Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light: Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son: In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins: For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead. And having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it.
~ Colossians 1:12-14, Colossians 1:16, Colossians 2:12, Colossians 2:15
Wherefore, when I came, was there no man? when I called, was there none to answer? Is my hand shortened at all, that it cannot redeem? or have I no power to deliver? behold, at my rebuke I dry up the sea, I make the rivers a wilderness: their fish stinketh, because there is no water, and dieth for thirst. Behold, the LORD’S hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear:
~ Isaiah 50:2, Isaiah 59:1
Do not err, my beloved brethren. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures. Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.
~ James 1:16-18, 1 John 3:9
And I have filled him with the spirit of God, in wisdom, and in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship, To devise cunning works, to work in gold, and in silver, and in brass, And in cutting of stones, to set them, and in carving of timber, to work in all manner of workmanship. And I, behold, I have given with him Aholiab, the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan: and in the hearts of all that are wise hearted I have put wisdom, that they may make all that I have commanded thee;
~ Exodus 31:3-6
And he changeth the times and the seasons: he removeth kings, and setteth up kings: he giveth wisdom unto the wise, and knowledge to them that know understanding: He revealeth the deep and secret things: he knoweth what is in the darkness, and the light dwelleth with him. John answered and said, A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven. For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy. For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might shew my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth. Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth. And the LORD said unto him, Who hath made man’s mouth? or who maketh the dumb, or deaf, or the seeing, or the blind? have not I the LORD? Now therefore go, and I will be with thy mouth, and teach thee what thou shalt say.
~ Daniel 2:21-22, John 3:27, Romans 9:15-18, Exodus 4:11-12
(As it is written, I have made thee a father of many nations,) before him whom he believed, even God, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were. For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified. What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us? Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.
~ Romans 4:17, Romans 8:29-31, John 1:13
But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) These are they which were not defiled with women; for they are virgins. These are they which follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth. These were redeemed from among men, being the firstfruits unto God and to the Lamb.
~ Ephesians 2:4-5, Revelation 14:4
The Sovereignty of God, by A.W. Pink. The following contains an excerpt from his work.
The Sovereignty of God in Operation
“For of Him, and through Him, and to Him, are all things: to whom be the glory for ever. Amen” (Romans 11:36).
Has God foredained everything that comes to pass? Has He decreed that what is, was to have been? In the final analysis this is only another way of asking, Is God now governing the world and everyone and everything in it? If God is governing the world then is He governing it according to a definite purpose, or aimlessly and at random? If He is governing it according to some purpose, then when was that purpose made? Is God continually changing His purpose and making a new one every day, or was His purpose formed from the beginning? Are God’s actions, like ours, regulated by the change of circumstances, or are they the outcome of His eternal purpose? If God formed a purpose before man was created then is that purpose going to be executed according to His original designs and is He now working toward that end? What saith the Scriptures? They declare God is One “who worketh all things after the counsel of His own will” (Eph. 1:11).
Few who read this book are likely to call into question the statement that God knows and foreknows all things, but perhaps many would hesitate to go further than this. Yet is it not self-evident that if God foreknows all things, He has also foredained all things? Is it not clear that God foreknows what will be because He has decreed what shall be? God’s foreknowledge is not the cause of events, rather are events the effects of His eternal purpose. when God has decreed a thing shall be He knows it will! be. In the nature of things there cannot be anything known as what shall be unless it is certain to be, and there is nothing certain to be unless God has ordained it shall be. Take the Crucifixion as an illustration. On this point the teaching of Scripture is as clear as a sunbeam. Christ as the Lamb whose blood was to be shed was “foreordained before the foundation of the world” (1 Peter 1:20). Having then “ordained” the slaying of the Lamb, God knew He would be “led to the slaughter,” and therefore made it known accordingly through Isaiah the prophet. The Lord Jesus was not “delivered” up by God foreknowing it before it took place, but by His fixed counsel and fore-ordination (Acts 2:23). Foreknowledge of future events then is founded upon God’s decrees, hence if God foreknows everything that is to be, it is because He has determined in Himself from all eternity everything which will be-“Known unto God are all His works from the beginning of the world” (Acts 15:18), which shows that God has a plan, that God did not begin His work at random or without a knowledge of how His plan would succeed.
God created all things. This truth no one, who bows to the testimony of Holy Writ, will question; nor would any such be prepared to argue that the work of creation was an accidental work. God first formed the purpose to create, and then put forth the creative act in fulfilment of that purpose. All real Christians will readily adopt the words of the Psalmist and say, “O Lord, how manifold are Thy works! in wisdom hast Thou made them all.” Will any who endorse what we have just said, deny that God purposed to govern the world which He created? Surely the creation of the world was not the end of God’s purpose concerning it. Surely He did not determine simply to create the world and place man in it, and then leave both to their fortunes. It must be apparent that God has some great end or ends in view worthy of His infinite perfections, and that He is now governing the world so as to accomplish these ends-“The counsel of the LORD standeth for ever, the thoughts of His heart to all generations” (Psa. 33:11).
“Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all My pleasure” (Isa. 46:9, 10). Many other passages might be adduced to show that God has many counsels concerning this world and concerning man, and that all these counsels will most surely be realised. It is only when they are thus regarded that we can intelligently appreciate the prophecies of Scripture. In prophecy the mighty God has condescended to take us into the secret chamber of His eternal counsels and make known to us what He has purposed to do in the future. The hundreds of prophecies which are found in the Old and New Testaments are not so much predictions of what will come to pass, as they are revelations to us of what God has purposed shall come to pass.
What then was the great purpose for which this world and the human race were created? The answer of Scripture is, “The LORD hath made all things for Himself” (Prov. 16:4). And again, “Thou hast created all things, and for Thy pleasure they are and were created” (Rev. 4:11). The great end of creation was the manifestation of God’s glory. “The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament sheweth His handiwork” (Psa. 19:1); but it was by man, originally made in His own image and likeness, that God designed chiefly to manifest His glory. But how was the great Creator to be glorified by man? Before his creation, God foresaw the fall of Adam and the consequent ruin of his race, therefore He could not have designed that man should glorify Him by continuing in a state of innocency. Accordingly we are taught that Christ was “foreordained before the foundation of the world” to be the Saviour of fallen men. The redemption of sinners by Christ was no mere after-thought of God: it was no expediency to meet an un-looked-for calamity. No; it was a Divine provision, and therefore when man fell he found mercy walking hand in hand with justice.
From all eternity God designed that our world should be the stage on which He would display His manifold grace and wisdom in the redemption of lost sinners: “To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the Church the manifold wisdom of God, according to the eternal purpose which He purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Eph. 3:10-11.) For the accomplishment of this glorious design God has governed the world from the beginning, and will continue it to the end. It has been well said, “We can never understand the providence of God over our world, unless we regard it as a complicated machine having ten thousand parts, directed in all its operations to one glorious end-the display of the manifold wisdom of God in the salvation of the Church,” i.e., the “called out” ones. Everything else down here is subordinated to this central purpose. It was the apprehension of this basic truth that the Apostle, moved by the Holy Spirit, was led to write, “Therefore I endure all things for the elect’s sake, that they may also obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory” (2 Tim. 2:10). What we would now contemplate is the operation of God’s Sovereignty in the government of this world.
In regard to the operation of God’s government over the material world little needs now be said. In previous chapters we have shown that inanimate matter and all irrational creatures are absolutely subject to their Creator’s pleasure. While we freely admit that the material world appears to be governed by laws that are stable and more or less uniform in their operations, yet Scripture, history, and observation, compel us to recognise the fact that God suspends these laws and acts apart from them whenever it pleaseth Him to do so. In sending His blessings or judgments upon His creatures He may cause the sun itself to stand still, and the stars in their courses to fight for His people (Judges 5:20); He may send or withhold “the early and the latter rains” according to the dictates of His own infinite wisdom; He may smite with plague or bless with health; in short, being God, being absolute Sovereign, He is bound and tied by no laws of Nature, but governs the material world as seemeth Him best.
But what of God’s government of the human family? What does Scripture reveal in regard to the modus operandi of the operations of His governmental administration over mankind? To what extent and by what influence does God control the sons of men? We shall divide our answer to this question into two parts and consider first God’s method of dealing with the righteous, His elect; and then His method of dealing with the wicked.
God’s Method of Dealing With the Righteous:
1. God exerts upon His own elect a quickening influence or power.
By nature they are spiritually dead, dead in trespasses and sins, and their first need is spiritual life, for “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). In the new birth God brings us from death unto life (John 5:24). He imparts to us His own nature (2 Peter 1:4). He delivers us from the power of darkness and translates us into the kingdom of His dear Son (Col. 1:13). Now, manifestly, we could not do this ourselves for we were “without strength” (Rom. 5:6), hence it is written, “we are His workmanship created in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:10).
In the new birth we are made partakers of the Divine nature: a principle, a “seed,” a life, is communicated to us which is “‘born of the Spirit,” and therefore “is spirit”; is born of the Holy Spirit and therefore is holy. Apart from this Divine and holy nature which is imparted to us at the new birth it is utterly impossible for any man to generate a spiritual impulse, form a spiritual concept, think a spiritual thought, understand spiritual things, still less engage in spiritual works. “Without holiness no man shall see the Lord,” but the natural man has no desire for holiness, and the provision that God has made he does not want. Will then a man pray for, seek for, strive after, that which he dislikes? Surely not. If then a man does “follow after” that which by nature he cordially dislikes, if he does now love the One he once hated, it is because a miraculous change has taken place within him; a power outside of himself has operated upon him, a nature entirely different from his old one has been imparted to him, and hence it is written, “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creation: old things are passed away; behold all things are become new” (2 Cor. 5:17). Such an one as we have just described has passed from death unto life, has been turned from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God (Acts 26:18). In no other way can the great change be accounted for.
The new birth is very, very much more than simply shedding a few tears due to a temporary remorse over sin. It is far more than changing our course of life, the leaving off of bad habits and the substituting of good ones. It is something different from the mere cherishing and practising of noble ideals. It goes infinitely deeper than coming forward to take some popular evangelist by the hand, signing a pledge-card, or “joining the church.” The new birth is no mere turning over a new leaf but is the inception and reception of a new life. It is no mere reformation but a complete transformation. In short, the new birth is a miracle, the result of the supernatural operation of God. It is radical, revolutionary, lasting.
Here then is the first thing, in time, which God does in His own elect. He lays hold of those who are spiritually dead and quickens them into newness of life. He takes up one who was shapen in iniquity and conceived in sin, and conforms him to the image of His Son. He seizes a captive of the Devil and makes him a member of the household of faith. He picks up a beggar and makes him joint- heir with Christ. He comes to one who is full of enmity against Him and gives him a new heart that is full of love for Him. He stoops to one who by nature is a rebel and works in him both to will and to do of His own good pleasure. By His irresistible power He transforms a sinner into a saint, an enemy into a friend, a slave of the Devil into a child of God. Surely then we are moved to say,
“When all Thy mercies O my God My wondering soul surveys, Transported with the view I’m lost In wonder, love and praise.”
2. God exerts upon His own elect an energising influence or power.
The Apostle prayed to God for the Ephesian saints that the eyes of their understanding might be enlightened in order that, among other things, they might know “what is the exceeding greatness of His power to us-ward who believe” (Eph. 1:19), and that they might be “strengthened with might by His Spirit in the inner man” (3:16). It is thus that the children of God are enabled to fight the good fight of faith and battle with the adverse forces which constantly war against them. In themselves they have no strength: they are but “sheep,” and sheep are one of the most defenceless animals there is; but the promise is sure-“He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might He increaseth strength” (Isa. 40:29).
It is this energising power that God exerts upon and within the righteous which enables them to serve Him acceptably. Said the prophet of old, “But truly I am full of power by the Spirit of the Lord” (Micah 3:8). And said our Lord to His Apostles, “Ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Spirit is come upon you” (Acts 1:8), and thus it proved, for of these same men we read subsequently, “And with great power gave the Apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all” (Acts 4:33). So it was, too, with the Apostle Paul, “and my speech and my preaching was not with enticing word of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power” (1 Cor. 2:4). But the scope of this power is not confined to service, for we read in 2 Peter 1:3, “According as His Divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him that hath called us to glory and virtue.” Hence it is that the various graces of the Christian character, “love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance,” are ascribed directly to God Himself, being denominated “the fruit of the Spirit” (Gal. 5:22-23). Compare Ephesians 5:9.
3. God exerts upon His own elect a directing influence or power.
Of old He led His people across the wilderness, directing their steps by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night; and today He still directs His saints, though now from within rather from without. “For this God is our God for ever and ever: He will be our Guide even unto death” (Psa. 48:14), but He “guides” us by working in us both to will and to do His good pleasure. That He does so guide us is clear from the words of the Apostle in Ephesians 2: 10-“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” Thus all ground for boasting is removed and God gets all the glory, for with the prophet we have to say, “LORD, Thou wilt ordain peace for us: for Thou also hast wrought all our works in us” (Isa. 26:12). How true then that “A man’s heart deviseth his way: but the LORD directeth his steps” (Prov. 16:29)! Compare Psalm 65:4; Ezekiel 36:27.
4. God exerts upon His own elect a preserving influence or power.
Many are the Scriptures which set forth this blessed truth. “He preserveth the souls of His saints; He delivereth them out of the hand of the wicked” (Psa. 97:10). “For the LORD loveth judgment, and forsaketh not His saints; they are preserved for ever: but the seed of the wicked shall be cut off” (Psa. 37:28). “The LORD preserveth all them that love Him: but all the wicked will He destroy” (Psa. 145:20). It is needless to multiply texts or to raise an argument at this point respecting the believer’s responsibility and faithfulness-we can no more “persevere” without God preserving us than we can breathe when God ceases to give us breath; we are “kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:5). Compare 1 Chronicles 18:6. It remains for us now to consider,
God’s Method of Dealing With the Wicked:
In contemplating God’s governmental dealings with the non-elect we find that He exerts upon them a fourfold influence or power. We adopt the clear-cut divisions suggested by Dr. Rice:
1. God exerts upon the wicked a restraining influence by which they are prevented from doing what they are naturally inclined to do.
A striking example of this is seen in Abimelech, king of Gerar. Abraham came down to Gerar and fearful lest he might be slain on account of his wife he instructed her to pose as his sister. Regarding her as an unmarried woman, Abimelech sent and took Sarah unto himself; and then we learn how God put forth His power to protect her honour-“And God said unto him in a dream, Yea, I know that thou didst this in the integrity of thy heart; for I also withheld thee from sinning against Me: therefore suffered I thee not to touch her” (Gen. 20:6). Had not God interposed, Abimelech would have grievously wronged Sarah, but the Lord restrained him and allowed him not to carry out the intentions of his heart.
A similar instance is found in connection with Joseph and his brethren’s treatment of him. Owing to Jacob’s partiality for Joseph his brethren “hated him,” and when they thought they had him in their power “they conspired against him to slay him” (Gen. 37:18). But God did not allow them to carry out their evil designs. First He moved Reuben to deliver him out of their hands, and next he caused Judah to suggest that Joseph should be sold to the passing Ishmaelites, who carried him down into Egypt. That it was God who thus restrained them is clear; he made known himself to his brethren; said he, “So now it was not you that sent me hither, but God” (Gen. 45:8)!
The restraining influence which God exerts upon the wicked was strikingly exemplified in the person of Balaam, the prophet hired by Balak to curse the Israelites. One cannot read the inspired narrative without discovering that, left to himself, Balaam had readily and certainly accepted the offer of Balak. How evidently God restrained the impulses of his heart is seen from his own acknowledgment-“How shall I curse, whom God hath not cursed? or how shall I defy, whom the LORD hath not defied? Behold I have received commandment to bless: and He hath blessed; and I cannot reverse it” (Num. 23:8, 20). Not only does God exert a restraining influence upon wicked individuals but He does so upon whole peoples as well. A remarkable illustration of this is found in Exodus 34:24-“For I will cast out the nations before thee, and enlarge thy borders: neither shall any man desire thy land, when thou shalt go up to appear before the LORD thy God thrice in the year.” Three times every male Israelite, at the command of God, left his home and inheritance and journeyed to Jerusalem to keep the Feasts of the Lord; and in the above Scriptures we learn He promised them that while they were at Jerusalem He would guard their unprotected homes by restraining the covetous designs and desires of their heathen neighbours.
2. God exerts upon the wicked a softening influence disposing them contrary to their natural inclinations to do that which will promote His cause.
Above, we referred to Joseph’s history as an illustration of God exerting a restraining influence upon the wicked, let us note now his experiences in Egypt as exemplifying our assertion that God also exerts a softening influence upon the unrighteous. We are told that while he was in the house of Potiphar “The LORD was with Joseph, and his master saw the LORD was with him,” and in consequence, “Joseph found favour in his sight and he made him overseer over his house” (Gen. 39:2, 3, 4). Later, when Joseph was unjustly cast into prison, we are told “But the LORD was with Joseph, and shewed him mercy, and gave him favour in the sight of the keeper of the prison” (Gen. 39:21), and in consequence the prison-keeper showed him much kindness and honour. Finally, after his release from prison, we learn from Acts 7:10 that the Lord “gave him favour and wisdom in the sight of Pharaoh king of Egypt; and he made him governor over Egypt and all his house.”
An equally striking evidence Xof God’s power to melt the hearts of his enemies, was seen in Pharaoh’s daughter’s treatment of the infant Moses. The incident is well known. Pharaoh had issued an edict commanding the destruction of every male child of the Israelites. A certain Levite had a son born to him who for three months was kept hidden by his mother. No longer able to conceal the infant Moses she placed him in an ark of bulrushes and laid him by the river’s brink. The ark was discovered by none less than the king’s daughter who had come down to the river to bathe, but instead of heeding her father’s wicked decree and casting the child into the river we are told that “she had compassion on him” (Exo. 2:6)! Accordingly, the young life was spared and later Moses became the adopted son of this princess!
God has access to the hearts of all men and He softens or hardens them according to His Sovereign purpose. The profane Esau swore vengeance upon his brother for the deception which he had practiced upon his father, yet when next he met Jacob, instead of slaying him we are told that Esau “fell on his neck and kissed him” (Gen. 33:4)! Ahab, the weak and wicked consort of Jezebel, was highly enraged against Elijah the prophet, at whose word the heavens had been shut up for three years and a half: so angry was he against the one whom he regarded as his enemy that we are told he searched for him in every nation and kingdom and when he could not be found “he took an oath” (1 Kings 18:10). Yet, when they met, instead of killing the prophet, Ahab meekly obeyed Elijah’s behest and “sent unto all the children of Israel and gathered the prophets together unto Mount Carmel” (v. 20). Again; Esther the poor Jewess is about to enter the presence-chamber of the august Medo-Persian monarch which, said she, “is not according to the law” (Esth. 4:16). She went in expecting to “perish,” but we are told “She obtained favour in his sight, and the king held out to Esther the golden sceptre” (5:2). Yet again; the boy Daniel is a captive in a foreign court. The king “appointed” a daily provision of meat and drink for Daniel and his fellows. But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the allotted portion, and accordingly made known his purpose to his master, the prince of the eunuchs. What happened? His master was a heathen and “feared” the king. Did he turn then upon Daniel and angrily demand that his orders be promptly carried out? No; for we read, “Now God had brought Daniel into favour and tender love with the prince of the eunuchs” (Dan. 1:9)!
“The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD, as the rivers of water: He turneth it whithersoever He will” (Prov. 21:1). A remarkable illustration of this is seen in Cyrus, the heathen king of Persia. God’s people were in captivity, but the predicted end of their captivity was almost reached. Meanwhile the Temple at Jerusalem lay in ruins, and, as we have said, the Jews were in bondage in a distant land. What hope was there then that the Lord’s house would be re-built? Mark now what God did, “Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and put it in writing, saying, Thus saith Cyrus king of Persia, The LORD God of Heaven hath given me all the kingdoms of the earth; and He hath charged me to build Him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah” (Ezra 1:1, 2). Cyrus, be it remembered, was a pagan, and as secular history bears witness, a very wicked man, yet the Lord moved him to issue this edict that His Word through Jeremiah seventy years before might be fulfilled. A similar and further illustration is found in Ezra 7:27, where we find Ezra returning thanks for what God had caused King Artaxerxes to do in completing and beautifying the house which Cyrus had commanded to be erected-“Blessed be the LORD God of our fathers which hath put such a thing as this in the king’s heart, to beautify the house of the Lord which is in Jerusalem” (Ezra 7:27).
3. God exerts upon the wicked a directing influence so that good is made to result from their intended evil.
Once more we revert to the history of Joseph as a case in point. In selling Joseph to the Ishmaelites his brethren were actuated by cruel and heartless motives. Their object was to make away with him, and the passing of these traveling traders furnished an easy way out for them. To them the act was nothing more than the enslaving of a noble youth for the sake of gain. But now observe how God was secretly working and over-ruling their wicked actions. Providence so ordered it that these Ishmaelites passed by just in time to prevent Joseph being murdered, for his brethren had already taken counsel together to put him to death. Further; these Ishmaelites were journeying to Egypt, which was the very country to which God had purposed to send Joseph, and He ordained they should purchase Joseph just when they did. That the hand of God was in this incident, that it was something more than a fortunate coincidence, is clear from the words of Joseph to his brethren at a later date, “God sent me before you to preserve you a posterity in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance” (Gen. 45:7).
Another equally striking illustration of God directing the wicked is found in Isaiah 10:5-7: “O Assyrian, the rod of Mine anger, and the staff in their hand is Mine indignation. I will send him against an hypocritical nation, and against the people of My wrath will I give him a charge, to take the spoil, and to take the prey, and to tread them down like the mire of the streets. Howbeit he meaneth not so, neither doth his heart think so; but it is in his heart to destroy and cut off nations not a few.” Assyria’s king had determined to be a world-conqueror, to “cut off nations not a few.” But God directed and controlled his military lust and ambition, and caused him to confine his attention to the conquering of the insignificant nation of Israel. Such a task was not in the proud king’s heart-“he meant it not so”-but God gave him this charge and he could do nothing but fulfil it. Compare also Judges 7:22.
The supreme example of the controlling, directing influence which God exerts upon the wicked, is the Cross of Christ with all its attending circumstances. If ever the superintending providence of God was witnessed it was there. From all eternity God had predestined every detail of that event of all events. Nothing was left to chance or the caprice of man. God had decreed when and where and how His blessed Son was to die. Much of what He had purposed concerning the Crucifixion had been made known through the Old Testament prophets, and in the accurate and literal fulfilment of these prophecies we have clear proof, full demonstration, of the controlling and directing influence which God exerts upon the wicked. Not a thing occurred except as God had ordained, and all that He had ordained took place exactly as He purposed. Had it been decreed (and made known in Scripture) that the Saviour should be betrayed by one of His own disciples-by His “familiar friend”-see Psalm 41:9 and compare Matthew 26:50-then the Apostle Judas is the one who sold Him. Had it been decreed that the betrayer should receive for his awful perfidy thirty pieces of silver, then are the chief priests moved to offer him this very sum. Had it been decreed that this betrayal sum should be put to a particular use, namely, purchase of the potter’s field, then the hand of God directs Judas to return the money to the chief priests and so guided their “counsel” (Matt. 27:7) that they did this very thing. Had it been decreed that there should be those who bore “false witness” against our Lord (Psa. 35:11), then accordingly such were raised up. Had it been decreed that the Lord of Glory should be spat upon and “scourged” (Isa. 50:6), then there were not found wanting those who were vile enough to do so. Had it been decreed that the Saviour should be “numbered with the transgressors,” then unknown to himself, Pilate, directed by God, gave orders for His crucifixion along with two thieves. Had it been decreed that vinegar and gall should be given Him to drink while He hung upon the Cross, then this decree of God was executed to the very letter. Had it been decreed that the heartless should gamble for His garments, then sure enough they did this very thing. Had it been decreed that not a bone of Him should be broken (Psa. 34:20), then the controlling hand of God which suffered the Roman soldier to break the legs of the thieves, prevented him from doing the same with our Lord. Ah! there were not enough soldiers in all the Roman legions, there were not sufficient demons in all the hierarchies of Satan, to break one bone in the body of Christ. And why? Because the Almighty Sovereign had decreed that not a bone should be broken. Do we need to extend this paragraph any farther? Does not the accurate and literal fulfilment of all that Scripture had predicted in connection with the Crucifixion, demonstrate beyond all controversy that an Almighty power was directing and superintending everything that was done on that Day of days?
4. God also hardens the hearts of wicked men and blinds their minds.
“God hardens men’s hearts! God blinds men’s minds!” Yes, so Scripture represents Him. In developing this theme of the Sovereignty of God in Operation we recognise that we have now reached its most solemn aspect of all, and that here especially, we need to keep very close indeed to the words of Holy Writ. God forbid that we should go one fraction further than His Word goes; but may He give us grace to go as far as His Word goes. It is true that secret things belong unto the Lord, but it is also true that those
things which are revealed in Scripture belong unto us and to our children.
“He turned their heart to hate His people, to deal subtly with His servants” (Psa. 105:25). The reference here is to the sojourn of the descendants of Jacob in the land of Egypt when, after the death of the Pharaoh who had welcomed the old patriarch and his family, there “arose up a new king who knew not Joseph”; and in his days the children of Israel had “increased greatly” so that they outnumbered the Egyptians; then it was that God “turned their heart to hate His people.”
The consequence of the Egyptians’ “hatred” is well known: they brought them into cruel bondage and placed them under merciless taskmasters until their lot became unendurable. Helpless and wretched the Israelites cried unto Jehovah, and in response He appointed Moses to be their deliverer. God revealed Himself unto His chosen servant, gave him a number of miraculous signs which he was to exhibit at the Egyptian court, and then bade him to go to Pharaoh and demand that the Israelites should be allowed to go to a three days’ journey into the wilderness, that they might worship the Lord. But before Moses started out on his journey God warned him concerning Pharaoh, “I will harden his heart that he shall not let the people go” (Exo. 4:21). If it be asked, Why did God harden Pharaoh’s heart? the answer furnished by Scripture itself is, In order that God might show forth His power in him (Rom. 9:17); in other words, it was so that the Lord might demonstrate that it was just as easy for Him to overthrow this haughty and powerful monarch as it was for Him to crush a worm. If it should be pressed further, Why did God select such a method of displaying His power? then the answer must be that being Sovereign God reserves to Himself the right to act as He pleases.
Not only are we told that God hardened the heart of Pharaoh so that he would not let the Israelites go, but after God had plagued his land so severely that he reluctantly gave a qualified permission, and after that the first-born of all the Egyptians had been slain, and Israel had actually left the land of bondage, God told Moses, “And I, behold, I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians, and they shall follow them: and I will get Me honour upon Pharaoh, and upon all his host, upon his chariots, and upon his horsemen. And the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I have gotten Me honour upon Pharaoh, upon his chariots, and upon his horsemen” (Exo. 14:17, 18).
The same thing happened subsequently in connection with Sihon, king of Heshbon, through whose territory Israel had to pass on their way to the promised land. When reviewing their history Moses told the people, “But Sihon king of Heshbon would not let us pass by him: for the LORD thy God hardened his spirit, and made his heart obstinate, that He might deliver him into thy hand” (Deut. 2:30)!
