unto the Lord for a reprieve: the one wrote: “The Lord would not hear me,” and died; but to the other it was said, “I have heard your prayer”, and his life was spared. What an illustration and exemplification of the truth expressed in Romans 9:15, “For He says to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”
The sovereign exercise of God’s mercy—pity shown to the wretched—was displayed when Jehovah became flesh and tabernacled among men. Take one illustration. During one of the Feasts of the Jews, the Lord Jesus went up to Jerusalem. He came to the Pool of Bethesda, where “a great multitude of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed.” Among this “great multitude” there was “one who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years.” What happened? “When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?” Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk!” At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked!” (John 5:3-9).
Why was this one man singled out from all the others? We are not told that he cried “Lord, have mercy on me!” There is not a word in the narrative which intimates that this man possessed any qualifications which entitled him to receive special favor from Jesus. Here then was a case of the sovereign exercise of Divine mercy, for it was just as easy for Christ to heal the whole of that “great multitude” as this one “certain man.” But He did not. He put forth His power and relieved the wretchedness of this one particular sufferer, and for some reason known only to Himself, He declined to do the same for the others. Again, we say, what an illustration and exemplification of Romans 9:15, “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion!”
God is sovereign in the exercise of His LOVE. Ah! that is a hard saying—who then can receive it? It is written, “A man can receive nothing, except it is given him from heaven” (John 3:27). When we say that God is sovereign in the exercise of His love, we mean that He loves whom He chooses. God does not love everybody; if He did, He would love the Devil. Why does not God love the Devil? Because there is nothing in him to love; because there is nothing in him to attract the heart of God. Nor is there anything to attract God’s love in any of the fallen sons of Adam, for all of them are, by nature, “children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:3). If then there is nothing in any member of the human race to attract God’s love, and if, notwithstanding, He does love some—then it necessarily follows that the cause of His love must be found in Himself, which is only another way of saying that the exercise of God’s love towards fallen men is according to His own good pleasure.
In the final analysis, the exercise of God’s love must be traced back to His sovereignty, or, otherwise, He would love by rule; and if He loved by rule, then is He under a law of love, and if He is under a law of love—then is He not supreme, but is Himself ruled by law. “But,” it may be asked, “Surely you do not deny that God loves the entire human family?” We reply, it is written, “Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated!” (Romans 9:13). If then, God loved Jacob and hated Esau, and that before they were born or had done either good or evil, then the reason for His love was not in them, but in Himself.
That the exercise of God’s love is according to His own sovereign pleasure, is also clear from the language of Ephesians 1:3-5, where we read, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For He chose us in Him before the creation of the world—to be holy and blameless in His sight. In love He predestined us to be adopted as His sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with His pleasure and will.” It was “in love” that God the Father predestined His chosen ones unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to Himself, “according”—according to what? According to some excellency He discovered in them? No! What then? According to what He foresaw they would become? No! Mark carefully the inspired answer, “According to the good pleasure of His will.”
God is sovereign in the exercise of His GRACE. This of necessity, for grace is favor shown to the undeserving, yes, to the Hell-deserving. Grace is the antithesis of justice. Justice demands the impartial enforcement of law. Justice requires that each shall receive his legitimate due, neither more nor less. Justice bestows no favors, and is no respecter of persons. Justice, as such, shows no pity and knows no mercy. But after justice has been fully satisfied, grace flows forth. Divine grace is not exercised at the expense of justice, but “grace reigns through righteousness” (Romans 5:21), and if grace “reigns”, then is grace sovereign.
Grace has been defined as the unmerited favor of God; and if unmerited, then none can claim it as their inalienable right. If grace is unearned and undeserved, then none are entitled to it. If grace is a gift, then none can demand it. Therefore, as salvation is by grace, the free gift of God, then He bestows it on whom He pleases. Because salvation is by grace, the very chief of sinners is not beyond the reach of Divine mercy. Because salvation is by grace, boasting is excluded and God gets all the glory.
The sovereign exercise of grace, is illustrated on nearly every page of Scripture. The Gentiles are left to walk in their own ways; while Israel becomes the covenant people of Jehovah. Ishmael the firstborn is cast out unblessed; while Isaac the son of his parents’ old age is made the child of promise. Esau the generous-hearted and forgiving-spirited is denied the blessing, though he sought it carefully with tears; while the worm Jacob receives the inheritance and is fashioned into a vessel of honor. So in the New Testament. Divine truth is hidden from the wise and prudent; but is revealed to babes. The Pharisees and Sadducees are left to go their own way; while publicans and harlots are drawn by the cords of love.
One has pointed out, that grace is something more than “unmerited favor.” To feed a tramp who calls on me is “unmerited favor,” but it is scarcely grace. But suppose that after robbing me I should feed this starving tramp—that would be “grace.” Grace, then, is favor shown where there is positive de-merit in the one receiving it.
In a remarkable manner Divine grace was exercised at the time of the Savior’s birth. The incarnation of God’s Son was one of the greatest events in the history of the universe, and yet its actual occurrence was not made known to all mankind; instead, it was specially revealed to the Bethlehem shepherds and wise men of the East. And this was prophetic and indicative of the entire course of this dispensation, for even today Christ is not made known to all. It would have been an easy matter for God to have sent a company of angels to every nation and announced the birth of His Son. But He did not. God could have readily attracted the attention of all mankind to the “star;” but He did not. Why? Because God is sovereign and dispenses His favors as He pleases.
Note particularly, the two classes to whom the birth of the Savior was made known, namely, the most unlikely classes—illiterate shepherds and heathen from a far country. No angel stood before the Sanhedrin and announced the advent of Israel’s Messiah! No “star” appeared unto the scribes and religious leaders as they, in their pride and self-righteousness, searched the Scriptures! They searched diligently to find out where He would be born, and yet it was not made known to them when He had actually come. What a display of Divine sovereignty—the illiterate shepherds singled out for peculiar honor, and the learned and eminent religious leaders passed by! And why was the birth of the Savior revealed to these foreigners, and not to those in whose midst He was born? See in this, a wonderful foreshadowing of God’s dealings with our race throughout the entire Christian dispensation—sovereign in the exercise of His grace, bestowing His favors on whom He pleases, often on the most unlikely and unworthy!
It has been pointed out to us that God’s sovereignty was signally displayed in His choice of the place where His Son was born. Not to Greece or Italy did the Lord of Glory come, but to the insignificant land of Palestine! Not in Jerusalem—the royal city—was Immanuel born, but in Bethlehem, which was “little among the towns and villages in Judah” (Micah 5:2)! And it was in despised Nazareth that He grew up!! Truly, God’s ways are not ours!
THE SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD IN CREATION
“You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory, and honor, and power! For You have created all things, and for Your pleasure they are and were created!” Revelation 4:11
Having shown that sovereignty characterizes the whole Being of God, let us now observe how it marks all His ways and dealings.
In the great expanse of eternity, which stretches behind Genesis 1:1, the universe was unborn, and creation existed only in the mind of the great Creator. In His sovereign majesty, God dwelt all alone. We refer to that far distant period before the heavens and the earth were created. There were then no angels to hymn God’s praises, no creatures to occupy His notice, no rebels to be brought into subjection. The great God was all alone amid the solemn silence of His own vast universe. But even at that time, if time it could be called—God was sovereign.
He might create—or not create, according to His own good pleasure. He might create this way or that way; He might create one world or one million worlds—and who was there to resist His will? He might call into existence a million different creatures and place them on absolute equality, endowing them with the same faculties and placing them in the same environment. Or, He might create a million creatures each differing from the others, and possessing nothing in common but their creaturehood, and who was there to challenge His right? If He so pleased, He might call into existence a world so immense that its dimensions were utterly beyond finite computation; and were He so disposed, He might create an organism so small that nothing but the most powerful microscope could reveal its existence to human eyes.
It was His sovereign right to create, on the one hand, the exalted seraphim to burn around His throne—and on the other hand, the tiny insect which dies the same hour that it is born. If the mighty God chose to create millions of differing creatures in His universe, from loftiest seraph—to creeping reptile; from revolving worlds—to floating atoms; from macrocosm—to microcosm; instead of making everything uniform—who was there to question His sovereign pleasure?
Behold then, the exercise of Divine sovereignty, long before man ever saw the light. With whom did God take counsel in the creation and disposition of His creatures. See the birds as they fly through the air, the animals as they roam the earth, the fish as they swim in the sea—and then ask, Who was it, that made them to differ? Was it not their Creator who sovereignly assigned their various locations and adaptations to them!
Turn your eye to the heavens and observe the mysteries of Divine sovereignty which there confront the thoughtful beholder: “There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for one star differs from another star in glory” (1 Cor. 15:41). But why should they? Why should the sun be more glorious than all the other planets? Why should there be stars of the first magnitude and others of the tenth? Why such amazing inequalities? Why should some of the heavenly bodies be more favorably placed than others in their relation to the sun? And why should there be “shooting stars,” “falling stars,” “wandering stars” (Jude 13), in a word, ruined stars? And the only possible answer is, “For Your pleasure they are and were created” (Revelation 4:11).
Come now to our own planet earth. Why should two thirds of its surface be covered with water—and why should so much of its remaining third be unfit for human cultivation or habitation? Why should there be vast stretches of marshes, deserts and ice-fields? Why should one country be so inferior, topographically, from another? Why should one be fertile—and another almost barren? Why should one be rich in minerals—and another own none? Why should the climate of one be congenial and healthy—and another uncongenial and unhealthy? Why should one abound in rivers and lakes—and another be almost devoid of them? Why should one be constantly troubled with earthquakes—and another be almost entirely free from them? Why? Because thus it pleased the Creator and Upholder of all things!
Look at the animal kingdom and note the wondrous variety. What comparison is possible between the lion—and the lamb; the bear—and the rabbit; the elephant—and the mouse? Some, like the horse and the dog, are gifted with great intelligence—while others, like sheep and swine, are almost devoid of it. Why? Some are designed to be beasts of burden—while others enjoy a life of freedom. But why should the mule and the donkey be shackled to a life of drudgery—while the lion and tiger are allowed to roam the jungle at their pleasure? Some are fit for food—while others are unfit. Some are beautiful—while others are ugly. Some are endowed with great strength—while others are quite helpless. Some are fleet of foot—while others can scarcely crawl—contrast the tortoise and the hare. Some are of use to man—while others appear to be quite valueless. Some live for centuries—while others a few months at most. Some are tame—while others fierce. But why all these variations and differences? What is true of the animals is equally true of the birds and fish. Why? Because thus it pleased the Creator and Upholder of all things!
But consider now the vegetable kingdom. Why should roses have thorns—and lilies grow without them? Why should one flower emit a fragrant aroma—and another have none? Why should one tree bear fruit which is wholesome—and another that which is poisonous? Why should one vegetable be capable of enduring frost—and another wither under it? Why should one apple tree be loaded with fruit—and another tree of the same age and in the same orchard be almost barren? Why should one plant, flower a dozen times in a year—and another bear blossoms but once a century? Why? Truly, “whatever the Lord pleased, that did He in heaven, and in the earth, in the seas, and all deep places” (Psalm 135:6).
Consider the angelic hosts. Surely we shall find uniformity here. But no! There, as elsewhere, the same sovereign pleasure of the Creator is displayed. Some are higher in rank than others; some are more powerful than others; some are nearer to God than others. Scripture reveals a definite and well-defined gradation in the angelic orders. From arch-angel, past seraphim and cherubim, we come to “principalities and powers” (Ephesians 3:10), and from principalities and powers to “rulers” (Ephesians 6:12), and then to the angels themselves, and even among them we read of “the elect angels” (1 Timothy 5:21). Again we ask, Why this inequality, this difference in rank and order? And all we can say is “Our God is in the heavens, He has done whatever He has pleased” (Psalm 115:3).
If then we see the sovereignty of God displayed throughout all creation—why should it be thought a strange thing if we behold it operating in the midst of the human family? Why should it be thought strange if to one, God is pleased to give five talents—while to another only one talent? Why should it be thought strange if one is born with a robust constitution—while another of the same parents is frail and sickly? Why should it be thought strange if Abel is cut off in his prime—while Cain is allowed to live on for many years? Why should it be thought strange that some should be born black—while others are born white; some be born idiots—while others are born with high intellectual endowments; some be born constitutionally lethargic—while others are full of energy; some are born with a temperament that is selfish, fiery, egotistical—and others are naturally self-sacrificing, submissive and meek? Why should it be thought strange, if some are qualified by nature to lead and rule—while others are only fitted to follow and serve? Heredity and environment cannot account for all these variations and inequalities. No! It is God who makes one to differ from another! Why should He? “Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Your sight” must be our reply.“The Lord has made all things for Himself” (Proverbs 16:4).
And had He not a perfect right to? Since God is God, who dare challenge His prerogative? To murmur against Him is rank rebellion. To question His ways is to impugn His wisdom. To criticize Him is sin of the deepest dye. Have we forgotten who He is? Behold, “All the nations are as nothing before Him; they are considered by Him as worthless and less than nothing! To whom, then, will you compare God?” (Isaiah 40:17, 18).
THE SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD IN ADMINISTRATION
“The Lord has prepared His Throne in the heavens!
His Kingdom rules over all!”
First, a word concerning the need for God to govern the material world. Suppose the opposite for a moment. For the sake of argument, let us say that God created the world, designed and fixed certain laws (which men term “the laws of Nature”), and that He then withdrew, leaving the world to its fortune and the out-working of these laws. In such a case, we would have a world over which there was no intelligent, presiding Governor, a world controlled by nothing more than impersonal laws—a concept worthy of gross Materialism and blank Atheism. But, I say, suppose it for a moment; and in the light of such a supposition, weigh well the following question—What guaranty have we that some day before long, the world will not be destroyed?
A very superficial observation of “the laws of Nature” reveals the fact that they are not uniform in their working. The proof of this is seen in the fact that no two seasons are alike. If then Nature’s laws are irregular in their operations, what guaranty have we against some dreadful catastrophe striking our earth? “The wind blows where it wills” (pleases), which means that man can neither harness nor hinder it. Sometimes the wind blows with great fury, and it might be that it would suddenly gather in volume and velocity, until it became a hurricane, earth-wide in its range. If there is nothing more than the laws of Nature regulating the wind, then, perhaps tomorrow, there may come a terrific tornado and sweep everything from the surface of the earth! What assurance have we against such a calamity?
Again—recently we have heard and read much about clouds bursting and flooding whole districts, wreaking fearful havoc in the destruction of both property and life. Man is helpless before them, for science can devise no means to prevent clouds from bursting. Then how do we know that these bursting-clouds will not be multiplied indefinitely, and the whole earth be deluged by their downpour? This would be nothing new—why should not the Flood of Noah’s day be repeated?
And what of earthquakes? Every few years, some island or some great city is swept out of existence by one of them—and what can man do? Where is the guaranty that before long a mammoth earthquake will not destroy the whole world? Science tells us of great subterranean fires burning beneath the comparatively thin crust of our earth—how do we know but what these fires will not suddenly burst forth and consume our entire globe? Surely every reader now sees the point we are seeking to make: Deny that God is governing matter, deny that He is “upholding all things by the word of His power” (Hebrews 1:3), and all sense of security is gone!
Let us pursue a similar course of reasoning in connection with the human race. Is God governing this world of ours? Is He shaping the destinies of nations, controlling the course of empires, determining the limits of dynasties? Has He described the limits of evil-doers, saying, “Thus far shall you go—and no further?” Let us suppose the opposite for a moment. Let us assume that God has delivered over the helm into the hand of His creatures, and see where such a supposition leads us.
For the sake of argument we will say that every man enters this world endowed with a will that is absolutely free, and that it is impossible to compel or even coerce him without destroying his freedom. Let us say that every man possesses a knowledge of right and wrong, that he has the power to choose between them, and that he is left entirely free to make his own choice and go his own way. What then? Then it follows that man is sovereign, for he does as he pleases, and is the architect of his own fortune. But in such a case we can have no assurance that before long every man will reject the good and choose the evil. In such a case we have no guaranty against the entire human race committing moral suicide! Let all Divine restraints be removed and man be left absolutely free, and all ethical distinctions would immediately disappear, the spirit of barbarism would prevail universally, and pandemonium would reign supreme! Why not?
If one nation deposes its rulers and repudiates its constitution, what is there to prevent all nations from doing the same? If little more than a century ago the streets of Paris ran with the blood of rioters, what assurance have we that before the present century closes, every city throughout the world will not witness a similar sight? What is there to hinder worldwide lawlessness and universal anarchy?
Thus we have sought to show the need, the imperative need, for God to occupy the Throne, take the government upon His shoulder, and control the activities and destinies of His creatures.
But has the Christian man any difficulty in perceiving the government of God over this world? Does not the anointed eye discern, even amid much seeming confusion and chaos, the hand of the Most High controlling and shaping the affairs of men, even in the common concerns of every day life?
Take for example farmers and their crops. Suppose God left them to themselves: what would then prevent them, one and all, from grassing their cultivatable lands, and devoting themselves exclusively to the rearing of cattle and dairying? In such a case there would be a world-famine of wheat and corn! Take the work of the post-office. Suppose that everybody decided to write letters on Mondays only, could the authorities cope with the mail on Tuesdays? and how would they occupy their time the balance of the week? So again with storekeepers. What would happen if every housewife did her shopping on Wednesday, and stayed at home the rest of the week? But instead of such things happening, farmers in different countries both raise sufficient cattle and grow enough grain of various kinds to supply the almost incalculable needs of the human race; the mails are almost evenly distributed over the six days of the week; and some women shop on Monday, some on Tuesday, and so on. Do not these things clearly evidence the overruling and controlling hand of God!
Having shown, in brief, the imperative need for God to reign over our world, let us now observe still further—the fact that God does rule, actually rule, and that His government extends to and is exercised over all things and all creatures.
1. God Governs Inanimate Matter.
That God governs inanimate matter, that inanimate matter performs His bidding and fulfils His decrees, is clearly shown on the very frontispiece of Divine revelation. “God said, Let there be light—and there was light.” God said, “Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear,” and “it was so.” And again, “God said, Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds. And it was so.” As the Psalmist declares, “He spoke—and it was done! He commanded—and it stood fast!”
What is stated in Genesis one, is afterwards illustrated all through the Bible. After the creation of Adam, sixteen centuries went by before ever a shower of rain fell upon the earth, for before Noah “there went up a mist from the earth, and watered the whole face of the ground” (Gen. 2:6). But, when the iniquities of the antediluvians had come to the full, then God said, “Look! I am about to cover the earth with a flood that will destroy every living thing. Everything on earth will die!” And in fulfillment of this we read, “When Noah was 600 years old, on the seventeenth day of the second month, the underground waters burst forth on the earth, and the rain fell in mighty torrents from the sky. The rain continued to fall for forty days and forty nights” (Gen. 6:17 and 7:11, 12).
Witness God’s absolute and sovereign control of inanimate matter in connection with the plagues upon Egypt. At His bidding the light was turned into darkness; and rivers into blood; hail fell, and death came down upon the godless land of the Nile, until even its haughty monarch was compelled to cry out for deliverance. Note particularly how the inspired record here emphasizes God’s absolute control over the elements, “The Lord sent thunder and hail, and lightning struck the earth. The Lord sent a tremendous hailstorm against all the land of Egypt. Never in all the history of Egypt had there been a storm like that, with such severe hail and continuous lightning. It left all of Egypt in ruins. Everything left in the fields was destroyed—people, animals, and crops alike. Even all the trees were destroyed!” (Exodus 9:23-26). The same distinction was observed in connection with the ninth plague: “Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Lift your hand toward heaven, and a deep and terrifying darkness will descend on the land of Egypt.’ So Moses lifted his hand toward heaven, and there was deep darkness over the entire land for three days!” (Exodus 10:21-23).
The above examples are by no means isolated cases. At God’s decree—fire and brimstone descended from heaven and the cities of the Plain were destroyed, and a fertile valley was converted into a loathsome sea of death. At His bidding—the waters of the Red Sea parted asunder so that the Israelites passed over dry shod; and at His word—they rolled back again and destroyed the Egyptians who were pursuing them. A word from Him—and the earth opened her mouth and Korah and his rebellious company were swallowed up. The furnace of Nebuchadnezzar was heated seven times beyond its normal temperature, and into it three of God’s children were cast, but the fire did not so much as scorch their clothes, though it slew the men who cast them into it!
What a demonstration of the Creator’s governmental control over the elements was furnished when He became flesh and tabernacled among men! Behold Him asleep in the boat. A storm arises. The winds roar and the waves are lashed into fury. The disciples who are with Him, fearful lest their little craft should sink, awake their Master, saying, “don’t you even care that we are going to drown?” And then we read, “And He arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace, be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm” (Mark 4:39). Mark again, the sea, at the will of its Creator, bore Him up upon its waves. At a word from Him, the fig-tree withered! At His touch, disease fled instantly!
The heavenly bodies are also ruled by their Maker and perform His sovereign pleasure. Take two illustrations. At God’s bidding, the sun went back ten degrees on the dial of Ahaz to help the weak faith of Hezekiah. In New Testament times, God caused a star to herald the incarnation of His Son—the star which appeared unto the wise men of the East. This star, we are told, “went before them until it came and stood over where the young Child was” (Matthew 2:9).
What a declaration is this, “He sends His command throughout the earth; His word runs swiftly. He spreads snow like wool; He scatters frost like ashes; He throws His hailstones like crumbs. Who can withstand His cold? He sends His word and melts them; He unleashes His winds, and the waters flow.” (Psalm 147:15-18). The mutations of the elements are beneath God’s sovereign control. It is God who withholds the rain, and it is God who gives the rain when He wills, where He wills, as He wills, and on whom He wills. Weather Bureaus may attempt to give forecasts of the weather, but how frequently God mocks their calculations! Sun ‘spots,’ the varying activities of the planets, the appearing and disappearing of comets (to which abnormal weather is sometimes attributed), atmospheric disturbances, are merely secondary causes, for behind them all is God Himself!
Let His Word speak once more: “I also withheld the rain from you while there were still three months until harvest. I sent rain on one city but no rain on another. One field received rain while a field with no rain withered. Two or three cities staggered to another city to drink water but were not satisfied—yet you did not return to Me. I struck you with blight and mildew; the locust devoured your many gardens and vineyards, your fig trees and olive trees, yet you did not return to Me. I sent plagues like those of Egypt; I killed your young men with the sword, along with your captured horses. I caused the stench of your camp to fill your nostrils, yet you did not return to Me, says the Lord.” (Amos 4:7-10).
Truly, then, God governs inanimate matter. Earth and air, fire and water, hail and snow, stormy winds and angry seas, all perform the word of His power and fulfill His sovereign pleasure. Therefore, when we complain about the weather, we are, in reality, murmuring against God!
2. God Governs Irrational Creatures.
What a striking illustration of God’s government over the animal kingdom is found in Genesis 2:19! “Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air.” Should it be said that this occurred in Eden, and took place before the fall of Adam and the consequent curse which was inflicted on every creature, then our next reference fully meets the objection: God’s control of the beasts was again openly displayed at the Flood. Mark how God caused to “come unto” Noah, every species of living creature, “You are to bring into the ark two of all living creatures, male and female, to keep them alive with you. Two of every kind of bird, of every kind of animal and of every kind of creature that moves along the ground will come to you to be kept alive” (Genesis 6:19, 20). All were beneath God’s sovereign control. The lion of the jungle, the elephant of the forest, the bear of the polar regions; the ferocious panther, the untameable wolf, the fierce tiger; the high-soaring eagle and the creeping crocodile—see them all in their native fierceness, and yet, quietly submitting to the will of their Creator, and coming two by two into the ark!
We referred to the plagues sent upon Egypt as illustrating God’s control of inanimate matter; let us now turn to them again to see how they demonstrate His perfect ruler-ship over irrational creatures. At His word the river brought forth frogs abundantly, and these frogs entered the palace of Pharaoh and the houses of his servants and, contrary to their natural instincts, they entered the beds, the ovens and the kneading troughs! (Exodus 8:13). Swarms of flies invaded the land of Egypt, but there were no flies in the land of Goshen! (Exodus 8:22). Next, the livestock were stricken and we read, “the Lord will send a deadly plague to destroy your horses, donkeys, camels, cattle, and sheep. But the Lord will again make a distinction between the property of the Israelites and that of the Egyptians. Not a single one of Israel’s livestock will die! The Lord announced that he would send the plague the very next day, and He did it, just as he had said. The next morning all the livestock of the Egyptians began to die, but the Israelites did not lose a single animal from their flocks and herds!” (Exodus 9:3-6).
In like manner God sent clouds of locusts to plague Pharaoh and his land, appointing the time of their visitation, determining the course and assigning the limits of their destructions.
Angels are not the only ones who do God’s bidding. The brute beasts equally perform His pleasure. The sacred ark, the ark of the covenant, is in the country of the Philistines. How is it to be brought back to its homeland? Mark the servants of God’s choice, and how completely they were beneath His control: “Now then, get a new cart ready, with two cows that have calved and have never been yoked. Hitch the cows to the cart. Take the ark of the Lord and put it on the cart, and in a chest beside it put the gold objects you are sending back to him as a guilt offering. Send it on its way, but keep watching it. If it goes up to its own territory, toward Beth-Shemesh, then the Lord has brought this great disaster on us. But if it does not, then we will know that it was not his hand that struck us and that it happened to us by chance.” And what happened? How striking the sequel! “The cows went straight up the road to Beth-Shemesh. They stayed on that one highway, lowing as they went; they never strayed to the right or to the left!” (1 Sam. 6:12).
Equally striking is the case of Elijah: “Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah—Leave here, turn eastward and hide in the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan. You will drink from the brook, and I have ordered the ravens to feed you there.” (1 Kings 17:2-4). The natural instinct of these birds of prey was held in subjection, and instead of consuming the food themselves, they carried it to Jehovah’s servant in his solitary retreat!
Is further proof required? then it is ready to hand. God makes a dumb donkey to rebuke the prophet’s madness. He sends forth two female bears from the woods to devour forty-two of Elijah’s tormentors. In fulfillment of His word, He causes the dogs to lick up the blood of the wicked Jezebel. He seals the mouths of Babylon’s lions when Daniel is cast into the den, though, later, He causes them to devour the prophet’s accusers. He prepares a great fish to swallow the disobedient Jonah and then, when His ordained hour struck, compelled it to vomit him forth onto dry land. At His bidding a fish carries a coin to Peter for tax money! In order to fulfill His word, He makes the rooster to crow twice after Peter’s denial. Thus we see that God reigns over
irrational creatures: beasts of the field, birds of the air, fish of the sea—all perform His sovereign bidding.
3. God Governs All People.
We fully appreciate the fact that this is the most difficult part of our subject, and, accordingly, it will be dealt with at greater length in the pages that follow; but at present we consider the fact of God’s government over men in general, before we attempt to deal with the problem in detail.
Two alternatives confront us, and between them we obliged to choose:
Either God governs—or He is governed.
Either God rules—or He is ruled.
Either God has His way—or men have theirs.
And is our choice between these alternatives hard to make? Shall we say that in man we behold a creature so unruly that he is beyond God’s control? Shall we say that sin has alienated the sinner so far from the thrice Holy One that he is outside the pale of His jurisdiction? Or, shall we say that man has been endowed with moral responsibility, and therefore God must leave him entirely free, at least during the period of his probation? Does it necessarily follow because the natural man is an outlaw against heaven, a rebel against the Divine government, that God is unable to fulfill His purpose through him? We mean, not merely that He may overrule the effects of the actions of evil-doers, nor that He will yet bring the wicked to stand before His judgment-bar so that sentence of punishment may be passed upon them—multitudes of non-Christians believe these things—but, we mean, that every action of the most lawless of His subjects is entirely beneath His control, yes that the actor is, though unknown to himself, carrying out the secret decrees of the Most High God. Was it not thus with Judas? and is it possible to select a more extreme case? If then the arch-rebel was performing the counsel of God—is it any greater tax upon our faith to believe the same of all rebels?
Our present object is not philosophic inquiry nor metaphysical causistry, but to ascertain the teaching of Scripture upon this profound theme. To the Law and the Testimony, for there alone can we learn of the Divine government—its character, its design, its mode of operation, its scope. What then has it pleased God to reveal to us in His blessed Word concerning His rule over the works of His hands, and particularly, over the one who originally was made in His own image and likeness?
“In Him we live, and move, and have our being” (Acts 17:28). What a sweeping assertion is this! These words, be it noted, were addressed, not to one of the churches of God, not to a company of saints who had reached an exalted plane of spirituality, but to a heathen audience, to those who worshiped “the unknown God” and who “mocked” when they heard of the resurrection of the dead. And yet, to the Athenian philosophers, to the Epicureans and Stoics—the apostle Paul did not hesitate to affirm that they lived and moved and had their being in God, which signified not only that they owed their existence and preservation to the One who made the world and all things therein, but also that their very actions were encompassed and therefore controlled by the Lord of heaven and earth. Compare Daniel 5:23, “God who holds your life-breath in His hand and who controls the whole course of your life!”
“The disposings of the heart, and the answer of the tongue is from the Lord” (Proverbs 16:1). Mark that the above declaration is of general application—it is of “man,” not simply of believers, that this is predicated. “A man’s heart devises his way—but the Lord directs his steps” (Proverbs 16:9). If the Lord directs the steps of a man, is it not proof that he is being controlled or governed by God? Again, “There are many devices in a man’s heart; nevertheless the counsel of the Lord, that shall stand” (Proverbs 19:21). Can this mean anything less than, that no matter what man may desire and plan—it is the will of his Maker which is executed? As an illustration take the “Rich Fool”. The “devices” of his heart are made known to us, “And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops? And he said, This is what I will do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have much goods laid up for many years; take your ease, eat, drink, and be merry.” Such were the “devices” of his heart, nevertheless it was “the counsel of the Lord” that stood. The “I will’s” of the rich man came to nothing, for “God said unto him, You fool, this night shall your soul be required of you” (Luke 12:17-20).
“The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord; He directs it like a watercourse wherever He pleases.” (Proverbs 21:1). What could be more explicit? Out of the heart are “the issues of life” (Proverbs 4:23), for as a man “thinks in his heart—so is he” (Proverbs 23:7). If then the heart is in the hand of the Lord, and if “He directs it wherever He will,” then is it not clear that men, yes, governors and rulers, and so all men, are completely beneath the governmental control of the Almighty!
No limitations must be placed upon the above declarations. To insist that some men, at least, do thwart God’s will and overturn His counsels, is to repudiate other scriptures equally explicit. Weigh well the following: “But He is in one mind, and who can turn Him? and what His soul desires—even that He does” (Job 23:13). “The counsel of the Lord stands forever—the thoughts of His heart to all generations” (Psalm 33:11). “There is no wisdom nor understanding nor counsel against the Lord” (Proverbs 21:30). “For the Lord Almighty has purposed—and who can thwart him? His hand is stretched out—and who can turn it back?” (Isaiah 14:27). “Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else! I am God, and there is none like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all My pleasure!” (Isaiah 46:9, 10). There is no ambiguity in these passages. They affirm in the most unequivocal and unqualified terms—that it is impossible to baffle the purpose of Jehovah.
We read the Scriptures in vain, if we fail to discover that the actions of men, evil men as well as good, are governed by the Lord God.
Nimrod and his fellows determined to erect the tower of Babel, but before their task was accomplished God frustrated their plans.
God called Abraham “alone” (Isaiah 51:2), but his kinsfolk accompanied him as he left Ur of the Chaldees. Was then the will of the Lord defeated? Nay, truly. Mark the sequel. Terah died before Canaan was reached (Genesis 11:31), and though Lot accompanied his uncle into the land of promise, he soon separated from him and settled down in Sodom.
Jacob was the child to whom the inheritance was promised, and though Isaac sought to reverse Jehovah’s decree and bestow the blessing upon Esau, his efforts came to nothing. Esau again swore vengeance upon Jacob, but when next they met they wept for joy—instead of fighting in hate.
The brethren of Joseph determined his destruction, but their evil counsels were overthrown. Pharaoh refused to let Israel carry out the instructions of Jehovah and perished in the Red Sea for his pains. Balak hired Balaam to curse the Israelites, but God compelled him to bless them. Haman erected a gallows for Mordecai—but was hanged upon it himself. Jonah resisted the revealed will of God—but what became of his efforts?
Ah, the heathen may “rage” and the people imagine a “vain thing”; the kings of the earth may “set themselves”, and the rulers take counsel together against the Lord and against His Christ, saying, “Let us break Their bands asunder, and cast away Their cords from us” (Psalm 2:1-3). But is the great God perturbed or disturbed by the rebellion of His puny creatures? No, indeed! “He who sits in the heavens shall laugh! The Lord shall have them in derision!” (v. 4). He is infinitely exalted above all, and the greatest confederacies of earth’s pawns, and their most extensive and vigorous preparations to defeat His purpose are, in His sight, altogether futile. He looks upon their puny efforts, not only without any alarm—but He “laughs” at their folly! He treats their impotency with “derision.” He knows that He can crush them like moths when He pleases, or consume them in a moment with the breath of His mouth. Ah, it is but “a vain thing” for the potsherds of the earth to strive with the glorious Majesty of Heaven. Such is our God! Worship Him!
Mark, too, the sovereignty which God displayed in His dealings with men! Moses who was slow of speech, and not Aaron his elder brother who was fluent of speech, was the one chosen to be His ambassador in demanding from Egypt’s monarch the release of His oppressed people. Moses again, though greatly beloved, utters one hasty word and was excluded from Canaan; whereas Elijah, passionately murmurs and suffers but a mild rebuke, and was afterwards taken to heaven without seeing death!
Uzzah merely touched the ark and was instantly slain, whereas the Philistines carried it off in insulting triumph and suffered no immediate harm. Displays of grace which would have brought a doomed Sodom to repentance, failed to move an highly privileged Capernaum. Mighty works which would have subdued Tyre and Sidon, left the upbraided cities of Galilee under the curse of a rejected Gospel. If they would have prevailed over the former, why were they not wrought there? If they proved ineffectual to deliver the latter—then why perform them? What exhibitions are these of the sovereign will of the Most High!
4. God Governs Angels—both Good and Evil Angels.
The angels are God’s servants, His messengers, His chariots. They ever hearken to the word of His mouth and do His commands. “God sent an angel to destroy Jerusalem. But just as the angel was preparing to destroy it, the Lord relented and said to the death angel, Stop! That is enough! Then the Lord spoke to the angel, and he put his sword back into its sheath.” (1 Chron. 21:15, 27). Many other scriptures might be cited to show that the angels are in subjection to the will of their Creator and perform His bidding, “Then Peter came to himself and said, “Now I know for certain that the Lord has sent His angel and rescued me from Herod’s grasp and from all that the Jewish people expected.” (Acts 12:11). “And the Lord God of the holy prophets sent His angel to show unto His servants the things which must shortly be done” (Revelation 22:6). So it will be when our Lord returns: “The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will gather from His kingdom everything that causes sin and those guilty of lawlessness” (Matthew 13:41). Again, we read, “He shall send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other” (Matthew 24:31).
The same is true of evil angels: they, too, fulfill God’s sovereign decrees. An evil spirit is sent by God to stir up rebellion in the camp of Abimelech: “Then God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the men of Shechem,. . . which aided him in the killing of his brethren” (Judges 9:23). Another evil spirit He sent to be a lying spirit in the mouth of Ahab’s prophets, “Now therefore, behold, the Lord has put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these your prophets, and the Lord has spoken evil concerning you” (1 Kings 22 :23). And yet another was sent by the Lord to trouble Saul, “But the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord troubled him” (1 Sam. 16:14). So, too, in the New Testament: a whole legion of the demons go out of their victim—but not until the Lord gave them permission to enter the herd of swine.
It is clear from Scripture, then, that the angels, good and evil, are under God’s control, and willingly or unwillingly carry out God’s purpose. Yes, Satan himself is absolutely subject to God’s control. When arraigned in Eden, he listened to the awful sentence—but answered not a word. He was unable to touch Job until God granted him permission. So, too, he had to gain our Lord’s consent before he could “sift” Peter. When Christ commanded him to depart, “Go away, Satan!” we read, “Then the Devil left Him” (Matthew 4:11). And, in the end, he will be cast into the Lake of Fire, which has been prepared for him and his demons.
The Lord God omnipotent reigns! His government is exercised over inanimate matter, over the brute beasts, over all men, over angels good and evil, and over Satan himself. No revolving world, no shining of star, no storm, no creature moves, no actions of men, no errands of angels, no deeds of Devil—nothing in all the vast universe can come to pass, otherwise than what God has eternally purposed. Here is a foundation for faith. Here is a resting place for the intellect. Here is an anchor for the soul, both sure and steadfast. It is not blind fate, unbridled evil, man or Devil—but the Lord Almighty who is ruling the world, ruling it according to His own good pleasure and for His own eternal glory!
“There’s not a sparrow nor a worm,
But’s found in His decrees,
He raises monarchs to their thrones
And sinks as He may please!”
THE SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD IN SALVATION
“Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and untraceable His ways!”
“Salvation is of the Lord!” (Jonah 2:9); but the Lord does not save all. Why not? He does save some; then if He saves some, why not others? Is it because they are too sinful and depraved? No! for the apostle wrote, “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief” (1 Timothy 1:15). Therefore, if God saved the “chief” of sinners, none are excluded because of their depravity. Why then does not God save all? Is it because some are too stony-hearted to be won? No! because of the most stony-hearted people of all it is written, that God will, “remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 11:19). Then is it because some are so stubborn, so intractable, so defiant—that God is unable to woo them to Himself? Before we answer this question let us ask another; let us appeal to the experience of the Christian reader.
Friend, was there not a time when you walked in the counsel of the ungodly, stood in the way of sinners, sat in the seat of the scorners, and with them said, “We will not have this Man to reign over us!” (Luke 19:14) Was there not a time when you “would not come to Christ that you might have life!” (John 5:40) Yes! Was there not a time when you mingled your voice with those who said unto God, “Leave us alone! We don’t want to know Your ways. Who is the Almighty, that we should serve Him?” (Job 21:14, 15) With shamed face you have to acknowledge that there was. But how is it that all is now changed? What was it that brought you from haughty self-sufficiency, to a humble suppliant; from one who was at enmity with God—to one who is at peace with Him; from lawlessness to subjection; from hating God to loving Him?
As one ‘born of the Spirit,’ you will readily reply, “By the grace of God—I am what I am!” (1 Corinthians 15:10). Then do you not see that it is due to no lack of power in God, nor to His refusal to coerce man, that other rebels are not saved too? If God was able to subdue your will and win your heart, and that without interfering with your moral responsibility, then is He not able to do the same for others? Assuredly He is! Then how inconsistent, how illogical, how foolish of you, in seeking to account for the present course of the wicked and their ultimate fate—to argue that God is unable to save them, that they will not let Him. Do you say, “But the time came when I was willing—willing to receive Christ as my Savior”? True—but it was the Lord who made you willing (Psalm 110:3; Phil. 2:13) Why then does He not make all sinners willing? Why—but for the fact that He is sovereign and does as He pleases!
But to return to our opening inquiry: Why is it that all are not saved, particularly all who hear the Gospel? Do you still answer, Because the majority refuse to believe? Well, that is true—but it is only a part of the truth. It is the truth from the human side. But there is a Divine side too, and this side of the truth needs to be stressed—or God will be robbed of His glory. The unsaved are lost because they refuse to believe; the others are saved because they believe. But why do these others believe? What is it that causes them to put their trust in Christ? Is it because they are more intelligent than their fellows, and quicker to discern their need of salvation? Perish the thought! “Who makes you to differ from another? And what do you have—that you did not receive?” (1 Corinthians 4:7). It is God Himself who makes the difference between the elect and the non-elect, for of His own it is written, “And we know that the Son of God has come, and has given us an understanding, that we may know Him that is true” (1 John 5:20).
Faith is God’s gift, and “not all men have faith” (2 Thess. 3:2); therefore, we see that God does not bestow this gift of faith upon all. Upon whom then does He bestow this saving favor? And we answer, upon His own elect, “As many as were ordained to eternal life believed” (Acts 13:48). Hence it is that we read of “the faith of God’s elect” (Titus 1:1). But is God partial in the distribution of His favors? Has He not the right to be? Are there still some who murmur against God? Then His own words are sufficient reply, “Is it not lawful for Me—to do what I will with My own?” (Matthew 20:15). God is sovereign in the bestowment of His gifts, both in the natural and in the spiritual realms. So much then for a general statement, and now to particularize.
1. The Sovereignty Of God The Father In Salvation.
Perhaps the one Scripture which most emphatically of all asserts the absolute sovereignty of God in connection with His determining the destiny of His creatures, is the ninth chapter of Romans. We shall not attempt to review here the entire chapter—but will confine ourselves to verses 21-23, “Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use? What if God, choosing to show His wrath and make His power known, bore with great patience the objects of His wrath—prepared for destruction? What if He did this to make the riches of His glory known to the objects of His mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory!”
These verses represent fallen mankind as inert and as impotent as a lump of lifeless clay. This Scripture evidences that there is “no difference,” in themselves, between the elect and the non-elect; they are “out of the same lump of clay” which agrees with Ephesians 2:3, where we are told, that all are by nature children of wrath, “Like the rest, we were by nature children of wrath!” It teaches us that the ultimate destiny of every individual is decided by the will of God, and blessed it is, that such is the case! For if we were left to our wills—the ultimate destination of us all would be the Lake of Fire! It declares that it is God Himself who makes the difference in the respective destinations to which He assigns His creatures, for one vessel is made “unto honor and another unto dishonor.” Some are “the objects of His wrath—
prepared for destruction,” while others are “objects of His mercy, whom He prepared in advance for glory.”
We readily acknowledge that it is very humbling to the proud heart of the creature, to behold all mankind in the hand of God, as the clay is in the potter’s hand—yet this is precisely how the Scriptures of Truth represent the case. In this day of human boasting, intellectual pride, and deification of man—it needs to be insisted upon, that the Potter forms his vessels for Himself. Let man strive with his Maker as he will, the fact remains that he is nothing more than clay in the Heavenly Potter’s hands! And while we know that God will deal justly with His creatures, that the Judge of all the earth will do right; nevertheless, He shapes His vessels for His own purpose and according to His own pleasure. God claims the indisputable right to do as He wills with His own.
Not only has God the right to do as He wills with the creatures of His own hands—but He exercises this right! Nowhere is that seen more plainly, than in His predestinating grace. Before the foundation of the world God made a choice, a selection, an election. Before His omniscient eye stood the whole of Adam’s race, and from it He singled out a people and predestined them “unto the adoption of children,” predestined them “to be conformed to the image of His Son.” He “ordained them unto eternal life!” Many are the Scriptures which set forth this blessed truth, seven of which will now engage our attention.
“As many as were ordained to eternal life, believed” (Acts 13:48). Every artifice of human ingenuity has been employed to blunt the sharp edge of this Scripture, and to explain away the obvious meaning of these words. But it has been employed in vain, though nothing will ever be able to reconcile this and similar passages to the mind of the natural man. “As many as were ordained to eternal life, believed.” Here we learn four things:
First, that believing is the consequence—and not the cause of God’s decree.
Second, that a limited number only are “ordained to eternal life,” for if all men without exception were thus ordained by God, then the words “as many as are a meaningless qualification.
Third, that this “ordination” of God is not to mere external privileges, but to “eternal life;” not to service, but to salvation itself.
Fourth, that all, “as many as,” not one less—who are thus ordained by God to eternal life, will most certainly believe.
The comments of the beloved Spurgeon on the above passage are well worthy of our notice. Said he, “Attempts have been made to prove that these words do not teach predestination—but these attempts so clearly do violence to language, that I shall not waste time in answering them. I read: ‘As many as were ordained to eternal life believed’, and I shall not twist the text—but shall glorify the grace of God by ascribing to that grace, the faith of every man. Is it not God, who gives the disposition to believe? If men are disposed to have eternal life, does not He—in every case—dispose them? Is it wrong for God to give grace? If it is right for Him to give it, is it wrong for Him to purpose to give it? Would you have Him give it by accident? If it is right for Him to purpose to give grace today, it was right for Him to purpose it before today—and, since He changes not—from eternity.”
