Posts Tagged ‘free will

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

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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).
31
Dec
16

Can Sinners Called by Grace Resist If They Want To?

We read in Mark 3:13, “Jesus went up into the hills and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him.” It should be clear to anyone who reads this text that coming to Jesus is an act that results from Jesus’ desire and not from theirs and that such a call is effectual in its nature. He called and they came.

Often, our non-Calvinists friends like to amuse themselves by asking whether sinners who are called by God’s grace are able to resist that call if they want to and remain in their sins. This is their banal and misguided attempt to derail the Calvinistic doctrine that has regrettably been called “Irresistible grace.”It seems the burden of their question is whether sinners are forced to act like preprogrammed robots who are unable to choose what we desire.

In reality, they are asking the wrong question. The issue is not whether sinners could resist grace if they wanted to; the issue is whether any sinner to whom God has manifested his glory [the sum of his glorious attributes] in the face of Jesus Christ, would desire to resist him. Those whose stony hearts have been made pliable by God’s grace are not forced against their wills to become followers of Christ. Instead, in effectual grace, God has graciously removed the sinner’s persistent and pervasive disposition to resist his offers of mercy in Christ. The issue is that those whom God calls no longer want to resist him.

12
Oct
16

The Gospel–A Manifestation of God’s Glory.

 

Having lost its grip on the biblical gospel, the church has bartered that priceless treasure for a pot of fool’s gold. We have all but eliminated any idea that salvation involves a thorough turning from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, and we have reduced faith to a “decision” and a rather superficial and vacuous decision at that. In our concern to maintain the freeness of justification by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, we have forgotten that salvation is about more than pardon. It involves the deliverance of the whole man, indeed in the ultimate sense the entire cosmos, from the corruption of sin into the liberty of the glory of the sons of God. It is God’s unswerving purpose to “bring many sons to glory” (Heb. 2:10). Augustus Toplady was clearly on target when he wrote about Christ’s redeeming work being a “double cure.” It not only saves us from wrath but it is also intended to make us pure.

Biblical writers and preachers spoke much differently than we about this magnificent message of all-sufficient grace. For them, salvation involved nothing less than a revelation of the resplendent glory of God. It is significant that in Stephen’s vindicatory sermon he began with the words “The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham. . . .” (Acts 7:2). It is God’s manifestation of himself as the “God of glory” that turns sinners from darkness to light. When the Scriptures speak of God’s glory they are simply describing the sum of his glorious attributes. It was not without reason that the theologians who framed the Westminster Confession of Faith began their statement regarding God’s decree concerning salvation with the words, “By the decree of God, for the manifestation of his glory. . .” When Jesus described his earthly mission and, indeed, the nature of eternal life itself, it was in terms of knowing God in all the majesty of his glorious being. He said, “I have finished the work you gave me to do. . .I have manifested your name [“name” was more than a mere appellation; it was a description of a person’s character] to the men whom you have given me out of the world” (John 17:4-6).

When Isaiah began to proclaim his message of comfort based on the work of the coming Anointed One, these were the words he used—“The glory of Jehovah shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together” (Isaiah 40:5). The splendor of the New Covenant is that it reveals the glory of God in a way the Old Covenant never could. Paul indicated that the glory of the Old Covenant had been so eclipsed by the glory of the gospel covenant that, by comparison, the old had no glory at all (see 2 Cor. 3:8-11). When John described the apostles’ experience with Jesus, he wrote, “. . .we gazed on his glory, the glory as of the uniquely begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” It should be obvious that he was asking us to recall what should be a well-known event in the history of redemption. In Exodus thirty-three, we read the account of Moses’ request to see God’s glory. Jehovah had responded to him that he would allow him to see his back but not his face, since no one could see his face and live. It should not escape our attention that even this inferior revelation was a blessing that was granted by sovereign mercy (33:19). When Jehovah caused all his goodness to pass before Moses and when he proclaimed his name [his character] before him, part of what he declared is that he is “abundant in goodness [loving-kindness] and truth [covenant faithfulness].” This was the near equivalent to John’s words in John 1:14 “full of grace and truth.” What the law revealed in type and shadow, has now been fully revealed in Christ. “For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth [fulfillment as opposed to type] came by Jesus Christ” (v. 17).