So it was also after that Israel had entered Canaan. We read, “There was not a city that made peace with the children of Israel, save the Hivites the inhabitants of Gibeon: all other they took in battle. For it was of the LORD to harden their hearts, that they should come against Israel in battle, that He might destroy them, as the Lord commanded Moses” (Josh. 11:19, 20). From other Scriptures we learn why God purposed to “destroy utterly” the Canaanites-it was because of their awful wickedness and corruption.
Nor is the revelation of this solemn truth confined to the Old Testament. In John 12:37-40 we read, “But though He had done so many miracles before them, yet they believed not on Him: that (in order that) the saying of Esaias (Isaiah) the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spake, Lord, who hath believed our report? and to whom hath the arm of the Lord been revealed? Therefore they could not believe, because that Esaias said again, HE hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their heart; that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them.” It needs to be carefully noted here that these whose eyes God “blinded” and whose heart He “hardened” were men who had deliberately scorned the Light and rejected the testimony of God’s own Son.
Similarly we read in 2 Thessalonians 2:11, 12, “And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: that they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.” What God did unto the Jews of old He is yet going to do unto Christendom. Just as the Jews of Christ’s day despised His testimony, and in consequence were “blinded,” so a guilty Christendom which has rejected the Truth shall yet have sent them from God a “strong delusion” that they may believe a lie.
Is God really governing the world? Is He exercising rule over the human family? What is themodus operandiof His governmental administration over mankind? To what extent and by what means does He control the sons of men? How does God exercise an influence upon the wicked, seeing their hearts are at enmity against Him? These are some of the questions we have sought to answer from Scripture in the previous sections of this chapter. Upon His own elect God exerts a quickening, an energising, a directing, and a preserving power. Upon the wicked God exerts a restraining, softening, directing, and hardening and blinding power, according to the dictates of His own infinite wisdom and unto the outworking of His own eternal purpose. God’s decrees are being executed. What He has ordained is being accomplished. Man’s wickedness is bounded. The limits of evil-doing and of evildoers has been Divinely defined and cannot be exceeded. Though many are in ignorance of it, all men, good and bad, are under the jurisdiction of and are absolutely subject to the administration of the Supreme Sovereign-“Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth” (Rev. 19:6) reigneth over all.
God’s Sovereignty and the Human Will
“It is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure” (Phil. 2: 13).
Concerning the nature and the power of fallen man’s will, the greatest confusion prevails today, and the most erroneous views are held, even by many of God’s children. The popular idea now prevailing, and which is taught from the great majority of pulpits, is that man has a “free will,” and that salvation comes to the sinner through his will co-operating with the Holy Spirit. To deny the “free will” of man, i.e., his power to choose that which is good, his native ability to accept Christ, is to bring one into disfavour at once, even before most of those who profess to be orthodox. And yet Scripture emphatically says, “It is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth,
but of God that showeth mercy” (Rom. 9:16). Which shall we believe: God, or the preachers?
But some one may reply, Did not Joshua say to Israel, “Choose you this day whom ye will serve”? Yes, he did; but why not complete his sentence-“whether the gods which your fathers served which were on the other side of the flood, o r the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell” (Josh. 24:15)! But why attempt to pit Scripture against Scripture? The Word of God never contradicts itself, and the Word expressly declares, “There is none that seeketh after God” (Rom. 3:11). Did not Christ say to the men of His day “Y e will not come to Me, that ye might have life” (John 5:40)? Yes, but some did “come” to Him, some did receive Him. True and who were they? John 1:12, 13 tells us: “But as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, to them that believe on His name: which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God”!
But does not Scripture say, “Whosoever will may come”? It does, but does this signify that everybody has the will to come? What of those who won’t come? “Whosoever will may come” no more implies that fallen man has the power (in himself) to come, than “Stretch forth thine hand” implied that the man with the withered arm had ability (in himself) to comply. In and of himself the natural man has power to reject Christ; but in and of himself he has not the power to receive Christ. And why? Because he has a mind that is “enmity against” Him (Rom. 8:7); because he has a heart that hates Him (John 15:18). Man chooses that which is according to his nature, and therefore before he will ever choose or prefer that which is Divine and spiritual a new nature must be imparted to him; in other words, he must be born again.
Should it be asked, But does not the Holy Spirit overcome a man’s enmity and hatred when He convicts the sinner of his sins and his need of Christ; and does not the Spirit of God produce such conviction in many that perish? Such language betrays confusion of thought: were such a man’s enmity really “overcome,” then he would readily turn to Christ; that he does not come to the Saviour demonstrates that his enmity is not overcome. But that many are, through the preaching of the Word, convicted by the Holy Spirit, who nevertheless die in unbelief, is solemnly true. Yet, it is a fact which must not be lost sight of that the Holy Spirit does something more in each of God’s elect than He does in the non-elect: He works in them “both to will and to do of His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13).
In reply to what we have said above, Arminians would answer, No; the Spirit’s work of conviction is the same both in the converted and in unconverted, that which distinguishes the one class from the other is that the former yielded to His strivings whereas the latter resist them. But if this were the case then the Christian would have ground for boasting and self-glorying over his cooperation with the Spirit; but this would flatly contradict Ephesians 2:8, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God.”
Let us appeal to the actual experience of the Christian reader. Was there not a time (may the remembrance of it bow each of us into the dust) when you were unwilling to come to Christ? There was. Since then you have come to Him. Are you now prepared to give Him all the glory for that (Psa. 115:1)? Do you not acknowledge you came to Christ because the Holy Spirit brought you from unwillingness to willingness? You do. Then is it not also a patent fact that the Holy Spirit has not done in many others what He has in you! Granting that many others have heard the Gospel, been shown their need of Christ, yet, they are still unwilling to come to Him. Thus He has wrought more in you than in them. Do you answer, Yet I remember well the time when the Great Issue was presented to me, and my consciousness testifies that my will acted and that I yielded to the claims of Christ upon me. Quite true. But before you “yielded” the Holy Spirit overcame the native enmity of your mind against God, and this “enmity” He does not overcome in all. Should it be said, That is because they are unwilling for their enmity to be overcome. Ah! none are thus “‘willing” till He has put forth His all- mighty power and wrought a miracle of grace in the heart.
But let us now inquire, What is the human Will? Is it a self-determining agent, or is it, in turn, determined by something else? Is it Sovereign or servant? Is the will superior to every other faculty of our being so that it governs them, or is it moved by their impulses and subject to their pleasure? Does the will rule the mind, or does the mind control the will? Is the will free to do as it pleases, or is it under the necessity of rendering obedience to something outside of itself? “Does the will stand apart from the other great faculties or powers of the soul, a man within a man, who can reverse the man and fly against the man and split him into segments, as a glass snake breaks in pieces? Or, is the will connected with the other faculties, as the tail of the serpent is with his body, and that again with his head, so that where the head goes, the whole creature goes, and, as a man thinketh in his heart, so is he? First thought, then heart (desire or aversion), and then act. Is it this way, the dog wags the tail? Or, is it the will, the tail, wags the dog? Is the will the first and chief thing in man, or is it the last thing-to be kept subordinate, and in its place beneath the other faculties? and, is the true philosophy of moral action and its process that of Genesis 3:6: ‘And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food’ (sense-perception, intelligence), ‘and a tree to be desired’ (affections), ‘she took and ate thereof’ (the will).” (George S. Bishop). These are questions of more than academical interest. They are of practical importance. We believe that we do not go too far when we affirm that the answer returned to these questions is a fundamental test of doctrinal soundness. *
1. The Nature of the Human Will.
What is the Will? We answer, the will is the faculty of choice, the immediate cause of all action. Choice necessarily implies the refusal of one thing and the acceptance of another. The positive and the negative must both be present to the mind before there can be any choice. In every act of the will there is a preference-the desiring one thing rather than another. Where there is no preference, but complete indifference, there is no volition. To will is to choose, and to choose is to decide between two or more alternatives. But there is something which influences the choice; something which determines the decision. Hence the will cannot be Sovereign because it is the servant of that something. The will cannot be both Sovereign and servant. It cannot be both cause and effect. The will is not causative, because, as we have said, something causes it to choose, therefore that something must be the causative agent. Choice itself is affected by certain considerations, is determined by various influences brought to bear upon the individual himself, hence, volition is the effect of these considerations and influences, and if the effect, it must be their servant; and if the will is their servant then it is not Sovereign, and if the will is not Sovereign, we certainly cannot predicate absolute “freedom” of it. Acts of the will cannot come to pass of themselves-
*Since writing the above we have read an article by the late J. N. Darby entitled, “Man’s So-Called Freewill,” that opens with these words: “This re-appearance of the doctrine of freewill serves to support that of the pretensions of the natural man to be not irremediably fallen, for this is what such doctrine tends to. All who have never been deeply convicted of sin, all persons in whom this conviction is based on gross external sins, believe more or less in freewill.”
To say they can, is to postulate an uncaused effect. Ex nihilo nihil fit-nothing cannot produce something.
In all ages, however, there have been those who contended for the absolute freedom or Sovereignty of the human will. Men will argue that the will possesses a self-determining power. They say, for example, I can turn my eyes up or down, the mind is quite indifferent which I do, the will must decide. But this is a contradiction in terms. This case supposes that I choose one thing in preference to another while I am in a state of complete indifference. Manifestly, both cannot be true. But it may be replied, The mind was quite indifferent until it came to have a preference. Exactly; and at that time the will was quiescent too! But the moment indifference vanished, choice was made, and the fact that indifference gave place to preference, overthrows the argument that the will is capable of choosing between two equal things. As we have said, choice implies the acceptance of one alternative and the rejection of the other or others.
That which determines the will is that which causes it to choose. If the will is determined then there must be a determiner. What is it that determines the will? We reply, The strongest motive power which is brought to bear upon it. What this motive power is varies in different cases. With one it may be the logic of reason, with another the voice of conscience, with another the impulse of the emotions, with another the whisper of the Tempter, with another the power of the Holy Spirit; whichever of these presents the strongest motive power and exerts the greatest influence upon the individual himself is that which impels the will to act. In other words, the action of the will is determined by that condition of mind (which in turn is influenced by the world, the flesh, and the Devil, as well as by God) which has the greatest degree of tendency to excite volition. To illustrate what we have just said let us analyze a simple example-On a certain Lord’s day afternoon a friend of ours was suffering from a severe headache. He was anxious to visit the sick but feared that if he did so his own condition would grow worse, and as a consequence, be unable to attend the preaching of the Gospel that evening. Two alternatives confronted him: to visit the sick that afternoon and risk being sick himself, or, to take a rest that afternoon (and visit the sick the next day) and probably arise refreshed and fit for the evening service. Now what was it that decided our friend in choosing between these two alternatives? The will? Not at all. True, that in the end, the will made a choice, but the will itself was moved to make the choice. In the above case certain considerations presented strong motives for selecting either alternative; these motives were balanced the one against the other by the individual himself, i.e., his heart and mind, and the one alternative being supported by stronger motives than the other, decision was formed accordingly, and then the will acted. On the one side, our friend felt impelled by a sense of duty to visit the sick; he was moved with compassion to do so, and thus a strong motive was presented to his mind. On the other hand, his judgment reminded him that he was feeling far from well himself, that he badly needed a rest, that if he visited the sick his own condition would probably be made worse, and in such case he would be prevented from attending the preaching of the Gospel that night; furthermore, he knew that on the morrow, the Lord willing, he could visit the sick, and this being so, he concluded he ought to rest that afternoon. Here then were two sets of alternatives presented to our Christian brother: on the one side was a sense of duty plus his own sympathy, on the other side was a sense of his own need plus a real concern for God’s glory, for he felt that he ought to attend the preaching of the Gospel that night. The latter prevailed. Spiritual considerations outweighed his sense of duty. Having formed his decision the will acted accordingly and he retired to rest. An analysis of the above case shows that the mind or reasoning faculty was directed by spiritual considerations, and the mind regulated and controlled the will. Hence we say that, if the will is controlled, it is neither Sovereign nor free, but is the servant of the mind.
It is only as we see the real nature of freedom and mark that the will is subject to the motives brought to bear upon it that we are able to discern there is no conflict between two statements of Holy Writ which concern our blessed Lord. In Matthew 4:1 we read, “Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the Devil”; but in Mark 1:12, 13 we are told, “And immediately the Spirit drift Him into the wilderness. And He was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted of Satan.” It is utterly impossible to harmonise these two statements by the Armenian conception of the will. But really there is no difficulty. That Christ was “driven” implies it was by a forcible motive or powerful impulse, such as was not to be resisted or refused; that He was “led” denotes His freedom in going. Putting the two together we learn that He was driven, with a voluntary condescension thereto. So, there is the liberty of man’s will and the victorious efficacy of God’s grace united together: a sinner may be “drawn” and yet “come” to Christ-the “drawing” presenting to him the irresistible motive, the “coming” signifying the response of his will-as Christ was “driven” and “led” by the Spirit into the wilderness.
Human philosophy insists that it is the will which governs the man, but the Word of God teaches that it is the heart which is the dominating centre of our being. Many Scriptures might be quoted in substantiation of this. “Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life” (Prov. 4:23). “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders,” etc. (Mark 7:21). Here our Lord traces these sinful acts back to their source and declares that their fountain is the “heart” and not the will! Again: “This people draweth nigh unto Me with their mouth, but their heart is far from Me” (Matt. 15:8). If further proof were required we might call attention to the fact that the word “heart” is found in the Bible more than three times oftener than is the word “will,” even though nearly half of the references to the latter refer to God’s will!
When we affirm that it is the heart and not the will which governs the man, we are not merely striving about words, but insisting on a distinction that is of vital importance. Here is an individual before whom two alternatives are placed; which will he choose? We answer, the one which is most agreeable to himself, i.e., his “heart”-the innermost core of his being? Before the sinner is set a life of virtue and piety, and a life of sinful indulgence; which will he follow? The latter. Why? Because that is his choice. But does that prove the will is Sovereign? Not at all. Go back from effect to cause. Why does the sinner choose a life of sinful indulgence? Because he prefers it-and he does prefer it, all arguments to the contrary notwithstanding, though of course he does not enjoy the effects of such a course. And why does he prefer it? Because his heart is sinful. The same alternatives, in like manner, confront the Christian, and he chooses and strives after a life of piety and virtue. Why? Because God has given him a new heart or nature. Hence we say it is not the will which makes the sinner impervious to all appeals to “forsake his way,” but his corrupt and evil heart. He will not come to Christ because he does not want to, and he does not want to because his heart hates Him and loves sin: see Jeremiah 17:9!
In defining the will we have said above, that “the will is the faculty of choice, the immediate cause of all action.” We say the immediate cause, for the will is not “the primary cause of any action.” We say the immediate cause, for the will is not the primary cause of any action any more than the hand is. Just as the hand is controlled by the muscles and nerves of the arm, and the arm by the brain; so the will is the servant of the mind, and the mind, in turn, is affected by various influences and motives which are brought to bear upon it. But, it may be asked, Does not Scripture make its appeal to man’s will? Is it not written, “And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely” (Rev. 22:17)? And did not our Lord say, “ye will not come to Me that ye might have life” (John 5:40)? We answer; the appeal of Scripture is not always made to man’s “will”; other of his faculties are also addressed. For example: “He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.” “Hear and your soul shall live.” “Look unto Me and be ye saved.” “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.” “Come now and let us reason together,” “with the heart man believeth unto righteousness,” etc., etc.
2. The Bondage of the Human Will.
In any treatise that proposes to deal with the human will, its nature and functions, respect should be had to the will in three different men, namely, unfallen Adam, the sinner, and the Lord Jesus Christ. In unfallen Adam the will was free, free in both directions, free toward good and free toward evil. Adam was created in a state of innocency but not in a state of holiness, as is so often assumed and asserted. Adam’s will was therefore in a condition of moral equipoise: that is to say, in Adam there was no constraining bias in him toward good or evil, and as such Adam differed radically from all his descendants, as well as from “the Man Christ Jesus.” But with the sinner it is far otherwise. The sinner is born with a will that is not in a condition of moral equipoise, because in him there is a heart that is “deceitful above all things and desperately wicked,” and this gives him a bias toward evil. So, too, with the Lord Jesus it was far otherwise: He also differed radically from unfallen Adam. The Lord Jesus Christ could not sin because He was the “Holy One of God.” Before He was born into this world it was said to Mary, “The Holy Spirit shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that Holy Thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35). Speaking reverently then we say, that the will of the Son of Man was not in a condition of moral equipoise, that is, capable of turning toward either good or evil. The will of the Lord Jesus was biased toward that which is good because, side by side with His sinless, holy, perfect humanity, was His eternal Deity. Now in contradistinction from the will of the Lord Jesus which was biased toward good, and Adam’s will which, before his fall, was in a condition of moral equipoise-capable of turning toward either good or evil-the sinner’s will is biased toward evil, and therefore is free in one direction only, namely, in the direction of evil. The sinner’s will is enslaved because it is in bondage to and is the servant of a depraved heart.
In what does the sinner’s freedom consist? This question is naturally suggested by what we have just said above. The sinner is “free” in the sense of being unforced from without. God never forces the sinner to sin. But the sinner is not free to do either good or evil because an evil heart within is ever inclining him toward sin. Let us illustrate what we have in mind. I hold in my hand a book. I release it; what happens? It falls. In which direction? Downwards; always downwards. Why? Because, answering the law of gravity, its own weight sinks it. Suppose I desire that book to occupy a position three feet higher; then what? I must lift it; a power outside of that book must raise it. Such is the relationship which fallen man sustains toward God. Whilst Divine power up-holds him he is preserved from plunging still deeper into sin; let that power be withdrawn and he falls-his own weight (of sin) drags him down. God does not push him down anymore than I did that book. Let all Divine restraint be removed and every man is capable of becoming, would become, a Cain, a Pharaoh, a Judas. How then is the sinner to move heavenward? By an act of his own will? Not so. A power outside of himself must grasp hold of him and lift him every inch of the way. The sinner is free, but free in one direction only-free to fall, free to sin. As the Word expresses it: “For when ye were the servants of sin, ye were free from righteousness” (Rom. 6:20). The sinner is free to do as he pleases, always as he pleases (except as he is restrained by God), but his pleasure is to sin.
In the opening paragraph of this chapter we insisted that a proper conception of the nature and function of the will is of practical importance, nay, that it constitutes a fundamental test of theological orthodoxy or doctrinal soundness. We wish to amplify this statement and attempt to demonstrate its accuracy. The freedom or bondage of the will was the dividing line between Augustinianism and Pelagianism, and in more recent times between Calvinism and Arminianism. Reduced to simple terms this means that the difference involved was the affirmation or denial of the total depravity of man. In taking the affirmative we shall now consider,
3. The Impotency of the Human Will.
Does it lie within the province of man’s will to accept or reject the Lord Jesus Christ as Saviour? Granted that the Gospel is preached to the sinner, that the Holy Spirit convicts him of his lost condition, does it, in the final analysis, He within the power of his own will to resist or to yield himself up to God? The answer to this question defines our conception of human depravity. That man is a fallen creature all professing Christians will allow, but what many of them mean by “fallen” is often difficult to determine. The general impression seems to be that man is now mortal, that he is no longer in the condition in which he left the hands of his Creator, that he is liable to disease, that he inherits evil tendencies; but, that if he employs his powers to the best of his ability somehow he will be happy at last. O, how far short of the sad truth! Infirmities, sickness, even corporeal death, are but trifles in comparison with the moral and spiritual effects of the Fall! It is only by consulting the Holy Scriptures that we are able to obtain some conception of the extent of that terrible calamity.
When we say that man is totally depraved we mean that the entrance of sin into the human constitution has affected every part and faculty of man’s being. Total depravity means that man is, in spirit and soul and body, the slave of sin and the captive of the Devil-walking “according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience” (Eph. 2:2). This statement ought not to need arguing: it is a common fact of human experience. Man is unable to realise his own aspirations and materialize his own ideals. He cannot do the things that he would. There is a moral inability which paralyses him. This is proof positive that he is no free man, but instead, the slave of sin and Satan. “Ye are of your father the Devil, and the lusts (desires) of your father ye will do” (John 8:44). Sin is more than an act or a series of acts; it is a state or condition. It is that which lies behind and produces the acts. Sin has penetrated and permeated the whole of man’s make-up. It has blinded the understanding, corrupted the heart, and alienated the mind from God. And the will has not escaped. The will is under the dominion of sin and Satan. Therefore, the will is not free. In short, the affections love as they do and the will chooses as it does because of the state of the heart, and because the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked “There is none that seeketh after God” (Rom. 3:11).
We repeat our question: Does it lie within the power of the sinner’s will to yield himself up to God? Let us attempt an answer by asking several others: Can water (of itself) rise above its own level? Can a clean thing come out of an unclean? Can the will reverse the whole tendency and strain of human nature? Can that which is under the dominion of sin originate that which is pure and holy? Manifestly not. If ever the will of a fallen and depraved creature is to move Godward a Divine power must be brought to bear upon it which will overcome the influences of sin that pull in a counter direction. This is only another way of saying, “No man can come to Me, except the Father which hath sent Me, draw him (John 6:44). In other words, God’s people must be made willing in the day of His power (Psa. 110:3). As said Mr. Darby, “If Christ came to save that which is lost, free will has no place. Not that God prevents
His power (Psa. 110:3). As said Mr. Darby, “If Christ came to save that which is lost, free will has no place. Not that God prevents men from receiving Christ-far from it. But even when God uses all possible inducements, all that is capable of exerting influence in the heart of man, it only serves to show that man will have none of it, that so corrupt is his heart, and so decided his will not to submit to God (however much it may be the devil who encourages him to sin) that nothing can induce him to receive the Lord, and to give up sin. If by the words, ‘freedom of man,’ they mean that no one forces him to reject the Lord, this liberty fully exists. But if it is said that, on account of the dominion of sin, of which he is the slave, and that voluntarily, he cannot escape from his condition, and make choice of the good-even while acknowledging it to be good, and approving of it-then he has no liberty whatever (italics ours). He is not subject to the law, neither indeed can be; hence, they that are in the flesh cannot please God.”
The will is not Sovereign; it is a servant because influenced and controlled by the other faculties of man’s being. The sinner is not a free agent because he is a slave of sin-this was clearly implied in our Lord’s words, “If the Son shall therefore make you free, ye shall be free indeed” (John 8:36). Man is a rational being and as such responsible and accountable to God, but to affirm that he is a free moral agent is to deny that he is totally depraved-i.e., depraved in will as in everything else. Because man’s will is governed by his mind and heart, and because these have been vitiated and corrupted by sin, then it follows that if ever man is to turn or move in a Godward direction God Himself must work in him “both to will and to do of His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13). Man’s boasted freedom is in truth “the bondage of corruption”; he “serves divers lusts and pleasures.” Said a deeply taught servant of God, “Man is impotent as to his will. He has no will favour able to God. I believe in free will; but then it is a will only free to act according to nature (italics ours). A dove has no will to eat carrion; a raven no will to eat the clean food of the dove. Put the nature of the dove into the raven and it will eat the food of the dove. Satan could have no will for holiness. We speak it with reverence, God could have no will for evil. The sinner in his sinful nature could never have a will according to God. For this he must be born again” (J. Denham Smith). This is just what we have contended for throughout this chapter-the will is regulated by the nature.
Among the “decrees” of the Council of Trent (1563), which is the avowed standard of Popery, we find the following:
“If any one shall affirm, that man’s free-will, moved and excited by God, does not, by consenting, cooperate with God, the mover and exciter, so as to prepare and dispose itself for the attainment of justification; if moreover, anyone shall say that the human will cannot refuse complying, if it pleases; but that it is unactive, and merely passive; let such an one be accursed”!
“If any one shall affirm, that since the fall of Adam, man’s freewill is lost and extinguished; or, that it is a thing titular, yea a name, without a thing, and a fiction introduced by Satan into the Church; let such an one be accursed”!
Thus, those who today insist on the free-will of the natural man believe precisely what Rome teaches on the subject! That Roman Catholics and Arminians walk hand in hand may be seen from others of the decrees issued by the Council of Trent: “If any one shall affirm that a regenerate and justified man is bound to believe that he is certainly in the number of the elect (which 1 Thess. 1:4, 5 plainly teaches.–A.W.P.) let such an one be accursed”! “If any one shall affirm with positive and absolute certainty, that he shall surely have the gift of perseverance to the end (which John 10:28-30 assuredly guarantees, A. W. P.); let him be accursed”!
In order for any sinner to be saved three things were indispensable: God the Father had to purpose his salvation, God the Son had to purchase it, God the Spirit has to apply it. God does more than “propose” to us: were He only to “invite,” every last one of us would be lost. This is strikingly illustrated in the Old Testament. In Ezra 1:1-3 we read, “Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and put it also in writing saying, Thus saith Cyrus king of Persia, the LORD God of Heaven hath given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and He hath charged me to build Him an house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Who is there among you of all His people? his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem which is in Judah, and build the house of the LORD God of Israel.” Here was an “offer” made, made to a people in captivity, affording them opportunity to leave and return to Jerusalem-God’s dwelling-place. Did all Israel eagerly respond to this offer? No indeed. The vast majority were content to remain in the enemy’s land. Only an insignificant “remnant” availed themselves of this overture of mercy! And why did they? Hear the answer of Scripture: “Then rose up the chief of the fathers of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests, and the Levites, with all whose spirit God had stirred up, to go up to build the house of the LORD which is in Jerusalem” (Ezra 1:5)! In like manner, God “stirs up” the spirits of His elect when the effectual call comes to them, and not till then do they have any willingness to respond to the Divine proclamation.
The superficial work of many of the professional evangelists of the last fifty years is largely responsible for the erroneous views now current upon the bondage of the natural man, encouraged by the laziness of those in the pew in their failure to “prove all things” (1 Thess. 5:21). The average evangelical pulpit conveys the impression that it lies wholly in the power of the sinner whether or not he shall be saved. It is said that “God has done His part, now man must do his.” Alas, what can a lifeless man do, and man by nature is “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1)! If this were really believed there would be more dependence upon the Holy Spirit to come in with His miracle-working power and less confidence in our attempts to “win men for Christ.”
When addressing the unsaved, preachers often draw an analogy between God’s sending of the Gospel to the sinner, and a sick man in bed with some healing medicine on a table by his side: all he needs to do is reach forth his hand and take it. But in order for this illustration to be in any wise true to the picture which Scripture gives us of the fallen and depraved sinner, the sick man in bed must be described as one who is blind (Eph. 4:18) so that he cannot see the medicine, his hand paralysed (Rom. 5:6) so that he is unable to reach forth for it, and his heart not only devoid of all confidence in the medicine but filled with hatred against the physician himself (John 15:18). O what superficial views of man’s desperate plight are now entertained! Christ came here not to help those who were willing to help themselves, but to do for His people what they were incapable of doing for themselves: “To open the blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from the prison, and them that sit in darkness out of the prison house” (Isa. 42:7).