“Even so, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace. And if by grace, then it is no longer by works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace” (Romans 11:5, 6). The words “Even so” at the beginning of this quotation refer us to the previous verse where we are told, “I have reserved to Myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” Note particularly the word “reserved.” In the days of Elijah there were seven thousand—a small minority—who were Divinely preserved from idolatry and brought to the knowledge of the true God. This preservation and illumination was not from anything in themselves—but solely by God’s special influence and agency. How highly favored such individuals were to be thus “reserved” by God! Now says the apostle, Just as there was a “remnant” in Elijah’s days “reserved by God”, even so there is in this present dispensation.
“A remnant chosen by grace.” Here the cause of election is traced back to its source. The basis upon which God elected this “remnant” was not foreseen faith in them, because a choice founded upon the foresight of good works, is just as truly made on the ground of works as any choice can be, and in such a case, it would not be “of grace;” for, says the apostle, “And if by grace, then it is no longer by works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace;” which means that grace and works are opposites, they have nothing in common, and will no more mingle than will oil and water. Thus the idea of inherent good foreseen in those chosen, or of anything meritorious performed by them, is rigidly excluded. “A remnant chosen by grace,” signifies an unconditional choice resulting from the sovereign favor of God; in a word, it is absolutely a gratuitous election.
“Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before Him.” (1 Corinthians 1:26-29). Three times over in this passage reference is made to God’s choice, and choice necessarily supposes a selection—the taking of some and the leaving of others. The Chooser here is God Himself, as the Lord Jesus said to the apostles, “You have not chosen Me—but I have chosen you” (John 15:16). The number chosen is strictly defined, “Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth,” which agrees with Matthew 20:16, “So the last shall be first, and the first last; for many be called—but few chosen.”
So much then for the fact of God’s choice; now mark the objects of His choice.
The ones spoken of above as chosen of God are “the weak things of the world, base things of the world, and things which are despised.” But why? To demonstrate and magnify His grace! God’s ways as well as His thoughts are utterly at variance with man’s! The carnal mind would have supposed that a selection had been made from the ranks of the opulent and influential, the amiable and cultured, so that Christianity might have won the approval and applause of the world by its pageantry and fleshly glory. Ah! but “that which is highly esteemed among men—is abomination in the sight of God!” (Luke 16:15).
God chooses the “base things.” He did so in Old Testament times. The nation which He singled out to be the depository of His holy oracles and the channel through which the promised Seed should come, was not the ancient Egyptians, the imposing Babylonians, nor the highly civilized and cultured Greeks. No! that people upon whom Jehovah set His love and regarded as ‘the apple of His eye’, were the despised, nomadic Jews!
Just so, when our Lord tabernacled among men. The ones whom He took into favored intimacy with Himself and commissioned to go forth as His ambassadors, were, for the most part, ignorant fishermen. And so it has been ever since. So it is today! At the present rates of increase, it will not be long before it is manifested that the Lord has more in despised China who are really His, than He has in the highly favored United States! More of His people among the uncivilized blacks of Africa, than He has in cultured (?) Germany! And the purpose of God’s choice, the reason of the selection He has made is, “so that no one may boast before Him!” There being nothing whatever in the objects of His choice which should entitle them to His special favors—then, all the praise will be freely ascribed to the exceeding riches of His manifold grace!
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavens, in Christ; for He chose us in Him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless in His sight. In love He predestined us to be adopted through Jesus Christ for Himself, according to His pleasure and will. In Him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of Him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of His will.” (Ephesians 1:3-5, 11).
Here we are told at what point in time—if time it could be called—when God made choice of those who were to be His children by Jesus Christ. It was not after Adam had fallen and plunged his race into sin and wretchedness; but long before Adam saw the light, even before the world itself was founded, that God chose us in Christ!
Here also we learn the purpose which God had before Him in connection with His own elect: it was that they “be holy and blameless in His sight;” it was “unto the adoption of children;” it was that they should “obtain an inheritance.”
Here also we discover the motive which prompted Him. It was “in love, that He predestined us to be adopted through Jesus Christ for Himself!” This statement refutes the oft made and wicked charge that, for God to decide the eternal destiny of His creatures before they are born, is tyrannical and unjust.
Finally, we are informed here, that in this matter He took counsel with none—but that we are “chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of Him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of His will.”
“But we are bound to give thanks always to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God has from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth” (2 Thess. 2:13). There are three things here which deserve special attention:
First, the fact that we are expressly told that God’s elect are “chosen to salvation.” Language could not be more explicit. How summarily do these words dispose of the sophistries and equivocations of all who would make election refer to nothing but external privileges or rank in service! It is to “salvation” itself, that God has chosen us.
Second, we are warned here that election unto salvation does not disregard the use of appropriate means. Salvation is reached through “sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth.” It is not true that because God has chosen a certain one to salvation, that he will be saved willy-nilly, whether he believes or not! Nowhere do the Scriptures so represent it. The same God who predestined the end, also appointed the means. The same God who “chose unto salvation”, decreed that His purpose should be realized, through the work of the Spirit and belief of the truth.
Third, that God has chosen us unto salvation is a profound cause for fervent praise. Note how strongly the apostle expresses this, “we are bound to give thanks always to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God has from the beginning chosen you to salvation,” etc. Instead of shrinking back in horror from the doctrine of predestination, the believer, when he sees this blessed truth as it is unfolded in the Word, discovers a ground for gratitude and thanksgiving such as nothing else affords, except the unspeakable gift of the Redeemer Himself.
“Who has saved us, and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works—but according to His own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began” (2 Timothy 1:9). How plain and pointed is the language of Holy Writ! It is man who, by his words, darkens counsel. It is impossible to state the case more clearly, or strongly, than it is stated here. Our salvation is not “according to our works;” that is to say, it is not due to anything in us, nor the rewarding of anything from us. Instead, it is the result of God’s own “purpose and grace;” and this grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began. It is by grace we are saved, and in the purpose of God, this grace was bestowed upon us not only before we saw the light, not only before Adam’s fall—but even before that far distant “beginning” of Genesis 1:1. Herein lies the unassailable comfort of God’s people. If His choice has been from eternity—it will last to eternity!
“Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:2). Here again, election by the Father precedes the work of the Holy Spirit in, and the obedience of faith by those who are saved; thus taking it entirely off creature ground, and resting it in the sovereign pleasure of the Almighty. The “foreknowledge of God the Father” does not here refer to His prior knowledge of all things—but signifies that the saints were all eternally present in Christ before the mind of God. God did not “foreknow” that certain ones who heard the Gospel would believe it—apart from the fact that He had “ordained” these certain ones to eternal life. What God saw in all men—was love of sin and hatred of Himself!
The “foreknowledge” of God is based upon His own decrees, as is clear from Acts 2:23, “Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, you have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain!” Note the order here: first God’s “determinate counsel” (His decree), and second His “foreknowledge.” So it is again in Romans 8:28, 29, “For whom He did foreknow, He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son.” But the first word here, “for,” looks back to the preceding verse and the last clause of it reads, “to those who are the called according to His purpose”—these are the ones whom He did “foreknow and predestinate.”
Finally, it needs to be pointed out, that when we read in Scripture of God “knowing” certain people, the word is used in the sense of knowing with approbation and love: “But if any man loves God, the same is known of Him” (1 Corinthians 8:3). To the hypocrites Christ will yet say “I never knew you.” That is, He never loved them. “Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father” signifies, then, chosen by Him as the special objects of His approbation and love.
Summarizing the teaching of these seven passages we learn that, God has “ordained to eternal life” certain ones, and that in consequence of His ordination they, in due time, “believe.” God’s ordination to salvation of His own elect, is not due to any good thing in them nor to anything meritorious from them—but solely of His “grace.” God has designedly selected the most unlikely objects to be the recipients of His special favors, in order that “no flesh should glory in His presence.” God chose His people in Christ before the foundation of the world, not because they were holy—but in order that they “should be holy and without blame before Him.” God, having selected certain ones to salvation, He also decreed the means by which His eternal counsel should be made good; that the very “grace” by which we are saved was, in God’s purpose, “given us in Christ Jesus before the world began.” Long before they were actually created, God’s elect stood present before His mind, were “foreknown” by Him, that is, were the definite objects of His eternal love.
Before turning to the next division of this chapter, a further word concerning the subjects of God’s predestinating grace. We go over this ground again because it is at this point, that the doctrine of God’s sovereignty in predestining certain ones to salvation is most frequently assaulted. Perverters of this truth invariably seek to find some cause outside God’s own will, which moves Him to bestow salvation on certain sinners; something or other is attributed to the creature which entitles him to receive mercy at the hands of the Creator. We return then to the question, Why did God choose the ones He did? What was there in the elect themselves, which attracted God’s heart to them?
Was it because of certain virtues they possessed? because they were generous-hearted, sweet tempered, truth-speaking? In a word, because they were “good,” that God chose them? No! for our Lord said, “There is none good but one, that is God!” (Matthew 19:17).
Was it because of any good works they had performed? No! for it is written, “There is none that does good—no, not one!” (Romans 3:12).
Was it because they evidenced an earnestness and zeal in inquiring after God? No! for it is written again, “There is none that seeks after God!” (Romans 3:11).
Was it because God foresaw they would believe? No! for how can those who are “dead in trespasses and sins” believe in Christ? How could God foreknow some men as believers, when belief was impossible to them? Scripture declares that we “believe through grace” (Acts 18:27). Faith is God’s gift, and apart from this gift—none would believe.
The cause of God’s choice then lies within Himself—and not in the objects of His choice. He chose the ones He did—simply because He chose to choose them!
2. The Sovereignty Of God The Son In Salvation.
For whom did Christ die? It surely does not need arguing that the Father had an express purpose in giving Him to die, or that God the Son had a definite design before Him in laying down His life, “Known unto God are all His works from the beginning of the world” (Acts 15:18). What then was the purpose of the Father—and the design of the Son? We answer, Christ died for “God’s elect.”
We are not unmindful of the fact, that the limited design in the death of Christ has been the subject of much controversy; what great truth revealed in Scripture has not? Nor do we forget that anything which has to do with the person and work of our blessed Lord requires to be handled with the utmost reverence, and that a “Thus says the Lord” must be given in support of every assertion we make. Our appeal shall be to the Law and to the Testimony.
For whom did Christ die? Who were the ones He intended to redeem by His blood-shedding? Surely the Lord Jesus had some absolute determination as to whom He would save, before He went to the Cross. If He had, then it necessarily follows that the extent of that purpose was limited, because an absolute determination or purpose must be effected. If the absolute determination of Christ included all mankind—then all mankind would most certainly be saved.
To escape this inevitable conclusion, many have affirmed that there was no such absolute determination before Christ, that in His death a merely conditional provision of salvation has been made for all mankind. The refutation of this assertion, is found in the promises made by the Father to His Son before He went to the Cross, yes, before He became incarnate. The Old Testament Scriptures represent the Father as promising the Son a certain reward for His sufferings on behalf of sinners. At this stage we shall confine ourselves to one or two statements recorded in the well known fifty-third chapter of Isaiah. There we find God saying, “When He shall make His soul an offering for sin, He shall see His seed. He shall see of the travail of His soul—and shall be satisfied,” and that God’s righteous Servant “should justify many” (vv. 10 and 11). But here we would pause and ask, How could it be certain that Christ should “see His seed,” and “see of the travail of His soul—and be satisfied,” unless the salvation of certain members of the human race had been Divinely decreed, and therefore was sure? How could it be certain that Christ should “justify many,” if no effectual provision was made that any should receive Him as their Savior?
On the other hand, to insist that the Lord Jesus did expressly purpose the salvation of all mankind, is to charge Him with that which no intelligent being should be guilty of—namely, to design that which by virtue of His omniscience He knew would never come to pass! Hence, the only alternative left us is that, so far as the pre-determined purpose of His death is concerned, is that Christ died for the elect alone. Summing up in a sentence, which we trust will be intelligible to every reader, we would say, Christ did not die merely to make possible the salvation of all mankind—but He died to make certain the salvation of all whom the Father had given to Him. Christ did not die simply to render sins pardonable—but “to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself” (Hebrews 9:26). As to who’s “sin” has been “put away,” Scripture leaves us in no doubt—it was that of the elect, the “world” (John 1:29) of God’s people!
(1.) The limited design in the Atonement follows, necessarily, from the eternal choice of the Father of certain ones unto salvation. The Scriptures inform us that, before the Lord became incarnate He said, “Lo, I come to do Your will O God” (Hebrews 10:7), and after He had become incarnate He declared, “For I came down from heaven, not to do My own will—but the will of Him who sent Me” (John 6:38). If then God had from the beginning chosen certain ones to salvation, then, because the will of Christ was in perfect accord with the will of the Father, He would not seek to enlarge upon His election.
What we have just said is not merely a plausible deduction of our own—but is in strict harmony with the express teaching of the Word. Again and again our Lord referred to those whom the Father had “given” Him, and concerning whom He was particularly exercised. Said He, “All whom the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will never cast out. This is the will of Him who sent Me—that I should lose none of those He has given Me, but should raise them up on the last day” (John 6:37, 39).
And again, “Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son so that the Son may glorify You, for You gave Him authority over all flesh; so He may give eternal life to all You have given Him. I have revealed Your name to the men You gave Me from the world. They were Yours, You gave them to Me. I pray for them. I am not praying for the world—but for those You have given Me, because they are Yours. Father, I desire those You have given Me to be with Me where I am. Then they will see My glory, which You have given Me because You loved Me before the world’s foundation!” (John 17:1, 2, 6, 9, 24). Before the foundation of the world the Father predestined a people to be conformed to the image of His Son, and the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus was in order to the carrying out of the Divine purpose.
(2.) The very nature of the Atonement evidences that, in its application to sinners, it was limited in the purpose of God. The Atonement of Christ may be considered from two chief viewpoints: Godward and manward. Godwards, the Cross-work of Christ was an atoning sacrifice, an appeasing of Divine wrath, a satisfaction rendered to Divine justice and holiness. Manwards, it was a substitution, the Innocent taking the place of the guilty, the Just dying for the unjust. But a strict substitution of a Person for persons, and the infliction upon Him of voluntary sufferings, involve the definite recognition on the part of the Substitute and of the One He is to make atonement for—of the persons for whom He acts, whose sins He bears, whose legal obligations He discharges. Furthermore, if the Law-giver accepts the satisfaction which is made by the Substitute, then those for whom the Substitute acts, whose place He takes, must necessarily be acquitted.
For example, if I am in debt and unable to discharge it—and another comes forward and pays my creditor in full and receives a receipt in acknowledgment, then, in the sight of the law—my creditor no longer has any claim upon me. On the Cross the Lord Jesus gave Himself a ransom, and that it was accepted by God, was attested by the open grave three days later.
The question we would here raise is, For whom was this ransom offered? If it was offered for all mankind—then the debt incurred by every man has been cancelled. If Christ bore in His own body on the tree, the sins of all men without exception—then none will perish! If Christ was “made a curse” for all of Adam’s race—then none are now “under condemnation.” God cannot demand payment twice—first at my bleeding Surety’s hand, and then again at mine! But Christ did not discharge the debt of all men without exception, for some there are who will be “cast into prison” (cf. 1 Peter 3:19 where the same Greek word for “prison” occurs), and they shall “I assure you: You will never get out of there until you have paid the last penny!” (Matthew 5:26), which, of course, will never be.
Christ did not bear the sins of all mankind, for some there are who “die in their sins” (John 8:21), and whose “sin remains” (John 9:41). Christ was not “made a curse” for all of Adam’s race, for some there are to whom He will yet say, “Depart from Me, you who are cursed” (Matthew 25:41). To say that Christ died for all alike, to say that He became the Substitute and Surety of the whole human race, to say that He suffered on behalf of and in the stead of all mankind—is to say that He “bore the curse for many who are now bearing the curse for themselves! That He suffered punishment for many who are now lifting up their own eyes in Hell, being in torments! That He paid the redemption price for many who shall yet pay in their own eternal anguish ‘the wages of sin, which is death’” (G. S. Bishop).
But, on the other hand, to say as Scripture says, that Christ was stricken for the transgressions of God’s people, to say that He gave His life for the sheep, to say that He gave His life a ransom for many—is to say that He made an atonement which fully atones! It is to say He paid a price which actually ransoms! It is to say He was set forth an atoning sacrifice, which really atones! It is to say He is a Savior who truly saves!
(3.) Closely connected with, and confirmatory of what we have said above, is the teaching of Scripture concerning our Lord’s continued priesthood. It is as the great High Priest, that Christ now makes intercession. But for whom does He intercede? For the whole human race—or only for His own people? The answer furnished by the New Testament to this question, is as clear as a sunbeam. Our Savior has entered into heaven itself “now to appear in the presence of God for us” (Hebrews 9:24), that is, for those who are “partakers of the heavenly calling” (Hebrews 3:1). And again it is written, “Wherefore He is able also to save them to the uttermost those who come unto God by Him, seeing He ever lives to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:25).
This is in strict accord with the Old Testament type. After slaying the sacrificial animal, Aaron went into the holy of holies as the representative and on behalf of the people of God. It was the names of Israel’s tribes which were engraved on his breastplate, and it was in their interests he appeared before God. Agreeable to this are our Lord’s words in John 17:9, “I pray for them. I am not praying for the world—but for those You have given Me, because they are Yours.”
Another Scripture which deserves careful attention in this connection, is found in Romans 8. In verse 33 the question is asked, “Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect?” and then follows the inspired answer, “God is the One who justifies. Who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is the One who died, but even more, has been raised; He also is at the right hand of God and intercedes for us.” Note particularly that the death and intercession of Christ have one and the same objects! As it was in the type—so it is with the antitype—expiation of sin, and supplication are co-extensive. If then Christ intercedes for the elect alone, and “not for the world,” then He died for them alone.
And observe further, that the death, resurrection, exaltation and intercession of the Lord Jesus, are here assigned as the reason why none can lay any “charge” against God’s elect. Let those who would still take issue with what we are advancing, weigh carefully the following question—If the death of Christ extends equally to all, how does it become security against a “charge,” seeing that all who believe not are “under condemnation”? (John 3:18).
(4.) The number of those who share the benefits of Christ’s death, is determined not only by the nature of the Atonement and the priesthood of Christ—but also by His power. Grant that the One who died upon the cross was God manifest in the flesh, and it follows inevitably that what Christ has purposed—that will He perform; that what He has purchased—that will He possess; that what He has set His heart upon—that will He secure. If the Lord Jesus possesses all power in heaven and earth—then none can successfully resist His will.
But it may be said, This is true in the abstract, nevertheless, Christ refuses to exercise this power, inasmuch as He will never force anyone to receive Him as their Savior. In one sense that is true—but in another sense it is fully untrue. The salvation of any sinner is a matter of Divine power. By nature the sinner is at enmity with God, and nothing but Divine power operating within him, can overcome this enmity! Hence it is written, “No man can come unto Me—unless the Father who has sent Me draws him” (John 6:44). It is the Divine power overcoming the sinner’s innate enmity, which makes him willing to come to Christ that he might have life. But this “enmity” is not overcome in all people—why? Is it because the enmity is too strong to be overcome? Are there some hearts so steeled against Him that Christ is unable to gain entrance? To answer in the affirmative, is to deny His omnipotence.
In the final analysis it is not a question of the sinner’s willingness or unwillingness, for by nature all are unwilling. Willingness to come to Christ is the finished product of Divine power operating in the human heart and will, in overcoming man’s inherent and chronic “enmity,” as it is written, “Your people shall be willing in the day of Your power” (Psalm 110:3). To say that Christ is unable to win to Himself those who are unwilling—is to deny that all power in heaven and earth is His. To say that Christ cannot put forth His power without destroying man’s responsibility, is a begging of the question here raised, for He has put forth His power and made willing those who have come to Him; and if He did this without destroying their responsibility, why “cannot” He do so with others? If He is able to win the heart of one sinner to Himself, why not that of another? To say, as is usually said, the others will not let Him—is to impeach His power and sufficiency. It is a question of His will. If the Lord Jesus has decreed, desired, purposed the salvation of all mankind—then the entire human race will be saved; or, otherwise, He lacks the power to make good His intentions. And in such a case it could never be said, “He shall see of the travail of His soul and be satisfied.” The issue raised involves the deity of the Savior—for a defeated Savior cannot be God.
Having reviewed some of the general principles which require us to believe that the death of Christ was limited in its design, we turn now to consider some of the explicit statements of Scripture which expressly affirm it. In that wondrous and matchless fifty-third chapter of Isaiah, God tells us concerning His Son, “He was cut off from the land of the living; He was struck because of My people’s sins” (v. 8). In perfect harmony with this was the word of the angel to Joseph, “You shall call His name Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21) that is not merely Israel—but all whom the Father had “given” Him.
Our Lord Himself declared, “The Son of Man came not to be ministered unto—but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28) But why has God said “for many” if all without exception were included? It was “His people” whom He “redeemed” (Luke 1:68). It was for “the sheep,” and not the “goats”, that the Good Shepherd gave His life (John 10:11). It was the “Church of God” which He purchased with His own blood (Acts 20:28).
If there is one Scripture more than any other upon which we should be willing to rest our case, it is John 11:49-52. Here we are told, “One of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, ‘You know nothing at all! You’re not considering that it is to your advantage that one man should die for the people rather than the whole nation perish.’ He did not say this on his own, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus was going to die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but also for all the scattered children of God.” Here we are told that Caiaphas “prophesied not of himself,” that is, like those employed by God in Old Testament times (see 2 Peter 1:21), his prophecy originated not with himself—but he spoke as he was moved by the Holy Spirit; thus is the value of his utterance carefully guarded, and the Divine source of this revelation expressly vouched for. Here, too, we are definitely informed that Christ died for “that nation,” that is, Israel, and also for the One Body, His Church, for it is into the Church that the children of God, “scattered” among the nations—are now being “gathered together in one.”
Is it not remarkable, that the members of the Church are here called “children of God” even before Christ died, and therefore before He commenced to build His Church! The vast majority of them had not then been born—yet were they regarded as “children of God;” children of God because they had been chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world, and therefore “predestined unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to Himself” (Ephesians 1:4, 5). In like manner, Christ said, “Other sheep I have (not “shall have”) which are not of this fold” (John 10:16).
If ever the real design of the Cross was uppermost in the heart and speech of our blessed Savior, it was during the last week of His earthly ministry. What then do the Scriptures which treat of this portion of His ministry, record in connection with our present inquiry? They say, “When Jesus knew that His hour was come that He should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved His own which were in the world—He loved them unto the end!” (John 13:1). They tell us how He said, “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down His life for His friends” (John 15:13). They record His word, “For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth” (John 17:19); which means, that for the sake of His own people, those “given” to Him by the Father, He separated Himself unto the death of the Cross. One may well ask, Why such discrimination of terms—if Christ died for all men indiscriminately?
Before closing this section of the chapter we shall consider briefly a few of those passages which seem to teach most strongly, an unlimited design in the death of Christ. In 2 Corinthians 5:14 we read, “One died for all.” But that is not all this Scripture affirms. If the entire verse and passage from which these words are quoted be carefully examined, it will be found that instead of teaching an unlimited atonement, it emphatically argues a limited design in the death of Christ. The whole verse reads, “For the love of Christ constrains us; because we thus judge, that if One died for all, then all died.” It should be pointed out that in the Greek there is the definite article before the last “all,” and that the verb here is in the aorist tense, and therefore should read, “We thus judge: that if One died for all, then they all died.” The apostle is here drawing a conclusion as is clear from the words “we thus judge, that if . . . then they all died.” His meaning is, that those for whom the One died are regarded, judicially, as having died too. The next verse goes on to say, “And He died for all, that those who live should not henceforth live unto themselves—but unto Him which died for them, and rose again.” Christ not only died, but “rose again,” and so, too, did the “all” for whom He died, for it is here said they “live.”
Those for whom a substitute acts, are legally regarded as having acted themselves. In the sight of the law, the substitute and those whom he represents, are one. So it is in the sight of God. Christ was identified with His people and His people were identified with Him, hence when He died—they died (judicially) and when He rose—they rose also. But further we are told in this passage (v. 17), that if any man is in Christ—he is a new creation; he has received a new life in fact, as well as in the sight of the law, hence the “all” for whom Christ died are here bidden to live henceforth no more unto themselves, “but unto Him who died for them, and rose again.” In other words, those who belonged to this “all” for whom Christ died, are here exhorted to manifest practically in their daily lives—what is true of them judicially: they are to “live unto Christ—who died for them.”
Thus the “One died for all” is defined for us. The “all” for whom Christ died are the “those who live,” and which are here bidden to live “unto Him.” This passage then teaches three important truths, and the better to show its scope we mention them in their inverse order: certain ones are here bidden to live no more unto themselves but unto Christ; the ones thus admonished are “those who live,” that is live spiritually, hence, the children of God, for they alone of mankind possess spiritual life, all others being dead in trespasses and sins. Those who do thus live, are the ones, the “all,” the “them,” for whom Christ died and rose again. This passage therefore teaches that Christ died for all His people, the elect, those given to Him by the Father; that as the result of His death (and rising again “for them”) they “live”—and the elect are the only ones who do thus “live;” and this life which is theirs through Christ must be lived “unto Him,” Christ’s love must now “constrain” them.
“For there is one God, and one Mediator, between God and men (not “man”, for this would have been a generic term and signified mankind. O the accuracy of Holy Writ!), the Man Christ Jesus; who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time” (1 Timothy 2:5, 6). It is upon the words “who gave Himself a ransom for all” we would now comment. In Scripture the word “all” (as applied to humankind) is used in two senses—absolutely and relatively. In some passages it means all without exception; in others it signifies all without distinction. As to which of these meanings it bears in any particular passage, must be determined by the context and decided by a comparison of parallel Scriptures. That the word “all” is used in a relative and restricted sense, and in such case means all without distinction and not all without exception, is clear from a number of Scriptures, from which we select two or three as samples:
“And there went out unto Him, all the land of Judea, and they of Jerusalem, and were all baptized by Him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins” (Mark 1:5). Does this mean that every man, woman and child from “all the land of Judea and they of Jerusalem” were baptized of John in Jordan? Surely not! Luke 7:30 distinctly says, “But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the counsel of God against themselves, being not baptized of him.” Then what does “all baptized of him” mean? We answer it does not mean all without exception—but all without distinction, that is, all classes and conditions of men. The same explanation applies to Luke 3:21.
Again we read, “And early in the morning He came again into the Temple, and all the people came unto Him; and He sat down, and taught them” (John 8:2); are we to understand this expression absolutely or relatively? Does “all the people” mean all without exception or all without distinction, that is, all classes and conditions of people? Manifestly the latter; for the Temple was not able to accommodate everybody that was in Jerusalem at this time, namely, the Feast of Tabernacles.
Again, we read in Acts 22:15, “For you (Paul) shall be His witness unto all men of what you have seen and heard.” Surely “all men” here does not mean every member of the human race.
Therefore, we submit that the words “who gave Himself a ransom for all” in 1 Timothy 2:6 mean all without distinction, and not all without exception. He gave Himself a ransom for men of all nationalities, of all generations, of all classes; in a word, for all the elect, as we read in Revelation 5:9, “With your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.” That this is not an arbitrary definition of the “all” in our passage is clear from Matthew 20:28 where we read, “The Son of Man came not to be ministered unto—but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many”, which limitation would be quite meaningless if He gave Himself a ransom for all without exception. Furthermore, the qualifying words here, “to be testified in due time”, must be taken into consideration. If Christ gave Himself a ransom for the whole human race, in what sense will this be “testified in due time”? seeing that multitudes of men will certainly be eternally lost. But if our text means that Christ gave Himself a ransom for God’s elect—for all without distinction, without distinction of nationality, social prestige, moral character, age or gender—then the meaning of these qualifying words is quite intelligible, for in “due time” this will be “testified” in the actual and accomplished salvation of everyone of them.
"But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honor; that He by the grace of God should taste death for every man" (Hebrews 2:9). This passage need not detain us long. A false doctrine has been erected here on a false translation. There is no word whatever in the Greek corresponding to "man" in our English version. In the Greek it is left in the abstract, "He tasted death for every." The Revised Version has correctly omitted "man" from the text--but has wrongly inserted it in italics. Others suppose the word "thing" should be supplied, "He tasted death for everything" --but this, too, we deem a mistake. It seems to us that the words which immediately follow explain our text: "For it became Him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings." It is of "sons" the apostle is here writing, and we suggest an ellipsis of "son"--thus: "He tasted death for every"--and supply son in italics. Thus instead of teaching the unlimited design of Christ's death, Hebrews 2:9, 10 is in perfect accord with the other Scriptures we have quoted which set forth the restricted purpose in the Atonement: it was for the "sons" and not the human race our Lord "tasted death" (1 John 2:2 will be examined in detail in Appendix 4).
In closing this section of the chapter let us say that the only limitation in the Atonement we have contended for, arises from pure sovereignty; it is a limitation not of value and virtue—but of design and application. We turn now to consider—
3. The Sovereignty Of God The Holy Spirit In Salvation.
Since the Holy Spirit is one of the three Persons in the blessed Trinity, it necessarily follows that He is in full sympathy with the will and design of the other Persons of the Godhead. The eternal purpose of the Father in election, the limited design in the death of the Son, and the restricted scope of the Holy Spirit’s operations are in perfect accord. If the Father chose certain ones before the foundation of the world and gave them to His Son, and if it was for them alone that Christ gave Himself a ransom, then the Holy Spirit is not now working to “bring the world to Christ.” The mission of the Holy Spirit in the world today, is to apply the benefits of Christ’s redemptive sacrifice. The question which is now to engage us is not the extent of the Holy Spirit’s power—on that point there can be no doubt, it is infinite—but what we shall seek to show is that, His power and operations are directed by Divine wisdom and sovereignty.
We have just said that the power and operations of the Holy Spirit are directed by Divine wisdom and indisputable sovereignty. In proof of this assertion we appeal first to our Lord’s words to Nicodemus in John 3:8, “The wind blows where it wills, and you hear the sound thereof—but cannot tell whence it comes, and where it goes; so is everyone that is born of the Spirit.” A comparison is here drawn between the wind and the Spirit. The comparison is a double one: first, both are sovereign in their actions, and second, both are mysterious in their operations. The comparison is pointed out in the word “so.” The first point of analogy is seen in the words “where it wills” or “pleases”; the second is found in the words “cannot tell.” With the second point of analogy, we are not now concerned—but upon the first we would comment further.
“The wind blows where it pleases . . . so is everyone that is born of the Spirit.” The wind is an element which man can neither harness nor hinder. The wind neither consults man’s pleasure nor can it be regulated by his devices. So it is with the Spirit. The wind blows when it pleases, where it pleases, as it pleases. So it is with the Spirit. The wind is regulated by Divine wisdom—yet, so far as man is concerned, it is absolutely sovereign in its operations. So it is with the Spirit. Sometimes the wind blows so softly it scarcely rustles a leaf; at other times it blows so loudly that its roar can be heard for miles. So it is in the matter of the new birth; with some the Holy Spirit deals so gently, that His work is imperceptible to human onlookers; with others His action is so powerful, radical, revolutionary, that His operations are patent to many. Sometimes the wind is purely local in its reach, at other times wide-spread in its scope. So it is with the Spirit: today He acts on one or two souls, tomorrow He may, as at Pentecost, “prick in the heart” a whole multitude. But whether He works on few or many—He consults no man. He acts as He pleases. The new birth is due to the sovereign will of the Spirit.
Each of the three Persons in the blessed Trinity is concerned with our salvation: with the Father it is predestination; with the Son propitiation; with the Spirit regeneration. The Father chose us; the Son died for us; the Spirit quickens us. The Father was concerned about us; the Son shed His blood for us, the Spirit performs His work within us. What the Father did was eternal, what the Son did was external, what the Spirit does is internal. It is with the work of the Spirit we are now concerned, with His work in the new birth, and particularly His sovereign operations in the new birth. The Father purposed our new birth; the Son has made possible (by His “travail”) the new birth; but it is the Spirit who effects the new birth, “Born of the Spirit” (John 3:6).
The new birth is solely the work of God the Spirit—and man has no part or lot in it. This from the very nature of the case. Birth altogether excludes the idea of any effort or work on the part of the one who is born. Personally we have no more to do with our spiritual birth—than we had with our natural birth. The new birth is a spiritual resurrection, a “passing from death unto life” (John 5:24) and, clearly, resurrection is altogether outside of man’s province. No corpse can reanimate itself. Hence it is written, “It is the Spirit who quickens; the flesh profits nothing” (John 6:63).
But the Spirit does not “quicken” everybody—why? The usual answer returned to this question is, Because everybody does not trust in Christ. It is supposed that the Holy Spirit quickens only those who believe. But this is to put the cart before the horse. Faith is not the cause of the new birth—but the consequence of it. This ought not to need arguing. Saving faith is an exotic, something that is not native to the human heart. If faith were a natural product of the human heart, the exercise of a principle common to human nature, it would never have been written, “not everyone has faith” (2 Thess. 3:2). Faith is a spiritual grace, the fruit of the spiritual nature, and because the unregenerate are spiritually dead, “dead in trespasses and sins”—then it follows that faith from them is impossible, for a dead man cannot believe anything. “So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Romans 8:8)—but they could if it were possible for the flesh to believe. Compare with this last-quoted Scripture Hebrews 11:6, “But without faith it is impossible to please Him.” Can God be “pleased” or satisfied with anything which does not have its origin in Himself?
That the work of the Holy Spirit precedes our believing is unequivocally established by 2 Thessalonians 2:13, “God has from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit, and belief of the truth.” Note that “sanctification of the Spirit” comes before and makes possible “belief of the truth.” What then is the “sanctification of the Spirit”? We answer, the new birth. In Scripture “sanctification” always means “separation,” separation from something and unto something or someone. Let us now amplify our assertion that the “sanctification of the Spirit” corresponds to the new birth and points to the positional effect of it.
Here is a servant of God who preaches the Gospel to a congregation in which are an hundred unsaved people. He brings before them the teaching of Scripture concerning their ruined and lost condition; he speaks of God, His character and righteous demands; he tells of Christ meeting God’s demands, and dying the Just for the unjust, and declares that through “this Man” is now preached the forgiveness of sins; he closes by urging the lost to believe what God has said in His Word and receive His Son as their own personal Savior. The meeting is over; the congregation disperses; ninety-nine of the unsaved have refused to come to Christ that they might have life, and go out into the night having no hope, and without God in the world. But the hundredth person heard the Word of life; the Seed sown fell into ground which had been prepared by God; he believed the Good News, and goes home rejoicing that his name is written in heaven. He has been “born again,” and just as a newly-born babe in the natural world begins life by clinging instinctively, in its helplessness, to its mother, so this newborn soul has clung to Christ. Just as we read, “The Lord opened” the heart of Lydia “that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul” (Acts 16:14), so in the case supposed above, the Holy Spirit quickened that one before he believed the Gospel message. Here then is the “sanctification of the Spirit:” this one soul who has been born again has, by virtue of his new birth, been separated from the other ninety-nine. Those born again are, by the Spirit, set apart from those who are dead in trespasses and sins.
To return to 2 Thessalonians 2:13: “But we are bound to give thanks always to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God has from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth.” The order of thought here is most important and instructive. First, God’s eternal choice; second, the sanctification of the Spirit; third, belief of the truth. Precisely the same order is found in 1 Peter 1:2, “Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ.” We take it that the “obedience” here is the “obedience of faith” (Romans 1:5), which appropriates the virtues of the sprinkled blood of the Lord Jesus. So then before the “obedience” (of faith, cf. Hebrews 5:9), there is the work of the Spirit setting us apart, and behind that is the election of God the Father. The ones “sanctified of the Spirit” then, are they whom “God has from the beginning chosen to salvation” (2 Thess. 2:13), those who are “elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father” (1 Peter 1:2).
But, it may be said—is not the present mission of the Holy Spirit to “convict the world of sin”? And we answer, It is not. The mission of the Spirit is threefold; to glorify Christ, to vivify the elect, to edify the saints. John 16:8-11 does not describe the “mission” of the Spirit—but sets forth the significance of His presence here in the world. It treats not of His subjective work in sinners, showing them their need of Christ, by searching their consciences and striking terror to their hearts; what we have there is entirely objective. To illustrate. Suppose I saw a man hanging on the gallows, of what would that “convince” me? Why, that he was a murderer. How would I thus be convinced? By reading the record of his trial? by hearing a confession from his own lips? No! but by the fact that he was hanging there. So the fact that the Holy Spirit is here, furnishes proof of the world’s guilt, of God’s righteousness, and of the Devil’s judgment.
The Holy Spirit ought not to be here at all. That is a startling statement—but we make it deliberately. Christ is the One who ought to be here. He was sent here by the Father—but the world did not want Him, would not have Him, hated Him, and cast Him out. And the presence of the Spirit here on earth, instead evidences the world’s guilt. The coming of the Spirit was a proof to demonstration of the resurrection, ascension, and glory of the Lord Jesus. His presence on earth reverses the world’s verdict, showing that God has set aside the blasphemous judgment in the palace of Israel’s high priest and in the hall of the Roman governor. The “reproof” of the Spirit abides, and abides altogether irrespective of the world’s reception or rejection of His testimony.
Had our Lord been referring here to the gracious work which the Spirit would perform in those who should be brought to feel their need of Him, He had said that the Spirit would convict men of their unrighteousness, their lack of righteousness. But this is not the thought here at all. The descent of the Spirit from heaven establishes God’s righteousness, Christ’s righteousness. The proof of that is, Christ has gone to the Father. Had Christ been an Imposter, as the religious world insisted when they cast Him out, the Father had not received Him. The fact that the Father did exalt Him to His own right hand, demonstrates that He was innocent of the charges laid against Him; and the proof that the Father has received Him, is the presence now of the Holy Spirit on earth, for Christ has sent Him from the Father (John 16:7)! The world was unrighteous in casting Him out, the Father righteous in glorifying Him; and this is what the Spirit’s presence here establishes.
“Of judgment, because the Prince of this world is judged” (v. 11). This is the logical and inevitable climax. The world is brought in guilty for their rejection of, for their refusal to receive, Christ. Its condemnation is exhibited by the Father’s exaltation of the spurned One. Therefore nothing awaits the world, and its Prince—but judgment. The “judgment” of Satan is already established by The Spirit’s presence here, for Christ, through death, set at nothing him who had the power of death, that is, the Devil (Hebrews 2:14). When God’s time comes for the Spirit to depart from the earth, then His sentence will be executed, both on the world and its Prince. In the light of this unspeakably solemn passage, we need not be surprised to find Christ saying, “The Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it sees Him not, neither knows Him”. No, the world wants Him not; He condemns the world.
“And when He is come, He will reprove (or, better, “convict”—bring in guilty) the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: Of sin, because they believe not on Me; Of righteousness, because I go to My Father, and you see Me no more; Of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged” (John 16:8-11). Three things, then, the presence of the Holy Spirit on earth demonstrates to the world: first, its sin, because the world refused to believe on Christ; second, God’s righteousness in exalting to His own right hand the One cast out, and now no more seen by the world; third, judgment, because Satan the world’s prince is already judged, though execution of his judgment is yet future. Thus the Holy Spirit’s presence here displays things as they really are.
The Holy Spirit is sovereign in His operations,, and His mission is confined to God’s elect. They are the ones He “comforts,” “seals,” guides into all truth, shows things to come, etc. The work of the Spirit is necessary in order to the complete accomplishment of the Father’s eternal purpose. Speaking hypothetically—but reverently, be it said, that if God had done nothing more than given Christ to die for sinners—then not a single sinner would ever have been saved. In order for any sinner to see his need of a Savior and be willing to receive the Savior he needs, the work of the Holy Spirit upon and within him—were imperatively required. Had God done nothing more than given Christ to die for sinners and then sent forth His servants to proclaim salvation through Christ, leaving sinners entirely to themselves to accept or reject as they pleased, then every sinner would have rejected Christ, because at heart every man hates God and is at enmity with Him. Therefore the work of the Holy Spirit was needed to bring the sinner to Christ, to overcome his innate opposition, and compel him to accept the provision God has made. We say “compel” the sinner, for this is precisely what the Holy Spirit does, has to do, and this leads us to consider at some length, though as briefly as possible, the parable of the “Marriage Supper.”
In Luke 14:16 we read, “A certain man made a great supper, and bade many.” By comparing carefully what follows here with Matthew 22:2-10 several important distinctions will be observed. We take it that these passages are two independent accounts of the same parable, differing in detail according to the distinctive purpose and design of the Holy Spirit in each Gospel. Matthew’s account—in harmony with the Spirit’s presentation there of Christ as the Son of David, the King of the Jews—says, “A certain king made a marriage for his son.” Luke’s account—where the Spirit presents Christ as the Son of Man—says, “A certain man made a great supper and bade many.” Matthew 22:3 says, “And sent forth His servants;” Luke 14:17 says, “And sent His servant.” Now what we wish particularly to call attention to is, that all through Matthew’s account it is “servants,” whereas in Luke it is always “servant.” The class of readers for whom we are writing are those that believe, unreservedly, in the verbal inspiration of the Scriptures, and such will readily acknowledge there must be some reason for this change from the plural number in Matthew to the singular number in Luke. We believe the reason is a weighty one and that attention to this variation reveals an important truth. We believe that the “servants” in Matthew, speaking generally, are all who go forth preaching the Gospel—but that the “Servant” in Luke 14 is the Holy Spirit Himself. This is not incongruous, or derogatory to the Holy Spirit, for God the Son, in the days of His earthly ministry, was the Servant of Jehovah (Isaiah 42:1). It will be observed that in Matthew 22 the “servants” are sent forth to do three things: first, to “call” to the wedding (v. 3); second, to “tell those which are bidden . . . all things are ready: come unto the marriage” (v. 4); third, to “bid to the marriage” (v. 9); and these three are the things which those who minister the Gospel today are now doing. In Luke 14 the Servant is also sent forth to do three things: first, He is “to say to them that were bidden, Come: for all things are now ready” (v. 17) ; second, He is to “bring in the poor, and the maimed, and the halt, and the blind” (v. 21); third, He is to “compel them to come in” (v. 23), and the last two of these the Holy Spirit alone can do!
In the above Scripture we see that “the Servant,” the Holy Spirit, compels certain ones to come in to the “supper” and herein is seen His sovereignty, His omnipotency, His Divine sufficiency. The clear implication from this word “compel” is, that those whom the Holy Spirit does “bring in” are not willing of themselves to come. This is exactly what we have sought to show in previous paragraphs. By nature, God’s elect are children of wrath even as others (Ephesians 2:3), and as such their hearts are at enmity with God. But this “enmity” of theirs is overcome by the Spirit and He “compels” them to come in. Is it not clear then that the reason why others are left outside, is not only because they are unwilling to go in—but also because the Holy Spirit does not “compel” them to come in? Is it not manifest that the Holy Spirit is sovereign in the exercise of His power, that as the wind “blows where it pleases”, so the Holy Spirit operates where He pleases?
And now to sum up. We have sought to show the perfect consistency of God’s ways: that each Person in the Godhead acts in sympathy and harmony with the Others. God the Father elected certain ones to salvation, God the Son died for the elect, and God the Spirit quickens the elect. Well may we sing,
Praise God from whom all blessings flow,
Praise Him all creatures here below,
Praise Him above you heavenly host,
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
THE SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD IN REPROBATION]
[[“Behold therefore, the goodness and the severity of God.”