We must always remember that the biblical gospel does not proclaim Christ in his state of humiliation but in his state of exaltation. The gospel not only “concerns his Son who, according to the flesh was made of the seed of David” but also “who was declared [determined] to be the Son of God with power [the powerful Son of God] according to the Spirit of holiness by the resurrection from the dead” (See Romans 1:3-4). We must never, in our minds, separate “Lifted up was he to die” from “Now in heaven exalted high.” It is not Jesus dying on a cross who saves, but the Jesus who died on the cross who saves. It is the one “who was dead, but is alive.” It is “Christ HAVING BEEN CRUCIFIED.” The Savior we proclaim is one who, as the result of his victorious redemptive work, is now enthroned in majesty and glory as the embodiment of the redemptive work he has accomplished once for all. He is enthroned as the crucified one. He is “the Lamb in the center of the throne.”

The issue of whether coming to faith in Christ is the result of human decision or of divine intervention should be a simple one for anyone who understands what conversion truly is. If conversion is simply “letting Jesus come into my heart so I can go to heaven when I die” it is conceivable that a sinner in a state of corruption could make such a “decision.” After all, who wants to suffer in the lake of fire for eternity? As long as I can continue to be the master of my life, why wouldn’t I go for the goodies? The message of the modern “church” is so far removed from the biblical gospel that it bears almost no resemblance to it whatsoever. Look how the apostle Paul described conversion. He wrote, “If our gospel stands veiled, it stands veiled to those who are perishing, in whom the god of this age [He is “the god of this age” in the sense that the children of this age have chosen to follow him and worship him as their god] has blinded the minds [It is the minds that are veiled by darkness, not the gospel] of those who do not believe with the result that the light of the good news of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God does not shine [the word means dawn] upon them” (2 Cor. 4:3-4). He then describes conversion in terms of a creative act of God for the purpose of making his glory known in the face of Jesus Christ, He wrote, “For it is the God who commanded the light to shine out of darkness who has shined into our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6). Conversion involves nothing less than God’s creative power by which he manifests his glory in the face of Jesus Christ and only God can manifest himself in this way. We must never forget that the merciful decision to manifest his glory “. . .is not of him who wills or of him who runs but of God who shows mercy” (Romans 9:16).

14
Feb
15

I AM THE TRUE VINE

Continue reading ‘I AM THE TRUE VINE’

20
Oct
14

Arminianism, Calvinism, and Hyper-Calvinism

What do Arminians and Hyper-Calvinists Have in Common?

Arminians and Hyper-Calvinists have a great deal in common, in that they both make the same blunders contrary to the plain teaching of the Scriptures. I am thinking of at least two links between them:

  1. Both believe responsibility and ability are inseparably linked, and
  1. Both emphasize one set of Scriptures to the total exclusion of another set of Scriptures and then base their philosophical [not theological or biblical] conclusions on that set of verses.

Consider the first set of beliefs Arminians and Hyper-Calvinists share; the belief that responsibility and ability are inseparably linked. They, of course, arrive at different conclusions because of their application of this belief and their exclusive focus on different biblical texts.

The Arminian focuses on those texts in which sinners are called on to choose one course of action or another and in which they are being held responsible for their choices. Based on his presupposition that responsibility implies ability, he concludes that sinners must have the ability to choose correctly. If there is responsibility, there must be ability.

The Hyper-Calvinist focuses on those texts that talk about the sinner’s inability to respond properly to the call of the gospel that results from his sinful rebellion against God and concludes that God could not hold sinners responsible for their unbelief. If there is no ability, there is no responsibility.

They arrive at different conclusions based on the same faulty presupposition but focused on a completely different group of texts.

The same is true with respect to those texts that express alternately God’s immutable decree to save his elect people and his genuine compassion for sinners as sinners and his expressed desire that they come to repentance. The Arminian focuses almost exclusively on those texts that speak of God’s desire to save sinners. The Hyper-Calvinist focuses exclusively on those texts that speak of God’s unshakeable decree.

 God’s “Will” Understood in Two Different Senses

It should be a matter that is beyond dispute that God has not decreed everything he has desired or declared should happen. There is no need for me to try to reinvent the wheel. Others have written on this subject much more artfully than I ever could. I would direct your attention to an excellent article by John Piper. It is titled “Are there two wills in God.” You can find it at www.desiringgod.org.

