11
Nov
17

Dohse/Seiver debate on Justification

See my opening statement in two parts at:

 

As soon as Paul makes his opening statement, I will post a link to it.

Advertisements
15
Oct
17

I Will Draw All To Me–John 12:32

 

 

It seems that anytime a person begins to expound John 6:36-45, those who believe the sinner’s free will is the final arbiter in determining who will be the recipients of salvation attempt to blunt the force of that passage by citing John 12:32.  In that verse, Jesus said “If I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all men to me.” Their purpose in citing this verse is to show that everyone is “drawn”, but not in such a way that anyone is effectively united to Christ by the “drawing.” For them, this drawing is no more than a gentle persuasion that enables sinners to make a “free will” decision.

 

Usually, one is left to wonder what those who propound this view mean by “free will” since they are seldom willing or able to define the term. If by the term “free will” they mean that sinners have the ability to choose whatever they desire most at any given time, we would agree that sinners have free will, but that would raise another question.  Do not sinners have that ability apart from anything Jesus accomplished on the cross?

When Monergists deny that sinners have free will, what we are denying is that the will is self-governing and unaffected by the sinner’s nature. Our contention is that a person cannot choose that for which he has no desire and to which his entire being is totally averse.  Could he choose what he does not want if he wanted it? Of course he could, but his will cannot decide what his desires are going to be. It is the function of the will to choose what is most desired, not to determine what is most desired.

 

For me, their understanding of this verse would raise the following questions to which they seem to be unwilling or unable to provide satisfactory answers. I would ask you to consider these questions as we attempt to understand what Jesus was saying:

 

  1. What means does Jesus use to draw sinners to himself or does he draw sinners apart from any means whatsoever? Will Jesus draw any apart from exposure to the gospel in some form?
  2. If sinners cannot call on the Lord’s name without hearing “a word of Christ” (the gospel), would it not stand to reason that they cannot be drawn without “a word of Christ?”
  3. Are you willing to posit that every person without exception since the day of Jesus’ crucifixion will at some time in his or her life have been exposed to the gospel? Has there ever been any person in some remote tribe or nation who has died without hearing Jesus’ name even once?
  4. If sinners are drawn to Jesus only through the preaching of the gospel, and all without exception have not heard the gospel, how is it possible that Jesus has “drawn” all without exception to himself?
  5. Why would Jesus have used the word “draw,” a word that is used consistently in the Scriptures to describe an effectual action, (E,g., drawing a sword from its scabbard, drawing water from a well, dragging a net full of fish to the shore) to describe a sincere, gentle, but ineffectual action? Could he not have used another word that would have expressed that concept if that had been what he intended?
  6. How can a person who has never heard of Jesus and feels no inclination whatsoever to come to him in repentance and faith be considered “drawn” to him?
  7. Why did John introduce the account of “certain Greeks” who desired an audience with Jesus in this context and then never mention them again? What, if anything, does their request have to do with Jesus’ discourse that followed?
  8. Was it Jesus’ intention to “draw” to himself those Jews on whom he was about to pronounce final judgment by walking away and hiding himself (see vv. 36-40)?

 

The Context

 

There are several issues I would like you to consider regarding the context of the verse we are considering. First, I would like you to consider at what point in Jesus ministry he spoke these words. Second, I would like you to consider John’s account of the Greeks who were seeking an audience with Jesus and why he introduced that account here. Third, I would like you to consider Jesus’ discourse triggered by this request. All these factors are very important in gaining a proper understanding of John 12:32.

 

The Timing of This Statement

 

It is always important that we remember that John and the other evangelists were not merely historians reciting the facts of Jesus’ earthly ministry. They were reciting those facts in such a way as to make a theological point. Early on in his Gospel he wrote, “He came to his own creation and his own people did not receive him” (1:11). To this point John has been showing how Jesus had revealed himself to ever-widening circles of his own people who by and large had rejected him. He had spoken to them these condemning words in chapter six, verse thirty-six, “. . .you have seen me and still do not believe.” It is not as if they had not seen and known the truth, but that having known the truth, the light, they continued to prefer the darkness.

 

We find similar statements throughout the fourth Gospel.  The Jews had surrounded him in the temple complex at the Feast of the Dedication and said to him, “If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly” He replied, “I told you and you didn’t believe me. The works I do in my Father’s name, they bear witness of me, but you do not believe because you are not of my sheep, as I said to you” (10:25-26). It seems the more light they received, the more recalcitrant they became in their rejection of this one who had given more than abundant evidence that he was the promised Anointed One.

 

His act of raising Lazarus from the dead had brought the issue to a fevered pitch. The principal concern of the Jewish leadership was not their need to repent in light of the clear evidence Jesus had given but their political situation. John wrote,

 

Then the chief priests and Pharisees gathered a council and said, ‘What shall we do? For this man works many signs. If we let him alone like this, everyone will believe in him [Incidentally, does anyone really believe they expected that even they would believe in him? Yet, the text says “everyone will believe.”], and the Romans will come and take away both our place and nation.’ And one of them, Caiaphas, being high priest that year, said to them, ‘You know nothing at all, nor do you consider that it is expedient for us that one man should die for the people, and not that the whole nation should perish?’ (John 11:47-50).

 

John’s editorial comment in verses 51-52 is a clear pointer to Jesus’ teaching in the passage we are considering. In that comment, he has provided for his readers perhaps the best definition of what he has intended by his use of the word “world” that we have anywhere in the Scriptures. Suggesting that Caiaphas has spoken better than he knew, he wrote, “Now this he did not say on his own authority; but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for that nation only, but also that he would gather together in one the children of God that are scattered abroad.”

 

It seems John is playing out those words that he wrote in his prologue to this Gospel, “. . .His own people did not receive him, but to as many as received him. . .” (1:11-12). He introduces this narrative at a crucial point in Jesus’ earthly ministry. Jesus is about to pronounce judgement on the nation of Israel as a whole and illustrate that judgment by walking away and hiding himself from them (see 12:36). In many ways, what was occurring in this passage reflects what we read in Romans nine through eleven regarding the breaking off of the natural branches of the good olive tree and grafting Gentile believers into the tree contrary to nature.

 

Additionally, since John makes reference to Isaiah’s prophesy concerning that act of judgment (cf. John 12:37-40, Isaiah 53:1), we should focus on that entire context not only in regard to the elect remnant of Israel that is in view in chapter fifty-three, but also in regard to the expansion of God’s kingdom to the Gentile nations that is prophesied in chapter fifty-four. In many ways, Jesus’ words in this passage are parallel to what John has recorded in chapter six of his Gospel regarding God’s purpose for kingdom expansion prophesied in Isaiah 54.

 

Finally, it should not escape our notice that immediately prior to introducing the account of those Greeks who wanted to see Jesus, John has given us another pointer. In fulfillment of Zechariah’s prophesy [9:9], Jesus had presented himself as Israel’s King, lowly and riding on a donkey, and the common people hailed his coming. Immediately following that prophesy, the prophet had written, “He shall speak peace to the nations, His dominion shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth” (Zech. 9:10). Can it be merely coincidental that John has recorded the response of the Pharisees? This is what they said, “You see that you are accomplishing nothing. Look, the world has gone after him” (John 12:19).  [Again, one wonders if anyone truly believes the Pharisees thought they had gone after him as well. Would that not have to be the case if κόσμος  [world] means every person on the planet without exception?]. In the very next line, John wrote, “Now there were certain Greeks. . .saying sir, we wish to see Jesus” (vv. 20-21).