In the last chapter when treating of the Sovereignty of God the Father in Salvation, we examined seven passages which represent Him as making a choice from among the children of men, and predestinating certain ones to be conformed to the image of His Son. The thoughtful reader will naturally ask, “And what of those who were not ordained to eternal life?” The answer which is usually returned to this question, even by those who profess to believe what the Scriptures teach concerning God’s sovereignty, is, that God passes by the non-elect, leaves them alone to go their own way, and in the end casts them into the Lake of Fire because they refused His way, and rejected the Savior of His providing. But this is only a part of the truth; the other part—that which is most offensive to the carnal mind—is either ignored or denied.
In view of the great solemnity of the subject here before us, in view of the fact that today almost all—even those who profess to be Calvinists—reject and repudiate this doctrine, and in view of the fact that this is one of the points in our book which is calculated to raise the most controversy, we feel that an extended enquiry into this aspect of God’s Truth is demanded. That this branch of the subject of God’s sovereignty is profoundly mysterious we freely allow—yet, that is no reason why we should reject it. The trouble is that, nowadays, there are so many who receive the testimony of God—only so far as they can satisfactorily account for all the reasons and grounds of His conduct, which means they will accept nothing but that which can be measured in the petty scales of their own limited capacities!
Stating it in its baldest form, the point now to be considered is, Has God fore-ordained certain ones to damnation? That many will be eternally damned is clear from Scripture; that each one will be judged according to his works and reap as he has sown, and that in consequence his “damnation is just” (Romans 3:8), is equally sure; and that God decreed that the non-elect should choose the course they follow—we now undertake to prove.
From what has been before us in the previous chapter concerning the election of some to salvation, it would unavoidably follow, even if Scripture had been silent upon it, that there must be a rejection of others. Every choice, evidently and necessarily implies a refusal, for where there is no leaving out—there can be no choice. If there are some whom God has elected unto salvation (2 Thess. 2:13), there must be others who are not elected unto salvation. If there are some that the Father gave to Christ (John 6:37), there must be others whom He did not give unto Christ. If there are some whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of Life (Revelation 21:27), there must be others whose names are not written there. That this is the case we shall fully prove below.
Now all will acknowledge that from the foundation of the world, God certainly fore-knew and fore-saw who would and who would not receive Christ as their Savior, therefore in giving being and birth to those He knew would reject Christ, He necessarily created them unto damnation. All that can be said in reply to this is, No—while God did foreknow these ones would reject Christ—yet He did not decree that they should. But this is a begging of the real question at issue. God had a definite reason why He created men, a specific purpose why He created this and that individual, and in view of the eternal destination of His creatures, He purposed either that this one should spend eternity in Heaven—or that this one should spend eternity in the Lake of Fire! If then He foresaw that in creating a certain person, that that person would despise and reject the Savior—yet knowing this beforehand He,
nevertheless, brought that person into existence, then it is clear He designed and ordained that that person should be eternally lost.
Again—faith is God’s gift, and the purpose to give it only to some, involves the purpose not to give it to others. Without faith there is no salvation, “He who believes not shall be damned.” Hence if there were some of Adam’s descendants to whom He purposed not to give faith, it must be because He ordained that they should be damned.
Not only is there no escape from these conclusions—but history confirms them. Before the Divine Incarnation, for almost two thousand years, the vast majority of mankind were left destitute of even the external means of grace, being favored with no preaching of God’s Word and with no written revelation of His will. For many long centuries Israel was the only nation to whom the Deity vouchsafed any special discovery of Himself, “Who in times past allowed all nations to walk in their own ways” (Acts 14:16), “You only (Israel) have I known of all the families of the earth” (Amos 3:2). Consequently, as all other nations were deprived of the preaching of God’s Word, they were strangers to the faith that comes thereby (Romans 10:17). These nations were not only ignorant of God Himself—but of the way to please Him, of the true manner of acceptance with Him, and the means of arriving at the everlasting enjoyment of Himself.
Now if God had willed their salvation—would He not have vouchsafed them the means of salvation? Would He not have given them all things necessary to that end? But it is an undeniable matter of fact—that He did not. If, then, Deity can, consistently, with His justice, mercy, and benevolence, deny to some the means of grace, and shut them up in gross darkness and unbelief (because of the sins of their forefathers, generations before), why should it be deemed incompatible with His perfections to exclude some persons, many, from grace itself, and from that eternal life which is connected with it? seeing that He is Lord and sovereign Disposer both of the end to which the means lead, and the means which lead to that end?
Coming down to our own day, and to those in our own country—leaving out the almost innumerable crowds of unevangelized heathen—is it not evident that there are many living in lands where the Gospel is preached, lands which are full of churches—who die strangers to God and His holiness? True, the means of grace were close to their hand—but many of them knew it not. Thousands are born into homes where they are taught from infancy to regard all Christians as hypocrites and preachers as arch-humbugs. Others, are instructed from the cradle in Roman Catholicism, and are trained to regard Evangelical Christianity as deadly heresy, and the Bible as a book highly dangerous for them to read! Others, reared in “Christian Science” families, know no more of the true Gospel of Christ than do the unevangelized heathen! The great majority of these, die in utter ignorance of the Way of Peace.
Now are we not obliged to conclude, that it was not God’s will to communicate grace to them? Had His will been otherwise, would He not have actually communicated His grace to them? If, then, it was the will of God, in time, to refuse to them His grace—it must have been His will from all eternity, since His will is, as Himself, the same yesterday, and today and forever. Let it not be forgotten that God’s providences are but the manifestations of His decrees. What God does in time—is only what He purposed in eternity—His own will being the sole cause of all His acts and works. Therefore from His actually leaving some men in final impenitency and unbelief—we assuredly gather it was His everlasting determination so to do; and consequently that He reprobated some from before the foundation of the world.
In the Westminster Confession it is said, “God from all eternity did by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely and unchangeably foreordain whatever comes to pass”. The late Mr. F. W. Grant—a most careful and cautious student and writer—commenting on these words said: “It is perfectly, divinely true, that God has ordained for His own glory whatever comes to pass.” Now if these statements are true, is not the doctrine of Reprobation established by them? What, in human history, is the one thing which does come to pass every day? What—but that men and women die, pass out of this world into a hopeless eternity, an eternity of suffering and woe! If then God has foreordained whatever comes to pass—then He must have decreed that vast numbers of human beings should pass out of this world unsaved—to suffer eternally in the Lake of Fire! Admitting the general premise, is not the specific conclusion inevitable?
In reply to the preceding paragraphs the reader may say—All this is simply reasoning, logical no doubt—but yet mere inferences. Very well, we will now point out that in addition to the above conclusions, there are many passages in Holy Writ, which are most clear and definite in their teaching on this solemn subject; passages which are too plain to be misunderstood and too strong to be evaded. The marvel is that so many good men have denied their undeniable affirmations.
“Joshua waged war against all these kings for a long time. Except for the Hivites living in Gibeon, not one city made a treaty of peace with the Israelites, who took them all in battle. For it was the Lord himself who hardened their hearts to wage war against Israel, so that he might destroy them totally, exterminating them without mercy, as the Lord had commanded Moses.” (Joshua 11:18-20). What could be plainer than this? Here was a large number of Canaanites whose hearts the Lord hardened, whom He had purposed to utterly destroy, to whom He showed “no favor”. Granted that they were wicked, immoral, idolatrous; were they any worse than the immoral, idolatrous cannibals of the South Sea Islands (and many other places), to whom God gave the Gospel through John G. Paton! Assuredly not! Then why did not Jehovah command Israel to teach the Canaanites His laws and instruct them concerning sacrifices to the true God? Plainly, because He had marked them out for destruction, and if so, that from all eternity.
"The Lord works out everything for His own ends--even the wicked for a day of disaster." (Proverbs 16:4). That the Lord made all people--every reader of this book will allow. That He made all for His own ends--is not so widely believed. That God made us, not for our own sakes--but for Himself; not for our own happiness--but for His glory; is, nevertheless, repeatedly affirmed in Scripture, Revelation 4:11. But Proverbs 16:4 goes even farther: it expressly declares that the Lord made the wicked for the day of disaster: that was His design in giving them being. But why? Does not Romans 9:17 tell us, "For the Scripture says unto Pharaoh, Even for this purpose have I raised you up, that I might show My power in you, and that My name might be declared throughout all the earth!" God has made the wicked that, at the end, He may demonstrate "His power" --demonstrate it by showing what an easy matter it
is for Him to subdue the stoutest rebel, and to overthrow His mightiest enemy.
“And then will I profess unto them—I never knew you! Depart from Me, you who work iniquity” (Matthew 7:23). In the previous chapter it has been shown that, the words “know” and “foreknowledge” when applied to God in the Scriptures, have reference not simply to His prescience (that is His bare knowledge beforehand), but to His knowledge of approbation. When God said to Israel, “You only have I known of all the families of the earth” (Amos 3:2), it is evident that He meant, “You only had I any favorable regard to.” When we read in Romans 11:2 “God has not cast away His people (Israel) whom He foreknew,” it is obvious that what was signified is, “God has not finally rejected that people whom He has chosen as the objects of His love. cf. Deuteronomy 7:7, 8. In the same way (and it is the only possible way) are we to understand Matthew 7:23. In the Day of Judgment the Lord will say unto many, “I never knew you”. Note, it is more than simply “I know you not”. His solemn declaration will be, “I never knew you”—you were never the objects of My approbation. Contrast this with “I know (love) My sheep, and am known (loved) of Mine” (John 10:14). The “sheep”, His elect, the “few”, He does “know”; but the reprobate, the non-elect, the “many” He knows not—no, not even before the foundation of the world did He know them—He “NEVER” knew them!
In Romans 9 the doctrine of God’s sovereignty in its application to both the elect and the reprobate is treated of at length. A detailed exposition of this important chapter would be beyond our present scope; all that we can essay is to dwell upon the part of it which most clearly bears upon the aspect of the subject which we are now considering.
Verse 17: “For the Scripture says unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised you up, that I might show My power in you, and that My name might be declared throughout all the earth.” These words refer us back to verses 13 and 14. In verse 13 God’s love to Jacob and His hatred to Esau are declared. In verse 14 it is asked “Is there unrighteousness with God?” and here in verse 17 the apostle continues his reply to the objection.
We cannot do better now than quote from Calvin’s comments upon this verse. “There are here two things to be considered—the predestination of Pharaoh to ruin, which is to be referred to the past and yet the hidden counsel of God—and then, the design of this, which was to make known the name of God. As many interpreters, striving to modify this passage, pervert it, we must first observe, that for the word ‘I have raised you up’, or stirred up, in the Hebrew is, ‘I have appointed’, by which it appears, that God, designing to show that the contumacy of Pharaoh would not prevent Him to deliver His people, not only affirms that his fury had been foreseen by Him, and that He had prepared means for restraining it—but that He had also thus designedly ordained it and indeed for this end—that he might exhibit a more illustrious evidence of His own power.” It will be observed that Calvin gives as the force of the Hebrew word which Paul renders “For this purpose have I raised you up,”, “I have appointed”. As this is the word on which the doctrine and argument of the verse turns we would further point out that in making this quotation from Exodus 9:16 the apostle significantly departs from the Septuagint—the version then in common use, and from which he most frequently quotes—and substitutes a clause for the first that is given by the Septuagint: instead of “On this account you have been preserved”, he gives “For this very end have I raised you up!”
But we must now consider in more detail the case of Pharaoh which sums up in concrete example the great controversy between man and his Maker. “For now I will stretch out My hand, that I may smite you and your people with pestilence; and you shall be cut off from the earth. And in very deed for this cause have I raised you up, for to show in you My power; and that My name may be declared throughout all the earth” (Exodus 9:15, 16). Upon these words we offer the following comments:
First, we know from Exodus 14 and 15 that Pharaoh was “cut off”, that he was cut off by God, that he was cut off in the very midst of his wickedness, that he was cut off not by sickness nor by the infirmities which are incident to old age, nor by what men term an accident—but cut off by the immediate hand of God in judgment.
Second, it is clear that God raised up Pharaoh for this very end—to “cut him off,” which in the language of the New Testament means “destroyed.” God never does anything without a previous design. In giving him being, in preserving him through infancy and childhood, in raising him to the throne of Egypt, God had one end in view. That such was God’s purpose is clear from His words to Moses before he went down to Egypt, to demand of Pharaoh that Jehovah’s people should be allowed to go a three days’ journey into the wilderness to worship Him, “And the Lord said unto Moses, When you go to return into Egypt, see that you do all these wonders before Pharaoh, which I have put in your hand—but I will harden his heart, that he shall not let the people go” (Exodus 4:21). But not only so, God’s design and purpose was declared long before this. Four hundred years previously God had said to Abraham, “Know of a surety that your seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years; and also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge” (Genesis 15:13, 14). From these words it is evident (a nation and its king being looked at as one in the O. T.) that God’s purpose was formed long before He gave Pharaoh being.
Third, an examination of God’s dealings with Pharaoh makes it clear that Egypt’s king was indeed a “vessel of wrath fitted to destruction.” Placed on Egypt’s throne, with the reins of government in his hands, he sat as head of the nation which occupied the first rank among the peoples of the world. There was no other monarch on earth able to control or dictate to Pharaoh. To such a dizzy height did God raise this reprobate, and such a course was a natural and necessary step to prepare him for his final fate, for it is a Divine axiom that “pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall.” Further—and this is deeply important to note and highly significant—God removed from Pharaoh the one outward restraint which was calculated to act as a check upon him. The bestowing upon Pharaoh of the unlimited powers of a king was setting him above all legal influence and control. But besides this, God removed Moses from his presence and kingdom. Had Moses, who not only was skilled in all the wisdom of the Egyptians but also had been reared in Pharaoh’s household, been suffered to remain in close proximity to the throne, there can be no doubt but that his example and influence had been a powerful check upon the king’s wickedness and tyranny. This, though not the only cause, was plainly one reason why God sent Moses into Midian, for it was during his absence that Egypt’s inhuman king framed his most cruel edicts. God designed, by removing this restraint, to give Pharaoh full opportunity to fill up the full measure of his sins, and ripen himself for his fully-deserved but predestined ruin.
Fourth, God “hardened” his heart as He declared He would (Exodus 4:21). This is in full accord with the declarations of Holy Scripture, “The preparations of the heart in man, and the answer of the tongue, is from the Lord” (Proverbs 16:1); “The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, as the rivers of water, He turns it wherever He will” (Proverbs 21:1). Like all other kings, Pharaoh’s heart was in the hand of the Lord; and God had both the right and the power to turn it wherever He pleased. And it pleased Him to turn it against all good. God determined to hinder Pharaoh from granting his request through Moses to let Israel go, until He had fully prepared him for his final overthrow, and because nothing short of this would fully fit him, God hardened his heart.
Finally, it is worthy of careful consideration to note how the vindication of God in His dealings with Pharaoh has been fully attested. Most remarkable it is to discover that we have Pharaoh’s own testimony in favor of God and against himself! In Exodus 9:15 and 16 we learn how God had told Pharaoh for what purpose He had raised him up, and in verse 27 of the same chapter we are told that Pharaoh said, “I have sinned this time: the Lord is righteous, and I and my people are wicked.” Mark that this was said by Pharaoh after he knew that God had raised him up in order to “cut him off”, after his severe judgments had been sent upon him, after he had hardened his own heart. By this time Pharaoh was fairly ripened for judgment, and fully prepared to decide whether God had injured him, or whether he had sought to injure God; and he fully acknowledges that he had “sinned” and that God was “righteous”. Again; we have the witness of Moses who was fully acquainted with God’s conduct toward Pharaoh. He had heard at the beginning what was God’s design in connection with Pharaoh; he had witnessed God’s dealings with him; he had observed his “long-sufferance” toward this vessel of wrath fitted to destruction; and at last he had beheld him cut off in Divine judgment at the Red Sea. How then was Moses impressed?
Does he raise the cry of injustice? Does he dare to charge God with unrighteousness? Far from it. Instead, he says, “Who is like unto You, O
Lord, among the gods? “Who is like You, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders!” (Exodus 15:11).
Was Moses moved by a vindictive spirit as he saw Israel’s arch-enemy “cut off” by the waters of the Red Sea? Surely not. But to remove forever all doubt upon this score, it remains to be pointed out how that saints in heaven, after they have witnessed the sore judgments of God, join in singing “the song of Moses the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb saying, Great and marvelous are Your works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are Your ways, You King of Nations” (Revelation 15:3). Here then is the climax, and the full and final vindication of God’s dealings with Pharaoh. Saints in heaven join in singing the Song of Moses, in which that servant of God celebrated Jehovah’s praise in overthrowing Pharaoh and his hosts, declaring that in so acting God was not unrighteous but just and true. We must believe, therefore, that the Judge of all the earth did right in creating and destroying this vessel of wrath, Pharaoh.
The case of Pharaoh establishes the principle and illustrates the doctrine of Reprobation. If God actually reprobated Pharaoh, we may justly conclude that He reprobates all others whom He did not predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son. This inference the apostle Paul manifestly draws from the fate of Pharaoh, for in Romans 9, after referring to God’s purpose in raising up Pharaoh, he continues, “therefore”. The case of Pharaoh is introduced to prove the doctrine of Reprobation as the counterpart of the doctrine of Election.
In conclusion, we would say that in forming Pharaoh, God displayed neither justice nor injustice—but only His bare sovereignty. As the potter is sovereign in forming vessels, so God is sovereign in forming moral agents.
Verse 18: “Therefore has He mercy on whom He will have mercy, and whom He will He hardens”. The “therefore” announces the general conclusion which the apostle draws from all he had said in the three preceding verses in denying that God was unrighteous in loving Jacob and hating Esau, and specifically it applies the principle exemplified in God’s dealings with Pharaoh. It traces everything back to the sovereign will of the
Creator. He loves one and hates another, He exercises mercy toward some and hardens others, without reference to anything—except His own sovereign will.
That which is most repellant to the carnal mind in the above verse is the reference to hardening, “Whom He will—He hardens”, and it is just here that so many commentators and expositors have adulterated the truth. The most common view is that the apostle is speaking of nothing more than judicial hardening, that is, a forsaking by God because these subjects of His displeasure had first rejected His truth and forsaken Him. Those who contend for this interpretation appeal to such scriptures as Romans 1:19-26, “God gave them up”, that is (see context) those who “knew God” yet glorified Him not as God (v. 21). Appeal is also made to 2 Thessalonians 2:10-12. But it is to be noted that the word “harden” does not occur in either of these passages. But further. We submit that Romans 9:18 has no reference whatever to judicial “hardening”. The apostle is not there speaking of those who had already turned their backs on God’s truth—but instead, he is dealing with God’s sovereignty, God’s sovereignty as seen not only in showing mercy to whom He wills—but also in hardening whom He pleases. The exact words are “Whom He will”—not “all who have rejected His truth”, “He hardens”, and this, coming immediately after the mention of Pharaoh, clearly fixes their meaning. The case of Pharaoh is plain enough, though man by his glosses has done his best to hide the truth.
Verse 18: “Therefore has He mercy on whom He will have mercy, and whom He will He hardens”. This affirmation of God’s sovereign “hardening” of sinners’ hearts—in contradistinction from judicial hardening—is not alone. Mark the language of John 12:37-40, “But though He had done so many miracles before them—yet they believed not on Him: that the saying of Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spoke, Lord, who has believed our report? and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? Therefore they could not believe (why?), because that Isaiah said again, He has blinded their eyes, and hardened their hearts (why? Because they had refused to believe on Christ? This is the popular belief—but mark the answer of Scripture) that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them.” Now, reader, it is just a question as to whether or not you will believe what God has revealed in His Word. It is not a matter of prolonged searching or profound study—but a childlike spirit which is needed, in order to understand this doctrine.
Verse 19: “You will say then unto me, Why does He yet find fault? For who has resisted His will?” Is not this the very objection which is urged today? The force of the apostle’s questions here seems to be this: Since everything is dependent on God’s will, which is irreversible, and since this will of God, according to which He can do everything as sovereign—since He can have mercy on whom He wills to have mercy, and can refuse mercy and inflict punishment on whom He chooses to do so—why does He not will to have mercy on all, so as to make them obedient, and thus put finding of fault out of court? Now it should be particularly noted that the apostle does not repudiate the ground on which the objection rests. He does not say God does not find fault. Nor does he say, Men may resist His will. Furthermore; he does not explain away the objection by saying: You have altogether misapprehended my meaning when I said ‘Whom He wills He treats kindly, and whom He wills He treats severely’. But he says, “first, this is an objection you have no right to make; and then, This is an objection you have no reason to make” (vide Dr. Brown). The objection was utterly inadmissible, for it was a replying against God. It was to complain about, argue against, what God had done!
Verse 19: “You will say then unto me, Why does He yet find fault? For who has resisted His will?” The language which the apostle here puts into the mouth of the objector is so plain and pointed, that misunderstanding ought to be impossible. Why does He yet find fault? Now, reader, what can these words mean? Formulate your own reply before considering ours. Can the force of the apostle’s question be any other than this: If it is true that God has “mercy” on whom He wills, and also “hardens” whom He wills, then what becomes of human responsibility? In such a case men are nothing better than puppets, and if this be true then it would be unjust for God to “find fault” with His helpless creatures. Mark the word “then”—You will say then unto me—he states the (false) inference or conclusion which the objector draws from what the apostle had been saying. And mark, my reader, the apostle readily saw the doctrine he had formulated would raise this very objection, and unless what we have written throughout this book provokes, in some at least, (all whose carnal minds are not subdued by divine grace) the same objection, then it must be either because we have not presented the doctrine which is set forth in Romans 9, or else because human nature has changed since the apostle’s day.
Consider now the remainder of the verse (19). The apostle repeats the same objection in a slightly different form—repeats it so that his meaning may not be misunderstood—namely, “For who has resisted His will?” It is clear then that the subject under immediate discussion relates to God’s “will”, that is, His sovereign ways, which confirms what we have said above upon verses 17 and 18, where we contended that it is not judicial hardening which is in view (that is, hardening because of previous rejection of the truth)—but sovereign “hardening”, that is, the “hardening” of a fallen and sinful creature for no other reason than that which inheres in the sovereign will of God. And hence the question, “Who has resisted His will?” What then does the apostle say in reply to these objections?
Verse 20: “Nay but, O man, who are you that replies against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why have you made me thus?” The apostle, then, did not say the objection was pointless and groundless, instead, he rebukes the objector for his impiety. He reminds him that he is merely a “man”, a creature, and that as such it is most unseemly and impertinent for him to “reply (argue, or reason) against God”. Furthermore, he reminds him that he is nothing more than a “thing formed”, and therefore, it is madness and blasphemy to rise up against the Former Himself. Before leaving this verse it should be pointed out that its closing words, “Why have you made me thus” help us to determine, unmistakably, the precise subject under discussion. In the light of the immediate context what can be the force of the “thus”? What—but as in the case of Esau, why have you made me an object of “hatred”? What—but as in the case of Pharaoh, Why have you made me simply to “harden” me? What other meaning can, fairly, be assigned to it?
It is highly important to keep clearly before us that the apostle’s object throughout this passage is to treat of God’s sovereignty in dealing with, on the one hand, those whom He loves—vessels unto honor and vessels of mercy, and also, on the other hand, with those whom He “hates” and “hardens”—vessels unto dishonor and vessels of wrath.
Verses 21-23: “Has not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump, to make one vessel unto honor, and another unto dishonor? What if God, willing to show His wrath, and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction: And that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had afore prepared unto glory.” In these verses the apostle furnishes a full and final reply to the objections raised in verse 19. First, he asks, “Has not the potter power over the clay?” etc. It is to be noted the word here translated “power” is a different one in the Greek from the one rendered “power” in verse 22 where it can only signify His might; but here in verse 21, the “power” spoken of must refer to the Creator’s rights or sovereign prerogatives; that this is so, appears from the fact that the same Greek word is employed in John 1:12, “As many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God”—which, as is well known, means the right or privilege to become the sons of God. The R. 5. employs “right” both in John 1:12 and Romans 9:21.
Verse 21: “Has not the potter power over the clay of the same lump, to make one vessel unto honor, and another unto dishonor?” That the “potter” here is God Himself is certain from the previous verse, where the apostle asks “Who are you that replies against God?” and then, speaking in the terms of the figure he was about to use, continues, “Shall the thing formed say to Him that formed it” etc. Some there are who would rob these words of their force by arguing that while the human potter makes certain vessels to be used for less honorable purposes than others, nevertheless, they are designed to fill some useful place. But the apostle does not here say, Has not the potter power over the clay of the same lump, to make one vessel unto an honorable use and another to a less honorable use—but he speaks of some “vessels” being made “unto dishonor”. It is true, of course, that God’s wisdom will yet be fully vindicated, inasmuch as the destruction of the reprobate will promote His glory—in what way the next verse tells us.
Before passing to the next verse let us summarize the teaching of this and the two previous ones. In verse 19 two questions are asked, “You will say then unto me, Why does He yet find fault? For who has resisted His will?” To those questions a threefold answer is returned. First, in verse 20 the apostle denies the creature the right to sit in judgment upon the ways of the Creator, “Nay but, O man who are you that replies against God? Shall the thing formed say to Him that formed it, Why have You made me thus?” The apostle insists that the rectitude of God’s will must not be questioned. Whatever He does must be right. Second, in verse 21 the apostle declares that the Creator has the right to dispose of His creatures as He sees fit, “Has not the Potter power over the clay, of the same lump, to make one vessel unto honor, and another unto dishonor?” It should be carefully noted that the word for “power” here is exousia—an entirely different word from the one translated “power” in the following verse (“to make known His power”), where it is dunaton. In the words “Has not the Potter power over the clay?” it must be God’s power justly exercised, which is in view—the exercise of God’s rights consistently with His justice—because the mere assertion of His omnipotency would be no such answer as God would return to the questions asked in verse 19. Third, in verses 22, 23, the apostle gives the reasons why God proceeds differently with one of His creatures from another: on the one hand, it is to “show His wrath” and to “make His power known”; on the other hand, it is to “make known the riches of His glory.”
“Has not the potter power over the clay of the same lump, to make one vessel unto honor, and another unto dishonor?” Certainly God has the right to do this because He is the Creator. Does He exercise this right? Yes, as verses 13 and 17 clearly show us, “For this same purpose have I raised you (Pharaoh) up”.
Verse 22: “What if God, willing to show His wrath, and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction”. Here the apostle tells us in the second place, why God acts thus, that is, differently with different ones—having mercy on some and hardening others, making one vessel “unto honor” and another “unto dishonor”. Observe, that here in verse 22 the apostle first mentions “vessels of wrath”, before he refers in verse 23 to the “vessels of mercy”. Why is this? The answer to this question is of first importance: we reply, Because it is the “vessels of wrath” who are the subjects in view before the objector in verse 19. Two reasons are given why God makes some “vessels unto dishonor”: first, to “show His wrath”, and secondly “to make His power known”—both of which were exemplified in the case of Pharaoh.
One point in the above verse requires separate consideration, “Vessels of wrath fitted to destruction”. The usual explanation which is given of these words, is that the vessels of wrath fit themselves to destruction, that is, fit themselves by virtue of their wickedness; and it is argued that there is no need for God to “fit them to destruction”, because they are already fitted by their own depravity, and that this must be the real meaning of this expression. Now if by “destruction” we understand punishment, it is perfectly true that the non-elect do “fit themselves”, for everyone will be judged “according to his works”; and further, we freely grant that subjectively the non-elect do fit themselves for destruction. But the point to be decided is, Is this what the apostle is here referring to? And, without hesitation, we reply it is not. Go back to verses 11-13: did Esau fit himself to be an object of God’s hatred, or was he not such before he was born? Again; did Pharaoh fit himself for destruction, or did not God harden his heart before the plagues were sent upon Egypt?—see Exodus 4:21!
Romans 9:22 is clearly a continuation in thought of verse 21, and verse 21 is part of the apostle’s reply to the questions raised in verse 20: therefore, to fairly follow out the figure, it must be God Himself who “fits” unto destruction the vessels of wrath. Should it be asked how God does this, the answer, necessarily, is, objectively—He fits the non-elect unto destruction by His fore-ordinating decrees. Should it be asked why God does this, the answer must be, To promote His own glory, that is, the glory of His justice, power and wrath. “The sum of the apostle’s answer here is, that the grand object of God, both in the election and the reprobation of men, is that which is paramount to all things else in the creation of men, namely, His own glory” (Robert Haldane).
Verse 23: “And that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had afore prepared unto glory.” The only point in this verse which demands attention is the fact that the “vessels of mercy” are here said to be “afore prepared unto glory”. Many have pointed out that the previous verse does not say the vessels of wrath were afore prepared unto destruction, and from this omission they have concluded that we must understand the reference there to the non-elect fitting themselves in time, rather than God ordaining them for destruction from all eternity. But this conclusion by no means follows. We need to look back to verse 21 and note the figure which is there employed. “Clay” is inanimate matter, corrupt, decomposed, and therefore a fit substance to represent fallen humanity. As then the apostle is contemplating God’s sovereign dealings with humanity in view of the Fall, He does not say the vessels of wrath were “afore” prepared unto destruction, for the obvious and sufficient reason that, it was not until after the Fall that they became (in themselves) what is here symbolized by the “clay”. All that is necessary to refute the erroneous conclusion referred to above, is to point out that what is said of the vessels of wrath is not that they are fit for destruction (which is the word that would have been used if the reference had been to them fitting themselves by their own wickedness)—but fitted to destruction; which, in the light of the whole context, must mean a sovereign ordination to destruction by the Creator.
We quote here the pointed words of Calvin on this passage, “There are vessels prepared for destruction, that is, given up and appointed to destruction; they are also vessels of wrath, that is, made and formed for this end, that they may ‘be examples of God’s vengeance and displeasure.’ Though in the second clause the apostle asserts more expressly, that it is God who prepared the elect for glory, as he had simply said before that the reprobate are vessels prepared for destruction, there is yet no doubt but that the preparation of both is connected with the secret counsel of God. Paul might have otherwise said, that the reprobate gave up or cast themselves into destruction—but he intimates here, that before they are born they are destined to their lot”. With this we are in hearty accord. Romans 9:22 does not say the vessels of wrath fitted themselves, nor does it say they are fit for destruction, instead, it declares they are “fitted to destruction”, and the context shows plainly it is God who thus “fits” them—objectively by His eternal decrees.
Though Romans 9 contains the fullest setting forth of the doctrine of Reprobation, there are still other passages which refer to it, one or two more of which we will now briefly notice:
“What then? That which Israel seeks for, that he obtained not—but the election obtained it, and the rest were hardened” (Romans 11:7). Here we have two distinct and clearly defined classes which are set in sharp antithesis: the “election” and “the rest”; the one “obtained”, the other is “hardened”. On this verse we quote from the comments of John Bunyan of immortal memory:, “These are solemn words: they sever between men and men—the election and the rest, the chosen and the left, the embraced and the refused. By ‘rest’ here must needs be understood those not elect, because set the one in opposition to the other, and if not elect, whom then but reprobate?”
Writing to the saints at Thessalonica the apostle declared “For God has not appointed us to wrath—but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess. 5:9). Now surely it is patent to any impartial mind, that this statement is quite pointless if God has not “appointed” any to wrath. To say that God “has not appointed us to wrath”, clearly implies that there are some whom He has “appointed to wrath”, and were it not that the minds of so many professing Christians are so blinded by prejudice, they could not fail to clearly see this.
“A Stone of stumbling, and a Rock or offence, even to them who stumble at the Word, being disobedient, whereunto also they were appointed” (1 Peter 2:8). The “whereunto” manifestly points back to the stumbling at the Word, and their disobedience. Here, then, God expressly affirms that there are some who have been “appointed” (it is the same Greek word as in 1 Thess. 5:9) unto disobedience. Our business is not to reason about it—but to bow to Holy Scripture. Our first duty is not to understand—but to believe what God has said.
“But these, as natural brute beasts, made to be taken and destroyed, speak evil of the things that they understand not; and shall utterly perish in their own corruption” (2 Peter 2:12). Here, again, every effort is made to escape the plain teaching of this solemn passage. We are told that it is the “brute beasts” who are “made to be taken and destroyed”, and not the persons here likened to them. All that is needed to refute such sophistry is to inquire wherein lies the point of analogy between the “these” (men) and the “brute beasts”? What is the force of the “as”—but “these as brute beasts”? Clearly, it is that “these” men as brute beasts, are the ones who, like animals, are “made to be taken and destroyed”: the closing words confirming this by reiterating the same sentiment, “and shall utterly perish in their own corruption.”
“For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation; ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ” (Jude 4). Attempts have been made to escape the obvious force of this verse by substituting a different translation. The R.V. gives: “But there are certain men crept in secretly, even they who were of old written of beforehand unto this condemnation.” But this altered rendering by no means gets rid of that which is so distasteful to our sensibilities. The question arises, Where were these “of old written of beforehand”? Certainly not in the Old Testament, for nowhere is there any reference there to wicked men creeping into Christian assemblies. If “written of” be the best translation of “prographo”, the reference can only be to the book of the Divine decrees. So whichever alternative be selected there can be no evading the fact that certain men are “before of old” marked out by God “unto condemnation.”
“And all that dwell on the earth shall worship him (namely, the Antichrist), everyone whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world in the Book of Life of the Lamb that has been slain” (Revelation 13:8, R. 5. compare Revelation 17:8). Here, then, is a positive statement affirming that there are those whose names were not written in the Book of Life. Because of this they shall render allegiance to and bow down before the Antichrist.
Here, then, are no less than ten passages which most plainly imply or expressly teach the fact of reprobation. They affirm that the wicked are made for the Day of Evil; that God fashions some vessels unto dishonor; and by His eternal decree (objectively) fits them unto destruction; that they are like brute beasts, made to be taken and destroyed, being of old ordained unto this condemnation. Therefore in the face of these scriptures we unhesitatingly affirm (after nearly twenty years careful and prayerful study of the subject) that the Word of God unquestionably teaches both Election and Reprobation, or to use the words of Calvin, “Eternal Election is God’s predestination of some to salvation, and others to destruction”.
Having thus stated the doctrine of Reprobation, as it is presented in Holy Writ, let us now mention one or two important considerations to guard it against abuse and prevent the reader from making any unwarranted deductions—
First, the doctrine of Reprobation does not mean that God purposed to take innocent creatures, make them wicked, and then damn them. Scripture says, “God has made man upright—but they have sought out many inventions” (Eccl. 7:29). God has not created sinful creatures in order to destroy them, for God is not to be charged with the sin of His creatures. The responsibility and criminality is man’s.
God’s decree of Reprobation contemplated Adam’s race as fallen, sinful, corrupt, guilty. From it God purposed to save a few as the monuments of His sovereign grace; the others He determined to destroy as the exemplification of His justice and severity. In determining to destroy these others, God did them no wrong. They had already fallen in Adam, their legal representative; they are therefore born with a sinful nature, and in their sins He leaves them. Nor can they complain. This is as they wish; they have no desire for holiness; they love darkness rather than light. Where, then, is there any injustice if God “gives them up to their own hearts’ lusts” (Psalm 81:12)!
Second, the doctrine of Reprobation does not mean that God refuses to save those who earnestly seek salvation. The fact is that the reprobate have no longing for the Savior—they see in Him no beauty in Him, that they should desire Him. They will not come to Christ—why then should God force them to? He turns away none who do come—where then is the injustice of God fore-determining their just doom? None will be punished but for their iniquities; where then, is the supposed tyrannical cruelty of the Divine procedure? Remember that God is the Creator of the wicked, not of their wickedness; He is the Author of their being—but not the Infuser of their sin.
God does not (as we have been slanderously reported to affirm) compel the wicked to sin, as the rider spurs on an unwilling horse. God only says in effect that solemn word, “Let them alone!” (Matthew 15:14). He needs only to slacken the reins of providential restraint, and withhold the influence of saving grace, and apostate man will only too soon and too surely, of his own accord, fall by his iniquities. Thus the decree of reprobation neither interferes with the bent of man’s own fallen nature, nor serves to render him the less inexcusable.
Third, the decree of Reprobation in no manner conflicts with God’s goodness. Though the non-elect are not the objects of His goodness in the same way or to the same extent as the elect are—yet are they not wholly excluded from a participation of it. They enjoy the good things of Providence (temporal blessings) in common with God’s own children, and very often to a higher degree. But how do they improve them? Does the (temporal) goodness of God lead them to repent? Nay, truly, they do but “despise His goodness, and forbearance, and longsuffering, and after their hardness and impenitency of heart treasure up unto themselves wrath against the day of wrath” (Romans 2:4, 5). On what righteous ground, then, can they murmur against not being the objects of His benevolence in the endless ages yet to come? Moreover, if it did not clash with God’s mercy and kindness to leave the entire body of the fallen angels (2 Peter 2:4) under the guilt of their apostasy; still less can it clash with the Divine perfections to leave some of fallen mankind in their sins and punish them for them.
Finally, let us interpose this necessary caution: It is utterly impossible for any of us, during the present life, to ascertain who are among the reprobate. We must not now so judge any man, no matter how wicked he may be. The vilest sinner, may, for all we know, be included in the election of grace—and be one day quickened by the Spirit of grace! Our marching orders are plain, and woe be unto us if we disregard them, “Preach the Gospel to every creature!” When we have done so, our skirts are clear. If men refuse to heed, their blood is on their own heads; nevertheless “For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell unto death; to the other, the fragrance unto life” (2 Corinthians 2:15, 16).
We must now consider a number of passages which are often quoted with the purpose of showing that God has not fitted certain vessels to destruction or ordained certain ones to condemnation.
First, we cite Ezekiel 18:31, “Why will you die, O house of Israel?” On this passage we cannot do better than quote from the comments of Augustas Toplady: “This is a passage very frequently—but very idly, insisted upon by Arminians, as if it were a hammer which would at one stroke crush the whole fabric to powder. But it so happens that the “death” here alluded to is neither spiritual nor eternal death: as is abundantly evident from the whole tenor of the chapter. The death intended by the prophet is a political death; a death of national prosperity, tranquility, and security. The sense of the question is precisely this: What is it that makes you in love with captivity, banishment, and civil ruin? Abstinence from the worship of images might, as a people, exempt you from these calamities, and once more render you a respectable nation. Are the miseries of public devastation so alluring as to attract your determined pursuit? Why will you die? die as the house of Israel, and considered as a political body? Thus did the prophet argue the case, at the same time adding, “For I have no pleasure in the death of him that dies says the Lord God, wherefore, turn yourselves, and live you.” This imports: First, the national captivity of the Jews added nothing to the happiness of God. Second, if the Jews turned from idolatry, and flung away their images, they should not die in a foreign, hostile country—but live peaceably in their own land and enjoy their liberties as an independent people.” To the above we may add: political death must be what is in view in Ezekiel 18:31, 32 for the simple but sufficient reason that they were already spiritually dead!
Matthew 25:41 is often quoted to show that God has not fitted certain vessels to destruction, “Depart from Me, you cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the Devil and his angels.” This is, in fact, one of the principal verses relied upon to disprove the doctrine of Reprobation. But we submit that the emphatic word here is not “for” but “Devil.” This verse (see context) sets forth the severity of the judgment which awaits the lost. In other words, the above Scripture expresses the awfulness of the everlasting fire rather than the subjects of it—if the fire be “prepared for the Devil and his angels” then how intolerable it will be! If the place of eternal torment into which the damned shall be cast is the same as that in which God’s arch-enemy will suffer, how dreadful must that place be!
Again—if God has chosen only certain ones to salvation, why are we told that God “now commands all men everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30)? That God commands “all men” to repent is but the enforcing of His righteous claims as the moral Governor of the world. How could He do less, seeing that all men everywhere have sinned against Him? Furthermore; that God commands all men everywhere to repent argues the universality of creature responsibility. But this Scripture does not declare that it is God’s pleasure to “give repentance” (Acts 5:31) to all men everywhere. That the apostle Paul did not believe that God gave repentance to every soul is clear from his words in 2 Timothy 2:25, “In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God perhaps will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth.”
Again, we are asked, if God has “ordained” only certain ones unto eternal life, then why do we read that He “will have all men to be saved, and come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4)? The reply is, that the words “all” and “all men”, like the term “world,” are often used in a general and relative sense. Let the reader carefully examine the following passages: Mark 1:5; John 6:45; 8:2; Acts 21:28; 22:15; 2 Corinthians 3:2 etc., and he will find full proof of our assertion. 1 Timothy 2:4 cannot teach that God wills the salvation of all mankind, or otherwise all mankind would be saved, “What His soul desires even that He does” (Job 23:13)!
Again; we are asked, Does not Scripture declare, again and again, that God is no “respecter of persons”? We answer, it certainly does, and God’s electing grace proves it. The seven sons of Jesse, though older and physically superior to David, are passed by, while the young shepherd-boy is exalted to Israel’s throne. The scribes and lawyers pass unnoticed, and ignorant fishermen are chosen to be the apostles of the Lamb. Divine truth is hidden from the wise and prudent and is revealed to babes instead. The great majority of the wise and noble are ignored, while the weak, the base, the despised, are called and saved. Harlots and publicans are sweetly compelled to come in to the gospel feast, while self-righteous Pharisees are suffered to perish in their immaculate morality. Truly, God is “no respecter” of persons or He would not have saved me.
That the Doctrine of Reprobation is a “hard saying” to the carnal mind is readily acknowledged. Yet, is it any “harder” than that of eternal punishment? That it is clearly taught in Scripture we have sought to demonstrate, and it is not for us to pick and choose from the truths revealed in God’s Word. Let those who are inclined to receive those doctrines which commend themselves to their judgment, and who reject those which they cannot fully understand, remember those scathing words of our Lord’s, “O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken” (Luke 24:25): fools because slow of heart; slow of heart, not dull of head!
Once more we would avail ourselves of the language of Calvin: “But, as I have hitherto only recited such things as are delivered without any obscurity or ambiguity in the Scriptures, let persons who hesitate not to brand with ignominy those Oracles of heaven, beware what kind of opposition they make. For, if they pretend ignorance, with a desire to be commended for their modesty, what greater instance of pride can be conceived, than to oppose one little word to the authority of God! as, ‘It appears otherwise to me,’ or ‘I would rather not meddle with this subject.’ But if they openly censure, what will they gain by their puny attempts against heaven? Their petulance, indeed, is no novelty; for in all ages there have been impious and profane men, who have virulently opposed this doctrine. But they shall feel the truth of what the Spirit long ago declared by the mouth of David, that God ‘is clear when He judges’ (Psalm 51 :4). David obliquely hints at the madness of men who display such excessive presumption amidst their insignificance, as not only to dispute against God—but to arrogate to themselves the power of condemning Him. In the meantime, he briefly suggests, that God is unaffected by all the blasphemies which they discharge against heaven—but that He dissipates the mists of calumny, and illustriously displays His righteousness; our faith, also, being founded on the Divine Word, and therefore, superior to all the world, from its exaltation looks down with contempt upon those mists” (John Calvin).
In closing this chapter we propose to quote from the writings of some of the standard theologians since the days of the Reformation, not that we would buttress our own statements by an appeal to human authority, however venerable or ancient—but in order to show that what we have advanced in these pages is no novelty of the twentieth century, no heresy of the ‘latter days’ but, instead, a doctrine which has been definitely formulated and commonly taught by many of the most pious and scholarly students of Holy Writ.
“Predestination we call the decree of God, by which He has determined in Himself, what He would have to become of every individual of mankind. For they are not all created with a similar destiny—but eternal life is foreordained for some, and eternal damnation for others. Every man, therefore, being created for one or the other of these ends, we say, he is predestined either to life or to death.” From John Calvin’s “Institutes”.
We ask our readers to mark well the above language. A perusal of it should show that what the present writer has advanced in this chapter is not “Hyper-Calvinism” but real Calvinism, pure and simple. Our purpose in making this remark is to show that those who, not acquainted with Calvin’s writings, in their ignorance condemn as ultra-Calvinism that which is simply a reiteration of what Calvin himself taught—a reiteration because that prince of theologians as well as his humble debtor have both found this doctrine in the Word of God itself.