Now in conclusion let us anticipate and dispose of the usual and inevitable objection-Why preach the Gospel if man is powerless to respond? why did the sinner come to Christ if sin has so enslaved him that he has no power in himself to come? Reply: We do not preach the Gospel because we believe that men are free moral agents and therefore capable of receiving Christ, but we preach it because we are commanded to do so (Mark 16:15); and though to them that perish it is foolishness yet, “unto us which are saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:18). “The foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Cor. 1:25). The sinner is dead in trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1), and a dead man is utterly incapable of willing anything, hence it is that
“they that are in the flesh (the unregenerate) cannot please God” (Rom. 8:8).
To fleshly wisdom it appears the height of folly to preach the Gospel to those that are dead, and therefore beyond the reach of doing anything themselves. Yes, but God’s ways are different from ours. It pleases God “by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe” (1 Cor. 1:21). Man may deem it folly to prophesy to “dead bones” and to say unto them, “O ye dry bones, hear the Word of the Lord” (Ezek. 37:4). Ah! but then it is the Word of the Lord, and the words He speaks “they are spirit, and they are life” (John 6:63). Wise men standing by the grave of Lazarus might pronounce it an evidence of insanity when the Lord addressed a dead man with the words, “Lazarus, Come forth.” Ah! but He who thus spake was and is Himself the Resurrection and the Life, and at His word even the dead live! We go forth to preach the Gospel, then, not because we believe that sinners have within themselves the power to receive the Saviour it proclaims but because the Gospel itself is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth, and because we know that “as many as were ordained to eternal life” (Acts 13:48) shall believe (John 6:37; 10:16-note the “shall’s”!) in God’s appointed time, for it is written “Thy people shall be willing in the day of Thy power” (Psa. 110:3)!
What we have set forth in this chapter is not a product of “modern thought”; no indeed, it is at direct variance with it. It is those of the past few generations who have departed so far from the teachings of their scripturally-instructed fathers. In the thirty-nine Articles of the Church of England we read, “The condition of man after the fall of Adam is such, that he cannot turn and prepare himself by his own natural strength and good works to faith, and calling upon God: Wherefore we have no power to do good works, pleasant and acceptable to God, without the grace of God by Christ preventing us (being before-hand with us), that we may have a good will, and working with us, when we have that good will” (Article 10). In the Westminster Catechism of Faith (adopted by the Presbyterians) we read, “The sinfulness of that state whereinto man fell, consisteth in the guilt of Adam’s first sin, the wont of that righteousness wherein he was created, and the corruption of his nature, whereby he is utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite unto all that is spiritually good, and wholly inclined to all evil, and that continually” (Answer to question 25). So in the Baptists’ Philadelphian Confession of Faith, 1742, we read, “Man, by his fall into a state of sin, hath wholly lost all ability of will to any spiritual good accompanying salvation; so as a natural man, being altogether averse from good, and dead in sin, is not able by his own strength to convert himself, or to prepare himself thereunto” (Chapter 9).
Sovereignty and Human Responsibility
“So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God” (Rom. 14:12).
In our last chapter we considered at some length the much debated and difficult question of the human will. We have shown that the will of the natural man is neither Sovereign nor free but, instead, a servant and slave. We have argued that a right conception of the sinner’s will-its servitude-is essential to a just estimate of his depravity and ruin. The utter corruption and degradation of human nature is something which man hates to acknowledge, and which he will hotly and insistently deny until he is “taught of God.” Much, very much, of the unsound doctrine which we now hear on every hand is the direct and logical outcome of man’s repudiation of God’s expressed estimate of human depravity. Men are claiming that they are “increased with goods, and have need of nothing,” and know not that they are “wretched and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked” (Rev. 3:17). They prate about the ‘Ascent of Man,’ and deny his Fall. They put darkness for light and light for darkness. They boast of the ‘free moral agency’ of man when, in fact, he is in bondage to sin and enslaved by Satan-“taken captive by him at his will” (2 Tim. 2:26). But if the natural man is not a ‘free moral agent,’ does it also follow that he is not accountable?
‘Free moral agency’ is an expression of human invention and, as we have said before, to talk of the freedom of the natural man is flatly to repudiate his spiritual ruin. Nowhere does Scripture speak of the freedom or moral ability of the sinner, on the contrary, it insists on his moral and spiritual inability.
This is, admittedly, the most difficult branch of our subject. Those who have ever devoted much study to this theme have uniformly recognised that the harmonising of God’s Sovereignty with Man’s Responsibility is the gordian knot of theology.
The main difficulty encountered is to define the relationship between God’s Sovereignty and man’s responsibility. Many have summarily disposed of the difficulty by denying its existence. A certain class of theologians, in their anxiety to maintain man’s responsibility, have magnified it beyond all due proportions until God’s Sovereignty has been lost sight of, and in not a few instances flatly denied. Others have acknowledged that the Scriptures present both the Sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man but affirm that in our present finite condition and with our limited knowledge it is impossible to reconcile the two truths, though it is the bounden duty of the believer to receive both. The present writer believes that it has been too readily assumed that the Scriptures themselves do not reveal the several points which show the conciliation of God’s Sovereignty and man’s responsibility. While perhaps the Word of God does not clear up all the mystery (and this is said with reserve), it does throw much light upon the problem, and it seems to us more honouring to God and His Word to prayerfully search the Scriptures for the completer solution of the difficulty, and even though others have thus far searched in vain that ought only to drive us more and more to our knees. God has been pleased to reveal many things out of His Word during the last century which were hidden from earlier students. Who then dare affirm that there is not much to be learned yet respecting our inquiry!
As we have said above, our chief difficulty is to determine the meeting-point of God’s Sovereignty and man’s responsibility. To many it has seemed that for God to assert His Sovereignty, for Him to put forth His power and exert a direct influence upon man, for Him to do anything more than warn or invite, would be to interfere with man’s freedom, destroy his responsibility, and reduce him to a machine. It is sad indeed to find one like the late Dr. Pierson-whose writings are generally so scriptural and helpful-saying, “It is a tremendous thought that even God Himself cannot control my moral frame, or constrain my moral choice. He cannot prevent me defying and denying Him, and would not exercise His power in such directions if He could, and could not if He would” (“A Spiritual Clinique”). It is sadder still to discover that many other respected and loved brethren are giving expression to the same sentiments.
Sad, because directly at variance with the Holy Scriptures.
It is our desire to face honestly the difficulties involved, and to examine them carefully in what light God has been pleased to grant us. The chief difficulties might be expressed thus: first, How is it possible for God to so bring His power to bear upon men that they are prevented from doing what they desire to do, and impelled to do other things they do not desire to do, and yet to preserve their responsibility? Second, How can the sinner be held responsible for the doing of what he is unable to do? And how can he be justly condemned for not doing what he could not do? Third, How is it possible for God to decree that men shall commit certain sins, hold them responsible in the committal of them, and adjudge them guilty because they committed them? Fourth, How can the sinner be held responsible to receive Christ, and be damned for rejecting Him, when God had foreordained him to condemnation? We shall now deal with these several problems in the above order. May the Holy Spirit Himself be our Teacher so that in His light we may see light.
1. How is it possible for God to so bring His power to bear upon men that they are prevented rom doing what they desire to do, and impelled to do other things they do not desire to do, and yet to preserve their responsibility?
It would seem that if God put forth His power and exerted a direct influence upon men their freedom would be interfered with. It would appear that if God did anything more than warn and invite men their responsibility would be infringed upon. We are told that God must not coerce man, still less compel him, or otherwise he would be reduced to a machine. This sounds very plausible; it appears to be good philosophy and based upon sound reasoning; it has been almost universally accepted as an axiom in ethics; nevertheless, it is refuted by Scripture!
Let us turn first to Genesis 20:6: “And God said unto him in a dream, Yea, I know that thou didst this in the integrity of thy heart; for I also withheld thee from sinning against Me: therefore suffered I thee not to touch her.” It is argued, almost universally, that God must not interfere with man’s liberty, that he must not coerce or compel him, lest he be reduced to a machine. But the above Scripture proves, unmistakably proves, that it is not impossible for God to exert His power upon man without destroying his responsibility. Here is a case where God did exert His power, restrict man’s freedom, and prevent him from doing that which he otherwise would have done.
Ere turning from this Scripture let us note how it throws light upon the case of the first man. Would-be philosophers who sought to be wise above that which was written have argued that God could not have prevented Adam’s fall without reducing him to a mere automaton. They tell us, constantly, that God must not coerce or compel His creatures otherwise He would destroy their accountability. But the answer to all such philosophisings is, that Scripture records a number of instances where we are expressly told Goddid preventcertain of His creatures from sinning both against Himself and against His people, in view of which all men’s reasonings are utterly worthless. If God could “withhold” Abimelech from sinning against Him then why was He unable to do the same with Adam? Should someone ask, Then why did not God do so? we might return the question by asking, Why did not God “withhold” Satan from falling? or, Why did not God “withhold” the Kaiser from starting the War? The usual reply is, as we have said, G o d could not without interfering with man’s “freedom” and reducing him to a machine. But the case of Abimelech proves conclusively that such a reply is untenable and erroneous-we might add wicked and blasphemous, for who are we to limit the Most High! How dare any finite creature take it upon him to say what the Almighty can and cannot do? Should we be pressed further as to why God refused to exercise His power and prevent Adam’s fall, we should say, Because Adam’s fall better served His own wise and blessed purpose-among other things, it provided an opportunity to demonstrate that where sin had abounded grace could much more abound. But we might ask further: Why did God place in the garden the tree of the knowledge of good and evil when He foresaw that man would disobey His prohibition and eat of it; for mark, it was God and not Satan who made that tree. Should someone respond, Then is God the Author of Sin? We would have to ask, in turn, What is meant by “Author”? Plainly it was God’s will that sin should enter this world otherwise it would not have entered, for nothing happens save as God has eternally decreed. Moreover, there was more than a bare permission for God only permits that which He has purposed. But we leave now the origin of sin, insisting once more, however, that God could have “withheld” Adam from sinning without destroying his responsibility.
The case of Abimelech does not stand alone. Another illustration of the same principle is seen in the history of Balaam, already noticed in the last chapter, but concerning which a further word is in place. Balak the Moabite sent for this heathen prophet to “curse” Israel. A handsome reward was offered for his services, and a careful reading of Numbers 22-24 will show that Balaam was willing, yea, anxious, to accept Balak’s offer and thus sin against God and His people. But Divine power “withheld” him. Mark his own admission, “And Balaam said unto Balak, Lo, I am come unto thee: have I now any power at all to say anything? the word that God putteth in my mouth, that shall I speak” (Num. 22:38). Again, after Balak had remonstrated with Balaam, we read “He answered and said, Must I not take heed to speak that which the LORD hath put in my mouth?…Behold, I have received commandment to bless: and He hath blessed; and I cannot reverse it” (23:12, 20). Surely these verses show us God’s power, and Balaam’s powerlessness: man’s will frustrated and God’s will performed. But was Balaam’s “freedom” or responsibility destroyed? Certainly not, as we shall yet seek to show.
One more illustration: “And the fear of the LORD fell upon all the kingdoms of the lands that were round about Judah, so that they made no war against Jehoshaphat” (2 Chron. 17:10). The implication here is clear. Had not the “fear of the LORD” fallen upon these kingdoms they would have made war upon Judah. God’s restraining power alone prevented them. Had their own will been allowed to act “war” would have been the consequence. Thus we see, that Scripture teaches that God “withholds” nations as well as individuals, and that when it pleaseth Him to do so He interposes and prevents war. Compare further Genesis 35:5.
The question which now demands our consideration is, How is it possible for God to “withhold” men from sinning and yet not to interfere with their liberty and responsibility-a question which so many say is incapable of solution in our present finite condition. This question causes us to ask, In what does moral “freedom,” real moral freedom, consist? We answer, it is the being delivered from the bondage of sin. The more any soul is emancipated from the thralldom of sin the more does he enter into a state of freedom-“If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed” (John 8:36). In the above instances God “withheld” Abimelech, Balaam, and the heathen kingdoms from sinning, and therefore we affirm that He did not in any wise interfere with their real freedom. The nearer a soul approximates to sinlessness the nearer does he approach to God’s holiness. Scripture tells us that God “cannot lie,” and that He “cannot be tempted,” but is He any the less free because He cannot do that which is evil? Surely not. Then is it not evident that the more man is raised up to God, and the more he be “withheld” from sinning, the greater is his real freedom!
A pertinent example setting forth the meeting-place of God’s Sovereignty and man’s responsibility, as it relates to the question of moral freedom, is found in connection with the giving to us of the Holy Scriptures. In the communication of His Word God was pleased to employ human instruments, and in the using of them He did not reduce them to mere mechanical amanuenses: “Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the Scripture is of any private interpretation (Greek: of its own origination). For the prophecy came not at any time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:20, 21). Here we have man’s responsibility and God’s Sovereignty placed in juxtaposition. These holy men were “moved” (Greek: “borne along”) by the Holy Spirit, yet was not their moral responsibility disturbed nor their “freedom” impaired. God enlightened their minds, enkindled their hearts, revealed to them His truth, and socontrolledthem that error on their part was, by Him, made impossible, as they communicated His mind and will to men. But what was it that might have, would have, caused error, had not God controlled as He did the instruments which He employed? The answer is SIN, the sin which was in them. But as we have seen, the holding in check of sin, the preventing of the exercise of the carnal mind in these “holy men” was not a destroying of their “freedom,” rather was it the inducting of them into real freedom.
A final word should be added here concerning the nature of true liberty. There are three chief things concerning which men in general greatly err: misery and happiness, folly and wisdom, bondage and liberty. The world counts none miserable but the afflicted, and none happy but the prosperous, because they judge by the present ease of the flesh. Again; the world is pleased with a false show of wisdom (which is “foolishness” with God), neglecting that which makes wise unto salvation. As to liberty, men would be at their own disposal and live as they please. They suppose the only true liberty is to be at the command and under the control of none above themselves, and live according to their heart’s desire. But this is a thralldom and bondage of the worst kind. True liberty is not the power to live as we please, but to live as we ought! Hence, the only One Who has ever trod this earth since Adam’s fall that has enjoyed perfect freedom was the Man Christ Jesus, the Holy Servant of God, Whose meat it ever was to do the will of the Father.
We now turn to consider the question.
2. How can the sinner be held responsible for the doing of what he is unable to do? And how can he be justly condemned for not doing what he could not do?
As a creature the natural man is responsible to love, obey, and serve God; as a sinner he is responsible to repent and believe the Gospel. But at the outset we are confronted with the fact that natural man is unable to love and serve God, and that the sinner, of himself, cannot repent and believe. First, let us prove what we have just said. We begin by quoting and considering John 6:44, “No man can come to Me, except the Father which hath sent Me draw him.” The heart of the natural man (every man) is so “desperately wicked” that if he is left to himself he will never ‘come to Christ.’ This statement would not be questioned if the full force of the words “coming to Christ” were properly apprehended. We shall therefore digress a little at this point to define and consider what is implied and involved in the words “No man can come to Me”-cf. John 5:40, “Ye will not come to Me, that ye might have life.”
For the sinner to come to Christ that he might have life is for him to realise the awful danger of his situation; is for him to see that the sword of Divine justice is suspended over his head; is to awaken to the fact that there is but a step betwixt him and death, and that after death is the “judgment”; and in consequence of this discovery, is for him to be in real earnest to escape, and in such earnestness that he shall flee from the wrath to come, cry unto God for mercy, and agonize to enter in at the “strait gate.”
To come to Christ for life, is for the sinner to feel and acknowledge that he is utterly destitute of any claim upon God’s favour ; is to see himself as “without strength,” lost and undone; is to admit that he is deserving of nothing but eternal death, thus taking side with God against himself; it is for him to cast himself into the dust before God, and humbly sue for Divine mercy.
To come to Christ for life is for the sinner to abandon his own righteousness and be ready to be made the righteousness of God in Christ; it is to disown his own wisdom and be guided by His; it is to repudiate his own will and be ruled by His; it is to unreservedly receive the Lord Jesus as his Lord and Saviour, as his All in all.
Such, in part and in brief, is what is implied and involved in “coming to Christ.” But is the sinner willing to take such an attitude before God? No; for in the first place he does not realise the danger of his situation, and in consequence is not in real earnest after his escape; instead, men are for the most part at ease, and apart from the operations of the Holy Spirit whenever they are disturbed by the alarms of conscience or the dispensations of providence they flee to any other refuge but Christ. In the second place, they will not acknowledge that all their righteousnesses are as filthy rags but, like the Pharisee, will thank God they are not as the Publican. And in the third place, they are not ready to receive Christ as their Lord and Saviour for they are unwilling to part with their idols; they had rather hazard their soul’s eternal welfare than give them up. Hence we say that, left to himself, the natural man is so depraved at heart that he cannot come to Christ.
The words of our Lord quoted above by no means stand alone. Quite a number of Scriptures set forth the moral and spiritual inability of the natural man. In Joshua 24:19 we read, “And Joshua said unto the people, Ye cannot serve the Lord: for He is an holy God.” To the Pharisees Christ said, “Why do ye not understand My speech? even because ye cannot hear My word” (John 8:43). And again: “The carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God” (Rom. 8:7, 8).
But now the question returns, How can God hold the sinner responsible for failing to do what he is unable to do? This necessitates a careful definition of terms. Just what is meant by “unable” and “cannot”?
Now let it be clearly understood that when we speak of the sinner’s inability, we do not mean that if men desired to come to Christ they lack the necessary power to carry out their desire. No; the fact is that the sinner’s inability or absence of power is itself due to lack of willingness to come to Christ, and this lack of willingness is the fruit of a depraved heart. It is of first importance that we distinguish between natural inability and moral and spiritual inability. For example, we read, “But Ahijah could not see; for his eyes were set by reason of his age” (1 Kings 14:4); and again, “The men rowed hard to bring it to the land; but they could not: for the sea wrought, and was tempestuous against them” (Jonah 1:13). In both of these passages the words “could not” refer to natural inability. But when we read, “And when his brethren saw that their father loved him (Joseph) more than all his brethren, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably unto him” (Gen. 37:4), it is clearly moral inability that is in view. They did not lack the natural ability to “speak peaceably unto him” for they were not dumb. Why then was it that they “could not speak peaceably unto him”? The answer is given in the same verse: it was because “they hated him.” Again; in 2 Peter 2:14 we read of a certain class of wicked men “having eyes full of adultery, and that cannot cease from sin.” Here again it is moral inability that is in view. Why is it that these men “cannot cease from sin”? The answer is, Because their eyes were full of adultery. So of Romans 8:8-“They that are in the flesh cannot please God”: here is spiritual inability. Why is it that the natural man “cannot please God”? Because he is “alienated from the life of God” (Eph. 4:18). No man can choose that from which his heart is averse-“O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things?” (Matt. 12:34). “No man can come to Me, except the Father which hath sent Me draw him” (John 6:44). Here again it is moral and spiritual inability which is before us. Why is it the sinner cannot come to Christ unless he is “drawn”? The answer is, Because his wicked heart loves sin and hates Christ.
We trust we have made it clear that the Scriptures distinguish sharply between natural ability and moral and spiritual inability. Surely all can see the difference between the blindness of Bartimaeus, who was ardently desirous of receiving his sight, and the Pharisees, whose eyes were closed “lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted” (Matt. 13:15). But should it be said, “The natural man could come to Christ if he wished to do so,” we answer, Ah! but in that IF lies the hinge of the whole matter. The inability of the sinner consists of the want of moral power to wish and will so as to actually perform.
What we have contended for above is of first importance. Upon the distinction between the sinner’s natural Ability, and his moral and spiritual Inability rests his Responsibility. The depravity of the human heart does not destroy man’s accountability to God; so far from this being the case the very moral inability of the sinner only serves to increase his guilt. This is easily proven by a reference to the Scriptures cited above. We read that Joseph’s brethren “could not speak peaceably unto him,” and why? It was because they “hated” him. But was this moral inability of theirs any excuse? Surely not: in this very moral inability consisted the greatness of their sin. So of those concerning whom it is said, “They cannot cease from sin” (2 Peter 2:14), and why? Because “their eyes were full of adultery,” but that only made their case worse. It was a real fact that they could not cease from sin, yet this did not excuse them-it only made their sin the greater.
Should some sinner here object, I cannot help being born into this world with a depraved heart and therefore I am not responsible for my moral and spiritual inability which accrue from it, the reply would be, Responsibility and Culpability He in the indulgence of the depraved propensities, the free indulgence, for God does not force any to sin. Men might pity me but they certainly would not excuse me if I gave vent to a fiery temper and then sought to extenuate myself on the ground of having inherited that temper from my parents. Their own common sense is sufficient to guide their judgment in such a case as this. They would argue I was responsible to restrain my temper. Why then cavil against this same principle in the case supposed above? “Out of thine own mouth will I judge thee thou wicked servant” surely applies here! What would the reader say to a man who had robbed him and who later argued in defence, “I cannot help being a thief, that is my nature”? Surely the reply would be, Then the penitentiary is the proper place for that man. What then shall be said to the one who argues that he cannot help following the bent of his sinful heart? Surely, that the Lake of Fire is where such an one must go. Did ever a murderer plead that he hated his victim so much that he could not go near him without slaying him. Would not that only magnify the enormity of his crime! Then what of the one who loves sin so much that he is at “enmity against God”!
The fact of man’s responsibility is almost universally acknowledged. It is inherent in man’s moral nature. It is not only taught in Scripture but witnessed to by the natural conscience. The basis or ground of human responsibility is human ability. What is implied by this general term “ability” must now be defined. Perhaps a concrete example will be more easily grasped by the average reader than an abstract argument.
Suppose a man owed me $100 and could find plenty of money for his own pleasures but none for me, yet pleaded that he was unable to pay me. What would I say? I would say that the only ability that was lacking was an honest heart. But would it not be an unfair construction of my words if a friend of my dishonest debtor should say I had stated that an honest heart was that which constituted the ability to pay the debt? No; I would reply: the ability of my debtor lies in the power of his hand to write me a check, and this he has, but what is lacking is an honest principle. It is his power to write me a check which makes him responsible to do so, and the fact that he lacks an honest heart does not destroy his accountability.
Now, in like manner, the sinner while altogether lacking in moral and spiritual ability does, nevertheless, possess natural ability, and this it is which renders him accountable unto God. Men have the same natural faculties to love God with as they have to hate Him with, the same hearts to believe with as to disbelieve, and it is their failure to love and believe which constitutes their guilt. An idiot or an infant is not personally responsible to God, because lacking in natural ability. But the normal man who is endowed with rationality, who is gifted with a conscience. The terms of this example are suggested by an illustration used by the late Andrew Fuller, that is capable of distinguishing between right and wrong, who is able to weigh eternal issues IS a responsible being, and it is because he does possess these very faculties that he will yet have to “give an account of himself to God” (Rom. 14:12).
We say again that the above distinction between the natural ability and the moral and spiritual inability of the sinner is of prime importance. By nature he possesses natural ability but lacks moral and spiritual ability. The fact that he does not possess the latter does not destroy his responsibility, because his responsibility rests upon the fact that he does possess the former. Let me illustrate again. Here are two men guilty of theft: the first is an idiot, the second perfectly sane but the offspring of criminal parents. No just judge would sentence the former; but every right-minded judge would the latter. Even though the second of these thieves possessed a vitiated moral nature inherited from criminal parents that would not excuse him, providing he was a normal rational being. Here then is the ground of human accountability-the possession of rationality plus the gift of conscience. It is because the sinner is endowed with these natural faculties that he is a responsible creature; because he does not use his natural powers for God’s glory, constitutes his guilt.
How can it remain consistent with His mercy that God should require the debt of obedience from him that is not able to pay? In addition to what has been said above it should be pointed out that God has not lost His right, even though man has lost his power. The creature’s impotence does not cancel his obligation. A drunken servant is a servant still, and it is contrary to all sound reasoning to argue that his master loses his rights through his servant’s default. Moreover, it is of first importance that we should ever bear in mind that God contracted with us in Adam, who was our federal head and representative, and in him God gave us a power which we lost through our first parent’s fall; but though our power is gone, nevertheless, God may justly demand His due of obedience and of service.
We turn now to ponder,
3. How is it possible for God to decree that men should commit certain sins, hold them responsible in the committal of them, and adjudge them GUILTY because they committed them? Let us now consider the extreme case of Judas. We hold that it is clear from Scripture that God decreed from all eternity that Judas should betray the Lord Jesus. If anyone should challenge this statement we refer him to the prophecy of Zechariah through whom God declared that His Son should be sold for “thirty pieces of silver” (Zech. 11:12). As we have said in earlier pages, in prophecy God makes known what will be, and in making known what will be He is but revealing to us what He has ordained shall be. That Judas was the one through whom the prophecy of Zechariah was fulfilled needs not to be argued. But now the question we have to face is, Was Judas a responsible agent in fulfilling this decree of God? We reply that he was. Responsibility attaches mainly to the motive and intention of the one committing the act. This is recognised on every hand. Human law distinguishes between a blow inflicted by accident (without evil design) and a blow delivered with ‘malice aforethought.’ Apply then this same principle to the case of Judas. What was the design of his heart when he bargained with the priests? Manifestly he had no conscious desire to fulfil any decree of God, though unknown to himself he was actually doing so. On the contrary, his intention was evil only, and therefore, though God had decreed and directed his act, nevertheless his own evil intention rendered him justly guilty as he afterwards acknowledged himself-“I have betrayed innocent blood.” It was the same with the Crucifixion of Christ. Scripture plainly declares that He was “delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23), and that though “the kings of the earth stood up, and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord, and against His Christ” yet, notwithstanding it was but “for to do whatsoever Thy hand and Thy counsel determined before to be done” (Acts 4:26, 28); which verses teach very much more than a bare permission by God, declaring, as they do, that the Crucifixion and all its details had been decreed by God. Yet, nevertheless, it was by “wicked hands,” not merely “human hands” that our Lord was “crucified and slain” (Acts 2:23). “Wicked” because the intention of His crucifiers was only evil.
But it might be objected that if God decreed that Judas should betray Christ, and that the Jews and Gentiles should crucify Him they could not do otherwise, and therefore, they were not responsible for their intentions. The answer is, God had decreed that they should perform the acts they did, but in the actual perpetration of these deeds they were justly guilty because their own purposes in the doing of them was evil only. Let it be emphatically said that God does not produce the sinful dispositions of any of His creatures, though He does restrain and direct them to the accomplishing of His own purposes. Hence He is neither the Author nor the Approver of sin. This distinction was expressed thus by Augustine: “That men sin proceeds from themselves; that in sinning they perform this or that action, is from the power of God who divideth the darkness according to His pleasure.” Thus it is written, “A man’s heart deviseth his way: but the Lord directeth his steps” (Prov. 16:9). What we would here insist upon is, that God’s decrees are not the necessitating cause of the sins of men but the fore-determined and prescribed boundings and directings of men’s sinful acts. In connection with the betrayal of Christ God did not decree that He should be sold by one of His creatures and then take up a good man, instill an evil desire into his heart and thus force him to perform the terrible deed in order to execute His decree. No; not so do the Scriptures represent it. Instead, God decreed the act and selected the one who was to perform the act, but He did not make him evil in order that he should perform the deed; on the contrary, the betrayer was a “devil” at the time the Lord Jesus chose him as one of the twelve (John 6:70), and in the exercise and manifestation of his own deviltry God simply directed his actions, actions which were perfectly agreeable to his own vile heart, and performed with the most wicked intentions. Thus it was with the Crucifixion.