 

The Account of Greeks Seeking Jesus

 

Would not this narrative about Greeks seeking Jesus seem a bit abrupt if John has introduced it seemingly without reason and without resolution? If Jesus’ response in verses twenty-three through thirty-two, was not in response to that request, then that is clearly the case. Verses twenty through twenty-two would be nothing but filler that has no purpose at all. Jesus did not even appear to answer their request directly if there is no relationship between their request and his discourse that followed that request.

 

In reality, it would be impossible to understand the discourse that followed (vv 23ff) apart from the introduction of this account. Any understanding of John 12:32 that fails to take the introduction of this narrative into account must necessarily be flawed

 

It was the coincidence of the Jews’ rejection of the clear evidence and their consequent impending judgment and the Greeks’ desire to have an audience with Jesus that prompted his words in the passage we are considering.

 

Concerning this incident, D. A. Carson has written,

 

Whether or not their request was granted is not recorded. . .because even if they met with Jesus at this point, there is a sense in which they could not yet ‘see’ him, they could not yet belong to him, until the ‘hour’ is over and Jesus has been ‘lifted up from the earth’ (v. 32). That is what is necessary for the gospel to be fully operative, the gospel that encompasses Jew and Gentile alike and draws together a new covenant community whose locus is no longer constrained by the parameters of Sinai (Carson, 1991,438).

 

 

The Preceding Discourse

 

John 12:32 is not a stand-alone verse that can be understood apart from its context. It forms a part of a larger discourse in which Jesus is explaining certain redemptive accomplishments that must be realized before the request of these Greeks can be granted in the fullest sense of the word. The establishment of an assembly of redeemed sinners from every nation is not an afterthought; it is not God’s “plan B.” One almost shudders at the suggestion. But, God’s predestined and prophesied purpose to extend his saving activity to the Gentiles will not and cannot be realized apart from four conditions that must be fulfilled. It is these conditions about which Jesus speaks in this discourse. They are as follows:

 

  1. Jesus must die as the sacrifice for his people, and by means of the cross be enthroned [“lifted up”] in glory (vv. 24, 32).
  2. The Father must be glorified (v. 28)
  3. This world must be judged (v. 31).
  4. Satan, the prince of this world, must be cast out (v. 31).

 

Jesus must be lifted up

 

The request of these Greeks who desired an audience with Jesus had triggered in his mind the fact that his hour had now come, and had provoked in him a profound emotional response. He said, “Now my soul is troubled and what shall I say, ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I came to this hour” (v. 27). Given his true humanity, his natural and normal response was to recoil from the pain, suffering and shame that his impending crucifixion would bring and this understanding provoked within him a deep conflict, a conflict that would only be resolved by his overwhelming desire to fulfill his mission by glorifying his Father [“Father, glorify your name” (verse 28)].

 

Jesus [or John depending on who the speaker was in John 3:14] has already stated the absolute necessity of his death by crucifixion, “Even so, must the Son of Man be lifted up.” We must not overlook the connection between this verse and verse sixteen. If one understands the proper usage of the word “world” in John’s gospel, i.e., sinners from every nation, it will be easy for him to see the connection between this passage and the John twelve narrative. Jesus cannot and will not draw the world, apart from being “lifted up.” This is why he answers the request these Greeks had made by saying, “. . .unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies it produces much grain” (v. 24).

 

Additionally, we must not ignore John’s use of deliberate ambiguity throughout his Gospel. For him, the term “lifted up” not only refers to the manner in which Jesus would die but also to the result of his being lifted on the cross, i.e, his exaltation [being lifted up] to the throne. Once we understand this, it becomes clear that Jesus’ words in verse thirty-two began to be fulfilled at the first feast of Pentecost following his resurrection and ascension. Peter’s overall argument in his Pentecost proclamation was that since the Spirit has been given, Jesus must have been glorified, and one of the prophesied results of his exaltation was the outpouring of the Spirit on all flesh (see Acts 2:17 cf. 39). It should be clear to any thoughtful reader that “all flesh” does not refer to every human being without exception. Instead, it refers to people from every nation, to all who are far off, even to as many as the Lord our God shall call. Having been lifted up, Jesus now draws all peoples to himself.

 

Lest anyone imagine that my interpretation of this passage has resulted from some unwarranted Calvinistic theological bias, please consider the following comment from the Arminian, Adam Clarke, on this verse. He wrote,

Verse 32. “I-will draw all men unto me.” – After I shall have died and risen again, by the preaching of my word and the influence of my Spirit, I shall attract and illuminate both Jews and Gentiles. It was one of the peculiar characteristics of the Messiah, that unto him should the gathering of the people be, Genesis xlix. 10. And probably our Lord refers to the prophesy, Isaiah xi. 10, which peculiarly belonged to the Gentiles: “There shall be a root of Jesse which shall stand for an ENSIGN of the people, to it shall the GENTILES  seek, and his rest shall be glorious.”

The Father Must Be Glorified

This and the other conditions that needed to be met before the Gentiles could be included in the outworking of God’s redemptive purposes, is subsumed under the first head. In being “lifted up” Jesus glorified the Father in the most resplendent manner possible. In the cross, “Mercy and truth have met together; Righteousness and peace have kissed” (Psalm 85:10). We must never forget that not only was Jesus’ redemptive work a glorious manifestation of redemptive love, mercy and grace but it was also an unrivaled manifestation of his holiness and righteousness.

We must not forget that Jesus’ primary mission was not to bring about the happiness of his elect people or even to procure our eternal salvation; his primary mission was to glorify his Father on the earth (see John 17:1-5). Apart from the completion of this mission, there could never have been an inclusion of Gentile believers in the gospel kingdom. Jesus’ glorification is clearly linked to his refusal to seek his own glory. Instead, he, as the spiritual seed of his people, was willing to “fall into the ground and die” so that he might produce an abundant spiritual harvest. Isaiah prophesied, “The glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together” (Isaiah 40:5).

This World Must Be Judged

It is true that final judgment is reserved for the end of the age, but there is a sense in which “the world” sealed its doom in rejecting and crucifying the Lord’s Anointed One.  John had written, “this is the condemnation (κρίσις) that light has come into the world but men loved darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19). The proud “world,” sinful society in insurrection against its Creator, imagined that it was passing judgment on Jesus, but in reality, in crucifying him, it was condemning itself.

There could be no greater or clearer display of the world’s antipathy toward God than the expression of its hostility toward his appointed agent. Their actions demonstrated that had they been able, they would have dragged God from his throne and trampled him under foot.

We see that judgment displayed against the unbelieving Jews in this very chapter. Jesus is about to shut the door and leave them outside forever. Having spoken to them about their responsibility to react properly to the light, “he departed and was hidden from them (v. 36). In what appears to have been an acted parable, Jesus passed judgment on them for their persistent unbelief.

There seems to be a clear sense in which Israel and its reaction to God’s self-revelation stood as a representative sample of the entire race.  In The Fullness of Time: A biblical-theological study of Galatians, I wrote,

 

It is obvious that Israel enjoyed privileges that the nations of the world knew nothing about. But, along with these privileges came great responsibility. Israel as the servant of Jehovah had as her task to reflect the light and glory of the Lord to the pagan nations around them. One of the ways in which Israel was to function in this witness bearing capacity was to be dealt with by God as a representative sample, a sort of microcosm, of the entire race. Thus, Israel’s failure under the covenant of Sinai mirrors the failure of all. Because of this failure, every mouth is stopped and all the world becomes guilty before God.