Martin Luther is his most excellent work “Free-will a Slave”, wrote: “All things whatever arise from, and depend upon, the Divine appointments, whereby it was preordained who should receive the Word of Life, and who should disbelieve it; who should be delivered from their sins, and who should be hardened in them; who should be justified and who should be condemned. This is the very truth which destroys the doctrine of free-will from its foundations, to wit, that God’s eternal love of some men and hatred of others—is immutable and cannot be reversed.”
John Fox, whose Book of Martyrs was once the best known work in the English language (alas that it is not so today, when Roman Catholicism is sweeping upon us like a great destructive tidal wave!), wrote: “Predestination is the eternal decreement of God, purposed before in Himself, what should befall all men, either to salvation, or damnation”.
The “Larger Westminster Catechism” (1688)—adopted by the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church—declares, “God, by an eternal and immutable decree, out of His mere love, for the praise of His glorious grace, to be manifested in due time, has elected some angels to glory, and in Christ has chosen some men to eternal life, and the means thereof; and also, according to His sovereign power, and the unsearchable counsel of His own will (whereby He extends or withholds favor as He pleases), has passed by, and fore-ordained the rest to dishonor and wrath, to be for their sin inflicted, to the praise of the glory of His justice”.
John Bunyan, author of “The Pilgrim’s Progress,” wrote a whole volume on “Reprobation”. From it we make one brief extract:, “Reprobation is before the person comes into the world, or has done good or evil. This is evidenced by Romans 9:11. Here you find two in their mother’s womb, and both receiving their destiny, not only before they had done good or evil—but before they were in a capacity to do it, they being yet unborn. Their destiny, I say, the one unto, the other not unto eternal life; the one elect, the other reprobate; the one chosen, the other refused”. In his “Sighs from Hell”, John Bunyan also wrote: “Those who continue to reject and slight the Word of God are such, for the most part, as are ordained to be damned”.
Commenting upon Romans 9:22, “What if God willing to show His wrath, and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction” Jonathan Edwards (Vol. 4, p. 306—1743 A.D.) says, “How solemn does the majesty of God appear in the dreadfulness of His anger! This we may learn to be one end of the damnation of the wicked.”
Augustus Toplady, author of “Rock of Ages” and other sublime hymns, wrote: “God, from all eternity decreed to leave some of Adam’s fallen posterity in their sins, and to exclude them from the participation of Christ and His benefits”. And again; “We, with the Scriptures, assert: That there is a predestination of some particular persons to eternal life, for the praise of the glory of Divine grace; and also a predestination of other particular persons to eternal death for the glory of Divine justice—which death of punishment they shall inevitably undergo, and that justly, on account of their sins!”
George Whitefield, that stalwart of the eighteenth century, used by God in blessing to so many, wrote: “Without doubt, the doctrine of election and reprobation must stand or fall together. . . . I frankly acknowledge I believe the doctrine of Reprobation, that God intends to give saving grace, through Jesus Christ, only to a certain number; and that the rest of mankind, after the fall of Adam, being justly left of God to continue in sin, will at last suffer that eternal death which is its proper wages.”
“Fitted to destruction” (Romans 9:22). After declaring this phrase admits of two interpretations, Dr. Hodge, perhaps the best known and most widely read commentator on Romans—says, “The other interpretation assumes that the reference is to God and that the Greek word for ‘fitted’ has its full participle force; prepared (by God) for destruction.”
Were it necessary we are prepared to give quotations from the writings of Wycliffe, Huss, Ridley, Hooper, Cranmer, Ussher, John Trapp, Thomas Goodwin, Thomas Manton, John Owen, Witsius, John Gill (predecessor of Spurgeon), and a host of others. We mention this simply to show that many of the most eminent saints in bye-gone days, the men most widely used of God, held and taught this doctrine which is so bitterly hated in these last days, when men will no longer “endure sound doctrine”; hated by men of lofty pretensions—but who, notwithstanding their boasted orthodoxy and much advertised piety, are not worthy to unfasten the shoes of these faithful and fearless servants of God of other days.
“Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God! How unsearchable His judgments and untraceable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been His counselor? Or who has ever first given to Him, and has to be repaid? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever! Amen!” (Romans 11:33-36)
THE SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD IN OPERATION
“For of Him, and through Him, and to Him, are all things!
To Him be glory forever. Amen!”
Has God foreordained everything that comes to pass? Has He decreed that what is—was to have been? In the final analysis, this is only another way of asking, Is God now governing the world and everyone and everything in it? If God is governing the world, then is He governing it according to a definite purpose, or aimlessly and at random? If He is governing it according to some purpose, then when was that purpose made? Is God continually changing His purpose and making a new one every day—or was His purpose formed from the beginning? Are God’s actions, like ours, regulated by the change of circumstances, or are they the outcome of His eternal purpose? If God formed a purpose before man was created, then is that purpose going to be executed according to His original designs—and is He now working toward that end? What do the Scriptures say? They declare that God “works all things after the counsel of His own will!” (Ephesians 1:11)
Few who read this book are likely to call into question the statement that God knows and foreknows all things—but perhaps many would hesitate to go further than this. Yet is it not self-evident that if God foreknows all things—that He has also fore-ordained all things? Is it not clear that God foreknows what will be—because He has decreed what shall be? God’s foreknowledge is not the cause of events, rather are events the effects of His eternal purpose. When God has decreed a thing shall be—He knows it will be. There cannot be anything known as what shall be—unless it is certain to be, and there is nothing certain to be—unless God has ordained it shall be.
Take the Crucifixion as an illustration. On this point the teaching of Scripture is as clear as a sunbeam. Christ as the Lamb whose blood was to be shed, was “foreordained before the foundation of the world” (1 Peter 1:20). Having then “ordained” the slaying of the Lamb, God knew He would be “led to the slaughter”, and therefore made it known accordingly through Isaiah the prophet. The Lord Jesus was not “delivered” up by God merely fore-knowing it before it took place—but by His fixed counsel and fore-ordination (Acts 2:23). Fore-knowledge of future events then—is founded upon God’s decrees, hence if God foreknows everything that is to be, it is because He has determined in Himself from all eternity everything which will be, “Known unto God are all His works from the beginning of the world” (Acts 15:18), which shows that God has a plan, that God did not begin His work at random or without a knowledge of how His plan would succeed.
God created all things. This truth no one, who bows to the testimony of Holy Writ, will question; nor would any such be prepared to argue that the work of creation was an accidental work. God first formed the purpose to create—and then put forth the creative act in fulfillment of that purpose. All real Christians will readily adopt the words of the Psalmist and say, “O Lord, how manifold are Your works! In wisdom have You made them all.” Will any who endorse what we have just said, deny that God purposed to govern the world which He created? Surely the creation of the world was not the end of God’s purpose concerning it. Surely He did not determine simply to create the world and place man in it. and then leave both to their fortunes. It must be apparent, that God has some great end or ends in view, worthy of His infinite perfections, and that He is now governing the world so as to accomplish these ends, “The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the plans of His heart from generation to generation.” (Psalm 33:11).
“I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and no one is like Me. I declare the end from the beginning, and from long ago what is not yet done, saying: My plan will take place, and I will do all My will!” (Isaiah 46:9, 10). Many other passages might be adduced to show that God has many plans and counsels concerning this world and concerning man, and that all these counsels will most surely be realized.
It is only when they are thus regarded, that we can intelligently appreciate the prophecies of Scripture. In prophecy, the mighty God has condescended to take us into the secret chamber of His eternal counsels, and make known to us what He has purposed to do in the future. The hundreds of prophecies which are found in the Old and New Testaments are not so much predictions of what will come to pass, as they are revelations to us of what God has purposed shall come to pass. Do we know from prophecy that this present age, like all preceding ones, is to end with a full demonstration of man’s failure; do we know that there is to be a universal turning away from the truth, a general apostasy? Do we know that the Antichrist is to be manifested, and that he will succeed in deceiving the whole world? Do we know that Antichrist’s career will be cut short, and an end made of man’s miserable attempts to govern himself, by the return of God’s Son? Then it is all because these and a hundred other things are included among God’s eternal decrees, now made known to us in the sure Word of Prophecy, and because it is infallibly certain that all God has purposed “must shortly come to pass” (Revelation 1:1).
What then was the great purpose for which this world and the human race were created? The answer of Scripture is, “The Lord has made all things for Himself” (Proverbs 16:4). And again, “You have created all things, and for Your pleasure they are and were created” (Revelation 4:11). The great end of creation was the manifestation of God’s glory. The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament shows His handiwork. But it was by man, originally made in His own image and likeness, that God designed chiefly to manifest His glory. But how was the great Creator to be glorified by man? Before his creation, God foresaw the fall of Adam and the consequent ruin of his race, therefore He could not have designed that man should glorify Him by continuing in a state of innocency. Accordingly, we are taught that Christ was “fore-ordained before the foundation of the world” to be the Savior of fallen men. The redemption of sinners by Christ was no mere after-thought of God—it was no expediency to meet an unlooked-for calamity. No! it was a Divine provision, and therefore when man fell—he found God’s mercy walking hand in hand with His justice.
From all eternity, God designed that our world should be the stage on which He would display His manifold grace and wisdom, in the redemption of lost sinners: “His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to His eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord!” (Ephesians 3:11). For the accomplishment of this glorious design, God has governed the world from the beginning, and will continue it to the end. It has been well said, “We can never understand the providence of God over our world, unless we regard it as a complicated machine having ten thousand parts, directed in all its operations to one glorious end—the display of the manifold wisdom of God in the salvation of the Church,” that is, the “called out” ones. Everything else in God’s universe is subordinated to this central purpose. It was the apprehension of this basic truth that the apostle, moved by the Holy Spirit, was led to write, “Wherefore I endure all things for the elect’s sake, that they may also obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory” (2 Timothy 2:10). What we would now contemplate, is the operation of God’s sovereignty in the government of this world.
In regard to the operation of God’s government over the material world little needs now be said. In previous chapters we have shown that inanimate matter and all irrational creatures are absolutely subject to their Creator’s pleasure. While we freely admit that the material world appears to be governed by laws that are stable and more or less uniform in their operations, yet Scripture, history, and observation, compel us to recognize the fact that God suspends these laws and acts apart from them, whenever it pleases Him to do so. In sending His blessings or judgments upon His creatures, He may cause the sun itself to stand still, and the stars in their courses to fight for His people (Judges 5:20) He may send or withhold “the early and the latter rains” according to the dictates of His own infinite wisdom. He may smite with illness or bless with health; in short, being God, being absolute Sovereign,
He is bound and tied by no laws of Nature—but governs the material world as seems Him best to Him!
But what of God’s government of the human family? What does Scripture reveal in regard to the operations of His governmental administration over mankind? To what extent and by what influences, does God control PEOPLE? We shall divide our answer to this question into two parts, and consider first God’s method of dealing with the righteous, His elect; and then His method of dealing with the wicked.
God’s Method of Dealing with the Righteous:
1. God exerts a QUICKENING influence or power upon His own elect.
By nature they are spiritually dead, dead in trespasses and sins, and their first need is spiritual life, for “Except a man is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). In the new birth God brings us from death unto life (John 5:24). He imparts to us His own nature (2 Peter 1:4). He delivers us from the power of darkness and translates us into the kingdom of His dear Son (Col. 1:13). Now, manifestly, we could not do this ourselves, for we were “without strength” (Romans 5:6), hence it is written, “we are His workmanship created in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:10).
In the new birth we are made partakers of the Divine nature—a principle, a “seed,” a life, is communicated to us. This seed is “born of the Spirit,” and therefore “is spirit.” This seed is born of the Holy Spirit, and therefore is holy. Apart from this Divine and holy nature which is imparted to us at the new birth—it is utterly impossible for any man to generate a spiritual impulse, form a spiritual concept, think a spiritual thought, understand spiritual things, still less engage in spiritual works. “Without holiness no man shall see the Lord,” but the natural man has no desire for holiness, and he does not want the provision which God has made. Will then a man pray for, seek for, strive after—that which he dislikes? Surely not! If then a man does “follow after” that which by nature he cordially dislikes, if he does now love the One he once hated—it is because a miraculous change has taken place within him; a power outside of himself has operated upon him, a nature entirely different from his old one has been imparted to him, and hence it is written, “Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creation! Old things are passed away, behold all things are become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Such an one as we have just described has passed from death unto life, has been turned from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God (Acts 26:18). In no other way can the great change be accounted for.
The new birth is very, very much more than simply shedding a few tears because of a temporary remorse over sin. It is far more than changing our course of life, the leaving off of bad habits and the substituting of good ones. It is something different from the mere cherishing and practicing of noble ideals. It goes infinitely deeper than coming forward to take some popular evangelist by the hand, signing a pledge-card, or “joining the church.” The new birth is no mere turning over a new leaf—but is the inception and reception of a new life. It is no mere reformation but a complete transformation. In short, the new birth is a miracle, the result of the supernatural operation of God. It is radical, revolutionary, lasting.
Here then is the first thing, in time, which God does in His own elect. He lays hold of those who are spiritually dead—and quickens them into newness of life. He takes up one who was shaped in iniquity and conceived in sin—and conforms him to the image of His Son! He seizes a captive of the Devil—and makes him a member of His holy family! He picks up a beggar—and makes him joint-heir with Christ. He comes to one who is full of enmity against Him—and gives him a new heart that is full of love for Him. He stoops to one who by nature is a rebel—and works in him both to will and to do of His good pleasure. By His irresistible power—He transforms a sinner—into a saint; an enemy—into His friend, a slave of the Devil—into His child! Surely then we are moved to say,
“When all Your mercies O my God
My wondering soul surveys,
Transported with the view I’m lost
In wonder, love and praise!”
2. God exerts an ENERGIZING influence or power upon His own elect.
The apostle prayed to God for the Ephesian saints that the eyes of their understanding might be enlightened in order that, among other things, they might know “what is the exceeding greatness of His power to us who believe” (Ephesians 1:18), and that they might be “strengthened with might “by His Spirit in the inner man” (3:16). It is thus that the children of God are enabled to fight the good fight of faith, and battle with the adverse forces which constantly war against them. In themselves they have no strength—they are but “sheep,” and sheep are one of the most defenseless animals there is! But the promise is sure, “He gives power to the faint, and to those who have no might—He increases strength” (Isaiah 40:29).
It is this energizing power that God exerts upon and within the righteous, which enables them to serve Him acceptably. Said the prophet of old, “But truly I am full of power by the Spirit of the Lord” (Micah 3:8). And our Lord said to His apostles, “You shall receive power, after the Holy Spirit has come upon you” (Acts 1:8). And thus it proved, for of these same men we read subsequently, “And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all” (Acts 4:33). So it was, too, with the apostle Paul, “And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom—but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power” (1 Corinthians 2:4).
But the scope of this power is not confined to service, for we read in 2 Peter 1:3, “According as His Divine power, He has given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who has called us to glory and virtue.” Hence it is that the various graces of the Christian character, “love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance,” are ascribed directly to God Himself, being denominated “the fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22). Compare Ephesians 5:9.
3. God exerts a DIRECTING influence or power upon His own elect.
Of old He led His people across the wilderness, and directing their steps by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night; and today He still directs His saints, though now from within rather than from without. “This God is our God forever and ever! He will be our Guide even unto death!” (Psalm 48:14). He “guides” us by working in us both to will and to do of His good pleasure. That He does so guide us, is clear from the words of the apostle in Ephesians 2:10, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God has before ordained that we should walk in them.” Thus all ground for boasting is removed, and God gets all the glory, for with the prophet we have to say, “Lord, You will ordain peace for us: for You also have wrought all our works in us” (Isaiah 26:12). How true then, that “In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps” (Proverbs 16:9)! Compare Psalm 65:4, Ezekiel 36:27.
4. God exerts a PRESERVING influence or power upon His own elect.
Many are the scriptures which set forth this blessed truth. “He preserves the souls of His saints; He delivers them out of the hand of the wicked” (Psalm 97:10). “For the Lord loves judgment, and forsakes not His saints; they are preserved forever—but the seed of the wicked shall be cut off” (Psalm 37:28). “The Lord preserves all those who love Him—but all the wicked will He destroy” (Psalm 145:20). It is needless to multiply texts or to raise an argument at this point respecting the believer’s responsibility and faithfulness—we can no more “persevere” without God preserving us, than we can breathe when God ceases to give us breath; we are “kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:5). Compare 1 Chronicles 18:6. It remains for us now to consider,
God’s Method of Dealing with the Wicked:
In contemplating God’s governmental dealings with the non-elect, we find that He exerts upon them a fourfold influence or power. We adopt the clear-cut divisions suggested by another:
1. God exerts upon the wicked a restraining influence by which they are prevented from doing what they are naturally inclined to do.
A striking example of this is seen in Abimelech king of Gerar. Abraham came down to Gerar and fearful lest he might be slain on account of his wife, he instructed her to pose as his sister. Regarding her as an unmarried woman, Abimelech sent and took Sarah unto himself; and then we learn how God put forth His power to protect her honor, “And God said unto him in a dream, Yes, I know you did this with a clear conscience, and so I have kept you from sinning against me. That is why I did not let you touch her” (Genesis 20:6). Had not God interposed, Abimelech would have grievously wronged Sarah—but the Lord restrained him and did not allow him to carry out the intentions of his heart.
A similar instance is found in connection with Joseph and his brethren’s treatment of Him. Owing to Jacob’s partiality for Joseph, his brethren “hated him,” and when they thought that they had him in their power, “they conspired against him to slay him” (Genesis 37:18). But God did not allow them to carry out their evil designs. First He moved Reuben to deliver him out of their hands, and next he caused Judah to suggest that Joseph should be sold to the passing Ishmaelites, who carried him down into Egypt. That it was God who thus restrained them is clear from the words of Joseph himself, when some years later he made known himself to his brethren: said he, “So now it was not you that sent me here—but God!” (Genesis 45:8)
The restraining influence which God exerts upon the wicked was strikingly exemplified in the person of Balaam, the prophet hired by Balak to curse the Israelites. One cannot read the inspired narrative without discovering that, left to himself, Balaam would have readily and certainly accepted the offer of Balak. How evidently God restrained the impulses of his heart is seen from his own acknowledgment, “How can I curse those whom God has not cursed? How can I denounce those whom the Lord has not denounced? I have indeed received a command to bless; since He has blessed, I cannot change it” (Num. 23:8, 20).
Not only does God exert a restraining influence upon wicked individuals—but He does so upon whole peoples as well. A remarkable illustration of this is found in Exodus 34:24, “For I will drive out nations before you and enlarge your territory. No one will covet your land when you go up three times a year to appear before the Lord your God.” Three times every male Israelite, at the command of God, left his home and inheritance and journeyed to Jerusalem to keep the Feasts of the Lord; and in the above scripture we learn He promised them that, while they were at Jerusalem, He would guard their unprotected homes by restraining the covetous designs and desires of their heathen neighbors.
2. God exerts upon the wicked a softening influence disposing them contrary to their natural inclinations—to do that which will promote His cause.
Above, we referred to Joseph’s history as an illustration of God exerting a restraining influence upon the wicked, let us note now his experiences in Egypt as exemplifying our assertion that God also exerts a softening influence upon the unrighteous. We are told that while he was in the house of Potiphar, “When his master saw that the Lord was with him and that the Lord made everything he did successful, Joseph found favor in his master’s sight and became his personal attendant. Potiphar also put him in charge of his household and placed all that he owned under his authority” (Genesis 39:3, 4). Later, when Joseph was unjustly cast into prison, we are told, “But the Lord was with Joseph, and showed him mercy, and gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison” (Genesis 39:21), and in consequence the prison-keeper showed him much kindness and honor. Finally, after his release from prison, we learn from Acts 7:10 that the Lord “gave him favor and wisdom in the sight of Pharaoh king of Egypt; and he made him governor over Egypt and all his house.”
An equally striking evidence of God’s power to melt the hearts of his enemies, was seen in Pharaoh’s daughter’s treatment of the infant Moses. The incident is well known. Pharaoh had issued an edict commanding the destruction of every male child of the Israelites. A certain Levite had a son born to him who for three months was kept hidden by his mother. No longer able to conceal the infant Moses, she placed him in an ark of bulrushes, and laid him by the river’s brink. The ark was discovered by none less than the king’s daughter, who had come down to the river to bathe—but instead of heeding her father’s wicked decree and casting the child into the river, we are told that “she had compassion on him” (Exodus 2:6)! Accordingly, the young life was spared and later Moses became the adopted son of this princess!
God has access to the hearts of all men—and He softens or hardens them according to His sovereign purpose!
The profane Esau swore vengeance upon his brother for the deception which he had practiced upon his father—yet when next he met Jacob, instead of slaying him we are told that Esau “fell on his neck and kissed him”
Ahab, the weak and wicked consort of Jezebel, was highly enraged against Elijah the prophet, at whose word the heavens had been shut up for three years and a half. So angry was he against the one whom he regarded as his enemy that, we are told he searched for him in every nation and kingdom, and when he could not be found “he took an oath” (1 Kings 18:10). Yet, when they met, instead of killing the prophet, Ahab meekly obeyed Elijah’s behest and “sent unto all the children of Israel and gathered the prophets together unto Mount Carmel” (v. 20).
Again, Esther the poor Jewess is about to enter the presence-chamber of the august Medo-Persian monarch which, said she, “is not according to the law” (Esther 4:16). She went in expecting to “perish,” but we are told “She obtained favor in his sight, and the king held out to Esther the golden scepter” (5:2).
Yet again, the boy Daniel is a captive in a foreign court. The king “appointed” a daily provision of food and drink for Daniel and his fellows. But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the allotted portion, and accordingly made known his purpose to his master. What happened? His master was a heathen, and “feared” the king. Did he turn then upon Daniel and angrily demand that his orders be promptly carried out? No! for we read, “God had granted Daniel favor and compassion from the chief official!” (Daniel 1:9)
“A king’s heart is a water channel in the Lord’s hand: He directs it wherever He chooses.” (Proverbs 21:1) A remarkable illustration of this is seen in Cyrus, the heathen king of Persia. God’s people were in captivity—but the predicted end of their captivity was almost reached. Meanwhile the Temple at Jerusalem lay in ruins, and, as we have said, the Jews were in bondage in a distant land. What hope was there then that the Lord’s house would be re-built? Mark now what God did, “In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah, the Lord moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia to make a proclamation throughout his realm and to put it in writing: “This is what Cyrus king of Persia says: “‘The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah.” (Ezra 1:1, 2). Cyrus, be it remembered, was a pagan, and as secular history bears witness, a very wicked man—yet the Lord moved him to issue this edict, that His Word through Jeremiah seventy years before might be fulfilled.
A similar and further illustration is found in Ezra 7:27, where we find Ezra returning thanks for what God had caused king Artaxerxes to do in completing and beautifying the house which Cyrus had commanded to be erected, “Blessed be the Lord God of our fathers which has put such a thing as this in the king’s heart, to beautify the house of the Lord which is in Jerusalem” (Ezra 7:27).
3. God exerts upon the wicked a directing influence so that good is made to result from their intended evil.
Once more we revert to the history of Joseph as a case in point. In selling Joseph to the Ishmaelites, his brethren were actuated by cruel and heartless motives. Their object was to make away with him, and the passing of these traveling traders furnished an easy way out for them. To them the act was nothing more than the enslaving of a noble youth for the sake of gain. But now observe how God was secretly working and over-ruling their wicked actions. God’s Providence so ordered it that these Ishmaelites passed by just in time to prevent Joseph being murdered, for his brethren had already taken counsel together to put him to death. Further; these Ishmaelites were journeying to Egypt, which was the very country to which God had purposed to send Joseph, and He ordained they should purchase Joseph just when they did. That the hand of God was in this incident, that it was something more than a fortunate coincidence, is clear from the words of Joseph to his brethren at a later date, “God sent me before you to preserve you a posterity in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance” (Genesis 45:7).
Another equally striking illustration of God directing the wicked is found in Isaiah 10:5-7, “Woe to the Assyrian, the rod of My anger, in whose hand is the club of My wrath! I send him against a godless nation, I dispatch him against a people who anger Me, to seize loot and snatch plunder, and to trample them down like mud in the streets. But this is not what he intends, this is not what he has in mind; his purpose is to destroy, to put an end to many nations!” Assyria’s king had determined to be a world-conqueror, to “his purpose is to destroy, to put an end to many nations!” But God directed and controlled his military lust and ambition, and caused him to confine his attention to the conquering of the insignificant nation of Israel. Such a task was not in the proud king’s heart, “this is not what he intends, this is not what he has in mind”—but God gave him this charge—and he could do nothing but fulfill it. Compare also Judges 7:22, “When the three hundred trumpets sounded, the Lord caused the men throughout the camp to turn on each other with their swords!”
The supreme example of the controlling, directing influence which God exerts upon the wicked, is the Cross of Christ with all its attending circumstances. If ever the superintending providence of God was witnessed, it was there. From all eternity God had predestined every detail of that event of all events. Nothing was left to chance or the caprice of man. God had decreed when and where and how His blessed Son was to die. Much of what He had purposed concerning the Crucifixion had been made known through the Old Testament prophets, and in the accurate and literal fulfillment of these prophecies we have clear proof, full demonstration, of the controlling and directing influence which God exerts upon the wicked. Not a thing occurred except as God had ordained, and all that He had ordained took place exactly as He purposed.
Had it been decreed (and made known in Scripture) that the Savior should be betrayed by one of His own disciples—by His “familiar friend”—see Psalm 41:9 and compare Matthew 26:50—then the apostle Judas is the one who sold Him. Had it been decreed that the betrayer should receive for his awful betrayal thirty pieces of silver, then are the chief priests moved to offer him this very sum. Had it been decreed that this betrayal sum should be put to a particular use, namely, purchase the potter’s field, then the hand of God directs Judas to return the money to the chief priests and so guided their “counsel” (Matthew 27:7) that they did this very thing! Had it been decreed that there should be those who bore “false witness” against our Lord (Psalm 35:11), then accordingly such were raised up. Had it been decreed that the Lord of glory should be “spit upon and scourged” (Isaiah 50:6), then there were found those who were vile enough to do so. Had it been decreed that the Savior should be “numbered with the transgressors,” then unknown to himself, Pilate, directed by God, gave orders for His crucifixion along with two thieves. Had it been decreed that vinegar and gall should be given Him to drink while He hung upon the Cross, then this decree of God was executed to the very letter. Had it been decreed that the heartless soldiers should gamble for His garments, then sure enough—they did this very thing! Had it been decreed that not a bone of His should be broken (Psalm 34:20), then the controlling hand of God which allowed the Roman soldier to break the legs of the thieves, prevented him from doing the same with our Lord. Ah! there were not enough soldiers in all the Roman legions, there were not sufficient demons in all the hierarchies of Satan, to break one bone in the body of Christ! And why? Because the Almighty Sovereign had decreed that not a bone should be broken!
Do we need to extend this paragraph any farther? Does not the accurate and literal fulfillment of all that Scripture had predicted in connection with the Crucifixion, demonstrate beyond all controversy that an Almighty power was directing and superintending everything that was done on that Day of days?
4. God also hardens the hearts of wicked men and blinds their minds.
Does God harden men’s hearts? Does God blind men’s minds? Yes, for so Scripture represents Him! In developing this theme of the sovereignty of God in Operation we recognize that we have now reached its most solemn aspect of all, and that here especially, we need to keep very close indeed to the words of Holy Writ. God forbid that we should go one fraction further than His Word goes; but may He give us grace to go as far as His Word goes. It is true that secret things belong unto the Lord—but it is also true that those things which are revealed in Scripture belong unto us and to our children.
“He turned their heart to hate His people—and to deal deceptively with His servants” (Psalm 105:25). The reference here is to the sojourn of the descendants of Jacob in the land of Egypt when, after the death of the Pharaoh who had welcomed the old patriarch and his family, there “arose up a new king who knew not Joseph;” and in his days the children of Israel had “increased greatly” so that they outnumbered the Egyptians; then it was that God “turned their heart to hate His people.”
The consequence of the Egyptians’ “hatred” is well known: they brought them into cruel bondage and placed them under merciless taskmasters, until their lot became unendurable. Helpless and wretched, the Israelites cried unto Jehovah, and in response, He appointed Moses to be their deliverer. God revealed Himself unto His chosen servant, gave him a number of miraculous signs which he was to exhibit at the Egyptian court, and then bade him go to Pharaoh, and demand that the Israelites should be allowed to go a three days journey into the wilderness, that they might worship the Lord. But before Moses started out on his journey God warned him concerning Pharaoh, “I will harden his heart—that he shall not let the people go” (Exodus 4:21). If it be asked, Why did God harden Pharaoh’s heart? The answer furnished by Scripture itself is: In order that God might show forth His power in him. (Romans 9:17) In other words, it was so that the Lord might demonstrate that it was just as easy for Him to overthrow this haughty and powerful monarch—as it was for Him to crush a worm! If it should be pressed further, Why did God select such a method of displaying His power? Then the answer must be, that being sovereign, God reserves to Himself the right to act as He pleases.
Not only are we told that God hardened the heart of Pharaoh so that he would not let the Israelites go—but after God had plagued his land so severely that he reluctantly gave a qualified permission, and after that the first-born of all the Egyptians had been slain, and Israel had actually left the land of bondage, God told Moses, “Behold, I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they will go in after them, and I will receive glory by means of Pharaoh, all his army, and his chariots and horsemen. The Egyptians will know that I am the Lord when I receive glory through Pharaoh, his chariots, and his horsemen” (Exodus 14:17, 18).
The same thing happened subsequently in connection with Sihon king of Heshbon, through whose territory Israel had to pass on their way to the promised Land. When reviewing their history, Moses told the people, “But Sihon king of Heshbon would not let us travel through his land, for the Lord your God made his spirit stubborn and his heart obstinate in order to hand him over to you, as has now taken place!” (Deuteronomy 2:30)
The same thing also happened after Israel had entered Canaan. We read, “No one in this region made peace with the Israelites except the Hivites of Gibeon. All the others were defeated. For the Lord hardened their hearts and caused them to fight the Israelites instead of asking for peace. So they were completely and mercilessly destroyed, as the Lord had commanded Moses!” (Joshua 11:19, 20) From other scriptures we learn why God purposed to “destroy utterly” the Canaanites—it was because of their awful wickedness and corruption.
Nor is the revelation of this solemn truth confined to the Old Testament. In John 12:37-40 we read, “Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe in Him. This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet: “Lord, who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” For this reason they could not believe, because, as Isaiah says elsewhere: “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts, so they can neither see with their eyes, nor understand with their hearts, nor turn—and I would heal them.” It needs to be carefully noted here that these whose eyes God “blinded” and whose heartS He “hardened,” were men who had deliberately scorned the Light and rejected the testimony of God’s own Son.
Similarly we read in 2 Thessalonians 2:11, 12, “For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie—and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness!” The fulfillment of this scripture is yet future. What God did unto the Jews of old He is yet going to do unto Christendom. Just as the Jews of Christ’s day despised His testimony, and in consequence, were “blinded,” so a guilty Christendom which has rejected the Truth shall yet have sent them from God a “strong delusion” that they may believe a lie.
Is God really governing the world? Is He exercising rule over the human family? What is the mode of operation of His governmental administration over mankind? To what extent and by what means does He control men? How does God exercise an influence upon the wicked, seeing their hearts are at enmity against Him? These are some of the questions we have sought to answer from Scripture in the previous sections of this chapter.
Upon His own elect—God exerts a quickening, an energizing, a directing, and a preserving power. Upon the wicked—God exerts a restraining, softening, directing, and hardening and blinding power, according to the dictates of His own infinite wisdom and unto the outworking of His own eternal purpose. God’s decrees are being executed. What He has ordained—is being accomplished. Man’s wickedness is bounded. The limits of evil-doing and of evil-doers has been Divinely defined, and cannot be exceeded. Though many are in ignorance of it, all men, good and bad, are under the jurisdiction of, and are absolutely subject to, the administration of the Supreme Sovereign! “Alleluia! for the Lord God omnipotent reigns!” (Revelation 19:6) He reigns over all!
OF GOD AND THE
“It is God who works in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure” Philippians 2:13
Concerning the nature and the power of fallen man’s will, the greatest confusion prevails today, and the most erroneous views are held, even by many of God’s children. The popular idea now prevailing, and which is taught from the great majority of pulpits, is that man has a “free will”, and that salvation comes to the sinner through his will cooperating with the Holy Spirit. To deny the “free will” of man, that is—his power to choose that which is good, his native ability to accept Christ—is to bring one into disfavor at once, even before most of those who profess to be orthodox. And yet Scripture emphatically says, “I will show mercy to whom I will show mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. So then it does not depend on human will or effort, but on God who shows mercy.” (Romans 9:16). Whom shall we believe: God, or the popular preachers?
But some one may reply, Did not Joshua say to Israel, “Choose this day whom you will serve”? Yes, he did; but why not complete his sentence? “whether the gods that your fathers served which were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell” (Josh. 24:15)! But why attempt to pit scripture against scripture? The Word of God never contradicts itself, and the Word expressly declares, “There is none that seeks after God” (Romans 3:11). Did not Christ say to the men of His day, “You will not come to Me, that you might have life” (John 5:40)? Yes—but some did “come” to Him, some did receive Him. True—and who were they? John 1:12, 13 tells us; “But as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, to those who believe on His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man—but of God!”
But does not Scripture say, “Whoever will, may come”? It does—but does this signify that everybody has the will to come? What of those who won’t come? “Whoever will may come” no more implies that fallen man has the power (in himself) to come—than “Stretch forth your hand” implied that the man with the withered arm had ability (in himself) to comply. In and of himself—the natural man has power to reject Christ; but in and of himself he has not the power to receive Christ. And why? Because he has a mind that is “enmity against” Him (Romans 8:7); because he has a heart that hates Him (John 15:18). Man chooses that which is according to his nature—and therefore before he will ever choose or prefer that which is divine and spiritual—a new nature must be imparted to him! In other words, he must be born again!
Should it be asked, But does not the Holy Spirit overcome a man’s enmity and hatred when He convicts the sinner of his sins and his need of Christ; and does not the Spirit of God produce such conviction in many that perish? Such language betrays confusion of thought. Were such a man’s enmity really “overcome”, then he would readily turn to Christ; that he does not come to the Savior, demonstrates that his enmity is not overcome. But that many are, through the preaching of the Word, convicted by the Holy Spirit, who nevertheless die in unbelief, is solemnly true. Yet, it is a fact which must not be lost sight of that, the Holy Spirit does something more in each of God’s elect—than He does in the non-elect! He works in them “both to will and to do of God’s good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13).
In reply to what we have said above, Arminians would answer, No! the Spirit’s work of conviction is the same both in the converted and in the unconverted! That which distinguishes the one class from the other, is that the former yielded to His strivings, whereas the latter resist them. But if this were the case, then the Christian would make himself to “differ”, whereas the Scripture attributes the “differing” to God’s sovereign and discriminating grace, “For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive?” (1 Corinthians 4:7). Again; if such were the case, then the Christian would have ground for boasting and self-glorying, over his cooperation with the Spirit; but this would flatly contradict Ephesians 2:8, “For by grace are you saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God”.
Let us appeal to the actual experience of the Christian reader. Was there not a time (may the remembrance of it humble each of us into the dust) when you were unwilling to come to Christ? There was! Since then—you have come to Him. Are you now prepared to give Him all the glory for that? (Psalm 115:1) Do you not acknowledge you came to Christ because the Holy Spirit brought you from unwillingness to willingness? You do! Then is it not also a patent fact that the Holy Spirit has not done in many others—what He has done in you! Granting that many others have heard the Gospel, been shown their need of Christ—yet, they are still unwilling to come to Him. Thus He has wrought more in you, than in them. Do you answer, Yet I remember well the time when the great issue was presented to me, and my consciousness testifies that my will acted and that I yielded to the claims of Christ upon me. Quite true. But before you “yielded”, the Holy Spirit overcame the native enmity of your mind against God, and this “enmity” He does not overcome in all. Should it be said, That is because they are unwilling for their enmity to be overcome. Ah, none are thus “willing” until He has put forth His all-mighty power and wrought a miracle of grace in the heart!
But let us now inquire, What is the human WILL? Is it a self-determining agent—or is it, in turn, determined by something else? Is it a sovereign—or a servant? Is the will superior to every other faculty of our being—so that it governs them—or is it moved by their impulses and subject to their pleasure? Does the will rule the mind, or does the mind control the will? Is the will free to do as it pleases, or is it under the necessity of rendering obedience to something outside of itself?
“Does the will stand apart from the other great faculties or powers of the soul—as a man within a man, who can reverse the man and fly against the man and split him into segments, as a glass snake breaks in pieces? Or, is the will connected with the other faculties, as the tail of the serpent is with his body, and that again with his head, so that where the head goes, the whole creature goes, and, as a man thinks in his heart, so is he? First thought, then heart (desire or aversion), and then act. Is it this way—the dog wags the tail? Or, is it first the will—the tail which wags the dog? Is the will the first and chief thing in the man, or is it the last thing—to be kept subordinate, and in its place beneath the other faculties? And, is the true philosophy of moral action and its process, that of Genesis 3:6: ‘And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food’ (sense-perception, intelligence), ‘and a tree to be desired’ (affections), ‘she took and ate thereof’ (the will).” (G. S. Bishop).
These are questions of more than academical interest. They are of practical importance. We believe that we do not go too far when we affirm that the answer returned to these questions is a fundamental test of doctrinal soundness.
“This re-appearance of the doctrine of freewill serves to support that of the pretension of the natural man to be not irremediably fallen—for this is what such doctrine tends to. All who have never been deeply convicted of sin, all in whom this conviction is based on gross external sins, believe more or less in freewill.” J. N. Darby
1. The NATURE of the Human Will.
What is the Will? We answer, the will is the faculty of choice, the immediate cause of all action. Choice necessarily implies the refusal of one thing and the acceptance of another. The positive and the negative must both be present to the mind before there can be any choice. In every act of the will there is a preference—the desiring of one thing rather than another. Where there is no preference—but complete indifference, there is no volition. To will is to choose, and to choose is to decide between two or more alternatives. But there is something which influences the choice; something which determines the decision. Hence the will cannot be sovereign because it is the servant of that something. The will cannot be both sovereign and servant. It cannot be both cause and effect. The will is not causative, because, as we have said, something causes it to choose, therefore that something must be the causative agent.
Choice itself is affected by certain considerations, is determined by various influences brought to bear upon the individual himself, hence, volition is the effect of these considerations and influences, and if the effect, it must be their servant. So if the will is their servant then it is not sovereign, and if the will is not sovereign, we certainly cannot predicate absolute “freedom” of it. Acts of the will cannot come to pass of themselves—to say they can, is to postulate an uncaused effect. Nothing cannot produce something.
In all ages, however, there have been those who contended for the absolute freedom or sovereignty of the human will. Men will argue that the will possesses a self-determining power. They say, for example, I can turn my eyes up or down, the mind is quite indifferent which I do, the will must decide. But this is a contradiction in terms. This case supposes that I choose one thing in preference to another, while I am in a state of complete indifference. Manifestly, both cannot be true. But it may be replied, the mind was quite indifferent until it came to have a preference. Exactly! and at that time, the will was quiescent, too! But the moment indifference vanished, choice was made, and the fact that indifference gave place to preference, overthrows the argument that the will is capable of choosing between two equal things. As we have said, choice implies the acceptance of one alternative, and the rejection of the other or others.
That which determines the will—is that which causes it to choose. If the will is determined, then there must be a determiner. What is it that determines the will? We reply, The strongest motive power which is brought to bear upon it. What this motive power is, varies in different cases. With one it may be the logic of reason, with another the voice of conscience, with another the impulse of the emotions, with another the whisper of the Tempter, with another the power of the Holy Spirit. Whichever of these presents the strongest motive power and exerts the greatest influence upon the individual himself, is that which impels the will to act. In other words, the action of the will is determined by that condition of mind (which in turn is influenced by the world, the flesh, and the Devil, as well as by God), which has the greatest degree of tendency to excite volition.
To illustrate what we have just said, let us analyze a simple example: On a certain Lord’s day afternoon a friend of ours was suffering from a severe headache. He was anxious to visit the sick—but feared that if he did so his own condition would grow worse, and as the consequence, be unable to attend the preaching of the Gospel that evening. Two alternatives confronted him: to visit the sick that afternoon and risk being sick himself, or, to take a rest that afternoon (and visit the sick the next day), and probably arise refreshed and fit for the evening service. Now what was it that decided our friend in choosing between these two alternatives? The will? Not at all. True, that in the end, the will made a choice—but the will itself was moved to make the choice. In the above case, certain considerations presented strong motives for selecting either alternative; these motives were balanced the one against the other by the individual himself, that is, his heart and mind, and the one alternative being supported by stronger motives than the other—a decision was formed accordingly, and then the will acted. On the one side, our friend felt impelled by a sense of duty to visit the sick; he was moved with compassion to do so, and thus a strong motive was presented to his mind. On the other hand, his judgment reminded him that he was feeling far from well himself, that he badly needed a rest, that if he visited the sick his own condition would probably be made worse, and in such case he would be prevented from attending the preaching of the Gospel that night. Furthermore, he knew that on the morrow, the Lord willing, he could visit the sick, and this being so, he concluded he ought to rest that afternoon.
Here then were two sets of alternatives presented to our Christian brother: on the one side was a sense of duty plus his own sympathy; on the other side was a sense of his own need plus a real concern for God’s glory—for he felt that he ought to attend the preaching of the Gospel that night. The latter prevailed. Spiritual considerations outweighed his sense of duty. Having formed his decision—the will acted accordingly, and he retired to rest. An analysis of the above case shows that the mind or reasoning faculty was directed by spiritual considerations, and the mind regulated and controlled the will. Hence we say that, if the will is controlled, it is neither sovereign nor free—but is the servant of the mind.
It is only as we see the real nature of freedom, and mark that the will is subject to the motives brought to bear upon it—that we are able to discern there is no conflict between two statements of Holy Writ which concern our blessed Lord. In Matthew 4:1 we read, “Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the Devil;” but in Mark 1:12, 13 we are told, “And immediately the Spirit drove Him into the wilderness. And He was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted of Satan”. It is utterly impossible to harmonize these two statements by the Arminian conception of the will. But really there is no difficulty. That Christ was “driven”, implies it was by a forcible motive or powerful impulse, such as was not to be resisted or refused; that He was “led” denotes His freedom in going. Putting the two together we learn, that He was driven, with a voluntary condescension thereto. So, there is the liberty of man’s will—and the victorious efficacy of God’s grace united together. A sinner may be “drawn” and yet “come” to Christ—the “drawing” presenting to him the irresistible motive, the “coming” signifying the response of his will—as Christ was “driven” and “led” by the Spirit into the wilderness.
Human philosophy insists that it is the will which governs the man—but the Word of God teaches that it is the heart which is the dominating center of our being. Many scriptures might be quoted in substantiation of this. “Keep your heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life” (Proverbs 4:23). “For from within, out of the heart of men—proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders,” etc. (Mark 7:21). Here our Lord traces these sinful acts back to their source; and declares that their fountain is the “heart,” and not the will! Again; “This people draws near unto Me with their lips—but their heart is far from Me” (Matthew 15:8). If further proof were required we might call attention to the fact that the word “heart” is found in the Bible more than three times oftener than is the word “will,” even though nearly half of the references to the latter refer to God’s will!
When we affirm that it is the heart and not the will—which governs the man, we are not merely striving about words—but insisting on a distinction that is of vital importance.
Here is an individual before whom two alternatives are placed—which alternative will he choose? We answer, the one which is most agreeable to himself, that is, his “heart”—the innermost core of his being. Before the sinner is set a life of virtue and piety—and also a life of sinful indulgence; which will he follow? The latter. Why? Because this is his choice. But does that prove the will is sovereign? Not at all. Go back from effect—to cause. Why does the sinner choose a life of sinful indulgence? Because he prefers it—and he does prefer it, all arguments to the contrary notwithstanding, though of course he does not enjoy the effects of such a course. And why does he prefer it? Because his heart is sinful.