Charnock  also wrote concerning these two wills,

God doth not will [sin] directly, and by an efficacious will. He doth not directly will it, because he hath prohibited it by his law, which is a discovery of his will; so that if he should directly will sin, and directly prohibit it, he would will good and evil in the same manner, and there would be contradictions in God’s will: to will sin absolutely, is to work it (Psalm 115:3): “God hath done whatsoever he pleased.” God cannot absolutely will it, because he cannot work it. God wills good by a positive decree, because he hath decreed to effect it. He wills evil by a private decree, because he hath decreed not to give that grace which would certainly prevent it. God doth not will sin simply, for that were to approve it, but he wills it, in order to that good his wisdom will bring forth from it. He wills not sin for itself, but for the event.

The following is a rather lengthy quotation from Piper’s article:

This seems right to me, and it can be illustrated again by reflecting directly on 1 Timothy 2:4 where Paul says that God wills all persons to be saved. What are we to say of the fact that God wills something that in fact does not happen. There are two possibilities as far as I can see. One is that there is a power in the universe greater than God’s which is frustrating him by overruling what he wills. Neither Calvinist nor Arminian affirms this.

The other possibility is that God wills not to save all, even though he is willing to save all, because there is something else that he wills more, which would be lost if he exerted his sovereign power to save all. This is the solution that I as a Calvinist affirm along with Arminians. In other words both Calvinists and Arminians affirm two wills in God when they ponder deeply over 1 Timothy 2:4. Both can say that God wills for all to be saved. But then when queried why all are not saved both Calvinist and Arminian answer that God is committed to something even more valuable than saving all.

The difference between Calvinists and Arminians lies not in whether there are two wills in God, but in what they say this higher commitment is. What does God will more than saving all? The answer given by Arminians is that human self-determination and the possible resulting love relationship with God are more valuable than saving all people by sovereign, efficacious grace. The answer given by Calvinists is that the greater value is the manifestation of the full range of God’s glory in wrath and mercy (Romans 9:22-23) and the humbling of man so that he enjoys giving all credit to God for his salvation (1 Corinthians 1:29).

This is utterly crucial to see, for what it implies is that 1 Timothy 2:4 does not settle the momentous issue of God’s higher commitment which restrains him from saving all. There is no mention here of free will. Nor is there mention of sovereign, prevenient, efficacious grace. If all we had was this text we could only guess what restrains God from saving all. When free will is found in this verse it is a philosophical, metaphysical assumption not an exegetical conclusion. The assumption is that if God wills in one sense for all to be saved, then he cannot in another sense will that only some be saved. That assumption is not in the text, nor is it demanded by logic, nor is it taught in the rest of Scripture. Therefore 1 Timothy 2:4 does not settle the issue; it creates it. Both Arminians and Calvinists must look elsewhere to answer whether the gift of human self-determination or the glory of divine sovereignty is the reality that restrains God’s will to save all people (Emphasis mine).

The same can be said for all those texts that speak of God’s desire for the salvation of sinners. Those texts argue neither for the autonomy of the human will nor the sovereignty of divine grace since neither is the concern of those texts. We must look elsewhere for the answers to those issues.

Prevenient Grace-Bible Truth or Philosophical Assumption?

If one rejects those texts that teach God’s sovereign control over his universe according to his decreed will and is left only with those texts that speak of God’s sincere compassion and desire for the salvation of sinners, he is left with only two choices. One of these, as Piper has stated, neither the Calvinist nor the Arminian affirms, “that there is a power in the universe greater than God’s which is frustrating him by overruling what he wills.” The other choice for him must be that God has determined to leave the sinner to the inviolability of the human will. Since he finds in Scripture ample evidence that sinners are born in a state of total depravity, he must posit that God has granted to every sinner the ability to choose one way or another.  He must argue that God has given all sinners prevenient grace enabling them to “choose Christ.” When pressed for biblical texts that actually teach this concept, they will retreat to those verses that state what the Calvinist believes as strongly as they do.

Alternately, they will bring up examples of people like Cornelius, the Eunuch of Ethiopia and Lydia who seemed to have some affinity for God and the gospel prior to actually coming to faith. They might also appeal to the rich young ruler who expressed a desire for eternal life, but who went away sorrowful because he loved his riches too much.