Douglas Moo seems to be sounding the same note when he writes, “Perhaps it is best to view Israel’s experience with the law as paradigmatic of all nations (Moo, 213, 1988).

 

Paul wrote, “Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God” (Rom. 3:19). Whenever we find the phrase translated “under the law” in the New Testament Scriptures, it always refers to Israel’s covenant relationship to God. The Gentiles nations were never “under the law” in that sense. For that reason, we should understand him to mean that their rebellious reaction to the law is a reflection of what our reaction would have been had we been under the same law. Thus, in judging and condemning Israel for their unbelief, Jesus was truly condemning the world as a whole

 

Satan, the Prince of This World Must Be Cast Out

 

During the entire Old Testament period, the nations of the world had been under the domination and deception of the wicked one. The prophet described them as “the people who walked in darkness . . . and dwelt in the land of the shadow of death” (Isa. 9:2). They had deliberately yielded to his power and deception and acknowledged him as their ruler.

 

Though Jesus’ crucifixion might have seemed like a triumph for Satan, in reality it demolished his kingdom. When Jesus was exalted to the throne by means of the cross, Satan was decisively dethroned. As a result, Jesus now freely draws his people from among all nations. He has visited the Gentiles to take out of them a people for his name (see Acts 15:14).

 

Conclusion

 

Given the fact that the drawing Jesus was talking about does not occur apart from the proclamation of the gospel, unless it can be demonstrated that every individual who has ever lived has heard the gospel message, it is impossible that he could have been referring to drawing every person without exception.

 

Additionally, “drawing” is an effectual act that accomplishes its purpose. Does it not seem strange that if everyone is “drawn,” many feel absolutely no inclination to come to Jesus at all?

 

Immediately before the verse in question, Jesus had said, “Now is the judgment [condemnation] of this world.”  Are we to believe he intended to draw to himself those on whom he was about to pronounce a condemning sentence?

 

In light of the context in which John 12:32 occurs, it seems reasonable to conclude that Jesus intended his hearers to understand that once he had fulfilled certain necessary conditions, he would effectually draw sinners from every kindred, tribe, tongue and nation to himself through the preaching of the gospel.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

27
Aug
17

Authentic Evangelism and Its Counterfeit–Study Guide

26
Aug
17

An Appeal to Closet Calvinists

This appeal is addressed to those evangelical pastors and Christian teachers who admit to a belief in God’s sovereign grace but, for reasons which we shall discuss in this booklet, never preach or teach this truth. For the lack of a better designation, we will refer to such pastors and teachers as ‘closet Calvinists.’

A Description of a Closet Calvinist

Like many of his contemporaries in the Lord’s work, the closet Calvinist is quite bold when he expounds those truths that he knows his hearers already believe. Notice how courageous he is when he proclaims popular evangelical opinions that are calculated to please the ears of those who have gathered to fulfill their religious obligation for another week. Yet, there are some biblical truths that cause him to cower in the cloistered safety of his ‘study’ where, if cornered, he might own up to believing some of the ‘deeper truths’ of Scripture. On these rare occasions, he will quickly explain that the ‘meat of the Word’ is not for everyone. Meat is only intended for the mature to masticate in the seclusion of their closets. It is surely not good for the sheep.

Devastating Effects

The truth is, the closet Calvinist knows that, to fleshly minds, some biblical truths are more palatable than others. His loud proclamation can be heard for miles when he declares some of these more tasty truths. He is often heard by thousands of people who will marvel at the great work that he is doing. The tragedy is that his ministry is having a devastating effect on the Church. Closet Calvinists are guilty of allowing fleshly hearers to persist in the delusion that they love the truth of God and the God of truth. The reality is that if he were honest in his teaching about God’s attributes and His discriminating decrees, many of his hearers would go back and walk no more with him (see John 6: 65-6). A more serious effect of the closet Calvinist’s sinful silence is that he is robbing Christ’s sheep of the very truths that God intended for their spiritual growth and edification.

In his classic book, Personal Declension and Revival of Religion in the Soul, written over a century and a half ago, Octavius Winslow warned of the devastating effects of holding back God’s revealed truth. He wrote,

Is there not in the present day a criminal keeping back by some, and a painful undervaluing by others, of the scriptural and holy doctrines of grace [italics his]?-The doctrines which unfold the eternity of God’s love to His people-the sovereignty of his grace in their election-the effectual power of the Spirit in their calling-the free justification of their persons through the imputed righteousness of Christ, and the entire putting away of their sins by his atoning blood-the solemn obligation to ‘live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present evil world,’ and the certainty of their final glorification in the world to come,-are not these Divinely-revealed truths, at the present moment, and by the great mass of Christian professors and preachers, excluded from our pulpits and exiled from our land” are they not considered mean and unfashionable? and, having lost their savor with many, are they not cast out and trodden under foot of men? We verily and solemnly believe that it is so. By some they are professedly received, but criminally held back; by others they are professedly preached, but with such timidity and obscurity, as to render them of none effect: and by the many they are disbelieved altogether, and therefore openly and boldly denied! And yet, these are the doctrines which shine so luminously in every page of the apostle’s writings-these are the doctrines which formed the grand themes of Christ’s ministration,-and these are the doctrines, to the preaching of which by the reformers, we owe all the civil and religious liberty which, as a nation, we now possess. We hesitate not, then, to say that, along ‘with the denial or the undervaluing of these doctrines of grace, there will go forth an influence that will wither the spirituality and obstruct the prosperity of the churches of our land. It is true, an outward appearance of fruitfulness may follow the exhibition of opposite and conflicting doctrines,-crowds may flock to their standard, and multitudes seem converted by their influence,-but soon these delusive appearances are seen to pass away. The time of trial and sifting comes’, and then it is found-when, alas! too late to close the floodgate against the overwhelming evils which the preaching of error has produced-that the truth, and the truth only in the hands of the Eternal Spirit of God, can really enlighten the dark mind, regenerate the lifeless soul, and subdue and sanctify the rebellious heart: it is then discovered, that the true prosperity of a church, its stability, its spirituality, its vigor. and its holy influences, are essentially, and therefore inseparably, connected with a fearless and holy maintenance of the doctrines of grace; that where they are denied, or held back, or in any way obscured, there may indeed exist the form of godliness, but the power-the glorious, Divine, and sanctifying power-is wanting.1

Knowing Concealment of the Truth

Now, let’s be clear that we are not talking about those who are ignorant of these precious truths that God has revealed in His Word, the Bible. They have another reason for which they ought to be ashamed of themselves. Instead, we are talking about those who profess to know the truth, but willingly conceal it for expedience sake.

For example, there are many pastors who will tell you, behind closed doors, that they believe that, before the world began, God unconditionally chose those whom He intended to save. They will even admit that He determined beforehand to bring these chosen people to faith in His Son. Yet, they will tell you that these truths constitute the ‘meat of the Word’ and are not intended for everyone. The sad reality is that such preachers seldom, if ever, teach these truths to anyone.

Hard Questions

There are several questions that I would like to ask the closet Calvinist and his companions. I would be very grateful if they would give me a straight and satisfying answer.

First, what criterion do you use to distinguish the “meat of the Word’ from the ‘”Milk of the Word?”