The same alternatives, in like manner, confront the Christian, and he chooses and strives after a life of piety and virtue. Why? Because God has given him a new heart or nature. Hence we say it is not the will which makes the sinner impervious to all appeals to “forsake his way,” but his corrupt and evil heart. He will not come to Christ, because be does not want to, and he does not want to because his heart hates Him and loves sin! Jeremiah 17:9, “The human heart is most deceitful and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?”
In defining the will we have said above, that “the will is the faculty of choice, the immediate cause of all action.” We say the immediate cause, for the will is not the primary cause of any action—any more than the hand is! Just as the hand is controlled by the muscles and nerves of the arm, and the arm by the brain; so the will is the servant of the mind, and the mind, in turn, is affected by various influences and motives which are brought to bear upon it.
But, it may be asked, Does not Scripture make its appeal to man’s will? Is it not written, “Whoever will—let him take the water of life freely” (Revelation 22:17)? And did not our Lord say, “you will not come to Me that you might have life” (John 5:40)? We answer; the appeal of Scripture is not always made to man’s “will”; other of his faculties are also addressed. For example: “He who has ears to hear—let him hear.” “Hear—and your soul shall live.” “Look unto Me—and be saved.” “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ—and you
shall be saved.” “Come now and let us reason together.” “With the heart man believes unto righteousness,” etc., etc.
2. The BONDAGE of the Human Will.
In any treatise that proposes to deal with the human will, its nature and functions, respect should be had to the will in three different men, namely:
the Lord Jesus Christ.
1. In unfallen Adam the will was free, free in both directions, free toward good and free toward evil. Adam was created in a state of innocency, but not in a state of holiness, as is so often assumed and asserted. Adam’s will was therefore in a condition of moral equipoise. That is to say, in Adam there was no constraining bias in him toward either good or evil, and as such, Adam differed radically from all his descendants, as well as from “the Man Christ Jesus.”
2. But with the sinner it is far otherwise. The sinner is born with a will that is not in a condition of moral equipoise, because in him there is a heart that is “deceitful above all things and desperately wicked,” and this gives him a bias toward evil.
3. So, too, with the Lord Jesus it was far otherwise. He also differed radically from unfallen Adam. The Lord Jesus Christ could not sin because He was “the Holy One of God.” Before He was born into this world it was said to Mary, “The Holy Spirit shall come upon you, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow you: therefore also that Holy One who shall be born of you, shall be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35). Speaking reverently then, we say, that the will of the Son of Man was not in a condition of moral equipoise, that is, capable of turning toward either good or evil. The will of the Lord Jesus was biased toward that which is good because, side by side with His sinless, holy, perfect humanity—was His impeccable Deity.
Now in contradistinction from the will of the Lord Jesus which was biased toward good, and Adam’s will which, before his fall, was in a condition of moral equipoise—capable of turning toward either good or evil—the sinner’s will is biased toward evil, and therefore is free in one direction only—namely, in the direction of evil. The sinner’s will is enslaved because it is in bondage to and is the servant of a depraved heart!
In what does the sinner’s freedom consist? This question is naturally suggested by what we have just said above. The sinner is ‘free’ in the sense of being unforced from without. God never forces the sinner to sin. But the sinner is not free to do either good or evil, because an evil heart within is ever inclining him toward sin.
Let us illustrate what we have in mind. I hold in my hand a book. I release it; what happens? It falls. In which direction? Downwards — always downwards. Why? Because, answering the law of gravity, its own weight sinks it. Suppose I desire that book to occupy a position three feet higher; then what? I must lift it—a power outside of that book must raise it. Such is the relationship which fallen man sustains toward God. While Divine power upholds him—he is preserved from plunging still deeper into sin. But let that power be withdrawn, and he falls—his own weight (of sin) drags him down. God does not push him down, anymore than I did that book. Let all Divine restraint be removed—and every man is capable of becoming—and would become—a Cain, a Pharaoh, a Judas!
How then is the sinner to move heavenwards? By an act of his own will? Not so! A power outside of himself must grasp hold of him and lift him every inch of the way. The sinner is free—but free in one direction only—free to fall, free to sin. As the Word expresses it: “For when you were the servants of sin, you were free from righteousness” (Romans 6:20). The sinner is free to do as he pleases, always as he pleases (except as he is restrained by God)—but his pleasure is to sin!
In the opening paragraph of this chapter we insisted that a proper conception of the nature and function of the will is of practical importance; nay, that it constitutes a fundamental test of theological orthodoxy or doctrinal soundness. We wish to amplify this statement and attempt to demonstrate its accuracy. The freedom or bondage of the will—was the dividing line between Augustinianism and Pelagianism, and in more recent times between Calvinism and Arminianism. Reduced to simple terms, this means, that the difference involved was the affirmation or denial of the total depravity of man. In taking the affirmative we shall now consider,
3. The IMPOTENCY of the Human Will.
Does it lie within the province of man’s will to accept or reject the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior? Granted that the Gospel is preached to the sinner, that the Holy Spirit convicts him of his lost condition, does it, in the final analysis, lie within the power of his own will to resist or to yield himself up to God? The answer to this question defines our conception of human depravity. That man is a fallen creature all professing Christians will allow. But what many of them mean by “fallen” is often difficult to determine. The general impression seems to be, that man is now mortal, that he is no longer in the condition in which he left the hands of his Creator, that he is liable to disease, that he inherits evil tendencies; but, that if he employs his powers to the best of his ability, somehow he will be happy at last. O, how far short of the sad truth! Infirmities, sickness, even physical death, are but trifles in comparison with the moral and spiritual effects of the Fall! It is only by consulting the Holy Scriptures, that we are able to obtain some conception of the extent of that terrible calamity!
When we say that man is totally depraved, we mean that the entrance of sin into the human constitution, has affected every part and faculty of man’s being. Total depravity means that man is, in spirit and soul and body, the slave of sin and the captive of the Devil—walking “according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now works in the children of disobedience. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath!” Ephesians 2:2, 3
This statement ought not to need arguing—it is a common fact of human experience. Man is unable to realize his own aspirations and materialize his own ideals. He cannot do the things that he would. There is a moral inability which paralyzes him. This is proof positive that he is no free man—but instead, the slave of sin and Satan. “You are of your father the Devil, and the lusts (desires) of your father you will do” (John 8:44). Sin is more than an act or a series of acts. Sin is a state or condition: it is that which lies behind and produces the acts. Sin has penetrated and permeated the whole of man’s make-up. It has blinded the understanding, corrupted the heart, and alienated the mind from God. And the will has not escaped. The will is under the dominion of sin and Satan. Therefore, the will is not free. In short, the affections love as they do and the will chooses as it does because of the state of the heart, and because the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked “There is none that seeks after God” (Romans 3:11).
We repeat our question; Does it lie within the power of the sinner’s will to yield himself up to God? Let us attempt an answer by asking several others: Can water (of itself) rise above its own level? Can a clean thing come out of an unclean? Can the will reverse the whole tendency and strain of human nature? Can that which is under the dominion of sin, originate that which is pure and holy? Manifestly not! If ever the will of a fallen and depraved creature is to move God-wards—a Divine power must be brought to bear upon it, which will overcome the influences of sin that pull in a counter direction! This is only another way of saying, “No man can come to Me, unless the Father who has sent Me, draws him” (John 6:44). In other words, God’s people must be made willing in the day of His power (Psalm 110:3).
As Darby said, “If Christ came to save that which is lost, free will has no place. Not that God prevents men from receiving Christ—far from it. But even when God uses all possible inducements, all that is capable of exerting influence in the heart of man—it only serves to show that man will have none of it, that so corrupt is his heart, and so decided his will not to submit to God (however much it may be the devil who encourages him to sin) that nothing can induce him to receive the Lord, and to give up sin. If by the words, ‘freedom of man,’ they mean that no one forces him to reject the Lord, this liberty fully exists. But if it is said that, on account of the dominion of sin, of which he is the slave, and that voluntarily, he cannot escape from his condition, and make choice of the good—even while acknowledging it to be good, and approving of it—then he has no liberty whatever! He is not subject to the law, neither indeed can he be! Hence, those who are in the flesh cannot please God.”
The will is not sovereign; it is a servant, because influenced and controlled by the other faculties of man’s being. The sinner is not a free agent, because he is a slave of sin! This was clearly implied in our Lord’s words, “If the Son shall therefore make you free, you shall be free indeed” (John 8:36). Man is a rational being and as such responsible and accountable to God—but to affirm that he is a free moral agent is to deny that he is totally depraved—that is, depraved in will—as in every other faculty. Because man’s will is governed by his mind and heart, and because these have been vitiated and corrupted by sin—then it follows that if ever man is to turn or move in a Godward direction, God Himself must work in him “both to will and to do of His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13). Man’s boasted freedom is in truth, “the bondage of corruption”; he “serves divers lusts and pleasures.”
Said a deeply taught servant of God, “Man is impotent as to his will. He has no will favorable to God. I believe in free will; but then it is a will only free to act according to nature. A dove has no will to eat carrion; a raven no will to eat the clean grain of the dove. Put the nature of the dove into the raven—and it will eat the food of the dove! Satan could have no will for holiness. We speak it with reverence, God could have no will for evil. The sinner in his sinful nature could never have a will according to God. For this—he must be born again” (J. Denham Smith). This is just what we have contended for throughout this chapter—the human will is regulated by his sinful nature.
Among the “decrees” of the Council of Trent (1563), which is the avowed standard of Popery, we find the following— “If any one shall affirm, that man’s free-will, moved and excited by God, does not, by consenting, cooperate with God, the mover and exciter, so as to prepare and dispose itself for the attainment of justification; if moreover, anyone shall say, that the human will cannot refuse complying, if it pleases—but that it is inactive, and merely passive; let such an one be accursed!”
“If anyone shall affirm, that since the fall of Adam, man’s free-will is lost and extinguished; or, that it is a nominal thing, yes a name, without a thing, and a fiction introduced by Satan into the Church; let such an one be accursed!”
Thus, those who today insist on the free-will of the natural man—believe precisely what Rome teaches on the subject! That Roman Catholics and Arminians walk hand in hand, may be seen from others of the decrees issued by the Council of Trent: “If any one shall affirm that a regenerate and justified man is bound to believe that he is certainly in the number of the elect (which, 1 Thess. 1:4, 5 plainly teaches. Arthur Pink) let such an one be accursed!” “If any one shall affirm with positive and absolute certainty, that he shall surely have the gift of perseverance to the end (which John 10:28-30 assuredly guarantees, Arthur Pink); let him be accursed!”
In order for any sinner to be saved, three things are indispensable:
God the Father had to purpose his salvation,
God the Son had to purchase it,
God the Spirit has to apply it.
God does more than “propose” to us—were He only to “invite”, every last one of us would be lost. This is strikingly illustrated in the Old Testament. In Ezra 1:1-3 we read, “In the first year of King Cyrus of Persia, the Lord fulfilled Jeremiah’s prophecy by stirring the heart of Cyrus to put this proclamation into writing and to send it throughout his kingdom: “This is what King Cyrus of Persia says: The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth. He has appointed me to build a Temple for Him at Jerusalem in the land of Judah. All of you who are His people may return to Jerusalem in Judah to rebuild this Temple of the Lord, the God of Israel, who lives in Jerusalem. And may your God be with you!”
Here was an “offer” made, made to a people in captivity, affording them opportunity to leave and return to Jerusalem, God’s dwelling-place. Did all Israel eagerly respond to this offer? No indeed. The vast majority were content to remain in the enemy’s land. Only an insignificant “remnant” availed themselves of this overture of mercy! And why did they? Hear the answer of Scripture: “God stirred the hearts of the priests and Levites and the leaders of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple of the Lord!” (Ezra 1:5) In like manner, God “stirs up” the spirits of His elect when the effectual call comes to them—and not until then do they have any willingness to respond to the Divine proclamation.
The superficial work of many of the professional evangelists of the last fifty years is largely responsible for the erroneous views now current upon the bondage of the natural man, encouraged by the laziness of those in the pew in their failure to “prove all things” (1 Thess. 5:21). The average evangelical pulpit conveys the impression that it lies wholly in the power of the sinner—whether or not he shall be saved. It is said that “God has done His part, now man must do his.” Alas, what can a lifeless man do—man who by nature is “dead in trespasses and sins!” (Ephesians 2:1) If this were really believed, there would be more dependence upon the Holy Spirit to come in with His miracle-working power, and less confidence in our attempts to “win men for Christ.”
When addressing the unsaved, preachers often draw an analogy between God’s sending of the Gospel to the sinner, and a sick man in bed, with some healing medicine on a table by his side—all he needs to do is reach forth his hand and take it. But in order for this illustration to be in any way true to the picture which Scripture gives us of the fallen and depraved sinner, the sick man in bed must be described as one who is blind (Ephesians 4:18) so that he cannot see the medicine, his hand paralyzed (Romans 5:6) so that he is unable to reach forth for it, and his heart not only devoid of all confidence in the medicine but filled with hatred against the physician himself (John 15:18). O what superficial views of man’s desperate plight are now entertained! Christ came here not to help those who were willing to help themselves—but to do for His people what they were incapable of doing for themselves: “To open the blind eyes, to bring the prisoners out from the prison, and those who sit in darkness out of the prison house” (Isaiah 42:7).
Now in conclusion let us anticipate and dispose of the usual and inevitable objection: Why preach the Gospel—if man is powerless to respond? Why bid the sinner come to Christ—if sin has so enslaved him that he has no power in himself to come?
Reply: We do not preach the Gospel because we believe that men are free moral agents, and therefore capable of receiving Christ—but we preach it because we are commanded to do so (Mark 16:15); and though to them who perish, it is foolishness—yet, “unto us who are saved, it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18). “The foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Corinthians 1:25). The sinner is dead in trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1), and a dead man is utterly incapable of willing anything, hence it is that “those who are in the flesh (the unregenerate) cannot please God” (Romans 8:8).
To fleshly wisdom—it appears the height of folly to preach the Gospel to those who are dead, and therefore beyond the reach of doing anything themselves. Yes—but God’s ways are different from ours. It pleases God “by the foolishness of preaching to save those who believe” (1 Corinthians 1:21). Man may deem it folly to prophesy to “dead bones” and to say unto them, “O, you dry bones—hear the Word of the Lord” (Ezek. 37:4). Ah! but then it is the Word of the Lord, and the words He speaks “they are spirit, and they are life” (John 6:63).
Wise men standing by the grave of Lazarus might pronounce it an evidence of insanity, when the Lord addressed a dead man with the words, “Lazarus, Come forth!” Ah! but He who thus spoke was and is Himself the Resurrection and the Life, and at His word—even the dead live! We go forth to preach the Gospel, then, not because we believe that sinners have within themselves the power to receive the Savior it proclaims—but because the Gospel itself is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes, and because we know that “as many as were ordained to eternal life” (Acts 13:48), shall believe (John 6:37; 10:16—note the “shall’s!”) in God’s appointed time, for it is written, “Your people shall be willing in the day of Your power” (Psalm 110:3)!
What we have set forth in this chapter is not a product of “modern thought”; no indeed, it is at direct variance with it. It is those of the past few generations, who have departed so far from the teachings of their scripturally-instructed fathers.
In the thirty-nine Articles of the Church of England we read, “The condition of man after the fall of Adam is such, that he cannot turn and prepare himself by his own natural strength and good works to faith, and calling upon God. Therefore we have no power to do good works, pleasant and acceptable to God, without the grace of God by Christ enabling us, that we may have a good will, and working with us, when we have that good will” (Article 10).
In the Westminster Catechism of Faith (adopted by the Presbyterians) we read, “The sinfulness of that state whereinto man fell, consists in the guilt of Adam’s first sin, the loss of that righteousness wherein he was created, and the corruption of his nature, whereby he is utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite unto all that is spiritually good, and wholly inclined to all evil, and that continually” (Answer to question 25).
Likewise in the Baptists’ Philadelphian Confession of Faith, 1742, we read, “Man, by his fall into a state of sin, has wholly lost all ability of will to any spiritual good accompanying salvation. So a natural man, being altogether averse from holiness, and dead in sin, is not able by his own strength to convert himself, or to prepare himself thereunto” (Chapter 9).
GOD’S SOVEREIGNTY AND HUMAN RESPONSIBILITY
“Each of us will give an account of himself to God.”
In our last chapter we considered at some length, the much debated and difficult question of the human will. We have shown that the will of the natural man is neither sovereign nor free—but, instead, a servant and slave. We have argued that a right conception of the sinner’s will—its servitude—is essential to a just estimate of his depravity and ruin. The utter corruption and degradation of human nature is something which man hates to acknowledge, and which he will hotly and insistently deny—until he is “taught of God.” Much, very much, of the unsound doctrine which we now hear on every hand—is the direct and logical outcome of man’s repudiation of God’s expressed estimate of human depravity! Men are claiming that they are “increased with goods, and have need of nothing,” and know not that they are “wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked!” (Revelation 3:17). They prate about the ‘Ascent of Man,’ and deny his Fall. They put darkness for light; and light for darkness. They boast of the ‘free moral agency’ of man when, in fact, he is in bondage to sin and enslaved by Satan, “taken captive by him at his will” (2 Timothy 2:26).
But if the natural man is not a ‘free moral agent,’ does it also follow that he is not accountable?
‘Free moral agency’ is an expression of human invention and, as we have said before, to talk of the freedom of the natural man—is to flatly repudiate his total spiritual ruin. Nowhere does Scripture speak of the freedom or moral ability of the sinner; on the contrary, it insists on his moral and spiritual inability.
This is, admittedly, the most difficult branch of our subject. Those who have ever devoted much study to this theme, have uniformly recognized that the harmonizing of God’s Sovereignty with Man’s Responsibility is the gordian knot of theology. (Gordian knot: 1. An intricate knot tied by King Gordius of Phrygia and cut by Alexander the Great with his sword after hearing an oracle promise that whoever could undo it would be the next ruler of Asia. 2. An exceedingly complicated and unsolvable problem (The American Heritage Dictionary)
The main difficulty encountered, is to define the relationship between God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility. Many have summarily disposed of the difficulty by denying the existence of any difficulty. A certain class of theologians, in their anxiety to maintain man’s responsibility, have magnified it beyond all due proportions, until God’s sovereignty has been lost sight of, and in not a few instances flatly denied. Others have acknowledged that the Scriptures present both the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man—but affirm that in our present finite condition, and with our limited knowledge it is impossible to reconcile the two truths, though it is the bounden duty of the believer to receive both.
The present writer believes that it has been too readily assumed that the Scriptures themselves do not reveal the several points which show the conciliation of God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility. While perhaps the Word of God does not clear up all the mystery (and this is said with reserve), it does throw much light upon the problem, and it seems to us more honoring to God and His Word to prayerfully search the Scriptures for the complete solution of the difficulty, and even though others have thus far searched in vain—that ought only to drive us more and more to our knees. God has been pleased to reveal many things out of His Word during the last century, which were hidden from earlier students. Who then dare affirm that there is not much to be learned yet respecting our present inquiry!
As we have said above, our chief difficulty is to determine the meeting-point of God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility. To many, it has seemed that for God to assert His sovereignty, for Him to put forth His power and exert a direct influence upon man, for Him to do anything more than warn or invite—would be to interfere with man’s freedom, destroy his responsibility, and reduce him to a mere machine. It is sad indeed to find one like the late Dr. Pierson—whose writings are generally so scriptural and helpful—saying, “It is a tremendous thought that even God Himself cannot control my moral frame, or constrain my moral choice. He cannot prevent me defying and denying Him, and would not exercise His power in such directions if He could, and could not if He would” (A Spiritual Clinique). It is sadder still to discover that many other respected and loved brethren are giving expression to the same sentiments. Sad, because directly at variance with the Holy Scriptures!
It is our desire to face honestly the difficulties involved, and to examine them carefully in what light God has been pleased to grant us. The chief difficulties might be expressed thus:
First, How is it possible for God to so bring His power to bear upon men—that they are prevented from doing what they desire to do, and impelled to do other things they do not desire to do—and yet to preserve their responsibility?
Second, How can the sinner be held responsible for the doing of what he is unable to do? And how can he be justly condemned for not doing what he could not do?
Third, How is it possible for God to decree that men shall commit certain sins, hold them responsible in the committal of them, and judge them guilty because they committed them?
Fourth, How can the sinner be held responsible to receive Christ, and be damned for rejecting Him—when God had foreordained him to condemnation?
We shall now deal with these several problems in the above order. May the Holy Spirit Himself be our Teacher, so that in His light we may see light.
I. How is it possible for God to so bring His power to bear upon men, that they are PREVENTED from doing what they desire to do, and IMPELLED to do other things they do not desire to do—and yet to preserve their responsibility?
It would seem that if God put forth His power and exerted a direct influence upon men, that their freedom would be interfered with. It would appear that if God did anything wore than warn and invite men, that their responsibility would be infringed upon. We are told that God must not coerce man, still less compel him, or otherwise he would be reduced to a machine. This sounds very plausible; it appears to be good logic, and based upon sound reasoning; it has been almost universally accepted as an axiom in ethics. Nevertheless, it is soundly refuted by Scripture!
Let us turn first to Genesis 20:6, “Then God said to him in the dream, “Yes, I know you did this with a clear conscience, and so I have kept you from sinning against me. That is why I did not let you touch her!” It is argued, almost universally, that God must not interfere with man’s liberty, that he must not coerce or compel him—lest he be reduced to a mere machine. But the above scripture proves, unmistakably proves, that it is possible for God to exert His power upon man—without destroying his responsibility! Here is a case where God did exert His power, restrict man’s freedom, and prevent him from doing that which he otherwise would have done!
Before turning from this scripture, let us note how it throws light upon the case of Adam, the first man. Would-be philosophers, who sought to be wise above that which was written, have argued that God could not have prevented Adam’s fall without reducing him to a mere automaton. They tell us, constantly, that God must not coerce or compel His creatures, otherwise He would destroy their accountability. But the answer to all such philosophizing is, that Scripture records a number of instances where we are expressly told God did prevent certain of His creatures from sinning both against Himself and against His people—in view of which, all men’s reasonings are utterly worthless!
If God could “withhold” Abimelech from sinning against Him, then why was He unable to do the same with Adam? Should someone ask, Then why did not God do so? we might return the question by asking, Why did not God “withhold” Satan from falling? or, Why did not God “withhold” the German emperor from starting the recent War? The usual reply is, as we have said, God could not—without interfering with man’s “freedom” and reducing him to a machine.
But the case of Abimelech proves conclusively that such a reply is untenable and erroneous—we might add wicked and blasphemous, for who are we to limit the Most High! How dare any finite creature take it upon him to say what the Almighty can and cannot do? Should we be pressed further as to why God refused to exercise His power and prevent Adam’s fall, we should say—Because Adam’s fall better served His own wise and blessed purpose! Among other things, it provided an opportunity to demonstrate that where sin had abounded, that grace could much more abound. But we might ask further; Why did God place the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the garden—when He foresaw that man would disobey His prohibition and eat of it? For mark, it was God and not Satan who made that tree.
Should someone respond, Then is God the Author of Sin? We would have to ask, in turn, What is meant by “Author”? Plainly it was God’s will that sin should enter this world, otherwise it would not have entered, for nothing happens, except what God has eternally decreed. Moreover, there was more than a bare permission, for God only permits that which He has purposed. But we leave now the origin of sin, insisting once more, however, that God could have “withheld” Adam from sinning—without destroying his responsibility!
The case of Abimelech does not stand alone. Another illustration of the same principle is seen in the history of Balaam, already noticed in the last chapter—but concerning which a further word is in place. Balak the Moabite King sent for this heathen prophet to “curse” Israel. A handsome reward was offered for his services, and a careful reading of Numbers 22-24 will show that Balaam was willing, yes, anxious, to accept Balak’s offer and thus sin against God and His people. But Divine power “withheld” him. Mark his own admission, “Balaam replied, I have come, but I have no power to say just anything. I must speak only the message which God puts in my mouth!” (Num. 22:38). Again, after Balak had remonstrated with Balaam, we read, “He answered and said, Must I not speak what the Lord puts in my mouth? . . . Behold, I have indeed received a command to bless; since He has blessed, I cannot change it!” (23:12, 20). Surely these verses show us God’s power, and Balaam’s powerlessness; man’s will frustrated, and God’s will performed. But was Balaam’s “freedom” or responsibility destroyed? Certainly not, as we shall yet seek to show!
One more illustration, “The fear of the Lord fell on all the kingdoms of the lands surrounding Judah—so that they did not make war with Jehoshaphat” (2 Chron. 17:10). The implication here is clear. Had not the “fear of the Lord” fallen upon these kingdoms—they would have made war upon Judah. God’s restraining power alone prevented them. Had their own will been allowed to act, “war” would have been the consequence. Thus we see that Scripture teaches that God “withholds” nations as well as individuals, and that when it pleases Him to do so—He interposes and prevents war. Compare further, Genesis 35:5, “When they set out again, the fear of the Lord came over the people in all the towns of that area—and no one attacked them!”
The question which now demands our consideration is, How is it possible for God to “withhold” men from sinning—and yet not to interfere with their liberty and responsibility—a question which so many say is incapable of solution in our present finite condition. This question causes us to ask, In what does “moral freedom,” real moral freedom, consist? We answer, it is the being delivered from the bondage of sin. The more any soul is emancipated from the thralldom of sin, the more does he enter into a state of freedom, “If the Son therefore shall make you free—you shall be free indeed” (John 8:36).
In the above instances God “withheld” Abimelech, Balaam, and the heathen kingdoms from sinning, and therefore we affirm that He did not in any ways interfere with their real freedom. The nearer a soul approximates to sinlessness, the nearer does he approach to God’s holiness. Scripture tells us that God “cannot lie,” and that He “cannot be tempted,” but is He any the less free because He cannot do that which is evil? Surely not! Then is it not evident that the more man is raised up to God, and the more he be “withheld” from sinning—the greater is his real freedom!
A pertinent example setting forth the meeting-place of God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility, as it relates to the question of moral freedom, is found in connection with the giving to us of the Holy Scriptures. In the communication of His Word, God was pleased to employ human instruments, and in the using of them He did not reduce them to mere mechanical amanuenses, “Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the Scripture is of any private interpretation (Greek: of its own origination). For the prophecy came not at any time by the will of man—but holy men of God spoke moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:20, 21). Here we have man’s responsibility and God’s sovereignty placed in juxtaposition. These holy men were moved” (Greek: “borne along”) by the Holy Spirit—yet was not their moral responsibility disturbed, nor their “freedom” impaired. God enlightened their minds, enkindled their hearts, revealed to them His truth—and so controlled them, that error on their part was, by Him, made impossible, as they communicated His mind and will to men. But what was it that might have, would have, caused error—had not God controlled as He did, the instruments which He employed? The answer is sin—the sin which was in them. But as we have seen, the holding in check of sin, the preventing of the exercise of the carnal mind in these “holy men,” was not a destroying of their “freedom,” rather was it the inducting of them into real freedom.
A final word should be added here concerning the nature of true liberty. There are three chief things concerning which men in general greatly err:
misery and happiness,
folly and wisdom,
bondage and liberty.
The world counts none miserable—but the afflicted; and none happy—but the prosperous, because they judge by the present ease of the flesh. Again; the world is pleased with a false show of wisdom (which is “foolishness” with God), neglecting that which makes wise unto salvation. As to liberty, men would be at their own disposal, and live as they please. They suppose the only true liberty is to be at the command and under the control of none above themselves, and live according to their heart’s desire. But this is a thralldom and bondage of the worst kind! True liberty is not the power to live as we please—but to live as we ought! Hence, the only One who has ever trod this earth since Adam’s fall, who has enjoyed perfect freedom—was the Man Christ Jesus, the Holy Servant of God, Whose food it ever was to do the will of the Father.
We now turn to consider the question.
II. How can the sinner be held responsible FOR the doing of what he is UNABLE to do? And how can he be justly condemned for NOT DOING what he COULD NOT do?
As God’s creature, the natural man is responsible to love, obey, and serve Him; as a sinner he is responsible to repent and believe the Gospel. But at the outset we are confronted with the fact that the natural man is unable to love and serve God, and that the sinner, of himself, cannot repent and believe.
First, let us prove what we have just said. We begin by quoting and considering John 6:44, “No man can come to Me—unless the Father who has sent Me draws him”. The heart of the every man is so “desperately wicked” that if he is left to himself—he will never ‘come to Christ.’ This statement would not be questioned if the full force of the words “Coming to Christ” were properly apprehended. We shall therefore digress a little at this point, to define and consider what is implied and involved in the words “No man can come to Me”—cf. John 5:40, “You will not come to Me that you might have life.”
For the sinner to come to Christ that he might have life, is for him to realize the awful danger of his situation; is for him to see that the sword of Divine justice is suspended over his head; is to awaken to the fact that there is but a step between him and death, and that after death is the “judgment;” and in consequence of this discovery, is for him to be in real earnest to escape, and
in such earnestness that he shall flee from the wrath to come, cry unto God for mercy, and agonize to enter in at the “strait gate.”
To come to Christ for life, is for the sinner to feel and acknowledge that he is utterly destitute of any claim upon God’s favor; is to see himself as “without strength,” lost and undone; is to admit that he is deserving of nothing but eternal wrath, thus taking side with God against himself; it is for him to cast himself into the dust before God, and humbly sue for Divine mercy.
To come to Christ for life, is for the sinner to abandon his own righteousness and be ready to be made the righteousness of God in Christ; it is to disown his own wisdom and be guided by His; it is to repudiate his own will and be ruled by His; it is to unreservedly receive the Lord Jesus as his Savior and Lord, as his All in all.
Such, in part and in brief, is what is implied and involved in “Coming to Christ.” But is the sinner willing to take such an attitude before God? No! for in the first place, he does not realize the danger of his situation, and in consequence is not in real earnest after his escape; instead, men are for the most part at ease, and apart from the operations of the Holy Spirit, whenever they are disturbed by the alarms of conscience or the dispensations of providence, they flee to any other refuge but Christ.
In the second place, they will not acknowledge that all their ‘good works’ are as filthy rags but, like the Pharisee, will thank God they are not as bad as other heinous sinners.
And in the third place, they are not ready to receive Christ as their Savior and Lord, for they are unwilling to part with their idols! They had rather hazard their soul’s eternal welfare—than give them up. Hence we say that, left to himself, the natural man is so depraved at heart—that he cannot come to Christ!
The words of our Lord quoted above by no means stand alone. Quite a number of Scriptures set forth the moral and spiritual inability of the natural man. In Joshua 24:19 we read, “And Joshua said unto the people, You cannot serve the Lord—for He is a holy God.” To the Pharisees Christ said, “Why do you not understand My speech? Even because you cannot hear My word” (John 8:43). And again, “The carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can it be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Romans 8:7, 8).
But now the question returns, How can God hold the sinner responsible for failing to do what he is unable to do? This necessitates a careful definition of terms. Just what is meant by “unable” and “cannot”?
Now let it be clearly understood that, when we speak of the sinner’s inability, we do not mean that if men desired to come to Christ, that they lack the necessary power to carry out their desire. No! the fact is, that the sinner’s inability or absence of power is itself due to lack of willingness to come to Christ, and this lack of willingness is the fruit of a depraved heart. It is of first importance that we distinguish between natural inability and moral and spiritual inability.
For example, we read, “But Abijah could not see; for his eyes were set by reason of his age” (1 Kings 14:4); and again, “The men rowed hard to get back to dry land, but they could not—because the sea was raging against them more and more” (Jonah 1:13). In both of these passages the words “could not” refer to natural inability.
But when we read, “When his brothers saw that their father loved Joseph more than all his brothers, they hated him and could not bring themselves to speak peaceably to him” (Genesis 37:4). It is clearly moral inability that is in view. They did not lack the natural ability to “speak peaceably unto him”, for they were not mute. Why then was it that they “could not speak peaceably unto him”? The answer is given in the same verse: it was because “they hated him!”
Again, in 2 Peter 2:14 we read of a certain class of wicked men “having eyes full of adultery, and that cannot cease from sin.” Here again it is moral inability that is in view. Why is it, that these men “cannot cease from sin”? The answer is, Because their eyes were full of adultery.
So of Romans 8:8, “Those who are in the flesh cannot please God”: here it is spiritual inability. Why is it that the natural man “cannot please God”? Because he is “alienated from the life of God” (Ephesians 4:18). No man can choose that from which his heart is averse, “O generation of vipers how can you, being evil, speak good things?” (Matthew 12:34). “No one can come to Me—unless the Father who sent Me draws him” (John 6:44). Here again it is moral and spiritual inability which is before us. Why is it the sinner cannot come to Christ unless he is “drawn”? The answer is, Because his wicked heart loves sin and hates Christ.
We trust we have made it clear that the Scriptures distinguish sharply between natural inability and moral and spiritual inability. Surely all can see the difference between the blindness of Bartimaeus, who was ardently desirous of receiving his sight; and the Pharisees, whose eyes were closed, “lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted” (Matthew 13:15). Should it be asked— But could not the natural man come to Christ—IF he wished to do so? We answer, Ah! but in that IF lies the hinge of the whole matter. The inability of the sinner, consists of the lack of moral power to wish and will—so as to actually perform.
What we have contended for above, is of first importance. Upon the distinction between the sinner’s natural Ability, and his moral and spiritual Inability, rests his Responsibility. The depravity of the human heart does not destroy man s accountability to God; so far from this being the case—the very moral inability of the sinner only serves to increase his guilt. This is easily proven by a reference to the Scriptures cited above. We read that Joseph’s brethren “could not speak peaceably unto him,” and why? It was because they “hated” Him. But was this moral inability of theirs any excuse? Surely not! In this very moral inability, consisted the greatness of their sin! So of those concerning whom it is said, “They cannot cease from sin” (2 Peter 2:14), and why? Because “their eyes were full of adultery,” but that only made their case worse. It was a real fact that they could not cease from sin—yet this did not excuse them—it only made their sin the greater.
Should some sinner here object, I cannot help being born into this world with a depraved heart, and therefore I am not responsible for my moral and spiritual inability which accrue from it; our reply would be, Responsibility and Culpability lie in the indulgence of the depraved propensities, the free indulgence, for God does not force any to sin.
For example, men might pity me—but they certainly would not excuse me if I gave vent to a fiery temper, and then sought to extenuate myself on the ground of having inherited that temper from my parents! Their own common sense is sufficient to guide their judgment in such a case as this. They would argue that I was responsible to restrain my temper. Why then cavil against this same principle in the case supposed above? “Out of your own mouth will I judge you—you wicked servant” surely applies here!
What would the reader say to a man who had robbed him, and who later argued in defense, “I cannot help being a thief—for that is my nature”? Surely the reply would be, Then the penitentiary is the proper place for that man! What then shall be said to the one who argues that he cannot help following the bent of his sinful heart? Surely, that the Lake of Fire is where such an one must go! Did ever murderer plead that he hated his victim so much—that he could not go near him without slaying him. Would not that only magnify the enormity of his crime! Then what of the one who loves sin so much—that he is “at enmity against God!”
The fact of man’s responsibility is almost universally acknowledged. It is inherent in man’s moral nature. It is not only taught in Scripture, but witnessed to by the natural conscience. The basis or ground of human responsibility is human ability. What is implied by this general term “ability” must now be defined. Perhaps a concrete example will be more easily grasped by the average reader, than an abstract argument.
Suppose a man owed me $100 and could find plenty of money for his own pleasures, but none to repay me—yet pleaded that he was unable to pay me. What would I say? I would say that the only ability that was lacking—was an honest heart! But would it not be an unfair construction of my words—if a friend of my dishonest debtor would say I had stated that an honest heart was that which constituted the ability to pay the debt? No! I would reply: the ability of my debtor lies in the power of his hand to write me a check, and this he has—but what is lacking is an honest principle. It is his power to write me a check—which makes him responsible to do so, and the fact that he lacks an honest heart, does not destroy his accountability.
Now, in like manner, the sinner while altogether lacking in moral and spiritual ability does, nevertheless, possess natural ability—and this it is which renders him accountable unto God. Men have the same natural faculties to love God with—as they have to hate Him with! They have the same hearts to believe Christ with—as which they disbelieve Him. It is their failure to love and believe which constitutes their guilt. An idiot or an infant is not personally responsible to God, because lacking in natural ability. But the normal man who is endowed with rationality, who is gifted with a conscience that is capable of distinguishing between right and wrong, who is able to weigh eternal issues is a responsible being—and it is because he does possess these very faculties, that he will yet have to “give account of himself to God” (Romans 14:12).
We say again that the above distinction between the natural ability—and the moral and spiritual inability of the sinner, is of prime importance. By nature he possesses natural ability—but lacks moral and spiritual ability. The fact that he does not possess the latter, does not destroy his responsibility, because his responsibility rests upon the fact that he does possess the former.
Let me illustrate again. Here are two men guilty of theft: the first is an idiot; the second perfectly sane, but the offspring of criminal parents. No just judge would sentence the former; but every right-minded judge would the latter. Even though the second of these thieves possessed a vitiated moral nature inherited from criminal parents, that would not excuse him, providing he was a normal rational being. Here then is the ground of human accountability—the possession of rationality plus the gift of conscience. It is because the sinner is endowed with these natural faculties—that he is a responsible creature. Because he does not use his natural powers for God’s glory—constitutes his guilt.
How can it remain consistent with His mercy that God should require the debt of obedience from him that is not able to pay? In addition to what has been said above, it should be pointed out that God has not lost His right—even though man has lost his power. The creature’s impotence does not cancel his obligation. A drunken servant is a servant still, and it is contrary to all sound reasoning to argue that his master loses his rights through his servant’s default. Moreover, it is of first importance that we should ever bear in mind that God contracted with us in Adam, who was our federal head and representative; and in him, God gave us a power which we lost through our first parent’s fall; but though our power is gone, nevertheless, God may justly demand His due of obedience and of service.
We turn now to ponder,
III. How is it possible for God to DECREE that men SHOULD commit certain sins, hold them RESPONSIBLE in the committal of them, and adjudge them GUILTY because they committed them?
Let us now consider the extreme case of Judas. We hold that it is clear from Scripture, that God decreed from all eternity that Judas should betray the Lord Jesus. If anyone should challenge this statement we refer him to the prophecy of Zechariah, through whom God declared that His Son should be sold for “thirty pieces of silver” (Zech. 11:12). As we have said in earlier pages, in prophecy God makes known what will be, and in making known what will be, He is but revealing to us what He has ordained shall be. That Judas was the one through whom the prophecy of Zechariah was fulfilled, needs not to be argued.
But now the question we have to face is, Was Judas a responsible agent in fulfilling this decree of God? We reply that he was! Responsibility attaches mainly to the motive and intention of the one committing the act. This is recognized on every hand. Human law distinguishes between a blow inflicted by accident (without evil design), and a blow delivered with ‘deliberate malice.’ Apply then, this same principle to the case of Judas. What was the design of his heart when he bargained with the priests? Manifestly he had no conscious desire to fulfill any decree of God—though unknown to himself he was actually doing so. On the contrary, his intention was only evil, and therefore, though God had decreed and directed his act, nevertheless, his own evil intention rendered him justly guilty, as he afterwards acknowledged himself, “I have betrayed innocent blood.”
It was the same with the Crucifixion of Christ. Scripture plainly declares that He was “delivered up by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23), and that though “the kings of the earth stood up, and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord, and against His Christ;” yet, notwithstanding, it was but “to do whatever Your hand and Your plan had predestined to take place” (Acts 4:26, 28). These verses teach very much more than a bare permission by God, declaring, as they do, that the Crucifixion and all its details had been decreed by God. Yet, nevertheless, it was by “wicked hands,” not merely “human hands”, that our Lord was “crucified and slain” (Acts 2:23). “Wicked” because the intention, of His crucifiers was only evil.
But it might be objected that, if God had decreed that Judas should betray Christ, and that the Jews and Gentiles should crucify Him—that they could not do otherwise, and therefore, they were not responsible for their intentions. The answer is, God had decreed that they should perform the acts they did—but in the actual perpetration of these deeds they were justly guilty, because their own purposes in the doing of them was only evil.
Let it be emphatically said, that God does not produce the sinful dispositions of any of His creatures; though He does restrain and direct them to the accomplishing of His own purposes. Hence He is neither the Author nor the Approver of sin. Thus it is written, “A man’s heart devises his way—but the Lord directs his steps” (Proverbs 16:9). What we would here insist upon is, that God’s decrees are not the necessitating cause of the sins of men—but the fore-determined and prescribed boundings and directings of men’s sinful acts.
In connection with the betrayal of Christ, God did not decree that He should be sold by one of His creatures—and then take up a holy man—instill an evil desire into his heart—and thus force him to perform the terrible deed in order to execute His decree. No! The Scriptures do not represent it thus. Instead, God decreed the act and selected the one who was to perform the act—but He did not make him evil in order that he should perform the deed. On the contrary, the betrayer was a “devil” at the time the Lord Jesus chose him as one of the twelve (John 6:70), and in the exercise and manifestation of his own devilry—God simply directed his actions, actions which were perfectly agreeable to his own vile heart, and performed with the most wicked intentions. Thus it was with the Crucifixion.
IV. How can the sinner be held responsible to receive Christ, and be damned for rejecting Him, when God FOREORDAINED him TO condemnation?
Really, this question has been covered in what has been said under the other queries—but for the benefit of those who are exercised upon this point—we give it a separate, though brief, examination. In considering the above difficulty, the following points should be carefully weighed:
In the first place, no sinner, while he is in this world, knows for certain, nor can he know, that he is a “vessel of wrath fitted to destruction”. This belongs to the hidden counsels of God, to which he has no access. God’s secret will is no business of his; God’s revealed will (in the Word) is the standard of human responsibility. And God’s revealed will is plain. Each sinner is among those whom God now “commands to repent” (Acts 17:30). Each sinner who hears the Gospel is “commanded” to believe (1 John 3:23). And all who do truly repent and believe—are saved. Therefore, is every sinner responsible to repent and believe.
In the second place, it is the duty of every sinner to search the Scriptures which “are able to make him wise unto salvation” (2 Timothy 3:15). It is the sinner’s “duty” because the Son of God has commanded him to search the Scriptures (John 5:39). If he searches them with a heart that is seeking after God, then does he put himself in the place where God is accustomed to meet with sinners. Upon this point the Puritan Thomas Manton has written very helpfully.
“I cannot say to everyone that plows, infallibly—that he shall have a good crop. But this I can say to him—It is God’s normal way—to bless the diligent and provident. I cannot say to everyone who desire children—Marry, and you shall have children. I cannot say infallibly to him that goes forth to battle for his country’s good, that he shall have victory and success. But I can say, as Joab, (1 Chron. 19:13) ‘Be of good courage, and let us behave ourselves valiantly for our people and the cities of our God, and let the Lord do what is good in His sight’. I cannot say infallibly that you shall obtain saving grace. But I can say to everyone—Let him use the means, and leave the success of his labor and his own salvation to the will and good pleasure of God. I cannot say this infallibly, for there is no obligation upon God. And still this work is made the fruit of God’s will and mere arbitrary dispensation, ‘Of His own will He begat us by the Word of Truth’ (James 1:18). Let us do what God has commanded, and let God do what He wills. And I need not say so; for the whole world in all their actings, are and should be guided by this principle. Let us do our duty—and refer the success to God, whose ordinary practice it is to meet with the creature that seeks after Him. And therefore, since He is beforehand with us, and has not showed any backwardness to our good, we have no reason to despair of His goodness and mercy—but rather to hope for the best” (Vol. 21, page 312).