The assumption is that these people who believed the gospel, were baptized by the Spirit, and received the Word that was taught were recipients of prevenient grace and exercised their free wills to become believers.  Another assumption is that these people were as yet unregenerate unbelievers prior to the events recorded for us in the book of Acts. Who can say all of them were not proselyte Jews who had come to faith prior to the establishment of the new covenant?  Does prevenient grace grant access to unbelievers into God’s presence apart from the work of Christ and faith in him? One gets the impression that God accepted Cornelius’ prayers and alms.  Are we to believe that God accepts and approves the prayers of unbelievers apart from Christ? I believe the Scriptures clearly teach that he will not do so.  If that assumption is correct, Cornelius must have had more than an ineffectual “prevenient grace” that enabled him to exercise his free will and make a proper choice.

The issue in Acts 10 was not the personal conversion of Cornelius to Christ.  The issue was God’s acceptance of Gentiles into the gospel chruch  as Gentiles and not as proselyte Jews.

In addition to all of this, all the people in these examples either were believers at the time or became believers.  I suspect no Calvinist would deny that God grants pre-conversion grace to his elect. The question is where is an example of a person who has received pre-conversion grace so that he is clearly as inclined to receive Christ as he is to reject him and who finally rejects him?

Some have appealed to the example of the rich young ruler to show that a person can be given prevenient grace and yet perish in sin. Here was a young man who actually enquired about obtaining eternal life but having learned about God’s terms, went away sorrowful and unbelieving.  Certainly this proves a person can have a desire to know and love God and yet perish in his sins. In reality, it proves nothing relative to prevenient grace and free will. There are several reasons I would reject this example as any kind of evidence of prevenient grace that fell short of true conversion:

  1. We do not know if he became a believer later or not. All we know is that Jesus dealt faithfully with him so that he went away having come to understand the issues.
  2. Nothing in the text tells us he desired salvation on God’s terms. The text tells us he wanted to know how to obtain eternal life, but who doesn’t want eternal life if he can have it on his own terms?
  3. The text gives us no indication that he was as inclined to receive salvation on God’s terms as he was to reject it.

There are too many unknown factors in these examples for anyone to use them as the basis of any system of doctrine.  Still, one fact is certain. These texts teach nothing about “free will” or “prevenient grace.” As in the case of those verses that speak of God’s sincere desire to receive repenting sinners, these examples tell us nothing about whether faith was the result of free will or free grace. We must look elsewhere for the answers to those issues.

Faulty Philosophical Assumptions with No Biblical Foundation

Assumption one: The Power of Autonomous Self Determination

I have found it is usually futile to try to have an intelligent and meaningful discussion with an Arminian. The reason it is so frustrating is they tend to assume their unfounded presuppositions are actually stated in the Scriptures. Yet, their assumptions are philosophical and not drawn from biblical texts at all. For example, they insist that God, in his sovereignty, has determined that he will not violate the sinner’s free will, but where is such an idea stated in the Bible? If all they meant by “free will” is that people choose what they wish apart from external constraint, I would certainly agree that people have free will.

Calvin wrote,

In this way, then, man is said to have free will, not because he has a free choice of good and evil, but because he acts voluntarily, and not by compulsion. This is perfectly true: but why should so small a matter have been dignified with so proud a title? An admirable freedom! that man is not forced to be the servant of sin, while he is, however, (a voluntary slave); his will being bound by the fetters of sin.

But, their idea of free will goes beyond a person’s ability to choose freely and intelligently what he or she wishes. It means sinners are equally as able to choose righteousness as they are to choose sin. They are equally as able to choose to believe in Christ as they are to reject him.  Not only do the Scriptures not teach such an idea, they teach precisely the opposite.

Assumption Two: A Divinely Caused Choice is Not A Valid Choice

In their view, if God enabled or caused a person to believe [They like the term “to choose.”] such a faith would not be genuine. When asked if obedience would be genuine if God caused it, they simply decline to answer. In Ezekiel 36:27, God plainly promises that he will “cause people to walk in his statutes and obey his laws.” That certainly implies they would not do so otherwise and that God’s work it the enabling cause of their work. If these people were left to their own wills, unchanged by divine intervention, their choices would continue to be determined by their hearts of stone. There is not slightest hint that obedience resulting from the divine activity described in verses 25-26 of this chapter would be anything less than genuine, heart-felt obedience.