I suggest that the distinction between “milk” and “meat” prevalent in evangelicalism today is one that was foreign to the mind of the Apostle Paul. When he distinguished between the milk and meat of the Word, e.g., Cor 3:2, he referred not to two different classes of teaching but to two different ways of presenting the same teaching.This was the view of Charles Hodge, among others. Commenting on I Cor 3:2, he wrote,

What is the distinction which the apostle here makes between milk and meat? It is evidently not the distinction between the wisdom of the world and the wisdom of God’ Paul did not preach the wisdom of the world to babes in Christ and the wisdom of God to advanced Christians. Neither does he sanction anything of the nature of theDisciplina Arcani, or doctrine of the hidden essence of Christianity, which was introduced in later times. For the sake either of conciliating the heathen, or of preventing believers from forming false notions of the gospel, it became common deliberately to conceal the truth. This is the foundation of the doctrine of reserve, as it is called. which the Romish church has so extensively practiced and taught, inculcating a blind faith, and keeping the people in ignorance [Does this sound familiar?] . . . The import of the figure leads to the conclusion that the difference is rather inthe mode of instruction, than in the things taught. The same truth in one form is milk , in another form strong meat. “Christ,” says Calvin, “is milk for babes, and strong meat for men.” Every doctrine which can be taught to theologians, is taught to children. . . . The important truth is that there are not two sets of doctrine, a higher and a lower form of faith, one for the learned and the other for the unlearned; there is no part of the gospel which we are authorized to keep back from the people [emphases mine].2

God plainly revealed the teaching of free, sovereign and distinguishing grace in the Epistles of the New Testament Scriptures. Are we to assume that there were no new or weak believers in the churches to which the apostles published these truths so clearly. How can we explain the fact that they did not conceal these teachings, if they are only suitable for mature Christians?

Second, what right do you have to conceal the truth that God has revealed?

At times, closet Calvinists resort to Deuteronomy 29:29, “The secret things belong to the LORD our God. . . . ” in an effort to excuse their lack of faithfulness in proclaiming God’s truth. It is true that God has concealed the answers to some of our questions. These matters belong to Him, and we have no right to pry into them.This is a truth that should stand without controversy. Yet, this is not the only truth that is disclosed in Deut 29:29. The verse continues, “but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law.” Just as we have no ability to reveal or pry into what God has concealed, so we do not have the right to conceal what God has revealed.

Tell me, you who love to quote the well-known Spurgeon, have you not heard Spurgeon? He was no closet Calvinist who exulted in the truth of unconditional election in the solitude of his study. No! He loved to preach on these grand old themes. He said in one of his many sermons on election,

It is no novelty, then, that I am preaching; no new doctrine. I love to proclaim these strong old doctrines that are called by nickname Calvinism, but which are surely and verily the revealed truth of God as it is in Christ Jesus. By this truth I make a pilgrimage to the past. and as I go, I see father after father, confessor after confessor, martyr after martyr, standing up to shake hands with me. Were I a Pelagian, or a believer in free-will, I should have to walk for centuries all alone. Here and there a heretic, of no very honorable character might rise up and call me brother. But taking these things to be the standard of my faith, I see the land of the ancients peopled with my brethren. I behold multitudes who confess the same as I do, and acknowledge that this is the religion of God’s own church [emphases mine].3

In his farewell address to the Ephesian elders, Paul reminded them of his faithfulness in declaring all the revealed wiII of God. He wrote,

I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable. . . . Therefore I testify to you this day, that I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God (Acts 20:20-25).

The reason for such boldness is that Paul unequivocally believed these truths. For him, they were not mere academic propositions with which he might entertain himself in his more private moments. He perceived their value, as God’s revealed truth, for abasing the sinner’s arrogance and for training believers in practical godliness. Since he valued God’s truth, he could not conceal it. In his second epistle to the Corinthians he wrote, “But having the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, ‘I BELIEVED, THEREFORE I SPOKE’ we also believe, therefore also we speak,”. . . (2 Cor 4:13). If God’s truth is burning in our hearts, “. . .we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard”(Acts 4:20). See also Jeremiah 20:9.

Paul tells us in the second chapter of I Corinthians that God’s purpose in revelation is ‘that we might know the things freely given to us by God’ (I Cor 2:12).

If God has plainly revealed the truth of His sovereign grace, what right do you have to conceal it from those to whom it belongs?

Third, if your hearers remain fleshly after hearing all those teachings that your call ‘the milk of the Word,’ what do you now plan to do for them to bring them to maturity?

Such a situation existed among the addressees of the Epistle to the Hebrews.The writer of that treatise had many truths to teach his readers about Melchizedek, but they were dull of hearing. He told them that they needed milk and not solid food (meat).

Concerning him [Christ, a priest after the order of Melchizedek] we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness’, for he is a babe. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil (Heb. 5:11-14)

What did he propose to do in that situation. Did he plan to leave them in their state of stupor and continue to feed them nothing but the ‘milk of the Word?’ Did he intend to conceal this important truth from them until they came to maturity? No! He understood that if they continued in this state, they would do so because they had never become Christians at all. It would profit nothing to continue to teach them those doctrines that belonged to the infant state of God’s family. Pursuant to that purpose, he pressed on, in Hebrews seven, with the meaty doctrine of Melchizedek.The lesson this teaches is that we can never hope to mature God’s people as long as we continue to conceal from them those truths that God has revealed for their growth and development.

Fourth, if it is not yet time to teach your people the truth of God’s distinguishing grace, how will you know when that time has come?

What evidence do God’s people give that they have become ready to hear the truth of God’s distinguishing grace? Will they tell you that they have now become disenchanted with your “free will” approach to preaching and ministry and wish to delve into the”meat of the Word?” How do you expect them to become ready to hear the “deeper truths” of God’s Word if you continue to steer them away from such truths? If some of your sheep began to mature through their personal study of the Scriptures, would you continue to starve them in your public teaching and preaching? Would you rob them of God’s revealed truth because there might be some weak believers in your audience whom you fear would be offended by a plain description of their Father’s character and work? If you do not intend to teach the truth now, when do you plan to start?

Finally, I ask you in all candor, is it not true that you have concealed these truths because you have undervalued them?

Is having a large and “successful” church more valuable to you than being faithful to God’s truth? Have you counted the cost of standing up with those who have suffered for the faith and judged it to be to high? Is the approval of your peers more important to you than the smile of God? If so, it is time for you to get your priorities right.

In his excellent, little book, Warnings to the Churches, J. C. Ryle reminds us of an occasion when Bishop Latimer was called on to preach before King Henry VIII. He cites, from memory, the manner in which Latimer began his sermon.

‘Latimer! Latimer! dost thou remember that thou art speaking before the high and mighty King Henry VIII. before him who has the power to command thee to be sent to prison; before him who can have thy head struck off if it please him” Wilt thou not take care to say nothing that will offend royal ears” Then after a pause, he went on: ‘Latimer! Latimer! Dost thou not remember that thou art speaking before the King of Kings and Lord of Lords; before Him, at whose bar Henry VIII will stand; before Him, to whom one day thou wilt give an account of thyself’ ‘Latimer! Latimer! be faithful to thy Master and declare all God’s Word.’4

I leave you with two words of exhortation from Paul’s Epistles. In his closing words to the Corinthians he wrote, “Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong” (I Cor 16:13). Never has there been a time when there was a greater need for pastors and other Christian teachers to act like men and be strong. In his final exhortation to Timothy, Paul identified the area in which lies our greatest need for manly strength when he wrote,

I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths. But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship. do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry (2 Tim 4:1-5).