4. How can the sinner be held responsible to receive Christ, and be damned for rejecting Him, when God foreordained him to condemnation? Really, this question has been covered in what has been said under the other queries, but for the benefit of those who are exercised upon this point we give it a separate, though brief, examination. In considering the above difficulty the following points should be carefully weighed: in the first place, no sinner, while he is in this world, knows for certain, nor can he know, that he is a “vessel of wrath fitted to destruction.” This belongs to the hidden counsels of God to which he has not access. God’s secret will is no business of his; God’s revealed will (in the Word) is the standard of human responsibility. And God’s revealed will is plain. Each sinner is among those whom God now “commandeth to repent” (Acts 17:30). Each sinner who hears the Gospel is “commanded” to believe (1 John 3:23). And all who do truly repent and believe are saved. Therefore, is every sinner responsible to repent and believe.
In the second place, it is the duty of every sinner to search the Scriptures which “are able to make thee wise unto salvation” (2 Tim. 3:15). It is the sinner’s “duty” because the Son of God has commanded him to search the Scriptures (John 5:39). If he searches them with a heart that is seeking after God then does he put himself in the way where God is accustomed to meet with sinners. Upon this point the Puritan Manton has written very helpfully.
“I cannot say to every one that ploweth, infallibly, that he shall have a good crop; but this I can say to him, It is God’s use to bless the diligent and provident. I cannot say to every one that desireth posterity, Marry, and you shall have children; I cannot say infallibly to him that goeth forth to battle for his country’s good that he shall have victory and success; but I can say, as Joab (1 Chron. 19:13) ‘Be of good courage, and let us behave ourselves valiantly for our people and the cities of our God: and let the LORD do that which is good in His sight.’ I cannot say infallibly you shall have grace; but I can say to every one, Let him use the means, and leave the success of his labour and his own salvation to the will and good pleasure of God. I cannot say this infallibly, for there is no obligation upon God. And still this work is made the fruit of God’s will and mere arbitrary dispensation-‘Of His own will begat He us by the Word of Truth’ (James 1:18). Let us do what God hath commanded, and let God do what He will. And I need not say so; for the whole world in all their actings are and should be guided by this principle. Let us do our duty, and refer the success to God, Whose ordinary practice is to meet with the creature that seeketh after Him; yea, He is with us already; this earnest importunity in the use of means proceeding from the earnest impression of His grace. And therefore, since He is beforehand with us, and hath not showed any backwardness to our good, we have no reason to despair of His goodness and mercy, but rather to hope for the best” (Vol. XXI, page 312).
God has been pleased to give to men the Holy Scriptures which “testify” of the Saviour, and make known the way of salvation. Every sinner has the same natural faculties for the reading of the Bible as he has for the reading of the newspaper; and if he is illiterate or blind so that he is unable to read he has the same mouth with which to ask a friend to read the Bible to him, as he has to enquire concerning other matters. If, then, God has given to men His Word, and in that Word has made known the way of salvation, and if men are commanded to search those Scriptures which are able to make them wise unto salvation, and they refuse to do so, then it is plain that they are justly censureable, that their blood lies on their own heads, and that God can righteously cast them into the Lake of Fire.
In the third place, should it be objected, Admitting all you have said above, Is it not still a fact that each of the non-elect is unable to repent and believe? The reply is, Yes. Of every sinner it is a fact that, of himself, he cannot come to Christ. And from God’s side the “cannot” is absolute. But we are now dealing with the responsibility of the sinner (the sinner foreordained to condemnation, though he knows it not), and from the human side the inability of the sinner is a moral one, as previously pointed out. Moreover, it needs to be borne in mind that in addition to the moral inability of the sinner there is a voluntary inability, too. The sinner must be regarded not only as impotent to do good but as delighting in evil. From the human side, then, the “cannot” is a will not; it is a voluntary impotence. Man’s impotence lies in his obstinacy. Hence, is everyone left “without excuse,” and hence, is God “clear” when He judgeth (Psa. 51:4), and righteous in damning all who “love darkness rather than light.”
That God does require what is beyond our own power to render is clear from many Scriptures. God gave the Law to Israel at Sinai and demanded a full compliance with it, and solemnly pointed out what would be the consequences of their disobedience (see Deut. 28). But will any readers be so foolish as to affirm that Israel were capable of fully obeying the Law! If they do, we would refer them to Romans 8:3 where we are expressly told, “For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh.”
Come now to the New Testament. Take such passages as Matthew 5:48, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in Heaven is perfect.” 1 Corinthians 15:34. “Awake to righteousness, and sin not.” 1 John 2:1, “My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not.” Will any reader say he is capable in himself of complying with these demands of God? If so, it is useless for us to argue with him.
But now the question arises, Why has God demanded of man that which he is incapable of performing? The first answer is, Because God refuses to lower His standard to the level of our sinful infirmities. Being perfect, God must set a perfect standard before us. Still we must ask, If man is incapable of measuring up to God’s standard, wherein lies his responsibility? Difficult as it seems the problem is nevertheless capable of simple and satisfactory solution.
Man is responsible to (first) acknowledge before God his inability, and (second) to cry unto Him for enabling grace. Surely this will be admitted by every Christian reader. It is my bounden duty to own before God my ignorance, my weakness, my sinfulness, my impotence to comply with His holy and just requirements. It is also my bounden duty, as well as blessed privilege, to earnestly beseech God to give me the wisdom, strength, grace, which will enable me to do that which is pleasing in His sight; to ask Him to work in me “both to will and to do of His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13).
In like manner, the sinner, every sinner, is responsible to call upon the Lord. Of himself he can neither repent nor believe. He can neither come to Christ nor turn from his sins. God tells him so; and his first duty is to “set to his seal that God is true.” His second duty is to cry unto God for His enabling power; to ask God in mercy to overcome his enmity and “draw” him to Christ; to bestow upon him the gifts of repentance and faith. If he will do so, sincerely from the heart, then most surely God will respond to his appeal, for it is written, “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Rom. 10:13).
Suppose I had slipped on the icy pavement late at night, and had broken my hip. I am unable to arise; if I remain on the ground I must freeze to death. What, then, ought I to do? If I am determined to perish I shall He there silent; but I shall be to blame for such a course. If I am anxious to be rescued I shall lift up my voice and cry for help. So the sinner, though unable of himself to rise and take the first step toward Christ, is responsible to cry to God, and if he does (from the heart) there is a Deliverer to hand. God is “not far from every one of us” (Acts 17:27); yea, He is “a very present help in trouble” (Psa. 46:1). But if the sinner refuses to cry unto the Lord, if he is determined to perish, then his blood is on his own head, and his “damnation is just” (Rom. 3:8).
A brief word now concerning the extent of human responsibility.
It is obvious that the measure of human responsibility varies in different cases, and is greater or less with particular individuals. The standard of measurement was given in the Saviour’s words, “For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall much be required” (Luke 12:48). Surely God did not require as much from those living in Old Testament times as He does from those who have been born during the Christian dispensation. Surely God will not require as much from those who lived during the ‘dark ages,’ when the Scriptures were accessible to but a few, as He will from those of this generation when practically every family in the land owns a copy of His Word for themselves. In the same way, God will not demand from the heathen what He will from those in Christendom. The heathen will not perish because they have not believed in Christ, but because they failed to live up to the light which they did have-the testimony of God in nature and conscience.
To sum up. The fact of man’s responsibility rests upon his natural ability, is witnessed to by conscience, and is insisted on throughout the Scriptures. The ground of man’s responsibility is that he is a rational creature capable of weighing eternal issues, and that he possesses a written Revelation from God in which his relationship with and duty toward his Creator is plainly defined. The measure of responsibility varies in different individuals, being determined by the degree of light each has enjoyed from God. The problem of human responsibility receives at least a partial solution in the Holy Scriptures, and it is our solemn obligation as well as privilege to search them prayerfully and carefully for further light, looking to the Holy Spirit to guide us “into all truth.” It is written, “The meek will He guide in judgment: and the meek will He teach His way” (Psa. 25:9).
In conclusion it remains to point out that it is the responsibility of every man to use the means which God has placed to his hand. An attitude of fatalistic inertia, because I know that God has irrevocably decreed whatsoever comes to pass, is to make a sinful and hurtful use of what God has revealed for the comfort of my heart. The same God who has decreed that a certain end shall be accomplished has also decreed that that end shall be attained through and as the result of His own appointed means. God does not disdain the use of means, nor must I. For example: God has decreed that “while the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest… shall not cease” (Gen. 8:22); but that does not mean man’s ploughing of the ground and sowing of the seed are needless. No; God moves men to do those very things, blesses their labours, and so fulfils His own ordination. In like manner, God has, from the beginning, chosen a people unto salvation; but that does not mean there is no need for evangelists to preach the Gospel, or for sinners to believe it; it is by such means that His eternal counsels are effectuated.
To argue that because God has irrevocably determined the eternal destiny of every man, relieves us of all responsibility for any concern about our souls, or any diligent use of the means to salvation, would be on a par with refusing to perform my temporal duties because God has fixed my earthly lot. And that He has is clear from Acts 17:26; Job 7:1; 14:15, etc. If then the foreordination of God may consist with the respective activities of man in present concerns, why not in the future? What God has joined together we must not cut asunder. Whether we can or cannot see the link which unites the one to the other our duty is plain: “The secret things belong unto the LORD our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law” (Deut. 29:29).
In Acts 27:22 God made known that He had ordained the temporal preservation of all who accompanied Paul in the ship; yet the Apostle did not hesitate to say, “Except these abide in the ship, ye cannot be saved” (v. 31). God appointed that means for the execution of what He had decreed. From 2 Kings 20 we learn that God was absolutely resolved to add fifteen years to Hezekiah’s life, yet he must take a lump of figs and lay it on his boil! Paul knew that he was eternally secure in the hand of Christ (John 10:28), yet he “kept under his body” (1 Cor. 9:27). The Apostle John assured those to whom he wrote, “Y e shall abide in Him,” yet in the very next verse he exhorted them, “And now, little children, abide in Him” (1 John 2:27, 28). It is only by taking heed to this vital principle, that we are responsible to use the means of God’s appointing, that we shall be enabled to preserve the balance of Truth and be saved from a paralysing fatalism.
God’s Sovereignty and Prayer
“If we ask anything according to His will, He heareth us” (1 John 5:14).
Throughout this book it has been our chief aim to exalt the Creator and abase the creature. The well-nigh universal tendency now, is to magnify man and dishonour and degrade God. On every hand it will be found that, when spiritual things are under discussion, the human side and element is pressed and stressed, and the Divine side, if not altogether ignored, is relegated to the background. This holds true of very much of the modern teaching about prayer. In the great majority of the books written and in the sermons preached upon prayer the human element fills the scene almost entirely: it is the conditions which w e must meet, the promises we must “claim,” the things we must do in order to get our requests granted; and God’s claims, God’s rights, God’s glory are disregarded.
As a fair example of what is being given out today we subjoin a brief editorial which appeared recently in one of the leading religious weeklies entitled “Prayer, or Fate?”
“God in His Sovereignty has ordained that human destinies may be changed and moulded by the will of man. This is at the heart of the truth that prayer changes things, meaning that God changes things when men pray. Someone has strikingly expressed it this way: ‘There are certain things that will happen in a man’s life whether he prays or not. There are other things that will happen if he prays; and will not happen if he does not pray.’ A Christian worker was impressed by these sentences as he entered a business office and he prayed that the Lord would open the way to speak to some one about Christ, reflecting that things would be changed because he prayed. Then his mind turned to other things and the prayer was forgotten. The opportunity came to speak to the business man upon whom he was calling, but he did not grasp it, and was on his way out when he remembered his prayer of a half hour before, and God’s answer. He promptly returned and had a talk with the business man, who, though a church-member, had never in his life been asked whether he was saved. Let us give ourselves to prayer, and open the way for God to change things. Let us beware lest we become virtual fatalists by failing to exercise our God-given wills in praying.”
The above illustrates what is being taught on the subject of prayer, and the deplorable thing is that scarcely a voice is lifted in protest. To say that “human destinies may be changed and moulded by the will of man” is rank infidelity-that is the only proper term for it. Should any one challenge this classification, we would ask them whether they can find an infidel anywhere who would dissent from such a statement, and we are confident that such an one could not be found. To say that “God has ordained that human destinies may be changed and moulded by the will of man” is absolutely untrue. “Human destiny” is settled not by the will of man, but by the will of God. That which determines human destiny is whether or not a man has been born again, for it is written, “Except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” And as to whose will, whether God’s or man’s, is responsible for the new birth is settled, unequivocally, by John 1:13-“Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but OF GOD.” To say that “human destiny” may be changed by the will of man is to make the creature’s will supreme, and that is, virtually, to dethrone God. But what saith the Scriptures? Let the Book answer: “The LORD killeth, and maketh alive: He bringeth down to the grave, and bringeth up. The Lord maketh poor, and maketh rich: He bringeth low, and lifteth up. He raiseth up the poor out of the dust, and lifteth up the beggar from the dunghill, to set them among princes, and to make them inherit the throne of glory” (1 Sam. 2:6-8).
Turning back to the Editorial here under review, we are next told, “This is at the heart of the truth that prayer changes things, meaning that God changes things when men pray.” Almost everywhere we go today one comes across a motto-card bearing the inscription “Prayer Changes Things.” As to what these words are designed to signify is evident from the current literature on prayer- we are to persuade God to change His purpose. Concerning this we shall have more to say below.
Again, the Editor tells us, “Some one has strikingly expressed it this way: ‘There are certain things that will happen in a man’s life whether he prays or not. There are other things that will happen if he prays, and will not happen if he does not pray.'” That things happen whether a man prays or not is exemplified daily in the lives of the unregenerate, most of whom never pray at all. That ‘other things will happen if he prays’ is in need of qualification. If a believer prays in faith and asks for those things which are according to God’s will he will most certainly obtain that for which he has asked. Again, that other things will happen if he prays is also true in respect to the subjective benefits derived from prayer: God will become more real to him and His promises more precious. That other things ‘will not happen if he does not pray’ is true so far as his own life is concerned-a prayerless life means a life lived out of communion with God and all that is involved by this. But to affirm that God will not and cannot bring to pass His eternal purpose unless we pray is utterly erroneous, for the same God who has decreed the end has also decreed that His end shall be reached through His appointed means, and One of these is prayer. The God who has determined to grant a blessing also gives a spirit of supplication which first seeks the blessing.
The example cited in the above Editorial of the Christian worker and the business man is a very unhappy one to say the least, for according to the terms of the illustration the Christian worker’s prayer was not answered by God at all, inasmuch as, apparently, the way was not opened to speak to the business man about his soul. But on leaving the office and recalling his prayer the Christian worker (perhaps in the energy of the flesh) determined to answer the prayer for himself, and instead of leaving the Lord to “open the way” for him, took matters into his own hand.
We quote next from one of the latest books issued on Prayer. In it the author says, “The possibilities and necessity of prayer, its power and results, are manifested in arresting and changing the purposes of God and in relieving the stroke of His power.” Such an assertion as this is a horrible reflection upon the character of the Most High God, who “doeth according to His will in the army of Heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay His hand, or say unto Him, What doest Thou?” (Dan. 4: 35). There is no need whatever for God to change His designs or alter His purpose for the all-sufficient reason that these were framed under the influence of perfect goodness and unerring wisdom. Men may have occasion to alter their purposes, for in their short- sightedness they are frequently unable to anticipate what may arise after their plans are formed. But not so with God, for He knows the end from the beginning. To affirm God changes His purpose is either to impugn His goodness or to deny His eternal wisdom.
In the same book we are told, “The prayers of God’s saints are the capital stock in Heaven by which Christ carries on His great work upon earth. The great throes and mighty convulsions on earth are the results of these prayers. Earth is changed, revolutionised, angels move on more powerful, more rapid wing, and God’s policy is shaped as the prayers are more numerous, more efficient.” If possible, this is even worse, and we have no hesitation in denominating it as blasphemy. In the first place, it flatly denies Ephesians 3:11 which speaks of God’s having an “eternal purpose.” If God’s purpose is an eternal one then His “policy” is not being “shaped” today. In the second place, it contradicts Ephesians 1:11 which expressly declares that God “worketh all things after the counsel of His own will,” therefore it follows that, “God’s policy” is not being “shaped” by man’s prayers. In the third place, such a statement as the above makes the will of the creature supreme, for if our prayers shape God’s policy then is the Most High subordinate to worms of the earth. Well might the Holy Spirit ask through the Apostle, “For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been His counsellor?” (Rom. 11:34).
Such thoughts on prayer as we have been citing are due to low and inadequate conceptions of God Himself. It ought to be apparent that there could be little or no comfort in praying to a God that was like the chameleon, which changes its colour every day. What encouragement is there to lift up our hearts to One who is in one mind yesterday and another today? What would be the use of petitioning an earthly monarch if we knew he was so mutable as to grant a petition one day and deny it another? Is it not the very unchangeableness of God which is our greatest encouragement to pray? It is because He is “without variableness or shadow of turning” we are assured that if we ask anything according to His will we are most certain of being heard. Well did Luther remark, “Prayer is not overcoming God’s reluctance, but laying hold of His willingness.”
And this leads us to offer a few remarks concerning the design of prayer. Why has God appointed that we should pray? The vast majority of people would reply, In order that we may obtain from God the things which we need. While this is one of the purposes of prayer it is by no means the chief one. Moreover, it considers prayer only from the human side, and prayer sadly needs to be viewed from the Divine side. Let us look, then, at some of the reasons why God has bidden us to pray.
First and foremost, prayer has been appointed that the Lord God Himself should be honoured. God requires we should recognise that He is, indeed, “the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity” (Isa. 57:15). God requires that we shall own His universal dominion: in petitioning God for rain Elijah did but confess His control over the elements; in praying to God to deliver a poor sinner from the wrath to come we acknowledge that “salvation is of the LORD” (Jonah 2:9); in supplicating His blessing on the Gospel unto the uttermost parts of the earth we declare His rulership over the whole world.
Again; God requires that we shall worship Him, and prayer, real prayer, is an act of worship. Prayer is an act of worship inasmuch as it is the prostrating of the soul before Him; inasmuch as it is a calling upon His great and holy name; inasmuch as it is the owning of His goodness, His power, His immutability, His grace, and inasmuch as it is the recognition of His Sovereignty, owned by a submission to His will. It is highly significant to notice in this connection that the Temple wasn’t termed by Christ the House of Sacrifice, but instead, the House of Prayer.
Again; prayer redounds to God’s glory, for in prayer we do but acknowledge dependency upon Him. When we humbly supplicate the Divine Being we cast ourselves upon His power and mercy. In seeking blessings from God we own that He is the Author and Fountain of every good and perfect gift. That prayer brings glory to God is further seen from the fact that prayer calls faith into exercise, and nothing from us is so honouring and pleasing to Him as the confidence of our hearts. In the second place, prayer is appointed by God for our spiritual blessing, as a means for our growth in grace. When seeking to learn the design of prayer, this should ever occupy us before we regard prayer as a means for obtaining the supply of our need. Prayer is designed by God for our humbling. Prayer, real prayer, is a coming into the Presence of God, and a sense of His awful majesty produces a realisation of our nothingness and unworthiness. Again; prayer is designed by God for the exercise of our faith. Faith is begotten in the Word (Rom. 10:8), but it is exercised in prayer; hence, we read of “the prayer of faith.” Again; prayer calls love into action. Concerning the hypocrite the question is asked, “Will he delight himself in the Almighty? Will he always call upon God?” (Job 27:10). But they that love the Lord cannot be long away from Him, for they delight in unburdening themselves to Him. Not only does prayer call love into action but through the direct answers vouchsafed to our prayers our love to God is increased-“I love the LORD, because He hath heard my voice and my supplications” (Psa. 116:1). Again; prayer is designed by God to teach us the value of the blessings we have sought from Him, and it causes us to rejoice the more when He has bestowed upon us that for which we supplicate Him.
Third, prayer is appointed by God for our seeking from Him the things which we are in need of. But here a difficulty may present itself to those who have read carefully the previous chapters of this book. If God has foreordained, before the foundation of the world, everything which happens in time, what is the use of prayer? If it is true that “of Him and through Him and to Him are all things” (Rom. 11:30), then why pray? Ere replying directly to these queries it should be pointed out how that there is just as much reason to ask, What is the use of me coming to God and telling Him what He already knows? Wherein is the use of me spreading before Him my need, seeing He is already acquainted with it? as there is to object, What is the use of praying for anything when everything has been ordained beforehand by God? Prayer is not for the purpose of informing God, as if He were ignorant (the Saviour expressly declared “for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask Him”-Matt. 6:8), but it is to acknowledge He does know what we are in need of. Prayer is not appointed for the furnishing of God with the knowledge of what we need, but is designed as a confession to Him of our sense of need. In this, as in everything, God’s thoughts are not as ours. God requires that His gifts should be sought for. He designs to be honoured by our asking, just as He is to be thanked by us after He has bestowed His blessing.
However, the question still returns on us, If God be the Predestinator of everything that comes to pass, and the Regulator of all events, then is not prayer a profitless exercise? A sufficient answer to these questions is that God bids us to pray, “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17). And again, “men ought always to pray” (Luke 18:1). And further: Scripture declares that “the prayer of faith shall save the sick,” and “the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” (James 5:15, 16); while the Lord Jesus Christ, our perfect Example in all things, was preeminently a Man of Prayer. Thus, it is evident, that prayer is neither meaningless nor valueless. But still this does not remove the difficulty nor answer the question with which we started out. What then is the relationship between God’s Sovereignty and Christian prayer?
First of all, we would say with emphasis, that prayer is not intended to change God’s purpose, nor is it to move Him to form fresh purposes. God has decreed that certain events shall come to pass through the means He has appointed for their accomplishment. God has elected certain ones to be saved, but He has also decreed that these shall be saved through the preaching the Gospel. The Gospel, then, is one of the appointed means for the working out of the eternal counsel of the Lord; and prayer is another. God has decreed the means as well as the end, and among the means is prayer. Even the prayers of His people are included in His eternal decrees. Therefore, instead of prayers being in vain they are among the means through which God exercises His decrees. “If indeed all things happen by a blind chance, or a fatal necessity prayers in that case could be of no moral efficacy, and of no use; but since they are regulated by the direction of Divine wisdom, prayers have a place in the order of events” (Haldane).
That prayers for the execution of the very things decreed by God are not meaningless is clearly taught in the Scriptures. Elijah knew that God was about to give rain, but that did not prevent him from at once betaking himself to prayer (James 5:17, 18). Daniel “understood” by the writings of the prophets that the captivity was to last but seventy years, yet when these seventy years were almost ended we are told that he set his face “unto the Lord God, to seek by prayer and supplications, with fasting, and sackcloth, and ashes” (Dan. 9:2, 3). God told the prophet Jeremiah “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end”; but instead of adding, there is, therefore, no need for you to supplicate Me for these things, He said, “Then shall ye call upon Me, and ye shall go and pray unto Me, and I will hearken unto you” (Jer. 29:11, 12).
Here then is the design of prayer: not that God’s will may be altered, but that it may be accomplished in His own good time and way. It is because God has promised certain things that we can ask for them with the full assurance of faith. It is God’s purpose that His will shall be brought about by His own appointed means, and that He may do His people good upon His own terms, and that is, by the ‘means’ and ‘terms’ of entreaty and supplication. Did not the Son of God know for certain that after His death and resurrection He would be exalted by the Father. Assuredly He did. Yet we find Him asking for this very thing: “O Father, glorify Thou Me with Thine Own Self with the glory which I had with Thee before the world was” (John 17:5)! Did not He know that none of His people could perish? yet He besought the Father to “keep” them (John 17:11)!
Finally, it should be said that God’s will is immutable, and cannot be altered by our cryings. When the mind of God is not toward a people to do them good, it cannot be turned to them by the most fervent and importunate prayer of those who have the greatest interest in Him: “Then said the LORD unto me, Though Moses and Samuel stood before Me, yet My mind could not be toward this people: cast them out of My sight, and let them go forth” (Jer. 15:1). The prayers of Moses to enter the promised land is a parallel case.
Our views respecting prayer need to be revised and brought into harmony with the teaching of Scripture on the subject. The prevailing idea seems to be that I come to God and ask Him for something that I want, and that I expect Him to give me that which I have asked. But this is a most dishonouring and degrading conception. The popular belief reduces God to a servant, our servant: doing our bidding, performing our pleasure, granting our desires. No; prayer is a coming to God, telling Him my need, committing my way unto the Lord, and leaving Him to deal with it as seemeth Him best. This makes my will subject to His, instead of, as in the former case, seeking to bring His will into subjection to mine. No prayer is pleasing to God unless the spirit actuating it is “not my will, but Thine be done.” “When God bestows blessings on a praying people, it is not for the sake of their prayers, as if He was inclined and turned by them; but it is for His own sake, and of His own Sovereign will and pleasure. Should it be said, to what purpose then is prayer? it is answered, This is the way and means God has appointed for the communication of the blessing of His goodness to His people. For though He has purposed, provided, and promised them, yet He will be sought unto, to give them, and it is a duty and privilege to ask. When they are blessed with a spirit of prayer it forebodes well, and looks as if God intended to bestow the good things asked, which should be asked always with submission to the will of God, saying, Not my will but Thine be done” (John Gill).
The distinction just noted above is of great practical importance for our peace of heart. Perhaps the one thing that exercises the distinction just noted above is of great practical importance for our peace of heart. Perhaps the one thing that exercises Christians as much as anything else is that of unanswered prayers. They have asked God for something: so far as they are able to judge they have asked in faith believing they would receive that for which they had supplicated the Lord: and they have asked earnestly and repeatedly, but the answer has not come. The result is that, in many cases, faith in the efficacy of prayer becomes weakened, until hope gives way to despair and the closet is altogether neglected. Is it not so?
Now will it surprise our readers when we say that every real prayer of faith that has ever been offered to God has been answered? Yet we unhesitatingly affirm it. But in saying this we must refer back to our definition of prayer. Let us repeat it. Prayer is a coming to God, telling Him my need (or the need of others), committing my way unto the Lord, and then leaving Him to deal with the case as seemeth Him best. This leaves God to answer the prayer in whatever way He sees fit, and often, His answer may be the very opposite of what would be most acceptable to the flesh; yet, if we have really LEFT our need in His hands it will be His answer, nevertheless. Let us look at two examples.
In John 11 we read of the sickness of Lazarus. The Lord “loved” him, but He was absent from Bethany. The sisters sent a messenger unto the Lord acquainting Him of their brother’s condition. And note particularly how their appeal was worded-“Lord, behold, he whom Thou lovest is sick.” That was all. They did not ask Him to heal Lazarus. They did not request Him to hasten at once to Bethany. They simply spread their need before Him, committed the case into His hands, and left Him to act as He deemed best! And what was our Lord’s reply? Did He respond to their appeal and answer their mute request? Certainly He did, though not, perhaps, in the way they had hoped. He answered by abiding “two days still in the same place where He was” (John 11:6), and allowing Lazarus to die! But in this instance that was not all. Later, He journeyed to Bethany and raised Lazarus from the dead. Our purpose in referring here to this case is to illustrate the proper attitude for the believer to take before God in the hour of need. The next example will emphasise rather, God’s method of responding to His needy child.