God has been pleased to give to men the Holy Scriptures, which “testify” of the Savior, and make known the way of salvation. Every sinner has the same natural faculties for the reading of the Bible as he has for the reading of the newspaper; and if he is illiterate or blind so that he is unable to read, he has the same mouth with which to ask a friend to read the Bible to him, as he has to inquire concerning other matters. If, then, God has given to men His Word, and in that Word has made known the way of salvation, and if men are commanded to search those Scriptures which are able to make them wise unto salvation, and they refuse to do so—then is it plain that they are justly censurable, that their blood lies on their own heads, and that God can righteously cast them into the Lake of Fire!
In the third place, should it be objected, Admitting all you have said above, Is it not still a fact that each of the non-elect is unable to repent and believe? The reply is, Yes. Of every sinner it is a fact that, of himself, he cannot come to Christ. And from God’s side—the “cannot” is absolute. But we are now dealing with the responsibility of the sinner (the sinner foreordained to condemnation, though he knows it not), and from the human side—the inability of the sinner is a moral one, as previously pointed out. Moreover, it needs to be borne in mind that in addition to the moral inability of the sinner—there is a voluntary inability, too. The sinner must be regarded not only as impotent to do good—but as delighting in evil. From the human side, then, the “cannot” is a will not; it is a voluntary impotence. Man’s impotence lies in his obstinacy. Hence, is everyone left “without excuse”. And hence, is God “clear” when He judges (Psalm 51:4), and righteous in damning all who “love darkness rather than light”.
That God does require what is beyond our own power to render—is clear from many scriptures. God gave the Law to Israel at Sinai and demanded a full compliance with it, and solemnly pointed out what would be the consequences of their disobedience (see Deut. 28). But will any readers be so foolish as to affirm that Israel were capable of fully obeying the Law! If they do, we would refer them to Romans 8:3 where we are expressly told, “For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh”.
Come now to the New Testament. Take such passages as Matthew 5:48, “Be therefore perfect—even as your Father who is in heaven is perfect”. 1 Corinthians 15:34, “Awake to righteousness, and sin not”. 1 John 2:1, “My little children, these things I write unto you, that you sin not”. Will any reader say he is capable in himself of complying with these demands of God? If so, it is useless for us to argue with him.
But now the question arises, Why has God demanded of man—that which he is incapable of performing? The first answer is, Because God refuses to lower His standard to the level of our sinful infirmities. Being perfect, God must set a perfect standard before us. Still we must ask, if man is incapable of measuring up to God’s standard, wherein lies his responsibility? Difficult as the problem seems—it is nevertheless capable of a simple and satisfactory solution.
Man is responsible to (1st) acknowledge before God his inability, and (2nd) to cry unto Him for enabling grace. Surely this will be admitted by every Christian reader. It is my bounden duty to own before God my ignorance, my weakness, my sinfulness, my impotence to comply with His holy and just requirements. It is also my bounden duty, as well as blessed privilege, to earnestly beseech God to give me that wisdom, strength, grace, which will enable me to do that which is pleasing in His sight; to ask Him to work in me “both to will and to do of His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13).
In like manner, the sinner, every sinner, is responsible to call upon the Lord. Of himself he can neither repent nor believe. He can neither come to Christ, nor turn from his sins. God tells him so; and his first duty is to “set to his seal that God is true”. His second duty is to cry unto God for His enabling power—to ask God in mercy to overcome his enmity, and “draw” him to Christ; to bestow upon him the gifts of repentance and faith. If he will do so, sincerely from the heart, then most surely God will respond to his appeal, for it is written, “For whoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Romans 10:13).
Suppose, I had slipped on the icy pavement, late at night, and had broken my hip. I am unable to arise; if I remain on the ground, I must freeze to death. What, then, ought I to do? If I am determined to perish, I shall lie there silent—but I shall be to blame for such a course. If I am anxious to be rescued, I shall lift up my voice and cry for help. So the sinner, though unable of himself to rise and take the first step toward Christ—is responsible to cry to God, and if he does (from the heart), there is a Deliverer to rescue him. God is “not far from everyone of us” (Acts 17:27); yes, “He is a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1). But if the sinner refuses to cry unto the Lord, if he is determined to perish—then his blood is on his own head, and his “damnation is just!” (Romans 3:8).
A brief word now concerning the EXTENT of human responsibility.
It is obvious that the measure of human responsibility varies in different cases, and is greater or less with particular individuals. The standard of measurement was given in the Savior’s words, “For unto whom much is given—of him shall much be required” (Luke 12:48). Surely God did not require as much from those living in Old Testament times—as He does from those who have been born during the Christian dispensation. Surely God will not require as much from those who lived during the ‘dark ages,’ when the Scriptures were accessible to but a few—as He will from those of this generation, when practically every family in the land owns a copy of His Word for themselves. In the same way, God will not demand from the heathen—what He will from those in Christendom. The heathen will not perish because they have not believed in Christ—but because they failed to
live up to the light which they did have—the testimony of God in nature and conscience.
To sum up. The fact of man’s responsibility rests upon his natural ability, is witnessed to by conscience, and is insisted on throughout the Scriptures. The ground of man’s responsibility, is that he is a rational creature capable of weighing eternal issues, and that he possesses a written Revelation from God, in which his relationship with and duty toward his Creator is plainly defined. The measure of responsibility varies in different individuals, being determined by the degree of light each has enjoyed from God. The problem of human responsibility receives at least a partial solution in the Holy Scriptures, and it is our solemn obligation as well as privilege to search them prayerfully and carefully for further light, looking to the Holy Spirit to guide us “into all truth.” It is written, “He leads the humble in what is right and teaches them His way” (Psalm 25:9).
In conclusion, it remains to point out that it is the responsibility of every man to use the means which God has placed to his hand. An attitude of fatalistic inertia, because I know that God has irrevocably decreed whatever comes to pass—is to make a sinful and hurtful use of what God has revealed for the comfort of my heart! The same God who has decreed that a certain end shall be accomplished, has also decreed that that end shall be attained through and as the result of His own appointed means. God does not disdain the use of means—nor must we.
For example: God has decreed that “while the earth remains, seed-time and harvest. . . shall not cease” (Genesis 8:22); but that does not mean man’s ploughing of the ground and sowing of the seed are needless. No! God moves men to do those very things, blesses their labors, and so fulfills His own ordination. In like manner, God has, from the beginning, chosen a people unto salvation; but that does not mean there is no need for evangelists to preach the Gospel, or for sinners to believe it; it is by such means that His eternal counsels are effectuated.
To argue that, because God has irrevocably determined the eternal destiny of every man—that this relieves us of all responsibility for any concern about our souls, or any diligent use of the means to salvation; would be on a par with refusing to perform my temporal duties because God has fixed my earthly lot. And that He has is clear from Acts 17:26, Job 7:1; 14:5, etc. If then the foreordination of God may consist with the respective activities of man in present concerns, why not in the future? What God has joined together—we must not cut asunder. Whether we can or cannot see the link which unites the one to the other, our duty is plain, “The secret things belong unto the Lord our God—but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law” (Deut. 29:29).
In Acts 27:22 God made known that He had ordained the temporal preservation of all who accompanied Paul in the ship; yet the apostle did not hesitate to say, “unless you abide in the ship—you cannot be saved” (v. 31); God appointed that means for the execution of what He had decreed. From 2 Kings 20 we learn that God was absolutely resolved to add fifteen years to Hezekiah’s life—yet he must take a lump of figs and lay it on his deadly boil! Paul knew that he was eternally secure in the hand of Christ (John 10:28)—yet he “kept his body under control” (1 Corinthians 9:26). The apostle John assured those to whom he wrote, “You shall abide in Him”—yet in the very next verse he exhorted them, “And now, little children, abide in Him” (1 John 2:27, 28). It is only by taking heed to this vital principle—that we are responsible to use the means of God’s appointing, that we shall be enabled to preserve the balance of Truth, and be saved from a paralyzing fatalism!
GOD’S SOVEREIGNTY AND PRAYER
[[“If we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.”
1 John 5:14]]
Throughout this book it has been our chief aim to exalt the Creator—and abase the creature. The well-near universal tendency, now, is to magnify man—and dishonor and degrade God. On every hand it will be found that, when spiritual things are under discussion, the human side and element is pressed and stressed, and the Divine side, if not altogether ignored, is relegated to the background. This holds true of very much of the modern teaching about prayer. In the great majority of the books written and in the sermons preached upon prayer, the human element fills the scene almost entirely: it is the conditions which we must meet, the promises we must “claim”, the things we must do, in order to get our requests granted. God’s claims, God’s rights, God’s glory are disregarded.
As a fair sample of what is being given out today, we subjoin a brief editorial which appeared recently in one of the leading religious weeklies entitled “Prayer, or Fate?”
“God in His sovereignty has ordained that human destinies may be changed and molded by the will of man. This is at the heart of the truth that prayer changes things, meaning that God changes things when men pray. Some one has strikingly expressed it this way: ‘There are certain things that will happen in a man’s life whether he prays or not. There are other things that will happen if he prays, and will not happen if he does not pray’. A Christian worker was impressed by these sentences as he entered a business office, and he prayed that the Lord would open the way to speak to some one about Christ, reflecting that things would be changed because he prayed. Then his mind turned to other things and the prayer was forgotten. The opportunity came to speak to the business man on whom he was calling—but he did not grasp it, and was on his way out when he remembered his prayer of a half hour before, and God’s answer. He promptly returned and had a talk with the business man, who, though a church-member, had never in his life been asked whether he was saved. Let us give ourselves to prayer, and open the way for God to change things. Let us beware lest we become virtual fatalists by failing to exercise our God-given wills in praying”.
The above illustrates what is now being taught on the subject of prayer, and the deplorable thing is that scarcely a voice is lifted in protest. To say that “human destinies may be changed and molded by the will of man” is rank infidelity—that is the only proper term for it. Should anyone challenge this classification, we would ask them whether they can find an infidel anywhere who would dissent from such a statement, and we are confident that such an one could not be found. To say that “God has ordained that human destinies may be changed and molded by the will of man”, is absolutely untrue. “Human destiny” is settled not by “the will of man,” but by the will of God. That which determines human destiny, is whether or not a man has been born again, for it is written, “Unless a man is born again—he cannot see the kingdom of God”.
And as to whose will, whether God’s or man’s, is responsible for the new birth is settled, unequivocally, by John 1:13, “Who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man—but OF GOD”. To say that “human destiny” may be changed by the will of man, is to make the creature’s will supreme, and that is, virtually, to dethrone God. But what do the Scriptures say? Let the Book answer, “The Lord kills, and makes alive! He brings down to the grave, and brings up. The Lord makes poor, and makes rich: He brings low, and lifts up. He raises up the poor out of the dust, and lifts up the beggar from the dunghill, to set them among princes, and to make them inherit the throne of glory” (1 Sam. 2:6-8).
Turning back to the Editorial here under review, we are next told, “This is at the heart of the truth that prayer changes things, meaning that God changes things when men pray.” Almost everywhere we go today one comes across a motto-card bearing the inscription “Prayer Changes Things”. As to what these words are designed to signify is evident from the current literature on prayer—we are to persuade God to change His purpose. Concerning this we shall have more to say below.
Again, the Editor tells us, “Some one has strikingly expressed it this way: ‘There are certain things that will happen in a man’s life whether he prays or not. There are other things that will happen if he prays, and will not happen if he does not pray.’” That things happen whether a man prays or not is exemplified daily in the lives of the unregenerate, most of whom never pray at all. That ‘other things will happen if he prays’ is in need of qualification. If a believer prays in faith and asks for those things which are according to God’s will, he will most certainly obtain that for which he has asked. Again, that other things will happen if he prays, is also true in respect to the subjective benefits derived from prayer: God will become more real to him and His promises more precious. That other things ‘will not happen if he does not pray’ is true so far as his own life is concerned—a prayerless life, means a life lived out of communion with God and all that is involved by this. But to affirm that God will not and cannot bring to pass His eternal purpose unless we pray—is utterly erroneous, for the same God who has decreed the end—has also decreed that His end shall be reached through His appointed means, and one of these is prayer. The God who has determined to grant a blessing, also gives a spirit of supplication which first seeks the blessing.
The example cited in the above Editorial of the Christian Worker and the business man is a very unhappy one to say the least, for according to the terms of the illustration, the Christian Worker’s prayer was not answered by God at all, inasmuch as, apparently, the way was not opened to speak to the business man about his soul. But on leaving the office and recalling his prayer the Christian Worker (perhaps in the energy of the flesh) determined to answer the prayer for himself, and instead of leaving the Lord to “open the way” for him, took matters into his own hand.
We quote next from one of the latest books issued on Prayer. In it the author says, “The possibilities and necessity of prayer, its power and results, are manifested in arresting and changing the purposes of God and in relieving the stroke of His power”. Such an assertion as this is a horrible reflection upon the character of the Most High God, “All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as He pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back His hand or say to him—What have you done?” (Daniel 4:35). There is no need whatever for God to change His designs, or alter His purpose, for the all-sufficient reason that these were framed under the influence of perfect goodness and unerring wisdom. Men may have occasion to alter their purposes, for in their short-sightedness, they are frequently unable to anticipate what may arise after their plans are formed. But not so with God, for He knows the end from the beginning. To affirm that God changes His purpose—is either to impugn His goodness—or to deny His eternal wisdom.
In the same book we are told, “The prayers of God’s saints are the capital stock in heaven by which Christ carries on His great work upon earth. The great throes and mighty convulsions on earth are the results of these prayers. Earth is changed, revolutionized, angels move on more powerful, more rapid wing, and God’s policy is shaped as the prayers are more numerous, more efficient”. If possible, this is even worse, and we have no hesitation in denominating it as blasphemy! In the first place, it flatly denies Ephesians 3:11, which speaks of God’s having an “eternal purpose”. If God’s purpose is an eternal one, then His “policy” is not being “shaped” today. In the second place, it contradicts Ephesians 1:11 which expressly declares that God “works all things after the counsel of His own will,” therefore it follows that, “God’s policy” is not being “shaped” by man’s prayers. In the third place, such a statement as the above makes the will of the creature supreme, for if our prayers shape God’s policy, then is the Most High subordinate to worms of the earth. Well might the Holy Spirit ask through the apostle, “For who has known the mind of the Lord? or who has been His Counselor?” (Romans 11:34).
Such thoughts on prayer as we have been citing are due to low and inadequate conceptions of God Himself. It ought to be apparent, that there could be little or no comfort in praying to a God that was like the chameleon, which changes its color continually. What encouragement is there to lift up our hearts to One who is in one mind yesterday, and another today? What would be the use of petitioning an earthly monarch, if we knew he was so mutable as to grant a petition one day and deny it another? Is it not the very unchangeableness of God which is our greatest encouragement to pray? It is because He is “without variableness or shadow of turning” we are assured that if we ask anything according to His will we are most certain of being heard. Well did Luther remark, “Prayer is not overcoming God’s reluctance—but laying hold of His willingness.”
And this leads us to offer a few remarks concerning the DESIGN of prayer. Why has God appointed that we should pray? The vast majority of people would reply, In order that we may obtain from God the things which we need. While this is one of the purposes of prayer, it is by no means the chief one. Moreover, it considers prayer only from the human side, and prayer sadly needs to be viewed from the Divine side. Let us look, then, at some of the reasons why God has bidden us to pray.
First and foremost, prayer has been appointed that the Lord God Himself should be honored. God requires that we should recognize that He is, indeed, “the high and lofty One who inhabits eternity” (Isaiah 57:17). God requires that we shall own His universal dominion! In petitioning God for rain—Elijah did but confess His control over the elements. In praying to God to deliver a poor sinner from the wrath to come—we acknowledge that “salvation is of the Lord” (Jonah 2:9). In supplicating His blessing on the Gospel unto the uttermost parts of the earth—we declare His rulership over the whole world.
Again, God requires that we shall worship Him, and prayer, real prayer, is an act of worship. Prayer is an act of worship, inasmuch as it is the prostrating of the soul before Him; inasmuch as it is a calling upon His great and holy name; inasmuch as it is the owning of His goodness, His power, His immutability, His grace; and inasmuch as it is the practical recognition of His sovereignty, manifested by a submission to His will. It is highly significant to notice in this connection that the Temple was not termed by Christ the House of Sacrifice—but instead, the House of Prayer.
Again, prayer redounds to God’s glory, for in prayer we do but acknowledge our dependency upon Him. When we humbly supplicate the Divine Being, we cast ourselves upon His power and mercy. In seeking blessings from God, we own that He is the Author and Fountain of every good and perfect gift. That prayer brings glory to God, is further seen from the fact that prayer calls faith into exercise, and nothing from us is so honoring and pleasing to Him—as the confidence of our hearts.
In the second place, prayer is appointed by God for our spiritual blessing, as a means for our growth in grace. When seeking to learn the design of prayer, this should ever occupy us before we regard prayer as a means for obtaining the supply of our need. Prayer is designed by God for our humbling. Prayer, real prayer, is a coming into the Presence of God, and a sense of His solemn majesty, produces a realization of our nothingness and unworthiness.
Again, prayer is designed by God for the exercise of our faith. Faith is begotten in the Word (Romans 10:17) —but it is exercised in prayer; hence, we read of “the prayer of faith”.
Again, prayer calls love into action. Concerning the hypocrite the question is asked, “Will he delight himself in the Almighty? Will he always call upon God?” (Job 27:10). But those who love the Lord cannot be long away from Him, for they delight in unburdening themselves to Him. Not only does prayer call love into action—but through the direct answers vouchsafed to our prayers, our love to God is increased, “I love the Lord—because He has heard my voice and my supplications” (Psalm 116:1).
Again, prayer is designed by God to teach us the value of the blessings we have sought from Him, and it causes us to rejoice the more when He has bestowed upon us that for which we supplicate Him.
Third, prayer is appointed by God for our seeking from Him the things which we are in need of. But here a difficulty may present itself to those who have read carefully the previous chapters of this book. If God has foreordained, before the foundation of the world, everything which happens in time, what is the use of prayer? If it is true that “of Him and through Him and to Him are all things” (Romans 11:36), then why pray? Before replying directly to these queries, it should be pointed out how that there is just as much reason to ask, What is the use of me coming to God and telling Him what He already knows? wherein is the use of me spreading before Him my need, seeing He is already acquainted with it? as there is to object, What is the use of praying for anything when everything has been ordained beforehand by God?
Prayer is not for the purpose of informing God, as if He were ignorant, (the Saviour expressly declared “for your Father knows what things you have need of, before you ask Him”—Matthew 6:8) —but it is to acknowledge He does know what we are in need of. Prayer is not appointed for the furnishing of God with the knowledge of what we need—but it is designed as a confession to Him of our sense of the need. In this, as in everything, God’s thoughts are not as ours. God requires that His gifts should be sought for. He designs to be honored by our asking, just as He is to be thanked by us after He has bestowed His blessing.
However, the question still returns on us, If God is the Predestinator of everything that comes to pass, and the Regulator of all events—then is not prayer a profitless exercise? A sufficient answer to these questions is, that God bids us to pray, “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17). And again, “men ought always to pray” (Luke 18:1). And further, Scripture declares that, “the prayer of faith shall save the sick”, and, “the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much” (James 5:15, 16); while the Lord Jesus Christ—our perfect Example in all things—was pre-eminently a Man of Prayer. Thus, it is evident, that prayer is neither meaningless nor valueless. But still this does not remove the difficulty, nor answer the question with which we started out. What then is the relationship between God’s sovereignty and Christian prayer?
First of all, we would say with emphasis, that prayer is not intended to change God’s purpose, nor is it to move Him to form fresh purposes. God has decreed that certain events shall come to pass—but He has also decreed that these events shall come to pass through the means He has appointed for their accomplishment. God has elected certain ones to be saved—but He has also decreed that these ones shall be saved through the preaching of the Gospel. The Gospel, then, is one of the appointed means for the working out of the eternal counsel of the Lord; and prayer is another. God has decreed the means as well as the end, and among the means is prayer. Even the prayers of His people are included in His eternal decrees. Therefore, instead of prayers being in vain, they are among the means through which God exercises His decrees. “If indeed all things happen by a blind chance, or a fatal necessity, prayers in that case could be of no moral efficacy, and of no use; but since they are regulated by the direction of Divine wisdom, prayers have a place in the order of events” (Haldane).
That prayers for the execution of the very things decreed by God are not meaningless, is clearly taught in the Scriptures. Elijah knew that God was about to give rain—but that did not prevent him from at once betaking himself to prayer, (James 5:17, 18). Daniel “understood” by the writings of the prophets that the captivity was to last but seventy years—yet when these seventy years were almost ended, we are told that he “set his face unto the Lord God, to seek by prayer and supplications, with fasting and sackcloth and ashes” (Daniel 9:2, 3). God told the prophet Jeremiah “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end”; but instead of adding, ‘there is, therefore, no need for you to supplicate Me for these things,’ He said, “Then shall you call upon Me, and you shall go and pray unto Me, and I will hearken unto you” (Jer. 29:12).
Once more; in Ezekiel 36 we read of the explicit, positive, and unconditional promises which God has made concerning the future restoration of Israel—yet in verse 37 of this same chapter we are told, “Thus says the Lord God; I will yet for this be inquired of by the house of Israel, to do it for them!” Here then is the design of prayer: not that God’s will may be altered—but that it may be accomplished in His own good time and way. It is because God has promised certain things, that we can ask for them with the full assurance of faith. It is God’s purpose that His will shall be brought about by His own appointed means, and that He may do His people good upon His own terms, and that is, by the ‘means’ and ‘terms’ of entreaty and supplication.
Did not the Son of God know for certain that after His death and resurrection He would be exalted by the Father? Assuredly He did. Yet we find Him asking for this very thing, “O Father, glorify Me with Yourself—with the glory which I had with You before the world was” (John 17:5)! Did not He know that none of His people could perish? yet He besought the Father to “keep” them (John 17:11)!
Finally; it should be said that God’s will is immutable, and cannot be altered by our prayers. When the mind of God is not toward a people to do them good, it cannot be turned to them by the most fervent and importunate prayers of those who have the greatest interest in Him, “Then said the Lord unto me, Though Moses and Samuel stood before Me—yet My mind could not be toward this people: cast them out of My sight, and let them go forth” (Jer. 15:1). The prayers of Moses to enter the promised land is a parallel case.
Our views respecting prayer need to be revised and brought into harmony with the teaching of Scripture on the subject. The prevailing idea seems to be, that I come to God and ask Him for something that I want, and that I expect Him to give me that which I have asked. But this is a most dishonoring and degrading conception. This popular belief reduces God to a servant—our servant! doing our bidding, performing our pleasure, granting our desires. No! True prayer is a coming to God, telling Him my need, committing my way unto Him, and leaving Him to deal with me as seems best to Him. This makes my will subject to His, instead of, as in the former case, seeking to bring His will into subjection to mine.
No prayer is pleasing to God, unless the spirit actuating it is, “not my will—but may Yours will be done”. “When God bestows blessings on a praying people, it is not for the sake of their prayers, as if He was inclined and turned by them; but it is for His own sake, and of His own sovereign will and pleasure. Should it be said, to what purpose then is prayer? It is answered, This is the way and means God has appointed, for the communication of the blessing of His goodness to His people. For though He has purposed, provided, and promised them—yet He will be sought unto, to give them, and it is a duty and privilege to ask. When they are blessed with a spirit of prayer, it forebodes well, and looks as if God intended to bestow the good things asked, which should be asked always with submission to the will of God, saying, Not my will—but may Yours will be done” (John Gill).
The distinction just noted above, is of great practical importance for our peace of heart. Perhaps the one thing that exercises Christians as much as anything else—is that of unanswered prayers. They have asked God for something: so far as they are able to judge, they have asked in faith believing they would receive that for which they had supplicated the Lord: and they have asked earnestly and repeatedly—but the answer has not come. The result is that, in many cases, faith in the efficacy of prayer becomes weakened, until hope gives way to despair, and the closet is altogether neglected. Is it not so?
Now will it surprise our readers, when we say that every real prayer of faith that has ever been offered to God has been answered? Yet we unhesitatingly affirm it. But in saying this, we must refer back to our definition of prayer. Let us repeat it. Prayer is a coming to God, telling Him my needs (or the needs of others), committing my way unto the Lord, and then leaving Him to deal with the case as seems best to Him. This leaves God to answer the prayer in whatever way He sees fit, and often, His answer may be the very opposite of what would be most acceptable to the flesh; yet, if we have really LEFT our need in His hands, it will be His answer, nevertheless. Let us look at two examples.
In John 11 we read of the sickness of Lazarus. The Lord “loved” him—but He was absent from Bethany. The sisters sent a messenger unto the Lord, acquainting Him of their brother’s condition. And note particularly how their appeal was worded, “Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick.” That was all. They did not ask Him to heal Lazarus. They did not request Him to hasten at once to Bethany. They simply spread their need before Him, committed the case into His hands, and left Him to act as He deemed best! And what was our Lord’s reply? Did He respond to their appeal and answer their mute request? Certainly He did, though not, perhaps, in the way they had hoped. He answered by abiding “two days still in the same place where He was” (John 11:6), and allowing Lazarus to die! But in this instance, that was not all. Later, He journeyed to Bethany and raised Lazarus from the dead. Our
purpose in referring here to this case, is to illustrate the proper attitude for the believer to take before God in the hour of need.
The next example will emphasize, rather, God’s method of responding to His needy child. Turn to 2 Corinthians 12. The apostle Paul had been granted an unheard-of privilege. He had been transported into Paradise. His ears have listened to, and his eyes have gazed upon—that which no other mortal had heard or seen this side of death. The wondrous revelation was more than the apostle could endure. He was in danger of becoming “puffed up” by his extraordinary experience. Therefore, a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan, was sent to buffet him lest he be exalted above measure. And the apostle spreads his need before the Lord; he thrice beseeches Him that this thorn in the flesh should be removed. Was his prayer answered? Assuredly, though not in the manner he had desired. The “thorn” was not removed—but grace was given to bear it. The burden was not lifted—but strength was granted to carry it.
Does someone object that it is our privilege to do more than spread our need before God? Are we reminded that God has, as it were, given us a blank check and invited us to fill it in? Is it said that the promises of God are all-inclusive, and that we may ask God for what we will? If so, we must call attention to the fact that it is necessary to compare Scripture with Scripture, if we are to learn the full mind of God on any subject, and that as this is done we discover God has qualified the promises given to praying souls by saying, “If we ask anything according to His will He hears us” (1 John 5:14).
Real prayer is communion with God, so that there will be common thoughts between His mind and ours. What is needed—is for Him to fill our hearts with His thoughts—and then His desires will become our desires flowing back to Him. Here then is the meeting-place between God’s sovereignty and Christian prayer: If we ask anything according to His will He hears us, and if we do not so ask, He does not hear us; as says the apostle James, “You ask, and receive not, because you ask amiss, that you might consume it upon your lusts” or desires (4:3)
But did not the Lord Jesus tell His disciples, “Truly, truly, I say unto you, Whatever you shall ask the Father in My name, He will give it to you” (John 16:23)? He did; but this promise does not give praying souls carte blanche. These words of our Lord are in perfect accord with those of the apostle John, “If we ask anything according to His will He hears us.” What is it to ask “in the name of Christ”? Surely it is very much more than a prayer formula, the mere concluding of our supplications with the words “in the name of Christ.” To apply to God for anything in the name of Christ—it must needs be in keeping with what Christ is! To ask God in the name of Christ—is as though Christ Himself were the suppliant. We can only ask God for what Christ would ask for. To ask in the name of Christ, is therefore, to set aside our own wills, accepting God’s!
Let us now amplify our definition of prayer. What is prayer? Prayer is not so much an act—as it is an attitude—an attitude of dependency, dependency upon God. Prayer is a confession of creature weakness, yes, of helplessness. Prayer is the acknowledgment of our need, and the spreading of it before God. We do not say that this is all there is in prayer, it is not—but it is the essential, the primary element in prayer. We freely admit that we are quite unable to give a complete definition of prayer within the compass of a brief sentence, or in any number of words.
Prayer is both an attitude and an act—a human act, and yet there is the Divine element in it too, and it is this which makes an exhaustive analysis impossible, as well as impious to attempt. But admitting this, we do insist again, that prayer is fundamentally an attitude of dependency upon God. Therefore, prayer is the very opposite of dictating to God. Because prayer is an attitude of dependency, the one who really prays is submissive, submissive to the Divine will; and submission to the Divine will means, that we are content for the Lord to supply our need according to the dictates of His own sovereign pleasure. And hence it is that we say, every prayer that is offered to God in this spirit is sure of meeting with an answer or response from Him.
Here then is the reply to our opening question, and the scriptural solution to the seeming difficulty. Prayer is not the requesting of God to alter His purpose, or for Him to form a new one. Prayer is the taking of an attitude of dependency upon. God, the spreading of our need before Him, the asking for those things which are in accordance with His will, and therefore there is nothing whatever inconsistent between Divine sovereignty and Christian prayer.
In closing this chapter we would utter a word of caution to safeguard the reader against drawing a false conclusion from what has been said. We have not here sought to epitomize the whole teaching of Scripture on the subject of prayer, nor have we even attempted to discuss in general, the problem of prayer; instead, we have confined ourselves, more or less, to a consideration of the relationship between God’s Sovereignty and Christian Prayer. What we have written is intended chiefly as a protest against much of the modern teaching, which so stresses the human element in prayer, that the Divine side is almost entirely lost sight of.
In Jeremiah 10:23 we are told “I know, O Lord, that a man’s life is not his own; it is not for man to direct his steps.” Proverbs 16:9, “In his heart a man plans his course—but the Lord determines his steps.” And yet in many of his prayers, man impiously presumes to direct the Lord as to His way, and as to what He ought to do—even implying that if only he had the direction of the affairs of the world and of the Church—he would soon have things very different from what they are! This cannot be denied: for anyone with any spiritual discernment at all could not fail to detect this spirit in many of our modern prayer-meetings where the flesh holds sway. How slow we all are to learn the lesson that the haughty creature needs to be brought down to his knees and humbled into the dust. And this is where the very act of prayer is intended to put us. But man (in his usual perversity) turns the footstool into a throne, from whence he would gladly direct the Almighty God—as to what He ought to do! giving the onlooker the impression that if God had half the compassion that those who pray (?) have, all would quickly be put right! Such is the arrogance of the old nature, even in a child of God.
Our main purpose in this chapter has been to emphasize the need for submitting, in prayer—our wills to God’s. But it must also be added, that prayer is much more than a pious exercise, and far otherwise than a mechanical performance. Prayer is, indeed, a Divinely appointed means whereby we may obtain from God the things we ask, providing we ask for those things which are in accord with His will. These pages will have been penned in vain unless they lead both writer and reader to cry with a deeper earnestness than heretofore, “Lord, teach us to pray!” (Luke 11:1)
OUR ATTITUDE TOWARD GOD’S SOVEREIGNTY]
[[“Even so, Father—for so it seemed good in Your sight!”
In the present chapter we shall consider, somewhat briefly, the practical application to ourselves, of the great truth which we have pondered in its various ramifications in earlier pages. In a future chapter, we shall deal more in detail with the value of this doctrine—but here we would confine ourselves to a definition of what ought to be our attitude toward the sovereignty of God.
Every truth that is revealed to us in God’s Word is there not only for our information, but also for our inspiration. The Bible has been given to us—not to gratify an idle curiosity—but to edify the souls of its readers. The sovereignty of God is something more than an abstract principle which explains the rationale of the Divine government: it is designed as a motive for godly fear; it is made known to us for the promotion of righteous living; it is revealed in order to bring our rebellious hearts into subjection to Him. A true recognition of God’s sovereignty humbles—as nothing else does or can humble, and brings the heart into lowly submission before God, causing us to relinquish our own self-will and making us delight in the perception and performance of the Divine will.
When we speak of the sovereignty of God, we mean very much more than the exercise of God’s governmental power, though, of course, that is included in the expression. As we have remarked in an earlier chapter, the sovereignty of God means the Godhood of God. In its fullest and deepest meaning, the title of this book signifies the Character and Being of the One whose pleasure is performed, and whose will is executed. To truly recognize the sovereignty of God is, therefore, to gaze upon the Sovereign Himself! It is to come into the presence of the august “Majesty on High.” it is to have a sight of the thrice holy God in His excellent glory. The effects of such a sight may be learned from those scriptures which describe the experience of different ones who obtained a view of the Lord God.
Mark the experience of JOB—the one of whom the Lord Himself said, “There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil” (Job 1:8). At the close of the book which bears his name, we are shown Job in the Divine presence, and how does he carry himself when brought face to face with Jehovah? Hear what he says, “My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I abhor myself and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:5, 6). Thus, a sight of God, God revealed in His awesome majesty, caused Job to abhor himself, and not only so—but to abase himself before the Almighty.
Take note of ISAIAH. In the sixth chapter of his prophecy a scene is brought before us which has few equals even in Scripture. The prophet beholds the Lord upon the Throne, a Throne, “high and lifted up.” Above this Throne stood the seraphim with veiled faces, crying, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord Almighty.” What is the effect of this sight upon the prophet? We read, “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty” (Isaiah 6:5). A sight of the Divine King humbled Isaiah into the dust, bringing him, as it did, to a realization of his own nothingness.
Once more. Look at the prophet DANIEL. Toward the close of his life this man of God beheld the Lord in theophanic manifestation. He appeared to His servant in human form “clothed in linen” and with loins “girded with fine gold”—symbolic of holiness and Divine glory. We read that, “His body looked like a dazzling gem. From His face came flashes like lightning, and His eyes were like flaming torches. His arms and feet shone like polished bronze, and His voice was like the roaring of a vast multitude of people.” Daniel then tells the effect this vision had upon him and those who were with him, “I, Daniel, am the only one who saw this vision. The men with me saw nothing, but they were suddenly terrified and ran away to hide. So I was left there all alone to watch this amazing vision. My strength left me, my face grew deathly pale, and I felt very weak. When I heard him speak, I fainted and lay there with my face to the ground” (Daniel 10:6-9). Once more, then, we are shown that to obtain a sight of the Sovereign God is for creature strength to wither up, and results in man being humbled into the dust before his Maker.
What then ought to be our attitude toward the Supreme Sovereign? We reply,
1. One of Godly fear.
Why is it that, today, the masses are so utterly unconcerned about spiritual and eternal things, and that they are lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God? Why is it that even on the battlefields multitudes were so indifferent to their soul’s welfare? Why is it that defiance of heaven is becoming more open, more blatant, more daring? The answer is, Because “There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Romans 3:18). Again, why is it that the authority of the Scriptures has been lowered so sadly of late? Why is it that even among those who profess to be the Lord’s people, there is so little real subjection to His Word, and that its precepts are so lightly esteemed and so readily set aside? Ah! what needs to be stressed today, is that God is a God to be feared!
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 1:7). Happy the soul who has been awed by a view of God’s majesty, who has had a vision of God’s awesome greatness, His ineffable holiness, His perfect righteousness, His irresistible power, His sovereign grace. Does someone say, “But it is only the unsaved, those outside of Christ, who need to fear God”? Then the sufficient answer is that the saved, those who are in Christ, are admonished to work out their own salvation with “fear and trembling.” Time was, when it was the general custom to speak of a believer as a “God-fearing man”—that such an appellation has become nearly extinct—only serves to show where we have drifted. Nevertheless, it still stands written, “Like as a father pities his children, so the Lord pities those who fear Him” (Psalm 103:13)!
When we speak of godly fear, of course, we do not mean a servile fear, such as prevails among the heathen in connection with their gods. No! we mean that spirit which Jehovah is pledged to bless, that spirit to which the prophet referred when he said, “To this man will I (the Lord) look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembles at My Word” (Isaiah 66:2). It was this the apostle had in view when he wrote, “Honor all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king” (1 Peter 2:17). And nothing will foster this godly fear—like a recognition of the sovereign Majesty of God.
What ought to be our attitude toward the Sovereignty of God? We answer again,
2. One of Implicit Obedience.
A sight of God leads to a realization of our littleness and nothingness, and issues in a sense of dependency and of casting ourselves upon God. Again, a view of the Divine Majesty promotes the spirit of godly fear and this, in turn, begets an obedient walk. Here then is the Divine antidote for the native evil of our hearts. Naturally, man is filled with a sense of his own importance, with his greatness and self-sufficiency; in a word, with pride and rebellion. But, as we remarked, the great corrective is to behold the Mighty God, for this alone will really humble him. Man will glory either in himself or in God. Man will live either to serve and please himself, or he will seek to serve and please the Lord. None can serve two masters.
Irreverence begets disobedience. Said the haughty monarch of Egypt, “Who is the Lord that I should obey His voice to let Israel go? I know not the Lord; neither will I let Israel go!” (Exodus 5:2). To Pharaoh, the God of the Hebrews was merely a god—one among many, a powerless entity who needed not to be feared or served. How sadly mistaken he was, and how bitterly he had to pay for his mistake—he soon discovered! But what we are here seeking to emphasize is, that Pharaoh’s defiant spirit was the fruit of irreverence, and this irreverence was the consequence of his ignorance of the majesty and authority of the Divine Being.
Now if irreverence begets disobedience, true reverence will produce and promote obedience. To realize that the Holy Scriptures are a revelation from the Most High, communicating to us His mind and defining for us His will, is the first step toward practical godliness. To recognize that the Bible is God’s Word, and that its precepts are the precepts of the Almighty, will lead us to see what an awful thing it is to despise and ignore them. To receive the Bible as addressed to our own souls, given to us by the Creator Himself, will cause us to cry with the Psalmist, “Incline my heart unto Your testimonies. Order my steps in Your Word” (Psalm 119:36, 133). Once the sovereignty of the Author of the Word is apprehended, it will no longer be a matter of picking and choosing from the precepts and statutes of that Word, selecting those which meet with our approval; but it will be seen that nothing less than an unqualified and whole-hearted submission befits the creature.
What ought to be our attitude toward the Sovereignty of God? We answer, once more,
3. One of entire resignation.
A true recognition of God’s absolute sovereignty, will exclude all murmuring. This is self-evident—yet the thought deserves to be dwelt upon. It is natural to murmur against afflictions and losses. It is natural to complain when we are deprived of those things upon which we had set our hearts. We are apt to regard our possessions as ours unconditionally. We feel that when we have prosecuted our plans with prudence and diligence, that we are entitled to success; that when by dint of hard work we have accumulated a ‘competence,’ we deserve to keep and enjoy it; that when we are surrounded by a happy family, no power may lawfully enter the charmed circle and strike down a loved one. And if in any of these cases disappointment, bankruptcy, death, actually comes, the perverted instinct of the human heart is to cry out against God. But in the one who, by grace, has recognized God’s sovereignty, such murmuring is silenced, and instead, there is a bowing to the Divine will, and an acknowledgment that He has not afflicted us as sorely as we deserve.
A true recognition of God’s sovereignty will avow God’s perfect right to do with us as He wills. The one who bows to the pleasure of the Almighty—will acknowledge His absolute right to do with us as seems good to Him. If He chooses to send poverty, sickness, domestic bereavements, even while the heart is bleeding at every pore—it will say, Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right! Often there will be a struggle, for the carnal mind remains in the believer to the end of his earthly pilgrimage. But though there may be a conflict within his breast, nevertheless, to the one who has really yielded himself to God’s sovereignty, there will presently be heard that Voice saying, as of old it said to the turbulent Gennesaret, “Peace be still”; and the tempestuous flood within will be quieted and the subdued soul will lift a tearful but confident eye to heaven and say, “May Your will be done!”
A striking illustration of a soul bowing to the sovereign will of God, is furnished by the history of Eli, the high priest of Israel. In 1 Samuel 3 we learn how God revealed to the young child Samuel that He was about to slay Eli’s two sons for their wickedness, and on the morrow Samuel communicates this message to the aged priest. It is difficult to conceive of more appalling news for the heart of a pious parent. The announcement that his child is going to be stricken down by sudden death is, under any circumstances, a great trial to any father—but to learn that his two sons—in the prime of their manhood, and utterly unprepared to die—were to be cut off by a Divine judgment, must have been overwhelming. Yet, what was the effect upon Eli when he learned from Samuel the tragic tidings? What reply did he make when he heard the awful news? “And he said, It is the Lord—let Him do what seems good to Him!” (1 Sam. 3:18). And not another word escaped his mouth. Wonderful submission! Sublime resignation! Lovely exemplification of the power of Divine grace to control the strongest affections of the human heart and subdue the rebellious will, bringing it into unrepining acquiescence to the sovereign pleasure of Jehovah.
Another example, equally striking, is seen in the life of Job. As is well known, Job was one who feared God and shunned evil. If ever there was one who might reasonably expect Divine providence to smile upon him, (we speak as a man,) it was Job. Yet, how did it fare with him? For a time, the lines fell in pleasant places unto him. The Lord filled his quiver by giving him seven sons and three daughters. He prospered him in his temporal affairs until he owned great possessions. But suddenly, the sun of life was hidden behind dark clouds. In a single day Job lost not only his flocks and herds—but his sons and daughters as well. News arrived that his cattle had been carried off by robbers, and his children slain by a cyclone. And how did he receive this news? Hearken to his sublime words, “The Lord gave—and the Lord has taken away!” He bowed to the sovereign will of Jehovah. He traced his afflictions back to their First Cause. He looked behind the Sabeans who had stolen his cattle, and beyond the winds that had destroyed his children—and saw the hand of God. But not only did Job recognize God’s sovereignty, he rejoiced in it, too. To the words, “The Lord gave—and the Lord bath taken away,” he added, “Blessed be the name of the Lord!” (Job 1:21). Again we say, Sweet submission! Sublime resignation!
A true recognition of God’s sovereignty causes us to hold our every plan in abeyance to God’s will. The writer well recalls an incident which occurred in England over twenty years ago. Queen Victoria was dead, and the date for the coronation of her eldest son, Edward, had been set for April 1902. In all the announcements which were sent out, two little letters were omitted— D. V. (Deo Volente) God willing. Plans were made and all arrangements completed for the most imposing celebrations that England had ever witnessed. Kings and emperors from all parts of the earth had received invitations to attend the royal ceremony. The Prince’s proclamations were printed and displayed—but, so far as the writer is aware, the letters D. V. were not found on a single one of them. A most imposing program had been arranged, and the late Queen’s eldest son was to be crowned Edward the Seventh at Westminster Abbey at a certain hour on a fixed day. And then God intervened, and all man’s plans were frustrated. A still small voice was heard to say, “You have reckoned without Me,” and Prince Edward was stricken down with appendicitis, and his coronation postponed for months!
As remarked, a true recognition of God’s sovereignty causes us to hold our plans in abeyance to God’s will. It makes us recognize that the Divine Potter has absolute power over the clay and molds it according to His own imperial pleasure. It causes us to heed that admonition—now, alas! so generally disregarded, “Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” (James 4:13-15). Yes, it is to the Lord’s will we must bow. It is for Him to say where I shall live—whether in America or Africa. It is for Him to determine under what circumstances I shall live—whether amid wealth or poverty, whether in health or sickness. It is for Him to say how long I shall live—whether I shall be cut down in youth like the flower of the field, or whether I shall continue for three score and ten years. To really learn this lesson is, by grace, to attain unto a high grade in the school of God; and even when we think we have learned it, we discover, again and again, that we have to relearn it!
4. One if deep thankfulness and joy.
The heart’s apprehension of this most blessed truth of the sovereignty of God, produces something far different than a sullen bowing to the inevitable. The philosophy of this perishing world knows nothing better than to “make the best of bad circumstances”. But with the Christian it should be far other wise. Not only should the recognition of God’s supremacy beget within us godly fear, implicit obedience, and entire resignation—but it should cause us to say with the Psalmist, “Bless the Lord, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless His holy name!” Does not the apostle say, “Giving thanks always for all things unto God the Father, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:20)? Ah, it is at this point the state of our souls is so often put to the test. Alas, there is so much self-will in each of us. When things go as we wish them, we appear to be very grateful to God; but what of those occasions when things go contrary to our plans and desires?