1 Octavius Winslow, Personal Declension and Revival of religion in the Soul, (London: The Banner of Truth Trust reprint ed. 1962), pp. 121-2.

2 Charles Hodge, Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians, (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., reprint ed. 1969), pp. 48-9.

3 Charles H. Spurgeon, Spurgeon’s Sermons Vol. 2, (Grand Rapid: Zondervan Publishing House, n.d.) pp. 69-70.

4 J.C. Ryle, Warnings to the Churches, (London: The Banner of Truth Trust. reprint ed. 1967) pp. 34-5.

25
Aug
17

Issues in Romans Nine

It is common for Arminians and other Synergists to accuse Calvinists of taking verses in Romans 9 out of context and using them to prove a doctrine they were never intended to support. This is quite common among Dispensationalists who imagine that God is pursuing two separate programs for two separate peoples. For this reason, they imagine that because Paul is addressing an issue that concerns ethnic Israelites, the doctrine he sets forth must have no application to the Church and to spiritual salvation at all.

Now, it is true that Israel is not the church and the church is not Israel in the sense that Israel as a nation was a body of believers washed in the blood of the Lamb. One does not enter the community of New Covenant in the same way that people became a part of the Old Covenant community. What we must understand is that because the nation of Israel stood as type or prefiguration of the Church, the same principles that applied to that nation in a typical sense are now applicable to the Church in a spiritual sense. None of the blessings the members of Christ’s body now receive were granted to the Israelites, as mere natural descendants of Abraham, in the same sense as they are now granted to believers in Christ. They were chosen, redeemed, called, adopted, granted inheritance etc., but none of those blessings are spiritual or eternal in nature.I

My approach to this passage will necessarily depart from both the classic Reformed view and from the classic Dispensationalist understanding of Israel and the Church. The Reformed view is that the Church is the visible Kingdom of God that is, by design, comprised of believers and unbelievers [i.e., believers and their infant children] in the same way that Israel was the visible Church in the Old Testament. The Dispensational view, as already mentioned, is that God is pursuing two perpetually distinct purposes for two perpetually and perhaps eternally distinct peoples. But we must understand that God has not planted a separate olive tree called “the Church” that is separate and distinct from the good olive tree that is rooted in covenant promises. Instead, he has grafted Gentile believers into “the Righteous Branch” of the good olive tree through faith in Christ, so that they have become heirs of the spiritual promises made to Abraham. According to the Dispensational view, Romans chapters nine through eleven can have little if any significance for anyone other than natural Israelites.

My view is that natural Israel stood as a type or prefiguration of the true people of God [I am using the word “true” here in the same way John and Jesus used the it, i.e., to denote the fulfillment as opposed to the type and shadow. Consider as an example, “I am the TRUE bread.” Jesus did not mean that the manna in the desert was not REAL bread, but that he was the fulfillment of the type]. It helps to understand that the study of typology is simply a matter of recognizing that there are repeated patterns in God’s dealings with his creation.

Some time ago I posted an article titled “Thoughts on Romans 9-11” which I intend to repost at the end of this article since I believe it is important to understand the issues involved in the entire context. What I would like to do here is simply consider this important chapter in its context in an attempt to discern whether Calvinists are truly guilty of misusing it to illegitimately support their doctrine of God’s sovereignty in the matter of the sinner’s salvation.

Romans Nine Is About Spiritual Salvation

My first observation is that the entirety of Romans nine though eleven concerns spiritual salvation. There is not a single word in the entire passage, if properly understood, that concerns the reestablishment of Israel as a political entity, the restoration of the land to that nation, etc. It should be clear to any thinking person that Paul would not be willing to be accursed from Christ for such mundane reasons. It was for the spiritual and eternal salvation of his people that he was concerned. We must remember that after types or prefigurations are fulfilled, they cease to exist. Paul understood that “If you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed and heirs according to promise.” The issue here was salvation through union with Christ. This becomes clear as we near the end of the chapter and move into chapter ten. In verse twenty-three Paul wrote about the “vessels of mercy which he [God] had prepared beforehand for glory.” Since this is set over against “destruction,” it must be a reference to spiritual salvation. In verse twenty-seven he wrote, “the remnant will be SAVED.” In verses thirty-thirty-two he wrote specifically about the attainment of righteousness through faith, another clear reference to spiritual deliverance. If any question remains about the subject of this pericope, it should be laid to rest once for all by Paul’s opening statement in chapter ten, “Brethren, my prayer to God and heart’s desire for Israel is that they may be saved.” Finally, Paul closes his argument with the conclusion, “and thus, all Israel shall be SAVED.”

The Apostle’s Argument in This Chapter

We must first understand that this entire section is intended to answer a single issue. That issue concerns the promises God made to Israel during the Old Covenant period. It seems that Paul has anticipated an objection about what he had written in the foregoing chapters. This was the objection. When we consider what has happened to Israel, “his own people” to whom he came, does it not appear that the promises of God have fallen to the ground without fulfillment? His initial answer to that objection was, “but it is not that the Word of God has taken no effect.”

The remainder of chapter nine is concerned to address two issues relative to that objection:

  1. The first issue is the identity of the ultimate recipients of God’s promises to Israel.
  2. The second issue is whether those who were the recipients of these promises were to receive the blessings promised as a matter of right or by sovereign disposition.

These two issues are related in that, due to their physical ancestry, the Jewish people of the first century had developed a sense of entitlement. One can see this attitude reflected in such statements as we find in John 8:33 “We are Abraham’s descendants and were never in bondage to any man.” Paul’s argument in this passage is reminiscent of John the Baptist’s words to the Pharisees and Sadducees when they came to him for baptism–“Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?  Therefore, bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not think to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’  For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones” (Matt. 3:7-9). Paul’ s two-fold argument is that his brethren according to the flesh are entitled to no spiritual blessing by virtue of their physical lineage. The inheritance is not of bloods [bloodline], and the reception of spiritual blessing is a matter of sovereign disposition.

The Identity of “Israel”

Paul began to speak to the first of these issues in verse six of this chapter, “. . .for they are not all Israel who are of Israel.” This understanding must control our thinking concerning everything else Paul wrote in this entire passage. When he speaks of “Israel” he is not referring to all the physical seed. Toward the end of the chapter, Paul introduces a theme that recurs throughout the passage, i.e.,  it is not to the nation as a whole that the promises are made but to the elect remnant (see 11:5) within the nation. The physical promises [e.g. the promise that they would be blessed in the land as a result of their obedience to the covenant] that God made to members of the nation, based on covenant fulfillment, [promises of living and being blessed in the land of promise] find their fulfillment in Christ, the consummate Israelite, and in those united to him by faith (cf. Exo. 19:5-6, 1 Pet. 2:9-10). True believers in Christ have entered into the inheritance of which the land was a type. God did not promise eternal, spiritual blessings to any of Abraham’s natural offspring except Christ.

There can be no question that the supernatural character of Isaac’s birth stood as a type of the believer’s supernatural birth. The true seed, the true heirs are children of promise as was Isaac (see Gal. 4:28). The point Paul was making is that God’s promises to Israel have not fallen to the ground without fulfillment at all since those promises belong to those who are born supernaturally as was Isaac. Surely, this is what Jesus had in mind when he told Nicodemus that he needed to be born from above. Though one could enter the material kingdom of Israel by physical birth, one can only enter Christ’s kingdom by supernatural, spiritual birth. That which is born of flesh belongs to the realm of flesh and has no ability to function in the spiritual realm.