Turn to 2 Corinthians 12. The Apostle Paul had been accorded an unheard-of privilege. He had been transported into Paradise. His ears had listened to and his eyes had gazed upon that which no other mortal had heard or seen this side of death. The wondrous revelation was more than the Apostle could endure. He was in danger of becoming “puffed up” by his extraordinary experience. Therefore, a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan, was sent to buffet him lest he be exalted above measure. And the Apostle spreads his need before the Lord; he thrice beseeches Him that this thorn in the flesh should be removed. Was his prayer answered? Assuredly, though not in the manner he had desired. The “thorn” was not removed but grace was given to bear it. The burden was not lifted but strength was vouchsafed to carry it.
Does someone object that it is our privilege to do more than spread our need before God? Are we reminded that God has, as it were, given us a blank check and invited us to fill it in? Is it said that the promises of God are all-inclusive, and that we may ask God for what we will? If so, we must call attention to the fact that it is necessary to compare Scripture with Scripture if we are to learn the full mind of God on any subject, and that as this is done we discover God has qualified the promises given to praying souls by saying “If ye ask anything according to His will He heareth us” (1 John 5:14). Real prayer is communion with God so that there will be common thoughts between His mind and ours. What is needed is for Him to fill our hearts with His thoughts and then His desires will become our desires flowing back to Him. Here then is the meeting-place between God’s Sovereignty and Christian prayer: If we ask anything according to His will He heareth us, and if we do not so ask He does not hear us; as saith the Apostle James, “Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts” or desires (4:3).
But did not the Lord Jesus tell His disciples, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in My name, He will give it you” (John 16:23)? He did; but this promise does not give praying souls carte blanche. These words of our Lord are in perfect accord with those of the Apostle John: “If ye ask anything according to His will He heareth us.” What is it to ask “in the name of Christ”? Surely it is very much more than a prayer formula, the mere concluding of our supplications with the words “in the name of Christ.” To apply to God for anything in the name of Christ, it must needs be in keeping with what Christ is! To ask God in the name of Christ is as though Christ Himself were the suppliant. We can only ask God for what Christ would ask. To ask in the name of Christ is therefore to set aside our own wills, accepting God’s!
Let us now amplify our definition of prayer. What is prayer? Prayer is not so much an act as it is an attitude-an attitude of dependency, dependency upon God. Prayer is a confession of creature weakness, yea, of helplessness. Prayer is the acknowledgment of our need and the spreading of it before God. We do not say that this is all there is in prayer, it is not: but it is the essential, the primary element in prayer. We freely admit that we are quite unable to give a complete definition of prayer within the compass of a brief sentence, or in any number of words. Prayer is both an attitude and an act, an human act, and yet there is the Divine element in it too, and it is this which makes an exhaustive analysis impossible as well as impious to attempt. But admitting this, we do insist again that prayer is fundamentally an attitude of dependency upon God. Therefore, prayer is the very opposite of dictating to God. Because prayer is an attitude of dependency, the one who really prays is submissive, submissive to the Divine will; and submission to the Divine will means that we are content for the Lord to supply our need according to the dictates of His own Sovereign pleasure. And hence it is that we say every prayer that is offered to God in this spirit is sure of meeting with an answer or response from Him.
Here then is the reply to our opening question, and the scriptural solution to the seeming difficulty. Prayer is not the requesting of God to alter His purpose or for Him to form a new one. Prayer is the taking of an attitude of dependency upon God, the spreading of our need before Him, the asking for those things which are in accordance with His will, and therefore there is nothing whatever inconsistent between Divine Sovereignty and Christian prayer.
In closing this chapter we would utter a word of caution to safeguard the reader against drawing a false conclusion from what has been said. We have not here sought to epitomise the whole teaching of Scripture on the subject of prayer, nor have we even attempted to discuss in general the problem of prayer; instead, we have confined ourselves, more or less, to a consideration of the relationship between God’s Sovereignty and Christian prayer. What we have written is intended chiefly as a protest against much of the modern teaching, which so stresses the human element in prayer that the Divine side is almost entirely lost sight of.
In Jeremiah 10:23 we are told “It is not in man that walketh to direct his steps” (cf. Prov. 16:9); and yet in many of his prayers man impulse presumes to direct the Lord as to His way, and as to what He ought to do: even implying that if only he had the direction of the affairs of the world and of the church he would soon have things very different from what they are. This cannot be denied: for anyone with any spiritual discernment at all could not fail to detect this spirit in many of our modern prayer-meetings where the flesh holds sway. How slow we all are to learn the lesson that the haughty creature needs to be brought down to his knees and humbled into the dust. And this is where the very act of prayer is intended to put us. But man (in his usual perversity) turns the footstool into a throne from whence he would fain direct the Almighty as to what He ought to do! giving the onlooker the impression that if God had half the compassion that those who pray (?) have, all would quickly be right! Such is the arrogance of the old nature even in a child of God.
Our main purpose in this chapter has been to emphasise the need for submitting, in prayer, our wills to God’s. But it must also be added that prayer is much more than a pious exercise, and far otherwise than a mechanical performance. Prayer is, indeed, a Divinely appointed means whereby we may obtain from God the things we ask, providing we ask for those things which are in accord with His will. These pages will have been penned in vain unless they lead both writer and reader to cry with a deeper earnestness than heretofore, “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1).
Our Attitude Toward His Sovereignty
“Even so, Father: for so it seemed good in Thy sight” (Matt. 11:26).
In the present chapter we shall consider, somewhat briefly, the practical application to ourselves of the great truth which we have pondered in its various ramifications in earlier pages. In chapter twelve we shall deal more in detail with the value of this doctrine but here we would confine ourselves to a definition of what ought to be our attitude toward the Sovereignty of God.
Every truth that is revealed to us in God’s Word is there not only for our information but also for our inspiration. The Bible has been given to us not to gratify an idle curiosity but to edify the souls of its readers. The Sovereignty of God is something more than an abstract principle which explains the rationale of the Divine government: it is designed as a motive for godly fear, it is made known to us for the promotion of righteous living, it is revealed in order to bring into subjection our rebellious hearts. A true recognition of God’s Sovereignty humbles as nothing else does or can humble, and brings the heart into lowly submission before God, causing us to relinquish our own self-will and making us delight in the perception and performance of the Divine will.
When we speak of the Sovereignty of God we mean very much more than the exercise of God’s governmental power, though, of course, that is included in the expression. As we have remarked in an earlier chapter, the Sovereignty of God means the Godhood of God. In its fullest and deepest meaning the title of this book signifies the Character and Being of the One whose pleasure is performed and whose will is executed. To truly recognise the Sovereignty of God is, therefore, to gaze upon the Sovereign Himself. It is to come into the presence of the august “Majesty on high.” It is to have a sight of the thrice holy God in His excellent glory. The effects of such a sight may be learned from those Scriptures which describe the experience of different ones who obtained a view of the Lord God.
Mark the experience of Job-the one of whom the Lord Himself said “There is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil” (Job 1:8). At the close of the book which bears his name we are shown Job in the Divine presence, and how does he carry himself when brought face to face with Jehovah? Hear what he says: “I have heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear; but now mine eye seeth Thee: Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:5, 6). Thus, a sight of God, God revealed in awesome majesty, caused Job to abhor himself, and not only so, but to abase himself before the Almighty.
Take note of Isaiah. In the sixth chapter of his prophecy a scene is brought before us which has few equals even in Scripture. The prophet beholds the Lord upon the Throne, a Throne “high and lifted up.” Above this Throne stood the seraphims with veiled faces, crying, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts.” What is the effect of this sight upon the prophet? We read “Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips:… for mine eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts” (Isa. 6:5). A sight of the Divine King humbled Isaiah into the dust, bringing him, as it did, to a realisation of his own nothingness.
One more. Look at the prophet Daniel. Toward the close of his life this man of God beheld the Lord in theophanic manifestation. He appeared to His servant in human form “clothed in linen” and with loins “girded with fine gold,” symbolic of holiness and Divine glory. We read that “His body also was like the beryl, and His face as the appearance of lightning, and His eyes as lamps of fire, and His arms and His feet like in colour to polished brass, and the voice of His words like the voice of a multitude.” Daniel then tells the effect this vision had upon him and those who were with him: “And I Daniel alone saw the vision: for the men that were with me saw not the vision; but a great quaking fell upon them, so that they fled to hide themselves. Therefore I was left alone, and saw this great vision, and there remained no strength in me: for my comeliness was turned in me into corruption, and I retained no strength. Yet heard I the voice of His words: and when I heard the voice of His words, then was I in a deep sleep on my face, and my face toward the ground” (Dan. 10:6-9). Once more, then, we are shown that to obtain a sight of the Sovereign God is for creature strength to wither up, and results in man being humbled into the dust before his Maker. What then ought to be our attitude toward the Supreme Sovereign? We reply,
1. One of Godly Fear.
Why is it that, today, the masses are so utterly unconcerned about spiritual and eternal things, and that they are lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God? Why is it that even on the battlefields multitudes were so indifferent to their soul’s welfare? Why is it that defiance of Heaven is becoming more open, more blatant, more daring? The answer is, Because “There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Rom. 3:18). Again; why is it that the authority of the Scriptures has been lowered so sadly of late? Why is it that even among those who profess to be the Lord’s people there is so little real subjection to His Word, and that its precepts are so lightly esteemed and so readily set aside? Ah! what needs to be stressed today is that God is a God to be feared. “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge” (Prov. 1:7). Happy the soul that has been awed by a view of God’s majesty, that has had a vision of God’s awful greatness, His ineffable holiness, His perfect righteousness, His irresistible power, His Sovereign grace. Does someone say, “But it is only the unsaved, those outside of Christ, who need to fear God”? Then the sufficient answer is that the saved, those who are in Christ, are admonished to work out their own salvation with “fear and trembling.” Time was when it was the general custom to speak of a believer as a “God-fearing man”-that such an appellation has become nearly extinct only serves to show whither we have drifted. Nevertheless, it still stands written “Like as a father pitieth his children, so the LORD pitieth them that fear Him” (Psa. 103:13)!
When we speak of godly fear, of course, we do not mean a servile fear, such as prevails among the heathen in connection with their gods. No; we mean that spirit which Jehovah is pledged to bless, that spirit to which the prophet referred when he said “To this man will I (the Lord) look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at My Word” (Isa. 66:2). It was this the Apostle had in view when he wrote, “honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. honour the king” (1 Peter 2:17). And nothing will foster this godly fear like a recognition of the Sovereign Majesty of God.
What ought to be our attitude toward the Sovereignty of God? We answer again,
2. One of Implicit Obedience.
A sight of God leads to a realisation of our littleness and nothingness and issues in a sense of dependency and of casting ourselves upon God. Or, again; a view of the Divine Majesty promotes the spirit of godly fear and this, in turn, begets an obedient walk. Here then is the Divine antidote for the native evil of our hearts. Naturally, man is filled with a sense of his own importance, with his greatness and self-sufficiency; in a word, with pride and rebellion. But, as we remarked, the great corrective is to behold the Mighty God, for this alone will really humble him. Man will glory either in himself or in God. Man will live either to serve and please himself, or he will seek to serve and please the Lord. None can serve two masters.
Irreverence begets disobedience. Said the haughty monarch of Egypt “Who is the LORD that I should obey His voice to let Israel go? I know not the LORD; neither will I let Israel go” (Exo. 5:2). To Pharaoh, the God of the Hebrews was merely a god, one among many, a powerless entity who needed not to be feared or served. How sadly mistaken he was, and how bitterly he had to pay for his mistake he soon discovered; but what we are here seeking to emphasise is that Pharaoh’s defiant spirit was the fruit of irreverence, and this irreverence was the consequence of his ignorance of the majesty and authority of the Divine Being.
Now if irreverence begets disobedience, true reverence will produce and promote obedience. To realise that the Holy Scriptures are a revelation from the Most High, communicating to us His mind and defining for us His will, is the first step toward practical godliness. To recognise that the Bible is God’s Word, and that its precepts are the precepts of the Almighty, will lead us to see what an awful thing it is to despise and ignore them. To receive the Bible as addressed to our own souls, given to us by the Creator Himself, will cause us to cry with the Psalmist, “Incline my heart unto Thy testimonies…Order my steps in Thy Word” (Psa. 119: 36, 133). Once the Sovereignty of the Author of the Word is apprehended it will not longer be a matter of picking and choosing from the precepts and statutes of that Word, selecting those which meet with our approval; but it will be seen that nothing less than an unqualified and whole-hearted submission becomes the creature.
What ought to be our attitude toward the Sovereignty of God?
3. One of Entire Resignation.
A true recognition of God’s Sovereignty will exclude all murmuring. This is self-evident, yet the thought deserves to be dwelt upon. It is natural to murmur against afflictions and losses. It is natural to complain when we are deprived of those thing upon which we had set our hearts. We are apt to regard our possessions as ours unconditionally. We feel that when we have prosecuted our plans with prudence and diligence that we are entitled to success; that when by dint of hard work we have accumulated a ‘competence’ we deserve to keep and enjoy it; that when we are surrounded by a happy family no power may lawfully enter the charmed circle and strike down a loved one; and if in any of these cases disappointment, bankruptcy, death, actually comes, the perverted instinct of the human heart is to cry out against God. But in the one who, by grace, has recognised God’s Sovereignty, such murmuring is silenced, and instead, there is a bowing to the Divine will and an acknowledgment that He has not afflicted us as sorely as we deserve.
A true recognition of God’s Sovereignty will avow God’s perfect right to do with us as He wills. The one who bows to the pleasure of the Almighty will acknowledge His absolute right to do with us as seemeth Him good. If He chooses to send poverty, sickness, domestic bereavements, even while the heart is bleeding at every pore, it will say, Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right! Often there will be a struggle, for the carnal mind remains in the believer to the end of his earthly pilgrimage. But though there may be a conflict within his breast, nevertheless, to the one who has really yielded himself to this blessed truth there will presently be heard that Voice saying, as of old it said to the turbulent Gennesareth, “Peace be still”; and the tempestuous flood within will be quieted and the subdued soul will lift a tearful but confident eye to Heaven and say, “Thy will be done.”
A striking illustration of a soul bowing to the Sovereign will of God is furnished by the history of Eli the high priest of Israel. In 1 Samuel 3 we learn how God revealed to the young child Samuel that He was about to slay Eli’s two sons for their wickedness, and on the morrow Samuel communicates this message to the aged priest. It is difficult to conceive of more appalling intelligence for the heart of a pious parent. The announcement that his child is going to be stricken down by sudden death is, under any circumstances, a great trial to any father, but to learn that his two sons-in the prime of their manhood, and utterly unprepared to die-were to be cut off by a Divine judgment must have been overwhelming. Yet, what was the effect upon Eli when he learned from Samuel the tragic tidings? What reply did he make when he heard the awful news? “And he said, It is the LORD: let Him do what seemeth Him good” (1 Sam. 3:18). And not another word escaped him. Wonderful submission! Sublime resignation! Lovely exemplification of the power of Divine grace to control the strongest affections of the human heart and subdue the rebellious will, bringing it into unrepining acquiescence to the Sovereign pleasure of Jehovah.
Another example, equally striking, is seen in the life of Job. As is well known, Job was one that feared God and eschewed evil. If ever there was one who might reasonably expect Divine providence to smile upon him-we speak as a man-it was Job. Yet, how fared it with him? For a time the lines fell unto him in pleasant places. The Lord filled his quiver by giving him seven sons and three daughters. He prospered him in his temporal affairs until he owned great possessions. But of a sudden the sun of life was hidden behind dark clouds. In a single day Job lost not only his flocks and herds but his sons and daughters as well. News arrived that his cattle had been carried off by robbers, and his children slain by a cyclone. And how did he receive this intelligence? Hearken to his sublime words: “The LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away.” He bowed to the Sovereign will of Jehovah. He traced his afflictions back to their First Cause. He looked behind the Sabeans who had stolen his cattle, and beyond the winds that had destroyed his children, and saw the hand of God. But not only did Job recognise God’s Sovereignty, he rejoiced in it, too. To the words, “The LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away,” he added, “blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21). Again we say, Sweet submission! Sublime resignation!
A true recognition of God’s Sovereignty causes us to hold our every plan in abeyance to God’s will. The writer well recalls an incident which occurred in England over twenty years ago. Queen Victoria was dead, and the date for the coronation of her eldest son, Edward, had been set for April 1902. In all the announcements which were sent out, two little letters were omitted, D. V. Deo Volente: God willing. Plans were made and all arrangements completed for the most imposing celebrations that England had ever witnessed. Kings and emperors from all parts of the earth had received invitations to attend the royal ceremony. The Prince’s proclamations were printed and displayed, but, so far as the writer is aware, the letters D. V. were not found on a single one of them. A most imposing program had been arranged, and the late Queen’s eldest son was to be crowned Edward the Seventh at Westminster Abbey at a certain hour on a fixed day. And then God intervened and all man’s plans were frustrated. A still small voice was heard to say, “You have reckoned without Me,” and Prince Edward was stricken down with appendicitis, and his coronation postponed for months!
As remarked, a true recognition of God’s Sovereignty causes us to hold our plan in abeyance to God’s will. It makes us recognise that the Divine Potter has absolute power over the clay and moulds it according to his own imperial pleasure. It causes us to heed that admonition-now, alas! so generally disregarded, “Go to now, ye that say, Today or tomorrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain: Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away. For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that” (James 4:13-15). Yes, it is to the Lord’s will we must bow. It is for Him to say where I shall live, whether in America or Africa. It is for Him to determine under what circumstances I shall live, whether amid wealth or poverty, whether in health or sickness. It is for Him to say how long I shall live, whether I shall be cut down in youth like the flower of the field, or whether I shall continue for three score and ten years. To really learn this lesson is, by grace, to attain unto a high form in the school of God, and even when we think we have learned it we discover, again and again, that we have to relearn it.
What ought to be our attitude toward the Sovereignty of God?
4. One of Deep Thankfulness and Joy.
The heart’s apprehension of this most blessed truth of the Sovereignty of God produces something far different than a sullen bowing to the inevitable. The philosophy of this perishing world knows nothing better than to “make the best of a bad job.” But with the Christian it should be far otherwise. Not only should the recognition of God’s supremacy beget within us godly fear, implicit obedience, and entire resignation, but it should cause us to say with the Psalmist, “Bless the Lord, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless His holy name.” Does not the Apostle say, “Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph. 5:20)? Ah! it is at this point the state of our souls is so often put to the test. Alas, there is so much self-will in each of us. When things go as we wish them we appear to be very grateful to God; but what of those occasions when things go contrary to our plans and desires?
We take it for granted when the real Christian takes a train-journey that, upon reaching his destination, he devoutly returns thanks unto God-which, of course, argues that He controls everything; otherwise, we ought to thank the engine-driver, the stoker, the signalmen, etc. Or, if in business, at the close of a good week, gratitude is expressed unto the Giver of every good (temporal) and every perfect (spiritual) gift-which again, argues that He directs all customers to your shop. So far, so good. Such examples occasion no difficulty. But imagine the opposites. Suppose my train was delayed for hours, did I fret and fume; suppose another train ran into it and I am injured! Or, suppose I have had a poor week in business, or that lightning struck my shop and set it on fire, or that burglars broke in and rifled it, then what: do I see the hand of God in these things?
Take the case of Job once more. When loss after loss came his way what did he do? Bemoan his “bad luck”? Curse the robbers? Murmur against God? No; he bowed before Him in worship. Ah! dear reader, there is no real rest for your poor heart until you learn to see the hand of God in everything. But for that, faith must be in constant exercise. And what is faith? A blind credulity? A fatalistic acquiescence? No, far from it. Faith is a resting on the sure Word of the living God, and therefore says “We know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28); and therefore faith will give thanks “always for all things.” Operative faith will “Rejoice in the Lord alway” (Phil. 4:4).
We turn now to mark how this recognition of God’s Sovereignty which is expressed in godly fear, implicit obedience, entire resignation, and deep thankfulness and joy was supremely and perfectly exemplified by the Lord Jesus Christ.
In all things the Lord Jesus has left us an example that we should follow His steps. But is this true in connection with the first point made above? Are the words “godly fear” ever linked with His peerless name? Remembering that “godly fear” signifies not a servile terror, but rather a filial subjection and reverence, and remembering too that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” would it not rather be strange if no mention at all were made of “godly fear” in connection with the One who was wisdom incarnate! What a wonderful and precious word is that of Hebrews 5:7-“Who in the days of His flesh, having offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto Him that was able to save Him from death, and having been heard for His godly fear”. What was it but “godly fear” which caused the Lord Jesus to be “subject” unto Mary and Joseph in the days of His childhood? Was it “godly fear”-a filial subjection to and reverence for God-that we see displayed when we read “And He came to Nazareth where He had been brought up: and, as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day” (Luke 4:16)? Was it not “godly fear” which caused the incarnate Son to say, when tempted by Satan to fall down and worship him, “It is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and Him only shalt thou serve”? Was it not “godly fear” which moved Him to say to the cleansed leper, “Go thy way, show thyself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded” (Matt. 8:4)? But why multiply illustrations?
How perfect was the obedience that the Lord Jesus offered to God the Father! And in reflecting upon this let us not lose sight of that wondrous grace which caused Him, who was in the very form of God, to stoop so low as to take upon Him the form of a Servant and thus be brought into the place where obedience was becoming. As the perfect Servant He yielded complete obedience to His Father. How absolute and entire that obedience was we may learn from the words He “became obedient unto death, even the Note how Old Testament prophecy also declared that “the Spirit of the Lord” should “rest upon Him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord” (Isa. 11:2), and the death of the Cross” (Phil. 2:8). That this was a conscious and intelligent obedience is clear from His own language: “Therefore doth My Father love Me, because I lay down My life, that I might take it again. No man taketh if from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received from My Father” (John 10:17, 18).
And what shall we say of the absolute resignation of the Son to the Father’s will? what, but, between Them there was entire oneness of accord. Said He, “For I came down from Heaven, not to do Mine own will, but the will of Him that sent Me” (John 6:38), and how fully He substantiated that claim all know who have attentively followed His path as marked out in the Scriptures. Behold Him in Gethsemane! The bitter ‘cup,’ held in the Father’s hand, is presented to His view. Mark well His attitude. Learn of Him who was meek and lowly in heart. Remember that there in the Garden we see the Word become flesh, a perfect Man. His body is quivering at every nerve in contemplation of the physical sufferings which await Him; His holy and sensitive nature is shrinking from the horrible indignities which shall be heaped upon Him; His heart is breaking at the awful “reproach” which is before Him; His spirit is greatly troubled as He foresees the terrible conflict with the Power of Darkness; and above all, and supremely, His soul is filled with horror at the thought of being separated from God Himself-thus and there He pours out His soul to the Father, and with strong crying and tears He sheds, as it were, great drops of blood. And now observe and listen. Still the beating of thy heart and hearken to the words which fall from His blessed lips-“Father, if Thou be willing, remove this cup from Me: nevertheless, not My will, but Thine be done” (Luke 22:42). Here is submission personified. Here is resignation to the pleasure of a Sovereign God superlatively exemplified. And He has left us an example that we should follow His steps. He who was God became man, and was tempted in all points like as we are, sin apart, to show us how to wear our creature nature!
Above we asked, What shall we say of Christ’s absolute resignation to the Father’s will? We answer further, This, that here, as everywhere, He was unique, peerless. In all things He has the preeminence. In the Lord Jesus there was no rebellious will to be broken. In His heart there was nothing to be subdued. Was not this one reason why, in the language of prophecy, He said, “I am a worm, and no man” (Psa. 22:6)-a worm has no power of resistance! It was because in Him there was no resistance that He could say, “My meat is to do the will of Him that sent Me” (John 4:34). Yea, it was because He was in perfect accord with the Father in all things that He said, “I delight to do Thy will, O God; yea, Thy law is within My heart” (Psa. 40:8). Note the last clause here and behold His matchless excellency. God has to put His laws into our minds, and write them in our hearts (see Heb. 8:10), but His law was already in Christ’s heart!
What a beautiful and striking illustration of Christ’s thankfulness and joy is found in Matthew 11. There we behold, first, the failure of the faith of His forerunner (vv. 22, 23). Next, we learn of the discontent of the people: satisfied neither with Christ’s joyous message, nor with John’s solemn one (vv. 16-20). Third, we have the non-repentance of those favoured cities in which our Lord’s mightiest works were done (vv. 21-24). And then we read, “At that time Jesus answered and said, I thank Thee, O Father, Lord of Heaven and earth, because Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes” (v. 25)! Note the parallel passage in Luke 10:21 opens by saying, “In that hour Jesus rejoiced in spirit, and said, I thank Thee,” etc. Ah! here was submission in its purest form. Here was One by whom the worlds were made, yet, in the days of His humiliation and in the face of His rejection, thankfully and joyously bowing to the will of the “Lord of Heaven and earth.”
What ought to be our attitude toward God’s Sovereignty? Finally,
5. One of Adoring Worship.
It has been well said that “true worship is based upon recognised greatness, and greatness is superlatively seen in Sovereignty, and at no other footstool will men really worship”. In the presence of the Divine King upon His throne even the seraphims ‘veil their faces.’
Divine Sovereignty is not the Sovereignty of a tyrannical Despot, but the exercised pleasure of One who is infinitely wise and good! Because God is infinitely wise He cannot err, and because He is infinitely righteous He will not do wrong. Here then is the preciousness of this truth. The mere fact itself that God’s will is irresistible and irreversible fills me with fear, but once I realise that God wills only that which is good my heart is made to rejoice.
Here then is the final answer to the question of this chapter, What ought to be our attitude toward the Sovereignty of God? The becoming attitude for us to take is that of godly fear, implicit obedience, and unreserved resignation and submission. But not only so: the recognition of the Sovereignty of God, and the realisation that the Sovereign Himself is my Father, ought to overwhelm the heart and cause me to bow before Him in adoring worship. At all times I must say “Even so, Father, for so it seemeth good in Thy sight.” We conclude with an example which well illustrates our meaning.
Some two hundred years ago the saintly Madam Cuyon, after ten years spent in a dungeon lying far below the surface of the ground, lit only by a candle at meal-times, wrote these words:
“A little bird I am,
Shut from the fields of air;
Yet in my cage I sit and sing
To Him who placed me there;
Well pleased a prisoner to be,
Because, my God, it pleases Thee.
Nought have I else to do
I sing the whole day long;
And He whom most I love to please,
Doth listen to my song;
He caught and bound my wandering wing
But still He bends to hear me sing.
My cage confines me round;
Abroad I cannot fly;
But though my wing is closely bound,
My heart’s at liberty,
My prison walls cannot control
The flight, the freedom of the soul.
Ah! it is good to soar
These bolts and bar above,
To Him whose purpose I adore,
Whose Providence I love;
And in Thy mighty will to find
The joy, the freedom of the mind.”