Now, if the obedience God causes people to render to his laws is true obedience, why would anyone assume that if God caused obedience to the gospel it would be anything other than genuine faith?

Assumption Three: Grace Must be Resistible to be True Grace

For some reason, these people seem to be hung up on the term “irresistible grace.” It seems they imagine that Calvinists believe God takes sinners by the hair and drags them forcibly into the kingdom against their loud protestations. This, of course, is not the Calvinistic doctrine at all.  J.I. Packer was on target when he wrote, “Grace proves irresistible just because it destroys the disposition to resist.”

The apostle Paul describes the sinner in an unregenerate state as being without the light of the good news of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God (see-2 Cor. 4:4). In doing so, he would have his readers to understand that salvation is to be understood as seeing Christ’s glory. It is in gazing on his glory that we are transformed gradually into his likeness. Just as it was in God’s original act of creation, so it is in his act of regeneration. When God commanded the light to shine out of darkness (“and God said, ‘let there be light.’”), there was light. The apostle would have us to understand God’s act of regeneration as an act of creation. God speaks and there is light.  It should not escape our notice that he does not describe faith as a “decision” or a “choice.” I am not suggesting that in faith and repentance the sinner does not make a conscious decision to leave his idols and serve the living God. Clearly, such a response is the result of regeneration. My point is that Paul’s focus is not on the sinner’s decision or choice but on God’s regenerating activity. He does not say God has commanded the light to shine into our hearts so that we are enabled to decide whether we want to see or not. The issue is that God has commanded light to shine into our hearts and has thus thwarted Satan’s design to conceal Christ’s glory from us. The obvious question one should ask is “Who that has received the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ would wish to resist him?”

Jesus described eternal life in terms of the knowledge of God.  He prayed, “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent (John 17:3). The question is how such knowledge is received. Does God give this knowledge to all by prevenient grace and leave them to them to the power of “free will”? If that were the case, why are there any that are described as not knowing God? (1 Thess. 4:5; 2 Thess. 1:8). It is not that they know him and simply have to decide if they are going to become believers or not. In reality, such knowledge is a matter of God making himself known to us. Jesus said, “All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him” (Matt. 11:27).

Assumption Four: The Effects of Depravity Have Been Cancelled

I recently had an online conversation with an Arminian who contended that in prevenient grace God has removed the effects of total depravity [I am not suggesting that all Arminians would be so bold as to make such an assertion]. I am still waiting for him to answer what, in his view, those effects are and why the Scriptures continue to describe unbelievers as hostile rebels against God. If the effects of total depravity have been universally removed, why do those effects remain?  Paul described unbelieving Gentiles as follows:

“They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity” (Eph. 4: 18-19).  Notice Paul does not attribute “the ignorance that is in them” to the failure of Christians to bring them the message. Instead, he tells us their ignorance is due to the “hardness of their hearts.” Surely, this hardness of heart must be one of the effects of total depravity. Additionally, if the God removes all the effects of total depravity by granting prevenient grace, why is regeneration necessary?  All of the above are philosophical assumptions that have no biblical foundation. These assumptions are necessary to the system of those who deny God’s will of decree and either deny or ignore the biblical texts that that teach that God governs according to that decree.

Our duty is to believe the Bible in its entirety even though we find ourselves at a loss to understand the intricacies of the divine mind. A while ago I heard about a leader among the Southern Baptists who was questioned as to why the pastors under his leadership did not preach about God’s sovereign grace in the salvation of sinners. His answer was telling and disturbing.  He did not say, “They do not teach it because they do not find it in the Scriptures.” Instead he answered, “They do not preach it because our people don’t like it very much.” Such are false shepherds and blind guides who have no business standing in a pulpit. Biblical statements regarding God’s sovereign control over all things are abundant and unequivocal. Failure to acknowledge these texts can only result from biblical ignorance, ministerial malpractice or both. I am reminded of the text in Jeremiah’s prophecy that reads,“An appalling and horrible thing has happened in the land: The prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests rule on their own authority; and  My people love to have it so” (Jeremiah 5:30-31). On the other side of the coin, if we feel we cannot freely offer Christ to any sinner, not as an elect sinner or a sinner for whom Jesus died in particular but as a guilty sinner who is in need of God’s forgiveness, we have slipped into Hyper-Calvinism. True Calvinists affirm both God’s sovereign decree to secure the salvation of his chosen people and his published desire that sinners turn from the evil of their ways and live.  What we do not believe is that his desire to save sinners is an ineffectual wish that sinners by their libertarian free will, will somehow make the right decision. One of my favorite hymns is an invitation to sinners to come to Christ. It begins,