We take it for granted when the real Christian takes a train-journey that, upon reaching his destination, he devoutly returns thanks unto God—which, of course, argues that God controls everything; otherwise, we ought to thank the engine-driver, the stoker, the signalmen etc. Or, if in business, at the close of a good week, gratitude is expressed unto the Giver of every good (temporal) and of every perfect (spiritual) gift—which again, argues that He directs all customers to your shop. So far, so good. Such examples occasion no difficulty. But imagine the opposites. Suppose my train was delayed for hours—did I fret and fume? Or suppose another train ran into it, and I am injured! Or, suppose I have had a poor week in business, or that lightning struck my shop and set it on fire, or that burglars broke in and rifled it—then what? Do I see the hand of God in these things?
Take the case of Job once more. When loss after loss came his way, what did he do? Bemoan his “bad luck”? Curse the robbers? Murmur against God? No! he bowed before Him in worship. Ah, dear reader, there is no real rest for your poor heart until you learn to see the hand of God in everything. But for that, faith must be in constant exercise. And what is faith? A blind credulity? A fatalistic acquiescence? No, far from it. Faith is a resting on the sure Word of the living God, and therefore says, “We know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). And therefore faith will give thanks “always for all things”. Operative faith will “Rejoice in the Lord always” (Phil. 4:4).
We turn now to mark how this recognition of God’s sovereignty which is expressed in godly fear, implicit obedience, entire resignation, and deep thankfulness and joy—was supremely and perfectly exemplified by the Lord Jesus Christ.
In all things the Lord Jesus has left us an example that we should follow His steps. But is this true in connection with the first point made above? Are the words “godly fear” ever linked with His peerless name? Remembering that ‘godly fear’ signifies not a servile terror—but rather a filial subjection and reverence, and remembering too that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” would it not rather be strange if no mention at all were made of godly fear in connection with the One who was wisdom incarnate! What a wonderful and precious word is that of Hebrews 5:7, “Who in the days of His flesh, having offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto Him that was able to save Him from death, and having been heard for His godly fear.” What was it but ‘godly fear’ which caused the Lord Jesus to be “subject” unto Mary and Joseph in the days of His childhood? Was it not ‘godly fear’—a filial subjection to and reverence for God—that we see displayed, when we read, “And He came to Nazareth where He had been brought up—and, as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day” (Luke 4:16)? Was it not ‘godly fear’ which caused the incarnate Son to say, when tempted by Satan to fall down and worship him, “It is written, you shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve”? Was it not ‘godly fear’ which moved Him to say to the cleansed
leper, “Go your way, show yourself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded” (Matthew 8:4)? But why multiply illustrations?
How perfect was the obedience that the Lord Jesus offered to God the Father! And in reflecting upon this—let us not lose sight of that wondrous grace which caused Him, who was in the very form of God, to stoop so low as to take upon Him the form of a Servant, and thus be brought into the place where obedience was befitting. As the perfect Servant He yielded complete obedience to His Father. How absolute and entire that obedience was we may learn from the words, He “became obedient unto death, even the death of the Cross” (Phil. 2:8). That this was a conscious and intelligent obedience, is clear from His own language, “This is why the Father loves Me, because I am laying down My life so I may take it up again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down on My own. I have the right to lay it down, and I have the right to take it up again. I have received this command from My Father” (John 10:17, 18).
And what shall we say of the absolute resignation of the Son to the Father’s will—what, but between them there was entire oneness of accord. Said He, “For I came down from heaven, not to do My own will—but the will of Him who sent Me” (John 6:38). And how fully He substantiated that claim, all know who have attentively followed His path as marked out in the Scriptures. Behold Him in Gethsemane! The bitter ‘cup,’ held in the Father’s hand, is presented to His view. Mark well His attitude. Learn of Him who was meek and lowly in heart. Remember that there in the Garden we see the Word become flesh—a perfect Man. His body is quivering at every nerve, in contemplation of the physical sufferings which await Him; His holy and sensitive nature is shrinking from the horrible indignities which shall be heaped upon Him; His heart is breaking at the awful “reproach” which is before Him; His spirit is greatly troubled as He foresees the terrible conflict with the Power of Darkness; and above all, and supremely, His soul is filled with horror at the thought of being separated from God Himself. There He pours out His soul to the Father, and with strong crying and tears He sheds, as it were, great drops of blood. And now observe and listen. Still the beating of your heart, and hearken to the words which fall from His blessed lips, “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me. Nevertheless, not My will—but may Your be done” (Luke 22:42). Here is submission personified. Here is resignation to the pleasure of a sovereign God superlatively exemplified. And He has left us an example that we should follow His steps. He who was God became man, and was tempted in all points like as we are—sin apart—to show us how to wear our creature nature!
Above we asked, What shall we say of Christ’s absolute resignation to the Father’s will? We answer—that here, as everywhere, He was unique and peerless. In all things He has the pre-eminence. In the Lord Jesus there was no rebellious will to be broken. In His heart there was nothing to be subdued. Was not this one reason why, in the language of prophecy, He said, “I am a worm, and no man” (Psalm 22:6). A worm has no power of resistance! It was because in Him there was no resistance that He could say, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me” (John 4:34). Yes, it was because He was in perfect accord with the Father in all things that He said, “I delight to do Your will, O God! Yes, Your law is within My heart” (Psalm 40:8). Note the last clause here and behold His matchless excellency. God has to put His laws into our minds, and write them in our hearts (see Hebrews 8:10)—but His law was already in Christ’s heart!
What a beautiful and striking illustration of Christ’s thankfulness and joy is found in Matthew 11. There we behold, first, the failure in the faith of His forerunner (vv. 22, 23). Next, we learn of the discontent of the people: satisfied neither with Christ’s joyous message, nor with John’s solemn one (vv. 16-20). Third, we have the non-repentance of those favored cities in which our Lord’s mightiest works were done (vv. 21-24). And then we read, “At that time Jesus answered and said, I thank You, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because You have have hidden these things from the wise and prudent, and have revealed them unto babes” (v. 25)! Note the parallel passage in Luke 10:21 opens by saying, “In that hour Jesus rejoiced in spirit, and said, I thank You” etc. Ah, here was submission in its purest form. Here was One by which the worlds were made—yet, in the days of His humiliation, and in the face of His rejection, thankfully and joyously bowing to the will of the “Lord of heaven and earth”.
What ought to be our attitude towards God’s sovereignty? Finally,
5. One of adoring worship.
It has been well said that “true worship is based upon recognized GREATNESS, and greatness is superlatively seen in Sovereignty, and at no other footstool will men really worship” (J. B. Moody). In the presence of the Divine King upon His throne—even the seraphim ‘veil their faces.’
Divine sovereignty is not the sovereignty of a tyrannical Despot—but the exercised pleasure of One who is infinitely wise and good! Because God is infinitely wise—He cannot err; and because He is infinitely righteous—He will not do wrong. Here then is the preciousness of this truth. The mere fact itself that God’s will is irresistible and irreversible—fills me with fear; but once I realize that God wills only that which is good—my heart is made to rejoice!
Here then is the final answer to the question of this chapter—What ought to be our attitude toward the sovereignty of God? The befitting attitude for us to take is that of godly fear, implicit obedience, and unreserved resignation and submission. But not only so—the recognition of the sovereignty of God, and the realization that the Sovereign Himself is my Father, ought to overwhelm the heart and cause me to bow before Him in adoring worship! At all times I must say, “Even so, Father, for so it seems good in Your sight.” We conclude with an example which well illustrates our meaning.
Some two hundred years ago the saintly Madam Guyon, after ten years spent in a dungeon lying far below the surface of the ground, lit only by a candle at meal-times, wrote these words,
“A little bird I am,
Shut from the fields of air;
Yet in my cage I sit and sing
To Him who placed me there!
Well pleased a prisoner to be,
Because, my God, it pleases Thee.
Nothing have I else to do
I sing the whole day long;
And He whom most I love to please,
Does listen to my song!
He caught and bound my wandering wing
But still He bends to hear me sing.
My cage confines me round;
Abroad I cannot fly;
But though my wing is closely bound,
My heart’s at liberty!
My prison walls cannot control
The flight, the freedom of the soul.
Ah! it is good to soar
These bolts and bars above,
To Him whose purpose I adore,
Whose Providence I love!
And in Your mighty will to find
The joy, the freedom of the mind.”
DIFFICULTIES AND OBJECTIONS
“Yet you say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just!’ Hear, O house of Israel: Is My way unjust? Is it not your ways that are unjust?”
A convenient point has been reached when we may now examine, more definitely, some of the difficulties encountered, and the objections which might be advanced against what we have written in previous pages. The author deemed it better to reserve these for a separate consideration, rather than deal with them as he went along, requiring as that would have done, the breaking of the course of thought and destroying the strict unity of each chapter, or else cumbering our pages with numerous and lengthy footnotes.
That there are difficulties involved in an attempt to set forth the truth of God’s sovereignty is readily acknowledged. The hardest thing of all, perhaps, is to maintain the balance of truth. It is largely a matter of perspective. That God is sovereign is explicitly declared in Scripture; that man is a responsible creature is also expressly affirmed in Holy Writ. To define the relationship of these two truths, to fix the dividing line between them, to show exactly where they meet, to exhibit the perfect consistency of the one with the other—is the weightiest task of all. Many have openly declared that it is impossible for the finite mind to harmonize them. Others tell us it is not necessary or even wise to attempt it. But, as we have remarked in an earlier chapter, it seems to us more honoring to God to seek the solution to every problem, in His Word. What is impossible to man is possible with God, and while we grant that the finite mind is limited in its reach—yet, we remember that the Scriptures are given to us that the man of God may be “thoroughly furnished,” and if we approach their study in the spirit of humility and of expectancy, then, according unto our faith, will it be unto us.
As remarked above, the hardest task in this connection is to preserve the balance of truth, while insisting on both the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of the creature. To some of our readers it may appear that in pressing the sovereignty of God to the lengths we have, that man is reduced to a mere puppet. Hence, to guard against this, they would modify their definitions and statements relating to God’s sovereignty, and thus seek to blunt the keen edge of what is so offensive to the carnal mind. Others, while refusing to weigh the evidence that we have adduced in support of our assertions, may raise objections which to their minds are sufficient to dispose of the whole subject. We would not waste time in the effort to refute objections made in a carping and contentious spirit—but we are desirous of meeting fairly the difficulties experienced by those who are anxious to obtain a fuller knowledge of the truth. Not that we deem ourselves able to give a satisfactory and final answer to every question that might be asked. Like the reader, the writer knows but “in part” and sees through a glass “darkly.” All that we can do is to examine these difficulties in the light we now have, in dependence upon the Spirit of God that we may follow on to know the Lord better.
We propose now to retrace our steps and pursue the same order of thought as that followed up to this point. As a part of our “definition” of God’s sovereignty we affirmed, “To say that God is sovereign is to declare that He is the Almighty, the Possessor of all power in heaven and earth, so that none can defeat His counsels, thwart His purpose, or resist His will. . . The sovereignty of the God of Scripture is absolute, irresistible, infinite.” To put it now in its strongest form, we insist that God does as He pleases, only as He pleases, always as He pleases: that whatever takes place in time—is but the outworking of that which He decreed in eternity. In proof of this assertion we appeal to the following Scriptures, “But our God is in the heavens—He has done whatever He has pleased” (Psalm 115:3). “For the Lord Almighty has purposed, and who can thwart him? His hand is stretched out, and who can turn it back?” (Isaiah 14:27). “All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as He pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back His hand or say to Him: “What have You done?” (Daniel 4:35). “For of Him, and through Him, and to Him, are all things: to whom be glory forever. Amen” (Romans 11:36). “The Lord does whatever pleases Him, in the heavens and on the earth, in the seas and all their depths!” (Psalm 135:6)
The above declarations are so plain and positive, that any comments of ours upon them would simply be darkening counsel by words without knowledge. Such express statements as those just quoted, are so sweeping and so dogmatic that all controversy concerning the subject of which they treat ought forever to be at an end. Yet, rather than receive them at their face value, every device of carnal ingenuity is resorted to so as to neutralize their force.
For example, it has been asked, If what we see in the world today is but the outworking of God’s eternal purpose, if God’s counsel is NOW being accomplished, then why did our Lord teach His disciples to pray, “May Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven”? Is it not a clear implication from these words that God’s will is not now being done on earth? The answer is very simple. The emphatic word in the above clause is “as.” God’s will is being done on earth today, if it is not, then our earth is not subject to God’s rule, and if it is not subject to His rule then He is not, as Scripture proclaims Him to be, “The Lord of all the earth” (Josh. 3:13). But God’s will is not being done on earth as it is in heaven. How is God’s will “done in heaven”? Consciously and joyfully. How is it “done on earth”? For the most part, unconsciously and sullenly. In heaven the angels perform the bidding of their Creator intelligently and gladly—but on earth the unsaved among men accomplish His will blindly and in ignorance. As we have said in earlier pages, when Judas betrayed the Lord Jesus and when Pilate sentenced Him to be crucified, they had no conscious intention of fulfilling God’s decrees yet, nevertheless, unknown to themselves they did do so!
But again. It has been objected: If everything that happens on earth is the fulfilling of the Almighty’s pleasure, if God has fore-ordained, before the foundation of the world—everything which comes to pass in human history, then why do we read in Genesis 6:6, “The Lord was grieved that He had made man on the earth, and His heart was filled with pain”? Does not this language intimate that the antediluvians had followed a course which their Maker had not marked out for them, and that in view of the fact they had “corrupted” their way upon the earth, the Lord regretted that He had ever brought such a creature into existence?
Before drawing such a conclusion, let us note what is involved in such an inference. If the words “The Lord was grieved that He had made man” are regarded in an absolute sense, then God’s omniscience would be denied, for in such a case the course followed by man must have been unforeseen by God in the day that He created him. Therefore it must be evident to every reverent soul that this language bears some other meaning. We submit that the words, “The Lord was grieved” is an accommodation to our finite intelligence; and in saying this we are not seeking to escape a difficulty, or cut a knot—but are advancing an interpretation which we shall seek to show is in perfect accord with the general trend of Scripture.
The Word of God is addressed to men, and therefore it speaks the language of men. Because we cannot rise to God’s level He, in grace, comes down to ours and converses with us in our own speech. The apostle Paul tells us of how he was “caught up into Paradise and heard unspeakable words, which it is not possible to utter” (2 Corinthians 12:4) Those on earth, could not understand the vernacular of heaven. The finite cannot comprehend the Infinite, hence the Almighty deigns to couch His revelation in terms we may understand. It is for this reason the Bible contains many anthropomorphisms—that is, representations of God in the form of man. God is Spirit—yet the Scriptures speak of Him as having eyes, ears, nostrils, breath, hands etc., which is surely an accommodation of terms brought down to the level of human comprehension.
Again, we read in Genesis 18:20, 21, “And the Lord said, Because the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and because their sin is very grievous, I will go down now, and see whether they have done altogether according to the cry of it, which is come up unto Me; and if not, I will know.” Now, manifestly, this is an anthropomorphism—God, speaking in human language. God knew the conditions which prevailed in Sodom, and His eyes had witnessed its fearful sins—yet He is pleased to use terms here that are taken from our own vocabulary.
Again, in Genesis 22:12 we read, “And He (God) said, Lay not your hand upon the lad, neither do you anything unto him: for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.” Here again, God is speaking in the language of men, for He “knew” before He tested Abram exactly how the patriarch would act. So too the expression used of God so often in Jeremiah (7:13 etc.), of Him “rising up early”, is manifestly an accommodation of terms.
Once more: in the parable of the vineyard Christ Himself represents its Owner as saying, “Then said the Lord of the vineyard, What shall I do? I will send My beloved Son: it may be they will reverence Him when they see Him” (Luke 20:13), and yet, it is certain that God knew perfectly well that the “farmers” of the vineyard—the Jews—would not “reverence His Son” but, instead, would “despise and reject” Him, as His own Word had declared!
In the same way we understand the words in Genesis 6:6, “The Lord was grieved that He had made man on the earth”—as an accommodation of terms to human comprehension. This verse does not teach that God was confronted with an unforeseen contingency, and therefore regretted that He had made man—but it expresses the abhorrence of a holy God at the awful wickedness and corruption into which man had fallen. Should there be any doubt remaining in the minds of our readers as to the legitimacy and soundness of our interpretation, a direct appeal to Scripture should instantly and entirely remove it, “The Strength of Israel (a Divine title) will not lie nor repent: for He is not a man, that He should repent” (1 Sam. 15:29)! “Every good and perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with Whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning” (James 1 :17)!
Careful attention to what we have said above will throw light on numerous other passages which, if we ignore their figurative character and fail to note that God applies to Himself human modes of expression, will be obscure and perplexing. Having commented at such length upon Genesis 6:6, there will be no need to give such a detailed exposition of other passages which belong to the same class—yet, for the benefit of those of our readers who may be anxious for us to examine several other Scriptures, we turn to one or two more.
One Scripture which we often find cited in order to overthrow the teaching advanced in this book, is our Lord’s lament over Jerusalem, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!” (Matthew 23:37). The question is asked, Do not these words show that the Savior acknowledged the defeat of His mission, that as a people the Jews resisted all His gracious overtures toward them?
In replying to this question, it should first be pointed out that our Lord is here referring not so much to His own mission, as He is upbraiding the Jews for having in all ages rejected His grace—this is clear from His reference to the “prophets.” The Old Testament bears full witness of how graciously and patiently Jehovah dealt with His people, and with what extreme obstinacy, from first to last, they refused to be “gathered” unto Him, and how in the end He (temporarily) abandoned them to follow their own devices—yet, as the same Scriptures declare, the counsel of God was not frustrated by their wickedness, for it had been foretold (and therefore, decreed) by Him—see, for example, 1 Kings 8:33.
Matthew 23:37 may well be compared with Isaiah 65:2 where the Lord says, “I spread out My hands all day long to a rebellious people who walk in the wrong path, following their own thoughts.” But, it may be asked, Did God seek to do that which was in opposition to His own eternal purpose? In words borrowed from Calvin we reply, “Though to our apprehension the will of God is manifold and various—yet He does not in Himself will things at variance with each other—but astonishes our faculties with His various and ‘manifold’ wisdom, according to the expression of Paul, until we shall be enabled to understand that He mysteriously wills what now seems contrary to His will.”
As a further illustration of the same principle we would refer the reader to Isaiah 5:1-4, “I will sing for the one I love a song about his vineyard: My loved one had a vineyard on a fertile hillside. He dug it up and cleared it of stones and planted it with the choicest vines. He built a watchtower in it and cut out a winepress as well. Then he looked for a crop of good grapes, but it yielded only bad fruit. Now you dwellers in Jerusalem and men of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard. What more could have been done for my vineyard than I have done for it? When I looked for good grapes, why did it yield only bad?”
Is it not plain from this language that God reckoned Himself to have done enough for Israel to warrant an expectation—speaking after the manner of men—of better returns? Yet, is it not equally evident when Jehovah says here “He looked for a crop of good grapes” that He is accommodating Himself to a form of finite expression? And, so also when He says “What more could have been done for my vineyard than I have done for it?” we need to take note that in the previous enumeration of what He had done—the “fencing” etc.—He refers only to external privileges, means, and opportunities, which had been bestowed upon Israel, for, of course, He could even then have taken away from them their stony heart and given them a new heart, even a heart of flesh, as He will yet do, had He so pleased.
Perhaps we should link up with Christ’s lament over Jerusalem in Matthew 23:37, His tears over the City, recorded in Luke 19:41, “He beheld the city, and wept over it.” In the verses which immediately follow, we learn what it was that occasioned His tears, “Saying, If you had known, even you, at least in this your day, the things which belong unto your peace! but now they are hid from your eyes. For the days shall come upon you, that your enemies shall cast a trench about you, and compass you round, and keep you in on every side.” It was the prospect of the fearful judgment which Christ knew was impending. But did those tears make manifest a disappointed God? No! Instead, they displayed a perfect Man. The Man Christ Jesus was no emotionless stoic—but One “filled with compassion.” Those tears expressed the sinless sympathies of His real and pure humanity. Had He not “wept”, He would have been less than human. Those “tears” were one of many proofs that “in all things it behooved Him to be made like unto His brethren” (Hebrews 2:17).
In chapter one, we have affirmed that God is sovereign in the exercise of His love, and in saying this we are fully aware that many will strongly resent the statement and that, furthermore, what we have now to say will probably meet with more criticism than anything else advanced in this book. Nevertheless, we must be true to our convictions of what we believe to be the teaching of Holy Scripture, and we can only ask our readers to examine diligently in the light of God’s Word what we here submit to their attention.
One of the most popular beliefs of the day is that God loves everybody, and the very fact that it is so popular with all classes, ought to be enough to arouse the suspicions of those who are subject to the Word of Truth. God’s Love toward all His creatures is the fundamental and favorite tenet of Universalists, Unitarians, Theosophists, Christian Scientists, Spiritualists, Russellites, etc. No matter how a man may live—in open defiance of Heaven, with no concern whatever for his soul’s eternal interests, still less for God’s glory, dying, perhaps with a swear on his lips—notwithstanding, God loves him, we are told. So widely has this dogma been proclaimed, and so comforting is it to the heart which is at enmity with God, we have little hope of convincing many of their error. That God loves everybody, is, we may say, quite a modern belief. The writings of the church-fathers, the Reformers or the Puritans will be searched in vain for any such concept. Perhaps the late D. L. Moody—captivated by Drummond’s “The Greatest Thing in the World”—did more than anyone else last century to popularize this concept.
It has been customary to say God loves the sinner—though He hates his sin. But that is a meaningless distinction. What is there in a sinner, but sin? Is it not true that his “whole head is sick”, and his “whole heart faint”, and that “from the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness” in him? (Isaiah 1:5,6). Is it true that God loves the one who is despising and rejecting His blessed Son? God is Light as well as Love, and therefore His love must be a holy love. To tell the Christ-rejecter that God loves him is to cauterize his conscience, as well as to afford him a sense of security in his sins. The fact is, that the love of God, is a truth for the saints only, and to present it to the enemies of God is to take the children’s bread and cast it to the dogs!
With the exception of John 3:16, not once in the four Gospels do we read of the Lord Jesus—the perfect Teacher— telling sinners that God loved them! In the book of Acts, which records the evangelistic labors and messages of the apostles, God’s love is never referred to at all! But, when we come to the Epistles, which are addressed to the saints, we have a full presentation of this precious truth—God’s love for His own people. Let us seek to rightly divide the Word of God, and then we shall not be found taking truths which are addressed to believers—and misapplying them to unbelievers! That which unsaved sinners need to have brought before them is, the ineffable holiness, the exacting righteousness, the inflexible justice and the terrible wrath of God!
Risking the danger of being mis-understood, let us say—and we wish we could say it to every evangelist and preacher in the country—there is far too much presenting of Christ to sinners today (by those sound in the faith), and far too little showing sinners their need of Christ, that is, their absolutely ruined and lost condition, their imminent and awful danger of suffering the wrath to come, the fearful guilt resting upon them in the sight of God—to present Christ to those who have never been shown their need of Him, seems to us to be guilty of casting pearls before swine!
If it is true that God loves every member of the human family then why did our Lord tell His disciples, “The one who has My commands and keeps them is the one who loves Me. And the one who loves Me will be loved by My Father. I also will love him and will reveal Myself to him. If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word. My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him.” (John 14:21, 23)? Why say “the one who loves Me will be loved by My Father” if the Father loves everybody? The same limitation is found in Proverbs 8:17, “I love those who love Me.”
Again, we read, “You hate all workers of iniquity”—not merely the works of iniquity. Here, then, is a flat repudiation of popular teaching, that God hates sin but loves the sinner. Scripture says, “You hate all workers of iniquity” (Psalm 5:5)! “God is angry with the wicked every day.” “He who believes not the Son shall not see life—but the wrath of God”—not “shall abide,” but even now, “abides on him” (Psalm 5:5; 7:11 John 3:36). Can God “love” the one on whom His “wrath” abides? Again, is it not evident that the words “The love of God, which is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:39) mark a limitation, both in the sphere and objects of His love? Again, is it not plain from the words “Jacob have I loved—but Esau have I hated” (Romans 9:13) that God does not love everybody? Again, it is written, “For whom the Lord loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives” (Hebrews 12:6). Does not this verse teach that God’s love is restricted to the members of His own family? If He loves all men without exception, then the distinction and limitation here mentioned is quite meaningless.
Finally, we would ask, Is it conceivable that God will love the damned in the Lake of Fire? Yet, if He loves them now He will do so then, seeing that His love knows no change—He is “without variableness or shadow of turning!”
Turning now to John 3:16, it should be evident from the passages just quoted, that this verse will not bear the construction usually put upon it. “God so loved the world”. Many suppose that this means, The entire human race. But “the entire human race,” includes all mankind from Adam until the close of the earth’s history. It reaches backward as well as forward! Consider, then, the history of mankind before Christ was born. Unnumbered millions lived and died before the Savior came to the earth, lived here “having no hope and without God in the world”, and therefore passed out into an eternity of woe. If God “loved” them, where is the slightest proof thereof? Scripture declares, “God in times past allowed all nations to walk in their own ways” (Acts 14:16). Scripture declares that, “And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient” (Romans 1:28). To Israel God said, “You only have I known of all the families of the earth” (Amos 3:2). In view of these plain passages, who will be so foolish as to insist that God in the past loved all mankind!
The same applies with equal force to the future. Read through the book of Revelation, noting especially chapters 8 to 19, where we have described the judgments which will yet be poured out from heaven on this earth. Read of the fearful woes, the frightful plagues, the vials of God’s wrath, which shall be emptied on the wicked. Finally, read the 20th chapter of the Revelation, the great white throne judgment, and see if you can discover there the slightest trace of love.
But the objector comes back to John 3:16 and says, “World means world”. True—but we have shown that “the world” does not mean the whole human family. The fact is that “the world” is used in a general way. When the brethren of Christ said, “Show Yourself to the world” (John 7:4), did they mean “show Yourself to all mankind”? When the Pharisees said, “Behold, the whole world is gone after Him” (John 12:19), did they mean that “all the human family” were flocking after Him? When the apostle wrote, “Your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world” (Romans 1:8), did he mean that the faith of the saints at Rome was the subject of conversation by every man, woman, and child on the earth? When Revelation 13:3 informs us that “The whole world was amazed and followed the beast”, are we to understand that there will be no exceptions? What of the godly remnant, who will be slain (Revelation 20:4) rather than submit? These, and other passages which might be quoted, show that the term “the world” often has a relative, rather than an absolute force.
Now the first thing to note in connection with John 3:16 is that our Lord was there speaking to Nicodemus—a man who believed that God’s mercies were confined to his own nation. Christ there announced that God’s love in giving His Son had a larger object in view, that it flowed beyond the boundary of Palestine, reaching out to “regions beyond”. In other words, this was Christ’s announcement that God had a purpose of grace toward Gentiles, as well as Jews. “God so loved the world”, then, signifies, God’s love is international in its scope. But does this mean that God loves every individual among the Gentiles? Not necessarily, for as we have seen, the term “world” is general rather than specific; relative rather than absolute. The term “world” in itself is not conclusive. To ascertain who are the objects of God’s love, other passages where His love is mentioned must be consulted.
In 2 Peter 2:5 we read of “the world of the ungodly”. If then, there is a world of the ungodly—there must also be a world of the godly. It is the latter who are in view in the passages we shall now briefly consider. “For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven, and gives life unto the world” (John 6:33). Now mark it well, Christ did not say, “offers life unto the world”—but “gives”. What is the difference between the two terms? This: a thing which is “offered” may be refused—but a thing “given”, necessarily implies its acceptance. If it is not accepted, it is not “given”, it is simply offered. Here, then, is a Scripture that positively states Christ gives life (spiritual, eternal life) “unto the world.” Now He does not give eternal life to the “world of the ungodly” for they will not have it, they do not want it. Hence, we are obliged to understand the reference in John 6:33 as being to “the world of the godly”, that is, God’s own people.
One more: in 2 Corinthians 5:19 we read, “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself”. What is meant by this is clearly defined in the words immediately following, “not imputing their trespasses unto them”. Here again, “the world” cannot mean “the world of the ungodly”, for their “trespasses” are “imputed” to them, as the judgment of the Great White Throne will yet show. But 2 Corinthians 5:19 plainly teaches there is a “world” which are “reconciled”, reconciled unto God, because their trespasses are not reckoned to their account, having been borne by their Substitute. Who then are they? Only one answer is fairly possible—the world of God’s people!
In like manner, the “world” in John 3:16 must, in the final analysis, refer to the world of God’s people. Must we say, for there is no other alternative solution. It cannot mean the whole human race—for one half of the race was already in hell when Christ came to earth. It is unfair to insist that it means every human being now living—for every other passage in the New Testament where God’s love is mentioned, limits it to His own people—search and see! The objects of God’s love in John 3:16 are precisely the same as the objects of Christ’s love in John 13:1, “Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that His time was come, that He should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved His own which were in the world, He loved them unto the end”. We may admit that our interpretation of John 3:16 is no novel one invented by us—but one almost uniformly given by the Reformers and Puritans, and many others since them.
Coming now to the topic of a former chapter—the Sovereignty of God in Salvation; innumerable are the questions which might be raised here. It is strange—yet it is true, that many who acknowledge the sovereign rule of God over material things, will cavil and quibble when we insist that God is also sovereign in the spiritual realm. But their quarrel is with God—and not with us. We have given Scripture in support of everything advanced in these pages, and if that will not satisfy our readers it is idle for us to seek to convince them. What we write now is designed for those who do bow to the authority of Holy Writ, and for their benefit we propose to examine several other Scriptures which have purposely been held over for this chapter.
Perhaps the one passage which has presented the greatest difficulty to those who have seen that passage after passage in Holy Writ plainly teaches the election of a limited number unto salvation is 2 Peter 3:9, “not willing that any should perish—but that all should come to repentance”.
The first thing to be said upon the above passage is that, like all other Scripture, it must be understood and interpreted in the light of its context. What we have quoted in the preceding paragraph is only part of the verse, and the last part of it at that! Surely it must be allowed by all that the first half of the verse needs to be taken into consideration. In order to establish what these words are supposed by many to mean, namely, that the words “any” and “all” are to be received without any qualification, it must be shown that the context is referring to the whole human race! If this cannot be shown, if there is no premise to justify this, then the conclusion also must be unwarranted. Let us then ponder the first part of the verse.
“The Lord is not slack concerning His promise”. Note “promise” in the singular number, not “promises.” What promise is in view? The promise of salvation? Where, in all Scripture, has God ever promised to save the whole human race!! Where indeed? No! the “promise” here referred to is not about salvation. What then is it? The context tells us.
“Knowing this, first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, and saying, Where is the promise of His coming?” (vv. 3,4). The context then refers to God’s promise to send back His beloved Son. But many long centuries have passed, and this promise has not yet been fulfilled. True—but long as the delay may seem to us, the interval is short in the reckoning of God. As the proof of this we are reminded, “But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (v. 8). In God’s reckoning of time, less than two days have yet passed since He promised to send back Christ.
But more, the delay in the Father sending back His beloved Son is not only due to no “slackness” on His part—but it is also occasioned by His “longsuffering”. His long-suffering to whom? The verse we are now considering tells us, “but is longsuffering to us”. And whom are the “us”?—the human race, or God’s own people? In the light of the context this is not an open question upon which each of us is free to form an opinion. The Holy Spirit has defined it. The opening verse of the chapter says, “This second Epistle, beloved, I now write unto you”. And, again, the verse immediately preceding declares, “But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing etc.,” (v. 8). The “us” then are the “beloved” of God. Those to whom this Epistle is addressed are “those who have obtained (not “exercised”—but “obtained” as God’s sovereign gift) like precious faith with us through the righteousness of God and our Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:11). Therefore we say there is no room for a doubt, a quibble or an argument—the “us” are the elect of God.
Let us now quote the verse as a whole, “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us, not willing that any should perish—but that all should come to repentance.” Could anything be clearer? The “any” that God is not willing should perish, are the “us” to whom God is “longsuffering”, the “beloved” of the previous verses! 2 Peter 3:9 means, then, that God will not send back His Son until “the fullness of the Gentiles be come in” (Romans 11:25). God will not send back Christ until that “people” whom He is now “taking out of the Gentiles” (Acts 15:14) are gathered in. God will not send back His Son until the Body of Christ is complete, and that will not be until the ones whom He has elected to be saved—shall have been brought to Him. Thank God for His “longsuffering to us”. Had Christ come back twenty years ago the writer would have been left behind to perish in His sins. But that could not be, so God graciously delayed the Second Coming. For the same reason He is still delaying His Advent. His decreed purpose is that all His elect will come to repentance, and repent they shall. The present interval of grace will not end until the last of the “other sheep” of John 10:16 are safely folded—then will Christ return!
In expounding the sovereignty of God the Spirit in Salvation we have shown that His power is irresistible, that, by His gracious operations upon and within them, He “compels” God’s elect to come to Christ. The sovereignty of the Holy Spirit is set forth not only in John 3:8 where we are told “The wind blows where it pleases . . . so is everyone that is born of the Spirit,” but is affirmed in other passages as well. In 1 Corinthians 12:11 we read, “But all these works that one and the self same Spirit, dividing to every man severally as He will.” And Again, we read in Acts 16:6, 7, “Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to.” Thus we see how the Holy Spirit interposed His imperial will—in opposition to the determination of the apostles.
But, it is objected against the assertion that the will and power of the Holy Spirit are irresistible, that there are two passages, one in the Old Testament and the other in the New, which appear to militate against such a conclusion. God said of old, “My Spirit shall not always strive with man” (Genesis 6:3), and to the Jews Stephen declared, “You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, you do always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted?” (Acts 7:51, 52). If then the Jews “resisted” the Holy Spirit, how can we say His power is irresistible? The answer is found in Nehemiah 9:30, “For many years you were patient with them. By your Spirit you admonished them through your prophets. Yet they paid no attention.” It was the external operations of the Spirit which Israel “resisted.” It was the Spirit speaking by and through the prophets to which they “paid no attention.” It was not anything which the Holy Spirit wrought in them that they “resisted,” but the motives presented to them by the inspired messages of the prophets.
Perhaps it will help the reader to catch our thought better if we compare Matthew 11:20-24, “Then began He to upbraid the cities wherein most of His mighty works were done, because they repented not. Woe unto you Chorazin!” etc. Our Lord here pronounces woe upon these cities for their failure to repent because of the “mighty works” (miracles) which He had done in their sight, and not because of any internal operations of His grace!
The same is true of Genesis 6:3. By comparing 1 Peter 3:18-20 it will be seen that it was by and through Noah that God’s Spirit “strove” with the antediluvians. The distinction noted above was ably summarized by Andrew Fuller (another writer long deceased—from whom our moderns might learn much) thus, “There are two kinds of influences by which God works on the minds of men. First, That which is common, and which is effected by the ordinary use of motives presented to the mind for consideration. Secondly, That which is special and supernatural. The one contains nothing mysterious, anymore than the influence of our words and actions on each other. The other is such a mystery that we know nothing of it but by its effects. The former ought to be effectual; the latter is so.” The work of the Holy Spirit upon or towards men is always “resisted,” by them; His work within is always successful. What do the Scriptures say? This, “He who has begun a good work IN you, will finish it!” (Phil. 1:6)
The next question to be considered is: Why preach the Gospel to every creature? If God the Father has predestined only a limited number to be saved, if God the Son died to effect the salvation of only those given to Him by the Father, and if God the Spirit is seeking to quicken none but God’s elect—then what is the use of giving the Gospel to the world at large; and where is the propriety of telling sinners that “Whoever believes in Christ shall not perish but have everlasting life”?
First; it is of great importance that we should be clear upon the nature of the Gospel itself. The Gospel is God’s good news concerning Christ—and not concerning sinners, “Paul a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the Gospel of God . . . . concerning His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 1:1-3). God would have proclaimed far and wide the amazing fact that His own blessed Son “became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross!” A universal testimony must be borne to the matchless worth of the person and work of Christ. Note the word “witness” in Matthew 22:14. The Gospel is God’s “witness” unto the perfections of His Son. Mark the words of the apostle, “For we are unto God a sweet savor of Christ, in those who are saved, and in those who perish” (2 Corinthians 2:15)!
Concerning the character and contents of the Gospel, the utmost confusion prevails today. The Gospel is not an “offer” to be bandied around by evangelistic peddlers. The Gospel is no mere invitation—but a proclamation, a proclamation concerning Christ. It is true, whether men believe it or not. No man is asked to believe that Christ died for him in particular. The Gospel, in brief, is this: Christ died for sinners, you are a sinner, believe in Christ, and you shall be saved. In the Gospel, God simply announces the terms upon which men may be saved (namely, repentance and faith) and, indiscriminately, all are commanded to fulfill them.
Second; repentance and remission of sins are to be preached in the name of the Lord Jesus “unto all the nations” (Luke 24:47), because God’s elect are “scattered abroad” (John 11:52) among all nations, and it is by the preaching and hearing of the Gospel—that they are called out of the world. The Gospel is the means which God uses in the saving of His own chosen ones. By nature God’s elect are children of wrath “even as others”; they are lost sinners needing a Savior, and apart from Christ there is no salvation for them. Hence, the Gospel must be believed by them before they can rejoice in the knowledge of sins forgiven. The Gospel is God’s winnowing fan—it separates the chaff from the wheat, and gathers the latter into His garner.
Third; it is to be noted that God has other purposes in the preaching of the Gospel, than the salvation of His own elect. The world exists for the elect’s sake—yet others have the benefit of it. So the Word is preached for the elect’s sake—yet others have the benefit of an external call. The sun shines, though blind men see it not. The rain falls upon rocky mountains and waste deserts, as well as on the fruitful valleys. Just so, God allows the Gospel to fall on the ears of the non-elect. The power of the Gospel, is one of God’s agencies for holding in check the wickedness of the world. Many who are never saved by it, are reformed—their lusts are bridled, and they are restrained from becoming worse. Moreover, the preaching of the Gospel to the non-elect is made an admirable test of their characters. It exhibits the inveteracy of their sin; it demonstrates that their hearts are at enmity against God; it justifies the declaration of Christ that “men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19).
Finally; it is sufficient for us to know that we are commanded to preach the Gospel to every creature. It is not for us to reason about the consistency between this, and the fact that “few are chosen.” It is for us to obey. It is a simple matter to ask questions relating to the ways of God, which no finite mind can fully fathom. We, too, might turn and remind the objector that our Lord declared, “I tell you the truth, all the sins and blasphemies of men will be forgiven them. But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; he is guilty of an eternal sin” (Mark 3:28, 29), and there can be no doubt whatever but that certain of the Jews were guilty of this very sin (see Matthew 12:24 etc.), and hence their destruction was inevitable. Yet, notwithstanding, scarcely two months later, He commanded His disciples to preach the Gospel to every creature. When the objector can show us the consistency of these two things—the fact that certain of the Jews had committed the sin for which there is never forgiveness, and the fact that to them the Gospel was to be preached—we will undertake to furnish a more satisfactory solution than the one given above to the harmony between a universal proclamation of the Gospel, and a limitation of its saving power to those only that God has predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son.
Once more, we say, it is not for us to reason about the Gospel; it is our business to preach it. When God ordered Abraham to offer up his son as a burnt-offering, he might have objected that this command was inconsistent with His promise “In Isaac shall your seed be called.” But instead of arguing he obeyed, and left God to harmonize His promise and His precept. Jeremiah might have argued that God had bade him do that which was altogether unreasonable when He said, “When you tell them all this—they will not listen to you; when you call to them—they will not answer!” (Jer. 7:27) But instead, the prophet obeyed. Ezekiel, too, might have complained that the Lord was asking of him a hard thing when He said, “Go now to the house of Israel and speak my words to them. You are not being sent to a people of obscure speech and difficult language, but to the house of Israel—not to many peoples of obscure speech and difficult language, whose words you cannot understand. Surely if I had sent you to them, they would have listened to you. But the house of Israel is not willing to listen to you because they are not willing to listen to me, for the whole house of Israel is hardened and obstinate!” (Ezek. 3:4-7).
“But, O my soul, if truth so bright
Should dazzle and confound your sight,
Yet still His written Word obey,
And wait the great decisive day!”
It has been well said, “The Gospel has lost none of its ancient power. It is, as much today as when it was first preached, ‘the power of God unto salvation’. It needs no pity, no help, and no handmaid. It can overcome all obstacles, and break down all barriers. No human device need be tried to prepare the sinner to receive it—for if God has sent it no power can hinder it; and if He has not sent it—no power can make it effectual.” (Bullinger).
This chapter might be extended indefinitely—but it is already too long, so a word or two more must suffice. A number of other questions will be dealt with in the pages yet to follow, and those that we fail to touch upon the reader must take to the Lord Himself who has said, “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him” (James 1:5).
THE PRACTICAL VALUE OF THIS DOCTRINE
[[“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness; so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
2 Timothy 3:16, 17]]
“Doctrine” means “teaching,” and it is by doctrine or teaching that the great realities of God and of our relation to Him; and of Christ, the Spirit, salvation, grace, glory—are made known to us. It is by doctrine (through the power of the Spirit) that believers are nourished and edified, and where doctrine is neglected, growth in grace and effective witnessing for Christ necessarily cease. How sad then that doctrine is now decried as “unpractical” when, in fact, doctrine is the very base of the practical Christian life.
There is an inseparable connection between belief and practice, “As he thinks in his heart—so is he” (Proverbs 23:7). The relation between Divine truth and Christian character—is that of cause to effect, “And you shall know the truth—and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32). Free from ignorance, free from prejudice, free from error, free from the wiles of Satan, free from the power of evil. But if the truth is not “known”—then such freedom will not be enjoyed.
Observe the order of mention in the passage with which we have opened. All Scripture is profitable, first for “doctrine!” The same order is observed throughout the Epistles, particularly in the great doctrinal treatises of the apostle Paul. Read the Epistle of “Romans” and it will be found that there is not a single admonition in the first five chapters. In the Epistle of “Ephesians” there are no exhortations until the fourth chapter is reached. The order is first doctrine—and then admonition or exhortation for the regulation of the daily walk.
The substitution of so-called “practical” preaching for the doctrinal exposition which it has supplanted, is the root cause of many of the evil maladies which now afflict the church of God. The reason why there is so little depth, so little intelligence, so little grasp of the fundamental verities of Christianity, is because so few believers have been established in the faith, through hearing expounded and through their own personal study of the doctrines of grace.
While the soul is unestablished in the doctrine of the Divine Inspiration of the Scriptures—their full and verbal inspiration— there can be no firm foundation for faith to rest upon. While the soul is ignorant of the doctrine of Justification— there can be no real and intelligent assurance of its acceptance in the Beloved. While the soul is unacquainted with the teaching of the Word upon Sanctification— it is open to receive all the crudities and errors of the Perfectionists or “Holiness” people. While the soul knows not what Scripture has to say upon the doctrine of the New Birth— there can be no proper grasp of the two natures in the believer, and ignorance here inevitably results in loss of peace and joy. And so we might go on right through the whole range of Christian doctrine.
It is ignorance of doctrine which has rendered the professing church helpless to cope with the rising tide of infidelity. It is ignorance of doctrine which is mainly responsible for thousands of professing Christians being captivated by the numerous fallacies of the day. It is because the time has now arrived, when the bulk of our churches “will not endure sound doctrine” (2 Timothy 4:3) that they so readily receive false doctrines. Of course it is true that doctrine, like anything else in Scripture, may be studied from a merely cold intellectual viewpoint, and thus approached, doctrinal teaching and doctrinal study will leave the heart untouched, and will naturally be “dry” and profitless. But, doctrine properly received, doctrine studied with an exercised heart—will ever lead into a deeper heart knowledge of God, and of the unsearchable riches of Christ.