Difficulties and Objections
“Yet ye say, The way of the Lord is not equal. Hear now, O house of Israel; Is not My way equal? are not your ways unequal?” (Ezek. 18:25).
A convenient point has been reached when we may now examine, more definitely, some of the difficulties encountered and the objections which might be advanced against what we have written in previous pages. The author deemed it better to reserve these for a separate consideration rather than deal with them as he went along, requiring as that would have done the breaking of the course of thought and destroying the strict unity of each chapter, or else cumbering our pages with numerous and lengthy footnotes.
That there are difficulties involved in an attempt to set forth the truth of God’s Sovereignty is readily acknowledged. The hardest thing of all, perhaps, is to maintain the balance of truth. It is largely a matter of perspective. That God is Sovereign is explicitly declared in Scripture: that man is a responsible creature is also expressly affirmed in Holy Writ. To define the relationship of these two truths, to fix the dividing line betwixt them, to show exactly where they meet, to exhibit the perfect consistency of the one with the other, is the weightiest task of all. Many have openly declared that it is impossible for the finite mind to harmonise them. Others tell us it is not necessary or even wise to attempt it. But, as we have remarked in an earlier chapter, it seems to us more honouring to God to seek in His Word the solution to every problem. What is impossible to man is possible with God, and while we grant that the finite mind is limited in its reach, yet, we remember that the Scriptures are given to us that the man of God may be “thoroughly furnished,” and if we approach their study in the spirit of humility and of expectancy, then, according unto our faith will it be unto us.
As remarked above, the hardest task in this connection is to preserve the balance of truth while insisting on both the Sovereignty of God and the responsibility of the creature. To some of our readers it may appear that in pressing the Sovereignty of God to the lengths we have man is reduced to a mere puppet. Hence, to guard against this, they would modify their definitions and statements relating to God’s Sovereignty, and thus seek to blunt the keen edge of what is so offensive to the carnal mind. Others, while refusing to weigh the evidence that we have adduced in support of our assertions, may raise objections which to their minds are sufficient to dispose of the whole subject. We would not waste time in the effort to refute objections made in a carping and contentious spirit but we are desirous of meeting fairly the difficulties experienced by those who are anxious to obtain a fuller knowledge of the truth. Not that we deem ourselves able to give a satisfactory and final answer to every question that might be asked. Like the reader, the writer knows but in part and sees through a glass “darkly.” All that we can do is to examine these difficulties in the light we now have, in dependence upon the Spirit of God that we may follow on to know the Lord better.
We propose now to retrace our steps and pursue the same order of thought as that followed up to this point. As a part of our “definition” of God’s Sovereignty we affirmed: “To say that God is Sovereign is to declare that He is the Almighty, the Possessor of all power in Heaven and earth, so that none can defeat His counsels, thwart His purpose, or resist His will… The Sovereignty of the God of Scripture is absolute, irresistible, infinite.” To put it now in its strongest form, we insist that God does as He pleases, only as He pleases, always as He pleases; that whatever takes place in time is but the outworking of that which He decreed in eternity. In proof of this assertion we appeal to the following Scripture: “But our God is in the heavens: He hath done whatsoever He hath pleased” (Psa. 115:3). “For the LORD of hosts hath purposed, and who shall disannul it? and His hand is stretched out, and who shall turn it back?” (Isa. 14:27). “And all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing: and He doeth according to His will in the army of Heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay His hand or say unto Him, What doest thou?” (Dan. 4:35). “For of Him, and through Him, and to Him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen” (Rom. 11:36).
The above declarations are so plain and positive that any comments of ours upon them would simply be darkening counsel by words without knowledge. Such express statements as those just quoted are so sweeping and so dogmatic that all controversy concerning the subject of which they treat ought for ever to be at an end. Yet, rather than receive them at their face value, every device of carnal ingenuity is resorted to so as to neutralise their force. For example, it has been asked, If what we see in the world today is but the outworking of God’s eternal purpose, if God’s counsel is NOW being accomplished, then why did our Lord teach His disciples to pray, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven”? Is it not a clear implication from these words that God’s will is not now being done on earth? The answer is very simple. The emphatic word in the above clause is “as.” God’s will is being done on earth today, if it is not, then our earth is not subject to God’s rule, and if it is not subject to His rule then He is not, as Scripture proclaims Him to be, “The Lord of all the earth” (Josh. 3:13). But God’s will is not being done on earth as it is in Heaven. How is God’s will “done
in Heaven”? consciously and joyfully. How is it “done on earth”? for the most part, unconsciously and sullenly. In Heaven the angels perform the bidding of their Creator intelligently and gladly, but on earth the unsaved among men accomplish His will blindly and in ignorance. As we have said in earlier pages, when Judas betrayed the Lord Jesus and when Pilate sentenced Him to be crucified they had no conscious intentions of fulfilling God’s decrees yet, nevertheless, unknown to themselves they did do so!
But again. It has been objected: If everything that happens on earth is the fulfilling of the Almighty’s pleasure, if God has foreordained-before the foundation of the world-everything which comes to pass in human history, then why do we read in Genesis 6:6 “It repented the LORD that He had made man on the earth, and it grieved Him at His heart”? Does not this language intimate that the antediluvians had followed a course which their Maker had not marked out for them, and that in view of the fact they had “corrupted” their way upon the earth the Lord regretted that He had ever brought such a creature into existence? Ere drawing such a conclusion let us note what is involved in such an inference. If the words “It repented the Lord that He had made man” are regarded in an absolute sense, then God’s omniscience would be denied, for in such a case the course followed by man must have been un- foreseen by God in the day that He created him. Therefore it must be evident to every reverent soul that this language bears some other meaning. We submit that the words “It repented the Lord” is an accommodation to our finite intelligence, and in saying this we are not seeking to escape a difficulty or cut a knot, but are advancing an interpretation which we shall seek to show is in perfect accord with the general trend of Scripture.
The Word of God is addressed to men, and therefore it speaks the language of men. Because we cannot rise to God’s level He, in grace, comes down to ours and converses with us in our own speech. The Apostle Paul tells us of how he was “caught up into Paradise and heard unspeakable words which it is not possible (margin) to utter” (2 Cor. 12:4). Those on earth could not understand the vernacular of Heaven. The finite cannot comprehend the Infinite, hence the Almighty deigns to couch His revelation in terms we may understand. It is for this reason the Bible contains many anthropomorphisms-i.e, representations of God in the form of man. God is Spirit, yet the Scriptures speak of Him as having eyes, ears, nostrils, breath, hands, etc., which is surely an accommodation of terms brought down to the level of human comprehension.
Again; we read in Genesis 18:20, 21 “And the LORD said, Because the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and because their sin is very grievous, I will go down now, and see whether they have done altogether according to the cry of it, which is come up unto Me; and if not, I will know.” Now, manifestly, this is an anthropologism- God speaking in human language. God knew the conditions which prevailed in Sodom, and His eyes had witnessed its fearful sins, yet He is pleased to use terms here that are taken from our own vocabulary.
Again; in Genesis 22:12 we read “And He (God) said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou anything unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son, from Me.” Here again, God is speaking in the language of men for He “knew” before He tested Abram exactly how the patriarch would act. So too the expression of God so often in Jeremiah (7:13 etc.) of Him “rising up early” is manifestly an accommodation of terms.
Once more: in the parable of the vineyard Christ Himself represents its Owner as saying, “Then said the Lord of the vineyard, What shall I do? I will send My beloved Son: it may be they will reverence Him when they see Him” (Luke 20:13); and yet, it is certain that God knew perfectly well that the “husbandman” of the vineyard (the Jews) would not “reverence His Son” but, instead, would “despise and reject” Him as His own Word had declared!
In the same way we understand the words of Genesis 6:6-“It repented the LORD that He had made man on the earth”-as an accommodation of terms to human comprehension. This verse does not teach that God was confronted with an unforeseen contingency and therefore regretted that He had made man, but it expresses the abhorrence of a holy God at the awful wickedness and corruption into which man had fallen. Should there be any doubt remaining in the minds of our readers as to the legitimacy and soundness of our interpretation, a direct appeal to Scripture should instantly and entirely remove it-“The Strength of Israel (a Divine title) will not He nor repent: for He is not a man, that He should repent” (1 Sam. 15:29)! “Every good and perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with Whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning” (James 1:17)!
Careful attention to what we have said above will throw light on numerous other passages which, if we ignore their figurative character and fail to note that God applies to Himself human modes of expression, will be obscure and perplexing. Having commented at such length upon Genesis 6:6 there will be no need to give such a detailed exposition of other passages which belong to the same class, yet, for the benefit of those of our readers who may be anxious for us to examine several other Scriptures, we turn to one or two m ore.
One Scripture which we often find cited in order to overthrow the teaching advanced in this book is our Lord’s lament over Jerusalem: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!” (Matt. 23:37). The question is asked, Do not these words show that the Saviour acknowledged the defeat of His mission, that as a people the Jews resisted all His gracious overtures toward them? In replying to this question, it should first be pointed out that our Lord is here referring not so much to His own mission as He is upbraiding the Jews for having in all ages rejected His grace-this is clear from His reference to the “prophets.” The Old Testament bears full witness of how graciously and patiently Jehovah dealt with His people, and with what extreme obstinancy, from first to last, they refused to be “gathered” unto Him, and how in the end He abandoned them to follow their own devices, yet, as the same Scriptures declare, the counsel of God was not frustrated by their wickedness, for it had been foretold (and therefore, decreed) by Him: see, for example, 1 Kings 8:33.
Matthew 23:37 may well be compared with Isaiah 65:2 where the Lord says, “I have spread out My hands all the day unto a rebellious people, which walketh in a way that was not good, after their own thoughts.” But, it may be asked, Did God seek to do that which was in opposition to His own eternal purpose? In words borrowed from Calvin we reply, “Though to our apprehension the will of God is manifold and various, yet He does not in Himself will things at variance with each other, but astonishes our faculties with His various and ‘manifold’ wisdom, according to the expression of Paul, till we shall be enabled to understand that He mysteriously wills what now seems contrary to His will.” As a further illustration of the same principle we would refer the reader to Isaiah 5:1-4: “Now will I sing to my wellBeloved a song of my Beloved touching His vineyard. My wellBeloved hath a vineyard in a very fruitful hill: And He fenced it, and gathered out the stones thereof, and planted it with the choicest vine and built a tower in the midst of it, and also made a winepress therein: and He looked that it should bring forth grapes, and it brought forth wild grapes. And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem, and men of Judah, judge, I pray you, betwixt Me and My vineyard. What could have been done more to My vineyard, that I have not done in it? wherefore, when I looked that it should bring forth grapes, it brought forth wild grapes?” Is it not plain from this language that God reckoned Himself to have done enough for Israel to warrant an expectation-speaking after the manner of men-of better returns? Yet, is it not equally evident when Jehovah says here “He looked that it should bring forth grapes” that He is accommodating Himself to a form of finite expression? And, so also when He says “What could have been done more to My vineyard, that I have not done in it?” we need to take note that in the previous enumeration of what He had done-the “fencing” etc.- He refers only to external privileges, means, and opportunities, which had been bestowed upon Israel, for, of course, He could even then have taken away from them their stony heart and given them a new heart, even a heart of flesh, had He so pleased.
Perhaps we should link up with Christ’s lament over Jerusalem in Matthew 23:37, His tears over the City, recorded in Luke 19:41: “He beheld the city, and wept over it.” In the verses which immediately follow we learn what it was that occasioned His tears: “Saying, if thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes. For the days shall come upon thee, that thine enemies shall cast a trench about thee, and compass thee round, and keep thee in on every side.” It was the prospect of the fearful judgment which Christ knew was impending. But did those tears make manifest a disappointed God? Nay, verily. Instead, they displayed a perfect Man. The Man Christ Jesus was no emotionless stoic, but One “filled with compassion.” Those tears expressed the sinless sympathies of His real and pure humanity. Had He not “wept” He had been less than human. Those “tears” were one of many proofs that “in all things it behooved Him to be made like unto His brethren” (Heb. 2:17).
In Chapter One we have affirmed that God is Sovereign in the exercise of His love, and in saying this we are fully aware that many will strongly resent the statement and that, furthermore, what we have now to say will probably meet with more criticism than anything else advanced in this book. Nevertheless, we must be true to our convictions of what we believe to be the teaching of Holy Scripture, and we can only ask our readers to examine diligently in the light of God’s Word what we here submit to their attention.
One of the most popular beliefs of the day is that God loves everybody, and the very fact that it is so popular with all classes ought to be enough to arouse the suspicions of those who are subject to the Word of Truth. God’s Love toward all His creatures is the fundamental and favour ite tenet of Universalists, Unitarians, Theosophists, Christian Scientists, Spiritualists, Russellites, etc. No matter how a man may live-in open defiance of Heaven, with no concern whatever for his soul’s eternal interests, still less for God’s glory, dying, perhaps with an oath on his lips-notwithstanding, God loves him, we are told. So widely has this dogma been proclaimed, and so comforting is it to the heart which is at enmity with God we have little hope of convincing many of their error. That God loves everybody, is, we may say, quite a modern belief. The writings of the church fathers, the Reformers or the Puritans will (we believe) be searched in vain for any such concept. Perhaps the late D. L. Moody-captivated by Drummond’s “The Greatest Thing in the World”-did more than anyone else in the last century to popularise this concept.
It has been customary to say God loves the sinner though He hates his sin.* But that is a meaningless distinction. What is there in a sinner but sin? Is it not true that his “whole head is sick” and his “whole heart faint,” and that “from the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness” in him? (Isa. 1:5, 6). Is it true that God loves the one who is despising and rejecting His blessed Son? God is Light as well as Love, and therefore His love must be a holy love. To tell the Christ-rejecter that God loves him is to cauterise his conscience as well as to afford him a sense of security in his sins. The fact is, the love of God is a truth for the saints only, and to present it to the enemies of God is to take the children’s bread and cast it to the dogs. With the exception of John 3:16, not once in the four Gospels do we read of the Lord Jesus, the perfect Teacher, telling sinners that God loved them! In the book of Acts, which records the evangelistic labours and messages of the Apostles, God’s love is never referred to at all! But when we come to the Epistles, which are addressed to the saints, we have a full presentation of this precious truth-God’s love for His own. Let us seek to rightly divide the Word of God and then we shall not be found taking truths which are addressed to believers and mis-applying them to unbelievers. That which sinners need to have brought before them is the ineffable holiness, the exacting righteousness, the inflexible justice and the terrible wrath of God. Risking the danger of being misunderstood let us say-and we wish we could say it to every evangelist and preacher in the country-there is far too much presenting of Christ to sinners today (by those sound in the faith), and far too little showing sinners their need of Christ, i.e., their absolutely ruined and lost condition, their imminent and awful danger of suffering the wrath to come, the fearful guilt resting upon them in the sight of God: to present Christ to those who have never been shown their need of Him, seems to us to be guilty of casting pearls before swine.*
*Romans 5:8 is addressed to saints, and the “we” are the same ones as those spoken of in 8:29, 30.
Concerning the rich young ruler of whom it is said Christ “loved him” (Mark 10:21), we fully believe that he was one of God’s elect, and was “saved” sometime after his interview with our Lord. Should it be said this is an arbitrary assumption and assertion which lacks anything in the Gospel record to substantiate it, we reply, It is written, “Him that cometh to Me I will in no wise cast out,” and this man certainly did “come” to Him. Compare the case of Nicodemus. He, too, came to Christ, yet there is nothing in John 3 which intimates he was a saved man when the interview closed; nevertheless, we know from his later life that he was not “cast out.”
If it be true that God loves every member of the human family then why did our Lord tell His disciples “He that hath My commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth Me: and he that loveth Me shall be loved of My Father… If a man love Me, he will keep My words: and My Father will love him” (John 14:21, 23)? Why say “he that loveth Me shall be loved of My Father” if the Father loves everybody? The same limitation is found in Proverbs 8:17: “I love them that love Me.” Again; we read, “Thou hatest all workers of iniquity”-not merely the works of iniquity. Here then is a flat repudiation of present teaching that, God hates sin but loves the sinner; Scripture says, “Thou hatest all workers of iniquity” (Psa. 5:5)! “God is angry with the wicked every day” (Psa. 7:11). “He that believeth not on the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him”-not “shall abide,” but even now-“abideth on him” (John 3:36). Can God “love” the one on whom His “wrath” abides? Again; is it not evident that the words “The love of God which is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:39) marks a limitation, both in the sphere and objects of His love? Again; is it not plain from the words “Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated” (Rom. 9:13) that God does not love everybody? Again; it is written, “For whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth” (Heb. 12:6). Does not this verse teach that God’s love is restricted to the members of His own family? If He loves all men without exception then the distinction and limitation here mentioned is quite meaningless. Finally, we would ask, Is it conceivable that God will love the damned in the Lake of Fire? Yet, if He loves them now He will do so then, seeing that His love knows no change-He is “without variableness or shadow of turning”!
Turning now to John 3:16, it should be evident from the passages just quoted that this verse will not bear the construction usually put upon it. “God so loved the world.” Many suppose that this means, The entire human race. But “the entire human race” includes all mankind from Adam till the close of earth’s history: it reaches backward as well as forward! Consider, then, the history of mankind before Christ was born. Unnumbered millions lived and died before the Saviour came to the earth, lived here “having no hope and without God in the world,” and therefore passed out into an eternity of woe. If God “loved” them, where is the slightest proof thereof? Scripture declares “Who (God) in times past (from the tower of Babel till after Pentecost) suffered all nations to walk in their own ways” (Acts 14:16). Scripture declares that “And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient” (Rom. 1:28). To Israel God said, “You only have I known of all the families of the earth” (Amos 3:2). In view of these plain passages who will be so foolish as to insist that God in the past loved all mankind! The same applies with equal force to the future. Read through the book of Revelation, noting especially Chapters 8 to 19, where we have described the judgments which will be poured out from Heaven on this earth. Read of the fearful woes, the frightful plagues, the vials of God’s wrath, which shall be emptied on the wicked. Finally, read the twentieth chapter of the Revelation, the great white throne judgment, and see if you can discover there the slightest trace of love.
But the objector comes back to John 3:16 and says, “World means world.” True, but we have shown that “the world” does not mean the whole human family. The fact is that “the world” is used in a general way. When the brethren of Christ said “Show Thyself to the world” (John 7:4), did they mean “shew Thyself to all mankind”? When the Pharisees said “Behold, the world is gone after Him” (John 12:19) did they mean that “all the human family” were flocking after Him? When the Apostle wrote “Your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world” (Rom. 1:8), did he mean that the faith of the saints at Rome was the subject of conversation by every man, woman, and child on earth? When Revelation 13:3 informs us that “all the world wondered after the beast,” are we to understand that there will be no exceptions? These, and other passages which might be quoted, show that the term “the world” often has a relative rather than an absolute force.
Now the first thing to note in connection with John 3:16 is that our Lord was there speaking to Nicodemus, a man who believed that God’s mercies were confined to his own nation. Christ there announced that God’s love in giving His Son had a larger object in view, that it flowed beyond the boundary of Palestine, reaching out to “regions beyond.” In other words, this was Christ’s announcement that God had a purpose of grace toward Gentiles as well as Jews. “God so loved the world,” then, signifies, God’s love is international in its scope. But does this mean that God loves every individual among the Gentiles? Not necessarily, for as we have seen, the term “world” is general rather than specific, relative rather than absolute. The term “world” in itself is not conclusive. To ascertain who are the objects of God’s love other passages where His love is mentioned must be consulted.
In 2 Peter 2:5 we read of “the world of the ungodly.” If then, there is a world of the ungodly there must also be a world of the godly. It is the latter who are in view in the passages we shall now briefly consider. “For the bread of God is He which cometh down from Heaven, and giveth life unto the world” (John 6:33). Now mark it well, Christ did not say, “offereth life unto the world,” but “giveth.” What is the difference between the two terms? This: a thing which is “offered” may be refused, but a thing “given,” necessarily implies its acceptance. If it is not accepted it is not “given,” it is simply proffered. Here, then, is a Scripture that positively states Christ giveth life (spiritual, eternal life) “unto the world.” Now He does not give eternal life to the “world of the ungodly” for they will not have it, they do not want it. Hence, we are obliged to understand the reference in John 6:33 as being to “the world of the godly,” i.e., God’s own people.
One more: in 2 Corinthians 5:19 we read “To wit that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself.” What is meant by this is clearly defined in the words immediately following, “not imputing their trespasses unto them.” Here again “the world” cannot mean “the world of the ungodly,” for their “trespasses are imputed” to them, as the judgment of the Great White Throne will yet show. But 2 Corinthians 5:19 plainly teaches there is a “world” which are “reconciled,” reconciled unto God because their trespasses are not reckoned to their account, having been borne by their Substitute. Who then are they? Only one answer is fairly possible-the world of God’s people!
In like manner, the “world” in John 3:16 must, in the final analysis, refer to the world of God’s people. Must we say, for there is no other alternative solution. It cannot mean the whole human race, for one half of the race was already in hell when Christ came to earth. It is unfair to insist that it means every human being now living, for every other passage in the New Testament where God’s love is mentioned limits it to His own people-search and see! The objects of God’s love in John 3:16 are precisely the same as the objects of Christ’s love in John 13:1: “Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that His hour was come, that He should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved His own which were in the world, He loved them unto the end.” We may admit that our interpretation of John 3:16 is no novel one invented by us, but one almost uniformly given by the Reformers and Puritans, and many others since then.
Coming now to Chapter Three, The Sovereignty of God in Salvation, innumerable are the questions which might be raised here. It is strange, yet it is true, that many who acknowledge the Sovereign rule of God over material things will cavil and quibble when we insist that God is also Sovereign in the spiritual realm. But their quarrel is with God and not with us. We have given Scripture in support of everything advanced in these pages, and if that will not satisfy our readers it is idle for us to seek to convince them. What we write now is designed for those who do bow to the authority of Holy Writ, and for their benefit we propose to examine several other Scriptures which have purposely been held for this chapter.
Perhaps the one passage which has presented the greatest difficulty to those who have seen that passage after passage in Holy Writ plainly teaches the election of a limited number unto salvation is 2 Peter 3:9: “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.”
The first thing to be said upon the above passage is that, like all other Scripture, it must be understood and interpreted in the light of its context. What we have quoted in the preceding paragraph is only part of the verse, and the last part if it at that! Surely it must be allowed by all that the first half of the verse needs to be taken into consideration. In order to establish what these words are supposed by many to mean, viz., that the words “any” and “all” are to be received without any qualification, it must be shown that the context is referring to the whole human race! If this cannot be shown, if there is no premise to justify this, then the conclusion also must be unwarranted. Let us then ponder the first part of the verse.
“The Lord is not slack concerning His promise.” Note “promise” in the singular number, not “promises.” What promise is in view? The promise of salvation? Where, in all Scripture, has God ever promised to save the whole human race! Where indeed? No, the “promise” here referred to is not about salvation. What then is it? The context tells us.
“Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, and saying, Where is the promise of His coming?” (vv. 3, 4). The context then refers to God’s promise to send back His beloved Son. But many long centuries have passed and this promise has not yet been fulfilled. True, but long as the delay may seem to us, the interval is short in the reckoning of God. As the proof of this we are reminded “But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (v. 8). In God’s reckoning of time less than two days have yet passed since He promised to send back Christ.
But more, the delay in the Father sending back His beloved Son is not only due to no “slackness” on His part, but it is also occasioned by His “longsuffering.” His longsuffering to whom? The verse we are now considering tells us: “but His longsuffering to us-ward.” And whom are the “us-ward”?-the human race, or God’s own people? In the light of the context this is not an open question upon which each of us is free to form an opinion. The Holy Spirit has defined it. The opening verse of the chapter says, “This second Epistle, beloved, I now write unto you.” And again, the verse immediately preceding declares, “But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing etc.,” (v. 8). The “us-ward” then are the “beloved” of God. They to whom this Epistle is addressed are “them that have obtained (not “exercised,” but “obtained” as God’s Sovereign gift) like precious faith with us through the righteousness of God and our Saviour Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:1). Therefore we say there is no room for a doubt, a quibble or an argument-the “us-ward” are the elect of God.
Let us now quote the verse as a whole: “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” Could anything be clearer? The “any” that God is not willing should perish are the “us-ward” to whom God is “longsuffering,” the “beloved” of the previous verses. 2 Peter 3:9 means, then, that God will not send back His Son until “the fullness of the Gentiles be come in” (Rom. 11:25). God will not send hack Christ till that “people” whom He is now “taking out of the Gentiles” (Acts 15:14) are gathered in. God will not send back His Son till the Body of Christ is complete, and that will not be till the ones whom He has elected to be saved in this dispensation shall have been brought to Him. Thank God for His “longsuffering to us-ward.” Had Christ come back twenty years ago the writer had been left behind to perish in His sins. But that could not be so God graciously delayed the Second Coming. For the same reason He is still delaying His Advent. His decreed purpose is that all His elect will come to repentance, and repent they shall. The present interval of grace will not end until the last of the “other sheep” of John 10:16 are safely folded-then will Christ return.
In expounding the Sovereignty of God the Spirit in Salvation we have shown that His power is irresistible, that, by His gracious operations upon and within them He “compels” God’s elect to come to Christ. The Sovereignty of the Holy Spirit is set forth not only in John 3:8 where we are told “The wind bloweth where it pleaseth… so is every one that is born of the Spirit,” but is affirmed in other passages as well. In 1 Corinthians 12:11 we read “But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as He will.” And again; we read in Acts 16:6, 7 “Now when they had gone throughout Phrygia and the region of Galatia, and were forbidden of the Holy Spirit to preach the Word in Asia. After they were come to Mysia, they assayed to go into Bithynia: but the Spirit suffered them not.” Thus we see how the Holy Spirit interposed His imperial will in opposition to the determination of the Apostles.
But, it is objected against the assertion that the will and power of the Holy Spirit are irresistible that here are two passages, one in the Old Testament and the other in the New, which appear to militate against such a conclusion. God said of old “My Spirit shall not always strive with man” (Gen. 6:3), and to the Jews Stephen declared “Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Spirit: as your fathers did, so do ye. Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted?” (Acts 7:51, 52). If then the Jews “resisted” the Holy Spirit how can we say His power is irresistible? The answer is found in Nehemiah 9:30 “Many years didst Thou forbear them, and testifiedest against them by Thy Spirit in Thy prophets: yet would they not give ear.” It was the external operations of the Spirit which Israel “resisted.” It was the Spirit speaking by and through the prophets to which they “would not give ear.” It was not anything which the Holy Spirit wrought in them that they “resisted” but the motives presented to them by the inspired messages of the prophets. Perhaps it will help the reader to catch our thought better if we compare Matthew 11:20-24 “Then began He to upbraid the cities wherein most of His mighty works were done, because they repented not. Woe unto thee Chorazin,” etc. Our Lord here pronounces woe upon these cities for their failure to repent because of the “mighty works” (miracles) which He had done in their sight, and not because of any internal operations of His grace! The same is true of Genesis 6:3. By comparing 1 Peter 3:18-20 it will be seen that it was by and through Noah that God’s Spirit “strove” with the antediluvians. The distinction noted above was ably summarised by Andrew Fuller (another writer long deceased from whom our moderns might learn much) thus: “There are two kinds of influences by which God works on the minds of men. First, That which is common, and which is effected by the ordinary use of motives presented to the mind for consideration: Secondly, That which is special and supernatural. The one contains nothing mysterious, anymore than the influence of our words and actions on each other; the other is such a mystery that we know nothing of it but by its effects-The former ought to be effectual; the latter is so.” The work of the Holy Spirit upon or towards men is always “resisted” by them; His work within is always successful. What saith the Scriptures? This: “He which hath begun a good work IN you,” will finish it (Phil. 1:6).