 “Come ye sinners poor and wretched,

Weak and wounded sick and sore.

Jesus ready stands to save you,

Full of pity, joined with power.

He is able, he is willing, doubt no more.

I have often though it expressed the proper biblical balance between Arminianism on the one hand and Calvinism on the other. The Arminian proclaims a Savior who is full of pity but one who, if he has the power to save, would never exert that power lest he violate the sinner’s autonomy.  The Hyper-Calvinist proclaims a Savior who has copious power to save but precious little compassion and pity for sinners. The Calvinists proclaims a Savior who is “full of pity” that is  “joined with power.”  He is both able and willing to save. Hallelujah! What a Savior!

19
Sep
14

A Deterministic God

From time to time, people who believe in the almighty “free will” of the fallen sinner have accused me of believing in a “deterministic God.” I want to go on record here and confess that I indeed hold to such a belief. By that I do not mean that God causes and is responsible for all my actions. God is not the great puppeteer, and I am not a sock puppet. He does not need to cause me to sin since I continue to do such a good job of sinning by myself, but in his infinite wisdom he has taken even my rebellion into account and governs it so that it will ultimately bring glory to him and eternal and spiritual good to me. I am not arguing for philosophical determinism. That is not a view with which I would agree. The view I would argue for is in line with Chapter Three # 1 of The Westminster Confessionof Faith,

God, from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass: yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.

The wise man wrote in Proverbs 21:1 “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will.” This verse does not mean God causes all the evil machinations of the king. Like water, the evil designs of wicked men seek their own level. The wicked act freely, deliberately and culpably in perpetrating their evil designs, but not one of their acts falls outside God’s control. Surely Nebuchadnezzar was right when, having had his reason restored to him, he spoke these words,

Then I praised the Most High; I honored and glorified him who lives forever. His dominion is an eternal dominion; his kingdom endures from generation to generation. 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” (Dan. 4:34-35)?

In the following chapter, Daniel reminds Belshazzar, whose knees were knocking together because he had seen the handwriting on the wall, of what had happened to his father, Nebuchadnezzar, because of the arrogance of his heart. He does not tell him that his father had simply lost his throne and his reason while God looked on passively. God dethroned him and left him in a miserable state until he was sufficiently humbled. In Daniel’s words,

. . . until he knew that the Most High God rules the kingdom of mankind and sets over it whom he will. And you his son, Belshazzar, have not humbled your heart, though you knew all this, but you have lifted up yourself against the Lord of heaven. And the vessels of his house have been brought in before you, and you and your lords, your wives, and your concubines have drunk wine from them. And you have praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood, and stone, which do not see or hear or know, but the God in whose hand is your breath, and whose are all your ways, you have not honored (Dan. 5:21-23).

After Joseph’s brothers had perpetrated their wickedness in faking his death and selling him into Egyptian slavery, God, in his sovereign providence, raised him to a place of prominence and power in the Egyptian government. The day came when they stood before him begging for food. They feared that he would hate them and seek revenge. Instead, we read these words,

But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (Gen. 50:19-20). He did not say God merely permitted your evil actions, but “God meant it [the evil you intended to do to me]” for good.