In the same way, Paul intended the recounting of God’s choice of Jacob over Esau to illustrate that God’s promises to Abraham were not intended for all the physical seed but for those sovereignly chosen by God and blessed contrary to the natural order. The fact that the reference to Jacob and Esau in Malachi extends to their descendants does nothing to diminish Paul’s argument in this passage. The principle remains the same; God’s blessings are granted according to promise and not according to physical descent and are determined by God’s elective purpose. This does not in any way suggest that every descendant of Jacob was an heir of God’s spiritual blessings. That is simply not the case. What it does suggest is that just as God’s love for Jacob and the physical and material blessings he granted to the nation of Israel were determined by God’s electing love, so the spiritual blessings that flow to the antitypical Israel are determined by the sovereign will of God. Additionally, Paul showed that God’s choice is not only made apart from merit but contrary to merit. Jacob was not the most likely candidate to father a holy nation. It is quite true that in this context these principles have primary application to Paul’s brethren according to the flesh, but, as he stated in verses twenty-three and twenty-four, they are no less applicable to those God calls from among the Gentiles.

The Basis of Blessing

The second of these issues rises out of Paul’s explication of the first. Paul wants his natural brothers to understand that they have no rightful claim to God’s blessings since those blessings are sovereignly granted and not a matter of right. If they are blessed it will be due to God’s sovereign mercy granted contrary to merit, and not because they are entitled to his blessing.

This truth could not have been elucidated more clearly than Paul has expressed it in verses eleven through thirteen of this chapter. He wrote, “(for the children not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of him who calls), it was said to her, ‘the elder shall serve the younger.’ As it is written, ‘Jacob have I loved, but Esau I have hated.’” At the very least, one would have to conclude from the Malachi passage from which Paul has quoted that God did not love Jacob and Esau equally and it the same way.

It should be clear to any reader that Paul’s intention was to show that the salvation of his brethren according to the flesh has been determined by the same sovereign principle as that enunciated in these verses. It they are saved, it will not be because they deserve God’s favor but because he has sovereignly decreed to show them mercy.

Some, e.g., Norman Geisler, have had the temerity to suggest that God foresaw the actions of the nations that came from these two individuals and chose them on that basis. There are two basic and, one would think, obvious objections to that view. The first is that it absolutely contradicts Paul’s clear statement in verse eleven, “before the children were born, and had not done any good or evil, THAT the purpose of God according to election might stand. . .”. The second reason his assumption cannot stand is that it would obviate the need for Paul’s entire argument in the following verses.

Two Common Objections to Sovereign Election

There are two objections that are commonly brought against the doctrine of divine sovereignty in the salvation of sinners. Paul introduces both these questions in Roman’s chapter nine. It is impossible to say whether these are objections that had been introduced by real detractors or if he introduced them for the sake of making a point. One is that if sovereign election is true, it would make God unfair–“What shall we say then, is there unrighteousness with God?”. The other is that if the bestowal of mercy is not of him who wills or of him who runs but of God’s who shows mercy, and if God grants mercy to whomsoever he will show mercy and hardens whomsoever he wills, how can he hold his creatures responsible? –“Why does he still find fault, for who has resisted his will?” The will about which the apostle has written must be God’s will of decree since we have all resisted his revealed will from time to time.  If all that occurs has been decreed by God, how can he hold people responsible for our actions?

Both these question could have been answered very simply with one statement.  All Paul needed to explain is that God has left the issue of our salvation to libertarian free will.  If only he had explained that God’s choice of certain sinners was based on the faith and perseverance that he foresaw in them, neither of these questions would have arisen. Their very presence is the evidence that God’s foresight of certain sinners’ faith could not have been the basis for his choice. What better place could there have been for Paul to give such an explanation? Yet, there is not the slightest hint that God’s choice was determined by the sinner’s free will choice. Instead, he doubled down on his insistence that salvation depended on the will of the sovereign potter.  There are two important truths he offers to help his readers understand the true doctrine of God’s saving activity.  One concerned the proper relationship between God and his creatures. He asked, “Who are you, the creature, to question the Creator?”  As you consider this issue, you need to remember that there is only one true God and that God isn’t you. You aren’t in control, God is. The second answer to these questions concerns the nature of that “lump” out of which God forms one vessel for honor and another for dishonor.  Notice that he refers to the vessels of honor as “vessels of mercy.” That tells us that these vessels did not deserve God’s favor any more than did the vessels of wrath fitted for destruction.  God being righteous [fair] would have condemned the entire sinful lump.  How can God hold sinners responsible for our sins when we are simply fulfilling his decree? Because when we sin we are doing what we desire most. We are acting according to the sinful nature that we share with the rest of mankind.

The Nature of Salvation Itself

One reason people wish to argue that Roman’s nine is not about the sinner’s salvation but about some future work God intends to perform in restoring Israel as a nation grows out of their inadequate view of salvation itself. If we persist in defining salvation in terms of heaven and hell, we will not only continue to misinterpret passages such as Romans nine but will miss the entire biblical teaching about the nature of salvation itself. I am willing to concede, and I am sure others are as well, that Paul does not speak a word in Romans nine about some sinners being chosen to go to heaven when they die and others being left to perish in hell. That is clearly not the issue. But that does not mean this passage does not concern the sinner’s salvation or the teaching that salvation is granted to sinners by the sovereign good pleasure of God alone.

Not once in the entire inspired record of first century gospel preaching do we have an example of any preacher asking sinners if they wanted to escape hell and be assured that they will go to heaven when they died. The reason we find no such example is that such was never the issue in the salvation of sinners. Jesus framed the issue succinctly when in his intercessory prayer recorded in John seventeen he said, “And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (v. 3). He immediately follows these words with “I have glorified you on the earth. I have finished the work which you have given me to do” (v.4) from which one could argue that eternal life is principally concerned with the manifestation of God’s glory [the sum of his glorious attributes].

It is my belief that much of the controversy that persists between Monergists and Synergists exists because the latter view salvation in such a superficial manner. Often they speak of salvation as “simply reaching out and accepting the free gift,” or to put it in the terms they like to use, “taking the life ring that has been thrown to the sinner [indeed, to all sinners equally].” Among the many biblical issues that this simplistic approach completely ignores is the universal hostility of sinners to the rescuer. If being on the lifeboat requires being in the presence of the lifeguard, they would prefer to drown.  Additionally, this view reduces Jesus to a mere means to an end. All the focus is on the sinner. Once the rescue is accomplished, the life ring can be hung out of view and ignored. All the life ring represents is the possibility of salvation, not salvation itself. We would agree that unregenerate sinners are able to walk down a church aisle, sign a card, repeat a prayer, and submit to “baptism.” What we do not believe is that such actions constitute genuine salvation from sin.

The assumption of some seems to be that since Paul does not speak of heaven or hell in Romans nine, the passage must not concern the salvation of sinners, but this simply reflects a faulty understanding of the nature of salvation itself. The primary purpose of God’s salvific activity is not to establish the eternal destiny of sinners, but to restore in sinners the ability to reflect his glory. Please understand that I am not denying that there are two distinct and different destinations for the saved and the lost. I am simply denying that establishing that destiny is the primary consideration in the salvation of sinners. I would challenge you to examine those biblical passages that state the purpose of Christ’s redeeming work to either verify or falsify my contention here. Let me simply suggest three verses for your consideration—Ephesians 5:25-27; Titus 2:14; 1 Peter 2:24-25. As you consider these verses, note well the purpose clauses introduced by the words “that” or “in order that.”