The next question to be considered is: Why preach the Gospel to every creature? If God the Father has predestined only a limited number to be saved, if God the Son died to effect the salvation of only those given to Him by the Father, and if God the Spirit is seeking to quicken none save God’s elect, then what is the use of giving the Gospel to the world at large, and where is the propriety of telling sinners that “Whosoever believeth in Christ shall not perish but have everlasting life”?
First; it is of great importance that we should be clear upon the nature of the Gospel itself. The Gospel is God’s good news concerning Christ and not concerning sinners: “Paul a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an Apostle, separated unto the Gospel of God… concerning His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 1:1, 3).
God would have proclaimed far and wide the amazing fact that His own blessed Son “became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Phil. 2:8). A universal testimony must be borne to the matchless worth of the Person and work of Christ. Note the word witness in Matthew 24:14. The Gospel is God’s “witness” unto the perfections of His Son. Mark the words of the Apostle: “For we are unto God a sweet savor of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish” (2 Cor. 2:15)!
Concerning the character and contents of the Gospel the utmost confusion prevails today. The Gospel is not an “offer” to be bandied around by evangelical peddlers. The Gospel is no mere invitation but a proclamation, a proclamation concerning Christ; true whether men believe it or not. No man is asked to believe that Christ died for him in particular. The Gospel, in brief, is this: Christ died for sinners, you are a sinner, believe in Christ, and you shall be saved. In the Gospel God simply announces the terms upon which men may be saved (namely, repentance and faith) and, indiscriminately, all are commanded to fulfil them.
Second, repentance and remission of sins are to be preached in the name of the Lord Jesus “among all the nations” (Luke 24:47), because God’s elect are “scattered abroad” (John 11:52) among all nations, and it is by the preaching and hearing of the Gospel that they are called out of the world. The Gospel is the means which God uses in the saving of His own chosen ones. By nature God’s elect are children of wrath “even as others”; they are lost sinners needing a Saviour, and apart from Christ there is no salvation for them. Hence, the Gospel must be believed by them before they can rejoice in the knowledge of sins forgiven. The Gospel is God’s winnowing fan: it separates the chaff from the wheat, and gathers the latter into His garner.
Third; it is to be noted that God has other purposes in the preaching of the Gospel than the salvation of His own elect. The world exists for the elect’s sake yet others have the benefit of it. So the Word is preached for the elect’s sake yet others have the benefit of an external call. The sun shines though blind men see it not. The rain falls upon rocky mountains and waste deserts as well as on the fruitful valleys; so also, God suffers the Gospel to fall on the ears of the non-elect. The power of the Gospel is one of God’s agencies for holding in check the wickedness of the world. Many who are never saved by it are reformed, their lusts are bridled, and they are restrained from becoming worse. Moreover, the preaching of the Gospel to the non-elect is made an admirable test of their characters. It exhibits the inveteracy of their sin: it demonstrates that their hearts are at enmity against God: it justifies the declaration of Christ that “men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19).
Finally; it is sufficient for us to know that we are bidden to preach the Gospel to every creature. It is not for us to reason about the consistency between this and the fact that “few are chosen.” It is for us to obey. It is a simple matter to ask questions relating to the ways of God which no finite mind can fully fathom. We, too, might turn and remind the objector that our Lord declared “Verily I say unto you, All sins shall be forgiven unto the sons of men, and blasphemies wherewith soever they shall blaspheme. But he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Spirit hath never forgiveness” (Mark 3:28, 29), and there can be no doubt whatever but that certain of the Jews were guilty of this very sin (see Matt. 12:24, etc.) and hence their destruction was inevitable. Yet, notwithstanding, scarcely two months later, He commanded His disciples to preach the Gospel to every creature. When the objector can show us the consistency of these two things-the fact that certain of the Jews had committed the sin for which there is never forgiveness, and the fact that to them the Gospel was to be preached-we will undertake to furnish a more satisfactory solution than the one given above to the harmony between an universal proclamation of the Gospel and a limitation of its saving power to those only that God has predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son.
Once more, we say, it is not for us to reason about the Gospel; it is our business to preach it. When God ordered Abraham to offer up his son as a burnt-offering he might have objected that this command was inconsistent with His promise “In Isaac shall thy seed be called.” But instead of arguing he obeyed, and left God to harmonise His promise and His precept. Jeremiah might have argued that God had bade him to do that which was altogether unreasonable when He said “Therefore thou shalt speak all these words unto them; but they will not hearken to thee; thou shalt also call unto them; but they will not answer thee” (Jer. 7:27), but instead, the prophet obeyed. Ezekiel, too, might have complained that the Lord was asking of him a hard thing when He said “Son of man, go, get thee unto the house of Israel, and speak with My words unto them. For thou art not sent to a people of a strange speech and of an hard language, but to the house of Israel; Not to many people of a strange speech and of a hard language, whose words thou canst not understand. Surely, had I sent thee to them, they would have hearkened unto thee. But the house of Israel will not hearken unto thee; for they will not hearken unto Me; for all the house of Israel are impudent and hard hearted” (Ezek. 3:4-7).
“But, O my soul, if truth so bright Should dazzle and confound thy sight, Y et still His written Word obey, And wait the great decisive day.”-Watts. It has been well said, “The Gospel has lost none of its ancient power. It is, as much today as when it was first preached, ‘the power of God unto salvation.’ It needs no pity, no help, and no handmaid. It can overcome all obstacles, and break down all barriers. No human device need be tried to prepare the sinner to receive it, for if God has sent it no power can hinder it; and if He has not sent it, no power can make it effectual” (Dr. Bullinger).
This chapter might be extended indefinitely, but it is already too long so a word or two more must suffice. A number of other questions will be dealt with in the pages yet to follow, and those that we fail to touch upon the reader must take to the Lord Himself who has said “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all liberally, and upbraideth not” (James 1:5).
The Value of this Doctrine
“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, And is profitable for doctrine, For reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, Thoroughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Tim. 3:16, 17).
“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, andis profitable for doctrine,for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Tim. 3:16, 17). “Doctrine” means “teaching,” and it is by doctrine or teaching that the great realities of God and of our relation to Him-of Christ, the Spirit, salvation, grace, glory-are made known to us. It is by doctrine (through the power of the Spirit) that believers are nourished and edified, and where doctrine is neglected growth in grace and effective witnessing for Christ necessarily cease. How sad then that doctrine is now decried as “unpractical” when, in fact, doctrine is the very base of the practical life. There is an inseparable connection between belief and practice: “As he thinketh in his heart, so is he” (Prov. 23:7). The relation between Divine truth and Christian character is that of cause to effect: “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32)-free from ignorance, free from prejudice, free from error, free from the wiles of Satan, free from the power of evil; and if the truth is not “known” then such freedom will not be enjoyed. Observe the order of mention in the passage with which we have opened. All Scripture is profitable first for “doctrine”! The same order is observed throughout the Epistles, particularly in the great doctrinal treatises of the Apostle Paul. Read the Epistle of “Romans” and it will be found that there is not a single admonition in the first five chapters. In the Epistle of “Ephesians” there are no exhortations till the fourth chapter is reached. The order is first doctrinal exposition and then admonition or exhortation for the regulation of the daily walk.
The substitution of so-called “practical” preaching for the doctrinal exposition which it has supplanted is the root cause of many of the evil maladies which now afflict the Church of God. The reason why there is so little depth, so little intelligence, so little grasp of the fundamental verities of Christianity is because so few believers have been established in the faith through hearing expounded and through their own personal study of the doctrines of grace. While their soul is unestablished in the doctrine of the Divine Inspiration of the Scripture, their full and verbal inspiration, there can be no firm foundation for faith to rest upon. While the soul is ignorant of the doctrine of Justification there can be no real and intelligent assurance of its acceptance in the Beloved. While the soul is unacquainted with the teaching of the Word upon Sanctification it is open to receive all the crudities and errors of the Perfectionists or “Holiness” people. While the soul knows not what Scripture has to say upon the doctrine of the New Birth there can be no proper grasp of the two natures in the believer, and ignorance here inevitably results in the loss of peace and joy. And so we might go on right through the list of Christian doctrine. It is ignorance of doctrine that has rendered the professing church helpless to cope with the rising tide of infidelity. It is ignorance of doctrine which is mainly responsible for thousands of professing Christians being captivated by the numerous false isms of the day. It is because the time has now arrived when the bulk of our churches “will not endure sound doctrine” (2 Tim. 4:3) that they so readily receive false doctrines. Of course it is true that doctrine, like anything else in Scripture, may be studied from a merely cold intellectual viewpoint, and thus approached, doctrinal teaching and doctrinal study will leave the heart untouched, and will naturally be “dry” and profitless. But, doctrine properly received, doctrine studied with an exercised heart, will ever lead into a deeper knowledge of God and of the unsearchable riches of Christ.
The doctrine of God’s Sovereignty then is no mere metaphysical dogma which is devoid of practical value, but is one that is calculated to produce a powerful effect upon Christian character and the daily walk. The doctrine of God’s Sovereignty lies at the foundation of Christian theology, and in importance is perhaps second only to the Divine Inspiration of the Scriptures. It is the centre of gravity in the system of Christian truth: the sun around which all the lesser orbs are grouped. It is the golden milestone to which every highway of knowledge leads and from which they all radiate. It is the cord upon which all other doctrines are strung like so many pearls, holding them in place and giving them unity. It is the plumbline by which every creed needs to be measured, the balance in which every human dogma must be weighed. It is designed as the sheet-anchor for our souls amid the storms of life. The doctrine of God’s Sovereignty is a Divine cordial to refresh our spirits. It is designed and adapted to mould the affections of the heart and to give a right direction to conduct. It produces gratitude in prosperity and patience in adversity. It affords comfort for the present and a sense of security respecting the unknown future. It is, and it does all, and much more than we have just said because it ascribes to God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the glory which is His due, and places the creature in his proper place before Him-in the dust.
We shall now consider the Value of the doctrine in detail.
1. It Deepens Our Veneration of the Divine Character.
The doctrine of God’s Sovereignty as it is unfolded in the Scriptures affords an exalted view of the Divine perfections. It maintains His creatorial rights. It insists that “to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in Him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by Him” (1 Cor. 8:6). It declares that His rights are those of the “potter” who forms and fashions the clay into vessels of whatever type and for whatever use He may please. Its testimony is “Thou hast created all things, and for Thy pleasure they are and were created” (Rev. 4:11). It argues that none has any right to “reply” against God, and that the only becoming attitude for the creature to take is one of reverent submission before Him. Thus the apprehension of the absolute supremacy of God is of great practical importance, for unless we have a proper regard to His high Sovereignty He will never be honoured in our thoughts of Him, nor will He have His proper place in our hearts and lives.
It exhibits the inscrutableness of His wisdom. It shows that while God is immaculate in His holiness He has permitted evil to enter His fair creation; that while He is the Possessor of all power He has allowed the Devil to wage war against Him for six thousand years at least; that while He is the perfect embodiment of love He spared not His own Son; that while He is the God of all grace multitudes will be tormented for ever and ever in the Lake of Fire. High mysteries are these. Scripture does not deny them, but acknowledges their existence: “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out!” (Rom. 11:33).
It makes known the irreversibleness of His will. “Known unto God are all His works from the beginning of the world” (Acts 15:18). From the beginning God purposed to glorify Himself “in the Church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end” (Eph. 3:21). To this end He created the world and formed man. His all-wise plan was not defeated when man fell, for in the Lamb “slain from the foundation of the world” (Rev. 13:8) we behold the Fall anticipated. Nor will God’s purpose be thwarted b y the wickedness of men since the Fall, as is clear from the words of the Psalmist “Surely the wrath of man shall praise Thee: the remainder of wrath shalt Thou restrain” (Psa. 76:10). Because God is the Almighty His will cannot be withstood. “His purposes originated in eternity, and are carried forward without change to eternity. They extend to all His works, and control all events. He ‘worketh all things after the counsel of His own will'” (Dr. Rice). Neither man nor Devil can successfully resist Him, therefore is it written, “The Lord reigneth; let the people tremble” (Psa. 99:1).
It magnifies His grace. Grace is unmerited favour , and because grace is shown to the undeserving and Hell-deserving, to those who have no claim upon God, therefore is grace free and can be manifested toward the chief of sinners. But because grace is exercised toward those who are destitute of worthiness or merit grace is Sovereign; that is to say, God bestows grace upon whom He pleases. Divine Sovereignty has ordained that some shall be cast into the Lake of Fire to show that all deserved such a doom. But grace comes in like a dragnet and draws out from a lost humanity a people for God’s name, to be throughout all eternity the monuments of His inscrutable favour . Sovereign grace reveals God breaking down the opposition of the human heart, subduing the enmity of the carnal mind, and bringing us to love Him because He first loved us.
2. It is the Solid Foundation of All True Religion.
This naturally follows from what we have said above under the first head. If the doctrine of Divine Sovereignty alone gives God His rightful place, then it is also true that it alone can supply a firm base for practical religion to build upon. There can be no progress in Divine things until there is the personal recognition that God is Supreme, that He is to be feared and revered and He is to be owned and served as Lord. We read the Scriptures in vain unless we come to them earnestly desiring a better knowledge of God’s will for us: any other motive is selfish and utterly inadequate and unworthy. Every prayer we send up to God is but carnal presumption unless it be offered “according to His will”: anything short of this is to ask ‘amiss’ that we might consume upon our own lusts the thing requested! Every service we engage in is but a “dead work” unless it be done for the glory of God. Experimental religion consists mainly in the perception and performance of the Divine will, performance both active and passive. We are predestinated to be “conformed to the image of God’s Son” whose meat it ever was to do the will of the One that sent Him, and the measure in which each saint is becoming “conformed” practically, in his daily life, is largely determined by his response to our Lord’s word “Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me; for I am meek and lowly in heart.”
3. It Repudiates the Heresy of Salvation by Works.
“There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death” (Prov. 14:12). The way which “seemeth right” and which ends in “death,” death eternal, is salvation by human effort and merit. The belief in salvation by works is one that is common to human nature. It may not always assume the grosser form of Popish penances, or even of Protestant “repentance,” i.e., sorrowing for sin, which is never the meaning of repentance in Scripture; anything which gives man a place at all is but a variety of the same evil genus. To say, as alas! many preachers, are saying, God is willing to do His part if you will do yours, is a wretched and excuseless denial of the Gospel of His grace. To declare that God helps those who help themselves is to repudiate one of the most precious truths taught in the Bible, and in the Bible alone; namely, that God helps those who are unable to help themselves, who have tried again and again only to fail. To say that the sinner’s salvation turns upon the action of his own will is another form of the God-dishonouring dogma of salvation by human efforts. In the final analysis, any movement of the will is a work: it is something from me, something which I do. But the doctrine of God’s Sovereignty lays the axe at the root of this evil by declaring “It is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy” (Rom. 9:16). Does some one say, Such a doctrine will drive sinners to despair. The reply is, Be it so; it is just such despair the writer longs to see prevail. It is not until the sinner despairs of any help from himself that he will ever fall into the arms of Sovereign mercy; but if once the Holy Spirit convicts him that there is no help in himself then he will recognise that he is lost, and will cry, “God be merciful to me a sinner,” and such a cry will be heard. If the author may be allowed to bear personal witness, he has found during the course of his ministry that the sermons he has preached on human depravity, the sinner’s helplessness to do anything himself, and the salvation of the soul turning upon the Sovereign mercy of God, have been those most owned and blessed in the salvation of the lost. We repeat, then, a sense of utter helplessness is the first prerequisite to any sound conversion. There is no salvation for any soul until it looks away from itself, looks to something, yea, to Someone, outside of itself.
4. It is Deeply Humbling to the Creature.
This doctrine of the absolute Sovereignty of God is a great battering-ram against human pride, and in this it is in sharp contrast from the “doctrines of men.” The spirit of our age is essentially that of boasting and glorying in the flesh. The achievements of man, his development and progress, his greatness and self-sufficiency, are the shrine at which the world worships today. But the truth of God’s Sovereignty, with all its corollaries, removes every ground for human boasting and instills the spirit of humility in its stead. It declares that salvation is of the Lord-of the Lord in its origination, in its operation, and in its consummation. It insists that the Lord has to apply as well as supply, that He has to complete as well as begin His saving work in our souls, that He has not only to reclaim but to maintain and sustain us to the end. It teaches that salvation is by grace through faith, and that all our works (before conversion), good as well as evil, count for nothing toward salvation. It tells us we are “born, not of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:13). And all this is most humbling to the heart of man who wants to contribute something to the price of his redemption and do that which will afford ground for boasting and self-satisfaction.
But if this doctrine humbles us it results in praise toGod.If, in the light of God’s Sovereignty, we have seen our own worthlessness and helplessness we shall indeed cry with the Psalmist “All my springs are in Thee” (Psa. 87:7). If by nature we were “children of wrath,” and by practice rebels against the Divine government and justly exposed to the “curse” of the Law, and if God was under no obligation to rescue us from the fiery indignation and yet, notwithstanding, He delivered up His well-beloved Son for us all; then how such grace and love will melt our hearts, how the apprehension of it will cause us to say in adoring gratitude “Not unto us, O LORD, not unto us, but unto Thy name give glory, for Thy mercy, and for Thy truth’s sake” (Psa. 115:1). How readily shall each of us acknowledge “By the grace of God I am what I am! With what wondering praise shall we exclaim-
“Why was I made to hear His voice,
And enter while there’s room,
When thousands make a wretched choice,
And rather starve than come?
‘Twas the same love that spread the feast,
That sweetly forced us in;
Else we had still refused to taste
And perished in our sin.”
5. It Affords a Sense of Absolute Security.
God is infinite in power and therefore it is impossible to withstand His will or resist the outworking of His decrees. Such a statement as that is well calculated to fill the sinner with alarm, but from the saint it evokes naught but praise. Let us add a word and see what a difference it makes: My God is infinite in power! then “I will not fear what man can do unto me.” My God is infinite in power, then “what time I am afraid I will trust in Him.” My God is infinite in power, then I will both lay me down in peace, and sleep: “for Thou, LORD, only makest me dwell in safety” (Psa. 4:8). Right down the ages this has been the source of the saints’ confidence. Was not this the assurance of Moses when, in his parting words to Israel, he said “There is none like unto the God of Jeshurun (Israel), who rideth upon the Heaven in Thy help, and in His excellency on the sky. The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms” (Deut. 33:26, 27)? Was it not this sense of security that caused the Psalmist, moved by the Holy Spirit to write “He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the LORD, He is my refuge and my fortress, my God: in Him will I trust. Surely He shall deliver thee from the snare of the fowler, and from the noisome pestilence. He shall cover thee with His feathers, and under His wings shalt thou trust: His truth shall be thy shield and buckler: Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night; nor for the arrow that flieth by day; Nor for the pestilence that walketh in darkness; nor for the destruction that wasteth at noonday. A thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right band, but it shall not come nigh thee. Because thou hast made the Lord, which is my refuge, even the Most High thy Habitation; There shall no evil befall thee (instead, all things will work together for good), neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling” (Psa. 91:1-7, 9-10)?
“Death and plagues around me fly,
Till He bid, I cannot die;
Not a single shaft can hit,
Till the God of love sees fit.”
Oh the preciousness of this truth! Here am I, a poor, helpless, senseless “sheep,” yet am I secure in the hand of Christ. And why am I secure there? None can pluck me thence because the hand that holds me is that of the Son of God, and all power in Heaven and earth is His! Again; I have no strength of my own: the world, the flesh, and the Devil, are arrayed against me so I commit myself into the care and keeping of the Lord and say with the Apostle “I know Whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day” (2 Tim. 1:12). And what is the ground of my confidence? How do I know that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him? I know it because God is almighty, the King of kings and Lord of lords.
6. It Supplies Comfort in Sorrow.
The doctrine of God’s Sovereignty is one that is full of consolation and imparts great peace to the Christian. The Sovereignty of God is a foundation that nothing can shake and is more firm than the heavens and earth. How blessed to know there is no corner of the universe that is out of His reach! as said the Psalmist, “Whither shall I go from Thy Spirit? or whither shall I flee from Thy presence? If I ascend up into Heaven, Thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, Thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; even there shall Thy hand lead me, and Thy right hand shall hold me. If I say surely the darkness shall cover me; even the night shall be light about me. Y ea, the darkness hideth not from Thee; but the night shineth as the day: the darkness and the light are both alike to Thee” (Psa. 139:7-12). How blessed it is to know that God’s strong hand is upon every one and every thing! How blessed to know that not a sparrow falleth to the ground without His notice!
How blessed to know that our very afflictions come not by chance, nor from the Devil, but are ordained and ordered by God: “That no man should be moved by these afflictions: for yourselves know that we are appointed thereunto” (1 Thess. 3:3)!
But our God is not only infinite in power. He is infinite in wisdom and goodness too. And herein is the preciousness of this truth. God wills only that which is good and His will is irreversible and irresistible! God is too wise to err and too loving to cause His child a needless tear. Therefore if God be perfect wisdom and perfect goodness how blessed is the assurance that everything is in His hand and moulded by His will according to His eternal purpose! “Behold, He taketh away, who can hinder Him? who will say unto Him what doest Thou?” (Job 9:12). Yet, how comforting to learn that it is “He,” and not the Devil, who “taketh away” our loved ones! Ah! what peace for our poor frail hearts to be told that the number of our days is with Him (Job 7:1; 14:5); that disease and death are His messengers and always march under His orders; that it is the Lord who gives and the Lord who takes away!
7. It Begets A Spirit of Sweet Resignation.
To bow before the Sovereign will of God is one of the great secrets of peace and happiness. There can be no real submission with contentment until we are broken in spirit, that is, until we are willing and glad for the Lord to have His way with us. Not that we are insisting upon a spirit of fatalistic acquiescence: far from it. The saints are exhorted to “prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God” (Rom. 12:2).
We touched upon this subject of resignation to God’s will in the chapter upon our Attitude toward God’s Sovereignty, and there, in addition to the supreme Pattern, we cited the examples of Eli and Job: we would now supplement their cases with further examples. What a word is that in Leviticus 10:3 “And Aaron held his peace.” Look at the circumstances: “And Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took either of them his censer, and put fire therein, and put incense thereon, and offered strange fire before the Lord, which He commanded them not. And there went out fire from the Lord, and devoured them, and they died before the Lord… And Aaron held his peace.” Two of the high priests’ sons were slain, slain by a visitation of Divine judgment, and they were probably intoxicated at the time; moreover, this trial came upon Aaron suddenly, without anything to prepare him for it; yet he “held his peace.” Precious exemplification of the power of God’s all-sufficient grace!
Consider now an utterance which fell from the lips of David: “And the king said unto Zadok, Carry back the ark of God into the city: if I shall find favour in the eyes of the Lord, He will bring me again, and shew me both it, and His habitation. But if He thus say, I have no delight in thee; behold, here am I, let Him do to me as seemeth good unto Him” (2 Sam. 15:25, 26). Here, to, the circumstances which confronted the speaker were exceedingly trying to the human heart. David was sore pressed with sorrow. His own son was driving him from the throne and seeking his very life. Whether he would ever see Jerusalem and the Tabernacle again he knew not. But he was so yielded up to God, he was so fully assured that His will was best, that even though it meant the loss of the throne and the loss of his life he was content for Him to have His way-“let Him do to me as seemeth Him good.”
There is no need to multiply examples, but a reflection upon the last case will be in place. If amid the shadows of the Old Testament dispensation David was content for the Lord to have His way, now that the heart of God has been fully revealed at the Cross how much more ought we to delight in the execution of His will! Surely we shall have no hesitation in saying-
“Ill that He blesses is our good,
And unblest good is ill,
And all is right that seems most wrong,
If it be His sweet will.”
8. It Evokes A Song of Praise.
It could not be otherwise. Why should I, who am by nature no different from the careless and godless throngs all around, have been chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world and now blest with all spiritual blessings in the heavenlies in Him! Why was I, that once was an alien and a rebel, singled out for such wondrous favour s! Ah! that is something I cannot fathom. Such grace, such love, “passeth knowledge.” But if my mind is unable to discern a reason my heart can express its gratitude in praise and adoration. But not only should I be grateful to God for His grace toward me in the past, His present dealings will fill me with thanksgiving. What is the force of that word “Rejoice in the Lord alway” (Phil. 4:4)? Mark it is not “Rejoice in the Saviour,” but we are to “Rejoice in the Lord” as “Lord,” as the Master of every circumstance. Need we remind the reader that when the Apostle penned these words he was himself a prisoner in the hands of the Roman government. A long course of affliction and suffering lay behind him. Perils on land and perils on sea, hunger and thirst, scourging and stoning, had all been experienced. He had been persecuted by those within the church as well as by those without: the very ones who ought to have stood by him had forsaken him. And still he writes, “Rejoice in the Lord alway”! What was the secret of his peace and happiness? Ah! had not this same Apostle written “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28)? But how did he, and how do we, “know” that all things work together for good? The answer is, Because all things are under the control of and are being regulated by the Supreme Sovereign, and because He has naught but thoughts of love toward His own, then “all things” are so ordered by Him that they are made to minister to our ultimate good. It is for this cause we are to give “thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph. 5:20). Yes, give thanks for “all things” for, as it has been well said “Our disappointments are but His appointments.” To the one who delights in the Sovereignty of God the clouds not only have a ‘silver lining’ but they are silver all through, the darkness only serving to offset the light-
“Ye fearful saints fresh courage take The clouds ye so much dread, Are big with mercy and shall break In blessings o’er your head.”
9. It Guarantees The Final Triumph of Good Over Evil.
Ever since the day that Cain slew Abel, the conflict on earth between good and evil has been a sore problem to the saints. In every age the righteous have appeared to defy God with impugnity. The Lord’s people, for the most part, have been poor in this world’s good whereas the wicked in their temporal prosperity have flourished like the green bay tree. As one looks around and beholds the oppression of believers and the earthly success of unbelievers, and notes how few are the former and how numerous the latter; as he sees the apparent defeat of the right and the triumphing of might and the wrong; as he hears the roar of battle, the cries of the wounded, and the lamentations of the bereaved; as he discovers that almost everything down here is in confusion, chaos, and ruins, it seems as though Satan were getting the better of the conflict. But as one looks above, instead of around, there is plainly visible to the eye of faith a Throne, a Throne unaffected by the storms of earth, a Throne that is “set,” stable and secure; and upon it is seated One whose name is the Almighty, and who “worketh all things after the counsel of His own will” (Eph. 1:11). This then is our confidence- God is on the Throne. The helm is in His hand, and being Almighty His purpose cannot fail for “He is in one mind, and who can turn Him? and what His soul desireth, even that He doeth” (Job. 23:13). Though God’s governing hand is invisible to the eye of sense it is real to faith, that faith which rests with sure confidence upon His Word, and therefore is assured He cannot fail. What follows below is from the pen of our brother, Mr. A. C. Gaebelein.