You intended evil and you are guilty. God will judge you for your intentions and your actions, but he intended and is bringing to pass something different from what you had in mind. Hear Job’s words. After having experienced what was perhaps the worst day of his life, looking past all the second causes such as Satan, the Sabeans, the fire, the Chaldeans, and the great wind, he said, “‘The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.’ In all this, Job did not sin or charge God with wrong” (Job 1:21-22). Though God employed second causes to accomplish his will for his servant, it was he who was the prime mover. Job acknowledges that God was the giver of all these blessings and that he had the right to take them away. It should be clear, even to a casual observer, that these men believed God was no passive observer who occasionally intervenes to change the course of history. Jesus said, “not even a sparrow falls to the ground apart from your Father” (see Matt. 10:29). God’s providence extends to the minutest details. In Romans 9:20-24, Paul has described God as the sovereign potter who has the right to dispose of his creatures as he will. Just as the potter has the right to make of a lump of clay anything he wishes, so God has the right to do with us as he wills. In Romans 11:36 Paul writes, “For from him, and through him, and to him are all things. To him be glory forever.” These passages are only a small sampling of those we could have cited to show that “the LORD has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all” (Psalms 103:19). CREEDAL STATEMENTS Though creedal statements are not authoritative, it might be helpful to read what some who have gone before us have written on this subject. Belgic Confession-Article 13

We believe that this good God, after he created all things, did not abandon them to chance or fortune but leads and governs them according to his holy will, in such a way that nothing happens in this world without his orderly arrangement. Yet God is not the author of, nor can he be charged with, the sin that occurs. For his power and goodness are so great and incomprehensible that he arranges and does his work very well and justly even when the devils and wicked men act unjustly. We do not wish to inquire with undue curiosity into what he does that surpasses human understanding and is beyond our ability to comprehend. But in all humility and reverence we adore the just judgments of God, which are hidden from us, being content to be Christ’s disciples, so as to learn only what he shows us in his Word, without going beyond those limits. This doctrine gives us unspeakable comfort since it teaches us that nothing can happen to us by chance but only by the arrangement of our gracious heavenly Father. He watches over us with fatherly care, keeping all creatures under his control, so that not one of the hairs on our heads (for they are all numbered) nor even a little bird can fall to the ground20 without the will of our Father. In this thought we rest, knowing that he holds in check the devils and all our enemies, who cannot hurt us without his permission and will. For that reason we reject the damnable error of the Epicureans, who say that God involves himself in nothing and leaves everything to chance.

Philadelphia Confession of Faith Chapter 3 Of God’s Decree

1. God hath decreed in himself, from all eternity, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably, all things, whatsoever comes to pass; yet so as thereby is God neither the author of sin nor hath fellowship with any therein; nor is violence offered to the will of the creature, nor yet is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken way, but rather established; in which appears his wisdom in disposing all things, and power and faithfulness in accomplishing his decree. (Isa. 46:10; Eph. 1:11; Heb. 6:17; Rom. 9:15, 18; James 1:13; 1 John 1:5; Acts 4:27, 28; John 19:11; Num. 23:19; Eph. 1:3-5) 2. Although God knoweth whatsoever may or can come to pass, upon all supposed conditions, yet hath he not decreed anything, because he foresaw it as future, or as that which would come to pass upon such conditions.

Chapter 5–of God’s Providence

God the good Creator of all things, in his infinite power and wisdom doth uphold, direct, dispose, and govern all creatures and things, from the greatest even to the least, by his most wise and holy providence, to the end for the which they were created, according unto his infallible foreknowledge, and the free and immutable counsel of his own will; to the praise of the glory of his wisdom, power, justice, infinite goodness, and mercy. (Heb. 1:3; Job 38:11; Isa. 46:10, 11; Ps. 135:6; Matt. 10:29-31; Eph. 1;11) 2. Although in relation to the foreknowledge and decree of God, the first cause, all things come to pass immutably and infallibly; so that there is not anything befalls any by chance, or without his providence; yet by the same providence he ordereth them to fall out according to the nature of second causes, either necessarily, freely, or contingently. (Acts 2:23; Prov. 16:33; Gen. 8:22) 3. God, in his ordinary providence maketh use of means, yet is free to work without, above, and against them at his pleasure. (Acts 27:31, 44; Isa. 55:10, 11; Hosea 1:7; Rom. 4:19-21; Dan. 3:27) 4. The almighty power, unsearchable wisdom, and infinite goodness of God, so far manifest themselves in his providence, that his determinate counsel extendeth itself even to the first fall, and all other sinful actions both of angels and men; and that not by a bare permission, which also he most wisely and powerfully boundeth, and otherwise ordereth and governeth, in a manifold dispensation to his most holy ends; yet so, as the sinfulness of their acts proceedeth only from the creatures, and not from God, who, being most holy and righteous, neither is nor can be the author or approver of sin.