The modern church has become so absorbed with the idea that Jesus died to forgive our sins so we can go to heaven when we die, that we have forgotten that salvation is not principally about the forgiveness of sins. Justification by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, based on the promises of Scripture alone is certainly a key doctrine that we must not surrender for a moment, but being declared right with God is not the ultimate end of his salvific purposes. In reality, it is a means to an end. Before we can approach God with any kind of confidence, we need to know that he has cancelled our guilt and that he has declared us righteous in his sight. Justification is necessary because people burdened with a sense of unpardoned guilt do not love, glorify and enjoy God.

We must remember that God’s redemptive plan is concerned not only with saving sinners from his wrath but also with purifying them so that they will be able to glorify him. Remember Paul’s words, “That we should be to the praise of his glory. . .” God is concerned not only with our guilt but also with our sinful hearts that are hostile toward him in a state of nature.

Unlike his remedy for our guilt that is wholly outside of us, his remedy for our spiritual blindness, hostility, pollution in sin, and deadness toward him must be internal. To use one of Paul’s metaphors, “God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness has shined in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor.4:6).

Paul has framed salvation in terms of glory just as Jesus did. When he was praying to the Father about finishing the work he had given him to do his words were, “I have glorified you on the earth. . .I have manifested your name to the men whom you have given me out of the world” (John 17:5-6). One of the primary differences between soteriological synergists and monergists is in their view of God’s purpose in saving a people for himself. It should not escape our notice that in its statement on the decree of God concerning the salvation of his people, the Westminster Confession of Faith begin with these words, “By the decree of God, for the manifestation of His glory. . .” The Scripture reveals no higher motive for God’s creative, providential and salvific activity than this. This must be our starting point in all our thinking about His purpose in the world.

God’s Sovereign Bestowal of Mercy

It is as Paul begins to answer the first objection to his doctrine that his argument begins to turn from an articulation of general principles regarding God’s sovereign disposition of his favors to an application of those principles in the sovereign bestowal of saving mercy.

As we have seen, Paul does not even hint that God maintains the integrity of His righteous kingdom by merely rubber stamping decisions he foresaw his creatures would make. He has tersely dismissed the idea that God could be unrighteous in anything that he has done with the words, “Certainly not!” or “God forbid!”  Literally he wrote, “May it never be!”(μη γένοιτο). Then, he proceeded to show that God is himself the standard of righteousness who has the absolute right to dispense his mercy to whomsoever he will. He owes mercy to none. If it were a debt, it would cease to be mercy. So then, he concludes, it [the showing of mercy and compassion] is not of him who wills [it is not based on human decision] or of him who runs [it is not by human exertion] but it is of God who shows mercy (see verse sixteen).

In the verses that follow, Paul illustrated this truth from the life of two men.  One was the Pharaoh of Egypt; the other was the leader of God’s people, Israel. God treated these two men very differently but showed no injustice to either of them. In hardening the Pharaoh’s heart, God made him no more evil or rebellious at heart than he was by nature. He simply removed his gracious restraints and permitted him to be himself. He did nothing to him that he did not deserve.

In treating Moses as he did, he gave him nothing that he did deserve. The verse that Paul quoted in Romans nine, fifteen is found in the context of Moses’ request to see Yahweh’s glory (see Exo. 33:19). Remember here what we have written about the nature of God’s saving activity. Salvation is ultimately a matter of God’s self-disclosure. It is a manifestation of his glory. When John summed up his and his companions’ experience with the eternal Word, in what words does he express that experience? He wrote, “and the Word became flesh and tabernacled [pitched his tent] among us, and we gazed on his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth [compare “full of grace and truth” with “abounding in goodness [lovingkindness] and truth [covenant faithfulness]” in Exodus 34:6.

What is it that Paul tells us the unconverted are unable to see when the gospel is preached to them because the god of this world has blinded their minds? He answers, it is “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (see 2 Cor. 4:4). I believe we think of salvation rightly only when we think of it in terms of the manifestation of God’s glory as it now stands revealed to us in Christ.

Paul clenched the case we are making when he wrote in verses twenty-three and twenty-four, “and that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had prepared beforehand for glory, even us whom he called, not of the Jews only but also of the Gentiles.” We must understand the word “called” here not in the sense of a mere invitation but in the sense in which Paul has used it in chapter eight, verse thirty where he wrote, “. . .those he called, he also justified.” He is referring to that divine activity by which believers are called into union with Christ (see 1 Cor. 1:9),

It should be clear to any but those who have deliberately closed their eyes to God’s truth that Paul was writing about God’s saving mercy in revealing his glory to Moses. The point that he would have his readers take away from what he has written is that the bestowal of his favor was altogether of sovereign mercy. It is not that the Pharaoh deserved condemnation and Moses deserved a manifestation of God’s glory. No, Paul writes, “It is not of him who wills or of him who runs, but of God who show mercy.”

We should not forget that in the case of both the Pharaoh and Moses there was a manifestation of God’s glory. In the case of the one, it was a manifestation of his glorious justice but also of his power. God showed his power in the case of the Pharaoh not only in his destruction but also in his patient endurance of Pharaoh’s recalcitrant rebellion. Time after time God gave him opportunity to repent and let his people go, but Pharaoh hardened his heart. God demonstrated his longsuffering in giving him space to repent. In the case of Moses, God made known his glorious attributes and all by his sovereign mercy.

I invite you to visit my author’s page at http://www.amazon.com/author/randyseiver

 

 

Thoughts on Romans 9-11

  1. One should understand everything in the entire section in terms of the issue Paul is addressing and not import other issues that are not mentioned.

The issue is the spiritual salvation of Israelites and whether God’s promises to them have fallen to the ground without fulfillment. Paul begins the section by expressing that his prayer to God and his heart’s desire is that Israel might be “saved.” There is no justification for the assumption that the Israelites for whom he expresses concern are on a separate and different trajectory from Gentile believers. There is nothing in the entire context about Israel being restored as a nation, the establishment of an earthly, Jewish kingdom, the nation’s restoration to the land etc.