“There can be no failure with God. ‘God is not a man, that He should lie; neither the Son of man, that He should repent: hath He said and shall He not do it? or hath He spoken, and shall He not make it good?” (Num. 23:19). All will be accomplished. The promise made to His own beloved people to come for them and take them from hence to glory will not fail. He will surely come and gather them in His own presence. The solemn words spoken to the nations of the earth by the different prophets will also not fail. ‘Come near, ye nations, to hear; and hearken, ye people: let the earth hear, and all that is therein; the world, and all things that come forth of it. For the indignation of the LORD is upon all nations, and His fury upon all their armies: He hath utterly destroyed them, He hath delivered them to the slaughter’ (Isa. 34:1, 2). Nor will that day fail in which ‘the lofty looks of man shall be humbled, and the haughtiness of men shall be bowed down, and the LORD alone shall be exalted’ (Isa. 2:11). The day in which He is manifested, when His glory shall cover the heavens and His feet will stand again upon this earth, will surely come. His kingdom will not fail, nor all the promised events connected with the end of the age and the consummation.
“In these dark and trying times how well it is to remember that He is on the throne, the throne which cannot be shaken, and that He will not fail in doing all He has spoken and promised. ‘Seek ye out of the book of the LORD, and read: No one of these shall fail’ (Isa. 34:16). In believing, blessed anticipation, we can look on to the glory-time when His Word and His Will is accomplished, when through the coming of the Prince of Peace, righteousness and peace comes at last. And while we wait for the supreme and blessed moment when His promise to us is accomplished, we trust Him, walking in His fellowship and daily find afresh, that He does not fail to sustain and keep us in all our ways.”
10. It Provides A Resting-Place For The Heart.
Much that might have been said here has already been anticipated under previous heads. The One seated upon the Throne of Heaven, the One who is Governor over the nations and who has ordained and now regulates all events, is infinite not only in power but in wisdom and goodness as well. He who is Lord over all creation is the One that was “manifest in the flesh” (1 Tim. 3:16). Ah! here is a theme no human pen can do justice to. The glory of God consists not merely in that He is Highest, but in that being high He stooped in lowly love to bear the burden of His own sinful creatures, for it is written “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself” (2 Cor. 5:19). The Church of God was purchased “with His own Blood” (Acts 20:28). It is upon the gracious self-humiliation of the King Himself that His kingdom is established. O wondrous Cross! By it He who suffered upon it has become not the Lord of our destinies (He was that before), but the Lord of our hearts. Therefore, it is not in abject terror that we bow before the Supreme Sovereign, but in adoring worship we cry “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing” (Rev. 5:12).
Here then is the refutation of the wicked charge that this doctrine is a horrible calumny upon God and dangerous to expound to His people. Can a doctrine be “horrible” and “dangerous” that gives God His true place, that maintains His rights, that magnifies His grace, that ascribes all glory to Him and removes every ground of boasting from the creature? Can a doctrine be “horrible” and “dangerous” which affords the saints a sense of security in danger, that supplies them comfort in sorrow, that begets patience within them in adversity, that evokes from them praise at all times? Can a doctrine be “horrible” and “dangerous” which assures us of the certain triumph of good over evil, and which provides a sure resting-place for our hearts, and that place, the perfections of the Sovereign Himself? No; a thousand times, no! Instead of being “horrible and dangerous” this doctrine of the Sovereignty of God is glorious and edifying, and a due apprehension of it will but serve to make us exclaim with Moses, “Who is like unto thee, O LORD, among the gods? who is like Thee, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders?” (Exo. 15:11).
“Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth” (Rev. 19:6).
In our Foreword to the Second Edition we acknowledge the need for preserving the balance of Truth. Two things are beyond dispute: God is Sovereign, man is responsible. In this book we have sought to expound the former; in our other works we have frequently pressed the latter. That there is real danger of over-emphasising the one and ignoring the other, we readily admit; yea, history furnishes numerous examples of cases of each. To emphasise the Sovereignty of God without also maintaining the accountability of the creature tends to fatalism; to be so concerned in maintaining the responsibility of man as to lose sight of the Sovereignty of God is to exalt the creature and dishonour the Creator.
Almost all doctrinal error is really, Truth perverted, Truth wrongfully divided, Truth disproportionately held and taught. The fairest face on earth, with the most comely features, would soon become ugly and unsightly if one member continued growing while the others remained undeveloped. Beauty is, primarily, a matter of proportion. Thus it is with the Word of God: its beauty and blessedness are best perceived when its manifold wisdom is exhibited in its true proportions. Here is where so many have failed in the past. A single phase of God’s Truth has so impressed this man or that he has concentrated his attention upon it, almost to the exclusion of everything else. Some portion of God’s Word has been made a “pet doctrine,” and often this has become the distinctive badge of some party. But it is the duty of each servant of God to “declare all the counsel of God” (Acts 20:27).
It is true that the degenerate days in which our lot is cast, when on every side man is exalted and “superman” has become a common expression, there is real need for a special emphasis upon the glorious fact of God’s supremacy. The more so where this is expressly denied. Yet even here much wisdom is required lest our zeal should not be “according to knowledge.” The words “meat in due season” should ever be before the servant of God. What is needed, primarily, by one congregation may not be specifically needed by another. If called to labour where Arminian preachers have preceded, then the neglected truth of God’s Sovereignty should be expounded, though with caution and care lest too much “strong meat” be given to “babes.” The example of Christ in John 16:12 “I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now,” must be borne in mind. On the other hand, if I am called to take charge of a distinctly Calvinistic pulpit, then the truth of human responsibility (in its many aspects) may be profitably set forth. What the preacher needs to give out is not what his people most like to hear, but what they most need, i.e., those aspects of truth they are least familiar with, or least exhibiting in their walk.
To carry into actual practice what we have inculcated above will, most probably, lay the preacher open to the charge of being a Turncoat. But what matters that if he has his Master’s approval? He is not called upon to be “consistent” with himself nor with any rules drawn up by man; his business is to be consistent with Holy Writ. And in Scripture each part or aspect of Truth is balanced by another aspect of Truth. There are two sides to everything, even to the character of God for He is “light” (1 John 1:5) as well as “love” (1 John 4:8), and therefore are we called upon to “Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God” (Rom. 11:22). To be all the time preaching on the one to the exclusion of the other caricatures the Divine character.
When the Son of God became incarnate He came here in “the form of a servant” (Phil. 2:7); nevertheless, in the manger He was “Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11)! All things are possible with God (Matt. 19:26) yet God “cannot lie” (Titus 1:2). Scripture says “Bear ye one another’s burdens” (Gal. 6:2), yet the same chapter insists “every man shall bear his own burden” (Gal. 6:5). We are enjoined to take “no thought for the morrow” (Matt. 6:34), yet “if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel” (1 Tim. 5:8). No sheep of Christ’s can perish (John 10:28, 29), yet the Christian is bidden to make his “calling and election sure” (2 Peter 1:10). And so we might go on multiplying illustrations. These things are not contradictions but complementaries: the one “balances the other.” Thus, the Scriptures set forth both the Sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man. So, too, should every servant of God, and that, in their proper proportion.
But we return now to a few closing reflections upon our present theme, “And Jehoshaphat stood in the congregation of Judah and Jerusalem, in the house of the LORD, before the new court, and said, ) LORD God of our fathers, art not Thou God in Heaven? and rulest not Thou over all the kingdoms of the heathen? and in Thine hand is there not power and might, so that none is able to
withstand Thee?” (2 Chron. 20:5, 6). Yes, the Lord is God, ruling in supreme majesty and might. Yet in our day, a day of boasted enlightenment and progress, this is denied on every hand. A materialistic science and atheistic philosophy have bowed God out of His own world, and everything is regulated, forsooth, by (impersonal) laws of Nature. So in human affairs: at best God is a far-distant spectator, and a helpless one at that. God could not help the launching of the dreadful war, and though He longed to put a stop to it He was unable to do so-and this in the face of 1 Chronicles 5:22; 2 Chronicles 24:24! Having endowed man with “free agency” God is obliged to let man make his own choice and go his own way, and He cannot interfere with him, or otherwise his moral responsibility would be destroyed! Such are the popular beliefs of the day. One is not surprised to find these sentiments emanating from German theologians, but how sad that they should be taught in many of our Seminaries, echoed from many of our pulpits, and accepted by many of the rank and file of professing Christians.
One of the most flagrant sins of our age is that of irreverence-the failure to ascribe the glory which is due the august majesty of God. Men limit the power and activities of the Lord in their degrading concepts of His being and character. Originally, man was made in the image and likeness of God, but today we are asked to believe in a god made in the image and likeness of man. The Creator is reduced to the level of the creature: His omniscience is called into question, His omnipotencey is no longer believed in, and His absolute Sovereignty is flatly denied. Men claim to be the architects of their own fortunes and the determiners of their own destiny. They know not that their lives are at the disposal of the Divine Despot. They know not they have no more power to thwart His secret decrees than a worm has to resist the tread of an elephant. They know not that “The LORD hath prepared His throne in the heavens; and His kingdom ruleth over all” (Psa. 103:19).
In the foregoing pages we have sought to repudiate such paganistic views as the above-mentioned, and have endeavored to show from Scripture that God is God, on the Throne, and that so far from the recent war being an evidence that the helm had slipped out of His hand it was a sure proof that He still lives and reigns, and is now bringing to pass that which He had fore-determined and foreannounced (Matt. 24:6-8 etc.). That the carnal mind is enmity against God, that the unregenerate man is a rebel against the Divine government, that the sinner has no concern for the glory of his Maker, and little or no respect for His revealed will, is freely granted. But, nevertheless, behind the scenes God is ruling and over-ruling, fulfilling His eternal purpose, not only in spite of but also by means of those who are His enemies.
How earnestly are the claims of man contended for against the claims of God! Has not man power and knowledge, but what of it? Has God no will, or power, or knowledge? Suppose man’s will conflicts with God’s, then what? Turn to the Scripture of Truth for answer. Men had a will on the plains of Shinar and determined to build a tower whose top should reach unto Heaven, but what came of their purpose? Pharaoh had a will when He hardened his heart and Pharaoh refused to allow Jehovah’s people to go and worship Him in the wilderness, but what came of his rebellion? Balak had a will when he hired Balaam to come and curse the Hebrews, but of what avail was it? The Canaanites had a will when they determined to prevent Israel occupying the land of Canaan, but how far did they succeed? Saul had a will when he hurled his javelin at David, but it entered the wall instead! Jonah had a will when he refused to go and preach to the Ninevites, but what came of it? Nebuchadnezzar had a will when he thought to destroy the three Hebrew children, but God had a will too, and the fire did not harm them. Herod had a will when he sought to slay the Child Jesus, and had there been no living, reigning God, his evil desire would have been effected: but in daring to pit his puny will against the irresistible will of the Almighty his efforts came to nought. Yes, my reader, and you, too, had a will when you formed your plans without first seeking counsel of the Lord, therefore did He overturn them! “There are many devices in a man’s heart; nevertheless the counsel of LORD, that shall stand” (Prov. 19:21).
What a demonstration of the irresistible Sovereignty of God is furnished by that wonderful statement found in Revelation 17:17: “For God hath put in their hearts to fulfil His will, and to agree, and give their kingdom unto the Beast, until the words of God shall be fulfilled.” The fulfilment of any single prophecy is but the Sovereignty of God in operation. It is the demonstration that what He has decreed He is able also to perform. It is proof that none can withstand the execution of His counsel or prevent the accomplishment of His pleasure. It is evidence that God inclines men to fulfil that which He has ordained and perform that which He has foredetermined. If God were not absolute Sovereign then Divine prophecy would be valueless, for in such case no guarantee would be left that what He had predicted would surely come to pass.
“For God hath put in their hearts to fulfil His will, and to agree, and give their kingdom unto the Beast, until the words of God shall be fulfilled” (Rev. 17:17). We can not do better than quote here the excellent comments of our esteemed friend, Mr. Walter Scott, upon this verse-“God works unseen, but not the less truly, in all the political changes of the day. The astute statesman, the clever diplomatist, is simply an agent in the Lord’s hands. He knows it not. Self-will and motives of policy may influence to action, but God is steadily working toward an end-to exhibit the heavenly and earthly glories of His Son. Thus, instead of kings and statesmen thwarting God’s purpose, they unconsciously forward it. God is not indifferent, but is behind the scenes of human action. The doings of the future ten kings in relation to Babylon and the Beast-the ecclesiastical and secular powers-are not only under the direct control of God, but all is done in fulfilment of His words.”
Closely connected with Revelation 17:17 is that which is brought before us in Micah 4:11, 12: “Now also many nations are gathered against thee, that say, Let her be defiled, and let our eye look upon Zion. But they know not the thoughts of the LORD, neither understand they His counsel: forHeshall gather them as sheaves into the floor.” This is another remarkable statement, inspired of God, and three things in it deserve special notice. First, a day is coming when “many nations” shall “gather against” Israel with the express purpose of humiliating her. Second, quite unconsciously to themselves-for they “understand not” His counsel-they are “gathered” together by God, for “He shall gather them.” Third, God gathers these “many nations” against Israel in order that the daughter of Zion may “beat them in pieces” (v. 13). Here then is another instance which demonstrates God’s absolute control of the nations, of His power to fulfil His secret counsel or decrees through and by them, and of His inclining men to perform His pleasure though it be performed blindly and unwittingly by them.
Once more. What a word was that of the Lord Jesus as He stood before Pilate! Who can depict the scene! There was the Roman official, and there also was the Servant of Jehovah standing before him. Said Pilate, “Whence art Thou?” And we read “Jesus gave him no answer.” Then said Pilate unto Him “Speakest Thou not unto me? Knowest Thou not that I have power to crucify Thee, and have power to release Thee?” (John 19:10). Ah! that is what Pilate thought. That is what many another has thought. He was merely voicing the common conviction of the human heart, the heart which leaves God out of its reckoning. But hear the Lord Jesus as He corrects Pilate, and at the same time repudiates the proud boasting of men in general: “thou couldest have no power against Me, except it were given thee from above” (John 19:11). How sweeping is this assertion! Man-even though he be a prominent official in the most influential empire of his day-has no power except that which is given him from above, no power, even, to do that which is evil, i.e., carry out his own evil designs unless God empowers him so that His purpose may be forwarded. It was God who gave Pilate the power to sentence to death His well-beloved Son! And how this rebukes the sophistries and reasonings of men who argue that God does nothing more than permit evil! Why, go right back to the very first words spoken by the Lord God to man after the Fall and hear Him saying “I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed” (Gen. 3:15)! Bare permission of sin does not cover all the facts which are revealed in Scripture touching this mystery. As Calvin succinctly remarked “But what reason shall we assign for His permitting it but because it is His will?”
At the close of chapter Eleven we promised to give attention to one or two other difficulties which were not examined at that time. To them we now turn. If God has not only predetermined the salvation of His own but has also foreordained the good works which they are to walk in (Eph. 2:10), then what incentive remains for us to strive after practical godliness? If God has fixed the number of those who are to be saved, and the others are vessels of wrath fitted to destruction, then what encouragement have we to preach the Gospel to the lost? Let us take up these questions in the order of mention.
1. God’s Sovereignty And The Believer’s Growth in Grace.
If God has foreordained everything that comes to pass, of what avail is it for us to “exercise” ourselves “unto godliness” (1 Tim. 4:7)? If God has before ordained the good works in which we are to walk (Eph. 2:10) then why should we be “careful to maintain good works” (Titus 3:8)? This only raises once more the problem of human responsibility. Really, it should be enough for us to reply, God has bidden us do so. Nowhere does Scripture inculcate or encourage a spirit of fatalistic indifference. Contentment with our present attainments is expressly disallowed. The word to every believer is “Press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:14). This was the Apostle’s aim, and it should be ours. Instead of hindering the development of Christian character, a proper apprehension and appreciation of God’s Sovereignty will forward it. Just as the sinner’s despair of any help from himself is the first prerequisite of a sound conversion, so the loss of all confidence in himself is the first essential in the believer’s growth in grace; and just as the sinner despairing of help from himself will cast him into the arms of Sovereign mercy so the Christian, conscious of his own frailty, will turn unto the Lord for power. It is when we are weak we are strong (2 Cor. 12:10): that is to say, there must be consciousness of our weakness before we shall turn to the Lord for help. While the Christian allows the thought that he is sufficient in himself, while he imagines that by mere force of will he shall resist temptation, while he has any confidence in the flesh then, like Peter who boasted that though all forsook the Lord yet should not he, so we shall certainly fail and fall. Apart from Christ we can do nothing (John 15:5). The promise of God is “He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might (of their own) He increaseth strength” (Isa. 40:29).
The question now before us is of great practical importance, and we are deeply anxious to express ourselves clearly and simply. The secret of development of Christian character is the realisation of our own powerlessness, acknowledged powerlessness, and the consequent turning unto the Lord for help. The plain fact is that of ourselves we cannot do this, or make ourselves do it. “In nothing be anxious”-but who can avoid and prevent anxiety when things go wrong? “Awake to righteousness and sin not”-but who can help sinning? These are merely examples selected at random from scores of others. Does then God mock us by biding us do what He knows we are unable to do? The answer of Augustine to this question is the best we have met with-“God gives commands we cannot perform, that we may know what we ought to request from Him.” A consciousness of our powerlessness should cast us upon Him who has all power. Here then is where a vision and view of God’s Sovereignty helps, for it reveals His sufficiency and shows us our insufficiency.
2. God’s Sovereignty and Christian Service.
If God has determined before the foundation of the world the precise number of those who shall be saved then why should we concern ourselves about the eternal destiny of those with whom we come into contact? What place is left for zeal in Christian service? Will not the doctrine of God’s Sovereignty, and its corollary of predestination, discourage the Lord’s servants from faithfulness in evangelism? No; instead of discouraging His servants a recognition of God’s Sovereignty is most encouraging to them. Here is one, for example, who is called upon to do the work of an evangelist, and he goes forth believing in the freedom of the will and in the sinner’s own ability to come to Christ. He preaches the Gospel as faithfully and zealously as he knows how; but he finds the vast majority of his hearers are utterly indifferent and have no heart at all for Christ. He discovers that men are, for the most part, thoroughly wrapt up in the things of the world, and that few have any concern about the world to come. He beseeches men to be reconciled to God and pleads with them over their soul’s salvation. But it is of no avail. He becomes thoroughly disheartened and asks himself, What is the use of it all? Shall he quit, or had he better change his mission and message? If men will not respond to the Gospel, had he not better engage in that which is more popular and acceptable to the world? Why not occupy himself with humanitarian efforts, with social uplift work, with the purity campaign? Alas! that so many men who once preached the Gospel are now engaged in these activities instead.
What then is God’s corrective for His discouraged servant? First, he needs to learn from Scripture that God is not now seeking to convert the world, but that in this Age He is “taking out of the Gentiles” a people for His name (Acts 15:14). What then is God’s corrective for His discouraged servant? This: a proper apprehension of God’s plan for this Dispensation. Again: what is God’s remedy for dejection at apparent failure in our labours? This: the assurance that God’s purpose cannot fail, that God’s plans cannot miscarry, that God’s will must be done. Our labours are not intended to bring about that which God has not decreed. Once more: what is God’s word of cheer for the one who is thoroughly disheartened at the lack of response to his appeals and the absence of fruit, for his labours? This: that we are not responsible for results: that is God’s side, and God’s business. Paul may “plant,” and Apollos may “water,” but it is God who “gave the increase” (1 Cor. 3:6). Our business is to obey Christ and preach the Gospel to every creature, to emphasise the “Whosoever believeth” and then to leave the Sovereign operations of the Holy Spirit to apply the Word in quickening power to whom Hewills, resting on the sure promise of Jehovah: “For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from Heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater: So shall My Word be that goeth forth out of My mouth: it shall not return unto Me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please (it may not be that which we please), and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it” (Isa. 55:10, 11). Was it not this assurance that sustained the beloved Apostle when he declared “Therefore (see context) I endure all things for the elect’s sake” (2 Tim. 2:10)! Yea, is not this same lesson to be learned from the blessed example of the Lord Jesus! When we read that He said to the people “Ye also have seen Me, and believe not,” He fell back upon the Sovereign pleasure of the One who sent Him, saying “All that the Father giveth Me shall come to Me, and him that cometh to Me I will in no wise cast out” (John 6:37). He knew that His labour would not be in vain. He knew God’s Word would not return unto Him “void.” He knew that “God’s elect” would come to Him and believe on Him. And this same assurance fills the soul of every servant who intelligently rests upon the blessed truth of God’s Sovereignty.
Ah, fellow-Christian-worker, God has not sent us forth to “draw a bow at a venture.” The success of the ministry which He has committed into our hands is not left contingent on the fickleness of the wills in those to whom we preach. How gloriously encouraging, how soul-sustaining the assurance are those words of our Lord’s if we rest on them in simple faith: “And other sheep I have (“have” mark you, not “will have”; “have” because given to Him by the Father before the foundation of the world), which are not of this fold (i.e. the Jewish fold then existing): them also I must bring, and they shall hear My voice” (John 10:16). Not simply, “they ought to hear My voice,” not simply “they may hear My voice,” not “they will if they are willing.” There is no “if,” no uncertainty about it. “They shall hear My voice” is His own positive, unqualified, absolute promise. Here then is where faith is to rest! Continue your quest, dear friend, after the “other sheep” of Christ’s. Be not discouraged because the “goats” heed not His voice as you preach the Gospel. Be faithful, be scriptural, be persevering, and Christ may use even you to be His mouthpiece in calling some of His lost sheep unto Himself. “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Cor. 15:58).
It now remains for us to offer a few closing reflections and our happy task is finished.
God’s Sovereign election of certain ones to salvation is a merciful provision.The sufficient answer to all the wicked accusations that the doctrine of Predestination is cruel, horrible, and unjust, is that unless God had chosen certain ones to salvation none would have been saved, for “there is none that seeketh after God” (Rom. 3:11). This is no mere inference of ours but the definite teaching of Holy Scripture. Attend closely to the words of the Apostle in Romans 9 where this theme is fully discussed: “Though the number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea, a remnant shall be saved… And as Esaias (Isaiah) said before, Except the Lord of Sabaoth had left us a seed, we had been as Sodoma, and been made like unto Gomorrah” (Rom. 9:27, 29). The teaching of this passage is unmistakable: but for Divine interference Israel would have become as Sodom and Gomorrah. Had God left Israel alone human depravity would have run its course to its own tragic end. But God left Israel a “remnant” or “seed.” Of old the cities of the plain had been obliterated for their sin and none was left to survive them; and so it would have been in Israel’s case had not God “left” or spared a remnant. Thus it is with the human race: but for God’s Sovereign grace in sparing a remnant all of Adam’s descendants had perished in their sins. Therefore, we say that God’s Sovereign election of certain ones to salvation is a merciful provision. And, be it noted, in choosing the ones He did God did no injustice to the others who were passed by, for none had any right to salvation. Salvation is by grace, and the exercise of grace is a matter of pure Sovereignty-God might save all or none, many or few, one or ten thousand, just as He saw best. Should it be replied, But surely it were “best” to save all, the answer would be: We are not capable of judging. We might have thought it “best” never to have created Satan, never to have allowed sin to enter the world, or having entered to have brought the conflict between good and evil to an end long before now. Ah! God’s ways are not ours, and His ways are “past finding out.”
God foreordains everything which comes to pass. His Sovereign rule extends throughout the entire Universe and is over every creature. “For of Him, and through Him, and to Him, are all things” (Rom. 11:36). God initiates all things, regulates all things, and all things are working unto His eternal glory. “There is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in Him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by Him” (1 Cor. 8:6). And again, “According to the purpose of Him who worketh all things after the counsel of His own will” (Eph. 1:11). Surely if anything could be ascribed to chance it is the drawing of lots, and yet the Word of God expressly declares “The lot is cast into the lap; but the whole disposing thereof is of the LORD” (Prov. 16:33)!
God’s wisdom in the government of our world shall yet be completely vindicated before all created intelligences. God is no idle Spectator, looking on from a distant world at the happenings, on our earth, but is Himself shaping everything to the ultimate promotion of His own glory. Even now He is working out His eternal purpose, not only in spite of human and Satanic opposition but by means of them. How wicked and futile have been all efforts to resist His will shall one day be as fully evident as when of old He overthrew the rebellious Pharaoh and his hosts at the Red Sea.
It has been well said “The end and object of all is the glory of God. It is perfectly, divinely true, that ‘God hath ordained for His own glory whatsoever comes to pass.’ In order to guard this from all possibility of mistake, we have only to remember who is this God, and what the glory that He seeks. It is He who is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ-of Him in whom divine love came seeking not her own, among us as ‘One that serveth.’ It is He who, sufficient in Himself, can receive no real accession of glory from His creatures, but from whom-‘Love,’ as He is ‘Light’-cometh down every good and every perfect gift, in whom is no variableness nor shadow of turning. Of His own alone can His creatures give to Him.”
“The glory of such an one is found in the display of His own goodness, righteousness, holiness, truth; in manifesting Himself as in Christ He has manifested Himself and will forever. The glory of this God is what of necessity all things must serve-adversaries and evil as well as all else. He has ordained it; His power will insure it; and when all apparent clouds and obstructions are removed, then shall He rest-‘rest in His love’ forever, although eternity only will suffice for the apprehension of the revelation. ‘God shall be all in all’ (italics ours throughout this paragraph) gives in six words the ineffable result” (F. W. Grant on “Atonement”).
That what we have written gives but an incomplete and imperfect presentation of this most important subject we must sorrowfully confess. Nevertheless, if it results in a clearer apprehension of the majesty of God and His Sovereign mercy we shall be amply repaid for our labours. If the reader has received blessing from the perusal of these pages let him not fail to return thanks to the Giver of every good and every perfect gift, ascribing all praise to His inimitable and Sovereign grace.
“The Lord, our God, is clothed with might,
The winds and waves obey His will;
He speaks, and in the shining height
The sun and rolling worlds stand still.
Rebel ye waves, and o’er the land
With threatening aspect foam and roar,
The Lord hath spoken His command
That breaks your rage upon the shore.
Ye winds of night, your force combine-
Without His holy high behest
You shall not in a mountain pine
Disturb the little swallow’s nest.
His voice sublime is heard afar;
In distant peals it fades and dies;
He binds the cyclone to His car
And sweeps the howling murky skies.
Great God! how infinite art Thou,
What weak and worthless worms are we,
Let all the race of creatures bow
And seek salvation now from Thee.
Eternity, with all its years
Stands ever-present to Thy view,
To Thee there’s nothing old appears
Great God! There can be nothing new.
Our lives through varied scenes are drawn,
And vexed with mean and trifling cares;
While Thine eternal thought moves on
Thy fixed and undisturbed affairs.”
“Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth” (Rev. 19:6).