The doctrine of God’s sovereignty then is no mere philosophic dogma which is devoid of practical value—but is one that is calculated to produce a powerful effect upon Christian character and the daily walk. The doctrine of God’s sovereignty lies at the foundation of Christian theology, and in importance is perhaps second only to the Divine Inspiration of the Scriptures. God’s sovereignty is the center of gravity in the system of Christian truth. It is the sun around which all the lesser orbs are grouped. It is the golden milestone to which every highway of knowledge leads and from which they all radiate. It is the cord upon which all other doctrines are strung like so many pearls, holding them in place and giving them unity. It is the plumb-line by which every creed needs to be measured. God’s sovereignty is the balance in which every human dogma must be weighed. It is designed as the anchor for our souls amid the storms of life. The doctrine of God’s sovereignty is a Divine cordial to refresh our hearts. It is designed and adapted to mold the affections of the heart and to give a right direction to conduct. It produces gratitude in prosperity and patience in adversity. It affords comfort for the present and a sense of security respecting the unknown future. It is, and it does all, and much more than we have just said, because it ascribes to God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—the glory which is His due, and places the creature in his proper place before Him—in the dust.
We shall now consider the practical value of the doctrine of God’s sovereignty in detail.
1. It deepens our veneration of the Divine Character.
The doctrine of God’s sovereignty, as it is unfolded in the Scriptures, affords an exalted view of the Divine perfections. It maintains His creatorial rights. It insists that “to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in Him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by Him” (1 Corinthians 8:6). It declares that His rights are those of the “potter” who forms and fashions the “clay” into vessels of whatever type and for whatever use He may please. Its testimony is, “You have created all things, and for Your pleasure they are and were created” (Revelation 4:11). It argues that none has any right to “reply” against God, and that the only befitting attitude for the creature to take is one of reverent submission before Him.
Thus the apprehension of the absolute supremacy of God is of great practical importance, for unless we have a proper regard to His high sovereignty He will never be honored in our thoughts of Him; nor will He have His proper place in our hearts and lives.
The doctrine of God’s sovereignty, exhibits the inscrutableness of His wisdom. It shows that while God is immaculate in His holiness—He has permitted evil to enter His fair creation; that while He is the Possessor of all power—He has allowed the Devil to wage war against Him for six thousand years at least; that while He is the perfect embodiment of love—He spared not His own Son; that while He is the God of all grace—multitudes will be tormented forever and ever in the Lake of Fire. These are high mysteries! Scripture does not deny them—but acknowledges their existence, “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways beyond tracing out!” (Romans 11:33).
The doctrine of God’s sovereignty, makes known the irreversibleness of His will. “Known unto God are all His works from the beginning of the world” (Acts 15:18). From the beginning God purposed to glorify Himself “in the Church by Christ Jesus, throughout all ages, world without end” (Ephesians 3:21). To this end, He created the world, and formed man. His all-wise plan was not defeated when man fell—for in the Lamb “slain from the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:8) we behold the Fall anticipated. Nor will God’s purpose be thwarted by the wickedness of men since the Fall, as is clear from the words of the Psalmist, “Surely the wrath of man shall praise You: the remainder of wrath shall You restrain” (Psalm 76:10). Because God is the Almighty—His will cannot be withstood. “His purposes originated in eternity, and are carried forward without change to eternity. They extend to all His works, and control all events. He ‘works all things after the counsel of His own will.’” (Dr. Rice). Neither man nor devil can successfully resist Him, therefore is it written, “The Lord reigns! Let the people tremble.” (Psalm 99:1).
The doctrine of God’s sovereignty, magnifies His grace. Grace is unmerited favor, and because grace is shown to the undeserving and Hell-deserving, to those who have no claim upon God, therefore is grace free and can be manifested toward the chief of sinners. But because grace is exercised toward those who are destitute of worthiness or merit—grace is sovereign; that is to say, God bestows grace upon whom He pleases. Divine sovereignty has ordained that some shall be cast into the Lake of Fire—to show that all deserved such a doom. But grace comes in like a dragnet and draws out from a lost humanity, a people for God’s name, to be the monuments of His inscrutable favor throughout all eternity! Sovereign grace reveals God breaking down the opposition of the human heart, subduing the enmity of the carnal mind, and bringing us to love Him—because He first loved us.
2. The doctrine of God’s sovereignty is the solid foundation of all true religion.
This naturally follows from what we have said above under the first head. If the doctrine of Divine sovereignty alone gives God His rightful place—then it is also true that it alone can supply a firm base for practical religion to build upon. There can be no progress in Divine things—until there is the personal recognition that God is Supreme, that He is to be feared and revered, that He is to be owned and served as Lord. We read the Scriptures in vain—unless we come to them earnestly desiring a better knowledge of God’s will for us—any other motive is selfish and utterly inadequate and unworthy. Every prayer we send up to God is but carnal presumption, unless it is offered “according to His will”. Anything short of this is to ask ‘amiss,’ that we might consume the thing requested upon our own lusts. Every service we engage in is but a “dead work” unless it is done for the glory of God. Experimental religion consists mainly in the perception and performance of the Divine will—performance both active and passive. We are predestined to be “conformed to the image of God’s Son”, whose food it always was, to do the will of the One who sent Him; and the measure in which each saint is becoming “conformed” practically, in his daily life, is
largely determined by his response to our Lord’s word, “Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me; for I am meek and lowly in heart.”
3. The doctrine of God’s sovereignty repudiates the heresy of salvation by works.
“There is a way that seems right to a man—but its end is the way to death” (Proverbs 14:12). The way which “seems right” and which ends in “death,” eternal death, is salvation by human effort and merit. The belief in salvation by works is one that is common to human nature. It may not always assume the grosser form of Popish penances, or even of Protestant “repentance”; that is, sorrowing for sin, which is never the meaning of repentance in Scripture—anything which gives man a place at all is but a variety of the same evil genus. To say, as alas! many preachers are saying, God is willing to do His part—if you will do yours—is a wretched and excuseless denial of the Gospel of His grace. To declare that God helps those who help themselves—is to repudiate one of the most precious truths taught in the Bible! The Bible alone, teaches that God helps those who are unable to help themselves, who have tried again and again only to fail. To say that the sinner’s salvation turns upon the action of his own will—is another form of the God-dishonoring dogma of salvation by human efforts. In the final analysis, any movement of the will is a work: it is something from me, something which I do. But the doctrine of God’s sovereignty lays the axe at the root of this evil tree by declaring, “it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs—but of God who shows mercy” (Romans 9:16).
Does someone say, Such a doctrine will drive sinners to despair! The reply is—Be it so; it is just such despair, that the writer longs to see prevail. It is not until the sinner despairs of any help from himself, that he will ever fall into the arms of sovereign mercy. But if once the Holy Spirit convicts him that there is no help in himself—then he will recognize that he is lost, and will cry, “God be merciful to me a sinner!” And such a cry will be heard!
If the author may be allowed to bear personal witness, he has found during the course of his ministry that, the sermons he has preached on human depravity, the sinner’s helplessness to do anything himself, and the salvation of the soul turning upon the sovereign mercy of God—have been those most owned and blessed in the salvation of the lost. We repeat, then—a sense of utter helplessness is the first prerequisite to any sound conversion. There is no salvation for any soul until it looks away from itself, looks to something, yes, to Someone, outside of itself!
4. The doctrine of God’s sovereignty is deeply humbling to the creature.
This doctrine of the absolute sovereignty of God, is a great battering-ram against human pride—and in this it is in sharp contrast from “the doctrines of men.” The spirit of our age is essentially that of boasting and glorying in the flesh. The achievements of man, his development and progress, his greatness and self-sufficiency, are the shrine at which the world worships today! But the truth of God’s sovereignty, with all its corollaries, removes every ground for human boasting and instills the spirit of humility in its stead. It declares that salvation is of the Lord—of the Lord in its origination, in its operation, and in its consummation. It insists that the Lord has to apply as well as supply salvation; that He has to complete as well as begin His saving work in our souls; that He has not only to reclaim—but to maintain, preserve and sustain us to the end. It teaches that salvation is by grace through faith, and that all our works (before conversion), good as well as evil, count for nothing toward salvation. It tells us we are “born, not of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man—but of God” (John 1:13). And all this is most humbling to the heart of man, who wants to contribute something to the price of his redemption, and do that which will afford ground for boasting and self-satisfaction!
But if this doctrine humbles us—it also results in praise to God. If, in the light of God’s sovereignty, we have seen our own worthlessness and helplessness, we shall indeed cry with the Psalmist, “All my springs are in You!” (Psalm 87:7). If by nature we were “children of wrath,” and by practice rebels against the Divine government and justly exposed to the “curse” of the Law; and if God was under no obligation to rescue us from the fiery indignation; and yet, notwithstanding, He delivered up His well-beloved Son for us—then how such grace and love will melt our hearts, how the apprehension of it will cause us to say in adoring gratitude, “Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us—but unto Your name give glory, for Your mercy, and for Your truth’s sake!” (Psalm 115:1) How readily shall each of us acknowledge, “By the grace of God I am what I am!” With what wondering praise shall we exclaim—
“Why was I made to hear His voice,
And enter while there’s room,
When thousands make a wretched choice,
And rather starve than come?
‘Twas the same love that spread the feast,
That sweetly forced me in;
Else I had still refused to taste
And perished in my sin!”
5. The doctrine of God’s sovereignty affords a sense of absolute security.
God is infinite in power, and therefore it is impossible for any to withstand His will, or resist the outworking of His decrees!
Such a statement as that is well calculated to fill the lost sinner with alarm—but from the saint it evokes nothing but praise. Let us add a word and see what a difference it makes—My God is infinite in power! Then “I will not fear what man can do unto me.” My God is infinite in power! Then “whenever I am afraid—I will trust in Him.” My God is infinite in power! Then “I will both lay me down in peace, and sleep—for You alone Lord, make me dwell in safety” (Psalm 4:8).
All down the ages—God’s sovereignty has been the source of the saints’ confidence. Was not this the assurance of Moses when, in his parting words to Israel, he said, “There is no one like the God of Israel. He rides across the heavens to help you, across the skies in majestic splendor. The eternal God is your refuge, and His everlasting arms are under you!” (Deuteronomy 33:26, 27)
Was it not this sense of security that caused the Psalmist, moved by the Holy Spirit, to write, “Those who live in the shelter of the Most High will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty. He alone is my refuge, my place of safety; He is my God, and I am trusting Him. For He will rescue you from every trap and protect you from the fatal plague. He will shield you with His wings. He will shelter you with His feathers. His faithful promises are your armor and protection. Do not be afraid of the terrors of the night, nor fear the dangers of the day, nor dread the plague that stalks in darkness, nor the disaster that strikes at midday. Though a thousand fall at your side, though ten thousand are dying around you, these evils will not touch you. If you make the Lord your refuge, if you make the Most High your shelter—no evil will conquer you! The Lord says, ‘I will rescue those who love Me. I will protect those who trust in My name. When they call on me, I will answer; I will be with them in trouble. I will rescue them and honor them. I will satisfy them with a long life and give them My salvation!” (Psalm 91)
“Death and plagues around me fly,
Until He bids—I cannot die!
Not a single shaft can hit,
Until the God of love sees fit!”
O the preciousness of this truth! Here I am—a poor, helpless, senseless “sheep,” yet I am secure in the hand of Christ. And why am I secure there? None can pluck me thence—because the hand that holds me is that of the Son of God, and all power in heaven and earth is His!
Again, I have no strength of my own: the world, the flesh, and the Devil, are arrayed against me, so I commit myself into the care and keeping of my Lord Jesus, and say with the apostle, “I know Whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day” (2 Timothy 1:12). And what is the ground of my confidence? How do I know that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him? I know it because He is God Almighty—the King of kings and Lord of lords!
6. The doctrine of God’s sovereignty supplies comfort in sorrow.
The doctrine of God’s sovereignty is one that is full of consolation and imparts great peace to the Christian. The sovereignty of God is a foundation that nothing can shake, and is more firm than the heavens and earth! How blessed to know there is no corner of the universe that is out of His reach! as said the Psalmist, “Where can I go to escape Your Spirit? Where can I flee from Your presence? If I go up to heaven—You are there; if I make my bed in Hell—You are there. If I live at the eastern horizon or settle at the western limits—even there Your hand will lead me; Your right hand will hold on to me. If I say, ‘Surely the darkness will hide me, and the light around me will become night’—even the darkness is not dark to You. The night shines like the day; darkness and light are alike to You!” (Psalm 139:7-12).
How blessed it is to know that God’s strong hand is upon every one and every thing! How blessed to know that not a sparrow falls to the ground without His notice! How blessed to know that our very afflictions come not by chance, nor from the Devil—but are ordained and ordered by God, “That no man should be moved by these afflictions: for yourselves know that we are appointed thereunto” (1 Thess. 3:3)!
But our God is not only infinite in power, He is infinite in wisdom and goodness too. And herein is the preciousness of this truth. God wills only that which is good—and His will is irreversible and irresistible! God is too wise to err—and too loving to cause His child a needless tear. Therefore if God is perfect in wisdom, and perfect in goodness—how blessed is the assurance that everything is in His hand, and molded by His will according to His eternal purpose! “If He snatches away, who can stop Him? Who can say to Him, ‘What are You doing?’” (Job 9:12). Yet, how comforting to learn that it is “He”, and not the Devil, who “takes away” our loved ones! Ah! what peace for our poor frail hearts to be told that the number of our days is with Him (Job 7:1; 14:5); that disease and death are His messengers, and always march under His orders; that it is the Lord who gives—and the Lord who takes away!
7. The doctrine of God’s sovereignty begets a spirit of sweet resignation.
To bow before the sovereign will of God, is one of the great secrets of peace and happiness. There can be no real submission with contentment, until we are broken in spirit, that is, until we are willing and glad for the Lord to have His way with us. Not that we are insisting upon a spirit of fatalistic acquiescence; far from it. The saints are exhorted to “prove what is the good and acceptable, and perfect will of God” (Romans 12:2).
We touched upon this subject of resignation to God’s will in the chapter upon our attitude towards God’s Sovereignty; and there, in addition to the supreme Pattern, we cited the examples of Eli and Job. We would now supplement their cases with further examples.
What a word is that in Leviticus 10:3, “And Aaron held his peace.” Look at the circumstances, “Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu took their censers, put fire in them and added incense; and they offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, contrary to his command. So fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord . . . . And Aaron held his peace.” Two of the high priests’ sons were slain, slain by a visitation of Divine judgment, and they were probably intoxicated at the time. Moreover, this trial came upon Aaron suddenly, without anything to prepare him for it; yet, “Aaron held his peace.” Precious exemplification of the power of God’s all-sufficient grace!
Consider now an utterance which fell from the lips of David, “Then the king said to Zadok, “Take the ark of God back into the city. If I find favor in the Lord’s eyes, He will bring me back and let me see it and His dwelling place again. But if He says, ‘I am not pleased with you,’ then I am ready; let Him do to me whatever seems good to Him!” (2 Sam. 15:25, 26). Here, too, the circumstances which confronted the speaker were exceedingly trying to the human heart. David was sore pressed with sorrow. His own son was driving him from the throne, and seeking his very life. Whether he would ever see Jerusalem and the Tabernacle again—he knew not. But he was so yielded up to God, he was so fully assured that His will was best, that even though it meant the loss of the throne and the loss of his life he was content for Him to have His way, “let Him do to me whatever seems good to Him!”
There is no need to multiply examples—but a reflection upon the last case will be in place. If amid the shadows of the Old Testament dispensation, David was content for the Lord to have His way; now that the heart of God has been fully revealed at the Cross—how much more ought we to delight in the execution of His will!
8. The doctrine of God’s sovereignty evokes a song of praise.
It could not be otherwise. Why should I, who am by nature no different from the careless and godless throngs all around—have been chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world, and now blessed with all spiritual blessings in the heavenlies in Him! Why was I, who once was an alien and a rebel, singled out for such wondrous favors! Ah, that is something I cannot fathom! Such grace, such love, “passes knowledge.” But if my mind is unable to discern a reason, my heart can express its gratitude in praise and adoration.
But not only should I be grateful to God for His grace toward me in the past—His present dealings will fill me with thanksgivings. What is the force of that word “Rejoice in the Lord always!” (Phil. 4:4) Mark, it is not “Rejoice in the Savior,” but we are to “Rejoice in the Lord” —as “Lord,” as the Master of every circumstance. Need we remind the reader that when the apostle penned these words, he was himself a prisoner in the hands of the Roman government. A long course of affliction and suffering lay behind him. Perils on land and perils on sea, hunger and thirst, scourging and stoning—had all been experienced. He had been persecuted by those within the church as well as by those without! The very ones who ought to have stood by him—had forsaken him! And still he writes, “Rejoice in the Lord always!”
What was the secret of his peace and happiness? Ah! had not this same apostle written, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). But how did he, and how do we, “know,” that all things work together for good? The answer is, Because all things are under the control of, and are being regulated by—the Supreme Sovereign! And because He has nothing but thoughts of love toward His own people, then “all things” are so ordered by Him—that they are made to minister to our ultimate good. It is for this cause we are to give “thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:20). Yes, give thanks for “all things” for, as it has been well said “Our disappointments, are but His appointments!” To the one who delights in the sovereignty of God—the clouds not only have a ‘silver lining’ but they are silver all through, the darkness only serving to offset the light—
“You fearful saints fresh courage take
The clouds you so much dread,
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings o’er your head!”
9. The doctrine of God’s sovereignty guarantees the final triumph of good over evil.
Ever since the day that Cain slew Abel, the conflict on earth between good and evil, has been a sore problem to the saints. In every age the righteous have been hated and persecuted, while the unrighteous have appeared to defy God with impunity. The Lord’s people, for the most part, have been poor in this world’s goods, whereas the wicked in their temporal prosperity have flourished like the green bay tree. As one looks around and beholds the oppression of believers, and the earthly success of unbelievers; and notes how few are the former—and how numerous the latter; as he sees the apparent defeat of the right—and the triumphing of might and the wrong; as he hears the roar of battle, the cries of the wounded, and the lamentations of the bereaved; as he discovers that almost everything down here is in confusion, chaos, and ruins—it seems as though Satan was getting the better of the conflict!
But as one looks above, instead of around, there is plainly visible to the eye of faith a Throne, a Throne unaffected by the storms of earth, a Throne that is “set,” stable and secure; and upon it is seated One whose name is the Almighty, and who “works all things after the counsel of His own will” (Ephesians 1:11). This then is our confidence—God is on the Throne! The helm is in His hand—and being Almighty, His purpose cannot fail, for “He is in one mind, and who can turn Him? and what His soul desires—even that He does!” (Job 23:13). Though God’s governing hand is invisible to the eye of sense, it is real to faith—that faith which rests with sure confidence upon His Word, and therefore is assured He cannot fail.
What follows is from the pen of our brother Gaebelein, “There can be no failure with God. ‘God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that He should change His mind. Does He speak—and then not act? Does He promise—and not fulfill?’ (Num. 23:19). All HIS PLAN will be accomplished. The promise made to His own beloved people—to come for them and take them from hence to glory—will not fail. He will surely come and gather them to His own presence. The solemn words spoken to the nations of the earth by the different prophets will also not fail. ‘Come here and listen, O nations of the earth. Let the world and everything in it hear my words. For the Lord is enraged against the nations. His fury is against all their armies. He will completely destroy them, bringing about their slaughter!’ (Isaiah 34:1, 2). Nor will that day fail in which ‘the lofty looks of man shall be humbled and the haughtiness of men shall be bowed down, and the Lord alone shall be exalted’ (Isaiah 2:11). The day in which He is manifested, when His glory shall cover the heavens and His feet will stand again upon this earth, will surely come. His kingdom will not fail, nor all the promised events connected with the end of the age and the consummation.
“In these dark and trying times, how well it is to remember that He is on the throne, the throne which cannot be shaken, and that He will not fail in doing all He has spoken and promised. ‘Search the book of the Lord, and see what He will do. He will not miss a single detail’ (Isaiah 34:16). In believing, blessed anticipation, we can look on to the glory-time when His Word and His Will is accomplished, when through the coming of the Prince of Peace, righteousness and peace comes at last. And while we wait for the supreme and blessed moment when His promise to us is accomplished, we trust Him, walking in His fellowship and daily find afresh, that He does not fail to sustain and keep us in all His ways.
10. The doctrine of God’s sovereignty provides a resting place for the heart.
Much that might have been said here has already been anticipated under previous heads. The One seated upon the Throne of Heaven, the One who is Governor over the nations, and who has ordained and now regulates all events—is infinite not only in power—but in wisdom and goodness as well. He who is Lord over all creation—is the One that was “manifest in the flesh” (1 Timothy 3:16). Ah! here is a theme which no human pen can do justice to. The glory of God consists not merely in that He is the Highest—but in that being high—He stooped in lowly love to bear the burden of His own sinful creatures! “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself” (2 Corinthians 5:19). The Church of God was purchased “with His own Blood” (Acts 20:28). It is upon the gracious self-humiliation of the King Himself—that His kingdom is established. O wondrous Cross! By it He who suffered upon it has become not the Lord of our destinies (He was that before)—but the Lord of our hearts! Therefore, it is not in abject terror, that we bow before the Supreme Sovereign—but in adoring worship we cry, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain—to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and blessing!” (Revelation 5:12).
Here then is the refutation of the wicked charge that this doctrine is a horrible calumny upon God, and dangerous to expound to His people. Can a doctrine be “horrible” and “dangerous” —which gives God His true place, which maintains His rights, which magnifies His grace, which ascribes all glory to Him, and which removes every ground of boasting from the creature? Can a doctrine be “horrible” and “dangerous” —which affords the saints a sense of security in danger, which supplies them comfort in sorrow, which begets patience within them in adversity, which evokes from them praise at all times? Can a doctrine be “horrible” and “dangerous”— which assures us of the certain triumph of good over evil, and which provides a sure resting-place for our hearts—and that place, the perfections of the Sovereign Himself? No! a thousand times, no! Instead of being “horrible and dangerous” this doctrine of the Sovereignty of God is glorious and edifying, and a due apprehension of it will but serve to make us exclaim with Moses, “Who among the gods is like You, O Lord? Who is like You—majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders!” (Exodus 15:11).
[[“Hallelujah! For the Lord God omnipotent reigns!”
In our Foreword to the second edition, we acknowledge the need for preserving the balance of Truth. Two things are beyond dispute: God is sovereign, man is responsible. In this book we have sought to expound the former; in our other works we have frequently pressed the latter. That there is real danger of over-emphasizing the one, and ignoring the other—we readily admit; yes, history furnishes numerous examples of cases of each. To emphasize the sovereignty of God, without also maintaining the accountability of the creature tends to fatalism! To be so concerned in maintaining the responsibility of man, as to lose sight of the sovereignty of God, is to exalt the creature and dishonor the Creator!
Almost all doctrinal error is, really—Truth perverted, Truth wrongly divided, Truth disproportionately held and taught. The fairest face on earth, with the most lovely features, would soon become ugly and unsightly—if one member continued growing while the others remained undeveloped. Beauty is, primarily, a matter of proportion. Thus it is with the Word of God—its beauty and blessedness are best perceived when its manifold wisdom is exhibited in its true proportions. Here is where so many have failed in the past. A single phase of God’s Truth has so impressed this man or that man, that he has concentrated his attention upon it, almost to the exclusion of everything else. Some portion of God’s Word has been made a “pet doctrine”, and often this has become the distinctive badge of some party. But it is the duty of each servant of God to “declare all the counsel of God” (Acts 20:27).
It is true that the degenerate days in which our lot is cast, when on every side man is exalted, and “superman” has become a common expression, there is real need for a special emphasis upon the glorious fact of God’s supremacy. The more so where this is expressly denied. Yet even here much wisdom is required, lest our zeal should not be according to knowledge.” The words “food in due season” should ever be before the servant of God. What is needed, primarily, by one congregation, may not be specifically needed by another. If called to labor where Arminian preachers have preceded, then the neglected truth of God’s sovereignty should be expounded—though with caution and care, lest too much “strong meat” be given to “babes”. The example of Christ in John 16:12, “I have many things yet to say unto you—but you cannot hear them now”, must be borne in mind. On the other hand, if I am called to take charge of a distinctly Calvinistic pulpit, then the truth of human responsibility (in its many aspects) may be profitably set forth. What the preacher needs to give out is not what his people most like to hear—but what they most need, that is those aspects of truth they are least familiar with, or least exhibiting in their walk.
To carry into actual practice what we have inculcated above will, most probably, lay the preacher open to the charge of being a turncoat. But what does that matter—if he has his Master’s approval? He is not called upon to be “consistent” with himself, nor with any rules drawn up by man; his business is to be consistent with Holy Writ. And in Scripture each part or aspect of truth is balanced by another aspect of truth. There are two sides to everything, even to the character of God, for He is “light” (1 John 1:5) as well as “love” (1 John 4:8), and therefore are we called upon to “Behold, therefore the goodness and severity of God” (Romans 11:22). To be all the time preaching on the one to the exclusion of the other, caricatures the Divine character.
When the Son of God became incarnate, He came here in “the form of a servant” (Phil. 2:6); nevertheless, in the manger He was “Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11)! All things are possible with God (Matthew 19:26)—yet God “cannot lie” (Titus 1:2). Scripture says, “Bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2); yet the same chapter insists “every man shall bear his own burden” (Galatians 6:5). We are enjoined to take “no anxious thought for the morrow” (Matthew 6:34); yet “if any does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his own house, he has denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel” (1 Timothy 5:8). No sheep of Christ’s can perish (John 10:28, 29); yet the Christian is bidden to make his “calling and election sure” (2 Peter 1:10). And so we might go on multiplying illustrations. These things are not contradictions, but complementaries: the one “balances the other”. Thus, the Scriptures set forth both the sovereignty of God—and the responsibility of man. So too should every servant of God, and that, in their proper proportions.
But we return now to a few closing reflections upon our present theme. “O Lord, God of our fathers, are You not the God who is in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. Power and might are in Your hand, and no one can withstand You!” (2 Chron. 20:5, 6). Yes, the Lord is God, ruling over all the kingdoms of men, ruling in supreme majesty and might. Yet in our day, a day of boasted enlightenment and progress, this is denied on every hand. A materialistic science and an atheistic philosophy have bowed God out of His own world, and everything is regulated, forsooth, by (impersonal) laws of nature. So in human affairs: at best God is a far-distant spectator, and a helpless one at that. God could not help the launching of the dreadful war, and though He longed to put a stop to it—He was unable to do so—and this in the face of 1 Chronicles 5:22 and 2 Chronicles 24:24! Having endowed man with “free agency” God is obliged to let man make his own choice and go his own way, and He cannot interfere with him, or otherwise his moral responsibility would be destroyed.
Such are the popular beliefs of the day. One is not surprised to find these sentiments emanating from German neologians, but how sad that they should be taught in many of our Seminaries, echoed from many of our pulpits, and accepted by many of the rank and file of professing Christians.
One of the most flagrant sins of our age, is that of irreverence—the failure to ascribe the glory which is due to the august majesty of God. Men limit the power and activities of the Lord in their degrading concepts of His being and character. Originally, man was made in the image and likeness of God—but today we are asked to believe in a god who is made in the image and likeness of man! The Creator is reduced to the level of the creature! His omniscience is called into question, His omnipotency is no longer believed in, and His absolute sovereignty is flatly denied. Men claim to be the architects of their own fortunes and the determiners of their own destiny. They know not that their lives are at the disposal of the Divine Determiner. They know not they have no more power to thwart His secret decrees—than a worm has to resist the tread of an elephant! They know not that “The Lord has prepared His throne in the heavens; and His kingdom rules over all!” (Psalm 103:19).
In the foregoing pages we have sought to repudiate such paganistic views as the above-mentioned, and have endeavored to show from Scripture that God is God, on the Throne of universal dominion—and that so far from the recent war being an evidence that the helm had slipped out of His hand, it was a sure proof that He still lives and reigns, and is now bringing to pass that which He had fore-determined and fore-announced (Matthew 24:6-8 etc.). That the carnal mind is enmity against God, that the unregenerate man is a rebel against the Divine government, that the sinner has no concern for the glory of his Maker, and little or no respect for His revealed will—is freely granted. But, nevertheless, behind the scenes, God is ruling and over-ruling, fulfilling His eternal purpose, not only in spite of, but also by means of, those who are His enemies!
How earnestly are the claims of man contended for, against the claims of God! Has not man power and knowledge—but what of it? Has God no will, or power, or knowledge? Suppose man’s will conflicts with God’s—then what? Turn to the Scripture of Truth for answer. Men had a will on the plains of Shinar and determined to build a tower whose top should reach unto heaven—but what came of their purpose? Pharaoh had a will when he hardened his heart and refused to allow Jehovah’s people to go and worship Him in the wilderness—but what came of his rebellion? Balak had a will when he hired Balaam to come and curse the Hebrews—but of what avail was it? The Canaanites had a will when they determined to prevent Israel occupying the land of Canaan—but how far did they succeed? Saul had a will when he hurled his javelin at David—but it entered the wall instead! Jonah had a will when he refused to go and preach to the Ninevites—but what came of it? Nebuchadnezzar had a will when he thought to destroy the three Hebrew children—but God had a will too, and the fire did not harm them. Herod had a will when he sought to slay the Child Jesus, and had there been no living, reigning God, his evil desire would have been effected; but in daring to pit his puny will against the irresistible will of the Almighty, his efforts came to nothing. Yes, my reader, and you, too, had a will when you formed your plans without first seeking counsel of the Lord, therefore did He overturn them! “Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails!” (Proverbs 19:21).
What a demonstration of the irresistible sovereignty of God, is furnished by that wonderful statement found in Revelation 17:17, “For God has put it into their hearts to accomplish His purpose by agreeing to give the beast their power to rule, until God’s words are fulfilled.” The fulfillment of any single prophecy is but the sovereignty of God in operation. It is the demonstration that what He has decreed—He is able also to perform. It is proof that none can withstand the execution of His counsel or prevent the accomplishment of His pleasure. It is the evidence that God inclines men to fulfill that which He has ordained—and perform that which He has fore-determined. If God were not absolute Sovereign, then Divine prophecy would be valueless, for in such case no guarantee would be left that what He had predicted would surely come to pass.
“For God has put it into their hearts to accomplish His purpose by agreeing to give the beast their power to rule, until God’s words are fulfilled” (Revelation 17:17). Even in that terrible time, when Satan has been cast down to the earth itself (Revelation 12:9), when the Antichrist is reigning in full power (Revelation 13), when the basest passions of men are let loose (Revelation 6:4), even then God is supreme above all, working “through all” (Ephesians 4:6), controlling men’s hearts and directing their counsels to the fulfilling of His own purpose.
We cannot do better than quote here, the excellent comments of our esteemed friend Walter Scott upon this verse, “God works unseen—but not the less truly, in all the political changes of the day. The astute statesman. the clever diplomatist, is simply an agent in the Lord’s hands. He knows it not. Self-will and motives of policy may influence to action—but God is steadily working toward an end—to exhibit the heavenly and earthly glories of His Son. Thus, instead of kings and statesmen thwarting God’s purpose, they unconsciously forward it. God is not indifferent—but is behind the scenes of human action. The doings of the future secular powers—are not only under the direct control of God—but all is done in fulfillment of His words.”
Closely connected with Revelation 17:17 is that which is brought before us in Micah 4:11, 12, “Many nations have gathered together against you, calling for your blood, eager to gloat over your destruction. But they do not know the Lord’s thoughts or understand His plan. These nations don’t know that He is gathering them together to be beaten and trampled like bundles of grain on a threshing floor.” Here is another instance which demonstrates God’s absolute control of the nations, of His power to fulfill His secret counsel or decrees through and by them, and of His inclining men to perform His pleasure—though it is performed blindly and unwittingly by them.
Once more. What a word was that of the Lord Jesus as He stood before Pilate! Who can depict the scene! There was the Roman official, and there also was the Servant of Jehovah standing before him. Said Pilate, “Where are You from?” And we read, “Jesus gave him no answer. Then said Pilate unto Him, “Do you refuse to speak to me?” Pilate said. “Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?” (John 19:10). Ah! that is what Pilate thought. That is what many others have thought. He was merely voicing the common conviction of the human heart—the heart which leaves God out of its reckoning. But hear the Lord Jesus as He corrects Pilate, and at the same time repudiates the proud boasting of men in general, “You would have no power over Me if it were not given to you from above” (John 19:11).
How sweeping is this assertion! Man—even though he is a prominent official in the most influential empire of his day—has no power except that which is given him from above, no power, even, to do that which is evil, that is, carry out his own evil designs, unless God empowers him so that His purpose may be forwarded. It was God who gave Pilate the power to sentence to death His well-beloved Son! And how this rebukes the sophistries and reasonings of men, who argue that God does nothing more than permit evil! Why, go right back to the very first words spoken by the Lord God to man after the Fall, and hear Him saying, “I will put ENMITY between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed” (Genesis 3:15)! Bare permission of sin does not cover all the facts which are revealed in Scripture touching this mystery. As Calvin succinctly remarked, “But what reason shall we assign for His permitting it—but because it is His will?”
At the close of a previous chapter, we promised to give attention to one or two other difficulties which were not examined at that time. To them we now turn. If God has not only pre-determined the salvation of His own—but has also fore-ordained the good works which they are to walk in (Ephesians 2:10), then what incentive remains for us to strive after practical godliness? If God has fixed the number of those who are to be saved, and the others are vessels of wrath fitted to destruction—then what encouragement have we to preach the Gospel to the lost? Let us take up these questions in the order of mention.
1. God’s Sovereignty and the believer’s growth in grace.
If God has fore-ordained everything that comes to pass, of what avail is it for us to “exercise” ourselves “unto godliness” (1 Timothy. 4:7)? If God has before ordained the good works in which we are to walk (Ephesians 2:10), then why should we be “careful to maintain good works” (Titus 3:8)? This only raises once more—the problem of human responsibility. Really, it should be enough for us to reply—because God has bidden us do so. Nowhere does Scripture inculcate or encourage a spirit of fatalistic indifference. Contentment with our present spiritual attainments, is expressly disallowed. The word to every believer is, “Press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:14). This was the apostle’s aim, and it should be ours. Instead of hindering the development of Christian character, a proper apprehension and appreciation of God’s sovereignty will forward it.
Just as the sinner’s despair of any help from himself is the first prerequisite of a sound conversion, so the loss of all confidence in himself is the first essential in the believer’s growth in grace! And just as the sinner despairing of help from himself will cast him into the arms of sovereign mercy, so the Christian, conscious of his own frailty, will turn unto the Lord for strength. It is when we are weak—that we are strong (2 Corinthians 12:10). That is to say, there must be consciousness of our weakness, before we shall turn to the Lord for help. While the Christian imagines that he is sufficient in himself, while he imagines that by mere force of will he shall resist temptation, while he has any confidence in the flesh—then, like Peter who boasted that though all forsook the Lord, yet he would not—so we shall certainly fail and fall. Apart from Christ—we can do nothing (John 15:5). The promise of God is, “He gives power to the faint; and to those who have no might (of their own) He increases strength” (Isaiah 40:29).
The question now before us is of great practical importance, and we are deeply anxious to express ourselves clearly and simply. The secret of development of Christian character, is the realization of our own powerlessness, acknowledged powerlessness, and the consequent turning unto the Lord for help. The plain fact is—that of ourselves we are utterly unable to practice a single precept, or obey a single command that is set before us in the Scriptures. For example, “Love your enemies”—but of ourselves we cannot do this, or make ourselves do it. “In nothing be anxious”—but who can avoid and prevent anxiety when things go wrong? “Awake to righteousness and sin not”—but who can help sinning? These are merely examples selected at random from scores of others.
Does then God mock us by bidding us do what He knows we are unable to do? The answer of Augustine to this question is the best we have met with, “God gives commands we cannot perform, that we may know what we ought to request strength from Him.” A consciousness of our powerlessness should cast us upon Him who has all power. Here then is where a vision and view of God’s sovereignty helps, for it reveals His sufficiency and shows us our insufficiency.
2. God’s Sovereignty and Christian service.
If God has determined before the foundation of the world, the precise number of those who shall be saved—then why should we concern ourselves about the eternal destiny of those with whom we come into contact? What place is left for zeal in Christian service? Will not the doctrine of God’s sovereignty, and its corollary of predestination, discourage the Lord’s servants from faithfulness in evangelism? No! Instead of discouraging His servants, a recognition of God’s sovereignty is most encouraging to them.
Here is one, for example, who is called upon to do the work of an evangelist, and he goes forth believing in the freedom of the will and in the sinner’s own ability to come to Christ. He preaches the Gospel as faithfully and zealously as he knows how; but, he finds the vast majority of his hearers are utterly indifferent, and have no heart at all for Christ. He discovers that men are, for the most part, thoroughly enrapt up in the things of the world, and that few have any concern about the world to come. He beseeches men to be reconciled to God, and pleads with them over their soul’s salvation. But it is of no avail. He becomes thoroughly disheartened, and asks himself, What is the use of it all? Shall he quit, or had he better change his mission and message? If men will not respond to the Gospel, had he not better engage in that which is more popular and acceptable to the world? Why not occupy himself with humanitarian efforts, with social work, with the morality campaign? Alas! that so many men who once preached the Gospel are now engaged in these activities instead.
What then is God’s corrective for His discouraged servant? First, he needs to learn from Scripture that God is not now seeking to convert the world—but that in this age He is “taking out of the Gentiles” a people for His name (Acts 15:14). What then is God’s corrective for His discouraged servant? This—a proper apprehension of God’s plan for this Dispensation. Again, what is God’s remedy for dejection at apparent failure in our labors? This—the assurance that God’s purpose cannot fail, that God’s plans cannot miscarry, that God’s will must be done. Our labors are not intended to bring about that which God has not decreed!
Once more: what is God’s word of cheer for the one who is thoroughly disheartened at the lack of response to his appeals and the absence of fruit for his labors? This—that we are not responsible for results: that is God’s side, and God’s business. Paul may “plant,” and Apollos may “water,” but it is God who “gives the increase” (1 Corinthians 3:6). Our business is to obey Christ and preach the Gospel to every creature, to emphasize the “Whoever believes”, and then to leave the sovereign operations of the Holy Spirit to apply the Word in quickening power to whom He wills, resting on the sure promise of Jehovah, “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is My word that goes out from My mouth: It will not return to Me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it!” (Isaiah 55:10, 11).
Was it not this assurance that sustained the beloved apostle when he declared “Therefore (see context) I endure all things for the elect’s sake” (2 Timothy 2:10)! Yes, is not this same lesson to be learned from the blessed example of the Lord Jesus! When we read that He said to the people, “But as I told you, you’ve seen Me, and yet you do not believe. Every one the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will never cast out.” (John 6:36, 37). He knew that His labor would not be in vain. He knew God’s Word would not return unto Him “void.” He knew that “God’s elect” would come to Him and believe on Him. And this same assurance fills the soul of every servant who intelligently rests upon the blessed truth of God’s sovereignty.
Ah, fellow Christian worker, God has not sent us forth to “draw a bow at a venture”. The success of the ministry which He has committed into our hands is not left contingent on the fickleness of the wills in those to whom we preach. How gloriously encouraging, how soul-sustaining are those words of our Lord’s, if we rest on them in simple faith, “I have other sheep (“have” mark you, not “will have”; “have,” because given to Him by the Father before the foundation of the world), whom are not of this fold (that is the Jewish fold then existing). I must bring them also, and they shall listen to My voice.” (John 10:16). Not simply, “they ought to hear My voice,” not simply “they may hear My voice”, not “they will do so if they are willing.” There is no “if”, no “perhaps”, no uncertainty about it. “They shall listen to My voice” is His own positive, unqualified, absolute promise! Here then, is where faith is to rest!
Continue your quest, dear friend, after the “other sheep” of Christ’s. Be not discouraged because the “goats” heed not His voice as you preach the Gospel. Be faithful, be Scriptural, be persevering, and Christ may use even you to be His mouthpiece in calling some of His lost sheep unto Himself. “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain!” (1 Corinthians 15:58).
It now remains for us to offer a few closing reflections, and our happy task is finished.
God’s sovereign election of certain ones to salvation is a MERCIFUL provision. The sufficient answer to all the wicked accusations that the doctrine of Predestination is cruel, horrible, and unjust—is that, unless God had chosen certain ones to salvation, none would have been saved, for “there is none that seeks after God” (Romans 3:11). This is no mere inference of ours—but the definite teaching of Holy Scripture. Attend closely to the words of the apostle in Romans 9, where this theme is fully discussed, “Though the number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant shall be saved. . . . Unless the Lord Almighty had left us descendants, we would have become like Sodom, we would have been like Gomorrah” (Romans 9:27, 29). The teaching of this passage is unmistakable: but for Divine interference, Israel would have become as Sodom and Gomorrah. Had God left Israel alone, human depravity would have run its course to its own tragic end. But God left Israel a “remnant”. Of old the cities of the plain had been obliterated for their sin, and none were left to survive them; and so it would have been in Israel’s case—had not God “left” or spared a remnant. Thus it is with the human race—but for God’s sovereign grace in sparing a remnant—all of Adam’s descendants would have perished in their sins! Therefore, we say that God’s sovereign election of certain ones to salvation, is a merciful provision.
And, be it noted, in choosing the ones He did, God did no injustice to the others who were passed by—for none had any right to salvation. Salvation is by grace, and the exercise of grace is a matter of pure sovereignty—God might save all or none, many or few, one or ten thousand, just as He saw best. Should it be replied, But surely it were “best” to save all. The answer would be: We are not capable of judging. We might have thought it “best” never to have created Satan, never to have allowed sin to enter the world, or having entered, to have brought the conflict between good and evil to an end long before now. Ah! God’s ways are not ours—and His ways are unfathomable!
God fore-ordains everything which comes to pass. His sovereign rule extends throughout the entire Universe and is over every creature. “For of Him, and through Him, and to Him, are all things” (Romans 11:36). God initiates all things, regulates all things, and all things are working unto His eternal glory. “There is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in Him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by Him” (1 Corinthians 8:6). And again, “According to the purpose of Him who works all things after the counsel of His own will” (Ephesians 1:11). Surely if anything could be ascribed to chance it is the casting of lots, and yet the Word of God expressly declares, “The lot is cast into the lap—but its every decision is from the Lord” (Proverbs 16:33)!!
God’s wisdom in the government of our world shall yet be completely vindicated before all created intelligences. God is no idle Spectator, looking on from a distant world at the happenings on our earth—but is Himself shaping everything to the ultimate promotion of His own glory. Even now He is working out His eternal purpose, not only in spite of human and Satanic opposition—but by means of them. How wicked and futile have been all efforts to resist His will—shall one day be as fully evident as when of old He overthrew the rebellious Pharaoh and his hosts at the Red Sea.
It has been well said, “The end and object of all, is the glory of God. It is perfectly, divinely true, that God has ordained whatever comes to pass—for His own glory!”
That what we have written gives but an incomplete and imperfect presentation of this most important subject, we must sorrowfully confess. Nevertheless, if it results in a clearer apprehension of the majesty of God and His sovereign mercy—we shall be amply repaid for our labors. If the reader has received blessing from the perusal of these pages, let him not fail to return thanks to the Giver of every good and every perfect gift, ascribing all praise to His inimitable and sovereign grace!
“Hallelujah! for the Lord God omnipotent reigns!” (Revelation 19:6).
Is God in complete control of everything that happens here on earth? Who controls the affairs of the world today-God or the devil? Is God sovereign over my free will? If God is sovereign over the human will, are we responsible? What should be our our attitude toward Godâ€™s sovereignty? In this timeless classic, Reformed Pastor Arthur W. Pink (A. W. Pink) gives biblical answers to such profound questions regarding the sovereignty of God, in a language every Christian will find not only easy-to-understand but totally engaging and uplifiting.