  1. One should understand “Israel” in the entire passage according to Paul’s definition caveat in 9:6-7, “they are not all Israel who are of Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring.” There is an “Israel” that is not Israel and Paul refers to this group of unbelievers in this section, but it is to the true Israel God’s ultimate spiritual promises were made, not to the natural offspring of Jacob.
  2. The entire issue hinges on God’s sovereign decree. God will have mercy on those he will save not because of debt but because of grace (9:10-25). Not even all who are of the promised seed, Isaac, are heirs of the promise.
  3. Paul further narrows the focus of God’s saving grace to that remnant within Jacob’s (Israel’s) offspring who are called. Here we must understand “called” not as an invitation but as an effectual divine action that unites the called ones to Christ (9:23-29). Those “called” are the vessels which he “prepared beforehand for glory.” This agrees with Paul’s previous statement in chapter eight that “those he predestined for future glory [being conformed to the image of Christ or glorified], he also called. (8: 29-30).”
  4. Paul lays the burden of responsibility directly at the feet of Jacob’s offspring who had rejected “God’s righteousness” [I understand the term “God’s righteousness” in Romans to refer to his method of putting sinners right with himself in faithfulness to his covenant promises] and insisted on going about to establish their own method of self-justification (9:30-10:21). God presents himself as an ever willing and able Savior for all who will call on his name.
  5. When Paul answers the question “Has God cast away his people?” (11:1), his answer is conditioned and delineated by the definition he has already given of “his people.” There is no question he refers to those who are the physical descendants of Abraham, but the reality is God has cast many of them away. The burden of his question at this point seems to be whether God has completely abandoned all Abraham’s physical descendants because of the unbelief of the majority of them. Paul’s answer is that though God has cast away unbelieving Israel, he has not cast away those whom he “foreknew” (according to the law of first mention, “foreknew” should be interpreted in light of Romans 8:29). Paul himself is an ethnic Hebrew of the tribe of Benjamin yet he has not been cast off. Even now there is a remnant according to the election of grace. (See 11:5-7).
  6. The blessings God will grant restored Israelites are the same as those now enjoyed by believing Gentiles. Paul’s concern is to “save some of them,” not to see a Davidic dynasty established under Christ’s Messianic rule and a fulfillment of land promises (see–10:1, 13; 11:14, 26-27, 30-32). Note: the mercy now granted to the Gentiles is parallel to the mercy God may show to believing Israelites. The mercy he has shown us is the forgiveness of our sins and in parallel must refer to the same kind of mercy granted to believing Israelites.
  7. The blessings Gentile believers now enjoy result from Israel’s unbelief. The inclusion of the Gentiles was to have the effect of making the Israelites jealous so that some of them might be saved. Verses 11 through 15 of chapter eleven give us important insight into the way the New Testament writers used the word translated “world.” It should be obvious that “world” in these verses does not refer to every person without exception since every unbelieving ethnic Israelite is excluded from it. Their exclusion has resulted in the reconciliation of the “world,” i.e., believing Jews and Gentiles.
  8. It seems clear the root of the “good olive tree” refers to the covenant promises made to Abraham. The good olive tree grows out of that root. It is important that we remember there were natural branches of that tree that should have produced good fruit but did not. Ishmael and his descendants were branches of the tree as were Isaac and his descendants. Isaac was the heir produced by faith, the child of promise; Ishmael was the child of the flesh, a child of unbelief. Still, both benefited physically and materially from their paternal relationship with Abraham.

The family tree on Isaac’s side of the family continued to branch until the ultimate offspring to whom the promises were made was born. He was the true offspring who was the ultimate heir of the Abrahamic promise. All the promises of God find their fulfillment in him. None of the branches of the olive tree were fruitful as the mere natural offspring of Abraham. Abraham was “the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised” (Rom. 4: 12). What Paul was saying is that physical descent from Abraham is of no value at all in terms of the spiritual inheritance. To be a son of Abraham in the spiritual sense, one must walk in the footsteps of the faith of Abraham.

Natural birth is no advantage in the spiritual realm. The reason the natural branches were broken off was unbelief–rejection of Jesus as the Messiah. They thought they could receive the inheritance apart from the heir, merely because they were Abraham’s natural offspring. Gentile believers have become “fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (Eph. 2:19), because, through faith, we have been united to the Christ, the seed of Abraham. Assuming God intends to graft believing Israelites back into the good olive tree, it will be a grafting into Christ, a natural branch of the tree, by faith. It is in him that God has made believing Israelites and believing Gentiles one. He has made us one with the true Israel by grafting us into Jesus who is the true Israel. Jesus and those united to him by faith are the true seed of Abraham. We are not a replacement for Israel; we are the fulfillment of Israel and the promises made to them.

  1. This passage does not necessarily teach a future salvation of ethnic Israelites, though I would lean toward that position. It is possible Paul is stating that the full number of the elect remnant within ethnic Israel will come to faith before the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. “In this way, all Israel will be saved” (11:26). There are several considerations that might lead one to this conclusion:
  2. Throughout the entire section, Paul has focused on passages that speak of the salvation of a “remnant.”
  3. He speaks about God grafting them in again more as a possibility than as a certainty, “And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again” (v. 23).
  4. He writes, “Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in” (11:25). It is possible he means this hardness will never come to an end. In 1 Sam 15:35 we read, “And Samuel came no more to see Saul until the day of his death: nevertheless Samuel mourned for Saul: and the Lord repented that he had made Saul king over Israel.” This does not mean that Samuel came to see Saul on the day of his death, but that he never came to see him again. In the same way, Paul could be saying that this partial blindness will never come to an end until the full number of the elect from among the Gentiles have been saved and the full number of the remnant of ethnic Israel and the full number of elect Gentiles will occur at the same time.
  5. The focus of verses 26-27 is on the redeemer coming to or out of Zion to establish the new covenant by his redemptive work, not on the redeemer coming out of heaven to apply that accomplishment. That is, he is speaking about the basis on which this salvation about which he speaks has been accomplished, not about the time at which it will be applied. It is the certainty that all of these who have been redeemed from sin will be saved that is in view, not the occasion on which it will be accomplished.

I have mentioned these issues not to argue for them but to show that in such areas as this, dogmatism is probably unwarranted. What is clear is that there is not a word in the entire text about restoring Israel as a nation. One must read this idea into the passage since the passage says absolutely nothing about it.

  1. The part of the olive tree into which members of ethnic Israel will be grafted is not merely a natural branch but also the spiritual branch, namely, Christ. Paul’s concern is not with those promises that granted the natural seed of Abraham physical, material, and nationalistic blessings, but with spiritual and eternal blessings. They will not be grafted into Jacob; they will be grafted into Christ and thus become the “true Israel.”
    12. In 11:28-32, Paul’s focus is on God granting mercy to sinners, not on God granting nationhood to Israel. In other words, Paul clearly saw the fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel in their spiritual salvation “But it is not as though the Word of God has failed, for. . .” (9:6) “all Israel will be saved” (11:26).
17
Jun
17

THE MIGHTY SAVIOR!

Have you ever noticed that when Synergists [Apparently, these people are ashamed to be called Arminians, and who could blame them?] try to illustrate God’s method of salvation with their lame “life-guard/life boat” analogy, they always talk about the rescuer “throwing a rope to the perishing.” God forbid that the “savior” should become too involved with the rescue. It seems to be beyond their conceptual ability to visualize a Savior who has actually dived into the water, taken the perishing in hand, and rescued them in spite of all their resistance and rebellion. But that is precisely the way the Scriptures represent Christ’s redeeming work. “Because the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also took part of the same that, through death, he might destroy him who had the power of death. . ., AND DELIVER THEM who though fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.” Our rescuer actually came to the place where we were perishing, took us in hand and effectually brought us to safety.

Jesus is not a potential savior who makes salvation a mere possibility for sinners who will persist in their rebellion and perish in their sins. Instead, he is the one who speaks in righteousness, MIGHTY TO SAVE.

12
May
17

Desire and Ability

An ability to believe the gospel would have to include a desire to believe the gospel since the sinner’s inability results from his unwillingness. If all sinners possess, in a state of sinful nature, the ability to believe the gospel or if through prevenient grace all are at some point given that ability, would it not be correct to assume that all sinners also have a desire to believe the gospel including all that repentance and faith entail?

It follows, then, that if not all sinners desire to believe, and they obviously do not, then not all sinners have the ability.