London Baptist Confession 1644 III. That God hath decreed in himself from everlasting touching all things, effectually to work and dispose them according to the counsel of his own will, to the glory of his Name; in which decree appeareth his wisdom, constancy, truth, and faithfulness; Wisdom is that whereby he contrives all things; Constancy is that whereby the decree of God remains always immutable; Truth is that whereby he declares that alone which he hath decreed, and though his sayings may seem to sound sometimes another thing, yet the sense of them doth always agree with the decree; Faithfulness is that whereby he effects that he hath decreed, as he hath decreed. And touching his creature man, God had in Christ before the foundation of the world, according to the good pleasure of his will, foreordained some men to eternal life through Jesus Christ, to the praise and glory of his grace, leaving the rest in their sin to their just condemnation, to the praise of his Justice. God’s Sovereignty or Human Autonomy God’s sovereignty and human free agency are not incompatible. There is no dispute about the fact that people are able to freely choose what they wish. The issue of free will is another matter. I recently heard a well-known Pastor say, “Most of the time when people talk about free will, what they really mean is human autonomy.” I believe he was right. To deny the doctrine of God’s sovereign control over all his creatures in favor of human automomy is not only a serious theological error but an act of arrogant treason against the king. A.W. Pink wrote,

. . .there is no doctrine more hated by worldings, no truth of which they have made such a football, as the great, stupendous, but yet most certain doctrine of the Sovereignty of the infinite Jehovah. Men will allow God to be everywhere except on this throne. They will allow Him to be in His workshop to fashion worlds and make stars. They will allow him to be in his almonry to dispense his alms and bestow his bounties. They will allow him to sustain the earth and bear up the pillars thereof, or light the lamps of heaven, or rule the waves of the ever-moving ocean; but when God ascends his throne, His creatures gnash their teeth, . . .for God on His throne is not the God they love (Pink, The Attributes of God, p. 33).

James wrote,

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”- yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin (James 4:13-17).

The attitude James describes here is an arrogant insistence on human autonomy. It describes intentions that are honorable in themselves. Hard work with a profit motive is not a bad thing. The problem is a failure to acknowledge that whether we live or die, succeed or fail is dependent on God’s will, not ours. “The LORD makes poor and makes rich; he brings low and he exalts” (1 Sam. 2:7). We cannot even guarantee that we will live until tomorrow, much less continue a year. We should say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live.” Our lives are like a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes. If memory serves, it was Matthew Henry who wrote, “Man proposes; God disposes.” There is nothing wrong with making plans, but we must be ever aware that our plans are subject to God’s plan. We should say, “If the Lord wills, we shall. . .do this or that.” James tells us that failure to acknowledge God’s sovereign control in all things is arrogant boasting and all such boasting is evil. If we know to thus acknowledge him as the sovereign potter but do not do it, for us it is sin. As I have read these verses in James about this arrogant denial of God’s control over all things, it has brought to mind the famous poem by Wm. Henley titled “Invictus (Unconquerable).” Perhaps motivated by his bitterness over having lost a leg due to tuberculosis, he wrote the following,

Out of the night that covers me,

Black as the Pit from pole to pole,

I thank whatever gods may be

For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance

I have not winced nor cried aloud.

Under the bludgeonings of chance

My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears

Looms but the Horror of the shade,

And yet the menace of the years

Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,

How charged with punishments the scroll.

I am the master of my fate:

I am the captain of my soul.

Early in the 20th century, a little known poet named Dorothea Day, wrote a poem titled, “Conquered.” This is the confession that should be echoed by every child of God.

Out of the light that dazzles me,

Bright as the sun from pole to pole,

I thank the God I know to be,

For Christ – the Conqueror of my soul.

Since His the sway of circumstance,

I would not wince nor cry aloud.

Under the rule which men call chance,

My head, with joy, is humbly bowed.

Beyond this place of sin and tears,

That Life with Him and His the Aid,

That, spite the menace of the years, Keeps, and will keep me unafraid.

I have no fear though straight the gate:

He cleared from punishment the scroll.

Christ is the Master of my fate!

Christ is the Captain of my soul!